Archive for July 2008

That night, as I drifted off to sleep, I decided to watch the movie “Quigley Down Under” once again. In it, Quigley, a Wyoming cowboy who has answered an Australian rancher’s advertisement for the world’s best long range rifle shot, clobbers a 17-inch bucket 3 times at 550 yards with his Sharps 45-110 and iron sights. Later, Quigley angers his would-be employer, is savagely beaten, and two henchmen are assigned to leave him for dead in the blistering heat of the outback. He manages to kill one of the bad guys and recover his rifle as the other attempts to escape in a buckboard wagon.

As Quigley swings his Sharps around, lining up on the man in the buckboard, I saw it: the front sight on the Sharps. It’s hooded, and inside the hood is a thin pin with a small round bead on top. It shows up only briefly on the screen, but it’s unmistakable. Then something clicked in my memory: a vague recollection that some extra sight inserts were included with the R1.

The next morning, I unearthed the paperwork that came with the R1, and a small plastic packet containing extra sight inserts tumbled out. Carefully, I opened it. One of the inserts was a circle of metal enclosing a narrow pin with a tiny metal disk on top – a Quigley sight.

The post-and-bead Quigley sight on the R1.

In tests on one-inch kill zones at varying distances, the pin-and-disk front sight proved excellent. At any range from 10 to 35 yards, just put the disk over the kill zone and cut loose. Most of the shots were hitting home. But would it work as well in actual field target competition, where the range to the target varies from 10 to 55 yards, and the size of kill zones may run from a squeaky 3/8 inch to 1.5 inches?

There was only one way to find out – the New York State Field Target Championships were the following weekend, and I determined that I would enter the Hunter Class to see what would happen. It struck me that the challenge would be very much in line with the marksmanship of Matthew Quigley: attempting high-accuracy shooting at unknown targets at unknown ranges with iron sights.

It turned out that the concentric circles of the peep sight, the front hood, and the tiny disk on front sight pin made it easy to line up on the round kill zones of the targets. My first shot on the sight-range was at a spinner the size of a quarter at 30 yards. Whack! – the spinner was rotating furiously. Whack! – the R1 clobbered the dime-sized small spinner next to it. I tried some closer targets; no problem.

The match itself was great fun, largely because I was freed from the need to close-focus a scope, adjust an elevation knob or decide which mil-dot to use. For most of the shots, all I had to do was aim dead-on and squeeze the trigger, and for the really long ones, I had to hold over just a bit. Checking later with the Match Director’s rating of target difficulty, I found I was able to down over 60% of the easy targets, 40% of the moderate targets, a third of the hard targets and a third of the expert targets. Overall, I “killed” 52% of the targets. The highlights of the day were dropping three targets at over 50 yards and “threading the needle” on some close targets with small kill zones. In the end, I finished in first place in the Hunter Class, with a score that would have taken third in the overall piston class.

Your Humble Correspondent in the heat of battle.

One thing in particular sticks out in my mind now – a 54-yard shot at an inch-and-a-half kill zone. A buff-colored target surrounded by autumn leaves, it was hard to see. I glassed it with 10x binoculars, getting a decent sense of where the kill zone was. I took aim, held one front-sight-disk-diameter high over the kill zone, and squeezed the trigger. I looked again. Now I was really having trouble seeing the target. “Is it down?” I asked. My brother-in-law grabbed my binoculars, focused on the target, and said something that implied strongly that I enjoyed canine blood from my mother’s side. He hauled on the line that pulled the target upright again. I took aim, shot and it dropped once again. I was amazed at how easy it was to hold steady and shoot accurately with this sight setup.

This small experiment proved that iron sights still do work. With sights that sit close to the centerline of the bore and a high-velocity air rifle like the Beeman R1 (which, with the exception of the Daisy peep sight, was just as it comes from the factory), the result is an extremely flexible and accurate combination that can be used for competition, hunting or emulating Matthew Quigley in some small way.

Maybe you could give it a try — you know you want to!

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

Jock Elliott

Like many airgunners, I am fascinated by the movie “Quigley Down Under.” This blog and the next one details where that fascination can lead. Chapter 5 and Chapter 7 In my book “Elliott on Airguns” Chapter 5 – My Quigley Shot, and Chapter 7 – My Quigley Shot – Part II, recount my first attempts at duplicating some of the exploits of Matthew Quigley. What follows is, essentially, the next chapter in the saga. (And if all goes as planned, this September there will be yet another chapter in which you can participate.)

The 2004 Massachusetts State Field Target Championships convinced me that a more powerful air rifle for competition would be a good idea. During the championship there were a couple of long-range shots from my low-power (565 fps, 6 foot-pound) Daisy Valiant where the pellet hit the kill zone cleanly; the paddle rocked back far enough to reveal where the orange paint had not been shot off, yet the target did not fall. (I had been shooting the Valiant because it was so accurate and so easy to shoot well. In fact, I had won my first match ever a short time before while shooting the Valiant.

