Posts Tagged ‘artillery hold’
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
I thought this was going to be a one-time report. I would show how the hold affects the accuracy of a spring-piston rifle and that would be it. Well, the best-laid plans…
Blog reader Slinging Lead said he thought that lower-powered breakbarrels shoot just as accurately when rested directly on a bag as they do when shot with the artillery hold. I had to admit that the TX200 does shoot well off a bag, although that rifle is an underlever — not a breakbarrel. And it’s certainly not lower-powered. Then, blog reader BG_Farmer entered the conversation and requested this test.
While all this was transpiring, blog reader Kevin Lentz sent me 2 tins of Air Arms Falcon pellets to try in my R8. He said his R8 shot them slightly better than it shot the JSB Exact RS pellets that I normally use in my R8.
Now, we had a multivariate discussion going on! On one hand we wondered which pellets were the most accurate in my R8; and on the other hand, we wondered if the gun was as accurate when rested directly on the bag as it was when held with the artillery hold.
How do you test all that? Do you start by testing one of the 2 pellets, or do you first find the best hold? My approach in situations like this has always been to just start testing and let the methodology work itself out as I progress.
This time, I started by shooting the gun with both pellets. I shot them with the artillery hold the way I always had, then I rested the gun directly on the sandbag and shot both pellets again. The first day’s results were not very good, but they did illuminate something that helped me structure the second day’s shooting. It turns out that, although the R8 is a very accurate springer, it’s still ultra-sensitive to hold. I guess I’d forgotten that, but on the first day’s shooting it slapped me in the face. I found that even the slightest variation in hold would throw the pellet sideways with a vengeance, and that held true for both the Falcon pellets and the JSB Exact RS pellets.
Ten-shot groups are the way to go
Once again, I must sing the praises of 10-shot groups over 5-shot groups. When you shoot 10 shots, you allow the gun to do its thing; and that tells you what the real accuracy is. People say they don’t shoot 10 shots because something can go wrong — that it’s easy to hold the rifle steady for 5 shots, but close to impossible to hold it right 10 times in a row. I say that’s just a lie we tell ourselves because 5-shot groups look so much better. Yes, it’s hard to hold a gun correctly 10 times in a row; and yes, you’ll make mistakes. I make them all the time. But if you get into the habit of shooting 10-shot groups, you’ll also KNOW when you make those mistakes; and in time, you’ll make fewer of them.
The first results — JSB Exact RS pellets
The rest of this report will be mostly the photos of the groups. I’ll start with the JSB Exact RS pellets.
On the second day, my artillery hold was more precise shot-to-shot, and I got groups that were smaller and rounder. Here are 10 JSB RS pellets from the artillery hold at 25 yards. Group measures 0.503 inches.
Resting directly on the bag on day 2 also beat the handheld group on that day.Ten JSB RS pellets rested on a bag went into 0.379 inches between centers at 25 yards. This is the smallest group of this test.
Clearly, these results show that the groups of JSB Exact RS pellets fired off the bag are smaller than the handheld groups on both days. The day 1 groups are larger than the day 2 groups, but the relationships of the group sizes between bag-rested and handheld remained constant on both days.
Air Arms Falcon pellets
Now, let’s see what happened with the Air Arms Falcon pellets. These were also shot on both days and using both resting methods.
On the first day, 10 Air Arms Falcon pellets at 25 yards shot with the rifle rested directly on the sandbag went into 0.627 inches. It’s slightly better than the handheld Falcon group shot on the same day.
On the second day, 10 Air Arms Falcon pellets at 25 yards shot with the rifle rested directly on the sandbag went into 0.603 inches. It’s much worse than the handheld Falcon group shot on the same day. I know this group APPEARS larger than the group above, but I measured it several times and it really is slightly smaller.
I conclude that these 2 pellets perform so close to each other that there’s no measurable difference — at least not in my Beeman R8. The group sizes do slightly favor the JSB pellets over the Falcons, but it’s too close to call.
But this test does demonstrate one thing very clearly. This rifle is capable of shooting groups just as tight when rested directly on a sandbag as when held with the artillery hold. That’s big news, I think. I’ll remind you that this test required the utmost in precision holding — whether in the hands or on the bag. There could be absolutely no tension on the rifle, and the gun had to be settled in properly before firing. It, therefore, took nearly as long to get each shot ready on the bag as it did holding the gun.
Don’t try to go too far
This is all well and good, but don’t sit in judgement of these results. It would be far too easy to get sucked into a destructive discussion of how much better you think this rifle can really shoot.
