Archive for December 2006
by B.B. Pelletier
On to the range. Because the UTG Master Sniper is an airsoft gun, I started shooting indoors to keep the winds from affecting things.
How good do airsoft sniper guns get?
I tested a Classic Army M24 sniper rifle a few years ago. It had been highly modified, which included a power upgrade, a tighter barrel and the addition of an adjustable Hop Up mechanism. That gun could hold all its shots in less than one inch at 10 meters. If you were lucky and selected the right BBs (those without voids in them), a half-inch group was possible. It shot 0.25g BBs faster than 400 f.p.s., so it was really rockin’. But the 190 percent mainspring made that gun much harder to cock, and the investment topped $500, with all the work and parts. Here, we’re looking at a gun selling for less than $100, so a direct comparison isn’t fair.
UTG Master Sniper accuracy
I started shooting at 20 yards, but it soon became apparent the gun couldn’t hold better than 12″ at that distance. Remember, this was after I had dialed in the Hop Up! So I moved up to about 30 feet and tried again. With 0.20g BBs, the rifle shot five-shot group after group of about 4-5″. That’s not bad for starters, but it means the max range for skirmishing is going to be about 30-40 yards.
Switching to 0.25g BBs, the group size shrank to 2.5-3.5″. That’s much better, and the Hop Up wasn’t even adjusted for that weight BB! With additional adjustment, another half inch might be shaved. That pushes the effective range for skirmishing out to 50 yards. I did not find the 24x scope to be an advantage, as many readers pointed out beforehand.
All shooting was off the bipod, which works as it should. It’s lightweight and quick to deploy, but when you carry the gun it stays up and stowed, too. Can’t ask more than that – especially when it comes in the box with the rifle! The gun was very calm upon discharge. I could watch the ball toward the end of its flight, but in a real sniping situation, you would use OD BBs to conceal your position and watching would be much more difficult.
The trigger was easy to use, if not exactly what I’m used to. It’s a long single-stage pull with no creep, but a very long and fairly light pull. Except for the pull weight, that trigger got me ready for the trigger on the IZH MP 513M pellet rifle.
The 0.20g BBs ranged between 277 f.p.s. and 297 f.p.s., with an average of 288. The heavier 0.25g BBs ranged from 238 f.p.s. to 256 f.p.s., with an average of 247 f.p.s. I didn’t try 0.12g BBs. When the power gets this high, there’s usually no way the Hop Up can handle something that light.
This gun comes with a lot of nice features and accessories. I think it’s a great value for the asking price. It can be used for informal war games among friends, but I don’t think it’s ready for the big time as it comes from the box. I didn’t check into the availability of aftermarket parts, such as a tighter barrel and more powerful mainsprings. Knowing the airsoft market, I’d be surprised if they aren’t out there. If you want to get into airsoft with a budget long gun, this is a bolt-action springer that has a lot going for it right out of the box.
by B.B. Pelletier
In our last look at the IZH MP 513M air rifle, I noted several quirky design details on the gun. The safety, which works like an exposed hammer, is the biggest, but there are others.
Air transfer port seal
Another strange detail is the location of the seal for the air transfer port. On all other breakbarrel spring rifles that I can think of, the seal is on the breech surrounding the barrel. But on the 513M, it’s located on the compression cylinder located behind the barrel. I don’t suppose that it matters where it is, but it seems strange that only one air rifle would do it differently.
Scope mounting problems
This rifle has a dovetail base that accepts the scope rings. Instead of being cut into the cylinder, it stands proud of the gun, just like the RWS Diana springers. And, like them, the Russians have made poor provisions for a positive scope stop. I did the same thing as when I mounted the scope mount to the RWS Diana 54…I used a one-piece scope mount and hung the stop pin in front of the rifle’s base. The 513M has a steel base instead of the aluminum one Diana uses. There are three small holes in the base, which I suppose are for a scope stop pin, but I’ve not see one small enough to fit them.
