by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
While I was at the courthouse awaiting jury selection the other day, I was reading a favorite gun book, Yours Truly Harvey Donaldson, edited by David R. Wolfe and published in 1980 by Wolfe Publishing Company, Prescott, Arizona. In the book, Wolfe assembles letters and articles written by Harvey Donaldson, one of America’s top shooters, and cartridge developers. He is best-known for his .219 Donaldson Wasp cartridge, but he actually worked on dozens of different centerfire cartridges over the 89 years of his fruitful life. And he was a schuetzen shooter on top of all of that. Schuetzen rifles are single-shot rifles with incredibly accurate barrels that shoot lead bullets at low velocities. They typically shoot at 100 and 200 yards, either offhand or rested on a bench. The best of them have been known to put 10 bullets into a group that measures under one-half inch at 200 yards, which is a challenge that’s difficult to equal with modern arms today.
So, Donaldson knew how to shoot. And that’s the connection to today’s report. I read a paragraph that Donaldson wrote for an article that appeared in American Rifleman magazine in May 1936 – Rest Shooting and Schuetzen Loading:
“The secret of fine rest shooting is to hold the rifle so it will be free to recoil in the same way for each shot. I like to have my rifle come straight back, and when I see the crosshairs rise toward 12 o’clock in a straight line above the bull, I know that all is well and I can expect a good group. If the shooter will carefully perfect his holding so as to get this effect, the matter of making small groups will come much easier.”
That’s a good description of the goals of the artillery hold airgunners use, with one exception. Donaldson describes firearms that, while their bullets don’t travel very fast (never over 1,400 f.p.s.), still leave the muzzle before the major vibrations and movement of the gun begins. With a spring-piston airgun, the heavy steel piston has already jumped forward violently and then come to a sudden stop before the pellet begins to move. Vibrations in the gun have already started well before the pellet leaves the bore, which is why airgunners have to take this special hold even farther than Donaldson describes.
Important point — please read and understand!
Remember this — Donaldson was talking about firearms when he described his hold. So, the basic tenets of the artillery hold apply to firearms as well as to airguns. I have known that all along, but I haven’t harped on it because it really doesn’t matter to most shooters. A hold like this is only important to those who want the absolute last bit of accuracy potential from their firearms. Some of our blog readers who have competed with firearms, like Victor, understand the importance of hold consistency without my saying anything. They might call it something else, like follow-through perhaps, but we’re speaking about the same thing. For the rest of the shooters who are just plinking with a .22 rimfire or shooting anything offhand, it wasn’t important that I drill down to the absolute bottom bedrock fundamentals of shooting to explain my points. Either they understood it without me commenting or it wasn’t important.
But I’m going on record today and saying that an artillery-like hold, or at least a repeatable hold that allows the firearm to recoil in the same way every time, does have a positive influence on the accuracy of a firearm as well as a spring-piston airgun. And I’m also going to say that the artillery hold has a positive effect on other types of airgun powerplants — including the precharged pneumatic (PCP).
It’s still true that a PCP is much easier to shoot accurately than a spring-piston gun, but only with a proper hold will any PCP be capable of delivering its full accuracy potential. Because PCPs do not vibrate very much, nor do they recoil, the benefit of a consistent hold gets lost in the noise. Most good PCPs shoot very well regardless of how they’re held.
What is special about the artillery hold?
Okay, we know that the consistency of the hold is important to accuracy. But is the artillery hold different than what Donaldson describes in the passage above? Yes, it is. Donaldson rested his schuetzen rifles front and rear. The barrel of his rifle rested on the forward rest and the buttstock rested on the rear rest. There’s foam rubber between the barrel and the rest, but my point is that Donaldson does not rest the rifle on its forearm.
To be honest, there are photos showing benchrest rifles rested on their forearms, too, so it can be done either way, but the barrel rest was by far the more common in these older times.
Donaldson shown with a rested schuetzen rifle in the 1930s. The barrel is resting on foam rubber on the front rest. Photo from the book, Yours Truly, Harvey Donaldson, Wolfe Publishing, 1980.
What’s special about the artillery hold is that we don’t normally rest the rifle directly on sandbags or other rests. Instead, we rest it on our hands, which are placed on the rest. The flesh of the hand cushions the rifle in some unique way that even sand cannot. There are some gel-filled pads that seem to work as well as the hand; but when you examine them, you find that they feel quite a lot like the flesh of your hand. There’s something about the consistency that a spring-piston air rifle needs in order to have repeatable recoil and vibration patterns.
What you rest the rifle on is important, but so is where you rest it. I often have to try sliding my off hand back and forth under the stock, from the triggerguard to out as far as I can hold it — searching for a point where the rifle responds the same with every shot. Sometimes, I never do find the right place, and then I resort to resting the stock on the backs of my fingers and even directly on the sandbag. I don’t use the backs of the fingers unless absolutely necessary because it often hurts. And the number of airguns that can be rested directly on a sandbag and still shoot well is very small, although the TX 200 is one that can.
The point of this report is that the artillery hold is nothing new, and I didn’t invent it. It was already very old when I picked a quirky name for it, so airgunners would remember it and be able to talk about it. This hold is one of the fundamental tools in a good shooter’s kit. You can ignore it, but do so knowing what you’re giving up — because this is the “secret” to shooting a recoiling spring-piston air rifle well.
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
Let’s begin testing the effects of oiling pellets. There are numerous ways to approach this issue, and I have to pick one at a time and limit the test to just that. But I think as long as I’m testing one aspect, I ought to test it thoroughly so someone can’t come back and second-guess me later in the report.
So, today I’ll test with one rifle, and the next time I’ll test with another. What I won’t do is test with each different brand of airgun, just to see what will happen. If a powerful gas spring rifle performs in a certain way, I’ll assume that all powerful gas spring rifles are going to do the same. If the difference between dry pellets and oiled pellets is close, I may do additional testing; but if there’s clear separation, I’ll accept that as the way it works.
