Thursday, December 31, 2009

The ballistic pendulum

by B.B. Pelletier

Many of you have wondered how the gun makers of centuries past were able to test the power of their guns. This blog has touched on a few of the ways gun power was measured over the years, with the Splatology discussion being the most significant. If you are not aware of that report you really need to read it, because it's the Rosetta stone that unlocks the mysteries of the past when it comes to airgun power.

Another way the shooters of history determined relative power was by the use of the ballistic pendulum. You can find a wealth of information about the ballistic pendulum online. Just do a Google search for ballistic pendulums and see what turns up.

The first big bore airgun match needed a ballistic pendulum
My own experience with ballistic pendulums dates back to the time I ran the first big bore airgun match at the August 1998 Mid-Atlantic Airgun show. I needed a way of determining the relative power level of the guns in that match and, even though we had and used modern electronic chronographs to record the power of the guns, I wanted something more--something that visibly showed the power so everybody could see it. I wanted what didn't exist at the time--a ballistic pendulum for big bore airguns.

Gary Barnes was helping put the big bore match together, so he took on the project of building a ballistic pendulum for it, too. What he wound up building was a large spidery machine with a 4-inch steel plate the shooters had to hit. I wanted the match to be challenging, so we placed the pendulum 40 yards from the firing line. Believe me, in 1998, hitting a 4-inch target at 40 yards with a big-bore airgun was considered a big deal!

The ballistic pendulum was two feet high and four feet long.

A pen under spring pressure recorded how far the pendulum arm swung.

The steel plate was backed by more steel to make the pendulum arm heavy and to strengthen the plate.

Put up or shut up
In fact, hitting the target at all was the principal motivation for building the pendulum the way it was made. At the time, there were all sorts of stories circulating about super-powerful big bore guns with unbelievable accuracy. Among them, some smoothbore Farco air shotguns were supposed to be getting 2-inch 5-shot groups at 50 yards. Yeah--right! We ran this first-ever modern big-bore match as a "put up or shut up" affair, and not surprisingly a lot of shooters had to shut up.

At the first match, there were several guns that could not hit the target even one time in five shots. Out of 11 shooters, only 6 managed to hit the target even once out of five tries, and one of the six just scraped paint off the edge of the plate without recording any energy on target.

The score was determined by a combination of hits on the 4-inch plate and energy recorded by the pendulum. That last part was very arbitrary, as I will discuss in a moment, but back to the scoring. The more energy a gun had, the higher number of points were given for each hit on the plate. Powerful, accurate guns were rewarded, and weaker guns that were still accurate were penalized. The thinking behind that was that we wanted to reward power in combination with accuracy.

The lessons of the pendulum
How the first match turned out was less important than the lessons that the big pendulum taught us. First, it taught us that no rifle can ever expend all of its energy on a ballistic pendulum. How much it does expend is really how much that gets recorded, and that can only ever be a fraction of the total energy available. Let's look at some energy thieves and learn why ballistic pendulums aren't foolproof.

1. Loss of energy through projectile deformation
When a bullet hits a steel plate of any mass, it deforms, taking some of the impact energy with it. If the bullet hits at a very high speed, the deformation is more violent, robbing more energy. A lightweight bullet from a high-power centerfire rifle, for instance, will turn into lead powder and guilding-metal fragments, with an accompanying flash of light caused by the heat of impact that flashes some of the lead dust to incandescence. A slower, heavier projectile will not fragment as much and will impart greater energy to the target, causing the pendulum arm to swing farther. A ballistic pendulum constructed as this one was will show that a 400-grain bullet moving at 750 f.p.s. has greater energy than a 55-grain bullet moving at 3,200 f.p.s., even though the smaller, lighter bullet actually has more than twice the energy of the larger bullet.

This bias can be offset a little by selecting a different medium for the target. For example, if a big log is used and positioned to be hit on the end by both bullets, the smaller bullet will make a much better showing. That's because the log will absorb more of the bullet's impact energy without allowing as much deformation.

2. Friction
The pendulum has friction in several places. The arm that swings has bearings with friction, and the pen that records the energy also has some friction. Granted, these are both small forces, but they're still real and they do matter. Barnes made the arm of the pendulum ride in a long bearing that was oiled and exercised frequently, but it still retarded the swing angle of the arm.

3. Gravity
As the pendulum arm swings, it soon comes under the influence of gravity. The moment it swings past 90 degrees, gravity starts pulling at the swinging arm, slowing it down.

4. Glancing blows
When the bullet hits the plate, the plate begins to move. The bullet expends its energy by deforming, breaking into dust and flashing to incandescence, but it also glances away from the plate fairly fast. As it goes, it carries some energy with it. Other ballistic pendulums have been built with bullet (pellet) traps in their pendulum plates. The plates were shaped like funnels, so the bullet was deflected ever inward and continued to expend energy against the plate.

The energy thieves were but one lesson the pendulum taught us. Another was how arbitrary our measurements really were. If you look at the lines drawn on the scorecard, they're supposed to represent foot-pounds of energy. Even when I made up the scorecard, I knew I was drawing the lines arbitrarily because I had no good way to calibrate them. Oh, I did shoot a few rounds with a blank scorecard in the machine so I could get a rough approximation of the energy needed to deflect the pen, but it was far from accurate or exact. It was never calibrated because I had no good understanding of how the energy thieves acted. Nothing was linear, either. As I mentioned earlier, a light, fast bullet was penalized, compared to a slow heavy bullet. The farther the pendulum swung, the more gravity acted upon it.

The next year, Ray and Hans Apelles showed up with single-shot Career 9mm rifles. We had added a 50-yard accuracy test to the ballistic pendulum test and they taught us another lesson. On the pendulum, they used a bullet that weighed over 175 grains, if I recall. I think it even weighed over 200 grains. But it was hell on the pendulum, with most shots smacking the plate sideways or nearly so. It did what they wanted it to do. But on the target at 50 yards, they used a 9mm pistol bullet that probably weighted 115-125 grains. Far more stable and accurate at airgun velocities.

Gary Barnes shot a .563 Express to win the match.

Bob Chilko shot his homemade .398 multi-pump pneumatic.

The Chilkos
We learned another big lesson about big bore accuracy from the team of Bob Chilko and his son, Mike. They competed with their homemade smoothbore big bore guns. Bob shot an underlever and Mike shot a front-pumper that took 30 strokes to pressurize for every shot. Mike hit the 40-yard target four times in five shots and had everyone talking. How could he do that with a smoothbore? It turned out Mike, who was a physicist, had designed dumbbell-shaped slugs for both guns that had such high drag they flew accurately without a spin on them.

I noted that within the year, Gary Barnes was selling similar bullets for his big bores, and they pushed the distance at which his rifles were accurate from about 50 yards to 200! He called them Hornets, for the noise they made in flight. These bullets were a reincarnation of the French Balle Blondeau shotgun slug of the 1960s that revitalized the rifled slug industry.

So, the bottom line with the ballistic pendulum was that it provided everyone with an extended course in practical physics. In a world where accurate electronic chronographs abound, there isn't much reason to have one of these. But at one time, they were the best that money could buy.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

AirForce Edge - Part 3

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2

Today, I'll look at the velocity of the AirForce Edge. That includes recording a total shot string on one fill of air.

Why the rifle is sold without the rear sight
Before I begin, I want to comment on how the rifle is being sold. The Edge is sold both with sights and with a front sight only. The front sight has to come with the gun because of the proprietary way it attaches to the gun. There is no other front target sight (or any other kind of sight, for that matter) on the market that will attach to the Edge. You may notice that the front sight is very tall. That's so the rear sight, which is mounted on a raised ramp on the receiver, will align with the front sight. While it's possible to mount different rear sights on an Edge, each of them will be adjusted differently than the AirForce Adaptive Rear Target Sight the gun was designed for. Only the AirForce rear sight is recommended for this rifle. This will undoubtedly raise some questions in many buyer's minds as to why the gun would be sold without sights.

There are thousands of shooters who do not shoot their target rifles in competition. These shooters like to mount scopes on their target rifles and shoot targets and other things in the privacy of their homes. They can buy an Edge without the rear sight for less money and remove the front sight. They can then mount a scope on the rifle.

Using a hand pump
A couple days ago, a reader named Ron asked me how difficult it is to fill the Edge from a hand pump. I'd like to answer that here. And you will note that I have linked you to the Benjamin hand pump instead of the AirForce hand pump for two important reasons. First, because as of this writing, the Benjamin pump is in stock, while the AirForce pump is not; and second, the AirForce pump does not come with a hose that connects to the Edge, while the Benjamin hand pump does.

The hand pump becomes difficult at different pressures for different people. The resistance climbs as the pump compresses to ever-higher pressure. It doesn't matter in the slightest what gun is being filled. All that matters is the pressure that's being compressed.

For me, the pump starts to become hard after passing 2,500 psi. But I have coached hundreds of different people through the process and have seen them stall out at different pressure levels. One woman started noticing the increasing difficulty at 1,600 psi. By the time she got to 2,000 psi, she was finished. I can still pump the pump with one hand at that pressure. I'm not bragging; I'm saying that the hand pump will feel vastly different for every person who tries it.

Here, however, is the difference between the Edge rifle and the Air Arms S410 Ron was comparing it to in a blog comment. Ron gets 25-35 good shots from his .22 caliber S410. With the Edge, he'll get over 100. When he shoots the S410, he's plinking. If he were hunting, he wouldn't complain about pumping for so few shots because he probably wouldn't shoot those 25-35 shots in a full day of hunting. Hence, we know he's plinking. Also, the S410 reservoir is probably three times the volume of the Edge reservoir, so it takes many more pump strokes to fill.

With the Edge, he'll probably be shooting at paper targets. It will take him 90 minutes to shoot all the shots he has in the gun. Once again, no time to notice how difficult it was to pump for the three minutes that it took.

But even if Ron were to plink with the Edge, he'd still be shooting for a half-hour at least. It took me that long to complete the shot strings for today's test, and that was only because I now have a printer doing half my work. So, my answer is "no," the Edge is not a hard gun to fill with a hand pump. But there will be something like 10 to 20 strokes that will be hard because they'll be the ones climbing from 2,500 psi to 3,000 psi or wherever the difficult part kicks in for you. The Edge has the reservoir volume of an air pistol, and no pistol shooter I know complains of the difficulty of filling the gun because they know the effort is brief but the shooting will be long.

The test
I tested the rifle with both RWS R10 Heavy Match pellets made for rifles and with H&N Finale Match Pistol pellets. By "test," I mean I shot full strings from 3,000 psi until the gun fell off the regulator. What follows is the shot-by-shot velocity recorded from the Finale Match pellet test.


dnr = did not register
* = slowest shot in string
** = fastest shot in string

Analysis of string
The string shows clearly that the Edge has exceeded its 100-shot criteria. I drew an arbitrary line after shot 108, but a shooter on the line would not have a chronograph to record all the velocities like this. So the shooter is safe if he stops after shot 100. If he does that, the fastest recorded shot went 530 f.p.s and the slowest went 518 f.p.s., a difference of only 12 f.p.s. across 100 shots.

I continued to shoot after it became obvious that the gun had fallen off the regulator to show you what that looks like. When a gun has reached the point at which the reservoir pressure drops lower than the pressure the regulator is set for normal operation, we say the gun has "fallen off the reg," which means that the reg remains open and all subsequent shots will diminish in velocity, just as you see here. The actual spot where it fell off was probably following shot number 106.

Performance with a heavier pellet
The H&N Finale Match pellet used for the first string weighs 7.56 grains, nominally. I also tested an RWS R10 Heavy Match pellet more suited to match rifles. It weighs 8.2 grains, nominally. I won't give you every velocity for this string, though I do have them, but the average velocity was 487 f.p.s. across a total shot string of 105 shots. The fastest shot went 511 f.p.s., and the slowest shot went 480 f.p.s.; there was a variance by 31 f.p.s. across the entire string. That's a large difference from the tight spread turned in with the lighter Finale Match pellet. It suggests that this pellet may be too heavy for the best performance in the rifle, but there's no way of knowing that for certain without shooting it for accuracy. At just 10 meters, a difference of 31 f.p.s. is probably not enough to show a difference on target.

What does this test show?
This test shows the consistency of the Edge through the entire fill. It does not tell us anything about accuracy or potential accuracy. What we've learned for certain is that the Edge regulator works as intended, and that the rifle has all the shots necessary to shoot a sporter-class match with a generous number of sighters in each position.

What's next?
The next test is accuracy, but there are still some features I need to show you. So, the accuracy report will be expanded a little to cover some things on the trigger and how the action operates. Then, I have a surprise for you that will have to come in a later report.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Doing strange things with airguns

by B.B. Pelletier

Last Friday's report about the short-barreled Crosman 760 hit home with Josh Ungier, who called me with several strange uses for airguns he has heard from his customers over the years. Some of them won't sound that strange to many of you, which is a strong indication that Jeff Foxworthy might label you as rednecks.

I thought that today I would pass along Josh's stories, and add a few of my own.

New holes in belts
I am at the forefront of the redneck parade, having discovered the use of a pellet rifle to punch new holes in a leather belt when you are on a diet. Use a .177 rifle and shoot a wadcutter pellet if you can. Lay the belt on a two by four, unless you use a .177-caliber AirForce Condor, in which case use two two by fours, one on top of the other, to stop the pellet. Actually all it takes is a rifle that delivers at least 800 f.p.s. to punch clean new holes in leather belts. Centering the hole is the most difficult part.

Cleaning house
This one comes from Josh. A lady in Iowa camped out several nights in her attic with a new Crosman 1077AS Combo. She complained that squirrels chewed through a TV cable on the outside of their house, then set up housekeeping in their attic. Their nest was in an area impossible to reach, which anyone who has ever owned an attic should be familiar with. Before the Crosman arrived, her husband had taken it upon himself to "correct" the problem. However, his shotgun solution proved to be overkill in the confined space of the attic. After removing ricocheting bird shot from his scalp and forehead and replacing a bunch of insulation and shingles, they purchased the Crosman and got serious. They buried (or ate) a bunch of squirrels and are now living happily ever after.

A cautionary tail
Another story from Josh. "About 6 years ago, we sold a .25 caliber original British Patriot. A few months later, I received a phone call from the gentleman who purchased the rifle. As it turns out, he owns a huge 45-acre junkyard in one of the western states. He was so happy with the rifle he said he needed to share it with me.

'Damn rats! Thousands of rats! At times the yard would swarm with them! I never liked guns! I never owned a gun; but after my dog was attacked and bitten, I needed to do something. My fiend had a .22 Patriot he bought from you years ago. He asked me to try it. After an hour of practice, I could hit everything I shot at. He suggested a .25 caliber for a sure kill. That is when I called you up. I collect the tails of most of the rats I kill. I'm at 1600 and counting.'"

