What’s the best airgun?
SEE THE SECTIONS ADDED AT THE END: What Is The World's Most Popular Adult Airgun?? and "What airguns do you recommend now, Dr. Beeman??"
HOW TO SELECT YOUR ADULT AIRGUNS
By Robert Beeman
I'm always surprised to hear the question: "What's the best airgun?" Or "What's the best airgun for me?" The question generally stems from a decision to buy "an airgun". Even gun dealers who have decided they should add adult airguns to their offerings will ask "what's the best airgun or two for me to stock?". The problem is, of course, there isn't any answer to these questions, anymore than there is an answer to the question "what's the best firearm?". Almost no one confuses the functions of such firearms as a pocket pistol, a deer rifle, a skeet shotgun, a boy's .22" caliber rifle, or an Olympic match rifle.
Unfortunately, too many persons still think of a single, very limited role for an airgun. Experienced airgunners know that they cannot do with a single airgun, but must have a range of them, just as a range of firearms is needed for different roles. Experienced airgunners may have ten or twenty, or more, airguns without feeling that they have undue overlap or duplication The American National Rifle Association has determined that very few people own just one firearm. It's generally none or several, and I'm sure the same situation will prevail for adult airguns as they get to be better known. So, how does one get started in deciding on which airguns are the best for them?
The potential airgun customer needs to consider: what are the potential uses of the airgun and the maximum cost. Of course, it is easier if the shooter knows that they just want to do international match shooting, just shoot squirrels in the backyard, or just practice pistol shooting indoors, and that they cannot spend over a given amount of money. Generally such a clear picture does not emerge at once.
Even the question of whether the shooter is to start with an air rifle or an air pistol may not be immediately clear. The shooter may indicate that what is desired is an air pistol for shooting pests. However, I don't feel that there are any modern air pistols that are suitable for shooting pests or game above the size of very small birds at close range. So, the initial choice may have to be redirected to a suitable field rifle.
So, to narrow the choices down, we must have an increasingly good idea for what the gun is to be used. Very few airguns, just as very few firearms, actually can carry out several roles well. A high-powered sporting air rifle is not appropriate to long target shooting sessions. It may be uncomfortable to shoot over a sustained period of fire and may be too powerful for safe or damage free use on some airgun ranges. A medium power, fairly light air rifle that is suitable for squirrels should not be pressed into service for shooting rabbits or crows. So, as you begin to realize the limitations, try to home in on one general area of airguns at a time. Generally the decision between match and sporting airguns can be made fairly easily and then one can decide how seriously they are going to go into the match area or what size game or pests are intended for a sporting rifle.
Spring –piston or Pre-charged Pneumatic?
There are two main choices in the power system of air rifles for adults: 1. Spring piston (including air-spring guns). 2. Pre-charged gas. Generally, a new shooter should consider only spring piston airguns. (See "What's the Most Popular Airgun" below!) This partially is due to the familiar KISS principle: “Keep It Simple!” A spring piston airgun generally offers the best value, is the most durable, and requires the least trouble, or cost, to charge. Exceptions to this would include handicapped persons who find it difficult to cock a spring piston airgun and persons who really want one of the latest “firearm lookalikes”, all of which operate on carbon dioxide cylinders.
Local Match and Target Shooting
For local match shooting or target practice among persons ranging from youth and light weight women to all but the largest adults, a fairly light weight spring piston rifle would be a good choice. Particularly good would be a rifle with an especially good trigger mechanism and a trim, comfortable stock. Such a rifle, fitted with a good aperture sight (or scope sight if allowed), can provide a great deal of recreation or satisfaction and for the new, or younger, shooter. When setting the budget please note that a really good quality airgun will develop a respect of mechanism and care that would not be the case with a cheaply made gun.
Here one should decide what style gun they prefer. And what size game or pests they might be shooting. Many shooters will select the most powerful air rifle that they can locate within their budget for sport shooting. However, the cocking force and the weight of the gun should not be overlooked. A "magnum" level air rifle firing a .177" (4.5 mm) pellet over 900 fps (275 mps) and weighing 8.8 lbs. (4 kg) is an excellent choice to take into the field. However, that weight and the 35 lb. (15.9 kg) cocking effort may simply be too much for the comfort, or even the strength, of the person involved. There are other magnum air rifles, which do not have quite as much force, but which may be a much better choice because of their lightness or reduced cocking effort. A proper airgun scope is virtually a must on any hunting air rifle.
