Answers to airgunners’ questions
by B.B. Pelletier
Today, I’m paying off a few debt/promises. First, for Revwarnut, is the story of how I bought and sold an airgun for a profit in five minutes. I did it in front of two witnesses – my wife and my other best friend, Earl McDonald. We were at the big Baltimore gun show that’s held every March, which is one of the finest shows in existence. It’s the only one where I’ve actually seen quarter-million-dollar Colt Walkers laying on tables for sale, along with $20,000 matched 19th century air rifles engraved by Nimschke. I saw a BSA underlever from the 1920s on a table. It was in very good condition, and had been a British club gun with an aftermarket peep sight and club markings on the stock. The price tag said $250, and I knew I could sell it for $300 or more at an airgun show. I dickered with the seller and bought it for $200. Then my wife asked how sure I was that I could really sell it for a profit. I guess that tripped a trigger in me, because when a guy in the next aisle showed an interest, I sold the gun to him for $250. That was $50 made in five minutes. I hadn’t planned on selling it that soon and not for that little money, either, but something triggered a competitive desire in me and I had to see if it was possible.
The next one is for Shorty, who is looking for a deal on an Enfield No. 4 – the British main battle rifle of WWII. I was with my buddy, Earl McDonald (he and my wife are both good luck charms) when he was offered a small gun collection for a very good price. There were three SKS rifles and two No. 4 Enfields in the deal. He gave $50 apiece for the Enfields, each of which had a paper tag tied to their triggerguards. When we got them back to my house, we read the tags. They said those rifles had just completed Factory Thorough Repair, which means a full rebuild. The barrels were like new! Mac gave one of them to me, just because he had made such a good deal. So I got that one for free, but could have gotten it for only $50 for it had I paid for it. It’s one of my favorite military rifles, and I love shooting it because of the low recoil. Shorty, I can’t tell you how to fall into deals like that except for this: if you want to get muddy it’s best to go where there’s mud. In other words, hang around places where guns are. A shooting range is a great place to look for some real deals.
Today’s main topic
I get a lot of questions on this blog and I can tell from them that many of you really want to learn about the principles of gun operation, manufacture and ballistics. Last week, someone complimented my “encyclopedic knowledge” of airguns. Today, I want to give you access to the same encyclopedia. I don’t know that much, but I read about this subject all the time and I retain a lot of what I read. I guess that comes from interest. Matt61, this one’s for you.
It’s all in books – the right books. And most of them aren’t about airguns. They’re mainly about firearms. This is where a large part of my knowledge comes from and where I began learning about guns.
How guns are made
Want to learn how guns are really made? Then learn all about the making of the M1 Carbine – how eight prime contractors and thousands of subcontractors made over 6 million state-of-the-art semiautomatic rifles in four years. Rifles that were so close to the ragged edge of self-destruction that it is a marvel today that any of them survived. They were 20 years ahead of their time in terms of manufacturing technology.
Learn why one company may be able to make something that another cannot. Learn why staying within the specifications doesn’t build rifles that work. Study the lessons of Winchester, who designed the carbine and then was barely able to manufacture it, yet Underwood Typewriter excelled in production from day one. All of this and a lot more is in the two-volume set War Baby, by Larry Ruth.
Learn about the gun factory that failed to ever deliver even one carbine (Irwin Pederson) because of mismanagement. The plant “metallurgist” refused to use his thermocouples and judged the heat treatment of steel based on the color of the steel. But his failure to take into account the changing light conditions in the factory during the day put him off the temperature as much as 75 degrees F in both directions. [There’s a direct correlation between this incident and the blind obedience some airgunners have to the accuracy of small pressure gauges, instead of using a chronograph to figure things out scientifically.]
Or, the Rockola plant whose management was so bad the workers were sabotaging their own work. The government had to step in and fire the plant manager before they could get them back on track again.
I’ve been involved in the manufacture of airguns and have had my eyes opened wide. Short of taking a job with Ruger, I doubt you’ll get a better look into the business of making precision guns than by reading this book. Volume one costs $70 from Collector Grade Publications. I couldn’t do my job without it.
Want to learn ballistics?
Then get Frank W. Mann’s classic, The Bullet’s Flight, From Powder to Target. Published in 1909, this book is a report of 35 years of study of the subject of exterior ballistics. It’s not written by a theorist but by a man who built a 100-yard tent-tunnel so he could study the flight of a bullet without the effects of wind. He had to curve it to follow the bullet’s trajectory! A man whose shooting bench weighed over half a ton. A man who convinced Harry Pope, the Stradivarius of barrelmaking, to hand-make barrels that he could destroy in countless experiments that studied caliber, twist rate, bullet deformation, the effect of the barrel crown and what happens if eight pointed screws pierce the last two inches of the barrel and into the bore between the lands so they scrape the sides of the bullet as it passes by.
You’ll find this from used book dealers. An original will cost over $400 and isn’t worth it unless you’re a book collector. But you can find a handsome reprint like my 1997 copy from Palladium Press for under $50 if you search. If you want to know anything about ballistics and why some guns shoot better than others, this is what you need to read.
How far do bullets REALLY travel?
Hatcher’s Notebook will tell you the answer to why WWI German bullets were killing Allied soldiers half a mile farther than our guns could shoot. Major (later Major General) Julian S. Hatcher didn’t take people’s word for anything. He tested all the theories and discovered the truth. Like the truth that the Japanese type 99 rifle was far stronger than the 1903 Springfield, but the M1 Garand was the strongest military rifle ever made.
Hatcher was an NRA adviser after the war and literally wrote the book – the book that you can buy (used) for under $20.
Certainly not the fine adjustable trigger on the Crosman 160 – the rifle people still venerate as the QB 78 and 79. No, that trigger, as fine as it is, was first built in the 1400s. The materials used were animal horn and the weapon was a medieval crossbow. You’ll learn about that and how far a crossbow bolt will shoot in Sir Ralph Payne-Galwey’s 1903 classic book The Crossbow. You’ll learn about the lethal range at which a man could be expected to be hit (220 yards) in the 1400s and the repeating crossbow the Chinese invented.
This book is among the largest and least expensive of those on my list. Twenty dollars can usually procure a Barnes & Noble reprint, though an original might go for several hundred. You’ll find this one on the used book dealer websites, also. Oh, and for you DIYers, there are complete and detailed plans for building a crossbow.
How to shoot
I was taught gun safety by the NRA, but I really learned to shoot from Elmer Keith. In his book Sixguns, I learned that short-barreled revolvers are just as accurate as those with longer barrels. I proved that by hitting a football-sized dirt clod six times out of six from 80 yards using a snubnosed .38 Special Colt Agent. I knew I could do it because ten years before in California I had hit a rock the size of a car wheel at 300 yards with a cap-and-ball Colt Army. Keith told me how to do it, and he’ll tell you if you give him half a chance. The book is out of print but can be bought used for $40 or less if you shop.
But what about airguns?
I love it when someone asks me a question like that after I’ve just spent a great deal of time telling them exactly what they want to know. I think of Mr. Miaggi, who taught the Karate Kid to defend himself in just a few days by having him wax his cars, sand his deck and paint his fence. “Wax on, wax off!”
For those who just don’t get it unless it’s spelled out, here you go – the one airgun book I’d recommend above all others W.H.B. Smith’s Standard Encyclopedia of Gas, Air and Spring Guns of the World. It’s out of print, out of date and full of errors, yet this is the best book I know of on the entire subject of airgunning.