(Okay, so all this week I have been just giddy with the success of last weekend's introductory gunhandling sessions with Feral Daughters One and Two, which culminated not only in reliable hits with the Airsoft 1911 from about five yards, and also not only with exemplary attention to safety and basic handling, including load and reload...but also with conspicuous smiles. More on this effort later; for now, that's the context of my starting to think again about the broader context of airgunnery for training.)
I wanted to set down a couple more thoughts about the use of precision pellet guns for training, as the landscape has evolved a bit since I last did that. I've now been freshly reminded of the viability of using appropriate Airsoft replicas for true gunhandling, and really for any training in which the gunhandling is more important than great precision in marksmanship...but in the end, there will also remain a need for low-cost, high-volume training using something more precise.
Previously, I've written on the Scout-Rod concept, and I'm still keen on making this happen. The problem of course is that even aside from the ridiculous "safety" on the otherwise-excellent Benjamin Marauder base gun, there would still appear to be much custom work to do to get it up and running in full form, and of course along with the base gun, that's expensive. But then I noticed the Diana Stormrider, which seems more promising in several ways, especially with the ability to add an additional barrelband for the possibility of a true Scout Scope setup without extensive gunsmithing.
And then today, I happened to notice both the Diana Trail Scout, and also the Diana Mauser K98 repeater. Both of these are at the very least, interesting options!
The Trail Scout is clearly a derivative of the Stormrider, with the same bolt and breechblock, magazine, trigger and safety group, sight setup, and presumably it would accept the same second barrelband, if possibly requiring some stock inletting. The Trail Scout seems to be about half the cost of the Stormrider, runs on CO2 instead of HPA, and currently only comes in synthetic stock garb. Would CO2 be the way to go? It sure might. The Stormrider produces velocities, in .177" caliber, high enough that you can (maybe) start to lose some precision, and it seems to get about 20 good shots on a fill, with attendant blast for the not-strictly-necessary oomph. The CO2 gun advertises much more sedate velocities, and 100 shots on a fill, using three standard powerlets. Presuming the CO2 powerplant is as accurate a platform as HPA, this lower cost option might be a great training tool! (Hell, might need to have both...)
The K98 Mauser replica was also a pleasant surprise. I'd seen Tom Gaylord cover the single-shot version of this rifle before, and hadn't paid it much attention because I've already got a wonderful trainer for single shots in the Air Venturi Bronco. But this one is a repeater...and hmm, look at that bolt!
I'm pretty sure that is the closest I've seen to a full-size rifle bolt on a non-Airsoft airgun. No, it's not going to duplicate a real Mauser bolt in travel or even in feel, but it is so much closer than anything else I've seen, at least in a precision, rifled pellet gun, that it immediately becomes a serious contender for a precision trainer. It's not cheap, by comparison to other HPA alternatives like the Stormrider, and it will have some of its own flaws--for starters, a true scout scope is going to require true custom work, the "safety" is a...let's call it comically primitive crossbolt in the trigger itself (good gawd, people!), and it probably will fit the same 20-shots-per-fill, 200-bar fill pressure, 20-foot-pound envelope as the Stormrider. But hmm...that bolt, plus the onboard sights, the friendly stock (for shortening and mounting a Ching Sling), and what appears to be an overall excellent base platform...well, I now need to meet one, and am glad that the option exists!
Finally, I'm also curious to dig a little more into what SIG has been doing with EBR-pattern, semiauto rifled pellet guns. This seems a distinct "third", in terms of training importance (where "first" would imply Airsoft blowback replicas capable of precision gunhandling and gross marksmanship, and "second" would imply rifled pellet guns capable of gross gunhandling and precision marksmanship), but those lines are of course at least a little blurry. But still, to have the ability for some real rifled-pellet precision, in a semiauto*, AR(-ish) pattern carbine, would seem to be quite useful, and certainly worth the initial investment for inexpensive trigger time.
Anyway, SIG seems to have some options in their MCX and MPX rifles, and boy, I'd love to meet those too, to get an idea of what they're like. (Tom has covered both an MCX variant and an MPX variant, and I'll cogitate further on the idea.)
* In the pistol realm, I already went through this thinking a bit ago, though I don't seem to have written about it specifically yet; the core idea is to come up with a faithful replica of a "semiauto" design that can shoot rifled pellets rather than Airsoft or steel BBs--to be able to work on precision, across multiple shots. Pistols are difficult for this, at least for 1911 lovers like me: no pistol design I've yet seen seems to have been able to combine both rifled-pellet feeding, and a single-action trigger. However, what is available--and what I would argue is viable enough for the concept--are a few designs employing a small internal rotary magazine, against a "double-action" style trigger (technically, this is really a CO2-powerplant revolver, in the guise of an auto pistol), and no blowback. It's by no means perfect--I'd want the blowback and reciprocating slide if I could get it, and of course I'd want the option of a 1911 design as well--but then I stopped and considered the S&W M&P 45 variant simply on its own terms...and I think it's worth pursuing. Whether or not the 1911 might be a preferred platform, this still captures a good base gun to train on (the M&P is well-established) and the long trigger is a good exemplar of striker-fired pistols like my own beloved Kahr. I figure: use it for precision singles and doubles; the long trigger roll is the focus of the exercise here, and requires the same sort of sight-settling focus that blowback provides, without needing the actual blowback. No, it won't combine with authentic reloads or clearance drills, but it is pretty clearly the best option for precision work in a pistol that is anywhere close to ergonomically authentic to a design you'd want to train for.