Posts Tagged ‘hunting’

Advancing airgun accuracy

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

Several years ago, a big bore airgun manufacturer was heard to say that his hunting rifles were accurate enough to hit an Oreo cookie at 30 yards. He argued that it would be very hard for a deer to hide behind an Oreo cookie. So, the question is: Were his rifles accurate? He obviously thought they were, but most of the public disagreed. He had to improve the accuracy until his rifles could hit that Oreo at 100 yards. He managed to do that, and the sales were very good from that point on. True story.

Was this an issue of perception, or was the manufacturer right — that no deer can hide behind an Oreo? Well, here’s the deal. If he doesn’t sell any guns, nothing else really matters because he goes out of business, making his opinion as a manufacturer moot! Today, I’d like to talk about what drives practical airgun accuracy.

You might think it’s the World Cup and the Olympics that drive accuracy for airguns, but that would be incorrect. The World Cup matches certainly have had a huge impact on the accuracy and ergonomics of target airguns at close range. They’ve gone from being capable of making very small groups in the late 1950s to almost being able to stack all their pellets on top of each other. But that took place back in the late 1960s and early 1970s timeframe. Since then, there hasn’t been much advancement in accuracy because there wasn’t much room to improve. So, the target airgun designers turned their attentions to improving the sights and the ergonomics of their airguns, and that’s still going on today.

In this same time period, the pellet makers have advanced their art, as well. There’s still room for some improvement of lead-free target ammunition, but things in the lead pellet realm are slowing down. Once again, we’ve gone about as far as it’s possible to go.

But all of this progress has been in the world of close-range target guns. Longer-range airguns had a lot more room for improvement, and that was accomplished by different means.

History of field target and accuracy
When the sport of field target began in the UK in the 1970s, the first targets were just silhouettes of animals. The were hinged at their base so a hit anywhere on the silhouette knocked the animal over. These were simple targets to build, but not that challenging. It was argued that hitting a squirrel in the tail was hardly tantamount to dispatching it. If this sport was going to grow, it had to become more interesting.

Field target was not created to be a hunting simulation; but once it began, the connection to hunting was too obvious to ignore. Something had to be done to make the targets more realistic. The kill zone was the answer.

The kill zone works is a hole in the “face” of the target, which is the silhouette of the animal. The pellet must pass through the hole and hit a trigger (called a paddle) behind the target face. When the paddle moves, depending on how the target is built, the face will either fall over flat or at least fall partway.

Field target frontal view
This field target was made by Ulysses Payne years ago. It has a kill zone that’s backed by a movable paddle. The paddle is sensitive and  falls when hit square or locks when the pellet is split on the edge of the kill zone.

Kill zone side view target up
This side view of the target shows the link that connects the paddle to the face. When the paddle goes back, it pulls the face after it.

Side view target down
This target doesn’t fall completely flat because of the linkage connecting the paddle to the face of the target.

The kill zone changed the sport of field target, though it took some time to realize. What people discovered was that if you hit both the target face at the edge of the kill zone hole and a piece of your pellet splits off and goes through to hit the paddle (called a split in the sport), the face would be pushed backwards so hard that the paddle might not fall. At first, this was a chance discovery; but after a while, target makers started making their targets more sensitive to splits. The goal was that a split would not allow the target to fall, thus preventing a point from being awarded.

After that, the kill zones got smaller and smaller to challenge good shooters even more. By the end of the last century, it was obvious what this had done to the sport. Accuracy had taken on a new meaning. People were no longer satisfied with hitting tin cans. Now, they wanted to bust aspirins. And not at close distances! But that’s not all.

The evolution of scopes
Targets weren’t the only thing to improve because of field target. Scopes changed dramatically. Back in the early 1990s, you really had to search for a scope that would correct for parallax down to 10 yards. Today, that kind of adjustability is even showing up on firearms scopes! The tiny little sport of field target is what has driven this change.

But that’s just the beginning! Know those sidewheel parallax adjustment knobs on scopes? Where do you think they came from? Leupold didn’t wake up one morning and say, “We think the snipers of the world deserve a sidewheel parallax adjustment scope that sells for about $1,400.” No, sirree! The dozens of airgun scope manufacturers decided it for them — 10 years before Leupold got around to building their first one. And field target pushed them.

That little sport pushed the scope manufacturers until they were making scopes that could only have been dreamed of 2 decades earlier. When I got into the sport, the Leupold 6.5-20x Vari-X III was all the rage. Today, it would be considered a second-tier scope. Good…but no longer a championship scope.

And coming soon will be the bubble level inside a scope that Leapers is perfecting. Yes, other scopes with bubble levels already exist, but their optics aren’t suited to precision shooting. This one will be.

Pellets advanced at the same time. Back when I started in field target, a Diana Magnum was a good domed pellet. Then, Crosman Premiers hit the market and buried virtually all other brands. Next, JSB Exacts replaced Premiers as the best. Today, what would have been a world-class pellet in 1998 is now just considered average.

