Archive for March 2010

A while back I was considering the vast array of airguns that are available for purchase today, and it came to me that there was a hole in the marketplace. What was needed, I thought, was a “transitional” gun – one that filled the place between BB guns, like my beloved Daisy Model 25, and the more serious small guns like the HW25L or HW30.

The gun would have to be small, reasonably light, easy to cock with one stroke, affordably priced, and usable by the whole family. It wasn’t long thereafter that a package arrived from UmarexUSA with a Ruger Explorer in it, and it seems to be just what I had in mind.

The Ruger Explorer is a “youth” airgun with a spring-piston powerplant. It’s only an inch over a yard long; the length of pull is just 12 inches, and it tips the scales at just 4.5 lbs. When I pulled it from the box, my first thought was: “Wow, this is really light and easy to handle.”

The most striking feature of the Explorer is the ambidextrous black composite all-weather thumbhole stock that is just loaded with swoopy styling. Starting at the rear, the butt pad is made of a polymer that is softer than the rest of the stock. Moving forward, the buttstock itself is so radically abbreviated as to almost not be there. The checkpiece is ventilated; the pistol grip is nearly vertical, and underneath it you’ll find the Ruger logo.

Moving forward, the trigger guard is molded into the stock, and it encloses a metal trigger fashioned from sheet metal. Ahead of that is an indent (where I place the crook of my arm when shooting from a sitting position), following by a contoured had grip on the forestock.

Ahead of that is the barrel, which is clad in polymer and has a molded-in muzzle break that incorporates a mount for the front red fiber optic sight. Moving backwards, you’ll find the breech block which mounts an adjustable rear sight with green optical fiber. To the rear of that is the rest of the receiver which has dovetails for mounting a scope, followed by a screw-and-tab gizmo that functions as a recoil stop for a scope. At the very tail end of the receiver is a black polymer receiver cap and a black polymer push-pull safety.

The specs on the Ruger Explorer claim 495 fps, and I got 483 average, launching 7.9 gr Crosman Premier pellets through my Oehler chronograph, which works out to about 4 foot-pound of energy.

To get the Explorer ready to shoot, grab the muzzle break and pull the barrel down and back until it latches. This take about 16 or 17 lbs of effort and open the breech for loading. Stuff a .177 pellet in the aft end of the breech and return the barrel to its original position. Take aim, push the safety off with your thumb, and squeeze the trigger. At about 1 lb 7 oz, the first stage comes out of the trigger. At 4 lbs, 13 oz, the shot goes down range. The report is a muted “doink,” and recoil is almost non-existant.

I tried shooting the Explorer with Crosman Premier light pellets at 13 yards from a sitting position using the fiber optics sights and got 1.25” edge to edge groups. So I ran to the workshop, grabbed a 3-12x44mm scope and mounted it on the Explorer. (Now, I know what you’re thinking: why in the world would anyone mount a $190 scope on a $60 air rifle? I have three really good reasons: (1) it was already sitting out on my work bench, (2) the mounts were already on it, and (3) it looks really cool.) I went back outside and tried again from a sitting position at 13 yards, but this time using Daystate FT pellets. This time, the five-shot groups shrank to just a hair over .5 inch CTC.

Would the Explorer do better with different pellets from a steadier rest? Maybe. Certainly it’s plenty good enough for assassinating a bagful dollar store dinosaurs at 10-20 yards and nailing soup cans at much longer range.

I predict that if you slap a cheap scope on a Ruger Explorer, sight it in, and hand it to any kid who has even the slightest interest in shooting, you’ll have them grinning in no time. I found this gun so much fun to shoot that I predict the kid will have a hard time getting the Explorer out of Dad’s hands.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

– Jock Elliott

Every once in a while someone on one of the airgun, survival or preparedness forums raises the question: “What would be a good choice of airgun for a survival-type situation in which you need to shoot small game for food?”

I love to watch disaster movies and read books about people suddenly thrust into survival situations (when I’m in this mode, my wife just looks at me, shakes her head, and sighs), and I’ve thought about the question of which airgun would be best.

For a survival airgun, here are the characteristics that I would prefer:

1. Portability. That means either a pistol or a rifle than can be readily broken down. That eliminates many air rifles.

2. Self-contained. I want to reduce the need for ancillary equipment and consumables. That eliminates all CO2 airguns (which don’t work well in cold weather) and pre-charged airguns which require a tank or pump for recharging.

3. Sufficient power for taking small game. Target air pistols won’t get it done. Some springer pistols make 6 foot-pounds of energy, which is sufficient if you skills allow to stalk within 10-15 yards on small game. Some multi-stroke pneumatic pistols make 8-10 foot pounds of energy. Most air rifles generate enough energy to do the job. I have reliable reports of one shooter killing a feral goat with a multi-stroke pneumatic rifle, and another shooter inadvertently killing a deer with a cheap Chinese spring-piston rifle (he was trying to chase it away from the plants in his yard and caused a pneumo-thorax).

