Archive for December 2011

IZH 53M air pistol: Part 3

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2

The IZH 53M air pistol looks like it stepped right out of the 1950s. It’s a modern breakbarrel with a retro look and feel.

Accuracy day for the IZH 53M air pistol, and it’s a day with some good surprises. I want to talk about how this pistol shoots, so I’m going to skip the drama of finding a good pellet, because of the three I tried, only one stood out. That was the one I played with the most.

The sights work fine!
No need to worry about the sights anymore. They shoot to the point of aim and have plenty of adjustment in all directions. They’re also very crisp in the right lighting, which is strong light on the target and the shooter in relative dark.

I did have some adjustment to do in both directions and can attest to the sights adjusting easily and accurately. The windage adjustment lacks any markings on the gun to tell you which way to turn the knob, but it’s clockwise to go to the right and counter-clockwise to adjust left. There are very crisp detents, and the increments of movement are quite small.

The elevation knob is marked but lacks the crisp detents of the windage, so it’s more of a guess. Since I wasn’t going for a score, I stopped when I had the pellets hitting inside the bull at 10 meters.

You notice a trigger a lot more when shooting targets than during any other testing; so now that I have more experience with it, I’ll say this one is okay but not great. It feels a little too heavy for the absolutely best work and, being a single-stage trigger, there’s no feeling of control or precision. You just squeeze until the gun fires.

The first pellet I tried was the RWS Hobby that went so fast in the velocity test. Alas, this time they weren’t that good, giving me lots of vertical stringing at 10 meters. That can be caused by a limp wrist or weak grip on the gun, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the case this time.

Ten RWS Hobbys made this 3.028-inch vertical string at 10 meters. This is not a good pellet for this pistol.

Next, I tried the Crosman Competition pellets. They grouped better, plus the group was more round and less vertical. That tells me that my grip on the gun isn’t the primary problem. About the time I switched to this pellet, I also started using my real competition shooting glasses instead of my normal prescription glasses. That did two things. First, it sharpened the image of the front sight, because the competition glasses have an adjustable iris to control the amount of light that passes through the lens to the eye. Second, the blinder on the competition glasses meant I no longer had to close my non-sighting eye. That cleared up the image of the sights and target and from that point on sighting was much more precise.

Ten Crosman Competition pellets made this 1.947-inch group at 10 meters. As you can see, it’s rounder than the group of Hobbys shown previously.

Then I tried a group of Gamo Match pellets, but that was a mistake. They shot all over the target, and I was afraid of missing the trap at 10 meters! After shot 7, I stopped and considered what to do next.

Getting better and better
As I shoot, I find that normally I get progressively better as the shots pass. So, the first group will be bigger than the next and so on. But there’s a downside to this. If the gun I’m shooting requires a lot of concentration, I’ll soon become tired and the groups will start to open up. It’s a fine line between getting accustomed to the gun and tiring out.

With the IZH 53M, however, the gun is so easy to shoot and the sights are so easy to see that I don’t tire as quickly. Therefore, instead of selecting another pellet, I went back to the Crosman Competition wadcutters that had already proven good and shot another group with them.

This time, I was definitely in the groove. Each shot felt the same and, what’s more, each shot felt right. When that happens you know you’re shooting to the best of your ability.

This group of Crosman Competition pellets showed the pistol’s capability the best. It measures 1.341 inches for 10 shots.

Well, that’s it for this one. The more I shot the gun, the more familiar I became with its operation and the better it seemed to shoot — with the right pellets. By the end of the session, I was sorely tempted to bring out my BSF pistol and do a comparison test. But that would not have proven anything, since the BSF is no longer made and the IZH 53M is so inexpensive. Best to just let the results stand as they are.

If I’d continued shooting the pistol, I might have found an even more accurate pellet, for this feels like an air pistol that wants to shoot! It’s an all-day airgun that you’ll enjoy for both plinking and informal target shooting.

The last word
I think the IZH 53M is a great value for the price. You get a lot of performance in this low-cost package, and it’s capable of plinking tin cans all day long.

New BKL mount adjusts for barrel droop: Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

It’s been half a year since I did Part 1 of this report. I always meant to do today’s test, but other things seemed to crop up every time I was ready. I did make an excursion in another direction to test BSA’s 2×20 pistol scope using another mount on the Beeman P1 air pistol. Such is the tangled life of the airgun blogger!

New territory!
Today’s report takes me into fresh territory with my Slavia 631 breakbarrel rifle. I had earmarked it as a testbed rifle for testing the accuracy of lead-free pellets a long time ago, but the lack of a scope mount caused me to substitute the Whiscombe rifle at the last minute. You see, the Slavia air rifles all share a common problem when it comes to mounting scopes. They have dovetails that are among the very widest on the market. Most 11mm scope mounts will not expand wide enough to fit the 14mm dovetails (they are still called 11mm, which creates a world of confusion among buyers who try to scope their rifles) that are standard on all Slavia breakbarrels. Even for me — with a drawerful of specialized airgun mounts and prototypes — the Slavia remained a gun I could not scope until this new BKL mount hit the market.

Those dovetail grooves may be called 11mm, but they’re really 14mm apart. And that makes a huge difference. Almost no scope mounts will open that wide. Those three scalloped notches are for a specific type of scope stop that no longer exists in the U.S.