Many years ago, I worked for an engineering firm that developed specialized telecommunications systems. Our client was always pushing past the edge of technological possibility, so we were, too. That’s admirable except it sometimes gets you into problem areas. Let’s look at one example. The client wanted a mass storage device that stored a huge amount of data. They also wanted the data to be retrievable within a very short time. You can do one thing or the other; but when you try to do both simultaneously, there are problems.
Our problems can be seen in the movie Patriot Games, when the main character is attempting to do voice recognition in real time from a cell phone intercept. There’s a glass wall behind him, and the mass storage device behind the wall is very much like the one we were asked to design. As you watch the film, you’ll see robot arms moving fast to retrieve digital storage devices and plug them into readers. The arms move very fast! But they’re slow compared to the speed our robots had to move. Our arms had to move faster than the speed of sound, yet stop at precisely the right spot for the storage devices to be inserted into the readers. That is a physical impossibility just due to the physics of the problem. You cannot decelerate a mass from fast to zero without some consequences.
We had a problem that was unsolvable at the time we were attempting to do it. Today, however, it can be done, and the footprint of the system that does it is a fraction the size of what we were working on. Mass storage technology caught up with our technological requirement and then surpassed it.
You run into the same problem when you attempt to test something like the rifle we’re looking at today. You can get a spring-piston gun to a remarkable level of precision, and then the technology and physical limitations stop all further progress.
Put another way, you can take a $500 spring gun and invest another $500 to get it shooting 10 times better than before. But after you do, maybe no amount of additional money can get that more accurate airgun to shoot another 10 times better!
I could probably continue to test this rifle and get different results. Some would be better than what is seen here, and others would be worse. I believe this test does show the relationship quite well of the gun to the 2 pellets and 2 different holds.
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
Today’s report is one of those serendipitous events that happen when I think I’m investigating something simple and it turns out to be a treasure trove of shooting information. I thought today’s test was a demonstration of how settling into a firing position and following through would give a better group from an air rifle of proven accuracy. What I got was that and more!
I chose the .177-caliber Beeman R8 air rifle and JSB Exact RS pellet for this test because, in the past, this has proved to be a great combination. I shot 10-shot groups at 25 yards, which should show any differences if they really exist. Initially, I’d thought to shoot the rifle in a deer-hunter hold (meaning that I grasped the stock and pulled it firmly into my shoulder), an artillery hold without the tension being taken out of my hold (in other words, holding the rifle lightly, but held on target by muscle power and not by relaxing and adjusting the hold) and finally by settling in properly with an artillery hold. However, as I started this test, I thought that I’d also shoot the rifle directly off the sandbag to show how that affected the group size.
As I started the test, I realized that one group would have to be shot last, which would be at the time I was getting tired. I didn’t want to bias the results, so I put the neutral hold (the potentially best hold) at the end of the test.
Directly rested on sandbags
The first shot off the bag went through the center of the bull, and shot 2 went through the same hole. At that point, I thought this test was going to prove that I was wrong and that this gun really could be shot directly off a bag. Because of that, I knew that bias could creep in at this point. So, shot 3 was taken with the greatest care; yet, shot 3 went way to the right, and I knew the wisdom of not resting directly on sandbags was holding true.
This hold is one where you grasp the rifle tightly, pulling it into the shoulder the way a hunter might hold a powerful rifle. This was the most difficult hold to execute because the rifle was twitching around from the tight muscles. I didn’t have a death grip on it — just a firm hold; but through the scope, the movement was disconcerting.
Artillery hold without settling-in
This hold just felt wrong with every shot because I knew I hadn’t settled in. Were I to relax before the shot while using this hold, the crosshairs would invariable move to the right. And see what kind of group I got? There’s one large hole surrounded by 4 wild shots. This is the kind of group that will drive a shooter nuts because it looks so good in general but still has those few wild shots. You wonder what’s wrong and want to blame the rifle, the barrel crown and the pellet. But in actuality, it all came down to the hold.
Now comes the big lesson!
Here is where the test turned around and taught me more than I anticipated. By the time I got to this point, I’d already fired 30 good shots without a single called flier. The dispersion you see on the targets above is entirely due to the holds that were used to create them. But taking 30 good shots is very tiring. And it showed on my next attempt to shoot a good 10-shot group.
What happened was I didn’t relax as completely as I should have. There was still a bit of tension in my muscles. Part of that is because my R8 has a Tyrolean stock whose high cupped cheekpiece is horrible for shooting off a bench rest because it forces you to put your cheek against the stock. But knowing that these shots were fired with a bit of tension in this case turned out to be a wonderful thing because I got 2 distinct groups!
