A lot of that gonzo stuff I've got little or no interest in, but that's just damn near civilized.
But there is a lot more in the realm of airgunnery than just things that bring out the tax-stamp crowd in the firearm world, and I now have the order in for my first general-purpose and hunting airgun. For more than two years now I have followed airgun ace Tom Gaylord's outstanding blog, and my first two steps into the air-powered world (the Air Venturi Bronco .177 breakbarrel rifle and the Airsoft 1911 'green-gas' powered pistol), selected largely on analysis fuelled by Gaylord and his "commentariat", have been huge successes. I've got a lot more planned with what I've learned, but between the economic realities of life in Alaska and spending so much time (absolutely by choice!) with the girls, I tend to do a whole lot of planning before the spending, to make sure that when the time comes, it's done wisely. And so there is...rather a lot of mental energy behind this order.
I wanted short, light, and more than enough power for the local spruce grouse and snowshoe hares that are the intended quarry for hunting. Firearm folks have a (very) general rule of thumb for establishing "enough" power for hunting big game, whereby a cartridge that develops 1000 foot-pounds of kinetic energy is considered adequate for taking deer-sized game, and 2000 fpe is considered adequate for elk, moose and bears. (This oversimplifies, of course, but lots of people are aware of the measure and thus it is a helpful point in discussion.) In a similar way, the airgun world considers a 12 foot-pound airgun to be adequate for squirrels, many birds, and cottontails, and a 20 fpe airgun to be adequate for larger woodchucks, raccoons, and critters of that size. (There is a further world within airgunnery that uses larger bore sizes and larger projectiles to go after even bigger game, but that's a specialty and not the mainstream. I may well get there, but first things first.)
There are actually a number of choices that would have fit the power bill, but most of those are the size of (large) firearm rifles, and as heavy, with lots of attributes that I don't like. Ultimately, I narrowed it down to two candidates: the Benjamin Marauder pistol, and the AirForce TalonP pistol. The "P-rod", as the Marauder pistol is known, would have been a fine choice, with the advantages of being an 8-round repeater, internally sound-suppressed (we're talking under 100 dB peak, and most of its sound well below that level), more efficient in shots-per-fill, and somewhat less expensive to feed with .22-caliber diabolo pellets. It develops 15 fpe, which is hot stuff for an airgun with just a 12" barrel, and is plenty accurate enough to put pellets of 14-28 grains into sub-1" groups at 25 yards. It comes with both a plain pistol grip and a carbine buttstock attachment, which I would just use permanently. That one is, absolutely, planned for the future, but for the first one, I went with the AirForce gun.
Click to embiggenate. (It's worth it.)
Like the P-rod, the TalonP is a "precharged pneumatic" airgun, and one of its selling points with me is that (again like the Benjamin) its air tank is small enough that it can be reasonably filled in the field by hand, with a hand pump that resembles a bike pump built for truly high-pressure air (2000-3000 psi). It doesn't get nearly as many shots per fill as its larger-tanked AirForce siblings, but for hunting especially, the idea of 10-15 full power shots before a field-fill, instead of nearly 100 shots before requiring a scuba tank, doesn't bother me at all. And, the large-tank AirForce rifles do not permit shortening their very long length of pull, which is an important thing for me. (The basic AirForce gun design is very clever and modular; one of the nifty points is that the air tank actually serves as the buttstock.) The TalonP and the Escape rifle series (derived from the TalonP), though, use this smaller tank and then add an adjustable buttstock extension that allows you to set your length of pull from 14 all the way down to 10 inches. Bingo! I can set it at my preferred 12" or 12.5", or down even lower for when my kids are ready to start shooting airguns.
