You cock it with the handle and then “fire” a single chuff of air. A hand at the end of the barrel would feel the air but 12" farther out you’d hardly notice. Regardless, it made a nice loud “Bang!”
Unless you jammed it in the dirt, that is. You needed slightly moist soil so it would stick together and you would push the muzzle in about a half inch and kind of twist and scoop at the same time to get a good plug. The dirt and tiny embedded pebbles would fly several yards when fired. You really could put an eye out.
These were actually BB guns but the tiny barrel and related parts were removed. I don’t know if they were sold fully assembled and parents figured out how to downgrade the BB gun into an air rifle, or perhaps the instructions had a special note to this effect. Or, since everyone’s “air rifle” was missing the BB-size barrel insert, most likely is that the gun was simply sold that way with an option to upgrade later.
But that didn’t bother us. On the contrary, knowing the puff of air wouldn’t travel more than a foot made it safe to aim and shoot at each other.
The mock Army games on Christmas morning began as soon as one kid appeared within range. It quickly escalated as newcomers hid behind bushes in one backyard until the coast was clear, sprinted across a driveway into the next backyard to dive down behind another stand of bushes, and then carefully aim at “the enemy” across the yard. The loud noise when fired made it obvious to the intended target that he was under attack, and from which direction. So immediately after each shot, the shooter had to be up and moving to duck around a corner out of sight before scrunching into the next bush.
But sometimes, especially with plenty of time for a smooth, straight-back pull, sights steady and aligned on the enemy’s torso and finished with a clean break on the trigger, he was a goner.
“I got you!”
“Naw, you missed.”
“Unh, uh, I shot you right through the heart. You’re dead.”
“It only clipped my shirt. Didn’t even draw blood.”
As it escalated, attacker and victim would soon be face to face arguing the accuracy of the weapon, the ability of the shooter, the merits of the target’s cover, the effect of wind and the play of light and shadow would all be under loud consideration. But before anything could be settled, a newcomer with his own new Christmas present air rifle would sneak around a corner to quickly shoot, cock and shoot again and drop both as we argued in full view, red face to red face.
If someone got really mad through all this, they might take a shot with a mud-plugged barrel. When you got hit with that spray, you knew it – close up it would really sting!
“Hey, cut that out! You’re not supposed to shoot it that way.”
[Evil smile, says nothing.]
But we knew that if we lingered too long, we’d soon be in someone else’s sights as the game went on.
Merry Christmas, everyone!