Posts Tagged ‘AirForce Airguns’
by B.B. Pelletier
Blog reader Kevin inspired this report with a comment he made on Friday’s blog. He wondered whether my exposure to nearly all the airguns in the world, both past and present, has inspired me to own any one gun in particular. But it also comes from my visit to Leapers this past week (which I will be sharing with you very soon), because that thrust me into the world of manufacturing, again. I still remember a lot from my time at AirForce Airguns, but visiting Leapers and speaking with all their product developers brought technical things back into sharp focus, again.
There was also a comment last week from someone who stated outright that a spring gun is far simpler than a precharged pneumatic. When I read that, it didn’t sit quite right with me, so I thought about it for awhile until I had worked it out. And this report is the result.
So, today’s question is this: Which is simpler — a PCP or a springer? The answer may surprise you.
A spring-piston gun is far less cumbersome for a shooter to operate — I think we can all agree about that. All you do is cock it, load a pellet and you’re ready to go. With a precharged gun, there’s the complexity of the gun, itself, which is pretty much on par with the springer in most cases. Only the repeaters are more complex because of how their magazines or clips are loaded with pellets and then how they’re loaded into the guns.
But a precharged gun brings with it the need to put air into the gun at some point. And this is where things can get very complex. Sometimes, they’re not as bad as shooters realize or imagine. The part about filling the gun can be no more involved than it would be to take the pumping function that all multi-pump pneumatics have…such as the Sheridan Blue Streak…and separate it from the gun. That was what was behind the Benjamin Discovery precharged air rifle, and it’s the reason the Discovery is an order of magnitude less complex than all other PCPs on the market.
The Benjamin Discovery is simpler than other precharged airguns because of its lower fill pressure. One version comes with a hand pump that can easily fill the gun with little effort on the shooter’s part. Think of it as a more powerful and more accurate Sheridan Blue Streak with a separate pump.
The common perception among airgunners is that a PCP is more complex than a springer because of the need for special fill devices. Actually, the Benjamin Discovery and all other guns that use a Foster quick-disconnect air fill coupling have fixed this problem, but there are still a lot of PCP makers who aren’t yet using this type of fitting. So, their rifles are, in fact, more complex and prone to equipment compatibility problems for the buyer. But all Benjamin PCPs, all Daystate PCPs, the USFT rifles and all Quackenbush PCPs now come with the common Foster fitting. So, if informed users shop for a gun that has solved the filling problem in this way, they won’t have to deal with that issue.
AirForce Airguns recognized this fact also and created a Foster fill device for all the AirForce Airgun sporting air rifles (Talon, Talon SS and Condor), adding that company to the growing list.
And the perception problem continues, as new shooters believe that they need to own a chronograph with their PCPs, to somehow manage them. The truth is that you can manage the shots in a PCP just fine by shooting the gun at great distance and stopping whenever the shots start to scatter. That tells you the maximum number of shots you get per fill if you’re shooting at that distance. If you shoot closer, there are more shots per fill before the groups enlarge. But that isn’t how the articles and reports read, and people are blinded by the perceived need for additional expensive technology. I recommend owning a chronograph because it helps you know your gun better, it isn’t absolutely required.
Spring guns, on the other hand, are perceived as being simple and easy to understand. The only complexity that most shooters know about is the need for some skill in holding the gun when it fires. A PCP shoots accurately regardless of how it’s held, but a spring gun can be very sensitive to slight changes in the hold. Other than that, though, the springer is thought to be dirt-simple.
Manufacturers see the spring gun/PCP world exactly in reverse. It’s the PCP that’s simple and straightforward to make, and the spring gun that requires a lot more machining operations and special tooling to complete. The PCP is a reservoir connected to a barrel, with a valve in between. It’s a simple, straightforward arrangement.
A springer has the barrel that must be held in a baseblock to withstand the shock of the firing cycle as well as deliver the small puff of compressed air generated by the piston to the rear of the pellet. While a PCP valve is about as complex as an entire spring-piston powerplant, nothing in it is under anywhere near the stress from an overly powerful mainspring or the heavy hammer-blows of the piston. Where the trigger in a PCP holds back 6-10 lbs. of striker-spring force, the spring-piston trigger might hold back 150 lbs.
A spring-piston gun needs a lot of very strong components to withstand the hammering of the piston. A PCP can be made of lighter components. There are heavy PCPs on the market, but I invite you to examine the Benjamin Discovery and all the AirForce Airgun sporting rifles to compare the power that lightweight PCPs deliver, as opposed to what super-heavyweight springers can do. And I’m saying nothing about accuracy, where the PCP wins every time.
We’re discussing an airgun manufacturer’s perspective of the two types of powerplants, and there’s one weak spot in the PCP’s design. It has to be built to hold air under high pressure for a long time, and air under pressure is hard to hold. Some companies find this to be a very daunting challenge, because they don’t understand the need for absolute cleanliness in the manufacturing area, or they select materials that are known to have porosity issues, or they use dull tooling (not changing it often enough) or they’re just sloppy in their assembly. I worked for three years at AirForce Airguns and was intimately familiar with every step they took to protect the long-term integrity of their compressed-air reservoirs.
I own three AirForce guns, and all are stored at full pressure all the time. In the past 12 years, I’ve never had a single issue of leaking. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, because it sometimes does. But compared to the PCPs from certain other manufacturers that have some or all of the problems I just mentioned, AirForce Airguns has none of them.
I watched Crosman build their first Benjamin Discoveries, and they had the good sense to do a 100 percent testing of their guns holding air before shipment. They continued doing this until they knew they had a positive handle on the build process. That’s how a good company enters the PCP market! In contrast, there have been more than a few boutique PCP builders who learned as they went and let their customers be the quality control. I won’t name any names, but this practice is what gave PCPs a black eye.
Do spring guns have similar weaknesses? Yes, they do, but because of how they work, they can often still function when the manufacturing is flawed. Guns full of metal shavings make it to market, and their new owners are none the wiser. That would kill a PCP, but a springer will still shoot when the compression chamber is filled with metal shavings and the piston is embedded with nails! Comparing a springer to a PCP is like comparing a longbow to a top-of-the-line crossbow. The longbow is simpler and will work under less favorable circumstances, but the crossbow will outshoot it every time and in every way.
