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

Small things have a way of defining my life, and this is a story about one of them. When I was about 12, I bought a copy of the 1948 Shooter’s Bible in a used bookstore. It was full of guns, and I couldn’t get enough information about them back then. Unfortunately, the wonderful books I would discover on the subject like Sixguns by Keith and Yours Truly, Harvey Donaldson were still decades in the future — in the latter case, more than a half century. But, I had that old Shooter’s Bible — a book I still own, by the way. I read it and re-read it, unwittingly but also unerringly committing the pages to memory.

1948 Shooters Bible
This original 1948 Shooter’s Bible was my constant companion in my youth.

Then, in the 1960s, when I was in college at San Jose State College (years before it became a university), I walked into an old sporting goods store in downtown San Jose, California, one day and stumbled upon what I thought was a time capsule — two new-in-the-box Sharpshooter catapult pistols whose design and specifications I’d committed to memory a decade earlier. Imagine my shock to learn that these two relics from what I thought was the 1940s timeframe were still for sale at the original 1948 price of $4.25!

Sharpshooter page
Sharpshooter pistols had a whole page of their own in “The Shooter’s Bible.”

The two Sharpshooters on the left are newer, post-WWII guns with plastic parts. The two on the right are from the 1940s. Details look similar this far away; but when you look closer, you can see how the guns were cheapened.

metal Sharpshooter launcher
The metal launcher from before the war is tough. It seems to last indefinitely. As it’s pulled back, it lifts the sear (the metal piece on the right) that allows one lead ball to drop from the linear magazine into the launcher seat. Yes — this is a repeater!

plastic Sharpshooter launcher
The post-war launcher is made of plastic. It works the same as the metal launcher, but it wears out quickly.

Thirty-plus years would pass before I came to the realization that these were not the same pistols that were in that old book…that the company making them had been bought and sold numerous times, and that the guns I saw in the store were the 1965 versions of the gun, albeit made by someone else and to different manufacturing standards. They looked like the Sharpshooters of the 1940s, but they had plastic parts in key places. As a result, they didn’t hold up very long when used.

When I became a serious airgunner later in life, I rediscovered the original Sharpshooter pistols. These were the real deal with all metal parts that are still functioning today. What a difference they are from the cheapened guns! Although the two look very similar, the older ones are the Diana 27s of the catapult gun world, while the plastic-parts guns are the Chinese wannabes.

The Sharpshooter pistol is a repeater. The No. 6 shot lead balls lie in a channel on top of the gun. They’re held in place by the front sight, which simply slides out of the channel to load the gun. A metal trough is provided to funnel the balls into the channel, then the sight is pressed back into place. There’s room for approximately 50 shot in the channel.

When the launcher is pulled to the rear, stretching its rubber band, it pushes up the sear that moves out of the way to allow one shot to fall from the channel into the launcher seat. Only one piece of shot at a time can be loaded. What the user does is pull the launcher straight back until the sear catches the trigger, cocking the gun. That holds the launcher in place until the pistol is shot.

Sharpshooter front sight in place
The front sight holds the lead shot in the magazine channel on top of the gun. It’s held in by tension, alone. Look close, and you can see some of the shot in the channel.

Sharpshooter front sight removed
The front sight simply slides out of the channel for loading.

Sharpshooter ready for loading
The metal loading trough is attached to the magazine channel and shot is poured in.

The front sight can be adjusted up and down by a small amount. That’s the elevation adjustment. The rear sight can be slid from side to side a small amount because it’s held in place by 4 small metal tabs that form a crude dovetail.

Sharpshooter rear sight detail
The rear sight slides from side to side under the 4 metal tabs.

How much value can be put into an inexpensive gun?
I think the old Sharpshooter pistol is the perfect example of putting value into an inexpensive gun. I think it shows why people love designs like the Soviet AKM rifles. Nobody argues that the AKMs are cheap to build — but the thought that went into them before the first piece of metal was cut is where the investment is. That’s what the Sharpshooter pistol shows us — that thought given to a design before it’s executed can be a wonderful thing.

Sharpshooter targets
With the older Sharpshooter pistols, you also got a target like this. It attaches to the box that becomes the shot trap.

Sharpshooter target stamp
You also got a rubber stamp to make unlimited paper targets!

Sharpshooter sales receipt
It’s hard to read, but this sales receipt for one of the old guns is from March 23, 1942.

What is this about?
This report has started like a history lesson about a vintage airgun, but that’s not what it is. I don’t even think I’m going to go in that direction, though I will test it in similar ways to other vintage guns on which I’ve reported. But that isn’t what got me started thinking about this gun.

I was at the Roanoke airgun show, sitting by myself when my eyes fell on a vintage Sharpshooter pistol. I was bored, so I loaded a few shot into it and fitted a rubber band. Then, I cocked the gun and fired it at a styrofoam coffee cup sitting on a chair about 12 feet from me. I hit the cup once, then twice then a third time, and I realized that you don’t have to have 50 foot-pounds of energy to have fun with an airgun. I doubt this gun has more than one five-thousandth that much energy (a 1-grain shot going 60 f.p.s. has 0.01 foot-pounds of energy), yet it’s pleasing to see it hit a small target some distance away. In some of the vintage ads, there were claims of being able to hit houseflies at 16 feet with these guns.

More power!
That got me thinking about springs, and how new airgunners think more powerful springs will increase the energy of an airgun. We know from testing that they often don’t. The rubber band of a catapult gun is a type of spring. What kind of “spring” will have the greatest effect on the velocity of the gun — a big thick one or several smaller ones?

Think about this — which spring will toss you higher: A normal one found on a pogo stick, or a coil spring from a car suspension? The pogo stick spring works well already because it’s been selected to work within the parameters of weight for which the pogo stick is designed. The car spring is rated to many hundreds of pounds, which makes it more powerful, but not a better choice for a pogo stick.

pogo stick
The spring on a pogo stick was selected to work with the weight range for which the stick was design.

automobile suspension spring
There’s no argument the car suspension spring is more powerful than the pogo stick spring. But will it improve the operation?

Sure, you say, it’s obvious the bigger spring won’t work as well on the pogo stick, or even at all. But what if it wasn’t that big? What if it was only a little larger than the spring that’s on the pogo stick now? The answer is that it might work, but maybe not as well as you think. The pogo stick spring was chosen to do its job with weights inside a certain range, and a heavier spring may not improve things.

The same holds true for airguns. Whether we’re talking about coiled mainsprings driving pistons or just compressed air inside a reservoir, there’s an optimum that works well with the other parts of the gun; and anything outside that range is probably not going to work as well.

I’m going to examine that thought using the Sharpshooter catapult pistol.