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Are breakbarrels less accurate?

Fire rifle cocked
Fire with the barrel broken open.

This report covers:

  • Less accurate than what?
  • Concerns
  • Barrel droop
  • Firearm barrel droop
  • What can be done?
  • Barrel lock
  • Other side of the coin
  • Feelings prevail
  • Discussion
  • Summary

Today we explore the breakbarrel air rifle and see what people have said about its accuracy.

Less accurate than what?

I guess the first question to answer is, “Less accurate than what?” So I will be specific — less accurate than fixed barrel spring-piston airguns.

Concerns

Many people feel that since a breakbarrel opens and closes, it cannot return to the same place every time. They feel that because of that a breakbarrel must scatter its shots just a little. And, it goes even further. If both the front and rear sight are mounted on the barrel people feel that a breakbarrel can be accurate, but when a scope or peep sight is mounted on the rear of the spring tube then there is little chance for consistency.

Yesterday you saw the proof that this concern isn’t true. My Beeman R8 is a breakbarrel that is scoped, yet it shot a sub minute of angle 5-shot group at 25 yards.

So, who is right? Are there concerns about breakbarrels? Yes, there are, but they’re not what everybody thinks.

Barrel droop

The big concern about a breakbarrel is barrel droop. Barrel droop means the barrel does not point straight ahead, relative to the top of the spring tube. The name “droop” seems to imply that the barrel isn’t straight, that it somehow droops down like a limp garden hose but that’s not what droop means. It means the barrel points down and away from the line of the receiver or spring tube where the peep or scope sight is mounted.

HW 35 barrel droop
This HW-35 has the worst case of barrel droop I have ever seen. I photographed it to illustrate what droop means. As you can see, the barrel is pointing down from the line of the spring tube. And this barrel is LOCKED!

What manufacturer is the worst offender in the air rifle world for barrel droop? Time’s up, it’s Diana. I spoke with a Diana VP of marketing (or sales, I can’t remember) about the barrel droop issue and was informed that the company didn’t see a problem. You see, their sporting breakbarrel air rifles all mount both the front and rear sights on the barrel. No problemo.

Firearm barrel droop

Okay — what firearm has the worst case of barrel droop? The AR-15 is notorious for a drooping barrel. It gets it from the modular way the rifle is constructed. Because of the problem there are lots of droop-compensating scope mounts for ARs. Oh, shooters THINK they are for shooting at longer distances, and they are, but the AR barrel almost always points down.

Back up just a minute, BB. Didn’t Diana also have several 10-meter breakbarrel target rifles and didn’t they mount their peep sights at the rear of the rifle? Yes, they did. HOWEVER — what distance did those rifles shoot — ALL THE TIME? Ten meters. Could the rear sight be adjusted to compensate for the droop of the barrel at that distance? Absolutely. Would it ever be a problem? Not as long as they always shoot at the same distance. And what do 10-meter target rifles do?

Diana 60
Diana model 60 target rifle.

Diana 60 target
The Diana model 60 shown above shot this 0.10-inch five-shot group at 10 meters. I’d say that’s accurate.

Shop Benjamin Rifles

What can be done?

A solution was needed — not because there was a problem, but because there was the perception of a problem. When people THINK something is a problem they react to it, and the breakbarrel “issue” was seen as a big problem. So barrel locks were created.

Barrel lock

A barrel lock holds the barrel closed against tension, giving the impression of a more positive lockup. You can relate it to people who wear cloth masks to “protect” themselves against a virus that’s much smaller than the mesh in the cloth. It’s like putting up a chain link fence to keep mosquitos out.

HW 55CM barrel lock
To open the barrel of the HW-55 Custom Match the barrel lock had to be flipped forward every time.

HW 35 barrel lock
To unlock the HW-35, pull the barrel lock forward.

Other side of the coin

On the other hand, Diana knew that barrel lockup wasn’t a problem. So they used a spring-loaded ball bearing to hold many of their breakbarrels shut. I’m referring to models like the 25, 27 and 35 (the old 35 — not the modern one).

Diana 27 breech
That large ball bearing at the bottom of the Diana 27 base block is a spring-loaded ball that holds the barrel shut after cocking and loading.

The benefit of the ball bearing breech lock is the ease of opening and closing the breech. No slapping of the muzzle is required. The barrel breaks open easily, yet no real accuracy is lost.

In fact, that Diana model 60 target rifle we looked at earlier has a BALL BEARING BREECH. Yes, it does!

Diana 60 breech
As you can see (arrow) the Diana model 60 breech is held shut by a spring-loaded ball bearing.

