Friday, May 30, 2008

Smith & Wesson M&P BB pistol - Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

Let's resume our evaluation of the Smith & Wesson M&P BB pistol today. First, this update on the magazine.

The follower hook
As I started my shooting session, the M&P failed to shoot. I removed the magazine twice with the same result - one BB fell out of the mag well and nothing changed. On the third try, I discovered that the follower wasn't releasing to push the BBs into firing position. It was staying back in the loading position, leaving the BB stack under no tension. A hook on the bottom of the follower is a bit too aggressive and hangs onto the bottom of the magazine until I manually push it off. Then it releases and the follower works as intended. If you don't know this, the pistol can be frustrating at first, so watch for this on your M&P.

The stick mag is very easy to load, but I learned something about that follower while shooting the gun. You have to know how to release it!

This is the hook that holds down the follower while you load. It's very aggressive, and on my pistol I often had to push the hook back into alignment or the follower would continue to stay down.

Shooting the pistol
With that solved, the pistol functioned flawlessly. This time, I decided that I wouldn't shoot at paper targets, because this kind of BB pistol isn't intended for them. I simply threw three pop cans on the back lawn and proceeded to bounce them around. Today's pop cans are made from such thin aluminum that the BBs easily pass through both sides unless they impact in a reinforced spot.

It's been decades since I simply bounced a can around with a handgun, and I forgot how much fun it can be. I limited the distance to about 20 feet, which is appropriate for the type of gun I'm testing, and about 90 percent of my shots found their target. Those lightweight aluminum cans really do move when hit by a BB. I wore safety glasses while shooting, and you should, as well, in case a steel BB impacts anything hard in your yard. One of mine hit a rock or something, and I got it back in the face to remind me of the ever-present danger.

The M&P tore up these cans pretty good. Who needs paper targets all the time?

The tactical sights worked well for this kind of shooting. I held the front sight just under where I wanted the BB to go, and it went there nearly every time - including several shots on the end of the can, where there wasn't as much to aim at. The trigger-pull on this double-action-only pistol is smooth and light enough, at 5.5 lbs., to not destroy your aim.

With a fresh CO2 cartridge, I got velocities in the 410-429 f.p.s. range, shooting Daisy premium-grade zinc-plated BBs. But, if I fired several shots in quick succession, the velocities dipped to the 380s. That's due to the cooling effect of expanding CO2, and it holds true for all CO2 guns regardless of who makes them. I see that the max velocity is rated at 480 f.p.s., so the pistol I'm testing is from the slower end of the scale.

What do I think?
Several things recommend the S&W M&P BB pistol. First, it has a delightfully light trigger that's so appreciated in a DAO gun. Second, it's accurate enough for its primary can-popping mission. The sights are bold and easy to acquire, not to mention being right on the money. And, let's not forget - the price is great. I can't fault this one.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Daisy Avanti 499 Champion - Part 2
The world's most accurate BB gun

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

Now, let's shoot!
The 499 is very light for adults and even for some kids. In the International BB Gun Championships, the coaches add weight to their kids' guns based on how big the shooter is. I think the limit is 6.5 lbs. Someone asked about the weight earlier and I thought I'd already given it, but I guess not. At any rate, I shoot the gun at the stock factory weight and I do okay.

The 499 manual has you cock the gun first, then load it. If you do it that way, the shooter's hand and possibly their face will be in front of the muzzle of a loaded and cocked gun. I prefer to load first and then cock. My way means a shooter's hand and possibly their face will not be in front of the muzzle of a cocked and loaded gun. I have been doing it this way for over 10 years, and it works perfectly, so my advice is to ignore what the manual says and do it my way.

Use only the best ammo
I know you aren't going to cheap out and try to use regular BBs in this gun, are you? Of course not! That would be like buying a new Corvette and trying to run it on regular gas. The best accuracy is only possible with Daisy's Avanti Precision Ground Shot.

Load the gun
You load the gun by dropping a single BB into the large funnel-shaped muzzle. You'll hear it roll down the bore to the magnetic seat, where it stops with a click. Once you hear the BB contact the magnetic seat, you may cock the gun. On some rare occasions I have not heard the tiny click that announces the BB is in position. In those cases, I wait about five seconds and assume the gun is loaded. Then I cock the gun without the audible confirmation.

The trigger is single-stage and non-adjustable. Mine lets off at 2 lbs., 14 ozs. Coaches are known to work on the pull, but I don't think they can do that much with it. It's still going to be single-stage, which isn't as precise as a conventional two-stage target trigger. But, it does work well with practice.

Firing behavior
Shooting the 499 produces a buzz that may sound cheap to most shooters, but hold your opinions until you see the results downrange. In a good shooter's hands, this BB gun will keep all its shots on Roosevelt's head on an American dime. A BB gun champion can keep them all inside this letter - O.

Not too shabby for a bifocal-wearing 60-year-old man who is definitely out of practice. Five shots offhand at 15 feet. The current rules provide for a slightly larger target positioned at 16.4 feet. A top shooter will keep them all in the 10-ring, which is the white inner circle.

One detractor
The one bad thing about this gun is the pistol grip. It's nearly horizontal and it forces you to either put your fingers through the cocking lever, where there isn't enough room, or to grab around the lever, which feels awkward. I would hope for a more vertical target grip with a cocking lever that didn't get in the way.

Range and target
BB gun competition today is shot at 5 meters, which is 16.4 feet. That's a change made to acknowledge a metric distance, rather than one measured in feet. Since it's slightly longer than the 15 feet that used to be, the target was changed. The target is made especially for this kind of shooting, and it's available from Pyramyd Air. The target works specifically with the gun, so this is another thing you need if you buy the 499. You'll also need a good BB backstop, and the best one is Crosman's model 850 Pellet and BB Trap.

Summing up
The Daisy Avanti 499 Champion is so much more accurate than any other BB gun on the market that there isn't any comparison. It's a gun made for a single purpose - to put its BBs inside the 10-ring of a 5-meter target. You don't have to use it for that, of course, but buy the gun knowing that it was made to do just one thing. For training youngsters to shoot straight, develop personal discipline and perhaps grow up loving the shooting sports the way we all do, you can't get a better start than with a Daisy 499.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Springtime! - Part 1

Introduction by B.B. Pelletier

Guest blogger
Vince Brandolini stirred up some interest in a previous blog when he talked about the energy he derived from certain spring guns. Many of us wondered how he calculated spring energy. Today, he shows us how!

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Springtime! - Part 1

by Vince Brandolini

When I mentioned a little while ago that I'd been calculating the potential energy stored in the powerplant of a cocked spring gun, there seemed to be some interest in how this information is derived. While there are plenty of shooters who don't want to concern themselves with the mechanical nitty-gritty of their guns, others might be interested to know a little more about the heart of their weapon's powerplant.

The function of an airgun spring is simple enough: it stores human-provided energy that is slowly put into it. At the shooter's command, it releases it quickly. This is something a spring gun shares with the a slingshot or bow. The power that the gun imparts to the pellet is largely (although not completely) dependent on the capacity of the spring to hold energy.

Energy is another word for work, and we commonly express it in simple terms of force x distance. If you lift a 3-lb. weight two feet off the floor, you've just done 6 foot-pounds (ft-lbs) of work. When you cock a spring-piston gun, you're putting a very fixed amount of work (or energy) into the rifle's powerplant.

If the powerplant were perfect (a physical impossibility), that same amount of energy would be transmitted to the pellet. Unfortunately, most of the energy you put into the rifle ends up going to waste. How much is wasted depends on the gun's efficiency. The higher the efficiency the more powerful a gun will be for a given cocking effort, or it will need less cocking effort for a given amount of power. Either way, high efficiency is obviously better. Knowing the efficiency of a given springer can be very useful information. In a way, it's just like checking the gas mileage of your car. On one hand, it gives you an idea of how well the gun is designed; yet, on the other hand, it could alert you that the gun needs some sort of mechanical repair.

First, you have to calculate the energy stored in the powerplant. You'll need to know four things about the gun and its spring:
  1. The amount of preload when the spring is installed in the rifle
  2. The stroke of the piston
  3. The free (uncompressed) length of the spring
  4. The spring rate
The spring rate is usually expressed (in the US) in pounds per inch, and describes the amount of additional force required for every additional inch that a spring is compressed. For example, a spring that's 30 lbs./in. (which, incidentally, is a ballpark figure for many guns) is normally 10" long and requires 30 lbs. of force to compress it to a length of 9". Compressing it further to 8" requires 60 lbs., 7" requires 90 lbs. and so on. The best way to determine spring rate is with a spring tester, which is a calibrated scale combined with a mechanism for holding the spring while it's compressed to a certain length. A spring tester is a specialized (and expensive) piece of equipment. We can get around that by making some careful measurements.

To calculate spring rate, we need to know the following:
  1. Number of coils
  2. Outside (or inside) diameter
  3. The actual spring wire diameter
  4. The modulus of elasticity for the material in question
The modulus of elasticity doesn't really vary that much from one spring steel alloy to another, so we can use a good compromise figure. It's very important to measure the spring AFTER it's been fired several times. New springs almost always take a set after they're used a few times; that is, they shorten up. Measure a new spring for an RWS 48 and you'll find something around 11.5". Install it, shoot it for a while, yank it out and measure it again. You'll find that the length is now closer to 11". Shoot it for 1000 more rounds, and you should find that it doesn't get much (if any) shorter than that. The vast majority of spring set happens within the first few shots

The number of coils is easy to determine but make sure that the closed end of the spring isn't counted.

Calipers are available in an electronic version (top). I find them less reliable, but they're generally cheaper.

For the other measurements, a dial caliper is required. Thanks to the Chinese, they can be had for very reasonable prices. The electronic one has become very common over the last few years, thanks in no small part to Harbor Freight, where they're frequently put on sale for about $16. At that, they're a terrific bargain. It's not unusual to see other outfits selling the same caliper in the $30-40 range. However, and I learned this the hard way, they're not perfect! They can drift. I had one that inexplicably lost about .005" on the low end of the scale. That's why I almost have a preference for the old-fashioned version, which, oddly enough, actually costs a bit more.

The OD of the spring has to be measured, and since the springs are usually not perfectly round, it's a good idea to measure in several places to get an average. The wire diameter is measured with the dial caliper

Measure the outside diameter of spring wire with a dial caliper.

When you measure the wire, MAKE SURE the caliper is NOT held parallel to the spring. It MUST be perpendicular to the wire itself! If it isn't, your wire diameter measurement will be too great. Since wire diameter is extremely critical to calculating an accurate spring rate, this would throw everything off. When measuring, it's best to slowly wiggle the caliper back and forth while maintaining pressure on the caliper jaw. Watch the readout while you do this and record the lowest reading. That's your wire diameter.

The spring rate is calculated as follows:
(WD^4 x 11500000) / (8 x NC x (OD-WD)^3)
  • OD=outside diameter
  • WD=wire diameter
  • NC=number of coils
All things being equal, a fatter spring is actually softer than a thin one, and one with many coils is softer than one with fewer coils. Notice how the spring rate goes up proportional to the wire diameter to the fourth power! As I said, this measurement is critical! A 10% error here will result in the calculated spring rate being off by 35% to 45%.

Once the spring rate has been calculated, the gun has to be partially disassembled. The rear spring retainer or anchor has to be removed, and two measurements have to be taken. The first is the free length of the spring. This is simply the length of the spring when it is out of the gun and with no pressure on it. A tape measure is adequate. Get it to the nearest 1/16".

Measure the spring out of the gun to determine it's full length in an uncompressed state.

Next, measure the preload (in inches). This is the amount that a spring is compressed when installed in an uncocked rifle. The easiest way is to start reinstalling the spring. Put the rear spring retainer in place, and measure the distance that the spring has to be compressed in order to reassemble the gun. Once the preload is known, the gun can be reassembled.

The second measurement is taken with the spring attached to the spring retainer. On many rifles, you can simply measure the distance from the rear of the spring tube to the rear of the spring retainer, as shown with the Gamo spring.

On this Walther Force 1000 (same as AR1000), I'm taking the spring's preload measurement at the mounting pin holes.