Four JSB Exact RS pellets went onto 2 distinct groups at 25 yards when the rifle was held using the artillery hold, but I still didn’t settle in as completely as I should have. The “group” on the left looks like a single shot, but I know for a fact that it contains 2 pellets. The group on the right is very obviously two pellets. The distance between the centers of these 4 shots is 0.574 inches.
Why is this bad target such a good thing? Because it clearly shows a phenomenon that happens to all shooters. A small change in the hold sends the pellets/bullets to 2 distinctly different places. How many times have I seen this on the rifle range and blamed my ammunition or rifle? Here’s the proof that it can be caused by just a small change in the hold.
But the learning wasn’t over! The next target I shot was with a fully relaxed artillery hold, but it’s still larger than I would like. What went wrong? Well, perhaps, where I’d my off-hand was the problem. It was back, touching the triggerguard. Maybe, it needs to be more forward with this rifle.
Ten JSB Exact RS pellets went into 0.475 inches at 25 yards when the right artillery hold was combined with the correct settling in. This is the best of the 5 groups fired thus far, but I felt the rifle had more to give.
I slid my hand forward to almost the end of the stock. Then, I shot the final group, which was the best one of the day. Fifty-four shots had been fired before this group was started; yet, when I settled in correctly and used the artillery hold as I was supposed to, this hold produced the best group of the session — 10 shots into 0.405 inches between centers.
This little test turned out to be one of the most important things I’ve done in months because it demonstrates not just the importance of the right hold and settling in but also what can happen when even one of those things isn’t done exactly as it should be.
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
Today was supposed to be Part 2 of the report on the BSA Scorpion 1200 SE, but I had an accident (actually a stupident) last night that prevented me from completing the test. I was slicing open a roll of bullet grease for my sizer/lubricator, and I slipped and cut my hand deeply. Today, as I was pumping the Hill pump to fill the rifle for the test, the wound reopened and I had to stop. Because the BSA fills to 232 bar and has a proprietary fill probe, I use the Hill pump because I don’t want to change out my more common Foster adapter on my carbon fiber tank since it fills most of the PCPs I own. Proprietary fill couplings are relegated to the hand pump.
This is also going to delay the next report of the Hatsan AT P1 pistol and the Evanix Rainstorm 3D bullpup rifle, as both of those PCPs also have proprietary fill probes and, of course, none of them fit any other gun — nor do they fit the BSA rifle! So, the only PCP I can report on for a week or 2 will be the Benjamin Marauder because it has a standard Foster fill coupling.
Today, I want to address the issue that blog reader Beazer brought up the other day when I talked about calling shots and following through. He mentioned that with his heavy-recoiling gas spring rifle, which he calls Mr. Nasty, he cannot keep the crosshairs on the point of aim after the shot fires. He wondered what to do about it. Let me pull a quote from his comment that explains everything well.
… should my sight picture return to p.o.a. after all the dust settles? Asked another way, if my reticle winds up off target, but my shot is close to on target, is something wrong in my shot execution?
Several other readers made similar comments about recoiling firearms. Obviously, this was a point that I failed to make in that report. Today, I want to set things right and talk about the ideal shooting position.
Let’s say I’m shooting at a 100-yard target with the open sights on a bolt action O3-A3 Springfield military rifle. This rifle is caliber .30-06, and it does recoil significantly. Nobody can hold the sights on the point of aim while this gun recoils. What I was trying to say in the report is that at the last instant before the shot fires, you look at your aim point reference for calling your shot. Someone else said it better — I think it was Fred. He says he takes a “mental snapshot” of the sight picture just before the gun fires. That’s a great way of saying what has to happen. No one can hold so still that they always know where the shot will go, but experienced shooters do watch their sights so they know where the gun is at the instant it fires. That tells them where the shot is going, and that’s how you call the shot.
So, on the O3-A3, I’m watching the front sight blade through the rear peep aperture, and I note the instant that the big service rifle fires. Of course, I lose all track of the target and sight picture after that. But if I saw where the front blade was at the moment of cartridge ignition, I know what I need to know to determine where the bullet probably went.
But what about what Beazer asked? Should the rifle return to the aim point after firing? In an ideal world, I guess it should, and maybe that’s possible for pellet rifles and rimfires more than it is for powerful centerfire firearms. The big kickers, like my .30-06, are going to push you around some, so don’t be surprised if you aren’t on target after the dust settles.