An airgun with substantial weight, and the solid construction that it represents, may be the very best choice if you intend to give the gun heavy duty and want the most and trouble-free life. Ease of shot placement and smooth firing sequence are also strong pluses for long-range shooting, field target and silhouette shooting, and extended shooting sessions.
It is very nice to supplement one's magnum air rifles. I am well over six feet tall and weigh a bit over a tenth of a ton, but I dearly love to go hunting with a "sweet little thing" in the form of a beautifully balanced, little Beeman R7, which weighs only six pounds and is only forty inches long. If a fast handling, short, but powerful air rifle appeals to you, another good compromise, or addition to your airgun battery, is one of the shorter barrel, so-called "carbine" versions of the large magnum air rifles.
The middle velocity, fairly heavy match rifles should not be overlooked as possible hunting tools. Their absolutely incredible accuracy, extremely low report, and great cocking ease may add up to be a far deadlier combination for say, squirrel hunting, than one of the magnum sporting rifles. Remember that with airguns, the accuracy of shot placement is more important than the amount of power. The satisfaction of hunting with rifles with such incredibly crisp and delicate trigger pulls and almost unbelievable pinpoint accuracy are tremendous source of satisfaction.
Many potential airgun buyers state that their prime purpose is to "chase pests". Most of these persons are unaware of the considerable power and penetration that is possible from a modern airgun. Using an air rifle to chase cats or dogs may produce cruel wounds or death. Use of felt cleaning pellets as projectiles would be acceptable for this role with a rifle but generally pest chasing should be restricted to lower velocity air pistols. An air rifle with flat head pellets may be suitable for chasing orchard wrecking deer if the shots are made at a considerable distance, but the shooter should experiment first by shooting at a grapefruit or potato, or other such inanimate object, to determine that there is virtually no penetration.
The primary roles for air pistols are simulated firearm training, plinking, and various levels of target shooting, plus some use in chasing and eliminating pests. For firearm simulation training, one of the best choices is a pistol with a rearward acting piston. The recoil direction and action of such a pistol more nearly simulates that of a firearm than the forward piston guns.
The sophistication and cost of air pistols for target use depends entirely on your balance of budget, seriousness of use, and how much emphasis you place on pride of ownership and esthetics of mechanism and design. A good medium price air pistol could be entirely adequate here, but there are an amazing number of shooters who use world class match air pistols for nothing but plinking, simply because they enjoy and appreciate the fine mechanism and design of these guns.
Elsewhere in this book, Dennis Adler has given an excellent discussion of the new firearm replica air pistols that now are an important part of the adult airgun market. While these guns are very appealing and can be a lot of fun, two things must be noted: 1. None of them are nearly as accurate as even moderate priced target air pistols. 2. Such guns should never, ever be considered for home or self-defense use. Some potential buyers visualize “just scaring” a would-be assailant. What such a gun really means in a violent situation is that you may attract, or precipitate, gunfire from actual firearms without the means to return meaningful fire. Either have a real firearm, and learn how and when to use it in self-defense, and be willing to use it decisively, or do not present anything that just looks like a firearm!
Just as with gun selection, the question often asked is: "What is the best airgun caliber?" A clue to the proper answer can be obtained by asking: "What is the best firearm caliber?" The answer to both questions is that there is no best caliber. Although bore size in airguns has ranged from about .12" (3 mm) caliber to several inches, today four main calibers make up over 99% of commercially available airguns: .177”, (4.5 mm), .20" (5.0 mm) , .22” (5.5 mm) and .25” (6.35 mm).
The choice of caliber depends, just as in firearms, upon the use to which the gun will be put, personal preference of the shooter, ammunition costs, availability, legal restrictions, and several other factors. A well-equipped airgunner couldn't get along with just one caliber any more than a firearm enthusiast could get along with just one caliber.
My highest recommendation for air rifle caliber generally is .20 caliber (5 mm). . The trajectory is almost as flat as a.177, but it has greater efficiency from the very same powerplant. This, and the heavier pellets with larger frontal area, means much better impact. However, if energy were the ruling matter, we should all simply go to .22 and .25 caliber. Useful as those calibers are for certain purposes, I certainly do not feel that they would be the top recommendations for a shooter who is planning to buy his first adult air rifle. An ideal combination for field use would be a .20 caliber and a .25 caliber air rifle. I would recommend .177 caliber only for air pistols and for official match shooting which specify that caliber.
