IZH 46M target pistol: Part 3

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

IZH 46M
IZH 46M single stroke target pistol.

Part 1
Part 2

A history of airguns

This report covers:

  • The test
  • RWS Meisterkugeln Rifle
  • JSB Match Light
  • Sights?
  • Other pellets and holds
  • The new hold
  • RWS Hobby
  • RWS R10 Match Light
  • Best for last
  • Discussion
  • Summary

Today I test the accuracy of the IZH 46M target pistol. We already know it’s a bit more powerful than the standard IZH 46, but how is it downrange?

The test

I shot off a bench at 10 meters. The pistol was rested several different ways that will describe as we go. I used a 6 o’clock hold, the same as when I shoot competition. I shot 5-shot groups that allowed me to test more pellets.

I had no idea of where the pistol was sighted, but since it has open sights I started right at 10 meters. Open sights may be a little off, but they don’t have the alignment issues associated with scopes.

RWS Meisterkugeln Rifle

First to be tested was the RWS Meisterkugeln Rifle pellet. I looked through the spotting scope after the first shot and saw that it hit the bull, so I didn’t look again. But the group was large. Five Meisterkugeln went into 0.672-inches at 10 meters. This is not the pellet for this pistol.

IZH 46M Meisterkugeln Rifle group
The IZH 46M pistol put 5 RWS Meisterkugeln Rifle pellets in 0.672-inches at 10 meters.

JSB Match Light

The next pellet I tested was the JSB Match Light. It was another one that’s not suited for this pistol Five went into 0.557-inches at 10 meters

IZH 46M JSB Match Light group
Five JSB Match Light pellets made this 0.557-inch group at 10 meters.

Sights?

I haven’t adjusted the sights yet. I know that each pellet will go to it’s own place, so adjusting the sights at this point seems futile, but since I did want to report how they responded to adjustment I cranked them down and to the left following this group. As I reported earlier, the adjustment knobs are clearly marked, and the sights do move with distinct clicks that I can feel but not hear. That may not mean much, though, because these days there are lots of things I can’t hear.

Other pellets and holds

For the first two groups I was holding the pistol at arm’s length. The pump cylinder was resting directly on the sandbag. I was holding the grip with two hands. But I noticed that this hold put a strain on both arms. The pistol seemed to be still, but I decided to try a different hold for the next group.

The new hold

This time I brought the pistol closer to me. I was wearing reading glasses that enable me to see the front sight sharp and clear against a slightly fuzzy bullseye, and since that is the secret of accuracy with open sights I felt this hold was better.

The pump cylinder was still resting on the sandbag and I was still holding the grip with both hands so the pistol was steady as a rock, but the front sight was clearer with this hold.

RWS Hobby

The next pellet tested was the 7-grain RWS Hobby. The group was lower in the bull and also moved to the left a little. Five Hobby pellets went into 0.457-inches, so I think the sight adjustments work well.

IZH 46M Hobby group
At 10 meters 5 Hobby pellets gave me the first decent group, though I expected better from the IZH 46M. These measure 0.457-inches between centers.

The new hold also seemed to be working better than the first one so I continued it. I didn’t adjust the sights anymore because each pellet was going to its own place.

RWS R10 Match Light

The next pellet I tested was the RWS R10 Match Light. My past experience with this 7-grain wadcutter is sort of binary. Either it works well in an airgun or it doesn’t. However, having said that the group I got was just average. Five pellets went into 0.56-inches at 10 meters. Even though it doesn’t look that bad I would say this is a case of not being right for this pistol.

IZH 46M R10 Match Light group
If this group was made by most airguns it would be okay, but it’s not good enough for a 10 meter target pistol. Five RWS R10 Match Pistol pellets are in 0.56-inches at 10 meters.

Best for last

After last Friday’s test of the IZH MP532 target rifle I saved what I thought might turn out to be the best pellet for last. After all, both the rifles and the pistols have hammer-forged barrels that are made in the same factory. You would think they would share some things.

I’m referring to the H&N Finale Match Heavy pellet that did so well in both IZH MP532 target rifles. I didn’t watch the target with the spotting scope as I shot because I wanted nothing to distract me for these five shots.

