Posts Tagged ‘new airgunner’
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
Sometimes, you find something works, and you stick with it. Apparently, the title of this report is one such thing. I seem to keep coming up with this title, yet my reports don’t seem to be related. Oh, well, consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.
Today’s report is going to sound like a Friday blog, but that isn’t intentional. I just have a couple random things to say, and it’s going to come out that way.
I’ll start with the real reason for today’s report — new airgunners. Five years ago, we also got new airgunners; but back then they came from everywhere — not from one particular place. Some were people wanting to learn the basics of shooting, others were firearm shooters who wanted to try airguns for a change and others were people who had shot airguns in their youth and wanted to see where things had progressed since then.
Today, it’s different. The bulk of our new airgunners are now coming from the firearms side of the shooting sports. They’ve been shooting firearms for a while (some longer than others, obviously), but they admit they’re new to airguns and want to learn. Oh, they were always aware that airguns were out there, but they didn’t give them much thought. That changed when the ammo supplies dried up here in the U.S. These people like to shoot, and they see airguns as a way of doing that without hindrance.
I know this from the comments we’re getting on the blog, plus the number of new readers who are commenting for the first time. I noticed that whenever I write a report about something fundamental, there’s lots of discussion. Five years ago, I got more criticism that I wasn’t reviewing airguns as much as readers expected; but today, I’m getting real questions about the fundamentals of shooting. I think that’s great because we can all stand to learn more about our sport — me included. Just because I write this stuff doesn’t mean I necessarily know any more about it than anybody else. I’m just the guide on this trip — not the destination.
So, I visited a local large sporting goods chain store last Saturday. It’s Academy Sports, for those who know it. And I noticed that their shelves were packed with all kinds of shotgun ammunition, plus a healthy variety of rifle ammo (considering recent times). Looking at things like this is something I do a lot these days to find out where we are in terms of the availability of ammunition.
Then, my eyes fell on several plastic-looking bows. Now, I know next to nothing about bows. I’ve owned them and shot them, but I was never what you would call an archer. So, I’m looking at these plastic bows and let me tell you what I saw. They looked cool! Two were compound bows with pulleys, and one of them was priced at around $45, while the other was a whopping $95! I may not be an archer, but I know that a compound bow should cost several hundred dollars. Yet here were two of them for under a hundred each, and they looked good.
That was when it hit me — for me this experience was just like a firearm shooter looking at a super-powerful breakbarrel spring-piston air rifle from China! I know why those kinds of airguns are not special — I’ve had hundreds of experiences with them and could write a book of warnings about what you get for $129 from a discount sporting goods store. But the firearm shooter who considers them seriously for the first time doesn’t know what he’s looking at. He needs help — just like I needed help with the bows.
These two black plastic bows (each was stapled to a colorful cardboard backer, if that gives you any sense of their quality) looked very cool. So — that is what it must feel like to be a new airgunner and wonder why a Walther LGV Challenger costs so much more than a Winchester 1028 air rifle combo, when, according to the description, it doesn’t shoot nearly as fast, nor does it come with a scope!
I wanted to ask someone right then and there what the differences were between these cheap compound bows and a good one, but I knew that no salesperson in the store could answer that for me. And any customer who might try to help might be as confused as I was — but perhaps 6 months farther along the trail of tears — learning about bows the hard way.
So, I will continue to write about the fundamentals of both airguns and of shooting, along with the detailed tests of airguns…because I know there are many people who need to hear this stuff — and some who should know better also need to hear it again.
A related thought
I’ve been thinking of visiting a new archery store that opened several months ago — just to see what’s new. More specifically, I want to know about new crossbows. I haven’t been in this store yet, but conversations from several archers have led me to believe that perhaps they do not even carry crossbows! Know why? Because people who shoot longbows think very poorly of crossbows.
Is it possible that a retail store — one that has been established for the purpose of succeeding and making its owner money — would not carry a product that most people believe to be in the same realm? After all — both longbow and crossbow have the word “bow” in their names.
Yes, it’s very possible. There may be such an animosity between longbow archers and those who shoot crossbows that the store owner might think he would drive away longbow customers from his store if he carried products from “the dark side.”
I used that term, the dark side, on purpose because that’s the term airgunners use to describe precharged pneumatics (PCP). Although they’re the oldest branch of airguns, those who shoot spring guns feel somehow that PCPs are the newcomers. And they are, if you only look at the modern ones that started in the UK in 1980. But PCPs date all the way back to the mid-1500s, while spring-piston airguns date from around the middle of the 19th century. Precharged pneumatics are, in fact, 300 years older than spring-piston guns, no matter how you feel about them.