What am I testing?
The question that started this experiment was, “How much faster will oiled pellets shoot than those that are not oiled?” One reader has asked me to also test this downrange because he wonders if a thin coat of oil changes the laminar flow of air around a pellet. I may get to that at some point, but for the present I’m just concerned with muzzle velocity because all pellets slow down after they exit the muzzle — oiled or not.
I suppose this needs to be tested in all three powerplant types, but today I’m testing it in a spring-piston powerplant. Today’s gun is a weak powerplant, so next time I’ll test it in a more powerful gun.
I’m using an HW55 SF target rifle to test three pellets. This rifle is a variation of the old HW50 rifle, so it shoots in the 600-650 f.p.s. region with lead pellets.
Since oiled pellets will leave a film in the bore, I tested all pellets dry first, and then tested the oiled pellets afterwards. Before the first test shot with oiled pellets, I fired two pellets to condition the bore. That turned out not to be enough, but I’ll come to that later.
I’ll test the three major pellet shapes in this test. They’re the wadcutter, dome and pointed head. There are other shapes, like hollowpoints, but they’re based on one of these three main shapes, so this is all I’m testing.
How I oil pellets
I oil pellets in the following manner. A foam liner is placed in the bottom of a pellet tin, and 20 drops of Whiscombe Honey are dropped onto the foam. Then, a single layer of pellets is spread on the foam, and the tin is rolled around. I shake the tin lightly to move the pellets around…but not enough to damage them. Whatever oil transfers to the pellet is all the oil it gets. I’ve been doing this for many years and it works well.
The pellets end up with a very light and uniform coat of oil. When I handle them the tips of my fingers become oily, but I can’t see any oil on the pellets. Other people use more oil than I do, but this is what I am testing.
Whiscombe Honey is a mixture of two-thirds Hoppes Gun Oil (not Number 9 bore cleaner!) and one-third STP Engine Treatment, by volume. Shake the mixture until is takes on a light yellow color. It will look like thin honey, hence the name. This mixture should not detonate easily in a spring gun.
Test one — dry pellets
Crosman Premier 7.9-grain pellets were the domes I tested. The average velocity for dry Premiers was 606 f.p.s., with a low of 577 and a high of 616. So, the spread was 39 f.p.s. The average muzzle energy was 6.44 foot-pounds.
For wadcutters, I tested Gamo Match pellets. The average for dry pellets was 652 f.p.s., with a low of 640 and a high of 663 f.p.s. The spread was 17 f.p.s. The average energy was 7.14 foot-pounds.
H&N Neue Spitzkugel
The pointed pellet I selected was the H&N Neue Spitzgugel. When shot dry, they averaged 601 f.p.s., with a low of 585 and a high of 620 f.p.s. The spread was 34 f.p.s. The average muzzle energy was 6.81 foot-pounds at the muzzle.
Now, I shot two oiled pellets through the bore to condition it and began the test.
Oiled Crosman Premiers
Oiled 7.9-grain Premiers averaged 591 f.p.s., but the spread went from a low of 545 to a high of 612 f.p.s. That’s a spread of 67 .p.s. The average energy for oiled pellets was 6.13 foot-pounds. I did notice the pellets were going faster at the end of the shot string, so I thought I might come back to them after testing the other pellets.
Oiled Gamo Match pellets
The oiled wadcutters averaged 658 f.p.s. — a slight gain over the dry pellets. But the real news was the spread, which went from a low of 651 to a high of 663 f.p.s. Instead of a 17 f.p.s. for the dry pellets, the oiled pellets gave a spread of just 12 f.p.s. That’s too close to draw any conclusions, but it’s interesting. The average energy with the oiled pellets was 7.27 foot-pounds. So, with the oiled pellets, the velocity went up — along with the energy — and the shot-to-shot variance went down.
Oiled H&N Neue Spitzkugel
Oiled Spitzkugels averaged 609 f.p.s. — which was a small increase over the same pellet when dry. The average energy was 6.99 foot-pounds. The spread went from 585 to 620 f.p.s, which was identical for the same pellet dry. Velocity and energy were both up slightly from dry pellets, and the shot-to-shot variance remained the same.
By now, it’s obvious that the bore needed more than two shots to condition it, so I retested the oiled Crosman Premiers. The second time the oiled pellets averaged 604 f.p.s., which is just 2 f.p.s. slower than the same pellets dry. But the spread that was 67 f.p.s. on the first test of oiled pellets and 39 f.p.s. with dry Premiers now went from a low of 594 to a high of 613 f.p.s. — a much tighter 19 f.p.s. total. The average energy was 6.40 foot-pounds.
From this test, I observed that these three pellets either remained at the same velocity or increased very slightly from the light oiling I gave them. In two of the three cases, the velocity spread got tighter when the pellets were oiled.
I further observed that it’s necessary to condition a bore with oiled pellets before doing any testing. As a minimum, I would say that 20 oiled pellets should be fired before testing.
These are very small differences from oiling; and although I can’t draw any conclusions yet, I would think that such a small change is not enough to matter. It hardly seems worth doing at this point. However, there’s still a test to be done in a powerful airgun. Until we see those results, I think it’s too soon to say anything for sure.
Although the question that drove this test was how much faster oiling pellets makes them shoot, I think we still have to take accuracy into account before forming any opinions.
And now for something completely different
Pyramyd Air is looking for a manager for their tech department. If you’re interested in the position, below is the job info and where to send your resume.
Directs and coordinates activities of the department in providing customers technical services and support; directly supervises employees. Responsibilities include but are not limited to:
Coordinates technical support services between management, tech support staff, sales department, and customers.
Establishes and documents department procedures and objectives.
Accomplishes department objectives by selecting, orienting, training, assigning, coaching, counseling, and disciplining employees; communicating job expectations; and monitoring performance.
