I have used air guns for several years as training aids for new hunters and shooters as well as for ongoing training in an urban environment. In times when ammo is short or range availability is an issue air guns can be very handy training tools.
My first contact with any kind of BB or pellet gun was 66 years ago when I discovered a Daisy Red Ryder, badly abused by the weather, in the fork of an orange tree in Leesburg, Florida. I was four, so naturally my dad didn’t let me keep the Daisy. Three years later, after we had moved to a farm in Mississippi, Dad gave me a .410 shotgun and began teaching me to hunt. He was a biologist and a conservationist, and he hated BB guns. To him, the only justification for killing an animal was to eat it, or to protect crops or domestic animals. He had seen enough innocent songbirds killed with BB guns to rule them out in our family. I only occasionally dabbled in the world of BB or pellet guns because my cousins had them.
Many years later, the need to solve a couple of training problems opened my eyes to a world of pneumatic firearm usefulness I didn’t know existed. If I were to earn a regular column in this fine magazine, I might suggest it be called something like “Guns in the City.” Many of our writers live in the wide open spaces where they have the freedom to explore the function and features of various firearms without leaving home. Being a firearm owner and shooter in the city definitely has its challenges compared to living in a rural environment and air guns have their role in meeting those challenges.
Hunter Education Training.
Since I grew up country and it was something of a shock to me upon moving to Fort Worth to discover you have to PAY TO SHOOT around here! City dwellers even pay to hunt, and they think that’s normal! I don’t mind paying every now and then, but living here and shooting on my own place wasn’t an option until I discovered air guns that were more than toys.
Hunting was such a part of my early life, when I grew older and wasn’t hunting regularly, I figured it was time to give back. One of the best ways to do that is as a volunteer Texas Hunter Education Instructor. I’ve had opportunities to teach Hunter Education classes at a range where shotguns or rifles were available for basic gun handling exposure. Other times I’ve taught in a facility that had no gun range. Since the curriculum allows for using air guns, I tried a couple of AR air soft guns, but wasn’t satisfied with the experience they provided for students as education rather than entertainment. What does work well are simple-to-operate air rifles such as the Gamo Shadow Whisper. It’s a spring action model that shoots a single .177 pellet with each shot. Because it doesn’t use CO2, performance doesn’t deteriorate after firing 25 or 30 shots. The Shadow Whisper and its cousins in the Whisper family have excellent sights and at distances up to 20 to 25 feet are extremely accurate. For the Hunter Education classes, I set up an indoor range with a couple of Champion 22 bullet traps using Birchwood Casey Shoot-N-C targets to give students a chance to learn the basics of sight alignment, sight picture and trigger press. Each student gets to take home their own target to show their friends and family.
Some air rifles are suitable for serious hunting with larger caliber air rifles costing as much or more than some of our favorite standards that shoot cartridges loaded with gun powder. AirGunDepot.com or PyramidAir.com are great sources for information and shopping for air guns for hunting or for our next topic—Handgun Training.
When Texas dropped the training requirements for a Concealed Handgun License from 10–12 hours to 4–6 hours a few years ago, many instructors were in a dilemma. This change meant the classes were geared more toward experienced shooters because there just wasn’t enough time to for basic handgun instruction on top of all the laws and other subjects that are part of the required training. Almost universally those of us actively teaching came up with some type of introductory class to get people with no handgun experience ready to take the course for their carry license. Because so many potential students were looking for evening classes, my solution was a two-hour Handgun 101 class taught in a classroom. The first part of the class was spent on gun safety; handgun operation; and the basics of stance, grip, sight alignment, breathing, trigger control and follow through. The training needed practice to seal the concepts in the minds of the new shooters.
Initially, I used SIRT laser training pistols. This was actually fun for the students, but it had some negatives. The triggers on those early SIRT guns were not very realistic and when a student finished shooting, their shots were erased. Except for the triggers, those guns had no moving parts. To help new shooters get a better feel for a gun that moves, makes noise and puts holes in a target you can take home with you, I started using a pellet pistol that had real blowback operation—an accurate replica of the Beretta PX4 Storm, made by Umarex, licensed by Beretta. The air gun had the same dimensions, weight and feel of the real PX4. It is accurate at distances up to 10–12 feet and the blowback action is very realistic. Students loved shooting it and being able to take home their own Shoot-N-C targets to show off their new shooting skills to friends and family.
That Beretta was soon joined by other realistic air guns such as the Smith & Wesson M&P, Sig Sauer P226 and recently a Sig P320. I’ve even thrown in a Luger P08 at times. Each student gets to fire 10 to 20 rounds with an instructor right beside them helping them to adjust stance, grip or sight picture as needed. Seeing how these tools helped new shooters overcome the fear of shooting and begin to develop basic skills before taking them to the range encouraged me to get some for home use. Now, even as a city dweller, I can shoot for fun or practice whenever the urge hits me.
Tips to help you get the most from your air gun experience.
Many air pistols and some of the rifles will shoot pellets or BBs. Outside, it generally doesn’t matter, but inside I prefer pellets because they react to backstops and bullet traps like you would expect them to. BBs are both round and hard and bounce off almost any hard surface. One new discovery has helped change that. Dust Devil BBs, available from Pyramid Air, are frangible, so they shatter upon hitting a solid surface. With either pellets or BBs, eye protection should always be worn.
Don’t expect the CO2 cartridges to go the distance as advertised on the carton. After 25–30 shots, they start slowing down, and then they’re not accurate. If you’re shooting for accuracy, listen for the slowdown and change the cartridges when the sound begins to diminish. You’ll need some tools to change cartridges. Some require an Allen wrench; with others, it’s a wing nut. I keep a small vice grip pliers on hand for dealing with the wing nuts.
You’ll be disappointed if you expect every pellet to fire. Most pellets are made of lead and their shape can be easily altered with handling. Sometimes they just refuse to budge, other times they’ll leave the magazine, but not quite make it into the barrel. Just shake it off and keep shooting. You may have to clear the magazine and shake out the occasional BB or pellet that didn’t leave the barrel under air pressure.
Air guns have come a long way. Daisy, Crosman, and Beeman are brands I’ve known forever. They have been joined by several other companies, including Umarex whose specialty is making branded guns for companies like Colt, Sig Sauer, Smith & Wesson and others. They make very realistic replicas of many of your favorite handguns. Some of the revolvers load cartridges with pellets or BBs inserted where the primers would be. Many of the semi-automatic designs use CO2 to emulate the blowback operation of their real brothers enough to make an excellent training platform. Chances are you can find some excellent shooting replicas for prices you can justify for personal or family entertainment. You’ll see handguns and long guns for home use, plus a whole world of hunting air rifles and pistols in serious calibers. When my income won’t allow adding “real” firearms to my collection, I can sometimes slip in a nice air gun for the price of taking my family to dinner.