Posts Tagged ‘percussion caps’

Nelson Lewis combination gun: Part 4

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

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nelson Lewis combination gun: Part 3

by B.B. Pelletier

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

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

Part 1
Part 2


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enough history. Let’s go to the range.


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


Fill the powder measure to heaping.


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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Nelson Lewis combination gun: Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

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

Adam Crowson is Pyramyd Air’s Big Shot of the Week.

Part 1


This Nelson Lewis combination gun was made in the mid-19th century. It’s .38 caliber and 14 gauge.

A lot of readers have been waiting patiently for today’s report. Although we’re airgunners, we’re shooters first, and many of us appreciate the similarities between pneumatic guns and those that use black powder. Today’s subject gun was made about 150 years ago by a maker of some fame who made sniper rifles for use during the American Civil War. I’ve lived with this gun for several months now and have held it, admired it, considered it and wondered about it. And on Tuesday of last week, I took it to the range for its first outing.

On every TV show where old guns are shown, you’re advised to seek the services of a gunsmith before firing any old gun. They’re supposed to check the gun for safety. Last week, I discovered that I was the one performing that service on this piece.

While Mac was still visiting me several weeks ago, we pulled both locks out of the stock and examined them closely. They differ from each other only because one is for the right side and the other is for the left; but, in essence, they’re the same lock. The inletting in the stock is so precise that the left lock has to be “buttoned” into position to get it back in! It fits into an undercut section of the stock and cannot be inserted straight into its slot. A bolt passes through the left lock, through the stock and into the right lock. When tightened, it pulls both locks together in a fit so tight that a razor blade cannot be inserted between the stock and either of the two lockplates.


The locks are not complex, but they are made right and tight, which makes all the difference in the world. This is the right-hand shotgun lock.

The locks are back-action (meaning the hammer spring is located behind the tumbler, so the majority of the lock extends backward — rather than forward – from the hammer) and are remarkably simple in construction. Some file marks are still evident from the time each piece was fashioned by Lewis, who made all his own locks, triggers and barrels. For a short time, I was concerned about the gun having been “gunsmithed” because the rifle lock (operated by the rear trigger) fires with about 2 lbs. of pull and is glass-crisp. It feels too light for the gun, considering the hammer requires about 12 lbs. of effort to cock! But close examination under a 10x jeweler’s loupe shows no evidence of any work other than Lewis’ original job.

The rifle lock is on the left side of the gun, and the hammer on that side was a bit loose when I got it, so one of my gun buddies and I shimmed the square shaft on which the hammer rides with 0.0015″ shim stock. That took up all the play. Now there isn’t a hint of movement.

I removed both nipples and was pleased to see what good condition they were in. Both have tiny flash holes at their bottoms, exactly like they’re supposed to. Often, these holes will be enlarged from the hot gasses and cause greater pressure to flow back through the nipple and against the bottom of the hammer. They seem to be plated with platinum, which was a common touch on the finer guns of this period. The plating allows them to resist the erosive gasses of the gunpowder many times longer than plain steel. These are either original to the gun or are period replacements, and I would think at least the rifle nipple has to be a replacement.


Here you see the bottom of the rifle barrel nipple. It’s clearly in great condition despite its age. Notice that the breech plugs have been shaped into water drains, or “snails,” as they’re termed. They direct any water away from the nipples and also protect the barrel and lockplate from the erosive hot gasses that occur at firing. Much of the original nickel plating has been lost to these gasses.

I shined a powerful tactical flashlight down both nipple holes with the nipples removed to see down the barrels from the muzzle. Both were sparkling clean and shiny. The shotgun barrel, however, is not like any shotgun barrel of today. Instead of a mirror bore, this barrel still has tool marks, both horizontal and vertical, from when it was fashioned. You can see them in the photo of the muzzle in Part 1. I doubt there’s any choke — I can’t see evidence of one.


This photo is very revealing! Notice the graduated gap between the left and right breech plug? That’s not sloppy work, it’s intentional to provide clearance for when the plug shown right in this picture is unscrewed. Both nipples must be removed before the plugs come out. Notice the index marks that align the breech plugs with their barrels. They keep the nipples aligned with the hammers when the plugs are in place.

Then, I did some thinking about when this gun was made and what hunting was like at that time. This gun may have been made before the Civil War. Nelson Lewis made guns from 1843 into the 1880s at one location in Troy, New York. Internet research reveals that the building where he had his gun store and workshop is still standing on the corner of Congress and Church streets. Church Street is just an alley today, but Congress Street still exists, and his workshop has recently housed a small Greek sandwich shop.

It was a very different time
I can’t prove exactly when this gun was made; but as a combination gun, it’s very different from what we think of today. Let’s use the Savage model 24 for comparison. The model 24 is a modern combination gun with a rifle barrel and a shotgun barrel — just like this Lewis gun. The 24 is superposed, where this Lewis gun is side-by-side, or a Cape gun as some would call it. But Nelson Lewis also made combination guns with superposed barrels. A Savage model 24 is a lightweight, handy gun that’s useful for hunting all manner of game. The Lewis gun is also useful this way, but it’s not light!

As I reported in Part 1, it weighs 9 lbs. It’s decidedly muzzle-heavy and would not swing like a modern shotgun. But while thinking about the time period when it was used, it dawned on me that this gun may not have been designed to be used as a “handy” gun in the same terms we would think of today. It was handy because it fired both a single bullet and shot, of course, but I don’t think it was made for shooting birds on the wing.

Hunters in America didn’t always shoot birds on the wing back in 1850. They often shot them on the roost. In those days, game abounded and sportsmanship wasn’t the same as it is today. In both England and the eastern U.S., there were men in small boats called punts, and they were shooting ducks by the hundreds on the water with a small cannon called a punt gun. Nobody thought anything of a lone hunter shooting a few ducks, geese and swans while they were on the ground or the water. Yes, I said swans. Why do you think they called it “swan shot”?

