SGC Buying Guides

  • M&P 15-22 Sport, Semi-Automatic 22 LR rifle by Smith & Wesson Review

    By Chris Parkin

    The M&P 15-22 from Smith and Wesson is a seemingly formulaic AR-15 inspired semi-automatic 22 rimfire rifle but over a great length of time and use, I have quite a lot to report on it. Although receiving a pristine new review model just a few weeks ago, I have been using a pair of these rifles in my working environment for over five years, so a lot has been learned.

    Several colour and barrel length options are available but this Sport Model in black features a 16.5”/420mm barrel with a parallel 17mm profile, threaded ½” UNEF and supplied with a ported muzzle brake but I quickly swapped this for the somewhat practical capability of a Tier-One Monolyth moderator that makes the rifle look even more purposefully `tactical`. Being a large capacity moderator, it was incredibly quiet in use with subsonic ammo, just the soft clunking of the action to bear and even with high velocity rounds, pleasingly capable if at the mercy of the supersonic crack. Although looking to be made from aluminium throughout, the rifle is almost entirely made of polymers and it’s hard to tell, only the very slightest mould lines are visible to the keen eye. The main reason is cost of course, but secondary benefits are its light weight, quiet to the taps and bumps of handling and remains warmer to touch than cold metal, cold hands soon make for clumsy fingers on triggers, so benefits are immediate, especially when instructing novices.

    The 10”/254mm forend is best described as a radiused octagonal profile, it’s fully ventilated and hand filling for grip in operation. The receiver upper it flows into is another 7 ¼”/ 185mm long, fastened to the `lower` (magazine, trigger mechanism and grip) via two semi-captive pins front and rear that unclip and slide through to allow the gun to fold open or be fully separated for cleaning. Picatinny rail runs 15 ½”/400 mm from the tip of the hand guard all the way to the `T` cocking handle, allowing plenty of room for scope mounting and also carries front and rear flip up battle sights with windage and elevation adjustability for accurate use. There is no superficial forward assist plunger, but the T handle does what is intended and unlatches so two fingers can `grip it and rip it` as Eugene Stoner originally intended on the M16. This handle does not reciprocate when semi-auto action cycling so although seemingly close to your face, only ever draws out of the action to manually cock the bolt. Moving all the way back, the butt’s extension tube is not removable, showing generic styling and adjustable length of pull offering 260-340mm (10 ¼” to 13 ¼”) from trigger blade to the centre of the solid polymer butt plate. This shows moulded in diamond patterns for grip and is purposeful without needing a rubber recoil pad. The linear nature of the stock’s ergonomics make the cheek weld snug and it’s one of the few guns that with a scope on board, actually needed high scope mounts for a bit more comfort. Of course, with iron sights flipped up, the speed and pointability of the gun was superb and only a single screw need be loosened to slip off the rear sight to position a scope. The 1-6 Hawke optic was a great match for the rifle and terrifically enjoyable to shoot with point and squeeze bullet placement on realistic targets. A single underside lever locks and unlocks the butt’s length with 6 available positions staged approximately ¾” apart. It doesn’t tighten fully in use and will wobble slightly until loaded onto your shoulder but doesn’t rattle and you hardly notice it.

    The trigger blade is 8mm wide with a gentle curve and creeps about 4 mm as it is fired with a final 2250gr squeeze needed to fully trip into action. It must be completely released to allow the trigger mechanism to work as the action cycles and is smoothly sprung to make it feel far better than a 5 lb pull weight sounds, it is repeatable, reliable, and not at all gritty in feel even when the gun gets dirty zas all semi autos are prone to. Distance from the underslung AR-15 grip is as usual quite short but this can be interchanged with the generic family of accessories available for any AR-15. A push button is set above the right side of the trigger guard to drop the 25-round polymer magazine straight to the floor or into your hand, depending on your requirements for reload speed. Extra magazines are easily available as well as a smaller 10 round option. These polymer magazines feed from central feed lips sitting above a staggered column of ammunition with rounds splayed left and right of centre. There is a red follower under the ammo to make capacity easily visible and twin button either side allow you to ease the tension off the coil sprung follower when loading it. Do not be tempted to pull it all the way down and drop 25 rounds into it, like any rimmed case, they need feeding one at a time and here, ensuring that each new round pushed in from the front needs to have its rim in front of the existing round below it. Failure to do this will see jams and misfeeds and it’s really the only aspect of using this rifle that needs explanation to new shooters using one. Long term use has shown me that the magazines can a do wear out a little but that is the life of a semi disposable polymer product. Steel feed lips might be nice as this is where they eventually fail but we are talking tens of thousands or rounds and in fact, loading them with 20 rather than 25 rounds significantly lowers the risk of the first few rounds flipping vertical and causing a jam as time goes by. When firing up to 1500-2000 rounds a week for work, these points rear their heads, but it is not a criticism, most magazines have lasted well over two years and in reality, this type of long-term heavy use has shown what a great product the 15-22 is for the price.

    The left side of the gun shows a bolt hold open/disengage button and familiar 90-degree rotating safety catch with the lever flipped down by the firing hand thumb for fire and upward into a horizontal position for safe. The bolt release lever is realistically just to allow the bolt to close because the magazine follower will engage it internally to lock the gun open when empty, but it’s still easily used when training `empty`. Alternatively, slot a full live mag in the rifle and draw back the T handle, then just let it go for incredibly fast fire fun. The blowback action is as simple as it sounds. As the ammo is ignited and the bullet travels down the barrel, the simple spring tension on the reciprocating bolt within the upper holds it closed for satisfactory burn time before simply giving up the fight and letting the residual gas pressure push it open. It carries the spent case with it which is flicked out of the right side of the gun by a fixed ejector on the inside of the upper. These fly well clear through the large 42x12mm oval ejection port before that same spring thrown the bolt back into battery, stripping another round from the top of the magazine and driving it up the feed ramp, into the chamber for the next shot. Repeat to your desired needs and enthusiasm for magazine refills. A full magazine can be discharged as fast as you can reciprocate your trigger finger and that’s in the region of 6-7 seconds, about 10 times faster than you can re-fill the mag!

    Accuracy will always be reliant on ammunition, but I have fed standard round nose, hollow point subsonic and copper washed hi-velocity fodder through the gun with favourable results, even the squarer shape of Winchester Hollow point subsonic bullet was reliable. In the end though, stoppages on a semi-auto rimfire come down to lubricants, lead and powder residue. Softly sprung semis seem to generate unburnt powder residue but the snappy action of the M&P, especially with copper washed hi velocity brands was clean burning but eventually, all that sooty smoke and carbon do gum up with waxes or oily lubricants so a clean is needed. In the field it’s a two-minute job to push out the rear action pin with just your fingertip, draw it through the receiver and pull up against the stock extension on the T-handle to hinge it open like a shotgun. Only two moving parts can be easily removed, the bolt and T-handle itself so you aren’t likely to start losing things as each is several inches long. The cylindrical bolt and handle slide out, part company, and are easy to wipe clean with an `oily` (not oiled) rag. The bolt will slide back and forth on its spring within twin guide rails to facilitate quite a quick smart job before too much gets baked on in place. Likewise, the bolt face and extractor claw on its right side are easily wiped clear of residues before being placed back into the upper’s cylinder, the T-handle placed on top and slotted back into battery. Close the gun and push the pin back through.

    Carefully executed shots on target will achieve a 20-25mm five shot group on 50m targets, the trigger rewards precise technique and great stock ergonomics fare well compared to a lot of smaller sized rimfires. I would never call it a precision 22 but its cyclical reliability draws it towards use in practical rifle shooting competition and in fact, the reliability and simplicity in use does make it suitable to night-time rabbit shooting, especially with a moderator fitted. Left-handed use is no great problem as the cases are spat well ahead of your face and minimal debris is ejected. Trigger use is consistent and there is a certain amount of self-lubricating nature to the polymer chassis components with only items like hammers, springs and sears made of steel on a gun that follows the original design ethos of the M16/AR-15. Lastly, I think the value for money, availability of extra magazines and colour/specification choice on the M&P makes it a great package straight from the box with excellent open sights fitted showing full windage and elevation adjustability. You can alter their exact position on the Picatinny to work around other accessories you might add, and some might like the ability to alter the sight radius for their own eyesight preferences, maximum separation will always offer the most precise aim though. Muzzle velocities from a 16.5” tube are totally acceptable with the bullet far from the muzzle by the time the bolt locks back after the last shot is sent. Zero was also unaffected by disassembly for cleaning as the barrel/upper/sights remain as a homogenous unit with no junctions to drift in position. A bipod or additional pistol grip can be added to the forend handguard, and you can add a front sling attachment to pair with that on the rear. Improvised positions are well rewarded with great balance, especially standing or kneeling. If you have your heart set on shooting prone, buy a ten round magazine though, the 25 rounder is tricky to fit below the rifle when you are laid close to the floor. I don’t personally have a use either sporting or target for the 15-22, but it’s a gun I rather like and long-term professional use has convinced me of its exceptional reliability. Easily used by novices yet rewarding to more accomplished marksmen with a definite, like it or not, wow factor due to Its looks that do not compromise on performance

