Posts Tagged ‘accuracy’
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
This report covers:
• What airgun manufacturers ought to do
• Fix only what is broken
• What do we need next?
• Accurate barrel
• Good sights
• Better triggers
• Better bedding
• Take out the vibration
• Lighten the cocking effort!
When I first encountered the new Benjamin Trail Nitro Piston 2 at the SHOT Show this year, I remember how impressed I was that an airgun company was able to put so many spot-on innovations into a single airgun. One or two of them, perhaps, but not all of them.
Yesterday, I read two comments that started the wheels spinning in my head. One was from a new blog reader named jerbob, who told me his Air Venturi Bronco is more accurate with open sights than with a scope because the barrel moves sideways at the pivot point. Since both the front and rear open sights are mounted on the barrel, it doesn’t matter when it moves from side to side — sighting will correct for that. But a scope mounts on the spring tube behind the barrel; so when the barrel moves, the sight doesn’t and that throws the accuracy off.
After that, blog reader Gunfun1 asked what will be the next thing to improve accuracy in airguns. That catalyzed the thought for today’s report. This is an open letter to the airgun industry. It could be titled, “What they ought to do.”
Fix only what’s broken
When I worked on the Air Venturi Bronco, I noticed that the rifle it’s based on (also called the Mendoza RM-10 Bronco) was accurate, so I didn’t touch the barrel. It also had a wonderful two-stage trigger, so I left that alone.
On the other hand, it had fiberoptic open sights, which I changed into plain sights, because shooters who shoot targets prefer them. Fiberoptics are okay for close-range shooting, but for precision — they’re not good. The muzzlebrake on the rifle was too short, so it was doubled in length. An oil hole on the spring tube was not drilled, eliminating the temptation to over-oil the gun and cause detonations. Finally, the horrible wood stock that rendered the gun unsalable in the U.S. was swapped for a Western-style stock that’s an island of style in a sea of lookalike breakbarrels.
In short, the original rifle had good points that were retained, but it also had bad points that were eliminated.
What do we need next?
This is the open letter portion of today’s report. It’s a free consultation on airgun design, so you can see what airgunners want and are willing to pay for. And that last part is important because it’s no good to give someone what they say they want if they have neither the means nor the inclination to buy one.
1. We need an accurate barrel. American barrelmakers have the ability to make accurate barrels, if they would just pay attention to what works. What makes a barrel accurate is the following:
• Dimensions that compliment the available pellets
Uniformity means the inside dimensions of the barrel are held to close tolerances throughout the barrel’s length. How the barrel is rifled can affect this: Rifle it too fast. Or use the wrong barrel steel. Or use poorly made or worn tooling (buttons and broaches) that will cause the tolerances to grow. But there’s something that can be done to improve almost any barrel, and that is to choke it at the muzzle. Pay attention to a uniform crown, too, and the barrel will benefit.
Pellets come in certain standard sizes, so the barrels for them should, too. But there are barrels on some guns that are so oversized they have no chance for accuracy. They may be very uniform and even have a good choke; but if they’re too large on the inside, they aren’t going to work.
The barrel needs to be stable at certain times. On a spring gun, it has to be stable when the breech is locked. So put the means of tightening the barrel lockup into the gun. In short — stop using pins at barrel pivot joints. Use bolts that can be tightened and give some thought to the side-to-side play at the breech. An airgun doesn’t have to cost $200 for the breech to lock up tight if some thought is given to the design before it’s produced.
On a precharged pneumatic, the barrel has to be free from the influence of the reservoir. If the barrel moves as the reservoir flexes with changes to internal pressure, the gun will never be accurate.
2. We need good sights. They don’t have to be expensive, but they do have to be good. This is such a large area of concern that I can’t cover it in several blogs, so I’m not going to be specific now. What I will say, and what has to happen, is for the manufacturer to shoot their own guns and see how good (or bad) their sights are. Not just how they look when passing the gun around the conference table, but when you try to shoot a tight group at long range. How do the sights help or hinder you then?
