Posts Tagged ‘1903A3 Springfield’
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
This report covers:
• Silly exercise
• What’s the point?
• Airguns I like
• My one airgun
• See where this is going?
• My one firearm
• What this tells me
• How my life has changed
…what would it be? Not long ago, blog reader Kevin asked me this question and I promised to get back to him with an answer. Today, I’m keeping that promise, although I’m not at all positive that in a year my answer won’t be different.
Kevin asked what airgun and what firearm I would keep. There were no other guidelines beyond the number one — of each. This isn’t the first time he’s asked a question like this. Earlier this year, he asked me what guns I enjoyed shooting, and I wrote a blog titled What would B.B. shoot?
Here is what he asked me this time.
Some of us have gone through difficult financial times, some of us are going through difficult financial times and some of us will go through difficult financial times in the future.
For this reason I’m very interested to hear what the ONE airgun is that you would keep and the ONE firearm is that you would keep while you would endure a financial crisis.
This is not a “WHAT GUNS I KEPT AND WHY” this is a ONE airgun and ONE firearm question.
This is such a silly exercise — don’t you think? At least it is until you try to form an answer. Because to do that, you have to think about all the airguns and firearms you own, as well as the ones you have owned in the past — and I suppose you can throw in any you might like to own but never have. Once you have all of them in front of you, it’s time to weed through the mass and see what comes out the other side.
What’s the point?
There is no point to this. Nobody is ever going to be confronted with this decision in quite this way, so why bother thinking about it? Well, it does force you to think about things at a fundamental level — a sort of giant who-do-you-love-and-why game. And Edith and I did actually go through it — not once but twice.
Because I write about airguns, you probably think it’s harder for me to pick a single airgun, but it’s not. It’s actually much easier. When all the facade of accuracy, power and performance is stripped away and I’m no longer thinking about survival on a desert island or how many pellets I can carry in a backpack, the choice of a single airgun becomes simple. I shoot airguns for fun, when all is said and done.
Shooting for fun means I don’t have to justify an airgun based on its power, long-range accuracy, nostalgia, value or anything beyond how much fun I derive from shooting it. That narrows it down a lot, but not to a single gun. I suppose there are at least a dozen, but probably more like 25 nice airguns that I really enjoy shooting.
Airguns I like
For example, I like to shoot my Beeman R8. It isn’t powerful, but at 25 yards I know I can put a pellet within a quarter-inch of the aim point every time. The trigger is light and crisp, and the Burris 4.5-14×32 scope is so clear and sharp that the rifle is a delight to shoot. But it’s not my one airgun!
I also really like my Crosman Mark I target pistol that holds so well and has such a beautiful trigger. But it’s not my one airgun, either.
My one airgun
The one airgun I would keep, after having to get rid of all others, is my little .22-caliber Diana model 27. It’s not really powerful enough to hunt with, but that’s not why I’m keeping it. I’m keeping it because it’s simple and accurate, light and easy to cock. It’s an all-day airgun that I just enjoy shooting very much.
The Diana model 27 — this one badged as a Hy-Score 807 — is my favorite airgun. It isn’t powerful, but it’s light, accurate and has a great trigger. That’s all I need.
I’ve owned several Diana 27s over the years. The first one was a rust bucket that I bought for $18 in a pawnshop in Radcliff, Kentucky, while stationed at Ft. Knox in the late 1970s. It looked terrible. You needed a tetanus shot just to hold it! But it shot like a dream, cocked smoothly and was accurate. I fell in love with it and the love has endured.
The second .22-caliber Diana 27 I ever owned is the one shown in the above picture. I bought it from the late Richard Schmidt at the Winston-Salem airgun show (the forerunner of the Roanoke show) in 1993. I paid $110 for it, which was way too much; but for some reason, they all went for way too much back then — and they still do today.
I pulled that rifle apart and lube-tuned it for my Airgun Letter and learned how to assemble the squirrel-cage of parts that Diana calls a ball-bearing trigger. I later pulled the gun apart a second time and tuned it, again, for a different magazine article. Since then, it’s never been apart. That was more than a decade ago.
Some time in the late 1990s, I wrote an article about how to adjust the ball-bearing trigger. Diana triggers can be adjusted very fine if you know what you’re doing; and, oddly enough, all you need is the owner’s manual to learn how. Or you can just read the blog I wrote about it.