“Shooting flying” is the name given to the sport of wingshooting. The flintlock made it more feasible to shoot a flying bird than anything previous; and the percussion lock, with its instantaneous ignition, coupled with the general improvement in the power of gunpowder at about the same time (1830-1840), made shooting flying gain popularity. But a meat hunter, subsistence hunter or just a plain hunter, wasn’t always interested in shooting as a sport. He was out to get food, plain and simple.

This Nelson Lewis combination gun is no more a subsistence gun than a Dodge Viper is a car for a soccer mom. Yes, it can do the job and yes, it seems to have all the necessary qualifications, but subsistence hunters can and do get along with a lot less. This is a fine sporting gun for the man who has the money to spend and wants something special. Just how special I will now discuss.

Nelson Lewis didn’t make up many guns (if any) on speculation. They were nearly all made to order, because at the price a person had to pay, which was several months’ wages for laborers, customers demanded exactly what they wanted. It’s my belief that the customer who ordered this particular gun was reasonably well-to-do, and he was also a man with very specific tastes. I believe the gun, itself, shows us that.

I’ve now seen six or seven of these Nelson Lewis combination guns in various auctions and on websites, as well as in the book by Ned Roberts, The Muzzleloading Cap Lock Rifle. They’re all similar in size, weight and caliber — with one exception. While more than half of the guns I’ve seen have the lollipop rear peep sight, mine is the only one so far that also has a hooded or globe front sight. That steel hood is there for just one purpose — to protect the thin post-and-bead “pinhead” target front sight — a sight that belongs on a target rifle.


The tiny post-and-bead front sight was meant for the most precise aiming possible with iron sights in the Nelson Lewis combination gun’s day. It seems out of place on a combination gun. Notice the beautiful condition of the rifle’s bore at the muzzle!

Remember — this is a combination gun. A gun that is both a rifle and a shotgun. It’s main purpose is for getting meat of all kinds. It’s not a target rifle, because that would have just a single barrel, double-set triggers and probably a false muzzle for more careful loading of the bullet. It’s not a shotgun, because that would be at least two pounds lighter and not muzzle-heavy. This is a meat gun — pure and simple.

So, why does it need target sights? Who puts a Lyman Super Targetspot scope on a Savage model 24? Yet, this Nelson Lewis combination gun from the mid-19th century has sights that belong on the finest target rifles of the day. Why? What about the gun requires such a precision sight, when it also has a traditional sporting rear sight mounted forward of the breech, between the barrels (see a picture of that sight in Part 1)?

These are all interesting topics to ponder, but they don’t tell us anything about how the gun really works. For that, we’ve got to get real!

Let’s shoot!
When I arrived at the 50-yard range last week, all these thoughts about the gun were rambling around inside my head. Did the owner want a meat gun that was also part target rifle? And, if so, how accurate would it be?

I was about to shoot a gun that was more than a little strange. And this could be the first time it’s been fired in decades! So, as a continuance of my careful examination, the first thing I did was fire a cap on the nipple of the rifle barrel. There was a moment of panic when the caps from one manufacturer proved too small for the nipple; fortunately, the Remington No. 11 caps I had fit perfectly. I’d guessed that the No. 10 on the nipple meant the cap size, and it may well have been a size 10 of a century ago, but today a No. 11 cap fits.

After the cap fired successfully, I loaded a charge of powder into the barrel and tamped it down with a cloth wad. There was no bullet for this shot, as I was still testing the gun. That charge fired perfectly. After that, I did something I’ve never done before. I cleaned the bore with a damp cleaning patch, followed by two dry ones. According to many authors, this is the only way to do fine (accurate) shooting with black powder.


The bore was cleaned and dried after every shot. This practice was universal among target shooters in the 19th century.

Then it was time to load the first ball. For the record, I’m using fresh GOEX FFg powder. You may be wondering how I figured out the correct powder charge for this rifle. It was simple, really. I used an adjustable black powder measure and adjusted it to a little more powder than I use in my .32-caliber Thompson-Center rifle. How did I figure that powder charge? I guessed! Was I right? I seem to have been, because that rifle shot a nice tight 5-shot group at 50 yards its first time at the range.

Black powder works differently than smokeless. You don’t have to weigh each charge. You measure black powder by volumeinstead of weight, and I have enough experience with black powder guns that I won’t overload the gun. The problem may be that I load it too light, but that gets refined the more I shoot. I fill the powder measure to level full, and that’s what goes into the gun. I discovered that I do need a funnel with a really tiny mouth to fit into the muzzle, but I improvised this day with a funnel made from paper.


I used a paper funnel to drop the black powder down the bore of the rifle.

The first patch was laid over the muzzle, and a .375 swaged round ball was centered and pressed into the muzzle with my thumb. I could see this patch was going to be too large, and of course it was. When I started the ball down the barrel with the short starter, the patch closed over the top of the ball and then extended a quarter-inch above it as it was rammed down. That’s way too much patch!


The ball is pressed into the muzzle in the center of a greased patch. This patch is way too big for this ball.


The short starter is used to start the ball down the bore. At this point, the patch material had bunched up around the ball and was fighting the loading effort.

This ball was difficult to ram down until the very end of its travel, at which point I was able to feel the ball settle against the powder charge. It’s very important to always seat the ball on the powder with the same force, so this lessening of effort at the end of the ram was a providential thing. The last step in the loading process was to put a fresh percussion cap on the nipple. I then rested the gun in my rifle rest and settled in for the shot. Once I was comfortable, I pulled the hammer back to the full cock position, making the rifle ready to fire.


When ramming a ball down the bore it’s very important that you purse your lips just right!

The trigger-pull was light and glass-crisp, as noted earlier. That first shot fired with authority. The report sounded sharp, as it should when properly loaded. The recoil was very light and not bothersome to my eye that was very close to the lollipop rear peep. Fortunately, this peep folds forward for storage, so if my shooting glasses contact it during recoil it will simply lay down. I have the same setup with my Ballard rifle that recoils harder, and I always push the rear sight forward a bit with every shot.