    Specification

    Calibre,                                                            22 LR
    Magazine Capacity,                                         25+1
    Trigger,                                                           Single stage 2250 gr
    Barrel,                                                             420mm/16.5”, screwcut ½” for moderator
    Length,                                                            770-850mm/30 1/4” -33 ½”
    Length of Pull,                                                 260-340mm /10 ¼” to 13 ¼”
    Weight,                                                           2.25kg/4.96/lbs
    Scope Mounting,                                             Full length Picatinny rail
    Stock,                                                              Matt black polymer

     

    Recommended Retail Price
    M&P 15-22 Sport, by Smith & Wesson, £652.99
    Contact
    www.sportsmanguncentre.co.uk
    01392 354854

    Photo Captions

    1. M&P 15-22 Sport, Semi-Automatic 22 LR rifle by Smith & Wesson
    2. Moulded in diamond chequering on the solid butt plate keep in solidly positioned in your shoulder
    3. Flip up, windage adjustable peephole aperture sight clarifies the foresight image more sharply
    4. Flip up foresight with simple post
    5. And a tool is supplied for elevation adjustment
    6. Included Chamber indicator flag
    7. Pop out the rear pin to open the action like a shotgun
    8. The front pin is only needed for a full strip down of upper and lower for an occasional deep clean into the chamber
    9. Authentic looking brake/flash hider unthreads to reveal muzzle thread for a moderator
    10. Handguard is a radiused octagonal shape with fixed barrel
    11. Action open, the hammer and magazine are clearly visible with the follower lifting the bolt stop into position for a last round hold open capability
    12. The main operating parts separated for a clean
    13. Fixed ejector in the upper to throw cases clear from the retreating bolt
    14. Miniscule mould lines are visible as the only external slue to polymer rather than machined aluminium materials
    15. A dirty bolt face to be wiped clean
    16. Cheek weld is so good you might find yourself needing extra high scope mounts
    17. Cheek weld is so good you might find yourself needing extra high scope mounts
    18. Characteristic short reach to trigger blade familiar to all AR-15 homages
    19. Length of pull adjustment lever below the extension tube
    20. A large ejection port allows the brass to escape easily with a small if unused case deflector to aid the rifle’s looks
    21. The Tier-One Monolyth might be over the top, but it adds to the “blackticool” looks and was really, quiet with subsonic ammo through it!
    22. Manually locking the bolt back with the lower edge, the upper button will unlock and let the return spring drop the bolt back into battery as it strips a round from the mag on its way into position
    23. Two position safety catch is self-explanatory
    24. Both front and rear sights fold under spring tension for stowage or fast application
    25. 25 round magazine correctly loaded with no overlapping case rims. The orange follower locks the bolt open for fast changes when empty
    26. Easing the spring tension when loading is good but DO NOT pull it all the way down and simply drop rounds into the space, they can easily jam
    27. Fingertip pressure to swap mags
    28. The feed lips do wear eventually but tens of thousands of rounds can be expected before that time
    29. T-Handle drawn back to cock the action doesn’t reciprocate with each shot
    30. Single button magazine release falls easily under the index finger forward of the trigger guard
    31. M&P 15-22 Sport, Semi-Automatic 22 LR rifle by Smith & Wesson
  • Steyr Mannlicher Zephyr II in 17 HMR

    By Chris Parkin

    The Zephyr II from Steyr Mannlicher is a great looking rifle, I love the look of the external spiral created by the cold hammer forging process on Steyr’s excellent barrel with its matt blue/black finish, classic metalwork contrasting the traditional oiled walnut stock. With a ½” screwcut for sound moderator, the barrel tapers straight from 15.2mm at the muzzle to 21mm before entering the cylindrical receiver. This is topped with 11mm dovetails for scope mounting. The action shares an identical magazine to that of the CZ rimfires in any of the 22 RF or WMR calibres as well as this HMR. The bolt shows similar operation dynamics with a small rear locking lug and handle itself sitting within an abutment. Twin extractor claws are present on the face with a fixed ejector positioned in the floor of the action which as the bolt is pulled back, draws the spent case over it as it runs within a slot on the underside, flicking the case from the spacious open topped receiver.

    Machining standards and assembly of all the mechanicals seen here are finished to a high standard so you are getting your money’s worth with more attention to tiny details and subtle mechanisms. Using the 5-round mag from the CZ family is a wise move, these are effective, easy to load with smooth cycling and easy to replace if lost or you ant spares at minimal cost. Rather than using the trigger as a bolt release, the Steyr has a locking lever on the left side of the rear action bridge to release the bolt and this allows the trigger to concentrate on its specific task, releasing the firing pin to initiate the shot. The bottom metal of the rifle is exactly that, again CZ 455 esque design made from folded steel fastened in three positions. The two forward Torx fasteners hold the action in the stocks’ accurately machined inlet that is executed extremely neatly in the well cured walnut, with an oil finish on all surfaces too to minimise any moisture absorption. The magazine catch sits ahead of the mag well with easy linear insertion or extraction regardless of gloves, unfamiliarity, or darkness. A gold finished trigger blade with vertical serration operates with a two stage pull and 825gr break on the latter stage. The break itself is reasonably crisp with long first stage travel. Adjustment is possible, I would have tweaked it bit heavier were the gun mine for more tactile assurance wearing gloves. A tang safety is positioned right under your thumb to block the trigger yet allow normal bolt operation, it’s quiet to use with slow movement and full thumb contact. Bolt operation from the characterful 60mm handle is part of the Steyr look. Everything loaded and unloaded smoothly with a slick mirror finish to the bolt’s shaft.

    The accuracy of the gun straight from the box was confidence inspiring, 17HMR performance with occasional 5 shot groups at 100m maintaining sub 20mm centre to centre performance is better than average. It was nice to feel assured by the gun so that the odd flyer, was easier to determine to be the fault of ammo inconsistency or poor wind call, rather than human error. This ammo batch seemed fast and the 19.5” barrel may have assisted with 834 m/s (2734 fps), certainly well above the 2550fps region we usually appreciate from the HMR. That is 282 ft/lbs and shows the usual devastating effect on rabbits where field use had me confident to headshot as far as 100 metres with chest shots intended beyond that. Accuracy was retained for 30-40 rounds after which the groups opened a little but soon tidied up with quick clean. I find 17HMR always needs a regimented cleaning regime and found myself happy with this barrel, repeating that minor clean every 50-round box of ammo as a good reminder

    Sling studs are fitted fore and aft with a slim rubber recoil pad gripping your shoulder securely. It was a light, well balanced rifle to carry and I shot it freehand or rested on a soft bag most of the time with a 10x Minox scope on top, no more magnification desired. Walnut stock profiling is very nice to look at with smooth lines detailing the shapes, but on a calibre that will spend its life getting used for daily hunting, it would be a shame to damage it with everyday bumps on vehicles, walls, fences or foliage.

    The grip shows a heavy right-handed offset palm swell with comfortable reach to the trigger, it is not unpleasant to use left-handed from improvised positions or a vehicle, but no specific left-handed gun is available. Chequering shows a fish scale design I find attractive and grippy with `angled` curves and facets on both butt and forend to define a very graceful rifle, all the way to the Schnabel tip of the forend. The barrel is fully free floated under all conditions, and you can take the gun out of the stock and return it using a toque wrench and retain zero. That is a good factor to show the accuracy and consistency of the action’s seating within the inlet. I may have preferred a slightly beefier forend to fill my hand when it was rested but tactile finger/thumb grooves do highlight if your gloved hands are about to touch the barrel, the flip side to this slender elegant design is that for a walkabout hunter, it was a delight to shoot from improvised positions, rested on tree trunks, logs or fences with superb balance we forget in these days of compact moderated synthetic rifles.

    Overall

    This is one of the nicest rifles to carry and shoot I have had for quite some time, lovely looks, lines and balance. I think if you want a tough working tool, this might not be the best stock material to stand up to brutal environments but where looks count, this is a lovely demonstration of the gunmaker’s art in less common rimfire format.

    Specification
    Calibre,                                                            17 HMR (22 LR and 22 WMR also available)
    Capacity,                                                         5+1
    Trigger,                                                           Single stage 1500 gr
    Barrel,                                                             500mm/19.75”, screwcut ½” for moderator
    Length,                                                            1005mm/39.5”
    Length of Pull,                                                 365mm/14.38”
    Weight,                                                           2.77kg/6.1lbs
    Scope Mounting,                                             11mm dovetails
    Stock,                                                              Oil finished Walnut

    Recommended Retail Price
    £970.00

    Contact
    www.sportsmanguncentre.co.uk
    01392 354854

     

    Photo Captions

    1. The Steyr is a beautifully slender rifle with great accuracy and a pleasure for walk and stalk rabbiting
    2. The bolt handle looks lovely and follows true Steyr design styles
    3. Straight line feeding from the CZ pattern 5-round polymer mag was faultless, quiet, and non-damaging to the intrinsically delicate 17 HMR ammunition
    4. Adjustable trigger may benefit with a little more pull weight in the second stage
    5. A very neatly machined and finished stock inlet
    6. These grooves look nice but are so easy to mark
    7. Strip down and re-assembly with a Torque wrench provided perfect return to zero which is a great indicator of action to stock fit with minimal induced stress
    8. Familiar looking twin extraction claws with the fixed ejector pin running along the underside groove for user induced ejection force
    9. Familiar looking twin extraction claws with the fixed ejector pin running along the underside groove for user induced ejection force
    10. Length of pull suits average adults with a grippy recoil pad locking the rifle into your shoulder
    11. Distinctive external spiral fingerprint left by Steyr’s Cold Hammer Forging process looks wonderful on a truly free-floating barrel, central in the forend’s channel
    12. Fish scale chequering pattern
    13. Scope mounting dovetails machined directly into the steel of the action
    14. Note the distinctive right-handed palm swell and grip offset. Still shootable left-handed when required but no specific left hander is available
  • Element Optics Accu-Lite Mounts

    By Chris Parkin

    I can be very critical of scope mounting solutions but have very much liked using the Accu-lite mounts from Element optics for several reasons. With the growing mass of both optics, and additional components like night vison add-ons and large, long range illuminators, reliable mounts offering assured positional control with otherwise compact, versatile dimensions, have never been more appreciated.

