Archive for September 2010
by B.B. Pelletier
Before we start, a little announcement. Many of you are already aware of this, but Pyramyd Air has purchased the assets of Compasseco, a Kentucky-based airgun dealership with strong ties to Chinese airguns. In fact, Compasseco could be said to be the company that helped guide Chinese airgun makers into the modern American airgun market.
Pyramyd Air plans on keeping the Compasseco warehouse for the foreseeable future, and they plan on continuing the sales and support of Compasseco-branded guns, especially those under the Tech Force brand name. Now, on to today’s report.
I wanted to subtitle this report “A look at the inside” because today I’m going to show you the inside of most scopes. It just happens to be on the outside of the scope I just mounted on my .43 Spanish Remington Rolling Block rifle, which affords me an excellent opportunity to show you how scope adjustments work.
My .43 Spanish Remington Rolling Block rifle looks right with this vintage Unertl scope mounted on it. From what I’ve read, 25 percent of the buffalo rifles were scoped, so scopes on these old guys is not such a foreign thing. When the rifle recoils, the scope slides forward in its mounts. Actually, when set up correctly, the scope never moves–the rifle simply moves out from under it in recoil!
This Unertl scope is unusual because its adjustments are all on the outside of the scope tube. And it slides under recoil. When the rifle comes back, the scope remains in place, appearing to move forward in the mounts. Though the scope moves, it returns to absolute zero every time, which is why it is so repeatable.
No erector tube
Many of our more advanced shooters are familiar with what I’ll be showing today. Essentially, these scopes are ones that have no internal erector tube, because the entire scope tube is being used as the erector tube. I’ve talked about how the erector tube works in many reports, but today I have the chance to show it to you. I think seeing how it works will solidify its construction and operation in your minds.
Older scopes are viewed today as vintage designs, which many newer shooters see as somehow limited in capability. Certainly, they’re not as advanced as the most modern optics we see today. They don’t have the nitrogen-filled internal optics of today’s best scopes, so they can fog up in certain climatic situations. And, they certainly don’t have all the high-tech lens coatings that aid in light transmission. So, you’ll be seeing darker target images and some flaring from reflected light. Compared to a modern scope, they contain from one-half to as little as one-third the number of parts to do the same function as a modern scope.
In their simplicity, they have one advantage that most modern scopes cannot equal, and that’s ruggedness. They are not unbreakable, because no optical instrument is that, but they are tough beyond the boundaries of today’s scopes, and they are easy to repair when they do break. They are the scopes that were used by military snipers in wars past and they delivered a remarkable performance under the most hostile conditions.
Mounts contain the adjustments
Instead of having an internal erector tube, this scope is one big erector tube, and the mounts contain the adjustments. Let me show you.
Here you have a very clear picture of the horizontal adjustment knob and a little of the vertical knob. Both are identical and work in the same way. These knobs have very precise clicks, and the knobs can be set to be very stiff to turn, so there’s no making a mistake. This scope is not mounted, so pay no attention to where the adjustments are set.
Looking at the back side of the scope mount, you see the return spring. The way this mount is designed, one spring acts on both the vertical and the horizontal adjustment knobs. It pushes against the scope tube, just as an internal spring system would do against an internal erector tube. The tension on this spring can be adjusted by the user, something that’s impossible with an internal erector tube. The dovetail fits on a machined steel scope block, and the screw has a shoulder that fits into a hollow in the top of the scope block. It positively will not move. But the scope itself is free to move back and forth under the control of these adjustment knobs and the return spring.
The front scope mount allows a steel rail on the scope tube to move through the mount backwards and forwards. The rail’s shoulders prevent any sideways twisting. At the left of the picture is the adjustable scope stop. The spring tension in this mount is set to compensate for the recoil of the specific rifle it’s mounted on. Talk about a practical application of the artillery hold!
How the outside-adjustable scope operates
When the rifle recoils, the scope remains in place while the rifle moves rearward underneath it. After every shot, the shooter slides the scope all the way back against the preset scope stop, making it ready for the next shot. If you forget, the scope eyepiece will be too far forward for you to aim, so you’ll be reminded. Some outside-adjustable scopes have large, coiled springs around the outside of the scope tube to return the scope to the starting point. Because the scope tube is precisely made, each time the scope is brought back to the start, it is in the exact same position as before. That’s why benchrest shooters use this type of scope to set world records.
The sliding motion is what scopes with internal erector tubes don’t have. They must suck up all the recoil and remain rigidly in place regardless of what hits them in terms of force. Scope makers have gotten very good at ruggedizing modern scopes so they don’t have problems with recoil; as you may know, spring airguns gave them some of their biggest challenges. Because they recoil in both directions when shot, springers put a strain on scopes in both directions. An externally adjusted scope like the one you’re looking at here wouldn’t be bothered by this two-way movement, but scopes that have to remain rigid certainly are.