Getting set to touch one off.


Crack! The shot is off.

I had envisioned the first shot going to the X-ring, but that’s not what happened. Instead, the shot went wide at 10 o’clock in the 7 ring. Bummer! My thought was that the oversized patch was the culprit, but only more shooting would tell me for sure. Fortunately, I had a batch of smaller size patches with me as well, so I got them out for the next loading. But before that happened, the barrel needed to be cleaned.

The hammer was pulled back to half-cock, and a damp cleaning patch was run down the bore and back out with a satisfying hydraulic pop. This was followed by two dry cleaning patches, the second of which had very little dirt on it when it came out. Then, the rifle was loaded in exactly the same way as before, with the exception that the new smaller patch was used. This time, the ball started easier and rammed easier, though even this patch was still too large for the rifle. Now, before you point out the obvious and tell me that I could have cut the patches down, let me tell you that occurred to me on the range. But I didn’t have any scissors, and a knife makes a poor patch cutter, unless you’re cutting the patch right at the muzzle. I usually do cut off my patches at the muzzle with the patch knife that I had on the range this day, but that can leave scratches on the muzzle — which I don’t mind on my Thompson-Center rifles but wouldn’t think of doing to this vintage gun!

The second shot went to the 10 o’clock position at the edge of the black, cutting the nine ring. That was more like it! I then cleaned and loaded several more times until about the fifth shot. That patch also bunched up from being too large; again, I had a hard time ramming the ball. The shot went out to 7 o’clock in the 6-ring! This demonstrates the importance of a properly patched ball.


The first shot went high and left. Then I changed patches and they started landing in the center of the target, but high. Shot five was a thin patch that got bunched-up during loading and caused unnecessary pressure to ram it down. That shot went wide to the left and low. There are two balls in the same hole at the top center of the target.

I fired a total of seven shots in all, and two of them were fliers from patches that were too tight. The other five went into a group that measures 1.903 inches between the centers of the two shots farthest apart. Two of those shots are in the same hole and have to be examined closely to see that they’re separate shots. Given the difficulties I had with the oversized patches, I think this first session went well. Of course, I’d hoped for better, but this was the first time and there was a lot to be learned.

Seven shots may not sound like a lot, but it took about 45 minutes with the loading, cleaning, picture-taking and lip-pursing. I did notice that I fell into a pattern as time went on; and by the fourth shot, I was loading them pretty much the same every time. Only that one shot (No. five with the patch that got stuck) got in the way of a perfect session.

Cleanup
When I returned home, I cleaned the rifle barrel by removing the barrels from the action and then removing the rifle barrel nipple. I stood the barrels in a shallow tub and poured boiling water down the muzzle of the rifled barrel. The water rushed out of the threaded nipple hole, carrying all the ash and soot with it. The boiling water left the barrels extremely hot, which made any residual water evaporate immediately. When the barrels cooled a bit (but were still very warm to the touch), I ran a clean patch with Ballistol through the bore. The outside of the breech and the nipple were both cleaned with a brass brush and assembled once the bore had been oiled. The barrel exteriors were wiped with a rag soaked in Ballistol.

Getting ready for next time
I ordered some Irish linen handkerchiefs off eBay to use as possible patch material. I thought they probably wouldn’t arrive in time, so I cut down the smallest patches I used at the range this time by holding a nickel over them and trimming around the edges with sharp scissors and lightly oiled the patches with Ballistol. They’re now roughly the same size as the two patches I found in the patch box when I got the rifle. I think the smaller amount of material will allow these patches to load more smoothly (as they are supposed to).

When the Irish linen handkerchiefs arrived, I have cut a strip of linen into nickel-sized patches that I’ve left dry (for the moment). I’ll moisten them with saliva at the range. According to Ned Roberts (of .257 Roberts fame), that gives the absolute last bit of accuracy with a patched ball. That assumes the patches are of the right thickness, and this material seems very thin. We’ll just have to wait and see. At any rate, I now have two different patches to try next time I’m out, and they’re both sized correctly for the balls I’m shooting. A saliva-moistened patch is supposed to have a slight edge in accuracy over a greased or oiled patch. Since saliva can rust the barrel, this kind of patch is used only for target practice, where the gun will be fired and cleaned within minutes. For hunting, an oiled patch is better.

I have some specific goals for next time. One is to get a better-fitting patch so the ball doesn’t have to be rammed so hard. It’s essential for accuracy to always seat the bullet on the powder charge with the same pressure every time. You can do that best when you’re pushing the ramrod down instead of ramming it. I now have patches of two different thicknesses to try, so we should see some results the next time out.

A second goal will be to weigh the powder charge I’m throwing and adjust it to what the vintage books say is the right load. Some of you may have noticed that in Part 1, I referred to the rifle as a .39 caliber, while in this report I’m calling it a .38. The ball I’m shooting is a Hornady swaged 0.375-inch round ball, and the patch does take up some space, so the caliber is just larger than .38. For that reason, I think it should more correctly be called a .38 caliber.

According to Roberts, a .38-caliber ball should use about a 35-40 grain charge, with 35 grains being closer to correct. I’ll weigh the charge I was using the last time out and adjust the powder measure to throw the “right” charge, if necessary.

Why write about firearms?
I can’t do too many of these firearms-only blogs; but since there’s so much crossover between black powder and compressed-air guns, I feel that today’s report contains several good lessons for all of us. Also, since I’m not that familiar with either this muzzleloading gun or with my Ballard, you get to watch over my shoulder as I try to learn something new. That’s useful for any new airgunner who needs to do the same kinds of things I’m doing here to learn about his new airgun.

Have you noticed that I’ve not subscribed to any forums and asked other shooters what they think about this combination gun? That’s because, in my research, I find that most people don’t know very much about guns like this, so they make stuff up or they guess. The same holds true for airguns, doesn’t it? Whenever I read a question from a new shooter about a gun he’s just bought or hopes to buy, asking me what sort of modifications I think he should do to it, I shudder. I’m saying don’t do anything at all until you have shot that gun enough to know it well. Then, you won’t be tempted to make unnecessary changes that might not be reversible. That’s the real lesson in today’s report.

