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Ammo Technology that changes everything

Technology that changes everything

Crosman 160
The Crosman 160 was a pellet rifle that blossomed when the pellets it shot became better.

This report covers:

  • You had to be there!
  • It came down to pellets
  • What about BBs?
  • The M16
  • Where technology fails
  • Last airgun
  • What am I saying?
  • Summary

Today we are going to look at how technology has advanced and bettered our hobby.

You had to be there!

I remember in the mid-1990s when I had just started The Airgun Letter. I had purchased a Crosman 160 that was found among a couple hundred in an U.S. Air Force depot. It was unopened since it was made and sold to the Air Force in the 1960s. They had been contemplating a marksmanship program and bought several hundred of these 160s from Crosman for that program. I might have been the first person to open the box since it was sealed at the factory. That’s a picture of the 160 in its target configuration, above. All that one lacks are the sling swivels and leather sling that came with mine. Listen to what I said about this rifle in 2012.

The Crosman 160 and 167 (.22 caliber and .177 caliber, respectively) was first produced in 1955 and lasted until 1972. There were several variations of the basic model over the years, but most airgunners rank them by their triggers. There was a very simple trigger in the first variation from 1955 through 1959, then Crosman put out a very special variation with a super-adjustable trigger in the guns made after 1959.

At some time in the 1960s, the Air Force bought a large number of 160s that were fitted with a Crosman S331 peep sight (made by Mossberg) and sling swivels that held a one-inch leather sling. As chance would have it, several hundred of these rifles were discovered unused in a government warehouse in Maryland or Virginia in the 1990s, and Edith and I bought one. It was brand new and still contained the original Crosman CO2 cartridges that had been used to test it at the factory. I knew they were original cartridges because they were sealed with the patent-dodging “bottlecap” tops Crosman had to use for several years. The end flap of the box had the Air Force Federal Stock Number for the gun, and everything inside the box was new and untouched.

It came down to pellets

Why didn’t airgunners go nuts over this rifle? Well, they actually did, but only after Crosman Premier pellets came to market in 1995/96. As it happened that was exactly when I acquired mine.

Before then Crosman advertised and sold their “ashcan” pellets. They were the pellets the Air Force bought and with them a 160 was lucky to keep five shots inside an American quarter at 25 feet. That’s about a 3/4-inch group.

Crosman ashcans
The Crosman “ashcan” is a pure lead pellet that was made in the 1960s. It was what the Air Force bought to shoot in their new target rifles.

Crosman Premiers
In the mid 1990s Crosman brought out their new line of Premier pellets. They were made of hardened lead on precision dies that changed the performance of the Crosman 160 forever.

With Crosman Premiers in the 1990s the same rifle that put five shots into 3/4-inches at 10 meters could now put five into just over one-tenth inch! The following target was shot with RWS Superdomes, but it illustrates the point.

Crosman 160 target
A Crosman 160 that I tested back in 2012 put five RWS Superdomes into a 0.107-inch group at 10 meters using the target sights that came on the rifle.

That is what technology can do, folks. It can bring a butterfly out of its cocoon.

What about BBs?

The same thing happened with steel BBs. They started out as rough spheres and through the application of technology — better shaping, plating and selection after manufacture — they became great.

headed steel BB
This steel BB from the 1960s was a steel cube that was chopped from a wire, then rolled between two steel plates until round and finally plated with copper. That crater at 2 o’clock was a common feature of BBs from that era and can still be found on BBs made in Russia and third-world countries.

Avanti BB
Ten Daisy Avanti Precision Ground Shot made that group at 5 meters.

The Daisy Avanti Precision ground shot is made in China, but the manufacturing process is tight and the selection process allows only the best BBs through. Daisy used to make these themselves in a plant in the U.S., but the Chinese were able to do as good or better for less money.

The M16

The early M16 rifle was hated by the troops who were armed with it. It was inaccurate, it jammed easily and it performed poorly in the tropics — making for a disaster in Vietnam. Today’s M16A4 was just retired from service in 2015. That and its semiautomatic sister, the AR-15, are almost as reliable today as the AKM platform. And they are certainly more accurate. The technology of the rifle and the ammunition evolved throughout its half century service life.