Maintains and improves support operations by monitoring staff and system performance, identifying and resolving problems, and preparing and completing action plans
Provides technical assistance to customers and labor quotes. Handles escalated calls or provides assistance requiring more complex issues.
Installs common accessories and kits in accordance with customer orders.
Performs tests on guns to determine advertised performance specifications.
Required experience, skills and background:
Bachelor’s degree and 3 years managerial experience, or an equivalent combination of education and experience required. Previous industry experience required.
Must be detail-oriented with good mechanical aptitude.
Ability to prioritize and multi-task.
Good communication and customer service skills.
Good computer skills.
Hours: Monday through Friday, 9am until 5:30pm; longer hours and some Saturdays are expected, especially during our busy peak periods.
Preferred experience, skills and background:
Previous experience in airgun repair or troubleshooting desired.
Send your resume to firstname.lastname@example.org
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
This report will be lengthy because I want to test several aspects of oiling pellets. For starters, I want to test it with spring guns, PCPs and CO2 guns just to get a complete picture of what, if anything, oiling pellets is doing in each of those powerplants. I’m interested in velocity because of the question that spawned this blog, but accuracy might also be interesting to test.
We received this question in the following form. I will paraphrase, but this is the gist of it, “How much faster do pellets go when they are oiled?” That question came in on one of our social networks and was referred to me for an answer. Well, you know me! Give me a topic and I turn it into a week’s worth of blogs. But this question really begged for the full treatment because there’s so much to cover.
When I got interested in shooting airguns as an adult in the middle 1970s, the question of oiling pellets wasn’t around (as far as I know). In talking with the late Rodney Boyce, I learned that the oiling question really came to a head when PCPs first started being used in the early 1980s. A PCP shoots very dry air, and their barrels are made from steel; so, at the higher velocities, they tend to get leaded bores. Some shooters were also oiling pellets for their spring guns; but a lot of the time they did it because they washed the pellets, thinking the black compound on them was dirt. In fact, it was anti-oxidant to keep the pellets from turning to white dust. Had they just left the pellets alone, they wouldn’t have oxidized.
In defense of the spring-gun guys who washed their pellets, though, some brands did have a lot of lead swarf (flakes of lead from the manufacturing process) inside some of the pellets, and vigorous washing did remove it. But then the pellets needed to be oiled again, or they would quickly oxidize.
Why we oil pellets
We oil pellets for two reasons. The first is to prevent the oxidation of the lead after washing. The second is to reduce the leading of the bore, though this is principally a PCP problem. Other pneumatics either shoot too slowly or they have brass or bronze barrels that do not allow the lead to attach itself, so they do not lead up.
Do oiled pellets shoot faster?
That was the question that started this report. I’ve tested this in the past and found that with a PCP shooting .177 pellets at 850-900 f.p.s., oiled pellets went slower, not faster. But that was just one test, and I don’t want to say what oiling will do for other guns until I do some more testing.
I’ll tell you this — oiling pellets became such a hot topic in the late ’90s that people were swapping their favorite secret formulas on the internet. And I know one UK company that sells an oil for pellets that they still claim gives increased velocity. Well, that’s too good to pass up, so I’ll test some of their oil in this test.
Not just oil
Don’t think that oil is the only thing people put on pellets. I remember lengthy discussions of how to apply a thin even coat of wax on pellets. Then, the topic shifted to what kind of wax to use! One guy went so far as to specify a high-tech boat hull compound called Bo-Shield for his pellets. When he talked about it his eyes got that faraway stare, as though he was transcending the real world and entering the spirit world.
What I will test
The first thing I want to do — have to do, in my mind — is test what the application of oil does to the velocity of pellets. Okay, that opens about 10 worm cans, right there:
What constitutes “an application of oil”? (I have seen paragraphs of instructions telling you how to know if the application of oil has been enough or if you need more.)
Am I testing this on lightweight pellets? Heavy pellets?
Do I test a powerful springer as well as a lower-powered springer?
Do I also test this on a precharged pneumatic?
A powerful PCP and a lower-powered PCP?
What about testing on a CO2 gun?
And on and on….
I think the best approach is to ask the question: Why do we oil pellets and who does it? We know that people who wash pellets also oil them, and we know that PCP users oil them; so that includes all the categories above. I don’t see a need to go to the extremes with this test. I’m not HP White Labs, and this isn’t a burning consumer question. If the findings suggest further testing, I could decide at that point?
What about the possible side effects?
Will oiling a pellet cause extra dieseling? Maybe. Is that what’s behind those flimflam salesmen who claim that oiled pellets go faster than dry pellets? I don’t know for certain; but as long as I’m going down the path, this is something I want to look at. Obviously, we’re talking only about powerful spring guns.
Does oiling affect accuracy?
I don’t know, but it seems we ought to find out. This gives me another excuse to unlimber my R8…so, hurrah!
Have I forgotten anything?
You tell me if I’ve overlooked any test that ought to be conducted. This isn’t a guessing game or a creativity contest, so please tell me only things that really matter to you.
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
I’ve written about firearms in this blog from time to time. Even though it’s about airguns, there are so many lessons we can learn from firearms that it’s a shame to turn our backs on them — as if by using explosive gas instead of compressed air they’re somehow different. Once the projectile gets out of the barrel, it acts the same regardless of what starts it on its way.
Many of you understand why I do this. Blog readers Kevin and BG_Farmer, for example, know that a precharged gun acts the same as a black powder arm, in that they both require a long barrel for optimum performance. The longer the barrel, the greater the velocity you can expect — all other things remaining equal. That was demonstrated clearly in the test of the Talon SS, when I switched from a 12-inch barrel to a 24-inch barrel. Velocity increased dramatically and the shot count remained the same — proving that a longer barrel gives greater performance in a PCP.
Today, I want to discuss another similarity I’ve discovered. I didn’t really “discover” it. I more or less tripped over it, cursed a bit; then, as I was picking myself up and brushing myself off, I happened to reflect on what had happened and was enlightened.
