by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

A history of airguns

This report covers:

  • Only new for me!
  • The RidgeRunner story
  • Kevin’s story
  • Whacky Wayne
  • Hey, BB — where are the airguns?
  • A lot of them can be fixed
  • Vintage pneumatics
  • Shaving is the best test
  • Blade shape and thickness
  • Don’t forget CO2
  • Summary

Reader Michael gave me the idea for this report when he made a comment to yesterday’s blog, referring to my discussion of the bent versus unscragged mainspring.

“I suppose, too, that if a particular air gun is firing or cocking abnormally, a bent mainspring is one of the usual suspects.”

That comment is so true that it started my brain firing on both cylinders! The bottom line is — what’s it like to own a vintage airgun?

Only new for me!

Some of you steadfastly refuse to look at vintage airguns, for fear you will encounter some problem that can’t be fixed. Does that ever happen? You bet it does! Have a look at my greatest failure — the pogostick repeater. Read that report and look at the pictures. After I wrote that I gave the rifle to former reader Vince, who attempted to put it back to being a vintage Diana. He failed, too, and today it’s just a pile of parts somewhere.

My point is — that was something so crazy wrong that I couldn’t look away. I’m sure you know what I mean.

The RidgeRunner story

It was in 2013, at what was once the Roanoke airgun show, but had finally collapsed into the Moose Lodge before going extinct. There was a BSA first model for sale for a ridiculously low price on Mike Driskill’s table. RidgeRunner was at the show and happened to see it and he got all twitterpated. You’ll have to research that term that comes from the Disney video, Bambi. He started circling the show and talking to himself. I knew what was happening to him, but he didn’t.

Long story short, he bought that rifle, knowing it needed lots of TLC. He gave it all the care it required, and I think the rifle returned the favor. Today it lives at RidgeRunner’s Home for Wayward Airguns, where it holds the proud title of founder and first tenant.

Kevin’s story

By the way, reader Kevin said something to Ridgerunner in the comments to that report. He told him he had some ‘splainin’ to do about that purchase. Speaking of that, Kevin has his own unique story about vintage airguns.

As I recall (that’s my way of sloughing off any lapses in memory) Kevin came to this blog as a veteran firearm shooter, with some guiding in his past. I think it was some random comment I made about Roy Weatherby being the “High Priest of High Velocity” that lured him in. Anyhow, he saw right away that airguns were an entire field of the shooting sports he knew nothing about. Flash forward several years and he’s pulling up in front of my house, on his way home from buying a large collection of vintage airguns. The springs of his car were sagging from the combined weight of the guns he purchased. If RidgeRunner got his feet wet, Kevin plunged in head-first without knowing how to swim.

Whacky Wayne

Then there was Whacky Wayne who made (and still makes, I think) raised bed gardening boxes, three of which are in my back yard. When he was an early reader Wayne asked me some questions about field target, prompting a 6-part series titled, Starting your own field target club.

A long time after that he pulls up in front of my house on a road trip to field target matches around the nation. He came to see if there was anything I was willing to trade. That’s like asking Ricky Ricardo to speak Spanish! We did a monumental trade of multiple guns in which both of us made out like bandits. I think I got two $5,000 cats for my $10,000 dog!

Hey, BB — where are the airguns?

I guess I have been talking about all the fun and good times instead of focusing on the airguns. Well, that is the point today. Vintage airguns can be so engrossing that they pull you into another dimension you didn’t know existed. Like the Beeman P1 I have been testing for you. It’s not a vintage airgun because Weihrauch is still making them, but the one I have been testing and now tuning is about 30 years old. And that would be a second point to today’s report.

A lot of them can be fixed

Depending of what you are talking about, a lot of vintage airguns can be repaired and brought back to life. Old spring guns, for example, are often easy to rejuvenate. I have written about so many of those on this blog that you have either read them already or you just haven’t found them yet. Here are a few:

Diana 27
BSA Meteor Mark I
Diana 25 smoothbore pellet gun

Vintage pneumatics

Of course springers are not the only kind of vintage airguns. There are a ton of pneumatics — especially here in the U.S. And they are often just as easy to put back into operating condition, though the methods you employ and the parts you need are completely different.

With pneumatics you can start easy, like restoring a Sheridan Blue Streak that was made until very recently, and advance to something really old, like a Crosman 101 when you are ready. The parts may not be available from the manufacturer any longer, but Rick Willnecker has reproduced many of them and now supplies them to repair stations around the world. You can find Rick at his website — Precision Pellet.

And here are a couple reports I have done about vintage pneumatics:

Sheridan Blue Streak
Crosman 101
Crosman 1400

Don’t forget CO2

This is where vintage guns can get dicey. Some are rugged and reliable, like the old bulk-fill Crosman guns. The 111, 112, 115 and 116 pistols of the early 1950s are just as reliable and rebuildable as any of the pneumatics. And the CG (compressed gas) guns from the 1940s are also very rebuildable. Some of those have off calibers like .21, which Crosman used to prevent other pellets being used in their guns, but that’s about the only big problem.

There is another class of gas gun, though that is and always will be a problem. The very early guns that used small CO2 cartridges. I’m thinking of the Schimel, but there are dozens of similar guns. Their parts become brittle and break and there are no replacements. Looking for Schimel parts is like trying to locate a beater Stradivarius that can be bought for under a hundred dollars.

On the other hand, the Crosman 600 is a CO2 pistol that is made for fun! It is now completely repairable, as I understand it, and well worth owning.

Here are some reports on vintage gas guns:

Smith & Wesson 78 & 79G
Crosman 116
Crosman 114
Crosman 160

Summary

In short, you can have a lot of fun with vintage airguns. They have surprising performance and they are reasonably easy to repair and rebuild. When people ask me about great airguns and then give me their budget that’s well below the current market levels, I often tell them the models they want are called “used.” Get used to it!