Friday, April 28, 2006

Advanced accuracy tips: Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Let's get right to it.

Tip 3. Follow-through
Follow-through means to continue to aim at the target after the shot has been fired. The opposite of follow-through is to lower your gun the instant you know the shot is off. Follow-through forces you to observe what happens AFTER the shot has been taken. After you practice it for awhile, you will start seeing what takes place at the instant the shot is taken. This is the benefit of follow-through. The things you see will astonish you.

You will see your sights suddenly jump off the target just as the shot is fired! If you are shooting right-handed, they will jump to the left; if left-handed, vice-versa. Seeing this will make you concentrate on relaxing to the point that the sights no longer jump.

You will see the shot taken with the sights not properly aligned. Non-shooters have a fantasy that sights remain steady on a target the way they are shown in movies. Shooters know they don't. The sights almost never stop moving, and follow-through forces you to watch in horror as the gun fires at the least opportune moment.

You may see yourself start dismounting the gun before the shot is fired! This is a REAL shock the first time you see it. I have run pistol ranges where the shooters were kicking up dust six feet in front of themselves while shooting at a chest-high bullseye 25 yards away. This happened during rapid-fire exercises, and the bullets weren't lying. Those shooters really were pointing their pistols at the ground shot after shot, all the while thinking they were aiming at a distant bullseye! What they really did was dip the muzzle of the pistol the moment before they jerked off the shot. It is so unbelievable that you often have to see another person do it before you can believe that you do it yourself.

Follow-through forces you to evaluate each shot, and your own self-esteem takes it from there. Either that or you get out of the shooting sports altogether.

Tip 4. Measure your groups
I was once surprised when a shooter told me he had just shot a half-inch group from 100 yards. I was looking at his target and though I didn't have a ruler, I could clearly see his group was larger than two inches! That's because, after many years of shooting and measuring groups, I've developed a sense of scale.

Here is how to measure a group. Measure across the widest dimension of the two shots farthest apart. If there is any doubt about which ones are farthest apart, measure all of them. If you shoot anything but wadcutter pellets, don't forget to include the torn margin around the bullet hole that is also where the bullet passed through the paper. You can measure this with a ruler, but a dial caliper is much easier to use.

You can measure with a ruler. I've placed the ruler below the bull so you can see the markings on it, but you should place it across the widest spot in the group.

An inexpensive dial caliper makes group measurement easier.

After measuring across the group, subtract one pellet diameter from the measurement. That eliminates half a pellet from each side of the group - resulting in a center-to-center measurement!

What you learn from measuring is how large a half-inch group can be and how small a one-inch group really is. With practice, you'll be able to estimate sizes more easily.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Choosing an airsoft gun for skirmishes

by B.B. Pelletier

A long gun is the most important thing you can take into an airsoft battle. Pistols and grenades are fine in some situations, but long guns are the principal tool of an airsoft warrior. Here are some tips for the budget-minded airsoft shooter who wants to get into the game.

Get an accurate gun
You want to get a gun you can afford, but you don't want to be under-armed because you tried to save a few dollars. What are the considerations? First, you want an accurate gun. The object is to hit the enemy, and you'll have to shoot at long range unless you don't care about getting killed right away. So, adjustable Hop Up is a requirement. Hop Up puts the backspin on the BB and makes it go straight for longer distances. Each BB needs a different Hop Up setting, so you really need an adjustable one.

Power is not the dominant feature people make it out to be. Yes, it's nice for a sniper to hit an enemy 100 yards away, but the typical airsoft warrior doesn't shoot that far. Don't worry about upgrades before you actually have the gun. A gun that handles at least 0.20-gram BBs and 0.25-gram BBs is good, as well, but you don't need 400 f.p.s. in the beginning. A player with a 300 f.p.s. M16 he can use has a lot more fun than a dreamer waiting to buy the gun he can later upgrade to 500 f.p.s.!

Think those scopes are way cool? Think again! They loosen during maneuvers, and you can't get them on target half as quick as good open sights. Let the snipers use scopes; you save your money for gear, BBs and game time. But, a red dot sight is different. They are quick on target and they don't cost as much as a scope. Get the biggest dot sight (the one with the largest optical diameter) you can afford because it will decrease your target acquisition time. Otherwise, stick with open sights.

Player strategy
A new player usually adopts a "spray and pray" tactic because he's learned it from the movies. After being eliminated early in a couple of dozen battles, the thoughtful person starts wondering if there isn't a better way. That's the fun of airsoft skirmishes, because you learn there are times to be quick and bold and other times to be quiet and stealthy. A magazine that holds 300 BBs is barely enough for the first five minutes in the hands of a newbie, but a veteran can make that mag last a lot longer - depending on the situation.

I tell you this for a reason - the number of mags you can carry isn't important unless you signed up to be a pack mule. What you DO with your mags is what matters. Your enemy won't die any faster when your cyclic rate is 1,100 rpm, but he will go down if you hit him! Stop dreaming about the number of mags and BBs you have and how many upgrades you'll need before you can cycle shots like a minigun and start focusing on using the gun to its best advantage. Every airsoft warrior should be forced to watch the movie Quigley Down Under before being allowed to touch a gun.

Buy an AEG
There are three main airsoft powerplants - springers, gas guns and automatic electric guns (AEG). For a personal long gun in battle, nothing can beat an AEG. Even if you leave the selector switch on semi-auto, as some of the top players do, you still have quick second and third shots waiting to go. Snipers can use spring guns, but the fire team needs fast, suppressive fire at times. Save gas for your sidearms, where it works best.

Metal body or plastic?
Both work well for airsoft games and NEITHER is unbreakable! Despite what you have heard, the metal bodies will bend and dent with use. They are tougher than plastic, it's true, but a plastic gun can last a long time with the right player. Some guns that start out with a plastic body, like Marui, can be modified with a metal body when there is more money available.

That's my pick for a budget airsoft long gun. It has to be accurate, have quick sights, and both semi- and full-auto action (an AEG). If you have a favorite gun, why not tell everyone why you like it?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Advanced accuracy tips: Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

I want to share some accuracy tips I've learned over the years. These should be added to all the tips this blog has covered since it started. There are too many of those to recap here, but searching for them would be well worth the effort. You should look at the postings about scopes, scope mounting (including levels), anything about pellets and barrel cleaning. Today's two tips cover all kinds of airguns.

Tip 1. Relax!
I don't mean melt into a puddle...just relax before you take each shot. And, not just you - make sure the GUN is relaxed, too! What do I mean by that? I mean, make sure the gun is not being held in a cramped or forced position, that it can move in any direction after the shot is fired. This tip is especially good when shooting a spring rifle, but it also works for all other kinds of rifles and pistols. Here's a good way to ensure that you're relaxed with a scoped rifle.

After you are sighted on target, close your eyes and force yourself to relax. Now, open your eyes. Where are the sights aiming? That's where your rifle wants to shoot! So, make some adjustments and try it again until your sights remain on target.

With a target pistol, you have to hold the pistol on target. Your shooting arm can't be relaxed, but the rest of your body can be! So, do the same thing, but allow for the shooting arm. Get on target, close your eyes, relax and open your eyes to see where the sights are aiming. When shooting a pistol and when shooting a rifle offhand, I find that the position of my feet has a lot to do with where I'm aimed after relaxing.

When I want to make the best possible group, I always do the above, and I go through the procedure as many times as it takes. I stop going through this drill when I open my eyes and the sights are still on target. That can take over a minute per shot, especially if I have to move between shots to cock and load the gun.

Tip 2. Find the power level and pellet that your gun likes - and stick to it!
This tip applies mostly to those airguns with adjustable power, but all guns will have a favorite pellet. It has been my experience that each airgun with adjustable power has a spot or two where it performs really well. If you change pellets, the spot may change, too. Find the power spot for your gun and keep it there for best results. Also, find the pellet that your gun likes best, which I've covered in several past posts.

The shooters who are hung up on velocity have a hard time doing this. I have actually taken an "inaccurate" pneumatic rifle and shot a group nearly one-fourth the size the owner had been getting. I did it by turning the power down in every case. After the group was shot, the shooter told me he only wanted to run his gun on the maximum power setting. Fine - but don't blame your airgun for your own failure to understand what it takes to be accurate. That's like entering a draft horse the Kentucky Derby or pulling a wagon with a thoroughbred!

Here is an actual incident to support my story. I knew a shooter who wanted to get the most from his Sheridan Blue Streak. He sent it off to have the powerplant upgraded. When it came back, it was set to allow as many as 14 pump strokes instead of the factory-recommended 8. The shooter then loaded his rifle with super heavyweight Korean .20 caliber pellets that delivered over 20 foot-pounds when he pumped his gun as high as it would go. He shot 1-1/8" 5-shot groups at 30 yards with this combination. With the same rifle, I pumped just six times and shot five Crosman Premiers into a 3/8" group at 30 yards. That was with the upgraded rifle! The upgrade had increased the power, but the accuracy had been there all the time.

Crosman stopped making Premiers in .20 caliber a short while back, then they were persuaded to start making them again. The world supply is short as this is printed, but the Crosman domed pellet is close enough until Premiers come back.

I know Premiers work well in Sheridan Blue and Silver Streaks. I've never seen one that didn't like them. While they may not be the absolute best pellet in these rifles, they will probably always be in the top five. I don't have to waste my time trying hundreds of pellets for a Blue Streak, I stick with them until someone shows me something better.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

"What kind of groups does it get from the standing position?"

by B.B. Pelletier,

We get this question from time to time, so today I thought I'd try to answer it. This one came from a reader who calls himself TB, and here is his entire comment.


I've been looking into PCP airugns for a while, and I am impressed with all of the accuracy claims. I am very intersted in the Air Force Condor rifle. Apparently many people on the web get sub-1" groups with the Condor. However, all of those claims seem to be with perfect conditions and from a shooting bench. Before I make the choice to spend over a $1000 for a PCP rig, I would really like to hear about PRACTICAL group sizes.

I have heard enough claims of the people shooting 1" groups at 50 yards. I am not planning on sitting around with a bench rest, waiting for pests to show up. So, what accuracy can I expect from an airgun like the Condor, unsupported, standing up with light wind at 50 yards? I am very curious... your input is greatly appreciated.


Can you see why his question cannot be answered by me or anyone else?

Here's the deal
TB's question is similar to asking what sort of golf score would Tiger Woods get if he wasn't a professional and didn't have all those fancy clubs! I'm not picking on him, because this same type of question is asked all the time. And, I cannot answer it - any more than anyone else can. There simply is no answer for this question.

I have no idea what kind of shooter TB is. I have a friend who was state champion for four straight years with an M1A rifle. He could shoot 10 shots of match 7.62x52mm into LESS than three inches offhand (standing) at 100 yards. The only other person I know who can do as well was the Olympic high-power gold medalist in 1960 and 1964! You and I, if we are very good shots, might be able to put the same 10 rounds into a 6" group offhand on a very good day (for us). The average rifle shot would be hard-pressed to keep 10 shots under 10" at 100 yards if he didn't rest the gun some way.

