The spear gun has been around for centuries, helping people harvest a wide variety of underwater species. So how do you pick the best or “right” spear gun when you find yourself in the market for one? That is actually a tricky question—a question with no real definitive answer.
Buying the right spear gun depends on a lot of factors, most importantly the fit of the gun and the application for which it will be used. Truth be told, even if you tested different manufacturer’s spear guns side by side in a blind pool test, it could still be difficult for you to make a decision until you test the various spear guns on actual fish—and in the actual environment in which you plan to primarily harvest them.
To help you make a more informed purchasing decision, in the following article we will highlight several different types of spear guns and speak to the usefulness of each type of gun. We will also cover some of the options and specs available for of each of these weapons to give you a better idea about which spear gun may be best for you.
- Best Spearguns for Beginners (2017 – 2018)
- The Different Types of Spear Guns Available
- The Three Main Types of Band-Powered Guns
- How to Choose the Right Spear Gun: Options and Specs
Best Spearguns for Beginners (2017 – 2018)
Last update on 2018-04-25 at 10:14 / Affiliate disclosure / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
The Different Types of Spear Guns Available
It is not often that technology goes “full circle,” but when it comes to spear guns and spear gun hunting that is actually what seems to be happening. Decades ago, some of the earliest spear guns were wooden and used rubber bands to shoot the projectiles. As time went on, however, many new spear gun technologies began to spring up, as manufacturers dabbled in things like pneumatics, carbon dioxide, hydro pneumatics, spring loaded guns and even gun powder. These were all once choices for spear gun buyers, but today some of the most skilled and renowned underwater hunters have returned to band-powdered guns made of wood. This does not mean that some of these others choices have ceased to exist. Far from it—and the following spear gun buyer’s guide will help you get started with the process of choosing just the right spear gun for your specific needs and preferences.
When it comes to spear guns today, there are essentially two main choices that dominate the marketplace: pneumatic powered spear guns and band powered spear guns. Of these two general “types” of spear guns, the most popular these days are the band powered guns, although the types of bands that are used to propel the projectiles have evolved greatly over time.
About Band Powered Spear Guns
The popularity of band powered spear guns lies mostly in the fact that these guns are very quiet and extremely easy to maintain, especially when compared to some of the other choices currently available. Popular throughout the world, these band powered spear guns are extremely accurate, very powerful and nearly silent when they are fired—a definite advantage when hunting something as fast and agile as a fish.
Band powered spear guns are easy to aim, particularly those guns that are equipped with open muzzles, allowing the diver to see the entire path of the shaft. Power is one of the main reasons that underwater hunters opt for these types of spear guns. Unlike pneumatic—or any other type of—spear guns, the power of a band powered spear gun can be increased based on the type of fish or underwater prey the hunter seeks. This is accomplished by simply adding additional bands to the gun. Divers are free to load these bands one at a time until they have reached the desired power. Also, because there are very few moving parts involved with a band powered spear gun, they are super easy to maintain and care for.
When shopping for a band powered spear gun there are a few things you should know—facts that might make your shopping experience more successful. They include:
Spear Gun Length
The “length” of a spear gun is determined by measuring the gun from the muzzle to the end of the handle. Band powered spear guns typically come in one of 6 lengths, although these measurements may vary from one location to the next. These lengths include:
- 50 centimeters—approximately 20 inches
- 75 centimeters—approximately 30 inches
- 90 centimeters—approximately 35.5 inches
- 100 centimeters—approximately 39.5 inches
- 110 centimeters—approximately 43 inches
- 130 centimeters—approximately 50 inches
Most band-powered spear guns use a shaft that measures 6.5 mm or 7 mm.
The barrel on a band-powered spear gun is typically made from one of three materials: wood, aluminum or carbon fiber. Divers/hunters do not need a special loader when using one of these types of spear guns, but they should wear gloves and a chest loading pad for their own protection.
There are only a couple main drawbacks to purchasing and using a band-powered spear gun for underwater hunting. First, if you have a multi-band gun it can take more time to load than other types of spear guns, although this depends on the number of bands required. The second drawback is the thin thickness of the shafts. Measuring just 6 mm to 7 mm, the shafts most commonly used on a band-powered gun may frequently bend when used on larger fish—and may even rarely break.
The Three Main Types of Band-Powered Guns
There are three main types of band-powered spear guns from which you can choose. They include the:
- European Style Spear Gun (Euro Gun)
- Rail Gun (Australian and South African Gun)
- American Style Spear Gun (Multi-band Gun)
As we describe each of these types below, keep in mind that the availability of one or more of these guns may depend on the country in which you reside. However, you could always special order your preferred style of spear gun if you cannot find it at your local sporting goods store.