And the reward was the best group of the test — five pellets in 0.24-inches at 10 meters. Now, that is a group! It’s what I had been looking for all along. If laid over the center of the target it could score a perfect 50 points. I’m not saying it’s the best I have ever done with a 10-meter pistol — far from it, in fact. But it is a good group.

IZH 46M Finale Match Heavy group
That’s what I was looking for! Five H&N Finale Match Heavy pellets went into 0.24-inches at 10 meters.

Discussion

This was a quick and dirty accuracy test. I did shoot other pellets that were about as accurate as the Meisterkugeln Rifle pellets, but I didn’t bother showing them. If I were going to compete with this pistol I would test all premium match pellets in every head size I could find.

Summary

The IZH target pistols are no longer available to us in the United States. They are good target pistols but not world class. They have triggers so good that most shooters have never felt anything like them, and the accuracy is acceptable to almost every shooter. They respond to regular care and above all to oiling the pump cup. And in this series I have shown you how to revive those tired old seals through a process of flexing during shooting to warm and soften them. Don’t forget the value of oiling hardened seals with ATF Sealant.

A lot came with these pistols when they were new. This IZH 46M now goes back in the box with all that extra stuff so it will remain a complete package. This one will stay pristine and my other IZH 46 will be my Russian shooter.


IZH MP532 target rifle: Part 1

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

IZH MP532
IZH MP532 single stroke target rifle.

A history of airguns

This report covers:

  • What is it?
  • Two rifles?
  • Why so impressed?
  • Sights
  • Finishes changed over time
  • Dimensions
  • Not a true target rifle?
  • Adjustable weights
  • Weight
  • Summary

It’s been quite a while since I did an historical report and this may not really be one — I just don’t know. I did a web search and didn’t find the rifle I’m covering today for sale new anywhere. Several used ones had sold in the U.S., but they are kind of scarce here. I think they must be more available in other countries including Canada (?) because the velocity is quite low. It’s below the Canadian limit (for airguns) of 500 f.p.s.

What is it?

The MP532 is a single stroke pneumatic 10-meter target rifle. It has a crude target stock that doesn’t have an adjustable cheekpiece or an accessory rail on the bottom of the forearm. The buttplate does adjust up and down for fit.

Apparently the first versions of the rifle had wood stocks made of a single piece of lumber and they had the reputation for cracking at the pistol grip — just like the FWB 150 and 300, before the company stabilized them with a vertical pin through the grip, and also just like the Anschütz 250. The two MP532s I have both have “firewood” stocks made of laminated pieces of wood. Reader Vana2 would be so proud! Maybe they are not exactly what Vana2 showed us how to make, but they are thicker laminates than I typically see in rifle stocks.

MP532 firewood stock
Apparently the Russians fixed the stock cracking issue with a laminate stock made of thick sections of wood.

Two rifles?

Yes, I have 2 MP532s. They came from a recent selloff of airguns from EAA (European American Armory), the only company that imported them into the U.S. A batch of IZH as well as some other airguns were recently sold by them, and 4 MP532s were in the batch, along with several more IZH 46s and 46Ms. I also bought a 46M that I plan to test against my 46 head-to-head. Then, perhaps at the next Texas Airgun Show, I will sell the 46M and one of the 532s. I also got a couple other airguns in this sale, so I’m stocked up with historical airguns for some time to come. Now, back to the 532.

From the comments I read online it looks like EAA started selling 532s around 2004. I first saw them at IWA in Nuremberg in 2006. I was blown away that they existed and wanted to buy one but the Russians in the booth didn’t think they were available in the U.S. I guess they were unaware of EAA.

Why so impressed?

I said I was blown away. Why? Well, I had owned an IZH 46 for many years by that time and I knew what a wonderful target pistol it is. I figured the target rifle would be just as nice, and apparently it was because it was not much more than the pistol in a rifle stock. It’s no more powerful. It’s not easier to pump. The triggers on the two I have are no better than my pistol triggers and I have even adjusted one of them to no avail. In fact, the two-stage rifle trigger I have played with has no good stop for stage two. So it acts like a single stage trigger that goes off whenever it wants to, and not when you are ready.

The other 532 has a delightful 2-stage trigger that breaks crisply. So there might be a way to adjust the trigger than I just haven’t discovered yet.

The reason I like it so much is the 532 is a 10-meter target rifle and I am attracted to all 10-meter target rifles — especially when they are vintage. This one wasn’t vintage when I first saw it, but being Russian it looked exotic and also resembled the target rifles of the 1960s more than the target rifles of today.

