The rise of the BB gun: Part 2

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

The history of airguns

Part 1

This report covers:

  • Return to normalcy
  • Modern production methods
  • Daisy changes manufacturing processes
  • The age of repeaters
  • Quick Kill
  • Two major BB guns
  • BBs get better through competition
  • Are we finished?

Return to normalcy

In Part 1 we ended our look at the progress of the BB gun just after World War II. I had mentioned that the war stopped the production of BB guns so the manufacturers could make wartime items. When the war was over, there was still a period of time when raw materials were hard to come by. They had been stockpiled for the war and were not in the general channels of distribution for over a year. The government sold most of its stockpiles, but these sales took many years to complete and the materials were often not located where they were needed the most. So a lot of time passed while things returned to normal.

While all this was happening Rosie the Riveter was returning to her home and former military personnel were busy finding jobs. Eventually things did get back on a civilian footing and started to move according to the pace of free enterprise again, rather than to the edicts of the government.

It wasn’t the first time this nation had switched from a wartime footing to peacetime. We did the same thing after World War I. But WW II had a far greater impact on every aspect of life — not only in the U.S. but in every country on the planet.

Daisy went through a couple lean post-war years because of materials shortages, but by 1947 they were back in full production. Only there were production changes coming that nobody had prepared for.

Modern production methods

World War II was a time of raw materials shortages all around the world. Manufacturers had to learn how to do things differently, and the war effort provided the motivation for that. Just to pick one major production program, I turn to my favorite — the production of more than 6 million M1 Carbines by 10 different prime contractors (one of which failed to deliver) and hundreds of subcontractors inside 38 months! Furniture makers and typewriter manufacturers were building one of America’s prime battle weapons. The parts had to be 100 percent interchangeable, regardless of who made what. It was a difficult learning curve, but in the end the program achieved that goal.

One of the most interesting manufacturing techniques tried on the Carbine was one that took place in the late ’40s and into the early 1950s. After the war was over the government tried to use investment cast parts in a firearm! I believe that was the first time that was attempted. A special metal called Armasteel was tried for several small Carbine parts. The parts that were produced this way didn’t live up to their design goals for ruggedness and durability. However, the ground had been broken for cast parts in guns!

Companies continued to develop the process of casting steel parts for firearms, because the return would be enormous. Instead of man-hours and tooling wear and tear, the parts could be produced in unlimited quantities with near-finished dimensions at a small fraction of the cost.

In 1963, the Sturm Ruger company became a leader in the investment casting of gun parts. Today we see metal injection molded (MIM) parts on a significant number of firearms. And nobody thinks less of Ruger for building their powerful revolvers out of castings.

Daisy changes manufacturing processes

Daisy started changing their manufacturing processes around 1952, when they began to blow-mold their stocks and forearms from plastic. The early plastic wasn’t the best. It warped and cracked from exposure to heat over the years and just from the passage of time. But as often happens, things did improve. The initial investment in machinery to support this effort was high, but after production numbers reached a certain point, economies of scale kicked in and plastic parts became much cheaper than the wood parts they replaced.

The other change Daisy made was to move from hot-blued metal parts to painted parts. They used the electrostatic process that is so successful today. This process also needed some time for refinement because the early paint flaked off over time — a common problem in the early days. But it allowed Daisy to remove the caustic bluing chemicals and vapors from their plant, along with the heating tanks. The savings in production man-hours was significant!

I remember as a youngster favoring the wood-stocked and blued-steel BB guns over the newer painted plastic models, even though the newer guns did look a lot sharper. Plastic stocks were a turnoff, and Daisy did things like produce pure white stocks and pink stocks for girls that were a red flag to our impending manhood. After a few years in our hands, it was easy to detect severe wear on the new technology, but by that time I had moved on to firearms.

The age of repeaters

The 1960s and ’70s were the age of repeating BB guns. CO2 had come of age, after almost dying out in the late ’50s from leaky cartridges. Crosman’s business boomed with several popular CO2 pistols like the Hahn 45 that morphed into the Model 36 Frontier. These were two Colt Single Action-looking BB revolvers that let little boys kill bad guys just like Marshal Matt Dillon killed badman Arvo Ojala every week on the opening of Gunsmoke. A lever action BB gun called the Hahn 166 Super BB Repeater was available for those boys who felt the Rifleman channeling through them.