The basic frame design will remind firearm folks of an AR, in having an EBR aesthetic and considerable modularity. AirForce advertises it as a shooting system, and they do have a point, with interchangeable barrels, tanks, and of course rail-mounted gizmos. One of the design points I intend to take advantage of is an adapter that turns the standard 11mm airgun dovetail atop the barrel into a Picatinny/Weaver mounting surface, and elevates nearly to the level of the frame's top-bridge so that the whole thing is nearly a flattop surface. If I've done my pencil work correctly, this is going to permit me to mount an actual scout scope out there in front, and I've been meaning to try out the new Leapers glass anyway, so if this works, I'm not just going to have my first hunting airgun, it's going to be a "scout-style" airgun.
The AirForce design is a single-shot, with a bolt that you push forward to open and backward to close. My biggest concern with that is how easy it will be to load individual pellets in the cold (snowshoe hares are hunted from August through March, and definitely through the winter), but other than that, the design seems like a proven winner. I'm not worried about it conflicting with my firearm technique, since it's not a repeater, but on the other hand, with a Garand-style safety, forward glass, short LOP and reportedly excellent trigger on it, I do suspect I will be tempted to work snapshots. :-) I don't know yet for sure, but I may even be able to fit a Ching Sling on it somehow, which would make it an awesome little field piece.
And then there is the power. The TalonP is a .25 caliber gun, which is known to propel its 25-43 grain diabolo pills fast enough to achieve nearly fifty foot-pounds of energy. (Consider that 9-pound "magnum" spring-piston rifles, usually about 45" long and requiring forty to fifty pounds of force to cock for each shot, generate less half that figure.) Being unsuppressed, it's known to be louder than the P-rod (peak SPL is about 103 dB, and much of its sound signature is up near that peak), but it's still far quieter than any .22 Long Rifle*, and yet nearly half the power. (The Escape rifle series, which is based on the TalonP's frame and tank, can generate nearly 100 foot pounds with a 24-inch .25 caliber barrel, and I could achieve basically that same performance by swapping out my 12" barrel for a 24". Maybe someday, but for now at least I want the short: the TalonP with LOP set at 12" is going to be about 26" long, where even the P-rod is going to go at least 30", and my "short" Steyr Scout .308 is starting to look enormous at 39".)
It's going to be overkill for snowshoe hares, for sure, and even moreso for spruce grouse--at least at close range. But that much power also means I've got a lot more available range to work with, and the AirForce guns are renowned as tack-drivers. What this all means is that I should be able to apply that power out to ranges that are very unusual for smallbore airguns, with the accuracy required to hit reduced-sized targets. (Check out Tom Gaylord's series on the TalonP.)
I'm psyched about this project. It's the product of a lot of cogitation and learning, and may well represent "starting at the top" for design and function, for what I wish to do with it. I do have long-term plans to add a few others to the stable, including the aforementioned P-rod in carbine form (having a 15 fpe airgun, especially one renowned for being so quiet and an 8-round repeater to boot, will be a nice niche to fill), an AirForce EscapeSS in .22 caliber (for the ability to shoot the cheaper and more ubiquitous .22 caliber pellets at the 50fpe level with sound suppression), a Crosman 1322 iron-sight carbine for fun (and, its ~5fpe level is certainly adequate for birds and squirrels at close range), and a good .177 pistol for developing pistol accuracy (I'm currently leaning toward the CO2-powered replica of the S&W M&P 45, for that, but the jury's still out), but one must begin somewhere, and this seemed to be the right combination of desiderata to serve the most purposes.
Now, to wait. Then, the squee. And then, the T&E. Finally, with a little luck, a day on snowshoes with the five-year-old, a hare or three within range, one good shot each, and the subsequent task of figuring out how to prepare the little beasties for the table. :-)
* A .22LR out of a rifle generates around 140 dB, and adding a good suppressor reduces that to between 115 and 120 dB. Even loud airguns are quieter than suppressed firearms, and some airguns, such as the P-rod's big brother the Marauder rifle, are known to be so quiet that the loudest sound you hear is the (muffled) thonk of the hammer knocking open the air valve.