Guide to buying spearguns
By Darren Aitken
Due to the repetitive posting and questioning around the purchasing of spearguns, Aleks has asked me to do a write-up with some speargun buying advice.
To start off, buying a new or even second-hand gun is predominantly one of personal preference. This advice is generic but should provide some help for those who might feel a bit overwhelmed or are just looking for some advice. Most spearos I know who have been diving a long time have at least two or more guns in their arsenal. Some of those guns might only get used a handful of times a year or almost every time they go out. This is because one single gun is not perfectly suited to every situation. Most people can’t afford to buy multiple guns all at once, so the first gun you buy should be chosen according to your main immediate-to-near-future needs and personal ability.
If you are going to be diving from the shore around Perth metro or boat diving mostly around the shallower reef and targeting mainly the reef species, then a 1.1m or 1.2m gun is your best choice. What gun you buy depends on your budget. If money really is an issue, then buy a 1.2m gun as it’s a little more versatile. My advice here would be to try and get a twin rubber gun as this will allow you the flexibility of diving with only a single rubber loaded if you’re chasing smaller fish in shallow or in caves and then use the second rubber if you move off into deeper water and bigger fish. It’s comparatively cheaper still to get most single rubber guns, but make sure you are aware of the ease or difficulty at which you can upgrade the gun to improved specs at a later stage should you wish. For example, if the muzzle can take a larger diameter rubber or multiple rubbers. The main reason for this is a fish shot with two 16mm rubbers at close range around the reef is likely to result in either damaged or blunted spear tips.
One single 16mm rubber loaded on a 1.2m gun is enough to shoot through a good size Dhu fish or Baldchin Grouper, as long as your shot placement is good and you get yourself into a good position. A 1.2m gun with double 16mm rubbers is also enough to shoot a good size Spanish Mackerel or similar. I believe the World record Spanish Mackerel was shot off the WA coast with a 1.2m gun. Many would argue that a 1.2m gun is the most versatile gun size. A 1.1m gun is just a little smaller and more manoeuvrable in the water, which is helpful when hunting flighty or smaller fish. Again I know some divers who use maybe a 1.4m or even a 1.5m gun for all their diving, including reef work. It must be said though that all of them have been diving for many years. They tend to target blue water species more often but feel comfortable using that gun for reef work, something that does not happen overnight.
If you are still wanting to buy one gun and find you do some reef work but also either do some trips up north, or tend to hunt pelagics perhaps a little more than reef work, then a 1.3m to 1.4m could be considered. Again the twin rubber option allows you to use only the one rubber when working around the reef.
With the above said you have to ask yourself what you want the gun for, if you will do the majority of your dives near shore and around local reefs then a smaller gun is better. These kinds of reef are also more likely to have visibility that is not always optimal and here again the smaller gun, around 1.1m is best. For shallow reef work I personally use a 1.1m gun with only a single powerful rubber, like 18mm diameter. It allows for quick reloading and rigging but is powerful enough to fully penetrate most fish encountered in this zone. For pelagic, blue water or larger fish hunting, a longer gun between 1.3m to 1.5m is more suitable. Some of the main reasons for this relate to fish at times keeping their distance in cleaner water thus needing to take a longer shot (not always the case but it can happen) and larger fish requiring greater power to penetrate the whole way through.
Once you have decided what length gun to buy how does one choose the specific brand or type? Again this may come down to personal preference but there are some things to avoid. It is a really bad idea to buy a cheap gun from one of those outdoor bulk sale type stores. Most of the guns found in such a store are assembled in China and often not very well. You will end up replacing the gun soon after or possibly even giving up. I would also not place much trust in them from a safety perspective. Even if purchased as a back up this would not be a good option. There are many reputable brands and naming all of them would not be possible. Some brands are also more suited to the WA coast line, including Rob Allen, Edge, Freedivers, Rabitech, Aimrite as some of the more common pipe gun brands (please note there are other good brands that I have not named) and Riffe as the most common wooden laminate barrel gun. Some of the European manufactured guns are amazing for European conditions but not necessarily for Australia. Things such as fixed metal bridals and rubbers that are screwed into the muzzle, thin spears and bridal attachments which are not suited; the metal bridals can actually be quite dangerous and should be avoided or replaced.
So when making the purchase and parting with your hard earned money, do yourself a favour and ask questions. Make sure you are happy with what you are getting and that it will be right for you and what you need it for. There are some shops where the person selling you the gun has never actually used it before and is simply moving the stock on the floor. I would not like to buy anything from someone like this. It’s helpful if the person selling you the gun has knowledge and experience in spearfishing and even better if they have used the gear before.
Second hand guns are a little more complicated. If you have found a potential purchase, aside from actually being the right gun for you as already discussed, the next biggest consideration is the state of the gun and all its parts. You need to be aware of replacement costs verses the original purchase price. Needing to replace a shaft and rubbers soon after the purchase could make buying a new gun more cost effective. If you are patient or lucky you can get some great bargains, and as long as a gun has been looked after and the parts all in good condition, some minor servicing can render the gun just about good as new.
Floatline vs Reel
Another factor to consider is reel or float line? Again this is a personal preference. I will say that for beginners, a line and float is likely the safer option and you are less likely to lose your new purchase. Reels make diving more hassle free prior to shooting the fish as you have a lot more freedom, it allows you to follow fish through caves and swim throughs, but again there are safety concerns here and it’s better to not attempt this if you are new to the sport. If you go with a reel, ensure you get one that is good quality. There are a few reels that are not great, they are prone to breaking and the drag system can lock or go into complete free spool quite easily, making landing a fish far more difficult. Line is also a factor. Some lines are better than others. Some of the cheaper lines are effective but might not last as long or stand up to as much as some of the better quality line. Some lines I would stay away from altogether.
Roller guns have also entered onto the scene in a big way recently. Interestingly, roller guns have been around for over 50 years but only recently become so popular. Many of the original rollers had major reliability issues due to, among other things, quality materials not being available to the manufacturers. This is no longer the case and arguably some of the best guns available today are roller guns. This topic could be a whole major article on its own but I will attempt to touch on a few of the key factors relating to rollers. Some of the benefits of roller guns over standard muzzle loaded guns include better utilisation of the rubber’s potential energy, resulting in better thrust of the shaft and little to no recoil. This allows the diver to use a smaller gun that provides the equivalent shooting ability of a larger gun. This makes tracking fish (moving the gun underwater to get in line with the fish) easier as well as shooting big fish in dirtier water better. The main negative of rollers includes reduced life span of rubbers. A roller gun allows the rubbers to be stretched to a greater percentage than a standard gun and this does wear down the elasticity quicker (please note roller guns should never be left in storage for any period of time while not diving with any degree of stretch in the rubbers, always untie or loosen the stretch). Roller guns can take some getting used to but once mastered and correctly tuned they can be incredibly accurate at pretty long ranges. This can add a fun dimension to spearfishing, although many of the purists (a nice term for oldies ☺) say it detracts from the sport. There are some brands of roller heads to be wary of. I have had to replace out a few roller heads on guns where either the head was not working properly or more commonly the design causes the shooting line to cut or wear through very often. In terms of size, my most popular size of roller gun is by far 1.1m. This gun can effectively replace a 1.3m or even a 1.4m gun if you are able to utilise it efficiently.
There are many factors to consider when purchasing any bit of spearfishing equipment, not just guns. It’s best to buy what is right for you. If you are not sure what that is, ask questions. If the answers you get don’t make any sense, don’t make the purchase. It is also best to buy right the first time. I have often heard spearos complain about a past particular purchase being a complete waste of money.
If you have particular questions I am happy to help out if possible, so shoot away.