Archive for April 2013
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
This report is in response to what blog reader David Enoch said happened at this year’s Malvern airgun show. He said several firearm shooters attended — I assume for the first time — hoping to find out something about airguns, since firearms have recently become more difficult to shoot. That refers to the general difficulty of obtaining ammunition.
Presumably, these shooters want to know if airguns can augment their shooting experiences. That’s what I intend to address in this report.
The short answer is — YES — airguns can shoot just like firearms, but not out as far as you may want to shoot. But let’s qualify that, shall we? I shoot at a firearm range that has separate ranges for 15, 25, 50 and 100 yards. There’s a separate berm on the 100-yard range, where shooters can engage targets at 200 yards, if they desire.
The huge bulk of shooters shoot on the 15- and 25-yard ranges. Maybe 75 percent of all shooting is done there with handguns, with the slight edge going to the 15-yard range. When they come over to the 100-/200-yard range, they mostly shoot rifles, and about 99 percent of their shooting is at targets on the 100-yard berm. There’s a steel gong at 200 yards, and about 10 percent of the shooters will take a few shots at the gong after they’ve fired 25-50 rounds at 100 yards. Putting an actual paper target at 200 yards is an extremely rare occurrence at my range.
In my 65 years, I’ve shot on over 100 different ranges — both public and private — and the private range I now shoot on is very representative. I’ve been to ranges with 300-yard berms and to several that go out to 1,000 yards; and the bulk of the shooting on all of them was still done at 100 yards.
I say that to put this report into perspective. I know a lot of shooters who own super-magnum rifles such as a .300 Winchester Short Magnum and even .338 Lapua, and even they all shoot at 100 yards. They may talk about long-distance shooting and some of them may shoot long distances when they hunt; but at the range, the bulk of their shooting is at 100 yards.
One more thing is the rimfire shooters. They’ve always been closer to airguns than those who predominantly shoot centerfires, and perhaps many more of them made the crossover years ago when air rifles started to challenge rimfires at 50 yards. But one drawback has always been in the category of repeating air rifles. While good repeating air rifles are not hard to find, they do cost a lot of money compared to, say, a Marlin model 60 or a Ruger 10-22. However, when the cost of a brick of .22 rimfire ammo tops $60, as it now does for anyone who doesn’t camp out at the local big box store, then it doesn’t seem to matter as much that a good repeating air rifle will cost $400 and up. And these repeaters will also deliver the same good groups as the single-shots, so there’s very little to complain about.
Air rifle distances
When I started writing about airguns in 1994, 50 yards was a very long distance for an air rifle. It’s still pretty far if you shoot 10-shot groups; but for 5-shot groups, 50 yards is starting to become very reasonable. One-hundred yards is the new 50-yards for accurate air rifles. That also means that distances in the field have stretched, as well.
Here in Texas, we hunt prairie dogs — ground-dwelling rodents that build mounds and dig destructive holes that can break the legs of running animals unlucky enough to step in one. Prairie dogs live in groups called towns that can have thousands of mounds and occupy hundreds of acres of territory. This territory is typically dry scrubland that doesn’t support many head of cattle, so when a dog town moves in, it represents a big loss to the rancher.
So, prairie dogs are pests of the first order. As long as the hunter can guarantee the safety of livestock and people in the surrounding area, getting permission to shoot is usually pretty easy. Imagine, if you can tell the landowner that you’re shooting something that doesn’t even carry past 500 yards! What a plus that is?
The problem in the past was that no airguns were powerful enough and accurate enough to reach out to prairie dogs; because when you get within about 100 yards of them, they get skittish. It can be done, of course, and I’ve done it. I’ve gotten as close as 25 yards to a prairie dog following a long, slow approach and an even longer wait…but that was rare. A hundred yards was much more common. And with an AirForce Condor, I had the perfect rifle to reach out those 100 yards and get the dog.
Some airgunners are using smaller-caliber big-bore guns for prairie dogs. Airgun hunter Eric Henderson has been successful with a Quackenbush .308 out to as much as 185 yards. Now, that’s some shooting!
What airguns can’t do
Airguns are not loud, nor do they recoil much. So neither of those firearm experiences can be duplicated, and that may dissuade some shooters.
And airguns are not made in the same way as certain military arms such as Garands, SMLEs or Mausers. So, if the tactile experience is what the shooter is after, there are no airguns that can give it.
Finally, an airgun isn’t a firearm, and that, by itself, bothers some shooters. For some people, it isn’t a matter of hitting the target or trigger control — it’s knowing that they’re firing a .357 magnum that defines their shooting experience. For them, only the actual firearm will deliver the goods.
But for all those shooters who just want the feeling of a good sight picture and precise trigger control, the size of the hole downrange isn’t that important. I’m in that group, so I understand that the act of doing is more important than the definition of what’s being done. For all who like to shoot for these reasons, airguns are a wonderful way to keep squeezing the trigger.
