Archive for August 2007
by Tom Gaylord
B.B. is giving me a chance to tell you about some neat collectible pistols today.
Before we begin, Pyramyd Air has asked me to alert you to a new shipment of Air Arms guns. Watch the website this weekend and early next week for a host of new guns to appear!
It’s been a long time since I got to have any fun with collectible airguns, so today’s the day. Allow me to introduce you to a matched pair of high-grade precharged pneumatic air pistols!
First, a bit of history
In the late 1700s, experimenters around the world were trying to push the state of the art for firearms, and one dream on everyone’s mind was to make a repeating rifle. Since the powder charge was loose in those days, repeaters didn’t make much sense, plus the fact that black powder, which was just called gunpowder at the time, is an explosive, unlike modern gunpowder. Any stray powder didn’t just burn, it burned at the rate of about 11,000 feet per second, which makes it a low-grade explosive. Obviously having powder loose in a gun made for great danger.
One experimenter who was attempting to make a repeater was Italian Bartolomeo Girandoni. He had to end his experiments, though, when one of his rifles exploded and killed his son. Girandoni switched to experimenting with high-pressure air, and in 1780 he was awarded a contract to supply the Austrian army with his new design of a repeating air rifle…a 22-shot .47 caliber breechloading rifle. Over the next two decades, he supplied them with 1,000 to 1,500 rifles, hand pumps, large gang pumps and parts.
The world was in awe of an air rifle that could empty its magazine in under one minute. The awe quickly turned to flattery as private gunsmiths all over Europe began copying Girandoni’s design and began producing sporting rifles of their own. If you are interested, you can see one such rifle on the DVD Antique Big Bore Airguns.
Here is a video you can’t get from The History Channel.
The Girandoni copy was made by Joseph Shembor
Imagine how rare and wonderful these sporting copies of the Girandoni military rifle must have been at the time. Air rifles were scarcely known, and yet these were repeaters! Imagine how much rarer a pistol version of the same gun would have been. Well, such guns do exist. I have seen and held them. Larry Hannusch owns a matched pair of repeating air pistols built along the Girandoni pattern by a maker who signed his name as Cantarini of Vienna. He displayed them at the Little Rock Airgun Expo several years ago, and he allowed anyone who was interested to photograph them.
A cased pair of Cantarini pneumatic pistols with all their equipment is impressive.
Though the pistols are considered a matched pair, they do have subtle differences. Both are heavily covered with gold inlay and gold-plated brass fixtures.
Larry was put in touch with the owner through an internet lead from my wife, Edith. They met, and he bought them on the spot. They were complete but both were missing the leather covering for their butt flasks, so he had a master leatherworker recover them in black Moroccan leather, like the originals. He assembled the kind of tools they would have had, plus a vintage hand pump, and had the entire collection cased in the French style in red velvet.
These pistols function in the Girandoni pattern, which means they feed balls by gravity from a steel tube on the right side of the receiver. A spring-loaded shuttle slides to the right to pick up the next ball, then back to the left to align the ball with the bore. The air runs from the front of the air reservoir in the butt to directly behind the ball. (AirForce revived this valve design in their rifles). It is most efficient because the air doesn’t have to make any turns on its way out the bore. In the Cantarini pistols, each magazine holds 10 balls, and the pistol probably had enough air for one magazine.
This photo shows the sliding shuttle for loading and the magazine tube on the right side of the receiver. Look at all that high-relief engraving!
These pistols are .40 caliber and rifled with a polygroove pattern. Each barrel is 7″ long, and the overall length is 13″. They’re numbered to match their removable butts (for filling with air) because this was before the time of interchangeable parts (ca. 1815). Being civilian models, these pistols have a decocking feature that the Girandoni rifle does not have. They can be uncocked without firing, while the Girandoni must be fired if it is cocked.
How’s this for deep rifling? It’s typical for this period.
The level of engraving and materials indicates these two were made for either a wealty person or nobility, if not for royalty. They don’t seem to have a royal crest, but whoever they were made for was definitely a wealthy man.
I think it’s good to look at airguns like these from time to time, if only to remind ourselves that everything was not invented in the last 10 years.
by B.B. Pelletier
This posting was requested by frogman, who says he has trouble with unsupported shooting positions like standing (offhand), sitting and prone. Today, I will address the offhand position. And, yes, frogman, there are plenty of secrets for all these shooting positions.