4. Stealthy report. I don’t want to be noticed. Spring-piston powerplants are inherently quieter than most others because of the smaller quantity of air used to drive the pellet. Multi-stroke pneumatics tend to generate more noise than springers, but can be quieted with barrel shrouds or by reducing the number of pumps (which reduces the power).

5. Easy to shoot well. Spring-piston powerplants are the hardest to shoot well because of their whiplash forward and back recoil. Multi-stroke pneumatics are easy to shoot well.

6. Reliability. Airguns dealers tell me that springers are the most reliable powerplant. You can usually put at least a couple of thousand rounds through one before a rebuild is needed, and some are far more reliable.

7. Ease of maintenance. Spring piston powerplants typically require a spring compressor for assembly and disassembly. MSPs usually can be taken apart with hand tools.

The careful reader will have noticed that sometimes these characteristics are at odds with each other, so you have to make your gun selection based on what’s most important to you.

Recently, the folks at UmarexUSA sent me a sample of the Browning 800 pistol in .22 caliber and it appears that it meets many of the criteria above. The 800 Mag is a large air pistol. It stretches 18 inches from the muzzle to the end of the receiver, weighs 3.9 lbs., and has an anti-recoil rail system that reduces felt recoil and makes it easier to shoot well. For a more detailed physical description of the Browning 800, please check out my blog on the .177 version here.

What makes the .22 version of the Browning 800 of particular interest is that launches .22 cal Crosman Premier 14.3 gr. pellets at an average velocity of 501 fps (516 high; 485 low), for just about 8 foot-pounds of energy, which ought to be sufficient for dispatching small game at modest ranges. Further, the .22 version seems to shoot much smoother than the .177 model, making it easier to hit what you’re pointed at. From a Creedmore position outdoors with a red dot mounted, I shot a .65 inch CTC 5-shot group at 13 yards with Gamo Hunter .22 pellets. Because of the energy transmitted to the sighting system by the anti-recoil setup, you will still need a high-quality scope or red-dot if you plan to mount one.

In all, I found the Browning 800 in .22 has a lot going for it: portability, self-contained, sufficient power for taking small game, stealthy report, easy to shoot well (for a springer pistol), and probably highly reliable (although only time will verify that). I keep one with a Bushnell Trophy red dot handy by my desk in case the bird feeder needs defending.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight,

– Jock Elliott

Dear Reader, there are a couple of things you ought to know about Your Humble Correspondent. The first is that I am a beady-eyed, unrepentant, not-in-the-twelve-step-program bookaholic. My wife claims that reading is my “real” hobby and that everything else springs out of that. I think she may be pretty close to the truth.

Second, I make most of my living as a writer by working with various high-tech and medical organizations. I have neither a high-tech nor medical background, and if there is a secret to my success, it is my curiosity. I simply want to know how things work, and I’m not afraid to admit my ignorance and ask “stupid” questions to get the answers I seek.

That same curiosity applies to accuracy sports, like airgunning. So the other day, hoping I could solve some of the mystery of what makes some airguns accurate and others not, I ordered a copy of Rifle Accuracy Facts by Harold R. Vaughn from Precision Shooting Inc. Vaughn was Supervisor of the Aeroballistics Division at Sandia National Laboratory until 1986, and he has an insatiable curiosity about why do some rifles shoot much better than others.

Chapter 5 in Rifle Accuracy Facts is devoted to “Scope Sight Problems.” In it Vaughn recounts how “A number of years ago I bought two expensive high-power variable scopes of a well-known brand that were identical. I noticed that my shooting accuracy suddenly deteriorated, and decided something had to be wrong with the scopes. The only thing to do was to mount the receiver in a rigid vise then jar the mounted scope and see if the reticule returned to the same aiming spot.” It didn’t.

He also noted in a table that the lower the recoil weight, the higher the acceleration in g’s that the scope would be subjected to. An experimental sliding-rail rifle with a recoil weight of 6.25 lbs was subject to 480 g’s, while a 13.2 lb. heavy varmint rifle suffered only 162 g’s.

Emboldened by this information, I called an advertiser in Precision Shooting that specializes in custom modifications to scopes for benchrest competitors. I explained to the owner of the company the problems that springer shooters (particularly those who are shooting high-powered springers with sliding rail anti-recoil systems like the RWS 54 and 56) sometimes have with shifting point of impact.

He said something that really surprised me: “I wouldn’t use a variable power scope for critical target work.”

When I asked why, he explained that in order for a scope to be variable power, there had to be some lenses within the scope that were free to move. When severe recoil hits those movable lenses, they can jostle around and disturb the point of aim. If the recoil is harsh enough, it is inaccuracy just waiting to happen.

