Posts Tagged ‘education’

Man-powered Weapons and Ammunition: A review

by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier

book cover
This is the softcover version of the book.

This report covers:

• When is 12 foot-pounds more than 12 foot-pounds?
• How long is long enough?
• Ka-boom!
• Hodges catapult gun
• Why do airguns lose so much power?
• What kind of power can I expect?

This is a brief book review of The Practical Guide to Man-powered Weapons and Ammunition by Richard Middleton, copyright ©2005, published by Skyhorse Publishing, New York. Dennis Quackenbush sent this book to me just because he thought I needed to read it. Well, I’ve read it and now I’m recommending it to all of you.

The subtitle is Experiments with Catapults, Musketballs, Stonebows, Blowpipes, Big Airguns, and Bullet Bows. That should give you an idea of what’s included. Mr. Middleton explains dozens of different experiments in which he advances his understanding of pneumatic and spring-operated projectile launchers. He calls them weapons, as is the custom in the UK and also Australia, where he’s from. Here in the U.S., we define weapons as things meant to injure or kill; and, while most of what is in his book will do exactly that, our American culture sets the word weapon apart as a term charged with emotion. Most of us don’t consider airguns to be weapons.

That aside, this is one of the most interesting nonfiction books I’ve read in years, and it may be the very best one on the subject of pneumatic guns. The author addresses several scientific subjects without referring to formulas and equations, and the way he backs into each new subject makes you think he is a normal guy — just like the rest of us. But it’s obvious that he’s spent a lot of time and devoted much thought to making these complex subjects seem simple.

When is 12 foot-pounds more than 12 foot-pounds?
I don’t know about you, but I rarely read an introduction to anything. But in this book, I found the first profound concept on page viii — you know, one of those odd-numbered pages you flip past when turning to the real book? The author tells us he is puzzled by something he’s seen. He has a ballistic pendulum hanging from the ceiling of his garage. The bob weighs 12 lbs. When he shoots the bob with a .22-caliber airgun pellet going 620 f.p.s., it swings one-half inch from the impact. When he shoots it with a .451-caliber lead ball launched from a slingshot at 196 f.p.s., the bob swings an inch and a half — three times as far! The interesting thing is that both projectiles develop an identical 12 foot-pounds! Does that make you stop and think?

How long is long enough?
This topic comes up all the time. We “know” that a longer barrel allows an airgun projectile to go faster when fired from a pneumatic gun, but where does it end? How long is long enough? I see endless discussions on this blog between two or more readers wondering what the optimum barrel length might be for a certain airgun, yet nobody seems to know how to figure it out. Well, Mr. Middleton knows, and he conducted several experiments to demonstrate it to the reader.

We recently introduced the Air Burst MegaBoom Supersonic Target System here at Pyramyd Air and several of you were enchanted by it. Mr. Middleton made one a decade ago and describes how it worked. He took his experiments to places the MegaBoom folks don’t want you going, and he tells you what happened. You really should read this.

Hodges catapult gun
You veteran readers may remember that I reported on the Hodges catapult gun a couple years ago. This book not only talks about Hodges guns, it gives ballistics for several of them and tells you what to expect if the ammo is changed. This is stuff you cannot find anywhere.

Why do airguns lose so much power?
Our blog readers ask these intriguing questions all the time, and this book has the answers. Why does the mainspring in a breakbarrel rifle that’s rated at 150 lbs. of energy only put 21 foot-pounds out the muzzle? What happens between the spring and pellet that wastes most of that energy? And why is a .22-caliber gun always more powerful than the same gun in .177? This book explores these themes and explains them through the results of several experiments.

What kind of power can I expect?
“If my rifle develops 20 foot-pounds in a .22, what sort of power can I expect from the same gun in a .177?” I get that question a lot. This book answers it and tells you how to figure it out for yourself.

I could go on, but I’m going to stop here. I see questions every day about airgun fundamentals from many blog readers. Here’s a book that answers a lot of them and suggests how you might answer others on your own. The writing is easy to follow and almost conversational — like this blog!

I have an extensive library about the shooting sports and those books have helped me write this daily blog for you. Questions we ask today were also asked 150 years ago and have often been answered more than once by some very creative people. You can now add Richard Middleton to that list.

Pyramyd Air doesn’t sell this book, but you can certainly find it on Amazon. It’s not expensive, but it’s worth many times the $12 price. If you really want to know more about airguns, this is a place to start looking and learning.

Some common airgun myths: Part 1

by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier

I planned on putting a review of the See All Open Sight here today, but the test went south on me. It was most likely my fault, so I’m not going to publish it until I have a chance to check things. Today’s blog is also written by new blog reader Rob, who responded to my question of what things a new person needed to know about airguns.

ROB: Myth. All pellets are the same. The only differences between the 2-3 different brands available is marketing. Truth. Every airgun is different and will shoot very differently depending on the brand, weight, and shape of pellets fired from it. New guns should always be tested with a variety of pellets.

