The world of big bore air rifles: what’s old is new again

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Posted May 18, 2014 by muzzlevelocity in Uncategorized

One of the first repeating arms used in combat was an air rifle. Specifically, The Girandoni Air Rifle, invented in approximately 1779, was capable of firing .46 caliber lead balls at a velocity similar to that of a modern .45 ACP handgun round. Further, the guns had a capacity of 20 lead balls that could be fired at a rate of 22 per minute. The Girandoni was used by the Austrian Army from 1780 to 1815, but ultimately fell out of favor due to the difficulty associated with hand charging the air reservoir, as well as the difficulty of maintaining the complex arm under battle conditions. The primitive air rifle was also a notable part of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

The Girandoni Air Rifle. Image Courtesy Wikipedia

The Girandoni Air Rifle. Image Courtesy Wikipedia

Today, a number of big bore, surprisingly powerful air rifles are available to the consumer. For example, the pre-charged pneumatic (PCP) Sam Yang Dragon Claw can propel a .50 caliber, 210 grain bullet at a muzzle velocity of up to 680 f/s. In terms of energy, that’s on par with many handgun rounds. It can certainly do a number on a block of clay.

While certainly an interesting invention, one has to wonder what the specific niche is. The rifle doesn’t quite muster the energy needed for humane deer hunting, and it seems like the .50 cal bullet might do too much damage to any small game a hunter might want to eat.


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