The Benjamin Trail NP pistol with the cocking assist handle detached.

The Benjamin Trail NP pistol with the cocking assist handle detached.

I have a weakness for air pistols. They are both fun and challenging to shoot. (Heck, any pistol is challenging to shoot because they don’t have the additional support of a shoulder stock.) I particularly enjoy shooting spring-piston air pistols because they deliver a mild jolt to the hand when they go off, and managing the recoil is the key challenge.

Nearly 18 months ago, I became aware that Crosman Corporation had plans in the works to build a spring-piston break-barrel air pistol based on the Nitro Piston powerplant. I was particularly interested because, to the best of my knowledge, no other company is building a break-barrel pistol based on gas ram/gas spring/Nitro Piston technology. From time to time I would send an email to my contact at Crosman and inquire when the pistol would be available. For quite a while, the answer always came back: “Not yet.” A couple of months ago, though, I got an email telling me that Crosman would send me one soon.  And sure enough, not long afterward, a UPS truck arrived bearing a large box containing the Benjamin Trail NP Pistol.

I yanked it out of the box, grabbed some Crosman Premier Light (CPL) 7.9 grain pellets and began banging away at some soup cans at seven yards. I found almost immediately that the NP pistol would punch through one side of a soup can at seven yards, but not both.  I tried the very light non-lead Crosman SSP Pointed pellets that were in the package, but I still could not penetrate both sides of the soup can. The other thing that I found immediately was that this pistol was fun to shoot. My initial impression was: “I like it! Decent rear sight, manageable recoil, useful cocking assist handle, and enough power to defend the birdfeeder at close range, fun to shoot.”

The rear sight hangs slightly over the rear of the receiver.

The rear sight hangs slightly over the rear of the receiver.

Before I tell you about the rest of my experience, let’s take a guided tour of this pistol. The Benjamin Trail NP Pistol is a single-shot, break-barrel pistol in .177 caliber. It stretches 16 inches from end to end, 19 inches with the cocking assist sleeve attached, and weighs just shy of three-and-one-half pounds. A metal notch-type rear green fiber optic sight that is adjustable for windage and elevation hangs over the back end of the receiver. Below that, the powerplant is made of metal and the “stock” (including the pistol grip) is made of a matte black polymer.

The pistol grip is studded with small protrusions that aid in gripping the pistol, and the same black polymer forms a guard around a black polymer trigger. Above the trigger is a push-button safety that displays a red ring when the safety is off. Beyond the trigger guard is a slot underneath the pistol that provides clearance for the cocking linkage.

The Benjamin Tral NP pistol with the cocking assist sleeve attached.

The Benjamin Tral NP pistol with the cocking assist sleeve attached.

Beyond that is a black metal barrel with has a polymer fitting on the end that serves as a protection for the muzzle and a mount for a blade-type red fiber optic front sight. Moving rearward, you’ll find the breech block and the receiver, which has dovetails for mounting the rear sight or a pistol scope or red dot. That’s all there is to the Benjamin Trail NP Pistol.

To ready the pistol for shooting, you could grab the muzzle end of the barrel and pull it down and back until it latches. But the barrel is short and the front sight would dig into the palm of your hand, so Crosman has provided a cocking assist handle that clips over the muzzle fitting but provides a slot for the front sight to poke through. Unlike other pistols that have offered cocking assist devices, the cocking assist handle for the Trail NP is designed to clip to the barrel of the gun so that it stays on while you are shooting it. It extends the length of the pistol by three inches and provides a place to grip the pistol for cocking that won’t dig into your hand.

The sight picture showing the two green dots of the rear sight on either side of the out-of-focus fiber optic red front sight.

The sight picture showing the two green dots of the rear sight on either side of the out-of-focus fiber optic red front sight.

So you grab the cocking assist handle in one hand and the pistol grip in the other and pull the muzzle down and back until it latches. This takes, I estimate, around 30 pounds of effort, but is very smooth and free of any noise. Next, slide a .177 pellet into the breech and return the barrel to its original position. Take aim, push the safety off, and squeeze the trigger.

Now, here’s where things get a little weird. When I first shot the Trail NP pistol, I was banging away at cans using a two-handed weaver grip and pulling straight through the trigger. If you had asked me then, I would have estimated the trigger pull at about five pounds. Later, however, I checked the trigger pull with my Lyman digital trigger gauge and found that the first stage requires 3 lbs. 13 oz, and the second stage is 7 lbs. 13 oz. I was astonished because the trigger didn’t feel that heavy to me. But I rechecked the pull a couple of times and those really are the numbers.  The second stage also has a lot of creep. When I was shooting groups, I found I would pull halfway through the second stage, recheck the sight alignment, and then pull the rest of the way to trigger the shot.

The Benjamin Trail NP sends 7.9 grain Crosman Premier pellets down range at 506 fps average, which works out to 4.49 foot-pounds of energy. Crosman claims, on the package, 625 fps with lead-free pellets, but that turned out to be too low.  The Benjamin Trail NP pistol sent 4-grain Crosman SSP Pointed pellets through my chronograph at a sizzling 720 fps, generating 4.6 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle. The report was pretty subdued, not dead quiet but not loud enough, it seemed to me, to disturb the neighbors.

Shooting two-handed from a sitting position in my SteadyAim harness at ten yards, I found that the Trail NP would deliver 1.5-inch five-shot groups with just about any pellet I fed it. Generally I could put 3 shots into a group you could cover with a quarter but then I would get a couple of outliers that would expand the group.