513M scope base has three holes for a scope stop pin, but all are too small. Hang the stop pin in front of the base, as you’d do for the RWS Diana rifles.
I used a Leapers 3-9×40 (model shown is obsolete) scope on the MP 513M.
The real problem was that the one-piece mount was so far forward on the gun that the scope eyepiece was also too far forward. It was difficult to get a good view of the target from so far back, so I had to shove my head forward on the stock.
The safety that acts like a hammer didn’t prove to be a problem, as the photo shows. There was plenty of room under the scope to pull the safety back after cocking, and I soon found myself doing it as a habit. However, this “feature” is still an unusual one.
There’s plenty of clearance to cock the safety.
I wondered how the trigger would feel when shooting for accuracy. Well, I found out. The two-stage behavior becomes almost single-stage when you shoot for real. That means the first stage is quickly taken up, but the second stage pulls through a long arc before releasing. It feels like a long single-stage trigger when you shoot for record. I found it heavy when I had to concentrate on the pull, probably because the trigger was moving all the time instead of breaking crisply.
The 513 is accurate enough to challenge any Gamo, except perhaps the CF-X. I did my testing at 30 yards on a calm day. Beeman Kodiaks grouped 0.807″, and I would have stayed with them longer, except JSB Exact 10.2-grain pellets, which are nearly as heavy as the Kodiaks, shot almost twice as good – at just 0.458.” Crosman Premier 7.9-grain pellets tantalized with groups ranging from 0.539″ to 0.687″, but within those groups most of the pellets went into much tighter groups. I tried and tried, but could never equal the groups of the JSB with the Premiers. So, JSBs won the day.
The best group came from JSB domes. It’s less than one-half inch.
Crosman Premier 7.9 pellets grouped between a half-inch and six-tenths. In this group, however, four of the pellets are grouped in 0.149.” Several groups teased like this, but none beat the JSBs.
The 513M is as powerful as I thought it would be. Crosman Premier 7.9-grain pellets averaged 934 f.p.s., with a total spread of just 7 f.p.s. JSB Exact domes averaged 826 f.p.s., with a spread of 11 f.p.s. Kodiaks averaged 803 f.p.s., with a total spread of 15 f.p.s. All of these numbers suggest a well-balanced powerplant. The cocking effort of 40 lbs. is about 5-8 lbs. heavier than other airguns need to achieve the same power; but if you don’t mind it, the 513M is a good value.
JSB Exacts are clearly the best pellet for the rifle, being the most accurate and the most powerful at 15.46 foot-pounds. The rifle recoils heavily forward and vibrates a little. The heavy cocking effort became a strain after 100 shots. Still, at the price you’ll pay, this is the best buy on the market. I would get the .22 and use it for hunting.
by B.B. Pelletier
Hammer-forging, also called rotary forging today, is the high-rate production way to make a rifle barrel. The process takes three to four minutes, start to finish.
The hammer-forging process itself is actually close to two centuries old. It was used by gunsmiths in Appalachia, who hand-hammered steel barrel blanks around mandrels to make barrels for the famous Tennessee Poor Boy rifles of the 19th century. They used a special “gun anvil” that had a special hammer fitted to it. The barrel blank was placed between the hammer and anvil. The special hammer was struck by a conventional hammer to form the steel.
A modern hammer-forged barrel is formed by beating on a steel tube with multiple hammers until the steel forms itself around a tungsten carbide mandrel. Believe it or not, the correct alloy of cold steel will flow like toothpaste when the circumstances are right. The mandrel is engraved with a reverse of the rifling pattern. When the steel conforms to it, it takes on the exact pattern the maker desires. The hammers strike the steel tube about half-million times during the forming process, and they leave a pattern on the outside and inside of the barrel. Some companies remove this pattern, while others, like Mannlicher and Ruger, proudly show it off.
Ruger proudly displays the marks of hammer forging, seen in this enlargement of their 10/22 Target bull barrel as spiral flats running the length of the barrel. The marks running across the flats (top to bottom in this picture) are tiny grooves in the steel that opened up during the forming process. You can see these rough marks only under magnification and the right lighting.
