by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
This report covers:
• What to call them
• Can gas be a spring?
• Confusion reigned supreme
• We bought one
• Meet Ben Taylor
• It worked!
• Ft. Worth airgun show
What to call them
Today, I want to tell you about the saga I had when I got into gas-spring airguns. Let’s start with the name. Some folks call them gas struts, while others call them gas rams. Some, like Crosman and Gamo, use trademarked names like Nitro Piston and Inert Gas Technology to name their gas springs. But the industry that makes the units calls them gas springs.
They’re called struts when used in assemblies, like the MacPherson strut in a car’s suspension or the suspension strut on an airplane’s landing gear. I don’t know where the term “ram” comes from, but I’m sure there’s a reason people use it.
Can gas be a spring?
Boy, does this terminology ever throw some people! They cannot accept the idea of gas being a spring, because they know that the gas has to be contained inside something before it can work in that manner. So they object to calling these units “springs.”
A gas-spring unit is a cylinder-like device with two halves that slide in and out. Inside the spring, compressed air or sometimes another gas such as nitrogen is permanently contained. When the two halves slide together, they compress the gas inside and raise the pressure. That causes the two halves to spring apart with force. Inexpensive gas springs are used in many places where coiled steel springs used to be. They’re cheaper to make and can last far longer without degrading — depending on how they’re made.
When I started writing about airguns in 1994, gas springs were just coming into the picture. Theoben, an airgun company in the United Kingdom, was an early leader in the field of gas-spring airguns. There was also a factory in Argentina making them, though their distribution base was smaller. I didn’t find out about them until the late ’90s.
Theoben was founded by co-owners, Dave THEObald and BEN Taylor. I mention that because of what happened to me later, when Ben Taylor talked to me at the SHOT Show.
Confusion reigned supreme
In the early days, the British airgun magazines were loaded with articles about Theobens! Americans were importing them privately at first, then Air Rifle Specialists out of New York state began importing them. Davis Schwesinger was the owner of that company. A few years later, the Beeman company stepped in with their Crow Magnum, which was a Theoben Eliminator in a slightly different stock. After that, Theobens were in the U.S. to stay.
I was writing about airguns by this time, so I chanced to encounter these guns from time to time. My first encounter was not with the powerful Eliminator/Crow Magnum, but with the lowest-powered Theoben ever made, the thoroughly delightful Fenman. Someone had one and allowed me to shoot it at a silhouette shoot in Virginia. I was amazed at how accurate the little rifle was. I was hitting rams at 45 yards offhand, which is way beyond my normal ability. But the rifle was accurate, lightweight, attractive and easy to cock for a gas-spring gun. I say it that way because, even though it produced just 12 foot-pounds, the Fenman cocked with about 40 lbs. of effort. That was mostly due to its short barrel. If you’re interested in my experiences with a Fenman you can read about it here.
We bought one
I decided that I needed to get on the gas spring bandwagon if I was going to write about airguns with any authority. So, Edith and I bought a brand-new Beeman Crow Magnum in .25 caliber. I bought the Beeman because of the name. I figured they would back up the gun no matter what happened. I bought the .25-caliber only because they didn’t offer one in .26. I wanted the biggest, baddest spring-piston air rifle in the world, and the Crow Magnum/Eliminator was it at the time. Well, yes, there was also the equally powerful handmade Whiscombe, but they were out of my price range at the time.
We bought a Beeman Crow Magnum in .25 caliber to test it. What we found was not popular!
I began testing the rifle for my Airgun Letter, and that was when the ship hit the sand! I was getting results that nobody else talked about, and my experiences were far different from those in print. For starters, I decided to shoot the big rifle 1,000 times to break it in. I shot at paper targets 10 meters away and fired 50 shots at each bull. Fifty were all the shots I could fire in one session, using both arms to cock the 60-lb. breakbarrel. And my groups were about two inches in diameter! Two inches at 10 meters! Oh, boy, did that ever get people talking!
Folks immediately started saying that I was doing things wrong and that surely this big rifle couldn’t be that difficult to cock. The Beeman company called and told me to let some of the air out of the gas spring, because Theobens had that ability and I had purchased the optional pump. So, I did. I let out enough air pressure to drop the cocking effort to 46 lbs., and the power stayed almost where it had been. It was easier to cock but still inaccurate.
Theoben guns had a screw that covered the access to their gas springs.
Remove the screw and attach a hand pump to fill the gas spring. A narrow rod pressed in on the Schraeder valve to release pressure.
I had a visit from a Theoben owner who owned several of the guns. He came to my house, and we both shot our .25-caliber rifles at 10 meters, getting one-inch 5-shot groups! That made it real and no amount of talking could change it. Then, he told me that .25 was not the best caliber for the rifle. If I wanted it to shoot accurately, I needed to get a .20 caliber. Another reader of my newsletter loaned me his Eliminator that he said had been filled with pure nitrogen to reduce the cocking effort; but when I measured it, it still came to 45 lbs. And, it was no more accurate than my rifle.
I contacted Davis Schwesinger of Air Rifle Specialists, and he swapped my .25 barrel for a .20. While he had my gun, he went through it and found that my piston seal was okay. He said he did that because too many Theoben owners had over-pressurized their gas springs and burned up their piston seals. I reported all of this in The Airgun Letter, and the hate mail poured in! I kept trying to shoot good groups with the new .20-caliber barrel. While it was better than the .25, it was still unacceptable.
This Theoben Eliminator seal was melted from the heat of excessive compression, caused by over-pressurizing the gas-piston unit. Davis Schwesinger replaced this seal (and many others) for customers who didn’t understand they were hurting their guns. This is not a seal from my rifle.