In addition, as I was completing this review, I heard from the editor of Airgun Hobbyist magazine. He said that he had bought the Benjamin Trail NP pistol and could not get it to sight-in at 10 yards. There simply wasn’t enough elevation adjustment, he said. I did not have that problem with the sample that Crosman sent me, but I had to adjust the sight almost to the very limit of its travel. In addition, I have seen similar online comments from a couple of shooters. At this point, I do not know if the sight adjustment problem with this pistol is limited to a handful of units or is more widespread. Certainly this is something that Crosman should look into, in my opinion.

So where does that leave us with the Benjamin Trail NP pistol? Despite the heavy trigger, I found it a lot of fun to shoot. It is an excellent choice for an afternoon of plinking and is accurate enough and has sufficient power to defend the birdfeeder at close range. It would also be an appropriate pistol for controlling pigeons or rats in a barn. I believe a lot of airgunners will enjoy shooting this pistol as it stands so long as the sight can be properly adjusted, but with less trigger weight and creep, a pistol that I found enjoyable would be significantly improved.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

–          Jock Elliott

The Walther Lever Action in all its glory.

The Walther Lever Action in all its glory.

When I was a youngster, cowboys were Big Time, Big Deal. Early on, it was Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers, and Gene Autry. Later on, it was Maverick, Gunsmoke, and The Rifleman. Even now, any of the many fine books by Louis L’Amour are among my favorite reading materials. Part of me remains a ten year old boy who roamed the summer woods and fields of the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont with his Daisy Pump 25. My constant companion, the kid from across the road, carried a Daisy Red Ryder. High adventure usually included a nickel tube of BBs and a popsicle from the general store.

Recently, I had in my hands an airgun that made all of that come flashing back to me in the twinkling of an eye. The gun in question is the Walther Lever Action. Finished in blued steel and wood, the Walther Lever Action answers in my mind the question: “What would happen if the Daisy Red Ryder grew to maturity?”

That thick butt pad detaches to allow inserting an 88-gr. CO2 cartridge.

That thick butt pad detaches to allow inserting an 88-gr. CO2 cartridge.

The Lever Action is a eight-shot, .177 caliber repeating air rifle powered by an 88 gr. CO2 cartridge. It stretches 39.2 inches from butt pad to muzzle and weighs 6.2 pounds. At the extreme aft end, you’ll find a thick plastic butt pad that has a large screw in the end (More about that in a while). Ahead of that is a hardwood buttstock that is ambidextrous. Ahead of that, underneath the stock and receiver, is the lever which cocks the air rifle and advances the magazine and also serves as a trigger guard.

There is a saddle ring on the left-hand side of the receiver.

There is a saddle ring on the left-hand side of the receiver.

Forward of that is the hardwood forestock which has a polymer band at the end. Protruding from the end of the forestock is a false tubular magazine made of metal which is connected to the barrel above by another polymer band. On top of the barrel at the muzzle end is a hooded blade-type front sight. Moving back along the barrel, you’ll find a notch type rear sight on top of the rear portion of the barrel, and moving further back you’ll find the receiver proper. The front sight is moved to adjust for windage, and the rear sight is adjusted for elevation.

Press in the cartridge loading gate on the right side of the receiver, and the magazine pops out.

Press in the cartridge loading gate on the right side of the receiver, and the magazine pops out.

On the left side of the receiver, there is a saddle ring and one end of the push-button safety. On the right side of the receiver is the other end of the push-button safety and what appears to be a loading gate for feeding cartridges into the magazine as well as a small rectangular hatch. At the back end of the receiver is the hammer. The Walther Lever Action is made in Germany, and I think the fit and finish are spot on for an air rifle in this price range.

The magazine, ready for loading. It can be removed from its pivot for easier pellet insertion.

The magazine, ready for loading. It can be removed from its pivot for easier pellet insertion.

To ready the Walther Lever Action for shooting, undo the large screw in the butt plate using the tool that is supplied with the gun. The butt plate comes off, revealing a chamber into which an 88-gr. CO2 cartridge can be inserted. Screw the cartridge into the receptacle and tighten it using the special pliers that are also supplied. Reattach the butt plate.

Next press in the loading gate on the right side of the receiver. This will cause the magazine arm to swivel out, revealing the eight-shot rotary magazine. Slide the rotary magazine off its axel. Load eight pellets into the magazine by pushing them in nose-first from the back side of the magazine. (The back side of the magazine has what looks like a small toothed gear in the middle.) Put the magazine back on its axel and close the magazine arm.

Pull the lever all the way down and back up again to cock the action and index the magazine. This requires very little effort. Take aim at your target and squeeze the trigger. The first stage comes out at 1 lb. 6.1 oz. At 4 lb. 11 oz., the shot goes down range with a muted “pop.” At ten yards, from a sitting position, I found I could put eight shots into a ragged one-hole group that you could cover with a dime.

I chronographed the Walther Lever Action on a day that was barely 58 degrees here in upstate New York, and I found that it averaged 528 fps with Crosman 7.9 gr Premier pellets. The factory specifies that that the Lever Action will deliver 630 fps, but they don’t say what weight pellets will do that. Since CO2 powered airguns will vary in velocity with temperature, I would expect that the Lever Action would certainly launch pellets faster than 528 fps average at 70 or 80 degrees. I also tried Crosman non-lead SSP Pointed pellets and got 654 fps average. Certainly this airgun delivers enough oomph for defending the bird feeder at short range. UmarexUSA tells me you can expect 150-200 shots from an 88-gr. CO2 cartridge.

What's not to like?

What’s not to like?

