Why can’t “they” do it? + SHOT Show 2014: Part 4

by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Before I begin today’s report, there are a couple SHOT Show updates. First, there were numerous inquiries about Crosman’s butterfly hand pump. Are they going to build it? Is it dead? Stuff like that.

They told me the pump is still an active project. The problem is that they’re trying to find a manufacturer that can build it to the quality they’ll accept. They keep getting samples from different companies, but there are always problems. They’re not going to put it on the market unless it’s fully developed. So, there’s no date when the pump will come to market.

Why don’t they build it themselves? Read today’s report to answer that question.

A couple folks wondered about the Chinese-made TX200 copy that Crosman has shown at past shows. That project is dead. Crosman told me they weren’t satisfied with the quality of the gun being made, specifically in the area of the safety. They feel it cannot be made to their standards, so they aren’t going any farther with it.

I was asked specifically by blog reader Ariel if I’d seen the Air Arms S510 Ultimate Sporter. I hadn’t, so I went back to the Air Venturi booth and looked for it. They had it sitting on a counter, so I took a photo and here it is.

Air Arms S510 Ultimate Sporter
The Air Arms Ultimate Sporter was featured by Air Venturi at the SHOT Show.

Simon Gibbon from Air Arms wasn’t in the both when I was there, so I don’t have an answer about Canadian importation. I will continue to work on finding out.

Next, I stumbled across a Pardini dealer right here in the United States! Pardini is an Italian maker that makes both firearms and airguns. I’ve tested their 10-meter target pistols in the past. They’re in the same quality category as Walther and Steyr, but they don’t have quite the ergonomics. They offer both electronic and mechanical triggers on their guns, and the grips are either designed by Morini or heavily influenced by them.

Parditni air pistol
Nice to know there’s a Pardini dealer in the U.S.!

Incidentally, the man in the booth was not the Pardini dealer, but his friend. This man custom builds handguns and showed me a 9mm pistol that shot a 1.8 inch 10-shot group at 100 yards! He also showed me a rifle he makes. He builds the action and it’s rigid as any sniper rifle. The 100-yard groups were 0.3 inches!

Big news!
The last find at this year’s show may prove to be the best one if things pan out. It’s a new type of sight. When I walked up to the booth, a woman was standing in the aisle asking if people wanted to look though the sight, which attaches to the rear of a rifle. Since it was mounted on a Gamo breakbarrel, I decided to have a look. Lo and behold, this is an optical type sight that uses passive light! Think of a dot sight without any batteries!

That’s an over-simplification and also somewhat misleading, but the See All Open Sight appears to have the precision of a dot sight and the size and light weight of a peep sight.

SeeAll sight
See All Open Sight may be just what the doctor ordered for all who want open sights on air rifles that are currently without them.

I have to give Edith credit for making the connection for me. I saw in general terms how useful this sight might be; but when she mentioned that it could be put on a TX200, the lights came on! How many times have I had to explain to people that guns like the TX simply cannot have open sights installed. Well, maybe now they can!

Why can’t “they” build it?
Today’s report seems very appropriate in light of the Crosman butterfly hand pump and underlever spring rifle projects. As consumers, we usually see new products after they’ve gone through a long development process — only some of which we understand. Today, I’d like to talk about what goes on behind the curtain.

When we think of a certain product, we think in terms of performance. If we have some experience, we may lump things like reliability and maintainability into our definition of performance. But that’s as far as it goes.

We don’t think about what it takes to make the things we desire. That’s all hidden from view, but it’s at least as big and important as performance and can spell the difference between success and disaster for a product.

We think products are in the U.S. Space Program, where billions of dollars are available to support them. So, if something is possible, we expect every new product to have it. Let’s look at a few examples to see how it works.

Let’s start with materials. Fussybritches LTD builds cool precharged rifles that look gorgeous and shoot quite well. The only problem is that they’re expensive! You’ll pay over $2,000 for one of their FoxxxHunter Premium guns. But Cool Cal Eber out in Portland sent a FoxxxxHunter Premium over to his contact in China, Mr. Har Lee, and he found a factory that can make it for $560, retail. They can even replicate the beautiful walnut stock for that price, which isn’t surprising since Fussybritches buys their stocks from them already! The only thing is that Factory 12 cannot get the correct seal material for the valve seats and o-rings. Also, the metal finish isn’t quite as nice, and there are divots in the wood stock — only some of which are filled with putty. The Chinese guns are known to leak down over time, and the stocks are often filled with blank spots that are wood putty over holes.

