by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

A history of airguns

Daisy Red Ryder
Daisy Red Ryder.

This report covers:

  • My gun
  • Today’s test
  • BB gun powerplant
  • Secrets of the BB gun powerplant
  • Daisy BBs
  • Cocking
  • Hornady Black Diamond BBs
  • Feeding
  • H&N Smart Shot BBs
  • So far

As I told you in Part 1, I’m reviewing the Daisy Red Ryder because it’s a classic BB gun, and also because I have a scope mount to test when this basic review is over. Today we look at the velocity.

My gun

My gun is either a variant 5 or 6, but I can find nothing in the Blue Book that distinguishes between those two variants. My gun has a wood buttstock with the Red Ryder brand on the left side, and a plastic forearm. The rear sight is fixed. The cocking lever is curved aluminum and painted black. The rest of the gun is blued steel. Variant 5 has all those features and was made in 1947 to 1952. Variant 6 has the same features and was made in 1952. In 1953 Daisy started painting the metal and sometime around then they also started to make the buttstocks of plastic — which is variant 7.

Today’s test

I will test my Red Ryder’s velocity today in the standard fashion. I will oil the plunger and test the gun with several different BBs. Since my gun is not new, this will be a test of a gun that is older than 60 years! I think that’s fitting, since this is an historical blog.

BB gun powerplant

I described a BB gun powerplant in the report titled, How the BB gun powerplant works. Basically, the hollow air tube on the end of the plunger pushes the BB off its seat at the breech of the shot tube. That gets it moving down the barrel about 50-80 f.p.s. When the plunger reaches the end of its travel, the air compressed in front of it is forced through small holes in the base of the air tube. When that compressed air hits the now-moving BB, it boosts the velocity up to its maximum.

Secrets of the BB gun powerplant

There are very few secrets of a BB gun powerplant. Polishing the inside of the compression chamber and polishing the inside of the air tube have little or no effect, because the air pressure and the air flow volume are so low. Lubrication is also of little effect — beyond the essential lubrication of the plunger seal (the piston seal). If you have a modern gun, it has a synthetic plunger seal. If it’s an oldie like mine, the seal is leather. No worries, though, because they all take household oil. I use Crosman Pellgunoil, simply because it is handy, but it is formulated from 20-weight non-detergent motor oil, so that works too. The type of oil isn’t as important (as long as it is petroleum-based) as having the plunger (piston) seal lubricated. That is how the gun seals and compresses the air.

I removed the shot tube and oiled the gun with 10 drops of oil down the muzzle. My gun doesn’t have an oil hole on the outside like the more modern ones do. After installing the shot tube once again I dry-fired the gun twice to spread the oil on the plunger and then I was ready to shoot.

Daisy BBs

First to be tested were Daisy Premium Grade BBs. They had to be, for the continuity of the report. Ten Daisy Premium Grade BBs average 280 f.p.s. from my old Red Ryder. The low was 271 f.p.s. and the high was 287 f.p.s., so the spread was 16 f.p.s. That’s not bad for a 60+year old BB gun!

Cocking

As I cocked the gun for each shot I was reminded of what it was like to cock an older BB gun. The lever only comes down halfway and the cocking effort is pretty stiff. I remember that as a kid these guns seemed very hard to cock. Well, they still are. Daisy changed the mechanism sometime later and used the whole lever stroke to cock the gun, which reduced the effort by about half. I have been shooting modern BB guns for so long that I forgot there was ever another way.

Hornady Black Diamond BBs

Next up were Hornady Black Diamond BBs. These new BBs have performed well in many BB guns this year and I was excited to see how they would do in a vintage BB gun. Well — they did phenomenal! Ten BBs averaged 284 f.p.s. with a spread of just 5 f.p.s. — from 280 to 285 f.p.s. I can’t wait to see how they do on paper!

Feeding

I want to remark about feeding now. My Red Ryder fed every BB perfectly. I never had a blank shot. I was loading just 10 BB into the gun at a time and they all fired perfectly. I remember as a kid getting blank shots all the time, but of course the BBs weren’t as uniform back then and I didn’t keep my guns lubricated, either!

I mention feeding because that was the basis of the lawsuit between Daisy and the Consumer Products Safety Council. The CPSC claimed gravity feeding isn’t rteliable, until I showed their lawyer how many military guns use it. After that the lawsuit went away. What was behind all that was a kid who shot another kid with a BB gun, causing grave injury, because he, “…didn’t think the gun was loaded.” That means he claims that he shook it and didn’t hear a sound.

With both these and the Daisy BBs going nearly the same speed, I figured they represented premium steel BBs pretty well. It was time to test lead! The Red Ryder of the past used no magnets, so feeding lead BBs is no problem.

H&N Smart Shot BBs

I loaded 10 H&N Smart Shot lead BBs into the gun and went back to the chronograph. These BBs are significantly heavier, so we expect a velocity drop and we got it. They averaged 227 f.p.s. for the 10. But here is the deal. They varied only 3 f.p.s. from the low of 226 to the high of 228 f.p.s. That is incredible! I can’t wait to see how these BBs do on the target in the next test.

So far

So far we have learned about a Red Ryder from the 1940s that still works well today. The velocity is probably off what a new gun will do by 20-30 f.p.s., and maybe even a little more. But it’s stable and enough to get the job done.

We have learned that this old BB gun is hard to cock, as all old BBs guns were. The change in the cocking mechanism was a major improvement.

I hope that we have also learned that older BB guns like this one are not candidates for power modifications. You can get them back to spec with new seals and mainsprings, but that’s about as far as you can go. No doubt it is somehow possible to go farther than that, but you will be inventing the solution all the way. BB guns just are not good candidates for power upgrades.