I’ve owned this 631 since back in the 1990s when I was still writing The Airgun Letter. I got it from Compasseco (now owned by Pyramyd Air) for a test and liked it so much I decided to keep it. Over the years, I’ve used it for other tests, such as testing the accuracy and penetration of round lead balls; but these tests were done with open sights. Today, I get to discover for the first time how the rifle shoots when a scope is mounted.

Just fit!
The BKL adjustable mount is a one-piece mount that just fits the length of the scope grooves on the 631. There isn’t a millimeter to spare on either end. As for the width, the fit is much easier, though I did have to spread the clamping rails to get it on the gun. For those who are unfamiliar with BKL mounts, they hold onto the airgun by clamping pressure, alone — there are no mechanical scope stops on any BKL mount. It’s often necessary to spread the mount base a little to get it onto the dovetails of the rifle. BKL has designed an ingenious way of doing this with the base screws applying reverse pressure to spread the base “jaws” just the right amount. It’s easy to do and takes only a minute or two extra. Once the mount is on the gun and the base screws are tightened, you have a scope mount that’s not going to move under recoil, no matter how severe.

The second great thing about this new mount is that the rear scope ring elevates to compensate for barrel droop. Newer readers may wonder what droop is, so allow me to explain

The BKL is mounted on my Slavia 631 rifle. The mount is silver because it’s an unfinished preproduction model, not because it’s finished that way.

Barrel droop
Breakbarrel springers are notorious for having barrels that are angled downward from the sight plane. Because the manufacturers mount both the front and rear sight on the barrel, they remain in a fixed relationship that masks the droop or downward slant of the barrel. When you install a scope, it goes on the spring tube and the barrel droop becomes painfully obvious. You adjust the scope up as far as it will go to bring the strike of the round back up to the intersection of the crosshairs. Sometimes, you just barely get there, but other times you can’t even get that high before running out of adjustment. Either way, when a scope is adjusted all the way up as high as it will go, the internal springs relax and the point of aim starts moving all over the place. New shooters blame this on scope shift, but it’s really a different problem that’s completely correctable

You want to mount the scope in such a way that its vertical adjustment is about in the middle of the range or even closer to the low end. That’s where the droop-compensation scope mount, or “drooper” as it’s called, comes into play. With a droop-compensation scope mount you can slant the scope downward so it follows the line of the bore more closely.

And this new BKL is a drooper mount! But until I tried to sight in my Slavia 631, I had no way of knowing that it’s a breakbarrel with a droop problem. Once I confirmed that it is, I adjusted the rear of the BKL mount upward and got the scope dead-on at 25 yards! It took only one adjustment, and I had the scope back into the middle of its adjustment range again. Now, it was time to see how this rifle shot.

This is going to be a longer report, so I’m cutting to the chase right away. When I started shooting the 631 at 25 yards, I discovered that this rifle is twitchy. What does that mean? Well, if a breakbarrel is very powerful, it’s usually extremely difficult to hold for accuracy. It wants to spray its pellets all over the place — that’s what I call twitchy.

But lower-powered breakbarrel springers like this 631 aren’t usually twitchy. Usually, they lob all their shots to the same place. They’re also very tolerant of different types of pellets. But my Slavia 631 is none of those things. It’s twitchy. Allow me to show you what I mean. The first group I tried to shoot was with the Air Arms Falcon pellet.

This first target shot with Falcon pellets revealed a lot about the gun. Do you see that two pellets are close together in each of the three groups, but the point of impact moves? That’s due to very small changes in the hold. Four of the 10 pellets missed the target altogether!

The first group I attempted told me this rifle is twitchy. But sometimes that’s only with a couple pellets, so I pressed on.

Next, I tried shooting RWS Hobby pellets. They did better and were less twitchy but were not really that good.

Ten Hobbys went into a real group at 25 yards. It looks like only 6 shots landed because several went through the same holes. This is a better group, measuring 0.73 inches between centers, but it’s still not great.

I had to use every bit of technique, short of a scope level, to get that group. The differing points of impact were obviously the result of very subtle changes in the hold. This was obvious to me as I shot, because I was able to feel where the pellets wanted to go. But in spite of that, I did my best to shoot the tightest group I could.

I tried Crosman Premier lites next, but they were all over the place. Then, I tried the JSB Exact RS pellet that often proves best in rifles of this power level. This time, though, they were too hold-sensitive to do well.

Finally, I tried the BSA Wolverine pellet that’s also a medium weight JSB but is subtly different from the others of the same weight (8.44 grains). Like the Hobbys, I got a group of 10; but like the others, it’s interesting for being more of a cluster of several smaller groups.

Ten BSA Wolverine pellets gave this group, which measures 0.75 inches across. There’s a cluster of 6 in one hole, then 4 others below. The fourth shot lies between the two that are stacked vertically.

Bottom line
The BKL adjustable scope mount works as advertised. It’s easy to install and to adjust. And it has jaws that are wide enough for the widest 11mm air rifle dovetails. Just don’t try to use it on a Weaver base, because it isn’t that wide, nor is it configured for the proprietary shape of a Weaver dovetail. This mount is one elegant solution for a drooper.

The Slavia 631 is a twitchy breakbarrel that shoots at a mild level of power. If I hadn’t done this test, I never would have guessed that from the muzzle velocity, alone. That made me think of another report I can write — and probably should: What to do with a twitchy breakbarrel. It would be a collection of the tricks and techniques I would use when I encounter a twitchy breakbarrel. In my role as an airgun tester, I see a lot of them over time, so I’ve built up a bag of techniques I employ to deal with them when one comes along.

