Archive for August 2011
by B.B. Pelletier
This report is a poignant one for me, because I also tested one of the first TF89 Contenders that came to this country. That was for the Compasseco website back in 2003, and I still remember that rifle. I said that the Chinese were finally nipping at the heels of Weihrauch, and that the Beeman R1 had reason to be concerned.
It’s now eight years later and the .177-caliber TF89 Contender I am looking at today (serial number 08638455) isn’t quite the same gun I saw in 2003. For starters, when I took this gun from the box, it was covered in thickened oil that had to be removed. I haven’t seen that in many years. A quick spritz of Ballistol over everything, followed by a thorough wipedown with a cotton rag removed the old oil and got the rifle to a clean, dry state; but it was something I haven’t had to do in a long time.
Fit and finish
The metal is no longer deeply polished like that first one was. This one has a matte finish on all the metal parts and an even black oxide over that. You could call it a hunter finish.
The wood is very well shaped, and I can find no spots of wood filler that used to be the forensic evidence of a Chinese airgun. The cheekpiece is low and looks melted into the butt like most European stocks these days. A Monte Carlo profile on the comb raises your eye to the requisite height for using a scope, though the rifle comes with open sights.
The wood stain is a very dark reddish-brown that is even everywhere. The stain is so dark that the grain is difficult to see outside of bright sunlight; but when you do see it, it appears to look like beech — a very tight grain.
There are panels of pressed checkering on both sides of the pistol grip and forearm. They’re shallow and the diamonds are small with rounded tops, so the effect is not very grippy.
The buttpad is not finished even with the stock, which is a surprise when everything else is done so well. It stands slightly proud of the stock in places and is separated from the wood by a thin black plastic spacer. At least it isn’t white! The pad is soft and gummy and looks like it will provide a smooth, non-slip surface for standing the rifle in the corner and on your shoulder.
As for the fit, it’s very nearly perfect. Where the Chinese breakbarrels used to fall down was their actions were always rotated a few degrees in the stock, so the cocking link rubbed one side of the cocking slot. Nothing like that here. Every place you look, the wood is fitted just as well as a European air rifle.
The triggerguard is the one piece of plastic that stands out on the whole rifle. It’s wide and well-shaped, so it doesn’t look bad — but a touch reveals what it’s made of.
Size and handling
This is a large air rifle. It’s certainly in the magnum class for length and weight. The rifle weighs almost 7-3/4 lbs., which is not heavy by magnum air rifle standards; but it’s big enough that you know you’re holding something substantial. The stock is wide, filling your hands and conveying the big-rifle feel. The length is a hair past 46 inches, which puts it two inches past the 03-A3 Springfield. Because we have a fair number of new readers coming over from the world of firearms, I think it’s important that they realize just how large these magnum spring rifles can be.
The pull of the stock is 14-7/8 inches, which makes it feel great to me, but may be a trifle too long for many shooters. The 03-A3 Springfield, by comparison, is only 12-3/4 inches, but they always did have a reputation for being too short in that department.
When I hold the rifle to my shoulder, it balances fine for me. It reminds me of an RWS Diana 350 Magnum, which is another rifle that feels great in the offhand position.
The ball detent that holds the breech shut has a very powerful spring behind it, requiring you to slap the top of the muzzle to break the barrel open for cocking. The specs say the cocking effort is 28 lbs., but it feels like a little more to me. I’ll measure it when I test the velocity.
Although the rifle is designed for a right-handed shooter, the stock is shaped to fit a left-handed shooter, as well. Since it’s a breakbarrel with a central safety ahead of the trigger, lefties should find it relatively comfortable to shoot.
The front and rear sights are fiberoptic, and the front has no protection for the red fiber element. Too often, I’ve seen these get damaged from normal handling. The front sight that holds the element is aluminum instead of the much more common plastic, so it may be a bit more rugged; but I’d still like to see a hood over the sight. There’s no groove in the ramp to accept one, however.
The rear sight is all metal, and both adjustments have clicks that can be felt if not heard. The elevation is a wheel that needs no tools, but the windage does require a screwdriver. That isn’t so bad; because once you get the rifle sighted in, you don’t want that adjustment to move, anyway.
Because it has such nice sights, I’m thinking that I’ll do an accuracy test at 10 meters with open sights before mounting a scope for a separate second accuracy test. That will give the rifle more of a chance to break in and me a better opportunity to become familiar with it.
