Life in the golden age of airguns

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

This report covers:

  • Growth
  • Why do we shoot?
  • Accuracy
  • Smooth shooting
  • Pride of ownership
  • Technology
  • Today
  • Where to next
  • What to avoid

As I read your comments I can’t help but marvel at the changes I see in airguns. Let’s start with their popularity.

Growth

When I started writing about airguns in 1994 we had very little idea of how many airgunners there were in the United States. We knew how many people owned firearms because the NRA kept track of that number, and at that time there were between 5 and 10 million shooters in the U.S. The number depended on which definition of shooter you used. If you were interested in shooters who were very active, the number was smaller. If you defined a shooter as someone who shot a firearm in the last 10 years, the number was large.

But when it came to airgunners, we had very little idea of how many there might be. A safe number was between 5,000 and 15,000 — again depending on the definition. At the same time there were over a half-million young shooters shooting airguns in NRA-sanctioned marksmanship programs around the country, but none of them was considered in the number of airgunners. That’s because when their programs were over they moved on to other things. Very few remained as dedicated shooters. So, when I talk about airgunners, I’m only talking about adults who pursue some aspect of airgunning seriously — be it collecting, hunting, general shooting or competition.

I looked at those numbers back then and saw that our growth potential was huge! If we could influence even a small percentage of active firearm shooters to take up airguns, we would explode! Taking the lowest estimate of 5 million active shooters, just one percent of them taking up airguns would add 50.000 new airgunners. So I concentrated on the firearms side of the shooting sports in my writing, by addressing subjects common to all shooters. And it worked. Today this blog is read by tens of thousands of readers, worldwide. People who cannot legally own firearms in their native countries can often own and use airguns to do the same things that firearms shooters do. They just do them on a smaller scale.

Why do we shoot?

Airgun manufacturers should pay attention to this part. People shoot airguns for reasons too numerous to discuss. BUT — and here comes the money shot — those that STAY with airguns, and could potentially become your customers for life — shoot for just a few reasons. Among these are accuracy, smooth operation and pride of ownership.

Accuracy

Shooting airguns for accuracy is like throwing darts. Yes darts can be dangerous, but that isn’t why people throw them. They throw them to see how close they can come to their intended target. Throwing darts this way is fun and relaxing. Darts can be a social event or they can be solitary, just like airguns.

Smooth shooting

Who doesn’t like a pellet gun that shoots smooth? Yet some of you have never experienced a gun like that. And others don’t know whether or not they have because they have nothing to compare to. For sure a spring gun bought at a discount store will not be smooth.But the Air Venturi Bronco was quite smooth when it was available.

Pride of ownership

Whatever airguns you sell, they should be ones you are proud of. They may not stand up alongside an expensive gun, but they don’t have to. Just make sure they can stand by themselves.

Technology

Today we have air rifles that are capable of shooting 10 shots into one-half inch at 50 yards; air rifles that are capable of taking deer-sized animals humanely. And we have the most realistic lookalike air rifles and air pistols that have ever existed. The technology that goes into today’s airguns should be first rate, because that technology certainly exists.

Today

Why is this happening now? Because there are more airgunners in the U.S. today than ever! Forget 15,000. Forget 50,000. Today this nation probably has over 100,000 active airgunners. I am defining an active airgunner as someone who owns and shoots airguns regularly. Many firearms shooters have discovered airguns and found they can shoot more because airguns are safer, quieter and require less space. They have found that they don’t have to give up their firearms to enjoy airguns. It’s not one or the other. They can do both, using the benefits of each to satisfy their shooting needs.

The number of airgunners in the U.S. has made it profitable for manufacturers to innovate and experiment. In the early 1990s an airgun that cost $1,000 was reserved for wealthy shooters. It wasn’t that profitable to build most airguns to that level, because the sales weren’t there. Today, they are. The guns must be worth their price, but if they are, there is no longer a population of only a few hundred potential buyers. Now that firearm shooters have joined our ranks we have tens of thousands of customers who don’t blink at steep pricetags. Their experience with firearms has prepared them for this level of participation.

On the flip side of the price issue are airguns like the Air Venturi Bronco, the Benjamin Maximus, the Benjamin Discovery and the Walther Terrus. Manufacturers are starting to offer guns with advanced features at unbelievably low prices. And they are being rewarded by sales that sustain their risks! Maybe these guns don’t bring in the largest percentage of profit. They do, however, position that manufacturer in the minds of the buying public as a company to do business with. Sometimes that is more profitable than making the last dollar.