Shooting offhand starts with the alignment of the body. Your skeleton is the structure that keeps you erect, but if it isn’t in line with what you are trying to do, your muscles will constantly try to adjust to hold you in position. The result is a wobble. A right-handed shooter should stand almost 90 degrees to the target, with just a slight turn toward the target to allow the rifle to point naturally and without effort. You know when you are properly aligned because, when you mount the rifle, it is almost aiming at the target, without the need to correct through small movements of the upper body. All my tips and explanations are for right-handed shooters.
Tip 1. Small adjustments
You can make small adjustments to the position by turning your feet without changing position. The right foot, which is trailing, is the best foot to adjust positions. Rotate on the HEEL of the foot in either direction to make small sideways adjustments. Do not attempt to adjust more than a few degrees using this technique. Reposition both feet if the rifle is off-target more than that.
Tip 2. Lock your stance
Once you are in position, rotate the left (front) foot to the right by rotating on the heel. This will tension both legs to make your stance firmer. If it throws you off-target (it shouldn’t), then reposition yourself – you weren’t in the right stance to begin with.
Tip 3. Don’t hold the weight of the rifle
A right-handed shooter bears most of the weight of the rifle in his left hand, but he doesn’t hold it with his muscles! No one can do that and hope to have a steady stance. Instead, he brings his upper arm in tight to his body and lets the weight of the rifle rest on his slightly extended forearm. The rifle, forearm and upper arm form a triangle whose ends don’t close. I have seen 10-year-old girls hold 8.5-lb. target rifles with relative ease this way! But if you don’t do it like this, the brawniest man in the world cannot hold a rifle steady.
She’s not 4 feet tall and that FWB rifle weighs at least 8.5 lbs.!
Target rifles are made with all sorts of forearm aides to make this hold easier. In Olympic competition, the hand stop is popular. A century ago, a special palm rest was installed to make it easier to hold a rifle this way.
Anschütz target rifle has a hand stop under the forearm to stop the off hand from sliding forward.
The Schützen palm rest dates from the late 19th century.
Thin shooters will learn to throw their hips out to the left to give the upper arm something to contact. Heavier shooters will have less difficulty. Adjust where the off hand is located along the forearm to get the rifle level.
She has to shift her hips to the left to touch her upper arm.
Tip 4. Keep the shooting arm away from the body
You’ve done all this work to get into a good stance – don’t ruin it by holding your shooting arm tight to your body where it can set up wobbles. Practice aligning your shooting upper arm and elbow at 90 degrees to your body, so your elbow is pointing to your right. As you practice, you may discover that you can lower your elbow slightly and be more comfortable, but keep that shooting arm from contacting the side of your body if you don’t want to wobble.
Tip 5. Don’t grasp the stock
You will notice that neither of the target shooters pictured above is grasping the stock with her fingers. Both use the flats of their open palms. Does that sound like anything you’ve heard before (hint…the artillery hold)? Now, if you’re out deer hunting, you will grasp the stock, but I don’t expect you to use a classic offhand stance when hunting.
Okay, frogman, now I want to hear from you. Have these pointers helped you improve your stance and reduce the wobble.
by B.B. Pelletier
The latest podcast is posted today. Enjoy!
Sometimes you get a lemon and there’s nothing you can do about it. This is a tale of such a gun, as well as the final report for THIS IZH 61.
I wanted to see what sort of improvement would result when the IZH 61 sights were replaced with something more precise. A couple readers mentioned they had done this to their 61s and it helped a lot, which is what I expected. Additionally, one reader told me to only use the clip with the tighter chambers, which I already planned to do.
I selected the Beeman Sport Aperture Sight for the rifle. The price is high, when compared to the cost of the rifle, but this is a sight I’ve had for years. I use it for experiments just like this. The other diopter sights with 11mm clamps that Pyramyd sells are priced about the same, so there’s a choice of sights, but not of price. If they would stock the Mendoza peep sight, there might be a superior sight for a little less money, but, alas, they don’t.
You might think the first step is to remove the rear sight, but it’s not. First you mount the new sight so you can align it with the existing rear sight. That will go a long way to getting you sighted-in. The Beeman attaches via a strange clamping system that is so simple I won’t describe it. It’s no more complex than a screen door latch. Installation of the peep sight and then removal of the open rear sight took a total of 30 minutes.