Because nobody knows what kind of shooter you are, they tell you about the GUN!
The gun is the one thing that remains constant from shooter to shooter. A gun that will group inside of one inch at 50 yards will be best in the hands of a great marksman and only mediocre in the hands of a mediocre shooter. But here is the important thing - a lousy gun will not shoot well in the hands of a good shot. If a gun can't hold a 5" group at 50 yards, nobody in the world will be able to shoot a 4" group with it - offhand or from a rest. So, we report how good the gun is, and you determine how well it shoots for you.

I'm not just mincing words!
I know quite a few field target shooters who can shoot sub-1" groups with an air rifle. Not just any air rifle, but with their own rifle. They can do this from the seated AAFTA position, which is not as solid as a benchrest. I know one who can shoot a 1" group offhand at 50 yards when he is doing well. Very few shooters can do that.

TB - the reason we quote accuracy from a bench with no wind is because THAT'S AS GOOD AS IT GETS! I have shot a couple of half-inch 5-shot groups at 50 yards with an AirForce Talon SS. The Condor is no less accurate than the SS, nor is it more accurate. I have never shot a half-inch group at 50 yards with a Condor, but that's because I don't own one. I've shot maybe 10,000 shots from a Talon SS and not even 1,000 from a Condor. So the odds are that I will have done better with the SS, just from the greater number of opportunities.

What some people REALLY want to know!
They really want to know which rifle is the most accurate out of a Condor, an FX 2000, a Falcon and a Daystate. Believe it or not, all those rifles are pretty much equal in the accuracy potential department, because they all have wonderful barrels. I think the guns with the more conventional stocks (everything but the Condor) are easier to shoot accurately because of their stock configuration, but I learned how to shoot an AirForce rifle years ago, so a conventional stock is no longer an advantage. The others do have better triggers - of that there is no doubt. The Condor has a sporting trigger, and everything else I mentioned has very close to a target trigger. But if you learn your trigger, the advantage goes away there, too.

Shooting a Talon SS from a bipod, I believe I can hit an American quarter or a one Euro coin 7-8 times out of 10 at 50 yards, as long as there is no time limit (so I can wait for the wind to die). How is that different than potting a squirrel at the same distance? The American quarter measures 0.955" in diameter and the one Euro measures 0.915".

TB - and anyone else who might have the same question - I have tried to answer this as thoroughly as I can. But tell me if I missed your point.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Walther's LP III: A single-stroke from the past

by B.B. Pelletier

Blogger went down sometime late April 23d. Apparently Google (the Blogger host) uses Blogger to post the status of Blogger for all Blogs, so they are not able to post any news about this. Apparently no comments can be posted while Blogger is down, but past posts are unaffected.

Many of you are fascinated by single-stroke airguns, judging from your comments whenever we post a report about one. Today, we're looking at one of the early single-strokes, though by no means the first. Walther's LP III was made between 1973 and 1985. Though it was intended as a target pistol, the rules for air pistols hadn't been codified when it came out, so it can look different that the traditional target pistols we know today.

Walther's LP III resembles their famous Olympia .22 target pistol of the 1950s. This model has the less expensive sporting grip.

Because this is the LP III (for luftpistole, model three), you might assume there was also a II and a I. The II existed, alright, but there was never an LP I from Walther. I would guess it had to be changed significantly and was never released for production. The LP II looks very much like the III, but it had a significantly different valve that proved troublesome in the field. In fact, a decade ago you could buy an LP II for about two-thirds of what an LP III brought, simply because nobody trusted the valve! The LP II was made from 1967 through 1972.

Single-stroke valves
We get a lot of questions about single-stroke valves, so maybe this is a good time to clear things up. A single-stroke pneumatic is an airgun that accepts just one pump of air to fire. I get very upset when people mistakenly call a spring gun a "one pump gun." I know they mean one stroke of the barrel or cocking lever, but a spring gun is nothing like a pneumatic, and this sloppy terminology just confuses the new person.

Another big question is, "Why can't I put in a second pump? It would make the gun even more powerful, wouldn't it?" No, in fact, it wouldn't. The pump head on a single-stroke pneumatic is also one end of the air reservoir. If you try to pump a second time, the air from the first pump will escape through the air inlet hole. I hope the drawing makes that clear.

This drawing shows why you can only put one pump of air into the single-stroke reservoir.

How it worked
The LP III was pumped with a lever that fit around the triggerguard. It popped down and drew the piston all the way back (it was concealed in the grip), then returned to the closed position to pressurize the gun. This lever was the LP III's biggest fault, because it was too short to do the job efficiently. It took about 35 pounds of force to close the lever, and that seemed like even more because everything was so closely spaced. Many grown men could not pump the gun even once! As hard as it was to pump, it tired most competitors in a match. Repeated pumping left them with sore hands. The alternative target pistols weren't much better, but the FWB 65 was both a little easier and much more accurate, and that spelled the end for this Walther.

The pump lever is completely withdrawn in preparation for pumping the pistol. The barrel is shown broken open for loading, but it doesn't have to be to pump the gun.

Besides the pump lever, the LP III was also a breakbarrel for loading. A latch under the barrel pivot unlocked the barrel, which was tipped down to expose the breech. There was no spring resistance to this tipping; it was only for loading the pellet.

Although I don't have an LP II with target grips to show you, the only difference was the adjustable wooden grips, themselves. Compared to a 10-meter pistol of today, these grips seem crude and awkward, but in their day they were considered very nice.

As nice as it was, the LP III held only a 5-shot group of about 0.16" at 10 meters. That's aspirin-busting accuracy, but it's also about three times larger than the groups that today's target pistols can shoot. It has a trigger so nice it's only been surpassed in the last 10 years, and the sights sit very low in the hand. Power is in the 350 to 400 f.p.s. region with light target pellets.

As a collectible
There is a lot to collect with an LP III. First, there are two models, one with target grips, the other with plastic (shown). There's an early model with a raised rib formed into the barrel and a later model with a round barrel. Finally, there's a hard presentation case that also holds all tools, sight inserts and literature. The LP III is making a comeback after a couple of decades of being ignored. So, if you want one, better get going!

Friday, April 21, 2006

Gamo Rocket pellets: The accuracy test

by B.B. Pelletier

If it isn't accurate, it isn't anything. So, today, I'll test the Rocket pellets in a couple of rifles of known accuracy. A reader asked if the lead in the Rocket is pure. I believe it is, based on how easy it was to remove the BB from a pellet.

Test guns
I selected a Daystate Harrier and a TX200 Mk III for this test. Both are known to be very accurate air rifles, and both have the power to handle the heavier Rocket pellet. Because of the 9.5-grain weight, I did not do any testing with air pistols. The point of the test was to determine potential accuracy, and for that you need distance. Air pistols are not powerful enough to properly stabilize heavier (longer) pellets at longer ranges.

Daystate Harrier
My Harrier is a very accurate .177 that I've used in field target matches for many years. It will group under an inch at 50 yards on a good day. I shot groups with both Rockets and with Beeman Kodiaks, with Kodiaks being the most accurate pellets for this rifle. Kodiaks averaged 872.4 f.p.s. and Rockets averaged 893.4 f.p.s., for 17.92 foot-pounds and 16.84 foot-pounds. respectively.

The test
The best distance I could get on testing day was 33 yards. The wind was relatively calm, but there were some breezes I had to wait out. I did not shoot great bunches of groups and select the best. Each group is the only one I shot that day with that pellet.

My Daystate Harrier likes Beeman Kodiaks. This is about a 0.30" group of five.

The Harrier clearly did not like the Rocket pellets. It threw them all over the place, but kept nearly the same zero as for Kodiaks, which is interesting. It shifted left only a small amount.

The Harrier does not perform well with the Rockets. This group is slightly larger than one inch.

TX200 Mk III
Sometimes one gun will shoot a pellet real well, while another will not, so I always try a new pellet with at least two guns. This time the TX proved the wisdom of that philosophy, as it shot noticeably better with Rockets than the Harrier. It's a little less powerful and, of course, a springer rather than a PCP, so the difference must be in there somewhere. It averaged 812.6 f.p.s. with Kodiaks and 869.1 f.p.s. with Rockets, for 15.55 foot-pounds and 15.94 foot-pounds, respectively.

TX200 does very well with Beeman Kodiaks, though it likes 7.9-grain Crosman Premiers best of all. A TX is easier to shoot than most spring guns, because it requires less holding technique. This five-shot group measures about 0.37".

Not too shabby for a two-part pellet like the Rocket! This groups measures close to 0.75". Notice that the aim point dropped a little and shifted to the right.

Is my test exhaustive? Obviously, not. But, I've tested enough pellets to recognize their performance potential from a small sampling like this. Had I shot at 40 or even 50 yards, the groups would have been larger and the performance of each pellet and airgun more dramatic. This test tells me what I need to know.

1. The Gamo Rocket does indeed generate more shock than a Beeman Kodiak. That is significant because the Kodiak is a trusted hunting pellet.

2. Though the Rocket is not as accurate as the best pellets, it is capable of acceptable groups in some air rifles. Therefore, it is worth trying.

3. The Rocket sells at a premium price (over $3.00 for 150 pellets). Because of that, it should only be used if there is a clear advantage of some kind.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Gamo Rocket pellets

by B. B. Pelletier

Gamo's new Rocket pellet is tipped with a steel ball for better penetration and shock. B.B. will put it to the test.

Reader JDB asked for this report. The Rocket pellet from Gamo is a steel-tipped lead pellet. This type of pellet has been marketed for several years, first in the UK and now in the U.S. Daisy sells them and now Gamo has thrown their hat into the ring. I have always considered these to be gimmicks, so this will be an opportunity for me to see if my predictions of poor accuracy and mediocre shock and penetration are correct.

A STEEL tip? Why?
Gamo advertising claims maximum shock and enhanced penetration. I may not be a ballistics expert, but I am both a shooter and a handloader who knows that penetration and shock are at opposite ends of the performance spectrum. And, they are directly linked, as in "greater penetration equals less shock." For penetration, a projectile has to retain energy as long as possible, carrying it deep into the target. To generate shock, a projectile must transfer energy as fast as possible to the target. These are mutually exclusive goals. Bulletmakers have worked for decades to offset this relationship, because it affects their product so much.

So, why do airgunners need a steel tipped pellet? Do we shoot through armor? The whole idea of steel-tipped pellets seems to be a solution for which there is no problem. However, I'm going to keep an open mind until the test results are in.

Rocket pellet is flanked by conventional BB on the right and a steel ball from the pellet on the left. Note how much smoother the ball appears, compared to the BB.

Not a BB!
At first glance you might think the tip of a Rocket pellet is just a common BB, but it isn't. It's much smaller than the traditional airgun projectile. Yet after examination under a magnifying glass, it appears to be made just as well as a modern BB, which raises another question. Why go to the trouble to head, finish and plate a steel ball, then attach it to a lead pellet MECHANICALLY - not with glue? What extreme benefit does this pellet possess to go to all that trouble? I was intrigued.

