Thursday, April 30, 2009

How Pyramyd Air got started - Part 1

By Joshua Ungier

Introduction by B.B. Pelletier

Joshua Ungier, the owner of Pyramyd Air, has an interesting story to tell us about how he founded this business. Anyone who knows Josh knows that he has led a colorful life, so I was glad when he offered to share this story with you. We'll tell it in sections, starting with his childhood, which was somewhat different than most of ours.

My childhood
I grew up in the part of Russia that today is known as the Ukraine. As a kid, I was a typical know-it-all. I had no toys. We were so poor that even fleas abandoned us. Of course, there was no food, either. Stalin was starving us to death. I was not aware of this, though, because my parents made sure I ate. They had lost all of their families to the Nazis, but my mom and dad made sure I survived. I was way too young to comprehend any of this. My dad told me many stories later, when I could understand and appreciate the scope of the atrocities that were committed.

One thing my friends and I did not lack was firearms. They lay scattered all over the fields, ravines and woods. Among them, the remains of the soldiers--both German and Russian shared the same fate. They were now skeletons. Some still wore the rotting remains of uniforms.

As the German Army retreated ahead of advancing Russian troops, they dumped thousand of tons of weapons and ammo throughout the countryside. It was easy to find a mint Luger still in its Cosmoline, along with thousands of rounds packed in Wehrmacht boxes. Or, perhaps, we might find a Russian PPSH submachine gun. We found Schmeisser submachine guns, Bergman Bayard pistols and more. Some boxes contained magazines, boots, officers' daggers with swastikas and a bunch of other stuff we had no idea about. Some of the stuff we found back then is worth thousands of dollars today; but, of course, at that time, it had no value beyond captivating a kid's imagination.

The P08 is commonly called the Luger, after its inventor. A mint one is worth a lot today.

The Soviet PPSH submachine gun was widely distributed among Soviet troops during World War II.

Up to this point in my life, I 'd never heard of airguns. We didn't need them. My three buddies and I had our weapons hidden in an old mausoleum at the cemetery, which had been abandoned long before the war, so no one was ever there to bother us. Militia, as the police were called in Russia, were either too drunk or too busy harassing people to pay attention to the noises of our shooting. They bothered us only once, and they never found out where our hiding place was. My dad, instead of scolding us for doing what we did, gave us safety instructions on to how to "play" without getting hurt. He knew we would continue to find more guns and equipment, and it was safer if we knew what we were doing. There was never an accident. And that's how I grew up with firearms.

When I was nine, my family moved to Poland. That was the first time I ever saw an airgun. I remember that it was a German airgun--a Weihrauch! Don't ask me which model, because I don't remember. All I remember is that it was the most beautiful rifle I'd ever seen. And it was so quiet! Also, I knew we couldn't afford it. I did mention to my father once about the air rifle. He looked at me and started laughing, "What would you like for dinner?" he asked. "Food or an air rifle?" I got the message.

A friend got this Weihrauch for his birthday and invited me to go shooting. We climbed onto the roof of the building he lived in and placed a hand-drawn piece of paper with a bullseye on a brick wall, which turned out to be a big mistake. Philip reached into his pocket and produced a round tin of lead BBs. There were no pellets to be had. He showed me how to cock it, load it and I knew how to do the rest.

We then shot all day long. The ricochet from his third shot nailed him squarely in the chest. Brick wall, you know? That did not deter us. There was a tiny bruise on his chest, but the bragging rights were his. He thought the girls would love to see a wound like that on him.

I was thirteen at the time and got hooked on airguns for life. Hundreds of thousand of shots later I'm still hooked. Now, I can play with airguns all I want, because I own the store!

Some day, I'll tell you how that happened.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Air Venturi Avenger 1100 - Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

Tomorrow, I'll head out to the Little Rock Airgun Expo, so I won't be answering as many comments as usual. I'll bring back some pictures and maybe a video! My wife, Edith, will monitor the blog comments.

This is the second test of the .177-caliber Air Venturi Avenger 1100, so today I'll test velocity. You will recall that this rifle is notorious for dieseling when new. That's because the piston has an oil-retention washer that soaks up all the oil put into the gun. Many people report that the gun calms down after this washer is dried and becomes pleasant to shoot, so maybe I'll look into that for you.

This is a large air rifle, though not a heavy one. It has a cocking effort of 35 lbs., which is about what the Beeman R1 takes. As the rifle is cocked, I can hear the mainspring moving--a sign of not enough lubrication. But I would not advise oiling this spring, given the rifle's propensity to detonate! Instead, maybe I'll put some tar (mainspring grease that dampens vibration, too) on it if I take the gun apart.

I was prepared for detonations and, sure enough, they came. When they did, the velocity didn't always increase. Sometimes, the gun slowed down, and a lot of gas exited from the breech joint. Now, let's test the gun.

RWS Supermags
I started with 9.3-grain RWS Supermag pellets to limit the amount of dieseling. Heavier pellets often seem to do that. They were the best-behaved pellet of the test, averaging 856 f.p.s. The high, which was not a detonation, was 956 f.p.s. The low was 814 f.p.s. At the average velocity, they generate 15.14 foot-pounds.

RWS Superdomes
RWS Superdomes were next. At an average weight of 8.3 grains, you would think they'd be faster than the Supermags, but they weren't. They averaged 847 f.p.s., with a spread from 692 f.p.s. to 1016 f.p.s. This is the same kind of performance I saw with the last Avenger 1100, but this time I understand the breed better and will see the test through to completion. At the average velocity, which by the way is fairly close to the velocity the rifle usually shot, the muzzle energy is 13.23 foot-pounds.

Gamo Raptors
Gotta try the trick pellets just to get a number for you. Gamo Raptors weigh 5.4 grains and were too loose in the breech. They also detonated a lot more than all the others tested. The average velocity was 1,213 f.p.s. and ranged from 981 f.p.s. to 1,479 f.p.s. Three detonations put the pellet in the 1,400 f.p.s. range, so the average velocity is artificially inflated. It would probably be around 1150 f.p.s. if the gun were not burning fuel explosively. But at the average velocity I recorded, the rifle is generating 17.65 foot-pounds.

Crosman Premier 7.9-grain pellets
Crosman Premier 7.9-grain pellets were the last ones I tested and also the ones with the biggest surprise. I expected them to average somewhere around 1,000 f.p.s., but I was surprised with an average of just 718 f.p.s.! The one detonation got me up to 959 f.p.s., but no other shot topped 840. The average velocity results in a muzzle energy of 9.05 foot-pounds! The velocity range was from 551 to 959. I don't know what to make of that. Maybe you can think about it for me.

The rifle fires with a pleasing thunk and just a hint of vibration. As reported in Part 1, the trigger is delightful and should be on more guns than just those made by Mendoza.

Next time, I'll look at accuracy using my new 20-shot system. I will scope the gun, though it comes with adjustable open sights. They're fiberoptic and difficult to shoot with precision, but for hunters and plinkers they're fast and probably very good.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

In the bag - UTG Computer Bag

by B.B. Pelletier

I forgot to mention yesterday that, while we were at Crosman last week, we watched the first 100 Marauders sell in 67 minutes! Seventy-eight were .22 caliber and 22 were .177.

UTG Tactical Computer Bag is a real boon for travelers!

There are many non-airgun products that I want to test for you, like tactical flashlights and today's tactical bag. I know that not everybody will want or need these items, so I will space out these reports over time.

For as long as I have written about airguns, I've had to travel several times a year. There's the SHOT Show, various airgun shows and other events and meetings I have to attend. Sometimes, I drive, but I also fly; and when I do, I like to carry everything in a single bag, if possible. Since I carry a laptop, that means I need a special bag.

As it happens, Leapers makes one of the nicest computer day-bags I've ever seen. I used it on my trip to New York last week, and it worked out so well that I want to share the experience with you.

The UTG Special Ops Tactical Computer Bag is just what the name implies. I use a MacBook Pro with a 15-inch screen, and this bag swallows it with ease. It could take a 17-inch screen as well. All the accessories like my roll-up keyboard, mouse, power supply and all the cables fit easily in the bag with plenty of room for a couple day's clothes, office supplies, a couple DVDs for the evening's entertainment, plus other essential gear.

The bag comes with an internal holster and several ammo and clip pouches (seen in the third compartment) that I don't need and can't use on the airlines. They are Velcro-ed in so removal opens a huge storage space. When I drive through concealed-carry states, the holster carries my S&W snubby or my Makarov, if I'm pocketing the snubnose. But I don't need the other storage, so there's still plenty of room. In fact, I'm showing you this case partly because it's so spacious.

Thankfully, Leapers provides an overview video on the Pyramyd Air website of the case being opened, so I don't have to take tons of pictures. They show a camo bag, but the black bag I own is identical. They go through the bag pretty fast, so I'll point out a couple things for you in this report. The first thing is that they don't show all the storage areas in the bag--only the main ones. For example, there's a zipper pocket in front of the first section they show. It's on the outside of the bag and is very handy for quick storage of small items.

The computer (in the second bag section) is protected and also secured very well in this bag. It straps down with a wide Velcro strap, plus twin elastic straps going the other way. When the bag closes, there's no way the computer is going to move!

You'll be impressed by how heavy and rugged the bag actually is. That's the other reason I wanted to show it to you. Your computer is protected very well. There's a shoulder strap that's an absolute necessity, because this loaded bag will weigh a lot. That strap is sculpted to fit your shoulder and neck and has a large non-skid pad, so your hands are free for other things.

One thing I hate in an airport is slowing the process down, so when I go through the security checkpoint, I'm ready! That means all metal off my body, shoes untied, ID ready, computer out and, lately, my belt off because the buckle sets off the alarm. The front pouch of this bag is large enough for all my things like my watch, change, keys, etc., and the belt fits in one of the larger sections. After I'm through security, everything is handy to recover, and I'm on my way.

On the trip I took last week, I also had a checked bag with my clothes, so the tactical bag was carrying office supplies for the filming, plus my in-flight snacks, a paperback, my small camera with the download cable and battery recharger, an umbrella and my computer modem. All the hotels these days offer wireless internet, but about half of them are down or have crappy service, so I carry a Verizon wireless modem, which is a cell phone modem that operates at DSL speed. I can watch You Tube videos with it and it seems to outpace half the high-speed hookups I encounter at the hotels. Plus, I can use it at any airport and don't have to "join" (a term than means pay for) their wireless service.

Two of the four planes I flew on were those tiny regional jets. This bag didn't fit under the seat in front of me, but it did fit into the overhead bin on both planes.

This tactical bag is ideal for the person who travels with a computer, and it would also work for those who don't carry computers. You'll just have more space.

Monday, April 27, 2009

My trip to Camp Stogie & Crosman

by B.B. Pelletier

Hello, everyone. The filming trip last week was successful and we now have several show episodes in the can. I got to see Arkville Productions' Camp Stogie and the Air Lodge and actually got to to work in them for several days. Paul has the ideal airgun testing setup on that property. I'll show you a little of it today.

Before I do, I want to thank everyone who stepped in to answer blog questions for me. Edith sent me only those comments I absolutely had to see, but I peeked in on the blog in the evenings and saw that the readers were well cared for.

Camp Stogie is on a piece of property Paul's brother bought across the road from his house. The location is 2000 feet high in the Catskills in Arkville, N.Y., and you couldn't wish for a more picturesque place to shoot airguns--at an altitude at which springers still work fine.

The studio and one editing suite are housed in an historic farmhouse on the property. For an old house, it has a surprising amount of electricity, as any film studio must have.

Somebody asked to see Paul's Air Lodge, so I'll show that now. The lodge is a quonset hut made of tough fabric over a metal frame. It's insulated so well that, when it was 35 degrees and snowing outside, we were sweating inside from just the heat of the lights.

The Air Lodge is 80 feet long, with end panels that roll up to allow unlimited distance. It's insulated, so it's always comfortable inside. A great place for testing airguns!

There's also a small pond on the property stocked with three kinds of trout! The pond is fed from a year-round stream on the property, and the fish have grown to 12-18 inches! Paul's brother catches them and has special recipes for the barbecue.

