Friday, March 31, 2006

Convert-A-Pell: Any good?

by B.B. Pelletier

Let's look at something way out there, as far as mainstream airgunning goes. It's called Convert-A-Pell. According to the research I just did, it's sold direct off the internet. I'll tell you everything I know by the end of this posting.

What is Convert-A-Pell?
Airgunners are as curious as cats. They are always thinking of things that relate to airguns, so it's no surprise that someone thought of powering a pellet with a primer! Actually, this method of propulsion dates back to about 1840, when the first experiments that used percussion caps and very small lead balls were performed. They quickly evolved into a percussion cap that had a ball stuck in it, which was the grandfather of the rimfire cartridge. So this has been done before - many times. Convert-A-Pell is just a modern adaptation of an old process, with an interesting twist.

The "Convert" part is what's interesting
With the Convert-A-Pell system, you can adapt a firearm to shoot pellets. You get a barrel for a specific model firearm, like a S&W 586, that attaches to the revolver barrel tightly. It does not injure the rifling in any way, because the insert tube is made of brass. You also get six brass "cartridges" that accept lead pellets at one end and a large pistol primer at the other. The advertising says you will get groups of one-inch or less at 15 to 20 feet. It also says a handgun will get about 500 f.p.s.

Airgun Letter tested one with poor results
Back in 1997, Tom Gaylord tested a Convert-A-Pell in a S&W 686 6" stainless revolver. He had the following remarks:

  • Accuracy was 3 to 6 inches for five shots at 15 feet.
  • Velocity ranged from 293 f.p.s. to 375 f.p.s. (He used both heavy diabolos and round balls).
  • Velocity spread was high - 80 f.p.s. with balls and 50 f.p.s. with pellets.
  • Noise was louder than a powerful CO2 pistol
  • It took a lot of work to load each cartridge. Seating depth was essential to the best accuracy.
  • Although the primer flashholes were bored out, the primers still sometimes backed out, tying up the gun's action
  • The gun needed nearly as much cleaning after shooting just primers as it would have with loaded .357 cartridges. The only thing that didn't happen was bore leading.

  • I tried them in an M1911A1
    In 2002 I tried this system in an M1911A1 .45 ACP pistol. I didn't have the action hang up problem, because the 1911 doesn't work like a revolver, but all the other problems were there. Accuracy in my test may have been slightly better, say 2" to 4" at 15 feet, but it was still nothing to write home about. I didn't have a chronograph to test velocity.

    And, yet, they persist!
    What amazes me is that this system is still on the market. After all these years, it should have gone away, which makes me wonder whether Tom or I gave it a good test. I scanned the internet for info, and here's what I found. For starters, the company seems to have changed hands at least once. The current company seems to have only a website with a phone number, but their last site update was in November 2005. That makes me believe they are still viable. However, they have no prices on their website, and that's never a good sign.

    I tried to find actual test reports on the system but there isn't much. I did find some mentions on forums that suggest the .22 centerfire system is not too bad. In a single-shot action such as a rolling block, there would be zero functioning problems.

    After reading about the product on their website, it looks like the product may have been updated since Tom and I tested it. I mention this because I am not opposed to retesting one, if there is enough interest. By enough interest, I don't mean one or two persistent people, but a larger crowd.

    Is this an airgun? Definitely NOT! Does it have to do with airgunning? Probably, just because it uses pellets. Are we interested? You tell me.

    Thursday, March 30, 2006

    Spring has sprung!

    by B.B. Pelletier

    Pyramyd Air just sent out a "Spring has Sprung" email promotion that has a special discount coupon attached. The slant of the email seems to be airsoft, but I'll capitalize on their title and talk about spring air rifles today. A reader who calls himself "twe" says I should address the questions posted to the February 7 blog, HW97 & HW77. Many of those comments asked for comparisons between airguns, probably because that day I broke my rule of NOT comparing one airgun to another. I would now like to explain why I don't compare airguns.

    This is the problem
    People say, "I wish you would compare the TF99 with the HW97. And, could you also please list the good and bad points of the Gamo Hunter 1250?" That's like saying, "Please compare a Corvette to a Toro 5010 riding mower, and could you also list the good and bad points of a shrimp boat powered by a marine Detroit Diesel Series 60? I'm especially interested in the possibilities of interstellar travel using matter/anti-matter propulsion."

    Folks, these comparisons are real hard to do! What do you mean by "good and bad points"? I find the Gamo 1250 too powerful for .177 caliber, but someone else may like it for exactly the same reason. I think the CF-X is very light for an underlever spring rifle, but several of you think it's quite heavy! Light and heavy, good and bad are all subjective terms for which we will never find complete agreement. So, instead of comparing one spring gun to another, I would like to tell you how the one gun I'm testing performs in several areas I consider important.

    What is important in a spring air rifle?
    Accuracy, for starters. If you don't have accuracy there's no reason to continue. A beautiful air rifle that isn't accurate is just another inanimate object - a paperweight, if you please. The purpose of an air rifle is to shoot a pellet that hits the intended target. What happens AFTER it hits is in the next tier of comparison criteria, but we don't waste time on those that miss. There are levels of accuracy that have to be acknowledged or we get stuck real quick. Rather than expound upon them, let me illustrate with a quick little story.

    Many years ago, someone had this bright idea: "Ten-meter target rifles are the most accurate air rifles in the world. If I were to increase the power of a 10-meter rifle, it would make a great field target rifle that would dominate the sport." So they began modifying 10-meter rifles, only to discover that it isn't easy to raise the power from 5 foot-pounds to 20. Nor is your basic 10-meter gun ready for field target in any other way. Making one over is like modifying a Ferrari to haul manure. It can be done, but what will you have when you finish? And, 10-meter rifles ARE NOT the most accurate air rifles in the world, as it turns out. They are the most accurate 10-meter air rifles. When you try to push them out to 50 meters (for field target), you have to change them so much that they become completely different. They may still be no more accurate than a top-quality sporting rifle that was designed for that purpose to begin with. Before some of you start lecturing me on all the converted 10-meter rifles that are winning field target matches: (1) I am aware of it, and (2) They are no longer ten-meter rifles. And, that's my point!

    Back to springers
    Several years ago, I read an article about a guy who poured a lot of money and effort into building what he hoped would be the most powerful spring air rifle in the world. He took the design of a Beeman R1 and made nearly everything larger. The mainspring was HUGE - with the result that the rifle, a breakbarrel, was very hard to cock - about 75 lbs., as I recall. The finished gun weighed almost 12 lbs. What did he get for his efforts? A spring air rifle with about the same power as a Beeman R1! Yes, even when he made everything 25 percent larger, the gun had no more power than a stock R1. So, after accuracy, what's really important?

  • Power
  • Smoothness
  • Ease of cocking
  • Good trigger
  • Light weight
  • Good looks

  • That's MY list. Is yours different? I would hope so. My list comprises the things I think are important, and style comes in very low, while smoothness is quite high. On my list, a Webley Patriot falls below an HW77; and a TX200, which isn't much to look at, occupies the top rung. It's the most accurate, it's ultra-smooth right out of the box, it's easy to cock for its power and it comes with a great trigger. Is the trigger on a Tau 200 Senior better? Yes, but the TX beats it in all other criteria. Besides, the Tau is a PT boat and the TX is a golf cart. Are you getting my sledgehammer wit?

    Before choosing a spring air rifle, consider what you want to do with that rifle. Hunt? Shoot varmints? Plink? Do you want it to be your constant companion or are you looking for something to rest behind the chicken coop door so you can get those rats when they appear?

    Specific answers to specific questions
    Best springers for field target:

  • TX200
  • HW77
  • HW97
  • R9

  • Everything else is like pulling a plow with a Ferarri.

    Best springers for a hunter:
  • RWS Diana 48/52/54
  • Beeman R1/RX-2
  • RWS Diana 350 Magnum

  • All in .22 caliber. Other guns are also useful, but this is MY list of favorites.

    Best general-purpose springers:
  • R7
  • R9
  • HW50S with open sights

  • Notice that power is very low on the list for a general-purpose air rifle.

    Best value springer:
  • IZH 61

  • Those are my picks. I like all spring airguns, but these have the best combinations of what I look for in a springer.

    Wednesday, March 29, 2006

    Bulk-fill: Part 3

    by B.B. Pelletier

    Today is the last post on this topic unless there are questions.

    Small bulk tanks
    Small bulk tanks have been part of bulk-filling airguns from the beginning. Perhaps the best-known is Crosman's 10-oz. tank that accompanied their rifles and pistols back in the late '40s and early '50s. It was also marketed as a tire inflator to be carried in the car, because those were the days when tires went flat for reasons of their own.

    Crosman's original idea was that shooters would send their empty tanks to a refilling station - BY MAIL! - and wait patiently until their return. Sounds good in the conference room - doesn't work that way in the real world. That's where the 20-lb. tanks came into the picture. People were unwilling to wait for their tanks to be returned. Because they're so simple to fill at home with the right equipment, many of them began doing just that! Pyramyd Air sells bulk CO2 tanks as well as CO2 adapters to connect to certain airguns.

    Vintage Crosman 10-oz. tank on bottom; modern 12-oz. bulk tank made from a paintball tank on top. The modern tank has an attached adapter for the Shark pump rifle. Notice the black valve wheel to turn the gas on and off.

    Safety burst disks
    The Department of Transportation (DOT) requires some kind of positive pressure relief device that can vent certain tanks when the pressure climbs too high. The tanks on which this is required must contain gas at a certain pressure (and higher) and have an outside diameter of two inches or more. The pressure relief device is a small sheet of metal that ruptures at a given pressure. When it bursts, the sound is very alarming, but people nearby are relatively safe. Without it, a tank would explode like a hand grenade. The problem is that not all small tanks have them!

    If the tank is less than two inches in outside diameter, it is not required to have a burst disk. Many airguns, such as the Drulov DU-10 and the Tau rifles and pistols, come with these smaller tanks and usually hold 125 grams or 4.4 oz. That's why I emphasized (in yesterday's blog) weighing the tank after filling it. Because there is no safety burst disk, you have to make certain there's enough room remaining in the tank to absorb a great amount of gas expansion. This room has been designed into the tank by the manufacturer. If a small tank is subjected to excessive heat, such as from a fire, it could become very dangerous.

    Working pressure
    This is the most abused area of bulk-fill operations, because some people will not use their heads! A CO2 bulk tank is rated to a working pressure of 1,800 psi. But, we know that CO2 NEVER gets anywhere near 1,800 psi unless it becomes very hot! So this "working pressure" is really your safety net pressure for when the CO2 tank is heated to 130 degrees F (54.45 degrees C). CO2 at 70 degrees is at 853 psi, give or take. But some people read the number 1,800 and think, "I know everything is really over-engineered. So, if I fill this tank with air to 3,000 psi, that's not even double its working pressure. It should be safe." No, you ARE NOT SAFE! You are almost halfway to destruction. If your tank has no burst disk, you will be the last person to know when it blows.

    This is how I fill my target pistol. Because the liquid CO2 is heavier than the gas, it collects at the neck of the tank, where it can be pushed into the pistol's reservoir.

    Filling a gun
    Every bulk CO2 gun has its own special procedure for filling, so I chose my target pistol - the one I showed you two days ago - as the demonstration gun. To fill this gun, I first remove the protective cap from the threads at the bottom of the pistol grip, then flip the gun upside-down so the grip bottom is pointed straight up. I always put three drops of Pellgunoil into the filling port before attaching the tank. A 125-gram bulk tank is then screwed down tight on the grip. I can hear a brief hiss as the liquid in the tank rushes into the grip reservoir - but I'm not finished. With the tank attached, I cock and dry-fire the gun twice in the upside-down position. CO2 gas puffs out the muzzle heavily when I do this. Then, I wait for one minute before disconnecting the tank. If I follow this procedure, the pistol will have more than 45 shots at good velocity - providing there was sufficient liquid CO2 in the bulk tank to start with. I will shoot only 40 and then refill the gun. In a 60-shot match, I arrange the pellets in my holder so I can see when it's time to refill.

