I got one of these (direct from MEC, but you can get them from Intershoot.co.uk now) a while ago to try out.
Looked great, but had a few problems – for a start, my rearsight got a little complicated:
Okay, so some of that got stripped off, but even after that, it was still a bit… busy:
Now, I have a fairly pronounced cant on the rifle, so that introduced another problem – the duplex is only anchored at the top and I don’t know if it’s my one alone or the design, but when you cant it, the iris doesn’t hang vertically, it moves slightly to one side and makes a mess of your sight picture, so you’re fiddling with its adjustment a fair bit to try to get everything aligned. And speaking of which, the sight picture itself gets a bit more complicated as well:
The problem is that the gap between the rear iris ring on the outside and the middle ring of the duplex is just as critical as the centering of the foresight ring in the rear iris, and unless the duplex is perfectly centered in the rear iris – and locked solidly in place – then you get a sight picture like the one above, and if you’re mid-match and fixating on the target, you don’t notice the small drift offcenter of the duplex in the rear iris.
Now I know these can work; I saw one or two being used to good effect in Intershoot and in RIAC by the Dutch team (it’s hard to see but look at the rearsight of Peter, second from the left in the photo):
But for me, the Duplex is now sitting in the pile of Bits I Bought Because They Were A Good Idea At The Time But They Haven’t Worked Out So Far But Maybe With A Bit Of Work They Will Later On…
I’ve tried a couple of different types of cleaning kits for rifles over the years, but mostly I’d settled on using the VFG pellets on cleaning rods for smallbore rifle and shoot-through cleaning pellets for airguns – I’d tried using the jags and cloths and so forth before but they’re just too damn fiddly, and as to bronze brushes, well, they’re a great way to etch your barrel as the bits of bronze break off and then get pounded into the barrel by the first post-cleaning round you fire; but apart from that, well, they’re not much use unless you’re shooting fullbore.
But I always had an aversion to pull-throughs for one simple reason, and that’s the crown of the barrel. For those who don’t shoot, the most sensitive part of the entire rifle is the crown at the end of the barrel – this bit:
See, if you use a pull-through improperly, or any other cleaning method, and you let something abrade the edges of the crown (that’s the bit where the hole in the middle meets the end of the barrel, for those still confused), the accuracy of the rifle is monumentally altered in a bad way. And since a pull-through is basicly a steel wire with a cleaning patch or pellet on the end, if you pull it through and don’t take care to keep the wire away from the edge of the crown, you could destroy a rifle barrel (and since they’re worth a few hundred euro, you don’t want to do that).
However, cleaning an air rifle with a cleaning rod is … awkward. You either disassemble the entire rifle or you clean from muzzle to breech, (which isn’t the right way to do things really) and it’s quite awkward to do either, so you wind up doing neither, the rifle barrel doesn’t get cleaned and your group opens out to as much as 8mm for an air rifle – which is not competitive. So I was looking at the new VFG kit. It uses a plastic-coated wire for a little protection and the bloop tube on the end of the air rifle muzzle makes it easy to keep the wire centered coming out of the barrel (you just pinch your fingers on the end of the bloop tube and use that as a guide for the wire). Plus, the kit is tiny – it’s far smaller than the palm of my hand, so it’d take up next to no room at all in the case. So I ordered one (again, ebay is your friend, though Intershoot carries them as well) to give it a try. What’s in the kit?
First thing you see when you remove the lid is a large styrofoam packing peanut. Word to the wise – that’s part of the kit, it’s not some packing material gone astray. Don’t chuck it out. You see, beneath it, is the disc you use to grab the wire:
And coiled around inside the case is the wire itself and the pellet adapter on one end and small balls on the end and about a third of the way along, which the disc grabs onto to let you pull the wire through the barrel (personally, I’ve never needed this, finger pressure has been more than enough, but it’s nice to have the option just in case):
I usually keep a few cleaning pellets in the case as well these days. I’ve been using it for a fortnight now, and I’ve become a fan. It’s light-weight, it’s compact, it’s easy to use, and it’s faster than the rod and more thorough than the shoot-throughs (though I’d still use the shoot-throughs after a match and do a proper cleaning session then when I got back home or to the home range with the rifle). It’s very simple to use, just mount a cleaning pellet on the adapter, thread the wire into the barrel from the breech, and pull through – being careful to keep the wire away from the edges of the crown.
Rocket science it ain’t, but it’s one of those nice, simple little solutions…
UCD was an utter disaster for me. A complete kick to the gut. The groups were so haywire that I was sure there was some sort of deep problem with my match prep or shot routine, and that would mean that months of work was wasted.