B.B.: As long as I’ve been an airgunner, I’ve heard that you have to try lots of different pellets in a gun to find the best ones. That’s true for firearms, as well, so why not for airguns?

BUT — and this is a big one! Some pellets are almost always good, while other pellets are most often not so good. The premium pellets you see me use to test airguns — JSB, H&N, Beeman, RWS and certain Crosman pellets — are most often the good ones. I won’t waste my time shooting anything else. The discount store pellets are usually not very good. In fact, I am planning a comparison test between some of the best pellets and some discount store pellets in airguns of known accuracy — to see if what I’ve said holds true.

ROB: Myth. Pointed pellets are best for hunting. Truth. Pointed pellets may pierce an animal, but that might not be the best way to humanely kill it. Projecting power into the animal with domes, hollow points or even target pellets is better, and a heavier weight pellet moving slowly is better than a tiny pellet busting the sound barrier.

B.B.: I learned this years ago. Pointed pellets are never as accurate as good domed pellets. They do penetrate better, but that’s about all. For long-range accuracy, I choose either domes or a few of the new high-tech hollowpoints that are very accurate, like the Predator Polymag and the Beeman Devastator pellets.

ROB: Myth. A pellet or BB gun is a good tool to teach an animal a lesson/run it off. Truth. Most pellet guns today are capable of piercing the skin of an animal at a close distance (and some at long distances), and a sunken pellet will fester…sometimes killing the animal–always punishing it inhumanely. Also, the new airguns (new if you haven’t bought an airgun in 2-3 decades) can be extremely powerful and potentially lethal. When I was a kid, we put on an extra coat and had BB gun wars. That was a bad idea then, and a worse idea now.

B.B.: No argument from me!

ROB: Myth. Oil your gun good (or the reverse, pellet guns last forever…there is no need to maintain them.) I’m guilty of both of these. Truth. Pellgunoil is specifically made for airgun lubrication. Engine oil can hurt it. Too much and not enough oil are equally bad for life and performance. There are still some things I don’t understand about lubrication. There are other oils and greases (lithium and moly grease) that I still know almost nothing about.

B.B.: There’s some truth here, but also some errors. The veteran readers know that I made the same mistake years ago. Pellgunoil is actually made from non-detergent motor oil with additives that preserve o-rings. And, Rob, there are still some things that I don’t know about lubrication, either!

ROB: Myth. There are only 2-3 brands of airguns. Truth. There are dozens and seem to be more every time I look. Wally World may have a gun at a lower cost, but it’s best in the long run to buy from experts who can give advice on all aspects of the gun, including potential scopes and pellets.

B.B.: Amen!

ROB: Myth. You have to spend a fortune to get a straight shooting quality airgun. Truth. Some of the inexpensive guns are the best. That said, you have to pay more to get all metal, wood and a Lothar Walther barrel (a combination I haven’t gotten yet).

B.B.: I think the Beeman P17 and the Air Venturi Bronco speak volumes here.

ROB: Myth. Every barrel should be cleaned. Truth. Some barrels don’t require cleaning at all. Some guns require frequent cleaning.

B.B.: That’s about the size of it.

ROB: Myth. High-power scopes make for better accuracy. Truth. A clear scope makes for the best accuracy…and sometimes taking the scope off and shooting open sites is the best route.

B.B.: In light of some recent test results, I have to agree. Doesn’t mean I’ll give up all my powerful scopes, though!

ROB: Myth. It doesn’t matter where a gun is made. Truth. A good gun could be made anywhere, but the Germans (for example) have the motivation, factories, artisan capabilities and history of making fantastic guns. Other areas of the world are often low-end bidders without devotion to the craft.

B.B. In general, he’s correct but don’t forget the Brits, Swedes, Turks and Americans! There are several countries where good airguns can be made, and often are.

ROB: Myth. Higher speed/greater power is always better. Truth. If you want to blow holes in plywood, greater speed and power are better. However, if you want to hit a target the size of a fly or hunt squirrels at any distance greater than point blank, accuracy is much more important.

B.B.: If you don’t know how I feel about this topic, you are a first-time reader. Accuracy comes before anything except safety.

ROB: Myth. Guns fire as fast as their containers claim. Truth. Airguns rarely fire as fast as the manufacturer brags. When they do, it is because they are a very good brand or because the maker tested the gun with ultra-lite pellets or took advantage of dieseling explosions.

B.B.: This used to be a larger problem than it is today. Some companies persist in overstating their velocity, I admit, but others have gotten on board with honest figures. They know many airgunners have chronographs these days (proportionately far more than firearms shooters), and they’ll be checking. The company that still gets its numbers from intentional oil detonations has been busted by airgunners, but they still sell very well to the unsuspecting public, which is much larger.

ROB: Myth. Airguns are only truly accurate where zeroed. Truth. Airguns point up like cannons and shoot in an arch. That means they are as accurate as they can be at two points on that arch…going up and down (for example, at 15 and 30 yards.)

