Monday, October 31, 2005

Air shotguns, part 3: the Crosman Trapmaster 1100

by B.B. Pelletier

Crosman made a shotgun! The Trapmaster 1100 was a CO2 shotgun that copied Remington's popular 1100 autoloader. That strange thin rod sticking out from the forearm cap is the powerlet piercing lever.

It all began with instinct shooting
On October 26, I reported on the Fire 201 air shotgun, so today I'll cover the Crosman Trapmaster 1100. This is a special shotgun because it was made by America's leading maker of CO2 guns. The Crosman 1100 was produced from 1968 through 1971, so the run was relatively short. It was also the final result of an interesting development that began in 1954, with a man called Lucky McDaniel.

From civilian to military in one decade
Lucky taught instinct shooting for many decades. He was the creator of the program Daisy sold as Quick Skill and the U.S. Army copied during Vietnam, changing the name to Quick Kill.

Lucky had many important students, but Floyd Patterson, the world heavyweight boxing champion, was the most famous. In 1957, Floyd fought an unprecidented match with Pete Rademacher, the 1956 Olympic gold medalist. Pete wanted to win the title in his first professional bout, so he convinced Patterson to give him a shot. It didn't turn out the way he had hoped, but Pete became interested in instinct shooting after learning that Patterson credited much of his success to the instinct shooting training.

Floyd Patterson wasn't the only boxer interested in airguns!
In the late 1950s, Rademacher was selling his own instinct shooting system with a Parris BB gun and a spring-powered trap to throw special breakaway aerial targets. Pete's trap and reusable plastic targets were so interesting that Crosman arranged to manufacture them. They created their own gun to shoot the targets; instead of a BB gun, they made an entirely new .380 caliber CO2 shotgun called the Trapmaster 1100. It copied the Remington 1100 autoloader and was huge. It needed an extra-long 28" barrel to get the velocity with CO2 (I mentioned this relationship in previous blogs).

You might be able to guess the velocity of the Trapmaster
The Trapmaster had two power levels, selected by cocking to the first stop or going all the way to the second. In factory trim, the high-power setting delivered about 450 to 500 f.p.s. for a tiny pinch of shot - just over half what the Fire 201 used. That velocity is interesting because it's very close to that of the Farco, which is also a CO2 shotgun. Are you starting to see some similarities among airguns with similar powerplants and features?

This gun is a gas hog!
The Trapmaster needs two 12-gram powerlets to function. You'll get about 30+ shots on high power with the gas from the two. You can try to economize and use just a single fresh powerlet (with an empty one inserted to give the necessary length), but you'll cut the number of shots by more than half. Some owners convert it to bulkfill, which reduces the gas cost to about 10%, though you get fewer shots per fill unless you extend the length of the gas reservoir.

The eternal quest for power
Hobbyists soon added stronger hammer springs to boost the power, and I have heard reports of guns shooting over 600 f.p.s. on high power. Before you get excited, there's also a mention in the back of Airgun Digest (the first edition) where a Trapmaster 1100 was converted to a .20 caliber rifle that reportedly got over 1,600 f.p.s.! After reading this blog, you should be able to spot the error in that. I don't believe that any CO2 gun could EVER get a pellet up to 1,600 f.p.s.!

When it fired, it sounded like a ladybug sneezing!
The shot was held in red plastic shotshells that were reloadable. The gun fired about 62 grains of No. 8 chilled lead shot, or just over half the load of a Fire 201. It made a 14" pattern at 40 feet. It wasn't much, but it would pop the plastic aerial targets apart, which was the only reason the gun existed. I think collectors like the Trapmaster more for its size and good looks than for its performance, which has to be the most anemic of all air shotguns.

Looks good in person
As much as I pan its performance, the Trapmaster still gets me whenever I hold one. It's a large, good-looking shotgun, and you just wish it could shoot as good as it looks. Expect to pay $150 to $200 for a nice example today. Most of them will be in nice shape, because their owners take good care of them. It's the kind of airgun that inspires pride.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Diana RWS 46 - a German underlever

by B.B. Pelletier

Let's finish this week with something different. When you think of underlever spring rifles you probably think of a TX 200, an HW 77 or perhaps the Tech Force 99. How many of you have taken a good look at the Diana RWS 46?

The underlever moves very far back, decreasing the cocking effort.

Diana's answer to the TX 200
Diana is the company that makes airguns for RWS. Over the years, and I mean going back before World War II, they have made some of the all-time classic spring-piston air rifles AND air pistols. I will report on many of them for you in the future, but today let's look at their "world beater" model 46. It was developed SPECIFICALLY to go head-to-head against the British TX 200. That's what Frank Turner, the president of Dynamit Nobel-RWS USA, told me when the model first came out. So, how does it stack up?

Fit and finish
Diana has always had a good fit and finish, but it's never quite up to the standards of Weihrauch. Perhaps, it's more in the BSA class. Since the 46 was targeted to go after the British TX, they went out of their way to make as crisp a rifle as they could. The lines are very clean and the cheekpiece is quite stylish and well-shaped - an area where other Dianas perhaps fall short. The stock has the typical Diana angularity, compared to the more rounded TX. It also shaves off about a pound of weight, making the 46 the lighter rifle.

The TX wins, hands down, when it comes to triggers. It has a copy of the German Rekord, while the Diana struggles with its own design. It's good, but the trigger on the TX is superb!

Accuracy of the two rifles is very close. The TX might be better in one individual rifle, but the Diana 46 might be better another time. Both are splendidly accurate. The TX shoots a little more neutral, while the Diana needs a softer hold. In the end, both are very accurate.

The Diana RWS 46 wins with no contest. The TX requires a deep reach into a port, while the 46 opens up to give you perfect access to the breech. It's as good as a breakbarrel!

Easy access to the breech is provided by the flip-up loading port.

I have to favor the TX on power, though the 46 is remarkably fast for as easy as it is to cock. The TX is quite a bit harder to cock, which is where the extra 25 to 50 f.p.s. (in .177) come from.

By this time, you've probably checked the prices for these two and found that the Diana RWS 46 is quite a bit less than the TX. Even if you go for the Hunting Carbine at $479, the TX is still $130 more than the 46. I can't say if it's worth the extra money - that's for YOU to decide. But, I can tell you that I think most shooters would be happy with the 46. It does the job and won't let you down. It's a wonderful spring-piston rifle that happens to come at a really nice price.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Beeman P1/HW 45: A shoulder stock, red dot sight & more!

by B.B. Pelletier.

If you own a Beeman P1 air pistol or an HW 45, I'll bet it's one of your favorites. The gun has so much going for it, and today I'll show you how it can be made even better!

A spring pistol with several differences!
For starters, the P1 is one of the all-time highest-powered spring pistols ever made. It achieves that distinction despite being quite compact, if not small. Weihrauch has folded the spring piston into what looks like an oversized slide on a Colt M1911A1. Through the use of an extra-long stroke, they manage to generate magnum power in a space other air pistols cannot.

It's easy to cock
A weaker mainspring allows for easy cocking effort in spite of the power. The piston comes straight back at your hand, so the recoil force is very much like a firearm. The gun can actually be cocked to two different levels for low and high power, though I never shoot mine on anything but high. I found that if I shot too much on low power, the gun would diesel with every shot. Don Walker at Beeman told me to dry-fire the gun twice, after which I should shoot it only on high power. I've been doing that ever since.

Dry-firing the P1 sounds dangerous, but the pistol has a PTFE (a term for Teflon) piston seal that actually forms to the compression chamber that way. Webley rifles used to do that also.

The trigger is excellent!
This is one time an airgun trigger is better than a firearm's. No M1911A1 I ever examined has a trigger as crisp and light as my P1 - not even the ones costing $3,000! Put that trigger with the superb barrel, and you get accuracy that a 1911 is hard-pressed to match out to 50 feet.