Feelings prevail

But even Diana had to cave to the prevailing feelings of shooters everywhere. They created the models 65 and 66 target rifles — both breakbarrels that had barrel locks. And then they created the model 75 that was a sidelever with a fixed barrel. Sometimes prejudice can’t be overcome.

Discussion

Don’t think that all breakbarrels are as accurate as the Beeman R8 I showed you on Monday and yesterday. Don’t we all wish that they were, but they’re not. By the same token don’t think that all fixed barrel spring guns are as accurate as a TX200 Mark III, because they are not. Several of the good ones like the Diana 52 and the Whiscombe are accurate, and don’t forget that John Whiscombe also made a breakbarrel that was also highly accurate.

Whiscombe broken open
My JW75 Whiscombe spring-piston rifle is a breakbarrel that’s highly accurate.

But let’s not forget the Chinese B3 and B3-1 underlever rifles. They have fixed barrels and nobody ever stood up and said they are accurate. Oh, sure — minute of soda can at 20 feet maybe, but not the kind of accuracy we are discussing today.

B3-1
Nobody would say that the Chinese B3-1 is an especially accurate air rifle.

Summary

There is a lot to this issue. Things like what does accuracy mean and what level of accuracy are you willing to accept. But the point is, just because the barrel moves doesn’t mean that the rifle has to be inaccurate.

47 thoughts on “Are breakbarrels less accurate?”

  1. B.B.

    I should change my name to BreakBarrel Betty! Cocking and loading a side lever or under lever is an unnatural act.
    May I tell you other unnatural acts???????? Don’t answer that.
    Unfortunately, most Springer FT Hunter Class shooters do shoot16 fpe underlevers or side-cockers. They look at me and my 12 fpe break barrel with surprise and pity.

    -Y

    PS They say to really complete the picture, I should shoot with peeps…lol.

  2. BB,

    So the problem is more of a subjective rather than in objective complaint. I sorta understand Diana’s position (Why should we change what has worked since the beginning of the company?) Then again the current management seems to be more interested in maintaining sales rather than making true innovations since I don’t consider their EMS 34 an innovation for the end user (since from your review I get the impression is that it is more for the manufacturer’s sake). Any changes for the end user is seen as an unnecessary expense to be avoided since the change only holds a promise not a guarantee of increased sales.

    Siraniko

  3. BB,

    Some years ago, I was turned off from breakbarrels by this very concern, and I justified my supposition by observing that a Gamo Shadow 1000 could be made to shoot an inch or two low at 20 yds, simply by setting it firmly upon the rest, so that the barrel “bounced” a fraction out of its locked position. This led me to purchase an Air Arms Pro Sport, but alas! the ponderous weight and bulk of that gun, in addition to the awkward loading procedure got me to rethinking my underlever allegiances, and though I have since discovered PCP’s (the Holy Grail of airguns, in my opinion), if I were to consider getting another spring-powered airgun, it would certainly be a quality breakbarrel. This blog has convinced me of their potential.

    And on another note, let’s not forget that the chain link fence performs excellently at harboring bacteria and increasing lung infections, tooth decay, and CO2 levels, while decreasing brain function and facial language recognition, thereby stunting children’s mental development, all while the mosquitoes slip through and attack their conveniently weakened, compliant victim. Brilliant.

    Daniel

    • Daniel Krebs,

      I avoided the fixed barrel choice and went to single and multipumps for a time until getting my first 10 METER PCP. I thought I would never turn to the BreakBarrel Side but this blog and the SIG ASP20 got me to give it a shot. My objection was to the metal spring vibration that just compounds the barrel harmonics problem.
      Now i’m giving it lots of shots with the Gas Spring eliminating the powerplant’s spring vibration.
      The benefit of being able to be loaded and cocked with the Gas Spring for extended periods of time helped overcome the next most significant issue i had always considered a negative for hunting.
      The longer range and substantial power capability difference will always keep me shooting and owning PCPs.

      shootski

      • shootski,

        PCP’s are certainly amazing. Just today I shot these five-shot groups in one attempt at fifty yards with my HW 100 and JSB Jumbo Exact 15.89’s. The largest group is 0.425″ and the smallest is 0.320″.

        • Daniel,

          Fine shooting for sure and the HW 100 is a shooter from what I have heard but a little up there for my cash reserves. I guess that puts you up for the SubMOA challange should you chose to engage.

