Building an airgun library

by B.B. Pelletier

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog about the Roanoke Airgun Expo, this year there was more time to sit and talk, and we all did a lot of it! I chatted with Jay in VA about a number of things that will become blogs in the future, but something that was said as an aside turned out to be the most important thing of all. Someone asked a question about something — I can’t remember what — but it prompted me to answer that such-and-such a book was the best place to get the answer. It might even have been Jay who mentioned it, and the topic might have been firearms-related and not airgun, but it started us talking about an airgunners library. Jay suggested that I write a paragraph of description about the books I think every serious airgunner needs to have.

I’ve done this before, I know, but this time I’ll be doing it from a different and more personal angle. I have recently been helped by some old books that almost nobody even knows about, thanks mostly to recommendations from Kevin and Robert from Arcade. So, let’s get right to it.

Yours Truly by Harvey Donaldson
Yours Truly by Harvey Donaldson is a compendium of the written works of Harvey Donaldson, the man best-known as the inventor of the .219 Donaldson Wasp cartridge. In the book, Donaldson is revealed not as a wildcatter of the 1920s, but as a thoughtful benchrest and varmint hunter who was always searching for accuracy. He knew all the greats such as Pope, Neidner and Whelen; and he even schooled a few of them — notably Whelen. He drove a Corvette and was honored in his ’80s by GM as the oldest sports car enthusiast in the world, so the man was in touch with reality, too. From his book, I learned a loading technique that promises to advance my accuracy with the old Ballard rifle by an order of magnitude. Search Amazon for used copies of this book.


This is the book that started my current quest for “new” gun books. It’s a marvelous read.

The Muzzle-Loading Cap Lock Rifle
Ned Roberts, the inventor of the .257 Roberts cartridge, is the author of The Muzzle-Loading Cap Lock Rifle. Roberts wrote the book in 1940; yet, when I tried his ideas in a Schmidt-Rubin target rifle a couple weeks ago, I found them fresh and applicable. For the first time in my life, I shot a 100-yard group smaller than one inch with cast lead bullets. True, it was only a 5-shot group, but I’m just getting started. Oddly enough, this book had very little to say about cartridge arms, yet the info is quite germane to accuracy. It was the impetus for the overbore blog I wrote last week, and it helped me formulate several ideas about accuracy. If you’re serious about shooting and hitting what you aim at, read this book! Find it on Amazon or at one of the used book dealers you get with a Google search.


This old book is a prize for shooters who want to put them all in the same hole!

But they’re not about airguns!
I know that many readers will look at the two books mentioned already and wonder what they have to do with airguns. Both are about firearms with not a mention of an airgun. Yet, the principles of accuracy still apply. I find that when something works in one world, it probably carries over to the other. And let’s face it — a good universal airgun book doesn’t exist. I will recommend a couple books I find to be most helpful, but I have to admit that the airgun world is lacking in anything as universally applicable as can be found in the world of firearms.

Powder to Target/Trigger to Target
Here are two books of fundamentals that every serious airgunner needs to own. The first is The Bullet’s Flight from Powder to Target, written by Dr. Franklin W. Mann in 1909. It has tests that Mann conducted to try to identify the components of accuracy. Not much has changed in a century, has it? Mann spend considerable time (37 years) and money testing everything he could think of to try to identify why some guns shot more accurately than others. He called fliers the X factor. And 30 years later, Roberts called them “outliers.” But both men were interested in why some bullets did not go where the shooter intended. Mann even made a range protected from the wind, by stretching a canvas tunnel 18 inches in diameter down the 100 yards of his test range. The tunnel was curved to allow for bullet drop! Can you imagine the skill it took to construct such a thing — and the anal personality it took to actually build it? Mann would have been one of those guys who carries around a thick notebook full of targets and spreadsheets, and if you saw him coming you would turn around and walk away. You would do so because the first time you met him you had a pleasant five-hour conversation about the effects of precession induced by crosswinds coming from various angles. You said, “Hello” when the conversation started and “Goodbye” when it thankfully ended. He did the rest of the talking.