At this point, I have to butt in to comment that killing squirrels in the attic and rats anywhere does not seem like a redneck venture to me. But that's the problem. You see, when you're a redneck, you don't know it. Here's the litmus test. Imagine your story being reported on the NBC Nightly News. Then, the red-neckedness of your actions becomes both clear and obvious. However, just because I said neckedness doesn't mean you have to take your clothes off.

Time for another one.

Flying rats
This one's from Josh:

"Son," the conversation started, "can your rifles shoot 48 feet upwards?"

I detected a very strong southern accent. "Indeed they can," I answered. "What is it that you are shooting at?" I continued.

"Damn sky rats. Pigeons. They crap all over my bells."

"I beg your pardon," I said. "Did you say bells?"

"What did you think I said?" continued the voice with a detectable light smirk. "I do not expose myself in public." He continued laughing, "I have a church in a small parish. We have two bells in a steeple. Over time, pigeons have moved in and started roosting in the bell tower. Ringing the bells does not bother them. They leave during the ringing and then return with a vengeance. There is so much crap on the bells that they have changed their tone.

"Firecrackers did not help. It scared them and they unloaded even more on the bells. My 10/22 made holes in the roof and once in a while called parishioners to worship when I missed the pigeon and hit the bells."

Months later I received a call from this wonderful man. "That 350 magnum is a whopper! No more holes in the roof! No pigeons, either! My son took over the exterminatin'. Thank you."

Here's one of mine. One of our Airgun Letter subscribers used a BB gun to rid his roof of icicles in late winter. He had learned that a pellet rifle was too powerful and would shoot through the aluminum gutters. Since the icicles were always on the roof, every shot was upward and either the gutters or the soffits were always in the shot. He learned to connect with the icicle midway up the shaft, where the vibration from the impact would cause the icicle to shatter near its root. It took several hits to do the trick with these monsters most of the time, but he found he could trim those killer four-foot spears back to about a foot this way, and no more holes in his gutters.

Post time
Here's another one from Josh. A guy in California has a very steep driveway over 140 feet long. Too lazy to walk the distance to get the papers or the mail, he rigged up a motorized mail/newspaper box. A small electric motor is attached to a pole at the end of the driveway. A small pulley is attached to the post and driven by the motor. From the pulley, a thin nylon cable stretches back to another pulley outside a window on the house. The mailbox/newspaper box therefore hangs suspended from a cable at the end of the driveway.

Attached to the motor is a two-inch steel plate. When a pellet hits the steel plate, it starts the motor and the mail gets delivered to his window without him going outside. He uses an Air Arms S410 in .22 caliber with a 3-12x44 Leapers SWAT scope. My hat's off to his shooting, but, man, take a walk on the wild side...once in a while!

Thanks, Josh. I would add that there is a new invention called a switch that could also activate the electric motor, but, as we all realize, where's the fun in that?

About 15 years ago, a policeman from Honolulu told me the airlines there use pellet rifles to remove egrets nesting inside the hangars. It seems that when they nest indoors, they poop on the airplanes and their excrement is very acidic. It eats through the paint and eventually through the metal on the planes, causing tens of thousands of dollars in damage every year. The pellet guns are very effective, yet they don't penetrate the roof of the hangars, which makes them the best choice for this job.

I asked him whether egrets are a protected species in Hawaii, and he dodged the answer with, "Who cares? When the wings fall off an airliner nobody wants to count egrets!" I guess that was also NASA's opinion when they removed the woodpeckers from the sides of their launch vehicles sitting on the pad.

By the way, the reason this policeman knew the story of the egrets was that he was one of the shooters. He said, "Outside the hangar, the egrets were fine. Inside they were endangered."

Well that's it for unusual airgun stories today. Perhaps some of you readers have some more stories to share with us!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Healthways Plainsman BB gun - Part 3

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2

Before I begin today's report, I neglected to show pictures of our cats on Christmas. So, here they are...the Gaylord feline herd.

Punky is a recent addition to the herd. He was living outdoors under the neighbor's car until we invited him to join us and win the kitty lottery. He's a tuxedo cat, though he doesn't act snooty. He's the real puppy dog of the house--demanding attention and petting all the time.

Dale Evans was our first new kitty in Texas. She is a feisty calico who rules the house.

We got Roy Rogers as a kitten to be Dale's playmate. Now, he's a 25-lb. Baby Huey with the voice of a kitten in the mass of a bobcat. He's very shy and only Mirfee Ungier, Josh's wife, has ever been able to pet him on the first attempt, though Wacky Wayne got to meet him this fall.

When they were younger and Roy was smaller, both cats often posed for pornographic photos. We were about to make a calendar when they both got scruples and started behaving in public.

Now, on to today's report.

Healthways Plainsman is a very comfortable air pistol. It has a light, smooth trigger.

Well, it's been a while since I last reported on this pistol. November 5th it was--Guy Fawkes Day, for out British readers. For the rest of you, look up the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. How appropriate!

The last time I had the Plainsman in my hands, I was doing velocity testing for you with a gun that had a fast leak. Still, on low power, it got an average of 385 f.p.s., which is not too shabby. On medium power, it got 415 f.p.s.; and on high power, it went an average of 437. So, this big pistol can really cook when it wants to. And, even on low power, there's plenty of velocity for a lot of good shooting.

However, it had the aforementioned fast leak, and this is the real crux of today's story. For the 50-odd years I've been shooting airguns, and the past 15 during which I've been an active airgun writer, there hasn't been anyone in the United States who fixed this gun. Or, if there was, they were ensconced in the Witness Protection Program and known only to their neighbors in Wyoming.

So, all of you who wisely waited until 2009 to get into airgunning have avoided a lot of downtime if the Plainsman BB gun was the object of your desire. Because now there's a fixer. Doug Vorenkamp out in Washington State fixes these guns and has earned a spot on my growing list of valuable airgun repair stations that really do fix airguns and aren't just dabbling. Contact him at or call him at 360-656-5123.

Doug told me originally that he would have to convert my gun from the 8-gram CO2 cartridges it used to the more plentiful 12-gram cartridges because he was unable to get the right o-rings for the original valve. He did replace the original valve with a new one, but left the cartridge size as it was, so I still use the smaller cartridges.

There was a Healthways Plainsman 12-gram adapter that came out in the 1960s, but my '50s-vintage gun didn't have it. Those guns that had it could use both sizes of CO2 cartridges. I'm glad to be running with the smaller cartridge, because that keeps me sympathetic to all those who have to use them. It just means that I can't buy CO2 for this gun at Wal-Mart. I order it from Pyramyd Air.

What I want to find out today is how well the gun works after Doug's been inside. Let's get right to it, shall we? First, I'll test the pistol's velocity on low, medium and high power with Daisy BBs.

Low power
Well, low power really IS low power this time! After Doug's rebuild, the gun averages 268 f.p.s. on low power, which is not too far from what I estimated it would be based on the advertised number of shots per cartridge (100 on low). The spread went from 257 to 276, which if you read Part 2 is about what I estimated it to be. This is not bad. Doug has simply returned the gun to where it was when it came from the factory. It gives medium power and high power somewhere to go.

Medium power
The gun averaged 377 f.p.s. on medium power, so now there really is a significant difference over low power. The spread went from 362 to 395, though I did notice a cooling effect if I shot faster than one shot every 15 seconds. That was in a room at 79 degrees F.

High power
High power averaged 435 f.p.s., with a spread from 426 to a high of 456. Another significant power increase. The gun now has a real personality on each of the power settings. You'll note that high power now is right where it was on the original valve before the work was done. So, nothing was lost on the overhaul. In fact, a whole lot was gained because now the total number of shots on low power will be close to the 100 advertised. I shot about 55-60 in this test, because many failed to register on the chronograph. And I'm still grateful for my Christmas present of the Chrony printer, because now all I have to do is shoot.

But this test isn't over until I test the gun with Daisy Avanti Precision Ground Shot. Now that we know how that shot boosts the velocity, it has become a part of every BB gun test. On low, the average is 262 f.p.s., so not much difference. The spread was tighter, though, running from 259 to 265. On medium power, the average was 370 f.p.s., with another tight spread from 367 to 375. Once again, not much difference from the standard BBs. On high power, the average was 445 f.p.s., with a spread from 441 to 449. So, again, no real increase; just tighter spreads. Maybe the accuracy testing will show a real difference between the two BBs.

I have to pronounce the Vorenkamp overhaul a success, and we're now on track for the accuracy test.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas + an unusual Crosman 760

by B.B. Pelletier

For all who celebrate the birth of Jesus, Merry Christmas. For everyone else, happy Friday. You know I like to give you something interesting to talk about on Fridays, and today will be no exception. This airgun was literally thrust upon me at the Roanoke airgun show this year. I was charged with telling the tale of a strange and interesting airgun that was modified to do a special job.

Modified airguns are no big deal. You see them all the time. Perhaps the most modified guns of all are the ones from Crosman and from their two subsidiary brands, Benjamin and Sheridan. Not only is there a red-hot aftermarket of tuners, customizers and boutique parts sellers, Crosman also operates a custom shop and sells parts to the public for just this reason. So, encountering a customized Crosman, Benjamin or Sheridan isn't that unusual.

This 760 has been modified by cutting off the barrel.

What's unusual is to find a gun that's been modified for use by a government--local, state or federal. Oh, they exist, too, but they're not exactly selling on craigslist. Whether it's an AirForce Talon SS used by the USDA to kill nutria in Oregon or a Career 707 .22 repeater used by NASA to keep woodpeckers from poking holes in spacecraft insulation when they're on the pad for launch, these guns do exist, but as you can imagine, are not publicized in the literature.

What I have to show you today, however, is different. It's a stock pneumatic that someone deliberately cut down for reasons I cannot determine. And from the markings that tell us the most about the gun, it may not be the only one.

The subject gun is a Crosman 760 Pumpmaster, which is a standard gun and rarely worthy of special interest. This model is an older one, a single-shot with wood on both the butt and pump/forearm. We know it was probably made between 1966 and 1970 and is considered a first variation of the model. That triples the value, according to the Blue Book, which gets it up close to $100 in 100 percent condition. In truth, a standard 760 first variation would bring a little more than that, but I am going by the Blue Book entry.

However, this isn't a standard gun. The smoothbore (confirmed by me) barrel has been cut back to 12 inches, leaving just enough room for the pump handle anchor to remain--unaltered. The carbine that was an adaptation of the Crosman 130 pistol has been castrated back to pistol power by virtue of a shortened barrel. If you're a new reader, a shortened barrel reduces the power that a pneumatic can attain.

It would be easy to criticize the gun for the shorter barrel, but the information engraved on the right side of the receiver indicates that this gun was once the property of the Oconee County, South Carolina, Game Control Department. It also has the number .37 engraved on the side of the gun. That appears to be a rack number or a property number, which is why I made the assumption that there could be other airguns just like it. However, the decimal before the number may mean that it's something else.

The markings are what make the gun the curiosity it is.

Whoever shortened the barrel did a workmanlike job. Good enough work that Crosman could have done it themselves. Then, they replaced the sight, which is a plastic blade on a ramp. There are sights front and rear, so there was some semblance of shooting to hit a mark. Smoothbore 760s are not that accurate, and short-barreled pneumatics would have very little in the way of muzzle energy. I think it's safe to assume that this gun was not meant to kill anything. In fact, it's almost as if they were trying to reduce the velocity to as low as it would go, and of course the multi-pump design would help with that, as well.

I'm guessing that this gun was used to motivate larger animals. Like an extended cattle prod, the game officer could put in three pumps and whack the errant bull in the butt without breaking the skin. These were the 1970s, and little was known about the relative power of airguns, but it's a cinch they knew that this one was not lethal or humane.

But 37 of the same gun for one county? Somebody, please tell me what's up with that? That number must mean something else.

I must be wrong about the gun. Maybe it was used to anger hornets or wild bees, but duh! And 37 of them?

Maybe the rack number was just a serial applied to all guns owned by the county and this was just No. 37. No. 36 might have been a Remington Gamemaster in .30-06.

Is it obvious that I'm grasping at straws? I'd like to hear your thoughts.

Exactly how fast it shoots, I can't say because the mechanism isn't working. And the owner doesn't care whether it shoots or not. Besides, breaking it down for repairs would probably mark up the near-perfect finish. If I had to guess, I'd say it probably pops out a pellet at 400 f.p.s and a BB a little faster. Sort of like returning to its 130 roots.

The gun's owner doesn't want to sell it. It's probably not worth a lot, but there's a certain oddity value in a gun like this, and this one has a bucket of it. Things like this appear at airgun shows all the time, where collectors of the odd and eclectic are glad to acquire them.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

AirForce Edge - Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Announcement: The first shipment of AirForce Edge rifles has arrived at Pyramyd Air!

Part 1

AirForce Edge is available in red and blue.

Today, we'll continue our look at the AirForce Edge 10-meter target rifle. Normally, the second report is dedicated to velocity testing, but today I'm going to finish the special features in our look through the gun.

In the 10-meter world, guns come in vibrant colors. It's one thing that sets 10-meter shooters apart from most other shooting sports. Daisy has even added color to the dies in their laminated stocks on the 853 in recognition of this trend. So, AirForce decided to join the fun and offer colors. The rifle I'm testing is red, but on the Pyramyd Air website, the rifle shown is blue. At this time, those are the only two colors offered, but I wouldn't be surprised if they came out with others before too long. Right now, they're pushing production to fill all their backorders. When they catch up with those, they'll have some time to play a bit.

Sealing and inspection of the rifle--a story within the story
What follows isn't a feature of the gun, but it's germane to the Edge story. In fact, it runs parallel to the experience Crosman had when they first set up their PCP production lines for the Benjamin Discovery and the Benjamin Marauder, so it's worth knowing. The Edge is a different rifle for AirForce. Until now, they've had the luxury of one of the largest air reservoirs on the market. Their 490cc air reservoir, which also serves as their butt, holds so much air that even with the powerful Condor there was air to spare. Not so with the Edge, though.

You may never have noticed, but the air reservoir of the AirForce rifles has always been a scuba dive tank. It's stamped with the information found on all dive tanks, and more importantly it's 100 percent tested and certificated for diving. The fact that AirForce uses it as their gun reservoir does not take away from the rigor each tank must go through and pass. That tank is a costly part of the gun--VERY costly!

The Edge had to be priced right (read that as cheap) to satisfy the sporter class shooter, as well as the youth clubs that want to buy several guns for their teams. While many people are criticizing the cost of the new gun, they don't realize the hoops AirForce is jumping through to hold the cost down. I'm sure Crosman is running up against this with their new Challenger PCP, as well.

One way to trim some cost was to make the reservoir in-house rather than buying those expensive dive tanks. That also allowed the length of the stock to be shorter, which was necessary for a sporter rifle. However, the reservoir has to be made of material that meets known strength specifications, and that means it not only has to be made from the right materials, but also it has to have a certain minimum wall thickness. So, the available volume for the compressed air was quite small--about what would be found in a conventional 10-meter air pistol.

