Saturday, November 1, 2014

Gear squee: the hunting airgun is ordered.

One of the things I simply must appreciate about airgunnery is that so much of The Stoopid that attends all things firearm is notably absent.  You can order, online from a site like Pyramyd Air, your favorite short-barrelled, folding-stock, sound-suppressed, full-auto rifle or pistol, with as much tactical plumbing as you care to hang off of it and ammunition by the five-thousand, and they'll ship it all to your door, for nothing more than a credit card number, with a smile and a thank you.

A lot of that gonzo stuff I've got little or no interest in, but that's just damn near civilized.

But there is a lot more in the realm of airgunnery than just things that bring out the tax-stamp crowd in the firearm world, and I now have the order in for my first general-purpose and hunting airgun.  For more than two years now I have followed airgun ace Tom Gaylord's outstanding blog, and my first two steps into the air-powered world (the Air Venturi Bronco .177 breakbarrel rifle and the Airsoft 1911 'green-gas' powered pistol), selected largely on analysis fuelled by Gaylord and his "commentariat", have been huge successes.  I've got a lot more planned with what I've learned, but between the economic realities of life in Alaska and spending so much time (absolutely by choice!) with the girls, I tend to do a whole lot of planning before the spending, to make sure that when the time comes, it's done wisely.  And so there is...rather a lot of mental energy behind this order.

I wanted short, light, and more than enough power for the local spruce grouse and snowshoe hares that are the intended quarry for hunting.  Firearm folks have a (very) general rule of thumb for establishing "enough" power for hunting big game, whereby a cartridge that develops 1000 foot-pounds of kinetic energy is considered adequate for taking deer-sized game, and 2000 fpe is considered adequate for elk, moose and bears.  (This oversimplifies, of course, but lots of people are aware of the measure and thus it is a helpful point in discussion.)  In a similar way, the airgun world considers a 12 foot-pound airgun to be adequate for squirrels, many birds, and cottontails, and a 20 fpe airgun to be adequate for larger woodchucks, raccoons, and critters of that size.  (There is a further world within airgunnery that uses larger bore sizes and larger projectiles to go after even bigger game, but that's a specialty and not the mainstream.  I may well get there, but first things first.)

There are actually a number of choices that would have fit the power bill, but most of those are the size of (large) firearm rifles, and as heavy, with lots of attributes that I don't like.  Ultimately, I narrowed it down to two candidates:  the Benjamin Marauder pistol, and the AirForce TalonP pistol.  The "P-rod", as the Marauder pistol is known, would have been a fine choice, with the advantages of being an 8-round repeater, internally sound-suppressed (we're talking under 100 dB peak, and most of its sound well below that level), more efficient in shots-per-fill, and somewhat less expensive to feed with .22-caliber diabolo pellets.  It develops 15 fpe, which is hot stuff for an airgun with just a 12" barrel, and is plenty accurate enough to put pellets of 14-28 grains into sub-1" groups at 25 yards.  It comes with both a plain pistol grip and a carbine buttstock attachment, which I would just use permanently.  That one is, absolutely, planned for the future, but for the first one, I went with the AirForce gun.

 Click to embiggenate.  (It's worth it.)

Like the P-rod, the TalonP is a "precharged pneumatic" airgun, and one of its selling points with me is that (again like the Benjamin) its air tank is small enough that it can be reasonably filled in the field by hand, with a hand pump that resembles a bike pump built for truly high-pressure air (2000-3000 psi).  It doesn't get nearly as many shots per fill as its larger-tanked AirForce siblings, but for hunting especially, the idea of 10-15 full power shots before a field-fill, instead of nearly 100 shots before requiring a scuba tank, doesn't bother me at all.   And, the large-tank AirForce rifles do not permit shortening their very long length of pull, which is an important thing for me.  (The basic AirForce gun design is very clever and modular;  one of the nifty points is that the air tank actually serves as the buttstock.)  The TalonP and the Escape rifle series (derived from the TalonP), though, use this smaller tank and then add an adjustable buttstock extension that allows you to set your length of pull from 14 all the way down to 10 inches.  Bingo!  I can set it at my preferred 12" or 12.5", or down even lower for when my kids are ready to start shooting airguns.

The basic frame design will remind firearm folks of an AR, in having an EBR aesthetic and considerable modularity.  AirForce advertises it as a shooting system, and they do have a point, with interchangeable barrels, tanks, and of course rail-mounted gizmos.  One of the design points I intend to take advantage of is an adapter that turns the standard 11mm airgun dovetail atop the barrel into a Picatinny/Weaver mounting surface, and elevates nearly to the level of the frame's top-bridge so that the whole thing is nearly a flattop surface.  If I've done my pencil work correctly, this is going to permit me to mount an actual scout scope out there in front, and I've been meaning to try out the new Leapers glass anyway, so if this works, I'm not just going to have my first hunting airgun, it's going to be a "scout-style" airgun. 