We filmed for 3.5 days at the studio in Arkville before driving up to see the Crosman plant. We then spent two days looking into every aspect of their operation. They opened the entire plant to us, and we filmed things that no airgunner has ever seen. The show episode that features this visit will be pretty informative! I will tell you about a few of those things here. When the episode comes out, you'll get to see the plant in operation and hear the machines as they do their work.

Crosman's sign on Routes 5 and 20 is impossible to miss.

The Crosman campus is large, green and beautiful. The plant is huge and houses up to 350 employees, depending on the season.

We also got lots of footage that won't make it into the half-hour show, so I'm sure the website will run some of that as additional interest items. Of course, we have to give Paul and his editors some time to massage everything we did, so it'll take a while before things start showing up. Please be patient.

I won't show pictures from inside the plant, because you'll see them in the plant visit--either on television or on the American Airgunner website. I will, however, answer several questions I've been asked about Crosman over the years.

Yes, Crosman does make their own barrels. They rifle them right there in the plant on a conventional button-rifling machine. In fact, they must have more than one because they use so many hundreds of thousands of barrels for their guns.

We saw the 88-gram AirSource cartridges being made. They went from raw steel plate to fully formed, plated cylinders that were filled and welded shut. That should make it to the episode for you to watch.

We saw something very few airgunners have ever seen--how Crosman solders the barrels to the pump guns! They were running a batch of 392/397s while we were there. It's an interesting semi-automated process that requires one worker on the station.

I was told Crosman got rid of all their old guns in the 1990s, but Paul and I stood inside the Crosman morgue. You won't believe what we saw! Hundrerds of airguns from the 1700s up to today.

The model shop
We were shown the model shop where a lot of prototyping is done. For most other airgun manufacturers, it would be large enough to be the machine shop, but at Crosman that place is ten times larger.

They do test 'em!
We saw the quality control test shop where airguns go to be tested to death or for several hundreds of thousands of cycles--whichever comes first. The test robots exercise the guns day and night--sometimes for months on end. When you see the program, you'll see what I mean. I will never look at a 760 the same way again!

We were also let in on a couple projects that are a secret right now but will be coming to market very soon. Because the episode will air after they have gone on sale we were allowed to see and film them! I can't wait to share what's coming.

We saw and filmed for the first time ever the making of pellets and BBs. Crosman has always been protective of how they do this, but they allowed us to film the processes, so you can see how they're made. I can tell you that just making BBs requires millions of dollars of equipment and a huge space, so it's not like they will be threatened by a little guy. But they must think of the big guys, too, and some of them may not have figured everything out yet. The BB line runs around the clock and pumps out 4 million BBs every day!

After those six days I was a worn-out dishrag! Naturally the return flight was the one during which the Atlanta airport shut down and diverted flights all over the southeast. It took a lot longer to return than anticipated, and my home office sure looked good again! The cats knew I was coming home. About 5 minutes before I pulled into the driveway, one of the cats woke up Edith and then sat in the living room and stared at the front door. It was 3:30 a.m. It was great to have a welcoming committee of cats and wife!

There are several more trips planned, and the TV show looks like it will be a first-class program. The hunting and fishing shows had better move over, because we're going to blow their socks off!

Friday, April 24, 2009

The need for speed

by B.B.Pelletier

Announcement: I already mentioned this in the comments section of yesterday's blog, but it's worth saying again. Crosman has sold the first 100 Benjamin Marauders, so Pyramyd Air will soon receive their shipment of guns. This is the time to put in your order so you can get a rifle from the first shipment they receive.

When I was young and stupid (as opposed to now--when I am older) I wanted a .22 rifle. We lived on several acres in the country and were surrounded by large farms, so the location was ideal. And, by this early teenaged time in my life, I had owned several BB guns and a .177 Slavia pellet rifle without breaking any windows. Plus, I'd taken an NRA firearms safety course. The parental barriers had been breached. I could get whatever I could afford to buy!

That usually stretched out to as much as a month (I lived in a time warp in those days) of researching the market. That consisted of walking across the street to the hardware store and seeing what they had on their wall. Just before I got the green light, they had carried Remington Fieldmasters and Nylon 66s. As soon as I was allowed to buy a gun, they went into a starvation mode. All they had was a Winchester model 67 single-shot.

So, I researched that! My 1948 Shooter's Bible told me that the Winchester 67 had a 27-inch barrel! Most sporting .22s had 24-inch barrels in those days, and several were even shorter!

Well, I'd been reading Guns & Ammo magazine for several months by this time and knew that the longer the barrel the faster the bullet went. I sort of overlooked the part where they related that barrel-length/bullet-velocity relationship to the type of powder being used, though, so I didn't understand that it didn't apply to .22 rimfires. Black powder works that way for sure, but smokeless doesn't nearly as much and rimfire bullets actually go slower with barrels longer than about 18-20 inches.

Fortunately, I knew none of that. Kind of like how new airgunners today don't understand that longer barrels hinder velocity in spring guns (well, they may not actually hinder, but they certainly don't help) but they do help with CO2 guns and pneumatics.

However, for once my ignorance didn't matter. I had an ace up my sleeve. I convinced that same hardware store that sold me the one Winchester model 67 on their wall to also special-order me a box of 250 .22 short gallery rounds with a special 27-grain "crumble ball" bullet. Made strictly for shooting galleries, these rounds had a muzzle velocity of over 1700 f.p.s.! And with that longer barrel, I was convinced that I would have almost the velocity of a .22 Hornet in my $50 single-shot.

Whether that ever happened or not, I never knew, for the personal chronograph was decades in the future and I barely had the money for cartridges. But one thing I did know for certain. With that ammo, I couldn't hit a barn wall while standing on the inside! In fact, they were such a disappointment that I still have that box of shells and about 200 remain! They're now considered very collectible because most were burned up by shooting galleries, where they were seldom shot farther than 20 feet.

With great reluctance, I learned that conventional .22 long rifle rounds worked best in my gun. They went much slower, of course, and they dropped faster over the course of 100 yards, but the harsh fact was--and still is--that ballistics don't change regardless of your personal desires and preferences.

And that lesson is the moral of my little tale, of course. I read the articles, I read the ads and then I created a universe from the pieces of fact that could not coexist with each other. I see a lot of similarity between those days and today, with the crowd of new airgunners who want to mix and match the best traits of guns that cannot be combined. They want a hypersonic, ultra-accurate, flat-shooting projectile of limitless power and the silence of a tomb. And, could you please put all that in a pocket pistol I can carry into the woods, scoped with a compact 40x night-vision scope that sights-in by itself as you change pellets?

No harm in asking, I guess.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Life with B.B. (aka Tom Gaylord)

by B.B. Pelletier

A quick correction about the HW30 price drop mentioned in yesterday's blog. Volvo brought to our attention the fact that this isn't the HW30S. In fact, it IS HW30S, which means it has the Rekord trigger and fiber optic sights. Apparently, the gun morphed at some time but the web page was never updated. It now has the correct picture and all other data has been corrected.

Guest blogger
I'm still in New York with Paul Capello, filming for The American Airgunner TV show that debuts on July 4. My wife (Edith) thought this would be a good time to do a guest blog about me. I blame Wacky Wayne for this. He pressured her into revealing inside info about me during my absence. Those of you who are married will see right through Edith's so-called revelations and not believe them.

Life with B.B. (aka Tom Gaylord)

by Edith Gaylord (Mrs. B.B.)

Don't believe B.B.'s preamble to this guest blog...except for the part about Wacky Wayne. If he hadn't suggested this, you'd never get the scoop on B.B.

Bacon guns
Ah, the aroma of cooking bacon...pork fat sizzling in the frying pan first thing in the morning. One problem. It's 3 pm, we have no bacon and I'm not in the kitchen cooking. That strange porky aroma wafting through the house is the smell of a Chinese spring gun dieseling. I can only assume the Chinese have a glut of pork fat and are stuffing it into every product they ship overseas.

I'll never forget the first time I whiffed that odor. I was sitting in my office and the cats (we had a whole tribe of them at the time) started lifting their noses to the air, as though they detected the odor of food being prepared. They rose from their sleep and followed their Tom's office. (If you're old enough to remember cartoon character Pepe LePew, picture him floating through the air as he followed a scent!) I followed the cats, and we stood in the doorway and watched as Tom fired shot after shot into a pellet trap. Yup, it was the arrival of the first bacon gun. After some more shooting, he was relegated to shooting them in the basement. Still, the odor found its way upstairs. So, over the years, I've grown accustomed to this smell. To make sure nothing's out of order and that he really hasn't started a fire with a ham as kindling, I still yell out, "Chinese gun?" So far, the answer's always been "Yep."

Last year, my hubby confessed a lot of so-called "accidents" in a blog. Now, he's found out that his confessions have backfired on him. I use that blog as a reference. If something wasn't mentioned in that blog, then that means it's new. And, if it IS new but he didn't tell me about it, then he's involved in a cover up. I just want to know when something is damaged. I'll work it out in my own head after that. If I didn't yell at him for shooting the couch, then I'd say I'm pretty reasonable about these things.

Bringing you up to date, I noticed a hole in his office wall. When I commented on it a few weeks ago, he said he'd told me about it was an older shot. I don't think so! Plus, the pellet was still in the wall.

The other day, I noticed a hole in the wall next to the grandfather clock, but he claims it wasn't a pellet hole...maybe just funny texture on the wall. Texture isn't dented in about 1/8 inch, doesn't have a gray tinge to it and usually isn't perfectly round. Plus, I just took a .177 pellet and it fit perfectly in the hole. A real "Cinderella" moment!

For longer-range indoor shooting that doesn't involve chronographing, B.B. often sets up the silent pellet trap on his night table. Through a series of doorways and hallways, he can get a pretty good distance for shooting. I just looked at the wall next to the night table and noticed a perfectly round, pellet-sized hole. Our bedroom walls are sand-colored. The hole is white. A round piece of sand-colored wall still rests on the carpet.

In the deep, dark recesses of my mind, I imagine that one day I'll try to pound a nail in the wall to hang up a picture, and the entire thing will crumble to the ground as a previously hidden network of pellet-sized holes have turned it into Swiss cheese sheetrock. In our next house, I think we'll forgo the sheetrock and just hang sheet steel.

Shopping with B.B.
I am a different kind of woman: I detest malls and most types of shopping. Yet, the inevitable happens and a-shopping we must go. No matter where we are, you can be certain it's going to be near a sporting goods store or a gun store. When I say "near," you're probably thinking it's on the way to our final destination or within 5 or 10 minutes of our destination. To B.B., it means it's on the same planet.

Recently, we were planning to dine in a restaurant located in a strip shopping center. B.B. wanted to stop at a military surplus ammo store "on the way." Giving it a great deal of thought, I couldn't see any common streets between the two places. Sure, they're both in Texas, but no one would consider the store to be on the way to or from the eatery. As it turns out, "on the way" really meant that it would become on the way if we planned to go to the store after we ate. I realize that I'm merely a woman and could never understand the intricacies of planning a travel route (other than traveling cross country several times by myself with a car full of yowling cats), so maybe B.B.'s logic is actually male logic and is not meant to be understood by the female brain.

We have several big box stores within striking distance of our home. Do you think they're selling pellets, BBs, airguns, scopes and other accessories that Pyramyd Air does NOT sell? I doubt it, but B.B. seems to think these stores could hold a treasure trove of previously unknown products. So, whenever we go out to eat, buy groceries or shop for other necessities, he mentions that a certain store is "on the way" (and you already know what THAT means). Our short trip turns into a much longer trek that involves scouring the shelves of stores that barely have a clue about airguns. I can only remember one time that we actually found something that Pyramyd Air didn't sell. In fact, it was a product that they DID sell, but the big box store had it repackaged under another name. Yet, this has not deterred B.B. from frequenting every big box store in the area "just in case."

This is just the beginning
Well, Wayne, I hope you're happy. Of course, there are more things I could reveal, but I'll save those for another blog. I'll continue to collect data to report to later. It's only fair that you get to know the real B.B.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

An eye-opener!

by B.B. Pelletier

Announcement: Pyramyd Air has dropped its price on the HW30 rifle. It's been selling for $344.25, but the price has just been dropped to $299.99. That's a pretty big discount on a really fine gun. This is an easy-cocking breakbarrel that's going to become an all-day shooter for you and your family. It's fun to shoot and made with typical Weihrauch quality. This sale price won't last forever!

