Johnson Indoor Target Gun: Part 2

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

  • Johnson Indoor Target Gun
    The Johnson Indoor Target Gun is a catapult BB gun that was made in the late 1940s for youth target practice.

Part 1

A history of airguns

This report covers:

  • Operation
  • Cocking
  • Trigger
  • Serendipity
  • Pat is not pending
  • Adjustable sights
  • Repeater
  • Summary

I was going to write about something else today, but the response to Friday’s report convinced me to stick with the Johnson. Several of you said that you enjoyed the detailed photos. Today I will tell you about how the gun is constructed and how it operates, plus some special features. Grab your coffee cup and let’s go!


The Johnson gun is a catapult gun, and in Part one I showed you the broken surgical tubing in my new gun. Now, take a look at a gun with tubing in working condition.

Johnson rubber working
This is how the rubber is supposed to look when it’s properly installed. The ends of this surgical tubing are held together with small cable ties. We are looking at the inside of the top cover of the gun.

Now allow me to show you how access is gained to that rubber. The top is pulled up out of the way for easy access. To release it the two spring steel “ears” in the front of the gun are spread apart and the top is raised.

Johnson top closed
This picture shows the top closed. The two spring steel “ears” on either side of the top are what hold it in place. The front sight is a post on a wheel that can be turned to move the post from side to side.

Johnson top open
Here, the top has been pulled up out of the way. Lotsa surface rust on this older gun, no? This is not the one I’m writing about.

Johnson top up
The top is flipped up. The rubber you saw before is in the top (blue arrow) and the launcher is at the rear of the bottom section (yellow arrow).


To cock the gun and load the launcher, the launcher is pushed forward by the cocking device until the rubber band drops into the launcher’s slot. You can feel it. Then the cocking device ears are squeezed together, driving the steel hooks into the launcher’s slot and the whole thing is pulled back until the sear catches the launcher. That you can both hear and feel.

Johnson launcher
When the launcher is pushed forward, the rubber pops into the slot cut for it (yellow arrow).

Johnson sear
The launcher is caught and held by the sear until the trigger releases it.

Johnson cocked
In this image, the cocking mechanism has pulled the launcher back into battery, just like in the previous picture. The rubber is not connected to the launcher in this image. If the top was down, one BB would have dropped into the launcher through that hole you see here. All that remains is to pull the trigger.

Johnson broken hook
One hook has broken off this cocking device, on my older Johnson gun, making it impossible for this mechanism to cock the gun.


The single-stage trigger isn’t adjustable, but it is light and easy to pull. The pull is quite long and there is no hint before the release.


When that hook broke it was a blessing in disguise, because it forced me to discover a different way to cock any Johnson gun that is much easier on the mechanism. That broken hook meant that the cocking device could no longer pull the launcher back to cock and load the gun. I thought about it a long while until it dawned on me that a ramrod will do the same thing. Use the cocking device to push the launcher forward and grab the rubber, then push the launcher back with the ramrod until the sear catches it. Not only is this a way to continue to use a Johnson that has broken, if you cock your gun this way all the time it won’t break to begin with. Right there is the one “secret” about operating this gun that’s worth what you paid for this whole blog.

Pat is not pending

Larry Hannusch once wrote that the greatest airgun designer of all time must have been named Pat Pending, because you see his name on so many airguns. Like the mythical German town of Ausfahrt that is the biggest city in the world (all over Germany every Autobahn exit leads there), Pat Pending was ubiquitous.

Johnson Pat Pending
Every Johnson gun I have seen says Pats. Pending on its side. I wonder if any patents were ever issued?

Adjustable sights

Both sights on the Johnson are adjustable. You have already seen that the front post is on a wheel that can be turned to move the post side to side.

The rear sight adjusts for elevation by sliding it up and down a vertical post. Loosen the peep to slide the sight on the post. There are no detents for this, but there are index marks on the left side of the post. You pretty much guess where it should be and tighten it there.

Johnson rear sight
Rear sight peephole slides up and down.


The Johnson gun is a repeater, with the BBs in a channel in the top section. Slide the spring-loaded follower forward and lock it out of the way, then drop the BBs into a hole at the front of the top cover. When released, the follower pushes them back and when the launcher moves into the cocked position it opens a loading port, allowing a single BB to fall into the launcher. In this respect it is exactly the same as a Sharpshooter pistol. You don’t have to think about this when you cock the gun. As long as BBs are in the magazine, one will load.

Johnson magazine
BBs are pushed back to load by the magazine follower.


That’s a good look at the design of the gun and also how it operates. The next thing I want to do is repair the rubber, so we can conduct some velocity tests.

13 thoughts on “Johnson Indoor Target Gun: Part 2

  1. B.B.,

    The more details I see, the more I get the itch to make one. Albeit not as complicated, single shot and mainly of wood and aluminum channel. Is this one going to be treated with moly powder before the speed and accuracy tests?


  2. B.B.
    This is an interesting design, but I wish I could figure out what made him think he would be able to sell them as such a high (for the time) cost. It would have been nice if he’d left a diary entry, something like:
    “My new BB gun design is just so neat and different that I think I can sell them for 3 times the price of a Red Ryder”
    Still, no matter how you slice it, it’s a cool piece of history now. =>
    take care & God bless,
    P.S. In honor of all the brave men and women who have served, who currently serve, as well as those who made the ultimate sacrifice…thank you one and all, and I hope you had a blessed Veterans Day!

  3. B.B.,

    Very nice on all of pics of the mechanisms and the explanations. That front sight is quite ingenious. Looking forwards to the shooting phase.

    Good Day to one and all,….. Chris

  4. B.B.,

    Excellent use of photos and captions to illustrate the design and explain its function. With its relatively long sight radius and adjustable aperture rear sight and adjustable front sight, I can see now how this catapult gun could be a champion in the accuracy category. Your tip regarding using a ramrod to increase its longevity is also great information.

    I just had a memory flash of your grandmother asking you where on the bullseye you wanted her to put the arrow. With this it might be, “Which wing on the fly do you want me to shoot off?” :^)

    I am ever more interested in these Johnson catapults and can’t wait for your next installment.


  5. B.B.,

    Your Pat Pending anecdote reminded me of one from my growing up. I wanted to know who Max Cap was. His name was at the back of every school bus in town: “Max Cap 72,” “Max Cap 21” or “Max Cap 56.” He must have owned the company that made the buses.


  6. Thedavemyster,

    I’ll bet he didn’t do a market search! That said, he had a pretty special product: a repeater, ACCURATE, adult sized, cheap to operate, cool box/trap ready for Christmas/Hanukkah fun! Plastics were considered a modern product much superior to wood in the late 1940s (as others have pointed out he chose a good formulation as opposed to the stuff that didn’t age well) not like the really bad rap plastics have earned at the hands of some really poor for purpose formulations and moldings. I’ll bet one other issue was he was under capitalized from the very start of his product rollout.

    Sad, it could have been a great run. A start of entire arm of our adult indoor target shooting sport. One with real potential for advancement of the art of quiet, cheap and simple shooting fun!


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