A pin punch is needed to drift out the pin that holds the rear sight.
The rear sight base remains on the rifle when the sight is taken off.
Beeman Sport Aperture Sight is just right for the IZH 61.
And then comes the real test – shooting!
And what a test it proved to be. Instead of shooting better, the rifle shot progressively worse! There is definitely something wrong with the feed mechanism, which reinforces why I don’t like repeating airguns. When the cocking lever is closed, the bolt probe pushes a pellet into the breech of the barrel, only on this rifle you can feel that the pellet is not aligned correctly.
I shot more of the Crosman Competition Wadcutters that were the most accurate pellets in the last test, but this time I couldn’t even equal the poor groups I had gotten with open sights. Then I tried several other pellets of known pedigree – all to no avail. My final group at 10 meters was over three inches wide with an RWS Superdome pellet!
There was no best group. This is what they looked like, only the final group was over three inches wide!
When something like this happens I like to rule out the simple things such as barrel and sight tighteness, and this time everything was tight. So I muzzle-loaded five .177 round lead balls and shot them. That would determine if the loading mechanism was at fault. Pellets don’t load through the muzzle well, but .177 lead balls do.
The balls scattered all over the place just like the pellets, so the fault isn’t with the feed mechanism – it’s the barrel. This rifle either has a poorly-made barrel – or it is so dirty that it acts like there is no rifling. Because of the low velocity, the chances that the barrel is dirty are slim, but not altogether ruled out. Being a repeater, there is no easy way to clean the barrel except through the muzzle, so that’s what I’ll do. Then I will try to shoot some good groups. If it does shoot well, there will be another report. If it doesn’t, and I suspect it won’t, then this is the final report for this rifle. I will arrange to get another one to test for you.
I am finished with this particular rifle but not with this test. You may recall that this was a rifle returned to Pyramyd Air for repairs, and I think it has something wrong that cannot be fixed. But I know the IZH 61 can shoot because I’ve shot so many of them before and never had this problem. So, I’ll order a new one and take it from there.
by Tom Gaylord
A natural hold needs a gun built on an angle
The USFT is built in a canted configuration, so the seated shooter doesn’t have to adjust his body. It did make aligning the scope more of a challenge, since I normally align the vertical reticle with the receiver. On this rifle, the receiver is offset to the side until I am seated and holding the gun properly. The scope had to be aligned with me in the seated position. I still don’t have it exactly right; but, once I do, the scope will force me to shoot without a cant. There is no problem in the offhand position, either, because the reticle of the scope aligns you to level. The pistol grip is canted to the right side for a more natural grip angle. Plus, my rifle’s grip has a target palm shelf for stability.
I opted for 30mm Leupold quick-disconnect scope rings, so the rifle came with a Weaver base. I used a Hakko 8-40x56mm scope dialed all the way to 40x. This is a dark, muddy scope that usually cannot be used at this magnification, but I had bright sunlight on the target, so it was fine. Although there is no scope level (yet) on the gun, I used reference points on the target to level every shot.
This is what you have all waited for, I know. How bloody accurate is this thing? To find out, I shot from a bench. I used the bipod as a rest and I tried both Beeman Kodiaks and JSB Exact diabolo heavies (10.2-grain) that McMurray told me were among the best pellets. Pyramyd has a super deal on H&N Baracuda Match pellets, which are identical to the Kodiaks, so you can save several dollars per tin by buying them. I only shot the gun about 50 times, so what I’m about to show you is very preliminary. The day was windy, with gusts over 15 mph from 6 o’clock. The distance was 50 yards. I sighted in with Kodiaks and then shot the best groups with JSBs. The best five-shot group of the session measures 0.355″ c-t-c, which is smaller than 3/8″. But all JSB groups were under a half-inch.
Best group of JSBs at 50 yards measure 0.335″ c-t-c.
I also show the test target sent with the gun. It is 25 shots with Kodiaks at 51 yards, and measures 0.663″. Twenty-five shots is nearly a large enough number that this group is not a statistical prediction at all, but a true validtion of this rifle’s accuracy. The small size of the group speaks volumes about the pedigree of both the system and the barrel.
Test target sent with the rifle shows 25 shots at 51 yards passed through a 0.663″ group.