Interest and Pride of Ownership
Don't be concerned that you may wish to purchase a given airgun just because you like it. The overwhelming majority of firearms that rest on various shooters' gun racks are purchased just for this reason. As noted above, shooters who appreciate fine mechanisms may just plink with a world class air pistol. Others thrill to just "thinking-off" a shot from one of the super match air rifles which has a trigger pull not much heavier than the brush of a hair. Many superb airguns are purchased just because of the interest that they engendered in the purchaser or the pride of ownership that they produce.
Study the Catalogs
It is impossible to give a through presentation on selecting your airguns in a short article. The two leaders in the adult airgun field in the U.S. are Beeman Precision Airguns and Dynamit-Nobel (RWS). Study their websites, and especially their printed catalogs. There are now dozens of other suppliers, and more companies are entering the field every year. The very best listing of airgun sources can be found in the latest Airgun Revues (See the Rare Air article in the 1st edition of the Blue Book of Airguns.) Note that although there are quite a number of really excellent airgunsmiths and dealers, there definitely are some “companies” who have little or no real substance. They may look much more significant, in printed ads and on the Internet, than they really are. The loudness and dogmatic nature of advice and opinions frequently is inversely proportional to the competence and real status of the individuals concerned. One good clue: you can be pretty sure that you are dealing with a poor operator if he tries to denigrate other persons, or companies, to make himself, or his operation, appear larger or more important.
There never has been a better time to enter the interesting world of adult airguns. Never before has there been such a wonderful selection of excellent models. Adult airgunning is the newest of the shooting sports, but it certainly is coming of age. Welcome to this delightful field!
Added 19 June 2002:
WHAT IS THE WORLD'S MOST POPULAR ADULT AIRGUN??
It sometimes is very hard for those who currently are deeply involved with adult airgunning to believe, much less understand, that the spring-piston airgun is far and away the most popular airgun design in the United States, and indeed, the world. The magazines they read, their www contacts and web forums, the fellow members of their shooting groups, the airgun competition teams, etc. – all may be expounding the benefits of various pneumatics and CO2 guns and possibly many, even most, of their associates will be using such guns.
In the United States, Beeman, Dynamit Nobel (RWS, etc.), and Compasseco are estimated to sell about 80 to 90% of all the imported adult airguns sold in the USA. About 85% of their airgun sales are spring piston airguns. To demonstrate the relative status of various types of adult airguns in the United States, just go on a shopping tour of the stores (Wal-Mart, local gunshops, etc.) which sell the most airguns in a given area. As you examine the inventory piled on the shelves, you will see that most of the airguns are Daisys, Crosmans, Marksmans, etc. - slanted most heavily to youth sales. Almost surely, almost all, if not all, of the imported adult models will be spring-piston airguns, mostly barrel-cockers. I did this in early 2002 and found 123 adult airguns for sale; only one was not a spring piston model! “All” of those outspoken mail order airgun firms add up to less than 10% of the total American adult airgun market, and while their slice of the national pie is relatively narrow and may contain a much higher portion of imported “non-springers” (up to 40% among those surveyed in June 2002) than the national average , a large portion of their aggregate sales is made up of spring-piston airguns from the above big three.)
Those other styles of airguns certainly have their place and many are truly great guns. Some of them may even be the advance guard of the adult airguns of the future. But, for now, the tried-and-true, easy-to-use, simple spring-piston airgun is at least the most popular system in the airgunning world. The great majority of the buyers of these guns never join an airgun group, never attend an airgun match, never enter an airgun forum, and most never read any shooting publication, much less any airgun publication. To "hard-core" airgunners they may be invisible, but they ARE the MAIN market!
"So, what airguns do you recommend now, Dr. Beeman?"
Now that we have no ties or obligations to Beeman Precision Airguns, people keep asking me that question! So, to save us both some trouble (we can't carry on a chat line with shooters - we are just too busy writing books, etc)., here are my "unbiased" comments: All of the German and English made airguns sold by Beeman are very good, but the crown jewel of their sporting rifles STILL is the Beeman R1 in .20 or .25 caliber, preferably both! One of my personal favorites always has been the handy, little Beeman R7, which seems to have an almost cult following among those who really know airguns. The present production is excellent, but if you can locate a R7 with our San Rafael or Santa Rosa address factory stamped on the receiver - you have a special prize. For extra high power, to supplement your Beeman R1 and R7, get the Beeman Crow Magnum in .25 caliber. In sporting air pistols, the Beeman P1 and P2 pistols really have no equals! Sure these guns may cost one or two hundred dollars more than a gun sporting equal specifications - but if you could buy a Mercedes, which can go 120 miles an hour, for only two hundred dollars more than a Ford which can also go 120 miles per hour, and you knew that the Mercedes would be with you for the rest of your life - what would you decide that you could "afford"? With airguns, virtually everyone really can afford the best.