The blank steel tube is fatter and about 30 percent shorter than the finished barrel will be. When the barrel is finished, a lot fewer operations need to be performed than with barrels rifled by other methods. The bore comes out glass-smooth and very hard from the hammering process. That hardness resists erosion from the heat of the combustion gasses of a firearm cartridge, thus prolonging the life of the barrel.
On the negative side, hammer-forging introduces stress points that must be relieved or the barrel will warp when it heats up. So, target shooters don’t pick hammer-forged barrels. It isn’t as critical for rimfires as it is for centerfire cartridges, so Ruger gets away with hammer-forging its 10/22 Target barrel. The only way a centerire rifle can get away with one is to have a lot of stress relief after the barrel is made.
Of course, airguns produce no heat to speak of when they fire; so, the barrel stress points are not critical, and target air rifles and air pistols are a possibility. We know that IZH makes hammer-forged barrels, and there are probably other companies who do as well.
Why doesn’t everyone do it?
A new hammer-forging machine costs $750,000 or more, making it a large capital investment. When a button-rifling setup costs $50,000, or so, it’s hard to justify the more expensive process unless the demand for barrels is very high, as each barrel has to carry an amortized share of the machine’s cost. Only companies making thousands of barrels per month can afford to do it this way.
There is no particular advantage to a hammer-forged barrel on an airgun, nor is there any disadvantage. If a maker can afford a machine, it can pump out a lot of barrels, but there has to be a market for them.
by B.B. Pelletier
This one is for DSW, who was surprised by the high prices of certain airsoft models. He asks what these guns are used for.
The origins of airsoft
Airsoft, or soft air as it is also called, originated in Japan some time around 1980. Firearms are unavailable to most people in Japan, and those interested in guns were looking for a legal way to enjoy at least some of the attributes. I understand this entirely, as there are times when I take out a particular firearm, be it a Garand or my Trapdoor Springfield, just to hold and mentally connect with the gun. Many women cannot walk through a fabric store without feeling the various fabrics and many men have a need to connect to things mechanical. For me, it is firearms, even when I’m not engaged in shooting them, so I understand the need to just hold something in my hands and let my imagination wander where it will.
The early guns were extremely realistic, to the point of fooling even avid shooters. But the wood and metal replicas were quite expensive, and soon a cheaper class of gun that was affordable to the masses was created. That’s when airsoft really took off. So, in the beginning, the guns were made as replicas of firearms that could not be owned legally. The fact that they happened to shoot small (6mm most of the time, but many other calibers have been created, as well) plastic balls that the Asian manufacturers called BBs, was secondary to the realism factor.
Airsoft development starts to branch
Once collectors were satisfied, airsoft manufacturers found a second market with shooters who actually used the guns to shoot at things – targets at first. A secondary branch of airsoft development began to improve the accuracy of the guns. That branch is still actively working, but it has now merged with a third branch that has taken over the lead – gaming or skirmishing.
In Asia and later in Europe and last in the U.S., airsoft was employed as an alternative to the sport of paintball, which is only slightly older. It seems no matter what the culture, some people like shooting at other people. In England, the local law enforcement establishments and governments are using airsoft skirmishing to drain the energy from teenage gang members – setting the model for the world. In Asia and Europe, skirmishing with airsoft has taken the lead over paintball as the No. 1 combat sport. In the U.S., it’s growing rapidly toward that end – to the point that Nelson Technologies, the people who invented the paint marker for agricultural use only to see it grow a million times larger as a gaming sport, are now actively developing paintballs for airsoft guns. They see the future in airsoft, because the guns are more realistic and the “BBs” don’t hurt as much as a .50- or .68-caliber paintball.
Today, the guns are made primarily for those who want to shoot at targets with something very safe, and those who want to get into tactical games. The games will soon be a billion-dollar market, if they’re not there already. Secondary items like tactical clothing, field gear, radios, goggles, electronics, night vision and actual military vehicles, and even aircraft are entirely supporting some companies who don’t sell a single airsoft gun!