My point is not to debate the history of the two powerplants. Rather, it is to point out that a schism exists right in the heart of the shooting sports. More specifically, within the heart of airguns that are only a pimple on the skin of the shooting sports. Arguing about the legitimacy of PCPs versus springers is like two fleas arguing whose dog it is. And, given the current political climate we are suffering in the United States, the dog has just been sprayed for fleas!
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
Today’s report is for those readers who are coming to this blog to find out what airguns are all about. We try to keep things open and free on this blog so you can ask any questions you might have at any time. There’s no need to remain on topic, like many forums demand.
I’m seeing two different types of new readers these days. The first is a shooter with a lot of firearms experience behind him. He knows his way around guns, but he’s heard some interesting things about these modern adult airguns and is curious to learn more.
This person already has a good foundation in the shooting sports, so a lot of things will seem very familiar. He will understand about the effects of weather conditions when shooting. He knows the importance of a good sight picture and trigger control. So he is already well-grounded on the basics, yet there will be some things that completely surprise him.
The other new reader is new to the shooting sports. Maybe he chose airguns as a good entry point for getting into shooting; or maybe, for various reasons, airguns are all he ever wants to shoot. This reader is trying to learn the basics, as well as trying to keep up with the reviews and tests we do.
What can I do? Make things clear
The first thing I can do for both these readers is recognize who they are and try to write to keep them both engaged and interested. That sounds difficult but turns out to be a blessing in disguise because the veteran shooter may understand some things differently than I do.
I’ll give you an example of what I mean. Yesterday, I was on the range with a shooter I don’t know and we talked about shot groups. He was surprised that I shoot 10-shot groups. He said that he shoots 3-shot groups to determine accuracy. To adjust his scope, he shoots only one shot. He’d never heard of Dr. Joseph Juran’s analogy of the management technique where all changes to a system are based on a single observation.
Chasing the ever-increasing failure rate
Dr Juran developed a short demonstration of the absurdity of using a single data point to make corrections to a system. One person stands on a chair and looks down at a piece of paper on the floor beneath him. There’s a dot on the paper. Looking straight down, the person holds a lead pencil to his nose and drops it, hoping to hit the dot. Another person we’ll call a “data gatherer” then notes how far from the dot the pencil hit the paper and records that information in X-Y coordinates. The paper has a grid pattern on it for this purpose. That information is then given to a group of people in a separate room who use it to prepare instructions for how to move the paper to correct for the error — so the pencil will strike the dot on the next try. Those instructions are then given to another worker, who must follow the instructions exactly to reposition the paper.
This experiment is repeated several times: drop the pencil, note the impact point, prepare the correction instructions and move the paper. After 5 or 6 iterations, the dot has been moved so far from the impact point that it is impossible to even hit the paper with the pencil!
Then the entire group of people is assembled to critique the experiment. They see that by reacting to a single data point, all their corrections did was move the dot farther from where the pencil impacted! For some people, this is a real eye-opener because it flies in the face of what they thought was true.
And, when you adjust your scope based on one pellet hole, that’s exactly what you’re doing — moving the dot based on a single observation.
Dr. Juran used this demonstration in his management classes when he taught the process that is known today as Japanese Management. This lesson is applicable to both the new shooter and the veteran who’s been doing it this way for decades. Even though both shooters are at different levels of experience, they can still be interested in the same things.
Behaviors that are peculiar to airguns
Both shooters can also benefit from learning about things like the artillery hold. What the new shooter learns is obvious, but it’s the veteran shooter who stands to gain the most from this lesson. He’s been holding his firearms tightly all his life, and it’s worked well until now. How is he to know that a lightweight Gamo spring-piston rifle will have to be handled like fresh eggs, if his most recent experience has been with a 7mm Remington Magnum that kicks like crazy? If he were to hold that rifle loosely, it would kick his teeth out! But we all know that the Gamo breakbarrel will not perform unless it’s held softly. So, this is a huge lesson for all new airgunners — experienced or otherwise.
We also know that diabolo pellets are partially stabilized by spin and partially by air drag. We’re currently conducting an investigation to determine what the optimum twist rate of rifling might be. I think we’ll discover that the effects of twist rates vary with velocity, like anything else. And that leads me to my summary comment for today.
