Saturday, September 5, 2009
Today's post is about a great tool for the well heeled prepper, airguns. Today's post is by a long term prepper and former Army officer from SW Montana. I've seen him demonstrate what these guns can do. Trust me, get one they're very useful and fun!
While most 'preppers' include a firearm in their preparedness plan, one weapon that is frequently overlooked is the air rifle. The air rifle can make an excellent addition to any prepper's battery and is probably more useful in anything short of a TEOTWAWKI situation, particularly for the suburban survivor. The Air rifle is useful for training, pest control and even hunting small game, while having a low report and limited range that makes it well suited for more built up area. Ammunition is widely available and relatively inexpensive. A can containing 500 rounds is the size of a chewing tobacco tin and can be purchased for less than $8. Also, because air guns are not firearms, there are few regulation regarding their purchase, ownership and even use (as always, check your local laws). This article will cover the various types of air rifles, discuss their utility and give some tips on selecting an air rifle for you personal battery.
Most Americans think of air guns as toy suitable for older children rather than as a serious tool. Many of us owned 'BB' or 'pellet' guns when younger, and look at these weapons as a sort of 'junior' firearm until we are old enough to get a 'real' gun. However, in countries with restrictive gun laws, the air gun is often the only gun one can obtain, and air guns in these countries (Germany, England, etc) are as refined as any American made firearm. The higher end 'adult' air guns are accurate, powerful and extremely well made guns that can last a lifetime or more.
Adult air guns were relatively unknown in this country until recently thanks to Dr. Robert Beeman, who began importing high powered air rifles into the US to be sold under the Beeman name. There are now a variety of importers, and literally dozens of high quality air gun from scores of sellers. One can buy air guns from hundred to thousands of dollars, and from small caliber precision plinkers to .50 caliber plus air guns capable of taking some of the largest game in North America.
Modern air guns are typically divided into three types: pneumatics, gas guns and spring guns. Pneumatics are further divided into single pump, multi-pump and PCP (Pre-charged pneumatics). Most common 'BB' and pellet guns fall into one of the first two categories. Benjamin and Crossman are well know for their 'pump up' pellet guns. The last type, PCP, utilize a built in air tank that is charged from a high pressure source like a SCUBA tank or via several hundred cycles of a special high pressure hand pump.
Most of the American made pump pneumatics are inexpensive and fair quality, with barely adequate accuracy and no provision for scope mounting, and are relatively limited in their usefulness. PCP guns are typically higher end guns that are very powerful and accurate, but require a high pressure air source that makes them less than ideal for anyone beyond the dedicated air gunner. Gas gun are familiar to most in the form of CO2 guns. While convenient, they rely on CO2 cartridges and their accuracy and velocity is also less than optimal.
This bring us to the spring guns, which make up the majority of the 'adult' air guns available. In a spring gun, there is a large compression chamber much like a doctor's syringe. A spring is held under pressure by the trigger, and when the trigger is released, the spring presses the 'plunger' forward, compressing the air and forcing it through a small port into the rifled barrel where a pellet is waiting. The compressed air launches the pellet out the barrel. The gun is then re-cocked, compressing the spring and another pellet is loaded into the barrel. This relatively simple system results in a uniform volume of air each time the gun is fire, leading to consistent velocity and good accuracy. It is also capable of producing fairly high velocities. Some of the higher powered 22 caliber spring guns can launch a pellet at or over 1,000fps. These guns can place 5 shots within a 1 inch circle at 50 yards and humanely kill small pests and game at 30-50 yards with little noise. The air gun can also be used to 'discourage' larger animals like feral cats and dogs from intruding into your yard or garden . And thanks to the light weight of the pellet and it's low ballistic coefficient, the same pellet is relative 'harmless' at 100 yards. Unlike firearms, a air rifle can be fired relatively safely even in a small suburban backyard, and few neighbors are likely to complain about you shooting your 'BB' gun.
Adult air guns are like conventional firearms in that you typically get what you pay for. The cheapest spring guns available are often of inferior quality and not worth consideration. Spring guns actually require as much or more precision manufacture than firearms, so you should expect to pay a minimum of about $150 for a decent spring gun. There are a variety of cocking systems used for spring guns – break barrel, under lever and side lever – with break barrel being the most common. In a break barrel air rifle, a linkage is attached to a hinged barrel. To cock the rifle, one breaks the barrel until the piston is captured by the trigger mechanism. A pellet is then fed into the open breech, and the barrel is hinged closed until it locks into place. Typically, the safety is automatically activated so that the cocked and ready to fire rifle is already on safe. Break barrels are easy to operate and understand, and it is easy to check to see if the rifle is loaded with a pellet by simply opening the action. In the case of under lever and side lever gun, cocking the lever opens a port into which the pellet is loaded. Because the lever is under spring tension, these guns are equipped with an 'anti-bear trap' mechanism to keep from smashing your fingers while loading. For this reason, the break barrel is usually recommended as a first air gun.
Almost all spring guns are equipped with a 2 stage trigger. This type of trigger is favored by Europeans and is generally unfamiliar to American shooters. The trigger has a long, relatively light first stage (take up) followed by a shorter, crisp second stage which fired the gun. On firing, the piston is released forward, and a spring gun will often have a noticeable, but not uncomfortable recoil. Because spring guns use a forward moving piston, they actually have recoil in both direction, and the forward recoil can destroy scopes not rated for air guns, so you will need an air gun rated scope. In addition, air gun scope have their parallax set for 20-25 yards, rather than 100 yards on a conventional scope. Adjustable Objective air gun scopes will generally focus as close as 7 yards.