In the end, I liked the Walther Lever Action a whole lot. It’s accurate, is easy to shoot well, has a neighbor-friendly report and repeats with a flick of a lever. Heck, if you have any cowboy in you, you need one of these airguns.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

Jock Elliott

First of all, let’s hold a few truths to be self-evident: the folks who read this blog are possessed of keen wit, superior intelligence, and fine judgment. After all, you are voluntarily, of your own free will, reading this blog, so that proves my point; the defense calls no further witnesses. To borrow a notion from Lake Woebegone, among the readers of this blog, all the women are pretty, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average. So the topic of this blog is specifically not addressed at my regular readers.

Nevertheless, because evil, stupid, criminal, chemically deranged, or mentally ill people occasionally do horrific things with guns, and then the media waxes on excessively about the Evils of Guns (notice that they do not wax on excessively about the problem of evil, stupid, criminal, chemical deranged or mentally ill people, as if somehow the inanimate guns rather than the people who actually commit the acts were responsible), in the United States we live in a culture where some folks who are unfamiliar with projectile launchers can get pretty twitchy about them.

As I write this, two incidents come to mind, both of which I personally witnessed. The first I offer as evidence of some folks’ mental state when it comes to guns. I was shooting in the side yard, testing an airgun, when some college kids in a car, apparently lost, came up our dead-end road. As they pulled into a neighbor’s driveway to turn around, I heard one of the young women say, “Oooh, he has a gun!” in a tone that suggested she was concerned. I continued shooting, made no reaction, and they drove off. But I was mildly offended. Did she think that because I had an airgun I was somehow a threat to her safety? If I were trimming limbs with a chainsaw, would she be equally concerned? (Hey, hasn’t she seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Be afraid, be very afraid!)

The second I offer as evidence that some folks’ attitudes about guns are based on ignorance. A few years ago, the good folks at www.airgunsofarizona.com were kind enough to fly me to Phoenix to attend the NRA show there. It was a wonderful show, and in a large room there, a collection of airgun vendors had set up an airgun shooting venue with tables, chairs, and guns on one side of the room, and pellet traps and targets on the other side. It was an excellent setup, well organized and well run. As I was visiting the room, a family arrived with perhaps at 10-year-old girl. One of the parents asked, “Would you like to try shooting an airgun?” No, said the girl emphatically, I don’t like guns. Then, if I recall correctly, one of the guys from Airguns of Arizona said, “Why you just try a couple of shots, and if you don’t like it, you can just quit?” The girl agreed, and in a twinkling of an eye, the next problem they had was that she didn’t want to stop shooting. She had gone through two or three magazines of pellets, and was holding up the line! The point being that some people think they don’t like guns, but that is simply a cultural attitude and not based on real experience.

So, by now I bet you are wondering where I am going with all this. Okay, here’s the point: every once in a while I will notice on one of the forums that an airgunner has gotten into a problem with one of his or her neighbors over shooting the back yard. What follows are Uncle Jock’s tips for getting along with the neighbors with your airguns. Note well: all of this is predicated on the notion that your relations with your neighbors are positive or at least neutral. If you have already had a really negative interaction with your neighbor over some issue, all bets are off.

First, know where you stand legally. Make a phone call to the police or sheriff and ask, “What’s the status of shooting airguns in (name of place where you live)?” You may find out that it is perfectly legal, or that it is forbidden, or that it is legal under certain circumstances. The point is that you need to know, for certain, where you stand; ignorance is not your friend.

Second, have some positive interaction with your neighbor ahead of time. Say hi. Rescue their garbage can from the street. Welcome them to the neighborhood. Chitchat at the mailbox. Show that you are a good guy (or gal).

Third, approach them at some time about your shooting. (Do NOT take the gun with you.) Some might say something like this: “I’m planning on shooting an airgun in the backyard, so if you see me out there with a gun, that’s what I am doing. I am very concerned about safety, so I will be shooting into a pellet trap. I always make sure that the shooting lane is clear, so that if your cat (or dog or child) should wander into my yard, I’ll stop shooting until they are clear. Do you have any questions?” Depending on their reaction, you might offer to show the gun to them or even invite them to shoot.

Fourth, be considerate of when you shoot. If the neighbor works the night shift and he needs to sleep until noon or if the baby naps every afternoon, that would be a poor time to be banging away with your airgun. When you speak to the neighbor you might say, “My airguns are pretty quiet, but is there any time that I should avoid disturbing you?”

Finally, you may have a neighbor who is just inalterably against guns and doesn’t want to see, hear, or know about them. In that case, my advice is to hide your shooting. The basement is a popular venue for many airgunners, and I know of one targeteer who in an urban backyard from an enclosed back porch into a pellet trap hidden in a garden shed.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

–          Jock Elliott

 

 

From last week’s blog, remember that Blair wrote in, asking:

  1. In your experience, what would you recommend as the best gun (top 3 in order) and caliber to purchase in order to maintain a regular food supply? I live in Georgia in a suburban area with woods all around. (squirrels, turkey & smaller deer) I don’t plan on being a collector of numerous airguns however, price is not a limiting factor.
  2. What are your preferred scopes and range finders?
  3. Since, in theory, the electricity may be out, I will need to hand pump the rifle. What is the best (most efficient, easiest to use and reliable) pump available?

Until recently, Blair, I would have recommended a multi-stroke pneumatic rifle as your first choice since they are self-contained and easy to shoot well, but my thinking has changed. The reason? One of my favorite MSP rifles failed simply by being stored in a gun closet. One of the seals failed, and the rifle would not pump and hold air.

And that is a problem with all MSP, SSP, CO2, and PCP airguns – they are seal dependent. If a single seal fails, the air rifle may quit functioning entirely, ruining its ability to gather food for your family. So unless you intend to stock a spare seal kit and learn how to repair the air rifle you choose, I would not recommend for your purposes an airgun with an MSP, SSP, CO2 or PCP powerplant. Don’t get me wrong: there are many wonderful MSP, SSP, CO2 and PCP airguns out there, and it gives me great joy to shoot them, but in the scenario that you describe, Blair, with the lights out and the need to gather food urgent, I would go with the most reliable airgun powerplant I could find.