The scope caps are steel caps with extremely fine threads cut into their edge. They fit the scope tube precisely.
I’ve used this excursion into scopes to illustrate how a modern scope works. By seeing the adjustments exposed, you should be able to better visualize how they must work when hidden inside the outer scope tube.
by B.B. Pelletier
When I review a vintage airgun, we always get a lot of comments about this and that. Apparently, a lot of you like seeing the guns of yesteryear. Sometimes, the gun is one that not too many of you know, and that’s a lot of fun…learning about something for the first time.
Then, when I review a contemporary airgun in the expensive class, we get a lot of comments from readers who always wondered this or that about the model but never had the opportunity to see one for themselves. It’s nice to have an expensive product laid out for you, warts (if any) and all so you can evaluate what might be a major purchase.
But, when I write about a bread-and-butter airgun, something most people can afford and something that isn’t going to fascinate you with exotic features and capabilities, something else happens. The buying begins. And that’s why I review these kinds of airguns. So you can compare the functionality and features and decide on a low-risk purchase for yourself or someone else. Yesterday’s blog report about the HK MP5 K-PWD was an example of such a review, and I spotted in the comments that several of you had been waiting to read about that gun because you had a purchase in mind.
Today is going to be more of the same, as I begin the review of the Umarex Steel Storm, another submachine gun-type BB gun with similar yet different features to the HK MP5. And, yes, there’s a third and final new gun to look at some time in the near future. That will be the EBOS. So, in a couple of weeks, you should know everything you need to know about these three similar BB submachine guns.
What is a submachine gun?
First, some background. A fully automatic gun that shoots a rifle cartridge or larger is called a machine gun. Note: When the caliber gets much larger than rifle-sized, the term automatic cannon comes into play. Because these guns have usually been assigned to at least two people to operate, they are also called crew-served weapons. While there have been notable departures from this basic design, in guns like the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), the definition of a machine gun almost always encompasses a fully automatic gun of rifle caliber and a second member called the ammo bearer to help the gunner manage the weapon.
When certain German weapon specialists developed fully automatic weapons after World War I that used pistol cartridges, they gave the title Maschinen Pistole (this archaic spelling is the correct spelling of the first developmental guns) to that type of gun, which is where the designation MP comes from (as in MP5). Americans called them submachine guns. Those are the differences between a machine gun and a submachine gun.
A 300-shot BB gun
The Steel Storm is definitely a submachine gun design. You can tell that by its compact size, which suggests that if it were a firearm it might chamber 9×19mm ammunition. The specifications list a BB capacity of 300 rounds, but you need to understand what that means. There are 300 BBs onboard the gun, but it will not shoot all of them without certain steps being taken. Those 300 BBs are housed in a reservoir that does not feed into the firing mechanism. However, when you wish to shoot, the BB follower is pulled back and the gun is shaken so that as many as 30 BBs will fall into what the owner’s manual calls the BB chamber. So, you can fire up to 30 BBs, and then you have to stop and refill the BB chamber.
Something this gun offers that almost everyone who buys it seems to like is the burst-fire mode. Because it’s powered by CO2, which is a refrigerant gas, the Steel Storm cannot be fired in the fully automatic mode or it will quickly freeze up. A good solution to this is to offer 6 rounds of full-auto fire so the shooter gets the sense of full-auto without freezing. In the military, machine gunners are taught to fire in short bursts anyway. And, with submachine guns, burst fire is even more important for ammo conservation. There’s also a single-fire capability with the Steel Storm, so you get a true semiauto capability on top of burst fire.
The sights are pistol sights, only. The front is a square post, and the rear is a square notch. Neither is adjustable. Both are visible at arm’s length, only. If you want to use sights, the gun must be held away from the body. However, that’s not how submachine guns are usually employed.
Subguns are fired from the hip more often than not. The shooter looks at the target and watches as his bullets (BBs) trace through it, adjusting fire as necessary to get the desired effect. A bright green laser would be a wonderful addition to this gun, because it would give you a good reference point to begin with.
Dot sights and other optical sights will be less useful because there’s no shoulder stock. It will be a real trick to get a dot sight on target when the gun is held away from the body in hands that can move so freely. The parallax problem would make sighting that way extremely difficult. What I mean is that it is practically impossible to pick up the dot unless the gun is held in reasonably close alignment with the eye, which a shoulder stock does. Using a dot sight on a pistol takes practice, because even a small movement of the hands will cause the dot to disappear.