Sights

The front sight is a globe that accepts inserts. One rifle I got had a single insert in the globe and it is the old-style aperture. The other rifle came with no inserts but I was able to fit a 16mm Walther clear plastic aperture insert that reader Kevin recently sent me. It’s loose until the threaded sleeve is screwed tight, but then it locks up and stays in one place, which is all I need. It doesn’t matter if it isn’t perfectly centered because the rear sight adjusts for that.

MP532 front sight Russian insert
One rifle came with a single front sight insert. Fortunately it is one I can use.

MP532 front sight Walther insert
The other rifle had no front sight insert, so I installed a clear 16mm Walther aperture.

The rear sight is a target peep that Americans have panned over the years. They say it looks cheap compared to other 10-meter rear sights. Well, it is a little Spartan compared to other 10-meter target rifle sights, but it does everything they do, so who cares what it looks like? Beautiful is as beautiful does. Naturally I will have a lot more to say about the sights when I test the rifle(s) for accuracy. I think because I have two rifles I will test both of them. Why not?

MP532 rear sight
The rear sight is made from the pistol rear sight and turned into a peep for the rifle — exactly as Diana did with their model 70 and 72 youth target rifles.

Finishes changed over time

The two 532s I have come from different time periods. The earlier one was made in 1997, according to the date code in the serial number. The metal on it is polished bright and deeply blued. The later rifle was made in 2007 and is matte all over. Matte is preferred for competition since it doesn’t reflect much light, but shiny blue looks better.

MP532 shiny blue
The rifle made in 1997 has a shiny blue finish to all the metal.

MP532 matte
The rifle made in 2007 is finished matte.

Dimensions

For this part I’m, only measuring one of the two rifles. The overall length of the rifle is 42 inches, stem to stern. The barrel appears to be 28-1/2 inches long, but that’s deceptive, because there is a hollow shroud that extends the front sight far from the rear one. The true barrel is 15.5 inches long. It’s not much longer than the 11-inch IZH 46/M pistol barrel. So my remark about the Russians turning the pistol into a rifle is correct. All, that’s been done is to turn the cocking/pumping mechanism 90 degrees to the right to make the rifle a sidelever.

The length of pull is 13 inches, which is very long for a target rifle. A standard target rifle pull is 12 inches or less because the rifle is held differently than a sporting rifle. But the 532 buttplate adjusts out to a 14.5-inch pull that’s suitable for a giant.

MP532 buttplate out
The buttplate adjusts for both length of pull as well as height.

The buttplate also adjusts both down and up by 3 inches in each direction. That gives the shooter a huge range of adjustment to suit almost any adult alive.

Not a true target rifle?

I don’t think the Russians ever intended the 532 to be a true competition rifle, any more than they intended the 46 pistol to be a true competition pistol. World-class Russian shooters shoot FWB, Walther, Steyr and Anschütz target airguns the same as everyone else on the planet. You might think of this rifle as their Edge or Challenger PCP gun for wannabe and starting target shooters to use. And I bet that a lot more of these guns go to duffers like all of us who just want to know that their airgun can outshoot them.

Adjustable weights

One rifle I have came in its original box and it came with 6 sliding weights on the barrel. Each weight can be positioned along the barrel and held in place by a lock screw. Or they can be removed altogether, though to get them off requires the removal of the front sight, and a special spanner will be needed.

MP532 weights
Six weights allow you to set the rifle for many balance preferences. They also remove.

Weight

The rifle weighs 10 pounds exactly with all 6 weights installed. That makes it a little light for a world-class target rifle and heavy for a youth target rifle. I imagine the Russian position on this is similar to what the American father’s position would have been in 1950, “Son, when you are big enough to hold a target rifle like this you are big enough to have one.”

Summary

That’s our first look at the IZH 532 target rifle. In Part 2 we will look at the power as well as the trigger pull, trigger adjustability and the effort required to pump the rifle.

I’ll also tell you how I brought both rifles back from the grave after they sat around unused for 12 to 22 years. Should be fun.


Daystate Sportsman Mark II

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

A history of airguns

This report covers:

  • “What they oughta do…”
  • “They” did!
  • Sounds nice!
  • How did it shoot?
  • History
  • Summary

This week reader Yogi asked me if I could write a blog about the Air Arms Pro Elite — a breakbarrel rifle that was built to the same quality level as a TX200 Mark III. I said I would look and see if I had enough information to write about them. I have owned two Pro Elites, a .177 and a .22, and I didn’t think much of either one. The build quality was excellent but they were hard to cock, recoiled harshly and were not that accurate, as I recall. However, thinking about that rifle opened another closet in my dusty memory, — one that related to the Seneca Aspen I started testing earlier this week. I’m referring to the Daystate Sportsman Mark II.

What you are about to read are words I wrote back in 2007.

From August 24, 2007.

“What they oughta do…”

How many times have I heard airgunners talk about their reservations with precharged guns? They like the way the guns shoot, if only there was some way around the scuba tank and hose. Other airgunners look at their Blue Streaks and wonder why someone has never thought to put a premium barrel on one and perhaps give it some more power. If they know of the Sharp Ace, they wonder all the more. [The Sharp Ace is a more refined multi-pump with greater power and accuracy than the Benjamin Sheridan rifles.]

“Yeah,” they muse, “If only Daystate or Falcon would build a PCP and build a pump into it so you don’t need a scuba tank!”

Daystate Sportsman MKII
Daystate’s Sportsman Mk II was a multi-pump that was built like a PCP. Shooters said they wanted it, but the sales didn’t agree.

“They” did!

Wonder no longer, my friends – the gun was built. The Daystate Sportsman Mark II was a multi-pump pneumatic that was built along the same lines as a PCP, only with a pump built in. The UK version reached 12 foot-pounds and required only two pumps. If it is pumped further, a relief valve opens to exhaust the excess air.

The U.S. version hit 25 foot-pounds and required five pump strokes. Of course, as with any multi-pump, you could always stop at fewer pumps and shoot with less power. On one pump, my .22 caliber rifle got about 6.5 foot-pounds with Crosman Premiers. Two pumps gave me 11.8 foot-pounds. Three took me up to 15.5 foot-pounds and four got 17.5 foot-pounds. Five pumps got 19.5 foot-pounds with Crosman Premiers. With a 29.6-grain Dae Sung pellet the rifle got 24.5 foot-pounds. The rifle was made in .22 caliber and there were plans to make it in .25 also, but I don’t know that any were made.

Sounds nice!

Wow, you say! I’d really like that! Sure you would, if only the pumps took the same effort as your Blue Streak, but they didn’t. Pump number three required about 67 pounds of effort. Pumps four and five took about 77 pounds of effort. Even pump number two took between 55 and 64 pounds of effort, so the 12 foot-pound gun was no delight, either. The eighth and final pump of a Blue Streak takes about 33 pounds of effort. I have watched several grown men fail to pump the Sportsman five times.
A great many more simply refused to do that much work. That was the problem with the rifle. If the pump-assist mechanism were incorporated into the Sportsman, then, yes, it could be successful. But as it was produced, even in a 12 foot-pound gun, it was simply too difficult to pump. The pump handle swung 105 degrees away from the side of the rifle and the pump effort didn’t start to build until the handle was about halfway back.

Daystate Sportsman MKII open
Pump lever swung 105 degrees open. It pivoted on a massive bearing.

How did it shoot?

It shot just like you imagine it would. It shot exactly like a PCP. The pump lever was on the right side, so it tried to rotate the rifle in that direction when you held it, but other than that there was little difference between the Sportsman and any .22 caliber PCP of the time (1997).
There was no noticeable recoil; the trigger was light and delightfully crisp and accuracy was minute of thumbnail at 40 yards – everything you would expect.

The photos show the same clean lines that Daystate was putting on their PCPs at that time. Fortunately, this rifle was made when they were lightening all their PCPs, because that pump mechanism added several pounds of weight. The unscoped rifle weighed 9.5 lbs.!

History

Before there was a Mark II there was a Mark I. Before that, the rifle existed under another name altogether. Daystate didn’t actually design it. They acquired the design from another source, and I just recently learned from Daystate of America (the late Rodney Boyce) that they didn’t actually build it in-house, either. They acquired it from an outside source and put their name on it.

I liked the rifle after getting used to it. After time passed, comparison with my PCPs that were so easy to just shoot caused me to part company.

For those who find themselves intrigued, these guns still show up at airgun shows. Asking prices are about $550, which is close to the new price in ’97. Every one of them you find will probably be in excellent condition – both because the gun is so beautiful that their owners will care for it, and because it is so hard to pump that nobody will ever wear one out!

End of the report.

That blog report was from 2007 — years before there was an FX Independence and much longer before the Seneca Aspen existed. But airgunners were still airgunners and they wanted the same things back then that they do today. You have to bear in mind that the Sportsman Mark II of 1997 was standing on the shoulders of an earlier multi-pump that existed before 1990.

We get a lot more of what we say we want in the Seneca Aspen. The pump force that was next to impossible in the Daystate is easy in the Aspen because a three-stage pump multiplies the force of the pump arm. I don’t yet know if the barrel is accurate, but I’m hoping it is. Why would anyone put all the effort into the design and not make one that is accurate?

Summary

Today’s message is — we are in the greatest era of airgun development that’s ever existed. Today’s airguns are answers to questions that were asked in times past, which means tomorrow’s guns will be built to address the things we are talking about today. What will they be?


The Beeman C1 – Part 1 The rifle that created the artillery hold!

by B.B. Pelletier

This is an oldie from 2009 that I’m recycling because I’m still out of town with my family emergency. As you will soon learn, the Beeman C1 is the rifle that gave me the idea for the artillery hold.

 

A history of airguns

Despite the size of this photo, the C1 is a small rifle. The western look was unique in its day. The scope is a 2-7×32 BSA.
I have places in my heart reserved for certain air rifles. The FWB 124 has a spot, as does the Beeman R1. And there’s another place that’s reserved for the Beeman C1. It’s no longer made. In fact, the company that once made it–Webley–has also disappeared from the world stage. But the C1s that are in the world are wonderful air rifles that deserve a look from us.

My first C1 was a compromise gun–something I know many of you readers can relate to. I really wanted an R1, but at the time we didn’t have the money to stretch that far, so I bought the C1 as the best compromise. The difference was $189 and $249, as close as I can recall. That little bit made the decision for me.

At least this was a Beeman rifle, even if it wasn’t one made by Weihrauch. Little did I know then how much that C1 carbine was going to influence my future as an airgun writer.

The rifle is a tad over 38 inches long, and the barrel accounts for 14 inches of that. The rifle weighs 6.3 lbs.

My C1 was a .177, while the one I’m reviewing for you now is a .22. I can remember being very impressed when I saw the gun for the first time. Beeman really knew how to present an air rifle in their reinforced cardboard boxes. The rated velocity was 830 f.p.s. for a broken-in gun in .177. Beeman also listed a .22 caliber version, but I never heard much about it back when it was still being made, so this test will be very revealing.

My C1 had a manual safety on the right side of the rifle, located at the rear of the spring tube. The .22 rifle I’m testing for you has no safety, so it has to be an earlier rifle. The rifle was made from 1981 to 1996 according to the Blue Book of Airguns. And here’s a curious note–although the Blue Book says importation began after serial number 800,000, the serial number on my rifle is 771,894. And my new rifle is clearly marked with Beeman’s San Rafael address.

When it was new, my first C1 was quite stiff and hard to cock. The trigger was also very stiff. To say I was disappointed by the shooting performance was an understatement! After hearing all the good things about precision adult air rifles and having already owned an FWB 124, this C1 was a boat anchor in comparison. But it was all I had, so I stuck with it.

After about 2,000 rounds had passed through the rifle, I began noticing that the cocking had smoothed out. At first I thought it was my imagination, but then I started noticing that the firing behavior was smoother, as well. After 3,000 rounds the trigger started getting very light and, if not exactly crisp, at least predictable.

About that time I disassembled the rifle to see what I could do to improve it. What I was thinking, I’ll never know, because I hadn’t a clue how to tune a spring gun. The Beeman R1 book was still five years in the future. Black tar hadn’t been discovered by airgunners yet. It existed, but it was not known to the airgun community, so we used Beeman’s Mainspring Dampening Compound instead. It did pretty much the same thing, though it wasn’t as viscous, and you had to use a lot more of it.

Fortunately, I also didn’t own a chronograph yet, either, so I had no idea how fast my rifle was shooting. I trusted the Beeman catalog implicitly.