The 631 is also a great potential testbed for an adjustable muzzle weight to be used for tuning the harmonics of a spring gun. I’ll look into that.

IZH 53M air pistol: Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Announcement: If you missed out on Pyramyd Air’s first shipment of extra Dan Wesson speedloaders with 6 extra cartridges, they’re back in stock.

Part 1

The IZH 53M air pistol looks like it stepped right out of the 1950s. It’s a modern breakbarrel with a retro look and feel.

Let’s look at the velocity of the IZH 53M air pistol. I wrote about what a nice, calm pistol this is in Part 1, and several readers responded to that. Many of you seem to like airguns that are well-behaved. I also made a comparison between this pistol and the BSF S20 that looks so much like a rifle cut down to fit a pistol grip. If you ever shoot that one, you’ll discover that it’s really a pussycat in lion’s clothing. Though it looks big and mean, it really shoots just as calm as you could hope for — like our test pistol.

Customer issues
Customers give the 53M four stars, and the chief complaints are that it shoots high and there’s no safety. Apparently, the sights have been changed, and we’ll find that out when I test the gun for accuracy. As for the lack of a safety being a problem, I respectfully disagree. I don’t think the pistol needs one. The shooter is the safety for any gun, and no mechanical device adds anything to improve safety.

If you want a safety so you can do things you wouldn’t do with the gun that are not on safe — DON’T DO THOSE THINGS! Don’t even do them with guns that have safeties and are on safe! I’ve had safeties fail so many times that I no longer trust them. If I have a gun that does have a safety, I’ll use it; but in no way will I behave any differently with that gun than I would if it didn’t have a safety. I guess I’ll go down swinging on this issue, but I advise all of you to never trust a safety for anything. Instead, control the gun so it doesn’t need one.

I looked at the advertised velocity and saw that it’s 360 f.p.s. But when I tested my sample pistol, it was much hotter. Someone complained that this pistol has BB-gun velocities, Well, they aren’t Red Ryder velocities! Let’s see what this gun can do.

RWS Hobbys
The first pellet tested was the 7-grain RWS Hobby. This is a wadcutter pellet (a sharp shoulder on the pellet head cuts clean round holes in target paper for ease of scoring) that’s one of the lightest lead pellets available. I would use only lead pellets in this pistol because of the power level. When a gun shoots less than 500 f.p.s., I don’t like to use synthetics or lead-free metal pellets since they don’t perform as well as they do in guns that are more powerful.

Hobbys averaged 409 f.p.s. and went from 391 f.p.s to 420 f.p.s. That’s a spread of 19 f.p.s. At the average velocity, they’re generating 2.6 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle.

Gamo Match
The next pellet I tested was the 7.7-grain Gamo Match. This is another wadcutter that, though it’s heavier than the Hobby, still went pretty fast. The average was 391 f.p.s. and the velocity range went from 384 to 399 f.p.s. The muzzle energy is an average of 2.61 foot-pounds. The total velocity spread was 15 f.p.s.

Crosman Competition
The final pellet I tried was the 7.4-grain Crosman Competition — yet another wadcutter design. These loaded easier than the first two pellets and gave an average of 389 f.p.s. That works out to a muzzle energy of 2.49 foot-pounds. The velocity in the string ranged from a low of 376 f.p.s. to as high of 394 f.p.s., for an 18 f.p.s. spread.

I tested these pellets because they’re the ones I intend shooting in the accuracy test. I wasn’t looking to show the pistol as a hot-rod, but the results speak for themselves. Also, because this is a springer, there’s always the chance that it will becomes a little faster after a good break-in.

The trigger is not adjustable. The Russian-made schematic refers to a “trigger adjustment screw,” but in my gun the screw is only for securing the stock to the action.

Blog readerDerrick gave us a link to a blog he wrote on tuning the gun, and his photos clearly show a trigger travel adjustment screw that’s no longer in the current model. The sheet metal anchor is still there, but no hole has been drilled and tapped for the adjustment screw

The sheet metal anchor for the adjustment screw is still in place, ahead of the trigger blade, but the hole for the adjustment screw is not drilled.

I believe the trigger has been updated, but the schematic still shows the older design. So, I repeat what I said in Part 1 — the trigger is not adjustable. The trigger is single-stage and breaks cleanly at between 1 lb., 15 oz. and 2 lbs., 8 oz. That’s light enough for good informal target shooting.

Thus far
So far, I really like this air pistol. It seems to offer a lot of value for the money. If it proves to be accurate, it’ll be quite a buy!

Are vintage Sheridan pellets better than modern pellets?

by B.B.Pelletier

Announcement: Mathias Moe Varga is this week’s winner of Pyramyd Air’s Big Shot of the Week on their facebook page. He’ll receive a $50 Pyramyd Air gift card.

Mathias Moe Varga submitted the above photo of Miles Alexander Varga, who got in some shootin’ with his Crosman XT air rifle.

Today is Friday, and I’ve already written a couple reports this week that belong on a Friday blog, but a question came in from a shooter who will probably never read this report — yet, it was so intriguing that I wanted to answer it for you today.

This shooter owns a vintage Sheridan multi-pump pneumatic, and he’s been perplexed for years because .20-caliber Crosman premier pellets are not carried in stores. He remembers the old cylindrical pellets that used to come in the red and white tins and later in the yellow plastic boxes, but he doesn’t know if any .20-caliber pellets are still being made today.

This is the box that vintage Sheridan cylindrical pellets came in when Sheridan was still in business (before Benjamin bought them…and then Crosman bought Benjamin).