There's one last step, and you'll read about that next Monday!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Diana 35 - Always the contender

by B.B. Pelletier

Diana's model 35 was one of the most powerful spring guns in the 1950s. It was made until 1987.

Manish from Mumbai, India, requested this report, but Graham also wonders about his Winchester 435, which is another variation of the classic Diana 35. I did the first post on the Diana 35 back on December 8, 2005. In that post, I showed you the inside of the pre-unitized Diana trigger group with the ball-bearing sear, and I cautioned you not to take one of these rifles apart unless you're sure you can get it back together again.

Lots of parts for a simple job. Diana's ball bearing trigger was a real sales point when the gun was new. It releases about the same as a standard lever-type trigger.

Since that post, I've done more research on the Diana 35, along with four other powerful spring guns of the time, and I've discovered an interesting bit of information. The other four are the HW 35, Diana 45, BSF 55 and the FWB 124. I wrote a large article about them titled The Four Horsemen for the September 20 Shotgun News. The Diana 35 figured in the research because it was positioned against them as a powerful air rifle of the Diana line, but somehow it never quite measured up.

Back in the 1970s, velocity ruled the day. That's no surprise, is it? The magic number was 800 f.p.s., and for a while, only the FWB 124 was capable of shooting that fast, in .177 caliber of course. The other powerful rifles all reported velocities in the 700 f.p.s. range, with as little as 10 f.p.s. making a huge difference in sales. If left to their own devices, the manufacturers would have soon blasted past 800, but they were held in check, first by Air Rifle Headquarters and then by Beeman Precision Airguns. Both dealers did their own testing and reported the true numbers, regardless of the outcome.

The outcome was a disaster for Diana. The 35, which was their magnum hope, was rated at 725 f.p.s. in .177 with light pellets. ARH testing revealed only 685 f.p.s. The cheaper, lighter Diana model 27 shot 650 f.p.s., so sales of the Diana 35 languished because it wasn't that much faster.

Enter The Airgun Revue
Like many airgunners who had lived through the 1970s, I knew what the hot guns had been and had already owned many of them. For some reason, the Diana 35 had eluded me. Then at a Roanoke airgun show in the late 1990s I happened to score a 35 for myself, and resolved to set the record straight in the fifth edition of Airgun Revue. After all, I was tuning spring guns for a living (through my newsletter, that is). Certainly, I could employ "space-age" lubricants (to use Robert Law's term) to improve on what had been possible 20 years earlier. My .22-caliber rifle was made in November 1977 and was marked as a Hy Score model 809, one of many names by which the Diana 35 went.

The tune
To see how far I could take a 35 I tested mine as it was, which was factory-original. Then, I stripped the action and cleaned it. The inside of the gun was dry and caked with hard lubricant, plus the piston was somewhat rusty. Never a good thing. The cocking effort had been 24 lbs. before the tune. By cleaning and lubricating all the moving parts, that dropped down to 19 lbs. afterward. The gun also buzzed pretty bad before the tune. I used a thin coating of black tar on the mainspring, and I burnished moly grease into the compression chamber and the leather piston seal.

High hopes - dashed
After the tune, my rifle had almost exactly the same power as before (a couple f.p.s. less, to be honest). The cocking effort had dropped and the spring twang was reduced, but the power remained around 11 foot-pounds with RWS Meisterkugeln pellets. In .22 caliber, that works out to about 590 f.p.s. With Crosman Premiers, the gun averaged 542 f.p.s., which produces only 9.33 foot-pounds. At the time, I remember being disappointed that no more power had been found, but my recent research reveals why.

Hamstrung from the start
The Diana 35 had a short-stroke piston that limited the available power. When the design was new in 1953, the 11 foot-pounds it generated in .22 caliber was considered stupendous, but by 1977 it had become mediocre. Rifles like the BSF 55 and the Diana 45 had longer-stroke pistons that were capable of much higher velocities, and the long-stroke FWB 124 that started it all, of course, was one of the most potentially powerful spring guns of the era. Unfortunately for Diana, nothing could be done to remedy the situation, so in the late 1980s, it faded away - replaced by the models 34, 36 and 38 that came out in 1984. These long-stroke spring guns represented modern technology at its best, taking velocity in .177 caliber up to 1,000 f.p.s., where guns like the 35 could no longer compete.

Twenty years have passed since the Diana 35 left the world stage, and the airgun world is now in a renaissance period. Lower-powered spring guns are once again embraced. The Diana 35 is a larger, more adult version of the extremely popular Diana model 27, and many now find it to be an appealing spring rifle to add to their collections. If the spring twang is eliminated and the trigger is tuned to break crisply, the 35 becomes a classic airgun - the kind everyone wishes they still made. If you can ignore the chronograph, the Diana 35 can be a wonderful companion. Viewed that way, instead of as the powerful spring gun it tried to be, you can be very content with this fine old classic.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Daisy Avanti 499 Champion - Part 1
The world's most accurate BB gun

by B.B. Pelletier

Daisy's 499 Champion may look something like a Red Ryder, but don't be fooled. This is the world's most accurate BB gun.

A question from a father last Thursday caused me to write this report. He was looking for an airgun to train his 11-year-old daughter who is slightly built. They had tried both a Daisy Red Ryder and a Crosman 760. The Red Ryder wasn't accurate enough and the 760 was too hard for her to pump. And, when you need just the right airgun, who ya gonna call?

The ONLY solution
There are many wonderful airguns in this world, but when it comes to the lightest/most accurate kids' target gun - BAR NONE - we have to look at the WORLD'S MOST ACCURATE BB GUN. I didn't make that title up. That's the slogan Daisy used when they brought out the 499 in 1976 (Note: the 499 was modified to the 499B in 1980 and to the Avanti 499 Champion in 2003). The gun came about through pressure from shooting coaches around the country who were unsatisfied with Daisy's model 99 Target Special. Made since 1959, the model 99 was supposed to be a target gun kids could use in the International BB gun Championships that Daisy and the Jaycees started in 1966. The problem was that the guns just weren't accurate enough.

Coaches around the country started buying model 99 shot tubes, then sending them back to Daisy and asking for different tubes. When Daisy inquired about this practice, they were informed that SOME of the shot tubes had slightly smaller bores and were more accurate than the rest. These, the coaches were putting on their club guns. They were cherry-picking the shot tubes to get more accurate guns - imagine that!

Daisy responds
To their credit, Daisy met the challenge head-on and built a new BB gun from the ground up. They made the new gun a single-shot, which is perfect for a target shooter. They gave it a precision barrel (a tube held to close internal tolerances - BB guns are smoothbore, after all), a magnetic BB seat at the breech, a de-tuned mainspring and the same target sights the model 99 had enjoyed. This new model they called the 499, and for many years, Daisy would sell it only to clubs. In fact, I think that I had something to do with its release to the general public. When I published The Airgun Letter, I tested one, bought it, and immediately began telling everyone who would listen how to get through Daisy's red tape to buy the gun.

Daisy's Marketing VP told me the 499 was virtually handmade and they weren't making any money on it selling it to clubs, so they couldn't possibly make enough to sell to the public. I suggested raising the price! You'd think they would have thought of that. They didn't think people would pay for a target BB gun like the 499 when the Red Ryder sold for less than half the price. I made it my mission to spread the word. When the distraught dad asked about a lightweight accurate airgun for his daughter, I knew the time had come to preach again. I last reported on the 499 back in June of 2005, and I suppose many people have not seen that report, so here it is.

The gun
This is a GUN, not a rifle, because it has a smooth bore. It's also a muzzleloader! The shooter drops a BB into the funnel-shaped muzzle and listens for it to roll down to the magnetic shot seat. If you use Avanti Precision Ground Shot, that takes 2-5 seconds. If you use regular over-the-counter BBs, the time is less, because they are more irregular and somewhat undersized.

The muzzle is a 2.75" deep funnel that leads to the real barrel.

The current model has a wooden stock and a plastic cocking lever and trigger. The cocking effort is extremely light and should be easy even for small children. The gun comes with a peep sight at the rear and a globe front sight with interchangeable inserts. A small package of inserts comes with the gun.

The gun weighs just a hair over 3 lbs. and has a pull length of 13-1/4". Of course, the length can be shortened with a saw. The gun has a manual safety on the right side of the receiver. It also has an anti-beartrap mechanism so the trigger does not work when the cocking lever is open. That keeps youngsters from rapping their fingers, because the cocking lever cannot suddenly close on them.

Safeties aren't common on target guns, but the 499 has one. It's manual.

Sight upgrade
For another $25, you can buy the 5899 upgraded peep sight. It isn't a precision sight but I would buy it, because it adjusts with knobs. The sight that comes standard on the gun uses a friction fit to hold the aperture but adjusting the sight picture is an iffy thing. Remember that most of the parts on the upgraded sight are plastic, and there's some slop in the mechanism. You may need to turn the knobs more than you think to get the results you want. One of the customer reviews says a 5899 receiver sight was included with his gun, so check with Pyramyd Air before you purchase something unnecessary.

I'm going to break this report here, but the second half will come this week.

Sharp deal!
Now, for a special treat! While I was at the NRA Annual Meetings a week ago, I happened to see a knife sharpener unlike any I'd seen before. The Warthog V-Sharp is quite the rig, as I'm sure the picture reveals. As an acid test, I handed them my Executive model Swiss Army knife. It had a near-shaving sharp edge, but the 440C stainless steel cannot hold that edge worth a darn. I told myself if they could do it better than me, I'd buy one of their machines.

Quite the contraption, only this knife sharpener really works as advertised.

Well, they did. My knife was no longer shaving-sharp - it was cutting sharp! And it still is 9 days later. The 25-deg. edge the Warthog V-Sharp put on the blade is a superior cutting edge. How superior, you ask? Enough to make me not think twice about spending $125 for a Warthog of my own.

The machine arrived last Wednesday and I was sharpening knives within minutes. By the end of the day, all my wife's kitchen knives were sharp, along with 20 of my own. For the first time in our marriage, she actually raved about how sharp I'd gotten her knives. Before, when I got them shaving sharp, no single knife would hold up through a one-meal preparation. Now they can each handle several meals, and a 30-second touch-up gets them ready to go again. No more 2-hour sessions every two weeks (if I were inclined to keep them all sharp, which I'm not).

Two things you need to know about me - I'm lazy and I love sharp knives. Now that I use the Warthog V-Sharp, mine won't quite shave hair anymore, but they'll cut boxes, meat and vegetables all day. Besides, I already have a shaving razor.

The Warthog V-Sharp knife sharpener, like the Daisy 499, fits in that rare category of "things that actually work."

I'm showing you all this because we've discussed sharpening knives in the blog. This machine is for those of you who want sharp knifes but don't want to spend hours sharpening them.

Visit the Warthog website. Watch their instructive videos. I'm simply telling you that it really does work. I've spent hundreds of dollars for other stones, steels, ceramics, diamond stones and "systems" that didn't do what this one does.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Walther .25 caliber Falcon Hunter - Part 3

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2

Last time I said I would first try shooting the .25 caliber Walther Falcon Hunter with open sights, so that's what I did. As I sighted-in, I was able to record some more impressions of the rifle.

It now opens with ease instead of the stiffness I reported earlier, so it did break-in as predicted. Cocking is now running 42-43 lbs., so there's been a slight reduction there, as well. The rifle still requires a real effort to close the barrel. I believe the angle on the detent is a bit too shallow. I learned to snap it closed with authority.

The shallow angle on the closing side of the spring-loaded barrel detent (right side of chisel detent) causes the closing force to increase. Compare that angle to the opening angle on the other side.

Shooting off a bench all morning has left the impression of real recoil with this rifle. Some of that's due to the light weight of the gun compared to the power it generates. This rifle is second in recoil only to the Webley Patriot, and it's a very close second at that. A proper hold does help the situation a lot, however.

Best hold
I experimented all morning to find the best hold, and when I found it, it turned out to be the old classic artillery hold with no modifications. No tops-of-the-fingers stuff for this rifle. Simply lay it on the flat of your open palm a little behind the balance point of the forearm so it's a little muzzle-heavy.