    These Picatinny or Weaver fitting mounts are available for 30 and 34mm scope tubes and feature four T-15 Torx screws atop each ring pairing to attach the top cap clamping the tube in position, setting eye relief and rotation. The lower ring claw is fastened using a half inch hexagonal nut which at 12.7mm, is also compatible with a common UK 13mm spanner or socket. There is a tiny spring to aid parting this claw when slotting it onto a rail or separate base and is especially helpful if regularly swapping scopes with reliable return to zero. Precise torque values are specified in all locations which is a breath of fresh air in terms of simple supplied instruction booklet listing both `languages`, imperial and metric torque values are specified for easy application to your own torque wrench. This leads me on to comment on the materials and machining capability as each set begins as a solid billet of 7075-T6 Aluminium and machined into its two halves for precise match up from upper to lower with truly linear Picatinny foot alignment. Additional Stainless-Steel clamp, nut and cross bolt are added to assure continued material capability throughout, as well as long term corrosion resistance.

    What stood out to me was when mounting the rings and setting up vertical position, as I tensioned each bolt sequentially in turn, I noted the lack of distortion to scope alignment and due to ultra-smooth internal anodised finish, smooth rotational control of the scope tube right up to the point where final torque values increased and it nipped up stationary. Secondary to this, the bolts ran smoothly in their threaded socket within the rings, very little effort needed to spin them into position which when finalised, allows more precise torque values to be achieved thanks to their lessened friction between both male and female threaded surfaces. Cheaper aluminium and steel is microscopically very rough, porous and this translates to less precise adjustment.

    In use, the radiused corners minimise snagging everywhere from your rifle’s slip, foliage or clothing. This tallies with 3 ring heights available in either 30 or 34mm tube sizes with precise advertised dimensions allowing you to choose the best option for your rifle and maintaining a compact overall profile, regardless of Objective size, tube length or action upper shape. Weights are also precisely stated which is a useful critical factor for competition rifles where you may have used up every spare gram already on a heavy target barrel.

     

    Ring sizes,

    30mm

    Low22mm, (0.87”), 113g, (4.0oz)

    medium 25mm, (0.98”), 123g, (4.3oz)

    High 29mm, (1.14”), 137g, (4.8oz)

    Price £87.98

    34mm

    Low, 24mm, (0.94”), 117g, (4.1oz)

    Medium, 27mm, (1.06”), 127g, (4.5oz)

    High31mm, (1.22”), 141g, (5.0oz)

    Price £89.99

    Max torque, T15 Torx, 2.8NM, (25 IN-LBS)

    Max Torque, Hex bases, 7.7NM, (68 IN-LBS)

    Contact

    www.sportsmanguncentre.co.uk

     

    Photo captions:

    1. Detailed instructions are supplied
    2. Element Accu-Lite Mounts with Nightforce NX8 Scope on a CZ457 LRP
    3. Mounted to an M&P 15-22 rimfire's Picatinny Rail
    4. Multiple sizes are available, here in 30mm tube sizes with supplied T15 Torx Wrench
    5. Night vision setup add significant weight to already heavy scope needing secure, reliable attachment
    6. Smooth threads allow for precise torque application
    7. This tiny springs makes mounting on a Picatinny rail that little bit simpler every time as the claws are pushed open
  • Gun maintenance need to knows, how I deal with my rifles

    By Chris Parkin

    Like any other mechanical tool, guns require maintenance, what and when they need it can vary depending on how you need it to perform and how regularly it is used. It’s critical above all else to make sure a gun is dry and cleaned after a day in the field and don’t just assume a gun dried out and locked in its cabinet is ok, it’s important to remember a cold gun brought into a warm house will immediately form copious amounts of condensation that can and will linger in all tiny spaces and crevices to cause corrosion long term. With rifles, I always remove the moderator as these are particularly prone to form condensation internally that will seep down a rifle barrel and cause characteristic internal bore pitting in the rifling a few inches back from the muzzle. Rifle cleaning, especially that of the bore itself has a far more noticeable effect on accuracy and consistency than on a shotgun.

    The amount of residual copper in the barrel’s `pores` can significantly affect the way your ammunition performs and getting to know a barrel directs you towards identifying performance trends and getting a feel for when it needs a thorough clean. The better the barrel, with fewer internal imperfections, the more likely it is to be 100% uniform and unlikely benefitting from residual copper to smooth out the road, so-to speak, yet most barrels show some internal imperfections and it’s rarely something getting too worried about until you really know what why and how you would benefit from a better, and more expensive barrel.

    Starting with 22 rimfire rifles, I rarely every clean the bore free of lead residue or powder fouling as it rarely seems to cause a problem on a sporting rifle for pest control. If the barrel gets wet or dropped into mud, if any fouling is artificially introduced, I will clean the gun, like any other, immediately. Rimfires tend to require more action cleaning, especially with semi auto blowback actions where lead and waxy or oily lubricants can build up and begin to affect action performance. This is less noticeable on a bolt gun, but the lubricant residue will attract and retain the powder residues from each shot and some rimfire ammunition although clean burning through the barrel, tends to leave a lot of microscopically `gritty` burned powder residue. This can be wiped out, brushed out or even blasted out with compressed air but as always, be cautious of adding excessive lubricants anywhere as these will always attract residues and general detritus from the shooting world, be it mud, grit, simple dust or fine sand.

    Centrefire actions remain a little cleaner than those of rimfires, we don’t have semi-autos to worry about in the UK in terms of gas returning into the action. Copper jacketed or monolithic bullets require solvent to clean the barrel fully although it’s not always advisable to fully `deep clean` a gun. Many barrels often stabilise in performance once `fouled` and it’s not until this, becomes excessive that it’s worth giving them a deep clean and that is particularly important to sporting rifles where consistent zero is far more important than on a target rifle where `sighters` are not uncommon before scoring starts. Sighters before a hunt with a sporting rifle is unlikely without disturbing your land so if it doesn’t need a deep clean, leave that until before your next known range session. That’s not to say you can casually ignore any fouling though in terms of moisture retention and powder/carbon residue is far easier to clean out than copper itself. A moistened patch on a cleaning rod passed through the bore will initiate solution of the carbon and after several passes, soaks, pauses and clean patches, you will begin to notice it clears out. There are generally various types of barrel cleaners, general purpose ones will remove firing and some carbon, more specific carbon and copper solvents will do just that to a more intimate level of cleanliness. You will get to know your barrel’s preferences according to their use and yours, but make sure when you do clean, use bore guides, appropriate patch sizes and jags to make sure no mechanical damage is done to the rifling lands and grove. A bore guide helps centralise the cleaning rod to avoid damaging the bolt lug abutments and more critically, the throat and leade into the bore from the chamber where your bullet will first encounter the rifling that will engrave and spin it. Similarly, push patches out of the muzzle, don’t draw them back and forth as the muzzle’s crown is one, if not THE most critical area of the barrel. Physical wear and tear her is detrimental to accuracy and precision and it’s well worth saying when you take a moderator on and off, wipe this area clean as powder residues will cake on and bake hard with possibility of future moisture retention. Clean the threads, if left uncared for you may well get your moderator stuck tight which is undesirable. Similarly, when fitting your moderator, the threads should feel free running and smooth, right up to the point where the barrel’s shoulders meet the moderator and you feel a defined `stop` that can then be tightened, a rough thread should ring alarm bells and will likely lead to inconsistent moderator tensioned position with associated problems.

    The decision to use patches and brushes depends on severity of cleaning, I only use brushes for the occasional deep clean and prefer to use nylon, rather than phosphor bronze brushes. This is two-fold, nylon brushes wear and fit the bore more easily and although not passed through the crown, can be cautiously reciprocated which is especially helpful to aerate and foam solvents to a microscopic level when dissolving residue. Secondly, many copper solvents will react with a colourful bright blue tinge when they are dissolving copper and with phosphor bronze brushes containing copper within their alloy, guess what, that false blue might be your brush, not the barrel’s residue. It also feels kinder to the steel of the barrel to scrub it with softer nylon that metallic brushes. Both are physically softer yet wear is wear between any moving surfaces and nylon brushes have served me well over the years, just accept they are somewhat consumable. This issue can occur with brass jags but is far less problematic due to their heavier, solid construction compared to filament like bristles. I personally prefer spear point jags that pierce the centre of the cleaning patches as these attach the patch securely and most easily centralised, whether circular or square.