Diana Magnums Premiers JSB pellets
Pellet precision has evolved greatly in the last 20 years.

In short, this one sport of field target, in which only a handful of shooters actually compete, changed the face of airgunning forever. It defined accuracy for a generation and set the performance bar very high, indeed.

Big bores are staring to improve
The same thing has started to happen in big bore shooting. In the 1998 timeframe, a big bore that grouped inside 3 inches at 50 yards was seen as accurate. Now, that’s down to an inch. But there are even fewer big bore airgun shooters than field target competitors, so the advancements are going to take longer.

The future
Nothing stands still. What we need today is a hunting pellet that’s also very accurate. There are already a couple of contenders like the Beeman Devastator and the Crosman Premier hollowpoint. But the market is far from saturated. There’s lots of room for accurate hunting pellets in all 4 smallbore calibers.

And the world of lead-free pellets is still in its infancy. The lead-free pellets of today are lightyears more advanced than they were even 5 years ago; but compared to target pellets and general purpose domed pellets, they’re still very crude.

To prove the truth of what I’m saying, look at the groups we celebrate on this blog. The only thing that we don’t yet do is shoot those tight 10-shot groups at 100 yards. But I’m convinced that day is coming.

So, if you compare where we are today with where we were even as recently as 1995, you’ll see how far airgun accuracy has come. The guns are better, the pellets are better and even the scopes are better. The future is bright, and I can hardly wait to see the new inventions that will take us to the next level.

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.

What firearm shooters need to know about airguns

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

This report is in response to what blog reader David Enoch said happened at this year’s Malvern airgun show. He said several firearm shooters attended — I assume for the first time — hoping to find out something about airguns, since firearms have recently become more difficult to shoot. That refers to the general difficulty of obtaining ammunition.

Presumably, these shooters want to know if airguns can augment their shooting experiences. That’s what I intend to address in this report.

The short answer is — YES — airguns can shoot just like firearms, but not out as far as you may want to shoot. But let’s qualify that, shall we? I shoot at a firearm range that has separate ranges for 15, 25, 50 and 100 yards. There’s a separate berm on the 100-yard range, where shooters can engage targets at 200 yards, if they desire.

The huge bulk of shooters shoot on the 15- and 25-yard ranges. Maybe 75 percent of all shooting is done there with handguns, with the slight edge going to the 15-yard range. When they come over to the 100-/200-yard range, they mostly shoot rifles, and about 99 percent of their shooting is at targets on the 100-yard berm. There’s a steel gong at 200 yards, and about 10 percent of the shooters will take a few shots at the gong after they’ve fired 25-50 rounds at 100 yards. Putting an actual paper target at 200 yards is an extremely rare occurrence at my range.

In my 65 years, I’ve shot on over 100 different ranges — both public and private — and the private range I now shoot on is very representative. I’ve been to ranges with 300-yard berms and to several that go out to 1,000 yards; and the bulk of the shooting on all of them was still done at 100 yards.

I say that to put this report into perspective. I know a lot of shooters who own super-magnum rifles such as a .300 Winchester Short Magnum and even .338 Lapua, and even they all shoot at 100 yards. They may talk about long-distance shooting and some of them may shoot long distances when they hunt; but at the range, the bulk of their shooting is at 100 yards.

Rimfire shooters
One more thing is the rimfire shooters. They’ve always been closer to airguns than those who predominantly shoot centerfires, and perhaps many more of them made the crossover years ago when air rifles started to challenge rimfires at 50 yards. But one drawback has always been in the category of repeating air rifles. While good repeating air rifles are not hard to find, they do cost a lot of money compared to, say, a Marlin model 60 or a Ruger 10-22. However, when the cost of a brick of .22 rimfire ammo tops $60, as it now does for anyone who doesn’t camp out at the local big box store, then it doesn’t seem to matter as much that a good repeating air rifle will cost $400 and up. And these repeaters will also deliver the same good groups as the single-shots, so there’s very little to complain about.

Air rifle distances
When I started writing about airguns in 1994, 50 yards was a very long distance for an air rifle. It’s still pretty far if you shoot 10-shot groups; but for 5-shot groups, 50 yards is starting to become very reasonable. One-hundred yards is the new 50-yards for accurate air rifles. That also means that distances in the field have stretched, as well.

Here in Texas, we hunt prairie dogs — ground-dwelling rodents that build mounds and dig destructive holes that can break the legs of running animals unlucky enough to step in one. Prairie dogs live in groups called towns that can have thousands of mounds and occupy hundreds of acres of territory. This territory is typically dry scrubland that doesn’t support many head of cattle, so when a dog town moves in, it represents a big loss to the rancher.

So, prairie dogs are pests of the first order. As long as the hunter can guarantee the safety of livestock and people in the surrounding area, getting permission to shoot is usually pretty easy. Imagine, if you can tell the landowner that you’re shooting something that doesn’t even carry past 500 yards! What a plus that is?