Every time I chronograph this rifle, I’m reminded of just how weak it is (under 500 f.p.s.). But that doesn’t matter. I don’t shoot airguns for their power — that would be futile. I shoot them for fun, and the Diana 27 has more fun per pound than any other airgun I know of. When I worked on the Bronco project, the Diana 27 was my inspiration.
The third Diana 27 I owned was a Winchester model 427. It’s now owned by one of our readers. Why did I sell it? Because I didn’t need two perfect airguns.
Don’t think that I don’t love many of my airguns a lot, because I really do. My Air Arms TX200 Mark III gives me immense joy, and of course I love my Whiscombe JW75. But the last airgun I’ll sell is the Diana 27.
What was far more difficult was to choose from all my firearms. I have been quite blessed at this time of my life to own some of the finest firearms that exist. My Wilson Combat CQB is especially dear to me, not only because of what a wonderful shooter it is, but also because it was a very special gift from Edith. I have a Dillon press permanently set up to reload .45 ACP ammo, and I cast all my own bullets for the round. While the rest of the world pays inflated prices for ammunition, I’m set to reload tens of thousands of rounds at less than a nickel a round. I can’t shoot .22 rimfire as cheaply as I can shoot this pistol. But it isn’t the one firearm I would keep.
Speaking of gifts, the readers of this blog gave me a Single Action Army revolver that means the world to me. I remember coming home from the hospital several years ago and seeing that revolver for the first time. I wasn’t strong enough to hold it up to shoot, and my eyes would need another year to regain their strength, but I got out to the range with that revolver just as soon as I could. Every time I look at it, I think of you blog readers.
I shoot that handgun several times a year, and it always makes me smile when I do. The gun has an authentic fire blue finish that Colt put on their guns during the 19th century, and mine looks brand new. It’s a gorgeous handgun, but it’s not the firearm I would keep.
The single-action revolver I received from the readers of this blog is one of my favorite firearms. It shoots as nice as it looks.
I could go on and on with this thought process. Certainly, I would keep the Ballard. I certainly would not! While it’s intriguing and a beautiful rifle, there’s nothing practical about a Ballard built in 1876. The one firearm I keep has to be practical.
The Ballard rifle is beautiful and accurate, but it isn’t the all-around firearm I need.
What about a nice .22 rimfire? I certainly own several of them, and lots of various kinds of ammo that would last me a long time — no? No. A .22 rimfire is not universal enough for me. Since I reload, I can turn almost any firearm into a .22 rimfire if I want to. What I need is a firearm that can be something more than a rimfire if the occasion calls.
See where this is going?
I am heading for a firearm that is as universal as it can be. Through reloading, it can be made to plink or pop squirrels, but it can also kill a grizzly bear if needed.
It has to be reliable, so complex is out and simple is in. That eliminates all semiautomatics.
It has to be accurate; but in my gun collection, there are no inaccurate arms. I just don’t keep them. On the same note, I don’t need my universal firearm to be suited for target use, so super-accurate guns with big scopes are also out. In fact, the scopes would eliminate the guns all by themselves.
My one firearm
The one firearm I would keep if all the others had to go would be my 1903A3 Springfield. It has a rugged bolt-action that has been proven over more than a century, and this one has adjustable peep sights that maximize the potential for accuracy. I’ve shot 5-shot groups under 2 inches at 100 yards, so the accuracy is all that I need.
When I reload, I have a choice of 5 lead bullets I can cast to produce everything from a .32 automatic up to a full-blown .30-06, if I need it. The cheapest rounds I make cost around 5 cents, and the most expensive costs under 50 cents. That’s so much better than anything I can buy; but if I do buy, this caliber is certainly ubiquitous throughout most of the civilized world.
I have around a thousand empty cartridges; and with my reduced loads I’ll get several hundred firings from each of them. And with reduced loads, I can use pistol powders and primers. So, ammunition will never be a problem.
The O3A3 Springfield is a plain-jane rifle, but it’s everything I need if I can only have one.