Spring-piston air rifles (springers), on the other hand, tend to be fail-soft. You can burn a piston seal, kink or break a spring, and they will continue to launch pellets, albeit at lower velocity. I once asked Robert Buchanan, maximum leader at Airguns of Arizona which was the most reliable airgun powerplant, and he said, “Springers. We never get them back for service.”

So I would recommend a medium-power springer in .22 caliber. Specifically, an RWS34 in .22, a Weihrauch HW95 in .22, or, if you want a somewhat lighter, less powerful air rifle, the Weihrauch HW50 (the Brits, after all, have taken a lot of game with 12 foot-pound air rifles). As to scopes, the good folks at www.airgunsofarizona.com have more experience with the reliability of different kinds of scopes than I do, but I can tell you that my very first high-quality airgun scope, a Bushnell Trophy 3-12 x 40 is still alive and well after more than a decade of airgun testing. I use a Bushnell rangefinder, but I recommend that you learn to estimate range for yourself because you may need to do it quite rapidly in a hunting situation.

In addition, Blair, I reached out to Jim Chapman, who also blogs for Airguns of Arizona on hunting topics: http://www.airgunsofarizona.com/hunting/ . He is a knowledgeable and enthusiast hunter, and I deeply respect his opinion, so I asked for his take on your questions.

Here, verbatim, is his response:

Hi Jock;

This subject comes up quite a bit, my thought is that the airgun in this situation has a limited and specific role. If I could only have one gun in a true survival situation, it would not be an airgun, but rather a .22 rimfire that I could use for small game, head shoot a deer for food, and in a last ditch effort use for defense. Ammo is cheap and you could store vast quantities and high capacity magazines if you had to use it for defense.

The role I’d have for an airgun in a survival situation would be for stealth hunting to take small game without generating a lot of noise. Plus you could store thousands of pellets that cost relatively little and take almost no room to store. If the lights went out for good, this would be invaluable for harvesting plentiful small game.

The gun I’d choose for this would be a mid powered (circa 16 fpe) spring piston airgun in .22 caliber. I find that squirrels go down faster with a .22 than a .177 with a head or body shot, and if you need the food the last thing you’d want to see is your mortally wounded squirrel disappearing into its den to die.

My personal home survival kit is a supply of food and water to last my family for some time, appropriate centerfire rifles, pistols, and shotguns for hunting and defense, my bow for stealth hunting big game, and many airguns (I have a big collection after all) for small game. We live in a suburban are bordering lots of farmland and woods, and hunting for food might come into play, but mostly I’d want firepower to defend what we have.

Maybe not what folks would like to hear from an admitted airgun fanatic, but it’s the way I see things.

Regards,

Jim

PS; If I was stuck on an island with no dangerous game and no need for defense, the same airgun discussed above would be my first choice. In the right situations an airgun could keep you fed indefinitely.

Finally, Blair, whatever airgun you choose for food gathering, it’s important that you practice your skills before the need arises. You didn’t say anything about your hunting skills, so if you are inexperienced, you need to learn how to hunt and prepare game before you are forced to learn under duress.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

–          Jock Elliott

 

 

First things first: my heartfelt thanks to the folks who read this blog. If you didn’t read it, then the good folks at www.airgunsofarizona.com would have no reason to sponsor it. In addition, although you probably don’t realize it, the readers have frequently come to my rescue with interesting questions that would be fun and informative to write about in this blog. For example, recently, I received this email:

Dear Mr. Elliott:

I am new to airguns and think they would be a great asset to have for putting food on the table for my family in case the electricity ever went out for any period of time.

  1. In your experience, what would you recommend as the best gun (top 3 in order) and caliber to purchase in order to maintain a regular food supply? I live in Georgia in a suburban area with woods all around. (squirrels, turkey & smaller deer) I don’t plan on being a collector of numerous airguns however, price      is not a limiting factor.
  2. What are your preferred scopes and range finders?
  3. Since, in theory, the electricity may be out, I will need to hand pump the rifle. What is the best (most      efficient, easiest to use and reliable) pump available?

Thanks for your time.

Blair

Well, Blair, the questions that you pose are interesting and ones that I have thought about from time to time over the years. In addition, my answer to the question of an airgun for reliable game getting has changed recently.

We’ll get to that in a little while, but since you said you are new to airguns, first let’s take a brief survey of airgun powerplants to see which types are available.

Multi-stroke pneumatic (MSP) airguns –require multiple strokes (usually 2-10) of a lever to store compressed air in an on-board cylinder. These guns are virtually recoilless, are relatively easy to shoot well, are completely self-contained, and are suitable to taking small game. In addition, the velocity and power of the shot can be varied with the number of pumping strokes (from, say, 300 fps to 800 fps, depending upon the gun). Once it is fired, a multi-stroke pneumatic must be pumped up again.

Single-stroke pneumatic (SSP) airguns require just a single stroke to charge the gun. Single stroke pneumatics are self-contained, easy to cock, and highly consistent. They are often very accurate over distances up to 20 meters. The power of SSP rifles is usually low, shooting relatively light match-grade .177 pellets at 500-600 fps. SSP pistols are even less powerful.

Pre-charged pneumatic (PCP) airguns use air from a SCUBA tank or a high-pressure hand pump that is stored a high-pressure reservoir on the gun. Many long-range varmint air rifles use this powerplant. These guns are powerful, virtually recoil-free, very consistent, highly accurate and, in some cases, offer on-the-fly adjustable power. They are not, however, self-contained. When the compressed air in the on-board reservoir runs out, you need a SCUBA tank or high-pressure hand pump to charge the gun again.

