Johnson Indoor Target Gun: Part 1

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Johnson Indoor Target Gun
The Johnson Indoor Target Gun is a catapult BB gun that was made in the late 1940s for youth target practice.

A history of airguns

This report covers:

  • Who was Johnson?
  • The M16
  • Airgun
  • The gun in hand
  • Discussion
  • Summary

Yes, I’m reviewing a Johnson again. For some reason I keep coming back to this one. I did a short piece on December 28 2015, and before that an article on December 22 2005. Finally I did an initial very short introductory piece on October 2, 2005. That’s a lot of articles. So, why am I writing about it again? Well, the gun we are looking at today is a nearly-new Johnson that I got in the box at the Texas Airgun Show this year. It has many thing that I can show you, plus I will do a complete report on this one. So grab your coffee, boys — this series should be good.

Who was Johnson?

Melvin M. Johnson, Jr. (1909-1965) was an Army Ordnance colonel (also a former Marine) who invented several famous battle weapons, the most famous of which was the Model 1941 Johnson rifle. He tried to interest the Army in his rifle over the Garand that had early teething problems, but by the time he got his act together in the late 1930s there was too much momentum (too much money had been spent and too many contracts signed) on the Garand program, and they did not accept his design. The Marine Corps did use his rifle early in the war because there were not enough Garands to equip them. And some rifles were purchased by other countries. I’ll stop here because this report is not about the Johnson rifle, though that rifle is worthy of such a report of its own because of all its design innovations and quirks.

M1941 Johnson
The M1941 Johnson battle rifle was Melvin Johnson’s most significant invention. In very good condition today an untouched example will bring over $5,000, and even rifles that have been modified into sporters will fetch $2,500 and more.

The M16

Johnson’s greatest contribution to the military, in my opinion, was the M16. He did not invent the rifle, but he was a major factor in its development in a roundabout way. He invented the cartridge (5.7mm Johnson, also called the .223 Spitfire) that prompted the U.S. Army to experiment with the .222 Remington and to get Remington to enlarge it into the .222 Remington Magnum, before they created their own 5.56mm (.223 Remington) cartridge that spawned the M16. That story also deserves a blog or two.

Spitfire and 30 caliber Carbine cartridges
Johnson necked the .30 caliber Carbine cartridge (left) down to .22 caliber and called it the 5.7mm Johnson. It works perfectly in a converted M1 Carbine.

I own a Carbine that has been converted to shoot the 5.7mm Johnson and it’s cool to shoot the little cartridge that gets 3,000 f.p.s. from a tiny 40-grain .22 caliber bullet. It isn’t that practical, nor is it especially accurate, but it is cool.

Airgun

Today, however, we are looking not at a firearm but an airgun designed by Johnson — the Indoor Target Gun. The ad below is a page from the 1948 Shooter’s Bible catalog.

Johnson ad
Ad from the 1948 Shooter’s Bible

Immediately after the war companies were gearing up to provide civilian goods that had been set on the back burner during the war years. Guns of all types were among the items in the greatest demand, because returning troop s wanted to continue to shoot, now that no one was shooting back.

As you can see from the catalog page, a Johnson cost $15 in 1948. That was when a single shot Winchester model 67 .22 rimfire rifle could be bought for $11.50 and a Daisy Red Ryder went for $4.50 I don’t know what the colonel was thinking with that high price, but it sure wasn’t sales! Imagine if a BB gun powered by a rubber band sold for $157.12 today. That’s what a Johnson would cost in today’s (2018) inflated money. Ironically a used Johnson in the box will fetch about $100+ today, so not much value has been lost over the years.

The gun in hand

I am going to tell you all about the features and performance of this strange gun, but right now I’m going to shift gears and tell you about the particular example that caused me to start this series.

About 20 years ago I was attending an airgun show in St. Louis when I saw a pile of Johnsons that were all new in the box. A single dealer had at least 20 and maybe as many as 30 guns at that show. The prices were affordable, but I have forgotten what they were. I was curious about the gun, but it was the poor condition of the boxes that interested me the most.

