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History of the Modern Air Gun

Interesting facts and the History of the Air gun by Shooting Range

Air Guns (pneumatic technology) can be dated as far back as the 15th century and began their life as weapons of war rather than sport. The early Air Guns offered a number of advantages over the other period weapons for example, Air Guns could be loaded more rapidly and fired in wet weather, unlike the matchlock weapons for the same era. Also the Air Guns did not give away the shooters position as they are quiet, no muzzle flash or smoke.  The Air Gun did not have a chance at replacing gun powder weapons due to their cost, leaking seals and delicate air reservoirs which could burst with a fatal explosiveness. Even with their short comings many countries in the late 1700’s had organized Special Air Gun sniper units such as Austria and France. In addition to the Air Guns stealth ability there were Air Guns such as the “Windbuchse” which carried  .20 caliber lead balls in a tubular magazine. The skilled shooters of the elite military units had been known to accurately shoot twenty rounds within 30 seconds. The Windbuchse could deliver the .51 caliber projectile at a speed that would allow the lead ball to penetrate a one-inch wooden board at 100 paces.

Considered to be the most famous Air Gun in the history of the United States is the .42 caliber Girandoni manufactured Air Gun carried on the Lewis and Clark expedition. The Lewis and Clark expedition Air Gun ‘s butt stock mounted air reservoir had a working pressure of 800 PSI. Which allowed the adventurers to shoot the entire magazine load of 22 round balls in 60 seconds. Later in our history we have to mention the most nostalgic of all Air powered rifles the Daisy Red Ryder BB gun.

In the late 1890’s the air gun became commonly used for sport shooting it become the tend of practicing shooting at shooting range, hunting and organized target matches. In fact the sport became so popular in England at the turn of the 19th century the National Air Gun Association was created with over 4,000 Air Gun clubs in England.

Although the Air guns started out as bigger bored weapons for war and hunting they have evolved into small caliber low- powered and many of them inexpensively priced. There still are numerous high powered and extremely accurate sub-caliber air guns available from companies such as RWS, Anschutz, Steyr and Walther.  For additional information we suggest you Google “Air Gun History”.

Air Guns can be charged with Air by three primary methods – CO2, Spring-Piston and Pneumatic regardless if they are rifles or handguns.


CO2 or Carbon dioxide powdered guns utilize a small volume of liquid which converts to a larger volume of pressurized gas in a disposable cylinder or powerlet. Their are some Air Guns who utilize refillable pressure tanks such as Paint Ball Guns. Generally speaking CO2 guns are lower powered and not as accurate as Spring-Piston Air Guns.


Spring-piston air guns are able to achieve muzzle velocities near the speed of sound from a single stroke of a cocking lever or the barrel itself. The difficulty of the cocking stroke is usually related to the power of the gun, with higher muzzle velocities requiring greater cocking effort.

Spring-piston guns operate by means of a coiled steel spring-loaded piston contained within a compression chamber, and separate from the barrel. Cocking the gun causes the piston assembly to compress the spring until a small hook on the rear of the piston engages the sear; pulling the trigger releases the sear and allows the spring to decompress, pushing the piston forward, thereby compressing the air in the chamber directly behind the pellet. Once the air pressure has risen enough to overcome any static friction and/or barrel restriction holding the pellet, the pellet moves forward, propelled by an expanding column of air. All this takes place in a fraction of a second, during which the air undergoes adiabatic heating to several hundred degrees during compression, and then cools as the air expands once more.


Pneumatic air guns utilize pre-compressed air as the source of energy to propel the projectile. Single-stroke and multi-stroke guns utilize an on board pump to pressurize the air in their reservoir, Pre-charged Pneumatic guns’ reservoirs are filled using either a high-pressure hand pump (often capable of attaining pressures of 30 MPA) or by decanting the necessary volume/pressure of air from a diving cylinder. Because of this design, having no significant movement of heavy mechanical parts during the firing cycle, the recoil produced is only the “true” recoil, equivalent to the equal and opposite reaction to the pellet and air volume’s acceleration up the bore.

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