For that reason, an air regulator was required, to stretch the use of the limited air that was available. That regulator had to be designed, tested and to pass through several design stages before passing through to the production gun. If you're interested in why the Edge took so long to come to market, the regulator was a large part of it. I'll test my Edge with several target pellets for you, and I'll test at least one full string to see how many total good shots are on a fill. The goal AirForce set for the gun was 100 good shots, which gives them a match plus sighter shots in each position.

Because of the design, there was no huge air supply to draw on in order to get those 100 good shots, so the Edge had to be super-sealed to make the most of what little air there was. A lot of time went into the selection of seals and o-rings and also in the shaping of sealing surfaces and o-ring seats. More of the development time that prolonged the development.

Each regulator also has to be set by hand before it's installed in a gun. When I worked at AirForce several years ago, one of my jobs was testing every valve that went into the guns. That was done after the valve was assembled, and the procedure not only tested the valve against leaks but it also seated the valve against its seat for a perfect seal. That work still has to be done with the Edge, of course. Setting the regulator is a new requirement on top of that. So, there's extra testing and extra complexity in this rifle.

One last comment before I return to the rifle's features. Do you remember that I showed you the positive bolt lock on the Edge bolt raceway in Part 1? Well, that lock plays into the overall sealing of the rifle upon firing. It brings the bolt back over the top hat, so the small o-ring inside the bolt can seal the air from escaping. With all sporting rifles, there's a puff of air that escapes the breech. On some guns that bury their actions deep in wooden stocks, this puff cannot be felt. Others like the AirForce guns are exposed and it's easy to feel. You won't feel it with the Edge, though. All the air goes out the barrel behind the pellet.

Like all AirForce rifles, the butt removes, however it cannot be filled from the front like the other AirForce rifles. A Foster male quick-disconnect fitting on the back end of the butt allows the gun to be filled without removing anything. Disassembly simply makes the rifle smaller for easier transport.

The butt comes off for easier transport.

Quick-disconnect Foster fitting on the butt means the rifle can stay assembled during filling.

Weight and see
One thing John McCaslin noticed when he visited sporter matches was that the guns were coated with lead weights. Stuck on with tape and glue, there were lead weights everywhere on some guns. They are allowed to add weight up to the limit of 7.5 lbs.

The basic Edge without weights weighs 6.15 lbs., so almost 1.5 lbs. of additional weight can be added. What McCaslin did was create a weight plate that's fitted to the shape of the gun and held in place with a large rubber o-ring. These plates are added as required and can go anywhere along the long axis of the rifle. Though my picture doesn't show it, they can even be bolted to the butt. They go on and come off quickly.

These optional weight plates fit on the Edge frame and are held in place by large rubber o-rings.

The weight plates slide along the frame from muzzle to forearm.

The forearm, which has an accessory rail built in the bottom, slides along the frame from the receiver to almost the muzzle. Most shooters will want it in close so they can triangulate the hold and offset the weight.

Well, that completes our cursory look at the Edge's features. Next time, we'll test the velocity.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Daisy 25 dating information - Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

Most of you don't know this, but I receive many questions and comments on the older blogs. One of them, the one about the Daisy No. 25 pump-action BB gun, is particularly active, and the questions are almost always the same. They want to know which version of the gun they have. So, today I'm going to explain a few of the visual cues that are used to refine the dates of these guns. This will give me a page to which I can refer people in the future. With the comments we've had recently about the 25 versus the Red Ryder, I know this will appeal to more than just the hard-core collectors.

Even though this report will not be exhaustive, it will take more than one part to complete. I discovered that as I photographed the first several features and realized what I'd bitten off. Believe me, this will be a lot more informative than counting the grooves on the pump handle, which is about all we knew to do 20 years ago.

When I began collecting 25s, not a lot was known about them, or at least not a lot was written about them. A man by the name John Steed set about documenting 25s and all their characteristics in the mid 1990s, and he published a small booklet of facts so dry they will put most non-collectors to sleep. I base most of what I say on John's work, but I also know that anything I state with certainty today can be overturned tomorrow. I'm giving you the best data I have, but we're still learning about Daisys.

Also, you have to bear in mind that Daisy never threw away anything. After they made changes to a design, they would continue to use the old parts until they ran out. And, if a box of old parts was found a year later, there's a good chance they found their way into the production cycle. So, we must be careful not to invent a new type of variation on the evidence of one gun. John Steed knew that, and I want you to keep it in mind, as well.

Daisy began making the No. 25 pump gun officially in 1914, but production really began in 1913--or at least that's what my information tells me. The first variation was finished in fragile black nickel over silver nickel. The first gun is sometimes called a 1913 variation, though I just told you that was a year before Daisy officially began production.

The first gun has a couple characteristics that went away very soon after production began. By 1915, all these features had changed into something else. The black nickel went fast, as it was not a rugged finish. They still plated their guns with silver nickel, but a hot bath blue was the preferred finish, staring in 1914.

The front sight on this 1913 version of the No. 25 is adjustable from side to side. You can see how it slides, yet the metal is so tight that the blade doesn't move once it's in place. It's a sort of reverse dovetail. This feature went away by 1916.

This front sight is on a very early short-throw lever No. 25. It was certainly made by 1927. The sight is spot-welded on the tube, as it would be for the remainder of the production run through 1986.

While the adjustable front sight is a good indicator of an early No. 25, the next feature is even more discriminating. Back in 1914, Daisy was not able to fold the outer tube of any of their BB guns sufficiently airtight so the compression chamber was sealed. They soft-soldered a metal patch to the underside of the gun. The patch runs from the beginning to the end of the compression chamber, including the spring tube that's always behind the piston.

The raised piece of metal under the pump handle guide rod is a soldered patch that denotes an early gun.

The patch looks like this where the barrel meets the receiver.

In 1915, Daisy perfected the sheetmetal fold, and they dropped the labor-intensive solder patch. Any gun that doesn't have the patch is a late 1915 or newer gun. If it has the patch, it can't be any newer than 1915. But the black nickel finish went away in late 1914/early 1915; so together with the patch, the two point to a very early No. 25.

When Daisy learned how to fold metal and retain an airtight seal, the barrel patch was eliminated. This happened in 1915.

Long and short throw levers
In the beginning, the No. 25 pump lever reached out to within about six inches of the muzzle. As I have mentioned in the Red Ryder report, all BB guns of this era had significantly stronger mainsprings than they do today. Some younger kids had difficulty pumping the gun because of this, so in 1927, Daisy introduced what's called the long-throw lever. The pump handle reaches out to within four inches of the muzzle, supposedly giving more leverage for cocking. I can't feel a difference, but I'm an adult and my guns are all well broken-in by now. However, the length of the lever throw helps to date the gun.

This is the short-throw lever, made in 1927 and before.

This is the long-throw lever, made in 1927 and after. Notice that there are still five grooves on the pump handle.

Reinforcing rib
I told you this was going to be detailed. John Steed actually discovered this feature, to the best of my knowledge. The earliest guns did not have a reinforcing rib on the pump linkage, but in 1915 it was added. This feature, coupled with the solder patch and the black nickel finish, is one more proof of a real first variation No. 25.

The earliest pumps did not have a reinforcing rib punched into the sheetmetal pump linkage.

The reinforcement is obvious on the guns that have it. Guns without it were made in 1915 and earlier.

Wow, what a load of stuff. There's more, too, so stay tuned for Part 2.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Colt Defender BB pistol - Parts 2&3

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

In Part 1, we looked at the features of the new Colt Defender BB pistol. Today, we're going to look at both the velocity and the accuracy, as promised.

After my recent education by blog reader BG_Farmer about the difference in performance between standard Daisy BBs and the Daisy Avanti Precision Ground Shot, you can bet that I tried them both in this pistol. And I'm glad I did, because there was a difference.

Daisy Standard BBs
The first to be tried were the Daisy standard BBs. Thanks to a wonderful early Christmas gift of a Shooting Chrony Ballistic Printer, I didn't have to record the velocities manually. The average velocity in a 74-deg. room was 442 f.p.s., which is 2 f.p.s. better than the stated velocity. The range went from a low of 436 f.p.s. to a high of 448. If I waited more than a minute between shots, the velocity was always above the mean. But shooting every 10 seconds dropped it below very quickly. CO2 cools the gun and drops velocity--something we all knew, and I demonstrated once more.

The gun seems to deliver between 60 and 75 shots per CO2 cartridge. The number depends on how rapidly you fire, as a cooler gun exhausts more gas, and also how slow you are willing to go before changing cartridges. That's something each shooter has to select for himself.

Daisy Avanti Precision Ground Shot
As it did for the Red Ryder, the Precision Ground Shot raised the velocity noticeably. The average was 458 f.p.s. with a low of 449 and a high of 463. So call it a 16 f.p.s. increase. Pretty significant for this level of power, don't you think? Don't read anything into the total spread being larger, because I waited longer on every shot this time. So, the tests were not the same.

After these tests, I went to my 5-yard indoor range to see what impact the gun would have on paper. I must remind you that this is a double-action only gun, so the extra precision of manually cocking the hammer is not available. You have to aim during a heavy trigger-pull that I would estimate at 10-12 lbs.

I have to comment on the safety. It's on the right side of the pistol and I found it fully accessible to my trigger finger. It must be pushed in before sliding back and forth, but it's easy to do. A nice touch!

The first target was unimpressive, but I have to admit that I wasn't really trying. So for the next target, I did try to squeeze off every shot with as much precision as that heavy trigger allows.

This doesn't look like a great five-meter group but for the fact that it was shot with a heavy double-action pull. The high and low shots were not called flyers. The hold was one-hand with the sights at 6 o'clock. Shot with Daisy Precision Ground Shot.

I'm impressed with the accuracy seen on the 10-shot target. For a double-action-only trigger, that's pretty good for me. It will certainly be on a pop can at the same range.

I also tried the standard Daisy BBs, but the group was the size of the one with Precision Ground Shot when I didn't concentrate. Clearly, this pistol likes Precision Ground Shot.

I must admit the pistol is more accurate than I was prepared to believe. The moving barrel that serves as a hammer apparently has little or no affect on accuracy.

The bottom line is that the Colt Defender is a very good action BB pistol. Remember that its DAO and that the sights do not adjust. If you like 1911 styling and feel, this is a good one.

Monday, December 21, 2009

AirForce Edge - Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

Before I start, let me tell you about two new articles on Pyramyd Air's site. The first one is about Pyramyd Air's tenth anniversary of selling online. It also shows some of their early web pages. I wrote the second article, which is about the open house they hosted after moving into their new warehouse and took some video of their entire operation.

AirForce Edge has arrived!

How long have we all awaited the report of the AirForce Edge sporter class 10-meter target rifle? So long that I won't dwell on it. The gun is now shipping, and I've been testing it for a month, so let's see what we have.

I remember a conversation about 10-meter rifles I had in early 2003 with AirForce owner John McCaslin. We were in a Ft. Worth watering hole discussing my coming to AirForce as the technical director, and the subject of the future of the company came up. John said he might some day make a 10-meter rifle. Though the Talon and Talon SS rifles were his only two models at the time, he reckoned as how it should be relatively easy to decrease the airflow and make a 10-meter target rifle.

A couple years later, all the airgun manufacturers in the world heard at the NRA Airgun Breakfast at the 2005 SHOT Show that the NRA-sanctioned airgun clubs ran 750,000 to one million kids through their competitive programs each year. They said they had more than 77,000 clubs with over 45,000 NRA-certified firearms instructors involved in teaching those kids. At that time, those were more CLUBS than we knew existed. In fact, we only knew about 30,000 active airgunners in the U.S., so those clubs were more numerous than the SHOOTERS we knew about! About 80 owners and presidents of airgun making companies from all over the world turned to look at each other when that little gem was dropped. Up to that point, only Daisy and Crosman knew about the sheer volume of the sporter class of 10-meter shooting.

One year later, Air Arms showed up at the 2006 Airgun Breakfast with what they hoped would become a new sporter class 10-meter rifle. They actually displayed their prototypes at the breakfast for every airgun maker from Deiter Anschutz to Hans Weihrauch to see. The gauntlet had been dropped!

But Air Arms never reckoned with the NRA and CMP boards of governors, who, upon seeing a fully ergonomic target rifle that was going to be offered to their kids for the first time, withdrew behind closed doors, where they said something like, "Holy cow! Did you see that rifle? We can't let that happen! It looks nothing like a Daisy 853. It's too good. Oh, my! What will we do?

What they did was retreat behind vague "regulations" about the types of rifles that are permissible in the sporter class. Adjustable cheekpieces are not allowed. Butt hooks are not allowed. In the NRA-sanctioned matches, the butt plate height can be adjusted, but not in CMP-sanctioned matches.

Hold yer horses!
I know I've got you all screaming, "Unfair!" by this point. But listen to their rationale before you judge them. The sporter class was created years ago to get the maximum number of kids into shooting. The sporter class is a rough cut of the rules from the old 3-position NRA smallbore competition, but using airguns instead of .22 rimfires. With airguns, any church meeting room or town hall or middle-school cafegymatorium becomes a safe shooting range for three hours every Tuesday evening from 6 to 9.

The founders of the sport envisioned millions of kids picking up a Daisy 880 and competing. Yes, I'm not kidding--an 880. The 853 didn't exist yet and they weren't thinking of it when they founded the class. As recently as 15 years ago, I heard several of the founders of the sporter class still talking about 880s, as if they were still possible. Their rationale was this—if the cost of the gun is kept as low as possible, the maximum number of kids will be able to compete. That's a noble sentiment, and one worthy of consideration, but it will never happen because something nobody could imagine happened instead.

The sporter-class founders were focused on 12-14-year-old boys and girls learning to shoot. They never envisioned for a moment that two young parents would bring their 8-year-old waif of a daughter, Kay Lyn to the shooting club for tryouts. Why would they? Neither one of the parents is a shooter, so it never dawned on them that when a 50-lb. girl tries to heft a 7-lb. rifle, it's like asking a 200-lb. adult man to shoot offhand with a 28-lb. rifle! And, if the cocking effort of that single-stroke Daisy 853 rifle is 20 lbs., you're asking her to do the equivalent of the man pumping 80 pounds. Try doing that 60 times in a match--20 of them lying flat on the floor!

So, the best intentions of the founders of the sporter class were somewhat overwhelmed by the success of the venture. Everybody wanted to try it. And there's another dynamic at work. These kids learn fast! In their first year, many of them commit to memory the basics of rifle marksmanship. So, along comes year two and, lo and behold, the coach has a couple shooters who are really outstanding. It never fails, because some kids have been looking for this thing their entire brief lives. Those boys on the low side of the physical development curve and the ones who lack the coordination of their peers. They may get picked last for softball, but watch out when they find a sport at which they can excel.

