Some rifles that don’t shoot properly from the outset can be made to come good with a little persistence, as US shooter John Hooper explains.
Did you ever get one of those ‘unbelievable’ deals only to find out that you really do get what you pay for? Sometimes that does happen, but don’t give up too soon on an airgun that just doesn’t want to shoot well.
This happened to me several years ago when I walked into a nationally known sporting goods store and found an unbelievable deal. My wife and I were out shopping one evening.
She wanted to step into a cosmetics boutique and luckily there was a sporting goods store right across the street. “Take your time, nooo hurry,” I told her and then I took off to browse the airgun accessories. I was not intending to purchase a new rifle that evening, but I was looking into my options on a .22 calibre break-barrel.
On one of the aisle endcaps was a whole display of the old original Remington Summits in .22 cal. These are the ones with the nice glossy stocks that resemble the Remington 700 centrefire rifles.
The sign on the display said: “Remington Summit $69.” I felt that this was too good of a deal to pass up, so off to the checkout I went, using a couple of my own personal budget mottos: “It’s easier to get forgiveness than permission” and “Just look how much money I saved by buying it now”.
At the checkout the clerk asked me if I had found everything I was looking for, so I said: “Yes, but I want to make sure this rings up at the sale price.” She scanned the box and said: “Yes sir, $139, regular price of $189.”
I told her that there was a rack full of them with a sign marked $69, so she radioed the area clerk for a price check. He called back saying that I was correct, but somebody had made a pricing mistake.
The store manager was monitoring all of these proceedings and told the cashier to go ahead with the sale, but get back there and get that sign down as soon as possible. I guess it was my lucky day, or so it seemed.
The next day, I ran a cleaning patch down the barrel with some Goo Gone until the patches came out clean, then mounted the nice scope that came with the rifle. Of course the first shot sounded like a .30 cal and being in the city limits, I expected trouble at my door any minute.
After a couple more shots she quieted down, and with no blue lights in the driveway I started the task of zeroing the scope. I was still pretty new to the ‘adult’ airgun hobby, but had plenty of experience mounting and zeroing scopes on powder-burners for over 40 years.
I just couldn’t get the thing to print any better than four inches at 20 yards. I decided to do some research on this problem and was amazed at the differences between air and powder when getting a rifle to print.
I took off the scope and cleaned the mounting grooves with alcohol, I tried several types of pellets, I put Loctite on all the screws, I even mounted a high-end air rifle scope and one-piece mount, but to no avail. This dog just wouldn’t hunt, and I was starting to feel like I had got what I’d paid for.
I felt that I had nothing to lose, so I studied up on doing a tune on type B19 powerplants. I built a spring compressor from the instructions on the airgun forums and dived in to see if something on the inside was the problem. I was hoping that I would find a blown seal, a broken spring, or some other obvious reason for the shotgun patterns that I was experiencing.
I found the spring, seal and everything else in perfect condition, so I cleaned out the cheapo grease and gunk, re-lubed everything with quality lubes and even dropped in a Charlie da Tuna trigger while I had the gun broken down.
I just knew that she would be a one-holer with all the TLC I had given her. Not! I still could not get a decent group and was ready to use this gun for parts. There was one more thing that I had read about, and that was shortening and re-crowning the barrel.
I read that with a shorter barrel, the pellet spends less time exiting the barrel and so there is less time for the recoil to move the gun off target. The factory crown can be less than perfect, causing poor accuracy.
I did not have access to a metal lathe to reshape my barrel, so back I went again to searching the forums, YouTube and the internet. I was going to have to do this project using just basic hand tools. In my earlier days, I spent over 15 years as a cabinet maker, so I was familiar with hand saws, the only difference was I was cutting metal instead of wood.
The basics are the same, keep everything plumb and square, and there are several tools that can aid in making an accurate cut. I settled on a parallel wood clamp and a hacksaw with a new, quality blade.
Do not try this with the old blade that has been in your saw for the last five years. A sharp blade will cut straighter and easier, costing only three or four dollars. It’s worth the time and money to stop by the hardware store.
Making sure the clamp was square with the barrel, I used this as my guide for making my cut, removing three inches of length. I then used a tri-square and a file to clean up the saw marks and fine-tune the muzzle to square in all directions.
Then chucking up a chamfer bit in my drill, I carefully cut a new crown and also chamfered the breech end a little bit to make seating the pellet easier. The next step was to polish the crown.
There are several ways to accomplish this, but to me the easiest is to pick up a brass roundhead screw or bolt from the hardware store (while you’re there to get your new hacksaw blade). Chuck up the thread portion in your drill and use the round head to polish the crown, using valve grinding compound or very fine sandpaper.
You can pick up either of these at any automotive store pretty cheaply. Hang on to these materials because you will probably have to do this on some future acquisitions. It is pretty common for muzzles to need re-crowning right out of the box or if the gun gets dropped while out wandering the woods.
I polished the muzzle crown to a bright finish and checked for burrs with a Q-tip. I then ran another patch through the barrel to make sure none of my machining trash had been left inside.
It was time to try again to see if this dog would hunt after all. I grabbed a tin of Superdomes, which had been the best of the pellets that I had tried, and set up for some rested shots from a tripod. Bingo!
Finally I was getting a decent group that I could work with. After a couple of hundred rounds this dog was huntin’, making one ragged hole at 20 yards. Fine-tuning the scope to zero at 25 yards, I was popping paintballs (another of my favourite targets) almost every shot. This one-time lemon was now one of my ‘go to’ guns when heading to the woods.
I have bought and sold probably 50 airguns in the last 10 years, but my Summit is one that has a permanent ‘Not For Sale’ tag, and with over five thousand rounds downrange, I don’t see that changing.
With anything you buy these days, it is possible to get something that slipped through the quality checks at the factory, but don’t give up too soon. With a little TLC you might end up with your favourite ‘keeper’. A lot of information is out there to help you with problem guns, and you can bet someone else has had the same issue before.
Do the research – it is worth the effort and the gained experience is priceless if you are into this hobby to stay. Until next time, this is the Saturday Afternoon Shooter saying: “Keep them in the X-ring.”
More on airgun maintenance
- Airgunning from home: How to make the best of lockdown
- The essential tools of the trade
- Essential guide to rifle care
- Zeroing a scope: The ultimate how-to
- 10 Top tips for caring and maintaining your gun