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
Today, I’ll start testing the new AirForce Condor SS rifle with Spin-Loc tank. I’ve been waiting a long time for this test, because it affords us the opportunity to look at so many new things from AirForce Airguns. Not only will we get to see the new baffled silencer system, we’ll also get another look at the new trigger and safety on which I reported back in January. I linked to that report, above, and labeled it as Part 1 so you can get a better look at the new trigger by reviewing it, though I’ll continue to make comments on the trigger as this report unfolds. We’ll also get a look at the new Spin-Loc tank that allows filling without removing the tank from the gun. There’s a lot of ground to cover, so let’s begin.
The rifle I’m testing is in .22 caliber, which I believe is the best caliber for all AirForce rifles. I won’t give the serial number because this rifle is mine. It’s not going anywhere after this report is completed. Don’t worry — they’ll make more!
What is the Condor SS?
AirForce Airguns is an American manufacturer based in Fort Worth, Texas. They make all the parts of their guns except for the barrels, which they source from Lothar Walther, the air tanks on many of the sporting models and the synthetic parts. Although shrouded barrels are commonplace in 2013, it was AirForce that introduced them to the market back in 2001 with their Talon SS.
In 2004, they started production of the Condor, one of the most powerful smallbore air rifles the world has ever seen, and one that still gets more shots per fill than any of its competition. Generating 65 foot-pounds of energy in .22-caliber, the Condor is a pellet rifle whose muzzle energy equals the standard speed .22 short rimfire cartridge. Only the diabolo design (wasp waist and hollow, flared tail) of the pellets it shoots prevents it from shooting as far as the rimfire. The Condor gave airgunners a rifle with .22 rimfire power and reasonable downrange safety at the same time.
These are all precharged pneumatic (PCP) airguns. Their butt reservoirs are filled to 3,000 psi (nominally — each gun may be a little different) and fired until they fall off the power curve at lower pressure. A Condor will get up to 20 powerful shots on a fill, and a Talon SS will get around 35-40 shots.
Shooters liked the SS for its quiet operation. When it was new, the SS was one of the quietest airguns in town that was also legal to own because it doesn’t have a silencer that can be installed on a firearm. And the Condor that can shoot a pellet through one and a half 2×4 boards delighted folks with power they’d only dreamed about. But the Condor was noisy, and the SS produced only about 25 foot-pounds of muzzle energy in .22 caliber. People wondered why AirForce couldn’t do both things — power without the noise.
The rifle we’re looking at in this report combines much of the power of the Condor along with the quiet of the SS. In fact, this rifle is even quieter than an SS. It’s as quiet as SS owners wish their guns were.
And, in response to customer requests, AirForce now offers the Spin-Loc tank that remains attached to the rifle, once installed. It has to, because it sports an onboard pressure gauge — a manometer — that customers also said they wanted. I’ll grant that this gauge is a handy thing since it lets you know the state of the fill the moment you grab the rifle. That’s very convenient when you pick it up after the gun hasn’t been used awhile. There’s no need to guess at the charge — it’s right there on the gauge. It was always easy to count your shots before; but when you set aside the gun for many days, you might not remember where it was in the fill. Of course, you could always top it off before shooting, which is what shooters did before the gauge; but now they don’t have to. The gauge tells them if there’s still enough air.
The Spin-Loc tank has to be installed with tools that come with the rifle. An Allen wrench loosens the single locking screw that allows the threaded bushing in the frame to turn freely. That bushing will join the tank to the frame. Don’t remove the locking screw — just loosen it so the threaded bushing can turn freely. A toothed wrench or spanner that comes with the gun can then turn the bushing to tighten it onto the tank. The tank itself cannot be turned much because neither the pressure gauge nor the male Foster fill nipple will clear the frame. So, the bushing has to be tightened onto the tank’s threads — drawing it onto the frame.
I have to say that it took me a couple tries before I got the tank threading straight onto the bushing. It’s a problem of controlling both the gun and the tank, so the tank’s threads do not start cross-threading. Both the bushing and the tank’s threads are steel, though, so the risk of damaging the threads is low. Just work carefully; and once the threads start to join, everything goes together easily.
Once the tank was on the gun, I adjusted the pull length by adjusting where the buttpad clamps to the rear of the tank. I noticed that the buttpad can also be flipped upside down, allowing it to extend lower for more contact with the shoulder, so I did that, too. In the end, I have the rifle set up for a 14-1/2-inch pull, which is ideal for me, and the buttpad is canted inward at the toe, which is how all my AirForce rifles are set up. There are several inches of adjustment with this pad, so fitting an adult shouldn’t be a problem. The picture at the top of this report shows the buttpad reversed like this.