          Mike

  4. B.B.
    I currently took a turn to breakbarrels and I am trying to learn how to shoot them using a shortened D350 as a teacher. She also has a ball bearing. After some hundreds of shots there’s a wear on the upper side of the base block. Is it to be expected?
    By the way I know that it might be the wrong tool to learn, but when I see 0.30″ five shot group, at 10 meters with a red dot, it seems that I may be getting somewhere.

    • Bill,
      Is that wear just superficial finish wear or can you feel it or worse measure it?
      A bright light or LASER pointer used at a proper angle will help you detect actual wear over what just looks awful.

      shootski

      • Shootski
        Thank you very much for your response.
        It seems to be rather a finish wear than something that can be measured. In any case I will keep an eye on it.

    • Bill,

      By a shortened D350, do you mean the barrel has been cut and recrowned? If so, what length is the barrel now?

      The Diana 350 is a very powerful springer, so I imagine shortening the barrel must make the cocking effort very high.

      • Bob
        Indeed its barrel now is 12″ now, threaded with a 5″ steel airgun silencer. So the total length of the 17″ is making cocking quite manageable, for me at least. Please note that the power with RWS Superfields, most accurate up to now, is 17 fpe.

          • Bob
            You are right about the power. From day one it was around this level. I found it on a shelf of the store I frequent, where it has been for many years but never used, only for display. I don’t know if it is true or the salesman doesn’t remember correctly after all these years… Point is that it’s been lubed after I bought it. Maybe it needed some more barrel length for the full potential after been broken in.

        • Bill,

          The shorter barrel wouldn’t have an effect upon the power level of a springer.

          Since your airgun was a long term display model on a store shelf, I wonder if it may have been left cocked for a long time causing the spring to take a set and weaken.

          I bought a display model Hatsan 1000s a few years ago, took it home, shouldered it, looked down the sights and pulled the trigger. To my shock the gun discharged! Luckily it wasn’t loaded and it was pointing in a safe direction. The piston slam cracked the plastic stock by the front left stock screw though.

          So maybe your D350 needs a new mainspring. Or maybe you are happy with it the way it is. 17fpe is pretty powerful for a springer and the cocking effort and recoil will be less than if it was 25fpe.

          Which calibre is it anyway?

  5. It’s no secret I’m a fan of Tac-T-Cool and was overjoyed when Crosman came out with the MTR77 Nitro Piston replica of the AR-15. But unfortunately it had three strikes against it and is now out.
    Aside from the ‘Barrel Droop’ It required high mounted sights because of the AR Stock configuration and it was not too cooperative with using the Artillery Hold. It shot extremely low. and would require every trick in the book to sight it in.

  6. I only own two break barrel piston guns, A lowly 1985 “Pioneer” and a late model Walther LGV Master, one end of the spectrum to the other. The rest of my springers are of the under lever variety. The Walther is my favorite springer by far, I’ll admit it the mechanical locking lever comforts me. I have a nice target sight mounted on the receiver and these rifles came with a nice hooded front sight that accepts Anschutz inserts. I am careful about who shoots the LGV as you don’t want to barrel slap it ,

  7. BB,

    sorry for splitting hairs here:

    You wrote:
    “People ask me all the time if breakbarrels are less accurate than fixed barrels and I tell them they aren’t. But they can be more difficult to shoot accurately.”

    My main focus was the “more difficult to shoot” part. I don’t quite see why a breakbarrel would be more difficult to shoot than a fixed-barrel springer. The fixed-barrels tend to be a little heavier, but they still recoil and require an artillery hold.

    As for the barrel lock issue: I suppose the difference can be measured, but is not the deciding factor in most real-life applications.

    I was going to say that my Diana 34 has a light case of barrel droop. I have a bit of adhesive tape under the rear scope ring and that’s it. But then, I haven’t shot it at distances greater than 10 meters yet so maybe I don’t really know 🙂

