by B.B. Pelletier

Part 6
Part 5
Part 4
Part 3
Part 2
Part 1

Before I begin, I have some announcements:

On Monday, I’m going into the hospital to have my gallbladder removed. It’s supposed to be an outpatient procedure, so hopefully I’ll come home the same day. I’ll have just a couple stitches in my gut (it’s laparoscopic, but they still make a few cuts) and will not be able to do strenuous exercise or lift more than a few pounds for 2-3 weeks. That’s going to cut into my airgun testing for awhile, so I’ll be writing about other things and testing some lightweight CO2 guns for you.

Pyramyd Air will be switching servers Sunday night. You may experience temporary issues on the blog. If you still have problems by Monday morning, please email Edith so she can help you. Monday’s blog will be posted 2 hours later than usual (at 2:00 A.M. Eastern) to avoid any conflicts.

This report series had a strange beginning. I originally meant to test this rifle with period pellets against the best modern pellets, to see what the difference would be. Of course, I started down the road to tuneups, but before I knew it I was deep into trying to tune the gun for 800+ f.p.s. It’s not unlike buying a new refrigerator and then spending $50,000 to renovate the kitchen around it.

Finally, Jim Maccari stepped in and put me out of my misery by telling me that the early 124 rifles have tapered compression chambers that will not give high velocity, no matter what you do, short of machining them. Well, I wasn’t about to do that, and, since Part 6 happened just after I came out of the hospital, I decided to put the series on the back burner.

Then, I had an occasion to shoot my wonderful new Beeman R8 and saw what a tackdriver it is. That got me thinking about the 124 again, which was the tackdriver of its era. Finally, a random comment made by a reader jogged my memory that I had really wanted to test the 124’s accuracy with vintage pellets compared to the best pellets we have today.

The R8 experience reminded me that you don’t need velocity to achieve great accuracy. With what Maccari said, my early 124 would never get into the 800s anyway. But, wait a moment. That R8 averaged 646 f.p.s. with Crosman Premier lites. My 124, in its present tune, shoots the same pellets at an average velocity of 764 f.p.s., or about 120 f.p.s. faster. I had said at the end of Part 6 that I was going to tear down the rifle again and attempt to retune it, but now I’m wondering “Why?” Why would I waste any more time trying to get some artificial number out of this air rifle, when I already have it moving very well for what it is?

Change of direction
So, I’m officially declaring the rifle tuned and am getting on with my overall plan. As you know from yesterday’s blog, this rifle was imported when Beeman’s (the correct name of the company in the early 1970s was Beeman’s Precision Airguns) was located in San Anselmo, which makes it a gun imported in 1973 or earlier. Because Beeman’s moved to San Rafael in 1974. There weren’t 124 rifles around much earlier than that, because back then they were known as the model 121. So, this 124 is a very early one. And, if Maccari says the early ones won’t do 800, I can accept that. But how accurate are they?

And, by the way, Frank B. asked me for the serial number on my 124. It’s 06825. And Robert from Arcade had found the Beeman article in the 1973 Guns Illustrated, where Beeman identified the FWB sporter as the model 12. He wrote that article in 1973, so my 124, which we’ve already established was imported in 1973, was most likely one of the very first 124 rifles ever made.

Vintage pellets
Ask anyone who knew the Beeman company — when Robert Beeman was at the helm — the best pellet for the FWB 124, and you’ll get a single answer: the Beeman Silver Jet. Back in the 1970s when I started my romance with 124 rifles, Silver Jets were so far beyond any other pellet on the market that there was no contest. In the early ’90s, the Marksman FTS domed pellet rose to challenge the Silver Jet, especially in field target, but other newer spring guns like the TX 200 had already pushed the 124 aside, so nobody paid any attention.

This is how they came — in a styrofoam box. Beeman stuck to the color-coded caliber sizes for as long as Robert Beeman owned the company and a few years beyond. The need to “dress up” packaging caused this system to collapse a few years ago.

They were never as pretty in person as the drawing on the package; but in the case of Silver Jets, they came pretty close.

Now, here we are in 2010, nine full years into the new century and millennium, and I’m going to pit the Silver Jet pellet against the best pellets on the market today. And the gun that will shoot them all is my FWB 124 from San Anselmo, which in its day was considered the most accurate sporting air rifle going, hands-down.

Make haste slowly
I’m going to proceed slowly in this test. The first thing I’ll do is try to select the best pellet from a large group of modern candidates by shooting groups at 10 meters using open sights. If I’m lucky, I will find one great pellet in the bunch. More likely, I’ll find several contenders that will have to be weeded out at 25 yards using a scope.

As nice as the Feinwerkbau 124 is, and as great a manufacturer of fine target rifles as Feinwerkbau is, they put a set of fairly rudimentary open sights on the 124. The reason they did it is because the rifle was made for “sport.” That word means something very special in the German language, and it does not cross over to other things like it does in English. So, a “sport” rifle must have “sport” sights, of course. And, “sport” sights are not precision sights because, well, you get the picture.

The plastic rear sight adjusts finely for windage, but for elevation it uses a slider, like a 98K Mauser service rifle. It’s not too precise.

The front sight is a hooded barleycorn, or, in German, a Korn sight. The element is not replaceable, but it works well with the rear sight notch.

These were the sights I had to work with. I had recently discovered that my aging eyes need to be partially closed to see the front sight as clear as it should be. I began the test using Silver Jets and tried to sight-in the gun on a 10-meter pistol target, but my groups were too open. Then I remembered the line Mel Gibson’s character said in the movie Patriot: “aim small; miss small. So, I switched to much smaller 50-foot smallbore rifle bulls, and the groups tightened immediately.

By the way, when sighting-in it’s appropriate to shoot five-shot groups and even three-shot groups, because all you’re doing is moving the point of impact around the target. That speeds up the process immensely. I soon had a good zero with the Silver Jets, and I figured the other pellets would be close enough. I wasn’t going for a score; I was looking for those pellets that tended to group closest together.

During this sight-in, I also experimented with variations of the artillery hold. Because the 124 forearm is flat, I initially thought that resting the rifle on the backs of my fingers would work best. I even shot the first group of 10 Silver Jets with that hold. Then, I switched to resting the forearm on the flat of my open palm, and that seemed to work the best. So, at the end of all the other pellets I returned and re-shot a group with Silver Jets. It was slightly smaller.

Kevin, this one’s for you. My target set up on my nightstand!

The test
The test will take another entire report to cover, so plan on reading it on Monday.