Archive for April 2011

Benjamin’s Rogue ePCP — a new way of making airguns: Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

Announcement: Last week, we announced that Pyramyd Air’s facebook page would have a Big Shot of the Week photo contest. The winner (decided by Pyramyd Air) would receive a $50 Pyramyd Air gift card. The first winner is Kevan Evans, who submitted a photo of his daughter with her target, which she shot with Kevan’s Benjamin Discovery.

Just 8 years old, and already an accomplished shot. She pumped 16 shots out of the Disco, and put 6 in the same hole! Congratulations to Kevan and his daughter.

I have waited a long time for this day to arrive. Now, I get to tell you the story of the genesis of the new Benjamin Rogue big bore air rifle,and also to test it for you.

Large and in charge. The Benjamin Rogue electronic PCP big bore is a new horizon in airgunning.

How it all began
I was at the 2008 Roanoke Airgun Expo when one of my blog readers, Lloyd Sykes, came to my table and asked if I would like to see an experiment he had been working on. Lloyd had been experimenting with a new type of big bore airgun valve, and he had some performance data that recorded his results.

Quite frankly, I get approached like this all the time from people who have invented better mousetraps, and most of them are so impractical as to be absurd. But, I’ve learned that among these unconventional ideas every so often there comes a real gem of value. From what Lloyd shared that day, this could have been one of them.

I didn’t believe it!
But I didn’t believe him. Not entirely. His data showed he was getting as many as 20 powerful shots from the same amount of air that in other big bore guns produces from two to five valid shots. He swore me to secrecy (and I have since been more formally sworn by others) and then showed me his design, which was electronically actuated and computer-controlled. I’ve seen a lot of airgun designs in my time, but nothing like this.

Yet, I still doubted the numbers he presented. They read like the wishful writings of a firearm writer covering big bore airguns without ever having seen one.

Lloyd offered to film himself testing the gun, allowing me to see the immediate results on the chronograph after each shot. He also had other test instrumentation in the video that allowed me to follow things, such as the pressure before each shot, the pressure remaining in the gun and on-screen graphics of the pressure used for each shot. I agreed to watch his video, and within two weeks I watched those same performance numbers appear on screen as they happened. Then, I believed, and I knew something had to be done with this invention.

After seeing his video, I told Lloyd that his invention deserved to be developed into an airgun. We’d wargamed the possibilities while still at the Roanoke show, and there were not a lot of them. He could develop the gun himself, which would mean spending a lot of money to complete the development of a usable gun, and then a ton more money to publicize it. I told him I thought that was the worst way to go because it would drain him financially, plus he didn’t have the credentials to take a product like this to market once it’s developed. You don’t just waltz into Dick’s Sporting Goods and ask for a place on their shelves. It takes a trusted relationship before any large retail outlet is willing to talk to you about a new product, and that goes for any product. The world does not beat a path to your door!

Another option was the possibility of licensing the invention to someone else. The problem is that you often get a knife in the back when you go that route. I’ve had shivs stuck in my spine several times when I tried to sell my ideas. It’s one of the reasons I’m so careful about who I’ll work with.

A third option is to find a manufacturer who will buy your idea and develop it. While that sounds like a great way to get rich, there are problems there, as well. First, there aren’t many airgun manufacturers these days who know much of anything about airguns. What we DO have are companies with large marketing and sales departments and good relations with factories in China, Korea and Turkey, where the engineering will be done. However, in those countries, there’s no understanding of the vision of the new product, so a wonderful idea completely evaporates through technical missteps before any of it hits the ground.

But there are a couple companies who engineer their own products here in the U.S. Having worked several years before with Crosman on my own idea that became the Benjamin Discovery, I knew they were the best company for this project. If they agreed to do it, they would understand how to do it right. Contrary to what we all think, the world of the shooting sports isn’t that aware of the airgun scene. Telling them there’s a new kind of airgun will fall on deaf ears unless you have a plan to follow through and make believers of them. That’s what Crosman said they would do.

The Rogue
This new big bore airgun could have been any of several different things, but when the dust settled the decision was to make the first one a .357 caliber repeating rifle. Believe it or not, the decision to go with .357 caliber was challenged by the existence of several successful 9mm big bores. In fact, in today’s market, the big bore airgun calibers that are best-known are .30, 9mm and .458. Why on earth would Crosman want to make a rifle that is not 9mm, which is .355-.356 caliber, and instead make theirs a .357? Before you ask, I’ll explain why one-thousandth of an inch does matter.

They went the way they did for one reason — the wide and varied availability of lead bullets in .357 caliber. If you do the research, you’ll discover that there are precious few lead 9mm bullets on the market, and the few that exist are in power-robbing weights of 125 grains and below. But in .357 caliber, there are hundreds of different commercial lead bullets ranging from 80 grains to 250 grains. Just one bullet company — Western Bullet Co., which sells to big bore airgunners, has 15 designs to choose from. And that’s just one company.

Pyramyd Air sells 9mm bullets, but they’re really oversized and will work as well in a .357 caliber airgun. I’ll also test some of them, because they’re among the lightest bullets I can get in this caliber and perfect for high-velocity plinking (with a Rogue?). By choosing .357 caliber, Crosman has opened the world of lead bullets for the Rogue owner.

The test rifle in my possession weighs 10 lbs., 6 ozs., with nothing on it, however it does have two Picatinny accessory rails and another adapter for the front sling swivel stud. A scope (there are no open sights, nor are there provisions for them) will add to that. It has a variable length, due to the adjustable stock, that ranges between 45-1/2 inches and 49-1/4 inches in length. That makes it a big rifle. The length-of-pull adjusts from 11-5/8 inches to 15-1/2 inches, so the pull should adapt to over 95 percent of all adults. However, you’ll have to get used to some muzzle-heaviness, because with the length of the barrel, the barrel shroud and the reservoir, the weight bias is definitely toward the front.

Fully collapsed, the stock is quite short.

Fully extended, the Rogue stock is a long one. You can adjust it with the rifle on your shoulder.

