by B.B. Pelletier
Rick’s shooting his Crosman Quest spring-piston breakbarrel rifle. Since this photo was taken, Rick says he’s replaced it with an RWS 34 springer and says it’s a much better gun.
Today, Vince takes us through a test between a vintage Daisy No. 25 pump-action BB gun and its modern equivalent. In his usual distinctive way, Vince shows us how much has changed through the years, as well as what’s remained the same.
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Now, take it away, Vince!
The Daisy 25 pump BB gun, despite the endeavors of the popular-but-technically-flawed movie, A Christmas Story, remains in many ways the iconic Daisy. In my mind, it’s forever thus enshrined. I can still remember one sitting in my uncle’s basement gun cabinet — and that somehow, in comparison, my cousin’s Red Ryder and my own Daisy model 1894 looked distinctly toy-ish. Maybe it was the wooden pump handle and way the really long cocking arm blended into the front of the triggerguard. Perhaps it was the duck hunting scene pictured on the action. WOW — you could hunt DUCKS with that thing!
I never got to try out that particular gun, and it wasn’t until about 5 years ago that I finally got my hands on a used No. 25 from Gunbroker — which was promptly returned to the seller. “Good working order” is not an accurate description when the shot tube is missing.
The NEXT one I got was a plastic-stocked gun from the mid-50s, I think, and I FINALLY got to shoot one. It was all over the place. And I mean ALL OVER THE PLACE. Accuracy was poor, even by BB gun standards. Off it went to its next appreciative owner.
A short time later, I was meandering through a local sporting goods store and saw — GASP! — a brand new No. 25 on the shelf. The price was under $40, so I bit.
I got it home, and even though the gun followed the design of the No. 25 rather faithfully, somehow it didn’t quite seem right. Don’t know if was the Chinese paint, the Chinese metalwork, the Chinese wood or the Chinese plastic trigger with safety or just the fact that it said “MADE IN CHINA” on the gun. But it didn’t seem to be a real No. 25; and, even though it didn’t shoot badly, it never seemed much different than a contemporary Red Ryder.
So this latest version of the venerable No. 25 went quickly back to sitting on a shelf. A while later, however, ANOTHER No. 25 came into my hands. This one was a very early one, this — an Alpha to compliment the Omega I already had. Well, not QUITE the Alpha, but darned close – manufacturing details seem to place this gun between 1916 and 1924.
Gee. Now I’ve got a pair of No. 25 BB guns at the extreme ends of the manufacturing spectrum, their births being separated by something like 90 years and 12,000 miles. It sure sounds like a comparison test has been decreed by the Fates, and far be it from me to oppose those irresistible cosmic forces.
What is it with the Chinese and that orange-colored wood? They’re virtually identical in length at 37 inches. Oddly enough, the newer one is heaviest at 3.50 lbs., with the old one coming in 7 oz. lighter. That extra length in the cocking arm has something to do with it. The old one is blued, while the newer one is painted.
Given their disparity in origin there are going to be some detail differences. A couple show up in the top rear view of the actions.
The old one has a ramp-adjutable rear sight that sits a bit further away from the shooter’s eye, which makes it easier to focus. The new one is screw-adjustable, and it flips to present either a notch or a peep sight to the shooter. Another obvious addition is the additional strap extanding from the rear of the action to the top of the stock’s pistol grip. I imagine Daisy had some cracking issues to handle. [Editor’s note: This strap was added to the 1930 version of the gun that was just prior to the engraved 1936 version. Once added, Daisy never removed the strap again, despite there being 20 years before plastic stocks replaced wooden ones.]
Speaking of handles
The handle on the newer gun is further forward. This was done when they lengthened the cocking arm (in the 1920s, I believe) to reduce cocking effort. On our examples, there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference. Other detail differences include the mounting of the front pump handle guide and the shape of the fixed front sight.
Although I’m not planning to do a teardown as part of this writeup, I can show you the shot tubes, since they’re regularly removed anyway. The shot tubes are the true barrels of the No. 25. They screw into the outer sheetmetal housing that most people refer to as the barrel.
They load the same and work the same, but obviously are made a bit differently and certainly don’t look interchangeable — there’s a cast metal breech base on the newer one.
Finally, we can see what the plain actions looked like before Daisy started decorating them. Details in the triggerguard and trigger construction are pretty obvious, especially the addition of that ungainly safety on the newer one.
Let’s start shooting
OK, tour’s over. If I’m gonna shoot these things, I need to shoot something through them — and they do have different appetites. The old one is strictly for lead shot only. If I load it, steel shot will probably come out the other end — but the feed and holding mechanism relies on the softness of the lead, and using steel shot will likely booger things up. Specifically, this rifle was made for the old .175″ air rifle shot that Daisy used to market.
Key phrase being “used to.” Daisy doesn’t make it anymore, and it was suggested to me that the closest thing we have today seems to be Beeman Perfect Rounds, which just happen to measure .0.175″ across. Picking food for the modern one is easy — it’s a Daisy, so it gets Daisy zinc-plated BBs. Tom has found them to be the better ones these days, and I’m generally finding the same thing myself.