I'm not trying to tease you
This rifle deserves a longer break-in, and I'm going to do it. As I shot through the morning, things kept getting better and better, but I could see there's a way to go before we see the best the rifle has to offer. In that respect, it's not too different from the Patriot/Kodiak, which also needed time to wear in. So, this isn't the final report. Let me bring you up to speed regarding where things are right now. I put this statement in the middle of the report because some readers switch off once they see the first target.

The trigger is holding steady with a crisp but deliberate pull. I doubt there will be any advance in that area.

I tried shooting groups with the fiberoptic open sights, but they lack the precision needed for small bullseye targets. You may remember in Part 1 that I observed that the front post is wider than the rear notch. That bit me when I was shooting for precision, so I had to give it up and mount the Walther 3-9x44AO illuminated scope.

Wow! You certainly shouldn't expect to find a great scope packaged with a magnum air rifle for under $270 - but here it is. This scope is great! It comes with the rings installed, so all you have to do is slide it onto the scope rail. The rings are thin one-screw models, but they seem to be holding up well thus far.

The scope was very quick and easy to sight-in at 21 yards, the distance I used because of very strong wind gusts. Then I went to work. Turned out that Beeman Kodiaks did best, as expected, but Beeman Ram Jets did well, too. The other pellets I tried were Beeman Crow Magnums and Diana Magnums. They didn't do so well this time, but I will try them again the next time I go out, because the rifle is starting to settle into its groove.

Five Kodiak pellets spread out in a straight line. The wind was blowing the target off the backstop some of the time.

Beeman Ram Jets. Three on the right and two on the left. This was caused by me not getting in the same hold repeatedly. It does indicate that the rifle wants to shoot.

Firing over 100 shots this morning, I'm beginning to see what shooters like about the Falcon Hunter. As it wears in, it assumes a familiar feel that tells me better things are in store in the days ahead. Also, the light weight of such a powerful spring rifle is refreshing. It doesn't wear you out like a lot of other magnum blasters.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Smith & Wesson M&P BB pistol - Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

I showed you a picture of the Smith & Wesson M&P BB pistol in Part 4 of the 2008 SHOT Show report. At that time, I predicted this would become a popular BB pistol. Today, we'll start a look to see if I was right.

A tremendous number of BB pistols have come to market over the past few years. Where does this one fit in the long list? For starters, it's priced well below $40, which will be attractive to many shooters on a budget. The entire outside of the gun is synthetic, which is the norm for this price range. The pistol closely copies Smith & Wesson's popular new service pistol, though most of the controls are molded into the body and don't function. Only the magazine release on the left side and the safety on the right side move and operate. The slide is also molded in and immobile. A short Picatinny rail forward of the triggerguard can accept a compact laser or tactical flashlight mount.

Another attraction to this gun is the S&W M&P tie-in. The polymer-framed service pistol has attracted a very large audience since its introduction in 2005. When you hold the BB gun, you get the same tactile feedback from a gun that was designed to become a part of your hand. I hate to make comparisons, but it really feels like a cross between a 1911 and a Luger. It's a double-action only pistol with no visible hammer. The BB pistol has a stick-type magazine that holds only the BBs. The CO2 fits separately into the grip.

Charging with CO2
The M&P uses conventional 12-gram cartridges that install in the pistol grip. The grip panel is a single molded piece that slides straight back to expose the place for the CO2 cartridge. After putting a drop of oil on the tip of the new cartridge (the manual recommends RWS chamber lube, but lacking that, I used Crosman Pellgunoil), install the cartridge with the tip up and tighten the winding key at the bottom of the grip. The cartridge will be pierced after several turns and you're done.

To install a CO2 cartridge, pull the grip panel straight back. It's captive and doesn't leave the gun.

Loading BBs
Usually, loading a BB pistol is difficult, but not with this one. Pull the sliding follower all the way down and it catches and stays back. Drop BBs through the hole in the magazine. A groove guides the BBs and it's hard to drop them anywhere but where they're supposed to go. Once loaded, the follower is released to do its job. BB pistols don't load any easier than this. One thing to remember, though, and this holds true for most BB pistols made today: when the magazine is inserted, the top BB is released from the magazine. If you remove the mag for any reason, one BB will fall free from the grip, as well.

The stick mag is very easy to load. The follower stays down and out of the way, and the magazine assists you in loading 19 BBs.

Being all-synthetic, the pistol is very light. Fully loaded and charged, it weighs just 18 ozs.!

Nice safety
The safety switch is on the right side of the frame and can be applied or disengaged with the trigger finger while holding the pistol in a shooting grip. It's as quick and easy as a 1911 safety, which is legendary among pistols, so the M&P has something very nice going for it. When it's applied, the trigger swings freely and you can tell in an instant the safety is on. If the firearm works the same way, I can see why S&W is doing so well.

The safety can be operated by the trigger finger while holding the gun in one hand. It's positive and gives tactile feedback through the trigger.

The sights are a fiberoptic rear (two green dots) and a post front with a white dot. For combat shooting, you align all three dots and shoot. They will be quick to acquire, but there will be no bullseye precision. Minute-of-pop-can will be the best to hope for, I believe.

The grip is somewhat wide and rounded - sculpted to fit most hands. A deep overhang in the back gives it that Luger feel I mentioned.

On our next look, I'll check the power, which is supposed to be high.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

HW 55SF, a special find - Part 2
A look at the Rekord trigger

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

Before we begin, a teaser. In about a week I will have an announcement for you 10-meter rifle collectors. I'm not talking about the new AirForce Edge rifle, although that will be coming soon, I hope. There's another great new product ready to pop onto the market. For those of you awaiting the new RWS Diana rifle scope base, I'll blog it soon. It should be on sale some time in June. Now, let's return to those thrilling days of yesteryear and examine further my HW 55SF, with our eyes focused on the famous Rekord trigger.

Easy out
My rifle has been apart so many times in its life that I had it out of the stock in less than 5 minutes. The fact that it has just one forearm screw in the center of the forearm instead of one on each side sped things up. Once out of the stock, I was able to see the bridge that holds the two-piece cocking link close to the spring tube, allowing the stock to have a short cocking slot.

The two-piece cocking link works because it passes through the bridge that holds it next to the spring cylinder. This kind of cocking link is also quiet, because it's always under tension.

I flipped the rifle on its back and the Rekord trigger blade stuck straight up. Just drift out two crosspins, and the trigger comes out as a unit.

Once the action is out of the stock, flip it on its back and the trigger blade sticks straight up. Just drift out those two crosspins, and the trigger unit lifts straight out. Please notice the large aluminum nut behind the trigger blade. It locks the trigger-pull weight adjustment screw. Only the special HW target triggers found mostly on the HW 55 guns have it. Note the dark screw at the other end of the trigger unit. It adjusts the sear engagement.

Top view of the two pins coming out. Here you can also see clearly that the aluminum nut behind the trigger blade is a locknut for the screw inside.

This is what a target version of the Rekord trigger looks like. It's uncocked in this view. The large hook on the left is raised up and grabs the rear of the piston rod. The silver catch sticking out at the right of the trigger housing holds the spring-loaded piston hook in place. The hole at the bottom right shows the sear engagement, for fine adjustments.

The Rekord trigger is entirely modular. It can be cocked and fired by pressing down on the rear of the large hook, so it is caught by the sear hook. An inspection hole in the sheet metal housing lets you see the sear engagement on both the first and second stages.

The trigger is now cocked. You can see the sear engagement in the hole at the lower right.

Here is the sear engaged with the trigger. The metal at the lower left rotates down as the trigger is pulled. When the sear is clear, it springs forward, releasing the piston hook.

No safety on the target version
The special target Rekord has no provisions for a safety. Safeties are uncommon on target guns to begin with, and the elimination of this one made for a lighter, more positive pull.

The common Rekord
The more common Rekord, in contrast, does have an automatic safety. This is the trigger found on the R7, R9, R1 and all the HW spring rifles except certain less-expensive models like the HW 25, some varieties of the HW 30 and the gas-spring HW 90. It's the same size as the target version, but the rear of the sheet metal housing is cut out at the top for the safety. The target trigger will fit in the other guns, but it isn't safe in them.

This standard Rekord came from my R1, the gun we tuned in the Spring gun tune series. Notice the screw behind the trigger blade is just one piece. Also notice the safety and safety return spring. That spring came from a ball-point pen, which is why one end isn't finished.

New safety spring
While reinstalling the safety, I bent the return spring, so I pulled a ballpoint pen apart and made another spring in less than a minute. The Weihrauch safety spring is a bit on the weak side, and I like power in my springs to keep the trigger reliable, so I cut the new one long.

Reinstalling the trigger
The Rekord goes back into the action easily, as long as you know a few things. First, both types of Rekord like to be cocked before installation. Just press down on the back leg of the piston hook to cock the trigger. Second, remember that the longer crosspin goes toward the front of the gun. Finally, the safety goes in before the trigger. It must be depressed as you align the crosspin holes.

Reinstalling a Rekord trigger takes some time the first time around, but after you've done it several times it goes back in as fast as it came out. The only adjustments are the two I've shown you. The lubrication I'll leave up to your individual tastes.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Walther .25 caliber Falcon Hunter - Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

Okay, there's a lot of interest in the .25-caliber Walther Falcon Hunter. We know that it's made by Hatsan in Turkey and that a number of people who own the .22-caliber model like it a lot. We also know this is a very large air rifle. While it isn't the most difficult spring rifle to cock, it does take some effort, so don't buy it if you're looking for a plinker. My test rifle takes 44-45 lbs. of effort to cock. Compare that to a Webley Patriot that takes 48-50 lbs. or a Beeman Crow Magnum/Theoben Eliminator that takes 60 lbs. If the Falcon Hunter puts out equivalent power (26-28 foot-pounds), then we have a story. If it turns out to be accurate as well, we may have a BIG story.

The game is POWER!
The Falcon Hunter is sold on the basis of POWER. The lithographed box screams 800 feet per second at you, so you can't miss it. Now, the readers of this blog are experienced enough to know the difference between power and velocity, but they also know there's a connection. Therefore, we'll shoot the rifle for velocity with a 21-grain RWS Diana Magnum pellet and test it for power with several heavier pellets. Pyramyd Air doesn't have the Diana magnum (they're probably obsolete) but they do carry the Webley Mosquito that weighs 19.3 grains, and should go even faster.

Breech seal
While conducting testing for this report, I was getting some large fluctuations in velocity so I tried to remove the breech seal to see if shimming might improve things. Unfortunately, the seal in my rifle was glued in and I ruined it while prying it out. Fortunately, I was going to attend the NRA Annual Meetings anyway, so I emailed Umarex USA, the importers of the rifle, and asked if they would bring me a replacement seal. At the show I met Danny Williams, the gunsmith at Umarex USA. He brought me a new breech seal and some RWS Diana shims that fit very well. They are 0.005" shims and I tried both two and three. No difference between two and three shims, but with at least two behind the new seal, the rifle became very consistent.

The new breech seal and four shims that Danny Williams gave me. Two shims did the trick.

The Falcon Hunter breech with the seal removed. It still has to be cleaned before the new seal is installed. Notice the tapered leade (the entrance chamfer) in the bore for ease of loading.

Danny Williams (left) of Umarex USA provided the breech seal and shims.

The trigger-pull is 4 lbs., 12 ozs. It feels like it's breaking-in very quickly; at first it seemed much heavier than it is now. It's not a standard design and probably can't be easily changed, in the same way that many Gamo triggers can.

Beeman Ram Jets
My rifle pops out 24.2-grain Beeman Ram Jets at an average 703 f.p.s. The spread was from 698 to 710, which is very tight. That works out to a muzzle energy of 26.54 foot-pounds. The Falcon Hunter is definitely in the Webley Patriot class.

Diana Magnums
I shot 20.1-grain Diana Magnum pellets at an average 707 f.p.s. That's no improvement over the Ram Jets, and with the lighter weight they produced only 22.31 foot-pounds. I would not recommend them for this rifle. The spread went from 700 to 715, which is good, but I think the piston may be too heavy for such a light pellet.

Beeman Perfect Rounds
Beeman Perfect Rounds do not fit in the bore, so I was unable to test them. I had several readers who were interested in their performance, but they're not for this rifle.