3. We need better triggers. Fortunately, I see some companies doing something about this. AirForce Airguns introduced their new trigger a year ago; Hatsan, Gamo and Crosman have all come out with better triggers in recent times. But there is still room for improvement. No one can afford to produce a Rekord-type trigger these days, but the two-bladed unit in a Mendoza rifle is pretty nice. If your company employs an engineer on staff, make better triggers part of his or her job. If you don’t employ one full-time, consider hiring consultants.
4. We need better bedding. This complaint is as old as airguns. Airguns shoot loose. You have to tighten the screws often. And the screws often bear unevenly on wood stocks, compressing them so they will never get tight. Why is that? Why hasn’t some company come up with a way to bed an airgun action so it doesn’t move around? Maybe AirForce has done it by eliminating the stock altogether; but for conventional guns, the problem persists.
5. Take out the vibration! Crosman just gave us a huge lesson in removing vibration from a gas-spring gun. To see what they did, read my first 2014 SHOT Show report. It’s obvious this can be done with careful design. It’s a cheap way to make a gun better, but those who don’t want to do it will say they can’t hold manufacturing tolerances that close. Well — Crosman did it. I you look at what they did, the tolerances aren’t that close! Stop making excuses for what can’t be done and start figuring out how to do it!
6. Lighten the cocking effort! This one is key, but you’ll never get a focus group of shooters to say it. But what do they buy after learning their lessons with hard-cocking spring rifles? They buy guns they can shoot — over and over. Let the youngsters play with the portable exercise machines, real airgunners who shoot a lot and like their sport come back to guns they can handle.
That’s what I think. We don’t need a lot of gee whiz technology. What we need is some serious attention to detail.
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
This report covers:
• Why does a scope need to be leveled?
• Scopes cannot be leveled.
• A leveling solution.
• Bubble levels.
• What works
• What about a collimator?
• My moment of enlightenment.
I promised this report to blog reader Genghis Jan over half a year ago. Several times, I’ve started to write it and turned away, but today I’m seeing it through.
Why level a scope?
There are 2 reasons for leveling your scope. The first is psychological. If the reticle inside the scope appears to be slanted to one side when you mount it on your gun — and I am primarily talking about rifles today, although these principals apply to scoped pistols just as well — it’s disconcerting. The second reason for leveling a scope is to ensure the vertical adjustments move the strike of the rounds vertically, and the horizontal adjustment do the same. If the scope does not appear level, the adjustments will move the rounds off to one side or the other as they move up and down.
If a scope’s reticle appears tilted, do you then tilt the rifle sideways to level the reticle? Or do you just hold the rifle so it always “feels” level and tolerate the reticle that seems tilted? I’ve tried both, and neither one is as comfortable as having the scope aligned perfectly — so it appears level when the rifle is held comfortably. But, just so you know — both solutions will work because there’s no such thing as a level scope.
Rifle scopes cannot be level
Sorry to disappoint, but there’s no scientific way to ever level a scope to a rifle — at least not to any rifle that has ever been made. I used to be a tank commander; and on occasion, there are reasons to level the tank cannon. But there’s nothing on a tank cannon that is level. So the makers did something about it. They machined several pads on the breech of the cannon where a precision level can be stood. This level — called a gunner’s quadrant — has “feet” that are steel pads machined into it. Their purpose is to stand the quadrant on the machined pads of the cannon’s breech and establish a level.
Without these machined pads, there can be no point on the cannon that is level. What I’m saying is that there’s no spot on the mechanism that’s true enough that a bubble level placed upon it would have any meaning. It might be possible to get the bubble centered on the gunner’s quadrant, but you could never be sure of doing it again with the same results. But with the machined pads, you have what you need — a reference point — to declare the gun to be level.
Level is a relative term
You see, the term “level” relates to the earth. An item can lay on apparently flat ground and not be level according to its bubble or the center of its plumb bob. Reference points are needed. And no rifle I have ever seen has them. Therefore, no rifle can ever be level! Please think about this before you comment.