The Rogue comes with quick-disconnect sling swivel studs, and I’ll absolutely make use of them. It also comes with Picatinny rails at the sides and underneath the reservoir, and I plan to attach a bipod to allow the rifle to be laid down on the ground when I’m not shooting it.

The Rogue is controlled by electronics. I know what you’re thinking because I wondered the same thing. What happens when the batteries run down? Well, I think the Crosman engineers made a good decision here. Instead of a rechargable battery, they built the gun to run on two AA cells that can be purchased almost anywhere. If you use the recommended lithium cells, you’ll get about 10,000 shots before they need replacing. And, a spare set of lithium batteries has an incredibly long shelf life (at least 10 years).

Here’s where the batteries live.

The Rogue lets you know what’s happening at all times. The buttons allow you to tell it what to do.

A shroud?
A big bore airgun with a shroud? Are you kidding?

No, it’s true. The Rogue has a shroud, and from listening to it while firing the rifle at the recent airgun show in Malvern, Arkansas, it works very well. In fact, Lloyd Sikes reports in his blog over on the Crosman website that his wife thought the rifle was pretty quiet when she shot it. Of course, she’s been listening to all of Lloyd’s tests in the garage for the past four years, so compared to all that racket I’m sure this is a pussycat. Don’t think for a moment that the gun is silent. The muzzle blast is just knocked back to the point that you don’t have to wear hearing protection when shooting — even indoors, as they found out at the underground NRA rifle range a few weeks ago.

Put a shroud around a .357 caliber barrel and you get a big one!

I think the shroud was the right thing to do. So many shooters who are getting into big bore airguns these days have little or no firearms experience, and many report surprise that an airgun can be loud. The shroud is not to make the Rogue better for your backyard, because it really isn’t made for that. But for user perception and to ease newcomers into the world of high-powered airguns, it’s a good thing.

I’m going to end here, because there’s so much to show you that this blog would stretch on too long to get all the general information out in a single report. Now you know a little of the history and a little more about the rifle. In the next report, I plan to show more of the features, many of which are unique, plus I’ll expand on the rifle’s potential for performance.

But here’s a teaser. This is an airgun that can be a .357 rifle today and tomorrow you can tell it to be a .410 shotgun. Same gun with a few different parts and software changes. Computer control allows for that kind of flexibility and even more. Please spend the weekend dreaming up new universes for us to occupy, and I’ll try to explain how the Rogue fits into each of them.

Walther PPQ/P99 Q CO2 pistol: Part 3

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2

Walther PPQ/P99 CO2 pistol

We’re going to finish the Walther P99 Q air pistol today with accuracy tests of both pellets and BBs. Several readers suggested that the double-action only trigger-pull would lead to larger groups, and I have to admit I thought so, too. A DAO pistol can be made to be very accurate, but it entails gunsmithing of the trigger that costs many times the price of this pistol. As they come from the factory, there are but a few DAO pistols, whether they’re air-powered or firearms, that have what I would call decent triggers.

The P99 Q trigger is one that “stacks” as it approaches the release. Much like a Colt revolver of the 1920s, the trigger-pull increases in weight dramatically just before the sear releases the hammer to fire the gun. Smith & Wesson found a way to overcome this and as a result they surpassed Colt as the world’s premier maker of revolvers before World War II. The stacking invariably causes the shooter to pull shots to the side opposite the shooting hand. A right-handed shooter will pull shots to the left while a lefty throws them to the right. This can be overcome with a lot of training, but it has to be practiced all the time, or you’ll revert to pulling your shots.

I’d earlier estimated the trigger-pull at 12 lbs.; but after firing about 100 careful shots, I have to say that it varies between 12 and 15 lbs. I had to use two fingers to keep from throwing my shots. That’s one finger on either hand, as shooting this gun was a two-handed proposition.

Having learned some lessons when shooting the Bronco with open sights and reading glasses last week, I was able to shoot that same way for this test without any problems. Instead of using a 75-watt shop light, I illuminated the target with a 500-watt quartz lamp that defined the bull very well. The rear sight was also sharp against the bull, and I don’t think I gave away any accuracy.

Shooting position
I shot from a standing strong-side barricade position for the whole test. That means I used a support to steady my right hand while shooting. I was standing for all shots and the pellets were shot at 25 feet, while the BBs were shot at 20 feet.

The P99 Q isn’t a target pistol, and we shouldn’t think of it that way. It’s a plinker and an action air pistol with minute-of-pop-can accuracy at 20-25 feet. If I could show that to you here, I would. But for this blog paper targets still work best.

I first tried RWS Hobby pellets. They turned out to be a very good choice, but I had to shoot about five clips before I found the best way to shoot the gun, so the first targets of Hobbys only hinted at what they might do. Once I was using two hands with two fingers on the trigger, I was able to lob pellets into a fairly tight group that was only limited by the gun’s slow gas flow.

This is a good group horizontally, but variations in velocity made it string vertically. Shots were fired in intervals of five seconds or less. Group measures 1.801 inches between the widest centers.

When I waited a minute or more between shots, the CO2 gas had time to flow through the small pierced hole and into the valve, making velocity a more stable thing. These Hobbys went into a group measuring 1.191 inches between centers.

The next pellet I tried was the JSB Exact RS, a domed pellet weighing 7.3 grains. They shot tantalizing groups with but a few strays, and I thought I was onto something, but no matter what I did I couldn’t get all the pellets to go to the same place.

This is a perfect illustration of what the JSB Exact RS pellets were doing. Five went into a tight group, but three strayed out for no obvious reason. Group measures 2.43 inches between centers.

Again, the JSB Exact RS domes were tantalizing. The dark smudge on the target is a black bull drawn on the back for a different project. The felt-tipped pen seeped through the paper to make the smudge. One shot is in the darkest part of the smudge, and the hole at the lower right has two pellets. Group measures 2.055 inches between centers.

I did try other pellets like Gamo Match and JSB Exact 8.4-grain domes, but they were not as accurate as these two. Now it was time to switch to BBs.