Think like a buffalo hunter
I’ve read about the buffalo hunters who operated in the Plains States from around 1872 through 1880. They used single-shot rifles and tried to make each shot count because they were running a business that had very tight margins. Each round of ammunition cost about 25 cents to prepare, and each buffalo taken was worth between $2.50 to $3.00. The runners, as they called themselves, employed a small team of workers that had, as a minimum, a driver, two or more skinners and the hunter. The driver drove the large wagon that carried the buffalo hides, plus he was the cook; the skinners removed and preserved the hides (not much to it, other than scraping the insides and then rolling them very tight); and the hunter scouted the herd the evening before the hunt, reloaded his ammunition then did all the shooting the next day.
The goal of all these people was to make as much money as possible in the shortest time. The work was horrible, long and very tiring. Plus, there was always a threat of Indian attack. The hunter tried to shoot as many animals as his skinners could handle in one day, and he wanted to keep his costs to a minimum. The entire outfit — horses, wagons, equipment and supplies — was provided by the hunter.
The successful buffalo hunter had only one load for his rifle. One bullet, one charge of powder. And his cartridge had to perform well for him to hope to make a profit. That shooter is the one we want to emulate. He didn’t know what a chronograph was, yet his bullets did what they were designed to do and went where he aimed them.
I know there are things other than accuracy. In fact, accuracy is only the beginning. But without it, there can be no beginning, so that’s where I spend most of my time.
by B.B. Pelletier
Willliam Davis is this week’s Big Shot of the Week. Here he’s showing off his Crosman pistol with shoulder stock. He says he gets one-hole groups with it.
It’s time to advance through the 20th century and look at open sights as they evolved. We now know that by the beginning of the 20th century almost everything that could be done to increase accuracy with open sights had already been done. There were a few nice touches that were added, but most of the hard work had already been done. But that didn’t mean the gun makers were finished. There were always new embellishments that could be added. Yet, some of the sights that were most popular in the 20th century actually got their start in the 19th century.
Buckhorn rear sights
Buckhorn rear sights were actually popularized in the American West in the second half of the 19th century. But they became very trendy around the 1920s, and the trend lasted well into the late 1950s — past the time when they made any real difference to shooting and were more of an adornment that some shooters expected to see. Though they were originally mounted on single-shot muzzleloading rifles, they are perhaps best-known as the sights for Western-style lever guns.
A buckhorn sight is very distinctive.
When you see a full buckhorn rear sight, you instinctively know it was created for some specific purpose, though there’s very little literature that actually explains it. I’ll now go out on a limb and explain the sight as I understand it.
A buckhorn rear sight is a ranging sight. What that means is that it’s a sight that can quickly be “adjusted” to shoot at different ranges without touching the sight. All you do to change the distance is change the sight picture. There are three clear sighting options when you sight through a buckhorn. The sight is nearly always associated with a post-and-bead front sight; and when it isn’t, I suspect someone has changed one of the two sights — either front or rear.
The bead can be held in the small notch at the bottom of the buckhorn for close shots. I would tell you that this is the 50-yard sight picture, but that would be misleading. On some guns, it might be exactly that, while on others the distance will be different. Suffice it to say this is the closest range at which the sight can be used without any adjustment.
When the muzzle is elevated until the front bead appears in the center of the hole described by the arms of the buckhorn (sort of like using a large peep sight), you have the middle range. Again, I can’t tie this to a specific distance without referring to a specific gun. And when the muzzle is elevated so the bead is between the points of the horns at the top, you have the longest range at which the sight can be used without adjustment.
All three ranges are achieved without moving the rear sight — by simply elevating the front post in relation to the buckhorn. That’s the purpose of the buckhorn sight as I understand it. If you have one on a 44/40, the three distances will be different than if you have one on a .22 rimfire. You should bear in mind that when the buckhorn was invented, men typically had just one rifle and they learned it well. It wouldn’t take long to become accustomed to the ranges for which their own rifle was sighted.
Now for the bad news. Most riflemen dislike the buckhorn, finding it crude, obstructive and generally not useful. Townsend Whelen was very outspoken against it. And most shooters who own one simply use the lowest notch for sighting, so the extra capability goes to waste. But it looks very Western, hence my remark about it passing into the realm of a fad.
Worse than the buckhorn is the semi-buckhorn, which is neither fish nor fowl. It was even more common than the buckhornand appeared on most rimfire rifles of the 1940s and ’50s because of its supposed popularity. It’s not a ranging sight like the buckhorn — just a stylistic form that’s supposed to look cool. It was popular at the same time the semi-beavertail forearm was considered necessary. Nobody asked shooters what they preferred. Companies just attached these sights to their guns and that was what you got– not unlike the fiberoptics of today.