Ditto for little Kay Lyn, who went home crying last year because she was told she was too young (small) to be on the rifle team. Well, she ate her Wheaties, did some free weights and put on 5 lbs. of muscle over the past 12 months. She's now a force to be reckoned with. She'll make this year's team, and, if I am any judge of character, stand back, because she has internalized a lot of driving self-motivation.

These kids will accept and internalize anything they're taught to begin with. But after they've learned to shoot pinholes, they know a good trigger from a bad one the same as you or I. They may not be able to vote or to ruin their lives just yet, but when it comes to shooting they are our equals. Try handing them a rifle that lacks the proper fit or trigger pull or has sights that don't stay in one place. That was something the founders of the sporter class never reckoned on. Their quiet sport that was to teach kids to shoot has become an equipment race, because, unlike the All-American Soap Box Derby, there's more than one maker of target rifles.

Air Arms might have been edged out, but Crosman was already supplying their Challenger 2001 to shooters and clubs. It wasn't as accurate as the 853 and everyone knew it, so what's the harm? With their foot in the door, Crosman brought out the Challenger 2009 and it was accepted. It will hold its own with the 853, plus it has the ergonomics kids discover they want and need. Yes, it's an equipment race, and I don't know how it could be less when equipment is so important to the sport.

And now--the report
Enter AirForce and the Edge. It didn't just happen as a matter of doing business. The gestation period was both long and painful--for AirForce as well as for the world that tried to hold its breath. It turns out that making an airgun work consistently well at slower velocity on less air isn't as easy as it looks. Plus, John McCaslin studied the shooters and learned about their problems. He attended many matches where he observed the shooters and interviewed both them and their coaches about features they wanted to see on their guns.

Basically, the sporter class shooters would all like to shoot a precision class rifle of the type used in the Olympics. They would, and Air Arms tried to give them one, but the sporter class rules don't permit it. They don't specify the cost of the gun, but they do regulate things like trigger-pull, total weight of the rifle, sight radius and several adjustability features. For the past three years, I've had the pleasure of looking over John McCaslin's shoulder as he designed and refined the Edge. He could easily have put several superior features on the gun, except that the rules won't allow them. So, he built the best rifle possible while still staying within the rules.

The regulator
The Edge is a regulated precharged pneumatic target rifle with several features not found on any of its competitors. The regulator, for starters, is unique to this rifle. It's there because AirForce wanted to retain the straight-through valve flow they pioneered on their more powerful sporting rifles. By not making the air turn any corners as it flows from the reservoir to the barrel, they increase the efficiency of the air by a small amount. In the Edge, that small amount is essential, because this rifle is running on the same amount of air that a target air pistol uses. I will test the shot count and velocity for you in great detail in a future report, so you will get to see how the Edge compares to other target rifles in its class. Right now, I'm just hitting the high points.

The sights
The Edge has target aperture sights made in their Ft. Worth plant. In fact, they began selling these sights for other 10-meter rifles last year. I did a three-part report on them for this blog. I was impressed that an American manufacturer could make target sights that could stand up to the European giants and still sell them for one-third the price of their competitors. They made those sights for the Edge, of course, and now we have an American-made target rifle with American-made target sights.

Front sight takes a clear aperture-type insert. FWB inserts work, and AirForce has an optional set of different sizes.

Rear sight is America's only precision rear aperture sight. (I painted this one with light to bring out the details. I used a 60-lumen tactical flashlight wiped through the four-second exposure in less than a quarter-second.)

The trigger
The Edge trigger is a real target-type, two-stage trigger that's adjustable in two ways. The release pressure is controlled by an adjustment screw for adjustment No. 1, but by repositioning the trigger blade lower on the trigger arm, you increase the leverage and that's adjustment No. 2. But that's just the beginning.

The trigger also has a safety! Now, 10-meter rifles usually don't have safeties, so this is a big deal. The safety is part of the cocking bolt's "racetrack" pattern of cuts in the frame. More on that in the future. I'm still not done with trigger features.

This bolt track provides the dry-fire feature, the safety and the breech lock. I'll explain it in a future report.

The Edge trigger has a dry-fire feature, and it's the only sporter class rifle I know of that intentionally has one. When you use it, you can train with the trigger without discharging the rifle. It's possible to cock the Daisy 853 trigger and fire it without pressurizing the gun, so I suppose you could call that a dry-fire trigger, too. It just wasn't designed that way. But the Edge was, and they mean for shooters to train this way.

The cocking bolt
Two things you need to know about the Edge cocking bolt. First, AirForce has gone out of their way to provide a dead-nuts sealed breech for this rifle, because they need every sniff of air that's in the reservoir to get the shot count they want. So, when the bolt is returned to the rear after cocking, the shooter pulls it down into a positive locking notch.

Both the left and right side of the receiver have the bolt cut, so the cocking knob can be switched from one side to the other.

Second, there's an identical racetrack on the left side of the rifle, so in a couple minutes, the Edge becomes a lefty. AirForce cautions not to switch back and forth a lot or you'll loosen the bolt screw; but if you are a southpaw, you have been provided for.

And there's more! A whole LOT more that I'll show as we look at this rifle in the days before us.

The Edge in right profile.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Red Ryder - Parts 2 and 3

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

This is an early (1947) model of the first BB gun that Daisy sold as the Red Ryder.

Well, we're back with our favorite BB gun. Do you know that your comments set a record on part 1? More responses in 24 hours than any other report.

Today, I'll test both accuracy and velocity, and the latter I will do in two ways, one of them quite authentic from the period of this gun.

Velocity first
Private individuals didn't have access to chronographs in the 1950s. A chronograph was a room full of expensive electronic test equipment that had several full-time employees on staff to operate it. And as high-falutin' as it was, it had only one-tenth the accuracy of today's models that you can buy for under $100.

So, we used other things. For BB guns, the standard test medium was a tin can. Not an aluminum can that's eggshell-thin and easy to punch through. I'm talking about a real tin can, which had very little tin in it, because it was made from thin steel plate. The tin was used to solder the joint where the side of the can body was made. Those cans were very tough, so the test was to see if your gun would shoot through one side. We became experts in evaluating the depth of the dents left by BB guns. Powerful guns would tear out a crack at the bottom of the dent, as the metal was starting to part. More powerful guns would tear completely through one side of the can, leaving a long open hole. Of course, safety glasses are a must when shooting at any hard object!

As the power increased even more, the gun started denting the other side of the can, on its way through. A real magnum BB gun, and I can't say that I ever saw one, was supposed to be able to punch through both sides of the can. Can you imagine what was said when Benjamin started advertising their new 3030 BB gun that would shoot through BOTH sides of a five-gallon steel bucket? But I digress.

It matters how close to the can you are when you shoot. I stood 10 feet fback for both shots, but I'm sure I would have put the muzzle next to the can back in the day. It also matters what kind of can you shoot at, and the one I used wasn't anything like the ones we had in the 1950s. They had seams and this one doesn't. It appears lighter than the old cans, but very strong.

I had been conditioning the gun's piston seal ever since the last report by lubing it with oil every couple of days. Before this test, I removed the shot tube and put in 10 drops of 3-in-One oil, then shot the gun a half-dozen times (with BBs, of course). I believe I had the gun shooting at its absolute maximum.

The gun dented the can deeply on the side and not as deep on the bottom. It looks powerful, but not overly so. You may recall that I said I guessed the Red Ryder would be between 325 f.p.s. and 350.

This is a deep dent, but there's no tearing of metal. I'd say this looks like an average BB gun of the 1940s.

This dent is shallower than the one in the side. This is the bottom of the can.

The chronograph says the gun pushes Daisy zinc BBs out the spout at an average velocity of 312 f.p.s. That's just a little slower than predicted. The spread went from 307 to 317, so not much variation.

I found this stuck in the fabric of my BB trap. The plating appears to be coming off. This isn't a common thing, but I found it so interesting that I took this photo.

Joe B. out on Maui asked me to also test the Red Ryder with Daisy Avanti Precision Ground Shot, just for fun and I said I would. I didn't expect to see a difference, but I'm darned if it didn't happen. The average velocity was 320 f.p.s. and it ranged from 313 f.p.s. to 326. That was a surprise to me, and it indicates this shot is a little larger. Thanks for the suggestion, Joe!

On to accuracy
For accuracy, I shot the gun at 5 meters offhand. I used a 6 o'clock hold with a fine bead. That means the tip of the front sight was held down in the rear notch as deep as it goes while still remaining visible.

This is about average accuracy for a BB gun at 16 feet. Remember in Part 1 that I mentioned BB guns usually shoot to one side or the other? Here's a classic illustration. The bull is the size of an American quarter and was shot with 10 Daisy zinc BBs, though it looks like only 8. There are two holes in the black. One is close to nine o'clock inside the bull and the second is on the edge at about 7.

Daisy Avanti Precision Ground Shot was clearly better in the Red Ryder.

There you have it. The Daisy Red Ryder, and a classic one at that. Now I'm ready for Christmas and watching little Ralphie get his Daisy Red Ryder 200-shot range-model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Air Arms S200 Sporter - Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

Air Arms S200 sporter.

Let's look at velocity today. Remember that the Air Arms S200 Sporter is a 12 foot-pound gun, and that's how I'll test it. I'll look at velocity with a couple likely pellets, and I'll test the useful shot string for you. There was a lot of interest in this rifle after the first report, so let's see where today takes us.

Crosman Premier 7.9-grain pellets
It's hard to think of a more classic round for this rifle than the Crosman Premier 7.9-grain pellet. Why shoot the 7.9 and not the 10.5, which is normally chosen for PCPs? Simple. This is a 12 foot-pound gun, which means that it cannot legally exceed 12 foot-pounds with any pellet. That's only for the United Kingdom sales, of course, but when the Brits make a gun for 12 foot-pounds, it follows those rules. Even though it's sold in the U.S., you have to expect it to deliver less than 12 foot-pounds with all pellets. In that power range, you need lighter pellets to get some velocity to flatten your trajectory.

I wanted to show you the power curve of this unregulated gun, so here are the shots that followed a 190-bar fill:


*fastest shot
**slowest shot

I stopped and computed the average speed after shot 32, because I could see the power curve had ended. The start of the string informs me that 190 bar is indeed the correct fill pressure for this rifle. The average velocity for those 32 shots was 779 f.p.s. That works out to an average muzzle energy of 10.62 foot-pounds. From what I read on the internet, that's right on the money.

Why did it not get up to 12 foot-pounds? After all, I said this was a 12 foot-pound rifle. Yes, but 12 foot-pounds is the upper limit the rifle may achieve by law. It won't do that with every pellet. I'll show you what I mean in a moment, but let's look at what happened to the velocities after a few more shots with the same pellet on this same fill.


These additional eight shots show clearly that I stopped recording (at shot 32) right at the point the gun had fallen off the power curve. I just wanted to show that to the new readers, lest they think the gun might get a "second wind."

Now we know something about the performance, which is very important for a precharged rifle. If we are willing to accept a total velocity spread of about 24 f.p.s., then there are about 32 shots per fill. That should be a good spread for 50-yard shooting. If you are just plinking, or shooting at distances of 35 yards and less, there are about 40 shots in a fill with this particular rifle.

Air Arms 8.4-grain domes
Next I tried a string of Air Arms 8.4-grain domes. Although this pellet is a half-grain heavier than the Premier, it is softer, being made of pure lead. It was no surprise, then, when it recorded an average of 787 f.p.s. for 10 shots. That computes to 11.56 foot-pounds-- a heck of a lot closer to that legal 12-foot-pound limit. And the limit is for a single shot from the gun--not for the average, so the fastest shot recorded with this pellet, at 792 f.p.s., generated 11.70 foot-pounds. That's even closer to the limit. The total spread for this pellet was just 10 f.p.s., which is tight, though you need to remember that this was just a 10-shot string.

Over the limit
But the law doesn't stop with medium-weight pellets when testing the power of an airgun. The government examiners have learned, just as you have, that in pneumatics, heavy pellets will usually generate the highest energy. So, what If I tried a 10.6-grain Beeman Kodiak, or it's European equivalent, the H&N Baracuda? The average velocity was 714 f.p.s. with a high of 715. Taking the high and computing the energy, we get a muzzle energy of 12.04 foot-pounds. Ooops, you just broke the law (if you live in the UK and this rifle isn't registered with an FAC). No problem here in the U.S., though.

But I went even further, just to take this to the illogical conclusion. I pulled a 16-grain RWS Ultra from my pellet stock and shot it at a maximum of 580 f.p.s. That works out to 11.95 foot-pounds, so no harm done, there. Of course your rifle is still illegal from the one shot with the Kodiak/Baracuda, so you're still in trouble.

I have used this little explanation to illustrate the thinking behind 12-foot-pound guns. In the UK where many airguns are made, it's no laughing matter, just as silencers are a problem here in the U.S. UK makers are under intense government scrutiny and they have to make every effort to not step over the line and draw attention to themselves.

But none of this has any bearing on the rifle I am reporting about today, because we are considering it for U.S, shooters. I hope, though, that you now have a better understanding of what the 12 foot-pound limit means to you when it applies to pneumatic airguns.

Firing performance
I found the S200's report so loud in my office that I put on hearing protection. I use protection all the time when testing more powerful pneumatics like the Benjamin Katana and such, but this rifle shoots at one-third the power and I thought you needed to know that it isn't quiet.

There is also a noticeable rocket-like push at firing. I think it has to do with the air valve remaining open longer. The light cocking effort reminds me of the weaker hammer spring, and that reminds me that the S200 valve stays open longer. The trigger pull is adjusted to 2 lbs. 4 ozs. and is decently crisp.

Good reason for the removable reservoir
I said in the first report that I saw no reason for the removable reservoir on this model. Well, now that I've filled the rifle a couple times I see a very good reason for taking it off. The Air Arms fill adaptor is so odd and so hard to position correctly that it's much easier to fill the tank when it isn't attached to the gun.

The Air Arms fill adaptor makes the position of the air reservoir very critical, so being able to separate the reservoir from the gun is a plus.

Maybe some of our readers who own S200s will comment on my findings today. I suppose you will want me to experiment with power adjustments, because several of you talked about it last time.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ruger Explorer - Parts 2 & 3

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

How did Ruger's new Explorer perform in testing? Read on.

I'm compressing this report because of Christmas looming next week. Several readers are considering the Ruger Explorer for kids and grandkids, and I want to finish the report for them.

Although I shot for accuracy first and did velocity testing afterward, I will report them in the usual way.

H&N Finale Match Pistol
H&N Finale Match Pistol pellets weigh 7.56 grains, nominally. Being lighter, they go faster than some rifle target pellets that weigh over 8 grains. I shot from a rest at 10 meters. I shot using the open sights on the rifle and each target got 10 pellets.

They averaged 437 f.p.s., with a spread from 420 to 444. However, only two shots went slower than 437 f.p.s. They dragged the average down. Without them the average would have been about 440.