So here’s the bottom line on all this: if you have been shooting a heavily recoiling springer (or gas ram), and you’ve been noticing your shots sometimes fall exactly where the gun is pointed and sometimes they inexplicably go elsewhere, it just might be your scope reacting badly to the recoil. As a result, you might want to consider changing to a fixed power scope like the Hawke Sidewinder Tactical 30mm 10X42 or the MTC 10×44 IRS. And if you are ordering a heavily recoiling springer, I heartily suggest purchasing a fixed power scope to go with it.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

– Jock Elliott

Before we get into the performance of the Model 56, the key thing to remember is that, like the model 54, it is a recoilless spring-piston air rifle. Here’s why that is a Big Deal: when you cock a spring-piston air rifle using the barrel, under lever or side lever, you’re driving back a spring and a piston until it latches, holding it in place like a sprinter in the blocks. When you pull the trigger, the spring and piston rocket forward in the compression tube, creating recoil in the opposite direction. As the spring and piston near the end of the compression tube, they bounce off the wad of compressed air at the end of the tube, creating recoil in the opposite direction. So the spring-piston air rifle recoils first in one direction and then the other.

Now, here’s where it gets really interesting: all this forward-and-back whiplash recoil happens before your carefully aimed shot exits the barrel. That’s why so many shooters have to work really hard to shoot springers well.

The Model 56, however, has a neat trick that helps to tame that recoil and make accurate shooting easier: the entire receiver of the air rifle rides on a sliding rail system. When you cock the Model 56 with the side lever, it drives the receiver forward. When you trigger the shot, the receiver is allowed to slide backwards. The end effect is that the shooter feels much less recoil; it is easier to shoot well, and more of the shock of recoil is transferred to the scope. It also means that you want a high quality scope sitting on top of the Model 56.

When I pulled the Model 56 out of its box and saw the knee-riser design of the stock, I thought this is an air rifle that just begs to be shot in field target competition. So I slapped a scope on it, threw on my SteadyAim Harness and went outside to see what it would do from a sitting position at 35 yards. Since Crosman Premier Heavies had worked well in my Model 54, I tried those.

After a little bit of fooling around, I shot a five-shot at 35 yards that you could cover with a dime. The group measured just .5 inch from edge to edge, which works out to .323 center to center. That’s pretty darn good accuracy at that range. The chronograph revealed that the 56 was launching 10.5 gr. Crosman Premiers at an average of 872 fps. My Lyman digital trigger gauge confirms what my finger could feel: the newly designed trigger is excellent. One pound five ounces takes the first stage out of the trigger; at 1 lb. 8.7 oz, the shot goes off. Sweet!

To say I liked the Model 56 is a gross understatement. My feeling is that, with the 56, Diana has drawn a line in the dirt that says “Here’s what we can do when we decide to build a wicked, gnarly, accurate springer that is second to none.” I would love to see what a really talented field target competitor could do with one of these. I think it could be impressive.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

– Jock Elliott

Every once in a while, an airgun comes along that really impresses the heck out of me, one that perhaps has the potential to be a game changer.

The RWS Model 56 Target Hunter by Diana is just such an air rifle. Available in .177 or .22, I call the Model 56 the Big Kahuna because it is the heaviest air rifle I have ever handled. It weighs fully 11.1 lbs without a scope (two pounds more than a Model 54) and stretches 44 inches from muzzle brake to butt pad. With the Model 56, Diana has improved on the Model 54 (which I consider an underappreciated classic) in fit, finish, and performance.

We’ll get into how the Model 56 performs in a little while, but first, let’s take a guided tour. At the back end of the 56, you’ll find a rubber butt pad that can be adjusted vertically. Just loosen a screw and slide it up or down to where you want it. Just forward of that, the hardwood stock is emblazoned on either side with a stylized “TH” for Target Hunter. The buttstock is fully ambidextrous with a cheekpiece on either side. Moving forward again, there is a large opening for the thumbhole, and the pistol grip is checked on either side.

Just ahead of that, the trigger guard houses a metal grooved trigger that the manual says is adjustable for length of first stage and second stage weight. I made no attempt to adjust the trigger.

Forward of that is a flat section of the stock that is extended downward almost on the same level as the trigger guard, like a knee riser block. This section is checkered and says “Diana” on it. Moving ahead, the forestock tapers and is checkered on either side. Beyond that is the barrel with a substantial muzzle break at the end.

One of the most interesting things about the Model 56, besides the metal trigger and metal safety, is that most of the metal parts, including the barrel and receiver, are given in a satin finish that is very distinctive and attractive.

Moving back from the barrel, you’ll find the receiver, and a little further back, the silver breech block. The opening for the breech is cut lower on the right side so that when the cocking lever is pulled back, and the breech slides back, it is easy to load pellets from the right hand side. The cocking lever is on the right side of the receiver, and a small pushbutton anti-beartrap latch is on the left side.

Further back along the receiver is a scope rail with a couple of recesses for anti-recoil pins. At the tail end of the receiver is an all-metal push-pull safety which is resettable. That’s it. Overall, I think the fit and finish of the Model 56 are excellent. If pride of ownership is your thing, the Model 56 has it in spades.

Next time, we’ll have a look at how the Model 56 performs.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

– Jock Elliott