Vintage Sheridan cylindrical pellets. Notice the small driving band at the base, which engages the rifling.

Of course, they’re being made and in greater diversity than ever before. But you don’t typically find .20-caliber pellets at a sporting goods store, and they’re never found at a discount store. The best selection will be found on the internet.

His question made me think of this: Are today’s pellets better or worse than those of long ago? What I thought I would do today is find out which is better — the old pellets or the new.

I have been telling people for years that the .20-caliber Crosman Premier pellets in the cardboard box are noticeably better than the older cylindrical Sheridan pellets, but are they really? The only way to find out is to shoot some and see what happens.

Twenty-caliber pellets
I bought my Sheridan Blue Streak in late 1977, though I have also owned a vintage Silver Steak that was made between 1950 and about 1960. I no longer have that vintage gun, but the ’77 Blue Streak is still here, so that will be the test bed.

I used to buy Sheridan pellets in yellow plastic boxes of 500. They were the only .20-caliber pellets on the market when I bought them, but Dr. Beeman changed that in the 1980s when he began bringing in European spring guns in .20 caliber. Twenty caliber still occupies third place out of the four smallbore airgun calibers (.177, .20, .22 and .25) in terms of popularity, and its position is currently being threatened by a resurgence of interest in .25 caliber. Both .177 and .22 calibers are so far ahead of these other two calibers that there’s really no comparison when it comes to sales and usage.

Beeman’s pitch was that the .20 caliber was a great compromise between .177 and .22, but that pitch never quite caught on. Many shooters felt the truth was just the opposite — that .20 was both more expensive than the .177 and not as effective on game as the .22. You can argue this all day long and never change anyone’s opinion, but the truth is that there just aren’t as many great pellets in .20 caliber as there are in .177 and .22.

However, if there’s even just one good pellet, maybe that’s all we need. And the Crosman Premier pellet may just be the one.

I thought I’d test-fire several groups with my Blue Streak at 25 yards. Because it’s a multi-pump that takes some time for each shot, I’m going to shoot only 5-shot groups, but I’ll shoot several with each pellet. I’ll pump the rifle 6 strokes per shot because I’m shooting at 25 yards. That should give me decent accuracy, though I’m only using the open sights that came on the gun.

As I write this, I’ve not yet fired the rifle, so I have no data to consider. I do think the Crosman Premier will shoot more accurately than the old cylindrical pellet, but we’ll have to test it to see.

Let’s shoot
It’s been about two years since I shot the Blue Streak, so I oiled the pump head with Crosman Pellgunoil before starting. Then, I fired a single shot at the bull 25 yards away. It hit within about one-quarter inch of the aim point, so I finished that group and changed targets for the next.

The first three groups are all Crosman Premiers. I think the groups speak for themselves.

These three groups of Crosman Premiers were easy to put side-by-side because they’re so small. They were shot in order from left to right. The groups measure from left to right — 0.749 inches, 0.911 inches and 1.088 inches between centers.

Next, I tried the vintage Sheridan cylindrical pellet. Once more, I verified that the first shot was close to the aim point, then no more checking.

First group of vintage Sheridan cylindrical pellets looks like I wasn’t trying! It measures 2.63 inches between centers.

The first group of Sheridan pellets looks like I wasn’t trying, but I assure you I was. I really gave each shot everything I had.

This second group of Sheridan pellets was better than the first, but still not good. It measures 1.66 inches between centers.

Group two was better but not really good. I was relieved to discover that the reason was the pellet and not me. However, it gave me an idea. After group three with the vintage pellets, I would shoot a fourth group of Premiers, just to see if I could still shoot. I thought I might be getting tired at this point.

The third group of vintage Sheridan pellets measured 2.133 inches between centers. It was in-between the first group and the second.

The third and final group of vintage Sheridan pellets confirmed that they’re not that accurate. It was in between the first and second group, even though I was doing my best to aim precisely.

Was I tiring out? I had to know, so I shot a fourth group of Crosman Premiers that had established themselves as accurate pellets.

This final group of Crosman Premiers shows that I was still shooting about the same as at the start of the test. It measures 1.106 inches between centers, which fits in with the first three Premier groups.

As long as I was shooting the rifle, perhaps I should shoot a group with one other pellet that’s given good results in the past. The .20-caliber Beeman Kodiak is actually a medium-weight pellet — at just 13.27 grains. I shot only one group, but it seems to confirm that this pellet is in the same class as the Premier for accuracy.

Five Beeman Kodiak pellets made this 1.143-inch group. It’s close in size to the Premier group and should be considered for this airgun.

An interesting pattern
When I took the last target down from the pellet trap, the pattern in the fresh cardboard that backed all targets was quite interesting. Though I made no attempt to mount each of the eight targets in the exact same place, the cardboard tells the whole story about where all the pellets went.

Here’s the history of where each of the 40 shots went. Though no attempt was made to position every target in the same relative position, I find this is an interesting record of all the shooting.

Final thought for the day
This was written and tested on a Thursday — yesterday to everyone who is reading it on the day it is first published. I had been planning on going to the range to shoot some firearms yesterday, but the weather wasn’t cooperating, so I shot at home, instead. I’d planned to shoot my .32 cap-and-ball rifle, and shooting the Sheridan was very similar. You have to take time before each shot to get the gun ready so you’re extra careful to make every shot count. Also, going at this pace calms you and soothes you. I felt wonderful after this shooting session. Contrast that to shooting some uber-magnum springer that cocks like the bow of Hercules! Give me the slow lane every time.

