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With the recent pandemic-related buying frenzy, all of a sudden we see bare gun cases and and empty ammo shelves. I haven’t seen anything like this since the Obama “scare” several years ago, and people who pay attention to such things say that the most recent buying frenzy sold many more guns than were sold back then. Say you already own defense-oriented guns but were looking to add “something else” to your collection at this time. What do you do if you just want to pick up a “fun gun” to shoot when gun store shelves are bare?
Pick up an air rifle.
“Rifle”, I hear you say? When is a rifle not a firearm, in the strictest sense of the word? When it’s an air rifle. Air guns are made to resemble, sometimes very closely, real-life firearm counterparts. In these modern times I sometimes get confused when I see photos of long guns and handguns that are not firearms but sure as heck look like them. Every type of gun, from revolvers like the Colt Python to semiauto rifles like the ubiquitous AR, seem to have a pneumatic equivalent. Air guns have come a long way.
“You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out!”
How many of us could ever forget that wonderful tag line in the Christmas movie classic “A Christmas Story?” Ralphie wanted a 200-shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time…what does it say about me that I didn’t have to Google that but knew it from memory? I like movies, I admit it, especially of the Christmas variety. Ralphie ends up with his Daisy and promptly shoots his eye out…OK, he got a scratch on his face after the BB bounced back and knocked his glasses off… Ralphie told us, via the narrator, that the gun was the best Christmas gift he’d received and the best gift he would ever receive. All warm & fuzzy. It’s a great movie, and the only major hit that I know of that’s built around an air rifle. (One quick take-away from the movie’s shooting sequence…don’t shoot at a metal backstop unless it’s meant to be a target!).
The Air Rifle Mystique
So, what’s the lure of air rifles? Just for kids? Nope – I’m closing in on my 7th decade on this earth and still haven’t outgrown my fascination with guns of the air variety. I say this even though my own personal journey with air rifles has been fairly limited. My mom, rest her soul, didn’t want guns in the house so when dad died when I was 8, his excellent Browning Sweet 16 shotgun went to live with an uncle until my brother and I were old enough to not shoot each other with it (or at least that’s the message I thought I got from my mom at the time). Our good family friend Johnny soon brought my brother and I each a lever-action replica of the venerable Winchester 1894 rifle, in glorious .177 caliber. I thought my mom was going to have kittens. Those weapons of destruction got put away for a long time, until we were old enough, yada yada… you get it. Living in a very rural setting gave us lots of chances to shoot our BB guns, after we’d reached the Official-Age-Of-BB-Gun-Responsibilty. They were fun, if not overly powerful. Cut to me as an adult, when I picked up an inexpensive, plastic-stocked “pump-it-10-times” Daisy BB/pellet gun. I just wanted to recapture a bit of my youth, I guess. I’d had BB guns but had not much experience with pellets until I shot my friend Mitch’s Benjamin pellet gun when we were kids. That was fun, and I remembered it. So, after picking up my own variable-pump gun decades later, I re-discovered my fascination with that variety of rifle. (I’m not counting the two Colt 1911-based handgun repeaters I picked up somewhere…they shot not only BBs but also little fuzzy-on-one-end pointy darts. Cute. The velocity was so low you could have probably spit BBs out of a straw and beaten the gun’s BB to the target).
My exposure to “real” adult-type air rifles happened slowly, over the years. I remember recently watching online a couple of guys dispatch pest birds for an Australian farmer, and others taking feral hogs and deer with their pellet-guns-on-steroids. These guns were the PCP variety (more later on that), and were uber powerful. I wanted to learn more about the modern versions of the air guns of my past. So, I requested a Gamo air gun to try, and a few months later it showed up in the back of a local UPS truck. That is one advantage of air over gunpowder arms – no FFL is required so they can come right to your doorstep. I do tend to see a lot of air gun videos from countries with repressive firearms laws, but I’m always amazed to see guys and gals from the U.S. of A. hunting deer or other large critters with souped-up, big-caliber air guns when they could legally be using something tres more powerful. Air guns can be very powerful, even in earlier versions as we see in the 1903 Sherlock Holmes story “The Adventure Of The Empty House.” That’s when antagonist Col. Sebastian Moran tried to do in our intrepid detective from the house next door with his pistol-bullet-firing, wind-up compressed air gun. The gun was up to the task, but our villain wasn’t. Air guns have a long and storied geneology.
