by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

A history of airguns

This report covers:

  • Airguns are easy to use
  • Airguns are quiet
  • Airguns cock easily
  • Airguns are accurate
  • Airguns have good sights
  • What about plastic?
  • Triggers
  • What have I missed?
  • Why is this in the history section?

I celebrate my victories quietly. One of them has been to expose the elements of classic airgun design, so people who need to know can understand what it takes to make something timeless and enduring. We all know that the airgun manufacturers are silent readers of this blog and its comments. Today I am dedicating this report to them — a compilation of design aspects that will ensure a classic airgun. I’ll tell you why at the end of the report.

Airguns are easy to use

Yes, there are people who only shoot airguns. Before I wrote this blog I had no idea there were so many of them, but there are. They are a sizable element of the shooting population and designers need to be aware of them. But their numbers are overwhelmed by the number of firearms shooters who also shoot airguns from time to time. And why do they do it? Because airguns are easy to shoot. I can pick up a Diana 27 and snap off 5 shots at targets of opportunity before you can pack your AR-15 with bipod and sniper scope into that oversized black tactical bag! And we both know the rifle isn’t all you need to go to the range. You load the car with stuff, while I carry my 6-pound breakbarrel in one hand, and a tin of pellets in my pocket.

Airguns are quiet

You say you like the feeling of recoil and the blast when you shoot? Then why do you shoot off a Caldwell Lead Sled and wear hearing protection at the range? My Air Venturi Bronco is quiet enough to shoot in an apartment with thin walls and never disturb the neighbors.

Airguns cock easily

Here the road divides, and as Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to a fork in the road — take it!” Some airguns are easy to cock, while others require the strength of Hercules. Classic airguns are easy. The hard ones are the guns destined for that end-of-year clearance sale.

Airguns are accurate

Everyone knows accuracy is subjective. So I will cut through the discussion and give you a guideline. If your airgun sells for under $200, it ought to put 10 pellets in one inch at 25 yards. If it costs over $1,000 is should put 10 pellets into 0.6-inches at 50 yards. Better is always okay. Worse than that gets bad real quick. You figure out the rest for yourself. [Well, let’s see — he didn’t address guns costing over $200 and under $1,000. Our new .25 caliber sporter will put 10 into 1.5 inches at 25 yards. At least that’s the best we’ve seen so far. Yeah, but it’s got a dipped camo thumbhole stock and comes with a bipod. It sells for $399.95, but those cool features ought to be worth the difference.]

Classic airguns are accurate. Period.

Airguns have good sights

 

Here is the definition of a good sight — one you can see and one that stays in place rigidly unless adjusted. The front sight shape compliments the rear sight notch.

Fiberoptic sights are good for one thing — pointing the gun at a close target when the light is good. They are not precise. But, if the target is 25 yards away, good is good enough. If it is 50 yards or farther, you need precision, and fiberoptics are not that precise.

Classic sights are also very cool when examined closely. RWS rear sights have multiple notches, Weihrauchs used to come with front globe inserts.

What is not cool is a sight that cannot be adjusted for the impact of the pellet. That is so not cool that it wipes out all the other good things the gun may have.

What about plastic?

Oh — plastic. The Fudge-word of airguns! Can plastic and classic ever co-exist? I think they can.

The Beeman P3 and Beeman P17 are both plastic airguns. And both are classics in my opinion. Daisy’s 717 has some plastic parts and it, too, is a classic. And guns from their 853 family are virtual styrene mines! Yet all are classics. My readers can flesh out this list for you.

Triggers

Okay, all you corporate lawyers — take a coffee break. I know they teach at law school that products must be designed with the lowest common denominator in mind, and the education system (helped immensely by social media) is rapidly slipping toward the single-cell entity, but where is the illogical conclusion on this slippery slope? Coffeemakers that don’t heat the coffee are safe, and safer still are coffeemakers that don’t even plug in! Knives without blades are very safe — and I understand there are several British cutlery houses looking into that possibility. I’ll let our UK readers explain that one.

Guns are made to shoot, and triggers are a major part of that. Sure, you can make a car that parks itself so your 16-year-old son doesn’t have to learn how to parallel park (poor baby!), but I don’t think anyone wants a gun that fires all by itself. Most of the anti-gun crowd probably already thinks they do — let’s not go there.

A trigger is the link between the shooter and the gun. The problem is, many shooters are not as skilled as they think they are and they adjust their triggers too light. Worse, they modify their triggers in non-approved ways, making them unsafe. How many shooters know their trigger parts are often case-hardened? How many know the depth of the case-hardened shell on a trigger part? How many believe that “stoning” means attacking each part with a rotary tool like a Dremel?

Triggers have too many variables for most manufactures. But there are solutions.

1. Make a trigger whose design is so revolutionary that it defies the kitchen-table tinkerer. I give you the Diana ball-bearing trigger.

2. Seal the trigger inside a tamper-proof box. Put the adjustments on the outside.

3. Make triggers that work! Then have the guts to fight the lawsuits from all the bleeding hearts who, “Didn’t think little Johnny was doing anything wrong when he opened the trigger box with a hammer chisel and polished every part inside to a mirror shine on a buffing wheel.”

The fact is, lawsuits cost money even when you win. I understand why airgun companies want to avoid them. But good triggers are possible. As proof I give you the Air Venturi Bronco and the HW 30S. Think about the trigger you put into that next airgun — your customers certainly will.

Okay, lawyers, coffee break is over. Back on your heads!

What have I missed?

Let’s see; how about steel parts polished to a deep luster and perfectly blued? Real walnut stocks with high figure and classic shapes? Classic shapes? Yes, it is time to fire the guys in the wood shop whose last jobs were at a company that made electric guitars. There are shapes for stocks that shooters know and expect to see. Get a gun book and look them up. And, does anyone still remember how to checker?

Yes, fine materials and dazzling finishes will always catch the eye, but they aren’t a solution for poor design. What I’m saying is you can put lipstick on a pig, but that doesn’t change the species.

Why is this in the history section?

Okay — what does any of this have to do with airgun history? Quick, tell me what a Daisy 404 is. Time’s up.

A Daisy 404 is a widebody BB gun turned into a pellet rifle. Never heard of it? Few people have. It wasn’t a classic — it was porcine (look it up).

I could continue to review other failed airgun designs, but I won’t. The thing is — and this is the whole point of today’s report — there are attributes of design that, if executed properly, will result in airguns that stand the test of time. They will be airguns people remember. Guns like the Crosman 600 and the Hy Score 801 made by Pieper are celebrated today — many years after they ceased production. Will the Bronco and the HW30S be celebrated decades from now?

Crosman 600
Crosman’s 600 is more popular today than it was when it was still in production.

Hy Score 801
Hy Score 801 made by Belgian maker Pieper is a classic breakbarrel rifle.

Time will tell. But let me put it another way. When the CEO of Crosman asked me if I thought they could sell 1,000 Benjamin Discoverys in the first year, I told him I thought they could sell 2,000. I was bluffing, because nothing like it had ever been tried.

They had 4,000 walnut stocks on hand from aΒ cancelledΒ project, and they put them on the first Discoverys that were made. They ran out of those stocks in less than a year!

That’s why.