I got this rifle from my friend, Mac, but that’s not why I’m keeping it. He sold it because it kicks pretty hard. But I discovered the secret. Soldiers wore field jackets and coats in the field, and the short pull of their rifles was compensated for by the thick clothing. When I shoot this rifle with powerful loads, I always wear a heavy jacket. The rest of the time a t-shirt is all I need. I can hit a pop can at 100 yards every time with my reloads, shooting from a prone or supported position.
What does this tell me?
Kevin forced me to look at my shooting from a very practical standpoint today. It wasn’t sentimentality that helped me decide. And it wasn’t value or beauty. It was utility.
I hope I never have to make a choice like this, because it would break my heart to say goodbye to many of my airguns and firearms. But now I know the two I would keep under any circumstance.
How the blog changed my life
Kevin’s question prompted me to do more than just think about guns. This blog has had a major impact on my life. And from the comments many of you make, I believe it’s also impacted your lives.
If you want to help me better understand my readers, I invite you to send me an email telling me the impact that this blog has had on your life. Pyramyd Air has created a special temporary email address for this. I’ll be the only person to get these emails, and we’re not going to generate any lists from the addresses.
My plan is to publish one or more blog reports with the more interesting comments. If you want, I will use your real name or blog handle; but you can be anonymous, too. I won’t use your name or handle unless you give me written permission to do so.
This email address will be live for only a few weeks. We have tens of thousands of readers worldwide. Even if you’ve never commented on the blog, you can email me your message if you like. If you’re reading this blog after July 2014, email submissions will no longer be forwarded to me, and you may get an auto-reply email stating that or your email might bounce back to you.
This could be interesting. I have no idea what will happen.
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
Blog reader Kevin asked me this question recently, and I embraced it because I usually don’t even have time to think about which airgun I would prefer to shoot. There’s always another blog, a feature article and 5 other deadlines pressing on my time…so thinking like this is not a luxury. It’s a fantasy! Then, Kevin asked this question and “forced” me to stop and think about it for today’s report. Ahh! Happy Friday!
The first gun that pops into my head when I ask this question is the Diana model 27 rifle. It’s just such a simple, uncomplicated airgun that I guess it serves as my happy place. But as I think about it, other guns pop up. The Air Venturi Bronco, the Falke model 70, the Diana model 25 are 3 more that come to mind immediately. They all share the model 27′s chief attribute — ease of operation. In short, they’re all fun airguns.
Diana’s model 27 breakbarrel is so light, smooth and easy to operate that it epitomizes everything that’s good about airgunning in my eyes.
Falke model 70 is another vintage breakbarrel that’s light and smooth like the Diana 27.
To take the fantasy a little farther, have these guns always been the ones that do that, or have there been others? Yes! There have been others!
My straight-grip Webley Senior pistol is exactly like the Diana 27 in this respect. It’s small and easy to operate. I still own this pistol, although there’s seldom any time to actually shoot it. But it’s right there in the drawer where I can put my hands on it whenever I want. I guess that’s good enough. I guess it will have to be.
I’ve owned this straight-grip Webley Senior since the early 1970s. It’s easy to cock, has a nice trigger and is fun to shoot. Not terribly accurate, but it’s one of those rare guns I let slip by because everything else works so well.
When I think a little longer and harder, my Beeman R8 pops into view. It comes in later because it has a scope, and scopes do complicate things. So do target sights, but my Walther LGV Olympia 10-meter target rifle now comes to light. And with it comes the new .22-caliber LGV. The target rifle took longer to pop up because it’s a heavy gun. The .22 took longer because of its power. When I want to play, power is the farthest thing from my mind.
Kevin didn’t ask me what my favorite firearms were; but since this is Friday, I’ll take a little license and include them, as well. Right now, my new PO8 Luger is a favorite because it’s accurate, recoils very little and it eats my handloads like they were candy! And when I think of that gun, I cannot overlook my Ruger Single-Six in .32 H&R Magnum. It has great power and almost no recoil. For cutting out the center of a bullseye, that little Ruger wheelgun is a dream.
The Ruger Single Six is chambered for the .32 H&R Magnum. It’s light, yet very powerful and will out-penetrate a .357 Magnum on a steel target. The 1917 Luger is such a smooth shooter that it’s like eating peanuts — I can’t stop! Both guns are very accurate.
Then, I think of my O3A3 Springfield. It’s one of the few military rifles that gives me an honest sub 2-inch group at 100 yards. If it didn’t recoil so much, I’m sure it would have popped up even sooner.