The European Style Spear Gun
The most popular spear gun on the European continent, the European Style Spear Gun is also gaining popularity in the United States and beyond. This spear gun is very versatile, ultra-quiet and easy to load. It is designed to hunt smaller fish up to 10 pounds, although larger fish have been taken using this gun.
Most European Style Spear Guns utilize a single barb and have shafts that measure from 6 to 7.5 millimeters; and their length ranges from about 90 centimeters to 130 centimeters, with several sizes in between. The barrels are made from carbon fiber, aluminum or wood, and no special loader is needed. The barrels of the European style gun are very low-profile—about 1 inch in diameter. The muzzle of the gun is typically made from tough plastic composites, at which a single band typically screws in. The shooting line on this spear gun attaches to a slot at the rear side of the shaft, which lessens the drag, adds length to the line, and shortens the stringing line. Common band thicknesses on the European style spear gun are 16mm, 18mm, and 20mm.
The only real drawback to the European-style spear gun is the small shaft size and the chance that it will bend (or break) if larger fish are targeted.
The Rail Gun
The newest of the band-powered spear guns, the Rail Gun is rapidly gaining in popularity, especially in places like Australia and South Africa where spear hunting is a popular pastime. The Rail Gun is seen as the cousin of the Euro gun because it is actually evolved from the same. The main difference between the two types of spear guns is the larger shafts utilized by the Rail Gun (7 to 8 millimeters with a single barb)—a feature that helps divers hunt larger fish at longer distances.
Although the Rail Gun comes in lengths that are similar to the European Style spear gun, the barrel on the former has thicker walls. This feature helps to reduce barrel flex on some of the longer guns measuring 130-150 cm. As its name implies, the shaft on the Rail Gun is guided by a “rail,” with a guide that runs the entire length of the barrel. This rail guide helps hunters shoot more accurately at short and long distances. The handle of the gun is plastic, and it uses a stainless steel mechanism with a plastic trigger.
The muzzle of the Rail Gun is also plastic and will accommodate up to three bands that are wrapped around the openings in the muzzle. The thickness of the bands that are typically used depends on the number of bands being utilized, but generally a double band gun will have bands measuring 16 to 18 mm in thickness, while single band Rail Guns may use bands with a thickness of 20 millimeters or more.
The “rail” on the Rail Gun does make it much more accurate than the European Style Spear Gun, but that same rail also tends to make the former a bit noisier when fired.
American-Style Spear Gun
A powerful gun that is capable of handling large underwater game, the American-Style Spear Gun is the most popular spear gun used in the states, Canada and Latin America. The gun is well-balanced and highly reliable, and while it may cost a bit more than the Rail Gun and Euro-Style gun, most divers in the know say the price is well worth it.
The American-Style Spear Gun utilizes thicker shafts than both of the other band-powered spear guns—about 8 to 9 millimeters in thickness. These shafts contain threads at the tip to accommodate double barbed spear tips or slip tip mechanisms. American guns are almost always made of fine wood—think Mahogany, Teak, etc—with top-quality steel mechanisms that can handle multiple loaded bands. The density of the wood frame makes for a more well-balanced gun that can hold 6 bands or more, which in turn makes them extremely powerful and the appropriate choice when hunting very large fish.
Unlike the European-style and Rail-driven spear guns, the shooting line on the American-Style Spear Gun is attached to a slide ring that runs the length of the shaft, stopping at the butt end of the gun. The stock of the gun, which is often referred to as “hip loaders,” extends 5 to 10 inches beyond the handle and is usually finished off with a rubberized butt for comfort. This extra length aids in the loading procedure, as the diver can rest the rubberized butt of the gun against his/her hip when loading. The size of the American-Style Spear Gun typically ranges from 32 to 60 inches when measured from handle to muzzle.
There are a couple of noteworthy drawbacks when it comes to the American-Style Spear Gun. First, their slide-ring setup makes them a little noisier than the Euro gun when fired; and their wood bodies makes them a little heavier and bulkier than both of the other band-powered spear guns.
About Pneumatic Spear Guns
Although very popular in the 1960s and 1970s, pneumatic spear guns have lost some of their appeal over the decades, although they are still used very successfully in some parts of the world. Known for their power, pneumatic spear guns have very little recoil, which makes long shots very achievable with a certain degree of accuracy.
Pneumatic spear guns derive their power from the air chamber these guns are equipped with. And the power of a pneumatic spear gun can be increased by pumping (compressing) more air into this chamber. However, since this task requires some strength, the extra power that “could” be added to the gun is not available to those with limited strength. Some manufacturers have come up with special loading devices to help underwater hunters, but these devices can waste precious time.
The pneumatic spear gun typically utilizes a thick 8 millimeter shaft that works great even on some of the largest fish in the ocean—without bending or breaking. The length of pneumatic spear guns typically ranges from 55 centimeters to 135 centimeters. Smaller guns are popular because how easy they are to load and the loading “difficulty” seems to increase with the size of the gun itself. Regardless of the size, however, all divers using pneumatic spear guns will require a special loader at all times.