Beeman Kodiaks
The classic .25 caliber pellet is the 31-grain Beeman Kodiak. It's both accurate and consistent. I try it in all .25 caliber air rifles, regardless of their power. They gave an average of 616 f.p.s., with a spread from 613 to 618. The rifle felt very smooth when shooting them, so I'll definitely try them for accuracy, as well. Muzzle energy works out to 26.13 foot-pounds.

The rifle seems to be breaking in well. After I do the accuracy testing, I'll look at the velocity numbers again to see if anything has changed. While I'm not getting 800 f.p.s., it may still come. With all the great customer reviews I've read about this rifle, I wouldn't bet against it. If you're thinking of getting one, you need to know that this is a very big and powerful air rifle. It isn't made for shooting all day long. It's a hunting rifle, first and last.

Monday, May 19, 2008

10-meter pistol shooting - Part 3

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2

Let's talk about aligning the pistol prior to sighting, breathing and how long before you abandon the shot and start over. In a formal match, you have 1.5 minutes for each shot. That's plenty of time, yet it keeps a match rolling right along. I keep a stopwatch going so I always know where I am, time-wise, and I use a pellet counter to track which shot I'm on. I'll cover the pellet counter next time.

Breathing and aligning are part of the same procedure
Breathing during a match is part of a rhythm or cadence the shooter gets into. Every shot is performed in exactly the same way, with exactly the same steps between the shots. I'll describe how to breathe and how to raise the gun and align the sights. I didn't make this up. I learned it from an excellent video RWS published about 15 years ago, where a world-class German shooter describes every step of how he shoots. After memorizing that procedure, I now see that all world-class shooters follow it. Only at regional matches do I ever see departures from this procedure.

The shooting table
Every 10-meter shooter has a table in front of him. It holds his pellets, and he rests his pistol there (but doesn't let go of the grip) when not shooting. The table also keeps the shooter behind the 10-meter line.

Get ready
Rotate the pistol up on its muzzle in preparation to raise it. Take two or three deep breaths and let them out. Take one more deep breath as you simultaneously raise the pistol slightly higher than the target. Let out half of your breath as you rotate your wrist into the locked position and lower the sights just below the bullseye. Next, refine the sight picture and begin your trigger squeeze. This entire procedure take less than two seconds.

The pistol is rested but ready to raise. From this position take a deep breath and raise it straight up as you breathe in.

The pistol is up above the bullseye and the wrist is held naturally. Let half of that breath out and rotate the wrist down to the locked position. Lower the pistol, if necessary, to get on target.

The sights are now at a perfect 6 o'clock hold on the bull, and you're squeezing the trigger. The shot should break within five seconds. If it doesn't, relax your trigger finger and then lower the pistol. Five seconds is more than enough time to take the shot. Any longer, and your heartbeat starts moving your shooting arm. Don't tell me how long you can hold your breath. I can hold mine for three minutes, twenty seconds, and it still makes no difference. Five seconds for the shot or you stop and start the procedure all over again.

You have 5 seconds in this position, holding your breath. If the shot doesn't break, release the trigger and lower the pistol to the ready position. Start the procedure again.

If you did exactly as I said, there would be no reason to continue this report; of course, you won't in the beginning. Even I have a hard time, sometimes. I think, just another second - my sight picture looks SO good. That's where the trouble begins. If you do that, you'll soon be sniping at the target. Sniping (pulling the trigger in the hopes of hitting the target) will cost you big points in a match. Discipline is the lesson to be learned, and it's a hard one.

The willingness to abandon a shot and start over will add oodles of points to your score once you can combine it with perfect concentration on just the front sight...but there's a conflict. Perfect concentration means not thinking about anything else, while the willingness to give up means always thinking of the time. Each of us finds his own way to deal with this, and the ones who deal with it the best go on to become champions.

What's a deep breath?
Your aren't hyperventilating for a deepwater dive. You're just breathing deeper than usual. The next competitor who stands 4-5 feet from you shouldn't hear you breathe.

The imperfect body
The 10-meter stance is where you learn all about your physiology. As in, it's time to give up caffeine. It wouldn't hurt to run a mile or two every day. You may need to start weight training to strengthen your arm and shoulder muscles.

This is also where that less-than-perfect trigger makes itself known. The trigger on my pistol feels wonderful to a new shooter, but get used to it and every flaw pops out while you're squeezing off the shots.

Next time I'll talk about awareness during a match, which involves pellet count, keeping track of targets, watching the time and managing your air pistol.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The AirForce Condor - Part 3
Filling the gun

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2

Today, I'll discuss filling and the performance curve of the Condor. SavageSam reminded me that I promised this for Part 2, and another reader is having problems with his .177 Condor. All of these topics pertain to the same subject - how the Condor performs on a fill.

History of the Hi-Flo valve
When AirForce developed the Condor Hi-Flo valve, the greatest attention was devoted to its performance in a .22 caliber rifle. They tested the valve in .177, but they concentrated on .22 because the felt most buyers would want that caliber. That proved correct, because more than 98 percent of the Condors shipped are .22.

As more .177s were sold, however, there were some reports of rifles dumping all their air on the first shot. Some of those reports were cleared up by instructing the owners to seat their pellets deep in the barrel, but there were still a couple rifles that dumped air. The solution was to increase the firing valve return spring rate for a more positive closure. AirForce then extensively tested the modified valve in both .177 and .22 rifles, and it proved out in both calibers.

However, the fill level of the rifle with the new valve was sometimes less than 3,000 f.p.s. It wasn't true for all rifles, but a fair number of them preferred to be filled to not more than 2,800 psi, and in a few cases as little as 2,600 psi. I remember one customer in California who swore his rifle could only take 2,500 psi, but when we had him check his fill gauge against a calibrated one, he found his gauge was reading low. The fill pressure really was 2,800 psi. That case is the reason I've written several articles about the inaccuracy of small fill gauges.

Remember that an AirForce rifle butt reservoir is where the firing valve is located, so we really aren't talking about rifles. We're talking about air tanks.

When this situation arose, I did extensive testing of air tanks with maximum fill levels below 3,000 psi to determine the performance curve. It took a lot of time just finding enough air tanks to test, because there weren't that many of them, but I did locate enough for a test. What I found was that the maximum fill pressure might vary, but the total number of powerful shots remained the same. The starting and ending pressure were simply lower than what was normally the case.

A revised valve
AirForce informed their customers about the possibility of lower maximum fill levels and about the inaccuracy of small pressure gauges. But they also redesigned the valve so all of them can take a 3,000 psi fill. This new valve has been shipping for over a year, so all new guns have it.

I have a Condor with a tank that had an early valve that was red-hot. It had been loaned to a sales group for a couple years; when they returned it, I got it. It accepted a 3,000 psi fill and pushed a 14.3-grain Crosman Premier 1,270 f.p.s. on the first shot. On shot 20, it was still going 1,176 f.p.s. After AirForce upgraded my tank to the new valve, I got the same valve that most of you have. Now, the first shot's velocity is about 1,235, and shot 20 is about 1,189 f.p.s. The performance curve did not change.

A few people will look at the difference between 1,235 f.p.s. and 1,270 f.p.s. and say the new valve is weaker! Yes, if you do the math, it does have less total velocity, but LET'S GET SERIOUS! No other air rifle in the world can do what the Condor does, so we're carping about a point that doesn't matter. Individual Condors will still go faster than mine, and some may go slower. IT DOESN'T MATTER. No sane shooter is going to shoot pellets that fast to begin with. If you want power, you load a 28-grain Eun Jin, which my rifle pushes at 1,010 f.p.s. on shot No. 1. If you want the ultimate in accuracy, you dial the power wheel down to No. 4 (on my rifle) and shoot a 15.8-grain JSB Exact at 1,030 f.p.s. Yes, I know what I say about shooting pellets faster than 900 f.p.s., but my Condor will group JSBs wonderfully at that speed.

To the guy who told me his .177 Condor dumps all it's air at 2,500 psi, I say this:
  1. Have you tested that pressure with a calibrated air gauge?
  2. Are you certain you're seating the pellets deep in the bore?
A pellet not seated deep in the barrel will fold its skirt against the breech and remain there as the back pressure holds the air valve open. After it happens, you usually find what looks like a squashed pellet in the breech. That's not the same problem I've been discussing, and the solution is always to seat the pellet deeper into the bore.

The Condor performance curve
Condors give an amazing number of full-power shots on a single fill of air. Unlike the powerful Korean rifles that decrease in velocity with every shot (the new 500cc Sumatra will probably be an exception), the Condor sustains its power for about 10 shots. Then, the next 10 shots decline so slowly that they're still useful if you're hunting small game out to 50 yards. For longer shooting, you probably want to refill after 10 shots...but let's have some perspective. Before the Condor came along, nobody ever expected to shoot more than two or three shots at great distance before refilling. It was the Condor that made it possible for the first time. We are talking about shots with greater than 60 foot-pounds at the muzzle - compared to the 55 foot-pounds and less that other rifles get.

What if I don't shoot at full power?
The Condor owner has to discover where his rifle performs best, because there are an infinite number of variables that affect performance. I could blog Condor performance curves every day for the rest of this year and someone would still be able to ask about something I hadn't done. You cannot expect to shoot an Eun Jin pellet at 65 foot-pounds on shot No. 1 and then dial down to 25 foot-pounds for shot No. 2 with a Crosman Premier. The rifle doesn't work that way. Both types of shots are possible, but you must be in the right part of the power curve (pressure left in the tank) and have the power wheel set at the right place to get the performance you desire. It's not like throwing a switch. But, since no other air rifle in the world is as flexible, it's worth the effort to find the performance you want from your rifle. That's what a chronograph is for! It's not for amusement; it's a tool to discover the performance curve you desire with a certain pellet in your rifle. You can't expect to transfer that information to someone else's rifle. He has to do the work, himself.

I can see the question now, so let me answer what you haven't yet asked. "Pressure left in the tank, you say? How can I know how much pressure is in there when AirForce hasn't put a pressure gauge on the tank?"

How to determine maximum fill pressure
You do it the same way I discovered the best max-fill pressure for my Daystate Harrier, a more expensive PCP rifle that also has no gauge. You fill to a pressure above what you believe the best operating pressure to be and start shooting pellets through the chrono. The velocity will climb, then stabilize. Fill the tank a second time and when the velocity reaches that same stable velocity, immediately refill the tank. Those who own PCPs can tell the moment their tanks begin to accept a fill. With an AirForce tank being filled from a scuba tank, the needle stops climbing rapidly and the sound changes. When filling with a hand pump, the needle stops climbing steadily and seems to rise and fall with every pump stroke. Owners have seen this countless times and know it means their tank's valve is now open and accepting a fill. The pressure at which the tank begins to accept air is the max-fill pressure for your rifle, for whatever you're trying to do.

SavageSam, I just answered your question about fill pressure. For the rest of you, this is the way PCP owners have determined exact fill pressures for their rifles. Stop filling blindly to a "number" and spend the effort to discover the real fill pressure of your rifle. This also takes care of gauges that aren't reading right.

Learn how to set up your rifle
Guess what? The max-fill for shooting Eun Jins at 1,000 f.p.s. will probably be different than the max-fill pressure for shooting JSBs at 950 f.p.s. You may get only 15-20 shots with the Eun Jins with a higher initial fill pressure than you do when shooting 40 JSBs at 950 f.p.s., using a lower initial fill pressure. Learn to set up the rifle to do what you want it to do.

Whew! I'm sweating just thinking about all of this, and I've only scratched the surface of the Condor's flexibility. For instance, I made no mention that you'll have to re-zero your rifle every time you want to shoot a different pellet at a different velocity. Do you begin to see why I preach finding one pellet and one velocity for each rifle? Changing over is the same as zeroing a new rifle. But, the Condor is the one and only rifle on the market that offers the flexibility to do nearly everything you want to do.

