The Daisy Model 25 fostered a lifelong love of shooting for thousands of youngsters worldwide. Ray Garner finally gets one of his own
Less than 10 short years after the Wright Brothers’ first powered flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, a man called Charles Lefever designed and made an air rifle. This was so long ago that its introduction is now beyond living memory. But since that time, more than eight million of this particular rifle have been made, and it has been in near-continuous production for over a century. This wonderment of serial fabrication is the Daisy Model 25.
The Model 25 started out in 1914, after gunmaker Lefever took his design to Daisy. The story goes that Daisy liked the design so much that not only did the company buy it, but it also offered Lefever a job with its factory in Plymouth, Michigan, to work on production.
The Model 25 is often referred to as a pump-action rifle. This is a bit of a misnomer: in fact this BB gun is spring-operated and does not utilise the pre-compressed air that might be supplied by a pump. More correctly, it is generically a slide- or trombone-action rifle, where the forestock is moved back and forth in order to feed ammunition and cycle the firing mechanism. It is perhaps no coincidence that Lefever was attracted to this configuration, given contemporary developments in the world of firearms – with the introduction of slide-action repeating rifles from Colt, Winchester and Remington, together with repeating shotguns using the same type of operating system.
Many a youngster, no doubt with a Model 25 in hand, would emulate the BB gun’s powder-burning cousins; and it was indeed Daisy’s vision that its rifle would instil in youngsters a love of shooting and safe gun handling that would last a lifetime.
Two years back, many decades after my own youth had faded, I happened across a used Model 25 for sale in a West Yorkshire gun shop. It came out from a back room, and as it slid over the counter I was impressed by an airgun clearly of another time. The Model 25 is a very elegant design, with lines that flow, and no unnecessary bulk or weight. Indeed the rifle weighs only three pounds, including a full magazine of 50 BBs. There is a very special feeling in handling an object that has travelled time and great distances, from the mind of a long-gone gunsmith to a Saturday morning in dear old England. Lefever got it right! I bought the Model 25 – my first Daisy.
It turned out that my purchase was in fact the Centennial Collector’s Edition, issued in 1986 to celebrate 100 years of Daisy air rifles. Daisy claims to have made 16,725 of the Centennial model; so it’s by no means a limited edition – more like a special edition. Mine is numbered 86-9564, which suggests that it is about in the mid-run of the Centennial production.
Number 9564 has a straight grip walnut butt stock into which is inset a bronze medallion that reads “Daisy – an American tradition continues. 1886-1986”, together with an impression of what appears to be a boy shooting his rifle, under the guidance of his father. The cocking handle is the five-groove type, and is also of walnut. The barrel surround has a satin blued finish, with a squared blade foresight spot-welded in position. The action also is satin blued, and is stamped on the upper surface with the words “Model 25 B-B gun. Daisy, Rogers, Arkansas, USA” – by this time Daisy had moved from Plymouth.
Also spot-welded to the action is the rear sight, which is fixed regarding windage, and although the gun is intended to be adjustable for elevation, the elevator is missing from my rifle. Of note, the cocking levers do not have a blued finish, but are colour case-hardened. Although not uncommon in the world of firearms, it is unusual to find such a finish on an air rifle. It is a shame that this finish is overlooked by modern producers of airguns, as steel treated by this method creates a soft pattern of blues and yellows, which is hard-wearing and very good to look at.
Another nice feature of the Model 25 is the take-down facility, which allows the rifle to dismantle into two parts by removing a single take-down screw located in the side of the action, and adjacent to the rear sight. This facility allows the rifle to be carried or stored at about two thirds of its assembled length of 37 inches.
SHOOTING THE 25
There is something very special about shooting older guns. Possibly it’s to do with connecting with history – experiencing what our fathers and grandfathers felt in some small way. Or maybe the simplicity of it all brings a different kind of pleasure to the shooting experience – a pleasure not associated with fine triggers, pinpoint accuracy and subliminal performance, but something much more direct, with regard to the senses. The truth of the matter is this – old stuff is fun!
Loading up this Daisy takes a minute or so, and involves dropping individual BBs into the magazine loading slot, in front of a spring-loaded plunger. Once the barrel/magazine assembly is screwed back in place, the 25 is ready to cock and fire.
Cocking is achieved by pulling back the slide handle until the trigger engages. This requires conspicuous effort, as it is this movement that compresses the mainspring; as with all spring air rifles, this is where the work is. Pushing the slide forward is much easier, and completes the cocking cycle. In practice, the ‘trombone’ action is very crisp and quick, and that familiar ‘click clack’ sound of the Daisy cocking sequence as each BB is fed into the chamber is a bonus prize.
The trigger is not so slick! Trigger-pull is on the wrong side of light, and a fair bit of trigger blade movement is required to get to release point. But if you are 12 years old, you won’t care, and the tin cans you are shooting at won’t know the difference. Muzzle velocity with steel BBs averages 330 feet per second, and each shot is accompanied by light recoil, and no more sound than a muffled thud.
My Centennial model shoots about 20mm to the right at 15 metres. As lateral adjustment of the sights is not available, a bit of ‘Kentucky windage’ is needed. As the average soft drink tin is about 70mm across, I simply aim at the left-hand edge in order to hit somewhere near the centre.
TALES FROM THE ORIENT
In his excellent book Gas, Air And Spring Guns Of The World, WHB Smith tells of Daisy’s early days of Model 25 production, when it was eager to sell it air rifle to the Chinese. Because of the 25’s resemblance to a firearm, the Chinese were concerned that it might be dangerously powerful. In response, a novel way was proposed to demonstrate the rifle’s low power, which involved using the Daisy salesman’s backside as a target. Smith reckons that Daisy’s man couldn’t sit down for a day or two – wild times, distant places!
The Model 25 in its current form has not been available in the UK for several years – but it looks like that might be about to change. Keen-eyed airgun spotters at this year’s British Shooting Show will have seen one on display at the BSA stand. It seems it may soon be importing Lefever’s repeating rifle. What goes round comes round, as they say, and the rifle that historically concerned the Chinese is now made in China.
From what I saw at the NEC, the current Model 25 remains true to Lefever’s spirit. It is well-made, nicely finished and feels right. The opportunity to buy a piece of history, brand-new, shining, and wrapped up in a cardboard box to open and excite, seldom comes. As the saying goes: “Load it on Sunday, shoot it all week.”