by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
Today’s topic was suggested by Dennis Quackenbush. We were discussing the influence made by a few key firearms, and he wondered if I’d ever written about airguns in the same vein.
The title says it all, and I bet a lot of you can start a list right away. But which ones to pick? It’s easy to speculate and guess, but is there a better way to choose the air rifles that really did make an impact? And what is meant by “impact?”
I find that an easy way to approach a monumental subject like this is to step away from airguns and choose something that many more people can relate to. Like automobiles, for instance. Which automobiles had an impact on the entire motoring universe?
Well, you can’t go very far without recognizing the Ford Model T. In production from 1908 through 1927, the model T put America on wheels. It caused roads to be paved, businesses to spring up in unlikely places and the entire demographic fabric of the United States to change forever.
When the flivver (as it was also called) first came out, politics in the U.S. were most important at the county level, then the state and only grudgingly at the national level. When it finally passed from the market, national politics were forever changed and local elections were relegated to the status of “also ran.” The Tin Lizzy got the farmer off his farm and into town as frequently as every weekend.
And, if the 15 million Model Ts were game-changers, what about the more than 21 million Volkswagen Beetles that swarmed over the planet from 1947 until the last one was built (in Mexico) in the early 21st century? Certainly, they had a major impact on personal transportation? [I know the Beetle is still being produced, but I’m talking about the original air-cooled version.]
See how easy this is when the topic isn’t as important as airguns? Now, name an air rifle that changed the game.
How about the very first modern air rifle that was conceived in 1905? Built by the Birmingham Small Arms company, best-known for their military rifles, the first underlever air rifle that came to market was called the Lincoln; but BSA liked what they were contracted to build and they put their own name on the rifle, as well. That one rifle started the entire line of smallbore airguns we enjoy today.
There were pellet guns before the BSA, of course, but they were primarily smoothbores and made to shoot darts. Their construction wasn’t robust like the BSA’s was, and they were entirely unsuited to the type of shooting we do today.
One of our own blog readers — RidgeRunner — picked up a 1906 BSA at the Roanoke airgun show last year. Maybe he’ll favor us with his impressions of this hugely important airgun?
This BSA underlever was the first modern air rifle.
It came along in the early 1970s and metamorphosed in front of our eyes. Originally it was nothing more than a well-made sporting breakbarrel, the 124 (or 121, as it was first known) had a longer piston stroke than any gun that went before. No doubt, the German engineers were just interested in keeping the cocking effort to a minimum; because in their country, the muzzle energy of airguns is limited to 7.5 Joules by law. A longer stroke meant they could use a less powerful mainspring and still get the velocity they were after, but it also meant the gun was primed to be hot rodded.
By the end of the decade, the 124 had become the first air rifle to break the 800 f.p.s. “barrier.” Several other companies — notably BSF and Diana — followed suit; and by 1979, the airgun velocity wars were in full swing.
The FWB 124 started the airgun velocity wars in the 1970s.
I’ll never forget seeing the Beeman R1 in the Beeman catalog. I had just purchased an FWB 124 and thought I was king of the hill, only to discover that the new R1 had 140 more f.p.s. I was livid! And within a year, Beeman was offering a special tune that jacked up the velocity over 1,000 f.p.s. — the first spring gun to do so. In another year, the standard R1 was getting 1,000 f.p.s. out of the box, and the special tune got them above 1,100 f.p.s.
The R1 didn’t stay on top for very long. Diana soon came out with their model 48 sidelever, which produced an honest 1,100 f.p.s. out of the box…and did so with less cocking effort than the big R1. But for as long as it reigned supreme, the Beeman R1 was like a booster rocket for the advancement of the spring-piston air rifle.
Beeman’s R1 accelerated the velocity wars beyond the sound barrier!
Are there others?
Of course, these 3 rifles aren’t the only ones to have a major impact on airgunning. I can think of several that belong in this group. What models do you think deserve this recognition? And why?
55 thoughts on “Air rifles that made an impact: Part 1”
Benjamin Discovery – Pcp’s to the American masses.
Walther LGV – Spring gun development is alive and well, and i suppose profitable.