Sell a Maximus today and you may sell a Marauder tomorrow. Speaking of which, back in the 1990s any PCP that sold for under $600 was used. Twenty years later with rifles like the Marauder on the market, any manufacturer entering the market with a PCP priced higher than $500 knows they have to offer better features — better accuracy, triggers, power, and so on.

I had one heck of a time in 2006 convincing Crosman that the Discovery would sell well. They had already tried to get into the PCP market unsuccessfully with British imports and didn’t really have a plan. Today the Disco is one of the cornerstones in their PCP lineup, and Crosman is known throughout the world for their PCPs.

Where to next?

Here is today’s lesson. If you can improve the accuracy of your airguns — do it! If you can improve the smoothness of the shot cycle — do it! If you can make an airgun that gives the owner a thrill of pride when opening the box, and then a year later that thrill is still there — do it!

• Make your breakbarrel/sidelever/underlever easier to cock.
• Make the shot cycle dead smooth.
• Build a gun that will, put 10 rounds through a wedding ring at 35 yards.
• Build a trigger that breaks cleanly and crisply.
• If you put adjustments into a trigger, make sure they work!
• People like open sights. At least make them available optionally and make them good ones.
• Build a valve that conserves air for a higher shot count.

What to avoid

Every retail store owner should know not to try to compete with the big box discount chains on price. And every airgun manufacturer should know not to copy the Benjamin Discovery. It’s already been done and you can’t do it any better. Don’t try to knock off an AirForce Talon SS. It only makes your gun the butt of numerous jokes. Every place your copy falls short will be criticized by the market.

Avoid the velocity race. Yes, velocity still sells — to customers who will give up airguning after a few months. In other words, one-time sales. The TX200 Mark III that critics say is too expensive continues to sell steadily year in and year out.

Today’s blog was brought to you by the word “success” and by the bottom line. I hope it starts a discussion among you readers that the airgun manufacturers will take to heart.

32 thoughts on “Life in the golden age of airguns

  1. BB,

    In many countries firearms are strictly regulated and therefore there exists a large and stable export market which is not really explored by the USA. Especially as there is much more innovation in PCP airguns in the USA than everywhere else. If the people at AirForce, Crossmann and the rest should combine to enter these markets sales could also explode outside the USA. At this moment we are dependent on local distributors for import.

    O, and do not forget that airguns are cheaper to shoot, which is something you will need in the coming years.

    Regards,

    August


  2. B.B.,

    Very nice pointers for every manufacturer:
    • Make your breakbarrel/sidelever/underlever easier to cock.
    – They ought to take a page from Ford and make an Old Man suit and try using what they are selling.
    • Make the shot cycle dead smooth.
    – Crosman brought the price of PCPs down, now it should go after the high end market of springers by either tightening the Quality Control of airguns made elsewhere or make it themselves.
    • Build a gun that will, put 10 rounds through a wedding ring at 35 yards.
    – Crosman improved their pellet production. By making their barrel production consistent they can be relied upon to hit the mark.
    • Build a trigger that breaks cleanly and crisply.
    – If Savage can put a good trigger on their rifles without their lawyers raising an eyebrow why can’t Crosman? Heavy triggers increase the incidents of stupidents!
    • If you put adjustments into a trigger, make sure they work!
    – See above.
    • People like open sights. At least make them available optionally and make them good ones.
    – You can continue to sell airguns without them but if they want to put open sights at least make a provision that they can be fitted. (I only recently found out that there is an open sight option for the AirForce rifles other than the Edge.)
    • Build a valve that conserves air for a higher shot count.
    – That is a problem for the engineers.

    Congratulations on your new President. Interesting times ahead.

    Siraniko


    • Siraniko,

      Thanks for the congrats! We 2nd Amendment supporters are breathing easier this AM. I was not planning on giving up any of my firearms voluntarily, and now I don’t have to contemplate the awful contingencies.

      Thanks, again,

      Walt


  3. BB,

    We are indeed in “the golden age of airguns”. When I reflect on the advances I have seen, it is incredible. Just ten years ago, if you wanted an accurate air rifle, you would most likely be buying one that was made in Europe.

    That is why AirForce was so successful. That is why the Discovery and Marauder took the market by storm. Here were air rifles that were every bit as accurate as the finest European air rifles at a fraction of the cost.

    There are those who know that we will open are wallets to get what we want. I just spent what I consider a huge amount on an air rifle. But what I have is an air rifle that is one of the smoothest operating PCPs I have handled, is capable of shooting one inch groups at one hundred yards and is a real nice piece of eye candy. I seriously doubt this one will ever be leaving my “collection”. To top it off, it was made in the USA.

    Now, if I could just find “the sproinger”. As of right now I know it will likely be one made in Europe. It would really be nice if “the sproinger” was made in the USA also.