I didn't learn that there might be a problem with the gun's powerplant while shooting these pellets, but when I shot Beeman Bearcubs next, the problem jumped out at me. I will discuss what I did in a moment, but after adjusting the breech seal to sit higher and oiling the piston, both things to fix the "problem" that really wasn't there, the average for H&N Finale Match Pistol pellets climbed to 453 f.p.s. and had a spread of only 7 f.p.s. I think the breech seal may have been marginal in the first test, though not so much that it matters.

Beeman Bearcub
I tested Beeman Bearcub pellets next, and they were all over the place. From a low of 376 f.p.s. to a high of 454 f.p.s. They're what started me thinking that there might be a problem. It seemed that the breech seal might have been marginal. I shimmed it, as Vince instructed us to. The velocity seemed to climb, but it was still erratic, so I oiled the piston seal with two drops of Chamber Lube.

I'm normally the person who cautions against over-oiling a spring-piston airgun, but when they exhibit erratic velocity, sometimes oiling is the right cure. Only this wasn't the time. The velocity was still erratic. So erratic that I didn't bother computing the average velocity. I did, however, return and retest the H&N Finale Match Pistol pellets, and they were both faster and more uniform. The improvement was hardly worth the effort, though. It seems the gun wasn't malfunctioning at all. It just did not like the Beeman Bearcub pellets.

RWS Meisterkugeln Standard
RWS Meisterkugeln Standard pellets go way back in time. I was shooting them in the 1970s. At the time, they were considered one of the best pellets available. In the Explorer, they averaged 426 f.p.s., with a spread from 423 f.p.s. to 430.

So, the Explorer is about where it should be power-wise. Perhaps, this example is on the slow side of average, but that's about all. And the consistency is great for a brand-new spring rifle. Let's take a look at accuracy.

I set up a target at 10 meters, because this is a youth rifle, after all. It'll be used for plinking and target shooting. No one in their right mind would ever shoot it at an animal. We are talking about bouncing pop cans and water bottle caps around the back yard.

First to be tested were the H&N Finale Match Pistol pellets. Once I got the rifle sighted in, I shot a 10-shot group. Shooting a paper target with open sights is a real trip, because you cannot see what you are doing until lots of pellets have passed through the same hole. Well, that's what happened with Finale Match, or pretty close to it.

Ten H&N Finale Match Pistol pellets went into a nice group at 10 meters. The 9-ring, which is just inside the 8-ring, isn't much larger than an American quarter or a one-Euro coin. I see potential here.

Next, I tested the Beeman Bearcubs. If there's a better way to represent the difference in accuracy between average pellets like the Bearcubs and superior pellets like the Finale Match than these two targets, I sure don't know what it is. It is crystal-clear the rifle likes the Finale Match pellets better than the Bearcubs.

Ten Beeman Bearcubs look like a shotgun pattern. Though this group isn't much larger than the group made by the Finale Match Pistol pellets, the dispersion of pellets within the group tells a different story.

RWS Meisterkugeln pellets were next. I didn't expect them to be as good as Finale Match, which shows how little I know. When you see the group you will see that they were the best of all. And not just slightly better, either. No, the Meisterkugeln were demonstrably better than the Finale Match in the Explorer.

That's what I wanted to see! This 10-shot group declares the Explorer to be an accurate youth rifle.

Next time, I might shoot two more groups and watch the Finale Match come out on top of the Meisters. But one thing I don't expect is for the Bearcubs to ever challenge either one of these two target pellets in this rifle.

Firing behavior
The Explorer trigger is two-stage, and stage two is long and creepy. It breaks at 4 lbs., 12 ozs. effort. The automatic safety has to be pushed in before taking the shot. When the rifle fires, there's very little vibration. It's a good, solid feel.

I must note that as short and petite as this rifle is, it was a challenge for me to shoot it off a bench. In the hands of a smaller shooter, this will be a dynamite shooter.

One final observation, is that the barrel is held to the spring tube by a bolt and nut. Many new guns are using pins these days, but not the Explorer. That means you can adjust the barrel tension as the gun wears in, which means a long life.

The bottom line
We've gained another good youth air rifle. And one that sells for a remarkable price. Buy it with confidence this Christmas and for those other important events that will arise in the future.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas gift list 2009 - Part 4

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Today, I'm finishing the gift list. The price limit is lifted, so it's everything above $150.

Please bear in mind that these are my own personal picks--the ones I believe in. You may have a favorite that didn't make this list, for which I am sorry, but these are the guns I believe in. If they're not in stock as of this day, they may not show up on the website. In that case I will not list them.

The prices are going to jump around a lot as you go through this list. Now you understand why.

Air Arms TX200 in .177 caliber. I don't know if the .22 caliber is as nice, but what I DO know is that I've recommended this air rifle to more than 100 people and have never heard a bad thing about it. Once someone had a problem with one new gun, but Pyramyd Air replaced it and the next one was perfect. That's out of more than 100 sales of which I have personal knowledge. Don't read into this recommendation and apply it to anything other than the TX200 in .177 caliber. Beech or walnut stock are the same, except that walnut is both softer and lighter than beech. I have owned both. This is an air rifle for the rest of your life. Adults only.

Let me just get this out of the way now and say that the RWS Diana 54 is the only current spring rifle that I feel to be equivalent to the TX200. Let me qualify that. The TX is built and finished better than the 54, but the 54 has large patches of beautiful checkering, it's completely recoilless and it is as accurate as the TX--if not more accurate. The 54 is a large air rifle, and I would get it in .22 caliber because of the power potential, but .177 is also very nice. Adults only.

Now for my best new air rifle recommendation, the Air Venturi Bronco. I developed this rifle for Pyramyd Air, and in the coming weeks I will blog it thoroughly for you. You will see that the price of $126 places it in the lower price range, but I can't let the year end without it being on my list. I have a lot to tell you about my thinking as I was developing this rifle, but for now I will tease you by saying this--I tried to create an affordable Beeman R7. Another way to look at it is a modern blend of the Diana 27 and the Beeman C1. It's coming from Mexico and who knows how long it will take to clear Customs at the border, so this probably won't be making it here in time for Christmas, but if you get any money gifts this year, you might want to earmark them for one of these. Suited and developed for older youth (12+) and adults. An all-day plinking rifle.

The AirForce Condor is one of the most powerful smallbore air rifles made. It's also quite accurate. You'll need the means to fill the gun, and I recommend the carbon fiber tank listed below. And you do need a scope. My recommendation is for .22 caliber, only. Adults only.

The Benjamin Discovery combo that comes with the hand pump is still the best entry into precharged pneumatic airguns. Everything needed to start shooting comes in one box. And the price is unbeatable. Teens and adults.

Just as the Discovery was the big new gun in 2008, nothing equalled the reception of the new Benjamin Marauder in 2009. If you can get the money and want a PCP, this is the one to get. It will give you pride in America. Teens and adults.

For a delightful gun at a reasonable price, the .22-caliber Benjamin 392 pump and the .177-caliber Benjamin 397 are both classics. Suited to older kids and adults. Get 'em without scopes and learn how to shoot.

For a great affordable gas springer, the Crosman Nitro Piston Short Stroke is the best deal in town. Adults only because of cocking effort.

If you want a traditional looking PCP, the Hammerli Pneuma is hard to beat. It's powerful, accurate and well put together. Teens and adults and don't forget the air supply.

For a breakbarrel spring rifle of moderate power, it's hard to beat the Mendoza RM-200. It's accurate, has a great trigger and yet it's not a blistering magnum rifle. Great in either caliber. Teens and adults.

If you want to try out big bore, the Career Dragon Slayer is a super first gun. It's powerful, yet civilized. Don't forget the air because these rifles really use it. You won't find ammo anywhere but here at Pyramyd Air. Adults.

I know they're expensive guns for their power level, but the Walther lever action Wells Fargo model and scoped version of the standard model are on a closeout special right now. This is the only 1894-style lever action still selling, and this is the best price in years. I love my carbine that I got years ago. Teens and adults.

For a good, inexpensive spring gun, it's hard to beat the RWS Diana 34P. Great piece at a great price. Adults.

Diana makes a great youth rifle too. The RWS Diana Schutze is a rifle that harkens back to the 1980s with its classic styling and accuracy. Suited for children from 12+ to adult.

If you want power in a spring gun for the right price, look no farther than the RWS Diana 48. Get it in .22 for power and .177 for other things, like inexpensive ammo costs. Suited to adults.

For target shooters, the Crosman Challenger 2009 target rifle has to be considered. It has features not found in other guns for sale today, and if bullseye shooting is your game, this is what you want. Kids from 8 and up, depending on the level of physical development (i.e., their size and strength). Buy target pellets.

I know I haven't written about the Edge target rifle yet, but when I do you will find out why it is also on this list. It's totally different from the Crosman Challenger, having different features and certainly a different look. If you are inclined in this direction, let me give you a gentle push. Kids from 8 and up, depending on the level of physical development.

Beeman's Beeman HW 70A is a breakbarrel classic pistol that will give years of trouble-free operation. Like all Weihrauchs these days, it's pricey, but you get what you pay for. Adults.

If you want a pistol to keep for life, consider the Weihrauch HW 75. This single-stroke is incredibly accurate and has a light, crisp trigger. Adjustable sights. The grips are stippled walnut. Adults.

Beeman's P1 is a spring pistol that's been at the top of the air pistol market for over a decade. A great trigger and wonderful accuracy compliment the 1911-style grip. Adjustable sights move your group to the point of aim. Adults.

For target shooters, the Gamo Compact is one of just two recommendations I have. It's a lightweight, inexpensive target-grade pistol. Suited to adults needing a lighter target pistol.

In case you guessed, the IZH 46M is the other target pistol I'm recommending. If you can handle the weight, it's the better target pistol, but 80 percent of shooters today think it's too heavy when held in one hand. This is pretty close to a world-class competition pistol. Adults.

I see there may be a few RWS Diana 5G Magnums remaining in stock somewhere. For the price, it's a wonderful informal plinker and all-around air pistol. Adults.

As far as action pistols go, it's hard to beat the S&W 586 revolver. It's so realistic and right! I like the 6-inch barrel for the extra velocity it offers. Don't forget to buy extra CO2 cartridges when you buy one. Teens and adults.

If you just want to go nuts with a beautiful action pistol, you would be justified in buying a Walther CP88 with walnut grips. Just look at the picture to see what I mean. If it doesn't speak to you, don't buy the gun. Teens and adults.

While I'm not a big fan of full-dressed action pistols, I did grow fond of the Walther Nighthawk while filming the action pistol episode of American Airgunner. It's got a lot of neat stuff. If you like guns like that, this is a very good one. Teens and adults.

The Colt 1911A1 pistol is a favorite of mine. I don't accessorize it and just use the open sights it comes with. I find this gun to be one of the most accurate Umarex action pellet pistols going. Only the S&W 586 and the Magnum Research Desert Eagle are more accurate, in my experience. Teens and adults.

Other stuff
For equipment that you really need but don't give a second thought to after you've acquired it, the 88-cubic-foot carbon fiber air tank ranks at the top of the list. It's as useful as a fine pair of leather boots that have been well broken-in, and it's just as expensive, too. Gripe if you must, but unless you just shoot a Benjamin Discovery, you really need this tank. It fills nine times as many guns as a 3000 psi scuba tank and weighs half as much.

For those who own an AirForce rifle, the AirForce TC1 rifle case is practically a must-have. It can be adjusted to fit all of your gear for traveling, plus it looks so cool. A real dress-up for your Condor! I'll be blogging it in the future.

Well, that's my Christmas list for 2009. I hope it's of some help to those who are buying gifts for airgunners. And don't forget that Pyramyd Air has a different Gift Guide that is much larger than my lists.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Ruger Explorer - Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

First a special announcement. I am told by Pyramyd Air that the Benjamin Marauder coupon restriction has been lifted for now and coupons are allowed. If you want a Marauder, you can now use a coupon and save some money.

Ruger's new Explorer is an exciting new budget-priced youth breakbarrel.

Youth rifles are both scarce and in demand these days. But what is a youth rifle? Well, my definition has a couple criteria. Easy cocking is a big one. I want a youth rifle to cock with 20 lbs. of force or less. That isn't arbitrary. I chose the pumping effort of a Daisy 853, because a lot of kids under 10 shoot them successfully.

Hand-in-hand with easy cocking goes low velocity. A youth rifle is an all-day shooter, not a hunting gun. In .177, it should get somewhere between 475 f.p.s. and 600 f.p.s. Some youth rifles have been made in .22 caliber as well, but the proliferation of chronographs today makes it difficult to sell a pellet rifle that goes only 325-400 f.p.s. at the muzzle.

The next thing a youth rifle has to be is properly proportioned. Here we come to a fork in the road, because some youth rifles are really small, like the Gamo Lady Recon, while others--like the Hammerli 490 Express--are closer to transition guns: sized for older kids and adults, too.

The last attribute everyone expects from a youth airgun is a low price, but that's neither historically accurate nor entirely correct today. In the 1990s, the RWS Diana model 72, which was a youth target rifle, sold for almost $400; and, today, the Beeman R7 goes for about $400. The R7 falls into the class of youth rifles that's also suited to older youth and adults.

Today's rifle, the Ruger Explorer, is the first type of youth air rifle--small, light and inexpensive. It didn't make it to market in time for my Christmas list, but at $66, it's one of the least expensive breakbarrels on the market. And it's small in all other ways. Overall length is just a hair over 37 inches. The pull is 11.75 inches (but the Umarex catalog has it down as 12 inches), so the only way adults will be comfortable shooting it is with their elbows thrown out to the side like 10-meter shooters. Cocking effort is a low 16 lbs., so even the 8-year-olds should be able to do it. In fact, that's the age group I see the gun appealing to--the 8 to 12 group, and those of similar proportions. Even for them, the weight of almost 4.50 lbs. isn't too heavy to carry comfortably for hours at a time.

The Explorer is made from metal and synthetics. The spring tube is steel, the stock is synthetic and the steel barrel is sheathed in synthetic. At the front of the barrel, an enlarged area serves as a muzzlebrake and base for the ramp-and-post front sight. The rear sight is fully adjustable, and both sights incorporate fiberoptics. Though I recommend teaching kids to shoot with open sights first, the Explorer has 11mm dovetail grooves and a scope stop for when that time comes.

The buttstock is a wild skeletonized design with a raised and scalloped comb for a cheekrest. The large cutout also makes this a thumbhole design. The buttpad is molded of the same plastic as the stock and isn't quite as grippy as rubber, but on carpeted floors it seems to do fine.

The non-adjustable trigger is two-stage, and the gun has both an automatic safety and an anti-beartrap device built in. That's great for safety, but you should still teach everyone who handles it to never let go of the muzzle while loading. That's an important lesson to be observed all their lives.