New trigger and safety
I covered the new trigger and safety thoroughly in Part 1, but it’s new so I’ll mention it here. The trigger is 2-stage and not adjustable. I’ll give you the pull weight and critical data in the velocity test, which comes next, but we do know that it’s very crisp and stops after the sear is released.
The biggest difference in this trigger is that it cannot be uncocked. The gun, once cocked, must be fired. Since the Spin-Loc tank cannot be easily removed, the question becomes: Can you release the trigger without opening the valve? As it turns out, you can. Simply move the bolt a little forward so it isn’t pressed against the valve (which is referred to as the top hat), hold it there with your thumb and pull the trigger. Your thumb will catch the striker before it opens the valve very far, limiting the amount of air the gun fires. As convenient as this is, I would only do it with an unloaded (no pellet in the breech) gun that’s pointed in a direction that would be safe to fire. Because if you misjudge where the bolt has to stop, the gun could still fire a pellet.
The Condor SS comes with an 18-inch Lothar Walther barrel in your choice of calibers (from .177 through .25). Naturally, you can change the barrels as with all other AirForce sporting rifles, so you can own all 4 calibers for a fraction of what 4 complete guns would cost.
Ahead of the barrel is the system of baffles that make the SS what it is. I’ll show those in the next report, but there’s something that nobody has mentioned, yet. This rifle will also accept a tank with a standard valve; and if you use one of those, you’ll get twice the number of shots as you get from the Hi-Flo tank that comes standard on the Condor. And because of the 18-inch barrel, the gun will also be more powerful than a stock Talon SS. So, you’ll have great power and lots of shots! This is so intriguing that I’ll test it for you after I complete the full test of this gun as it comes from the factory.
Like all AirForce sporting rifles, this new one also has adjustable power. We’ll experiment with that when we test the rifle for velocity.
The Condor SS is made of aluminum, steel and some soft synthetic parts such as the grips and forearm. It has very straight lines, and the buttpad that drops down plus the raised scope rail make it quite easy to adapt to scope use. The accuracy is legendary, and we’ll put that to the test at multiple distances.
I’ve waited a long time to test this gun for you. So, sit back and enjoy this — it’s going to be a long ride.
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
Accuracy day has arrived. And this is going to be a report that’s different than the ones I normally write because I decided to do things differently with the Benjamin Trail NP pistol. First of all, there’s some interest in the gun. Readers have said they’re watching the reports because this gun seems to deliver a lot of performance for a very reasonable price.
Next, I’ve read some owner reviews that talk about the gun hitting low. I wanted to test that for you. Owners also say the pistol shoots to two different impact points, depending on whether or not the cocking aid is attached.
Finally, I received a call from Crosman’s head engineer, Ed Schultz, who noticed I was testing the pistol now. Ed confirmed that the pistol does indeed shoot to two different points of impact, depending on whether or not the cocking aid is attached. He was also intrigued by how much I seem to like the air pistol, so we chatted about that for awhile.
How this test will be different
I decided to “play” with this pistol today instead of plowing through a formatted test with X number of pellet types. What that means is that I decided to let the pistol lead me through the test, and to look at those things that were interesting — even if they didn’t conform to my normal test format. I think the test went well, but it lead me in directions I might never have taken otherwise.
It shoots low
The first pellet up was the RWS Hobby. The first shot wasn’t even on the paper, so I elevated the rear sight as high as it would go, then I held up the front post above the rear notch in a style that was popularized by Elmer Keith. That got me on paper, and I put 10 shots through the gun. They landed in a group that measured 1.155 inches between centers. This turned out to be the best group of the test, and I think it shows the accuracy potential of the pistol quite well. You see, I was estimating how much front post to hold up above the rear notch while I shot this group, so my aim point was only an estimate.
When Elmer Keith wanted to shoot handguns farther than their sights would allow, he used this holdover sight picture. Keith inlaid gold lines on his front sights, but I am simply estimating the height from shot to shot.
Even when I held over a lot, the pellets landed below the aim point. So, I used another trick by drawing a secondary aim point above the main bull and using the holdover sight picture on it (at 6 o’clock). My sight picture now looked like the drawing above.
Next, I tried the lead-free Crosman Powershot Penetrators. Using the higher aim point, I put 10 of them into a group that measured 2.527 inches between centers. Obviously, they’re not right for this pistol.
Different impact point?
I told you I was playing with the pistol, so next I tried an experiment to see the difference in point of impact when the cocking aid was left on the gun or removed during firing. And there was a difference! For this test, I used JSB Exact RS domes.
I used the same high aim point, and the pellets landed about 2 inches lower when the cocking aid was left on the barrel during firing. I’ll show both groups on the same target, so you can see what that looks like.