A pair of 11mm dovetails is cut directly into the top of the spring tube. Tech Force provides a mounted scope stop from the factory. A rifle like this is expected to be scoped, so the presence of good open sights is a pleasant plus.
The safety, which is a short blade in front of the trigger, is automatic; but by cocking the barrel lightly, you can actually cock the gun without setting the safety. If that happens, it means there’s no anti-beartrap device; so it’s imperative that you hold the muzzle when loading the rifle. If you put your finger near the trigger when the barrel is open, the action could snap shut faster than you can react and damage or even remove digits from your hand.
I couldn’t resist shooting just a few shots to see how the rifle feels. There’s a lot of forward recoil and some vibration on the shot, though not as much as the power would make you believe. This rifle is advertised as 1,100 f.p.s. in the .177 caliber I’m testing. We’ll see how close it comes in part two.
The final observation I’ll make today is that the price of the rifle has dropped by $30 from 2003. That’s a plus you don’t see that often. If this turns out to be an accurate air rifle, it could easily move to a position of great importance, based on that price.
by B.B. Pelletier
Whenever I write about the fundamentals of shooting, it usually starts a good discussion. The CB cap vs pellet rifle article spawned an article about why we like to keep airgun velocities under the transonic/supersonic level for the best accuracy, and THAT, in turn, evoked this thoughtful question on the Pyramyd Air facebook page last week:
“This may be a dumb question — but, since the issues revolves around the ‘badminton birdy’ design of our current air rifle pellets. Has there been any attempts to change the design to provide stable flight, and maintain more energy, at faster speeds? Just curious….”
That is not a dumb question at all! In fact, it’s such a good and thoughtful question that I thought it deserved a special report because we’re seeing a rise in the number of firearm shooters who are reading this blog. Just like airgunners, those who shoot firearms come with different levels of experience; and some of them are not attuned to the fundamentals of accuracy. They buy commercial or military surplus (milsurp) ammo and just shoot it without appreciating how much better they might do with a little tweaking.
The same can be said of airgunners, many of whom have bought into the high-velocity craze without realizing (or perhaps caring) all they are giving away. Today, I want to look at the projectile we shoot — the common pellet — with the hope that, by understanding its design and limitations, we can extract the best our airguns have to offer.
The diabolo pellet
Diabolo (pronounced dēˈabəˌlō). According to the dictionary, the origin of the word comes from a toy top that was popular in parts of Europe. It was also sometimes used in juggling performances. The word came from 20th century Italian from the ecclesiastical Latin diabolus, which means devil; the game was formerly called devil on two sticks.
The diabolo pellet is characterized by a pinched or wasp waist and a flared hollow tail or skirt. Though there are many different variations on this central theme, they all have these characteristics.
The diabolo pellet can have different nose shapes, but all of them have a pinched waist and a flared hollow tail. The center of mass is biased forward by the hollow tail.
The design of the pellet biases the center of mass forward of the center point, like a throwing dart. The flared skirt and to a lesser extent the pinched waist create high drag that keeps the pellet oriented forward in flight.
I wish I could say exactly when the diabolo pellet was first introduced, but I’ve been unable to find a source that gives a definitive date. Nor is there a George Diabolo after whom the pellet is named. What I can say at this time is that it didn’t exist in the 1880s but was already in existence when the first modern air rifle — the Lincoln Jefferies underlever made by BSA — was offered in 1905. That’s as close as I’ve been able to pin down the date of introduction. I would welcome any information that contradicts my dating or offers greater insight.
When the diabolo pellet was first sold, most airguns were smoothbores whose designs were already many decades old. Buglespanners, the underlever guns that cock via the triggerguard, were being made in calibers as small as .22 as early as the 1850s, though that caliber is rare. By the mid-1870s, a great many companies were selling smallbore airguns in many calibers.
Perhaps the most well-known and prolific of these, at least in the United States, is the Quackenbush company, whose proprietary .21-caliber long guns and pistols sold for a tenth the price of handmade gallery airguns from just a decade before. Quackenbush guns and the others like the Gem, Haviland and Gunn, and others all used darts and something called cat slugs (sorry, Edith) that were nothing more than cylindrical lead slugs of bore diameter. They were very short, so they either avoided the tendency to tumble or it didn’t matter that much. Another variation of the cat slug was the felted slug, which was a cat slug with a short wad of felt clued to the base to provide drag.
