Posts Tagged ‘Sheridan’

Two of Your Humble Correspondent's Sheridans. At top, a 50th anniversary Sheridan. At bottom, a modern Silver Streak modified with a globe front sight.

Two of Your Humble Correspondent’s Sheridans. At top, a 50th anniversary Sheridan. At bottom, a modern Silver Streak modified with a globe front sight.

Today, the modern Sheridan lives on, in a sense, in the Benjamin 392 (.22 caliber) and Benjamin 397 (.177 caliber) multi-stroke pneumatic rifles that Crosman Corporation still manufactures. They are identical in all but caliber with the modern generation of Sheridans.

When I wrote about the modern Sheridans in 2004, retro-cranks complained that “they don’t build them like they used to.” From a certain perspective that is certainly true. But from what I’ve seen on the factory floor, there is a lot to be said about the benefits of modern manufacturing.

Today, the barrels, made with the same alloy and same process, are purchased from the same supplier that made them for the Racine factory. The breech is now CNC machined so they are consistent and precise from unit to unit. The trigger guard is now a zinc casting and the trigger is made from powdered metal. Previously, they were stamped parts. The biggest change is that brazing the action together – an operation that was highly dependant on operator skill and often required re-work – has been automated so that it is far more consistent from day to day, gun to gun. Modern Streaks weigh six pounds and measure 36.5 inches end-to-end, including a 19.38-inch barrel with one turn in 12 inches.

While the manufacture of parts for the Benjamin/Sheridan has been largely automated, the assembly and testing of the guns is still done manually by highly skilled operators in the same way that it was done back in Racine. Every gun is tested for compression, velocity, operation and safety, and a portion of the guns are tested for accuracy.

These multi-stroke pneumatic (MSP) air rifles have their own particular charm. They are easier to shoot well than a spring-piston air rifle, but they must be pumped up multiple times after each shot. They seem to me to be the air rifle equivalent of a muzzle-loader, a Hawken gun. Shooting is more deliberate. You have to work a little for your shots, but then it seems that I enjoy each round a bit more. Give a Benjamin/Sheridan a trio of pumps, and you can plink or shoot targets at short range. With eight pumps you can easily dispatch the rabbit that has been raiding your garden. With a peep sight mounted, accuracy is sufficient to hit anything that appears as wide as the front sight blade. When a neighbor calls wanting a pest control “favor,” a Benjamin or Sheridan MSP air rifle is my go-to choice.

There three common complaints about Benjamin/Sheridan multi-stroke pneumatic air rifles. The first is that it is difficult to mount a scope on them. That is true, and there are two solutions that I can recommend. The first is to forget about the scope and mount a Williams peep sight. It keeps the rifle light and there is no scope to interfere with hand placement while pumping. The second is to forward-mount a pistol scope, scout rifle style. You can read more about that here:

The second common complaint is that the trigger is mediocre. You can readily improve it by installing a Supersear. You can read more about that here:

The third complaint is that people don’t like all that pumping. Steve Woodward has addressed this by developing the Air Conserving Pumper, which drastically reduces the time and effort between shots and is quieter than the factory model. You can read all about the ACP here You can read my review of the first generation ACP here:

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

–          Jock Elliott

Just recently I heard from a spokesman at Crosman Corporation that, after nearly 70 years, the Sheridan air rifle has been discontinued. Crosman will, however, continue to make .20 caliber pellets.

The Sheridan enjoys a long and glorious history that stretches back to the 1940s.

Note: for a lot of what follows, I owe a deep debt of gratitude to Ted Osborn who was a beady-eyed, totally-committed, non-in-the-twelve-step-program Sheridan fanatic. Ted conducted hundreds of hours of research and interviews into the history of Sheridan and in 2004 was extraordinarily generous of his time in helping me prepare an article about the Sheridan for The Accurate Rifle magazine. Sadly, Ted passed away at home on February 16, 2011. I still miss our phone calls, his hearty baritone, and his ready laugh. He once drove from Ithaca, NY, to my house to allow me to shoot all three grades of classic Sheridans.

In 1943 Ed Wackerhagen and his friend Bob Kraus thought they could build a better airgun, so they set about designing and building one. By mid-1944, they had completed a prototype. On June 20, at 9:30 am, the two men pumped and loaded their creation and launched a pellet at a block of wood a few feet away. The pellet buried itself in the wood, and it was time for celebration: their gun worked! The block of wood was dated and signed and tucked into Kraus’ pocket.

By 1947, advertisements appeared in the magazines of the day, offering the Sheridan pneumatic air rifle (known as the Model A Super Grade) for sale for the princely sum of $56.50. That was a lot of money for an air rifle back then. For the same price, you could purchase a Winchester model 94 30-30. But never mind, an American classic, manufactured in Racine, Wisconsin, had been born, a classic that endures to this day.

The very first Sheridan, the Model A Super Grade. Only 2130 were produced.

The very first Sheridan, the Model A Super Grade. Only 2130 were produced.