But Cool Cal isn’t worried. He says, “Anyone who wants to save that much on an air rifle has got to expect to do some work on their own.” The problem is that Bob Sixpack bought one thinking he was getting a heck of a deal by cutting out the middleman, only to discover what the term support really means. Now, he has a rifle that doesn’t hold air, and Bob is no mechanic.

Mammoth Air, Incorporated makes some of the best airguns for the money. But Mammoth has expanded their production capacity to the limit. They run 2 shifts a day, 6 days a week, with factory maintenance, cleaning and machine repairs accounting for the additional time. The cost to build another 50,000 square-foot factory building (which is the cheapest structure per square foot they can build and still get all the power, OSHA, floor loading, cooling, waste removal and additional requirements met) is $7,500,000. Then, there’s the additional workforce needed to staff the extra capacity, plus the machinery to fill the building.

Mammoth has 27 fabrication centers and 3 process lines in their current 350,000 square-foot plant, which all need upgrading. Their CNC machines are 14 years old and have reached the end of their expansion limits. They can continue to do what they’ve been doing for many years, but they can’t make more parts, nor can they do many of the complex operations that Mammoth would like to take advantage of.

New machinery and upgrades to the existing plant have been estimated at $43,000,000 over the next 7 years. Mammoth is doing great right now, but there isn’t enough money in the budget to build the new plant, to say nothing of tooling it and still upgrade the current production capability. And the additional workforce has to be factored in, including the cost to train and maintain them, as well as the loss of productivity over the period they’re introduced into the current workforce.

So, Mammoth has been looking outside their plant for additional production capacity. They don’t want to do it, and their customers hate it when they learn some products aren’t really made in the Mammoth plant, but what can they do? They can phase out older products that don’t bring in the revenue they used to; but when they do that, the diehard supporters of those traditional products go on the warpath — claiming Mammoth is loosing sight of their heritage.

Mammoth appears to be a giant, and it really is. But what you don’t see is that the giant is spinning 30,000 plates at the same time over a concrete floor!

Instant Airguns is just the reverse of Mammoth. They’re small and light on their feet. They can make changes fast, but what they can’t do are some of the more exotic steps to make their own parts. I will choose just one — barrel making. Making barrels is a specialty trade, much the same as optics. It takes a huge investment in both machinery as well as skilled people to make good barrels. Sure, one craftsman can hand-rifle 120 good barrels in a year and still do the other things needed to make airguns. But Instant Airguns makes over 7,000 top-quality airguns each year. They make most of their guns, but the barrels they buy for the reasons mentioned.

Let’s say you’re a well-known barrel maker who knows the market. You know that Instant Airguns is renowned for using your barrels. In fact, they tout them in their advertising! So, if you want to charge a little more for your barrels, don’t you think Instant Airguns will pay? Of course they will! If they could make their own barrels they would, but you know it would cost them a bundle just to get started. You’re in a comfortable position. And Instant Airguns customer will just have to settle for periodic price increases.

Capital equipment
You’re a medium-sized airgun maker who makes a fine sporting rifle. It’s accurate and beautiful, but you take a lot of criticism because your triggers are creepy. The reason they are is that you’re drilling the pinholes on a drill press with an indexing bed fixture to hold the receivers. The best tolerance you can hold that way is a maximum of 0.005 inches in the plus dimension between all the pinholes. To accommodate the variation in the pinholes, you have to drill the holes larger than the pins. There’s a 6-axis CNC machine that could hold the tolerance to +/- 0.0005 inches, but it costs $450,000, and you just don’t have the money.

A number of disgruntled customers have reamed the pinholes of their triggers and installed larger diameter pins. They berate you on the chat forums for being too stupid to realize this is the simple solution. What they fail to understand is that hand-reaming adds a half-hour to the build time and approximately $130 to the retail cost. It seems easy to them to do one rifle this way, but it’s a killer to do 340 of them in each 8-hour shift. And it would kill about 80 percent of your sales to charge that much more for your gun.

The list goes on and on. When I meet with industry executives, owners and engineers, they tell me my blog reports like this one read like the history of their company. But no matter what they do, they can’t get most of their customers to understand these problems. And perhaps they shouldn’t even try. This is business, pure and simple. It’s their responsibility to wade through the jungle of problems and wind up with a great product.

But just for today, I thought you’d like a look at the other side of producing airguns.

