Sharpshooter rubber band catapult gun: Part 1

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

A history of airguns

Sharpshooter pistol
The Sharpshooter catapult pistol was made from the early 1930s until the 1980s by as many as 5 different companies. This one was made in the early 1940s.

This report covers:

  • History
  • Operation
  • How much value can be put into an inexpensive gun?
  • What is this about?
  • More power!
  • Next
  • Summary

Today I begin a report that I started five years ago and never finished. That was before we had the historical section of the blog. I planned to test many things about this line of unique catapult pistols and even bought the rubber bands for the extended test, but somehow it got away from me. Well, now I’m going to try it again.

You may remember several months ago I reviewed the Daisy Targeteer .118-caliber “BB” gun. You may not recall it, but when we got to the accuracy test that pistol failed miserably. These Sharpshooter pistols shoot the same small .118-caliber shot as the Targeteer, but they are powered by rubber bands and are generally much more reliable — at least the older ones are. They are still weak airguns, but I think we can have some fun with them anyhow.

History

Small things have a way of defining my life, and this is a story about one of them. When I was about 12, I bought a copy of the 1948 Shooter’s Bible in a used bookstore. It was full of guns, and I couldn’t get enough information about them back then. Unfortunately, the wonderful books I would discover on the subject like Sixguns by Keith and Yours Truly, Harvey Donaldson were still decades in my future — in some cases, more than a half century. But, I had that old Shooter’s Bible — a book I still own, by the way. I read it and re-read it, unwittingly but also unerringly committing the pages to memory.

Shooter's Bible
I have owned this Shooter’s Bible catalog for almost 60 years. It defined my beginnings as a shooter.

Sharpshooter page
This page in the catalog introduced me to the Sharpshooter pistol. Boy, did I want one of these!

Then, in the 1960s, when I was in college at San Jose State College (years before it became a university), I walked into an old sporting goods store in downtown San Jose, California, one day and stumbled upon what I thought was a time capsule — two new-in-the-box Sharpshooter catapult pistols whose design and specifications I’d committed to memory a decade earlier. Imagine my shock to learn that these two relics from what I thought was the 1940s timeframe were still for sale at the original 1948 price of $4.25!

Thirty-plus years would pass before I realized these were not the same pistols that were in that old book…that the company making them had been bought and sold numerous times, and the guns I saw and purchased in the store were the 1965 versions of the gun, albeit made by someone else and to different manufacturing standards. They looked like the Sharpshooters of the 1940s, but they had plastic parts in key places. As a result, they didn’t hold up very long when used.

Sharpshooters
Over the years I have collected several Sharpshooters from different eras. The one at the upper left is one of two I bought in the 1960s. Both it and the gun at the lower right (from the 1940s) have rubber bands installed. Notice their launchers are forward, while the other guns’ launchers are back.

metal Sharpshooter launcher
The sliding launcher is what flings the shot from the pistol. The older Sharpshooters have metal launchers that last for decades. This one is about 76 years old and still works fine. That flat metal piece on the left is the sear that also opens the in-line magazine to allow one shot to fall into the launcher.

plastic Sharpshooter launcher
The metal launcher was replaced by a plastic one sometime in the 1950s or ’60s. It cannot take the strain of constant use and will fail with time. I have had two plastic launchers fail. When they fail there are no replacement parts.

When I became a serious airgunner later in life, I rediscovered the original Sharpshooter pistols. These were the real deal with all-metal parts that are still functioning today. What a difference they are from the cheapened guns! Although the two look very similar, the older ones are the Diana 27s of the catapult gun world, while the plastic-parts guns are the Chinese wannabes.

Sharpshooter sales receipt
The Sharpshooter shown at the top of this article still has the sales receipt in the box. It was sold as a Bulls Eye pistol on March 23, 1942.

Operation

The Sharpshooter pistol is a repeater. The No. 6 shot lead balls lie in a channel on top of the gun. They’re held in place by the front sight, which simply slides out of the channel so the gun can be loaded. A metal trough is provided to funnel the balls into the channel, then the sight is pressed back into place. There’s room for approximately 50 shot in the channel.

Sharpshooter front sight in place
The front sight blade holds the shot inside the channel on top of the gun body.

Sharpshooter front sight removed
To load the shot channel, the front sight is removed.

Sharpshooter ready for loading
The loading trough is attached to the pistol and shot is poured in. It’s a speedloader from the 1930s!