Not to be outdone, Daisy started their Spittin’ Image line of lookalike BB guns in 1960. The first two models were the 179 pistol that copied the single action Colt, and the lever action 1894 that came a few years later. Both were repeaters that were icons of their era.

When the WW II programs like Rat Patrol gained popularity on television, Crosman reskinned their powerful but boring V350 BB gun into the M1 Carbine that captured the hearts and minds of many young boys. Even today, some of those same little boys still cling to their Crosman Carbines that look so real they could fool any armorer who doesn’t look closely.

Crosman M1 Carbine
Crosman’s M1Carbine (bottom) looks like the actual firearm. Carbine at the top made by the Inland division of General Motors.

Quick Kill

It wouldn’t do to overlook the Daisy Quick Kill program developed for the U.S. Army to prepare soldiers bound for Viet Nam to engage the enemy without using their rifle sights. This program is an outgrowth of the earlier program developed and espoused by Lucky McDaniel. Though this program didn’t advance BB gun technology in any way, it did give BB guns a broader appeal.

Lucky McDaniels kit
Lucky McDaniels kit that was made for him by Daisy. He also sold a BB gun made by Parris.

Daisy Quick Skill
Daisy’s Quick Skill kit was an attempt to convert the Army Quick Kill program to a commercial product.

Both McDaniel and Daisy tried to sell the instinct shooting concept to the public. McDaniel did it personally through his training programs that even trained famous athletes like heavyweight prizefighter Floyd Patterson. Daisy sold the Quick Skill gun as a package that relied on the purchaser to train himself. Of the two, Lucky’s was the one that endured, training thousands of shooters when all was said and done.

Two major BB guns

Two BB guns from this time stand above all others. First was Crosman’s 760 Powermaster that’s called the Pumpmaster today that came out in 1966. Patterned after Remington’s slide action model 760 Gamemaster hunting rifle, the Crosman 760 multi-pump pneumatic soon rose to flagship status for the New York-based company. It shot both BBs and pellets, but the targeted customer base was far more likely to use BBs because they were more affordable. Due to its success, the 760 is still in production half a century later.

The other major BB gun is Daisy’s model 880. Since 1972, the 880 Powerline multi-pump has been delighting little boys of all ages with power and accuracy. It also is a dual ammo long gun that for some reason gets used with pellets a lot more than the 760. And, like the 760, the 880 is still in production today.

BBs get better through competition

To this point I’ve talked about the advancement of the actual BB guns. For the majority of these decades, though, the BBs themselves remained the same. They were wire chunks that were chopped up and rolled into a ball by heavy opposing steel plates. Many of them came through the process with flat spots, but since there was nothing better to compare to they were accepted.

BB flat spot
This Crosman Copperhead BB of the 1960s is typical of the quality of that day.

Then something remarkable happened. Daisy has been hosting the national BB gun championships since 1966. Shooting first at 15 feet and later revised to an international 5 meters (16 feet 5 inches) millions of children around the world have learned to shoot and to compete through this competition.

In 1959 Daisy created the model 99 BB gun for target shooting. It had a sling and target sights, but in all other ways it was a standard BB gun. The first year they offered it as a 1000-shot gravity-feed model, but then it was switched to the 50-shot forced-feed magazine that was found in guns like the Number 25.

In 1975 Daisy brought out their model 299 — an advanced version of the model 99 that was intended for competition. But it was still a plain gun in the trappings of a target model. Daisy knew that coaches around the country were testing the individual barrels of their guns and switching them out for those with the tightest internal dimensions.

So — in a Six-Sigma/Value Engineering/Japanese Management type of program, Daisy took the bull by the horns and created the BB gun that the coaches really wanted — the model 499 that is known today as the Avanti Champion 499! In 1976 they brought out this BB gun that is now revered as the world’s most accurate.

To go with it, they perfected the shot-making process to produce the most perfect steel BBs the world had ever seen. These were the number 515 Precision Ground Shot that are sold today as Avanti Precision Ground Shot. The BB-gun world was rocked to its foundations by this formidable combination, and I think a lot of that response echoed back through Daisy!

