What is the future of airguns for archery?

Is it a bow? Is it a gun? In 2016, Benjamin Airguns said, “Why not both?

The company’s Pioneer Airbow caused a stir at the Archery Trade Association (ATA) show that year, and MeatEater’s Spencer Neuharth recalls trying the first hunting tool of its kind.

“I shot one at ATA the first year they came out. The person before me shot two arrows and got a Robin Hood. Then I shot two arrows and got a Robin Hood. They’re insanely precise,” he said.

However, just months after the show, the ATA threw cold water on that enthusiasm when it released a statement declaring that air bows are not archery equipment and pared them. subsequently banned from being displayed at their annual show. Crosman, Benjamin’s parent company, hit back in its own statement and accused the ATA of misrepresenting the facts.

“The Airbow may not meet the ATA’s definition of ‘pure’ archery equipment; however, hunters who currently use archery weapons and firearms continue to ask their state wildlife and law enforcement officials to make it a legal alternative to use during their preferred seasons “, said the company.

The controversy has since died down, but the airbow industry has continued to grow. Umarex, a giant in the airgun world, has released several affordable models of airguns for archery and many states now allow their use in the field. So, what is the future of this original hybrid rifle?

What is an Airbow?

“Airbow” is technically the brand name of Benjamin’s product, but it has become the generic name for all guns that use compressed air to fire an arrow. The concept isn’t new, but Benjamin was the first company to come up with a relatively affordable product that could compete with crossbow and compound gears.

Most airbows use either a pre-charged pneumatic (PCP) powertrain (in which users fill an air tank with highly compressed air) or a CO2 powertrain (in which users install a small CO2 tank replaceable). The system uses hollow arrows that are mounted along a shaft that runs down the center of the rifle. Depending on the rifle and the arrow, airbows can fire an arrow between 250 and 500 feet per second (fps).

Compound bows can shoot arrows at top speeds of around 350 fps, so air bows generally win in the speed category. But as Spencer mentioned, accuracy is the real advantage of an airbow. A magnified scope or other optic allows for a precise point of aim, and the traditional shape of the rifle is much easier to maintain.

For these reasons, air bows are most often compared to crossbows, not compound or recurve bows. Anyone can pick up an airbow and make accurate shots. Plus, they don’t have the recoil and fetch of a rifle, so it’s even easier for new shooters to get out in the field.

Controversy

Of course, many would argue that shooting an air bow no more makes someone an “archer” than driving a station wagon makes someone a “Jeff Gordon”. This is the position the ATA took shortly after the introduction of the Airbow.

“While the ATA certainly recognizes the air bow as innovative shooting equipment, the air bow nevertheless lacks the basic components of standard archery equipment (e.g. a string system and members.) For this reason, the ATA does not consider airbows to be archery equipment,” the organization said in a statement.

Archery, in other words, is not defined by the projectile. It is defined by the bow, which airbows (despite their name) do not have.

The ATA also pointed out that airbows are not taxed through the Wildlife Restoration Program (Pittman-Robertson). Unlike companies that manufacture bows and firearms, aerial bow companies do not pay the excise tax that funds state wildlife management and conservation. Arrows are still taxed, as Crosman noted in his answer, but air bows themselves (which cost a lot more) are not.

Crosman says he is “actively pursuing” the removal of tax-exempt status for large-caliber pneumatic weapons, including the Airbow. Unfortunately, as the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) points out, changing the federal tax code can take many years, and Crosman hasn’t been successful since making that commitment in 2016.

The law

States don’t have many incentives to allow hunters to use air bows, and the CSF discourages states from doing so “unless there is a mechanism in place whereby… arrow air guns help fund conservation”.

Although no federal mechanism exists, some states require airgun hunters of all kinds to purchase an airgun conservation stamp. This ensures that hunters continue to fund state conservation agencies while expanding legal means of capture to new products capable of ethically dispatching an animal.

Before determining whether hunting with an air bow requires a special pad, hunters must first determine if it is legal. The majority of states do not allow air bow hunting. Others restrict all use of airguns based on minimum calibers, velocities, and grain weights of ammunition, which is not always helpful for arrow shooters. If you’re unsure of your state’s regulations, a quick Google search or a call to your local wildlife officer should get you the answer.

Texas, for example, specifically discusses “arrow weapon regulations.” They limit big game hunting to PCP arrow guns, and arrows must conform to the same standards as archery projectiles.

The bigger question, of course, is whether states allow the use of airbows during archery season. So far, the answer is a resounding “no”. According to the CSF, no state has fully legalized the use of airbows during archery-only seasons.

This is probably why the initial air bow controversy died down. Traditional archers would understandably be upset if, after months or years of practice, their game was harvested by bowhunters with rifle triggers and magnified optics. Air bows have been relegated to use during gun season, where they must compete with all other means of grip.

However, adoption of airbows appears to be increasing both among state policy makers and the general public. Tyler Patner, Product Manager for Pyramyd Air, said the past few years have seen significant growth in the air bow market.

“He’s developed more in the last two or three years than he ever did when it was just Benjamin,” he said.

A broad tip traveling at 450 frames per second is even more devastating than a large bullet from an air rifle, and Patner has spoken with airgun hunters who have switched to airbows.

“You attach a wide point to something that goes 450 fps, you can’t stop it. There’s not a lot of big game that will stop one of those bolts,” he said.

Thanks in part to this popularity, a growing number of states are allowing air bow hunting during big game hunting seasons. That’s still less than half, but last week the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission legalized their use for upcoming big game seasons.

So you want to hunt with an Airbow…

Airbows may not offer the seasonal benefits of traditional archery equipment, but they still offer an exciting new challenge. Bowhunters with disabilities would also be able to implement bowhunting strategies and experience the intimate and personal nature of the sport without having to shoot a heavy compound bow. If you’re intrigued by the wonderful world of air bows, here are a few things you should know.

First, as mentioned, make sure it’s legal to hunt with an airbow in your state and locality.

Then choose an airbow based on these regulations. Benjamin’s Airbow was the first in the ring, and it’s still the standard by which all other airbows are measured. The PCP air bow can fire a 357 grain arrow at 450 fps. The bullpup design measures just 33.5 inches in overall length and the package comes with three arrows, a scope and a sling.

Air Venturi, Hatsan, and FX Airguns all offer airbows, but Umarex is the biggest player in the category. Their AirSaber offers similar ballistics to the Airbow but with a significantly lower price. The latest iteration of the AirSaber, the Elite X2, features a dual barrel for faster follow-up shots, and the built-in 240cc tank can power up to 25 shots without refilling. The first five shots will all be thrown above 450 frames per second with 130 foot-pounds of energy.

Shooting an air bow can be easier than shooting a real bow, but hunters are still limited by range and lack of projectile energy.

“Treat it like an archery tool in terms of distance. You want interactions under 50 yards. If you can get into those ranges, you’ll be extremely effective,” Patner said. “The closer, the better.”

Air bows are also much louder than the BB gun of your childhood. The stag will hear the sound of the gun before it feels the arrow, which is another reason to get as close as possible.

Last shot

Much like hunting with a crossbow or handgun, hunting with an air bow is halfway between rifles and real archery equipment. It’s much easier to shoot effectively than a traditional bow, but its range limitations require hunters to hone their woodworking skills to get as close as possible. If you’re considering getting into bowhunting but aren’t sure you have those skills, an airbow could be a good stepping stone to real bowhunting. If nothing else, you’ll have fun along the way.

Earnest A. Martinez