Today is different. Today is reader participation day.

Here's what you need. Get piece of card stock. Right now I'm sitting in the Philadelphia airport and I used my ticket stub from the last flight, so I don't want to hear any excuses that you don't have what you need. Tear one of the flaps off a cereal box if you need to. Or use that losing lottery ticket.

Poke a hole through the card with a ballpoint pen. Or use a pencil or the awl on your pocket knife or just the sheer force of your will. Make a hole!

How big a hole depends on your skill and control, but the smaller the better for this exercise. I made three holes and all of them worked--even the one that was a quarter-inch in diameter. But smaller is better. We're going to play the peep sight game.

Hold up the card so the hole is about an inch in front of your master eye. Peer through the hole you made but keep both eyes open. Look at a bright outdoor image, like a parked car or a light-colored house. Now, while looking at the image through the hole, close your non-sighting eye by squinting. Did you notice what appeared to happen to the hole? It got smaller and darker, didn't it? It probably became non-round, too. The hole is no longer the same size and brightness. Open both eyes, and the hole becomes round and bright again.

I'm 61 years old and have been shooting for over 50 years. I've always read that you're supposed to leave both eyes open when sighting, and I practiced that for decades but never really understood why. Two weeks ago, while shooting a new gun that has peep sights, I noticed that I couldn't see the target if I closed my other eye. The peep hole was almost the size of the bull I was shooting at. But when I opened both eyes, the peep hole became large and round and bright.

After all these years, I finally understand what not closing the off-eye is all about. Maybe you already knew, but as I said, I've been shooting for half a century and didn't get it until now.

Now, if that holds true for a peep sight, don't you suppose it also applies to open sights and scopes? I do. I've always taught my pupils to leave both eyes open "just because." Now I have a little exercise to demonstrate why they need to do it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

New Makarov pistol! - Part 3

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2

Okay, I'm in Arkville, New York, in the Catskills filming The American Airgunner as you read this, but I tested the Umarex Makarov at home last Thursday before flying here. I hope I demonstrated that I can shoot with the Air Arms Alfa pistol test. Since the Mak is a BB pistol, I'm testing it at 15 feet, which is my standard distance for smoothbore BB guns.

One of our readers asked me to compare this Mak's accuracy to the Baikal Mak, but I think that's too much of a stretch. So, I'll just test this pistol by itself today. If whoever it was will remind me in a couple weeks, I will do a whole separate report on the other pistol, because I think that's the best way to do it.

Getting right to it!
In my experience, BB pistols are not accurate airguns. The only two I have been impressed with are the Tanfoglio Witness and the SIG SP 2022. Fifteen feet is so close to the target that I have to use a much smaller bull to simulate the proper distance (10 meters for me) and it's so heartbreaking to miss the black from that close. So imagine my surprise when I saw the first group!

That shot at 9 o'clock is not a called flier, gosh! That is a great group from a BB Pistol! Five shots at 15 feet with Daisy BBs.

I was hoping to stay within 1.5 inches, and here I had just fired a 1.113" opener. It boded well for the gun. Additionally, except for the one shot, all rounds are centered. I used a 6 o'clock hold, shooting one-handed.

Three groups later and I broke one inch!

Not all in the black, but they measure 0.923".

The sights were hard to use because of glare. Had the range been lighted better, I believe my groups would have benefitted. But my final group, which was UNDER three-quarters of an inch, shows I was able to compensate!

Smallest group of the test went 0.735".

I shot several groups two-handed but couldn't equal my one-handed groups. The glare from the sights was worse when they were closer to my eyes, so the two-hand hold suffered.

I also tried a group double-action and the pistol actually helped me shoot. The way the trigger stacks at the end of the pull assisted in steadying the sights. The group was almost 1.4 inches, but it was well-centered on the bull.

Bottom line
If all the Umarex Makarovs shoot like this one, my advice is to run, don't walk, to buy one as soon as you can. Only the Tanfoglio shoots close to this well, and this one is all-metal. My thanks to JB at Umarex USA for providing this pistol.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Air Arms Alfa Competition pistol - Part 3

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2

I told you this report would take longer than most because of the complexity of the gun. Today I'm going to pick a "best" pellet to use in the future tests. I'll show you how I do that, but before I do there is an error to correct.

Pistol is regulated
In the last report, we looked at velocity and after seeing the huge spread of velocities, I declared the Alfa to be unregulated. Since then, two people have contacted me and assured me that it does have a regulator, after all. All I can say in my defense is that I have never seen a spread of velocities like that from a regulated gun unless the reg went south. But I don't believe it did. I think that it's just a reg that's doing the best it can with the tiniest breath of air. It's impressive on the one hand, but hardly world-class performance on the other. Sometimes, you just can't squeeze 10 lbs. into a 5-lb. bag! At any rate, now you know the truth and I'm sorry I told you different.

Shooter is unregulated
Ever lay off long-distance running for 10 years and then try it one day? It doesn't work--I don't care how old you are!

Neither does 10-meter pistol shooting. I haven't practiced or competed for close to 8 years and it shows in my lack of form. It takes me three times as long to plant my feet and get into position, and even when I do I feel like the marshmallow man.

Compounding my own shortcomings were the pistol's sport grip (non-target style), plus the fact that I didn't have the trigger overtravel stop adjusted correctly. This is important training for all who aspire to become 10-meter competitors. Always establish your alibis BEFORE you embarrass yourself in front of witnesses.

Picking a pellet is easy...
Despite all those warnings, I was easily able to select the best pellet from a group of four target pellets. You will be surprised at how it turns out. But before we see that, here is what I DIDN'T do.

I didn't stick the gun in a vice and select the best pellet that way. Besides being lazy (please add that to my growing list of alibis), I discovered years ago that vices are meaningless when it comes to pellet accuracy in a 10-meter pistol. Not everybody agrees with me on this (no big surprise there), but some of the top shooters in the world do. Here's why.

A gun can shoot a tight group when clamped in a vice and not be as accurate when shot as a hand-held pistol. Some other pellet that didn't do as well in the vice may do much better when fired from the hand. I don't know why that is, but it seems to work that way. Everyone in my 10-meter club tested pellets in their hand-held guns. Just as they all adjusted their sights while hand-holding their guns. You wouldn't think it was possible, but you can actually do better that way, even if you're a beginner.

When I test pellets I hold the pistol the same way I do when in a match. Think it doesn't matter? Take a look at the results.

Before we begin, know that we are not looking for high scores in this drill. We don't care where the pellets land--just how close to each other they are. After you select a good one you simply adjust the sights to get it into the 10-ring.

Five RWS Meisterkugeln pellets went into this group at 10 meters. The Meisterkugeln is a good practice pellet or a cheap pellet for clubs to use but it doesn't equal the world-class target pellets from RWS, H&N, and Vogel. These pellets fit the breech with varying resistance, indicating tolerance variations.

Five Beeman H&N Match pellets are much tighter at 10 meters than the Meisters. That one to the right is not a called flier. Do you see the dramatic difference a pellet can make? These pellets all fit the breech with equal tightness.

Here is the money target. Five RWS R-10 pellets at the top group very well. They would score a perfect 50 if they were on target. Then I adjusted the sights lower and fired five Gamo Match pellets. While the Gamo Match is in the same class as the RWS Meisterkugeln, it sometimes works shockingly well in an individual gun. I know good shooters who use them in competition. Not for this pistol, though.

Well, what do you think? Did you imagine it would be that easy? I did, because I've done this several times before. You may have to shoot several groups with each pellet as I did to see this kind of performance, but it will usually stand out just as dramatically as you see here.

Picking a pellet is easy...NOT!
You aren't done at this point. You simply have a pellet that can be used for the next step, which is to adjust the sights and start learning the pistol. The clear winner in this test is the RWS R-10, so it becomes the pellet to beat. After this, you will shoot R-10s, but you'll always be on the lookout for something that will shoot even better.

What about head sizes?
Target pellets come in various head diameters--typically from 4.49mm to 4.52mm. I have never found a gun that likes 4.49mm pellets, but I'm sure they must be out there because they still make pellets that size. I usually prefer to start with 4.51 heads and go from there. The head size is what gives the pellet its resistance in the breech, and I like a tight pellet.

But I don't worry about head sizes until after this test is complete. One thing I will try to do is test all pellets of the same head size, but the tins aren't always marked as some of these weren't.

And pellet weights?
I selected the lightest weight pellets if it was offered in two weights. Light is for air pistols and heavy is for rifles. The object is to keep the velocity between 475 and 575 f.p.s., approximately. Since the Alfa is low-powered, light pellets will usually be best.

One final thing
Since I used a clean backerboard over the opening of the trap for this test I got an interesting thing. Thirty pellets from three different types (10 from each type) went into a large hole and the five Gamo Match went below that after the sights were adjusted.

I wasn't planning on doing this, but when I saw how it came out I thought I would show it to you. I took no special care to hang all the targets in the same place, but apparently that's what happened. Four of the five Gamo Match holes from after the sight adjustment are seen below and everything else went up above. That's 30 shots--29 in the one hole and the one flier to the left.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Benjamin Marauder - Part 4

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Once, again, I want to remind everyone that I'm away filming The American Airgunner, so I won't be answering very many comments. Also, my blogs will be shorter and different because I don't have access to the equipment I need. My wife, Edith, will be monitoring the comments.

Crosman has been following the blog, and they're just as caught up in the new Benjamin Marauder as everyone else. I suppose that's normal, since they're in the final stages of production for the first guns. But they contacted me and offered to send the parts to upgrade my rifle to the production specification. How could I refuse?

Crosman has been spending a great deal of time on the shape and size of the valve. CNC production makes it possible to obtain shapes and finishes only dreamed of in recent years, and they're taking advantage of that to refine the gun's performance.

The parts to modify the gun arrived yesterday, but I'm crashing with last-minute projects like this blog, so I haven't looked at them yet. However, I'll share the test data that Russ, a Crosman engineer, developed for me.

Indoor use - 2,000 psi fill
You don't need a cannon indoors, so Russ set the rifle up for a 2,000 psi fill and velocities in the low 600s with 7.9-grain pellets. Once the setup was perfected, he got 50 shots on a 2,000 psi fill. The average velocity was 631 f.p.s. Top velocity was 644, low was 612. The spread is 32 f.p.s., which is nothing for 10 yards or so. And because this is only a 2,000 psi fill, hand-pumping will be easy.

Want more power? Russ tweaked the valve and got 30 shots with the same 7.9-grain pellet, only this time the average velocity was 862 f.p.s. That's good enough for light hunting or field target. The low was 828 and high was 887, so the spread this time was 49 f.p.s. That's a little high, so you would have to keep the range under 35 yards, or so. Target testing would confirm that.

Want more? Still running just 2,000 psi, Russ tweaked the valve again and got 20 shots averaging 928 f.p.s. The low was 898 and the high was 960, so the spread was 62 f.p.s. That's high, but it clearly shows the flexibility of this new adjustable valve.

2,500 psi fill
Bumping the fill to 2,500 psi, Russ ran three more tests for us. The low was a 7.9-grain pellet averaging 884 f.p.s. He got 40 shots in this string that went from a low of 863 to a high of 900. This might be another hunting solution for the gun.

Next, he adjusted the valve to get 30 shots that averaged 921 f.p.s. This one, also with 7.9-grain pellets had a low of 901 and a high of 932, so the spread of 31 f.p.s. is tighter. A great hunting setup and Russ even used the hunting pellet when he tested it!

Finally, he bumped up the velocity to an average of 1,066 f.p.s. The low was 1,038 and high was 1,083, so the spread was 45 f.p.s. There were 20 shots in this string, and I want you to note how close he came to 1,100 f.p.s. with a 7.9-grain lead pellet. Obviously, with trick pellets, this TUNE is going to exceed the advertised 1,100 f.p.s.--to say nothing of the GUN!

3,000 psi fill
Okay, on 3,000 psi, Russ was able to shoot 20 10.5-grain Premiers at an average of 1,025 f.p.s. The low was 1,007, the high was 1039, so the spread was 32 f.p.s. That's real performance from a gun that can be tuned the way this one can!