B.B.: I don’t really understand this one. Because my airguns are accurate at all distances until they go out too far. I think what Rob means is the pellet path intersects the aim point 2 times.

ROB: Myth. “Broken” airguns are throw-aways. Truth. Most can be repaired with simple repairs like oiling or replacing seals or springs.

B.B.: I’ll go even farther than that. I used to do very well by installing CO2 cartridges in CO2 guns I found at flea markets — you know, when they would tell me they never tried the gun because they didn’t have a cartridge. These guns invariably leaked, and I got a big discount. When I got home, I used Pellgunoil and over half of them sealed up again. The Sheridan Supergrade won’t hold air unless you cock it first. Try to pump one up without cocking, and the air just bleeds out. These are a few of the tricks that can be used to negotiate the price down.

Rob: Myth. Airguns are toys and can never be as accurate as firearms. Truth. To my amazement, a great airgun can usually outshoot a good firearm (within the distances they were created to excel; under 10, 20, 50 yards.) I’ve already proven this multiple times shooting with my friends. They were more surprised than I was.

B.B.: Agreed!

This blog was done today out of necessity because I needed a topic quick. But the material presented here is still valuable to new airgunners. I hope others will read this and tell us the things they either learned the hard way or may still not be clear on.

Is a precharged airgun safe? Part 1

by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier

The suggestion for this report came from blog readers ricka and Terd Ferguson, who both expressed concerns over the safety of precharged airguns. That’s safety…as in wondering if one can blow up!

It’s been a long time since I felt those same concerns, but I did at one time. Before I got my first PCP in 1995, I was quite concerned about keeping a scuba tank filled to 3,000 psi in my house. I’d seen the movie Jaws and was suitably impressed when the shark was blown up by a scuba tank at the end. So, these two readers are probably expressing the same concerns that hundreds of you share. I’d like to address those concerns in what I hope will be a straightforward series of reports that are easy to understand.

Do firearms blow up?
Veteran readers of this blog know the answer to that. Firearms do blow up, and I’ve shared at least one such personal story with you — my Nelson Lewis combination gun. I overloaded it and blew the percussion cap nipple out of the barrel! You can read that report here. In retrospect, it was my fault, so we can call that experience a stupident.

I’ve been involved in two other firearm blowups. One was caused by a rim failure in a .17 HM2 rimfire cartridge, and I’ve since come to find that this cartridge is known for that weakness. When it happened to me, shards of hot brass blew out the ejection port of the 10/22 clone I was testing for Shotgun News. One piece of brass cut my right arm and drew some blood; but aside from that and a lot of extra noise and smoke, no other damage was done. That event was out of my control, so it was an accident.

The other blowup was caused by a squibb round (one without gunpowder that drives the bullet into the barrel but not out again) in a Colt SAA revolver. I was firing very fast; and when the squibb happened, I was unable to stop before I thumbed off the next round. The revolver’s barrel was split lengthways when the second bullet hit the first one halfway down the barrel. That wasn’t an accident — it was a stupident.

split revolver barrel
Shooting a round into a bullet that was already lodged in the barrel burst this 7-1/2 inch Colt SAA barrel. The bullet was struck where the ejector housing screw was.

Do precharged airguns ever blow up?
Yes, they do. The causes are as random as they are with firearms, and the results range from sudden surprises all the way to death. The blog readers are entitled to a frank discussion of the kinds of accidents that can happen with precharged guns, and that’s what I’m about to give you.

When I bought my first precharged rifle—a Daystate Huntsman—and a brand new 80 cubic-foot aluminum scuba tank, I was properly awed. No, make that frightened. It was not unlike setting off my first charge of TNT in the Army! I respected the power potential of both that dive tank and the airgun I was filling.

Like any new thing, though, this awe and respect lasted only as long as it took me to become comfortable with the technology. If you do something enough times, the edge of respect starts to wear off—I don’t care what it is. It isn’t good when this occurs, but it’s human nature. Familiarity breeds contempt.

And then it happened. My gun blew up! Okay, it wasn’t actually the rifle; it was the hose that connected the rifle to the scuba tank. And to be honest, it didn’t really blow up. The soft wall of the rubber hose ruptured, violently releasing compressed air. The tear in the hose wall was about one inch long, and the warning signs were there before it happened. The hose had developed a noticeable bulge at the point the blowout occurred. That should have told me that the reinforced fabric liner under the outside rubber was failing, but like I said—familiarity breeds contempt. And I didn’t want to stop shooting my airgun. I took a risk and the explosion happened.

I was standing in my basement when the hose blew. The noise sounded like a concussion grenade, although I’m quite sure it was nowhere near as loud or forceful. The blast loosened a storm of dust from the floor joists above my head; and my wife, whose office was right above me, jumped out of her seat.