The idea first crossed my path in the book Yours Truly, Harvey Donaldson, by the author of the same name. He noticed that some of the shells he reloaded grouped their bullets very well, while others that had the same headstamp and were purchased at the same time, threw their shots wide of the mark. That phenomenon is so common in my experience that I thought it was the way things always were, but old Harvey had a different idea. He started setting aside the cartridge cases that threw the wild shots, keeping only those that tended to group their shots together. In time he was left with a smaller batch of shells that all wanted to put their bullets into the same hole — as long as everything else (powder type and weight, bullet weight, seating depth, primer type, etc.) stayed the same.
In the end, Donaldson wound up with a batch of shells he could count on to group their shots together and others that couldn’t. He then shot groups with cartridges made from the good shells and from those that were not as good and demonstrated that the good shells grouped much better.
My shooting buddy, with whom I recently commiserated about the lack of success we were having with some firearms, pointed out that we were both shooting cartridges with mixed headstamps, and we weren’t paying attention to the things that were staring us in the face. That was a wakeup call for me!
So, I’ve just begun doing the same thing as Donaldson with a couple of my firearms — but I don’t have any real results to show, yet. However, the initial examination does look promising. I say that because within any group of 10 shots with certain rifles there’s usually a smaller group that hints that there may be a difference between the shells, since everything else is exactly the same.
Ten shots from a 250-3000 Savage at 100 yards. If you were sorting these shells for reloading, which three would you exclude from the good pile? The x-ring is 0.90 inches in diameter.
Ten shots from a .22 Hornet at 50 yards. Can you tell which 6 cartridges are of interest?
But how can this information help me as an airgunner? Edith pointed out that once the trigger is pulled, the pellet goes downrange and there is nothing left to be sorted for the next time.
But what if I could sort BEFORE the shot? And, of course I can! If I weigh and visually inspect each pellet, I’ll have the most uniform group of pellets possible. I can then shoot them against a random selection of pellets straight from the tin and also against a group of pellets that were specifically rejected during the selection process. There should be a noticeable difference between those three groups — no?
Oh, I can hear the gears turning, now! In your analytical minds, you’re creating universes in which all pellets go in the same hole at a ridiculously long distance. Well, cut it out! It often doesn’t work as simply as that. It may sound good when you read it in print; but when you attempt to test it, the results may not be what you expected. There are many reasons for this.
If you’re doing this with an accurate airgun, there’s a chance you’ll succeed. But if you’re doing it with a gun that vibrates like a jackhammer and kicks like a mule, any difference in accuracy may be overwhelmed by the slop of the test instrument (the gun).
Your shooting technique
I was at the range last week and observed a man who couldn’t hit a 12-inch paper plate at 100 yards every time with an M1 Garand. Was that the rifle’s fault? No, it wasn’t. The guy closed his non-sighting eye by squinting and refused to try holding it open. So, the round peep hole his sighting eye looked through was scrunched up into a deformed hole that nobody could hope to sight through. He could not be convinced to try holding both eyes open, and I bet this is a person who blames “old eyes” on his inaccuracy when it is nothing more than technique. If you don’t have good shooting technique, you’ll never be able to see subtle differences in accuracy in a test like this.
I’ve seen shooters complain because their rifles were not giving them one-inch groups at 100 yards. But they were shooting on a windy day and disregarding the wind entirely. As if a bullet isn’t affected by wind! Granted, bullets shot from firearms buck the wind much better than pellets — but, even so, there are limits. And a 15-mile-per-hour crosswind is not the time to be expecting one-hole groups. On a day like that, you either wait out the wind and shoot during the quiet times, or you do something else. But don’t expect to set records.
You need to shoot at a distance at which the groups start to open. I like small groups like everyone, but you don’t learn anything from them in a test like this. So, the 22-foot range in your basement is out. You need to get some distance between you and the target. For me, that distance is 50 yards. That’s where I have to do all of the things mentioned above correctly on every shot, and any mistake I make gets magnified greatly, to my embarrassment.
And why do you need open groups? What you really need is to clearly see the smallest deviations your pellets are making. The farther you shoot, the more visible they become.
So, Grasshopper, before you can benefit from today’s lesson, you must first prove that you can shoot tight groups to begin with. This is the reason I push so hard for new shooters to acquire certain models of airguns — because I know those models will give them a modicum of accuracy. What kind of Formula One racer would you be if all your driving experience was on a tractor?
I have done this test — once
I actually did do this test one time — twice if you count once with target sights and once with a scope. Some of you may remember that I was goaded into shooting groups at 50 yards with an FWB 300S target rifle. I did get better results from weight-sorted pellets than from random pellets taken straight from a tin. None of the groups were especially small, but those shot with weight-sorted pellets were the smallest in both the test with open sights and again with a scope.
But I haven’t done a test specifically to evaluate the benefits of sorting the pellets. That would be new.
I’m going to do it, so please give me your thoughts.
by B.B. Pelletier
I’m going to Leapers today through the end of the week to research an article for Shotgun News and also for this blog. I’ll ask the veteran readers to help those new readers who have questions, because I won’t be able to read my mail except for a brief time in the morning. On to today’s report.
I always enjoy hearing from new airgunners, because their questions remind me that we haven’t covered every subject yet. And we probably never will. Some subjects we have covered several times and still people are asking questions.
But it’s extremely difficult to write about a subject that nobody will ever bring up. Hence, today’s report.
I had a table at a gun show last weekend with a friend whom I happen to know goes ga-ga over all lever-action rifles. Another gunsmith acquaintance of mine stopped by my table and dropped off his Winchester 94 angle eject that he had refinished with fire-blued screws and had re-casehardened the lever, hammer and trigger. It was a strikingly beautiful gun; and because it’s an angle-eject model, you can mount a scope directly on top of the action. Most Winchester 94s have to have their scopes offset to the left because they eject the empties straight up and back, but this rifle comes from the factory pre-drilled for scope rings directly on top of the receiver.