Spring-piston airguns use a lever (sometimes the barrel, sometimes a lever under the barrel or on the side of the receiver) to cock a spring. When the trigger is pulled, the spring is released, propelling a piston forward and pushing a powerful blast of air behind the pellet. This is the same operating principle behind the beloved Red Ryder. Spring-piston guns are self-contained, often powerful, and can be very accurate as well as relatively quiet. The cocking effort – sometimes as high as 60 lbs — can be challenging in more powerful guns. In addition, the movement of the action when released can make these guns difficult to shoot with consistent accuracy. There are also gas spring guns which use a gas strut instead of a spring to store energy. In my experience, the more powerful a spring-piston air rifle, the more difficult it will be to shoot it with high accuracy.

CO2 airguns use either 12-gram cartridges or transferred from a bulk tank into the gun’s on-board reservoir. They are recoilless, convenient, and (in high quality models) very accurate, and CO2 cartridges are easy to carry in a pocket. But these guns are not self-contained and velocities can sag at lower temperatures.

Okay, Blair, that’s the background information you need to make a sensible choice of an airgun to meet your needs. Next time, we’ll get to the specific answers to your questions.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

–          Jock Elliott

nitropistoncomparison 11-09 (Medium)

A while back, Freddy King responded to one of my blogs and posted a question: “Could you give some info on Nitro Piston mechanism? How does this system work?”

Okay, Freddy, here goes. If you have ever seen the gas strut that lifts the back window of an SUV or the rear door of a hatchback automobile, you have seen the basic working mechanism of a Nitro Piston – also known as a gas ram or gas spring – airgun powerplant. At the heart of the gas spring is a cylinder with compressed gas. At the far end of the cylinder is a piston. The mechanism works the same way a conventional spring-piston airgun powerplant: when you cock a breakbarrel rifle equipped with a gas ram or Nitro Piston, you drive the piston down the cylinder (further compressing the gas inside the cylinder, which is comparable to compressing the spring in a conventional spring powerplant) until it latches. The powerplant sits there, under tension until the shooter pulls the trigger. When that happens, the gas expands, driving the piston down the compression tube, compressing the air in front of it until the compressed air squirts through the transfer port into the breech, propelling the pellet down the barrel.

To find out more about this technology, I spoke interviewed Ben Taylor, who invented gas ram technology, by telephone in England. In 1976, he and his business partner Dave Theobald were unhappy with the state of the art in spring-piston powerplants. They had made and sold eight spring rifles, and they all suffered from not keeping the energy that Taylor wanted. So he had a thought: what if you used compressed gas in a cylinder with a piston instead of a spring?

So he built one, using a brake seal for cars from Lockheed, and it worked! At first, he pressurized the gas ram with 150 psi air from the shop and got only about eight or nine foot-pounds of energy. “Then we tried 300 psi nitrogen from a bottle and got 1,000 fps in .177. I shot that same gun for five years with the same charge in it,” Taylor says.

In 1981, Taylor and his partner applied for a patent and tried to interest various airgun manufacturers in licensing the technology. A couple of times they came close, but ultimately no deals were consummated. “So we decided to manufacture it ourselves. It took 10,000 pounds to get set up. We sold 490 the first year, 1,000 by the third year,” he says.

Gas rams offer a number of advantages, Taylor says. “They are totally tireless. You can leave them cocked for as long as you like. Nothing wears out. The seals don’t wear. Recently I serviced gun number 25 from 1982, and it was the first time it had been serviced since it had been manufactured. You have to remember to shoot, or cock-and-decock, a gas ram every few months, otherwise the seal can get bonded to the bore, and that will cause failure.”

He adds, “We found that if a gas ram is going to fail, it will do so within the first week. Otherwise, it will last for years. Right now, there are more of our guns out there that have never been serviced than those that have been serviced.”

There are a few disadvantages to gas rams. Unlike a spring powerplant, which often will keep operating at reduced velocity even if the spring gets broken or bent, if a gas ram fails, it won’t work at all.

The biggest problem, Taylor says, is that, because Theoben gas ram powerplants had a valve where people could increase or reduce the pressure of the gas inside the powerplant, people, in a quest for more power, tend to overfill them.

“There is a sweet spot on the pressure vs. velocity curve,” Taylor says. “If you go beyond that, you increase the pressure, but you don’t get any benefit. The gun becomes hard to control and won’t shoot straight. In addition, there is the danger of burning the piston seal. We actually had to design our high powered guns so that over-pressurizing them wouldn’t create reliability problems.”

Taylor told of an interesting experience at the test range one day. “We had two 30 foot-pound guns of the same caliber shooting the same pellets. One was a gas ram and the other was a precharged pneumatic. We had chronographs set up at the muzzle, halfway down the range, and at the target. We found the gas ram was retaining energy much better at the target. When we recovered the pellets, they looked like they had come from two different manufactures. The pressure from the gas ram had flared the skirt of the pellet flat to the bore, so that it looked like a cylindrical pellet, and the gun was shooting flat like a laser!”

The Weihrauch HW90 incorporates the Theoben gas ram system.

The Weihrauch HW90 incorporates the Theoben gas ram system.

Although Theoben Airguns has gone out of business, you can still buy a breakbarrel rifle with a gas ram powerplant based on Ben Taylor’s design: the HW90.

I also interviewed Ed Schultz, Director of Engineering for Crosman Corporation, to get his views of Crosman’s Nitro Piston Technology.

“Nitro Piston offers an advantage in longevity in modern spring guns that operate at the velocities that people want,” Schultz said.

