Things that are original and innovative are often kind of tough to figure out when they’re first introduced. A lot of people took years to warm up to the idea of a VCR or a microwave oven, or a personal computer.
The Pioneer Airbow is kind of like that. What it does and how it works is unique and remarkable, but what exactly is it? Is it a crossbow? Is it an airgun? It’s actually neither, though on a sliding scale, the Airbow is closer to an airgun. Its odd, futuristic, polymer appearance doesn’t help clear things up either.
Since its introduction earlier this year, several states across the country have addressed the Airbow and some have given it a place in existing hunting seasons as more people get a chance to use it, discover its advantages and what it could mean for the future of hunting.
The good folks at Benjamin, a Crosman brand, sent me an Airbow package to test out. Having no real experience with modern airguns, I was a little skeptical of the arrow-shooting contraption’s usefulness as a hunting implement, but it didn’t take long to put those concerns to rest. The biggest reason? The thing is just plain fun to shoot, and it’s frighteningly accurate.
First, let’s take a look at how the Airbow operates.
How It Works
What does a bow of any kind—long, compound, cross—do? Simply, it pushes an arrow with a string. The arrow—or in the case of crossbows, the bolt—is engaged by the string at the nock on the rear of the arrow, propelling the arrow forward.
The Airbow changes all that. It uses special, full-sized 375-grain and 26-inch arrows made by Benjamin that are hollow, with a small cuff where the nock would normally be. They can be fitted with any type of field points or (full-weight) broadheads, just like regular arrows. The hollow arrow slides over a thin aluminum tube that serves as the barrel until the cuff locks in at the back of the gun, creating a seal.
Pressurized air is channeled through the tube from a bolt mechanism when the Airbow is fired, impacting the arrow behind the arrowhead, essentially pulling the shaft of the arrow behind it. And as anyone who has used a flatbed trolly knows, pulling something is a lot easier than pushing, and it subjects the arrow shaft to fewer detrimental forces when leaving the bow. This makes for extremely speedy arrows.
The average recurve bow will fire arrows at about 230 fps. Arrows from modern compound bows travel at about 300 to 400 fps. Crossbows send arrows at anywhere from 300 fps TO 375 fps. The Airbow propels its arrows at 450 fps, and not only that, but it’s about 10 times as easy and fast to load as a crossbow. All that speed makes for a balanced trajectory and remarkable accuracy.
Filling and Charging
The highly pressurized air that makes the Airbow work is stored in a slender tank beneath the barrel. The configuration is basically a bullpup design with the cocking/firing mechanism located in the stock behind the trigger.
There are two ways to fill the Airbow’s onboard tank located beneath the barrel tube: with a high-pressure hand pump and 200-350 pumps, which is a bit of work, or with a separate reservoir tank, which if you buy it from Benjamin, is a 15-inch steel and carbon-fiber air tank that comes with a filling valve and takes the hose attachment that comes with the airbow. Benjamin calls it the PCP Charging System.
You could use a larger compressed air tank to fill the Airbow, but it has to be able to fill to 3,000 psi, which is miles beyond the compressors in your average garage or auto shop, which usually max out at 200 psi.
If you go with the reservoir tank option, your best bet for getting it filled (unless you want to drop a few grand on a high-pressure compressor) is a diving shop that fills SCUBA tanks, or a paintball shop. Most paintball stores these days also specialize in airguns, since they have a lot of common ground.
I got my 4500 PSI PCP Charging System from Benajamin filled for $6, and that will let you fully fill the Airbow seven times. From each fill, the company says you get eight full-power shots and plus two powerful shots before the speed drops off, for a total of 10. When shooting it, I was squeezing 12 shots out of a fill, with only the last arrow seeming like it lost some speed, hitting a bit lower.
If you happen to have a larger high-pressure air tank, you can certainly fill it from that for longer shooting sessions, but for hunting purposes, the Charging System tank should be more than adequate.
Actually filling the bow is simple. You simply attach an included hose from the 4500 PSI tank to a small adapter that you then insert in the hole at the front of the gun’s tank behind the pressure gauge until it seats. Then slowly open the valve on the tank and watch the gauge on the bow. Fill it until it reaches 3,000 PSI and close it off. Bleed the line, and pop it out. That’s it. You’re good for at least 10 shots.
Loading the Airbow
The Airbow is extremely simple to operate, and because it’s such a new concept, Benjamin provides an exhaustively helpful series of videos that cover everything from filling to maintenance.
