Changing from lead shot to steel

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

The history of airguns

This report covers:

  • The first lead BB
  • Size matters
  • Advantages of air rifle shot
  • The dawn of steel shot
  • How lead shot tubes work
  • How steel shot tubes work
  • This information is worth millions

The first lead BB

When BB guns were new in the 1880s, they shot lead shotgun shot in the size BB. That’s where the name BB gun comes from. BBs were nominally 0.180-inches in diameter. Nominally means that they were supposed to be about that size and they were sorted by screens to ensure they were all close to that size, but let’s be honest — does it really matter whether a single piece of birdshot in actually 0.180-inches or 0.182-inches? Not to a shotgunner, it doesn’t. Maybe uniform shot gives a more uniform pattern, but there are other factors to consider, as well, and shot uniformity is only one of many things.

Size matters

For a BB gun, however, the size of the shot makes all the difference in the world! A single ball moves through a smooth bore that has to fit closely or power will be lost and accuracy will suffer. If the ball is too large it will stick in the bore. A size difference of just a few thousandths of an inch has a tremendous impact on the functioning of the airgun. So — while the lead BB shot was a good beginning, it was also a drawback that had to be overcome before the BB gun could evolve.

Most manufacturers were aware of the shot size problem, but Daisy soon became large enough to do something about it. Just after the turn of the 20th century they reduced the size of the shot to 0.175-inches and called it air rifle shot. That name was used by them for almost a century, though they are now calling their ammunition BBs like everyone else. They convinced shot makers to make the new air rifle shot that had no application for shotguns. Sure, it could be used, but there was no load data for the odd size and therefore no reason shot makers would make it for anything but air rifles. Making the shot smaller had several obvious advantages and one that was not so obvious.

Advantages of air rifle shot

Smaller shot used less lead, saving money. When the numbers produced run into the millions and billions, even a small difference mounts up! The smaller shot was also lighter, which boosted the velocity of the guns. But it also meant that the mainsprings could be weakened and still produce the same velocity that they got with the BB shot. That was what they did. They weren’t looking for greater velocity; they wanted easier cocking.

The hidden advantage was the fact that the new shot size was proprietary. As long as someone (Daisy) controlled quality (the size of the shot) through acceptance inspections, the problems of BBs getting jammed in the shot tube became a thing of the past. This new lead shot lasted from early in the century until sometime in the 1920s.

The dawn of steel shot

In the middle ’20s, Daisy started receiving returns of shot tubes that were split and filled with steel balls jammed inside. Cass Hough, grandson of Daisy’s founder and later president of the company himself, tracked the problem to Minneapolis, where he discovered the American Ball Company, a maker of ball bearings, was selling their scrap bearings of the appropriate size to local boys. There were three problems with this. First, these balls were not lead and did not work with the shot tubes in the air rifles that were then on the market. I will explain why in a moment The second problem is because they were steel, not only did they not work, they also ruined the breeches of the shot tubes in which they were used. And the third problem was the quality (shot size) standards of American Ball were too low, resulting in steel shot that was both oversized and undersized.

How lead shot tubes work

Shot tubes designed for lead shot have a constriction in their breech that stops the shot from passing through. Until the gun fires and the air tube on the front of the plunger pushes the shot through this constriction, the shot remains in the breech regardless of how the gun is held. As long as the ball is made of lead, this works well.

When the ball is made of steel, though, it doesn’t deform when pushed through the shot tube. So American Ball selected steel balls that were a little smaller than air rifle shot. While they did pass through the constriction most of the time (as long as the shot sizes were consistent), they also hammered the constriction out of the breech over the course of time. Maybe it took 30,000 shots, but kids did shoot their guns that much. Eventually the gun would start shooting two BBs at a time instead of just one. That’s a sure sign that the shot tube has been hammered by steel shot. Also, in some guns the shot would just roll out of the tube when the muzzle was held down. Another sure sign. The fix was simple enough — buy a replacement shot tube from Daisy. But not too many people knew to do that, so many older BB gun shot tubes were destroyed.

How steel shot tubes work

To hold a steel BB in place, Daisy and others relied on a thin wire spring instead of the constriction. The BB was held in the breech mechanically until pushed forward by the air tube. This worked great for the next 55-60 years.

shot tubes
The shot tube for lead balls (right) has a constriction at the breech. It’s inside the tube and doesn’t show up in a photo. The shot tube for steel BBs (left) has a wire spring to hold the BB in place. Either tube will fit all Daisy number 25 guns made since 1913.

Today they use rare earth magnets to hold BBs in place. These were not available back in the late 1920s when the switch was made from lead to steel, but they are very handy today. They work well and don’t wear out as the wire springs sometimes did.

modern shot tube
The rear of a modern Red Ryder shot tube looks like this. This tube fits inside the outer barrel jacket of the gun. An inclined slope feeds the BBs down to the breech, where a powerful magnet holds each one in place for the next shot.

This information is worth millions

I’m sure today’s report seems like a bit of trivia regurgitated by an old man. That’s what old men do. Well, about 16-18 years ago, this old man helped save the Daisy Manufacturing Company from a damaging and very costly lawsuit with some of the information you have read today. The Consumer Product Safety Commission contacted me to question me about what they claimed was an inherent design flaw in most Daisy BB guns. They used gravity to feed the BBs. That last picture of a modern shot tube is one that Daisy sent me to use in our discussions.

The thrust of their lawsuit was that gravity-fed systems were inherently unreliable for feeding ammunition. They wanted me to testify to that in court. If they won they planned to force Daisy to cease production of all their models that are gravity-fed (the Red Ryder?) and pay a large penalty.

I met the lawyer from the CPSC at the field target (DIFTA) range in Maryland and we discussed the Daisy design. He told me a young person had been shot by a BB gun that must have held a BB and then released it suddenly, because the youth shot another kid with what he thought was an empty gun!

He told me they had tried at the CPSC to replicate that type of fault with another Daisy BB gun, but were unsuccessful. But maybe someone like me with experience shooting BB guns would know how common a thing this was?

I told him I had never heard of it happening. I didn’t doubt that it could happen under certain circumstances, but it would be a one-in-a-million occurrence. I then informed him that I saw four serious flaws in the CPSC case.

1. Military firearms have used gravity-feed mechanisms for over a century, starting with the Gatling gun. Gravity feed works. He didn’t know that.

2. The boy who did the shooting should never have pointed a gun of any kind at another person. That is the first rule of safe gun handling and it would be brought out in court. Either the shooter was not trained to handle guns (very likely) or the parents were not supervising him (also likely) or the parents had not taken reasonable precautions to secure the gun when they were not able to supervise its use (also likely). Instead of a gun design flaw, this case was about a family flaw and a lack of training and supervision. Something similar could have happened with a knife, a bow and arrow or matches.