The problem in the past was that no airguns were powerful enough and accurate enough to reach out to prairie dogs; because when you get within about 100 yards of them, they get skittish. It can be done, of course, and I’ve done it. I’ve gotten as close as 25 yards to a prairie dog following a long, slow approach and an even longer wait…but that was rare. A hundred yards was much more common. And with an AirForce Condor, I had the perfect rifle to reach out those 100 yards and get the dog.

Some airgunners are using smaller-caliber big-bore guns for prairie dogs. Airgun hunter Eric Henderson has been successful with a Quackenbush .308 out to as much as 185 yards. Now, that’s some shooting!

What airguns can’t do
Airguns are not loud, nor do they recoil much. So neither of those firearm experiences can be duplicated, and that may dissuade some shooters.

And airguns are not made in the same way as certain military arms such as Garands, SMLEs or Mausers. So, if the tactile experience is what the shooter is after, there are no airguns that can give it.

Finally, an airgun isn’t a firearm, and that, by itself, bothers some shooters. For some people, it isn’t a matter of hitting the target or trigger control — it’s knowing that they’re firing a .357 magnum that defines their shooting experience. For them, only the actual firearm will deliver the goods.

But for all those shooters who just want the feeling of a good sight picture and precise trigger control, the size of the hole downrange isn’t that important. I’m in that group, so I understand that the act of doing is more important than the definition of what’s being done. For all who like to shoot for these reasons, airguns are a wonderful way to keep squeezing the trigger.

Be careful what you say

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

Announcement: Do you read the blog comments via an RSS feed? Pyramyd Air has alerted me that Google’s RSS reader is on its way out. Here’s an online article with 5 good RSS readers that can replace Google’s.

Edith and I see a lot of things the average person never sees, such as reports about airguns that we cannot pass along. Today, I want to talk about that and give you an idea of what goes on behind the scenes. Everything I’m about to say is fictitious, unless I say otherwise. But all of it is based on truth.

The following is true. In the 1970s, there were stories in airgun magazines about people shooting the wild goats on Catalina island with .177-caliber FWB 124 rifles. In these stories, they claimed to be killing the goats with head shots. That started a heated discussion among airgunners about whether such behavior was — 1. Possible and 2. Sportsmanlike.

With a knowledge of the anatomy of a goat and with perfect shot placement it is possible to kill one with a .177-caliber air rifle. But it’s not the sporting thing to do. I’ve criticized Gamo for their video ad campaign that shows a .177 spring rifle killing a wild hog. That’s also obviously possible and also equally unsportsmanlike.

Allow me to paint a bigger picture for you. Bubba Sofaspud sees a video on the internet (where everything is true) that shows someone taking a wild pig with a spring-piston air rifle, and he fixes that one fact in his mind. Bubba is not a hunter. Bubba thinks that the way to kill game is to shoot in the direction of a wild animal until you connect. In fact, if he ever does get out into the field, Bubba is inclined to simply shoot in the direction of any sounds he hears in the bushes because he feels certain there’s wild game in there. He believes that a shot anywhere on the body of a game animal will be fatal. And now, thanks to this television ad, he also thinks that a .177-caliber spring-piston air rifle is all it takes to do the job.

If Bubba ever decides to go hunting for real, he’s going to leave a trail of tears and pain behind him. So, when someone sends in a product review to Pyramyd Air that says such-and-such a spring rifle is capable of killing a whitetail deer, it has to be declined. Yes, from the standpoint of everything being done perfectly, such a thing is possible — but no, it’s not something anyone should ever try to do.

Because there are lots of Bubbas out there, we must be careful of what we say. When we aren’t, it sometimes works against us, as Edith has to decline those gun reviews that have stuff that the Bubbas of the world might latch onto.

Things change over time
Before I became a writer, I never appreciated what goes on with the words I write, but the following is based on multiple events that have happened to me. Edith was present to witness several of them and can back me up on this.

It’s 2012 and I’m standing in the aisles of an airgun show when a guy walks up to me. He has a spiral binder in his hands and a pocket protector full of pens and mechanical pencils. Without any introduction he launches into something like this, “In April of 1996, you wrote that the FWB 124 you tuned for your friend, Mac, had an average muzzle velocity of 881 f.p.s. with Crosman Premier lite pellets. But in September, a year later, you said you couldn’t get Premier lites to go any faster than 790 f.p.s. in the 124 you had just tuned for yourself. According to what you said, you used the same Maccari spring and piston seal in both rifles. Now, just last year, you said that a good 124 should average between 840 and 860 f.p.s. I want to know two things. First, was the gun you worked on in September 1997 somehow flawed, and, second, was Mac’s gun, which clearly exceeded the maximum velocity you said to expect from a 124, a freak or were you just forgetting that it went that fast when you wrote what you did last year?”

This guy has written down what I said in all three articles, and he’s copied the velocities I gave in each case in his spiral notebook! Yes, things like this really do happen to me, and they aren’t isolated instances, either. I can count or one or two each year.

