Single Stroke/Multi-Pump Pneumatics
This is a great time to be an airgun enthusiast. There are more powerful models than ever before along with plenty of options for the beginner or weekend plinker. Along with all of these different guns come various ways to power them. The lever-action single stroke Daisy” Red Ryder” and Multi-Pump models like the Crossman 1377 and Daisy Powerline 35 can likely be grouped into one category. Inexpensive and great starter guns for kids, they require the user to manually “pump” or “cock” the gun. .177 is the prevailing caliber for these types, but there are .22’s out there like the iconic Benjamin 392. Of note, Olympic 10-Meter matches were traditionally shot with Single Stroke Pneumatics (SSP) such as the FWB (Feinwerkbau) 601 until migration to Pre-Charged Pneumatics.
Although limited in power and subject to temperature conditions (CO2 does not function well when its cold outside), these guns can yield great accuracy without need for pumping. Power levels range from 350 to 650FPS, but some can be fine-tuned to shoot harder at the expense of the number of shots per CO2 cartridge. CO2 guns come in pistol and rifle form, single shot, semi-auto and even full-auto formats (Crossman SBR, Umarex MP-40, etc). CO2-powered guns are readily available in .177 and .22 caliber.
My favorite CO2 gun is a bolt-action .22 caliber QB78 Deluxe made by Beeman. My two young boys are a couple of Sniper Munchkins when they get behind this accurate rifle.
CO2 replica pistols are designed to function and weigh similarly to their centerfire originals. Sig Sauer leads the charge in production CO2 pistols (Sig Sauer M17 for example) that are specifically developed to hone defensive tactical handgun skills for pennies on the dollar. There are many military and western replicas too. Lastly, the full-auto CO2 guns offer serious soda-can-smacking, crow dispersing, raccoon-scattering fun.
Break Barrels and Underlevers (Spring-Piston and Gas Ram)
You’ve likely seen Spring-Piston and Gas Ram guns on the Walmart shelf with expressions of high velocity (“up to 1400 FPS!”) on their boxes. Essentially termed “break-barrels”, these guns tend to be good starter guns in calibers from .177 to .22 caliber and don’t rely on an outside power source. There are some solid .25 caliber examples out there and even a hard hitting .30 caliber rifle shooting 50gr pellets in the form of the Hatsan “Model 135 QE Vortex”.
Most are single shot with some exceptions recently hitting the market. These guns get their power from a single stroke, heavier cocking motion whereupon the barrel is “broken” (bent) sharply at the breech and cocked inward, which compresses either a heavy spring (Spring-Piston), or gas nitrogen cylinder (Gas Ram), then returned to closed breech position. Pulling the trigger releases the spring or compressed nitrogen stored in the cylinder to propel the intended projectile. Underlever guns work on the same principle, but the barrel remains in place while an “underlever” device is used to cock the gun.
If accustomed to firearms, mastering a break-barrel may require zen-like patience and adjustments in personal shooting technique. The less contact with the gun, the better. These rifles recoil in two directions during the shot cycle which may require a light, delicate hold for accuracy (“artillery hold”) – not a common practice when shooting centerfires and something to keep in mind when switching between the two. One would NOT employ the Artillery Hold with a 270 Winchester.
Break Barrels require use of an “airgun-rated” scope. Due to violent dual recoil, break barrels destroy scopes and ARE NOT the rifle to mount a cheap optic on. Quality scope manufacturers know this and design their scopes to withstand this type of recoil. Leupold has gone so far as to build a machine that puts their scopes through thousands of dual-direction recoil cycles to ensure their durability. Of note, the recoil experience of a break barrel doesn’t hurt – it’s only considered violent because of dual directional forces happening within the spring/gas ram firing cycle and subsequent round exiting muzzle.
Regarding claims of velocity printed on the box, those are achieved using alloy pellets, not lead. Stay away from alloy pellets unless you prefer a really loud report and consistently missing your target. Alloy pellets tend to be highly inaccurate and go supersonic, producing a loud “crack!” every time. Do some research before jumping into a break barrel purchase and you’ll stay happy. These guns are very rewarding for the challenge they present and I’ve taken quite a few critters with them.
WARNING: never dry-fire a break barrel – it will completely ruin it. Owner’s manuals fail to bring this up. Also, never fire the gun with the barrel in the open position.
Pre-Charged Pneumatic (PCP)
Nearly without recoil, capable of extreme accuracy with a wide array of available calibers to choose from, the PCP is currently the most popular type of airgun. We’ll touch on them in Part III.
Airgun/ammunition pairing is crucial for accuracy. Just like firearms, all airguns are “individuals” in what ammo they shoot accurately. For example, I have one that stacks “pellet X” at 50 yards, yet the same pellet shoots horribly in another rifle! It’s usually necessary to test different ammo until you find “The One”. Bottom line: what shoots accurately in one platform may come up short in another.
For more information and some great specific gun reviews online, check out Airgun Nation, Hard Air Magazine, Gateway to Airguns or Pryamyd Air’s “Airgun Academy” hosted by the incomparable T. Gaylord. Stay tuned for more info in our upcoming Part III article.