Posts Tagged ‘scope’

Can a fixed-barrel airgun have barrel droop?

by B.B. Pelletier

This report is in response to a comment Pyramyd Air got from a customer who doubts that fixed-barrel airguns can ever droop. His position is that they can only have droop if the barrel is heated in some way (as on a firearm that fires very fast) or if the gun is assembled in a shoddy fashion.

He said he believed barrel droop is only commonly found on breakbarrel airguns, which is why he said he would never own one. He thought that droop was mostly caused by the metallurgy of the barrel.

Today, I’d like to address the subject of barrel droop in detail. It can be caused by many things, but poor metallurgy isn’t one of them. Barrels do not bend from cocking, despite what some people may think. It is true that a barrel can be bent by human force, but the force required to do so is much greater than the heaviest cocking effort on the most powerful magnum airgun. So, poor metallurgy is not a contributor to barrel droop.

What is barrel droop?
I will explain what barrel droop is in detail later in this report. For now, I’ll just say that barrel droop is a condition in which an air rifle shoots so low that the scope cannot be adjusted to hit the target.

You must understand that most scopes cannot be adjusted all the way to their highest elevation settings and still operate correctly. This will differ from scope to scope, but generally most scopes do not work well when adjusted above three-fourths of their maximum elevation. It’s imperative that they get on target before reaching that height, and a drooping barrel can prevent that.

History
Throughout the first five decades of spring-piston air rifles, no one ever heard of barrel droop. It was a non-issue. That was because nobody bothered scoping their air rifles.

The sights on most breakbarrel guns are attached to the barrel, both at the front and rear, so they’re in line with the bore — as long as the bore is drilled straight through the barrel, which it seldom is. The amount of misalignment is usually measured in the thousandths of an inch — an amount the sights can easily account for.


With both the front and rear sight attached to the barrel, there’s less chance for misalignment.

In the 1960s, retailers began attaching scopes to airguns to sell more of them. Firearms had been using scopes for some time, and the general belief among shooters was that scopes extracted the maximum accuracy from any gun.

But scopes had a problem, as well. They were attached to the spring tube of the gun, which isn’t integral with the barrel on a breakbarrel airgun. For the first time, the alignment of the spring tube and barrel came into question.

It soon became known that most breakbarrel guns have a barrel that slants downward from the axis of the spring tube. In the 1960s and ’70s, breakbarrels were hand-selected for scope use when they exhibited less slant than other guns of the same model. You can read about this selection program in both the Air Rifle Headquarters and Beeman catalogs of the period.

What those catalogs didn’t address was the fact that fixed-barrel airguns can and do sometimes have the same barrel slanting problems. They didn’t address it because, at the time, scoping airguns was brand new and not that much was known about it. The people scoping the guns often installed simple fixes, such as shimming the rear ring, and didn’t even think about why they were doing it.

Why the barrel droops
The comment that prompted this blog went on to say that barrel droop was caused by poor metallurgy. Evidently, the writer thought that “droop” referred to a barrel that was curved (or bent) downward — which is not the case. The term “droop” doesn’t refer to a barrel that is somehow curved. It means a barrel that points in a direction away from the sight line, so the axis of the bore and the sight line are diverging. To correct for this droop, the scope has to be repositioned to align with the axis of the bore.

We all understand that a pellet starts falling the moment it leaves the muzzle. The farther from the muzzle it goes, the faster it falls; so the line of flight is actually an arc, rather than a straight line. To align the sight line of the scope with the axis of the bore, we have to align the scope to look downward through the line of flight. To be effective — that is to get any distance over which the pellet is on target — the sight line is made to pass through the arc of the pellet twice — once when the pellet is close to the gun and again when it’s farther away.


The scope is angled down through the pellet’s trajectory. This illustration is greatly enhanced for clarity. This alignment is done the same for firearms and airguns, alike.