The next time you hear someone say that a springer is simpler than a PCP, ask yourself what they’re really saying. Because you may not want all the shortcomings that accompany the “simpler” design.
That concludes this report, but I have more to say. I wrote today’s report because I felt that it would be good to explain the full ramifications of an issue that we airgunners often assume to be an open-and-closed case. I sometimes delve deep into the technical aspects of airgun performance in my reports, and I think it can lead readers astray. My comment above about not needing a chronograph for the enjoyment and operation of a PCP was an attempt to bring this out.
I am soon going to start another test that will be both long and technically involved. The results should prove interesting, no matter what they are, but I’ve had to choose only one of several possible ways to conduct the test. We’ll learn some things, but the possibility exists that bias will also be present, because I cannot test everything. I’m using today’s report to get your minds into an analytical mode, but I don’t want to leave any of the new readers behind.
The object of today’s report is that every question should be viewed from several different perspectives, because sometimes the things we think are obvious are not really what is happening.
by B.B. Pelletier
As I write this report, Edith is sitting on the couch, reading and approving customer reviews of airguns. It’s a lazy Sunday morning, and we generally try to work on things that are easy on such days. She just made this remark to me while reading another customer review, “People want powerful hunting air rifles that cock with 20 lbs. of effort or less. Isn’t that called a precharged pneumatic?”
That was what came to my mind the minute she announced what people want. But experience tells us that it isn’t what’s on the new airgunner’s mind. They want a spring rifle, because they want nothing to do with all the extra stuff that’s needed to keep a PCP running. They just want to cock the gun, load a pellet and shoot. And many of them wonder why this springer can’t be a repeater, as well.
The question that’s often asked
Surely “they” could make a powerful spring-piston air rifle if they wanted to. All they have to do is make one that will go at least 900 f.p.s. [or whatever number seems best to them] in .22 caliber with real-world lead pellets and cocks with 20 lbs. or less. If they would make a rifle like that, I would be first in line to buy one.
Don’t you think “they” have been busily trying to do just that for the past 100 years? From the first moment someone cocked a spring-piston rifle (or pistol) that was a couple of pounds too heavy for them, they started thinking about designing exactly the rifle our hypothetical new airgunner has requested. And they haven’t done it, yet!
But there have been several good attempts. John Whiscombe, for example, broke the cocking sequence down to two or even three pulls of the underlever to cock his dual-opposed piston rifles. Owners of his rifles have not one but two coiled mainsprings to cock; and their efforts, while not quite doubled, have to be increased significantly. Which is why Whiscombe broke the cocking effort into two and even three strokes of the lever. The gun cannot be cocked with fewer strokes. If you try, it will remain in a limbo of a partially compressed set of mainsprings that cannot be relaxed, because they’re held in check by the safety mechanisms. So, a Whiscombe owner can’t cock his JW80 just two strokes for reduced power. It’s three strokes or nothing.
Rutten of Belgium used a small, high-torque electric motor to cock their spring-piston rifle with just the push of a button. Wonderful, you say, except now you’re tethered to the power grid, because the rifle cannot be cocked any other way than by its motor. And when you do push the button, prepare for the sound of an impact wrench for a couple seconds, because that little motor raises quite a ruckus! That rifle sold under the Browning name several years ago, and the reception, once people saw how it actually worked, was chilly at best. So much so that there are still a considerable number of Browning-trademarked new-old-stock rifles that float to the surface every so often, as yet another person wonders, “Why not?”
One approach that did work well is employed by Weihrauch in their HW45 air pistol that also sells under the name Beeman P1. The way it works is that you cock the barrel to the first detent (sear catch) for low power and to the second detent for high power. The cocking force remains approximately the same for both power levels. All that’s different is the length of the piston stroke. It works very well, and I wonder why manufactures are not using it on a rifle today. What’s apparently lost to many airgun manufacturers is that the power of the mainspring contributes very little to the power of the gun. What matters most is the piston stroke. Many springs do stack (increase) in force the farther they’re compressed, but that’s not a universal rule. It’s possible to make a spring that provides a near-uniform force throughout its compression, as Weihrauch has done in the HW45.
Back to the question
We’re discussing why nobody makes a powerful spring-piston air rifle that also has a very light cocking effort. This is a question that many new airgunners ask, not realizing that physics stand in the way. A pellet fired from a spring-piston gun produces only a fraction of the power generated by the mainspring, so that’s the limiting factor. Making the mainspring more powerful is the brute-force way of making a gun more powerful, and it’s the practice that’s in vogue today.
What about a gas spring?
One question that often follows the main one is why wouldn’t a gas spring (gas strut, gas ram) work? To understand why it wouldn’t, you have to shoot a gun that has one. Gas springs exert their full potential from the instant you start cocking them. So, instead of a gun that requires 34 lbs. of cocking effort but starts out at 15 lbs. at the beginning of the cocking arc where the leverage is poorest and you’ll need all the help you can get, the gas spring has 34 lbs. of effort right from the start. Gas springs are never easier to cock than coiled steel mainsprings — they’re always harder, or at least they’re perceived as harder because of how they work.
Where does that leave us?
If you want real power from a pellet rifle and you also want the rifle to be lightweight and easy to cock, the precharged pneumatic is the only way to go. No spring gun ever made can keep up with a PCP in the weight and ease of cocking departments. A Benjamin Discovery weighs just over 5 lbs., yet in .22 caliber it puts out the same power as an RWS Diana 48 that weighs 3.5 lbs. more and cocks with 10 times the effort. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you already know about the AirForce air rifles, some of which will produce as much muzzle energy as a .22 short, with long-range accuracy that not even a $3,000 Olympic target rifle can match.
