All guns are not accurate
by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier
This report covers:
• Could it be?
• The test target
• The Emperor’s New Clothes
• Behind the curtain
• The point
This report is for my wife, Edith. She has suggested it many times in the past few years. Today, I’ll try to address it.
Edith tells me that when she worked at a major sporting goods catalog sales company years ago, she was shocked by some of the questions their call center got. The most shocking was when someone would call and say they had just purchased a certain model of firearm and would the call center please tell them what ammunition it used? This didn’t happen just one time — it happened often enough that it made an impression on her.
Folks, the caliber of ammunition is marked right on most new guns sold today, and it’s certainly marked on the box and the owner’s manual. Yet, here was a person with this information in their hand asking what kind of ammo they needed.
Edith has been telling me she believes that many people think all firearms, and airguns by extension, are perfectly accurate. That, if you put the gun’s sights on a target, you will hit it — period!
Could it be?
I had a hard time accepting that until I thought about it. I’ve been around guns all my life, and I’ve been shooting them for more than half a century, so of course I know the score. But could it be possible that some people don’t know that not every gun is accurate? To those people, would the other features like velocity (I’m talking airguns now) and styling be the important things, because accuracy is a given? Is that why marketing departments concentrate on the things that really don’t count for much — colors, camouflage, accessories etc. — because they can’t stand behind the accuracy that isn’t there?
Several things mitigate against today’s person knowing about the accuracy of a gun. Let’s look at the most influential — television and the movies. We all know that these forms of entertainment exaggerate the accuracy of guns. Seldom do they show what’s true, because the story plays better if every shot is fantastic. So, super-spook Jason Bourne falls down a five-story stairwell and shoots the bad guy between the eyes…and he’s running up the stairs with a handgun as he passes him his way down. And Matthew Quigley can hit an oaken bucket a quarter-mile away, shooting a 12-lb. Sharps rifle offhand.
Most people haven’t shot a gun in their lives. Or if they have, it was so long ago they don’t remember much. So, they buy into the Hollywood fiction of infinitely accurate guns.
Why, then, does a man (and I mean nearly EVERY man) walk up to within 15 feet of a paper target on the 25-yard pistol range to shoot 5 shots from his concealed carry revolver? Shouldn’t he be shooting them from his hip, back at the 25-yard line? Don’t bother telling me that snub-nosed revolvers are that accurate. I’m saying that most people think they are. But perhaps they really don’t.
Is it possible that most people KNOW instinctively that most guns are not that accurate, but they refuse to believe it on a social level? In other words an anonymous poster on a chat forum can shoot a quarter-inch group at 50 yards with his Benjamin Marauder, but when you see him in person at the range, he can’t seem to keep them all on the paper? He lies to himself so much that when he is confronted by the truth, he sloughs it off as passé.
Or is there more going on? I knew a man who believed that he was 6 feet 2 inches tall. I am 5 foot 11 inches on a good day, and I could look this man in the eye. We were the same height. Yet nothing could dissuade him from believing that he was 6 foot 2.
I have known people who think that 5 yards is 20 yards. The reason I know better is because I was in the marching band in high school. We had to march a certain number of steps between every 5-yard line on the football field to keep our lines straight while moving. Then, a stint in the Army reinforced it. On tank ranges, I learned to estimate distance out to 1200 yards pretty well.
But without this training some people haven’t got a clue how far certain distances are. They tend to over-estimate the close distances and under-estimate the far ones. So, 50 yards becomes 200 yards and so on. I am not kidding.
When I was a kid in the 1950s, most American cars had speedometers that went up to 120 mph. The cars they were in might not go faster than 90, but seeing that number on an instrument in the dashboard made you feel like it was possible. The manufacturers didn’t come out and say their cars would go that fast. But, if you wanted to believe that your 1956 Chevy 210 with its inline 6 was capable of doing that, they weren’t about to tell you different.
This concept translates directly over to firearms and airguns. Gamo is so proud to tell its customers that such-and-such a rifle will shoot a pellet at up to 1,600 f.p.s. The unknowing customers are thrilled, thinking that the accuracy is a given. Surely no gun company would make a gun that was NOT accurate — would they? That doesn’t make sense! So they get both the accuracy and high velocity. What’s not to like? Yes, there are more than a few people who think that way, and they are the constant targets of presumptive marketing.
But airgun companies do make guns that aren’t accurate. They make a lot of them. In fact, it is the accurate airgun that is the rarity, which is why I place so much emphasis on testing it when I look at a new gun.
If Col. Townsend Whelen said, “Only accurate rifles are interesting,” don’t you think there had to be some inaccurate rifles around to prompt his statement? If Dr. F. W. Mann spent 37 years of his life compiling data that he then reported in his book, “The Bullet’s Flight, From Powder to Target,” don’t you suppose something drove him to do so? He didn’t do it for the money.