Types Of Air Guns
Let’s take a quick look at the five main types of air guns, where there’s something for everyone.
Spring Powered: These guns tend to be simple, inexpensive and accurate. But, they can have more recoil than other types. Older models could lose spring resiliency if left cocked for a long period of time, but newer models seem to have figured that out. Some spring guns can be very powerful – they’re not your grandad’s Red Ryder any more!
Gas Piston: The gas piston (or inert gas piston, gas ram) gun uses a compressed gas piston to provide the thrust instead of a coiled spring. The gas is already compressed some, and cocking it adds more compression. Advantages include being able to leave a gun cocked since there is no spring to lose tension. Plus, they tend to last longer than spring guns. Disadvantages include the fact that if the gun leaks gas, the power goes and it’s hard to fix. Our Gamo test rifle is the gas piston type, or “IGP” as they call it- inert gas piston.
Pre-Charged Pneumatic (PCP): These guns tend to be very powerful, especially in the heavier calibers. Velocities are high, pellet energies are good for hunting. But, these guns need some pretty sophisticated charging equipment (at the least a filled scuba tank) and can be expensive when you factor that into the gun’s cost. Recharging the gun is best not done in the field, so that’s something that needs to be considered if you are going to hunt with one. Some have replaceable compression cylinders that you can swap out in the field, but not all do.
Variable Pump: This type of air gun has a handle of some sort that you pump. Power is dictated by how many times you operate the pump…more pumps equal more velocity. These guns tend to be compact, lightweight and fairly inexpensive (the one I have cost about 1/5th the price of the Gamo) but the pumping action required takes some effort. I have one of these guns and can vouch for the fact that pumping will wear you out over the course of a shooting session. Another thing, about mine at least, is it feels “plastic-y”. Feels cheap. Not all do, but mine does. I’m sure more expensive models wouldn’t feel that way.
CO2: The CO2 -powered gun can be made small due to its power source being a CO2 cartridge. That is one advantage. Plus, there is very little cocking effort needed, since more than one shot can be fired in quick order. However, unless you have a backpack full of small CO2 cartridges (or a larger cylinder), your shooting session will be cut short.
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Purposes Of Airguns
So, now you know about the different types of air guns. But what practical purpose do these guns serve? There are many answers to that question. From Ralphie’s lever-action spring gun to guns that can cleanly take deer, each gun has its own usage. Here are a few, off the top of my head…
Spring Guns – Targets in the back yard, clay pigeons against a dirt bank, paper representations of small game animals, targets that react or reset – all these are the province of most any of the types of guns discussed here, but the spring gun has probably seen more duty with these uses than all the other types of guns put together. If you have $20 or so, you can pick up a gun that will at least let you put .177-diameter holes in whatever paper target you hang up, if you’re not too picky about where those BBs land. This is the type of air gun that I equate with the .22 LR in firearm terms – an entry-level plinking/target round for millions of shooters. This is a great way to introduce new shooters to safety rules and marksmanship basics. And, BBs tend to be cheap! Other uses for the serious springers are hunting, target shooting at longer ranges and pest control. Not all spring guns are the inexpensive “kid” guns that we grew up with. Some spring-powered guns are to be taken very seriously by air gun hunters and serious target shooters.
Gas Piston – The inert gas piston gun extends the role of the airgun past those of the spring guns. The gas piston gun is sometimes marketed as a hunting weapon. The Gamo I have here is one such example – there is a green spacer between the stock and butt pad. This green color is Gamo’s code for a hunting rifle. They also use red and blue colors for other purposes. Mind you, I don’t see this as a “50-yard-with-the-wind-blowing” squirrel round but it would suffice, based on my experience, as a 25-to-35 yard or so squirrel or pest gun. This thing is accurate and powerful enough for that purpose. In addition to hunting, we add in the target/plinking capability of the spring guns. The gas piston gun is a good balance of affordability and power. I have not seen sales figures, but I’d bet the industry sells a lot of these guns.
