The term Air Gun brings to mind the classic Red Ryder BB gun to many. It is often met with the question “You mean Airsoft and BB guns?" Those are not what are being discussed here. We are talking about weapons that are capable of taking deer, bear, buffalo, and two legged predators. We are talking about weapons that can take squirrels from 50 yards with Hollywood like quite. We are talking about weapons that can make ammo from a tire weights, previously fired bullets, or any other source of lead. We are talking about weapons that you can shoot for 2 cents per shot even at today’s inflated ammo prices. We are talking about weapons that are not dependent on primers or gunpowder (neither of which 99.99% of people can make).
AirGuns, obviously, use air to propel a projectile. There is no fire or explosion involved in moving the projectile. There are several different ways in which airguns create the required air pressure to more the projectile. These different ways of creating the pressure divide airguns into different types and generalized attributes. The major types are single stroke pneumatic, multi stoke pneumatic, spring, precharged pneumatic, and CO2. Rifles and pistols are available in all these types.
Single stoke pneumatic (SSP) airguns use a single stroke of a lever to create air pressure in an internal reservoir. This air is stored until the shot and all the air is released to propel the projectile. This type of power plant is generally limited to target weapons, or very small game. Projectiles leave the barrel at about 500 fps and weight about 7 grains.
Multi stoke pneumatic (MSP) airguns work just like SSP, but they allow for additional strokes to store additional air, and thus more power, in the internal reservoir. Most MSPs release all the air at once when shot, but there are a few that only use some of the air and save more for a second or third shot. These are usually called Air Conserving Pumpers (ACP). This type of power plant is limited by the amount of effort the user is will to put into pumping for each shot. Projectiles leave the barrel at about 700 fps and weight up to 30 grains. These are capable of taking up to rabbit sized game effectively.
Spring guns use a single stroke of a level (or the barrel) to compress a large spring inside a hollow cylinder. At the front of the spring is an air tight seal. The trigger releases the spring and compresses the air in front of the seal. The compressed air what pushes the pellet down and out of the barrel. There is a great amount of heat created during the compression of the air, but it is dissipated quickly as the air expands. There is a dual recoil in these weapons that first recoils forward as the spring finishes expanding and a second smaller rearward recoil as the pellet move down and leaves the barrel. This recoil behavior does require a good scope. Most quality scopes do not have a problem on spring guns, but cheap scope will break quickly because the optics are not supported during the forward recoil. Make sure to get a scope that is airgun rated. This type of power plan can produce a wide variety of power. With pellets leaving the barrel at 1000 fps and weight at 7 grains and different versions causing the pellet to leave at 800 fps and weight 30 grains.
Precharged pneumatic (PCP) use a reservoir of high pressure air from 800 PSI to 4,500 PSI. Each shot uses an amount the stored air. This allows a number of shots before having to refill the reservoir with air. Since the air for several shots is stored follow up shots, there are models that are magazine feed and bolt action as well as magazine feed semi automatic. There are even a few fully automatic (unregulated federally) models. This type of airgun is the most powerful and can range from target use to taking any game in North America. There are airguns that shot a .308 caliber 158 grain projectile at 900 fps. There are others that shot a .357 caliber projectile at 800 f.p.s. There are airguns that shot a .50 caliber 500 grain project at 700 fps. For those familiar with firearms projectiles and speeds, these are slower, but make no mistake they will take down any predator (2 or 4 legged).
PCPs require a method to fill the reservoir. Shop compressors are good to about 200 PSI at the most. This is enough. These weapons usually require a 3,000 PSI fill. There are two methods to do this; a tank (that must be filled) and a hand pump. There are several models of hand pump that will pump 3,200+ PSI of air. This is not a task that kids can do, but any adult in decent shape should be able to pump a gun from empty to full in about 15-20 minutes. There are air compressors you can get for between $600 and $4000 to fill the gun or tank for you without effort, but they need more maintenance than a hand pump. The pumps need only a few small o-rings and a small amount of lubricant to be rebuilt and usually last a long time between rebuilds.
Most airguns come is a relatively small number of calibers; .177, .20, .22, .25, .357/9mm, .308, .458, .50. Each caliber has a purpose.
1. .177 is the most common and used mostly for target and small game (up to rabbit with head shot)
2. .20 is the least common and used mostly for target and small game.
3. .22 used to be the “big” size and is still the most common small game hunting caliber.
4. .25 is the current “big” size for small game, up to fox or small coyote size game.
5. All the other sizes are called big bore and use cast ammo just like some firearms.
Making airgun ammo is just like making firearms bullets, with the exception that soft lead is preferred.
1. Melt the lead (which can be done over an open fire outside).
2. Pour the lead into a mold
3. Open mold and drop out bullet
4. Repeat 1 to 3 until you are out of lead, or have enough bullets.
5. For the most accurate shooting, size the bullets through sizing die.
Tire weights, reclaimed bullets and pellets from targets, lead fishing weights, and any other source of lead can be melted for airguns bullets. The softer the better.
[JWR Adds: Don't expect to be able to buy a bag of "BB" size shot made for shotgun shell handloaders, and have it work in a BB gun. The dimensions are different!]
Below are a few types of airguns and models in each category to start your research.
1. Beeman P17 – cost $40 – pistol – excellent for target practice and plinking
2. There are currently no rifles produced in this category.
1. Crosman 1377 (or 1322) – cost $50 – pistol – good for small game and fun/easy to modify
2. Benjamin 397 and 392 – cost $150 – rifle – good for small game, and should last a lifetime
3. FX Independence – cost $1800 – rifle – excellent self contained MSP/PCP. High quality, but complicated to maintain if it breaks.
1. Gamo (various models) – cost $100 to $300 – rifle – good for small game, moderate quality
2. AirArms TX200 – Cost $700 – rifle – good for small game, excellent lifetime long weapon
3. HW97 – cost $600 – rifle – good for small game, excellent lifetime long weapon.
1. Benjamin Marauder – cost $475 – rifle – good for small game with bolt action repeating
2. Airforce Talon SS – Cost $575 – rifle – lots of power in a take-down package that can go in a backpack.
3. AirArms 410/510 – cost $1,000/$1,200 – rifle – excellent weapon that should last a lifetime.
4. FX Independence – see above.
5. Quackenbush .458 LA Outlaw – Cost $700 – Rifle – Big game capable, low volume production weapon that can be a little hard to get, but worth the effort.
6. Extreme BigBore airguns – Cost $1,200 – rifle – Big game capable, low volume production weapon.
7. Croman Rogue .357 – Cost $1,300 – Rifle – Big game capable, has built in electronics that run on AA batteries, but is readily available from many distributors and shots standard firearms size .357 bullets in hard or soft cast lead.
These are just a few of the models to choose from. The hobby of airguns is vast and there are many models to suit most budgets and requirements. It is a hobby that is mostly unhindered by the ATF and firearms laws.
A long term survival situation that requires hunting (and fighting) can be well served by a collection of airguns to supplement firearms. The gun fighting is best left to firearms, but if you run out of powder or primers, a big bore airgun will do much better than a knife or bat. Small game hunting with an airgun is very stealthy and can be done without anyone knowing you were there. The airgun ammo is easily replenished much longer than firearm components will be available.
As always check local laws ordinances before purchasing or shooting to ensure you do not end up on the wrong side of the law.