Archive for January 2012

You asked for it: All about Pyramyd Air customer reviews & images

by B.B. Pelletier

On the heels of yesterday’s blog about what people expect after making a purchase, we noticed that there was a lot of interest in the product reviews on Pyramyd Air’s site. Edith (for those who don’t know…she’s my wife) will address those questions and give you some insight into how reviews (good, bad & ugly) are handled. As long as she’s at it, she’ll also give you the scoop on customer images.

If you’d like to write a guest post for this blog, please email us.

Take it away, girl!

One of most time-consuming jobs I have at Pyramyd Air is reading customer gun reviews. When the review process was originally created, it was easy to handle. Now, it doesn’t take long before I get a huge backlog if I decide to skip a day or a week.

While I read the gun reviews (airsoft guns & airguns), Laura Nelson takes care of the accessory and ammo reviews. She’s located in Iowa, and we were lucky to get her when Pyramyd Air bought out her former employer…Airgun Express (for you newcomers, Airgun Express was Pyramyd Air’s closest competitor at the time). Elise Vendetti works the customer-submitted images. She’s located in Cleveland at Pyramyd Air’s headquarters and has been with the company for a little over two years.

What we hope you’ll write in your product reviews
The purpose of the customer review is to give others a full evaluation of your experience with the product. While we’d like to think everyone will be pleased with their purchase, that doesn’t always happen. Plus, there are hiccups with shipping that are out of our control…especially when it comes to product damage during transport. Still, we want to know all of it. Roses, thorns, warts and troll dung…we want you to tell other customers what you found when you got your gun, how it was packaged, how it shot and if it met your expectations based on what we’ve written on the product page.

When we devised the format for reviews, we wanted to know what you liked, what you wanted to see improved and any other thoughts you might have about the product. The original space allotted for the reviews was unlimited because we wanted to encourage sharing and full disclosure from end users. Before I knew it, I was reading as many as 10,000 words in some gun reviews! To save my sanity, text boxes are no longer unlimited. For some people, there wasn’t enough room in the “what’s good” text block…and others found the “what I’d like to change” text block much too limited. Surprisingly, the shortest reviews — the ones that have “everything” and/or “nothing” written in all the boxes — are declined. That’s not information about the product. We want details.

Why we decline reviews
Within 24 hours of approving or declining a review, an automated email goes out to tell you the status of your review. It includes the name of the product, and a link to the product where the review is listed.

If your review was declined, you’ll get the product name and web link plus a list of reasons that your review may have been declined. Here are the reasons:

  1. Negative review of a product purchased from another source.
  2. Does not own or use the product.
  3. Includes links to non-Pyramyd Air sites.
  4. Provides maintenance, repair and/or disassembly instructions that may not be safe or accurate.
  5. Mentions or suggests removing or concealing the orange muzzle of an airsoft gun.
  6. Mentions or suggests adding a silencer to a pellet gun or BB gun or mentions the use of the same (except for silencers that are integral to the gun as originally manufactured).
  7. Unhelpful terms, foul language or negative remarks about other reviews or reviewers.
  8. So short that it doesn’t provide helpful info.
  9. Written in cryptic text message format.
  10. Includes incorrect statements about the product.
  11. Tasteless or unsuitable screen name.
  12. Includes inappropriate uses or prey for the product or overly graphic descriptions of kills.
  13. Mentions a competing merchant or that it can be bought cheaper elsewhere.
  14. Unrelated to the product.

Note that there are 14 reasons. It has always been my belief that if 10 Commandments were enough for God, then 10 is enough for anything I do. So, I came up with 10 rules that would prevent a review from being approved. Well, it worked for several years until some customer reviews forced 4 additional rules to be created.

Here are the guidelines for images and videos. If yours has any of these, it won’t be approved:

  1. Does not own the rights to the submitted items.
  2. Inappropriate or has inappropriate elements.
  3. Suggests or shows removal or concealment of the orange muzzle of an airsoft gun.
  4. Suggests or shows a silencer on or for a pellet gun or BB gun (except for silencers that are integral to the gun as originally manufactured).
  5. Unrelated to the product.
  6. Poor quality (blurry, too dark, etc.).
  7. Mentions a competing merchant or that it can be bought cheaper elsewhere.
  8. Includes inappropriate logos or text.
  9. Shows a hunting scene.
  10. Shows a person’s face or a recognizable person.

For each review, image or video that’s declined, we record the reason. I don’t want to bore you with reasons for declining things, but here are examples of reviews that forced me to decline them:

  1. The person doesn’t own the gun, but he’s written a complete review of it. He’s never shot it but “knew” what to expect and decided to cut to the quick and get the review out of the way to benefit others who may not know as much.
  2. A rant about FedEx (we also had rants about UPS when they had Pyramyd Air’s shipping business).
  3. Reviews that are a love story about a buying experience with Pyramyd Air. People read reviews to get product info. The reviews that are “love letters” are copied and sent to a customer service supervisor, who will contact you and tell you that your review is being declined and why. We don’t want to erase that smile, so we go the extra mile.
  4. If you wrote an honest review that brings out a large number of negative points about a product or state the product is not worth buying, we’ll check our system against the email address and/or name you used to post the review to see if you bought it from us. If you didn’t, then the review is declined.
  5. The worst reviews are the ones for which I’ll probably need therapy: shooting at inappropriate critters (usually with underpowered guns) and then describing the agony of the dying or injured animal. For me, the worst ones are the grandfathers who are teaching their wee little grandchildren…tomorrow’s shooters…how to shoot with a Red Ryder and using the neighborhood birds, squirrels and pets as targets. After reading such reviews, it takes a while before the screaming in my head stops!
  6. Rachel Carson, author of “Silent Spring,” probably didn’t envision airguns as being the death knell of birds, but the number of youthful shooters (as well as some mature adults) who have just gotten a powerful breakbarrel air rifle who shoot at federally protected migratory birds is staggering. Who uses an airgun to shoot at owls? Kestrels? Canadian geese? Pelicans? Woodpeckers?

The largest number of declines are people who went to the local sporting goods store and bought a gun and didn’t like it. Because their retailer doesn’t accept customer reviews, they assume they can post it on our site. If you spend your dollars with another business, don’t come on our site to complain about your purchase.

What is enough power for hunting?
I’ve mentioned that people use underpowered guns to shoot at critters. I see on Crosman’s site that they recommend some pretty low-powered guns for pest control. We don’t allow that on Pyramyd Air’s site.

A few years ago, I had to come up with a minimum velocity that a gun had to meet in order to accept it for shooting critters. I selected 800 fps in .177 and 600 fps in .22.

