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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.

A Plethora of Pellets



These days almost all my shooting is done with a very few different pellets. For 0.177 field shooting, 7.5 and 10 grain round nosed pellets- Premiers or JSBs. For target guns, 7 and 8gr wadcutters, usually RWS Meisterkugeln. But after 40 years of air gunning I have a pretty big collection of pellets in various calibers, shapes, and weights. Here’s a small selection of interesting ones from my collection.

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These Crosmans, dating from the 60s, I think, are probably the oldest in my collection. They were made for the CO2 and pump-up Crosman guns, probably from dies Crosman had been using for decades. How accurate would they be from a modern gun? Hard to say. They’re so oxidized I wouldn’t put them in a good quality gun. I don’t know much more about them.

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These Eley Wasps look pretty old, but Eley sold the same pellet designs for decades. They also used the same dies to make them for many decades, which is not a good recipe for accuracy.  Eloy makes what is probably the finest .22 caliber target ammunition in the world, but curiously they’ve never made target quality pellets. Still, their line of pellets were very popular in the days of inexpensive spring guns. When the high quality PCP guns started to appear on the market in the 1980s, buyers started looking for better pellets.

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These pellets win the prize for the worst quality pellets in my collection, I think. They came with a 1990s Chinese made TS-45 side lever spring gun I purchased back then. The TS-45 was very popular for a time as they could be purchased very cheaply, and were a good platform for experimentation. What they were not is very accurate. I think they were used in China as basic marksmanship trainers, although I recall the hang tag on the gun also suggested that they were also recommended “for elimination of vermin.”

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Before there was a Beeman Jet pellet there were these Japanese made pellets. A very light pellet with multiple delicate “fins” designed to provide a good air seal with low friction, the Jet was designed for the low power (4-5 foot pound) pump up guns that were then legal in Japan. Beeman later relabeled them and sold them as a general purpose pellet with “good penetration.” I tried the Beeman version in my Beeman R7 (HW 30) with so-so results. This package came from a friend who got to know Robert Law very well, and often visited him.

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These 0.177 round balls were made by H&N and other pellet makers for various repeating airguns like the Hakim military trainer. That didn’t stop airgunners from trying them in guns designed for Diablo-style pellets, and it didn’t stop Bob Beeman from recommending them as a safer, non-ricocheting alternative to steel BBs.  The problem with this advice is that BBs are smaller than .177, and these round balls will quickly jam most BB guns, as many trusting Beeman customers discovered. They don’t work very well in most single pellet shot guns, either,  as solid balls don’t provide as a good a seal  as do hollow base pellets. They’re still useful for the few repeating guns designed to use them.

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Another pellet see by many European shooters and the few North Americans who could get their hands on them in the 70s and 80s. Great graphics, average pellet.

 

Robert Law and Air Rifle Headquarters

Most air gunners today aren’t aware of Robert Law, the man who really introduced modern high quality European airguns to the American market. We had Daisy, of course, and Crosman, Sheridan, Benjamin, and a number of other domestic makers, but their guns were looked on largely as toys by most gun hobbyist. But in Europe, respected makers of high-quality firearms like Hermann Weirauch, Walther, Feinwerkbau, Diana, and others were making precision spring-air powered guns that cost as much as firearms- some of them as accurate as the finest target forearms.

Bob Law not only imported and sold these guns, he produced catalogs that were also manuals of how to tune and improve these guns for better performance and sold a variety of high-tech lubricants that could be used in these tunes. Building on the work of Ladd Fanta, he taught air gunners how to replace combustible petroleum based solvents with modern synthetics:

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He also marketed a variety of H&N and other pellets under the ARH brand:

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Air Rifle Headquarters was never a huge business, and when Robert Beeman entered the market he took advantage of the knowledge that Law had accumulated as well as the market Law had developed, and was able to grow his business to the point where he became the sole Importer of many of the guns Law was selling. Law decided to leave the business and devote us time to the ministry.