But the question is, “Why does the barrel point downward?” With a breakbarrel, it’s usually because of how the breech locks up at a slight angle that causes the downward slant. Some guns, most notably target breakbarrels, overcome this with barrel locks that cam the breech tightly against the spring tube in a straight line. Most guns rely on the spring-loaded detent to both align and hold the barrel during firing. If there’s a weakness, it’s at this point. When a breakbarrel with an unlocked breech fires, the barrel tends to flex in the direction the barrel is hinged. If the barrel broke upward to cock, the problem would be reversed and we would have a barrel “climb” problem.


A breech lock like the one on this HW 55 ensures that the barrel always aligns with the sights — provided the rifle is designed that way.

Do you now understand that the barrels are perfectly straight, and it’s just the angle of the bore’s axis relative to the line of sight that creates the drooping problem? Good, because that’ll make the following easier to understand.

What about underlevers and sidelevers with fixed barrels?
How can a fixed-barrel rifle have droop? Easy — the barrel isn’t attached to the gun with the bore parallel to the line of sight. Presto! Automatic sighting problem. Or the scope base that’s attached to the spring tube may not be aligned with the axis of the bore. Or the bore may be drilled off-center; and although the outside of the barrel is parallel to the sight line, the bore’s axis isn’t. Any of these three things can happen.

Bore not drilled straight
This is very common. It’s extremely difficult to drill a deep (long) hole straight through a steel bar. The drill bit can wander off-axis as it bites its way through the steel, or it can be off-axis all the way through the bore if it isn’t correctly set into the holding fixture before the drilling begins. I’ve had barrels with bores as much as a quarter-inch off-axis with the outside. Granted that’s extreme and uncommon, but it demonstrates the possibility.

The only way a barrel-maker can ensure concentricity of the bore to the outside of the barrel is to machine the outside of the barrel after the gun is rifled.

Barrel isn’t aligned with the spring tube
This problem is also common. When the barrel is pressed into the spring tube (usually into a block that’s held in the front of the spring tube), the bore isn’t aligned with the spring tube. You might think that modern manufacturing processes make perfect things time after time, but the truth is that there’s always some variation.

Scope base on top of the spring tube is not aligned with the bore
Of all the problems with scope alignment, this one is the most common. Off-axis bores are usually held to just a few fractions of an inch for which the scope adjustments can easily compensate. The same is true for barrels that are bushed off-axis. But scope bases are both short as well as attached in such a way (by spot-welds and rivets) that precision is difficult to maintain. Because scope bases are short, any small deviation in their positioning is exaggerated when extended out to infinity by a scope’s sight line. This is the one place where firearms and certain brands of airguns have an advantage over other brands, because they machine their scope bases into the receiver (of a firearm) or scope tube, rather than riveting or spot-welding the base to the scope tube. If the tooling is set correctly, the machining process ensures alignment of the scope base.

Talking about the spot-welded and riveted scope bases brings us to a discussion of one well-known company that makes highly regarded spring-piston air rifles. This company stands head and shoulders above the others when it comes to having barrel droop — both with their breakbarrels and their fixed-barrel air rifles. That company is Diana. Historically, enough Diana air rifles have had barrel droop so severe that special corrective scope mounts have been made and successfully marketed for their models. Even RWS, who exports Diana airguns, has marketed such a corrective scope mount.

But even Diana can change. Their most recent breakbarrel is their 350 magnum model in all of its various forms, and this rifle is very noticeably immune to the drooping problem. Something has changed at Diana. I would think that, over time, we’ll see this change spread to all of their models.

Firearms also have droop
Drooping isn’t just an airgun problem. Firearms have droop, too. But because of how firearms were scoped in the early days, nobody noticed the problem.

When firearms were scoped back in the 1940s and ’50s, many of them did not have optional scope mounts available. It was very common back then for a gunsmith to drill-and-tap holes into the firearm to accept scope base screws. Naturally, when a gunsmith did the job, he would align the holes in the scope mounts so the axis of the barrel was in line with the sight line seen through the scope. If there was any barrel droop, it was corrected as the mounts were installed.