    • Hey RR,

      Curious which PCP captured your fancy. If you think highly of it I would like to check it out in more detail.

      Like my TX200 and FWB124 but for fine sniping my ultimate sproinger has got to be my FWB300SU. 🙂

      Hank



        • Thanks RR.

          Thought that the HM1000X was the one you were referring to. Will look the reviews and watch some videos.

          I am still thinking about (lusting for?) a .22 FX Royale 300. Your comments about sproingers has got me looking at some of the lighter HWs… thanks ( I think 😉 )

          I second your suggestion that Crosman should buy some of their competitors products, hopefully the people in their engineering team are also shooters that can properly appreciate quality rifles.

          Hank


    • Ridge, I agree on the sproinger. Crosman had and still has every chance to do it. The NP2 was so close. Just a few things here and there would be great. Open sights, a way to “tighten” the lockup and so on. Make it HERE with Quality!!!
      Doc


      • Doc,

        What I have often thought is Crosman should go out and buy a nice HW, a TX, a Diana 34, a Walther LGV and LGU and have a meeting with their engineering team, lay all of these sproingers on the table and say “This is your competition. Design us something equal to or better than these.” I would then buy a Crosman.


  4. B.B.,

    Well said,.. very well said. Some things come to mind.

    The first and foremost being,…. air gunners are (educated shooters) and (educated consumers) in a way that was not available in years past. Pyramid Air’s empire is one fine example. There are many others. People will sing your praises or burn you at the stake,….. all in a matter of a few seconds and in the millions,… with customer made YouTube videos to boot! The days of “pulling the wool over our eyes” is over. We know better.

    In the short course of a couple of years I have assembled a small collection. TX 200, LGU, M-rod, a couple of lever action bb guns and a 92FS pellet pistol. That’s it. With the exception of the bb rifles,…. A LOT of thought, looking at reviews, watching videos, asking questions. In other words,…. I got educated. As for cost,… yes it was a stretch,…. but you can see where the $ got spent. Quality. Scope(s) too.

    As for growing the crowd,….. I would like to see sites support one another more. Even if it sales or educational material. Some do, some do not and some a little. We all benefit. We all get smarter. We all buy more. Kind of like “United we stand, divided we fall” type of thought there I would suppose.

    As for recent “events”,….. Amen, hang on, should be interesting and it can not be worse. I’ll pray anyways.

    Chris


  5. B.B.

    Most of what you say is applicable to PCP guns only! Other than gas ram springs and maybe better piston seal materials, how have springers improved much in the last 20-30 years? The guns that I lust over, FWB 300, LGV, Pardini 58 were all made a long time ago………..

    -Y



      • Dear Godfather of Airguns,

        You are usually dead-on, not this time. How are triggers on springers better now? The Rekord has been around for ages. The different T 01-T06 triggers have been around for ages. The smoother shot cycle could be had 40 years ago by a nice tune job. I do not remember my great Uncle’s BSA air gun being hard to cock for a 7 year old. Now we have 1000fps plastic stuff that breaks…………..
        Have single stroke pneumatics changed in the last 20-30 years?
        We are in the golden age of PCP’s.

        FWIW-Never in my life time have there been so many 300+ HP cars available.

        Sorry for the rant,

        Yogi


  6. B. B.

    What a wonderful time to discover the hobby…and a wonderful time for manufacturers to contemplate improving and expanding their offerings. With boomers retiring, there is a huge portion of the population with the time and money to invest in such. While manufacturers’ management might not be airgunners, they do understand demographics and general market trends. Thank you for being our voice to them.

    Walt


  7. Over the last 35 years that I hunted I had a .22 rimfire, a 12 gauge, a centerfire rifle and a FWB124 pellet rifle in the gun safe and that met all my needs.

    Since rediscovering airgunning (through this site – BIG thanks to you Tom!) I have 10 fine European air rifles and am looking to add two more specific ones to the safe. Brand allegiance is strong but I am willing to consider any quality rifle. As a serious air gunner, I continue to support the industry and promote advantages of airgunning to the firearms users that I meet.

    Totally agree with the requirements B.B. listed in above. Quality airguns are for long term, harsh uber-magnums are a flash-in-the-pan.

    “Sell a Maximus today and you may sell a Marauder tomorrow”…
    I wish that Crosman would look more closely at the Canadian export market as there is no suitable PCP (velocity, cost, size, weight, shot-count) for new and young shooters. I talked to them suggesting a 495 fps version of the Maximus for the Canadian market (under 500 fps doesn’t require a license) and the reply was that they “had no plans for a Canadian version”.

