My Remington Express Air Rifle – Part One
In a discussion with HAM Publisher Stephen Archer, he disclosed a surprising statistic. Despite firearms sales reaching record levels, the volume of airguns sold in the U.S. actually exceeds the total number of all rifled, smokeless powder firearms sold nationally!
Below. What do 18th Century Flintlock Rifles and 21st Century Spring Piston Airguns have in common? Read on to find out…
That statistic shouldn’t really have surprised me, given the fact that almost all young sportsmen are introduced to guns and hunting with an air gun. That certainly was the case for me.
My first three guns were airguns, starting with the Daisy Red Ryder Carbine, the Daisy Model 25 and a Crosman CO2 handgun. It wasn’t until I had demonstrated a higher level of maturity that Dad and Mom succumbed to my relentless badgering and introduced me to Grandfather’s 20 gauge Ithaca Flues. From that point on, I became a full fledged firearms aficionado, with a penchant for shotguns.
Below. Mastering the Flintlock was a daunting task for many 18th century hunters. Similar challenges confront 21st century sportsmen shooting a springer for the first time.
But recently, I revisited my youth, exploring the wonderful world of airguns I had ignored for decades. I had forgotten how much fun it was to plink away the cold winter Michigan days in the warm confines of my basement. Brutal weather made it almost impossible to visit the gun range with my shotguns.
So I purchased an inexpensive Crosman multi-pump and set up a range in the basement. I was immediately impressed with the accuracy of a gun costing only a fraction of the price I had paid for most of my shotguns. And it cost less to shoot for a month than I was spending for a single outing at the local skeet and trap field.
I quickly fell in love with that little 0.177 caliber airgun. The experience was so rewarding I was back on the Internet in a month, looking for my next airgun purchase. So much to choose from! Single pump and multi-pump pneumatics, CO2s, PCPs, break barrel springers and gas pistons.
The choices seemed endless…
But one thing for sure – for less than $100.00 I could purchase a spring piston airgun with velocity in excess of 1000 FPS. That nearly doubled the velocity of my Crosman multi-pump pneumatic.
Flatter trajectory, higher pellet energy, longer effective range, less wind deflection when I moved outdoors. The choice seemed simple.
And springers were being offered by many major brands. Spring piston, break barrel guns from Crosman, Daisy, Gamo, Remington, Ruger and Winchester were all being offered at reasonable prices.
Next Sunday, the Dunham’s flyer was featuring the new Remington Express 0.177 cal. air rifle. Modeled after their famous Model 700 center fire rifle, it was offered for $99.00. I was out the door before our morning pot of coffee was cold to buy the first gun sold at our local outlet. I picked up an assortment of pellets, and headed home to see if I could imprint dime sized groups in the basement.
But I could not!
Below. Targets shot with the new springer Remington Express were not inspiring. An inexpensive Crosman multi-pump rifle produced tighter groups with iron sights.
I was shooting off of my makeshift bench, using the same bench rest technique which had worked well for me when shooting my 22 and 243 rifles and my 44 magnum lever gun at the rifle range. And only the week before it had served me well when shooting the Crosman.
But the Remington Express was barely able to keep pellets in a 1.5 inch group at 30 feet. I had been getting tighter groups with the Crosman’s iron sights than I was getting with the scoped Remington. And I found it difficult to zero the scope, even at 10 yards, with the groups I was getting.
At that point I did what all sportsmen eventually do when all else fails. I pulled out the manual which came with the Remington Express…
In addition to recommending experimentation with an assortment of pellets, Remington stated that the gun would not be accurate until I had shot a minimum of 1,000 pellets and possibly 1,500 before my groups would shrink to an acceptable size.
Below. Conventional bench rest technique proved ineffective in shooting acceptable groups with my new Remington Express.
Time to pick up more tins of Crosman pellets, and ignore the size of my 3-5 shot groups until the piston and barrel were seasoned. In the meantime, in an act of desperation, I read the rest of that tedious Remington Express Manual.
Under “Basic Points”, subheading “Accuracy Testing”, the manual states: High consistent accuracy can only be achieved if the rifle is correctly zeroed in with an appropriate scope and mount system and shot from a Bench Rested Position.
And in another section of the manual titled “Troubleshooting”, the manual states: Do not rest barrel on anything while shooting. Using sandbags or firearms bench rest methods often will give you very poor accuracy with airguns. Use loose consistent pressure and replace airgun to same position for each shot.
So which is it Remington?
Do I bench rest the Express as you advise under “Accuracy Testing”, or do I figure out on my own how to apply Loose Consistent Pressure to my shooting technique as you advise under “Troubleshooting”?
Internet exploration uncovered the culprit. Spring and gas piston air guns vibrate, and recoil consecutively in opposing directions before the pellet leaves the barrel. Holding the gun firmly, as you normally do when you bench rest a powder-burning rifle, will result in significant variations in the point of impact. This is due to the gyrations the gun makes before the pellet leaves the barrel.
Holding the gun loosely, and in a fashion which will not interfere with the natural tendency of the gun to vibrate and recoil, will result in more accurate shooting. But this is not a technique most new shooters are comfortable with. Even as a former flintlock shooter, I found the technique difficult to apply consistently.
It was now painfully obvious. Powerful spring/piston air rifles are hard to shoot!
Below. The Remington manual provided conflicting instructions on the shooting technique required to produce optimum accuracy. After the barrel and propulsion system were seasoned, the rifle shot tight horizontal groups but consistently strung pellets vertically. The phenomenon was identified in Hard Air Magazine’s review of the Remington Express air rifle.
At this point I had a flashback to my days as an outdoor writer covering black powder firearms in Muzzleloader Magazine.
To be more specific, I was involved in building, shooting and reporting on replica flintlock rifles and shotguns. A black powder ignition system which was popular during the 18th Century, flintlocks had exceedingly long Lock Times. That’s defined as the time which elapses between the trigger pull and the ignition of the powder.
An accomplished shooter rested his flintlock on his open palm, and maintained the desired sight picture throughout the ignition cycle until the round ball left the barrel.
In the hands of an expert rifleman, the guns could be deadly. But in the hands of the average 18th century sportsman, accuracy was highly problematic. The thought occurred to me that – while the analogies are not identical – a similar challenge exists for those who wish to shoot spring/piston or gas piston-powered air guns.
My point is this…
If you are new to airguns, and wish to have an enjoyable learning experience with your first gun, take my advice. Bypass the bargain basement spring and gas piston air guns which seem to offer the many benefits which result from high velocity. If you struggle to consistently hit your aim point, the benefits of high velocity are pointless! Look for the guns which have a low RateAGun score in reviews in HAM. You’ll be glad you did!
In part two of this story, we’ll take a look at how I tamed the Remington Express air rifle.