Posts Tagged ‘Marlin Ballard rifle’
by B.B. Pelletier
Rich says that this is Ben, who’s 11 years old. He’s getting ready to shoot the reset paddle on his Gamo trap. He’s using the Air Venturi Bronco.
Today I’ll begin a look at a big bore precharged air rifle that most of you will never see. The Quackenbush .308 is a classic from the central Missouri airgun maker.
This air rifle may not be mainstream; but just mention it to airgun hunters, and you might as well have pulled the starter rope on a hotrod snowmobile! The noise starts immediately as people break up into discussion groups, some to explore the potential accuracy or the best bullet and others to recount the dozens of game animals that have fallen to their rifles.
I’ve personally seen 150-lb. goats dropped at 140+ yards with single shots from this rifle, though I wouldn’t recommend it for that distance or for that size animal. But it did work, and I saw it do that twice in one day. But hunting is the purview of others. I’m going to do my usual review of the rifle and let you readers decide how best to use it.
Dennis Quackenbush is both a shooter and a hunter. Besides making several hundred airguns each year, this man “gets it.” He knows that if an air rifle is a .45 caliber it either has to be a .451 that can use common pistol bullets or a .458 that uses common rifle bullets. He would never think of foisting a .454-caliber rifle on his customers, because Dennis knows that the .454 pistol caliber died before World War II. As a shooter, he understands the importance of making rifles in calibers for which there are a wide variety of lead bullets, because not everyone casts their own.
He chose the .308 caliber for the obvious reason that it’s the most popular-sized .30-caliber bullet here in the U.S. There are .310 and .311 lead bullets available for the SKS, AKM and the Mosin Nagant — but they’re not that popular. You have to search to find them. But .308 is money in the bank here in the U.S. You’ll find dozens of different styles and weights to try in your rifle.
I once asked him why he didn’t go with 9mm when he brought out this rifle and he responded, “Ballistics. You know there are very few 9mm lead pistol bullets available on the market; and of those, the heaviest is about 125 grains. That gives you a short, fat bullet with low sectional density and poor long-range performance. But in .308, a 130-grain rifle bullet is reasonably long and has a much higher sectional density than the short 9mm pistol bullet. And my rifle can drive a 130-grain .308 bullet up to respectable velocity, making that caliber well-suited for hunters.”
Quackenbush .308 rifle is handsome even in this lowest-grade version.
My .308 is made on a Long Action Outlaw receiver. I tested a .308 Exile back in 2005, but the rifle I tested was made on the old action with a shorter striker spring and striker travel. The long action allows the striker spring to be longer and the striker to travel a longer distance. Both increase the airflow through the valve, which equates to power.
My article reviewing the Exile is up on the Quackenbush website, so I’m able to compare the performance of this current long action gun to what was done in the past. That old rifle shot a 128.6-grain bullet at 860 f.p.s. on the first shot — generating 211.25 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. It did take some shooting to get the rifle up to that velocity, as the moving parts do need to wear in a bit, but I’ll also lubricate them before the velocity test starts with the new rifle, which will put me on better footing than I was in the old test.
The rifle is blued steel housed in a figured walnut stock. I selected the lowest-grade gun Dennis makes, but you can see from the photo that it’s still something to be proud of. It weighs 8 lbs. exactly without a scope, and the rifle comes without sights, so a scope is required. It comes with Weaver bases installed, so you need Weaver rings to match.
I’ve used the Leapers Bug Buster scope and other compact scopes in the past on these rifles, but the long action of this particular rifle needs a scope with a longer tube. The plan is to install a long eye-relief scope and see how it works. After my success with the Evanix Conquest at 4x, I’m suddenly interested in lower-power scopes — especially for workman rifles like this.
The rifle is just shy of 44 inches long, and has a 26-inch barrel. The pull is 13-1/2 inches. The action is different from what you may be used to, though it’s not unusual. Dennis uses a separate cocking bolt to retract the striker against the heavy spring, leaving the loading bolt for just the single function of inserting a bullet. This design was popular back in the 1980s with several vintage British precharged rifles but is seen less often today. In powerful big bores, however, it offers the advantage of providing good purchase on the cocking handle, while leaving the loading bolt normal-sized.
