by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

A history of airguns

This report covers:

  • Your new air cane
  • Oh-oh!
  • But I saw this on TV
  • Back to reality
  • What can break on a vintage air cane?
  • Dialing it back
  • Does this really work?

Merry Christmas! I hope this day finds you smiling and joyful.

Today I want to discuss a topic that seldom arises, yet is at the forefront of every novice collector’s mind. Namely, “Should I (and can I) shoot my antique airgun?” Many of you will agree there is no one right answer to this question, because the answer depends on many things. Today I’d like to discuss a few of them.

Your new air cane

Let’s say you went to an airgun show and were captivated by a beautiful air cane that was still in its original case with all the accoutrements. When you saw it for the first time your heart melted and your wallet popped open with unaccustomed speed. You wanted this air cane!

Reilly air cane
A fine cased air cane by Reilly, complete with all equipment. It’s museum quality and now it’s yours!


You get the cane home and fondle it lovingly for a few days, then the evil part of your brain wakes up and goes to work. “Sure, she’s a supermodel, but can she cook?” You find yourself yearning to see what it’s like to shoot this cane.

But I saw this on TV

Collector’s shows on television are no help in this situation. The guy who just bought the 1915 Stanley Steamer for a quarter million dollars decides to get it into running condition. After a commercial break he tells you it took a lot but he finally got the old girl back on the road and boy is he having fun with it. What he never mentions is the 8 months and half-million dollars he had to invest to get the car to where it is now. And a guy like this can do that because he has all the time in the world and money to burn. He can afford to pay someone ten thousand dollars to fabricate a cylinder head for his automobile, to replace the original one that has a crack. He is connected to people around the world who collect Stanley Steamers, and they can help him solve any problem he encounters. All it takes is time and money.

Back to reality

On the other hand, you have a job to go to every day and bills to pay. Your bank balance is a finite number. Can you afford to play with the big boys? Can you risk your new $5,000 investment, just for the satisfaction of seeing it shoot a few times? As it turns out, you can!

What can break on a vintage air cane?

The first thing to do is assess your new cane and ask the question, “What can break?” And you discover that the only things at great risk are the springs and the air reservoir. A good blacksmith can make new springs, so line up one of them before you start. And as for the air reservoir, why don’t you just not use it at all? Leave it as is and make a new one to attach to the cane.
When you make that decision you realize that the cane’s firing valve has to be transferred to the new reservoir and that’s the perfect time to replace the valve seat made of animal horn with one made of Delrin. Now you don’t have to lubricate the valve with sperm whale oil every time you want to shoot!

Dialing it back

Okay, Ground Control to Major Tom! You don’t really have $5,000 to blow on a cased cane. Wouldn’t that be nice, but like the Stanley Steamer, that’s not you.

You do have $450, however, for that beater cane that’s unsigned but looks like something made by Townsend. It’s ugly and missing the rifled barrel insert and ramrod, but hey — other than the rifled barrel it’s complete and it’s in your budget! It still has a .43 caliber smoothbore barrel that will work just fine and you can make another ramrod out of a dowel rod..

You don’t have the skill or the money to build a new air reservoir, but a collector tells you he runs his canes on CO2 in their original reservoirs and it works fine. As long as they aren’t made from Damascus steel, which the cheaper ones like the one you are looking at aren’t, the original reservoir is plenty strong enough for CO2. All you need is an adaptor to attach to where the hand pump normally goes. Another guy at the show offers to make an adaptor for you for $60. That will allow you to fill the cane from a paintball tank.

Does this really work?

The reason I know all this is I have done it — not once but twice. I used to shoot my .43 caliber air cane at all the airgun shows that had ranges. The guys who taught me all this stuff are mostly gone now, but a few are still around. So if you want to shoot that vintage airgun — yes, there probably is a way. Think about what might break and why, and then deal with those issues and you can have your cake and eat it, too.

Maybe I never went home with a supermodel, but at least I was well-fed.