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Air Guns What’s the limit?

What’s the limit?

This report covers:

  • Velocity
  • Caliber
  • Why?
  • There’s more
  • Weight
  • Foot-pounds
  • The 1995 Arctic Circle Invitational Field Target Match
  • The Billabong Screw-Shooter
  • Crossbows
  • Where are we going?
  • Summary

I believe there is no limit to the directions in which the hobby of airgunning is growing. Today I’d like to talk about that.


We have lived through the velocity wars that began in the 1970s and ended in the 1990s when we hit 1,400 f.p.s. Oh, there are companies that say their guns shoot even faster than that, but in 28 years of testing BB Pelletier has only seen one shot that went faster than 1,500 f.p.s. without something funny (read that as oil in the compression chamber of a springer) being done. So the velocity wars are over. We just haven’t stopped reading about them because there are always new marketeers who don’t know what they don’t know.


Today it’s the battle of the biggies. How large can the calibers go? I remember when .25 caliber was thought of as too big, and not until precharged pneumatics became popular did it really take off. By then spring-piston powerplants had improved to the point that .25 caliber was really viable, but by that time “they” were making springers in .30 caliber and precharged pneumatic rifles in .35 caliber.

.30 and .35-caliber pellets are becoming normal.


Why do we need .30 caliber and .35 caliber pellets? Why, to shoot at 100 yards in windy conditions of course. And who thought of that? “They” did. And to make sure we paid attention they developed extreme sports that favored accuracy at that distance. And “they” offered huge cash prizes for those willing to spend the time to become good at shooting that far. These guys and gals who compete aren’t airgunners any more than pro wrestlers are really wrestling. It’s all for show. And “they” change the rules of their “extreme” sport the moment anyone other than their own company threatens to win. It would be like NASCAR changing the rules to say that only cars driven by hydrogen could compete. And then changing to electric cars when someone other than the brands that pay the biggest bucks to sponsor the race threatens to win. It’s not a sport and it’s not a competition — it’s the world’s most expensive paid commercial.                     

There’s more

Oh, and it doesn’t stop there. Since there are .45-caliber big bore airguns, they must all shoot pellets — right? So a 420-grain .458-caliber bullet that is the standard bullet for a .45/70 Trapdoor Springfield cartridge becomes a pellet when it’s shot in an AirForce Texan

And don’t get me started on calibers! But I guess I already did. You see there are 0.452-inch .45-caliber bullets and there are 0.458-inch .45-caliber bullets and the marketing staff just doesn’t get it. On Monday we all learned that over a century ago Remington made their .41-caliber bullets about 5 thousandths of an inch smaller so the higher pressure of smokeless powder wouldn’t blow up derringers made for black powder. But airgun makers and purveyors don’t understand that 0.452-inch bullets go a lot slower in 0.458-inch barrels than they do in 0.451-inch barrels. I have seen guys open dial calipers 5 thousandths of an inch, look at the gap and say that little space couldn’t possibly make a difference. Okay — just try to shoot a group at 50 yards with bullets/pellets 5 thousandths smaller than your bore and tell me what you think. It’s been said many times guys — size does matter!

Five thousandths of an inch doesn’t look like much, does it? With 12,000 psi behind it, it is — even with 1,000 psi!

Stock Up on Shooting Gear


What the developers finally figured out was pellet weight is the key to power in pneumatics. If the airgun is a PCP more pellet weight means more power.


Never mind that 350 foot-pounds is all it takes to kill a deer reliably when the diameter of the bullet is sufficient. Manufacturers think we want more. We need more! Well, BB once took that to its illogical conclusion. Let’s now read about the 1995 Arctic Circle Invitational Field Target Match.

The 1995 Arctic Circle Invitational Field Target Match

Distinguished airgun designer Elvis B. Phargone has done it again — or so says Alaskan field target champion Gelbert Schnee. Readers will recall that Mr. Schnee won last year’s Arctic Circle Field Target Invitational held at Point Barrow on December 26.

According to Gelb, the newest Phargone invention is a single-stroke pneumatic rifle producing approximately 40 ft-lbs of energy–not at the muzzle, but at the target! “We really need this kind of performance in polar competition,” said the three-time Arctic Circle champion, “because the crosswind is seldom less than 20 mph on clam [sic] days.”

Constructed from an M79 grenade launcher, the new gun propels a two-inch, 454-gram (7000 grains or one pound) round ball at 30 f.p.s. It is ideally suited to the unique requirement of the northern competition. The Point Barrow range is completely vertical, with firing points on the catwalk of the town’s communications tower, where Schnee is employed as an antenna cleaner. Gravity boosts the ponderous projectile to about 200 f.p.s. by the time it reaches the highly modified targets below.

