What makes an airgun “good”?
by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier
This report covers:
- What makes an airgun good?
- My list
- A good trigger
- Ease of cocking
- What doesn’t sell?
- Price-point sales
I’m on my soapbox today and I am preaching to the airgun industry, but probably also to some of you readers. I typed “what makes an airgun good?” into Google and came up with a list of retailers who all have lists of the “best” airguns of 2020. There were also some magazine articles with similar lists. I looked at all their lists. They had one thing in common. They were all bought and paid for! Every airgun on those lists was one that was either manufactured or at least sold under the name of a couple well-known manufacturers. Oh, they all had different-sounding product titles, but each of them was a subsidiary of a well-known airgun maker.
A couple of them were indeed airguns that have a long-standing basis of customer support, like the Daisy 880 and the Benjamin 392. The 392 is no longer produced, but it has been replaced by the 392S, which is a multi-pump in a synthetic stock. How similar it is to the now-discontinued 392 I will try to discover when I test it.
The Benjamin Marauder made several lists, and it deserves to! This is a precharged pneumatic (PCP) that once lead the market and still offers features customers desire. A Marauder has a great trigger, quiet operation, good accuracy, a fine adjustable trigger, and the ability for the owner to fine-tune it to suit their preferences.
The Marauder has also come out as a semiautomatic this year, but it’s not out yet and the jury is still out. I know the trigger is not as crisp as the one on the bolt-action Marauder, but whether that poses a problem remains to be seen. Accuracy and the other aspects of operation will have to be tested.
What makes an airgun good?
Marketing departments are confronted with putting a happy face on whatever products their company has to sell. Sales departments are tasked with closing the deals. And purchasing departments must buy products that can be sold. Who in the company is charged with knowing what makes an airgun good? Nobody, it seems.
Apparently knowing what make an airgun good is my job. Or, if not, I’m going to do it anyway, since nobody else seems to want to do it.
The following are things I have observed that the market seems to appreciate and desire. If an airgun has them and if it truly delivers them the way the customer expects, the product has a good chance of doing well. That’s not as guarantee, just a good chance. As I write about them I will tell you what works and what doesn’t.
At the end I will address price-point sales, but they should be kept separate from regular sales on the open market.
Real accuracy is very desirable. But what does it mean to be accurate? What it means is being able to put shot after shot into the same place or very close to the same place.
Is five shots in one inch at 25 yards accurate? It’s okay but it’s not really what customers look for these days. What about five shots in a half-inch. Well, that can be considered accurate, but it all depends on what kind of airgun is doing it. If it’s a spring-piston air rifle that costs less than $300, then, yes, it’s quite accurate. If it’s a PCP that costs $1,000, then no, it’s not very impressive. HOWEVER, if it is a Olympic-grade PCP target rifle that costs $3,200, it doesn’t matter!!! Nobody cares what a rifle like that does at 25 yards, because that kind of air rifle lives and dies at 10 meters or 11 yards. Learn the expectations of your products, buyers, before you start purchasing them.
A good trigger
A good trigger is one that has a crisp release that is uniform and predictable, time after time. The weight of the pull or let-off doesn’t matter nearly as much as people think. A service rifle National Match trigger on an AR-15 must have a release of not less than 4.5 pounds. That number looks high to many shooters, but it is the standard by which triggers of this category are tested. But don’t take my word for it. Listen to the company’s description of a highly-regarded $279.00 Geissele High-Speed National Match trigger.
“Our Service Rifle Trigger includes our exclusive 5-Coil trigger spring which will give a nominal 4 lbs. on first stage. The Service trigger pull weights are biased with most of the pull weight on the first stage. This will allow a light second stage with an icicle-sharp break, effectively giving your weapon a match-grade trigger let-off.”
So the key is the crisp let-off and not the pull weight. Sig Sauer knows that and delivers it in their new ASP Super Target. Weihrauch knew it years ago and incorporated it into their HW 40, which is the basis for the Beeman P3. Reader Kevin once tried the trigger on my Wilson Combat CQB 1911 pistol and guessed the let-off at one pound. It is actually three pounds.
One final thing about triggers. If you make them adjustable make certain they really do adjust! Everyone who has tried the Sig ASP20 adjustable trigger has nothing but praise for it because it really does adjust. Same for the trigger on the Benjamin Marauder. However I have tested hundreds of triggers that say they are adjustable but nothing changes when you adjust them. Adjustable triggers are not supposed to be placebos or busy boxes, and shooters resent it when they are.
Ease of cocking
This isn’t the same as light cocking. The ASP20 once again wins in this category because it cocks easier than it should for the power it develops. I have tested several other gas spring air rifles recently that also cock much easier than their power output level would suggest.
And don’t think this is limited to spring-piston airguns. A number of bolt-action PCPs are harder to cock than they should be and I have seen their owners protest loudly. There have been some “Mark II” models come to market just to correct this fault, so be wise and don’t let it happen to begin with.
Customers may not say much about it, but when a company innovates, they know it. And they often vote with their wallets. I have given suggestions for several innovations in the past year, and I hope some companies took them to heart.
How about the Seneca Aspen multi-pump that’s also a PCP? People have been asking for that for more than a decade and now we have it. Yes, I am aware that FX did it first with their Independence, but that rifle cost over $1,600 and was not targeted toward the market that wanted it.
What doesn’t sell?
I’m not going to explain this list, because it’s too controversial.
- Fiberoptic sights
- Camouflage coverings
- Scopes bundled with airguns — unless the scopes are exceptional
- Automatic safeties
- Using the word “target” in a product title for something that is clearly not for shooting targets
As some companies grow they look for other markets they deem lucrative. Discount and big box stores seem to attract a lot of attention. To sell to them there is but one criterion — price. The product must have the same general set of features that it has for the open market, but since price is the most important factor, anything that can be done to lower it is considered. For this market a product doesn’t have to perform to the same standards as one that’s sold to the open market. Brand loyalty and repeat business are not hallmarks of this trade. Price is king, along with a willingness to accept a higher level of returns.
This market is not less complex than the open market. It’s just different. Some companies sell the same products in both markets and in the price-point market they accept a lower margin that is partly offset by higher volume of sales. Some companies build products to lower specifications for this market and some companies remove things from their standard product offerings — like one magazine instead of two or a cheaper scope and rings bundled with the price-point sales.
Other companies never sell to the price-point market. They realize they cannot maintain the same standards and control of their products, so they never opt in.
To sell John Brown
What John Brown buys
You have to see the world
Through John Brown’s eyes.
I wrote this report after seeing many lists of the “best airguns of 2020.” The lists were obviously artificial. Some of the guns on the lists have not yet come to the market. How can they be the best? After examining several of the lists it became clear they were generated through the process of an extended and hopefully concealed marketing campaign. That’s not the way good airguns are made.
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