3. One never checks whether a BB gun is loaded by shaking the gun (which the CPSC lawyer told me the shooter had done, and which he also did with his sample BB gun to show me how it was done). That will not work when the gun’s  magazine is spring-loaded and force-fed. The defense attorney could use this information, maybe not with the shooter who was too young to testify, but with one of his parents. And you can forget rehearsing them for the trial. There are hundreds of small details like this that could be asked to demonstrate their lack of knowledge about how BB guns function.

4. The shooter had given the number one excuse why the “accident” happened. He was “sure” the gun was empty. Go back to point number two and read it again. There is no excuse for pointing a gun at someone, and certainly no excuse for firing at them! This excuse is the one that’s always given, “I didn’t know the gun was loaded.” It is such a cliche that a song was written by the same title.

Three months after meeting with the lawyer, I was informed of two things by Daisy’s legal department. First, I was told that lawyer I had spoken to had resigned from the CPSC. And second, the CPSC dropped their lawsuit in return for Daisy adding some safety information to each boxed gun they sold.

Boring or not — this information is valuable!


They overstepped the line!

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

The history of airguns

This report covers:

  • What “they” did
  • Rocky Mountain Arms Corporation
  • Young minds go astray
  • Bad ideas abound!
  • Percussion cap guns
  • What about cartridge primers?
  • Summary

What “they” did

The history of airguns is fascinating to those who enjoy applied creativity. But sometimes when creativity is carried too far it becomes a liability. And that’s the case with today’s guns.

Rocky Mountain Arms Corporation

In the 1970s the Rocky Mountain Arms Corporation (RMAC) created a little gun for kids who wanted to shoot with their fathers. They referred to it as a .22 caliber, though it shot a number 4 buckshot that is really 0.24 inches rather than 0.223 inches in diameter. That didn’t matter because a 5-pound bag number 4 buckshot was available for a few dollars. For that you got thousands of shots.  Nobody worried about the size of the ball that much.

RMAC box
The RMAC blackpowder rifle was from a simpler time, as the graphics on this box suggest.

RMAC rifle
RMAC rifle.

The breech of this little gun swiveled to either side, allowing the shooter to pour a small charge of black powder into the chamber. Maybe as much as 5 grains would fit inside, together with a ball. A number 4 buckshot ball was then pressed into the front of the chamber on top of the powder and the breech was swiveled back to align with the barrel and the hammer. At the back of the chamber there was a flash hole similar to the percussion cap hole on a percussion gun. A steel cover shaped like a cup fit over the rear of the swivel chamber, covering this flash hole. When the shooter had loaded the chamber, he placed one or more toy caps over the flash hole, than slid the cup-shaped cover over the rear of the swivel chamber.

RMAC breech
The breech (arrow) swivels to the side for loading.

RMAC breech open
Swivel breech is opened for loading.

The gun has a hammer that is manually cocked after loading. Firing releases the hammer to strike the cup-shaped breech cover, mashing it down on the toy caps and hopefully igniting them. The spark from the cap(s) travels through the touch hole, igniting the charge of black powder and sending the small lead ball on its way down the bore. So far, so good.

Young minds go astray

I’m sure the young shooters were fascinated by their “real” gun for a while. But when they became accustomed to it, their minds began to wander. What if they filled the chamber to the top with black powder and just rammed the lead ball down the muzzle of the rifle like dad did with his gun? And then — what if we dropped even more powder into the muzzle after loading the chamber? The bullet would go even faster — wouldn’t it? Let’s try it and see!

Ahh, you say. It’s easy to see where this idea goes off the tracks. Good thing that “they” made it in such a small caliber. Well, guess what? They didn’t just make little ones. This rifle was also produced in .36 and .45 caliber. They used regular percussion caps instead of toy caps, but they operated the same way. Those rifles are much rarer than the smaller one, so I assume fewer were made. But here’s the deal. Any kid who knows how to shoot one of the small rifles knows how to shoot them all. If dad has a .45, junior can load it and shoot it. Bad idea all around.

Bad ideas abound!

RMAC wasn’t the only company to have a bad idea. Every few years I am contacted by someone who claims to have invented an entirely new kind of airgun — one that uses percussion caps or primers to propel a pellet or bullet. They are very secretive when they come to me, not wanting anyone to get wind of their wonderful new invention. Except there is nothing new about it! People have been doing the same thing for the past 170+ years!

Percussion cap guns

The percussion method of igniting a change of gunpowder is credited to Reverend Alexander Forsythe, who patented the scent-bottle lock in 1807. His charge of priming powder was loose and dangerous, and it wasn’t until it was made into a solid pellet and put into a convenient container — the percussion cap — around 1820, that the percussion system of ignition took off.

Around 1840 — but nobody knows exactly when — someone got the idea to use just the power of the percussion cap to launch a small lead ball from a gun. This development progressed in several different ways. Flobert designed the flanged cap that he added a ball and later a conical bullet to — making the first self-contained cartridge. From that invention, Smith & Wesson partnered to launch the .22 short cartridge in 1856.

But the percussion-cap-only guns also continued to be made. And they split into two distinct directions. One was a simple parlor gun that was a novelty, only. It was a fun gun, if you will — not that different from a modern pellet gun.

Bandle gun
This cap-firing gun made by American gunsmith Jacob Bandle was more of a curiosity than a target gun.

The other was a precision target rifle designed for indoor target practice. This latter rifle was called a zimmerstutzen (NOT a zimmer schuetzen, as some say) and evolved up to the first world war. Zimmerstutzens are still being made today and there are still indoor matches for them. You can read more about them in my article on them.

Zimmerstutzen
A zimmerstutzen like this one is a highly specialized target rifle.

What about cartridge primers?

You can’t stifle enthusiasm, so every few years someone “invents” a pellet gun that uses the primers from centerfire cartridges as the power source. And sometimes they use the larger number 209 primers that are intended for shotgun shells. Their “inventions” never work, because they are little more than bar-bet engineering, “Here, Rufus, see if this works!” I have tested some of these systems and found them lacking any redeeming qualities. But that doesn’t stop the next person from reinventing the same thing a few years later.

Summary

To summarize, most of the systems that use primers to propel pellets and BBs are useless and worse, they are dangerous. A few like the zimmerstutzen are highly specialized and do work, but even then they cannot compete with good quality target air rifles.