My message to new airgunners
The question that you have asked is the same one that’s been asked by airgunners for decades. It’s not that airgun manufacturers have overlooked anything or that they’re holding back, like the inventors of the 100-mile-per-gallon carburetor did in the 1960s. They’re stuck on the physics of the problem. You can’t get more work (foot-pounds of energy) from a shot than the force that’s put into the shot. With a spring-piston airgun powerplant, you’ll get significantly less energy out than you put in.
Can things be done to reduce the cocking effort? Maybe. Has everything been tried? Perhaps not. But if you want to get the greatest power from a light air rifle that cocks easily, you definitely want a PCP — not a springer!
by B.B. Pelletier
The FWB 300S is considered the gold standard of vintage target air rifles.
Some more history
The first part of this report was certainly met with a lot of enthusiasm, so I think I’ll add some more history today. In the comments to Part 1, we had a discussion of the sport called Running Target. Some called it Running Boar, which it was for several decades, and long before that it was called Running Stag.
The sport originated in Germany, I believe, though it was probably popular in Austria and perhaps even in Switzerland. It existed at least as far back as the mid-19th century and was shot outdoors at a target pulled on tracks by human power. The original target was a male chamois made of wood with a target where the heart of the animal would be. But that target evolved into a male red deer, called a stag. The stag was exposed to the shooter for a specific number of seconds.
In time, the stag was replaced by a running boar, because the stag was thought to be a noble animal and the boar wasn’t so highly regarded…though in England they did have a similar sport called Running Deer.
As the match evolved, it picked up rules. There was a slow presentation of the target (5 seconds) and a fast presentation (2.5 seconds), and the shooter was supposed to shoot one shot on each pass. The target was engaged in both directions during the match. It wasn’t long before the wooden animals were switched for paper targets that were both cheaper and easier to score.
The Running Boar target was double-ended so it could be used in both directions on the same track.
The aim point was usually the animal’s nose, but that was the choice of each shooter.
Over the years, the rifles they used changed from muzzleloaders to centerfires, and eventually to rimfires and airguns, because of the increased opportunities for range safety. Today, both rimfires and airguns are still being used at the World Cup level.
The guns have traditionally used sights that account for the movement of the target and allow the correct amount of lead. When scopes came into the event, they were specialized with reticles that allowed for the lead to be dialed in. Anyone who owns an FWB 300S Running Target rifle with the correct scope has something to prize.
Gary Anderson brought a running target range to the Roanoke Airgun Expo back in the late 1990s, giving many airgunners the opportunity to closely examine the target setup. By the 1970s, the sport had become Running Target — to assuage those who felt shooting at boars was not politically correct. The sport was part of the 1992 Olympics, but was dropped after the 2004 games. It’s a sport that goes in and out of fashion as the years pass; but it’s still a World Cup event, so we may see more of it in time.
When the change was made to Running Target, the target was changed to a target with one central aim point and two bulls — one for each direction.
Velocity of the FWB 300S
Today is the day we check the velocity of this FWB 300S, so let’s get to it. When it was new, the 300S was advertised with a velocity of 640 f.p.s., though the pellet they was used to get that number was never specified. I will use a range of pellets I believe are appropriate to the power level of a spring gun like this. And, in a departure for me, one of the pellets I test will be domed.
Air Arms Falcon
I tested the Air Arms Falcon pellet even though it’s a domed pellet that’s not appropriate for target shooting, because many readers use these rifles with scopes for plinking and other pursuits. So, I’ll also shoot this pellet for accuracy — just to see what it can do.
This was the first pellet I tested, and I’m so glad I own a chronograph, because I learned something valuable about the 300S in this test. This rifle needs to warm up before it’ll shoot with stable velocity. Think of an older car from the 1950s that had to be warmed up for a minute or so and then driven slowly for the first mile to allow the parts to expand and start sealing as they should. Heck — most car engines from that era developed leaks pretty quickly, and you did whatever was necessary to keep them from wearing faster than they should. Well, this FWB 300S needs the same kind of warmup. Let me show you the first 9 shots.
So, if you shoot a 300S — or any of its derivatives — for score, maybe you better shoot about 10 shots just to warm the action before expecting the rifle to do its best.
After shot 9, the rifle became very stable and averaged 658 f.p.s. with the Falcon pellet. The low was 655, and the high was 671 f.p.s. At that speed, this pellet generates 7.05 foot-pounds. That’s pretty brisk for a 300S; but Mac, who traded the rifle to me, said it had just been sealed and overhauled by Randy Bimrose, so it’s performing at its best.
A couple observations
Before I move to the next pellet, I’d like to make a few observations. First, I said in Part 1 that the 300S action doesn’t need to be levered forward at the end of the cocking strike like the action of an RWS Diana model 54 Air King, but that was incorrect. It does have to be levered forward into lockup in just the same way, but the 300S action is so smooth that I didn’t notice it until now. With a Diana 54, you always notice it.
I mention this because, like the Diana 54, the 300S uses the sledge-type anti-recoil system; and even though it’s a gentle rifle, it has to operate in the same way as the more powerful Diana. Moving the action forward into lockup prepares the action to release when the gun fires and to move on the steel rails in the stock just a fraction of an inch, canceling the feel of recoil.
The second thing I noticed this time is that I can feel the cocking link bump over the mainspring coils as the cocking lever moves back to the stored position. I sometimes feel that same roughness in other spring rifles, where the tolerances are tight, and I thought I’d mention that this one does the same thing.
RWS R-10 Pistol pellets
Next, I tried the RWS R-10 Pistol pellet, which weigh 7 grains, even. I tried them because of their weight — not because I think they’ll be the most accurate pellet. I just want to show the rifle’s velocity with a reasonable range of pellet weights.
This pellet averaged 658 f.p.s. with a low of 640 and a high of 664 f.p.s. The low shot was the only one that went slower than 656 f.p.s. At the average velocity, this pellet generates 6.73 foot-pounds of muzzle energy.
