Archive for December 2009

Gaines Blackwell grew up in the country on a large farm. He never had a BB gun. He was raised a hunter, and his family ate game often, but it was taken with firearms. The first thing he got to shoot was a 22 LR and then a 410 shotgun. For years, he taught architecture at a university. At 62, and living on 1/2 acre, he became interested in airguns and bought a Diana 48, thinking it shot an 8 grain pellet at about 900 fps, roughly 20 percent of the power of a 22 LR.

“That almost ended my interest in airguns,” Blackwell says. “I didn’t know anything about springers, and when I shot it, it bucked and kicked and rattled. What saved me is that I found the Yellow Forum and started to read. After two or three months, I bought a long stock R 7 — used but fine for $200 — and had it sent to Russ Best for a tune. I still have it, and it completely changed my views of airguns.”

He adds, “I read Mike Driskill’s lucid posts and found a HW 55 M next, then a FWB 300S which started me on the path to collecting.” His interest grew in older German springers, and he developed a great network of friends all over Europe and even in Pakistan. He looked for earlier and earlier examples of HW’ 55’s and particularly Walthers.

“I liked their fit and finish and especially their size because they fit my frame,” he says. “It probably sounds ridiculous or even arrogant to some but I do don’t have a firm count how many guns I bought. I probably have 12-15 HW 55’s and several dozen or more older Walthers, a total of about 65.”

Blackwell’s best find was a HW 55 DST (dual set trigger). He did not know they existed until he discovered one. Within a month he found another — both from Germany.

He says, “To this day I now know of two others, one in the UK, the other in The Netherlands. My other more endearing find was a pair of HW 55’s in a small German town. One was an “M”, serial # 711, and the other a Tyrolean serial # 37363, both very early examples. I got them from the son of the original buyer who had shot and maintained them for 50 years with not a speck of rust and in perfect order. They are my favorite guns.”

What surprised me in talking with Blackwell is that finding a new-in-box example of a vintage air rifle is not his favorite thing. “New in box guns make me nervous,” he says, “I’m always afraid I’ll put a scratch on one.”

He adds, “I do not seek perfect guns, nor beautiful wood, though I have found both. I prefer well cared for well used original examples, especially showing some variation done by the factory. I search for parts to get all in good condition but rarely shoot anymore beyond keeping them lubricated and working.

“What I have enjoyed the most was finding guns – the thrill of discovering them. I used to hunt, via Internet, all over Europe, and 95 % of my collection was sent directly to me. I really enjoy my network of foreign friends which now transcends airguns. In turn I have sent many US collectable airguns overseas. Overall it has been a most satisfying hobby.”

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

– Jock Elliott

Jamie Garrison has been a marine for 26 years and has taught at the Weapons Training Battalion at Camp Pendleton as well as both rifle and pistol teams. When I found out that he has taught marksmanship, I asked him how airgunners can improve their shooting.

“One of the biggest mistakes that brand new airgunners make is not truly discovering what they or their guns are capable of,” Garrison says. “The best way to improve yourself is to set your own expectations and then measure yourself against them. It’s not good enough to say ‘I can hit a soda can at X yards,’ because that is not precise enough.”

“To do that, you have to shoot on paper, preferably from a rest,” he says. “Get some targets with scoring rings, shoot ten shots at the target, and score yourself. Try different kinds of pellets, find which pellets the gun likes, then work on your technique to improve. Record those scores to measure your improvement”

He adds, “When I’m shooting from a rest with a PCP rifle, I put no pressure on the gun; I let the rifle do whatever it will. Don’t pressure the gun into position. If you have to ‘horse’ the crosshairs into the position you want, that will result in erratic groups. Adjust it on the rest so that it will just sit there, with the crosshairs exactly over the bull’s-eye with no effort from you.”

Garrison then squeezes the trigger between his forefinger and his thumb, which he rests on the back of the trigger guard. “The idea is to disturb the gun as little as possible and put no side pressure on the trigger.”