What's better than a P1?
A P1 with a shoulder stock, of course. Years ago, Beeman sold an optional shoulder stock for the P1 and I bought one. It was solid, rugged and looked great. Because of the pistol's great power, it made the gun a viable hunting airgun for smaller game.

Beeman dropped the shoulder stock from their line several years ago, but Pyramyd Air created one of their own! The Pyramyd Air HW 45 shoulder stock (also fits the P1 because they are the same gun) is walnut, not the beech that Beeman sold. As a result, it's more highly figured. And, it sells today for $27 less than Beeman charged back in 1995. So it's a great deal.

If you stock it, get a better sight
With the shoulder stock, I was able to hold the P1 much more rigidly, increasing my accuracy. It pushed my limit for hunting small game out to 20 to 25 yards. I chose a red dot sight - and in those days, there weren't a lot of them available. I paid $130 for a Pro Point and got half the performance you can get from the BSA 30mm red dot! Check the price and see what you think.

If you want your P1 to lead an entirely different second life, try a shoulder stock. It changes the way the gun shoots and feels, turning it into a nice little carbine.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Air shotguns, part 2: the Fire 201

by B.B. Pelletier

On October 18, we learned about the Farco shotgun from the Philippines. In this second look at air shotguns, we'll examine a gun that was so powerful that it spawned a whole line of air rifles for its maker. The Fire 201 air shotgun from Shin Sung.

The original Fire 201 air shotgun later served as the foundation for a generation of Korean big bore air rifles.

Today's Fire 201 is completely different!
Pyramyd Air still sells a gun called the Fire 201S, but now it's a single-shot big bore rifle. It is actually a direct descendant of the shotgun, though it shoots single bullets/pellets only and has a 9mm rifled barrel. The original Fire 201 was a .25-caliber smoothbore that used special shotshells to hold the shot. A .25 caliber Beeman felt cleaning pellet was inserted on either end of this shotshell to hold the shot in place, and the shell was placed into the breech of the gun, exposed by a sliding gold cover.

Shot filled the special aluminum shotshell and was held in by a felt cleaning pellet on either side of the shell.

The loading trough that is now so familiar to big bore shooters was initially created to hold Fire 201 shotshell.

Tremendous power!
Because its valve is based on the powerful Career 707, the Fire 201 shotgun was extremely powerful. Mine shot a 115-grain load of shot at an average of 1,010 f.p.s., which works out to 260.55 foot-pounds of muzzle energy (visit the energy calculator on this website to figure that out). That was astounding, and I believe it holds the record for any air shotgun. But, American shooters avoided it like the plague. They weren't interested in air shotguns, it seemed. A few experimenters added a 9mm barrel to see what was possible, and Shin Sung's whole line of big bores was born!

Inside of a year, the 9mm rifle was being imported directly from Shin Sung, and the .25 caliber shotgun was becoming hard to find. Airgunners had to learn the lessons of bullet weight/length versus rifling twist in order to get any accuracy, but the factory also provided huge 9mm diabolo pellets for those who didn't like to bother.

Was it a practical shotgun?
Unlike the Farco, the Fire 201 could easily break clay pigeons. There was a tradeoff, though. Because of the relatively small charge of shot it held, this gun had no practical range. Like the .410 shotgun that is equal in velocity to the 12 gauge but only holds a tiny fraction of the shot, the Fire 201 shot pattern spread too fast to be of much use. At 10 yards it would tear apart a small bird, and at 20 yards the bird would not be hit by one shot! That made it a poor shotgun, but a wonderful foundation for a big bore rifle.

There are plenty of other air shotguns. Let me know if you're interested in hearing about them!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Take a rest! The value of good shooting rests

Everyone is interested in shooting more accurately, so today I'll look at one of the best aids for doing that - the shooting rest. If you're like me, you probably get along with any old wadded-up bunch of fabric that happens to be handy. In cool weather, a jacket comes into play, but sometimes you need that jacket for yourself. So what do you do?

Sandbags are the No. 1 rest
Everywhere in the world, a sandbag is considered as much a gun rest as whatever other function it may serve. Buy the sand in plastic sacks at one of the home centers and put it into the cut-off legs of an old pair of jeans. It will last for years like that.

Sand is dense and moldable, so it accepts the stock of your rifle or provides a soft place to rest your hands or the butt of your handgun. It doesn't react to recoil, so with firearms and gas airguns it is a very neutral rest. Only the spring gun needs flesh between the bag and the gun. However you use it, a sandbag is your friend. But, it has some drawbacks.

For starters, it's heavy! Lugging a sandbag to the range means an extra trip to the car when you load or unload. Good ranges have bags at each bench, but not all of us shoot at good ranges. Or, you find when you arrive that the inconsiderate shooter on lane four has glommed onto all nine bags for himself, leaving you to fend for yourself.

Try a shot bag!
If you want to carry something in your range bag but you don't want to lug around 20 pounds of sand, get a small shot bag. Lead shot is even heavier than sand, but it's also denser, so you can do with much less. A 5-lb. shot bag can lay on a concrete block and still give you the support you need.

Buy a small size of shot, like No. 8 or 9. It acts more like sand when it's small. Get shot at a good gun dealer in 25-lb. bags. Heck, the bags shot comes in also make good rests, though a full 25-lb. bag defeats the portability aspect.

If only there were something else
That something would have to be dense as sand and shot. It would have to mold to your gun or hands when you rest on it. In fact, it would have to look a lot like the new Gel Shooting Support Pyramyd Air now offers in their Shooting Needs section.

The advantage of a bag like this is that it's lighter than lead and denser than sand. Not only does it cushion your gun, it also clings to whatever it's put on, so the whole world becomes your rest. Use it on rocks, branches or fence rails. Use it on the railing of your deck! It looks like the perfect blend of lead and sand and handier than either to pack around.

I'd like to hear from readers who have used this gel bag, so how about a report? Does it work as I've described? What can you tell everyone? Do you need to pack several and stack them? Since they're pocket-sized, are they good for hunting?

Gel bags have been around for years, but they're relatively new to the shooting sports. This bag is brand-new at Pyramyd Air, so let's find out if it's the answer to or shooting support needs.

Monday, October 24, 2005

New toys!

Just in time for Christmas, three new Crosman airguns!

The Nightstalker is here!
I held off reporting on this new rifle until it became available, because I didn't want to disappoint anybody with something they couldn't buy. The Nightstalker isn't just a new model - it's a completely revolutionary TYPE of air rifle! Crosman bills it as the world's first true semiautomatic pellet rifle, but of course there are a few others, such as the Drulov DU-10 Eagle, and all the biathlon target rifles made by Steyr and Haenel. But the Nightstalker is affordable! That's the news. Although the suggested retail price is higher, Pyramyd will have them for just $109.99!

True semiautomatic airguns are very special, because lead pellets don't like being fed through mechanisms. Even the manual bolt-action repeaters get jammed sometimes, so imagine what can happen when gas does the feeding in milliseconds! Crosman is an innovator in semiautomatic feeding, though. Their model 600 pistol is a classic airgun! I feeds so smoothly that you can't tell it's happening. That frees up the trigger to be lighter and crisper. Unfortunately, the 600 went out of production in 1970, so I hope they carried the idea forward into the Nightstalker!

Crosman's 600 semiauto .22 pellet pistol fired 10 shots as fast as you could pull the trigger. No wonder they bring $200 to $300 on the used market today!

Isn't the Crosman 1077 a semiauto?
The venerable Crosman 1077 looks like a semiauto and does shoot 12 shots, each with just the pull of the trigger, but it's really a run by a clever revolver mechanism. Each trigger-pull has to also advance the cylinder, and that makes the trigger-pull longer than it would be if all it were doing were releasing the hammer. (Read about it in the post Expand you hunting opportunities with this great CO2 rifle!) That's what makes the new Nightstalker so exciting.

I haven't tested one yet, but Crosman is supposed to have a Nightstalker on its way to me. When I get it, you will hear my take on a remarkable new rifle that could potentially set the airgunning world on its ear!

