Archive for January 2009

This bat needed to die.

As a rule, I don’t recommend airguns for hunting bats, but in this case, I was willing to make an exception. The darn thing was on the ground about 50 yards away, and I was on a mission to ruin his day. To make a clean shot, I’d have to deliver the pellet inside a one-inch circle in the middle of his chest.

Because I was shooting a low-powered match rifle (an FWB150 action fitted in an FWB300 stock; I call it “the red-headed stepchild”), I figured there would be a ton of drop in the pellet’s trajectory all the way out there at 50 yards. So I held one mil-dot down from the crosshairs. In addition, leaves were skittering from left to right in front of the target. To compensate for the breeze, I held to the left of my intended kill zone.

When I pulled the trigger, there was a brief pause, the pellet connected, and the bat dropped with a clang. At this point, you need to understand that I wasn’t out assassinating bats just out of sheer cussed meanness. Instead, I was participating in the fine and noble sport of field target.

Field targets come in all shapes and sizes. Here's a selection from Steelplinker.

Field target is a game for airgunners that involves shooting at metallic silhouette targets – usually bunnies, squirrels, skunks, and the like, but sometimes snakes armadillos, bats, even cartoon characters. Each silhouette has a hole in it, and behind the hold is a paddle. Put a pellet cleanly through the hole (the kill zone), hit the paddle, and the target falls down. If you hit the face plate of the target or split a pellet on the edge of the kill zone, the target locks in the upright position. You get a point for knocking the target down and zilch for anything else (although in some field target matches, you get a point for a face plate hit and two points for a knock down, but that is the exception.)

Now, here’s where it gets interesting: the range to the target can vary from 10 to 55 yards, and the size of the kill zone can vary from 3/8 of an inch to 1 7/8 inches. Further, there is no correlation between the distance to the target and the size of the kill zone. So, for example, a one-inch kill zone at 10 yards is pretty easy, but that same target at 40 yards can be extremely challenging. Likewise, many shooters can drop a target with a half-inch kill zone at 15 yards, but stick that same target up in a tree at 30 yards, and you’ll hear them muttering darkly under their breath about the sanity of the match director.

Field target is usually shot from a sitting position, but some matches require shooting some lanes from a standing or kneeling position, which makes shooting more difficult. Field target matches are often set up with two or three targets per lane, with two shots at each target. So, if you drop a target on the first shot, you pull the target upright with the reset string, and try again. If you miss, you can try to make a correction on your second shot.

I really enjoy field target, and I recommend it heartily to anyone who wants to have fun with their airgun. In part II, we’ll look at what you need to participate in field target.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

– Jock Elliott

The thing about springers is that they can be downright exasperating to shoot. On one hand, they are self contained and require only one cocking stroke per shot. That makes them darned near perfect for a day afield. No tanks, no CO2 cartridges, just you, your rifle and a tin of pellets.

On the other hand, there’s the whole matter of how a springer’s powerplant behaves. When you cock a springer, you drive a spring and piston back until the assembly latches. When you trigger the shot, the spring and piston (sometimes amounting to half a pound of metal) go rocketing forward compressing air in front of the piston. This creates backward recoil. As the spring and piston assembly near the far end of the compression chamber, the piston rebounds in the opposite direction off the mass of compressed air in front of it. This creates recoil in the opposite direction and blasts compressed air through the transfer port, propelling the pellet out of breech and down the barrel.

The real “gotcha” is this: all this movement of the spring and piston and the accompanying recoil and reverse recoil happen before the pellet leaves the barrel. With a consistent loose hold and practice, springers can be shot with superb accuracy. But if you get it wrong, well . . . it can mess up your accuracy to a fare-thee-well. As a result, sometimes I can shoot a springer with sublime precision, but other times the exact same spring-piston airgun simply drives me nuts.

The RWS 54, with its recoilless powerplant, makes it easy to shoot a springer well.

So that’s why I thought the RWS 54 sounded like a really good idea. Available in .177 and .22 cal, it stretches 44 inches from muzzle to buttplate and weighs nine pounds. What sets this air rifle apart from all other spring-piston air rifles that are available new today is that the Model 54 is designed to be recoilless.