The Condor paradigm
Newer shooters must be overwhelmed by all this discussion of fill pressures, pellets and velocities, but here's what a Condor lets you do that no other air rifle in the world can copy. It allows you to handload your air rifle. Firearm shooters who load their own ammunition are called handloaders. They select gunpowder types and weights and bullet types and weights that produce the results they want. A shooter who doesn't handload may be able to buy only 60 different types of ammunition for his .30/30, while a handloader can easily come up with thousands! Most of those thousands are useless, but a couple dozen are real gems that aren't sold anywhere. That's the joy of handloading. Condor owners are among the very few airgunners who enjoy the same flexibility.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

10-meter pistol shooting - Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

I'm enroute to the NRA Annual Meetings in Louisville, KY, today, so I'll ask you old hands to help out with the questions. I have my laptop with me, but there isn't a lot of time to be on the internet.

Let's talk about vertically aligning the pistol with the target. In the last, segment we learned how our stance will keep the pistol within a very narrow segment of lateral space. The key to the vertical is your grip and the grips on the pistol. This is where the less-expensive 10-meter pistols such as the Gamo Compact let you down a little...and the Daisy 747 abandons you entirely. It's also a huge reason you can't shoot real 10-meter with guns like the Beeman P17 and the Crosman 1377.

Get a real grip
A real 10-meter pistol has a grip that's angled so far back that you must rotate your hand forward to align the sights with the target. When you do this, you also lock the muscles in your arm. This is what gives you the steadiness on target vertically. The IZH 46 has some of this rotation; but, on guns that cost a little more, the grips are a huge help in stabilizing the pistol vertically.

When I hold my hand in a relaxed posture, the pistol points upward. The backward rake or slant of the grip determines this.

When the sights are lowered to the target, the wrist locks up. It cannot move much lower than this because of the fit of the grip and the palm shelf.

But wait - there's more!
Good 10-meter pistol grips also have a small amount of outward slant to their grips, which further forces your arm into a locked position when the sights are on target. A few of the really top ones like the Steyr offer the facility to adjust both this outward slant AND the backward slant, so you can actually adjust the pistol to your body. These pistols turn you into a shooting machine. At almost $2,000, they're quite expensive, so I've never popped for one, despite knowing they could potentially add 10 points to my score in a 60-shot match. I shoot a Czech Republic Chameleon, which can still outshoot my ability, and I could never bring myself to spend the money to upgrade.

I propped up the grip with a laser, but the gun is lying flat on the table. This is how much the grip slants to the right.

The grip that keeps on giving
Once you rotate your hand forward to drop the front sight into alignment, the palm shelf digs into the heel of your hand and provides what feels like a solid support. When you have the palm shelf adjusted properly against the heel of your hand, it feels like you couldn't possibly lower the pistol any more by just rotating your hand. The Diana model 10 that I started out with in the 1970s actually had a sliding piece on the palm shelf that could be adjusted back to hit your wrist to further enhance this feeling. That may no longer be allowed in competition, because it worked very well yet the modern guns don't have it.

The rest is up to your arm
This is where that stance I showed you last time really comes into play. Your arm will now gain strength from the bones of your back and shoulder, and you'll be amazed at how steady you can hold that pistol at arm's length. For owners of the Daisy 747, this isn't going to happen for you because you don't have the adjustable palm shelf.

DIY grips
Nearly all pistol grips must be modified to fit their owners. The owner will use a wood rasp to remove wood or wood putty to add wood. I've done both on my grips, which is par for the course. I don't know how to explain how you can know what to remove and what to add, but after spending 50-60 hours with a set of grips, you'll know by the feel what needs to go and what needs to be added.

The wood putty at the rear of the grip fills a gap where the grip didn't contact the heel on my hand. Notice the adjustable palm shelf that must be tight against the hand.

A wood rasp deepened the finger grooves on the other side of the grip. I recut the coarse stippling pattern to keep it "grippy."

When I was at the Little Rock airgun show, Dennis Quackenbush showed me a Russian TOZ35 free pistol. I've never held a free pistol before and always felt that it would somehow be more stable than an air pistol, but I must tell you that it isn't. The modern 10-meter target pistol grip is so refined that it feels nearly as nice as a free-pistol grip, despite not wrapping all the way around your hand. Air pistol grips actually have to fit inside a special 50mm box to demonstrate that they don't violate the ISSF regulations. But, what they can do within those 50 millimeters is magic!

The Olympic .22 caliber free pistol is considered to be the finest target pistol ever made, but I find modern 10-meter air pistols to be almost as nice. The wraparound grip is not permitted on air pistols.

And now - wax on, wax off!
Now, instead of pointing your finger at the target, you grasp the pistol and align it with your eyes closed. Then open your eyes and make your fine leg and foot adjustments until the sights align with the bullseye. And, nobody better ask me what wax on, wax off means. That was a homework assignment, and I warned you I would be testing you on it.

The grip on a 10-meter pistol is so important to a shooter's success that top competitors will often not upgrade to a new pistol (at no cost to them) unless their grips will fit.

Next to raise and align the pistol, how to breathe and how long to hold on target before starting over.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

QB36-2: Reworking the stock

Introduction by B.B. Pelletier

Guest blogger
BG_Farmer's last guest blog about the QB36-2 was so well received that he's doing another stint with the same gun. Today, he'll show us how he transformed the stock.

If you would like to write a post for this blog, please email me at

Bloggers must be proficient in the simple html that Blogger software uses, know how to take clear photos and size them for the internet (if their post requires them) and they must use proper English. We will edit each submission, but we won't work on any submission that contains gross misspellings and/or grammatical errors.

QB36-2 stock rework

My QB36-2 has seen hard use around my barn lot range. While I'm not a professional stockmaker, I did want to adapt the stock to fit my needs and preferences. To get an idea of what I started with, look at Pyramyd Air's Tech Force 99 blog.

Wood, grain & finish
In general, I think the water-based stain and polyurethane finish was a viable approach to stock refinishing. Of course, there are simpler and more complex options. While looking at the pictures, keep in mind that pictures tend to make the finish look significantly shinier and somewhat darker and redder than it is in reality. I believe the red tint is inherent in the wood. There's some figure to the wood. It tends to be subtle but shows in several of pictures. As finished, the wood looks similar to the walnut-stained beech stocks of economy firearms in days gone by, although not quite as hard and perhaps not as durable.

Let’s start with the front, specifically the forearm, where I cut off 1.5" from the front, made it perpendicular to the barrel and rounded the edges. The purpose of this was not only aesthetic, but to prevent breakage and vibration in the longer, thinner sections of wood in the original design.

I removed some of the taper from the triggerguard up to the tip of the forearm. I didn't want to make the material too thin, so I resisted the temptation to make the guard flush and the bottom of the forearm more completely parallel to the barrel.

Cocking slot
From underneath, the work done on the tips is more obvious. Incidentally, most of the wood removal here was done by laying the stock in a miter box, making a square cut to length, then three 45-degree cuts (at the bottom and down the sides). What little material remained was shaped with sandpaper. This is fairly soft for a hardwood, as I noted several dents.

Note the reddish tinge to the untreated wood in the slot.

Moving back, I rounded and smoothed the cutout for the trigger guard but didn't make it flush for reasons noted earlier. The contour was purely my preference and seemed consistent with what I was doing elsewhere.

The newly rounded triggerguard area.

Pistol grip
The pistol grip is still quite beefy, but I managed to make it fit me better by removing material. I used 50-grit sandpaper wrapped around a 1" dowel to do the shaping. Note also the new action screw (which I need to blue or paint black).

Since the reach from the grip to the trigger is pretty long, I focused on removing wood on the sides and rear.

Looking at the bottom of the pistol grip, the slimming is a bit more obvious.

Now, we’re finally back to the rear of the stock. In general, the work around the cheekpiece and butt is shoddier than I would like (of course, it wasn't intended for public viewing, either). I'm still debating whether I should leave the cheekpiece or go for a much more slender, ambidextrous stock. So, I left a little more wood and didn’t sweat the finishing too much in those areas.

On the left side, I tried many ways to make the small cheekpiece show up better, but this is about as good as I could get.

The right cheekpiece was re-shaped to a roughly semi-circular form. The original pad and spacer were reused but are no longer a perfect fit. There's one serious gouge along the cheekpiece relief, as well as a second smaller one. In light of the flash, I should also rub down the finish a little more. The finish is different from the pistol grip, where there’s more wear.

The right side was more or less left alone, excluding anything necessary for matching the other side. The hollow behind the pistol grip was deepened to match what was removed from the sides and until it “felt good.” The comb was left alone, except for removing the old finish.

The rear was cut off with a handsaw at an angle slightly different from the original, providing a slightly longer bottom projection (not sure its worth noting). This also facilitated re-use of the original pad, since a decent new one costs more than I want to pay.

The bottom of the buttstock.

About 1.5" was removed from the length of pull. This allows for comfortable shooting in cold weather and moves the balance point back far enough for me to properly support my left arm on my rib cage.

I created a sharp, rounded taper in front of the buttpad, which I justified because I’d seen it in a picture of a production rifle somewhere, and doing so meant that I could keep material in reserve for when I finally made up my mind.

In summary, if you can't find a rifle that fits you perfectly and makes you happy, consider modifying a factory stock to suit your needs and tastes. Even though the one I've shown will probably please only me, it was a successful project.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The AirForce Condor - Part 2
Barrel changes

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

Before I start on changing the barrel, I need to clear up some things I said about the top hat adjustments in the last segment. I had mentioned that one Talon SS owner adjusted his top hat to a clearance of 0.068", but what I didn't tell you is that he also had rubber bands around the cocking knob, pulling it back into tight contact with the top hat. If he didn't do that, the velocity would have fluctuated wildly.

AirForce now fits the top hat to each rifle they ship, so the cocking knob is in tight contact when it's rotated into the notch on one side. In fact, sometimes the cocking knob may only rotate to one side because this fitting is so tight. They take this extra step to ensure greater shot-to-shot consistency. Leave it where they put it, and you won't have any dud shots.

Forget the chronograph!
One more comment. Some owners don't even shoot their rifles at anything. They just chronograph all their rounds to see if they like the gun or not. That is not the way to shoot these rifles. Get away from the chronograph and start punching holes in targets. Find out what you can do downrange before you look at the numbers. I can't even tell you what velocity my Condor produces with the pellet and power setting I use, but I have long-range groups to prove it does the job. Putting holes in targets are what these rifles are all about - not producing graphs in spreadsheets!

Changing the barrel
I suspect the reader who asked me to show the barrel change doesn't own an AirForce rifle, yet, because the procedure is pretty simple. Owners will have figured it out within minutes of handling their new rifle, but I think this reader wanted to see if he could do it, so I'm showing all the details.

The barrel in any AirForce air rifle is held in the frame by two bushings. They have been made of Delrin in the past, but today they are made of aluminum. The following applies to all AirForce rifles. Early guns had two screws per bushing, but then AirForce went to a four-screw system. Whether you have two or four screws holding the barrel in place, the accuracy is exactly the same (I've tested it hundreds of times!).

I always remove the air tank, to make the rifle easier to handle. I also make sure the rifle is uncocked. The forearm comes off first with one Allen screw.

The forearm comes off with a single screw. When putting it back, don't over-tighten this screw or you will jam the trigger!

Next comes the muzzle cap. Another single screw that doesn't have to be removed - just loosened. The cap slips out easily.

The end cap screw is loosened, and the cap slides off the barrel.

With the forearm off, you can see both barrel screws in the bottom channel of the frame. Remove both, then flip the rifle on its side and remove the other two screws. My Condor is very early, so the two side screws are very short. They're 1/8" long and just touch the barrel bushing. Current guns (all models) have longer screws that go all the way through the bushings to touch the barrel. Either way, remove them both. The barrel now slides out the front of the gun. Total time? About five minutes.

With the forearm off, you can see both bushing screws. Remove them.

When the two bottom bushing screws are out, flip the rifle on its side and remove two more bushing screws. The rear one is located just ahead of the power adjust wheel. That's the screw on the left in this picture. The other screw is not shown here.

My older Condor has two longer bushing screws in the bottom of the frame and two very short screws on the side. Current production has long screws on the side, as well, but they're still a little shorter than the bottom screws.

Once the barrel is out, that's a perfect time to clean it. Most people will want to replace it with either a different caliber or a different length. AirForce sells Lothar Walther barrels in .177, .20 and .22 calibers in the 24" Condor length. If you install a shorter barrel, the power will drop, however that's what I'm going to show you because it's a trifle more difficult.