    Cleaning patches are available in all shapes and sizes, sometimes even as foam plugs appropriate to bore sizes. For the same bore size, you can use a smaller jag with a larger patch or vice versa, there isn’t specifically a correct answer but if you go with manufacturers guidelines, it’s a starting point, especially looking at the jag as the primary component before `filling the gap` with your chosen patch. Fabric patches come from different makers in different cloth types and weaves, some more absorbent than others, you will find your preference as your shooting career evolves. The patch and jag needs to be a firm fit requiring some force to pass it through the bore but not excessively as the cleaning rod will bend too much, effectively itself squeezing unevenly down one wall of the bore unevenly like a banana. Excessive force from your known tight patch may also mask mechanical damage you are doing with all that physical effort so start easy until you learn your preferences. A patch catcher at the muzzle is a benefit to keep things clean, brushes especially aerate and spray solvent as they leave the crown. It’s worth wearing gloves too, if nothing else it avoids you absorbing the dirt and solvent smells but is generally advisable with any unusual chemicals in contact with your skin.

    Clan up solvent overspills, it squeezes out of the patch as it enters the bore, pay attention to the bolt lug abutment areas and magazine well. Clean all action raceways, bolt lugs, face, and extractor/ejector mechanisms as small fragments of copper/brass shavings from ammunition can quickly clog these. Looser tolerance sporting actions are more forgiving of dirt and debris but precision-made rifles with very close operating tolerances are far less forgiving of matter like this and will jam shut if you are not careful. This might sound bad but is a design compromise of precision manufacture, bolt fluting didn’t originate for pretty looks!

    Returning to mechanical needs, clean the exterior of your gun, an oily cloth is a lifesaver and generally stops over lubrication of surfaces. Use special dry lubricants for triggers and bolts, wet lubes always attract dirt and grime. A compressed air can, or compressor hose/gun is a great cleaning tool for freeing mechanisms without disassembly which might be better left to the professional if any damage is done or found to be causing operational problems, especially in the case of triggers. Check scope mounts are tight, scope rails attached to the rifle and the barrel is free in its channel if it is supposed to be free floating. Even with a flexible forend, ensure there is no moisture of other physical debris lurking between barrel and forend and lastly, it never hurts to know how you gun can be removed from its stock and correctly reassembled when you are relaxed at home, so if you have to do it in an emergency (for example if dropped in mud, water or snow on a hunt), you know how to put it back together and where needs specific inspection for damage or blockages. Lastly, how it reacts to being re-assembled and will it hold zero…this is crucial to knowing your gun in my opinion. Rifles that are correctly inlet and bedded stress free with correctly torqued bolts will seat firmly and nip into position with tactile definition. Poorly stocked rifles will often suffer significant zero change as their action screws are mushily tightened to unknown torque levels with spongey feeling in the action inlet as the bolts tension. Most guns fit somewhere between these two book ends, the former is clearly most desirable as it rarely affects zero by more than one or two clicks of the scope’s adjusters. The latter is entirely undesirable to my mind.

    So, to sum up, follow manufacturers instructions and proceed with caution, mechanical damage through cleaning is the greatest risk so don’t rush and don’t force tools. Think about the relative hardness of items and misalignment that may cause wear and tear more than nothing at all. Remove all solvents from the bore before storage and be cautious of it pooling, especially in places like magazine wells and stock inlet out of sight. I always leave the bolt out or action open, allowing airflow to circulate in a stored gun and if stored for a long time, I will coat the bore internally with heavier lubricants to fend off corrosion. Barrels themselves are consumables, it’s a fact of life but a rifle action and stock if cared for, should long outlast most shooters and if wet lubricants are needed, a tiny dot, carefully applied is usually enough. Beware spray lubricants blasted everywhere and fingerprints as these are themselves corrosive.

    Photos:

    1. A selection of patches
    2. A small dot of oil correctly positioned is far superior to casual spray dowsing
    3. A small dripper bottle helps to keep solvent spillage to a minimum
    4. A well soaked patch emerging from the crown towards the end of the bore cleaning regime
    5. Always check the barrel channel is clear without obstruction (if free floating)
    6. Bore guides minimise physical damage from rod-jag to action internals, chamber and lead
    7. Clean the bolt face and lugs, make sure no fragments of copper remain to jam anywhere
    8. Clean the crown and threads, residue builds up here quite easily
    9. I have learned the characteristics of this solvent through years of use, each brand has it's own characteristics and usage needs
    10. Laid out in sequence, the patches tell the barrel cleaning story
    11. Patches are available in a multitude of shapes and sizes for appropriate bore fit
    12. Some designs require more attention to mechanical lubrication detail
    13. Spear point jags from .17 up to .338 calibres
    14. Specific carbon and Copper solvents for deep cleaning needs
    15. The handles of a cleaning rod rotate on bearings to allow the patch to revolve with the rifling
  • Differences between game & Sporter Shotguns - Benefits behind barrel lengths being different

    By Chris Parkin

    The essential differences between game and sporter shotguns are the designs of the barrels. Lighter shorter barrels offer faster handling and a physically lighter gun to transport and carry around. This matters for what may be a ten-minute stand at the start of a pheasant drive or several hours of walked up shooting. Game guns will most often have the safety catch set to automatic meaning every time the gun is broken, it will set itself to safe whereas a sporter is usually totally manual in that you must set or unset it forward or backward yourself when required. Most guns allow this to be changed with the action out of the stock so it is not an absolute design factor yet may be a consideration for some. A sporter may have exposed extended chokes that can be changed without tools, the game gun most likely to have flush fitting chokes, if multichoked at all, whereby a small tool is supplied and required to unscrew and change them. This is not huge detriment, but large extended chokes do tend to set a sporter apart visually on your peg.

    A game gun most commonly sees a narrow rib around 6-8mm with the sporter becoming a little wider, sometimes either will taper toward the muzzle with a variety of beads to top them. The traditional bead is a small brass sphere on a game gun with more commonly seen fibre optic dots in green or red on a sporter, often in extended format to amplify their luminescence in your peripheral field of view against disruptive backgrounds.

    Regardless of barrel length, the joining rib is more likely to show ventilation on a sporter to reduce weight, rather than heat dissipation on what is more that likely a longer barrel set. Sporters are most commonly 30-32” as a minimum whereas the game gun is most likely a 28-30” depending on calibre and shooter preference for balance and barrel speed. A shorter barrel on any type of shotgun will feel sprightlier and whippier, yet the longer heavier barrel feels a little slower but more assured and continues to swing through a little more with residual momentum from its length and mass. Picking up and mounting a selection of guns in a shop will soon display the balance characteristics and length isn’t the only factor, short barrels with a full rib can weigh more than lighter rib, long barrels and it all comes down to shooter preference. To some extent you will get used to the gun you shoot and adapt to it but if your technique is ingrained, you will soon notice how differing barrel weight and speed are quickly concerning and draw your attention.

    Although actions across a specific manufacturer’s range are usually very similar in appearance, subtle additional width is not unusual built into the action walls and materials play a key point with ultra-light game guns occasionally resorting to aluminium, rather than steel here. The stock itself is a factor balancing offsetting the weight of the barrels and a set of heavy barrels, to remain neutrally balanced will retain more timber in the stock, perhaps with lesser internal material a removal. The grip on a sporter will often show more of a palm swell with a tighter radius but these are by no means definite. Full competition guns may show adjustable cheekpiece and length of pull, heavier recoil pads and even recoil suppression ampers for long days on the range. In terms of cartridges like for like, the greater wight of the sporter will usually deaden felt recoil more, yet competition rules usually restrict the mass of lead in the cartridge to 24 or 28 grams anyway, whereas in a sporting scenario, it’s common to see 32 gr cartridges and heavier.

    The feel of a gun and it’s inherent fit into your physique can’t really be described without physical experimentation but it’s interesting to know a few key points to look out for, when scanning a dealer’s shelves although there really are no hard and fast rules dictating the differences, it’s all about finding the gun that fits your style and physique because a shotgun, unlike a rifle, really has to fit you more naturally in what is a more natural, intuitively reflexive sport with less time to adjust yourself to a gun for each shot.

  • Differences between MRAD & MOA

    By Chris Parkin

    This is a common question when choosing riflescopes and when you really get down to it, both are quite simply just different units of measurement, the same as miles or kilometres, metres or yards, pounds or kilograms and pints or litres. Although not specifically metric or imperial versions, the MRAD system is considered to be a simple metric format simply because it all calculates in base ten and can be defined exactly with metres or centimetres perfectly. For example, 1 MRAD or milliradian spans 1 metre at 1000 metres. Think of it as a simple triangle and as you draw closer, that same milliradian is 10cm at 100 metres, a simple tenth of the size. Now, break that down into individual scope clicks, most commonly advertised as 1cm or 10mm at 100metres, and you realise each click is now exactly 0.1 MRAD or milliradians too. Neither way of explaining it is more or less accurate, both are identical within the physical manufacturing tolerances of the riflescope’s internal mechanisms themselves.

