Ladd Fanta was the the first American writer to take note of the high-quality air guns coming out of Europe, and did more to promote and popularize them in this country than anyone else.
He was the first to suggest using silicone oil instead of petroleum oils in guns with leather compression chamber seals, and the first to suggest using Dri-Slide to clean the existing lube from air gun chambers. Here’s a piece he wrote on the Diana 27, a rifle that goes back to the 1930s and was one of the first European spring guns to arrive here.
Though the airgun is still most popular at the entry level, many an adult gun rack holds at least one pellet rifle that recalls many cherished memories. Today’s airgun development has resulted in many different pellets and means of propulsion. There are gas ram models and pre-charged pneumatics. These vie with old favorites such as the pump-up pneumatic, CO2 and spring piston.
Selecting from such a growing variety can be absorbing. Those of us who tend to accumulate a medley of guns and novel ammo want to be good shots with them all. However, it is a hard fact of life that any time you change guns, calibers, or pellets, you are demanding that the brain remember details of different trajectories, ranges, trigger pulls and other characteristics. That is a profusion of requirements.
Nonetheless, happiness may be a battery of sporting/plinking guns, or, more sparingly, a single, proven favorite.
A form of idle torment I sometimes play is to ask myself, “If constrained to keep only one gun, which would it be?” The exercise helps me define my values.
A: Decide on one – pistol or rifle? I feel the rifle would be more useful and gratifying. Especially if age or other influence is degrading one’s level of steadiness. The pistol would be the choice only if storage space or physical handling limitations were the top priorities.
B: Should the rifle be 177 or 22 caliber? To the less initiated, let me say this is the most provocative question in airgundom. Before I get vilified for sitting on the 22 caliber side of the fence, I declare that I can be happy shooting either caliber. But most of my air rifles are 22 caliber. The reasons for this are: (1) Better plinking effectiveness (my primary use); (2) Larger pellets are easier to handle (load); (3) the availability of 22 caliber cleaning equipment; (4) Given airgun designs are always more efficient in 22 caliber (per absolute authorities messrs. Webley and Scott); (5)Some airguns are only made in 22 caliber only, or 22 in the first production run (mostly US manufacturers); (6) A lifetime (?) supply of premium 22 caliber pellets already on hand; (7) Accuracy to equal 177 caliber.
The foregoing statement on accuracy may sound like heresy to those sold on the 177 caliber supremacy, but remember we are talking about sporting, not match, guns. m Some years ago, in a extensive study numerous 177 caliber rifles and like 22 caliber rifles (of British, German and Swiss manufacture) were machine rest tested using available brands of pellets (British, German, Japanese and US).
Surprisingly, and disconcertingly to 177 proponents, the two best groups were achieved in 22 caliber. Both groups were fired using round head pellets – the Eley Wasp and the Milbro Caledonian.
Let’s look at pellets first. In any caliber, not all guns shoot all brands of pellets exactly the same way. Some guns can be quite finicky, performing their best with only one or two similar brands. Other guns many do well with many brands Possible combinations abound.
One should prove his particular gun with a diversity of pellet types, because to the knowing airgunner second to importance to the gun itself is the pellet ammunition. A shooter may be surprised by how well he can do with “plain-Jane” pellets that prove to be well-suited to a individual gun.
Here are a few more pellet facts to ponder: (A) Any airgun can only shoot as well as the ammo that is feed into it. The pellets should look uniform and undamaged. Avoid bend, misshapen pellets and tins with lead flake debris. (B) When experimenting with different brands of pellet, be aware that point-of-impact usually shifts with each kind. Keep from playing with sights, possibly blaming the gun and wondering what happened to your zero. Also, realize we are at the mercy of the pellet manufacturers. Batches of pellets differ. (C) Despite the airgun’s low power being the very essence of it’s safety and usefulness, there pervades a fascination with power and/or penetration. In recent years, sporting interests have focused on pellets with points, indentations, rings and even hybrid composites. Frankly, the basic round-nose Diabolo pellet is still a winner. Reinvented as an ultra-accurate round-head called the Field Target Special, this pellet is sweeping the silhouette and field target games.
Claims are made that “grooves” on the skirt of a Diabolo pellet are for guidance, stability, or accuracy. Actually, the striations on pellet skits, when used, are only part of the manufacturing process.
Other popular misconceptions exist when it comes to the air-rifles three basic means of propulsion – pneumatic (pump-up), CO2 and spring piston (cocked by the barrel, underlever or sidelever). There are quick to advise which is “best.” The sensible answer is that they are all successfully produced and marketed. Each has advantages that appeal to certain people for valid reasons.
Modern materials and manufacturing methods have largely dispelled old cliches about failure-prone delicate valves and mainspring fatigue or breakage.
By far, the intelligent care one gives his airgun is what determines the gun’s useful life. To thoroughly read, and understand and abide by manufacturer’s simple directions is much more important than most new owners realize. The man that regularly over-pumps his pneumatic for “a little more power” asks for trouble. Too much and/or to frequent oiling can be ruinous, especially with the wrong or haphazardly-chosen lubricant. Inducing diesel action in spring guns for more power is also damaging, as is dry-firing without a pellet to supply the necessary piston deceleration.
Oftentimes, airgunners decry pumping the pneumatic as too much work. In fact this is only true when administering the final, sometimes formidable, pumps for a full power shot. Popular US multi-stroke pneumatic rifles are most useful and so designed to produce their best accuracy at their four or five pump level. In that prudent range of power, they are fully enjoyable and satisfying.