None of the guns in today’s report qualify as airguns. I wrote about them simply because they wind up being shoved into the airgun category by most people. I know you will encounter them sooner or later and I wanted you to know the score.


Bersa BP9CC CO2 BB pistol: Part 1

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Bersa BB pistol
The Bersa BB pistol looks very much like the firearm.

 

Bersa BB pistol caliber
In fact, it looks like the firearm so much that they even put the firearm caliber on the slide (it’s really on what would be the barrel in the firearm)!

This report covers:

  • Introduction
  • Description
  • Read the manual
  • Blowback
  • Safety lever popped off!
  • Tactical sights
  • Striker fired
  • The test

Introduction

Today we begin looking at the Bersa BP9CC BB pistol in dual tone finish from ASG. This test was requested some time ago by several readers, and I’m glad to finally take the gun out of the box.

Description

The Bersa BP9CC is a small sidearm. It’s slightly larger than a pocket pistol, which is diminutive for a sidearm. It’s a close copy of the Bersa Thunder firearm that chambers the 9X19 (Luger) cartridge. The pistol I am testing is a two-tone gun with a silver slide and black frame. The slide is metal and the frame is polymer — similar to many new handguns today. Because the gun is small, the grip is both slim and comfortable for average adult hands.

The polymer frame is thin, so I know the firearm has a single stack magazine. The magazine has a flared polymer finger rest on the front of its floorplate, which extends the grip. At the front of the gun a Weaver/Picatinny dovetail is molded into the underside of the frame. There is a single cross slot to anchor any mount — no room for more. I imagine this dovetail is for a laser on the firearm, and why not on this pistol, as well?

The parts are all heavy, making the pistol feel good and substantial in the hand. While the advertised weight of 1.35 lbs. sounds light, it really isn’t when it’s in a small package like this. The test gun with a CO2 cartridge installed weighs 1.7 lbs.

Read the manual

ASG can pat themselves on the back, because I actually had to read the owner’s manual to discover how to load the CO2 cartridge! A button on the bottom of the grip frame is depressed, releasing the backstrap that swings back and detaches. The CO2 cartridge piercing screw is completely hidden from view when the stick magazine is loaded

Blowback

The trigger feels odd because it engages nothing when the gun is not loaded. You can pull it repeatedly and it just swings back and forth. Once a CO2 cartridge is loaded and pierced and the safety is rotated off, the gun does fire and the slide blows back. That’s right, this pistol has blowback! The slide movement is short, so the impulse from the blowback is felt a lot less than most guns that have blowback.

The trigger qualifies as a single-stage design. The takeup is very long, then the trigger pull is moderate and fairly nice. I do feel some creep, but nothing excessive.

Safety lever popped off!

I dry-fired the pistol, a couple times so I could comment on the blowback and on the final shot the black safety lever flew off its post. It’s just pressed on, so watch that when you shoot the gun. The black plastic lever is actually a key that rotates a switch inside the slide. If you lose it you can still probably work the safety. After I pressed the lever back in place it didn’t come off again, so perhaps it wasn’t installed correctly by the factory.

Bersa BB pistol safety
The safety lever rotates, and the arrow points to the gun’s condition. When it is set to fire, the letter S is covered by the lever.

Tactical sights

The sights are modern tactical sights, with two white dots on the rear sight and one white dot up front. They are quick to acquire, yet appear practical. I’ll know more after I test the pistol for accuracy. They do not adjust, but the rear notch appears clean and well-defined.

Bersa BB pistol sight
The sights are tactical and not adjustable.

Power

This pistol has a short barrel (2.91-inches) which makes it difficult for CO2 to achieve any velocity. The advertised velocity is 350 f.p.s. and I will be happy to see that from a gun this small.

Striker fired

Like so many modern pistols this Bersa is striker-fired. There is no hammer — either exposed or hidden — that fires this gun. The striker is inside the slide and gets cocked when the slide is pulled back or blown back during firing. Younger shooters will have no difficulty adapting to the design, but dinosaurs like me will look for the hammer. That’s not a comment on the BB gun by itself. The firearm works the same way.

The good thing about the Bersa is it has the most aggressive slide notches I’ve ever saeen to assist with the pullback. They are large and aggressive, in one direction, only! I like them!

The test

I will test this pistol the same way I test all BB guns — at 5 meters, rested. I will test it with a variety of BBs to get a feel for what it likes. Most buyers will probably purchase those BBs that are most convenient for them, but sometimes I am surprised when a BB gun performs better than expected. This could be one, so we want to give it every chance to succeed.


Who was Edith Gaylord?: Part 2

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

Edie
Edith Gaylord — 1948 — 2015

This report covers:

  • Edith learns to shoot
  • Home protection
  • The Airgun Letter
  • Field target
  • BRV
  • The Pyramyd Air Blog is born
  • Edith the huntress

Edith learns to shoot

Today I’ll talk about Edith’s shooting. When I met her in 1982, she wasn’t a shooter. She was very neutral on the subject of shooting. When we started talking about marriage I told her I was an active shooter and there would be guns in the house. She said she didn’t mind, but I had to teach her how to handle them safely. She told me the only shooting she had ever done was with a .22 rimfire Ruger  pistol owned by her first husband. She said she didn’t feel one way or the other about the experience, but the little shooting she had done seemed like fun. So we started slowly on my Sheridan Blue Streak, learning the basics of safe gun handling.

Home protection

We were married in Denver in May of 1982 and lived there for 10 months while I looked for a job. I wanted to find something that used my military training, which was as an armor officer (tanks) and also as a logistician. There aren’t many jobs in the civilian world for tankers, but logistics is always hot. In the civilian world logistics usually means supplies and transportation, but in the army it means designing integrated systems whose support is designed into them from the start. Just to give a you quick overview, Hillman automobiles failed to sell well in the U.S. because of a lack of support (logistics), while Volkswagen Beetles became extremely popular around the world for the same reason. It wasn’t that VWs were more reliable than Hillmans — they just had better support wherever they went and were designed to be easily maintained.

I finally found a job teaching logistics and acquisition management to the Department of Defense in Maryland, and we moved there in 1983. Our house was somewhat in the country and had a problem with field mice. We had 8 cats at the time, but most of them were indifferent to mice. A couple, however, were very cruel. They would catch the mice and rip out their livers. Then they played with them until they expired on the floor! Edith could not stand that, so she asked me to please kill any mice the cats brought in.

But I worked during the day, so we stepped up the training intervals on my Sheridan Blue Streak so she could take over. We practiced shooting at small targets at close range until she could hit a dime offhand at 15-20 feet, most of the time. She wrapped a yellow twist tie around the triggerguard so she could identify the gun, because the box of pellets for the rifle was also yellow.