So last night, the objective was simple – find the cause of the problem. I thought it’d take all night. I set up the firing point just as I had in UCD, and killed the lights at mid-range and the near end of the range to simulate the lighting in UCD (which is much darker than WTSC because it’s a larger space and damned hard to light properly):
And I’m sitting there behind that, in the chair putting on my boots when I spot the problem. See, normally in WTSC I train on that firing point because I have the RIKA set up there and it saves time. But when I set up normally, it looks like this:
Spot the difference? Here, look at the UCD setup in the same lighting:
Hint: It’s the ruler. The two floor panels come together to form a reference line of sorts that I’d been using subconsciously while training, but while that line is parallel to the line to the target, it’s about four inches forward of it. So when I laid down the ruler in UCD and built the position around that, I was building the position perfectly — but four inches to the left of where it should have been.
There’s an upside to this — ie. it’s a simple fix. But it’s really annoying that such a small stupid mistake cost so much.
So having a hypothesis that made sense, now was time to test it. First off, ten shots in the UCD setup:
And the RIKA traces:
Then ten shots in the normal WTSC setup:
And the RIKA traces:
Ignoring fliers, the normal WTSC setup group is smaller (it’s offset, but ignore that, the sights aren’t dialled in between strings), but not by a heck of a lot. But I’ve not shot since sunday, so I have more energy and maybe that’s making the earlier shots better? So five more shots in the UCD setup, because now I’m getting tired and the extra energy that might be compensating for bad setup isn’t there anymore:
And the RIKA traces:
I thought that was reasonably good supporting evidence, if not conclusive. And then I remembered that Matt had been ticked at a small flick out to the right he’d been seeing in my shooting all last week, and I wondered if I was still misaligned; so just for fun, I moved my position even more to the right of the target line:
The idea is to be as sure as I can be that the rifle’s plumb line (a vertical line down to the floor from the barrel when in position) is intersecting the line to the target. And this new position seemed to work very well – my balance in position felt much better, and while my triggering was awful a lot of the time, that’s a seperate problem. I’ll be trying this position more in the sessions to come, but I’m quite hopeful for it. Ten shots taken at the end of the session, while tired, looked like this:
And the RIKA traces:
Shot seven, when you ignore the RIKA calibration drift (it was actually a 10.4) is what gives me the most hope, especially when I recall that my shooting suit is old and doesn’t fit right, and that I was tired 😀
Yesterday was a shorter training run than tuesdays, only about an hour or so spent shooting on the line, but there were non-shooting activities to get through as well, with cleaning the rifle with my new cleaning kit (more on that in another post) and adding a weight at the muzzle end of the barrel.
The weight proved awkward – we didn’t have any of the over-barrel weights I was hoping to use and my anschutz-specific barrel weight (the only one I have to hand) is on a shelf over the workbench in DURC which is awkward when you’re in WTSC 😀 I scoured around looking for unused weights but didn’t find anything that would fit, and then I found some leftover lead from when we were making up the weights for my home training setup (which is a wooden stock weighed with lead to let me do balance work at home). A bit of rolling and a lot of electrical tape later and viola, a standard WTSC bodge job homemade barrel weight 🙂
Some of the more observant readers may have noticed that this homemade contraption is hanging a little low and that the air cylinder appears to be closer to the barrel than the edge of the weight… and they’d be correct. On dissassembling the rifle after training, I found that the weight prevented removal of the cylinder, and as you can see, it’s taped in place. So out with the penknife, cut away all the tape, then rework the weight so that it’s thinner underneath and all the weight’s up above the barrel:
The air cylinder can now be inserted and removed at will, and as soon as the match on Sunday’s over, I’ll get something a little less… homemade sorted out.
The idea behind doing this in the first place was simple enough – a little weight out at the far end of the barrel will add to the barrel’s inertia and make it easier to reduce side-to-side wobble in the hold. Allegedly. In theory. I have to say that I think there was an improvement, but it’ll take more RIKA time tonight to tell for sure and to quantify it. I’ll have to shoot on better shooting days than last night (when my position and hold didn’t feel as solid as they have on other days) in order to confirm it.