They were all deteriorating in similar ways. The lithographed outsides were breaking off in large pieces and the cloth “backstop” that’s glued to the inside top the box was turning to white powder.

The Johnson box was designed to turn into a shooting gallery that had a cheesecloth backstop for the BBs. In that respect it is not unlike the Sharpshooter pistols we looked at recently. A rack with two tiny metal spinners clipped to the front lip of the box, where they served as targets. Look at the picture in the catalog page to see how it works.

As I said in the beginning, I saw the one I’m reporting on at the Texas Airgun Show this year and the box was in the best condition I have ever seen. I have now seen about 40 of these in the box, though some of them may have been the same guns at different shows. This box is faded and coming apart, due to acid paper used in the construction, but it’s still the best one I have seen. This time I did not hesitate. I pulled the trigger, and here we are.

Lithoed box
When new this box was bright and beautiful. Acid paper has deteriorated over time.

Box lid up with target
Compare this with the ad and you’ll see how the target works. The box is so far gone that the target stand can’t hold it up anymore.

spare rubber
These spare rubbers were in the box. They can’t be used, but are useful as patterns for making new rubber.

Flinger
The plastic launcher (yellow arrow) is the Achilles Heel of this gun. The steel hooks on the cocking device (blue arrow) tear through the plastic launcher pretty quick! Either that or the thin hook arms break off. I will tell you how to avoid both problems and also what to do when they happen. New launchers are unavailable.

Rubber
The rubber that is on the gun in this report is installed crossed for some reason. I’ve never seen it like this. Is this from the factory?

Rubber attachment
The rubber tubing is tied with thread at both ends. Nobody would do it this way today or even any time in the last 30 years. Is this the original rubber on the gun?

Discussion

The condition of my gun is pristine. It hasn’t even been opened much to get at the parts, because the bluing is still pristine. This may be a gun that’s still in factory condition.

The box came with an original manual inside. That, alone, is worth a lot, because how many of them still exist?

I haven’t started to describe how the gun works yet, or pointed out any of its many features. There is so much more to come!

Summary

I believe that my new/old gun has never been repaired since new. The overall condition, the condition of the box and especially the fact that the surgical rubber is attached by thread are all clues to its fine original condition. So this series should be an in-depth look at an airgun very few airgunners know about.

82 thoughts on “Johnson Indoor Target Gun: Part 1

  1. B.B.,

    Staring at the pictures I can imagine the original owner trying this out then getting surprised when the rubber tubing suddenly let go. I surmise that he tried to approximate it best he could but ended up placing the tubing in the odd crosswise fashion. Just my conjecture.

    Siraniko


  2. BB
    I’m going to say it’s not the original rubber on the gun.

    Why would that rubber on the gun still be good but the extra rubber that came in the box not be good.

    Unless the acid box deteriorated the extra rubber and the rubber that’s mounted on the gun some how protected that rubber. ???


  3. B.B.,

    Very interesting. As always, the function and mechanics and mechanisms are of most interest. I see that it is a repeater. 65 round magazine. That is interesting. “Fed” it says,…. as opposed to gravity. Magazine also implies force fed/advanced/pushed.

    Also wondering,.. the plastics and rubbers of old had a propensity to deteriorate over time,.. as opposed to todays products. No issue here with this specimen? I am speaking of the stock (not the bands).

    Good Day to one and all,….. Chris


  4. BB,

    That manual could indeed be worth it’s weight in gold. It should tell you how the bands should be installed in the gun.

    Is the band in the gun original? I question such only because of the whiteness of the thread it is tied with, though being in the gun it would be protected somewhat from the ravages of time. Are the other bands tied similarly?

    It would indeed be tempting to shoot. You do realize you are once again enabling me. I do not see me buying one of these, but I just might have to pull out the old drawing board.




