There is a thriving ammunition plant in my little Southern town that churns out .22 cartridges to the tune of several million per day. Despite this fact, there have not been any .22-caliber rounds for sale at our local stores in nearly two years.

I’ve heard all the standard justifications but will readily admit that I still don’t understand where they are all going. However, there may yet be an effective, though unconventional, alternative.

It is a fairly well-known historical fact that Lewis and Clark embarked on their two-year voyage of discovery in 1804 armed with, among other things, a state-of-the-art .46-caliber Girandoni repeating air rifle. Designed by Batholomaus Girandoni in 1779, this remarkable weapon included a 20-shot, gravity-fed magazine and typically managed about 30 rounds per charge of air. The rifle weighed about what a comparable musket might and required around 1,500 strokes on a hand pump to charge its air reservoir. The weapon’s maximum effective range hovered around 150 yards, but it could be fired as quickly as balls might be indexed into the breach, an extraordinary feat for its day.

At a time when rifled barrels were the next great thing in small arms technology, this air rifle was considered sufficiently indispensable to justify inclusion in the loadout. Now it seems the same motivations that drove Lewis and Clark to pack a pre-charged air gun all the way across a continent’s worth of untamed wilderness are pertinent to 21st century Americans as well.

Air guns have come a long way since that first no-frills, spring-action Daisy I bought for $7 when I was a second grader. That little lever action repeater ignited a lifelong passion for shooting. In contrast to the relatively anemic plinkers of my youth, however, pre-charged air guns from AirForce are legitimate survival tools suitable for hunting, recreational target work and personal defense.

Pre-Charged Power

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The Escape pre-charged air gun from AirForce is to air guns what the F-22 is to airplanes. Available in both .22 and .25 calibers, this precision-built instrument is an exceptionally effective survival tool. The Escape is robust and accurate. This nifty rifle will keep your camp pot stocked while making you look like you stepped off the set of the next Star Wars movie.

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For those new to the niche sport of pre-charged air guns there is a bit of technical dogma to be addressed. A pre-charged air gun carries an onboard tank filled with high-pressure air to drive its mechanism. Unlike a traditional pump rifle, the tanks for these guns are pressurized via an external source. Additionally, where a decent shop compressor for utility and industrial applications might manage 250 psi, the tanks on these high-end air guns operate at pressures more than ten times higher.

The most convenient power source is a standard scuba tank. These tanks are fairly lightweight and portable but they do require either a fixed facility or an expensive specialized compressor for charging. The upside is that you can typically get a lot of mileage out of a scuba tank, particularly for smaller-caliber guns.

The handy alternative is a dedicated hand pump. These devices are available at a modest cost and can keep your gun charged anywhere under any circumstances. The downside to a manual pump is that it can take a while to get the gun charged up to operating pressures. This makes for some proper exercise.

It is best to charge the tank in stages to allow the operator to rest and the pump to cool down. A typical pump stroke is not all that taxing, it is simply that it takes quite a few of them. It took me about 15 minutes of solid effort to bring the onboard tank initially up to scratch. Thankfully, the tanks are designed to be stored under pressure so there is no need to decompress the device fully for storage.

So what do you get for all this manual labor beyond some decent muscle tone? The Escape air gun shoots for pennies and is extraordinarily powerful downrange.

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Invest in a few boxes of quality pellets and they could outlive you. The ammunition does not degrade over time and it comes at a trivial space and weight burden. Several hundred rounds will ride comfortably in an outside pocket of your bug-out bag.

The Escape is available with a tri-rail scope mount and bipod for detail work at modest ranges. Unlike conventional firearms, the Escape offers trivial recoil and a diminished sound signature while being extraordinarily accurate. How accurate? It can shoot the center out of a dime at 30 meters. The trigger on the Escape is simply superb. As it trips a valve (rather than a sear) its personality is entirely different from those of most conventional firearms.

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The trigger has an entirely predictable take-up and stacks for an exceptionally crisp break. It’s hard to describe how it differs from its more conventional brethren save that it really does lend itself to pinpoint accuracy.