You can say what you want about the reasons and motivation for Daisy improving their standard BBs, but I note that they were doing it within a decade of the 499 and Precision Ground Shot. Today Daisy’s Premium Grade BBs are much advanced from the BBs of the 1970s. As a result, every new BB that comes to market today uses Daisy’s BB as the baseline. If they can’t make their BBs at least as good as Daisy’s, there’s no sense trying to compete.

This is one area where the Crosman Corporation has lagged behind. And I believe I know why. I have visited Crosman’s BB production line several times and seen the enormous capital investment that’s needed to make a BB. Looking at the small steel ball you can’t envision the 100-plus feet of 2-storey-high automated machinery needed to turn steel wire into a finished packaged product. To modernize a process that large would take an investment of millions of dollars. Compared to making BBs, making pellets is pocket change. And, when you’re done, you get to sell your product to the most price-driven market in existence. Only farming would be less profitable!

Are we finished?

Have BB guns gone as far as they can go? I don’t think so. I don’t think we are even close to the end. I see the potential for many new products that haven’t seen the light of day — as yet. Manufacturers — here come the freebies!

Take a precharged pneumatic like the AirForce Edge, but without the fancy sights and expensive target equipment. Leave the trigger, though. Run it at 2000 psi, or better yet, 1500 psi, because it’s only going to need a small puff of air for each shot. Develop a tight BB barrel that exceeds the accuracy of even the 499. Don’t think it can’t be done! When the 499 came out we didn’t think it was possible, either. Build this gun to retail at a low price, so it will attract target shooters. The 499 is your guide. Use Daisy’s Precision Ground shot for the best accuracy, or better yet, use the new Smart Shot BB we looked at yesterday.

To put this as simply as I can — MAKE A TARGET BB GUN THAT TOM GAYLORD WOULD LOVE TO SHOOT.

Okay, another one. Take the Colt Single Action Army revolver from Umarex and the Smart Shot BB and create a BB-gun component of Cowboy Action Shooting. Only the targets and rules have to be created. The hard stuff already exists!

Last one — and only Crosman can do it. Take the NightStalker carbine and fix the action so it cocks the trigger with the shot. Ed Schultz told me that was possible. Make it shoot BBs and give us the reincarnation of the Crosman 677 — BB-firing semiautomatic pistol!

53 thoughts on “The rise of the BB gun: Part 2


  1. G’day BB,
    Not recommended!
    My son put a BB in the Bug a Salt the other night and fired into the backyard out of the window so he thought.
    So after he fired he reloaded and thinking it was only salt, fired at a closed window about 3 feet away. The BB bounced off the window and into the kitchen. The 1/8″ glass has no hole in it but a 3/4″ star fracture on the other side which was immediately Superglued as the replacement cost is $350.
    Wonder what the velocity was?
    Cheers Bob




  2. B.B>,

    I love the Nightstalker! A BB shooting one would be an extreme Plink-o-Matic. Perhaps they could be called the Fun-o-Matic.

    Improving an imperfect trigger is always a good thing, but my Nightstalkers already have relatively light triggers, considering what each pull of the trigger accomplishes inside the gun. For example, my two Nightstalkers have triggers that are many times better than the triggers on my 1077s. Do you have an idea why the Nightstalker has a lighter trigger than the 1077?

    On the subject of cowboy action shooting, have you heard anything about Umarex issuing a 5 1/2 inch barreled version of the SA? Rifled, perhaps?

    Michael


    • Michael,

      Sorry — I was out at the range.

      First, my 1077 triggers are both lighter than my Nightstalker trigger — I think. No ida why yours would be different.

      Next. if Umarex doesn’t have that idea they haven’t been reading this blog!

      B.B.


      • B.B.,

        I’ve never measured the triggers on my Nighstalkers, but I’d guess they are about six pounds, which given how much that trigger pull must accomplish inside the action, seems reasonable to me.

        The 1077 is, like the Nightstalker, delightfully accurate and fun to shoot. I have two 1077s, one in black plastic and one in wood. I haven’t measured the trigger pull on the black one, but it seems similar to the wood one, which I measured with a fishing scale at something like 14 or 15 pounds, if my memory serves.

