Monday, August 31, 2009

The Benjamin front-pump pistol - Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

Charging the pistol
The way the pistol is pumped is simple. The rod is pulled out until it stops, then pushed back in to force air into the reservoir. Many, many front-pumpers will have problems with their inlet valves, causing the pump rod to push back out as the air slowly releases. With this kind of fault, the gun will eventually leak down to nothing.

This pump plunger has been through the ringer. When they're worn like this, it's an indication that the gun has seen some service.

Others will have too much space between the end of the pump head and the opening of the inlet valve. This traps high-pressure air between the head and the opening. The air cannot enter the valve because the pump head has gone as far as it will go. The pressure of the trapped air is not as high as the air inside the reservoir, so it sits outside the inlet valve. When pressure on the pump rod is relaxed, the trapped air will push the pump rod back out. Because the internal pressure in the reservoir keeps building with every pump stroke, the pressure level of the trapped air continues to mount, as well, pushing the pump rod back out further each time. A little bit of rod rebound isn't bad, but if it comes more than halfway out, your gun probably needs service. When the inlet valve is working correctly, the rod stays all the way down (or in) after each pump stroke.

Our subject gun, which is in very good operating condition, will hold the rod down if a certain procedure is followed. After two or more pumps, the rod starts to climb back out. I just push it back in with the heel of my hand, and it stays down the second time. I don't pull it out all the way before doing this; just press the rod back against the small amount of residual air that's pushing it out, and it goes in and stays. You can hear the air entering the inlet valve on this gun. Maybe that's typical of the performance of a new gun, too; I don't know.

The end of the rod is shaped like a mushroom to give a broad surface against which to push. I like to use something solid against the rod end, with the floor or a stout table being ideal. Folks with post-and-beam barns are blessed with unlimited flat surfaces to push against. Let's not use mother's dining room table, though, as the mushroom will shatter the finish and compress the wood fibers rather quickly. And stay off modern countertops with their low friction, because the mushroom can't find a surface to grab, allowing it to slip and damage the gun.

Before pumping a gun, cock it and put on the crossbolt safety. Remember to keep your fingers out of the triggerguard as you pump. Grasp the gun in your shooting hand and put the heel of your other hand against the receiver cap for extra support. Don't rely on just the pistol grip to support the gun. The screws may hold fine for a while, but eventually they're going to elongate the holes through the brass tubing of the receiver. If you're pumping a rifle, the same procedures hold true--don't just push on the end of the wooden butt.

This pistol is not a magnum, and no amount of pumping will turn it into one. All you'll do if you overpump a gun is ensure an earlier trip to the overhaul shop. About five strokes is the most I ever put in, and three is all it takes for most shooting. If you also own a Benjamin underlever pump, you will notice that the front-pumper has a much longer stroke than the underlever. You can pressurize the front-pumper in half the number of strokes or less. With rifles, this is even more evident.

You can get pretty good accuracy from an old Benjamin pistol, if you slow down and take the time to shoot the gun as the manufacturer intended. "Pretty good" means tin-can-plinking accuracy. These guns were made at a time when the pace of things moved slower than it does today, and their sedate method of charging reflects that. Treat them as the fine single-shot handguns they are, and the reward will be shots you can be proud of. Just remember, they aren't CO2 pistols--you'll have to invest some sweat to keep them going. But they can be okay if you do your part.

A BB shooter has a hollow bolt probe with a chamfer on the inside radius to seat the BB more fully. When loading the gun, push the BB into this recess in the probe, rather than laying it in the trough or dropping it directly into the barrel. The probe interfaces with the air transfer port in the receiver to allow air to pass through the end of the probe when firing.

A pellet-firing Benjamin has a solid bolt probe that fits into the skirt of a diabolo pellet to aid in seating. It pushes the pellet past the air transfer port, located in the bottom of the receiver.

The smoothbores are not as accurate as the guns with rifled barrels, of course. Benjamin used to say in their advertising that their pellet guns were good for one-inch groups at 30 feet, while their BB guns would shoot into about two inches. While testing the gun, I found that it would group in about two inches at that distance, as long as good-fitting BBs were used. I found the slightly large 0.174" lead balls sold as 4.4mm round balls worked best. Regular steel BBs range in size from 0.171" to 0.173" and do not group as well. They went into three- to four-inch groups.

Although they are not well known for it, Benjamin used to sell steel BBs for their guns

Here are two other types of ammunition made by Benjamin. The .22 pellets are common, but the .22 caliber round balls were made for their magazine rifles. Today, collectors eagerly seek these tins, as shooters have depleted them severely during the decades of the '80s and '90s, when .22 caliber round balls were not being imported into the U.S.

As an experiment, I also tried the gun with 4.5mm Eley Wasp pellets, which are quite similar in shape to the original Benjamin High Compression pellets from the same era as the gun. The Eleys did not shoot reliably, perhaps because they are not lubricated like the early Benjamin pellets. Several times, the pellet would not exit the barrel, even with five pumps.

The trigger is the simplest sort of hammer/sear arrangement. It's rugged and reliable, but it will never be confused with a target trigger. There's plenty of travel and creep. Behind it, the crossbolt safety passes through the frame. It operates in the conventional way, convenient for right-handed shooters and backwards for southpaws. A spring-loaded ball detent retains the safety in whatever position it was last placed.

The bolt is also conventional. Rotate the bolt knob counterclockwise to unlock it, then pull straight back to cock the hammer, and withdraw the bolt probe to allow a pellet or BB to be loaded. Since our subject pistol is a smoothbore, it's meant to shoot BBs, darts or pellets. The bolt probe is hollow, where there would be a solid rod with a rounded tip on a rifled gun.

Although Benjamin sold copper-plated steel BBs for their guns, I'm conservative about shooting anything steel in a brass bore. I try to use lead shot instead. You can buy Gamo or Beeman round balls in .177 caliber, and they function fine in guns like these. A BB is pressed into the hollow opening of the bolt probe, which allows the muzzle to be depressed below level and the BB will not roll out. Incidentally, if you're shooting a model 150 or 160 BB repeater, you have no choice but to shoot steel shot, as those guns are designed to work with it.

Darts are made of steel, but their design prevents the metal from touching the sides of the bore. Shoot them on low power only and always shoot them into a regulation dart board to prevent penetration and distortion. All it takes is one pull with pliers and a dart is ruined forever.

Accuracy with pellets isn't as good in smoothbores as it is in guns that are rifled, but it is adequate. The diabolo shape of the pellet helps stabilize it in flight without the spin that rifling would impart.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Sometimes, close enough IS enough: A tale of pellets

by B.B. Pelletier

While I was visiting Pyramyd Air earlier this week, I happened to speak to Ariel, customer sales and service manager, about the problem of pellet supply they sometimes have. You see, Pyramyd Air ships hundreds of tins of pellets every week and sometimes the manufacturers cannot keep up with the demand. Often it is JSB that's backordered, but this time it was Beeman.

"No problem," I told her. "H&N makes many of Beeman's pellets. Just recommend a substitute H&N pellet."

She tried that already, but the customer wanted only Beeman pellets.

Most of us are aware that Beeman manufactures nothing. They are a distributor who has manufacturers make things they can sell under their own name. This is a pretty common business practice--especially these days, with China acting as the "shop" for so many American companies. Most people are aware of this practice, but they still think there might be something in the purchasing specification that will make this company's product different than the original manufacturer's product, even though they're nominally identical. Sometimes that's true, sometimes it's not. Let's start with Beeman and let's talk pellets.

Beeman Kodiak pellets are identical to H&N Baracuda pellets. And there have been times when other airgun companies also re-branded Baracudas. Webley, for instance, at one time sold their Baracudas as Webley Magnum pellets. The reason I'm so sure they are all Baracudas is because the Baracuda is one of the finest heavy pellets on the market. A company would be insane to screw with that success as long as they can get H&N to put their label on the tin, which they apparently can in the case of Baracudas.

I've used Baracudas under all three names and gotten identical results. So, I shop for my Baracudas by whoever has the best price. Or, as is the case at present, by whoever has them in stock. If there are no Beeman Kodiaks available, I'm going to use H&N Baracudas without a second thought. Or Webley Magnums, during the time they were offered. Pyramyd Air currently does not stock H&N Baracudas in .177 and .22 calibers, but this market is always in flux.

Let's look at another one. How about Beeman H&N Match? Well, there you go! Beeman actually includes the H&N name on the tin with their own. So there's no doubt who makes them. But, H&N Finale Match pellets come in different weights, don't they? And Beeman H&N Match pellets come in only one weight. The solution, of course, is to match up the Beeman pellets with the H&N Finale Match whose weight comes closest. In .177, that would be the heavy one, whose 8.1 grains is close enough to Beeman's pellet weight of 8.09 grains that we can be pretty certain they're the same.

There are some Beeman pellets for which there are no H&N equivalents imported into the U.S. The Beeman Crow Magnum, for example is not brought into this country as an H&N pellet. It may be available elsewhere in the world under the H&N name or Beeman may have an agreement with H&N that the design is theirs, alone. In the latter case, you either have to buy Beeman or do without.

Let's turn that around the other way. Are there H&N pellets for which Beeman does not have an equivalent? Yes, there are. I've already mentioned the light H&N Finale Match, but there are others. They show up from time to time, but unless there's a continuing demand they'll go away without any fanfare. I can't tell you how many times that has happened to me with other brands labeled with airgun manufacturers' labels, rather than pellet makers' labels.

Want some more? Okay, here's a helpful one. Any active U.S. airgunner knows the supply of JSB pellets is finite and limited. So, what if there were pellets under other names that were actually the JSBs we all want. Well, in some cases, there are! Take the .177 JSB Exact that weighs 8.4 grains. It's the same as the Air Arms Diabolo Field pellet that weighs 8.44 grains. It's also sold elsewhere as a BSA Wolverine pellet. Same weight, same shape, same pellet--different names. Good to know if it's a pellet you really like and the supply of one brand dries up.

What ELSE do we know from this?
Okay, this is simplistic, but if you don't know it, it's worth hearing. If a company makes several good pellets, like JSB and H&N, they probably make most or even all of their pellets to the same standard So, if you've grown to trust Beeman brand pellets and are now learning for the first time that they're mostly H&N pellets, it's probably a safe bet that most or even all H&N pellets are equally good. The same could be said of JSB pellets and the other labels we know they're sold under. It isn't Air Arms' name, as respected as it is in the airgun world, on the outside of the tin that makes the pellets inside good. It's the fact that JSB makes them.

Just like Winchester didn't make the air rifles that carried its name, neither do Air Arms and BSA make the pellets they sell. Winchester arranged for Diana to make their air rifles, and you can't do any better than that. Just as you can't do much better than JSB or H&N for pellets.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Benjamin front-pump pistol - Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

Today's blog comes from an article I originally wrote for Airgun Revue #4.

An American classic. The front-pump Benjamin pistol is a symbol of airgunning from the first half of the 20th century.

Today's airguns are so refined that they make the models I grew up with look ancient by comparison. When I was a boy in the 1950s, airguns were either BB guns or pneumatic pellet guns--there were no others to choose from. Although Crosman bulk-fill guns had been around for awhile, they weren't well known in my neck of the woods. If they had been, this story might be very different. I grew up with Benjamins in rural Ohio. Both rifles and pistols were around, but my father only had a pistol, so that became my first exposure to airgunning.

His was one of the first--a front-pump pistol. It isn't the first airgun to have a pump mechanism built into the front; that credit probably goes to Giffard, or to someone else from Europe in the last century. But Benjamin gets the recognition of having built more of them than anyone else, so if you think about them today, they're the ones who come to mind.

The "Benjamin Franklin" inscription on the sides of many Benjamin guns leads many to the false assumption that it's the name or model of the gun. The words are purely fanciful, a play on the name "Benjamin."

Let's set the record straight--it's a Benjamin, not a Benjamin Franklin. When I was a boy, everyone seemed to know that; but over the years, a completely new crop of collectors and dealers has sprung up. They insist on using both names because they happen to appear on the side of the guns. Maybe, back when the guns all came in boxes and the pellets were still sold under that name, it was easier to remember. Just Benjamin.

I had my father's Benjamin 107 pistol. Although I now know it to be a fine air pistol, at the time I didn't even consider it to be real. It was just too hard for a little boy to operate. Even today, the front pump mechanism can be a chore for an adult. It has the least mechanical advantage of any pneumatic airgun, which you may safely read as "none."