      • Tubing bands with a single crimped band of metal were in the boxes (I had 3) when I bought them so I assumed they were original. A staple like piece of crimped metal seems likely to be factory. the others with wire wrap or thread were made from surgical tubing from ebay while I was experimenting with various lengths and types of rubber. This type rubber deteriorates quickly so it is extremely unlikely that any originals would retain any elasticity. A tip: don’t leave any of the tubing in contact with something you value when storing the gun! as to the crossed rubber in the gun, that probably occurred at the gun show and was not from the factory.


    • RR,

      I’m thinking the same thing.

      Ever since B.B’s. blog on the catapult pistol I have been keeping my eyes open for suitable materials to make a catapult “rifle” powered by “Theraband Gold” bands (the same stuff that I use on my slingshots).

      Happy Friday eh!
      Hank


      • Hank,
        I’d like to see a pic on one of your slingshots.
        And if you do design and make a catapult “rifle,”
        I hope you’ll either send it to B.B. for analysis
        or do your own guest blog on it; thanks.
        Have a pleasant weekend,
        dave


        • Dave,

          I don’t have any finished slingshots handy as I sold the last one a month ago and we are just approaching slingshot making season (winter 🙂 )

          Here is a picture of one that I have started. The view is from the back of the slingshot (away from the shooter) and shows where I have (roughly) sculpted the forks to fit my hand. Like rifles and pistols, a well fitted grip is a real asset to shooting consistently.

          I usually make a dozen or so over the winter. This one is elm but I will also use maple and buckthorn (my favorite).

          Have a great weekend Dave!
          Hank



        • OH THANKS RR!! – NOW you have done it!!!! 🙂

          What a beauty!

          Well, its official. There is a new entry in my projects folder for a catapult rifle. Think I will design it from scratch to use the 3/8 inch steel balls sold as slingshot ammo.

          Have a great weekend!
          Hank


          • Hank,

            Now that you are retired,… and given your most excellent skill set(s),…. I can see some really interesting stuff from you in the way of guest blogs in the future. Looking forwards to whatever you may put together.

            Chris


          • Hank,

            This project should keep you busy all winter.

            That would be a good “caliber”. You could then use .357 / 9mm round lead ball also.

            You do realize that you may have to build two of them, don’t you?



              • Hank,

                LOL! Yeah, I have heard of that place before. The proprietor does indeed have different tastes than most. In fact, at this very moment there is a Webley Mark II Service going through an overhaul. It should be finished in just a little bit. Lots of photos.


          • Hank,

            I was thinking an unfinished long rifle stock might work. You can find them at various levels of inlay and finish. I myself would like a nice tiger stripe maple. 😉

            Now of course a brown or gray laminated stock would look awesome and be stronger. 😀



  5. B.B.,
    This promises to be an interesting series; I’m always intrigued by catapult guns.
    And I hope, at some future date when you have more time,
    you will do some reports on Colonel Johnson, his rifle, his ammunition,
    and how all that led to the development of a piece of ordinance that is still used by our military,
    and in semi-automatic form, by our police.
    The airgun material you put out is priceless, and it’s the main reason we read your blog;
    but I think many people here love a good story from history.
    And in this case, it relates to a firearm (the M16 and AR15 and all their variants)
    that has been copied many times as both an air rifle and an airsoft trainer.

    Keep up the good work!
    Wishing a blessed weekend to all,
    dave



  6. B.B.,

    I’ve seen these for sale online a few times, but never with a box or manual, and usually a bit overpriced for their condition. I had figured that a good-functioning one for the right price might be good as a rainy day shooter. I have always been stopped by prices that are just too high plus the nervousness I have about anything vintage made of plastics.

    I will read this with great interest, especially what you discover about maintenance and repair and, of course, accuracy.