This O3A3 Springfield will smack you with recoil when you’re shooting full-house loads. The short stock gives it a running start at your shoulder. But the accuracy is stunning!
My M1 Carbine is also a favorite — not for its accuracy, which is just average — but for the fact that it drops the empty cases on top of the shooting bench! Most autoloaders throw their cases a country mile, but this little sweetie piles them up for me. With more training, I’m sure I can get it to put them back in the box!
My M1 Carbine is well-behaved. Next, I’m going to teach it to put the fired cases back into the box!
Guns I wish I still had
Now comes the Great Lament — the ones that got away! I had a Bernardelli Baby in .25 ACP that would put 3 shots into the bottom of a soda can offhand at 30 feet. Most .25s are lucky to hit dinner plates at that distance, but this little pistol was a good one. I let it get away. I recently bought another Bernardelli Baby in the hopes of doing the same thing. Alas, this one is a dinner-plate special.
Ruger .44 Magnum Blackhawk with 10-inch barrel
They’re very collectible now; but when I had my 3-screw Ruger Blackhawk, they were just good guns. I was too stupid to know that the one I had was an exceptional shooter. I figured I could always get another one.
Custom .458 Winchester Magnum
I have written about this rifle many times. I shot it with a 550-grain cast lead bullet, and it would put 10 shots into less than 2 inches (outside measurement) at 100 yards. It was like owning a target-grade 45/70. Stupid me — I thought I would always be able to find another one just as good. Haven’t yet!
What kind of shooting do I like to do?
I’m pretty easy to please. I like whatever kind of shooting I happen to be doing at the time — usually. The things I hate are magnum spring rifles that buzz like bottles of hornets, slap me in the face and have no accuracy. I also disdain black rifles that can’t group in less than 3 inches at 100 yards. In fact, I dislike almost anything that isn’t accurate.
I enjoy shooting a .45 Colt Single Action Army with accurate loads and feeling the plow-grip roll in my hand during recoil. I like shooting a nice 1911 and feeling the slight burp of recoil when I hold my thumb over the manual safety. I shot a Walther P38 recently that had a nice trigger and is very accurate. My experiences with P38s aren’t that good, but this one was memorable. I could burn up a lot of 9mm ammo in that one.
When I came home from the hospital several years ago, I received this Single Action Army as a gift from the readers of this blog. It is a favorite of mine because it mimics the feel of a Gen 1 Colt perfectly!
Same for the PO8 I got for Christmas. The ergonomics are legendary and the trigger is extremely good for a Luger (their trigger linkages usually make for poor triggers). My handloads are moderate enough that I can shoot this pistol for the rest of my life and not put any wear on it!
I enjoy holding a 10 with a target air pistol and seeing the pellet hit the pinwheel. I love seeing 10 shots from an accurate rifle sail through the same hole at 100 yards, knowing the hole they made is smaller than half an inch. I love shooting 5 shots from a 10-meter rifle and seeing a group smaller than a tenth of an inch.
Holding a 10 with a pistol is very enjoyable!
I love shooting my Daisy Avanti Champion 499 offhand and making quarter-inch groups. My shooting buddy Otho bought one for himself this past December and has been doing the same thing ever since.
I enjoy shooting a Garand and hearing the shot go off but not feeling the recoil. I know it’s there, but the push is so slow that it doesn’t seem to count. The same holds true for my .357 Magnum Desert Eagle. It’s got enough power to drop a steer, but the soft recoil feels like a 1911 shooting +P ammo.
Best of all
But the thing I like above all is when I solve some problem of inaccuracy and turn a bad gun into a real shooter. It doesn’t happen as often as I’d like, but from time to time I do hit one out of the park. I’m hoping to do that with my Ballard someday. And maybe my Meteor, as well.
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
Today’s blog is going to be fun for me, and I hope for all of you, as well. I’m going to talk about one of my favorite subject — the accurate gun. You have to be a shooter to know what I’m talking about because non-shooters assume that all guns are accurate. They assume that it’s the skill of the shooter that makes guns work like they do.