Certain pneumatic spear guns have a Hi-Lo power actuator. This device can shut off the main reservoir of air and allows for close-range shots, easy loading for larger guns with higher pressure, and trouble-free discharging of the gun before exiting the water.
Naturally, there are some drawbacks and disadvantages to using pneumatic spear guns. These include:
- Problems with aiming. Pneumatic spear guns can be difficult to aim because the shaft exits from the center of a larger cylinder.
- Noisy. Pneumatic spear guns are known to be very noisy when fired in the water, which can scare off other fish in the area and quickly ruin a good day of spear hunting.
- More maintenance. Because pneumatic spear guns have more moving parts than their band-powered counterparts, they are much more difficult to service and maintain.
Now that we have covered the various types of spear guns that are currently available for purchase, let’s take a look at some of the options and specs you should definitely consider before signing on that dotted line.
How to Choose the Right Spear Gun: Options and Specs
Below are just some of the options and specs you should consider when shopping for your next spear gun:
What length do you require in your next spear gun? Actually, when choosing the correct length you should first determine the type of prey you plan to seek and the area in which you plan to hunt. Smaller spear guns are ideal for smaller game and when fishing in underwater caves or in waters that are murky, making it hard to see. Longer guns are ideal for larger species of fish, but only in areas in which the water is clear.
As we have noted above, the shafts, or spears on a spear gun come in a variety of thicknesses, from 6 millimeters to 9 millimeters. Thinner spears are okay for hunting small prey less than 10 pounds, but if big game is your quarry, you will need to get thicker spears that will not bend or break when used on larger fish species. We recommend you select shafts made from stainless steel, as these will resist rust and corrosion over time.
The most common tip for a shaft is the single barb, also referred to as the “flopper-style” tip. There are also threaded shafts that will accommodate an array of spear tips commonly available on the market. We recommend you go with either a Hawaiian or Tahitian flopper shaft if you are just starting out. These are the most popular shafts on the market today, largely because they are light, accurate, easy to remove from fish, less expensive than threaded tipped shafts, and provide minimal drag.
The type of points or tips you will need to pick up will depend almost solely on the type of fish you plan to pursue. There are two main types of tips: Pencil-Nose (Rock Point) Tips and Tri-Cut Tips.
- Pencil-Nose Tips. Pencil-Nose or Rock Point Tips should be used for delicate skinned fish—fish on which only a minimum amount of perforation is needed. Some of these fish include yellowtail, blue fish, pollacks, Dorado, and mackerel.
- Tri-Cut Tips. Tri-Cut Tips should be used when hunting tough-skinned, scaled or sculled fish species. Some of the fish that meet this definition are sculpin, grouper, snook, red snapper, etc.
If you opt to go with a band-powered spear gun, which we highly recommend, you will need to consider the type of bands—or rubbers—you need. There are two factors to look at when determining the band you need: diameter and stretch. As you might guess, bands with larger diameters will produce more power than those with smaller diameters, but they are also harder to stretch. However, if you plan to use multiple bands, you can always increase the power with every band you add, regardless of its size. The key is to get a band size that you are comfortable working with, as you can always add additional bands when more power is needed.
Like with most of these options and specs, the type of shooting line you will need to purchase depends on the type of species you plan to hunt. For smaller game, you may want to consider nylon or monofilament line. These lightweight line choices are very affordable and easy to work with. For larger—and very large—game, we recommend you equip your spear gun with shooting line made of tough Kevlar or stainless steel cable. Although harder to work with, these materials can help you land a prized fish. Shooting line is typically available in 200 pound to 1,000 pound test.
There are essentially two types of muzzles, both of which have their advantages and disadvantages. An open muzzle provides the shooter with a remarkable line of sight down the shaft—an advantage not afforded by the closed muzzle. Open muzzles also tend to be quieter when fired than their closed counterparts. Closed muzzles, on the other hand, are much easier to load than open muzzles, and some people insist that closed muzzles offer greater accuracy. Consider all of these pros and cons when choosing a muzzle type and select the one that offers the greatest advantage to you.
As you can see, there is a variety of choice in the spear gun market—guns that contain various options that are designed to make the sport easier and more enjoyable. Band-powered spear guns come in three types: American, Rail and European style; while pneumatic guns, being less popular, are all pretty much the same. If you are a beginner just starting out, we recommend you select from one of the three band-powered spear gun categories, with a length that is easy to handle and maneuver. With so many options available, you can fortunately start out small and light in terms of your tackle. Then you can work your way up to big game, at which time you can invest in some of the more premium shafts, tips, muzzles and shooting lines.