    Now swap to minutes of angle (M.O.A.) and the general `rule of thumb` is that one inch at 100 yards is 1 M.O.A. yet this is not actually correct. That `Minute` actually subtends or spans/covers 1.047” at 100 yards and although that seems a minute discrepancy, because it’s all about angles and extending distances/triangles, this mistake is continually amplified becoming more critically incorrect. Now consider those 100 yards are based on 3 feet per yard, 12 inches per foot and you also inject less simple mathematics into any calculation. Some shooters consider the simple 1” at 100 yards to be known as `Shooters M.O.A.` whereas the correct 1.047” at 100 yards to be `Target or True M.O.A.` so another vague variable is injected.

    When it comes to physical mechanical clicks within your scope for zeroing or correcting fall of shot for longer ranges, they are most commonly ¼ M.O.A. but sometimes described as ¼” clicks? There are options for ½ or 1/8th units which although not specifically more complex, further confuse some shooters. For example, on an airgun at close ranges of say 25 yards, rarely ever 100 yards, those clicks are worth a quarter of their value in terms of physical point of impact change on target. So for example an 1/8th true M.O.A. click at 25 yards actually equals ¼ (distance) x 1/8 (click value) x1.047” (M.O.A. at 100 yards) = 0.0327” (0.8mm). Can you or your rifle tell the difference from pellet hole to pellet hole at 25 yards of that much presuming no butterflies loiter nearby in terms of air movement? Quite probably not so in those circumstances, ¼ clicks (target or shooter’s M.O.A.) are a more helpful 0.0654” or 1.6mm (sorry to bring metric units in here but I think it simplifies visualisation). Now at 100 yards and further on rimfire or centrefire, this is less of an issue and if you always think in angular measurements rather than actual movement on target, life is less complex, but you might now think `why order an 1/8 click scope` for an airgun anyway and I would generally agree, it might sound more precise, it is, BUT is it more helpful?

    When ranges extend and precision counts, finer click values are sometimes beneficial, especially for target shooters at extreme ranges. Those 1/8th clicks at 1000 yards are now 1/8x1.047”x10, so 1.3” bullet shift. A quarter click is 2.6” at which point you are about on the money for the world record five shot group sizes even possible from specific rifles (regardless of exact position on target) from 1000 yard benchrest shooters, never mind target shooters who MUST put the bullets in the centre for score values to count. Formal traditional “target rifle” or “F-Class” shooting still seems to like the Minute of angle for this reason so read on why…?

    The 0.1MRAD/ click (10mm/1cm at 100 metres) so commonly seen on long range tactical optics would now equal a bullet’s positional change of 10cm at 1000 metres (approximately 1090 yards). Scale that back to 1000 yards, and each click theoretically moves your bullet by about 9.14mm/0.35”. I shall tabulate all this as it’s getting very complicated now, but this is all theoretical mathematics and has taken no account of the ammunition consistency, rifle consistency, the shooter, the wind, the atmospherics etc. etc.

    To add a further factor, 5mm clicks are available (0.05 MRAD) on a few scopes, so you can halve or double all the 10mm click values as necessary, but all still works on base ten and almost as fine in terms of bullet positional movement as M.O.A. but here is the thing, manufacturers themselves often make vague mathematical statements of angular correction, often stating ¼ M.O.A. = 7mm at 100 metres. Neither technically fully agree…think out to long ranges again where small math errors amplify! A quarter inch is 6.35mm so multiply that by 1.09 for metres and it becomes 6.9mm, close, but not exactly. A 5mm click would be more precise at that distance but are rarely seen.

    None of this actually matters that much in the real world as it’s far less of a factor than the other variables are to a shooter, but endless discussion over which is better often distracts from actually going shooting, learning your kit, experimenting safely and recording results, `DOPE` is Data On Previous Engagement after all! If you work in clicks, that’s great, you need to keep count though, if you work on the engraved turret markings, also great, but one or the other will suit different shooters and that’s before we bring first versus second focal plane into the equation, (1st being more logical, 2nd perhaps more precise in a nutshell). How physically large is your target, how often will you change distances in a competition and need to re-calculate? Fewer clicks and simple maths will always be a benefit if the targets are comparatively large and changing all day, FFP and Metric is my choice and that of many in this scenario, but for single distance shooters, 2FP and imperial/M.O.A. perhaps offers slightly more precise bullet placement and simpler reticle concentrating on just a precise central aimpoint. Nobody can decide for you and people are too keen to give you their personal opinion with no regard to your needs)

    Finally, turrets can only physically fit so many clicks in a turn, each needs a tiny ball bearing under spring pressure to drop into an equally tiny groove machined somewhere within to make that tactile and repeatable detent click. If the threads controlling the erector tube to make that mechanical change are very fine, controlling equally minute angular shift within, there become an awful lot of `clicks` to count and fit in, the detents can become vague and the turret often descends into just a whir of smudgy clicks, not solid perceivable `clunks`. Easily overrun, easily miscounted and I can think of a few (naming no names) scopes, that have pathetically little mechanical range for the `long range` shooting they so enthusiastically advertise capability of!

    Learn your system, neither is intrinsically better but each has slight benefits in certain areas which might suit you, but not necessarily the shooter next to you. For simple single distance zeroing of a sporting or hunting rifle rifle at a single distance, just don’t worry about it, but for multirange shooters, it’s worth looking into the specific balance of benefits and not just what a manufacturer advertises as “long range”. One fact I would underline though is this, DO not combine the two, wither on paper or with click values versus reticle subtensions (either FFP or 2FP), you are inviting demons into your brain for calculation ?

     

      Point of impact change per click
    Click Value 100 Yards/Inches 100 Yards/mm 100 Metres/inches 100 Metres/mm
             
    M.O.A. 1.047 26.594 1.141 28.987
    1/8 0.131 3.324 0.143 3.623
    1/4 0.262 6.648 0.285 7.247
    1/2 0.524 13.297 0.571 14.494
             
    MRAD 3.598 91.400 3.937 100.000
    0.100 0.360 9.140 0.394 10.000
    0.050 0.180 4.570 0.197 5.000

    Photo Captions:

    1. 1000 yard benchrest just needs bullets grouped  on target, specifically where isn't an issue
    2. Course 10mm@100m MRAD clicks can be beneficial when speed is involved
    3. Id ALWAYS advise reticles that match your click values regardless of units used
    4. More clicks and multiple rotations really benefit from more complex turrets
    5. Multi range shooting disciplines are growing in popularity and scopes are enabling this more easily
    6. Pure target disciplines still seem to attract MOA with finer clicks
    7. Simple quarter M.O.A. clicks are very common
    8. The centimetre click was most commonly seen on European hunting optics in the past
    9. There is no real best option, MRAD v MOA, just differences
    10. Ultimately, closer range air rifles dont really benefit from ultra fine clicks
    11. Very fine clicks can become overwhelming for multi distance courses of fire
  • Three types of Shooting Jackets - Good Xmas Presents

    By Chris Parkin

    There are all sorts of shooting jackets for a variety of seasons and conditions as well as those suited to specific tasks or with unique features, here is a quick look at three to demonstrate key points to look out for.

    Deerhunter Packable Jacket

    £71.99

    The Packable jacket from Deerhunter is a superb, ultra-lightweight, thin, comfortable and flexible jacket without bulk to wear either as a backup in cool conditions or to build into the layering system when the winter draws colder. The deep green colour is subtle with front hand pockets and smaller chest pocket for valuables as well as the hood which the whole jacket can be rolled into. There are drawstrings on the hood to cinch it around your face to keep the cold air out and this works well as a general accessory without` shouting out you are a shooter if you want to retain a lower profile. This super lightweight jacket is a brilliant addition and so thin it blends under other jackets without discomfort yet adds those few extra critical degrees of insulation. Movement is unrestricted and although seemingly glossy in appearance, is actually quite matt and unreflective, most importantly with little additional noise signature either. I don’t think any shooter would baulk at this in his kit bag.

     

    Harkila Heat Jacket

    £279.98

    Harkila’s Heat jacket is another light/mid layer for intermediate conditions yet shows a key factor rarely seen in the shooting world. This lightweight jacket has internal heating elements that run from any USB power bank (10,000mAh will power the jacket to 52 degrees centigrade for about 7 hours in freezing conditions), stored in the right-side pocket. Immediate intensity control is made easily available by a black rubberised button, just right of centre chest that offers 3 colour coded temperature stages from 38-53 degree to keep away the chill. The Jacket is otherwise lined in a heat reflective lightweight fabric with stretch membranes on the sides and sleeves to ensure freedom of movement. For the smartphone generation, it is also possible to use an app to control the temperature exactly from 30-52 degrees rather than in 3 specific steps but essentially with the simple front button control life is simpler. The heating membranes are sown into the spots most likely vulnerable to the cold between back and lumbar areas. The collar is fleece lined and unlike other technologies, there is no problem folding this jacket or machine washing. Two side pockets, inner pocket and radio pocket on the left chest provide storage and a drybag is included for storage. This is certainly one for the more technically minded who want the latest gadgets to make their shooting life more comfortable, as a mid-layer, it is very good for more sedentary hunts and remains quiet when moving too.