With another adjustment, he shot 40 7.9-grain Premiers at an average 906 f.p.s. with a low of 885 and a high of 918. That's a 33 f.p.s. spread with a fast-moving light pellet. And 40 shots!

After still more tweaking, he got 40 shots with 10.5-grain Premiers at an average 919 f.p.s. velocity. The low (876) to high (937) spread was 61 f.p.s., which might be more than you want, but again, this was 40 shots with heavies!

Just to prove the gun could do it, Russ retuned the gun and shot a string with 7.9-grain Premiers that AVERAGED 1,098 f.p.s. The low was 1,069 and the high was 1,117 f.p.s. The spread for the 20 shots in this string was 48 f.p.s.

Wow! That's all I can say. You have to realize--all these strings came from THE SAME RIFLE! That's what I've been trying to explain, but Russ provided the test data to prove it. You can shoot in the basement at 630 f.p.s. with lights and with a tweak of the powerplant take the same gun to the woods and shoot heavies over 1,000 f.p.s.

It will be a few weeks before I have the time to swap these parts into my rifle and test it for you, but I plan on doing just that! The rifle goes on sale from Crosman on April 22 and at the end of May from Pyramyd Air.

If you have wanted to get into PCPs, and you have the money, I think the Benjamin Marauder is a great way to go!

My thanks to Crosman Corporation and more specifically to Russ for all the work he did (much more than I have shared with you today) to get these data to us.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Air Venturi Avenger 1100 - Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

The Air Venturi's Avenger 1100 is a big spring rifle for not a lot of money.

Before we begin this report I have an announcement. The television program is heating up and I am taking a larger on-camera role (I'm now the program's co-host with Paul Capello), so my ability to answer questions will be extremely limited for the next few weeks. The blogs will continue, but I'm going to be writing them on the road on a laptop, and my resources are very limited. The ironic thing is I will be filming airguns during the day and writing this blog in my room at night, and yet I won't have the access I need to write the normal reports.

Please bear with me. The schedule should return to more like normal after July 4th. Those of you who have been helping me answer questions can help the new readers by herding them to the current blog to ask their questions, so all our readers have the chance to answer them.

The television program, called The American Airgunner, is now filming for the 2009 season that starts on Saturday, July 4, on The Sportsman Channel. We are scheduled for the 8:30 a.m. slot. The show will be replayed twice more that week, and I will get those times for you. You can visit our website for more information on the program. We will have some footage on the website in time and you can watch the program trailer we used to sell the show right now.

Now, for today's report. I'm starting to look at an Air Venturi Avenger 1100 today. This rifle is a conventional breakbarrel, spring-piston airgun made by Mendoza of Mexico. It's available in both .22 and .177 calibers. The one I'm testing is .177--at my request. Velocity is rated at up to 1,030 f.p.s. I'll be testing that for you in the second report. Today, I'd like to look at some of the features this gun has to offer.

I've tested this rifle for you before. In fact, I did two parts of a test, but failed to finish the test. I said I would in Part 2, but I never did. So I will reset to zero and test this rifle like I never saw it before, which I haven't.

This is a large rifle, weighing 7.3 lbs., depending on the weight of the wood stock, and with an overall length of more than 45 inches. The cocking effort is 35 lbs. for most of the stroke, with a bump up to 40 right at the end, so don't buy the 1100 as a plinker. The model number refers to the velocity in .177, of course.

The beech stock on the test rifle is stained an even medium brown color over wood that shows some visible grain. The contours of the butt around the comb and cheekpiece (left side, only) appear melted, as if left too long in the hot sun. Both the pistol grip and forearm have two panels of checkering apiece. Every dimension of the stock is cut large, long or full, making this an adult air rifle for certain.

The metal is finished deep black and well-polished. Most of the words and numbers are etched into the metal with a vibrating stylus, but the model US Avenger 1100 is laser-etched in silver on top of the spring tube near the breech.

The scope rails are standard 11mm with no built-in scope stop, but you can butt the rear ring against the large plastic end cap to prevent it from moving. Speaking of plastic, that and the front sight base are the only parts I can find that are made from it. The buttpad is thick, solid black rubber and everything else is metal.

As you can see, the shoulder against which the rear scope mount presses is very large. It serves as the scope stop.

The trigger is special
The trigger is Mendoza's unique two-bladed affair in which stage one of the triggers is a separate blade set slightly ahead of stage two. When the first blade is pulled back to the other blade, you know stage two has been reached. It may look strange, but it's so intuitive that I'd like to see it on other air rifles. In fact, it is the airgun equivalent of Savage's AccuTrigger.

Two trigger blades give great feedback for the trigger-pull.

No baseblock
Mendoza has done away with the traditional baseblock for the breech. Instead, the barrel is welded to a sub-carrier that contains the pivot bolt. It works fine, and you don't even think about it.

The barrel doesn't pass through a baseblock in this rifle. It's welded to a small stub that pivots when the rifle is cocked.

Both the front and rear sights are fiberoptics. I don't normally care for them, but they're very popular, so I must be in the minority.

Front sight is a square post with a fiberoptic bead. Muzzlebrake is the handhold for cocking.

Paul Capello recently did a video review of the Avenger 1100 for his Airgun Reporter. He found that his rifle was detonating a lot, just like the rifle I tested last year. If that turns out to be the case with this rifle, I may just go inside and clean it out. That way, we'll all know the full potential of the Avenger 1100.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Haenel Model 1 - Part 4
A compulsive airgun buy!

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Before we start today's report, another word about the Pyramyd Air moving sale on Saturday, May 30. Or rather a picture. This was sent to me by Pyramyd Air owner, Josh Ungier. It is one of several WALLS of airsoft guns they will have for sale.

There will be many more piles of airsoft guns like this. These have all been expertly repaired.

For those who tuned in late, this sale will feature all the old stuff Pyramyd Air doesn't want to drag to the new building they bought. There will be plenty of airguns, parts, accessories and more. If you want to buy new things (things online now) from them, bring a list of what you want. They will also sell new stuff to you. You will not be able to enter the warehouse, so that list of things is important. All the sale items will be located where you can look them over at your leisure.

Okay, let's get into the accuracy test for this old Haenel. It was a perfectly calm day and I set up a target at 25 yards. The top velocity of the rifle is below 400 f.p.s., so I didn't see the need to stretch it out any farther than that.

How does she shoot?
This old gal was rebuilt and refinished by Jim, who did a fine job of it. But I wondered how it would behave in .22 caliber since the small powerplant seemed better-suited to .177. This test would tell. The firing is solid, with just a thump at the end of the piston stroke. The trigger is a single-stage and has a long pull you can feel, but absolutely zero creep. It's hard to get started, but once moving, it pulls through rather easily.

RWS Hobbys
The first pellet I tried was the RWS Hobby, which at less than 12 grains is very light for a lead pellet. You'll recall in part three they were the fastest pellet tested, going an average of 385 f.p.s. Surprisingly the sights were pretty close to "on" at 25 yards. The first group I shot was also the best group of the day, at 1.438 inches for five shots.

Hobbys provided the best group of the day, at 1.438 inches for five shots.

RWS Meisterkugeln
I tried RWS Meisterkugeln pellets next. Only three of five pellets hit the target paper. That was a new experience for me! Needless to say, they were retired quickly.

Meisterkugeln hit the target only three times out of five.

Check the technique
By this time, I was being very careful to check my holding technique, although I suspect this rifle doesn't really need it. Both the Hobbys and the Meisters fit the breech very loosely, so I hoped a larger pellet might do better. But Hobbys are already large. What else was larger?

Beeman Silver Bears
Beeman Silver Bears are larger than Hobbys, it turns out. And they're less than a grain heavier, so they might have been the ones I was looking for.

Five Silver Bears went into this 2.711-inch group.

But no, they proved not to be. Stringing more vertical than horizontal, the Silver Bears grouped in 2.711 inches for five shots.

I then shifted back to Hobbys, but this time there are only four holes in the target. One of them is open to a greater extent than the other three, so it's possible the fifth shot went through it, but I can't see any positive evidence.

Four (or five) Hobbys went into this 2.077-inch group. It's taller than it is wide, though, which means I might not have been able to see the sights very well.

I was going to shoot 20 shots for you with the Hobbys; but after losing one pellet off the target (maybe), I decided against it. The vertical stringing of the group is indicative of a poor sight picture.

The bottom line seems to be this. The Haenel Model 1 is a nice old vintage springer that would be okay in .177 but is maybe too underpowered for the .22-caliber it's in. A couple groups seem to string vertically, which means I'm not getting a good, repeatable sight picture.

For me, this now becomes a plinking rifle. It's a minute-of-pop-can gun at 20 yards and a Necco wafer blaster at 10--for me. I'll treat it for what it is--a fine vintage air rifle that's been brought back to life by a very skilled craftsman.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

New Makarov pistol! - Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

Okay, there was a lot of interest in this Makarov air pistol in the comments on Part 1, so I'm going to expand the report a little. Today, I'll examine velocity, and I will also shoot the Baikal Makarov that's no longer legal to import into the U.S.

Charging the gun
A CO2 cartridge is inserted into the grip, and the screw is tightened to pierce the cartridge. Remember to use Crosman Pellgunoil on the tip of each new cartridge, and the gun will stay sealed for many years. Also, stop tightening the screw when the hissing stops. Beyond that, you're just mashing the seal, which will cause early failure.

The Makarov fires in both the single-action and double-action modes, so naturally I tested it both ways. Usually, a CO2 gun fires stronger in one mode than the other, and the double-action mode is most often the strongest in my experience.

I paused at least 30 seconds between shots and sometimes several minutes passed. That allows the gun to warm up after the cooling effect of the shot. The office temp was 70 deg. F when I tested.

Double-action is the mode where the trigger both cocks and fires the gun. Since this pistol doesn't have blowback, every shot will be double-action unless you manually cock the hammer.

I shot the gun with Daisy Premium-Grade BBs, which averaged 361 f.p.s. in double-action. The velocity ranged from a low of 353 f.p.s. to a high of 381 f.p.s. The trigger-pull is smooth and "stacks" at the end for better control. That means it increases in weight just before releasing, which is a classic double-action pull. It's like having a second stage in a double-action pull.

Single-action is the mode where the hammer is cocked separately before the trigger is pulled. With this pistol, the hammer pulls back, then rides forward a bit before being caught by the sear. Velocity with the same BBs averaged 362 f.p.s., which is too close to double-action to say which mode is faster. They are remarkably similar. In single-action, the velocity ranged from 356 f.p.s. to 373 f.p.s., so the total spread is 11 f.p.s.

The single-action trigger-pull is two-stage with a long first stage and some creep in stage two. It is, however, a sweet pull when compared to other BB guns. And, considering the price, there's nothing made of metal that's close.

How many shots per cartridge?
How many shots per cartridge is an important number for air pistol enthusiasts. The velocity gives some clue. If it's below 400 f.p.s. and the gun doesn't have blowback, you're going to get more than the standard 50 shots. Shots 51-60 averaged 359 f.p.s. and ranged from 356 to 364. I only paused 10 seconds between shots and one minute after shot five. Shots 61-70 averaged 356 with a low of 351 and a high of 362. Same rest interval was observed. Shots 71-80 averaged 364 with a low of 356 and a high of 373. Yes--you read that right. These shots in the 71st to 80th spot were the fastest recorded thus far. Shots 81-90 averaged 352 with a low of 340 and a high of 363. The power fell off sharply at shot 86, so I didn't try to shoot more than 90 shots. But that's a good number for a BB gun that holds its power to the very end.

Comparison to the Baikal Makarov BB pistol
Then, I loaded my Baikal Makarov BB pistol for a velocity comparison test. This pistol cannot be imported into the U.S. anymore because it can be transformed back into a firearm, according to the BATF&E. But several blog readers asked for this comparison anyway, so I'm including it.

The Baikal Mak averaged 396 f.p.s. in double-action and 396 in single-action. It was just as consistent as the Umarex and 35 feet per second faster. The spread in double-action was from 371 to 410 and in single-action from 372 to 414. So, the Russian pistol is not quite as well-regulated as the Umarex version. Also, it will run out of gas faster because of the higher average velocity.

