by B.B. Pelletier
Photos by Earl “Mac” McDonald
This is the second of my reports on the 2012 SHOT Show. There will certainly be at least one more after this, and perhaps even more, as there’s simply too much new information to pack into a single report.
The state of the airgun industry in 2012
Before I get to some specifics, I want to make a general observation. This year’s SHOT Show was different for me in a major way, because I saw for the first time that firearms shooters are beginning to understand airguns as never before. In the past, I always had to start my explanations with the cooling of the earth’s crust and then progress through the age of the dinosaurs because each firearms person I talked to thought of airguns as either toys or BB guns. This year, a lot of them were clued-in on what’s happening. They weren’t surprised by the accuracy we get, and they knew about big bores. A lot of them had some airgun experience and more than a few asked me the same kind of questions that I get from long-time readers of this blog.
That tells me the day of the airgun has finally dawned in the U.S. Instead of 25,000 to 50,000 active shooters (at best!), we will now see an influx from over 5 million active firearm shooters who are ready to augment their shooting experience with airguns. I’m already getting calls and emails from state departments of wildlife resources, asking about the issues of incorporating airguns into their hunting seasons.
It has been a long haul to get to this point, but we’re now seeing the start of the harvest of all the work that’s been done over the past 40 years — starting with Robert Beeman in the early 1970s. The job is now to manage this growth and provide useful information to the tens of thousands of new airgunners who are flooding in the doors.
Let me reflect on how the industry seems to be reacting to this trend. Some companies have been on board for many years and are poised to ride the new tidal wave of business as far as they can. Other companies are aware that airguns are very hot, but they’re foundering, trying to understand them. Let me say right now that it’s not as easy as you think!
The readers of this blog are among the most clued-in airgunners in the world. But they’re unique, and they do not represent the true market. The demographic of a new airgunner is a man (usually) in his late 20s to late 40s who is most likely a fan of AR-type rifles and Glock-type pistols. He wants repeaters, semiautos and he thinks that a five-shot group is the gold standard of any gun. Velocity impresses him, and he isn’t comfortable with the term kinetic energy.
Things like good triggers and good sights are not an issue with this customer until he experiences bad ones. His ARs have decent triggers off the rack, and he can choose from many drop-in triggers that are much better. When he encounters a spring-piston gun with a horrible trigger that cannot be easily modified, he’s surprised.
He does not use the artillery hold, and he equates all airguns to be alike in terms of performance. When he learns about precharged guns, he’s put off by the additional equipment he must buy. Spring-piston guns seem the best to him for their simple operation, and he doesn’t appreciate the fact that they’re also the most difficult airguns to shoot well.
That’s the customer who’s coming to airguns today, so that’s the person airgun manufacturers have to deal with. If you have wondered why many of the new airguns are what they are — this new-customer profile is the reason.
Okay, I’ve talked about those companies that get it and those that are struggling to understand. There’s one more type of company out there. I like to call them the “gloom and doom company” or the “zero sum company.” They’re firmly entrenched in the 1970s and cannot take advantage of this new windfall of business. They either fired their engineers years ago or they let them all retire, and now they couldn’t build a new airgun to save their lives. As far as they’re concerned, there are only 25,000 airgunners in the United States and it’s the NRA’s responsibility to identify and train them so these companies can sell them some guns.
They think of marketing in 1950’s terms, when a simple paint job and some sheet metal was enough to create a new product. Their “secret” business plan is to buy guns made by other manufacturers and have their name put on. If you’re a collector, better buy up the guns these guys sell because in 10 years their name will be a memory.
That’s enough of the big picture. Let’s see some more products.
More from Crosman
Many of you saw the list of new Crosman products Kevin posted last week, so the few that I show here are by no means all there is, but they’re the highlights. Crosman had about half the new airgun products at the entire SHOT Show.
New tan M4-177 and carry handle
The M4-177 multi-pump that I recently tested for you is going to be very popular this year. Crosman is also offering it as an M4-177 Tactical air rifle with a new carry handle that replaces the rear sight for improved sighting options. I think this gun will be in their lineup for many years to come.
I mentioned to Crosman’s Ed Schultz that this rifle looks like the A.I.R.-17 of the 1990s, but done better. He said he always wanted to update that design, and that is exactly what this is. So, what he said next came as no great surprise.