As you can see, there’s a Picatinny rail both above and below the frame of the gun, so accessories will be easy to attach. I think the lower rail is the perfect place for a laser mount, with the switch located near the thumb of the firing hand.
Although the owner’s manual refers to a “drop free” magazine button, the Steel Storm does not have one. What it has is a mag that drops partway out of the grip and waits for a second button (the drop-free button) to be pushed to come all the way out. The magazine is where the two CO2 cartridges are contained during operation. Yes, this gun uses two 12-gram CO2 cartridges that are reported to give over 200 good shots. And according to the advertising, good means a velocity of 430 f.p.s. or so. So it’s fairly powerful.
Loading BBs couldn’t be easier. Slide the front sight back and dump them in. That fills the large reservoir. To fill the smaller 30-shot magazine, pull the spring-loaded follower forward and lock it in position, then shake the gun to move BBs into the BB magazine. Ease the follower down when the mag is full, and you’re ready to shoot.
So, we have a contender to challenge the MP5, and it has some different features. We’ll test velocity next.
by B.B. Pelletier
Well, now that I’ve shot the HK MP5 K-PDW, I have a greater appreciation of what it is and how it functions. The stock removal required to replace the CO2 cartridge is troublesome but not time-consuming. However, while I was shooting, the CO2 started to leak, causing me to have to tighten up the screw that puts tension on the CO2 cartridge. This is the first time I’ve ever had to do this in tens of thousands of CO2 cartridges, and it was unexpected, except that I read about it in the customer reviews when they rated the gun. So, I suspect this behavior is common to this gun.
The stock pins are now worn in enough to easily press out with my fingers. They’re still difficult to align when putting the stock back on the gun, but a plastic hammer will tap them into place quite readily.
Don’t do this!
Now let me tell you a weakness of this CO2 cartridge installation system. When I loaded a cartridge I forgot to loosen the screw all the way before pushing the pins back in the stock, and I pierced the cartridge as I was installing the pins. It is written clearly in the owner’s manual to not do this, but I thought I knew what I was doing. So, I exhausted an entire cartridge with no effect. Remember to back off the CO2 piercing screw each time you remove a CO2 cartridge, and you won’t have this problem.
This screw pushes the CO2 cartridge into the piercing pin. Don’t forget to unscrew it all the way before you put the stock back and push the pins in place, or it’ll pierce the fresh cartridge before you’re ready.
Number of shots per cartridge
I got about two complete magazines per CO2 cartridge, but the last shots were not in the same power band as those in the first magazine. They were still in the 300 f.p.s. range and above, though, which makes them credible shots on a close-range course. The real drop-off doesn’t occur until a third magazine is attempted, so don’t try it.
I found loading was easy and straightforward. The follower release is located on the bottom of the magazine, and until I found it I couldn’t get the follower to move. But once found, the button works fine. So, familiarization with the gun is important. However, loading takes long enough that I can see why owners want to buy extra magazines for their guns. It would be so simple to pop out a spent mag and replace it with a full one. And since you get two mags worth of shots per cartridge, it seems like two mags are the ideal number to have.
I tested both Daisy zinc-plated BBs and Crosman Copperhead BBs for velocity with the HK MP5 K-PDW. You might think that all BBs are alike, but my testing experience over the years has proven otherwise. In this test, Daisy zinc-plated BBs averaged 430 f.p.s., with a range from 424 to 438 f.p.s. Crosman Copperhead BBs averaged 435 f.p.s., with a range from 427 to 446 f.p.s.
So the Daisy spread was tighter, but Crosman BBs went slightly faster. What will that do to their respective accuracy? We won’t know until we test them both, of course, but I would expect the BBs with the tighter spread to group closer together. However, we’re talking only a few fps difference.
Looking at the advertised velocity, I see that the results show a much greater potential than they advertised. I’m surprised to have gotten as many shots as I did at this elevated velocity, except that the longer barrel on this gun may have improved the gas management.
I discovered that at the end of the BBs in the magazine, the trigger locks up and will not function. It isn’t like the safety has been applied, either. When the safety goes on under normal operation, the trigger loses all contact with the firing mechanism and simply moves back and forth under the force of the trigger return spring. But, when the magazine is empty, the trigger is blocked from moving at all, whether the safety is off or on. It’s a nice feature for a fast-firing semiauto because you won’t waste any ammo.
I think you can forget about the blowback feature. It’s there, but there’s not enough reciprocating mass to feel the impulse. The gun simply pulses when it’s fired. I even turned it sideways so I could watch the ejection port cover move open when I shot. The action underneath this cover is silver, so you notice it in contrast to the black plastic of the cover itself. I could see it move, but was completely unable to feel any blowback action in the gun. I guess the good news is that a lot of gas isn’t wasted by this miniscule movement.
