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Night Vision for Airguns

Sightmark Photon

 

Night vision scopes are very popular these days, especially with hunters of feral wild pigs. They’re excellent for all sorts of nocturnal vermin, which is what led me to start thinking about getting one. We’ve had rats showing up in our city in the last few months and while I managed to bag a few during the daytime with an air rifle I thought it would be more effective to hunt them at night.

After several weeks of debating the various options with myself (cheap Gen 1 scope, better Gen 1 scope, digital scope, unaffordable thermal scope…) I decided to order a Sightmark Photon 4.6x digital scope from Amazon, as they have far and away the best return and customer service policies. It arrived yesterday and I mounted it on my Benjamin Marauder.

Installation is very easy, as it mounts in standard 30mm rings. Setup is almost as easy, as there are only two controls on the scope. One is a power/illumination button. One press turns it on. Successive presses cycle through various levels of IR illumination, and a long press turns it off. The level off illumination is displayed in the viewfinder, along with battery life. The other control is a combined button and knob that normally controls display brightness. Press and hold, and a menu comes up that allows you to select between reticle shape, color, and position. The position adjustment allows for one-shot zeroing, or close to it. Shoot a group at a target, then move the reticle to point to the group. That’s it.

Last night I took it out after dark to search for the rats that have been showing up in our neighborhood. Like those of many animals, a rat’s eyes reflect light, which makes them very easy to spot, as the IR illuminator turns their eyes into bright white spots- you can see the eyes long before you can pick out a rat’s body hidden by vegetation.

The scope uses two AA batteries to power both scope and illuminator, and the manual says they’re last from 4-6 hours, depending on how much IR illumination you use. I found the lowest setting was more than adequate at garden ranges, but I might add an external illuminator just to stretch battery life.

At $490, it was $190 more than the cheapest Gen 1 sight I looked at, but from what I’ve been able to learn from other reviews, the image is much clearer and wider. Sightmark warranties it for three years, which is better than most electronic devices. So far I’m pretty impressed.

My TX200 comes home

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Six years ago I sold my TX200 to a friend who had great plans for shooting it regularly at his place up North. This was a custom Jim Maccari tuned gun with a Simmons scope I used in my second year of Field Target competition back in the late 1990s, and it was capable of great accuracy with Crosman Premiers. It was also the gun I shot at Camp Perry when my club was doing the first demonstration FT match held there, and had a lot of memories.  But I sold it to help pay for a used Air Arms Pro Sport as I didn’t think I needed the TX200 any more.

Good intentions have a way of going astray, and my friend called to say he’d only taken the TX200 out twice in six years, and… was I interested in buying it back? Well, yes, I was. It took us close to six months to finally get together to talk terms, after which he walked away with a wad of cash and a Swift pistol scope, and I walked off with my old TX200.

Other than a little rust on the under lever latch it’s pretty much in the same condition it was when it left my house. My range markings are still on the focusing ring and my elevation table is still glued to the sun shade. It’s still as smooth shooting as it was when I last owned it.

Did I need another air rifle? Hardly. I owned three spring guns, all of them very high quality, and a Crosman Gen2 Marauder in a Boyds stock, none of which I get to shoot very often these days. But it’s a gun with a lot of memories and it’s nice having it back.

The IZH-46m Part II

In our last visit with the IZH-46m I’d just begun to reshape the grip. Here it is after several iterations with rasp and sandpaper:

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I’ve tapered the grip towards the rear, thinned the wood at the top of the grip, and carved finger grooves. Quite a bit more to do but it’s already a significant improvement. The tool I used to do this was a Nicholson #49 Cabinet Makers Rasp, a very fine rasp with hand-cut teeth. A hand cut rasp has an irregular, almost random pattern of teeth  that cuts very fast yet still cuts much more smoothly than the typical machine cut rasp. Unfortunately Nicholson moved production to Brazil a few years ago and their rasps are no longer the fine tools they once were. There are still good hand cut rasps available, though, from companies like Aurier and Liogier in France.