The one steel ball I removed measured 0.1186" - very close to the size of a Daisy .118 BB that fits the .118-caliber Daisy Targeteer and all the Bullseye and Sharpshooter catapult pistols. I measured a vintage Daisy .118 BB to compare, and it was just two-thousandths smaller and not nearly as well-made. In fact, under a 10X loupe, the Gamo ball appears as uniform as a ball bearing. I wonder if Gamo is aware that they have created a second product they could sell for a premium to collectors? If not, I hope someone alerts them to this possibility.

Weight and balance
The steel ball weighs 1.6 grains, leaving the remainder of the 9.4 to 9.6 grain weight in lead. I was surprised by the weight uniformity of these pellets. Most weighed 9.5 grains, which is on the heavy side for a .177 pellet. Balance is best determined by shooting groups. By balance, I mean the uniformity of the weight distribution along the pellet's axis. Close examination of the lead body shows seams with some flashing on opposite sides.

Rocket pellet on left did not penetrate as deeply as Beeman Kodiak on the right. This extreme closeup makes the base of the bar appear curved, but it is actually straight. The slightly broader penetration channel does indicate greater energy transfer, as Gamo claims, and that would explain the lack of penetration.

The Rocket was tested against a Beeman Kodiak pellet. Both pellets were shot from a Beeman P1 pistol into a bar of transparent facial soap. The Rocket weighs 9.5 grains, while the Kodiak weighs 10.6 grains - giving the power edge to the Rocket when shot from a springer. That didn't make any difference, however, as the Kodiak clearly went slightly deeper into the soap. While other tests, such as penetration in wood, might produce different results, this test establishes the degree of penetration in a uniform medium. I believe a test could be constructed that would favor the Rocket, however that's not what I'm after. Shooting into wood, for instance, is not a reasonable test for pellets. Neither is soap, however the soap is at least a homogeneous medium that shows comparative results.

The wider wound channel in the soap indicates that the Rocket did transfer more energy to the bar. That would explain why it did not go as deep. So that part of Gamo's claim is true, when tested against a Beeman Kodiak.

It might appear that I'm being overly critical of the Rocket, but that is not my intent. Gamo has made some big claims for shock and penetration, and I'm trying to report the performance data I obtained along with the test I used. I tested penetration for you today - and I'll test grouping and velocity tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

BSF S54: a quality underlever of the past

by B.B. Pelletier

Let's look at an old air rifle that left the world stage several decades ago. The Bayerische Sportwaffen Fabrik (Bavarian Sporting Weapons Manufacturer) or BSF, as it was known, operated for several decades after World War II. They were based in Erlangen, Germany, and the guns they made were approximately equivalent to Dianas, though in some aspects they were the better brand. It was BSF that first broke the 800 f.p.s. barrier with their model 55 breakbarrel. They remained at the forefront of the airgun horsepower races of the late 1970s and early '80s until the Beeman R1 buried the field. Then, like everyone except Diana, they gave up.

This BSF S54 is a gorgeous underlever sporting air rifle with serious target sights, as well as standard sporting sights. The buttstock is a typical Bavarian style.

The S54 was the top model made by BSF. It wasn't the most powerful, because quality was not measured in feet per second in its day. Rather, it embodied the finer things of airgun technology such as metal finish, wood, sights and overall smoothness. It was also the largest rifle BSF made, at nearly 47" overall and 8.8 lbs.! You knew it was a fine rifle just from the finish and the weight. According to the Blue Book of Airguns, the rifle shown here is the Bavaria model S54, and there is also a deluxe version with an American-style butt.

Not that powerful, but smoooooth!
The S54 came in both .177 and .22 calibers. I have seen about six guns in the past 10 years, and all were .22 caliber. I don't know what to make of that, but apparently the .177 is not as common in the U.S. The rifle was around in 1957 and discontinued in 1986, so it had a long run. I do not know the exact first year it was offered. Cocking was by the underlever, which is not cut from a solid bar, but rather a folded piece of very thick sheet steel. BSF was an innovator in using plate steel to cut the fabrication costs. Their sears, for instance, were not machined from solid stock but punched from many thin sheets of steel that were riveted together! The triggers were stiff and creepy when new, but soon wore into very fine pull weights. This rifle's trigger breaks fairly clean at less than two pounds.

A taploader
Because the barrel is fixed, the rifle loads through a rotating tap, with a handle located on the left side of the action. Unlike some taploaders, this one is entirely manual - meaning you first cock the rifle, then open the tap by hand. A pellet is dropped nose-first into the tap, which is then rotated closed, making the rifle ready to fire. There is no safety, as such; but, if the tap is open, the rifle cannot shoot.

The loading tap lever is raised, opening the tap for loading. This is done independent of the rifle being cocked. Notice the sporting rear sight.

What's with that aperture rear sight?
The S54 is not a target rifle by any stretch of the imagination. When it first came out in the 1950s, it might have been good enough to compete against Weihrauch's model 55, but it would not win too often. In the 1960s, when rifles like the FWB 150 came out, the S54 hadn't a prayer of competing. Still, the German shooter loves his sport, so BSF offered what has to be one of the coolest-looking retro aperture rear sights ever made! The one on this rifle has a standard sighting disk of about two inches diameter, but I have seen S54 disks that appeared to be a full five inches in diameter! This sight is 100 percent machined steel and exudes an aura of quality.

It may seem strange to have both a target rear sight and a sporting rear sight on the same rifle, but it is very much a German tradition. I have had several German target rifles that also had a sporting sight. I have been told that there are different sports for the sporting sight, but I've never been able to confirm that. Maybe the German makers were just adding value.

Rear aperture sight is big, heavy and clicks like a safe lock when adjusted. It screams quality!

Not powerful
The S54 is not a powerful rifle despite its size and weight. A good one shoots medium-weight .22 diabolos at around 525 f.p.s., and I would suppose medium-weight .177 diabolos at around 650, or so. The loading tap is partly responsible for this, as it lengthens the transfer port, which is the passageway through the tap. That lessens the pressure of the air blast that starts the pellet on its way. However, the benefit of less power is a rifle that's easy to cock - as this one is! The powerplant is a little on the buzzy side, but a clever tuner can get rid of that and make the gun feel like the proverbial bank vault door!

Nor that accurate!
The S54 cannot keep pace with a Crosman 101 pneumatic, which demonstrates that expensive airguns are not always perfect. Again, the loading tap comes into question as it sizes the pellet skirt, which then slips into the barrel that may be a little larger. A good choke at the muzzle might have corrected this. In those days, chokes were not commonly applied to airgun barrels.

How hard are they to find?
Good luck finding one! These rifles don't tend to move around very much. There may be more of them than the few I've seen would indicate, but this is an airgun that owners hold on to. Although the Blue Book lists a 100 percent gun at only $235, I've see 80 percent guns change hands for $500! The quality of the gun is its best selling point, so don't expect to find a deal in a pawn shop or thrift store. Almost everyone immediately recognizes the quality.

The end
BSF went out of business in the late 1980s. Weihrauch bougth their remaining inventory, parts and tools. For many years, Weihrauch sold the models 55 and 70 breakbarrel rifles. Then, they swapped in their Rekord trigger and turned the model 70, which was simply a 55 with a longer barrel, into the Beerman R8. The R8 lasted for several years before the design was made more producible and the R9 was created. So, in a sense, BSF is still with us today!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

More power! What can be done to an airgun?

by B.B. Pelletier

We received this question last week. Because it goes to the heart of airgun operation, I wanted to address it today.

i wonder is there a way to pep up the 1077 by changing valves. there is a company out there, which offers to upgrade co2 guns to higher velocity. i forgot the name of it. if you use your airsource canister only 200 times instead of close to 400 shots and double your velocity to close to 1000 fps instead, what a nice squirrel hunter you would end up with. i wonder why nobody ever asked this question. i read somewhere, this company does this conversion all the time or sells the conversion kits. btw canadian tire sells now the 1077 as crossman airsource 1077 and comes with the airsource can nicely snuggled underneath the belly. no fumbling around necessary any more. looking forward to your reply. cheers faustus

The age-old question!
How do I get MORE POWER? That's what many airgunners want. Sometimes, they take too many things for granted in their desire to get there. Faustus asks if someone offers a more powerful valve for the 1077. There may be someone who does, but I don't know who it is. However, the 1077 is a poor airgun to supe up - for a couple of reasons.

First, it's a .177. Even if you get it up to 900 f.p.s., it's still not ideal for hunting. Anything much faster becomes inaccurate. Second, the 1077 is mostly plastic. While the gun is accurate at the power level it comes with, increasing the power will put too much strain on parts not designed for that. It's like the tires on your car. They are probably rated for 90 m.p.h. You can run them at that speed for a long time, though the manufacturer doesn't expect you to. But try to run those same tires at 110 m.p.h. for a half hour and they may very well fail catastrophically - as in blow out! The third reason for not suping up a 1077 is that the sighting system isn't made for it. If you have a gun with 900 f.p.s. velocity, you're going to want to shoot it at long range. The dovetail on a 1077 is plastic, so it's not able to give the precision required for high-power operations. It's fine for shooting out to 30 yards; but at 60 to 75 yards, you will be at a disadvantage.

Twice the gas doesn't mean twice the speed!
The next thing Faustus did was assume that if the number of shots was cut in half, the velocity would double. In actual practice, you might see a 20 percent increase from twice the gas, and that's about it. We have covered this before. To get a real increase in velocity from a gas or pneumatic airgun, you need a LONGER BARREL. Increasing only the gas flow adds a small fractional velocity boost. But, you can't easily put a longer barrel on the 1077, because the receiver that holds the barrel is plastic. We have chosen the wrong model to hotrod.

An analogy
Faustus has fallen into the trap that many airgunners seem to find. He has found a good inexpensive airgun he likes, and he has applied all the improvements he has read about. But that doesn't work. Those improvements only work with more expensive airguns. You can't take a Ford Escort and get 400 horsepower from the engine. You can do it with a Honda! An acquaintance of mine has a street racer Honda sedan whose engine develops over 400 horsepower. He spent $35,000 having the engine blueprinted and supercharged to get to this lofty level. Is it reliable? NO! Is it "worth it"? That depends on who you're talking to. In terms of practicality, this car is not in the running.

Airgunners see features they like in one gun, and they transfer them to a different gun or mentally apply modifications that aren't really feasible. HOWEVER - and this is today's lesson - there ARE certain airguns that respond well to "tweaking," because they have much more potential than they currently deliver.

The No. 1 airgun hotrod champion!
The .22 caliber AirForce Talon SS delivers a maximum of about 25 foot-pounds as it comes from the factory. That's above 95 percent of all spring guns, but it's just the beginning of what can be done. AirForce made all their rifles with interchangeable barrels - so an owner can change caliber OR BARREL LENGTH in five minutes! Quick - what boosts power in a pneumatic? Barrel length! Simply by installing an optional .22 caliber 24" barrel on a Talon SS, you boost the potential power from 25 foot-pounds to 45 foot-pounds! You can NEARLY DOUBLE the power of the rifle for $150! There is no degradation to reliability or accuracy - where boosting a Honda engine to 400 horsepower might shorten its projected life by 90 percent! If that isn't enough, the SS can also be returned to the factory for conversion to a Condor. Then, the power jumps to 65 foot-pounds! That's an increase of 160 percent over the original factory power level - and the gun remains just as reliable and just as accurate.