The last Baikal BB pistol I saw listed a few weeks ago was at $350, which I would normally say is way out of profile, but in this day of gun shortages maybe not. A Russian Mak firearm in excellent condition certainly goes for more than that, and the BB gun is in very limited supply. So, this Umarex Mak is a real bargain! And it's an order of magnitude more attractive than the Baikal Mak.

Next time, we'll look at accuracy and yes, I will include the Baikal.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Determining optimum shot string size

by B.B. Pelletier

Lots of talk about the new Benjamin Marauder last week. In fact, it is the most talked-about PCP this blog has ever seen. Most of the talk has centered on accuracy and wondering whether the Marauder lives up to all the claims people, including me, are making for it. Well, on Friday, I had a very interesting phone call from Ray Apelles, the guy I told you was working on the Marauder with Crosman.

Ray's conversation boiled down to one point, "What is the criteria for determining the size of a shot string?" He clarified that by adding that he is interested in the accuracy at 50 meters (55 yards), which is the maximum distance in national and international field target competition. His reasoning is simple. The max shot string for him is always the most shots he can get from a charge and expect them to stay on the impact point at the max range. He defines "stay on the impact point" as giving a one-inch group or less. For Ray, any shot that won't stay inside the specified group is one he doesn't want in his effective shot string, because he competes in field target. He wants to know that every shot has a chance of hitting the target.

He then asked me what kind of velocity variation I would accept in an optimum shot string. When I answered 30 f.p.s., he explained that he didn't care about velocity, so long as all the pellets met his accuracy criteria.

A voice from the past
That took me all the way back to 1995, when I was first introduced to PCPs by Rodney Boyce. He taught me how to determine a PCP's performance curve with a chronograph, and how to relate those numbers to the pressure gauge during the fill. This is stuff we have been going over in the past several weeks, so you regular readers should know what I'm talking about.

Rodney then told me to select an aim point at 50 yards (this was in the days before the field target maximum distance was lengthened to 50 meters) and to shoot pellets within the performance curve (only those pellets going fast enough to make it into your optimum set of velocities) until they started to wander away from the group. The maximum number of pellets that stayed in the optimum group was the limit of usable shots for that particular rifle--no matter what the chronograph says.

Here's how it works
Let me give you an example. Say your chronograph suggests you have 31 shots that stay inside 27 f.p.s. maximum variation. You might be tempted, as I was, to call that your usable string. But if you also shoot a group at 50/55 yards, you may discover that after 21 shots the group starts to open up. Which number should you use?

Well, use 27 shots if numbers are all that matter to you, but use 21 shots if you actually want to hit what you aim at. See the difference?

...or, think of it this way
Here is how Ray said it. "I see your five-shot groups are all very tight. What would happen if you overlaid five of those groups on each other? Would the resulting 20-shot group be larger?"

Before you look at those four Marauder targets I posted last Friday, let me tell you that I adjusted the scope between them. Those were taken from 20 different targets I shot with the rifle, but there was some scope adjusting going on. However, Ray's call has raised an important question. Should I be trying to show you the optimum pellet spread based on group size instead of velocity variation?

This will add a lot of time to testing
It's far easier for me to do velocity variation, because all I have to do is pick a set of numbers from a larger set. To show optimum group size will mean many more hours at the range, because I will be shooting 20 to 35-shot groups, depending on the gun. And, because I won't know how large those groups should be before I begin, I will have to shoot several of them to find out. And all of that comes AFTER I have discovered a good pellet for the rifle!

Guns to be hand-held
You can tell me to just attach the gun to the bench with a vice, but that is impossible with the current equipment I have. The benches I shoot from are all movable, plus many of them are portable. Maybe I can have a heavy custom vice rig built for this, but at present I don't have what I need to clamp the guns in a vice. I will have to hand-hold the guns for now. I'm not complaining, but my groups will be a little larger because of it.

What about springers?
Now, if you are one of those people who wants everything in life to be "fair," you are no doubt thinking that spring guns aren't the same as pneumatics. What will I be doing about them? Well, I spent a good portion of the weekend thinking about this and my solution is to shoot 20-shot groups from every spring gun at 35 yards. I picked 35 yards because, even though there are RWS Diana 54s and TX200s in the world that can hold their own with PCPs, there are also Benjamin Super Streaks and Mendoza RM2000s that can't. And occasionally I'll pick up a rifle that can't even keep up with the average springer. With a 20-shot group at 35 yards, you will get to see the accuracy potential clearly. Obviously the velocity doesn't fall off at any point with a springer, but just as obviously to those who have experience with them, springers are ten times harder to shoot well than pneumatics and CO2 guns.

And CO2?
Speaking of CO2 guns, what shall I do about them? Well, there is the problem of temperature to consider. All my long-range shooting is done outdoors, and that will limit me to warm days without wind, only. I have decided to treat CO2 guns like springers and shoot 20-shot groups at 35 yards, but I will adjust this as we go. I will also pause between shots to allow the gun to warm up, and the amount of time in each pause will vary with the temperature.

Target guns will not be tested this way. Them I'll continue to shoot at 10 meters, because nothing else matters. And obviously BB guns will also not be included.

Only groups
There will be no more bullseye targets. Once I have sighted-in I will shoot at small aim points and the scope will be adjusted to group far enough from the aim point so I don't destroy it with my shots. I will also make reference lines on the targets to align the scope reticles, to eliminate the possibility of error from canting.

And don't expect to see me shoot ten groups like this, so you can see a relative size. That would take days of time that I simply do not have. You can certainly do it with your one or two rifles, but I test hundreds of airguns and there's no time for unlimited testing. While determining the optimum group size I will also get a feel for the rifle, so the group I do shoot will be based on that experience. If anything happens to spoil the group I will stop and shoot another and I'll tell you about it in my report.

I'm going to give this methodology a try. The last time I tried anything this ambitious I was shooting 10-shot groups while testing different versions of a Ruger 10/22 with many types of ammo, and it took days to get the test completed. This isn't that ambitious because I'll only be shooting a single type of pellet in one gun instead of eight different types of ammo in two different guns, but it's still plenty of work. The results should be more believable, though, because you will see clearly if the shots are migrating during the test. I think I will call this the Mega Test.

Marauder update
In a related note, Crosman called last week and offered to send me the very latest version of their valve for the Marauder. Since they sent my test gun 45 days ago they have continued modifying the radius and shape of the air transfer port and they have made a breakthrough that they say bumps the usable shot count upwards by several shots. It may also make the velocity variation tighter. When it arrives I'll install it and report the results to you. That will also be a good time for me to explain how to adjust the fill pressure level and the velocity adjustment, because I'll have to do both after completely stripping the gun.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Benjamin Marauder - Part 3

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2

We're mixing it up with this report. Since everybody wanted to see accuracy, I promised it for today. As I said at the end of the last report, accuracy is a barrel thing. I wanted to present it separately, because it deserves a report of its own. But, first, I want to amend something I said about the free-floated barrel.

It is free-floated, but when the muzzle cap is tightened down all the way, it presses the four chambers back into the muzzle of the barrel, which you will remember is an enlarged flat platform. That action locks the barrel and shroud together so they move as a single piece.When that happens, the barrel AND shroud are both free-floating. That allows the barrel to maintain alignment with the holes in the end of each of the chambers and with the hole in the muzzle cap. If the pellet were to touch any of the side of those holes, it would be flipped wild and away from the group. You will see that it works as designed.

I thank Ray Apelles for clearing that up for me. Ray and his father, Hans, worked on the Marauder as it was being tested by Crosman, and he has had his rifle apart literally hundreds of times, so he understands its inner workings very well.

An early challenge
At the start of accuracy testing, I discovered that the gun wasn't grouping well in the beginning of the charge. But after 20 shots it settled down and started grouping very well. Remember, I was shooting at 50 yards, which always shows things like this immediately. From that description, what do you suppose was happening?

Are you starting to develop a sense of how PCPs operate? If so, you may have guessed correctly that my rifle was in valve lock after the fill and had to be shot some until the reservoir pressure dropped into the range at which the valve was working.

Now the Crosman factory had set up this rifle for a 3,000 psi fill, per my wishes. And I filled it to 3,000 psi--EXACTLY. What is happening?

My pressure gauge and Crosman's pressure gauge do not agree. That's what's happening. Here's the interesting thing. Both Crosman and I use identical 88 cubic-foot Airhog carbon fiber tanks with the same fill gauge. But they disagree by about 500 psi! While that's a lot, I have seen almost as much when I worked at the AirForce Airguns factory. And Ray Apelles has two gauges that disagree by 400 psi, so this isn't an isolated incident.

I discovered that my rifle wants to be filled no higher than the 2,500 psi mark on my gauge, and then it's on the power curve from the start. Once I learned that, the real accuracy testing began.

I have to give the CenterPoint 8-32x56 scope high marks in this test. It was crystal clear, despite the day being misty. Notice that I had to crank up the rear B-Square adjustable mount higher than the front to compensate for barrel droop. In this case, it's no doubt due to the barrel being free-floated.

I started the test with the 10.5-grain Crosman Premier pellet because that seemed to be the best pellet for the rifle. If it were a springer, I'd go with the 7.9-grain Premier. Always choose the heaviest pellet for a pneumatic or CO2 gun.

The left target was the first one I shot at 50 yards, after discovering the proper fill pressure. It measures 0.626" c-t-c. The target on the right was the second target I shot and also the best of the day. It measures 0.436" c-t-c.

It was a dark and stormy day! I had the range to myself. Testing the Marauder at 50 yards.

After a dozen tight groups, I switched off to Beeman Kodiaks, Air Arms domes and JSB Exacts. None of them shot as well as the heavy Premiers, so I switched back.

The target on the left is the worst one I shot at 50 yards. It measures 0.651" c-t-c. Target on the right is about average for the Marauder at 50 yards. It measures 0.609" c-t-c for five 10.5-grain Premiers.

In all, I shot 20 groups with the Marauder at 50 yards on this day. The best was 0.436" and the worst was 0.651". The average would have been around six-tenths of an inch. As you can imagine, that's not only very consistent performance, but it gave me confidence in the rifle when shooting this pellet. It is the reason I told several of you to wait a bit before buying that PCP you wanted, because you wanted accuracy above everything.

I've shot other PCPs that did as well as the Marauder. And I've shot tighter individual groups at 50 yards with some of those guns. In fact, I shot one tighter group with a .22-caliber Benjamin Discovery. However, the Discovery could not maintain the average level of consistency the Marauder does. I believe that if I keep shooting this rifle, I'll probably wind up with an all-time record tight group.

This level of accuracy doesn't come by accident. While the other precharged rifles I've shot have given me some bragging groups, I can't remember one besides the USFT that was as consistent as this one. It's the kind of rifle that hits the mark every time--with no excuses!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Diana 27 - Part 8

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7

Today, we'll revisit our old friend for the part many of you have been waiting for--look inside! This will be a disassembly day, with a description of what to do and how it goes. Before I start, I'm going to gather several plastic Ziplock bags of different sizes to keep all the parts in.

Step 1: remove the stock
Three screws hold the action in the stock. Two at the end of the forearm and the front triggerguard screw are all that have to be removed and the metal comes out. Once out, I began to see the history of this gun. It appears to be virgin--never having been out of the stock before. The insides will tell more.

The action is out of the stock. You can only see one cross pin here because the end cap covers the other one.

There are two crosspins that hold the trigger parts in the spring tube. The trigger parts hold in the mainspring under tension. The back pin is hidden under the sheet metal end cap; once it's off, you see the pin. But that pin isn't holding anything, because it falls out on its own. Only the front pin is under tension.

There's the rear pin!

Which promptly falls out.

Step 2: into the mainspring compressor
The barreled action now goes into the mainspring compressor. Since the 27 is a short rifle, the compressor had to be adjusted for it. When setting up to work on a Diana 27, know that the factory mainspring doesn't have a lot of precompression. So it will only back out a couple inches when the compressor takes off the tension.

Tension is put on the trigger tube to relieve the single crosspin that holds the trigger parts in the spring tube. I use a lead ingot as a pusher block because it won't mar metal surfaces.

