Encounter in a gun store

Monday, September 27, 2010

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

11 Comments

  1. Bob Todrick says:

    The problem is that this is an epidemic.
    I’m in the photographic industry. Every six month ‘old’ models are replaced by new, each with the latest technology and people line up in droves to trade in their prefectly good 1 year old camera…take a 70% loss in value on trade, sll to get that extra megapixel of resolution that the manufacturer tells them will improve their photos immensly (and of course it actually makes next to no difference).
    Just like the magnum air rifle that looses on accuract…that extra megapixel of resolution usually means more noise in lowlight situations, which like accuracy is far more important in most photo situations.
    But horsepower always wins.
    And many of us have bought into this thinking hook, line and sinker…making us the ultimate consumers…which of course is the whole point.

  2. Patrick Miller says:

    I recently purchased a Beeman R1/HW80 in .20 cal. with which I am very satisfied thus far, primarily due to its apparent accuracy and smooth powerplant. However, advertised specifications indicate that this particular airgun has a velocity of 860 fps in this particular caliber. I query what pellet was used to come up with this figure. I chronied mine and recent velocity results based on 10 shot strings are as follows: Beeman Silver Ace 11.44 gr = 751 fps (ave.); JSB Exact 13.73 gr = 688 fps (ave.); Crosman Premier 14.3 gr = 668. These results remind me how auto manufacturers advertise inflated EPA fuel estimates on the vehicle stickers for sales marketing purposes. Any thoughts on this, Mr. Elliott?

    1. Jock Elliott says:

      Patrick,

      I suspect that Beeman used a laser pellet, which weighs, 9.2 gr. in .20 caliber (fully 2 gr lighter than your Silver Ace) to get 860 fps. I don’t know of anyone, however, who actually uses Beeman Laser pellets for any practical application, so, yeah, I think deceptive.

      Accuracy is the main thing I look for. Typically I’ll shoot a variety of pellets through a gun to see which one works best. After that, I worry about how fast the pellets are going.

      BTW, I think the R1/HW80 is a terrific powerplant. It’s one of my favorites.

  3. TargetMasterBill says:

    I been caught up in all these FPS wars and never really thought about all that turbulence and “right stuff” analagy makes perfect sense. I guess telling my friends that my rifle breaks the sound barrier just sounds cool.

    Thanks for the info…Does this mean that the lead pellets are more accurate(over distance)compared to PBA?

    1. Jock Elliott says:

      TargetMasterBill,

      That has been my experience: PBA is not so accurate at longer ranges. It is useful in lower powered air rifles and air pistols at shorter ranges; probably no more than 15-20 yards.

      Dynamic, however, makes non-lead ammo that is heavier and quite accurate at long range. Some areas in the country require non-lead ammo.

  4. Javo M. says:

    I totally agree with pellets over 1100fps, but i guess this problem is not happening in the .25 cals. I´m wondering to get the Gamo Hunter Extreme .25, I supose that a 21 grain pellet will be ok for a 650fps i guess, but i havent found info about the real speed of this rifle, have you traied allready ?? And whats the ideal speed for a spring rifle in .25 cal. if I spect to shoot 50 – 80 yard targets??

    1. Jock Elliott says:

      Javo,

      Be on the look out for my sneak peak at the Gamo Socom Extreme in .25 coming soon!

  5. Jim Lowe says:

    Speed Kills!-accuracy that is.

    I am just getting back into the sport of airgunning since i was a kid. Being that I started shooting airguns in the 60’s with a Sears 1400 and later a Benjamin pump I wanted a classic rifle to start and went with the HW35E. Somewhat slow by todays standards I will match its accuracy with anything that boasts of 1200 plus fps.
    But then I am content in shooting in my backyard or any place that is quite and safe.

    Jim

    p.s. I still want an fast shooting FX PCP

    1. Jock Elliott says:

      Jim,

      I agree; excessive speed does nothing good for accuracy in airguns.

      Thanks for your comments.

  6. Alan Nichols says:

    Does anyone know if there exists tranquilizer pellets? Or if not, is it possible to make homemade ones? (such as dipping a standard pellet in some tranquilizer solution or something)

    I’m asking because I sometimes need to control the pest population at my ranch (racoons and skunks), but I do not want to kill them. I would much rather put them to sleep and then transport them somewhere far away and release them.

    Of course, I have been doing this with cage traps, but it would certainly be quicker (and more fun) to do so via my air rifle with tranquilizer pellets…

    1. Jock Elliott says:

      Alan,

      I don’t know of any tranquilizer pellets, but tranquilizer dart rifles do exist. You could do an internet search on “tranquilizer dart rifle” to find suppliers of them.

Leave a Reply