The pistol is a metal and wood airgun with a substantial but compact heft--not unlike a Colt Woodsman of the same era. It was contemporary with the last of the Quackenbush long guns and has that same look of substance and quality. Although we're living in a golden age of airgun development right now, the Benjamin and other guns like it made the earlier decades of this century a very fine time to be alive, too.

Both the company name and the model designation of the gun are stamped on the end cap of the receiver.

According to the chronology given to us by collector Fred Liady, the pistol models 100 (.177, smoothbore), 102 (.22, rifled) and 107 (.177, rifled) were all introduced in 1935. These were Benjamin's first air pistols. I remember my father's pistol came in a green cardboard box that was colored the same as the pellet tins, but advanced collectors tell me that the plain brown box was the earliest. You'll still find many of them in their boxes because even the box looks retro enough for people to recognize it as quality.

The rifles predated the pistols by several decades, with the first--designated on Fred's list as the Benjamin model A--being made around 1898. Actually, that first one was the St. Louis Air Rifle. The date on the left side of the stock reads "Pat. June 20 1899," so the 1898 date may be taken with a grain of salt.

The B model, supposedly first made in 1900, was actually the second version of the St. Louis Air Rifle, and I'm sorry to say I have only seen one picture of this gun--in Smith's Gas, Air and Spring Guns of the World. The model D, first produced in 1910, is the earliest Benjamin rifle (using the Benjamin name) that is seen in any great quantity. That rifle came 25 years before the first pistol--a remarkable stretch of time, when you think about it.

Benjamin rifles and pistols of the vintage of our subject gun came with two finishes on top of solid brass. The top finish was a fragile layer of black nickel on top of a much tougher coat of silver nickel. The black usually wears off pretty quick, although there are guns with lots of it still clinging. There may have been small lot-to-lot differences in the application of the finish, or it just might be due to how much the individual guns have been handled over time. As incredible as it sounds, the example shown above was acquired in 1997 and has much more original black finish than my father's almost-identical gun had in 1955!

The silver finish is much more permanent, to the point that many believe it to be the only original finish on the gun. Often, when I see an older Benjamin advertised with 60 percent of its finish, I ask the seller whether all the silver is still there. They often refer to just the silver nickel because they believe it to be the top finish of the gun; so it pays to ask. Many people are not aware that the black finish was ever present. Obviously, 60 percent silver nickel with no black showing equals 30 percent of the whole original finish. It makes an interesting bargaining position, if you want to get a price adjustment.

Don't be surprised to see some of the base metal peeking through on an otherwise good-looking gun. It's not at all strange to see brass showing on the sharp edges, silver on most of the smooth surfaces and some black in the corners and under the barrel, where it has been protected. Our subject pistol, a model 100 smoothbore, is showing a little brass on the edges of the end cap, a condition that tells me the owner(s) were pumping it correctly. Unlike fine cameras, a little brassing isn't such a fatal flaw on a Benjamin pistol or rifle, although there are plenty of guns showing none at all.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Hammerli Razor - Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

Hammerli Razor is an affordable breakbarrel with high-quality fit and finish.

Today, I'll test the Hammerli Razor for velocity. It's advertised to get 820 f.p.s. in .22 caliber, so we'll see what it can do.

The rifle cocks smoothly, though the effort builds very sharply at the end of the cocking stroke. Be prepared for that. The firing cycle is smooth and almost without vibration. I noticed a big jump forward when the gun fired, so the BKL 260 mount I'm going to try will be getting an acid test.

The first shot fired was a detonation, as I told you in part one, but that was the only one I saw. There were none during the velocity testing. However, the smell was unmistakable! The rifle is dieseling quite noticeably.

Crosman Premier
The first pellet I tested was the 14.3-grain Crosman Premier. Its weight is perfect for this power range. You'll remember that I'd hoped for something in the 720-750 f.p.s. range based on the advertising. What I got was an average of 695 f.p.s., so it's a little slow. The spread was from 668 to 708, which is a broad 40 f.p.s. That's probably due to dieseling. The average muzzle energy is 15.34 foot-pounds.

RWS Superpoint
Next, I tried RWS Superpoints for no reason other than I seldom test them. They work great in mid-powered taploaders, and I wondered how they would do in the Razor. Surprisingly, this 14.5-grain pure lead pellet averaged 696 The spread went from 690 to 701, which is a super-tight 11 f.p.s. Apparently, this powerplant loves the Superpoint. Of course, all bets are off until we know what the barrel thinks. At this velocity, the average muzzle energy is 15.6 foot-pounds.

RWS Hobby
The 11.9-grain RWS Hobby pellet is a pure lead pellet that often gives the fastest velocities for a particular airgun. With this Razor, it averaged 762 f.p.s. The spread went from 756 to 770, a fairly tight 14 foot-second variation. The average velocity gives an average 15.35 foot-pounds.

The two-stage trigger was set to release at 5.5 lbs.--a little stiff for a nice sporter. Fortunately, it's adjustable, so I went to work. The Crosman NPSS report taught me to always try the adjustment. There are no instructions for trigger adjustment in the owner's manual, so I figured out the three screws and will give you the instructions here. Wear safety goggles when you shoot the rifle while adjusting the trigger, as you'll be very close to a pellet trap.

Here are the trigger adjustment screws. From the left, the screw closest to the trigger blade (No. 1) adjusts the sear contact. The next screw (No. 2) adjusts the first-stage travel. The larger screw on the right adjusts the tension on the trigger-return spring.

First, remove the triggerguard to gain access to all three adjustment screws. I'll number the screws from the trigger blade out, one, two and the larger screw farthest away from the blade is three.

Screw No. 1 adjusts the sear contact. Screwing in (clockwise) decreases contact--and out increases contact. Screw No. 2 adjusts the length of stage one. Screwing in decreases the first stage--and out increases it. It's affected by the adjustment of screw No. 1, so adjust the sear contact first, then adjust the length of the first stage. Screw No. 3 adjusts the tension of the trigger-return spring. Out lightens it--and in makes it heavier. This should be the last screw you adjust.

You'll be frequently cocking and firing the gun with the triggerguard off as you adjust the trigger, so hold down the back of the action in the stock when you cock the gun. With 15 minutes of fiddling, I was able to get a fine, crisp trigger-pull of 2 lbs., 12 oz. Remember, I had no instructions to follow.

Before anyone asks, I did try to shim the breech seal, which sits a mite low, but the groove is cut too shallow to get a shim in. Perhaps, a thin piece of paper would work. Maybe, I'll try again, though I have to say that the rifle is shooting fine right now.

At the finish of the second report, I'm even more in love with this rifle because of that great trigger!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Crosman Challenger 2009 target rifle - Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

Crosman Challenger 2009 target rifle represents a real challenge to other Sporter Class rifles

In early 2007, I made a presentation to the Crosman Corporation that resulted in several significant things. The first was the development and production of the rifle that became the Benjamin Discovery. The second was Crosman's commitment to the foundation of a new corporate section dedicated to the production of precharged pneumatic airguns.

The third thing that happened sounded like an afterthought to me at the time. After my presentation, in which I assured Crosman that they had the perfect entry into PCPs with the project they were about to undertake, Production Manager Ed Schultz, himself an airgunner, asked me privately if I thought this new technology could be applied to their target rifle, the Challenger 2000. He wondered what I thought of a PCP Challenger, perhaps fitted with a Lothar Walther barrel.

At the time, it seemed to me like Ralph Maccio, the Karate Kid, was asking if he might someday be able to take on Jet Li in a one-on-one match. However, as there was nothing to prevent it from happening, I told him I thought it was a natural and should be folded into their future plans. Little did I realize at the time that he was dead-serious. Wax on, wax off!

Telling this story now sounds like old news, because the whole world knows about the Discovery and the Marauder that followed it. And we have been seeing this very target rifle, the Crosman Challenger 2009, in news flashes throughout 2009. But now that I'm holding one in my hands I feel like a veteran returning to Omaha Beach 50 years later. We all know how things turned out, but I was THERE when it happened! Ed Schultz wasn't daydreaming. He was envisioning the future--a future that has finally arrived.

The original Challenger 2000 was always supposed to be a challenger to the highly successful Daisy Avanti 853, the rifle that has dominated youth 10-meter competition for several decades. It had features that made it better than the Daisy, too. It was easier to cock and to load, which meant a lot when the kids competed in the prone position. It had a more ergonomic stock. And I felt that it had a better trigger.

On the minus side, the Challenger was never as accurate as the Daisy. Accuracy being what it is to competition, this shortcoming was the kiss of death for a target rifle--even for one that competed on the basis of price. The Challenger also operated on CO2, which wasn't a liability, but was a concern for some coaches. The shooters stayed away in droves.

This is what I saw when I opened the box. I removed the manual from the box. The white box contains the sights.

Crosman Challenger 2009
This new model is a precharged pneumatic that also has the possibility of operating on bulk CO2. Yes, it is a true Dual Fuel airgun, and I want to set the record straight right now. Ed Schultz invented the Dual Fuel concept, as far as I know. I know that I did not include it in my initial presentation to Crosman. He surprised me with it at our second meeting, where he showed me the first prototype of the Discovery. He was surprised that I had been right about a 2000 psi air charge being just as powerful as 3,000 psi, and I was blown away by his idea for dual-fuel operation.

The trigger is the same one I have raved about in the Marauder. And you've probably read enough reviews of this trigger from owners and other sources by now that you know it's a winner.

The barrel is a Lothar Walther. I believe Crosman could put their own barrel on the rifle, because I see no difference in accuracy, but target shooters do not follow the world of sporting airguns. They're a tough bunch to please, and if they need that pedigree, it's wise to let them have it. I'm going to shoot this rifle at 10 meters and let the chips fall where they may--though I have a pretty good idea of where that will be.

The stock is very ergonomic for a Sporter Class rifle. The original Challenger 2000 was also ergonomic. The Daisy 853, in comparison, is a two-by-four.

This rifle cocks easily. I knew that from testing the Challenger 2000, however, shooters who have never seen one of those are going to embrace the new rifle.

The rifle weighs 7.3 lbs. That's just two tenths under the maximum permitted in the Sporter Class. It's as if Crosman knew exactly what they were doing!

The rifle I'm testing comes with target sights. But a version of the same gun can be had without any sights. I DO NOT want to hear any sob stories from people who buy it without sights and then complain about the lack. That's why the price is lower, and it's done for shooters who already have sights they like. The sights come with a complete set of inserts, and the aperture insert is already installed.

The rifle does not come with a fill device. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND getting a Benjamin pump with this one. That's how many top competitors fill their rifles, so no discussion about heartbeats after pumping. You fill to only 2,000 psi, which is a walk in the park for a healthy adult. The intake fixture is a male Foster fitting, which the pump is set up to accept.

We're living in some very strange times. When AirForce started showing their Edge target rifle to the NRA and the CMP, they met a wall of resistance. The arguments were many and varied, but they seemed to boil down to one thing, "It's not a Daisy 853!" Now, Crosman is bearding the same giant. I'm old enough to remember in the 1960s when race fans were just as concerned about the new Indy-car designs because they weren't Offenhausers. Heck, I was one of the Luddites in that controversy! Change is a scary thing. But it's inevitable, and today its name is the Crosman Challenger 2009.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Hammerli Razor - Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

Hammerli Razor is an affordable breakbarrel with high-quality fit and finish.

Before I begin, I'm going to Pyramyd Air today and won't be back until Friday. I'd like to ask the old-timers to watch the blog and help the new folks. Thanks.

I'm testing the Hammerli Razor on a request from at least one reader. I must have balked at the idea because I already reviewed the TF Contender 89 in .177, a derivative of the Chinese AR1000. However, this Hammerli is made in Spain. So, this is a brand new rifle to me. I see the family resemblance to the AR1000, but coming out of Spain, this must be from the line of the sire. How strange to have more familiarity with the copy than the original. This is the original, which Vince once said was probably related to the Norica GS1000.

The Razor is a large breakbarrel. It weighs 7.5 lbs. and is 45.5 inches long. That's lighter (though slightly longer) than a Beeman R1, but still larger and heavier than an R9. It has a ball-bearing detent holding the barrel closed, so you don't have to karate-chop the muzzle to start breaking the barrel for cocking and loading.

The finish is impeccable! The bluing is deep and even, and the woodwork is as good as the best that Europe offers on a production gun, with the possible exception of the Air Arms TX200. The metal is not polished to a high shine like a TX, but rather to a more satin finish like the RWS Diana guns.

New cleaning product
Birchwood Casey's Barricade is a rust preventative that smells a lot like their Sheath that I've used for years. It says no harm to synthetics, so I'm testing it on airguns. It cleans oil and grease very well and leaves a protective film that stands up to prolonged salt spray. Pyramyd Air doesn't carry it, yet. If I find that it works well on airguns, I'll recommend that they stock it. It cleaned the Razor quickly and left a nice shine.