Both books are about the things we want to know but don’t have the time or resources to test ourselves. These are fundamental references that a shooter cannot afford to do without.

So — not a crowd-pleaser, but a milestone experimenter when it comes to accuracy. It reads like stereo instructions written by Shakespeare, so it’s not a page-turner; but I can say the same about a lot of other valuable references. Buy the book off Amazon or from the used book dealers and buy only a reprint, as an original costs about what an HW55 costs!

In the 1970s, a father-son team of G.V. Cardew and G.M. Cardew wrote The Airgun from Trigger to Muzzle. It was updated in 1995 to The Airgun from Trigger to Target, when they added material. I have both books and the later one is the better one to get.

The Cardews were just as curious about airguns as Mann was about accuracy. They carried out numerous experiments to answer those questions that always come up whenever airgunners get together — only they actually tested their theories.

Want to know how dieseling differs from detonations? They cover it. How long does a spring gun barrel need to be for maximum velocity? They were the first to publish the results and today they are quoted by people who don’t even know they exist. Their book is a seminal work, and though it is sometimes hard to follow, I recommend it to everyone. This one will be hard to find, as it goes in and out of print. Just buy it if you ever see it.

It’s a Daisy
It’s a Daisy is a book about the birth and growth of Daisy — the most iconic American airgun company. The author is Cass S. Hough, the grandson of the founder of the company, and a character in his own right. Hough was the test pilot who inadvertently broke the sound barrier in 1943 in a dive over an airfield in England while trying to rectify the handling problems of the P38 Lightning fighter. He worked for Daisy both before and after the war, and was finally president of the company. He gives a deep insight into the workings of the company during its first 50 years.

The first printing of this book had skyrocketed to $100 on the used market a few years ago. Then, Daisy reprinted it. You can’t buy one directly from them, but it’s available here.


If you want to learn the history of BB guns in America, this is the place to start.

The Blue Book of Airguns
Twenty years ago when I got back into airgunning the biggest complain about airgun books was there were no reliable price guides. Today the biggest complaint is that the Blue Book of Airguns exists, and who do they think they are? Their prices are often so different from what you really pay for the same guns.


This is the best reference for what’s out there. It gets better with each new edition. This one is number nine.

Well, surprise, surprise! The Kelly Blue Book of automobile values works the same way. Thery may say that a 1998 Ford F-150 is worth X, but you might see one in great shape for half that if the owner lost his job and can’t keep up with the payments. Or you might see one listed for 2X if it was last owned by a famous personality (Remember John Voight’s Chrysler LeBaron on Seinfeld?). Just deal with it. The thing about the Blue Book is not the prices — it’s the other information on guns many of us have never seen or even knew existed. I have made a lot of money by owning and consulting a Blue Book.

Wrap up
So there you have it. My short list of airgunner must-haves. Even if you are not a reader, these books can make you a better-informed airgunner, and shooter in general.

One last thing
I wasn’t going to mention this, but there has been some talk among you readers, so I will post it here. My best buy at this show turned out not to be an airgun at all! While looking at the tables I saw and bought a slingshot that has both a red dot sight and a laser designator for Edith. She was really keen on getting one after seeing it online, so I bought it for her. It’s a cool device and I may find a way to work it into a posting sometime, but that wasn’t my best deal.

At the same table I spotted a 1918 trench knife that I assumed to be a replica. I assumed that because this is a rare variation of the more common 1917 model made by LF&C. I had seen the 1918 version on Pawn Stars, so I had some sense of what a real one would be worth, and the asking price was well within my budget, so I bought it.


A chance find at an airgun show! The 1918 trench knife is rare.

Long story short, this isn’t a replica. It’s the real deal from World War I. Most of these were used and abused, so mine, which I would rate as very good, is even rarer. I didn’t expect to find one of these at an airgun show, but because I knew what it was I bought it the moment I saw it. The fact that it turned out to be real is a plus, because I paid for what I thought was a very good replica.

