The State Of The Art In Small Caliber Rifles

Fun and inexpensive to shoot, small caliber rifles have seen important technological changes, making them more accurate on the range and in the field.

Ask any hunter or target shooter about their first gun and most will regale you with stories of the joys of shooting their first BB gun. A few may have also been initiated to shooting with a .22 rimfire. But most shooters step up to burning powder only after having "fired" a few thousand air rifle rounds.

For those who haven't already turned back the clock to those idyllic days of youth to reduce the recoil and costs of shooting, the return to shooting air guns and rimfires is chock full of pleasant surprises.

Lets take a look at some of the advances in small bore shooting and some of the new product lines hallmarked with these features. The first thing anyone shooting a modern air rifle will notice is the incredible accuracy they are capable of. But other features create higher velocities through a wide range of action, cocking and triggering mechanisms.

Velocities of some air gun models now exceed the velocities of what were once termed "high velocity" .22 rounds, making them true hunting guns for pests and small game (where air guns are legal for those uses). Flatter trajectories at extreme ranges make these new generation air guns effective long-range plinkers.

Other accuracy innovations include adjustable trigger pulls and sound attenuation, which previously was not an issue with air guns. But with increased projectile speed comes an exponential increase in sound.

Probably more than any other air gun company, Gamo caters to shooters who want more power in their plinkers. However, aside from increased power, Gamo air guns incorporate innovative features into every facet of their design. Increased power does not compromise accuracy with the company that pioneered composite/steel, rifled barrels for the utmost in shrinking group sizes.

Let's take a gander at the company's Hunter Extreme Series as an example of extreme innovation. Gamo's .177-caliber Hunter Extreme recently set a world velocity record for a spring piston air gun by shooting one of the company's PBA (Platinum Ballistic Alloy) pellets at 1,650 fps, exceeding the speed of sound by a huge margin. This mini-monster gun also exceeded mach I by shooting a lead pellet at 1,250 fps.

Gamo offers innovative technology that goes way beyond improved accuracy and velocity. It also leads the way in other categories -- especially power and rate of fire for those interested in serious long range shooting or hunting.

Gamo's Hunter Extreme 25 is appropriately nicknamed "The Cannon" because it achieves 750 fps with lead ammo and 1,000 fps with PBA ammo. It has a second-stage adjustable trigger and bull barrel and comes prepackaged with a 3x9 scope.

Besides old standby, single-stroke pneumatics, Gamo offers Dynamax PCP (pre-charged pneumatic) series rifles that offer multiple shots at velocities of 1,000 fps for 30 shots with lead .22 and .177 ammo and 1,200 fps with .177-caliber PBA ammunition. The Dynamax has a cycling rate of one shot per second and reloads with a touch of the fingertip from a 10-round detachable ammunition magazine.

Another innovative feature is the ND52 noise reduction technology, which is available on the Gamo Whisper series air gun line to offer quieter shooting in civilized settings. Another unique air gun to check out is the dual-purpose, spring-piston Viper, which shoots a .22 caliber pellet at 725 fps or a shot load at 750 fps.

Gamo offers more than a dozen styles of pellet and spherical ammunition, including pellets in flatnose, roundnose, spirepoint, composite tipped, hardened metal penetrator tip, and lead or non-lead alloys. At one end is the hyper-velocity PBA pellet and at the other end is the Rocket, which offers maximum penetration.

The company offers a full target line. Gamo makes paper targets, an MTS battery powered moving target system, a rocker target with trap, animal silhouettes, a squirrel drop target, a collapsible pellet trap, a plinker target and two spinner targets.

The modern range of uses for air rifles is also well represented by Umarex, which offers a tremendous variety of air pistols and rifles targeted at everything from family fun to precision shooting with guns up to .22 caliber that equal the velocity of some rimfire rounds.

"In addition to the fun of shooting airguns, they give you more trigger time," said Justin Biddle, marketing manager for Umarex USA. "They're less expensive (to shoot), just pennies a round."

