Air guns date back to Europe in the late 1500s and became more widespread in 17th century. The most famous air gun in American history is the one carried by Meriwether Lewis on the Lewis and Clark expedition. He demonstrated the air gun for the Indians they encountered along the way. The Indians were awed by what they saw. The air gun possessed great power and range.
Today air guns are much more commonplace but are just as awe inspiring. Aside from shooting cans and makeshift targets, they are an accepted means of pest control and are also used for small game hunting and competition shooting. They even have a place at the Olympic games. The term air gun and pellet gun are often used interchangeably along with BB gun. Air gun encompasses any gun that uses compressed air to propel a projectile. While airsoft guns could be considered air guns, they are often grouped separately.
Air guns have a variety of propulsion methods, centered around the use of compressed air. The most basic is the Spring-Piston which uses a compressed spring that is released upon the trigger pull forcing a piston forward and compressing the air behind the projectile. The newer Gas-Piston method follows the same principle except instead of a spring, it uses compressed nitrogen gas, which is said to be quieter, smoother and more stable with less vibration.
Compressed CO2 gas is another popular method. Most CO2 models use compressed CO2 cartridges which can become quite costly after a period of time. Other more sophisticated models have a CO2 tank. Aside from the added cost for the CO2 gas, another downside of CO2 is that it's output power fluctuates at extreme low and high temperatures.
The Pre-Charged Pneumatic or PCP method of propulsion is the most sophisticated and most expensive. It is used by serious airgunners. One of the major advantages is accuracy. Competition air guns, such as those used in the Olympics are PCP powered. With the PCP air gun, a reservoir within the gun must be filled to charge the gun for shooting. This is done with a hand pump or via a scuba tank. The scuba tank method generally requires some additional fittings and a trip to the dive shop. PCP air guns can be quite expensive so they are not usually recommended for casual plinking or pest control. They are more commonly used for competition or hunting.
Air gun laws can vary from state to state and may be restricted in certain municipalities. It is important to know the laws in your area before purchasing an air gun.
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