When the launcher is pulled to the rear, stretching its rubber band, it pushes up the sear that moves out of the way to allow one shot to fall from the channel into the launcher seat. Only one piece of shot at a time can be loaded. What the user does is pull the launcher straight back until the sear catches the trigger, cocking the gun. That holds the loaded launcher in place until the pistol is shot.

The front sight can be adjusted up and down by a small amount. That’s the elevation adjustment. The rear sight can be slid from side to side a small amount because it’s held in place by 4 small metal tabs that form a crude dovetail.

Sharpshooter rear sight detail
The rear sight is held in by 4 metal tabs. It can be slid from side to side for small windage corrections.

How much value can be put into an inexpensive gun?

I think the old Sharpshooter pistol is the perfect example of putting value into an inexpensive gun. I think it shows why people love designs like the Soviet AKM rifles. Nobody argues that the AKMs are cheap to build — but the thought that went into them before the first piece of metal was cut or bent is where the investment is. That’s what the Sharpshooter pistol shows us — the thought that’s given to a design before it’s executed can be a wonderful thing.

Sharpshooter target stamp
A rubber stamp and stamp pad are provided in the box, so the shooter can stamp out targets!

Sharpshooter targets
This Sharpshooter came with colorful Bakelite spinners. The wire clamped to the gun box with the box top as the backstop! Some guns had celluloid birds that perched on small wire stands. See them in the 1948 catalog page above.

What is this about?

This report has started like a history lesson about a vintage airgun, but that’s not what it will be. I will test the pistol in similar ways to other vintage guns on which I’ve reported. But that isn’t what got me started thinking about this gun.

I was at the Roanoke airgun show maybe a decade ago, sitting at my table by myself, when my eyes fell on my vintage Sharpshooter pistol — the one pictured above. In a moment of weakness I had offered it for sale, but after what I’m about to tell you that madness disappeared forever.

I was bored, so I loaded a few shot into it and fitted a rubber band. Then I cocked the gun and fired it at a styrofoam coffee cup sitting on a chair about 12 feet from me. I hit the cup once, then twice then a third time, and I realized that you don’t need 50 foot-pounds of energy to have fun with an airgun. I doubt this gun has more than one five-thousandth that much energy (a 1-grain shot going 60 f.p.s. has 0.01 foot-pounds of energy), yet it’s pleasing to see it hit a small target some distance away. In some of the vintage ads, like the one I have posted above, there were claims of being able to hit houseflies at 16 feet with these guns.

More power!

That got me thinking about springs, and how new airgunners think more powerful springs will increase the energy of an airgun. We know from testing that they often don’t. The rubber band of a catapult gun is a type of spring. What kind of “spring” will have the greatest effect on the velocity of the gun — a big thick one or several smaller ones?

Think about this — which spring will toss you higher — a normal one found on a pogo stick, or a larger coil spring from a car suspension? The pogo stick spring works well because it’s been selected to work within the parameters of the expected weight for which the pogo stick is designed. The car spring is rated to many hundreds of pounds, which makes it more powerful, but not a better choice for a pogo stick.

pogo stick
A pogo stick spring is lighter than a car spring, but because it is selected for the weight range of a person, it works better.

car spring
A car spring is stronger than a pogo stick spring, but it doesn’t work with people.

Sure, you say, it’s obvious the bigger spring won’t work as well on the pogo stick, or even at all. But what if it wasn’t that big? What if it was only a little larger than the spring that’s on the pogo stick now? The answer is that it might work, but maybe not as well as you think. The pogo stick spring was chosen to do its job with weights inside a certain range, and a heavier spring may not improve things.

The same holds true for airguns. Whether we’re talking about coiled mainsprings driving pistons,  compressed air inside a reservoir or even rubber bands, there’s an optimum range that works the best with the other parts of the gun. Anything outside that range is probably not going to work as well.

Next

I plan to examine that thought using the Sharpshooter catapult pistol. This will be a normal test, with something more added.

Summary

The one nice thing about this pistol is I already know it is accurate. How accurate remains to be seen, but that’s what this blog is all about.

52 thoughts on “Sharpshooter rubber band catapult gun: Part 1

  1. B.B.,

    How far away will you pushing yourself to shoot the target with this little gem? I wonder if a rifle version would do as well as the 499 at the 5 meter range? Does the lead shot fill the entire bore? Or is a barrel not actually needed since the lead shot is held by the shot cup?

