When most people think of "air guns" they probably think of a kid in a cowboy hat holding a BB gun, and Ralphie from "A Christmas Story" being warned that he'll shoot his eye out. If you consider yourself to be a "gun guy" you might even take it to the next level and picture a gun from your youth, like the Crosman 2100, that you could pump up to 10 times for more power. Sadly, that 10-pump gun is where most people run out of vision.
In the minds of many, there are no options on the gun spectrum between the 10-pump air gun and .22 LR rimfire. This is like assuming there is nothing on the car spectrum in between a Toyota Prius and a dump truck. The saddest story in all of the gun world is that most people don't even know that quality air guns exist. In between the aforementioned 10-pump air gun and the .22 LR there is a world as rich and rewarding as any you'll find in the realm of firearms.
Today I want to break down the wall. I want you to peer into the world of high quality air guns. These are the air guns your mother didn't want you to know about. They are certainly the air guns that squirrels and rabbits don't want you to know about. I wrote this piece to make the case for why high quality air guns make more sense today than ever before. Pull up a chair lets take a look.
Perhaps the BIGGEST hole in the average gun owner's lineup is their complete lack of a quality air gun. This is a GAPING hole... it is a HUGE deficit... and by the time we get done talking about it in this article you may never be able to forgive yourself for not already owning one.
I shoot and hunt a LOT with centerfire rifles and magnum handguns. I love it. It's powerful fun that demands concentration and fundamentals that can only be acquired through practice. The problem with all that practice? Cost! It's expensive to be good with a gun. To be good you must practice. To practice you must generally drive somewhere, pay some range fees, and then shoot up a bunch of expensive ammo. It's not just the big bore ammo that's expensive either. Many shooters have maintained their skills through the use of .22 LR rifles and pistols to contain costs. Historically that ammo was cheap and you could plink, shoot targets, and hunt small game for pennies. It was also a great way to keep your skills sharp for deer season. Who doesn't love a .22 LR? It's as American as apple pie.
Nowadays though, when you hear someone say "22" your mind probably does what mine does: it instantly shifts to visions of sporting goods store employees laughing in your face as they tell you "No... we don't have any .22 LR ammo. Haahahahahaha." I'm not kidding you... they have actually laughed in my face. It wasn't a mean spirited laugh, it was more like a good-natured laugh at the last guy in the room to figure something out. Or perhaps you envision the countless discussions you've seen on the internet where people from all over the country bemoan the lack of .22 LR ammo.
You've heard discussions of panic, hoarders, scalpers, and people running to five stores a day trying to find ammo. Others line up an hour before their local store opens, just trying to find some of this mythical and elusive .22 LR ammo. More stories exist of people asking all of their family and friends to stand in line for them to get around the quantity limit their local store has instituted. The horror stories revolving around the .22 LR shortage are unending. It has become a huge bother to shoot the once plentiful .22 LR.
Before the panic, .22 LR was readily available for about 4 cents per shot in just about any store that sold it. Today it's difficult to find it at all in local stores, and the internet has it for 10 to 20 cents per round... before shipping costs.
What are most .22 shooters looking for?
The .22 LR no longer offers the "cheap practice" part of that list. In fact it's downright difficult to get the ammo at all... let alone getting it "cheap." Quality air guns are the obvious, yet overlooked solution to the woes of the .22 LR market. A quality air gun can do anything the .22 LR can do out to 50 or 60 yards... and it does so cheaper and more quietly to boot.
For instance, my Benjamin Marauder (.177 caliber) shoots groups around .35 inches at 25 yards and it kills squirrels as effectively as any .22 that I own. Need proof? Below is a picture of a squirrel that I know was killed with a .22 LR... I was there... I saw the whole thing go down.
The squirrel in the picture on the left ran down the trunk of a sweet gum tree, out onto a limb, jumped off into a spinning back kick, and was flying right at us when my son shot him. In reality it may have gone down a little differently than the way I remember it, but the point is that the .22 LR killed it.
Next is a picture of another fanatical vermin that met his maker. This one was in the act of destroying my property when he fell to the silent thunder of the .177 caliber Benjamin Marauder (I just made up the term "silent thunder"... and I think it sounds pretty scaramastro3awesome). Despite my lack of medical training I would suggest it is safe to say that it is just as lifeless as the squirrel in the prior picture. The point being that the .177 is giving up nothing to the .22 LR at typical squirrel hunting ranges. In fact, given the ease of ammo acquisition, cost, and comparative silence, it may even be out front in terms of which gun I reach for when squirrel hunting. Also, I've heard it said that 8 out of 10 super models prefer air guns to .22 LR, so if you're single you'll need to factor that into your equation as well.
One of the biggest benefits of an air gun is its ultra quiet operation. It is far quieter than a .22 LR, which means I don’t spook the neighbors or the squirrels. When squirrel hunting this gives you a tremendous tactical advantage. When you shoot the first one, the remaining squirrels may not even notice…this means more follow-on shots, and even more squirrels in the bag. If I shoot one round of .22 LR, everything within a few hundred yards will hear my shot. My Marauder on the other hand, sounds like an electric stapler…or maybe the first “psst” you hear when you open a can of Coke…it is exceptionally quiet.
I routinely have groups of squirrels on the ground in the backyard. When shooting them, the most common experience is for one SSarticlesquirrel to get shot, and the other two to stand there looking at him as he flops around. They simply don’t spook from the sound of the air gun, the only thing they react to is the actual flopping of their buddy. I’ve never had squirrels stand around when shooting at them with a .22 LR.