The Commemorative 760 Pumpmaster
The 760 Pumpmaster was created in 1966. It is based on the powerplant of the famous 130 pistol that I reviewed for you on September 19 (see the post Another oldie - Crosman 130). Airgunners love their 760s and many of you grew up with this being your first gun of any kind. I read comments from older men whose eyes still mist up when they speak of their first love. Now, you can get a commemorative edition of the famous 760 that marks the 11 millionth rifle sold! Only 1,500 will be made, so for gosh sakes don't miss out!

Pyramyd Air won't get them all, so get yours ordered before the rest of the world discovers it. I know Daisy sells out of their commemoratives in months and even weeks, and they sometimes make 2,500 of them! Crosman announced a list price of $99.95, but Pyramyd has them for just $79.99. Buy several and speculate like the collectors do, but act quickly!

A brand new Remington rifle from Crosman. The Summit is beautiful, powerful and comes packed with features.

The Remington Summit
Here is a new model from Crosman. It carries the Remington name and it comes with a wood stock, adjustable sights and trigger, AND a scope! It should be available for the holidays, though I believe it will take a little longer than the other two guns. It offers 1,000 f.p.s. velocity in .177 and retails for $250.

Well, there you have three new airguns to dream about. This IS the start of dreamin' season, isn't it?

Friday, October 21, 2005

Kalashnikov BB gun - a rare collectable you probably missed!

by B.B. Pelletier

Many of you like vintage airguns, and you like reading about them here. Today, I thought I would share a rare collectable that was being sold as recently as 2001. The Kalashnikov BB gun!

Just as real as it looks. The Kalashnikov BB gun was made on a genuine firearm frame.

It was made from a REAL AK-74!
Like the Makarov BB pistol I covered on August 8 (Just like a REAL gun!), the Kalashnikov BB gun was also made from a firearm. It's made of steel and feels very heavy and solid in your hands. The AK feeling is so pervasive that you feel as if you're holding an assault rifle instead of a BB gun. Mind you, I'm talking about a real steel BB gun, not a 6mm airsoft gun.

It's made by the same company that makes the firearm
It should be real - it was made by Izhmash, the same folks who make Kalashnikov firearms, as well as the Makarov pistols. That may have lead to the early demise of the gun in the U.S. The Makarov pistol was already on the list of airguns made from firearms that our government would no longer allow for sale in this country. They claimed that it is fairly easy to convert a Makarov air pistol into a firearm. Coming on the heels of that ruling, the Kalashnikov didn't stand a chance.

They were called Junkers!
No kidding! A Junker (pronounced "Yunker" in Russian) is the lowest rank of commissioned officer, or perhaps they are not yet commissioned. On that point I'm not clear, but I do know that Junker is one heck of a bad name for anything sold in America! (It's kind of like when Chevy tried to sell their Nova in South America, where "no va" means "no go" in Spanish.) These guns were to be priced at $365, which is a lot of money for a BB gun but not bad for the super-rare collectable it turned out to be.

The CO2 cartridge and spring-loaded BB magazine are housed in this firing mechanism, along with the firing valve. It tucks neatly out of sight in a banana magazine shell.

Powered by CO2
Like the Makarov, the heart of the gun was a CO2 all-in-one firing mechanism and magazine hidden inside the banana magazine. The rest of the gun was a housing and trigger/hammer for this mechanism. One CO2 cartridge and 20 steel BBs were held in place by this mechanism. Velocity was mid-range - about 250 to 350 f.p.s. - because the barrel was short and no attempt was made to maximize power. The gun sold on the coolness factor alone.

It disassembled like the real deal
Because it was made from a firearm, this BB gun came apart just like any other Kalashnikov. Soldiers and Marines who served during the Vietnam War should have no difficulty popping one apart in under 20 seconds with a little practice. Once you got it apart, you could appreciate why the gun was banned from importation. There wasn't a lot of difference between the BB gun and the firearm, except that on the BB gun most of the parts served no functional purpose.

It strips for cleaning in seconds. Of course, because it's a BB gun, there's nothing to clean!

And, the moral of the story is...
Not all collectables were around before you came into airgunning.
Sometimes, you just need to be in the right place at the right time. Pyramyd Air was going to sell these BB guns before the ban was imposed, so all of you would have been insiders! Perhaps, the AK is not your cup of tea, but who says the next rare airgun won't be? I missed out on this one, too, but this story inspires me to keep on looking! How about you?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Why doesn't my gun shoot where the scope looks?

by B.B. Pelletier

This is a very tough question, so please stick with me as I try to make sense of it for you. I'm not trying to confuse you, but there are so many things you have to know to understand this problem.

1. The bore of your barrel doesn't go through the center of the barrel!
Shocked? I hope so. Man has yet to discover how to put a hole exactly in the center of a long tube. The easiest way is to drill the hole first, find out where it is then cut the barrel in a lathe until the outside is concentric with the inside! That's been done for custom barrels but not for production guns. SO, that barrel that you THOUGHT was mounted straight in the receiver is probably looking somewhere else. Read The Bullet's Flight From Powder to Target by F.W. Mann to learn more.

P.S. Turning the barrel between centers on a lathe is a popular fix for this problem BUT IT DOESN'T WORK! What it does is ensure that the hole at the MUZZLE is centered, with no assurances of where it is anywhere else. I have cut barrels at varying spots along their length and found their bores up to one-quarter inch off center! That's extreme, I admit, but it illustrates my point.

2. Your barrel probably isn't centered in your action!
In fact, it's a safe bet it isn't. Unless you've spent a lot of money having a machinist center your barrel in your action, it probably isn't centered. The design of most firearm actions makes it almost impossible to center or align the barrel this precisely. Most airgun actions do, too. Hold on, 'cause it gets worse!

In The Bullet's Flight From Powder to Target, the author built a special cylindrical action and attached it to a concrete pillar sunk deep in the ground. It stood 26 inches above ground and 40 inches below. He called it his "Shooting Gibraltar," and with it he proved that no barrel is ever bored perfectly straight. He shot all of his test shots from this incredibly solid bench. He used barrels made only by Harry Pope, the most famous barrelmaker that ever lived. The best of Pope's barrels were shooting ten-shot groups under one-half inch at 200 yards with black powder.

3. Your scope rail is not aligned with your action or your barrel!
Even if your barrel were perfectly aligned with your action, there is absolutely no guarantee that your scope rail is aligned with either your action or your barrel! That's why it's pretty futile to try to align the barrel with the action.

Is there any hope?
Yes, of course. All I've said thus far is true, but that doesn't mean you can't mount a scope on a gun. It just means that the Hollywood version of a rifle coming out of a box and the scope being snapped into place with perfect zero is pure fiction. Remember how long it took NASA to get the Hubble Space Telescope up and running? Well, your job is easier, but there is still work to do.

This posting was not about how to mount or zero a scope. It's purpose was just to inform you of what you have to overcome when you do the job.

The problems I have mentioned here can be overcome with good scope mounts and a little patient work.

If someone can compete and win with a scope mounted like this, your job is easy!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Shooting at altitude

by B.B. Pelletier

I recently spoke to a disgruntled airgunner about how he hated spring-piston guns. He was fed up with them! They never lived up to their advertising. In the course of the conversation he happened to mention that he lives at 10,400 ft. altitude.

Problem solved!
Of course his springers don't perform! At that altitude, they can't get enough air to compress, and no amount of wishing can change that fact.

Testing airguns at altitude
Over the years, several tests of different airgun powerplants have been performed at varying altitudes. The best one I have seen, though it was a short one, was done by Howard Montgomery, the owner of Reno Airguns. It was published in The Airgun Letter in 1996. Howard tested several springers, CO2 guns and multi-pump pneumatics from sea level to 8,500 feet. He found that springers became weaker (shoot slower) with altitude, but it's hardly noticeable until you get above 2,000 feet. CO2 guns become more powerful (shoot faster) as the altitude increases, and multi-pump pneumatics get weaker.