Now, Lever Man’s wife is sitting in the booth with him, and she also likes the look of the pretty Winchester. In fact, she asks him to buy it — first for himself; and when he refused, for her! Then she recounted the litany of reasons why he should buy the gun. First, they both hunt hogs, and he’s missed several with his open-sighted 94. This one can take a scope mounted in the right place. Second, this rifle is beautiful! Doesn’t he want it on that basis, alone? Third, once he acquires this rifle, he can sell his other 94 or give it to her. She really wants a 94 of her own. I mean, come on, boys — short of a wifely directive, that’s about as good an offer as you’re likely to get!
But he says no. You can look in his eyes and see a big old, “Yes,” but he has programmed himself to say, “No” so many times that the programming overrides rationality. I know this scene must make our UK cousins tear their hair out in anguish!
Okay, so you guys are probably guessing that cash is the problem, but it isn’t. Lever Man has just put a Benjamin, a Grant and several Jeffersons in his pocket (for our friends outside the U.S. that’s about $200). And he knows where he can get the rest. The pretty rifle has an asking price of $450, which is reasonable. Money isn’t holding him back. What holds him back is plain old inertia. The resistance of a body at rest that won’t move unless acted upon by an overwhelming outside force. To put it plainly, he doesn’t like to make deals because he isn’t exactly sure of himself.
I’m a casual observer to this drama, which is to say, a first-class facilitator. Veteran readers of this blog know I’m being honest about this. I’m trying to get the deal done, simply because I know that all parties want to do it. I comment to my other gun buddy that this really needs to happen and he agrees, but he also knows that Lever Man moves like a glacier. The odd thing is that Lever Man is here at this gun show to watch me and my gun buddy wheel and deal! He wants to get involved in gun trading like us.
How bad can it be?
Let me tell you exactly how bad. At another gun show two weeks earlier, the three of us were cruising the aisles and Lever Man picks up a Weaver K10-T, which is a vintage steel El Paso-made Weaver target scope in perfect working condition. It has a price of $25 on the tag, which is about $100 less than what it is worth. Lever Man is standing in the aisle like a chained elephant, rocking back and forth and lamenting over the fact that he isn’t going to buy this scope! Not that he can’t buy it, mind you — that he ISN’T going to buy it. That’s a big difference. He knows he should and he knows the deal is good; he just won’t pull the trigger. This is IN SPITE of the fact that he just sold two other vintage scopes of far less value two weeks earlier at another gun show, and he knows very well what this one is worth.
He puts it down and says to me, “I’m not going to buy that, but I probably should — huh?”
Well, I couldn’t let it pass, so I bought it — not out from under him, but because he wasn’t going to act on a great buy, and I wasn’t going to let it get away. Sometimes, I do find good deals on my own; but when they walk up and jump in my lap like this, I’m embarrassed by how easy it is. Lever Man should have made the deal. Then he could have sold the scope for $100 (still a great price) at the next show and been that much closer to the pretty Winchester lever-action we both know he’ll eventually own.
It just so happens that Edith was also present when all this happened and she was witness to everything, so you can ask her how it went. I bought that scope simply because it was too good a deal to pass up.
Why aren’t they pulling the trigger?
I understand having trepidation about making a deal because…what if you’re wrong? Speaking as someone who has been really wrong at times, I can tell you that it doesn’t hurt you permanently and even makes you a little wiser in the end. Someday, maybe I’ll share several of my own bonehead deals, so you can see just how screwed up someone can be. For now, you’ll have to trust me: We all make mistakes. But not acting when there’s a great deal to be made is a very big mistake, and it’s potentially preventing some people from ever enjoying this hobby as much as they could.
Begin with experience
It costs noting to get smart on your hobby. You do that right here on the internet, doing the things you’re already doing, only in a more calculated way. As an example, what if you were to go to a garage sale this weekend and see a Crosman 160 that looks like the one I’ve been reviewing for you? You would know that it’s potentially a very nice air rifle — no? But there is also a lot that you wouldn’t know.
You wouldn’t know if it still holds CO2 by just looking at it. You wouldn’t know if the barrel is a good one, though a bore light would reveal the condition of the rifling. And there could always be a problem somewhere down deep in the mechanism that might slip past a cursory examination. BUT — what if the asking price was only $20? That would leave enough money in the budget for a rebuild and some repairs and you could still sell the gun for — ??? Well, how much is it worth, anyway? You probably don’t know, because I didn’t tell you.
Believe it or not, you already have enough information to buy a gun like that and make money, three times out of four. And the fourth time? Well, that’s where experience comes in. You spent $20 for a lesson on the Crosman 160. If you keep at it and buy the next 160 you see, you’ll soon be very proficient in not only Crosman 160s, but also 180s, as well. And you’ll own some classic airguns in the process.
What NOT to do
Whatever you do, don’t stuff money in your pocket and go out looking for bargains like this. That is a sure way to lose! Instead, tuck that money into a hidden compartment in your wallet; and when you stumble across a real bargain, it’ll jump out and grab you by the collar! That’s the bargain to act upon!
Don’t be picky
Some of you are thinking, “I don’t like guns like the Crosman 160. I would never buy one, no matter how cheap it was.” If that’s you, sir, you’re missing out on how this thing works.
I personally dislike shotguns with prejudice. I own a few, but they leave me cold. And I’m the world’s worst shotgunner, so there’s a reason to feel as I do. But if a Belgian-made Browning Auto-5 in perfect condition walked up to me at a gun show and the guy told me he really needed $400 for it, I would hand the gun to a shotgunning buddy for his opinion. If it was good, I would buy that gun, then resell it (probably at the same gun show) at a $200-300 profit. How much I made would be determined by how long I cared to own the Browning.