Well, I like the light weight of this gun compared to the firearm. I don’t care for the non-HK rear sight, which puts a notch too close to the sighting eye. The regular HK rear aperture would have been the best way to go.
The power was surprising, especially in light of what’s advertised. You’ll want to be extra careful with this BB gun, as it has enough velocity to do damage at long ranges. And, of course, it needs to be said that you must watch out for ricochets, because this gun has the power to send them back at very high velocity.
The method of CO2 cartridge installation leaves me cold. It works and it isn’t hard to do, but it’s very clumsy. I would much prefer to just drop a cartridge into a hole and screw the cap tight than to remove the buttstock and have to assemble it every time a cartridge needs changing.
by B.B. Pelletier
We’re getting down pretty far into BB’s gun closet now, so we should start to see some strange things. The first of these may surprise you by its simplicity. It is a humble .22 caliber Crosman 180 single-shot rifle. I bought this rifle at a flea market about 15 years ago. It was one of two guns I bought, the other being a .177 caliber model 187. I paid $40 for the pair and then sold the 187 for $100 at the next airgun show I attended, because the 187 is considered to be pretty scarce.
Crosman’s model 180 was a lightweight, single-shot, bolt-action .22 caliber pellet rifle that existed as the inexpensive cousin to Crosman’s model 160 target rifle.
Both guns leaked when I bought them and both were fixed by the application of a couple drops of Crosman Pellgunoil on the next fresh CO2 cartridge. Just for fun, I applied some Birchwood Casey Tru-Oil stock finish to the wood stock on the 180, and it now glistens. The metal still needs refinishing, though.
I keep this gun because Edith likes it a lot. It’s simple and straightforward. It’s a thumpin’ .22 pellet rifle that uses a single CO2 cartridge. And it’s accurate. What’s not to like?
Slavia CZ 631 Deluxe
You readers have shamed me into keeping this one! How could I get rid of a rifle that Cowboy Star Dad, Milan and others have touted as their go-to airgun?
The Slavia 631 deluxe is a breakbarrel spring rifle that features a barrel-locking latch. Though the power isn’t great, the accuracy is exceptional, making the rifle something to be reckoned with.
No, seriously, this is a rifle that I cannot replace. The price just keeps climbing while the rifle keeps getting harder to find. Why would I get rid of a wonderful little breakbarrel like this one? I think we paid $115 for this one on sale back in the ’90s, and you can’t get them for anywhere close to that any longer. I don’t like the few bits of plastic on it, but the overall quality of the gun is impossible to deny. I really ought to blog it for you sometime.
I can’t get rid of my Haenel 311 target rifle, because it’s just too quirky to let go! It’s a spring-piston rifle that shoots pellets, yet it cocks via an articulated bolt handle. It loads through a tap and has fine target sights. The trigger is no target unit, but it’s light and crisp.
Haenel’s model 311 bolt-action target rifle is an accurate, quirky .177 spring gun.
I’ve owned four Garands over the years, and this one is the most accurate of them all. It hasn’t been tuned up and I won’t send it to be tuned, because I don’t need that level of performance. I just like being able to pick up the same kind of rifle a soldier might have used in WWII or Korea and feel the same reactions they might have felt.
More than 5 million Garands were made. It dominated all battle rifles in World War II and Korea.
I’ve also owned several M1903 Springfield rifles and one 1917 American Enfield. Although both of them were also used in World War II, they leave me cold. They’re wonderful to hold, but they will beat the crap out of you when you fire them. The Garand has the same level of recoil, but it’s spread out over a longer cycle and as a result feels like no recoil whatsoever to me. I can see my body move when I shoot, but there’s no corresponding sock to the kisser like the other two bolt guns have.
All Garands are a trifle fussy about the condition of certain of their parts, such as the operating rod and the individual enbloc clips being used in them, but I’ve grown tolerant of those shortcomings. It’s like owning a Model T Ford with a slipping clutch. Almost all slip, and their owners learn how to live with them. This is also the very rifle that failed to function the first time I shot it, until I oiled the action using the dipstick from my Ford pickup. You just gotta love a gun that responds to that kind of treatment!
Ruger Super Blackhawk — Old Model
I’ve sold a couple Colt Pythons over the years and many more S&W Model 29s, so I’m probably going to hang on to my Ruger Super Blackhawk Old Model because of what it is. What I mean is that you can’t always buy back something nice after you let it go.