Meet Ben Taylor
Then, I went to the SHOT Show and met Ben Taylor. In fact, he sought me out. He told me that my experiences with his rifles were normal, and that the airgunning world had a distorted view of gas-spring technology. He first told me to clean my barrel. In those days I didn’t believe in cleaning airgun barrels, but Taylor told me to use J-B Non-Embedding Bore Cleaning Compound on a brass or bronze bore brush and to run it fully through the barrel 20 times in both directions. Does that sound familiar?
He also told me to shoot Crosman Premier pellets in my .20-caliber rifle and to lubricate them with a mixture he called Whiscombe Honey. He told me to make it with a mixture of STP Engine Oil Treatment (the real thick stuff) and a good gun oil such as Hoppes. Use equal parts of both by volume and stir them thoroughly. I mixed up a batch that I still use to this day. He told me that John Whiscombe had discovered this mixture worked great in his powerful rifles and that Theoben recommended it.
Taylor also cautioned me to not over-pressurize the gas spring in my gun. Of course, I already knew this, but he told me this was the No. 1 problem his guns had. Owners looking for the last foot per second were over-pressurizing their springs and actually reducing the power the guns put out! He said they refused to believe that more was not better. Those who didn’t own a chronograph were ruining their airguns. There’s a maximum pressure for the gas piston and going above it does not increase the piston’s speed. He said these owners turned their airguns into slide hammers that beat themselves apart to no advantage.
I talked with Taylor for about a half hour. The man was completely honest with me, which was refreshing after the tidal wave of propaganda I’d been getting. I returned home, cleaned my barrel, set the gas spring at 45 lbs. and proceeded to shoot the first one-inch group ever at 40 yards. What do you know — the darned thing actually works when you do it right!
Since that time, I’ve shot dozens of different gas-spring airguns. RWS USA imported some that Theoben made especially for them, and I found them to be delightful when used correctly. Tom Gore of Vortek started manufacturing gas springs for various models of Weihrauchs, and I got to test them before anyone. I still have one of his units he made for my R1; and after 15 years, it still works like new.
The best modern gas-spring guns I have tested were the Gamo Whisper with a Vortek gas spring installed by Air Venturi. That gun cocked easily and had virtually no movement or vibration! It was a dream! But it didn’t last long in the market.
Crosman signed a deal with Vortek that got them into the gas-spring business. One of their early guns was called the Benjamin Legacy. I still have mine. It’s a .22 breakbarrel that produces just over 12 foot-pounds and has all the attributes I want to see in a breakbarrel rifle. It’s easy to cock and very accurate. There’s almost no recoil and zero vibration! They also produced a Benjamin Trail Reduced Velocity for a short time, but very few were ever sold. People want power!
Alas, I’m in the minority for wanting spring guns that are reasonable. Most shooters want raw power, which is where we are today. Companies are giving people what they think they want at the expense of hard cocking, poor accuracy and painful vibration. And that — my friends — is why I like the new Benjamin Trail Nitro Piston 2 so much.
The Crosman management team that runs the company today wasn’t around during all those years of gas-spring growing pains when things didn’t work as advertised. Yet, miraculously, one of their young engineers has discovered how to make a gas spring rifle that has the benefits of the best of them, and still produces credible power. Not uncanny power, but usable power in an accurate rifle.
If you’re new to airgunning, you may still have to experience some of these hard lessons yourself. Sometimes, that’s the only way to learn. You want the ultimate in power, and you assume that the accuracy will come right along with it. Only after you’ve been slapped around a while and then shoot a real smooth airgun will you appreciate the difference that a good, smooth gun can make.
Here’s the last thing I’ll say on this subject. I’ve seen people switch hundreds of times to using good airguns, and each time it’s wonderful. An airgunner who has been pursuing the power trail finally shoots a well-tuned spring rifle that’s easy to cock and dead calm. That experience blows him away, and a new airgunner is born! I enjoy watching this happen, and I hope that it happens to all of you some day.
Ft. Worth airgun show
The Texas airgun show is on Saturday, September 6. Go here for a look at the show flier. All the registration information and hotel information is on the flier, plus the show hours and costs. The 4-H Club will cater food and drinks.
This show is stacking up to be the largest airgun show ever held! We already have the following vendors coming:
The following companies say they will try to attend:
Neal Stepp (International Shooters Service)
Besides these major dealers, American Airgunner television will have a film crew at the show and host Rossi Morreale has been invited. Steve Criner, star of television’s Dog Soldier and also appearing on American Airgunner, will attend. We’ve invited big bore hunter Eric Henderson and Jim Chapman, who writes for Predator Extreme magazine, and many other airgun personalities. AirForce Airguns is trying to bring Ton Jones of television’s Auction Hunters to the show, if his schedule permits. Ton is the guy who created the idea for the AirForce Escape survival rifle, as you will remember.
The gun club holding the event has several of their members bringing airguns to sell on a combined club table. These guys have been asking for this show for the past two years and should bring out some interesting old guns for the first time.
The following door prizes and raffle prizes have been donated:
Air Venturi Bronco
Hatsan AT44-10 Long QE
Walther LGV Master Ultra
Other prizes and giveaways not yet determined will be given out at this show.
I expect a very large turnout for this show. I anticipate new private dealers with airguns that haven’t been seen at other shows, and I know there will be some gun dealers who will be bringing their airguns to sell.
Even better, the crowd at this show will not just be the usual people who attend airgun shows. Yes, many of them will be there and even have tables, but I expect to see hundreds of airgunners who have never been to an airgun show before. Because there will be both vintage guns and brand new guns for sale at the same show, they’ll see the best airgun show ever.
The gun club will be active that day, so there will also be firearms on the ranges. Therefore, the club is allowing firearms to be displayed at the show. Naturally, all firearms and airguns must be unloaded when indoors and must be tied to prevent operation. No dry-firing will be permitted indoors.
Besides the show, the club is giving us two ranges for airguns to be tested and demonstrated. These are located approximately 50 yards from the buildings that house the show. Chapman and Henderson will host a big bore range and demonstrate the guns to the public.