The semi-buckhorn rear sight is just a stylized rear notch with two long arms that add nothing to the functionality.
Fiberoptic sights have synthetic or glass tubes that collect light and transmit it to a point at the end of the tubes. The point is oriented toward the shooter’s eye so the fiberoptic tube looks like a bright pinpoint of light. The object is to align the two rear sight dots with the front sight dot so the three appear to be in line. The front dot is usually red or orange and the rear dots are usually green.
It all sounds fine but for one thing. Red is the single color that’s hardest to see for colorblind people, and approximately 14 percent of all men are colorblind in some way and to some degree. Red-green is the most common type of colorblindness. That doesn’t mean these people can’t see the colors red and green, but they have problems seeing all shades of those colors, as well as other colors that are similar. Traffic signals compensate for this by putting yellow into the red and blue into the green, but I’ve seen some fiberoptic tubes that were so dark that I couldn’t tell what color they were. They are always red when that happens, by the way.
The typical fiberoptic front sight is a single red tube like this one from TruGlo.
A common arrangement of a fiberoptic rear sight is to bend one tube so it appears to be two green dots like this one.
The other problem with fiberoptics is they’re so large that they cover a large part of the target. So, aiming precision is lost when the shooter can’t define the aim point any closer than several inches at 50 yards. Good open sights can go down much finer than that, and aperture target sights can go down to tiny fractions of an inch at the same 50 yards.
But many people seem to like fiberoptic sights, and they’re now coming standard on everything, including handguns that they have no business being on. We’ll either have to put up with them as long as the fad lasts or find alternative solutions.
There are still some sights we haven’t looked at yet. One is an optical forerunner of today’s battery-powered dot sight. And the ghost-ring sight is another more recent invention that I know very little about. If any readers are familiar with them, I would love to hear about them. I’ll research them for the report, but I’m hoping the comments will shed more light on the subject — pun intended.
by B.B. Pelletier
Today we have a guest blog by a new airgunner who goes by the handle NewBlue19. It’s important to see airgunning through a new shooter’s eyes, and I welcome all guest blogs like this. I found it eye opening, and I think you will, too.
If you’d like to write a guest post for this blog, please email us.
Take it away, NewBlue19!
I’m impulsive by nature. Despite being in my thirties, I’ve never outgrown that trait. In early November 2011, I was reminiscing about how much fun I had shooting a cheap pellet rifle with my dad that he had purchased when I was about 12.
I immediately went online, searched “air rifle” and was rewarded with thousands of sites selling, reviewing and recommending assorted air guns. Some were vendors while others were forums for experienced shooters. YouTube offered hundreds of videos of 12-year-old kids nailing a can from 60 yards away. I was hooked, and an hour later had placed an order for a Remington NPSS in .22. It had digital camo stock, a 3-9x scope and a raised rubber cheek piece! I had no idea what kind of shooting I was going to be doing; but with this awesome-looking rifle, I was going to be the terror of my backyard.
While waiting for the rifle to arrive, I began to do some actual research online. I found useful informative sites like Pyramyd Air, AirgunWeb, and a few others. I began to learn the difference between breakbarrels, sidelevers, PCPs and multi-pumps. I read up on the artillery hold, hold sensitivity, learned what f.p.s. (feet per second) and f.p.e. (foot-pounds of muzzle energy) really mean. I watched videos on mounting scopes and sighting them in, and I finally realized that I had probably made my first blunder. The Remington that I had just ordered just might be a little/or a lot of overkill for my tiny suburban backyard.
At this point, I had read that Tom Gaylord as wells as AirgunWeb’s Rick Eutsler recommended the Air Venturi Bronco to new shooters. They mentioned the good sights, the light trigger and the easy cocking. But do I listen? Of course not! I understood where they were coming from, but I didn’t like the blond stock or the lower velocity. Instead, I ordered the Stoeger X5 air rifle in .177 from Pyramyd Air as a starter gun to learn to shoot with it. I do not regret getting the X5, as it’s a nice, quiet, lightweight, accurate plinker. However, I had just made newbie blunder No. 2.
As a 12-year-old shooting with dad, I had no concept of good trigger management, trigger-pull weight or length of trigger travel. I was happy to just knock over the soda can and considered myself a success when I did. As an adult, I now want to hit the dead center of the can or get nice tight shot groups on paper.
With both the Remington and Stoeger rifles now delivered and scoped, off I went to zero them in at 10 yds. I quickly realized that blunder No. 2 (heavy trigger) applied equally to both rifles. Reviews for both rifles clearly stated that both rifles had long, heavy triggers. As a newbie, I had no idea what that meant. I’m a grown man! I can pull a 5-lb. trigger!
