Where are airguns today?
by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier
This report covers:
- Spring-piston guns
- The price-point PCP
- High-pressure air compressors
- Action air pistols
- It’s been done before
- Airgun shows
- They’re listening now!
After writing 6 reports on the SHOT Show I thought it was time to look at all that has happened in airgunning in recent years. We are in a golden age of experimentation and refinement, and it’s good to stop and reflect on that for a moment.
If you had asked me what the future of the spring gun was before I attended this SHOT Show I would have told you that everything that could be done had been done. Then, at the show, I saw not one but two novel new breakbarrels.
Crosman has their new Akura breakbarrel with the Precision Barrel Lock or PBL. It is a novel new way of locking the breech at the shot by using some of the compressed air to push a pin back into the spring tube. The rest of the rifle is a straightforward gas spring breachbarrel, but the question we have to ask is why they felt it necessary to lock the breech this way. A few other airguns use mechanical locks that are operated by the user, so there must be an advantage to locking the breech, but will we see it when I test the Akura?
Sig also gave us a new locking breech on their new ASP20, but they used a mechanical design they call the keystone breech. The breech flares out at the top and presses against the walls of the action forks when the barrel is closed, as the detent pulls the breech down to make it rigid. That’s a second company that feels it necessary to lock a breakbarrel’s breech tight.
Sig also gives us a new American-designed trigger that I feel certain will give their legal department sleepless nights! And guys — there is no adjustment screw in this one — at least not in the conventional sense! Shooters may have to trust Sig this time, because it doesn’t look like fiddling with the trigger will get you anywhere.
So, I was a little hasty when I dismissed spring-piston airguns. Apparently there is still room for innovation.
The price-point PCP
In 2006 when we developed the Benjamin Discovery we were breaking ground that had never before been plowed. That started the PCP revolution that we have today. This year we have a handful of new PCPs with features like good triggers, accuracy, shrouds and regulators — features that used to be found only on PCPs costing considerably more than the sub-$300 asking price the market has decided is right.
This is a greater impact than just 4 new PCPs. This establishes the price at which new precharged guns with a lot of features have to cost. What happens next will be a race to offer the best and most features at this price. If a flood of sales result from this first push, we can expect to see wonderful things, and a small but necessary price increase as even more features are added.
High-pressure air compressors
Twenty years ago no affordable high-pressure air compressor existed. Today there is an entire field of budget-priced high-pressure air compressors. I remember discussing this possibility years ago with Dennis Quackenbush. I thought it was an area in which little would ever be done. Dennis thought differently. He actually described to me the possibility of what has now become the AirForce E-Pump.
Not all the new compressor offerings are as reliable as they might be. What I think will happen next is some of the weak sisters will have to go away and reliability will become the most important thing. I think the price has dropped as low as it can and still offer reasonable reliability, but I have been wrong before. So, let’s see.
Action air pistols
In my opinion we are on the cusp of an explosion of interest in action air pistols. The reason for this — again my opinion — is the introduction of the Air Venturi Dust Devil frangible BB. There are already a great many action air pistols already in the market, so let me explain that I’m not suggesting a flood of new models is coming. But the Dust Devil gives us the ability to use the action pistols with action targets that also exist in great numbers.
Now there is good cause for new hard targets to come to market for BB guns. I think we should start seeing some even this year. Codeuce — are you listening?
It’s been done before
This isn’t the first time ammunition made a big impact on airguns. When the Crosman Premier pellet first came to market in the mid-1990s it was tried in the then-obsolete Crosman 160 pellet rifle. That rifle had languished since being terminated back in 1971. Collectors liked it, but the accuracy was nothing to shout about. Then came the .22 caliber Crosman Premier pellet and suddenly the 160 awoke! Think I’m just talking about vintage airguns that you can’t buy? Think again.
The 160 was the starting point for the QB77, which, in turn, spawned the QB 78 that exists in several iterations and the QB 79. Those rifles, which have been produced in many times the numbers as the original Crosman 160, served as the starting point for the Beeman QB Chief PCP. See how it works?
The growing popularity of airguns means a larger market for airgun shows. Later I will publish a schedule of the shows I know about this year.
Here’s what I see on the hunting front. The recent launch of several high-powered airguns that launch arrows is having an affect on hunting. State fish and game departments are aware of the advances that have been made. I see increasing interest from all around the nation from fish and game departments looking into airguns as hunting weapons. It’s hard to sell them on a .45 caliber bullet that develops 500 foot-pounds because they match it on paper against a .223 Remington cartridge that gets more than twice the power with a bullet that weighs 1/10 as much. They just don’t understand. If they thought about airguns in the same context as black powder arms, things would come into focus.
But, when you tell them an airbow can launch a 450-grain arrow at 500+ f.p.s. — that they understand! Because they know that the most powerful crossbows cannot match it, and the longbows are even farther behind. They know crossbows do belong in the field — even if their state does not allow them yet. The crossbow manufacturers are acutely aware of the airgun threat, because they are pulling out all the stops in an effort to match them!
They’re listening now!
When I started writing The Airgun Letter in 1994, the airgun community was small and content to remain so. You had large manufacturers like Crosman and Daisy who thought of their products as almost adult toys. And you had the small boutique operations like Theoben and Daystate who knew that airguns were a lot more, but were not interested in promoting them. They had a solid customer base that they were equipped to serve, so growth wasn’t on their radar.
Today everything has turned around. Crosman, Gamo, Umarex and Sig know that their future depends on adults who want to use their products for serious endeavors like competition and hunting. They still build for the youth market, but their focus has shifted to the adult airgun market. Anyone attending this year’s SHOT Show can see that.
AirForce just acquired Theoben! Theoben built guns to a high quality standard, but they made them slowly. AirForce knows better than anyone how to do the same thing at a high rate of production. If I were in a boutique operation today, I would start scrambling, because the competition just got fierce! Business as usual isn’t going to last much longer.
If you have been with airguns for even just a year you know I’m telling the truth about all of this. It might seem like this is the way it has always been, but it hasn’t. The last few years have seen the airgun marketplace come alive and 2018 is looking like the liveliest year of them all!