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The history of air guns is a story that goes back centuries, and some even believe that to find the origins of the use of this technology we would need to set our sights back several millennia. Following this line of research, the blowpipe could be considered the first gun to use the force of air to propel a projectile. It was for this reason that the blowpipe became a predecessor to subsequent air guns; clearly they evolved significantly, however there is no doubt that they were developed using a similar system: the power offered by propelled air.


The blow pipe is considered the predecessor of subsequent compressed air guns because they use similar technology

To situate the origins of air rifles and pistols of this kind, it would be necessary to go back to the 15th and 16th centuries AD. There is no unanimity amongst historians as regards the exact moment when this type of guns appeared. This is due to the fact that material remains are very scarce; unfortunately today we haven't retained a huge number of ancient air rifles. Based on archaeological opinion, the year 1580 marks a turning point in the history of compressed air guns, as this is the date belonging to the oldest air gun that has been preserved. This piece is stored in the Livrustkammaren Museum in Stockholm and is a spring rifle, also called a piston, as the role of this piece is to compress the existing air within the cylinder of the weapon, which then propels the shot which is fired.

This spring system, along with pre-compressed air (PCP), were the two most common loading systems used since air guns were first developed. The latter system consists of a deposit of natural air which passes through a valve, which opens through the action of the trigger. The air is thereby released by propelling the ammunition which is stored inside the barrel and which is shot out at a high speed.


BSA Supersport model modern compressed air rifle


The most widespread use of compressed air guns during the 15th century was for hunting. As high cost weapons, it was the nobility who used them most frequently. They were highly effective weapons, capable of taking down large targets such as wild boar and deer in a single shot.

From the beginning, the use of compressed air guns displayed clear advantages over the use of firearms. Firstly, air guns could be used in the case of adverse weather conditions such as rain or snow, whereas the traditional gunpowder rifles were of no use in rain as the fuse wouldn't light. Another very significant advantage was the fact that air guns were very quiet, did not cause a flash when they were shot and did not produce smoke, contrary to fire arms, especially some rifles, which produced a large quantity of dense black smoke and could also cause burns to the shooter's eyes due to the sparks produced when they were shot. This feature enabled the shooter to hide and be more discreet when taking shots both in battle and in the hunting field. The speed and constant power of the shot was another advantage of compressed air weapons. Shots from traditional firearms required a long preparation process which consisted of several phases: insertion of gunpowder, of fire to light, of the bullet and the ramrod... On the contrary, the air guns of the 18th century AD, such as the famous Girandoni rifle, could shoot up to twenty shots a minute.


The compressed air rifle has huge advantages over the traditional firearm

The latter has been considered by some specialists in the subject as the first PCP or pre-compressed air rifle in history. It was invented by the Italian gunsmith Girandoni Bartolomeo in 1780 for the Austrian army, in the context of the Napoleonic wars between France and Austria. The name for this Austrian model in German was Windbüchse, in other words, wind rifle. As mentioned above, it was a 51 calibre rifle capable of firing up to 20 bullets a minute. The speed of this rifle was a great novelty at the time, especially when compared to the fire rifles used by the Napoleonic army which could only manage to shoot up to three bullets a minute. In addition these rifles were much less precise than the Girandoni air rifle. The weapon was so effective that Napoleon went so far as to give an order to execute any enemy soldier who possessed a compressed air rifle.


The Girandoni air rifle was used for the first time in the Napoleonic wars


One of the most famous compressed air rifles in history was found in the American continent. It was the rifle used by Lewis and Clark in an expedition to the Pacific through the lands of the west during the years from 1803 to 1806. As indicated by recent research performed, this was a 31 calibre pneumatic rifle manufactured in Philadelphia. This rifle, which was used by Captain Lewis for hunting, fascinated the Indian tribes, who named the weapon the ?smokeless bolt of thunder?.


Lewis and Clark's expedition in which the famous American air rifle was used

The manufacture of air rifles and pistols was not only limited to the western half of the planet (America and Europe), but was also developed in the East. Twenty years after Captain Merriwether Lewis used his rifle in America, more specifically during the decade from 1820 to 1830, the Japanese inventor Kunitomo Ikkansai created an air rifle applying the knowledge he had acquired from western technology, focusing his work on Dutch models.


Air gun created by the Japanese Kunitomo in imitation of western models


The use of compressed air guns had some disadvantages which was the reason why this type of guns were ousted again by firearms, especially in the war environment. Air rifles required deposits which were very expensive and awkward to handle as they required great physical strength. In addition they required certain basic knowledge in mechanics which not all soldiers had; on the other hand, the deposits were very delicate and ran the risk of explosion.

Despite the fact that all compressed air rifles were removed from the battle stage, their use did continue especially for hunting and sporting activities. This was the case in England, where in the decade of 1890 the compressed air rifle was used in target shooting activities. This was an activity which gradually gained popularity, to such an extent that a National Air Rifle Association was set up, which came to house more than 4000 air rifle clubs and associations all over Great Britain.


The use of compressed air guns has experienced a peak in recent years especially for sporting competitions

Throughout the second half of the 20th century compressed air guns made a significant comeback to the weaponry market. At the start of the Second World War (1939 - 1945) Germany launched extensive production of air guns due to the express prohibition in place by the ?allies? on the manufacture of firearms. These guns were designed for use in hunting and gradually have gained ground.

Nowadays, their use is very widespread especially in relation to sporting activities. Since 1984, there has been a shooting competition using air guns in the Olympic Games. There are also different forms of shooting reserved for the use of this type of air guns. One of the most widespread disciplines is the Target Practice which is an excellent way of spending an enjoyable day in the company of family and friends sharing an interest in compressed air guns.


Complete kit with compressed air rifle for shooting


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