The history of air guns is a story which goes back many centuries, with some experts believing we would have to go back several millennia to find the origins of the use of the technology.
Following this thought, the blowpipe has been considered at the first air gun, as it uses the force of air to shoot a projectile. Even if you don’t consider a blowpipe to be an early air gun, there’s no doubt that all subsequent air guns were developed using the same premise.
First air rifle
To track down the origins of the first air rifle, you will need to travel back to the 15th and 16th centuries. There is no exact moment in history where the air rifle is said to have appeared, due to materials referring to them have not survived through the years, and archaeologists have not discovered many ancient air rifles over the years.
Based on archaeological data, the year 1580 has been seen as a turning point in the history of compressed air guns, as this is the date that belongs to the oldest surviving air gun that has been preserved, which is an early form of air rifle.
Stored in the Livrustkammaren Museum in Stockholm, it is a form of spring rifle, also known as a piston, as the role of the piece was to compress the air already in the cylinder of the rifle, which then propels the projectile.
Pre-compressed air guns (PCP) became very widespread during the 15th century, and were predominantly used in hunting. At this time, the cost of an air rifle was very expensive, meaning they were mainly used by nobility. There were extremely effective weapons, and were said to be powerful enough to take down a wild boar with a single shot!
From the outset, compressed air guns showed a clear advantage over the use of traditional firearms, for a number of reasons.
The first is that air guns could be used in extreme weather conditions such as rain or snow, where traditional gunpowder rifles suffered, as the fuse could not be lit in these circumstances.
Another significant advantage was the fact that air guns were very quiet, and they did not cause a flash or produce smoke when fired. Not only would these give away your shooting position, but the black smoke could also cause burns to the shooter’s eyes!
The speed and consistency of the shot power were also a great advantage of air guns. Traditional firearms required a long preparation process to shoot, slowing their firing time. On the contrary, air guns of the 18th century, such as the Girandoni rifle could fire up to 20 shots a minute.
Evolution of Firearms
The use of air guns did feature some disadvantages, which eventually led to them being replaced by firearms, especially in war situations. Many air rifles required stations to recharge their air, as this was extremely time consuming to do by hand. These stations were very expensive, and awkward to carry, meaning they required a great deal of physical strength.
Air guns also featured complex mechanics, which meant that soldiers had to have basic knowledge of their firing mechanisms to be able to use them effectively – something many soldiers did not have.
Despite being replaced in war, air rifles continued to be used for hunting and sporting activities. Throughout the second half of the 20th century, at the start of the Second World War, Germany manufactured a great deal of air guns, as there was a prohibition in place halting the manufacture of firearms.
These guns were designed for use in hunting, and started to gain popularity once more! Nowadays, air rifles are still very popular amongst target shooters, and have been used in the Olympic Games since 1984.
If you are looking to pick up an air gun of your own, why not take a look at our extensive range on our website, or visit us in store today?
Photo of early air rifle courtesy of Livrustkammaren Museum, under Creative Commons