Barricade from Birchwood Casey is for cleaning and protecting the metal surfaces. In its first use, it worked well.

Have you noticed that I haven't yet fired a shot? I'm gushing all over the gun, and the test hasn't begun. What does that tell you about the fit and finish of the rifle?

Plastic parts
The trigger, triggerguard, end cap and the two screw covers of the forearm screws that look like spanner heads are plastic. Other than that, the rest of the gun is metal and wood.

Fiberoptic sights
Both front and rear sights are fiberoptic, but the light is very subdued, so they don't get in the way of precise aiming. The front red dot is all but invisible and acts just like a metal bead. It lights up only in strong daylight.

The rear sight is all-metal and has scales for both windage and elevation adjustments. This is the kind of quality rear sight some shooters will love, because it really works. Of course, there's an 11mm dovetail and a proper scope stop at the back of the rail, so scope users are properly set up. I plan on doing something a bit different with this rifle--at least at first. I plan to test a new BKL mount to see whether it can hold its position with clamping force, alone. Back when I wrote The Airgun Letter, the BKL mounts I tested all failed the holding test, but the six-screw model 260 was not yet available and none of the mounts were being made on modern CNC machinery. You may be interested in following this test.

Now, that's a rear sight! All-metal and crisp indexes and directions for adjustment.

I got the rifle in .22 caliber, because at this power level it is better-suited than .177. The max velocity advertised is 820 f.p.s., and of course that's the highest velocity with the lightest pellets, so I'm hoping to get Crosman Premiers running in the 720-750 f.p.s. region. That would make the power equivalent to the stock Beeman R1.

The cocking effort measures 33 lbs., so this rifle is for adults. I fired one shot and had a detonation, but the action feels smooth and solid. I'll know more after velocity testing.

The bottom line is that this is a rifle worth considering. We'll have some fun with it.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Haenel 303-8 Super - Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

Haenel's 303-8 Super is a large breakbarrel target rifle from East Germany.

A funny thing happened during the chronographing test. I discovered the model number written on the gun! It took the diffuse light of my reflected overhead chronograph lighting to see it, but it's there, ahead of the Haenel name at the rear of the spring cylinder. So, then I sprayed all the metal parts with Ballistol and started rubbing the rust off and discovered the caliber stamped into the barrel and the serial number stamped into the left side of the base block. My rifle is marked normally after all.

Under the right light, the other stampings on the gun became clear.

Then it hit me! While reading the history of the Rolliflex camera, I read an anecdote about an owner who thought his camera's focus was defective, because all his pictures were out of focus. He sent the camera to Rollei for repairs but they found nothing wrong. They returned the camera with a note to the owner to visit his optometrist. Sure enough, he needed a new prescription. He was focusing the camera to adjust for his eyes, which made the images turn out blurry.

Apparently, I've reached the same stage, because when I put on a magnifying hood and examined the rifle carefully, all the markings were visible. So, I'm sorry if I misled you that the rifle had no markings. The model reads "303-Super," so the 303-8 Super that a reader had suggested must be a later version of the same rifle. I'm going to leave the title alone, because a search on either title will find this report.

Someone suggested the front sight is mounted backwards. If I reverse it, it no longer sticks out in front of the muzzle, so that's what I did. It does look more correct that way.

Front sight looks better turned around.

Speaking of sights, I failed to mention that the rear sight has six different diameters of apertures that allow the shooter to adjust for lighting conditions. Go with the smallest aperture that you can see with and keep both eyes open while sighting. If you don't, the aperture will appear to close partially. I covered that in a report a few months ago.

Okay, let's get to shooting. You'll remember that the rifle had its piston seal oiled a week before, so it was still fresh and doing its job. The breech seal was also oiled at the same time.

RWS Basic
The first pellet tested was the RWS Basic. They fit the breech very loosely. They actually fell into the breech by about 1/16" on average. From my experience, when pellets do that, they're generally slower, though I tested the gun with tighter-fitting pellets and found that wasn't the case. The Basics averaged 643 f.p.s., with a range from 632 to 656. That's 6.43 foot-pounds, which is 8.72 joules. So, this rifle is not a 7.5-joule gun.

RWS Meisterkugeln
RWS Meisterkugeln pellets were next, and they surprised me with an average velocity of 657 f.p.s. Then I read the weight of these Meisters and discovered they weigh only 7 grains, like the Basics, so the higher velocity is no surprise. The spread was from 627 to 665 f.p.s., but the 627 was an anomaly. The next-slowest shot went 657 f.p.s., which was the average. And three of these pellets dropped into the breech 1/8", while all the rest dropped in 1/16".

Crosman Premier 7.9 grains
The last pellet I tested were Crosman Premier 7.9 grain pellets. They didn't drop into the breech, but remained flush with the end of the barrel. They averaged 584 f.p.s., with a range from 575 to 592.

I did try a couple other pellets just to see if pure lead pellets that fit the breech tighter would be significantly faster, but none were. Eley Wasps that weigh 7.9 grains averaged about 580 f.p.s. and 7.6-grain Chinese blue label target pellets averaged about 615 f.p.s.

Before anyone asks me to modify this rifle to be more powerful, let me say that's not one of my goals. I don't need more power from a target rifle. What I need is accuracy, and we'll see how much this one has in the next report.

Bottom line
It would seem from the power seen here that my rifle is in pretty good health. Though rust is over all the metal, underneath the gun seems to be in pretty good shape. What we have here is a rifle that's the equivalent of the HW55 in general performance and even features. Of course, the accuracy test will show how close it comes in that all-important department.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Daisy Powerline 953 Targetpro - Part 4

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

In Part 3 of the Daisy 953 report, I substituted a scope for the fiberoptic sights so I could get the best groups this rifle is capable of producing. I also shot 20-shot groups in an attempt to show the real accuracy and not just some tight groups that might have occurred randomly. I promised in that report to return and test the rifle with target sights in the future. Today is that day.

The reason this test took so long is because the 953 doesn't accommodate target sights that readily. I spent more than an hour trying different front sights and could find none in my collection that worked. The Daisy globe front sight is no doubt the one to get if you're buying, but I don't happen to own one and didn't want to bug Pyramyd Air for it. I had a different idea. If I couldn't locate what I needed in my collection of sights, I would just ask AirForce if I could borrow one of their new target sight sets. Daisy doesn't offer a set, but you can combine that front globe with either the Avanti precision rear diopter sight or the much cheaper Daisy 5899 receiver sight.

I was just looking for a good excuse to try the AirForce set once more, and after I relate my experience, you may be glad I did. This set was a production set that included a 4.2mm front aperture sight. AirForce makes the ghost ring inserts that put a ring around the bull without any connecting lines. The diameter of the insert is proprietary, but they told me they're working on an adapter for the front globe that would allow you to use standard inserts. Their inserts are wider, so they give a larger image of the target, which helps when things become confusing in a match.

I'd already mounted a Beeman Sport Aperture rear sight on the gun in hopes of locating a front sight that would work, so I proved that the Beeman can do the job. Of course, I have no idea if it goes high enough or low enough to work with other front sights, which is a pretty important question. That was why the AirForce set was so good.

I installed the front globe after running the globe as low as it could go. Installation was quick and easy. And the rear sight just slid into place and locked down. Total installation time was under 15 minutes, and after the time I wasted hunting for sights that even fit, it seemed like an answer to prayer. But that wasn't the best part.

You know my 10-minute sight-in procedure for scopes? Well, it works for iron sights, too. And it took me all of three minutes to sight-in the rifle with the AirForce set. Leaving the front globe as low as it would go, I shot at 10 feet and adjusted the rear aperture up on its standard until I was in the black. Job finished! The results were so dramatic that I'm taking the time to show you the sight-in target. If you don't appreciate why I was so happy with this result, you have never shot a gun in your life.

Sight-in took three shots and three minutes at 10 feet. Easy!

After sight-in, I knew I was close to being on target; and as I had lots of things to do in the test, I didn't refine my sight picture any more. I went to work at 10 yards.

I knew from the work done in Part 3 of this report that RWS R10 pellets were going to be good, so I went right to them. Instead of 20 shots, I fired only 10. The group isn't as large as it would be with 20, but it's still pretty valid.

Ten RWS R10 pellets at 10 meters from a rested gun. This is pretty tight! It measures 0.463". The target is shown exactly as it was held in the backstop, so the pellets were landing high and slightly to the left.

Chinese match pellets
You can't buy these Chinese match pellets anymore, but I laid in a big supply when I was competing. They continue to be as good or better than the R10, depending on which gun is used.

Ten Chinese target pellets at 10 meters. This group is a little smaller than the R10 group, at 0.429".

H&N Match pellets
Sometimes H&N Match will challenge the R10/Chinese pellets, but clearly the 953 is not the gun for them.

Ten H&N Match pellets at 10 meters. This group is larger than the other two, at 0.663".

And now it's time to tell you about a curious phenomenon. Every time the rifle fired, it moved slightly sideways to the left. I could find no reason for this, as the gun was laid directly on the sandbag. All I know is that it happened. And the groups of R10s and H&N Match seem to spread sideways.

And now at 20 yards
Well, that was interesting, but I wasn't finished. One reader had asked me to test the rifle with JSB Exact heavies at 20 yards. I had only 8 pellets of that type on hand, so I shot them, and then followed up with a 10-shot group of Beeman Kodiaks. The results were very telling.

Eight JSB Exact 10.3-grain domes at 20 yards. This is quite a remarkable group from a gun in this price and power range. It measures 0.903". Just what the reader told me to expect.

Ten Beeman Kodiaks at 20 yards. Oh, my gosh! What a difference from the JSBs. It measures 1.474" between the centers of the two widest shots.

Now, while I was stalling for time, DB did a power modification to his 953 and boosted the power significantly. He added 70 f.p.s., which to a gun in this power range is remarkable. So, the 953 is turning out to be a real gem. As long as you understand that it isn't a powerhouse or a hunting rifle, I can't think of too many plinkers that are better. And when the price comes into the equation, I think we're looking at the leader.

I plan on beating the drum hard for the 953 this holiday season, and now you guys know why. And The Trout Underground is perhaps the reader who influenced this second look the most. So, thanks!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

How to rest any handgun for accurate shooting

by B.B. Pelletier

I became a writer because I was angry. I thought that people who knew things about shooting and airguns didn't want to share them with others. The more I wrote, though, the more I discovered that often there wasn't anybody who knew the things I wanted to know. And if someone did know something, they tended to show only the parts that looked cool. One example of this might be how to properly hold a handgun in a rested position.

I just looked in three books about handguns, and between them they contain hundreds of action pictures of shooters shooting guns so fast that there are several shells in the air and the slides are caught partially open. Cool! But in those same three books, only one contains two pictures showing a rested hold! Yet, the rested hold is infinitely more accurate than an action hold. It just doesn't look as pretty.

Holding a handgun for long-range shooting may not look cool, but it does make a huge difference in the long-range accuracy of any handgun. Matt correctly guessed that I learned a lot of my handgun techniques from Elmer Keith. Although I've never met him, he was my trainer for a lot of handgun shooting knowledge.

For those who don't know him, Elmer Keith is one of the most respected, and the most controversial gun writers who ever lived. He invented the .44 Magnum cartridge and talked the firearm community (S&W and Ruger) into making guns for it. Some of the shots he took, such as killing a mule deer buck at 600 yards with a .44 Magnum revolver, hitting the animal two times out of four shots, were the reasons many people called him a liar. You can learn more about him on the website for the Elmer Keith Memorial Shoot. The people there write just like me, and we all have similar experiences.

I read Keith before I entered the Army (where I was formally trained to shoot), so I had no frame of reference as to whether he was a liar or a really good shot. I just believed him and tried the things he wrote about until they worked for me, too. Things like hitting a man-sized rock at 300 yards with a Colt 1860 .44 cap-and-ball revolver and repeatedly hitting a football-sized dirt clod at 80 yards with a snub-nosed .38. The people who witnessed these shots told me beforehand they were impossible. Afterward, they became converts, just as I was a believer in Keith's writing.

Elmer Keith lying in what we would today call a modified Creedmore position. He rests his shooting hand against his knee and braces himself with his other arm. From the book Sixguns, by Keith, published by Stackpole, copyright by Keith, 1955.

Elmer Keith in his classic rested position, both hands clamped between the knees for support. From the book Sixguns, by Keith, published by Stackpole, copyright by Keith, 1955.