H&N Finale Match Rifle pellets
The final pellet I tested was the 8.18-grain H&N Finale Match Rifle pellet. It averaged 609 f.p.s. and ranged from 597 to 616 f.p.s. The average velocity generated a muzzle energy of 6.74 foot-pounds
There you have it. This 300S is extremely healthy and ready to go target shooting in the next report! It’s still a joy to shoot and is a rifle that you should continue to covet if you’re so inclined.
One additional thing. There has been some talk of how accurate these rifles are at longer range. If you want, I’ll schedule a special fourth report in which I shoot this rifle outdoors at 50 yards. I’ll have to wait for a calm day, of course, but wouldn’t it be fun to see how this rifle shoots at that range?
by B.B. Pelletier
Before I begin today’s report, here’s an interesting tidbit of news. The Georgia senate has passed legislation (SB 301) that will allow residents to use legal silencers while hunting game. This curious legislation is the first positive thing on silencers that I’ve seen. Does it mean that we are about the see a change in the public attitude toward silencers in general?
You’re on the couch, watching a typical “shootemupski” flick and the gang-banger bad guys in their wife-beater undershirts and black doo-rags are all shooting their Glocks with limp wrists and the guns rotated 90 degrees to the left, so the shells eject out the top instead of the side. You suppress a quiet snicker, knowing that this is inherently wrong, but you chalk it up to Hollywood.
What else do you know about the mistreatment of guns? That’s any gun — air-powered or firearm.
What about the guy who opens his revolver to check that it’s loaded, then closes the cylinder with a quick flick of the wrist? Back in the 1950s, the gun magazines were all loaded with warnings not to do this because of what it does to the crane. The crane is the arm that swings out of the revolver and holds the axle on which the cylinder turns. How many times have I watched a vintage black-and-white murder mystery in which the bad guy did just that to his revolver? It works in the movies because they can shut the camera off and switch guns after they bend the crane. In real life, it’s so damaging that the fit of the crane is the first thing you check whenever evaluating a used double-action revolver.
This Ruger revolver’s crane is made from steel. It’s the part that allows the cylinder to swing out to the side of the gun for loading and unloading. If it can’t take being flipped shut without bending, imagine what will happen to a softer metal airsoft revolver crane!
Mark your territory!
Here’s one all the Bubbas do to their guns. They mark them with their Social Security account numbers etched into the steel with an electric engraving pen. When asked why they do it, they always answer, “It’s mine for as long as I own it, and after I’m gone I don’t care what happens to it.” The sad thing is, when Bubba dies, he stays dead for a long time! So, that beautiful Winchester Model 1873 rifle he inherited from his grandfather in 1954 now sits in some gun store in Ft. Worth marked at $1,875 instead of $3,500, because his SS# is engraved on the frame!
Think this makes it a bargain? Think again. Anyone who buys a gun marked this way just bought it for the rest of his life, because no one else will touch it. If you want to buy a real nice Winchester 1873 lever-action rifle that has someone’s SS# engraved on it, just contact me and I’ll give you the details. It’s been in the same place for at least the past seven years.
Will someone please take the engraving pen from Bubba? This pristine Remington 03A3 rifle from World War II lost a third of its value because he marked the receiver this way.
I was once stupid enough to go “all the way” for you here in this blog and “inlet” the stock of an Air Venturi Bronco for the slide of a peep sight. I put quotes around the word inlet, because it really isn’t the right term. “Splinter-out” would be more exact, I suppose. My woodwork was approximately the same level of quality that you’d get from a rabid beaver. Pole-climbers leave smoother wood behind them.
Soldering with the starz
I’ll never forget back in the late 1990s when big bore airguns were just starting to be the rage, and the Farco Air Shotgun from the Philippines was the current rage. One “boutique” customizer hopped up his Farco up by switching from CO2 at 853 psi to air at 3,000 psi. But the steel screw that was the safety lug on the gosh-darn bolt kept digging a channel back through the brass receiver when the gun fired. Our “hero” built-up that area with a mound of lead solder. I am not kidding — there was a lump of solder there that was an inch deep!
Think it kept him safe? Well, it’s just about the same as sealing the leaks in your car’s engine block with candle wax. All I remember was that his gun was incredibly loud when it fired and nobody would stand within 20 feet of him when he shot it.
“Sometimes, things break off”
When I was in high school, a friend’s father had a double-barreled shotgun with Damascus-twist barrels. I was reading Guns & Ammo magazine at the time and about every third article had a warning about shooting smokeless ammunition in guns with Damascus-twist barrels. So, when his dad pulled out the shotgun to shoot it one day, I cringed and ducked behind a car. His dad said, “Aw, it’s okay. Sometimes things break off, but I still shoot it.” Sure enough, he shot it once, yelled, “Oww!” and stopped shooting. I heard the metal bounce off the car body, after it sliced through his cheek.
Sometimes the product name, alone, is enough to cause problems. The so-called “drop-free” magazines that some airsoft guns have is one example. The term drop-free was created to describe the type of magazine that is released from a semiautomatic pistol like the Colt M1911A1 when the magazine release catch is pressed. That’s opposed to the type of mag release that’s found on a Makarov or a Ruger Mark II that’s located at the bottom of the mag floorplate and doesn’t allow the mag to clear the gun even after it’s pushed. With that kind of release, you have to actually pull the magazine out of the frame of the gun.
A drop-free magazine will actually drop free of the gun when it’s released, but nobody would actually do that unless they had the base of the magazine protected by a rubber bumper to soften the shock of landing on the ground. IPSC shooters use them on their magazines because they have to reload as fast as possible.
But airsoft shooters who pay $129 for their entire gun do not have the optional rubber bumper on the bottom of each magazine unless they buy them and install them! The fact that the gun they buy has a drop-free magazine design does not mean that they can drop the magazine on the ground. It just means that it follows the drop-free magazine design that the auto pistols have.
Getting the lead out!
How many stories have I heard about airgun repair stations that have removed dozens of pellets from an airgun barrel during a repair job? And AirForce told me they once got a rifle back with jammed pellets and burst firecrackers in the barrel!
Pellets are not croquet balls and airguns are not croquet mallets. You can’t move one out of the barrel by smacking it with another one.