If I were buying a match airgun today, and I was not going to compete in International competition (and most of our FWB customers just wanted the finest airgun available for fun and informal enjoyment), I would seek out the discontinued Beeman/Feinwerkbau Model 300S rifle and the Model 65 air pistol. It is such a delight for most every shooter not to have to fuss with compressed air or CO2! The 300S and 65 will give you several lifetimes of delight, just "thinking off" shots with truly astonishing precision and accuracy. Have it rebuilt by Beemans every few million rounds! If you can't locate one of those, get a Beeman/FWB 603 rifle and a 103 pistol. (BTW - like many airgunners, I often use a match airgun for hunting, even plinking!) Enjoy!
Which is the best caliber? The answer is simple: there is no best caliber, but the matter will be argued forever. The typical choice is between .177 and .22 caliber. Frankly, decades of experience have led me to believe that there is little purpose for the .177 caliber, except for match guns, which are tradition bound to that bore size and where trajectory and wind effect have no significance, and air pistols. For airguns of any significant power, I would always select .22 caliber over .177, but I strongly believe that .20 (5mm) caliber is a much better choice than either one. If you really want more projectile diameter and weight, try very hard to simply skip over .22 caliber and get the much superior .25 caliber - but I would always recommend .25 caliber as an addition to having a fine .20 caliber airgun, not as a substitute. At the time we sold the Beeman business in 1993, .20 caliber had just become our biggest seller and .25 caliber outsold .22 by ten to one! (The emphasis on these calibers was not stressed by the new owners, so the bulk of sales reverted to .177, which is the only caliber understood, or asked for, by most quite unknowledgeable sales reps and chain stores! Sigh! It is now up to good airgunners to really let the makers and sellers know that you want something more than the less-than-dynamic-duo of .177 and .22 calibers! Speak up and often!). Tom Holzel, who may well be the world's leading expert on hunting with airguns, is a very strong supporter of .25 caliber. Tremendous experience in the field, especially crow hunting, has shown him that the the size of the kill zone increases significantly with caliber, meaning you can make a less accurate hit and still assure a clean kill. Practically, this means you can shoot at greater range with the larger calibers. However, you need an airgun delivering at least 20 ft. lbs. of muzzle energy to really take advantage of the .25 caliber pellet. An noted above, the clear winner in energy retention and ballistic efficiency is .25" caliber. In such guns as the Beeman Crow Magnum and RX-2, and many others, it also tests as the most accurate of the four calibers.
Then, after, and ONLY after, you have have a good deal of experience with the excellent .20 and .25 calibers, you owe it to yourself to add some of the really large airgun bores: 9 mm (.38 caliber), .44, etc. to your growing airgun battery.
If after having some top quality springers, you decide to add a PCP rifle: As noted, my main interest in PCP rifles now is centered on the PCP carried by Lewis and Clark in their expedition of 1803-06 which was the key to the West being part of the USA. (See Lewis Air Rifle – New Evidence on this website.). Most of the PCP airguns that I buy are about 200 years old! If I were buying a current PCP I would either get the new Weihrauch 100 PCP repeater from Beeman Precision Airguns (www.Beeman.com), but far more likely, I would start payments on one of the incredible, top of the line PCP guns featured at http://www.glbarnes.com/catalog.html . . Your really, really best bet would be to get the HW PCP airgun now and start payments on one of those Gary Barnes PCP’s to be delivered when you will have about two more years of experience with PCP and will really appreciate the incredibly wise steps that you have taken! The HW gun is a good step up in quality from the better RWS rifles (the Chevys of the trade) and the Barnes gun a quantum leap up. (We have NO connection with either of these companies, except getting brownie points – so please mention that I sent you!)
P.S. For a short, but excellent, note on selecting airgun calibers and guns for hunting, click on this website link by Tom Holzel, the original airgun hunting wizard:
http://www.velocitypress.com/pages/Woodchucks.php Be careful about reading
some of Tom's wild personal info bombs, listed in the left column of his
website. You just might blow a brain cell or two!!