Sharpshooter pistol resurrection: Part 1
by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier
The Bulls Eye pistol (left) came first. Manufacture started in 1924 in Rawlins, Wyoming. The smaller Sharpshooter pistols at the right were made in Rawlins until sometime during World War II, and then manufacture moved to La Jolla, California in 1946.
This report covers:
- New parts!
- My Sharpshooters
- Unmarked guns
- What the launcher does
- How accurate?
- John O. Beckwith
- A full report
- Launchers/slides/carriers are available
A month ago I was contacted by reader George, whose great uncle, John Beckwith, produced the Sharpshooter pistols in La Jolla, California. George had read my Part 1 of the Sharpshooter report that was published in September of 2018 and he noticed what I said in one of the captions.
The sliding launcher is what flings the shot from the pistol. The older Sharpshooters have metal launchers like this one that last for decades. This one is about 76 years old and still works fine. That flat metal piece on the right is the sear that also opens the in-line magazine to allow one shot to fall into the launcher when it is pushed up by the launcher.
The metal launcher was replaced by a plastic one like this sometime after the 1960s. 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.
What I said in the caption of the second picture is true — there are no replacement parts for Sharpshooter rubber band pistols, but George wrote and told me he had several of the metal launchers — Would I be interested in one? His great uncle had given him several. I said yes, because the plastic launcher (I call them launchers and George calls them slides. I found out that the company called them carriers) in one of my newer guns had broken.
I bought two Sharpshooter pistols in San Jose, California in 1968 or so. I was cutting class at San Jose State — a regular thing for me — and wandering through the downtown shops when I spotted them high on a shelf in a hardware store. They couldn’t have cost more than $3.00 each because I didn’t have a lot of money then. But just looking at the box I imagined they were at least 20 years old — though unbeknownst to me at the time they were still being produced from leftover parts until the 1980s.
I have a better-looking nickel-plated gun that’s in a box and is still in good shape, but I shot the cheaper-looking blued steel gun until its plastic launcher failed. Of course the one without the launcher doesn’t work anymore. That is, it didn’t work until George contacted me. It turns out the metal launcher/slide/carrier his uncle gave him fits into the gun the same as the plastic one did.
The zinc carrier George sent me fits the cheaper Sharpshooter pistol fine!
Not every Sharpshooter made in La Jolla is marked with the name of the town. But there is a way to identify if it was made there. John Beckwith improved the design of the Sharpshooter by putting a forward protruding bump or hook on the rubber band anchors at the front of the gun to hold the bands more securely. If you see that hook it’s a La Jolla gun, regardless of the markings.
My blued gun has the “La Jolla hook.” That’s the forward protrusion on the rubber band anchor. That screw is for adjusting the rail tension to get the best accuracy and velocity from the pistol.
I want to tell you all about the history of the Bulls Eye Pistol Company of Box 485 Rawlins, Wyoming, and the Bulls Eye Manufacturing Corporation of La Jolla, California, but today I will focus just on the launcher. In my opinion that single piece is what makes the whole concept work.
What the launcher does
The launcher, which in the guns that date back to 1924 is made of zinc, fits inside the gun on two steel rails. Like the plastic part that replaced it, zinc is a low friction material that wears in when in moving contact with steel parts.
In this graphic drawn by Dean Fletcher, you can see how the shot climbs in its seat when the gun fires. That is a key to the accuracy. And yes, the sear does come down from the top rather than up from the bottom.
The action of the sear being pushed up to grab the launcher opens the internal magazine, allowing one number 6 birdshot to drop out of the linear magazine on top of the gun into the launcher. The muzzle must be elevated for this to work, but that’s the common way most shooters will hold the gun to cock it anyway. When the gun is fired the rubber bands fling the launcher forward. That pushes the birdshot up and into its seat. It is always launched from the same place in the launcher, which is the secret of its accuracy.
The launcher stops moving forward abruptly, sending the shot on its way. It works like a slingshot but is very consistent.
Besides playing with them in the 1960s I didn’t really do anything with Sharpshooter pistols until the late 1990s. I was attending the Roanoke airgun show and it got boring on a Saturday afternoon. My buddy Mac and I had a couple tables there. I had a complete Sharpshooter pistol kit out on my table for sale for $100. It was a kit that has everything — including the original sales receipt from 1942!
The sales receipt from 1942!
So I took the pistol from its box and fitted a rubber band. Then I poured some number 6 birdshot into the magazine — everything was in the box with that gun! Mac had an empty styrofoam coffee cup sitting on a chair next to him and I shot it from about 10 feet away. The cup moved a little and the shot made a small sound when it hit. Mac was intrigued. Since the pistol made no firing sound he didn’t know where the shot had come from. I shot the cup several more times before he caught on. But I was amazed that the gun could be so accurate. So we put the cup out at 12 feet and both of us continued to hit it.
I decided to not sell that gun and today I’m glad I did. There was one on Ebay yesterday with a Buy Now price of $350 and, although it was beautiful, it wasn’t as complete as mine. It is gone today.
John O. Beckwith
I wasn’t aware until researching this report that John O. Beckwith, George’s great uncle, bought the rights to the Bulls Eye Pistol from its inventor, Dr. C. L Bunten. He moved the manufacture from Rawlins Wyoming to La Jolla, California in 1946 or ’47. He bought all the tooling to make the guns and moved it south on his own, with the help of his brother Bud.
A full report
Dean Fletcher wrote a complete report on the Bulls Eye and Sharpshooter pistols for Airgun Review number 2. But in researching material for today’s report I discovered many things I didn’t know before. So this will be a very thorough report on this intriguing little gun.
Launchers/slides/carriers are available
George asked me to tell you that he still has some launchers/slides/carriers available. If anyone needs one, please contact me and I will put you in touch with him.
I find the genius of these guns fascinating! Not only are they repeaters, they even have adjustable sights! Of course that is in the material yet to come.
And by the way, I need a front sight for my pistol that has the new carrier. If anyone has a parts gun and want to sell it, please let me know.
I’m sorry that this report seems a little disjointed, but there is a lot of information to get across. I plan to do a full and thorough test of the guns, but I won’t string them all together. So this could take some time to finish.