The Sheridan Super Grade was a .20 caliber (all Sheridans were .20 caliber.) multi-stroke pneumatic air rifle. It had a large cast and machined aluminum receiver, bronze barrel and pump tube, walnut stock with Monte Carlo cheek-piece, ball-type valve mechanism, adjustable trigger and peep sight. It weighed 5 pounds 14 ounces, stretched 37 inches overall, with a 20-inch barrel with one turn in 12 inches.

About 800 Super Grades were produced that first year. Over the six few years, total production would amount to 2130 units. Today, a Sheridan Super Grade is among the most sought-after collectable airguns, and you might pay as much as 10 times the original price for one.

In the April 1947, in American Rifleman magazine, Major General Julian S. Hatcher reviewed the Sheridan and said, “The accuracy of this gun is superb . . . Here is a gun which is capable of real target shooting, is deadly on small pests, and is a real pleasure to shoot. It is a quality job all the way through.” He reported velocity of 400 fps with just two pumps and 770 fps with 12 pumps (which is not recommended).

The Model B Sporter Sheridan. Only 1051 were produced over 3 years.

The Model B Sporter Sheridan. Only 1051 were produced over 3 years.

In 1948, the company introduced the Model B Sporter, a lower priced gun that sold for about $35. It had various changes, including no cheek-piece and a painted finish, to keep costs down. During the three years that this model was produced, only 1051 were built, making the Model B highly sought by collectors.

The Sheridan Silver Streak. Over half a million Streaks were produced in various forms.

The Sheridan Silver Streak. Over half a million Streaks were produced in various forms.

The Model C first reached the public in 1949 and has been in continuous production until now. The Silver Streak was introduced first. It had a nickel finish that was beautifully polished, a walnut Manlicher stock, and a hold-down safety. It cost $19.95. The Blue Streak, with a black oxided finish, was introduced a few years later. Various versions of the Streaks would be produced over the years: the hold-down safety, the rocker safety, and the modern push-pull safety. No one knows exactly how many Streaks have been produced in total, but it is over half a million.

In 1977, the Benjamin company, which also manufactured air rifles, acquired Sheridan after Ed Wackerhagen’s death. Benjamin management ran the Sheridan from afar until 1982, when Benjamin closed its plant in St. Louis and merged the two businesses in a new plant on Chicory Road in Racine.

Along the way, Ray Katt had bought Benjamin-Sheridan from the Spack family, and he now began homogenizing the two air rifle lines. The pistols were first: they became Benjamin-Sheridan pistols. Next, the two pump-up rifle lines began moving toward each other until there were only minor cosmetic differences separating the two.

In 1992, the operation was purchased by Crosman Corporation. About a year-and-a-half later, the Racine plant was closed and production was moved to East Bloomfield, NY. Now the guns were identical except for caliber.

To be continued in Part II.

Til then, aim true and shoot straight.

– Jock Elliott

My wife never wanted to turn me into an obsessed maniac, but that was the unintended consequence of a kind act. In late 2001, she came home with a gift for me: a copy of the movie Quigley Down Under.

This is where the trouble began.

In brief, it’s the story of a Wyoming rifleman and cowboy who answers a newspaper ad from an Australian rancher for “The World’s Best Long Distance Marksman.” Quigley shows up down under with a Sharps 45-70 (modified to take a special 110-grain cartridge) with an extra-long barrel, a globe front sight, and a tang vernier rear peep sight. In his first interview with his would-be employer, Quigley hits a bucket repeatedly at a distance of several hundred yards, shooting offhand with open sights.

At the heart of it, that scene embodies what all riflemen wish they could be: thoroughly familiar with their weapon, fully aware of the effect of environmental conditions, and ready to make a few adjustments and pull off an incredibly long shot with precision.

I began to wonder if I might not be able to replicate Matthew Quigley’s spectacular bucket shot — in a scaled-down version — with an airgun. Ted Osborn and I came to the conclusion that the standard of performance for an airgun should be: three shots into a 1.75 inch high bucket target at a distance of 55 yards with non-magnified sights. A few days after our conversation, the mailman showed up with an envelope. In it was a drawing of a bucket, perfectly scaled for 55-yards, with an invitation from Ted to photocopy to my heart’s content and “have at it.”

The bucket target. Feel free to copy and print it. The total height from top to bottom should be 1.75 inches.

After various failed attempts, I finally succeeded with a .22 Career PCP rifle outfitted with a special front sight. That was in 2002. Eight years later, in 2010, there is still something bugging me about this whole Quigley thing; I’d like to be able to hit the bucket with a self-contained air rifle like a multi-stroke pneumatic or a springer.

The Career was the first gun I succeeded with.

Larry Durham (also known as LD), an engineer and airgun enthusiast of deep experience, suggests that perhaps that the only self-contained air rifle that could get the job done would be an RWS 54, a recoilless sidelever springer. I also ask LD if he knows anyone who could mount a globe front sight and a tang vernier rear sight on a Sheridan. He says, “Send me the gun and the sights, and I’ll see what I can do.”