If you think it’s bad for airguns, just try it with firearms sometime! Better yet — don’t! Back when I was a lot younger and less patient, I was fast-firing a .45-caliber Generation II Colt Single Action Army when I had a squibb round. That’s a round without powder where the primer alone drives the bullet up the barrel partway. Without thinking, I thumbed off the next round that did have powder, driving both the first and second bullets out the barrel. It also split the barrel along nearly the entire 7-1/2″ length, with a swelling at the point where the first bullet was stuck.
This is what happens when your trigger finger works faster than your mind. This Colt Gen II SAA barrel is split from the muzzle to the threads. The other bullet did come out, though.
I knew something had gone wrong because the gun recoiled about three times as hard as normal, and my shooting partner caught the ejector housing in his stomach. No real injuries other than pride and wallet, but it was a life lesson whose tuition has just been paid.
I could go on with stories of people who felt the need to refinish a collectible airgun and destroyed its value. Sometimes, it doesn’t hurt — especially if the gun is painted like so many vintage Crosman guns were. But just don’t buff off the blue of a Falke 90 and expect anyone to appreciate your work. Some things are better left as is, unless you are a most careful worker.
This was supposed to be a Friday blog, but my schedule changed at the last minute and bumped it to today. Please feel free to talk about it all weekend anyway.
by B.B. Pelletier
The FWB 300s is considered the gold standard of vintage target air rifles.
I’ve danced around writing this report for the better part of a year, and some of you have asked me when I was going to get around to it. Well, today is the day we’ll begin looking at Feinwerkbau’s fabulous 300S — considered by many airgunners to be the gold standard of vintage 10-meter target air rifles.
Today’s blog is an important resource for those who are interested in fine vintage 10-meter target rifles, because I’m going to give you the links to all the other reports I’ve done.
There are plenty of vintage 10-meter rifles that I haven’t tested for you yet. The Diana 75, the Anschutz 380, the Walther LGR, the Anschutz 250 and the Gamo 126 all come to mind; but if you want to split hairs, there are numerous similar models like the Walther LG55 and the Diana 65 that also belong to a very long list of classic oldies. But the guns we’ve looked at thus far are a fair representation of the classic era of target air rifles. Today, we’ll look at the rifle many consider to be the pinnacle of achievement during that period.
You probably know the history, but if you don’t — first there was the FWB 110, a sidelever target rifle that recoiled! Yes, it recoiled. What’s more, Feinwertkbau didn’t make too many of them. The 110 is considered to be a very desirable airgun collectible today, and many advanced airgunners, including me, have never even seen one. According to the Blue Book of Airguns, fewer than 200 were made from 1962-1964.
The FWB 150 followed the 110 and introduced Feinwerkbau’s anti-recoil system. I reviewed the FWB 150 for you last June. I found it to be easy to shoot and compellingly accurate, but it wasn’t everything it could be. That honor awaited the 300S that I’m reviewing for you today.
The FWB 150 is the predecessor of the 300S. It shares a more sporterized stock profile with the interim FWB 300.
A footnote deserves to be inserted here, as the first edition of the Beeman catalog, a collectible in its own right, also mentioned an FWB 200 model, existing at the same time as the 300. A short line in the Blue Book says the model 200 was similar to the model 300 but lacked the recoil-compensation system. Until I researched today’s report, the model 200 was unknown to me and I’ve certainly never seen one. Is it as rare as the model 110? Has anyone ever seen one? These are the curious things that pop up as we research this fascinating hobby, and they’re what keeps the collector in me in a permanent state of anticipation.
The model 300 was much like the 150, in that it has a single coiled, steel mainspring and a thinner, more sporterized stock, yet it was definitely labeled a 300, rather than the 150. You don’t see as many straight 300 rifles as you do 150 rifles these days. Perhaps that’s because when the 300S came out it overshadowed the 300 and drove it from the marketplace in fairly short order. The 300S was a very different gun.
If you’re like me, you never paid much attention to the difference between a 300 and the 300S. What’s in a letter designation, after all? A lot of things, as it turns out.
Let’s start with the mainspring. The 300S has two coiled steel springs that are wound in opposite directions. It’s said they cancel the slight amount of torque at firing, though I cannot say that I’ve ever noticed any torque in my 150. The RWS Diana 48 sidelever does have noticeable torque upon firing, and you’ll feel a definite rocking to the right after the trigger is pulled. Since the sidelever already unbalances that rifle, the feeling is magnified; but the 150 doesn’t have the same feeling. At least — my rifle, which was recently tuned by Randy Bimrose, doesn’t.
The 300S stock is shorter than the stock on the 300/150. It also has a more vertical pistol grip to enhance the offhand hold. A slight flare at the bottom might go unnoticed in the catalog photos; but when you hold the rifle, the pistol grip grabs you right back.
So, how does this rifle block the recoil? Well, for starters, it actually doesn’t! All the FWB spring-piston target rifles do recoil; but in the 150 models and the 300-series there’s a special system in the stock that isolates the shooter from the movement. A set of steel rails set into the stock allows the action to move while the stock remains still. The shooter doesn’t feel any recoil and only the slightest vibration in some guns. But you do notice the movement of the action, because of the eyepiece that’s close to your sighting eye. The movement is very short — on the order of a quarter-inch or so — but if you’re close to the rear sight you’ll notice it. A rubber eyecup helps take up the shock and prevent your eye from banging into the rear sight disk, and I find it necessary to use this accessory with this model rifle.
This system is called the sledge system, after the name for a dry-land type of sled whose runners make it easy to drag heavy loads. It’s completely different from the Giss anti-recoil system, in which a counterweighted piston actually has no discernible recoil.
This mechanism is very refined compared to a similar system found on the RWS Diana model 54 Air King. Of course, that magnum spring-piston rifle has to deal with three times the power in a rifle of similar weight, so it’s actually doing quite a good job of canceling the recoil. Still, when the 300S lever is retracted, there’s no “levering” of the action required at the end of the cocking stroke like you have with the Diana 54. The ratcheting anti-beartrap safety that prevents the sliding compression chamber from smashing your thumb during loading does not need a separate button to release the cocking lever after you’ve loaded. The only extra step the 300S does have is a small locking latch on the sidelever that unlocks the lever at the start of the cocking stroke. The 150 and 300 cocking levers both have an end section that pivots outward to unlock the cocking lever and achieve the same thing.