    Connecting the tank, firing two shots and waiting a minute is the entire procedure for filling this gun. Other guns will have different procedures. You have to get to know each gun's characteristics to fill it properly.

    Is this bothersome? Yes, but I have the procedure down so well that nothing can derail me except when my bulk tank runs too low. I miss the positive feedback that manometers give on precharged pistols, but training has taken their place. When I shoot for pleasure instead of competition, I always find a way of counting my shots. Bulk-fill operations require more participation in the process than some shooters may like. However, a good bulk-fill gun can be a wonder to behold. I guess it comes down to making a choice.

    Tuesday, March 28, 2006

    Bulk-fill: Part 2

    by B.B. Pelletier

    Today, we'll learn how to move the CO2 from the large bulk tank to a smaller tank or to the gun, itself.

    It takes an adapter
    To connect anything to a 20-lb. CO2 tank requires an adapter to connect the big tank to whatever it fills. The threads on the big tank are always the same 1/2" National Pipe Taper threads (NPT). The threads on the tank or gun you are filling can be anything, including metric, as many of these guns are now coming from outside the U.S. Twenty-five years ago, adapters weren't much of a problem. The Crosman model 190 gas tank was the most common small tank that needed to be filled, and it has 1/8" NPT threads. The guns it filled had female threads to match the tank, so bulk-filling was a pretty straightforward process.

    Gas comes out on the threaded side. The other side houses a safety burst disk that prevents the tank from becoming a bomb if the internal pressure gets too high.

    When the siphon tube was installed, they marked it on the tank so everyone would know in the future - because this tank now operates in the reverse of a tank without the tube.

    Little standardization!
    Outside the U.S., all sorts of other standards prevail, and guns made in other countries use many thread patterns that are not typically found in this country. Your first duty when purchasing a bulk-fill airgun is to ascertain where the adapter will come from to fit that gun or its tank to an American bulk CO2 tank. You have to use an American-approved bulk tank because they are the only tanks for which our DOT has technical data. As a result, they're the only tanks a filling station may legally fill. This is not a problem, as there are an abundance of bulk tanks, but you always need to think about the adapter situation.

    Adapters come in all shapes and sizes. One side fits the large bulk tank and the other fits either a small bulk tank or the gun itself.

    Adapter seals
    The adapter that attaches to the bulk tank has some kind of gas seal on the tank side and perhaps a second seal on the small tank or gun side. These may be o-rings or flat seals, and they have to work because CO2 is under 850 to 900 psi at room temperature. Treat these seals with the same care as your gun seals. They need a light coating of diver's silicone to maintain their supple sealing ability, and they need to be kept very clean.

    Make the connection
    Although I used to fill a number of different tanks and guns, I usually shot the same type of gun at any one time, so the adapter for that gun was left on the bulk tank. When making the connection of the tank or gun to be filled, it is important to remember that the adapter seals do the sealing job - NOT the tightness of the connection! Remembering this will preserve the longevity of your adapter seals as long as possible. In twelve years of bulk-filling with nine different adapters, I have never had a single seal fail.

    Open the valve!
    When you fill from a scuba tank, you open the valve very slowly to keep from overheating the seals from the sudden compression of the air. With bulk CO2, it's just the opposite. The seals and everything else will cool down during the fill. Therefore, you can make the fill very quickly. I can fill an empty 10-oz. bulk tank in about 20-25 seconds. During this period, the first liquid that enters the empty tank flashes to gas, because the pressure in the empty tank is relatively low. As the liquid changes to gas inside the tank being filled, it cools that tank, lowering the pressure of the CO2 gas inside (remember, CO2 pressure is determined by temperature). Because the bulk tank you are filling from has been sitting in a room for a long time, it has assumed something close to the ambient temperature of that room, so its internal pressure will be higher than the pressure of the gas that's now inside the tank being filled. As a result, liquid CO2 will continue to flow into the smaller tank. You'll notice that the outside of the tank being filled will frost up and then melt into a heavy coating of dew. This happens in just a few seconds, and the relative humidity determines the extent of this phenomenon.

    Weighing the small tank to be filled
    Because there is really no simple way to control how much CO2 enters the small tank during filling, the safe procedure is to weigh the small tank after the fill. Therefore, you MUST know the empty weight of every small CO2 tank you own! By law, a new gun comes to you with an empty gas tank, so that is the time to weigh that tank. Don't take anyone's word for how much it weighs until you weigh it on YOUR scale!

    This small bulk tank is used to fill my target pistol. The empty tank weighs 1 lb., 6.4 oz., but now it weighs 1 lb., 10.7 oz. There are 3.3 oz. of CO2 inside!

    What if you overfill?
    An overfill of a small gas tank can be very dangerous, though there is time to deal with it safely if you do not delay. After the fill, the small tank will be very cold, which means the CO2 inside will be at a low pressure. The tank was designed to safely contain a certain amount of CO2 within a certain temperature range. If you discover that the small tank has been overfilled, simply fill your gun from it immediately. (The tank shown in the picture is rated to hold up to 4 oz. of CO2, so it's not overfilled. Max fill info comes with each new bulk tank.) That drains off the excess gas. You can verify the tank is now safe by weighing it again. If it is still too full, shoot the gun and refill it from the tank. If you don't have time to do this, simply store the small tank in a freezer until you can get to it again. The object is the keep the tank's temperature as low as possible until you can get the fill weight down into the recommended range.

    Sound too technical?
    Bulk-filling CO2 guns is not rocket science. However, you are working with highly compressed gas and there are safety procedures that must be followed. The same is true for filling pneumatic guns from a scuba tank. I have tried to give you as much detail as possible, which I don't believe you'll find anywhere else. Even the owner's manuals of modern bulk CO2 guns don't go into the detail I have here, but these are things you need to know.

    I need one more post to cover all the details I want to pass along, then I'll wait for your questions to tell me if there is anything else we need to look at. You may be a little confused about how "full" to fill the small tank you're transferring to. Don't worry, it's almost no-brainer. However, I want to spend a little time talking about it, because there are safety considerations.

    Monday, March 27, 2006

    Working with bulk-fill CO2 guns

    by B.B. Pelletier

    We have discussed bulk-fill CO2 guns several times in this blog. It's time to talk about how they are filled. Last week, we got a question about this from Jim. Since the answer is not straightforward, I thought it was time to talk about it in some detail.

    My 10-meter target pistol runs on bulk CO2 or powerlets. I have set it up for bulk-fill. Gas is stored in the grip.

    Meet my 10-meter pistol
    My 10-meter pistol is powered by CO2 and can use either 12-gram powerlets of bulk CO2. I have been running it on bulk gas from the beginning - about seven years. I find the bulk method gives me more control over the fill, so I know when it's time to top off. The importance of knowing the status of a CO2 fill is crucial in a match.

    Since few CO2 target pistols have a means of displaying the fill status (how many shots remain), controlling the fill is very important for a competitor. The one time my gun failed me was during an important regional match, when my pistol's bulk tank was running low and did not give me the fill I had anticipated. I shot a perfectly held 10 that dropped to a 6 (just below the bottom of the bull at 6 o'clock) because of decreasing gas pressure. The four lost points dropped me from the standings in my class (top three places) to fourth place. My type of gun does not have a removable bulk tank like the top-quality target pistols. Instead, my gun is filled in a smaller fixed reservoir by a separate small bulk tank.

    Bulk fill as a cost-saver!
    Even though my story sounds negative, it illustrates that bulk filling is a method of precisely controlling your CO2 gun. But it's more than that. It's also much cheaper. I can bulk-fill a gun for a nickel and get the same number of powerful shots that someone else gets from a 50-cent powerlet. If you shoot gas guns a lot, bulk-filling is the best way to go. Gas-guzzlers, such as the Farco air shotgun (which drinks 2.5 oz. of gas for 20 shots), have to use bulk gas. A CO2 powerlet would only last for one powerful shot with a gun like that.

    The red 20-lb. CO2 tank started out as a fire extinguisher. It's slightly shorter and fatter than the yellow 80 cubic-foot scuba tank to the left.

    How do you get set up to bulk-fill?
    You need a bulk gas tank. I own three 20-lb. CO2 tanks and one 5-lb. tank that is more portable. The twenty-pounders are similar in size to an 80 cubic-foot scuba tank. They start out life as fire extinguishers and soda fountain gas tanks. They are easy to acquire, though you won't find them at Wal-Mart. Consult your yellow pages for the nearest industrial gas supplier or restaurant supply house. The industrial gas place will probably also fill the tank for you and do any maintenance you need.

    Gas tank requirements
    Like scuba tanks, CO2 tanks have to be hydrostatically tested every five years. As a huge user of CO2 10 years ago, I used to consume the contents of a 20-lb. tank in about two years. Calculating the shots I got for a Crosman 111 pistol, one 20-lb. tank provided almost 30,000 shots for $14. That was eight years ago, and the cost of gas has no doubt risen since then. I have purchased two additional tanks in the meantime, both filled, so it's been that long since I went back to the gas supplier for a refill. A scuba tank holding air may give 2,500 to 3,000 shots per $3 fill in an equivalent air pistol, so both gasses are relatively inexpensive.

    A tank needs a siphon tube to draw the liquid CO2 from the bottom.

    Bulk tank needs a siphon tube.
    Since you want liquid CO2 to come out of the big bulk tank, there has to be a siphon tube inside. It reaches down from the outlet valve to the bottom of the tank. The CO2 gas in the tank pushes down on the liquid, forcing it up the tube and into whatever you connect to the tank. Without the siphon tube, you would have to hold the CO2 bulk tank upside down to force the liquid out first. As heavy as the tank is, you don't want to do that!

    Are large CO2 tanks safe around the house?
    Since the other name for CO2 tanks is fire extinguishers, they're not only safe, they ought to be in every home. Once when some kids abandoned a stolen car in front of my house because the engine was on fire, I put the fire out with one of my bulk tanks. So, yes, they are safe. Just store them where they cannot fall and damage the valves.

    Tomorrow, we'll look at how the CO2 moves from the bulk tank to a smaller tank or the gun, itself.

    Friday, March 24, 2006

    Smith & Wesson 586 & 686 revolvers

    by B.B. Pelletier

    Every bit the Smith & Wesson revolver, this model 586 is a jewel!

    I've often referred to these revolvers when talking about other models, so today I decided it was high time to give credit where it is due. The S&W 586 and 686 revolvers made by Umarex are the best CO2 revolvers that have ever been made - bar none! They represent the standard by which all other CO2 revolvers are judged. Yet because of their cost, these wonderful airguns are not as popular as the others, which is a real shame. Because it is my opinion that the S&W 586 and 686 revolvers are the absolute top of the Umarex pellet pistol line!

    A soft spot for S&W
    I have always gravitated toward S&W revolvers. Yes, I had a Colt Python that was as fine as any revolver I've ever owned and, yes, I currently own two Ruger .357 DA revolvers that I find very nice. But there has always been something about the S&W action that I liked better than all the others. So when Umarex announced they were coming out with the S&W 586, I was thrilled. I was in tight with the S&W European sales rep at the time the CO2 version of the 586 first came to America, so I got my hands on it about six months before anyone else. Was I ever impressed! The action that is so nice in S&W firearms was almost perfectly translated over to the CO2 revolver. It actually has a better double-action trigger and only a hint of creep in single-action.

    Great finish, too!
    Surface finish of the early Umarex blued pistols was sometimes flawed by hazy sections that didn't respond to any treatment. Not all guns had the problem, but enough did that I always examined any new blued gun with a critical eye, and I have yet to see a 586, which is the blued version of the gun, with this problem. The grips are two-piece grippy rubber, very reminiscent of a pair of Hogues - so you don't have that to buy.

    10-shot pellet clips!
    The 586 departs from the typical Umarex design in that it has a 10-shot pellet clip instead of the standard Umarex 8-shot clip. This clip is unique to this one model, and the cylinder crane swings out to receive each new clip. The clips are finished only in blue, and I have never understood why Umarex hasn't made a matching silver clip for the 686! The usually style-conscious Germans appear to either not care about this detail (I don't believe it), or else the addition of one more SKU for such a low-demand part makes REALLY POOR business sense!