Several readers correctly predicted that BBs would not be as accurate as pellets in the pistol, and with what we know about the situation, I’d have to agree. Not only are BBs round and made of steel so they cannot be spin-stabilized in flight, they’re also smaller than pellets and therefore do not fit the bore as well. There’s no way they’re going to be as accurate. As I mentioned in the beginning of this report, I moved up from 25 to 20 feet for BBs because I wanted to keep them all on the target paper.

The first to be fired were Crosman Copperhead BBs. They fit the BB clip (loading from the front, only!) very well and functioned perfectly.

Crosman Copperhead BBs made this 3.782-inch group at 20 feet. This was shot with the same two-hand hold described for the pellets, above.

Next, I tried some RWS Match Grade BBs that Pyramyd Air does not carry. They were a tighter fit in the clip and produced a smaller 8-shot group. Both BBs seemed to group to the same relative place as pellets, though with much larger distributions.

The RWS BB was more accurate, grouping eight in 2.996 inches at 20 feet.

Well, that’s it for the P99 Q. There were no malfunctions during the test once the pellet-seating tool was used. The gas flow problem I describe in this report is an issue if you want to fire the gun fast, which is what action pistols are designed for. Backing off on the piercing screw seemed to work when I let the gun rest for at least 10 seconds between shots, but shooting faster than that knocked the velocity down in a noticeable way.

This is a fine action pistol for the price. Considering that it accepts both BBs and pellets, it’s very accommodating. Buy it for fast plinking fun, and you’ll be getting a lot for your dollar. Just remember that it’s a double-action only pistol, so you’ll need a strong trigger finger.

Beeman P1/HW 45 air pistol: Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

Announcement: Daisy is celebrating its 125th anniversary this June. They’re holding a special event at the Daisy Airgun Museum June 3-4. Make reservations to attend by calling 479-986-6873. Daisy will issue a special commemorative, limited-edition gun that will be available only to people who are registered for this event in advance (by May 13).

A large and impressive spring-piston air pistol, the Beeman P1 sits in the top tier of air pistols for power and quality.

I’ve written about the Beeman P1/HW 45 air pistol several times in the past, but never in the current three-part format we use today. The last report we did was by a customer, way back in 2007. It’s definitely time for an update. This time I’ll do a thorough three-part report.

The gun I’m now testing for you has been in my possession since it was new in 1996. I tuned it once within the first year of ownership, and I modified the trigger for a report in The Airgun Letter. I also resized the Teflon piston seal by dry-firing the gun a couple times, which is the factory-recommended way to do it. So, the gun I am testing isn’t fresh from the box. It’s had many years of occasional service, though I bet fewer than 5,000 total shots have been fired from it. In my job, I shoot airguns all the time, and I just don’t get to my classics very often. This test will be enlightening for all of us. Also, you’ll get to see how the pistol stands up to the test of time.

Some of you may be upset that I’m not testing a brand-new pistol, but look at the opportunity testing this old one offers us. You get to see how one of these pistols holds up. The model goes all the way back to 1983, so it’s a veteran, just like the Beeman R1 rifle.

The Beeman P1 is also known as the Weihrauch HW 45. Pyramyd Air still stocks the P1, however the HW 45 is no longer stocked. It’s a single-shot spring-piston gun that cocks via an overlever arrangement. Like a Webley Hurricane, the top of the P1 lifts up in the rear and pivots forward on a hinge located at the front of the gun. Unlike the Webley, there are two distinct stops for the sear and each produces different power. The first stop limits the piston stroke and gives low power. It’s just as hard to cock to this point as it is to go all the way to high power, but the shorter piston stroke guarantees slower muzzle velocities.

I always cock to high power because it’s no harder to do so. It has become a habit and I don’t find anything that low power does better than high.

On the first sear detent, the pistol produces low power.

Pull the topstrap further forward, and the gun goes to high power. It’s just as hard to cock to low power as it is to go all the way to high power.

High power comes at the second sear stop, when the topstrap is swung as far forward as possible. I will test both power levels for you in Part 2 so you won’t have to wonder about the velocity specs much longer.

An anti-beartrap device prevents early closure of the topstrap, but it also means that the pistol cannot be uncocked. If you cock it, you must shoot it.

The pistol is built on a frame that resembles a Colt 1911 pistol more than a little. Grip panels made for the 1911 fit the P1 just fine and vice-versa. The current pistol is sold with walnut grip panels in a classic diamond pattern, but you can install anything that fits on a 1911 or 1911A1.

While the grip frame resembles the 1911, the part that rises above the frame is considerably larger than the firearm. It has to be to contain the spring cylinder that powers the gun. There’s no denying the Desert Eagle size, though it comes without the weight of the magnum gun (I’m refering to the firearm, because the airgun is very light). In fact, at 40 oz., the P1 is not much heavier than an unloaded M1911A1 that it mimics — and loaded, the firearm is heavier.

Beeman P1 dwarfs the 1911 firearm below, though the grip frames of both guns are the same size. The Beeman has to be larger on top to hide the spring cylinder. Notice that my vintage P1 has grips with the old Beeman company logo in them. When loaded, the pistol on the bottom is the heavier gun.

Adjustable trigger
The trigger is adjustable for the length of the first stage and also for the pull weight. Before I modified my trigger, I had adjusted it to break glass-crisp at about 30 oz. After the modification, it breaks at 11 oz. and is just as crisp. In my opinion, the factory trigger will serve you fine with adjustment. All the trigger lacks that many firearm 1911s have is an overtravel adjustment.

The safety is located on the grip frame behind the trigger and it’s ambidextrous. Thankfully, it’s not automatic. In fact, the P1 is completely ambidextrous because the latch to unlock the topstrap is disguised as the hammer. Pull down and back and the topstrap pops up. Just this action cocks the trigger, so if you want to practice dry-firing you can do so without cocking the pistol. Just release the topstrap each time to reset the trigger and you’ll be good to go.

Beeman always advertised 600 f.p.s. for the .177 caliber on high power. My pistol got close to that speed when brand new, but an early lube tune took away 40 f.p.s. The last time I tested it, it averaged 559 f.p.s for Hobbys. Curiously, Weihrauch claims the HW 45 does 560 f.p.s. in .177, so my pistol is close to their specification, as of the last test I did. For our velocity tests, we’ll try some alloy pellets and see what the P1′s full potential for speed really is.