And, now, for something completely different…
In 1948, the  Johnson Indoor Target Gun sold for $15. That was a lot of money for an airgun in those days. What kind of powerplant did the Johnson have and what caliber was it? The answer will be in Monday’s blog, but please feel free to leave your answer in the comments.

What IS an airgun?

by B.B. Pelletier

Simple enough question, no? Maybe you get confused by certain air-powered tools or perhaps a slang reference to a paint sprayer, but most folks know exactly what you mean when you say airgun.

Think so? Think again.

The term airgun isn’t found in most dictionaries, yet. You’ll find your spell-checker wants you to write it as two words, but that’s not what today’s blog is about. I really want to know if you know what’s encompassed by the term airgun.

Some of you have already stopped reading to formulate an official-sounding definition that goes something like this: An airgun is any smoothbore or rifled gun that propels a projectile by means of compressed air. As you stand back to admire your work, it suddenly dawns on you that your definition doesn’t encompass any of the guns that are powered by CO2. Don’t you hate it when that happens?

Airguns, it turns out, can be a great many different things. Air is only one of their defining characteristics.

Carbon dioxide
Before we move on, however, let’s deal with the CO2 issue. Clearly carbon dioxide isn’t air. If you doubt that, try breathing it for 20 minutes, and then we’ll talk. I’ve had arguments at length with airgun collectors who were stubbornly opposed to labeling CO2 guns as airguns. While that’s a fun subject for two people to banter about as they watch the fireflies rise on a warm evening, it doesn’t serve a person who is drafting state legislation regarding new hunting laws!

So, are CO2 guns airguns, or not? Well — let’s see. They’re sold by airgun dealers, they travel under the same restrictions as guns that do operate on air, they use the same ammunition and they perform similarly. And, heck, there are even a few amphibious models such as Benjamin’s Discovery that operate on either compressed air or CO2. Wasn’t it Robert Kennedy who observed that if something quacks like a duck it probably is a duck? So, yes, guns that use CO2 are also airguns.

Green gas/red gas
Wouldn’t it be nice if it ended there? Well, it doesn’t. There are other propellant gasses that power guns that must also be considered, now that the door has been opened for CO2. I’m talking about green gas and red gas. The airsoft industry hates to admit it publically, but green gas is actually propane. A tiny bit of silicone oil is added to the gas to lubricate the gun’s parts as it functions, and they leave out the odor that’s added to commercial propane to identify gas leaks (real propane doesn’t smell like onions; it has no smell at all).

The same dealers who tell you green gas is special will even sell you adapters to fill your green gas guns from five-pound propane tanks, all the while backpeddling on admitting that green gas is propane! The Orient, where a lot of airsoft guns are made, is quite good at doublespeak!

Here’s where it becomes interesting. Green gas develops a pressure of around 115 PSI at room temperature. That’s plenty of push to propel a 3-grain plastic ball (they call them BBs) out the spout at a fairly good clip.

Red gas is more exotic. It has a higher vapor pressure than green gas, so the guns that use it require some modifications. If you read all the warnings, you’ll get the idea that red gas is like nuclear fuel, but for one thing. Some airsoft guns also operate on CO2, which has a vapor pressure of 853 PSI at room temperature, which goes way beyond the pressure of red gas. To operate on CO2, airsoft guns have to be modified even more, and this is done by restricting the gas flow through special valving that has very small gas ports. There you are. Guns that run on green gas, red gas and CO2, none of which is air — yet they fall into the airgun category because there’s no other category for them.

Airsoft guns do receive special legislation of their own because many are built to simulate firearms (called “real guns” by some folks), and they’re used in force-on-force skirmishes, with people shooting at each other. There are legal issues concerning brandishing in public and special markings on the guns that are not as applicable to the kind of pellet guns I generally write about. But airsoft guns are sold by the same dealers and often made by the same companies who make conventional airguns. Again, they quack like ducks.

Catapult guns
We’re not finished with the non-air powerplants, yet, Sparky. There are still catapult guns to consider.

Catapult guns propel their projectiles by means of a spring in the form of an elastic band or even a conventional coiled steel spring. If you think CO2 guns cause controversy among the anal airgun collectors, try raising this subject and see what happens!

The most common catapult guns are the Sharpshooter-series guns dating from 1923 and produced as toy novelties in the U.S. through at least the 1980s. These guns all shot .118 lead shot, which is more commonly known as No. 6 birdshot.


This Bulls Eye pistol was the first of many so-called Sharpshooter pistols powered by rubber bands. It fired No. 6 birdshot up to ~150 f.p.s. when multiple rubber bands were used.

In most airguns, the use of dropped shot (shotgun shot is made by either dropping it from a high tower so that it forms a ball as it solidifies or forced through small holes by centrifugal force) can be a problem, because of inconsistent size. The shot can easily get jammed in barrels when it’s oversized, which is why we seldom see real BB-sized shot (shot size BB is nominally 0.180 inches in diameter) used in antique BB guns. It simply isn’t regular enough. But catapult guns seldom use barrels. They usually place the shot to be fired in a shaped seat to hold it during acceleration, then release it cleanly at the end of the acceleration phase.

The Johnson Indoor Target Gun shot conventional steel BBs from a submachine gun-looking plastic frame. It used tubular elastic bands much like modern surgical tubing to launch a 5.1-grain BB at 100-150 f.p.s., depending on the strength of the bands.


The Johnson Indoor Target Gun sold for $15 in 1949. It shot steel BBs at 100-150 f.p.s.

But Daisy made a catapult gun that used steel springs. Their model 179 is a Spittin’ Image replica of a Colt single-action revolver that I reported in this blog some time back. Instead of just flinging the BB with the force of the spring, the spring in the 179 pushed a paddle that actually hit the BB like a croquet mallet smacks a ball. Instead of just pushing the BB out the barrel (and this is one of the few catapult guns that really does have a smoothbore barrel), it was whacked out like a line drive off a baseball bat.