    The 10-shot clips swing out to the side on a real crane for removal. Blue (black) is the only color available.

    Powerlet hides in the grip
    The right grip panel is removed to reveal the powerlet. A lever at the bottom of the grip swings downward to releave tension on the expended powerlet that can then be easily removed. A thumbwheel adjustment compensates for length variation between powerlets. The grip panel is held on by both a clip that grabs the powerlet (so you have to really pull to get the grip off) and some locating features in the grip panel itself. As a result, the grip feels firm and solid when it's on the gun.

    Pop off the right grip panel for access to the powerlet. The lever at the base of the grip frame relaxes tension on the powerlet.

    Power and accuracy
    Although a revolver usually has a small gap between the cylinder and the rear of the barrel (a few guns have moving cylinders to compensate for this gap) through which gas can escape, the S&W exhibits good power. With the 6" barrel, I got velocities averaging 410 f.p.s. with Hobbys and 370 with R10s. Though the gun was faster in double-action than single-action, the difference was just 3 f.p.s. with all pellets tested. Usually, a CO2 revolver is faster in the single-action mode, so this is a different airgun, to be sure.

    I got group after group of 5 shots measuring less than one inch at 10 meters. That puts the 586 ahead of all other repeating air pistols, save the high-dollar target pistols such as the Drulov DU-10 and the like. Among the Umarex airguns, only the Walther lever-action rifle shoots better.

    Is it worth the extra money?
    Tough question. A glass of water means a lot to a man in the desert but not to a guy who just fell overboard! To me, it's worth it. I liked the air pistol so much that I went out and got a 686 .357 to go with it. True story!

    Thursday, March 23, 2006

    What is that wisp of CO2 at the muzzle?

    by B.B. Pelletier

    This one comes from a comment made by Canadian reader Wild Wild West. "Speaking of whisps of CO2, I am not sure if you or any of the other Nightstalker owners have noticed, but on my Nightstalker with a fresh bottle and during the first 100 or so shots, I do get quite an annoying blast of CO2 following each shot."

    Yes, you will see that on many CO2 guns, and today I'd like to examine why.

    Liquid or gas?
    The way some CO2 guns are designed - whether it's a full powerlet, removable bulk tank or new AirSource cartridge - it's possible for liquid CO2 to flow into the gun's valve when the gun is held level. The liquid CO2 cannot maintain its pressure once it's released from the confines of the tank, so it flashes to gas wherever it happens to be. If that is inside the valve of a gun or even beyond the valve and inside the gun's barrel, the CO2 does not have enough time to completely expand before it hits the outside air - still expanding. Because it cools as it expands, it instantly condenses the moisture in the air, creating a fog. The moister the air, the more fog is created.

    Vertical vs. horizontal
    If you look at AirSource guns, almost all of them align the cartridge horizontally, which means the liquid CO2 inside the full cartridge has the best chance of flowing out when the gun is fired. Now, the AirSource adapter upgrade kit, used to upgrade a standard Crosman 1077, positions the cartridge lower than the rifle's valve, preventing this from happening. The small amount of vertical space in the adapter allows CO2 gas to rise above the liquid and get to the valve first.

    The Crosman NightStalker has the AirSource cartridge aligned horizontally in the butt, so it is a candidate for liquid to flow through the valve. A Benjamin EB 17 pistol has a 12-gram powerlet aligned horizontally with the valve in a tube at the front of the gun, so it is also a candidate for a wisp of fog with the first few shots from a fresh powerlet. On the other hand, a Colt Government Model M1911A1 pistol has the 12-gram powerlet aligned vertically inside the grip, so there is less chance of liquid passing through the valve. A gun like this is a lot less likely to have the wisp of fog from the muzzle on any but the hottest, most humid days.

    What about the "dog days"?
    There are days when the temperature is so high and the humidity is 100 percent that ANY CO2 gun is going to give a wisp of fog from the muzzle. On days like these, the air is completely saturated with moisture, and anything that changes the conditions for even an instant causes condensation. Just the relative coolness of the CO2 gas is enough to cause visible condensation on a day like this. Heck - even a PCP will smoke on some days for the same reason. I have seen water dripping from the wings of low-flying A10 Warthogs when they turn sharply close to the ground, simply from the air they compress ahead of the wing! They will actually leave brief vapor trails!

    So what? Now that we know the science behind the smoke from CO2 guns - does it matter? As a matter of fact, it does. If an airgun is passing liquid - instead of gas - through the valve, you can expect the velocity to be way off the norm. If you chronograph the gun, that's exactly what you'll find. The first couple of shots from a CO2 gun - ESPECIALLY a gun with a horizontal tank - will be significantly faster than the norm. Then the gun will settle down to a long string of shots in close proximity until all the liquid is gone. Then, the velocity drops sharply.

    So a target gun that uses CO2 will have a couple of wild shots before it settles down. That explains why the FWB C55 changed from a horizontal to a vertical gas tank and also why CO2 is not considered competitive at the world level anymore.

    "Gee, Mr. Wizard, you sure can tell a lot of neat stuff from just a puff of gas at the muzzle of a gun!"

    "Yes, Jimmy, you can."

    Wednesday, March 22, 2006

    Have spring-piston air rifles reached their limits?

    by B.B. Pelletier

    We received this interesting question last week: "It seems that the [spring] airguns being built in 2006 have reached a limit, given the limitation in materials and physics. ...What kind of improvements do you think possible for spring [guns]? Is the sound barrier the limit? Do you think we can do more research in making springs to improve the material, so it does not break? If you were [a spring] airgun manufacturer, what would you do to improve today's technology? Regards, Robert"

    Have we reached the limit?
    To answer this question, allow me to quote from the classic airgun book Smith's Standard Encyclopedia of Gas, Air and Spring Guns of the World."It may be assumed, therefore, that the spring-air design has about reached the perfection of its form." W.H.B. Smith thought that the 1956 HW 35 with leather seals and generating less than 650 f.p.s. in .177 was the "perfection of the spring-airgun form." He felt the limits had been reached.

    Where are we today?
    The "limit" today seems to be a 14.3-grain .22 caliber pellet traveling faster than 900 f.p.s. The handmade Whiscombe spring rifle is capable of accelerating a .22 Premier to an average of 920 f.p.s. A Kodiak tops 800 from the same gun. The most powerful Whiscombe rifle can generate just over 30 foot-pounds in .25 caliber with light pellets. A more affordable Theoben Eliminator can do almost as well, hitting 30 foot-pounds on the nose. So, is that the limit? Hardly!

    Velocity IS NOT where it's at!
    By now you should know what I think about velocity and airguns. It's fine as long as you are hitting the target; however, velocity is almost always a guarantee that you aren't. The new Gamo Raptor pellet that I recently tested for you in the CF-X report illustrates my point. Fast - yes. Accurate - no. Worth it? For winning bar bets - perhaps. For serious airgunning - never!

    Then, why the hype about velocity?
    Numbers sell! It's that simple. When you buy a stereo system, do most people shop with their ears or do they look at the power of the amplifier? I rest my case. But there was a second part to Robert's question, "...what would you do to improve today's technology?" Now, that's a question I can answer!

    Make them smoother!
    We have gone too far in the power race, until we have rifles like the Theoben Eliminator and the Webley Patriot trying to loosen your fillings every time they shoot! I'll live without 30 foot-pounds if it means not getting slapped in the face. But I have shot spring guns hand-tuned by Ivan Hancock, the world's finest spring-gun tuner, that didn't buzz, kick or hurt in any way. Even powerful guns such as the Beeman R1 with Hancock's Venom mainspring, piston and seal installed were an order of magnitude smoother than the stock R1 that had only 75 percent as much power. So, smooth is achievable, if elusive. Or is it?

    Here's a smoothie!
    Right out of the box, the TX200 MkIII is a smooth spring rifle. It's easily the smoothest springer on today's market. There is some room for improvement by hand-fitting the powerplant parts, but right out of the box this air rifle shows the world how it's done. Yet it isn't the fastest-selling spring air rifle in the Pyramyd Air lineup. Why not? Well, there is probably a better reason than what I'm about to say...however, I believe shooters have to pass through distinct stages before they are ready for the best airguns.

    Stage 1. Velocity!
    This is the reason Gamo markets the Raptor pellet. Beginning shooters only know one thing - if the gun doesn't shoot at least 1,000 f.p.s., they don't want it. That's the reason some marginal airguns are advertised at 1,000, even though they don't break 900. Velocity shooters own chronographs (or want to) that they stare at for hours, trying to decide if they like or hate their airguns.

    Stage 2. Caliber!
    This is the Harley-Davidson stage. Shooters want the absolute largest caliber they can find. Know how to ruin a 9mm airgun owner's day? Tell him there's a 10mm!

    Stage 3. Energy!
    The caliber shooter discovers that energy is a factor of both velocity AND projectile weight. This is the modified Harley stage, where the jugs are bored out and a nitrous oxide injector is attached. PCP shooters talk about filling their guns with helium in this stage.

    Stage 4. Accuracy!
    Shooters in this stage spend all their time looking for the smallest possible spread of pellets, center-to-center. Some shooters become corrupt and start bragging about three-shot groups as if they were the same as five-shot groups, when all the while five-shots are a shortcut for ten-shot groups that actually determine relative accuracy. They buy dial calipers and shoot only from a bench. Many use vices to hold their guns, and the really perverse ones stop speaking to other shooters altogether.

    Stage 5. Enlightenment!
    Few shooters reach this stage, but those who do have some chance of resuming a normal life, or what passes for one where they live. They admire all aspects of airguns and speak of their continual amazement that pellets can do what they do powered by nothing more than just air! They speak in simple sentences and have the innocence of a child. They sit on toadstools and drink ambrosia while the nymphs cavort in the dappled sunlight of the deep forest.

    Tuesday, March 21, 2006

    IWA 2006: Europe's SHOT Show! - Part two

    Dear readers, yesterday and today I've turned over the blog to Tom Gaylord, who has a report on the German IWA trade show. - B.B.

    by Tom Gaylord

    Joshua told me some of you are interested in the Brocock Air Cartridges System (BACS) and the guns that shoot them. The word on the street was that these cartridges were gone forever, taken away by British legislation. That does not turn out to be the case. At IWA, I learned that Brocock will still make BACS, the special pumps and the support equipment to fill and repair the cartridges. It is my understanding that Pyramyd Air will be stocking these items as soon as they become available.

    Brocock's Air Cartridge System is making a comeback!

    The BACS are still being supported by a network of dedicated hobbyists in Europe, but Brocock has resumed manufacture and and intends to resume distribution as soon as possible. British laws make it impossible to produce the cartridges there, but the company is assembling the network necessary to make and sell the cartridges in other countries. As soon as these details are worked out, it seems reasonable to assume that the guns that use them will follow.

    A rare moment when the Ukrainian shooting gallery was relatively uncrowded!

    While walking down one aisle, I was impressed that there was always a crowd in front of one booth. It turned out to be a shooting gallery from the Ukraine - with several important differences. First, although it was computer-driven and scored, the backstop is strong enough to stop a rifle bullet. So you can shoot with airsoft guns, as the visitors at IWA were doing, or you could use a full-power 9mm pistol or even a 7.62 rifle for tactical training - all on the same system. I watched as the software projected thrown targets that the shooter had to engage before they hit the ground. The score was announced verbally in whatever language the shooter selected.

    Joshua was very intrigued by this amazing gallery, and I believe he intend to explore the possibility of bringing one or more into the country. It runs on a regular PC, so the equipment costs are lower than comparable training galleries displayed at the show - about one-tenth the cost as it turns out!

    When IWA closed, Walther took many invited guests down to Ulm to tour their new automated plant and to help them celebrate their 120th year of operation. We toured the new plant and were shown the step-by-step operations of transforming raw steel into a P99 pistol. I was surprised by the number of individual inspections the parts and pistols must pass and also by the fact that all final finishing is done by hand. The shop is laid out so the parts progress linearly as they are fabricated and assembled, with the final stop being proofing and function-firing.

    Walther CNC machines carve an airgun receiver from a single block of aluminum. Cutaway is fully assembled. Black areas are the receiver.

    Final human touches before the guns go out for finishing!