You may have thought about attending an airgun show or even having a table at a show. This is the show to attend! It happens in just a single day and will be exciting, fast-paced and full of surprises.
Tables are now filling fast. If you want one, don’t delay. Send your reservation check today!
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
This report covers:
• Accuracy day…part 2
• Things that were done
• Ten meters
• The hold
• 25 yards
• Velocity with Premiers
• Overall evaluation
Accuracy day…part 2
Today, we return to the Benjamin Trail Nitro Piston 2 air rifle. I think I’ve solved all the mysteries and finally got the rifle to shoot the way it should. You be the judge.
Things that were done
Several things were done to make the rifle ready for today’s test. First, I cleaned the barrel with J-B Non-Embedding Bore Cleaning Compound on a bronze bore brush. To do that, I removed the barrel shroud and the baffles, so access to the barrel was easy. I cleaned from the breech. Since the NP2 has a gas spring, I could leave it cocked as long as I wanted without hurting the spring.
Next, I replaced the 3-9X32 CenterPoint scope that comes with the rifle for an older CenterPoint 3-12X40 scope that has an adjustable objective. Now, I was able to focus the scope on the target at 25 yards. CenterPoint no longer carries this scope that was made by Leapers, but it’s equivalent to this 3-12X40 UTG scope with AO, except that my scope doesn’t have an illuminated reticle.
I shimmed the replacement scope with one thin slice of plastic under the scope tube at the rear ring; because when I removed the factory scope, I noticed that it was adjusted toward the top of its range. I just wanted to make sure the reticle wasn’t floating in the replacement scope because the NP2 has a healthy jolt when it fires. No vibration, but there’s definite movement.
I tightened all the stock screws but found they were mostly tight already. That was when I noticed there’s no front triggerguard screw. The rear screw is the one that holds the action to the stock, and the front has no screw at all — yet there’s a hole in the guard for one. Some companies might be tempted to put a wood screw there to fool you, but that would just invite stripping the hole in the wood stock since the front screw is nearly always the one that gets tightened. Crosman made it foolproof.
I sighted-in at 12 feet and was on paper with the first shot. In all, I fired four shots to get where I wanted to be at 10 meters. I continue to shoot .22-caliber Crosman Premier pellets in this rifle for this whole test. Once I was sighted-in, I backed up to 10 meters and shot a 5-shot group.
I was still experimenting with holds at this point. I had already spent a whole day shooting the rifle with the factory scope and trying different holds (I didn’t tell you about that day or bother to report it), but a comment from a reader got me thinking. Reader Ben told me to hold the rifle more firmly and also to slide my off hand farther out under the forearm. He reminded me of what I knew but had temporarily forgotten — namely that gas spring guns need a different hold. So, I followed Ben’s suggestions, and they resulted in a 0.319-inch 5-shot group at 10 meters!
Okay, that’s just at 10 meters. I know a lot of you do shoot at that distance, and I also know that many people shoot 5-shot groups. This is what the NP2 can do at that distance with 5 Premier pellets.
But you really want to see what it can do at 25 yards. And you want to see 10-shot groups. I adjusted the scope reticle down for 25 yards and started shooting.
Before I continue, let me describe the hold I’m using today. It’s not an artillery hold. I’m grasping the pistol grip firmly, but not with a death grip. And my off hand is slid out far enough that it’s touching the sling swivel on the forearm. I don’t grasp the forearm tightly, but I do grasp it with my fingers. Having my hand out that far, the rifle doesn’t want to move left or right. So, when the off hand gets settled, the crosshairs stay on target as I relax.
Relaxation is very important with the NP2. Every time I became anxious about where the next shot was going, I threw it wide. But when I relaxed, the shot went to the aim point, as you’ll soon see.
The first group of 10 went into 0.931 inches. It’s better than the best group fired in the last test, which tells me that something I did helped out. Cleaning the barrel, tightening the screws, changing the scope or changing the way the rifle is held seems to have made the difference. But I thought the rifle could do even better.
The second group is larger than the first, but the 3 pellets that missed the main group were all from my tension. When I relaxed, all the pellets went into the central group. Ten shots went into 1.333 inches, but the central 7 are in 0.656 inches. I think they represent the true accuracy of the NP2. This is the importance of relaxing when shooting this particular air rifle.
This group was the most revealing. When I shot totally relaxed, the pellets went to the central group. When I tensed up for any reason, they went wide. Ten shots in 1.333 inches and 7 in 0.656 inches. I believe the NP2 can shoot as well as the central group indicates.
But you’re skeptical, and I would be, too. The concentration needed for every shot (making certain I was relaxed) was tiring me, but this rifle deserved the best I could give, so I shot one more 10-shot group at 25 yards. This time, I relaxed for each shot — the way I would tell someone else to do. You know — do as I say! This time, 10 pellets went into 0.704 inches. This, I believe, represents the level of accuracy of which this particular Benjamin Trail NP2 is capable.
Velocity with Premiers
One last thing to do. I told you that the cocking effort had dropped to 32 lbs. after the last accuracy report. With all the shooting I’ve done the rifle now has over 150 shots on the powerplant. I tested it again today, and it still cocks right at 32 lbs. The last velocity test had Premier pellets averaging 793 f.p.s. with a 40 f.p.s. spread. This time 10 Premiers averaged 745 f.p.s. and the spread was only 8 f.p.s.!
I know the gun shoots slower now; but given the wide variation before, I think it’s now settled into what it’s going to do. At 745 f.p.s., the Premier cranks out 17.63 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle.
I think Crosman has made a nice new breakbarrel rifle with the NP2. It doesn’t vibrate, it cocks easier than other gas-spring guns in its power range, the trigger is crisp, the report is quiet and the rifle is accurate. For $250, this is about as nice a spring gun as you can find.