Automatic safety crisply pops out the back of the spring tube every time the rifle is cocked.

The barrel detent is the ball-bearing type, which is usually much smoother than a chisel-type--especially on smaller airguns. Adults and big kids won't find it difficult to break open, but smaller children will probably have to slap the top of the barrel to pop it open.

Ball-bearing detent keeps the barrel closed during firing but is easy to open for cocking.

Yes, of course the rifle is made in China, like most inexpensive airguns these days. That doesn't carry the stigma it once did, however. We've seen Chinese airguns that are very accurate, so the Ruger Explorer will have to stand on its own in the accuracy test, as other Chinese-made airguns before it have done.

Because of the holidays, I'm accelerating the pace for this test, so you can make your buying decision before Christmas. Expect parts 2 and 3 in a combined report later this week.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Red Ryder - Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

Can you believe it? In an airgun blog, I went for almost four years before blogging the Red Ryder. This is an early (1947) model.

Well, here we go. The Red Ryder is the American icon of BB guns, and some would go even farther to include all airguns. Daisy still makes a Red Ryder than can trace its lineage back to the original model made in 1938, but what I am testing for you now is an original. Well, I need to qualify that a little.

The first model Red Ryder was a No. 111 Model 40. There are at least eight major variations of that model, of which mine is No. 5. It has a wood buttstock and a plastic forearm, with no barrel band around the forearm. The steel is blued in the old way, and the gun was definitely made in Plymouth, Michigan, around 1947, which is also the year of my birth. A steel shortage in 1947 forced Daisy to make the cocking lever from aluminum, and it was painted black.

After the No. 111 Model 40 had finished its run, Daisy switched the Red Ryder name over to another model called the 94. That one ran from 1955 until 1962. Then, the model switched again to the 1938. The model 1938A came along in 1978 and was immediately followed by model 1938B in '79. If you buy a Red Ryder today, that's what you'll get.

So, the Red Ryder is a concept rather than a specific design, a lot like a Ford Mustang. The name has stayed the same, but a lot of different models have slid underneath it. Currently, Daisy does their best to preserve the retro look and feel of the BB gun that has been their cash cow for so long.

I've owned this model in the past, as well as model 1938 Red Ryders, and I once owned a model 94 that was in like-new condition. But at the 2009 Roanoke Airgun Expo, I came into possession of a beautiful No. 111 Model 40. In other words, a vintage gun. That's what I'll test for you here. I don't want to be crass and say that it's a "real" Red Ryder, because they're all real. But this one is closer to the model that first came out in 1938.

My Red Ryder is a little different that the rest of the No. 111 model 40s, though, because it came to me as part of an incomplete boxed set called the No. 311 Target Outfit. That outfit included a long model 300 scope, a BB trap, a cork barrel and some other small things. Mine is missing the scope, but it's still a valuable set. The gun still has the hard-to-find rear scope mount that's different from the rear mount found on the Daisy No. 25 pump gun that used the same scope.

Lightning Loader
One cool feature of an older Red Ryder is the Lightning Loader--a tube running under the barrel where BBs are loaded. The No. 111 Model 40 guns were all 1,000-shot models, despite what author Jean Sheperd believed when he wrote his book, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, that inspired the iconic 1983 movie A Christmas Story. He said they were, "...200-shot carbine-action range-model air rifles." He was also wrong about the sundial and compass in the stock; those things belonged on a Buck Jones trombone-action BB gun. But Daisy was so pleased with the publicity from the movie that they released a special edition Christmas Story Red Ryder with those features. And here's a trivia tidbit. Peter Billingsley, who plays Ralphie in the movie, is left-handed, so the gun(s) (there were about six used in the movie) that you see in the movie are all reversed from the guns Daisy made for sale. The compass and sundial are on the other side of the stock. Also, the "copper" bands around the forearms are actually painted. Orin Ribar of Daisy told me they couldn't get the metal plated in time, so he just painted them and it worked.

Turn the muzzle and the Lightning Loader is open.

Shot tube
Another feature of the vintage Red Ryder that's gone from today's BB guns is the shot tube. It still exists, but today it's amalgamated into the overall gun and isn't meant to be removed by the shooter. And there truthfully isn't any reason you would want to remove a modern shot tube. Because modern Red Ryders don't jam. Or at least they jam so infrequently that the shooter doesn't need to think about it. But in the 1950s, jams were more common, because BBs were less round in those days. Then, too, the shot tube had to be removed to oil the piston seal, which had to be done frequently.

Little boys from the 1950s and '60s know what this is, but we don't see shot tubes anymore. They're inside the guns and don't need to come out.

Red Ryder was a mythical western hero who appeared in comic books in the 1930s and later. Daisy licensed certain rights to the Red Ryder character to go with their gun, but even the most insensitive person knows that cowboy is the central theme. So, Daisy put a saddle ring on the left side of the gun and tied a leather thong through it. Mine had the original leather thong on it when I got it, but the leather was so dry-rotted that it crumbled off during handling. It left the saddle ring heavily rusted through years of exposure to tannic acid, and the places closest to the saddle ring on the receiver are the most rusted on the entire gun.

The saddle ring rusted heavily from the acid in the original leather thong. Stalk sticking up from the receiver is the rear mount for a Daisy model 300 scope.

A real Red Ryder from back in the day was considered to be a powerful and desirable BB gun, perhaps second only to the No. 25 pump. It was a status symbol of youth in the 1940s and '50s. If parents had only known! Their $4.50 purchase would propel their offspring from one of the nameless horde to the rank of privileged progeny. It was the youthful equivalent of having an extension phone in the home, in the day when Ma Bell owned everything.

The vintage gun looks robust to contemporary eyes. We would have shunned a plastic forearm in the 1950s, and, indeed, today's Red Ryder has an all-wood stock, but the thought of 1947 plastic is becoming kitchy. It wasn't until the 1967 movie The Graduate that actor Dustin Hoffman learned for all of us that plastic was going to be the great secret of the future, and yet here is a plastic part that was already two decades old.

The bluing runs deep and even by today's standards. Heck, a modern Savage centerfire rifle would have to improve significantly to be as good. The black paint on the cocking lever is chipped and looking scuzzy, but the plastic forearm looks surprisingly fresh. Apparently, it never came in contact with the heat that destroyed these early synthetics so quickly.

Today, we would say this gun is hard to cock, because the mainspring is a vintage one with lots of pepper in the pot. Today's guns are all tuned down with thinner coiled wire mainsprings that don't develop the same velocity as the old ones. Having said that, I expect a good Red Ryder of this vintage to make 325-350 f.p.s. Only the No. 25 went faster, so far as I know, and it's the 13-year-old in me saying that. I've done very little velocity testing on BB guns, other than the No. 25, the Crosman M1 Carbine and the Daisy 499. And my prediction assumes a good leather piston seal, which in this gun is now 63 years old.

I remember back in the day that we worked hard to cock our guns. Watching little Ralphie in A Christmas Story gives the impression that these were fast-shooting guns, but as I recall they took some work to operate. I remember putting the butt between my legs to anchor the gun as I hauled back on the cocking lever.

The sights are fixed, but you could adjust windage by bending the front post with pliers. Most kids just corrected with Kentucky windage, though, because nearly every gun shot to one side or the other. Elevation was handled similarly. You soon developed a good feel for it because you could often see the golden BB in flight.

The Red Ryder logo is stamped into the left side of the wooden butt. On gun versions 1 and 2, the logo is burned into the butt. On gun version 3, it's silkscreened on because of problems with the logo-making machinery. The Blue Book of Airguns isn't clear on this, but it appears that version 5 is the first version to have the logo stamped on. Minor point but, oh, so important to a Red Ryder collector!

Famous Red Ryder logo was found on the butt.

So much has changed in the decades since this gun was new. The tin pop cans we used to test BB-gun power have morphed into thin aluminum cans that most modern BB guns can rip through. I don't have a vintage pop can to use for my velocity test, so I will try to do something else creative for you.

As for accuracy I recall these guns were hard-pressed to keep their shots under two inches at 25 feet. It should prove interesting to see what effect, if any, modern BBs will have in this vintage shooter.

I'll do both of those things in Part 2, which will be the finish to this report. So, if you have any strange cravings to see something out of the ordinary done to Ralphie's Old Blue, now is the time to speak up.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christmas gift list 2009 - Part 3

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2

Today, I'm setting the price bar at $150, so there will be more suggestions. I will organize them by rifles, pistols and other stuff. Remember, these are just MY suggestions. Don't forget the Pyramyd Air Christmas Gift Guide.

We'll start with the Daisy Avanti Champion 499. That mouthful of a name is for the world's most accurate BB gun. Made for kids as young as eight, this is the only gun used at the International BB gun Championships held at Bowling Green, Kentucky, each year. Plenty of adults will like this one, too, as it is super-accurate at the specified distance of 5 meters (16.4 feet). If you buy this gun, also buy the right ammunition and plenty of the official targets.

Staying with youth rifles a moment longer, consider the Hammerli 490 Express. Suitable for kids 10 and older but also loved by adults. It's light, easy to cock but has a hard trigger. Very accurate with most quality pellets.

Another great youth rifle pair are the Gamo Recon and the slightly different Lady Recon, which has a pink stock and open sights. These rifles are light, accurate, easy to cock and a real value. For youth 10 or older but not suited to adults because of the short stocks.

Stepping out of the youth category, we come to the Benjamin 392. It's a .22 multi-pump. If you want it in .177 caliber, get the Benjamin 397. Both are American classic air rifles. Suitable for teens and adults. Use with Crosman Premier pellets in the appropriate caliber (.177 cal and .22 cal).

The Crosman 1077 is a classic CO2 rifle suited to kids from 12 to 100. It's a super value, but don't forget that CO2 is temperature-dependent so this is not a cold-weather gun. Also, buy Crosman pellets and plenty of CO2 cartridges.

The Crosman 2100 is a super value multi-pump pneumatic. Suited to youngsters 12 and older and adults, the 2100 shoots both BBs and pellets. I recommend it for pellets, alone, because of the accuracy potential. Use Crosman pellets.

Crosman's 2260 is the rifle they turned into the famous Benjamin Discovery PCP, so you know it's a winner. A CO2 gun, as well, and in .22 caliber. Shoot it with Crosman Premier pellets or JSB Exact domes. Suited to teens and adults.

Another great multi-pump is the Daisy 22SG. Comes with both a scope and open sights. For the money, you get more than with any other multi-pump. This one is in .22 caliber and is suited to close-range hunting (25 yards and less). Nothing wrong with Daisy's pointed Precision Max pellets. For teens and adults.

For general plinking and all-around fun, the Daisy 953 is hard to beat. Suited to kids 12 and up and adult, the 953 is adult-sized in the stock, so be advised. It's accurate, fun to shoot and not too loud, so it's an indoors rifle, too.

The Gamo Big Cat 1200 is a great entry-level spring rifle for adults. Forget the high-velocity hype and go with proven Crosman Premier 7.9-grain pellets.

I cannot say enough good things about the single-shot IZH 60 rifle or its repeating sibling, the IZH 61. Suited for children 8 and older, all the way up to adults. These are accurate rifles and well-suited to use indoors. They're quiet and relatively low-powered. Real Russian technology. Gamo Match pellets

Another super buy in a breakbarrel springer is Mendoza's RM-200. Available in either .177 or .22, it's light, easy to cock, and has the accuracy you expect from a Mendoza. Suited for teens and adults. Crosman Premiers in either caliber.

Owners rate the Ruger Air Hawk combo very high for value. It's an entry-level breakbarrel suited to teens and adults. Crosman Premiers.

The Daisy Avanti 717 Triumph Match is a great indoor target pistol. It's quiet and easy to pump, plus it's quite accurate. This is for adults who can handle a heavier handgun, because it's quite heavy and intended for a one-hand hold. I recommend Gamo Match pellets.

The Benjamin HB 17 is a multi-pump pistol that's all American. Not terribly accurate or powerful, this pistol is all brass and wood, harkening to a day when things were made to last. It's just a great plinker. Teens and adults. Use Gamo Match pellets.

I can't go past the Benjamin EB 22 CO2 pistol. Another great piece of Americana. I picked this one in .22 because that's the only caliber it comes in and also because CO2 is more powerful in a pistol than air in a multi-pump pistol. Teens and adults. Use Gamo Match pellets.

For action shooters, the Drozd is hard to top. It's semi- and full-auto, but restricted to bursts of 3 or 6 rounds, only. Shoots steel BBs and is powered by CO2 cartridges. Teens to adult; because of the steel BBs, make certain that everyone wears safety glasses.

Got someone who likes action handguns? Get them a Magnum Research Desert Eagle pellet pistol. It's one of the most accurate repeating pellet pistols I have ever tested. Gamo Match pellets and lots of CO2 cartridges, because this one is a gas hog with its real blowback action. Great for shooters with large hands. The grip is enormous!

For BB pistols, consider the SIG Sauer SP2022. It was very accurate in testing. Get CO2 cartridges and steel BBs to go with it. Ages 12 to adult. Wear eye protection.

My absolute top action BB pistol is the Makarov BB pistol. Superior accuracy and lots of shots. Buy lots of CO2 cartridges and BBs. Ages 12 to adult. Use eye protection.

Second only to the Makarov is the Tanfoglio 1911 BB pistol. Another accurate gun. 12 and up. CO2. Steel BBs. Use eye protection.

Other stuff
I've already recommended a chronograph, so the number one "other stuff" item on this list has to be a Heavy Duty metal bullet trap. Your airgunner won't buy it for himself, and he will regard it like sox on Christmas day, but every time he uses it for the rest of his life he will appreciate this thoughtful gift that will never wear out. All ages.

To preserve the domestic tranquility (i.e., peace and quiet) around the house, the Quiet Pellet Trap is superb! With a lot of guns, the sound of the pellet hitting the trap is the loudest sound. This will end that. It's not cheap, but true peace always comes at a price. All ages and this one is suited for steel BBs.

Wanna save a bundle? Buy two Impact Putty packages and let your handy airgunner build his own quiet trap.

Whew! That's quite a list. Hopefully it will be of some help. And don't forget that the earlier parts linked at the start of this report are also good lists to consider.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Colt Defender BB pistol - Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

Well, today's report on the Colt Defender BB pistol dovetails nicely into yesterday's report on concealed carry handguns. Because the Defender is just that--a single-stack, single-action .45 ACP, a variation on the 1911A1 frame that sports a 3-inch barrel. It's Colt's version of the concealed carry 1911s that have been around for 30 years.

Colt Defender BB pistol is compact and solid.

The Defender came to market in 1999, about 20 years after Colt's competition had first marketed their own compact 1911s, starting with the Detonics. But late though it was, the Defender carries the Colt name that adds value to anything it's put on. Even BB guns, like the one I'm looking at today.

Detonics was the first .45 ACP micro 1911 to hit the market 30 years ago.

