The Essence of Life

The Essence of Life

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Airguns - The Ultimate Survival Tool?

Logun MKII Professional (.177") and Pump

Guns have been instrumental surviving tools for the last 500 years or so, both as means of gathering food and for defense, but in order to throw a projectile at high velocity most gun, those better know as firearms, require as source of energy some kind of propellant, generally gun powder. The problem is that when the gun powder is finished the firearms become something no better than a cumbersome club.

And that is a major limitation of firearms as a really long-term survival tools. Although we can stock up large amounts of ammunition, it generally takes up a lot of space, weights a ton, and will literally drain your wallet. Also, if you ever have to be on the move, you can only pack so much ammo as you can carry.

Now, there are some guns that can continue shooting long after the last grain of gun powder turned itself in smoke: airguns. And to those that may think that airguns would not fit in the spirit of the Backwoodsman, they have been with us for around 300 years or about 2,000 years if you count blowguns.

Even Lewis & Clark took an airgun in their 1804-1806 Corps of Discovery expedition and are reported to have killed deer with it and astonished the Native Americans. That should not be much of a surprise, as high powered airguns were used to hunt big game by European nobility since the XVI century, and the Girandoni repeating air rifle was used by the Austrian army during the Napoleonic Wars.

Before we go any further, let’s remember that air guns can operate in three different principles: Spring-piston or mechanic, pneumatic and CO2 or carbon dioxide.

Spring-piston airguns operate by means of a spring loaded piston that when released inside a compression chamber creates high enough pressures to expel the projectile. Since we use our muscles to cock the piston by means of some lever arrangement, as long as have strength they can go on shooting forever.

Pneumatic airguns use pre-compressed air as the source of energy, and can be divided in three subtypes: single-stroke (generally the lowest power) and multi-stroke are charged by a pump that is part of the gun itself, and pre-charged pneumatics or PCP that are charged from an external air source, either a high-pressure hand pump or a SCUBA tank.

CO2 guns are charged using disposable cylinders or bulk chargers. Because CO2 may not be readily available in a survival situation (same shortcoming as conventional ammo), and as their performance is highly affected by temperature (forget CO2 in cold weather), they are the least useful as a survival airgun.

Due to their relative low power, I would advise that single-stroke pneumatic also be removed from the potential survival airgun list.

Of the remaining types, the multi-stroke pneumatic main disadvantage is that follow-up shots are very slow. I supposed that if you are used to a muzzleloader than it should not be much of problem, but in some circumstances this is a handicap.

Spring-piston and multi-stoke airguns are available in .177”, .20”, 22” and .25” calibers, and in .177” the muzzle speed varies from about 500 fps to as high as 1,500 fps with special low weight pellets in the so called magnum air rifles. Of course, “magnum performance” comes at the cost of high cocking effort, and increased noise and recoil.

GAMO USA has a promotional video that shows one of their .22 magnum air rifles killing a javelina or some other wild pig with a direct shot to the forehead. Although it is possible, I believe that small bore airguns should be reserved to smaller animals, and in most survival situations, it is easier and safer to rely on smaller game.

One can probably stock on about ten thousand small bore pellets for under $200 inside of a shoe box, and if you ever dry your supply, you could make your own darts or mini arrows with whatever readily available materials.

But to those of us that must be prepared to closer encounters with larger game and the potential two legged predators, we finally come to the PCP or Pre-Charged Pneumatic airguns, and we can go back to Lewis & Clarke and the Napoleonic Wars. Because most PCP airguns can be charged with big volumes of high pressure air, they are not limited to small bore light weight pellets.

For many years, the Lewis & Clarke airgun was believed to be muzzle-loading, ball reservoir, .32” or .40” caliber, made in Philadelphia by Seneca and/or Isaiah Lukens that has been displayed for years in the Smithsonian. However, it is now accepted the rifle to be a Girandoni.

The Girandoni is a repeating butt reservoir PCP, .464”, which holds 20 152 grains pure lead balls, held in a gravity fed magazine. The reservoir was charged a hand pump, and additional detachable could be replaced almost like the magazines of a modern day assault rifle. That was quite a bit of firepower for late XVIII and early XIX century.

The main issues with PCP air rifles back then was their very high cost and at times loose tolerances that led to air leaks. Apart from that, they had an initial greater rate of fire than muzzleloaders, could be used in any weather, and were more precise.

Today, PCP rifles are available as single shots and repeaters; there is even a semi-automatic model, in calibers ranging from .177” to .50”. There are also some shotguns that can take birds on the wing.

Shot count varies a lot due to caliber and power level. A custom made .177” by Rich in MI based on a regulated QB action will shoot over 150 shots from a full charge, while grouping well under an inch at 50 yards. On the other hand, a custom .32”, also by Rich, will shoot between 7 and 10 shots before the performance drops below acceptable. The little great .32 is quite capable of killing larger game, and Rich’s son bagged a five point whitetail this season.

Of the true big bores, the most wanted prize is the American made 509 ft-lbs Quackenbush. However, if you are not willing to face the 12 to 18 month wait list, there are some alternatives. Although I do not have first hand experience, I heard very good reports about the Sam Yang Big Bore 909S (.45”) and the ShinSung Career Dragon Slayer (.50”). Although not nearly as powerful as the Quackenbush, either rifle carries enough air for 3 to 6 shots, and are fully capable to cleanly kill deer sized animals.

A hand pump and bullet mould would be all that is required to complement the PCP air rifles as the ultimate survival guns, as most of us can probably scavenge lead for a lifetime bullet supply.

Additional uses for airguns are vermin control and safe and low cost training. I once used a couple spring-piston airguns to reduce the population of feral pigeons in a company that I worked for. A friend and I collected about 200 pigeons in under two hours. And my basement airgun range makes the long Michigan winters much more tolerable.


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