The black handle cocks the striker. The knobbed bolt is just for loading.
Dennis makes all his own barrels and the rifling buttons that cut them. At one time when he was experimenting with twist rates, he was hand-cutting the rifling; but now that he has the data he needs, button-rifled barrels are easier and faster to make, as well as smoother after production.
I’ve made several references to using lead bullets — now let me explain why. In big bore air rifles, you want to eliminate as much friction as possible. Jacketed bullets have too much friction and will slow the velocity way down, plus they wear the soft steel of the barrel much faster. This holds true for vintage firearms, as well, which is why I would never shoot a jacketed bullet in a Trapdoor Springfield or in my old Ballard. People do shoot them in vintage guns, but they’re wearing out barrels much faster than they should.
These older guns have much softer steel in their barrels. While they’ll reasonably give 50,000-100,000 shots with lead bullets if properly cared for, shooting jacketed bullets will wear them out in as few as 5,000 rounds. I’m speaking about firearms now — the airgun barrels do not wear out at the same rate, and nobody knows how many shots they could conceivably get.
Dennis builds airguns for thinking owners. You don’t just pull one of his rifles from a box and fill it to 3,000 psi. You experiment, which means you need to have access to a chronograph. I’ve found his Outlaw actions can tolerate 3,200 psi up to 3,500 psi very well and give optimum performance. Others have claimed fill pressures up to 3,850 psi in their guns. The point is that you experiment until you find the fill pressure that gives the greatest number of high-power shots with the bullet you’ve selected to use. I’m hoping to get four or possibly five good shots on one fill of this rifle.
Quackenbush rifles all fill from a standard Foster male fittings. He provides a stainless steel fitting to prevent the ball bearings of the female fitting from impressing themselves into the metal of the male fitting at high fill pressures.
The rifle is filled through a common Foster male fitting. It’s very standard around the world.
Dennis has very definite thoughts on what makes a good airgun. Though he also builds parts for aerospace companies and test fixtures for other manufacturers, he keeps his airgun technology firmly planted in the 1950s. By that I mean he’s going to use steel for the metal parts and walnut for the wood.
He buys his stock blanks in large lots, so there will always be enough for his production needs. And he shapes the stocks on a pantograph to save time and keep the shape consistent.
Quackenbush always has several hundred walnut stock blanks on hand.
We’re in this together
I have owned this rifle for about four years and have never fired it. My .458 Quackenbush always takes precedence, so this adventure will be just as new to me as it is to you. I’m inviting you to watch over my shoulder as I get to know this classic big bore.
This report is going to start a controversy, because it dares to question the things that are currently held dear among airgunners and firearms shooters, alike. Sorry, but here it goes.
What is a crown?
The crown is the end of the barrel, or the place at the muzzle that has the final influence upon the bullet as it transitions to ballistic flight. One popular belief is that if the crown is not perfectly symmetrical, then one side of the pellet or bullet can exit before the other and allow escaping gas to impart a destabilizing effect on the bullet at the beginning of its path to the target. So, crowns have to be perfect, according to the vast majority of shooters.
The other side
But there have been experiments done that show that escaping gasses have zero effect on a bullet in flight. The most well-documented of these were done by Dr. F.W. Mann, who wrote about them in his book The Bullet’s Flight, From Powder to Target. Dr. Mann did numerous experiments until finally he demonstrated that a plank six inches long placed within 1/16 inch of the muzzle blast has absolutely no effect on the accuracy of a bullet.
You see, in Dr. Mann’s day riflemen believed that the muzzle blast had a deleterious effect on the flight of the bullet, and they warned shooters to keep the muzzle clear of any and all obstructions.
But is what Dr. Mann tested the same as an inaccurate crown? Maybe not. The question seems to be what, exactly, does the crown do?