My own recommended handgun rested position. The weight is borne by the bag, so the hands do not move. The wrists are free to move with recoil, and the gun touches only the hands. With this type of handgun rest, I can do my most accurate long-range handgun work. It's great for recoiling air pistols such as this RWS LP8.

It comes from experience
When I wrote The Airgun Letter, I tested lots of air pistols. Readers wanted to know how accurate they were and everyone told me to clamp them in a vice. Well, there are many huge problems with that, starting with not all guns respond well to being clamped. Some want to be handheld. However, I'm not the world's most accurate handgunner, so how can we tell how well a pistol shoots when I am the one testing it and have to hold it in my hands? I needed to find a repeatable and positive way to hold the gun to wring out the last possible bit of accuracy, despite my own shortcomings.

I remembered my early years and all the fantastic shooting I had done by following Keith's writings, so I concocted a way to recreate that on a standard rifle range, using equipment that was normally available. Later on, I read how other firearm handgun writers test their guns, and they don't all use a Ransom Rest. Several shoot off a bag, holding exactly as you see me doing in the photo above.

However, I cannot find anyone who shows this hold in a picture or even describes it. It may exist, I just haven't found it. I see several commercial pistol rests that allow the pistol to touch the rest in front, but that would be the opposite of what I'm suggesting. These rests may work very well, but I have no experience with them and cannot offer an opinion. If any readers use a pistol rest, I wish they would please contribute to this discussion.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Crosman's new Nitro Piston Short Stroke - Part 4

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

The NPSS has a GREAT adjustable trigger!

This is just an update, but I thought it was important enough to tell you, so I'm adding a part 4 to the NPSS report.

Two weeks ago, I attended a field target match in Wappinger Falls, New York, while filming American Airgunner. The club is run by Ray Apelles, his wife, Laura, and his father, Hans. The match was shot in a downpour, which dampened spirits a might, though field target isn't like baseball. You're never rained out, only rained on--sometimes.

While the match was running, Ray invited me to try the trigger on his brother-in-law's Nitro Piston SS rifle he was competing with. He warned me it was sensitive, so I tried it with my very best 10-meter-pistol trigger finger, and sure enough, Ray was right. It was a splendid pull! I shot the rifle only a couple of times because the match was still going on. I figured I would report about what a wonderful trigger tune Ray had achieved, but that would be the end of it. Then he dropped the bomb.

"I didn't tune that trigger. I just adjusted it," is what he told me. Well, I've been party to wishful thinking in the past, so I was still skeptical, but I vowed to try to adjust the trigger on my test NPSS when I returned home. And if there was any merit at all, I would report it to you. I did, there is, so I am.

Oh, oh!
In rereading my report on the NPSS, I see that I praised the trigger for being so crisp. I actually guessed its pull weight to be a pound less than it really was, which was 3 lbs., 12 oz. And I also tried to adjust it. This is ironic, in light of today's report, so I'm quoting exactly what I said in Part 2:

Just for fun, I adjusted the screw a full turn in each direction, but the only thing that changed was the length of the first-stage pull. The pull-weight remained constant. The second stage was also mushier after adjustment in either direction until several shots had been fired. Then, the crispness returned.

That is exactly what happened, but the problem was that I didn't go far enough. This time, I turned the one and only adjustment screw three and one-half turns counter-clockwise and got approximately what I felt on the other rifle. I have to tell you that I didn't arrive at this on the first try. It took several attempts before I got the second stage where I wanted it. At one point, it was adjusted out of the trigger-pull altogether, so don't give up until you arrive where I'm reporting.

There's the one and only trigger adjustment screw, behind the trigger. Turn it counter-clockwise to reduce the second stage, as described in the text.

Since we know what the trigger measured before this adjustment, you'll be just as astonished as I was to learn that it now breaks with the exact same force--3 lbs., 12 oz. And yet I feel it is so much better that I'm making this special Part 4 report. What gives?

What gives is a special technique that, until now, I'd only seen in expensive target pistol triggers. Some of the pull weight is loaded into the first stage. After it has been pulled through stage one, stage two only requires a few ounces of effort before it breaks. Or at least that's what it feels like. When I measured it, it took exactly 34 oz., or just under 3 lbs. to break. So, why am I so excited?

Because this trigger is glass-crisp! If you want to feel what a glass rod feels like when it breaks, set the NPSS trigger up this way and try it.

What to expect
When Ray warned me about the trigger, he was inadvertently making it possible for me to shoot the rifle correctly, because I try to set up all my 10-meter pistol triggers the same way--with most of the pull weight in stage one. So, I'm prepared to pull carefully through a heavy first stage until the trigger bumps into a light stage two. Most shooters find that very difficult. They pull and the trigger feels mushy until it suddenly lets go with no warning. They haven't trained their fingers to feel for the light second stage.

With the NPSS trigger adjusted this way, stage one is very long and heavier than most shooters are used to. Stage two is there, but the moment the trigger contacts it all pulling has to stop. That takes some learning to get used to the feeling. But after you know how it works, the trigger is superbly crisp when set up this way.

I know the numbers I'm reporting don't seem like much of a change. But when you try it, you'll see what a huge difference this adjustment makes. Believe me, if it didn't make a huge difference, I wouldn't have reported it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Velocity vs. accuracy: Does it REALLY matter?
Part 3

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2

The test rules
In this test, I wanted to know only if there was anything to the claim that high velocity is an accuracy killer for an airgun. So, here's how I proceeded. I would shoot ten 10-shot groups at a target 50 yards away. Five would be shot at an average speed of 900 f.p.s. or less and a very tight extreme velocity spread over a 10-shot string. That speed falls right into the range currently espoused by champion field target shooters (850-900 f.p.s.). Five more 10-shot groups were to be fired at an average speed well over 1,050 f.p.s., with an equally tight extreme spread. While the faster shots may not always break the sound barrier, which is variable, they'll be well within the transonic region, where they should be disturbed in flight by their own shockwave.

The first pellet selected was a Chinese dome. Here's how it performed.

Whiscombe JW 75 in .177
59 deg. F - Muzzle 1' from start screen - 10 shots
All pellets lubed with Whiscombe honey

Transfer port restrictor installed
Chinese domes, 9.1-grains
High: 872 f.p.s.
Lo: 866 f.p.s.
Average: 869 f.p.s.
Extreme spread: 6 f.p.s.
Standard deviation: 2 f.p.s.
Muzzle energy: 15.26 ft.-lbs.

Transfer port restrictor removed
Chinese domes, 9.1-grains
High: 1,077 f.p.s.
Low: 1,066 f.p.s.
Average: 1,070 f.p.s.
Extreme spread: 11 f.p.s.
Standard deviation: 3 f.p.s.
Muzzle energy: 23.14 ft.-lbs.

To assure the port restrictor screw was operating consistently, I reinstalled it after shooting the high velocity string and got another low-velocity average of 871 f.p.s., with a maximum spread of 9 f.p.s. Folks, that's not only good consistency for a spring gun--most regulated PCP rifles can't do any better. Especially in light of the fact that I was NOT using sorted pellets! Every shot came straight from the factory tin. And after a roll across the lube pad, the pellet was inserted directly into the barrel.

One thing about using lubed pellets in a powerful spring gun--they can diesel. To keep dieseling to an absolute minimum, keep that lubricant as light as possible. The numbers you see in the tables above were achieved with lubed pellets, but I also shot other strings that went faster and had much larger total spreads. I knew those shots were dieseling. By taking pains to lube as lightly as possible, I was able to get very small velocity spreads and repeat velocity at will with the air restrictor in or out. I also learned how to apply the lube just right.

Shooting the gun
I shot the rifle off a very stable bench with a double sandbag rest (forearm and buttstock both rested). I waited out the wind until the shot had the best chance of being on target. And I made sure I was into good shooting form before starting the strings.

One more thing--and this might be important to everybody. While reading about schuetzen shooting of the 19th century, I happened across the fact that the best shooters always oriented each bullet in the bore exactly the same way. They took note of where the mold line was and always aligned it the same in the breech or false muzzle of their gun.

A few years ago, I bought some super-accurate lead bullets from a schuetzen supply house, and they all had a small mark in the nose to help with this orientation. I had completely forgotten about that little fact; but sure enough, when I checked the pellets, I could see a seam on them as well. So for this first test, I used my bifocals to see and align every pellet in the same orientation at loading. The flip-up barrel of the Whiscombe made this possible; I'm not certain how effective it would be in a turnbolt gun like a Marauder or Crosman 2260.

I selected the Chinese domed pellet because it went fast enough at high velocity. Crosman Premier 10.5-grain pellets topped out at about 1,000 f.p.s., which was too close to the low edge for my liking. The Chinese domes were well into the transonic region, and I wanted to get as far into that realm as possible so that any outcome can be supported by a clear velocity distinction--both well above and below the expected accuracy "barrier."

So, let's get shooting and let the chips fall where they may!

The best laid plans...
Boy, did those chips ever fall! They fell everywhere--except where they were supposed to! In short, I got skunked.

It was nothing less than I deserved for being so cocky about this test. My first "group" had opened to three inches before the seventh shot was fired! The gun was all over the paper. True, there was a steady 5 mph breeze from the left, but that was no reason for a group that big. My own overconfidence and lack of pretesting had led me right into the trap.

Having humiliated myself so completely, I decided to try a group at high velocity, as well. They were even worse than the slow ones. Inside four shots, I was looking at more than four inches of dispersion! Also, I believe they were actually breaking the sound barrier, because there was a pronounced crack with every shot. It could have been produced by a strong dieseling as well, but since the temperature was 42 deg. F that day, I think they may have gone supersonic. Needless to say, with these poor results, I did not proceed with the test.

On the way home, I wondered what sense could be made of this mess. I didn't want to abandon the test, but reporting three-inch groups at 50 yards didn't seem too desirable, either. Then I remembered another test I performed several months back where I learned that the Chinese domes are much more sensitive to wind than either Crosman Premier lites or heavies. Had I chosen the wrong pellets for the test?

Back to the range
The next day, I went back to the range. This time, I was armed with Crosman Premier 7.9-grain pellets as well as Chinese domes. Though initially overlooking them because I thought they were too light, I was now glad to have them available.

All this shooting took place at the end of March 2001--right at the start of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Many blustery days had passed before I was able to get to the range to fire the first shot. Then my car compounded the problem by suddenly requiring a new transmission! I had been so confident in the planning of this test, but the actual execution quickly brought me back to reality.

The 7.9-grain Premiers came as a stroke of extreme good fortune, for they shoot even faster than the heavier Chinese domes, plus they have much stronger skirts to take the savage blast from the Whiscombe on high power.

Whiscombe JW 75 in .177
60 deg. F - Muzzle 1' from start screen - 10 shots
All pellets lubed with Whiscombe honey

Transfer port restrictor installed
Crosman Premier, 7.9-grains
High: 906 f.p.s.
Low: 899 f.p.s.
Average: 902 f.p.s.
Extreme spread: 7 f.p.s.
Standard deviation: 2 f.p.s.
Muzzle energy: 14.28 ft.-lbs.

Transfer port restrictor removed
Crosman Premier, 7.9-grains
High: 1,147 f.p.s.
Low: 1,135 f.p.s.
Average: 1,140 f.p.s.
Extreme spread: 12 f.p.s.
Standard deviation: 3 f.p.s.
Muzzle energy: 22.80 ft.-lbs.

The standard port restrictor Whiscombe sends with their guns delivered velocities in the 820s with light Crosman Premiers, so the hole did not need much enlarging. Luckily, I hit it right on the head the first time, with an average of 902. And look at that extreme spread again. Another very tight string.

With the port removed, the pellets were definitely supersonic, as the crack of each shot proclaimed on my basement range. Although the extreme spread opened up a bit, it is still very tight--too tight for all the shots to be diesels. I felt I could return to the range and try again.

The second time around

The best low-velocity group measured 1.718" c-t-c at 50 yards with Crosman 7.9-grain pellets. All pellets were lightly lubricated. At this velocity (902 f.p.s. average), the pellet is at the upper limit for accuracy, according to the theory that says 900 f.p.s. is as fast as a pellet should go. This group measures just 76 percent as large as the high-velocity group below.

The best high-velocity group measured 2.254" c-t-c at 50 yards. Pellet was a Crosman Premier 7.9-grain fired through the same barrel as the low-velocity group above. At supersonic speeds (1,140 f.p.s.), the pellet breaks the sound barrier with a loud crack but has probably slowed down to subsonic by the time it reaches the target 50 yards away.