She was a bird lover and began leaving bird seed on our front porch so she could watch the birds feed. One day she was surprised when a bird that had been feeding suddenly vanished from the porch. A few feathers were left behind and Edith suspected foul play. So she sat in the dining room overlooking the porch and finally saw a rat come up onto the porch and grab a small feeding bird! She had been attracting birds for the rats to kill and eat! That put her on the warpath, so she decided to get even.

The rats were coming into our area from a nearby forest that was being cleared to make way for new homes. So Edith took up a hide outdoors with the Sheridan pumped and ready to go. She killed 3 adult rats in less than a week by watching the porch from this hidden position. Now she was baiting them!

Then she found 5 baby rats lined up on one of the steps leading up to the porch. They were just sunning themselves, so each one got a pellet in the head. Finally there was just a single adult left, but it was wary and she couldn’t seem to catch it exposed. So she changed tactics and approached from a different direction. When she made the kill, she called me at work to let me know she had made a one-shot kill offhand at 25 feet! That was a proud moment for both of us, and we never saw another rat in the 21 years we lived there.

The Airgun Letter

In the early ’90s my subscription to the only U.S. airgun magazine was cancelled when the magazine folded. I was distraught but Edith said I should write an airgun magazine of my own. I didn’t think I knew enough about airguns to do that, so she handed me a legal tablet and told me to write the titles of the articles I thought I could write about. Three legal sheets later The Airgun Letter was born. It turned out I didn’t have to know a lot about airguns — as long as I knew something about guns and shooting in general.

We published 99 editions of that newsletter from 1994 until 2002. We also published 6 Airgun Revue magazines — each 100 pages long. And let’s not forget the Beeman R1 book that was published in 1995. Edith and I wound up printing and binding all publications except the book ourselves, to control the quality of the photos. We were doing Print on Demand a long time before it became popular.

Field target

While all this was happening, Edie and I put on a public demonstration of precision adult airguns at a local Isaac Walton league that was hosting the Chevy Sportsman’s Challenge (a 3-gun competition). A couple club members were impressed by my TX200 Mark II and with the field targets I used. They asked me to help them start a field target club. That was the Damascus Isaac Walton Field Target club of America, or DIFTA for short. I joined the club to use their firearm range facilities and to help start this field target club.

Edie and I both helped to organize and run FT matches for three years. She handled the scoring and promotion and I was match director. Of course there were many other volunteers who made it happen as well, because a successful club needs lots of support.

Edith only shot in one field target match — a wacky match. Wacky matches aren’t serious. They are for having fun, and Edith certainly did. Shooters use airguns that would never be seen in regular field target competition. She shot a Sharp UF-P CO2 carbine. She loved it because it is so light and compact.

Edith shooting whacky match
Edith shot a Sharp UF-P in the whacky field target match.

BRV

Later she got involved in BR-50, which changed its name to BRV shortly after she started competing. The objective was to hit a bullseye target without touching the edges of the scoring ring. Though the targets were only 25-30 yards away, the negative scoring system (touch a lower scoring ring and get the lower score — made it challenging. Our roles were reversed in this competition. She was the shooter and I supported her by keeping score and promoting the events.

She was right-handed and left-eye dominant, so airgunsmith Gary Barnes built a special offset scope mount for her rifle. Because the scope had to be angled in to coincide with the line of the bore, the rifle could only be sighted for one distance, but in BRV that was all that was required.

edith shooting
Edith competed in BRV with a .177 Barnes Ranger PCP rifle.

barnes ranger
Gary Barnes made this special offset scope mount so Edith could sight with her left eye while shooting right-handed.Those two outriggers adjust independently and the scope rings swivel to align with the scope tube in any orientation.

In 2003 Edie and I capitalized on a job offer she received at the SHOT Show and moved to Texas. She worked as the internet content editor for a large catalog-based sporting goods retailer and I worked for AirForce Airguns. She and I both got our concealed carry licenses and she began carrying as soon as she could. She was a fan of the Colt M1911A1 platform, but carried a Glock 36 in .45 ACP because it is so compact. Although she didn’t shoot very often, she was fully accustomed to the sound and recoil of the .45 ACP, which was her favorite caliber.

The Pyramyd Air Blog is born

As soon as we were settled here in Texas, she came to me with another idea. Why not write about airguns for the internet? I didn’t know much about the internet at the time (still don’t) but she assured me it was just like writing The Airgun Letter without the hassle of printing, binding and mailing. I started out writing articles for Pyramyd Air, but as soon as they got the software in place, we started this blog. We celebrated our 10th year in operation earlier this year. And it was all due to Edith, working behind the scenes to get me to write about the things I enjoy.

Soon after I started writing this blog Edith joined me here at Pyramyd Air as a member of their marketing team and as content editor for their website. For the rest of her life she worked here and acted much like an owner of the company. She cared passionately for customer satisfaction and strove to make it happen — even when it was in an area that wasn’t hers.

Edith the huntress

Several years ago Edith saw a Winchester model 94 lever action rifle in a gun store we were visiting. She was captivated by it and thought it looked like the Walther Lever Action pellet rifle. That made me laugh, because the Walther was copied after the highly successful Winchester that’s been around more than a century. The rifle had a Weaver scope mounted on the left side of the action and it fit her very well when she mounted it to her shoulder. We bought it for her and she told me she wanted to hunt pigs with it.

She bought books on cleaning and butchering wild game and was keen to learn how to field dress an animal, once killed. And she had collected many recipes for several different game animals besides hogs.

When she passed away we were making plans for our first pig hunt here in Texas. Her brother, Bob, was going to join us, along with our good friend, Otho Henderson. Because of that wish, I started hunting coyotes with Otho a couple weeks ago. I didn’t tell him, but I did it as a memorial to Edith, who never got to go.

Conclusion

Yes, Edith Gaylord was a shooter and she knew what she was doing, both on and off the range. Shooting was not her greatest passion, but because it was what I did, she educated herself thoroughly and always supported me. What she really enjoyed was passing information along to people who were thirsty for it. She loved this blog — especially reading the grateful comments made by readers when they first discovered us!