Springers die when you go high!
Howard's test ended at a lower altitude than the man I spoke to. I would guess that his springers would lose up to 40 percent of their rated power at the higher altitude. Howard also reported that his more powerful spring guns (an RWS 36 and a Gamo 2000, which is no longer made) were making horrible sounds above 6,500 feet. That's probably because there wasn't enough air to cushion the piston when it went forward.

CO2 gets faster, but there is a catch!
Less air means less resistance to a pellet in flight. Hence, faster speed from a gas gun. Unfortunately, the higher you go, the greater the chance the weather will be cool, and CO2 dies in cool weather. So, indoors at altitude, yes - outdoors (most of the time) - no.

When the air is rare, multi-pumps have nothing to compress
Multi-pumps got slower as the altitude increased. There is less air for them to compress and store. That could be offset by pumping more strokes to compensate, but Howard stuck to the owner's manual.

PCPs rule!
Howard didn't test them, but PCPs will dominate at altitude. A PCP is less affected by cold than any other powerplant, and a PCP stores compressed air at a constant pressure. The combination of lower air pressure outside and constant pressure in the reservoir means that a PCP will just get faster as the altitude increases. This could be offset if the gun has been lubricated with oil or grease, and the temperature goes VERY low. Also, low temperatures cause a drop in air pressure inside the reservoir - just not the great drop we see in CO2.

So, for high places, the PCP is the powerplant to choose. If you go with a multi-pump, you'll have to experiment on how many extra strokes to give it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Air shotguns, part 1: the Farco

by B.B. Pelletier

Air shotguns are too big a subject for a single posting, so I'll do it in steps. Today I'd like to talk about the model that put the air shotgun on the American map.

Farco air shotgun was a huge 28-gauge CO2 monster that renewed American interest in big bore airguns.

The Farco
In 1972, the Philippine government cracked down on private ownership of firearms and seized all the guns! The lesson to be learned from that is join the National Rifle Association and be glad to pay your dues! The United States may be the last free country on this planet, and liberals all over the world don't want that to last much longer.

When they seized all the firearms, the government grudgingly allowed airguns to remain, because much of their rural population (and parts of the Philippines are VERY rural) survives by subsistence hunting. So, airguns suddenly became important, not unlike the UK, but for much more essential reasons. One gun that immediately sprang to the forefront was the Farco 28-gauge (.51-caliber) CO2-powered air shotgun.

How much power?
The Farco is a crudely made brass gun with a simple bent bolt that's sealed by O-rings and a huge slow-operating valve that passes LOTS of gas when the gun fires. The combination of a long barrel and the hot Philippine climate encourage the most from CO2. CO2 only generates pressure in the 1,000 psi region, but, when the barrel is as long as the Farco's, that's enough to accelerate a 120-grain .433 Hornady lead ball to about 500 f.p.s when the temperature hovers around 80 degrees F. In the Philippines, it gets even hotter so the velocity will be higher.

Since the gun is 28 gauge, you can use the same plastic wads as a shotshell uses. That seals the bore very well for maximum efficiency. That velocity nets you just over 65 foot-pounds at the muzzle, or about what you get from a .22-caliber AirForce Condor.

What about shot?
The same plastic wad holds around 245 grains (about 1/2 oz.) of #8 lead shot and spits it out the bore at about 450 f.p.s. under the same conditions. That amounts to a whopping 105 foot-pounds! I tried shooting hand-thrown clay pigeons with a Farco, but the shot just bounced off. I believe that if I had used a larger shot size such as #2, perhaps, I might have had some success.

America's wake-up call for big bores
What put the Farco on the map was Air Rifle Specialists owner Davis Schwesinger taking a much-publicized wild boar in Florida. Now, the truth of how he did it was that he charged his gun with air to 1,200 psi. Air, being thinner than CO2, flowed through the valve much faster, so the gun dumped more of it behind the ball and Schwesinger got nearly 200 foot-pounds from his modified gun. But that wasn't necessarily a good thing!

Other less-thoughtful tinkerers began charging their Farcos clear up to 3,000 psi! Their guns made a thunderous crack when fired until one of them failed in the receiver and blew the right thumb off the shooter! Then all the other hobby airgunsmiths got very quiet on the subject of hopping up a large brass airgun. Eventually, sales fell off - not because of the accident but because of newer big bores from Korea that the Farco couldn't compete with.

Farcos are still available
A few hundred Farco shotguns were sold in this country. With today's crop of powerful big bores, they still don't command a premium. You can pick one up in new condition in the box for $300 to $450 at the larger airgun shows. In a few years, they'll come into their own as collectables and prices should rise, so now is the time to buy if you want one. They are covered in detail in the Blue Book of Airguns, Fifth Edition.

There, Turtle! I have begun to fulfill my promise to tell you about air shotguns. We still have many different guns to look at, so stick around.

Monday, October 17, 2005

An airgun for survival

by B.B. Pelletier

This post is an answer to two comments received last week:

Will said, "I've been waffling between a Sheridan Blue/Silver streak vs a Benjamin 392 for getting rid of pesky rabbits as my first air rifle. I prefer the .22 over the .20 but web info & price suggest the "Streaks" may have better trigger /accuracy / quality? True?"

Then Turtle added," about a "best" survival gun...

although not a springer shooter (yet) I'd like your oppinion Re: the one "best" multi-pump pneumatic (or would you insist on a springer?) that you'd trust most in a long term survival situation prioritys may not be a super smooth trigger pull, but more like: calibre, bb or pellet, what do think can handle the elements and abuse best, shoot resonably well to secure food, high on the priority list might be the ability to be repaired w/ field tools ect.

What would you want with you if you were stuck in the field for over a year B.B.?"

B.B. Pelletier's number-one, all-time pick as the BEST survival airgun is...
The Sheridan Blue Streak. It has been my top pick for a survival airgun since I acquired my first one in the 1970s. BUT - there a LOT of things YOU need to do if you also pick this gun.

1. ALWAYS store your Blue Streak with one or two pumps of air in it to keep both ends of the valve closed! If you don't do this, you'd better not rely on a multi-pump pneumatic, because the valve cannot take the airborne dirt and dust. An abused gun will fail within 10 years, at best. My Blue Streak is still going strong after 28 years and I know of other Sheridans that have lasted almost 60 years. They were all taken care of in this way, which the factory has always recommended.

2. ALWAYS keep the pump head lubricated with silicone oil. My choice is Crosman Pellgunoil, but any pure silicone oil should do.

3. NEVER over-pump your Blue Streak. Eight pumps is the maximum, I don't care what anyone tells you. A survival gun has to be ready at all times, not be the baddest braggin'-rights airgun in town!

4. Use good pellets. Forget the novelty brands and stick to Crosman Premiers and Beeman Kodiaks.

5. Forget scopes! This is a survival gun! Use the sights that come with the gun or add a Crosman 64 peep sight and let it go at that. Learn to rely on your eyes to shoot. I wear bifocals and am pushing 60, so don't tell me how bad things are without a scope.

Are you surprised?
I didn't pick a springer or a PCP. Why? Isn't the multi-pump more fragile than a springer? Yes, in the hands of a careless owner, a multi-pump can be a fragile airgun. I've just given you five rules to prevent that. If you follow my five rules and don't abuse your gun in other ways, it will outlast you.

Why not a Benjamin .22?
No good reason. And, no, the trigger on today's Blue Streak is no better than the one on the Benjamin. Crosman makes them both and, for gosh sakes, just look at how similar they are! Except for the caliber, they might as well be the same airgun. Now, my Blue Streak from the 1970s does have a better trigger than a rifle made today and that's the gun I'm taking into the wilderness. But if I didn't own it, I would have no qualms about buying a brand new Blue Streak for the same purpose. The Silver Streak looks better, but this is for survival and I like the extra visibility I get with the dark front sight blade.

