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Home / Community home / Advice / Using vintage airguns

Let’s face it, handling a PCP today is as exciting as watching paint dry. The airgun has come full circle with the evolution of the pre-charged pneumatic. The PCP started out hundreds of years ago as an expensive toy for only the rich. Today? Yep, after 400 odd years, it hasn't gained much headway. The issue with PCP is although it can’t be faulted as a working tool, as an extension of one's shooting aspirations it’s simply too clinical. It seems the same scenario is happening in other hobbies, for example in photography where people are dumping their digital device thingies and rooting in the attic for Grandad's vintage film camera.


One day that toy sat in the cabinet will just seem less interesting. A conversation with a friend may lead some people unexpectedly down a path outside of their comfort zone.  Tales of a mate's father owning some weird old springer handed down to him by his father that could take a rabbit at 40m may set people on a new journey. This doesn’t mean that overnight people who use old airguns become collectors. By no means, airgun appreciation can embrace any airgun and doesn’t involve amassing a pile of 35 all the same design, with consecutive serial numbers, in their boxes. One will do, cleaned up and serviced ready for use. Today, actually using older airguns separates airgun enthusiasts from people only interested in the cash they may one day bring.


Take one British made air rifle, the BSA Airsporter which started in post-War Britain and lasted into the new Millennium. Different models, versions, types whatever you call them released over the decades have left us with a legacy of powerful, well made, long-lasting air rifles. Try finding one mind. People hold on to them like a bad case of piles. It’s getting more and more difficult find any decent Airsporter, especially those later ones with the superb rolling RB2 breech. Occasionally a few ropey early tap load versions turn up, with no blueing and dinged stockwork. Unbelievably they’re still worth having. An old project like that, cleaned up may be all that’s needed to scratch that 'real airgun' itch.


A gunsmith or resident fixer at an airgun club can clean it up for those who aren’t mechanically savvy but if done DIY, owners may discover new hidden talents in amateur airgun fettling; a big part of the scene in using classic and vintage airguns. A bottle of blueing solution, some airgun greases, a new spring and an afternoon in the garden shed can transform an old-timer into a reliably usable airgun.


Jumping from a PCP to an Airsporter or another ageing springer isn't as daunting as it sounds. Okay, it’s a springer with recoil, get over it. The springer is no different from any other airgun when all that’s needed is regular practice. People who relate that springers are difficult to control may have never tested one thoroughly, nor even persisted in trying different pellets through one particular gun. Some people - that's old fogeys who actually started out using springers - can’t understand what all the fuss is about.


Britannia Air Rifle

Britannia Air Rifle - Edwardian perfection


Go back a few years and the predecessor to the Airsporter was the BSA Standard and decades before that the BSA Improved Model D, and before that the Edwardian era Lincoln H Air Rifle. They’re the same fixed barrel, underlever cocking layout.  Rediscovered in a shed or garage many have been perfectly usable and a pre-War BSA will give years of pleasure. Shoegazing concerns over low power and scratched spring cylinders due to age and wear can prove totally wrong. Some of the larger models in .22 calibre can achieve 11ft/lb with fantastic accuracy downrange after testing for the best pellet. For a lighter walk into BSA classic springer shooting, the mildly downsized .177 L Model or Ladies Pattern ran concurrently with the full-sized larger guns. For informal target shooting and plinking, nothing can beat a session in the garden with a lightweight  L Pattern.

A Britannia Air Rifle is possibly one of the most desirable English vintage air rifles from the Edwardian period. Very different looking to the Lincoln Jeffries and BSA family, the Britannia caused quite a stir on its release.


Lincoln Jefferies - BSA Airsporter

Evolutionary – early Lincoln Jeffries Model H and a 1990's BSA Airsporter RB2 Stutzen


As for even older airguns, these are also still enjoyable to use. After all, the idea of the manufactured airgun is a modern phenomenon that really only reached us in the 1880s.  Here we are entering into the truly antique section of the airgun world. Many very popular gem air rifles were made in places like Germany and Belgium and imported here to be sold over many decades. Many don’t have rifled barrels so technically they’re airguns, not air rifles but let’s not spoil the party with airgun dogma. Some of the largest best gem types - if serviceable - can chuck a pellet out at near enough modern speeds and as for having no rifling, these were used for target shooting before rifling was even introduced to airgun barrels. Smoothbore barrels polished to a mirror finish can be more accurate than a barrel with poor rifling.


Some early PCP’s are interesting for sure, so perhaps even today's ultra-modern and very boring PCP's will become trendy and collectable, but let’s hope none of us are around to see it...




Images and Text Copyright @ Jonathan Young 2020

Jonathan Young
Published on 16-11-2020
Started out very young with cap pistols, progressing to archery and this developed into a real interest in studying older weapons. Air weapons followed and it's been the Airgun that's drawn me deeper into shooting more than anything. The sheer variety of different types available is unparalleled, from bb guns to replica pistols, from rusty old springers to high-end target rifles. It's impossible to get bored! Add a dash of patina and you gain entry to the wonderful world of Vintage Airguns. My very first air gun was a £35 diecast Daisy - I've never looked back.