The Steroid Streak
I know of no other airgun with that much EASY potential for power increases, but any short-barrelled PCP or CO2 gun can always be improved by the addition of a longer barrel. Perhaps the next biggest power jump I have seen is with the Sheridan Blue Streak. Greg Fuller invented a better valve that got as high as 25 foot-pounds from a Blue Streak, where the factory gun is in the 13-14 foot-pound range. The gun had to be pumped 18 strokes to get that, and the final pump stroke was 100 pounds! That valve was essentially handmade and never really offered for sale. Mac-1 does a Steroid conversion of Sheridan and Benjamin-type pneumatics for prices starting at $75. His guns pump easier than Fuller's and reach a more realistic power. The pump linkage is also strengthened as part of this conversion. The barrel remains the same.

Crosman 160/TF 78
A few years ago there was a lot of modification of Crosman 160s and Tech Force 78s. Even using the factory barrels, it's possible to boost these guns from 12 up to 14-16 foot-pounds with various valve modifications. Some of this is still going on - and the 2240 pistols are involved, as well.

Spring guns
The Beeman R1 had at least 10 popular tunes a decade ago. The factory power of about 16.5 foot-pounds could easily be boosted as high as 22 foot-pounds with the right stuff. The shift in interest to PCPs in recent years has killed off a large portion of the spring gun interest. There still are tuners who specialize in springers and the same ratio of power increases are still possible, but you may have to search a little harder to find what you want.

So, Faustus, I hope that addresses your questions. Anyone else who wonders what can be done with airguns, I hope this points you in the right direction.

Monday, April 17, 2006

I want to work on airguns!

by B.B. Pelletier

If you want to work on airguns, go right ahead. By all means - work on airguns. What's that? You want to know what books you should buy? What tools to get? Well, I would recommend reading The Comprehensive Guide to Airgun Maintenance, Restoration and General Repair - and I also suggest that you buy a Sears Craftsman Airgun Repair Tool Set. I WOULD recommend them if those items existed. Unfortunately, they don't.

Stepwise learning
When John Kennedy announced the U.S. goal to put a man on the moon and safely return, NASA didn't flood the chat forums with requests for information about building interplanetary space vehicles and moon boots. Instead, they created a space program with a series of steps that would lead to their ultimate goal. That's what you need to do.

"Yeah, B.B., but fixing airguns isn't rocket science! I put a new muffler and carburetor on my lawnmower this spring and found all kinds of information, parts and tools to help me."

To which I respond, "So, visit Sears and count the number of airguns they sell compared to the number of lawnmowers."

"I don't know about Sears, but Wal-Mart sells both airguns and lawnmowers."

"Yes, they do, and how many airguns do they sell with a pricetag over $200?" The point is that Wal-Mart airguns are not the ones generally designed for extensive repairs and modification. Some can be disassembled, it's true, but those guns, while they sell in huge numbers, are not the mainstream of serious airgunning. And, Wal-Mart handles returns by putting the guns on a pallet and shipping them back to the manufacturer. At Crosman, let's say, the receiving department looks at those returns and makes a judgement about whether they are worth the time and effort to repair. If the repair takes more than a few minutes, those guns will be scrapped! Do you wonder where that dumpster is? Me, too!

If Crosman pays an employee $12 an hour to fix an airgun, then that employee can cost them upwards of $20 an hour - depending on the company's overhead structure and the terms of employment of the repair personnel. If Crosman is very careful, and I believe they have to be, the cost is probably down around $15 an hour. So, an hour's time to disassemble, repair, reassemble, test and repackage the gun comes to $28 when you factor in packaging materials, repair parts, mistakes, supplies (like CO2 powerlets or AirSource cartridges) and shipment back to the Wal-Mart distribution center (or to places like Pyramyd Air, where they sell these guns for a big discount). We haven't even considered the rent Crosman has to pay for the shop space where all this work is (1) received, (2) repaired and (3) warehoused for reshipment - or the software needed to track this operation or the human time involved in its administration.

The bottom line is this: Should Crosman invest $28 in a gun on which they have already spent $35 getting it to market the first time? Remember, they've now refunded the money received from the first sale. If the income from the resale of this gun is $46, Crosman will go out of business if they spend much more money on it.

You, on the other hand, see the same airgun retailing in Wal-Mart for $112. You would be shocked to learn that Crosman originally sold it to them (along with 12,787 just like it) for $57.33, because that would mean Wal-Mart is making $54.67 on each sale. Or are they? Doesn't Wal-Mart also have expenses to stay in business? Things like payroll, benefits, rent, advertising (they advertise on television, so imagine how large their budget must be!) and so on. So, selling that gun for $112 doesn't make them $54.67. It makes them $28.91, unless they mark it down in a sale. Then they make less than $15, because the power company doesn't discount their electric bill. And, when they have to return guns, it costs them a little to put them on a pallet and ship them back. So, on average, Wal-Mart makes about $24.00 for every one of these airguns they sell. (Of course, I don't know the real figures, but I'll bet these are darn close!)

How to make a million!
There's an old saying about farming that also applies to the airgun repair business. If you want to make a million dollars fixing airguns, start with five million and work very hard. You will soon arrive at your goal.

What this means to you
This situation means that companies like Crosman, which used to fix every gun they sold, is now doing business differently. It also means that the guns they sell are being made differently to support how they do business now. It used to be (in 1965) that a Sheridan Blue Streak was very maintainable, because it was designed that way and the factory (Sheridan in those days) was doing repairs. The Sheridan company no longer exists and the guns that carry that name are less repairable than they were in 1965, though they are still among the most repairable American airguns made. But, when the retail price drops below a certain level, don't expect those guns to be as repairable or expect the manufacturer to generate technical data (schematics and illustrated parts breakdowns), tools and parts.

You're on your own!
What that means is that if you want to learn how to repair airguns, you'll probably have to teach yourself. There is one repair seminar I know of, and it's taught by Randy Bimrose. Beyond that, there is very little. So get all the technical data you can, starting with this website. Pyramyd Air has a HUGE library of owner's manuals, some of which still have the schematics in them. Learn to make your own tools! I've done it and so have hundreds of others. Before B-Square made a mainspring compressor, I got the plans for several out of the Airgun Letter. They are now available on the internet, so get out there and LOOK!

Fixing airguns yourself is a rewarding and absorbing hobby. As you become more involved, you will discover that there are good resources for help. All you have to do is find them.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Gas springs of the Theoben airguns: Part 2!

by B.B. Pelletier

I'll try to finish the topic and address any concerns today. Our first question from Markus concerned leaking, so let's go right to reliability.

Markus saw the graphic and understood that the gas spring compressed its internal pressurized gas even more when the gun is cocked. But I didn't put any numbers to the graphic, so today I will. These are not the correct numbers, but they are representative of the relationships between high and low pressure (cocked and uncocked). If the uncocked pressure is 500 psi, the cocked pressure might be 900 psi. Markus was concerned about leaking at the higher pressure (cocked), but, as you can see, the spring's internal pressure is always high. The difference between uncocked and cocked isn't that great. And, they do leak! Anything with pressure leaks in time, but let's look at this realistically. The gas springs that hold open the back deck on a minivan will work reliably for about 8 to 10 years. By the eighth year, they're showing their age. By year 10, you probably have to help them open the deck. Those gas spring units are made much cheaper than the units that go into airguns. Also, a minivan's gas springs are under full compression 98 percent of the time, where an airgun's spring is just the reverse.

An airgun gas spring should operate reliably longer than a decade and perhaps two full decades. However, there will be defective units that leak down right from the start, just as there are coiled steel mainsprings that fail within the first 50 shots. Those are the exceptions. My Theoben Fenman held reliably for 10 years, and my Crow Magnum held for the six years I owned it. A Vortec gas spring (no longer made) I put into an HW 80 is still going strong after 9 years.

Owner abuse
You just can't get away from it, if one is good, two must be better! It's the American way. When Theoben first began selling their guns in America through Air Rifle Specialists, they had a Schrader valve in the rear of the action that allowed the owner to modify the gas pressure. They also sold a "Slim Jim" pump to let owners make this modification. I bought the pump, and I also read the instructions that said the rifle (a Beeman Crow Magnum, which is essentially a Theoben Eliminator) came to me with the gas spring set at its maximum. They did that over a chronograph, increasing the pressure until the velocity stopped increasing, then releasing pressure until the gun shot its fastest with the lowest pressure possible. The owner was only supposed to RELEASE pressure to make the gun easier to cock. Things didn't work out that way. American owners began increasing the pressure of their gas springs, convinced they were also increasing velocity. Heck, the rifle was MUCH harder to cock, so it had to be more powerful, no?

NO! At first, the power remained stable, but the increased heat from the more rapid air compression of the now faster-moving piston started vaporizing and melting the piston seal. As the seal melted away, a deep pit formed in the center and the compression it was able to develop dropped. Shooters countered this by adding more pressure, which only speeded up the destruction of the piston seal. When I got my used Fenman, it took 75 lbs. of effort to cock, yet it delivered less than 12 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. I sent it off to be repaired, and it came back cocking at 38 lbs. of effort with 12 foot-pounds of energy - exactly on spec.

To counter the large number of guns sent in for repairs, Theoben stopped selling the Slim Jim pumps. They eventually removed the easy access to the Schrader valve, as well. However, there are a large number of Theoben gas spring air rifles in this country that have been slowly beating themselves to death like captive impact hammers over the past 10 years. Be VERY careful when buying a used Theoben! The interesting note to my Fenman story is that the gas spring itself never leaked - in spite of being over-pressurized all those years.

Gas springs are hell on pellets!
This is a topic I've never addressed, but all spring guns are much harder on pellets than CO2 guns or pneumatics. Although a spring gun operates on very little compressed air, it generates that air blast instantly and delivers a hammer-blow to the pellet in the first few micro-seconds. Powerful spring guns are known to deform the skirts of lighter pellets by blowing them out flat into the sides of the barrel. Well, gas spring guns are the worst for this, and the Eliminator/Crow Magnum is at the top of the pile when it comes to destroying pellets! You have to use a tough pellet that has a thick skirt - enter the Crosman Premier. Remember how I said Premiers are made of a hard lead alloy? It may be bad for leading the bore, but it handles the powerful Theoben gas springs like no other pellet. Fortunately, it is also a world-class pellet, so you are in tall cotton if you shoot Premiers. Just remember to clean the bore with JB Bore Paste like I told you. Beeman Kodiaks/H&N Baracudas are another good pellet because of their thick skirt, and because their greater weight is more suited to the power of this gun. Also, they come in .25 caliber, while Premiers do not.

