by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

A history of airguns

Daisy Red Ryder
Daisy Red Ryder.

This report covers:

  • How many Red Ryders?
  • Number 111 Model 40
  • Model 94 carbine
  • Model 1938
  • The Red Ryder explodes!

Today we start looking at an American airgun icon — the Daisy Red Ryder BB gun. With the recent change in ownership of Daisy Outdoor Products, this look is most fitting.

I will test the gun for you in the traditional way, and then I have a surprise. Someone has developed a scope mount for the Daisy that will fit all the older models, as well as the new one. I know the website says scopes cannot be mounted to the current Red Ryder, but we will see if they can. And no doubt some other things will pop up along the way. Sit back and relax — this should be an interesting journey for all of us.

How many Red Ryders?

Let be start with the fact that there have been many different BB guns that were called the Red Ryder. The gun we see today is not the one Daisy began selling is 1939. According to the latest edition of the Blue Book of Airguns, there are 8 variations of just that first version, which was the Number 111 Model 40.

Daisy model numbering is quite complex and confusing on its own, and when you talk about a popular gun like the Red Ryder, the complexity multiplies! Are you a guy who discriminates between the several versions of Christmas Story Red Ryders? Daisy collectors do. Or are you the sort of guy who thinks a Red Ryder is the gun you had as a kid? I have owned several different models of the gun myself, but I’m by no means a collector. Just know that there are some very different BB guns that have carried the Red Ryder name.

Number 111 Model 40

The first version was the Number 111 Model 40 — first introduced in 1939 and sidelined by World War II, but resumed shortly thereafter. This is the one that has at least 8 variations, and probably more if you are an advanced collector who differentiates smaller differences than the books cover.

Actually I lied. There are 9 major variations, because the Number 311 is the same gun in a boxed set with a scope, bell target, cork tube with corks (yes, several Daisy BB guns also shot corks with the right shot tube), all in a large cardboard box. I have owned this variation, and it’s a small collection by itself. The gun inside the box was one of the 8 variations mentioned earlier, though. There is no Red Ryder that is marked as a Number 311 — at least not to my knowledge.

The first Red Ryder had all wooden furniture with highly polished blued steel parts and copper-plated bands that looked gorgeous to little boys. When Daisy made the Christmas Story guns for the movie, Daisy’s Orin Ribar painted the bands to simulate the originals. As far as I know, there were a total of 6 left-handed BB guns (actor Peter Billingham is left-handed) made for the movie, and any one of them is a prized collectible today. Trivia fact — all 6 movie guns have the compass on the opposite side of the stock!

Model 94 carbine

This first major version lasted into the 1950s, when Daisy began using plastic stocks and painted finishes on the metal parts. It was replaced by the Model 94 carbine that few people outside the collectors know about. I know about it because I once owned one that was like new in the box. I bought it at a flea market and had it for many years. I sold it at an airgun show because, quite frankly, it was too nice a collectible for someone like me to own!

The 94 was an attractive airgun that went from 1955 to 1962. During this time Daisy perfected both the painting process and the making of plastic stocks. As long as you didn’t subject the guns to great heat — by storing them in a hot attic — the stocks never warped and the paint didn’t flake off. My gun was in 100 percent condition, with a box that was very good, if not quite perfect.

This model had a thin leather sheath over the butt, as well as a genuine leather thong looped through the saddle ring on the left side of the receiver. The rear sight was a selectable notch and peep that flipped to the shooter’s preference. Except for the plastic parts, this is a gun that Ralphie Parker (from A Christmas Story) would have been proud to own.

Model 1938

In 1972 Daisy brought out the Model 1938 in homage to the original No. 111 Model 40. Original examples of this model in good condition are very hard to find today, but there are a ton of restored ones. Some of the restorations are as fine as Daisy made them originally and this is an area of extreme collector discussion — by which I mean that not everyone agrees. Many want the real deal — untouched by human hands. But, as there aren’t enough of those to go around, the other camp says they are delighted to own a fine restoration.

It is important to note that the Model 1938 still has the Lightning Loader — that small tube under the larger tube that most people call the barrel — where the BBs are loaded (“Careful, son. They go everywhere!”). When the 1938B came along, BBs were loaded though a window cut right into the barrel, and the tube beneath the barrel became strictly cosmetic.

Daisy Red Ryder Lightning Loader
This is the Lightning Loader on my No. 111 Model 40 Red Ryder.

The Red Ryder explodes!

The 1970s was a time when gun makers went wild with product differentiation. They discovered they could make a basic product, then cover it with different finishes and stock materials, and sometimes engrave different names on the side to appeal to large and varied audiences. For example, if you live in Alaska you might not care about a California Centennial model, but a Klondike model might pique your interest. Winchester used their model 94 lever action for this and Daisy used the Model 1938B. The number of commemoratives and guns that celebrate organizations like Ducks Unlimited (having nothing to do with BB guns, but still related to the shooting sports) is epic! There is over a page and a half of just the sub-variations of the Daisy Model 1938B Red Ryder in the Blue Book.

This is essentially the Red Ryder model you get today. Daisy has dropped the B designator, but retained the new method of loading, so I guess we need to differentiate between today’s Model 1938 and the one with the Lightning Loader that was made from 1972 to 1978. It’s the sort of thing that can get you into heated discussions. “I just bought a cool Mustang!”

“Is it a real Mustang, or is it the modern one?”

“What do you mean? Of course it’s a real Mustang. It says so all over the car!”

If that doesn’t start a food fight this weekend, I don’t know how to stir the pot.

Lots more to come.