The end of the rifling and the face of the muzzle bore must be as square as possible to the bore for the crown to be perfect. The reason for this is as I stated earlier — that the base of the bullet/pellet leaves the muzzle at exactly the same point around its circumference, rather than one part coming out before the rest. But there are all kinds of crowns, including some that don’t look like a crown at all.
Let’s look at some crowns now.
The crown of this Ballard target rifle is flat and polished like a mirror. The old-time shooters felt it was easier to see the distribution of the bullet lube — as it made a pattern on the face of the muzzle. There’s almost no break between the bore and the muzzle on this rifle — which is one of the more accurate ones I own. In the 135 years since this rifle was made, there has been no damage to this crown.
This Butler Creek bull barrel for a Ruger 10/22 has a recessed crown that’s similar to the Ballard crown except for the recess. However, on this one, it’s possible to see a tiny break (chamfer) at the muzzle. With the right ammunition, this rifle can hold 10 shots close to one-half inch at 50 yards. The recess supposedly protects the actual crown from inadvertent damage.
No doubt that this crown on an FWB 300 target rifle will look more familiar to most shooters. It’s the traditional rounded or radiused crown with a protected chamfer at the true muzzle. It’s on my most accurate ten-meter target rifle. Doesn’t look so pretty up close, does it?
The crown on this HW55 SF air rifle is similar to the one on the FWB 300, but up close it looks pretty disgusting. The rifle is one of the more accurate 10-meter target rifles I own. So, looks can be deceiving, and a “perfect” crown may not be all that it’s cracked up to be.
Not looking like your typical crown, this Swedish Mauser M1938 crown is a lot like the “redneck” crown job that hobbyists do on their guns. This is on a very accurate rifle. The lighting makes the bore seem to have a shoulder around the inside of the muzzle, but it doesn’t.
The redneck crown
Since the 1960s, there has been a hobbyist approach to crowning a barrel. It consists of a round-headed brass screw and a grinding compound — like automotive valve grinding compound. Chuck the screw in a hand drill and coat the domed screw head with grinding compound. Then, run the drill motor slowly while allowing the axis of the drill to oscillate to avoid making an oval cut. The result will look something like the crown on the Swedish Mauser M1938 shown above.
The crown on a custom barrel for a .17 HM2 rifle. Though brand-new and not even broken in yet, this rifle has already shot a five-shot 50-yard group that measured 3/8 inches across the centers of the widest shots. Note the powder burn pattern around the muzzle. This is the same thing that old-timers analyzed on the mirror surface of the Ballard muzzle when it was bullet lubricant that spread out instead of carbon fouling. This is another deadly accurate rifle that has no noticeable “crown” to the muzzle. The transition is very close to 90 degrees.
The crown on an AirForce Condor is very similar to the recessed target crowns shown before, except that this one has a definite chamfer or break at the muzzle. This rifle shoots half-inch five-shot groups and three-quarter inch 10-shot groups at 50 yards. And, yes, I did notice that it is time to clean this barrel!
So, what’s the verdict?
I’m not sure. That’s where I am on the whole crown issue. The reasoning makes some sense, and I can see why a PCP or a CO2 gun would then need a good crown, but a springer barely has any compressed air exiting the muzzle, so where’s the advantage there?
Don’t say anything about crowns removing burrs at the muzzle, because Dr. Mann did an extensive test in which he screwed blunt-tipped screws into the side of his Pope barrel at the muzzle to see if burrs at the muzzle that deformed bullets affected accuracy. They did not. He set his blunt-tipped screws to plough to the bottom of the grease groove of the exiting bullet, and no change was noticed in its accuracy at 100 yards.
Are crowns placebos?
I’m still undecided on the importance of crowning a barrel. I’ve read what everyone says, which is that the crown is of paramount importance to the accuracy of the barrel, yet I’m not convinced that it is. I’m also not convinced that it isn’t. I just don’t know.
I think there’s something more that has not yet been discussed about crowns and their importance to accuracy, but I’ll be darned if I know what it is. Do shooters shoot better after receiving (or doing) a crown job on a particular barrel? If you read what they write, they seem to. And most shooters believe that the barrel’s crown is of great importance to the performance of the barrel.