The group fired with the cocking aid installed was slightly tighter than the one with it removed. The one with the cocking aid measures 1.369 inches between centers, while the other group measures 1.636 inches.
I reported that the cocking effort is low for this pistol. Well, that’s fortunate; because when I shot it without the cocking aid, I also cocked it that way. The effort required with the aid installed still measures 25 lbs., and with the aid removed it increases to 35 lbs.
This time, I shot the pistol indoors, and I still must say that it’s very quiet for the power. I think some new owners may have had a few detonations when their guns were new and thought their pistol was going to always be that loud, but I doubt that many will fault it for the sound after it calms down.
The trigger-pull isn’t so much heavy as it is long. It does take some concentration and even discipline to shoot the pistol at its best. But there’s no creep in the second stage.
Crosman Premier heavies and JSB Exact 10.34-grain heavies
I had thought that heavier pellets might do best, so I tried both Crosman Premier heavies and JSB Exact heavies. Since I was just playing with the gun instead of conducting a formatted test, I decided that if either pellet didn’t show any promise by 5 shots, I wouldn’t complete the group. Well, neither one did, so I ended each group at just 5 shots. Both would have been over 2 inches for 10 shots.
Crosman Premier lites
The last pellet I tested was the 7.9-grain Crosman Premier lite, figuring that if the heavy didn’t group, the lite might. And that was correct. The lites gave me a 1.775-inch group, which doesn’t sound good. But 9 of those pellets are in 1.314 inches, which is a lot better.
What’s the verdict?
The verdict is — it’s too soon to tell. I still have some things to test with this pistol. For starters, the sights that are on the gun are so problematic that I want to try it with a good quality dot sight and see what I can do. If I can adjust the sight so I’m able to aim at what I’m hitting, and if I use the 3 pellets that worked well in this test — RWS Hobbys, JSB Exact RS and Crosman Premier lites — then we might just see a more accurate gun.
I also want to test pellets that are seated deep in the breech to see if there’s any difference. There are the two lead-free pellets that Crosman sent, but I didn’t get around to testing this time. I’d also like to run a velocity test after all of that because, by then, I think the gun should be broken in.
More than ever, I think Crosman should build this gun as a carbine, using exactly what they have here but with an extended barrel shroud and a rifle stock. As easy as it is to cock as a pistol, I can see it losing another 10 lbs. of effort as a carbine. What a wonderful little plinker it would make!
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
Thank you for being so patient with me on this Walther 1250 Dominator report. I had to suspend it while I was back in Maryland; but now that I’m home, I can start up again. Today is velocity/power day, so we’ll learn a lot about this air rifle.
Filling with air
To fill the reservoir, you first remove it from the rifle by unscrewing. Then, it’s screwed onto a brass adapter that’s screwed into a 300-bar DIN hole on a carbon fiber tank or scuba tank valve.
You fill the reservoir up to 300 bar, or 4,351 psi. The only way to get that much pressure is to use either a carbon fiber tank or to connect the reservoir directly to an air compressor or hand pump that goes that high. My carbon fiber tank was holding less than 3,000 psi when I conducted this test, but fortunately the rifle has a broad power band. Even though I can’t fill the reservoir all the way, the gauge on the tank still reads in the green. I’ll get fewer shots, but they will be at the same velocity. It’s just like a car that goes no faster when its gas tank is full or nearly empty.
However, I cannot give you a shot count in this report because I’m not filling the reservoir all the way. That will have to come later.
As an observation, I would use the Air Venturi female DIN adapter with this reservoir, so I could use either a hand pump or carbon fiber tank to fill the reservoir.
Trigger and safety
The two-stage trigger is adjustable for the length of the first stage. You can even adjust it out, and have a single-stage trigger. The adjustment doesn’t alter the force required to release the sear in stage two. On the test rifle, that broke at 2 lbs., 8 oz. with stage one taking 6 of those ounces.
Stage two has a definite feel of the pull through to it. It’s not creepy, in the sense that it stops and starts, but is rather a smooth pull-through that can actually be felt. It’s not bad — just not glass-rod crisp.
The safety is automatic on cocking, but it’s designed to go off easily with a downward swipe of the thumb. After several shots, I found myself not even thinking of it.
This rifle will have those with sensitive ears running for their hearing protection. There’s no attempt to muffle the discharge, so you hear the full effect of the power. It’s not as loud as a .22 rimfire; but if you shoot indoors, I can imagine shooters using that as a description.
It’s fully as loud as any other pneumatic of its power class when no attempt is made to attenuate the discharge sound. Thirty years ago it would have sounded normal; but in this day of shrouded barrels, it stands out.
