The Next Big Thing in Shooting Might Be 500 Years Old

I remember sitting on the breadbox in front of George Gardner’s restaurant in the tiny town of Brashear, Missouri, with my 12-year-old classmate. Each of us with a bottle of cold “pop” nearby. It was a hot summer day, and we had been harassing squirrels in a nearby woodlot with his pump-up “BB” gun.

My hunting friend aimed his BB gun at an old, rusty barrel in a nearby empty lot. Poof! Ching! “Didja hear that?” my friend asked. “Hit that old rain barrel. Must be 50 yards, at least.” His “BB” ricocheted off an old barrel that had been the subject of target practice for years.

Since this incident occurred almost 70 years ago, I cannot be sure of the gun’s brand name. I suspect it was a Benjamin that, when pumped multiple times, increased the velocity and distance of a BB. It was far superior to the Daisy Red Ryder I often used to rid our chicken house and barn of unwanted pigeons and sparrows.

Those were the good old days, when youngsters learned how to shoot with BB guns. The BB moniker came about because early airguns fired pellets made for shotgun shells available in three shot sizes, B, BB and BBB. The BB size was most popular, and the name stuck.

The noble origins of air rifles
Compressed air guns are much older than most think, dating back to the 15th century. Then, because of their cost, only noblemen used them to harvest wild boar and deer. A representative piece is housed in the Livrustkammaren Museum in Stockholm, Sweden.

Benjamin, Crosman, Daisy and Sheridan have rich histories in America, dating back to the late 1800s. The Markham Air Rifle Company, established in 1886 in Plymouth, Michigan, produced the first financially successful BB gun, eventually taking the name of Daisy. The Crosman Rifle Company is a product of Rochester, New York. It was founded in 1923 by Bertram Fenner who produced pellets and an air-driven projectile gun.

As the years passed, improvements in technology created a more sophisticated rifle. The names BB gun and pellet rifle gave way to airgun, a more appropriate name for today’s projectile pusher. Over 500 years after its invention, the airgun has grown to nearly 100 manufacturers of pistols and rifles worldwide. They are chambered in calibers that range from .177 to BB, 5mm (.22), .45, .30, .308, .35, .356, .357, .40, .454, .457, .50 and 9mm.

A long way from plinking cans
With humble beginnings as a basic air-charged firearm, airgun shooting has evolved into a full-fledged sport. Hunting and competitive matches are held at the worldwide level.

For instance, the Civilian Marksmanship Program holds monthly matches in Anniston, Alabama, and Camp Perry, Ohio, each with electronic targets. Another match is the Pyramyd Air Cup Shooting Competition; check it out at

International matches are held at the Olympic Games every four years and the ISSF World Shooting Championships between the Olympics. Check out the ISSF competition at

You can see an example of international hunting when the folks at Gun Talk try their hand at ridding Puerto Rico of nuisance iguanas. See their adventures at

Another source of information about “airgunning” is the television program called American Airgunner. See their archived shows at

Missouri joined other states in 2008 by allowing hunters to use .40 caliber or larger airguns for deer hunting. Always check with your state for the latest regulations.

Airgun technology has taken quantum leaps, worldwide. Fortunately, the Daisy 1938 Red Ryder—the earliest kid-friendly model—is still available, and for less than $50. For the well-heeled enthusiast of air power, Feinwerkbau’s 800X Field Target Air Rifle sells one for just under $3,300.

Advantages of airguns include quieter shooting, the ability to hunt game up to the size of whitetail deer, powderless ammo, very low cost per shot, much less recoil to the shoulder and the ability to hunt safely in smaller geographies, owing to the shorter distance a pellet travels.

It is hard to speculate where airgun technology will go in the future. One thing for sure, the next big thing in shooting really is 500 years old.

For more information…
for a list of states where airgun hunting is permitted: