1896 New King Single Shot: Part 3

Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

1896 King
1896 New King single shot BB gun.

Part 1
Part 2

History of airguns

This report covers:

  • Straightening the barrel
  • 4.55 mm BBs dropped to bottom
  • It also shoots 4.5 mm balls
  • 4.55 mm lead balls
  • Velocity
  • Muzzle energy
  • Oops!
  • 4.50 mm lead balls
  • Discussion
  • What does today’s test give us? 
  • Summary

Today I tell you how straightening the barrel of this century-old BB gun went and then we look at its performance. Last time I shot a single BB out at 157 f.p.s. What will she do today?

Straightening the barrel

Boy, did I ever have a lot of helpers ready to school me on how to straighten this solid brass shot tube! The way some of you talked you would think this thing is going into a NASA satellite!

I straightened the shot tube exactly as I described to you in Part 2, by laying it on a flat steel table (on my vise) and tapping it gently with the wide head of a plastic hammer.

The photo I showed you made it look like there was a single bend in the tube. The truth was the tube was bent in numerous places. It was twisted subtly into a serpentine shape.

I have some experience doing things this way, and in less than 10 minutes I had it much straighter. I also cleaned the inside of the shot tube with a wire bore brush. It’s not perfect, and I doubt it ever will be, but it’s better than it was.

4.55 mm BBs dropped to bottom

After straightening and cleaning the 4.55 mm lead balls dropped all the way down the shot tube to the place where the tube tapers smaller. After maybe 10 shots, though, the BBs began stopping a couple inches up from the bottom and remained that way for a while. I still had to seat the BB into the tapered place with a cleaning rod, but now they all shoot out. And I picked up one additional thing by straightening and cleaning the shot tube.

It also shoots 4.5 mm balls

Now that the ball goes into the tapered place in the shot tube, I can also load 4.50 mm lead balls. They are lighter than the 4.55 mm balls. But, better than that, they are widely available. Where the 4.55 MM balls are expensive and hard to find, the 4.50 mm balls are standard airgun ammunition.

4.55 mm lead balls

These are number 12 zimmerstutzen balls. If you don’t know what that means, read my article on zimmerstutzens. After straightening and cleaning the bore they were stopping about two inches from the bottom of the shot tube. Before I straightened and cleaned the barrel they had been stopping about two inches from the muzzle, so there was definite improvement.

Velocity

The one shot I got with these balls in Part 2 was recorded at 157 f.p.s. That was before the barrel was straightened and cleaned. Today five shots averaged 159 f.p.s. They ranged from a low of 157 to a high of 161 f.p.s. — a difference of 4 f.p.s.

Just for fun I then dropped a ball into the shot tube and did not press it in with a cleaning rod. It did seem to fall all the way into the tapered breech. It came out at 154 f.p.s.

Muzzle energy

The 4.55 mm lead balls weigh from 8.5 to 8.7 grains If we take 8.6 grains as the average, at 159 f.p.s. this little BB gun generates 0.48 foot-pounds at the muzzle. That’s less than a lot of airsoft guns!

Oops!

This little BB gun is not perfect. While I was shooting the 4.55 mm balls, the entire shot tube came out of the gun on one shot! It apparently works free, now that I have removed it so many times and also oiled the airgun liberally.

4.50 mm lead balls

Next I shot H&N 4.50 mm lead balls. Pyramyd Air isn’t stocking them at present, but they do have Gamo 4.50 mm lead balls. The H&N balls I shot weighed a very uniform 8.3 grains. They all seemed to drop into the taper in the shot tube, but to keep both tests the same I also pushed them lightly into the breech with the cleaning rod and discovered that they were already there!

These balls averaged 159 f.p.s. for 5 shots, as well. Their velocity ranged from a low of 157 to a high of 161 f.p.s. a difference of 4 f.p.s. But their lighter weight gave a muzzle energy of 0.47 foot-pounds.

Just for fun I then dropped one of these smaller balls into the muzzle and shot it without pushing it into the breech with the cleaning rod. That one registered 157 f.p.s. on the chronograph. So it does reach the breech.

Discussion

The smaller lead ball may not go faster because there is more room inside the bore for the air to blow past the ball. I don’t want to try any smaller balls because I think accuracy will suffer. Remember that we learned that lesson while testing the Tell BB gun.

What does today’s test give us? 

Today’s little test gives us two lead balls to test for accuracy. I believe I will press all the balls down with the cleaning rod, but not hard. I just want to be certain they are all at the breech.

Summary

Well, this little 120-year-old BB gun still works. It may not have been too much more powerful that this when it was new — maybe 200 to 225 f.p.s.?. It cocks easily and is as light as a feather. Ideal for children!


1896 New King Single Shot: Part 1

Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

1896 King
1896 New King single shot BB gun.

History of airguns

This report covers:

  • How this happened
  • Detailed history
  • Pop quiz
  • BB shot and air rifle shot sizes
  • Getting ready
  • Good news!
  • Summary

Sometimes we get the rare opportunity to examine something that’s really from the past. Today is such a time. We will begin looking at a New King single shot BB gun from Markham. It is the 1896 model that was made from 1896 until 1905.  Mine was made in either 1900 or 1901, as I will explain.

How this happened

Periodically I look at eBay to see what sort of antique airguns they have and a couple weeks ago I saw this listing. So I went to the Blue Book (the new edition of which should be available by this Christmas) and saw that in 95 percent condition this was a $1,950 BB gun. In 20 percent condition it is a $400 gun. This one is 10 percent at best, which meant that the opening bid of $150 was reasonable. But oddly there were no bidders. So I bid on it and won it without opposition. The listing said that it works, which is far more important to me, and I took a chance that it did. So far — it does!

If you have never seen a BB gun from this era the size might surprise you. It’s very small! The stock is pushed down to cock a mainspring that is surprisingly light. I know it must have lost some force over the century-plus it’s been in existence, but it seems obvious that this BB gun was purposely made for a very young boy or girl. It’s 30.5-inches long and weighs just 1 pound 11.5 ounces.

1896 King broken open
This is how the gun cocks. It’s very easy!

1896 King broken open detail
And here is a detail shot of the gun broken open.

Detailed history

Markham was a BB-gun maker in Plymouth, Michigan, just across the railroad tracks from Daisy. They could very well be the first maker of BB guns.

The Blue Book does not give a lot of history on this model, but I found a website that does. Just prior to my 4th variant gun, the 1896 had a button on top that had to be pressed to release the barrel for cocking. My gun was the first one that used a friction release to keep the barrel closed. It was made in either 1900 or 1901.  My buttstock is rounded on its edges (everyone calls it the oval style), where later buttstocks are slab-sided. Also the muzzle of my gun is rounded, where later muzzles are flat. And my rear sight is pressed into a sheet metal slot and then crimped, where the next version has the rear sight soldered to the gun. It’s not that often that we can pin down a production date this close on a century-old BB gun, but this time we can, because of small variations and lots of good documentation.

No one had solved the problem of welding a thin sheet metal tube together so it was airttight when this gun was made, so the underside of the gun has a soldered patch that runs the full length of the “barrel” (the outer tube that encloses the shot tube, which is the real barrel) to seal the compression chamber against air loss.

The front sight is an extremely small blade and the rear sight is a crude notch. The trigger is a fat cast iron blade that is tilted too far forward and larger hands will find the trigger guard too small. But as I mentioned — this gun was made for children.

1896 King front sight
The front sight is very small, but visible in the rear notch.

1896 King rear sight
The rear sight slips into a base that’s soldered onto the spring tube, and then it’s crimped in place. 

Pop quiz

If you have been reading this blog for awhile you should know the answer to what I am about to ask. What ammunition does this BB gun shoot? If you said 0.180 lead balls, you’re right! That is shotgun shot size BB — with sizes B and BBB bracketing it. It’s the size shot that Clarence Hamilton used for his first BB gun that became the first model Daisy wire stock BB gun.

wire stock Daisy
Daisy’s first model wire stock BB gun wasn’t the first BB gun ever made, but it set the standard for all those that followed. It shot BB-size shot, which is 0.180-inches in diameter.

BB shot and air rifle shot sizes

Daisy dictated the size of shot for all BB guns, by virtue of being the 500 lb. gorilla. So, from 1888 until around 1905, all BB guns shot BB-shot. In 1905 Daisy downsized the shot their guns used from 0.180-inches to 0.175 inches. They changed the name from BB-shot to Air Rifle Shot, and for the next 20 years all their BB guns were made to shoot lead air rifle shot. It shot faster and took less lead so it was less expensive to produce — an important consideration when you are making shot by the billions. In the 1920s they changed the shot again to steel balls, but that’s another story.

1896 King Air Rifle Shot
In 1905 Daisy reduced the shot size to 0.175-inches. It went faster and less expensive to produce.

So, this Markham BB gun was definitely made for BB-shot. But I don’t have any 0.180-inch shot. Or, do I? If you remember the Tell BB gun test, I found that gun shot best with 4.55 MM lead balls. They measure 0.179-inches in diameter. That’s pretty close so maybe they would work? Several shots demonstrate that they do work!

Getting ready

This BB gun is more than a century old and as you can see it has led a hard life. But a BB gun mechanism is robust and prone to last a long time. The Army shot several Daisys more than 20 million times each during their Quick Kill training at Ft. Benning. No way has this gun had even one one-hundredth as much use! It’s just not been cared for.

I know without a doubt that the plunger is sealed with leather, so I dropped 10 drops of Crosman Pellgunoil down the muzzle and stood the gun on its butt overnight. And here is a tip. Some of these guns will leak oil out the back of the action when you do this, so I stood mine inside my large kitchen-type plastic wastepaper basket that’s next to my desk. It held the gun muzzle-up and kept any oil off the carpet.

This is a single-shot BB gun and it’s loaded from the muzzle — just like a Daisy 499. The bore is tapered in the back and the shot jams itself in when the barrel narrows.

Good news!

The really good news is that as I was reading one of my short stories in my book, BB Guns Remembered, I discovered how to get another old BB gun I have up and working again. So today’s report will precede a report on one of the most beautiful BB guns ever made. But first we finish looking at this one.

Summary

This will be as complete a test as I can give, but don’t look for this gun to surprise us. It represents where BB gun technology was a century ago — in the days of, “I’m just glad that it shoots!”


Big Bore airgun calibers

Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

This report covers:

  • The greater problem
  • The beginning
  • Bullets — not pellets
  • .308 caliber
  • Bore size
  • .357 caliber
  • Black powder
  • The .45 caliber dilemma
  • Shoot soft lead bullets that are slightly larger
  • Other big bore calibers
  • Summary

Most shooters are familiar with the smallbore airgun calibers of .177, .20, .22 and .25. Even shooters who don’t consider themselves to be airgunners know at least the .177 and .22 calibers. But in recent years there has been an explosion of big bore airgun calibers, and I am seeing that many shooters have little knowledge about them. If that were the only problem it would fix itself, because over time people always learn.

The greater problem

The bigger problem are the airgun manufacturers that do not know much, if anything, about the larger calibers. This report will address the lesser-known truths about big bore airgun calibers.

The beginning

Where do the big bore calibers start? Well, they start at anything above .25 caliber. But there is a big bore caliber called .257 that is a legitimate .25 caliber. The difference is the .257 big bore shoots elongated bullets rather than diabolo pellets. Instead of 45 grains they can weigh 100 grains and more. They can reach out hundreds of yards, where the wasp-waisted hollow-tailed diabolo falls off fast after just 100 yards.

Bullets — not pellets

Another thing is big bore airguns shoot bullets, for the most part — not pellets. Yes, there have been some .308, .357 and even .45-caliber diabolo pellets made for certain airguns, but big bore airguns have been around since about the year 1350 and they have always used bullets — round balls until around 1850 and conical lead bullets since then. The diabolo pellet is a 20th-century invention.

.308 caliber

Recently the .308-caliber big bore has gained a lot of traction in the marketplace. People hear the caliber size and envision the .308 Winchester cartridge that they know is very powerful. But a .308 caliber pellet driven by air is far less powerful. It gives up the one big advantage of the big bore airgun — size. With a .308 air rifle your shot has to be precise or you risk wounding your quarry. That said, the .308 can do the job for a good shooter.

Bore size

Now let’s consider bore size for a moment. You don’t have to do that with a pellet. A .22-caliber pellet should work in most .22-caliber airguns. Accuracy will differ from pellet to pellet and we sometimes sort pellets by the diameter of their head, but that’s as far as it goes. Not so for big bore bullets! And this is where shooters new to the shooting sports get confused.

A .308 bullet may be very accurate in a .308 big bore airgun, or it may not even stabilize. That gun may need a bullet that’s .309-inches in diameter to work well. It all depends on the size of the bore! You see, smallbore airgun barrels are closely controlled to fit the pellets of their caliber. But big bore airguns can have barrels of widely varying internal sizes. That’s because there are no set standards for barrels of big bore airguns. They tend to be firearm barrels that have been used on airguns.

There are exceptions, of course. AirForce Airguns, for example, orders hundreds of barrels in each big bore caliber they produce from Lothar Walther. They are such a large customer that they can specify the exact inside dimensions, as well as the rifling twist rate. That’s something that Joe from Podunk, who makes 50 rifles a year, can’t do. He has to select his barrel from the stock items a barrelmaker offers.

.357 caliber

The next size up from .308 is .357 — and this caliber is a huge problem! Ten years ago it was called 9mm, which is sized 0.355-0.356-inches in diameter. The Koreans who were the first to make rifles in this caliber made them with barrels sized for 9mm lead bullets. The trouble with that is, unless you know where to look, it’s very hard to find 9mm lead bullets. That’s because 9mm is mostly a pistol caliber. All the bullets that are popular for 9mm pistols are jacketed and don’t do well in airguns — especially not the underpowered Korean ones! It took a full decade for the airgun makers to realize their mistake, and it took dealers and shooters even longer. Even today there are many shooters who think one-thousandth of an inch shouldn’t matter that much with a bullet. But it does!

Black powder

This is where a background with shooting black powder firearms comes in handy. There are two big reasons for this. First, when black powder explodes upon firing, the instant high pressure upsets the base of lead bullets, obturating (squashing) them into the bore. They are squashed into the rifling where they fit the bore better and also seal against the burning gasses. Airguns cannot do the same, so the fit of the bullet to the bore is critical from the start.

