by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

A history of airguns

Part 1

This report covers:

  • Crosman ashcan
  • Other pellets were similar
  • Competition improves things
  • Better pellets were needed!
  • Molecular level!
  • Crosman Premier!
  • Many improvements

Before we start, I have a couple things. Several readers wondered how I could see my computer screen while looking straight down. So I decided to show you.

This chair is offered by Comfort Solutions in Jupiter, FL. It was designed just for the operation I had and has a success rate over 90 percenrt, compared to 60 percent without it. I don’t want to lose my eye, so it was a no brainer. If you are interested, see it at

I initially rented it, but this chair is so comfortable that I bought it to use from now on. I will switch between an office chair and this one to ease back strain.

This is how the chair works with a laptop. I see the screen very clearly this way.

Next, Pyramyd Air wants to know if any readers are having difficulties posting their comments. One person complained and they want to know if there are others. Email me at [email protected]

Now on to today’s report.

We left this tale at the start of the diabolo pellet. It was a landmark shape that changed airgunning, because with it the rifled guns could now be accurate. BSA started the trend in 1905, and other brands soon followed. The guns were all made in the same way as the firearms of the day and today they seem like exotic pieces. We marvel at their wood and steel construction and at the deep lustrous bluing that rivals the finest guns made today. But that was business as usual at the start of the 20th century.

The pellets proliferated, as well. New brands came out all the time, until the market was saturated with them. But the technology stood still. Makers seemed to think they had gone as far as they could go, and from 1910 through about 1955 there were no real advances in pellet design. I guess the makers believed that pellet guns were as good as they were ever going to get.

Crosman ashcan

Let me show just one pellet to tell the story. Crosman produced a diabolo that conformed to the general design as closely as any other. They had a wasp waist and hollow tail just like all of them. But they kept using the die and refreshing it as needed until gradually the wasp waist went away. In the late 1960s we called them Crosman ashcans, because that was what they looked like.

I thought that was what they were supposed to look like for many years until I had the opportunity to speak with a Crosman engineer from that time. He told me they used the die too long. And then I heard from several collectors who actually had the same pellet from different lots over the years that showed the gradual disappearance of the waist.

Crosman ashcan
Crosman ashcan pellets (left) are starkly different than Crosman Premiers. The waist is almost gone. Taken from a tin sold in the late 1960s. Disregard the oxidation that has occured.

Other pellets were similar

Don’t jump on Crosman, though. Most pellet makers in this timeframe did the same thing. I have Benjamin domes that look very little like the drawing on the outside of the tin! And I have some British Bulldogs that are pretty rough, as well. I think most makers were just glad to put out a product. They didn’t worry too much about how it performed. At least until around the 1960s.

Competition improves things

Europe started rebuilding after the war and in the 1950s the various economies started to settle down. Sport has always been big in the European nations and shooting has long been a respected sport. Airguns were taken seriously throughout the continent, and target models began to emerge, with Walther leading the way, followed by Weihrauch.

Better pellets were needed!

The new target guns required the best ammunition and a couple companies started making them. H&N was an early leader in this move. RWS was not far behind. Soon shooters woke up to the fact that all pellets are not created equal and the diabolo accuracy race began. It is impossible to put a date on this, as it happened over the course of more than a decade, but the move to improve pellets was very real.

Molecular level!

During a visit to the H&N factory in the late ’80s, Dr. Beeman was told that if pellets were to get any better it would have to be at the molecular level! That turned out to be an overstatement that I will address later, but it wasn’t that far off the mark. By the 1980s H&N was producing pellets that were used at the World Cup and Olympic levels, but could also be purchased by the common shooter. This is not always the case in high-level competition, but it was for pellets. But they hadn’t quite gone as far as they could go — yet!

Crosman Premier!

In the early 1990s, close to the middle of the decade, Crosman brought out a domed pellet that rocked the world. It out-shot all other domed pellets in the growing sport of field target. The Crosman Premier was the result of applying aerodynamics to pellet shape, to get the smoothest possible flight through the air. Right from the start, Premiers caught everyone’s attention. And the interest they aroused started another round of pellet improvements. The goal was to make a pellet that was just as good as Premiers. The dream was to make one that was even better.

Many improvements

At the close of the 20th century the diabolo pellet world was exploding. Big companies were experimenting with quality control measures and small companies were trying to get their piece of the pie. New shapes were tried and some actually worked. Others were a disaster!

In the next installment we will look at what has happened to pellets in the past 20 years.