I’ve used several leveling solutions in the years I’ve been mounting scopes. One was to hang a plumb bob from a target backer at 50 yards and align the scope’s vertical reticle with it once the scope was mounted on a rifle. I thought this would guarantee that the scope was level. Maybe it did, but it often put the scope at odds with the rifle because the rifle’s scope base was not machined so the scope appeared level when aligned this way. I actually shot several rifles with what appeared to be a slight cant in the scope reticle because I had aligned the scope in this fashion. The things that crazy people will put up with to maintain the universe they create!
A plumb line has been suspended from a target backer at 50 yards (left). Now, the scope (right) will be superimposed upon it and the vertical reticle will be aligned with the plumb line.
The scope has been shifted over the plumb line and rotated in the rings until the vertical scope reticle is aligned with the plumb line.
Neat trick! Is the scope aligned? Yes, it is. Is this the best way to do it? No, it isn’t. Let me show you why.
Now, this is what you may see when you hold the rifle to your shoulder. It may not be as obvious as this, but unless the scope mount was machined exactly with regards to the plumb line, you’ll notice the tilt and it will bother you. Are you then supposed to hold the rifle “level,” or do you “level” the reticle before shooting?
I’m showing you what happens when you attempt to level the scope by outside means. Sometimes, those processes guarantee the scope will not appear level when you hold the rifle in your arms.
Another method that doesn’t work
Some folks will purchase a bubble level for their guns, mount it and declare the job done. Of course, there’s no reference point on the gun that they can refer to, which is why I told you about leveling tank cannons at the start. Doing it this way is like driving a car in dense fog by keeping the fenders between the turn signals!
The bubble level is a wonderful tool but not for leveling scopes! It’s for leveling shooters in the field. Once the bubble is level, you know the scope is aligned the same as when it was sighted in on the bench (as long as the bubble was level at that time).
Here are two different kinds of bubble levels being tested on my Whiscombe rifle. They help to level the rifle in the field — not to level the scope during mounting.
Genghis Jan — this is the only way to level a scope. Mount the scope on the rifle and turn the tube until the vertical reticle appears to bisect the rear of the rifle.
You extend the vertical reticle line downward and see how it looks against the back of the rifle. When the vertical scope reticle appears to bisect the centerline of the rifle, the scope is level.
You can argue that this is an imprecise method of doing this, and I cannot defend it. Because — as I have already shown — there is no such thing as a level scope. Level with what?
But here is what I do know. The scope will never look right until you level it this way. If you pick up the rifle and the scope appears to be canted to one side, how does that make you feel? It’s that feeling that either inspires confidence or instills doubt, and these two emotions will drive you to success or failure while shooting.
As you gain experience with your rifle, your hold may change, and you may need to adjust the scope, again. After that, you probably have to sight-in once more. I’ve had this happen to me several times with different rifles.
What about a collimator?
You’ve heard of an optical device called a collimator that magically aligns scopes for rifles? Gun stores use them, don’t they? Yes, they do, but not to align the scope reticle — not to level the scope. They use a collimator to align the axis of the barrel with the scope’s line of sight — so your bullets land on paper at 50 or 100 yards when you go to the range.
But an airgun can be sighted-in at ranges much closer than 50 or 100 yards. I usually start at 10 feet. I wrote an article about sighting-in this way that you really should read. Adjusting a scope so it looks level has nothing to do with sighting-in unless the scope does not appear to be level to you, and then you won’t be able to adjust it properly.
My moment of enlightenment
You may well ask why it took me so long to write this report, when it seems so simple (and really is!). It is because I know that the simplicity of this will offend many people who believe that leveling a scope must be a complicated procedure. Some will refuse to believe me and will insist they level their scopes by the methods I’ve written about or by some other process.