The second reason a black powder background or at least a knowledge of their history is important is because in the past (1250 A.D. to 1900) all non-military firearms (read that as black powder, because that’s all there was for most of that time) came with bullet molds when they were made. The owner had an idea of his gun’s caliber but it didn’t matter as long as he used the mold that came with it to cast his bullets. The military held gun makers to more exacting specifications so they could produce the bullets for their soldiers. Their guns didn’t have to each come with a mold.

Today, though, black powder arms are produced to more exact specifications, so their owners can purchase bullets to go with them. But it still isn’t a smooth road.

The .45 caliber dilemma

Now we come to one of the biggest dilemmas in big bore airguns today — the .45 caliber that exists in no less than three distinct sizes! And they are not interchangeable. Starting with the Koreans again, when they made .45 caliber big bores they made their barrels for bullets of a diameter of .452-inches. That is the modern .45 pistol diameter for the .45 ACP cartridge. And some .45 Colt revolvers also have bores that size. 

Bullets made in that size are expected to be fired from .45 caliber handguns at 850 f.p.s. or so. They weigh from 160 grains to 250 grains — AND THAT IS IT! If they are shot in big bore air rifles in the 200-225 foot-pound class, they are fine.  The Turks are also making their .45 big bores with bore diameters in this size. I have no idea of what the Chinese who make the big bores for Gamo are doing, but it does bear consideration.

The next popular size of .45-caliber bullet is .458, and it has another problem. Some makers are calling their rifles a .457, but I doubt you will find bullets of that size unless they are custom made. Don’t worry, though, because .458 bullets are what you want to use anyway. They fit the bore, where .457 bullets usually don’t.

These are the air rifles that shoot bullets weighing 350-500 grains. They will also shoot the lighter bullets, as long as they are sized .458 and not .452.

Then there are the big bore rifles that are made by boutique makers who turn out a few guns a year, in caliber .454. These guys don’t last that long and finding bullets for their rifles can be a real chore. This size was for Colt Single Action Army revolvers from decades ago. You’ll have to go to a custom bullet maker to buy them today.

So — they’re all .45 caliber, but in three different sizes! Did you know that? If you didn’t and you shoot your rifle with the wrong size bullet you aren’t going to do very well. A 24-inch group at 100 yards can shrink to a 3-inch group, just by using bullets of the right size!

Shoot soft lead bullets that are slightly larger

So—the lesson today is to shoot lead bullets of the right diameter. The right diameter is one-thousandth over the bore diameter in most instances. But you need to experiment with different sizes to make certain. I have been doing this for over 50 years and in my experience a thousandth larger with a lead bullet is what you want.

They should be soft lead bullets, because hard cast bullets will leave lead deposits in the bore. Air rifle bullets also don’t need to be lubricated — as long as they are soft lead. In fact they shouldn’t be. They are ideal for the velocities at which the most powerful of these air rifles shoot — generally 700-900 f.p.s.

Other big bore calibers

Yes there are big bores in calibers other than the ones mentioned here. A number of rifles in .40 caliber have been made, but they were all made by low-rate or custom makers who probably made them to work with a lead bullet that is commonly available. 

That being said, there can be big bores in other calibers, as well. I know of several big bores made to shoot the 12 gauge rifled slug that looks like a diabolo pellet. It’s called the Balle Blondeau.

Balle Blondeau
The Balle Blondeau is a 12-gauge slug that looks like a diabolo pellet. Some smoothbore big bores have been made to shoot it.

Like black powder arms, a big bore airgun can be made in any caliber. If you plan to buy one, make sure you can get the bullets for it first.

Summary

This has been a brief but fairly complete look at big bore projectiles. I have concentrated on the bullets rather than the few diabolo pellets that exist, because the bullets are where it’s at for big bores. Stay tuned.


Design an airgun

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

This report covers:

  • Air gun?
  • What about pneumatics?
  • Can you build a spring-piston gun?
  • Keep it honest
  • Contest?

This report will be different than usual. Today I’m challenging you to design an airgun that we readers can build!

I’m guessing it will be a BB gun, but it doesn’t have to be. I’m guessing it will be a smoothbore, but again, it doesn’t have to be.

Air gun?

When I say build an airgun, it doesn’t have to work with compressed air. The Daisy 179 pistol is considered an airgun, but in reality it is a catapult gun.

Daisy 179
Daisy’s 179 is really a catapult gun.

The Hodges gun of the early 1800s is also a catapult gun, and a powerful one at that. It is said to have been capable of killing medium-sized game such as feral hogs.

Hodges gun
The Hodges catapult gun launched large .40+ caliber lead balls.

And there are slingshot “rifles” being sold on eBay right now. Unfortunately they are made in China, so they won’t see many sales in the US. But that doesn’t mean you can’t build one yourself. There are videos on You Tube about just that.

What about pneumatics?

 Can you build one of them? In the 1990s, when he was learning about airguns, Gary Barnes experimented with low-pressure pneumatics. He discovered that pressures as low as 30 psi were enough to drive large projectiles pretty fast — certainly over 100 f.p.s. Those kind of pressures are easily generated with bicycle pumps and they will push a heavy projectile pretty fast. They weren’t controlled by conventional triggers, but that was just a detail to be worked out.