Build a Custom Airgun

Where technology fails

Okay, technology is often good, but what about when the advances don’t measure up? Take the violin. Violins have been around since the 1500s, yet Antonio Stradivarius, from 1680 to 1734, made the finest violins ever built. Although that point is arguable and some claim it is not true, it is generally believed that nothing made today can compare with a Stradivarius.

My point is — why can’t we make a substantially better instrument than ones made over 300 years ago? Technology has made no advances in this sector. Or have they? Remember the ukuleles I showed you weeks ago that were made from high pressure laminate (HPL)? Guitars are also made from this material that is basically paper. Formica countertops and Masonite are made the same way. So is HPL any good?

Well, the purists hate it. They have nothing good to say about HPL. And listening to comparisons of them being played alongside solid tonewood instruments on You Tube is like listening to the blast of an atomic bomb. You know it makes a noise and you can tell that it’s loud, but you can’t tell an A bomb from a gunshot from a rimshot on a snare drum.

I own a concert uke made from HPL and I can hear that it is deeper and louder than a soprano uke made from all mahogany pieces. But that’s like comparing a Corvette to a Formula 3 racer. Both go very fast but… The concert uke has the larger body which, alone, could be the difference between them.

Last airgun

And then there is the Dragonfly Mark 2. It uses technology developed 15 years ago to reduce the pumping effort of a multi-pump pneumatic. That’s technology at its best.

The Dragonfly Mark 2 is also accurate. That’s good workmanship that has been around since forever, but when applied to good technology, it makes a winner.

What am I saying?

I am saying that advances in one area, like pellets, can produce advances in other areas — such as accuracy with air rifles. Think about what has happened in recent years with many air rifles shooting JSB pellets.

But there are limits. The finest pellets in the world will not turn a hyper-velocity spring-banger into a target rifle. Nor will the best scope. Nor the finest shot. Some things are what they are and no amount of advancements in parallel fields will change things.


Today we have discussed how advances in technology have made significant improvements in our hobby of airguns. We have also acknowledged that in some cases technology cannot be improved — or at least if it can the improvement isn’t enough to notice.

56 thoughts on “Technology that changes everything”

  1. Great write up Tom. I love “time machines” like those Crosman pellet rifles, it is why I mainly collect Marshal arms. I have a few older friends(I’m a 1965 model) that were in country with M 14’s and had them taken away and then issued M-16’s. To man they all hate everything about M 16/AR 15 sty;e rifles. The stories they told colored my opinion of the design from a young age. I started shooting DCM/CMP “Service Rifle” in my twentys and used a Garand . In the early 2000’s the AR became the dominate rifle in my clubs matches but I held tight to my Garands . I finally gave in and bought a RRA National Match A2 AR 15. It is so easy to shoot well that I felt as though I was cheating every time I shot it in a match. I just shot it quarterly and shot a Garand the rest of the time.. These days we know that although there were some mechanical deficiencies in the first iteration of the M 16 most of the troubles were caused by the military’s choice of powder for the ammunition issued to our troops. Here is a good article about the troubled 1965 model M 16 .

  2. Most interesting and so true. In the time I have been into airguns, I have seen many changes, some for the good.

    I remember when gas springs in airguns were almost nonexistent. Now they are quite proliferous. Of course, there are some, myself included, that question whether this is a good thing. Some attempts have been made to bring back the Theoben adjustable gas spring. The biggest problem with them was they were misunderstood by many. I gaze into the future and hope for an easily rebuildable, adjustable gas spring, hopefully soon enough for me to enjoy it.

    As for pellets and bbs, they have come a long way. There has been much research into shape, weight distribution, etcetera, and this research has produced remarkable results. The research continues with these and now with “slugs”. I myself will be dabbling in this field.

    PCPs have come a long way. It was not too long ago that only the rich could afford a PCP. Now there are some fairly decent ones that we mere mortals can afford. You still have to shuck out the bucks to get the quality, but it has always been this way. The hard part can be deciding when the quality ends and the bragging begins.

    I am really looking forward to going to the NC Airgun Show. It will provide me with the opportunity to see some of the finest craftsmanship of days gone by and compare it to the latest and greatest of what is offered today.



  3. BB,

    this is a very interesting topic.

    I have once read that railroads as a technology would never have taken off if a guy named Dunlop had invented his air tire a few centuries earlier. Sounds plausible.