When selecting an air gun, even after determining type, there will be a a number things to consider. The two main thing to keep in mind are intended use and the user. While spring gun can generate a significant amount of power, to do this means using heavy springs which require some upper body strength to cock. Also, intended use will dictate caliber. The four most popular air gun calibers, in order, are 0.177, 0.22, 0.20 and 0.25. Of these four, only 0.177 and 0.22 should be considered by the 'prepper'. The other calibers are often difficult to find, and so unless you plan on keeping a large store of ammunition, stay with the common calibers which can be found at almost any sporting goods store.
The general rule of thumb is that 0.177 is meant for target shooting and practice, and 0.22 is for pests and hunting. This is mostly true, but small animals can be dispatched with 0.177 if you restrict your targets to small game (birds and rodent) at short distances. The best all around performer is a powerful spring gun in 0.22, but such a rifle may be too hard to operate for older children or even some adults. If the air gun will be used by teens or a person with limited upper body strength, you will need to select a spring gun with a cocking effort of less than 25 pounds. This will generally limit you to lower velocity 0.177 air gun. However, these gun can still function very well in the pest control and hunting role if you understand their limitations.
Rather than cover every possible gun on the market, I'll list a few of the 'classics' that most experienced air gunners consider good guns and good values.
Light weight air guns with moderate cocking effort. These rifles are suitable for older children, men and women. These also tend to be lighter that 'full power' air rifles, and much easier to carry around.
RWS Schutze – This basic training rifle will deliver a 0.177 pellet at about 580 fps and costs about $200. It is marginal for game but only requires 19 pounds of cocking effort. Equipped with iron sights, it has an 11mm dovetail for scope mounting.
Beeman HW30S – Another easy cocking 0.177 caliber rifle from Germany, it features the famous Rekord trigger, iron sites and 11mm dovetail. 675 fps. About $300
Beeman R-7 – A highly refined version of the HW30S with an American style stock and 700 fps. Weighs in at about 6 pounds and sells for around $400
Classic 'work horse' guns. These are proven and well regarded designs that will last for years, are accurate and powerful. They require a cocking effort of around 40 pounds.
RWS34 – this basic gun start at around $225 and goes up depending on options. Just shy of 8 pounds in weight, the 0.22 version will launch a pellet at 800 fps.
RWS 350 magnum – This is a true magnum air rifle, capable of 1000 fps in the 0.22 version. The basic model starts at just under $400 and weighs in at 8 pounds.
Beeman R-9 – Available in 0.177 and 0.22 caliber, this is one of the most popular air rifles among US air gunners. It's equipped with the excellent Rekord trigger and weighs only 7 pounds. The 0.177 version fires a pellet at just under 1000 fps and the gun has a deserved reputation for superb accuracy. Fit and finish is first rate, as you would expect from an air gun that starts at $500.
Beeman R-1 – This was the first air rifle to break the speed of sound. Also equipped with the Rekord trigger, dovetail for scope and superb fit and finish, this rifle is a burly 9 pounds and starts at $600.
In addition, there are a number of other quality guns, both break barrel, under lever and side lever not mentioned here like the 'classic' RWS 48 and 52.
Recently, an number of excellent Chinese made air gun have been imported in the US. While fit and finish are not up to the standards of the European made guns, they represent a good value for the cash strapped buyer. In the past, quality was spotty, but the latest Chinese made guns are very much improved. In particular, there are are several models that are virtual clones of much more expensive European guns that sell for half or even one third the price. The Chinese XS-26 is a copy of the Beeman R-9, the XS-28 is a duplicate of the RWS 350 magnum and the XS-B30 is a copy of the RWS 48. A little research on the web will turn up numerous reviews on these and other air guns.
Once you have selected and received your air gun, here are a few things you need to know.
1.Treat your air gun just like any other gun. Adult air guns are not toys and can kill. Follow the basic rules of gun safety.
2.Wear eye protection. Pellets can ricochet and you are generally much closer to your target with an air gun
3.Never fire a spring gun without a pellet. When the piston is released, it is cushioned by a column of air behind the pellet. Without a pellet, the piston slams into the front of the cylinder which can damage the piston and piston seal
4.Use only air gun oil, and only oil as recommended. The pressure and temperature of the cylinder get high enough to detonate petroleum oil, just like in a diesel engine. Smoke and noise from you spring gun is a sign of 'dieseling', and is bad for the gun. Many new guns will diesel for the first few shots. Don't amplify the problem by adding 'fuel'. Use only approved oil as recommended by the manufacturer.
5.Air guns require a break in period before they reach full accuracy and velocity. This is typically 500-1000 rounds before the gun 'settles in'. Give the gun time to break in.
6.Air guns will often show a preference for certain pellets. Try a variety to find out which shoot best.
7.Have fun. Use your air gun to practice your shooting skills in the back yard, barn or even basement. Dispatch those pesky garden pests without using poisons, bothering with traps, or disturbing your neighbors.
Useful air gun web sites:
http://www.airguns.net/ - Air gun reviews and other helpful information
http://www.pyramidair.com – Customer reviews of a huge variety of air guns, air gun sales.
http://www.beeman.com – The original importer of adult air guns. Lots of useful air gun info.
http://www.arld1.com/images/swfs/tx200whole.swf – Great illustration of how a spring gun works
http://www.xisicousa.com/airguns.html – Importer of Chinese made air guns
http://www.compasseco.com – Chinese air gun sales, under their own 'Tech Force' brand as well as other makers.