He even built a multi-pump that ran on lower pressure — certainly no more than 50-60 psi. It reminded me of a slide trombone, and the lesson was — it isn’t air pressure that pushes projectiles, so much as air volume! The pressure was low but the volume was high, so the push was long and gentle.

Can you build a spring-piston gun?

Reader Duskwight from Moscow designed and built his Duskcomb (SP?) rifle — his version of a Whiscomb, where two pistons come together to compress the air. You get a powerful springer with zero recoil. From his reports we know that he invested thousands of dollars in his project — probably more than enough to buy a genuine Whiscomb. But he really wanted to do it and to his credit he saw it through to the end. What was better, he reported the results to us on this blog. As I recall, his rifle weighed more than he wanted, but I believe that it worked.

I don’t expect anyone to go that far, but a simpler spring-piston airgun could be made.

How about starting with a wooden popper toy? They build pressure as the parts are brought together, and I’m sure many of you have played with them.

popper toy
Come on — I know many of you have played with one of these.

The Quackenbush Lightning is a spring-piston airgun that uses a rubber band on the outside of the barrel to pull the sliding compression chamber against the breech to compress air.

Quiackenbush Lightning
Quackenbush Lightning uses rubber bands to pull a sliding compression chamber against a barrel to compress air.

Keep it honest

While we will allow catapults, I think we will draw the line at percussion caps and primers. They are explosives that turn our airgun into a firearm. Let’s see if we can avoid that.

Contest?

I would like to turn this into a contest. The winner would be the niftiest design that the most people could build. I’ll look around for something I can award as a prize. I would also like to test your gun, so it’s got to be real.

Go to it, guys! You don’t have to submit an idea today. How about shooting for the end of September?


Tell BB gun: Part One

Tell BB gun: Part One
by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

BB gun
This military-looking BB gun is large and good-looking!

History of airguns

This report covers:

What is it?
Bolt action
Shot tube
Lange Vizier
Safety
Summary

Tell him what? (ba-dump bump!)

I’ve been sitting on this Tell BB gun for two years. I got it at the Texas Airgun Show from Larry Hannusch. I had my eye on it all show long and as everyone was packing up I saw that it was gone from his table. He hadn’t sold or traded it — he had just packed it away. Yeah, I’m one of those guys!

I had some last-minute cash in my pocket, so we came to an agreement and it came home with me.

What is it?

So,  what did I get? Well, it’s a bolt-action spring-piston BB gun that looks like a military rifle And, for a BB gun, it is huge! The gun is 43.5-inches long and has a full-length wood stock. I wish it was walnut , but the grain looks a lot more like beech to me. The gun weighs 6 lbs. 6.7 oz., which is very heavy for a BB gun.

Daisy 499 and big BB gun
The big BB gun dwarfs a Daisy 499

Bolt action

The gun is cocked via a conventional bolt located on the right side of the receiver. Southpaws need not apply. It will seem familiar to anyone who has ever cocked a Mars 110 or 115 or a Diana model 30 — the military-looking one, not the gallery gun.

The bolt pulls the compression chamber and piston back to where the sear catches the piston. When the bolt slides forward the mainspring is stretched. When the gun fires the stretched spring pulls the piston forward — the reverse of how a conventional spring piston powerplant works.

bolt forward
In this picture the bolt is forward after the shot. You can see the sear that holds the bolt on the right of the bolt channel.

bolt back
The bolt has been pulled back, bringing the compression chamber with it.

bolt forward again
The bolt has been pushed forward again, closing the compression chamber and stretching the mainspring.

There is no resistance when the bolt is pulled back, only when it moves forward. And the resistance is enough to keep this from being thought of as as kid’s gun. This is a serious adult BB gun — not unlike the Hammerli adaptor for the Swiss K31 rifle — though the Hammerli adaptor is meant as a real military training device, where this one is just a lookalike.

Shot tube

This gun was designed to be a repeater that uses gravity feed like most modern BB guns. The BBs go into the outer jacket that most people would call the barrel and then fed to the breech of the shot tube by gravity. Unfortunately the original shot tube was lost and Larry fashioned another one from scratch. He basically made it to fit the space it had to occupy. As a result, the gun is no longer a repeater. But it can be loaded singly from the muzzle and seems to generate a lot of velocity. Naturally we will find out just how much when we test it.

shot tube
Larry Hannusch had to make a shot tube for the gun. It’s meant to be a repeater but now only works as a single-shot.

Lange Vizier

The gun has a rear sight that’s a replica of the Gew98 Mauser Lange Visier (long sight). It isn’t an exact copy but it’s close enough. The front sight is a heavy post that’s dovetailed into the outer tube.

rear asigh
The rear sight is meant to copy the Gewehr98 Lange Vizier.

Lange Vizier
The Gew98 Lange Vizier looks like the BB gun rear sight.