This person is looking at everything I’ve written, without realizing that it was written over a period of 15 years. I don’t know about you, but in the last 15 years I have changed my socks a couple of times — and my mind, too! It’s funny…only these guys can’t see the humor in it. I have to be very careful when I write something because it will come back to haunt me.

One from column A, one from column B…
A person writes a long email that he sends directly to me instead of making a comment on the blog. He uses the address,, so I know he reads the blog, or at least is aware of it. He just doesn’t want what he is about to say to be read by anyone but me. It’s the internet version of whispering.

Here is what he wants to know:

“Mr. Gaylord, I read on your blog that the fastest pellet you have ever seen went 1,486 f.p.s.” This is true. It was shot from an AirForce Condor in .177 caliber. “I also read where you said that a heavy bullet, like the 405-grain slug you shoot from your Quackenbush .458 Long Action, generates the greatest muzzle energy of any big bore rifle you own.” Also true. “I entered a 405-grain bullet and the 1,486 f.p.s. top velocity you said you have seen into the Pyramyd Air energy calculator and got a muzzle energy of 1,986.32 foot-pounds! Are you aware that this is possible? I know that no big bore airguns can do this — yet — but here’s my idea. Could Dennis Quackenbush make a barrel that is 8 feet long and rifle it for the .458 Long-Action he makes? I know it wouldn’t work with the current valve, but what if he made a dump valve that opened and just dumped all the air in the reservoir on one shot? Wouldn’t that work? I am putting my name into a special drawing for a grizzly bear hunt in my state next year, and I would like to be the first hunter to take one with an air rifle. With almost two-thousand foot-pounds of energy behind a 405-grain slug, I bet that bear would turn inside-out. I know such a gun would be very cumbersome to lug around and it certainly would be very muzzle-heavy, but think of the great press this would get for airguns!”


You can’t always take one thing from this gun and another thing from that gun and have them work together. But people do it! Or at least they think about it. And sometimes, one of them with too many dollars and too little sense decides to do something about it!

So, be very careful of what you say.

Nelson Lewis combination gun: Part 4

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

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Nelson Lewis combination gun
Nelson Lewis combination gun is both a rifle and a shotgun.

It’s been a while since I last wrote about this gun. Blog reader Kevin asked if I was going to write anything more and I answered yes, but what I did not tell him or any of you was that in October of last year I blew up the gun.

Blew it up?
That’s not entirely accurate. What happened is the nipple that accepts the percussion cap was blown out of the barrel and right past my face. When it went, it sheared off the hammer lug that connects the exposed hammer to the sear. I never found the nipple, but the hammer was lying on the shooting bench next to the gun. When my shooting buddy, Otho, asked me if I was okay (he was standing behind me, having a premonition that something bad was about to occur), I answered, “NO” for the first time in my life. Usually, guys will say everything is okay right after they’ve sliced off their thumbs with a circular saw, but this event was so startling that I wasn’t really sure what my condition was. “No” just popped out.

What happened?
Okay, get ready to criticize and tell me what I did wrong because I haven’t got a clue. Do you remember me telling you that airgunner Mike Reams can make swages to make conical bullets of almost any caliber? I learned that at the 2012 Roanoke airgun show. And do you remember that I wanted him to make a set for the Nelson Lewis gun? Well, what I did this day on the range was called a “proof of concept” test. I loaded a conical bullet in the rifle — partly to confirm the diameter requirements for Mike and partly just to see if the gain twist rifling really would stabilize a conical. But the only conical bullet I had was a 250-grain lead bullet for my 38-55 Ballard, which coincidently has almost the identical size bore as the Nelson Lewis rifle.

I’d been shooting a patched .375-caliber swaged round ball in the rifle up to this point. That ball weighed 80 grains. So, 250 grains would be heavier — about 3 times heavier. What I did was load a proof load into my 160-year-old gun and shoot it. Nothing wrong there, right?

When the gun fired, it recoiled more than usual (no kidding!), but that wasn’t what I noticed. I noticed a jet of fire about a foot long coming out of the nipple hole that had been so recently vacated. Then there was the verbal exchange between me and Otho, and then he cautiously walked around to my front and looked at my head — mostly to see if it was all there.

I’d been wearing shooting glasses, which I always do whenever I shoot a black powder arm (and after this event, when I shoot anything else, too), so my eyes were fine; but above my right eye was a large patch of black powder that embedded itself in my skin. I looked like the “murdering coward Tom Chaney” from the movie True Grit, who coincidentally had a black powder Henry rifle blow up on him. The powder had to be picked out of the skin with tweezers over the next few weeks and there is still some of it in there today, more than 4 months later. But I was okay.

My Nelson Lewis gun, on the other hand, was broken. And, as far as I know, Nelson Lewis doesn’t work on his guns anymore, having been deceased for the past 135 years or so. What was I going to do?