Yes, the power is not at the level Crosman advertises; and yes, the gun does kick — but it still gives you a lot of value for the money spent. The bad press at launch time is going to keep some shooters from giving the NP2 a try. That’s too bad because this is a rifle many of them would like.
I’ve tested this rifle openly and allowed you to see exactly what happened, as it happened. Crosman has sent another NP2 for me to test and I plan on testing that one for you as well. So, it ain’t over yet.
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
Air Arms Shamal is an attractive PCP. It was Air Arms’ first precharged rifle.
Message from Pyramyd Air
Before I begin, here’s an email message that went out from Pyramyd Air to everyone who bought a Crosman NP2 rifle from their first shipment.
Important Information Regarding Your Benjamin Trail NP2 Purchase
Thank you for your recent purchase of the Benjamin Trail Nitro Piston 2 airgun from Pyramyd Air (Part # PY-3368-6474). We have been notified by Crosman, the manufacturer of the Benjamin Trail NP2, that there were manufacturing process variances that may have affected some of the airguns in the initial shipment. We have determined that your order came from this shipment. While the variances appear to have impacted only a small number of guns and there are no safety issues, we would like to offer you the following options:
▪ Replace your purchase with a new airgun at no charge to you
▪ Return your purchase for a full refund
Please contact our customer service department at 1-888-262-4867 by July 31, 2014, if you would like to move forward with either of these options. You can also arrange for a replacement directly through Crosman by calling 1-800-724-7486.
Our number one priority is the satisfaction and safety of our customers. We thank you for your continued loyalty and support.
Now, on to today’s report. This report covers:
• Things done differently
• Has this blog changed how you think about airguns?
Today’s report may not be very long, but it does represent an interesting bit of serendipity! This is a re-test of my Air Arms Shamal at 50 yards. Of course, that was shot outdoors at my rifle range.
Things done differently
The day was calm — perfect for shooting pellets with accuracy at 50 yards outdoors. You’ll remember that in my last test I went straight to the 50-yard range because I thought this rifle is so accurate that a lesser distance would be a wasted effort. Well, man plans and God laughs! My best 50-yard 10-shot group with 14.3-grain Crosman Premier domes, which I was sure were the most accurate pellets, measured 1.254 inches between centers. You can see that in Part 3.
While 1.254 inches for 10 shots is not that bad for 50 yards with an airgun, it’s certainly larger than I expected from this particular rifle. When I owned it before, I never shot it as far as 50 yards, but at 35 yards it was a killer. I just assumed it would hold together for the extra 15 yards; and when it didn’t in the last test, I was embarrassed.
Someone suggested that I clean the bore with a bore brush and J-B Non-Embedding Bore Cleaning Compound, so I did. I had to clean from the muzzle because the breech is not accessible with the bolt in the way. Because I couldn’t keep J-B Paste out of the transfer port, I didn’t use very much on the brush. Otherwise, the cleaning job was the same as always.
Then, I took it out to the range a second time 2 weeks ago, filled it with air and prepared to shoot. The Shamal is a single-shot, so getting it ready isn’t a big chore — or so I thought!
Then, I boarded the boat to Serendip. My first group on this dead-calm day put 10 Crosman Premiers into 0.818 inches! Yeah, that’s right! I shot a 10-shot group that can almost be covered by an American Quarter! Almost!
Okay, what gives? This is the same pellet, same gun, same quiet weather, same distance, same shooter. Did I suddenly have an attack of virile youth? Did I suddenly remember how to shoot again? How can my groups shrink by almost a half inch (0.436 inches), when the only thing that changed was the calendar?
And why was the Shamal suddenly accurate — like I remembered? I wouldn’t mind being an old goat who can’t shoot anymore, but this off-and-on thing drives me nuts. It makes it hard to believe anything I write — even for me.
Well, the proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating. So, I decided to chance a second group on the same fill. You know — just to see what would happen. In case you haven’t been following this report closely, I discovered in Part 2 that this Shamal has a maximum fill pressure of 2250 psi and gets 16 shots before needing to be refilled. I’d already shot 10 on the current fill, so I’m wandering off the power curve to shoot another 10 — or at least that’s what I thought!
The next group stretched out taller than it was wide, with a max spread of 1.126 inches between centers. That’s considerably larger than the previous group, yet still somewhat smaller than the best group from the previous test. Well, I’m now off the power curve for sure, so it’s time to fill the reservoir.
I connected the rifle to the carbon fiber tank and began the fill. When you start filling a PCP, you can always tell how much pressure is left in the gun, because the needle on the gauge will stop moving fast and start moving slower as the rifle’s reservoir opens to accept air. The point at which that occurs is the pressure that was already in the gun’s reservoir. This Shamal has a second quirk. It makes a loud buzzing noise when the reservoir is taking a fill. So, if you missed where the needle stopped, there will always be the noise to tell you when the rifle starts accepting a charge.
This time, the needle slowed down when it hit 2800 psi on the gauge, and that’s when the buzzing began! The rifle I was shooting had been overfilled to 3000 psi.
I was so shocked by this that I almost didn’t stop the fill. But I did and the rifle now had about 2900 psi in it. Going back to what was learned in part 2, the rifle was now grossly overfilled.
But curiosity demands to be satisfied, so I disconnected from the tank and returned to the shooting bench. The next 10 Crosman Premier pellets went into an identical 1.126-inch group! Oh, there’s no doubt some small size difference between them, but none large enough to see. Curiouser and curiouser!
Knowing beyond the shadow of a doubt that there was more than enough air remaining in the reservoir, I shot another group. These 10 went into 1.268 inches. That’s slightly larger than the smallest group I was able to shoot the last time (1.254 inches). That’s 2 more okay groups from the rifle, and a total of 4 for this day.