        With my wood stocked one, I hacksawed off the trigger guard (not unsafe as there is no possible way that trigger could be accidentally engaged) and attached a two finger paintball trigger shoe, so I can use my index and middle fingers together, effectively cutting the pull weight by 50 percent.

        Michael


        • Michael,

          I have been shooting 1077s for the past 20 years. I think I have owned 4 or 5 of them. I noticed some time back that it is the box magazine that influences the trigger-pull weight the most. That mechanism contains the lever that advances the cylinder for the next shot. When a magazine is new, the trigger pull is heavy, but when it breaks in, it becomes lighter.

          I don’t know what the pull is on the triggers on the 2 1077s I still own, but you have intrigued me enough to look into it.

          Maybe I need to have a fresh look at the 1077 and throw in the Nightstalker?

          B.B.


          • B.B.,

            Regarding the Nightstalkers and 1077s below are my opinions.

            I love my Nightstalkers. Reacquaint yourself with yours and you’ll remember how much fun they are, I promise. They are perfect action shooters, in my opinion. The short barrel makes them low-enough velocity that they are easy on targets and slightly more backyard-safe than many other airguns. They are very accurate with the very cheapest of red dots. They are lightweight, look cool, and are quick to the shoulder. I am not generally fond of 88 gram CO2, but there is a benefit in rapid shooting in that they do seem to slow down the cooling process slightly vs.12 gram, and having it located in the buttstock balances the Nightstalker well, a la Air Force guns. There is a trick to loading the clips, but once one has it down, it is easy.

            I like everything about the 1077 except the trigger. Accurate, affordable, relatively quiet, lightweight and pointable. Your advice long ago to treat it as a one-stage trigger helped me a lot, but the trigger was still heavy. I stumbled onto the idea of sawing off the trigger guard and attaching the 2-finger paintball trigger shoe, and now it looks a bit zany, but I can shoot it much more easily with a 2-finger squeeze that is quick and strong. I hold the forearm normally for a gas gun, but I hold the grip tightly to not let the “decisive and firm” squeeze of the trigger work.

            Michael


    • Wow, I love this “bb” gun series. I mainly just shoot pellets (rifled barrels) but this makes me want to break out the bb guns and “play” with them again. Maybe some of those “copper coated” lead bbs in my Daisy 200.
      Speaking about the Umarex Single Action Revolver, maybe Umarex would consider a Colt revolving carbine? That would be cool also.


  3. Oh, this is something I could definitely get behind. As incredible as the 499 is- it’s lacking for an adult. It’s too light, and as accurate as it is- it sounds terrible when fired. I have three of them. One makes such a springy buzzy noise that it’s the only air gun I have where I want to wear ear plugs so I don’t have to hear it.

    There’s so much merit in a 5 meter target bb gun. Nearly every household has 5 meters of space to use. Ammunition is inexpensive for what you get- $7 for 1050 avanti bbs.


    • Kookla,

      I have a 499. Love it. Just bought some VERY small flat washers to take the front sight inserts down to a smaller I.D.. Looking forward to see how well it works. How small?,……from .167″ to .065. Might be a press fit or maybe a drop or 2 of super glue. 3 huh? You must really like em’. Chris


      • Insert update,…

        Turned out to be a press fit…with the help of a pin punch and a slight tap with a light hammer. As for improvements,…2 one holers instead of one 1/2″ group. So,..there must be a bit of a hold/pull issue which I still need to work out. Washer held good after 40 shots. That is 10 shot groups,….so the potential is there. Only did 1 insert.


  4. BB,

    Indoor target shooting with an accurized BB gun sounds like fun. Not sure about shooting lead indoors, as it is difficult to make things idiot-proof enough for the general public (they keep inventing better idiots?). Maybe a “green” version of the Smart Shot, i.e. a copper-plated zinc BB?


  5. Guys…. I spend two houwers with the lgv’s trigger adjustment.
    It is now FENOMENAL!!!!!!!!
    Touch…… and go.
    It is fabulous. ………. touch and go.
    It now surpasses the record trigger by Miles!