Do barrels only droop (slant down)?
Before someone asks the obvious question, I’ll address it. Yes, there are airguns with barrels that slant up, plus point to the left and to the right too much for the scope to compensate. They’re not encountered as often as droopers, but they’re not unheard of. The reasons for most of these problems are the same as for droopers except for one standout reason.

If a breakbarrel rifle has been fired with the barrel open, so the barrel was allowed to snap closed from the force of the mainspring, that rifle will have a bent barrel. The barrel will be bent upward at the point it emerges from the baseblock, which is the piece that holds the barrel in the action. It’s where the pivot bolt attaches. It’s the blocky-looking piece the barrel is coming out of in both photos of guns in this report.

For this type of problem, the solution is to bend the barrel straight again. Any qualified airgunsmith should be able to straighten a barrel that has this problem, and a number of owners have learned to straighten their own bent barrels..

Most airgun barrels don’t droop
To put this report into the proper perspective, I should mention that a drooping barrel isn’t that common. I have several air rifles whose barrels are okay for shooting with scopes as they came from the factory. And, of the hundreds of rifles I test, only a small percent have a drooping problem. So, it isn’t a given that your rifle will droop.

But you may get a drooper, and you can rest assured that there are plenty of solutions to rectify the situation should you encounter it. The things to remember are:

Not all breakbarrels droop. Only a small percentage do these days.

Rifles with fixed barrels can also have droop, for the reasons mentioned in this report. It is not as common to find a fixed barrel with droop, but any air rifle that has a separate scope base that’s either spot-welded or riveted in place is a likely candidate for droop.

Firearms have droop, just like airguns. But the amount of droop is small enough that it’s corrected by the scope or by the mounts that are supplied by the firearms manufacturers.

Air Arms TX200 Mk III air rifle: Part 3

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2


Air Arms TX200 Mark III air rifle is impressive in its optional walnut stock.

Today, we begin our look at the accuracy of the legendary TX200 Mark III. Since the rifle has no sights, I mounted a Hawke 4.5-14×42 Sidewinder Tactical scope in two-piece UTG Accushot 30mm medium rings. These rings are tall for a medium-height ring, but the TX200 cheekpiece is so high that many higher rings will be just right and fit the shooter perfectly. I know they come very close to a perfect fit for me, and the 42mm objective bell still clears the spring tube by a lot.

I’m showing a photo of the rifle with the scope mounted because you’ll see that the end of the scope hangs over the back of the loading port. In a TX200, that isn’t a problem unless you have summer sausages for fingers, because the loading port is very large — but on other underlevers and some sidelevers it may be. The Hawke is not a long scope, so this clearance is something a new TX owner needs to consider.


The Hawke scope hangs over the loading port just a little, but was not in the way during loading. See how much clearance the 42mm objective tube has above the spring tube?

What pellets to shoot?
This question is the one every shooter asks whenever they get a new gun — air or firearm. I have a lot of history with this rifle, but in the time since I last shot it many good pellets have come to the forefront. The JSB Exact RS is just one example. I know that Crosman Premier 7.9-grain domed pellets are averaging 958 f.p.s. in my rifle, and that means the lighter 7.3-grain JSB Exact RS will probably top 1,000 f.p.s. Six months ago, that might have turned me off; but after the exciting 11-part “Pellet velocity versus accuracy test” proved that harmonics and not velocity is what causes inaccuracy, I see no reason not to try a faster pellet.

I sighted in with Beeman Kodiaks, just because I used to shoot them in my other TX for field target, and they always worked well. But in reviewing my past reports, I see that this will be the first time I’ve shot 10-shot groups for a report. What a difference that makes!