I believe that this step is why many buyers shy away from buying scopes for their guns unless they are mounted by the factory. Well, guys, I used to BE the factory! That’s right. For three years, I mounted every scope that was mounted on an AirForce air rifle and then I zeroed it. I learned how to mount scopes the best way, which is also the quickest way, and additionally it’s the only way that will ever satisfy the user of the rifle.
I’ve had to adjust scopes (rotate their tubes in the rings slightly) that others have mounted to get their crosshairs in line with the vertical axis of the gun. If you’ve owned many guns with scopes, I’m betting you’ve done this, too. When you do, you’re simply doing what I said to do several paragraphs previously.
I know this sounds too simple and too unsophisticated to work; but believe me, this is the only way it does work. As you gain experience with scoped airguns, the truth of this report will become increasingly evident.
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
A couple weeks ago we had several comments that said there are people who believe all pellets are the same, and it doesn’t matter what you shoot in your airgun. Then others chimed in and said the same is true for .22 rimfire ammo. Well, I started a test of .22 rimfire ammo last week and hope to finish it soon, but today I thought I’d start exploring the pellet side of the question.
Today was supposed to be a first look at the accuracy of the BSA Supersport SE; but for the first time that I can remember, I couldn’t get the open sights on target at 25 yards! I didn’t want to fool with the rifle for a long time, so I set it aside and picked up my super-accurate Beeman R8 Tyrolean. That’s a rifle I know I can count on.
My original plan was to buy .177 pellets from wally world and pit them against the best premium pellets I have; but since this was a last-minute test, I just selected some pellets from my supplies. I made this a Part 1 because I still intend doing what was planned.
Today, we’ll look at 4 pellets. Two are what I consider premium, though one of them is pointed and I usually don’t shoot pointed pellets for accuracy. That should be interesting.
The other 2 pellets are ones I actually bought at a discount store some time ago. They’re representative of what’s out there right now. One’s a wadcutter; but since I’m shooting indoors at 25 yards, I felt it might still do its best. The other is a pointed pellet that Crosman made for Remington several years ago. These 2 pellets are the ones I believe will not do well.
I shot the rifle at 25 yards rested directly on a sandbag, which I’ve determined works well for this gun. In the entire test, there were no called fliers.
Air Arms Falcon
The first pellet I tested was the Falcon from Air Arms. It’s made by JSB on dies owned by Air Arms, so there’s no equivalent JSB pellet. There are several that look similar, but testing shows they perform differently. Ten Falcons went into a group that measures 0.667 inches between centers. You can see a single pellet hole to the right of the main group. That was the third shot. Nine of the 10 pellets went into 0.399 inches.
This group of 10 Air Arms Falcon pellets measures 0.667 inches between centers, but 9 of them are in 0.399 inches at 25 yards.
I normally don’t recommend pointed pellets for accuracy; but 25 yards isn’t that far, and RWS pellets are certainly in the premium category. I didn’t expect RWS Superpoints to do as well as the Falcons…and they didn’t. But they were close! Ten made a group measuring 0.732 inches. Once again, one pellet was outside the main group, and 9 pellets went into 0.43 inches
Now, it was time to test the 2 pellets in which I didn’t have any faith. I still tried as hard as possible to shoot the best group. Frankly, I’m surprised they did as well as they did!
Daisy Precision Max wadcutter
The next pellet was a older pellet I had that is similar to the Daisy Precision Max wadcutter – a flat-nosed target pellet. I didn’t expect it to do much, but 10 of them went into a group measuring 0.804 inches. And, to be fair, 9 of them are in 0.591 inches. While that’s not great for this particular rifle, it’s a lot better than I expected.
Remington pointed pellets
The last pellet I tried was one Remington sold for many years, but one that Crosman made. So, it has a sort of premium heritage, though the discount store pellets that Crosman sells (which is where I got this tin) are not normally as good as the ones they make for their cardboard boxes — by which I mean Premiers, of course. I didn’t know what to expect from these pellets. Ten went into 0.821 inches, which is better than I expected, and 8 of them went into a group that measures 0.402 inches. That’s hard to argue with.