The AirForce design is a single-shot, with a bolt that you push forward to open and backward to close.  My biggest concern with that is how easy it will be to load individual pellets in the cold (snowshoe hares are hunted from August through March, and definitely through the winter), but other than that, the design seems like a proven winner.  I'm not worried about it conflicting with my firearm technique, since it's not a repeater, but on the other hand, with a Garand-style safety, forward glass, short LOP and reportedly excellent trigger on it, I do suspect I will be tempted to work snapshots. :-)   I don't know yet for sure, but I may even be able to fit a Ching Sling on it somehow, which would make it an awesome little field piece.

And then there is the power.  The TalonP is a .25 caliber gun, which is known to propel its 25-43 grain diabolo pills fast enough to achieve nearly fifty foot-pounds of energy.  (Consider that 9-pound "magnum" spring-piston rifles, usually about 45" long and requiring forty to fifty pounds of force to cock for each shot, generate less half that figure.)  Being unsuppressed, it's known to be louder than the P-rod (peak SPL is about 103 dB, and much of its sound signature is up near that peak), but it's still far quieter than any .22 Long Rifle*, and yet nearly half the power.  (The Escape rifle series, which is based on the TalonP's frame and tank, can generate nearly 100 foot pounds with a 24-inch .25 caliber barrel, and I could achieve basically that same performance by swapping out my 12" barrel for a 24".  Maybe someday, but for now at least I want the short:  the TalonP with LOP set at 12" is going to be about 26" long, where even the P-rod is going to go at least 30", and my "short" Steyr Scout .308 is starting to look enormous at 39".)

It's going to be overkill for snowshoe hares, for sure, and even moreso for spruce grouse--at least at close range.  But that much power also means I've got a lot more available range to work with, and the AirForce guns are renowned as tack-drivers.  What this all means is that I should be able to apply that power out to ranges that are very unusual for smallbore airguns, with the accuracy required to hit reduced-sized targets.  (Check out Tom Gaylord's series on the TalonP.)

I'm psyched about this project.  It's the product of a lot of cogitation and learning, and may well represent "starting at the top" for design and function, for what I wish to do with it.  I do have long-term plans to add a few others to the stable, including the aforementioned P-rod in carbine form (having a 15 fpe airgun, especially one renowned for being so quiet and an 8-round repeater to boot, will be a nice niche to fill), an AirForce EscapeSS in .22 caliber (for the ability to shoot the cheaper and more ubiquitous .22 caliber pellets at the 50fpe level with sound suppression), a Crosman 1322 iron-sight carbine for fun (and, its ~5fpe level is certainly adequate for birds and squirrels at close range), and a good .177 pistol for developing pistol accuracy (I'm currently leaning toward the CO2-powered replica of the S&W M&P 45, for that, but the jury's still out), but one must begin somewhere, and this seemed to be the right combination of desiderata to serve the most purposes.

Now, to wait.  Then, the squee.  And then, the T&E.  Finally, with a little luck, a day on snowshoes with the five-year-old, a hare or three within range, one good shot each, and the subsequent task of figuring out how to prepare the little beasties for the table.  :-)

* A .22LR out of a rifle generates around 140 dB, and adding a good suppressor reduces that to between 115 and 120 dB.  Even loud airguns are quieter than suppressed firearms, and some airguns, such as the P-rod's big brother the Marauder rifle, are known to be so quiet that the loudest sound you hear is the (muffled) thonk of the hammer knocking open the air valve.


MamaLiberty said...

Glad you are having so much fun with this! :) I'm doing a lot more shooting these days since I hold a firearms coaching clinic at the local range each Wed. morning now. We shoot all kinds of guns, and some of the girls have gotten airsoft pistols with a red dot. I bought a crimson trace for my XD9, since I'd already had the airsoft for several years and felt the need to upgrade. I don't carry with it on, however, it's just for practice. And mostly for practicing the point and shoot. None of the airsoft things we have are powerful or accurate enough for hunting, of course.

Still can't work up any real enthusiasm for airsoft guns myself, but I can see serious potential for them if ammo ever gets really impossible to obtain. :)

Kevin Wilmeth said...

Sure. I'm not aware of anyone who advocates Airsoft for hunting; the little plastic BBs run just about three grains and must have a truly awful sectional density value.

The lead diabolo pellet, on the other hand, seems to have a niche. It can't do everything that the .22LR can do (much less centerfires), but with the gun I have coming, it can certainly take any of the small game I have access to here, with range and power to spare. (And I am certainly impressed by the SHTF value of requiring no gunpowder resupply, and the option of simple pellet casting.)

I do think that the calculated use of Airsoft for training is very worthwhile. (The trick seems to be to know the limitations and to keep training realistic over time.) For me at least, the startling economy makes this worth the effort; I get far more trigger time now than I ever have had before, simply because I can afford plastic BBs, canister propane and a little silicone oil.

I will probably get myself a laser sight at some point as well, if for no other reason than working with others. My understanding is that the training value of seeing the effects of trigger control on point of impact make it a nearly invaluable education tool. :-)

MamaLiberty said...