Generation 2 .25 caliber Benjamin Marauder: Part 5

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Benjamin Marauder air rifle Gen 2
Second-generation Benjamin Marauder in a synthetic stock.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

This report covers:

  • Not the normal test
  • Trigger adjusted again
  • The goal
  • Velocity test — JSB Exact Kings
  • Early hiccup!
  • Striker adjustment 1
  • Striker adjustment 2
  • Change of plans
  • The rifle’s performance with this adjustment

This is a continuation of the test I’m running on the .25-caliber gen 2 Benjamin Marauder. So far I have evaluated the rifle as it came from the box, adjusted the trigger, installed the exciting new UTG 2-16X44AO Accushot scope and UTG rubber armored folding metal bipod, sighted the rifle in at 25 yards and installed the RAI modular stock and folding butt extension. Then I went to the 50-yard range — twice — and shot the rifle for accuracy. That was where I discovered that the .25-caliber JSB Exact Kings are the best pellets for this rifle. And the .25-caliber Benjamin domes that have no brand name are a close second.

Not the normal test

Veteran readers will see this is not the kind of test I usually run. Normally I describe the characteristics of a gun in Part 1, test the velocity with several pellets (and power settings when appropriate) and things like the cocking effort and trigger-pull in Part 2 and finish with an accuracy test in Part 3. I do it the same each time so readers will always know what to expect from one of my tests. But this Marauder is different. This is my personal airgun that Edie and I bought for extended testing and modification. I am testing it the way I would test something for myself.

I had already tested a .25-caliber first generation Marauder back in 2013. That test alerted me to the performance characteristics I could expect from this rifle, so many of the mysteries were already solved. Despite what you may think, there isn’t that much difference between the rifle I’m testing here and a first generation Marauder in the same caliber. The trigger was modified so it could be moved back in the frame, but the performance remains about the same.

Trigger adjusted again

I mentioned in Part 4 that I didn’t like the way the trigger was adjusted. Stage one was too long — probably because the hand grip of the RAI conversion places my trigger finger much closer to the trigger blade. This is the reason I don’t like an AR15 configuration that much. But I have fixed the trigger on my AR15 by installing a Guiseley competition trigger and adjusting it to suit my preferences. So, after the last test with this Marauder, I adjusted its trigger again. I adjusted stage one to be much shorter, which shortens the entire trigger pull. Then I adjusted stage two to release as light as I felt was safe for a sporting rifle trigger. It’s still above 2 lbs. at the release. There is still some movement in stage two, but it’s not the jerky feeling of trigger creep. It does make the rifle easier to shoot with precision.

The goal

There are two objectives to today’s test. First I want to see the velocities of the first 16 shots following a 3000 psi fill the way the rifle is currently set up. Only one pellet interests me — The JSB Exact King. I noted in both trips to the range that the first 8 shots were always more accurate than the second 8 shots. I want to see what those velocities are, and if they vary by a lot, which I strongly suspect.

The second goal is to adjust the  striker spring tension to achieve a tighter velocity spread. I have been given lots of “advice” on modifications I can do to improve the power of this airgun, but that’s not what I want. Although I don’t know the numbers yet, I think it’s powerful enough for me as it is. I’m looking for 16 accurate and consistent shots. If I want sheer power I have a .25-caliber AirForce Escape that generates nearly 100 foot-pounds; I don’t need this Marauder to compete with that. The Benjamin domed pellets, which are only slightly less accurate than the JSB Kings, should follow along with any changes I make.

Velocity test — JSB Exact Kings

I filled the rifle to 3000 psi and loaded 8 JSB Kings into the magazine. The first shot was 850 f.p.s. on the nose, which means the rifle generates 40.47 foot-pounds at the muzzle with this pellet. While that is good, I can accept less power for more shots on a fill and greater stability. Here is the first shot string.

First string after a fill
Shot……..Velocity (f.p.s.)
1……………..850
2……………..850
3……………..853
4……………..847
5……………..843
6……………..845
7……………..841
8……………..839

The average for this first string is 846 f.p.s., which equates to a muzzle energy of 40.36 foot-pounds. The total spread is 14 f.p.s.

But the string tells me a lot more. The rifle is maxed out at the current setting. See how it rises only a small amount on shot 3, then goes into a steady decline? I know the next string will be both a steady velocity decline and probably a much greater spread from the first shot to the last. Let’s have a look.

Second string after a fill
Shot……..Velocity (f.p.s.)
1……………..834
2……………..831
3……………..825
4……………..819
5……………..814
6……………..807
7……………..800
8……………..791

The average for this string is 815 f.p.s. That works out to 37.46 foot-pounds. The total spread is 43 f.p.s. That is what I expected — both from the results seen in the first string and also from the targets shot at 50 yards on 2 different days. This is what I have to address to get the rifle more consistent.

Rather than selecting a desired velocity out of thin air and working to achieve that arbitrary number, I choose to work with what the rifle seems capable of delivering. At this point no adjustments have been made, but now they will begin.

First question — is my rifle maxed out as it came from the factory? To get more velocity I need more air — it’s a simple as that. But — and this is very crucial to understand — there are two things that control the airflow. The length of time the valve remains open is one, and that is controlled by the striker spring tension. The amount the air transfer port is open is the other. Both things have upper limits, so I need to find out where the rifle is right now.

Early hiccup!

The first thing I discovered is that even through the RAI stock folds to the side, providing access to the striker adjustment screw through a hole in the stock adapter, I did not have a 1/8″ Allen wrench long enough to reach through to the screw head. So, the entire RAI modular stock had to come off the gun. If I was going to adjust the striker spring a lot I would get a longer wrench, but once I get it adjusted where I want, I’m going to leave it alone.

Striker adjustment 1

I then turned the striker adjustment screw in 8 full turns. I was looking for the stop, but after 8 turns I decided to check the velocity. The rifle was filled to 3000 psi and here are the shots.

Shot……..Velocity (f.p.s.)
1……………..485
2……………..493

Striker adjustment 2

Obviously this wasn’t where I wanted to go. So I turned the screw out again until it was 1-1/2 turns in from where it was from the factory. I then finished the string of 8 shots.

Shot……..Velocity (f.p.s.)
3……………..792
4……………..792
5……………..792
6……………..798
7……………..795
8……………..798

This was almost exactly where I was hoping to be with this pellet! I reloaded the magazine and fired the next 8 shots.

Second string after a fill
Shot……..Velocity (f.p.s.)
1……………..800
2……………..802
3……………..802
4……………..804
5……………..805
6……………..808
7……………..807
8……………..808

This was looking very promising! The velocity was increasing, but at a very slow pace. So I reloaded and shot the third magazine of 8.

Third string after a fill
Shot……..Velocity (f.p.s.)
1……………..810
2……………..805
3……………..805
4……………..808
5……………..806
6……………..803
7……………..801
8……………..799

This is wonderful. I am now getting 24 shots on one fill with a maximum velocity spread of 18 f.p.s. Well, I can’t say that for sure, because the first 2 shots were with the striker adjusted differently. But at least 22 shots were achieved. However, I was inclined to adjust the striker once more and very slightly. I turned the striker adjustment screw out 1/4 turn and recorded the following.

