Monday, August 3, 2015

The unexpected hazards of an air rifle match.

Had a delightful afternoon providing a bit of assistance at a small 4-H air rifle match about 80 miles up the road.  It was held at a gun club that I may have to look into further, as they do have bona fide facilities to run rifles at a distance (meaning:  300m plus), which is oddly missing around here.  For this event, we were in a pistol bay, with a tow-strap-in-the-sand firing line and a rather clever clothesline-style target apparatus at the 10-meter line.  Add in an unusually sunny, brilliant day, and things were looking good.

A lot went wrong.

The poor fella running the match (who I know to be both perfectly competent and a genuinely nice guy) just couldn't catch a break.  One by one the rifles (Daisy Avanti 888 Medalists, powered by removable 2.5g CO2 cylinders), ran out of gas, and of course the refill tank was with someone else.  It got down to one working rifle, and thus one shooter working at a time, before the ability to recharge arrived--and even then it was not a slam-dunk.  "Recharged" cylinders...weren't.  Some didn't seat correctly.  A couple of new shooters repeatedly dipped muzzles into the (very fine) sand on the prone mats.  The same sand found its way into bolts, making it a challenge for some of the kids without well-developed hand strength.  Once new cylinders started making it properly seated into rifles, sights needed to be adjusted for the fresh fill of gas (normally this wouldn't be much a problem as the CO2 is largely self-regulating, but there is a difference between a cylinder at exhaustion and a completely-topped-off one).  And of course what to do with a shooter who was interrupted by a failing rifle in the middle of her string?  Some of the kids are good enough shots that it doesn't seem fair to handicap them with erratic equipment.

Oddly enough, I had recently been thinking about what I'd do myself, with what I've learned about airgunnery, if I were asked to build a "school set" of rifles to handle a wide variety of conditions.  The 888 Medalist certainly seems a nice rifle, but the dependency on specialized fill equipment seems to make this sort of problem inevitable at some point.  Personally, I find the 888's trigger spongy, the bolt a little awkward and stiff, and the loading tray a challenge for the tiny .177 pellets.  And I admit, I just do not care for target aperture sights--I can't stand not being able to see around what I'm shooting at--but this is probably just part of the game and not something I'd have much influence over.

What I'd do is go with the Benjamin Discovery, instead.  For about the same money as the 888, you get the "Disco" rifle and a hand pump to feed it!  I'd spend a little more, though, and find a simple receiver sight to replace the open rear that comes on the gun, and replace the fiber optic front with a plain square post.  With this slight upgrade, I think we have an outstanding training and match rifle which can be entirely self-supported.  The Disco is renowned for being durable, accurate, and easy to work with.  The fill pressure is much lower than most PCPs, and so almost anyone can operate the hand pump.  It can still be filled from a tank, of course, if need be, but I rather like the idea of having each shooter fill her own rifle prior to stepping up to the line--knowing exactly how much air is in the gun on account of having just put it there.

Especially with a ghost-ring aperture in the rear, the Disco is a much more suitable rifle to learn and train on, than a specialized 10m competition gun.  I think we do people a disservice to start them on a sight system so specialized that it deliberately obstructs everything around what you are supposed to shoot at (honestly, how can you even observe Rule 4 when all you can see is the bull?), and then wire it so specifically to that precise little bullseye that it's essentially useless for anything else.  Sure, maybe I'm a slave to practicality, but I also know that I am very little, if any, better with target sights than I am with general-purpose sights, and the latter is far superior to the former in every realm other than formal competition.

And besides, I remind myself, I am not looking at the 10m competition as the end point, but the starting one.  Once you can get shots in the bull at 10m, it is time to start a) going faster (acquiring position), b) going farther (effectiveness of position), or c) both.  This is what will develop you beyond basic mechanics, and which will set you up to appreciate the use of efficient sights, shooting slings, and good ergonomics, along with understanding why the technique is what it is.

Which then segues into the Scout-Rod* concept all over again.  See?  There's at least a convergent consistency to my geekery.  :-)

* And the Scout-Rod, at least at this writing, is modeled on the Disco's refined descendant, the Marauder, which takes many of the Disco's nice features and adds to them (e.g., a bolt-action repeating mechanism, internal sound suppression).

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