Once the tank is filled, the process goes like this:
- Make sure the safety is on and slide arrow over barrel tube with the green fletching facing up until it seats.
- Lift the cocking lever on top of the stock. It takes about 2 pounds of force and you hear and feel a good solid click when it’s fully cocked.
- Aim. Disengage the safety. Fire.
There’s nothing more to it than that, and perhaps more importantly, it’s just as easy and safe to de-cock. Crossbows have the disadvantage of not being very easy to unload, if you can at all. Many modern crossbows have anti-dry fire mechanisms that prevent the string from being released if there isn’t a bolt on the flight rail. To unload these, you have to bring along a spare bolt with a field tip and fire it into a small bag target designed for such a task, or into another suitably safe object.
On the Airbow, if it’s loaded, cocked, and ready to fire, you simply lift up on the cocking handle all the way and hold it, pull the trigger with your other hand and slowly lower the cocking handle before putting the safety on (watch how it's done in the video above).
Since the Airbow uses the compressed air in its tank to work a bolt like a piston, which in turn propels the arrow, there’s no need to release or waste air if you de-cock the bow, the bolt is simply disengaged.
Then simply remove the arrow from the barrel tube and the Airbow is unloaded and safe.
As far as maintenance goes, there are only two things you have to do. First, lubricate the bolt every 200 shots by lifting the cocking lever and putting moly grease on the bolt and receiver and around it. Second, inspect the arrows before each use for cracks.
The Airbow is freakishly accurate inside 50 yards, which was the maximum range I shot it for this review, since that’s typically what I consider my maximum range for bowhunting. It comes with a custom 6x40mm scope made just for the bow with a simple mil-dot-like reticle. I sighted it in at 20 yards, and at that range, it was almost too accurate…meaning after the first couple of shots, I started retrieving each arrow before the next shot, because this happened:
I did most of my shooting prone and seated at 40 yards, and I was getting extremely tight groups, with a hit rarely straying outside the 3-inch center circle on a fresh bag target. Sighting it in was the most difficult part. I used the included 20 MOA raised rail platform—which is a riser that attaches to the Airbow’s top rail to give the scope more height—at the company’s insistence, and put the first couple arrows in the dirt. After cranking the scope down quite a bit, it was just minor adjustments.
While my friend and I were shooting one morning, a deer hunter making his way to his bow stand on the adjacent property stopped by to see what we were up to, and watched us fire a few shots. The man in his mid-50s with a Buck knife on a belt wrapped around his camp overalls hefted the futuristic Airbow and aimed it downrange while asking how many shots it got off one fill. He walked a few paces and sat up against a tree looked through the scope again. He asked how much it went for. I told him and he took a moment before declaring, “I’d pay that, and I’d hunt with this. For sure.”
Easy sale. I expect a commission.
If you aren’t already an airgun shooter, hunter, or paintball enthusiast, there’s going to be a bit of an investment in getting started with it. The bow itself has an MSRP of $999, but you can find it online for as little as $788. With that you get the bow, nine (previously three) arrows with field tips, an on-board quiver, the scope, and a sling plus a kit of RealTree camo stickers that can be applied to the bow’s factory-black body.
A six-pack of arrows will set you back $100, at $16 and change per arrow, but you can find packs for $75 on amazon.com, which is comparable to other arrows on the market.
However, if you already have filling solutions for other gear, then you’re just looking at the cost of the bow and arrows. The fact that you can use standard broadheads is a big plus.
As far as hunting regulations go, you’re going to have to see what your state has to say about it. Crosman includes a “Where Is It Legal To Hunt With the Pioneer Airbow” map on its website http://www.crosman.com/airbow but includes the disclaimer “Use the map below to see which states have big game airgun hunting seasons. Based on the Pioneer’s powerplant, we believe it is legal for use in those states in which Air Powered Guns are eligible. Do not depend upon this map. Confirm local regulations.”
So if your state already allows hunting with airguns, it’s a solid maybe for the Airbow. If your state doesn’t already allow airgun hunting, like mine, the chances that the Airbow will be a legal game harvester any time soon are slim, though there could be changes on the horizon for some states like Pennsylvania, or for exceptions to be made for hunters with disabilities.
Otherwise, the Airbow is one hell of a fun target killer that’s fairly cheap to shoot, once all the start-up costs are out of the way…and provided you don’t kill any arrows with other arrows.