First string after a fill
Shot……..Velocity (f.p.s.)
1……………..778
2……………..786
3……………..790
4……………..785
5……………..786
6……………..808
7……………..790
8……………..797

Second string after a fill
Shot……..Velocity (f.p.s.)
1……………..796
2……………..798
3……………..800
4……………..802

STOP

I stopped because the velocity had risen to the place I was after. Now I wanted to find out how much air was in the rifle, so I connected the air tank and opened the valve. The needle on the tank gauge stopped rising at 2500 psi. There was 2500 psi in the rifle!

Change of plans

I was running on a 2500 psi fill at this point. If I could get enough shots at my desired velocity, this was where I wanted to be. So I started recording the velocities again, this time from a fill of 2500 psi.

First string after a 2500 psi fill
Shot……..Velocity (f.p.s.)
1……………..799
2……………..803
3……………..803
4……………..804
5……………..808
6……………..799
7……………..811
8……………..808

Second string after a 2500 psi fill
Shot……..Velocity (f.p.s.)
1……………..807
2……………..808
3……………..807
4……………..808
5……………..802
6……………..803
7……………..802
8……………..801

The next shots after this second magazine were:

Shot……..Velocity (f.p.s.)
1……………..801
2……………..796
3……………..793
4……………..788

The rifle’s performance with this adjustment

My .25 caliber Marauder now gives me 2 complete magazines (16 shots) with a little extra on a 2500 psi fill. The average velocity with the JSB King pellets is 804.6 f.p.s., which produces 36.51 foot-pounds. I’ll take that and smile! The maximum velocity spread is just 12 f.p.s. I’ll also take that!

Yes I could get more power from this rifle and I could probably get 16 good shots at the same time. But not on a fill to 2500 psi. That’s what I want, because it’s all the power I need and I’m saving a lot of air.

A final benefit is that the rifle is MUCH quieter at this reduced velocity. I guess it was wasting some air before. I can’t wait to get back to the 50-yard range and see what this adjustment has done for accuracy.


The timeline of airguns

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

The history of airguns

This report covers:

  • Table of contents
  • What is an airgun?
  • The first airgun
  • What we do know
  • The load-compression airgun
  • What came next?
  • Bellows gun
  • How rare were they?
  • Multi-pump pneumatics
  • Spring-piston airguns
  • Catapult guns
  • CO2 guns
  • Single stroke pneumatics

Table of contents

Before we begin today’s blog, I want to tell you there is a link to the History of airguns table of contents at the top and bottom of this pager. Go there and you will see all the historical report linked.

Today’s report will sound like a continuation of Friday’s report on the power of big bore airguns of the past, but that is just a coincidence. Today we look at the timeline of airguns.

What is an airgun?

Before we proceed we need to agree what an airgun is, or the rest of the discussion will be meaningless. Most books about airguns start with the primitive blowpipe, which is also called a blowgun. Does that make you think of natives on tropical islands, hunting birds and monkey in the trees? Would you be surprised to learn that the blowgun was also very popular in Europe during the middle ages? There are tapestries that show hunters using blowguns in exactly the same way as the islanders in the tropics, only they are doing so in European and English forests. The blowgun has been a very popular air-powered weapon all around the world.

For the purposes of today’s discussion, however, blowguns are not being considered as airguns. The airguns I will talk about have parts and mechanisms to assist in the storage and release of compressed air, or in the generation of compressed air when the gun is fired. Today we are looking for the first dates for each of the major types of airguns. I will include catapult guns and CO2 guns, though strictly speaking, neither is a true airgun.

The first airgun

Most people want to know the limits of things. What’s the fastest? What’s the largest? What’s the smallest, and so on. One thing they want to know about airguns is which one is the oldest.Which one came first? The problem is — nobody knows. Author Eldon G. Wolff documented a great number of early mentions of airguns in his book, Air Guns, completed in 1955. He gives a range of possible dates for the first airgun that were found in several old documents dating from 1474 to 1608. Many of these citations originate in or at least name the German city of Nuremberg in the middle 1500s as the birthplace. Names like Guter and Lobsinger are mentioned more than once, along with the date 1560.

What we do know

While we cannot say with certainty what the first airgun gun was or even when it was made, we do know some things about it. Most of the literature points to it being what we call a precharged pneumatic (PCP) today. That’s a gun that stores a charge of compressed air in a reservoir onboard the gun. The gun has a valve that releases some of the stored air when the gun fires, but the remainder of the air can be used for additional shots. But air storage, by itself, is not what defines a PCP. The principal difference between a PCP and a multi-pump pneumatic is the absence of a pump mechanism on the gun, because some multi-pumps do store air for more than one shot per fill.

We also know that this airgun was probably what we call a big bore today. That means it is in a caliber larger than .25. The reason for this is the smallbore airgun calibers that we know today — .177, .20, .22 and .25 — are too small for the guns of antiquity. People were not making guns for just pleasure in the 1600s. They were experimenting with what was technically possible and the firearms of the day served as their models. The airguns were just as much a science experiment as they were a working gun. All of the old firearms were in larger calibers, simply because larger caliber barrels were easier to make. It wasn’t until around the 1840s that we started seeing firearms in .22 caliber. So the first airgun was no doubt a big bore and also a PCP.

The load-compression airgun

There was one curious experiment with a compressed-air gun at this time by the mayor of Magdeburg. It was called the load-compressed airgun and worked by seating a ball inside a tight leather patch, then ramming it down the bore. This action compressed the air behind the load (supposedly) and forced it into a chamber that had a petcock valve to shut it in. When the petcock was opened the gun fired — theoretically. The compressed air that was stored in the chamber suddenly got behind the ball — hopefully pushing it out the muzzle.

Wolff, who writes about this development, says the muzzle velocity was undoubtedly low. No kidding! In fact, he doubts the gun would even work, as do I. But now you know that people thought of everything in the past — just as they do today.

What came next?

I said that the first airgun was a big bore because people were not making guns just for pleasure at that time. Now I’m going to modify that a little. Once it was known that a bullet could be propelled by the force of just compressed air, gunmakers were quick to capitalize and start innovating. And sport is where they went with it.

There were already huge shooting tournaments being held around Europe where crossbowmen competed. Firearms began to compete in these tournaments in their own classes sometime in the early 1400s. So, the use of firearms for sport — target shooting — was already established. Airguns followed suit, with a short-range target gun being first.