This Walther is rated to 28 joules, which is just a bit more than 20.6 foot-pounds. There’s no mistaking the spec, for it’s written on the right side of the receiver. That is a lot of power for a .177 pellet rifle to generate, and of course you’ll need heavy pellets to achieve it. So that was where I started the test — with Beeman Kodiak Match 10.65-grain pellets. To achieve 20.6 foot-pounds (28 joules), this pellet needs to exit the muzzle at about 933 feet per second, according to Pyramyd Air’s energy calculator.
But the average velocity I recorded for this pellet was 968 f.p.s., which works out to 22.16 foot-pounds or 30.05 joules. So, the rifle is more powerful than advertised. The average velocity went from a low of 965 to a high of 972 f.p.s., which is a tight 7 foot-second spread.
Next, I tried the popular RWS Superdome pellet. It averaged 1005 f.p.s. from the test rifle, with a spread from 998 to 1013 f.p.s. That’s a 15 foot-second spread, and the energy generated is 18.62 foot-pounds at the muzzle. As you can see, that’s a big drop-off from what the heavier Kodiak Match pellets generated. Precharged pneumatics often generate their best energy with the heaviest pellets they can manage, so this comes as no surprise. However, it will only be after we see the accuracy of these test pellets and perhaps some others that we will select an optimum pellet for the rifle.
H&N Match Pistol
As a final pellet I selected the lightweight H&N Match Pistol pellet. I wanted to test two things here. First, how would the rifle handle lighter pellets; and second, would the magazine handle wadcutters smoothly. It actually did feed these pellets smoother than both of the domes, so that part of the test was a success.
The average velocity was 1018 f.p.s. with a spread from 1016 to 1020 f.p.s. That was the tightest velocity spread of all — just 4 feet per second. The average energy for this 7.56-grain pellet was 17.40 foot-pounds at the muzzle, so another power decrease came with this lighter pellet.
Reliability and pellet feeding
Any time I test a repeater, I always wonder if the gun will feed pellets smoothly and how the magazine…or in this case the clip…will handle the pellets. There are no concerns with the 1250 Dominator, though; because the pellets go into the clip easily, they stay in well and the clip goes into and comes out of the receiver with great ease. The bolt sometimes hangs up on the forward stroke, but that’s due to the newness of the gun — not a pellet feeding problem. I believe it’ll go away as the action is broken in.
The clip is long enough to accept the Beeman Kodiak, which is a long pellet, so I have no problem with it. And it feeds wadcutters well, so pellet shape is not a problem, either.
Observations thus far
The Walther 1250 Dominator is certainly a different PCP. It has a lot of synthetics and a different shape than is thought to be conventional, but it holds very well — hanging muzzle-heavy. The profile may appear different, but it holds like a rifleman’s gun. I can’t wait to see it shoot!
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
Today, you’ll see the test of the .177-caliber Walther LGV Master Ultra at 25 yards with open sights. This is for all who have an interest in a rifle that I think redefines the breakbarrel spring-piston sporter.
Twenty-five yards is not quite 2.5 times the distance at which the first test was conducted, so I expect to see the groups open up quite a lot. In fact, this is a wonderful distance at which to test an airgun because this is where the real pedigree starts to show through. Let’s see how our test rifle did.
Crosman Premier lite
The first pellet I tested was the 7.9-grain Crosman Premier lite that did so well in the 10-meter test. After confirming the shot was on the bull with a spotting scope, I shot the remaining 9 shots without looking again. Shot 9 was a called pull to the left, and I knew I would see a hole to the left of the main group when I examined the target.
Crosman Premier heavies
Next, I tried 10 Crosman Premier heavies because a reader thought they might do well. They did not — giving a very open and scattered group that measures 1.549 inches between centers.
Next, I shot 10 Beeman Devastator pellets. These lightweight hollowpoints surprised me in the Pellet velocity versus accuracy test I did two years ago. And they fit the LGV breech very well, so I had hopes they might be accurate, as well.
Indeed they were! Ten gave a 1.154-inch group, but 9 of them were in 0.746 inches. That’s very much like the Premier lites, though there was no called shot this time.
JSB Exact Heavy 10.34-grain
Next up were 10 JSB Exact heavys. The Exact RS pellets had not done well in the 10-meter test, but these heavier domes often succeed where the lighter ones don’t. This time, the outcome was very telling. Eight of the pellets made an incredibly small 0.518-inch group that’s perfectly round, then the final two shots enlarged the group to 2.147 inches. They made both the largest and smallest group of the session! That small inner group tells me that this may well be the most accurate pellet in this rifle, as it often is.
This group made by JSB Exact Heavy pellets will make you think! I didn’t call any shots, but I think something went wrong with the two outliers. I believe the small cluster is more representative of what this pellet can do in this rifle.
Of course, I could be wrong, but this isn’t the last time I’m going to shoot this LGV for accuracy. Next time will be at 25 yards with a scope mounted. This JSB just won a place in that test.