    Stephan

  8. I, up until three weeks back had never owned a break barrel air rifle. Why, well shooting with people using powder burners, they always seemed too much the archetypal air gun. I also thought if I ever hunted, (which I never have) then second shots would be slow and loading when prone seemed awkward. The loading method with the butt in the groin was also a deterrent since it suggested moving the feet, something I like to avoid once I am happy with my position.
    Anyway, some weeks ago (in order to provide a little variety) I bought a used and tuned 177, HW95. If I initially had one reservation it was the slightly harsh firing cycle. I spoke to the tuner about having it detuned, since for paper I don’t need 11.9 fpe; but he reckoned that would not help with the “recoil” and suggested extra grease on the spring to bring the energy down to a safer from prosecution level. Running it through the chrono I had seen a variation in the order of 6 or 7 fps so decided to leave well alone.
    The motive for me writing this post is only last night when test shooting Field Target Trophy I was having trouble seating the pellets. Damaging the skirts with my nails when trying to load them. So, I tried pushing them home with a small allen key and instantly noticed a softer firing cycle. I was quite chuffed by that discovery.
    I have removed the moderator as it is superfluous so with the short barrel I now get a good upper body workout when shooting. The feet moving when loading issue is solved by having the butt under my right arm. The gun is also (I think) as accurate as my BSA R10. That’s me shooting offhand; I haven’t tried a serious bench rest comparison and doubt I ever will. If it delivers offhand that’s good enough for me.
    The setting up of the scope has been somewhat tortuous, but I will spare you that story.
    However, I would say shimming for elevation is easy to grasp because it matters little if the tube is the same diameter as the mounts, but for windage having no or little play would seem to be a problem and it was a bit. I managed to get six thou in and it seemed to help.
    In conclusion, I am really enjoying getting to know this little gem.

  9. After typing for a considerable time, my comment disappeared into the nether world because I was not logged in. Thank you, WordPress.

    Most people’s perception may be due to two things. Ignorance and quality. As you say, “A moving barrel?” This where the quality thing comes in. In my modest “collection” the break barrels win. They are of top shelf quality though.

    Many have probably tried a “cheap” break barrel that you would have difficulty hitting the side of a barn when standing inside. I have seen them. Quality is the key.

  10. I have heard of some fellows who have tried to make the B3 accurate. I guess it can be done, but you probably will not have much of the original B3 there.

    • You guys must be luckier than I am. Even one of my fixed barrels had a problem.
      I had a B3-1 (fixed barrel, under lever) with a not-so-fixed barrel. You could twist it by hand. Not enough “press fit” on that particular barrel/compression tube. The barrel’s cross pin was the only thing holding it together at the time. JB Weld to the rescue.

  11. I think BB glossed over the potential problem with break barrels. Weak detent springs, poor plunger tolerances, plastic breech washers, pivot bolt bushings,…have given me fits with accuracy due to inconsistent lock up on a couple rifles and a Benjamin Trail NitroPiston pistol. I’m still a huge break barrel fan, but droop is a separate problem.

    Benjamin Trail lockup problem repair:

    http://anotherairgunblog.blogspot.com/2014/12/benjamin-nitro-piston-pistol.html

    http://anotherairgunblog.blogspot.com/2015/01/benjamin-trail-nitro-piston-pistol-part.html

  12. Second and Third RR on the quality thing; the problem is, in FM’s experience, most people want more for less and too many companies are glad to oblige if that helps the bottom line. Case in point is my friend with his vending business – people ask for “better, healthier” munchies, but when he does stock them at a higher price because his cost is higher, there they sit and eventually “expire,” to be recycled. Thankful for manufacturers like Weihrauch who so far are not playing that game.

  13. I only own one breakbarrel that has a locking lever. Until reading this report and comments I had believed every breakbarrel needed one for more than just peace of mind. Having said that I can still say that high quality but well worn rifles like my Walther Olympia LGV definitely benefits from a locking lever. I shoot this 10 meter rifle at 25 yards too. It has two barrel sleeves. I use the heaviest one for stability. But this old masterpiece has shot untold hundreds of thousands pellets. Sometimes I got vertical stringing. I have eliminated it entirely by making sure the locking lever applies tension to barrel lockup. I have a certain way for doing it.

    Deck

  14. Another advantage of break Barrel rifles is the short transfer port
    Plus, the pellet is loaded directly into the barrel.
    If you see under levers such as GamonCFX, Norica, or even the Hatsan Torpedo with a sliding barrel moving inside a sleeve, or the Weihrauch with sliding loading port..not a single one has advantages over the good old break Barrel.
    The other (costly) alternative is a sliding compression chamber like the Weihrauch HW97, Air Arms and old feinwerkbau rifles use. This system has a short transfer port and still the pellet goes directly into the barrel.

    • Mel83, I agree with your thoughts.

      I would add that the “..sliding compression chamber..” also involves a potentially dangerous moment for the fingers when loading a pellet (at a plinking event, a novice shooter decided to ignore the safety advice, maybe she wasn’t really listening… anyway, she was whisked off to Accident and Emergency for some stitches – ouch!).

      I wonder what your take is on tap-loading springers?

      • Tap loaders don’t load directly into the barrel. Think of it. Tap loading bore I larger than barrel = pellet gets deformed at the ridge.
        Tap loading bore is smaller = pellet is swaged to undersize. Both is bad.