Naturally, group one was with the Kodiaks. I had hoped to shoot around my aim point, but as you’ll see, that didn’t happen. The group may be a trifle larger than it should be, because for the last four shots I was guessing where to put the crosshairs.


Ten Beeman Kodiaks went into this group that measures 0.584 inches between centers at 25 yards.

Notice how round the group is? Actually only the first shot went low and right — the rest made that small hole you see. And that was exactly where the aim point was, so after six pellets there was nothing to guide on. Nine of the ten pellets went into a group measuring 0.302 inches!

Next, I tried 10.34-grain JSB Exact Heavies. Often, I get the best results with this pellet in an accurate .177 rifle. Ten shots in the TX made a group that measures 0.523 inches. Let’s see what that looks like.


Ten JSB Exact Heavies made this group that measures 0.523 inches between centers at 25 yards. It looks more open than the Kodiak group, but it doesn’t have the one straggler the Kodiak group does.

Next, I tried the light JSB Exact RS pellet. The point of impact shifted up about an inch, and the group opened to 0.687 inches. It’s still fairly round, but more open than the first two by a lot. The RS probably isn’t the pellet for this TX.


Ten JSB RS pellets went into 0.687 inches between centers at 25 yards. The shots are less-tightly grouped than those made by the first two pellets.

Then, I tried 10 Crosman Premier lites, just to see what they would do. They made a pleasing group that measures 0.559 inches between centers.


Ten 7.9-grain Crosman Premier pellets made this 0.559-inch group at 25 yards.

By this time, I was remembering everything I liked about a TX200. For one thing, it’s not at all sensitive to the hold. In fact, this is one of the very few spring-piston air rifles that can be shot while rested directly on a sandbag. To demonstrate that, I shot 10 more Premier lites with the rifle rested on the bag. I had run out of targets on this sheet, so I used a single pellet hole for my aim point. Ten shots went into a group measuring 0.414 inches between centers — the smallest group of the entire session!


Ten 7.9-grain Crosman Premier pellets made this 0.414-inch group at 25 yards when the rifle was rested directly on a sandbag. The hole at the 7 o’clock position and outside the group was the aim point and is not a part of this group.

The bottom line
I hope this test demonstrates the accuracy potential of the TX200. Also, I hope you appreciate how important it is that the rifle isn’t sensitive to hold. It will make a better shooter of almost anyone! Of course, I used the very best scope I have for this test; but besides that, nothing special was done. I didn’t even use a scope level.

Have you noticed how similar in size all the groups seem to be? The rifle seems to like a lot of different pellets. That’s another plus, and a good reason why this rifle is worth the price.

I love this rifle because it doesn’t fight me. I can relax almost as though I was shooting an accurate PCP. And I’ve adjusted the trigger to such a fine point that it doesn’t disturb the finest aim when it’s pulled. No wonder I compare other spring rifles to this one!

We now have a baseline for the TX200; so when the Benjamin MAV 77 becomes available, we can compare it.

Learning to shoot with open sights: Part 5

by B.B. Pelletier

Announcement: William Davis 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!

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.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

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.

Semi-buckhorn
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.

Fiberoptics
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.

Learning to shoot with open sights: Part 4

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

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.

Range-driven improvements
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.

2012 SHOT Show: Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Photos by Earl “Mac” McDonald

Part 1

This is the second of my reports on the 2012 SHOT Show. There will certainly be at least one more after this, and perhaps even more, as there’s simply too much new information to pack into a single report.

The state of the airgun industry in 2012
Before I get to some specifics, I want to make a general observation. This year’s SHOT Show was different for me in a major way, because I saw for the first time that firearms shooters are beginning to understand airguns as never before. In the past, I always had to start my explanations with the cooling of the earth’s crust and then progress through the age of the dinosaurs because each firearms person I talked to thought of airguns as either toys or BB guns. This year, a lot of them were clued-in on what’s happening. They weren’t surprised by the accuracy we get, and they knew about big bores. A lot of them had some airgun experience and more than a few asked me the same kind of questions that I get from long-time readers of this blog.