H&N Baracuda Match
The last pellet I tested was the H&N Baracuda Match, which did so-so in the 10-meter test. I thought I would give them another chance at 25 yards; but, alas, their mediocrity only continued. Ten made an open 2.121-inch group with no pattern or clustering.
Am I satisfied?
I am very satisfied with this performance. The naysayers will probably dream up new things to say about the gun; but as far as I’m concerned, it’s on track for a spectacular test.
I will say that the firing behavior was quite buzzy with the Premiers, but much less so with the Baracudas and the heavy JSBs. I think those JSBs are going to turn out to be the pellets of choice in this rifle. I’ll also comment that the trigger now seems as good as a well-adjusted Rekord. It’s not as light, but the wide blade makes the release feel very crisp.
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
This blog is for those who are new to shooting and to airguns. Sometimes, we have to address the basics, and that’s what I’m going to do today. I’m inviting the veteran shooters to chime in with their own ideas of what the new airgunner should avoid.
For reasons I cannot fathom, new shooters think they need to clean their airguns even more than firearms are cleaned. I know people who never clean their .22 rimfires until they start to malfunction, yet these same people don’t hesitate to take a bore brush to the barrel of their favorite air rifle every chance they get. It isn’t necessary to clean an airgun barrel that often, and it actually exposes it to possible damage from the cleaning process gone wrong.
Why do we clean a gun?
Historically, guns used what we now call black powder, whose residue both attracts moisture and then turns it into sulphuric acid. It begins to do this in less than 24 hours following shooting, so cleaning was/is essential if the bore was to be preserved. Later, when smokeless powders were developed, the early primers that ignited them contained compounds that were just as corrosive to the bore as black powder residue. A great many .22 rimfire rifles have lost all their rifling from the combined activities of this primer-based corrosion, coupled with over-zealous cleaning.
More recently, shooters have discovered that the jacketed bullets of centerfire cartridges will quickly foul barrels with metal deposits. While this doesn’t corrode the metal, it does fill the rifling grooves with jacket metal until all hope of accuracy is lost. So, the metal fouling has to be removed with a combination of chemical and mechanical action.
The modern .22 rimfire, in sharp contrast, uses clean-burning powder, clean priming and shoots clean lead bullets at low velocities. Nothing in its makeup or operation requires frequent cleaning. Those who shoot .22s can get away with not cleaning their guns for many hundreds and even thousands of rounds. Eventually, there will be a buildup of powder fouling even in these clean guns, but the contrast with centerfire guns is vivid.
Finally, there are the airguns. They neither burn powder nor use primers, so there’s no residue. They shoot at low velocities (compared to many firearms) and use clean lead pellets, so there’s little metal fouling. Only with some of the more powerful airguns do the velocities get fast enough to scrape off some lead from the pellets. And some barrels seem more prone to scrape off lead than others. That, alone, is the sole cause for buildup in an airgun.
In contrast to a firearm, an airgun can be fired tens of thousands of times between cleanings…and some lower-velocity airguns may never need cleaning at all. Those with brass or bronze barrels are entirely impervious to cleaning requirements.
The time to clean your airgun is when the accuracy falls off, not before. Do not clean an airgun barrel on a regular schedule — they simply don’t need it.
2. Disassembly without a plan
I’ve done this and so have many of you. The gun isn’t working right, so we take it apart to find out why. Then, we haven’t got a clue how to get it back together. That results in a basket case of parts that somebody else will be able to buy for a song. Don’t create bargains for others! Before you take an airgun apart, give some thought to what it takes to put it together again.
The way to do this is to first research the gun on the internet, to see if there are any disassembly or assembly problems. If there are known issues with a gun, there should be plenty of information on the internet.
Another thing to look for is if any special tools or equipment are needed. With spring guns, you usually need a mainspring compressor to safely disassemble and assemble the gun. And if you’re disassembling a BB gun like a Daisy Red Ryder, you need to make a special fixture to hold the gun while the mainspring is compressed and parts are removed. Unless you have three arms, this fixture is absolutely necessary.
Then, there are guns that are assembled during manufacture in ways that make them almost impossible to repair. One good example of this is the barrel of a Benjamin 392, which is soldered onto the pump tube at the factory. If the solder joint is ever broken, it’s next to impossible to repair. That’s because the joint is very long and is difficult to keep an even heat on the entire joint at the same time. The solder flows in some places, but clots in others. When you move the heat to the places where it’s clotted, you lose the solder that flowed before.
Don’t attempt repairs or modifications unless you know you can do the entire job. Better to spend some money to get the job done right by an airgunsmith than to charge in and break or lose some irreplaceable part.