This is my personal choice. That doesn't make it right; it just means that I feel best with the Blue Streak.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Today's classic airguns

by B.B. Pelletier

One of our readers commented on yesterday's posting that he likes the historical stuff. I do, too, which is why I do it. But I want you to know that the good old days aren't over yet. There are a number of classic airguns available - brand new - today that will be sorely missed when they're gone. Let's take a quick look at some.

Sheridan's Blue & Silver Streaks
When these guns are gone, anyone who owns one will be envied. The Silver Streak dates clear back to 1949, and the Blue Streak came out just a few years later. Yes, the company has changed hands twice and moved from Wisconsin to New York, but the guns sold today perform exactly like they did 50 years ago. The fit and finish is just as nice as it ever was, so you don't give up a thing by buying modern. I suppose I should say the same things about the Benjamin 397 and the 392, for they are in much the same boat - modern airguns with deep roots in the past.

Beeman's R1
The Beeman R1 was the gun that supplanted the FWB 124 (yesterday's post) by delivering 1,000 f.p.s. in .177 for the first time. It's still with us, and, frankly, I'm surprised that it's lasted this long. It is outclassed by many other more powerful springers, but the R1 is a classic that refuses to go away. However, I note that Weihrauch, which makes the R1 for Beeman, did away with the splendid HW55 just a few years back. If that one were still available, it would be on this list! Let me add the Beeman R7 to our list, as it's a little honey, too! Ten years from now, will we be lamenting the loss of these two great air rifles?

The HW 77
When Robert Beeman sold his company to SR Industries in 1994, some employees who remained with the new company did everything in their power to erase the Beeman legacy. That included dropping the HW55 immediately. Shortly thereafter, the HW 77 got the axe. Yes it's a heavy gun, and, no, it isn't as powerful as some, but the HW 77 is THE air rifle that made field target a sport. Before there were PCPs that could bust aspirin at 50 yards, there were 77s that shooters all over the world tuned to a gnat's eyelash. When Air Arms set about to make a real spring air rifle (moving away from their somewhat bizarre sidelevers with Middle Eastern names), who did they copy? The HW 77! Believe me, you'll miss this one when it's gone!

Daisy's 499
When the Avanti Champion 499 leaves the building, there will be a cry of epic proportions! For the present its place is safe because Daisy and the Jaycees use it for the world BB gun championships. But nothing lasts forever! Where else can you buy an airgun that's less than $100 and accurate enough to win the world championships? Don't blame me if you miss out. I got mine.

IZH 61
Here's a newer classic spring rifle that's been with us for less than a decade. For under $100, you can buy an IZH 61 repeater with a barrel so accurate that more than one airgunner has lavished over $500 on sights and wood furniture to turn it into a 10-meter gun! I have a friend who has purchased 23 of these at last count. Whenever he shows off one to a friend, the friend buys it and he has to replace his gun! That speaks volumes about the quality they don't charge you for.

Webley Tempest
The Tempest is a direct descendant of the first Webley pistol that came to market in the early 1920s. Yes, it's been modernized with aluminum and plastic, but it still cocks in the same quirky way as the first pistol 80 years ago. The Webley Tempest has been on thin ice for several years, and I think its time is almost up. Look at those all-plastic single-stroke pneumatics that are far cheaper to construct in the UK or Asia, and you'll see where I'm coming from. I'll add the Hurricane to this list, too.

So, there you are. A fine list of modern classics, any one of which would be sorely missed if it weren't available. Maybe, someday soon, I'll do a companion piece on guns that are recently extinct. If I missed a favorite of yours, let me know about it. Your comments are what drive this blog!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

FWB 124 - a classic pellet rifle

by B.B. Pelletier

If it's motorcycles, it's a Harley. If it's wristwatches, it's a Rolex. If it's an air rifle, it's an FWB 124. This one spring-piston air rifle epitomizes the entire hobby. Why is it so popular and what makes it such a classic?

Feinwerkbau's 124 was an all-time classic air rifle!
It ushered in the modern age of magnum spring rifles.

The great race for power!
The 124 was, perhaps, the first spring-piston rifle to use technology over brute force to develop power. When it was new in the 1970s, the 800 f.p.s. barrier for .177 air rifles loomed large. A few models were knocking at the gate - the Weihrauch 35, the Diana 45 and the BSF 55. They offered nothing especially new, but with brute force and sheer size (except for the BSF) they were poised to break through the barrier. Then, from nowhere, the svelte Feinwerkbau 124 came along and shattered the barrier with power to spare. Within a year, two of the three challengers were also over 800, with only the Weihrauch 35, the largest of them all, still lagging.

Feinwerkbau used technology to triumph
The FWB 124 used a longer stroke coupled with a long but weak mainspring to generate a more powerful blast of air. Its piston was slender compared to the others, but a modern parachute piston seal made maximum use of the air it compressed. And, let's be fair, the 124 was a wow in .177 but a relative dog in .22, as the model 127. It was a one-trick monkey, while the HW 35 went on to be stretched and supersized into the Beeman R1 early in the 1980s.

But, in .177 the FWB reigned supreme. Despite having a less-than-desirable trigger that challenged airgunsmiths and a new automatic safety we all learned to hate, the 124 prevailed above all others. The Weihrauch 35 had a Rekord trigger that put the 124's pitiful unit to shame, but it had to do so from the slow lane. The 124 was shooting around 830 f.p.s. with light pellets compared to the HW 35's 750. And, the powerful 124 had that barrel!

FWB barrels are the best
Feinwerbau has long had the reputation as the airgun company that makes the finest barrels. It's their forte. The 124 was endowed with a splendid example of what they could do when they put their minds to it. It was bored tight all the way through. When pellets came out the spout, they were always the same size. You never found a rough bore on a 124.

The stock was beech, but the early ones had a wundhammer palm swell that delighted the unaccustomed shooting hands of Americans. The trigger blade was black plastic until the complaints piled high enough to force the factory to switch to aluminum. It did not change the trigger-pull one iota!

Beeman R1 spring on top is dwarfed by
the extra-long 124 spring. The wire is thinner, and
the coil diameter is smaller, which made the rifle easy to cock.

Easy cocking
A 124 is so easy to cock compared to the other powerhouses of the day. That longer stroke allowed the mainspring to be made of thinner wire with a smaller coil diameter, which reduced the cocking effort measurably. Recoil, on the other hand, was the absolute worst in its class. The 124 was the first air rifle with a reputation as a scope-breaker. Today, it feels like a pussycat compared to the Beeman Crow Magnum or Webley Patriot, and modern scopes that have toughened along with the rifles would have no problem with a 124.

You can still find a 124 in excellent shape for under $400 if you search. Avoid the internet auctions where prices are off the map. Instead, watch the smaller classified ads, and you can snag your slice of airgunning heaven.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Another .12 caliber airgun?

by B.B. Pelletier

What do I mean ANOTHER .12 caliber airgun? When did I show you the first one? Well, it was back on May 23 - The BB pistol that didn't shoot BBs. In an earlier article - Have you ever seen a rubber band gun? - we looked at the Sharpshooters, which were also .12 caliber. Today we have another one.

The Kruger '98 was Wham-O's idea of
cleverly suggesting a Luger without copyright infringement.
A pity they didn't know the Luger is really an '08 and the Mauser is the '98!

Wham-O made airguns?
The Wham-O company gave us lots of fun toys in the 1950s, but there were a few that I'm sure most people aren't aware of. Among them, the Kruger pistol was the only BB gun they made, as far as I know. It was a black styrene (plastic) handgun modeled after the famous Luger - hence the name. Most of the external parts were plastic, but there were some internal parts made of what was probably a low-carbon plate steel.

It shot birdshot with caps
The pistol was a single shot that used the explosive power of the common toy cap to launch No. 6 birdshot down a rolled steel "barrel" and out into the atmosphere. The instructions said you could use several caps for more power, so you know what all the little boys did! They loaded the firing mechanism with enough caps to send the shot into space, then they learned that the collective cushioning effect from dozens of paper caps was enough to slow down the hammer, causing the gun to misfire.

Inside the box lid, a sales pitch helped storekeepers move the guns.