     

    Seeland Noble Coat

    £89.99

    This is a more classical woollen coat treated with Scotchgard™ DWR to make it water- and dirt-repellent on a jacket incorporating a breathable, windproof and waterproof SEETEX® membrane. The Noble jacket has hand warmer pockets on the sides of the chest with straps to clip open the lower spacious cartridge pockets for fast access when reloading. There is a detachable hood with elasticated drawstrings to seal in your face and large game pocket across the lower back. The extended mid-thigh cut jacket shows a full-length button-down storm flap to seal the zipper, which itself runs in both directions so can be left looser at the hem allowing more space around the legs for walking without restriction. Of course, a high stiffer collar protects against the wind yet remains malleable enough to fold into position without affecting your comfortable gun mount which is also considered when realising the Noble has pleated shoulders, an “action back” to further enable flexibility and reach for challenging targets. The subdued blue check lining maintains discreet looks on a coat that will fit in anywhere from the smartest game shoot to a relaxed walked up day. Very much a shooter’s coat in subtle detailing, yet never shouting that out if worn casually.

     

    Photo Captions:

    1. Deerhunter Packable Jacket, elasticated closure to draw the hood in close

    2.  Deerhunter Packable Jacket, folds within it's own hood for storage

    3. Deerhunter Packable Jacket, further elastic at the rear to keep the hood's face clear of your eyes

    4. Deerhunter Packable Jacket, keeps your hands warm too

    5. Deerhunter Packable Jacket, valuables pocket on the left chest

    6. Deerhunter Packable Jacket, valuables pocket on the left chest

    7. Harkila Heat Jacket, a modern addition to your wardrobe

    8. Harkila Heat Jacket, a modern addition to your wardrobe

    9. Harkila Heat Jacket, heat level 2

    10. Harkila Heat Jacket, heat level 3

    11. Harkila Heat Jacket, Heat off

    12. Harkila Heat Jacket, once plugged in, your Power bank slots in the right side pocket

    13. Harkila Heat Jacket, temperature guide

    14. Harkila Heat Jacket, valuables or radio pocket on the left chest

    15. Seeland Noble Coat, elasticated draw cord around he waist to further wrap up snugly

    16. Seeland Noble Coat, game pocket across the lumbar region

    17. Seeland Noble Coat, game pocket across the lumbar region

    18. Seeland Noble Coat, smart enough for a driven day, practical enough for walked up game

    19. Seeland Noble Coat, spacious cartridge pockets feature tags to hold them wide open for fast access

    20. Seeland Noble Coat, the long cut keeps the chill at bay when waiting for actvity, the hood is removable

    21. Seeland Noble Coat, the long cut keeps the chill at bay when waiting for actvity, the hood is removable

    22. Seeland Noble Coat, the long cut keeps the chill at bay when waiting for actvity, the hood is removable

    23. Seeland Noble Coat, two way zipper enables more leg movement if required

  • Differences between Rimfire & Centrefire Rifles

    By Chris Parkin

    This may seem like a straightforward concept, but a lot of shooters aren’t always sure of this one, so I have put together a simple list of general differences.

    A rimfire cartridge, as the name suggests fires when the rim of the case is struck. The soft brass case is made with a liquid priming compound spread around the internal rim of the case before it solidifies and further filled with powder and a bullet. A Centrefire cartridge has a more complex arrangement with either Boxer or Berdan primed cases using a sperate Primer inserted into a pocket at the centre of the case’s base. This is struck centrally by the firing pin and the flash goes through the flash hole (or holes if Berdan primed), initiating the powder, creating pressure as it burns (very rapidly) and driving the bullet out of the case neck into the lead (where the rifling begins) and barrel.

    Maximum operating pressures for rimfires are around 24-26,000 P.S.I. whereas something like a 308 Winchester centrefire will be more than double at around 60,000 P.S.I. and this has several following factors. The cartridge case itself on a rimfire has a lesser pressure to assist in restraining so softer brass can be used allowing the firing pin to physically deform the case to initiate the priming compound, which is itself buried within the propellant powder inside the case. The harder brass of a centrefire case is not physically damaged by the firing pin, just the small primer itself and although the physical gas pressure of firing will deform all cases to fill the slightly oversized chamber, the centrefires can be more easily returned to required size and re-primed with a new primer, hence “Reloading”. The rimfire cannot in general, liquid priming compound on vast industrial scale is a far different factor consider which almost exclusively precludes home loading of all but bullets themselves.

    All this pressure leads to significant physical factors in the design of the firearm’s action, no.1 the firing pin has to vary from a central location to a position on the rim but the biggest is that the action length is usually far longer for centuries and generally has locking lugs at the front, not the rear. There are some exceptions, Enfield’s and some Steyr’s spring to mind but most Centrefires have two, three or even four locking lugs that interlock with abutments inside the front of the action just behind the barrel’s chamber (Remington 700), or within the barrel itself (Sauer 404 for example). The latter has increased in popularity as machining capabilities have evolved, especially with multi barrel rifles as it means only bolt and barrel are pressure bearing, the action is just there to hold the barrel in place. If the locking lugs are locked into the action and not the barrel, the barrel is threaded into the action to offer pressure bearing capability. This thread is usually additionally clamped to prevent any rotation on actions where the bolt locks into the action lugs, An Accuracy International AT for example.

    Rimfires will often use a smaller, single lug but at the rear of the action, near the bolt handle which itself is often the lug itself. It’s not uncommon for a single lug to restrain firing pressures and forms part of the generally smaller, more compact action that is unlikely to hold more than a 22LR (1”/25.4mm Cartridge Overall Length “C.O.L.”) or 17 HMR case (1.349£/34.3mm C.O.L.). Rifles like the CZ457 have interchangeable barrels that are clamped, rather than screwed into the action as this can handle the maximum 26,000 P.S.I. that either cartridge is ever likely to produce. Now think of a common 223 Remington rifle, 2.26”/57mm long cartridge developing 62,000 P.S.I. to restrain, and that is one of the physically smaller commonly encountered centrefires. You begin to appreciate the differences. A 308 Stalking rifle in comparison is 2.800”/71.1mm long with similar operating pressures and there are endless other centrefire options with bullets both larger or smaller, faster and slower, but the general trend is far broader than the generally limited rimfire market usually restricted to 22LR, 17 HMR and 22 WMR cartridges.

    Certainly, in the UK, Rimfires are considered for target use, indoors or outdoors in many formats as well as pest control of smaller species depending on variations from your Police Force. Centrefires, being larger with more pressure, equal more muzzle energy, more range and more controlled terminal ballistics. The higher pressures allow harder bullets to be used, copper jacketed lead or even monolithic copper, whereas the rimfire world is predominantly lead only for 22LR, occasionally with a copper wash. 17 HMR and 22 WMR then start to use copper jackets as velocity increases beyond 1000 to 2000/2500 fps as this minimises lead stripped from the bullet by the rifling and minimises cleaning. Centrefires can also be used for pest control, especially handy for wily corvids at range but Fox control is where they really begin to gather pace, before deer stalking comes into the equation for the UK hunter with larger calibres like 243, 308 and beyond. Target shooting is also a huge factor and whereas rimfire competition has regularly been restricted to 100 yards or less (longer range rimfire is gaining popularity), centrefires have been used for decades well past 1000 yards on targets.

    This is by far from an exhaustive article but gives you some general factors to consider and look out for when looking for your next rifle both in terms of size, muzzle energy, range and relative rifle differences.

    Photo Captions

    1. A common rimfire action like this Steyr Zephyr is designed around smaller rimfire cartridges with rear locking bolt
    2. This Steyr CLII has a multi lug forward locking bolt designed to restrain higher centrefire pressures and longer cartridge length
    3. Long range rimfires like this CZ457 LRP are becoming far more common
    4. Here you can see the firing pin holes and front locking lugs on rimfire v centrefire
    5. Exposed firing pins
    6. Corresponding firing pin deformation to initiate the primer
    7. 22LR, 17HMR, 22 WMR Rimfire cartridges
    8. 22LR, 17HMR, 22 WMR Rimfire, 223, 308, 300 Win Mag Centrefire cartridges
    9. Comparable bolt size and action length, 22LR versus 300 Win mag
  • Zeiss Binos - low, mid, high price points. What is your money really being spent on

    By Chris Parkin

    When asked the difference between binoculars and what your money is spent on, there are key factors to consider when considering budget and function. `Big` numbers may well sell and seem better value, but not always the best approach.

    Specification

    Most shooters choose an 8 or 10x magnification binocular to balance between field of view, likely proximity to the quarry and your ability to hold the binoculars steadily. More magnification doesn’t create more vibration but will amplify unstable position. Lower magnification, comparing all other factors like-for-like, will offer a broader field of view and slightly larger exit pupil diameter which in some scenarios will enable slight brighter image transmitted to the eyes. It is crucial to remember that light transmission is often quoted but don’t underestimate the benefits of larger objective lenses that offer significantly more area to allow light entry into that tube. A 42mm versus 32mm objective allows in 70% more light into each tube.