Step 3: relax the tension and remove the trigger parts and the mainspring
With a Diana 27, you want to relax the spring tension slowly because nothing is held together inside. It all stays together because it's inside the spring tube, and you're now taking it out. Be especially careful of the strong trigger spring that is between the dark inner trigger tube and the large silver outer tube.

The mainspring is relaxing. The dark tube you see emerging from the silver tube is the inside of the trigger unit that contains the three ball bearings. Be very careful not to lose them! Also, see how the dark tube climbed up from the silver tube? A strong trigger spring is pushing them apart.

The mainspring is completely relaxed. This is a stroke of about 3.5 inches, so that's how far the compressor had to move.

There's the powerful trigger spring. That dark slot is where it fits.

The dark metal tube with the three ball bearings slides out of the silver tube. See that huge "dent" in the silver tube? It's one of three ramps spaced every 120 degrees around the tube. They control the ball bearings when the dark tube is inside.

Keep all the parts in plastic bags so they don't get lost.

There are the three ball bearings. When we assemble the gun again, I'll use tacky grease to hold them inside the dark tube until they're captured by the gun.

The mainspring has a few kinks, but it's good enough to re-use.

Step 4: time to remove the barrel
The barrel has to come off to free the cocking link from the piston. When I removed it, there were obvious indications that this rifle had never been apart. Lots of rust in hard-to-clean places and lots of gritty dirt was coming off.

To disconnect the cocking link from the piston means the barrel has to come off the mainspring tube fork. The small lock screw is first, followed by the barrel pivot screw.

When the barrel is removed from the fork, you can see the thrust washers on either side. On the Diana 27, they're asymmetrical. There are two on the left side and a special formed one on the right. The state of their surface appears to be vintage factory. In other words, the gun has never been apart.

Once the barrel is separated, the cocking link slides to the enlarged hole at the front of the cocking slot and can be removed.

It removes this easily.

Step 5: remove the piston
The piston slides out easily. If you don't remove the trigger, you have to pull it like you're firing the gun to clear the piston as it comes out.

The piston is now out. Note that the end of the piston is a mushroom-shaped knob. That's what pushes the three ball-bearings out of the way (up the ramps) as the rifle is cocked. At the end of the stroke they are pushed into the groove in front of the knob. The pressure of those three balls that have no place to go, holds the piston in place.

You can clearly see the groove where the three balls sit, holding the piston.

The piston seal is definitely leather and looks new! I think it's original to the gun.

And that's the sequence of disassembly of the Diana 27. Believe me, it goes together easily too, if you can remember what you did when taking it apart. These photos should guide you.

Cleaning is the next step, and this is a filthy air rifle. There are some dark spots that almost look like moly applied 15 years ago, but nothing else is consistent with that. I'll continue to observe and see what I find as I clean the gun. I won't blog that job, but I'll talk about it in the assembly report next time.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Air Arms Shamal

by B.B. Pelletier

My .22-caliber Air Arms Shamal was a gorgeous air rifle. I don't have a color picture to show, but the stock was a golden honey with darker brown figure. I thought enough of the gun to scope it with a Leupold Vari-X II E.F.R.

This report is dedicated to Kevin, who asked yesterday what the quietest .22 pellet rifle anyone's ever heard. For me, it was my Shamal from Air Arms. I reported on that rifle in 1998 in Airgun Revue #2. That rifle wasn't my first PCP rifle, but I did learn a lot from it. Please read the opening paragraph of that report:

“They wouldn’t bring out new models if they weren’t better than the older ones, would they?” Have you ever found yourself thinking this? Is a 10-meter rifle built a decade ago less accurate than one made today? Are modern precharged rifles better than the ones from the 1980s? These are some of questions we often ask ourselves; but, until recently, we really didn’t have a frame of reference from which to answer them.

The Shamal opened my eyes to what had been possible in the past. As I will show you, it was very accurate. But first, I want to address Kevin's question about noise. That Shamal was the quietest airgun I had seen up to that time,

When I fired the gun, there was no muzzle report. In fact, read what I said about the sound it made:

Another surprise I got from this rifle is the strange “piano” sound the hammer spring makes when it fires. It sounds like someone smashing their hands down on a piano keyboard. Rodney told me this was characteristic of the Shamals, although not all of them exhibited it. Airgunsmiths used to weave fat rubber bands through the coils of the spring, or else they put rectangular foam in the center of the spring to stop the vibration. The noise is distracting, but the rifle’s exceptional accuracy convinces me to just live with it.

The Rodney I mentioned is the late Rodney Boyce, one of the grand old gentlemen of American field target and a great guy to know. That "piano" sound I was talking about was the sound of the hammer spring. I could only hear it because the rifle was so quiet. Do you recall me saying in the first report about the Marauder that it also has a musical pinging sound when it fires? Well, by that time, I'd heard many quiet PCPs, so this sound is no stranger; but when I had the Shamal, it was unfamiliar.

The Shamal was extremely accurate. In those days, I also didn't have as much experience with accurate PCPs as I do today, but even today that rifle would be a keeper.

At 10 meters, five Crosman premiers went into a tight one-hole group.

At 20 yards, the group starts to open.

At 35 yards, the group is still opening, but not much.

So, the rifle was accurate to boot. Kind of like falling in love with a beautiful woman who can also cook! But wait--there's more. Because, to continue the beautiful woman analogy one step farther, this rifle also taught me (as women often do) an important fact--that the number 3,000 isn't magical!

When I got the rifle, it was used and there was no manual. Also, the standard working pressure was not stamped on the receiver the way it is on most PCPs today. I filled it to 3,000 psi because I was so used to that number. Little did I know my "beautiful woman" was about to give me an important lesson in airgun physics!

Determining the right fill pressure
The first shot was a .22-caliber Crosman Premier that registered 659 f.p.s. on my Oehler 35P chronograph. By that time, I'd already had an experience with a Daystate Huntsman that taught me what a gross overfill looks like. I can relate to all those Condor owners who freak out because their rifle doesn't shoot its hardest at 3,000 psi! While 3,000 PSI may be very common, many British PCPs were filled to lower pressures back then.

Let me share the results of shooting the rifle:

See how long it takes for the velocity to climb up to the performance curve? And can you select a performance curve from these results?

We saw similar results from the Air Arms Alfa Competition pistol last week, didn't we? Are you able to pick a performance curve from this set of numbers? It's arbitrary, so there's no wrong answer. You might select the first velocity of 767 f.p.s. (shot 38) and end at the final velocity of 773 f.p.s. (shot 64), which gives you a useful string of 27 shots. Or you might want to expand that to include the first shot of 751 f.p.s. (shot 29) and the final shot of 758 f.p.s. (shot 66). Your string would be larger, at 38 shots. It's up to you and what you want the gun to do.

The ideal fill pressure for my Shamal turned out to be 2,600 psi--a far cry from 3,000 psi. And that taught me that you absolutely do not go by the numbers on the pressure gauge until you've checked them against the numbers on the chronograph.

What the Shamal DIDN'T have
There was no pressure gauge on the rifle. In those days, we simply counted out shots and listened to the muzzle blast to tell us when to refill the reservoir. With a quiet rifle like this, the muzzle blast wasn't much help.

The Shamal didn't have a shroud. It had a muzzle-mounted silencer that was marginal. But the valve was so well-balanced that the rifle was quiet just the same.

However, Kevin had originally asked for a .22 rifle that gets an average velocity of 900 f.p.s. with 16-grain pellets. That would be a 29 foot-pound gun. The Shamal was about a 20 foot-pound rifle, so it fell short of Kevin's requirement. However, the performance in all ways was so remarkable that I could forgive any shortcoming.

Sadly, my Shamal went away. I know the man who owns it and he still treasures it to this day. If I still had it, I probably would not allow it to get away from me a second time. It was proof that you don't always need a new air rifle to have a good one.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Benjamin Marauder - Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

The Marauder sits on an MTM rifle rest at the AirForce test range--ready for 50-yard action.

Before I begin, another tidbit on the Pyramyd Air moving sale on Saturday, May 30. If you want to buy new items from the store, please bring a list of those items on paper.

Lots of interest in this rifle last week. Today, I'll focus on the barrel. Although there are many interesting parts to the Marauder, some of the most anticipated features are centered on the tube with the spiral scratches. Just as a reminder, this barrel is American-made, choked, free-floated and shrouded.

I briefly mentioned that this isn't a Lothar Walther barrel in the first report. It's made by Crosman. Back when we were developing the basic requirements of the first- and second-generation PCP rifles Crosman would build, Crosman engineers were adamant that the second-generation barrel should be shrouded. I was equally adamant that it be choked. The subject of free-floating the barrel never came up in the discussions I attended.

Choked barrel
Crosman has been making good barrels for decades, so it isn't a challenge to make another. But a choked barrel was a new concept. They discovered that all their major PCP competitors were using choked barrels, so just being able to put that into the ad literature was bragging rights by itself, but was it really important?

I can cite history--where famous barrelmaker Harry Pope clearly felt that a half-thousandth choke at the muzzle was a good thing. The intriguing thing is that many of Pope's most accurate barrels were for muzzleloading rifles--yet they were still choked. Yes--the choke does squeeze the bullet down smaller than the rest of the bore as it enters the barrel; and no--lead does not "spring back" after being squeezed. But upon firing, the pressure of the explosion whacks the base of the bullet so hard that it squashes out to fill the bore tightly. This obstruction of the bore is called obturation, and all blackpowder arms do it. Diabolo pellets also expand at the skirt when hit with high-pressure air at the start. The force of the air is not nearly as great as the force of exploding gunpowder, but the skirt is made of thin lead and flexes more easily.

The choked muzzle then squeezes all exiting pellets to the same size as they leave the bore. And that's been proven to increase accuracy. We shall see when we test for accuracy.

Free-floated barrel
In firearm rifles, a free-floated barrel allows the barrel to move as it heats up from firing. Since it doesn't contact any part of the stock--the definition of free-floating--it never picks up a secondary point of contact to disturb its vibration. It's free to vibrate the same with every shot--the same condition we strive for with the artillery hold. Free-floated barrels have long been known to improve accuracy over barrels that touch the stock along the forearm.

The barrel shroud has been removed, along with the baffles and end cap. The muzzle of the barrel touches nothing.

Here's the muzzle sitting in the front hanger. As you can see, it touches nothing.

Here's another view of the muzzle. There's clearance all around. Note the stainless-steel Foster fitting with micron particle filter.

In a PCP, as the reservoir loses pressure, it flexes. If the reservoir is connected to the barrel, it will pull the barrel along with it as it moves. A free-floated barrel is not connected to the reservoir at any point. It tends to be accurate over the entire string of useful shots. In some rifles, like those from AirForce, the barrel is separated from the reservoir, so free-floating isn't an issue. But in a rifle where the reservoir runs parallel to the axis of the bore, the potential for barrel movement due to reservoir flex is greatest.

One thing I must note is that the Marauder barrel shroud clatters a little when the rifle is handled. Actually, it's the barrel inside that's free to move around that causes the clattering. If you want a free-floated barrel, you have to put up with a little movement, and with the shroud being so close to the barrel, that means a slight bit of noise in the Marauder. Crosman engineers tell me they are working to minimize the noise, but I have to report on the gun I'm testing.

Shrouded barrel
Okay, here's the thing so many want to know about. The shrouded barrel. Is it baffled? Yes, it is. How much quieter is it because of the baffles? Not much.

Huh? I thought baffles were THE thing for quiet rifles. Well, they can be if they're needed and if they're placed and spaced just right. But the muzzle of the Marauder is buried so deep inside the shroud (nearly 6" from the outside of the end cap) that you can remove all the baffles, put the end cap back on and the rifle sounds almost the same. I just tried it and although I can hear a difference, it doesn't amount to much. Maybe with a good sound meter that can freeze the high readings. If you had one that works fast enough to catch the fast peaks, there might really be a difference. But that's like saying it'll matter to your Collie but not to you. This rifle is quiet. Period. End of report.

No. Not the end. Not yet. I must be honest and revise my appraisal of what the rifle sounds like with the baffles installed and shooting a 10.5-grain Crosman Premier pellet at about 920 f.p.s. It sounds a lot like a Sheridan Blue Streak firing on one-quarter of a pump of air. Yes, that is louder than a ballpoint pen falling on a carpet. To all who went out and purchased ballpoint pens and had their homes recarpeted just to see what the Marauder sounds like so they didn't have to risk buying one and being disappointed--I apologize. It's still quieter than most weak spring rifles.