    The music instrument question is an interesting one and it touches on my lifelong hobby (audio technology and especially loudspeakers). Many aspect of a gun’s performance can be measured fairly objectively (velocity, consistency, accuracy, noise level). Loudspeakers at this point are understood very well and can be simulated and measured quite accurately. Some vocal critics believe that objective measurements are not that meaningful. I believe that they are (but they can’t tell you what you like or have gotten used to).

    Now, when it comes to music instruments, things are quite different. Loudspeakers reproduce sound. Instruments produce that sound in the first place. Ideally, a loudspeaker should reproduce the input sigal accurately (some people disagree) but an instrument just has to sound “good”.

    What is “good” is pretty subjective. It’s probably a good thing if an instrument can produce tones in its range in a somewhat “balanced” way (all tones can clearly be heard without massive differences in volume). But what sounds “good”? Should the sound be softer and smoother or louder and harsher (probably depends on the use case)?

    This also means that our senses (and especially our brains) can’t entirely be trusted. So, if you tell people to compare a US$ 2.000.000 Stradivarius to a US$ 20.000 or 2000 violin, there is always a certain expectation bias at play.
    One solution is to do double-blind tests (meaning neither the test operator nor the subject know which object is which). I have heard of a study done this way that came to the conclusion that people, including professional musicians, actually prefer a very good modern instrument to a Stradivarius.
    I’m too ignorant to comment, but it sounds plausible to me, given that expectation bias is strong in humans.

    I watched a documentary on how a violin is made a while ago (I always like to see how stuff is made), and from what I gathered, they are still made in a pretty traditional way, that is by hand and based on knowledge that is handed down from generation to generation. I’m pretty sure you could make a more “consistent” violin with modern tools like computer simulations, measurements, laser scanning and whatever. Would they sound “better” to a listener? Who knows…

    What I am pretty certain of is that talent and practice always beat equipment. If the current air rifle world champion and I swap rifles (let’s say I bring my HW35) and we compete, we all know what would happen. If you give me a Stradivarius, I won’t become Paganini 🙂


    • CptKlotz,
      A follow-up on your railroad comment:

      It would be useful to know more about the analysis in your source.

      I think the standard engineering view is that steel wheels on steel rails still have the lowest rolling resistance of any large-scale transportation system. The link below has a table that reports that high-pressure bike tires on a smooth wooden track are competitive with steel on steel, but that ordinary car and truck tires range from several times worse to more than an order of magnitude worse.

      This is relevant information for long-term transportation planning: It we want to minimize energy consumption, we want to use railroads more, not replace steel-on-steel with inflatable tires on pavement. Sometimes the early technology remains superior, at least for specific functions.

      It will be interesting to see if any of the proposals to bring back sailing ships turn out to be commercially successful.

  4. So what’s next ?. Number one on my wish list is someone making another run at a single stroke pneumatic air rifle with adequate power for taking small game. I know it has been done before, was it Theoben ?,I believe it was an English maker. I would settle for a nice single stroke true target rifle at around 550 fps in .177,

    • Found it, not as powerful as I thought but still cool. Parker Hale Dragon.. Most answers are in this blog , it is just my memory that is fuzzy.

    • ssc,

      Webley had one in development called the Paradigm. It appeared to be a SSP / sproinger hybrid. Every once in a while, someone will attempt to bring one out, but it never really happens. The result is usually something very hard to cock.

      “I would settle for a nice single stroke true target rifle at around 550 fps in .177,” There are tons of them out there! They are not cheap though. Right now, you can expect to pay somewhere around $500-$1000, depending on the condition. The FWB 600 series is awesome.

  5. >>> how advances in technology have made significant improvements in our hobby of airguns. <<<


    I'd say that the most significant technological advancement made is the internet because it's a web that connects points of information together.

    At high school there was only one book (Complete Book of Rifles and Shootguns by Jack O'Connor) on shooting. Back then the main source of information on hunting and shooting came from magazines and it wasn't until Beeman and Airgun Headquarters published their catalogs that there was good information readily available specifically for airguns.

    Now, with the internet, a search will (in fractions of a second) strain the world's databases for the information requested.