But I know this rifle. It takes at least 40 shots to drop the pressure from 3000 psi down to 2250 where the power curve begins. I’d just fired 20 shots toward that end, but I’d also taken up more time out of a day in which I had another airgun to test — namely the Hatsan AT44-10 Long QE (read that report later this week). So, I stopped shooting the Shamal at this point.
I don’t know what’s going on, except that when this rifle is overfilled to the point that the pellets are leaving the gun at 650-690 f.p.s., it’s more accurate than when the gun is shooting the same pellet at about 790 f.p.s. Or at least that’s what it looks like. I think I need to get back to the range and do some more testing — a lot more testing!
Has this blog changed how you think about airguns?
I initially published this section on the May 30, 2014, blog, and I’m going to repeat it at least once a week through the end of July so it doesn’t get lost or forgotten.
From the comments many of you make, it sounds like the blog may have positively impacted your shooting and/or airgunning in general. I invite you to send me an email telling me about that impact.
Were you a firearms shooter who accidentally discovered airguns through this blog? If so, tell me how this blog has helped your understanding of airguns.
Were you already an airgunner, but you thought what you saw in the big box stores was all there was? If so, how has this blog helped you understand more about airguns?
I’ve gotten quite a few responses already, but I want to make sure you know that I’m not looking for “attaboys,” pats on the back or personal recognition. I’m looking for real feedback on how the information in this blog and the comments from your fellow blog readers have enriched your airgunning experience, what you’d like to know and what you’re still unsure of. This blog is written for its readers, and I want to share your stories with others who may be where you were before you found this blog.
Pyramyd Air has created a special temporary email address so you can send me your feedback. I’ll be the only person to get these emails, and we’re not going to generate any lists from the addresses.
My plan is to publish one or more blog reports with the more interesting comments. If you give me written permission, I’ll use your real name or blog handle, otherwise your comments will be anonymous.
This email address will be live for only a few weeks. We have tens of thousands of readers worldwide. Even if you’ve never commented on the blog, email me your message. If you’re reading this blog after July 2014, email submissions will no longer be forwarded to me, and you may get an auto-reply email stating that or your email might bounce back to you.
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
Air Arms Shamal is an attractive PCP. It was Air Arms’ first precharged rifle.
This report covers:
• Accuracy at 25 yards
• Accuracy at 50 yards
• Pellets that didn’t work
• An observation
• Next time
We’ll begin looking at the accuracy of my .22-caliber Air Arms Shamal precharged pneumatic air rifle. We learned in Part 2 that this rifle wants to be filled to 2250 psi, rather than the 2600 psi that I remembered. Of course, the gauge on my carbon fiber tank is different than the gauge on the Shamal fill clamp that I no longer have, so some difference is to be expected. This is a good example of why a chronograph is so important when testing a PCP. If you don’t understand why I say that, read Part 2, where I used the chronograph to determine the optimum fill pressure.
I knew from previous experience the Shamal likes 14.3-grain Crosman Premier domes, so they were the first pellet I started shooting; but I have to tell you that the testing was done backwards. I actually took the rifle out to the 50-yard rifle range a couple weeks ago and shot it at that distance first, because I was certain it would not disappoint. I’ll show you those results at the end of this report, but first I’ll show you what the rifle did yesterday at 25 yards.
Accuracy at 25 yards
The range was set up in my house, so there was zero wind. Knowing that Crosman Premiers are good in this rifle, I shot the first group with them. Ten Premiers made a group that measures 0.447 inches between centers. That’s okay, but not great. I have spring guns that can do as well. I expected something closer to 0.30 inches from this rifle at 25 yards.
Now, from the 50-yard test, there were a number of pellets that I already knew did not work well in the gun, so I tried some different .22-caliber pellets at 25 yards, hoping to find another good one. Alas, none of the pellets I tried were good! In a moment, I’ll include them in a list of all the pellets I’ve tried.
Accuracy at 50 yards
As I said, 50 yards was the first distance at which I shot the rifle. The day started out calm but picked up as I shot. I also had the EscapeSS to test that day, so I didn’t want the wind to get too strong. So, I shot only 4 different types of pellets besides the Premier.
Ten Premiers went into 1.254 inches, which was certainly larger than I expected. I shot the Premiers first, so the wind was calm as I shot.
Pellets that didn’t work
At 50 yards the following pellets failed to group well.
At 25 yards I tried the following pellets that did not group well.
The breech of this rifle is vary large. None of the pellets I’ve tried have had any resistance until the bolt pushed them past the air transfer port, which is why I tried the Eley Wasps. They’re so large that I felt they might solve the accuracy problem, but they didn’t. I think the barrel is fine, but the breech is somehow larger to accept more pellets.
Although I have only 2 groups to show you today, I did a lot of shooting with this rifle! The 50-yard groups I’m not showing were around 1.75 to 2 inches between centers. At 25 yards, I quit shooting as soon as I had a half-inch group or larger. That happened with each of the other pellets by the fourth shot.
I’m surprised that the Shamal isn’t more accurate than this. I’m not going to leave it here.
I think the obvious thing to do now is clean the barrel with J-B Non-Embedding Bore Cleaning Compound. Since the design doesn’t allow convenient cleaning from the breech, I’ll have to clean through the muzzle.
I plan on returning to the 50-yard range to try the rifle once more. Do you see that the groups almost triple in size going from 25 to 50 yards? That sometimes happens. Many people, including me, think a gun that shoots an inch at 50 yards will shoot 2 inches at 100 yards, but it seldom works that way. Fifty yards is a much better range to test the accuracy of a rifle like the Shamal, which ought to be a fine long-range air rifle.
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
This blog was requested by blog reader Joe, who wanted to know if choked airgun barrels are more accurate, and why. A number of other readers seconded his request. So, we know there’s interest in the subject.
What is a choke?