Gas springs are hell on scopes, too!
The Theoben Eliminator and the Webley Patriot share the unenviable reputation as world champion scope-breakers. Forget the .700 Nitro or the .50BMG! They're wusses compared to these two! [I only mean that from the standpoint of breaking scopes. Obviously, these two calibers will knock anyone into the middle of next week!] I can live with the Patriot because Webley allows me to choose my own scope mounts, but Theoben provides their Dampa mount on the gun, and little else will fit. Unfortunately, the Dampa is not adjustable, but fortunately most Theobens don't need much scope alignment. And, as frail as it might appear when you first see it, I have never had a bit of trouble with a Dampa mount. You are limited in scope placement and size because the Dampa doesn't move. You wouldn't want too heavy a scope on an Eliminator anyway - too much mass for the mount to control.

Other issues
The other gas spring issues are petty compared to these, but they are worth considering. The first is maintenance. When Air Rifle Specialists imported them, Davis Schwesinger did all the repairs for the guns he sold. When Beeman took over, they did parts replacement, but Schwesinger still repaired the actual gas spring units. However, Theoben has now changed hands and I don't see the same relationships in place anymore. All that support is now gone, and who knows what has taken its place? So if you buy a Theoben, new or used, you might have to maintain a relationship with the company in England. If you buy a Beeman RX-2 you can expect that Beeman in California will back it up. No, it isn't exactly the same as a Theoben, but it does have a Theoben gas spring inside.

The last word
I have avoided the history of gas spring airguns. Theoben did not invent the concept - it was pioneered by an Argentine airgun maker and Theoben improved on it. They hold patents on their designs, but there have been other gas springs contemporary with them. The Vortec gas spring was a drop-in conversion for the Beeman R1 that made it a little more powerful and a lot harder to cock. It was around for about five years, but has disappeared from the scene. Vortec actually did make a gas spring conversion for the HW77 and for the Diana RWS sidelevers, but these have gone, too. To my knowledge, there has never been a gas spring pistol - probably due to excessive cocking forces. That's about all I can tell you.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Gas springs of the Theoben airguns!

by B.B. Pelletier

Gas springs in airguns is an interesting subject. I will need more than a single post to cover everything, but today I'll cover the basics.

Terminology first
Gas springs are also called gas struts by spring makers in the UK. A quick search shows that even then, most of the manufacturers also use the term "spring" to make it clear what they are talking about. But gas strut is a correct term, if confusing. Gas "ram" appears to have been made up by airgunners. Someone has even gone to the trouble of making a Wikipedia entry for gas ram, so the confusion will be perpetuated. I will call them gas springs, and you'll all know what I mean.

What is a gas spring?
A gas spring is a sealed mechanism that uses compressed air or other gas to create a spring action. The mechanism installs in an air rifle in place of a coiled spring and piston. The gas inside the mechanism is under pressure all the time, but when the mechanism is forced to contract (by the cocking of the gun) the internal pressure increases. An internal piston compresses the sealed air or gas into a smaller space (see the drawing below). The gun's sear holds the internal piston in place until it is released by the trigger. Then, the piston springs forward to its fully open length. As it goes, it compresses the air in front of it in the same way a conventional spring piston mechanism does. At that point, it acts just like any other spring piston unit.

A gas spring uses gas under pressure to perform like a coiled steel spring.

Benefits of gas springs
Gas under pressure never takes a set or breaks down, as I discussed in the post about coiled steel mainsprings, so you can leave a gas spring gun cocked a long time with no power decrease. Gas springs also use very little lubrication, and they aren't as sensitive to low temperatures as coiled steel springs. These two benefits make gas spring guns valuable to hunters.

More benefits
Compressed gas weighs less than a coiled steel mainspring. The entire sealed gas spring unit weighs a little less than the steel piston it replaces. The net result is that guns with gas springs are lighter than guns with conventional steel mainsprings. You save almost a full pound with a gas spring. Because they are lighter, gas spring mechanisms also accelerate faster than conventional steel pistons, giving a faster piston cycle time. They DO NOT reduce "lock time," however! That is an urban myth started by airgunners who don't understand what airgun lock time really is. While the piston in a gas spring gun does its thing faster than a conventional spring piston, the pellet does not begin moving until the piston has come to a stop. So the time that the pellet remains inside the gun after the disturbing movement (recoil) and vibrations begin is exactly the same in both types of powerplants. However, because gas spring units have a lot less vibration than conventional coiled steel mainsprings, there is an advantage to the gas spring. With all these benefits, you might think gas springs are the only way to go - but wait until you hear the down side before making your decision.

Gas spring faults
Gas springs require more effort to cock than coiled steel mainsprings. A Theoben Fenman that develops 12 foot-pounds takes 38 to 40 lbs. of effort to cock, while a rifle of equal power and a coiled steel spring might take only 25 lbs. A Theoben Eliminator, better known in the U.S. as the Beeman Crow Magnum, takes as much as 60 lbs. of effort to cock. While that is about equal to the Gamo Hunter 1250, a powerful coiled-spring rifle, the Webley Patriot that develops almost as much power as the Eliminator only requires 50 lbs. of effort to cock. When I released the air pressure in my .20 caliber Crow Magnum, the cocking effort dropped to about 46 lbs., but the muzzle energy also dropped to around 20 foot-pounds. A .22 caliber Diana RWS 48 develops 22 foot-pounds with just 33 lbs. of cocking effort.

The Evolution is Theoben's entry-level rifle. It takes the place of the Fenman mentioned in the text.

Gas spring guns have a sharper jolt when they fire. You can offset this by holding them very loose (as you should for best accuracy). If you hang onto one like it's a firearm, prepare to get your cheek slapped!

If they're so great, why aren't they available anymore?
I'm not really sure. I do know that the Beeman RX-2 is a Weihrauch gun that has a Theoben gas spring inside. Beyond that, I don't know.

There is more to cover - things like overpressurizing the gas spring, piston seal burnout, the unavailability of the hand pump to regulate the gas spring pressure, longevity and maintenance, best pellets and scope mounting, to name a few.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Is ANY airgun worth $1,000?

by B.B. Pelletier

I hear this a lot from people outside the airgun community. They've gone all their lives thinking airguns were inexpensive copies of firearms, fit only for children, when suddenly they come face-to-face with a Logun Gladi8tor or a Weihrauch 100S, two rifles that retail for over $1,100. The shock of the encounter blows them away, and the ironic thing is - they aren't one-quarter of the way up the big-ticket airgun ladder. They are gawking at Pontiac Firebirds, and no one has told them about Ferraris yet!

These stunned shooters then ask the title question, because how could a BB gun be worth as much as a Kimber (or more!)? We overlook the BB gun insult, though many of them do know better, but perhaps the limit of their exposure has been to the stacks of cheap Chinese springers that still show up at gun shows. They once saw a Diana RWS 34 (ooooooh!) and they were amazed how much it resembled a "real gun." Surely, that must be the pinnacle of modern airguns!

Let's be reasonable
As a veteran airgunner, I try to put our hobby into perspective for them. They know Rock Island makes a good, inexpensive variation of the M1911A1 pistol, and they also know that Wilson Combat makes a better one for a lot more money. If you put the same development into the Rock Island gun as is in the Wilson, it will probably be just as nice. So it shouldn't be much of a stretch to grasp that if an AirForce Talon selling for under $500 can shoot as well as their Ruger 10/22 Target that costs about the same, it's worth it. But can it - really? Yes and no, and I am not waffling on this answer. This is the key element that makes expensive airguns so wonderful and the main reason why those who know what they can do are willing to pay the price. The Ruger 10/22 is limited by ammunition. If you get a bad round - and they happen more often than rimfire shooters like to admit these days - your accuracy goes down the drain. The bad news is that YOU have little control over the ammo, other than buying the best stuff in large lots. The ammo maker is still largely responsible for how well your Ruger shoots.

Airgunners are like handloaders!
Same thing with the Talon, only, like a handloader, YOU control the ammunition! The Talon takes a pellet - one that you have selected from the best lot of pellets you have found for the gun. If you are fastidious, you've weighed all your pellets and sorted them into lots that vary in one-tenth grain increments. It isn't the weight you are concerned with; it's the uniformity. And like a bullet caster, you have learned that small weight variations also mean small dynamic variations that affect ballistics. I won't bore you with the other preparations because we've covered them many times in this blog. For the benefit of first-time readers (and perhaps doubters), they include optically centering your scope, using a scope level, shooting inside the optimum pressure curve for your gun and - ABOVE ALL - shooting on as calm a day as you can find! That's where the real precision comes in. Moving air affects pellets more than it does bullets. Also, no experienced long-range airgunner will shoot a pellet above about 900 f.p.s., in spite of all the hype they see. Yes, 1,600 f.p.s. is possible with the new Gamo Raptor pellet, and, no, you can't expect to hit anything with it at that speed. I addressed that in my CF-X review. In Gamo's video of the pellet in the field, the shots were taken at only 10 meters, or so.

Let's set some parameters before we continue. I am talking about the ability to group 10 shots at 50 yards. Beyond 50 yards, an airgun is a special challenge that I can discuss, but not in this post. Don't let our firearms friends get away with claiming their 10/22 Target can group 10 shots in 3/8" at 50 yards. Yes, it CAN happen, and it does happen about as often as there is a Powerball winner. A Ruger 10/22 shooting the best target ammo is doing well to keep 10 shots inside a half-inch at 50 yards, when all the measurements are real. An AirForce Talon can do the same UNDER IDEAL CONDITIONS. Please read on to learn what those conditions are.

Airgun scale
A good long-range airgunner learns to "dope" (figure out) the wind. Just like a buffalo hunter with a .45/70 has to dope the wind to make a 500-yard shot because his 500-grain bullet is going to be airborn a very long time. Therefore, a 50-yard bullseye shooter shooting a $1,000 air rifle has to do the same thing for the same reason. Ah, but the difference is that he's only shooting 50 yards, yet it is as challenging as a 500-yard shot with a lead bullet from a blackpowder rifle. There are a heck of a lot more opportunities to shoot 50 yards in America than there are opportunities to shoot 500 yards! You shooters in Wyoming and Montana know how good you have it; but, with a precision adult air rifle, a fellow in Syracuse, New York, can shoot with the same challenges, except for the noise, recoil and expense.

Ah, yes - THE EXPENSE!
A firearm shooter can pay $2,800 for a Shiloh Sharps (or $1,200 for a Pedersoli lookalike) and still be faced with 40-cents-a-round ammo costs. Forgetting travel to the range (and, if your 1,000-yard range really IS in your backyard, I hate you!) and cleanup of the rifle and cases after each excursion, the cost of doing business with a powder-burner goes right on happening with every pull of the trigger. The long-range airgunner pays under $9 for 500 .177 caliber hand-sorted JSB Exact pellets (and still bitches about the cost!). The last time I checked, air was free - or, at the worst, very reasonably priced. So, he can save up for his next toy even sooner.