A Benjamin model 312 was my earliest serious air rifle, lasting more years than I care to remember. Embryonic modifications consisted of adding Benjamin’s #273 peep sight and lengthening the stock. I marveled at the bronze barrel rifling and how well the gun could shoot.
Another pneumatic jewel is my Crosman “Pumpmaster” Model 1400. A descendant of the model 140 (.22) and Model 147 (.177), the 22 caliber Model 1400 boasts adjustable trigger and bolt handle action in place of the sliding breech cover found on earlier models.
A final thought on pump-up airgun longevity – don’t loan your gun to brawny friends bent on converting it into a big game rifle.
In the early 1960s, Robert Law of Air Rifle Headquarters (now defunct) pioneered the sales of adult European spring piston airguns in the US. With a single, fairly stiff cocking stroke, these guns compared to the then-available CO2 and pneumatic guns. Some of my favorite spring rifles are from that era. They are relatively light, ample-powered, and I can use them by the hour without undue fatigue.
I have misgivings about the current trend to increase power and weight of spring rifles. To me, the cocking effort of some of these dreadnoughts simply is not worth the added muzzle velocity.
In my collection, I have pet guns, several of which could serve me as an “only” gun. I will detail a particular spring gun’s features that are probably reasons for it’s six-decade production run.
The venerable German Diana 27, made by Dianawerk, Mayer & Gramelspacher CO., has found its way to the US under many names, such as Original, Hy-Score, Peerless, Beeman’s Original, Geco, Winchester and RWS.
One can hardly recognize an antique Model 27, vintage 1925. it has no wooden forearm and quite elementary sights.
But through the years, though it remained plain in appearance (no swivels, high comb, checkering, etc.), this handy “in-betweener” embodied mechanical refinements handed down from top-dollar Dianawerk guns. For example the 27′s adjustable, crisp, two stage trigger distinguished itself as excellent by any standard. Diana made generous use of ball bearings, with less reliance on lubricants to achieve low friction pressure points.
A good example of this was in the mainspring release mechanism, where the notched spring piston shaft is ordinarily held cocked by a large claw. Here, Diana utilized a clutch consisting of annularly-positioned bearings around the grooved piston shaft. In another example, an often copied Diana method of barrel-cocking action lock-up is to use a spring-loaded, large captive ball instead of the typical chisel-shaped detent.
Long ago in his landmark airgun encyclopedia, the late W.H.B Smith pronounced the model 27 an exceptional buy in the Diana line. Another man who appreciated the gun was S.E. Laszlo, founder and for many years the head of Hy-Score Arms. His advertisement of the model 27 (Hy-Score 807) customarily described it as “hard hitting,” “classic beauty,” “real work-horse,” and “best buy.”
My specimen of the model 27 carries the Winchester (Model 427) name. Whenever I look at the large Winchester signature, I can’t help but paraphrase an old slogan, “Gee, Ladd, it’s a Winchester!”
For a few years, Winchester sold ten different Diana models, and obviously their quality criteria was of the highest order. This gun came impeccably detailed and packaged, with bright multi-grooved rifling, clean sharp with no faded lands at the muzzle from crowning, precise chamber size, finish and chamfer, and high polish blue.
The heart of any barrel-cocking design is the juncture where barrel meets the standing breech of the receiver. Here, the Model 27 had large chafing washers within each side, allowing a rub-free open and close barrel movement, while maintaining a zero end-play clearance. The cocking rod, which normally is the connecting link between barrel and piston underside for cocking, had a machined box-lock joint at the barrel end. This joint was not riveted or pinned as usually done. It was bolted for easy removal should the need arise.
The hardwood, walnut colored stock was well finished and had slender proportions that was easily adaptable to juniors and women, right or left hand. However, the 42 inch overall gun length and 5 1/2 to 6 pound weight does not feel toy-like in the hands of a man. With just a hint of barrel heaviness, shooting off-hand and handling is pleasurable.
Despite my lessening visual acuity, none of my rifles are scoped. I relish the utter simplicity, handiness and challenge. Hence, the quality of factory iron sights is all-important to me. Obviously, for utmost stability, accuracy and reliability , barrel-cocking makers put both sights on the barrel.
The Model 27′s rear sight is used on many other Diana guns and is one of the best, if not the best, open rear sights furnished as original equipment. It is click-adjustable with large knobs for elevation and windage. There are white line graduations for windage.
A precise, permanently attached aperture plate insert is instantly selectable for a shallow or deep “U,” or a square notch. The Model 27′s hood covered, pointed post front sight is non-interchangable, but does not sit so high above the bore as do the changeable insert types. Thus, I like the 27′s advantageous lower sight line.
This gun has been an all-around tack driver and reliable garden rodent eliminator. Coating the mainspring with a thixotropic silicone compound about twenty years ago has provided long-term smooth firing behavior and consistent power.
If my enthusiasm for the 27 has stirred any buyer interest, I am sorry to say that after 61 years of production, the Model 27 lastly appeared in the 1986 RWS catalog.
An Alternate? Be of good cheer, there are a lot of beauties to choose from out there. But remember, the fun is much the same whether the pellet is spurted by CO2 gas, compressed air, or even spring-generated air charge. And always, hitting the mark is what’s important, not if the pellet is plain, fancy, large, small or driven supersonic.
When your spirits, the time, the place and your gun are all in tune, the relationship can be euphoric.
Ladd Fanta Jan, 1992