It comes in a clamshell pack. When I got the gun out, I was surprised by the weight. I handed it to Edith, who had a similar reaction. It's good when a BB gun has some mass, and this one certainly does.The specs say it weighs 1.6 lbs., and in this small a package that makes an impression.

Of course, this pistol is powered by CO2. The cartridge is housed in the grip, but the BB magazine is built right into the frame of the gun! A spring-loaded follower is pushed down out of the way and locked in place at the bottom of the grip. BBs can then be poured into a funnel-like opening in the grip frame, where they're steered into the magazine channel. It's a slick setup, and one that I'm excited to try.

Push the mag release and the grips jump back to reveal where the CO2 cartridge goes.

BB magazine is built into the frame of the pistol.

The gun is dark black and non-reflective. The trigger is not a copy of the Defender trigger because this BB pistol is double-action, while the firearm is single-action. The grip is on the fat side, and the trigger blade is slightly too far forward for my average hands to reach. I can still shoot the gun, but things don't fall within easy reach.

The hammer and most of the controls, such as the safety, are simply cast into the metal frame of the gun. The real safety is a switch mounted on the right side of the frame. The mag release button on the left side releases the grip panels, which can then be pulled back to reveal the CO2 chamber.

The sights are fixed, front and rear, though the designers went out of their way to make the rear sight appear to be adjustable. The front sight has a white dot in the center of the post, but there's nothing that corresponds on the rear sight.

The barrel of the gun is also the hammer. How that works: the barrel moves forward against a spring as the trigger is pulled; upon its release, it jumps back suddenly to whack the firing valve.

Pulling the trigger pushes the barrel forward until it is released to knock open the valve (right).

A light rail is provided beneath the slide and in front of the triggerguard. Enthusiasts can mount a laser they can then adjust to coincide with the impact of the BB.

Power seems to be on the hot side, at a rated 440 f.p.s. That means a lot of bouncebacks, so be sure everybody is wearing safety glasses. I'll count the number of shots per cartridge when I test the velocity.

I'll combine accuracy and velocity testing next time, to speed this report along.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Micro Desert Eagle concealed carry gun - Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

Before we begin, a couple of announcements. First, Pyramyd Air is running a special holiday coupon: 5% off PLUS you can use it with free ground shipping to the lower 48 states...and the free shipping offer is now available for orders over$100 (it used to be over $149.95). The coupon code is Save09. Enter the code during checkout. See coupon details here. That plan will be in effect until the end of this year. Next, don't miss the new Echo Monday specials that change regularly. The specials listed are available for only a short period of time, so you have to jump on anything you want. Echo Mondays are the Mondays that follow Cyber Monday, til Christmas.

Before we begin, I want to tell you guys about another way-cool flashlight. It's called the JOBY Gorillatorch. It stands on an articulated tripod that has super-strong magnets in each of the three feet, so it will cling to any ferrous surface. It puts out 65 lumens in a bright spotlight, but a dimmer switch lets you dial it way back. It runs on 3 AA batteries. I'm already finding uses for it in the office and with gunsmithing chores.

Micro Desert Eagle is an all-metal, pocket-sized .380 ACP.

Those who read this blog know that I shoot firearms and published a long report on how I turned a Taurus PT1911 .45 ACP pistol from an unreliable jammer into a trustworthy sidearm. In that 8-parter, I not only took you to the range as I worked through the Taurus's multiple reliability problems, I also compared it to the performance of a Wilson Combat CQB Light Rail 1911 and a vintage Colt National Match. From all that, you might get the impression that I am a 1911 fan, which is true, and that I seldom shoot anything else, which is not true. While I did make some side money in the 1970s gunsmithing 1911s (i.e., accurizing and doing trigger jobs), my first love has always been the Colt SAA. I've owned more of them and shot more of them than any other handgun, though I currently don't own one.

So, whats my interest in this .380 ACP Micro Desert Eagle, a so-called "mouse gun"? Well, after I got my concealed carry license, I soon discovered that there is a big difference between talking about carrying a concealed weapon and actually doing it. The first gun I tried to carry was my 9mm Makarov, a 100 percent reliable pistol that I absolutely love. It's small, accurate and has very little recoil. But small takes on a new importance when you start carrying a gun. There are varying degrees of small, and sometimes a gun you thought was small just isn't small enough.

I tried toting the Mak in my pants and also in an ankle holster--nothing worked. For me, a Makarov is just too big and heavy to carry, and I was leaving it at home more than I was packing it. That's the kiss of death (literally) for concealed carry, because it turns out that actions and not intentions are what works in the world of self-defense. The biggest super-magnum is of little use if it's at home when you need it.

9mm Makarov is a fine sidearm, but too big to carry concealed comfortably.

So, I went further, which means smaller, and got a Kel Tek 9mm. That's a super-lightweight 9mm semiauto made from synthetics. Mine had a laser built in, so it was doubly cool. The laser is regulated so the bullet goes to the laser point at 25 feet. It was definitely easy to carry. It had relatively low recoil, because the 9mm Luger cartridge is just a hair larger and a hair more powerful than the mouse gun .380 ACP cartridge. And it was pretty accurate--breadbasket groups at 20 feet, which is all I'm looking for.

Kel Tek 9mm is a small, synthetic pocket pistol. This one has a laser built in.

I say I got the gun, but the truth is, it was Edith's carry pistol at first. She carried it and shot it at the indoor range. Because of the low recoil, she found it easy to shoot; but, as tiny as it is, it's a bear to cycle the slide until about 100 rounds had been fired.

There was just one problem. This pistol was super unreliable. It jammed with every magazine. We tried different ammo and nothing worked. Even the hot European ammo jammed. We could have sent the gun in for warranty repairs, but I got fed up with it and traded it away.

Then I carried a vintage Smith & Wesson model 37 Airweight revolver for awhile. It was certainly light enough, and if I loaded the ammo down I could control the recoil, though the little snubbie kicked almost as bad as a full-house .357 Magnum in a medium-frame revolver. And there was one other problem. A defense-caliber revolver isn't as concealable as a pistol. As light as the Smith 37 is, it's still fatter than a 1911, and it shows through clothes sometimes. I didn't spend any time trying to adapt to the 37 because it also held only five rounds. And the muzzle energy of the loaded-down rounds was approximately equal to a .380 ACP fired from a short-barreled pistol.

S&W model 37 Airweight is a light .38 Special revolver. It's too bulky for carry, and it has only five rounds.

I mentioned the term defense caliber. You don't get to pick what you want. In Texas, where my concealed carry license is issued, you must carry a handgun in a caliber larger than .25 Automatic. There are plenty of .22 rimfire defense handguns and even .22 Magnum defense handguns on the market, but they're not legal for concealed carry in Texas. Probably the No. 1 caliber actually carried is .32 ACP, although .380 ACP probably gives it a good run for the money. There are also concealed carry guns that seldom get carried, and for them 9mm is by far the most common caliber. I had tried the only 9mm that is sized small enough to actually carry full-time and found it wanting. And .38 Spl., which is very equivalent, is available only in revolvers.

So, I decided to try the brand-new Micro Desert Eagle from Magnum Research. Don't be put off by the name. This small pocket pistol is no more the Desert Eagle that you know than a Pontiac GTO relates to a Ferrari GTO. In truth, this is a pocket pistol that's slightly smaller than a Walther PPK. It's not much larger than my wallet, and not as thick. It holds six rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber; and since it's a true double-action-only gun, it's ready to go into action at a moment's notice.

Micro Desert Eagle is not much larger than my wallet, and not as thick.

I bought this gun for two main reasons. First, it's all-metal and, after the experience with the Kel Tek, I was fed up with synthetics. Second, you can keep on pulling the trigger and the hammer will continue to function repeatedly. The Kel Teks--and I believe the new Ruger LCP--work only the first time after the slide has been cycled. If the round fails to fire then for any reason, you must manually work the slide again to reset the trigger. That's not a big problem, with modern ammo being as reliable as it is, but I just don't like it.

Ruger's Light Compact Pistol (LCP) is another modern synthetic DAO pocket pistol in .380 ACP.

The Micro Desert Eagle seemed to be the gun for me. I bought one and proceeded to the range, where the gun malfunctioned with every magazine! I was beyond disappointed at this turn of events. I briefly considered selling this gun and buying a Walther PPK, which I felt sure would be reliable. However, after my recent experiences, perhaps not.

And this relates to airguns, how?
Okay, I'm going to pause for a moment and relate this experience to airguns. In my search for the perfect carry gun I was acting like some airgun buyers who franticly search for that mythical gun that will do everything they expect. That rifle that will turn them into a rifleman. I wasn't using good sense. I was reacting and bouncing around without taking the time to consider what was happening. Had I done so I might have kept the Kel Tek after having it repaired under warranty.

I can be like that, believe me! A bull in a china shop who knows what he wants as soon as he sees it, only you'll have to get all these other things out of the way because they're obstructing my vision. In truth, several of the things obstructing my vision are the very things I'm searching for, if I would just slow down long enough to examine them. I think I've made my point.

Back to the report
I decided to slow down and see what the factory could do with my gun. Besides jamming and failing to feed, it was now dropping the magazine with every shot--not a characteristic you'd admire in a defensive weapon!

For once in my life, I did things by the book. I filled out the registration card and sent the pistol to Magnum Research according to their online instructions. I sent it in on Monday. That Friday the gun was back with a letter describing what they had done. They found a burr in the mag release catch that had to be removed. Then they fired 21 rounds of a certain brand of .380 ACP ammo without a failure.

I was doubtful, but a quick trip to the indoor range confirmed these results. The pistol cycled 50 rounds of Winchester .380 ammo flawlessly. I now had a carry gun! In the next report I'll tell you how it shoots and also why I think it's the right carry gun for me.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Air Arms S200 Sporter - Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

Air Arms S200 sporter is based on a target rifle chassis.

The Air Arms S200 Sporter is a rifle readers have been after me to test for years! The sales volume is never very large because of the higher price and also because the S200 is a precharged pneumatic. Until the advent of the Benjamin Discovery in 2008, most shooters were reluctant to try a PCP. But that time has passed, and there's renewed interest in the precharged powerplant. The S200 fits into that by being a sporting rifle based on a former 10-meter CO2 design. This rifle has a trigger that's adjustable for the first and second stages, as well as the position of the trigger blade. I'll adjust it in a later report and tell you how it works.

This .177 rifle is set not to exceed 12 foot-pounds, which is the legal limit for air rifles in the UK. Above that energy they come under legislative controls and must be registered with Firearm Certificates (FAC). Until 2009, most Americans scoffed at 12 foot-pounds, but I see a change in the making. Since the rules for international competition for field target now limit rifles to 12 foot-pounds, as well, there's the beginning of an awakening of interest in this country for airguns with less power. I'm not saying the velocity race is over, and I doubt that it ever will end; but as airgunners get deeper into the sport, they'll start to appreciate guns of limited power. So, the future for 12 foot-pound guns may be brighter.

Before the Discovery came out, the S200 was in the enviable position of being the lowest-priced credible PCP on the market. Many shooters were able to test the waters because this affordable sporter opened the door.

What does 12 foot-pounds mean in .177 caliber? Well, it means a 7.9-grain pellet moving about 825 f.p.s., which isn't too shabby. You could certainly hunt with that, but you can also shoot it out to long range. While filming a field target episode of American Airgunner, we had Ray Apelles and his father, Hans, shoot at a field target that was 102 yards away. The kill zone was 1.5 inches in diameter. Hans was shooting his rifle at 16 foot-pounds, but Ray was shooting at 12. Both men managed to hit the kill zone twice in succession for us. So, don't think that 12 foot-pounds is limiting. Think of it as the power level used by champion shooters.

A short history
The S200 is descended from the Tau 200 CO2 target rifle. I watched the development, and here's how it happened. During the 1990s, some American field target shooters wondered if the Tau 200 could be converted to air to compete with the FWB P70s and other 10-meter rifles that were doing so well. A couple of them converted their rifles with good results. They communicated this over the internet and soon there were UK shooters doing the same. Air Arms, a forward-thinking airgun maker, decided to go straight to the source and have the factory convert the guns to air for them. A new product was born.

The S200 has the lines of a target rifle but the heart of a sporter. Expect accuracy and the best characteristics in a rifle designed for offhand shooting at small targets. However, there are a couple things missing. There's no manometer, for instance. You'll be counting your shots until you learn to discern the hollow sound that indicates the rifle has fallen below its performance curve. The scope base on the receiver is both very short and also divided into three separate sections, making two-piece scope rings an absolute necessity. Some scopes may be very challenging to mount because their tubes do not coincide with where the rings must be positioned. Just a word to the wise to plan ahead.

The receiver has three short scope bases. Two-piece rings will be required, and the scope will have to be selected so the rings can grab one of the short bases.

The rifle is carbine-length, at just 35.25 inches overall. The beech stock is blocky and thick, making the gun feel larger than its length seems to indicate. The rifle weighs about 6 lbs., 3 oz., depending on the density and weight of the wood parts.

The barrel is a whisker longer than 19 inches. It's rifled by hammer-forging with a 12-groove right-hand twist at the rate of one turn in 17.71 inches (450 mm). Hammer-forging is beneficial for two reasons. The manufacturing process is inexpensive once the huge capital investment for the machine is paid, and it turns out a superior product. Only a handmade, hand-lapped barrel will be more uniform. These technical specifications appear in the five-language (Czech, English, German, Spanish and French) owner's manual, along with a complete, illustrated parts list.

Filling the tank requires the odd Air Arms fill adapter we've seen before. The tank also removes from the gun, though that serves no purpose on the sporter model unless you invest in a spare tank. The tank on the target model has a manometer on the end and removal from the gun is required for filling. The fill is 190 bar, or 2,750 psi. During the velocity, test I'll determine how many shots are in a fill.

The rifle has no open sights, nor will it be easy to install a set. Plan on scoping yours out of the box.

One observation I must make right away is how easy this rifle is to cock. The hammer stroke is long with a light spring, so it's very easy to cock. That's fortunate, because the S200 has a short bolt that's a little hard to grasp. Once you have it, though, everything is easy.

I also have to comment that the blocky stock is inviting me to attack it with a rasp. It seems to beg for some owner adjustment in the same way that a wooden block begs to be turned into a Pinewood Derby racer. I won't succumb to the temptation, but you might want to factor it into your plans, should an S200 be in your future.8KAABSC48DEE

Friday, December 04, 2009

Making lemonade

by B.B. Pelletier

Today, I'm going to share with you what happens when things don't work out as planned. You know, all my days aren't sunshine and bluebirds. I had fully intended to do part 4 of the Benjamin Katana test for you today. So yesterday I went over to the AirForce factory, where I can shoot long ranges undisturbed. I set up my MTM shooting bench and proceeded to finish the 50-yard accuracy test--or so I thought.