    Ergonomics

    How heavy the binoculars are, how physically large they are, do the eyecups for your face’s orbital sockets, do the twist up extending cups lock solidly in position? Think about the different angles your head will be at in relation to walking and stalking and prone positions, the latter will often see the eyecups need to twist inward a little more to accommodate the angle of the eyebrows yet in the former with your head upright, it’s likely they will need to be a little further extended. Binoculars might offer 3,4, or sometimes more positions and the eye `box` is the extent within which the full exit pupil is visible as your angle and the binoculars naturally move in relation to your face. The Terra and Conquest offer friction extension from minimum to maximum length with a detented `stop` only at either end, whereas the Victory RF give two intermediate `clicks`  for finer overall position. The shape of the outer rim fitting into your eye socket is also more rounded and comfortable on the upper two units as costs increase.

    Image quality

    Consider colour balance, will chromatic aberration be present, will colours be truly perceived similarly to your natural eyesight or will they appear distorted and yellowed as very low-cost optics often encourage. Different binoculars will use different types and numbers of lens coatings to limit some, and therefore boost the prominence of certain light frequencies to cope with our hunting environment and likely low light preferences. Similarly deposited coatings (applied at high temperatures in a vacuum), are used to deposit metallic compounds on the glass to promote water dispersion from matters as simple as rainfall, or for tough external surfaces to fend of mechanical damage from dust and other debris. As costs increase, it’s not all about superficially higher numbers and greater promises, some binoculars will offer colour rendition better suited to bright light, others to poor light. The mechanical grinding of the glass into lenses is a critical factor for binocular production and the time taken to grind lenses with increasingly fine abrasives to the `mirror` like finish we require is a huge factor. The more you pay, the longer can be spent on this quality and to a greater degree of precision both in the lenses, and reflective prisms that are integral to the system. This also applies to the mechanical alignment of the binoculars, tiny internal threads, helical arrangements for focussing etc. although almost fractionally small, these tolerances and factors all add up to give those last few percentages of precision adjustment, optical perfection and poor light performance key to hunters, bird watchers may well be more interested in tiny colour details for identification and differentiation in similar plumage, we differ.

    Ergonomics

    Focal control is a constant factor as we change distances so the comfort with which your hands wrap the binoculars and reach this regularly altered function are crucial, with open bridge or closed bridge designs allowing the supporting fingers to wrap the tubes in different positions, some will suit larger hands, others smaller ones. Something like the Terra offers focal control from <2m to infinity with just 0.75 rotation of the focal dial, the Conquest HD do a similar job from 2m out with 1.25 complete turns of the focus knob. Lastly the Victory RF, regardless of other functionality, run from <3m to infinity with 1.4 rotations of the focal dial for an increasingly fine control over precise depth of field when trying to segregate possible items of interest from their background.

    Additional features

    The Terra and Conquest are straightforward binoculars with Schmidt-Pechan prism layout for straight optical tube outers even if the light path will reciprocate back and forth within to offer required optical magnification. Lens protectors both ends are supplied with all three units, slotted over the neck strap and very similar in flexibility and ease of addition or removal during use. Similarly, the neoprene lined neck strap grips and cushions the weight of the units which as quality rises, also start to increase in weight, 813gr, 893gr and 1058gr respectively, including strap and lens caps. Of course, the Victory RF adds in a huge functional benefit in having both laser rangefinder and ballistic calculator along with necessary atmospheric and angular measuring tools within as well as Bluetooth connectivity for your phone to set up, program system variables and preferences for LED display intensity among many others! It’s noteworthy to say that within the same adverts, Zeiss don’t have the light transmission factor published for the RF binocular and I suspect this is because as functional matter, the RF capability adds an additional display packages within one tube which fractionally lessens light transmission.

    Specification/Binocular Terra Conquest Victory RF
    Light Transmission % 88 90 N/A
    Twilight Factor 18.3 18.3 18.3
    Field of View, degrees 56/125m@1000m 59/128m@1000m 61/135m@1000m
    Exit Pupil diameter, mm 5.3 5.3 5.3mm
    Exit Pupil Distance, mm 18 18mm 16mm
    Dioptre range +/-3 +/-4 +/-4
    Close focus, m 1.6 2  
    Focussing range, m 0.75 1.25 1.4
    Case Soft Case Soft case Clamshell
    Prism Type Schmidt-Pechan Schmidt-Pechan Abbe-König
    Weight, gr 813 893 1058
    Price 402.99 1020.99 2373.99

    All three binoculars add a carry case which is also reflective of increasing costs, the Terra’s offer a soft case which is fine for daily protection and easy carriage, the Conquest a harder cordura clamshell case with zipper around the edge. Finally, the Victory RF have an even more visually deluxe clamshell with inner pockets to suit the necessary instructions and pers to aid usage when setting up. This last factor seems a bit of a relic for hunters who tend to use aftermarket cases for their binoculars offering protection during daily use but are visibly a sign of added benefits.

    Summary

    When using the binos in the field, you never really appreciate the small steps in image quality increase going `up` through the range but you notice more as you return from the Victory back through to the still very competent Terra. They all offer great image quality and are functional hunting assistants but the colour rendition as price increases is noticeable yet it’s functionality as light fades where the money spent is most obvious side by side, the Victory and Especially the Conquest offer critical extra minutes and clarity as light fades. All three binoculars hear offer good ergonomics, smooth focal control, streamlined bodies with minimal interference under the fingers and hands from angular or overly bulky neck strap anchors. Design details like these are what separate even entry level premium binoculars from no-name competitors and longevity in the internal mechanics set them apart, you don’t get misaligned tubes, eye strain or headaches from any of the binoculars to wear the name of the respected Zeiss brand. Setting up dioptre balance between the eyes illustrates the slight sharper focus control as price increases and similarly, the more expensive binoculars seem to `snap` a little more clearly to expose their slight shallower, but more precisely focussing depth of field. For the close in hunter who knows his land, the RF functionality is unnecessary and an expensive additional cost with factually, slight compromise in poor light conditions compared to high level NON-RF brothers but I must admit, I wouldn’t be without this assured capability from binoculars as a hunter travelling across differing locations all the time.

    Photo Captions

    1. Zeiss Terra Ed 8x42 Black Binoculars (sportsmanguncentre.co.uk)
    2. Zeiss Conquest HD 8x42 Binoculars (sportsmanguncentre.co.uk)
    3. Zeiss New Victory 8x42 T Rf Range Finder Binoculars (sportsmanguncentre.co.uk)
    4. Multiple eye cup positions greatly ease optical and facial comfort across various shooting positions
    5. Interpupilliary focus can vary widely between models
    6. Lens caps have to be considered vital, how easily do they fit on and stay on, or off for that matter
    7. Zeiss hang all accessories from their neoprene neck strap
    8. Reaching the focal control knob and how many turns it requires ae important for different hand sizes
    9. I prefer loose hanging objective caps, they are less likely to apply themselves when unwanted as flip up caps seemingly always do
    10. Additional functions like the Rf capability and ballistic calculators work well in addition to suitable optics that enable easy dialling to distance
    11. Lateral neck strap anchors are under your hands all day, make sure they are unobtrusive and secure
  • Top 3 FX Air Rifles

    By Chris Parkin

    Trying to sum up the capabilities and variation across the FX range in one short article is an almost impossible task but I can quite understand why the Crown Mk II, Impact M3 and Maverick are at the forefront.

    My experience with Impact Mk II last year drew me into the world of airgun tuning and in FAC format, this rifle was a superb performer with amazing versatility to accurise the air pressure system not only for appropriate power levels, but to optimise the blast of pressurised air for alternate projectile weights. If I had gone down the route of barrel/calibre change, the world was seemingly my oyster. When the M3 became available in 2021, I decided to run three similar FX rifles side by side, but this time all in UK specific sub 12 ft-lb power level and .22 calibre to get a good side by side comparison. I wasn’t focussed so much on comparing specific precision and accuracy, more on the ergonomic variations on offer to suit users’ needs.

    The M3 in its bullpup format, is perhaps the king of the FX range, large volume 28 round magazine in .22 with likely 300-400 round shot count from the 250 Bar fill pressure. Stating statistics is difficult as depending on barrel length and cylinder volume, all can vary slightly, yet FX’s comprehensive website seems to offer data that is believable in the real world depending on your choices. Handling character is rearward weighted with a high vertical profile to the rifle with possibility to rest using the buddy bottle or with an extended underside Saber Tactical Picatinny rail for bipod. The carbon fibre bottles don’t draw the heat from your supporting hand like aluminium will although with a full aluminium chassis layout, the rifle is always going to be comparatively cold to hold without gloves in winter. I chose bronze colouration as I like a little contrast from just black and the looks will always polarise opinion, yet this is a rifle idealised for mechanical perfection and superior airflow through the regulators for accurate performance. The new shorter side cocking lever is most definitely lighter to operate and with a short throw, extremely fast in operation. Left handers are now assisted by the possibility of swapping this lever to the left side of the gun although magazine must remain to the right side of the rifle. Although large, this doesn’t seem to interfere with cheek or chest position in close proximity to the rifle other than with heavy jackets or rucksack. Plentiful lateral picatinny rail offer mounting positions for accessories and the upper 20 M.O.A. rail provides plentiful scope mounting linear space and range boosting elevation. This is perhaps more applicable to FAC versions and slug shooters yet it never harms a sub 12.