The net result was no injury to me, beyond a bruised ego, and no physical damage to anything other than the now-ruined hose. I was momentarily stunned, and it took about 15 seconds before I regained my bearings, because Edith had already gotten to the basement before I turned off the tank’s air flow.

I shared my experience with other airgunners who were more acquainted with precharged airguns and was told I had been lucky the hose hadn’t broken off completely, whipping me violently before I could turn off the scuba tank’s valve. That was when I discovered that nearly everyone who uses precharged airguns has either had an incident like this happen to them or knows someone who’d had one.

Can this be avoided?
Can this kind of incident be avoided? Absolutely! There are several things you can do to keep this from happening. First, if you use microbore air hoses, the likelihood of blowouts is reduced — not eliminated, just reduced. Microbore hoses carry the same internal air pressure as regular hoses, but the surface against which the air presses is so much smaller that it reduces the amount of stress on the hose material. However, most microbore hoses are stiff and will eventually soften at the point at which they are bent. That’s usually up near the tank, where they come out of the tank’s air valve. You still have to watch for that, because when they soften, they also weaken at the same spot. The hose I have linked to in this report has springs on both ends to prevent this bending to a large extent — but you still have to look for it.

Another safety measure is to use a hose that has a braided steel sheath on the outside. This sheath keeps the rubber that’s underneath from expanding and blowing out. The hose that blew out on me was an early rubber Daystate hose that had just a 3,000 psi rating. It was rated for nearly the same pressure it worked at (2,500 psi), which isn’t good. The hoses with braided steel sheaths are rated much higher.

air hose with braided steel sheath
The stainless steel wire braiding on this air hose will prevent it from blowing out.

The most important safety measure is you! Examine your fill equipment every time you use it; and if you spot something like I did, you stop right away.

Another type of stupident
If you fail to fully connect the two halves of the Foster quick-disconnect coupling during a fill, the air pressure will disconnect it for you! It will be accompanied by a small explosion and often by the violent whipping of the air hose. Here’s another place where a microbore hose protects you because it doesn’t whip as much, plus it’s smaller, so it doesn’t hurt as much when you get hit. But the best thing is to never get hit at all. When you make the connection, listen for the click of the knurled ring on the larger female fitting as it snaps into position. That indicates that all the ball bearings inside the coupling are now safely inside the groove of the male fitting.

Foster fittings male and female
This female Foster fitting (left) has a spring-loaded collar that pulls back to allow the ball bearings to move outward. They go around the flat spot on the male fitting on the right, then the spring pushes them into the groove. They will hold the two fittings together under pressure, but only when the ball bearings are in the groove. It’s important to hear the two parts click together.

That is as far as I will go in this report. I know how important this information is for many of you, so I promise to come back to this quickly for part 2.

For now, however, I want to leave you with this thought. I’m being honest with you about the potential dangers that are present whenever precharged airguns are used. You have to keep an open mind about this because the things I’m presenting are not that common. They do happen and most of them can be prevented by the means and methods that we’ll discuss.

Operating a precharged airgun is no more dangerous than having a gas-fired hot water heater in your house or operating a lawn mower. There are things to be aware of; and if you follow the rules, no harm should come your way.

In 2009, I gave Pyramyd Air two articles about the basics of precharged pneumatics:

Introduction to precharged pneumatics/A look at the history and technology of the precharged powerplant
Helpful info for working with precharged pneumatics

While I put a lot into both articles, there will be new things in this series of blog reports.

Where do I start?

by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier

“Hi! I am new to airguns and I have a question. I live near a farm that has lots of feral hogs. Around here, people hunt them with high-powered rifles and shotguns, but I want to try something different. I saw on TV where someone used a Gamo air rifle to kill a wild hog that they said weighed over 200 lbs. I would like to do that, too.

I bought a Winchester 1250SS at a local discount store. What I want to know from you is, do I need to use the Gamo PBA pellets, or will any pellets work for this? Also, where in the head do I shoot the pig? And can I reuse the PBA pellets that I find? They are very expensive and this would help a lot with my hunting budget. Thank you for your answer. I’m looking forward to going out next week!

Where do I begin?
You may snicker at this fictional question, but I assure you that it’s not that different from the hundreds of real questions that come into Pyramyd Air every month. Today, I would like to share my thoughts with you.

First and foremost, I think the writer is a young person. Either that or maybe he’s an older person who hasn’t grown up, yet. He knows nothing about hunting, beyond what he’s read on the internet and seen on television. If he did, he would never pose this question. It’s absurd that someone would consider taking a dangerous 200-lb. animal with a pellet gun that has less than a third the power of a .22 short.

No one hunts whitetail deer with .22 shorts — at least no one who then talks about it openly. So, why would anyone hunt a more powerful and more dangerous animal with a pellet that produces less power at the muzzle than the .22 short produces at 75 yards?

Ah, but he saw it being done on television! That makes it true, doesn’t it? Sure it does! Just as true as what you see on Pawn Stars, American Pickers and The Days of Our Lives.

