For decades, air guns that push .177 pellets 1,000 feet per second have been a staple of plinking and the dispensing of small backyard pests. In recent years, manufacturers have shifted from promoting the use of air guns from target practice to the serious hunting of small and even medium-sized game. TV host Jim Shockey put his name behind a partnership of Crossman and Realtree to promote the Benjamin Rogue, which shoots a Nosler .357 caliber bullet — miles from the BB gun of old. Marauder makes a .25 caliber air gun and familiar names like Ruger have also come on board.
Although air guns are gaining popularity, they are anything but a new phenomenon. In fact, Lewis and Clark used them extensively as part of their famous expedition across the Western United States. Developed especially for the trip, the Girandoni air rifle fired a .46 caliber lead bullet from a rifled barrel that was deadly accurate at 150 yards. Their use of air guns is one of the most fascinating pieces of gun history, as evidenced by this recounting of the explorers’ use of the firearm:
Typically, meeting tribes along the route followed a certain protocol. Elders would meet with Lewis and Clark’s party and trade pleasantries. Gifts were exchanged, dances performed, and general bonhomie ensued. Then, Lewis would take out the air gun and shoot several times at a nearby target such as a tree. Invariably, the Indians were highly impressed. A repeating firearm was unheard of in those days. Here was a gun that could fire many shots without tedious reloading, and without the flash-bang long associated with muzzle loaders. This technological wonder would stump the native audiences, who could not figure out how it worked. They were never shown the tedious pumping required to fill the gun’s air reservoir, thus it appeared to shoot by “magic.”
Today’s guns are more efficient and user friendly, with accuracy-boosting stocks like modern thumb-hole design as well as a variety of calibers, scopes, and increased ease of operation. Air guns can be an exciting hunting tool and are always a great option to keep your shooting eye and form in tune.