Review: AirForce Escape PCP Air Rifle – Dead (Squirrel) Nuts Accurate

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Before you, dear readers, bemoan the fact that we are reviewing air rifles, please allow me to mention that this air rifle (yes, “rifle”) can output over 85% of the energy compared to 22LR and the ammo costs less than 5 cents a shot. Got your attention? So, does the output and cost does that make this the ultimate squirrel killer or survival rifle? Read below to find out.

Author’s Note: This review is from a gun-guy’s perspective. I am not an aficionado of air rifles, but do keep an open mind to them. 

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AirForce and The Escape

AirForce, out of Texas, was the first manufacturer of Pre-Charged Pneumatic (PCP) airguns in the United States. PCP airguns are different from “springers,” “piston,” or “break-barrel” airguns as it uses a pre-pressurized power source instead of the mechanical action of a spring pushing a piston. PCP airguns have been around a long time, with some models going back to the 1600s. In fact, Lewis and Clark had PCP rifles during their travels to the Pacific: the Giradoni air rifle (NRA video). For those curious, Forgotten Weapons has posted up a detailed breakdown of the Giradoni rifle and its workings.

The Giradoni air rifle. A similar model was used by Lewis and Clark. Like the modern AirForce rifle, the buttstock is the air tank, although at considerably  lower pressure (~800 psi).

The Giradoni air rifle. A similar model was used by Lewis and Clark. Like the modern AirForce rifle, the buttstock is the air tank, although at considerably lower pressure (~800-850 psi).

PCP’s have notable significant advantages over mechanical pellet guns as they are shorter, facilitate quicker follow-up shots, can attain higher velocities, and with good parts are more consistent. There are two typical layouts of PCP rifles:

  1. The power source is behind the action, typically as the buttstock (like the Giradoni rifle) or as part of the buttstock (like the AirForce models)
  2. The tank is mounted below the barrel. Typically, the tank is long and slender closely matching the barrel profile.
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The Crossman Marauder, an example of a typical over/under design.

AirForce first announced the Escape series at SHOT 2014 is Las Vegas. The three rifles are aimed at the hunter and survivalist crowd, prioritizing weight, size, and flexibility. There are three models available, the Escape (full-length 24″ barrel), EscapeUL (18″ barrel), and the EscapeSS (12″ barrel with built-in sound baffles). The Escape models are available in only .22 and .25 calibers, as smaller calibers would be too light for the high air flow.

The various Escape models. From top to bottom: Escape, EscapeSS, EscapeUL. Photo courtesy of PyramidAir

The various Escape models. From top to bottom: Escape, EscapeSS, EscapeUL. Photo courtesy of PyramidAir

The Escape series is the result of an atypical collaboration of Ton Jones (of Auction Hunters fame) and AirForce’s owner John McCaslin. During a hunting trip, Ton and Jon discussed survival rifles. Nothing then on the market had met Ton’s needs for a rifle that combined accuracy, power, and the ability to go “off grid”. John and Ton worked close together to hone the Escape line.

The Escape rifles were designed with compatibility in mind. The Lothar-Walther barrels are interchangeable with the entire AirForce product line (12″, 18″, and 24″ barrels are available in all three .177, .22, and .25 calibers).  From the Condor rifle, the most obvious change is the smaller tank, which is “easier to fill” than the large ones. (Author’s Note: You still cannot fill the smaller thank, even with my 250-lbs frame). The major internal change is that the Escape uses the valve from the TalonP pistol.

Set-Up & Filling

AirForce sent TFB their top-of-the-line .25 caliber Escape with the 24″ barrel & Spin-Loc tank system, a hand-pump, and their 4-16×50 scope. It arrived in a demure box packed to brim with peanuts. The rifle was in a cardboard sleeve, with the scope pre-mounted and the hand-pump in its standard retail box packaging.

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Per shipping regulations, the tank was shipped empty. Since scuba shops are few and far between in the Mid-West, I opted to use the included hand-pump. It arrives unassembled, but its operational in under five minutes with the included tools and screws. The pump is a standard bicycle-style with feet and a long vertical stroke.

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The pump, right after opening. It arrives disassembled.