Caps don't have much energy
By eliminating caps one at a time, little shooters eventually discovered that a brand-new Kruger had enough oomph to fire three caps at once - for a couple of shots. That was enough force to expel the tiny lead ball all the way out the muzzle, and in some cases several dozens of feet beyond! However, the act of firing set another force in motion that taught the junior shooter his second important lesson.

The guns turned to rust!
Caps, when they fire, leave a residue that is both corrosive and hygroscopic. So, after a few days of soaking up moisture from the air, the gun's mechanism was thoroughly rusted! Not only would the tiny shot no longer fit through the now-encrusted bore, the hammer mechanism refused to move through the built-up rusty scale along its sides. Most Krugers wound up in the trash in pretty short order.

Looking inside the firing mechanism,
where the caps went, we can see the rust.
This one is actually pretty nice.

But, Wham-O persisted!
Not content to rest on their laurels, Wham-O later brought out a real BB pistol they also called the Kruger. This pistol may have replaced the .12 caliber gun. It looked and functioned the same, but there was one important difference. If toy caps had a hard time pushing tiny .12 caliber lead shot out the barrel, they were completely unable to deal with a steel BB having three times the mass! This made the "big" Kruger the world's weakest BB gun.

Of course, those guns rusted just like the earlier ones, so there was soon no more evidence of what a bad idea this had been. Wisdom would have let sleeping dogs lie, but wisdom is sometimes in short supply. In Mexico, the Cabanas and Mendoza companies brought out their own cap-fired guns. Cabanas used round Greenie Stick-em caps in their revolver, while Mendoza had their own proprietary percussion caps and BBs!

Hey, these aren't really AIR guns at all!
Before someone takes me to task, I will admit that these are not really airguns. In fact, they are firearms in the strictest sense. But their weak and often ambiguous performance has placed them in the bottom tier of airguns, so I decided to report on them. And, they do share a projectile that some of our airguns also use.

The next time you're at a garage sale, estate sale or flea market, you might find one of these Wham-O guns. Pay about $5 or $10 for one - and not a penny more.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Don't understand parallax? This should help!

Is parallax real?
Parallax. What the heck is it, and why should you care? Many of the better airgun scopes have parallax adjustments, but nobody explains what parallax is or why it's so important. Is it real, or just something made up to sell costlier scopes?

Parallax is real and can cause you to miss!
I have tried many times to explain parallax, but the message never gets through. People who understand me already know about it, but those who don't understand continue to miss out on a lot of potential accuracy.

Simply put, parallax is an optical phenomenon that can make you miss your target, even when your sights are exactly aligned! Don't believe me? How about this? You know that things under water are not where they appear to be, right? A bowfisherman has to shoot in a different place than where the fish appears to be because the water refracts or bends the light. Parallax is not exactly the same, but it acts in a similar way.

How to see parallax
Rest your rifle so it is steady without you holding it. Now, look through the scope at a target. With the scope reticle resting on a small target, move your head up and down and from side to side and watch the reticle move in relation to the target. If the scope's parallax knob has been adjusted correctly, the reticle movement will be very little, but you should be able to see some movement at all times. That movement is parallax, and it demonstrates how important your eye placement is relative to the scope. If your eye moves, you will aim for the target in the wrong place - like the fish under water.

The U.S. Army trains its riflemen to cancel parallax
Rifle marksmanship is a skill the Army has always needed. In the Civil War, the Union Army discovered that its soldiers had never received even the basic marksmanship training they needed to shoot a rifle in the field, so they had to quickly correct this deficiency. After the war, the National Rifle Association was created to promote rifle marksmanship in the U.S., but the Army didn't stop there.

They developed a manual of basic rifle marksmanship that breaks down the principles into steps that can be learned easily. One of the most important principles is how to sight a rifle. Soldiers had to be taught to always place their heads at the same spot on the stock, so the sights would always appear the same to their eye (parallax). The Army calls this head placement a spot-weld, meaning that once you find your spot, you have to be able to return to it every time you hold the rifle, as though your head is spot-welded to the stock.

How important is parallax?
Just last week, I was shooting groups at 50 yards with a .22 rimfire. The rifle's stock has a low comb that makes cheek placement difficult, so for the first 100 shots I was unable to group any smaller than 5 shots in 2 inches! This was a target rifle with a bull barrel, and it should have been capable of half-inch groups at that distance. Then, I noticed a small amount of parallax through the scope, which instantly told me what was happening.

Because the rifle was a semiauto, I was able to place my head on the stock and hold it in the same place for all 5 shots. Once I did that, the groups shrank to less than an inch, with the best one being smaller than a half-inch. THAT is what parallax can do to you!

Three tight shots on the right; two tight shots
on the left. A five-shot group measuring almost two inches
center-to-center, but every shot was made with the identical sight picture.
The culprit? Parallax - caused when the shooting eye moved between shots.

Here is a common symptom of a parallax problem that shooters often blame on "scope shift." They shoot three pellets into a tight cluster at 30 yards, then the next two go into another tight cluster an inch away. Parallax causes this, but they want to blame the scope. If the scope has a parallax adjustment, they can't believe that it still has enough parallax to move their shots around.

Parallax is one of the greatest contributors to inaccuracy with any kind of gun. It confounds most scope users because they can see the sight picture so clearly - yet the picture is really moving as they reposition their head for each shot.

Any questions?

Monday, October 10, 2005

Pellet profile - the H&N Baracuda/Beeman Kodiak

by B.B. Pelletier

Today I'd like to take a close look at one of the best airgun pellets around - the Baracuda Match by H&N. This pellet is also sold as the Beeman Kodiak and as the Webley Magnum in other countries. It's heavy in all but .20 caliber, weighing 10.6 grains in .177, 13.3 grains in .20, 21 grains in .22 and 31 grains in .25.

A domed pellet with a difference!
Although the Baracuda/Kodiak is considered a domed pellet, it is very different from most other domes. To get the extra weight, the dome is both higher and necessarily sharper, making this domed pellet resemble a pointed pellet with a blunted point. An argument could be made for either description. That's not important here, except that you acknowledge the difference. It makes the weight distribution very forward-biased, which helps keep the pellet on track as it flies.

Crosman Premier (left) is more of a conventional domed pellet. Baracuda/Kodiak has a higher, semi-pointed dome.

A thick skirt!
The skirt is very thick in comparison to other pellets. That makes the Baracuda/Kodiak a tough projectile whose skirt resists being blown out by the forceful air blast from a spring-piston rifle. That, in turn, makes it ideal for powerful magnum spring rifles like the Webley Patriot, which Beeman markets as their Kodiak rifle.

The skirt on the Daisy pointed pellet (left) is much
thinner than the skirt on the Baracuda/Kodiak.

According to an excellent article I read in the Jan-Feb-Mar issue of Airgun Hobby magazine, the Baracuda pellet was originally developed for the ether-injected Barakuda rifle made by Weihrauch. That gun was so powerful that it blew the heads off conventional pellets, and a tougher diabolo had to be developed.

Which guns can shoot Baracudas/Kodiaks?
Because of the length and weight, the Baracuda/Kodiak is meant to be used only in powerful air rifles. Guns that top at least 20 foot-pounds are necessary to provide the velocity to stabilize the big pellet at longer ranges. You can calculate an airgun's potential power from the interactive formulas in the article What is muzzle energy?

Out to 20 yards, practically any air rifle and most air pistols should be able to shoot it fine, because the diabolo shape provides the stabilization. But, as distance increases, you need an adequate spin to keep the pellet oriented forward, and velocity is the only thing that can produce enough spin, given the standard airgun twist rate of one turn in 16 inches.

Baracudas are pure lead, too!
Pure lead projectiles are the absolute best for airgun velocities. They slip through the bore because of the natural lubricity of lead, and they seal the barrel perfectly because of lead's inherent malleability. Also, if you keep the terminal velocity below 1,000 f.p.s. and have a premium barrel, lead is the cleanest material you can shoot. It never needs cleaning, even after thousands of shots.

