.22-caliber Browning Gold air rifle: Part 4
by B.B. Pelletier
Well, Mac has returned home and left me to finish this report on the Browning Gold breakbarrel by myself. Some wonderful things have happened and I’m going to write another part to this story tomorrow, only I will not link it to this report, because it applies to general airgunning.
What’s happened has come about in many parts. First, we had a comment on Facebook where I was asked if I really meant to include firearms in my comments on the Artillery Hold video. I definitely did, because target shooters use essentially the same hold when they shoot from a bench, if they want to get the best groups. They call it “follow-through” and I call it the artillery hold, and when we use it we are doing many things at the same time. Well, today’s report brought that out as few past reports have, because the Browning Gold is very sensitive to hold.
But I was also reading the Harvey Donaldson book (Yours Truly, Harvey Donaldson) at this time and even he mentions the same thing. If you want accuracy from the bench you must hold your rifle as loosely as possible, even if it’s a .30-06! The object is to let the firearm or airgun move in the way that it wants to, so that when the bullet or pellet exits the muzzle, it (the muzzle) is always in the same place.
So today I’m going to tell you what I did to re-test the Browning Gold, but tomorrow I’m going to expand the subject to encompass all spring-piston airguns. Let’s now turn our attention to today’s subject.
Revisiting the Browning Gold
I said at the end of Part 3 that I felt the Browning Gold needed to be given another chance to excel, and that I would do certain things to ensure that every possible thing was done to help it shoot. First, I would clean the bore with JB-Non-Embedding-Bore-Cleaning-Compound. This I did by running a brass brush loaded with JB bore paste through the bore 20 times in each direction. This rifle’s bore provided the most resistance to this procedure that I have ever experienced. Usually the brush becomes much easier to push after 10-14 strokes have gone through, but although it did get a little easier, there was still great resistance on the last stroke.
Following the cleaning, all residue was removed from the bore and clean patches were run through until they came out clean.
The second thing I did was check the stock screws and of course they were all loose. So I tightened them and checked them during shooting after each five shots. The triggerguard screw did loosen several times again, but the screws in the forearm remained tight for the remainder of the shooting.
I checked all the scope mount screws and they were tight. Now the rifle was ready for the re-test.
H&N Baracuda Match pellets were the best
Another trick I used was to begin with a known good pellet. because Mac had tested several pellets in Part 3 and found the H&N Baracuda Match pellets to be the best, I didn’t waste any time with other pellets. This would also “condition” the bore, for those who say that is an important step to achieving accuracy.
What Mac found was that by holding the rifle on the flat of his open palm placed under the rear of the cocking slot gave the best accuracy, so that was how I began the test. And the first group I got was remarkably similar to the best groups Mac got when he shot the rifle. So I was not able to make any improvement, but I also didn’t do any worse. After I explain how the rest of the test went I will tell you about the special holding technique I mentioned last time. And, no surprise, my technique is identical to the one used by all the benchrest champions back in the 19th and 20th centuries! In other words, nothing has changed.
Back to the test. At this point I was back to the baseline Mac established and wanting to see if I could push the limits forward (achieve better accuracy). I never did, but oh, boy, did I prove a couple things that you will find interesting.
Was it scope shift?
Even shoot a gun and get two groups from the same scope setting? I did with this rifle. And the scope is not to blame, because it was still performing as it should — a fact I proved AFTER shooting the double groups.
What caused my double groups, and probably also causes the ones that you shoot with your rifles, wasn’t a scope shift but a subtle change in the hold. That’s all it took to land the pellets in a tight group an inch away. Most of the time these groups were separated laterally, but once they were vertical, and I will tell you how that happened in a moment.
A group of ten landed in two distinctly separate locations. This is not “scope shift.” It’s the result of a very hold-sensitive rifle being held two different ways, with each hold being repeated very carefully. If the two different holds were not repeated carefully these pellets would be al over the place!
Moving your hand as little as one-quarter-inch or changing the way the rifle balances on your hand is all it takes to shoot a split group like the one above. Fortunately there is a way to cancel any effects.
The “secret” hold
Okay, now let’s hear from Harvey Donaldson, the man who invented the .219 Donaldson Wasp, and who, at 85 years of age, could still put five bullets into a group that measured three-tenths of an inch at 100 yards. Here, in February, 1972, Donaldson is writing to Dave Wolfe, the former editor of Handloader magazine.
I find that a lot of shooters put more pressure on the stock than is necessary. When you can shoot with no pressure you sure have it made. Of course your sandbags will have to be right and one has more trouble with a rifle that has a lot of recoil.
That, my friends, is the artillery hold explained in different terms, except that Donaldson is shooting directly off the bags, and not off his hand. But the essence of the artillery hold is explained in that paragraph.
He gets away with resting directly on sandbags because of the velocity of the centerfire rifles he is shooting. Almost everything he shot went over 3,000 f.p.s., so the bullet was out the muzzle before the barrel started to move. With a spring-piston gun that cannot happen, because the pellet doesn’t start moving until the piston has almost come to a complete stop. The gun has already started moving before the pellet begins its trip down the bore, which is why we airgunners have to take extra pains to allow the gun to follow its own recoil path every time.
How to apply the secret hold
Here is how you apply the secret hold to a sensitive spring gun. After you have the crosshairs on target, close your eyes and relax. Then open your eyes and see where the crosshairs are. If you are right-handed, the chances are they will have moved to the right and up. The opposite for lefties — left and up.
When you see this, adjust your hold until the gun no longer moves when you relax. At that point the gun will shoot the best it is capable of from a rest.
After you practice this for a few hundred times you won’t have to close your eyes anymore. You will be able to relax and just watch the crosshairs move, if they’re going to. They almost always do move, so I go with the times when they move the least of all, remaining inside the bullseye but perhaps moving up just a bit.
What I’ve just described is the true artillery hold, and it’s something more than that. It’s really something called follow-through, in which the shooter is so relaxed that he remains on target for some time after the shot is fired. How many times have you caught yourself popping up like a gopher immediately after taking a shot? You know you aren’t going to hit anything if you do that, yet it’s a bad habit we all have to unlearn. If you think it is difficult for an airgunner, try sitting there and taking it on the chin when you get slugged by a .30-06! Even my gentle .38-55 is still a big old cow about recoil. It will figuratively jam you into a fence and step on your feet and you have to just grin and bear it if you want all the bullets to go to the same place.
Back to the Gold test
I shot and shot, trying different holds and once even resting the rifle directly on the bag. that was the only time I got a vertical shot displacement.
It was very easy to put two or three pellets into the same hole, bit try as I did, I found it impossible to get all ten in the same place. In the end my best group looked a lot like the one Mac shot in Part 3.
Here is what I think this means. Some airguns are not meant to be shot from a bench. The Browning Gold might be one of them. It’s a rifle that needs to be held, just like several other powerful breakbarrel springers I could name. So while it may never turn in a screaming-good group on paper, hunters will find that it delivers on game. That is my impression of this airgun.
Tomorrow I’m going to address how to tell whether an airgun is a shooter before you try it. It’s risky, I know, and I’ll admit that I have made a few huge mistakes over the years, but more often than not I can now tell when a gun will be difficult or easy to shoot accurately.