However, last night did have some good results. I was working on the hold initially, but Matt changed focus a few shots in after noticing that when I was settling towards the pre-aim, the RIKA showed me hovering off to the top right of the target, and then moving in during the preaim; and then as I was dropping my head to the cheekpiece, moving out to the right again. After a while of looking at it, I noticed that during my preaim, I’m lining up a spot on the rearsight and the center of the foresight ring with a plumbline down from the bull; but because of the shape of my face, when I drop my cheek to the cheekpiece, it pushes the rifle out the right slightly. The fix seemed simple; now, instead of the foresight ring being on the plumbline, I use the gap between the foresight ring and the right-hand-side cant bar in the foresight tunnel:
With that change made, the preaim is a little finickier, but the aim gets much better. The results show this:
The two nines were fliers shot before the changes to the preaim, as the RIKA shows:
Again, ignore the score values as the RIKA calibration was a tad off:
And here are the traces, looking at the hold:
And looking at the approach:
Long gap there between shots #3 and #4 as we changed the pre-aim routine (and started the RIKA saving the last 30 seconds before the shot instead of the last 10). And then there’s the really good bit of the evening, between shots #8 and #9. There’s a hole in my mental game where I catch sight of a string of tens and think “just one more…” and then promptly stuff it up and shoot an eight. We’ve been working on that too – it’s why the shot routine has morphed into a series of changes and checks, along the lines of “Do step 1; check step 1; only go on to step 2 if step 1 passes the check” and so on. Tonight it worked for the first time – it was hairy and difficult and nearly didn’t several times, but eventually I was able to rely on the checklist approach to get me through the shot and put in a decent execution (and was rewarded with a 10.0). That is the part of the evening I’m really chuffed with.
So tonight, we’re going to test the new routine a bit more, and also shoot on the RIKA with a few different foresight sizes – that group above was shot with a 3.8 foresight (which is a wee bit small for those who don’t shoot much air rifle, it’s as low as my foresight can adjust to, and normally you just use that for training and shoot a match on a higher setting). We need to shoot some shots on the RIKA at 3.8, 4.0, 4.2 and 4.4 to get an idea of what the effect on the hold will be. Given that you normally set the foresight according to the range lighting, it’s worth knowing what the different sizes will do to the hold; though I’m reasonably sure that the change in lighting might also be a factor in the hold…
This evening’s training was a bit of a trial for tomorrow more than anything else. Yesterday’s shooting with my eyes shut was a good indicator that there was something wrong, but the air pressure problem prevented any real diagnosis, and the more I thought about it, the less I could see it doing to help because I couldn’t tell if it was bad triggering or bad hold that caused the problem. So today, I wanted to set up the Rika to see what my hold looked like. I didn’t quite think this through though, and wound up trying to set up the Rika after warming up – while still in full kit. If ISSF think the “penguin walk” is a bad thing, they’ve not seen the penguin try to get over a 3′ table while in full kit…
Anyway. Finally got the Rika set up. For those who don’t shoot, the Rika is an electronic training aid, made up of three main parts: the target, which has two small infra-red LEDs on it and which holds a normal paper target and sits down the range in the usual place or as close to it as you can get:
Then there’s a sensor that’s slung under the barrel of the rifle, and an interface box that’s basicly all the magic electronics that interprets the sensor and gives a very basic (two-line dot-matrix) interface.
This interface box plugs into the PC and that’s where the real magic happens…
But, while that video trace is really useful, it’s not the only data the software can give you…
And these statistics (and a few others) can be run over groups of shots as well as individual shots.
So tomorrow’s plan is to shoot a few strings with Matt observing to get some baseline data and see how things are going. An evaluation day, in other words…
Discussed how to approach the Nationals with Matt in training on the friday beforehand. We both know that the new position and shot routine isn’t fully ironed out yet – in every session I keep learning one or two more of the little things about the new setup that I knew backwards about the old one, like what goes wrong, what to watch for that’s not obvious from within the position and so on. And the jacket, well. That jacket is the bane of my life at the moment, and has a date with a BBQ pit, a pint of petrol and a match when the new one arrives – at the moment, I’m damn near shooting without a jacket for all the lumbar stabilisation it gives me. So I wasn’t expecting an MQS from this match, just an improvement on the last day and maybe to get a good view of what the position can do, and maybe to learn some new things to watch.
Wasn’t expecting great results from tonight; I planned to shoot round eight of the UCESSA air pistol match and then do some position work without kit (I figured, if I can do the left forearm right without kit, it’s definitely the jacket that’s causing the problem.
Of course, the morning before shooting a pistol match, I reach into my gym locker with my right hand and nearly tear off the thumbnail on the metal of the locker doorframe. Nice one. Spent most of the pistol match trying to find a thumb position that didn’t hurt. But maybe distraction works:
See, some days you eat the bear, and some days you don’t watch the sights and focus enough and the bear eats you while laughing at your six…
The position work was frustratingly good. I tried with my rifle, and every club rifle in the rack, from very old and heavy Walthers to FWB603s to FWBP700 Juniors. Every single time, the left elbow found the top of the left hip in the same place without thought and the left forearm was perfectly vertical. So I really am fighting that jacket badly, even after the surgery.
