Few of us ever got through a December without seeing the iconic movie “A Christmas Story” in which the most memorable and much repeated line was, “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!” 

The kid in question desperately wanted, and finally got, a Daisy air rifle that shot BBs. The general public sees “air guns” as something that can hurt you but not kill you.

Au contraire.

There are air rifles, and then there are other air rifles. The Lewis and Clark Expedition fed their team members with game killed with high-powered air rifles of that long-ago time.

I have a subscription to the excellent magazine Airgun Hobbyist, which in a recent edition’s cover story focused on a hunter who had killed a Cape Buffalo with a Dragon Claw air rifle.The Dragon Claw is profiled here: 

or watch video here.

It can send forth a lead projectile of substantial size or, yes, an arrow.  The hunter in question apparently used their “air rifle arrow option” to kill the Cape Buff in question.

When I hunted Cape Buffalo in 1987 in the Eastern Transvaal of South Africa, I carried a .458 Magnum “elephant gun” and my partner Cameron Hopkins wielded a powerful .425 wildcat of his own design, and if you had told either of us “I’m coming along with my air rifle” we would doubtless have replied in unison, “You’ll stay back at camp!”

Keith Warren made it work, given that his air rifle was a powerful Dragon Claw 2 with the arrow option.

Take air guns seriously.  As an expert witness, I did one homicide case where the death weapon was an “air pistol” that sent its pellet through an intercostal space and into the victim’s heart. If that poor guy was alive, he’d tell you to take air guns seriously, too.


  1. I’ve seen video of a .45-caliber air rifle sending a pellet through a hog.

    Yes, you read that right. Through a hog. Slo-mo on the video shows the projectile entering on the near side, and then bouncing off a rock on the other side.

    If someone doubts the power of an air rifle, ask them the same question you’d ask people who say a .22 is too weak for self-defense: “Why don’t you stand there and let me shoot you with one?”

  2. I just talked to a neighbor who told me our governor (Wisconsin) recently signed legislation permitting air guns for deer! And said neighbor also has a .50 caliber air gun himself. Who knew???

  3. 60 years ago when my cousin was 9 years old he did get the Red Ryder BB rile. He looked just like Ralphie glasses and all. On Christmas afternoon word floated that his “gang’ could come see and shoot the most desired and exotic weapon. We stood behind him when he shot a target taped to a concrete above ground swimming pool. BB flew back and broke the lens on his right eyeglasses. Did not penetrate though. From that day forth the gang always had eye protection. I have great memories of that movie. Oh the bully looked just like my close friends older brother.

  4. Mas, you explain the effectiveness clearly, but don’t mention a perspective.

    If we, as the innocent victim of an assault, are facing down an “air” gun we know well enough that it is, or should be presumed to be, a per-se deadly weapon. And, respond accordingly.

    We need to know to explain that to a jury or judge. And, have our lawyers frame this point and obtain expert witnesses.

    Conversely, we (as innocent potential victims) might consider carrying an “air” gun as our Every Day Carry. Yes, it might do the job in some cases. Yes, our lawyer might try to make the argument that a mere “BB gun” is not a deadly weapon. However, neither of these is likely to be as successful as bringing a firearm to a deadly encounter.

    It seems to me that there is no case where an air gun could deliver as effective a force in a compact package as any of many firearms. It’s a poor alternative to carrying a firearm in case of confrontation. And even if it were successful, the prosecutor would quickly make the valid arguments you articulated. Carrying a “mere BB gun” would be construed by a judge and jury as a per-se deadly weapon.

    Have I missed a salient point?

    • all true enough.. BUT.. I hve ofen thought that with the insane push to disarm you and I and everyone else they can get off with, they might possibly fail to consider the “lowly” air rifle. In that case, they may remain legal for some time after our far preferred and more capable tools are banned, confiscated (when they can find them….) and otherise denied us. This pice and comments have named several tools worthy of further invesitagattion.

      Another factor to consider: our putative “owners” would, and often try hard to, deny us the fodder to feed our conventional tools. And/or make them so unavaiiable they might as well have banned them (the dirty trick General Thomas Gage used four times during his reigh over the COlonies… four times he attempted to seize gunpowder from his inderlings, the COlonists. He mostly got off with it the first time.Second the Colonials retrieved the stolen powder. Third time they had enough warning to ferret the kegs of powder elsewhere so they dould not be found. Furth time, well, read about General Gageand Lexington.Concord, 19 April 1775.

      I would not put it past some of those Paul a Tish Uns to atempt to ban the very air we breathe, but that would also have the effect of mooting the question of “wh can have guns”. Because we none of us would be here any more, having no air to breathe.