I use this example because this exact thing happened to me at a gun show a couple years ago. I didn’t have the cash to act, but I certainly would have if I could have.
The final example
A week ago, I met a fellow at the local Cabela’s parking lot to look at an original plains rifle he wanted to sell. I really wanted the gun and agreed to a price as long as it was consistent with the photos he’d sent me. Well, it wasn’t. He failed to show me some severe eroding around the nipple that made the gun unsafe to shoot, in my opinion. When we disassembled the gun for a better look at the breech, we both discovered that the hammer and trigger were connected by a field repair of what looked like a crushed brass cartridge case. I don’t think he was trying to scam me — he honestly didn’t know that much about black powder guns. So, I had to pass on the gun.
Since I was at Cabela’s anyway, I went inside. They had just acquired several dozen fine vintage firearms from an estate, and these were on display. I looked at scores of fine vintage rifles like a pair of Remington 14-1/2 slide-action repeaters in 44-40 caliber that are as scarce as hen’s teeth. There were four Farquharson rifles, including one that was priced at only $299. In all, I must have looked at 50 fine vintage rifles — all of them desirable and priced well. Yet, in the end, I walked out of the store with no purchase.
I was with a buddy who did want one of the estate guns, though, so we went back inside and took it into their salon to examine it more closely. The salon is where the guns that are usually priced at $1,000 and up are kept behind glass. That was where I noticed that the barrel on the rifle he was interested in had been relined, which killed the deal. But while he was chatting with the salesman, I wandered around the room looking at the guns I could never afford. That was when I spotted a beautiful Winchester High Wall with a scope in .218 Mashburn Bee caliber. I knew my buddy liked that caliber, so I dragged him over for a look because the price was $800, which is not a small amount, but considering what it is, it was a wonderful price.
He looked at the rifle, and it was gorgeous…but he hesitated at the last minute, so I delivered the classic enabling line, “If you don’t buy this gun, I will. It’s too nice to pass up.” Well, he called me on it and said he thought that was exactly what I should do. So I did.
Very long story short: When we got home, I discovered that this rifle has a single-set trigger. A couple days later, we discovered the caliber is not .218 Mashburn Bee; it’s .219 Zipper Improved. And it was made by the Mashburn Arms Co., so Mashburn, himself, or his son, made this rifle.
This custom Winchester High Wall literally jumped into my truck and followed me home! It was a no-brainer good investment. That’s my new $25 Weaver K10-T scope on top, by the way.
The first five rounds we shot last week went into a 0.392-inch group at 50 yards! We don’t even know what loads the gun likes, and it’s already shooting this well!
The first five-shot group at 50 yards tells me this rifle wants to shoot! It measures 0.392 inches between centers. I don’t even know the load for this rifle yet.
Anytime I care to (and I definitely don’t — believe me), I can double my money on this gun. It literally jumped into my lap, and there was absolutely zero risk to me because of what it is.
That is today’s lesson. Learn about the things you intend to deal on. Then, when a deal comes your way, act on it. If this has helped even one of you get off the dime and start dealing in airguns, I’ve succeeded.
by B.B. Pelletier
Today’s report was requested by blog reader NotRocketSurgery. He’s been watching the NSSF videos on You Tube about shooting in the Olympics, and the subject of dry-firing comes up repeatedly. He wanted to know why. I’ll address this subject with enthusiasm, because this is something with which I actually have some experience.
Have you ever watched the Olympics and seen a slalom racer standing at the top of the course with his or her eyes closed, swaying as they envision running the course? We might have made fun of such behavior in the 1960s, but today we know that’s what all the winners do. They’re conditioning their minds to respond correctly to the course ahead of them.
Dry-firing a gun is like that, but it’s more than a century older. We don’t close our eyes, nor do we sway about, so onlookers don’t have quite as much to comment on. When we shoot our guns without discharging a shot (dry-firing), we’re conditioning our brains and many muscles to work together.
I don’t suppose there’s a machine the downhill skiers can get on to simulate the experience of skiing while standing still, but all world-class target air rifles and air pistols do have a dry-fire mechanism built in. To not have one automatically eliminates the gun from serious consideration.
Top target shooters spend much more time dry-firing their airguns than they do shooting pellets. How much more differs from shooter to shooter, but I’ve heard one Olympic air pistol shooter say the number is five times as much. So, for every shot that makes a hole in paper, the shooter has also fired five more shots without discharging the gun. And it’s very common for a world-class shooter to shoot a full match every day, which would be 60 shots for a man or 40 for a woman. And five times that much dry-firing.
How do you dry-fire a gun?
You don’t just pick up the airgun and start shooting. Practice in the dry-fire mode must be identical to shooting a match, though a target doesn’t have to be in a bullet trap or even the correct distance from the shooter, since it’s all a simulation. I am going to describe this from an air pistol shooter’s perspective, but what I say applies equally to air rifle shooters. The moves are just different.
For those who are interested, I wrote an extensive blog on the subject of shooting a 10-meter target pistol. Part 3 demonstrates raising the pistol and sighting. You do it this way with both live-fire and dry-fire.
When you dry-fire, you first go through all the motions of raising the pistol and settling on the target. That is not a random movement! The gun is held on the shooting table in front of the shooter in a certain and repeatable way, and is raised to the same height each time. Some shooters like to raise the sights above the bull and then settle back down until the sights are aligned with it. Others like to raise the gun until the sights come in line with the bull on the way up and go no higher. Each shooter has a preference; but whatever it is, they always do it the same way.
Once the sights are on target, the shooter has up to about five seconds to get the shot off. Much longer and the gun will start to wander more than a little, so timing is very important. An amateur might hold out for the perfect sight picture for twice as long as a world-class shooter, but you’ll see the top shooters lower their guns if they don’t get the shot off within the time limit.