Instead of looking at it that way, I would like to turn things around and look from a different perspective. I would like to talk about how you settle in before you take the shot.
When I’m on a benchrest, or even when I’m in a seated or standing-supported firing position, it takes time for me to settle-in properly. I keep adjusting things until the rifle is aimed at the target when I’m completely relaxed. Don’t get confused — I don’t necessarily mean that I’m holding the rifle loosely. If the gun is a pellet rifle, I’m probably holding it loosely; but if I’m shooting a hard-recoiling rifle like a .30-06, you can be sure that I have the butt tight against my shoulder and the thumb of my firing hand is positioned to not break my nose when it comes back at me in recoil! Cowboy Star Dad told us that he’s learned to hold his .22 Magnum rifle firmly for best results, so maybe it’s only pellet rifles that are held loosely.
When I settle in the first concern is to rest the rifle as straight as possible toward the target. I’m now talking about looking through the sights and centering the rifle using them. If I’m using a rifle rest, that’s what gets moved from side to side. If I’m resting the rifle on my hands or directly on a sandbag, I put the butt to my shoulder and sight through the sights, then move the bag or my hands to center the rifle. If the rifle is handheld, my elbows also determine where it points; so once the gross corrections are made with the rest, I begin to make small adjustments of the elbows.
The object is that when I hold the rifle, the sights are aligned with the target so that when I close my eyes and relax, the sights remain aligned as before. I actually do this sometimes — close my eyes, take a deep breath and let it out, then open my eyes and see where the sights are. If they’re not aligned as I want them to be, I make adjustments to the hold and do it again. This works for rifles that are loosely held and for those that are held tightly.
I haven’t mentioned elevation yet, but of course that’s just as important as right and left. If I’m shooting off a rest that has a vertical adjustment capability, it gets adjusted up and down until the front sight is perfectly aligned. If the rifle is handheld, I do the same thing with my grip and the sandbag under it, if there is one.
One more thing
There’s one last step to this hold. That’s to touch the trigger and make sure the rifle doesn’t move away from the target as it’s squeezed. Sometimes this final step is the place where that last little bit of muscle tension gets revealed and corrected.
Do this for every shot
I know it sounds anal, but I repeat this process for every shot. You may think that a .223 Remington cartridge doesn’t recoil much; and in an AR-15 rifle, it certainly doesn’t — but even that pipsqueak cartridge moves the rifle enough to warrant this kind of attention, shot after shot.
If you’ll settle in like this for every shot, you’ll find that your groups grow smaller and smaller. You may already be using the artillery hold, but this procedure is part of it. I haven’t talked about this very much until now; but if you read my R1 book, you’ll see that I give today’s settling-in procedure the same importance as the artillery hold. This is what allows for calling the shot and for following through.
What about handguns?
Everything I’ve said today applies to rifles, only. Is there anything equivalent for handguns? You bet there is! There’s enough material to warrant at least one whole report of its own if there’s any interest among you readers. Today, I wanted to remain with rifles because there was so much to explain that I didn’t want any distractions.
A simple test to demonstrate the hold
I have an idea. What if I shoot 3 groups at 25 yards with the same accurate spring rifle? My Beeman R8 seems like a good candidate. From past tests, we know that JSB Exact RS pellets are a good choice for that rifle. One group will be shot using the classic artillery hold and the settling-in procedure I described today. A second group will be shot using the artillery hold without settling-in. I’ll use my muscles to hold the rifle on target, but I’ll use the artillery hold. Then, I’ll shoot a third group while holding the rifle like a deer rifle — gripping the forearm and pistol grip tightly and pulling the butt firmly into my shoulder. I promise to try to shoot my absolute best with each position. One 10-shot group should show a difference if I’m right about this. Boy, will I be embarrassed if I’m not!
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
Today will be a very interesting report, in my opinion. The Gamo Whisper Fusion IGT air rifle I’m testing turns out to be a fascinating airgun in many ways. Let’s get right to the report.
Today we will look at accuracy at 25 yards with the scoped rifle. The first thing I had to do, therefore, was mount the scope. The rifle came with a scope installed in a one-piece scope mount. Its vertical scope stop pin was already correctly adjusted to fit the stop pin hole in the raised mount on top of the rifle’s spring tube. That is rare, in my experience. Normally, the scope will be installed correctly in the mount but has to be taken out of the mount to sufficiently adjust the height of the stop pin.
I’d used this mount for my report on shimming scope rings, so I did remove the scope from the rings after all. Following that report, I left in the one shim that was shown in the report. The mount Gamo included with the test rifle has four screws per cap and seems to be a good one. It’s a one-piece design that does limit the positioning of the scope, but I was able to locate it fine for my use.