Pre-Charged Pneumatic (PCP) – The PCP gun is the king of the foot-pound wars among air guns. These guns have a chamber that you can charge, in some cases, up to 3000 lbs. or more of pressure. Consequently, the PCP gun can be serious medicine for larger game such as deer, javalinas, and similar-size game. You just need to remember that caliber does matter – .22 is minimum, with .25 or greater being preferred for serious hunting. One of the PCP’s better-known uses is as a target gun. Some of these guns can print small groups at 100 yards with repeatability. It’s amazing what some folks can do with this type of rifle. Of course, you can use a PCP gun for informal target practice, but it is more suited for big(ger)-game hunting or serious target shooting. The downside is the cost of refilling the pressure chamber – you will need some fairly sophisticated (read: expensive) equipment in order to keep shooting, at the minimum a filled scuba tank. Another point to consider is that, as you empty the cylinder, velocities can dip until it’s refilled. There are videos that abound on You Tube of folks taking their PCP guns afield and laying low everything from barnyard pest birds to deer. These are exciting to watch, but I’m happy with the gas piston variety for what I want to do.
Variable Pump – Here, we get a sort of cross-purpose of uses. Variable pump guns can be almost as powerful as the gas piston variety (but usually in .177, not .22 caliber) depending on how many times you pump it. The thing is that the gas piston guns tend to have “real” sights/scopes, adjustable triggers, etc. that the pump-ups don’t have. (Or at least the ones I’ve seen). I have one of the older, lesser-expensive pump guns and it just about wears me out to pump it 10 times. One trigger pull, then …pump…pump…pump…pump…6…more…times… You get it. I’ll take the break-barrel gas piston over the variable pump gun everyday. One 30-pound pump of the break barrel and you’re good to go at full velocity. My gas piston gun is more powerful, and does only takes one pumping action to be ready to fire. Not to mention the advantages that 10-round magazine offers – more on that later.
CO2 – The cartridge-based CO2 gun, whether handgun or long gun, is an easy way to get into shooting. There is no laborious cocking action nor expensive equipment needed in order to fire each shot. All you need is the little silver CO2 cartridge (or one of its larger-cylinder brothers) and you are in business. This lends this type of gun to target shooting, and possibly small-sized pest reduction. These guns, at least in my experience, are not hunting weapons per se, but do help in marksmanship and safety training. The guns are relatively inexpensive, and are available from many vendors both online and on the street. Another plus, for some folks, is that these guns tend to be made to look like many different types of real-life firearms. Some are so close that they have been used by criminals in commission of various crimes. That’s life-like! But, for most of us, they are just fun guns that we can buy to resemble other, real firearms. Here’s a positive use for some of these guns: trainers. If a gun is basically the same size and weight as your powder-burner, you might practice gun handling, sight acquisition and trigger control with it. It can and does happen.
These purposes and uses are based on my experience. I do not claim to know all about air guns but have used different guns over the years and know what works for me.
A Bit Of History
Before we look at the Gamo (pronounced “Gamm-o”, not “Game-o”) gun in detail, here’s a bit about the company. Based in Spain, they’ve been around a long time and produce many thousands of air rifles for worldwide consumption. Here it is in a nutshell and you want even more details check this out.
1889. ACSA is founded to produce high quality lead.
1950. Antonio Casas Serra, the founding father’s son decides to produce high quality airgun pellets, due to the growing European airgun market.
1959. As a consequence of family and business considerations based on an existing lead source factory founded in 1889, Industrias El Gamo S.A. is born.
1961. The first Gamo airguns are introduced to the Spanish market, with immediate acceptance due to their inherent quality and superior performance. The first steps are directed toward the manufacturing of air rifles in sequence (totally interchangeable pieces), having as the principal goal a high-quality product at a medium/low price, to make it the sport of shooting with airguns more accessible and therefore more popular.
1963. The company initiates its first exports sales to the United Kingdom, and continues to add credence to the Gamo name through its participation in the European international shows. Gamo airguns continue to reach the European markets and beyond.
1970’s. A dealer’s network is created in more than 40 countries.
1980’s. Gamo begins business relations and collaborations with similar manufacturers in Great Britain, the USA, Germany and Brazil.
1982. Due to the enormous increase in production, the pellet factory is moved to a larger site in a new industrial park with the company’s wood processing plant, which manufactures the stocks, following closely behind.
1995. GAMO USA CORPORATION is born. After various attempts to distribute Gamo products in the United States, and knowing of the positive acceptance in Europe, Gamo decides to acquire a North American distributorship and create a new Gamo company.
2007. The private equity group MCH invested in Industrias El Gamo in order to consolidate the brand leadership and also to boost its expansion plans.
