Archive for September 2008

I generally have the most fun when I am shooting an air rifle that is really, really accurate. Whether I am competing in field target competition or simply plinking in the back yard, it’s more fun when the gun is a tackdriver.

And when I say “really, really accurate” I mean three things. First, that, once you find the right pellet for the rifle, it will shoot very tight groups consistently. For me, anyway, in field target competition, I’ve found that confidence in the gun is critical when you get to the shooting line. If I know that the gun will do its job – if I do mine – that gives me assurance I need to do my best. By contrast, I’ve had the experience of having an air rifle produce “mystery shots” that missed the target, but I had no idea why. That is a pure nightmare and no fun at all.

Second, the rifle has to maintain a consistent correlation between point-of-aim (where I am aiming) and point-of-impact (where the pellet actually lands), so that I have confidence that the gun will shoot where it is aimed each time I use it. This is not a trivial matter. I once owned an air rifle that had to be re-sighted-in each time I used it. It drove me nuts. Some guys like to fuss, fiddle around and tweak their equipment all the time. Not me – I’m a shooter. I want take the gun from the case, shoot a couple of shots to confirm it’s still “on,” and get to work.

Third, the air rifle has to be easy to shoot well. Some air rifles (springers in particular) are notorious for requiring that you do everything “just so” for them to deliver their best accuracy. Some folks call this “hold sensitivity” while others insist that there is no such thing as hold sensitivity, there are only “shooter problems.” Okay; I’ll concede the point and rephrase: for an air rifle to be really accurate, it has to be tolerant of my mistakes.

The HW97 MkIII delivers excellent accuracy in a handsome package.

Just a few days ago, I had opportunity to shoot an air rifle that fits my definition of a tackdriver, the Beeman HW97, MkIII. Weighing 9.2 lbs and stretching just over 40 inches long, the HW97 is a fixed barrel, underlever air rifle. It has Weihrauch’s excellent Rekord trigger and a Weihrauch barrel. At the end of the barrel is a handsome muzzlebrake. The righthand hardwood stock has a rubber recoil pad at the back, a raised cheekpiece, and checkering on the pistol grip and forend. The HW97 is available in .177 and .20 cal. I shot the .177 version.

To get the HW97 ready for shooting, you push a button on a latch just under the muzzlebrake. This releases the underlever for cocking. Pull the lever down and back until it latches. The cocking effort is around 35 pounds, and the cocking stroke is very smooth. The cocking stroke slides open the breech and also activates the automatic safety. The sides of the breech are cut down on both sides, so it is easy to slide a pellet into the aft end of the barrel from either side.

All that is left is to return the underlever to its original position (which also closes the breech) and push the button, located at the rear of the receiver, that de-activates the automatic safety. The HW97 is now ready to shoot.

Ease the first stage out of the trigger, and you’ll feel a distinct “wall” where the second stage begins. Squeeze a bit more (how much depends on how you adjust the Rekord trigger) and the shot goes down range. On the sample that I shot, the shot cycle ended with a tiny hint of vibration – tungggg – but it was vibration that was heard and not felt through the gun. As a result, that slight bit of vibration was a non-issue for me.

The HW97 is wickedly accurate. Some time ago, a nationally ranked field target shooter sent me a target he had shot at 50 yards from a sitting position with his HW97. You could cover the five-shot group with a dime! The HW97 launches 7.9 grain Crosman Premier pellets at 847 fps, producing 12.6 foot-pounds of energy.

When I shot the HW97, it had been quite a while since I had launched any pellets with a recoiling spring-piston air rifle. I was delighted to find that HW97 made it easy to produce pleasingly small groups.

In my opinion, the HW97 is an excellent choice for any shooter who wants to have some fun with a bona fide tackdriver.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

– Jock Elliott

One of the great things about doing a blog like this is that it lets me give free reign to my curiosity. If an airgun looks interesting, I give the good folks at Airguns of Arizona a call. If they have a sample of the airgun I’d like to see on hand, pretty soon it’s on the way to me. (Some of the extremely popular guns are just about impossible to keep in stock, so for those I’m on a waiting list.)

