On my 9th birthday almost a quarter century ago my dad decided I had earned the right to have my first rifle. Being Missouri natives, we sort of worshipped at the Mecca that was Bass Pro Shops’ world headquarters in Springfield, MO on a regular basis throughout the year. I scoured their catalogs circling items I thought would make me a more complete individual, better marksman, or the ultimate hunter. They also used to put out a smaller catalog from their catalog outlet which was just next door to the main store. The Catalog Outlet was awesome because it contained all the overstock from the main store as well as returned items, refurbished items and other hodge podge products that found their way into its hallows. Magically one day we got a catalog outlet mailing with a Sheridan Silver Streak pump air rifle (now the Benjamin Sheridan Silver Streak C9) that was half price. A whopping $64. The only problem was it didn’t have the original box. No problem at all, right?!?!
Being a rail thin little pipsqueak it was pretty tough for me to churn out the 8 pumps needed to generate 800+ feet per second velocity out of the 15 grain 20 cal led pellets. But in time, with practice, technique and patience I mastered the art of filling the pneumatic air chamber with the required PSI to do the trick. Even though the “before the shot” portion was a workout, the rifle had terrific accuracy and comfortable ergonomics and great balance making for a great learner’s gun.
Some seem to have a beef with parents who choose to teach their kids on something other than an actual firearm. My mentality is if the instrument has a trigger, then proper skills and safety lessons can be taught regardless of the projectile it’s shooting. All the principles of early marksmanship training were there with my first Sheridan rifle. I had to learn trigger control, breathing, sight alignment (had to learn on iron sights), target acquisition and safety. If anything, I became a better shooter under pressure and stress because at that age I would wear myself out just pumping the rifle and loading it before I ever put my cheek to the comb.
Lots of small game fell prey to my .20 caliber air powered blaster in those days. Frogs, doves, and squirrels surely didn’t have a chance if I got within 30 yards with them (that’s right there had to be some skill in hunting then too). The best part? If these rifles and pistols (had a pump pistol too, .177 cal at 500 feet per second from a 12 inch barrel) are cared for properly they can literally last from one generation to the next. My dad still has my original “Silver Streak” (pictured) and has even fitted it with scope mounts and a 4x fixed power scope.
So perhaps if you’re a parent wanting to introduce your child to shooting but are concerned about them getting their first shots on a .22 rifle or centerfire handgun, maybe an air gun is a viable option. They’re less expensive to buy, less expensive to shoot, and a bit friendlier on the ears and have almost no recoil.