Posts Tagged ‘Girardoni’

What is a repeater?

by B.B. Pelletier

Announcement: Stevin Cran 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!

Stevin Cran shoots at a field target match. Edith has asked Pyramyd air’s facebook contact to find out the specifics about the scope as well as the specific Steyr model.

We had this question last week. Three years ago, I wouldn’t have thought of writing it, but then I learned the truth — not everyone understands what the term repeater means. Not even everybody in the gun trade understands it!

This is why I rant about using the correct terms for things like cartridges and bullets. Because if we don’t, along comes someone who thinks bullets and cartridges are the same. So, then, what do they call a bullet? Why, a bullet tip or a bullet head or a bullet nose — as one airgun maker did several years ago. I’ve seen people on TV gun reality shows refer to cartridges as bullets — so you know the practice is widespread.

And it was three years ago when I saw on an airgun retail website a description of a certain airsoft long gun that described it as a bolt-action, single-shot with a 25-round magazine! This was a dealer, mind you! I was flabbergasted until I researched it a bit more and found that many sites were making the same mistake. Apparently, there are lots of people who believe that for something to be a repeater, it must fire every time the trigger is pulled. Anything else is a single-shot, I guess.

Man has wanted to fire more than one shot from his gun since about 30 seconds after recovering from the shock of seeing the first gun fire. And why not? We had repeating crossbows hundreds of years ago. Why shouldn’t firearms also fire more than one shot before needing to be reloaded?

And experiments with repeating firearms go way back in history. There were matchlock guns that used charges in tandem; firing one, then the next one behind it and so on, until all charges in the barrel were fired. The photo below is of a flintlock that has to pre-date 1830, and we know that Bartolomeo Girardoni’s son was killed as he fired one of his father’s repeaters when it exploded and tore of his arm Shortly thereafter, Girardoni turned to airguns and developed his 22-shot repeater (known as the model 1780) for the Austrian Army.

The charges for this flintlock repeater were loaded one on top of the other in a single barrel. The forward lock was fired first, then the one behind it and so on. Heaven help them if they got out of order! They relied on the bullet to stop the gunpowder from burning backward and setting off the other charges. Very dangerous! Photo from “Guns and Rifles of the World,” by Howard L. Blackmore, copyright 1965.

There were several repeaters used during the American Civil War. The most popular was Colt’s repeating revolver — a 6-shot revolver that was popular with both sides. And there were numerous other revolvers, plus a couple of lever-action repeaters from Spencer and Henry.

But when the armies of the world started buying and designing their own repeaters in the 1870s, they made most of them single-shots, as well.


These early military bolt-action repeaters had a lever or switch called a magazine cutoff that prevented the cartridges in the magazine from feeding through the action. The rifles were supposed to function as single-shots in battle until the order was given to throw the switch and turn them into true repeaters. Then they fed cartridges from the magazine until the last cartridge was fired. The brass theorized that this would conserve ammunition. I don’t know what the soldiers thought, but I know what I would have done had I been in their position.

Think this went out of style in the 20th century? Hardly! The U.S. Rifle, Model 1903A3, which entered production in late 1941, still had a magazine cutoff. But long before the soldiers had learned to flip it up to feed from the magazine.

The magazine function is turned ON with the cutoff switch in this position. The rifle now feeds all cartridges as it should.

There was one stylistic reason for retaining the magazine cutoff. The bolt was opened during the drill maneuver known as inspection arm; if the cutoff was set, the bolt never cleared the magazine follower. Therefore, the bolt could rapidly be closed again without pushing down on the follower. That looks and sounds sharp if everybody’s in cadence. Of course, other models of bolt-action rifles solved this same problem by simply grinding a bevel on the back of the follower; so the value of keeping the cutoff is small. Knowing the hidebound U.S. Army, it’s a safe bet they kept it for that reason, alone!

So, what is a repeater?
A repeating gun or airgun is a gun that can be fired more than one time without loading ammunition. And when I say loading, I mean handling ammunition with the hands. So, is a revolver a repeater? You betcha! How about a double-barreled gun? Yes, again. But here we will start an argument, because some double-barrel fans think that repeaters must have mechanisms to manipulate the ammunition. They see double-barreled guns as different because they need no ammunition manipulation mechanism and are shorter and lighter than those guns that have them.