The HW90 is one smooth-shooting air rifle.

One of the air rifles I’ve had a hankering to shoot is the Weihrauch HW90, which is an air rifle equipped with a Theoben gas ram powerplant. I had seen a lot of favorable comments on the airgun forums about the RX-2 (which is the Beeman equivalent of the HW90), so my curiosity was on high alert.

My first impression on taking the HW90 out of its box was: “Boy, this looks very, very familiar.” And indeed it does. The HW90 is extremely similar in appearance to the Beeman R1, which is one of my favorite air rifles. Both the HW90 and the R1 are just a bit over 45 inches long, weigh 8.8 pounds, and have a 20-inch barrel. And both are extremely pleasing to look at.

The HW90 is available in .177, .22, and .25 calibers. Of course, what really sets it apart is the gas ram system. But what is a gas ram? Well, if you’ve ever seen a “lift back” truck or automobile that had pneumatic struts that lift the back hatch and hold it open, you’ve seen the basic working innards of a gas ram. That pneumatic strut operates on the same principle as a gas ram: compressing and decompressing gas within an enclosed space.

On the practical side, a gas ram air rifle works exactly like a spring-piston air rifle. With a spring-piston you break the barrel or pull a lever that drives a piston back and compresses a spring until it latches. When you pull the trigger, the latch is released, the spring and piston go rocketing forward, compressing air in the compression chamber and launching the pellet down range.

With the gas ram, when you cock the gun, you’re compressing the gas ram, increasing the pressure inside of it, instead of compressing a spring. When you pull the trigger, the gas inside the ram is allowed to expand, pushing the piston down the compression tube, compressing air in the compression chamber, and sending the pellet toward the target.

From a shooter’s perspective, the HW90 feels different. When you cock the rifle, there is no spring noise whatsoever. Further, unlike a springer, where the cocking effort tends to increase toward the end of the cocking stroke, the effort to cock the HW90 feels constant throughout the stroke at around 46 lbs.

When you pull the trigger on the HW90, the action feels quick – super quick – and smooth, a bit like a custom-tuned springer on 28 cups of coffee. I tested a .22 cal. version of the HW90, and I really enjoyed shooting it off-hand with the iron sights that came with it. Even though I wear old-guy glasses (no-line bifocals), I had no trouble with the sight picture, and when I triggered a shot standing up, the HW90 just felt supple. When I was shooting from a sitting field-target position, I felt more of a jolt from the gas ram action, but I still really liked this air rifle.

If this were my air rifle, I’d keep it simple and shoot it with the iron sights or perhaps fit it with a peep sight. It seems like the perfect airgun for a stroll in the woods and fields. Slip a tin of pellets in your pocket, and you’re good to go.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

– Jock Elliott

Recently, a fellow ham radio operator and writer called me. He had just bought a place in the country, and he wanted an airgun for pest control: squirrels in the nut trees, rabbits and woodchucks in the garden, and possibly raccoons in the garbage.

“At what range are you going to shoot?” I asked.

“Not more than 15 yards,” he said.

“How are your eyes?”


“How ‘bout your arms?”

“Fine,” he said. “Are you going to recommend an airgun or give me a physical?”

“Just one more question: how much do you want to spend?”

“Not a whole lot,” he said.

In the back of my mind, an answer was lurking. . . and it was obvious, too. What he needed was my go-to gun.

Before we get to just what my go-to gun is, you need to know a couple of things. First, I am not a big-time airgun hunter. I spend most of my time punching paper or shooting field target. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t have anything against hunting; I just don’t spend much time doing it.

Second, many of my neighbors know that I am an airgunner. As a result, occasionally I get phone calls requesting that I do a pest control “favor.” When that happens, I reach into one of my cabinets and pull out either a Benjamin 392 or a Sheridan Streak.