Sure, all of us can pull a 5-lb. trigger, but it takes extra concentration and good trigger management to group well with a trigger like that. Since getting both rifles, I’ve had a chance to shoot rifles with better triggers from RWS and Beeman. The difference is easily noticeable. Had I listened to what Tom and Rick had repeatedly said, I would have gotten the Bronco as a starter rifle. It would have been easier and quicker to master and probably a little more fun to shoot.
I asked to write this guest blog in order to share my experiences as a new airgunner. I figure that maybe other newbies could save a little time, money and effort by not repeating the same mistakes I make as I go along — and experienced guys could get a laugh and sagely nod their heads at my hiccups. I think that experienced people sometimes forget the learning curve involved in undertaking a new hobby and the inevitable mistakes that occur while gaining that same experience. So, what did my first two blunders teach me?
Blunder No. 1 taught me to match the air rifle to the type of shooting, environment and distances I’d be shooting. Suburban backyard plinking with neighbors stacked all around you doesn’t require a relatively heavy 4-ft. long rifle. Add in the fact that I don’t eat wild game or know how to clean or skin it, I won’t need a “hunting rifle” anytime soon. Finally, figure in the 20-25 yard depth of my backyard and a busybody retiree living next door, and the Bronco (or Stoeger) would have been plenty of rifle for me. The $260 I spent on the Remington and $30 in assorted .22 pellets would have gotten me more than halfway to a really nice upgrade from the Stoeger when I was ready to make the leap.
Blunder No. 2 taught me to take the time to read the useful, knowledgeable reviews that some of the experienced reviewers leave. Not the ones that simply state “dime-sized groups at 25 yds” or “killed a tree rat with my second shot out the box.” Both are more boastful than useful. I’m referring to the well thought out reviews that cover fit, finish, triggers and any possible issues the reviewer encountered. If several experienced guys state the same thing, they probably have a point. Why fight or have to overcome an issue or shortcoming when you can just avoid it altogether? The information and experience is out there. We new airgunners just have to sort through it and use it.
I hope my experience will benefit some of you in the future.
Afterword from B.B.
Thank you, NewBlue19. I appreciate a newcomer’s viewpoint because it’s been many years since I shared your perspective. I know what you mean when you say a 5-lb. trigger doesn’t sound like much until you actually try it. Until you see the crosshairs walk off-target because of a heavy trigger-pull or until you group seven shots all to the lower left of the target with a certain handgun (lower right, if you’re a lefty), it’s impossible to know how this stuff really works.
So, factor that in to your research. You may read something that’s the honest truth and also a good description, but until you gain a little experience with the same stuff, it just won’t mean as much to you.
by B.B. Pelletier
This series began with the earliest sights that were both primitive and simplistic. Then, we looked at the evolution of peep sights, starting back before 1840 and progressing to around 1903.
There’s a lot more to be said about both open and peep sights. It was at this point in time that they each began to develop along separate lines. I think I need to concentrate on one type of sight per report to keep things straight. In today’s report, I’ll look at open sights from around the middle of the 19th century until today.
Open sights evolved rapidly after the American Civil War, which ended in 1865. Not that all the innovation was done in the U.S., mind you, but that was a time when the world of firearms was advancing though technological stages, and the sights kept pace with everything. Other wars around the world at the same time drove the armies of many nations to push the limits of firearms; and we got smokeless gunpowder, fixed cartridges, breechloading arms and eventually repeating firearms from this era.
In 1850, a military firearm was loaded at the muzzle and carried but one shot. Repeaters at this time were novelties and even dangerous experiments because of the volatility of black powder. These single-shot martial arms were accurate to about 400 yards on man-sized targets.
In 1900, there were repeating firearms holding 10 self-contained cartridges filled with smokeless powder and spitzer (pointed) bullets that could shoot accurately to more than one mile distance. Most of the primary designs we use today had been invented.
I stopped discussing open sights when I started my look at peep sights; but even though the advances in open sights were not as great in terms of the improvements they contributed to accuracy, open sights did advance in parallel with peep sights.
The old black powder arms were accurate; but because they shot their bullets so slowly, the trajectories were huge. Bullets dropped by many feet on their way to the target. We all like watching Matthew Quigley shoot his big Sharps rifle at distant targets, but how many people appreciate that his bullets are dropping by 60-80 FEET before they impact the target?