Installing a short barrel
The 24" barrel sticks out of the frame in front, making a convenient handle for positioning the barrel bushing screw holes when installing a barrel. What if you want to install a 12" barrel? That shorter barrel will be recessed about 4" inside the frame when the bushings are aligned with the screw holes, so you'll need a dowel rod or broom handle to push it into place.

The 24" Condor barrel is longer than the frame of the rifle.

The 12" barrel is harder to install because it fits deep inside the frame. You'll need a pushing tool to align the bushing screw holes.

One alignment tip. The thin end of the barrel is the breech, and it has to pass through the sliding breech cover attached to the cocking knob. If that cover isn't aligned, the barrel will stick and refuse to go all the way to the point that holes in the bushings are aligned. The solution is to move the breech cover until it aligns with the barrel. Here's a maintenance tip: The rear of the barrel holds the breech cover in alignment. Two o-rings are inside the cover to seal the barrel during firing. When installing a barrel, it is an excellent idea to apply some silicone grease to the breech (the thin portion of the barrel) so those two o-rings get lubed. They're lubed at the factory with a long-lasting o-ring lube as the rifle is assembled, but don't miss a chance to lube these two o-rings when you can.

I've left the barrel bushings slightly misaligned so you can see the bushing holes. They must line up before you install that first screw.

The thin portion of the barrel is the breech. It has to pass through the sliding breech cover, which must be in alignment for this to happen. Spread a thin coat of diver's silicone grease on the outside of the breech so it'll transfer to the o-rings inside the sliding breech cover.

I've purposely allowed the breech cover to become misaligned to illustrate it. The cover has to be aligned so the barrel breech can pass through. Otherwise, the barrel will jam before the screw holes in the bushings align.

Has the zero changed?
The zero changes every time the barrel is removed. However, the AirForce concentric bushing design pretty much guarantees that each new barrel will be close to where the old one was. They don't make as big a deal of that as they should, but I make dozens of barrel changes a year and notice how close it is to zero each time. I also slide the scope on and off the mount on the gun and it's easy to zero, as well.

Monday, May 12, 2008

HW 55SF, a special find - Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

Today, I was supposed do a velocity test of the .25-caliber Walther Falcon Hunter, but I had some difficulties and damaged the breech seal while examining it. I've sent for a replacement and will get back on that series as soon as the rifle is operational again.

I'm attending the NRA Annual Meetings in Lousiville, Kentucky, Friday through Sunday, so I'll ask you old hands to cover me on the answers to questions Thursday-Sunday. Pyramyd Air will have a booth there (booth number 2156), so please stop by and say, "Hi," if you're at the exhibit hall.

Instead of the Walther, I'm going to tell you about a remarkable airgun find I made at the Little Rock Airgun Expo last weekend.

My SF 55 looks almost like an SM 55 except for the lack of a breech locking lever.

The rarest of the HW 55 guns?
I don't know everything about airguns, despite what you may think. I get surprised all the time. Sometimes, though, I have to be dragged into a surprise kicking and screaming. This is one of those times. I have to thank my good friend Earl McDonald for strongly encouraging me to make the right choice this time, because I really wanted to go a different way.

I told you in the Little Rock report that the HW55 SF I bought was scarce (I believe I said super-scarce). Well, in the past week I've researched the rifle, and here's what I've learned.

This is the traditional breech locking lever found on HW 55 guns. The "F" inside the pentagram after the model number indicates this rifle was intended for Germany, as it meets their legal limit of below 7.5 joules of muzzle energy.

My SF model has no locking lever, and the stock is not cut for one. It's difficult to read, but the baseblock says HW 55S. There is no freimark, because this rifle was intended for export.

When I looked at the rifle at the show I noticed it didn't have a locking lever that is a characteristic of the HW 55 series. As far as I knew, all 55 guns had that locking lever. Well, my research shows they didn't! I have discovered that the HW 55 model may have been released to the market by Weihrauch in 1956, not 1955 as I had initially thought. I also learned that the very first HW 55 guns were sold with non-Rekord triggers, something that someone on this blog asked about and I didn't know.

At least as early as 1959, Weihrauch was offering the special models of HW 55 without the breech locking lever called the SF, MF and TF. I got that from a 1959 Weihrauch catalog that was posted by Mike Driskill on the American "Vintage Airguns" forum. Gaines Blackwell, another forum reader and avid HW 55 collector, posted photos of his TF for people to see - so it isn't just a rumor. He knows of at least one other TF, so his isn't one of a kind.

Gaines has owned a great many HW 55 guns, but the only F-series model he's ever seen in person is the one he owns. He's seen photos of 5 or 6 F-series guns. He says he's seen and handled hundreds of HW 55 guns. I corresponded with several other HW collectors who had only heard of the F-series 55 guns but never seen even one example. So, this rifle that I was "forced" to buy turns out to be rarer than an HW 55 Tyrolean, which until now I had thought was the rarest of all 55s. It is also far rarer than the BF S70 that I wanted to get.

What IS a F-series HW 55?
The standard HW 55 that was made until a few years ago has a breech locking lever that must be flipped to break the barrel for cocking. The F-series doesn't have that lever. It uses the spring tube from an HW 50, which is close to the same size as the 55, but has a conventional spring-loaded breech chisel detent. The standard HW 55 also has a very small chisel detent, but it isn't as long or as strong as the model 50 detent because the rifle relies on the manual lever to lock the breech.

The lack of a breech lock is one clue to a rare F-series 55, but there's one more important item to look for. The stock on the 55 F-series does not have the cutout on the left side that provides clearance for the locking lever. That is proof positive that the rifle is a true F-series and not just an HW 55 on which someone has installed an HW 50 spring tube, which would be easy to do!

How long were the F-series guns made?
I've established 1959 as positively the earliest date the F-series guns were made, but they might be even older. They may go all the way back to the first 55 guns. I'll have to find earlier catalogs to prove that. For certain, the F-series was still offered by Air Rifle Headquarters in 1968, as they're listed in the catalog. However, in the 1973 catalog, they're not listed. The series seems to have ended between 1968 and 1973. If any reader has an ARH catalog from that intervening span of time, I would appreciate hearing if the F-series 55 is still listed. Beeman got his start after 1973, and there's no mention of the F-series in his catalogs, nor does he mention them in the Blue Book of Airguns. It's possible that Robert Beeman isn't evan aware of the F-series HW 55 guns.

How old is my gun?
My rifle has a serial number of 264814, which puts it in the 1968-69 timeframe. According to the ARH catalog from 1968, the SF model lacked the aperture sight. It was priced at $64.50, while a 55 SM (same gun with the aperture sight and the breech lock) went for $78.50 and the Tyrolean-stocked model went for a horrendous $109.50. The guy I bought the rifle from had bought an HW 55 aperture rear sight for it because people kept telling him all 55 guns had them. He spent an extra $125 to make his rifle more desireable - and I STILL almost didn't buy it! It's supposed to have a Weihrauch sporting rear sight, so I may install one to bring it to spec. Or, I may leave it as it is, because I bought it to shoot.

How does it shoot?
The rifle came with a thick folder of past records of service and information about the entire HW 55 series. I love it when airguns come with stuff like that. I can tell this rifle visited John Tripier for a rebuild back in the 1999, and Randy Bimrose rebuilt it for a different owner in 2003. That's way more work than a 55 needs, so I'm betting Tripier replaced the leather-seal piston with a synthetic seal piston. I'll find out when I go inside for a look. According to the letter that was sent to Tripier with the rifle, the breech seal was completely missing when the rifle was sent in, and the gun made a grinding sound when cocked.

The rifle now gets an average of 630 f.p.s. with RWS Hobbys, 614 with H&N Match, 637 with RWS Basics and 592 with JSB Match. That's exactly where a 55 should be. I was concerned that one of the rebuilders might have installed a more powerful HW 50 mainspring that would take the gun up over 800 f.p.s., but that doesn't seem to be the case. My concern is because of the special Rekord trigger that only the 55 series ever had - to the best of my knowledge.

I'm going to end this report here, because next time I want to spend some time looking at the Rekord trigger. Because we've received requests about the Rekord from other sources, I'll expand that report to cover them all.

Friday, May 09, 2008

10-meter pistol shooting - Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

I call this Part 1, but there have already been several helpful reports on this subject. Here they are:

Converting an anti-gunner AND teaching a person to shoot 10-meter pistol

Introduction to 10-meter pistol - Part 1/An instant tutorial!

Gamo Compact vs IZH 46 - Part 5 [a 5-part series]

The philosophy of the air pistol
Air pistols shooters are those people who were in the high school band. When they first saw the Sousaphone they asked, "Can I play the piccolo?" They see air rifle shooters showing up to a match with two large wheeled suitcases of equipment and they want everything to fit in a lunchbox. They shun shooting leathers for comfy sweatshirts and blue jeans. They wear running shoes, but for gosh sakes they never run in them!

Only after signing up for the air pistol were they informed that it is the most challenging discipline in all the shooting sports. But they figured the tradeoff was worth not have to drag around all that equipment.

Stance is the first consideration for shooting the air pistol. How you stand determines where you'll shoot, just as it determines where you can throw a ball. While it's possible to stand facing the target, with the line of your body parallel to the target, that's the wrong way to stand when you want to be accurate. If you had an arm coming straight out of your chest it would work well, but please notice that your arms are on either side of your body. Therefore, they cannot point straight ahead without a lot of muscles getting involved. We don't want that.

We want a stance that uses your skeleton for support, with minimum reliance on your muscles. Rather than talk about it, I'll show you. My illustration and discussion are for a right-handed shooter, but lefties need only reverse the instructions.

The placement of the feet determines where the shooting arm points. Your feet are shoulder-width apart, or perhaps slightly more.

Try this at home
Even if you don't own an air pistol, you can try this stance. Once you get the hang of adjusting your feet, you'll be amazed at how the stance determines how you shoot. Pick out an object far enough away that you can tell when you are or are not pointing at it. Now, adjust your feet like the illustration and point at the target.

This woman shows the classic stance. Note the blue jeans. An almost universal 10-meter pistol champion's uniform. No tight jackets here! Her other hand is anchored with a thumb through the belt loop - also pretty common.

This man shows the same stance. He sticks his free hand into his pocket. This is a rare competitor who doesn't wear shooting glasses. Even shooters who do not need correction wear shooting glasses because of what they do for their depth of field.

Tension your legs by turning your toes inward, starting with the left foot. Pivot on your heel, so your foot remains in place. Your stance will become more rigid as you turn the toe inward. Then, close your eyes and point naturally. Keep adjusting your foot placement and toe rotation until you're pointing at the target naturally. Turn the right toe inward last of all. It adds tension to your stance, but it also throws your aim to the left.

Once you find your stance - stay put!
I can always spot the shooters I'm going to beat at a match. They're the ones who keep moving around. One of our readers remarked several weeks ago how slow and deliberate 10-meter shooters seem to be. Well, that's partly because once they find the right stance, they don't move! I can take a new shooter and actually move his groups from side to side on the target, just by changing his stance.

Anchor your free hand!
The hand that doesn't hold the pistol has to be still or it will affect the whole body. Either stick it in your pocket or hook a thumb through a belt loop.

With the right stance, it should be very difficult for you to miss the bullseye to either side. All you need to concentrate on is the elevation of the pistol, and I'll cover that in the next report. Stay tuned!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Walther .25 caliber Falcon Hunter - Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

Walther's .25-caliber Falcon Hunter is a new .25 caliber spring gun.

I'm starting an interesting new series on the Walther Falcon Hunter in .25 caliber. When I saw the Falcon Hunter at the SHOT Show, I knew it would be interesting because the .25-caliber Webley Patriot was the only other game in town (at that power level). Well, now that the .25-caliber Patriot is gone (pending rework by Webley), the Falcon Hunter is alone (at that power) in that caliber. It was going to pose a serious threat to Webley because of its low price; now it will rule unopposed!