    Our final stop in the plant tour was the new Walther museum, which displays representative products from both their airgun and firearm heritage. It was torture for 75 gun fanatics to be rushed through Walther Nirvana so fast!

    At Walther, they leave no doubt who their favorite salesman is!

    That evening, Walther hosted a gala celebration dinner for about 350 guests. It was an evening of fine food, entertainment and speeches. The president of the National Rifle Association, Sandra Froman, told the audience how much America appreciates the Walther tradition. This is significant to airgunners because Ms. Froman has long supported the airgun movement, and even has an air pistol of her own!

    The IWA show and Walther anniversary celebration were bright spots in my airgunning life, and I'll never forget them. I have resolved to return to IWA as often as possible, because I believe it is as important as the SHOT Show, if not more so. My thanks to B.B. Pelletier and to Pyramyd Air for giving me the time and space to address you on this blog! Stay tuned!

    Monday, March 20, 2006

    IWA 2006: Europe's SHOT Show! - Part one

    Dear readers, today and tomorrow I've turned over the blog to Tom Gaylord, who has a report on the German IWA trade show. - B.B.

    by Tom Gaylord

    Joshua Ungier of Pyramyd Air rides a vintage German bus to the new Walther plant in Ulm, Germany, as part of the company's 120th anniversary gala celebration.

    Hello everyone. I met Pyramyd Air's owner, Joshua Ungier, at the IWA show in Nuremberg last week, and he suggested I tell you about the show. IWA is the European equivalent of our SHOT Show. Because most airgun manufacturers are based in Europe, you get to meet a lot more of their people and see things before they come to the U.S. B.B. Pelletier was kind enough to give me today and tomorrow to present my report. I'll be as brief as possible, but I have quite a few pictures, too.

    Umarex was awesome!
    I started my tour in the Umarex booth and spent quite some time there to learn about all the things they're doing.

    Umarex has acquired Ruag Ammotec USA, the importers of Diana RWS airguns. They will move the RWS operations from New Jersey to Ft. Smith, Arkansas, where it will become a part of Umarex USA. Adam Blalock, the former president of Daisy, is the new president of Umarex USA - and they plan to become the premier provider of high-end airguns in America!

    Umarex Group also owns Walther, which celebrates their 120th anniversary this year. They have also just purchased the Swiss firm of Hämmerli, maker of world-renowned target firearms and airguns. Here are a few of the surprising new offerings that were unveiled by Umarex and other companies at IWA.

    Although it looks like the Walther CP99, the P99 RAM (Realistic Action Marker) is brand new and VERY different! In .43 caliber (11.3mm), it shoots rubber balls for impact training plus paintballs for sport play.

    Airsoft players and law enforcement agencies have a new sidearm!
    One big trend in airsoft these days is toward more realistic guns. Manufacturers have been asked by both the military and law enforcement to make their guns with realistic magazine capacities as well as similar weight and action functions. The Walther P99 RAM has all of these qualities. It shoots both a .43 caliber rubber ball for CQB training and a .43 caliber paintball for realistic skirmish play. That's correct - a .43 caliber ball! That's 11.3mm, which is HUGE for airsoft. I saw and held the gun at IWA, and you cannot tell it from a real P99 pistol. It's SO realistic that it comes with a blue slide for police training so the range safety officer knows for certain it's a training gun and not a firearm. The number of law enforcement personnel killed around the world every year with simunitions is significant, because they cannot easily tell when a real 9mm round is being used.

    The P99 RAM will retail for over $200, if and when it becomes available to private individuals. I think many airsoft gamers will want it for the realism. Instead of an all-day magazine holding 35 shots or more, this one holds just 9, making mag changes necessary during play. Realism is the most important part of this exciting new air pistol, which promises to have a major impact on the American airsoft scene.

    Hunters should welcome the new 850 AirMagnum. It's an 8-shot bolt-action repeater with an 88-gram AirSource for power!

    850 AirMagnum
    Want to hunt with a CO2 rifle? The new 850 AirMagnum is an 8-shot repeater that develops up to 12 foot-pounds of power. Available in both .177 and .22 calibers, it should be an affordable hunting rifle for those who want power and accuracy without the extra support needed for precharged rifles. With an adapter, it can also operate on two conventional 12-gram powerlets.

    On to the Beaumont!
    As I was walking the aisles, someone behind me said, "Aren't you Tom Gaylord?" It turned out to be Fredrik van Breen, a former subscriber to my Airgun Letter. He recognized me from a picture in the R1 book. The guy should be a P.I.! He lead me to the Daystate booth and proceeded to show me the Beaumont PCP rifle, capable of 125 foot-pounds and made in the style of a fine Westley Richards sporting rifle.

    Quality and power that's never been seen before in a small-caliber air rifle. The .22-caliber Dutch-built rifle exhibits all the quality and style of a fine English sporting rifle, plus 125 foot-pounds of smashing power!

    These rifles are individually commissioned and built by Fredrik van Breen to the exact requirements of the customer, offering design features never before seen in airguns. Ordering will be similar to the process of buying from Holland & Holland or Purdey. For more information, visit Be prepared to spend many thousands of dollars when you order one of these beautiful guns!

    I HAD to show you this!
    Just to show you that the art of fine gunmaking is not limited to the Netherlands, I included a photo of a fine exposed-hammer double-barrel shotgun from the famous gunmaking town of Ferlach, Austria. Well-known for their drillings and vierlings (three- and four-barreled guns), Ferlach has long been a center of some of the finest gunmaking Europe has to offer. The picture tells the story.

    Not an airgun, this product of Ferlach, Austria demonstrates that the fine art of gunmaking is still alive and well. From a collection of seven fine shotguns in one booth at IWA. I just had to share it with you!

    More new toys!
    I was delighted to see not one but TWO precharged target airguns in the Baikal booth! One is a five-shot practice Biathlon air rifle used in the summer training sessions, and the other is a new 10-meter pistol. Baikal is well-known for their model 46M target pistol, but now they will offer this newest PCP, as well. I asked Joshua of Pyramyd, and he seemed as enthusiastic as I about the new offering. We can only hope they make it to these shores.

    Yep - Baikal now makes a 10-meter precharged target pistol! Guess what that's going to mean for the price?

    Well, that's all for today. Come back tomorrow and I'll show you the rest of the great new airguns that were unveiled at the German show.

    Friday, March 17, 2006

    Slavia 630 & 631 breakbarrel spring rifles

    by B.B. Pelletier

    Slavia 631 is a deluxe version of the 630 breakbarrel spring rifle. Selling for $115 to $135 when last offered, it was a very good deal.

    I'm back in the office after attending to some family business. Thanks for being patient. Today, I want to talk about a neat spring-air rifle that is still being made but perhaps not imported to the U.S. at the present time. I'm talking about the Slavia 630/631, by Cheska Zbrojovka (CZ).

    No longer imported to the U.S.
    I mentioned in Spring Break that my first spring air rifle was a Slavia, but that it came with no instructions and wasn't much fun as a result. Had I known how to treat a spring-piston air rifle with leather piston seals, I actually would have owned a pretty nice air rifle with an accurate barrel.

    CZ has the reputation of making some of the world's finest-quality sporting barrels. Firearms shooters see CZ rifles appearing in both rimfire and centerfire calibers, and users of autoloading pistols have known about fine CZ pistols for many years. But the Slavia air rifles have languished quietly in the background, until the plug was recently pulled on U.S. importation. Having said that, I just know I'll be directed to an obscure website where someone is still bringing in the CZ 630 and 631 (if they are, it's a very close secret!).

    Not magnums!
    One reason for their lower popularity is probably due to the power they develop. These are not magnum air rifles by any standard. They shoot .177 pellets in the 600 f.p.s. region and offer superior accuracy at a very nice price. Imagine that you could buy a Beeman R7 for half the price. Interested? Of course, the price has risen over the years, due to the dollar slipping against the euro, but that's true of everything European.

    630/631 Lux - same gun
    Just as the Diana RWS 48 and Diana RWS 52 are identical rifles in different stocks, so it is with the Slavias. The metal remains the same, and the stock assumes nicer proportions in the 631 Lux model. Power, accuracy and functioning remain the same. I bought the 631 for the nicer stock, but I would have been just as happy with the performance of the 630.

    Pushing forward on the spring-loaded latch under the barrel releases the locking detent for cocking.

    Barrel lock
    Before the barrel can be broken to cock the rifle, a spring-loaded barrel lock located under the barrel must be pushed forward to unlock the action. This is a vintage feature that used to be more popular back in the 1950s and '60s. Today's shooters don't want any extra steps in the cocking process. Heck, most of them want semiautomatic loading, which may account for some of this rifle's low sales! Veteran spring gunners, however, know what a great value the Slavias were, and they either tolerate the barrel lock or celebrate it, as I do.

    Automatic safety pops out like this when the rifle is cocked. Push in to release.

    Automatic safety!
    The safety is one modern feature that was put on the gun to assuage American liability concerns. When the barrel is cocked, the rear safety button automatically pops out. I don't care for automatic safeties, but this one works well and is as unobtrusive as possible.

    Steel rear sight adjusts in both directions. Elevation is read through an open hole in the top of the sight.

    The all-steel rear sight is adjustable both ways. Elevation has a click detent with reference numbers but windage is without clicks, though there is an engraved scale for left-right reference. The front post is protected by a hood, and it appears sharp when seen in the rear notch. The rifle has parallel dovetail grooves for mounting a scope, plus there are transverse grooves that serve as scope stops. As far as I know, only B-Square makes the correct scope rings to fit this rifle. You might have to call the factory to get them because the dovetails are spaced wider than normal.

    Accuracy potential
    I have tested my rifle with a scope, though that is not the way I prefer it. Groups at 25 yards hover around the 0.25" to 0.35" size for five shots off a bench. But this isn't a bench rifle! It's a sporting rifle that's made to be shot in the offhand position using open sights. It's a plinker that can also take very small game and pests at close range. Use the same pellets that work on all other air rifles - which for me means starting with the JSB Exact.

    Will they ever return?
    That is a tough question. While there may be a small contingent of 100 shooters who might buy the Slavia spring rifles, that's hardly enough demand to justify importing them. If the demand were for 100 rifles A YEAR, then things might be different. But most airgunners today either want f.p.s., which these guns don't have, or they want the lowest possible price, which they also don't have. Slavia springers have always been mid-level spring guns for a good price. Sort of like the Checker Marathon automobile that was wonderful on its own merits, but most buyers who wanted similar features wanted an Oldsmobile 98!

    I bought mine new a few years ago because I feared it might not be around much longer. If you want one, I'm afraid you'll have to haunt the airgun classified websites.

    Thursday, March 16, 2006

    Which airgun should I buy?

    by B.B. Pelletier

    This question comes up all the time. Most people who ask it think that if only all the airguns they were interested in were reviewed side-by-side, it would be easy to make a decision. I disagree. I think there are some very subtle cues that we each follow when making a big decision, and all the input in the world will not dissuade us unless we discover that something we thought was true...turns out not to be.

    Listen to yourself!
    You know what you want better than anyone. Most of you are not ruled by money as much as you believe. You simply use the cost of something as a substitute for some really important piece of information that you lack or perhaps don't even know exists. Let me give some examples.

    Example #1: When buying exercise equipment, I used to shop for what I wanted within my price range. Then one day I happened to try out an expensive piece of equipment that was very similar to one I already had. It was so much better that I found myself scheming how to raise the money for this thing that did exactly what I was already doing - but cost more than three times as much! There was so much more performance in that equipment that I wanted it at almost any price!

    Example #2: I'd been using an FWB 124 for field target for more than a year when I happened to try a TX 200 underlever spring-piston rifle. With the experience of many matches behind me, I immediately understood why everyone was proclaiming the TX 200 as the finest spring rifle in the world. Money was no longer the issue. I had to get a TX 200 - and I did!

    Example #3: About two years after I bought the TX200, a new type of TX came out. It had the underlever hidden in the stock and looked like a sleeker gun. Then, I tried one! The cocking linkage was much harsher and the rifle recoiled like a Chinese springer, which is to say it was jerky and it buzzed a lot. Apologists all around me were buying this new gun and having it tuned down to 12 foot-pounds to make it smoother and easier to cock, but I refused to say the emperor had his clothes on. A few more years passed and I noticed that this new model had disappeared from the scene. It never was a nice air rifle and no amount of hype and wishing could make it one.

