by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

The history of airguns

This report covers:

  • Saw it at my first airgun show
  • Fast-forward
  • I had to know!
  • Buzzy
  • Odd loading mechanism
  • Instinct shooting
  • How rare are they?
  • Today’s point

Collectors of anything know there are more things in the world than all the books acknowledge. That’s one of the things that makes collecting so much fun — the joy of discovering something other people knew nothing about.

I don’t consider myself to be a collector. I suppose that’s because I am willing to let go of almost anything. Most collectors have a vault from which nothing escapes while they live. I realized that I could never own all the things I was interested in at the same time, so I buy and sell as my interest changes.

Saw it at my first airgun show

That’s how I came to own today’s collectible BB gun — the Parris Kadet 500 Trainer. In 1994 I was at the very first airgun show I ever attended, which turned out to be the second show ever held in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. That show migrated to Roanoke, Virginia several years later and then it moved on to Salem, Virginia and the Moose Lodge, where it was held for several years before ending. My point is — I have been attending airgun shows almost from the beginning.

Parris BB gun

Parris BB gun looks like a Daisy until you examine it closely.

I saw many wonderful things at that show, but one of them really stuck in my mind. It was a plain-looking lever action BB gun that had a lever made from stamped metal. Beyond that it resembled most older Daisy BB guns of the Red Ryder style. The ones (yes, there were several at this show) I saw were all in NRA Decrepit condition save one that was all the way up to NRA Lousy. I had certainly never seen this kind of BB gun and it impressed me — apparently a lot!

Fast-forward

Fast-forward several years and many airgun shows. Over that time I had learned that this strange BB gun was made by the Parris Manufacturing Company of Savanna, TN — best-known for making toy rifles that resemble bolt action military rifles from WW II and before. I had played with Parris rifles as a child and knew of the company as a toy maker, but not as the maker of BB guns.

I also discovered in the Blue Book of Airguns that Parris made at least 5 different models of BB guns. There may be even more variations out there — I simply do not know. Nor does anyone else, it seems.

I had to know!

Having been teased by this obscure BB gun for so many years, I had to know how well it worked. What was it like to cock one with that thin sheet metal lever? Was it accurate? So I bought one for $60 at an airgun show. That’s what they seemed to fetch — $60. It wasn’t a lot to spend, but when you’re a writer who is interested in everything, you have to have a schedule.

Parris BB gun lever
This picture shows not only the sheet metal cocking lever, but also the stamped trigger blade.

Buzzy

I got the gun and immediately started testing it. I discovered that it needed oil, as do all BB guns with the typical BB-gun powerplant. And I discovered it shot BBs at around 300 f.p.s., plus or minus. But the gun was loose as a goose on its inside and buzzed like a bottle of angry hornets when it was fired. Parris was a toymaker who may not have been able to hold manufacturing tolerances as closely as a company like Daisy. At least that was always my speculation about why the gun buzzed so much.

Odd loading mechanism

Another odd thing about this BB gun is the way it loads. The front sight slides back to reveal an opening into which up to 50 BBs are poured. Most BB guns would be loaded at that point, but not the Parris Kadet 500. That just loads BBs into the onboard reservoir.

Parris BB gun loading port
Push back the front sight blade to reveal the loading port. Up to 50 BBs can be loaded, but they only go into an onboard holding reservoir.

To load the gun for shooting the whole front sight is twisted to one side and a single BB drops down to the breech to be caught and retained by a magnet. Up to 6 Bbs can be loaded successively that way, but to what purpose I’m not sure. The gun is too weak to make any kind of air shotgun. I think this is just a quirk of the design that someone decided had to have a purpose.

Instinct shooting

I am also interested in the subject of instinct shooting that has a rich history in the BB gun world. Lucky McDaniel was its most well-known proponent and he sometimes used BB guns made by Parris!

It’s true there is a Daisy Lucky McDaniel Instinct Shooting outfit that I wrote about many years ago. But Daisy and Lucky parted ways in the early 1960s and Lucky went to Parris to have his BB gun made.

They shouldn’t have sights, but the 5 I’ve seen had both front and rear sights. I have seen them at airgun shows and they are characterized by a Lucky McDaniel sticker on the butt of the gun. Without that sticker, there is no way of telling who the gun was made for.

Parris BB gun label
This is the label on my Parris Kadet 500 BB gun. A Lucky McDaniel gun would have a Lucky McDaniel sticker here.

How rare are they?

I bet some of you are wondering right now how rare these BB guns are. I wondered that myself after never seeing one for nearly the first half-century of my life. But apparently they are not that rare. I see them at many airgun shows — including one that was at the 2015 Texas Airgun Show held at the end of August. The prices have risen a little, but what hasn’t? I found one selling for $115 online when I researched this report.

The thing is, lot of what has been written about them is stuff I wrote. My name has been stripped off, of course, but the exact terminology I used can be found in a number of places on the internet. That’s discouraging because I know next to nothing about the guns beyond what I’ve told you here.

Today’s point

The point of this report is to demonstrate there are things out there that most people haven’t heard of. There are new toys to be found just over the horizon. And that is part of the thrill of being a collector. You get to learn stuff that few people know and see things most will never see. That keeps the blood flowing, I think.