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Sunday Gun Thread | Main | Sunday Morning Book Thread 06-30-2013: Self Defense Edition [OregonMuse]
June 30, 2013

Gun Thread Part Deux: Airgun Challenge.

Hotsalami bacon, Morons. Russ from Winterset here. I've been promising Andy content for the Gun Thread for months now, and I'm finally delivering. Today's topic is affordable airguns for marksmanship training and small game hunting. I'm going to give a short synopsis of some inexpensive American-made airguns, and then follow it up with detailed reviews of my test guns and different varieties of ammunition in future posts. For starters, let's look at our class textbook, "American Air Rifles" by James E. House. This book is a little spendy at $29.99, but if you want to seriously get into airguns, the ballistic tables in the back are worth the cost. I'll cover most of the bullet points in the book in upcoming posts, so don't feel that you HAVE to get the book now (but if you do, please use Ace's Amazon widget to put some green in his pocket).

OK, first off: The dirty little secret of air rifles. Velocity claims are not to be trusted. They're like the manufacturer's claimed horsepower ratings on older British bikes. Velocities of most airguns are listed with regard to the lightest ammunition available, which are alloy pellets that weigh approximately 60 to 70% of the weight of lead pellets. Since we all know that power is a function of mass and velocity, the power produced by an airgun will remain somwhat constant but the velocities can vary widely depending on the mass of the projectile. So when you see claimed velocities in a review or ad? Read the fine print. Velocity is the standard for comparison of different airguns, but a gun that drives a 5 grain alloy pellet at 1250 fps will only drive a standard (7.9 grain) pellet at 1000 fps. So the "implied" power of the gun can be exaggerated by using alloy pellets in the ad. Alloy pellets are perfectly fine for target use, but since this series will focus on targets AND hunting, we're going to avoid using them due to their poor terminal performance compared to lead.

Safety: Every safety precaution you have ever been given about handling "real" firearms also applies to airguns. Just because an airgun doesn't have the juice to stop a moose in his tracks, doesn't mean that it can't hurt you. As Ralphie's parents and teachers said.......YOU'LL SHOOT YOUR EYE OUT WITH THAT THING! And unless you REALLY like dressing up as a pirate on Halloween, you don't want to wear an eyepatch every day. So airguns are not toys. Act accordingly.

Since we're talking target AND hunting use for these guns, let's establish a baseline. In House's book, he breaks down the targeted species into four groups: Category I (sparrows, mice), Category II (starlings, rats), Category III (crows, pigeons) and Category IV (rabbits, squirrels). I'm going to assume that none of us have gotten desperate enough to dine from Categories I and II, so our discussion will focus on pigeons, rabbits and squirrels. The listed "minimum" energy required to consistently harvest pigeons is 5 ft/lbs, which translates to 550 fps for .177 pellets and 425 fps for .22 pellets. This assumes the average weight of projectiles is 7.9 grains for .177 and 14.3 grains for .22 caliber. Rabbits/squirrels require 7 ft/lbs (650 and 500 fps respectively). Now remember, this power is the MINIMUM required. More powerful guns will help make up for deficiencies in accuracy, but only up to a point. So accuracy is the controlling factor in airgun hunting.

Airguns can be classified into five groups: Multi-pump pneumatic, CO2, Single-pump pneumatic, spring piston, and Pre-Charged Pneumatic (PCP). Pneumatic airguns use compressed air in a chamber to propel the pellet. That air can either be accumulated by pumping a lever on the gun or by filling a larger chamber with pressurized air (pre-charged). CO2 airguns use pre-charged canisters of carbon dioxide to power the projectile. Spring piston airguns use the mechanical energy in a compressed metal spring to propel the pellet. A new variation on the spring piston category is the gas piston (Crosman calls theirs a "nitro piston") airgun. The nitro piston allows these guns to be cocked for a significant amount of time before firing without losing spring tension, which is great for hunting purposes. Plus, the spring force is affected significantly by outside temperature, which is not a factor with nitro pistons. For the purpose of this series, I am not covering PCP and spring piston airguns. PCP guns are too expensive for this purpose, and the spring piston airguns that have enough power and accuracy for hunting are also too expensive. I might cover the Nitro Piston guns, but only if I acquire one during this series.

My test guns in this series are a Benjamin 392 (.22 caliber multi-pump pneumatic), a Crosman 2100B (.177 caliber multi-pump pneumatic), a Crosman 1077 (.177 caliber CO2) and one Crosman 1377 pistol (.177 caliber multi-pump pneumatic). I would like to get a break-barrel rifle with a "nitro piston" sometime in the near future, but I haven't decided on the brand yet, so we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

The test guns I am using are all affordable. Amazon lists them for $57 (Crosman 1377 pistol), $54 (Crosman 2100B rifle), $140 (Benjamin 392 rifle) and $60 (Crosman 1077 rifle). Add in $100 for a scope and mounts, and you've got packages that range from about $150 to about $275 (the Benjamin needs an extra mount because the receiver isn't grooved to accept a scope). That's not bad for a intro airgun.

And last time I checked, the current ammunition drought doesn't affect airguns. All you need are pellets. High-end pellets will run you approximately $9 for a tin of 200, but you CAN go cheaper. Honestly, anything less than $0.05 a shot is WELL below what you'll pay for .22 long rifle ammunition in today's market. And finding places to shoot airguns is much easier than finding places to shoot "real" firearms. Just remember that if a neighbor calls the police to report you shooting a rifle in your suburban backyard, they PROBABLY won't add "it's just a pellet gun, so don't respond with a SWAT team and helicopters". The "it's just a pellet gun" defense won't keep your ass out of trouble, so don't shoot where you're not supposed to shoot.....or at least be smart enough to not get caught.

If you're looking to get an airgun, your local brick & mortar store is always a good choice. Obviously, Amazon is another choice, and I have found that Pyramyd Air is a site that has loads of information for prospective buyers. That's a great site if you want to just "kick some tires" before you make a decision.

Happy hunting, morons. My next entry will be an overview of my Crosman 1077 rifle and a discussion of how to select the proper ammunition for hunting. If I can get off my ass long enough to get it finished in time, it will be a part of Andy's next Gun Thread.

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posted by Russ from Winterset at 11:12 AM

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