Beeman did do a lot to popularize quality airguns in this country, and even introduced some novel ideas, like putting European guns in quality American-styled walnut stocks instead of the utilitarian looking beech stocks that most came in. But we should remember that without Robert Law and the original Air Rifle Headquarters, there probably never would have been a Beeman.

Feinwerkbau 80 Match pistol

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Back in the 1980s, when I first discovered high quality airguns, the Feinwerkbau 65 was the pistol that ruled ISSF air pistol competition. Introduced in 1965, the FWB 65 used a simple and elegant  system to eliminate recoil: The receiver was free to slide rearward on firing, dissipating recoil energy instead of allowing it to disturb the aim of the gun. This is the same system that was used very successfully in Feinwerkbau’s Model 300 rifle, the most successful target rifle of the spring gun era. While there were other recoiless systems, like the Diana guns that used a pair of opposed pistons, none were as simple or as effective as the Feinwerkbau system.

Feinwerkbau made around 220,000 model 65s, and then came out with the 80, which added a number of improvements, including removable barrel weights and an adjustable trigger. 48,000 model 80s were produced, and then the 80 was succeeded by the 90, which added an electronic trigger. Only about 22,000 Model 90s were produced. The 90 was followed by the single stroke pneumatic 100, 102, and 103, and those were succeeded by the modern CO2 and PCP guns. But despite the 50 years of development since the introduction of the 65, they can still be highly competitive in the right hands.

I had a chance to shoot a model 65 back in 1998, when I was competing in Airgun Field Target at the National Matches at Camp Perry. It was the best air pistol I had ever fired, and I started pricing a new 65, but they were  far out of my financial reach. When I got back into shooting air guns a few years ago I started looking for a used 65 or 80 but I rarely came across one, and when I did, the asking price was very high. Then just last week I saw this model 80 for sale at a target shooting web page for $500, or $400 without the scope. I’d recently sold my Crosman 1701p along with the custom grips and Williams sight, so I had the money just burning a hole in my PayPal account. I messaged the seller, and three days later I had it in hand.

First job was to remove the scope mount. The sights are mounted very close to the barrel axis, which means that even this 1/4″ high mount interferes with sighting. Unfortunately this leaves several holes to be filled. I’ll have to visit the hardware store tomorrow for some metric screws with very low heads, or just Loctite a couple of allen screws in place. (Turns out these holes are threaded 6-32, which means the rail was added by Beeman, the importer, and not by Feinwerkbau. )

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I also had to polish out the nicks and rust in the barrel that didn’t show up in the seller’s photos. I used 000 steel wood to remove the rust and the pits, and Brownell’s Dichropan blue, which did a fair but not great job of evening out the finish on the barrel. I’m going to try some Brownell’s Oxpho-Blue which has long been my go-to blue for refinishing and repairing guns.

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Next step was to sight it in. The sight is adjustable for vertical and horizontal displacement, and also has an adjustment for the width of the notch in the rear sight:

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It’s a well designed mechanism and easy to adjust. It only took a few clicks to get it right on target- this was shot offhand at 10 meters:

 

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The trigger was a bit too far away for me to get a straight pull back with my index finger, so I moved it rearward a bit- an easy adjustment that involves loosening a screw, sliding the trigger along a rail, and retightening the screw.

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This made it easier to get a clean trigger release without pushing the muzzle to the left.

Overall I’m pretty happy with the gun. Compared to what’s available in new and used guns at this price level, it’s very competitive. Certainly the sights and trigger are far better than the $250 Gamo Compact or the $385-545 FAS 6004. A used FWB 100 will cost you  $600 and up these days. The Russian-made IZH-46m is certainly competitive with the FWB, but costs around $600 new and $450-500 used, and it’s a heavier, bulkier, gun. Everything else costs a lot more. The Alfa Proj runs $795 new and $595 used. Most PCP guns are in the $1300 and up range. I’ll probably keep this one around for a while.