“When you are using a mechanical spring in an airgun, you are just doing bad things to the spring,” Schultz adds. “A rule of thumb in engineering is that you don’t want to stress a spring past 50% compression to maintain reliability, but that doesn’t work in a spring gun. Instead, you compress the spring almost 100%. You take up almost all the gap between the spring coils to get ultimate performance, and that tends to weaken the spring.  And if you leave it cocked, you’re taking some life out of the spring. So you use special materials and do special heat treatments to deal with that, but you’re basically fighting a losing battle.”

“But a gas ram, Nitro Piston, powerplant eliminates the weak link in the system. The gas doesn’t care if it is compressed, it’s not going to degrade the life of the powerplant,” he says. “A life of 5,000 shots is probably a good rule for estimating spring life in an average spring-piston powerplant. The life of a Nitro Piston powerplant is easily twice that, and at the end of that time, it will shoot close to the original numbers. It’s either working completely fine, or it’s not working at all.”

Schultz adds that a Nitro Piston powerplant has few moving parts, there is no spring torque, no vibration, no need for spring guides. “To make a spring powerplant really quiet and vibration free, you have to custom fit inner and outer spring guides because every spring is slightly different,” he says. “You don’t have to do that with a Nitro piston powerplant. There are billions of gas springs in use throughout the world. Automobile manufactures have adopted them because of their reliability, and we know how to make them with high precision. With a Nitro Piston gas spring powerplant in your airgun, you get a lot of the advantages of an expensive, custom-tuned powerplant at a more affordable price.”

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

–          Jock Elliott

The RWS 240 is simplicity itself.

The RWS 240 is simplicity itself.

A short while ago, I suggested that if you’re suffering from the wintertime blues and want to get  rid of the I-can’t-wait-for-spring grumpies, a little trigger time with some pistols indoors might be just the medicine that will soothe your soul while you wait just a bit longer for the temperatures to rise and the buds to appear.

Some folks are, by personal preference, training, or genetic proclivity, pistol freaks. I have a pal who wouldn’t walk across the street to shoot the best long gun in the world, but would put himself at considerable trouble to shooting an interesting new air pistol.

I realize, though, that pistols are not everyone’s cup of tea. So, what to do if you are a long gun enthusiast and seriously can’t whack up the ginger to shoot air pistols indoors?

Fortunately, I just recently shoot the answer: the RWS Model 240 Schutze. This is a small, light, low-powered air rifle that is just the ticket for low noise, high fun shooting indoors, even at very limited range.

RWS 240 004-001

The 240 stretches 41 inches from end to end and weighs just 5.7 pounds. At the aft end, you’ll find a soft rubber butt plate that is separated from the ambidextrous hardwood stock by a black plastic spacer. The stock is entirely free of any adornment such as checkering or grooves. The pistol grip is slanted at about a 45 degree angle and forward of that, a black polymer trigger guard surrounds a folded sheet metal trigger that can be adjusted for first-stage travel.

RWS 240 007

RWS 240 005

Moving forward, the slim forestock tapers slightly and has a slot underneath to provide clearance for the cocking linkage. Forward of that, you’ll find the barrel, which has a plastic fitting on the muzzle end that serves as a mount for the fiber-optic front sight. The front sight looks like a classic globe sight but has cut-outs on the sides to allow light to illuminate the red optical fiber. Moving back along the barrel, a notch-type rear sight is mounted on the breech block. It has green optical fibers on either side so that a proper sight picture looks like green-red-green dots inside the front globe. I found the buttstock has just enough rise in the comb to provide perfect alignment for my head behind the sights.

The receiver is fitted with dovetails for mounting a scope but no holes for anti-recoil pins. I am guessing that is because this air rifle generates very little recoil. The factory manual rates the velocity at only 490 feet per second (without specifying the pellet weight), and speeds of 565 fps can be generated only by shooting very light – 7.0 grain – RWS Hobby pellets. That works out to only 4.9 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle.  At the extreme aft end of the receiver is an automatic push-pull safety. That’s all there is to the 240. This is an air rifle of extreme simplicity.

To ready the 240 for shooting, grab the end of the barrel and pull it down and back until it latches. This requires only about 19 pounds of effort and opens the breech for loading. Slide a pellet into the breech, return the barrel to its original position, take aim, slide the safety off, and squeeeeze the trigger. The first stage comes out of the trigger at 12.9 ounces, and the shot goes downrange at 5 pounds, 2 ounces. While the trigger is a wee bit heavier than I would prefer, still I found the 240 a pleasure to shoot. It easily produced dime-sized groups at 13 yards with open sights.

This is a gun you could shoot all day in the basement, and the report is very mild. It is also a low-powered air rifle, so I wouldn’t recommend it for hunting or pest control, unless it is small game at close range, and you are very confident of your shot placement. In my casual testing of penetration with the 240, I found that, at 5 yards, a 7.9 grain pellet would blow through both sides of a tin can, but at 13 yards, it would penetrate only one side of the can.

But as a plinker or an indoor practice tool, this is a lovely gun, and it would make a wonderful gift for a youngster who wants to move up from a BB gun to his or her first “serious” airgun or an adult looking for something to do while waiting for spring.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

–          Jock Elliott

Just the other day, I got an email from one of my main contacts at www.airgunsofarizona.com – the good folks who graciously support this blog.

My contact was complaining, ever so gently, that they tend to get certain questions again and again. They are, in no particular order:

  • “I see you rate the airgun in ft/lbs (foot-pounds), but how many FEET PER SECOND does it shoot?”
  • “Why don’t you rate in feet per second?”
  • “Why is your feet per second rating lower than the manufacturer’s?”

I told my contact that I would attempt to answer these questions in a way that they might not come up so often in the future. So here goes.

