Life in the golden age of airguns
by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier
This report covers:
- Why do we shoot?
- Smooth shooting
- Pride of ownership
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.