At first, I couldn't get either the Gamo TS-22 pellets or the Crosman Premiers to group at 50 yards. In fact, I couldn't even keep them on paper! You may recall from the last test that those were the two pellets I said I was going to test for you in the Katana before finishing the report.

I dragged the target in to just 20 yards to see where the rifle was shooting. Lo and behold, I then shot a 7-inch three-shot group with Premiers at 20 yards! End of shooting. End of test. End of good day.

Had this been the first time out with the Katana, I might have thought the rifle was lousy, but this is the same airgun that put 10 Beeman Kodiaks into a group less than six-tenths of an inch in size at 50 yards just last week. Something was wrong, and it probably wasn't the rifle.

Just to be sure, I removed the small, decorative muzzlebrake from the rifle's barrel, though it showed no signs of touching the pellets after they left the muzzle.

I then checked the scope and found that it was tight in the rings, which were tight on the rifle.


This is the same scope that caused me to walk away from the Norica Massimo test a couple weeks ago after I got lousy groups with a scope. You may remember that my open-sight groups with that rifle were MUCH better than after I scoped it.

So what?
Here's what I want to get across in today's report. Sometimes stuff happens, and you have to deal with it. With me doing accuracy testing on a lot of airguns and then publishing the results, the worst thing that can happen is for me to get a scope that cannot hold its zero. It doesn't happen often, but I think it may have happened this time.

I don't care about the scope, but I absolutely cannot be doubting my test equipment. Too much rides on the outcome.

And this is where learning takes place
I've never claimed to be an airgun guru. My claim is that I'm an average guy who shoots a lot; and, through years of experience, I've observed some things that seem to work for me. One of those things is that simple scopes are usually tougher and more reliable than complex scopes.

So, after suffering the loss of a full day at the range, like I did yesterday, I want to make certain that the next trip to the range is not wasted. Simple works better for me, so I will scope the Katana with a dead-simple scope for the return trip. The complex scope that I think may have failed will be set aside until I know the results of the next accuracy test. If the rifle works as I believe it will (i.e., it's accurate at 50 yards), the other scope will be tossed and the accuracy test will be written.

Then, I'll scope the Massimo with the same trusted scope and re-run that test for you.

More so what?
For those who keep score and "just HAVE to know," the scope that MAY have failed is an AGS 8-32X56. It's a nice-looking scope, but I cannot remember when or where I got it. It's not a brand that Pyramyd Air carries, so either it came on a gun I was testing or I got it in a trade.

For the record, I have also broken Leapers, Beeman, RWS, Burris, Bushnell, Tasco and other scopes over the years. So, this isn't a bad reflection on AGS, if it turns out that the scope is broken. It happens.

I'm going to also take a spare scope along to the next test. Regardless of the obstacles in the way, the Katana is going to be shot with a good scope, and I'll finish my report. And that's how I make lemonade. 8KAABSC48DEE

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Christmas gift list 2009 - Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

This series of reports is for those who are airgunners and wonder what to ask for this holiday season and for those who have to buy presents for their airgunners. There are many ways to present this list: by price, by experience, by type of powerplant (spring, pneumatic, CO2, by age, etc. I have decided to present it by price and to include a comment line at the end of each item that lists any special applicability.

In part 1, I listed several items I feel all airgunners eventually need, so most of what I list now will be airguns. However, there may also be the odd item of equipment thrown in.

Under $50
Crosman 760. A perennial favorite, and Crosman's best-selling airgun. This is the gun that keeps the company humming several shifts each day! It's a smoothbore that can shoot both steel BBs and pellets. Great starter airgun for youngsters 9 and older. Buy Crosman steel BBs and Crosman pellets for ammunition and never shoot the gun without safety glasses on everybody in the vicinity.

The Daisy Red Ryder is the Holy Grail of an airgunner's Christmas! In fact, I'll also recommend the video, A Christmas Story, to go with it. For young shooters ages 6 and up, but always with parental supervision. Remember that steel BBs bounce off hard targets, so everybody in the vicinity wears shooting glasses. Buy Daisy steel BBs for it. And, let's not forget the young girls , who might like the Daisy pink 1998, a Red Ryder by another name and color.

The Daisy 880 Multi-pump is another classic air rifle. This one is rifled, but can also shoot steel BBs. Appropriate for kids 9 and up and adults. Use Daisy steel BBs and Daisy lead pellets.

The Beeman P17 pistol is for adults. It's an inexpensive Chinese copy of the more expensive Beeman P3which is made in Germany. This is a target air pistol. It's a single-shot and quite accurate. Buy some good target pellets for this gun. Gamo Match pellets will work very well.

The Crosman 357W revolver is a classic CO2 air pistol that squeaks under the price limit for this category. Suitable for kids 10 and older and also adults. You need target pellets for this one. Try these. And you also need the 12-gram CO2 cartridges that power the gun.

For BB pistols, I recommend the Smith & Wesson M&P, the Tanfoglio 1911 and the PPK/S with pink grips, which is the only PPK/S that makes it into this price category. Of these three, the Tanfolglio did best in my accuracy test. They all need steel BBs and 12-gram CO2 cartridges. These guns are BB guns, so eye protection for everyone in the vicinity and parental supervision for all kids under the age of 16. No shooting at hard targets!

I'm also going to recommend a pair of BSA 10x25mm binoculars. I own so many pairs of binocs that I've lost count of them all. They're just too handy for when you really need to see things like pellet holes on targets far away. Suitable for everyone.

For those who want to try their hand at field target, the Gamo squirrel field target is very affordable. This target gets you into the game and comes with kill-zone reducers, so as you improve you can make the target progressively harder to hit. Suitable for teens and adults. Buy a length (55 yards, at least) of Dacron line at the hardware store to use for a reset string when the target falls.

Stocking stuffers
Crosman Pellgunoil is used to maintain all CO2 guns and most pneumatics. A small tube will last a shooter more than a year and probably several years after that. Other products such as 20-weight, non-detergent oil will also work, but for the best results, this is the stuff to use.

One of the best products to oil pellets is FP-10. One bottle will last for years.

If you want to tune a spring gun, the best lube for the compression chamber is Beeman M-2-M moly paste. It also works on places where there's lots of metal-to-metal contact. Every airgun enthusiast needs some of this stuff.

The Crosman 850 BB/pellet trap is excellent for shooters of all ages. This is one of the few pellet traps that safely stops steel BBs, and it's the only one in this price range.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Relum Supertornado - Part 3

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2

Relum Supertornado may look odd, but it shoots good!

Today, we'll look at how accurate this Relum Supertornado is--at least in my hands. I'll also give you an appraisal of how it shoots.

Though it's been only a few days since I last shot this rifle, I already forgot how pleasant it is to cock. Most underlevers are bears, with the TX 200 being the most forgiving, but that doesn't include the fine vintage underlevers like the Hakim. They all cock easily, and so does this one. Just at the point you expect the effort to increase, the sear clicks into place and you're done.

The upside-down loading tap was a surprise on the first loading; but once I got going, I developed a rhythm and after that I never thought of it. Well, that's not entirely true, because I had to pay attention to which way the pellets were oriented as they were loaded.

The trigger is single-stage, breaking at 3.5 lbs. That's not bad, but how it broke was troublesome. As I shot, the trigger varied between breaking without movement and moving slightly at the beginning of the pull. If this trigger was crisper and more predictable, I feel my groups might have been a little tighter.

I also saw the sights move on every shot. It was impossible to follow through and remain on target, so I did the best I could. I think the presence of aperture sights front and rear lulled me into thinking this was a 10-meter rifle, when in fact it's a sporter. Those sights look so darn precise that I was disappointed in my poor follow-through, though the rifle was the culprit.

The owner of the rifle, Jim, had praised RWS Hobby pellets so much that I tried them first. My first group of 10 was nothing to look at, but from past experience I know this is just due to settling into the rifle. At the end of the other pellets, I shot a last group of Hobbys and the results were much better.

Ten RWS Hobbys at 25 yards with peep sights. This is the better group. The other one is half an inch larger.

My Hobby pellets are a bit old and may not be as good as the ones Jim has. That's why I also tried a variety of other RWS pellets that were all fresh.

Gamo Match
Next, I tried the heavier Gamo Match pellets. They did very well, if you overlook a single flyer to the left. I'll blame that on my poor follow-through in this case.

Nine of ten Gamo Match pellets made a nice, tight 25-yard group. Let's give them the benefit of the doubt.

RWS Superdome
I just had to know how RWS Superdomes would do in this rifle--something other than a wadcutter. Though the string came late in the session when I was settled in, they clearly did not equal the wadcutter pellets at 25 yards.

There's no mistaking that these Superdomes are only mediocre in the Supertornado. There are 10 shots there. The double hole at 12 o'clock has 3 through it.

RWS Meisterkugeln
The RWS Meisterkugeln target pellets won the day with the smallest group. If you haven't tried these in your rifle, Jim, you may want to!

RWS Meisterkugeln pellets were the clear winner when I shot the Supertornado. Six of them could be covered by a nickel!

Well, as I finished the accuracy testing I had to reflect on the whole Supertornado experience. I can see why Jim loves this rifle. Though it's a bit plain to look at, it feels nice when shooting and delivers on target. All the work he put into the rifle to get it running no doubt cements the relationship.

The target sights make the gun in my opinion. Besides the smooth firing behavior, the sights make shooting very enjoyable. The trigger, on the other hand, leaves a lot to be desired. It's a trigger to get used to.

I now have the onerous task of packing this rifle back into its shipping container and sending it back to its owner. Somehow, I think all the preparation he did in making the container will help a lot with that task.

Thanks are due to Jim Grossman for sharing this uncommon air rifle with us. He's given us all a look at an unusual vintage rifle, and it's one not many airgunners will ever see.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Tennis, golf, baseball, football

by B.B. Pelletier

My wife, Edith, and I try to get in some tennis several mornings a week. She sees some similarities between tennis and shooting...and golf, football and baseball. She's been asking for several months for a guest blog to share her thoughts with you, so here's her chance.

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'll edit each submission, but we won't work on any submission that contains gross misspellings and/or grammatical errors.

Hit it, girl!

Tennis, golf, baseball, football

by Edith (Mrs. B.B.) Gaylord

I learned to play tennis in college. I became so good, that many people came to watch me play, which I did 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. That might also explain my grades! But it's been about 40 years since I picked up a tennis racket. About a year ago, Tom agreed to go to the courts and hit the ball back and forth with me. We don't play a game, but we do get a lot of exercise and get a chance to escape from our computers.

When it comes to shooting, Tom's the expert in our family. When it comes to tennis...he's not. He's also quite recalcitrant and obstreperous when it comes to taking any tips, hints or advice on the game. Yet, the rules of engagement are so similar to shooting and other sports that it's funny he's not even remotely interested in them.

In tennis, you must have follow-through when you hit the ball. If you just whack the ball with the racquet and don't continue the swinging action, you're not going to deliver enough power to make the ball go where you want it to go.

If you've followed this blog for any length of time, you've read more than once about follow-through, especially when it comes to shooting spring guns. Pulling the trigger and immediately moving the gun will result in the pellet landing some place other than where you aimed. I've seen that happen a number of times during field target events. It's usually someone new to springers. This is really hard to convey to someone who's come over from the world of firearms, where the projectile leaves the barrel much faster.

Where are your feet?
When I learned to play tennis, I was taught to stand in a certain way to hit forehand and another way to hit backhand. These days, it's changed a bit, but you still have to be in position to hit the ball and control where it's going to land.

Tom has written several blogs about shooting 10-meter pistol and how to stand to be properly positioned. Whether it be baseball, tennis, golf or shooting, there's been a lot of research that shows being in the right position will help your performance. While I recall getting lots of advice about how to stand when shooting a 10-meter pistol, it never hit home until I related it to playing tennis.

Check your projectile
We're not very good tennis players, but we've gotten good enough over the past year that we can tell when a ball needs to be retired or is inferior.

The same can be said for shooting. Sometimes, it really isn't the shooter who's messed's the pellet. If you have occasional fliers, they may be caused by deformed pellets, pellet weights that vary far from the manufacturer's specs or other pellet issues. It isn't always the fault of the shooter or the gun. Of course, I'm assuming that you're a reasonably good shot and that you CAN hit the target most of the time!

Choose your weapon
Tennis has all sorts of options for different racquets, especially grip sizes. While my hand is smaller than Tom's, I need a very large grip. I buy the largest grip available, wrap foam rubber padding around it and then add a layer of another tape. I've never met another person who takes as big a grip as I do.

So, what guns are you shooting? Are your guns suited to your build? Do they have the right pull for you? How much of a drop is there in the buttstock? The latter is a curious one for me. I have had so much trouble getting my eye to line up with a scope or open sights that I don't shoot at all unless I'm going to the indoor range to stay proficient with my concealed carry weapon. Why would that be? I just found out earlier this year.

This summer, we were in a local gun store and saw a used Winchester 1894 rifle with scope on the sale rack. I told Tom we should buy it because he could write an article comparing the firearm to the airgun. When we got the rifle home, I pulled it up to my shoulder and was truly amazed at how natural it felt. I then told Tom that this was MY rifle, and he was not allowed to sell it without asking me first!

Which rifles are you selecting? Look at your favorite guns and see if there's a common component to them. Is it the stock? The length? Something else? I wonder if some people gravitate to certain guns because the stock length, height, width and/or weight fits them perfectly. Not everyone likes a Monte Carlo stock, a big drop on the buttstock, a raised cheekpiece or a checkered grip. That's the beauty of having so much variety. If one gun doesn't fit you, there are plenty of other styles to choose from.

Clear the mechanism
Have you seen Kevin Costner in the movie For Love of the Game? He plays a baseball pitcher. To block out the fans, the screaming and the other players...he concentrates only on the task at hand: pitching the ball. He says to himself, "Clear the mechanism." The "mechanism" is everything in his head. Nothing else matters, only pitching the next ball. This is similar to what golfing great Harry Vardon does in the movie The Greatest Game Ever Played. Before he took a shot, he looked down the fairway and removed obstacles, people, trees...everything but the hole. I practice the same thing when I play tennis. I watch only that little yellow ball. Once the ball is in motion, I never take my eyes off it because that's the only thing that matters in the game.

Are you concentrating on your target? How you stand? The task at hand? In the above golf movie, actor Shai LeBeouf plays amateur golfer Francis Ouimet. He has a similar mechanism to Harry Vardon and Kevin Costner's character. He looks down the fairway and visualizes the ball's trajectory and "sees" it going down the hole. Olympic and other athletes also visualize successful outcomes to their endeavors. People who see themselves as successful at physical or other endeavors...or life, for that matter...frequently ARE successful. This is one of the things I've been doing when I go out to shoot my CCW. I stand there with my gun pointed downrange, eyes intent on the target and visualizing where the bullet will hit. It's made a difference, but progress is slow because I don't practice enough. Yet, if it can make a difference for me, imagine what this could do for those who shoot more often.