Benji and sheridan pumpers – Let young people take small game with authority.
Benji Trail break barrels – Let Airgun makers know that their was money to be made in the USA.
Crosman 2100b – My first air rifle.
Well…if by “major impact” it means velocity, which is implied, then I would say, HW 35, Diana 45, BSF 55 and the Diana 34.
The 3 former being part of the 4 horseman commonly recognized as the high horsepower airguns during their day and the Diana 34’s appearance on the scene that gave not only horsepower but a price point that changed airgunning consumerism and manufacturing. Not for the better IMHO.
One of the things that you talked about was how many Beetles got sold and the model T’s.
That makes me ask this question. How many Red Ryder’s, 760’s and 880’s have been sold? Oh and I forgot about the Benjamin Discovery also.
And I hope I get to ask this question also in the future. I wonder how many $100 PCP’s have been sold.
I don’t have the other numbers, but Mike Melick told me he has made over 100 of the $100 PCPs that he is selling. Of course the one I am writing about is just a single prototype.
Let me rephrase that.
And I hope I get to ask this question also in the future. I wonder how many $100 PCP’s have been sold that BB made a single prototype of and it went into production. 😉
Mike told me that he has been drowning in work. Good for him to get such business.
Great topic today. It would have been perfect for a Friday blog, but I’m not going to whine about it.
I heartily agree with Pop’s SLR nominations, particularly the Sheridan streak pumpers and the Benjamin Discovery.
The Discovery allowed those curious about PCPs to dip their toes in the water without spending the mortgage payment on an airgun. Without the Discovery there would have been no Marauder. Despite its place as an entry level gun (for a PCP) the Disco is still fantastic. I shoot mine just as often as I do my Marauder. Some of the blog readers may not know that our humble host, Tom Gaylord played a major role in the Discovery’s development.
I consider the Sheridan blue streak and silver streak to be the great grandmother of the Discovery. One need only look at the stocks to see that they share DNA. I own two ‘rocker safety’ blue streaks, and I must say they have no right to shoot as well as they do, considering their low cost and simple construction. I have shot groups with them at 10 yards that were better than my best groups from a HW55 match target rifle. That is no small feat considering the Sheridans are .20 cal and the Weihrauch is .177. Also the HW55 has match sights and a match trigger, the Sheridans’ sights are crude by comparison. The trigger might be crude too, but it is hard to complain about it. I would kill to have the trigger of my 70s era Sheridans on my modern Disco.
To Pop’s nominations I would add the venerable yet humble Daisy Red Ryder, introduced in 1938. Daisy has sold more than 9 million of them. I bought my first RR (also my first BB gun) for $18 at Wally World just a few years ago. I was astounded that I couldn’t miss a beer can at 10 yards. It was also hard to believe that the gun was almost all wood and metal on the outside for that price. A little more than a year later, Daisy upgraded the cocking lever to metal and I could not resist buying another. The only plastic on the outside of the new RR is the BB fill cover and the trigger unit, and a small ring between the barrel and the barrel sleeve. That gun and a jar of 6000 BBs cost me 35 bucks. 35 bucks!!! I have joyfully shredded a multitude of aluminum cans, and have put nary a dent in my BB stockpile.
Rock musician Ted Nugent is a huge firearm and hunting enthusiast. He has spent his lifetime enjoying weapons of all kinds. A couple of years ago he wrote a short opinion piece entitled, “The Greatest Gun Ever”. The object of his ardor? The Daisy Red Ryder lever action carbine BB gun. You can read the article here: http://www.humanevents.com/2012/07/03/the-greatest-gun-ever/
Ted Nugent is the undeniable “Man”, (sorry B.B., it was a close 2nd). Growl out “Cat Scratch Fever”, shred on guitars, and hunt, shoot, and do conservation work for the rest of of your life. Lucky (explitive). Hopefully he can get as pro-active for airguns as he’s been for the NRA, though the NRA made some excellent statements during the Sandy Hook conference, they seem to be losing steam. Id say the most influential airgun would be the red ryder, its the only one that’s had a major role in film, and a film that’s seen 4 times, whether you like it or not, by everybody every holiday season. Love A Christmas Story, a remake with a modern airing would be cool. I want an official Benjamin Discovery .22 caliber pre-charged pnuematic air rifle, with hand pump Santa! I want say it cause that would hurt, but you know the rest. The next biggest impact airgun would have to be 760, since first drooling at the next level AGs, you saw the 760. After wearing out the baby plinker stage and you need your first rifled steel barrel, there’s the 760, cheap, getting up a little in power and accuracy, and the only one you can afford on your allowance.