    I think that attitude is pretty short-sighted on Crosman’s part. IMHO, the Maximus is an ideal youth rifle and I am sure that there are many (unlicensed) young people who would love a rifle of their own to go shooting with their parents.

    As much as I like the Maximus, Crosman should really consider improving their trigger and make the rifle easier to cock to meet the basic requirements.

    Just my nickel.

    Hank


  8. I watch the airgun clasifieds on almost a daily basis and I have not found a Bronco for sale, ever. Hw30s always command good money. I think that this reflects what is said in this article as the good guns are valued.


  9. Good article. In some other countries people shoot airguns because they aren’t allowed to buy “real” firearms. I just turned 63 and moved to the big island of Hawaii just over 5 years ago. I only brought a select few of my firearms,and all my airguns made the move. Finding a place to shoot smokeless powder burners here legally is about impossible. But, I have an acre and can shoot my airguns, with a proper and safe backstop, not only in daylight, but at night when I go after the rat population.


  10. B.B.

    I really liked today’s blog. My number one reason for becoming an airgunner is it’s fun! I’ve never owned firearms and maybe never will. When I started to see pellet pistols like the Crosman 357 revolver in some magazines, I thought that it looked neat and would be a lot of fun to shoot. The replica pistols are the biggest part of my collection. I’m very impressed by the level of authenticity in these airgun reproductions, especially all of the full functioning blowback pistols. Any time my schedule allows, it’s just fun to go down to the basement, pull out an air pistol or rifle and challenge my ability to shoot smaller groups on target. I just can’t wait for retirement so that I do more of it!


  11. Its so sad that I am still living in the iron age and have to contend with direct locking sears and ball bearing triggers. The triggers are so hard that my finger is still sore while typing. But I still shoot a lot because this is how close I can get to actual shooting. When I become 21 and eligible to own a gun legally I hope the time spent shooting air rifles help me. Still getting a gun license is a Herculean task and I may have to content shooting air rifles so that’s why the no of air rifle shooters will increase.
    BB, something I always wanted to ask was does the artillery hold work with powder burning rifles? I know it will work with .22lr but will it work with a .30-06 ? I am afraid of getting a hard hit and probably breaking my shoulder.
    Heck, after reading these blog and watching the no of new cool guns that come out, their related accessories, and the no of shooting events and shot shows take place, I wish I was born in America.


  12. B.B.,
    This is my first time signing in on this site. Thank you all for the wonderful info available here. I have been serious about air gunning for about 3 years now and have a few nice European springers including Walther LGV, LGU, Competition Ultra, two RWS 34’s and a RWS 350 in .177 which I absolutely love for it’s accuracy and power. I wanted to add another RWS 350 in .22 cal. to the collection when the Parrus and the Diana AR-8 came on the market. I have been anxiously awaiting to here your final thoughts on the Parrus and looking forward to reading about your results on the AR-8. How do they compare to the RWS 350 for accuracy? To me accurate is shooting flies at 25 yards (off a bench with a 16x scope). Thanks for all your help and keep up the good work. God bless


    • Boli,

      Welcome to0 the blog.

      Both the Parrus and the AR8 are rue for an accuracy test. It will be the second one for the Parrus. Right now I’d say the 350 Magnum is more accurate than the P{arrus, but I haven’t seen the4 AR8 shoot yet.

      B.B.


  13. With the number of Boomers retiring, the airgun industry ought to be able to come up with the Uber Magnum we remember, a good multi pump air rifle, not the plastic stuff they get away with today. All they have to do is make a few mods to the air tube and add a pump handle to the Discovery or Maximus or even the Marauder.


    • Brent
      The FX Independence or the shorter Indy, if you can afford it, is already there. A few pumps after each shot and your topped off again to 3000 psi.
      But I agree with you a high quality multi pump that can fire a pellet close to 1000 psi, at an affordable price, would be tempting.

      There is almost too much of a good thing out there now for collectors in this ‘Golden age’. I just noticed there is a long barreled NRA Colt Peacemaker available and I missed out on silver gold edition with the long barrel. Limited editions are on the move !


      • Bob M and Brent,

        Makes you sort of wonder how much engineering is required to make a multi stroke pump using mainly Benjamin Discovery parts wouldn’t it? They have the barrel, breech and trigger. Just cut part of the stock for the pump handle, place a slot in the pressure tube and replace the valve assembly with that of the 13xx although that will probably have to be scaled up a bit.

        Siraniko


  14. B.B.,

    Has the computer been affected by the change from DST? Starting to get a feeling of withdrawal. If you are tired I understand if you decrease the posting to three times a week.

    Hope you are in the best of health.

    Siraniko



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