    • Dutchjozef,

      Does the LGV have the same trigger as the LGU? Sound’s light? Any idea how light? (actual measurement)

      If in fact you know that it is the same, I would be interested in hearing your adj. method. Chris


      • Chris. The lgu and lgv triggers are the same. As I posted earlier ghis week, I was not satisfied with the standard trigger.
        The gunsmith installed the optional iron match trigger, witch has 2 adjustment screws. It costs 20 euro, the trigger that is
        But it should have been installed off factory.

        Ok, here is my procedure, Im sure there are better ways, but it worked for me.
        Adusted front screw (closed screw to gbe bore). Screwed it INSIDE upon tbe 1e trigger leaver. So I screwed it right turn.
        Did this several times till there trigger was only a one stage trigger, BUT it was a short one stage trigger.
        Then I unscrewd to the left the second leaver spring adjustment, thats the one that is not located in the actual trigger, but in the trigger housing. I adjusted the screw until I had a extremey light and UNPREDICTICAL one stage trigger. Last thing I did was screwing in tbe second trigger screw. Screwed it inside upon the point that the trigger became a second stage trigger.
        I have no trigger pull scales. But I can tell you it is extremely light. Its not as light as a 10m standing olympic airgun. But is is close to a running bore match rifle.
        It is wayyyy more light than tbe record trigger. As I stated, its about the pull of how it shot my running bore rifle.
        I could not find decent instructions how to adjust the trigger.
        So I took some fotos of it, and thought about tbe trivger a few days. I really studied the trigger.


        • Dutchjozef,

          Thank you for taking the time to explain that. I played with the stock trigger and am looking into the Walther upgrade or the Rowan for the LGU. I am glad it worked out for you and you like it.

          Notes made. Thanks again,….Chris


          • Chris…. I urge you to buy tbe walther umarex upgrade trigger.
            Sorry for the non-fluid writing in my initial post. I just woke up and wrote it in bed. Any questions. …. just let me know!


            • Dutchjozef,

              😉 , Yea,…I thought it was off a bit. Been there, done that. A 1/2hr. and at least a cup of coffee first,….if not,….it’s anyone’s guess as to what I’ll type. Thanks again, Chris


  6. Just stopped in one of the local “antiques and collectibles” shops, found a ’56 Buzz Barton. It was missing the sight tube and had a bad crack in the stock, price was still $75.
    I think they’ll probably have it for a while and absorb all profit. It was standing beside a 880 that was missing the barrel and front sight, price was $45.


    • Reb

      $45? What a steal. Literally.

      For 95 cents more you can buy a brand new one that actually comes with a barrel and front sight from Pyramyd.

      But then again, it wouldn’t be a ‘collectible antique’ like the one in the shop, now would it? Har!!

      I would avoid that shop like the plague.


  7. BB,

    When you are finished with this amazing series of historical subjects, rearrange them, write the connection paragraphs and you have a book.

    And incidentally me as first on the waiting list for an exemplar,

    Regards,

    August


  8. Got a quick quedtion. With the growing “re-popularity” of bb guns (did they really fade?) with us adults, do you think that there may be an adventurous manufacturer that may take the “huge” next logical step of actually sizing bb’s and bb gun barrels to about the same diameter?
    As in increase bb diameter to about .175ish, or maybe decrease bore diameter to about .174 or so. A closer fit would almost definately increase the accuracy of bb guns (except possibly the Avanti combination). Todays bb guns, both “rifles” and pistols have more than enough power to easily handle a closer fit.
    Obviously they still couldn’t compete with pellet gun accuracy, but they don’t need to…they’re bb guns not pellet guns. Two similar but quite diferent platforms.
    Just a curiosity on my part. Yes I know the initial retooling would’nt be cheap, but just think of the potential sales increases across the board.
    The barrels would be easier and more practical ( therefore cheaper) to change than the multitude of bb’s currently on the market…but would they actually consider DOING that.
    It’d quickly remove the last vestiges of the “Toy” status that some people still addign them. (I know they are not toys, but some people’s children… 😉 )
    Anyway, what do folks here on the blog think? For it? Against it? Wouldn’t make any diference?
    I’d like to see a few opinions on the idea.
    Thanks,
    Denny



    • Denny,

      That is exactly what the Daisy 499 has. The barrel is less than a thousandth different from the ammo. It’s why the ammo is so critical to that gun.