I wish I knew for sure, but I don’t.
by B.B. Pelletier
My Ballard is a factory-made special-order rifle made in 1886. It looks almost new and the bore is pristine.
Today, I’ll report on my progress in getting the Marlin Ballard to shoot. I’ll tie that back to airgunning, because the same principles that drive the accurate firearm rifle will work there, as well.
In fact, today’s something of a shocker and a screamer. The shock comes from how badly I prepared the ammunition, and the screaming came when I saw the last two targets for the first time.
To prepare to shoot the Ballard, two things must happen. First, the rifle was cleaned as soon as it returned from the range the last time it was shot. Because the barrel is so glass-smooth, it takes only a few minutes to clean. Then, it sits on display, proudly awaiting its next outing.
The second thing that must be done is the ammo must be prepared. I have not resized the cases before reloading them. Because they are always fired in the same rifle and in the same chamber, I have filed a notch in their base so each case is always oriented in the chamber the same way. They are loaded straight into the breech with the notch at 12 o’clock.
The cases were deprimed, the primer pockets were then cleaned and Federal large rifle primers were inserted into each case. Then, I ran a belling tool into the case to open the throat to receive the new bullet. Next, all 40 cases received a fresh charge of H4198 powder. I’m using an RCBS Uniflow powder measure, and it was easy to set it at the 17 grains of powder I determined last session would be the optimum charge.
I’m still using the original Winchester cases that I determined were slightly too short for the rifle’s chamber. But, they’re all I have and they’re on their third loading right now.
The key to today’s test was to see if I could detect a difference in accuracy between the sized bullet that measures 0.379″ and the as-cast bullet that measures 0.381 inches. With everything else being the same, I figured a 10-shot group would show the difference, if there is any.
Trouble, trouble, mega trouble!
Never have I had so many difficulties loading a few straight-wall rifle cartridges. The 20 sized and lubricated bullets went together with their cartridges pretty quick and without any problems; but, when it came time for the as-cast and finger-lubed bullets, it was like juggling flasks of nitroglycerin. Some of the finger-lubed bullets got stuck in the seating die from the excess lubricant around the bullet. I had to disassemble the dies several times and drive out the stuck bullet out. I assembled the die again, and that caused variations in the overall cartridge length.
Another problem I had was that the nose punch in the seating die has the incorrect taper for the bullet I’m using. It cut a ring on every one of the 40 lead bullets I loaded. This was the worst lot of ammo I’ve ever made, and it showed.
Each of these problems has to be addressed and fixed in the future. Right now, they’re causing me to make ammo that isn’t too pretty.
Those cartridges should all be the same overall length. Having to constantly disassemble the dies to remove stuck bullets caused this. This is sloppy ammo that shouldn’t shoot well. Notice the file marks in the base of each case that are used to index the case to the chamber.
The ring below the flat nose of the bullet shouldn’t be there. It was caused by an improperly shaped nose punch in the bullet-seating die. The fix is to send several bullets to RCBS, the die maker so they can cut a nose punch that’s matched to the shape of this bullet. This is one more problem that detracts from the accuracy of this reloaded round.
With all of these excuses, I’m sure you expect another mediocre report. Don’t! The gun did very well in spite of all I did to derail it. The day was perfect, without a breath of air, so 100-yard shooting was very easy.
As always, the rifle was rested on an MTM rifle rest on my MTM shooting bench. The bulls are 3-7/8 inches in diameter and perfect for these sights at 100 yards. My front sight element is an aperture, so the trick is to center the bull inside it and level the bubble in the spirit level to cancel any cant.
The sized bullets were in the first group of 10. They gave me an average target.
Well, at least they’re all in the black. Ten sized bullets made this mediocre group at 100 yards.
Then, I switched to the unsized bullets. I expected a thorough trouncing of the sized bullets, but it didn’t happen. In fact, the two targets look very similar. And, I threw one shot out of the black!
The unsized bullets were slightly worse than the sized bullets.
So, what gives?