Once the diabolo pellet came on the scene, it quickly rose to the top of the sales heap, surpassing all other projectiles. It did so because its high-drag design stabilized the flight of the pellet without requiring a rifling-induced spin. However, spinning the pellets did much to improve their accuracy, and the new BSA spring guns could not have hit the market at a better time.
Where the other types of projectiles were inaccurate at distances beyond 30 feet (excepting some handmade darts that were extremely accurate and had been in existence for over a century, but required specialized and expensive dart guns), the new diabolos pushed out the distance to 60 feet, where they gave one-inch, five-shot groups. In that day, being able to group like that was like saying a modern PCP can group an inch at 200 yards. It was an unthinkable distance that revitalized airgunning like nothing before.
Diabolos and the accuracy barrier
Certainly, up to this point in time (1905), there had never been any thought given to airgun projectiles going faster than about 500 f.p.s.; and only that fast in very few guns in the smallest caliber (No. 1 bore, which is also called .177). Velocity was not important, as the airgun was seen as an extension of the gallery target gun — though one that was much less expensive and more available to the common man. Accuracy was the sole purpose for the diabolo until the mid-1920s, when the Crosman Corporation started selling a hunting-themed pneumatic (Power Without Powder).
Power/velocity in airguns crept up very slowly throughout the 1920s and ’30s, and accuracy did the same. What held back accuracy was not the barrels of the guns, some of which were very fine, but the quality of the pellets. Airguns had run into the “accuracy barrier” because the manufacturing processes hadn’t reached the levels they would several decades later. It wasn’t until after World War II that European pellet makers finally started making really accurate diabolo pellets.
Sheridan shows us the way
In fact, there’s an anecdote in all of this; because in 1947, the Sheridan company decided to not use a true diabolo design and instead created a proprietary cylindrical pellet that had no pinched waist but did still have an open tail. The tail was not flared; instead, it had a tiny stepped ring of lead that was slightly larger than the diameter of the rest of the pellet and that was what was engraved by the rifling when the pellet was loaded.
The vintage Sheridan cylindrical pellet was not a true diabolo, but it had high drag just the same.
The reason given for this departure was that there was no accurate .22 pellet available. That may have been the truth, because the first prototype Sheridan rifles were created in .22 caliber; though, when brought to market, they came in a proprietary .20 caliber that has been the same ever since.
The first Sheridan pellet was a throwback to the schuetzen rifle days when all lead bullets were made with bases that were a couple thousandths larger than the rest of the bullet. These bases sealed the bore against the hot gasses at firing, and they also made it possible for the shooters to load the bullets separately into the rifled bore ahead of the cartridge case. This prevented the bullet from tipping as it entered the bore, because it was already seated there by hand.
The one or two lead rings at the base of the bullet were relatively easy to engrave with the rifling, as opposed to trying to engrave the entire bullet. That was the mistake that British and German pellet makers made when they tried to make the solid pellets (which I’ll discuss in a moment).
The sound barrier is breached!
Until the 1980s, peak pellet velocities remained below about 870 f.p.s. In the early ’80s, several rifles finally achieved 1,000 f.p.s. Soon after that, British airgun designer Ivan Hancock broke the sound barrier with his Mach I breakbarrel springer that got over 1,150 f.p.s. in .177 caliber. After that, things changed very fast.
Suddenly, accuracy was out the window, as shooters discovered that the diabolo shape is not well-suited to flight in the transonic or supersonic region. The fact that the pellet remains at this high velocity for only a few yards makes no difference. The damage was done. The extreme buffeting caused when the pellet reaches and passes transonic speed, then slows back down and goes through it again is more than enough to destabilize it and cause groups to open.
Sales go crazy!
However, the other side of the coin is that high velocity sells guns. A company that advertises their gun shoots 1,000 f.p.s. and higher attracts lots of attention and, yes, sales. In fact, so much attention has been given to 1,000 f.p.s. that it is now seen as the marketing kiss of death to advertise anything less. Some companies have gone to great lengths to tout ever-higher velocities without a thought being given to accuracy. Special lightweight, lead-free pellets are now selling well partly because of the velocity boost they give to the guns that shoot them.