Shooters know that the Old Model has the action parts that can be finely adjusted to work butter-smooth, and in my Ruger they certainly do. The New Model can also have a nice trigger-pull, but the few I’ve owned have all had just a hint of creep in stage two. Comparing an Old Model to a New Model Super Blackhawk is like comparing a Colt Python to a Colt Official Police. Both are good, but the Python is noticeably better.
Ruger’s Old Model Super Blackhawk is a stunning revolver! The action is tuned butter-smooth and the finish is as deep as it gets.
I do not shoot factory .44 Magnum cartridges any more, if I ever did. But I can load a .44 Magnum down to a mild (relatively) .44 Special level that in the Super Blackhawk seems like a pussycat.
My Remington 521T is a target rifle made for juniors but sized for adults. It suits me fine and handles better than a Winchester 52. It’s not a serious target rifle any more than I’m a serious target shooter, but it’s all the rifle I need.
Remington’s 521T .22 rimfire is a classic-looking old target rifle.
When I shot the first sub-inch group of 10 at 50 yards, I knew this was a keeper. Not that it’s the most accurate gun around, but it can out-shoot me, and that’s all I ask.
Mossberg’s 500 20-gauge shotgun is as classic a pump shotgun as you can find. It’s up there with the Winchester model 12 and the Remington 870, as far as style and capability. But our shotgun is kept for defense. It stays loaded with buckshot, awaiting the time when bad things happen. There’s a companion 500 in 12 gauge that’s set up the same way for the same purpose.
Nothing beats a pump shotgun when the ship hits the sand!
by B.B. Pelletier
A real BB gun
At the SHOT Show this year, I was surprised in the Umarex booth by the appearance of a BB gun that looked for all the world like an airsoft automatic electric gun (AEG). One big clue that the HK MP5-K PDW is not an airsoft gun is the lack of an orange muzzle, which is required by law for all airsoft guns sold in the United States, but is not relevant to BB guns.
Let’s be clear about the definition of a BB gun right now. I am talking about a gun that shoots steel BBs — not the 6mm plastic balls that Asian manufacturers call BBs. Those guns are airsoft guns, not BB guns.
And this definition matters when unknowing parents and their children are buying and using these products, because it’s extremely dangerous to use a true BB gun like this one in a skirmish, where participants shoot at each other!
The MP5 K-PDW is a copy of Heckler & Koch’s 9mm machine pistol, or what is commonly referred to as a submachine gun. The “K” designator stands for
kurtz kurz, which means short, in German. So, this model is a shortened version of the gun. And, there’s a civilian version of the MP5 that offers semiautomatic fire only. While it looks the same as a full-auto gun, there’s only one shot per trigger-pull. That’s what has been incorporated into this BB gun, as well. [Thanks to blog reader "HK," we've corrected the typo of the German word!]
You cannot “spray and pray” with this BB gun like you can with a full-auto AEG airsoft gun. Instead, you shoot one shot each time the trigger is pulled. The letters PDW in the name mean Personal Defense Weapon, which connotes a legal-to-own semiautomatic version of a gun that’s normally restricted to licensed ownership, only. Actually, for U.S. use, the gun also must have a barrel that’s at least 16 inches long because it has a shoulder stock. That special model of the gun is designated the HK 94 and is not easy to find. The FBI also ordered a special semiautomatic variation of the MP5, which was labeled the MP5SFA2. SF stands for Single Fire, but of course their gun was not restricted to a 16-inch barrel and could be made in a more compact size. Single fire refers to semiautomatic fire, in which one pull of the trigger results in just one round being fired.
An MP5 firearm is a chunky beast that puts a lot of steel in your hands. It may be called a machine pistol, but it feels far more like a rifle when you actually hold one. And, since it shoots the mild 9×19mm Luger round, the recoil is not great. I’ve shot MP5s at legal machine-gun ranges several times, and they’re very easy to manage in the full-auto mode. Of course, a BB gun should also be easy to restrain, as well, only this one has a blowback feature, so there will be some movement when the gun is fired.
The stock swings out from the right side of the gun and locks solidly in place. The pull of the extended stock is a reasonable 13.5 inches, but the rear sight notch is positioned too close to your sighting eye, which will make precision sighting difficult. I have to pull my neck back to allow a few extra inches so I can even see the rear notch. I like the H&K aperture rear sight better, for this reason. The rear sight is a drum with multiple notches around its top, but it cannot be adjusted in either direction. The front sight is a simple post inside a narrow globe and it also does not adjust.
This BB-shooting version weighs just over one-third what the firearm weighs, so it’s light and manageable. The bulk of this gun is rugged plastic, with metal parts used where necessary. That make it light. Since I haven’t fired it yet, I can’t comment on how the blowback feels; but as light as the gun is, I’m expecting to feel some realistic movement.