Otho to the rescue
Now you need to know something about my buddy, Otho. He’s a retired Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) mechanic who has worked on turbine engines and airframes since Vietnam. One of his skills (he has skills — and people like me need to know other people with skills) is welding. And I don’t mean trailer-hitch welding, either. I mean the ability to — well, let me tell you what he once did. His father stored a Gen-1 Colt Single Action Army revolver improperly, and it rusted badly. Rusted as in deep pits all over one side of the gun. So, over the course of a year, Otho spot-welded each and every pit, then worked it down with a file until it was flush with the rest of the metal. When it was perfect, and by perfect I mean perfect, he had the gun re-case-hardened so that today it looks new. All the factory lettering was preserved so you cannot tell that any work was ever done. Or at least I cannot tell, and I know Gen-1 Colt SAAs.

Nelson Lewis combination gun Otho welded gun
Both these Colt revolvers were stored together and rusted equally. Otho welded every rust pit and refinished the Single Action Army on top. This is a master at work!

So, Otho looked at the sheared hammer lug on the Nelson Lewis gun and says he thinks he can fix it. He thinks he can weld the hammer lug back up and file it to fit the hammer. This news sounds wonderful, coming as it does on the heels of the gun’s destruction. Let me show you what is involved.

Nelson Lewis combination gun nipple out
The nipple is gone. All the threads are, too.

Nelson Lewis combination gun hammer sheared off
The hammer was sheared off at the lock plate. The other end of that square lug is the rifle’s sear.

Nelson Lewis combination gun hammer front
The hammer was sheared off the lock as neatly as if it had been properly removed.

Nelson Lewis combination gun hammer back
The flip side of the hammer shows the lug that was sheared.

Nelson Lewis combination gun lock interior
See the part with the leg sticking out? That’s the sear. It also has the lug that the hammer used to be connected to — or at least it is supposed to.

I disassembled the lock and looked at the sear carefully. Surely, it was made in two pieces because how did Lewis put a square lug on a complex sear otherwise? You know what? He cast the part in one piece. Out of steel. In 1850! They wouldn’t have automobiles for half a century and here was this gunsmith in upstate New York making complex parts from cast steel! I thought Bill Ruger invented the casting of gun parts. (Just kidding. Please don’t hit me with comments. I am aware that the lost wax casting process is very ancient.) But seriously, did you know that gunsmiths in 1850 were casting parts from steel? That’s not the paradigm I’ve been given to believe.

And one thing was certain because of how the part was initially produced. It would either have to be welded or made entirely new. Otho’s plan now sounded very good.

In November, I gave him the lock pieces and he began to study them. His task wasn’t just to weld the lug, but also to maintain the correct orientation so the hammer would fire a percussion cap again. And that brought up the other thing — there was no nipple for the cap. It was blown off the gun and never found. And the threads in the hole where it was were completely stripped. Otho had an idea about that. Use a Heli-Coil. When I balked, he told me that a Heli-Coil is approved by the FAA for threading stripped holes. And the FAA is about as anal as they can be when it comes to parts’ integrity and safety. So, I guessed it was okay.

He began welding small amounts at a time. Welding and welding, and then filing when he got close to the right dimensions. Then it was weld and file, weld and file. This went on until January. I think he finished the job while I was at the SHOT Show. Then he told me about his worry. He had been worried that the sear metal might vaporize as he welded, but that hadn’t happened. So the steel was good. Now he was concerned that all the heat from welding had taken all the hardness out of the part.

He took the part to a knife-maker friend of ours to have it Rockwell tested. But the part was too odd-shaped and small to fit in this guy’s tester. So, he drew a file across it and made a guess what kind of steel it was based on the date of manufacture and how it took the file. Then, he hardened it in his kiln until it was hard as glass. Next, Otho did a complex series of tempering heats that drew the hardness down to approximately Rockwell 38, which the knife-maker guessed was the hardness of the original part. Do you think this is too much guesswork? How do you think Nelson Lewis did it in 1850? He heated it on his forge until it glowed brightly enough, then quenched it in whatever oil he had (possibly sperm whale?), then he drew the temper the same way.

Nelson Lewis combination gun sear restored
The hammer lug (the square projection standing up in this picture) has been restored to the sear. No, the lug isn’t perfectly square. It’s shaped exactly like the hole in the hammer. The hole for the hammer screw was even drilled off-center and threaded exactly like the original.

The proof of the pudding
Otho installed the Heli-Coil and a new nipple I gave him, then the both of us reassembled the rifle. He was very concerned about the hammer, so I test-fired just a percussion cap in my garage and everything was fine.

I went to the range to test the rifle with a full charge of powder and a correct bullet. First, I shot off another cap, to clear the path in the nipple. Then, I loaded about 20 grains of powder and tamped just a wad on top. That was fired okay, so now it was time to load the rifle for real.

I loaded the rifle the same way I’d loaded it before — with a patched round ball ahead of about 20 grains of 3F black powder. I tied a 10-foot cord to the trigger and carefully cocked the hammer. I pulled the trigger with the rifle sitting in the rest and it fired without incident.