As I relearn how to use open sights and learn how to shoot this BSA, the more it becomes my favorite airgun to shoot. Lincoln Jefferies’ creation is not only the beginning of the modern spring piston airgun, it is the grandfather of the modern 10 meter air rifle.
The engineering and construction of this thing is incredible. With proper care, this air rifle should still be shooting for another hundred years.
When i was a kid in the 1970’s every young boy wanted a BSA Meteor, though getting a Webley Hawk was the next best thing. However the meteor has sold in its millions and is responsible for the deaths of untold tin cans , rats, and rabbits. At the turn of the 20th century there were small indoor shooting clubs everywhere all over the UK and the BSA under lever as well as the Webley MK I’s and service’s. In these competitions the winners would walk away with a leg of lamb/pork as the prize, making the shooting sports accessable to the working classes. Diana made air rifles on the BSA and Webley designs and were sold out and rebranded all over, the Midland Gun Co sold them as the ‘Demon’ for example.
Personally i see the HW35 as a major impact years later, not only at the time of release but nowadays, as people are know to collect them obsessively in there many variations. But what about the first modern PCP, well I’m not 100 percent certain but the Air Arms Shamal would be the gun that made the initial impact though quickly followed up by many others until we get the s200 and the recent PCP work horse which is the s410. On the the multi pump front the Sharp Innova certainly made an impact as they were more commonly imported than the Benjiman Sheridan rifles, but only for a short while because even though they provided recoil free shooting the springer was the real mans gun of the day.
But there is a gun out there that has made a major impact, and not many people aren’t even aware that it’s even an airgun. On the 1st James Bond movie poster for Dr No, James bond is not holding his prefered Walther PPK but is in fact cradling a Walther LG 53 air pistol in the crook of his arm. Please bear in mind I’m talking from the viewpoint of someone who was born and raise in the good old United Kingdom Of Great Britain, and I’ve only chipped enough ice off the tip of the iceberg to mix a good Irish single malt
Many of those shooting clubs were actually in the pubs! They had little bell targets very similar to today’s field targets and there was usually a pellet dispenser very similar to a gumball machine where you would drop in a penny and it would dispense pellets. The BSA was so expensive that a regular working man could not afford one, so several guys would get together and form a shooting club and chip in and buy one. They would take turns shooting with it.
I gotta add the Crosman 760 (noted before). For many in my clique, it was the first air gun we had ever laid eyes on and brought us in to the world of shooting then hunting.
Someone’s gotta mention the Giridoni. Still learning everyrthing I can about this Weapon of war. Was it built specifically for that purpose or was it pressed into service?
That is the best nomination so far! Not only was the Girardoni rifle the first successful repeater — ever — it was also the gun that protected Lewis & C;ark. According to Robert Beeman, the indians L&C met along their trek were astonished by the white man’s medicine that could shoot repeatedly without reloading.
They had no idea whether all their other guns could do the same!
I would love to build a gun based on this design,still got a lotta learnin’ yet to be done!
A couple of guys did just that. Search online. Mike Reames also built a CO2 pistol that uses the same style loading mechanism.
I’ve seen a few replicas that are historically accurate, which I would never consider trying to duplicate. I’ve also seen pics of one, apparently made out of hydraulic pipe in such a way that almost the whole gun was the reservoir. Now that’s what I’m talkin’ bout! Low fill pressure,60 shots/fill& over 800fps in .45
I guess the Crosmman 760 because of price/performance, Crosman 1077 and Diana two digit series.
In the back woods of Michigan where I grew up the Sheridan “C” was IT. It was light years ahead of those with Crosman 760’s. I never saw a spring gun until the late 1970’s.