Beeman RX-2 Elite Series Combo air rifle: Part 3

by B.B. Pelletier

Announcement: Around 10 or 11pm tonight (12/15/11) Eastern time, the server for all of Airgun Academy (including this blog) will be restarted. Hopefully, it’ll be unnoticed and everything will march along just fine. If something does go wrong and everything goes offline for a while, please know that people are working on it.

Part 1
Part 2

Beeman’s RX-2 is a handsome air rifle. The brown laminated stock looks perfect.

Here we go! Today is accuracy day for the .25-caliber Beeman RX-2 Elite series combo air rifle. Before I start shooting groups, though, I thought I would adjust the trigger. In Part 2, blog reader SpringGunner commented that the screw inside the trigger blade is what determines the location of stage two. It’s a very small Allen screw, and the one in the test gun is so deep inside its hole that it can’t be seen.

I started by turning this screw counter-clockwise about a turn and a half, but all that did was lose the second stage for me. What I ended up with was a single-stage pull with lots of creep and an indeterminate and extremely light release. I came back clockwise on the screw about a third of the way and voila — stage two reappeared! When it did, I made certain that it was positive and repeatable before accepting the adjustment.

The trigger now breaks cleanly at 1 lb., 9 ozs. The second-stage creep is gone, and the trigger is much crisper now. While it’s still not quite as good as a Rekord, it is much better than I reported in Part 2. It’s more than adequate for hunting and occasional target work.

I noticed at sight-in that the rifle has a lot of barrel droop. Pyramyd Air had shimmed the rear scope mount, but I think I would want to use something like the BKL Drop Compensating mount to get the scope in the center of the adjustment range.

What’s in a name
And before I move on, I would like to say something about product naming and why it’s so difficult to find things on a website. BKL has named their mounts “drop” compensators, but the most common term among airgunners is “droop.” Some people think that spelling or naming a product doesn’t matter, but on the internet it matters a lot. When I searched for a BKL mount that compensated for droop, I entered the word droop in the search window and came up with all the drooper mounts except those made by BKL. Then, I happened to remember that BKL uses the term drop instead of droop, and I was able to find all their drooper mounts. [Note from Edith: I fixed it so a search for droop will now bring up the BKL drop-compensating mounts.]

Several years ago, I had an ongoing conversation with Crosman about the use of the term soft air for their airsoft line of guns. We went back and forth for five years about this until one day their VP of sales told me they just liked the term soft air better. So, I challenged him to do a Google search for airsoft and again for soft air. Soft air turned up just over three hundred thousand hits. Airsoft turned in over 15 million! Today they call all their current 6mm guns airsoft.

When the world is looking for something today, it uses an internet search engine. If you don’t call your product what everybody else calls it, expect to be excluded from the party. End of sermon.

Back to the RX-2
Sight-in went pretty quickly, and then I up to the 25-yard line. The first pellet to be tried was the Benjamin dome that did so well at 50 yards in the AirForce TalonP pistol test. But in the RX-2 it didn’t do as well. I tried a number of different holds, but the results were always the same — an open group. Since this rifle is difficult to cock, I decided to move on to the JSB Exact King.

Success with this new .25-caliber pellet was immediate. Among the four pellets I tested, the Kings were the best. The first group was very tight but had two pellets that went above the main group. I hesitate to call them fliers. They were due to a subtle shift in how I held the rifle, and the second time I knew the shot was going to move from the main group. I didn’t know that it would group with the other stray, but I must have repeated the same hold for those two shots.

Eight pellets made the lower group that measures 0.563 inches between centers. These .25-caliber pellets make huge holes and the groups appear larger than they are. Notice that the other two shots are also tightly grouped.

This target showed me two very important things about the RX-2. The first was that the huge .25-caliber pellets make big holes in the paper — groups that appear larger than they are.

The second thing I learned is that the RX-2 is very sensitive to hold. It doesn’t seem to want to be held as lightly as many other accurate spring rifles. But it does want to be absolutely “dead” weight in your hands. This means stretching the off hand out until the cocking slot is touching your palm. The rifle then sinks into your palm, and that pushes the buttpad back into your shoulder — you can’t avoid it. It’s a tighter artillery hold than I would normally use, but it works with this rifle.

More pellets tested
Next, I loaded some RWS Superdomes and noted that, of all the pellets I tested, these loaded the easiest. All other pellets were hard to push into the breech, with Benjamin Domes being hardest of all. But Superdomes went in rather easily.

Downrange, however, they scattered everywhere. No matter how I held the rifle, they never went to the same place twice. I was worried that I might shoot out of the pellet trap so I stopped. I think this pellet is better-suited to precharged rifles and not spring-piston guns — at least not the RX-2.

Then, I tried the H&N Baracuda pellet. These required a different hold than the JSB Exact Kings, but they showed some promise. However, as I was attempting to shoot a 10-shot group, I inadvertently held the forearm slightly wrong and blew the group with two shots. I think I got cocky because of the early success and didn’t pay as much attention to the hold as I should have. Instead of shooting another group of these, I opted for one more round of JSB Exact Kings, which had already proven quite accurate.

Five H&N Baracudas went into a nice cluster at 25 yards, then a small change of hold sent two pellets elsewhere. I decided to stop shooting this group and move on. The five closest holes measure 0.592 inches between centers.

When the hold is applied correctly, the pellets all go to the same place. Group of 10 JSB Exact Kings measures 0.622 inches between centers.