Nelson Lewis combination gun with lanyard
This shot was posed. I was 3 feet farther back when I fired the gun for real.

Nelson Lewis combination gun shooting off bench
Once I knew the gun was safe, I shot it like I had before the accident.

Once the gun passed the test and I knew it was safe to shoot again, I settled down and shot a quick 5-shot group at 50 yards. It shot to the same point as before the accident and grouped about the same.

Nelson Lewis combination gun shooting 50 yard group
Five shots at 50 yards made this group. It’s in the same place and the same size as before.

How does the gun look now?
I’m sure you’re curious how the gun looks after this trauma. The fact is, apart from a small dent in the top of the pistol grip where the hammer spur hit the wood, you can’t tell anything ever happened. I thank the Lord for my safety, and I thank Otho for being so skilled. I’m so fortunate to have my gun back and whole again.

No moral
There is no moral to this story. And I hope you readers are all smart enough to not need to learn anything from my misfortune.

I will continue to shoot the rifle, but not a lot. I think, given the circumstances, this rifle has done enough for me. It deserves a rest and, except for an occasional day or two, that’s what I intend to give it.

AirForce Talon SS precharged pneumatic air rifle: Part 9

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

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8

AirForce Talon SS is a whole shooting system.

We last looked at the .22-caliber Talon SS on June 13, when I told you that I had mistakenly shot the rifle with a standard air tank instead of a Micro-Meter tank in the previous test. I retested the rifle with an AirForce Micro-Meter air tank and the standard 12-inch barrel. Today, I want to finish the test with the optional 24-inch barrel.

You’ll recall in Part 8 that I shot the rifle 380 times on a single fill of the Micro-Meter tank. Today, we’ll see what difference, if any, we get from the 24-inch barrel. The only pellet used in this test was the .22-caliber Crosman Premier pellet.

Let’s begin — shots 1 to 10
The tank is filled to 3,000 psi and shooting starts. The power wheel is set as low as it will go. The first three shots go 429, 536 and 667 f.p.s., respectively. Shot four goes 726 f.p.s. and the rifle is stable from that point on. The first three shots were needed to wake up the valve. Discounting the first three shots, the string averaged 727 f.p.s. and ranged from 725 to 732 f.p.s., a spread of 7 f.p.s. The average energy was 16.79 foot-pounds; and yes, I’m aware that a Micro-Meter tank isn’t supposed to be that powerful. But we’re seeing the effect of doubling the barrel length in a precharged gun, and it’s dramatic!

Because of the large number of shots I expect to get from the tank, I then shot 30 shots without a pellet. I’ll call these blank shots.

Shots 41 to 50
This string averaged 715 f.p.s. and ranged from 711 to 718 f.p.s, so another 7 foot-second spread. The average energy was 16.24 foot-pounds. Then another 30 blanks were fired.

Shots 81 to 90
I shot this string on the highest power setting the gun has — just to see if there was any difference. There wasn’t. The average was 705 f.p.s. and the range went from 702 to 709 f.p.s. Another 7 foot-second spread. The energy was 15.79 foot-pounds. Then another 30 blanks were fired.

Shots 121 to 130
The gun was set back to the lowest power setting and remained there for the rest of this test. The average was 675 f.p.s., and the range went from 668 to 679 f.p.s. the spread was 11 f.p.s. The average energy was 14.47 foot-pounds. Then 30 more blanks were fired.

Shots 161 to 170
The average was 658 f.p.s., and the string ranged from 654 to 662 f.p.s. — a spread of 8 f.p.s. The average energy was 14.17 foot-pounds. Then 30 more blanks were fired.

Shots 201 to 210
The average was 641 f.p.s., and the range was 637 to 653 f.p.s. This string had a 16 foot-second spread. The average energy was 13.05 foot-pounds. Following this, 30 more shots without pellets were fired.

Shots 241 to 250
The average for this string was 618 f.p.s., and the string ranged from 613 to 621 f.p.s. So, a spread of 8 f.p.s. The average energy was 12.13 foot-pounds. Following this, 30 more blanks were fired.

Shots 281 to 290
This string averaged 594 f.p.s. and ranged from 581 to 601. So a 20 f.p.s. spread. The average energy was 11.21 foot-pounds. Then 30 more blank shots were fired.

Shots 321 to 330
The average was 561 and ranged from 553 to 568, and the spread was 15 f.p.s. The average energy was 10 foot-pounds. After this, 30 more shots were fired without pellets.

Shots 361 to 370
The average was 539 f.p.s.,  and the string ranged from 534 to 545. A spread of 12 f.p.s. was observed. The average energy was 9.23 foot-pounds. Another 30 blanks were fired.

