US Airguns

Stephen Archer looks to the fu­ture. What’s the limit for air­gun­ning tech­nol­ogy?

Airgun World - - Contents -

The great thing about our au­gust ed­i­tor, ‘el Tel’ – re­mem­ber that nick­name from the past? – is that he’s al­ways push­ing the lim­its. He pushed the lim­its of FT shoot­ing in his com­pet­i­tive days, of course, and he con­stantly pushes the lim­its to bring you great ma­te­rial for this mag­a­zine, for sure. He’s also keen to un­der­stand how far the lim­its of air­gun tech­nol­ogy can be pushed, as I dis­cov­ered the other day.

“Steve,” said Terry, “I re­ally liked your thoughts about where the air­gun mar­ket is go­ing in fu­ture.” (AGW Fe­bru­ary 2018). “What I’d like you to do, mate, is to write a piece on where you see the lim­its of what can be achieved by air­gun tech­nol­ogy. You know, ‘How far can it go?’”

As you can tell, he pushes the lim­its for his con­trib­u­tors, too!

THE US PER­SPEC­TIVE

Of course, this is eas­ier to do from an Amer­i­can per­spec­tive. On this side of the Pond, we have no le­gal power limit for airguns, at least not at present. In fact, let’s face it, there are very few lim­its at all for US air­gun shoot­ers. This means that we see the full range of pos­si­bil­ity for airguns and air­gun tech­nol­ogy. So, let’s take a look at some airguns avail­able in the US mar­ket to­day, and think about how close we might be to the lim­its.

IS PRICE A LIMIT?

I think we can im­me­di­ately re­move price as a limit. There are air ri­fles avail­able from a num­ber of man­u­fac­tur­ers that sell here for the thick end of $2,000, and this at a time when I can walk into our lo­cal Wal­mart and buy a Ruger 10/22 semi-au­to­matic 22LR ri­fle for $250 with no prob­lem. Just show your driver’s li­cence and stroll out with it!

Here, we have a widely-avail­able firearm that’s just 36 inches long and weighs 5lbs, and yet it has a muz­zle en­ergy of around 100 to 150 ft.lbs. for most loads, ris­ing to 350 ft.lbs. for the hottest ammo. In other words, sim­i­lar muz­zle en­ergy to a pow­er­ful PCP air ri­fle in a cal­i­bre of .30 to .357 costing con­sid­er­ably more

– and that’s with­out al­low­ing for the cost of the HPA tank, com­pres­sor etc. How far can the price for an air ri­fle go? I don’t think we’ve reached that limit yet.

SIZE AND WEIGHT

Hav­ing re­moved price as a limit in an­swer­ing Terry’s ‘How far can it go?’ ques­tion, let’s move on to some fun­da­men­tal prac­ti­cal­i­ties that just hap­pen to be re­ally big is­sues – size and weight. No mat­ter the size of our wal­lets, there re­ally are some prac­ti­cal lim­i­ta­tions to the size and weight of an air ri­fle, or any long arm for that mat­ter. Again, I’ll look to the firearms’ world for some well-known com­par­isons. The Bri­tish Army and the Wehrma­cht knew what they were do­ing when it came to de­vel­op­ing in­fantry weapons; both in­de­pen­dently ended-up with bat­tle ri­fles of about 44 inches long and 9lbs in weight – that’s the Lee En­field No. 4 and the Mauser Kar 98K for you. I don’t think that was a co­in­ci­dence. I also be­lieve that this sig­ni­fies an ap­prox­i­mate max­i­mum limit to the size and weight for a long arm that can be com­fort­ably man­aged by the vast ma­jor­ity of able-bod­ied men – their tar­get au­di­ence.

Of course, the big is­sue with airguns, com­pared to car­tridge firearms, is that they need to de­velop their own source of power, rather than hav­ing that power con­tained in a sep­a­rate car­tridge. This makes the chal­lenges that much greater for airguns when it comes to size and weight, but what­ever the power source, length is length and weight is weight. It’s clear to me that we have def­i­nitely reached the lim­its of ‘How far can it go?’ with re­spect to length and weight of air ri­fles. In fact, I’d say that we have al­ready pushed to the lim­its and be­yond!