Here’s how it works: The entire receiver of the RWS 54 rides on rails within the stock. When you cock the Model 54, you grab the end of the side cocking lever and pull it back until it latches (it takes around 40 pounds of effort). This moves the receiver and barrel assembly forward, locks it there, and slides the breech open for loading.

When you pull the trigger, the entire receiver slides backwards about a half an inch in the stock. This has the effect of “absorbing” all the recoil effects of the springer and turning it from a Wild Thing into a docile pussycat. From the shooter’s perspective, you don’t feel recoil and, you don’t lose the sight picture. Suddenly you can shoot extremely well without a whole lot of effort. As my brother-in-law put it: the RWS 54 is a springer that behaves like a precharged rifle.

I tested both versions of the RWS 54, and I liked them both. I mounted a CenterPoint Optics 3-12 x 44mm compact scope on the .177 version. At 35 yards, the RWS 54 delivered a 5-shot group that measured just .38 inch ctc. At 50 yards, 5 shots fell into a group that measured .95 inch ctc. That’s excellent accuracy in any springer.

The best accuracy came from Crosman Premier Heavies (10.5 grain, nominal) pellets. The RWS 54 launched them downrange at an average of 845 fps, producing 16.6 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle.

I equipped the .22 version of the RWS 54 with an RWS 4-12x50CI scope with the RWS one-piece mount. At 50 yards, with JSB Jumbo Express pellets, the air rifle produced a five-shot group of 1.16 inch ctc. Velocity with those pellets averaged 779 fps, generating 21.4 fp of energy.

James Brinkley produced this group at 80 yards, with a tuned .22 RWS 54.

James Brinkley, shooting a “Rich from Mich” tuned .22 RWS 54 on a sunny day with no wind, was able to produce a 5-shot group at eighty yards that was scarcely bigger than a quarter. He was shooting RWS Super Dome pellets using a bipod and a rear rest.

Unlike the other, “conventional” springers that are in my gun closet, the RWS 54 seems not to care what position you shoot it from. You can shoot it off a rest, off your knee, or offhand without the point of impact changing with your shooting arrangement. There is one minor complication: the center of balance is significantly forward of the spot – just ahead of the trigger guard – where the RWS 54 produced the best accuracy results for me. As a result, when shooting off the kind of rests that centerfire benchrest shooters use, I had to hold the buttstock down to keep it in place on the rear rest. This was a bit of a nuisance, but I also got excellent results resting the length of the forearm on an old boat cushion. It sounds like Brinkley might be on the right track with his bipod/rear rest combo.

I think there is a whole lot to recommend the RWS 54: it’s self-contained, easy to shoot well, and accurate enough for varminting or long-range plinking.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

– Jock Elliott

Crosman's new Marauder is a multi-shot PCP with shrouded barrel.

At the SHOT Show, Crosman Corporation is introducing the Marauder, a new PCP multi-shot, bolt-action rifle. Designed for a fill pressure of 2000 psi of compressed air rather than the industry norm of 3000 psi, the Marauder will be available in both .177 and .22 caliber.

The Marauder features a hardwood stock with ambidextrous raised comb and custom checkering, a choked and shrouded barrel that provides improved accuracy and ultra quiet operation, and a new two-stage adjustable match grade trigger pack, with redesigned metal trigger. The Marauder, which weighs 7 lbs 8 oz and stretches 43 inches from end to end, also has a raised design aluminum breech that makes it easier to load and is grooved to accept 11 mm scope mounts. The innovative auto-indexing 10-round clip provides for faster follow-up shots. The Marauder, like the Discovery, has a built-in pressure gauge to display the gun’s level of charge, and a quick-disconnect Foster fitting for easy filling.

The .177 rifle produces up to 1,100 fps on compressed air, and the .22 rifle delivers up to 1,000 fps, according to the factory. Dual-Fuel technology allows the Marauder to operate on either compressed air, supplied by Benjamin’s patented hand pump, or from CO2. With a full charge of air at 2,000 psi the new multi-shot bolt-action rifle delivers a minimum of 35 to 45 consistently accurate shots with the factory setup.

Crosman's new 3-position target rifle, the Challeger PCP.