A choked barrel is one in which there’s a reduction in the diameter of the bore near the muzzle. Someone likened it to the FX Smooth Twist barrel that’s rifled only at the end of the barrel, but it isn’t the same. The Smooth Twist barrel has a constriction — the rising of the rifled lands. But in a choked barrel, the entire bore gets smaller. I don’t know if the Smooth Twist barrel is also choked; but if it is, that’s a separate thing.
Most shooters know that shotguns are choked, and they understand why. A choke keeps the shot from spreading as quickly as it would without a choke. Shotguns have several specific kinds of chokes that make the pattern they project contain a certain shot density at a given distance from the muzzle. Hitting something at 25 yards with an improved cylinder choke is virtually the same as hitting it at 40 yards with a full choke. But that’s not what a choke does for a rifle barrel.
A choked rifle barrel squeezes the bullet or pellet slightly just before it leaves the muzzle. This is only an analogy, but it’s like pulling hard on a dog’s leash — it gets his attention and focuses him. In the case of the bullet and pellet, it stops any minute fluttering that may be happening inside the bore.
In my experience, it does work. Here’s what I know. First, the great barrel maker, Harry Pope, always choked his barrels. He first drilled the holes in the barrel blank undersized, then reamed the bore to get a choke of half a thousandth of an inch (0.0005-inches or 0.0127mm). His choke was an even taper down the full length of the barrel; and for the life of me, I can’t comprehend how he did it. Most barrel makers have a transition point where the bore tapers more or less abruptly from one size to the smaller size. This transition is very smooth, and the choke is seldom more than a thousandth of an inch, so it doesn’t disturb the bullet or pellet that much.
Pope’s barrels are legendary. One of them put ten lead bullets into 0.20 inches at 200 yards! And a great many of them will put 10 shots into a half inch at 200 yards, although Pope never guaranteed that level of accuracy.
But what about today’s barrels? Are they choked and does it help? Yes and yes are the answers. But not all barrels are choked — and even those that are choked may not be so intentionally.
Here’s a true story. When AirForce Airguns was switching over to Lothar Walther barrels in the early days, they tried barrels with and without chokes. Lothar Walther was capable of making barrels without chokes; but in their conversations with AirForce, they asked why they wanted unchoked barrels. After testing, AirForce decided it was well worth the additional cost to have all their barrels choked.
In the three years that I worked at AirForce, I tested every rifle that was returned to the company for inaccuracy. That must have been 20-30 rifles, in all. Every time one came in with such a complaint, the first thing I did was clean the barrel with J-B Non-Embedding Bore Cleaning Compound, and the next thing I did was shoot a group with the clean barrel. In all that time, I only had to shoot a single group with each barrel to produce a 5-shot group that ranged between 0.25 inches and 0.375 inches at 23 yards (which was the longest straight distance I had inside the old factory). Then, the rifle was packed with the target that I signed and dated and returned to the customer. Case closed.
Only once in three years did I find a barrel that I couldn’t get to shoot. It was an 18-inch .22-caliber Talon barrel that I’d cleaned several times. It just would not group better than 0.75 inches at 23 yards. It stumped me until I pushed a pellet through the bore with a cleaning rod, starting at the breech. There was no choke! Somehow, this barrel had slipped through the Lothar Walther manufacturing process without getting a choke, and it would not shoot.
So far, I’ve been talking about chokes that are intentionally put into the barrels, but there are the unintentional kind, as well. Certain spring rifles such as the HW 80 and older versions of the Beeman R1 used to come with sights. The barrels of those rifles had dovetail grooves for the front sight swaged into the front of the barrel. When the swage upset the outside of the barrel to make these grooves, the metal inside the bore was distorted just a little at the same time. If you push a pellet through these barrels, you’ll feel it pause when it gets to where the dovetails begin. This isn’t a real choke, but it does feel like one when you test for it this way. Shooters have referred to these as choked barrels for decades.
You’re looking at the end of the dovetail grooves (those small v-shaped nicks on both sides of the top of the barrel) that were swaged into this R1 barrel to attach the front sight. When this is done, the force of the swaging process upsets metal inside the bore, making it feel like a choke — but it really isn’t.
Spring guns probably don’t need to be choked. When they fire the intense blast of air they generate, it irons the pellet’s skirt out into the bore. As long as the barrel remains uniform throughout its length (and not all barrels do), the pellet is fit to the bore by this action. But a pneumatic or a gas gun releases its compressed air or gas more gradually and doesn’t distort the pellet. So, a choked barrel is the way to make all pellets uniform before they leave the muzzle of these airguns.
How are barrels choked?
Years ago, chokes were put into barrels with reamers just before they were rifled. In other words, the choke was cut directly into the metal of the bore. But with the advent of button- and broach-rifling, it’s easier to rifle the barrel first and then squeeze it down afterwards.
I read with interest where one of our readers was advising someone that a barrel had to be annealed before choking it by the squeezing method, and then hardened afterward. Actually, air rifle and rimfire barrels are made from dead soft steel, or steel that is nearly dead soft. They are not hardened in any way and can be distorted very easily. You could choke a barrel by tapping the outside with a ball peen hammer — though it won’t be uniform, and I certainly don’t recommend trying it.
Chokes can be rolled into barrels with hardened steel rollers set in fixtures that apply force gradually. Someone asked if a tubing cutter would work for this, and I have the answer. No, it won’t work. It will crimp the barrel, but it’s too sloppy and difficult to control a hand tool like a tubing cutter. I know this because I had Dennis Quackenbush convert a tubing cutter for me several years ago, and I attempted to choke barrels this way. But a precision jig that applies equal force to precision rollers that are similar to the function of a tubing cutter is certainly one good way to choke a rifle barrel.
Another way is to run the barrel straight into a tapered die and swage in the choke — similar to resizing a cartridge during reloading, only a lot more force is required. To do it that way requires that the outside of the barrel be held to very close tolerances, so it’s less desirable than the tapered roller method.
