by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
This report covers:
• The truth is slowly revealed
• A lost love
• A new hope
• The anal airgunner
• Lecture me
Today, I’ll talk about something that has harassed me all my life — reality and the need to compromise. At the earliest age, I remember wanting a gun that held infinite bullets (we played cowboys in the early ’50 and we called cartridges bullets back then). The television cowboys never needed to reload. Why should I?
As a pre-teen, I discovered the M1 Garand and its .30-06 cartridge that I was certain could penetrate 10 feet of steel armor! I never actually saw a cartridge outside of a gun magazine; but in pictures, the darned thing looked like a Redstone rocket (a stone-age rocket that existed before the electric light and the internet — look it up) and I just knew there was nothing that could stop it. I read in Classic Comics (always the literary snob) where Frank “Bring ‘Em Back Alive” Buck shot a leopard out of a tree by breaking the branch it was on. And what did he use? A single bullet from a .30-06!
As I eased into my teen years, I bought a gun book by Lucian Cary that I still have today. It showed the awesome .300 Weatherby Magnum that smashed through a big tree, and another one that penetrated a thick sheet of bulletproof glass. Maybe there was something better than a .30-06.
Each of the stages I passed through while growing up opened my eyes a little more to reality. But I remained pretty naive for most of my life. You stick with what works.
In college, I read how Elmer Keith could hit targets at long range with handguns. He stuffed his cartridges (I was reloading by this time and now knew better) with nails and dynamite, and proceeded to make life risky for anything within 400 yards. But Keith had guns I couldn’t get. He shot S&W Triple Locks and customized Colt single-actions that were built to take the stress of his loads. The gun makers were his friends, so S&W gave him a big .357, and Ruger invented the .44 Magnum in his honor. My first-generation Colt SAA could not withstand the same abuse to which he regularly subjected his custom guns.
A lost love
As a youngster, I absolutely loved the shell-shucker Winchester Model 61 slide-action .22 repeater! I got to shoot them several times, but I never could afford one. I settled for an 1890 Winchester pump that did pretty much the same thing, only it did so while looking embarrassingly old-fashioned with its exposed hammer. And the one I could afford had very little finish remaining, plus it wasn’t even a .22 long rifle. It was a .22 Winchester Rimfire (WRF) that cost more per box of 50, yet wasn’t any more powerful. The sweet model 61, on the other hand, took shorts, longs and long rifles in its stride and looked like it was going 100 mph when it was standing still.
But a day finally came when I was able to get a 61! I’d just returned from a 4-year tour in Germany and had a little extra cash. Lo and behold, that was when I discovered that the model 61 struggles to hold all its shots inside an inch at 50 yards! I’d imagined much better, as you may have guessed. No matter, though, because a bitter divorce soon stripped me of all my firearms, reloading equipment and airguns. I didn’t have to look at that LNIB model 61 for very long.
Enough nostalgia. Fast-forward to today and I’ll tell you how things are now. I don’t like compromises, but they seem to pop up everywhere. The M1 Garand, for instance. Sure, it’s an accurate battle rifle, but it’s not really that accurate. Minute-of-soldier for certain, but it’s not for shooting tight groups on paper. Oh, somebody says, what you want is a Garand that’s been worked on! They’ll shoot small groups, alright. Yes, they will, but the better (more accurate) they get, the fussier and less Garand-like they become. When you finally have a Garand that shoots a one-inch group at 100 yards, the darned thing operates reliably with only a few specific loads; and it’s so tight that disassembly for cleaning isn’t recommended. If you doubt me, just ask blog reader Matt61.
There’s a tradeoff between reliability and ultimate accuracy. I’m not talking about the accuracy that lets you hit tin cans at 100 yards. I’m talking about shooting sub-inch 10-shot groups at that distance. When I say reliability, I don’t mean it jams only once in 200 shots. I mean it never jams. I have guns that operate that well, and I’ve had many more that didn’t.
A new hope
While in Germany in the 1970s, I was introduced to the Kartoffel 45. A German hunting acquaintance showed me a 1911 he had found on an abandoned battlefield long after the war ended. It was actually buried in a field and he plowed it up while digging mounds for potatoes — hence the name Kartoffel, which is German for potato. The gun was deeply pitted all over its surface from the rust of many years in the ground. He hammered it apart and cleaned the major parts, plus he replaced everything he could with new parts. The effect was startling. It looked like a gun that might blow up in your hand, yet it functioned like any other Army 1911. Because it was a 1911, all the parts that mattered could be replaced in less than an hour. It could look unserviceable, yet still function perfectly.