Law enforcement and military simulations
Law enforcement agencies and military units around the world are turning to airsoft guns to use as a safe and non-lethal simulation for tactical training. Unlike simunitions that work in real firearms, airsoft guns do not cause accidental deaths when someone mistakenly loads live ammo.
There are airsoft M16s and M4s that cost over $1,600 and are just as rugged as the firearms. They only hold 30 rounds, just like the firearm, so shooters are forced to play like the real world. These guns are sold only to the military and law enforcement, because they’re considered too realistic for civilians to own. Makes me glad to be an American, because the constitution guarantees me the right to own the real thing, unlike most people in the world!
The film and theater industry turned to airsoft in the 1990s, after accidental deaths like the on-set shooting of Brandon Lee (Bruce Lee’s son) resulted when live ammo was loaded instead of blanks. Property masters no longer have to worry about securing actual firearms on set. For that reason, Hollywood lobbied long and hard to be allowed to possess airsoft guns without the blaze orange markings
DSW, I thought I could do this in one report, but there’s more to come; so stick around for part 2!
by B.B. Pelletier
Don’t worry. I wrote this post last Friday. I’m enjoying the day with my family.
Glen asked a question that comes up all the time. I have tried to answer it individually before, so now I’ll just blog it to everyone.
I read your articles and had decided on which springer to buy when I found your article addressing springers at altitude. Whoops! I’ll be shooting at about 8500 feet. Guess I need to look for a PCP instead.
I’ll be exclusively target/FT shooting and refilling from my scuba tanks. But which rifle? I’ve never shot pellets before but have shot skeet/trap and rifles/pistols at targets. A shrouded Logun Solo sounds like a fine rifle, but what improves as one spends up to say $1200? Do you have a favorite rifle or manufacturer? You haven’t devoted much space to PCPs and I could sure use some additional, independent advice.
Modern production methods
When I was a kid in the early 1950s, the term Made in Japan meant crappy goods that wouldn’t last. That changed in the 1960s, when the teachings of W. Edwards Demming and Joseph Juran were embraced by the nation of Japan as the best and only way to manufacture things. Those two gentlemen, who streamlined the U.S. war production effort during WWII, taught the rebuilding Japanese nation how to best make and move things, and the Japanese exported it to the world in the 1980s as “Japanese Management.”
There was once a time when U.S.-manufactured goods were too expensive for most of the world. That’s not true today. The European Union, despite some taxation problems, has built the euro into a strong world currency. The British pound is equally strong against our dollar, with the result that American-made PCPs, which just one company makes at present (AirForce), are significantly cheaper than guns coming from Europe. So Glen, this is part of my answer. If it comes from Europe or the UK, it has to cost more. If it’s made in a place where labor, utilities, and materials are even cheaper than they are here in the U.S., say China, then it will cost less.
PCPs can be made by automated machinery (U.S., England, Sweden, Germany, Bosnia, China to an extent and Korea to an extent), or they can be made by slower processes that require more labor. HOWEVER, once the parts are made, the guns can be assembled rapidly (U.S., Sweden, Germany, Bosnia, China and Korea) or they can be assembled by expensive labor that fine-tunes them (England, to a large but decreasing extent). In the case of several companies, the guns are actually made by others (Air Arms buys the S200 from the Czech Republic, Logan buys the S16 from Bosnia) and sold by the company whose name is on the gun. If that company is located in a country that has high overhead (England, Sweden, Germany), the cost of passing the gun through the books of the named company is high. So, the Bosnian-made S16 that should be relatively cheap costs a lot more because it’s run through the books of a company whose operating costs are high.
Glen wants to buy a shrouded Logun Solo, but wonders what he’ll be giving up. Well, I think the Solo is a remarkable bargain! It’s noteworthy that a company based in the UK (Logun) can get a PCP to market for $525 unshrouded and $575 shrouded. These are fantastic bargains! If you are looking for a traditionally stocked PCP, why wouldn’t you want this one? Ah, it’s a single-shot and you want a repeater.