Use a mainspring compressor!
While either disassembling or assembling my C1 a curious thing happened and I got the first photo to go into the R1 book. The heavy solid steel end cap got away from me, sailed across the room and broke a desk drawer divider in two! Had my arm been there instead, I’m thinking it might have been broken–bruised for certain. I instantly understood the need for a mainspring compressor!


The C1 end cap hit this desk divider to the right of the crack (see the dent in the wood) and busted it in two.
The other curious thing about my C1 was that it taught me how to shoot a spring-piston air rifle. The wisdom of that day said to hold a spring rifle firmly. I was doing that and those beautiful groups my rifle was supposed to be capable of were eluding me. On my 10-meter basement range I could group five good pellets into about one-third inch when everything went well.

The birth of the artillery hold
One day, I decided to see just how inaccurate the rifle would be if I didn’t restrain it at all. So, I laid the forearm across my open palm and caressed the wrist only enough to pull the trigger. The butt simply touched my shoulder without bearing on it. And the next group I shot measured 0.13″! That day was the birth of the artillery hold, though it wasn’t until The Airgun Letter that I gave it a name, because I wanted to be able to discuss it in my articles without having to describe the procedure every time. People had been holding firearms that way for decades, but this was a change for airgunners.

I was so shocked by this revelation that I wrote my first airgun article about this phenomenon and sent it to Robert Beeman to put in his next catalog. When I didn’t hear back from him I was disappointed, but I kept on refining that hold, because my rifle shot so well.

 

The rear sight on this new C1 is a Williams adjustable. It’s not original to the rifle but is an upgrade.
My C1 is sold
Several years later, Edith and I were doing much better and she gave me not one but two air rifles for Christmas–a new R1 and a used HW 77 carbine. Those rifles took over my attention and within a few more years the C1 was gone. At the time I said things like, “Who needs three perfect airguns?” and “I can always buy another one if I really want it.”

The C1 slipped quietly out of production soon after Robert Beeman sold the company in 1994 and was replaced for a short time by the Beeman Bearcub–the last model to carry any genes from the gun that had been the C1. The western stock went away as well, and the Bearcub was 100 f.p.s. faster than the C1 had been.

Why I missed the C1
For several years after selling the C1, I was fine, but then I started missing it. I missed the ease of use and the compact size, but most of all I missed the splendid accuracy that issued forth from that little breakbarrel. I also missed being able to hold it up to show people what a nice airgun was supposed to look like.

And a strange thing happened. As much as I had told myself I could always buy another one, they weren’t showing up at the airgun shows. I see about as many C1s for sale as I see Sheridan Supergrades, and that’s not many. So, when I saw the current one on Dave Franz’s table at Little Rock this year, I was excited. It took a big trade to bring the rifle into my gun room, but it was worth it. Now I have a vintage airgun to test that I have absolutely no experience with–a .22 caliber C1. I’m sure we’ll all have a fine time learning about this one.


The rise of the accurate pellet: Part 3

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

A history of airguns

Part 1
Part 2

This report covers:

  • Up to this point
  • What came next?
  • Head size
  • Enter the Pelletgage
  • High-performance expanding pellets
  • Solid “pellets”
  • Lead-free pellets
  • Conclusion

I bet some of you didn’t realize there was so much to making pellets accurate, did you? This is the third installment of this report and we still have some ground to cover.

Up to this point

To summarize, we have learned that the introduction of the diabolo shape made pellet more accurate than ever before and ushered in the age of the accurate airgun. But after that first surge of advancement, pellet makers didn’t really forge ahead. They were comfortable just making diabolo (wasp-waisted, hollow-tailed) pellets. It wasn’t until 60 more years passed that they began to question whether there was more that could be done.

What came next?

The next advances happened on both the individual shooter level as well as the manufacturing level. Manufacturers of premium pellets began to tighten their control over the specifications. They were already doing that in-house, but when they started selling pellets to World Cup and Olympic competitors, they started selling their productions by lots. Shooters tested each lot until they found the pellet that worked best with their gun, then they bought a significant portion of that lot, in the belief that there would be more uniformity in the same lot than across lots. In the world of rimfire competition and 10-meter airgun target competition, this is still the practice today.