That’s like saying all violins are the same, and a master can make a student instrument sound like a Stradivarius. Or a NASCAR driver can make a minivan perform like a Ferarri. But it doesn’t work that way. While expert handling can extract all the performance from anything, no matter what it is, there’s also no way to get more than it has to offer, regardless of who wields the bow or sits behind the wheel. Or, in today’s case, is on the trigger!
Accuracy is something that lives in the gun. And, in my experience, a really accurate gun isn’t that common. Though I shot a lot starting in my late youth, it wasn’t until I acquired a custom .458 Winchester Magnum in my twenties that I encountered my first really accurate gun. I bought…or more likely, traded…for the rifle at a local gun show when I was living in El Paso, Texas, in the early 1970s. It was a 1903 Springfield that had been rebarrelled to .458 Winchester Mag.; and it came with the reloading dies, a bullet mold, a batch of empty brass and even a recommended load. The seller/trader told me if I loaded it with his load, the rifle would be phenomenally accurate. I’d heard that before, but not as many times back then as I have today. In spite of my doubts, I did the deal.
I cast up some of the 558-grain lead bullets and loaded up the exact formula the seller had recommended, which I recall was 24 grains of 2400 powder and a greased but unsized bullet seated to a certain depth in the case. Then, I went to the range. Since this was a .458 Winchester Magnum, I was prepared to be kicked hard, but that load was so soft that it was very pleasing to shoot from the bench. When I checked the first 5-shot group at 100 yards and saw that it was only an inch across, I was thrilled!
That’s when I began shooting 10-shot groups, because, try though I might, I could not get those big lead slugs to go anywhere but through the same hole. In fact, the accuracy of that rifle became downright boring after awhile. I would load up 40 rounds and shoot 4 groups that were all less than 2 inches across at 100 yards. Big whoop! There was no challenge.
I didn’t know then that I would never again have a rifle so inherently accurate. I just assumed that was the way of things, so I eventually sold or traded that rifle…and have lamented the decision ever since.
This is why I want so much for my Ballard rifle to shoot well — because I believe that it can! If that old put-together Springfield sporter could lob them all through the same little hole, there’s no reason a purpose-built target rifle made in 1876, when American gunmaking was at its zenith, shouldn’t do the same.
My Ballard rifle is beautiful. If only it shot like it looks!
So far, the Ballard has been a heartbreaker. She taunts and teases me with her looks and then puts 7 out of 10 bullets through the same hole, while scattering the other 3 wherever she pleases! Time after time, I thought I found the secret and was about to turn the Ballard into the thoroughbred she is, and just as many times I’ve been disappointed. When that happens, I get so discouraged that I have to abandon shooting the rifle altogether and do something else. There have even been times when I’ve thought of selling the rifle just to get it out of my sight. But, then, I look at her and realize that I have to keep trying.
My latest theory is that the rifle needs a shorter bullet because the twist rate is very slow. It’s 1:20, where a normal .38-55 twist is 1:18. That would mean the 255-grain bullets I’ve been shooting are too long to stabilize. Please understand that I’m using smokeless powder in my reloads, and this rifle was designed for black powder. With black powder, you fill the case as full as it will go so there’s no empty space between the powder and bullet. If there were space, the powder would develop a shockwave that would destroy the rifle!
But smokeless powder doesn’t fill the case, and the pressure rises faster than black powder, so I have to keep the charges low. As a result, the gun cannot fire the bullet fast enough, even though it was designed to shoot that bullet. Because of that, it can’t stabilize it properly. At least, that’s my guess.
Another problem is that there’s no leade ahead of the chamber. The rifling rises up at the end of the chamber and that’s it. A bullet with a fat nose won’t chamber properly, as the rifling will prevent the bullet from being seated.
What I need is a custom bullet for this rifle and to own the mold made for it. I’m working on that right now.
I got an O3A3 Springfield from my buddy Mac a couple years ago. Most Springfield rifles are accurate in the general sense, but this one is special. It lays them in there better than it should. I can pull a sub-2-inch group at 100 yards when I do my part, and that’s with the battle sights that came standard on the rifle.
They made millions of them, but this one is special. It’s more than accurate — it doesn’t like to miss.
The O3A3 was the last incarnation of the famous 1903 Springfield bolt-action battle rifle. It was made during World War II to fill the need for rifles until Springfield could catch up with the Garand production. What made it an O3A3 were several minor design changes that substituted stamped and welded assemblies for machined parts. Oh, the hue and cry about that was great! Even in the 1960s, old soldiers still bemoaned the cheapening of the Springfield rifle!