If you want a repeater, prepare to spend money. Except for the Korean guns, most repeaters are quite expensive. In fact, the repeating function is perhaps the most costly feature you can add to a PCP.
Fancy wood used to be the big-ticket item, and is still very costly, but manufacturers are aware of that problem and are fighting to keep the costs low with synthetics and laminated stocks. Funny thing about laminates…they’re expensive, too, but not in Europe, where figured walnut is off the wall. In the U.S., we have a cheaper source of figured wood, as does Asia. But any wood you can PAINT will be MUCH CHEAPER, because the wood underneath can look horrible and no one is the wiser.
Ten years ago, Korea was the only country making PCPs with power adjustability. In 2000, AirForce Airguns brought out the adjustable Talon. A year later they brought out the quiet SS with an integral shroud. Now you can’t find an airgun maker that DOESN’T offer those features! They all have to offer the features shooters want.
Power and accuracy
This is what I think lies at the back of most people’s mind. How can a $580 PCP be as powerful and accurate as a $1,000 PCP? They can and they often are! Not always, but more often than the big price differential would seem to imply. The AirForce Condor is more powerful than any of the thousand-dollar air rifle, and it has a Lothar Walther barrel, same as most of them. I’ve even heard reports that the $350 Chinese-made B50 is very accurate, too! How can it be?
Here is a firearms analogy. Savage makes inexpensive centerfire rifles (110-112 series), but their action is so well-designed that a number of long-range shooters prefer it. Weatherby also makes accurate rifles, but they sell for 2-3 times as much as the Savage rifles. Are they 2-3 times “better” (more accurate, easier to shoot)? No! Why do they still sell well? Style and advertising. Same for airguns.
The real exception to what I’m saying here is in the ranks of the 10-meter target rifle, where things like superior ergonomics, anti-recoil mechanisms and better sights really DO offer a tangible advantage. The Beeman FWB P700 may retail for $2,900; but if I were competing in 10-meter rifle competition, I’d buy it.
So, Glen, get that shrouded Solo if it appeals to you. I’m sure it will be a wonderful rifle.
by B.B. Pelletier
Boy, you guys sure didn’t cut me much slack on the scope I selected for the gun! Of course Leapers 6-24×50 costs $20 more than the gun, but I was just trying to have a little fun. A real sniper rifle would have a 10x scope on it, so what I set up was somewhat overpowered.
In this report, we’ll take a look at shooting the UTG Master Sniper. From some of the comments, I know a thorough explanation is in order.
The gun comes with two magazines and a very nice speedloader. I found it a breeze to load without spillage. Once loaded, the magazine is slipped into its well under that stock. A word to the wise here. You have to deliberately push up the magazine until it clicks into place. If you don’t, it’ll work intermittently and you’ll be removing it all the time to clear a mis-fed BB. So, push it up flush!
Handy speedloader on the right. The Master Sniper comes with two magazines. Each has a capacity of 24 BBs.
Adjustable Hop Up
Hop Up is a feature that puts a backspin on the plastic BB, so it leaves the barrel spinning backwards. That makes it cut through the air and fly straighter longer. You turn those curveballs into fastballs! The Master Sniper has an adjustable Hop Up that lets you tune to the brand and weight of BBs you use. There’s just one drawback – you have to tune the Hop Up to the brand and weight of BB you are shooting!
That lever slides forward and back to adjust the backspin put on the BB. It’s both quick and easy, yet very precise at the same time.
Instead of mounting a scope and adjusting it until the shots go to the point of aim, with adjustable Hop Up you first have to adjust the Hop Up and then the scope! If it sounds confusing, wait till you try it! I selected a target that was very visible (a wooden fence about 17 yards away. Then I found a spot on the fence that was easy to identify with both my naked eye and through the scope. I sighted the scope on this spot, then watched the BB go downrange with my naked eye. That showed me where the BB was hitting relative to the target, and also if it was curving. I made no attempt to hit the spot; just to get the BB going as straight as possible, regardless of how far off it was from the aimpoint.
