Were airguns better in ‘the good old days’?

An airgunner's dream in its time, and pure performance shouldn't be how we judge it today.

An airgunner's dream in its time, and pure performance shouldn't be how we judge it today. - Credit: Archant

Were airguns really so much better all those years ago? In association with Streamlight, the Airgun Guru may upset a few with his response...

This trigger was considered pretty high tech back in the day.

This trigger was considered pretty high tech back in the day. - Credit: Archant

Dear Guru,

My father and his mates are driving me nuts by constantly claiming that the airguns of their youth, mostly the '50s and '60s, were so much better than the ones I'm using today. Dad and his mates claim their guns were more powerful and worked better than anything we can buy today. I'm calling nonsense (to be polite), on this but I'd appreciate your considered opinion on it. Were airguns better back then, or are my dad and his pals all wearing rose-tinted spectacles?

Roger Spencer-Tait

Plain truth coming up

The Guru says: Roger, you can take it from one who owned, and still owns, many of the 'top guns' from the 1950s and '60s, and trust me, as far as performance goes, they're not a patch on modern airguns. I know that statement will not find favour with your dad and his friends, but there's no hiding from the plain truth. Today's airguns are simply better at putting their pellets exactly where we want them. Plus, the pellets themselves have improved even more than the airguns, which helps even more.

Triggering the traditionalists

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Take the triggers on modern airguns, for instance. We didn't even know how bad the triggers were, until Weihrauch brought out the superb Rekord unit, and even then it was many years before other manufacturers even began to catch up. Of course we adapted and overcame our airguns' shortcomings, but it's better not to have to do that, surely?

Power to the people

As far as muzzle energy goes, my treasured, now vintage, BSAs were belting out a mighty … 7 or 8 ft.lbs., on a good day, and their leather washers couldn't maintain an air seal anywhere near as effectively as today's springers can, with their synthetic versions. Barrel lock-ups and loading tap alignment could often be 'less than perfect', and the open sights we used - scopes were not a universal sighting option back then - were also extremely basic.

Taking stock

Finally, the term 'ergonomics' had not been coined way back then, and its meaning had yet to be applied, that's for sure. Proof of this can be seen in the stocks of those classic rifles, or rather the half-stocks, as far as my beloved BSA is concerned. Now that I've said all this, I have to balance it with the many positives we airgunners had in the past.

Wonderful times...glorious guns

Those airguns we used back then represent far more than figures on a performance chart, or pellet holes in a target. Those guns were the vehicles that carried some of the best times in our lives, and even now just a couple of shots with a cherished rifle can transport me back to some truly wonderful times. No modern airgun, no matter how efficient, can ever come close to doing that for those who lived through what for them really were 'the good old days'. In conclusion, no, the mechanical efficiency of those old airguns was never up to that of their modern versions, but times were different then, and those old guns definitely helped us make the most of them.

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