    Ask the right question!
    I sometimes get suckered into written conversations like this:

    ewok: BB, what's the most powerful air rifle in the world?

    BB: ewok, Dennis Quackenbush makes a .79-caliber rifle that puts out more than 1,000 foot-pounds.

    ewok: BB, I don't know much about foot-pounds. Can you tell me how many fps that would be in .177?

    BB: ewok, it isn't a .177 caliber gun. It's a .790 caliber gun. It shoots a 2.5-oz. bullet. It's used to hunt elk and bison.

    ewok: BB, where do I get those .790 pellets? My Wal-Mart doesn't have them, and the guy at the register didn't know what I was talking about.

    BB: ewok, the rifle we are talking about is custom built and costs about $1,500.

    ewok: Good heavens! I don't need to spend $1,500 just to kill a few squirrels in my attic, do I?

    BB: No, and with the rifle we have been discussing, you would shoot through the squirrel, then through your roof and through several walls in your neighbor's house! You asked me what the most powerful air rifle was and I told you.

    ewok: All I want to do is get rid of a few squirrels, and I don't want to see them suffer.

    BB: Get a Sheridan Blue Streak and pump it six times for each shot.

    Ask the right question, No. 2
    ewok: I want the best air rifle I can get for $400.

    BB: At that price I like the RWS 48, the RWS 46, the BSA Tech Star and the HW 95.

    ewok: Which one can my 11-year-old daughter use for Pony Club matches?

    BB: A Daisy model 853 target rifle.

    ewok: Why didn't you list that the first time?

    BB: I didn't know you had a daughter or that she's 11!

    What is important to YOU?
    The reason people ask the opinion of others when there's a difficult choice to be made is because they don't know what they want. They haven't figured out what's important to them, so they haven't a clue where to begin looking. I once was asked if the RWS 34 is a nice breakbarrel air rifle. I said it was (it is!) and the fellow thanked me. About two weeks later he called me up and jumped all over me for not telling him about the Beeman Crow Magnum! We had been talking about a $100 rifle (this was many years ago), and he was angry that I didn't also mention a $1,200 rifle in the same breath! So, when he finished I told him about the hand-made Whiscombe breakbarrel that cost $2,000. He said he wasn't interested in spending that kind of money. But I learned that he'd just bought a Crow Magnum and didn't want to hear about any other airguns! Find out what is important to YOU!

    You know, I like this column! I'm going to do this again.

    Wednesday, March 15, 2006

    Remington's model 26 BB gun

    by B.B. Pelletier

    Daisy's No. 25 pump (bottom gun) is a familiar icon of the American BB gun. Most boys would love to own one with the wooden stock and blued steel receiver. But, Remington briefly made an even more robust BB gun of their own - the remarkable model 26 (top)!

    Usually, when a gun company makes an airgun, they outsource the job to a real airgun manufacturer. Today's Remington AirMaster 77 is such a gun. Made and marketed by Crosman, it carries the Remington name along with two other Crosman-built airguns. But, that wasn't the case back in 1928, when Remington brought out their own model 26 BB gun.

    Solidly built but fragile!
    The model 26 is about the same overall size as Daisy's No. 25 but built much more solidly. The pump handle is larger and more reminiscent of a pump shotgun handle. The gun weighs almost a full pound more than the Daisy, so you know you've really got something in your hands when you hold one. Lucky was the little boy (or girl!) who received one. The cost was $7.50 - about double what the Daisy sold for. The pump mechanism works smoother than that of a Daisy, but it is also the Achilles heel of the gun. The picture shows slots cut into the pump tube. These are really the sprocket tracks for a toothed sprocket gear that rotates inside the pump handle as it is drawn to the rear. That sprocket drives a sliding bar gear that compresses the mainspring for firing. When it works, this system is smooth and light - much easier to cock than Daisy's articulated pump lever. However, this system depends on the integrity of a sheetmetal gear track and, thus, has a limited operational life.

    The slotted gear track cut into the pump tube can be easily seen. This was not a good piece of engineering for longevity!

    Performance like Daisy
    The Remington 26 was about as powerful as a Daisy 25, which made it one of the most powerful BB guns of its day. Because it was easier to pump, it was probably very desirable as far as kids were concerned, though I doubt whether many of them knew about it. Daisy has always been the 500-lb. gorilla when it came to BB guns, while gun manufacturers have relied more on their firearms distribution network to get the word out. Remington did advertise, but they were up against a company that's one of advertising's all-time legends.

    A complete package
    Besides the gun, Remington also sold lead air rifle shot under their own name. They may have made it, too, because they were associated with UMC, an ammunition manufacturer, plus Remington consumed thousands of tons of lead shot for their shotshells.

    Several variations!
    For a gun that was only produced for two or three years, the model 26 went through a surprising number of variations. The first versions were apparently blued guns, and they had shot tubes that accepted 0.175" lead air rifle shot. Later guns were painted black (an economizing measure?) and had shot tubes made for the new smaller steel shot. These probably represented a progression of manufacturing changes designed to lower the gun's cost. That's the normal progression of things when a new product is launched, plus Remington did drop the retail price of the gun to $5.00 in 1930.

    The timing couldn't have been worse!
    One year after they launched the world's most expensive BB gun, the New York Stock Market crashed, starting the Great Depression. Though the effects of the Depression took several years to reach full force, people stopped buying luxury items right away. Remington made just under 20,000 model 26 guns before they shut down production forever. The last company sales records are from 1934, but production was probably over many years before.

    Very hot collectible today!
    A model 26 will fetch $800 to $1,500 today, depending on condition. I suppose a really good one will bring even more than that. Are they worth it? Probably not, because there are quite a few of them still around. When you consider that around 2,800 of the the 1954 Hakims were made by Anschütz, but you can still buy one for $300, the Remington seems out of profile. But, there's no denying it's a very hot ticket!

    Tuesday, March 14, 2006

    Walther CP88: the air pistol that launched Umarex in America!

    by B.B. Pelletier

    Walther's CP 88 is as realistic as airguns get.

    There is no denying that Umarex has made its mark in the airgun world. For those who aren't aware, Umarex is the company that owns Walther. They bought a 90 percent interest in 1993, and the world wondered what would happen to the veteran gunmaker. This evening, March 14, 2006, in Ulm, Germany, Umarex celebrates the 120th anniversary of Walther - which is stronger now than ever. One reason for their newfound strength is a panoply of realistic airguns that started flowing from Germany in 1996 with the introduction of the Walther CP88!

    Drop-dead realistic!
    I'll never forget when I first picked up a CP88. It looked great, but it FELT even better - and that feel is the secret of the success of all these airguns. They feel exactly like the firearms they copy. EXACTLY! The CP88 with the 4" barrel is a copy of Walther's P88 Compact 9mm pocket pistol. Though the exterior of the pistol is made of a low-temperature casting metal (pot metal) Umarex has engineered a beautiful finish that resembles blued steel. There are no voids visible, and the corners and edges are as sharp as if they had been milled. The weight is within fractions of an ounce of the firearm's weight, so you lose nothing in the sensory department.

    The slide opens to insert the 8-shot magazine. Indexing is automatic.

    An 8-shot revolver
    All the Umarex pellet pistols have an 8-shot revolver mechanism at their heart. The photo shows the slide open to reveal the metal 8-shot rotary magazine; this is where it is removed and inserted. One of the clever things Umarex does is locate the split in the slide in a place that's difficult to see, so the slide looks whole to the casual observer. When the slide is closed again, the magazine indexes automatically and the gun fires a pellet with each pull of the trigger. As with all CO2 guns that fire in both modes, the CP88 is slightly faster in the single-action mode. The longer version of the pistol has a 6" barrel that delivers more velocity, as well.

    You'll shoot it a lot!
    Once you get hooked up with one of these pistols, you'll find that you shoot it a lot more than your single-shot pistols. To help you keep up with the faster pace, there is a Diabolo Speedloader that loads seven 8-shot magazines at once! The gun comes with two magazines, and you can buy extra packages of three for a reasonable price.

    Which pellets to try?
    I've always liked the Gamo Match pellet for Umarex pistols. It's a premium pellet, but also light enough to get all the velocity the gun has to offer. If you shoot at paper targets, this is a wadcutter that will punch round holes in the target for more accurate scoring. If you want higher velocity, you might try the Skenco type 2 synthetic skirt pellets. They are lightweight yet offer reasonable accuracy in a gun like this. I haven't tried the new Gamo Raptors in one of these but I would assume they would be even faster.

    What kind of accuracy?
    Here is where the longer-barrelled gun shines. Just the extra separation of the front and rear sights makes this pistol easier to sight with precision, so it's bound to do better at 10 yards. I get five-shot groups that measure 1-1/8" at that distance (when I do my part). That's with the Gamo Match pellets.

    Don't forget a holster
    You'll need a way to carry your pistol, and this tactical holster looks perfect. It has the "today" look that suits the gun so well. It fits a regular belt, because the belt keeper is adjustable - there's nothing else to buy.

    Umarex President Wulf-Heinz Pflaumer and his No. 1 client, actor Pierce Brosnin, aka "James Bond."

    Happy birthday, Walther!
    Imagine the history that's steeped in a company like Walther. They have been in business 120 years and have seen the entire history of pistol development. They have been at the forefront of much of that history, with their famous P38, the sexy PPK carried by James Bond of the 1960s and the newer P99 that James carries today. As an airgunner, you have access to many of the world's most classic pistol designs through the genius of Umarex. The CP 88 is just a look at one of the fine guns they offer. We have many more to discover in the days before us.

    Monday, March 13, 2006

    Spring break!

    by B.B. Pelletier

    Most of us still shoot springers, so we ought to be interested in what powers them - the mainspring. In this post, I'm going to talk about mainsprings and cover some of the basics a shooter should know. I'm excluding the common Daisy BB gun from this discussion because, although it uses a mainspring, the operation of that type of powerplant is different than a typical spring-piston gun.

    Not a lot of info in the early days!
    I've been involved with airguns for a long time, but I got into pneumatics and CO2 guns long before I started messing with springers. My first springer was a Czech Slavia imported in the 1960s by a New York City company, and it came with no instructions that I remember. I knew nothing about oiling the piston seal, which was probably leather, so it's doubtful the gun delivered more than 400 f.p.s. with light .177 pellets. I knew nothing of the proper hold for the gun, so its performance was not memorable.

    My first REAL springer came from Diana. It was a model 10 target pistol that had lots of power and super accuracy. It was hard to cock, but it had an owner's manual that told me how often to oil the piston seal (one drop of oil every 1,000 shots). In those days (1976), Diana was using a synthetic seal material that slowly absorbed the oil and disintegrated, but that gun worked well for me for about six years. My next springer came from Beeman and had lots of owner information. By that time (1978), the first Airgun Digest had been published, so I knew a lot more about how to treat my gun. In those days, Beeman had us putting 10 drops of spring oil down through the cocking slot to coat the mainspring coils. Another 2 or 3 drops of silicone chamber oil went through the transfer port for the pistol seal. But as far as what any of that "maintenance" was doing, we had no clue.

    I go inside
    In the early 1990s, I started disassembling spring guns to have look inside. Only then did I discover that perhaps we had not been doing things correctly after all. I found most guns were over-oiled, and the ones where the spring had been oiled had shed all their grease, so the mainspring was twanging with every shot. The thin oil was creeping forward into the compression chamber, and some of these guns were detonating whenever fired. I discovered that early FWB and Walther synthetic piston seals were dissolving from the oil in the compression chamber. That situation has since corrected, and the replacement seals do not disintegrate.

    Some guns lasted forever!
    I saw other guns with unstressed mainsprings (no spring preload when uncocked) that were still functioning after 50 years of service. The leather piston seals may have been replaced a few times, but the original mainsprings were still working. I had no way of knowing how many shots were on these guns, but it was impressive that they worked at all. These were the BSA and Webley rifles of the teens, '20s and '30s. After World War II, most spring rifles had heavy preloads on their mainsprings that wore them out as they sat uncocked in closets for years.