Ten Remington pointed pellets made this 0.821-inch group. Eight went into 0.402 inches.
This test worked as expected, but it wasn’t as conclusive as I’d hoped it would be. Clearly, I need to look harder into these discount store pellets.
The Beeman R8 rifle is really an accurate platform that makes all these pellets look good. I think it’s a great testbed, but I won’t rule out trying the same test with a different rifle at a later date.
I could run the test at 50 yards, and the groups would all open up a lot — but that isn’t what I’m testing. Most airgunners don’t often shoot at 50 yards. I think 25 yards is more representative of what they do most of the time. I think I’ll just stick to the original plan of buying some representative pellets at a discount store and pitting them against the best premium pellets I have.
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
Today’s report is a guest blog from duskwight, our blog reader in Moscow. It’s a report of a test to determine if changing the power of a variable scope affects the potential for accuracy
If you’d like to write a guest post for this blog, please email me.
Over to you, duskwight.
How scope power affects accuracy
Hello, my airgunning friends! This is a report of a small test I performed recently to see if changing the power of a rifle scope affects the accuracy potential in any way. I guess the thing I’m testing is if you need to see the target as large as possible for aiming precision, or if you can be just as accurate when it appears smaller, because the crosshairs of your scope will still be in the same place.
B.B. tested this for me last week and reported it in the most recent test of the TX200. He shot two 10-shot groups at 50 yards with the scope set on 4x and 2 more with it set on 16x. In the first set of targets, he admitted that he wasn’t holding the rifle as good as he could and the 16x group was smaller than the one shot on 4x. But in the second set of targets, when he said he tried his best, the 4x group was smaller than the 16x group.
B.B.’s test was shot outdoors with a recoiling spring rifle. I decided to shoot mine indoors with a modified Gamo CF-X spring rifle I built. I call my rifle the Shillelagh, and I’ve taken a picture so you can see what it looks like.
My Shillelagh (Gamo CF-X) was used for this test.
I’m shooting indoors, so wind isn’t a factor. The air is dry and the temperature is 20 degrees C, or 68 F. I am shooting off a soft rest like B.B. used with the TX200. The distance is 50 meters, and my targets are made of 2 black circles, the inner one 1/2″ in diameter and the outer one 1-1/2″ in diameter. I’m measuring the groups from the outsides of the pellet holes farthest apart, and my groups each contain 10 shots.
I decided to select the power settings 6 and 12 magnifications for this test. I shot 2 groups on each magnification. In one set of targets, I concentrated on the hold very much; and on the other set, I went faster, with less concentration. Let’s take a look at the results.
The first group that was fired on 6x with extreme concentration measured 0.906″ across the outside of the group at the widest point. If we use a nominal .177 inches for the pellet diameter, that group would then measure 0.7295″ between centers.
This 10-shot group came with the scope set at 6xr and using extreme concentration. The outside measurement in 0.9065″; and using 0.177″ as the pellet diameter, the center-to-center measurement is 0.7295″. Nice to know my Shillelagh can shoot!
The first group shot with the scope set at 12x and using extreme concentration measured 1.4455″ across and 1.2685″ between centers. That’s quite a bit larger than the 6x group!
This 10-shot group was made with the scope set at 12x and using extreme concentration. The outside measurement in 1.4455″ across; and, using 0.177″ as the pellet diameter, the center-to-center measurement is 1.2685″. Quite a difference from the 6x group.
More relaxed shooting
Now, it was time to shoot groups from a more relaxed rest. I tried just as hard, but things went faster this time. The first group was shot at 6x and measured 1.003″s across the outside. The C-T-C measurement is 0.826″. Also not too shabby!
Here are 10 shots with the scope set at 6x with a more relaxed shooting style. The outside measurement is 1.003″ across, and the C-T-C measurement is 0.826″.