The Beeman R1 is a classic air rifle.

So I unearthed my big, powerful Beeman R1 in .177 caliber with a large scope from the cabinet and began practicing in my side yard. In my view, the R1 is a classic. It is big, overbuilt, understressed and shoots quite pleasantly right out of the box. I love this gun because it is fast and flat shooting.

But all was not well. Sometimes I could put the pellet where I wanted from a sitting position, but sometimes I couldn’t. It wasn’t the gun. It wasn’t the scope. It was me. My “hold” – that is, the way that I held the rifle and managed its spring-piston recoil – wasn’t consistent, and the results could be seen on the targets. It was depressing.

In a fit of frustration, I removed the big scope from the R1 and mounted a Daisy 5899 Receiver Sight. It clamps to the scope rail with two screws. There is an extra screw (function unknown) included in the box that I ran through a hole in the sight and into one of the scope-stop holes in the R1’s receiver. This would keep recoil from walking the sight off the back of the receiver.

The R1 with the Daisy peep sight mounted.

Back in the yard again, after my usual sight-in routine, I sat down and fired several shots with Crosman CPLs at a paper target at 10 meters. Since I was using a peep sight with no magnification at all, I had no idea how I was doing. I simply tried to maintain a consistent sight picture and trigger control. When I inspected the target, I couldn’t believe my eyes: five shots had fallen in a group that measured just 3/8” edge-to-edge. This was the best group ever with this air rifle. Was I on to something?

Even better, the R1 with the peep sight was remarkably hold insensitive. I could hold, cradle, grip or grab the air rifle just about any way that pleased me and still get terrifically consistent accuracy. A thought was beginning to form: maybe … just maybe … I could compete in Hunter Class field target with a peep sight. It was an idea very much in the spirit of Matthew Quigley.

The R1 was launching CPL pellets at a sizzling 931 fps average, generating 15.2 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle. I ran the data through a ballistics program and emailed it to Steve Woodward, who is a consulting engineer and ballistics freak. Woodward came back with a stunning pronouncement: “Here’s what you get if the criterion (i.e., vital-zone-radius) is keeping the pellet within 1/4th inch of the line of sight – a point-blank-range extending from 9 to 37.5 yards.” This was amazing: with the peep sight setup, the R1 would be essentially “point and shoot” from 10 to 37 yards.

Back in the yard again, I tried the R1/peep sight combo at 5-yard intervals from 10 to 30 yards. It worked. In fact, it worked like crazy. I was putting better than 50% of my shots in a one-inch circle from a sitting position. There remained, however, one problem to be solved: I wasn’t thrilled with the medium-width flat-topped post in the R1’s hooded front sight. It didn’t lend itself to a sight picture that worked well with the circular kill zones on airgun field targets.

It was a problem, but Matthew Quigley would soon come to my rescue.

To be continued in In the Spirit of Quigley – Part II.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

Jock Elliott

In January this year, I had what the Brits call “a bloody awful moment.”

The beginning was remarkably un-dramatic: an irritation in my right eye in the middle of the night. I thought perhaps a fleck of dandruff had dropped into my eye. I pulled my upper lid over the lower lid to see if tears would flush it out. No good.

I get up, sluice out my eye with some Murine eye drops. It’s a little better. I get back to sleep.

In the morning, the irritation is back and seems to be wandering around my eye. I try drowning the eye with sterile saline solution with little benefit. That night my right eye is leaking tears.

The following morning my right eye looks like a maraschino cherry, and nothing is in sharp focus through it. By noon, I am at the ophthalmologist’s office, and she tells me I have a viral infection, and it’s a pretty bad one. She prescribes some very expensive anti-viral eye drops ($100 for a tiny bottle) and some anti-bacterial eye drops. Bacteria, it turns out, are opportunists and will freeload on the infection site created by the virus, I don’t have a bacterial infection yet; the drops are a precaution. Sure enough, a bacterial infection shows up a couple of days later.

It takes nearly 10 days to battle the virus and the bacteria to a standstill, and I’m left with a scar on my cornea. Fortunately, it’s not on the visual center. Nevertheless, it was a near thing: I could have lost all visual acuity in that eye and been reduced to seeing not much more than light and shadow and movement. Strangely, very nearly the same thing happened to an acquaintance – he scratched his cornea (he doesn’t know how), got an infection, and came perilously close to losing the vision in that eye.