The end cap unscrews to remove the baffles that are just loose inside between the muzzle and the end cap. The shroud also unscrews so you can see the barrel. as shown in this report.

And there it is--the guts of the shroud. Four hollow Delrin chambers that sit in-line between the muzzle and the end cap. The o-ring sits behind the end cap, putting tension on the baffles behind so they don't rattle.

Accuracy is also a barrel thing, but I'm not putting it here. We'll have to get to it on a day all by itself. I'm thinking Friday.

Monday, April 06, 2009

New Makarov pistol! - Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

New Makarov BB pistol from Umarex is a striking air pistol.

Some firearms stir my senses. The Colt M1911/M1911A1 does it, though those actually made by Colt since 1970 leave me cold. The Colt Single-Action Army was the first handgun to capture my fancy. The M1903 Springfield rifle is one that thrills me--just to look at and hold. To me, it looks like the embodiment of what a rifle should be. And I'm a sucker for almost any rifle in a Mannlicher stock.

Well, about three years ago I bought a 9x18mm Makarov--the official sidearm of the Warsaw Pact for much of the Cold War. At the time, I didn't think much of it one way or the other, but after one-thousand TROUBLE-FREE, JAM-FREE rounds, I am captivated by this reliable little pocket pistol. In case you're keeping score, that's a much better record than any of my vaunted 1911s!

I bought it because the price was right, and the 9x18 Makarov ammo was priced so incredibly low for what is effectively a .380 ACP +P round. I was paying $6.95/50 at that time. The current run on ammo nationwide has raised Mak ammo prices to a much higher $11/50 level, so it isn't quite the little plinker it once was, but it's still more affordable than the 9x19 Parabellum round.

An ultra-reliable pistol
Besides never misfiring or jamming a single round, my little Mak is accurate, holding inside 3-4 inches at 20 yards with a one-hand hold and careful sighting. Of course, the gun is made for quick double-taps and instinct shooting and is equally well-suited to that course of fire. So, I now like Makarov pistols.

I was, therefore, intrigued to see one in the Umarex booth at the 2009 SHOT Show--a fact that I reported in part 2 of the SHOT Show report this year. Today, I'm beginning my report on the gun. The new all-metal Makarov is listed under Umarex in the Air Pistols listing on the Pyramyd Air website; and although the due-in date is the first week of May, I'm starting to tell you about it today. Due-in dates from Umarex USA are generally quite reliable, and I think you air-pistol fans need to start planning for this one.

The CO2-powered BB Mak is very close to the appearance of the firearm, as you can see from the comparison picture below. The big difference is the presence of the CO2 cartridge key sticking down from the grip.

Makarovs were made by many different nations within the Warsaw Pact. The Soviet (now considered Russian) model is the prototype of the series and is considered by collectors to be the most-coveted of all Makarovs. The East-German is No. 2 and my Bulgarian Mak is considered to be in third place. That ranking is the desirability scale that also influences the price of the firearm. Umarex wisely copied the look of the Russian Mak, which is why the grips look so different from those on my Bulgarian pistol.

BB pistol (top) and firearm are close cousins.

The weight of the two guns is remarkably similar. My Bulgarian firearm weighs 25.6 oz. empty and the Umarex pistol weighs 25.3 oz. empty. Add a CO2 cartridge and you add 1.6 oz., making the airgun slightly heavier than the firearm. But eight rounds of 9x18mm ammunition adds 3.3 oz. to the firearm, so the two go back and forth.

One feature many air pistol afficionados ask about is if the slide retracts and the ejection port is open or just cast into the slide. On this Makarov, the slide does retract, but the pistol does not have the blowback feature. The ejection port is open, but the inside of the gun differs enough from the firearm that, with the slide retracted, there isn't an open port into the gun.

The slide does retract (however not with blowback), but the mechanism inside still fills the ejection port.

The only control that doesn't function the way it does on the firearm is the slide stop. It's just cast into the frame and doesn't move, though it looks realistic. What would be the cartridge case extractor on the firearm is cast into the slide, because there's no need for it on a BB gun. The safety, however, is in the same place and functions much easier than the firearm safety.

CO2 installation
The grip is a single piece of plastic that's pulled straight back to access the CO2 cartridge. It's captive, so it doesn't completely come off the gun. The winding key at the bottom of the pistol grip tensions the cartridge against the seal and piercing pin. Don't forget to put a drop of Crosman Pellgunoil on the flat tip every new cartridge before you install it. Also, don't overwind that key. Just turn it until the gas hissing noise stops. Over-tightening leads to early failure of the seal.

Captive grip pulls back to install CO2 cartridge. BB magazine fits into the front of the grip.

The BB magazine is a stick-type that holds 18 BBs in a single column. The spring-loaded follower locks in place at the down position, making the magazine easy to load. The mag release is identical to the one on the firearm, except that it's relocated to the front of the grip because of where the BB magazine is.

This Makarov BB pistol disassembles like the firearm. Because of what would be the operating spring in the firearm is relatively weak in the BB pistol, disassembly is even easier than for the firearm. Just hold down the triggerguard and pull the slide back and up to disengage it from the frame. Then, ease it forward and it removes from the gun. If owners will be careful when they do this, maybe Umarex won't have to pin the triggerguard in place they way they did with the PPK/S pistol when owners began losing parts and returning their guns as defective, instead of learning proper assembly skills.

BB pistol field-strips just like the firearm.

On the surface, this new Makarov BB pistol has a lot going for it, and I think air pistol fans will want to watch this report play out.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Daisy No. 40 Military Model

by B.B. Pelletier

Daisy's No. 40 Military Model was quite the BB gun! With both the sling and the bayonet, it looked ready for war.

This one is for Matt61, and it's also a preamble for another report about BB gun disassembly I will do in the future for Bob in Oz.

World War I focused the attention of America on war. Our last few conflicts had been regional ones in Cuba, the Philippines and elsewhere, but this war involved most of the world.

Daisy was busy making BB guns as always, so when the youth in this country started looking at things military, they thought about bringing out a BB gun that looked like a military rifle. Work on the project took from 1914 until the gun came out in 1916.

The gun had a full wooden stock, much like the Springfield 1903 rifle. It also had a khaki-colored sling that attached to eyes on the butt and forearm. But it had one other feature that made it the most infamous BB gun of its day--a bayonet!

Yes, the No. 40 came with a genuine steel bayonet that attached to the muzzle of the gun. The bayonet was blunt-tipped and covered with a tiny rubber tip. Because it was removable, boys either lost it or parents removed it for safekeeping and today the bayonet is far scarcer than the gun. At the last Roanoke show, I could buy a decent No. 40 (not a nice one, but all the parts there and working) for $300 or so. One with a bayonet was above $700. So you figure out what that appendage is worth. It's such a coveted item that there are aftermarket bayonets people have made to use as placeholders.

I once bought a rusty No. 40 for $75 at a flea market. Of course, it had neither the sling nor bayonet at that price, but it was a complete gun. It worked fine and shot pretty hard--in the 325 f.p.s. range as I recall--so that was good. So, for a short while, I owned this gun. When I bought it, I did so because I knew I could make some money selling it. But I was also captivated by the look of the gun. It LOOKS like a million dollars--just the way a BB gun OUGHT to look.

Wayne will understand what I am about to say and I know others like Kevin, Vince and BG_Farmer will, as well. Some guns just beg to be held! The 1903 Springfield is such a rifle. The 1917 Enfield doesn't look as inviting, but when held it feels even better than a Springfield. A Weatherby Mark V is another rifle that invites holding. Well, the No. 40 Daisy BB gun is like that. It just looks right!

However, the first time you cock the gun, it doesn't FEEL right at all! The rough cast-iron lever pulls away from the stock very hard, and you find yourself wondering how some small boy could ever have cocked this thing. I used to be a small boy and I can tell you we had numerous ways of doing things adults didn't think we could. Although I never saw a No. 40 in my youth, I'm quite sure I could have dealt with it had one come my way.

The cocking lever also only came out away from the gun in an arc of about 90 degrees, so Daisy didn't use all the leverage they could have. That, coupled with a stiff mainspring, was the reason for the hard cocking.

The No. 40 used the new 50-shot, forced-feed shot tube Daisy had recently developed for use in the No. 25 pump gun. As a result, the No. 40 never rattled the way gravity-feed BB guns do. It always sounded as solid as it looked.

Lead shooter
In 1916, the BB gun world was still one governed by lead shot. It would be more than a decade before the steel shot that we know today would come about. Lead air rifle shot, as it was known, was 0.175" in diameter, nominally. That's larger than today's steel shot that runs around 0.172". More importantly, the lead shot tubes used a swaged (bumped to cause a constriction) shot seat to hold the next BB in position, so it didn't just roll out the barrel. The air transfer port in a BB gun like this is an actual tube that mechanically pushes the BB through the constriction and starts it on its way down the bore. Then, a blast of air through the tube accelerates the BB up to the final velocity.

Steel shot tube on the left has a wire spring to hold the shot in place. Lead shot tube on the right has nothing obvious from the outside. Inside, the tube is pinched at the right spot to hold a lead shot in position.

So, the No. 40 started out shooting only lead shot. Production continued until the early 1930s, when Daisy was switching over to steel shot tubes. But with any Daisy, you cannot just say something was one way and leave it at that. Daisy used any parts they had on hand to build airguns, so if there were steel shot tubes before 1936, they might have put them into the final batches of No. 40s. And after the gun was sold, anyone could change shot tubes between lead and steel. I can convert a 1913 first model No. 25 to shoot steel BBs in under a minute, just by swapping tubes. So, it's incumbent on the gun's owner to figure out which type of shot tube he has and what kind of ammo should be used in the gun.

When it first came out, the No. 40 incorporated Daisy's adjustable front sight. A vertical post was folded at its bottom to clamp onto a front sight base. The shooter could then push the front blade from side to side to change where the BB would go. After several years, this sight was changed to a fixed sight that remained on the gun to the end of production in about 1934.

Early guns had this front sight, which is adjustable for windage. After about a year, Daisy changed it to a fixed sight.

Not rare but hard to find
In all, about 237,000 No. 40 BB guns of all variations were made. The gun isn't exactly rare today. It's more of a seldom-seen gun because owners tend to hang onto it for longer periods. Of course, when compared to the No. 25 pump gun that exceeded 20 million, this number seems low. When you consider that there are only a few thousand serious BB gun collectors worldwide, there are more than enough guns to fill the demand. And the No. 40 is not the kind of BB gun people throw away with little thought. The value is recognizable to everyone, whether they know much about BB guns or not.

High price!
When it was new, Daisy's initial price was $3.50, and they wrung their hands about it--believing that no BB gun could be worth that kind of money. Of course, it helps to bear in mind that surplus .45/70 Trapdoor Springfield rifles were selling for the same price at the time. But the No. 40 looked like it was worth it.

In his book, It's a Daisy, Cass S. Hough remembered that the initial price of the gun was $5, but a 1916 Saturday Evening Post ad clearly shows the $3.50 price. Even in 1919, the No. 40 was selling for just $4. So, Hough might be remembering some time later when the company raised the price to $5. That much of an increase would have obviously stuck in everyone's mind, because the other models were selling for $1.00 to $3.95 as late as 1933.

Accuracy is whatever it is and will vary by shot tube. Usually a good forced-feed tube will give me about one inch at 20 feet. And lead shot tubes have always been more accurate than steel, in my experience. Swapping shot tubes changes everything.

Most No. 40s are found without the sling or bayonet. They're a lot cheaper this way.

Want one?
This is not a gun you are likely to just run into. If you want one, you need to watch the auction websites and go to the airgun shows. I've seen as many as nine guns at one airgun show, so they're out there. Prepare to spend at least $300 for a good shooter and upwards of $700 if there's a bayonet. The sling adds something, too, but not more than $50-75.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Benjamin Marauder - Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

Benjamin Marauder is a beautiful precharged pneumatic air rifle. Scoped with a CenterPoint 8-32x56 scope with sidewheel parallax adjustment and illuminated mil-dot reticle.