Daisy’s 179 was an early Spittin’ Image gun. Production began in 1960.

Rigid airgun collectors are really challenged by catapult guns, because of the Daisy connection. They don’t want to include them in the body of legitimate airguns; but with Daisy being such a key player, they usually cave.

That sets them up for a huge disappointment when they suddenly learn that in the 1840s there was another catapult gun that launched lead balls of approximately .43 caliber with sufficient force to kill small game. The Hodges catapult gun is a long gun with no barrel but with all the Victorian styling expected of a naval weapon made in the 1840s. The thought among advanced collectors is that it was a foraging gun made for naval vessels. Except for the few parts that absolutely had to be made of iron for durability, the rest of the gun is fashioned from bronze and English walnut!


The Hodges catapult gun dates from the 1840s. It was a ship’s foraging gun that made little sound, yet could take game of reasonable size without alerting hostile natives. The Roman soldier statues at the front are for anchoring the elastic bands.


The Hodges ball carrier is pushed back until the sear hooks it. Then the elastic bands are stretched one at a time to increase power. This way, the shooter can build in a lot more power than he can possibly handle when cocking the gun.

The elastic bands were anchored at the forward end by two Roman soldiers cast in detailed bronze relief. I’ve seen two such guns — the one pictured here is in remarkable preservation and the other one has been restored to working order and shot by its owner, who reports velocities in the mid-400 f.p.s. range with 122-grain swaged lead balls.

Caps!
The next branch on the oddity tree deviates toward those guns that shoot BBs and shot by means of the power of an exploding toy cap. Wamo made a minimum of five different models, and new ones surface every couple years. The most recent I’ve discovered shoots potato plugs!


The Kruger ’98 was a cap-firing gun that shot No. 6 birdshot. The same gun also shot BBs and was called just Kruger. Wamo (also spelled Wham-o) made them both.


The Western Haig used toy caps to launch No. 6 shot. It sold for $2.98 in the 1960s. Sold by the founders of Wamo under a different company name and only from a P.O. Box.

If a toy cap can launch a BB, what’s to prevent it from igniting a small charge of black powder? And who decides what’s “a small charge”? There have been .22-caliber, .36-caliber and even .45-caliber rifles made by Rocky Mountain Arms Corporation in modern times that operate by means of exploding caps igniting black powder. If you go back 100 years, there were some made then, as well. They’re clearly firearms when they use black powder, but what about those using caps only?


This .22 rifle from Rocky Mountain Arms Corporation uses toy caps to ignite black powder behind a .22-caliber lead ball. They also made this in .36 and .45 calibers!

As long as we’re talking about caps, what prevents someone from using percussion caps and even primers to propel pellets and BBs? Apparently nothing, because it’s been done. Are these all airguns, as well?

Not the end!
As you now can see, the question of what constitutes an airgun is far from clear. Once you accept any of these deviations, the rest will come streaming through the same loophole. For instance, is a gun that also launches an arrow then considered a bow? And if so, is it legal to use during bow season?

It is for reasons like this that Edith and I are sometimes so rigid and precise in our terminology — because you never know what’s waiting in the wings.

Are CB caps as good and accurate as pellets? Part 6

by B.B. Pelletier

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

Kit Palencar is this week’s Big Shot of the Week.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Today, we’ll complete the test of CB caps against an air rifle to show which is the better gun to use for close-in shooting. There will be a surprise in today’s report, plus I’ll summarize the entire test.

Today’s shooting is all at 10 yards. This is probably where the test should have started rather than finished. Once again, here are the players.

Air rifle — A Talon SS with 24-inch optional .22-caliber barrel and a bloop tube silencer. The rifle is scoped with a Leapers 3-12×44 SWAT scope. It’s shooting the .22-caliber JSB Exact Jumbo Heavy pellet.

The rimfire rifles are:

1. A Remington 521T target rifle chambered in .22 Long Rifle
2. A Stevens Armory 414 target rifle chambered in .22 Long Rifle
3. A Winchester Winder musket chambered in .22 Short

They’re shooting:

Long cases
CCI CB Longs
Aguila Super Colibris

Short cases
CCI CB Shorts
RWS BB caps
RWS CB caps


Left to right we have the RWS BB cap, RWS CB cap, CCI CB Short, Aguila Super Colibri and CCI CB Long.

Shooting indoors and the sound
I shot this final round indoors, so the relative discharge sounds could be closely monitored. There wasn’t much difference between the air rifle and any of the rimfire rounds except for the two RWS cartridges. Both of them were shot in the Winder musket’s 28-inch barrel and were slightly louder than all the others, with the BB caps being the loudest of all.

Performance
At 10 yards, the Talon SS shot all its pellets into a single hole that, until the tenth shot, was just 0.145 inches between centers. Shot 10, however, opened the group to 0.343 inches. You can see it when you look at the group. No excuses, though. I watched the last pellet drop and open the group, yet the hold on that shot was perfect, as it was for all the others.


The last shot dropped lower, opening what was a fine 10-yard group from the Talon SS.

The Winder musket has proven to be the rimfire star of this test; and at 10 yards, it did what I thought was impossible. It beat the air rifle! Ten CCI CB Shorts tore into a group that measures just 0.258 inches between centers. So, the CB caps beat the air rifle. I wouldn’t have believed this was possible if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes; but, clearly, the fact that the rimfires were shooting with peep sights against the air rifle’s scope did not sway the test that much.


The Winder musket, shooting CCI CB caps, beat the Talon SS at 10 yards.

The Winder was a star at 10 yards. It grouped 10 CCI CB Shorts in 0.258 inches, 10 RWS CB caps in 0.409 inches and 10 RWS BB caps in 1.033 inches.


Even RWS CB caps did well in the Winder at 10 yards.