The curved magazine holds up to 40 BBs, which is only 10 more rounds than the firearm carries. So, the loading interval should be very realistic. I remember when I was shooting the firearm how sore my thumbs became from loading the mags and how quickly the cartridges were consumed by full-auto fire.
Installing a CO2 cartridge
To install and remove a CO2 cartridge, the stock must be pulled off the gun. The owner’s manual is of very little help in this procedure, as it refers you to a tiny photo showing two black plastic stock pins with red circles around them. I have made several larger photos of the pins and will give you more detailed instructions.
First, unscrew the piercing pin screw all the way. Then, remove the buttstock by removing the two plastic stock retaining pins.
The manual clearly says to use a plastic pin punch to remove the pins, though there are no pin punches included with the gun. However, I discovered that the back of a Bic pen will do the job perfectly. Just push the back of the pen down on top of each pin, and the retaining wires will be pushed out of the way. The pins can then be pulled out on the left side of the receiver. They’re captive and do not have to be completely removed from the receiver for the stock to be removed.
Both stock pins must be removed to pull the stock for installing a fresh CO2 cartridge. Each pin has a wire retainer in its center that holds it in place. The shape of the wire allows it to move out of the way when pressure is put on the end of the pin.
To get the pins pushed back in the gun, you may have to tap them with a plastic mallet or a piece of wood. The wire retainers need to be coaxed back into the center of the pins before they’ll enter their respective holes in the stock.
While this sounds like a drawn-out procedure, it takes longer to explain than to actually do it. After the first time, you’ll be replacing cartridges in less than a minute.
Many of the switches and controls are either cast solidly into the plastic body of the gun or are dummies. The cartridge follower that’s located on the front left of the receiver, for example, is a spring-loaded steel part that moves in its track and can be locked in the rear position but has no real function to serve.
The two-position selector switch can be set to either fire or safe. On safe, the trigger is disconnected from everything and just moves in an arc. When the switch is set to fire, the hammer is cocked and released with every shot.
We’ll look at velocity and shot count next. I’ll chronograph the gun with both Daisy and Crosman BBs to see if there’s a preference.
Parents, this is a BB gun that shoots steel BBs. Do not mistake it for an airsoft gun. It is not meant to serve as a skirmish gun, where players shoot at one another. The velocity of this BB gun coupled with its small steel ball projectile (the BB) makes it very dangerous. It should never be fired at a person or animal for any reason. Also, steel BBs can rebound from hard surfaces with great velocity.
by B.B. Pelletier
I was reading a mystery novel the other day and the cop asked his friend if he had collected all the floppy disks when he got the computer. Floppy disks!
I remember floppy disks and some that we called floppy disks that were smaller and no longer floppy, but hearing something like that out of the blue, or reading it in my case, is like watching a modern movie in which the hero can’t locate a public phone to call for help. What? He doesn’t have a cell phone? Well, no, in 1977, he doesn’t. In a very brief number of years we have become so familiar with ubiquitous cell phones, that to not have them seems very odd.
Then, Wednesday morning, I got a request from Pyramyd Air to supply Edith with the number of shots you get from one fill of air in an AirForce Condor and a Benjamin Marauder, so they can be added to the specifications. The number of shots per fill, you say? Well — it depends.
Today, I’d like to examine the reason(s) why it depends. This is for those of you who are considering the purchase of a precharged pneumatic (PCP) air rifle.
Fifteen years ago, I could have answered a question like this about almost any PCP. Precharged pneumatic airguns were straightforward in 1995, and there was just one answer to the number of shots per fill. But in 1996, when the Career 707 hit these shores, we started dealing with adjustable power levels. As they came from Korea, Careers had three power settings, but before long they were gunsmithed up to as many as 26 settings by any number of airgunsmiths in this country! My first Career had 17 power settings after it was modified.
A gun like that needs a little explanation and a caveat like, on high power, you can expect as many as 10 good shots; on medium power expect 25 good shots and on low power as many as 50 good shots — followed by a separate explanation of what is meant by a good shot.
What I mean by a “good” shot is one whose velocity doesn’t stray outside a certain velocity limit that the shooter would like to allow. Since that can be different for every shooter, we’ve already moved into a vast gray area. But it gets even more confusing as the technology progresses.
Back when the AirForce Condor first hit the market, yours truly had the task of chronographing the first 100 guns that were built. We wanted to ensure that we were building each and every .22 caliber Condor to exceed 1,250 f.p.s. with a Crosman Premier pellet. After that, we could be assured that every gun would be the same, as long as nothing changed in the manufacturing process. We knew that upon receiving his new Condor, every owner of those early rifles would fill the tank and sit down in front of a chronograph to find out whether or not he had been snookered.