I fall on the side that believes double-barreled guns are repeaters; by the same token, 24-shot volley guns are repeaters. And large revolving cannons (where either the barrels revolve or there’s a huge cylinder containing the cartridges) are also repeaters. In my mind, the Mossberg Brownie pistol is also a repeater, and it’s a four-barreled handgun. The only thing that moves is the firing pin. The same can be said for certain models of double-barreled shotguns.

But the bolt-action rifle that has a magazine is always a repeater. The fact that the bolt must be operated to move the next cartridge from the magazine into the barrel’s breech does not prevent it from being a repeater.

What about a gun that must be loaded singly, but which carries a reserve of cartridges onboard? One example of this would be the Liberator pistol from World War II. It was a primitive weapon that fired as a single-shot but carried extra cartridges inside the hollow butt. In this case, since each cartridge has to be singly loaded into the breech, it’s a single-shot. The quantity of ammunition that comes with the gun doesn’t affect the definition. How each round gets into the breech is what drives the definition.

Think we’re done?
Not even close! As recently as one year ago, I actually had to argue that an airsoft M1911A1 pistol that required the slide to be withdrawn for every shot was a repeater! The other party wanted to call it a single-shot that had a 20-round magazine. It had a spring-piston powerplant, and pulling the slide back cocked the mainspring that drove the piston. It this respect, it’s something like a bolt-action rifle, except the piston is being retracted and the mainspring cocked instead of just the firing pin retracted and its spring cocked while the next round is fed into the chamber. The other party insisted that since this pistol did not feed the plastic BB into a chamber, that was the proof that it was a single-shot. But when I pointed out that the Walther PPK/S BB pistol shoots BBs straight from the top of the magazine and not from the chamber of the barrel, they conceded the point.

Does it matter?
What should it matter whether people know the definition of a repeater? Well, the context is what determines whether it matters. If the news anchor mentions it in a report on television, we’re lucky if they just differentiate between airsoft and firearms (or toy guns and real guns, to use their terminology). They want to call them all weapons, anyway. But for airgunners who are serious about pursuing this hobby, we really should know the fundamental definitions such as this one.

A rare BB gun from Wyoming!

by B.B. Pelletier

Over the years I have written about many strange airguns. Some of them were mine and others were guns I either borrowed to test or just wrote about.

Sometimes, I’ve even written about firearms, which a student of airguns should understand because of the insight firearms shed on our hobby. Microgroove rifling, for instance, came from a 19th century barrelmaker named Harry Pope. Then, the Marlin company copied it; and only after airguns began being rifled in about 1906 was microgroove rifling finally applied to them.

And, there have been a fair number of curious guns that don’t really fit exactly in one category. For example, the Kruger cap-firing BB pistol isn’t really an airgun, but a firearm by the definition that a firearm discharges one or more projectiles by the force of a chemical explosion. But no BATF&E agent would ever give one a second look. Made mostly of black styrene, the Kruger is a toy by anyone’s definition. You can read about it in this report.

Well, today I want to tell you about another odd type of gun that also isn’t an airgun by the strictest definition. But it’s been lumped in with the airguns ever since it was launched in 1923 in Rawlins, Wyoming, by a dentist, Dr. C.L. Bunten. I’m referring to the Bulls Eye Pistol, a catapult gun that operates by the power of rubber bands.

The Bulls Eye Pistol is a repeating ball-shooter that launches .12 caliber lead balls by the force of rubber bands. Yes, I said it’s a repeater! Although, in today’s vernacular, anything that isn’t semiautomatic is a single-shot (not really, but that’s what a lot of non-shooters and kids believe). A repeater is a gun that stores multiple rounds of ammunition that it can fire when loaded by the mechanism. If you have to insert each round into the breech by hand, it isn’t a repeater, regardless of how much ammunition it can carry; but if an onboard mechanism loads each round, you have a repeater.

The Bulls Eye Pistol holds over 50 rounds in a gravity-fed inline magazine. Once again, don’t get too cocky about gravity feed, because the deadly Gatling gun of the 19th century used it to great effect! And the 18th century Girardoni military rifle of the Austrian army fed 22 .47 caliber balls via gravity, alone. So, gravity-feed is a legitimate feed mechanism.