Why am I telling you all this? For two reasons. First, because that experience scared the poo right out of me. Until January, 2008, I didn’t know you could get an eye infection and lose your sight within days. Second, because you’re going to need those eyes for shooting your air rifles and air pistols! So here’s the bottom line: if you have a scratchy sensation in your eye that doesn’t clear within 24 hours (or if you get abnormal light sensitivity in that eye at any time before 24 hours), get yourself to a qualified eye specialist PRONTO. After 48 hours, you could find yourself with a runaway eye infection, and – trust me – you don’t want to go there.

And that brings me neatly to another point: protect your eyes when you are shooting. I wear big, aviator-style glasses with polycarbonate lenses (the same stuff motorcycle face shields are made of). If you don’t wear glasses, or if you’re not absolutely positive that your lenses are safety lenses, get yourself some shooting glasses and wear them (you can wear them over your regular glasses) whenever you shoot. Buy several pairs and insist that anyone you’re shooting with (including by-standers) wears them too.

Shooting safety glasses: some of the cheapest insurance you'll ever buy.

Shooting safety glasses cost less than $6.00. That’s a deal – you couldn’t buy another eyeball for ten times that much.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

Jock Elliott

About a half mile from me there lives a fellow whose mailbox says “The Lawnmower Guy.” I contacted him about tuning up my mower and when he brought it back, he noticed the pellet trap with a target on it in my garage, so he asked me if I was a member of the gun club outside of town.

I told him I was a member, but what he really needed was an air rifle or an air pistol, and then he could shoot in his back yard whenever he wanted. All he had to do, I told him, was reassure the neighbors that he would shoot safely into a pellet trap and not plink at their cat.

Pretty soon, I started dragging out some air pistols for him to try, and one of them was the new Beeman P11. His eyes nearly bugged out of his head. “Wow, that’s cool,” he said. I loaded it up for him and let him draw bead on a tiny chipmunk target printed on a piece of paper.

The Beeman P11 looks great and is a lot of fun to shoot.

He steadied the P11 in both hands, aligned the sights, squeezed the trigger, and – whap! – nailed the chipmunk dead amidships. “Wow, those sights really light up! Where can I get one of these?” he asked. I wrote on a piece of paper for him, and he scurried off.

The P11 is, indeed, a cool air pistol. It’s the younger brother of the Beeman P1 but sports a two-tone color scheme, snazzier laminated grips, and fiber-optic sights. The P1 is available in .177 and .20 cal, while the P11 is available in .177 and .22. The picture doesn’t really do the P11 justice; the lower half of the ambidextrous laminated grips are stippled for a better grip and the bottom of the grip flares, providing a little bit of a palm shelf. In any event, I like the way the P11 looks and feels. The overall fit and finish of the matte-gray receiver and black “uppers” are, in my opinion, excellent.

If you’ve never handled a Beeman P1 or P11, there’s some stuff you have to know. First, this is a spring-piston air pistol. That means when you trigger the shot, it’s not going to behave like a Daisy 747 or a Crosman CO2 pistol. Instead, you’re going to get the whiplash recoil that is typical of a spring-piston powerplant. So don’t be surprised when it doesn’t act like a docile single-stroke pneumatic match pistol.

In addition, loading the P11 (or P1) is unusual. You start by flipping the safety (accessible from either side of the pistol) on and pulling what appears to be a hammer at the rear of the receiver. This releases the rear upper half of the receiver where the barrel is housed – the black part on the P11. Grasping the loose end, you pull it up and forward until it latches to cock the pistol. The cocking effort requires pulling the barrel assembly away from you as you open the action of the pistol, and it takes about 18 pounds of effort. Once the action is fully open and latched, slide a pellet into the breech end of the barrel and return the receiver back to its original position, snapping it locked into place.

Now, you’re ready. Just flip the safety off, ease the first stage out of the trigger, and let the good times roll. And The Lawnmower Guy was right: those fiber optic sights really light up like a neon sight . . . and that makes it sooo much easier to align the sights than the plain-old metallic sights on the P1. The P11 that Airguns of Arizona sent me to play with was the .22 version, and I find it smoother to shoot than the .177 version I once owned. I don’t know why that is. Certainly the velocity of the .22 is lower than the .177. For example, you might expect 415 fps with 14.3 grain .22 Crosman Premier pellets and around 520 fps with 7.9 grain .177 Crosman Premier Light pellets (on high power – the .177 version offers two cocking positions for two different levels of power.)

Whatever the reason, I find the P11 in .22 to be one of those “salted peanuts” guns – you can’t stop with just a few shots. You say to yourself, “Just five more shots, then I’ll go in.” The next thing you know, an hour and a half a tin of pellets has magically disappeared. But somehow you don’t mind.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

PS There will be a follow up Blog on the UJ Challenge in the near future.

Jock Elliott