With springers, he uses a different technique. “I shoot springers off a bench the way I do hunting. More ‘deliberately’. I grip the pistol grip with just enough pressure to settle the gun into my shoulder, make sure I put no side pressure on the trigger, and just rest the forearm in my hand, with no grip or pressure applied. ”

“Bear in mind,” he adds, “that you may have to re-zero a springer if you have been shooting it off rests and then plan to shoot it offhand in the field. Due to the recoil generated, I’ve seen a springer’s point of impact shift several inches between shooting off a rest and shooting offhand, but PCPs will generally shoot the same point of impact whether you’re shooting from a rest or offhand. If you do your part of course.”

Garrison believes that two key skills shooters should practice are breath control and trigger control. “Over the years, I’ve learned that any breath in your lungs creates muscle tension that can disturb the shot,” he says. “So I recommend taking a deep breath – maybe even hyperventilating a little bit, although slowly and deeply – and then let it all out, but not forcing it out, until you come to your natural breath pause. That’s when you want to shoot. If you find you’re running out of air (some shooters will notice their vision starts to dim), lower the gun, breath some more, and start over again. No more than 10 seconds to break the shot.”

“When it comes to trigger control, it’s really a personal preference. So long as the trigger breaks, and the sights do not move, it works,” he says. “I do not truly squeeze the trigger unless I am bench shooting, but I don’t ‘pull’ the trigger either. I acquire the target and ‘mash’ the trigger – like I am compressing a ball of putty – straight back to the rear. One steady motion.”

Garrison says, “Like many instructors, I believe that shooting is 10 percent physical and 90 percent mental. Everyone has a natural wobble area. If you are shooting offhand, you have to allow the sights to settle into your natural wobble area and then begin the trigger squeeze. Your brain will subconsciously break the shot in the center of the wobble area.”

He concludes: “No matter what I am shooting, I always shoot at a particular spot on that target, whether it is the X ring on a piece of paper or a particular hair on a squirrel’s head. Too many shooters err by shooting at an area on a target and not a specific spot.”

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

– Jock Elliott

Since I was a youngster, wandering the fields of my Grandparent’s place in the northeast corner of Vermont with BB gun in hand, I’ve had a weakness for “tracker” lore. Whenever a cowboy movie would come on, and one of the Indian scouts would look at the ground and say, “White man come by here, two . . . three days ago,” I would eat that up with a spoon. Of course, it’s great fun to take the whole track reading thing to ridiculous extremes: “white man come by here, parts hair in middle, has 11 cents in pocket (two nickels, one penny), likes bluegrass music, is thinking about lunch” . . . and so forth. Nevertheless, when it comes to reading sign, I just think it’s cool.

About 30 years ago, I started to get more seriously interested in tracking. I found a book called “The Tracker” by Tom Brown, in which he claims to do some flatly amazing things in tracking. I’m not sure whether to believe all of Tom Brown’s exploits or not, but I can recommend his “Field Guide to Nature Observation and Tracking.”

If you are interested in tracking people, two books – both written by members of the US Border Patrol – are at the head of the class. Joel Hardin’s “Tracker – Case Files & Adventures of a Professional Mantracker” is one of the rare books that tells excellent true stories while teaching you at the same time. If you read Jack Kearney’s “Tracking: A Blueprint for Learning How” and practice everything that he presents, you’ll come out the other side of the process as a decent tracker.

I was so impressed with Kearney’s book that I called him one day to thank him for such a useful book. While we were chatting, he mentioned the usefulness of a bright flashlight for finding faint tracks. The gist of what he said is: shine the light sideways at ground level (if it’s during the day, you may have to shade the area with your hat or backback) and details that would otherwise be invisible will pop right up. At the time that we spoke, he mentioned that he was well into his 70s and taking several daily medications. “If I drop a pill,” he said, “immediately I turn off the overhead light, shine a light sideways across the floor, and the missing pill becomes visible.”

The same thing works if you drop a small airgun part. Check out the picture below. It shows a small screw on a wood floor with the overhead lights on.

The next picture shows the same area, with the overhead lights off, but illuminated strongly from the side with a flashlight. The screw is prominently visible.