I’m sitting there wondering what I could do to improve this rather mundane performance, when it hit me. I wasn’t close enough to the rear aperture! I would have to hold my eye up close so the most light possible comes through the tiny peep hole.
Also, I could pay more attention to the bubble in the spirit level with my eye closer to the peep hole, because I could now see the bubble better. You would be surprised to see how much cant you normally put on a rifle if you haven’t got a bubble to check yourself. I found that it felt like the rifle was tilted to the left when the bubble was actually leveled. My natural inclination to hold the rifle resulted in it being tilted far to the right.
Now that I sorted out how to shoot, it was time to shoot the second set of targets. This is where the surprise was.
Eight sized bullets went through the group in the bull. This is real progress!
Seven bullets went through the center of the bullseye! These are the unsized bullets.
Analyzing the targets
I’ll cut to the chase. I don’t think I can really tell whether the unsized bullet is more accurate or not. Seven out of the 10 bullets made a group that measures 0.835 inches between centers. However, the actual group size of that target is 2.609 inches.
The best sized bullet group measures 1.437 inches for 8 shots and 2.55 inches for all 10 shots. That’s too close to call. But since the unsized group is not that much larger than the sized group, and because my sloppy reloading can easily explain the difference, I think the larger bullet is the better one. My lubrication process has to change, because I can’t keep disassembling the bullet-seating die all the time. I need to find a way to lube the bullets so it leaves the grease in the grooves instead of all over the side of the bullet. I guess I’ll break down and try the classic “cake cutter” method, where the bullets are stood in a flat pan and melted grease is poured in the pan until it reaches the top groove. The grease is allowed to re-harden, then an old cartridge with the end cut off is used to cut each bullet out of the hardened lubricant.
Also, I need to remember to begin my sighting procedure the right way next time, with my eye close to the rear aperture. I have to remember to level the bubble for every shot.
Mac suggested that leaving the powder loose in the case might have been a contributor to fliers. The next time I reload, every case will get a Dacron wad over the powder. I use one in my .43 Spanish, and it works well.
I’d forgotten to take a spotting scope to the range on this day, so I was unaware of what the final two groups looked like until I walked up on them. Seeing a large hole in the center of the bull on a 100-yard target is thrilling, to say the least. I refer to good shots as “screamers,” and I’m darned if I didn’t do a lot of screaming when I saw those two targets.
All my life, I’ve read articles about the great marksmen of the late 19th century, and I’ve looked at the targets that accompanied their articles. To put my shooting into perspective, Harry Pope, the great barrelmaker and world champion rifle shot, once put 10 rounds into a 0.20-inch group at 200 yards. Talk about a screamer!
This group is a representation because the original was lost. This was scanned from the book, The Story of Pope’s Barrels, by Ray M. Smith, copyrighted 1960 and published by The Stackpole Company. Revised edition 1993 printed by R&R Books.
Pope shot this group with his .33-47 rifle, which was a breechloader that was also a muzzleloader. The loaded cartridge was first loaded into the breech in the normal way, then a bullet was loaded from the muzzle and rammed down to the top of the cartridge. That way the “fins” of lead resulting from the rifling were not on the base of the bullet when it exited the muzzle, and that has proven to increase accuracy. Should we be muzzle-loading pellets? I think not.
Pope shot the famous group and walked down to the 200-yard target to retrieve it. He set it on the ground and measured it with the calipers he always carried; but, since the wind had picked up, he held the target down with his knee. After measuring it, he stood up, but before he could grab the target, the wind caught it and dropped it in the nearby river.
Unlike Elmer Keith’s famous 400-yard elk kill with a .44 Magnum revolver, nobody doubts the truth of this story. Harry Pope had the reputation of being scrupulously honest in all his dealings; and, if anyone was ever going to shoot a group like that, he was the one most likely to do it.
I never expect to come close to this kind of accuracy, but it would be pleasing some day to shoot 10 shots into an inch at 200 yards. I know benchrest shooters do it all the time, but I would feel more fulfilled doing it with this 125-year-old rifle. It was good enough for target shooters in 1886, and that makes it good enough for me today.
How does this relate to airguns?