I shared my thoughts on a 2260 made as a multi-pump in .25 caliber, and Ed told me that was how the rifle was originally created (not in .25, however). The CO2 version was an afterthought that got put into production, while the multi-pump version languished in the Crosman morgue. I told him that I thought the time was ripe to bring it back as an upscale hunting rifle, and he seemed to agree. We can only hope.
Carbon fiber tank
As Crosman extends their capability into PCP guns, they know shooters are always looking for better options for their air supply. Besides the new butterfly hand pump I showed you last time, they’ll also be adding a long summer-sausage black carbon fiber tank with increased capacity over their current tanks. This is a 300-bar tank that has 342 cubic-inch capacity. It comes in a black nylon carrying case with sling for field transport.
More air for you! New Benjamin carbon fiber tank will help you take your PCPs further afield.
Benjamin Nitro Piston breakbarrel pistol
The Benjamin NP breakbarrel pistol certainly has people talking on the internet. This is the first commercial gas spring application in a pistol, I believe. The most distinctive feature is a cocking aid that can either be detached or left in place while shooting. That reminds us that this pistol is going to be hard to cock, but I’ll test one for you so we’ll all know just how hard.
New Benjamin Trail NP pistol is a breakbarrel with a gas spring. The cocking aid can be detached or left in place while shooting.
Crosman 1720T PCP pistol
Everybody was ready to jump down Crosman’s throat for creating the 1720T PCP pistol. They wondered with the .22-caliber Marauder pistol and the .177-caliber Silhouette PCP pistol already selling, why was this one needed? As Ed Schultz explained it to me — this one is for field target. It’s a .177 (naturally) that produces just under 12 foot-pounds through a shrouded Lother Walther barrel. It can be used for hunting, but field target was its primary purpose. They worried about the shot count with the Silhouette; but with this one, power was the criterion. Look for about 800 f.p.s. with a 7.9-grain Premier. And the trigger is the same as the Marauder, so excellent operation there.
Crosman MAR 177 PCP conversion
The Crosman MAR-177 PCP conversion is another new product that has a lot of people talking. This AR-15 upper converts your .223 semiauto into a .177 PCP repeating target rifle. Because it’s on an AR platform, almost everybody expects it to be semiautomatic — including those who should know better. This rifle is a bolt action that cocks and loads via a short pull on the charging handle.
This conversion is an Olympic-grade target rifle for a new official sport that Scott Pilkington and others have been promoting for several years. It will take the U.S. battle rifle back into the ranks of target shooting. However, the look of the gun has many shooters totally confused. I was even asked at the show if I thought Crosman should have come out with an “everyman’s” version of the gun first. That would be like asking whether Feinwerkbau missed the boat by not first making their 700 target rifle in a $300 version for casual plinkers.
Crosman TT BB pistol
It’s all-metal and a good copy of the Tokarev pistol. The weight is good and the gun feels just right. This will be one to test as soon as possible.
Crosman’s TT Tokarev BB pistol is realistic and looks like fun.
Benjamin MAV 77 Underlever
The Benjamin MAV 77 underlever rifle is going to force Crosman to recognize spring-piston air rifles instead of just calling them all breakbarrels. This is the TX-200 copy from BAM that was once sold by Pyramyd Air. When the quality dropped off, it was discontinued. Hopefully, Crosman will watch the quality on this one.
They didn’t have a firm retail price yet, but hopefully it’ll be significantly under the TX. Otherwise, why buy it? I may test one for you, but I already know that BAM can make a great rifle when they want to. I think it all comes down to price.
Benjamin MAV-77 is an underlever spring-piston rifle that looks and, hopefully, performs like an Air Arms TX-200.
The Crosman TR-77 is a conventional breakbarrel spring-piston rifle in an unconventional stock. It’s different enough that I want to test one for you. It appears to be a lower-powered rifle that probably sells at a bargain price because it’s branded under the Crosman banner rather than Benjamin. Mac photographed one in a sand-colored stock for you.
Crosman TR-77 breakbarrel in a sand-colored stock also comes in black.
There was a lot more at Crosman that I could have mentioned, but now let’s go over to the Leapers booth.