I’m using the normal 15 foot BB-gun distance, and firing three groups of 5 shots each:
Two sets of groups — the vintage 25 on the left and the new gun on the right. Vintage gun groups measure 1.41 inches, 1.41 inches and 1 inch. New gun groups measure 0.70 inches, 1.28 inches and 1.38 inches.
Not too much difference, really, other than the lead BB’s are easier to score. In fact, it’s the newer gun that averages slightly better. That’s a bit of a surprise, as the older gun certainly shows a nicer sight picture to my eye because the rear leaf is further away — and I really think that the Beeman Perfect Rounds are more uniform than Daisy BBs. For these reasons, I would have expected more consistent grouping from grandpa.
One nice thing about the newer Daisy is the way the rear sight flips from a leaf to a peep. Will that tighten the groups?
The peep sight doesn’t really make things better. In fact, they’re slightly worse than the groups shot with the rear notch sight. The notch is the best to use for me.
Now, let’s skip back to those lead BBs in the older gun. As I said, I was expecting them to be more accurate. Heck, they sure oughta be, given their price. And how much more expensive are they? I have no idea, because they seem to be discontinued. They ARE available direct from H&N, however — but they’re $16 per 500. Crazy indeed, because you can still buy .22LR ammo for that price. [Editor’s note: Gamo .177-caliber round lead balls are still available for a lot less than the H&N balls.]
This leaves me with one more thing I gotta try. Let’s say you have a vintage 25 just like I have, and you want to shoot it with some sort of frequency. Or you let your grandson try it, who then lets the can of round lead balls slip out of his hand and empties your 3-cents-a-shot ammo into the grass. There’s no doubt about it — if you’re gonna use a BB gun the way BB guns were intended to be used, you’re gonna go broke unless you have stock in the lead forming industry. So, why not just use steel BB’s?
As Tom explained it, the old shot tubes have a “pinch” in the tube near the breech that would keep the shot from rolling out when the muzzle is pointed down. If we switched to steel ammo, it would probably work for a while, but eventually we’d run the risk of that pinch being worn down. Do we REALLY want to risk an irreplaceable part on an antique BB gun, just so we can temporarily save a few bucks on BBs?
But there’s another solution, because neither Daisy nor the Chinese really have a vested interest in altering things just for the heck of it. Obviously, the shot tube assemblies from each gun LOOKS different, and some construction details have changed. But what happens when you actually try to screw the tube from the newest gun into the old one?
You get what’s called “a perfect fit.” Yup…100 years apart in design, and not even the 7/16″ National Coarse thread at the bottom of the tube has changed. Time to see how this works.
As you can see, it’s slightly worse than the newer gun with this same tube, but so close as to be virtually identical. And it’s still slightly better than the original tube with Beeman ammo. Best of all, the gun fed and fired flawlessly.
I did a chrony comparison of these guns and found that that the early model seems to have lost some of its zing. Shooting it with the lead balls gave me the following numbers:
The new one (shooting much lighter steel BBs) is better, but still under the advertised velocity of 350 fps:
So, exageration is hardly unique to air rifle manufacturers! Lastly I tried the old gun with the new shot tube:
In both strings with the old gun, we see a very definite downward curve in velocity the more it’s shot. Not sure why that is; and given the gun’s age, I’m not entirely surprised. Could be the seal or the spring — but it matters little, as it won’t be seeing too much use.
So, there you have it. The old gun, firing precision ammunition a gazillion times more expensive than cheap BBs is no more accurate than a new one. The old gun, with an old spring and an old seal, might not have the power of the new one. The old gun can be updated with new parts to shoot cheap BBs, but it won’t shoot much different from a new one when you do that.
From all this, you can draw your own conclusions. It’d be easy to say “Wow! Home run for Daisy!” and pat them on the back for bringing this model back to life. And, from a cursory glance at the innards, it’s obvious that this really IS a genuine Model 25, with an internal design substantially unchanged in almost a century. If shootin’ fun is what you’re after, this one gives away nothing to the vintage model.
But is there more to it than that? For me, I can say that it’s pretty obvious that the new gun has certainly succumbed to some serious homogenization. Compared to, say, a contemporary Red Ryder, there’s just no personality to differentiate it…not even a cosmetic one, really. The metalwork, the cheesy wood finish (cheddar, specifically) and price are all in the same ballpark. Couldn’t they stain the wood a nice, dark brown? Or up the power a bit? Or SOMETHING? I know there has to be a lot of commonality among products like this, but come on — whatever happened to the virtues of “diversity”?
But this is getting a bit off-topic. The new Model 25 is a decent BB gun, and functionally gives away nothing to the old one. If you can get past the compromises that seem to be imposed by the current manufacturing climate, there’s no reason not to enjoy it.
[Editor’s note: One thing strikes me about the velocities Vince got. The vintage Daisy No. 25 seems to be performing like it’s lacking oil. Or at least that’s how an old gun behaves when it needs to be oiled. No doubt, it’s a bit tired after all those years, but Vince: Did you oil the gun before testing?]