Shots 400 to 410
Now we’re in uncharted territory. The gun is giving me over 400 good shots on a single fill. Clearly, the 24-inch barrel is a real boon to the performance of the MM tank. This string averaged 519 f.p.s. and ranged from 514 to 527 f.p.s. A spread of 13 f.p.s. The average energy was 8.56 foot-pounds. After this, 30 more blanks were fired.

Shots 441 to 450
The average was 497 f.p.s. and the string ranged from 489 to 504 f.p.s., for a total spread of 15 f.p.s. The average energy was 7.85 foot-pounds.

I’m done
I could have continued to shoot the gun for many more shots, but I stopped at this point for a reason. After 450 shots have been fired, the Talon SS is still launching pellets slightly faster than my Diana model 27 breakbarrel. If that’s enough power for me, then this gun certainly gives all that and more. And I can’t think of another time when I shot 450 shots, unless it was for a test like this one.

The 24-inch barrel added significant performance
We all know that barrel length is important to a PCP, and this test makes that very clear. The 12-inch barrel gave 380 shots that ended up in the high 300 f.p.s. range. We’re still 200 f.p.s. faster than that after 450 shots have been fired! I think that establishes the Micro-Meter air tank as the champion of PCPs with the 24-inch barrel is installed.

What’s next?
In this series, we’ve looked at the Talon SS as it comes from the factory and with various modifications. The one we haven’t tried yet is the CO2 adapter, so that’s next. I’ll leave the 24-inch barrel installed since that’s the way I shoot the rifle all the time now, but I’ll test both velocity and accuracy with CO2 for you.

Nelson Lewis combination gun: Part 3

by B.B. Pelletier

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

Dave Cole is this week’s winner of Pyramyd Air’s Big Shot of the Week contest on their airgun facebook page.

Part 1
Part 2

Nelson Lewis combination gun, made in Troy, NY, around 1850-1870. Rifle is .38 caliber; shotgun is 14 gauge.

Today, I’ll show you the results of the last two outings with this unusual combination gun. Lessons have been learned.

Before we get to today’s test report, I’d like to share a little more background on the gun’s maker, Nelson Lewis of Troy, New York.

The big match
As readers of the internet, you’re all aware that sometimes tempers flare and conversations become heated on the web. Would it surprise you to learn that this is nothing new? One hundred sixty-eight years ago there was a famous confrontation in the internet of that day — the newspaper — between Nelson Lewis and another noted gun maker, Morgan James of Utica, New York. Nelson Lewis had heard rumors that one or more of his fellow gun makers (presumably Morgan James, from the events that followed) had said he had not made the rifle he had used to beat a Mr. Williamson in a rifle match the September before. This was in the Feb. 18, 1854, edition of Spirit of the Times/A Chronicle of the Turf, Field Sports, Aquatics, Agriculture and the Stage, published in New York City. Lewis challenged whoever was spreading these rumors to put up or shut up.

Morgan James accepted the challenge, and the two men began a public correspondence in the newspaper that was not unlike what we see on the chat forums today.

Morgan James was also a famous rifle maker and a contemporary of Nelson Lewis. Like Lewis, he made long-range target rifles that were used by snipers in the Civil War. Many of James’ long-range guns were so heavy they could only be shot from a bench rest that was included as part of their equipment. He was justifiably proud of the rifles he made, as well as his own marksmanship (as was Nelson Lewis); so when he read what Lewis accused him of, he attacked with a letter of his own to the editor of the cited publication.

To make a long story short, the two men exchanged challenges in the paper, and they finally agreed to shoot five each of their rifles against each other with each maker and one or more of his friends doing the shooting. One-hundred dollars was put up for each rifle in the contest, so each maker had five hundred dollars at stake.

Morgan James and his shooters won all five matches and Lewis paid him the money (I believe); but in the end, Lewis was a sore looser. He wrote a final letter to the editor, citing the fact that Morgan James’ rifles were all heavier than his (15-18 pounds against 10-13 pounds) and of a larger caliber (.43 to .48 caliber compared to .36 to .38 caliber), plus James and his partner shot from a machine rest — but their rifles weren’t clamped down, while Lewis and his shooters all shot from common shooting benches. And Morgan James had some sort of elaborate wind gauge on the range that was operated by a separate man who reported the wind to each shooter, so he didn’t have to look at the flags. Lewis and his shooters used the common range flags that had always been used, and each shooter watched the one flag for himself.

From his report, Nelson Lewis seems to have been at a disadvantage, but why he didn’t pin down the details of the contest beforehand with so much money at stake (approximately $13,500 in 2012 purchasing power) is a mystery. He certainly should have. He claimed he thought the match was to be with hunting rifles that could reasonably be carried afield, but the small calibers he chose are a real puzzle! Morgan James did nothing wrong except to try his best to win.

So things haven’t changed, even though a century and a half has passed. Shooters still get hot under the collar and makers will do anything to defend their reputations. This is why I enjoy reading real history — because it shows that people don’t change, even though their technology does.

Enough history. Let’s go to the range.

This time, the gun was ready for the range. The loading and cleaning procedures have been worked out.

