by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier
This report covers:
- The Gauntlet
- Desirable PPP features
- Less desirable PPP features
- The list
- Discovery opened the market
- Marauder set the bar
- The airgun market explodes
- Tipping Point
- Room for improvement
Sometimes I hit one out of the park and when I labeled the feature-laden precharged pneumatic rifles selling for under $300 as price point PCPs (PPP), I was right on the money. In fact they will do more to help our sport of airgunning than anything I can think of. Today’s report was requested by reader Vana2.
The first PPP I saw this year (actually, it was launched in 2017, but the launch had problems in the beginning) was the Gauntlet from Umarex. It was an air rifle many had dreamed about but never thought would happen.
Let’s now look at both the good and not-so-good features, because they pretty much sum up all that a PPP can offer.
Desirable PPP features
*Repeater (with single shot option most desirable)
*Available in both .177 and .22 caliber (with .25 caliber a desirable option)
Plenty of shots
Fill to no more than 3,000 psi (with 2,000 psi being most desirable)
Has a regulator
Great adjustable trigger
*Priced under $300
Less desirable PPP features
Fill pressure above 3,000 psi (with over 4,000 psi being the kiss of death)
Weight above 7.5 bs.
The question becomes which PPP has all of the good features and none of the bad ones? The answer is — none have everything. There is always room for improvement. And there is something else to consider. Not every potential buyer focuses on the same things. One may hold out for a killer trigger while another wants only those guns that fill to 2,000 psi. So within the PPP category there is still a need for good marketing.
Here are the airguns that are currently price point PCPs
But the good news for airgun manufacturers is the PPP market is growing fast. New airgunners encounter PCPs that are very well developed these days and they jump right in. In the old days we had to nurse them through the springer stage before they were willing to make the transition to precharged airguns. That’s because a good springer was selling for $200 at the time (Diana 34), while an entry-level PCP started at almost $500. The spring gun was well-supported while the PCP (except for AirForce guns) was almost exclusionary — with poor documentation and very little published on how it worked.
Discovery opened the market
The Benjamin Discovery blasted through that stigma in 2007, when it dropped the price to less than $300 and provided the level of support a new customer expects to see. And the Disco was bundled with a good hand pump that worked well, due to the fill pressure of only 2,000 psi. Plus the rifle came with full documentation and a small tin of pellets in the box! You could shoot it the moment the box was opened. Why — it was almost as though someone had thought the whole thing through before launching the rifle!
Marauder set the bar
The following year Crosman brought out the Benjamin Marauder and established the bar for low-cost precharged airguns with nice features. While the most expensive PCP guns counted their sales in the hundreds worldwide, Crosman was selling rifles by the multiple thousands, along with AirForce, who offered shooters the next step up in power and advanced features like the ability to change calibers and barrel lengths. The PCP world had opened!
However, as open as it was, the introduction of the price point PCP was a major stroke of marketing genius. That was partly due to the features the new rifles offered and partially because of what had happened to the market, itself.
The airgun market explodes
When I started writing The Airgun Letter in 1994, I estimated there were 10,000 to 15,000 serious airgunners in this country. At that time we were outclassed by the United Kingdom, where there were over 50,000 serious airgunners. Their market was mature while ours was still in its infancy. Oh, there were huge airgun sales in the large discount store chains, but very few of those buyers were or ever became airgunners. While some manufactures believe the discount stores are the key to success, this market is maturing fast and cheap airguns that underperform are only a disappointing way to risk your company. Solid growth with quality products is now as certain as it ever can be.
Airguns did become more popular in this country between 2007 and 2015. However, things progressed at a slowly, so by 2015 there were still only perhaps 100,000 people I could call serious about airguns. While that is a 10 times bigger number, it’s still not enough to get excited about.
But the ammunition shortage of 2012 was about to change all that. A result of panic ammo and gun buying that began in 2008, the shortage became critical around 2012, and shooters who didn’t reload began looking around for what they could do. Several of them started to investigate the airgun market. This happened at a time when precharged airguns were mature enough to meet their needs and guns like the Marauder and all of the AirForce smallbores started selling in increased numbers.
The makers of the most expensive models didn’t adapt to this change, so the makers whose airguns were priced lower took increased market share. But the whole market was growing, so the top boys never noticed they were loosing share.
At some point airgun sales reached a tipping point and went viral — at least from their perspective. No, they weren’t selling millions of products like the makers of smart phones, but today I estimate the US airgun market to be between 300,000 and half a million serious shooters. And the price point PCPs are one of the things that are expanding the market.
I remember a time when airgunners were the cheapest people on the planet. Some wanted to reuse their pellets and more of them wanted to shoot BBs more than once. Firearms shooters, in contrast, come into airguns with a history of paying a thousand dollars for an AR-15, and they may own five of them. So, a $300 PPP is chump change to them. They’ll buy it, like it and jump into airgunning with both feet. You guys know how easy that is. So, this is one large door the PPP has opened.
But it doesn’t end there. The PPP is also finally pushing those who’ve been on the fence for many years over into the “dark side.” For them the PCP world has loomed large, mysterious and expensive. They have heard how accurate a PCP is, and now they can try one for a lot less than just a few years ago. There were cheaper PCPs like the Disco, the Maximus and some from China that had been around for years before this time, but they all had some major shortcoming — the biggest being they were not repeaters. The PPP fixes that.
So airgunning in the US is growing because of firearms shooters crossing over and also because of existing airgunners who are jumping in even deeper. There are a minimum of 5 million active firearm shooters in the US, so the pool airguns are drawing from is very deep.
Room for improvement
And the dance isn’t over. The PPP is a new concept that hasn’t sorted itself out yet, leaving a lot of room to grow. I would say the greatest growth potential lies in providing a rifle with a world-class adjustable trigger. The Marauder trigger would do it, but you can’t spend nearly half your build budget on just the trigger, so that won’t work. Manufacturers, here is your best chance to gain some market share.
The second growth potential area is to build a valve that regulates itself well. At the price a PPP sells for there just isn’t enough room for a well-made regulator. A self-regulating valve could walk away with the market if it worked well. I have seen valves that gave the shooter 30 shots with about 10 f.p.s. variation. In fact, at the gross end of this is the USFT rifle made by Tim McMurray that gets 55 shots with H&N Baracudas at over 900 f.p.s. — all on a fill pressure of 1,650 psi. So, don’t tell me it can’t be done. It just can’t be done the way everybody is trying to do it today.
Third would be to design a repeating system that doesn’t rely on a rotary magazine. Rotary mags limit the length and therefore the weight of pellets they can accept, plus they usually stand up above the top of the receiver, limiting the types of scope rings they will work with.
In closing I have to say we are living in the golden age of airguns, and the price point PCP is one big reason why. In less than 12 months they have had a major impact on our world, and it’s one I see growing faster as time passes.