But there was a funny side to it, as well. The cheaper rifles were also often more accurate! Instead of the antiquated Buffington peep sight that had been around since 1884, the O3A3 has a modern rear peep sight that adjusts for both windage and elevation. And mine has a 4-groove Remington barrel that’s renowned for accuracy. Put the package together, and you have an American battle rifle that shoots like a target gun. The one I have does even better than most.
For 1884, the Buffington rear sight that combined a peep with an open notch was high-tech. It was used on all U.S. rifles through the M1903 Springfield, but it’s dated today!
The O3A3 rear peep modernized the Springfield rifle during WWII. It made the rifle easier to shoot accurately.
It’s a natural shooter! For some reason unknown to me, my O3A3 puts all its bullets where I want them — with iron sights! When Mac traded it to me, he apologized for the Social Security number that some former owner engraved on the receiver with an electric pen. It’s barely visible, but its presence makes this 99-percent rifle a $600 shooter rather than an $1,100 collectible. But there’s also an upside to that. I don’t have to worry about the wear I’m causing by working the bolt because all the value has already been taken away.
I’ve owned six 1903-type Springfield rifles in my life. All of them were accurate, but this one is special. It goes beyond being accurate and crosses into a realm that’s hard to define. Those readers who own accurate guns will understand what I’m saying.
I’ve owned super-accurate handguns, too. One of them is a revolver I got just recently in a trade. It’s a gun I never would have considered before shooting 12 rounds offhand into pretty much one hole at 15 yards a few months ago. And the caliber — .32-20, which is also called .32 WCF — is a caliber I thought I would never own.
The gun is a Smith & Wesson Hand Ejector with target sights. It’s from the 1930s and shows it’s heritage proudly. It was carried for years in a handmade leather holster until the owner, my pal Otho, finally decided the gun had become too valuable to carry anymore. He no longer shoots handguns for medical reasons, so he was kind enough to let me try his pride and joy earlier this year. When he saw that I shot it well, too, he offered it to me.
This 32-20 S&W Hand Ejector looks dated, but it shoots like the target pistol that it is.
Most revolvers have one chamber that’s just a little out of line with the barrel and shoots just a little off. This one has six good chambers that you can’t tell apart downrange. But that’s understandable; because when it was made, Smith & Wesson used skilled craftsmen to fine-tune their revolvers — especially those with adjustable sights.
I own lots of accurate firearms and airguns, but today I’ve been discussing something more than that. The guns I’ve mentioned, with the exception of the Ballard, are beyond accurate. They have something that’s hard to define and harder to give a name to. When I pick up one of them, I know where my shot will be going — every time! I don’t know what to call this thing I’m talking about, but it does warm my heart to shoot one of these special guns.
by B.B. Pelletier
Today, I’ll venture into an area where style and function can clash violently. Also, because every person is built differently, the things I say will not apply equally to all people. That is not to say they are untrue or vague enough to just be opinions; but because of differences in our bodies, each of us will have slightly different needs, and sometimes they won’t even be that slight!
As most countries do, the United States has a rich tradition of fielding infantry rifles with “one size fits none” stocks. I could criticize all of the Mosin Nagants or the K31 Schmidt-Rubin rifle of Switzerland, but I don’t need to look any farther than the dear old M1903A3 that was the last gasp of the famous Springfield rifle used at the start of World War II. The pull of this rifle is a ridiculous 12-3/4 inches in length that guaranteed to sock anyone in the kisser when the big round goes off. As if that weren’t enough, the stock also drops away from your face steeply to get a running start at your cheek when the recoil begins!
Even men of very small stature find the Springfield stock uncomfortably short. The spin doctors at the arsenal dreamed up an excuse: “The stock is designed for men wearing field jackets and winter uniforms.” Ha, ha!
[Parenthetically, I will say that two vintage U.S. battle rifles have had stocks of decent proportions -- the 1917 Enfield (the American Enfield) and the Garand. Both have acceptable pull lengths and good pistol grips. The Enfield's comb is a little low, but overall, it's a rifleman's stock. The Garand is as close to stock perfection as the United States ever came in the 20th century -- in my opinion. That's in spite of having a short pull of 13 inches.]