Patch problem solved
The second time I took the Nelson Lewis gun to the range, I’d solved the patch problem. Instead of the too-thick patch material I had been using the first time out, I discovered that handkerchief linen from Ireland was both the correct thickness and also was tough enough to do the job in this rifle. I cut my patches by placing a nickel over the material and cutting around it. That gives me a patch of just the right size. And when the ball is seated, I can press it into the bore with my thumb — exactly as the old masters reported a century ago.

The thinner patches fit the balls perfectly, so they can be pressed into the muzzle with the thumb as the masters of old recommend.

The proof that this material works well is seen in the patches I recovered after shooting. They are textbook examples of what a good patch should look like.

The fired patches look good. Irish handkerchief linen is strong, yet thin.

I also discovered that the powder charge could be increased a little with no detriment to accuracy. Now, the bullet gets downrange faster, which I can tell by listening to the sound of the ball striking the target at 50 yards. That may not be scientific, but it does work!

I also took the advice of Ned Roberts, who says to fill the powder measure to heaping, then wipe a straightedge across the top to level the powder. This gives a consistent amount of powder from shot to shot.

Fill the powder measure to heaping.

Then wipe a straightedge (like a knife blade) across the top of the measure to level the powder. This is called “stricken measure” in Ned Roberts’ book.

A tiny funnel Mac gave me is perfect for pouring the measured powder into the rifle barrel.

The new cleaning process
I clean the barrel after each shot. I did that the first time out, but I’ve added a few steps for a more thorough result. First, the bore is swabbed with a wet patch, followed by a brass brush, then another wet patch. These are followed by two dry patches that leave the bore sparkling clean and dry after every shot. It takes about three minutes to clean the bore this way, but that’s nothing when you’re shooting a muzzleloader.

The final thing I tried was patches lubricated both with grease and saliva. Grease is used for the patches of balls in hunting guns, where the ball will be in the barrel a long time. Saliva is supposed to give a slight edge in accuracy, but it dries out over time and also can promote rust in the bore — two good reasons why saliva is used only for target shooting.

I had high hopes that all these things would give me better groups than the first time out, but they didn’t! Something was missing.

Group fired with greased patches on June 16. Fifty yards.

Group fired with saliva-wet patches on Jun 16. Also 50 yards. No improvement.

Mac suggested that since this is a combination gun, perhaps shooting it as often as once every five minutes was letting the rifle barrel heat up enough to warp against the cold shotgun barrel. If this is a meat gun, then shouldn’t the first shot from a cold rifle be right on target? It was the best suggestion anyone had given me; so when I went to the range again this week, I did everything the same except that I waited 20-25 minutes between shots to give the gun plenty of time to cool off.

The first 4 shots went into the best group I’d seen to this point, but shot 5 went wild at 9 o’clock, ruining the group. I held as perfectly as I know how for all 5 shots, and I’ve held 5 shots in three-tenths of an inch with target sights at 50 yards this year with a .22 rimfire — so it’s not me!

Group fired with saliva-wetted patches and waiting a minimum of 20 minutes between shots. Shot at 50 yards on July 12, 2012. Four close shots, but the fifth shot opened the group to the size of the others. So this is no real improvement.

I’m now thinking that the rifling twist in this gun (remember it has a gain twist) is too fast for round balls, and that the gun wants to shoot conical bullets. A patched picket bullet is what the rifle is supposed to shoot. I’ve avoided shooting the picket bullet that came with the rifle, because making them in the manual swaging dies is a lot of hard work. But now it seems I have to try something other than round balls. We’ll see what happens next time!

Why am I doing this?
If you’re a new reader of this blog, you must be wondering if I’ve lost my mind — reporting on a 150-year-old muzzle loading firearm in an airgun blog. Here’s why I do it. Airguns don’t hold a lot of secrets from me. I’ve been around them long enough to have gotten comfortable with them and their ways. I’m not saying that I know everything there is to know, but perhaps I have become too familiar with airguns to remember all those confusing steps that baffled me when I first encountered them.

This antique firearm, on the other hand, is as foreign to me as it is to you. I’m discovering how to shoot this gun successfully and letting you watch me while I do it, so maybe you can relate to the things that stump me. This old black powder gun puts you and me on equal footing as shooters. That’s why I report on it — so you can watch me stumble around and get confused by the same things that are perhaps confusing to you.

I could just spout off a bunch of words that I read in some book and let you think I know what I’m talking about, but I prefer to do it this way. I know this approach bothers some people who wish I would just stick to airguns, but to my way of thinking, all shooting is interrelated. The more you know about all shooting subjects, the more you know about any specific subject. People who disregard black powder guns, for instance, lack a firm understanding of how pneumatics work because they’re very similar. And a poor crown will harm the accuracy of a .223 as much as it will a .177 pellet rifle.

I try to limit these reports to a minimum, but I will continue to make them from time to time because I have to. They are in me, and they have to come out.

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