Before I begin, here's the news on the Pyramyd Air garage sale. It will be held on Saturday, May 30, from 9 a.m to 5 p.m. The location is the current Pyramyd Air building, so the address is on the website right now. I have a LOT more to tell you in the coming days, plus we still want to hear what YOU expect to see.

Now, settle back, kids, and daddy will tell you all a long story about the Benjamin Marauder.

First, there was the Benjamin Discovery, which sold more rifles in the first year than many PCP models have EVER sold. The engineers at Crosman (Benjamin and Sheridan are trade names owned by the Crosman Corporation) had many great ideas when the Disco was being developed, but the most important thing was to build a basic precharged pneumatic (PCP) rifle that could be sold at a remarkably low price while offering incredible value. That project was a clear success.

Phase Two was the next gun that the engineers were promised would have all of their cool ideas. It would be a world-beater PCP, with all the right bells and whistles. And one additional thing. Because it would be made in America by a factory that knows how to control production costs while maintaining quality, it would be affordable. Not cheap, but affordable. This is the report of that rifle--the gun they call the Benjamin Marauder.

Overview of specifications
The Marauder is a 10-shot repeating PCP that comes in either .177 or .22 caliber. I tested a .177. It has a bolt-action and the magazine is spring-operated, so pellet feed is positive and without friction. Therefore, the Marauder is one of the slickest bolt-action PCPs on the market. Or it will be when it goes on sale in May.

The rifles that Crosman sent out to airgun writers are pre-production models with a few small differences yet to be made. In my reports, I'll detail what these differences will be.

The stock is fully ambidextrous with palm swells on both sides of the pistol grip and a rollover cheekpiece that's identical on both sides. Except for the operation of the bolt, the rifle is ideal for both left and right-hand shooters. The stock is very conventional, with a high cheekpiece for scope use. There are no open sights, so a scope must be used.

Palm swells on both sides of the pistol grip help make the rifle fully ambidextrous. This is what the production gun will look like.

The trigger is fully adjustable for length of first stage, length of second stage and pull weight. It breaks as crisply as the proverbial glass rod--a fact I will show you via a computer analysis in a future report.

The fill port is a male Foster quick-disconnect with an internal micron-sized air filter. That ensures only clean air can flow into the reservoir.

There's a purpose-built pressure gauge on the underside of the forearm. It will be marked up to 3,000 psi, for which you'll learn the reason next.

Adjustable fill pressure
The Marauder lets the shooter change the gun's fill-pressure. What that means is the owner can "tune" the gun's firing valve to work with air pressures of 2,000 psi up to 3,000 psi. Why would you want to do that?

Access port to adjust the fill level is located at the rear of the receiver. This process will be described in detail in a future report. Look at that long bolt handle! That's a sign of quality.

If you wanted to operate the rifle on BOTH air and CO2 (though never both at the same time--always one or the other), you'd have to adjust the firing valve to operate on a fill of 2,000 psi air. CO2 pressure changes with temperature, alone, and cannot be changed mechanically. So, for the valve to fully open and work properly on CO2, it has to be adjusted to operate on air at 2,000 psi. I believe that is how the rifle will be set at the factory. Crosman had not made up their minds when this report was researched; but since they'll be advertising it as a Dual Fuel rifle, it makes sense.

If, however, you wanted to operate only on high-pressure air and were interested in getting the longest string of good shots possible from a fill, you would set the valve to operate at 3,000 psi. The CO2 operation would be lost (until you reset it to 2,000 psi), but you could expect to get several more shots in the optimum power curve at the higher fill pressure.

It's possible to set the rifle to operate on a fill pressure between 2,000 and 3,000 psi. There would be no special advantage to doing so, but understand that this capability (setting the fill level to 2,000 or 3,000 psi) is not a discrete thing. There's a scale of fill pressures between the two limits, and the fill can be set anywhere.

Final point--setting the fill pressure does not change the velocity of the gun, at least not directly. The velocity is adjustable and will cover it next, but first you need to understand that the fill pressure does not determine the velocity.

Oh, and one more thing. As far as I know, the Marauder is the only PCP that permits this kind of adjustment without exchanging parts inside the gun. It's the only gun that lets the owner do this and even explains how to do it in the owner's manual. You'll need a chronograph if you plan to adjust the rifle this way.

Adjustable velocity
Okay, THIS is the thing most people will be interested in. The Marauder adjusts velocity in a way that's entirely different than any other PCP on the market. With all the others, you dial a wheel or flip a switch. Whatever velocity that gives--that's it. That's what you get. Want something different? You either have to move the adjustment or shoot a different pellet.

Velocity adjustment screw requires the rifle be removed from the stock. The adjustment screw is that gold thing inside the silver circle. A detailed description of how the velocity is adjusted will be forthcoming.

The Marauder lets you select the exact velocity desired for a given pellet (within the scope of the rifle's capability) and to set it. Once set, that pellet will shoot at that velocity, within reason, until the end of the fill.

In the 1870s, American buffalo hunters loaded their blackpowder single-shot rifles with just a single kind and weight of bullet, which they personally cast in a mold. They loaded the cartridge with a certain amount of powder that never varied, plus they lubricated the cartridge in a certain prescribed way. This recipe never changed, and these rifles were capable of putting five shots inside a 5-inch circle at 500 yards. The Marauder is very much like that.

Instead of a rifle for 20 different pellets and velocities, the Marauder wants to be set at the best velocity for the best pellet. In the coming weeks, I'll share what my experience has been in determining that pellet.

Velocity and fill pressure are interdependent
If either one of these variables changes, the other will also change. When you set the rifle up, you have to find a balance between both variables. It isn't difficult to do, but it's a complex relationship. That's why I said earlier that a chronograph is needed to adjust the fill pressure.

But you don't have to do anything if you don't want to. An owner can just take the rifle from the box and shoot it the way it came. These adjustments, which have never been available to those who are not airgunsmiths, are unique to the Marauder when it comes to production air rifles.

The barrel
Well, it's not a Lothar Walther! But it's probably just as good. For starters, it's a choked barrel. A choked barrel has a slight constriction at the muzzle end that sizes all pellets passing through, so they emerge with the same diameter. Rifle chokes have been known since the late 19th century as a means of getting the best accuracy from a barrel. When jacketed bullets began to replace lead bullets in the 1890s, choking went away, but in PCPs it's recognized as the mark of a premium barrel.

The barrel is free-floated. That means it doesn't touch the reservoir. As the pressure inside the reservoir drops, the reservoir flexes--and if the barrel were touching it, it would move. But the Marauder barrel is fully free-floated.

The barrel is shrouded. The rifle is therefore quiet.

How quiet?

Drop a ballpoint pen onto a deep-pile carpet.

That quiet.

So quiet, in fact, that you cannot hear the muzzle report (or at least I can't). All you hear is the musical ping of the hammer spring releasing.

So quiet that 50 feet away, it's doubtful anyone could hear it.

I own a legal silencer for a .22 rimfire. It silences the gun by 41 decibels. This rifle is quieter than my Ruger 10/22 rifle shooting CB Caps (no powder, only priming compound) through the silencer.

Over the past several months, I've made several of you promises about this rifle. You were looking for a quiet PCP air rifle, and I told you to wait. You were looking for an accurate air rifle, and I suggested you wait. Well, the waiting is almost over.

Crosman will release the first small batch of Marauders directly from the factory starting in May sometime. They will limit that release to about 100 rifles. They do that so they can warm up the production line while keeping a sharp watch on what's being shipped. If you buy from them, expect to pay full retail, which will be a nickel under $500.

If you wait for Pyramyd Air to receive their rifles in June before placing your order, you'll probably realize a small discount. Nobody told me that, but I have watched enough of these things to think it will happen that way.

Finally, as you can see from this lengthy first part, I have a lot more to tell you about this rifle. For each feature I glossed over today, like the trigger and the velocity setting, I'll come back and give you a compete and detailed story. So, this report is going to be a long one!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Gasser-Kanardly vacuum gun!

by B.B. Pelletier

You know how I like to tell tales of vintage airguns. Well, today, I have one that's more than vintage--this one is nearly mythical! It's the 1927 Gasser-Kanardly vacuum gun.

Ferdinand Gasser was a German tool maker who had an interest in airguns. He knew about powerful precharged guns like air canes, and there's evidence that he may have even made one or two canes. But his most famous airgun has got to be the 1927 Gasser-Kanardly vacuum gun.

We all know that a PCP works by expelling a pellet with a huge blast of air behind it. Well, Gasser wondered how effective a vacuum AHEAD of the pellet would be! His early experiments proved that a vacuum was not enough to start a lead pellet on its journey. He evacuated all the air in front of pellet after pellet, and they either remained in the breech as an effective plug or were slowly sucked down the barrel as friction was overcome. But the velocity never rose above about 50 f.p.s. That was estimated by means of a ballistic pendulum, which was all that was available to him in that day.

He also had several technical problems with the design. One was getting the muzzle to open in time for the pellet to shoot out. The vacuum apparatus had to keep the muzzle sealed to keep the vacuum as high as possible, but it also blocked the pellet's path. That meant that the ballistic pendulum had to be placed inside the vacuum chamber, which made it the size of a small room!

The other problem was the size of the vacuum apparatus. It was many times larger than the gun. While good for a laboratory experiment, it wasn't convenient for taking the gun to the field. Fortunately, he overcame both problems and also got a super boost at the other end to increase velocity above 750 f.p.s., for a .22 caliber pellet. This all happened when he had the good fortune to meet Trevor Kanardly, who was attending university in the same Bavarian town where Gasser lived.

Kanardly was the son of a wealthy British shipping magnate, who had sent his third son to Germany to study physics. But Kanardly was something of a playboy who was more interested in parties, young women and riding around the countryside on a BMW motorcycle. However, he soon befriended Gasser, who tutored him in his physics studies so he could remain at university.

When he learned of Gasser's gun, he quickly solved both problems with an ingenious solution. He suggested a barrel jacket to contain the vacuum. He reasoned that the volume of the vacuum only had to be large enough to compensate for the volume of the bore and could, therefore, be quite small. Gasser quickly saw the genius of this and made a small barrel jacket to hold the vacuum. Small holes in the side of the barrel at the muzzle allowed the air to be evacuated from the bore.

The other good idea was a frangible plug at the muzzle that the pellet would shatter on its way out. Bavarian clay soil--very much like gumbo--proved the ticket when mixed with beer, of all things! It made a natural plug that was strong enough to withstand the hard vacuum, yet shattered like glass when struck by a lead pellet moving faster than 300 f.p.s. The same material was later used in the German Air Force ramjet project as a plug to keep the air intake closed until the air velocity had reached ramjet speeds.

The plug worked, but the pellet still had to be shot through it and the vacuum wasn't strong enough to do that. So, Kanardly suggested putting a spring piston on the other end of the gun. That was the solution Gasser had been searching for! It turns out that a lead pellet pushed by a vintage spring-piston powerplant might only get up to 500 f.p.s when it has to fight normal air pressure, but when shot into a vacuum, it races well past 800 f.p.s.! Some energy is lost breaking through the frangible muzzle plug, but Gasser recorded many velocities at or above 750 f.p.s.

The two prototype guns he built were indeed portable enough to be carried and shot, though the support equipment consisting of a vacuum pump and extra muzzle plugs had to go with the guns in a motorized transport. Both guns and all supporting equipment was destroyed in World War II, and all we have today is a couple of reports written in the German gun magazine Visier.

A British airgunner stumbled on the Gasser-Kanardly design in 1996 and used modern materials to build a copy of the gun. It actually worked much better than the original because the spring-piston powerplant he used was so vastly improved over what was available in 1927. Reportedly, Nigel Andersen of Surrey was able to get .22 pellet velocities in excess of 1,000 f.p.s. He had to substitute a chalk plug for the Bavarian gumbo plug, and it didn't seal, so he used a rubber seal on the muzzle side.

Andersen's gun was reported in a special edition of Air Gunner published June 31, 1999. He was also fortunate that modern vacuum pumps are so much more efficient than those used by Gasser and Kanardly. In Andersen's own words, "This thing really sucks!"

I want to wish all of my faithful readers a happy and pleasant April first!