Have I answered the question?
It's in the third paragraph and also in the one above. The answer is this - is a Wilson Combat .45 that much better than a Rock Island? Is a Shiloh Sharps that much better than a Pedersoli? To some they are and to others they aren't. And, so it is with expensive airguns. Think of the AirForce Talon as the Pedersoli and the Gladi8tor as the Shiloh. Both are expensive, all right, but one is considerably more than the other. Both will get you into the game. And, YES, airguns can be worth $1,000, and even a whole lot more!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The HW 97 & HW77: A full report

by B.B. Pelletier

A lot of our readers were just not satisfied with the report I did on the HW97 & HW77 on February 7. That report lacked velocity numbers and accuracy figures. It was more a report of my feelings about the guns, rather than a meat-and-potatoes look at them. So, today, I'll make up for that transgression.

The two guns are VERY similar!
The HW77 came first, back in 1982. It was originally supposed to have the same power as the Beeman R1, but the weight of the underlever gun rose to over 11 lbs. before the Beemans decided to scale it back. The underlever adds a lot of weight, plus the sliding compression chamber means the piston has to be a smaller diameter to fit inside, so there is no easy way to get R1 power from either a 77 or a 97.

What's a sliding compression chamber?
In traditional spring air rifles, the piston rides directly inside the compression tube - the same tube that houses the mainspring. However, in order to gain access to the rear of the barrel for loading, Weihrauch put the piston inside a sliding compression tube that moves back with the piston when it's cocked. In fact, when the gun is cocked, the cocking lever acts directly on the sliding chamber by pushing it back. The piston is inside and has to go along with the chamber. When the sear catches the piston, the sliding chamber is free to return to the front after a pellet has been loaded.

Because the sliding chamber has to fit inside the outer tube of the gun, it has to be smaller, and the piston that fits inside is smaller still. A gun with a sliding compression chamber is giving away piston diameter. Piston diameter and the length of the piston's travel (the stroke) determine how much air is compressed. Any airgun with a sliding compression chamber is at a disadvantage when it comes to power generation. Modern technology has improved the situation, somewhat, but because it has also been applied to breakbarrels, they have maintained the power lead.

The HW77 is the earlier rifle, and you'll notice the stated velocity figures are slightly higher than those of the HW97. In reality, this rifle in factory trim can generate as much as a full foot-pound more than the 97. Remember, the 77 started out as a scaled-down magnum rifle like the R1. In a well broken-in rifle, you should see Crosman 7.9-grain Premiers going well above 900 f.p.s., with some guns reaching 920 f.p.s. My tuned 77 pushed them to 945, or so, but that was with an aftermarket spring. The HW77 and the Beeman HW77 Mark II carbine also come with open sights that can be taken off for scope mounting, but they're fine sights in their own right. No fiberoptics here! Though the stated weight for the carbine is below 9 lbs., it can go over depending on the density of the wood in the stock.

Accuracy with the 77 is the equal of the TX200 - one-inch and slightly better for five shots at 50 yards on a perfect day with an experienced shooter. The 77 is very insensitive to hold - about like a CF-X. You can get away with holding onto the stock, but you had better have good follow-through! The two-stage Rekord trigger can be safely set to around 1.5 lbs.- 2 lbs. with a glass-crisp lettoff. The best pellet in the .177 caliber 77 might be the Crosman 7.9-grain Premier, the 8.6-grain H&N Field & Target Trophy or the 8.4-grain JSB Exact. I would stay away from heavy pellets in this rifle, because I have never found them to be as accurate as the three I've listed for you.

You can also get the Weihrauch HW77 rifle (a non-Beeman gun, but the identical model in a rifle stock) in .22 caliber, which this gun can certainly handle. I have no experience with this caliber in this rifle, so I'll move on.

The HW97K was developed as a low-power, smooth-shooting spring rifle. It initially hit the market as a 12 foot-pound gun. Even Beeman sold it that way in the beginning. Eventually, it was tweaked up in power to today's level in the Beeman HW97 Mark III, which is close to the 77 but not exactly as high. Weihrauch had to add stroke to the piston to get the power up - something they did not have to do with the 77. That said, the power figures are stated exactly the same as the 77 on some websites and very close on others. In my experience, however, a well broken-in 97 is going to shoot a 7.9-grain Crosman Premier at 885 to 910 f.p.s. - just a trifle slower than a 77. Individual guns may perform differently, and it's certainly possible for an exceptional 97 to out-perform an average 77.

The 97 has the same Rekord trigger as the 77, and it works just as well. None of the 97s come with sights, so a scope is mandatory. The stock is fuller (higher cheekpiece) than the 77's stock, and I think it feels better when using a scope than a 77 with a scope. The 97 also comes in .22 - a caliber it is certainly suited for. Beeman also offers the rifle in .20 caliber - something that the 77 does not offer. Generally speaking, the 97 is a trifle heavier than the 77, but there are so many models to choose from that wood density will even that out a lot.

Sensitive to hold!
As for accuracy, the 97 is the equal of the 77 and TX200, but unlike both of those rifles, this one is very sensitive to how it is held. I found it likes to lay on the flat of my open palm placed out near the end of the stock. It took quite a while to learn how to hold my 97. Once I found what it liked, it shot well. Use the same pellets as I recommended for the HW77.

Common to both rifles
When the rifle is cocked, the safety automatically pops out on the left side of the receiver. A Weihrauch or TX shooter soon becomes so familiar with taking the rifle off safety that it is part of the cocking effort. If you want to reapply the safety on either rifle you must fully retract the cocking lever a second time. Neither rifle has a true anti-beartrap mechanism, so both rely on the trigger (to hold back the sliding compression chamber while loading). I wouldn't trust it, because it's not as positive as the ratchet safety on the TX or the Diana RWS sidelevers. When you cock the rifle, HOLD ON TO THE COCKING HANDLE WHILE YOU LOAD! If the sear were to slip, you must be able to restrain the sliding compression chamber from slicing off your digits. Both rifles have more room to load the pellet than the TX200.

That's my report. I've owned several HW77s and one 97, plus I've shot may others over the years. Either rifle is a great spring air rifle that you can be very proud to own.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Spring talk: Some facts about mainsprings

by B.B. Pelletier

Somebody somewhere asked whether the HW97 has a square-section mainspring. I believe it was CF-X guy, but I'm not sure. I checked around and learned that this is apparently either an urban myth or there may be some aftermarket hobbyists in England installing these springs in their guns. The U.S. versions that I was able to check have standard round-section wire springs.

I thought I'd use this as an opportunity to explore coiled wire mainsprings and perhaps learn a fact or two along the way.

Compression springs
The mainspring in most modern spring guns is a compression spring. When it compresses, the area of greatest stress is around the surface of the wire. Therefore, a thicker wire has a greater surface area and can tolerate greater stress. However, the larger the wire, the longer it takes for it to relax (spring back to rest), so a thicker wire can also slow you down. The thickness of the wire has to be balanced against the load (stress) it's required to handle as well as the number of times it will be expected to be stressed without failure.

Do square-sectioned wire mainsprings really exist?
Yes, they do. Back in the 1980s, when airgunners were experimenting with lots of different things to boost the power in spring guns, the square-sectioned wire mainspring was made and sold as an aftermarket mainspring for a variety of different guns. The wire from which these springs were made had a square cross-section instead of round. The theory was that the wire could be made thicker if it was flat when the coils collapsed and touched each other. Instead of two circles touching (like two beach balls) the coils would collapse to the point that two flat surfaces touched each other (like two boxes). You can get more mass into a smaller space this way. However, there was a problem. The square corners of the wire were points of extreme stress that began breaking down almost immediately when the spring was compressed. You might have gotten 500 powerful shots before your gun's mainspring started to fail. After that, the gun began to buzz and vibrate and power went straight down.

Webley air pistol springs
The older Webley pistol mainsprings were made from wire that was flat on two sides. Imagine a full circle that has been ground flat at 12 and 6 o'clock. When these springs were wound, the flat sections ended up opposite each other so the spring could compress closer than if the wire had been left round. It was a similar concept to the square-sectioned wire spring, except that it used round wire to begin with. These springs last longer than the square-sectioned springs, but not as long as springs with round wire. They don't seem to be any more powerful, because the Weihrauch HW 45, which has a round-sectioned wire spring, has a lot more power than an old Webley Senior with a flat-sectioned spring.

Spring wire material and treatment
The steel from which coiled mainsprings are made plays a big part in how long the spring lasts, as well as how powerful it can be.

Music wire is the carbon-steel wire used to make musical strings for stringed instruments, including pianos and harps. It is held to rigid tolerances and is very free from inclusions, as it must be to resonate correctly. It happens to make great coiled steel mainsprings, too, so many airgun springs are made from it. They are made from other types of steel, too, and I'm not going into the subject that deeply, but you can do a lot of research on compression springs on the web.

Heat treatment or some other kind of stress-relief is necessary after a spring is wound. What was a straight piece of wire or a wire wound from a large spool is now wound into uniform coils. That introduced all sorts of stresses into the surface of the wire. So, you do something to relieve those stresses. Shot-peening is a common stress-reliever, and you can tell when a spring has been shot-peened by the rough surface on the wire. If you don't do a proper stress-relief, the spring will fail earlier.

Spring ends should be ground flat
For the spring to work best in the confines of your airgun's powerplant, the ends should be ground flat. I've seen a number of foreign springs where the wire was left full-sized on the ends. When the spring decompresses during firing, it will vibrate more violently if the ends are not square to the axis of expansion.

Springs will take a "set" after manufacture
The spring becomes shorter after a full compression. This is sometimes called scragging and is part of the spring manufacturing process. Before scragging a spring may be too long to fit inside a gun, while afterwards it fits just fine.

Once it has been scragged, it will remain the same length for many thousands of shots if it was made properly to begin with. Then, in its old age, it will begin to break down and start to bend inside your airgun. You can feel when this happens by the increased vibration when you shoot. Some spring guns vibrate so much that they're painful to the shooter. You nearly always have a bent spring when that happens.

A little-known fact
When a mainspring decompresses, it doesn't just spring to its relaxed length and remain there. Instead, it opens and closes like an accordion for a few milliseconds. There are moments when neither end of the spring is touching the end of the gun it normally presses against!

There is a lot more I could do on mainsprings, but I don't want to bore you. Let me know if you want to know more.

Friday, April 07, 2006

What do single-action and double-action mean?

by B.B. Pelletier

This is for the call desk at Pyramyd Air, where they say they get asked this question all the time. When I use either term in print, I wonder if everyone understands it, so I'd like to explain both today.

Single-action came first
The first type of trigger was the single-action style. All the trigger does is release the hammer or striker. When the gun is cocked, the trigger can then release the hammer or striker so it can travel to the end of its path, as defined by the design of the gun. If it's a flintlock, the hammer carries the flint to strike the hardened frizzen and cause sparks. As the hammer continues to fall, it directs the sparks into the pan to ignite the gunpowder that flashes through the touchhole to set off the main charge in the barrel.

The poster boy of single-action revolvers is the Colt Single-Action Army. One of its nicknames was "Old Thumbbuster."

Colt's ever-popular M1911A1 pistol is also a single-action. The hammer must be cocked before the trigger will work. The action of the slide coming back in recoil (blowback) cocks the hammer for the next shot. But, for the first shot, the hammer is cocked manually.

