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

This report covers:

• What airgun manufacturers ought to do
• Fix only what is broken
• What do we need next?
• Accurate barrel
• Good sights
• Better triggers
• Better bedding
• Take out the vibration
• Lighten the cocking effort!

When I first encountered the new Benjamin Trail Nitro Piston 2 at the SHOT Show this year, I remember how impressed I was that an airgun company was able to put so many spot-on innovations into a single airgun. One or two of them, perhaps, but not all of them.

Yesterday, I read two comments that started the wheels spinning in my head. One was from a new blog reader named jerbob, who told me his Air Venturi Bronco is more accurate with open sights than with a scope because the barrel moves sideways at the pivot point. Since both the front and rear open sights are mounted on the barrel, it doesn’t matter when it moves from side to side — sighting will correct for that. But a scope mounts on the spring tube behind the barrel; so when the barrel moves, the sight doesn’t and that throws the accuracy off.

After that, blog reader Gunfun1 asked what will be the next thing to improve accuracy in airguns. That catalyzed the thought for today’s report. This is an open letter to the airgun industry. It could be titled, “What they ought to do.”

Fix only what’s broken
When I worked on the Air Venturi Bronco, I noticed that the rifle it’s based on (also called the Mendoza RM-10 Bronco) was accurate, so I didn’t touch the barrel. It also had a wonderful two-stage trigger, so I left that alone.

On the other hand, it had fiberoptic open sights, which I changed into plain sights, because shooters who shoot targets prefer them. Fiberoptics are okay for close-range shooting, but for precision — they’re not good. The muzzlebrake on the rifle was too short, so it was doubled in length. An oil hole on the spring tube was not drilled, eliminating the temptation to over-oil the gun and cause detonations. Finally, the horrible wood stock that rendered the gun unsalable in the U.S. was swapped for a Western-style stock that’s an island of style in a sea of lookalike breakbarrels.

In short, the original rifle had good points that were retained, but it also had bad points that were eliminated.

What do we need next?
This is the open letter portion of today’s report. It’s a free consultation on airgun design, so you can see what airgunners want and are willing to pay for. And that last part is important because it’s no good to give someone what they say they want if they have neither the means nor the inclination to buy one.

1. We need an accurate barrel. American barrelmakers have the ability to make accurate barrels, if they would just pay attention to what works. What makes a barrel accurate is the following:

• Uniformity
• Dimensions that compliment the available pellets
• Stability

Uniformity means the inside dimensions of the barrel are held to close tolerances throughout the barrel’s length. How the barrel is rifled can affect this: Rifle it too fast. Or use the wrong barrel steel. Or use poorly made or worn tooling (buttons and broaches) that will cause the tolerances to grow. But there’s something that can be done to improve almost any barrel, and that is to choke it at the muzzle. Pay attention to a uniform crown, too, and the barrel will benefit.

Pellets come in certain standard sizes, so the barrels for them should, too. But there are barrels on some guns that are so oversized they have no chance for accuracy. They may be very uniform and even have a good choke; but if they’re too large on the inside, they aren’t going to work.

The barrel needs to be stable at certain times. On a spring gun, it has to be stable when the breech is locked. So put the means of tightening the barrel lockup into the gun. In short — stop using pins at barrel pivot joints. Use bolts that can be tightened and give some thought to the side-to-side play at the breech. An airgun doesn’t have to cost $200 for the breech to lock up tight if some thought is given to the design before it’s produced.

On a precharged pneumatic, the barrel has to be free from the influence of the reservoir. If the barrel moves as the reservoir flexes with changes to internal pressure, the gun will never be accurate.

2. We need good sights. They don’t have to be expensive, but they do have to be good. This is such a large area of concern that I can’t cover it in several blogs, so I’m not going to be specific now. What I will say, and what has to happen, is for the manufacturer to shoot their own guns and see how good (or bad) their sights are. Not just how they look when passing the gun around the conference table, but when you try to shoot a tight group at long range. How do the sights help or hinder you then?

3. We need better triggers. Fortunately, I see some companies doing something about this. AirForce Airguns introduced their new trigger a year ago; Hatsan, Gamo and Crosman have all come out with better triggers in recent times. But there is still room for improvement. No one can afford to produce a Rekord-type trigger these days, but the two-bladed unit in a Mendoza rifle is pretty nice. If your company employs an engineer on staff, make better triggers part of his or her job. If you don’t employ one full-time, consider hiring consultants.

4. We need better bedding. This complaint is as old as airguns. Airguns shoot loose. You have to tighten the screws often. And the screws often bear unevenly on wood stocks, compressing them so they will never get tight. Why is that? Why hasn’t some company come up with a way to bed an airgun action so it doesn’t move around? Maybe AirForce has done it by eliminating the stock altogether; but for conventional guns, the problem persists.

5. Take out the vibration! Crosman just gave us a huge lesson in removing vibration from a gas-spring gun. To see what they did, read my first 2014 SHOT Show report. It’s obvious this can be done with careful design. It’s a cheap way to make a gun better, but those who don’t want to do it will say they can’t hold manufacturing tolerances that close. Well — Crosman did it. I you look at what they did, the tolerances aren’t that close! Stop making excuses for what can’t be done and start figuring out how to do it!

6. Lighten the cocking effort! This one is key, but you’ll never get a focus group of shooters to say it. But what do they buy after learning their lessons with hard-cocking spring rifles? They buy guns they can shoot — over and over. Let the youngsters play with the portable exercise machines, real airgunners who shoot a lot and like their sport come back to guns they can handle.

That’s what I think. We don’t need a lot of gee whiz technology. What we need is some serious attention to detail.