Enough political incorrectness to last a lifetime. Not only is a nuclear family shown enjoying an evening of shooting, they’re shooting in their living room and mom and little sister are downrange from dad and son! And the target is set up on the furniture.

The gun is enormously underpowered, but it has just enough power to get the job done if that means hitting the target. In the literature (yes, I have the owner’s pamphlet that came with the boxed gun), you’re told that you can shoot at windows and not break them, but you can kill a fly at 10 feet.

The Bulls Eye Pistol came in a box with three paper-thin celluloid bird reactive targets. If you ever find a kit I advise you to never shoot at these birds, because the gun can easily poke holes in them at close range. Back in the day when the gun was being made (1925-1940), you could order a package of replacements for next to nothing but they’re irreplaceable today.

The kit came with the pistol, rubber bands (long since dry-rotted), a tube of shot, ammo loader (silver thing in front of the box), target stamp and pad, 3 celluloid bird reactive targets with stands and a box that served as the target trap.

There was also a bundle of rubber bands inside the box and a small paper tube of No. 6 shotgun shot. Of course, one 12-gauge shell provided hundreds of shots, so I imagine little boys were taking jackknives to daddy’s shotgun shells when he wasn’t looking.

The box served as a safe backstop since the heavy pasteboard could not be penetrated by the shot. And three targets stamped on the inside of the cover provided good targets for the new owner until he found a herd of flies to thin.

Many years ago, Dean Fletcher wrote a test article for Airgun Revue, in which he tested a Bulls Eye for me. When his gun was powered by 4 stout rubber bands, he got a top velocity of 195 f.p.s. with No. 6 shot, which is a .12 caliber lead ball — more or less. But try as he did, he never got his Bulls Eye to group any better than 5 shots inside .75 inches at 10 feet. Some groups were as large as 2.50 inches. He found that follow-through was extremely important with this pistol, which is the artillery hold at work.

There were other rubber band guns that followed the Bulls Eye, with the Sharpshooter being the most noteworthy. It was also produced in Rawlins for a short time, and then production moved around the nation like a geography lesson. When I attended college in San Jose back in the 1960s, I found two Sharpshooters in the box in a hardware store. They were new-old-stock and must have been laying around for close to 20 years.

The way the gun worked was simple. The shooter pulled the launcher straight back against rubber band power. At the next-to-last instant, the shot dropped out of the magazine and into the catapult launcher and then the launcher was caught by the sear. Squeezing the trigger released the sear and let the launcher fly forward, powered by the rubber bands. The launcher had a special seat that contained the shot that was under heavy G-forces until the launcher ran out of track and stopped moving. The shot took off on its own but was guided by the launch seat that had held it in the optimum launch position.

This picture shows everything. The metal launcher is in the center, held in the gun by a top and bottom rail, the hole in the bottom of the magazine dropped the next shot into the launcher when it was in position, and the sear…which moved up when the trigger was pulled.

Dr. Bunten found that No. 6 shot was not perfectly round, and it also varied in diameter by several thousandths of an inch. Running it through a precision barrel was not the way to go. But his launcher eliminated the concerns about any irregularities, so accuracy was possible.

Believe it or not, the front sight on this pistol was even adjustable for elevation and the rear adjusts for windage. I suppose if a fellow had enough time to kill he could regulate his gun quite well until it was possible to pick off flies at 10 feet like the literature said. I do know that lubricating the launch track and even adjusting the tension between the upper and lower guide rails that held the launcher captive was what you did to increase velocity and regulate the direction the shot took.

The front sight was removed and 50 round balls were poured into the channel that leads back to the loading hole.

I have a sales receipt from 1942 for a Bulls Eye Pistol for $2.95 plus 20 cents tax. That would be $30-40 today, so this was no cheap toy by any stretch. It wasn’t targeted toward the younger shooter, whose BB guns cost about $1 to $3 at the same time. No, it went after the adult shooter with a few extra coins jingling in his pockets.

Today, a pistol as fine as the one shown here would costs $100-150 at an airgun show. But this is one of those times when anywhere else you might get it for a lot less, because it looks so cheap. I have a small collection of rubber band-powered guns and this one is both the oldest and the star of my collection. It was handmade by Dr. Bunten in the room behind his office in Rawlins, as all Bulls Eye Pistols were.

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