Many shooters, including me, take up the slack of the trigger’s first-stage pull as the gun is settling into position. To someone who is not trained, this sounds dangerous, and it actually is — because their guns will go off at a time that is not entirely of their choosing. But a top competitor knows exactly where the trigger releases, and they can wait until the sights are perfectly aligned before applying the final few grams of pressure that cause the sear to release.
When the sear releases, the shooter continues to aim at the target, noting where the sights are. With some practice they learn to call their shots — which means they know exactly where each pellet went without seeing the hole it made in the target. This is something you can read about and never understand. As you train, it comes to you all at once. And when that happens, you never forget it. You’ll be able to call your shots from that point on.
After the shooter has called the shot (to himself), the gun is lowered to the shooting table, reloaded and the cycle begins again. There are 90 seconds for every shot in a formal match. It sounds like a rush, but it’s actually more than enough time for a well-trained shooter. You don’t lower the gun without taking a shot more than a handful of times in a match, if that much, so time is never your enemy unless you have an equipment problem. I never thought about the time remaining in a match. What I concentrated on was how many pellets remained in my pellet tray, because that told me where I was in the match.
The dry-fire mechanism
I told you that all world-class airguns have a dry-fire mechanism, but now I’ll tell you that some are better than others. Most of them have some sort of switch that is set one way for live fire and another way for dry fire. The guns that have that usually have a very realistic trigger-pull in the dry-fire mode.
I shoot a SAM M10 that was made through cooperation between Anschütz and Caesare Morini. I’ve never shot a full formal match with it; but back in the late 1990s, I did shoot it for the record several times. That was when I was shooting at my peak, so I noticed things more acutely than I do today. I found the trigger to be very nice, though by that time I’d tested enough FWBs, Steyrs and Walthers to know what a world-class trigger should feel like. The M10 has a good trigger, but it’s not as nice as an FWB P34 trigger, which was the last FWB target pistol I tested.
The dry-fire mechanism on the SAM 10 is a lever on the right side of the action. Pull is straight back and the trigger is cocked, but the hammer isn’t. When you pull the trigger, it releases the sear without releasing the hammer to strike the firing valve — hence the dry-fire. Those who own a gun with double-set triggers know the feeling of the set trigger breaking is not the same as the feeling of the gun actually firing. With an airgun, which doesn’t recoil or make a lot of noise when it fires, this feeling is much more noticeable.
On the SAM 10 target pistol, the dry-fire lever at the top of the receiver is pulled back each time to cock the trigger. You can feel the sear release when the trigger is pulled; but since the hammer was not cocked, it doesn’t strike the valve and no air is exhausted.
As nice as the M10 trigger is, the dry-fire device isn’t as nice as the FWB or Steyr dry-fire devices. Both of those guns feel as though the hammer is dropped when they fire in the dry-fire mode.
Other 10-meter guns have to resort to a gimmick of some kind to get into the dry-fire mode. The IZH 46M, for example, requires the shooter to actually cock the trigger by pulling the breech up, then locking it back down. By omitting the pump stroke, there’s no compressed air in the gun. When it fires, there’s nothing to release. The effect is the same, but a little more work is needed for each dry-fire shot.
Other guns require the shooter to unscrew the compressed-air tank part way. They can be cocked and fired and the hammer will fall, but there’s no air in the firing valve because the compressed-air reservoir has been disconnected.
What benefit does dry-firing provide?
Hold on to your hats, apartment dwellers! Dry-firing allows you to train in a tiny apartment without making any noise or having to stop any lead pellets. Do people really do that? You bet they do! Dry-firing can get you ready for a match just as well as shooting live ammo. It’s probably good to shoot a few pellets from time to time; but if you can’t, there will be at least a chance to shoot them when you sight-in before the match.
Another benefit of the dry-fire mechanism is that the trigger can be cocked for testing before a match without firing the gun. The trigger on every air pistol must pass a minimum 500-gram weight test before it can be permitted in a match.
But the biggest benefit of dry-firing is the practice it affords. When you do the same thing thousands of times in repetition, your muscles and nervous system become synchronized to a degree you must experience to understand. That’s why competitive shooters can release the sear at the exact instant they desire.
Follow-through is the name of the game
You’ve read the phrase “follow-through” many times. What does it mean, and why do we talk about it so much? Follow-through is when the shooter continues to watch the target through the sights after the shot’s been fired. If the gun is gentle enough, like an airgun or a rimfire, then follow-through lets the shooter see where the sights were in relation to the target at the instant of firing.
Follow-through is at the root of dry-firing. We dry-fire to train ourselves to follow-through; and it’s follow-through — and all that it entails — that makes a better shooter. Dry-firing the gun many times is what reinforces follow-through in a shooter.
by B.B. Pelletier
Today, we have a critical report about airgun maintenance and operation. So, if we’re being critical, let’s start with the title. It’s a It’s no one’s fault — let’s all get along title. It should read, Oops! I really screwed up! And when I say “I,” that’s exactly what I mean!
About a month ago, a friend of mine — who shall remain nameless, unless he repeates what I am about to tell you — received a new Benjamin 397 multi-pump pneumatic. Hurray!
I went over all the operational and maintenance steps carefully with him — pump it no more than 10 times per shot, always store it with one pump in it, use Pellgunoil on the pump head etc. — and then turned him loose with his new rifle. Last week the rifle came back to me with the complaint that it didn’t fire pellets anymore.
I must have looked like that old plumber who knows just where to tap the pipe to get the system going again, because before I even examined the rifle I told him it was over-pumped and therefore valve-locked. Then, I took the rifle and opened the pump handle, which sprang open with a lot of force. Yep — it’s valve-locked, all right!
I listened carefully to the story of how it couldn’t possibly have been anything that he did wrong. I’ve heard that same story a hundred times before; but like a compassionate priest, you have to let them confess everything as you listen in silence. On about the third go-round, I got the real story.