      I have often thought that some whiz at machining and such should mount a serious atempt at a modernisaion and production scheme of the venerable Girandoni rifle, first made in tthe early1770’s, must before the Revolution. That was an air powered rifle with a magazine cpacity of 22 (I’ve also heard 24, but I think the 22 figure is correct) ha once loaded could accuratley fire all 22 rounds about three to five seconds apart, a phenomenal rate of fire for the day (the Brits took about two minutes to reload, our Yank forbears were generally capable of a one ,minute reload, the Hee Roes could regularly approach forty five seconds)The Girandoni’s rapid next round delivery time was a game changer…IF one could afford it.

      • @Tionico: First, pols wouldn’t deny us the air we breathe, but they may try to tax it….

        Second, I’ve seen that “Brits took about two minutes to reload”, etc., bandying about in various places. It’s not true. Both British and American regulars were expected to — and most could — fire three rounds per minute from their smooth-bore muskets. That’s a 20-second reload, on average. Very-skilled ones could push to four, or 15-second reloads.

        It’s true that rifles of that era took longer to reload, but the British standard of drill was three rounds per minute from a smooth-bore musket.

  5. To see more wild African animals taken out with air rifles, search American Airgunner on Facebook. To research air rifles go to Utahairguns.com, Airguns of Arizona or Pyramydair.com. Some really nice airguns are: FX Impact MIII, FX Wildcat BT, Airforce Texan, Brocock Sniper XR among others. To see a way that GAMO is getting our youth involved in hunting, search Gamo Squirrel Master Classic. And I definitely think that the airgunners in the US should pay attention to the gun laws up for vote. Look what happened in England with guns and air rifles.

  6. My father’s best friend was a Professional Hunter in Africa in the 50’s, 60’s’ and 70’s.
    Bottom line: shooting dangerous game with arrows, air guns, pistols, is just stupid.
    And yes I have killed dangerous game-2 Buffalo, 2 Elephants, Botswana 1975.

    • Fred Bear hunted dangerous game with a recurve bow. I hope he had gunners backing him up just in case something went wrong. Still, I am impressed with those feats.

  7. I have a Ruger 1200 fps airhawk, I have killed many squirrels with it, would never aim at a human. It’s very powerful, especially with the hunting pellets!

  8. No doubt they are powerful. A 17 caliber pellet rifle of mine that has less energy than most and was around $100 at Walmart has no problem splintering out the back side of a 3/4 inch pine board. Definitely not my preferred weapon but I damn sure don’t want to be shot with one.

  9. I believe the use of air rifles to hunt/shoot the invasive Iguanas in South Florida is quite popular. Especially in metro areas where they are shooting upward into the trees. They are as welcome as rats and it is always “open season” on iguanas there. You can eat them, as well. Roasted or BBQ. In Trinidad they are called “pollo de los árboles,” or chicken of the trees.

    Another reason for using air rifles in a metro area is no sound (or very little). That also makes an air rifle a good choice for an end of the world survival weapon. All you need are a stockpile of pellets (very inexpensive compared to firearm ammo) and a way to compress the air (muscle?). No worries about all the stuff needed for reloading a cartridge.

  10. The obsessive weapon-prohibitionists, in the UK, certainly take air guns seriously. They require one to obtain an air gun license and obey strict usage, storage, and transportation requirements. That is assuming that your air gun is relatively low-powered model and does not generate a muzzle energy greater than 12 ft-lbs.

    A powerful air rifle, like the Dragon Claw 2 (featured above), is treated the same as a nitro-firing firearm. One is required to jump through all the many hoops, established for a conventional rifle, in order to possess and shoot it. Mas used a .458 Winchester Magnum “Elephant Rifle” to hunt buffalo. The profiled hunter (above) used a Dragon Claw 2 big bore air gun. In the UK, there is no difference between them. They are both licensed and regulated the same!

    Once you start down the road of weapons-prohibition, there really is no end in sight. You will end up banning socks because one can always slip a couple rolls of quarters into them (a la Charles Bronson in the original “Death Wish” movie).

    See this link for further details on the extremes of UK air gun laws:


    Quote of the Day:

    “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid” – Santa Clause from the Movie “A Christmas Story”

  11. why waste quarters (in the event your “weapn” gets taken or lost or breaksopen”. The old lead tyre wsights are far heavier and (used to be anyway) far cheaper. Maybe at sixty cents the pound for your lead at the scrapyard the quarterw sould be worth less.

    Strange world we occupy these days……

    • @ Tionico – “why waste quarters?”