In the 1980s field target shooters were also interested in getting the best accuracy from their air rifles, but they were shooing domed pellets that had not come under scrutiny previously. The pellets were very good because the manufacturers (premium makers) were holding the tolerances tight, but until field target, and more recently long-range benchrest shooting, nobody was checking. But field target shooters looked for ways of making these good pellets even better.

Two methods surfaced — weighing and sorting by head size. Pellets that were sorted by weight seemed to shoot better than the same pellets selected at random from the tin or box. When I competed in field target in the 1990s, weight-sorting was considered mandatory if you wanted to win. You use an electronic powder scale and group the pellets into categories that do not vary by one-tenth grain. While there are a few scales that show weights down to one-hundredth grain, it turns out that level of sorting doesn’t add much accuracy, if any. The real benefit comes from not shooting two pellets that vary by nearly half a grain in weight at the same target 55 yards away.

The head size sorting was less scientific. Shooters used transparent ballpoint pen barrels that were known to taper smaller on their inner diameter. Since they were transparent, the pellets could be seen from the outside and marks were made to show the ideal range. If a pellet stopped falling in that range, it was considered good for competition.

Head size

What this sorting was after was a pellet with a consistent head size. The skirt would always be larger than the rifle’s bore and would be squeezed down when shot, but the head was the part of the pellet that was engraved by the rifling and affected accuracy the most. The shooters did not know the exact size of the head — it was just the relative size they were after, so all pellets would be the same. But that was all it took to make a difference.

Enter the Pelletgage

In 2015 the Pelletgage hit the market. This tool that I have reviewed for you several times is by far the best way to sort pellets by head size. Pelletgages are shipping around the world, and competitors are discovering a new level of performance from guns and pellets they already thought were perfection. Future competitors will have to use this gage just to stay even with the pack!

Pelledgage
The Pelletgage is a game-changer for competitors wanting ultimate accuracy.

High-performance expanding pellets

We are not done. Next we will consider the hunters’ need for expansion on game. When I got into airgunning seriously in the mid-1970s, there were hollowpoint pellets, but they were mostly a gimmick. They only expanded if they hit an animal while traveling very fast, which meant you had to be very close to the game, because in those days, airguns did not shoot that fast. Well, times chage. Guns have speeded up and pellets now have remarkable performance at even moderate velocities.

It takes a lot of time and money to develop a good expanding pellet. Sometimes the shape of the hollow cavity makes a huge difference and other times the thickness of the cavity walls matters the most. Even striations in the cavity walls that weaken it can be significant.

Vortek Lamprey Hollowhead pellets were among the first to experiment with new shapes, and they actually turned inside-out when they deformed. To this date I have not seen an expanding pellet that could equal what they could do, though they have been off the market for over 10 years.

Vortek pellets
Yes, the long end is hollow and it is the head! Vortek Lamprey hollowhead pellets outperform every expanding pellet ever made! They are no longer produced.

The thing about expending pellets is they perform best within a range of termial velocities (velocity at the target). Each one will give you a different range with different airguns. And then there is the accuracy potential. Today’s expanding pellets are usually quite accurate, because their makers know airgunners insist on accuracy over everything. So that part of the pellet market is bright and getting brighter.

Solid “pellets”

Sorry, but I’m too much of a shooter to call a solid projectile a pellet. Just because it goes in a pellet gun doesn’t make it a pellet. It’s a bullet, plain and simple.

And, being a bullet, the ballistics are determined by spin, where diabolos are more sensitive to drag. Pellet makers haven’t tripped to this yet and keep bringing out these ridiculous projectiles that don’t shoot well in most airguns, in my experience. Give them time to learn the lessons black powder shooters have learned and eventually there will be some useful solid pellets. But for the present — not on your life. If anyone knows different, please inform me.

Lead-free pellets

For many years I taunted the pellet makers about their lead-free pellets that weren’t worth much. I said if anyone ever made a good lead-free pellet, I would become its head cheerleader. Well, Sig Sauer did just that, with their Match Ballistic Alloy pellets. Now the JROTC teams and all those who shoot in California have something good to shoot in matches! Yes, I know they are made by H&N and are probably the same as H&N Match Green pellets, but I haven’t tested those yet, so I can’t say that with authority. I will do that test in the future.

Conclusion

We are now living in a golden age, where pellets just keep getting better. I look for more developments in long range pellets soon, plus more good lead-free pellets. I don’t think the advancements will end anytime soon.