Enough fantasy. Let’s get real for a moment. In 1874, the U.S. and Irish rifle teams shot a match at the Creedmoor range on Long Island to decide which nation had the world champion marksmen. They shot at targets at 800, 900 and 1,000 yards. At 1,000 yards, the bullets from the Americans’ .45-caliber rifles dropped more than 100 feet. So, they had to set their sights to compensate for this tremendous drop. A 550-grain .45-caliber lead bullet starting out at 1,400 f.p.s. will drop 114.69 feet when it gets to 1,000 yards.
This model 1873 Springfield Trapdoor carbine rear sight (from 1878) is graduated to 500 yards on the ramp and to 1,100 yards on the upright standard. There’s another sight at the top of the standard that’s sighted even farther — perhaps 1,300 yards. Image copied from Trapdoor Springfield by M.D. (Bud) White and B.D. Ernst, copyright 1980, Beinfeld Publishing, Inc.
This 1879 Remington rolling block rear sight on an Argentine military rifle chambered for .43 Spanish (11.15 x 58R) is elevated to shoot 400 yards. By flipping the standard straight up, the rifle can shoot out to 900 yards accurately.
I mention this because airgunners everywhere are so willing to condemn the .22-caliber pellet for having a “rainbow trajectory.” Folks, they don’t know the meaning of that term! And this is the reason that I refuse to give up my fascination for firearms — because I often find remarkable parallels between them and airguns. But some shooters will watch Quigley and then opt for the fastest .177 they can buy, so their pellets don’t drop too much at long range! To heck with that! Instead, take the time to learn where the pellets will drop and shoot the more accurate, heavier pellets. That’s what Quigley did.
So, the military rear sights of the 1870s were long affairs that had inclined ramps to raise them up for long-range shots. By 1900, this had been taken to the absurd limits of 2,000-yards. Nobody could see that far on the battlefield to shoot accurately; but by this time, military leaders were espousing area fire and talked about “beaten zones” and “cones of fire.” They were thinking of rifle bullets in a way similar to artillery shells, except they didn’t explode, of course.
By the turn of the 20th century, military leaders were thinking in terms of 2,000 yards and indirect plunging fire, as this 1896 Mauser rear sight shows. Image copied from Mauser Bolt Rifle, Third Edition by Ludwig Olson, copyright 1976, E. Brownell & Son.
By the time World War I started, the theory of indirect rifle fire was at its height, though it was proven ineffective through actual battlefield experience. Soldiers were also trained to shoot at targets directly, which ended up being the direction that proved the most effective. But the theory did not die. It persisted until the start of World War II, and the weapons that were used continued to have rear sights that adjusted for 2,000-yard fire.
Countries were also experimenting with ammunition at this same time (1898-1915). As each new innovation hit the field, nations scrambled to adapt their weapons to more modern designs that shot farther and flatter. As a result of what they learned, the rear sights also changed to reflect the flatter trajectories.
This model 1898 Mauser rear sight has been updated to reflect the more streamlined 8mm ammunition used during World War II. It’s shown elevated for 2,000 yards, but looks just a little higher than the rolling block rear sight of 1879 that’s set for 400 yards.
Of course, civilian arms kept pace with the military weapons in every way. Once the wars were over, the sights on civilian arms gained the same innovations that served the military so well; because they were sold to individuals instead of governments, they had to be more practical. No shooters wanted sights that were good for 2,000 yards — no matter what their military experience had been. So, the rear sights still elevated, but this time to more reasonable yardages.
This Winchester model 94 rear sight is probably good out to 200 yards, or so (for the 30-30 round). Photo copied from Winchester Model 94 by Robert C. Renneberg, copyright 2009, Krause Publications, Inc.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the express sights that were popularized by African hunters from the 1870s through the 1920s. These are sights that flip up and are regulated for a single cartridge at a single range. The most common that I have seen are those for 100, 200 and 300 yards — but there are many other combinations.
Winchester express rear sight has three flip-up blades for distances to 400 yards. Image copied from Winchester — An American Legend by R.L. Wilson, copyright 1991 by R.L.Wilson. Published in U.S.A. by Random House.
The express sight is a special adaptation of the earlier leaf rear sight that has two distances built in. Those go back as far as the 1850s. I showed you one on my 1867 gallery dart gun.
This rear sight from a gallery dart gun of 1867 could have been the inspiration for the express sights.
Well, that’s it for this time. There’s much more to say about open sights — mainly on the civilian side. We need to look at them, because airgun sights are directly related.