GB, what an interesting thing it is to have completely different histories and memories of the development of airguns in our countries. Great Britain is well established in history and strong following while the U.S. is just starting to even have an above ground following of our basement dwelling hobby. Some guys remember the real start in the U.S. with the 70s accuracy obsessed match pros, some have been plinkin the daisys since they came out. Some just found the plastic black gun section at wally world and are having a blast cracking the sound barrier in their suburban backyards, and then there are those that just love all and everything about airgunning, have and will follow its developments forever more, thankful for all that’s been done for the sport by people like B.B., Ted Nugent, and that kid from a Christmas Story. All I can say is I hope the generations ahead can enjoy it as we do now, I think we are at a truly important time in airgunning. Thanks for enduring……
Walther LGR – The beginning of the end for spring-piston rifles in Olympic competition.
Not to take away from any of the better guns, my vote for the number one gun would have to be the Daisy Red Rider. It was the gun that ‘everyone’ had…and without having it may not have went on to enjoy shooting. As others have noted it was cheap, but it did do the job. At a few feet, my brother and I passed away the days shooting flies…and then flies that hadn’t landed yet. We hunted wasps as though they were big game.
So many people have those childhood memories. Its hard to imagine the sport being what it is without that single gun, IMHO.
If we include BB Guns, B.B., then for me it was my first BB gun, bought with magazine selling going door to door in Los Angeles in the 1930’s, selling Liberty, Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, and such. It would be the Daisy No.101 Model 33 “Daisy for a Buck”. I learned about trajectory very quick..Lol. Loved that BB gun !
Awe, trajectory. We, my friends and I, used to go to the lake and shoot our BB guns like cannons to figure out how far they would shoot and all the possible angles in between. Shooting a can while holding your BB gun like a cannon and at your hip…true shooting!
As a collector, I know about the “Daisy For A Buck,” but you are the first person I have known who actually owned one from that period!
Looking at my Blue Book of Airguns, it was the Dasiy for a Buck. Same as todays Daisy Model 10. Since Liberty mgazine sold for a dime, us kids would go door to door for a few weeks to save the buck…plus 3% sales tax ( guessing on the sales tax..). But remember, you could buy a very nice home in Los Angeles in the 1930s for $5K.
Maybe unrelated because it’s a ‘pistol’, but the Marksman repeater was crappy, but owned by everybody. It was the only realistic looking metal bb gun of it’s time because it was before airsoft. It was affordable to teenagers with their own money, needed no CO2 (we were burnt by co2 guns because we didn’t oil them, too cheap to buy $2 pellgun oil, even if we used trans fluid maybe we would’ve had better success). It was a terrible shooting gun, but the darts were appealing to us, even though they would bounce out of the cardboard dartboard. Possibly a first lesson in buyer remorse.
Not the best, but everyone owned one, sort of like the folding wrist rocket slingshot, or another analogy is a ‘Quiet Riot’ cassette, not the best but was part of every collection. In my opinion…
I was gonna mention the marksman pistol, your right every kid had one, pull on the back, tip the barrel and load paper balls, crayon pieces, the darts, maybe if lucky some cheap daisy pellets, but real ammo was the fewest of things shot out of them… lol, If I could grab one today I would try to turn it into a real shootin little plinker. As kids boy did we abuse things, throwin our birthday bicycles off a bridge for no real reason, junk like that.
Also, why was it designated the “Repeater”? It’s a spring action, one cock one shot, nothing repeater about it.
In the 2 inch barrel front was an area that held multiple bb’s, pellets were load one each time, but the bb’s you could tip back and up and a bb would be in the ‘barrel area’ for the next cock and shoot. In hindsight i’m not sure how they didn’t just roll out of the loose ‘barrel’.
If you can load more than one projectile at a time and don’t have to reload after each shot, it’s a repeater. The Red Ryder is a repeater. You work the lever one time & you shoot it. Same principle, but it holds a lot of BBs…so it’s a repeater.