Those numbers are very significant. By picking 800 fps in .177 caliber, I’m omitting the BB guns that are reputed to shoot at 755 fps. These are not only inaccurate guns, but they’re probably not shooting that fast all the time. So, if you mention in your review that you dispatch mice, rats and chipmunks with your 2100B rifle, you’re going to get gonged. Can you use such a gun to kill a small rodent at 10 yards? Probably with ease. However, the other people who are reading your reviews will see only 2 words: kill and 2100B. They won’t care about distances or projectiles. I’ve seen it too many times to ignore it.

Picking velocities has been very hard on many customers who swear that their BB and pellet guns are real killers. I prefer to take the high road and not encourage the use of these guns across the board for shooting at animals. If you want to hunt, please get an accurate gun…and not a BB gun.

I hope this has helped some of you who may have had a review, image or video declined and didn’t know why. If it happens to you, please write to our sales department and ask for an explanation. They’ll ask Laura, Elise and me for an explanation that will be passed along to you.

Great expectations

by B.B. Pelletier

Today’s blog is targeted toward our younger readers — I think (and hope!). Edith has been reading hundreds of Pyramyd Air customer gun reviews for the past week, trying to get caught up with a huge backlog. She has encountered several dozen complaints that should never have been lodged in the first place. They’re complaining about a product being exactly what it’s advertised to be, instead of what the buyer really wanted!

Think about that, because it’s also something that I encounter quite often in comments from new blog readers. A guy orders something and is then put off when it arrives, because it is exactly as advertised instead of being the fantasy he concocted while shopping. I’m using the male pronoun purposely because this is a trait I see only in young men.

It may not sound like anything worthy of discussion on this blog, but I believe this is at the root of a lot of potential new airgunners being put off airgunning forever. If that’s true, it matters a lot, because it will keep this hobby from growing!

First example
To keep from embarrassing anyone, the following customer complaint is fictitious, but it is no more bizarre than many of the real ones I have read.

This Crosman 2100B is a piece of junk! I wish it was a breakbarrel and instead of 650 f.p.s. would shoot 1,200 f.p.s. with .25 caliber hunting pellets. The only thing I like about it is the price. Keep that.

To me, this review was obviously written by a very young man, someone probably under the age of 18, and this is his first experience with buying something for himself. The complaint is a thinly disguised plea for life to conform to his imagination, rather than the harsh reality that it is. I think this is what happens when too many video games have instilled the false belief that things always turn out for the best. After all, didn’t the magic scorpion turn into the Jewel of Osiris when he poured the Potion of Hope on it?

If he really wanted what he said, why didn’t he buy an AirForce Condor in .25 caliber? It might not have achieved quite 1,200 f.p.s. with .25-caliber hunting pellets, but it would have come closer than any other pellet rifle on today’s market. Of course, it also wouldn’t have been a breakbarrel, but do you know what that means? The young man telling himself a second lie. This one is that spring-piston guns can achieve similar velocities as precharged guns, because he can’t stand thinking about the extra expense and added effort that goes into owning and using PCPs.

He told himself all these falsehoods for one reason. Money. He hasn’t got any. The Crosman 2100 was all he could afford, but the dream rifle that doesn’t exist anywhere is what he really wants — or thinks he does.

Without analyzing the young man’s desires, let’s move on. There are plenty more where this came from.

Second example
I get this next one a lot. It starts out as a question from a new reader and it more or less goes like this.

I am new to airgunning and am considering buying my first air rifle. Can you please evaluate the following guns for me and give your reasons for what you say about each one?

Remington Vantage air rifle
Gamo Varmint Hunter
Hatsan 125TH air rifle combo
Walther Talon Magnum

When I see a list like this, I immediately know what’s happening. You probably do, too. This young man wants “The mostest, powerfulest air rifle” he can afford. Notice that he didn’t put one RWS Diana rifle on his list, even though there are some like the RWS Diana 350 Magnum that are in the same power class. Every rifle on his list comes with a scope, which tells me he also thinks he needs a scope to hit what he shoots.

Has he ever read about the artillery hold — or even thought about it? I doubt it.

Does he read the description that says each of these rifles is hard to cock? No! And what’s more, that information wouldn’t mean anything if he did read it, because he has never held a powerful airgun in his hands.

For that matter, has he read and understood what each of these powerful air rifles weighs? Once again, the answer is “no.”

When we get a comment like this on the blog, all the veteran readers take turns trying to persuade the new airgunner to reconsider his choices. It’s extremely frustrating, because what normally happens is that he posts a second list a few days later. One or two of the original guns will be on the new list, and he will have added others — hoping that we will now see his point of view.

We continue to try to persuade him to rethink his priorities, but he’s in a group of young men that is much larger than just airguns. In the world of firearms, these same new shooters are buying S&W .500 Magnum revolvers and .338 Lapua Magnun rifles, or .44 Magnum revolvers and 7mm Remington Magnum rifles, if they have less to spend. They end up selling their new guns after fewer than 50 shots, convinced that shooting is a harsh and painful pursuit.

I don’t see any way to reach people with this kind of mindset, short of mentoring them one at a time. They don’t read, as a rule. Or if they do, they only read things that support their personal viewpoints. Many of these are the guys who are so vocal on the forums but have zero experience to back up what they say. If you watch the forums over a long period, you’ll notice that they come, are active and very vocal for a brief period, and then disappear forever.

If a young person shows up at my rifle range and wants to learn about shooting, he’ll be overwhelmed by all the voluntary assistance and mentoring he receives. It has actually happened a few times. But getting him to come is the hard part.

Third example
I once had to finish a gutshot deer for a drunken neighborhood man who had wounded it with a single barrel shotgun (in our suburban neighborhood where hunting was not permitted!). He shot it with only two rounds in his pocket and hadn’t the foggiest idea of how to finish the job. After the animal was dead I told the young man that it was time to clean the deer, so he whipped out a bowie knife and made for the throat.

“Whoa!” I shouted at him. “What are you trying to do?”

“I’m going to slit its throat to bleed it out,” was the reply.

I then instructed him in the correct method of cleaning a deer, by opening its gut and dumping all the intestines, organs and pooled blood out on the ground. Then I watched him squirm when I made him reach up and cut the deer’s diaphragm, so he could reach up even farther and cut the esophagus and windpipe, releasing the remainder of the internal organs from the carcass. You would have thought you were watching a teenage girl in biology class being asked to dissect a frog!

I could have done all this for him, of course, but he had just ended this deer’s life and I wanted the full impact of what he had done to sink in. Now, let me show you what this looks like among new airgunners who are making choices of what airguns to buy.

They buy an air rifle without sights, then complain bitterly that it came that way — without sights. Now they have to pay even more money for a scope!

Hello? Did you read the description that clearly said the gun has no sights?

Of course not. They were too busy daydreaming about making fantastic shots like the ones they see on the internet.