Yes, most guns are not that accurate, and, no, I’m not going to get into a discussion of what I mean by accuracy. You either know what it is or else you’re one of those I am referring to in this report. Debating the precise meaning of a subjective term like accuracy is like trying to figure out how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. The player on first base is named Who — end of discussion!
What’s wrong with presumption?
Barrels are not drilled straight. They are not connected in a straight and parallel orientation with the receiver that holds them. Barrels touch the stock and absorb vibrations when the gun fires. Or they touch the reservoir (or are connected by barrel bands) and flex as the reservoir flexes when the internal pressure rises and falls.
If the door on my house moves with changes in temperature and humidity, what prevents a wooden gun stock from doing the same? If it’s touching the barrel as it moves, what do you think happens?
A hundred years ago, most savvy buyers knew that no Colt Single Action revolver ever came from the factory with the sights perfectly aligned. You bought the gun, then went to the range and shot it at a target. You picked the distance you were most interested in.
Then, you bent the front sight blade in the direction opposite where you wanted the bullet to go! Yes, I said bent! In fact, I read a huge article in Gun Digest a few years ago written by a man who made a hydraulic jig that he took to the range just to bend the front sight blades on all his single actions.
In other words, my friends, Colt knowingly sold a handgun that did not shoot to the point of aim! They did so for over a century, and, in fact, are still doing so today. And no one is complaining. In fact, everyone is praising Colt for this wonderful timeless design — this design that has to have its front sight blade bent by the user!
The test target
Here is a misperception that’s a burr under my saddle blanket. Cooper Firearms makes bolt-action rifles that are well-regarded for their accuracy. In fact, the company claims that all of their centerfire rifles are capable of putting 3 shots inside a half-inch at 100 yards. They even supply a test target with each rifle that shows what that rifle did at the factory.
That target has a lot on information on it — the date it was shot, the shooter, the bullet that was used, the powder that was used, the caliber and serial number of the gun that shot it. Curiously, the distance at which the target was shot is missing from the target. That seems odd to me. The company claims all their centerfires shoot 3 shots in a half-inch or less at 100 yards — shouldn’t they proudly display the range at which the target was shot? Its absence makes me wonder.
This is an actual test target that was packaged with a Cooper centerfire rifle. I’ve cropped out the serial number and the other information. Nowhere on this target is given the range it was shot, though the implication is that it was 100 yards.
The other thing that amazes me is that every target Cooper sends out has the group in the center of a small paper target. How do they do that? If the target is really 100 yards distant, are they that good at boresighting — making every group hit the center of the target on the first try? Or does the tester just do a lot of walking?
The Emperor’s New Clothes
I hope the fairytale of The Emperor’s New Clothes is well-known around the world. If not, the point of the story is that sometimes people say they believe things that are not true. And when they act on those beliefs, strange things happen!
When the naked emperor walks by, the little boy shouts, “The emperor isn’t wearing clothes!” and the royal spin-doctor replies, “It isn’t so much that he isn’t wearing any clothes, as he has taken his clothes to a new minimalist peak.”
In management dynamics, this story was modernized into something called The Abilene Paradox. The premise remained the same but was stated more clearly — People will decide on a course of action in a group that each of them disagrees with privately. In short, you have a form of what is called political correctness — the fear of telling the truth because of who it might offend. Don’t rock the boat.
We live in an age where the emperor is walking around naked and being praised for his beautiful new clothes. The M4 rifle continues to be procured by the same army that acknowledges it is a highly specialized weapon that is completely unsuited for general battlefield use. But the procurement contract is in place, and you know how difficult those can be to initiate! Better to buy something you don’t need than to not be able to purchase something at all. At least you’ll have something.
Behind the curtain
Now, I’ll let you peek behind the wizard’s curtain and see the world though my eyes. I get new readers from time to time who come into airguns with their credit cards in hand and their minds made up. They want that new Bow of Hercules breakbarrel that shoots .25-caliber pellets at 1,000 f.p.s. They’re going after big game, and they want all the smashing power they can get — but in a self-contained rifle, please. “I don’t have time to mess with scuba tanks and dive shops.”
I just smile. I know that in 6 months these guys will either be building model rockets or else they will be turning to the “dark side” and getting into precharged pneumatics. Why? Because their .25-caliber Mashemflat Magnum was too hard to cock more than 10 times in a row, had a horrible trigger, kicked like a Missouri mule and wasn’t accurate. Top that off with pellets that cost almost as much as rimfire rounds, and you have a thoroughly dissatisfied customer who can now give a lecture on how not to get into airgunning.
I know this because, like Old Man River, I been rollin’ along for awhile. I’ve seen all this before.
The point of this report is that not all airguns are accurate. That’s why I test them for you. Not only do I want to find out how accurate they all are, I also want to find out which ones are easy to shoot accurately. I go on and on about the TX200 and the Talon SS for this very reason.