We’ll also look further at peep sights because we haven’t exhausted them, either. This series has at least a couple more parts to come.
by B.B. Pelletier
In Part 2, we learned that the peep sight has been around for a very long time. But following the American Civil War, the entire world became intensely interested in shooting for about 60 years, and target shooting was at the top of the list. World-champion target shooters were regarded like NASCAR drivers are today.
Because of all this interest, the common peep sights that were already at least 50 years old, and perhaps as old as a full century, started to change. By 1870, designers were innovating again. One of the most famous innovators, and the man whose designs are still impacting battle rifles 125 years later, was Col. Buffington of the Springfield Armory. In 1884, Springfield selected his sight for the U.S. .45-caliber, single-shot military rifle — the gun we call the Trapdoor.
The Buffington rear sight is both a peep and several different open notches. It sits 10-12 inches from the eye, yet is easily used with practice. Adjustable for both windage and elevation, it increases the accuracy potential by sharpening the sight picture.
As far as I know, the Buffington sight is the first use of a peep sight on a rifle that was intended for all combat troops. It worked so well at ranges of 500 yards and beyond that the American Army used it on all versions of the Krag and the M1903 Springfield, as well. Even though the peephole is located 10-12 inches away from your eye, it still works with precision.
The U.S. Army was so satisfied with the peep sight that they put it on the O3A3 Springfield of WWII, the M1 Carbine, the Garand, the M14 and all models of the M16/M4. It’s an easier sight to learn and far more precise than an open notch. Only in recent years have our Army and Marine Corps begun to experiment with optical sights, with the declination of the peep sight.
The refinement of the peep sight
But it wasn’t the Buffington sight that brought peep sights to their highest level. It was a challenge in 1873 that came from the champion Irish rifle team to any team of riflemen the Americans could put together for the championship of the world. No one, including the Americans, thought the Irish would lose the match; but just shooting against them was such an honor that we put a team together, built a thousand-yard rifle range and two firearms companies — Sharps and Remington — each built long-range target rifles for the team members to shoot.
The Irish shot Rigby muzzleloaders that were considered the most accurate in the world. No one thought a breechloader had a chance against them. And Rigby, himself, was part of the Irish team!
Until the year of the match (1874), there were no peep sights with vernier scales in the U.S. The best anyone could do was adjust their sights by 1/200 of an inch. At close ranges out to a maximum of 300 yards, that’s good enough; but when the distance is 800, 900 and 1,000 yards, the sight has to adjust in the thousandths of an inch. The way to do that was to add a vernier scale to the sight. So, both Sharps and Remington did exactly that.
A vernier scale is a scale of numbers that aligns with an index, making it possible for the naked eye to see measurements as small as one ten-thousandth of an inch, even though our eyes cannot actually see things that small. The vernier scale magnifies the final measurement for us through an ingenious scale of lines that are 10 times or 100 times larger than the measurement it’s measuring.
This closeup shows the Ballard rear peep sight from 1876. This is a common short-range (up to 300 yards) rear sight that’s adjustable to 1/100 of an inch, with care. There’s no vernier scale on this sight, so it has to be read directly. There’s a lot of interpolation required, and I have to use a jeweler’s loupe to read it that close.
This is a vernier scale on a peep sight. The offset index marks on the small scale align with the sight index marks, but only one of them is aligned perfectly. This allows you to “see” measurements as small as 1/1000 of an inch.
This Ballard front sight from 1876 uses an aperture! It was hand-filed to the correct size for the 20-rod (220 yard) bullseye target. It also works perfectly for a smaller 100-yard bull.
The results of the first international match at Creedmoor was a win for the U.S. team; but the score was extremely close, and the Irish team had fired one shot at the wrong target — losing the score. As far as the world was concerned, the match proved nothing about the superiority of muzzleloaders or breechloaders. However, the next year the U.S. won again in England, and this time the score was more conclusive. The breechloader had finally arrived on the target scene, and peep sights were accepted, though most shooters were using scopes if the rules allowed it. And the day of the precision peep sight with a vernier scale had finally arrived.
The American shooters positioned their rear sights on the heel of the butt, giving them the maximum separation of the front and rear sight, but requiring the shooter to lay down with his feet toward the target and balance the muzzle on his shoes. This odd position was given the name Creedmoor — after the range — and has every since defined that style of prone shooting.
Not every nation adopted the peep sight, and some who were as well-regarded as the Americans (namely the Swiss), shot very well with the older post and notch. They used it right on up through the 1960s. The US, Canada and the UK stayed with the peep sight on their battle rifles because it was quicker to learn, faster to use in battle and more precise.