Want another test? Just a few weeks ago I had a grey squirrel in my backyard that was hard-bent on vandalism. He was about 25 yards away from me, and 10 yards beyond a pair of dove that were walking around. I shot the squirrel by passing the pellet between the doves (who were about a foot apart). The squirrel laid down for a dirt nap and the doves kept on walking around like nothing happened. They simply didn’t react to the sound of the Marauder discharging a mere 15 yards away.
How about one more example? I’ve been trying to rid my yard of the squirrels that are chewing on my house. They do damage inside and out. One morning not long ago, as I was walking out the door to work I saw several squirrels massing for an attack on the house. I quickly grabbed the Marauder, leveled it out the laundry room window and dropped the first squirrel in his tracks. Two more cycles of the bolt and I had his two partners in crime on the ground as well. In 15 seconds I scored three head shots so quietly that none of the squirrels thought to leave the area. They had no clue they were being shot at. I could not have done that with a .22 LR.
The Marauder is so quiet that when you use it you’re not a squirrel hunter…you are a squirrel assassin. It’s so quiet that it should come with a ninja outfit. It’s so quiet that it makes squirrels afraid of silence. THAT is QUIET!
In short, the Marauder is a tack driving, squirrel killing, demon of a gun.
I can practice with my air gun in the backyard every day. It doesn’t bother the neighbors. I don’t burn any gas (or time) by driving to a shooting range. I don’t have to pay any shooting range fees. I don’t waste any time trying to track down .22 LR ammo. It allows me to practice my fundamentals EVERY DAY. I don’t even need hearing protection!
Practicing with a high quality gun from 10 yards out to 100 yards demands that the shooter understand the fundamentals of marksmanship. Sight picture, breath control, and trigger control must all be mastered to be good with any gun…and the air gun allows you to build this foundation cheaper than you can with any other option. Calculating holdover and windage adjustments can also be critical skills in shooting, here again the air gun allows for very cost effective practice. Below is a comparison of how many pellet shots I can get versus using my deer rifle (7mm Mag) or a .22 LR versus my air gun:
|Caliber>||Cost per round||Pellets per shot (at $.02 per shot)||With $39 I can buy...|
|7mm mag Factory||$1.95||98||20|
|7mm mag Reloads||$0.60||30||65|
|.177 airgun pellet||$0.02||-||1,950|
Considering that a high quality air gun allows me to sharpen my fundamentals and improve my shooting across ALL platforms, you can see just how advantageous the air gun is versus the other options. For the cost of one trigger pull on my 7 mag I can put 98 rounds downrange with the air gun (without leaving my house…no gas or range fees). Now, since I reload it’s a more accurate comparison to use a lower cost…assuming I can reload the 7 mag for just 60 cents per round I can still get 30 shots off using the air gun for the same cost as a single round for the 7 mag. 30 to 1!
How about if I drop down to the .22 LR? I’ll I ignore the hassle of tracking down 22 ammo and trying to find it at a decent price for this john hafner__1122analysis. Lets say I can get .22 LR shipped to my house for 10 cents per round (a reasonable prospect in the current market). Under this scenario I find that for every dollar I spend on ammo I can get 10 rounds of .22 LR or I can get 50 shots with the air gun. Whether I’m training, plinking, or hunting, I love the prospect of this 5 to 1 ratio in favor of the air gun.
To put this in perspective, let’s go back to 7mm factory loads. At $1.95 per round, a box of 20 will cost me $39. For that same $39 I can quadruple my shots by shooting reloads. If I can find .22 ammo, I’ll be in high cotton with 390 shots. But here is where the cost advantage of pellets really shine: For that same $39 I can have nearly 2,000 shots with my Marauder air rifle! Now that’s a lot of trigger time! Given the high level of accuracy, and the extremely low cost of shooting high quality air guns, I can hone my shooting skills to near perfection for less than $60 worth of ammo per year (that’s 3,000 pellets!).
Now as I move into deer season I’ve already had thousands of “sight pictures”, thousands of cycles where I control my breathing to steady the scope, and thousands of trigger pulls to hone the mental process. And those thousands of shots cost me only about 60 bucks…total. Heck…it takes me $60 in gas to make one round-trip to the farm to shoot the 7 mag. Think about those cost savings. For the cost of half a tank of gas in my truck I get huge volumes of practice to help me prepare for the upcoming season.
Ask your buddies how many shots they send downrange in preparation for each hunting season. Many don’t shoot at all…they just grab the gun and assume it’s still “on” from last year. Then after they blow a shot many of them can’t explain why “the big one got away”. Even with a scope that’s dialed in many “hunters” miss their target because they have very little skill with their weapon…skill they lack because they never practice. There is no reason to leave things to chance. Armed with a quality air gun you can easily improve your shooting to the point that when next season rolls around, the deer is the one who has to get lucky, not you.
As you can see from the numbers above… pellets are by far the most cost effective way to practice your fundamentals. In addition to being cost effective vs other types of ammo there are numerous other benefits that include: reduction in other costs such as travel and range fees, convenience of being able to shoot at home, easy to find ammo, extremely quiet, extremely accurate. If you’ve not shot a quality air gun, you owe it to yourself to find a buddy that owns one, or to find a local dealer who will let you try one.
To a man, every shooting buddy I’ve introduced to these guns has been shocked by both their quality as well as their “cool factor”. Everyone says “Man I had no idea these things existed!” What usually follows is them asking me where to buy one. Two weeks later they are at my doorstep to have me help set the rifle up for them.
So in closing lets answer the question “What makes the case for a quality air rifle being in your arsenal?”
There you have it…high quality air guns let you shoot a lot, for cheap, do it quietly, do it powerfully, and have benefits that crossover to all of your other rifle shooting, regardless of caliber. One final benefit is that I don’t have to ask the guys at the gun counter if they have .22 ammo…now I get to have the last laugh.