Next, I shot another 10-shot group in the more relaxed style with the scope set on 12x. This group measured 1.7325″ across, which gives us a measurement of 1.5555″ between centers. This is the largest group of the test and more than double the size of the first group shot on 6x.
Ten shots with the scope set at 12x with a more relaxed shooting style measured 1.7325″ across, and the C-T-C measurement is 1.5555″. This is the largest group of the test.
It’s clear to me that lower magnification isn’t any hinderance to accuracy, as long as you can see the target clearly. In fact, I think lower magnification is the way to go.
I made a huge mistake when I edited this text for duskwight. I assumed that his Shillelagh is his recoiless rifle project, when in fact, it’s a highly modified Gamo CF-X. The rifle seen in this test is that Gamo CF-X. I apologize for the confusion this has caused. — B.B.
Some of our newer readers probably don’t know the story of how duskwight built a recoiless spring rifle from scratch. Like you he was a reader of this blog and he was also an airgunner before finding this blog. He knew about the famous Whiscombe rifles, but they were hard to come by — even when John Whiscombe was still making them. Adding the extra difficulty of getting one all the way to Russia made him think about building his own rifle. When he first told us his plans, I thought it would never happen; and he shared all his struggles with unreliable machine shops and companies that could not meet his specifications. It seemed as though it wasn’t meant to be.
But he persisted, and finally, he had a working prototype. It took years of effort…and I don’t want to know how much money. But he did it. Then he sat down and whittled out a stock from a raw wood blank.
This Gamo CF-X, which he calls the Shillelagh, is just one example of his expertise building custom airguns. I think the accuracy he got with it is quite stunning!
Duskwight is Russia’s airgun answer to New Zealander Bert Munro, who took a 1920 Indian motorcycle and modified it into a 200 m.p.h. streamliner in the 1960s! People like this are in extremely short supply, and it’s our honor to know this one!
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
I was getting ready to go to the range yesterday to shoot several airguns for this blog. When I go to the range, I usually try to take a couple of firearms along, just to justify the time and inconvenience of loading the truck and driving all the way out there. The range doesn’t cost anything, but the time spent getting there, setting up and getting back home again seems like an expense.
Anyway, I decided to take my Desert Eagle .357 Magnum pistol along this time, to find a good long-range cartridge for it. Up to this point, I’ve just function-fired the gun for a couple hundred shots or so at shorter distances because I read on the internet that this gun is unreliable with lighter bullets. Well, I’ve shot only 125-grain bullets that are considered light for a .357 Magnum, and to date the gun has never malfunctioned once. So, that much of what I read turned out not to be true!
Monday morning, I’m was online looking for some good accurate loads, and this is what I found:
“I don’t own a Desert Eagle .357, but I have read that they are unreliable boat-anchors. They are way too heavy and they recoil too hard! I don’t need that. They also cost three times as much as my Taurus wheelgun. Why would I spend that kind of money, just to have a gun that jams?”
So, you DON’T own a Desert Eagle? Then why are you commenting on its performance? I’m all for open discussions; but when you don’t have any experience, why not just say what you’ve heard and ask whether or not it’s true?
I DO own a .357 Magnum Desert Eagle and here are the facts. They DON’T kick very hard. They feel about like a 1911 pistol shooting Plus P ammo when they shoot full-house .357 loads. And they DON’T malfunction! At least mine has never failed to feed — ever! They ARE heavy, but I don’t find it debilitating to carry a 5-lb. pistol from my truck to the firing line — a distance of about 20 feet.
Then, I found another website with guy who lists all the factory ammo brands that don’t work well in his Desert Eagle. Excuse me, but who said anything about shooting factory ammo? I reload! Why would I care if one brand that does function costs more than another brand that has feeding failures? I’m going to make up loads for my gun that ALL WORK. Who buys an expensive handgun like a Desert Eagle and then shops in discount stores for the cheapest ammo? That’s like going to a 5-star restaurant and looking for their dollar menu. If you want to save money so bad, cut a slot in your head and become a bank.