And if you move your head to an oblique angle down near the floor, the screw becomes even more obvious (as does all the dust on the floor).

So there you have it: the tracker’s trick. The next time you drop a small part, kill the overhead lights, shine a flashlight sideways across the floor, and get your head down near floor level. Maybe that missing part will pop right into view.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

– Jock Elliott

When I spoke with Nigel Silcock, owner of Brocock Airguns, to find out how his company had scrambled back from the edge of oblivion after the British government banned their cartridge guns, he was forthright about their objectives: “We knew we had to come up with an action, a reservoir, and plan to produce a whole family of successful airguns.”

If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense: if a company can create one really good basic action as a base for their airguns, they can then fiddle barrel lengths, reservoir sizes, and valving to produce a wide range of air rifles and air pistols. And that appears to be exactly what Brocock has done and done very successfully.

The Contour is a compact air rifle that ought to put a grin on a lot of airgunners faces. When I first pulled it out of the box from Airguns of Arizona, I thought: “Whoa! I know a lot of hunters who would love to take this beauty out in the field.”

The Contour measures only 27.5 inches from end to end and weighs just four pounds. No, that’s not a typo; four pounds. I can’t think of any other precision air rifle that weighs so little.

Starting at the back, a soft rubber buttpad that is adjustable vertically is mounted on the skeletonized thumbhole wood stock. Moving forward, a cheek “piece” sits over a large cut out in the buttstock. Ahead of that is the thumbhole, which also has a spot for resting your thumb on the rear of the receiver if you prefer that position while shooting.

The pistol grip has checkering on each side, and “Brocock” is emblazoned on the bottom of the pistol grip. The trigger guard is comprised of wood, and inside the trigger guard is a metal trigger which is wide, slightly curved, and is apparently made out of a single chunk of metal. Moving forward again, you find a single Allen head bolt which secure the action into the stock.

Ahead of that is the forestock, which is checkered on either side. Beyond that, the air reservoir protrudes from the forestock. A threaded metal cap on the end of the reservoir protects a male foster fitting which is used to charge the reservoir from a SCUBA tank or high pressure hand pump.

Above the reservoir is the .22 cal barrel which can be fitted with a silencer where legal. Moving back, you’ll find the receiver, which has an opening in the middle for the breech and dovetails for scope mounting. At the rear righthand side of the receiver is a lever that, when pushed down, allows the bolt to spring backward and open the breech. At the extreme back end of the receiver is a knurled knob which is the aft end of the bolt.

Now, here’s where I get to tell on myself again. When I first shot the Contour, I didn’t read the manual. I just charged it up, pushed the lever that opens the breech, slipped in a pellet, and tried to shoot . . . but the gun just wouldn’t go off! Maybe it has a safety, I thought.

I ran to the basement, pulled out the manual and read. The Contour has NO safety, it clearly said. Then I realized that I had not cocked the action by pulling the knurled knob back until it clicks. I did that, and it shot just fine. In fact, my trigger gauge told me that 10.9 ounces of pressure takes the first stage out of the trigger, and at 2 pounds 4 ounces, the shot goes off.

With a 2900 psi fill, the Contour will deliver 21 shots with JSB 15. gr. pellets. High velocity is 678 fps, low 641, average 661, which is about 15.5 fp of energy at the muzzle. Shooting at 13 yards in my side yard, with Crosman .22 Premiers and a four power Hawke scope, I found that I could shoot the exact spot that I wanted. First I blew out the center of the target, then I concentrated on precision sniping the small fragments of bulls eye left around the center. This is the kind of accuracy that I really enjoy and that would give me confidence in making accurate, humane shoots for pest control.

And if you want to load your Contour and put it on safe for travel in the field, just press the bolt release lever, but this time, do NOT pull the bolt back to cock the action. Now, load a pellet, and close the breech again. Now you’re set up to carry the Contour, loaded, but not cocked. When you want to make a shot, press the bolt release lever, pull the bolt back to cock the action, then close the bolt again. You’re good to go, quickly and easily, and with no fumbling for a pellet.

I think Brocock has another clear winner with the Contour, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

– Jock Elliott