Buying your first airgun

by B.B. Pelletier

This is a topic that disturbs me, because never before have there been so many choices in airguns. And most of them are the wrong choice for a first gun. I get private contacts from people asking me questions like, “Which should I buy — the Gamo Hunter Extreme or the Walther Falcon Hunter with Nitro Piston? I want a gun for shooting long range and for occasional hunting.”

That’s the equivalent of a 16-year-old driver asking whether he should buy the Ferrari or the Dodge Viper because he wants a car with some zip. Buy either car, and he’ll end up in the ditch or worse. Fortunately, both cars have exclusionary price tags that keep a lot of 16-year-olds away. However, in the world of airguns, the super-magnums are priced very affordably, so a first-time buyer can afford to get something completely inappropriate.

What do you mean by “inappropriate”?
In the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, them’s fightin’ words. A guy ought to be able to buy anything he can afford.

Yes, I agree with the principle of freedom, but here’s the problem. A 56-year-old man buys a Gamo Hunter Extreme as his very first airgun. He has never shot a firearm, so this will be his first exposure to the shooting sports. He’s 5’6″ and weighs 125 lbs., soaking wet. He has bursitis, which is why he decided to shoot airguns and not firearms. And, he just bought a rifle that he cannot begin to cock and one whose recoil will aggravate his bursitis something terrible.

Why did this happen? Because this fellow bought his first gun on the basis of numbers. He was impressed with Gamo’s advertised velocity without understanding the physical effort it takes to get that level of performance. He bought a springer because he “doesn’t want to be bothered” with all the support equipment it takes to operate a PCP. He could have gotten triple the power from an AirForce Condor with zero recoil and no hard cocking effort, but he was unaware of that when he made his decision, or he disregarded it.

I’m not suggesting that the Condor is a great very first air rifle, either. It’s too powerful and too specialized to be a starter gun.

A first airgun should be one that helps you enter the world of shooting with grace and ease. It should be accurate. It should be sized to your stature. It should be of a power level that lets you plink, shoot at targets or maybe hunt (if that’s important to you), all without painting you into a corner on performance.

But most people shop with just two criteria: velocity and price. When that gets them into trouble, they give up on airguns as a bad idea and move on to something else.

Appropriate first airguns
So far, I’ve helped design two air rifles: the Benjamin Discovery and the Air Venturi Bronco. I was thinking of the new airgunner when I worked on both of them. The Discovery is the easiest affordable PCP to fill from a hand pump, so Benjamin sells it with the pump packed in the same box. That was always how I envisioned it selling. The new airgunner gets everything he needs to begin shooting right out of the box. It’s a PCP without all the problems normally associated with PCPs. The fill level of 2,000 psi means our 56-year-old shooter can fill the gun with relative ease. Later, if he decides he likes airgunning, he can get a scuba tank and fill the gun much easier, but he doesn’t have to own one from the start!

The Bronco was originally made by Mendoza for youth, but their version of the gun had some problems. The stock was an insult to style, the muzzlebrake was too short, the oil hole on the left side of the spring tube encouraged over-oiling and the fiberoptic sights destroyed any hope for precise aiming. We fixed all those faults and put the Bronco into a Western-style stock that fits the model name, and now we have a breakbarrel rifle that adults and older kids can shoot with ease! It’s not meant for hunting; but for all-day plinking and informal target shooting, it’s ideal. I think it makes a great first airgun.

More appropriate first airguns
Guns like the Benjamin 392 are great first airguns because they slow down the shooter and make him think of what he is doing. The act of pumping the gun is a plus for new shooters. But if you want a repeater, a Crosman 1077 can’t be beat. It’s got 12 shots on tap that it keeps on shooting with each pull of the trigger. Got a little more to spend? Then look at the Hammerli 850 AirMagnum that also runs on CO2. Shooters love this rifle that is the closest approach to a PCP that a CO2 gun can make.

Want more power?
Okay, you don’t like my recommendations so far. I get that. You want your first gun to stretch out and do some of the remarkable things you read about. Well, you can do that. The Benjamin Marauder is one gun with all the advanced capability, yet still retains the rock-solid easy operation. If you want a black rifle, get an AirForce Talon or Talon SS. Both have enough power to do wonderful things, and yet they’re right in the center of the performance spectrum. The Gamo Big Cat is a perfect entree into airgunning with a spring rifle. So, there are plenty of choices.

The bottom line
The bottom line is that you want a tractable, flexible airgun as your first. Something that you can use for lots of different things. You do not want a highly specialized and narrowly defined gun that can’t be used for 95 percent of your shooting opportunities. Look for a gun you can learn to love by looking for the best all-around airgun.