So, the Baracuda/Kodiak pellet has a lot to recommend it. You should lay in a supply in every caliber you shoot.

Friday, October 07, 2005

What's the difference between short & long airgun barrels?

by B.B. Pelletier

Yesterday I made a comment about a longer barrel being more efficient with air in a precharged airgun and that got me thinking. I have danced around this subject but today I'll tackle it head-on. What is the difference between a short and long barrel in an airgun?

Spring guns like shorter barrels
Gerald Cardew and his son, Mike, wrote in their book The Airgun from Trigger to Target about an experiment to determine the maximum length a spring-gun barrel should be. When they performed this experiment in the 1960s , the low-powered .22 rifle they tested got its maximum velocity by the sixth inch of barrel. After that, the pellet was coasting. After 25 inches of barrel, the pellet began to slow from friction.

Today's spring guns are more efficient, and the barrel length required for maximum acceleration is closer to 10 to 12 inches. Caliber makes a difference, as well, but it's not that big a difference. So, spring guns favor shorter barrels over longer ones. Accuracy is not affected by barrel length as I pointed out in the posting on May 26, Are longer barrels more accurate?

CO2 & pneumatic guns like longer barrels
No conclusive tests have been run on this, to my knowledge, but I can easily prove that gas guns like longer barrels. An AirForce Talon SS shoots a .22 caliber Crosman Premier pellet at 830 to 850 f.p.s. when set to its highest power seting. Exchange the standard 12-inch SS barrel for an 18-inch optional barrel, and the top speed will be 925 to 940 f.p.s. with the same pellet. Exchange that for the 24-inch optional barrel and the top velocity climbs up to 1,000 f.p.s. with the same pellet. These results all use the same base gun and air tank, so the only thing that changes is the barrel length.

Notice that the top velocity doesn't increase as much going from the 18-inch barrel to the 24-inch barrel as it does going from the 12-inch to the 18-inch. That's because the additional six inches of barrel after 18 inches don't add as much as they do after only 12 inches.

The proof of greater speed with a longer barrel in a CO2 gun is seen in the quoted velocity for the Walther CP 88 with a 4-inch barrel compared to the Walther CP 88 with a 6-inch barrel. There is a gain of around 30 f.p.s. from the additional two inches of barrel.

What does it mean to you?
When shopping for a PCP, a longer-barreled gun will be the most efficient. If two guns of the same make get the same velocity and energy, the one with the longer barrel should get a few more shots per charge. A CO2 gun will be faster in the long-barreled versions. Compare the velocities of the S&W 586-4 with the S&W 586-6 to see what I mean.

And, now you also know that when the velocity given for a short-barreled CO2 gun is the same as for a longer-barreled version of the same gun, the velocity for one barrel length has been given for both models. Simply compare that gun's stated velocity with that of a similar gun to discover whether the short- or long-barreled model's velocity was quoted.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Scuba tanks for airguns - part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

When you move into precharged pneumatic airguns (PCPs), a scuba tank may be a necessary accessory. You can get by fine with a hand pump, but most shooters will eventually want the convenience of a scuba tank, too. So I thought we would talk about them. Today is the first installment

Tanks come in different sizes and pressure ratings
The size of a scuba tank is measured by the cubic feet of air it holds. Because air can be compressed, the same physical size tank can hold different amounts (different numbers of cubic feet) of air. The construction of the tank determines how much air and pressure it can contain.

Most PCPs today have a 3,000-lb. per square inch (psi) fill level. If they state their fill in bar instead of psi, it will most often be 200 bar, which is 2,940 psi. Because of that, the minimum scuba tank you need is one that holds at least 3,000 psi. If you have a tank rated at a lower pressure, it cannot fill beyond its maximum pressure and will not fill a gun to 3,000 psi.

Size DOES matter - for scuba tanks!
There are small auxillary tanks that hold as little as three cubic feet. While they may be rated to 3,000 psi, they won't fill a gun very many times because they don't hold that much air. Yes, you can use them to fill guns. I have two tanks that are six cubic feet each that I use to top off my field target rifle in a match. That's about all they are good for. I would never consider them as my primary air source.

Six cubic foot tank on the left, 80 cubic foot on the right.
Both have a maximum 3,000 psi fill rating.

Here's the minimum scuba tank you can get away with
The minimum usable scuba tank for airguns rated to 3,000 psi is an 80 cubic foot, 3,000 psi tank. These are typically made of aluminum and weigh about 40 lbs. when full. They cost around $150 new, though you can sometimes find one on sale. How many times you can fill your gun from this tank depends on how large your gun's reservoir is and whether you fill to 3,000 psi. As a worst-case example, take the AirForce Talon rifle, whose air tank is a whopping 490cc. From this scuba tank, you'll probably get two full fills and another 13 to 15 partials. At the end, you may only be putting in a few hundred psi, so the number of shots you get will be fewer (but at the same power) than if you filled to 3,000.

Bear in mind that the Talon, with its big reservoir, will give you many more shots than other PCPs of similar power with smaller reservoirs. The amount of air needed to push a pellet to a given velocity turns out to be very close to the same, regardless of which gun shoots it. Only things like longer barrels can help conserve the air a bit.

A steel 120-cubic-foot tank is the same size as the aluminum 80!
You read that right! A 120-cubic-foot tank weighs a little more and gets pressurized to 3,500 psi, so you get five times as many fills. It costs about $400, though you can find sales on these, too.

The best tank is not a scuba tank
In recent years, airgunners have taken the carbon fiber tanks from emergency breathing packs and adapted them to charge airguns. Though physically smaller than the 80-cubic-foot tank, they hold a whopping 150 cubic feet of air and are pressurized to 4,500 psi. They contain up to 45 times as many refills as a standard PCP rifle, yet they weigh only half as much as the aluminum tank when filled. The down side is a cost of $600, plus it may be difficult to find a station to fill one. Most dive shops can't fill above 3,500. However, fire stations usually have a compressor that can fill these tanks, so there you go.

You don't have to be a diver to buy a scuba tank and to have it filled
There is no law that mandates a diving certificate to buy scuba tanks or air. BUT - and read this carefully - the diving industry is very tightly regulated by its operators. It is the dive shop that will or won't sell you tanks and air without a dive card, and there is no law that says they have to.

The diving community is well aware of airgunners' needs for high pressure air. Some owners choose not to sell to people without a dive card, but most will do it. I don't have a diving certificate but have rented dive tanks in a different state than my residence and had them refilled later by the same dive shop. It usually depends on how you approach the dive shop. The best approach is to walk in and introduce yourself. Mention that you are an airgunner, and 80 percent of the time the shop personnel will take it from there.

Your attitude means a lot
I know a man who was refused a fill from the same out-of-state dive shop I rented from, and he owned a business in the same town! But, this guy has a sandpaper personality that would make a preacher want to punch him out, so he may be the only guy they won't sell to.

There is a lot more to cover, so I'll do it in stages, with other articles in between, so we don't bore anyone.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Metallic Silhouette

by B.B. Pelletier

Metallic Silhouette began in Mexico many years ago. It was originally only for centerfire rifles, but, over time, classes for rimfire, handguns and airguns were established. In fact, the fastest-growing segment of the International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association (IHMSA) is airguns!

The chicken, pig, turkey and ram are the four silhouette targets.

Four silhouette targets to hit - if you're good!
The targets are metallic silhouettes (well, duh!) of a chicken, pig, turkey and ram. In air rifle matches, they are placed at 20, 30, 36 and 45 yards, respectively. In an air pistol match, the distances are 10, 12.5, 15 and 18 yards.

Each class of silhouette shooting has unique characteristics. For example, in the centerfire class it's not enough to just hit the target, you have to hit it with enough force to knock it completely off its stand. A .243 Winchester might be able to hit a ram at 500 yards, but it will have a hard time moving it as much as necessary.