Press down on the cocking lever latch to release the lever for cocking and loading.
The sidelever on a 300S is also much shorter than the one on the 150, yet the cocking effort remains as light. Obviously, some geometry was changed when the model was updated.
My 300S is a Daisy gun. While many were imported and sold by Beeman, many more came into the U.S. through Daisy when the company was trying to establish itself as a target gun company. The FWB name trumped the Daisy name, however, and a Daisy FWB is exactly the same as one from Beeman or one imported directly from Europe.
This 300S came from Daisy.
No piston seal
Another odd but not unique feature of these rifles is the lack of a conventional piston seal. Instead of a traditional seal, they use a metal ring much like those found on an automobile engine’s piston. These rings will last for millions of cycles, as some club guns have demonstrated, though other parts like the breech seal will eventually have to be replaced. And the coiled steel mainspring set needs occasional replacement, as well.
Many Webley pistols and a couple of the older Webley rifles have the same design, so piston rings are not unique in the airgun world. They are, however, features that are found only on guns of quality.
When the 150/300 was new, American airgunners were not used to light target triggers as a rule. They were accustomed to a 3-lb. pull being considered light. So, when they encountered the FWB trigger that releases at ounces rather than pounds, they were astounded. In fact, if they’d been accustomed to shooting the older target rifles from the 19th century, like Ballards, Maynards and Winchesters, all of which had fine double-set triggers, they would have been less impressed.
The 300S trigger has a nominal pull weight ranging from 3.5 oz. to 17.7 oz. (an optional trigger spring boosts that range from 10.6 oz. to 52.8 oz.). In target rifle terms, even the lighter range is not very light, though I find it just right for me. The trigger on my rifle releases at a satisfying 4.4 oz. It’s a two-stage pull with stage two being very definite. With practice, you can get on target and “think” the trigger off as the sight picture becomes perfect.
The 300S trigger also adjusts for position, cant and first-stage travel — all things that the 150 trigger does not do. Although the 150 trigger is just as light and crisp as the one on the 300S, you can’t reposition it. It’s also curved like a sporting trigger instead of straight like the target trigger found on the 300S.
The trigger of a target air rifle has no lower limit, the way a target air pistol does. In the ISSF rules for air pistols, a match pistol trigger must break at more than 500 grams (17.64 oz.). This is done in the interest of safety, as the muzzle of a pistol is too easy to move while on a firing line. But a rifle like the 300S is more obvious and easier to control, so there’s no lower limit. Some target air rifles today are releasing at less than 50 grams (1.76 oz.) of force.
The stocks of the vintage target air rifles show a fairly broad latitude of design, but they stop short in a few important areas. Tyrolean stocks are not permitted in World Cup and Olympic matches, nor are butt hooks. Today’s rifles are studies in ergonomics applied against these rules. Today, a 300S looks fairly normal to eyes that are accustomed to wild aluminum stocks with numerous adjustments; but when it was new, it seemed to push the envelope of possibility. I suppose it’s equivalent to how the finned cars of the late 1950s appeared when they were new compared to how we see them today.
Another drastic measure was taken at the World Cup level in the realm of target sights. For a brief time, the tube-type rear aperture sight was used, but complaints that it gave an unfair advantage caused a ruling that it was no longer permitted. This is very odd, since tube-type sights have been in use since at least 1776 and were in widespread use in target matches throughout the 19th century. But the ruling was made, and today’s rear sights cannot use tubes to enhance the sharpness of the sight picture.
FWB target rear sights looked as exotic as a Rolex watch when they were new in the 1970s. Today, they seem almost simple, but they still do the job. The click detents are nowhere close to the thousandth-inch measurements of the Vernier scale peep sights I showed you recently; but since you’re shooting 10 meters instead of 1,000 yards, they’re more than adequate for the job.
Unfortunately, these rifles were also sold without sights for a slightly reduced price, and many buyers mounted short scopes on their 11mm sight dovetails. While they may have been pleased with the gun that way, they created a shortage of sights for the future that is difficult to resolve. Until five years ago, you either had to install a hoplessly crude rear sight made either in Spain or China and live with the problems of adjustment backlash, or you had to pony up almost as much money as you paid for the entire rifle just to buy a set of precision sights.
AirForce corrected that lack for you with their adaptive rear target sight that fits most 10-meter guns. For about a third of what a German rear sight costs, you get a unit that’s the equivalent of the vintage FWB rear sight; and as a bonus, it looks at home on any rifle. An additional feature that never seems to get mentioned is this sight can be removed from its base and installed in a standard one-inch scope ring — multiplying the possible applications greatly.
The front sight looks more conventional and is of the globe design with replaceable inserts. On the 300S, it’s part of a larger aluminum barrel sleeve that makes it proprietary. When the globe on an Anschütz or Weihrauch target rifle slides onto a dovetail, this globe actually fits only the 300S barrel.
The front sight on this HW55 attaches to two dovetails of standard width. All Weihrauch rifles that have dovetails can use this sight.
The FWB 300S front sight globe is integral with an aluminum sleeve that fits over the barrel. It’s either this or nothing!
The front sight is pinned to the barrel through the sight base. On some versions of the 300S, like the Universal and the later Match, this pin is at the bottom of the barrel. On my rifle it’s located at the top.
You may have also noticed that the 300S has a blued barrel sleeve that’s slenderer than the one on the 150. Only toward the end of the barrel does it swell a bit. That’s because the 300S barrel is longer than the one on the 150, so there has to be less sleeve material to balance the weight correctly.