The adjustable cheekpiece helped a lot. I had it adjusted up to almost the top position, and my eye lined up with the rear of the scope with no unnatural repositioning of my head.
Surprise No. 2 was the scope. I initially sight-in at 12 feet to get the shots safely on paper, and inexpensive scopes are usually very blurry this close to the target — even if they’re set on low power. This rifle comes with a very nice Gamo 3-9X40 scope that was quite clear on 3x at 12 feet. Back up to 25 yards and boost the power to 9x, and the glass remains very clear. It’s been a long time since I liked a scope that came bundled with a gun as much as this.
The Smooth Action Trigger (SAT)
Next, I must comment on Gamo’s new SAT. It’s a 2-stage unit that has a light first stage and a second stage that you can feel as you continue to pull. The trigger blade moves through stage 2 smoothly and breaks cleanly, but not with the sudden glass-rod crispness we talk about all the time. Instead, the feel is one of movement that is predictable and can be controlled. It isn’t bad — it’s just different from other triggers.
I reported in Part 2 that the trigger breaks at 3 lbs., 12 oz. That may sound high if you read about PCP triggers breaking at less than a pound, but it really isn’t that bad. The thing to do is experience it for yourself before you judge it. I find it to be manageable and not at all troublesome to the best accuracy.
The light weight of the rifle, on the other hand, does present something of a problem. This rifle is so light that even when the off hand touches the triggerguard, the rifle still has neutral balance. It floats in your hand. That makes it difficult to hold on the target because the crosshairs want to dance around. The solution is a very light artillery hold that does benefit the rifle’s accuracy, and I’ll address that in a moment.
Normally, this is where I launch into the accuracy test and start making comments about the groups. This time, I have more to say, and it isn’t just about the groups — except how they helped my understand the rifle in a diagnostic way.
JSB Exact RS
The first pellet tested was the JSB Exact RS that did so well in the 10-meter accuracy test with open sights. I knew from that test that these pellets like to be seated flush with the breech for best results.
As I shot these pellets, I saw a strange phenomenon unfold. The first 3 shots were out of the bull at 5 o’clock. Then, I relaxed very consciously and allowed the rifle to float on my off hand. The next several shots went into the black. On shot 8, I didn’t relax like I should have, and I threw 1 more shot out of the bull at 5 o’clock with the first 3. How interesting!
It was so interesting, in fact, that I shot a 14-shot group, so that 10 of the shots could be fired with me being very relaxed. When you look at where they landed, you can see that the hold was all-important to where this rifle grouped.
Now that I knew something about how the rifle performed, I figured I could do a lot better. And the very next group confirmed that.
H&N Barcuda Match
Next up were the H&N Baracuda Match pellets that shot second-best in the 10-meter accuracy test. Now that I knew how to hold the rifle, I expected to see a better group. And that’s exactly what happened.
I adjusted the scope after finishing the first group, moving it a few clicks to the left. The first Baracuda Match landed at 11 o’clock, just outside the bull. Shot No. 2 hit at 8 o’clock outside the bull. I was obviously holding the rifle too tight, so I made a conscious effort to hold it looser and shots 3 through 7 hit inside the black. Then, I tensed up again, sending shot No. 8 into the same hole as shot 2. The final 2 shots were fired with complete relaxation, and I had a respectable group inside the bull to the left of center.
This time, there were only 3 shots that missed the main group, and all of them were fired with some tension in the hold. When I relaxed, I was able to put 7 shots into 0.789 inches. I think this represents the true accuracy potential of the rifle. Total group measures 1.995 inches.
Altering the hold
Now that I understood the rifle better, I decided to move my open palm out farther so I could feel the cocking slot. Sometimes, resting the rifle this far forward is better. It certainly makes it more stable.
This time, however, there was no improvement. The group opened up, and I could see no way of controlling where the shots went. The total group measures 1.754 inches between centers, which is tighter than the previous group overall; but there’s no tighter group within this group that tells me the rifle wanted to do any better. Although this is a smaller group, I think the previous group that was shot with the off hand touching the triggerguard shows more promise. So, I went back to the other hold for the next group.
Two pellets I didn’t try were RWS Superdomes and Gamo Raptor PBA. Both had done so poorly in the 10-meter test that I felt it wasn’t worth the time to try them again at 25 yards. That’s one of the benefits of 10-meter testing — it eliminates some pellets.
