by B.B. Pelletier
This one is for Matt61, and it’s also a preamble for another report about BB gun disassembly I will do in the future for Bob in Oz.
World War I focused the attention of America on war. Our last few conflicts had been regional ones in Cuba, the Philippines and elsewhere, but this war involved most of the world.
Daisy was busy making BB guns as always, so when the youth in this country started looking at things military, they thought about bringing out a BB gun that looked like a military rifle. Work on the project took from 1914 until the gun came out in 1916.
The gun had a full wooden stock, much like the Springfield 1903 rifle. It also had a khaki-colored sling that attached to eyes on the butt and forearm. But it had one other feature that made it the most infamous BB gun of its day–a bayonet!
Yes, the No. 40 came with a genuine steel bayonet that attached to the muzzle of the gun. The bayonet was blunt-tipped and covered with a tiny rubber tip. Because it was removable, boys either lost it or parents removed it for safekeeping and today the bayonet is far scarcer than the gun. At the last Roanoke show, I could buy a decent No. 40 (not a nice one, but all the parts there and working) for $300 or so. One with a bayonet was above $700. So you figure out what that appendage is worth. It’s such a coveted item that there are aftermarket bayonets people have made to use as placeholders.
I once bought a rusty No. 40 for $75 at a flea market. Of course, it had neither the sling nor bayonet at that price, but it was a complete gun. It worked fine and shot pretty hard–in the 325 f.p.s. range as I recall–so that was good. So, for a short while, I owned this gun. When I bought it, I did so because I knew I could make some money selling it. But I was also captivated by the look of the gun. It LOOKS like a million dollars–just the way a BB gun OUGHT to look.
Wayne will understand what I am about to say and I know others like Kevin, Vince and BG_Farmer will, as well. Some guns just beg to be held! The 1903 Springfield is such a rifle. The 1917 Enfield doesn’t look as inviting, but when held it feels even better than a Springfield. A Weatherby Mark V is another rifle that invites holding. Well, the No. 40 Daisy BB gun is like that. It just looks right!
However, the first time you cock the gun, it doesn’t FEEL right at all! The rough cast-iron lever pulls away from the stock very hard, and you find yourself wondering how some small boy could ever have cocked this thing. I used to be a small boy and I can tell you we had numerous ways of doing things adults didn’t think we could. Although I never saw a No. 40 in my youth, I’m quite sure I could have dealt with it had one come my way.
The cocking lever also only came out away from the gun in an arc of about 90 degrees, so Daisy didn’t use all the leverage they could have. That, coupled with a stiff mainspring, was the reason for the hard cocking.
The No. 40 used the new 50-shot, forced-feed shot tube Daisy had recently developed for use in the No. 25 pump gun. As a result, the No. 40 never rattled the way gravity-feed BB guns do. It always sounded as solid as it looked.
In 1916, the BB gun world was still one governed by lead shot. It would be more than a decade before the steel shot that we know today would come about. Lead air rifle shot, as it was known, was 0.175″ in diameter, nominally. That’s larger than today’s steel shot that runs around 0.172″. More importantly, the lead shot tubes used a swaged (bumped to cause a constriction) shot seat to hold the next BB in position, so it didn’t just roll out the barrel. The air transfer port in a BB gun like this is an actual tube that mechanically pushes the BB through the constriction and starts it on its way down the bore. Then, a blast of air through the tube accelerates the BB up to the final velocity.
So, the No. 40 started out shooting only lead shot. Production continued until the early 1930s, when Daisy was switching over to steel shot tubes. But with any Daisy, you cannot just say something was one way and leave it at that. Daisy used any parts they had on hand to build airguns, so if there were steel shot tubes before 1936, they might have put them into the final batches of No. 40s. And after the gun was sold, anyone could change shot tubes between lead and steel. I can convert a 1913 first model No. 25 to shoot steel BBs in under a minute, just by swapping tubes. So, it’s incumbent on the gun’s owner to figure out which type of shot tube he has and what kind of ammo should be used in the gun.
When it first came out, the No. 40 incorporated Daisy’s adjustable front sight. A vertical post was folded at its bottom to clamp onto a front sight base. The shooter could then push the front blade from side to side to change where the BB would go. After several years, this sight was changed to a fixed sight that remained on the gun to the end of production in about 1934.
Not rare but hard to find
In all, about 237,000 No. 40 BB guns of all variations were made. The gun isn’t exactly rare today. It’s more of a seldom-seen gun because owners tend to hang onto it for longer periods. Of course, when compared to the No. 25 pump gun that exceeded 20 million, this number seems low. When you consider that there are only a few thousand serious BB gun collectors worldwide, there are more than enough guns to fill the demand. And the No. 40 is not the kind of BB gun people throw away with little thought. The value is recognizable to everyone, whether they know much about BB guns or not.
When it was new, Daisy’s initial price was $3.50, and they wrung their hands about it–believing that no BB gun could be worth that kind of money. Of course, it helps to bear in mind that surplus .45/70 Trapdoor Springfield rifles were selling for the same price at the time. But the No. 40 looked like it was worth it.
In his book, It’s a Daisy, Cass S. Hough remembered that the initial price of the gun was $5, but a 1916 Saturday Evening Post ad clearly shows the $3.50 price. Even in 1919, the No. 40 was selling for just $4. So, Hough might be remembering some time later when the company raised the price to $5. That much of an increase would have obviously stuck in everyone’s mind, because the other models were selling for $1.00 to $3.95 as late as 1933.
Accuracy is whatever it is and will vary by shot tube. Usually a good forced-feed tube will give me about one inch at 20 feet. And lead shot tubes have always been more accurate than steel, in my experience. Swapping shot tubes changes everything.
This is not a gun you are likely to just run into. If you want one, you need to watch the auction websites and go to the airgun shows. I’ve seen as many as nine guns at one airgun show, so they’re out there. Prepare to spend at least $300 for a good shooter and upwards of $700 if there’s a bayonet. The sling adds something, too, but not more than $50-75.