2013. MCH Private Equity sold Gamo Outdoor, S.L. to Bruckmann, Rosser, Sherill & Co, a New York-based private equity firm.
Today, Gamo is the largest manufacturer of pellets in the world and the largest manufacturer of airguns in Europe. Competing successfully worldwide, Gamo airguns can be found in more than fifty countries. Throughout its growth, Gamo airguns have undergone constant improvements, always.
There it is – the story of one of the major airgun producers in the world. Now – how about looking at our sample gun in some detail?
The Swarm Fusion 10x Gen 2
This gun – that model name is quite a mouthful to say – is the current iteration of Gamo’s mid-range/mid-price gas piston airgun line. They make guns that are both more, and lesser, expensive than this gun but I thought the middle-of-the-line gun would give us a good, basic idea of how the guns shoot. Before we get into the specs, let me say that this gun has an MSRP of $269.99. I have seen them as low as around $250, and also as high as $299.99 – that’s something, being able to sell a gun for more than its MSRP.
|Caliber:||.22 (.177 available)|
|Action:||10x Quick Shot – 10-shot “magazine”; inert gas piston (IGP) power|
|Trigger:||Two-stage independently-adjustable Custom Action Trigger (CAT)|
|Trigger Pull:||Factory setting - 2lbs. 7.6 oz as measured|
|Stock:||All-weather automotive-grade glass-filled nylon thumbhole stock with molded-in texturing|
|Velocity:||975 f.p.s. claimed with PBA Platinum pellets. (My real-world experience was closer to 650 f.p.s.)|
|Rail:||Recoil-reducing rail (RRR) - a stud on the scope mount fits into a corresponding hole on the rail to help mitigate backward-moving recoil forces on the scope|
|Safety:||Manual, inside the trigger guard|
|Length of Pull:||15 inches|
|Noise Dampening:||Whisper Fusion built-in|
|Barrel:||20.5 inch, fluted polymer jacketed rifled steel barrel|
|Recoil Pad:||Shock Wave Absorber (SWA); reduces recoil up to 74%. (Yes, this gun does recoil...)|
|Sights:||Metallic; built-in fiber optic hooded front and adjustable rear; 3x9x40 Gamo air rifle scope included|
Let’s look at the gun…
Trigger (above) and adjustment screws (below). The safety lever is in front of the trigger.
Loading the magazine is easy – it pops off the gun and then simply turn it to an open hole, drop a pellet in nose-down. Repeat 10 times. It is very handy, plus it displays the number of pellets remaining.
A couple of photos of the magazine and rear sight…
Even with this, the gun still peaked at around 100 decibels. But, it did quiet it enough (and the muzzle was far enough away) so I didn’t need hearing protection. Your experience may vary, of course.
It takes about 30 pounds of effort to cock the gun. The compensator at the muzzle makes for a good hand-hold, and keeps you from grabbing the front sight by mistake. Notice the “10” at the magazine – this shows how the magazine is positioned to feed a pellet into the chamber. Very ingenious. (The Gen 1 guns used a vertical magazine, which precluded the use of iron, open sights – it was a scope proposition only. Gen 2 guns fixed that problem by moving the magazine to the horizontal).
Some things never change. Actually, this isn’t so bad – it simply tells you to be careful that there isn’t a pellet already loaded before you try to fire a freshly-loaded one. There is the usual “read the owner’s manual before using this gun” text on the other side of the barrel. Lawyer-speak, but hopefully useful. That big hump on the left is the spring-loaded cover for the cocking mechanism.
And, finally…the box it came in. Some good reading here. Very entertaining and colorful!
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Shooting The Swarm Fusion
It was with great delight that I opened the gun’s box and noticed three 125-count round tins of Gamo Red Fire pellets. Never having owned a .22 caliber pellet gun before (and, being socially-distanced so I shouldn’t go to Walmart), I appreciated the fact that I could take the gun out of its box and just shoot it. No ammo to buy, no bullets to cast, no cases to reload…this air rifle thing is pretty cool! Load the 10-shot magazine and then pop it onto the gun. Break the barrel, close it. Aim – pull the trigger. That’s all there is to it. Being the curious shooter that I am (some would say anal but they no longer come to my home range), I was anxious to see what this gun could do.
After mounting the scope, I proceeded to fire at some paper targets of my own design. The shots were not so much a group, but more resembled a pattern…all over the place. I repeated this over five or six magazines’ worth of shooting, with the same result. No matter how many clicks I moved the reticle up, it still shot low.