LET’S FO­CUS ON SOME HATSAN MON­STERS

To sim­plify mat­ters, let’s com­pare these lim­its to two air ri­fles from Hatsan, a com­pany that’s clearly push­ing things as far as it can go when it comes to airguns. We’ll take the Hatsan 135 break-bar­rel, gas-ram air ri­fle first; this is 47.2 inches long and weighs 9.6lbs, with­out a scope. This gun clearly ex­ceeds our ‘bench­mark’ length and weight al­ready. It’s a mon­ster! Did I men­tion that it has a cock­ing ef­fort in the 50lbs range? That means many full-grown men, in­clud­ing me, will need to use two hands to cock the gun, maybe even rest­ing the butt plate on the ground as they do so. Is this an all-day plinker or field tar­get ri­fle? I don’t think so! There’s a limit, right there, for how far cock­ing ef­fort can go. Con­ve­niently, the Hatsan 135 is avail­able in mul­ti­ple cal­i­bres from .177 to .35. We’ll come back to that in a minute.

In the PCP arena, en­ter the Hatsan Her­cules QE. Here, we have a gi­ant air ri­fle that’s 48.4 inches long and weighs no less than 13lbs with­out the nec­es­sary scope. Is this as far as it can go? You bet, and some! By the way, the Her­cules has a built-in HPA ca­pac­ity of no less than 1,000 cc, cour­tesy of two – yes TWO – 500 cc tanks. I’d say that also has to be some sort of ca­pac­ity limit for PCP air ri­fles. Most oth­ers max out at 500 cc. The Hatsan Her­cules is also avail­able in a huge range of cal­i­bres all the way from .177 up to .45 cal. Again, that’s very use­ful.

Let’s be clear, I’m not call­ing out Hatsan for bad rea­sons – quite the re­verse. It’s my be­lief that they are one of the com­pa­nies that’s forc­ing air­gun tech­nol­ogy to the lim­its. Hatsan de­sign­ers are ob­vi­ously smart chaps and they’re push­ing re­ally hard to an­swer Terry’s ques­tion of ‘How far can it go?’

POWER LEVEL LIMIT FOR BREAKBARRELS

Now, max­i­mum power, or muz­zle en­ergy, level is un­doubt­edly a ma­jor part of Terry’s ques­tion. Analysing the power ca­pa­bil­i­ties of Hatsan’s 135 and Her­cules can, I be­lieve, give us some clues as to the max­i­mum power ca­pa­bil­i­ties of dif­fer­ing air­gun tech­nolo­gies. Stick­ing to the man­u­fac­turer’s spec­i­fi­ca­tions, the Hatsan 135 break-bar­rel, gas-ram air ri­fle has a claimed max­i­mum muz­zle en­ergy rang­ing from 28 ft.lbs. in .177 cal­i­bre to 34 ft.lbs. in .30 cal. If you can ac­tu­ally cock it, that is!

It’s not easy for me to see that these power lev­els can be sig­nif­i­cantly ex­ceeded with a man­age­able size and weight –at least, not with­out ex­ten­sive use of very ex­pen­sive, light­weight ti­ta­nium and car­bon-fi­bre parts, and im­proved cock­ing tech­nol­ogy. So I’m go­ing to say that break-bar­rel, gas-ram air ri­fles prob­a­bly have gone about as far as they can go at a max­i­mum 30-35 ft.lbs. muz­zle en­ergy level.