Next, let’s consider that our intrepid hunter has asked us where to shoot the animal. That illustrates the fact that this guy hasn’t got a clue about the anatomy of wild pigs or any other living thing. What’s he going to do when he “gets” his pig?

In my experience, they generally don’t think about that until after they have killed it. Be a waste of time to overthink the thing. You know?

Third, this guy bought his air rifle at a discount store. Nothing wrong with that — except discount stores generally sell the airguns that line the bottom of the barrel. They sell them on the basis of price and the high velocity numbers printed on their colorfully lithographed cartons. Naturally, they’re all .177-caliber guns because that’s pretty much all they carry at discount stores. Besides being fastest, .177 pellets are also the cheapest, which has a great appeal to these bold adventurers.

Speaking of economy, our Ramar of the Jungle asks if he can reuse his pellets. Sure! Why not? It’s not like shooting changes them in any way. Right? (If you’re new here…that’s sarcasm.)

Finally, he casually mentions that his hunting budget is low. I’ll bet it is! Hard to support an active sporting life on grandma’s birthday cash and the funds from your paper route, eh!

This person is trying to bypass the rights of passage, by which knowledge is passed from one generation to the next. No — he woke up this morning and said to himself, “I think I’ll hunt wild pigs. I would hunt alligators, but that would take a boat I don’t have, plus there aren’t as many gators here in Des Moines.”

To put things into perspective, this person needs to learn how to shoot, first of all. When he can put 10 of 10 pellets through a quarter at 25 yards, then we can talk about hunting. And the quarry will be squirrels and cottontails, or rats down at the junkyard — not wild pigs.

What upsets me the most is that a lot of airgun advertising is aimed at people in this category. And they seem to be quite receptive to it. So, zombies and skull-patterned paint jobs override discipline and sportsmanship.

If I were a 30-something marketing manager of a company wanting to sell to this market I would:

1. Keep the cost under $150 for the entire package
2. Advertise the velocity at 1,200 f.p.s. or more
3. Give my products radical and outlandish-sounding names…such as Bone-Crusher, Crack of Doom, Disaster-Blaster

Not the future
These people are not the future of airgunning. They have the attention span of a fruitfly and the personal depth of dew in Death Valley, but they’re a most visible wing of our hobby. When the media…which always looks for the biggest circus act in the tent…spots them, they’ll become the poster children of modern airgunning.

Like it or not, we’re tied to them.

Learning to shoot with open sights: Part 5

by B.B. Pelletier

Announcement: William Davis is this week’s winner of Pyramyd Air’s Big Shot of the Week on their facebook page. He’ll receive a $50 Pyramyd Air gift card! Congratulations!

Willliam Davis is this week’s Big Shot of the Week. Here he’s showing off his Crosman pistol with shoulder stock. He says he gets one-hole groups with it.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

It’s time to advance through the 20th century and look at open sights as they evolved. We now know that by the beginning of the 20th century almost everything that could be done to increase accuracy with open sights had already been done. There were a few nice touches that were added, but most of the hard work had already been done. But that didn’t mean the gun makers were finished. There were always new embellishments that could be added. Yet, some of the sights that were most popular in the 20th century actually got their start in the 19th century.

Buckhorn rear sights
Buckhorn rear sights were actually popularized in the American West in the second half of the 19th century. But they became very trendy around the 1920s, and the trend lasted well into the late 1950s — past the time when they made any real difference to shooting and were more of an adornment that some shooters expected to see. Though they were originally mounted on single-shot muzzleloading rifles, they are perhaps best-known as the sights for Western-style lever guns.

A buckhorn sight is very distinctive.

When you see a full buckhorn rear sight, you instinctively know it was created for some specific purpose, though there’s very little literature that actually explains it. I’ll now go out on a limb and explain the sight as I understand it.

A buckhorn rear sight is a ranging sight. What that means is that it’s a sight that can quickly be “adjusted” to shoot at different ranges without touching the sight. All you do to change the distance is change the sight picture. There are three clear sighting options when you sight through a buckhorn. The sight is nearly always associated with a post-and-bead front sight; and when it isn’t, I suspect someone has changed one of the two sights — either front or rear.

The bead can be held in the small notch at the bottom of the buckhorn for close shots. I would tell you that this is the 50-yard sight picture, but that would be misleading. On some guns, it might be exactly that, while on others the distance will be different. Suffice it to say this is the closest range at which the sight can be used without any adjustment.

When the muzzle is elevated until the front bead appears in the center of the hole described by the arms of the buckhorn (sort of like using a large peep sight), you have the middle range. Again, I can’t tie this to a specific distance without referring to a specific gun. And when the muzzle is elevated so the bead is between the points of the horns at the top, you have the longest range at which the sight can be used without adjustment.