A Beeman P1 is not an easy air pistol to cock. It takes a technique, and you have to learn how to position your hands to cock the gun. It isn’t what I would describe as a plinking gun by any definition. And even stopping at low power uses almost the same amount of energy. After 50 shots, you will be feeling it. I’ll try to measure the cocking effort for you during the velocity testing.

A look behind the curtain at the spring cylinder. Here, the twin cocking links have dragged the piston to full mainspring compression. This powerplant works backwards of a spring rifle. The piston travels to the rear when the trigger is pulled.

The barrel is opposite the spring cylinder and held within the topstrap. When the gun’s cocked like this, the breech is accessible for loading.

As you would expect, the rear sight is fully adjustable in this pistol. In fact, it’s controlled by precision detents, so you know exactly what you’re doing when adjusting it. It’s very similar to the adjustable sights found on Smith & Wesson revolvers, so you’ll need a small flat-bladed screwdriver to adjust it.

The pistol is made in .177, .20 and .22 calibers. Both the .177 and .20 caliber models have the dual power levels, but the .22 has just high power to avoid sticking a pellet in the barrel. The .177 is by far the most popular caliber and the one you most often find for sale used. Speaking of that, I noticed at the recent Malvern, Arkansas, airgun show that a nice used P1 will be priced at something over $300. They definitely hold their value.

Perfect for training
One aspect of the P1 that’s unique to the pistol is its value as a trainer for all 1911-type firearms. You have to employ the same hold as with the firearm to get the airgun to shoot. At 33 feet it should be easy for a good shooter to hold all shots inside an inch, and the pistol is capable of much better. When you’re really hot, the P1 can hold all its shots inside the 9-ring of a 10-meter target, which is about the size of Roosevelt’s head on a dime.

Is it worth the price?
Normally, I would try to answer this question after the final report, but years of experience as a P1 owner have already provided the answer. If you’re infatuated with accurate air pistols and if you value build quality above all, then yes, the P1 is well worth the asking price. If a new one seems beyond your reach, consider buying one used. They’re rugged enough to pass on to generations unborn, so think of it as a long-term investment.

Stay tuned for the power report that’s next.

Walther PPQ/P99 Q CO2 pistol: Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

Announcement: Pyramyd Air has just introduced the Big Shot of the Week on their facebook page. The rules are pretty simple (post a picture of yourself with an airgun or airsoft gun), and you’ll have a chance to win a $50 Pyramyd Air gift card.

I said last time that I would definitely talk about the trigger on this DAO Walther P99 Q air pistol and that time has come. When the pistol is functioning correctly, the trigger offers a smooth pull of about 12 lbs. However, the “functioning correctly” part can be a problem if you don’t load the clip the right way.

Don’t need no stinking manuals!
I began the test poorly, by assuming that I knew how the gun operates. Of course, I didn’t read the manual. And trouble came with the first clip. One good shot was all I got, followed by the remainder of the clip needing a trigger-pull in the neighborhood of 25-30 pounds. I opened the slide to see if something was jammed and there it was. One pellet had backed out of the clip and was now deformed from being dragged through the mechanism against its will. So, I loaded a second clip and started over.

Again the gun tied up after the first shot, so I went to Edith and complained. She told me she had read about the Walther Lever Action rifle when she put the description on the website and that the pellet clips were supposed to be loaded using a special tool. Well, I had no special tool, since the pistol didn’t come with one, but a few days later the Walther Lever Action rifle arrived and it did have a pellet-seating tool.

It works!
The special tool works as advertised — big surprise. All it is is a plastic pusher that forces each pellet into the clip deep enough that the ridges on the sides of each chamber bite into the thin lead skirts. That is enough to hold the pellets in place until, they’re fired.

The seater is just a piece of formed plastic. Notice that one pellet is seated deep while the other one is flush with the end of the clip. The flush one will probably back out and tie up the gun.

The manual also advises that the BBs have to be loaded into their black plastic clip from the front end of the clip — which is the side without the ratchet.

Gas use — I learned something important!
Let’s start the test. First, I seated 8 RWS Hobby pellets in the clip and chronographed them. They averaged 320 f.p.s. with a velocity spread from 301 to 338 f.p.s. But I also noticed two very important things when shooting these pellets. First, every velocity was lower than the one before it, even though I allowed the gun 10-20 seconds between shots to warm up. With CO2, if the gun gets too cold from shooting too fast, the velocity will drop off, but allowing 10-20 seconds between shot is more than enough recovery time, especially since I was shooting in a room at 70 degrees F (21.1 degrees C).

The second thing I noticed was that, if I allowed a full minute between shots, the velocity would be back up where it was on the first shot. Let’s tuck away that information for a moment and move on to the next pellet — but we’ll come back to it.

The next pellet tested was the Beretta Target pellet that Pyramyd Air no longer carries. It is a 7.9-grain wadcutter made from pure lead. It shouldn’t be as fast as the 7-grain Hobby, but it was. These pellets averaged 318 f.p.s. with a spread from 309 to 326 f.p.s. Again, each shot was slower than the one before, unless the wait time was a minute or more.

That made me think of a day on the set of American Airgunner when we had a certain pistol that shot slower with each shot, but would restore full power after a minute or more in-between. The problem there and probably here as well was a cartridge that hadn’t been pierced as deeply as it should be. So, I backed off the piercing screw (used to tighten the cartridge against the piercing pin) about one-eighth of a turn until gas began to escape, then I tightened just a little to stop it. Now there was more room for the gas to flow if I was right about what was happening.

Next up were some old 7.5-grain Gamo Match pellets. They averaged 330 f.p.s. with the new CO2 cartridge arrangement and the spread went from 319 to 344 f.p.s. Clearly, the pistol was now shooting faster, so I re-tested the RWS Hobbys and they now averaged 330 f.p.s. with a spread from 320 to 343 f.p.s.

The lesson here is that CO2 is a very large molecule that needs lots of room to flow. The next time you pierce a cartridge, try to back off the screw a little, if that’s possible.