Some of the new owners’ manuals tell people to oil the compression chamber on a frequent schedule. While oiling was appropriate for guns with leather piston seals, the newer synthetic seals don’t need nearly as much. Over-oiling causes detonations that can damage the gun if they’re allowed to continue; and once they start, there’s almost no way to get them to stop. All spring guns diesel; but when they go off with a loud “bang,” that puts a strain on the mechanism.
I always like to err on the side of under-oiling because all that does is make noise during cocking. Over-oiling causes problems, though, and in extreme cases the airgun must be disassembled and dried out.
There are places to oil besides the compression chamber. Linkages need a drop every now and then, and the wood parts can always benefit from a Ballistol wipedown.
The other place oiling is necessary is on the tip of each fresh CO2 cartridge before it is pierced. The best oil for this job is Crosman Pellgunoil, and a CO2 shooter needs to always have some on hand. The oil is blown through the gun’s valve when the cartridge is pierced; and it gets on all the sealing surfaces, making a tight seal against gas loss. It’s the No. 1 maintenance action a CO2 gunner can take, and you absolutely cannot overdo it.
So, what happens when an airgun is not oiled enough? It makes noises to tell you. Spring-piston guns will honk like a goose when they’re cocked if there isn’t enough oil on the piston seal. Mainsprings will crack and crinch when cocked as they slip their coils when they don’t have enough oil. And the fork that the breech sits in will become shiny if there isn’t enough grease between it and the breech. Also, the cocking effort will increase dramatically.
CO2 and pneumatic guns will develop slow leaks when they need oil. Their seals cannot do the job without a thin film of oil on all their surfaces. But if the gun is holding air, stop with the oil — except in the case of CO2 guns, as noted before.
This fault is as old as the hills and is a classic mistake a newcomer will make. If 10 pump strokes give X amount of power, shouldn’t 15 pump strokes give 1.5X? No! In fact, they do just the opposite. Over-pump a pneumatic or overfill it from a scuba tank, and the velocity takes a nosedive. It will drop all the way to zero, at which point the valve is locked shut by the excessive pressure in the gun. Imagine a door being held shut by several strong people. No amount of pushing will open it. You have to wait for some of the people to leave or, in the case of the gun, for some of the internal pressure to drop. That can take weeks and even months!
A pneumatic gun is designed to work within a certain pressure margin. Too little pressure and the power drops. Too much pressure and the power drops. Remember it this way — putting more gas into a car’s tank will not make it go any faster.
With CO2, you don’t have to add pressure; and in fact, there’s no straightforward way to do it. If you were to increase the gas pressure somehow, all that would happen is more gas would condense to liquid. The pressure would remain the same. But if the outside temperature should go up, the gas pressure will increase as well because the gas pressure is dependent on temperature. Operate your CO2 guns when the temperature is between about 60 degrees and 90 degrees F. And don’t leave a CO2 gun lying in the direct sun, even on a relatively cool day, because the gun will absorb the sun’s heat and will go into valve lock.
There you go — 5 simple things to remember about airguns and their operation. Perhaps our readers can suggest more?
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
Before we begin, here’s an update on my good friend Earl “Mac” McDonald, who’s contributed so much to this blog and has enriched my life and the lives of many who participate here. He’s at home, being cared for around the clock by a home-care nursing staff. That will soon transition into home-based hospice care, as his condition will not improve. He knew I came to see him, and we spent a lot of time together in the two weeks I was there. If he could, he would thank everyone who’s sent him good wishes and prayers.
Today’s topic came in about a week ago, and I put it in my bank of reports to write while I’m on the road. Although today is Monday, I’m still traveling home from seeing Mac. The distance was so great that I broke it into a 3-day trip, and was planning to stop by the American Pickers store in Nashville. I got there before they opened, and hundreds of people were already waiting in line to see it. So, I decided to just continue driving home.
The question is: How did shooters of old test their trajectories? How did they know where to aim for the longer shots?
I suppose the answer breaks down in several ways. Buffalo hunters, for instance, shot just one load in their rifles so that one load was all they had to learn. The land over which they shot was mostly flat and dusty so they could see the strike of the bullets when they hit the ground. Over time, they learned where to set their sights to hit animals at different ranges, and they used the feedback they saw downrange to refine their understanding of the ballistics of their rifles.
Then, there’s the scientific approach, which is based on mathematics. Calculations can be made to predict the flight of the bullet with good precision, then they’re verified and refined by empirical testing on the range. One of the best-documented instances of this is the development of the cartridge that became the .45 Government, or what we know today as the .45-70. That cartridge started out as a .50-caliber round; but through range studies and exhaustive testing they discovered that the .45-caliber bullet had better ballistics. If you’re interested in this sort of thing, there’s a very thorough report of the entire cartridge development in M.D. (Bud) Waite and B.D. Ernst’s book, The Trapdoor Springfield.