“I see you rate the airgun in ft/lbs (foot-pounds), but how many FEET PER SECOND does it shoot?”

To really get a handle on this question, we have to go back in time a little. Over the past dozen plus years that I have been writing about airguns, I have noticed a creeping trend among airgun manufacturers, particularly those that sell their products in the big-box discount stores. That trend, quite simply, has been to advertise the speed of the airgun prominently on the box, and a kind of arms race has developed. If one manufacturer says “1,000 feet per second,” the next manufacturer will crow “1,200 feet per second,” and pretty soon a manufacturer will brag “1,500 feet per second!” The manufacturers do this, I presume, because the poor consumer, who knows relatively little about airguns, will naturally assume that a faster airgun is better than a comparable airgun that is slower.

But this kind of airgun advertising really does the consumer a disservice. To discover why, we have to start with a few key physical facts. Key fact number one: the sound barrier at sea level is right around 1,100 feet per second. This is important because, as the speed of a pellet approaches the sound barrier, it enters a region of turbulence that seriously interferes with shooting accurately. This is also true of a pellet that is initially shot at high speed and then drops very quickly below the speed of sound. It is far better to shoot slower and more accurately than to shoot a pellet at higher speed and miss. For this very reason, most of the country’s field target shooters set up their guns to shoot no faster than 950 feet per second, and many shoot much slower.

(And – as an aside – it is possible to do very accurate shooting with relatively low-speed airguns. Just ask the air pistol silhouette shooters who use the Daisy Avanti 747. Olympic 10-meter competitors shoot rifles that send the pellets down range at around 600 fps.)

Key fact number two: there are no – repeat NO – airgun powerplants that launch pellets fast enough to keep them above the speed of sound for any appreciable distance. In the field of powder-burning varmint rifles, you will find cartridges that will launch bullets at 3,000, even 4,000 feet per second. The varminter is relying on the bullet staying at supersonic velocity all the way to the target to maintain accuracy. But this simply isn’t possible with an airgun powerplant.

Now, I can almost guess what you are thinking: “But what about those airguns that advertise 1,500 feet per second?” Okay, I’ll tell you. First, they achieve those velocities by shooting very light pellets that do not retain their velocity well over distance. Second, they do not obtain excellent accuracy using those very light pellets. A few years ago, I tested a spring-piston air rifle that was promoted as generating 1,500 fps. With very light non-lead alloy pellets, it would, indeed, achieve velocities in the mid-1400s, but at 50 yards, it delivered five-shot groups that were about six inches in diameter. When I fed that same rifle heavy pellets and slowed the velocity down to around 930 fps, the group size shrank to less than 1.5 inches at 50 yards. Slower was much more accurate.

So when you ask “How fast does it shoot?” You are basically asking the wrong question.  Let’s do a little thought experiment for a moment. Let’s pretend that you are napping on the couch on a Sunday afternoon. Now, here comes Uncle Jock, sneaking up on you, with a sphere in each hand. My plan is to drop one of these spheres on your head from a distance of six inches. Since gravity is a constant, either sphere will drop on your sleeping cranium at exactly the same speed. Now, here’s the question: one of the sphere’s is a table tennis ball which weighs only a fraction of an ounce, and the other sphere is a bowling ball, which weighs several pounds – which one would you prefer that I let slip from my fingers? Unless you are incredibly weird in some way, I’m pretty sure that you would prefer the table tennis ball because, even though it would be falling at the same speed as the bowling ball, it is lighter and will hit with less force. The bottom line is that the weight of the projectile matters as much as the velocity. In the world of airguns, the force of a pellet is measured in foot-pounds of energy.

So, if you ask “How many foot-pounds of energy does it generate at the muzzle, you are getting a much better idea of what the relative power of the airgun is. That also explains why www.airgunsofarizona.com does not generally rate airguns in feet per second.

If you want to calculate foot-pounds of energy for yourself, here’s how you do it: take the velocity of the pellet in feet per second and square it (multiply it by itself). Take the resulting number and multiply that by the weight of the pellet in grains. Finally, divide that number by 450240. So, if your airgun is shooting 7.9 grain pellets at 800 fps, here’s the calculation: 800 x 800 = 640,000. 640,000 x 7.9 = 5,056,000. 5,056,000 divided by 450240 = 11.2295 foot-pounds of energy.

Why is your feet per second rating lower than the manufacturer’s?”

This is a lot easier to answer: most manufacturers use really light pellets to achieve their velocity ratings. Super light pellets, however, are not generally what most people shoot with. The criteria that airgunners should use in selecting the right pellet for their air rifle or air pistol is not which pellet shoots the fastest, but which pellet delivers the best accuracy.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

–          Jock Elliott

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back in 1974, your Humble Correspondent was recorded picking his banjo on an album entitled “Alternate Plan B” recorded by Bert Mayne. I remember there was a line in the album notes that stuck with me: “Winter has been too long in my hills.”

I can relate. Despite relatively low snow fall, winter has, indeed, been too long in my hills this year. Maybe you have a case of the I-can’t-wait-for-spring mullygrubbs as well. If you do, don’t despair, help is just around the corner.

What you – and I – need is a little quality trigger time with an airgun. And if the weather outside is inclement (here is upstate New York, it has been just plain cold and damp), no problem . . . here’s your recipe for putting a smile on your face.

What you need is an air pistol, some pellets, some paper targets, and a pellet trap. (If you live someplace where folks might complain about noise, get a pellet trap that is lined with putty at the back to absorb the sound of the pellets hitting the trap).