I made sure that the rail was tight, and that the scope mount screws were all tightened down. (I did have to move the scope inside its rings in order to place the lens protector over the lens – it kept hitting that spring-loaded mechanism cover so I moved the scope back in its rings). I also made sure that the scope mount’s locking pin (a pin that sticks down from the mount) was mated to its corresponding hole in the rail – this is Gamo’s way of taking some of the recoil shock off the scope. They call it the RRR – Recoil-Reducing Rail. Ah, marketing… Air rifle scopes can really take a beating, so they engineered a stop-pin to take some of the strain off. This was all to no avail. So, in order to see what this gun could do I removed the scope and used the excellent metallic (open) sights. The fiber optic rods glowed just right for my aged eyeballs, and I shot this target…
… at 25 or so yards. Near as I can tell, that’s an inch-and-three-eighths group, measured across the maximum distance of shots. I used Gamo’s Red Fire pellets, which averaged 15.5 grains on my digital scale. This group’s not bad for me – I was pleased. Note the polymer point on the pellet’s nose.
Here is the target I shot with Crosman Premier lead hollow-points (you read that right – there’s a dimple in the nose) pellet. These pellets weighed an average of 14.3 grains each, as stated on the container.
This group measured an inch and one-eighth, and this was in a pretty windy back yard. The target was not still very often, so I just waited for the wind to die down and took another shot. The group could probably be under an inch in better conditions.
Neither of these pellets would bother a larger game animal or varmint much, but would be just the ticket for small game and similar-sized pests. The accuracy is there, and if you put the little lead pill in the right spot at a suitable range, you’ll be rewarded.
Here’s another target I shot as I was sighting in, just for fun…
In terms of actual shooting, I was impressed. This is an adult air rifle in all senses of the word. It is powerful enough to seriously injure a person on the receiving end, it takes some effort to cock it and it’s over 45 inches long – not exactly a kid’s gun. With the very nice open sights, I could see using this to take squirrels out of trees at close-to-moderate ranges. If I can get the scope figured out, that would add to the gun’s effective range. It handles well, it has a decent trigger, isn’t too loud and is accurate – what’s not to like? Plus, even at full list, it’s still under $300. That’s a deal! You need no other ancillary equipment with, or for, this gun – no charging equipment, in particular – so the money you save could go towards another scope or just lots of pellets. They also make what they call a Magnum version with a slightly-larger-capacity gas piston, but after perusing the specs, I’m not sure if it’s worth the higher cost versus what velocities you achieve. I think I’ll just keep this one – I like it.
If you are looking for a way to continue your shooting experiences in this time of lockdowns but can’t for the following reasons: (1) you can’t get to your usual range; (2) your range has been closed; (3) the gun store’s range is off-limits or closed; (4) you can’t find ammo, or (5) your frustration level is through the roof…take a look at this air rifle. This is something that (in most places, not all) you can legally shoot in your back yard, garage or basement with the proper backstop because it is not a firearm. It’s not the same as cranking a few rounds out with your favorite ____ (fill in your favorite long gun or handgun model), but it’s fun. It’s accurate, and it does let you know that you’ve just pulled the trigger on something – it has a satisfying “crack” and if you shoot at a target stand with a stiff backing, you’ll hear it hit – and so might put that smile back on your face that’s been missing since we started this crazy dance. It will also dispatch pests with ease, up to and including marauding racoons or possums – just use the proper pellet. Take it from me….
Why not talk to a shooting buddy about him or her picking up one of these air rifles, coming to your house (or you to his) and having a little competition? That would be a safe, fun way to spend an afternoon or evening. Just remember to keep six feet apart. If you don’t want to venture out after buying your equipment, you and your buddy could create your own matches. These used to be called “postal” matches, because you would mail your target or results to another person for tabulation. I guess you could call them Facetime or Skype matches…
If Ralphie had available to him a rifle similar to the one that is leaning against the near wall as I type, he might not have stepped on his BB-dislodged glasses. Why? The pellet from this gun would most likely have just gone through that thin backstop and not ricocheted back, thereby knocking his glasses off. Black Bart and his gang would’ve definitely been in a heap o’ trouble!
Please leave a comment below if you have had experience with any of the current crop of adult air rifles. As always, find some time to get out and shoot (if you can!), and be safe. Thanks for reading this!