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Author: Frank Ross
While many sportsmen still think of airgun shooting as a youth activity, adult air rifles and pistols have become very popular in the United States in recent years. If you've overlooked their accuracy and power, airguns may have a place in your future.
Actually, airguns have a significant place in our history as well that of Europe. Most people are not aware that the explorers Lewis and Clark carried a butt-reservoir air rifle on their now legendary expedition to the northwest. Researchers are confident that the rifle Merewether Lewis carried was a .31 caliber made by Isaiah Lukens, whose shop was in Philadelphia. Although not a lot is known about the model carried by Lewis, a popular model of the period was made by famed London gunmaker T.J. Mortimer, which came in several calibers with interchangeable barrels for big game and fowling. After attaching the butt reservoir to a separate hand pump, and applying a charge of about 200 strokes, the gun was good for approximately 20 shots.
Although not planning any similar expedition as the Lewis and Clarke epic, I recently field tested the RWS model 48, and was very impressed with its quality as well as accuracy and power. A powerful mainspring that is compressed with a single pump of a side-mounted lever operates this air rifle, so you don't wear yourself out getting ready to shoot. The mainspring stays compressed until the trigger is pulled, and the piston surges forward, compressing the air in the chamber and propelling the .177-caliber pellet down the barrel at approximately 1,100 feet per second. Actual pellet speed will vary depending upon the weight and design of pellet you select.
One of the most common reasons for buying an air rifle or pistol is target practice; to keep shooting skills honed in the off season. But, don't overlook their potential for pest control. You can reduce harmful pests in areas where a firearm would be unsafe or not permitted. Farmers and gardeners appreciate the adult use of airguns in the selective control of crop predators such as woodchucks, opossum, raccoons and skunks (where legal). Airguns can be used throughout the year to control destructive rodents and birds such as Norway rats, English sparrows, striped gophers, European starlings, and feral Old World pigeons. In season, and where airguns are legal, squirrels and rabbits are excellent options for a powerful magnum airgun within their 30- to 50-yard range.
The National Rifle Association actively promotes airgun shooting in America. To encourage air rifle competition, the NRA has established 15 levels of marksmanship awards in their 25-ft airgun shooting programs, and these are awards that you can earn by shooting right in your own home. Target shooters can also compete with each other via postal matches, and in-person at hundreds of airgun matches at the local, state, national and international levels. Airgun competition is also an official Olympic event for both men and women.
The RWS model 48 comes complete with a 4x32mm scope, mounting rings and a grooved receiver for quick mounting. The scope is specially designed for air rifles and that's an important issue. Don't buy an air rifle without a scope, with the expectation that you can use a regular riflescope you already have. Quality air riflescopes have their lenses and reticle braced at the front and back, whereas most regular firearm scopes are only braced on the backside. Air rifles recoil backwards, then snap forward, and this double recoil will quickly destroy a regular scope. Also, regular riflescopes are parallax corrected to 50 yards or more and with the shorter distances of airgun shooting the problems are compounded with standard riflescopes. Out of the box, set up is quick. Once mounted, the provided scope is adjusted in the same manner as that of traditional centerfire rifles or shotguns, except that the distances are compressed.
When I first picked up the rifle, I was somewhat surprised at its weight. I guess I was expecting a lighter, toy-like feel, but this rifle, at 8 pounds 12 ounces, is as solid as granite. After setting up a lightweight bench, with shooting supports, I remembered that RWS recommends not using a support on the rifle forearm. After ditching the support, I was shooting tight groups in a few minutes. For me, the weight is an advantage when shooting offhand, and I was able to put several rounds in the black without much effort. The solid wood stock is styled and finished very nicely, but it's the fixed barrel that is the real bonus for accuracy.
Some air rifles have a barrel-cocking mechanism that is operated with a barrel that breaks down. While those rifles are accurate, for maximum accuracy, a solid barrel is the optimal choice, especially after numerous years of high-volume shooting. Since pellet velocities are fairly high and distances are compressed, which minimizes the amount of time gravity can affect its flight, extremely accurate results are attainable with proper pellet selection.
Selecting the right pellet for your gun is the most important step to achieving consistent results. Only personal experimentation will lead to the most effective pellet for your airgun/target combination. Each airgun varies slightly in the way it handles different pellet types. In some high-powered airguns, light pellets are ejected so rapidly they do not dwell long enough to get the full energy transfer of the decompressing charge of air.
Once clear of the barrel, air resistance, the pellet's main "energy thief" begins its dirty work. Air resistance increases with the cube of the pellet's speed. When you double the speed, air resistances increases eight times. The result is that fast pellets lose energy more rapidly than slower pellets. Actually, fast, light pellets lose energy so rapidly, that after 35 yards or so, they can be traveling slower than heavy pellets. While this is inconsequential in 10-meter target shooting, it could be a major disadvantage in hunting or field use. RWS recommends Supermags, Superdomes, Meisterkugeln and FTS pellets.
Since the RWS model 48 is available in either .22 or .177 caliber, consider your ambitions before deciding upon a caliber. The .177 I shot would be excellent for either target practice or hunting, given a high degree of skill on the hunting side of the equation; however, if I were going to hunt regularly, the .22 would have my attention. But, that's one of the great things about airguns, the cost of the pellets is fairly inconsequential, and the difference in cost between .177 and .22 pellets shouldn't be a factor, only your intended use.
When you look at all of the neat things you can do with an air rifle, both in hunting seasons and out, it's an investment that will surely return handsome rewards over time. Regardless of your space limitations, with an air rifle you can always find somewhere to hone your shooting techniques and introduce youngsters to skills that will follow them throughout their life.
Click here for more information on the RWS Model 48 Air Rifle.
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