Safety

The safety is a wing-type, similar to one found on as Mauser. These bolt action copy airguns often have this kind of safety.

safety
The gun has a wing-type safety.

wrtiting right
It says Venuswaffenwerk Zella-Mehlis Germany on the right side of the receiver.

writing left
The model number is on the left of the receiver.

Summary

There is a lot more to tell, so stick around. I’m just getting started!

Tell BB gun: Part One


Sharpshooter pistol resurrection: Part 2

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Sharpshooter pistols
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 in World War II and then manufacture moved to La Jolla, California in 1946.

Part 1

History of airguns

This report covers:

  • Cleanup
  • Companies that made and sold Sharpshooter pistols
  • Odd guns
  • Accuracy
  • Adjustable sights
  • Hard to get groups
  • Summary

Cleanup

Today I take a turn from my usual format. This is Day 2 where I normally report velocity, but instead of that I’m going to begin with accuracy. The reason for doing that is because when the pistol is adjusted for accuracy the velocity is affected.

Sharpshooter adjust rail
This screw pulls the two halves of the sheet metal together, pushing the front of the guide rail upward. That tightens the fit of the carrier on the rail — affecting both accuracy and velocity.

Bulls Eye rail
The earlier Bulls Eye gun rail was not adjustable. It was welded in place.

However, before I get to that I have some things to clear up. First, I said the plastic carriers/slides/launchers were introduced sometime after the 1960s. From what I have since learned, plastic carriers may have been installed in some La Jolla guns.

At sometime in the past I said that Sharpshooter pistols were made by five different companies. That all depends on what is meant by the verb “made.” Let’s look at the manufacturing history of these pistols.

Companies that made and sold Sharpshooter pistols

1924 – sometime in WW II — Dr. Bunten, the inventor, Bulls Eye Pistol Mfg. Co., Rawlins, Wyoming.

1946 – 1963 — John O. Beckwith, Bulls Eye Mfg. Corp, La Jolla, CA

Berry Brow Enterprises 1960?, Line Lexington, PA — they owned the rights but may not have made the parts of the guns. They announced restart of manufacture in American Rifleman in May of 1963.

Golden Key Enterprises, Sherman Oaks (and Van Nuys), CA — 1971-1980. Guns with plastic carriers.

1970 -’80s? — Doc Carlson bought the last 600 pistols from Golden Key. These can have odd boxes that measure 6 by 8 inches, for the original boxes were exhausted.

1980s — John Beckwith — about 100 Nickel Deluxe pistols were assembled from parts found in his brother Bud Beckwith’s garage after he passed away. They were given as gifts and sold. Probably with cast metal carriers.

Odd guns

I discovered two odd guns while researching this subject. One seems to be a change in manufacturing, as it has a one-inch longer grip. It is a nickel deluxe gun. The grips are what is extended – not the frame of stamped steel. A 2-ounce lead weight sits between the grip panels at the bottom. This was thought to be a one-off, but I may have located a production sample to show you.

Sharpshooter long grip
This Sharpshooter pistol with a long grip may have been a limited production item.

The other odd gun is a Bulls Eye pistol with a 6-ounce sheet of lead wrapped under the front of the pistol to add weight. This was done by Bud Beckwith on a single gun and was never manufactured. But it leads me to suspect that Bud Beckwith is also responsible for the Sharpshooter grip extension mentioned before.

Bulls Eye lead wrap
This Bulls Eye pistol has 6 ounces of lead wrapped around its bottom.

Accuracy

It took me long enough to get to it but now let’s look at Sharpshooter accuracy. The guns are amazingly accurate at short range. I wanted to play around with adjusting the tension on the rails to get the best accuracy possible. But after a morning of doing it I now suspect this is something that takes days and even longer. I will surprise you by telling you that Dr. Brunten tested each and every pistol he made before boxing it for sale. That’s the kind of stuff some shooters mistakenly believe all gun manufacturers do, but it is exceedingly rare. After he sold the company to John Beckwith he paid a visit to the La Jolla works to see if they were maintaining his standards. He found they employed a young man with one leg to test their guns and he was hitting strings tied to light chains around the room where he was sitting!

Dean Fletcher proved the gun is accurate enough to hit houseflies when he wrote the article for Airgun Revue, but that wasn’t the first time that was done. The first time was in 1925 on the inside of a vendor tent at Camp Perry, the site of the U.S. National Matches, where Major (later Major General) Julian S, Hatcher shot flies that landed on the inside of the tent canvas. Later, M.D. “Bud” Waite, former technical editor of the American Rifleman magazine and author of Trapdoor Springfield also shot flies, along with several world champion and Olympic Champion pistol shots. If you shot pistols in the 1920s, you owned a Bulls Eye or a Sharpshooter.

Adjustable sights

As inexpensive as these guns are, you don’t expect them to have adjustable sights, but they do. The front sight blade is also the stopper that holds the shot inside the 58-shot tubular magazine on top of the pistol. A modification made in the 1930s puts a bump on the bottom of the blade so you can adjust elevation.