All of the rimfire rifles shot good groups with CB caps and BB caps at 10 yards. The Remington 521T grouped 10 CCI CB Longs in 0.666 inches and 10 Aguila Super Colibris in 1.119 inches. The Stevens Armory 414 grouped 10 CCI CB Longs in 0.778 inches and 10 Aguila Super Colibris in 1.083 inches.

There was another small surprise during this test. The Stevens Armory 414 out-shot the Remington 521T with Aguila Super Colibris and was nearly as good as the Remington with CCI CB Longs. That tells me that the Stevens is a good-shooting rifle, after all, but maybe it doesn’t stabilize the slow-moving CB bullets well enough for accuracy at longer distances. I’ll come back to that thought in a moment.

Something I didn’t mention before
Blog reader Mike (I think) reminded me that CB caps have a pinch of gunpowder in the case, where BB caps are powered by the primer, alone. In this report, I’ve made it sound like the CB cap is also primer-powered with no powder, but that’s not the case. I took apart a CCI Long cartridge to show you the powder, and I’ve put it next to a CCI Green Tag .22 Long Rifle for comparison.


This goes in the “Don’t try this at home” instructions. At the top is a CCI CB Long pulled apart. Below is a CCI Green Tag Long Rifle cartridge pulled apart.

What I didn’t do in this test
I didn’t bust my tail trying CB caps in every .22 I have. If I had, no doubt the results might have been a little different; but I doubt there would have been anything earth-shattering. Any reader who has access to a fine .22 rimfire target rifle is welcome to try his or her hand at this test and report the results. I would really love to hear what a Remington 40X or an Anschütz free rifle could do. Until I hear different, I’m thinking these results are fairly representative of what you will see from a .22.

The results
I have formed the following conclusions from the test results.

First, a CB cap in almost any .22 rimfire rifle in good condition can be accurate enough to dispatch pests at 10 yards or less. If you have a squirrel in the attic, a CB cap might be your best solution — especially if you don’t have an air rifle ready to go.

The rifle does have to be sighted-in for CB caps. Though they will be off by only an inch or so at 10 yards, the targets are often small enough that it does matter. Having a scope that has mil-dots so you can easily shift aim points is the best way to compensate for this.

Beyond 10 yards, the CB cap accuracy starts falling off rapidly. The rifle and exact round you choose start mattering. This is not true for air rifles, because one air rifle can be good from 10 yards to 50 yards with just slight changes in the aim point.

At 25 yards, the CB caps become very chancy, and it really matters which rifle and which rounds are selected. In this test, I found that no CB cap/rifle combination was good enough to go all the way to 50 yards. Yet, the air rifle did so with ease and could go even farther.

I’m going to say the CB caps are not stabilized out to 50 yards, because that’s what it looks like from the results. I just don’t think those bullets have enough spin to keep them on track that far out.

CB caps are quiet, but not more than a quiet PCP. When you’re in close confines, they’ll sound louder than you think.

Some rifles are simply not suited to the use of CB caps. I eliminated the Ruger 10/22 from the test after experiencing difficulty loading the caps.


Stuffing those tiny CB caps into the Ruger 10/22′s deep breech is no picnic. I don’t recommend it.

CB caps are expensive; but if you don’t plan to shoot a lot of them, they’re much cheaper than buying an entire air rifle. CB caps are ideal for older .22 rifles that may not have the strength needed for today’s more powerful cartridges.

On the other hand, if you own a quality air rifle like the Talon SS I’ve used in this test, I wouldn’t think of using CB caps in its place. The air rifle is so clearly ahead of the CB caps at all ranges — the results of the 10-yard test notwithstanding — that it simply makes no sense.

Was it worth the effort?
It absolutely was worth all the time spent gathering the data in this test, because now we have some solid performance data as a gauge. No, this may not be the last test anyone ever does, but it’s the first of its type of which I am aware. From now on, when somebody gives you the CB cap excuse for not shooting an airgun, you have something to help you argue your point.

Are CB caps as good and accurate as pellets? Part 5

by B.B. Pelletier

Announcement: John “J.” Stoll is this week’s winner of Pyramyd Air’s Big Shot of the Week on their facebook page. He’ll receive a $50 Pyramyd Air gift card.

John “J.” Stoll holds his Marauder pistol and 42mm BSA red dot.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Today I will show you what CB caps did at 25 yards. Please remember the thrust of this investigation is to see whether a CB cap can be substituted for a good (read that as a PCP) air rifle. The four things I am interested in are the cost of ammo, accuracy, power and the noise at discharge.

Thus far we have learned that the air rifle is more accurate than the best CB cap at 50 yards. The pellets for that rifle are considerably less expensive than a similar quantity of CB caps and the dischange sound of my Talon SS with its 24-inch optional .22-caliber barrel the way I have it set up (with a bloop tube silencer installed) is as quiet as the quietest CB cap tested. And when I say CB cap, know that I’m also including the RWS BB cap in the list of ammo being tested.

So at 50 yards, you’ll want to choose an accurate precharged air rifle over a CB cap in any .22 rifle. But what about closer? What if the pests you want to shoot are no farther than 25 yards away? Today we will see how CB caps do at that distance, and of course as always, I will shoot the air rifle right with them, so we can keep track of things.

Airgun first
It was so easy to test the air rifle first, because if it is sighted-in at 50 yards, it’s also very close at 25 yards. In fact, my rifle is sighted-in for 25 yards and I have simply tolerated it at 50 yards because the group was close enough to the aim point. The same .22-caliber JSB Exact Jumbo Heavy pellet was used as at 50 yards.


The Talon SS set the bar pretty high for the rest of the rifles. Ten JSB Exact Jumbo Heavy pellets went into this group measuring 0.436-inches between centers.

CCI CB Longs
Now it was the turn of the CCI CB Long CB caps. The first rifle to fire them was the Remington 521T that proved fairly accurate (for a CB cap) at 50 yards.


