Air gunning, that sport looked at askance by many in the hunting and shooting community is now and has been for years, one of my favorite hobbies. I talked about all of this in another post, Momma’s Got a Gun, if you would like to check it out. Now I want to talk about the advancement in airguns and the differences between them and powder burners. There are many people that still think of airguns as the BB guns we grew up shooting, these folks have never looked into the guns meant for field work and hunting. From springers to nitro pistons, CO2 to PCP, single shot to semi auto the sheer numbers of guns and what they can do is amazing.
Not many years ago the idea of paying over a thousand dollars for an airgun was unthinkable to many in the States. The thought of a springer, break barrel or under lever, costing more than many deer rifles was beyond most people. People in the UK have been shooting high end airguns for years and most at less than 12 ft/lbs of energy because of their gun laws. They take already good guns and tune them to be incredibly accurate for taking pests and small game out to distances most here would never try. Here in the States we can use guns that are shooting far faster and delivering far more energy but many here still do not understand why bigger, faster isn’t always better. Let’s take a look at some of the differences between air and powder. I will say I am far from the most expert on this but I want to pass along the fundamentals to help show what you should look for when considering an airgun.
First in air rifles speed kills…..your accuracy. Unlike powder burners with more energy and bullet shapes creating good ballistic coefficients, the air rifle is limited and pellets just aren’t as aerodynamic. While a bullet traveling at 3400 fps stabilized by the lands and grooves of the barrel stays stable in flight, a pellet that starts getting over the 1000 fps mark will begin to move. There are exceptions but this is just the basic principle. Many air gunners are shooting smaller calibers in the 800 to 950 fps range to maximize accuracy. At these speeds the kinetic energy is still high enough for hunting without losing the accuracy needed for precise shots. The problem in the U.S. people see these high speed magnum guns and think that is the way to go. It usually isn’t. Two main reasons, one, those speeds are using super light alloy pellets that aren’t stable and B, lead hunting pellets will not generate those speeds. It is all marketing in this bigger, faster, stronger is better world. Also those high speed springers are not fun to shoot many times as they have a lot of recoil and are just harsh to shoot which causes more loss of accuracy.
If you own one of the faster guns offered by companies like Gamo, there is a simple way to slow it down, use heavier pellets. Those guns shooting super light alloy jobs blowing out at 1300+ fps will slow down to a much more manageable level with heavier pellets. Whether for hunting, field target or plinking, the accuracy gained by simply changing pellets may surprise you. Many of these guns are capable of ½” groups at 30-40 yards and some PCP guns 1” at 100 yards!
Another tip that is just wrong to powder guys is that you don’t need to clean your gun as much as you do other guns. The main propellant being air the residue left behind consists mostly of lead from your pellets. This can help the barrel stabilize the pellets and a clean barrel will often take a few shots to settle into the groups it is capable of shooting.
PCP or springer? Wow there is a question. I love both and both have their place in shooting. If you like big bore, .30 to .50 caliber, then PCP is going to be where you go. If you like .177, .22 or .25 then the reasons between the two becomes more a personal preference and budget constraints. Both guns can deliver amazing shots with the PCP holding up at longer ranges better but out to 50 yards or so both can deliver super tight groups. The need for a way to fill PCP guns rather than just cocking a springer might make the difference for many. The ability to shoot 20 to 60 consistent shots between fills might be just what you want.
Entry level prices for decent to good guns are similar from many of the top makers. Gamo is probably the best known because it is in every box store out there. Along with them you will see Ruger, Beeman, Crosman and several others in the lower price range. Step up to a store that carries better brands and models or online and you will see Hatsan, Daystate, Air Arms, Evanix and on and on in prices ranging from $500.00 to several thousand. These prices include good to great versions of springer and PCP guns in any caliber you could want. Add in good optics from companies like Hawke Optics and you will be able to put together a combo that suits your needs and hopefully your budget.
The ability to shoot or hunt in many places firearms aren’t allowed is a major reason many are getting into airguns. The low cost of ammo along with it being readily available is a big plus. The fact that children and new shooters can take an airgun out and have a ball with it without being intimidated while they learn shooting and gun safety is great.
Many states have opened game seasons to airguns, some for small game only, some for all game with the right caliber. This is a great time to check out what you can do in your area and then take a look into airguns to expand you fun. Take a look at bench rest and field target competitions for more chances to get out and enjoy this great sport of airgunning.