    The race for power!
    The power race began in the early 1970s with the BSF 55, Diana 45, HW 35 and, later, the FWB 124. Once it started, mainsprings had to evolve, though it took 25 years for them to do so. During that period, we had springs with wires that were too thick, springs that were too hard and springs that were under too much preload. The result was early spring failure. Throw in the scanty instructions that applied to the guns of the 1950s but were still being packed with guns of the 1970s, and we had guns detonating from too much oil and mainsprings shedding all their grease. The late 1970s, 1980s and the early 1990s were hard times for springers.

    This 15-year-old FWB 124 spring has numerous kinks from breakdown of the steel structure in the spring wire. Too much preload! When a spring looks like this, the gun buzzes as it shoots.

    The hobby airgunsmiths did their damage!
    While all this was unfolding, there arose a number of "airgunsmiths" with hammers, vice grips, kitchen tables and the desire to go into business for themselves. The result was a flood of modified spring guns that were "powerfuller" and more "powerfuller," but they didn't last very long. During the same period, the airgun manufacturers began to understand some things about mainsprings - though they didn't always apply what they knew. The Chinese, for instance, knew that their springs were made from inferior wire, so they used other non-Chinese springs in their premium guns. Diana, to get the most power they could, had been using springs that were too hard. When their returns mounted up, they took notice. Other companies had been more conservative and either did not experience any problems or they corrected them by redesign in short order. A few companies - such as Weihrauch, Webley, BSA and Air Arms - had no significant spring problems at all.

    1990s Diana 34 spring broke at either end from being too hard. All the shooter will notice when this happens is the gun becomes easier to cock. A chronograph shows a 150 f.p.s. drop in velocity in .22 caliber

    What have we learned?
    First, I hope you now know not to oil your spring gun too much. Those who tell you to do that are quoting from a half-century ago. Read the owner's manual and follow it! Next, I hope you understand that you don't always get more power with a more powerful spring. Often, you get just the reverse! Think twice before sending your gun off to be "tuned" by someone who may just be a "toon," himself! And, finally, shoot your gun! Get away from that keyboard, put a target out at 30 yards and shoot at it. It doesn't matter that your 100x Newtonian telescope hasn't been mounted to your gun, yet. Use the open sights it came with and experience actual shooting instead of sitting around listening to others tell you what they think! Being used is the one thing that benefits spring guns more than anything else.

    We'll come back to this theme again, because there's a lot more to talk about.

    Friday, March 10, 2006

    Strange airguns! Some advanced collecting thoughts

    by B.B. Pelletier

    I will be out of the office today through next Wednesday, so please help the new readers with their questions, if you can. Thanks.

    Up to this point, I've stayed with the relatively common airguns, deviating only a little to show you guns like the Johnson, the Sharpshooter and the Skanaker. Today, I want to go a little farther out and discuss what else is in the wide, wonderful world.

    This breakbarrel looks a lot like a pre-war Diana, but it's not!

    What's this?
    Pretend you're at a gun show and you spot what looks like a pre-war Diana model 27 laying on a table. (If you'd like to know what a Pre-war Diana 27 looks like, get a copy of the Blue Book of Airguns, Fifth Edition right away.) You saunter over and ask permission to pick it up, and the dealer tells you his father brought it back from Korea in the 1950s. Then, you notice the characters stamped into the butt. This ain't no Diana, brother! It's probably a copy of the Diana made in Japan. It appears well-made, but let's not be too hasty. Let's give it a good once-over. And, for gosh sakes, control yourself! The dealer is watching you!

    The butt!
    You look at the butt and notice a circular piece of wood held by two wood screws. No doubt, it covers the hole where there is access to the bolt that holds the butt to the rear of the receiver. That's how the Brits and Germans would have done it, and whoever made this gun is obviously copying them very closely. It's a nice touch - the dealer thinks so, too. He has dollar signs floating across his eyeballs, because he's never seen an air rifle made this well. You, on the other hand, know this is very common work, and it's only impressive if compared to the airguns of today.

    That wooden plate covers the buttstock retaining bolt access hole. No big deal but very nice work.

    The characters!
    Then you spin the gun around to look at the left side of the buttstock. This is the only place on the gun that has writing; it's a cartouche of some kind with oriental characters. At this point you comment, "Oh! Made in Japan," in the most derrogatory voice you can muster. Unfortunately, this dealer is only 28 years old and thinks that Japan makes the best stuff in the world, which, during his short lifetime, they have. You inform him that wasn't always the case. Back in the 1950s, "Made in Japan" was the phrase used for cheap, low-quality goods. He isn't sure if he believes you, but you are a potential buyer so he refrains from starting an argument - half the time. If he has his heart set on early retirement from the sale of this "one-of-a-kind" airgun, there's nothing you can do about it.

    You can't read it and neither can the dealer, but these are obviously Oriental characters. They establish the probable origin, lacking any other markings on the gun.

    The muzzle!
    Then you look at the muzzle, and that's when you prove your point about the lower quality. Though the barrel looks hefty, the muzzle reveals that there is actually a thin brass insert barrel and a threaded cap to hold it in the gun. An examination of the open breech will show this more clearly. The Germans and Brits would have rifled a steel barrel, but the Japanese (or whoever made this gun) used a cheaper method of construction. You show this to the dealer and tell him what it implies. Then you demonstrate some class. You say, "You know, I collect airguns and this is an Oriental copy of a fine German rifle. It isn't made as well, but I would like to have it in my collection to compare to the real thing. What would you take for it?" Now I could write all kinds of scenarios on what happens next, because it's never the same twice. But you know how much money you have to spend and, if you took my advice and bought a Blue Book, you know a real Diana 27 in this condition is worth about $100. So, take it from there.

    This muzzle tells us a lot. It's obviously not European, and also it's an indication of lower quality.

    Here's the deal
    Old airguns like this one were made in many countries - India, South Africa, Hungary, Belgium, Argentina and so on. They aren't common in the U.S., but they are more plentiful than most people think. When they surface, they often get far more attention than they deserve. At a real airgun show, the dealers who own them are quickly educated as to their true worth. At a gun show, where almost nobody knows much about airguns, they can go off the scale. Don't YOU go off after them! I have seen common Haenel model 28 air pistols priced at $500, just because they are as heavy as the Lugers they copy and their owners think they must be worth it. At an airgun show, the same pistol will bring about $150 if the box is with it!

    The point I'm trying to make is this - if you want to collect airguns, get all the reference books you can find and read about what's out there. Then, when you encounter that strange "BB gun," you'll know what it is and whether it's worth the asking price.

    A parting shot
    This price thing works both ways, of course. A friend of mine happened across a Quackenbust model 0 Lightning in a Virginia thrift store. The owner of the store was no dummy. He knew that Quackenbush air rifles bring $300 to $500 in the condition this one was in. He priced his at $500, but the model he had is not your common Quacker. A Lightning, of which fewer than 50 are known, is worth $5,000 and up - WAY UP if it has the original movable compression chamber, which this one did! Only six guns are known to have that! Here's an airgun worth at least $15,000 - and possibly as much as $25,000 - selling for $500! Don't hurt your hand going for your wallet!

    The brass ring! A Quackenbush Lightning bought for only $500 might put a nice car in your garage.

    Thursday, March 09, 2006

    The 3000 psi hand pump

    by B.B. Pelletier

    As more shooters turn to PCPs, there is an increased demand for the high-pressure hand pump. Once you overcome the shock of discovering that it's really possible to pump 3,000 psi by hand, the pump becomes quite fascinating for many shooters. To help you make your decision, let's look at some pump facts that aren't so obvious.

    Is it REALLY possible to pump 3,000 psi?
    It is, but like most things, there is more to it. After the pump reaches 1,500 psi, it starts resisting a little. At 2,000 psi, the resistance increases and at 2,500 psi I can no longer comfortably work the pump with one hand. At 2,700 psi, the resistance becomes so great that I start to use the entire weight of my body to push the handle down, rather than just the strength of my arms. By leaning all my weight on the pump handle and bending at the knees, my whole body pumps for me. Now, I'm fairly large and I'm fit, so those numbers will be different for others. Here's some advice that was given to me when I bought my first pump about ten years ago. You must weigh at least 130 pounds to pump the hand pump up to 3,000 psi. It will become easier as your weight increases, because you have more weight to push down the handle.

    That handle works in both directions!
    Although the hand pump looks like a bicycle pump, the similarity ends there. The high-pressure hand pump is actually three pumping units tucked into a single package. It compresses air on the upstroke, too. On the downstroke, it does its final compression, which is where the resistance becomes the heaviest. Take your time going in both directions because the air holes inside aren't very large. You'll hear the pump start to wheeze, which is to remind you to go slow. Allow at least a full second at either end of the pump stroke for all the air to flow. And, for gosh sakes, pump the handle ALL THE WAY down on every stroke! The last inch of travel is where all the work gets done.

    Not all pumps are the same!
    If you're new to airguns or just to precharged pneumatics, it might surprise you to learn there have been at least seven major pumps in the past 10 years - and many variations of most of them. Do not think for a moment that they're all alike, or that when you buy one you get everything you need to fill your airgun.

    Pumps for 10-meter airguns
    I've written enough on 10-meter target airguns that you should be familiar with them. From yesterday's post about airgun competition, you now know 10-meter competition is the largest single group of competitive airgunners in the world, comprising over a million shooters worldwide. So, when you buy a pump from a 10-meter dealer, it doesn't look like one you'll buy from Pyramyd Air. In its base, there is a large hole threaded in the DIN pattern. DIN stands for Deutsches Institut für Normung - the German institute for standards. Some scuba tanks have DIN valves, which are valves with large threaded holes, for equipment to screw into. There is a 200 bar DIN hole for 3,000 psi equipment and a 300 bar DIN for 4,500 psi equipment (psi figures rounded up for simplicity). The diameter and threads of both holes are the same, but the 300 bar DIN hole is deeper.

    All 10-meter precharged airguns are set up for DIN filling equipment, and that includes the pumps. When you buy that second-hand pump from somebody, it may come with a DIN hole in the base rather than the 1/8" BSPP hole you were expecting! (The hole through the fitting is one-eighth inch in diameter and the threads are British Standard Pipe Parallel threads.)

    Pump on the left has a DIN hole in its base. Pump on the right has two 1/8" BSPP holes (one is for the gauge that is missing). As you can see, it matters which one you have!

    Say hello to the K-valve on a scuba tank. This is a common type of scuba valve - though certainly not the only one!

    This adapter screws into a 1/8" BSPP hole to give pump owners a K-valve. There was also one that fit a DIN hole. Not currently available.

    If the adapter for your airgun is for a scuba tank K-valve, that's what it has to fit. But hand pumps don't have K-valves on them! A few years ago, an airgun dealer made up a few hundred adapters that screwed into most pumps (the ones that have a 1/8" BSPP threaded hole in the base), giving pump users a K-valve of their own! He also made up some to fit pumps with DIN holes in their bases. This is a great item, though not currently offered by anyone, as far as I know.

    Two quick ways to DESTROY a hand pump!
    No. 1: For immediate destruction, disassemble your pump! The magic leaks out the moment the first fitting is loosened.

    No. 2: This takes several pumping sessions, but is easy to do in less than one month. Don't allow your pump to cool down for 15 minutes after every five minutes of pumping! You will burn the high-temperature packing (the deepest seal in the pump!) and probably crack the brass fitting that holds it. The outward symptoms are a pump handle that refuses to stay down.

    I own three hand pumps and am testing a fourth one on long-term loan. All the pumps I own are at least three years old and the oldest is 10, and none has ever needed maintenance. I use scuba tanks most of the time, but when my tank is low I reach for a hand pump!

    Wednesday, March 08, 2006

    Airgun competition: Which sports exist?

    by B.B. Pelletier

    I'm writing this post to clear up some confusion about airgun competition. Airgun competition is not as formalized as firearm competition, and there is a great deal that we still lack in the way of competitive sports. Today, we'll see what's there and what's not.

