Girandoni Air Rifle

From the NRA’s National Firearms Museum curator:

Pretty remarkable for late 18th century technology.

26 Responses to “Girandoni Air Rifle”

  1. Pyrotek85 says:

    Damn I really want one now. I’m surprised some company hasn’t made replicas.

  2. I’ve seen the NRA pieces on this before, truly amazing.

    Given that this rifle was vastly superior to the muzzle-loading muskets and rifles of the time in all aspects except for maybe range, it really surprises me that the development of such weapons wasn’t more prolific. I don’t believe there was ANY other rifle at the time that could fire a ball with lethal force and accuracy to a few hundred yards, and do so more than once a minute.

  3. Oh, and yes, if they made replicas, I’d love one :D

  4. joated says:

    I have to agree with the earlier comments: Where are they now?

  5. Matt Carmel says:

    Wouldn’t these be exempt from ATF rules as air rifles?

  6. Matt Carmel says:

    More information on the Girandoni air rifle at

  7. Ian Argent says:

    Make 2 changes and this would be a banned assault weapon in the state of NJ – namely make it fire a bullet under 3/8″ diameter and put a smping in the magazine so it self-loads.

    (Airguns firing a projectile over 3/8″ are, curiously, not firearms, though they still are weapons)

  8. Sebastian says:

    That was meant to exempt paint ball guns. Paintball was illegal in New Jersey for a long time, until there was an effort made in the 90s to legalize it.

  9. Ian Argent says:

    Interesting, since airsoft is currently considered legal; and airsoft guns launch a 6mm projectile. It would appear they get exempted on the “with sufficient force to injure” clause.

    I suppose 6mm dia. of plastic @ 300-500 fps is less likely to cause injury than .60 of gelatin at roughly the same muzzle velocity. Safety gear worn by potential targets in both situations appears to be similar, though. An dI know of at least one chain store in NJ that only sells spring or electric airsoft, while also carrying gas-powered paintball gear.

  10. Ian Argent says:

    Plus, as noted by the existence of the weapon in your post, and other airguns designed as weapons, there’s plenty of airguns with projectiles > 3/8″ that are quite useful weapons.

    Every so often I wonder how hard it would be to get ahold of a handgun-sized airgun tossing a .40 or so bullet at a useful velocity – since that would appear to be legal to carry in NJ. Tehcnically possible, I just don’t know if any such item is commercially available, since NJ is the only state I know of with an airgun “loophole”.

  11. John A says:

    Most air rifles/pistols made today are strictly for target practice or play. Ones as powerful as this, or the one Col. Moran used a century later trying to kill Sherlock Holmes – i.e. suitable for hunting – are pretty scarce: last I heard, only two German companies made them.

  12. Ian Argent says:

    @John A: Yeah, they all appear to be target rifles. That doesn’t help me much, as NJ (purportedly) permits carriage of an unlaoded longarm with a FID. In which case I’d just get a KelTec SUB2K or something

  13. Brady Campaign, et al. says:

    This has no legitimate sporting purpose. Nobody needs a 22-round tubular clip! If you can’t hit a paper target by the 10th bullet, you shouldn’t be target hunting. This deadly assault weapon needs to be outlawed and melted down, pronto!

    There should be a law!!!

  14. j t bolt says:

    I just saw that today…

  15. Diomed says:

    “I don’t believe there was ANY other rifle at the time that could fire a ball with lethal force and accuracy to a few hundred yards, and do so more than once a minute.”

    Ferguson rifle.

  16. Ian Argent says:

    He should have qualified that with military-issue, I guess. Ferguson rifle is a historical anomaly.

  17. Old NFO says:

    Ironically, I was at the NRA Museum and we saw that rifle yesterday. It IS an amazing piece of work, and to be able to withstand 800PSI back in the day is amazing in itself. If you or anybody else gets the chance, the NRA museum is DEFINITELY worth the time!

  18. Diomed says:

    “He should have qualified that with military-issue, I guess.”

    The Ordnance Board paid for the guns and turned them over to the Secretary at War, who then ordered a unit formed for the guns to be issued to. If that doesn’t qualify as military issue, nothing does.

    That they were an experiment that ultimately led nowhere makes them … well, no different from military air guns.

  19. Ian Argent says:

    Oh. I thought they were entirely privately funded.

  20. Diomed says:

    That seems to be the enduring story, I’m not sure why when the Ordnance ledgers showing who got paid for what still exist. Like most urban legends, I guess.

  21. Man, what I’d give to see a modernized version of this concept. I mean seriously, with fully applied computer aided engineering.

    I would have to think that we could at least double the performance. I saw that there are a few large bore air rifles being made out there that hit 700fps, and approx. 250 ft lbs.

    I just wonder what it’d take to build a system that could withstand greater pressure. And get up to around 1,200 fps or more…

    Add the two barrels, one for the large bore and a small 17 caliber traditional pellet barrel. And you’d have the perfect survival/self-sufficient hunting tool.

    Hunt large and small game. Mold your own balls and pellets. Never have need of anything but lead….


  22. Ian Argent says:

    @Diomed: Because I never went past an off-hand reference in some historical fiction and thrid-hand descriptions on the internet. Mea culpa

  23. Matt Carmel says:


    You would also need access to electricity and a compressor. It wouldn’t be easy hand pump 800 psi.

  24. Ian Argent says:

    Water wheel. Beasts of burden. Grad students. Just make sure to have extra air flasks.

  25. Steve S. says:

    Just some comments in general.

    Pre-charged airguns are quite common–there are certainly more than a couple of German-made models. I have 4 myself–two built by different Korean companies (1 in 25 caliber, 1 in .22), and two identical ones built by Saxby-Palmer in England. They have a precharged “cartridge” that holds one pellet and is bolt operated. The cartridge has the same length and head diameter as a 20 ga. shotgun shell. Similar systems are used to make precharged revolvers.

    There are also some custom big-bore airgun builders in the US. Look up Larry Durham, Dave? Quackenbush, and Gary Barnes.

    They were also a lot more prevalent than most people realize. Some were hidden in walking canes to provide the 19th Century gentleman on a stroll some measure of protection.

    Airguns have been used to take American Bison, deer, Elk, and even some of the larger African game animals. Google Big Bore airguns and you’ll see what I mean.