Trigger work

After last Friday’s thoughts on trigger weight, today was the put-it-into-practice day. Reduced the trigger weight down to the 20-40g range (no gauge to measure exactly I’m afraid). Then adjusted six other things to get the same length of pull on both stages and weight on the first stage of the trigger that I had before and to ensure the sear engagement was correct – the match 54 trigger Anschutz uses is definitely excellent, but adjusting it isn’t really a tweak-one-screw-and-you’re-done sort of job…

 

Match 54 Trigger
Match 54 Trigger diagram

 

Match 54 Trigger
Match 54 Trigger Photo

 

Once that was done, it was a lot of dry-firing to get used to the new trigger weight. It’s a pretty large change since the triggering is such a major thing in target shooting, but it was going reasonably well after a half-hour or so. But the ten-shot series shot at the end wasn’t so great, something else crept in (Matt thinks there was a problem in my sight picture, I think I might just have been tired – it had been a rather longish day at work before coming out to WTSC).

 

Ten-shot string composite
Ten-shot string composite

 

 

Either way, we get to do this again on Thursday and Friday, just dry-firing and visualising and dry-firing and firing the occasional live shot just to check on things. Change one major thing, shoot a hundred shots to see if it’s worth shooting the next nine hundred to properly test it…

Practice, practice, practice…

Some (well, it should be most, but I’m not there yet) days aren’t about experimenting and changing stuff, but just practicing what we’ve changed. Today was one of those days. Just dry-firing and visualising, and more dry-firing. At the end of the night, fired one live shot to check all was well.

Test shot, end of the night
Test shot, end of the night

Seemed okay to me.

We did find though, while comparing triggers on the Steyr LG100 and my Anschutz 2002CA that my trigger was set very heavy compared to the others – somewhere around the 80-100g level or so. Next time, that has to get dialled down – a lighter trigger would mean a smoother release and less of the pulling off to one side we’ve been seeing in the RIKA.

DIY barrel weight plus proper mental game equals tens!

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 ūüėÄ 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 ūüôā

DIY 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:

 

DIY barrel weight, Mk2
DIY barrel weight, Mk2
DIY barrel weight, Mk2
DIY barrel weight, Mk2

 

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:

 

Plumbline movement against foresight during pre-aim
Plumbline movement against foresight during pre-aim

 

With that change made, the preaim is a little finickier, but the aim gets much better. The results show this:

Training series 1

The two nines were fliers shot before the changes to the preaim, as the RIKA shows:

 

RIKA time-v-score chart
RIKA time-v-score chart

 

Again, ignore the score values as the RIKA calibration was a tad off:

RIKA point of impact captures

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…

Vickers Jubilee

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.

Vickers BSA Martini 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:

Ornate target shooting matchlock musket Closeup of the ornate inlays and carvings on a target shooting matchlock musket

Tinderlock target shooting musket

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.

223 Target Rifle

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).

Vickers barrel and receiver

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.

Vickers rearsight

Vickers rearsight seen from behind

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.

Original advert for the Vickers 'Perfection' Rearsight
Original advert for the Vickers 'Perfection' Rearsight (courtesy of the UK Historic Arms Resource Centre Miniature Calibre Rifles Research Site at www.rifleman.org.uk )

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:

Falling Block Trigger mechanism

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.

Vickers Trigger Parts

Vickers Trigger
Vickers Trigger (diagram courtesy of the UK Historic Arms Resource Centre Miniature Calibre Rifles Research Site at www.rifleman.org.uk)

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):

Anschutz Match 54 Trigger

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:

Anschutz Match 54 Trigger Exploded

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:

Perfect ten shot with the Vickers at 25 yards

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 ‚ā¨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.

 

For more information on the Vickers, and its many contemporary rifles, I recommend the excellent UK Historic Arms Resource Centre Miniature Calibre Rifles Research site, which has a wealth of information on these lovely little bits of engineering.

Original advert for the Vickers BSA Martini Jubilee rifle
Original advert for the Vickers Jubilee rifle (courtesy of the UK Historic Arms Resource Centre Miniature Calibre Rifles Research Site at www.rifleman.org.uk)
Original advert for the Vickers BSA Martini Jubilee rifle
Original advert for the Vickers Jubilee rifle (courtesy of the UK Historic Arms Resource Centre Miniature Calibre Rifles Research Site at www.rifleman.org.uk)