    At the top: 10-meter
    Ten-meter target shooting began to formalize in Europe in the late 1950s. No doubt, there was some incentive because of a lack of firearms ranges. By the late 1960s, air rifle and air pistol were both world-class competitions, though they did not get added to the Olympics until 1984 and 1988, respectively. Today, the governing body is the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF).

    Ten meters is 32.808 ft., so we say 33 ft. Both air rifle and air pistol competition are held at this distance. The targets are small enough to make the short distance a real challenge, and the guns that compete have to be first-rate in every respect. Velocities are held below 600 f.p.s. for the rifles, while the pistols usually shoot just above the 500 f.p.s. mark. The pellets used are diabolo wadcutters and competitors buy them by the tens of thousands to maintain lot consistency. Precharged pneumatics dominate in both categories, though a few single-stroke pneumatics are still competing. CO2 and spring guns no longer compete beyond the regional level.

    Beside the 10-meter target guns, there are a number of five-shot semiautomatic pistols and a few rifles that can be used for sport pistol. There are also several five-shot semiauto and flip-bolt rifles that are excellent biathlon trainers. The sport of running target (which used to be running boar - and running stag before that) is still hanging on by the skin of its teeth.

    International BB Gun Championship Match
    Since 1965, Daisy and the U.S. Jaycees have held the annual International BB Gun Championship Match as the culmination of a youth shooting education program. To date, over seven million kids have been taught to shoot. Daisy even created a special BB gun, the 499 Avanti Champion, for this competition. While the title says international, the focus is on U.S. kids who have participated in the Daisy/U.S. Jaycee Shooting Education Program.

    Airgun silhouette
    Far down from the world level of competition, airgun silhouette is the next most popular formal airgun competition. Although there is a rifle component, handgun silhouette is by far the more popular component of the sport. That's due to the promotional efforts of the International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association (IHMSA). The pistols used for this sport are largely 10-meter pistols and their derivatives.

    Field target
    Field target is a wonderful proving ground for sporting air rifles, optics and pellets, but it is not a world-class sport. That's not to say world competitions are not held, because they are. However, there's no governing body that controls the rules at the world level. The countries involved have to negotiate the rules every time a world-level match is held. In the U.S., the American Airgun Field Target Association (AAFTA) is the governing body. This sport refines marksmanship to a degree never seen in any other shooting sport. I have seen local SWAT team snipers who could not keep pace with the leaders of a match. I'm not trying to denigrate professional snipers - just to point out that the best field target competitors are the finest rifle marksmen anywhere.

    Airgun sports we lack
    There is no formal action pistol sport, similar to those conducted by the International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC). This is sad because there are a number of air pistols that could compete if there were. There is also no air shotgun sport. That's not as difficult to understand, since air shotguns are not very capable. Even the best of them cannot hold a candle to the lowly .410 shotgun. If there were capable guns, the shotgun sports are the crown jewels of all the shooting sports.

    There is no airgun component of Cowboy Action Shooting (CAS). Granted, the required airguns are also lacking to a large extent at this time. If a sport were available and had participation, the guns would be there quickly. This is an extremely popular firearm sport and hobby because of the clothing and the roll-playing that goes with it, but perhaps airguns are too quiet and clean to break into CAS.

    Last of all, there is no real formal benchrest sport for airguns. Despite the thousands of airgun shooters who shoot only from a bench, there has never been a popular, widespread organized benchrest following. BR-50 and BRV never really caught on, though they did have a small, loyal following among airgunners as long as they lasted.

    Airguns have plenty of room to grow
    What airgunning needs is a sport that is interesting to as many people as possible. It must be simple, yet very intriguing. The 10-meter sports have a huge following worldwide, but they are for individuals. They lack the social attraction of CAS, the excitement of action pistol shooting and the broad appeal of International Clays. What we need is a new sport that shooters find compelling on several levels.

    A final shot
    In 1898, a national shooting festival was held on Long Island. Prize money of $25,000 was awarded for the various matches, plus other prizes, cups, medals and premiums were given in each of the categories. The nine-day event had a total budget of $200,000. That was in 1898. The winners of that competition were as celebrated in their day as top professional sports stars are today. More than a century has passed and money has inflated many times, yet you cannot find that level of competition, even ignoring inflation, anywhere in the airgun world in 2006.

    Tuesday, March 07, 2006

    Turning an AirForce Condor into a Talon SS

    by B.B. Pelletier

    This post was requested by Bill, but I think a lot of you will find it interesting. There's a lot of interest in AirForce air rifles these days. Perhaps, that's because they sell for half to two-thirds the price of a European PCP, yet they shoot just as well and have features no other airgun in the world can match. Among these features are interchangeable barrels that an owner can swap quickly. Therein lies today's posting.

    The Condor!
    By now, every airgunner knows that the Condor is the world's most powerful smallbore air rifle. It delivers 20-25 shots at greater than 60 foot-pounds when the heaviest pellets are used. Now, it is true that several of the Korean rifles, such as the Career 707, can get one or even two shots at that power level, but no other air rifle gets as many as a Condor. AirForce built the Condor to be a powerful hunting air rifle. Ah, but they also make the Talon SS, a quiet PCP that uses legal technology to muffle the muzzle report. And, that's the problem! Wishful airgunners read the specifications of the two rifles and they want everything put into a single airgun! Quiet AND powerful - in one rifle! Well, you can't have both at the same time, but it is possible to have both in one rifle.

    Turning a Condor into a Talon SS - the secret that no one has told you!
    The Condor and the Talon SS share a frame of identical length. The Condor frame has a longer scope rail, but that's the only difference, and it has nothing to do with the power potential. The Condor is so loud (1) because of the tremendous amount of air that blasts out of the muzzle and (2) the fact that the muzzle is not hidden inside the frame like the Talon SS muzzle. There are aftermarket frame extenders that shroud the Condor's longer barrel, but I have tested them and find no difference in the report. However, if you install a 12" .22-caliber barrel, a Talon SS end cap and a standard air tank on a Condor, the rifle will then perform exactly the same as a Talon SS! Same velocity; same quite operation and the same accuracy. In other words, the extra power AirForce puts into the Condor powerplant is neutralized by the standard air tank!

    That mean you can turn your Condor into a Talon SS with a 12" barrel, an SS end cap and a standard air tank. Talon SS owners cannot do the reverse, because the standard powerplant is not strong enough to operate the Hi-Flo valve in the Condor tank. You'd wind up with a rifle that won't go faster than 550 f.p.s. in .22. An SS owner can send his rifle to AirForce to have it converted to Condor specifications, and from that point the gun works in the way described above. Pyramyd Air can sell you the SS end cap, but there hasn't been any demand for it before now, so they don't have it listed as an optional part.

    Best Talon version of all!
    I don't own a Condor, though I've certainly shot them. My personal AirForce rifle is a .22 caliber Talon SS. I also have an optional 24" .22 caliber barrel. When I install it, my SS jumps from a maximum of 25 foot-pounds (that's a 21-grain Kodiak at 732 f.p.s.) to 45 foot-pounds (a 28-grain Eun Jin at 850 f.p.s.) in five minutes - just by changing barrels! In my opinion, the Talon SS (or the regular Talon, because they both have the same powerplant) with a 24" .22 caliber barrel is the best AirForce rifle of all. It has about double the shots of a Condor with two-thirds the power at the high end. It also adjusts LOWER on the low end, where it is also much more stable! That's the 24" barrel at work! I don't need a Condor, because I don't need those extra 20 foot-pounds. I have all the power I need in my SS with the 24" barrel installed. Yes, it is louder at full power, but when I dial it back to the SS maximum of 25 foot-pounds, it isn't much louder than my SS. In my opinion, the 24" barrel on an SS is the way to go, but if I owned a Condor I'd buy the parts to convert it to an SS (12" barrel, SS end cap and standard air tank).

    What if I put the 12" barrel and SS end cap on a Condor and left the Hi-Flo tank in place?
    The folks at AirForce tell me they get this question about 10 times a week. People think they must have not thought about the possibility of a quieter Condor. The problem, of course, is that the power depends on the 24" barrel. Without that, you're just wasting air. What you get with that combination is the power of a regular Talon, but half as many shots. And, the gun is as loud as a regular Talon, too! If that's what you want, save your money and buy a Talon.

    How do you get the Condor's power without the noise?
    Legally? I don't know. I have a .22 rimfire silencer that I'm going to adapt to a Condor to see if that works. But my silencer took longer than a year to get and cost more than $600, when all was said and done. As for the aftermarket extension tubes people are selling as barrel shrouds for the Condor, I can only comment on the ones I tried - they didn't work. There may be some that do, but I've never seen them.

    In a nutshell, there's the untold story of Condor convertibility in a nutshell. The rifle is extremely flexible and this capability just adds to that range.

    Monday, March 06, 2006

    The Skanaker: a Crosman pistol you may never have seen!

    by B.B. Pelletier

    Think you've just about seen it all? Well, don't get bored just yet. Think about the days when Crosman tried to enter the Olympics!

    Crosman's model 88 Skanaker 10-meter target pistol was a huge departure from the company's normal line.

    They did WHAT?
    Yep! Crosman built two target airguns capable of competing at the world-class level. In 1984, they brought out the model 84 rifle. It was a bulk-fill CO2-powered target rifle with a digital gauge on the right side of the stock that showed the pressure remaining in the gun. No other air rifle ever had such a gauge and none has had one since. The rifle was hand made by Crosman and probably just over 100 guns were assembled. At over $1,295, it was priced beyond the competition, plus the world-class shooters were just beginning to move away from CO2 as a power source.

    The Skanaker
    The Skanaker model 88 pistol was designed in consultation with Swedish free-pistol champion, Ragnar Skanaker, hence the name. It is a large, heavy air pistol that seems quite dated today when compared to modern target guns. In its day (1987 to 1991), it was closer to what shooters wanted but never in the same class with Steyr, Feinwerkbau and Walther. And, by missing that level, the pistol was assured of never placing high in the world standings. I shot one briefly in regional NRA competition, but several design aspects conspired to make me glad to trade up to a different gun. The last retail price in 1991 was $795, very high for a pistol.

    When I acquired mine, Skanakers were a glut on the market. They had ended production several years earlier, but Crosman dealers had a difficult time getting rid of the remaining guns. The dealer who sold mine practically threw in the kitchen sink just to make the gun change hands. I got three of the removable CO2 cylinders - two of which are shown in the picture. There was also a larger one that held more gas but also made the gun frightfully muzzle-heavy. There were three different muzzle weights and a complete set of tools that any 10-meter pistol might have (wrenches, tank spanners, screwdrivers and bulk tank adaptors). The gun came in a large hard case with everything, plus a set of spare O-rings for a rebuild. The dealer threw that in on his own accord. I also got a 5-lb. CO2 tank to take to matches.

    Some strange features!
    The Skanaker had EXPANDING grips! It's the only gun I ever saw that did, other than a "try" gun used by shotgun makers for fitting the gun to the shooter. The gun's CO2 tanks have bleedoff valves opposite the inlet valve, making this gun the most efficient CO2 gun to fill in the field. The power was a bit brisk, too, with velocities in excess of 600 f.p.s. with light pellets. That's about 100 f.p.s. too fast for target shooting and it makes the gun recoil noticeably. Plus, it's always the loudest gun at the match. Neither thing is very desirable. It lacked the sophisticated grip angle adjustments the big boys were starting to incorporate, but the grip was built with a rotation angle that made a right-hand shooter lock his wrist to shoot. That was a good thing.

    A good silhouette gun
    The extra power makes the Skanaker perfect for airgun silhouette, which is where a lot of them have gone. They will be scoped and their extra weight will not matter when shooting from the modified Creedmore position that handgun silhouette shooters seem to favor.

    Their value today
    Skanakers have grown in value, though they are still not a top-flight investment. You should still be able to buy one with two tanks, all the tools and adaptors in a case for $400, or thereabouts. It's not the gun to take up 10-meter pistol with, especially with the IZH 46M being so affordable and available. But, if you want a butt-kicking CO2 pistol with accuracy and a flare of its own, maybe the Skanaker is for you.