The old salesman’s adage applies here. If you want to make the sales you have to make the calls. Or better yet — the time to buy them is when you see them.


What kind of airgunner are you?

by B.B. Pelletier

Announcement: Andy Huggins is this week’s winner of Pyramyd Air’s Big Shot of the Week on their facebook page. He’ll receive a $50 Pyramyd Air gift card.

Here’s what Andy says about his submission: Found this in the garage, it’s my dad’s old BB gun he got when he was 9. It needed a little work; but within an hour, I had it shooting good as new! It’s a Daisy model 30-30 Buffalo Bill Scout.

One of our blog readers mentioned the excellent book Yours Truly, Harvey Donaldson, and I purchased it. It’s a compendium of articles that Donaldson wrote for Handloader magazine, a few special articles he wrote for American Rifleman back in the 1930s and some correspondence he had with various notable shooting magazine editors. I found the book so interesting that I’ve already given two copies as presents to other shooters.

For those not familiar with the name, Harvey Donaldson is well known as a shooter, writer and developer of many wildcat cartridges — including his best-known .219 Donaldson Wasp. He was able to get 12,000+ rounds from a .220 Swift with each delivering in excess of 4,000 f.p.s. –and still group five shots inside a nickel at 100 yards. Today’s handloaders don’t have a clue or have forgotten about the knowledge men like this have given us.

Among the hundreds of treasures in this book, Donaldson makes the casual comment in one of his letters that Dr. F.W. Mann, who authored The Bullet’s Flight From Powder to Target, wasn’t a very good shooter. He also wasn’t a very good reloader. That’s why (according to Donaldson) Mann had to resort to his Shooting Gibralter concrete pier gun rest that weighed in excess of 3,000 lbs. and was sunk permanently in the ground. Donaldson says any good benchrest shooter could outshoot the groups Mann got using his rest.

That got me thinking. I have always thought of Dr. Mann as the penultimate shooter, and here is Harvey Donaldson, whose shooting credentials are impeccable, saying Mann wasn’t a shooter at all. He was a scientist.

Then it dawned on me. Some people like to shoot to see how well they can do, while others, like me, like to shoot to see how well the gun can do. Mann was obsessed with the quest to discover why all bullets do not fly to the exact same point of impact. He never discovered the reason, but along the way he did discover many things that we now take for granted:

1. Uniformity of the bullet’s base is extremely important to accuracy.

2. A bullet’s nose can be grossly deformed without affecting accuracy one bit.

3. The orientation of the rifle’s action must be consistent from shot to shot for the best accuracy.

4. A bullet can stray from the boreline in any direction on its way to the target and still hit the target exactly in the center.

Mann was an experimenter whose focus was on the gun and ammunition, rather than his own abilities. Not all shooters are like that.

Olympic and world-class target shooters tend to focus on their own abilities, to the point that they seem to assume the rifle or pistol they use is capable of perfect accuracy. Of course, they do test ammunition; but once they find what works, they buy it in quantity and concentrate on their own skills.

On the other hand, I tend to shoot from a bench more often than not. I want to see what the gun can do, and I’m not overly concerned about my own shooting skills.

In fact, I am just an average shot. If you were to plink with me, you’d soon discover that I can’t shoot any better than you and perhaps a lot worse than many of you. When I test an airgun for this blog, you don’t care how well I shoot. You want to know how well you can expect that gun to shoot. The benchrest takes as much of me out of the equation as possible and gives you a more objective picture of the gun’s performance.

Of course, you have to know how to shoot from a bench, and I have had lots of practice at that. Maybe I might seem like a good shooter to some people, but that’s only when I am as far removed from the shooting as possible. In truth, I am really a lot more like Dr. Mann, in that I’m more interested in the performance of the airguns than in my own ability to shoot.

But there are many shooters who are the opposite. They want to know how well they can shoot, and the rifle is just what they use to measure it. Of course, they’re aware that all guns are not perfectly accurate; and, yes, they do go through the same sort of search to find one that suits them best. Once they find it, all focus shifts back to their ability to shoot rather than whether or not that rifle can be made to shoot any better.