Crosman is also announcing a new 3-position target rifle, a redesigned model of its highly successful Challenger 2000, the new Challenger PCP. Built on the innovative Discovery platform, the rifle will be a .177 caliber, single shot, bolt action, three-position competition target rifle. The Challenger PCP features a fully adjustable stock, ambidextrous steel straight pull bolt, hooded front aperture and fully adjustable rear sight. The synthetic stock will be have an adjustable butt plate and cheek piece for the best possible fit. The new Challenger PCP will also feature a fully adjustable, two-stage, match grade trigger.

Featuring an adjustable striker travel and spring system, the Challenger PCP will allow for velocity control adjustments to offer proper performance, no matter the competition format. A minimum of 70 shots are possible at 530 fps on a single charge of air. The Challenger PCP also comes equipped with a floating Lothar Walther barrel which ensures superior accuracy. The Challenger PCP uses Crosman’s Dual Fuel technology and will run on either High Pressure Air or CO2. Working on only 2000 psi of pressure means that anyone will be able to fill this gun using either a hand pump or high pressure air bottle.

Crosman consulted with Ray and Hans Apelles to help make the new Challenger PCP a rifle that will exceed competition target shooters’ expectations. In addition to being two of the most prolific airgun shooters today, Ray and Hans Apelles are also the newest members of Team Crosman. Their years of experience shooting and combined technical knowledge make them a perfect fit for Crosman and a perfect test bed for the new technologies you will see in the next generation of Crosman and Benjamin guns.

The Challenger PCP will weigh 7.3 lbs, while the length will be adjustable from 38 ¾ inches to 41 ¾ inches.

And, yes, I expect to be testing both the new Marauder and the new Challenger as soon as they become available. Here’s some more information.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

– Jock Elliott

American airgunners seem to have this fascination with silencers. Honestly, I think the root cause is Biblical in origin. What was the one thing that Adam and Eve just had to have? You got it: the Forbidden Fruit. Likewise, silencers are Forbidden Fruit to American airgunners.

Here’s why: Federal law requires that silencers be licensed. But that law applies only to firearms silencers. It doesn’t say anything about airgun silencers. There is, however, a rub: [The terms “firearm silencer” and “firearm muffler” mean any device for silencing, muffling, or diminishing the report of a portable firearm, including any combination of parts, designed or redesigned, and intended for use in assembling or fabricating a firearm silencer or firearm muffler, and any part intended only for use in such assembly or fabrication.]

That’s a direct quote from the federal law and what it means, basically, is that if something could be used to muffle or diminish the report of a firearm – even for just one shot – it could be construed a silencer under the firearms law. Basically it means that if you have an airgun silencer and it could be slipped onto a firearm as a silencer, you’ve got to get a license for it.

However, if what you are really interested in is quiet shooting (and not just Forbidden Fruit), there are several ways around the silencer issue.

The first is to choose an air rifle or air pistol that is inherently less noisy without a silencer. Most spring-piston air rifles and air pistols are generally quieter than precharged pneumatic, multi-stroke pneumatic, or CO2 powerplants. The reason is that relatively little air is used to propel the pellet out of the barrel of a springer, and it is the excess gas exciting the muzzle that generally makes most of the noise in a precharged pneumatic, multi-stroke pneumatic, or CO2 powerplant.

The Beeman R7 is a very quiet springer rifle, and so is the BSA Lightning XL (it has a permanently attached silencer that cannot be removed). Among pistols, the HW45 and the RWS 5G make little noise. None of them are dead quiet, but they are pretty subdued.

Another route to quiet is to purchase an air rifle or air pistol with a shrouded barrel. Since the shrouds are permanently attached to the airgun, they cannot be removed and used on a firearm without some serious machine work. As a result, you do not have to license it as silencer.

Among my first choices in a really quiet shrouded air rifle would be the Typhoon Whisper, the BSA SuperTEN Bull Barrel, and the Daystate Air wolf. When you shoot these air rifles, the loudest thing you hear is the hammer spring (which is inaudible to anyone but the shooter), followed by the sound of the pellet slamming into the target. All three are pre-charged pneumatic bolt-action multi-shot repeaters, fed by a rotary magazine, that launch ammunition at sub-sonic velocities. If you want a precharged pistol, the FX Ranchero is surprisingly quiet when shot on the low power setting, but not nearly as quiet as the three shrouded PCP rifles.

