If you are like me, your shooting career started with the venerable “BB” gun. I can still remember the day when my uncle handed over an old Sears J.C. Higgins air rifle with the admonition, “Don’t shoot anything!”
It was a solid piece of craftsmanship, not like the piffling stamped-steel Daisy models my friends owned. With a push-cocking barrel—this was in the days before product-liability lawsuits—and solid walnut stock, it reeked of manliness, danger and adventure. Suitable armed, I was now officially in training to become a full-time mountain-man at the tender age of eight.
In fact, that very night I immediately began perusing my old issues of Outdoor Life to see which states allowed elk and bear hunting with .17 caliber pellets. My disappointment was profound.
I continued shooting that gun until the day I bought my first .22 rifle, purchased with money saved from lawn mowing and muskrat trapping at the nearby golf course. The BB gun was laid aside never to be seen again. I’d give $1000 for it today.
Though I never took a caribou or anything interesting with gun, many sparrows and pigeons met their maker at the hands of those little gold .177 caliber spheres that we bought in black-and-yellow cardboard tubes at the nearby dime store. Looking back it seems likely the countryside around my home might someday be mistaken as an iron ore deposit if someone discovers the tons of steel shot resting in the soil within 400 yards of our back door.
In the intervening 40 years I’ve moved on to “real” guns, now having fired virtually every rifle from .17 Remington to the intimidating .50 BMG. I never thought an air rifle would ever grace my gun cabinet again until a chance meeting between luck and a raffle ticket ended up with a nifty new Benjamin Trail NP (Nitro Piston) headed home under my arm.
After shooting this beast, I quickly began to understand why otherwise sane adults get giddy talking about top-shelf air rifles. Great for plinking, pest control and marksmanship practice, every serious shooter should own at least one serious, high-quality air rifle. They are also great for teaching bird-feeder-raiding squirrels some respect.
So I hear…
The Trail NP is a nice gun that shoots .22 caliber pellets at 950 fps and isn’t something to take lightly. The Trail NP retails for around $300.00 but there is a world of possibilities covering every air rifle budget.
The only complaint I have of the Trail NP is the exceptionally lousy trigger. However, it doesn’t seem to affect accuracy too badly as .30-inch groups at 25 feet (standard air-rifle target-shooting range) aren’t too difficult to achieve. We are currently investigating after-market trigger fixes.
If, after reading this column, you decide that an adult air rifle is in your near-future, keep in mind a few unique things about gunpowder-less guns.
First, as they are not technically “firearms,” there are few restrictions on the use or ownership of air rifles. The most common legal issue would be local ordinances that forbid discharging any type weapon inside city or town limits.
Discretion may solve that problem but you may be surprised to find that the noise is actually more of problem than you imagine. In my Benjamin there is a significant “pop” when fired along with a tiny bit of smoke. This smoke is oil from the barrel that actually burns when high-pressure air is released.
This “dieseling” can be harmful to the gun if it is excessively lubricated but our bigger point is that adult air rifles are not stealth guns by any means. They can easily be fired indoors without ear protection but if you are in a crowded urban setting, others might hear the noise signature and contact the local constabulary; plan accordingly.
Barrel safety is another important point. As the majority of the high-powered air rifles use a pivoting barrel arrangement to charge the spring or nitrogen piston, care must be taken to make sure your fingers or other body parts are kept away from the barrel during the cocking cycle.
If you happen to lose control of the barrel while straining against the spring, there are several unpleasant things that can happen. Aside from mechanical damage to the weapon, there is the possibility that any stray fingers or other body parts near the breach of the gun might get lopped off when the barrel returns to the closed position. The heavy barrel can also strike your head with the force of a steel baseball bat. Use caution; I didn’t learn about these dangers until I had already shot the rifle for an hour. Fortunately, there were no accidents.
I can’t say the same thing for my history with the old J.C. Higgins. Who ever thought a push-cocking gun was a smart idea??