BBs are next
The P99 Q is also a BB pistol, so they got tested next. First up were some Crosman Copperhead BBs that averaged 330 f.p.s. The spread went from 319 to 344, so no advantage to the lighter weight of the BBs. The gas blowby in the bore must be offsetting any small gain.

I also tried the RWS BBs . They averaged 328 f.p.s. with a spread from 281 to 339. I cannot explain the lone reading of 281 except it was there. All these BBs fit the clip tighter than the Copperheads.

So far, this little pistol is doing fine. Just as long as the pellet seater is used and you load the BBs from the front, everything functions well. The trigger is heavy, but I should be able to get good accuracy if the pistol is capable of it.

Accuracy is next.

The new Walther Lever Action CO2 rifle: Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

Announcement: The blog’s server went down on Thursday, April 21, 2011. It came back online Sunday, April 24. This blog was published Monday afternoon, April 25, because the previous Friday’s blog was published first thing Monday morning. We’re now caught up and will resume our regular publishing schedule.

Welcome to the new Walther Lever Action CO2 rifle. Walther brought out the Lever Action CO2 rifle back in the early years of this century, and I learned about it about half a year before it hit the market. Wulf Pflaumer, the owner of Umarex, was visiting his sister in Maryland, and I had a chat with him about airguns in general. “What would you think,” he asked me, “of a lever-action pellet rifle that looks and feels like the Winchester 1894?”

“Would it be a repeater and would it be accurate?” I asked.

“Both,” was the answer.

I thought it would be a world-beater at the time, and many who purchased that first release model felt as I did, that the realism, accuracy and build quality were right where they needed to be.

That first rifle was an 8-shot repeater with a slick-as-grease action. And it was as accurate as promised. Five pellets would stay on a penny at 20 yards. What more could you ask of a western-style repeater?

Well, gas economy turned out to be the answer. Even that’s too pat an answer, because it wasn’t the number of shots per CO2 cartridge that bothered some folks. It was the constant need to change them because they were shooting the gun so much. When a gun goes through pellets as fast as you can flick your wrist, you notice all the downtime involved in changing the two 12-gram CO2 cartridges. Everytime a change was required, you had to fumble with a Rube Goldberg contraption that housed two cartridges in tandem in the butt, and people may have resented the complexity of that system.

Well, things just got better, easier and faster with the introduction of the new Walther Lever Action, because instead of two 12-gram cartridges this one takes a single 88-gram cartridge that will last many times longer. And, instead of the cumbersome mechanism that held both 12-gram cartridges in the first model, in this one the big cartridge simply screws into a hole in the butt. There’s no fuss or mechanical contraption to deal with.

The new Walther Lever Action rifle comes in this brushed nickel finish that’s very attractive. It also comes in black.

I asked for the nickel-finished rifle for this report, just to change the pace a little from the black one. My old-style Walther Lever Action carbine has a traditional black finish and I wanted to see how different this one looked. The bright finish does add cost to the price, though, so consider that when buying.

A blast from the past
Of course, the Walther Lever Action is a mimic of Winchester’s famous 1894 lever-action rifle. No other single rifle epitomizes a hunting firearm to the extent the 94 does, and when you see one you automatically think .30-30, even though they have been chambered for many different cartridges.

Winchester model 94 at top, Walther’s new Lever Action rifle in the center and the old model Walther Lever Action carbine at the bottom. Notice the pull of the new Walther is longer than the Winchester’s pull.

Edith and I were in a local gun store one day when she spotted a post ’64 Winchester carbine that had been scoped. She wondered if it would make a nice contrast to the Walther’s Lever Action carbine we own, so we bought the rifle and have been waiting for this day to arrive. The Walther is designed as a fast, accurate plinking rifle for warm weather (being powered by CO2), and that’s how I plan to test it for you.

New tools for the rifle
With the rifle, you get two new tools that won’t be familiar. One is just a fancy screwdriver to remove the thick plastic buttplate for access to the hole in the stock where the CO2 cartridge goes. The other is a fancy wrench to tighten the cartridge the last few turns, causing it to puncture and start the gas flowing. In fact, due to the threads on the cartridge, these new rifles are much faster to charge than the old model that used the two smaller cartridges. And because the threads draw them into the piercing pin, the length of the cartridge isn’t of much concern as it is on some other rifles.

A single screw detaches the buttplate from the stock. The black key below the plate is used for that job. The blue-handled wrench tightens the 88-gram cartridge in place. The whole job takes 15 seconds. Don’t forget the Crosman Pellgunoil on the tip of each new cartridge!

I’m not even going to attempt to count how many shots you’ll get from one cartridge, because it should number in the hundreds. And, when you’re done shooting, just leave the cartridge in place until the next time. As long as you use Crosman Pellgunoil on the tip of every new cartridge, the gun should remain tight for years.

How do you know when the pressure is running low?
You can clearly hear that the gas pressure is low in the report of the gun. At the first indication that pressure is dwindling, stop and remove the cartridge. Don’t risk getting a pellet stuck in the barrel.

Where do the pellets go?
To open the pellet clip, press in on the front of the cartridge loading gate, which is the same configuration as on the rifle. The pellet clip will pop out to the side of the receiver, where it can be exchanged for a loaded one.

Push in on the cartridge loading gate, and the pellet clip pops out to the right for access.

General specs
This rifle is an 8-shot lever-action repeater and delivers 600 f.p.s. velocity. Given the number of lightweight pellets on the market today and the 18.9-inch barrel on the rifle, I would guess both numbers are conservative. The rifle weighs about 6.2 lbs. and the stock and forearm are real hardwood. It’s very attractive, especially in the brushed nickel version that I’m testing. The length of pull is a manly 14.5 inches; and, despite the gas cartridge in the butt, the balance is very neutral. The overall rifle is 39.2 inches long.

The lever really does cock the hammer and advance the clip to the next round. The action is smooth and easy — much easier than the firearm that it copies. However, you do have to keep track of your shots because the action continues to operate when the pellets are gone.