So, they get their new scopes and struggle through mounting them. Then they shoot the new gun for the first time and are bitterly disappointed because it doesn’t print the tight little groups they’re so used to seeing elsewhere.

Well, of course it doesn’t! All the while, they’ve been mixing the groups shot by guns like the Air Arms TX200 and the Air Venturi Bronco with the power of the mega-magnums, whose velocities have mesmerized them. They couldn’t find as many groups posted from the powerful guns, so they just assumed they were the same as the ones they did find.

Someone recently commented that I always tout the Bronco because of the royalties I must get from the sales. Edith set him straight right away. There are no royalties in airguns! This is not rock music, my friends. This is a little niche hobby that doesn’t gross as much as quilting or the Sno-Cone industry! I “tout” the Bronco for just one reason: It’s accurate.

At the end of the day, if someone buys a Bronco I know it’s going to be accurate for them — no matter what level of shooting experience they have. That’s so much better than listening to a bunch of whining and crying because the gun of their dreams turned out to be a nightmare in their hands.

The school of hard knocks
The bane of youth is that there is no body of experience to temper their desires. I went through it and so did most of you. We made a lot of mistakes that became the price of our wisdom, such as it is. It seems there’s no shortcut through this kind of learning, either.

2012 SHOT Show: Part 3

by B.B. Pelletier

Announcement: Mark Barnes 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! Congratulations!

Mark Barnes submitted the winning Big Shot of the Week. This is the varsity air rifle team at Lathrop High School in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Photos by Earl “Mac” McDonald

Part 1
Part 2

You all seemed to enjoy hearing about the 2012 SHOT Show, even though I went into some pretty great detail, so today we’ll do Part 3. Hopefully, this will keep us busy this weekend!

More on Media Day
The Boulder City gun range, where Media Day was held, is a huge facility with dozens of individual ranges that stretch at least half a mile. Now that I’ve been there, I recognize the ranges in all the Pawn Stars episodes with shooting.

The thing that most impressed me were the long-range ranges (yes, that’s plural) that could easily have gone out for miles if the shooters so desired. As it was, getting distances of a thousand yards was a trivial task. Only on tank gunnery ranges have I seen the equal of this openness.

This is a small portion of the long-ramge ranges at the Boulder City gun range. The horizon is miles away, and the targets are out at a thousand yards for big rifles like the .50 BMG and .338 Lapua.

Safety first!
As the media representatives got off the busses and into the registration line, we were each given a range bag that included safety glasses and hearing protection. Mac and I brought our own electronic earmuffs to be able to hear, but the shooting was so continuous (10-50 shots each second the whole time we were there) that the earmuffs were permanently suppressed. We would have been fine with normal earmuffs, as that is how our electronics sounded all the time.

After a couple hours of what sounded like the biggest firefight ever fought, Mac observed that despite thousands of people shooting continuously there wasn’t one accident or even an unsafe act that we could see. Of course, each range was monitored by the company running it, and there were plenty of orange-vested range safety officers patrolling the line; but it was the shooters who made the difference. These were people who knew guns and also knew to keep their muzzles pointed downrange and their fingers off the triggers until it was go time. I used to run ranges in the Army; and in all my time at hundreds of ranges, I never saw anything as orderly and disciplined as this!

Here is one of dozens of handgun ranges that go out 50-200 yards. Notice the high berms between them. Look at the safety sign and the two range safety officers in orange vests. With thousands of people shooting and hundreds of thousands of rounds fired, there was not one accident or even an unsafe act observed! The red bucket is full of free water bottles packed in ice — provided all day long.

I avoided Media Day in the past when it was a small event; but after attending this one, I’ll make it my mandatory first stop at each SHOT Show in the future! Now, let’s go back to the show.

At the Umarex booth, I was pleased to meet Anna Dalton, who works in the service department. She showed me around the booth and answered every question I had.

Besides the two PCP rifles and the Morph III that you’ve already seen, there were three interesting new air pistols on display. I’m seeing more and more air pistols these days, so something is definitely up.

The first of the guns is a low-powered breakbarrel modeled after the Browning Buck Mark .22 and called by the same name. The sign says it shoots pellets at 260 f.p.s., which some may scoff at, but I think there’s a real need for guns of this power. Just look at how popular airsoft guns can be, and you’ll realize that sometimes people just want something for plinking. The Buck Mark appears to be it!

The Browning Buck Mark breakbarrel air pistol appears to be a pellet plinker’s dream. Can’t wait to test one!

Another new air pistol from Umarex is the Browning Hi Power Mark III. This one is a CO2-powered BB pistol that mimics the firearm prototype exactly. It puts me in mind of the Walther P99 Compact or perhaps the Walther PPK/S.

Browning’s new Hi Power Mark III BB pistol is a new lookalike from Umarex.

I also met Janet Raab, the Umarex Director of Sales and Marketing for Competitive Shooting. Janet has a long history in competitive shooting and holds the Distinguished Rifleman’s badge. I’ll be talking to her about the Umarex and Walther competition models in the months to come.

On to Gamo
And here comes the part of the report I bet you weren’t expecting. Nor was I, until I walked into the Gamo booth and saw for the first time that they’re making a concerted effort to reach out to their customers with something other than velocity. Style is still their strong suit, but it appears they have discovered what the end user really wants and needs to know.

If you recall what I said in Part 2 about some companies were struggling to understand the customer, Gamo was one of them. But this year, I see signs that they’re getting it. Four educational displays in the booth impressed me the most.

This demo of the Gamo Smooth Action Trigger allowed me to cock and fire the trigger repeatedly. I don’t know if the trigger will feel the same with the full force of a mainspring on it; but if it does, Gamo has finally built a winning trigger!

Gamo’s Shock Wave Absorber buttpad absorbs the recoil force transmitted by the gun upon firing. Since Gamo sells some pretty powerful springers, this is welcome!

Gamo’s new Bull Whisper shroud is a fluted polymer barrel jacket that incorporates a baffled shroud to silence the muzzle report. It’s smaller and thinner than the current Whisper muzzlebrake.

Gamo is very dedicated to hunting, of course, so much of their emphasis is directed that way; but it looks like they’re now trying to educate their potential buyer as well as impress him with numbers. This is a significant new direction for the company that, if they follow it, will make Gamo a customer-centric business. Seeing the new trigger and the Bull Whisper shroud was exciting, because it means they’re talking about the customer in their design meetings.

Gamo’s Inert Gas Technology gas spring signifies that the company now thinks of their product in the same way that the shooters do. This bodes well for their future.

When Gamo decided to build their own gas springs many, including me, thought they just didn’t want others to modify their guns. The new trigger is the same sort of thing. But what I see now is a company that wants their guns to be as nice as they can make them. As far as I’m concerned, Gamo just threw their hat into the ring as a company that can innovate. I hope they’ll continue in this direction and build the kind of airguns that put fear into the other manufacturers.