The second day at the range had better weather than the first, but only because I arrived before 8 a.m., when the wind was at its calmest. There was a prevailing breeze of 1-5 mph from my left throughout the session. The temperature was a chilly 26 deg. F--but it was the best day I'd gotten so far, and the absolute last chance to get this test started.

Instead of sorting the pellets by weight, I used them straight from the box. That's not the way I wanted to do it, but time was forcing such concessions. Since this was not a complete test, I'll do it over, but I wanted to give some kind of preliminary results of my experience.

I took each pellet and rolled it on a lubed pad before loading. This time I paid no attention to the orientation of the pellet as it was loaded--another detail for the next go-round.

Premier lites loaded with more resistance than the Chinese domes. I attribute part of that to skirt size and part to Crosman's harder lead alloy.

As before, I shot the slower pellets (902 f.p.s.) first, then switched to the higher speed (1,140 f.p.s.) pellets. Because the wind was picking up and I was freezing, I limited the number of groups to two for each velocity.

The first five shots at low velocity went into 1.4", but the last five opened that up to 1.741". The second group measured a slightly smaller 1.718". That's for 10 shots off a double-bag rest at 50 yards. The gun was leveled for each shot and, being a Whiscombe, it is completely recoilless.

I then removed the transfer port restrictor and shot the two high-speed groups. Each shot cracked like a .22 long rifle, breaking the sound barrier. The first group measured 2.503", the second 2.254".

The combined size of both low-speed groups measure almost 73% the combined size of both high-speed groups.

What does it mean?
Four groups prove nothing. And even when I rerun the test and have 10 more groups to add, they still won't be conclusive. But the expected correlation between velocity and group size does seem to have been upheld in what I've accomplished so far. The largest low-velocity group (1.741") is still smaller than the smallest high-velocity group (2.254")--more than a half-inch smaller, in fact.

You might think I let my expectations bias the outcome, but I tried hard not to. By using a double-bag rest (that's a bag under the forearm and another bag under the buttstock), I've removed as much random gun movement as possible. The Whiscombe's recoilless nature allows it to be rested, where most springs gun shouldn't be. A higher-power scope might make for smaller groups, but that would seem to work for both velocities. Besides, it would be impossible to mount on this model Whiscombe.

Different pellets might give different ratios of group sizes in this test, but if the theory proves true, any diabolo travelling at subsonic velocities should be more accurate than the same pellet going supersonic.

This test should also be tried with a PCP rifle. At present, there are only a few that have the broad range of adjustability needed, but the Marauder, the Condor and the Air Force Talon should all be up to it.

One final note illustrates the value of 10-shot groups. When I shot the first low-velocity group, the first two shots went into the same hole. Shot three landed more than an inch away, and shot four went into the hole formed by shots one and two. If I were shooting groups containing fewer shots, I might have been tempted to take that three-shot cloverleaf (which measured 0.241") as a group--calling the other shot a "flier." With 10 shots, there's no such opportunity.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Haenel 303-8 Super - Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

Haenel's 303-8 Super is a large breakbarrel target rifle from East Germany.

Guest blogger Paul reported on a Haenel 303 last Friday. That bumped my memory of the 303-8 Super I recently acquired.

Now for something completely different. I bought this mystery East German Haenel at the 2009 Little Rock airgun show, and reader Mel identified it for me by watching the video of the show. I showed the gun in the video but never mentioned it, yet he was sharp enough to pick it out. He also sent me a link to a German site where a fellow reported on his, and I was able to make positive identification from the photos he provided. You see, this rifle has no model markings on it anywhere.

According to a British forum, the 303-8 Super is a target version of the 303 that has a target trigger, target sights and target barrel. I can vouch for the sights and trigger, and we'll just go along with the barrel comment, as I have no way of proving or disproving that this is a target barrel. I don't even know what that means.

The sights are obvious. The rear sight is an adjustable peep sight that's identical to the one found on the model 311 bolt-action target rifle I reported on in 2007. The front sight is a globe-type with replaceable inserts. The one that came with the rifle is the aperture or ring type that is very popular.

The front sight sticks out past the muzzle by a quarter-inch.

The rear sight is unusual-looking, to say the least. You can also see the safety button in this view. It's just below center in this photo.

The two-stage trigger is supposed to be a target-type. Well, the pull is light, at just 26 oz., but there's considerable creep in stage two. I couldn't use it in competition the way it is. I'm guessing the East Germans would tune, adjust and lubricate the triggers of rifles used in competition.

I do see a couple screws in the trigger mechanism that invite fiddling, so maybe I'll do some tweaking and give you a report in part two. Perhaps this thing can be made better.

The safety doesn't come on as the rifle is cocked. I think it's supposed to be automatic because I have the same safety on my 311 and it's automatic. Paul's 303 also has an automatic safety. So, I think someone has been inside this rifle. But whoever was, they didn't bother to tune the powerplant, because the rifle buzzes faintly when fired. I lubricated my 311 over a decade ago, and it now fires dead calm. Just because of this rifle's age, I put several drops of silicone oil down the air transfer port and also lubricated the leather breech seal. Paul mentioned that his piston seal is leather, so there's a good chance mine is, as well.

I don't know if East Germany, like West Germany, had a power limit of 7.5 joules for airguns had and now all of Germany has. That power equates to a hair over 5.5 foot-pounds. Using the velocity calculator found in the article "What is muzzle energy?", I discovered that the velocity of a 7.5-grain target (wadcutter) pellet should be in the 550-575 f.p.s. range, if the power is supposed to be 7.5 joules. We'll see what it really is in part two of this report. Paul reported much higher velocities for his rifle, and I'm curious if this one has the same powerplant. It's a good bet that it does.

Barrel lock
One feature breakbarrel Haenels often have that I don't always care for is a barrel lock. That's a mechanism that has to be operated before the barrel can be broken open for cocking and loading. Depending on their design, barrel locks can be a minor inconvenience or a major hangup. The one on the test rifle is leaning toward the latter. You have to press the latch straight back at a time when your arms are arranged to do anything but that. For easy barrel latches, I like the one on the Weihrauch HW 35, because you pull it forward to release the barrel. Pressing back seems very inconvenient when your next move is to move forward to break down the barrel.

The barrel lock is on the right side of the baseblock, but the end is accessible from the left side, as well. That's where a right-handed shooter will engage it.

I noticed that Paul's 303 doesn't have a barrel lock, or if it does I missed it in his report. So, that's one big difference between this 303-8 Super and the standard 303.

Metal finish
Several of the remarks I've read about this model indicate the bluing rusts easily. That's certainly the condition I find on my rifle. Fortunately, I know how to deal with it. I'll spray the metal with Ballistol and wipe off the rust freckles as much as possible. The Ballistol will also penetrate the remaining rust and neutralize it, so the problem will cease getting worse.

The only markings visible on the outside of the gun are these, near the rear sight. This picture shows the rust freckling on the surface.

General description
The 303-8 Super is 43.25 inches long from the tip of the front sight globe that sticks out past the muzzle to the center of the black plastic buttplate. The pull is 13-7/8 inches long, which is a long pull for a target rifle, which is held differently than a sporter. The rifle weighs 7.5 lbs.

The stock is very square-ish in cross section. The forearm feels like a 2 by 4. Even the pistol grip has square edges and is stippled on both sides. The wood finish is a very orange shellac that reminds me of Chinese airguns of the 1980s. In fact, clues like the crude stock shape, the wood finish and the ugly black plastic triggerguard all indicate that this rifle was most likely made in the late 1970s or even the '80s, when the GDR was coming to the end of its operating hours. Had it been made earlier, there would have been a slightly more elegant look to the whole package. Or I could be wrong, and the design could have been like that from the beginning--whenever that was.

At any rate, it's a most intriguing air rifle and one that I look forward to examining for you. With the data from Paul's excellent report, I have a basis upon which to build.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

RWS Model LP8 Magnum - Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

The .177 RWS LP8 pistol is a big, beautiful spring pistol.

Today is the velocity test, so I reckon you've guessed why I added the WOW! to the title. If not, read on. You're about to read the test of the fastest spring-piston pistol I've ever tested.

The two-stage trigger, which is not adjustable, breaks at a reasonable 3 lbs. 5 oz. The safety is automatic, coming on as the pistol is cocked. It's ambidextrous, like the rest of the airgun. Finally, there's a "Keepa you hands off" screw located at the bottom rear of the triggerguard. I don't know what it's for, and the manual doesn't explain it. The location would seem to make it a trigger screw of some sort, but I'm warning you to leave it alone. I'll have no pity for those who experiment and wind up with a broken gun.

Leave this screw alone!

The sights are fiberoptic, front and rear. That's almost a given these days. The front sight is exposed, so you have to grab the barrel below it to avoid damage to the delicate plastic fiberoptic red tube. Normally, I'd say that fiberopotics are incapable of precision, but the huge separation between front and rear on this pistol, which is 16.25 inches, overcomes that to a great degree. The rear sight is adjustable in both directions, and I mentioned the 11mm scope groove in Part 1.

Front fiberoptic sight tube is exposed, so hands off during cocking!

Crosman Premier 7.9-grain pellets
Let's just dive right in, shall we? After two shots to wake up the powerplant, I first tested 7.9-grain Crosman Premiers in our test RWS LP8 Magnum pistol. They averaged 528 f.p.s. with a spread from 523 to 533. Ten f.p.s. is a pretty tight spread for a new springer, so these are probably good pellets for this powerplant. Whether or not they're also accurate remains to be seen. The pistol develops 4.89 foot-pounds at the muzzle, on average.

I knew from these numbers that the LP8 I had was a performer. But the next pellet showed me just how hot it might be.

RWS Basic
The RWS Basic is an economy lightweight pure lead pellet. It's a few cents cheaper than the RWS Hobby that used to be the default pellet used to test velocity, but it weighs an identical 7 grains on the nose, so I try to use either it or the equally economical RWS Club for velocity testing. The average was an astounding 581 f.p.s., with a spread from 575 to 591. This was the highest average velocity I have ever recorded to this point from a stock spring-piston air pistol. And the tight 16 foot-second spread is a good indication that the gun isn't detonating. That was quite a surprise, but it didn't earn the WOW.

Gamo Match
Are you aware Gamo Match pellets now come in two different weights? The light ones weigh 7.5 grains and were the ones I used in this test, but there's a heavier 7.71-grain version as well. They averaged 561 f.p.s. through the chronograph, with a spread from 553 to a high of 571. Even that is only an 18 foot-second spread, and had I chronographed them first, they would have been the all-time fastest pellet I've tested in a stock spring-air pistol. Move over, Beeman P1, there's a new kid on the block and it's the LP8. But we're still not at the WOW.

Crosman Silver Eagle hollowpoints
You can't buy these non-lead pellets anymore. I saved mine for tests like this one, because they out-perform Gamo Raptors by a considerable margin when it comes to velocity. And in this test, they produced the WOW, with an AVERAGE velocity of 755 feet per second! WOW! The LP8 not only met its advertised velocity of 700 f.p.s., it exceeded it by a wide margin. Reminds me of the day Bob Beamon extended the long jump world record by almost two feet in the 1968 Olympics.

Diana and RWS, you've done it! You've broken the 700 f.p.s. barrier for spring pistols, and you didn't have to cut down a rifle to do it. The LP8 is easy enough to cock, needing just 32 lbs. of force to cock the breakbarrel. It won't be easy for younger teenagers, but adults should find it reasonable. Again, I say, "Wow!"

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Velocity vs. accuracy: Does it REALLY matter?
Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

Why don't we wise up?
This discussion seems to beg the question: Why not abandon diabolo pellets and go to bullet-shaped projectiles? Bullets have been around for small-caliber airguns for a decade or more. I'm not advocating their use in this article, but I am making a case for testing the accuracy potential of subsonic versus supersonic diabolo pellets for long-range shooting--before I begin actually shooting.

Before the test is over, I'll also shoot regular bullets, but that limits the selection of airguns to only the most powerful because they're the only ones that can stabilize heavy bullets properly. I don't want to rule out the other air rifles in my quest for accuracy. Besides, a Career 707 shooting a 30-grain bullet at 900 f.p.s. sounds suspiciously like a .22 short standard speed. If I want a gun to shoot like a rimfire, that's what I'll shoot. This test is to see what PELLET guns can do!

The Whiscombe JW 75 is the perfect testbed rifle for the "velocity destroys accuracy" theory. Transfer port restrictor screws allow me to vary the velocity of any pellet from barely coming out to as fast as it will go. For the pellet we finally selected, that was supersonic. Scope size is limited on this rifle because the barrel tips up for loading, even though it's cocked by an underlever. Easy access to the breech allows pellet indexing.