    Michael


  7. Mr. Gaylord:
    Ah Friday’s! We can count on another edition of BB’s antique roadshow airgun edition. Really interesting article today.
    But with that pistol grip and forward grip, would the Johnson Indoor Target rifle be banned in California because it has too many “assault rifle” features? 🙂 🙂
    William Schooley




        • William,

          You might be surprised to learn that Feinstein actually had a Concealed Carry License/Permit but relinquished it after witnessing San Francisco Mayor Milk’s shooting. She claims to have been there and remembers putting a finger in a bullet hole trying to find a pulse…

          I have a lot of training in First Aid to include Wilderness First Aid and Combat Triage but have never heard of that technique!

          shootski





  8. BB

    There is a glaring mistake in the section “Who was Johnson?”. He could not have been a “former Marine” as that creature doesn’t, as any jar head will affirm. 😉

    Having the bands crossed looks to me as if it would cause a cut that would result in the very break that is present on the installed band. Surely that is a mistake or possibly someones experiment.

    Half


  9. BB

    I don’t think Johnson invented the 5.56. The first experimental conversion of an M1 carbine to .22” was done in 1952 by a guy at Aberdeen called Gustafson, as a result of the Hall report into small arms effectiveness.

    Johnson only brought out his Spitfire round in 1962.

    Johnson did, however, come up with the 22.5 degree multi-lugged rotating bolt that Gene Stoner copied for the AR10, 15, 16 and 18 rifle designs.


    • Geezer,

      Now that is something I did not know. My information says that Johnson approached the Army in 1952 to interest them in the 5.7mm cartridge for the Carbine and that only later did he make it commercially available as the .22 Spitfire. I am looking into it.

      Thanks,

      B.B.


      • Geezer,

        I appears you are right. Johnson was involved with the Army in 1951, but it was on a project that ultimately resulted in the M14. Then he resigned his reserve commission and joined Armalite. He didn’t propose the 5.7mm Johnson until 1961, according to what I have learned.

        Thanks for setting me straight.

        The Army was hot on a replacement for the 7.62X51mm (.308) of the M14 for logistical reasons and they worked with Remington and their .222 cartridge. Ultimately Remington developed the .222 Magnum, but it was slightly too long for the action Stoner had designed, so the Army had them develop a higher-pressure round that was shorter — the 5.56mm. As partial payment for that work the Army let them make the .223 Remington that is dimensionally similar, but runs at less pressure.

        Johnson was around the entire time this was transpiring, either in the Army or in Armalite or in one of his own companies and he no doubt borrowed the idea of the high-velocity .22 centerfire round for himself. He began converting Carbines for his 5.7mm which he also called the .22 Spitfire and selling barrels for the conversion, but I can’t put him behind the Army development program like I thought.

        It took some searching because there have been contradictory things written about him.

        Thanks,

        B.B.


  10. I could have sworn that earlier this week I saw a P.A. promotion that had 13% off with no free shipping (or) 10% with free shipping,… running through Monday (I think). I do not see it now. Am I imagining things?

    Chris


  11. Yesterday I was at Rural King and out front was some hard sided,plastic shooting,…. “palaces”/blinds. Around 6′ x 8′ and lots of windows. Screen door. Carpeted floor. Ideal for Ohio Winter shooting providing some heat source. I can see it now,…. Lazy boy kicked out,… mini-fridge,… Sat. dish on roof,…. mini-stove for hot munchies,….. 🙂

    One problem,….. $2999.99. Really? I am sure hunters are a bit more conservative than that. I could make one for around 300-500 just as nice.

    I would post a pic,… but the R.K site fails to show them. At any rate,… I found it quite interesting,…. if not a bit perplexing.

    However,… there is lots of options for blinds for those that might consider outdoor Winter shooting. Lots with a roof/top cover. One of the most humorous ones was one that looked like a big “bowl” of corn stalks. Another,…. a round hay bale.

    Chris


    • Chris
      I mentioned many times to Buldawg to get one of those pop up shooting blinds and put a heater of sort in it for winter and one of those ice chest A/C’s in the summer.

      Like I say. Simple but effective. 🙂





        • GF1,

          There is a feedback button so I sent a message about Hawaii, looked it up and you can only hunt in Hawaii on private property with the owners permission.

          Mike


          • Mike
            Good about the message. Hope they add Hawaii.

            It’s definitely a nice quick reference. That they put together.

            Maybe more air gunners will come about with the PA hunting map.