One more pellet you should try with this rifle is the H&N Field Target Trophy. I didn’t test them, but several readers mentioned that they are very accurate with this rifle. And, at just over 20 grains, they’ll also have good velocity!

Another observation is that the rifle is starting to cock smoother, if not exactly easier. I think the RX-2 might be one of those rifles that needs a good period of break-in, which I have not provided in this test. Certainly from what I read on the internet, the owners of the gun seem to like it a lot and are very faithful to the model. It may even be that breaking it in will show a gain in velocity over the numbers you saw in Part 2.

The bottom line
The Beeman RX-2 is a big spring rifle that has good power. In .25 caliber, it performed better than any .25-caliber spring rifle I’ve tested recently. Part of that is due to the excellent JSB Exact King pellet, but part must also go to the underlying Weihrauch quality.

The trigger can be adjusted to a nice crisp let-off. Don’t just use it as it comes from the box. Read this whole report and don’t be afraid to experiment.

I don’t know if all RX-2 rifles will droop like this one did, but you’ll want to keep it in mind. If you get one that does, there are drooper mounts that will fix the situation.

Lastly, the RX-2 is primarily a hunting air rifle. Buy it in a large caliber (either .22 or .25) but don’t think that you’ll be able to plink all day. This is a rifle you can leave cocked and on safe as long as you hunt without worrying about the state of the mainspring — and that’s the biggest advantage of a gas spring.

Choked bores and tapered bores

by B.B. Pelletier

This subject came up as the result of a comment I made about choked and tapered bores. It turns out that gun makers were having this same discussion 140 years ago with pretty much the same results.

The best gun makers of the 1860-1910 timeframe (and Harry Pope for just a little longer) all either taper-bored their barrels or choke-bored them. I will describe each of these conditions in a moment. There really isn’t much difference between choke-boring and taper-boring, but the slight difference that does exist allows us to talk about each of them as a separate issue.

Most gun makers (or barrel-makers, because in many cases — like Pope, a man did not make the entire gun) did taper-bore their barrels. But that wasn’t what they called it, so the fact that they did it got lost because of the subtleties of the language.

What is a tapered bore?
A tapered bore is exactly what the title implies. The diameter of the bore gradually tapers down from breech to muzzle. The amount of the taper is slight — perhaps one-thousandth to as much as two-thousandths of an inch; but at the time this service was performed, the measuring tools needed to accurately measure it weren’t commonly available. So, most of the makers didn’t actually know how much they were tapering their bores — just the fact that they were.

What does this do?
Why taper the bore at all? Because there are advantages — the primary one being an increase in accuracy. The reasons for this increase are less obvious and not entirely understood — or perhaps I should say they’re not entirely agreed upon. We know taper-boring works, but exactly why remains something of a mystery.

One thing that we do know is that when the barrel squeezes the bullet down smaller, it prevents gas blowby, which is damaging to the bullet because it erodes the sides and unbalances it. But in guns that use black powder for the propellant, the hammer blow of the exploding powder actually squashes the base of the bullet outward to make firm contact with the sides of the bore. This is called obturation. A black powder rifle doesn’t need a choked bore to prevent gas blowby, because obturation already addresses it — as long as the bullet is fitted closely enough to the bore to begin with.

So tapering the bore must do something else, because it works for black powder arms just as it works for those guns that use smokeless powder that does not obturate the bullet. The theory that I believe is that a tapered bore grabs the projectile more firmly just before it exits the barrel. It stops any unwanted vibrations and sends the bullet on its way with no instability. It ends any side-to-side play the bullet might have inside the barrel. Just because the base of the bullet has been squashed larger by the force of the exploding gunpowder doesn’t mean that the entire length of the bullet is equally in contact with the bore; but if the bore narrows down enough, there will be no doubt about it.

How they did it
Now that you know what a tapered bore is, let’s find out how the barrel makers managed to do it. Actually, the process is simple. If you read how gun barrels were made back in 1840-1910, you’ll see that they did it as a matter of course. They called it “leading the bore” and by that they did not mean lapping the bore, which is a similar but separate step that some but not all barrel makers did.

When they “leaded the bore,” a bore-cast lead slug that was charged with emory was passed back and forth through the just-rifled bore until it had removed a tiny bit of metal from the inside. To do this, they first inserted a long bore-fitting wooden dowel down the barrel. The front section was turned down much smaller than the bore.

The rod was entered from the breech and positioned with its end flush at the muzzle. The barrel was next heated until it was hot to the touch, then molten lead was poured down the muzzle until it pooled up flush with the muzzle. The lead was stopped from going down the bore by the bore-sized wooden rod that was not turned down, and it attached itself to the smaller diameter portion of the rod near the muzzle. When the barrel cooled down, the rod was pushed out the muzzle and the lead mass that was on the end was removed. It was then trued up at both ends, and the wooden rod was pushed out, leaving about a 1/4-inch hole down the center of the plug. A small groove was cut in the lead cylinder, then the cylinder was screwed onto a tool-steel rod that was called the leading rod. The lead plug was then rolled on a steel plate that had emory powder spread upon it. The leading rod was free to turn in its handle, so the lead plug could follow the pattern of the rifling.

The leading bolt after cleanup looks like this. It’s then screwed onto a tool steel rod that works it inside the bore. Image copied from “The Muzzle-Loading Cap Lock Rifle” by Ned H. Roberts, copyright 1952.