All three ranges are achieved without moving the rear sight — by simply elevating the front post in relation to the buckhorn. That’s the purpose of the buckhorn sight as I understand it. If you have one on a 44/40, the three distances will be different than if you have one on a .22 rimfire. You should bear in mind that when the buckhorn was invented, men typically had just one rifle and they learned it well. It wouldn’t take long to become accustomed to the ranges for which their own rifle was sighted.

Now for the bad news. Most riflemen dislike the buckhorn, finding it crude, obstructive and generally not useful. Townsend Whelen was very outspoken against it. And most shooters who own one simply use the lowest notch for sighting, so the extra capability goes to waste. But it looks very Western, hence my remark about it passing into the realm of a fad.

Worse than the buckhorn is the semi-buckhorn, which is neither fish nor fowl. It was even more common than the buckhornand appeared on most rimfire rifles of the 1940s and ’50s because of its supposed popularity. It’s not a ranging sight like the buckhorn — just a stylistic form that’s supposed to look cool. It was popular at the same time the semi-beavertail forearm was considered necessary. Nobody asked shooters what they preferred. Companies just attached these sights to their guns and that was what you got– not unlike the fiberoptics of today.

The semi-buckhorn rear sight is just a stylized rear notch with two long arms that add nothing to the functionality.

Fiberoptic sights have synthetic or glass tubes that collect light and transmit it to a point at the end of the tubes. The point is oriented toward the shooter’s eye so the fiberoptic tube looks like a bright pinpoint of light. The object is to align the two rear sight dots with the front sight dot so the three appear to be in line. The front dot is usually red or orange and the rear dots are usually green.

It all sounds fine but for one thing. Red is the single color that’s hardest to see for colorblind people, and approximately 14 percent of all men are colorblind in some way and to some degree. Red-green is the most common type of colorblindness. That doesn’t mean these people can’t see the colors red and green, but they have problems seeing all shades of those colors, as well as other colors that are similar. Traffic signals compensate for this by putting yellow into the red and blue into the green, but I’ve seen some fiberoptic tubes that were so dark that I couldn’t tell what color they were. They are always red when that happens, by the way.

The typical fiberoptic front sight is a single red tube like this one from TruGlo.

A common arrangement of a fiberoptic rear sight is to bend one tube so it appears to be two green dots like this one.

The other problem with fiberoptics is they’re so large that they cover a large part of the target. So, aiming precision is lost when the shooter can’t define the aim point any closer than several inches at 50 yards. Good open sights can go down much finer than that, and aperture target sights can go down to tiny fractions of an inch at the same 50 yards.

But many people seem to like fiberoptic sights, and they’re now coming standard on everything, including handguns that they have no business being on. We’ll either have to put up with them as long as the fad lasts or find alternative solutions.

There are still some sights we haven’t looked at yet. One is an optical forerunner of today’s battery-powered dot sight. And the ghost-ring sight is another more recent invention that I know very little about. If any readers are familiar with them, I would love to hear about them. I’ll research them for the report, but I’m hoping the comments will shed more light on the subject — pun intended.

A newbie blunders into airguns

by B.B. Pelletier

Today we have a guest blog by a new airgunner who goes by the handle NewBlue19. It’s important to see airgunning through a new shooter’s eyes, and I welcome all guest blogs like this. I found it eye opening, and I think you will, too.

If you’d like to write a guest post for this blog, please email us.

Take it away, NewBlue19!

I’m impulsive by nature. Despite being in my thirties, I’ve never outgrown that trait. In early November 2011, I was reminiscing about how much fun I had shooting a cheap pellet rifle with my dad that he had purchased when I was about 12.

I immediately went online, searched “air rifle” and was rewarded with thousands of sites selling, reviewing and recommending assorted air guns. Some were vendors while others were forums for experienced shooters. YouTube offered hundreds of videos of 12-year-old kids nailing a can from 60 yards away. I was hooked, and an hour later had placed an order for a Remington NPSS in .22. It had digital camo stock, a 3-9x scope and a raised rubber cheek piece! I had no idea what kind of shooting I was going to be doing; but with this awesome-looking rifle, I was going to be the terror of my backyard.

While waiting for the rifle to arrive, I began to do some actual research online. I found useful informative sites like Pyramyd Air, AirgunWeb, and a few others. I began to learn the difference between breakbarrels, sidelevers, PCPs and multi-pumps. I read up on the artillery hold, hold sensitivity, learned what f.p.s. (feet per second) and f.p.e. (foot-pounds of muzzle energy) really mean. I watched videos on mounting scopes and sighting them in, and I finally realized that I had probably made my first blunder. The Remington that I had just ordered just might be a little/or a lot of overkill for my tiny suburban backyard.

At this point, I had read that Tom Gaylord as wells as AirgunWeb’s Rick Eutsler recommended the Air Venturi Bronco to new shooters. They mentioned the good sights, the light trigger and the easy cocking. But do I listen? Of course not! I understood where they were coming from, but I didn’t like the blond stock or the lower velocity. Instead, I ordered the Stoeger X5 air rifle in .177 from Pyramyd Air as a starter gun to learn to shoot with it. I do not regret getting the X5, as it’s a nice, quiet, lightweight, accurate plinker. However, I had just made newbie blunder No. 2.