That tells me the day of the airgun has finally dawned in the U.S. Instead of 25,000 to 50,000 active shooters (at best!), we will now see an influx from over 5 million active firearm shooters who are ready to augment their shooting experience with airguns. I’m already getting calls and emails from state departments of wildlife resources, asking about the issues of incorporating airguns into their hunting seasons.

It has been a long haul to get to this point, but we’re now seeing the start of the harvest of all the work that’s been done over the past 40 years — starting with Robert Beeman in the early 1970s. The job is now to manage this growth and provide useful information to the tens of thousands of new airgunners who are flooding in the doors.

Let me reflect on how the industry seems to be reacting to this trend. Some companies have been on board for many years and are poised to ride the new tidal wave of business as far as they can. Other companies are aware that airguns are very hot, but they’re foundering, trying to understand them. Let me say right now that it’s not as easy as you think!

The readers of this blog are among the most clued-in airgunners in the world. But they’re unique, and they do not represent the true market. The demographic of a new airgunner is a man (usually) in his late 20s to late 40s who is most likely a fan of AR-type rifles and Glock-type pistols. He wants repeaters, semiautos and he thinks that a five-shot group is the gold standard of any gun. Velocity impresses him, and he isn’t comfortable with the term kinetic energy.

Things like good triggers and good sights are not an issue with this customer until he experiences bad ones. His ARs have decent triggers off the rack, and he can choose from many drop-in triggers that are much better. When he encounters a spring-piston gun with a horrible trigger that cannot be easily modified, he’s surprised.

He does not use the artillery hold, and he equates all airguns to be alike in terms of performance. When he learns about precharged guns, he’s put off by the additional equipment he must buy. Spring-piston guns seem the best to him for their simple operation, and he doesn’t appreciate the fact that they’re also the most difficult airguns to shoot well.

That’s the customer who’s coming to airguns today, so that’s the person airgun manufacturers have to deal with. If you have wondered why many of the new airguns are what they are — this new-customer profile is the reason.

Okay, I’ve talked about those companies that get it and those that are struggling to understand. There’s one more type of company out there. I like to call them the “gloom and doom company” or the “zero sum company.” They’re firmly entrenched in the 1970s and cannot take advantage of this new windfall of business. They either fired their engineers years ago or they let them all retire, and now they couldn’t build a new airgun to save their lives. As far as they’re concerned, there are only 25,000 airgunners in the United States and it’s the NRA’s responsibility to identify and train them so these companies can sell them some guns.

They think of marketing in 1950′s terms, when a simple paint job and some sheet metal was enough to create a new product. Their “secret” business plan is to buy guns made by other manufacturers and have their name put on. If you’re a collector, better buy up the guns these guys sell because in 10 years their name will be a memory.

That’s enough of the big picture. Let’s see some more products.

More from Crosman
Many of you saw the list of new Crosman products Kevin posted last week, so the few that I show here are by no means all there is, but they’re the highlights. Crosman had about half the new airgun products at the entire SHOT Show.

New tan M4-177 and carry handle
The M4-177 multi-pump that I recently tested for you is going to be very popular this year. Crosman is also offering it as an M4-177 Tactical air rifle with a new carry handle that replaces the rear sight for improved sighting options. I think this gun will be in their lineup for many years to come.


The M4-177 now comes as this tactical model in tan with a carry handle.

I mentioned to Crosman’s Ed Schultz that this rifle looks like the A.I.R.-17 of the 1990s, but done better. He said he always wanted to update that design, and that is exactly what this is. So, what he said next came as no great surprise.

I shared my thoughts on a 2260 made as a multi-pump in .25 caliber, and Ed told me that was how the rifle was originally created (not in .25, however). The CO2 version was an afterthought that got put into production, while the multi-pump version languished in the Crosman morgue. I told him that I thought the time was ripe to bring it back as an upscale hunting rifle, and he seemed to agree. We can only hope.