I think that’s a good question that deserves an answer. In airgunning, there are certain air rifles with a reputation for extreme accuracy. Some, like the underlever TX200, require technique to shoot this well, while others are more forgiving.
Some of these accurate airguns are even vintage and no longer made. The FWB 124 would fall into that category, as would an Air Arms Shamal PCP. We’ve discussed subjects like extreme accuracy, and many of us seem to be in pursuit of the smallest groups possible. It’s my hope that by sharing what I’ve had to go through to obtain good accuracy from my old Ballard, that you’ll be able to apply some of these same things to your airguns.
I haven’t even mentioned sorting my bullets by weight to this point, but that’s coming. Now that I have a good load (equate that to finding a good pellet and the right power setting) and have learned the importance of good shooting technique like sighting and cant reduction (equate that to the artillery hold and also using a bubble level on your airgun), I’m ready to take this quest to a whole new level.
I admit that I do enjoy shooting this firearm a lot, which is the main reason I do it. Kevin has just shown that my rifle might be worth over $12,000, but I’m darned if that will make me get rid of it. Sure, it’s beautiful to look at, but seeing those tight 10-shot groups at 100 yards is more beautiful to me. Townsend Whelen said it all when he said, “Only accurate rifles are interesting.” Well, this one fascinates me. But it is just as easy to be fascinated by a Weihrauch HW50S that cannot seem to shoot multiple pellets anywhere but to the same place.
by B.B. Pelletier
Today, we’ll test the accuracy of the Air Arms S400 MPR FT precharged pneumatic air rifle, and it’s a challenging test because I shot this 12 foot-pound rifle at 50 yards on a day with 20 mph winds. The wind was from my 6 o’clock, and the trees created some swirls. I had to wait out the gusts and shoot in relatively calm periods.
However, before I begin today’s report I’ll rant a little. I was testing several things last week and someone asked me to test his Talon SS. He claimed he could not shoot groups smaller than 2 inches at 30 yards and most of his groups at that range were four inches. Well, I’ve never seen a Talon SS that shot that bad; even the one with the only Lothar Walther barrel I ever condemned in my three years at AirForce.
When I asked for pellets to shoot in his gun he handed me Crosman Premier hollowpoints in a tin can. The first pellet fell through the barrel and the second one wouldn’t enter the breech, so I asked for some other pellets. He gave me some Daisy pointed pellets.
There’s your problem!
Folks, just as an airplane cannot fly on 87 octane gasoline, a precision air rifle cannot be accurate with discount store pellets. Yes, I know how “cheap” they are; but really, guys, when the rubber meets the road, you need better ammo than this.
I don’t want to start a long argument about bang for the buck, or anything like that, so I thought I’d show you just how important the right bullet/pellet is. Last week, I also happened to get out to the range with my Ballard target rifle. This time, I was testing a new load, and it just so happened that there was a new bullet in this load, as well.
The first target I ever shot with the Ballard was shot with lead bullets just as they dropped from the bullet mold. They were sized 0.381 inches nominally and lubricated by my finger pressing grease into the grooves. The new bullets I was trying were the exact same bullet, but sized to 0.379″ and with the grease grooves filled by a machine. Let me show you what happened.
This is the first 100-yard group I shot with the Ballard rifle. I was just burning up the old 16-grain loads with the as-cast, finger-lubed bullets. I made two sight adjustments while this group was being shot! As casual as this group is, it’s clearly better than the second group made with the new ammo.
This was supposed to be the perfect 10-shot group. Here, I used the new bullets sized 0.379 inches and 18 grains of powder. The reason the bullet holes are smaller is because the bullets were moving faster — I guess! This is not a good group.
Obviously, I moved away from a good load and toward a bad one. The unsized bullets are better in this rifle than the sized bullets. The powder change may not have helped as I thought it would.
Back to pellet guns
This is what I mean when I say that your ammunition matters. Want to know what I shot with that “inaccurate” pellet gun? At 30 yards, I shot groups measuring .75 inches in a stiff wind. One four-shot group inside the five was .25 inches. I was using Crosman Premiers in the cardboard box. It made all the difference in the world. The message? Stop using discount-store pellets in precision airguns!