The perfect gun for this test
I designed the following test to see if there's anything to this velocity/accuracy barrier. We own a Whiscombe JW 75 breakbarrel rifle, which seems like the perfect testbed because it's so easy to adjust the velocity. The air transfer port is threaded to receive a small Allen screw through which a hole is drilled. A small hole passes less air, resulting in lower velocity. A bigger hole equals higher velocity. Take the screw out altogether and you get all the speed the rifle is capable of with that particular pellet. It's a simple solution to power adjustability, but it's very effective and you can adjust that hole to within 10 f.p.s. of a particular desired speed for any given pellet.

Our Whiscombe has barrels in all four popular calibers, and they can be changed in just a few minutes. For this test, however, only the .177 will do, because of the tremendous velocity I'm after. At its peak, the Whiscombe is a 20-30 foot-pound rifle, depending on the caliber and pellet used, so I figured it would be perfect for testing a pellet at two speeds in the same barrel. One special restrictor screw is adjusted to deliver 900 f.p.s. or a bit less, while the open port with no restrictor permits as much velocity over 1,000 f.p.s. as the rifle can muster.

Another advantage you get from a Whiscombe powerplant is stability. The extreme variation in velocity is quite low, as long as the pellets are all prepared and handled the same. Some folks think I place too much emphasis on extreme variation in a shot string, but I feel it's a great indicator of how consistently the rifle is performing. And consistency is what I'm after when I go for tiny groups.

One potential fly in the ointment is the Whiscombe's Harmonic Optimized Tuning System (HOTS). Several years ago, Whiscombe started offering barrels with an adjustable muzzle weight built in. We ordered the HOTS on all four of our barrels. But what should I do? Adjust the weight for low velocity and again for high velocity? While that sounds easy in theory, it takes a lot of time to accomplish--as much as a whole day per pellet and velocity. I initially decided not to adjust the HOTS at all and let the barrel vibrate where it wanted. You'll discover what happened--just as I did.

This view is looking down past the raised barrel at the adjustable transfer port, which is in the center of the picture. The port is partially unscrewed for better identification. But while shooting, it must be flush with the rifle so the barrel will clear when it is swung closed. When the screw is removed completely, the entire hole becomes the transfer port. With this system, it's possible to adjust velocity to within 10 f.p.s.

My test guidelines--making sure we don't compare apples to oranges
I decided that all pellets should be lubed before shooting, because I didn't want anyone saying the high-speed pellets were leading the bore. The rifle's inventor, John Whiscombe, gave us the formula for an oil--Whiscombe honey--to keep his air rifle barrels free from leading, so I decided to use it exclusively in this test.

These two transfer port restrictor screws have been adjusted to different velocities. The screw on the left shoots .177 Crosman 10.5-grain Premiers at 905 f.p.s. and 9.1-grain Chinese domes at 980 f.p.s. The screw on the right shoots 9.1-grain Chinese domes at 869 f.p.s.--perfect for the test! Each screw was hand-adjusted with a diamond needle file and tested over a chronograph. After the first day at the range, I made a third port for 7.9-grain Crosman Premiers.

Another guideline I adopted for this test is one I have wanted to do for a long time--10-shot groups. Back in the 1960s and even earlier, 10-shot groups were the norm in gun reports. Five-shot groups were sometimes shown, but there was a lot of talk about how they weren't as representative of true accuracy potential at 10 shots. If you go back to the writings of the 19th century, you'll find 20- and even 50-shot groups being used to back up accuracy claims. From a statistical standpoint, though, 10 shots will give you a pretty good picture of potential. And it is certainly much easier to shoot 10 than 20.

Ever since the first days of the Airgun Letter, I've had a running dialog with champion airgun shooter Rodney Boyce [who recently passed away] about the number of shots per group. Never one to complain, Rodney told me he is amazed at the difference in size between 5-shot and 10-shot groups from the same gun on the same day. I agreed with him that 10 are better than 5, but I've done nothing about it until now. For this test, I resolved that all test groups would have 10 shots and let the chips fall where they may.

That said, I must impress on those who have never shot at 50 yards with an air rifle that it is not easy! Any puff of wind WILL open your group. That lightweight, relatively slow-moving pellet is just as sensitive as it can be to the movement of air. Why don't I shoot this indoors? I would like to, but the facilities aren't available. So, I'll shoot outdoors and take my lumps. If that means a half-inch rifle starts shooting an inch or more, so be it. There will be no editing here. Because, if you think 50 yards is hard, you ain't seen nothin' till you back up to 100! Your "groups" start looking like open shotgun patterns at that range. And 100 yards is where we're headed. [Note: That 100-yard, long-range test was one I was working toward in The Airgun Letter. I never did the final test.]

I'm not conducting this test to find out how accurate a certain air rifle can be. Who cares what a Whiscombe can do, if everybody doesn't have one? I'm doing this to learn about general long-range airgun accuracy potential, as it is affected by velocity. Undoubtedly, I will get lucky a time or two, but that should be more than offset by the vagaries of shooting 10 times at the same target. No one is that lucky.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Evanix Blizzard S10 - Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

Well, you've waited patiently for the second test of the Evanix Blizzard S10! And none more than Jane Hansen, who's still making a buy decision. All I can say is that with all the traveling I've been doing, and the TV show, I'm starting to forget things in a major way.

Enough apologies--on with the test. The Blizzard S10 has a growing group of advocates who admire its looks, accuracy, power and perhaps the trigger (I know I do). The only thing they all say is that it isn't as quiet as they would prefer. While it's fully shrouded and much quieter than without the shroud, they think it is still a bit loud. Well, for the power it delivers, it's hard to be quieter without attaching a car muffler to the muzzle.

I'm testing the .22 caliber version. Although the rifle does come in .177, I think at this power level a .22 is the only way to go. The .177 shoots so fast that accuracy with diabolo pellets is going to be a problem. Heck, even in .22 it's shooting some medium-weight pellets well over 1,000 f.p.s.! Since this is the velocity test, we'll see how real those numbers are.

Fill pressure
The fill pressure is 200 bar, which is 2,900 psi--not 3,000. I've learned and been reminded several times that a manufacturer's recommended fill pressure is the place to stop, unless you know something to the contrary.

Beeman Kodiak
The first test was with Beeman Kodiak pellets. At 21.1 grains, they're a heavyweight pellet. In a PCP like the Blizzard S10, they're going to probably deliver the maximum energy the rifle is capable of. In consideration of Jane, who uses a hand pump, I shot three strings of 10 shots, which is what the circular clip holds. Because of how the velocity decreased, I will report the strings individually.

String 1


Extreme spread...57 f.p.s.

String 2


Extreme spread...50 f.p.s.

String one was pretty good, but there was a total of 57 f.p.s. from the fastest shot to the slowest. However, the next string had shots that were faster than the slowest shot in string one. String two was okay, as well. The total variation from the fastest to the slowest shot was 50 f.p.s. That's close to the variation for the first string. However, the variation between the fastest shot in string one and the slowest shot in string two is 91 f.p.s. That's pretty high, so I think two 10-shot clips are the max for this rifle. But just to know what happened, I shot a third string.

String 3


Extreme spread...65 f.p.s.

Now, the velocity is dropping pretty fast. The rifle would still be usable at 25-35 yards, but probably not at 50 yards with this kind of velocity decrease. From the fastest to the slowest shot, there are 65 f.p.s. in string three. And from the first shot to the 30th, the velocity varied by 155 f.p.s.

Air Arms domes
Air Arms 16-grain domes were the next pellet I tried. They actually weigh 15.8 grains from the tin I tested.

String 1


Extreme spread...52 f.p.s.

String 2


Extreme spread...58 f.p.s.

Well, I think these pellets are going too fast for the best accuracy. The first string averaged 1070, which is well beyond the conservative velocity Pyramyd Air advertises for the rifle. So let's not hear any complaints there! The total variation in string one was 52 f.p.s. String two averaged 1023 f.p.s. and had a total variation of 58 f.p.s. That's not much different than the Kodiak performance, though the velocities were higher. And I did shoot a third string.

String 3


Extreme spread...74 f.p.s.

Like the third string with Kodiaks, this string also varies by too much, in my opinion. Of course, it depends on how far you're shooting and how much compensating you're willing to do with the scope. From the first shot to the 30th, the velocity varied by 185 f.p.s.

My feeling is that the first 20 shots are the usable ones, if you're hunting at long range, which I define as 50 yards or so. If you take the time to really learn your rifle, much more performance is possible, and you'll still be able to hit on string three.

Kodiaks averaged 44.79 foot-pounds on the first string and 41.39 foot-pounds on the second string. With Air Arms domes, the first string averaged 40.18 foot-pounds and string two averaged 36.73 foot-pounds. That makes the Blizzard a powerful PCP with a reasonable number of shots.

The adjustable trigger on my test rifle breaks at a consistent 1 lb., 14 oz., making it a remarkable sporting trigger. The second stage is reasonably crisp and only the lack of an overtravel adjustment keeps it from being world-class. I must comment that the trigger is one of the best features on the rifle.

This trigger is adjustable for the length of the first-stage travel, the length of the second stage, which is also the sear engagement, and the position of the trigger blade. As nice as the trigger is on my rifle, I'm pretty sure you'll find an adjustment that will feel good.

Accuracy is next. I'll try to stay on schedule so you get the full report soon.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Velocity vs. accuracy: Does it REALLY matter?
Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

My apologies to Jane Hansen. I'd promised her another report on the Blizzard S10 today, but I came down with a horrible stomach flu Sunday morning. My wife, Edith, quickly pulled together this article from the April 2001 issue of the Airgun Letter, as I was in no shape to give the S10 a fair shake.

On to day's blog.

We say pellets can't travel much over 900 f.p.s. and still be accurate, but does anyone really know for sure? If 1,200 f.p.s. is too fast for accuracy, why would pellet gun manufacturers tout that speed and greater for their magnum air rifles?

These days, many manufacturers offer at least one air rifle with a top velocity well over 1,000 f.p.s. It's easy to speculate that they're just doing it because the public doesn't know better. But is that really the case? Or, is supersonic velocity not the horrible block to accuracy it's cracked up to be?

Can an airgun be accurate at 100 yards?
I plan to shoot an airgun at 100 yards for the long-range accuracy test. That seems to me to be the equivalent of shooting a 45/70 at 500 yards or a 30/338 at 1,000. When I shoot that far, I want all the velocity possible consistent with accuracy. Yet, the diabolo pellet I will shoot is a high-drag projectile that starts putting on the brakes the moment it exits the muzzle.

All projectiles slow down, of course, but the diabolo is designed to do it very well. It's the antithesis of the Sierra Matchking 168-grain boattail, which is designed to slip through the air with a minimum of resistance. Think of the Sierra as a spear and the diabolo as a badminton birdie.

Why do I want all this speed? Simple--to flatten the trajectory. A diabolo pellet leaving the muzzle at 900 f.p.s. will drop 3-5" by the time it reaches 50 yards, depending on the pellet used. You compensate for this drop by aligning the sights so the pellet appears to rise for a while before falling again, but that adds another twist to the equation. You can be just as far off-target at 10 yards as you are at 50 if your sights are positioned to give apparent rise for the first 30 yards of flight! How much better it would be if you could just sight-in at 50 yards and know the pellet would always be within an inch of the line of sight from the muzzle out to 70 yards.

Higher velocity will help flatten the trajectory, even though the diabolo shape of the pellet still slows it down rapidly. So, why don't more airgunners shoot at speeds above 1,000 f.p.s.? Because of the sound barrier.

Chuck Yeager wasn't the first to break the sound barrier
When I was a boy in the 1950s, the sound barrier was on everyone's lips--especially little boys! Chuck Yeager had officially broken through it in level flight for the first time in 1947, paving the way for a new age of high-speed flight. By the time I became aware of things, people were already talking about Mach 2 and Mach 3, as new records were being set all the time.

What is the sound barrier? Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary defines it as "a sudden large increase in aerodynamic drag that occurs as the speed of an aircraft approaches the speed of sound." Of course, the object doesn't have to be an airplane for the effect to occur. It happens to all objects, including pellets.

I remember the early movies about breaking the sound barrier. They emphasized the extreme buffeting an airplane suffered as it approached the speed of sound. Indeed, many early attempts on the sound barrier ended when the airplane actually broke from the stress. But mankind had already been exceeding the sound barrier for more than two centuries by the time Yeager made his historic flight. They had done it with bullets.