    IMHO, I think that more than specific inventions, it's the access to knowledge (like this blog and its readerships comments) that has advanced our hobby. There's still people who think "bb guns" are kids toys but that perception, partly because of exposure on the internet, is changing.

    Just my 2 cents,

    • Hank,

      That was a pretty good two cents worth. I can remember when I bought my repro 1861 Navy (1974), there was almost zero information about black powder. There was even less about airguns. Who in their right mind would want a bb gun when you could have a real gun?

      Magazines and catalogs were the internet then.

      • That’s how FM self-taught himself into black powder shooting back then – reading lotsa books and magazines on the subject. Still have some stashed away somewhere – will require an archaeological dig to find them; have to find a Round Tooit and explorer’s hat first.

        At least he knows where The muzzleloader and all required accessories are located. 🙂

        • FM,

          I wish I had those resources then. Living back in the hills, we did not have much of such things. My learning experience with black powder was trial and error. Somehow, I survived it and became pretty good.

          Bon pantaloons.

  6. Talking about pellets, have been pleased with how the Crosman Premier HPs have done in the Maximus .22. That is a win-win because they’re relatively inexpensive and – so far – pretty easy to find.

    Agree improvements in technology, properly applied to a lot of things make experiences, whether these involve airguns or other types of tools, machines, instruments, whatever, better for the user. However, the ability of the user to get the best performance out of the technology trumps everything else. You can give FM the best sniper platform in the world and he still ain’t gonna turn into White Feather.

  7. BB,

    To my mind what came from CNC manufacturing removed the minor errors that build up from manual machining leading to lower cost to manufacture due to less hand fitting required to assemble. If manufacturers were still dependent on manual machining I very much doubt a PPPCP would ever be made in commercial quantities. I can imagine what might occur several years from now when traditional manufacturers have all shifted to the latest manufacturing techniques introducing tighter tolerances and producing spring piston air rifles with the fitment of Swiss watches.


    • Siraniko,
      “I can imagine what might occur several years from now when traditional manufacturers have all shifted to the latest manufacturing techniques introducing tighter tolerances and producing spring piston air rifles with the fitment of Swiss watches.”

      I’ll offer a prediction:
      There will still be very few Carlos Hathcocks.
      And worse yet we will loose folks like Dennis A. Quackenbush who have the knowledge and skills to make prototypes. In defense of that i offer the Programers of the early computer age and the App assemblers of today. The programers of old could make a limited machine do things that the App assemblers of today do poorly with machine resources that double in capability every 18 months…it staggers my comprehension to compare the computers of the late 1970’s and what i am writing this response on in my hand.
      Even with all this “help” I still can’t spell or get my grammar correct:; sometimes it almost feels like someone (App builder) doesn’t like when I write about weapons!


      • .Shootski
        At one time, not so long ago, in order to write an application, one had to work within very tight constraints concerning file sizes. There was often an inordinate amount of “peeking” and “poking” and being intimately familiar with machine language was a prerequisite.

        Now, it seems, with the proliferation of “libraries”, and the increased memory space available,, it isn’t even called programming but is referred to as “coding”. It’s akin to the difference between a politicians speech and a doctors prescription. Guess which is more concise.

        But what do I know,, I was barely conversant in basic.


      • Shootski,

        No doubt your words will ring true especially with the insidious manner your leaders are undermining the youth. Marketeers will have to be culled and re-educated, Accountants will have to be held down, Chairmen will have to be re oriented and Engineers be shooters before things will look bright.


        • Siraniko,

          Lest you think that shootski is joining the Luddites I have been watching this company for over a decade: https://www.tvammo.com/about
          Just this month they are in American Rifleman.
          Interesting read about breaking out from the Rule of the Brass case. It has been kicked about before but this company somehow strikes me as different enough to perhaps be THAT watershed maker.


          • Most interesting. Plastic cases. I notice they still have metallic bases though. The stress there is incredible. Maybe someone will revisit caseless ammunition.

            With the proper R&D, this can be applied to airgun ammunition. The issue there will be funding. I guess the Progressive Communists will have to outlaw lead along with fossil fuels.

  8. B.B.

    One step forward, two steps back!
    The single die box Crossman Premier’s are excellent. The little tins vary greatly from on tin to the next. Not Progress!

    Even the best, most expensive plastic is not a nice as quality steel. I understand that you enjoy shooting your 1911, much more than your Glock. Think about why???