For more information on the gun and ammunition manufacturers mentioned in this article, check these websites:

Umarex adds a twist to this fun in that it also holds the license to produce a tremendous variety of replica air-gun versions of classic pistols and even tactical guns. So, for example, if you want a Colt Government 1911 air pistol with the original's design, weight and feel, Umarex supplies it, along with replicas based on a wide range of other manufacturers -- Walther, Smith & Wesson, Ruger and others.

Umarex lines cover guns of all types, from pellet and BB pistols to .22LR reproductions, notably a Colt M4 that shoots .22LR rounds and is built on a tactical platform but with a dedicated semi-auto system with a 30-round magazine.

Some of their non-powder rifles fill a variety of needs. For example, Umarex also markets DIANA Airguns, a German manufacturer, as RWS in the United States.

"The Model 34 is the top-selling RWS rifle we offer," said Justin Biddle, marketing manager for Umarex USA. "It combines power with accuracy ('¦.) It's not just a quality plinker, its accuracy makes it ideal for paper targets and spinners, and the .22 caliber version is also a small-game or pest-hunting rifle as well."

Daisy Outdoor Products once primarily offered low-pric

ed spring-piston BB guns. Some of those BB guns became so popular they have been resurrected to inspire a new generation of shooters. But the company also offers today's top-of-the-line competition air guns.

Susan Johnston is Daisy's Public Relations Manager. She said nostalgia brought back the Model 25 air gun, a spring piston model with a pump action and a folding cocking arm that was a million-seller during its initial production.

"The Model 25 was made from 1914 until 1978, then in a limited edition during Daisy's Centennial Anniversary in 1986," Johnston said. "We have had a lot of demand for bringing it back again."

The new Model 25 has a wooden stock and forearm, a safety button, and an adjustable folding rear sight that can be used as an aperture or iron sight. Another Daisy reintroduction is the Red Ryder lever-cocking air gun. Both of these guns shoot BB ammunition.

"We are also coming out with our Model 10, a lever-action platform lever action similar to the Red Ryder but with a smaller frame. It's bigger than the Buck, so it's in between the two to create larger introductory gun."

Daisy hosts the U.S. National BB Gun Championship at its hometown of Rogers, Arkansas, in which 43 teams from 17 states competed last year. The mainstay of the competition is the Model 499 Champion BB Gun.

"It's been called the most accurate BB gun in the world and is the competition gun of youth BB gun programs," Johnston said. "It's one of our Avanti line, which also features .177 caliber air rifles of higher velocities such as our Winchester Model 1100 XSU under-cocking lever spring air guns. The 1100 XSU is bolt-action that achieves 1,100 fps and comes with a 4x32 scope and has a hardwood stock."

Johnston said air gun scopes are designed to overcome the unique recoil. But beginning air gun shooters still make the mistake of mounting a rimfire or centerfire riflescope on a pneumatic rifle or pistol.

"The vibration of an air gun quickly destroys the internal workings of a standard riflescope," she said. "It's an unnecessary situation because Daisy has four scopes in the Winchester Powerline series, including a variable 3-9x32, another variable and two fixed-power scopes."

The Avanti 887 Gold Medalist is good choice for sporter competition. The trigger weight is adjustable down to 2 pounds and the gun is also adjustable for length of pull through spacers that can be added or removed at the rear of the stock. It has a PCP (pre-charged pneumatic) compressed Co2 air cylinder that is removable for recharging and gets about 400 shots per recharge. Other features of the series, which includes the 853, 753 and 953 models, are a Lothar Walther high-grade, crowned, steel barrel with 12 lands and grooves, front globe sight with changeable inserts and rear diopter sight with micrometer adjustments. While the other models have hardwood stocks, the Model 953 has a less-expensive composite stock.

Daisy manufactures Avanti competition pellets and precision-ground BBs. Its Model 7781 Dial-a-Pellet device dispenses a single .177 caliber pellet at a time in hollow point, flatnose or pointed design in lead or lead-free alloy.