Do you need the USTF?
I am not a national-class FT shooter, yet I own this rifle that could easily win at that level. Am I foolish for owning it, since it is a dedicated competition rifle and not just a general-purpose airgun? I don’t think so – any more than I think you need to be an Olympic competitor to own a world-class 10-meter target rifle or pistol. I got it to explore the possibilities of pneumatic airguns…how accurate they can be, how ergonomics affect shooting and how efficient a pneumatic valve can be.
This rifle has no regulator, yet it performs as though it had one. Regulators are high-maintenance items that are the weak link in the guns that have them. The USFT is a breakthrough mechanical technology that combines efficiency with reliability and great precision. Even if you never own one, you’ll benefit from it because other manufacturers are looking at what it can do and will be influenced by it for decades to come.
by Tom Gaylord
Before we begin, Pyramyd Air has asked me to announce a huge sale on Webley breakbarrel spring rifles. If you’ve been in the market for a new springer, this might be the sale you’ve been waiting for.
We’ll now look at the rest of the features of the gun, but first a word about the trigger. Several of you wanted to know about the trigger’s adjustability. In fact it is a two-stage trigger. I contacted Tim McMurray, who explained that the adjustment screw in front of the trigger adjusts takeup. If you adjust it as far as it goes, it turns the trigger into a single-stage trigger. I adjusted it to a two-stage, but the second stage is so light (I estimate an increase of 5-10 grams over the first stage) that I cannot always feel it. Rather than shoot when I’m not ready, I went back to single-stage operation, and I think most shooters will agree. There is another trigger adjustment, but you have to partially disassemble the gun to get at it, so I will leave it as it is.
I need to make some additional corrections . The part I called a bolt in the first segment is really a swivel breech. The bolt is just the handle that turns it. The large piece on which the logo is engraved is called the barrel mount (I called it the receiver). The receiver is below it. Both are made of 6061 T6 aluminum. The swivel breech and grip frame are made from 7075 T6 hard-annodized aluminum.
This is a spare swivel breech with a valve set for 12 foot-pounds. The valve stem and seat are shown. The breech removal tool makes changing easy once the air is gone from the reservoir.
My rifle came with a 25″ Weihrauch barrel in .177 caliber. It is entirely free-floated, so what may look like two barrel hangers in the photo do not touch the outside of the barrel. When the reservoir flexes as the pressure drops, the barrel will be unaffected. The other barrel feature is a muzzlebrake similar to the one used on an M48A1 tank cannon. It strips off the turbulent air and directs it to either side of the muzzle, so the pellet gets out without receiving a push in the wrong direction.
On the bottom of those two barrel bands are studs to accept quick-detachable sling swivels. They are also possible anchor points for bipods. Tim made them for a Harris bipod, but I had a Leapers Multi-Functional Universal bipod that attached in the same way. I had to file off a small amount of material from the stud to get it to fit; but once I did, it worked perfectly. You can’t use a bipod to shoot field target, so the reason you want one is to give the rifle a convenient stand between lanes. Otherwise, it’s either laying in the dirt, or you have to drag a gun case around the course.
The adjustable knee rest is a popular option most people buy. Because this is a field target rifle and shooters will use it in the seated position, the knee rest is essential to hold the weight of the rifle while shooting. On the bottom of the walnut base is a dense foam pad that rests on the shooter’s knee. The rest is adjustable for height and angle as well as postioning left and right. Since I shoot cross-legged instead of knees-up, my rifle has an extension that drops the knee rest down to contact my thigh when I sit. In the offhand position, it becomes a hand rest.
The adjustable knee rest swings to any position needed for support. Dense foam on the base cushions the knee.
Dog-bone thigh support and rifle butt
The dog-bone thigh support is a brand-new item that increases stability for the seated shooter. It’s attached at the butt and swings into a position to rest on a seated shooter’s thigh, giving one more point of contact for the rifle. Since field target does not permit direct contact between the rifle and the ground, anything that can help stabilize it without touching the ground is a plus. Your legs are already in contact with the ground, so the dog bone has a solid place to rest. The rifle butt slides in and out to give whatever length of pull works best for the shooter. It also rotates to either side, so there is no uncomfortable need to reach out to the rifle – it reaches out and holds you when it’s adjusted right.