At this point in the Quigley Project, three parallel threads are underway at the same time. 1) I’m experimenting with mounting a globe front sight and peep rear sight on a .177 RWS 54. 2) Larry Durham is mounting a globe front sight and rear tang sight on the Silver Streak Sheridan that I sent him. 3) I obtain a Feinwerkbau 150 match rifle in an FWB 300 stock.

Fast forward a few months, and here’s the situation. 1) I have mounted the sights on the RWS 54, and I think it will work. 2) Larry Durham has mounted the sights, done what he can to accurize the Sheridan I sent, and has offered the opinion that he doesn’t think this particular rifle is a particularly accurate Sheridan. He thinks maybe it will hold 1.5 inches at 55 yards. 3) I’ve been fooling around with the FWB 150 and find that it shoots pretty darn well out to about 35 yards with domed pellets and the factory match sights.

Finally, in early May, 2010, Dick Johnson (a centerfire benchrest competitor) and I load up the gear and trundle out to the Brunswick Sportsman’s Club to see what we can do. Dick’s job is to act as my spotter; with the non-magnifying sights I am using, I have no idea where my shots are landing. Today, I am shooting off a rest because my goal is to see if the rifles have the necessary accuracy to hit the target.

This the the view from my shooting station at 55 yards. That white square in the distance is comprised of 9 bucket targets.

The first rifle I try is the Quigley Sheridan (QS) that Larry Durham assembled for me. It truly is a wonder: LD had epoxied a globe front sight with level onto the Sheridan’s original blade sight. At the rear, he had routered the stock to create slot where the tang vernier sight could be mounted. I flip the rear sight into position, and the sight picture is perfect. As I look through the pinhole in the disk of the rear sight, I can see the front globe perfectly framed. Inside that, there is an aperture sight disk like the Olympic shooters use.

The Quigley Sheridan is one of a kind.

It takes a few shots to get the Quigley Sheridan zeroed at 55 yards, and the process is made more difficult by the slight bend that was imparted to the rear sight during shipping. I give the QS six pumps, feed a .20 cal JSB domed pellet into the breech, and cut loose. The trigger is simply the best I’ve ever shot in a pump gun – a single stage trigger that goes off reliably at about 1.25 lbs. With the first four shots (after zeroing) I tag the bucket twice. With the next three shots at another target, I hit the bucket once. I try again, but find I can’t hit the bucket three times in succession.

The rear sight was slightly bent in transit, but still works. I was later able to straighten it.

The big problem with this shot, I find, is the optical challenge that vexed me from the start: at 55 yards, a 1.75 inch bucket is just plain hard to see. It looks like a spec floating in front aperture. By comparison, the black part of the international 50-meter smallbore target is roughly 3.5 inches in diameter, and the standing target that Olympic biathletes shoot at 50 meters is 4.5 inches in diameter.

Further, I have a personal problem: the 8 years that have elapsed since I first shot the bucket with the Career air rifle have not been kind to my eyes. The eye doctor tells me that where I once had vision in my right eye that corrects to 20/15, it now is a shaky 20/20. Nevertheless, I am determined to see what I can accomplish.

Up next is the FWB 150. It is a transitional model with the action mounted in an FWB 300 stock. It has a globe front sight in which I mount a Matthew Quigley style post-and-bead insert and a peep rear sight. The FWB 150 is a recoilless spring piston match air rifle from the early days of 10-meter air rifle competition.

The FWB 150 acquitted itself well for an old match rifle.

After cranking up the rear sight so that the pellet will hit the target at 55 yards, on two different targets I find that I can hit the bucket with a .177 JSB pellet once out of every five shots. The optical problem has struck again: at this distance, the tiny bead on top of the post in the front sight is larger than the bucket. I have to approximate center the bead on the bucket by raising the sight up from below or by sliding it over the bucket from the side.

Finally, the recoilless RWS 54 gets its turn at bat. I have fitted the front globe sight with a very slender Lee Shaver black powder silhouette post and bead insert and a Gamo match rear sight that has been drilled to fit an anti-recoil pin. Unfortunately, I am not able to hit the bucket at all with this setup. I got close – really close – but then suddenly the shots would wander off. This air rifle is wickedly accurate at 50 yards with a scope mounted, so I think the recoil of this powerful air rifle is causing the rear sight to work loose.

The mightly RWS 54 was apparently rattling the rear sight, but this same gun has demonstrated all the necessary accuracy with a scope mounted.

In the end, I succeeded a little bit – I was able to hit the bucket a few times with self-contained air rifles, but not three times in a row.

What did I learn from this adventure? That attempting the Quigley bucket shot is a lot of fun, that the 1.75 inch bucket looks really tiny at 55 yards, and that trying to do the Hard Thing is enjoyable even if you don’t completely succeed. But maybe I can teach myself to shoot lefthanded so I can use my better eye; maybe I can do something to improve the contrast and visibility of the bucket; maybe I can improve the rear sight on the RWS 54, or maybe a 1X scope would work . . .  Once I am convinced that I have a gun and sighting system that works, I’ll take it to the next level: trying it standing, like Quigley does in the movie.

The Spirit of Quigley lives on, and you’re invited to join in the fun. Feel free to copy the bucket target poster here and try it yourself!