Attending the NRA Show in Phoenix was an interesting and educational experience.
I didn’t spend a huge amount of time hanging around the Airguns of Arizona booth, but when I did, one of the more enlightening aspects was the kind of questions that visitors to the booth asked.
Frequently I would hear a comment like: “I bet this will take care of rabbits in the garden, yeah?” And sometimes someone would eye a beautiful airgun and inquire about the cost.
Curiously, no one within my hearing ever asked about accuracy. Most visitors to the booth (except those who were already high precision airgun enthusiasts) were unaware that high quality precharged pneumatics will easily product sub-one-inch groups at 50 yards and sometimes at much longer ranges.
The one question that I did hear most often was: “How many feet per second?”
Since that particular question was asked so many times, it told me a couple of things. First, it told me that the average non-airgunner is woefully ignorant when it comes to the real questions to ask about airguns. Second, it showed me that the companies that are marketing on the basis of feet-per-second claims are winning the marketing battle, for now, at least.
It wasn’t until I had returned from the show, was sitting in the comfort of my office and meditating on the experience, that the correct response to the “How many feet per second?” question came to me.
The proper response is another question: “Do you want to be fast or do you want to be accurate?” Tony Belas, Director of Daystate, hit the nail on the head: “You can take the analogy of the WWII Spitfires. When they broke the sound barrier, they used to fall out of the sky. We can shoot a pellet out of an 80 foot-pound Air Ranger and it will go 1380 fps. And at 20 yards, it will go through the same hole, day in and day out. But at 40 yards, you won’t find the hole, because the pellet goes from supersonic to subsonic and goes its merry way. The problem is that if you crack the sound barrier, the pellet is going to be out of the sound barrier long before you hit the target.”
I saw this demonstrated in spades when I tested the Gamo Hunter Extreme in .177. “Hunter Extreme, 1600 fps!” the box read, adding, “The fastest spring airgun on earth.” This claim was made based on shooting Gamo’s new Raptor Performance Ballistic Alloy which are very light (under 5 gr., if I remember correctly)
So I tested the Hunter Extreme at 50 yards with the Raptor pellets. Velocities – which were loudly supersonic — ranged from 1477 to 1525, averaging 1491 (this isn’t the 1600 fps that Gamo promised, perhaps because we were keeping the chronograph a couple of feet from the muzzle), but the accuracy simply wasn’t there. Group size at 50 yards was 3.5 to 5 inches, depending upon whether you called one shot a shooter-produced “flyer” or not.
But if you slowed the velocities down by shooting a much heavier pellet, the accuracy improved substantially. The Hunter Extreme “liked” Crosman Premier 10.5 gr. Heavies (CPHs, for short). After dieseling for a couple of shots, it settled down, launching them at around 1021 fps, average (high was 1026, low was 1015). That’s over 24 foot-pounds of energy. Our first 5-shot group measured just 1.25 inches edge to edge.
So I have a modest proposal for the good folks at Airguns of Arizona. The next time they go to a show, they should put up a BIG poster with two targets, both shot at 50 yards with the same gun and the same pellets. The first would show a tiny little group with the velocity prominently displayed below: 960 fps. The next target would show a much bigger raggedy group with the velocity: 1500 fps.
Then the poster would ask the right question: Do you want to be fast, or do you want to be accurate?
Til next time, aim true, stay subsonic, and shoot straight.
– Jock Elliott