2013 SHOT Show: Part 3

by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
Photos by Earl “Mac” McDonald

Part 1
Part 2

The SHOT Show is not a gun show — though that is what many attendees call it, and the mainstream media that doesn’t attend also calls it that. Instead, it’s a happening — to use a 1960’s term. Or it’s a Middle Eastern open market. The big booths house the recognized names like Colt, Winchester and Crosman. Their booths are two stories tall with signs hanging from the ceiling that you could see a mile away if there weren’t other signs hanging in front of them.

But the real drama of the show isn’t at those booths. People already know what to expect in those places. It’s the little out-of-the-way booths hugging the walls that have the surprises. I always set aside some time just to cruise the aisles, looking for some rocks to turn over.

I’ll be walking along a narrow aisle and someone will step out to stop me. Then, in a conspiratorial tone, he leans over and says something like, “Don’t you just hate it when your ice cubes melt and dilute your drink? Cold Bars have solved that problem forever. These are sanitized stainless steel bars that retain the cold almost as well as water, plus they’re reusable forever. Put three of these in your scotch and soda, and it’ll be as fresh and strong after 20 minutes as when it was poured. When you finish the drink, just pop them in the freezer for 10 minutes…and they’re good to go again. While you wait, you use the second set of three bars in your next drink! Nothing could be easier.”

This guy is serious! You look at his spartan booth and realize that he has poured everything into this venture because at some point watery drinks pushed him over his tipping point. When he bounced the idea off his wife and friends, they all agreed it was the next big thing. They had no idea he would mortgage the house and put his life savings into it!

So, here he is, in a narrow aisle of a large trade show, hawking his brains out to people who, for some reason, just don’t seem to get it. Who doesn’t want cold, undiluted drinks?

Think I’m exaggerating? Attend a trade show and walk the aisles some time.

Why do I plod through these pathways of personal misery? Because next to the stainless steel ice cube booth there ‘s the G+G Airsoft booth that has the best action target I’ve seen in a long while. It’s a lighted rubber hemisphere that’s computer-controlled to react to being hit by an airsoft BB. You can turn the light on or off, depending on how you have programmed it.

They call it the MET Unit, which stands for multifunctional electronic target. It can exist as one single target or they can be strung together in up to 25 targets for a prolonged target array.

airsoft action light targets
The MET Unit is from 1 to 25 programmable lights that turn off or on when hit by an airsoft BB.

The wires between targets can be up to 50 meters in length, which allows them to be set up in a tactical course and either light up at some random time until hit or stay on for a programmed time and go off after the time is up or when hit. Two competitors can shoot at the same target and change the color of the lights when they hit it, establishing a duelling target.

The individual target will sell for $66 or 5 for $250. It looks like a great way to have fast-action fun with airsoft guns. They can take hits from AEGs shooting 0.20-gram BBs at up to 450 f.p.s. Naturally, they’re not robust enough for even the lowest-powered steel BB or pellet guns.

Umarex is now branding airguns under their own name. This year, there are three new long guns: the Octane is a breakbarrel with a Reaxis gas spring and SilencAir, which is a baffled silencer; the Surge is an entry-lever springer breakbarrel; and the Fusion is a CO2 pellet rifle, and it also has the SilencAir noise dampener. We’ve seen the Fusion before, branded as the Ruger LGR, but Umarex tells me the Fusion is a Gen 2 upgrade and quite different. I never got the chance to test the LGR, so I’m looking forward to testing the new Fusion as soon as possible.

Umarex Fusion
The Fusion is a new CO2 single-shot rifle from Umarex that sports a 5-chamber noise dampener.

I spent an hour at the Leapers booth this year. The most important thing I wanted to see was the new scope with an internal bubble level. It’s a 4-16x in a 30mm tube, and it looks exactly like what the doctor ordered for those long-range targets we love to shoot. They’re working hard to get it to market this year, but it won’t go out until they’re certain of the quality. Putting a bubble level inside scopes on a production line is apparently quite a challenge…but one I’m sure Leapers will do correctly.

The entire line of scopes have been upgraded with finer adjustments — many of them 1/8-minute adjustments — and greater repeatability. They have a broad range of adjustment in both directions, and their production models are even exceeding the maximum limits they established! All leaf springs have been replaced with coil springs to increase adjustment precision and repeatability.

But the WOW factor comes on the stuff you can see. How about a 3-9x scout scope (10-inch eye relief) with a wide field of view? That is the big trick for scout scopes, and I saw a beauty mounted on an M1A — though it would be just as correct on a Mosin Nagant.

Leapers scout scope
Leapers new scout scope has a full field of vision — something scout scopes are not known for.

Another surprise from the folks in Michigan is the smallest tactical laser I have yet seen. I asked Mac to photograph it next to a quarter for scale.