The lever works the action just like the firearm, only it’s a lot smoother and easier.

Okay, the price on this one is high, but let me tell you a little story about that. Back in the 1980s when Beeman brought in about 100 Erma ELG-10 lever-action single-shot pellet rifles, they charged $300+ for them and the shooters avoided them like the plague. They never ordered another batch because the rifles just didn’t sell. Today, they command over $600 when they come to market. These Walthers are very much like the ELG-10s, except that these are repeaters, they’re more realistic-looking, more accurate and more powerful. Get ‘em now while they’re hot, or wait and pay double in the future. As a plinking air rifle, they don’t come much better than this.

Speaking of plinking, I don’t think that I’m going to test this rifle with a scope. This is a plinker, and that’s how I’ll test it for you. The sights are somewhat adjustable and quite nice for a plinker. The rear sight adjusts for elevation and the front for windage. I’ll go over them in greater detail in the accuracy test.

The trigger is two-stage and non-adjustable. Stage two is quite crisp, so it should help with accuracy. All in all, this is a great Western air rifle.

BSA Scorpion PCP air rifle: Part 3

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2

Announcement: The blog’s server went down on Thursday, April 21, 2011. It came back online Sunday, April 24. This blog was published early Monday, April 25, and is dated Friday, April 22. Monday’s regular blog will be published in the afternoon of Monday, April 25.

This is a good, long report, so grab your coffee and perhaps another Danish. Today, we’ll learn something about accuracy and group sizes.

I’m testing the accuracy of the .22 caliber BSA Scorpion PCP air rifle, and it’s quite nice! Helping quite a bit was the weather at the range, which was perfect for long-range airgunning, as there wasn’t a breath of wind to be felt. The day was overcast and misting slightly and with every shot you could see vapor at the muzzle when the compressed air emerged.

I scoped the Scorpion with a CenterPoint 8-32x56AO scope that was sharp and clear. Even though I shot at the small 50-foot rimfire bulls like I usually do, they appeared quite large and sharp through the scope. I was easily able to bisect the center ring with the crosshairs.

I had filled my carbon fiber air tank since the velocity test, so I was able to fill the rifle up to its maximum of 232 bar. I couldn’t do that in Part 2 because my tank was below 232 bar, so I’m going to give you a second look at velocity today, with some of the pellets I used for accuracy.

Accuracy first
The gun was not sighted-in because I had just mounted the scope the evening before. Normally, I like to shoot the first few rounds at 10 feet to adjust the scope on target at 20 yards, but today I did something different. I stapled a huge silhouette target to the target frame, then put my targets on that. That way, I had two feet by four feet of paper for the pellet to hit. You could also use a large piece of butcher paper or even cardboard to do the same thing. So long as there are no holes in the paper when you start, just attach your real target to the center of the larger paper and start shooting. For those of you who shoot at public ranges where you cannot put your own target on the range at different distances, this is a handy trick to avoid boresighting.

The first pellet I tried was the 18.1-grain JSB Exact Jumbo Heavy pellet that everyone raves about for powerful PCPs. Since this rifle is capable of almost 40 foot-pounds, it seemed perfect for that pellet.

The first five shots were barely on paper, but they did strike the intended target paper of 11 bulls. Though they all landed in the upper right corner of the paper, I scanned the group to show you how the gun did. Bear in mind that this is only a five-shot group, and it not representative of the true accuracy this rifle can offer, but it’s in the ballpark.

The first five shots from the BSA Scorpion at 50 yards made this 0.175-inch group! Now, that’s a screamer, folks! But look to the upper right of that hole and you’ll see another partial hole. That was shot No. 6. And THAT is the reason that 5-shot groups are not enough. Read the text for the explanation.

Okay, I hope you’re as excited as I am by this first group. All five pellets wanted to go to the same place. I’ve tested accurized Ruger 10-22 target rifles that did not give results as good as this. However, as I indicate in the caption, shot No. 6 landed apart from the group. Since I have a little experience with these high-pressure, powerful BSA rifles, I suspected what was happening. I quit shooting this group and adjusted the scope. Because this rifle is advertised as having 20 powerful shots on a fill, I continued shooting after adjusting the scope.

This is the telling target. There are 10 shots here, but they represent shots number 7 through 17 on the first fill. The same JSB Exact Jumbo 18.1-grain pellet was used. Notice the two definite groups we have. The upper group contains the first six pellets and the lower group the final four. This rifle is losing pressure and changing the point of impact as it does! That is why the sixth shot in the first group was apart from the other five. This whole group measures 1.013 inches but the top group of six measures 0.533 inches.

I’ve seen performance like this before in these 232-bar BSA rifles. They have a large number of shots for the relatively small reservoir on the gun, but the valve cannot perform with stability across the entire fill. You do get 20 powerful shots, but the POI will change slightly as the pressure diminishes. Hunters may not notice it, but it shows up clearly on paper at 50 yards. I decided that with the 18.1-grain JSB Exact Jumbo pellet the Scorpion had only five good 50-yard shots on a fresh fill before it started to shift POI. I refilled the rifle and shot another 10-shot group to see if that was correct.

Here’s the proof of what I’m saying. The first five JSB Exact Jumbos stayed in a very tight group, but starting with shot No. 6 the group spread laterally to the right. The last shot went to the far left, so the POI was still shifting. The group measures 1.49 inches between the two widest centers.

What does this mean?
All is not lost, nor has the sky fallen. You have a choice when presented with this type of performance. Either refill the rifle after every five shots and get bragging-sized groups at 50 yards, or accept the 10-shot groups that you do get and continue to shoot this pellet, or find a different pellet.

The weight of the pellet, plus how it fits in the bore, determines the dwell time that the pellet remains in the barrel. For most of that time, the back-pressure of air inside the barrel behind the pellet holds the firing valve open and air escapes. Changing to either a lighter pellet or one that fits looser — or both — will change this relationship and give you different results, as we shall see.

These JSB Jumbos fit the bore so tight that I could feel them pop into the breech as the bolt was closed. So, they’re both heavy and tight.

