Airguns: The New Rage for Every Age

Airguns: The New Rage for Every Age

Fifteen years ago, my buddy excitedly showed me his new airgun. I wondered what was going on, considering he and his wife were both professionals and didn’t have any children so he had all the cool guns. Why would he regress back to airguns?

But being an outdoor writer, I’m always scrambling for new topics since I publish 325 articles per year, so I thought I’d check them out too. My initial start into airguns was rocky at best. The first one only gave me a 1¾-inch group—more like a shotgun pattern—at 15 yards. That would never work for hunting small game with small kill zones.

For whatever reason, I stuck with it and am now a died-in-the wool airgunner. I’ll skip the tales of woe and catch you up on the basics so you can become a modern airgunner too. The added bonus: Airgun shooting is a great way to practice your shooting fundamentals and bring new shooters into the fold.

First let’s answer what I’m guessing is your first question: Why would you want to go back to airguns? For starters, airguns often provide more hunting access. I’ve never been turned down when I asked to hunt on a farm or ranch when I told the landowner it would be with airguns. You also can hunt around livestock since there’s no loud report. This is important as I regularly pigeon and Eurasian dove hunt at feedlots with up to 100,000 head of cattle. In addition, airguns come in handy considering pigeons make a mess on equipment and, when defecating in feed troughs, they can spread diseases. Finally, there is the fact that airguns are a good option for hunting in suburbia in general.

Aside from the above list though, here is another reason that may pique your interest. Though I’ve conducted seminars at the SCI and DSC conventions for years, a few years ago I approached SCI about letting me add a new seminar: “Airguns—The New Rage.” At first the SCI seminar planners thought I was crazy. They said, “Tom, these are some of the wealthiest and most experienced hunters in the world [referring to many of the SCI show attendees]. Why would they come to an airgun seminar?” I admitted they were correct, and then I added, “But what are all of these dads, moms, granddads and grandmoms most interested in? Taking their kids and grandkids outdoors to enjoy with them what they like to do.” From my own experience, I said, “I promise you, if we advertise it as such it will be a home run deal.”

An airgun shooter collects targets after a shooting session.

Then I explained to SCI what it was like for me when I was 9 years old and had started deer hunting. Dad would hand me a .30-06 rifle with 180-grain bullets. Being a skinny little kid, I soon learned that a 180-grain bullet would about twirl me around the limb of the tree I was sitting on like a “Rocky the Squirrel” cartoon show gone bad.

When just starting out, little girls also don’t want to go through the torture of firing a loud rifle that delivers a kick-like-a-mule experience. I know this firsthand. I’m the daddy of all daughters. Now one of my daughters is my main fishing and backpacking buddy, and our adventures account for some of my best trips of the year. In my case, airguns proved to be a great way to introduce my own kids to shooting, hunting and the great outdoors. My youngest daughter isn’t interested in hunting like I am, but who cares? She goes shooting with me all the time, and airguns remain a great option due to their low recoil and the fact they are quiet and pellets are cheap—and available unlike rimfire and some centerfire rifle calibers that have been tougher to keep on gun store shelves, partly due to the rising number of hunters and shooters who joined our ranks during the pandemic. As for that SCI airgun seminar I mentioned, it’s no surprise that after I did that first one, I’ve been asked to do it every year since.

For those new to shooting airguns, there are three popular classifications available on today’s market. (Yes, there are still the old pump-up airguns, but I don’t know of anyone who uses one.) The first is the CO2 option. Powered by a CO2 canister, these airguns are quiet and there’s basically no recoil so they’re great for small children. If you live up north and endure long winters, you can set up a shooting range in your basement or garage and practice in the winter. Another bonus is the fact there are a lot of cool airgun target options such as spinners and flippers, which kids enjoy. In addition, many of the CO2 airguns cosmetically look like modern firearms and the kids love them. Due to their low velocity, most of them only travel at 550-800 fps so they’re not a viable option for hunting, though Umarex makes a couple of CO2 BB guns that shoot a three-to-six-round burst. I’d like to try them on flying pigeons.

Break-barrel airguns are the second type and are the fastest of the three. Some claim speeds of up to 1400 fps. Remember, a .22 only goes 1250 fps. Break-barrel airguns are a good option for small game hunting and are also the simplest to operate. While it can seem burdensome having to load a pellet for every shot, some now have a plastic rotary magazine. Buy extra magazines, though, because they have a short shelf life. Also, I’ve found that break-barrels can be rough on scopes, especially if the airgun has a spring action instead of a nitrogen cylinder, so be sure you mount a scope that is airgun-compatible.

Pre-charged pneumatic airguns (PCPs) are the third option. If you’re going to be an airgunner, then you’ll end up shooting PCPs. My .25 caliber Umarex Gauntlet II PCP is my most accurate airgun. PCPs are also the most complicated airguns so I recommend getting a Umarex Ready Air compressor instead of buying air tanks.

Just as important, when it comes to the fun of shooting airguns, who knows? If you take a kid shooting with one, it just might bring out the kid out in you.

For a parting shot, always remember how introducing newcomers to shooting airguns also may lead to them wanting to shoot everything else you have, such as your shotgun as shown in the photo below of me with my friend Nagmeh Panahi. My wife, Katy, started her out shooting an airgun (as shown in the lead photo), then I worked with her to teach her how to shoot a shotgun. Being from Iran, she’d never shot anything else in her life. The experience also led to an understanding of the importance of the Second Amendment that the NRA works 24/7 to protect.

Author Tom Claycomb helps an airgun shooter.