Unfortunately, there weren’t any Gamo representatives in the booth to show me their new products this year. So, I took photos of some of the new rifles, and I’ll have to wait for the year to unfold.

These new breakbarrels were shown under the Bull Whisper name. Whether that is the name of the model or just the silencing technology wasn’t clear, but it was obvious there will be some new guns coming from Gamo this year.

Back to Hatsan USA
I went back to Hatsan USA several times during the show just to see more of the new rifles. Like Gamo, they have a new trigger called the Quattro and also a new shock isolation system; but unlike Gamo, they didn’t have the interactive educational displays to show them off. I’ll have to withhold my judgement on both items until I can test them on a gun.

Mac thought the trigger blade came up too far when it was pulled to the rear; but with the guns in the rack, it was impossible to tell for sure. Hatsan also has a new recoil pad that appears quite similar to the one Gamo is touting. I’ll try to get to one of them as soon as possible.

The underlever rifles I showed you back in Part 1 are apparently all from the Hatsan Torpedo line, which — as one reader mentioned — has a unique-looking breech. He likened it to an RWS Diana 46 breech, but I think it’s different than that.

It looks like the bolt goes forward in this Hatsan Torpedo to expose the breech for loading. I want to test one!

I don’t have any AirForce pictures for you because I’ve been testing the guns for you all along. There’s nothing new gun-wise that you don’t already know about. In fact, my TalonP pistol test was in the SHOT Show issue of Shotgun News that was given out free at the show.

This is the last report on the SHOT Show. There is a thousand times more, but I think I got the airguns pretty well.

The last photo I took at the SHOT Show sums up business in Las Vegas this year.

Sterling HR-81 .177 underlever air rifle: Part 4

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Now that Vince has tuned the Sterling, it’s time to see how she shoots.

It’s time to see how the Sterling underlever rifle shoots. Benjamin put Lothar Walther barrels on these rifles, so I’m hoping the pedigree will show in today’s test. Vince got the velocity back up to a respectable level, as we saw in Part 3 (and Vince showed you what he did to the gun in his guest blog about the Sterling), so there should be nothing to prevent the gun from shooting its best.

When I went to mount a scope, I saw that the Sterling has two vertical holes that can be used for a scope stop. They’re located where the front ring needs to be, but with two-piece rings that presents no problem.

There are two vertical holes for a scope stop on top of the Sterling scope rail. They require the stop to be positioned forward, so I used the front ring of a two-piece ring set.

Since I wanted to give the rifle every chance to shine, I selected the Hawke 4.5-14x42AO Sidewinder Tactical scope for this test. This is the finest of all the scopes I have available for testing, so the Sterling is getting the absolute best of everything.

All shooting was done from a rest at 25 yards. I used my indoor range, so nothing got in the way of the Sterling this day. As usual, all groups contain t10 shots.

H&N Neue Spitzkugel
I thought I would give a pointed pellet a chance this time, as I seldom use them. The H&N Neue Spitzkugel (new pointed bullet) has a very shallow point and looks almost like a wadcutter at first glance. Pointed pellets are most often inaccurate, so I usually don’t bother with them, but it’s always nice to check from time to time to see if there have been any advances.

Well, 10 H&N Neue Spitzkugel pellets made only a mediocre group at 25 yards. With some breakbarrels, this would be pretty good, but I expect more than this 1.146-inch group from this Sterling. The shot at the left is a called flyer, resulting from an inconsistent hold — the only one of the test.

While loading, I noticed that the skirts didn’t always want to go into the loading trough unless I pressed them in with my thumb. The trough is probably on the small side for larger pellet skirts. This made me watch that the pellets didn’t flip backwards before the bolt pushed them into the breech.

I also had plenty of time to observe the Sterling’s trigger. It seems to be a single-stage, but the pull is short enough. There’s some slight creep, but you need a target-shooter’s trigger finger to feel it. Overall, it was good enough for very precise shooting without disturbing the aim. If I pull the gauge very slowly, the trigger breaks between 2 lbs., 3 oz. and 2 lbs., 5 oz., which is plenty light enough for good work. I said it was 2 lbs., 8 ozs. in Part 3, but that was when it was pulled more deliberately.  I know Vince had a hand in making it so nice, because Sterling triggers have a reputation for being crude and not so good.

JSB Exact 8.4-grain
Next I tried some 8.4-grain JSB Exact domes. They’re at the upper limit of weight of I would choose for a gun of this power, but sometimes that’s a plus. Not this time, though, because 10 went into a 0.788-inch group at 25 yards. That’s okay for many breakbarrels — but from a fixed-barrel rifle that has a Lothar Walther barrel, I expect more.

Getting better but this 0.788-inch, 10-shot group is still not as good as expected for the Sterling.

Shot cycle and hold
The Sterling shoots with a very pronounced forward jump — reminiscent of spring guns of the 1970s. It feels like the stroke is long, and the piston is heavy. On the other hand, the rifle lies completely dead in my hand, so applying the artillery hold is easy. My off hand touched the triggerguard, yet I could still feel the cocking slot of the stock on my palm. That means the stock is cut far to the back, which means Vince did a wonderful job of deadening the powerplant to get the rifle as smooth as it is. I just wish airgun makers today would go to the same trouble instead of mounting everything in rubber to deaden the vibration that’s still in their guns.

Crosman Premier lites
Next up was the venerable 7.9-grain Crosman Premier lite pellet that often wins the race in these tests. This was the only pellet of the four tested that fit into the loading trough without a push, yet it was also the pellet that gave the most trouble by flipping backwards in the trough.

This time, I got the results I was hoping for, though the group is more open than I would have liked. Look at the group and read the caption, though, because you’ll be surprised where most shots went.

More like it! The group of 10 Crosman Premier lites measures 0.606 inches between centers, but the surprise is in the largest hole in the center of the group. Six shots went through that one hole! Now, we’re talking!

Scope not mounted perfectly
By this time, I noticed that I’d mounted the scope a little too far to the rear, and the high mounts I used were not needed. Repositioning the scope in lower mounts would make the rifle easier to shoot — though I don’t think it would affect the accuracy. However, if I were to keep a scope on this rifle (and it can’t be this wonderful Hawke, as I need it for other tests) I would remount whatever scope I used.

JSB Exact RS
The last pellet I tested was the 7.33-grain JSB Exact RS. You might recall that this pellet is one of Kevin’s favorites, and we have seen it do amazing things with some spring guns in the past. The report I did a while back on the Beeman R8 was the most dramatic example of the capability of the RS.