Though the timeframe for this development was the late 1860s and early 1870s, scientists knew a lot about how projectiles flew ballistically — and they had good mathematical tables to help them with their research. Ballistics was already an established field of study when this cartridge was developed.
But what about the amateurs? What did they do? Some were able to use the same tables as the scientists, and they used their own ranges to confirm and tweak the results of the calculations. But they didn’t have Chairgun back in the 19th century, so whatever did they do?
Chairgun, and now Chairgun Pro, is an airgun and rimfire ballistics software that helps you plot the trajectory of a pellet before you shoot. It has become a great favorite of airgunners who use it to set their scopes for different ranges with different pellets. Field target competitors find it especially useful because they need to know the exact place in the trajectory their pellets will be at all ranges. Those pellets must pass through small holes in the front of the steel targets they shoot at in order to hit the triggers in the back of the targets and knock them down. If their pellet partially hits the face of the target as it passes through the hole, it can lock the target in the upright position and it won’t fall — robbing the shooter of a point. But the Chairgun software and lots of testing helps the shooter refine his pellet plot so he gets it in the right place every time.
And the good news is that now they have a version that works on Mac computers, too, so I’ll finally be able to use it!
But 150 years ago, there were far fewer personal computers — so what did those people do to determine the actual trajectories of their bullets? Well, to paraphrase the movie, The Graduate, I have two words for you — tissue paper. They lined up tissue paper screens between the muzzle and the target, and shot through them to “watch” the drop of the bullet over distance.
Now, before some wiseacre scientist in the crowd pulls the Heisenberg principle card on me, I’m aware that passing through even one sheet of tissue paper does have an effect on the ballistic flight of the bullet, however slight. I’m also aware that a bullet isn’t a subatomic particle, but I wanted to get that idea off the table so we could discuss the thing that “they” really did in order to measure the flight of bullets.
When Dr. Mann did the 37 years of work that eventually lead to his book The Bullet’s Flight, from Powder to Target, he used tissue paper screens at regular intervals between the rifle and target. He wasn’t looking for the trajectory as much as he wanted to know the attitude of the bullet at various distances from the muzzle. In his day, it was suspected that bullets left the bore unstabilized and then stabilized as they went downrange. So, he was looking for the pattern of elongated holes on the screens that would indicate yawing bullets.
How did they align the screens?
If you have ever given this approach any thought, you must have wondered how the screens were aligned. For example, if all the screens are supposed to be the same height above the ground from the muzzle to the target — how is that done? You don’t just set them on the ground and hope they line up; because no matter how flat the ground may be, there are still variations of several inches at various points along the bullet’s path. But these people wanted those tissue paper screens to be aligned within the tightest variation possible.
Today, we’d use a laser and place the screens so each one aligned with the laser’s dot; but just as computers were in short supply back then, so were lasers. So how did they do it?
They used a surveyor’s transit to align each screen. Because of the nature of what they were doing, they had to start placing screens at the target and work backwards to the gun because each screen obscured everything that was beyond it. With a laser, you work the same way. The only difference is that one person can lay out a range like this with a laser, while a transit takes at least two people. If you’ve never tried it, don’t make light of it, because you cannot imagine the difficulty of aligning all those screens. And, if the wind is blowing, you might as well give up because the screens will never settle down.
Did it work?
Some of you know this works because you’ve tried it yourselves. Yes, it does work. The tissue paper needs to be stretched tight on the screens so it doesn’t tear. That isn’t as important for firearm bullets as for airgun pellets, but the paper does need to be fairly flat for every bullet or pellet. And airgunners usually don’t need to place screens out beyond 50 yards or so, while in the past firearms shooters often placed them out several hundred yards.
For an airgun, an interval of 5 yards is useful. For firearms going out to long distances, a 25-yard spacing might work better, though closer to the gun so that spacing might be reduced to 10 yards.
A modern anecdote
In the early 1990s, several government physicists wrote papers that criticised the story of Billy Dixon, the buffalo hunter who shot an indian off his horse at 1,538 yards during the second battle of Adobe Walls, Texas. It took him 11 shots to find the range. The physicists said it wasn’t possible for a .50-caliber bullet weighing over 600 grains and leaving the muzzle at 1,250 f.p.s. to even go that far, let alone to hit a target way out there. So, several shooters convened at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, where the U.S. Army had a millimeter wave radar to track their bullets in flight.
What they learned astounded them. A bullet from Dixon’s rifle could go over 2,500 yards, and the Army’s .45 Government bullet went past 3,000 yards. Even though they were subsonic much of the way, these bullets were proven to have very great range. This experiment could not have been done with tissue paper, since the barrels had to be elevated 30 degrees to the horizon.
I hope this answers the question our reader asked about how trajectories were verified in the past.