Prior to hooking up the pump, I took a moment to fish the rifle from its packaging. The first two things I noticed was it was long and that it was, aesthetically-speaking, bad-@ss. Fit and finish is fantastic. The matter black was even across all plastic and metal parts and there was no wobble between the receiver, grip, barrel, tank, or scope.

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Set up and ready to start pressurizing the system.

I had to set the rifle on the floor for the pump system to reach the fill nipple. The metal-braided fill cable is a bit too short for my tastes. The first few strokes were met with a constant hiss of escaping air–not good. Fortunately, I missed closing the valve on the pump. After closing it, I pumped about twenty more times. Again, a hiss, but this time much quieter.

Troubleshooting revealed that the tank was letter air out from the primary nozzle. Not much, but enough to make a sound and my pumping futile after a few minutes. Fortunately, the fix was quick. I cocked and dry-fired a few shots. The seals in the tank set in and held pressure. I resumed pumping… for about a half hour. (The manual states “it takes about 75 pump strokes before you notice that the needle on the pump’s gauge is slightly above zero. Once the tanks starts to register a charge, you will notice that it takes 14 or 15 pump strokes to raise the tank pressure by 100 psi. That’s true at all pressure levels.”)

After reaching about 2500 psi (the tank is rated to 3000) the back-pressure in the system was too much for even my 250 lbs girth. Unless I committed to a “Super Size” diet long-term, I could not pump more pressure into the tank. If this is the easy fill tank, I dread the larger one.

Personal recommendation: For the full system pressure, use a scuba tank or  larger paintball tanks as a mother-daughter system.

Shooting the Escape

Now sweating profusely from pumping, I headed to the range one of the typical 90+ degree Indiana summer days. my range set up was a Caldwell 7 shooting rest, 3″ targets on white backing, a FireField spotting scope, and plenty of time to wring out the Escape’s performance.

Unlike bolt-action guns that pull to the rear, the chamber cover moves forward, exposing the “chamber” (which is really just the beginning of the barrel). Pellets are inserted one-by-one manually . Close the charging handle to the rear and the rifle is primed to fire. Annoyingly, there is no shelf under the barrel in case you drop the tiny pellets.

The chamber area exposed by pushing the charging cover forward.

The chamber area exposed by pushing the charging cover forward.

The safety is similar to the M1 Garand and M14, a blade set in the front of the trigger guard. Push it forward to disengage the safety. Pull the trigger to the rear and the rifle will “fire” by releasing gas from the rear tank behind the pellet propelling it forward. Opening the chamber cover recocks the rifle and resets the safety. Load another pellet and repeat cycle.

The chamber is closed and in the rear position. The handle can set to either the right or left hand size of center.

The chamber is closed and in the rear position. The handle can set to either the right or left hand size of center.

Shooting the Escape is pleasant. AirForce states the trigger is “two-stage” but I contend that this is more marketing that design. The trigger has too much take-up (over 5mms) prior to hitting the break.. The break itself is crisp, clocking in at 2 – 3lbs at the extremes with 2.5lbs being the norm. It was much more a “match” trigger than a “battle” one.

The power is adjustable from “0” to “14”. “0” would equate to 800fps with .25 pellets and “14” up to 1300fps with .22 pellets (at full tank charge). The manual states that above 10 “air is wasted” in the Talon series (the Escape can handle the full 14) so I opted for about an “8” which gave me roughly 15 shots prior to noticing pellet drop. If I could have pumped the pressure up higher, I probably could have gotten more.

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Power is adjusted by spinning the dial on the left. It is easily hand-turnable from the lowest to the highest setting and is nicely textured for grip even with sweaty fingers.

Recoil is in line with a .22LR. Since the gas is pushing forward against the pellet, recoil is pleasantly to the rear. The sound of a shot breaking is definitely not ear-safe, again similar to .22LR. After two shots, I put my ears back on. The blast even fooled a few new shooters down the line into thinking this was a real firearm.

Despite my grievances earlier with pumping, the rifle was accurate and consistent. I did not experience any vertical stringing which is indicative of velocity inconsistency. More often than not, back-to-back shots printed on top of one another.