Leapers small laser
Leapers new laser is the smallest I have yet seen. That’s a quarter next to it.

Back to the Crosman booth to show you what the new Benjamin pump looks like when the handle is raised. I didn’t expect the huge reception this pump got when I showed it the first time this year. Please note that it has not one but two pump tubes. This is a 3-stage pump — the same as the current pumps, but this one compresses a bit more air with each stroke. I’ll have more to say about it when I test it.

Benjamin pump extended
Maybe this view will help you understand how the new Benjamin pump magnifies the force you put into each pump stroke.

I’ll close with a last look at the Hatsan booth. They have the AT-P carbine and AT-P1 pistol…and both are precharged pneumatics. They’ll come in .177, .22 and .25 calibers that each have hunting levels of power. These are repeaters with circular clips and adjustable Quattro triggers. The sights are fiberoptic, and there are provisions for scopes. The air cylinders remove, and spares will be available as options.

For those who are looking for hunting air pistols, I think these two should be considered. I’ll work hard to review them for you as soon as possible.

Hatsan PCP pistol and carbine
The Hatsan AT-P2 Tact (left) and the AT-P1 are exciting new PCP airguns.

Leaving the show
As Edith and I left the show we passed by one final booth. The guy is selling Instant Water for survivalists. Just drop one of his pills in a bucket of water and — Presto! — instant water. Why I can’t think of things like that?

2013 SHOT Show: Part 2

by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

Vegas characters
Edith and Tom (left) and Mac and his wife, Elissa, prepare to support Yoda as he carves his way through the jammed SHOT Show aisles.

Today, we have Part 2 of the SHOT Show report; but before we get into it, I want to remind you all that I’m showing you only a select smattering of the guns I saw at this show. This is, hands down, the largest SHOT Show ever for airguns. This year, nearly all companies are innovating in a big way, and the results are proudly displayed in their booths. It’ll take some time for the full story to come out.

Also, the SHOT Show is a wholesale show — not a retail show. The products seen there are not necessarily ready for market, yet. Some products get put on the back burner for any number of good reasons, but after they were seen at SHOT, people expect them to be available. In fact, many people don’t understand why they’re not on sale the day the show closes. Well, it doesn’t work that way.

As a writer, my job it to give you the best sense of when a product might become available in the coming year. That can change many times after SHOT closes, so please bear that in mind.

I had my official tour of the Crosman products, and a couple of them were holdovers from last year. One was the butterfly hand pump that Crosman engineers have now developed quite thoroughly.

Benjamin hand pump
The Benjamin butterfly hand pump is now far along in development. This is a pre-production sample. Look for it this summer.

I also saw several new guns Crosman plans to bring to market. While they look very developed, I spoke to the engineer who was working with the specifications, and these are not just rebranded items.

Crosman 1911
A new 1911 BB pistol will be available for testing and purchase later this year.

I’m going to put Gamo here because their booth was difficult to navigate and understand, as far as I’m concerned. Yes, there are new models, but many of them look to be just reskinned from existing guns and given catchy brands that reflect the TV hunting shows they sponsor. The technology displays (silencer, trigger, gas spring, vibration damper) that were new in 2012 were still displayed as new for 2013, though no changes seem to have been made.

The Little Cat is a new youth model that I’ll test as soon as possible. It’s very lightweight and does have some plastic in key areas like the breech (it’s a breakbarrel); but if it’s done right, it could work. I want to see how well-suited it is for younger shooters.

Gamo Little Cat
The new Gamo Little Cat is a youth-sized spring rifle. Can’t wait to test it!

The other airgun that piqued my interest at Gamo was their new MP-9 — a semiautomatic BB gun that resembles the Ingram submachinegun. It’s powered by CO2 and looks very cool. It was displayed in such a way that I could not actually hold it — and there were no Gamo representatives available in the booth both times we visited it. So, we’ll just have to wait and see what comes in the box.

Gamo MP9 BB submachinegun
The Gamo MP9 (the sign is confusing — this isn’t a PT-85 Blowback Tactical) looks like a cool new BB gun.

Other news
American Airgunner has gained a new host. Rossi Morreale, from television’s Belly of the Beast and Junkyard Wars, will take the lead with the airgun show starting its fourth season. I’ll be appearing in a few episodes this year, the first of which was filmed at the 2013 SHOT Show. So, I’ve now come full circle.

Tom and Rossi American Airgunner
Tom meets Rossi to discuss SHOT on American Airgunner.

There’s a lot more to cover, including some great new scopes from Leapers and a dynamite action target for airsoft guns. Next week.