by B.B. Pelletier

Update on Tom/B.B.: Tom has improved more on Monday than in the previous 4 days combined…and the doctor agrees. Tom’s sense of humor, wryness and funny personality are all intact. If all goes according to plans, he’ll be eating jello and soup today.

Now, on to today’s blog, which is about the Shinsung Career 707 9mm Ultra. This is one of the big boys of airgunning. John Burroughs, who used to import and distribute the Ultra, wrote an article about the gun in 2007. Today’s blog was written by Tom in October 2001 in The Airgun Letter. Although Tom’s article is older, he includes information and a view not provided by Burroughs. Some things overlap, but there’s also plenty of new info in this blog.

Some things don’t have to change if they’re right from the start. The Ultra is one of them.

Make no mistake, the field of big bore airguns is growing fast! This segment has been in airgunning’s background for more than a hundred years, and not many beyond a few active airgunners were aware it even existed.

In the first half of the last century, two .410-caliber air shotguns–the Paul and the Vincent–were created by their owners to satisfy a personal desire for an inexpensive training shotgun to be used at short ranges in relative quiet. The problem is that shotguns are already short-range weapons, so making them even shorter range can be an exercise in futility. Just ask Mossberg, who tried the same thing with their Mo-Skeet-O rimfire shotgun.

In the late 1960s, Crosman followed in the tracks of Vincent and Paul with their 1100 Trapmaster shotgun–a .380 smoothbore with its own special trap and reusable shells and pigeons. It was a big bore airgun by definition, but not usable when it came to round ball accuracy.

In the 1970s, several designs came out of the Philippines, the best known being the Farco air shotgun, a 28-gauge scattergun running on bulk CO2. Through the sheer size of the .50 caliber lead ball it shoots, the Farco became the first air shotgun to have any credibility for taking medium-large game, such as the American whitetail deer.

Though it has fallen from the favor it knew throughout the 1990s, the Farco is still available today. It generates pretty close to 100 foot-pounds in factory trim and some folks have hot-rodded it well beyond the pale. It cannot it be considered accurate enough for humane hunting beyond about 35 yards, but it does demonstrate one fact rather clearly–American airgunners are interested in big bore airguns!

Big bores go modern
Dennis Quackenbush set out to define and refine the field of big bores in 1993. His first gun was a kit for building the famous Paul air shotgun, but its low sales demonstrated that airgunners really wanted a complete gun rather than a project. The .375 Brigand he made next hit the nail square on the head and has evolved into an entire lineup of powerful yet affordable big bores.

Besides Quackenbush, Gary Barnes has made several big bores ranging from primitive-looking muzzleloaders to sophisticated benchrest rifles that shoot conical bullets accurately at ranges up to 200 yards. Gary builds guns in smaller numbers than Dennis, but they have an equal buzz throughout the market. Pennsylvania jeweler Tim Jones has also made a small number of very stylish big bores that evoke the looks of both fine Pennsylvania rifles as well as handmade European target guns.

The Koreans enter the picture
But it’s the Koreans who have come to the party with full-rate production airguns lately. Shinsung is well-known for the fabulous Career 707 lever-action repeater. Not only does that rifle offer instantly adjustable power over a broad range, it’s also one of the most accurate airguns on the market. Some .22 Careers are able to shoot consistent sub-.50″ groups at 50 yards–something even the rimfire boys admire.

The Ultra is not the first big bore that Shinsung put out. Several years ago, they converted their powerful Fire 201 .25 caliber shotgun to a single-shot 9mm rifle. (The Fire 201 has changed a bit and is now the Fire 202S.) Since the Fire loads from the breech, it was easy to convert. The rifle that resulted is both very powerful and accurate, producing energy in the 125 foot-pound region with five-shot groups of 1.5″ to 2″ at 50 yards.

At about $550 retail, the gun represented a tremendous value in a small-caliber big bore. But that wasn’t good enough for Shinsung president B.D. Lim. At one of the SHOT Shows, Mr. Lim told me that his vision of an air rifle is one of power, accuracy and a repeating capability. So, although his 9mm single-shot is both powerful and accurate, it does not have the repeating mechanism he wanted–hence the Ultra.

I first saw and tested the Ultra in 2000. That rifle was essentially what you see here except there were some engineering steps yet to be taken. One of those was to design a brand new rifling for improved accuracy while allowing for the mechanical feeding of a repeater.

With a single-shot breechloader, the shooter can overcome many accuracy concerns by inserting the pellet directly into the rifling. When the rifle mechanism has to do the same job, it must be designed to always place the pellet in the exact right place for power and accuracy. That means the design of pellet has to be taken into account as well, or everything is compromised.

You don’t notice such subtleties with firearm ammunition because the design of the cartridge takes care of them. But just start shooting a muzzleloading rifle, and you’ll soon appreciate what’s involved. A pellet gun is much more closely related to a blackpowder muzzleloading gun than to a modern firearm, because it also has no cartridge to index each shot.

Quick quiz: Why is a Colt 1860 Army revolver considered a muzzleloader despite having six shots in a revolving cylinder? The answer? You must first load the cylinder from it’s mouth, or muzzle, before the revolver is ready to shoot. Where an 1866 Winchester lever-action will cycle its metallic cartridges through the action, a Colt 1860 Army must be loaded exactly like a single-shot muzzleloader. The difference is that you load it six times before shooting instead of just one.

Bartolomeo Girandoni attempted to make a repeating blackpowder rifle that did not use cartridges with the result that his son was killed (or lost an arm, depending on which source I read) when that gun blew up! But his 12-shot repeating air rifle was successful enough to become a limited-issue standardized Austrian military weapon. In all, 1,000 to 1,500 military rifles were produced, again depending on the source.

The fact is that repeating air rifles are about as difficult to make as repeating non-cartridge blackpowder guns. Soft lead bullets do not like to be handled by hard metal actions. Making such rifles accurate to boot is even more difficult. In part 2, you’ll find out how well Shinsung did with theirs.