No, this isn’t a political post. This is another pellet gun post.
Now that I have joined the ranks of PCP (“Pre-Charged Pneumatic”) pellet gun enthusiasts (and I am enthusiastic), I am learning that there are three main costs to this hobby. The first is, obviously, the gun. The second is the pellets. The third is the air itself.
There’s no such thing as free high-pressure air. I know that’s hard to believe, but while we may be figuratively swimming in free air 24 hours a day, unfortunately all of that air is at around 14-15 pounds per square inch, which will send a pellet at exactly zero feet per second. The air that you need to use a PCP pellet gun is air at 2,000 – 3,000 pounds per square inch. You can’t find air at that pressure just laying around.
In fact, prior to the rise of the paint ball gun industry the only real place to find air compressed to up to 3,000 psi was in SCUBA tanks. While there were a few high pressure air pellet guns (and in fact, high pressure air guns have been in existence for several hundred years), there was no real consumer market for them. The creation of the paint ball (or “airsoft”) industry changed all that. Paint ball guns became so popular that stores started popping up all over the place. It wasn’t long before some players realized that they could use SCUBA tanks to extend their game play. It wasn’t long after that before someone realized they could store air in tanks up to 4,500 psi and regulate the output for consistent shots for hours before having to refill their guns.
So now there are two places you can get high pressure air, SCUBA shops and paint ball gun shops. (Actually there are three, many fire departments have high pressure air compressors to fill their “scba” tanks, which are air breathing tanks that are not designed for underwater use but are designed to allow firefighters to breathe in the midst of a smoke-filled building. But it is considered poor form to go to a firehouse and beg for free air. However, if you ARE a firefighter, you might have a leg up on this hobby.)
Or, of course, you can buy a hand pump and pump your own high pressure air up to 3,600 psi (there may be hand pumps that will pump higher, but I haven’t seen one). And just in the past few months a product has come available that is specifically designed to pump high pressure air for paint ball or PCP airgun purposes.
All of these have costs though. And all of them have their advantages and disadvantages. One way to compare the different options is to measure it in terms of cost per gun tank refill.
My hand pump cost $200. Until it wears out (and it will, according to the online folks who would know) then every time I use it, my cost per refill will go down. So far I’ve refilled my tank three times. So right now my cost per refill is $66. That’s a lot. But let’s say that I really get into the sport and I shoot enough that I need to refill a tank about twice per week, or 100 times per year. That means in a year refilling the tank will cost $2 per refill. That’s pretty cheap.
A SCUBA tank costs about $250 (including regulator and valves). A refill of a SCUBA tank costs about $15. According to what I’ve seen online, a typical SCUBA tank will fill about 20 airgun tanks before the SCUBA tank needs a refill itself. Sticking with the same 100 refills per year, that means refilling the SCUBA tank itself 5 times, so a total cost of $325. That means a tank refill cost of $3.25.
Finally there is the “Shoebox Air Compressor” which is a product that you can use to fill tanks yourself. Ignoring the cost of the electricity involved, the product costs $550, but there’s a catch. The compressor requires compressed air to work, so you need 80 PSI air input before you can reach 3,000 psi output. So you have to have some means of providing the incoming 80 PSI. The cheapest way to do that is to have a SCUBA tank which you use to deliver 80 PSI regulated air. So taht’s another $250. So total of $800. Or $8 per tank refill.
Compare that to the $3-$5 cost of a tank refill if you go to a paintball store and have them use their compressed air to do it.
Now, those are all a one-year cost. The costs change considerably if you participate in the hobby for multiple years. For a five year comparison the prices of each option approach a steady state of about $1 per refill. That’s because you’ll have to replace or rebuild your hand pump since they wear out, you’ll have to recertify or replace SCUBA tanks and you’ll have to do maintenance on your shoebox air compressor. The hand pump will always be the cheapest, but eventually it becomes a matter of maybe $.25 difference per refill.
At that point the question becomes “what is more convenient?” Well, it’s pretty obvious that the least convenient way to do it is to use the hand pump. Even just topping off the tank after shooting 20 or 30 times is a chore. It took me 50 pumps to restore the tank to full status after shooting fifteen pellets. So on average it’s about three pumps per shot. If you are shooting A LOT, then you’ll be doing a lot of pumping.
It’s not exactly clear which of the remaining approaches are more convenient. The SCUBA tank approach allows you to take the SCUBA tank to a shooting location and refill from the back of your car or truck. The “shoebox air compressor” needs electricity, so it’s very convenient at home, but not very convenient on the range. Plus the air compressor takes up to an hour to refill a tank while you can refill a gun tank from a full SCUBA tank in about fifteen seconds.
So… most serious shooters are moving to a combination of the SCUBA tank AND the shoebox air compressor. Meaning they buy TWO SCUBA tanks, one to use as a regulated 80 psi input for the compressor, and one to fill up and carry to the shooting location for refills. So that’s basically a $1,000 initial investment.
So… The question is whether there might be a market for some device which is cheaper than any of the existing options PLUS is portable and battery operated. If you could design and produce such a device at a $500 price point, PCP and Paintball gun owners would be beating a path to your door.