by B.B. Pelletier
Several months ago, a reader asked about using a vice to test the accuracy of different pellets in an airgun. In the comment sections of our posts, this question has come up many times over the years. Let’s talk a little about using vices.
First, let me say that I’m not an expert on this subject. What I know has come from my readings and talking to airgun testers rather than actual experiments.
Even with a vice, there’s vibration
A vice does not cancel all vibration. Depending on how the barrel is held by the vice, it’ll still vibrate a lot or maybe significantly less than when it was not in a vice. You can’t stop vibration completely. Many people believe a vice cancels all possible error. While a vice will cancel human error, there are other errors that the vice will not address.
Let’s start with a vice-like product that’s been in use for many decades…the Ransom rest. A Ransom rest is for handguns and is made to hold the grip of a handgun in a vice-like fixture. In some cases, this is identical to shooting from a vice because the barrel is rigid in the frame. With other guns, such as the 1911 Colt, the barrel moves during the firing cycle. All the Ransom rest does is guarantee the same starting point, shot after shot.
The Ransom rest is free to move when the gun recoils. After each shot, the gun is moved back to an indexed starting position for the next shot. So each shot starts from the same place. However, because the gun is free to move in recoil, the rest isn’t exactly the same as a vice that never moves. It’s more like a perefect artillery hold than like a vice.
Gun writers use Ransom rests because they save a lot of time when testing handguns, but they don’t make the guns more accurate. In numerous gun tests, it has been demonstrated that a good shooter can out-shoot a pistol held in a Ransom rest.
I know that last comment is going to stir up a controversy, so it’s time for me to tell you that several fine German airgun manufacturers test their airguns with human beings and not with vices. It’s faster, and they’ve found no difference in accuracy. That’s right, all those super-small shot groups that come with target guns were fired by a human being!
The biggest proof of all!
You’ve heard me quote many times in the blog from F.W. Mann’s The Bullet’s Flight From Powder to Target. Dr. Mann spent nine straight years and the better part of 37 years in total gathering information for this book, which was published in 1914. One of his test instruments was a concrete pier sunk 40″ into the ground. Atop this pier was a fixture that held a cylindrical receiver, into which Dr. Mann threaded all of his test barrels. He called this fixture his “shooting Gibraltar.” It was his belief that the vice would free him from any human error and make his test results as pure as possible. However, what he discovered was extremely interesting. He had guns in his personal collection that could out-shoot the Pope-made barrels mounted to the action on his shooting Gibraltar. The only explanation for this is that a vice, while seemingly rigid, does not solve all the problems that cause inaccuracy.
If you really want to read the definitive work on exterior ballistics, locate and buy a copy of Dr. Mann’s book. His tests will open your eyes!
During the Civil War, there were several snipers armed with rifles that weighed 50-60 lbs. These guns had built-in rests because they were too heavy to be held and had to be shot from a specially made bench. In the finest recorded shot in history, a Union captain killed a Confederate general at a measured distance of one mile. The range was determined by artillery surveyors through triangulation before the shot was taken. The rifle used was not held in a vice, but the nature of its extreme mass undoubtedly added to the accuracy it achieved.
What I’m saying is that, while vices sound like a good way to test pellets, they may not be. OR, they may not be as good as some other method that is easier and more convenient.
Please remember that I am not an expert on shooting with a vice. All that I’ve told you here are things I’ve read or things that have been told to me by those who test airguns for a living.