But the real test of this airgun comes with shooting. I’ve already shot this rifle several times, so I know what’s in store. You should feel eager expectation for the next two installments, because this rifle wants to shoot!
by B.B. Pelletier
Mark Barnes submitted the winning Big Shot of the Week. This is the varsity air rifle team at Lathrop High School in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Photos by Earl “Mac” McDonald
You all seemed to enjoy hearing about the 2012 SHOT Show, even though I went into some pretty great detail, so today we’ll do Part 3. Hopefully, this will keep us busy this weekend!
More on Media Day
The Boulder City gun range, where Media Day was held, is a huge facility with dozens of individual ranges that stretch at least half a mile. Now that I’ve been there, I recognize the ranges in all the Pawn Stars episodes with shooting.
The thing that most impressed me were the long-range ranges (yes, that’s plural) that could easily have gone out for miles if the shooters so desired. As it was, getting distances of a thousand yards was a trivial task. Only on tank gunnery ranges have I seen the equal of this openness.
This is a small portion of the long-ramge ranges at the Boulder City gun range. The horizon is miles away, and the targets are out at a thousand yards for big rifles like the .50 BMG and .338 Lapua.
As the media representatives got off the busses and into the registration line, we were each given a range bag that included safety glasses and hearing protection. Mac and I brought our own electronic earmuffs to be able to hear, but the shooting was so continuous (10-50 shots each second the whole time we were there) that the earmuffs were permanently suppressed. We would have been fine with normal earmuffs, as that is how our electronics sounded all the time.
After a couple hours of what sounded like the biggest firefight ever fought, Mac observed that despite thousands of people shooting continuously there wasn’t one accident or even an unsafe act that we could see. Of course, each range was monitored by the company running it, and there were plenty of orange-vested range safety officers patrolling the line; but it was the shooters who made the difference. These were people who knew guns and also knew to keep their muzzles pointed downrange and their fingers off the triggers until it was go time. I used to run ranges in the Army; and in all my time at hundreds of ranges, I never saw anything as orderly and disciplined as this!
Here is one of dozens of handgun ranges that go out 50-200 yards. Notice the high berms between them. Look at the safety sign and the two range safety officers in orange vests. With thousands of people shooting and hundreds of thousands of rounds fired, there was not one accident or even an unsafe act observed! The red bucket is full of free water bottles packed in ice — provided all day long.
I avoided Media Day in the past when it was a small event; but after attending this one, I’ll make it my mandatory first stop at each SHOT Show in the future! Now, let’s go back to the show.
At the Umarex booth, I was pleased to meet Anna Dalton, who works in the service department. She showed me around the booth and answered every question I had.
Besides the two PCP rifles and the Morph III that you’ve already seen, there were three interesting new air pistols on display. I’m seeing more and more air pistols these days, so something is definitely up.
The first of the guns is a low-powered breakbarrel modeled after the Browning Buck Mark .22 and called by the same name. The sign says it shoots pellets at 260 f.p.s., which some may scoff at, but I think there’s a real need for guns of this power. Just look at how popular airsoft guns can be, and you’ll realize that sometimes people just want something for plinking. The Buck Mark appears to be it!
The Browning Buck Mark breakbarrel air pistol appears to be a pellet plinker’s dream. Can’t wait to test one!
Another new air pistol from Umarex is the Browning Hi Power Mark III. This one is a CO2-powered BB pistol that mimics the firearm prototype exactly. It puts me in mind of the Walther P99 Compact or perhaps the Walther PPK/S.
Browning’s new Hi Power Mark III BB pistol is a new lookalike from Umarex.
I also met Janet Raab, the Umarex Director of Sales and Marketing for Competitive Shooting. Janet has a long history in competitive shooting and holds the Distinguished Rifleman’s badge. I’ll be talking to her about the Umarex and Walther competition models in the months to come.
On to Gamo
And here comes the part of the report I bet you weren’t expecting. Nor was I, until I walked into the Gamo booth and saw for the first time that they’re making a concerted effort to reach out to their customers with something other than velocity. Style is still their strong suit, but it appears they have discovered what the end user really wants and needs to know.
If you recall what I said in Part 2 about some companies were struggling to understand the customer, Gamo was one of them. But this year, I see signs that they’re getting it. Four educational displays in the booth impressed me the most.
This demo of the Gamo Smooth Action Trigger allowed me to cock and fire the trigger repeatedly. I don’t know if the trigger will feel the same with the full force of a mainspring on it; but if it does, Gamo has finally built a winning trigger!
Gamo’s Shock Wave Absorber buttpad absorbs the recoil force transmitted by the gun upon firing. Since Gamo sells some pretty powerful springers, this is welcome!
Gamo’s new Bull Whisper shroud is a fluted polymer barrel jacket that incorporates a baffled shroud to silence the muzzle report. It’s smaller and thinner than the current Whisper muzzlebrake.
Gamo is very dedicated to hunting, of course, so much of their emphasis is directed that way; but it looks like they’re now trying to educate their potential buyer as well as impress him with numbers. This is a significant new direction for the company that, if they follow it, will make Gamo a customer-centric business. Seeing the new trigger and the Bull Whisper shroud was exciting, because it means they’re talking about the customer in their design meetings.
Gamo’s Inert Gas Technology gas spring signifies that the company now thinks of their product in the same way that the shooters do. This bodes well for their future.
When Gamo decided to build their own gas springs many, including me, thought they just didn’t want others to modify their guns. The new trigger is the same sort of thing. But what I see now is a company that wants their guns to be as nice as they can make them. As far as I’m concerned, Gamo just threw their hat into the ring as a company that can innovate. I hope they’ll continue in this direction and build the kind of airguns that put fear into the other manufacturers.
Unfortunately, there weren’t any Gamo representatives in the booth to show me their new products this year. So, I took photos of some of the new rifles, and I’ll have to wait for the year to unfold.
These new breakbarrels were shown under the Bull Whisper name. Whether that is the name of the model or just the silencing technology wasn’t clear, but it was obvious there will be some new guns coming from Gamo this year.
Back to Hatsan USA
I went back to Hatsan USA several times during the show just to see more of the new rifles. Like Gamo, they have a new trigger called the Quattro and also a new shock isolation system; but unlike Gamo, they didn’t have the interactive educational displays to show them off. I’ll have to withhold my judgement on both items until I can test them on a gun.