The scope was bright and clear on the bright day. At full 16x power, there was some darkening, but it was still usable in the good light. Of particular note, since airguns are typically shot at close range the scope did have adjustable focus by rotating the hood around the front of the scope. The knobs adjusted evenly, with predictable shift at the testing ranges. That said, it was mounted high and was difficult to get a solid check weld. Second, eye relief was long. I had to mount the scope as far forward as possible. Annoying, but workable.

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AirForce purposefully uses a smaller (ie shorter) tank. While great for transport, the short tank fails pulling double-duty as a stock. With the “stock” adjusted to my preferred length of pull, the tank did not extend far enough back to get a good cheek weld.  I was more using of my chin on the tank than I am accustomed to with rifles. As such, it was difficult to shoot accurately. I could not get “tight” with the rifle.

The escape at my preferred lengh of pull. The stock is held in place by a friction mount to the tank. It requires an allen key to adjust.

The escape at my preferred length of pull. The stock is held in place by a friction mount to the tank. It requires an allen key to adjust.

Even with the difficulty on the scope, the rifle performed marvelously. The pre-mounted scope was on paper, only about 4″ off at 25 yards and clicked into place easily. I had 3 types of .25 pellets with me including Crossman Benjamin (no weight listed), JSB Match Diabolo EXACT (23.39 gr.), and Gamo Raptor Power Pellets (no weight listed). For accuracy testing, each was fired on a topped-off air tank.

The Benjamin pellets were the most accurate, yielding a 10-shot group at 25 yards just under an inch but had a 1″ drop compared to the Raptor and Diabolos. The Raptor’s performed well, but the first two shots were flyers. Lastly, the Diabolos were consistent, but exhibited a larger spread than the first two (ignoring flyers).

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Benjamin Group. The first 5 shots were a ragged hole. I shot another 5 to verify.

The Gamo Raptor group. The first two shots went wild (no idea why), but the last three were excellent.

The Gamo Raptor group. The first two shots went wild (no idea why), but the last three were excellent.

Finally, the Diabolo group. About 1.5" across.

Finally, the Diabolo group. About 1.5″ across.

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Stepping up the power, the rifle did not exhibit any shift on paper. The report and recoil increased slightly, but otherwise, there was no appreciable difference in performance. Of note, the PBA Raptors were supersonic for the first two shots off of a full tank. After the first two, the shots were resumed subsonic velocities.

The Good:

  • Accurate. (With the right ammo, of course)
  • Consistent velocity so long as the tank is above 1500 psi.
  • Great trigger (but lots of take-up, ~2.0-3.0 lbs break)
  • Scope works for what it needs to do.
  • Interchangeable barrels allow users to change length and caliber easily.
  • Able to be run “off the grid” with the optional hand pump.

The Noteworthy:

  • The manual safety resets with each shot. The shooter must disengage it for individual shots.
  • Like powder rifles, it is ammunition sensitive.
  • Available in .22 and .25 calibers. (Personal suggestion, get the .22, its a good balance between the two for weight and power. Plus, you can actually find ammo at your local outdoor stores)
  • Options are available for either Q/D tanks or the Spin-Loc system, which uses a nut system similar to an AR-15 barrel nut. The Spin-Loc gives the user a read-out on their remaining pressure and an input valve for HPA tank refills.

The Bad:

  • No loading ramp for the pellets. The open chamber makes it easy to drop them while loading, slowing down follow-up shots.
  • The hand-pump works, but unless you are 300+ lbs, it is impossible to pump to the full 3000 psi.
  • The tank is too short to act as an effective stock.
  • MSRP is high compared to similar-use firearms.

Wrap-Up & Conclusion:

As a gun guy, I walked away impressed with what an air rifle could do (and bigger triceps from pumping it full so often). It has aggressive looks, is accurate, easy to load, and is cheap to shoot.

However, the rifle has a high upfront cost. MSRP pricing for the rifle as configured crests  just over a full grand.

  • Rifle (.25) w/ Spin-Loc Tank – $660
  • Pump – $212.00
  • Scope w/ Rings: $186.25
  • Total: $1,058.25

For someone looking for a general plinking or pest-control firearm, I can’t bring myself to recommend it. For the asking price, one can easily procure a solid repeating rimfire and significant amounts of ammunition.

However, as a viable SHTF gun or something to take care of a rodent population in city limits, its a solid contender. It will shoot the nuts off a squirrel at typical ranges, is light, compact and most importantly, fully self-contained for when the stores stop filling tanks and selling ammunition.

