by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier

Today’s report is for those readers who are coming to this blog to find out what airguns are all about. We try to keep things open and free on this blog so you can ask any questions you might have at any time. There’s no need to remain on topic, like many forums demand.

I’m seeing two different types of new readers these days. The first is a shooter with a lot of firearms experience behind him. He knows his way around guns, but he’s heard some interesting things about these modern adult airguns and is curious to learn more.

This person already has a good foundation in the shooting sports, so a lot of things will seem very familiar. He will understand about the effects of weather conditions when shooting. He knows the importance of a good sight picture and trigger control. So he is already well-grounded on the basics, yet there will be some things that completely surprise him.

The other new reader is new to the shooting sports. Maybe he chose airguns as a good entry point for getting into shooting; or maybe, for various reasons, airguns are all he ever wants to shoot. This reader is trying to learn the basics, as well as trying to keep up with the reviews and tests we do.

What can I do? Make things clear
The first thing I can do for both these readers is recognize who they are and try to write to keep them both engaged and interested. That sounds difficult but turns out to be a blessing in disguise because the veteran shooter may understand some things differently than I do.

I’ll give you an example of what I mean. Yesterday, I was on the range with a shooter I don’t know and we talked about shot groups. He was surprised that I shoot 10-shot groups. He said that he shoots 3-shot groups to determine accuracy. To adjust his scope, he shoots only one shot. He’d never heard of Dr. Joseph Juran’s analogy of the management technique where all changes to a system are based on a single observation.

Chasing the ever-increasing failure rate
Dr Juran developed a short demonstration of the absurdity of using a single data point to make corrections to a system. One person stands on a chair and looks down at a piece of paper on the floor beneath him. There’s a dot on the paper. Looking straight down, the person holds a lead pencil to his nose and drops it, hoping to hit the dot. Another person we’ll call a “data gatherer” then notes how far from the dot the pencil hit the paper and records that information in X-Y coordinates. The paper has a grid pattern on it for this purpose. That information is then given to a group of people in a separate room who use it to prepare instructions for how to move the paper to correct for the error — so the pencil will strike the dot on the next try. Those instructions are then given to another worker, who must follow the instructions exactly to reposition the paper.

This experiment is repeated several times: drop the pencil, note the impact point, prepare the correction instructions and move the paper. After 5 or 6 iterations, the dot has been moved so far from the impact point that it is impossible to even hit the paper with the pencil!

Then the entire group of people is assembled to critique the experiment. They see that by reacting to a single data point, all their corrections did was move the dot farther from where the pencil impacted! For some people, this is a real eye-opener because it flies in the face of what they thought was true.

And, when you adjust your scope based on one pellet hole, that’s exactly what you’re doing — moving the dot based on a single observation.

Dr. Juran used this demonstration in his management classes when he taught the process that is known today as Japanese Management. This lesson is applicable to both the new shooter and the veteran who’s been doing it this way for decades. Even though both shooters are at different levels of experience, they can still be interested in the same things.

Behaviors that are peculiar to airguns
Both shooters can also benefit from learning about things like the artillery hold. What the new shooter learns is obvious, but it’s the veteran shooter who stands to gain the most from this lesson. He’s been holding his firearms tightly all his life, and it’s worked well until now. How is he to know that a lightweight Gamo spring-piston rifle will have to be handled like fresh eggs, if his most recent experience has been with a 7mm Remington Magnum that kicks like crazy? If he were to hold that rifle loosely, it would kick his teeth out! But we all know that the Gamo breakbarrel will not perform unless it’s held softly. So, this is a huge lesson for all new airgunners — experienced or otherwise.

We also know that diabolo pellets are partially stabilized by spin and partially by air drag. We’re currently conducting an investigation to determine what the optimum twist rate of rifling might be. I think we’ll discover that the effects of twist rates vary with velocity, like anything else. And that leads me to my summary comment for today.

Think like a buffalo hunter
I’ve read about the buffalo hunters who operated in the Plains States from around 1872 through 1880. They used single-shot rifles and tried to make each shot count because they were running a business that had very tight margins. Each round of ammunition cost about 25 cents to prepare, and each buffalo taken was worth between $2.50 to $3.00. The runners, as they called themselves, employed a small team of workers that had, as a minimum, a driver, two or more skinners and the hunter. The driver drove the large wagon that carried the buffalo hides, plus he was the cook; the skinners removed and preserved the hides (not much to it, other than scraping the insides and then rolling them very tight); and the hunter scouted the herd the evening before the hunt, reloaded his ammunition then did all the shooting the next day.

The goal of all these people was to make as much money as possible in the shortest time. The work was horrible, long and very tiring. Plus, there was always a threat of Indian attack. The hunter tried to shoot as many animals as his skinners could handle in one day, and he wanted to keep his costs to a minimum. The entire outfit — horses, wagons, equipment and supplies — was provided by the hunter.

The successful buffalo hunter had only one load for his rifle. One bullet, one charge of powder. And his cartridge had to perform well for him to hope to make a profit. That shooter is the one we want to emulate. He didn’t know what a chronograph was, yet his bullets did what they were designed to do and went where he aimed them.

I know there are things other than accuracy. In fact, accuracy is only the beginning. But without it, there can be no beginning, so that’s where I spend most of my time.