Thing is, until the gut’s gone, there’s little point in a new jacket – so everything is just waiting around for the gym to sort out the weight problem. Harumph.
One of the fun things about being in a club that’s been around a while is that some interesting stuff builds up in the historical archives. I’ve an interesting bit or two from the archives to put up on this blog but I thought I’d start with last night’s fun, the Vickers Jubilee.
I’m generally not an admirer of firearms, oddly enough. I’m a great fan of target shooting, but oohing and aahing over a firearm makes as much sense to me as oohing and aahing over a shovel. But there have been exceptions – for example, there was a display case of early target shooting muskets in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam a few years ago, which had so much filigree and enamel work done that they were more a cross of painting and sculpture than they were firearms:
And some firearms have been so optimised for function that the craftsmanship displayed has a kind of intrinsic aesthetic beauty, something that you can appreciate as a separate thing from what the craft itself actually is. For example, one particular target shooting .223 rifle out in the Midlands has had so much work done on its trigger by its owner that it is now every bit as crisp and clean a trigger release as any match rifle; yet the trigger unit itself is just a standard one, polished and worked to perfection over long hours in the workshop.
Shooting with the Vickers gave that sense of excellent craftsmanship and more – this rifle is simply not from our time. Originally manufactured in 1939, it hails from a time when craftsmanship standards were somewhat higher than today and manufacturing philosophy was not the same as it is today. This is evident almost no matter where you look on the rifle, in both fine details and gross features.
For example, in all modern rifles, the barrel is pinned, clamped, or otherwise connected to the receiver; this allows replacement barrels to be swapped in. This is done fairly often for fullbore rifles, some calibres more than others; but infrequently for smallbore, if ever.
The reason that we have this design feature at all in modern smallbore rifles is advertised as the ability to allow high-end shooters to replace barrels after hundreds of thousands of rounds have finally begun to erode the barrel, or in case of accidental damage — but really, its purpose is to allow for manufacturing defects in a barrel to not require the entire rifle be scrapped, and to allow separate manufacturing of barrel and receiver, thus increasing production rates and flexibility (so you can have a barrel made in one factory mated to a receiver made in another, or whatever works out cheapest for the manufacturer).
On the Vickers however, as you can see, the action and the barrel are all one piece of metal. To hell with manufacturing a hundred barrels, throwing away the three or four that aren’t up to snuff and making rifles with all the rest; this is the Waterford crystal approach, where you make a rifle in one piece and if it’s not up to snuff, it gets scrapped. There’s more investment on the part of the gunsmith here, and a higher requirement for skill and precision from the gunsmith. And with much of the rifle being handmade or handfinished, that’s more and more evident as you start looking for it.
It’s also fascinating to see alternative engineering approaches to problems. For example, in modern rearsights, the iris is like that on a camera, with several leaves that come together to create an iris that’s infinitely adustable over a set range. You can dial in whatever iris setting you want; this is very useful in an outdoor match or an indoor one if the lighting is a bit nonstandard. But the mechanics of such an iris, while relatively easy to create today with CNC milling and CAD design and laser-cut metal parts, were quite expensive in 1939; so the Vickers uses a more low-tech solution which nevertheless works quite well: behind the rearsight eyecup, there’s a small rotatable indexed wheel with several holes of varying sizes drilled into it.
So when you’re looking through the rearsight iris, you are effectively getting one of a few preset iris settings. It’s not as flexible as the modern system, but it does have several advantages over our modern leaf-type irises:
It’s a lot cheaper to manufacture
It’s a lot more robust and reliable; leaf-types can break and need repair, a hole in a piece of metal is pretty much unbreakable
There are far fewer possible settings, leaving the shooter less to get his head caught up in. The sights do the minimum that’s required to give the shooter what he needs; they are not suffering from feature-creep!
The rearsight is much physically smaller and thinner than a leaf-type can be easily made to be; modern rearsights like the MEC Free sight and the Centra Spy are trying to get back to this small rearsight model and top shooters are snapping them up like hotcakes; but the Jubilee was there in 1939…
So some Vickers engineer out there achieved 70 years ago, what todays MEC and Centra engineers are now trying to achieve again today. It’s somewhat ironic.
The sights are not the only design trend that Vickers had in 1939 that we’re only seeing crop up again today. The stock itself is lightweight and ambidextrous, making the rifle usable for juniors, ladies, left- and right-handed shooters, equally. Universal design in 1939?! Today you can find several rifles that are ambidextrous in the catalogs, but only because it’s become one of the modern design trends – ten years ago your choices were far more limited.