Describing the Falcon Hunter
This is a very large air rifle. At 49" overall, there aren't many air rifles or even firearms that are as long. It weighs right at 8 lbs., which should make it seem light, but the balance is decidedly muzzle-heavy with the scope not mounted. The 19.75" barrel is one of the longest on any breakbarrel. There's a setscrew on the muzzlebrake, which probably means it can be detached. I loosened the screw but the brake didn't budge. Because it's synthetic, I didn't push it.

The barrel detent is extremely stiff - just like the legendary one on the Webley Patriot. You must slap the muzzle to break the barrel for cocking, and closing it takes even more effort. I hope it will wear in smoother.

The trigger is two-stage and non-adjustable. It's heavy, so I'm going to give it an opportunity to break in before I report the pull weight. The rifle fires with a lot of recoil and some vibration, but not as much as I was anticipating.

The safety is automatic, and can be applied at any time manually. Pull out to fire, push in for safe. A red dot on the safety bar alerts the shooter to the status.

The safety all the way out shows a red dot on the bar. The gun is ready to fire.

When the safety is in like this the rifle is safe.

Synthetic stock
The stock is a hollow synthetic finished in a Mossy Oak Break-Up camouflage pattern. It's lighter weight than a wood stock would be, which on this big gun means a lot. The length of pull can be adjusted longer with three additional spacers that come in the box, but I found the factory 15" pull to be long to begin with. Both the pistol grip and forearm are checkered, but the diamonds are not aggressive. The forearm is held to the spring tube with four screws instead of the usual two. Although there's a low cheekrest only on the left side of the Monte Carlo butt, the rifle could be fully ambidextrous because the automatic safety is centered at the rear of the spring tube.

The sights are fully adjustable with click detents on both adjustment knobs. They're fiberoptic, and you'll have to use them that way (front red dot centered between the two rear green dots) because the front post is too wide for the rear notch. No daylight can be seen on either side of the front post. But most shooters will probably install the scope that comes with the rifle. And that's where the proprietary rear scope base gets a close look.

Unique scope base
This unique design has an 11mm dovetail on top of the base. This dovetail has been cut with numerous cross-slots for some reason. While they make it appear like a Picatinny or Weaver system, it's neither. The slots appear to serve no function I can discover, though they might interface with other mounts I haven't seen, yet. The 3-9x scope that comes with the rifle has a thin pair of rings already attached to the scope tube, and these will butt against a plate screwed to the top of the scope base dovetail. I'm showing a picture because I cannot explain it any better.

The Walther Falcon Hunter scope base is unique and proprietary. The slots do nothing I can identify. On other rifles, they wouldn't be there. They're not the same as the slots on a Picatinny base. The flat plate with the Phillips screw (upper left) is the scope stop.

Besides the stock, there's a lot of synthetic on the outside of this rifle. The triggerguard, trigger, muzzlebrake, parts of the rear sight, the safety and the end cap at the rear of the spring tube are all synthetic. It's finished nicely, with all these parts having a pleasing matte finish. The metal parts (barrel and spring tube) are darkly colored with black oxide, and the metal has been prepared very well. I think Falcon Hunter owners will be proud of their big guns.

Because this rifle comes with nice open sights, I'm going to test it with them first. Besides letting the action break in a little more, that will also help me choose a good accurate pellet. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

SIG Sauer SP 2022 BB pistol - Part 3

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2

Today, we'll look at the accuracy of the SIG Sauer SP 2022 BB pistol. This is a double-action-only pistol, which means you can fire it only by pulling the trigger. There's no crisp trigger-pull, like a single-action pull would give. Instead, you manually cycle the hammer with the trigger on each shot. That throws off your hand during aiming.

Also, this gun comes with combat sights which are never as precise as target sights. They are quicker to get on target, which is why they're used, but they limit accuracy to minute-of-bad-guy.

However, with all that qualifying, I must say that I find this SIG Sauer to be the most accurate BB pistol I've shot in a long time. I shot at 15 feet and used an NRA 15-foot BB gun target that has a black bullseye of 0.680" diameter. That's close to the size of an American dime. Though it's hard to hold a DAO action pistol on such a small target, the attempt helps keep the group small, "Aim small, miss small."

It took two attempts to learn the best method of engaging the target. It turned out to be a two-hand hold with a 6 o'clock sight picture. I also found that shooting faster produced better results. I don't mean as fast as possible, but five shots in under three seconds, which is a deliberate pace.

All the groups were close to the same size once I learned the best technique. This is the largest group of KWC BBs. Five shots measure 1.785" center-to-center. I darkened the photo and bumped up the contrast to make the BB holes stand out, but they're still hard to see.

This is the smallest group. Five shots measure 1.665" center-to-center. Also shot with KWC BBs. There are two shots in the center hole.

I also tested the pistol with Daisy BBs to see if there was any significant accuracy difference. You may remember I mentioned that the KWC BBs are much smoother than other BBs - even Daisy's Avanti Precision Ground Shot. That difference doesn't seem to matter as far as accuracy is concerned.

This is a group of Daisy BBs. Five shots measure 1.779" center-to-center. Not much difference from KWC BBs. There's a BB hole near the top, to the left and just below the hole you can see.

Shoots to the aimpoint
The pistol does shoot to the aimpoint, but you'll notice that two of my three groups are left of center. That's due to the DAO trigger-pull. It has nothing to do with the BBs. Practice is the only way to get groups centered. A left-handed person would pull to the right.

Final evaluation
This is a pretty impressive BB pistol. It works as advertised and has superior accuracy. I find the magazine hard to load and the sights are fixed, but they are also right on target. For those wanting power, get a different gun. But for those who want to hit their targets, look at this one closely.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

2008 Little Rock Airgun Expo

by B.B. Pelletier

The dealers at the 2008 Little Rock airgun show.

Every airgun show is unique and has one or more themes going on. This year's Little Rock show was exceptional, in that it was a tiny show with a ton of undercurrent themes. First, the size.

Little Rock was the second largest airgun show at one time, but this year I bet there weren't more than 40 dealers. Organizer Robin Parks thought it was gas prices, and I'm inclined to agree. However, a small show made for some tremendous opportunities.

It wasn't all airguns, either. My Buck Custom Shop bowie failed to spark any interest.

Benjamin Discoverys
They were piled high on D&B Airguns table! They were full kit that includes the pump, and in both calibers. It was fun to watch the dynamics of people who professed the desire to own one, then suddenly confronted with the possibility of buying 10! I know of 3 that sold for sure, and I think the number was more like 5, but Dave Franz took some home with him, too.

I've also heard some talk about the stocks not all being pretty, and this time I got to see what they were talking about. Guys, do you even KNOW what unfigured walnut looks like? That's what these guns have. They aren't selling burled walnut on a $250 rifle. Come on! The stocks are beautiful when taken in the context of what they are. They certainly put those Asian monkeywood stocks to shame. If you don't like the semi-gloss shine, take 0000 steel wool and break it back to dull. Two of our readers got one and I expect to hear reports.

I met readers!
Five of you readers came up and introduced yourselves. That made my show. At least 2 of you were attending your first airgun show, and I was eager to hear what you thought. This was a small show, but a rich one, for those who took the time to look.

Vintage target rifles
If older target rifles turn your crank, this Little Rock was a treasure trove! There were Walthers, FWB 300s, HW55s of all flavors, an Anschutz 380, a Daisy model 60...and I'm probably missing a few. A Walther LGV for $380 is a steal. So is an HW55 for $350. I managed to steal that one, myself, and it turned out to be a super-scarce variation I've never even heard of. More blog fodder! A working Diana 60 never sells for $300! And those were just the ASKING prices!

Vintage 10-meter target rifles like these Walthers were a steal at this show!

Don't cry to me, big bore shooters!
I tell people that Dennis Quackenbush often brings guns to these shows to sell. They have flaws and he can't sell them for full price. This time it was two .308s and three pistols! And, for the first time since I have known him, Dennis WENT HOME with two of the pistols. That just ain't right! Gas prices, I guess.

Dennis Quackenbush sold two .308 rifles, but went home with two of the three pistols he brought!

Jeff Castleman was there and brought his 9mm select-fire rifle. He also brought a .69 caliber rifle that looked like it belonged to Paul Bunyan's older brother. On Saturday, Big Bore Bob Dean arrived with a 20mm rifle that dwarfed Castleman's monster. I suppose Quackenbush will now have to rifle a length of sewer pipe and call it a Pi-caliber Missouri Magnum, just to maintain his status in the community.

Jeff Castleman works on his .69-caliber monster. They tell me the other horse carries the shooter!

Stuff you never see
Another theme at this show was the exotic stuff. How about TWO Giffard rifles and a Giffard PISTOL! Giffards aren't exactly rare, but when the rifles are priced under $2,000, they are. That wasn't all. A well-known collector had a MATCHED pair of 19th century .12-caliber guns that used percussion caps to power the shot. Shades of the Wham-O Kruger or the Western Haig pistol 75 years earlier!

That's a Parker-Hale Dragon single-stroke pneumatic sporting rifle! There are as many of them as there are moonrocks in private hands.

These .12-caliber dueling pistols are powered by percussion caps and were described as duelers for people who aren't that mad at each other.

When was the last time you saw an 1870s Giffard CO2 pistol at an airgun show?

The one that got away
I know several of our readers' wives wish I would stop writing, because I'm driving you guys to buy a lot of airguns. Well, it affects me the same way! Remember the BSF S55 I wrote about recently? Well, the first gun I noticed at this show was a like-new BSF S70 with the hang tag still on the triggerguard. My S55 has had a lot of use, but this rifle was pristine. I really thought I was going to come home with it, but that HW55 appeared and I needed it more. I couldn't afford to buy both unless something overpriced on my table sold (nothing did), so I had to watch as a young boy bought the rifle at the end of the show. I was glad for him and sad at the same time.

I told him to get on this blog and I really hope he does, because I want to show him how to care for the rifle that I wish had been mine. He didn't know what it was, but he has a good eye for quality and I think he picked the best deal of the show. So, S70 (I told him to use that handle) are you out there?

Monday, May 05, 2008

Scopes - Part 5
Zeroing your scope

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

It's been more than a month since the last installment, so it's time to hit scopes, again. I'm starting a discussion about zeroing, which can be a large topic, so I'll try to simplify it. If there are things I'm not addressing, please ask questions.

What range to zero?
Zero means the distance at which the intersection of the crosshairs coincides with the pellet in flight. Put simply, it's where the pellet will strike the aimpoint.

Is that a new idea to you? Maybe you thought the pellet always strikes the place where the crosshairs rest. That's not how it works. From the moment the pellet exits the muzzle, it starts dropping. To get the crosshair intersection to point to the spot where the pellet will be, we have to angle the scope to look downward. Most of the time this is done by using the scope's internal erector tube.

The pellet starts to drop the moment it leaves the muzzle, as this simple drawing shows. The scale has been compressed.

The scope looks straight ahead. The line of sight is a straight line.

To get the scope to look where the pellet is going, internal scope adjustments must be used. Inside the scope tube, there's an erector tube, which must be slanted down to get the line of sight to slant down like this.

I hope these three illustrations help you understand how the scope aligns to look at the place where the pellet is going. The scale of the drawings is compressed tremendously. A pellet may drop only 6" to 10" from the muzzle out to 50 yards. How far it drops depends on its muzzle velocity and its ballistic coefficient. Regardless of the BC, it isn't very good, because all diabolo pellets are made to slow down rapidly.

Sometimes, the scope's internal adjustments aren't enough, and you have to shim the scope at the rear or use an adjustable scope mount to get it to look far enough down to align with the pellet. I'll cover that kind of correction in a later report - for now, let's assume the scope adjustments are all you need to do.

QUESTION: At what distance do you want the scope to coincide with the pellet?

That's the biggest question in this game, and the most-discussed. I'll try to simplify it for you. If you're a general shooter or a hunter, you want the scope to be as usable as possible over the longest distance possible. That stands to reason, so you sight it in at the distance at which you get the most usable distance from the sight setting.

At what distances do you usually shoot? Most hunters and average airgunners shoot up to 50 yards most of the time. A 50-yard shot is a challenge, as is one closer than about 20 feet. Sighting-in at too close a distance makes no sense, because you won't be zeroed for the greater part of your useful range. On the other hand, sighting-in for 50 yards also makes no sense, because at closer ranges you won't be near the aimpoint! So, we have to find a compromise.