The new gun also has a broader attachment point for sights, which Schnee praises. “In the Arctic Circle/Tundra Airgun Association (ACTAA), we mount surplus Norden bomb sights on our guns instead of scopes. The new rifle accommodates them perfectly. Now, all we need is to get some shooters from the lower 48 to come up here and compete with us.”

And that wasn’t the only announcement BB had that day of October 26, 2009.

The Billabong Screw-Shooter

The Billabong Air Gun Company of Laleche, Wisconsin, announced today their latest sporting air rifle — the Screw-Shooter. Long plagued by the rising cost of quality barrels, Billabong President Harleigh Werthit revealed that his company’s latest creation isn’t rifled at all! In fact, it doesn’t really have a barrel in the traditional sense. Although the new design is closely protected by patents, The Airgun Letter was able to learn that the revolutionary Screw-Shooter is based on studies recently completed by famous airgun researcher Elvis B. Phargone, in which some of the functions of the barrel and projectile are exchanged. In Phargone’s latest triumph, the barrel is a hollow tube of soft lead encased in a plastic pipe, and the pellet is made of hardened steel with a reverse rifling pattern machined on the outside. When the pellet travels down the bore, its spiral “rifling” grabs the soft lead walls of the barrel and literally screws its way out of the gun. “Concerns over barrel quality have become a relic of the past,” said the Billabong chief.

The company expects sales of the new gun to boom once thrifty airgunners realize they can reuse the same pellet hundreds of times. The need for frequent barrel changes offsets the savings a bit, but optimistic company officials see a day when shooters will buy barrel replacements like they once bought tins of ammunition.

From the company that gave the world its only commercial cow-patty launcher, now comes the Billabong Screw-Shooter – an honest attempt at ending the airgun quality race, forever.


With apologies to The Bow Bully, crossbows used to shoot 350 f.p.s. and everyone was amazed. Now they are pushing into the higher 400 f.p.s. range and the airguns that launch arrows have already hit 600 f.p.s. Why? Well “they” say higher velocity gives a flatter trajectory, less need to estimate the range to the target and a better chance of impacting the animal before it moves in reaction to the sound. All true and where does that leave Robin Hood?

Where are we going?

Never think this trend will ever stop. It goes on forever. Currently soldiers are trained to shoot with scopes instead of open sights. Open sights have been called back-up-iron-sights (BUIS) for more than a decade. But there are now firearms that only fire when pointed at an intended target. Sig has already ventured into this field for civilian arms by designing an electronic scope that determines the range to target and then adjusts the reticle automatically, based on the data input for the load being shot. When will that become the norm? And will airgunners want that? Twenty years ago I would have said they will never want thermal imaging sights. Now everybody wants one.


You say you want a real wood and steel airgun? It’s time to mount you on a pedestal because you are a dinosaur like me.

author avatar
Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier)
Tom Gaylord, also known as B.B. Pelletier, provides expert insights to airgunners all over the world on behalf of Pyramyd AIR. He has earned the title The Godfather of Airguns™ for his contributions to the industry, spending many years with AirForce Airguns and starting magazines dedicated to the sport such as Airgun Illustrated.

35 thoughts on “What’s the limit?”

  1. B.B.

    One of the guys at the range only shoots 200 yards. He even set up a camera system so he does not need to go “down range” to check his target. He said, in 20+ years that have made SO much progress with PCP’s, what is the limit. He wondered when a mile would be in his range…..
    For my 12 fpe springers, 55 yards is my limit, actually a little past it. lol.


  2. “…surplus Norden bomb sights”
    That made me smile; I used to work at Norden Systems…long after they made the bomb sight, of course!…however, we did have an old de-commissioned one in the lobby for show-and-tell purposes.
    “You say you want a real wood and steel airgun? It’s time to mount you on a pedestal because you are a dinosaur like me.”
    Well, you can reserve me a pedestal next to yours! 😉
    Blessings to you,

    • Hello, my name FM – in my dreams, I am a small velociraptor, though in reality more of a cowering lizard, who likes things of wood, iron and steel, simple to operate and fail-proof, recognizing that nothing can be made idiot-proof.

      Had a neighbor years ago, great guy, gone now but never forgotten. He was a navigator in a B24 bomber group based in Italy 1944-1945. He told FM the story of a mission over the Alps to a target in S Germany or Austria; on the bomb run the lead bombardier, to his horror, realized he’d failed to flip on the Norden sight. The group leader was not about to turn around for another run thru the flak…the bombardier released the ordnance as did the rest of the flight, on cue. Upon landing, having found out what had happened, a “bird colonel” chewed out the group leader and threatened to court martial him for the snafu. However, that was snuffed out when a superior later called in the distraught gent to let him know not to worry, because aerial reconnaissance photos had shown the group had carried out one of the most accurate strikes on a target ever recorded by the unit. Sometimes you don’t need the most-and-latest “whiz-bang” stuff to achieve good results.