But I wanted to try at least one more pellet, so I selected 7.9-grain Crosman Premier domes, simply because they’re often very accurate in spring guns.
I now knew the best hold for the rifle, so all I had to do was hold it as loosely as possible and let the pellets do the rest. Nine of the 10 pellets went into a nice group measuring 0.845 inches between centers. It was the first shot that opened it up to 1.596 inches.
I find it interesting that the early shots were always thrown wide of the main group. By the time I arrived at the third pellet, I managed to keep the wide shots to 1 in 10. That tells me something. It tells me that the Gamo Whisper Fusion IGT is a rifle that has to be learned. Once you’ve done so, I believe that your groups will be about the same size as the smaller groups seen here.
I’m going to say something that may surprise some of you. I really like this air rifle a lot. I think it is too light and the trigger takes some getting used to, but in the end this is a great budget air rifle. It really isn’t that fussy, once you learn how to hold it the right way.
For some of you, even a used Beeman R9 is too expensive. I think you may want to look at the Whisper Fusion IGT. This is a gas-spring air rifle that has not gone overboard in the power department. It has a usable trigger, and it’s reasonably quiet and accurate. No, it isn’t as accurate as an R9, nor is the SAT as nice as a Rekord trigger; but for those who want to cap their outlay for an air rifle at $260 with a scope included, I think this is the one.
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
While I was at the courthouse awaiting jury selection the other day, I was reading a favorite gun book, Yours Truly Harvey Donaldson, edited by David R. Wolfe and published in 1980 by Wolfe Publishing Company, Prescott, Arizona. In the book, Wolfe assembles letters and articles written by Harvey Donaldson, one of America’s top shooters, and cartridge developers. He is best-known for his .219 Donaldson Wasp cartridge, but he actually worked on dozens of different centerfire cartridges over the 89 years of his fruitful life. And he was a schuetzen shooter on top of all of that. Schuetzen rifles are single-shot rifles with incredibly accurate barrels that shoot lead bullets at low velocities. They typically shoot at 100 and 200 yards, either offhand or rested on a bench. The best of them have been known to put 10 bullets into a group that measures under one-half inch at 200 yards, which is a challenge that’s difficult to equal with modern arms today.
So, Donaldson knew how to shoot. And that’s the connection to today’s report. I read a paragraph that Donaldson wrote for an article that appeared in American Rifleman magazine in May 1936 – Rest Shooting and Schuetzen Loading:
“The secret of fine rest shooting is to hold the rifle so it will be free to recoil in the same way for each shot. I like to have my rifle come straight back, and when I see the crosshairs rise toward 12 o’clock in a straight line above the bull, I know that all is well and I can expect a good group. If the shooter will carefully perfect his holding so as to get this effect, the matter of making small groups will come much easier.”
That’s a good description of the goals of the artillery hold airgunners use, with one exception. Donaldson describes firearms that, while their bullets don’t travel very fast (never over 1,400 f.p.s.), still leave the muzzle before the major vibrations and movement of the gun begins. With a spring-piston airgun, the heavy steel piston has already jumped forward violently and then come to a sudden stop before the pellet begins to move. Vibrations in the gun have already started well before the pellet leaves the bore, which is why airgunners have to take this special hold even farther than Donaldson describes.
Important point — please read and understand!
Remember this — Donaldson was talking about firearms when he described his hold. So, the basic tenets of the artillery hold apply to firearms as well as to airguns. I have known that all along, but I haven’t harped on it because it really doesn’t matter to most shooters. A hold like this is only important to those who want the absolute last bit of accuracy potential from their firearms. Some of our blog readers who have competed with firearms, like Victor, understand the importance of hold consistency without my saying anything. They might call it something else, like follow-through perhaps, but we’re speaking about the same thing. For the rest of the shooters who are just plinking with a .22 rimfire or shooting anything offhand, it wasn’t important that I drill down to the absolute bottom bedrock fundamentals of shooting to explain my points. Either they understood it without me commenting or it wasn’t important.
But I’m going on record today and saying that an artillery-like hold, or at least a repeatable hold that allows the firearm to recoil in the same way every time, does have a positive influence on the accuracy of a firearm as well as a spring-piston airgun. And I’m also going to say that the artillery hold has a positive effect on other types of airgun powerplants — including the precharged pneumatic (PCP).
It’s still true that a PCP is much easier to shoot accurately than a spring-piston gun, but only with a proper hold will any PCP be capable of delivering its full accuracy potential. Because PCPs do not vibrate very much, nor do they recoil, the benefit of a consistent hold gets lost in the noise. Most good PCPs shoot very well regardless of how they’re held.