If you're a shooter, you should be interested in aerodynamics
By the time gunpowder had advanced to the stage where it was reliable and relatively clean burning, musket balls were breaking the sound barrier. They were also getting buffeted, just as Captain Yeager would in his Bell X-1, only there was no way anyone could sense it. By the 1730s, men like Daniel Boone knew that a rifle that cracked was shooting better than one that sounded off with a hollow boom. They didn't know what made the crack, just that it was the right way for a rifle to sound. They shot round lead balls in their rifles--balls that also slowed down rapidly, though not as fast as diabolo pellets do. But because their rifle balls were made of solid lead, the aerodynamic buffeting did very little to alter their path to the target.

Later, men learned to spin projectiles faster with a tighter twist rate, allowing the use of longer bullets. These bullets were even less affected by the buffeting because they weighed two to five times as much as the round balls. Because they were so heavy, they were not as affected by drag as the smaller balls, hence they retained more of their initial velocity for a longer period, which also meant they went farther at supersonic speeds. That was what was needed to extend rifle accuracy from 100 yards to 1,000 yards and even beyond. By the 1870s, long-range rifle marksmanship was as popular as professional football is today.

During this surge of rifle marksmanship, but in no way connected to it, the small-caliber airgun was born. In 1842, the Oscar Will company made a dart-shooting airgun. By 1876, Quackenbush started cranking out relatively inexpensive pellet-shooting guns by the hundreds. In 1886, the Markham company came out with the very first BB gun, which was soon followed by the first model from Daisy. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Airguns proliferated in greater numbers than ever before as their prices dropped steadily. By the 1920s, larger-caliber airguns, the ones we now call "big bores," were but a memory and the ubiquitous BB gun was dominating the market--at least in the U.S. Elsewhere, precision air rifles and pistols began to rise from the ashes of World Wars I and II. They were beautifully made and shot as well as the technology of the time permitted, but they were all relatively low-powered by the standards of today.

It wasn't until 1982, with the introduction of the Beeman R1 Supermagnum air rifle, that a production airgun intentionally shot faster than 1,000 f.p.s. That marked the first time the high-drag diabolo pellet was pushed anywhere near the aerodynamically challenging sound barrier. In four centuries of airguns, there have been less than 20 years during which pellets have been pushed past (maybe) their design limits.

The Beeman R1 was the first production air rifle that could reliably exceed 1,000 f.p.s. It started a trend toward higher velocities that took diabolo pellets where they had never gone before.

The R1 was soon upstaged by the even faster Laser option for the same rifle. That was followed by the expensive Venom Mach I rifle (interesting name, no?) and then a bit later by the much more affordable RWS model 48/52--an air rifle that has no problem pushing .177 pellets out the spout at 1,100 f.p.s. After about 1986, the number of guns that could exceed the sound barrier grew steadily with each passing year.

But the diabolo pellet hasn't changed much since it was first invented almost a century ago. Its high-drag, forward-weighted shape was purposely created to keep the nose of the pellet pointed along the flight path when shot from a smoothbore airgun. Like a dart or arrow, the drag on the tail automatically orients the pellet in flight, making spin unnecessary--a good thing when you're shooting an airgun like a Gem smoothbore. But not so good when you want to shoot past the sonic barrier.

The diabolo pellet is shaped like a child's top. The narrow waist, flared skirt and hollow base all increase the amount of drag on the projectile. That, plus the forward-biased weight distribution, keeps the pellet stabilized in flight--with or without a spin.

I often try to find parallels to airguns in other shooting sports. Where the question of accuracy versus velocity is concerned, I don't have to look any farther than the good old .22 rimfire. As everyone knows, slower is more accurate with the .22 long rifle. Unless all the competitors, ammunition manufacturers and gun makers are wrong, the most accurate .22 rimfire shoots a bullet at something well under the sound barrier. Eley Tenex, Federal Gold, Lapua Match and the other top names in match-grade rimfire ammo all stay well under 1,100 f.p.s. These are the cartridges folks are shelling out $10 and more for just 50. You and I try to buy a "brick" of 10 times that amount for the same price, but we don't compete with the same crowd, do we? [Obviously, ammo prices have changed a lot in the 8 years since this article was written!] We like to bounce tin cans around, while they're competing for gold medals on the world stage.

The weight of the majority is going with subsonic rimfire ammunition where top accuracy is concerned, and they're voting with their deep pockets. These shooters typically buy 10,000 rounds at a pop at those high prices. When was the last time you bought 10,000 pellets, for a fraction of the cost, and didn't flinch?

Remember, too, rimfires shoot heavy lead bullets--not thin hollow cylinders. Though some of those bullets have cupped bases and "heels," they don't have nearly the drag of our diabolos.

Stay tuned for part 2 later this week.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Haenel 303

by B.B. Pelletier

Guest blogger
This is Paul's first guest blog, and he's reviewing one of my favorite airgun brands--Haenel. His review of the 303 model shows it's an accurate gun, as you'll soon see. The gun belongs to his friend, so he's got only temporary ownership.

If you'd like to write a guest post for this blog, please email me.

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

by Paul

The rifle above is a Haenel model 303. Made in East Germany, it looks to be a refinement of the model 284 reviewed by B.B. last year. It was purchased in East Berlin in the early 1980s and is a conventional breakbarrel rifle in .177 caliber, similar in size to an R7 and identical in power. It weighs about 6.5 lbs. and has a pull of 14 inches, so it doesn't feel like a toy. The overall length is 42.75 inches with a 17.5-inch barrel.

The cocking effort starts out very light and builds to 22 lbs. just before the end of the stroke. The gun can be easily cocked with two fingers. The wood stock looks like beech and is not stained; there's no buttplate--just ribs cut into the end of the stock. The stock finish on this particular rifle has a few nicks but is excellent otherwise. Unlike the earlier 284, there are no finger grooves on the forearm.

The stylized Haenel name is stamped at the end of the receiver. The safety button projects from the end of the tube.

The blueing is very good--black and even over the entire gun, even the parts not normally visible. The Haenel logo and country of manufacture (German Democratic Republic) are stamped on the end of the receiver. The safety button projects from the end cap and automatically sets when the gun is cocked; it and the receiver end cap are the only two plastic parts on the gun. The safety is a bit noisy but operates positively and can be reset after being placed on fire. Depressing the safety and pulling the trigger while holding the barrel fully open releases the mainspring without firing.

The model number is stamped midway on the receiver.

The trigger is stamped metal and blued; it has a solid block sear at the top that engages the hook at the rear of the piston to hold the action in the cocked position. The screw at the front of the triggerguard controls the sear engagement; I did not adjust the screw since the second stage was consistent at about 5 lbs. When the second stage is reached and the trigger is pulled a small amount further, the pull becomes slightly lighter and finally breaks. Once a few shots have been fired, the trigger becomes easy to control.

Rear sight is adjustable for elevation and windage.

Unlike the earlier 284, the rear sight on the 303 is adjustable for windage. A spring-loaded ball backs the adjustment knob to produce clicks and to lock the position. The V-groove rear sight works well with the front sight for precise aiming. The comb of the stock is also the perfect height so the sights are in very close alignment when the gun is shouldered. The barrel pivot bolt is locked in place with a small set screw that fits into a notch of the bolt head. No washers are used between the baseblock and the forks of the receiver. Instead of the usual plunger ball or wedge in the baseblock, the wedge is in the front of the receiver. A matching V-notch in the baseblock provides a positive lockup. The cocking link is a two-piece arrangement enabling a very short slot in the forearm. A spring-loaded button that presses the straight part of the link against the bottom of the receiver is in the forearm. This part of the link is an open box stamping with a plastic block inside that contacts the lower part of the receiver to prevent wear.

Front sight is a hooded peppercorn design.

Firing the 303
The Haenel exhibits moderate vibration upon firing. Some pellets caused noticably more vibration and were not tested further. Due to the power level, recoil is minimal and the rifle seems to be fairly hold-insensitive. I was able to get good groups supporting the forearm on a bag rest or using my left hand. The point of impact didn't seem to be affected either way.

Only a few hundred pellets have been put through the rifle; it also hadn't fired for about three years due to a lack of ammo. Because of the age of the rifle and the leather breech seal, I guessed that it had a leather piston seal (it did) so I chronographed it before oiling and after. The results were interesting. Before oiling, velocities would vary as much as 54 feet per second for a 5-shot string. Two shots would be within a couple of fps of each other and the next would drop by 40 fps and then come back up the round after that. After oiling, the average velocity was unchanged but the variation was reduced to as little as 8 fps for five shots.

Suspecting that the original lube had dried and hardened, I disassembled the Haenel for a cleaning and relube. It took about four hours to tear down the gun, clean and lubricate the internals, and put it back together. The spring was under about three-quarters of an inch of preload; it was .75 inches in diameter, 7.25 inches long and perfectly straight. Due to the lack of wear, it's evident that this gun has seen little use the last 25 years. Fortunately, the leather piston seal was in perfect shape. Once the gun was reassembled, it took about 20 shots to get consistent velocities.

For the most part, velocities increased about 21 fps after tuning. Beeman Kodiak pellets were unchanged, but the Beeman Crow Magnums picked up 35 fps and the gun seemed to shoot smoother with those pellets.

Something that struck me was the level of finish inside the gun. It was obviously built with care. The only sharp edge I found was in the slot in the bottom of the piston; it was only rough enough to scratch a finger. The slot in the bottom of the receiver was very smooth. Chamfers were added to the edges of the rear sping guide and the block that retained the trigger for easy insertion into the receiver. All of the other small parts were cleanly finished. This was an inexpensive gun, but it was not cheaply made. A nicer stock would be a fine compliment to the excellent metal work.

Velocity and accuracy
A number of different pellets were tested at 10 meters. Five-shot groups were used due to time constraints. The sights were never adjusted and groups varied from centered to about a half inch to the left.

Beeman Lasers
The 6.5 grain Beeman Lasers were a bust. They averaged 621 fps but ranged from 595 fps to 657 fps and strung out horizontally. No other pellets displayed this behavior.

7.7-grain Beeman Coated Wadcutters
Beeman Coated Wadcutters averaged 609 fps with a high of 615 and a low of 602 fps. They gave a .53-inch group.

Beeman Coated Hollowpoints
7.2-grain Beeman Coated Hollowpoints shot with less vibration than most. They averaged 663 fps, varying from 654 to 677 fps. The group below has four shots in .40 inches with one flyer (my fault), opening it to a full half inch.

Crosman Premier Lights
7.9 grain Crosman Premier Lights fit loosely in the Haenel's breech, dropping about 1/16 inch in. They averaged 627 fps, varied by only 14 fps (620 to 634), didn't want to group any tighter than half an inch and produced wider groups than most.

RWS Super-H-Points
The 6.9 grain RWS Super-H-Points averaged 652 fps, varying from 643 fps to 669 fps, and produced a .39-inch group.

Beeman Crow Magnums
For a heavier pellet, I tried the 8.8-grain Beeman Crow Magnums. The Haenel seemed to like these. It fired with little vibration, averaging 590 fps and varying from 586 fps to 596 fps. Groups around .37 inches were easy.

RWS Superdomes
The 8.3-grain RWS Superdomes were a standout. They averaged 608 fps with a low of 599 fps and a high of 621 fps. The .29-inch group was a little hard to measure since these pellets do not cut a clean hole at all.

Crosman Premier Hollowpoints
Last up were the 7.9-grain Crosman Premier Hollowpoints; they also gave one-hole groups. Their velocity varied from 620 fps to 654 fps for an average of 633 fps. Groups were .37 inches (below) and .34 inches.

I also shot at some cut pieces of 2x4 blocks at 35 yards. With a little hold over, it was simple to topple them nearly every time. I didn't attempt groups past 10 meters due to my nearsighted, 45-year-old eyes.

I was quite pleased with the accuracy of this gun. For a low-priced rifle it shoots beautifully with the right ammunition. I only wish it were possible to install a scope; a glass sight would be a great help at longer ranges. I did tell my friend if he ever wants to part with the rifle and his son does not want it that I want first dibs! It's an excellent plinker.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Crosman V350
A different BB gun

by B.B. Pelletier

While I was working on some new American Airgunner episodes at our New York studio this week, a curious thing happened. Paul Capello's brother was visiting the studio and told Paul he had a gift for him in the car. When Paul opened the trunk he saw a strange-looking gun. It was plain-looking and lightweight, but the metal was blued steel and the stock was hardwood.

I recognized it as a Crosman V350, since I have one in my collection, but this was the first one Paul had seen. His brother asked him to cock it and winked at me, thinking Paul wouldn't figure it out. But amazingly, he got it within seconds. To cock this spring-piston airgun you grasp the barrel near the muzzle and pull straight back. It cocks like several of the old Quackenbush airguns from the 19th century, but how many people are familiar with them today?