Finally, if you absolutely have to have a silencer, here’s the legal route: you can go to your local firearms dealer, fill out the application, pay the fee (last I heard, it was $200) and then pay several hundred dollars more for a quality firearms silencer which you can then fit to your airguns.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

– Jock Elliott

Here's a prototype of the ACP that I tested with a forward mounted -- scout-rifle style -- red dot.

Elsewhere, I have already expressed my admiration for Benjamin/Sheridan multi-stroke pneumatic (MSP) air rifles. Well-crafted of durable materials, they are an excellent value, delivering a whole lot of air rifle for a fairly modest expenditure.

Despite their attractions, there are three areas in which Benji/Dan pumpers could be improved. First is “all that pumping.” Even if you routinely shoot a just six pumps per shot (the factory maximum is eight pumps), shooting a five-shot group means 30 pumps. If you’re testing five different pellets, you’re up to 150 pumps, and it suddenly starts to become a workout. Second is noise; at 6-8 pumps a factory-fresh Benji (or Sheridan) can be somewhat raucous. Third, the factory trigger, while not awful, certainly could stand improvement.

Enter Steve Woodward, AKA “Steve from NC” on the forums. Steve is an engineer, and he has created an “Air Conserving Pumper” (ACP) based on the Benji/Sheridan chassis that requires fewer strokes, is quieter, and has a much nicer trigger. Further, he created his ACP using mostly off-the-shelf parts from either Crosman Corporation or the local hardware store and just two custom parts.

Here’s how he did it. Through experimentation he found that the hammer on the Benji MSP “bounces.” When you trigger the shot, the hammer opens the valve that releases air that causes your pellet to go down the barrel. So far, so good – that’s what the hammer is supposed to do. But then the hammer “bounces,” releasing more air from the valve – with NO benefit. All the extra air does is release more of the pressure from your precious pump strokes and make the report louder.

So Steve devised a “Butterfly hammer debounce device” (HDD) which prevents the hammer from bouncing and releasing more air. With some air still retained in the gun this means (A) the report is quieter and (B) you can use that retained air to reduce the number of pumping strokes needed for your next shot. To make everything work better, Steve also changes out some of the factory valve parts with some valve parts from the Benjamin AS392, reduces the pump headspace, and takes some coils off the hammerspring. (There is a lot more to it than this brief description allows – a total of about 20 modifications and new parts are needed to convert 392 to ACP392), but as we’ll see in a moment, the modifications produce the intended results.) Steve also installs one of his trigger Supersears to make the trigger smoother, lighter, and much less creepy.

Here’s how the finished ACP works. From dead empty, you give the rifle a basic charge of 5 pumps, and then 3 more pumps. Load it and shoot it, and it launches a pellet at around 13 fp. To recharge the ACP, you need only three pumps. They required roughly the same effort as the last three pumps in an eight-pump charge on a factory Benji. (Sometimes you need only 2 pumps, and sometimes 4, but there is a clever gizmo – The Pump Arm Pressure Sensor – that Steve installs in the forestock that lets you know how much pumping is enough. Paying close attention to the Sensor and pumping only according to the clues it provides is important, as overpumping will actually reduce power and, in the extreme, can result in valve lock).

This is how the Pump Arm Pressure Indicator works.

Because the ACP conserves air – and doesn’t blow a lot of excess out the muzzle – the report is significantly reduced compared to a stock Benji at 8 pumps or a Steroid Benji 392 at 6 pumps. In fact, it sounds about as noisy as a springer of comparable power, but without the twang or springer recoil.

Further, because it conserves air, if you need a quick second shot, you can have one. Just cock and load the ACP again, pull the trigger, and you’ll get a second shot of 8-9 fp.

Thanks to one of Steve’s Supersears, the trigger is about a nice as you’ll find in a Benji/Dan pumper.

Is there anything you give up for all this wonderfulness? Yes: variable power. An ACP must be shot at the power level it’s tuned for: an initial charge of 8 pumps, and 3 (average) recharge pumps.

In a nutshell: Steve from NC’s wicked-cool ACP delivers fewer pumps, less noise, better trigger. And now you can have one for your very own – just click here.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

– Jock Elliott