And it didn’t disappoint this time, either! Ten RS pellets went into a group measuring just 0.41 inches at 25 yards! That’s game, set and match as far as I’m concerned. The Benjamin Sterling has proven itself to be a very accurate underlever spring rifle that warrants special attention from shooters as well as collectors.

Ten JSB Exact RS pellets went into 0.41 inches at 25 yards, proving beyond a doubt that the Sterling can shoot!

This test series has been long and rewarding. Thanks to Vince, we now know what a Benjamin Sterling can do under the right conditions. I’m sorry this rifle is no longer available. Except for the lower power and stiffer trigger, it could hold its own with a TX200. When I usually do these reports on vintage airguns, we get to see a lot of warts, but the Sterling doesn’t have as many as I was prepared to see. Without a doubt, Vince’s work has a lot to do with that.

2012 SHOT Show: Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Photos by Earl “Mac” McDonald

Part 1

This is the second of my reports on the 2012 SHOT Show. There will certainly be at least one more after this, and perhaps even more, as there’s simply too much new information to pack into a single report.

The state of the airgun industry in 2012
Before I get to some specifics, I want to make a general observation. This year’s SHOT Show was different for me in a major way, because I saw for the first time that firearms shooters are beginning to understand airguns as never before. In the past, I always had to start my explanations with the cooling of the earth’s crust and then progress through the age of the dinosaurs because each firearms person I talked to thought of airguns as either toys or BB guns. This year, a lot of them were clued-in on what’s happening. They weren’t surprised by the accuracy we get, and they knew about big bores. A lot of them had some airgun experience and more than a few asked me the same kind of questions that I get from long-time readers of this blog.

That tells me the day of the airgun has finally dawned in the U.S. Instead of 25,000 to 50,000 active shooters (at best!), we will now see an influx from over 5 million active firearm shooters who are ready to augment their shooting experience with airguns. I’m already getting calls and emails from state departments of wildlife resources, asking about the issues of incorporating airguns into their hunting seasons.

It has been a long haul to get to this point, but we’re now seeing the start of the harvest of all the work that’s been done over the past 40 years — starting with Robert Beeman in the early 1970s. The job is now to manage this growth and provide useful information to the tens of thousands of new airgunners who are flooding in the doors.

Let me reflect on how the industry seems to be reacting to this trend. Some companies have been on board for many years and are poised to ride the new tidal wave of business as far as they can. Other companies are aware that airguns are very hot, but they’re foundering, trying to understand them. Let me say right now that it’s not as easy as you think!

The readers of this blog are among the most clued-in airgunners in the world. But they’re unique, and they do not represent the true market. The demographic of a new airgunner is a man (usually) in his late 20s to late 40s who is most likely a fan of AR-type rifles and Glock-type pistols. He wants repeaters, semiautos and he thinks that a five-shot group is the gold standard of any gun. Velocity impresses him, and he isn’t comfortable with the term kinetic energy.

Things like good triggers and good sights are not an issue with this customer until he experiences bad ones. His ARs have decent triggers off the rack, and he can choose from many drop-in triggers that are much better. When he encounters a spring-piston gun with a horrible trigger that cannot be easily modified, he’s surprised.

He does not use the artillery hold, and he equates all airguns to be alike in terms of performance. When he learns about precharged guns, he’s put off by the additional equipment he must buy. Spring-piston guns seem the best to him for their simple operation, and he doesn’t appreciate the fact that they’re also the most difficult airguns to shoot well.

That’s the customer who’s coming to airguns today, so that’s the person airgun manufacturers have to deal with. If you have wondered why many of the new airguns are what they are — this new-customer profile is the reason.

Okay, I’ve talked about those companies that get it and those that are struggling to understand. There’s one more type of company out there. I like to call them the “gloom and doom company” or the “zero sum company.” They’re firmly entrenched in the 1970s and cannot take advantage of this new windfall of business. They either fired their engineers years ago or they let them all retire, and now they couldn’t build a new airgun to save their lives. As far as they’re concerned, there are only 25,000 airgunners in the United States and it’s the NRA’s responsibility to identify and train them so these companies can sell them some guns.

They think of marketing in 1950′s terms, when a simple paint job and some sheet metal was enough to create a new product. Their “secret” business plan is to buy guns made by other manufacturers and have their name put on. If you’re a collector, better buy up the guns these guys sell because in 10 years their name will be a memory.

That’s enough of the big picture. Let’s see some more products.

More from Crosman
Many of you saw the list of new Crosman products Kevin posted last week, so the few that I show here are by no means all there is, but they’re the highlights. Crosman had about half the new airgun products at the entire SHOT Show.

New tan M4-177 and carry handle
The M4-177 multi-pump that I recently tested for you is going to be very popular this year. Crosman is also offering it as an M4-177 Tactical air rifle with a new carry handle that replaces the rear sight for improved sighting options. I think this gun will be in their lineup for many years to come.

The M4-177 now comes as this tactical model in tan with a carry handle.

I mentioned to Crosman’s Ed Schultz that this rifle looks like the A.I.R.-17 of the 1990s, but done better. He said he always wanted to update that design, and that is exactly what this is. So, what he said next came as no great surprise.

I shared my thoughts on a 2260 made as a multi-pump in .25 caliber, and Ed told me that was how the rifle was originally created (not in .25, however). The CO2 version was an afterthought that got put into production, while the multi-pump version languished in the Crosman morgue. I told him that I thought the time was ripe to bring it back as an upscale hunting rifle, and he seemed to agree. We can only hope.

Carbon fiber tank
As Crosman extends their capability into PCP guns, they know shooters are always looking for better options for their air supply. Besides the new butterfly hand pump I showed you last time, they’ll also be adding a long summer-sausage black carbon fiber tank with increased capacity over their current tanks. This is a 300-bar tank that has 342 cubic-inch capacity. It comes in a black nylon carrying case with sling for field transport.

More air for you! New Benjamin carbon fiber tank will help you take your PCPs further afield.

Benjamin Nitro Piston breakbarrel pistol
The Benjamin NP breakbarrel pistol certainly has people talking on the internet. This is the first commercial gas spring application in a pistol, I believe. The most distinctive feature is a cocking aid that can either be detached or left in place while shooting. That reminds us that this pistol is going to be hard to cock, but I’ll test one for you so we’ll all know just how hard.

New Benjamin Trail NP pistol is a breakbarrel with a gas spring. The cocking aid can be detached or left in place while shooting.

Crosman 1720T PCP pistol
Everybody was ready to jump down Crosman’s throat for creating the 1720T PCP pistol. They wondered with the .22-caliber Marauder pistol and the .177-caliber Silhouette PCP pistol already selling, why was this one needed? As Ed Schultz explained it to me — this one is for field target. It’s a .177 (naturally) that produces just under 12 foot-pounds through a shrouded Lother Walther barrel. It can be used for hunting, but field target was its primary purpose. They worried about the shot count with the Silhouette; but with this one, power was the criterion. Look for about 800 f.p.s. with a 7.9-grain Premier. And the trigger is the same as the Marauder, so excellent operation there.