 


Nathan S.

TFB’s resident Jarhead, Nathan now works within the Industry in Operations, Sales & Marketing. A consecutive Marine rifle and pistol expert, he enjoys local 3-gun, MSR’s, high-speed gear. Nathan has traveled to over 30 countries in the last three years working with US DoD & foreign MoDs. You will likely find him either in an international airport or on the local range in NE Indiana.

Nathan can be reached at [email protected]


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  • buy a .25

    The real power in the Airforce platform doesn’t show up with such light pellets, especially in .25. Heavier pellets tend to be stabler, and add much more penetration.

    Try some. 42.5 gr to start, but my brother’s Condor likes 88 gr best. As a bonus, the 88s are subsonic…

  • iksnilol

    For a “survival” airgun I would have something with an integrated pump and a magazine. Making it grab-and-go.

    Something like the Independence by FX is what I am talking about.

    • 101nomad

      No offence, no snide, these days, most will grab a .22 rifle. But, I love an air gun for fun shooting. The lever pump kind with a cheap scope at 20-25 yards. Cans and paper fear me.

      • iksnilol

        .22s are fun but airguns I can use at home (I am not on a big ranch).

  • Eric

    If I were to get an air rifle, it’d probably be a Marauder. Those things are so quiet that you could easily dispatch unwanted rodents in the city with them without disturbing the neighbors.

  • johnny

    Does anyone know about the use of suppressors with an air gun? Would they even be effective? Do you still have to fill out all the paperwork and pay the fees?

    • joethefatman

      Gamo actually sells air rifles with built in sound suppressors. They do work and don’t need a stamp..

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Nathan S. ” Staff Writer, TFB”

      Since it is not a “firearm,” “sound mufflers” are 100% legal. However, if it can be “easily modified” to support a real firearm, that is a no-go. The air rifle moderators are usually aluminum and would grenade if subjected to a real muzzle blast.

    • Steve (TFB Editor)

      Yes, you can use them, but as Nathan says, I would use a real registered suppressor, not make my own.

      They work fine with PCP air guns. They are much less effective with piston/spring guns because the piston makes so much noise and it will not be suppressed. I have used a .177 breakbarrel airgun that was threaded for a .22 suppressor. It worked somewhat, but far less effective than it would have been on a .22.

      • iksnilol

        The built in ones don’t require a stamp, same applies to suppressors that can’t be used on a real gun (IIRC).

  • joethefatman

    “The blast even fooled a few new shooters down the line into thinking this was a real firearm.”

    I’ve taken many a squirrel and a not inconsiderable number of rabbits with an air rifle, I have always considered them to be “real” firearms.

    • http://196800revolutionsperminute.blogspot.com/ Nathaniel F.

      Air-arms? Air-guns? I think they lack the “fire” part. Nobody’s contending that they aren’t real “arms.”

      • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Nathan S. ” Staff Writer, TFB”

        Yep. Never did not imply it was not. The point was to emphasize how close it was to a real firearm, which was very surprising to someone like me who has not experienced high end airguns before.

        • 101nomad

          Nathan, no offense, but history is lost on the young. (full disclosure, I learned more details once I was out of high school.) Airguns were once viable infantry weapons. I would not want to have been the guy that pumped the damn things up. The reality of anything that can throw a projectile at you is, it’s dangerous.

      • Sulaco

        Sherlock Holmes was almost killed with one (.45 caliber if memory serves) in the 1890’s….according to the (yes I know fake) story anyway and Lewis and Clark had one on hand for small game in the journey of exploration in the what, 1780″s? Powerful air rifles have been around for a long time.

        • Steve (TFB Editor)

          Indeed. But he was also (almost) killed by a waterfall ;)

          But yes, in the 19th century, large caliber air rifles were even used as military arms.

  • guest

    meh. If it is close to a 22, get a 22. No matter how advanced or powerful a high-end air rifle gets, it can be easely outclassed by even a cheap powder driver competitor.

  • AmmoralDeviant

    If I ever have the cash I’ll definitely consider this. But the real question is: modernized giradoni rifle when?!