Sharpshooter front sight
The front sight blade slides into the upper channel that holds the number 6 shot. The bump on the bottom of the blade is to control elevation.
Or, flip it over and you have a very low front blade.

Sharpshooter front sight low
Here the front sight blade is set as low as it will go unless it is flipped over.

The rear sight slides side to side. When you see how it’s made you have to praise the genius that thought up such a thing!

Sharpshooter rear sight
Metal tabs folded over the rear sight allow it to slide from side to side.

Hard to get groups

I wanted to show you some groups today, as well as to be able to compare group sizes based on my rail adjustments. But the Sharpshooter just doesn’t have the punch to pierce paper. I even made a target out of aluminum foil, but all most shots did was push it out of the way without piercing the foil.

ShaRPSHOOTER FOIL TARGET
All this target did was make noise and dance around when hit. The shot left no record of where it hit.

I then made a spinner box, using the spinners that came in the box with a gun. But if you miss a spinner, where did the shot go?

Sharpshooter spinners
These spinners came in a Sharpshooter box. They work well, but if you miss, where did it go?

Finally I stretched aluminum foil over a plastic food container and held it tight with a rubber band. It’s perfect for this work and I now have a permanent target in my office. No shot ever escapes and I have a great record of all shots.

foil trap
Aluminum foil stretched over a food container and held with a rubber band worked the best.

foil group
The black dot is the size of the trime, whose diameter is 14mm. There are 15 shots from three different pistols in this group. Yes, there is one at the top of the black dot from the Bulls Eye pistol. Shot at 7 feet.

The manufacturing machinery was never updated after Beckwith initially sold it. So, either La Jolla or nothing appears on all the guns made thereafter. The machinery was hauled off to the dump from the back yard of a relative in later years.

Summary

I hope this series is as interesting to you as it is to me. There is more to come.


SigAir ProForce MCX Virtus AEG airsoft gun: Part 3

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Virtus AGE right
SigAir ProForce MCX Virtus AEG right side.

Part 1
Part 2

This report covers:

  • Accuracy
  • HOWEVER
  • Romeo5 XDR red dot sight
  • Sig BBs|
  • 0.20-gram TSD Tactical White BBs
  • 0.20-gram TSD Tactical Black BBs|
  • 0.20-gram Marui Black BBs
  • 0.25-gram Stealth BBs
  • Rock and Roll
  • Discussion
  • Summary

I said in Part 2 that there was a lot to test with this SigAir ProForce MCX Virtus AEG airsoft guns, and today I discovered I was understating the case. You’ll see why as we progress.

Accuracy

This is the beginning of the accuracy test and it’s good to remind ourselves what this airsoft gun is meant for. It’s meant for skirmishing, which means shooting people, not targets. However, the best way to get it on target and properly adjusted is still the old-fashioned way of shooting at paper.

HOWEVER

The However today is all the variables. I will be shooting many different BBs, adjusting the Hop Up and adjusting the Romeo5 dot sight — each of which makes the equation more complex. I did not think about that until I was well into the test.

My plan had been to try several 0.20-gram BBs, and then some heavier ones, since we learned in Part 2 that the Virtus can handle BBs up to 0.30-grams. But I didn’t take into account adjusting the gun and the sight for each BB. Were I to try to do that I could write about just this one airgun for the next month and still not finish. Perhaps you don’t care about the outcome but there are readers who want to know, so I owe it to them to do a thorough job.

Romeo5 XDR red dot sight

I mounted the Sig Romeo5 XDR red dot sight on the Virtus for the test. I must observe that both this sight and the Virtus airgun are precision-made and the installation of the sight took some time. All parts have to mesh, and when they do that sight is on tight!

I adjusted the intensity of the dot as low as it would go and still be visible. That gives the most precision. 

Sig BBs

I mentioned in the earlier parts of this report that Sig sent some 0.20-gram BBs with the gun, so I started the test with them. I first fired a single shot from 12 feet, and when the BB hit the target at 6 o’clock I backed up to 10 meters for the test. 

The Sig BBs were not feeding reliably. After loading the magazine each time it took several shots before they began to feed, so I loaded 16 BBs into the mag for the first target. That’s 4 pumps of the speedloader button. 

The first target has 8 shots on it. There were more BBs left in the gun but they wouldn’t fire out. The 8 BBs are in 2.415-inches at 10 meters. They are high on the target, and in line with the center.

Sig Virtus Sig BB 1
On the first target 8 Sig BBs went into 2.415-inches at 10 meters. 

I adjusted the Romeo5 dot sight five clicks down after seeing this first target. I also adjusted the Hop Up five clicks up. I didn’t know if that was the right way to go, but the next target would probably tell me. There were 4 BBs remaining in the Virtus that were not fired. I loaded another 16 Sig BBs into the magazine.