"seeing the effects of trigger control on point of impact make it a nearly invaluable education tool. :-)"

Yes indeed, it does. The red dot can speed the learning curve for new folks impressively, and for us old dogs, it keeps us sharp. It is especially valuable for teaching "point and shoot," because it is often hard for people to let go of the "sights" as being the be all and end all. It's a whole other game, and it is important
to learn both well if one is training for self defense.

None of us actually uses the pellets in the airsoft training guns we have... they are not accurate enough, and the plastic bb doesn't even mark the target often enough to be worth the effort if they were. Ours are on a much lower level of function than yours, obviously. :) We keep the red dot zeroed in to be accurate, and that's the best we hope for.

As for the cost and "trigger time," most of us agree that paying strict attention to dry fire exercises, and then making every round count at the range is our best bet for training. I can have all the "trigger time" I want free of charge with my dry fire and red dot... then verify it with a few rounds at the range. Never have been one who thinks it is vital to expend a lot of ammunition in order to be proficient.

Might be different for competition shooters, of course, but I can put rounds into a six inch disk at anywhere between bad breath and 20 foot range, and that is what I'd need in any likely self defense situation. I can do that all day long, both hands with any gun I own, and either hand alone with some of them, including my two carry guns.

My training goal is to keep that happening for as long as possible. :)

Kevin Wilmeth said...

One thing to keep in mind about Airsoft guns is that you have to scale down both your target and your range. The barrels are smoothbore, after all (and to be clear, they do not accept diabolo pellets or even steel BBs, just the 6mm plastic Airsoft balls), and they are accurate enough if you scale both your targets and your range.

The competition set has figured this out, and what they do is shoot scaled-down targets at scaled-down range. Within that range, your "perspective" in making a given shot is an exact scale of a similar shot with a firearm, at firearm ranges, with firearm-sized targets. So, if you peruse a bit here, you can see that, for example, shooting at their scaled-down Pepper Popper at 10 feet, will look just like shooting a full-sized firearm Popper at 16 yards. And within that ten feet, the smoothbore Airsoft guns are more than accurate enough.

ML, you know me well enough to understand that I wouldn't bother with something that wasn't effective, or as realistic as possible. And please do not misunderstand me when I speak of the value of trigger time. I am completely with you on the value of dry-fire with your (centerfire) firearm, and I do plenty myself; I have simply added Airsoft to this, and the big thing that it does that dry-fire cannot, at least with an auto pistol, is that it lets me practice multi-shot strings, wherein I must reacquire the front sight and manage the trigger. I can do that dry-fire with a revolver, but not with the auto pistols that I carry.

I've got little use for "tactards" and, really, for competition. but I do find this useful! :-)

MamaLiberty said...

Well, my friend, each to his/her own. :) I think we have some differences in our goals for training, as well as methods, but there is no one right way to go about this. If that wasn't so... there wouldn't be all these thousands of different guns, equipment and accessories in the market. And just think what that would look like in a truly free society! :) They'd have to open up sporting goods outlet malls on the moon. LOL

On a truly serious note, I have been doing some research the last week or so, and have learned some things that seriously challenge some of my prior practices. Lead exposure, especially indoor ranges, is a far more serious problem than I ever believed. I suspect you may use indoor ranges a lot up there, so if you are not aware of some of this, now's the time to do something about it.

If nothing else, THIS might drive me to look for other options for shooting during the coldest weather. Our indoor range is very, very poor measured against the requirements listed in the article. I'm going to present this to my club, and see what they want to do. But I won't be shooting inside again until they "get the lead out."

I'll also use up my unjacketed revolver ammo, outdoors, and won't be buying any more of it.

I have a pump action pellet/bb rifle, but have not had much use out of it. The little "clip" that is supposed to hold the pellets got lost the first day, and there is no way to load the pellets without it. The BB part works well, but in either case it gives me no help with practice for pistol shooting.

Kevin Wilmeth said...

This (continuing) discussion makes me all the more want to be able to shoot with you some day, if for no other reason than to see, in person, how it works for you. And I suspect that it wouldn't take long, either, for you to see the things that speak to me. :-)

I suspect that at some point I'll have cause to make the drive between Bozeman (where my parents live) and Denver (where I was before we came to Alaska), and if nothing else, I'll make it a point then to swing out toward Gillette and stop over for a visit. And of course if you ever find yourself up here, you are more than welcome to visit and stay with us. (I'd love for my girls to meet you too!)

Kevin Wilmeth said...

Also, ML, point well taken (and duly bookmarked) on the lead topic. I am rather invested in hard-cast bullets for my kerflattenboomers (45 Colt and 45/70) and of course buck and slugs for the shotgun, but those don't get shot all that often, either.

I haven't had time to comb all the articles yet, but would be interested if you've found insight on the following:

- Do gas-checks help at all from a health standpoint, other than just reducing bore buildup?

- Are plated bullets a significant improvement or does one really need a full copper jacket? (I've been using the Rainier plated pistol bullets for a while now, by choice, just because they're so much cleaner to work with, and they're hardly any more expensive than plain lead. The plating feature is often advertised as being indoor-friendly...)

I'm happy to say I've only used an indoor range up here once, and that was back in 2009. One of the keys to having peace with the winter up here is to get out as often as possible, and we do. :-)