              • Mike
                Probably right about hunters and powder burners.

                But at least now us air gunners that like to hunt with our air guns has a quick reference to check.

                It’s definitely easier than trying to to decifer through a states hunters digest. It’s one of those things that you can make the rule/ law out in multiple ways. They are not very straight forward on some things. And usually you have to read that years whole book to make sure you don’t miss anything.

                So I’m happy that PA put together that hunting map to reference. I’m sure that was time involved to get it done.


                • I think that there is a moment when air gun hunting that the advantage becomes clear. It is when you missed the shot and the target isn’t spooked so you can get a second chance. It’s still better to make the first shot count.
                  Gerald


                  • Gerald
                    You got it. Definitely makes a difference having a quiet air gun verses a loud firearm.

                    If you hunt rabbit or squirrel with a shot gun after that first shot they are run’n for the hills if you know what I mean.

                    Plus depending on were you hit with a shot gun you can blow them to smithereens. And even if you get the hit right you still got all that shot in the meat to contend with. With a air gun you just got that one clean hole from the pellet.

                    To me I much rather hunt or pest with a air gun verses a firearm.


  12. To all

    I placed an order for 8 tins of pellets, I was home all day today just checked the tracking data and it says my pellets were delivered at 11:46 am today. Not seeing them anywhere did not hear the UPS truck come thru either.

    I sent an email to Pyramyd Air as to my next steps, this stinks.

    Anyone have this happen and know what needs to be done to get this sorted.

    Mike


    • Mike,

      UPS should have GPS records to verify. The package may in fact have been delivered, but hi-jacked by low life scum seconds later. You see that on the news all the time. Security camera’s, yours or neighbors comes in handy there. I have used PakMail in the past for when I am working and the item might be high dollar. I have had stuff get sent there instead of the house, because they had 2 “ship to” addresses on file.

      Best wishes and keep us posted,…. Chris




        • Mike
          I would call myself to see. All you have to do is give your tracking number.

          I have had them say they delivered in the past. Then come the next day they didn’t even have it loaded on the truck.

          Pretty agrivating actually.

          I would call them now. And remember Monday is Veterans day. So no telling what answer you will get. And surprised they delivered on Saturday. Where I’m at they don’t deliver on Saturday anymore.


    • Mike,

      I experienced the exact same thing. When I checked the status it showed that the pellets had been delivered and were ready for pickup. The “ready for pickup” confused me. I had to research using the tracking number at the UPS site to find out where they were actually located. They were delivered to the closest UPS access point, which was Goin-Postal. I don’t why they were not delivered to my home. Then I had to drive three miles to the UPS pickup site to retrieve them. Could have been worse, the only other UPS site was 15 miles away.


      • Geo,

        I would not mind driving but my shipping data says the package was left on the front door.

        Chris may have nailed it about some low life running of with the box, they probably do not even have an airgun.

        Mike


  13. BB,

    I for one like the idea of that 5.7mm Johnson round. I’ll bet that with a little work that could be an accurate little round, if not in the M1 Carbine then in a bolt action. A Carbine spitting those out could be pretty mean.

    I have thought for sometime that a slightly shortened .30 Carbine round would make a good pistol round.



      • BB,

        Oh, I know. Mean little bugger. I am talking about just shortening the .30 down to where it would work better for a pistol. I have seen pistols using the standard .30 carbine round but the grip is long and because of such you cannot double stack.

        For that matter I would like to see a .25 auto mag made from a lengthened and hot loaded .25 ACP, which is really an underrated round. All of the specs you see for it are with a 2 inch barrel. I wonder what the .25 ACP would do in a 3 1/2 to 4 inch barrel? It would probably end up being meaner than a .22 LR, most especially in a pistol.


      • BB,

        But like I was saying, I really do believe that rounds like the 5.7mm Johnson and the .22 Hornet are highly underated. Barrels could be made and loads worked up for a break barrel rifle where you could have light loads for small game and hotter loads for deer and such. A nice little survival gun.




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