As a 12-year-old shooting with dad, I had no concept of good trigger management, trigger-pull weight or length of trigger travel. I was happy to just knock over the soda can and considered myself a success when I did. As an adult, I now want to hit the dead center of the can or get nice tight shot groups on paper.

With both the Remington and Stoeger rifles now delivered and scoped, off I went to zero them in at 10 yds. I quickly realized that blunder No. 2 (heavy trigger) applied equally to both rifles. Reviews for both rifles clearly stated that both rifles had long, heavy triggers. As a newbie, I had no idea what that meant. I’m a grown man! I can pull a 5-lb. trigger!

Sure, all of us can pull a 5-lb. trigger, but it takes extra concentration and good trigger management to group well with a trigger like that. Since getting both rifles, I’ve had a chance to shoot rifles with better triggers from RWS and Beeman. The difference is easily noticeable. Had I listened to what Tom and Rick had repeatedly said, I would have gotten the Bronco as a starter rifle. It would have been easier and quicker to master and probably a little more fun to shoot.

I asked to write this guest blog in order to share my experiences as a new airgunner. I figure that maybe other newbies could save a little time, money and effort by not repeating the same mistakes I make as I go along — and experienced guys could get a laugh and sagely nod their heads at my hiccups. I think that experienced people sometimes forget the learning curve involved in undertaking a new hobby and the inevitable mistakes that occur while gaining that same experience. So, what did my first two blunders teach me?

Blunder No. 1 taught me to match the air rifle to the type of shooting, environment and distances I’d be shooting. Suburban backyard plinking with neighbors stacked all around you doesn’t require a relatively heavy 4-ft. long rifle. Add in the fact that I don’t eat wild game or know how to clean or skin it, I won’t need a “hunting rifle” anytime soon. Finally, figure in the 20-25 yard depth of my backyard and a busybody retiree living next door, and the Bronco (or Stoeger) would have been plenty of rifle for me. The $260 I spent on the Remington and $30 in assorted .22 pellets would have gotten me more than halfway to a really nice upgrade from the Stoeger when I was ready to make the leap.

Blunder No. 2 taught me to take the time to read the useful, knowledgeable reviews that some of the experienced reviewers leave. Not the ones that simply state “dime-sized groups at 25 yds” or “killed a tree rat with my second shot out the box.” Both are more boastful than useful. I’m referring to the well thought out reviews that cover fit, finish, triggers and any possible issues the reviewer encountered. If several experienced guys state the same thing, they probably have a point. Why fight or have to overcome an issue or shortcoming when you can just avoid it altogether? The information and experience is out there. We new airgunners just have to sort through it and use it.

I hope my experience will benefit some of you in the future.

Afterword from B.B.
Thank you, NewBlue19. I appreciate a newcomer’s viewpoint because it’s been many years since I shared your perspective. I know what you mean when you say a 5-lb. trigger doesn’t sound like much until you actually try it. Until you see the crosshairs walk off-target because of a heavy trigger-pull or until you group seven shots all to the lower left of the target with a certain handgun (lower right, if you’re a lefty), it’s impossible to know how this stuff really works.

So, factor that in to your research. You may read something that’s the honest truth and also a good description, but until you gain a little experience with the same stuff, it just won’t mean as much to you.

Learning to shoot with open sights: Part 4

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

This series began with the earliest sights that were both primitive and simplistic. Then, we looked at the evolution of peep sights, starting back before 1840 and progressing to around 1903.

There’s a lot more to be said about both open and peep sights. It was at this point in time that they each began to develop along separate lines. I think I need to concentrate on one type of sight per report to keep things straight. In today’s report, I’ll look at open sights from around the middle of the 19th century until today.

Open sights evolved rapidly after the American Civil War, which ended in 1865. Not that all the innovation was done in the U.S., mind you, but that was a time when the world of firearms was advancing though technological stages, and the sights kept pace with everything. Other wars around the world at the same time drove the armies of many nations to push the limits of firearms; and we got smokeless gunpowder, fixed cartridges, breechloading arms and eventually repeating firearms from this era.

In 1850, a military firearm was loaded at the muzzle and carried but one shot. Repeaters at this time were novelties and even dangerous experiments because of the volatility of black powder. These single-shot martial arms were accurate to about 400 yards on man-sized targets.

In 1900, there were repeating firearms holding 10 self-contained cartridges filled with smokeless powder and spitzer (pointed) bullets that could shoot accurately to more than one mile distance. Most of the primary designs we use today had been invented.

I stopped discussing open sights when I started my look at peep sights; but even though the advances in open sights were not as great in terms of the improvements they contributed to accuracy, open sights did advance in parallel with peep sights.