Which brings us back to the initial question
If the diabolo design doesn’t work at high velocity, and we know unequivocally that it doesn’t, then why doesn’t someone design a pellet that can exceed the sound barrier? Well, to a very limited extent and with disastrous results, it has been done. The so-called “solid pellet” was the first attempt to do this. This projectile is really a bullet — not a pellet, and as such is brings all its bullet weaknesses with it. The first is that nobody can load a lead bullet into the bore of a rifled gun unless he’s Superman. Those who shoot muzzleloaders know that it takes a device called a short starter and often a separate mallet to force the bullet into the rifling of a bore.
These .22-caliber Eley solid pellets weigh 30 grains and require the shooter to engrave the rifling at loading. They failed because they’re too difficult to load and because they’re inaccurate in most airguns. Other designs were similar and have had the same problems.
So, no solid pellet currently on the market can be loaded into an airgun easily enough to use. If it could, the second problem crops up. The twist rate of the rifling is too slow to stabilize a solid pellet. That twist rate, which is very often one turn in 16 inches of travel, was taken from the .22 long rifle cartridge when the first modern air rifle was made. It hasn’t changed since then. It works with diabolos, but not with solid pellets because they’re too heavy for the lower velocity at which most airguns can propel them. They have no additional means of stabilization and need to be driven faster to stabilize. Being both very heavy and also having a lot of friction with the bore, they go much slower in any given airgun.
Okay, make the airguns more powerful
About seven years ago, I could see where all of this was heading, so I tested these pellets extensively in an AirForce Condor — the only air rifle I can afford that can get them up to 1,000 f.p.s. You know what? They still aren’t accurate. They’re stabilized at that speed, but they still shoot in 5-inch groups at 50 yards, while diabolos going less than 950 f.p.s. will group in three-quarters of an inch from the same gun.
Okay, then why don’t “they” make a more powerful air rifle that can shoot these things really fast?
Stop right there!
Don’t you see where this is heading? When an AirForce Condor shoots a 30-grain solid “pellet” at 1,000 f.p.s., it isn’t an air rifle anymore. It has become a firearm in all ways except how it’s powered. The Condor can shoot a 30-grain diabolo that leaves the muzzle at 1,000 f.p.s. and probably kill a woodchuck at 75 yards with ease, yet it still won’t travel downrange any farther than about 500-600 yards max. The high drag of the diabolo design slows the pellet after a very short time, but a solid pellet leaving the muzzle of the same gun at the same velocity will go a mile and a half. It has nothing to slow it down. We’ve then turned the Condor into a .22 short.
There’s an airgun maker in the Netherlands that makes custom .25-caliber rifles that can shoot 60-grain jacketed boattail spitzer bullets at over 1,200 f.p.s. That’s very admirable for an airgun, but that rifle, my friends, is a .25-20 Winchester in all ways but the name. Maybe not the modern loading of the cartridge, but it’s certainly close to the original loading. So, while it can actually be done, I’m saying that it shouldn’t be. Turning an air rifle into a firearm is just asking for more legislation that we don’t need.
Now, before some of you go off on big-bore airguns, they’re just as relatively safe as smallbore airguns. They shoot about as far as shotguns shooting rifled slugs, and most states that worry about distance limits for sporting guns allow the shotgun with slugs.
It’s not the power of the gun at the muzzle, but how far downrange it throws the projectile that makes it more or less safe. And, with diabolo pellets, airgunners have achieved something truly remarkable — a safer bullet.
I hope this report sheds some light on today’s state of airgun technology.
by B.B. Pelletier
Here’s what Tyler says about his submission: Me (FR3AK) from the well-known team of Valhalla ODA (Operational Detachment Airsoft) at the annual Vietnam Patrol game at the CDWC field.
Let’s look at the accuracy of CB caps for the first time. This is a large test that isn’t even halfway completed at this point, so there’s still quite a lot to learn; and from my perspective, there has already been a lot of learning. Starting today, much of what I thought I knew for sure about CB caps is going away.
Some .22 rifles are not made to shoot CB caps
Before I started this test, I thought I could load a CB cap in just about any .22 rifle and get away with it. This test has shown that’s untrue. I’ll begin with a rifle I selected because I thought it was the standard of modern .22s — the Ruger 10/22 semiautomatic.
The 10/22 is not the most accurate rimfire rifle around, and nobody claims that it is. But it probably has more add-ons and aftermarket modifications than the next 10 most-popular .22s put together. The 10/22 aftermarket is almost as large and brisk as that of the AR-15 — the amazing, morphing black gun.