Crosman's V350 is a powerful, yet plain-looking BB gun that cocks by pulling straight back on the barrel.

Later Paul told us he had been trying to break the barrel down, and by chance it slipped backwards, but I say that's a lucky chance. Guys who work with their hands a lot tend to have that kind of luck more than most, I guess. Paul is a carpenter by trade.

The V350 is a very powerful BB gun from the 1960s. It later got updated into the V3500 but also into one of Crosman's most classic BB guns, the M1 Carbine.

The first year Crosman M1 Carbine had a slabwood stock. This is a later model with a more rounded Croswood plastic stock. Though it is more rugged and better-looking, the wood-stock model is rarer and commands a higher price.

A different powerplant
This family of BB guns has a completely different powerplant from the classic Daisy Red Ryder gun. Though it has a spring-powered piston, it uses a poppet-type valve that stores compressed air until it blows open violently. The velocity is indicated by the model number, hence this gun is in the Daisy No. 25 category power-wise.

One design characteristic mitigated against this type of gun--the cocking method. As Paul was quick to learn, the V350 isn't easy for an adult to cock. It's almost impossible for a younger shooter unless some measures are taken. One common thing was to hold the cocking hand over the muzzle to pull back on the barrel with greater force. That probably didn't sit too well with the Crosman legal department when they thought about it.

Look for bluing wear
Also, because of the cocking method, you can easily tell how much use a gun has had by the amount of blue remaining on the barrel near the muzzle. Paul's gun was nearly new there, so it probably got very little use. Parents used to take the BB guns away from children who misbehaved, and sometimes they never got them back.

As far as accuracy goes, the V350 is on par with other BB guns of the era. The steel barrel is smoothbored with plenty of clearance for the BBs, so don't expect much less than two inches at 25 feet with a good hold.

The gun holds at least 23 BB shot in a gravity-fed magazine that has a port near the rear sight. You can tell if the gun is loaded by shaking it and listening. Never assume it is empty, though, because there's no positive way of telling.

Want one?
If you want a V350, the best place to find one is at an airgun show. They go for $20 for a dog/parts gun to perhaps $80 for new-in-the-box. This is one vintage airgun that is undervalued at the present time. I know Paul is fascinated by his, and I suspect he'll find a way to work it into the television show this season.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

A funny thing happened...
CO2 gun is a dud

by B.B. Pelletier

Before we start, there are 3 new articles on Pyramyd Air's website:
  1. A look inside the BB gun powerplant
  2. Can you bend the barrel if you shoot a breakbarrel air rifle with the barrel broken open?
  3. What is a flyer?
So there I was on the set of American Airgunner. We were filming the CO2 episode, and Paul and I were shooting action pistols at tin cans. Paul had a Crosman 357 and I was shooting a tricked-out Beretta PX-4 Storm with all the bells and whistles. In the next take, we'd be shooting the cans with the camera behind us so we could be seen in the picture, along with the cans downrange.

I had just loaded a fresh CO2 cartridge because the last one ran out during the previous take. The camera started rolling, the director called, "Action!" and we started blasting away. I had one powerful shot and the next pellet came out so slow I could see it in flight. It barely made it to the cans 10 yards away. I kept pulling the trigger and the pellets kept dribbling out. What had happened?

Was the CO2 cartridge empty from the factory? Was it, heaven forbid, a leaker? These things flashed through me mind as the camera rolled, because I had just finished writing Fanner 50, and the memory of leaking CO2 cartridges was fresh in my mind, even though I hadn't seen one in years.

When the shooting was over and the camera stopped rolling, I went to the equipment table, expecting to remove an empty cartridge. Instead, I exhausted an entire full cartridge! What had happened?

It doesn't happen often, but sometimes the piercing pin pierces the CO2 cartridge only far enough for just the tiniest amount of gas to escape. When that happens, the gas comes out very slowly. If enough time elapses, the firing valve will fill to capacity and the first shot will be powerful, but all succeeding shots taken immediately afterward will be weak. However, if you wait about a minute, you'll get another powerful shot followed by more weak ones. The CO2 molecule is very large compared to the atoms of the various gasses in air. So, air may flow well through tiny openings, but CO2 will not.

That evening, back in my room, while answering readers' comments, I came across this one, attached to a report on how to find CO2 leaks:

"I have a Crosman 357 Co2 powered air pistol. I used WD-40 on the end of one air cartridge before knowing what sort of harm it would do to the airgun (that was a stupid idea).

Now the airgun is no longer consistent with each shot I fire. i.e. I fire one shot and its perfectly normal, then I fire another shot and the velocity of the pellet goes down by half etc... But when I wait for about 60 seconds after each shot the velocity of the pellet returns to normal. I don't hear any leaks and I just got this gun about a month ago...

Would Crosman pellgunoil fix this problem? Or would this problem fix itself over time? What would you recommend?"

Those words brought the problem into sharp focus! Although I hadn't thought about it much, I now remembered that this sort of thing happens from time to time, even with modern CO2 cartridges that are entirely reliable.

Here's what I'm saying. The use of WD-40 is not recommended in a CO2 gun, but I'm not saying it had anything to do with your poor gas flow. I think you did what I did, by allowing the piercing pin to not penetrate the CO2 cartridge far enough to allow the gas to flow as it should. It could get out, which is why, after a minute or so, you have a powerful shot. But the next shot will be weak because the gas can't flow fast enough to build the kind of pressure the gun was designed for.

Your problem with this gun is mechanical, and it may also be procedure-based. It's mechanical because the pierced hole isn't as large as it needs to be, and it may be based in a faulty procedure if you are not adjusting the piercing mechanism so that it pierces the cartridge in the way it was designed to.

In the 1960s, there used to be a special instruction in the manuals of some CO2 guns on how to effectively pierce cartridges. You were to screw the piercing cap down until you heard the hiss of escaping gas, then UNSCREW the cap a quarter turn, if you could. If the gas was not escaping fast enough, you would be able to easily unscrew the piercing cap, because the o-ring that sealed the gas in the gun was not under much pressure. Hence, the cap could turn. That was your signal to do something, which meant re-pierce the cartridge. However, if the pressure was high, that o-ring was tight against the side of the reservoir wall, making it impossible to turn the piercing cap by hand. That was the proof that the escape hole was large enough.

Piercing mechanisms have changed since those days, but the object has remained the same. Create a hole large enough for the CO2 gas to flow freely. Remember that each time you install a new cartridge. And oil each new cartridge with Crosman Pellgunoil--ONLY!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Gamo Lady Recon - Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

Lady Recon performs!

Today's the day we test the .177 caliber Lady Recon for velocity! I know Night Owl is waiting to see how this Recon stacks up against the one I tested in 2008, and so am I. But first things first.

The gun became easier to cock as I conducted the velocity testing. Either that or I ate my spinach! So, I checked the scale again, and the cocking effort registers a mere 15 lbs.! You may recall that I was upset with the 18 lbs. I was getting in the first part. To the new reader who expressed incredulity that airguns need breaking in, this is the most dramatic example I have ever seen of what can happen! A reduction of lbs. of cocking effort is major.

It felt as though the trigger was getting lighter, as well, so I tested it again. In Part 1, it was breaking at 4 lbs. even. Now, it lets go at 3.5 lbs. This rifle has made a huge transformation in two important areas over the course of just a few dozen shots.

I decided to test the Lady Recon with the same pellets that were used in the black Recon test, so we would have a direct comparison. The first of those was Gamo Match.

Gamo Match
This wadcutter pellets weighs 7.5 grains of pure lead. In the black Recon, this pellet averaged 476 f.p.s. with a spread from 469 to 487. In the Lady Recon, the same pellet averaged 496 with a spread from 485 to 500. The average was 20 f.p.s. faster, and the spread was three f.p.s. tighter. The spec for the rifle is 525 f.p.s.

Crosman Premier 7.9-grain pellets
The black Recon averaged 451 f.p.s. with Crosman Premier 7.9-grain pellets. The spread went from 443 to 466. The Lady Recon averaged 445 f.p.s. with a spread from 433 to 460. You might wonder why it was slower with this pellet when it was faster with the Gamo Match. I would attribute that to a slight variation in the barrels that favored the Premier in the Black Recon. The power level of these rifles is so low that small differences are going to be more obvious. And the Premiers are made from hard lead alloy that doesn't have the lubricity of pure lead.

RWS Basic pellets
RWS Diabolo Basic pellets weigh just 7 grains even and are a good substitute for Hobbys in velocity tests. They're a pure lead pellet, like the Gamo Match. The black Recon shot them an average of 500 f.p.s. with a spread from 489 to 509. The Lady Recon averaged 498 f.p.s. with a spread from 477 to 514.

The bottom line is that both rifles tested very close to each other. That demonstrates what I mean when I say they shot the same, only with different numbers. There isn't enough difference to really matter. And if I tested either rifle again, the results would change a little.

The big changes in cocking effort and trigger pull between Part 1 and this report are something to ponder. Obviously, these spring rifles need a break-in period before they stabilize. I found that period to be 1,000 shots when I tested the Beeman R1, but the Beeman C1 actually kept changing past 3,000 rounds. Older Gamos used to require over 4,000 shots before they were broken in, but today's crop is breaking in much sooner. The point is that you don't stop testing your gun until it's had a chance to wear in.

The next stop will be accuracy, and once again, we have the black Recon for comparison.

Monday, August 03, 2009

H&K USP CO2 pistol - Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

Very realistic

I have a surprise for you today. A gun that EXCEEDS its specs by a healthy margin. You BB-gun lovers are going to enjoy this!

I'm testing the H&K USP pistol today for both velocity and accuracy. I'm doing two in one because with BBs checking different brands of BBs doesn't make a big difference to either velocity or accuracy until you get to the Daisy 499. So, sit back and accept a twofer.

Magazine observations
The "drop free" magazine still doesn't drop. Maybe it isn't designed to. I have to pull on the floorplate of the mag to separate it from the gun, and there are thumb cutouts at that location on the frame. Just an observation. The second observation I'll make is the easy-loader really is easy! I love it.

It's pretty obvious that this pistol has an airsoft heritage from the way the gun is laid out to the way the BBs are packed in the box. Well, in the case of the speedloader, they made the world's best and easiest way to load a BB gun. Imagine pouring BBs into a funnel until the mag is loaded and you'll get the idea.

Velocity testing
But I know what you're waiting for! You want to know how fast. Right? First, the test conditions. Room temperature was 80 degrees F. Shots fired no faster than one every 15 seconds. With faster shooting, the velocity will decline. With a warmer environment, the velocity will climb.

The specs say the gun is rated to 360 f.p.s. Well, my test gun averages 405 f.p.s. under these conditions! That's quite a heathy increase! The spread went from 390 f.p.s. to 415 f.p.s., with the higher velocity coming near the end of the string. Three-quarters of the shots were in the 400s. This is a little screamer.

I could have shot other brands of BBs (I used Daisy brand), but why? The numbers would have been both different and the same, if you know what I mean. So I went straight to the target range. For BB pistols, the range is 15 feet for all except the 499 which goes 16.4 feet (five meters). That seems close, but I have tested at that range consistently, so you have other gun tests to compare to.

Well, did I learn a lesson on the target range! I wasn't hitting from 15 feet so I moved up to 10, Wasn't hitting from there, either, so I went to four feet. Still no hits.

Could it be that no BBs were coming out? Oh, yes! Let me show you why.

You're looking at a greatly enlarged view of the magazine floorplate. See that arrow? It turns out to be very important. After loading the BBs, you must push that silver wire loop at the bottom of the picture to the left (the direction of the arrow). That releases the magazine follower spring so it will push BBs up for firing. If you don't do this, you'll be shooting blanks.

Problem solved
Now the gun was shooting BBs. I used a center hold with the front white dot, because it's so bright it compelled me to do so. That resulted in a group above the bull at 15 feet. The group was just over three inches for 10 shots. Remember, this is a double-action-only gun, so no light, crisp trigger squeeze.

On the next target, I used a standard 6 o'clock hold that proved to be more what the pistol wanted.

Ten BBs did pass through those holes at 15 feet. The last hole is almost off the picture, above the number 7. It's a 2.5-inch group or maybe a little larger.

The USP isn't in the same league as the Makarov I tested, but for a DAO pistol it's not too bad. I know I could bounce a tin can at 20 feet with little trouble.

What have we got? High power, large magazine capacity, DAO operation, good heft, fixed sights and a good price.