Both are multi-stroke pneumatic air rifles that stretch a hair over three feet long and weigh around six pounds. The chief difference between the two is that the Benjamin 392 is .22 caliber, and the Sheridan is .20 caliber. Both will generate around 13 foot pounds of energy when pumped up with eight strokes.

Whenever I’ve used either of these guns to do a pest control favor for a neighbor, I’ve been successful. So I told my friend to get a Benjamin 392 or a Sheridan, keep the range short if it is a bigger pest animal like a raccoon, and be selective about his shots, because with a multi-stroke pumper, he won’t get a fast second shot.

Recently, I had the chance to check out two of the latest crop of Crosman Corporation’s multi-stroke pneumatic pumpers. The first is a Benjamin 397, which is the .177 version of the 392. The other is a Sheridan Silver Streak. Both of these guns are, in my opinion, among the best-looking Benjamins and Sheridans that have ever been made. That’s because of the restyled stock that has been created for these guns, with a slightly raised cheek piece and a slanted “cut” between the forestock/pumping arm and the rest of the stock. The overall effect is very sleek and elegant.

I ran into a curious problem with the Benjamin 397. I could not get the gun zeroed at 13 yards with the Williams peep sight mounted. With the peep sight bottomed out, the gun was still shooting 1-2 inches high. I tried shooting with just four pumps in the gun, but that didn’t work. I called the factory, and they acknowledged that they sometimes see this problem. Further, they are looking into a solution, which may involve increasing the height of the front sight.

I persuaded the Benjamin 397 to shoot where it was pointed by mounting a red dot sight forward on the barrel using Crosman intermounts.

Ultimately, I solved the sight problem with the 397 by mounting a Bushnell Trophy Red Dot sight out on the middle of the barrel, scout rifle style. I used a pair of Crosman intermounts, which clamp to the barrel, and a pair of 30mm scope rings to attach the red dot to the intermounts. By mounting the sight midway up the barrel, it leaves me room to grab the 397 just forward of the breech when I am pumping it up. The result is an air rifle that handles well, swings easily and can be sighted with both eyes open.

In enjoy both of these pumper air rifles. The 397 launches 7.9 grain Crosman Premier pellets downrange at 741 fps average. That works out to about 9.6 fp of energy. I wondered what kind of penetration I could get with that kind of energy, so I nested three tin cans inside each other (a soup can inside a vegetable can inside a fruit can) so there were potentially six layers of metal to penetrate.

At eight pumps, the 7.9 grain Crosman Premiers blew through two layers of metal and several deformed the third. So I tried Crosman Silver Eagle lead free hollow points. They penetrate two layers and ripped a ragged tear in the third layer but did not fully penetrate. Finally, I tried Dynamic SN-1 7.9 grain non-lead pellets. They punched a hole through all six layers of metal like a hot knife going through butter.

The latest edition of the Sheridan Silver Streak is, in my opinion, just flat gorgeous.

The Sheridan Silver Streak was problem free. With a Williams peep sight mounted, tt zeroed just fine at 13 yards with eight pumps, sending Benjamin 14.3 grain .20 cal cylindrical pellets through the chronograph at an average of 640 fp. When I’m not shooting the Silver Streak, I like to look at it. It certainly is one of the prettiest air rifles I’ve seen in a long while.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

– Jock Elliott

The Ranchero has it all: an excellent trigger, match pistol accuracy, neighbor-friendly report at low power, and it's a repeater.

To get the FX Ranchero ready for shooting, charge the cylinder up to 200 bar (you can do this on or off the pistol). Put the safety in the non-fire position (full back). Pull the cocking lever full back, now pull the magazine release knob back. You’ll find that, with the exception of the cocking lever which has a small click-detent when it closes fully, everything moves smoooooothly, like it is on oiled bearings.

When the magazine release knob is fully back, the magazine will slide out of the breech. Load it with the nose of the pellets facing toward the flat side of the magazine. Slide the magazine back in place and push the cocking lever forward. This will also return the magazine release back to its original position with the first pellet slid into the barrel, and the magazine locked firmly in place.