You can throw money at your 10/22 and turn it into a credible shooter for action matches, like the Chevy Sportsman Team Challenge, or you can literally paint it purple with colorful stocks and barrel options. If you have a wild hair and too much disposable cash, you can even lash several 10/22s together into a McGyver’s Gatling Gun. Yes, you can do just about anything with a Ruger 10.22 — except, maybe shoot CB caps in it.
Oh, they’ll fire once you’ve figured out the three-handed way of loading them into the breech. I even had suggestions on special loading tools to make loading easier, but loading is such a pain that I recommend finding a different rifle.
The rifle I thought would represent the everyman’s .22 turned out not to work well at all. However, I’m not stopping there. I have a Butler Creek bull barrel and a custom thumbhole stock that turns my stanrard rifle into a wannabe target shooter. The test will continue with the same rifle in that configuration.
I’ll also add the Stevens Armory 414 target rifle into the mix of rifles being tested to take the place of the standard 10/22. This is a single-shot target rifle that was popular before World War II, and I’m adding it just to keep the competition stiff. I’ll show you all the rifles when I report their accuracy, but today we’re only looking at the results of the Ruger 10/22 and the Remington 521T.
The baseline of the test is my AirForce Talon SS, fitted with an optional .22-caliber, 24-inch barrel. The range is 50 yards, and I shot the Talon on the same day as the rifles I’m testing.
Longtime blog readers know that this rifle posted a 10-shot group under a half-inch about a month ago. On the day I tested it with the CB caps, though, the wind must have had a greater influence, because the groups were all much larger. I shot the JSB Exact Jumbos domes weighing 18.1 grains, and the best 10-shot group went just under one inch. The worst was about 1.5 inches on this same day. So, that’s the baseline against which the CB caps are shooting.
The Ruger was next, and right away I discovered that loading it needed three hands. One to hold the rifle, the second to hold back the bolt and the third to load the CB cap. Yes, the 10/22 does have a bolt hold-open device, but it’s the very definition of a poor design. I never bothered modifying it because I never really used it before this test.
The rifle was equipped with a Centerpoint 8-32x56AO scope, and, naturally, it was set all the way up. While this may seem a little biased against the other .22s, which have open sights, the Talon SS does have a 16X scope, so this balances against that. When I swap in the bull barrel and different stock, this rifle will still be wearing this scope.
However, that didn’t matter, because the groups from the Ruger were so large that I can’t show most of them here. In one case, bullets landed on two different 12-inch paper targets. That, plus the difficulty of loading each round is why the standard Ruger 10/22 has been eliminated from this test. I did get one promising group from the CCI Mini CB caps. Ten shots measure 3.475 inches at 50 yards. That group was the one that opened my eyes and made me realize that there might be something to these caps after all.
I know that people who use CB caps are not shooting 50-yard groups. They’re interested in protecting the bird feeder from a ravaging squirrel without making a lot of noise. If the feeder is closer than 50 yards, it might just be possible to do.
Not bad for a CB cap at 50 yards! These are 10 CCI Mini CB caps shot from a Ruger 10/22. I didn’t expect to see this much accuracy from CB caps at this range.
Only two rounds were tested in the 10/22 — the Super Colibris from Aguila and the CCI CB caps. I did try to shoot a group of regular Colibris, but that’s when I learned that they were not meant for rifles at all. The Super Colibris gave a group a little larger than 12 inches, and I’m not showing that here. As far as I’m concerned, they do not work well enough in a 10/22 at 50 yards to be considered. The CCI Mini CB caps, on the other hand, do show some promise.
Next I tried the Remington 521T that I thought would bury the Ruger. Well, the best-laid plans oft go astray, I guess, because this rifle shot a slightly larger group of 10 CCI Mini CB caps. This group measured 4.013 inches.
This group of 10 CCI Mini CB caps measures 4.013 inches. It was shot by the Remington 521T at 50 yards.
As with the Ruger, the Remington also got much larger groups with the Aguila Super Colibri CB caps. They were over 7 inches, making them unsuitable for shooting at this distance. The reason the 521 gets to stay in the test is because loading it is far easier than loading the 10/22. I’m still going to test my custom 10/22, which will be just as hard to load as the standard rifle; if I get better accuracy, that rifle will bear the 10/22 standard for the entire test. If not, the Stevens Armory 414 will have to substitute, I guess.