Downrange, the Escape has plenty of horsepower. The AirForce Escape weighs a bit over 5 pounds and at its highest power settings will push a pellet to 1,300 fps. For the prepper on the move, this is adequate for dissuading inquisitive two-legged ne’er-do-wells and just about ideal for small game like squirrels, rabbits and raccoons.

Power settings are readily adjustable via a handy thumbwheel on the left side of the rifle. Higher velocities bring greater downrange horsepower but require more air. Lower velocities give you more shots per tank. I found the mid-range settings to be a great balance between downrange thump and return for the sweat equity in my hand pump. The rifle requires a stabilizing shot to establish consistent velocities after power changes. After this
first round, all shots are monotonously consistent.

The AirForce Escape is a single-shot weapon with a manual bolt. To prep the rifle for firing, first pressurize the onboard tank. Once fitted, the tank may be charged without dismounting from the rifle. There is also a handy gauge to help you keep track of the remaining air pressure.

Slide the bolt forward and manually insert a single pellet. Move the bolt to the rear and lock the bolt handle in place to either side. The safety resets itself with each manipulation of the bolt. Slide the safety forward in the manner of the M1 Garand and you are ready to go.

The dedicated AirForce air rifle scope is as well made as everything else about the rifle. The particular optic tested had a power rating from 4 to 16 power and beautifully clear optical quality. We opted for a tri-rail scope riser to bring the scope up to the optimal height for my anatomy. This does place the optical axis significantly above the bore, but accommodating this geometry at various ranges is half the fun of precision shooting.

In The Field

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The rifle assembles easily and all required Allen wrenches are included. I went around and tightened all the screws, as a couple of them were a bit loose out of the box. The AirForce hand pump is a robust precision instrument in itself that is intuitive and effective. Charging the rifle manually with the pump can be a physical butt-whooping, but it is kind of cool to drive a rifle this powerful solely via sweat energy.

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The Escape shoots straight with the first shot and zeroes without difficulty. Once you get the hang of the rifle, it is a bit like having a handheld reloading platform. Pellets come in a variety of weights and designs and muzzle velocity is readily adjustable. It is great fun to tweak optimal loads for various ranges. I like shooting pennies and dimes, but the rifle shoots so hard my target coins frequently bounced off to who knows where and I couldn’t find them.

Balance is pleasant and the Escape makes for a stable shooting platform. The sling swivels are available as an accessorys. The rifle is robust and hearty throughout. Despite aggressive investigation, I could find no flaws in the gun. Another refreshing aspect of AirForce’s products is that they are made right here in the USA.

Not unlike Lewis and Clark’s Girandoni of the late 18th century, I could get about 30 rounds out of a charge of air. When I grew weary of shooting coins, I turned my attention to yard maintenance. My rural backyard shooting range has a bit of a bag worm infestation this year, and the AirForce Escape was adequate to the task of snipping off the infested branches at a distance. Once zeroed, it really does shoot that well.

As there is no chemical propellant, there is no residue of combustion. The bore can be cleaned if you just cannot help yourself, but it is a fairly superfluous effort. Keep the rifle out of the dirt and muck and it should render splendid practical service indefinitely.

Bug-Out Ready

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I frankly fell in love with the pre-charged Escape. I have squeezed triggers all of my adult life and this was my first experience with a serious pre-charged air gun for adults. The Escape is a precision tool and it is therefore not inexpensive.

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For the serious prepper looking for an unconventional but effective defensive and hunting tool, the Escape from AirForce will definitely get the job done. For the hapless homeowner cursed with a malevolent squirrel infestation, the Escape will cure what ails you as well. For the typical small-game hunter ready to try something a little different, the Escape will consistently fill your cooking pot.

Zip on over to AirForce’s website and take a peek at the incredibly cool things that these guys have done to the humble air gun. As an aside, these rifles can be had with integral sound suppressors that do not require registration or a tax stamp. I was frankly shocked to find out how far the state of the art had advanced. It turns out that Lewis and Clark had a similar epiphany more than 200 years ago.

For more information, visit or call 877-247-4867.

This article was originally published in the GUN BUYER’S GUIDE™ 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.

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