In airgun silhouette, the problem is not moving the target. (You could send them into orbit if you hit them too hard.) The problem is hitting them! The chicken is the worst because, even though it is closest, it still seems too small to hit.

Set 'em up, knock 'em down!
The best way to find out about airgun silhouette is to try it. That's what I did. I bought a set of targets and set them up outdoors. Then, I proceeded to find out how much fun this sport can be. Right off the bat, I learned not to shoot the chicken too close with a rifle, or you might send it into the next county! I used a Benjamin 397 with four pumps for chickens, five for pigs, six for turkeys and eight for rams.

I shot with a friend (it was his 397). We had a ball. And, no, it isn't that easy. You shoot standing up and have to hold steady to hit what you aim at. We used open sights, but you can use whatever you want - no one's looking. I thought I would have an advantage because I'd been shooting field target and my friend had not, but field target isn't an offhand game. He was more accustomed to his gun, so we had a pretty fair contest.

How to start your own club in 3 easy steps!
Here's how you can grow your own airgun club:

1. Start with a set of silhouettes and invite a friend to shoot with you.
2. He or she (there are LOTS of great female silhouette shooters!) gets interested and buys a set of targets to add to yours.
3. You both find other people to shoot with you. When you have five of each animal, you have one-half of a small match!

With five sets, one person can shoot the chickens, another the pigs and so on. Squad two shooters together so one can score. Before you know it, you'll have lots more shooters and be able to hold a full-fledged match.

IHMSA is a great place to start. They publish the rules right on their site, though they are handgun only. Check out the NRA site for info about air rifle and air pistol silhouette. They don't publish the rules online, but they do have contact numbers. You can do your own Google search to find all the links on the web - there are over 1,700!

I bet you can do it!
This sport takes very few resources and provides endless fun. Clubs in cold areas shoot indoors in cold weather, so don't let that stop you. At the very least, you'll end up being able to correctly spell the word "silhouette" - and that's quite an accomplishment!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Johnson Target Gun - another WEIRD "airgun" from the past

by B.B. Pelletier

Today's strange airgun sold in the late 1940s and early 1950s. A batch of them must have gone unsold, because they reappeared new-in-the-box at airgun shows in the mid-1990s. You can still find one or two at airgun shows, but the piles that were available 10 years ago have disappeared. I'm referring to the Johnson catapult gun.

The Johnson Target Gun is a handsome, adult-sized BB gun.

New in the box - but don't expect much of the box, itself!
Johnsons were packaged in an acidic pasteboard box that deteriorates over time. I have seen more than 20 new-old-stock examples, and all had decomposed into paper trash. Inside the box, a thin cheesecloth curtain hangs as a backstop. It's deteriorated, too. Therefore, don't judge the gun by the condition of the box!

The gun is fascinating!
The Johnson gun is a fascinating study in the toymaker's art of the 1940s. The materials used were stamped steelplate and plastic. Though plastics were in their infancy in that day, Johnson apparently picked the right ones because they don't deteriorate nearly as much as the early Daisy plastic stocks.

I could write a book about the design of this gun, but here are just a few highlights. The rear sight is a peep, the front is a windage-adjustable post - just like several military rifles! The "ears" that protect the front sight are spring retainers that allow the top cover to be lifted. That gives access to the mechanism. The gun is a repeater! A long tube of real steel BBs feeds one at a time into the plastic shot carrier for launch. The trigger would embarrass half the adult airguns on today's market - it's that good. Of course, there is absolutely no consideration for a safety.

Top cover flips up for access to the mechanism.

Looking down at the BB carrier.
The two "wings" are levers to assist cocking.

Here is a shot of the rubber band installed correctly.

It uses surgical tubing
Instead of regular rubber bands, a Johnson needs something with a lot more stretch. Medical rubber tubing is perfect. Above is the installation on my gun in case you have to do the job.

How much power?
The gun was made during a time when accuracy was favored over power. My Johnson gets 101 f.p.s. with steel BBs. While that is very slow, I can pick off a fly at 12 feet, which is what this gun was designed to do. Velocity varies by no more than 2 f.p.s. Accuracy lets you hit baby asprin at 10 feet with every shot!

How expensive?
Brand new in 1949, a Johnson sold for $15 - when a Daisy number 25 pump was selling for just $6.50. That probably aided the demise of the Johnson. Today, you can find a complete and functioning gun at an airgun show for $50 to $75. A good one in a tattered box brings $100 to 150. The Blue Book of Airguns, 5th edition lists them for $40 to 100, plus another $20 for the box.

If you like unusual airguns, the Johnson belongs on your shopping list.

Monday, October 03, 2005

ANOTHER problem with scopes: Not mounting them correctly

by B.B. Pelletier

This one comes up a lot, so I thought I'd mention it in case any of you are experiencing it: Your gun shoots to one side at close range and to the opposite side at distance. I'm going to explain the problems and how to deal with them, then I'll give you all the references to past postings where I've explained other pertinent things.

The scope is not aligned right
There are two things that will cause this problem, as far as I know. One is if the vertical reticle is not truly vertical but actually on a slight slant. At close distances, defined as those distances before the pellet first intersects the crosshairs, the scope shoots off to one side. For me, it's always off to the right - the closer I shoot, the more it's off. So, at 10 yards it will be off half an inch to the right; at 17 yards it's off a pellet diameter and still to the right.

At far distances, which are those beyond the second point of pellet/crosshair intersection, the pellet strays to the other side of the vertical reticle and keeps diverging as the distance increases.

My sight-in distance is always 20 to 30 or 35 yards, depending on the velocity of the gun I'm shooting. If it's above 850 f.p.s., the far distance is 35 yards. Between those distances (20 and 35 yards), the pellet always lands very close to where the crosshairs are placed. Within that range of distances, the pellet seems to be centered vertically.

You align the crosshairs when you mount the scope
Everyone sees things a little bit differently, and this is one time when that IS NOT okay! The scope/gun relationship depends on the precision of alignment, and the sideways straying of the pellet is an indicator of poor alignment. I get it wrong all the time, so I have a lot of experience with it.

When you mount a scope, you turn it until the vertical crosshair appears to bisect the receiver of your gun. If this alignment is not true, you'll get this pellet shift problem. There is no mechanical tool to help with this situation, but with patience and understanding you'll overcome it. The scope collimator that some shooters use to assist in scope-mounting is a help, but you can't rely on it 100 percent of the time. When I notice one of my guns has this problem, I loosen the rings and turn the scope slightly to the left until it starts to look off-center to me. That turns out to be the spot at where it's correctly aligned. You're going to have to gain this same experience for yourself.

That's why I prefer to mount my own scope. If someone else mounts a scope for me, I may end up suffering with their problems instead of my own. I take scope mounting very seriously.

The other alignment problem
If your scope isn't optically centered when you sight in, you will be using some internal correction to move the pellet strike. I optically center the reticle, then I use B-Square AA adjustable scope mounts and rings to mount the scope on the rifle. I've tested most other adjustables, and they just don't cut the mustard. AA mounts are great! I sight-in using their adjustments and as little scope knob movement as I can get away with. There may be a better way to do it, but this is what works for me!

Thanks to bigvic's request, we now have an index of all past postings, which lets us see the scope-related stuff at a glance. Read What causes scope shift to get more on the scope alignment operation. Also read Another cause of scope shift: over-adjusted scope knobs to learn about another technical problem. Another great posting was At what range should you zero your scope? Although this subject is full of controversy, at least read the posting to see what is involved when you zero. Take a look at More about sighting-in: How to determine the two intersection points. It's a companion to the first one. You may be interested in How to optically center a scope.

In August, I did two posts on mounts. See Scope mount basics - part one and Scope mount basics - part two.

Wow! It looks like I've written a small book on scopes and scope mounting.

Besides my postings, Tom Gaylord has written a number of articles about scopes. You might find them helpful, too:

All about scopes, Part 1
All about scopes, Part 2
All about scopes, Part 3
What does AO mean?
What is a mil-dot scope?

I hope this summary helps you with your scopes!