I consider myself among the very fortunate because I had an opportunity to grow up going to a hunting camp where I got to enjoy so many outdoor activities that are often foreign to many boys and young men. While I had visited to fish in the two lakes there since I was 5, my first trip to deer camp during hunting season was when I was 8. After we arrived that day and got settled in, my father presented my with my first BB gun, a Daisy lever action, similar the the Red Ryder carbine made famous in A Christmas Story. My father had grossly underestimated the amount of time I could spend shooting beer cans off a saw horse and the two packs of Daisy Quicksilver BB’s were gone in a matter of hours. I still have that gun and it’s still pressed into service from time to time to discourage wayward scavengers from getting in the garbage or digging in the grass near the house.
While I can only hope that most of you have had some sort of similar experience, it’s far from too late to get in on the game of air rifles. I’m going to mention a few in this post and some of the benefits of having one handy, but I still encourage everyone to read my post on gun safety. Air guns are often viewed as toys but are potentially deadly and, in many cases, more likely to injure a shooter with a ricochet because of the low velocity. I have personally been hit almost directly in the tear duct with a ricocheted BB and that was close enough to being blind for me! Click Here to read about the important safety rules that should always be followed when handling any type of gun and be especially conscious of hard targets and ricochets.
Types of Air Guns
I never put much thought into how air rifles worked until several years ago when I started shooting competitively. While we were shooting rimfire silhouette matches, several of the shooters mentioned that they were going to have an air rifle side match later that day. I asked about what air rifles they used and they started explaining the various classes and designs and I suddenly realized I didn’t know very much at all. After some research, I have narrowed it down to a few categories of air guns that we may want to consider adding to our arsenals, as well as noting what I think are the best ones for the job.
Springer Style Air Guns
Springer fired air guns are fired by compressing a spring that has a plunger on it which slams forwards when the trigger is released forcing a small amount of air through a port at a high pressure, thereby pushing the BB or pellet out of the barrel. These are some of the simplest and most inexpensive air guns that we can purchase, as well as some of the most practical for prepping purposes.
The practicality comes from the fact that the guns are self contained and only require one pump or break-open action to cock them and have them ready to fire. While BB versions are limited in accuracy and velocity by the smooth bore of the gun, pellet rifles can shoot much faster and with much more accuracy. The comparison is much the same to that of the blunderbuss vs. the black powder rifles. Rifling imparts a spin to the projectile that stabilizes it in flight. The only drawbacks to using a spring operated air rifle is that there is only one shot per cocking motion and it can take significant energy to cock them so follow up shots are almost impossible when hunting.
Regardless of the limits of having only one shot at a time, I personally believe that this is the best option for us as preppers since it is simple, inexpensive and can shoot at velocities near that of some rimfire and pistol ammunition but without anywhere near the cost or need for ammo. For the sake of this post, I have included break barrel gas piston guns into this category. They function the same, however it a compressed gas piston that gets pressed instead of a spring to force air through the chamber. You can pick up a good quality rifle by clicking the picture below.
Precharged Pneumatic Air Rifles
Precharged Air rifles are the next level in accuracy and consistency for match shooters. By using pumps or compressed air tanks to fill up the onboard air chamber, the shooter prepares the rifle for repeated shots. A regulator allows a set amount of pressure to enter the chamber with each shot and this keeps the velocity consistent, which is a huge boost to accuracy. Another benefit to these rifles is the fact that many are repeaters, meaning they are capable of holding multiple pellets and can be fired repeatedly by simply cycling of the bolt or action.
In preparing for a disaster situation, we need to consider access to consumables and this applies to air guns too. Precharged pneumatic airguns not only require the pellets, they also require an external air source. Many are designed to fill from high pressure scuba tanks. These might not be the best choice for prepping as we may have limited availability to the equipment needed to refill them. Other versions are charged with a hand pump that looks similar to a bicycle pump, but is able to produce much more pressure. If you are interested in one of the latter types, click the picture below to have a closer look.
Variable Pump Air Guns
My second air gun was a Crossman pellet rifle that fired from a variable pump action. These work well and offer some degree of control by the shooter when it comes to the velocity of the pellet. We can add more velocity to the pellet by pumping the fore end lever more times, thereby building more pressure in the air chamber. While this is a beneficial ability, we need to keep in mind that consistency is the mother of accuracy. I would recommend that we determine an optimum number of pumps for our uses and adjust our sites to be zeroed at that velocity then use the same number of pumps for every shot.
The only real drawbacks of variable pump air guns is the need to pump the cylinder up between shots. Because of this, variable pumps have the same slow follow up shot timing as the springer style and may mean we only have one chance to bag that squirrel or rabbit we need to have something for dinner. For a good shooting, inexpensive model, click the picture below.
CO2 Air Guns
The last type of air gun that I’d like to mention in this post is the CO2 powered air rifle or air pistol. These are powered by small cartridges of compressed carbon dioxide that is forced through the chamber to force the pellet or BB out of the barrel and down range. They are handy and fun to shoot since they function much like a semi automatic pistol or rifle would and some are even designed to operate the slide or bolt in a way that makes them feel and function in a similar manner as their cartridge fired counterparts.
While they are lots of fun, CO2 guns rely on small disposable cartridges that don’t last very long. If you chose one of these guns, it will be necessary to have and ample supply of these cartridges along with the pellets or BB’s you plan to shoot. Even with that drawback, I do consider them useful to us in one aspect. The small cylinder size allows pellet pistols to be made as near replicas of cartridge fired side arms and can be used for quiet indoor practice, if you have some form pellet trap assembled to catch the projectile safely. Click here for one that is a close copy of my daily carry gun.
Air Rifles For Big Game Hunting
While I have not been following the trend closely, there has been a great deal of technological advancement in bigger bore air rifles in the last several years, but they aren’t new by any means. Lewis and Clark even carried one on their expedition across North America and it may have been the deadliest gun they had! I have yet to try one and see the true effectiveness of these, however some of the bullet weights and velocities that are advertised are almost that of centerfire pistol ammunition and can easily take down medium to large game within certain ranges and with proper shot placement. Without any experience in the area I won’t offer a recommendation on a particular gun, however this book may help you learn more about what to expect should you decide to add a big bore or any size air rifle to your arsenal for hunting.
Other Considerations When Shooting Air Rifles
Again, I want to stress that these are not toys, but there are some other considerations that make air guns a little different. One of the most important differences is the design of the accessories, especially telescopic sights. Although there is very little recoil from air rifles, many of them actually recoil away from the shooter when the spring or piston releases. Most scopes designed for cartridge fed guns are designed to absorb recoil against the shooter and can be damaged and fail if used on an air rifle. Making sure that the sights and accessories you chose are made for your particular type of air rifle can save you from expensive repairs later on.
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