If the hammer is on a percussion gun, it falls on a percussion cap with force to explode it from the shock. If the hammer is on a firearm that uses cartridges, it either impacts a primer directly and causes an explosion that ignites the main charge of gunpowder, or it strikes a firing pin that does the same thing. The single-action mechanism does just one thing: it releases a hammer or striker to do its job.

What is a striker?
A striker is a heavy firing pin that acts as both a firing pin and a hammer. It has enough mass to set off a primer, but it doesn't look like a hammer. In fact, most strikers look like fat firing pins. The firing pins on most bolt-action rifles are actually either strikers by themselves, or they are attached to extra mass and then function as strikers. So it is possible for a single-action gun not to have a hammer and still be single-action. The way to know whether it's a single-action is to understand what the trigger does. If it just releases the hammer (or striker), it's a single-action.

A striker-fired pistol
It didn't take long before the autoloading pistol did away with the hammer for the more compact striker. Hugo Borchardt invented an autoloader in 1893 that eventually became the foundation for the Luger pistol. With the hammer gone, the pistol could become smaller and more compact, though Borchardt's example is far from it!

Not a hammer in sight! The Borchardt is single-action only. It must be manually cocked to fire the first time, then the semiautomatic action takes over.

What does double-action mean?
Double-action means that the trigger cocks the gun AND also releases the hammer/striker. This type of action was perhaps invented in the early part of the 19th century, when repeating guns first began to be popular. At first it was called a "self-cocking" lock, meaning that the trigger did all the work, and it was found on pepperbox pistols as early as 1830. When the revolver became popular around 1850, the trigger also had to do one more thing - it had to advance the cylinder so a fresh cartridge would be ready to shoot each time. That's why revolvers always have a heavier trigger pull, but the striker-cocking action is also why double-action only (DAO) semiautomatic pistols also have a heavier pull.

A pepperbox is an early type of revolver that rotated the barrels instead of a cylinder. Just the top barrel fired at one time.

What does this have to do with airguns?
Everything, because airguns are also either single- or double-action. Some can be fired either way. The S&W 586 revolver, for instance, is both single and double-action. Most of the Umarex pistols are double-action only, because they have no way to cock the hammer other than the trigger. The Walther PPK/S BB pistol, however, is single-action only. You can pull the trigger with the slide forward and the hammer down and nothing will happen. Once it begins firing, however, the slide cocks the hammer for the next shot - not unlike the M1911A1 pistol we looked at earlier.

This is mostly about handguns - but not always
There are a few revolving rifles, too. The Crosman 1077 is one. It's a double-action only revolver with a 12-shot pellet clip. The Crosman Nightstalker is a semiautomatic, but the clip advances by means of the trigger, so it is the world's only DAO semiauto rifle (I think!). That's why it has a heavier trigger-pull than the Drulov DU-10 Eagle semiautomatic rifle.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Air Arms TX200: Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

First, a correction from yesterday. I said the Air Arms website shows the TX barrel to be 14", and that was wrong. The tech data differentiates between the true barrel and the "overtube." The barrel is 335mm and the overtube is 395mm. The TX200Mark III barrel length is really over 13".

Today, I'll address everything that I didn't get to yesterday.

A recoilless TX!
The TX200SR was a recoilless version of the rifle that used the sledge anti-recoil system - much like today's Diana RWS 54. I owned one for a brief time. I emphasize brief because the SR was as far from a TX as it's possible to be! For starters, the action never locked up. It just flopped around loose in the stock all the time. Very disconcerting! If the rifle wasn't close to level when you shot it, you felt the recoil. Since I bought it to shoot field target and had to shoot into a treed area, I felt the recoil a lot and as far as I was concerned, the mechanism was a waste of time. The trigger needed extra linkage due to the sliding mechanism - and it was horrible! The gun had a two-stage cocking effort that took nearly 60 lbs. of effort to complete - for about 12 foot-pounds of muzzle energy! On top of everything else, it wasn't as accurate as my TX200 Mark II.

I sent my rifle to Ken Reeves, one of the top tuners at that time (1996). He specialized in tuning the SR, so it came back much nicer than it went out, but the trigger still had some creep. Ken suggested that I push the action forward in the stock during cocking to reduce the effort, but it was still 37 lbs. of force. A lot of work ($130 in '96) produced a rifle that was still not up to the TX200 Mark II (the current model in 1996). I think today's Mark III is even better than the Mark II. It's no surprise that Air Arms quit making the SR at the end of '96.

The Hunter Carbine
The TX200HC or Hunter Carbine is a shortened version of an already short rifle. It was developed when the longer Mark II was still the principal TX200, and at that time it represented a big difference in length. But the new Mark III is shorter than the Mark II, so the Hunter Carbine is not that much shorter anymore - just about three inches. The rifled barrel is just 9.5" long, which is pretty short for a springer. I've never owned one of these but I have shot the 12 foot-pound models. They're very similar to a TX200, but they have a shorter barrel that makes for an increased jolt when the gun fires. They develop less power in the FAC models, also because of the shorter barrel. And the shorter cocking lever means an increase in cocking effort - so much so that Air Arms puts a cocking aid handle on the Hunter Carbine that's not on the regular TX200.

The Hunter Carbine is a more compact air rifle than its big brother - the TX200 Mk III.

Trigger and accuracy are pretty much the same as the TX200. Air Arms says you lose 2 foot-pounds in the .177 high-power FAC version compared to the TX200 and one foot-pound in .22. It has a threaded insert to accept a silencer. No legal silencer is available here in the U.S., so the muzzle report will be higher than the TX200.

What about .22 caliber?
The TX200 Mk III and Hunter Carbine are available in .22 caliber as well as .177. By virtue of its very short barrel, the Hunter Carbine does not develop much more power in .22 than in .177 (this data was taken directly from the Air Arms website). Only the TX200 Mk III shows the classic 20 percent power increase when you move up to .22. The TX200 isn't a magnum spring rifle by today's standards. Instead, think of it as the nicest combination of shooting behavior and reasonable power you can buy. Will it work for hunters? Absolutely! Is .22 caliber the way to go? Yes, in the TX200; not as positive in the Hunter Carbine, where the power increase isn't that great.

Please understand that this whole report is based on my personal feelings about these air rifles. Any one of them would make a fine rifle, and I've been out-shot by all of them! I've tried to explain why I feel the way I do, and you must decide which gun to buy based on your own criteria.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Air Arms TX200: Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

A light walnut stock is very handsome against the richly blued metal of the TX200.

There has been lots of interest in this report. So much has been requested that I will have to break it into two parts. Today, we'll look at the .177 TX200 Mark III.

The TX200 Mark III is the latest version of the underlever spring rifle that came to market in the early 1990s. It replaced a number of earlier Air Arms sidelever spring guns, such as the Bora, Camargue, Khamsin and Mistral. The first TX200 did not have a safe way to catch the sliding compression chamber. So, if it slipped off the sear while you were loading a pellet, you could lose fingers. The Mark II corrected this with the first ratcheting anti-beartrap catch positioned on the outside of the mainspring tube, but it ratcheted all the time the gun was cocked. Shooters thought it was too noisy, so they learned to hold the catch until the gun was almost cocked. The Mark III changed the ratchet so it only clicks a few times toward the end of the cocking stroke.

This view of the open breech of my TX shows the exposed barrel extending back (the silver tube at the upper right) and the anti-beartrap latch (center of picture) that must be depressed and held when closing the breech.

Mark III
The big change in the Mark III is the baffled barrel. Although the outside of the barrel appears to be about 14" long, (and Air Arms says the barrel is 357mm, which is just over 14") the actual length of the rifled Lothar Walther tube is under 10". What appears to be the barrel on the outside is a hollow steel tube with baffles in it to muffle the sound of the report. The real barrel is housed inside this tube. The shooter will not be able to hear a noise reduction because the sound of the action travels through the bones in his face, but bystanders will notice that the rifle is quieter than most spring guns of equal power. The Mark II version had an exposed steel barrel with no baffling. The value of this sound reduction is small, since the TX is a quiet springer to begin with, but it is executed quite well and looks great.

Mark III is the latest!
You will hear American shooters refer to a Mark IV and especially a Mark V TX200, but these are not factory models. They are the products of aftermarket customization by American custom tuner Jim Maccari, who gave them those designations. The Mark III is the very latest model from the factory and has been around for several years.

The rifle is an underlever spring rifle with a sliding compression chamber. As the underlever is retracted all the way, the compression chamber slides back to expose the rear of the barrel. You reach in and load the pellet directly into the breech. It's a little tight for large fingers, so most shooters develop a loading technique. I like to hold the rifle butt on my leg and load with the muzzle sticking nearly straight up. I've learned how to hold the pellet so it enters the breech nose-first, and I find it easy to load the rifle. But it did take some learning! You will notice that the TX seems to have a pronounced hump where the barrel meets the breech. That's because they aligned the bore with the center of the piston, so the compressed air flows straight ahead. On most underlevers and nearly all breakbarrels, the transfer port is drilled on an upward angle to correct for the offset of the bore and compression chamber. Many experts believe that the Air Arms design increases efficiency.

What makes the TX200 worth so much?
Good question. When a Gamo CF-X sells for about $200, why does a TX200 cost $479, more than twice as much? I can't answer that question completely, but I can show you all the features the TX has that the CF-X lacks.

First, the metal finish of a TX is at the top of current spring rifles. The CF-X is somewhere slightly below the middle. Next, the woodwork is very nice. I own the beech version, though I have also owned walnut TXs. The shaping of the stock is perfect for a shooter, in that everything fits as it should. This is also a strong point of the CF-X, so the TX isn't that far ahead of it, however the checkering on the TX is laser-cut and near-perfect. It's just a little slippery. Third, the internal powerplant parts are fitted much closer in the TX. When you shoot, the feeling is very dead - exactly like a tuned gun. The CF-X is good for a Gamo, but it's not in the same class as the TX. I will call the TX's beartrap safety catch a wash, because the rotary breech on the CF-X negates it. Finally, there is the trigger. The TX200 trigger works like a custom-tuned Rekord trigger, while the Gamo trigger is Third World. It does get better with time, but it will never become a TX trigger. The trigger, stock fit and better firing behavior combine to make shooting a TX200 a rewarding experience. I would call shooting the CF-X a surprising experience, because the rifle performed better than I thought any Gamo could, but it is not in the same class as the TX200.

When you retract the cocking lever of the Gamo, the mechanism is relatively quiet. When you cock the TX200, it is absolutely silent. This difference is brought to you by the better-fitting powerplant parts. The Gamo cocks with little effort. The TX200 requires more effort, but it is progressive - coming at that point in the cocking stroke where you have the most power to give.

Power is roughly the same
If one gun has an edge, it's the TX200. Mine gets about 30 f.p.s. higher velocity than the Gamo with the same Crosman Premier 7.9-grain pellet. However, I must point out that my TX has 6,000 to 10,000 shots on it, while the CF-X I'm testing has only a few hundred. According to the Air Arms website, the TX200 in .177 is supposed to be a 17.5 foot-pound gun. That would be a 7.9-grain Crosman Premier traveling 999 f.p.s. That would be way too fast for good accuracy, so thankfully the rifle doesn't live up to it. My gun delivers about 960 with a 7.9-grain Premier, which is 16.17 foot-pounds. That's more like it, and even then a trifle too fast.