I’ve watched Leapers grow from a relatively small company back in 1998 to a major player — blasting past older, entrenched companies as they grew. This year, they were playing a video about the company on a continuous loop in their booth. I was impressed to see their plant in Livonia, Michigan, where they build airsoft guns, tactical mounts, accessories and scopes right here in the U.S. The plant is filled with many CNC machining centers and testing facilities to keep close watch over their products during development.
Leapers owner David Ding told me he wants to get control over the production process so he can assure the quality of all of his products. In keeping with that goal, I was shown the new scope line for 2012 that now offers locking target knobs on all of the upscale models. Many of them feature etched glass reticles that are amazingly crisp and sharp.
Mac was impressed by the reticle on the new 3-9x Bug Buster scope. He urged me to look through it; and when I did, I saw that the reticle is now fine and sharp — not the heavy black lines of the past.
David Ding shows me the new 3-9x Bug Buster scope (not out yet), with target knobs and a finer reticle.
But scopes were just the beginning at Leapers. Next, I was shown the whole line of tactical flashlights and lasers, including some mini lasers I will test on my M1911A1 for you. These are all made in the U.S. now and have more rugged internals, adjustments and optics than similar products from the Orient.
UTG 555 Long Range Light
One item I hope Pyramyd Air will consider stocking is a fantastic 500-lumen tactical light for law enforcement. It can be mounted on a rifle, handheld or even mounted on a bike! It comes with rechargeable lithium batteries and a smart charger…and believe me when I tell you it turns night into day!
The UTG Long Range light can go on your rifle, held in the hand or even mounted to your bike! The rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack will keep it shining at 500 lumens for 1.5 hours.
Fast Action Gun bag
Not all Leapers products are for airguns. They also make tactical and law enforcvement gear that rivals spec-built equipment but sells at a fraction the cost. As a result, many of their customers are ordering straight from the front lines of combat and from law enforcement agencies all over the country to get the products that their own supply lines cannot or will not furnish.
One of their latest developments is a Fast Action Gun bag that lets the wearer walk in public with a substantial firearm hidden from view. A quick pull of a strap, and the bag opens to reveal the weapon inside.
Leapers owner Tina Ding models their new Fast Action Gun bag. Here, it’s concealed; but she’s just pulled it over her shoulder from her back, where it looks like a tennis bag.
And in less than a second, the bag is open, giving instant access to the tactical shotgun or submachine gun inside.
Leapers has an entirely new range of quick-disconnect scope mounts coming this year, but there’s another innovation that I think you’ll find even more impressive. It’s an adapter that snaps into a Picatinny scope mount base, turning it into an 11mm dovetail. So, your conventional air rifle will now also accept Leapers Picatinny scope mounts with this adapter.
11mm-dovetail-to-Picatinny adapter is small and doesn’t raise the mount at all! This will be one to test!
Leapers is still the company to watch because the owners want to build a lasting corporation here in the U.S. They’re poised to move to the next level of quality in their optics, which gives me a lot of hope for the future — they’ve always been receptive to the needs of airgunners.
Whew! That’s a lot of products, and there are still many more to show. As I said in the beginning, there will be at least another report.
by B.B. Pelletier
And now for something completely different. It’s not an airgun at all, but an optical sight system with a lot going for it! The BSA Stealth Tactical Red/Green/Blue Dot Sight with tactical flashlight and laser is a unique optical sight that gives more sighting options with greater innovation than I have ever seen. I will try to do it justice in this report.
It’s not cheap
The price of $136 is bound to put off a lot of potential buyers, but perhaps if I tell the whole story some will look a second time. And, a second look is warranted, for this is no bargain-bin dot sight. It’s a well-engineered system, containing a dot sight with three different-colored dots, a laser and a tactical flashlight in one comprehensive package. And, speaking of the package, let’s begin there, because the box this thing comes in is enough to warm the hearts of most shooters.
Inside the heavy card lithographed box is a metal container styled like a military ammo can. If you’ve ever served in a military organization, this container will seem familiar, because the military often packages expensive field equipment in rugged containers like this. The can opens like any ammo box ever produced, revealing the sight and its supporting parts inside. I know I would have lots of uses for that container after the sight was mounted on a gun.
The sight is a unitized cluster that contains a three-color dot sight, a tactical flashlight and a red laser. The flashlight and laser run on button batteries, so don’t use them indiscriminately. They are there to be used, but the batteries don’t have the life of the much larger CR123A batteries found in standalone units.