We were really focused on the .22 caliber Condor because we knew that, however fast that caliber shot, the .177 Condor would shoot even faster. And that was true! Besides, no U.S. buyer ever ordered a .177 in those early days. It just didn’t happen. As in zero, zip, nada! They didn’t need to, because the .22 was going faster than most .177s on the market.
We were astounded that we not only got these super-fast velocities, we also got 20 good shots, which we defined as the .22 caliber Crosman Premier pellet going faster than 1,175 f.p.s. That was the lower limit we used to define the number of good shots you get from a full fill of a Condor air tank/reservoir. And the number was designated as 20 good shots.
BUT — and this is a big one — the Condor has adjustable power. So, not only can you shoot 20 full-power shots from a single fill, if you dial down the power to the low level, you’ll get a LOT more acceptable shots. Only with a Condor, the low-power shots aren’t that low-power! In my testing of a .22 caliber Condor with the Condor tank, low-power shots still generate 19 foot-pounds, an energy that some other air rifles struggle to achieve. And, because less air is used at low power, you may get 45 good shots or more at this setting.
The power adjuster on the Condor lets the owner vary the power settings and to return to a specific setting in the future. No two guns achieve the same velocity with the same settings, so this is just for the gun being adjusted.
As you can see, there’s no one simple answer to the total number of shots you get from a Condor. But it doesn’t even end there. Since it’s possible to install either the
18-inch 24-inch Lothar Walther barrel or the 12-inch Lothar Walther barrel on a Condor, the number of shots will also change from just the length of the barrel. And since the Ultimate Condor Combo, which Pyramyd Air sells as the fully loaded Condor, is sold with all three two barrel lengths, this is a legitimate configuration. [Correction note: I originally wrote that the Condor comes with an 18-inch barrel, but it does not.]
So, the answer to how many shots you get from a fill of the air tank on a Condor is neither simple not straightforward. Have I confused you yet? Because I’m not finished. Let’s take a trip through the looking glass.
Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, Benjamin brought out their Marauder PCP. Most shooters concentrate on its accuracy and its ultra-quiet operation, but the Marauder has a couple more tricks up its sleeve that relate to power and the number of shots per fill. For starters, you can adjust the power, just like you can with the Condor, though how this is done is entirely different. That feature, alone, will affect the total number of shots the rifle has to offer, but it’s just the beginning.
The Marauder also allows the owner to adjust the maximum fill pressure level it works at. To put it simply, you can adjust the rifle to use a 2,000 psi fill or a 3,000 psi fill or anything in-between. This feature doesn’t necessarily change the power of the gun, but it does alter the total number of shots you get from a full fill.
There are three separate adjustments on the Marauder that adjust these two performance specifications. Let’s look at what each one does. The first adjustment changes the length of the hammer stroke. The longer the stroke, the more inertia the hammer builds before striking the valve stem. When it strikes with greater force, the stem is pushed back farther and held open longer, resulting in more air rushing out of the tank to power the shot. On the reverse side, the shorter the stroke, the lower the amount of time the valve remains open. This adjustment works in conjunction with the air pressure level in the tank.
The second adjustment is the hammer spring pressure. This is more straightforward, as it adjusts the tension on the hammer spring. Adjustments like this date back more than a half century to the power knobs located at the back of various Crosman bulk-fill CO2 guns. It was a straightforward means of adjusting power. It worked well because CO2 maintains a constant pressure level inside a pressure vessel at a given temperature. But pressurized air does not maintain a constant air pressure, so the hammer stroke adjustment was added.
The third adjustment controls the volume of the air transfer passage that connects the firing valve to the Marauder’s breech. The greater the volume inside this passage the greater the amount of pressurized air that can flow through the firing valve to get behind the pellet.
The implication of these three adjustments is that there can be no single answer to the number of shots one can expect from the full fill of a Benjamin Marauder reservoir/air tank. In fact, it takes a discussion very much like the one presented here just to appreciate all that’s at work.
The goal of the Marauder adjustments is to extract the maximum number of shots from each fill at the maximum power level. That might range from 20 high-power shots at a fill pressure of 2,000 psi to over 100 shots at a lower acceptable power level from a fill pressure of 3,000 psi. This lower power shot might still be the most powerful shot available within the gun’s adjustment range, and even more low-powered shots might be possible using the same setup.
There are some shooters whose eyes glaze over when you tell them all these things. These are the people who should set up the rifle to work at a single fill pressure and operate it at a single power level.