Bellows gun

And this is where Wolff and I disagree on the timeline — a little. He states that, given the essential design, the bellows gun is logically the earliest form of airgun. He goes on to state, however, that those specimens that have survived are newer than the big bore PCPs we have just been discussing.

A bellows gun is a form of spring gun in which a powerful spring closes an air bellows located in the gun’s hollow butt rapidly enough to generate a puff of wind — wind that gets behind a projectile. The projectile of choice was a dart, because the force of the wind was too small to propel a lead bullet. The bore was smooth and the guns that survive all seem to be made for shooting targets. Given their low level of power, that is probably all they were used for.

While there is no piston in a bellows gun, the bellows perform the same function that a piston does in a spring-piston gun. They compress ambient air rapidly and direct it behind a projectile sitting in the breech. Many bellows guns have set triggers so fine they will fire when the muzzle of the gun is elevated. The weight of the trigger blade by itself is enough to release the sear.

But the bellows gun shoots darts — not bullets. It is an airgun, but not a very powerful one. And to date none that I know of have been found dating to the 16th century, though there is a mention of one dating to 1570. So they were definitely a very early type. Perhaps Wolff is right and they do predate the butt reservoir big bores, I don’t really know. But from the physical evidence that remains, I still believe the big bore ball shooters came first.

How rare were they?

Airguns of any kind were very rare before the middle of the 19th century. Until then they were handmade and cost the same as fine rifles and shotguns. But their rarity goes beyond even the cost. There wasn’t as much advertising in the 17th and 18th centuries as there is today, and as a result, the general public was unaware of any airguns in existence. Of course an airgun was too expensive for the average man on the street, so perhaps it didn’t make any difference that they weren’t well-advertised. It is very difficult to make a timeline of the earliest types of guns, because there could easily be a mistake of decades that results from a lack of information. This timeline is my best guess, based on the best research that’s been done.

Multi-pump pneumatics

As early as 1645 the multi-pump pneumatic was born. A gun in the Stockholm museum is credited to builder Hans Koler from that date. This is a pneumatic airgun that has the pump built into the butt, with a sliding rod the shooter stood on while pumping the entire gun up and down. That air was stored in a brass tube or jacket that surrounded the barrel.

Where PCPs were made by the hundreds, early multi-pumps must have been much less common. I have seen just one in all the time I have been in airguns. It wasn’t until the Benjamin Air Rifle Company began producing them in volume in 1899 that multi pumps became popular. And the Benjamin guns were seen as mere toys. They did improve as time passed but even today they produce a paltry 14 foot pounds in .22 caliber.

Spring-piston airguns

Okay — the bellows gun qualifies as a spring gun, but what about the spring-piston guns we are more familiar with? When did they come into being?

Around the 1840s the first spring-piston gallery rifles were being built. They used volute springs that I showed you when we looked at my David Lurch gallery gun from the 1860s.

Volute spring
A Volute spring is a flat spring that’s been coiled then stretched out like this. It is very understressed in operation.

By the 1870s airgun makers like Quackenbush were using coiled steel mainsprings that allowed the spring tubes to become smaller. The guns started to take on the look we see today.

Catapult guns

The first decent catapult gun was probably the Hodges gun from the early 1840s. It shot a .43 caliber lead ball with enough force to take down larger small game. The gun was a piece of art as well as a gun and it is believed that the Hodges was used as a foraging gun because of its silence.

Hodges gun
The Hodges gun was a large caliber foraging gun that used elastic bands to propel the ball.

CO2 guns

While the first airgun is a mystery, we know exactly what the first CO2 gun was. It was a gun made by Paul Giffard that was converted from his pneumatic design to operate on carbonic gas — which is the old name for CO2. It had a removable gas cylinder that was supposed to be mailed back to the factory for a refill. There weren’t as many places to get CO2 in the 1870s are there are today.

Giffard pistol
This Giffard CO2 pistol is nice looking even today.

Giffard guns were not cheap. They were engraved and nickel-plated and still look gorgeous today. But they didn’t last long. The need to return the CO2 cartridge to the manufacturer for filling killed CO2 as a power source for 3 or 4 decades.

Crosman and Benjamin both promoted CO2 guns in the 1930 and ’40s, but it was the mid ’50s when Crosman came out with the 12-gram Powerlet that changed the face of CO2 guns forever. Since that time CO2 guns have risen to a high level of acceptance among airgunners.

Single Stroke pneumatics

The final airgun powerplant to come into being is the single stroke pneumatic. As far as I can tell, it was developed by Walther and launched with their LP2 pistol in the mid-1960s. There may have been something before this time, but I have been unable to find it. A single stroke accepts one pump only. The pump head is one end of the compression chamber and if it is backed out for a second pump, all the air from the first pump is lost.

Well, that was a short look at the timeline of airguns. I didn’t cover BB guns because they were address in the report on BB guns. Everything of significance has been covered here. Of course there is a lot more detail to cover, but we will get to that one topic at a time.


How powerful were the big bore airguns of the past?: Part 1

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

The history of airguns

This report covers:

  • New blog section — History of airguns!
  • How powerful?
  • Wood was first
  • Iron and steel
  • How fast — Spaltology
  • Velocity of the big bore airguns of antiquity
  • Available air pressure
  • Why this is important

New blog section — History of airguns!

Today I announce a new section of the blog that will be dedicated to the history of airguns. Monday’s posting about the Rise of the BB gun was the inaugural report for the series — History of airguns. Today is the second in what Pyramyd Air and I hope will become a favorite of blog readers.

My goal is to document the history of airguns in these reports, and the really neat thing is, we will keep track of all these reports on a special page that holds the table of contents. The articles listed will be links, so all you need to do is hover your cursor and click to get there!

As the number of reports grows, they will be grouped into categories for ease of management. For example, all BB gun reports will be in the BB gun section, and so on. But, until we get a few more reports, the links will just be listed as they come.

How powerful?

Today’s report addresses the power of the big bore airguns of the past. How powerful were they and how did people living 300 years ago measure the power of an airgun? They didn’t use chronographs; those were still hundreds of years in the future. So how did people in the year 1715 gauge the power of an airgun — or for that matter, of a firearm? They started simply. They judged the force of a shot by what it could do, and they set up tests to demonstrate those results.

Wood was first

The first “test” was to see how deeply a ball fired from an airgun penetrated into a piece of wood. That’s not so different from today — is it? But wood has many problems. Should it be a living tree or wood that has been cut into lumber? If lumber, should it be green or dry? Does it matter if the shot goes across the grain or with it? Does the species of wood make any difference? And so on. As it turns out, soft woods like balsa provide vastly different results than hard woods like ironwood and hickory. And it is easier to penetrate across the grain, rather than traveling with it. Wood is not a very good way to test the power of a gun.