Crosman has expanded its PCP line with two new air pistols, the Marauder BP2220, which is a hunting arm cabable of shooting a .22-caliber pellet at 700 fps, and the Model 1700P Silhouette, a target pistol launching .177-caliber pellets at up to 450 fps.

One of the most innovative companies when it comes to rimfire rifles is Savage Arms Company. Shooters were wowed when Savage introduced its AccuTrigger on its centerfire rifles. But building rimfire rifles with the AccuTrigger took a bit longer, according to Savage's Marketing Manager, Bill Dermody.

"For us at Savage, it was a big deal when our AccuTrigger came out in 2003 on our centerfire rifles," Dermody said. "Early on, we thought it should be a big part of our rimfire rifle strategy, so we began putting the AccuTrigger on our rimfires in 2005."

The AccuTrigger behaves much like the half-cock setting on a single-action revolver in that if you drop or jar the rifle, the AccuTrigger prevents the rifle from firing by stopping the sear. It has a forward projection in a center slot on the trigger called the AccuRelease that is depressed during the trigger squeeze. This system allows the trigger to be safely adjusted by the shooter down to a weight of 2.5 pounds using a small tool supplied with the rifle.

"There are 14 different styles of our Mark II rifles with the AccuTrigger in .17 Mach II and .22 caliber," Dermody said. "Our Model 93 .22 magnum has eight variants with the AccuTrigger and our Model 93R17 .17HMR-caliber series also has the AccuTrigger."

A couple of models worthy of special mention are 93R17 BTVS, which has a bull barrel varmint configuration with a thumbhole, laminated wood stock and is the most popular rimfire in the product line. The other is the Model93R17 in camouflage finish.

"Shooters and hunters want the utmost in accuracy out of the .17HMR, which is an incredibly accurate cartridge," Dermody said. "The bull barrel and bolt action of the 93R17 BTVS, has a reputation for top accuracy, when compared to, say, our Model 64 Semi-automatic .22 rifle. Our bull barrel bolt-action rifles are as accurate as the ammunition you use in them. The camouflage model is great for varmint hunters, but other shooters like them because they look so 'cool.' Another recent feature on some models is the helical fluted barrel. It creates a stiffer, potentially more accurate barrel and adds a modern appearance to the rifle. Fluted barrels offer faster cooling on centerfire rifles that is unnecessary with rimfires."

While Marlin's Model 60 semi-auto has thrilled shooters since 1960, earning the title of "most popular .22 in the world," the latest edition to the company's rimfire lineup makes use of a synthetic stock, rather than the wooden stock of the semi-auto.

The Marlin Model 925RM is available in .22 Win. Magnum and features a 22-inch Micro-Grove barrel, which has a proven accuracy record. The black synthetic stock enhances accuracy and keeps costs down in an era of increasingly hard-to-obtain gunstock woods such as walnut. It's a bolt-action rifle, featuring detachable 4-shot and 7-shot magazines. The 4-shot magazine mounts flush with the stock, a pleasant surprise for hunters who know that the balance point of most rimfire rifles is just in front of the trigger guard at the magazine well. A projecting magazine is prone to damage or falling out of a rifle if it is inadvertently released while the rifle is being carried in one hand at the balance point.

One thing that has made the traditional rimfire chambered for the .22 rifle into a longer range firearm is advanced ammunition. Winchester already had its Expediter, a 32-grain bullet with a velocity of 1640 fps. But it introduced a new super velocity round that is better suited to many types of hunting called the Hyper Speed HP. This round launches a 40-grain hollow point bullet at 1425 fps for flatter trajectory and higher energy levels at extended range

s than does typical high velocity .22 long rifle ammunition.

Another innovation is the new 555-round value pack of Winchester 36-grain long rifle hollow points. These rounds have a muzzle velocity of 1,280 fps. With shooter demand running incredibly high for all .22 ammo, getting a few extra shots in a bulk pack really does offer "more bang for your buck."

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