  3. I am not a dinosaur, thank you very much!

    Black is the new colour of what used to be wood. Besides, plastic is fantastic!

    Wood and metal airguns, by virtue of their longevity, directly oppose constant advancement in technology.
    Obsolescence, however, opens the doors to a progressively brighter future! 🙂

    Reading todays article (what fun !) reminded me of the imminent launch of Vortex 28.

    For those who may benefit from a brief explanation of this revolutionary projectile propulsion system:

    Basically, a gyro spins up the projectile before launching it through a barrel (made of very light, ballistic graphene) that is also revolving at a very high rpm, causing a low pressure vortex that literally sucks the projectile out of the barrel!

    This means that the projectile no longer needs to be a waisted airbrake (!) in shape, but will be a cylinder with an aerodynamic bulbous head, all made of polymer, of course. The faster this spins the more it expands, thus sealing against the barrel. As it travels downrange, rotation slows which causes the projectile to shrink back to a slender, aerodynamic shape.

    Apparently they’re already working on an improved design, capable of a very long range (no exact data released yet but expectations are, several miles). 🙂

    Thanks Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier) for the inspiration. I only wish I could come up with names, such as “Gelbert Schnee” (still smiling)… 🙂

  4. Funny you should mention an all wood and metal airgun, There is a new one coming to market soon.
    I am working on a guest blog about the JTS Airacuda Max pcp 25 caliber rifle, and I like it!

    Tom, can I reserve the pedestal immediately you your right?


      • Y’all save some room on the Pedestal er Platform. I just pre ordered a Airacuda max from Pyramid myself . I have many “Antique” firearms and air rifles also some firearms that meet the Federal definition of Antique firearm, it’s kind of my thing. Surplus rifles tell stories some more interesting than others. While I love my Swedish Mausers and Rolling block the stories are only about excellent groups and matches won.

    • Pooky! This wonderful Word Press kicked me out again. Maybe they are trying to tell me something?

      That air rifle had my attention for a bit. Being the dinosaur I am makes it difficult to buy an airgun from “over there” though.

  5. I am a dinosaur 🙂
    I have two rifles with syntethic stock and they are fine. But fine made wood is just irreplaceable.
    This crazy trend to go faster, bigger and so on will always be active as this is pushed for money. There will be a group of people always going for new and bigger, and there will be dinosaurs who know what is accurate and fine.
    I can compare it to the electronics, look at those guys with these new computers going benchmark to reach some virtual number which is a bit bigger then the previous generation. They spend tousends of dollars to just see some number at the end. And they will buy 100 core processor just to see some number at the end.
    It may be even good for us as when the borderline of absurd is going to be abstract there is easier to choose between good and the rest.

  6. Hi, my name is RidgeRunner and I am a dinosaur. In many respects. I still do not have a so called “smart” phone. Electric cars? Plastic and pot metal firearms? The list goes on.

    I have a considerable number of “antique” air rifles. The older ones have walnut stocks. I once bought ten 1906 Brazilian Mausers. They all had walnut stocks. Can you imagine the fit that was thrown when other woods besides walnut was introduced into stocks? Now you pay extra for walnut.

    I hope you are all sitting down because the truth is, my first air rifle, a Gamo CFX, had a plastic stock. It was light, so much so that it would tip over to the side when any scope designed to withstand the punishment of a sproinger was mounted on top. It also had a wonderful, hollow sound every time it was fired. When I converted it to a gas sproing, it about beat me to death.

    Where is all this mess going? Who knows. It seems the marketeers have convinced the airgun manufacturers that “they” need to bring out new models every year like the auto industry. The funny thing is that many of my dinosaur airguns shoot as well, if not better, than the new ones.

    Enough rambling for this morning. I will take my meds and find my pedestal to sit on now.

    • R.R.
      Although I always envy a walnut stock I can’t help me thinking of the great classic Peacemaker that was produced with some kind of rubber grips, I believe quite early in production. Is that true or is it just a tale?
      By the way would we consider the use of real wood more ethical compared to the use of synthetics? I really wonder.

      • Could not tell you anything about the Peacemaker. BB might know something though.

        Now as for the black rifle thing, I have known some superb black rifles. The Gamo synthetic stocks and the Mattelomatic are not in that category though. They are both in the “let’s do this and save a lot of money” category.

      • WHs 35? Are you referring to the HW 35S? That is the one HW sproinger that comes in walnut. I would really like to have one of those. Black beech stock? Is that where they paint the stock with that “soft touch” stuff. Ugh. What a waste. It is also lazy and time saving. Even most beech stocks can look nice if they are finished right.

  7. Am I glad I live in a country where PCPs are still being made of steel and wood. Plastic stocks will remain a curiosity as no boutique manufacturer can afford to shift to plastic since the volume required to be sold will never make economic sense. Some have tried making tanks out of steel but the weight penalty makes the buyers favor factory made aluminum or carbon fiber tanks.