    PS Computer Optical Quality Control has really helped all manufactured parts.

    • Why do you think there is a RidgeRunner’s Home For Wayward Airguns? So many of these old gals out here are made of steel and walnut. With modern pellets, they are awesome! Some things have advanced. As with you, I question whether all things new are great.

      This is why I like and encourage others to go to airgun shows. When you can buy an airgun that would cost thousands to make these days for a mere pittance…

  9. B.B.,
    Waiting for the break through in hand pumps.
    If I had a dollar for every time I chewed those crosman lead pellets! LEAD YIKES!! We were young and the lead was soft and chewy.

    • Doc

      Yes on hand pumps. Surely the Dragonfly Mk2 pumping technology would increase hand pump sales and pneumatic airgun sales. Think it’s been done but not commercially.


    • Doc Holiday,

      Don’t worry about the small amount of elemental Lead (Pb) that you might have swallowed…even whole pellets would have been largely excreted in short order.

      To keep your reply from starting another round of Internet disinformation:
      It is the organic compounds such as tetraethyl lead that are potentially a danger and not the elemental Lead (Pb) in pellets and bullets that is dangerous. Contrary to what a bunch of Anti-Shooting and Greens want everyone to believe is “Fact” rather than fictional science based on the organic product misuse(s) of the past.


      • Ah, but lead is a buzz word for the Progressive Communists. “We must make this world ‘clean’, even if it takes us back to the Stone Age.” Now if we can just convince the Progressive Communists to give up their private jets and other fossil fueled transportation conveyances. Ah, but they know what is best for us.

        It looks like I will just have to get a horse to pull my buggy. Of course, they will outlaw those because of the methane.

  10. I drive a twelve year old Honda Civic. Reliable no frills transportation from point A to B. My husband drives an even older Toyota Camry. A week ago he was babling about the new Lexus ES 350 and all it’s advanced features and technology. Automatic this, assistant that and so on. He asked what was for dinner. I gave him a protein shake and a nutrition bar. All the essential amino acids are there along with vitamins, minerals, calories and protein. Was he expecting my grandma’s spaghetti and meatballs? Bet he was. But since he was only thinking about himself, I was not willing to spend a couple of hours simmering over the marinara sauce alone. He was not completely satisfied and proceeded to microwave a frozen dinner. New advances in technology ain’t got nothing over my grandma’s old fashioned spaghetti and meatballs. Let’s not talk about her tamales or enchiladas.

  11. Weeeha! Just got back from the NC Airgun Show! Thanks to Paul for letting me drool all over his real nice collection! I wish I could have talked him out of that Diana though. 😉 I met a couple of others there who knew me. Mike Reames and Larry Hannish to name a couple were there. My grandson and I had a great time.

    A regulated Talon SS with a Hawke scope and a Beeman 800 came home with me. The 800 needs resealing, but that should not be too hard to get done. I might get brave (read stupid) and do it myself. My grandson brought home a couple. I think he has the bug.

  12. Just the other day I asked if you thought airguns had reached their peak performance and not to expect much in the way of improvements. All the technology you mentioned here has certainly changed the airgun game. Big Bore Hunting? Who would have predicted that would have a comeback. in a big way.
    I think we will need a new technology to improve on what we have now. A metal pellet Rail Gun?
    Not much new fine-tuning or perks left unless we follow the latest in real steel.
    Scope / Range calculated exploding pellets? Scopes that lock on a target and automatically fire the rifle when it moves back into the crosshairs.
    Here is some bad technology I recently discovered in my new Veloster N.
    Well perhaps not bad for weekend drivers. ‘Lane centering’ I tried to pass a suspected drunk driver wide to put space between him and me and the car pulled me back into him… two times, after I quickly turned away again. That option is permanently off now.
    The ‘good technology’ stiffens up my suspension and steering when I unleashed 275 hp. When it’s turned off I almost lost steering control … Front wheel drive on this little hot hatchback wants to go wherever the front wheels tweak and skip to. Powered for racing with optional street softness and quiet exhaust. Not to be mixed together! Full “N’ mode for serious driving.