The dog bone rest swings to either side of the butt and locks in place quickly. It’s great for seated shots, but with experimentation can also be used for better offhand stability.
I will finish this report tomorrow.
by B.B. Pelletier
When I left off last time, I promised to show you a Daystate that not many airgunners have heard of. I had two of them, which qualifies me to tell the tale of the airgun many of you have probably daydreamed about and wondered why nobody ever made. I’m talking about the Daystate Sportsman Mark II.
“What they oughta do…”
How many times have I heard airgunners talk about their reservations with precharged guns? They like the way the guns shoot, if only there was some way around the scuba tank and hose. Other airgunners look at their Blue Streaks and wonder why someone has never thought to put a premium barrel on one and perhaps give it some more power. If they know of the Sharp Ace, they wonder all the more. [The Sharp Ace is a more refined multi-pump with greater power and accuracy than the Benjamin Sheridan rifles.]
“Yeah,” they muse, “If only Daystate or Falcon would build a PCP and build a pump into it so you don’t need a scuba tank!”
Daystate Sportsman Mark II is a multi-pump pneumatic that’s built like a PCP. Shooters said they wanted it, but sales didn’t agree.
Wonder no longer, my friends – the gun was built. Like I said, I had two of them. The Daystate Sportsman Mark II is a multi-pump pneumatic that’s built along the same lines as a PCP, only with a pump built in. The UK version reached 12 foot-pounds and required only two pumps. If it is pumped further, a relief valve will open to exhaust the excess air. The U.S. version hit 25 foot-pounds and required five pump strokes. Of course, as with any multi-pump, you could always stop at fewer pumps and shoot with less power. On one pump, my .22 caliber rifle got about 6.5 foot-pounds with Crosman Premiers. Two pumps gave me 11.8 foot-pounds. Three took me up to 15.5 foot-pounds and four got 17.5 foot-pounds. Five pumps got 19.5 foot-pounds with Crosman Premiers. With a 29.6-grain Dae Sung (similar to today’s Eun Jin pellet) the rifle got 24.5 foot-pounds. The rifle was made in .22 caliber and there were plans to make it in .25 also, but I don’t know that any were made.
Wow, you say! I’d really like that! Sure you would, if only the pumps took the same effort as your Blue Streak, but they didn’t. Pump number three required about 67 pounds of effort. Pumps four and five took about 77 pounds of effort. Even pump number two took between 55 and 64 pounds of effort, so the 12 foot-pound gun was no delight, either. The eigth and final pump of a Blue Streak takes about 33 pounds of effort. I have watched several grown men fail to pump the Sportsman five times. A great many more simply refused to do that much work. That was the problem with the rifle. If the invention Tom Gaylord showed you for the Benjamin 392/397 were incorporated into the Sportsman, then, yes, it could be successful. But as it was produced, even in a 12 foot-pound gun, it was simply too difficult to pump. The pump handle swung 105 degrees away from the side of the rifle and the pump effort didn’t start to build until the handle was about halfway back.
Pump lever swung 105 degrees open. It pivoted on a massive bearing.
How did it shoot?
It shot just like you imagine it would. It shot exactly like a PCP. The pump lever was on the right side, so it tried to rotate the rifle in that direction when you held it, but other than that there was little difference between the Sportsman and any .22 caliber PCP of the time (1997). There was no noticeable recoil; the trigger was light and delightfully crisp and accuracy was minute of thumbnail at 40 yards – everything you would expect.
The photos show the same clean lines that Daystate was putting on their PCPs at that time. Fortunately, this rifle was made when they were lightening all their PCPs, because that pump mechanism added several pounds of weight. The unscoped rifle weighed 9.5 lbs.!
Before there was a Mark II there was a Mark I. Before that, the rifle existed under another name altogether. Daystate didn’t actually design it. They acquired the design from another source, and I just recently learned from Daystate of America that they didn’t actually build it in-house, either. They acquired it from an outside source and put their name on it.
I liked the rifle after getting used to it. After time passed, comparison with my PCPs that were so easy to just shoot caused me to part company.