What is special about the artillery hold?
Okay, we know that the consistency of the hold is important to accuracy. But is the artillery hold different than what Donaldson describes in the passage above? Yes, it is. Donaldson rested his schuetzen rifles front and rear. The barrel of his rifle rested on the forward rest and the buttstock rested on the rear rest. There’s foam rubber between the barrel and the rest, but my point is that Donaldson does not rest the rifle on its forearm.
To be honest, there are photos showing benchrest rifles rested on their forearms, too, so it can be done either way, but the barrel rest was by far the more common in these older times.
Donaldson shown with a rested schuetzen rifle in the 1930s. The barrel is resting on foam rubber on the front rest. Photo from the book, Yours Truly, Harvey Donaldson, Wolfe Publishing, 1980.
What’s special about the artillery hold is that we don’t normally rest the rifle directly on sandbags or other rests. Instead, we rest it on our hands, which are placed on the rest. The flesh of the hand cushions the rifle in some unique way that even sand cannot. There are some gel-filled pads that seem to work as well as the hand; but when you examine them, you find that they feel quite a lot like the flesh of your hand. There’s something about the consistency that a spring-piston air rifle needs in order to have repeatable recoil and vibration patterns.
What you rest the rifle on is important, but so is where you rest it. I often have to try sliding my off hand back and forth under the stock, from the triggerguard to out as far as I can hold it — searching for a point where the rifle responds the same with every shot. Sometimes, I never do find the right place, and then I resort to resting the stock on the backs of my fingers and even directly on the sandbag. I don’t use the backs of the fingers unless absolutely necessary because it often hurts. And the number of airguns that can be rested directly on a sandbag and still shoot well is very small, although the TX 200 is one that can.
The point of this report is that the artillery hold is nothing new, and I didn’t invent it. It was already very old when I picked a quirky name for it, so airgunners would remember it and be able to talk about it. This hold is one of the fundamental tools in a good shooter’s kit. You can ignore it, but do so knowing what you’re giving up — because this is the “secret” to shooting a recoiling spring-piston air rifle well.
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
Today, blog reader Paul Hudson shares his Theoben Crusader rifle with us. The Crusader is not as well-known in the U.S. as some other Theoben models, so this will be an interesting report.
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With its walnut stock, the Theoben Crusader is a large, handsome airgun.
The Theoben Crusader is a high-power breakbarrel airgun, identical in size and performance to the Beeman R1. Its stablemate, the Theoben Eliminator, seems to get far more press since it’s one of the most powerful breakbarrel airguns available. That power comes with a high price — a cocking effort of 50+ lbs. — that most shooters are not willing to endure for very long. The Crusader, on the other hand, is far easier to cock and is a more practical airgun. Based on the used guns I’ve seen for sale, either the Crusader sales are much lower or people tend to keep them. Few are seen on the usual airgun sales sites or at airgun shows.
The Crusader is a high-quality spring-piston rifle.
Measuring a full four feet in length and weighing 8 lbs., 3 oz. unscoped, the Crusader is a large airgun. Mine is .177 caliber; but .20, .22, and .25 calibers are also available. The Lothar Walther barrel is 16 inches long, and a muzzlebrake is standard equipment (.22-caliber Crusaders have an Anschütz barrel). There are no baffles in the muzzlebrake. No open sights are supplied by the factory, making an optical sight a necessity. My rifle has a right-hand walnut stock, but an ambidextrous stock can be had from the factory as a no-cost option. The pressed checkering does give enough grip to be functional. A very good non-slip recoil pad keeps the rifle in place. No plastic parts are used on the rifle.
The metal work on the Crusader is first-rate, with a high polish that’s typical of many British airguns, and the wood-to-metal fit is excellent. Allen-head screws are used throughout the gun except for one screw that secures the triggerguard.
Behind that screw, a Schrader valve allows the owner to change the air pressure in the gas spring. Note the thumb rest in the stock.
A gas spring
Like all Theoben springers, the Crusader uses a gas spring, not a metal spring. Cocking is butter-smooth and requires 38 lbs. of effort. The piston includes a sliding weight that reduces piston bounce and felt recoil. A Schrader valve at the rear of the receiver allows the pressure in the gas spring assembly to be adjusted to vary the power of the gun. Upon firing there’s no spring twang or vibration, just a quick snap. The sound level is moderate. And, due to the size of the gun and careful tuning, the felt recoil is mild for the power level.