At this point, the inside of the bore received a light coat of fine oil, such as sperm whale oil. The emory-charged rod with its lead slug was then carefully inserted at the breech, making sure to engage the rifling exactly. The rod was then moved back and forth from the breech to within about three inches of the muzzle. By concentrating on the rear of the barrel and only going forward a relatively few times, they controlled the amount of metal that was being removed from each part of the bore.

Occasionally, the rod was partially withdrawn at the breech but never again fully removed. When it was exposed in part at the breech, more emory powder could be applied along with a little more oil. By never completely removing it, the lead slug always remained in the proper engagement with the rifling. When the lead slug wore down, the tool steel rod was screwed into it more, forcing the sides back out and into the bore of the rifle.

The rod was worked back and forth, with more time given to the portion closer to the breech and less as the lead slug approached the final three inches of the barrel. How long this procedure took varied with each maker, and probably with the type of material they were working with — i.e., soft iron, cast steel, compressed steel, etc. Undoubtedly, the exact process was a closely-guarded secret for each maker. But it did work, and what they got was a bore with a gradual taper from breech to a point about three inches from the muzzle. Since they never went past that point, that section of the bore remained a true cylinder and was the tightest point in the barrel. It was the choke point.

Since these are muzzle-loading arms and the muzzle is also the tightest point of the barrel, some of you may be wondering if the bullet wouldn’t squeeze down when it was initially loaded and then lose contact with the bore after passing the choke point. That’s exactly what happened, and it made the rifle much easier to load!

Remember obturation? When the black powder exploded, the bullet was upset by the force and enlarged to grab the bore tightly. TWhen it encountered the choke point, everything happened just as I’ve described above. This gave the bullet remarkable stability that had not been seen previously.

Many riflemen were no longer using patched round balls when this style of rifling came into vogue. They were starting to experiment with conical bullets, first with the sugar-loaf or picket-style, then later with the longer, heavier cylindro-conical shape.

The picket bullet or sugar loaf bullet (left) was an early first replacement for the round ball in rifled guns. It has a very short bearing surface that makes it easier to load, but also makes it susceptible to tipping inside the bore. It more than doubled the accurate range of the rifle but required extreme care when loading. The cylindro-conical bullet on the right has more bearing surface but also needs to be driven much faster to stabilize when fired from a barrel of a given twist.

There’s much more, but not now
Bullet shapes of the late 1800s are a fascinating study. For instance, were you aware that some expert riflemen favored a hollow-based cylindro-conical bullet as the most accurate type? For now, let’s leave the world of firearms and return to airguns because choking has a definite place there, as well.

The choked bore
I haven’t described the difference between a tapered bore and a choked bore, so here we go. A choked bore is really just a tapered bore with a short taper. In other words, the bore is parallel from the breech to the choke, and then in a short distance of less than a half-inch the bore tapers down to a smaller diameter that stays parallel until the muzzle. In firearms, this distance for the choked part of the barrel was about three inches, but in airguns it’s more like two.

Intentional versus random and accidental chokes
The only intentionally choked airgun barrels I know of are made for pneumatic guns. Let’s examine why. The pneumatic is much like the firearm that uses modern gunpowder. Instead of a sudden, violent explosion, smokeless gunpowder burns at a reserved rate of speed. When confined, this rate is extremely fast, but it still cannot be called an explosion. So, modern smokeless gunpowder does not deliver the same hammer blow that obturates bullets. Nor do pneumatic guns blast out pellet skirts into the walls of the bore, which is very similar to obturation in the airgun world.

Pneumatic guns release their air at a restrained rate that, while it sounds sudden to us, is really measured in milliseconds. A lot of air is released when a pneumatic gun fires; and though the pressure in the barrel continues to decline as the pellet moves down the bore, this pressure is still enough to provide continued acceleration all the way to the muzzle.

Because the air pressure is restrained in a pneumatic, the pellet skirt is not enlarged and pushed into the wall of the bore. But in a spring gun, it is. A springer releases just a tiny bit of highly compressed air in an instant. This rapid burst of pressure is enough to swell the skirts of some pellets, making them have better contact with the bore.

So, to better stabilize pellets in pneumatics and remove any variations they might have, a choked bore is ideal. Therefore, all of the finer precharged, single-stroke and multi-pump airguns have choked bores. You can feel this if you push a pellet from the breech to the muzzle with a cleaning rod. The pellet will encounter resistance about two inches from the muzzle.

But spring guns don’t need a choke, since the act of firing swells the pellet skirts. However, some spring guns do have the same resistance near the muzzle that is felt in better pneumatics. This is an accident of swaging-in the dovetails for the front sight attachment. Weihrauch guns that have front dovetails all have this and we have called it a choked bore. It’s really just an accident of the manufacturing process and is as random as can be. But it’s there and some shooters feel it helps accuracy. Even though the choke doesn’t wrap all the way around the bore, they feel that it still provides the same stability that an intentionally-choked bore does.

Here is the lesson
The point is, if a barrel is choked, is it more accurate? The evidence suggests that it is. If that is true, can a choke be added after barrel manufacture? The answer is yes! In fact this may prove to be the most cost-effective aftermarket adjustment that can be made to an airgun.

A choke can be added by rolling the barrel between three precision hardened-steel rollers, one of which is adjustable. By gradually increasing the pressure on the adjustable roller as the barrel is rotated between the three rollers, some compression of the steel is possible. This will affect the inside of the bore, reducing it in size. The worker would have to proceed slowly and watch the progress of the choke, because we are faced with the same problem that the 19th century barrel makers had — namely barrels made from different materials.