That is a lot for you to digest, so I’ll stop here. In the next part, I’ll show you how the Winder Musket did with CCI Mini Short CB caps and with both types of RWS caps. The results will surprise you, I think. I know I’m surprised by what both of the rifles shown today were able to do.
Yet to come
In future tests, I’ll shorten the distance to 25 yards and then to 10 yards to show where CB caps can possibly do their best work. I know those who are interested in this subject must think I’m serializing it to keep you on the hook, but that’s not what’s happening. There are so many rifles and so much different ammunition to track that I am going through the results in a stepwise manner to make certain that everything gets looked at correctly.
I’ve already learned far more about the performance potential of .22 CB caps than I’ve ever read anywhere. By the time this test is complete, we’ll all know a lot more than has ever been published about this short-range ammunition.
There’s one additional benefit from this test. Readers are starting to ask a lot of questions about the fundamentals of accuracy and why certain airguns do what they do. On Monday, the blog will address a fundamental question that came in from the Pyramyd Air facebook page. Stuff like this cannot help but advance all of us in our understanding of the mechanics behind the accurate gun.
by B.B. Pelletier
This is an extended report to cover the use of 4.4mm lead balls in the SIG Sauer P225 X5 Open combo pistol. I don’t know if you caught it, but while writing Part 3 we discovered that this pistol is also called the Open model here in the U.S., as it is elsewhere in the world. That has been corrected on the website and we will now refer to this model as the Open combo. It’s also called the X-FIVE and not X-5 or X5. However, that would involve correcting a whole bunch of links, and we’ve opted to not make those changes at this time.
I mentioned in the comments on Part 3 that I’d forgotten to test the pistol with 4.4mm lead balls, as I’d promised, so today’s report will cover that. However, while researching the material for today, I discovered some other related things that you may be interested in.
Why 4.4mm and why lead?
The reader who asked for this report shoots in his garage and wants to reduce the BB bounceback problem. Lead balls will certainly do that, but not all BB pistols are able to shoot lead. Some guns rely on the magnetic properties of the steel BB to hold it in place during the firing sequence, but this pistol isn’t one of them. It looked like it would handle lead shot just fine.
Another time we use a lead ball instead of a steel BB is when the barrel is rifled. The Russians did that with their Makarov BB pistol; and after I saw the rifling, I tested it with lead. EAA, the importer of the gun at the time (Pyramyd Air now imports all IZH-Baikal airguns directly from the manufacturer), was very adamant about not using lead balls when I reported it back in the late ’90s. They went to great lengths to disparage what I said about using lead balls in IZH BB guns with rifled barrels, claiming that the manufacturer expressly instructed them to advise using steel BBs exclusively. When I went to IWA (the European SHOT Show) in 2006 and spoke directly to the IZH engineers, they acknowledged that their rifled bores did work best with lead, even though they also worked well with steel.
Size matters, too
Another thing that enters into this discussion is the diameter of the ball. A steel BB these days measures around 0.171″ to 0.173″ in diameter. The Daisy zinc-plated BBs I used to test this pistol for accuracy in Part 3 measure 0.172″. They’re very uniform, which contrasts sharply with BBs of the past.
Lead balls that are 4.4mm should measure 0.173″ in diameter, so they would be one-thousandth larger than the Daisy BBs I just mentioned. And this, my friends, is why it helps to understand a little of the firearms world; because in a firearm that uses lead bullets, you usually want the ball or bullet to be at least the diameter of the grooves or one-thousandth of an inch larger. There are exceptions to that rule, of course, but I’m not going there today.
Putting it simply, a 4.4mm (0.173″) lead ball should fit the bore of a given gun better than a BB that measures 0.172 inches. If the bore of the gun is very tight, the larger ball can cause problems since CO2 guns do not have the same level of propulsive force as firearms. There are limits to what they’ll shoot.
I know that most BB guns are smoothbores. This one certainly is. And I also know that the bores of these guns are slightly oversized to cut down on jams. You could live a lifetime and never see a BB get stuck in the bore of a BB gun if you live in the U.S. and use Daisy, RWS or Crosman BBs; but there are other places in the world where the tolerances of BBs are not held as tight, and you get them both oversized and undersized. Manufacturers allow for this by making their smoothbore barrels just a trifle larger on the inside.
In a nutshell, those are the considerations I took into account when deciding to test this pistol with 4.4mm lead balls.