The new Crosman 1720T PCP pistol is meant for field target competition. It will also work well for hunting.

Crosman MAR 177 PCP conversion
The Crosman MAR-177 PCP conversion is another new product that has a lot of people talking. This AR-15 upper converts your .223 semiauto into a .177 PCP repeating target rifle. Because it’s on an AR platform, almost everybody expects it to be semiautomatic — including those who should know better. This rifle is a bolt action that cocks and loads via a short pull on the charging handle.

This conversion is an Olympic-grade target rifle for a new official sport that Scott Pilkington and others have been promoting for several years. It will take the U.S. battle rifle back into the ranks of target shooting. However, the look of the gun has many shooters totally confused. I was even asked at the show if I thought Crosman should have come out with an “everyman’s” version of the gun first. That would be like asking whether Feinwerkbau missed the boat by not first making their 700 target rifle in a $300 version for casual plinkers.

The MAR-177 PCP conversion is an upper for your target-grade lower. Plan on investing about another $1,000 in a good lower if you hope to compete.

Crosman TT BB pistol
It’s all-metal and a good copy of the Tokarev pistol. The weight is good and the gun feels just right. This will be one to test as soon as possible.

Crosman’s TT Tokarev BB pistol is realistic and looks like fun.

Benjamin MAV 77 Underlever
The Benjamin MAV 77 underlever rifle is going to force Crosman to recognize spring-piston air rifles instead of just calling them all breakbarrels. This is the TX-200 copy from BAM that was once sold by Pyramyd Air. When the quality dropped off, it was discontinued. Hopefully, Crosman will watch the quality on this one.

They didn’t have a firm retail price yet, but hopefully it’ll be significantly under the TX. Otherwise, why buy it? I may test one for you, but I already know that BAM can make a great rifle when they want to. I think it all comes down to price.

Benjamin MAV-77 is an underlever spring-piston rifle that looks and, hopefully, performs like an Air Arms TX-200.

The Crosman TR-77 is a conventional breakbarrel spring-piston rifle in an unconventional stock. It’s different enough that I want to test one for you. It appears to be a lower-powered rifle that probably sells at a bargain price because it’s branded under the Crosman banner rather than Benjamin. Mac photographed one in a sand-colored stock for you.

Crosman TR-77 breakbarrel in a sand-colored stock also comes in black.

There was a lot more at Crosman that I could have mentioned, but now let’s go over to the Leapers booth.

I’ve watched Leapers grow from a relatively small company back in 1998 to a major player — blasting past older, entrenched companies as they grew. This year, they were playing a video about the company on a continuous loop in their booth. I was impressed to see their plant in Livonia, Michigan, where they build airsoft guns, tactical mounts, accessories and scopes right here in the U.S. The plant is filled with many CNC machining centers and testing facilities to keep close watch over their products during development.

Leapers owner David Ding told me he wants to get control over the production process so he can assure the quality of all of his products. In keeping with that goal, I was shown the new scope line for 2012 that now offers locking target knobs on all of the upscale models. Many of them feature etched glass reticles that are amazingly crisp and sharp.

Mac was impressed by the reticle on the new 3-9x Bug Buster scope. He urged me to look through it; and when I did, I saw that the reticle is now fine and sharp — not the heavy black lines of the past.

David Ding shows me the new 3-9x Bug Buster scope (not out yet), with target knobs and a finer reticle.

But scopes were just the beginning at Leapers. Next, I was shown the whole line of tactical flashlights and lasers, including some mini lasers I will test on my M1911A1 for you. These are all made in the U.S. now and have more rugged internals, adjustments and optics than similar products from the Orient.

UTG 555 Long Range Light
One item I hope Pyramyd Air will consider stocking is a fantastic 500-lumen tactical light for law enforcement. It can be mounted on a rifle, handheld or even mounted on a bike! It comes with rechargeable lithium batteries and a smart charger…and believe me when I tell you it turns night into day!

The UTG Long Range light can go on your rifle, held in the hand or even mounted to your bike! The rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack will keep it shining at 500 lumens for 1.5 hours.

Fast Action Gun bag
Not all Leapers products are for airguns. They also make tactical and law enforcvement gear that rivals spec-built equipment but sells at a fraction the cost. As a result, many of their customers are ordering straight from the front lines of combat and from law enforcement agencies all over the country to get the products that their own supply lines cannot or will not furnish.

One of their latest developments is a Fast Action Gun bag that lets the wearer walk in public with a substantial firearm hidden from view. A quick pull of a strap, and the bag opens to reveal the weapon inside.

Leapers owner Tina Ding models their new Fast Action Gun bag. Here, it’s concealed; but she’s just pulled it over her shoulder from her back, where it looks like a tennis bag.

And in less than a second, the bag is open, giving instant access to the tactical shotgun or submachine gun inside.

11mm-dovetail-to-Picatinny adapter
Leapers has an entirely new range of quick-disconnect scope mounts coming this year, but there’s another innovation that I think you’ll find even more impressive. It’s an adapter that snaps into a Picatinny scope mount base, turning it into an 11mm dovetail. So, your conventional air rifle will now also accept Leapers Picatinny scope mounts with this adapter.

11mm-dovetail-to-Picatinny adapter is small and doesn’t raise the mount at all! This will be one to test!

Leapers is still the company to watch because the owners want to build a lasting corporation here in the U.S. They’re poised to move to the next level of quality in their optics, which gives me a lot of hope for the future — they’ve always been receptive to the needs of airgunners.

Whew! That’s a lot of products, and there are still many more to show. As I said in the beginning, there will be at least another report.

Cabanas air rifle: Mendoza’s next door neighbor

by B.B. Pelletier

Regular blog reader Vince is regaling us with another great guest blog about a gun he’s repaired…although this isn’t about the repairs he made. He never fails to inform and entertain! So, sit back, relax and enjoy!

If you’d like to write a guest post for this blog, please email us.

Take it away, Vince!

Cabanas air rifle

So, where to begin? I don’t quite know how to write an introduction to the this gun simply because I know virtually nothing about it. In fact, everything I DO know will fill no more than a single paragraph on an airgun blog…and not a terribly long paragraph at that:

The Cabanas rifle was manufactured by Cabanas Industrias, S.A. in Aguilas, Mexico, and was imported and distributed through Mandall’s Sporting Goods of Scottsdale, Arizona. The release of these models may have been announced at the 1989 SHOT show, and this particular rifle might belong to the RC-200 family of airguns from that manufacturer.

