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The gun was developed in 1768 or 1769 by the Tyrolean watchmaker, mechanic and gunsmith Bartholomäus Girandoni (1744–1799) and is sometimes referred to as the Girandoni air rifle or Girandoni air gun in literature (the name is also spelled "Girandony," "Giradoni") The Windbüchse was about 4 ft (1.2 m) long and weighed 10 pounds (4.5 kg), about the same size and mass as a conventional musket.

Throughout 17th to 19th century, air guns in calibers .30–.51, were used to hunt big-game deer and wild boar.

These air rifles were charged using a pump to fill an air reservoir and gave velocities from 650 to 1,000 feet per second (200–300 m/s).

The celebrated Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804) carried a reservoir air gun.

It held 22 .46 caliber round balls in a tubular magazine mounted on the side of the barrel.

The butt served as the air reservoir and had a working pressure of 800 psi (55 bar).

The rifle was said to be capable of 22 aimed shots per minute and had a rifled bore of 0.452 in (11.5 mm) and a groove diameter 0.462 in (11.7 mm). Their first model air gun was called the Challenger and marketed in 1888.They were also used in warfare, the most recognized example being the Girandoni air rifle.At that time, they had compelling advantages over the primitive firearms of the day.The oldest existing mechanical air gun, a bellows air gun dating back to about 1580, is in the Livrustkammaren Museum in Stockholm.This is the time most historians recognize as the beginning of the modern air gun.Modern air guns use one of three types of power source depending on the design: spring-piston, pneumatic and bottled compressed gas (most commonly carbon dioxide).

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