Next, I tried the Beeman Kodiak copper-plated pellet. They weigh the same as the all-lead Kodiaks, and past testing has shown that they’re equally accurate, so let’s see what they did in the Scorpion.

A beautiful nine-shot group! If only that tenth shot wasn’t in the center of the bull. I don’t know which shot it was, but I do know it was not in the first five, nor was it the last shot. Group measures 1.227 inches between centers, with nine shots in 0.537 inches.

Kodiaks weigh 21+ grains; and like the JSB Jumbos, they also popped into the breech. Well, I decided to try it again because that nine-shot group was a good one. So, the rifle was topped off, and I shot the copper Kodiaks a second time.

This 10-shot group shows more spreading than the first one did. Again, I got a flyer through the center of the bull, but this time there were also two that went to the right. Group measures 1.253 inches between centers, and you can see that the first seven are in a tight bunch in the center.

What next?
Well, at this point I reckoned that I had the Scorpion pretty well figured out. Heavy pellets were going to use a lot of air, which resulted in a change of POI in the middle of a 10-shot group attempt, so they were probably not the best pellets to use for what I was doing. However, if you could top off after five shots, then they would be ideal.

I tried one more pellet just to prove my point about the heavy pellet POI shift after five shots. This last one was the 28.4-grain Eun Jin pellet. If ever a pellet was going to hold open a valve, this is the one that would do it.

Well, it doesn’t get much more obvious than this. The first five are in a tight group that then drops to the right. The final three pellets are on the extreme left. The group measures 1.774 inches between extreme centers and is the largest group of the test. No sense shooting another one.

The results were as clear and unambiguous as they could be. The tendency to spread after five shots continued in a most aggressive way. The central group of five measures 0.526 inches between centers. So, shooting the first five shots from a fill is still a viable option, even with this heavy pellet.

Now where do we go?
Isn’t it obvious? If the rifle can’t shoot heavy, tight pellets more than five times on a fill, what will it do with lighter pellets that are loose? Luckily, I happened to have a tin of the old standby 15.8-grain JSB Exacts on hand. They’re the lightest pellet I tested, and they were loose in the bore.

Ten 15.8-grain JSB Exact pellets went into 0.62 inches at 50 yards. This is almost as good as a custom-tuned 10-22 Ruger I tested years ago. This is a good pellet for the Scorpion.

The first target was good, so I shot a second one. It measured so close to the first one that I cannot discern a difference.

A second group of 10 15.8-grain JSB Exacts measures the same as the first one. This is obviously the pellet for this rifle.

I said I would do some more velocity testing for you because I wasn’t able to completely fill the rifle in Part 2 of this report. I’ll test two pellets — the 18.1-grain JSB Exact Jumbo heavy and the 15.8-grain JSB Exact. They should show us what the performance curve looks like, and we can extrapolate to other pellets whether they’re heavy and tight-fitting or light and loose.

The 18.1-grain Exact Jumbos averaged 871 f.p.s. for 20 shots, but the spread went from 818 up to 904. Starting with shot No. 6, the velocity fell off on every successive shot. Shot 15 was still going 848 f.p.s., so for hunting purposes that might be your last shot on a fill. But shot five is the last one for a super-tight group at 50 yards. The first five shots averaged 899 f.p.s., with a muzzle energy for just those five of 32.49 foot-pounds.

The 15.8-grain Exacts averaged 891 f.p.s. for 20 shots with a spread from 810 to 947. Every shot except shot five was a decrease from the shot before, and the rifle dropped velocity faster with this pellet than with the heavier one. Velocity alone doesn’t explain why I got such great 10-shot groups, because by shot 10 the rifle had dropped 45 f.p.s., where the heavier pellet lost only 18 f.p.s. Still, the groups don’t lie. This is the more accurate pellet. The first five shots averaged 936 f.p.s., for a muzzle energy of 30.74 foot-pounds.

I seem to be pushing the 10-shot group a lot for accuracy testing, but today was a perfect example of why it’s better. Yes, this was a very specific situation that you wouldn’t encounter in a spring rifle, but those extra five shots give any gun every chance to express all of its bad traits. A 30-shot group would even be better, but except for extreme product testing or belaboring a point, it’s seldom done. Ten approximates 30 closely enough for most purposes.

Looking at the price of the rifle, it offers a hunter good value in a traditional-looking powerful rifle. The trigger is okay and nothing about the rifle is bothersome, except for the 232-bar fill pressure. The accuracy is stunning, as you have seen. It cracks like a .22 short, so be ready for that. In fact, after I finished the velocity testing, Edith said, “That was loud. What was it?”

I replied, “BSA Polaris.”

But that didn’t sound right, so I thought about it for a second until the name came to me.

“Scorpion!” I shouted a minute later.

“Where!” she answered, running into the room with her shoe off, looking for the arachnid invader.

So, the old girl still has life in her yet.

And, by the way, I can still shoot a rifle, in case anyone asks.

The great accuracy test: Part 3

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2

Well, when was the last time we had a discussion this large on this blog? You were talking on yesterday’s report and on the first part of this series, all at the same time.

And, we were talking apples, oranges, cinnamon wafers and pseudo-dadaism in the post-war cinema! All at the same time.

So, once more, I will attempt to state what it is that we’re trying to do. We’re trying to discover some things that, if applied in certain ways, will always help improve accuracy. As I explained to several readers, the artillery hold is one such thing. I didn’t invent it. I just gave it a name so I could talk about it, and people would understand what I was talking about.

Now we’re looking for more things like the artillery hold that, if applied properly, will always improve your accuracy.

Today, you’re going to have to read the report very carefully, because the results you are about to see are the opposite of what you expect. But please read everything, and I’ll explain what I think has happened.

Yesterday, I tried using common reading glasses to improve the accuracy as I was shooting an Air Venturi Bronco rifle. I shot 6 groups of 10 shots each at targets 25 yards away. There were three pellets that I tested. Each pellet was shot first without me wearing reading glasses and then again with the glasses on. I showed you the targets as they occurred, and I told you after the shooting was finished that I could not discern any advantage to shooting with reading glasses.
Now I’ll show you what happened when I pre-sorted the pellets by weight before shooting. We’ll compare the best of the two targets shot yesterday with each pellet against a target shot with that same pellet sorted into a group of 10 pellets that weigh the same, down to the nearest tenth of a grain.