I also moved the trigger rearward about a quarter of an inch, which makes it easier to pull without rotating the gun. Dry firing, I noticed that I tended to rotate the gun ever so slightly to the left as I depressed the trigger- barely noticeable, but enough to push my groups left.

Next step is to further taper the grip, deepen the grooves, and refuse the shape until I get a perfect glove-like fit. Then I’ll sand out any scratches and work it down to a 320 grit. Last, I’ll add a Tru-Oil finish and when that sets up, apply stippling with a punch.

Further refinement:

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The taper from front to back turns out to be especially critical. By varying which side tapers more you can fine tune how the gun points and the sights align.

 

The IZH-46m Part I

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Having sold my Alfa Proj, I once again had money in my toy account (aka my PayPal account) and just as I was wondering what to try next a pair of clean IZH-46m pistols showed up on the TargetTalk forum. I jumped on one for a very reasonable $425 (they’re $599 new) and three days later it arrived on my front porch.

Russian match guns have a reputation for excellent performance coupled with crude workmanship, but this pistol looks like a piece of quality workmanship. About the only thing that’s not impressive when you pick this gun up is the grip, which is bulky and crudely shaped- but more about that in a minute. Shooting is simple: Open the cocking lever until the loading gate pops open, close the lever (which pressurizes the air chamber, insert a pellet, close the loading gate, and you’re ready to fire.

You can dry fire the 46m, too. There’s a small projection on the right side of the fitting at the breech end of the barrel:

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If you push forward on that tab,  the fitting moves forward and allows the breech block to pop open:

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This is a good way to store the gun, as it takes pressure off the breech seals. If you lift the breech block until it clicks, that cocks the trigger. You can then close the breech until it locks, and the trigger may be safely dry fired.

So how does it shoot? Not surprisingly, given its history in competition, it shoots as good as any match gun of its era and far better than I can. Here’s one of my first targets, shot while I was tweaking the sights:

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That shot on the upper left of the 10-ring was my last, after adding a couple of elevation clicks and adjusting my grip. Not Olympic quality, but not too bad a start.

About those grips: They’re intentionally left large and clunky because IZH expects the owner to carve and shape the grips to fit. Some owners spend a few hundred dollars to buy custom grips from Rink, but I decided to grab a rasp and dig in. After referring to Don Nygord’s invaluable “Nygord’s Notes” I grabbed my trusty Nicholson #49 Patternmakers Rasp and started removing wood.

Nygord emphasizes that a proper grip involves pressure at three points: The web between thumb and forefinger, where the second finger grasps the front of the grip, and the front of the palm shelf. A properly shaped grip will allow the shooter to grasp the pistol exactly the same way every time, locating on these three points.

The first step in shaping is to taper the grip front to back, so that it fits the tapered gap between thumb and forefinger.

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I’ve only removed about an eight of an inch of wood but it already fits my hand much better.  Note that I’m also thinning the section above the web of the hand to both enlarge the area and get my hand a bit closer to the barrel axis.

The second area that needs shaping is the side and front of the grip, where your fingers wrap around. The first step was just to break the hard edge, which made the grip much more comfortable:

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Just this small change made the grip much more comfortable. I plan on removing more wood in this area and adding finger grooves to improve the repeatability of my grip position. Once I have a good shape I’ll switch to sandpaper, starting with 150 and moving down to 320. I might do some stippling as well to improve the grip.

Should you decide to do some grip or stock shaping yourself, be advised that the Nicholson #49 hand-cut rasp I’m using is a made-in-USA model I bought in 1998 when I was fitting airgun field target stocks. A few years ago they moved production to Brazil, and the #49s and #50s they’re making now are junk. If you’re looking for a good stock shaping tool, look into the French rasps made by Auriou and Liogier, both available from several on-line sellers. Theyre expensive, but worth it. A rasp with hand cut teeth cuts much faster, and much smoother than any machine cut rasp. The secret is the randomized spacing of the teeth.