There are no headspacing issues. None. The falling-block design just doesn’t have that problem. Nor do you have problems with lock times, the falling-block trigger mechanism has the fastest lock time of any rifle action bar the modern rotating-block and metal storm designs, neither of which are really target shooting mechanisms! In fact, lets look at that trigger mechanism for a moment:
How robust is that? Compared to the match 54 trigger, this thing is a solid hunk of steel fit to be used as a hammer! And once put to that use, you would almost expect it to be unaffected when it returned to its original job as a trigger. In action, its feel is wonderfully crisp and precise, if much heavier than modern triggers. It feels like it breaks around the 1lb to 2lb level, though I’ve not taken a trigger gauge to it. But look at how few moving parts there are – there are, in total, five components, though to be fair one does house four more including the main spring and the firing pin.
It’s hard to explain how wonderfully elegant this trigger mechanism is without showing the modern counterpart, so here’s a look at the Match 54 trigger (the nearly ubiquitous trigger in modern match rifles):
Doesn’t look too complex there, with everything nicely coloured, but that diagram is masking several things to just show the operational parts. Contrast the number of parts in the Vickers trigger above with the number in the Match 54 trigger as shown in the user’s manual below:
Now, granted, the Match 54 does have significant advantages over the Martini action trigger. It is far more adjustable, as the first diagram shows, allowing for a very custom trigger setup. Whatever the shooter’s preference is, the Match 54 can probably cater to it, whereas the Martini allows for some adjustment of trigger weight, but not much, and that’s about it really. And the Match 54 can operate at far lower trigger weights reliably; the Martini is never going to get much below the 1lb-2lb level and remain utterly reliable. That doesn’t mean that it’s an impediment however — as a few minutes of shooting without any jacket or sling will show you, the trigger is more than good enough to get the job done:
In fact, that’s the thing about the Vickers that jumps out at you and slaps you round the face a few times — if you’re looking for a club gun, one you will train someone to shoot on, there really isn’t anything better than the Vickers being made today. It blows every current match rifle out of the water in terms of suitability for beginners. Think about it:
This is an ambidextrous stock, so that’s the left and right handers taken care of with one rifle, saving money for the club.
It’s safe, with a trigger that’s hard to set off accidentally.
It’s perfectly accurate and doesn’t suffer from any of the problems with esoteric things like headspacing and the like that modern match rifles have.
The accessory rail is compatible with all the modern handstops and doodads, so you don’t have to convert those over if you move up to a more modern rifle.
The sights are robust enough to work well after seventy years, though you do have to adapt to their working in the opposite sense to the german sights we’ve all been using for the last few decades; but that’s a trivial adaptation.
The rifle itself is very lightweight, making it suited for juniors and seniors in both genders.
It’s monumentally uncomplicated. You can take the trigger apart completely without a single tool beyond a ballpoint pen to poke out the pins (and if your fingernails are up to it, you don’t even need that). You can take this rifle to the firing point, take it into less than a dozen pieces to show a beginner how it all works, reassemble it and fire it, all in about quarter of an hour. The depth of understanding a beginner can gain from this is enormous and you just cannot do this with a modern rifle – too many parts, too many tools needed, and you’re sunk if you lose even one tiny little grub screw, which on a range is a near-certainty.
It’s reliable. Look, this thing was made in 1939, it’s passed through at least two owners before DURC got their hands on it, and it was a club gun for college students for years until it was retired in 1990; and after all that use and abuse and wear and tear, it took less than a half-hour of pottering before it was back and ready to go into service again drilling out the ten as if it was only made last tuesday and hasn’t gotten properly warmed up yet. And it’s built as though the design spec said it had to be usable as a hammer every other weekday. Compare this with the incredibly delicate handling needed with some modern rifles like the Hammerli AR30 or the like. This may well be the single most reliable firearm I have ever picked up.
And then to all that you add the last point, the clincher for money-starved clubs everywhere during the recession: the cost. Granted, you can only get them second-hand. Granted, the easiest place to find them is the back room of any UK gunshop, which may not be terribly convenient. And granted, sooner or later these things are going to become collectors items. But right now, a Vickers Jubilee can be picked up second-hand for about €60.
No, not a misprint. Sixty (six-zero) euro.
How the heck Anschutz and the other manufacturers are supposed to compete with that for a club or beginners rifle, I don’t know, unless it’s through hoping noone’s ever heard of the Vickers. It really is the most impressive little unassuming firearm I’ve seen in a very long time.