Back to the Air Arms S400 MPR FT. I’m also testing a Hawke 4.5-14×42 Sidewinder Tactical scope with illuminated reticle, on which I’ll give a separate report, and it was mounted on the S400 MPR. I tried light and heavy pellets. Because of the wind, the light pellets didn’t fare as well as the heavies. Just like picking the right pellet for the gun, picking the right pellet for wind conditions is very important for accuracy, as you’ll see.
Air Arms Falcon pellets
The first pellet I tried was the Air Arms Falcon. At 7.33 grains, this domed pellet is extremely light, and while it is often one of the most accurate pellets in a given rifle, the day was too breezy for it to hold up at distance. Remember, I’m shooting 10 shots at 50 yards, which is not easy with any pellet rifle!
JSB Match Diabolo Exact pellets
The next pellet I tried was the JSB Exact 8.4-grain domed pellet. It proved to handle the wind quite a lot better, posting three 10-shot groups of 1.221 inches, 1.374 inches and 1.699 inches.
Crosman Premier pellets
Next, it was time to try the 7.9-grain Crosman Premier domed pellet in the cardboard box. Remember my rant in the beginning of this report? Premiers that are not in the cardboard box are made on the same dies as those in the box, but they’re not sorted by die. Which means they will have a larger variation than the boxed pellets. Look at the results that two thousandths of an inch made in the Ballard rifle and understand that it does make a big difference what you load into your air rifle. Maybe for plinking at 25 yards you can get away with discount store pellets. For the ultimate in potential, you have to use the best pellets you can buy.
With the 7.9-grain Premiers, I shot two groups. They were 1.697 inches and 1.736 inches, which is pretty close. Not as good as the JSBs and not the pellet to choose for this rifle on a windy day.
The last straw — Beeman Kodiaks
Had I realized the wind would be such an issue, I would have brought more heavy pellets to test. I almost didn’t bring the tin of Beeman Kodiaks, but I threw them into the range bag because this is a PCP rifle that performs best with heavier pellets. Even at only 12 foot-pounds, the Kodiaks should have done fairly well.
The bottom line
You’re used to seeing .75-inch groups at 50 yards, so these results may not impress you. Bear in mind that this is a 12 foot-pound rifle. So, the pellet stays out in the wind much longer than if it were going faster. A 20 mph wind is not a day for setting records at 50 yards with any air rifle. That much wind is hard on even a .22 long rifle bullet at 50 yards! So, these groups are actually pretty good for the conditions.
I’ll be reporting on the Hawke scope. But, I’ll tell you right now it’s a wonderful optical sight. A lot of what I was able to do on this challenging day was because I could easily bisect the center of the small bullseye at 50 yards.
I’ll also do another report on adjusting the power higher. Stay tuned for that.
by B.B. Pelletier
Happy New Year!
This report is being written to satisfy a promise to blog reader Kevin. Last Thursday, I took my new Ballard for its first shoot at the range. The experience parallels shooting a brand new pellet gun, so I think there’s something to be learned from my experience.
My Marlin Ballard turned out to be a special order factory-made rifle.
A very good friend gifted me the authoritative book on Ballard rifles by John Dutcher of Denver. Mr. Dutcher looked at the photos of my rifle and said that he thought it was a special order factory-made gun. I’d thought it was a Union Hill No. 9 rifle with some custom touches, but he knew that the rifle was more likely made purposely as a special order. John Lower of Denver had ordered many such rifles in the 1880s, because buying them in volume got him a better price.
I called Mr. Dutcher and had a long conversation with him. He convinced me to take the rifle apart to view all the serial numbers because he thought the buttstock would probably not be the same as the rest of the rifle. He thought that it was most likely a restock by Marlin, or at the very least a restock by a Marlin stockmaker. The job is just too good to be from an outside stockmaker.
TAKE THE GUN APART! I was scared — like an apprentice gem cutter about to cut his first valuable diamond. What if I slipped with the screwdriver and buggered a screw slot?