Carbon fiber tank
As Crosman extends their capability into PCP guns, they know shooters are always looking for better options for their air supply. Besides the new butterfly hand pump I showed you last time, they’ll also be adding a long summer-sausage black carbon fiber tank with increased capacity over their current tanks. This is a 300-bar tank that has 342 cubic-inch capacity. It comes in a black nylon carrying case with sling for field transport.


More air for you! New Benjamin carbon fiber tank will help you take your PCPs further afield.

Benjamin Nitro Piston breakbarrel pistol
The Benjamin NP breakbarrel pistol certainly has people talking on the internet. This is the first commercial gas spring application in a pistol, I believe. The most distinctive feature is a cocking aid that can either be detached or left in place while shooting. That reminds us that this pistol is going to be hard to cock, but I’ll test one for you so we’ll all know just how hard.


New Benjamin Trail NP pistol is a breakbarrel with a gas spring. The cocking aid can be detached or left in place while shooting.

Crosman 1720T PCP pistol
Everybody was ready to jump down Crosman’s throat for creating the 1720T PCP pistol. They wondered with the .22-caliber Marauder pistol and the .177-caliber Silhouette PCP pistol already selling, why was this one needed? As Ed Schultz explained it to me — this one is for field target. It’s a .177 (naturally) that produces just under 12 foot-pounds through a shrouded Lother Walther barrel. It can be used for hunting, but field target was its primary purpose. They worried about the shot count with the Silhouette; but with this one, power was the criterion. Look for about 800 f.p.s. with a 7.9-grain Premier. And the trigger is the same as the Marauder, so excellent operation there.


The new Crosman 1720T PCP pistol is meant for field target competition. It will also work well for hunting.

Crosman MAR 177 PCP conversion
The Crosman MAR-177 PCP conversion is another new product that has a lot of people talking. This AR-15 upper converts your .223 semiauto into a .177 PCP repeating target rifle. Because it’s on an AR platform, almost everybody expects it to be semiautomatic — including those who should know better. This rifle is a bolt action that cocks and loads via a short pull on the charging handle.

This conversion is an Olympic-grade target rifle for a new official sport that Scott Pilkington and others have been promoting for several years. It will take the U.S. battle rifle back into the ranks of target shooting. However, the look of the gun has many shooters totally confused. I was even asked at the show if I thought Crosman should have come out with an “everyman’s” version of the gun first. That would be like asking whether Feinwerkbau missed the boat by not first making their 700 target rifle in a $300 version for casual plinkers.


The MAR-177 PCP conversion is an upper for your target-grade lower. Plan on investing about another $1,000 in a good lower if you hope to compete.

Crosman TT BB pistol
It’s all-metal and a good copy of the Tokarev pistol. The weight is good and the gun feels just right. This will be one to test as soon as possible.


Crosman’s TT Tokarev BB pistol is realistic and looks like fun.

Benjamin MAV 77 Underlever
The Benjamin MAV 77 underlever rifle is going to force Crosman to recognize spring-piston air rifles instead of just calling them all breakbarrels. This is the TX-200 copy from BAM that was once sold by Pyramyd Air. When the quality dropped off, it was discontinued. Hopefully, Crosman will watch the quality on this one.

They didn’t have a firm retail price yet, but hopefully it’ll be significantly under the TX. Otherwise, why buy it? I may test one for you, but I already know that BAM can make a great rifle when they want to. I think it all comes down to price.


Benjamin MAV-77 is an underlever spring-piston rifle that looks and, hopefully, performs like an Air Arms TX-200.

TR-77
The Crosman TR-77 is a conventional breakbarrel spring-piston rifle in an unconventional stock. It’s different enough that I want to test one for you. It appears to be a lower-powered rifle that probably sells at a bargain price because it’s branded under the Crosman banner rather than Benjamin. Mac photographed one in a sand-colored stock for you.