The folding tubing slingshot was similar in that it was a marketing success, the whamo ash wood flatband was the king of all being sold for years in every 5&10, and had better performance, but the gumbands rotted out quicker than the tubing, and we thought the tubing one was ‘tactical’ looking, the high pound pullback and recoil made us think it was more powerful than flatbands, but it wasn’t.
See that? Back then bbs were the last thing that went in those, I didn’t even know it took bbs like that! Huh
Last time I got a slingshot it was a full forearm pulley systemed marksman, hunter green and that thing zinged em. I gave the neighbor a barnett cobra, and when he proved irresponsible I snipped the tubes so it break without me being a jerk for taking it back from him. Now he’s got rubber bands on it and won’t be getting himself in trouble, lol. He’s a good kid though.
Yet another movie star gun. Vacation fun!
I’ve got a question for you that I think might make an idea for a blog segment (maybe not, up to you…I just know your always looking for ideas). Most of us don’t have the luxury of owning a stable of high end airguns, and we dream of the ones we want “some day”.
What about you? Which modern airguns are out there that you havent got, but which you would love to have? Foreign or domestic, in production or right around the corner? Anything out there to dream of?
That’s a good question. Let me give it some thought and I’ll come up with a report.
I too would add the Red Ryder and Marksman Pistol, but the title did say rifles. Therefore the Daisy BB guns, Marksman pistol and Crosman 760 doesn’t meet that as they are smooth bore. So I agree on the Benjamin 397/392 and Silver Streak for bringing hunting to the masses. But I’d also throw in the Daisy 880 for “cheap power” for the masses. A lot of people went from an 880 to a 22lr. If throw in a “rifled” pistol, I’d say the Crosman 1377/1322. Great article!
Not sure the 769 is a smoothbore, were they smooth at one time? Because the 2 or 3 I’ve had were rifled barrels.
if you meant 760, as of right now, crosman doesn’t list them as rifled. I believe the one I had in 1979 wasn’t rifled and my Dad’s (not sure the year, but it has the plastic receiver) is smooth bore also.
Ywas I meant 760, big thumbs little touchscreen buttons.
My 760 is rifled, some are not, I think the rifling in mine has been irreversibly damaged by too many BB’s because of the sporadic patterns but he barrel I replaced was definitely smoothbore.
If smoothbore /BB/ were considered, I’d nominate the Daisy model 25… Been made for decades in some form or another. Simple yet sturdy design for most of its life. Magazine fed repeater, and since the magazine/barrel screwed into the larger tube — with the screw fitting at the rear of the barrel — it sort of tensioned the barrel when the knurled muzzle ring met the outer tube.
Wulfraed, I agree….I love the “spring fed” tube magazine. My 25 always shoots. I get flustered with our Red Ryders and bucks when they “misfire”.
I think the FWB 300s belongs on the list for its impact on 10 meter competition. It probably still holds the record for the most competitive wins and meant that rifles with felt recoil were done for serious competition.
Airgunning was also changed a lot by the Crosman 2260, which probably was the greatest impetus for the modding fever that has extended to many other airguns such as the Marauder and 1377/1322.
What about the Benjamin Discovery? The first affordable PCP and it introduced DualFuel technology to the market.
A ground breaker in it’s class.
I would say the Daisy 880 was a common step up from the 760. I think 760s were produced with both rifled and smooth barrels, but the 880, I think, was always rifled.
The real question, in my mind, was what was the equivalent starter breakbarrel? If you want to count smoothbores, then the Daisy Red Ryder and Model 25 would be the definitive starter springers.
But no one gun stands out as the definitive starter springer, once you get out of the bb gun class.
There have been (and still are) plenty of low-end springers, but no one gun that has achieved wide public acceptance. The Bronco is certainly deserving, but is not widespread, due to how it is marketed. It is not sold in box stores to newcomers to the sport. What you do find is an assortment of low-end springers. Some can be worked into decent guns if they do not destroy themselves during break-in. I have a Beeman RS2 that is a decent shooter with a broken-in spring and the .22 barrel fitted. It broke its original scope, and the first RS2 I bought literally shook itself apart in my hands. Crosman makes an assortment of entry-level springers, but build so many gun models on the same platform that are virtually identical that no one model stands out.