The Soviets said their Mosin stock had its short pull because “The Soviet Union is comprised of many different countries with soldiers of widely varying stature. The rifle was designed to fit as many different men as possible.” Again — ha, ha!
Why the Swiss skimped on the length of their buttstocks and dropped their combs so low is a mystery to me, because they do not have nearly the problem the Sovs did with ethnic differences. In sharp contrast to the too-short K31, their model 1911 rifle had a stock of more correct proportions.
What these nations really mean is that they build their battle rifles on a budget, and the bean counters thought the savings of an inch or two of wood, spread over millions of stocks, was worth it. Besides, making soldiers miserable is a time-honored right of passage.
Good stock equals reduced recoil
When I bought a German-made Mark V .270 Weatherby Magnum rifle for hunting, I was prepared to be laid low by the recoil. I had recently suffered with a Remington 788 in .308 Winchester caliber that about knocked me flat every time it went off. So, imagine my shock to discover that the Weatherby, with its more powerful belted magnum cartridge, did not kick as hard as the Remington! It actually kicked a lot harder, but the straight lines of the Weatherby stock coupled with the very shallow slant toward the butt kept the comb firmly in contact with my cheek the entire time. The rifle didn’t have the opportunity to get a running start at my face when it went off. I wound up loving the gentle Weatherby that others, who don’t know it, regard as a monster!
I was about 24 years old when this discovery took place, and that was when I started paying attention to the shape and size of rifle stocks. I found that I liked a pull (the distance from the center of the butt to the center of the trigger blade) of 14-3/4 inches, which is a tad longer than most other men my size (5’11″ at the time). I guess my arms and neck were a little longer than the norm for my height.
What I’m trying to tell you is that you may not have the same body dimensions as me, but we will both do better with a stock that is straight versus one that drops low at the toe. And we will also do better with a stock that has the right length of pull for our frames — whatever that may be.
Correct length of pull is hard to measure
There’s an old method of measuring the correct length of pull on a rifle. The butt is rested on the crook of your arm and the trigger is supposed to come about halfway up your index finger when the finger points straight up.
This is the traditional way people measure the correct length of pull on a rifle. It works after a fashion, but only by holding the rifle offhand will you know for sure.
Hooey! This old method is ingrained into most shooters at a tender age, but I find it often doesn’t work. A better way to find the right length of pull is to shoulder the rifle and see how easily your trigger finger finds the trigger blade and your hand finds the pistol grip.
What fits feels good
Blog reader Kevin Lentz once asked me if I’d ever had a rifle whose stock fit me well. He knows that because I test so many different air rifles all the time that chances are that most of them don’t quite fit me. I answered him that my Weatherby was the best-fitting rifle I ever owned, and he understood — because he also owns a Mark V Weatherby in .300 Weatherby Magnum.
As far as airguns go, the TX200 fits about as well as a Weatherby. It has a very vertical pistol grip that invites a good hold, and the flat forearm helps stabilize the heavy rifle. The butt drops a bit far, but the TX recoils so soft that it doesn’t matter.
So, where does this leave us? Well, if we know that length of pull and the drop of the stock are important, it seems that we should be able to design stocks that fit us well. Enter the Air Venturi Bronco!
Air Venturi Bronco
Several years ago, I became exasperated by all the air rifles that were near-misses for stock fit, as far as I was concerned. I knew from conversations with other airgunners that what the world really wanted was another Diana 27. But Diana only wanted to make powerful spring rifles that were hard to cock.
The other airgun many shooters wanted was the Beeman R7, but for one-third the current price — the old five-cent cigar thing. There were long debates on this blog about whether this or that HW30 was equivalent to the R7. Remember that?
One day, I was sharing my feelings with the president of Pyramyd Air. I lamented that a company like Mendoza that made accurate barrels and good triggers didn’t have a nice youth airgun we could sell. That was when he told me that they did, indeed, have a youth airgun, but that it was too ugly to sell. I asked him to send me his sample, and a few days later I had it in my hands. It was called the Bronco. [Note from Edith: I always thought Tom made up that name. Now, I find out he didn't. What other things is he taking credit for that are not deserved?] It was exactly what I was looking for, only it had a stock so ugly that you needed a tetanus shot just to hold it!