Iron and steel

What about iron and steel? While there are many alloys of both metals, the outcome of shooting a lead ball at them isn’t affected by those differences as much as it is with wood. This was widely accepted in the past, and testing of airgun power was tied to how deformed a ball would be after it hit a steel plate. But before we continue, you must understand that the plate the ball strikes has to be immobile for what follows to make sense. If the plate can move, some of the ball’s energy is used to move it, thus rendering the flattened ball less accurate for what comes next.

In the 1957 book, Smith’s Standard Encyclopedia of Gas, Air and Spring Guns of the World, by noted gun writer W.H.B. Smith, there is a drawing of a smashed lead ball from history. It was fired from a Perkins steam gun (ca. 1825) at an immobile iron plate 100 feet from the muzzle. The ball is shown in its original shape and also as it flattened against the iron plate. If the image in the book is life-sized, the ball measures 0.453-inches in diameter. That sounds about right for a gun of the period, though it is on the small side.

ball from Perkins gun
Ball from Perkins gun, before and after striking an iron plate at 100 feet. Image taken from Lateral Science, a scientific pamphlet published July 8, 1912. Image B is on the left and C is on the right.

I know that steam is not air, but the principal of this gun remains the same. The Perkins gun had a barrel length of 6 feet and was capable of firing 500 to 1000 balls per minute. Yes, it was fully automatic — not in the sense that a machine gun is automatic, but just as a water hose sprays water in a continuous stream, so the Perkins gun sprayed bullets. Perkins’ gun generated the unbelievable steam pressure of 900+ psi, at a time when air pressure was not able to compete. More on that in a moment.

How fast — Splatology

Before I talk about the air pressure the antique airguns generated, let’s first look at that deformed ball — for it actually tells us how fast it was traveling when it hit the iron plate. Big bore maker, Gary Barnes, did extensive testing of lead balls shot from big bore airguns in the late 1990s. He discovered that all lead balls deform the same when they hit steel plates at the same velocity. So a .32 caliber ball and a .50 caliber ball both flatten by the same amount when both hit the plate at the same speed. From this he created Splatology — the science of determining the terminal velocity (velocity at the steel plate) of a lead ball by its appearance. If you follow the link, you can read that article.

There is a quiz at the end of that report. You can take it if you like and find the answers at the beginning of the next blog.

From Splatology we know that the ball from the Perkins gun hit the iron plate 100 feet away at a terminal velocity of 560 to 580 f.p.s. So the muzzle velocity had to have been higher — perhaps 625-650 f.p.s. In other words, we can accurately know the velocity of a shot taken nearly two centuries ago! That is the upper end of power for a big bore airgun from the past. But wait — there’s more!

Velocity of the big bore airguns of antiquity

One more point before I get to the air pressure at which these antique big bore guns operated. The Perkins gun was more powerful than most airguns of its day. That means that the velocity those other guns generated was also lower. However, some of the Perkins gun’s velocity was offset by the fact that it was firing a continuous stream of bullets, where the airguns fired but one shot at a time. And some more velocity is given up because the Perkins gun used steam and not air. Air is thinner than steam and flows faster through a valve. So, even though the steam pressure in the Perkins gun might get up over 900 psi and the air pressure in true airguns of antiquity does not go that high, the muzzle velocities of the best airguns are very close to those of the Perkins gun — closer than the difference in pressures would suggest. Let’s take a look at what they worked with.

Available air pressure

There are many accounts of vintage and antique airguns operating. Most of them are unsubstantiated by facts — either in the articles or from tests that have been run to prove or disprove the claims. So, in 1998 Dennis Quackenbush approached me with an idea. Why not create a couple hand pumps that were similar in all respects to those of antiquity and test them to see what they could do?

We did just that and I published the results in Airgun Revue Number 4. And I republished an abbreviated version of that article in a three part blog report in 2008. There is far too much detail to cover here, but in that series you will discover that Dennis and I proved that the hand pumps of antiquity could generate from 750 to 850 psi — though 850 was really pushing the envelope. Theoretically it is possible for a hand pump from that time to generate pressures up over 1200 psi, but to do so the pump’s piston has to be very small.  The number of pump strokes such a pump would require to fill a reservoir to that kind of pressure becomes enormous.

Suffice to say we now know that the antique big bore airguns operated at air pressures ranging from 450 to 800 psi. The earlier guns (and pumps) from the years 1600 through 1800 probably operate at the lower end of this scale, while the guns and pumps made at the end of the 19th century are at the higher end. That means whatever velocity those antique airguns were able to achieve had to be achieved by air pressurized within these limits.

You have read in this blog that velocity is achieved in a pneumatic gun by the length of time the valve remains open and the length of time the air has to push against the pellet, which is the barrel length. Only when both of these things are optimized does the air pressure come into play. So valve dwell time and barrel length are more important than the available air pressure. If you need a refresher on this concept or if you are a new blog reader and missed this discussion, look at this report.

Why this is important

Someone might look at these references and ask why it’s so important. Who cares how a big bore airgun operated in 1715? I think the answer is — you care. Or you should.

If you know what is possible with just a puny amount of air pressure in an airgun of the right design, you’ll know a lot about pneumatic airguns in general. There are airgun designers today who are building guns that use pressures of 4500 psi and more. They do it in hopes of getting more from the gun they design. But I would ask them this question — more what? More accuracy? It doesn’t work that way. An Olympic target rifle that runs on 3000 psi is just as accurate as one that runs on 4500 psi. Yes, there are several models in each category.

Does higher air pressure give you more shots per fill? Maybe — but how many more will you get? Will your gun get 3 powerful shots where a gun that fills to 3000 psi only gets 2? Is it worth the effort to find an air supply that can fill up to 4500 psi — knowing that you are limiting the number of places that can supply you air at that pressure by a factor of at least 10? When the Benjamin Discovery was launched it demonstrated to the world that air pressure is not what makes an airgun work well. It runs on a fill of just 2000 psi, yet still gets 1000 f.p.s. in .177 caliber.

Do you think greater air pressure gives you more power? Maybe that’s not important. We already have 500 foot-pound rifles shooting all the way through 1500 pound bison – how much more power do we need? Ask any big bore airgun hunter about bullet penetration and they’ll tell you that unless their bullet strikes a major bone it’s not staying inside the animals they shoot.

What I am saying is there is great value in knowing how these antique airguns worked. Knowing how airguns of the past operated gives us the foundation to design them for the future.