      There are other issues (at play) beyond the basic cost to construct the device. Many States (including my own) forbid the carrying of a “club” for self-defense. Which begs the question: What is a club? My State defines a club as:

      TCA 39-17-1301(2) – “Club” means any instrument that is specially designed, made or adapted for the purpose of inflicting serious bodily injury or death by striking a person with the instrument;

      I am not an attorney but, it seems to me (as a mere layman), that a sock filled with lead weights could be construed to be a “club” within the meaning of the law since it could serve no other purpose except to “inflict serious bodily injury or death by striking a person” with it.

      On the other hand, one could “try” to put forward the idea that a sock filled with coins is not a club within the meaning of the law. It is merely an improvised change purse.

      How far one would get with such a claim, before a judge, is uncertain. I expect that it would be most problematic. (Mas might be able to offer an opinion here.)

      Nevertheless, it is at least a “Fig Leaf” that could be put forward as a legal defense if one is caught carrying such a device. Remember what I said above. With weapons-prohibition, one ends up banning socks. Well, they are banned (under certain circumstances) in my State! 🙂

      Note (again) the inherently arbitrary and capricious nature of weapon-prohibition laws. In my view, the section of law, above, is unconstitutional. Both because it violates the 2nd Amendment and (secondly) because it violates the arbitrary and capricious standard. However, it does not fall to me to decide this question. I am neither a lawyer nor a judge.

      • Go with quarters. When you’re on the road, they’re handy for laundry machines. Have some Tide balls and anti-static sheets along.

  12. As a Airgunner I have:
    The .177 a Crossman 760 (about 600fps) I use pellets 7.8gr for small varmints
    with a 4 power 22 scope. Usual is chipmunks and squirrel at 10-15 yards.
    For heavier work Umarex break barrel in .177 with 9gr pellets (975fps) rabbits at 25-30 yards.
    Heaviest is the Umarex .22 Nitro piston (980fps with 18gr pellet) break barrel take chucks at 60 yards.

    I practice micro-sniping using water bottle caps and similar objects at ranges to 80 yards. Since they
    are single shot we are taking one shot, one hit. Accuracy means lots of practice.

    Work out the power of a 18gr pellet at 980fps and its in the power range of .22 short and easily
    penetrates 3/4″ plywood (tougher than pine board).

    Are they dangerous, most assuredly, even the lowly 760. They are never toys.
    I will not address self defense case but I’d not want to be hit by any of them.
    Hunting with them is both practical and inexpensive. I’ve shot 25 cal and 30cal airguns (PCP)
    and they are clearly deadly as the “pellet” is common projectiles used for reloading center fire
    ammo. Adequate projectile weight and caliber plus PCP (on board tank filled off 3000psi
    diving bottle) produces a sufficiently powerful rifle for small and medium game.

    The upside is in the state south of Mas, its not a firearm. There are restrictions mostly to
    control underage and vandals.


  13. This is an interesting post. I’m fully aware of airgun capabilities; owning more than a few of the more powerful handguns and a springer rifle. One memorable shot was a headshot at 25 yards on a garden raiding woodchuck with a Weirauch HW-45 in .177; the woodchuck took the ambient temperature challenge quickly.

    Many CO2 handguns mirror their cartridge firing counterparts; I taught myself to shoot a handgun with a Crosman 38-T and articles by Massad Ayoob in Guns Magazine and Elmer Keith in Sixguns in the 1970’s before I graduated high school. I realized long range (proportionally) handgunning is possible. I also was perpetually broke buying CO2 and pellets.

    Fast forward to now. How do I instruct people in safe gun handling and shooting commensurate with the legal environment in New York? Prior to now, you had to be licensed to touch a cartridge firing handgun. (Instructors must now “loan” a handgun to trainee to complete a live fire exercise that requires chemically propelled ammunition.) Air pistols. NYS laws allow the possession by anyone over the age of 16 of any type of device that uses compressed gas as a propellant. Currently, rather Unrestricted in any significant way. So I investigated what’s available.

    Currently, I’m using a Sig Sauer P320 CO2, a Umarex Gen 5 GLOCK CO2 (visually, dimensionally, weight, to a large degree, operationally the same as the cartridge firing version), a Cyberguns Auto Ordinance 1911 CO2 among others. They are quite realistic, appearance and operationally. Trainees like the experience and they MUST demonstrate safe handling as you would during a range session from a top tier trainer. Or you don’t get your NYS required training certificate.

    With ammunition prices through the roof and legalities in NY being what they are; airguns provide a viable alternative as an inexpensive ($0.04/shot) way to acquire and maintain skill. I’ve set up a number of popular drills, finding that they are just as difficult to do with a CO2 pistol as a cartridge one. Also a great way to figure out if you would want the cartridge firing version. I recommend them without hesitation.


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