    Hope you had a nice trip back from the Pyramyd Air Cup.

    Siraniko


  2. B.B.,

    A nice little piece of history. I never had one of these, at least that I recall. I do remember the cap guns that took the paper rolls of caps. I had several of those as a kid. It will interesting to see what this one will do.

    Good Day to one and all,…… Chris






      • BB,

        Now it is true that more manufacturers should pay attention that there are quite a few of us out here that are far more concerned with being able to hit what we are shooting at than how fast the pellet misses the target.

        Most of my airguns were made in Europe where they are not allowed to have unlimited power. What they do have is superb accuracy. I own three air rifles that were made here in the USA. One of them is a 10 meter air rifle. Though many would consider my HM1000X in .357 a powerhouse, it is actually tuned down to provide the best accuracy with the 81 grain JSBs. “What good is 500+ FPE if you can’t hit what you are shooting at?”

        You can also take many of the Dianas and Weihrauchs and buy aftermarket tuning kits that allow you to reduce the power level. More often than not you find that the accuracy increases. This is why I became so excited about the adjustable gas spring from Vortek for the HW95. It would be great to tune one of these to its optimum performance.

        I’ll come down off my soapbox now.


        • RR,

          If I might borrow your soap box…

          Seen the power over accuracy craze with archery as well with guys buying bows way more powerful than needed and setting them up for maximum speed.

          Counter-productive. A heavy bow is difficult to draw when you are sitting in your deer-stand, cold and cramped from not moving much. The short, light arrows are less stable and don’t penetrate the way a normal arrow will. The whole setup is stressed to the max and noisy to shoot – the same applies to airguns.

          The Indians relied on bows to get meat and their bows were in the 40 to 50 pound draw weight range. That worked well for me as well. The Brits always impress me with how they can take rabbits at long range with their 12 fpe rifles… its all about accuracy, not raw power.

          Done, here is you soap box back 🙂

          Hank


          • Hank,

            12 FPE seems to work well with most sproingers. Of course that is assuming it is well made to begin with. Maybe I will get around to tuning my Tomahawk down a bit and see what I can do. If it turns out fine I will likely just stick with it as my “new” sproinger. It does look nice and the Quatro trigger is a pretty good one.




            • RR
              Ah but your forgetting. The 300 is turned up that I have. Not slowed down.

              It’s at 700 fps with JSB 10.34’s.

              See what I mean. Some work better turned up from the factory fps.

              There’s more to placing a velocity on a gun.

              If you truly want accuracy you need to test and find out what a gun wants.

              Remember the 300 has the anti-recoil system like the 54 Air King’s. You can get away with turning the 300’s up and getting a good shot cycle.

              And I’m guessing that’s what your referring to is shot cycle with the spring guns without the anti-recoil and tuning them down.

              Got to get it tuned right for the powerplant you have.



  3. BB, what a fascinating article! Thanks for the write up and excellent photos.

    I was aware of these guns but knew nothing of their history, or how they worked. Now I think I want one, darn it…!



    • RidgeRunner,

      Every I’d want one. That’s because I can’t hit a thing using a slingshot. The Hodges catapult gun looks like it can be reproduced. With these catapult guns I think the accuracy lives in the rails the launcher rides along, since there is no barrel. Which probably means the accuracy will go up the more it is shot. I’m thinking to duplicate the Hodges catapult you’ll need a tube for the rail to ride on. I wonder if there is a spring or soft material to catch/arrest the launcher when it reaches the end of the tube?

      Siraniko


  4. At the last few Airgun shows I attended, I looked at Daisy No. 25 BB guns. Never saw one that I really liked, although they ranged from the new commemorative to the antiques and were often a lot of money. A few weeks ago, Baker Airguns had one listed that looked justuse like the one my father gave me circa 1963. It was fairly priced, had new seal, and I bought it on a whim.

    Turns out great. I loaded a handful of pellets, stepped back five paces, and punched holes in a can right where I aimed! It is both an airgun and a time machine – power and accuracy are as good as I recall shooting plastic army men from my front porch.

    There is little collector value here, but to me it is a great addition to my “collection”. I recommend the concept of owning something like this from your own past, price may need to include your own “value”.


  5. B.B.

    Interesting blog! Love these history lessons!

    This reminds me of the “catapult rifles” that I made as a kid. Some wood, couple of elastics and a clothespin trigger – hours of fun!