Well, according to Mr. Dutcher’s book, all the screws on a Ballard are both handmade and flame hardened. They don’t bugger easily. Let me tell you what handmade means. It means that even after 120 years on the gun, each screw comes out of its hole as if it has been oiled. There are no burrs on any of the threads. The gun came apart like opening a safe from the 1890s.
Under the forearm, the serial number is on the barrel.
The frame serial number is the only one that can be seen with the rifle assembled.
Ballard rifles even serial-numbered the wood. This is the forearm that rests against the receiver.
The Ballard is unique in that it has a two-piece breechblock — split vertically. Each block half is serial-numbered.
There are no numbers on the butt, where there should be. Dutcher was right! The rifle has been restocked.
It took guts to do this, but the rifle was easy to disassemble.
The buttstock was tight on the tailpiece of the receiver, even after the stock bolt was removed, it took several hundred pounds of force to ease the buttstock back off the tailpiece. That quality stock-fitting isn’t seen anymore! To get the butt back on, the stock bolt had to be helped by judicious tapping with the heel of the hand.
On to shooting: What’s the load?
Right off the bat, I discovered that Winchester had changed the specification of the .38-55 cartridge that Ballard invented. They shortened the case by over a tenth of an inch. I’m thinking the length of their 1894 rifle frame made that necessary. Until 1896 or so, Ballard was the only .38-55 on the market.
Unfortunately, all I was able to obtain were the shorter cartridges. They work just fine, but they’re not the perfect fit in the Ballard chamber. My good friend Mac cast some 255-grain Ballard bullets that came from the mold at 0.381 inches. I still don’t know the Ballard’s bore size, but these bullets are overbore for sure. I finger-lubed then with SPG, a well-known black powder bullet lubricant. By finger-lubing, I mean that I applied the grease to the bullet with my finger and made no attempt to get all the grease grooves perfect. The bullets were loaded and shot as-cast.
I searched for the lowest-pressure smokeless powder loads because I didn’t want to fight the mess of black powder or one of the modern equivalents. I settled on Hodgdon 4198, which has been a wonderful black powder substitute for me. The lowest load I could find was 18 grains, so I backed that off to 16 grains and loaded up 40 rounds. Standard Russian large rifle primers finished the load. They’re very reliable and cost half what American primers cost.
On the range
The day was blustery, with a 12 o’clock wind blowing from 25-35 mph. It wasn’t a day to shoot groups with anything. I shot off my MTM rifle bench and rested the rifle in an MTM Predator rifle rest.
Despite the wind and a new unproven load, the Ballard rifle showed its pedigree.
It took three rounds to sight in at 100 yards. Then, I shot the first group of five from this rifle. Five rounds sailed through a group measuring 1.947 inches center-to-center. That was with peep sights in a windstorm with an untried load! The bull I selected was far too large for 100-yard work. It was almost as large as my front aperture post. I put up a smaller bull, made a slight adjustment to the rear sight and shot a second group that measured 1.879 inches c-t-c. This rifle can shoot! By the way, I out-shot a .219 Donaldson Wasp and an 8mm Mauser, both of which were scoped! They were fighting the wind even more than I was. (Instead of shooting 10 shots per target, I did only 5 because it was my first time out with the rifle.)
The very first 100-yard group from the Ballard after 3 sighters. This rifle wants to shoot.
The second Ballard group was at a smaller, more well-defined target. It’s smaller than the first. Three rounds are in a tight hole in the center.
On to the pistol range
I also brought out some of my .45 Colt revolvers for a tryout on the range. I was on the 15-yard range and found that I couldn’t hold the gun one-handed the way I prefer. However, in a two-handed rested hold, the beautiful Colt SAA I was given by some blog readers last summer proved it can shoot.
Isn’t she a beauty?
She can shoot, too. I just need to get back into the swing of shooting handguns.
I had a wonderful time at the range. It was the first time in many months that I’d shot firearms. It was a lot like shooting a new pellet rifle and looking for that ideal pellet. But, with these guns, there were the added complexities of finding the right loads, too.