Weaver base required
The unit includes an integral Weaver mount with locking crossbars to prevent movement under recoil. Factor that into your purchase plans. Because I’m still recovering from a hernia, I plan to test the sight on an AirForce Talon SS that has an 11mm to Weaver adapter, but the sight would also work perfectly on one of the new Benjamin Trail-series rifles that has a Weaver base built in. If I could cock a springer, I would have tested it on a benjamin Trail rifle that has the Weaver base built-in.
What is a dot sight?
A dot sight is like a scope, but with a few important differences. First, most dot sights do not magnify the target at all. Because they don’t, they have a wide field of view that’s well-suited to the quick acquisition of a target. Hunters love them for that.
Dot sights are similar to scopes, but instead of a vertical and horizontal crosshair they use a single dot located in the center of the optical package. The dot represents the intersection of a vertical and horizontal reticle. The motion of the erector tube moves the dot around so the sight can be zeroed, the same as it does for a scope. The dot is visible only inside the sight. No one other than the shooter can see it. It doesn’t project outside the unit like a laser light beam. A laser is like a flashlight with a coherent light; a dot sight is like a scope but with a dot instead of a crosshair.
Dots can be any color, and by changing the color they may be more visible in certain light situations. This device has a choice of three different colors — red, green and blue. A single rotary knob lets you select the color you want and vary the intensity. The intensity is important because, as the dot gets brighter, it appears to grow in size. The larger it is, the less precise when aiming. With the BSA sight, each color has three levels of intensity, and there’s an “off” position between each color. As the knob is turned, you get a light in three levels, followed by an off, then a different color light followed by another “off” and so on. The knob can be rotated completely around without stopping.
The BSA sight has a unique set of lens covers, front and rear. They’re built right into the unit, so there’s nothing to lose or carry separately. Simply twist the outer ring on both ends of the sight, and an iris opens and closes to protect the lens. I like the convenience of this kind of lens cover, and I wish scopes had it, too.
Why put a laser on a gun? Well, it can be used as a close-range sight of sorts. You can align where the laser shines to where the pellet strikes and have a quick means of sighting. Simply put the dot on a target and pull the trigger. There’s been so much use of this in movies over the past 20 years that I don’t need to elaborate further.
To make this possible, you have to adjust the laser to the point of impact, and that can be a difficult thing to do. I’ll test this aspect of the sight in my report. I’ll attempt to adjust the laser to be on target at 10 yards, which is a perfect distance for it. You use a laser in conjunction with an optical sight by adjusting the laser for ranges at which the sight is not adjusted. So, I’ll zero the dot for a 20-yard first point of impact and the laser for a 10-yard had zero. In other words, the pellet will not be zeroed at any range other than 10 yards. That way, I’ll have the gun zeroed from about 8 yards out to 40 yards, because the amount the pellet will be off-target at the interim distances (the non-zeroed distances of 10 yards, 20 yards and perhaps 34 yards) will be a negligible pellet’s diameter away.
The tactical flashlight
This feature seems less valuable to me than the laser. I understand it’s there for the coolness factor, and that in a combat or tactical law enforcement situation a flashlight may be just the thing you want. For a hunter, it’s less useful. Yes, hunters need flashlights, but they don’t need flashlights that operate on button batteries and have a useful life of an hour or less. I’ll test this to find out what the life really is, because there’s no literature that comes with the sight. You need a flashlight that works with a beefy CR123A battery, so you have sufficient illumination time. Still, it’s there and I’ll test it.
Do we need a unit like this? Well, that’s more up to the individual shooter than it is to writers like me. To the man who wants a good dot sight for hunting, if this is a good one then, yes, he needs it. To the man who calculates the pennies he spends on pellets, I’d say this sight is a bit too pricey. Other dot sights might satisfy his itch just as well. I’ll be testing it for functionality, not for its “worth,” which only you can define.
You need remote switches to operate a sight like this. There are switches on the unit that can turn it on and off, but for the laser and flashlight there are also coiled cables that allow you to position a pressure-sensitive thumb switch to a spot on the gun stock where it’s more convenient to operate. It’s your choice to use the cables or the switches that come on the unit.