    Was thinking about the “power plant” on these catapult pistols. The velocity is going to be limited by the recovery speed of the band and the weight of the projectile and launcher.

    It might be better to have several thin elastics instead of one thick one (on each side) because they should recover faster and weight less. Wounder if they went to a plastic launcher to save some weight in the area where lighter is better?

    I use Theraband Gold (different colors have different resistances) for my slingshots with excellent results and that is the first thing that I would try.

    Happy Monday !!
    Hank


  6. B.B.

    Thanks for the history lesson!

    Couldn’t somebody with a 3-D printer make replacement plastic launchers? My experience in the Caribbean is that rubber bands last about a year before they turn into goo. UV, salt air, don’t know why? Would surgical tubing be a good replacement for the rubber bands?

    Thanks,

    Yogi


    • Yogi,

      As I read B.B.’s piece I thought of the 3D printer and fortunately waited till I got to you comment!
      DITTO on your post!
      Many rubber bands are made from raw rubber that is vulcanized (latex) and it reverts to the raw state since they normally don’t use stabilizers. There are elastic bands made from other materials that don’t do that but those just dry out eventually. Surgical tubbing also is manufactured from different rubber types to include latex as well as synthetic rubber. Any type of surgical tubbing I have ever used had limited stretch recovery cycles…experience from my days using it to launch water balloons out to 100yds, as a substitute for slingshot (hand catapult) elastics. We also filled the tubing with water after knotting one end and inserting a Bic pen barrel in the other end as a great water pistol substitute!!! A youth!

      shootski


      • Shootski,

        At my college, the frat boys could launch water balloons MUCH further than 100 yards. Every spring they had an organized competition.
        I like the Bic gun barrel idea!

        -Y


        • Yogi,

          My range was far better when I wasn’t tubbing ;^)
          We used small plastic dog dishes to hold the water balloons to avoid disintegration on launch impulse.
          The water gun tubing inflates to about a 2.5″ diameter and can be worn under a shirt or jacket wrapped around your body for stealth. The range of the surgical tubing spray is about 30′ and it is also large in volume per unit time. When the tubing finally splits open it can blow out the seams of a shirt!

          shootski


      • When I was a kid, a buddy and I would make slingshots out of old inner tubes and tree crotches. We would cut the inner tube in strips about 1″ wide x 8″ long and fasten them to the tree crotch. We would use the tongue of and old shoe to hold the stones. We got pretty good with those home made slingshots. We would shoot wine bottles that we found along side of the railroad tracks. Thinking back, that wasn’t the smartest idea to break those bottles along the tracks and having all that glass everywhere. But, that ‘s what we did for recreation. Those were the days 🙂



    • All good slingshots use latex or natural rubber that is the same material, just processed differently. Rubbers don’t dry out, they degrade by losing crosslinks. UV light damages the bands fast. Don’t store them in sunlight and use an UV protection (turtle Wax 2002 etc) on them.


  7. B.B.,
    I remember your test of the Daisy Targeteer; it will be interesting to see if this gun has more accuracy.
    Ah, “Sixguns” by Elmer Keith…that brings back memories…my well-worn copy went to one of my grandsons. =>
    take care & God bless,
    dave




  8. “I hit the cup once, then twice then a third time, and I realized that you don’t need 50 foot-pounds of energy to have fun with an airgun.”

    Reminds me that a high school friend and I were fishing in the Brandywine River, across from the DuPont black powder museum in Delaware. The fish were’t biting. I noticed the water near us was full of minnows. I had a box of size 24 (very small) fish hooks. We cut some reeds from the riverbank, attached leader monofilament and baited the hooks with bread crumbs from our lunches. Like your experience with that old catapult pistol, I was pleasantly surprised to find that catching minnows with this ‘equipment’ felt just as satisfying as catching trout with my expensive spinning rod and reel.


  9. DAY OFF

    Good for you.

    Although I’ve read this review before it still brings a smile to my face when I realize that you appreciate that Sharpshooter I sent to you so many years ago that tickles your fancy.

    Your passion for all things that shoot without any condescending commentary is the reason you’re so popular worldwide.

    Bless you for that




  10. No plastic parts available?
    Wait, you have several, don’t you?
    You ever heard of this newfangled thingie called a “3-D Printer”?
    You have access to thousands of replacement parts, and you can- maybe- sell them!!



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