And that’s it.

The Cabanas company IS relatively well known for making primer-powered guns in both .177 and .22 calibers. These were known for being as low-powered as an air rifle but less accurate, more prone to fouling than a regular .22 and yet classified as a full-fledged firearm in the eyes of the ATF.

In other words, the worst of all worlds. Little wonder they didn’t last.

Where does that leave this thing? Was it a last-gasp effort by Cabanas to salvage some workable market share in the United States before completely getting swamped? Cabanas went under in 1999. If this rifle does, indeed, date from 10 years prior, it hardly qualifies as a “last gasp.” But, no doubt, it was part of an effort to expand their US market. Given the dearth of information on these models, it wasn’t a very successful effort at that.

That is, if you define success only in a commercial sense. Because this particular air rifle is a very likeable gun. Before I get ahead of myself, though, let me introduce this particular example.

I first heard of this gun when blog reader Wacky Wayne mentioned that he had a certain type of “Cabanas” he wanted me to do something with. I asked him what in the heck was he growing in those raised flower beds of his! But after we cleared up THAT little misunderstanding, I said “SURE! I’ll work on anything!” A short time later, the Cabanas arrived at my doorstep. I worked it over, sent it back, he shoots it a couple of times and then sends it BACK to me to keep in exchange for some more work. Which means that this orphaned waif is now mine.

Wwhenever I see another air rifle, I’m always on the lookout for signs of cross-breeding or design commonality. Since this gun is from Mexico, my thoughts immediately turned to Mendoza. Those thoughts were reinforced the first time I broke open the barrel and compared it to its Mexican cousin.

Mendoza at the top, Cabanas at the bottom…kissing cousins!

The scope grooves milled into the spring tube are typical enough, but the gun’s potential Mendoza-ness was further reinforced by the presence of an oil hole.

On the other hand – the automatic safety is definitely un-Mendoza like (safety engaged).

Safety off

It’s kind of clunky, really. It seems a bit odd to have a large block of metal sliding back and forth like that, and it doesn’t work all that smoothly. And that’s AFTER messing around with it to improve the feel. Worst of all, it’s not resettable which, frankly, is inexcusable on a gun with a simple, direct-sear trigger like this one. Small matter, though. B. B. has talked me out of relying on safeties, and the more I shoot the more I’m convinced that they really are superflous annoyances for the most part. This safety is not a terrible bother to pop off, so it’s not a major gripe.

Otherwise, the gun seems well made, with steel for everything and no apparent chintzy compromises in the name of fads, mass-marketing, or penny-pinching. The Cabanas is a very solid gun.

The reddish stock, to my eye, is oddly evocative of something I can’t quite put my finger on. It sorta reminds me of the wood furnishings that might be found in a classy 1960′s bar or smoking room frequented by older, well-dressed men. Or something like that. Shaping and finishing does show a decent level of workmanship (if a bit blocky in shape), but the thumbhole is a bit small, I think. It’s marginal for me, I can easily see where larger shooters might find it genuinely undersized.

It’s a handy rifle at 6.50 lbs. Cocking effort maxes out at only about 20 lbs. (peaking right when the sear is engaged). Trigger effort (direct sear) is on the high side at about 7 lbs., but that’s really the only downside to shooting this gun.

The sights are low & relatively close to the centerline of the barrel.

I especially like the styling of that front sight — very sleek, the way it’s almost hidden by the muzzlebrake. But as for function? Middle-of-the-road, at best. The biggest problem was that at 10 yards, I ran out of height adjustment. It still tended to shoot low with the rear sight on the highest notch. The locking-screw type windage adjustment (a la Crosman 1077) is also a bit cheap but less of an issue. Sight picture is good, though, with the front blade sized well for the rear notch.

At this point, I’m ready to start shooting the gun, and y’all might be expecting what B.B. does…velocity tests followed by accuracy. I’m taking a slightly different approach and doing the accuracy test first, since there’s no reason to chrono the gun with pellets that shoot like poo. So, accuracy testing is up first.

Being a naturally boring person, I decided to run this test with a set of very run-of-the-mill ammo. Budget-concious pellets are definitely on the menu, and I’ll round it off with Premier 7.9 grains.

The pellets I used for the record.

Half the pellets are Crosman, beginning with the old Copperhead Competition wadcutters (shown upper left) that have been a staple of indoor shooting for 20 years or so. The pellets below that are Crosman Hunting Pellets, which are pointed – but not with the straight-sided cone common to pointed pellets. This one looks more like a Premier that’s told a lie or two to the pellet packer at Crosman. And despite the fact that they’re cheap — $14/1250 at Pyramydair. I find that in some guns they shoot about as well as doomed Premiers even at longer ranges. This performance starkly contrasts with the more expensive (and conventionally designed) pointed Premiers, which I’ve found to be absolutely horrible.

The next column shows the Premier Hollowpoints that I’ll be testing and an old box of standard doomed 7.9-grain Premiers. Generally, I find that the HP’s shoot just about as well, I’ll be curious to see if the same holds true here.

Next over, we have the new Gamo Match, which is no longer the Gamo Match, if you catch my drift. They changed the design of the pellet a year or two ago — and in my experience, not for the better. Below that is ANOTHER pellet that’s no longer the Gamo Match — the Daisy Precision-Max. I’ve generally found this to be also an inferior pellet, but a few guns do like them.

The last two are the RWS Diablo Basic (used to be the “Geco”) and the not-really-Beeman-because-they’re-made-in-China Beeman Wadcutters. The RWS pellets look to be very well made, and some guns just love them. I generally have a bit less success with the Beeman pellets — but it depends on the rifle.

Now, as to the testing procedure. I planned to put 5 shots of each pellet through the gun before shooting two 5-shot groups side by side. This will get the barrel “used to” the new alloy before shooting for the record, something that I’ve found to be significant. All shooting will be done over about 10 yards in my basement, so wind will be a non-issue.

I started rattling off groups using the open sights and immediately identify 2 problems. First, I’m tearing up the bullseye. While this sounds good, the fact is that I prefer to have the group OFF the bullseye, so I’m always sighting on a clean target. I don’t want to mess with the windage because there’s no easy way of setting back to exactly where it was, and I didn’t want to lower the sight because my target paper put the lower dots near the bottom of the trap. Second, my eyes have managed to get even WORSE than the last time I did any serious testing.

And then I found the loose stock screws. So, I threw out all the targets I already shot, tightened the screws, mounted a 3-12x40AO Centerpoint scope and dialed it in.

