Airbow: what exactly is it?

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s…. Even mythical super-heroes have engendered confusion among people trying to make everything fit into a distinct compartment. When Crosman, widely known as one of the top manufacturers of pneumatic pellet guns came up with the Pioneer Airbow, it had people who have the need to categorize everything in a quandary. Is it a gun? Is it archery equipment?

Here’s what it is. It’s a rifle-shaped gun, powered by compressed air that shoots an arrow and fires it half-again faster than conventional archery gear.

Though the airbow is a new product, the controversy about what constitutes “archery” equipment is decades old. There was controversy when bow and arrow manufacturers went from using wood for their bows to using fiberglass. Traditionalists said a true bow had to be wood. Others argued, “What’s the difference?” You had to perfect the same skills to become a proficient archer regardless of the material used to make the equipment.

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Next came the issue of compound bows verses a simple string and stick to propel the arrow. Compound bows added pulleys to the traditional bows giving them a two-fold advantage over conventional bows. They shot arrows faster and they were easier for shooters to use. Realistically, compound bows doubled the effective range for hunters due to the increased arrow speed and accuracy.

Still, whether using a compound bow, longbow or recurve, it took practice and lots of it for a bowhunter to master his choice. Not so with crossbows.

Crossbows are nearly as ancient a weapon as conventional bows. A crossbow combines archery technology with firearms technology. Accuracy achieved only through months of practice by a traditional archer could be achieved by a crossbow shooter in a couple of practice sessions.

Archery hunting gained popularity as America’s deer population went from deer being found in mostly wilderness areas, to deer being found in many areas, to deer being present almost everywhere and over-abundant in many places. It also gained popularity as the equipment got better. Compound bows produced millions of deer hunters across the country.

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Crossbows, easier to master, brought tens of thousands more.

So what about the “airbow?”

Since it fires an arrow, not much different than the arrows used by longbow or compound bow shooters, should it be just another permutation of archery? Since it has a rifle-stock and fires an arrow, though it has no string and bow on it, is it just another form of crossbow? Since it has a rifle-stock and fires a projectile capable of bringing down a deer, antelope, alligator or other game should it be grouped with other guns? Does the fact it uses compressed air instead of “string and stick” technology or gunpowder technology make it significantly different?

These are all questions the Crosman Pioneer is causing to be asked. There is not going to be one answer to these questions.

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Recently, the Archery Trade Association, essentially the “National Shooting Sports Foundation” for the archery industry issued their opinion: Airbows are not archery gear.

In their statement the ATA said they’d been asked by its members as well as representatives of state wildlife agencies for an opinion about whether airbows constituted archery equipment. Citing a lack of “basic components of standard archery equipment” – including a string system and limbs – the decision was that it was not a piece of archery equipment.

Further, the ATA decided, the airbow (unlike archery equipment) is not subject to federal excise tax, the basic funding mechanism for state wildlife agencies. That means no portion of the proceeds from airbow purchases contribute to the state wildlife conservation activities. As a consequence airbows are not treated as archery equipment by the Internal Revenue Service or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

So can you hunt with them? In most states, including Indiana and Illinois, they are currently legal for hunting predators such as coyotes. In a few states they are legal for deer or other game. In all states, issue of the airbow and other air-powered guns as suitable for hunting – and then placing them inside the appropriate hunting seasons- is really the question of the future

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Mike Schoonveld
Mike Schoonveld grew up hunting and fishing in rural Northwest Indiana. In 1986 he piggy-backed a career as an outdoor writer onto his already long tenure as a wildlife biologist with the Indiana DNR. Now retired from his DNR position, Schoonveld is a U.S. Coast Guard licensed boat captain, operates Brother Nature Charters on Lake Michigan and spends much of his time trailering his boat to fishing hotspots around Indiana and the Midwest. Mike can be reached through his website or visit Mike's Outdoor World Blog at


  1. Purchased a new Benjamin Airbow and have shot it several times and have it zeroed in from 20 to 70 yards! I am 62 years old and have been an avid bow hunter for 40+ years. Have bad shoulders and have a hard time pulling back my compound these days. Sure hope Indiana legalizes use of these for deer soon! It would sure mark hunting fun again!!!


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