Now you’re good to go. Take aim, flick the safety off, ease the first stage out of the trigger and squeeze gently on the second stage, and, at about 14 oz. of pressure, the shot goes down range. Pull the cocking lever back, push it forward again, and you’re ready for the next shot.

Now, an aside: when I was ready to trigger my first shot with the Ranchero, I was all ready to flinch. Why? Because I have had experience with other precharged pneumatic pistols that were raucous beasts that annoyed my ears. But I was shooting the Ranchero on low power and that, combined with the shrouded barrel, made the report remarkably docile. It wasn’t dead quiet by any means, but it was much quieter than I had expected and quieter than even some CO2 pistols I’ve shot.

I tested the Ranchero at ten meters, shooting with a rifle scope mounted and off a rest. I found I was getting the same kind of accuracy you’d expect from a target pistol: shot after shot through the same hole. And the two-stage trigger was crisp and clean, making it easy to get really good results.

In the end, I found there was a whole lot to like about the Ranchero: target accuracy, an excellent trigger, a neighbor friendly report on low power, a pressure gauge (PCPs without pressure gauges force me into counting shots, which I’m not good at), interchangeable cylinders, and the ability to mount a rifle scope, pistol scope or red dot, as your needs dictate. And, yes, it does come in a lefthand version with the action reversed, making it truly left handed..

A pistol like this could take “defending the bird feeder” to a whole new level!

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

– Jock Elliott

To my eyes, the Ranchero is a handsome pistol, and it shoots better than it looks.

Recently I had the opportunity to play around with a pistol that I had been curious about for some time: the FX Ranchero.

Right off, I’ve got to tell that I liked the Ranchero a whole lot, and we’ll get to the reasons why in just a little while, but first let’s take a walk around the Ranchero.

It’s a big pistol, stretching 18 inches from end to end and weighing 3.3 pounds without scope or red dot. The version that I tested had a beautiful sculpted walnut grip with a stippled pistol grip, palm shelf, and walnut trigger guard. The two-stage match trigger is adjustable, and just forward of it, underneath the forend, you’ll find a gauge that tells you how much air pressure is left in the reservoir.

Moving forward again, there’s a lip at the end of the forend. Above that is the air cylinder which can be unscrewed when it runs low and replaced by another so you can keeping on shooting during a day afield. At the end of the air cylinder is the quick-fill charging port, and you can fill the cylinder on or off the Ranchero. Above the air cylinder is the shrouded Lothar-Walther with a threaded muzzle for mounting a silencer where those are legal.

Moving back along the barrel, you’ll find the receiver, which is handsomely finished in gloss black and has scope dovetails along its full length except for the breech opening. At the mid point of the receiver is the breech, where a removable 8-shot magazine slides into place (in only goes in one way, so you can’t get it in backwards).

The left side of the Ranchero, showing the cocking lever and the power adjustment lever.

On the left side of the receiver, just forward of the breech, is a small power adjustment lever. Push it all the way forward, and the Ranchero is on low power (around 8.5 fp for the .177 version, about 9 fp for the .22). Put the lever in the middle, and the pistol is on medium power (12 fp for .177; 13 fp for .22, and when the lever is all the way back – bingo! – high power (15 fp .177, 16.5 fp .22). Unlike many other power adjustment systems, which rely on changing the loading on the hammerspring, the Ranchero varies power by changing the size of the transfer port through which air flows to the barrel. The result is very high shot-to-shot consistency, regardless of what power setting you select.

On the left side of the receiver just aft of the breech is the cocking arm. Pull it straight back, and it cocks the pistol and rotates the next pellet in the magazine into position. Push it forward, the action closes, and a bolt probe pushes the pellet into the barrel. At the tail end of the receiver, you’ll find two brass disks. The first slides back and forth as you activate the cocking arm. The second you pull back to allow the magazine to be removed from the breech. On the right side of the breech is a forward-and-back safety lever.

Next time, we’ll talk about shooting the Ranchero.

Til then, aim true and shoot straight.

– Jock Elliott