The Bronco was an RM10-barreled action in a stock that had a huge kidney-shaped cutout in the butt. It was a stock by Salvador Dali that could only exist in an acid-trip fantasy, yet Mendoza had somehow managed to turn it out for real. The pull was just over 10 inches, as I recall.
Remembering the success of the Beeman C1 carbine, I suggested to Pyramyd Air that we have a stockmaker build a Western-style stock and that we make other changes to the powerplant at the same time. I was tasked with getting the stock made, and I found a custom stockmaker to do the work. We produced a stock in American maple that had a strawberry blonde finish and a 14-3/4 inch pull. I fell in love with it; but when we discussed the project at Pyramyd Air, we decided the stock had to be shorter to accommodate older kids and adults, alike. We settled on a 12-3/4-inch pull. The blonde finish was kept, though many people disliked it.
Mendoza took the sample we sent them and produced a gun for us to examine. A couple small changes were made to that prototype, and we were done! The result is the Air Venturi Bronco that you see today.
What’s good about the Bronco is that the comb is high without needing a Monte Carlo profile or a raised cheekpiece. It comes up to the shoulder fast and naturally for most shooters, and the sights are right in line with your eyes when your head is erect. Also, you don’t have to hold your head in a different place to use a scope. That’s the advantage of a straight-line stock that has very little drop at the toe.
The classic stock
Many times, I’ve mentioned the classic stock in the past. What is it? What makes it classic?
A classic stock is one that has a straight comb with no Monte Carlo profile. The stock line is very straight, so the toe doesn’t dip very low. That allows the recoil to be transmitted in a straight line instead of in a downward angle when it first comes back, then it rotates off the shoulder to rise upward and hit your cheek.
A classic stock has a pistol grip in a place where you can grasp it when holding the rifle to your shoulder. Many larger air rifle stocks, such as the one on the Hatsan Torpedo 155, have pistol grips — but their proportions are too large for 95 percent of the population, with the result that the shooter cannot grasp the grip when holding the gun normally. The grip is set too far to the rear and out of reach for most people. A TX200, in contrast, has a pistol grip in exactly the place where most shooters’ hands expect it to be. The result is that the rifle seems to fit better and is easier to hold, even if the shooter isn’t aware of the reasons why.
Perhaps the best example of a classic air rifle stock I can give you is the wood stock that comes on the RWS Diana 34 breakbarrel. There’s no Monte Carlo comb and the pistol grip is in pretty much the right place.
For an even better example of a classic stock done right, you need look no farther than the Ruger M77 rifle. While their pistol grips come back a bit too far, these stocks are about the best ones on today’s market. Sako of Finland is another maker that had a remarkable line of good stocks in decades past; and in recent times, they’ve taken the classic proportions and put them into synthetic stocks. And I must include the iconic Winchester model 70 in the small list of classics.
A classic stock does not have a thumbhole. Instead, the pistol grip is proportioned so well that it feels good in the hand. I personally don’t like thumbhole stocks because they usually prevent my thumb from being placed where I like it. On the whole, I do find that most thumbhole stocks fit better than most non-thumbhole stocks. That’s because most of those stocks without thumbholes are cut with the wrong angles and proportions.
A Western-style stock like the one found on the Bronco and the Walther Lever Action rifle is not a classic rifle stock. The straight wrist isn’t as easy to hold as a well-formed pistol grip. But the Western-style stock does fit more people better, because there are so many classic-cut stocks that miss the mark.
The bottom line
I wrote this article for those new airgunners who are researching airguns to buy right now. The size and shape of the stock plays an important part in how well your gun will fit; and that, in turn, affects how much you enjoy shooting it. Don’t just buy an airgun based on the velocity, because that will lead you astray. Unless the gun also fits you and feels good, it will not do well in your hands.
If you don’t know how different guns feel, you might try visiting a gun store or pawn shop and try a few different rifles for their fit. Your friends may have different guns than you do…so try on some of those to see which ones fit you better. Yes, you can even try firearms and transfer their fit over to air rifles. If you have no other frame of reference, this will at least give you a starting point. And don’t forget to read everything you can about the fit of a good rifle, because this is an area that will never stand out but will make a big difference in how much you like or dislike a particular rifle.