The lovely thing about shooting an air pistol is that you don’t need a lot of space to provide a challenge. If you only have 15 feet to shoot in the basement (or even a hallway . . . make sure that no one can walk into your line of fire), that still can be mighty entertaining. Print out some ten meter pistol targets at half scale, and you’re all set.

What’s that you say? Shooting at 5 yards would be just too easy? Okay, try this: try shooting one-handed with your non-dominant hand. That’s right: if you normally shoot right-handed, try left left-handed. If you want to turn it into a game, try fanning out some playing cards on the face of your target so that only the corners are exposed and now try shooting a winning poker hand for yourself. Or fan out two sets of cards and turn it into a contest with someone else.

The Browning Buck Mark URX fills the bill for a basement plinker at a very reasonable price.

The Browning Buck Mark URX fills the bill for a basement plinker at a very reasonable price.

There are a bunch of pistols that will fill the bill for satisfying indoor shooting at close range. The Browning Buck Mark URX immediately comes to mind. It’s a break-barrel, spring-piston, .177 caliber air pistol that looks like the powder burning Buck Mark URX offered by Browning. You can read my full review of it here: http://www.airgunsofarizona.com/blog/2012/07/browning-buck-mark-urx-the-plinkmeister.html It is a relatively quiet, slow pistol that is just perfect for messing around indoors.

For some additional pistol suggestions, check out this blog: http://www.airgunsofarizona.com/blog/2012/12/the-greatest-christmas-gift-part-ii.html  The Daisy Avanti 747, the Crosman 2300S, the RWS LP8, and, of course, any of the Weihrauch HW45 series pistols are all excellent candidates for indoor practice that will help to cure those –end-of-the-winter blues.

In addition to a pistol, pellet trap, and some pellets, you will also need some eye protection in case an errant pellet ricochets. Finally, as always, you need to keep safety first and foremost. If you are shooting indoors, take care that no person or pet can inadvertently come between you and your target. I sometimes shoot in the basement at El Rancho Elliott between the washing machine and the workbench. I put my pellet trap on top of the workbench, and everything usually works just fine except one day when I triggered a shot before I had carefully taken aim. One of the drawers in the cabinet where I keep nuts, bolts, and screws now has a .177 caliber hole in it! So be careful . . . please.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

–          Jock Elliott

Cross dominance at work. Your Humble Correspondent is shooting this pistol right-handed, but I have turned my head slightly so that my left eye lines up behind the red dot sight.

Cross dominance at work. Your Humble Correspondent is shooting this pistol right-handed, but I have turned my head slightly so that my left eye lines up behind the red dot sight.

I am cross-dominant. No, that doesn’t mean that I am engaged in some sort of weird fetish. It means, instead, my dominant hand is on one side of my body but my dominant eye is on the other side. In my case, I am right handed but left eyed.

According to the US Concealed Carry Association website, www.usconcealedcarry.com, a study of 5,000 people in the 1960s found that 28.6 percent were right handed but left eyed, while only 3.9 percent were left handed but right eyed. Less than 1 percent are thought to have no dominance by either eye while the rest presumably have hand and eye dominance on the same side of the body.

I didn’t even know that I was cross dominant until an archery-related shoulder injury forced me to try shooting archery left handed. Part of that experiment involved determining which was my dominant eye, and that’s when I found out that I am cross dominant. To this day, I shoot a bow left-handed.

It easy to determine which is your dominant eye. Point your finger a light switch 20 feet away. Now, close your left eye. If your fingertip stays over the light switch, you are right eye dominant. If the fingertip jumps to the left, you are left eye dominant. If your dominant eye and dominant hand are on the same side of your body, you are not cross dominant.

But what if you are cross dominant, what does that mean for shooting airguns? For shooting air pistols, it is pretty easy to accommodate cross dominance. Simply hold the pistol in your dominant hand and then rotate your head on a vertical axis or tilt your head so that your dominant eye lines up with the sights. That’s how I shoot pistol, and it appears to work pretty well.

But what about shooting air rifle? There is no easy way to get your left eye behind the sights if you are shooting a rifle right-handed. Experts generally agree that it is best to shoot from the same side of your body as your dominant eye, but it doesn’t always have to be that way. I won the New York State Hunter Class Field Target Championship in 2004 shooting a Beeman R1 equipped with peep sights, and I was shooting right-handed and right-eyed. This was before I knew that I was cross dominant. I still shoot rifle right-handed and right-eyed.

Some experts say that if a shooter is young – less than 20 years of age – it is best to force them to shoot from the side that their dominant eye is on. Others report trying to force older shooters to switch the side they shoot from with mixed results. I tried it when I was having problems with a cataract in my right eye and found shooting from my left side to be incredibly awkward, so awkward in fact that I just gave up. Now that I have had a cataract operation on my right eye, I don’t even bother trying.

I have spoken with one shooter who successfully switched from shooting right-handed to shooting left-handed. Hans Apelles, now 78 years old and part of Team Crosman, made the switch in his 60s because of problems with glaucoma in his right eye which is also his dominant eye.

“Over one winter, I decided I needed to shoot left handed,” he says. “You have to teach your brain what you are going to do. For instance, when I was going to take a kneeling shot, I had to think three times what knee to put down for left-handed shooting.”

He adds, “The first year was very awkward, and I have a couple of holes in the basement ceiling from stupid things happening. But as soon as I started competing in the spring, my scores went up because I could see better.”

He says, “You have to put your mind to it when you switch because it doesn’t come automatically in the beginning. It takes many years of shooting to get your brain trained that way. Even now, if I have a lay-off for a while, I will sometimes put my kneepad on the wrong leg.”

So, are you cross dominant? There is about a one in three chance that you might be. Take the simple test above and find out. If you are, you might consider adjusting your shooting style to make best use of your dominant eye.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

–          Jock Elliott