    Zeroed on paper at 25 metres, I tried a wide range of pellets yet for internal, external and terminal ballistic effect, I relied upon JSB Diablo Heavies at 18.1gr in all three rifles. These feed from their mags without point damage and in day-to-day terms, offer me the most pellet to physically get hold of in my fingertips when loading the sprung carousel magazines without fumbling. Ultra-heavies in the 25gr range were too loopy at 12 ft-lbs to get the best multi range use for pest control and the lighter 15gr pellets were a little less consistent on paper, where I find the Smooth twist barrels preferred the Heavies. No sling anchor studs are provided (on any of the rifles) so you have to improvise a little although the rubbersied underslung grip is always assured and tactile, never cold in the hands. The trigger offers adjustability with crisp two stage pulls and when fired, minimal action noise is discernible within except for a low “shhhh” as the air refills the plenum below. The new pressure gauges offer better visibility and the Foster filling adaptor below is well recessed and protected from damage ahead of the trigger guard. A small 90-degree lever safety catch provides an audible, soft click that just advertises relentless mechanical perfection within from its sprung detents.

    When it came to hunting, the effectively shrouded barrel with replaceable liner and little wasted air was already minimal for noise and the ability to add an additional moderator makes this gun even quieter in use, especially noticeable within resonant echoing barns. Being sub-12, the left side power adjuster only goes DOWN from 12-ft-lbs and although you can see machined recesses for the missing micro adjuster (found only in FAC format), but on the other hand, will many airgun shooters want to venture below 12 ft-lbs for hunting, other than in very close confines with delicate backstops? Of course, a Picatinny rail allowed me to swap to night vision use without problems and gain correct eye relief without strain, the butt pad offers 20mm of vertical adjustability, grips your shoulder well and features frontal finger grooves for additional grip if pushed into your shoulder with off trigger hand.

    The M3 is definitely a tuner’s rifle and although functional for hunting, shows significant benefits offering short bullpup length and large shot count at the expense of tall vertical height above the supporting hold so watch out for CANTING the higher centre of gravity rifle. It is a mechanical delight in terms of accuracy and precision, both as a rifle projecting a pellet and in its own inherent engineered form, the care and maintenance and tuning of which will be a hobby in its own right for some shooters. Particular areas to watch for are the cocking slider which runs smoothly but exposes greased surfaces that will attract dust and need keeping clean.

    The Crown Mk II offers great contrast to the M3, ballistically similar but looks and ergonomics wise, a vast departure. Using the same 480ml Carbon fibre buddy bottle, this rifle grows to 860mm overall length (not including moderators) compared to the M3’s 735mm. weight at 3.1kg is similar but the balance point of the rifle alters, as does it’s vertical profile, now much lower centre of gravity so feels more laterally stable in the hands. The Laminate stock, available in alternate colours is a delight to handle with vertical and laterally adjustable cheekpiece, and recoil pad to really tailor it to you, the shooter. In contrast with It’s more mechanical sibling, the Crown feels more organic and less machine like. The similar side lever cocking shows a more slender handle, still fingertip light but due to a more direct layout with fewer levers and linkages inherent to a bullpup format, you eliminate miniscule, multiple tolerances present in a more complex mechanism for an almost undefinable, yet still present tighter feel to operation, both when cocking and loading the rifle. The trigger system too feels slightly more direct. The right side 90-degree safety catch swings slightly proud of the stock’s right side above the trigger and small chequered panels reside on forend and grip, the two main contact points for assured security. Twin tuning dials on the stock’s left side control power but yet gain, at sub 12, less likely to see as much experimentation due to their legal limitations compared to FAC. Nearly all of my shooting is at ground level or with solid backstops so I rarely ever lower power unless on very close shots within barns, shooting upwards on feral pigeons, lowering power changes zeroes and overall trajectory shape so needs taking into account.

    Like all FX’s, machining and anodising standards are peerless yet somehow, more visible here as a contrast in looks to the laminate stock. 20 M.O.A. Picatinny rail requires mount height to be factored around the scope’s tube and saddle needing to clear the sprung carousel 18 shot (in 22) magazine that slides up underneath it from the right side. Magazine/action location makes the Crown more conventional in looks like a sporting rifle but mid rail like this, may affect some night vision scopes that rely on a longer mounting footprint remaining uninterrupted. Accuracy on target was hard to differentiate in the real world from the M3, I personally preferred the slightly longer, lower rifle profile in its laminate stock as it’s more akin to my usual shooting requirements, positional setup and all my other rifles yet read on, as my mind may change. Again, the Smooth twist X superior liners can be changed with broad range of calibres and barrel lengths subject to power specification. Fill pressure through the well protected Foster adaptor is 250 Bar and easily accessible on the underside with air bottle (removable) and regulator pressure Manometers offering tracked performance of shot counts listed and no surprise running out of air suddenly.

    My initial thoughts were the Crown would be my favourite but third guest to my party was the Maverick. This is a significantly cheaper rifle and the first FX to have offered twin regulators when first released, shooting from the bench at 25 metres showed it’s identical barrel, air bottle and design ethos to show slight lead over that of the more expensive brothers above it. That’s not to say there isn’t slight compromise though, we return back to the bullpup layout and the magazine is still on the right side and being higher up under the comb than that of the M3, even though it’s smaller, does preclude left-handed use. The smaller 18 round mag (in 22) is identical to the Crown’s and seems a great compromise for realistic compact size with ample capacity when hunting. How many shots do you want before refilling a magazine? I prefer the slightly more compact feel personally. You could say the same for ultimate shot count, the Maverick would happily cycle ten magazines (180 pellets) before I was even tempted to return home and top up. For target shooters travelling to the range, ultimate shot count may be more critical but for hunters, 180 shots is either a very busy successful evening or something went critically wrong, which thankfully, wasn’t the case for me with the Maverick. This rifle was my preference to mount night vision on, again a 20 M.O.A. rail is offered and like all the rest, the gun slots most easily into it’s spacious supplied case for transit, the M3 and crown have custom fit foam liners than need adjusting once your scope is fitted. All three use sprung carousel magazines of similar design and other than volume, equally capable performance. It’s important to keep them clean, disassembly is not too difficult and once done the first time, nothing too worrisome, similarly magazine tension can be altered.

    I think to sum up, based on looks alone, the Impact and Crown will polarise shooters 50:50 yet the M3 runs ahead technically, especially in FAC format for which I think FX are most adaptable, especially when you want to venture into larger calibres and slug usage. In terms of purity, economy, accuracy and reliability, the Maverick left its mark on me as the most integrated package to suit all uses, no less enjoyable to shoot yet a little more focussed with only a single power adjuster to tempt shooters wanting to drop below 12 ft-lbs for specific scenarios. I think the only place the Maverick seemed a little dated was the side position of the Foster fill adaptor, standing proud from the left side of the gun, it’s easily accessed but possibly more likely damaged though? For left handers, the Crown offer least magazine intrusion into the ergonomics with the most versatile stock layout yet the M3 offers that left-handed cocking lever adaptability. After shooting all three for as many months, I find it hard to choose just one but for my only occasional left-handed use, I would go with the Maverick for compact bullpup hutting needs with a bipod option. If I was going FAC, definitely the M3 where tuning capability is a hobby in itself offering so much more versatility. For the purist, the Crown still merges traditional layout with modern design cues to the materials and of the three, other than not being a shorter bullpup, gives the most stock versatility. The choice really is yours, but I can’t say any were lacking in accuracy or functional perfection.

    Photo Captions

    1. All three brothers in arms
    2. Overall length comparison
    3. The M3 shows most adjustability for tuning
    4. The Crown shows most conventional layout
    5. The Maverick is extremely compact and most functionally pure
    6. M3 balance and compact nature are superb when hunting
    7. M3 Especially good when shooting off-hand
    8. The Crown is the most suited to a gun clamp, but the others can use Picatinny adaptors
    9. For night vision, the Maverick seemed to fit the bill best for me
    10. Larger, lower mag on the M3 won’t obscure left-handed use
    11. Smaller, but higher mag position on the Maverick would be more limiting for a left hander
    12. Central magazine position on the Crown requires care when choosing scope mounts
    13. All three use similar sprung carousel type magazines, strip down and maintenance is fairly straightforward
    14. Magazine detail
    15. Left side Foster connector stands proud on the Maverick
    16. Whereas the crown and M3 shield the Foster underneath
    17. Saber Picatinny rail on the M3 offers more stability from longer `wheelbase` on the rifle
    18. The new shorter side lever on the M3 is blisteringly fast to cycle the action and can be swapped to the left side
    19. Here you can see the scope mounting difference between Crown and Maverick
    20. This non-FAC M3 still shows architecture for the additional tuning elements present on FAC versions
    21. Saber Tactical Picatinny extension shield the Foster adaptor securely
    22. Magazine system close up, remaining pellets easy to see!
    23. The Maverick is perhaps the most `pure` with just a single simple power adjuster and vertically adjustable recoil pad
    24. The Crown offers greatest recoil pad and cheekpiece adjustability for shooter comfort and repeatable gun mount
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