    Friday, March 03, 2006

    IZH 46 target pistol

    by B.B. Pelletier

    I find it hard to believe that in a year's time I did not do a posting on this pistol! But a search and examination of the index on September 30 says I didn't, so today I'm going to rectify that oversight.

    The cocking/pump lever swings far forward to cock the action and pump the gun. Such a long lever reduces the effort needed to charge this powerful air pistol.

    The linkage allows the fulcrum of the lever to slide to the most effective point, thus reducing the force needed to pump the gun.

    One of the finest single-stroke pistols ever made!
    By now you ought to know that the Russians really know how to rifle a barrel. The IZH 61 rifle is legendary, and a lot of you have bought it on my recommendation, alone. I haven't heard from anyone who was not pleased with this rifle. Well, the IZH 46 pistol is a whole other level of quality up from the model 61 rifle. It's a single-stroke pneumatic pistol that uses an innovative cocking linkage incorporating a sliding fulcrum for the pump. As a result, it is one of the easiest single-strokes to pump, yet also one of the most powerful guns. As a result, this is a pistol that won't tire you during a standard 60-shot men's match or a 40-shot women's match.

    World-class features!
    The 27.5cm (just a hair shy of 11") barrel is world-class. No human can shoot as well as this barrel permits, which is true of every world-class target pistol. The sights are adjustable for width in the front - to go with a choice of rear notches (the notches do not adjust). The sights adjust with click-detent wheels. The sighting plane lies low in the hand - a desirable feature. The trigger adjusts for position, pull weight (second stage only), first-stage travel and overtravel. It breaks cleanly without a hint of creep.

    A few detractors...
    At 40.3 oz., the 46 is several ounces heavier than any of today's world-class 10-meter pistols. The grips are smooth wood and not very adjustable. All that adjusts is the palm shelf, where the top 10-meter pistol grips also adjust for rake (forward angle), cant (sideways angle) and rotation (forcing the wrist to rotate around to the side to align the sights). These things help a shooter adjust a pistol that will lock in place when the shooter assumes the correct position. The finest pistols have a rear sight notch that adjusts infinitely through a range of widths. The best triggers also have trigger blade rotation, cant angle and the ability to dial a portion of the mandated 500-gram pull weight into the first stage. And, the dry-fire feature on the 46 is a little hokey.

    Dry fire
    A target pistol has to have a dry-fire feature because 2/3 to 4/5 of all shots a competitor shoots will be dry. It's part of the training to learn the trigger and to grow accustomed to the balance of the pistol. When I am competing, I can get into my stance, which never changes during the match, then pick up my pistol and fire without sighting. If you were to blindfold me, I'd still shoot a credible score because my arm knows where the pistol needs to be, and my feet keep the gun centered on the bull. That comes from many hours of practice. But the dry-fire feature on the 46 requires you to cock the action by lifting up on the breech cover, then push it closed to the locked position for every shot. Other 10-meter pistols are very light and smooth in dry-fire. The 46 fights you every step of the way. On top of that, when the trigger does break, it doesn't feel the same as when the gun shoots - which is the kiss of death for a dry-fire feature!

    The dry fire feature is engaged by lifting the breech cover until the gun is cocked, then returning it to the lowered position.

    The 46M is powerful!
    I own a standard model 46, which may not be available any longer. The 46M that replaced it has a longer pump stroke for higher pressures that deliver about 50 to 70 f.p.s. higher velocity with target pellets. Side-by-side, you can tell the M model is a trifle harder to pump. When it's by itself, you'll never notice the difference. I would love to trade up to an M, even though my 8-year-old model 46 still functions fine. My 46 gets about 430 f.p.s. with RWS R-10 Match Pellets (light). A 46M will get 480 to 500 f.p.s. with the same pellet.

    This is a super bargain!
    When the IZH 46 first came to the U.S., it was imported by hobbyist businesses that knew nothing about the American airgun market. They put a price of $650 on it, making it close to the same price as FWB and Walther guns that already had established reputations and credentials at the world cup level. There was no rationale for this "strategy," which blew up in the faces of the early importers. Within 12 months, they were gone, and a second wave of vendors tried to see how cheaply they could sell them. Whatever dignity the 46 might have had was destroyed by them. Then, EAA began importing most of the IZH/Baikal line, including firearms. The market slowly straightened itself out to what we see today. The low price at which you can purchase this outstanding target pistol will someday be called "The Golden Age of Affordable Airguns" by shooters who missed out.

    So, why don't I shoot a 46 in competition if I like it so much? Simple, I have a pistol I like even better. You'll pay $1,000 for the Aeron B99, the PCP equivalent of my CO2 target pistol. (Read Aeron B99 - a quality 10-meter target pistol) If I had the money, I would get an FWB P40, because it has all the features I want. They sell for around $1,400 at present, and I have wanted one like it for more than a decade. So many airguns, so little money!

    Thursday, March 02, 2006

    Safe storage of pneumatic airguns

    by B.B. Pelletier

    A couple questions have come in regarding the safe storage of pneumatics and whether they should be left with a pump of air in them. I have reviewed what I've written on this issue and it hasn't been thorough enough. Here's the full story.

    I meant multi-pump pneumatics - and not all of them!
    If a multi-pump has an impact-type valve, it needs to be stored with a pump of air in the reservoir. An impact-type valve has a hammer that knocks the valve off its seat, momentarily allowing the compressed air to escape. Owners' manuals used to tell you to leave a pump of air (or two) in the reservoir of a multi-pump pneumatic to keep both the inlet valve and the exhaust valve closed against foreign (airborne) contamination. An example of a gun that has an impact-type valve is the Sheridan Blue Streak.

    The exceptions
    Some multi-pump pneumatics, such as the Daisy 22SG, will not hold a pump of air unless the gun is first cocked. Therefore, to store those guns with air, you would also have to store them cocked - something I would never recommend! However, it is possible to uncock many of these guns (but not the 22SG!) after pumping them, so those could be stored with air in their reservoirs. The Sheridan Supergrade was a gun that had to be cocked before pumping and could be uncocked for storage. The Daisy 22SG has apparently been carefully designed to make it impossible to store with air in it - so don't try. Always follow the manufacturer's recommendation given in the owner's manual.

    Another BIG exception
    This is what prompted this posting. Haque, a reader from Indonesia, owns a Sharp Innova, and he asked about storing it with a pump of air. The trouble is that the Innova has a different type of valve mechanism. Instead of an impact valve, the Innova has a blow-off valve. Blow-off valves were created to end the problems of over-pumping pneumatic guns. Read about that in the Sept. 19, 2005, posting, Another oldie - Crosman 130. The Innova's trigger holds the exhaust valve shut. Whenever air is in the reservoir, this kind of airgun is cocked and ready to fire! There is no separate cocking action that needs to be taken. That makes for a very unsafe situation if you fill the gun with air to store it - not because you are storing a cocked gun (although you are), but because that type of valve is well-known to fail! Guns having blow-off valves can fire without the trigger being pulled! I've had it happen on numerous occasions with many different models of guns.

    Fortunately, the guns with blow-off valves aren't very common, but the whole Sharp line has them. The giveaway to one of these blow-off valve pneumatics is that the trigger becomes harder to pull as the air pressure increases. DO NOT store them with air in them!

    What about single-stroke pneumatics?
    The manuals for most single-strokes say not to store the gun with air in it. We had a question about doing that with an IZH-46, and I know it covers that specific point in the owner's manual. What's at work here is safety and damage to the airgun.

    To charge a single-stroke pneumatic, it must be cocked - and you never want to store a cocked gun! The design of the single-stroke mechanism introduces the possibility of damage to the gun if you leave it pressurized. In order to work, the seal must be flexible enough to expand and seal the compression tube. Being that flexible also means that storing it under pressure will soon cause it to extrude (be squeezed through the tiny spaces it seals) and fail. For this reason, the IZH-46 manual tells you not to leave the gun pressurized for extended periods.

    Precharged pneumatics
    Precharged guns such as the FX Black Widow and the Aeron B99 are always stored with air in them. They all have impact-type valves and benefit from having their inlet and exhaust valves closed against airborne contamination. The only time to take all the air out of them is when you ship them. Otherwise, leave them with at least a caretaker charge to keep the valves closed. There's no harm in leaving them filled to the max at all times.

    I hope this clears up any questions you might have had about storing your pneumatic guns with or without air.

    Wednesday, March 01, 2006

    Adjusting a scope

    by B.B. Pelletier

    Before I start, just a mention that today marks the first anniversary of this blog! Now, to business.

    Scope sights are very common these days, but have you read and understood the instructions that come with them? Many shooters have scopes on their guns that are so far out of whack that it's a wonder they can see through them at all! Let's take a look at the basics of adjusting a scope on an air rifle.

    Eye relief is important
    To be the most useful, a scope should be positioned so you see as much as possible of the image that exits the eyepiece. This image is called the exit pupil, and you are seeing all of it when the image appears as large as it can be. If you see only a small image surrounded by a lot of scope, you are either too close (unlikely) or too far from the eyepiece, which is common. To fix this, you must loosen the scope in the rings and slide it back (or forward) until your eye sees the best (largest) image. Sometimes, you may also need to move the scope rings, which is why I always use two-piece rings whenever possible. One-piece rings are not as easy to position as two-piece rings.

    It's important that your eye is always in the same place to look through the scope. This helps reduce parallax as much as possible and makes sure the scope is positioned correctly when your eye goes to the right place (as naturally as possible) on the stock. Once the scope is situated so you see the biggest image, you can move on the the next step.

    Focus the scope
    Focusing a scope does not mean adjusting it to see the target clearly. That adjustment is done by the AO (adjustable objective) and comes later. Focusing the scope means adjusting the eyepiece so you see the reticle clearly. To do that, you need to be looking at a plain background so your eye is not distracted from the image of the reticle. You will find that the eyepiece of the scope rotates in both directions, just like the eyepieces on a pair of quality binoculars. Rotate the eyepiece until the reticle appears sharp, then leave the adjustment there for the rest of the time you use the scope. This adjustment is not used in conjunction with the target - it is applying correction for your eyes. This helps most people use scopes without their glasses, because the scope corrects for their vision. There are a few eye problems a scope cannot correct, so you may still need to wear glasses.

    The focus ring on a Leapers scope adjusts for your eye, bringing the reticle into sharp focus. Photo borrowed from the Pyramyd Air article All about scopes. - Part 1.

    Here's a tip for making this adjustment. If you stare at the reticle for a long time, your brain will focus your eyes to make it sharp. So, look through the scope for only a few seconds at a time while making this adjustment. I use a light-colored wall as my backdrop. I look through the scope and adjust the eyepiece, then look away. When I look back, if the reticle is in sharp focus, I'm done. If not, I make another small adjustment. Some inexpensive scopes may not have the eyepiece adjustment. If that's the case, there is nothing you can do but move on.

    Adjusting the parallax adjustment correctly
    Tankers used to use a device called a coincidence rangefinder to determine the range to a target. Cameras used to have them, too. You look through the eyepiece and see a double image of the target; by turning a dial, the two images come together in sharp focus. The rangefinder uses mechanical triangulation to determine range based on how much the two mirrors must be moved to bring the images together. Sounds great except for one thing. If you are not extremely careful, it is so easy to be off by a few hundred yards and not know it. But I know a trick that will help you do this easier!

    The parallax ring on an AirForce scope adjusts by bringing the target into sharp focus. The distance may then be read off the scale, as shown here. Photo borrowed from the Pyramyd Air article All about scopes. - Part 1.

    Adjust from both directions
    The trick is to adjust the AO from both directions. Sometimes, you won't see the target get sharp as easily coming from one direction as you will from the other. If you adjust from both near and far, you will get a thin band of possible range within which the target probably lies. You do everything while looking through the scope and adjusting the AO. Only when you believe you have the range determined correctly do you take your eye off the target to dial in the elevation needed for that distance. This is where you will come to appreciate scopes with sidewheel parallax adjustment, like the one you find on the 30mm Leapers scopes. You can REALLY get precise when that big optional sidewheel is installed!

    That's all there is to adjusting a scope correctly. After you've done it a few times, it takes only a few minutes, with the reward of a scope that operates perfectly!