Notice, also, that target shooters were using front aperture sight elements in the 1870s! Until a few years ago, I thought front apertures were an invention of the 1970s, but they’re at least a full century older. They came about because of changes from square targets to round targets around the mid-1870s.
by B.B. Pelletier
Leslie Foran (aka Desertdweller) took this winning photo of his grandson Nicky Crocker shooting a Daisy 856.
Today, we’ll look at peep sights. Do you think a peep sight is a modern invention? Wrong! Despite what Wikipedia says, peep sights date from at least as far back as the 1840s and perhaps even a half-century earlier. There were sights enclosed in tubes during the American Revolution (1775-1783), but those had not yet reached the full development of the sights I will discuss today. By 1840, peep sights were being offered by a great many rifle makers.
The first peep sight consisted of a round, flat plate with a hole drilled through its center. It was mounted on a threaded stalk; and when turned, it could be screwed up and down for vertical adjustment. One-half turn was all that was required, because the plate was the same on both sides. It was located on the tang of a rifle and was used in conjunction with a very fine front bead sight that was mounted atop a tall thin post. This early peep sight has been called a lollipop sight for more than a century because of the resemblance to that candy.
This lollipop sight is from a later schuetzen rifle, but it’s very similar to ones made before the American Civil War.
The front sight was so thin as to be fragile, and so was enclosed in a steel tube — or what we now call a globe. The earliest type of front bead was made from pig bristles that were touched on their tips by a red-hot iron. The heat caused the bristle to melt into a tiny ball that became the bead. The other end of the bristle was stuck in a small piece of soft pine and covered with shellac to hold it in place. The piece of wood was then attached inside the front tube, completing the sight. Later front posts were filed from steel, but they could never be as thin as the ones made from pig’s bristle.
This steel front post and bead is many times thicker than the pig’s bristle front sight mentioned in this report.
Using the peep sight
To use the peep sight, the shooter looked through the hole in the plate (the peephole) and focused on the front bead. The bead was then held either in the center of the target or just under the center, depending on the type of targets being used. An early target was a wooden shingle blackened by fire and scraped white in the center. This white spot was called the mark, and early target shooting was called “Shooting at a mark.”
You’ll notice that I didn’t discuss where the front bead is supposed to be positioned relative to the peephole. That’s because it doesn’t work that way! If you look through a peephole and keep both eyes open, your brain will automatically center the bead in the center of the peephole, because that’s the source of the brightest light.
From the shooter’s perspective, all he does is look through the peephole and put the front bead on the target. His eyes do the rest. That’s why the peep sight is so much more precise than sporting types of open sights.
When the front sight is a square post, it works the same; but you have to estimate the location of the middle of the peephole. On some sights with large peepholes, that can be difficult. It’s still many times faster than a post-and-notch sight set and at least as prercise.
This is what a square-post front sight looks like through a peep. The aim point is 6 o’clock on the bull.
The front aperture
Around 1874, a new type of front sight came into widespread use. It was an aperture atop a post, and the reason it took until 1874 to come into use was because most targets weren’t round until then. Most shooters shot at targets that were squares, so a round aperture wasn’t of much use. But when the American Standard target came into accepted use (the National Rifle Association lobbied for it), it brought the front aperture with it.
To use this type of front sight with the rear peep sight, you look through the peep and focus on the front aperture. Center the black bull in the aperture, and you’re done. As long as your front aperture is very close to the same size as the black bull downrange, all you have to do is align a series of concentric circles.
This is what you see through the peep sight when the front sight is an aperture and the bull is round.
Keep both eyes open!
It isn’t just a good idea to keep both eyes open when using a peep sight — it’s absolutely essential to their proper operation. I did a blog on this back in 2009 that gave you a quick experiment to conduct. If you do so, you will discover why you must keep both eyes open to use peep sights!
In what era do you place the movie Quigley Down Under? Be careful, because the rear sight on his rifle had not been used on an American rifle before 1874. That was the year the UK champion Irish Rifle Team challenged the US team to a match to decide the world championship. The US had no team at the time of the challenge, nor did we have any standard rifles that were up to shooting the 800-, 900- and 1000-yard distances involved. Even the rifle range known as Creedmoor was specially built for this challenge match.
To help the American team, both Sharps and Remington made special Creedmoor match rifles fitted with the very first vernier rear peep sights ever used in this country. They also had wind-gauge front sights to adjust for the drift and winds on the range.
When I return with the next section of this report, I’ll show you what an advancement this really was.