First up are the Crosman Wadcutters:

Don’t know what’s up here: .87″ and .40″? Not very consistent, is it? Well, we’ll see how the next pellets do:

The Crosman Hunting Pellets don’t disappoint and punch out passable .40″ and .38″ groups. Which, on balance, is a bit better than the Premier Hollowpoints:

…which came in at .45″ and .40″. The boxed Premier Lights, however, were the best of the Crosmans at .33″ and .35″:

The Daisy Precision-Max pellets didn’t live up to their name:

At .58″ and 1.06″ they did the worst average group out of this gun, although the new Gamo Match pellets were certainly vying for top dishonors:

At least they were more consistent at .80″ and .70″.

The real star in this gun was the RWS Basic (not an uncommon occurrence) which went into a pair of .33″ groups:

In my mind this just further confirms them as one of the best cheap pellets out there. Beeman’s best of .31″ was slightly better:

…but it’s worst of .53″ would seem to indicate that it’s not as consistent.

With the accuracy test over, I’m now looking at putting some shots over the chrony.

I know that this review isn’t really useful as a review for a potential purchase. Considering it’s rarity, you’re not very likely to find one in the used gun market. I’ve even wondered if this one was a sample for the importer, and that no others were even brought into this country. Next to this thing, the Sterling is as common as a Toyota Corolla.

Since all I’m doing is a curio writeup, I decide I’m only going to do one pellet to show the general velocity range of this gun. I decided to use the most accurate pellet of the test — the RWS.

Ten shots across the chrony yield the following results:


A 16 fps spread is pretty good, and the muzzle energy of 7.5 to 8 ft-lbs is sufficient for plinking out to 40 yards or so.

Overall, this Cabanas is an enjoyable, mid-range airgun that seems to be a bit easier to shoot and a little less pellet-fussy than my experience with that other Mexican brand. A better trigger (like, for example, the Mendoza unit) would make it positively delightful.

That wraps up the Cabanas. And, now, if I ever do a search on this rifle again I’ll probably get twice as many hits on it as I did before… because half of them will point me back to my own review! Maybe some day I’ll be able to dig up a bit more on this; and if ANYone has any more information on this pup, I’m all ears.

Learning to shoot with open sights: Part 3

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2

In Part 2, we learned that the peep sight has been around for a very long time. But following the American Civil War, the entire world became intensely interested in shooting for about 60 years, and target shooting was at the top of the list. World-champion target shooters were regarded like NASCAR drivers are today.

Because of all this interest, the common peep sights that were already at least 50 years old, and perhaps as old as a full century, started to change. By 1870, designers were innovating again. One of the most famous innovators, and the man whose designs are still impacting battle rifles 125 years later, was Col. Buffington of the Springfield Armory. In 1884, Springfield selected his sight for the U.S. .45-caliber, single-shot military rifle — the gun we call the Trapdoor.

The Buffington rear sight is both a peep and several different open notches. It sits 10-12 inches from the eye, yet is easily used with practice. Adjustable for both windage and elevation, it increases the accuracy potential by sharpening the sight picture.

As far as I know, the Buffington sight is the first use of a peep sight on a rifle that was intended for all combat troops. It worked so well at ranges of 500 yards and beyond that the American Army used it on all versions of the Krag and the M1903 Springfield, as well. Even though the peephole is located 10-12 inches away from your eye, it still works with precision.

The U.S. Army was so satisfied with the peep sight that they put it on the O3A3 Springfield of WWII, the M1 Carbine, the Garand, the M14 and all models of the M16/M4. It’s an easier sight to learn and far more precise than an open notch. Only in recent years have our Army and Marine Corps begun to experiment with optical sights, with the declination of the peep sight.

The refinement of the peep sight
But it wasn’t the Buffington sight that brought peep sights to their highest level. It was a challenge in 1873 that came from the champion Irish rifle team to any team of riflemen the Americans could put together for the championship of the world. No one, including the Americans, thought the Irish would lose the match; but just shooting against them was such an honor that we put a team together, built a thousand-yard rifle range and two firearms companies — Sharps and Remington — each built long-range target rifles for the team members to shoot.

The Irish shot Rigby muzzleloaders that were considered the most accurate in the world. No one thought a breechloader had a chance against them. And Rigby, himself, was part of the Irish team!

Until the year of the match (1874), there were no peep sights with vernier scales in the U.S. The best anyone could do was adjust their sights by 1/200 of an inch. At close ranges out to a maximum of 300 yards, that’s good enough; but when the distance is 800, 900 and 1,000 yards, the sight has to adjust in the thousandths of an inch. The way to do that was to add a vernier scale to the sight. So, both Sharps and Remington did exactly that.

A vernier scale is a scale of numbers that aligns with an index, making it possible for the naked eye to see measurements as small as one ten-thousandth of an inch, even though our eyes cannot actually see things that small. The vernier scale magnifies the final measurement for us through an ingenious scale of lines that are 10 times or 100 times larger than the measurement it’s measuring.

This closeup shows the Ballard rear peep sight from 1876. This is a common short-range (up to 300 yards) rear sight that’s adjustable to 1/100 of an inch, with care. There’s no vernier scale on this sight, so it has to be read directly. There’s a lot of interpolation required, and I have to use a jeweler’s loupe to read it that close.

This is a vernier scale on a peep sight. The offset index marks on the small scale align with the sight index marks, but only one of them is aligned perfectly. This allows you to “see” measurements as small as 1/1000 of an inch.

This Ballard front sight from 1876 uses an aperture! It was hand-filed to the correct size for the 20-rod (220 yard) bullseye target. It also works perfectly for a smaller 100-yard bull.

The results of the first international match at Creedmoor was a win for the U.S. team; but the score was extremely close, and the Irish team had fired one shot at the wrong target — losing the score. As far as the world was concerned, the match proved nothing about the superiority of muzzleloaders or breechloaders. However, the next year the U.S. won again in England, and this time the score was more conclusive. The breechloader had finally arrived on the target scene, and peep sights were accepted, though most shooters were using scopes if the rules allowed it. And the day of the precision peep sight with a vernier scale had finally arrived.

The American shooters positioned their rear sights on the heel of the butt, giving them the maximum separation of the front and rear sight, but requiring the shooter to lay down with his feet toward the target and balance the muzzle on his shoes. This odd position was given the name Creedmoor — after the range — and has every since defined that style of prone shooting.

Bottom line
Not every nation adopted the peep sight, and some who were as well-regarded as the Americans (namely the Swiss), shot very well with the older post and notch. They used it right on up through the 1960s. The US, Canada and the UK stayed with the peep sight on their battle rifles because it was quicker to learn, faster to use in battle and more precise.

Notice, also, that target shooters were using front aperture sight elements in the 1870s! Until a few years ago, I thought front apertures were an invention of the 1970s, but they’re at least a full century older. They came about because of changes from square targets to round targets around the mid-1870s.

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Air Arms TX200 air rifle

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