Not all balls are the same
Sometimes I get surprised in the strangest ways. I already had a lifetime supply of 4.4mm lead balls that I purchased back when the Haenel 310 trainers were coming into this country in the mid-1990s. I wanted to make sure at that time that I wouldn’t be cut off, so I went a little overboard and bought a case of ammunition. Let’s call that 50,000 balls.
A few years ago, while walking the aisles of an airgun show, I saw some tubes of generic 4.4mm lead balls for sale. I picked up a couple tubes for various reasons, including today’s test. Little did I know until this very day, though, that those balls are not 4.4mm, but rather 4.25mm and rather slipshod at that!
Who cares? Well, 4.25mm to 4.3mm (if that is what they really are) measures 0.167″-0.169″ in diameter. Not only are these lead balls undersized, based on what I was told when I bought them, they’re also quite variable, which is the kiss of death if you want to hit anything.
The 4.4mm lead balls I bought at an airgun show (top) are actually a lot smaller than advertised. They’re really 4.25-4.3mm. Bottom picture is a copper-plated 4.4mm ball from the Czech Republic — and it’s right on the money.
The test was 10 shots from 25 feet with a strong-side barricade hold. I’m grabbing the door jamb and using my left arm to support and steady my shooting hand. It’s the most accurate hold I can use for this test.
The eyes have it
One more variable was my eyes. Just the day before I tested this pistol I was at the rifle range with Mac and another friend trying out some different guns. Mac had just cleaned my clock by shooting a half-inch five-shot group of .17 HM2 from a single shot target rifle at 50 yards. I shot the same rounds from the same rifle into just over an inch.
My other friend suggested I put on my bifocals so I could see the front sight of the O3-A3 Springfield battle rifle I was about to shoot. I did and proceeded to shoot five .30-06 rounds into a group measuring 0.49 inches. I used the regular combat sights that came with the rifle and shot factory 150-grain Federal ammunition. This is the best open-sight group I have shot at 50 yards in many years, and it cemented in my mind the need to wear my glasses whenever I shoot with open sights.
The smaller group of five rounds (excluding the separate shot above the group) was fired from an 03A3 Springfield rifle at 50 yards with issue sights while wearing my glasses. The lone hole was the first shot, taken with the rifle’s front sight protector still on the sight. It hid the target so I had to guess where it was. The six holes in the bull were shot with peep sights on a .17 HM2, but I wasn’t wearing glasses.
For today’s pistol test, I shot the first 10 shots wearing my glasses. The results were not any better than what you saw in Part 3 with steel BBs.
After seeing the group shot with glasses, I knew something was wrong. The front sight simply was not clear at arm’s length. I took off the specs and just used plain safety glasses for the next group. The results speak for themselves.
This SIG Sauer BB pistol continues to delight me. This time, I learned a very important thing — don’t trust that something is what it is represented to be. If it’s ammunition, measure it.
This pistol offers the most realistic training of any air or BB pistol I’ve tested. While there’s always some training value for firearms with any airgun, with this one there’s quite a lot. This is an airgun I would recommend to my friends.
by B.B. Pelletier
This report has been done in bits and pieces many times over the years, but I’m putting it together today because of a surge of new airgunners coming online. Many of them are older firearm shooters, but many others are younger shooters with no real background in the shooting sports. We’re seeing an upturn of fundamental questions in our social networks and through customer service representatives that tell us that this topic needs to be emphasized once again.
What’s wrong with the sound barrier?
The sound barrier is a lot more familiar to people of my generation, because it was being talked about and always in the news when I was a youngster in the 1950s. Young folks don’t think much about it these days because supersonic flight is a foregone conclusion; but back in the 1940s, it hadn’t yet been achieved by a manned aircraft in level flight. A couple pilots inadvertently broke the barrier in dives from high altitude during World War II when they were testing certain fighter aircraft, and one of them was Cass S. Hough, the grandson of the founder of Daisy and later a president of the firm himself. At the time, he was trying to solve a control surface problem with the twin-engined P38 Lightning fighter, so he took one to over 40,000 feet, nosed it over into a steep dive and might have become the first man to ever break the barrier in an airplane. I say “might” because almost every air force of that period has a similar story. There’s a plaque in England that commemorates that flight in 1943, but I’m sure there must be other plaques in other countries, as well.