Ten CCI CB Longs went into this group measuring 1.83-inches at 25 yards. The Remington 521T did it.

After that, the Stevens 414 Armory stepped up to the plate. As you may recall, it did so poorly with both brands of CB caps at 50 yards that I fired a group of 9 Wolf Match Target rounds, which are regular .22 long rifle target rounds, just to see if the rifle was accurate at all. It was with that ammo, but not with the CB caps.

At 25 yards the 414 was a little better. Ten shots went into a group measuring 2.787 inches across. While that’s not tack-driving accuracy, at least they were all on the paper this time.


Not a killer group, but much better than the performance at 50 yards. Stevens 414 Armory shooting CCI CB Longs in this 2.787-inch group.

Aguila Super Colibri
The next round to be tested was the Super Colibri from Aguila. You may remember that we discovered that the Colibri rounds shoot way too slow for rifles and had to be eliminated from this test, so the Super Colibri is the only Aguila round being tested.

In the Remington 521T they performed adequately. Ten shots went into a group measuring 3.476 inches at 25 yards. While that might be good enough for plinking, no one would ever confuse it as an accurate round for pest elimination.


Not a stellar performance, but the best we did with Aguila Super Colibris at 25 yards. These ten shots made a 3.476-inch group.

Next up was the Stevens Armory 414, and while all ten shots did land on the target paper at 25 yards, they were spread out over 5-7/8-inches. Clearly the Stevens rifle does not like CB caps one bit. I won’t even show the group, because there is nothing to see.

RWS BB and CB caps
At this point the RWS BB caps and CB caps were up, and only one rifle is shooting them — my Winchester Winder musket. I did that because it is chambered for .22 Shorts, so the shorter RWS cases won’t cause as much trouble as they might in a rifle chambered for the .22 Long Rifle round.

The BB cap target I won’t show because the group is too large, and one round landed off the target. It measured about seven inches in all, which makes this round infeasible for use at 25 yards in this rifle. After the test is completed I may go back and try the round in the Remington, just to see if I’m right about the chamber being too long, but right now I’m finished with it at 25 yards.

The RWS CB cap, on the other hand, turned in a 10-shot group that measured 1.792-inches across, making it the best CB cap group at this range thus far. This tells be that the performance of the BB cap in this rifle is probably better than I would see in the Remington, because this rifle just out-shot the Remington’s best 25-yard group. So it is clear that the RWS CB cap is a cartridge to contend with, and also the Winder musket is no slouch in the accuracy department.


Best CB cap target at 25 yards to this point! The Winder musket can shoot and the RWS CB cap is not bad, either. Group measures 1.792-inchs across.

CCI CB Short
Only one cartridge remains — the CCI CB Short. We learned in the velocity test that it is equally powerful as the CB Long and has an identical bullet, so the only significant difference is the Short has a shorter case. It is ideal for rifles chambered for the .22 Short round.

You would think that would make this cartridge very similar to the CB Long, but that’s not how it turned out! When I was done with the string and looked at the target for the first time, I was amazed! The Winder musket has iron target sights, so I couldn’t see the group as it formed, and that was probably a good thing, because look at what it did.


Does this group look a lot like the tight air rifle group at the beginning of the report? It does to me. Ten rounds went into 0.981 inches, with nine of them cutting a group that measures 0.604-inches! That’s pretty amazing.

Obviously I have found a winner with the Winder musket and CCI CB Shorts. They are equally accurate as the air rifle and might be used to pick squirrels off the bird feeder, as long as it isn’t too far away, and the rifle is sighted-in for the cartridge.

Sum up for 25 yards
At 25 yards, some CB caps will work, while others won’t. It seems to rely a lot on the individual rifle at this range. Since I have only tried a couple rifles, I would think the possibilities are wide open for anyone who owns a .22 rimfire.

Let’s remember that these bullets are being powered by priming compound, alone. And it is the priming step that is both the most critical in the production of rimfire ammunition, and also the one most prone to failures. I did have several failures to fire with the Stevens Armory 414, but when I shot .22 Long Rifles there was only a single failure and that one didn’t work after three tries. Perhaps the Armory could use a tuneup, and maybe that is what is behind its poor showings.

The last group shown was the one that really stunned me. I would have bet big money before conducting this test that no CB cap in any rifle would every turn in that kind of performance. Well, that’s why I’m doing this. Now we all know a lot more about what CB caps can and cannot do.

There is one more test to conduct at 10 meters. That’s for those who just want to shoot squirrels in their attic. Then I will sum up all the important lessons this report has revealed.

Till then!

Are CB caps as good and accurate as pellets? Part 4

by B.B. Pelletier

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

Andrew is hidden among the ferns with his KWA KM4 RIS airsoft rifle.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Today, I’ll finish the accuracy test at 50 yards.

This report is about how .22-caliber CB caps stand up to an air rifle in four areas: cost of ammunition, power, accuracy and sound. To-date, we’ve learned that the air rifle I’m using is just about as powerful as the most powerful CB cap and that it’s as quiet as the quietest CB cap that might be used. One specialty CB cap (the Aguila Colibri) is quieter, but so low powered that it wasn’t used in this test. It’s strictly for .22 handguns.


First, I tested the accuracy of the AirForce Talon SS, which is my control air rifle. It has to endure the same wind and lighting as the CB caps, so the results should not be skewed.

If you’ve been following this report, you know that I’ve been having trouble loading CB caps into the chamber of my Ruger 10/22 — one of three rifles I selected to test the accuracy of CB caps. I chose a 10/22 because I had one (always a good reason) and because I thought it represented what the average guy might use if he wanted to shoot a CB cap. However, that was before I discovered what a royal pain it is to load CB caps into a 10/22! Yes, it can be done and I actually did it many times, but it’s so frustrating that I finally gave up and removed the 10/22 from this test.