    • iksnilol

      Build one yourself, you can find out how the mechanism works by searching around.

      Chamber it for common .36 lead balls for cheap plinking.

  • Nimrod

    Why are airguns so freakin’ expensive? It’s an airgun for Pete’s sake. As soon as someone comes up with a decent quality gun that is affordable, I’m in. Affordable as in about the same price as a .22 rimfire rifle. .

    • Dukke1ine

      There are cheap rifles, and there are expensive rifles. It does not matter what type of operation it has. Have a look at Anschutz air rifles, then compare it to a 100 USD Wallmart air gun. As always, you get what you pay for…

      http://jga.anschuetz-sport.com/index.php5?menu=102&sprache=1

      • Smokey_the_Bear

        I could never ever ever spend a 1000 dollars on a freakin air rifle! that’s nuts.

        • iksnilol

          Said the same about scopes and rifles.

          Remember that airgund can be used at home. Also, some of us need that super accuracy.

        • Jim J

          The trade off is really cheap ammo and more opportunists to enjoy it.

  • Fruitbat44

    Funny thought, but for “AirForce Escape” I read “Air Force Escape” and assumed it was the USAF adopting a new survival rifle. -doh!-
    Another thought; about the Escape’s suitability as a survival rifle . . . migntn’t you end up burning more calories pumping up the cylinder than you would gain from any small game you harvested with it?
    But that said, I thought it was interesting article about an interesting rifle.

  • Sulaco

    Watched a video about some guy hunting all around the world with an air rifle. Watched him shoot a large deer like animal in I think Iceland or something. One shot and drop! May have been a .45 caliber rifle though not the .25…

    • iksnilol

      Yup, search for Quakenbush to find them.

  • 101nomad

    I have taken many squirrels and rabbits (bless their tiny souls) with a single shot Benjamin pump (noisy). Requires patience of a “sniper”. That was back when most food on the table was ‘harvested’ in more ways than one. If you want a good air gun, you will pay a good price. Then and now.

    • AbeFroman

      I scored one of their Blue Streak rifles and a Red Ryder at a yard sale. Best 20 bucks I ever spent.

  • Giolli Joker

    Thanks for the review!

    I’d love to see more reviews on TFB of serious air rifles.
    I think especially of big bore ones (e.g. Benjamin Rogue http://www.crosman.com/rogue or any Quackenbush).
    I’ve read of 20mm airguns able to drop buffaloes (Big Bore Bob Dean rifles)…

    “Designed” by Ton Jones… requires 300+lbs guy to load. :-)
    I wonder if AirForce could add a something similar to the cocking systems used by crossbows to crank the pump down when the pressure rises… it would be slow but it should work.

  • gunslinger

    what’s the “cost per shot?”

    includeing pure ammo, then ammo plus initial cost? i.e. 1 shot is 5 cents, but it’s 1000.05 with the setup. second shot means each shot cost only 500.05…etc..

  • Buzzy243

    Jesus H. Christ! Fix your spelling and grammar mistakes, please! This is one of the biggest gun blogs on the Internet but you can’t have someone proofread the posts? The first paragraph is completely unreadable.

    On a more positive note; the pictures are great. Even though I got fed up and stopped reading I still got a lot out of the review just from the pics. Keep up the reviews, even if it’s airguns.

  • Aurek Besh

    Just a note on the air tank – a /larger/ tank would actually be easier to fill, for an equivalent amount of shots. By having a larger volume, you would not have to pump it to as high a pressure, making the pumping easier. For higher volume shooting, you can buy filling adaptors that take air from a bulk SCUBA air cylinder to charge the air rifle’s reservoirs.

  • jrt

    What are the air tank threads like? Could I use
    my 68 cubic inch 3k psi Paintball marker bottle?

  • http://www.pelletguns101.com/ Joe Sportuy

    This is a pretty awesome air rifle overall, and many air rifles today are almost as powerful as some of the smaller hunting rifles on the market which make them perfect for hunting small game without the roadblocks of getting licensed for a firearm.

    One of better companies for finding the best air rifle for hunting is Gamo and you can see some of the best gamo air rifles at http://www.pelletguns101.com/gamo-air-rifle-reviews.

    Gamo has some of the more reasonable prices but you’re still getting a good amount for what you pay.