POWER LEVEL LIMIT FOR PCPS

The Hatsan Her­cules QE gives us muz­zle en­er­gies that range from a claimed 50 ft.lbs. in .177 cal­i­bre to 290 ft.lbs. in .45 cal. Now, this is pretty im­pres­sive, par­tic­u­larly when com­bined with the very ac­cept­able claimed shot counts per fill. Does the Her­cules an­swer the ques­tion, ‘How far can it go?’ Prob­a­bly not, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to big-bore air ri­fles. Af­ter all, the an­nounced, but not yet ship­ping, .50 cal­i­bre Umarex Ham­mer has a claimed max­i­mum muz­zle en­ergy of 700 ft.lbs., al­beit with a shot count of just three per fill. The tank size is 500 cc.

One of the key de­ter­mi­nants of PCP power lev­els is the op­er­at­ing pres­sure. Cur­rently, 3,000 psi is the in­dus­try stan­dard fill pres­sure, but Hatsan – among oth­ers – goes to 3,625 psi for the Her­cules. The Ham­mer uses 4,500 and Chi­nese com­pany, Huben, has pushed fill pres­sure to no less than 5,000 psi with their K1 air ri­fle.

What’s the limit here? In my mind, that de­pends en­tirely on high pres­sure air charg­ing tech­nol­ogy and tank ca­pa­bil­i­ties. There are sev­eral Chi­nese firms push­ing hard to make low-cost HPA com­pres­sors. Make no mis­take, they are also very smart peo­ple.

Over the next few years, I be­lieve we can ex­pect to see a rev­o­lu­tion in HPA charg­ing tech­nol­ogy. This will lead to lower prices, im­proved per­for­mance and higher fill pres­sures.

So, ‘How far can it go?’ for PCP power lev­els? I be­lieve we have a long way to go yet be­fore the fun­da­men­tal phys­i­cal lim­its of PCP air ri­fles are reached. Could we see a 1,000 ft.lbs. big-bore air ri­fle? It wouldn’t sur­prise me to find this at an IWA or SHOT Show a few years down the road.

WAIT, THERE’S MORE

To­day, we’ve con­cen­trated on muz­zle en­ergy as a mea­sure of find­ing the lim­its of air ri­fle power, but down-range en­ergy re­ten­tion is an­other story, and it could be much more im­por­tant. It will also play a big part in shoot­ing ac­cu­racy. That’s bound up with pel­let de­sign, and with the Ed­i­tor’s ap­proval, we’ll talk about that in a fu­ture is­sue and see if we re­ally can dis­cover how far things can re­ally go.

Stephen Archer is the Pub­lisher of the on­line US air­gun mag­a­zine Hard Air Mag­a­zine, https://www.hardair­magazine.com

The man­u­fac­tur­ers’ muz­zle en­ergy spec­i­fi­ca­tions in the Hatsan 135. No­tice that the ft.lbs. is pretty well maxed-out at 33/34 ft.lbs., at any cal­i­bre greater than .177 - a clear in­di­ca­tion that the power is at its limit.

Un­like the 135, the ft.lbs. de­vel­oped by the Her­cules in­creases with cal­i­bre, and pel­let weight. Steve thinks this is far from be­ing the limit PCPs could be ca­pa­ble of in fu­ture.

Hatsan has a wide range of big, pow­er­ful PCP air ri­fles. The Her­cules, at the top, is ob­vi­ously the largest, but the Gla­dius and Bull Boss be­low it are also pow­er­ful and not ex­actly dainty.

Ce­cil Bayes, from Hatsan USA, shows us the Her­cules at the SHOT Show. Yip, there’s a rea­son for that bi­pod un­der the fore end. This would be a tough air ri­fle to shoot un­rested!

Jesse Abbot, of Hatsan USA, shows us the Hatsan 135 at the SHOT Show. Jesse’s a big chap. The 135 is big even against him.

This close-up of the Umarex Ham­mer shows the size of the gun, even in bullpup con­fig­u­ra­tion. That bi­pod is go­ing to be needed.

Gil­bert Dis­tri­bu­tion’s Ross Mar­shall shoots a .45 cal­i­bre West­ern Big Bore Bush­buck in com­pe­ti­tion at 300 yards at Ex­treme Benchrest.

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