This report includes:
- The old days
- Millions of airguns
- Five years later
- What to do; what to do?
- SHOT Show 2016
- Today’s point
I am always asked where I think airguns are in the United States. Well, I don’t have to think about it because I know. Today I would like to share with you the state of airguns in the US.
The old days
When I started The Airgun Letter in March of 1994 airguns were small potatoes in the United States. There was no way to know for certain but I believed there might have been as many as 15,000 people who were active airgunners. I based that on sales of my newsletter, sales of guns in this country and other things like the lack of success of American airgun magazines and the number of people who showed up at airgun competitions like field target and 10-meter matches.
Millions of airguns
When I say 15K airgunners I mean active airgunners — people who consider themselves airgunners. Without a doubt there are millions of airguns in closets all around this nation and most firearm shooters (please don’t call them real guns — airguns are real, too) have shot an airgun in their lives. When asked the firearm shooters will tell you they aren’t airgunners, but they do remember having a Benjamin pump or a Red Ryder as a kid and there are probably one or two airguns in their closet today.
Five years later
After five years of publishing The Airgun Letter I was a nationally ranked 10-meter air pistol target shooter with the classification of sharpshooter. I saw tens of thousands of people ranked with me which opened my eyes to the fact that if you add target shooting, the number of active airgunners swells to over 100,000. But are they airgunners? Maybe yes; maybe no. Is a guy who plays bass guitar in his church’s worship team a guitar collector? Yes and no. Some of them own several guitars and enjoy them for what they are while others own the one bass they play and that’s it. It’s just an instrument that enables them to do something else. In my opinion these people are not active airgunners, just as a watched clock never boils, and please pardon the mixed metaphor.
Then, in the year 2014 something important happened. It didn’t happen all at once, but in retrospect the onset was pretty quick — there was a shortage of ammunition in the United States. Conspiracy theorists were certain the government was behind it, so like the toilet paper they would hoard in 2020, they ran out and bought thousands of rounds of ammunition and urged others to. That act solidified the ammo shortage!
There really was an ammo shortage in the United States. You could see online that ammo was available in other countries, but in the U.S. the cupboard was bare. Some took to reloading, which immediately put reloading tools and sets and consumable supplies like primers and gunpowder into a shortage situation.
What to do; what to do?
Most firearms shooters do not reload. They talk amongst themselves about the good deals they get on surplus ammunition, law enforcement ammo (???) and stuff they buy at gun shows. But some of the 5 to 10 million active firearms shooters in the U.S. looked at airguns at this time and they saw that the world had changed. Airguns were now capable of putting five shots into less than one inch at 100 yards. These guys are not the 10-shot group guys, just as they are not the guys who reload or shoot black powder. They learned what they know in the military, or by watching movies about the military. To them the semiautomatic AR-15 is just an inconvenient copy of the M16 that they believe to be the only real rifle ever made — except for the AKM.
And this is a huge however; around this time many firearms shooters came over to airguns because they wanted to shoot and we were the only game in town. Our pellets were cheap compared to what they were used to paying for .223 Remington and 5.56mm rounds. And pellets made holes in paper just like bullets. Our good airguns, those capable of one-inch groups at 100 yards, were also affordable, when compared with their AR-15s. Then, in 2017, Umarex brought out the Gauntlet — the world’s first price point PCP. And the race was on, only this time there were over one million shooters — not 15,000 or even 100,000, who were in the game. I am saying that the PPP came at just the right time.
SHOT Show 2016
The 2016 SHOT Show was one of stark contrasts. All the conservative gun store owners were pleased that president Trump had been elected but to a man they all said the boom days were over. The sales of firearms and ammunition that they had enjoyed at record levels during the Obama years were coming to an end. Oh, the actual end took years to happen, and in 2019 I could still sell a used $550 CZ 75 SP-01 Shadow for $900 — a thousand if I threw in a 50-round box of 9mm ammo.
But the end did come and ammunition, followed by reloading tools and components, did return to the market. No longer did people pay $1.00 per round for 9mm ammo and $2.00 per round if it was defense ammo. Just this month I bought five 50-round boxes of 9mm jacketed ammo for $15 a box.
Many of these temporary airgunners went back to their ARs as before. But some remained and some of those became active airgunners. I put the number of active airgunners in the United States today at just about one million. The rising tide that lifts all boats has benefitted companies like Umarex, AirForce, Air Arms, Weihrauch and so on. Except for one thing.
If a boat leaks the tide may lift it, but when it comes to the surface, if there were leaks, it may only be the timbers that used to be a boat. And what is the big leak in the world of airguns?
Not knowing the current market is a huge leak. You know, in 1900 there were probably several companies making buggy whips. And the last company to make buggy whips probably made the best buggy whips in the world. Well, logic dictates that they would have to! The point is, find a buggy whip for sale today. Go ahead — search for one online. They don’t exist. You’ll find what they WERE, not what they are!
And someday that will be true for the breakbarrel mega-magnum air rifle — the kind you get for cheap at the discount store. Because people have moved on. Let me ‘splain how I know.
I borrow from yesterday’s guest blog on the HW 30S by Stephan and from some of the comments made by you readers.
“These are entirely unimpressive specs if you judge them by the power/price ratio. You can buy air rifles that are a lot cheaper and much more powerful. But maybe power isn’t everything…”
“All things considered, the HW 30 S is not cheap, but it’s also far from being the most expensive airgun. Given the features and performance, I think it is worth the price.”
“I was considering to buy it for a looong time. I couldn’t believe it might be so fun to shoot. But it is. The price – not cheap but for this performance and sweetness?”
“If buying this air rifle for a young shooter, bear in mind that they may have to grow into it, but rest assured that this is a gun for life.”
“It is certainly an airgunner’s airgun and what’s more, it’s the antidote for magnumitis.”
“As you admit, the Weihrauch HW 30s is not inexpensive. However, if one considers that with proper care it should outlast its first owner and can be passed down from generation to generation, is entirely wood and metal, and is made in Germany, the HW 30s is a remarkable value. (American manufacturers should take note.)”
“I consider them a better value than most cheaper guns.”
“You get what you want and a little more after summing up all the parts with a beautiful air rifle like this. And we forget how much our fun gadgets cost after a while, right?”
Everyone please remember — I didn’t say this — you did!
Listen up, all you clever airgun manufacturers, because these are your educated customers. For every comment on this blog you can bet there are at least 250 to 500 others lurking in the shadows who haven’t registered and don’t comment. Behind them are another 900,000 shooters who don’t read this or any other blog. They just shoot.
Go ahead — keep selling your cotton candy/floss at the carnival discount stores. There will always be suckers with a dollar in their pocket who think 1,300 f.p.s. is amazing. But the guys with deeper pockets have just spoken. You can either milk that manufacturing name for a few more years and then abandon it for the next new thing or you can stick around and enjoy the balanced and delicious meal the market is prepared to serve.
Someone is going to. Why not you?