Seeing that gun opened my eyes to what’s meant by reliability. I saw the genius of John Browning’s design through the lens of that nearly destroyed, yet perfectly serviceable handgun. When I got back to the States, I knew that a Garand I discovered in a similar pitted condition would also operate just fine. I bought that Garand from a pawn shop that sold it to me with apologies. They felt it was nearly worthless, but I suspected different. When I took it to the range, I was proven right. That old pitted M1 with its rough bore was loose as a goose, yet it never failed to function when fed the military loads for which it was designed.
That told me what’s possible as far as reliability goes, but it said nothing about accuracy. With a lot of additional shooting, I discovered that if I wanted the ultimate in accuracy, I had to give up some reliability. There’s a compromise that balances between the two desired attributes because each one seems to negate the other.
I hate to sound like Captain Obvious, but what you really want is acceptable reliability with an acceptable level of accuracy. And this is where Rainman goes off into a corner, muttering the words to Who’s on first.
Remember years ago when we talked about the stages of an airgunner’s experience? It starts out with the quest for high velocity and ends with self-actualization? Well, I’m older now and have discovered another secret. Live long enough, and your desires start to conform to reality.
What I’m saying is that I now understand why an army would choose a weapon that is extremely reliable but not as accurate as it could be. I appreciate why the Brits revered their SMLE Mk IV. I understand why the Mosin Nagant 91/30 was so long-lived and why the AKM is accepted around the world. It’s because they work, even when they shouldn’t.
I also understand why the United States Marine Corp was so adamant on keeping their 1903 Springfields when the Garand first came out, and why they changed their minds so suddenly after gaining battle experience with the Garand. No battle-ready Garand could hold a candle to a Springfield bolt-action rifle on the target range, but neither could the Springfield keep up with the Garand in war! The Garand was a perfect compromise for its application (at that time — there are better rifles today). The Springfield was very accurate but fell short of the Garand’s firepower. Another compromise.
The anal airgunner
When I worked at AirForce Airguns, one of my friends sent me two standard AirForce reservoirs for his Talon SS and asked me to “balance” them so both would shoot at the same speed when the gun was set to the same power level. He wanted to be able to remove a tank from his gun, attach the other one and continue shooting without changing the power setting.
This was an official request. Obviously, AirForce made the valves in both tanks, and he assumed we would be able to fine-tune them so he could have two tanks that performed exactly the same. He was willing to overlook up to a variance of 10 f.p.s. between tanks. Oh, well — as long as he was reasonable!
I say this with a lot of sarcasm because many of you may be thinking the same thing — if a company makes a valve, surely they can also tune it to do whatever they want? Of course, they can — just as certainly as an infinite number of monkeys with typewriters can write the works of Shakespeare, given enough time.
In the real world, it doesn’t work that way. You can try again and again, and maybe you’ll get two valves to perform the same. Or, maybe, you’ll luck into it on the first try! Better play the lottery if you do! This is why guns that allow you to adjust the airflow, such as the Benjamin Marauder, are so unique. Crosman can’t make all their valves perform the same, but they give you the adjustments to compensate for it.
Okay — lecture me
This is where I will get lectured by some well-meaning readers who know for a fact that it is indeed possible to tune an airgun valve to do exactly what they want. They overlook the 25 hours of time they invest in their project to bring it fruition. In their minds, if it can be done at all, why…it’s possible! Yes, and the United States put several men on the moon in the 1970s, yet they couldn’t do it again today without another costly research program.
Just because a thing has been done once does not mean that it can be repeated. That’s why “The Catch” (referring to Willie Mays remarkable catch of Vic Wertz’s long drive in game one of the 1954 World Series) is so celebrated even today — 60 years later. Or why, when Bob Beaman broke the world long jump record by nearly two feet in the 1968 Olympics, he sailed past the optical scoring device at the end of the sand pit and the jump had to be scored manually.
So something that’s extraordinary can still happen; but when it does, it doesn’t mean the world has changed. The next person to try will probably get the same results everybody else has gotten all along.
My motor has been started by this blog! Can you tell? I just talked to Edith about all the lies and fantasies of gas spring airguns and what Ben Taylor — the Ben in Theoben — taught me about them. Talk about the Emperor’s New Clothes!
Airgunners were lying to themselves about the wonders of the new gas spring technology in the 1990s. Yet, when I started testing my Beeman Crow Magnum and writing about it, a lot of those myths were put to rest. I ended up with egg on my face for more than a year, until Taylor stepped forward and told me I was right. What I learned doesn’t make gas springs any less desirable, but it does reveal that pellets shot from them will not penetrate 10 feet of steel!
Edith said I should write a report about that experience and share it with all of you. Gonna do that next week.