The Hop Up on the Master Sniper is very sensitive and easy to adjust. You can feel when you’ve moved the lever a small amount. It took about 40 shots to properly adjust it so the BB was flying as straight as I could make it. Then, it was time to adjust the scope.
How does it shoot?
To cock the gun, the bolt is lifted and retracted, then pushed home again – exactly like a bolt-action rifle. Pulling back on the bolt compresses the mainspring, which is light, so the cocking effort is not too heavy. The oversized, rubber-coated bolt handle really helps you hold on.
The trigger is single-stage with a long, light pull. There is no creep – just a long pull. When the gun fires, there’s no noticeable recoil and only a slight noise upon discharge. The bipod really stabilizes the gun when shooting from a rest, and it’s so easy to cock that you can pump out a relatively high volume of fire.
After adjusting the Hop Up for the straightest flight, the BB was hitting low and left of the aimpoint by a few inches. It was fairly easy to adjust the scope to bring it back to the intersection of the crosshairs. Another reason I used this scope was that it was already mounted in some Weaver rings, and the Master Sniper has Picatinny bases that work with two-piece Weaver mounts. I didn’t need to adjust the aimpoint that much, so there was no need for adjustable scope mounts. Then, it was on to the the range and some target practice.
Ah, but that’s for another day!
by B.B. Pelletier
Beeman’s Pell Seat is a simple tool, but sometimes very useful.
This question came from Phil last week. He asked if the Beeman Pell Seat was really useful for straightening the skirts of pellets. Since I have personal experience using one, I told him I’d blog the answer.
Yes, to answer the question outright. The Beeman Pell Seat does open the skirts of damaged pellets, providing they haven’t been damaged too much. But how does it know when to stop? Better yet, how do YOU know?
You don’t HAVE to know!
The beauty of this device is that you don’t really have to know how far to go when opening and reforming a pellet skirt. You have a wonderful pellet sizer called the barrel of your airgun. It will swage the skirt down to size if you’ve been a little too aggressive in using the pell seat.
Okay – exactly what are you doing?
You’re using the ball end of the pell seat to round out or flare the skirts of lead pellets. The ball is rolled around the inside of the pellet skirt, where it presses the skirt out equally in all directions. It’s harder to envision than it is to do.
Pellet on the right has a deformed skirt. It can be reshaped with the pell seat.
Why should you care?
If a pellet with a deformed skirt is loaded into a barrel, there’s no telling what will happen. The skirt may flare out perfectly just from being squeezed down by the bore. But, it can also collapse on one side, making an opening in the skirt where air can blow past when the gun shoots. If you want the best accuracy from a gun, don’t use pellets that have damaged skirts or reform them with a ball tool. The pell seat is the most convenient tool available to do this.
Some pellets won’t reform
Hard pellets, such as those made by Crosman, will not flare as easily as pure lead pellets. They also tend to have very shallow skirts that prevent deformation in the first place. If you shoot Crosman Premiers, for example, it’s probably better to just throw the bad ones away than to try to flare their skirts. That comes from years of experience shooting Premiers.
What about seating pellets?
This IS a pellet seater, after all. The other end of tool is used for that. Seating means pushing a pellet into the barrel by a uniform amount every time. Is that important? It can be for some guns. Some spring guns like to have their pellets seated deeply, while others seem indifferent. The AirForce Condor (a PCP) will get a small gain in velocity and will have a tighter velocity spread if you seat the pellets deep. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of room to align the pellet seating tool at the Condor’s breech, so sometimes I just use an Allen wrench with a very short end.
Modern target guns, on the other hand, don’t seem to require seating. When I say modern, I’m saying PCPs, only. The older springer target guns may need their pellets to be seated.
So, Phil and everyone, this simple aluminum tool actually does work. For some guns, it’s an essential tool; but for nearly all pellets, it can be a lifesaver!