Before I hear from all the engineers (except the aeronautical engineers) that a prop-driven plane cannot go supersonic because the propeller has to break the sound barrier long before the aircraft does, it is possible — when gravity assists the aircraft — for a prop-driven plane to go supersonic. It’s not a good thing. As Hough discovered, the subsonic control surfaces no longer work right at supersonic speeds, but it can be done. As a result of Hough’s flight, the P38 received a special “dive flap” control to help free the controls when the speed got too high.
The problem with the sound barrier is what happens as you approach it and then pass through. In short, a pressure wave of air builds in front of whatever is moving that fast. Normally, this pressure would then flow around the surfaces of the aircraft and be left behind — but at transonic speed, the air compresses and develops eddies and currents that play havoc with the control surfaces of the aircraft. The surfaces that work well up to a certain subsonic speed start to act odd when they reach the transonic speed, which is about Mach 0.9, or nine-tenths of the speed of sound in the conditions of the moment.
One bad effect of reaching the sound barrier is a buffeting that causes the entire aircraft (or pellet) to vibrate. Aeronautical engineers had to learn to design aircraft for supersonic flight while maintaining the ability to fly at subsonic speeds as well.
Now, let’s talk about pellets
Pellets don’t have adjustable control surfaces. They are what they are, so they like to fly at certain speeds, and in all cases with standard diabolo pellets (wasp-waisted with a hollow tail) that speed is subsonic. In fact, even the transonic region is bad since it’s the place where the buffeting starts.
Why we don’t want 1,000 f.p.s.
This is why we do not want to shoot pellets at 1,000 f.p.s. Because 1,000 f.p.s. is always in the transonic region.
How fast is the sound barrier?
The answer is: it depends. Things that change the speed of sound are the elevation above sea level, the ambient temperature and humidity. Elevation is subtle, because it also influences the air temperature. Temperature of the air is the most influential factor that affects the speed of sound, and I’ve learned that where I live the barrier can exist anywhere from about 1,060 f.p.s. and above. The usual speed of sound is given as about 1,125 f.p.s. when all conditions are “normal.”
You know the pellet has exceeded the sound barrier when you hear a sustained crack with the shot that cannot be attributed to the muzzle blast. Silenced firearms dramatically show off this sustained crack because the bullet is quiet at the muzzle and then returns an indistinct sound like distant thunder as it goes downrange.
But, it isn’t the sound that airgunners should be concerned with. It’s the accuracy, or rather the lack of it that is caused by the buffeting mentioned earlier.
How pellets are stabilized
Pellets are stabilized both by spin and drag. Since they are hollow, they are light for their length, so the spin can be slower than for solid conical bullets. That’s why solid pellets are usually a failure.
But pellets are also stabilized by high drag, just like darts. The wide hollow skirt creates a low-pressure area behind the pellet that drags on them as they fly forward. It keeps the point oriented forward and stabilizes the projectile in flight.
At subsonic velocities, pellets are usually stabilized pretty well; when they get up into the transonic region, they’ll flutter in flight, just like those older airplanes did. And, those flutters translate into larger groups. Knowledgeable airgunners like to keep their velocities under 900 f.p.s. for safety’s sake.
One additional reason to stay below the transonic region
I was chatting with Mac about this; and we’ve both observed that in spring guns, the faster they shoot the twitchier they are as far as hold sensitivity. That has nothing to do with the sound barrier — it’s just a fact of life for spring guns. Throw in the breakbarrel design that’s also very hold sensitive and you have a real recipe for disaster. Yet when you look at all the magnum airguns that are being sold on the basis of velocity, the majority of them are breakbarrels.
So, we have a bad situation in which the most inexperienced shooters are drawn to the very airguns that are the most difficult to shoot on the basis of two things — the advertised velocity and the low cost! It’s like a church that decides to hold its meetings in the piano bar of a casino.
I’m on what, I guess, is a lifelong crusade to spread the word about airgunning so people don’t come in the wrong doors and find things amiss. I want to give each new shooter the same chance I had to discover the shooting sports on the very best terms. If they could just see a fraction of what I see, I know that many of them would be intrigued enough to stay and grow our hobby.
Airgunning can be fun and very satisfying if you do it the right way. The right way is to shoot enjoyable guns that hit their targets more often than not. Hyper-velocity airguns are the antithesis of that. They are the .338 Lapua Magnums whose owners have each fired one box of ammo before giving up on the beast.