For those who find themselves intrigued, these guns still show up at airgun shows. Asking prices are about $550, which is close to the new price in ’97. Every one of them you find will probably be in excellent condition – both because the gun is so beautiful that their owners will care for it, and because it is so hard to pump that nobody will ever wear one out!
by B.B. Pelletier
In the time between the first report and now there has been some discussion on this blog of the correct way to lubricate the rifle’s piston seal. The IZH 61 comes to you with what seems to be petroleum oil inside the chamber and can stand a drop or two of real chamber oil early on. The only way I know to do this is to drop two drops of chamber oil down the muzzle of the rifle with the gun standing upright on its butt. Allow several hours for the oil to slide down the barrel and pass through the air transfer port. Because it flows slowly, the oil should make the 90-degree turn at the transfer port, but you can angle the muzzle slightly forward to help it, if you want.
The air transfer port is located at the bottom of the barrel, just forward of the breech. Reader Gazza noted that there is a screw on top of the receiver that’s lined up with the transfer port, but I looked at it and it’s not a steel screw. Also, the receiver into which it screws is plastic, so frequent removal of this screw is asking for trouble. This is the first evidence I have found that a steel receiver would have been more desirable than plastic, but as long as you lube through the muzzle, as explained above, there’s no need to touch this screw. If you strip this screw, the compressed air will escape through the top of the receiver and your gun will lose power.
The mainspring could stand a few drops of oil while you’re at it. Here you may use petroleum oil because the small amount that migrates forward to the compression chamber isn’t going to cause any problems. The compression of the IZH 61 is too low for that. All it will do is cause some smoke from the muzzle.
The rifle comes with two clips. On my test rifle, one of them had oversized chambers. Both clips had large chambers that don’t hold the pellets well, but one of them allowed Crosman Competition wadcutters to stick their heads out the other side.
Crosman wadcutters fell through the chambers in the clip and protruded out the front like this. The other clip had tighter chambers.
There is a trick to loading this rifle. After the last shot has been fired, the bolt probe that seats the pellet in the bore is still sticking through the last chamber of the clip. You have to push forward on a silver-colored lock on the right side of the receiver to release the bolt probe, which springs backwards. Then depress the silver latch on top of the receiver and the clip pops out. If no pellets have been fired and you want to remove the loaded clip, just depress the silver latch on top of the receiver and the clip pops out. What I just told you is more information than you will find in the owner’s manual.
The silver triangle just below center is the bolt release. Press forward (to the right) at the top and the bolt springs back. The thin silver lever atop the receiver above the magazine housing is the mag release. The screw that I warn you not to loosen is the large Phillips head in front (right) of the magazine.
Too bad about the Crosman wadcutters being so loose because they are clearly the pellets this rifle loves best. I tried RWS Hobbys and a special Chinese target pellet that I use in 10-meter pistol matches and neither held groups as tight as the Crosman pellets. So, I protected them when loading the clip and relied on the gun to keep them in the clip when it was loaded (it did). Only one fell out during my shooting session. IZH can fix this loose chamber problem by putting two tiny ridges along the inside of the pellet chambers, running front to rear. That’s how everyone else does it. Sure there will be a cost to rework the die , but the results would be worth it.
I would love to show you super-tight bragging groups, but that’s not what I shot. Apparently, the old geezer is slowing down. I tried shooting with my bifocals on, but the results were worse than without them. I guess I’m one of those people who really needs a different sight on this rifle. Actually, that complaint is shared by a number of shooters, so this won’t be my last look at the 61. I will find something suitable to replace the rear sight and go at it one more time.
My best group of Crosman wadcutters at 10 meters is nothing to brag about. The rifle can shoot much better than this.
Well, I see something in the velocity from this particular rifle that I haven’t ever seen before. Usually a spring rifle requires a “wake-up” shot before it will come up to the normal velocity. Some require two (heck – PCPs need them, too), but this rifle seems to need one with every magazine! That’s strange. This rifle was a return that Pyramyd Air refurbished, and I am starting to wonder if they caught all the problems. RWS Hobbys ranged from a low of 465 f.p.s. to a high of 487, with the final 4 shots between 474 and 487. Crosman wadcutters had a low of 331 and a high of 464, with the last 4 shots ranging from 441 to 464. And, the Chinese wadcutters ranged from a low of 404 to a high of 450 with the final 4 ranging from 435-450. That’s an odd phenomenon, and I need time to consider it.
Am I still excited about the IZH 61? You bet! There is a lot of value in this little rifle. It may need better sights to wring it out, but we’ll look into that.