A third way to choke a barrel is to squeeze it together from the outside, using a die made in two pieces. The pieces come together, compressing the barrel between them. Like the other method that uses a die, this method also requires a barrel of a given outside diameter.
If you hammer-forge the barrel (cold-forming the barrel around a hardened mandrel that has the rifling pattern in reverse), the choking can be done when the mandrel is made. Simply make the mandrel with a taper, and the barrel that’s ironed around it will also be tapered.
Companies select the method of choking that suits their barrel manufacturing methods. In other words, if they make hammer-forged barrels, that’s the most convenient time to put in the choke. But if they sell only one choked barrel for every thousand barrels they make, rolling in the choke probably makes more sense.
Quick and dirty
Here are some facts from this report.
1. Choked barrels do seem to shoot more accurately — all other things being equal (meaning the barrels are of equally high quality).
2. Not all rifled barrels are choked.
3. Spring gun barrels may have chokes that are unintentional.
4. There are several different ways of choking a barrel.
5. Companies select the most cost-effective way to choke the barrels they make.
While you may feel compelled right now to run out and find a way to choke every rifled barrel you own, remember this — it may not be necessary. Some barrels that are not choked do just fine the way they are.
However, having written this report, I find that I am now thinking about choking the barrel on my BSA Meteor to see if that helps with the mediocre accuracy.
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
My rifle is actually a BSA Super Meteor.
Today, we’ll find out if a new breech seal fixes the low-velocity problem I had with my Meteor in the last test. You’ll remember that I tested the rifle for velocity and noted that the breech seal was pretty bad in the last report. I removed it and made a quick leather seal just to test the gun. I got initial velocities in the low 500s with light lead pellets, but they quickly dropped to the 300s to 400s. I felt the breech seal was the problem, and since T.R. Robb had treated me so well on the piston head and seals, I ordered some new breech seals from them. They were 5 pounds each, and shipping to the U.S. added 2 pounds, 50 pence for a total of 17 pounds, 50 pence, shipped ($28.82). They arrived last Friday, and I quickly installed one in the gun.
The new breech seal is small in diameter, but tall to fit the groove in the breech.
The temporary leather seal had flattened out across the entire rear of the barrel. The darker circle is where the actual seal is supposed to be.
This is the groove where the breech seal fits.
And here’s the new synthetic breech seal standing proud of the breech, as it should.
The rifle is already well-lubed from the rebuild I just finished. After the new seal was pressed into place, all that remained was to test it. You would do well to at least scan Part 5 to see the last velocities. RWS Hobbys were running around 360 f.p.s.
I’d seated the pellets deep for the previous test, so that’s how this test began. RWS Hobby pellets averaged 648 f.p.s. with a spread from 633 to 663 f.p.s. It was obvious that some dieseling was happening, as I could smell it as I shot. I think these velocities are slightly elevated from where the gun will settle after a break-in of a few hundred shots. At the average velocity, this pellet is producing 6.53 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. That’s not a lot, but it’s much more than it was doing before the breech seal.
Next, I tried seating Hobbys flush with the breech with finger pressure, alone. These averaged 652 f.p.s., with a spread from 638 to 665 f.p.s. The muzzle energy raised slightly to 6.61 foot-pounds — not really a significant difference. The velocity spread tightened by 3 f.p.s., too, but that’s also insignificant. I’m of the opinion that at this point, deep-seating isn’t doing much — at least for this pellet.
JSB Exact RS
Next, I tried the 7.33-grain JSB Exact RS pellet. This one shot faster when the gun had the leather breech seal — an average of 460 f.p.s., but that number was also declining fast as the seal flattened out. The difference in velocity between these and the Hobbys might just have been the order in which they were tested.
When seated deep, the RS pellets averaged 611 f.p.s. for 5 shots, but I got the impression that the velocity was starting to drop — as if the excess lubricant had been burned off. Seated flush, the same RS pellet averaged 592 f.p.s., but the string was an almost linear velocity drop from the first shot at 611 f.p.s. to the last, at 577 f.p.s. At the average velocity, this pellet produces 5.71 foot-pounds.
The gun seems to be breaking in and the velocity is declining slightly. I think it will settle down soon, so the gun will still show a marked increase from the new breech seal. To test that, I’ll do a special velocity retest after the accuracy tests are complete. They’ll give the gun more time to break in.
I’ve mentioned more than once how much I like the way this rifle fires. The trigger, though single-stage only, is crisp enough for me. It breaks at 4 lbs., 14 oz., which may seem like a lot; but on a handy plinking rifle, it really isn’t bad. If I’d been trying to shoot groups at 50 yards, maybe I could complain; but for what I want this gun to do, the trigger’s fine.
The rifle cocks with just 19 lbs. of effort! Though it’s an adult-sized airgun, it cocks like a youth model — a feature I really enjoy. And the cocking is so precise. Pull the barrel down until you hear the sear click into position…and you’re done. There’s no overtravel and no long cocking stroke that takes you outside the range where you have the best mechanical advantage.
There’s also no buzzing or vibration that’s noticeable. I’m sure there must be some, but the gun feels very solid when it fires. It’s difficult to explain until you feel it in another air rifle, but it’s a feeling you’ll really enjoy.
I literally cannot wait to shoot this rifle for accuracy! I’ll first try it at 10 meters. If it does well, I’ll also try it at 25 yards. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to test this rifle a lot, now that it performs so well.
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
My rifle is actually a BSA Super Meteor.
Today’s report is really interesting — at least I think so. If you want to know more about what’s behind the performance of a spring-piston air rifle, today will give you some insight.