      I doubt you will see others like that, because people don’t buy them. The 499 wasn’t available to the public when I first tested it in the 1990s. But through publishing the reports of its accuracy, the gun sold.

      Daisy actually said to me they felt they couldn’t sell it to the public because the gun would have to cost twice what a Red Ryder cost. That made the price $70 at the time. I told them to give it a try and they did. They never looked back, but even so, the 499 isn’t a leader in sales.

      B.B.


      • B.B.,

        Well,…for me,…I am glad you did (499). While I figure your not the one to brag,….it would be a good article on air gun changes,.. (history),… that you have had direct influence on. Just sayin’….. 😉

        While I got ya’,….any thoughts on the cleaning/accurracy question below? Thanks, Chris


    • Denny
      I know your talking accuracy. But you know those semi-auto and full auto BB guns are fun too.

      Where else could a person go to have so much fun without shooting military firearms and such.

      BB guns are cool even if they are not accurate.


      • I guess I should rephrase that.

        BB guns are cool even if they are not as accurate as pellets out at farther distances.

        Is there a BB gun out there that can hold a decent group at 50 yards? That’s what I want to learn about.


        • The airsoft hop up mods are about as good an example as I’ve yet to find. Someone here was talking about a magnet mod for steel BB’s that sounded like it should work about the same.
          I’m gonna do some testing with my’57 102 to see if I can tune it to be on target with the sights by adjusting the loading door. I’ll let you know what I come up with. But I don’t remember any 50yd shots with my RedRyder, maybe half that.


          • Reb
            Interested in your 102 without a doubt. But I bet if anybody knows it will be him to know about a 50 yard accurate BB gun.

            But the trick question is what kind of accurate do we expect from a 50 yard BB gun.

            Maybe we will be surprised that there just might be one out there.



          • BB
            I know you talked about round balls in the past. Just thought maybe you might know if there was a BB gun ever made that diid hold decent groups out that far.

            I don’t know if you remember sometime back you did some articles on airsoft guns. I ended up getting one of the sniper air soft guns. I was actually surprised that I could hit a can out at 35 yards very easily. And the airsoft balls was actually penetrating one side.

            But that’s what made me think that there could be a BB gun out there that could hit a can repeatedly at 50 yards.


  9. Question?

    Has anyone had the accuracy drop off (get worse) after a barrel cleaning? I figure maybe due to loosing a “seasoned” barrel? Dealing with wind and not the best steady today,…so it may be all me and the wind,… Chris



      • GF1,

        Well, after 3,000 shots plus on the TX and LGU I thought I would give it a try. I got flexiable kit with a plastic coated cable and all joints are brass and/or aluminum. Sent through muzzle, attached a patch at breech and pulled back out. A dry patch was quite dirty. Did a wet solvent patch, bronze brush, several dry patches and an oiled one,….all done very easy and carefull.

        Accuracy was about 3/4″ before and was about 1″ after,..so that is why I asked that,..errr,…difficult?,…question.

        To put it simple, I figured some may say that groups got better right away. Maybe some would say that they could not tell a difference. Others might say it got a bit worse, but sooned returned after 50 pellets or so after the barrel got “seasoned” again.

        As I said, it was windy,…5-10 steady with 15 gust. Plus my steady was not the my best. Groups did seem to tighten up a bit after the 4th 10 shot group with each.


      • GF1,

        Also, tried BB’s suggestion of a strong flashlight held at 45 degree angle. I could not get it to work. The led bore light did work and showed a pretty shiny barrel before, but a shinier barrel after. It’s hard to see well on a sliding breech such as the TX and LGU. Toss in the fact the barrels are recessed at the muzzle ends.


        • Chris USA
          Yep I try not to clean air gun barrels. Firearms is another story.

          And I guess that means a air gun barrel does get seasoned as its shot. That kind of falls back on that pellet testing when your trying to find what your gun likes. We talked about that before. Don’t shoot only 10 or 15 shots and switch to another pellet. Shoot a good number of pellets of each type to make the decision on what your fun likes. That’s my belief anyway.



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