Before making that decision, though, I even went to the bother of converting my rifle to the custom configuration with the custom stock and bull barrel from Butler Creek. Then, I rediscovered this nasty fact. So, I bounced that rifle as well before firing the first shot. But that left me with no scoped rifles in .22 rimfire. My Remington 521T has target aperture sights, as does the Winchester Winder musket. I wanted to keep things as even as possible between the firearms and the air rifle that wears a Leapers 3-12x44AO SWAT scope, but it was not to be.

The Winder musket
Another rifle whose accuracy I haven’t yet reported in this test is the Winchester Winder musket. This is a Winchester Low Wall action chambered for .22 Short, and I selected it for two reasons. First, it was made as a target rifle, and as such should be pretty accurate. Second, because it’s chambered for the .22 Short round, it’s perfect for the CCI CB Short cartridge, as well as being better for the ultra-short RWS CB caps and BB caps. Shooting these rounds in a rifle chambered for long rifle ammunition is putting them at a decided disadvantage, because they have to traverse the length of the chamber before encountering the rifling. When doing that, it’s possible the bullets could tip slightly before they engage the rifling.


Though the Winder musket dates from before 1920, it’s still a highly accurate target rifle, as this test showed.

The Winder’s performance was pretty surprising. It out-shot both the Remington 521T target rifle AND the scoped Ruger 10/22. Not by just a little. With CCI CB Shorts, the Winder posted a 2.714-inch 10-shot group! While not in the same class as the air rifle, that’s not bad. It was the tightest group made by any of the CB cap and BB cap ammunition in any rifle at 50 yards.


Not bad for just priming compound at 50 yards! This group of 10 CCI CB Short rounds from the Winder musket measures 2.714 inches across centers.

With RWS CB caps, the Winder put 10 into a group measuring about 3.577 inches. I have to say “about” because one round strayed off the target paper and I wrote a note on the target that it was an inch to the right. The Winder has no lock on the windage adjustment, and I guess I’d rubbed it against the rifle case when pulling it out at the range. That rolled the windage adjustment too far to the right, which put the group in the upper right corner of the target. When I started shooting, the shots were close enough and far enough on the paper that I thought I could get them all on. Since it takes me up to 15 minutes to complete one group, while waiting for the perfect time to shoot, I decided to go with this group as is.


Nine of 10 RWS CB caps made it through this target from the Winder musket. Shot No. 9 just nicked the right edge of the paper. The tenth shot was about an inch to the right of the target paper. Actual group size was about 3.577 inches.

The RWS BB caps performed much differently than the CB caps in the Winder. Only 8 of 10 made it onto the paper, even though this group is well-centered on the target. Again, I have no idea how large the total group is, but the 8 shots I do have are spread out about 7.25 inches.

Adding the Stevens Armory 414 target rifle
I did add a third rifle to the firearm side since the 10/22 was removed. It’s a Stevens Armory 414 target rifle that was popular before World War II. It’s a single-shot lever-action that’s based on the popular Stevens No. 44 action. Mine has an adjustable target tang sight and a very odd front aperture that looks like it should be lethal.


The four rifles used in this test (top to bottom): AirForce Talon SS, Winchester Winder musket, Stevens Armory 414 and Remington 521T.


The front aperture on the Stevens Armory rifle is one of the smallest I’ve ever seen.

Now, it was time to shoot the new rifle at 50 yards with both the Aguila Super Colibri CB caps and the CCI CB Longs. This was done a week ago, and I saved the results for today’s report.

The results
The results are really horrible! The Aguila Super Colibis managed to hit the 10.5″x12″ target paper 3 out of 10 times. For those on the metric system, the target paper measures 268mm by about 350mm! I have no way of knowing for certain what the group size actually is, but let’s conservatively call it a 15-inch group! I’m not going to bother showing you the target paper with three holes.

Next, I tried CCI CB Longs and got somewhat better results, though they’re still nothing spectacular. Ten shots made a group that measures just over 9 inches at 50 yards. At least all the shots were on the paper!

This got me wondering whether this particular rifle is accurate with anything, so I shot a group of 9 Wolf Match Target .22 long rifle cartridges. It would have been 10, but one cartridge failed to fire in three attempts. Rimfires! Naturally, that was the last of that brand of cartridge on hand. The group is small enough (0.978 inches) to indicate that the rifle can shoot, and I still have no idea what the best round for this rifle might be.


Nine Wolf Match Target rounds went into this group, which is under an inch; so, the rifle can shoot with the right ammunition.

Summary for CB caps against air rifles at 50 yards
The Talon SS air rifle with an optional 24-inch, .22-caliber barrel and bloop tube shot groups in the three-quarters to one-and-a-quarter-inch range at 50 yards. This rifle is a proven entity, and this level of performance is not unusual. Since it was shot on the same day as the CB caps, both were shot under the same conditions; so, we can cancel the wind and lighting as factors.

The best performance from the firearms was realized by the CCI CB Shorts shot in the Winder musket, and they made a 10-shot group that was just over 2.70 inches. The Ruger 10/22 that I eliminated because of loading difficulties turned in the second-best group, and the RWS CB caps in the Winder musket were close behind. After that, the group sizes increased very quickly. Most of the rest of the groups were too large to measure because several shots were off the paper and lost.

The bottom line for 50-yard shooting with CB caps is that they cannot keep pace with a good PCP air rifle. There’s something else you have to consider. If you grab a .22 rimfire to shoot just one CB cap, the rifle will not be sighted-in for that round. I spent a lot of time getting my shots on target at 50 yards. When I switched back to standard .22 long rifle ammunition with the Stevens Armory 414, the sights had to be adjusted a lot in both directions.

With an air rifle, you’ll always be on target, provided the rifle is sighted-in. So, just grab the gun, load it and take the shot. At distances as far as 50 yards, this makes all the difference in the world, because Mr. Rat is not going to sit still while you adjust your sights.

I must say that I was surprised by the tightest CB cap groups shot with both the Winder musket and the Remington 521T. I couldn’t have predicted that level of accuracy for them at 50 yards.

Next time, we’ll move in to 25 yards — and I already know the results are going to amaze you.

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