The compromise
Modern airguns can shoot very fast, but shooters who are serious don't allow them to go as fast as they can. The most accurate velocity for a diabolo pellet is somewhere around 900 f.p.s. It may be 800 or it might even be 1,000 f.p.s. It all depends on the gun and its best accuracy with a given pellet. But, it certainly isn't 1,200 f.p.s., and it isn't 600 f.p.s. So we say 900 f.p.s., because we can work with that number.

For a pellet going 900 f.p.s., there's a flat spot in the trajectory around 20 to 30+ yards. The line of sight has caught up with the dropping pellet, and the pellet isn't dropping so fast that it's a problem. Did you notice that the line of sight actually passes through the arc of the trajectory and then continues on below it? To the shooters the pellet appears to be rising. That first point of intersection is located about 20 yards from the muzzle, if you're following my recommendations.

Why not 10 yards?
This question comes up a lot. Or, why not 15 yards? Because of what that does to the line of sight. If you sight in at 10 yards, at 20 yards your pellet will be an inch to an inch-and-a-half ABOVE the line of sight, assuming a 900 f.p.s. pellet. If you don't care that it is so far above the point of aim, fine. Sight-in at 10 yards.

If you sight-in at 20 yards, your pellet will rise only a pellet's diameter between 20 and 30+ yards. Where the far point actually is depends on the pellet's actual velocity and BC. After it drops back to the line of sight, it'll still be close to the aimpoint for several more yards. Twenty yards works out to be the ideal zero distance for the average airgunner, assuming a 900 f.p.s. rifle. Of course, 900 is just a convenient number; I'm really talking about anything between about 800 and 1,000 f.p.s.

Got it?

Friday, May 02, 2008

The AirForce Condor - Part 1
A universal air rifle?

by B.B. Pelletier

AirForce Condor, dressed with a scope, trirail, rear accessory rail, bipod and laser.

I was asked to write this report by SavageSam, who said the following:

I'm writing you to remind you to do a writeup on the AirForce Condor. Also you could split [your report] into what is Condor-specific and what applies to all the A.F. line. You asked me to ask you what I wanted to know, well here goes....I want to know what can be tinkered with, without voiding the warranty. Such as, adjusting the top hat vs. adjusting the power wheel. Installing a different barrel. Having a different valve spring in the bottle (mine does NOT care for a full fill) to help flatten out the rainbow velocity curve. Accessories (best bang for the buck scope) green daylight lasers. The micro-meter tank. Etc. From SavageSam

Andreas from Cyprus also asked for a very specific test of a .177 Condor shooting on high power with a Micro-Meter tank. He cannot legally own a .22 caliber airgun, nor can he own a CO2 gun, so his request is focused on getting the maximum number of shots from an air tank at a decent hunting power. He mentioned 15 foot-pounds, but I must say here and now, that would only be possible with a .22 caliber Condor using the Micro-Meter tank. I would expect the .177 to get 11-12 foot-pounds.

What is a Condor?
If you know anything about Condors, you know that we're in for a grand time. The AirForce Condor is one of the most powerful smallbore air rifles made. I say "one of" only if we stay with the factory model. There's a custom Condor that beats them all at 110+ foot-pounds in .25 caliber. I'm not going to test that one for this report, because, believe me, 65 foot-pounds is more than enough to play with. The Condor is also the most versatile air rifle made - hands down. It can be owner-modified in so many ways, plus there is a world of aftermarket accessories to go on it. It's an airgun collection by itself.

The Condor was created by AirForce in 2004. It shares a similar frame with the Talon SS, but it is not identical. The only difference is that the Condor's scope rail is two inches longer. You can spot that by the second hole in the rail that only the Condor has. There were a small number of Condors shipped on Talon SS frames, and an SS frame can be turned into a Condor rifle with a few modifications to the powerplant. Those are the similarities and differences between the SS and the Condor. The Talon frame is about four inches shorter than the SS and Condor frames.

The positive way to tell which model you have, since none of them are marked with the model name, is by the serial number found on the right side of the gun. A Talon will always be B00000. A Talon SS is BS00000 and a Condor is BC00000.

The entire purpose of the Condor is hunting. When it was created, AirForce thought the .177 model would not sell well in the U.S., but in other countries, like South Africa and in the United Kingdom, it would do better. That has pretty much been the way it's gone, with .22 caliber accounting for over 95 percent of the U.S. sales. Now, however, Condor owners are starting to buy an optional .177 barrel for their guns and the sales of that caliber have picked up a little. And, .20 caliber was introduced by the factory last year, so all rifles are available in that caliber, as well. AirForce doesn't make a .25 caliber, but a number of dealers offer it as a custom option.

SavageSam mentioned the "rainbow trajectory" of the rifle. Well, out to 50 yards a Condor can shoot pretty flat. Beyond 50 yards it does drop fast, as even a .22 long rifle will do. But, buying a high-speed .177 is not the solution to this. That's because you cannot shoot the lighter pellet fast enough to stay flat and also remain accurate. With a Condor, you're better off staying with .22 caliber and learning how your rifle shoots.

Adjusting the top hat
SavageSam also asked about adjusting the top hat. I have to smile, because the Condor is the one AirForce rifle that you DON'T want to do that to! Let me explain. First of all, adjusting the top hat on any AirForce rifle is obsolete, as far as the factory is concerned. The power adjustment wheel made it unnecessary. Before the power wheel was put on the rifle in 2001, adjusting the top hat was a crude means of power adjustment.

The top hat is the silver thing. The space behind the knurled ring determines how far open the valve can go, which means how long it can remain open. That's the clearance you measure. Two Allen setscrews (one is showing) hold the hat in position on the valve stem, and on the Condor, they will dent the valve stem when tightened - so this is not something you do often.

Power-adjust wheel on the left side of the frames of all AirForce rifles is the current way the power is adjusted. The numbers on the wheel and on the oval slot to the right are there for reference, only. THEY DO NOT CORRESPOND TO ANY VELOCITIES OR TO ANY EXACT VALUES.

However, adjusting the top hat is still quite popular with the owners of standard AirForce rifles (the Talon and the Talon SS). They've discovered that they can adjust the top hat, then use the power-adjustment wheel to fine-tune their work. They aren't adjusting their rifles from low to high power the way many new AirForce owners do. They have found a single accurate pellet (most probably the 15.8-grain JSB Exact dome) and have adjusted the top hat to get the greatest number of shots from a fill of the tank at a power level they like. They may have found two settings on the power wheel that give them two very different velocities for two different kinds of shooting, such as plinking and hunting. And that is all the adjusting they do. That way, they know where their zero is and the gun can remain sighted-in.

There is NO WAY I can tell you all about adjusting the top hat; there are simply too many variables, plus these guns all seem to operate as individuals, so anything I tell you may not work on your rifle. The top hat leaves the factory adjusted to 0.080" for a standard tank and 0.090" for the Condor Hi-Flo tank.

I'll give you an example of what some people do. When I was the technical director at AirForce, we had a customer who discovered that a clearance of 0.068" under his Talon SS top hat, coupled with a certain setting on his power wheel, gave him 80 very uniform shots of .22 caliber Crosman Premiers at 800 f.p.s. If he adjusted to 0.072", the uniformity was destroyed and the total number of shots was bad, as well. He used this very precise top hat clearance and didn't adjust his gun any more.

SavageSam, if you do ANYTHING to the top hat of your Condor, simply open it up as far as it will go and still allow the cocking knob to swing closed into the notch on either side of the cocking slot. That's going to be as much as 0.094" on some guns but less on others. The reason for this is air flow. The Condor is what it is because it allows a lot of air to flow. Restrict the flow by adjusting the top hat smaller than 0.090", and you no longer have a Condor. In fact, when the gun was still new, I used to get returns for low power and many times I found the top hat had been adjusted in, because that was what they were talking about on the forum that day. Adjusting the top hat doesn't void the warranty, but like I said, it also doesn't help a Condor.

One final thought that I may come back to - barrel length. This isn't rocket science. The way pneumatic guns work is that the longer time the pressurized air accelerates the pellet, the faster it will go. The Condor has a 24" barrel, but some new buyers look at all the features on all three AirForce rifles and they decide it would be nice to have the Condor's power in a quiet gun like the SS. They buy an optional 12" .22-caliber barrel and an SS end cap and they make the switch. Lo and behold, their new short-barreled "Condor" now develops only half the power it did with the factory barrel, plus it isn't really that quiet. You can buy a regular Talon and get the same performance, plus a lot more shots for a lot less money.

If you really want a quiet Condor, buy a bloop tube and attach it to the gun. They're all over the internet.

Don't own a chronograph? No problem!
After a few months of working on Condors, I stopped using the chrongraph to tell when the gun was shooting right. I could tell by the sound it made. I tested myself against a chronograph and I was able to tell within 25 f.p.s. (up to 1,200 f.p.s.) the velocity a .22 caliber Condor was shooting by the sound, alone. That held true for shooting in the old AirForce plant, only. Apparently the acoustics were perfect for that.

But there's an even easier way. A .22 caliber Condor will drive a Beeman Kodiak pellet through the short dimension of 1.5 soft wood 2x4s. A .177 Condor will shoot through the same wood with Kodiaks. If it does that, it's a Condor - I don't care what the clock says!

Next time, I'll tell you about filling the tank.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

SIG Sauer SP 2022 BB pistol - Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

Today, I'm going to the airgun show in Little Rock, so my blogs will be posted today and Friday, but I won't be available to answer questions. I'm asking you more experienced hands to watch out for the new readers' questions, if you will. Thanks for your help!

According to the box, the SIG Sauer SP 2022 BB pistol came in, it has BAXS, which stands for Ballistic Accuracy Extreme System. In other words, a form of Hop-Up! I was asked on this blog some time back if Hop-Up could be applied to a steel BB gun, and I said I didn't know. Apparently it can, and this pistol is one of the first to do so.

What is Hop-Up?
Hop-Up is a device that puts a backspin on a round ball so it will fly farther and straighter due to the Magnus effect. It's the principle behind the major-league fastball. Now, it has apparently been applied to a real BB gun. I will be very interested to see how accurate this pistol is, because Hop-Up does improve the accuracy of a 6mm plastic ball. I can't think of why it wouldn't also work with steel BBs, except that they have quite a bit more kinetic energy concentrated in a smaller projectile, and that might cause them to chew through the rubber pads in the mechanism. We'll see.

With the KWC BBs supplied, I got an average of 345 f.p.s. The low was 336 and the high was 354. Shooting was done at 30-second intervals to allow the gun to warm up from the CO2 cooling.

With Daisy BBs the average was 339 f.p.s. with a low of 332 and a high of 346. Shooting was done with a 30-second interval.

The magazine holds 23 BBs, so it's possible to shoot that many times in quick succession. I tried that several times and saw the following effect. The first shot of Daisy BBs went about 342 f.p.s. Velocity climbed up to 360 f.p.s. in about five shots. Velocity then fell off regularly with each shot, until shot number 23 was down around 309-312 f.p.s.

Maximum shots per CO2 cartridge
The maximum number of shots at greater than 300 f.p.s. is somewhere above 130. The gun was at 312 f.p.s. at shot 130 and at 268 f.p.s. at shot 145. I was shooting fast, which results in fewer shots per cartridge, so I can say this particular pistol will get at least 130 shots per cartridge. That's quite a lot - almost double my prediction of 70.

Once, when I'd pulled the trigger almost to the breaking point, I didn't fire. By relaxing the trigger, I jammed the mechanism. There's a positive tubular shuttle that pushes the BB forward (into the BAXS mechanism, I presume). To clear the jam I simply removed the magazine and the loose BB dropped out. This is an airsoft trait, and I expected it from the design of the gun. I tried to force it to happen a second time but was unable.

The front of the magazine with the movable shuttle sticking out. When the trigger is pulled, this part pushes the BB into the rear of the barrel, where the BAXS presumably stops it.

This pistol flexes in my hand as I shoot it. The magazine is also loose in the well and rattles a little. But the next test will be accuracy and we'll see what effect, if any, this has.