This comment brings to mind the Slavia 618.
Nice to hear about the historical role of the RWS 48 which I enjoy in the form of a B30. Quite a rifle with some real authority.
By way of report, I will say that Derrick did a magnificent job fixing my IZH 61 which is shooting as well as ever. But we’re still having some difficulties with my Daisy 747. For some reason the cocking lever swings open after firing the round. Derrick put 100 rounds through it without a problem before sending it and has wondered if the gun is possessed. Best guess is that an adjustment cylinder inside the gun somehow moved while in transit, but it’s a mystery.
J., interesting about the Carcano. Why in the world would any country that makes decent ammunition then degrade its quality by mixing ammo from different arsenals? I’ve heard good things about the Finnish Mosins. But I wonder if the Russian Mosins are underrated. Certainly, their massive heavy triggers can be held against them. Otherwise, the sights are good and the rifle is easy to shoulder. By lightening the trigger and putting on a scope, you should be able to equal anything from the Finns. I’ve read one opinion that the Russian Mosins may have been the greatest sniper rifles of WWII. They had little modification from the factory version–basically what I said–and their test required MOA accuracy. As for the ammo, I’m hearing that the 7.62X54R equals the accuracy of the .308, so it seems a little strange to have a design of that quality and then manufacture it so poorly as not to reach its potential. I’m looking forward to exploring my Mosin further.
I passed through Fort Smith on my way home from Texas, and stopped in Rogers, Arkansas to visit the Daisy BB Gun Museum a few minutes ago. I really enjoyed it, especially the collection of 18th and 19th century air guns. A factory-second 499 and pink Red Ryder from the museum store are coming home with us.
My brother’s Sheridan 5mm rifle was the most Influential air gun I grew up with.
R.B. ! Two great buys ! Pink guns are cooll because friends do not want to borrow them and local police will think the guns are not illegal because they are AirSoft and girlie. Real men wear pink shirts, too ! Lol..Then, on top of all that, you bought at the legendary Dasiy comnpany. Wow ! What a memory.
Shoot straight and keep a smile on our faces !
25 years ago I was fresh outta the USAF and got a job that would enable me to see the whole country while making cash, I was a Carny. the trailer I pulled behind my truck had 4 of the most awesome BB guns ever! The
Feltman machine gun has been around for decades. Entertaining millions of customers per year! just about the only maintenace require was 3 drops daily of Marvel mystery oil. That’s gotta be worthy of honorable mention
Slingin’ Lead has a point, I don’t know if we can finish all this in one day.
B.B. I was wondering if I could bother you for a few of the not so common links to the Giridoni, it seems I’m just rehashing the same info and my thirst for knowledge on it is unquenchable.
What a terrific topic! Being an airgun history geek, I just can’t tell you how many times I’ve scratched out such lists myself… And by the way, I absolutely agree with your first choice! The Jeffries-designed BSA underlevers are THE most important design of all, a watershed that changed the world’s attitude about the quality and performance that airguns could achieve.
For “historical significance” I have to throw a gun (actually one that I don’t own!) on the pile: the Anschutz 220 match rifle.
At a time when the world’s best target guns were barrel-cocking or underlever springers that relied simply on low power and weight to control recoil–guns like the Walther LG 55, HW 55, Diana 50M, etc.–the 220 was an absolute revolution. A single design introduced a fixed barrel with sliding breech chamber to allow direct-to-bore loading; a safe and ergonomic sidelever cocking system; and most revolutionary of all, a recoil-suppression mechanism to control spring surge. And all this combined with the superb quality of barrel, trigger, and sights for which Anschutz was already famous.
Introduced in 1959, the 220 was really two generations ahead of the rest of the world, and kicked off an “arms race” in target-gun innovation. The Diana Giss-system double-piston guns, Feinwerkbau sledge system springers, and Walther LGR single-stroke pneumatic were the competition’s responses of the day–and the race is still going on to the benefit of us all!
You are right. The 220 is remarkable, because it isn’t completely recoilless. And I think it is the only recoilless rifle to use a hydraulic dampening mechanism.
The two I owned were both superb air rifles.