The second target has 9 shots in the target in 2.341-inches between centers. Once again I had to shoot several BBs to get the gun to fire then and the last 4 BBs would not fire from the gun. They fell out when the magazine was removed.

Sig Virtus Sig BB 2
The second target shot with Sig BBs has 9 shots in it. The group measures 2.341-inches between centers.

By adjusting both the Hop Up and the sight setting I confused myself as to what was happening. But that did not deter me from making the same mistake again. This time I adjusted the Romeo5 dot sight down 6 more clicks and the Hop Up up 6 more clicks. Hopefully something would change. I loaded 20 more BBs into the magazine.

The third target shows 9 BBs in 2.095-inches at 10 meters. The group is a little smaller than the others, so I’m thinking the Hop Up is where it needs to be for now. It also dawned on me that I could be here forever if I tried to adjust both the Hop Up and the sight for each BB. So I decided to leave both things as they were for now.

Sig Virtus Sig BB 3
This third target with Sig BBs shows 9 in 2.095-inches at 10 meters.

Once again there were four BBs remaining inside the gun after the gun stopped shooting BBs out. They were outside the magazine but loose in the gun’s receiver. I had intended for each of these three targets to be 10-shot groups, but this BB feeding problem prevented that.

Sig Virtus BBs
After every round of shots there were always 4 Sig BBs left in the gun.

0.20-gram TSD Tactical White BBs

Next I tried shooting 0.20-gram TSD Tactical White BBs. They aren’t called that on the bag they come in, but on the next target I will shoot 0.20-gram TSD Tactical Black BBs, and the color of the BB is the only difference between the two. The wording on both packages is identical. I loaded 20 of them into the magazine.

This time I got 10 shots in a row! Feeding was perfect. Hurrah! These ten went into 1.747-inches at 10 meters, making them considerably more accurate than the Sig BBs. They hit in almost the same place on the target as the Sig BBs. To keep things simple I did not touch either the Hop Up or the dot sight for the remainder of the test.

Sig Virtus TSD White BBs
Now this is a nicer group. Ten TSD 0.20-gram white BBs in 1.747-inches at 10 meters.

To dump the remainder of the BBs (I had loaded 20 BBs because of the previous experience) I fired them into the backstop on Rock and Roll, once the target was taken down. All BBs were expended from the magazine this time!

0.20-gram TSD Tactical Black BBs

Now I loaded some 0.20-gram TSD Tactical Black BBs into the mag. The Hop Up and sight settings remained the same. Ten BBs went into 2.106-inches at 10 meters. Once again, all BBs fed as they should and I dumped the rest Rock and Roll into the backstop after securing the target.

Sig Virtus TSD Black BBs
Ten 0.20-gram TSD Tactical Black BBs went into this 2.106-inch group at 10 meters.

Once again, all BBs fired from the gun without fail. But the White TSD BBs still grouped tighter.

0.20-gram Marui Black BBs

Next up were ten 0.20-gram Marui Black BBs. They made a 2.377-inch group in almost the same place as the other BBs. They also fed perfectly.

Sig Virtus Marui Black BBs
Ten Marui Black BBs made a 2.377-inch group at 10 meters.

0.25-gram Stealth BBs

I had only planned to shoot 0.20-gram BBs today, since there were so many to test. But I had loaded the magazine with 0.25-gram Stealth BBs before realizing what they were. Since they were already loaded, I shot a final target with 10 of them. As expected they landed a little lower on the target than the 0.20-gram BBs. Ten of them landed in a group that measures 2.175-inches between centers. That’s about as good as the worst of the 0.20-gram BBs. I could play with the Hop Up to try to improve the group, but for today I will leave things where they are.

I want to add that this was the only other BB besides the Sig BB that had feeding problems. Several times during the shooting BBs failed to come out of the gun.

0.25-gram Stealth BBs
Ten 0.25-gram Stealth BBs made a 2.175-inch group at 10 meters.

Rock and Roll

As a final test I took the best BB of the test, which was the TSD White BB — and shot 16 into the target on full auto from 10 meters. I fired two bursts, with the last one being the longest. The gun was rested for this target just like it was for all the others and all the BBs fired as they should.

This group is perhaps the most enlightening one of the day, because it represents what the Virtus can do when it’s used in the way it was designed. 16 BBs went into 2.743-inches at 10 meters.

Rock N Roll
Shooting 16 shots full-auto gives a group that measures 2.743-inches between centers.

Discussion

This Virtus is a serious select-fire AEG. I consider the accuracy we have seen so far to be very respectable. And the gun hasn’t been fully tuned or tested. 

Up next will be the heavier BBs that range from just above 0.20-grams up to 0.30-grams. If I find any more 0.20-gram BBs I will also test them as well.

Following that test, I will exchange the 120 mainspring for the lighter 110 spring and completely test the gun again — both for velocity and accuracy.

Summary

Sig’s AEG Virtus is a serious airsoft airgun. They should be proud to carry it in their ProForce line.