Range-driven improvements
The old black powder arms were accurate; but because they shot their bullets so slowly, the trajectories were huge. Bullets dropped by many feet on their way to the target. We all like watching Matthew Quigley shoot his big Sharps rifle at distant targets, but how many people appreciate that his bullets are dropping by 60-80 FEET before they impact the target?

Enough fantasy. Let’s get real for a moment. In 1874, the U.S. and Irish rifle teams shot a match at the Creedmoor range on Long Island to decide which nation had the world champion marksmen. They shot at targets at 800, 900 and 1,000 yards. At 1,000 yards, the bullets from the Americans’ .45-caliber rifles dropped more than 100 feet. So, they had to set their sights to compensate for this tremendous drop. A 550-grain .45-caliber lead bullet starting out at 1,400 f.p.s. will drop 114.69 feet when it gets to 1,000 yards.

This model 1873 Springfield Trapdoor carbine rear sight (from 1878) is graduated to 500 yards on the ramp and to 1,100 yards on the upright standard. There’s another sight at the top of the standard that’s sighted even farther — perhaps 1,300 yards. Image copied from Trapdoor Springfield by M.D. (Bud) White and B.D. Ernst, copyright 1980, Beinfeld Publishing, Inc.

This 1879 Remington rolling block rear sight on an Argentine military rifle chambered for .43 Spanish (11.15 x 58R) is elevated to shoot 400 yards. By flipping the standard straight up, the rifle can shoot out to 900 yards accurately.

I mention this because airgunners everywhere are so willing to condemn the .22-caliber pellet for having a “rainbow trajectory.” Folks, they don’t know the meaning of that term! And this is the reason that I refuse to give up my fascination for firearms — because I often find remarkable parallels between them and airguns. But some shooters will watch Quigley and then opt for the fastest .177 they can buy, so their pellets don’t drop too much at long range! To heck with that! Instead, take the time to learn where the pellets will drop and shoot the more accurate, heavier pellets. That’s what Quigley did.

So, the military rear sights of the 1870s were long affairs that had inclined ramps to raise them up for long-range shots. By 1900, this had been taken to the absurd limits of 2,000-yards. Nobody could see that far on the battlefield to shoot accurately; but by this time, military leaders were espousing area fire and talked about “beaten zones” and “cones of fire.” They were thinking of rifle bullets in a way similar to artillery shells, except they didn’t explode, of course.

By the turn of the 20th century, military leaders were thinking in terms of 2,000 yards and indirect plunging fire, as this 1896 Mauser rear sight shows. Image copied from Mauser Bolt Rifle, Third Edition by Ludwig Olson, copyright 1976, E. Brownell & Son.

By the time World War I started, the theory of indirect rifle fire was at its height, though it was proven ineffective through actual battlefield experience. Soldiers were also trained to shoot at targets directly, which ended up being the direction that proved the most effective. But the theory did not die. It persisted until the start of World War II, and the weapons that were used continued to have rear sights that adjusted for 2,000-yard fire.

Countries were also experimenting with ammunition at this same time (1898-1915). As each new innovation hit the field, nations scrambled to adapt their weapons to more modern designs that shot farther and flatter. As a result of what they learned, the rear sights also changed to reflect the flatter trajectories.

This model 1898 Mauser rear sight has been updated to reflect the more streamlined 8mm ammunition used during World War II. It’s shown elevated for 2,000 yards, but looks just a little higher than the rolling block rear sight of 1879 that’s set for 400 yards.

Of course, civilian arms kept pace with the military weapons in every way. Once the wars were over, the sights on civilian arms gained the same innovations that served the military so well; because they were sold to individuals instead of governments, they had to be more practical. No shooters wanted sights that were good for 2,000 yards — no matter what their military experience had been. So, the rear sights still elevated, but this time to more reasonable yardages.

This Winchester model 94 rear sight is probably good out to 200 yards, or so (for the 30-30 round). Photo copied from Winchester Model 94 by Robert C. Renneberg, copyright 2009, Krause Publications, Inc.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the express sights that were popularized by African hunters from the 1870s through the 1920s. These are sights that flip up and are regulated for a single cartridge at a single range. The most common that I have seen are those for 100, 200 and 300 yards — but there are many other combinations.

Winchester express rear sight has three flip-up blades for distances to 400 yards. Image copied from Winchester — An American Legend by R.L. Wilson, copyright 1991 by R.L.Wilson. Published in U.S.A. by Random House.

The express sight is a special adaptation of the earlier leaf rear sight that has two distances built in. Those go back as far as the 1850s. I showed you one on my 1867 gallery dart gun.

This rear sight from a gallery dart gun of 1867 could have been the inspiration for the express sights.

Well, that’s it for this time. There’s much more to say about open sights — mainly on the civilian side. We need to look at them, because airgun sights are directly related.

We’ll also look further at peep sights because we haven’t exhausted them, either. This series has at least a couple more parts to come.

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