The lower bolt is pinched between the breech block and the locking wedge to prevent vertical barrel movement. Note the taper at the rear of the barrel to make pellets easier to seat.
The barrel pivot setup on the Crusader is a little unusual. Most breakbarrels use a breechblock that’s close to the width of the forks of the receiver. Wide, thin shims may also be present between the breechblock and the receiver forks. The pivot bolt is then tensioned to the point that the lateral barrel movement is constrained. The breechblock on the Crusader has much more side clearance. Belleville washers are used to control the lateral movement. Belleville washers are cone-shaped from the side and are actually considered to be springs. A second bolt behind the pivot bolt mates with a hook on the back of the breechblock. The locking wedge pulls the breechblock tightly against this bolt to control the vertical movement of the barrel. Like many classic Webley rifles, the Crusader takes a bit of a slap to open the barrel for cocking.
The unusually wide breechblock/fork clearance is visible from below the action. (The photo is overexposed, leading to the yellow stock color. This was necessary to bring out the detail within the cocking slot.)
The Evolution trigger of the Crusader and other models has been criticized by some; and given the price of the gun, that may be justified. No creep is felt in the first stage, but the second stage is not as crisp as a Rekord trigger. As the gun came from the factory, the second stage breaks cleanly at 1 lb., 13 oz. The safety blade resides in front of the trigger and automatically sets when the gun is cocked. It can also be manually reset. Overall, I would rate the Crusader trigger as very good, just not quite as good as a Rekord or TX200 unit but not a reason to avoid the gun.
The trigger blade is almost straight; the automatic safety resides in the front of the triggerguard and is pressed forward to fire.
Velocities with the Crusader are similar to what’s found in a Beeman R1, and some lighter pellets in a .177-caliber rifle will go supersonic and ruin the accuracy. I tried a couple H&N Field Target Trophy Green pellets, but they traveled almost 1200 feet per second and missed the bullet trap at 25 yards. Extreme spreads with most pellets were under 20 feet per second, and a few varied by less than 10…very good for a springer.
These are the velocities the Crusader can deliver with the selected pellets.
Many pellets gave 5-shot groups around an inch in size at 25 yards. Several gave very good accuracy, including a few that surprised me. To get the best accuracy shooting from the bench, I had to hold the airgun loosely with my right hand and keep my left hand open. If I let my fingers touch the forearm, I had to make sure I didn’t squeeze the gun at all or the groups would open up. In other words, use the classic artillery hold. You cannot grip this airgun tightly and get good accuracy; it’ll take practice and proper technique to get the best results.
All groups were 5 shots at 25 yards, and the sights were not adjusted for the different pellets. It was interesting to see the difference in the points of impact. Predator Polymags and 8.4-grain JSB Exacts shot especially high in relation to the other pellets. Unfortunately, neither 7.9-grain Crosman Premier lites nor 10.5-grain Premiers heavies did much better than one-inch groups at 25 yards. While that’s not too bad, a number of pellets did far better.
Five H&N Baracuda Hunters made this 0.50-inch group.
Five Predator Polymag pellets made this 0.40-inch group. Good enough for hunting.
Gamo TS-10 surprised me with a 0.45-inch group; but their size seemed a bit inconsistent, and there were some flyers with this pellet.
Skenco Big Boys gave this nice 0.43-inch group. The group is almost twice as wide as tall.
The 13.4-grain JSB Monster also produced a 0.43-inch group.
The Crusader really liked the 8.4-grain JSB Exacts, as this round 0.24-inch group shows.
Best accuracy came from the Beeman Kodiak pellet. This group above is just 0.23 inches.
Adding it all up
Why buy a Crusader? After all, it costs just over $1000, and that price will keep many away. Compared to a Beeman R1, the size and power are identical. The R1 has a better trigger, but the Crusader has a better firing behavior due to the gas spring. The Crusader also has a far nicer stock, better metal finish and includes a factory muzzlebrake. Between my Crusader and my R1, the Crusader shoots more pellets accurately and will shoot slightly smaller groups, probably due to the fine Lothar Walther barrel. Unfortunately, the Crusader is more hold sensitive than my R1.
Both rifles should last a lifetime with proper care. It’s possible to upgrade an R1 with a new stock, a gas spring, muzzlebrake, etc., but you’ll end up spending more than the cost of the Crusader and still do not have the nice metal work. If you can afford it, the Crusader offers very good accuracy in a nicely finished package.
Theoben Production ceases
In October, 2012, Theoben Ltd. in England announced that they were entering liquidation (bankruptcy). It remains to be seen whether another company will take over production rights for Theoben springers.