In the last report, I installed the new piston head with a new seal and buffer. This head has a threaded shank with a nut to hold it to the piston securely. It replaces the old head that was held on by a flimsy E-type circlip that had failed. And you may remember that after the head separated from the piston, people continued to cock and fire the gun, not knowing what was wrong. The result was a lot of mechanical damage, including broken welds on the piston and heavy galling inside the compression chamber and spring tube.
After the rebuild (with a lot of help from my friend Otho), I fired the rifle and noted that it seemed okay, but it would have to wait for a run over the chronograph to know for sure. Today, we’ll do that run.
Before I did any shooting, I cleaned the bore with a bronze bore brush and J-B Non-Embedding Bore Cleaning Compound. It was filthy to begin with, but I was surprised that the brush went through easily from the first stroke. Usually, it takes 10 strokes or more before the brush loosens up.
Once all the paste was cleaned out of the barrel, it was much brighter inside, though not as shiny as a new barrel. I don’t have a borescope; but to my naked eye, the bore on this rifle looks very uneven. If this were a firearm, I would suspect it had fired a lot of corrosive ammunition and not been cleaned properly. We’ll see what that does to the accuracy in the future.
I initially selected three different pellets for this test. Two of them were lightweights, and the other was a medium-weight pellet; but as it turned out, I never got to test the medium-weight pellet. I learned so much from the lightweights that I was pushed in a new direction.
The first pellet I tried was the 7-grain RWS Hobby. The Hobby is a lightweight pellet that normally goes faster than any other pure lead pellet. I use it in most of my velocity tests to give a good idea of the rifle’s power. I expected to see something in the high 400s or low 500s with this rifle, but that’s not what I got! Look at the first 3 shots.
Obviously, Hobbys were not the right pellet for the Meteor. They fit the breech tight and didn’t seem to want to move very fast.
JSB Exact RS
Next, I switched to the JSB Exact RS pellet. While this 7.33-grain pellet weighs a little more than the Hobby, it fits the breach much looser, and I felt it might have higher velocity. Let’s look at the first 3 shots.
Clearly something was wrong! I felt the tuneup should have given me more velocity than that. I took a look at the breech seal, which had not been replaced. It was flattened even with the breech but didn’t seem to be damaged in any way. However it seemed like a good idea to pull it out and examine it closer. That turned out to be exactly the right thing to do!
When I pried the seal from the breech, it fell apart! The Meteor’s breech seal is a synthetic circular seal that’s taller than an o-ring; and from appearances, this one is at the end of its life. I didn’t have a replacement seal on hand, but I know how to make breech seals out of leather. I had a couple of my homemade leather Diana breech seals on hand, and all they needed was some trimming to fit the Meteor. The first one was trimmed too small and gave me several shots at 216 f.p.s. Obviously, it wasn’t doing the job!
The Meteor breech seal disintegrated when it was pried out of the breech. It wasn’t doing the job anymore and needed to be replaced.
The next leather seal was left larger and just stuffed into the breech seal channel. It fit the rifle much better, while still standing a little proud of the breech. That’s what you want in a leather breech seal. This time I decided to oil the seal thoroughly before continuing the test. I applied several drops of silicone chamber oil about 10 successive times and allowed it to soak into the leather. Then, I left the gun overnight with the breech broken open to allow the leather to completely soak up all the oil, while not flattening out. The next morning, I oiled the seal one more time. Then, it was time to shoot.
The first 3 shots with JSB Exact RS pellets the next day were very revealing:
I was on the right track, but maybe the job wasn’t finished. Even though the JSB Exact RS pellet fit the breech looser than the Hobby, I wondered if deep-seating would improve the velocity. The next 10 shots are all with the JSB Exact RS pellet seated deep in the breech, using the Air Venturi pellet pen and seater.
Time for learning!
Okay, what have we learned from this? I think an examination of this last shot string shows the gun wants to shoot a little faster than 500 f.p.s. with this pellet, but it isn’t for some reason. You notice that the velocity drops as the shots accumulate. What’s up with that?
It seems to me that the new breach seal is losing its ability to do the job as the gun is fired. An examination of the seal shows that it’s flattening out, but I didn’t want to accept this conclusion from just one string of shots. So, I returned to the RWS Hobby pellets next.
Because they fit tight, I also deep-seated these pellets with the pellet seater:
I’m not sure what to make of this shot string. It looks like the Hobbys wanted to go faster, but then they sort of stabilized around 360 to 370 f.p.s. I doubt if they’re going to go over 400 f.p.s. with the current breech seal.
The adjustable single-stage trigger breaks at 4 lbs., 9 oz. as it’s set right now. Because this trigger adjusts by varying the amount of sear contact area, I plan to leave it right where it is, for safety’s sake. It’s crisp enough that I can work with it as is.
What to do next?
Based on the evidence I see above, this rifle now wants to shoot in the low 500s with light pellets, but the breech seal is holding it back. If that’s true, a new breech seal should push the gun back up over the 500 mark. The solution seems simple. I went online to T. R. Robb’s website in the UK and ordered 3 new breech seals. Since they’re synthetic, I don’t know how long they will last…but 3 should last me the rest of my life.
I’ll be very pleased to get a final velocity around 500 f.p.s. with lightweight pellets. Remember, I want to shoot this Meteor for fun — not to obtain the absolute last foot-pound of energy it can produce. The trigger is heavy but also very positive, and a delight to shoot. And the rifle fires with a pleasingly dead-calm shot cycle.
I have no idea if this rifle is worth the money, time and effort I’m putting into it, but I’m doing it as a learning exercise, rather than just restoring a BSA Meteor to usefulness. If I wanted a Meteor to shoot, I would have been money ahead to just turn this rifle into a parts gun and find a rifle that was in good condition to start with.
I guess the analogy to what I’m doing with this Meteor is the guy who finds a rusty old tractor laying out in a field — abandoned for decades. It isn’t worth the effort, but if he can get it running again, think of all he might learn along the way.
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