Finally I find the worst one of all. I swear I am not making this up:
“When I shoot targets, I shoot Winchester White Box (a type of commercial ammo) in my DE. It’s the cheapest stuff I can find locally. I used to shoot some Lapua imported stuff that was really accurate, but it cost a lot more than the U.S. stuff. I can’t tell you how accurate any of this is, but most of the really hot stuff cycles the action fine.”
Is the last writer shooting his gun just to hear the sound? Is it News Year’s Eve and this is his noisemaker? What is he doing? He says he shoots targets, but he can’t tell me how accurate any of the ammo is. Is he closing his eyes when he shoots? Does he just shoot at the targets and then never looks to see if he hits them?
Applying this to airguns
I know what this guy is really trying to say, but he can’t find the words. He’s saying that he uses his Desert Eagle as a bragging-rights gun, and he doesn’t care how accurate it is. He doesn’t shoot it to hit things — he wants to be seen shooting it and to be able to tell his buddies that he shoots a Desert Eagle.
I’ve seen enough guys like this at the range to know what I’m talking about. A couple weeks ago, a man at my range was warning everybody on the line that he was about to shoot a .300 Winchester Magnum, and everyone should be careful of the blast! When he shot his rifle, it was anticlimactic because the guy next to me had been shooting a 7mm Remington Magnum for the previous hour that made just as much noise. But Mister Win Mag wanted to be noticed, and he needed to draw attention to the fact that his rifle was a tactical nuclear weapon!
And this is how it applies to airguns. These same folks buy those 1,600 f.p.s. breakbarrel cannons and shoot ultralight lead-free pellets in them. If they do shoot at anything specific, they aren’t paper targets — they’re probably metal plates. Then, they can determine how much mild steel their pellet gun is able to penetrate, and at what distance.
Everything they do is a weird science experiment. They’re the ones who wind up on You Tube with blood pouring out of their ears while their friends laugh maniacally in the background.
That’s not airgunning! That’s being back in the fourth grade and trying to light…well, you know what I mean. And if you don’t, you’re probably still doing it. And you aren’t reading this blog, either, because people like that don’t read much of anything longer than the label on a beer can or a juicy tweet on Twitter.
I shoot airguns to augment my shooting experience. And the point of that experience is to maintain and perhaps improve my shooting skills. Small groups are important to me, but so is standing on my feet and shooting the center of a target offhand — as I have done in front of witnesses several times.
I’m in this game to place my shots where I call them, or to know that I haven’t whenever something goes wrong. I’m in this partly to keep my shooting skills sharp and partly to find guns and pellets that can shoot better than I can.
And that’s what’s behind all my reviews. Sure, I like a nice trigger; but without accuracy, a good trigger is like a rusted-out car that has a deep, resonating tone coming from the tailpipe. HEY — I once owned a VW bug with a stinger exhaust that was just like that! It sounded like an expensive sports car and ran like a model A Ford delivery truck.
So, manufacturers, I am warning you here and now — send me your guns and you can expect me to shoot them for accuracy first, and all other things second. I will use every trick I know to make your guns shoot well…and with luck, they will. But if they don’t after I’ve exhausted all attempts to the best of my ability, you can expect me to tell everyone about how it really performed.
So, send me your mega-magnums. Just make sure they’re also accurate. Send me your gilt-edged light sabers, but expect me to turn them on and attempt to use them. I can put up with a lot of things when I shoot, but missing the target because my gun is throwing curveballs isn’t one of them.
The lesson of the wise barber
The wise barber said you can cut a man’s hair every month, but you can only scalp him once. Marketing departments and airgun manufacturers need to internalize this wisdom because putting a bone-jarring air rifle into a customer’s hands may be the ticket to losing him forever. On the other hand, give him a gun so good he’ll want more, and you have created a loyal customer. His business won’t just be worth the $300 he spends today, but tens of thousands of dollars that he’ll spend with you over the next 40 years as he enjoys his hobby.
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.