Testing a B3-1
by B.B. Pelletier
Well, after two days of reading about what it takes to tune up a cheap Chinese air rifle, I thought I'd report on another one - the B3-1. One of our readers asked for it, so here goes.
I bought a B3 from around 1987. In those days, they sold for $49.00 through an ad in American Rifleman. I bought the gun because I had always found Chi-Com military firearms to be serviceable and adequate. Boy, was I in for an awakening! Chi-com firearms are made for the military. Airguns are made for export!
Trees don't lie
That old B3 underlever was as rough and cobby as a product can get and still work. It was loaded with all sorts of odd lubricants that smelled strange every time it fired. Back in those days, I didn't own a chronograph, so my way of testing airgun power was to see how deep it buried a pellet in a tree. I had a Blue Streak of known power, if Sheridan was to be believed, and it was .20 caliber. A smaller .177 pellet shot from a B3 at 125 f.p.s. faster should have penetrated approximately the same. It didn't, of course. It didn't even penetrate the tree at all. From the vibration, it felt like a magnum...but trees don't lie!
Deja vu all over again
I got rid of that old B3 at a garage sale within a year and thought Chinese airguns were out of my life. So, how do I explain buying another one, a B3-1, just three years ago at a gun show? I guess it was the price - only $29. Yes, in over two decades the price had actually gone down! There is also nostalgia. The dealer had these rifles in boxes stacked ten high and four deep on his table - just like the old days. Like some of you who asked me for this report, I couldn't walk away.
Something old, something new
Well, China has cleaned up its act in the past 20 years. This latest rifle is all the way up to NRA awful in the cosmetic department. We must be sending better wooden pallets to China, because the stock shows definite improvement over 1987. It's still peppered with wood putty where the nail holes were, but it fits the action much closer now; and the finish is brown instead of orange. The bluing on the steel is even and nice! Most of the parts that were plastic and cracked on my B3 are now steel, and the few that are still plastic are made much better. The synthetic breech seal at the front of the sliding compression chamber is still made of Chinese ticky-tacky, and who knows how long it will last.
When you cock a B3-1, it sounds like an old sailing ship creaking at anchor. The mainspring must be completely dry, and I can hear each coil as it slips in the tube under increasing compression. But, the rifle cocks easily. The designers didn't do anything foolish such as install an automatic safety or anti-beartrap mechanism, so the B3-1 remains one of the finest surgical instruments available to the general public. A little relaxation of care on the shooter's part, and it will remove a digit as readily as a Civil War surgeon, and without the benefit of anesthesia! Seriously, when loading THIS AIR RIFLE, you tuck the butt in your armpit and keep one hand firmly on the underlever while the other one goes in harm's way to feed the pellet. Some shooters who didn't heed that warning are now called "Stumpy."
The barrel seems to have some rifling! And, it seems to not be oversized, as they were in the past. The pellets fit in the breech as tight as they should, which is all you can ask from any rifle. That's an improvement.
RWS Hobby pellets (7 grains) average 579 f.p.s., a gain from the past, though I can't say how much. I don't have that same tree anymore, so I'm guessing we're up about 100 f.p.s. However, the variation is just 10 f.p.s., which is phenomenal. I was anxious to see how it shot. The rifle has no provision for a scope stop, so I shot with open sights. I'll grant you that a scope would have done at least 50 percent better.
I shot the rifle at 20 yards on a perfect day. Shooting off a rest, I managed groups of 1" to 1.5". That's not too bad. Not in the same class as a Benjamin 392, but not that much worse, either. So, the barrel is rifled and reasonably well at that.
Buy one, if that's what you want. Just remember that no two Chinese airguns are alike. I may have gotten a great one and you could get a dog. But I think today's dogs are farther along than they were 20 years ago. Someone over there is paying attention.