Mac thought the trigger blade came up too far when it was pulled to the rear; but with the guns in the rack, it was impossible to tell for sure. Hatsan also has a new recoil pad that appears quite similar to the one Gamo is touting. I’ll try to get to one of them as soon as possible.
The underlever rifles I showed you back in Part 1 are apparently all from the Hatsan Torpedo line, which — as one reader mentioned — has a unique-looking breech. He likened it to an RWS Diana 46 breech, but I think it’s different than that.
I don’t have any AirForce pictures for you because I’ve been testing the guns for you all along. There’s nothing new gun-wise that you don’t already know about. In fact, my TalonP pistol test was in the SHOT Show issue of Shotgun News that was given out free at the show.
This is the last report on the SHOT Show. There is a thousand times more, but I think I got the airguns pretty well.
The last photo I took at the SHOT Show sums up business in Las Vegas this year.
by B.B. Pelletier
Timothy Burman is the Big Shot of the Week. He’s holding his HW97K in .20 caliber.
The day before the SHOT Show opened this year was a special day set aside for the media to sample all the new guns at a range in Boulder City. There were 1,200 official registrants and another couple hundred who got in after the registration ended, plus about 500 personel running the ranges. So, for 2,000 people, each of whom fired 100-1,000 rounds, there was a whole lotta shootin’ going on!
Only two air gun ranges were running — one by Crosman and the other was Pyramyd Air. At the Crosman range, I got a chance to sample the new AR-16 upper that converts your lower to a PCP target rifle. It has a Lothar Walther barrel and is a repeater that loads via the charging handle. Whatever sort of lower receiver you attach the upper to is what determines the kind of rifle you have, so the one that designer Scott Pilkington let me sample was quite nice.
But it was the 9mm Conquest (yes, it’s both semi-auto and full-auto) rifle that thrilled me most. Maybe it was because I was repeatedly hitting the silhouette target at 200 yards with a rifle the first time I fired it! That’s hard enough to do with a centerfire rifle right out of the box, but this gun did it the first time.
Tom shoots the 9mm Evanix Conquest at Media Day.
The 9mm is not ready for the market yet, and I still have the .22 report to finish; but it’s being developed, and we already know that it works. As it gets closer to being a reality, I’ll get into the particulars — but at least you know it’s coming.
The show started the next day, and I saw a number of interesting new things right off the bat. I’ll start with Hatsan USA. The company has stepped out on its own and will do business under the Hatsan name from now on. The designs that have been driven by other companies will no longer encumber the Turkish designers. We already know they make great firearms, and we hope that will spill over into the airguns they bring.
I saw two new things that need to be tested. They offer a new Quattro trigger that’s extremely adjustable, according to president Blane Manifold, who referred to it as a match trigger. I’ll withhold judgement until the first test, but here’s hoping he’s right!
Hatsan’s new rifles carry their name. Hopefully, their features will be fresh and sharp.
They also have a shock absorber system (SAS) that they say will isolate the shooter from the powerplant buzz. I hope the guns won’t need to use it much because they’re inherently smooth to begin with, but again, only a test will tell.
Over at Crosman, there are so many new products that if I were to tell you all of them it would take more room than this blog can dedicate. But one new product caught my eye over the others — the new butterfly hand pump. Those who read my report of the Benjamin 392 pump-assist gun will understand that applying the same technology to a hand pump means easier pumping to maximum pressures.
The new hand pump looks like a radio tower when the handle is extended. The butterfly design amplifies your energy to reduce the effort required to pump.
The new pump is in development and, no doubt, will require more time before we see it for sale…but it is in the works. With Crosman’s stake in the pneumatic world, I think they need to fast-track this one!
At Umarex USA, there was another cornucopia of products, but once again something special caught my eye. This time it was two Hämmerli rifles — one a sporter and the other an affordable 10-meter target rifle.
Hämmerli’s sporter and affordable 10-meter target rifles will be the topic of our tests this year.
While there are many attractive attributes to these rifle, I do have a couple concerns for the 10-meter rifle. First, the max fill pressure is 300 bar, which is close to 4,500 psi. Not many U.S. shooters have air at that pressure. The guns can be filled to 200 bar, of course, but the shot count is reduced.
The velocity for the 10-meter rifle is 780 f.p.s. — way above what the other target rifles generate. I know Walther (Umarex owns both Hämmerli and Walther) would never dare field a target rifle that shoots that fast, so I’m curious to learn why they thought this one would be okay. Perhaps, it was just marketing copy written by someone unfamiliar with competition and was obtained with a non-lead pellet that would never be used in the real world. I certainly hope so — because in all other ways, this rifle has a lot going for it.
Another very interesting gun at Umarex was the Morph 3X — a BB gun that changes from a pistol to a rifle to a shotgun. I’ve got to test this one as soon as I can, because I’ve never seen anything like it. Okay — maybe in some cartoons or when the Joker pulls a revolver with a 6-foot barrel out of his waistband to shoot down the Batplane — but never in the real world!
Glenn Seiter of Umarex USA holds the parts of the amazing Morph 3X — a one-gun-does-it-all for BB-gunners.
I’ll end this part of the report at the AirForce booth, with the Spin-Loc air tank attachment system. How many times have I heard people say they wish AirForce tanks had a pressure gauge? This is it, and it allows the shooter to index the tank in any position or rotation he desires. The tanks also have a new adjustable buttplate that allows you to not only adjust the rotation, but also the length of pull.
The new Spin-Loc air tank attachment system gives the shooter the in-tank pressure gauge shooters have been asking for.
On the opposite side of the tank, there’s a male quick-disconnet fitting, so the gun can be filled while still on the gun. This is another feature that’s been requested, and it makes sense to put it on with this new fill system.
I have taken a lot more pictures than I’m showing here, and of course there will be a more detailed report after I return from the show. I’ll try to make sense of some of the rumors you may have read. Til then, chew on these new toys and let’s hear what you think.