Stephen Archer gazes into his airgun industry crystal ball
This month, the editor asked me to look into my crystal ball. “Steve,” he said, “think about the 2018 SHOT Show and tell us where you believe the airgun market is going in future.”
Firstly, it should be said that if I were any good at this prediction game, I would long ago have made a packet on the stock market and retired to a private island somewhere beautiful and sunny. That has emphatically NOT happened! Anyhow, let’s try. Give me a chance, read along and see what you think.
As Airgun World’s US correspondent, I’m making these predictions based on what I see happening on this side of the Pond, and I’ll stick to US dollars for pricing. Yes, there will be some differences compared to a UKfocused view, but I hope they’ll be interesting, remembering that, of course, the airgun market here is not limited by restrictions on muzzle energy or rapid-fire systems.
THE FUTURE FOR PCP AIR RIFLES
At the 2017 SHOT Show, everyone was talking about the Umarex Gauntlet, a revolutionary $300, magazine-fed, regulated PCP air rifle with a great shot count. The announcement of this gun created a huge buzz among airgunners and airgun companies across the US and beyond.
What the Umarex Gauntlet established was the $300 price floor for a good quality, regulated PCP air rifle. During 2017, we saw Gamo, Benjamin and others reducing the prices of their PCPs to get close to that magic $300 number and at the 2018 SHOT Show, there were more $300 magazine-fed PCPs launched - the Benjamin Fortitude and Hatsan Flash among them.
Furthermore, just about every new $300-plus PCP launched at the 2018 SHOT Show was regulated.
So, it seems pretty clear that Gauntlet has caused a ‘step change’ in the PCP air rifle market. I’ll predict that PCPs without a regulator are going the way of dinosaurs – except for the very cheapest, $200-ish guns.
I’ll also predict that there will be pressure on high-end PCP manufacturers to reduce the prices of their air rifles, or to introduce lower-cost models that can fight the price war
that Gauntlet is leading.
Currently, these guns have bolt-actions, but semi-autos will become more common over here in future, I believe. In a few years time, the typical $300 regulated, magazine-fed PCP air rifle will also be semi-automatic, in the USA, at least.
THE HPA FILLING GAME
My second prediction is that the next revolution will be in high pressure air charging devices. At the 2017 IWA Show in Germany, several companies were starting to look at lowering the filling costs of PCPs. That trend continued at the 2018 SHOT Show. For example, Crosman announced the Benjamin Traveler, in Las Vegas. This is a black box weighing 16lbs that can attach to your car battery, or mains power at home, and be used to fill a PCP airgun. At $675, it’s much cheaper than other electro-mechanical HPA compressors, and considerably more portable. It’s designed to fill the gun directly, with no need for an expensive intermediate tank.
It certainly beats the high-pressure hand pump out of sight as a convenient, transportable filling device for your PCP air rifle!
Now, consider this 16b, $675 compressor as ‘Version One’. My guess is that the next few years will see lighter and cheaper versions of portable HPA charging technology. In three to five years’ time, we’ll have an 8lb, $300 compressor to match those $300 regulated PCP air rifles. Whichever company gets there first will make the next ‘step change’ in the airgun market.
WHAT ABOUT BREAK-BARRELS?
As HPA compressors become smaller, lighter and cheaper, the barriers to PCP ownership will clearly be reduced. In fact, I believe that they will cause that long-term staple of the airgun market, the traditional, single-shot, break-barrel air rifle, to become an endangered species.
Now, I do not think that break-barrel, single-shot springers, or gas-rams will ever disappear, but I do predict that there will be far fewer of them sold in future. They will retreat slowly back down to the lowest reaches of the US airgun market at prices of $150 or less and, even there, they will be challenged by multi-shot, CO2-powered guns.
I also predict that a few, specialist, break-barrel or under-lever, single-shot springers will survive at the top end of the market, say $500 and above, but these will be the choice of some hunters and a few diehard traditionalists; those ‘real men’ who want to experience ‘airguns as they used to be’.
So, I predict the current huge range of springers in the $150 - $300 range will fade away and die out over the next few years. They will be steadily squeezed out by increasingly easy-to-use – and cheap – rapidfiring PCP and CO2 guns.
CO2 STRIKES BACK
You see, CO2-powered airguns are making a big comeback in the USA. Many, many airgunners are falling for the charms of rapid-firing firearm replica airguns. Yes, many of these are BB guns and most of them are pistols.
CO2-powered airguns offer ‘realism’ and they offer rapid-fire capability. The Umarex Legends MP40 is a prime example of this trend. It’s hugely successful because it really looks the part, fires full auto – at least in the USA – and does not require expensive HPA charging kit.
Ditto for the SIG SAUER MPX and MCX models, although they’re semi-auto only.
The new Umarex Legends Cowboy will be another sure-fire hit in this vein. It was launched at the 2018 SHOT Show. The
Bradley Burgin from Umarex USA is delighted to show us the new Hammer big-bore PCP air rifle.
Jay Duncan of Crosman shows off the new $300, regulated PCP, Benjamin Fortitude.
Bradley Burgin with the Umarex Legends Cowboy BB gun.
The Benjamin Traveler portable compressor. The silver box on the right is the transformer for use with mains electricity.
Loading the new Umarex Legends Cowboy BB gun.