By Jeff Johnston
I’m not one of those guys who claim airguns are good for everything from dragonflies to Cape buffalo. (Those guys tend to have two things in common: They all have shitty outdoor TV shows and they are all sponsored by airgun companies.) Rather, I stick to the timeless words of Robert Ruark when he wrote Use Enough Gun. (And when he says “gun” he means the kind that bark fire, not air.)
Still, I’ve always been intrigued by airguns because they’re just another method of delivering a projectile where I aim it, both for killing pests and for the sheer fun of it. While most mass-produced airguns are not nearly as accurate as their Olympic Games reputations would have you believe, they do offer a few legitimate advantages over firearms: 1. They’re quieter. 2. They’re generally less regulated by the government, and 3. Ammo is cheaper.
But there are airguns, and there are airguns.
Over the years I’ve shot countless .177-caliber air rifles made by Wal-Mart brands such as Gamo, and I’ve always been disappointed. Few of these plastic-stocked, cheap-barreled, spring-air piston guns can hold an inch group at 25 yards; their triggers suck, they are much louder than expected, and after 40 yards or so the wind and the laws of physics play hell on the tiny little .17-grain pellet.
So recently I bit the bullet and got an AirForce Condor SS. It’s an adult-level precision air rifle made in Ft. Worth, TX. It’s available in .177, .20, .22 and .25 caliber. I chose the .25, hoping for enough energy to whack small game and beer cans at 100 yards if I wanted to. Here are some takeaways from my initial tests.
Using one type of .25-caliber, 26-grain pellet (Predator Polymag), I averaged .48-inch groups at 25 yards. This isn’t bad, but when I can get my hands on some heavier 36-grain pellets I suspect group sizes will shrink. With its tank filled to 3,000 FPS and its adjustment dial set in the most powerful position, the Condor delivered the 26-grain pellets at 1148 fps from its 18-inch Lothar Walther barrel, producing 76 ft.-lbs. energy. For perspective, a .22LR going 1200 fps produces about 131 ft.-lbs. The Condor, thanks to its integrally suppressed barrel (you don’t need an NFA stamp for a suppressed airgun) is roughly half as loud as a .22LR. At 100 yards, I averaged 2.15-inch groups.
It should be noted that with each shot, pressure drops slightly–averaging around 4 fps less on subsequent shots. So, while shot-to-shot accuracy variation is negligible, you will see substantial point of aim/point of impact disparities between shots taken when the tank is nearly full and shots taken when the tank is nearly empty. You can install an aftermarket regulator for greater consistency if you really want to nerd out. Or you can map the bullet’s trajectory using the tank pressure gauge and use the scope’s hold-over dots accordingly.
Shots per tank varies depending on the adjustment setting, but it’s roughly 75 shots. While a hand pump is available for refilling tanks, if you plan on shooting a lot, I’d highly recommend an electric, high-pressure air compressor. You can also use it to refill SCUBA tanks and paintball guns, if you’re into any of that.
The bottom line is, you can hit targets out to 150 yards or so with the Condor SS, and hunt small game out to around 50. But even better; it’s just plain-ass fun to shoot. My nieces and nephews love it because they can shoot off my porch without disturbing my wife as she watches HeeHaw reruns. Its 2-pound trigger is glorious. Certainly, this AirForce rifle isn’t a toy, but if a pellet ricochets off the pond or a tree limb, it’s not going to hurt anything.
While I’m still keeping my .22s and a 416 Rigby or two for when the Cape buffalos charge, in these days of tough-to-find ammo and $6 gas, I find myself sitting on my porch a lot, shooting this airgun more than anything else.
Pros: Accurate, relatively quiet, legal in many jurisdictions that outlaw firearms, fun
Cons: air tank must be filled; decreasing velocity as tank pressure is depleted;