The Benjamin front-pump pistol – Part 2
by B.B. Pelletier
Charging the pistol
The way the pistol is pumped is simple. The rod is pulled out until it stops, then pushed back in to force air into the reservoir. Many, many front-pumpers will have problems with their inlet valves, causing the pump rod to push back out as the air slowly releases. With this kind of fault, the gun will eventually leak down to nothing.
Others will have too much space between the end of the pump head and the opening of the inlet valve. This traps high-pressure air between the head and the opening. The air cannot enter the valve because the pump head has gone as far as it will go. The pressure of the trapped air is not as high as the air inside the reservoir, so it sits outside the inlet valve. When pressure on the pump rod is relaxed, the trapped air will push the pump rod back out. Because the internal pressure in the reservoir keeps building with every pump stroke, the pressure level of the trapped air continues to mount, as well, pushing the pump rod back out further each time. A little bit of rod rebound isn’t bad, but if it comes more than halfway out, your gun probably needs service. When the inlet valve is working correctly, the rod stays all the way down (or in) after each pump stroke.
Our subject gun, which is in very good operating condition, will hold the rod down if a certain procedure is followed. After two or more pumps, the rod starts to climb back out. I just push it back in with the heel of my hand, and it stays down the second time. I don’t pull it out all the way before doing this; just press the rod back against the small amount of residual air that’s pushing it out, and it goes in and stays. You can hear the air entering the inlet valve on this gun. Maybe that’s typical of the performance of a new gun, too; I don’t know.
The end of the rod is shaped like a mushroom to give a broad surface against which to push. I like to use something solid against the rod end, with the floor or a stout table being ideal. Folks with post-and-beam barns are blessed with unlimited flat surfaces to push against. Let’s not use mother’s dining room table, though, as the mushroom will shatter the finish and compress the wood fibers rather quickly. And stay off modern countertops with their low friction, because the mushroom can’t find a surface to grab, allowing it to slip and damage the gun.
Before pumping a gun, cock it and put on the crossbolt safety. Remember to keep your fingers out of the triggerguard as you pump. Grasp the gun in your shooting hand and put the heel of your other hand against the receiver cap for extra support. Don’t rely on just the pistol grip to support the gun. The screws may hold fine for a while, but eventually they’re going to elongate the holes through the brass tubing of the receiver. If you’re pumping a rifle, the same procedures hold true–don’t just push on the end of the wooden butt.
This pistol is not a magnum, and no amount of pumping will turn it into one. All you’ll do if you overpump a gun is ensure an earlier trip to the overhaul shop. About five strokes is the most I ever put in, and three is all it takes for most shooting. If you also own a Benjamin underlever pump, you will notice that the front-pumper has a much longer stroke than the underlever. You can pressurize the front-pumper in half the number of strokes or less. With rifles, this is even more evident.
You can get pretty good accuracy from an old Benjamin pistol, if you slow down and take the time to shoot the gun as the manufacturer intended. “Pretty good” means tin-can-plinking accuracy. These guns were made at a time when the pace of things moved slower than it does today, and their sedate method of charging reflects that. Treat them as the fine single-shot handguns they are, and the reward will be shots you can be proud of. Just remember, they aren’t CO2 pistols–you’ll have to invest some sweat to keep them going. But they can be okay if you do your part.
The smoothbores are not as accurate as the guns with rifled barrels, of course. Benjamin used to say in their advertising that their pellet guns were good for one-inch groups at 30 feet, while their BB guns would shoot into about two inches. While testing the gun, I found that it would group in about two inches at that distance, as long as good-fitting BBs were used. I found the slightly large 0.174″ lead balls sold as 4.4mm round balls worked best. Regular steel BBs range in size from 0.171″ to 0.173″ and do not group as well. They went into three- to four-inch groups.
As an experiment, I also tried the gun with 4.5mm Eley Wasp pellets, which are quite similar in shape to the original Benjamin High Compression pellets from the same era as the gun. The Eleys did not shoot reliably, perhaps because they are not lubricated like the early Benjamin pellets. Several times, the pellet would not exit the barrel, even with five pumps.
The trigger is the simplest sort of hammer/sear arrangement. It’s rugged and reliable, but it will never be confused with a target trigger. There’s plenty of travel and creep. Behind it, the crossbolt safety passes through the frame. It operates in the conventional way, convenient for right-handed shooters and backwards for southpaws. A spring-loaded ball detent retains the safety in whatever position it was last placed.
The bolt is also conventional. Rotate the bolt knob counterclockwise to unlock it, then pull straight back to cock the hammer, and withdraw the bolt probe to allow a pellet or BB to be loaded. Since our subject pistol is a smoothbore, it’s meant to shoot BBs, darts or pellets. The bolt probe is hollow, where there would be a solid rod with a rounded tip on a rifled gun.
Although Benjamin sold copper-plated steel BBs for their guns, I’m conservative about shooting anything steel in a brass bore. I try to use lead shot instead. You can buy Gamo or Beeman round balls in .177 caliber, and they function fine in guns like these. A BB is pressed into the hollow opening of the bolt probe, which allows the muzzle to be depressed below level and the BB will not roll out. Incidentally, if you’re shooting a model 150 or 160 BB repeater, you have no choice but to shoot steel shot, as those guns are designed to work with it.
Darts are made of steel, but their design prevents the metal from touching the sides of the bore. Shoot them on low power only and always shoot them into a regulation dart board to prevent penetration and distortion. All it takes is one pull with pliers and a dart is ruined forever.
Accuracy with pellets isn’t as good in smoothbores as it is in guns that are rifled, but it is adequate. The diabolo shape of the pellet helps stabilize it in flight without the spin that rifling would impart.