Crosman TR-77 breakbarrel in a sand-colored stock also comes in black.

There was a lot more at Crosman that I could have mentioned, but now let’s go over to the Leapers booth.

Leapers
I’ve watched Leapers grow from a relatively small company back in 1998 to a major player — blasting past older, entrenched companies as they grew. This year, they were playing a video about the company on a continuous loop in their booth. I was impressed to see their plant in Livonia, Michigan, where they build airsoft guns, tactical mounts, accessories and scopes right here in the U.S. The plant is filled with many CNC machining centers and testing facilities to keep close watch over their products during development.

American-made
Leapers owner David Ding told me he wants to get control over the production process so he can assure the quality of all of his products. In keeping with that goal, I was shown the new scope line for 2012 that now offers locking target knobs on all of the upscale models. Many of them feature etched glass reticles that are amazingly crisp and sharp.

Scopes
Mac was impressed by the reticle on the new 3-9x Bug Buster scope. He urged me to look through it; and when I did, I saw that the reticle is now fine and sharp — not the heavy black lines of the past.


David Ding shows me the new 3-9x Bug Buster scope (not out yet), with target knobs and a finer reticle.

But scopes were just the beginning at Leapers. Next, I was shown the whole line of tactical flashlights and lasers, including some mini lasers I will test on my M1911A1 for you. These are all made in the U.S. now and have more rugged internals, adjustments and optics than similar products from the Orient.

UTG 555 Long Range Light
One item I hope Pyramyd Air will consider stocking is a fantastic 500-lumen tactical light for law enforcement. It can be mounted on a rifle, handheld or even mounted on a bike! It comes with rechargeable lithium batteries and a smart charger…and believe me when I tell you it turns night into day!


The UTG Long Range light can go on your rifle, held in the hand or even mounted to your bike! The rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack will keep it shining at 500 lumens for 1.5 hours.

Fast Action Gun bag
Not all Leapers products are for airguns. They also make tactical and law enforcvement gear that rivals spec-built equipment but sells at a fraction the cost. As a result, many of their customers are ordering straight from the front lines of combat and from law enforcement agencies all over the country to get the products that their own supply lines cannot or will not furnish.

One of their latest developments is a Fast Action Gun bag that lets the wearer walk in public with a substantial firearm hidden from view. A quick pull of a strap, and the bag opens to reveal the weapon inside.


Leapers owner Tina Ding models their new Fast Action Gun bag. Here, it’s concealed; but she’s just pulled it over her shoulder from her back, where it looks like a tennis bag.


And in less than a second, the bag is open, giving instant access to the tactical shotgun or submachine gun inside.

11mm-dovetail-to-Picatinny adapter
Leapers has an entirely new range of quick-disconnect scope mounts coming this year, but there’s another innovation that I think you’ll find even more impressive. It’s an adapter that snaps into a Picatinny scope mount base, turning it into an 11mm dovetail. So, your conventional air rifle will now also accept Leapers Picatinny scope mounts with this adapter.

11mm-dovetail-to-Picatinny adapter is small and doesn’t raise the mount at all! This will be one to test!

Leapers is still the company to watch because the owners want to build a lasting corporation here in the U.S. They’re poised to move to the next level of quality in their optics, which gives me a lot of hope for the future — they’ve always been receptive to the needs of airgunners.

Whew! That’s a lot of products, and there are still many more to show. As I said in the beginning, there will be at least another report.

Learning to shoot with open sights: Part 3

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2

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.

Bottom line
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.

Learning to shoot with open sights: Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Announcement: Leslie Foran 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!

Leslie Foran (aka Desertdweller) took this winning photo of his grandson Nicky Crocker shooting a Daisy 856.

Part 1

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!

Quigley rediscovered
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.

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