The stuff we do!
by B.B. Pelletier
Shao Lin wins this week’s Big Shot of the Week.
The more I read the old books about shooting and guns written by men who were born in the 19th century, the more I realize how much alike we all are — and I don’t just mean shooters, now. I mean people, in general!
Let’s begin with nicknames or handles. We have some clever ones here on this blog. But are you aware that back in the late 1800s, shooters who posted letters in their favorite shooting publications — which at that time were mostly newspapers — did the same thing?
Names like Medicus and Iron Ramrod shout out from the late 19th century with their concerns that the younger shooters who are getting used to cartridge-loading breechloaders simply do not know the rudiments of shooting like the “real shooters” who grew up with black powder! The new crop of shooters (I’m speaking of late 19th-century shooters, now) have forgotten how to measure a group with string and they want to measure the distance to their targets in yards instead of rods like real shooters do.
Then, there are the experiments they performed. Dr. Mann was the great one for this, and he kept a very compliant Harry Pope busy fashioning the testbeds for his various forays into the arcane world of ballistics. Things like the cylindrical rifle action that allowed Dr. Mann to rotate the action by degrees in a complete revolution, all while the gun was safely snugged down in his 3,000-lb. “Shooting Gibralter” vise. Or the barrel he convinced Pope to rifle after drilling and tapping eight holes through the side of the barrel near the muzzle so Mann could test the effects of releasing gas to the side so it didn’t exit the muzzle with the bullet. Pope had to lay out that rifling job so those pre-drilled and threaded holes ended up in the grooves of his gain-twist rifling and did not cut through any of the eight lands!
I got a call the other day from Dennis Quackenbush, who follows my column in Shotgun News. He became interested in my comments on the rifling twist rate of airgun barrels as it relates to stabilizing those solid pellets that I call bullets. They don’t shoot very well in most airgun barrels because the twist rate of one turn in 16 inches of barrel isn’t fast enough to stabilize them once they exit the muzzle. So, he offered to make me two test barrels — one rifled 1 in 22″ and the other rifled 1 in 13″ — to test what effects the twist rate has on pellet stabilization. I’m going to accept his offer, and we’ll have yet another look at one of the big drivers of accuracy. I’ll also test velocity using the exact same power settings, so we will have a good look at how twist rates affect velocity.
Years ago, Dennis allowed me to cut off one of his smallbore CO2 rifle barrels an inch at a time so I could chronograph the pellets coming out of many different barrel lengths. I reported those results in The Airgun Letter after completing the test, which is why I now have some sense of how long a CO2 barrel needs to be to get maximum velocity.
Then, there’s the famous Cardew experiment from their book, The Airgun From Trigger to Target, where the authors fired a spring-piston rifle in an inert gas environment that didn’t support combustion — all so they could test the power level of a spring-piston rifle that was denied the possibility of dieseling. The fact that they did the experiment was good enough. We learned that all air rifles that shoot above a certain velocity diesel with every shot. But what was really cool was how they did it — by shooting inside plastic bags!
When I worked at AirForce, we had a customer who purchased a .22-caliber Condor, then proceeded to adapt the rifle’s reservoir to a large helium tank. He could then sit at a bench and fire the rifle on pure helium. He claimed to get over 1,500 f.p.s. from his modified rifle. It was useless for anything else, but he didn’t want to do anything other than see how fast it could shoot.
Even my semi-sane buddy Mac bought a 26-inch Weihrauch barrel in .177 just so he could adapt it to his son’s Condor. He was looking for a flat-shooting air rifle and I guess he got it, because his son is now supposed to be able to keep all his shots on the round end of a soda can at 80 yards.
Let us never forget the great pogostick repeating airgun! That one is now in Vince’s protective care, awaiting his verdict on whether or not it can be made operable.
Here’s a problem many shooters have. Their dominant eye is on the other side of their body from the side that dominates the motor skills. The most common is a right-handed person whose has a dominant or master left eye. This can be overcome in a number of ways — including tinkering! Back when Edith was shooting BRV, she discovered that she is left-eye dominant; but Gary Barnes, who made the rifle she competed with, made her an outrigger scope mount that put the scope in line with her left eye. The mount had to be boresighted for just one range; because like the pellet drop, the gun also shot to the left from the shooter’s perspective. No problem in BRV, though, because it was all shot at one distance.
Edith’s outrigger scope mount helped her sight with her left eye while shooting right-handed.
But Edith is far from the first shooter to have this problem. Take a look at the lengths a shotgun maker will go to satisfy his client.
A friend owns this shotgun with a crossover stock. It was made to aid a right-handed shooter who is left-eye dominant.
A couple months ago, I bought an unusual Schmidt-Rubin Model 1911 rifle at a gun show. This one has been carefully transformed into a fine target rifle. I could spend a whole blog on just this one rifle, but here are some highlights. The military stock has been completely reshaped into a target style with a deeply curved pistol grip. The bolt handle that used to be two cones of red plastic (yes, I said plastic — though they may be almost any synthetic, since this is a 1911 rifle) now has a steel ball for a pull. It looks odd but it works. And the front sight is a thing of beauty. A man has taken the time to hand-make a target globe front sight with replaceable inserts. I got only the one insert that’s in the sight now, which is two brass wires arranged like scope reticles. They look crude up close; but last week at the range I put four cast lead bullets in one inch at 100 yards, and that was the first time I ever loaded for this rifle.
Someone converted this Swiss Schmidt-Rubin model 1911 rifle into a target rifle. The stock is fashioned from the original military stock.
He replaced the conventional red synthetic bolt knobs with a steel ball, which he welded to the bolt handle.
The amount of time and care that someone put into making this target sight is amazing! This is where enthusiasts will take the sport when they have the time, motivation and skills.
I remember attending an airgun breakfast sponsored by the NRA at the Annual Meetings in Kansas City. Dennis Quackenbush and I sat on either side of the man who was the CEO of Crosman Corporation at that time. We got onto the subject of all the people who modify Crosman airguns, and the executive said he was surprised that shooters would spend time and money on a $39 airgun. Dennis told him, “Oh, but they do. You sell them the gun for $39 and I sell them $125 worth of accessories. Your guns are keeping me in business!”
From the look on the man’s face, I don’t think he believed us. And from his perspective, maybe he was right. He might sell 50,000 SSP air pistols in a year and Dennis might sell the parts to modify 500 of them in various ways. So, each man had an entirely different perspective on the situation.
As a writer, though, my eye is always on what people are doing, or what they say they want to do. I can’t be interested in a buyer who responds to a point of sale promotion at a discount store, because he may lose interest tomorrow. It’s when he finds his way to this blog through the tanglefoot of the internet and asks that first question that tells me we’re about to gain another potential member in out growing ranks. It’s at that point that my mantra becomes one of flypaper.
Almost anything can be interesting if it’s presented in the right way. And with airguns, one of the right ways is to wow the audience. Make them say to themselves, “I didn’t know that!” If you can do that, we’ll gain a lot of new shooters who are interested in learning.
Another way to attract new people is to help them through the minefield of hype and hyperbolae. The marketing people are doing all they can to attract people to the hobby, but it’s us veterans who will make things inviting enough that they’ll want to stay. And that is what I want, more than anything.