I don't like to compare one airgun to another, but in this instance so many of you CF-X owners are thinking about getting a TX200 that I have to compare these two. If I owned a CF-X (the one I'm testing is just on loan), I would keep it. I think it's a classic airgun worthy of a spot in my collection. However, I would shoot the TX200 over the CF-X almost every time. It's that much nicer, in my opinion. I have owned both an HW 77 and an HW 97. The TX beats them both - even though my 77 was a tuned gun with superior performance.

I've not yet addressed the TX200SR, a recoilless version of the rifle that's no longer made, nor the TX200 Hunter Carbine, an alternative model that is still available. I also have not commented on the .22-caliber version of the rifle. I will cover all of these things tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

How to choose a PCP

by B.B. Pelletier

We got this request last week. A reader wants me to cover the applicability of various PCPs to different kinds of shooting, so that's what I'm going to do.

Low power for target shooting
There really is no choice with this first category. All modern PCP target rifles and pistols develop 6 foot-pounds or less, and PCPs are at the top of technology where target airguns are concerned. Pistols hover between 480 and 530 f.p.s., while rifles are usually around 580 f.p.s. The rifles represent a downward shift in velocities from the 1960s. Back then, it was considered good to develop between 600 and 650 f.p.s. Even though a modern PCP can easily get higher velocity, the makers don't do it because it isn't needed. They get additional shots, instead.

A subset of target air pistols are also used for airgun silhouette. No power modifications are made to these air pistols, as they already develop more than enough power to knock the heaviest silhouettes off their stands at the farthest range.

Field target rifles
Field target rifles are a very specialized niche within PCP rifles. While many competition rifles are being converted from 10-meter target guns (under 6 foot-pounds!), there are many more that are either straight sporting PCPs or modified sporters. The caliber is always .177, because it is the only competitive caliber for this sport - just as it is the ONLY caliber that can be used by regulation for bullseye target shooting. And, 20 foot-pounds is the upper limit for American field target rifles. That's not because of any rule, but because most clubs mandate that limit to prevent damage to their targets. Power, as you know, also means velocity, and in .177 caliber, 20 foot-pounds means a very fast pellet. For example, it's a 10.5-grain pellet traveling 926 f.p.s. That kind of energy concentrated on a small area on a steel target actually burns away the steel when the lead pellet flashes to incandescence. After several thousand hits in close proximity, the steel will have developed deep pits. Club targets get that kind of use in two or three seasons of brisk competition.

British field target shooters are restrained to below 12 foot-pounds of muzzle energy, so they will shoot in the 800 to 825 f.p.s. range. Their guns are easier on the targets and on their own mechanisms. When the Brits come to America to compete in field target, they may tweak up the velocity of their rifles, but seldom do they get up as high as American shooters. They understand that velocity alone does not make a good FT rifle.

General shooting and hunting
This is where all restrictions come off the rifles and the field is wide open, but there are still categories of guns to be considered. Those rifles that develop 20 to 30 foot-pounds, for instance, seem to be the most popular general-purpose air rifles. Let's look at the FX rifles as an example. Made in Sweden by designer Fredrik Axelsson, the FX PCP rifles seem to cluster around this energy level. That's not because Axelsson can't make them more powerful - because he certainly can! But he has found that this is the ideal energy level for a good all-around PCP. Because FX makes the rifles for Webley and others, they have a huge influence on the airgun market.

AirForce is another maker that is clearly not restrained to any power limitations, yet two of the three rifles they make, the Talon and Talon SS, fall within the 20 to 30 foot-pound power range. So do most rifles from Logun, Air Arms, Daystate and Falcon. Yes, these companies may have one or two rifles that are either more or less powerful than the 20-30 foot-pound range, but if you examine the numbers of models that do fall within that range, you'll see that the evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of that power range.

.177 and .22 are at different ends of the power range
Now, it's time to practice what you've learned from this blog. You know that power relates to projectile weight and velocity, so it should come as no surprise that the .177 rifles hover near the low end of the 20-30 foot-pound range, and the .22s occupy the middle and upper limits. That's because of the accuracy factor relating to a top velocity of around 900 f.p.s. While there are no absolutes as far as accuracy is concerned, you will find that manufacturers know this relationship very well and build their rifles to take full advantage of it. That's what makes the next and final category of rifles so special.

Smallbore PCPs that develop more than 30 foot-pounds
These are the big guns, so to speak. They don't begin right at 30 foot-pounds, as a general rule. They usually start around 45 foot-pounds and go up to as high as 80 foot-pounds. I am not saying there aren't ANY air rifles that develop 38-40 foot-pounds, but that is not a popular power level. It seems to me that once a maker exceeds 30 foot-pounds, they try to get into the high 40s or higher. Here we leave behind .177 and .20 caliber, for pellet weight is needed to develop the awesome power these rifles produce. In .177 and .20, the pellets become too long to stabilize in flight, so they cannot be accurate at long range. You need pellets weighing 30 to 50 grains for these power levels, and only .22 and .25 calibers have them.

This is where the Career III and the Saver 7000 hang out. The Career 707 often spits out heavy .22 pellets at an energy above 60 foot-pounds! The AirForce Condor is king of them all! Not only does it produce power in excess of 65 foot-pounds, but it is the only PCP that can do so for a long string of shots! Plus, the Condor's power can be easily dialed back to 19 foot-pounds when needed.

NOT for general shooting!
I cannot tell you how many shooters I've spoken to who were dissatisfied with their choice of rifle because they picked one of these bruisers, only to discover that it's just as loud as a .22 rimfire! For some reason, they thought it would be quiet like their Diana RWS 34, but that's not the case. Buy one of these airguns only for hunting. If you want a flexible, all-around PCP, look to the more popular 20-30 foot-pound guns.

We shoot airguns for enjoyment - not for bragging rights. The world's most powerful air rifle is a pipsqueak compared to a centerfire rifle caliber, so get a gun you'll enjoy shooting all the time.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Can you keep a clean barrel with Crosman Premier pellets?

by B.B. Pelletier

The short answer is, "Yes." But some explanation is required.

What's the problem?
All Crosman pellets, not just Crosman Premiers, are made from a hardened lead alloy. I presume the principal hardening element to be antimony, because it is both cheap and easy to use in production quantities. It's the same alloy (lead hardened with small amounts of antimony and tin) used by lead bullet casters when they want to shoot lead bullets at velocities higher than lead alone will permit. I suspect Crosman uses a harder lead alloy to prevent their pellets from distorting though normal storage and handling. Several decades ago, Crosman pellets (the style we now call "ashcan" pellets for their appearance) were pure lead, and they had a bad reputation for denting and oxidizing. The pellets they make today have none of these problems, generally speaking.

Former Crosman Super Pells were pure lead and prone to deformation plus oxidation.

Current Crosman Premiers are hard lead alloy that can take rougher handling.

Many Crosman pellet guns are repeaters, such as the 1008 pistol and the new NightStalker carbine. In repeaters, pellets have to move through the mechanisms and can sometimes be damaged if they are too soft. But Crosman's harder alloy pellets resist deformation and pass through repeating mechanisms more readily.

Explanation of the term "pure" lead
I'm going to refer to things made from "pure" lead. What I really mean is lead that has no antimony in it. Lead that is cast needs some other metal to lower the casting temperature and allow the metal to flow easily. Tin is often used for this purpose, so when I say pure lead, I really mean a lead/tin alloy with good casting properties.

Hard lead alloy has a fault
The fault is bore leading. Yes, as conflicting as it sounds, hard lead alloy deposits lead on the surface of the bore more readily than pure lead. What hard lead does permit is shooting bullets at higher velocity without melting the base from the heat of the burning gunpowder gasses, and also hard bullets tend not to strip out from the rifling (rip loose from the rifling lands) as easily as pure lead (lead/tin alloy) bullets. When we shoot at velocities under about 1,450 f.p.s, we use a lead bullet alloyed with a small amount of tin. When we want to shoot over 1,450 f.p.s. - up to 2,000 f.p.s. - we use lead bullets alloyed with antimony. These bullets nearly always leave lead deposits stuck to the walls of the bore, while lead/tin alloy (pure lead) bullets flying at speeds under 1,300 f.p.s. do not leave any metal deposits at all. There are some gray areas, where each type of bullet metal alloy starts to lead the bore. Shooters rely on different types of bore preparations, bullet lubricants and sometimes cloth or paper patches to control this. I have not gotten into the paper patched bullet at all, and please forgive me for going no farther here.

How does this affect pellets?
Pellets have pretty much the same reaction to velocity as bullets, though they are not being pushed by hot, burning gasses. My experience is that Crosman Premiers start to leave metal deposits in the bore when their velocity climbs to around 900 f.p.s., give or take. The "give or take" probably has to do with variations in the metal alloy of the particular barrel, plus the relative smoothness of the surface finish of the bore. A more slippery steel with a smoother finish will resist leading at higher velocity than a less slippery steel with a rougher finish.

900 f.p.s. is not a magic number
We often say pellets are most accurate at speeds under 900 f.p.s. But, now I'm also saying that Crosman Premiers start to lead the bore above that velocity. The truth is more complex. Sometimes, you can get good accuracy at velocities above 900 f.p.s., and Premiers will lead the bore of one airgun faster than another. The number 900 is just a general speed around which things usually start happening.

If you want to shoot Premiers, what can you do?
You can lubricate your pellets. The right kind of lube can do a good job of keeping the leading problem in check. I have a Daystate Huntsman in which I shoot 7.9-grain Premiers all the time. The velocity is set at 930 f.p.s., but I never have a problem with a leaded barrel. I lube my pellets with FP-10, which is made by Shooter's Choice. I have been warned that FP-10 dissolves o-rings, but my Huntsman has been doing fine with it for the past 10 years. In the late 1990s, the chat forums were alive with all the special pellet lube formulas shooters had concocted. One company in England even claims their lube increases both velocity and accuracy, but when it was tested here in the U.S., it did neither. Maybe someday soon I'll do a posting on all the snake oil salesmen who haunt the airgunning market!

Spring guns have a special problem!
Detonation happens when small amounts of oil explode from the heat of compression in a spring air gun, so oiling pellets is a bigger problem for springers than for CO2 or pneumatic shooters. However, the king of all spring gun makers is John Whiscombe. His rifles are the most powerful springers ever made, yet he oils his pellets. He uses a mixture of two parts Hoppes Gun Oil and one part STP Engine Treatment by volume. This he stirs to mix well, then he puts several drops on a foam cushion in the bottom of an empty pellet tin. Then pellets are poured into this tin and rolled around on the foam. The lube they pick up is enough to prevent most bore leading in Whiscombe's extremely powerful rifles (up to 35 foot-pounds in .25 caliber!).

So the answer is, "Yes - you can keep a clean barrel with Crosman Premiers." If you are going to shoot very fast, though, you'd better oil the pellets.