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Many people that I talk to about air guns have the impression that most air rifles and air pistols shoot small caliber pellets or even BBs. They are amazed to learn that there are air rifles known as big bore air rifles that are capable of taking down large animals such as a deer and that these air rifles have the ability to shoot heavy pellets such as 9mm, .45 and even .50 caliber with authoritative results.

Given modern technology, many people think that the big bore air rifle is something new. However, from 1790 to 1815, the Austrian Army used a 22-shot .46 caliber repeating air rifle known as the Girandoni air rifle because unlike single shot gun powder muskets there was no smoke to be seen and very little noise to be heard. Soldiers had to be specially trained and hand pumping the air reservoir 1500 times to a working pressure of 800 psi finally gave way to newly developed repeating gun powder air rifles that were arriving on the scene.


Consensus has it that the Girandoni air rifle was carried by Lewis and Clark on their famous expedition in 1803 to 1806. In fact, two accomplished Pennsylvania gun maker historians recently succeeded in producing four working reproductions of an original Girandoni air rifle as shown by the American Rifleman videos below. One was given to the donor of the original, two were kept by the gun makers for demonstration purposes and one was sold to a friend for $34,000. When I asked if they were going to produce more of the Girandoni air rifles, I was told by one of the gun makers that they were off to other new projects. However, I was also told that if a manufacturer wanted to start producing Girandoni replicas that one of theirs could be available for copying by that manufacturer.
Below are today's Big Bore Air Rifles that are capable of taking down deer and eliminating varmints such as Coyotes
(seat belts not included)

.50 Caliber (2900 psi) Deer

.50 Caliber (2900 psi) Deer

.45 Caliber (2900 psi) Deer

.45 Caliber (2900 psi) Deer

.45 Sam Yang Big Bore 44 909 Light Hunter
.45 Sam Yang Big Bore 909S
9mm (2900 psi) Coyotes

9mm (2900 psi) Coyotes

Here is what you need to fill them

Here is what you need to fill them

The Hill Pump
The Magnum Force by Dirt E. Harry
The Lewis & Clark Girandoni Air Rifle gave birth to the Big Bore Air Rifles that we have today.
Unfortunately it is not available because it is too difficult to manufacture and there would be huge liability issues.
A .45 caliber Repeating 22-Shot Big Bore Air Rifle... WOW!!


Really... now wouldn't that be the ultimate? Well, that all sounds terrific, but let's take a look at what is really going on. Not having an actual Girandoni air rifle to test, I set up .45 caliber Sam Yang Big Bore Light Hunter air rifle to replicate as near as I could the power and performance of a .46 caliber Girandoni air rifle.

As you can see below, the Light Hunter with a starting air pressure of 3,000 psi put the .457 Hornady Round Ball through the Douglas Fir 2x12 (37mm) at 10 meters like it wasn't there!... business as usual. And, after 6 shots, produced 9mm groups. Then the power started slowly declining until at shot 19, the pellet got stuck in the barrel with 500 psi remaining. I never made it to the 22nd shot- the Light Hunter had run out of gas.

Then, I filled the Light Hunter to 800 psi to compare apples with apples... with a slight orange tinge- .45 caliber of the Light Hunter versus .46 caliber of the Girandoni; but air pressure is air pressure (you can't put two quarts of jelly in a one quart sack). Even so, the first shot at 800 psi did not send the Hornady blasting through the Douglas Fir. Instead, the Hornady's butt was sticking out 2mm since it only penetrated 11mm into the target... was the Hornady "mooning" the Austrian army?... we will probably never know... read on.

Onward and downward... on the 7th shot, I came up with 20mm groups at 10 meters and at the 8th shot, the Hornady was stuck in the barrel with 500 psi remaining, and again the Light Hunter was out of gas. It was then that I realized that I did not have the chance of a snowball in Hell reaching shot number 22. Claims are that the Girandoni could be fired 40 times before recharging... okay...

Now then, given the fact that the Light Hunter has a barrel length of 21.65 inches and the Girandoni barrel looks much, much longer, would it be possibly that the Girandoni would produce higher muzzle energy? I know what you are thinking... but from what I gather, the professionals (SWAT) are opting for shorter thicker barrels (with no loss of power or accuracy) to reduce the whip vibration at the muzzle found with longer barrels; so longer may not always be better. Never the less, it is my opinion that if the Girandoni was somehow outfitted with a 1,000cc reservoir that would allow at least a 3,000 psi starting air pressure, we would see a more than acceptable power and accuracy at a 22nd shot. In the meantime. I think you will agree that the 800 psi capacity leaves a lot to be desired.

It is reported that the Austrian army claimed that they could penetrate a one inch pine board (today that is 3/4" or 18.5mm thick) at 100 yards (I wonder if that is possibly 100 feet instead because pine is soft compared to Douglas fir) with the Girandoni and other reports claim a velocity of 535 fps. A 144 grain round ball traveling 535 fps results in 92 fpe. As you can see by the tests below, the most was 48 fpe (about half) at 800 psi. It looks like it would take more than 800 psi to give a Hornady 92 fpe... unless the secret lies in the barrel- you decide. I know this, I would love to get my formerly nicotine stained hands on a Girandoni, lock it down in my Dirt E. Harry sliding gun vise and chronograph it to see what it really does in terms of power and accuracy at 800 psi.

That said, if you would like to experience the power and performance of a big bore air rifle in your life time, please take a look at the selection that I offer above and place your order today! The drift that I get from manufacturers is that Hell will freeze over before we ever see a working Girandoni replica- these guys want to know their ROI up front and I can't say as I blame them. I did have a gentleman contact me back in March of 2011 saying that he knew he could make an exact copy of the Girandoni. I gave him the contact information, suggested he outfit it with an AirForce Condor removable reservoir (to overcome legalities), make it shoot "off the shelf" .45 or .50 caliber round balls and I have heard nothing. Hopefully, he will get the job done... time will tell.

               17th Century Girandoni Air Rifle                                           Lewis & Clark Girandoni Air Rifle
               American Rifleman Part 1                                           American Rifleman Part 2
Girandoni air rifle as used by Lewis and Clark. A National Firearms Museum Treasure Gun.
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