B.B.’s bag of tricks for twitchy airguns
by B.B. Pelletier
Before we begin, I’d like to share my Christmas with you. I didn’t get any airguns or firearms this year, but I did get a wonderful reloading tool. It’s a Pope-style capper and decapper for priming and depriming cartridge cases while at the rifle range. You do that with the old-fashioned target rifles like my Ballard, and I’ve wanted to do it for a long time. But until I actually saw the tool and held it in my hands, I had no appreciation of how neat and handy it was!
This loading tool is a Pope-style capper/decapper. It’s cartridge-specific and very handy to use. This one is for .38-55.
This will help me shoot the Ballard in the style it was shot when the gun was new. It also eliminates a lot of extra clutter needed to load the rifle. I’m still waiting for a custom bullet mold that I’ll need before I start shooting the Ballard again (it’s on the way but didn’t arrive in time for Christmas).
Edith, however, did get a gun from Santa. It’s a full-sized Glock made of milk chocolate! It came in a pistol case and really looks the part. Edith calls it death by chocolate!
A chocolate Glock that came in a hard pistol case. Edith loves it! She also got a chocolate hand grenade. Death by chocolate takes on a whole new meaning.
I hope all of you will share your gun-related gifts with us in the comments. It’s like being invited to your homes for Christmas. Now, let’s get into today’s report.
As much testing as I do, I run into lots of airguns that are difficult to shoot. Spring-piston airguns are the hardest to shoot as a class of gun. The preponderance of them are breakbarrels; and of those, the more powerful ones are harder to shoot accurately than any other kind of rifle — firearm or air-powered. Naturally, I always begin by using the artillery hold, but often something more is needed to get the rifle shooting its best. Let me show you what I do when this happens.
Adjustments to the artillery hold
I’m assuming that ya’ll know about the artillery hold; for those who don’t, here’s a brief article and video that explain it.
Most of what I’m about to say is also in the video. If the normal artillery hold isn’t working, try resting the rifle on the backs of your fingers. This provides a narrower fulcrum and often removes some of the randomness you get from holding the rifle on the flat of your palm.
Whether the rifle is resting on my palm or the backs of my fingers, I usually start out with the rifle rested as far back toward the triggerguard as possible. If I can’t get accuracy there, I slide the fulcrum forward until the groups tighten. One word of warning about using the backs of the fingers: many rifles are heavy enough to hurt when rested this way. Though it may prove to be accurate, it may also be inconvenient.
Disregard the artillery hold
In very few cases over the years, I’ve found certain guns that needed to be held tight — like a deer rifle. These are extremely rare; but if all else fails, grab on for dear life and pull the stock tight into your shoulder.
Clean the barrel
This is an old standby that simulates breaking-in the barrel. And you only do it with steel barrels. Brass barrels should never be cleaned this way. Run the correct caliber brass or bronze bore brush loaded with J-B Non-Embedding Bore Cleaning Compound through the barrel 20 times in both directions. You need to use a solid or sectional cleaning rod for this, as a pull-through will take forever.
When cleaning rifles that have sliding breeches like the TX200 and the RWS Diana 48, you’ll want to use a pistol bore brush because they’re shorter. They will clear the breech of the gun when loaded from the muzzle, making the reverse cleaning stroke much easier. You really should use a brass pistol brush, because nylon pistol brush bristles aren’t stiff enough to properly clean rust deposits from a steel rifle barrel.
This works sometimes because barrels are either full of foreign material and dirt, or they’re actually rusted. Bluing solutions will cause a barrel to rust in storage and shipment. I used to clean all the Lothar Walther barrels at AirForce after they came back from the bluer, and you would be surprised at what came out! I always left them with a film of a commercial product called Rustlick that we bought by the gallon, yet sometimes even then they would continue to rust. You never can be sure without cleaning the barrel.
If you just shoot your gun when it’s new, eventually the pellets will clean the barrel for you. They’ll also remove any burrs that are standing proud of the rifling. But to speed up the process, nothing can beat J-B Bore Paste!
Tighten the stock screws
This ought to be your first step even before attempting to shoot the gun. But we forget or we grow complacent. Many of the newer guns are designed with stock screws that just don’t loosen as much as they used to, and some companies like Gamo apply Locktite to their stock screws. Still, give those screw heads a try.
This task goes much better if you use something like a professional screwdriver set. I owns several sets like this, and they’re in constant use at my house. You’ll find that one set will have that extra-narrow Phillips bit you need for certain jobs, while another will have the wide, fat slotted bit for those huge screw heads you sometimes encounter.
Tighten the scope screws
You would not believe how many times I’ve encountered loose scope screws! It happens on firearms as well as airguns. And it’s always a detriment to accuracy. To find out if the screws are loose, I do two things.
First, I grab the gun by the scope and shake it. If the mounts are loose, this will tell you immediately that something’s wrong. But to be absolutely certain, I do physically check every screw. I’ve had the embarrassing situation arise that after doing a big article that had an accuracy section, when I’m removing the scope I discover one or more loose screws. That always makes me wonder if the gun shot as well as it could have.
The place where this is especially evasive is on mounts that are adjustable. The adjustment screws that oppose each other (I’m thinking of the B-Square design now) are often not under tension. That can lead to a problem even when the mounts are tight on the gun and the scope is tight in the rings.
On a breakbarrel air rifle, the breech is the area of greatest concern as far as accuracy problems go. A pivot pin that’s too loose can cause groups to open up, and a breech seal that stands too high can cause inconsistent closing of the breech. In fact, this is such a sensitive area that I pay particular attention to it when setting up a rifle for accuracy testing. If the barrel wobbles on the pivot pin, as so many Chinese-made breakbarrels do today, there’s little that can be done (outside of major gunsmithing) to tighten the breech. A gun with a wobbly barrel is not going shoot accurately regardless of how tight it may feel.
Along that line, someone asked about the Whiscombe I shoot. It’s both a breakbarrel and an underlever. The underlever cocks the mainsprings, but the barrel breaks open for loading. John Whiscombe designed a very positive method of enclosing this breech so it cannot get loose while the gun is operated. That’s why this spring rifle shoots almost as accurately as a PCP.
Here you can see the Whiscombe breech broken open. There are two chisel detents holding the breech shut, and a bar welded to the underside of the barrel is clamped by them. Those chisels will be on top of the bar when the breech is closed. The barrel opens and closes independent of the rifle being cocked.
You also have to look at the breech seal. Not because the gun leaks air at the seal, because that’s relatively rare, but because the breech seal often stands so high that it doesn’t allow the breech to close the same every time. So, a flat breech seal is not as much of a problem as a tall seal might be. When this is the problem, and it’s relatively rare, then you need to reconfigure the breech seal, which can take some time. I don’t have a handy rule of thumb guide for this, but the height of the breech seal can affect accuracy when it gets too high.
These are the things I do when accuracy isn’t what it should be. As I said in the beginning, the problems happen mostly with spring-piston guns; and of those, the powerful breakbarrels are the worst of all. If a CO2 gun or a pneumatic is inaccurate I suspect the barrel before anything else; and if the gun is a cheap one, it may just not have a good barrel to begin with.
I used to oil my springers a lot more than I do today. I now think over-oiling the compression chamber leads to accuracy problems more than a dry gun.
There may be a few other tricks I know, but these are the ones that come to mind when I think about guns that are difficult.