It seems he was at work, shooting his new gun with a buddy who was also shooting his own multi-pump. Remember, folks, we’re talking Texas, here. Depending on your job, shooting at work isn’t that uncommon. Perhaps not at a funeral home or at a fast-food franchise, but there are a lot of outdoor jobs where shooting is possible and not objectionable.
They were shooting at a metal sign that the buddy’s gun wasn’t able to dent very much, but the 397 put a big ole’ dent in it. However, something wasn’t right! It seems the other guy’s pump gun was much easier to pump than the 397. What was wrong with the 397?
What was wrong with it was that it wasn’t a Crosman 760, like the other guy’s gun! At least that’s my guess. I’m still waiting to hear what the other guy’s gun was.
So, his new gun was harder to pump, but it was also a lot more powerful. MAYBE he wanted to see if the 397 would go all the way through the sign, thus vexing his friend, which is the tradition whenever two guys shoot together. He pumped it ALL the way up, being VERY CAREFUL not to exceed the 10-pump limit, as I’d instructed him. But that time it fired only weakly.
He handed his rifle to his friend, who then pumped it up again, also being VERY CAREFUL not to exceed the 10-pump limit, because the owner was watching him. This time when the trigger was pulled, the gun just went CLICK and no pellet came out. So, now he knows that his gun doesn’t work anymore.
At least he stopped when it got to this point. He didn’t keep loading pellets and pumping it a couple more times just to be sure. I have seen owners do that before.
He brought me the rifle and asked if I could possibly help him. I told him there are two ways to go about this. One is to wait a couple months and hope that the gun leaks down enough that the valve is no longer locked. If the gun had not been properly oiled with Crosman Pellgunoil, that might have been a possible solution. But it was well-oiled, and I didn’t think it would leak down in even a year!
I decided to go the other way. I would remove the extra air mechanically by partially disassembling the gun and rapping on the valve stem with a heavier hammer. That’s how the repair center fixes guns that are over-pumped. Or, at least it used to be! This is where the “old plumber” became a student, again.
I discovered that the new 397’s design is vastly different from what I was used to. You can no longer do what I just said because the gun is not designed to allow it. The new design is much cheaper to build and easier to repair — except when the gun is over-pumped. I’ll describe what I did and what happened as a result — and I don’t see any other way of doing the job.
Poor photos today
I apologize for the poor photos that follow. I was working on the gun and getting dirty, so I used the flash on the camera to make the work go faster. That’s why everything is so over-exposed.
What appears to be the stock screw also holds the valve inside the pressure tube. If the rifle is pressurized, this screw will be under pressure from the valve body trying to move! If this is the case, remove the bolt before you loosen this screw!
The new 397 valve is held in the gun by the single stock screw. That screw fastens the trigger group to the action, and there’s no way to rap out the air the way I described it earlier. I did an internet search and discovered there were no instructions on what to do! In fact, everyone dances around this design almost as though they don’t understand it, though I’m quite sure most of them do. It’s so much simpler than the guns I’m used to. When a gun is over-pumped, there seems to be no good way of depressurizing it — other than to remove the single screw I just described and let the air blow out. But before you do, be sure to remove the bolt first!
I didn’t know it while I was doing it, of course, but when the stock screw backed out sufficiently far, the air exploded out of the gun as the valve moved within the pressure tube. It caught me by surprise, but in retrospect I can’t see a better way of doing the job. If anyone knows of one, I’d like to hear what it is.
In retrospect, I should have removed the bolt from the gun before removing the stock bolt. To do that, remove the two screws that hold the sideplate to the left side of the action, exposing the Allen screw on the bolt that cocks the hammer. Then remove the Allen screw, and the bolt slides out of the action.
At this point, I finished the disassembly, checked all the parts to see that they were okay, which they were, and assembled the gun again. There’s a trick to assembling this gun. The pump arm must be swung forward to allow the valve to go forward enough for access to the screw hole. If you do that, this is an easy pneumatic to assemble. If you don’t — good luck!
And how does it work?
The rifle now works fine, but I’ll run a little test to see how fine. I’ll shoot the gun through a chronograph on six pumps, and keep increasing the number of pumps until there air remains in the gun after the shot. Then, I can tell the owner what the exact maximum safe number of pumps are for this specific gun. That’s another great reason for owning a chronograph!
Checking the velocity
I decided to use Crosman Premiers in the 7.9-grain weight for my test pellets. This is what the gun now does.
8………….688………..Yes! A soft pop was heard.
9………….713………..Yes — a second shot went 555 f.p.s.
Chronograph reveals what happened
It’s easy to see what happened to this rifle. I told the guy that 10 pumps was the maximum, because I thought that was what the owner’s manual said. But it isn’t! Crosman has folded the Benjamin rifles and Sheridan rifles together, and now they all top out at 8 pumps. So, I was responsible for the owner over-pumping his gun! Several years ago, when the Benjamin and Sheridan brands were different, the Sheridan stopped at 8 pumps but the Benjamins stopped at 10. But those days are over. Now they all stop at 8. So — shame on me! Apparently this is my week for confessing my sins.
What if you don’t own a chronograph?
But you don’t care about that! You care about your own air rifle, and, since you don’t own a chronograph yet, how can you determine the exact number of pumps that are maximum for your rifle? It’s simple. Do what I did above and increase each shot by one pump. Then cock the rifle afterward and fire it again without a pellet. Listen for the pop of escaping air. When you hear it, back off one pump and that is the maximum number of pumps your rifle can handle.
Just to be safe, pump your rifle to the newly established maximum number of shots five times and shoot it. After the fifth shot, cock the gun once more without pumping it and fire it again, listening for a pop. Sometimes the amount of air that remains is so low you cannot hear it, but after a cumulative five shots, you should be able to hear it very well.
I got the tables turned on me this time. And I also learned how easy it is to work on these new Benjamin rifles. And you readers got to watch everything over my shoulder, plus you got a new way of testing the maximum number of pumps for your specific pump rifles if you don’t own a chronograph. I would call that a good day’s work!