These shooters are not all shooting offhand, either. Some shoot from the prone position, others from the sitting position and many will take a rest wherever they can find it. Some of them even use crossed sticks as a portable steady rest in the field.

Let’s compare these people to our American 2x Gold Medalist Olympic champion rifle shooter — Gary Anderson. They first want a gun and ammunition they can trust; and after that, it’s all up to them and their skills with the gun.

Let me give you a couple variations on this theme to better illustrate what I’m saying. There’s the guy who receives his airgun and plops down in front of a chrongraph with a tin of pellets, first thing. For him, life is complete. He’ll sit there shooting thousands of rounds across the skyscreens as he inputs the results into endless spreadsheets of data to discuss on his favorite forum. He’s like Dr. Mann. He’s interested in one aspect of performance to the near-exclusion of all others.

The next guy buys the very same airgun and starts shooting it at targets immediately. He’s the guy who puts 80,000 shots on a gun and can talk about longevity issues that the rest of us will never live long enough to see. Where some of us live in the hopes of a good tuneup on our airguns, this guy has already performed four on his and has the parts on hand for the next two. To him, a tuneup is unavoidable downtime when he would rather be out shooting. He’s like Gary Anderson. He’s a shooter.

Another guy buys the same airgun and never shoots the first shot out of it. He tears it down and modifies it in ways that have either been recommended to him on the internet or that seem like the best way to go. Some of these guys have the rifle shipped to a certain airgun tuner and let him apply his magic before they ever set eyes upon their gun for the first time.

Then, there’s the guy why buys the same gun, sights it in with a good pellet and immediately starts hunting everything within sight. His gun is a tool, like his game caller and his rangefinder. He, too, is a shooter, but he doesn’t collect his shooting experiences as scores on targets, pictures of groups or numbers on a graph. Rather, he has an endless supply of memories of this hunt and that, what went right and what went wrong.

Does that explain it?
Does that, perhaps, explain why one shooter can be delighted with a rifle that shoots a certain pellet at 1,050 f.p.s. into a one-inch group at 30 yards and another cannot be satisfied until the same model rifle is tuned down to 850 f.p.s. and can put them all into a dime at 50 yards? Does it explain why a twangy firing cycle is so disturbing to one shooter, yet another can brush it off because the rifle puts them all where he wants them to go?

We’re complex
I am not saying that any of this is all one way and none of the other. But people do exhibit certain tendencies. Lloyd Sykes worked for years on the dynamics of an electronically controlled air valve, and now the world enjoys the Benjamin Rogue. Lloyd is a definite Dr. Mann. On the other hand, blog reader CowboyStar Dad tells us how many tens of thousands of shots he has on each of his guns. He wears out the mainspring in his IZH 61. He is a Gary Anderson-type shooter.

Knowing that these types of people exist may help us understand where someone is coming from when they ask a “simple” question…

Hi. I’m new to airgunning, and I would like to try out one of these new air rifles I keep reading about. I don’t want to spend too much money until I know that airgunning is for me, so can you make some recommendations of guns that cost under $300?

Yes, I can recommend some guns, but what do you want to do with one?

Person 1. I want to shoot tin cans and other targets around the manure pile. I have been shooting a .22; but there are some houses going in down the road, and I want to throttle back for safety.

Person 2. I’m fascinated by the thought of plain old air pushing a pellet to 1,400 f.p.s. I want to see what’s possible.

Person 3. My yard is infested with tree rats that I want to eradicate. After that, I plan on taking my show on the road and cleaning out the whole woods.

Person 4. I used to shoot target rifle on the ROTC team, and I’d like to get back into it but still be able to shoot at home because I don’t have a rifle range.

Leigh Wilcox, the founder of Airgun Express, used to say that airgun targets had to bleed, break or fall. Maybe they did for him, but I’m not ready to shoot at targets just yet. I’m still concerned why there is a twang upon firing and why my velocity is only 761 f.p.s. when others report over 840 f.p.s. from the same gun shooting the same pellet.