The World of Air by Jonathan Young
Horses for courses - some people only buy new with a warranty, then trade in their airgun for another new toy 12 months later. Some crazy people like buying an airgun that on a good day can only be described as scrap, and then spend almost as long restoring the thing. In the mucky world of airgun restoration a mig welder is sometimes needed!
Unless you really want to get into mechanical engineering, somewhere in between is a better place to be.
A well used and looked after airgun will be 'run in' and may well be better to use than when new. Possibly an older air rifle may just be in need of some basic T.L.C. Better is one that's been tuned or customised to a high standard. Keeping things original is a real bug for many stuffy collectors when a modification or tune to an airgun can actually take it - and your shooting - to the next level. That's what airgunning should be about – getting to really enjoy using and shooting your airguns.
Buying brand new all the time you simply miss out on some fantastic classics. It's not for nothing that the British airgun scene was once famous the world over for its BSA's and Webley's. With these super airguns came a busy pro-am tuning scene which dipped into the strange mysteries of swept volume and buttoning pistons. If you've only ever used modern new guns, trying out an 'old' tuned springer can be eye opening, whether you're into tin can blatting, hunting, HFT and classic springer only comps.
Remember you don't need to be a collector to buy and appreciate older airguns. You quickly realise how deep and wide the airgun world is when you start reading about past modern and older classics, vintage beauties and antique heirlooms, then custom manufactured or unique one-off specials. Don't forget customised airguns, that if done well will have taken a bog standard possibly very boring airgun straight from its box and turned it into something rather jazzy. Remember this all goes the same for air rifles and air pistols, so you get double the fun.
Finding nice older airguns becomes a hobby in itself. Most gun shops will have a selection of used airguns. Recently there's been a resurgence in airgun meets and fairs – good news for airgun seekers as well as die-hard collectors. There's also the famous long standing weapon and collector's fair held within the Motorcycle Museum at Birmingham, which usually includes older airguns hidden amongst the deacs and flintlock muskets. The internet also provides many places to visit and browse for unusual and nice finds. There's even one website that specialises in gun sales, with private listings and a dedicated airgun section to boot. What's it called again...? Ah, that'll be Gunstar.
Even the most experienced airgun seeker can still stumble over a new find that they never knew existed. Unlike photographica where cameras going right back to the beginning of photography are recorded in detail, many airguns slip under the radar even here in the UK. For anyone new to the world of airguns, these more recent items are waiting to be discovered afresh. From the golden age of British airgunning which just happened to coincide with adolescence for many airgunners, came those side lever springers from the late 70s. Too much Abba, staring at that girl in Maths class with the long hair and a wrapped up airgun for Christmas – so the mention of Jackal or Tracker to anyone of a certain age may provoke tears and sobbing.
The first production manufactured pre-charged airguns from the 80s provoked tears of a different kind as they were horrendously expensive, but today? A classic PCP in walnut, brass and blued steel - an early Titan or a later 90s Falcon is just the ticket, although some prefer the much earlier virtually handmade Bowkett specials that inspired them.
(Falcon multi-shot – walnut , brass and blued steel)
On an island with great quality airguns made for near on 120 years, we tend to forget that elsewhere things ran differently. In other places where enthusiasm for the airgun was just the same, pump-up pneumatics and Co2 gas guns were the norm. For a brief time, British airgunners were wowed by imported pumper-uppers. Awesomely accurate, recoil free and lightweight when many younger guns shuddered at the thought of carrying an Airsporter around the fields all day. The airgun press was filled with stories of rabbiting and pigeon shooting with various Crosman models or the posher Japanese made Sharp Innova which today is still sought after.
Co2 guns took off in the US really big, although the pumper held its ground. In the UK, why buy gas capsules to go shooting when a springer did it all for free? Much worse here, once upon a time there were legal issues with Co2. Today this will sound very strange to any recent converts to the hobby, but for nearly 30 years Co2 weapons of all kinds were restricted to licence holders only. Your Nan could buy a Co2 powered fizzy drinks maker and the old codger next door could stick Co2 bulbs into his home brew barrels, but we were left out in the cold - a Firearms Certificate for a Daisy bb pistol. Yes really. This legal anomaly explains why here there were so very few seen of the usual American Co2 classics, as people couldn't afford to have them imported and put 'on-ticket'.
Thankfully this was abolished in the late 90s and we got to play with Co2 without restriction.
Since then many golden oldies have landed over here as we got to see further back into gas gun history, like the Crosman 160 or the multi shot Crosman 400. As for air pistols, who in their right mind wouldn't want a Luger- like Schimel Gas Pistol?! The Schimel was allegedly the first pistol to use the then new small capsules designed for soda dispensers. Today where would we be without our wonderful Co2 pistols, ranging from Wild West revolvers to wartime Broomhandle and Luger P08's to more modern replicas.
(Crosman's multi-shot gas guzzler – the Model 400 Repeater)
These modern airguns have come a long way, but pick up something from yesteryear and you may well be surprised. One favourite is a 1930s classic springer which unlike many old rusty examples has been looked after. Testing this example and a few others over a chronograph showed how good these can all be. Worries expressed by some over the effectiveness of old springers, especially decades of scoring to internal cylinder walls affecting compression actually fell flat. A 11.6ft/lb maximum, results gained after first running in the gun with hundreds of pellets, then chrono tested with a selection in varying weights. That's called proof in the pudding.
As with any airgunning, serious use for competition or hunting requires you to stick to one gun getting to know it and the pellet it likes. Maintaining an older favourite should be easy enough even today. Thankfully when things do go wrong we have a number of well known spares specialists, also online sources and don't forget there are also some in the US providing back-up for many more of their country's own classics. That we can still buy seal kits for a 60 year old Co2 pistol means - get it out of its box.
The quality of many early airguns especially springers is astounding and the design excellence of Co2 gas guns can be staggering. If you've only ever considered modern, hopefully this piece will have you peering into the abyss that is the wider, larger and bigger World of Airguns. Hold on to the rails – or you will slip in!
Text & Images Copyright @ Jonathan Young Aug 2019