    • OK … What is the ‘N” mode? Hyundai managed to acquire the R&D manager from the BMW ‘M” series team. It represents performance enhanced vehicles. ‘N’ is the first letter of the city that does their R&D, ‘Namyang’ and the first letter of the race track they race tested it on ‘Nürburgring’ in Germany. Hit one paddle and it puts everything into ‘N’ race car mode. Power, suspension, steering and exhaust. You provide the helmet and racing gloves 😉
      All kidding aside the dual overhead cam 4 banger turbo, 6 speed transmission, Tach Redlines at 7,000 RPM and it has a 180MPH speedometer !

      • Sounds like fun, once you turn off all the other little doodads. It is a shame it does not have a real engine in it. This would probably be a good motorcycle engine though. 😉

      • Bob M,

        Sounds like you are having fun. Your “SAFETY” system problems have just reminded me why I spend the money to keep two 2001 SAABs with manual transmission (real clutch) running! One of these days they will no longer be maintainable/repairable and i will start using hire cars since I won’t be able to bring myself to let “george” (nickname for aircraft autopilots) drive me around.
        Do look into getting yourself some of the Potenza RE-71r streetable semislicks.


        • Shootski
          Yes, I actually gave up more power and speed by going stick shift. Like you, I like to control the car, Not the other way around. I will not get to top speed much … if at all.
          Side, front and rear approach warnings. Automatic braking. Lane centering.
          Waiting for Verble Scoldings next. Whoop, Whoop … SLOW DOWN!… SLOW DOWN!

      • Bob M,

        Your post got me thinking about valves. Is your motor a 16 valve?
        The airgun idea is a twin valve powerplant into a manifold/Leade to barrel. The twin valve allows for a number of possibilities as two valves can flow air better as well as the possibility of a differential timing of the opening and/or closing from the plenum/reservoir(s.)
        Haven’t dug deep enough into the concept to say much more about IF it would be beneficial or not.
        I don’t think it has been done in the past; maybe B.B. knows.


        • Shootski
          Yes, a DOHC, 16 valve inline turbo with E-CVVT (Variable Valve Timming)
          That dual valve Idea would probably help larger heavy pellets for more powerful hunters..

  13. Here is a little mini report on the NC Airgun Show. First off, I would have provided some pictures, but I forgot the camera.

    Shootski, I did see one ASP20 with a Whiskey 3 scope. At over $400, he kept it.

    There was at least five FWB 124’s there. They ranged in price from a decent looking Standard for $325 to a very nice Deluxe for $425. Not bad really.

    Bunches of 10-meter match rifles, both sproinger and SSP. Not many PCP and CO2.

    Surprisingly, there were quite a few Giffard CO2 rifles there. I was sick. I wanted one soooo bad.

    Although there were some pretty high prices around for some of the airguns, if you hunted around you could find some really nice deals. I picked up a real nice, tricked out .22 Talon SS for under $300. There were some real nice deals to be had if you knew what you were looking for.

    The strangest thing about this show was there were NO new airgun retailers, although PA and some others had donated some nice raffle/door prizes. The Grand Prize was a tricked out Condor SS from AirForce. Tony (the show organizer) gave my grandson a brand new Crosman 760 for helping. Needless to say, he was tickled.

    Besides the Talon SS, I managed to snag a very nice looking San Rafael Beeman 800 for well under $100. It needs to be resealed from what I have been told, but otherwise it looks brand new. Oh yeah!

    A large time was had by all!

  14. BB

    Very pleased with the show at Hickory. Left with a Diana 28 that looked new, a Crosman 100 and even. a Chinese Norcia breakbarrel clunker that actually still shoots. Think I got good deals on all. I’m going to have a fine time with the 73 year old Crosman. Met Ridgerunner and his hooked grandson. God willing I will attend next year. Lots of eye candy at this show. Good job, Tony.


  15. Just curious. Are most of the sellers at these airgun shows familiar with Toms Blog and recognize your names. Or are they mostly for-profit airgun traders and not really into airgun shooting too much or any more.

    • Two vendors told me they knew Tom from his having attended this show some years back. When I asked if they read the blog one said sometimes and the other said yes but was not a commenter. There was at least one vendor there that I know and he has his own blog. He had helped me fix a Walther LGV Olympia 4 years ago.

      I think most vendors there are hooked on airguns and like me they probably have too many or their wives think they do.


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