  15. Yes break barrel airguns are less accurate. Why else would BB come up with the ‘Artillery Hold” to ‘Improve accuracy’.
    Too many big moving parts looking for a place to pivot on when it’s fired prevent you from holding your aim. A pistol grip for example may become the perfect pivot point during the shooting action.

    Now Barrel Droop is another problem associated with them and it also affects accuracy.
    Think about it. If the barrel and everything is straight and in alignment when manufactured, and the stock mounting screws are tight … what would cause the barrel to droop when shot? Only two things. A loose or worn out barrel pivot screw, not too likely on a new airgun OR an ineffective or poorly designed barrel lockup devise that permits some barrel movement during the relatively violent gun reaction to the spring or piston movement.
    I think Sig Sauer realized this problem and solved it with their “Keystone Breech Lock” design on the ASP20 . However I personally believe the market had moved on to the PCP. It does not have this problem to deal with and in general has become very competitive with a quality break barrel airgun. Especially when you do not need an air compressor with some and have lots of improvements incorporated into a PCP for shooting accuracy.

    New air gunners are probably not even aware of a thing called barrel droop or what is available to solve it, Just sales mumbo jumbo to them. Low cost or high power are their concern ,,, For the most part, not all ! Had to throw that in to keep folks happy.
    Sig was just late to the game of break barrel air gunning with its inaccuracy reputation. Too bad for us. It’s gone before we realized what we had.

  16. BB,

    If breakbarrels are not less accurate than fixed barrel springers, I guess it’s just a coincidence that the best 10m target springers (FWB 300s & Diana 75), the best field target springer (HW77) and its English clone (TX200), the best Diana sporters (48/52/54/56th) and even the best El Gamo springer (CFX) are all fixed barrel designs 😉

    • Bob Ryan
      You just answered another question I had in my mind. Perhaps its not always the barrel that droops but it may be the entire rife droops when shot?
      A fixed barrel springer being more accurate and obviously not prone to barrel droop eliminates the possibility that the entire gun droops when fired reacting to recoil.

      • Bob M,

        I’m not sure what you mean when you say the entire rifle droops. Can you please explain?

        Barrel droop is not limited to breakbarrels. My fixed barrel HW77k, FWB 300s and Diana 52 all have drooping barrels. See how the receiver of the 52 is parallel to the planks in the photo, but the barrel is angled slightly downward.

        The potential accuracy problem with breakbarrels is not due to droop, per se, but to inconsistent lock-up. Droop doesn’t affect accuracy, as long as it is unchanging droop.

  17. On a related firearms note, does anyone know if the accuracy of the Ruger 10/22 Takedown suffers compared to the fixed barrel model?

    It looks like a well engineered solution and I understand the barrel lockup can be tightened by means of a knurled collar, but I wonder how reliable it is in practice.

    • Bob,

      I don’t have a 10/22 takedown, but my 10/22 rifle will shoot 10 shots into three-quarters of an inch at 50 yards with the right ammo (CCI standard speed). And it’s barrel also comes off.

      BB

      • BB,

        That’s amazing accuracy for a semi-automatic, especially with cheap ammo like that. I’d be happy with that kind of accuracy with a CZ or Anschutz bolt-action and match ammo.

        Is your 10/22 heavily customised? Does the barrel screw into the receiver and can it easily be removed for cleaning? (one of the main advantages of the takedown model)

    • Bob Ryan,

      My son and daughter-in-law both own different models of the Ruger 10/22 Takedown.
      They find they are not comparable to their BIATHLON rifles a Anschutz 1827 Fortner and a Izhmash BIATHLON 7-3 for accuracy. Of course there is a substantial premium to be paid for the accuracy of the race ready .22LR. They do like the small cases for travel in their RV and find them accurate enough and Ruger Reliable. My daughter-in-law says the system works since the design doesn’t cause the indexing problem of a screw in barrel takedown system creates. She also said never to mount a bipod or sling to the Forend or to use it to hold the rifle! It isn’t connected to the receiver. I guess if you hold it right in front of the trigger guard it wouldn’t put pressure on the barrel.
      Can’t tell you more since I’m only interested in slightly larger rifles than .22LR these days.

      shootski

      • Shootski,

        Not applying any pressure to the barrel of the takedown makes a lot of sense for preserving the alignment of barrel and receiver if using a scope, peep or red dot sight on it. Not an issue with the barrel mounted iron sights of course.

        As well as the ultra compact dimensions for storage, the takedown must be a piece of cake for cleaning.

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