Recently, a new gun store opened up not too far from where I live. Naturally, I had to go check it out, and when I arrived, I found a well-lit, well-organized place of business with lots, and lots, and lots of firearms.
I asked one of the fellows behind the counter whether they did anything with airguns, and he pointed me to a rack near the doors. There I discovered three less expensive Gamo air rifles and a Gamo Hunter Extreme in .22, emblazoned, of course, with the obligatory boast of how wicked fast it is with PBA ammo and with lead pellets.
I asked the clerk, “Did you know the Hunter Extreme is available in .25 caliber?”
Immediately he said, “How fast is it?”
I patiently explained that it wasn’t nearly as fast as the claims made on the receiver of the .22 Hunter Extreme, but that it shoots heavier pellets and makes a larger wound channel. I added, if you shot a raccoon that’s been molesting your garbage cans with the .25, chances are it wouldn’t get up again.
The whole encounter got me to thinking about how poorly we airgunners and the general public at large have been served by the marketing departments of some of the larger airgun manufacturers. In particular, I am irritated by the velocity race that has been taking place in advertising and on the sides of product cartons: 1,000 feet per second! 1,250 fps! 1,500! 1,650! When I see these claims, I want to grab a really large permanent marker, scratch out the velocity number, and write: REALLY STUPID!
Yeah, I know; I’m being an old retro-crank. But there are several things that really get up my nose with these velocity claims.
First, the claims are rarely true. Manufacturers often exaggerate how fast their guns shoot. Sometimes, they achieve their superfast results with ultra-light pellets that no one would want to use for any practical application. I know; I’ve tried some of these ultra-light pellets, and the accuracy quickly deteriorated as the range increased.
Second, even if an air rifle would routinely launch pellets at, say, 1,500 fps, would you really want it to? The answer I get from external ballistics experts is a resounding “NO!” Here’s why: in talking to long-range firearms varminters – the kind of shooters who can nail a prairie dog at 600 yards – I get the following argument. As a projectile approaches the sound barrier, it encounters a region in which there is a lot of buffeting and turbulence (check out the movie The Right Stuff for more about this) that throws off accuracy. When a projectile is launched faster than the speed of sound, if it slows below the sound barrier, it will encounter the same region of turbulence and buffeting that screws up accuracy. That is why most firearms varminters take care to launch their bullets well above the speed of sound, and they make sure that it continues to go at supersonic velocity until it reaches the target.
I have never heard of or seen any air gun powerplant that was capable of launching a pellet at supersonic speed (about 1,100 fps at sea level) and keeping it above the speed of sound for any appreciable distance. As a result, the best plan is to keep your pellets out of the region of trans-sonic turbulence. This is why most of the best field target shooters set up their air rifles to shoot in the low 900 fps range; it helps to keep the pellet as stable and as accurate as possible.
Third, the velocity race is just plain irrelevant. Imagine if you went to a car dealership and plastered on the windshield of every car were claims about speed: 120 mph! 143 mph! 160 mph! You would think the car dealer had gone insane.
In point of fact, pleasure to be had from an airgun has almost nothing to do with velocity. For example, airguns can be shot in many, many locations where discharging a firearm is absolutely forbidden. Many airguns are astonishingly accurate. They cost just pennies a shot, are a pleasure to own and are great fun to shoot. Further, even modestly powered airguns can do a worthy job of controlling pests in the garden.
Tell that to a firearms shooter next time he (or she) asks how fast your airgun is.
Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.
- Jock Elliott