But the real answer to how many shots to expect from a single fill of either the Condor or Marauder air reservoir is, “It depends….”
by B.B. Pelletier
Getting ready to test
Today, I want to mount a scope on the 124 to get ready for the long-range accuracy test. Normally, I would just mount the scope and gloss over it in the report, because scope mounting is usually not a big deal; but the 124 is a special airgun that needs special scope mounting considerations. So, I’m making a separate report about it.
A strange scope stop
What makes the 124 special is the way Feinwerkbau went about providing a scope stop. You must understand that Feinwerkbau is a target gun company. They understand rear aperture sights very well, but they don’t appreciate scope sights nearly as well. And, in the 1970s — when the 124 came out — scope mounting was still very new to the hobby. They provided a scope stop system that works well for rear aperture sights but not so easy when working with scopes.
Their system consists of half-round grooves cut across the 11mm dovetail scope rails. The plan is for a round steel pin in the base of the rear scope mount or in the rear of the one-piece scope mount, if that’s what you use, to fit into one of those grooves. Once it’s in, the scope mount will stay put under recoil. It’s a simple system, but not one that’s widely used. Webley used it on the Patriot, and CZ used it on some of their rifles. Most airgun manufacturers use something else.
Pick one of those four grooves to accept a steel crosspin from the base of one of your scope rings or the rear of your one-piece scope ring. Once the base is tightened on the dovetails, the groove and pin prevent the base from moving under recoil.
Because of the low usage of this kind of scope stop system, there aren’t a lot of scope mounts with the necessary crosspin. Beeman sold them while the 124 was selling well, but they stopped offering them in the late 1990s. B-Square also made some just for 124s, plus they made a mount with two crosspins that was to be used on a Webley Patriot. You could always grind off or remove one of those two pins to make their mounts fit the 124.
This old B-Square one-piece scope mount has two crosspins to interface with the grooves on a Webley Patriot rifle. By removing one of the crosspins, this mount can be fitted to a 124.
Forget trying to just tighten the base screws to hold the mounts in place by friction. The 124 is a long-stroke spring-piston rifle that will walk any standard mounts — aluminum or steel — that you try to do this with. And, you can forget something else, too.
Some guys get the bright idea of taking a standard vertical scope stop pin and rounding it to a crosspin profile. Forget it. It doesn’t work. All it does is rip a wide groove straight back through the top of the steel receiver tube as the mount slowly walks backward under recoil. It may take six months of steady shooting before you notice it, but you’ll ruin your gun this way. There’s just not enough bearing surface on a single, thin vertical stop pin that’s been profiled in this way.
I have been testing airguns for a very long time now, and I have a drawer filled with exotic scope mounts, including some prototype units that never made it to market. There aren’t many airguns that I can’t scope, but my situation is not the norm. Most guys have to find a mount that works from what’s available today, and that can be daunting when the gun is an old-timer like the FWB 124.
Bring on the BKLs!
There may be a bright light on the horizon, though. Back when I was messing with 124 rifles, BKL mounts didn’t exist, but they do today and we’ve tested them on other spring rifles that recoil a lot harder than the 124. For those who aren’t aware, BKL mounts are the one mount on the market that can hold tight by just clamping pressure, alone. And, here’s the best part — they’re made from aluminum! So, as tight as you can make them, they’ll never damage the sharp edges of your rifle’s dovetails the way they would if they were made of steel.
For this test, I’ve installed a set of BKL-363H-MB scope mounts with double straps. Man, I wish these things had been around in the late 1970s!
I also found out something extra-cool about these double-strap BKL mounts. There’s no special torque pattern to be followed! Instead of tightening the scope caps by a prescribed pattern like you would the main bearings on a crankshaft to get the force evenly distributed over all four screws, these caps go down in a straightforward way. Tighten one side and the other. As simple as that. Because each strap has only two screws, there’s no way to screw up — pun intended!
I’ll watch the mounts to make certain they don’t move, but the groups I get should pretty well tell the whole tale without the need for any special testing. If I shoot tight groups, there can’t be any scope movement.
I chose a Leapers 3-9×50AO scope with illuminated reticle. I didn’t need the illuminated reticle, but this particular scope comes with a fine crosshair that will aid in getting a refined aimpoint. As long as the light’s good, I should be able to get great results with it.
So, that’s the saga of mounting a scope on a 124. It’s not any harder than installing a scope on any other spring rifle, but the mount situation is different enough to cause concern. Remember this — the FWB 124 was the very first air rifle to get a reputation for scopes slipping and even breaking. Though we have much more powerful rifles today, don’t underestimate the 124.