One size does not fit all
by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier
This report covers:
- What gives?
- How I like it
- Have I made my point?
- Whole bunch of stories
- The moral
Lots of ground to cover today, so let’s get started. Have you ever wanted one of those “systems” guns? You know the ones I mean — guns like the Thompson Center Contender. It’s a wonderful idea — you can own just one action, yet make it into many guns through the installation of different barrels, stocks and so on. Great idea. Fabulous concept! But it’s not practical.
Notice that I didn’t say it doesn’t work, because it really does. You can take off the .30 Herret barrel you used to take last year’s whitetail and install a .22 long rifle barrel for silhouette shooting next weekend. It really does work just that easily. But you won’t do it.
At least not for long. What will happen is you will win a silhouette match with that pistol one day and, when the time comes to hunt deer again, you’ll rationalize that you really need another action to go with that other barrel. Because you certainly don’t want to do anything to jinx your silhouette gun, now that it’s winning!
Same goes for those who buy a lever action 1894 Marlin chambered for the same 44/40 cartridge they shoot in their Colt Single Action Army revolver. Ain’t it great that you can grab both guns and head out to the field, and only have to grab one box of shells? Well, it is until you realize that the rifle is three times stronger than the Colt. If you wanted to, you could handload cartridges for the rifle that would be powerful enough to drop deer at 150 yards. But don’t ever use them in the handgun! They would blow it apart! That’s why you painted all the primers of the high-powered handloads with red nail polish — so you would never chamber one in the Colt by mistake.
While we are at it, you found that the Colt likes a certain load that drives a 225-grain lead bullet, but the rifle prefers a 180-grain jacketed hollowpoint. In fact, about the only thing that revolver and rifle have in common is they both chamber the same cartridge — not that you’d ever actually want to do it.
Am I saying these dual-purpose and multi-purpose guns are a ripoff? Absolutely not! They perform exactly as advertised, and, under certain circumstances, they are well worth the investment. Let’s look at the rifle and revolver for a moment. If you were shooting black powder cartridges in both of them, that would be an excellent reason to use the same ammo in both guns. In fact it wouldn’t matter — as long as both guns were made for black powder. But the Marlin has a 18.5-inch barrel that doesn’t generate much power with black powder. It’s okay — just not everything it could be. You are better off using fast-burning smokeless powder behind lightweight jacketed hollowpoints in that gun. It’s not really suited for black powder.
And that Thompson Center Contender will work with almost any barrel you can put on it. But, once you lighten the trigger to 15 ounces for silhouette matches, it’s not really good for hunting deer when the temperature is below freezing.
And so on. You get the idea. Yes, multi-purpose guns are a dream come true, but when you wake up you discover that once you have them dialed-in the way you want, you really don’t want to go changing things around. So, you get a second multi-purpose gun for the next use. And so on.
What does this have to do with airguns, you ask? I own an AirForce Talon SS. It comes with a 12-inch barrel in your caliber of choice, but AirForce designed it so I can install any of 4 different caliber barrels in that airgun — each in one of three standard lengths. Four calibers and three lengths per caliber — that’s 12 different barrel options for just one gun.
How I like it
What do I use? I use a .22-caliber 24-inch Lothar Walther AirForce barrel that I happen to love. That longer barrel nearly doubles the power of the rifle with the same air. I have a bloop tube frame extender attached to the front of the gun’s frame to quiet the report. While my gun does look strange because it’s too long and thin, I could care less. It does what I want it to do, and, as many readers know, it is one of my go-to air rifles.
I did remove the barrel several years ago to conduct an extensive test of the effects of rifling twist on airgun performance. That 13-part test lasted about 9 months and I was glad when it was over, so I could put my rifle back in its proper configuration!
I feel the same about my 4-barrel Whiscombe rifle. I bought it as a testbed, and that’s how it has been used every since I have owned it, but I prefer to have either the .177 or .22 caliber barrels mounted. Not that I use the rifle for anything beyond testing — I’m just not that big a fan of .20 and .25 caliber spring guns.
It only takes a few minutes to change a Whiscombe barrel, but once you do the rifle has to be sighted-in all over again. It is a completely different airgun.
Have I made my point?
I’m not even close to the point I want to make today. This report isn’t about multi-purpose guns. It’s about finding the one best pellet and the right power setting on those guns that have adjustable power, and then sticking with it.
Whole bunch of stories
I can sum up today’s point with several stories. Back when I was still in the Army I chanced to buy or trade for an antique muzzleloading rifle. It was unmarked except for the barrel that said Green River. The patina said the gun was at least 100 years old back in 1979. I happened to read an article about shooting vintage muzzleloaders and by sheer chance I lucked into a good load right away. A good load in that rifle put 5 .45-caliber balls into a little less than one inch at 50 yards. I was delighted until the day I decided to get something else and let that shooter get away from me. The point is — one load worked!
I had a custom .458 Winchester rifle that I traded for at a local gun show. It came with dies, cases, a bullet mold and loading instructions. The seller loved the rifle and was sorry to let it go, but the time had come. Using his load I could put 10 550-grain lead bullets through one inch at 100 yards. I shot that rifle until I got bored with the accuracy. Did I just say that? I let it go knowing there were other accurate rifles out there and I could always find another. I’m still looking. One load is all I used.
I had a .270 Weatherby Magnum that would put 5 rounds into 3/4-inch at 100 yards. I had just one load for that rifle. It never failed me. I sold it because I needed the money, or I would still have it today.
I now have a 250 Savage that I got from my buddy, Otho, a few years ago. That was the rifle I showed you putting 10 first shots into one inch at 100 yards. Well — 8 of 10, but I called both the first shot and one other. That’s an interesting 2-part report, by the way. And the last section is about an air rifle, which gets us back to the topic of today.
My TX200 Mark III is a rifle of known accuracy. People always ask me why I don’t tune this rifle or modify it is some other way. I hope today’s report explains the reason I don’t.
My .177 Tyrolean Beeman R8 is another good example. It shoots so well with just a single pellet — the Air Arms Falcon — that I can’t imagine using anything else.
I will end with a story that illustrates the moral of what I’m trying to say today. When I taught the government about Japanese Management many years ago, the message that was an organization could be transformed into an efficient entity by applying the principles of what we called Total Quality Management. Motorola did it and changed the order-to-ship time for a pocket pager from 6 months to 15 minutes. But you can only do this transformation once.
If you then try to transform the efficient organization that had been created a second time, you tear it apart. In short — if it works well, don’t fix it. That applies to airguns too. When you have a load that works well (a pellet and perhaps the right combination of factors like power adjustment, barrel length, pellet head size and so on) stop trying to improve it and use what you have. Instead of fiddling with things, buy as many of the right pellets as you can and shift your attention to a different airgun.
I am a reformed fiddler. I have either ruined or walked away from many ideal shooting combinations in my life — some of which I have shared with you today. I’m simply trying to save you the time and trouble of going through the mess I did to get to where I wanted to be.