This device allows the controlled swaging of a round barrel. The adjustable roller located at 4 o’clock is gradually adjusted inward as the rifled barrel turns.

What we have learned today is that airguns and firearms are very much alike in how their barrels can be made to increase accuracy. I haven’t addressed modern firearms shooting jacketed bullets because they do not respond the same as lead bullets. So in this respect, airguns and black powder arms are the most similar.

IZH 53M air pistol: Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

The IZH 53M air pistol looks like it stepped right out of the 1950s. It’s a modern breakbarrel with a retro look and feel.

I finally got a “round tuit.” I said I would test the .177-caliber IZH 53M air pistol years ago, but something always came up. So, today, we’ll start a look at a gun that turns back the clock on airgun design.

This pistol is a throwback to Diana’s classic model 5 pistol, as well as several other less well-known air pistols of the past. I would say that it resembles the pre-war Diana 5, but some aspects are quite modern. However, from the standpoint of the spindly barrel and calm firing behavior, it’s closer to the pre-war gun than to the post-war pistol that ultimately morphed into a 700 f.p.s. powerhouse.

Is the the 53 calm and quiet? Most assuredly! It reminds me of a Diana 27 rifle that cocks with ease and discharges the same way. The noise level on the website says the pistol is a level 2, but that’s where a five-point numbering scale fails us. Because in my opinion, this is about a 1.2. This gun, combined with the AGE quiet pellet trap, is ideal for those who live in close quarters with thin walls separating them from their neighbors. Believe me, you’ll spend more time keeping the TV turned down than you will worrying about the discharge sound of this airgun.

The gun
The IZH 53M is a breakbarrel spring-piston air pistol. There are no unnecessary safety releases for the barrel — you simply cock it when you’re ready — just like back in 1952! There’s no superfluous automatic safety. The gun is ready to fire when the barrel is closed. All the safety there is has to reside in the hands of the person in control of the gun — as it should! There’s a good anti-beartrap device that prevents the curious from pulling the trigger when the barrel is broken open. If you want to see something flick up fast, buy a switchblade. Don’t play with a breakbarrel airgun that way!

This is what loading a breakbarrel air pistol looks like.

The grip is really a stock in which the entire action resides. In this respect, the gun is more like a BSF S20 pistol. The grip/frame is ambidextrous and made of a rough, black synthetic that grips your hand aggressively. The metal parts are not polished but appear to have been blacked just as they came from the tumbler, which gives them a rough satin finish.

Although the pistol has the look and feel of the 1950s, you can see the refinement that’s taken place over the years. For one thing, the grip has been changed to better fit all hands. And the sights! Well, what can I say except that they remind me of the good old days when the IZH 60 was made with a steel receiver! The rear sight is such a masterpiece of design ingenuity that I’m showing you a closeup picture. The windage adjustment has sharp, crisp detents to let you know exactly what’s been done. The elevation screw is quiet (has no clicks) and without detents, but it is positioned perfectly and works exactly the way you think it does. This sight, which is made of a combination of synthetic and metal parts, puts me in mind of the rear sight on a BSF S20 Target model that’s so finely crafted.

The rear sight isn’t just adjustable in both directions. It’s also designed to fit the gun and look nice. This is one you’ll be proud to own.

The front sight is a sharp post on a ramp; and because it’s so simple, it’s the perfect place to use synthetic material. It’s clever thinking like this that bespeaks the high level of engineering that must have gone into the gun.

That leads me to wonder if the Russians have continued their quality quest over to the barrel. We know from examples of the past that the Russians know how to rifle airgun barrels. And the several times I loaded a Crosman Premier lite pellet to shoot the gun, I noticed that it fit the breech just like it would fit an FWB 124 breech. So, I’m hoping that the barrel on this pistol is everything the Russians are capable of making. At just $65, I don’t see how it could be. How can they turn out a gun that retails for so little yet has all these quality features and is accurate to boot?

Here’s where the truth comes out. The gun cocks easily and is quite smooth when it fires. Therefore, it isn’t a magnum pistol. The advertised velocity is 360 f.p.s., but I’ll test it with real-world pellets so you know what to expect when you get it. But the point I am making is that, just like the Diana 27, that isn’t very powerful, neither is this pellet pistol. It’s just fun to shoot.

I’ve found over the years that the gentle airguns are the ones that live on in people’s memories and become classics. I’m talking about guns like the aforementioned Diana 27, the FWB 124, the Air Venturi Bronco – and perhaps this pellet pistol.

The trigger isn’t adjustable, but it’s very nice just the same. It has a single-stage pull that I’ll tell you more about in Part 2. It’s very crisp for what it is and worthy of being on a gun costing twice as much.

Cocking and firing behavior
And that brings me to the cocking and firing behavior. Again, I’ll say more about this in the next report, but for now you should know that the gun fires smoothly and has little vibration. When you cock it, the mainspring sounds just like a vintage gun from the 1950s. It’s all scrunchy and spring-sounding, and it’s during this endeavor that you learn of the extra safety that’s built into the gun. There’s a ratcheting device that grabs the spring incrementally as it’s compressed; so if you were to let go of the barrel, it would not snap back. That’s where the 1950s are left behind and the Third Millenium design takes over. This device is quiet and unassuming — and unless you test for it by letting off on the barrel while cocking, you’ll never even know it’s there.

There isn’t a lot of time left before Christmas. If this model is of any interest, you’ll have to take a chance that it fits your needs. All I can say at this point is that I’m impressed!

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