    Gelbert Schnee is yellow snow?


  8. BB-

    Well, I will tip my hat to those taking things to the limit. They usually let the rest of us know where the cliff edge is located. Projectile Propellers of all stripes are certainly interesting to read about and to see (from a safe distance) in action. Those intimately involved with the study of Projectile Propellation are certainly due their own organization and separate pedestal. Might I suggest- Projectile Propellers Honorable Elaborate Airpower Department. Of course, members will henceforth be known as PP HEADs…..

  9. Thanks for the enjoyable blog and comments to BB and the readership! …I’m still sitting on my pedestal chortling away 🙂

    Guess that the big caliber pellets have their place and big bore airguns have specific applications but for me the whole idea of of an airgun is to be able to shoot quietly, safely and most importantly economically. IMHO a .22 caliber PCP is ideal for general use and a .177 is great for plinking and target work. I find that a mornings plinking with a .25 is expensive enough, shooting a .30 or .35 would stress the budget.

    Yup, steel and wood for me, I’m not into military firearm look alikes or futuristic starwars designs. Each to their own but it’s a well balanced traditional design is what makes me smile.

    Sometimes bigger is better and sometimes smaller is better, seems that extremes are attractive. Don’t understand the people who buy ultra-short, compact airguns then crank the power way up because the barrel is too short to be efficient. Being a dinosaur, I must be missing something. Still it’s nice to have the choice, each to their own eh!

    I do appreciate the whole range of airguns on the market and that the limits of the technology are being challenged. Really, it was not that long ago that one inch groups at 20 yards was considering to be pretty good and look where we are now!


    • Hank,

      Hold on there partner! Did you not just buy a FX Impact? It would be hard to be more Star Warzee than that. Where is the wood? Oh, I forgot. Your backstop. Is it not “the air rifle” featured in those expensive commercials?

      You’re not fooling us. You’re no dinosaur.

      • Hey RR!

        Guilty as charged 🙂

        I do have an Impact and while it is an awesome shooter I much prefer my more traditional Crown.

        Don’t think of the Impact as a plinker or pester but more as a very tunable artillery piece for testing purposes. Got it to try something from the “wild-side” of my interests, mostly because I’m curious about slugs and long range bench shooting.

        …The last airgun (to complete my airsonal) was a Beeman R7 with a nice wood stock, doesn’t that prove that I’m a dinosaur? 😉


  10. “most expensive paid commercial” “They” tell us what they think we need, (which is just what they are selling) and then it becomes what we want. Get out your credit card.

    Really, really enjoyed this one BB

    P.S. yellow snow…… that’s funny!

  11. Wanting real wood and steel airguns doesn’t make anyone a dinosaur. With springers, viable power levels have been reached. What is left for springers is beauty and quality after this point. Thankfully, there is still Weihrauch. A beautiful Hw 30 or 50 can be bought for a very reasonable price, despite their high quality. So, a springer can still be built in quality steel and wood – and yet, there is no need to break the bank.

  12. B.B.,


    I don’t know if there is any room left at the Principal Table or even on the Dais for a dinosaur right out of Isla Nublar! And, especially since this dinosaur owns highly polished deeply blued (hot salts bath) and figured Walnut airguns as well as guns in synthetic stocks, Stainless Steel or treated with various modern surface anti-corrosion treatments. Just as in my kayaks i have paddled skin-on-frame, wood, roto molded, and carbon/Kevlar/Nomex boats always appreciative of the best qualities of each build type.
    I laughed at the fun names which reminded me of Catch 22 cast of caracters.
    But Tom i was shocked that thus far Billabong President Harleigh Werthit (hardly Worth it?)
    has not been commented about!

    Great Blog. BRAVO ZULU!


  13. Pushing the limits with guns is how we get things like the GAU-8/A Gatling Gun. Someone probably thought it was a little extreme, sometime in its development. I say, keep pushin’. That’s why no one looks away when they hear a guy say, “hold my beer a minute.”


  14. Double Pooky! I was wanting to get one of these.


    Are they really serious?! A CO2 bb gun?! At that price they can keep it. I even have a suggestion on where they can keep it.

    I guess I will stick with my walnut and steel airguns. You rich kids can play with that thing.

  15. For me air gunning has been about the right tool for the job. For me air guns are not always the right tool or the most economical tool. Then some times they are perfect for the job. That is the main reason I like multi pumpers. Pesting in congested areas I can use my very quiet mutli pump and tailor the output power for my situation. If I found a job where I was pesting at a farm or a dump that was over whelmed by rats then my multi pumpers are not good for that job. I would have to buy a pcp, If I lived in the Midwest and was busy taking out feral hogs at all sorts of different ranges the powder burners are the right tool for that job.

    Just my philosophy of use.


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