Those readers who do not have problems with their eyes can do today’s test as well by simply shooting two 10-shot groups — one with sorted pellets and one without.

Let’s begin
The first pellet shot was the same 8.4-grain JSB Exact domed pellet that I used to begin the test. I used that pellet because back when I tested the Bronco for you, it turned in the best results.

I weighed all the pellets on an electronic powder scale set to register grains. The scale weighs to the nearest tenth grain, so that was how I grouped them. Only those pellets that registered the exact same weight on this scale would be used.

Sorting the JSBs proved to be a big surprise for me, because they were not that uniform. Weights varied from 8.1 to 8.6 grains for a pellet that is nominally supposed to weigh 8.4 grains. I do appreciate that anything manmade will vary, but it has been my experience that premium pellets like these JSBs do not vary that much. But these did. In fact, I had to use the pellets that weighed 8.3 grains, because there weren’t enough of the ones that weighed 8.4 grains.

To get 10 pellets that weighed the same 8.3 grains, I rejected 26 others that varied from 8.1 to 8.6 grains.

Then, I shot the group. I took as much care as I had with all the other groups, plus these groups came after the first test, so I had 60 shots under my belt by this time. I expected to see a super-tight group.

It looks like only 6 pellets went through, but the holes next to the numbers 7 and 6 on the target have multiple pellets through them. I can tell that from the back of the target paper. This group of pellets sorted by weight measures 2.061 inches between centers.

That group surprised me a lot, I can tell you. I expected a lot better performance from sorted pellets. Look at yesterday’s best group, shot with unsorted pellets.

Ten shots with the same 8.4-grain JSB Exact pellet, only these were randomly selected from the tin. This group measures 2.085 inches between centers, which is only a trifle larger than the sorted group, above. These happened to be the ones shot while I was wearing reading glasses.

The next pellet to test was the BSA Wolverine. In sharp contrast to the JSB Exacts, above, these pellets were extremely consistent in weight, and I rejected only one while picking 10 to shoot.

What a contrast! Only one pellet was found not to weigh 8.3 grains, and it weighed 8.2 grains. These pellets are extremely consistent in weight.

Well, I figured the consistent Wolverines were going to win the day, except they hadn’t been that accurate in the first two tests, and they should have been if weight variation matters to accuracy. And this time they were a real surprise!

This group of 10 sorted BSA Wolverine pellets measures 2.481 inches on centers. It’s the worst group of the test (including all the shooting seen both yesterday and today).

I was really stumped, but please hang on because there’s an explanation coming. First, though, have a look at the best target shot with unsorted Wolverine pellets.

This Wolverine target shot yesterday without reading glasses measured 2.048 inches between centers. The target shot while wearing glasses measured the same size. Both are considerably smaller than today’s target shot with pellets sorted by weight.

The last pellet I tried was the RWS R-10 heavy pellet. I assumed that because it’s a target pellet it would be very uniform in weight. WRONG!

I had to weigh 18 RWS R-10 pellets to find 10 of the same weight. Those in the tin are the rejects, and they all weigh 8.1 grains. The pellets in the pile to the right weigh 8.2 grains.

And, you may remember that the R-10 pellets were by far the most accurate pellets of all in the first test. Well, this time they surprised me.

This group of sorted RWS R-10 pellets measures 1.743 inches between centers. It’s the largest group of R-10 fired. While the best group of the day, it’s larger than the random R-10s fired the day before.

Let’s look at the best R-10 group, fired during the first test.

This group of R-10 pellets shot without reading glasses measures 1.158 inches between centers. Not only is it better than the group sorted by weight, it’s the best group of all the shooting done thus far.

Okay, here comes the explanation I promised. All these targets from yesterday and today were shot at the same time, so these three final targets shot with pellets sorted by weight were shot last. They represent shots 61 through 90.

I can’t prove it, but I believe that pellets of a uniform weight should not be less accurate than the same pellets of random weights. The results of today’s test seem to indicate that sorted pellets are less accurate than unsorted pellets if we go just by the group sizes, but I think something else is at work here. I believe there’s a whole lot of test bias in what I have reported both yesterday and today. I believe today’s results were skewed to the bad end of the scale because they were the last groups I shot and I was getting tired from all the sighting techniques I was undergoing to use the reading glasses.

As twotalon observed, are we talking about something so ambiguous that it will be different for every shooter? I don’t think so. But I do think that the test design I have done yesterday and today doesn’t work.

I believe the problem is lighting, as in not enough light on the target in these tests. I say that because today I went to the outdoor range and shot two 10-shot groups with a .30 caliber M1 Carbine at 50 yards and each group measured about three inches across the two widest shots. The M1 Carbine has a very large peep sight that has been criticized for its crudity, yet I shot well with it using the same reading glasses that failed in these tests. And, today I was able to see the bull quite well, even though it was twice as far away.

Finally, even out at 25 yards, the uniformity of pellet weight appears to not be much of a factor. The BSA Wolverines that were the most uniform weight did worst of all. Of course, the results of these tests are so large and open that all kinds of errors and truths may be camouflaged within.

From these two tests that I will have to consider as failed, we can draw some important conclusions. First, I need to either use a scope or a dot sight when conducting accuracy tests. Tomorrow, I’ll show you some groups that demonstrate that I can still shoot well with a scope.

Perhaps a future experiment might be for me to put a dot sight on the same Bronco and re-shoot this test. I’ll use the same three types of random pellets (not sorted by weight) for that test, then I’ll mount a scope on the rifle and shoot the same test again. If there’s a definite difference between the results from the two optical instruments (and I’m thinking there will be), I’ll select the most accurate optical sight and rerun the weight-sorted test.

Meanwhile, you can select as much of this test as you desire and try to do it yourself. When we’re finished, we should know the value of pellets sorted by weight and those of you who have old eyes like me might give the reading glasses trick a try, but only outdoors or where there’s a lot of light.

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