The Mindful Shooter: Zen and the Art of Replica Pistols

Zen Buddhism and replica pistol shooting. Two things that you might suspect don’t have much in common, but you’d be wrong…

Here’s the situation; you have got yourself a nice, accurate shooting replica, you have learned appropriate stance, grip and sight picture and yet, you still can’t get those shots to group the way you want. Maybe there’s a bit of your technique you have forgotten to work on? The bit that lives between your ears, for example? Like most activities that require intense concentration, shooting any kind of pistol needs mental as well as physical preparation if you are going to do it well.

Image: 3.0 Brazil via WikiMedia Commons

Something that many athletes and top sports people are now using to improve their focus and concentration is mindfulness, a concept taken from Zen Buddhism. In this article I want to talk about how this relates to replica pistol shooting. OK, I know, it’s probably not what you were expecting when you arrived at a site devoted to replica guns, but bear with me for a few moments – there may actually be something here for all of us. And don’t worry, there’s no extra charge and you won’t have to shave your head or give up burgers in order to use these techniques.

Kenjuu Do – The way of the pistol

One of the reasons I enjoy target shooting with replica pistols (or any other type of pistol) is that it demands absolute focus if you are to achieve consistently decent results. You just can’t shoot accurately if you’re thinking about that proposal that must be finished for Friday or whether that strange smell in your son’s bedroom really is incense as he claims or some other less socially acceptable herbal substance. After a good shooting session I generally feel strangely relaxed and worry-free. So I was fascinated to discover something called Kenjuu Do, a precept of Japanese Zen Buddhist philosophy which translates roughly as “the way of the pistol”. This uses pistol shooting both as a form of meditation and as a practical way to learn aspects of Zen Buddhism.

The ideogram for The Way of the Pistol

It may initially seem strange to talk about target shooting with a pistol as a form of meditation, but it actually makes sense if you think about it. Pistol target shooting isn’t just a physical act. Certainly you need to get things like grip, stance and breathing right but it also involves the correct mental preparation and approach. If your mental approach is wrong, you just can’t shoot well. I suspect that this need for focus and mental engagement while you’re shooting helps to distract you from the worries and concerns of everyday life and that this is part of what makes you feel relaxed and content afterwards.

Zen provides ways to tune your mental approach for target shooting and suggests that the approaches and techniques used to improve your shooting can also be applied to other aspects of your life. I’m not a Buddhist or a practitioner of Zen or any other philosophy but I do find some of the teachings relating to Kenjuu Do fascinating and I thought I’d share them with you. Will they make you a better shooter? Maybe. Will you become a Zen Master? Almost certainly not. But you might just learn something about our hobby and why it makes you feel the way it does.

The path to enlightenment via replica guns? Take a Crosman MKI and add a little bit of Zen philosophy…

Zen: Oneness of body and mind

Zen is based on a subset of Buddhist teaching and was originally propounded in China in the 8th Century before becoming established in Japan in the 14th Century. The word Zen is an English derivative of the Japanese word dhyana which means “to think“. It’s important to remember that Zen is not a religion in the conventional sense. That is, it does not ask you believe in anything supernatural nor does it offer a set of rules to be followed in order to receive benefits in an afterlife. Rather it provides guidance on how to live a satisfying and fulfilled life. In Zen Buddhist terms this is known as reaching enlightenment. Part of this involves achieving fusion between mind and body so that the two operate in harmony.

The Horyu-Ji temple at Nara was one of the earliest Buddhist temples in Japan

When Zen Buddhism reached Japan it became integrated with the existing warrior ethos and tempered with a more practical view of how to achieve enlightenment. This often used seemingly ordinary tasks such as flower arranging or gardening and used them as arts (or “Ways”) that helped lead to spiritual growth. These activities were not done just for their physical results but also because they helped to learn mindfulness, an attitude that can be applied to other things. Archery (Kyudo) and later pistol shooting were seen as perfect Zen activities which required a combination of physical discipline and mental focus. To me, one of th e most interesting things about Zen thinking is the way in which it can be applied to almost any activity (including of course, motorcycle maintenance!).

But how, you might reasonably ask, does all this relate to shooting your replica pistols? Well, let’s have a look at four linked precepts of Kenjuu Do and see if they can be used to improve your shooting. Bear in mind that I’m not in any way a Zen expert and what you have here is simply my understanding of how some elements of Zen can be applied to our hobby. To find out more about Zen Buddhism in general and Kenjuu Do in particular, you’ll find a link at the end of the article to a website that describes all of this in more detail.

The Empty Mind

“In shooting, you learn more about yourself than any other sport.”

Frank Higginson

One of the central tenets of Zen is the ability to remain calm and retain mental balance in all circumstances. This is called achieving mushin, an “empty mind”. This shouldn’t be confused with the state of mental blankness which can be induced simply by watching back-to-back episodes of America’s Next Top Model. In Zen terms, achieving an empty mind means focusing completely on the present moment, accepting responsibility for your actions and, where these haven’t achieved the desired result, calmly trying again without allowing emotions or thoughts of success or failure to intrude. Achieving an empty mind involves removing all of the seven “defilements” which can upset mental balance. These are:

    Happiness (Yorokobu)

    Anger (Okoru)

    Greed (Urei)

    Expectation (Omou)

    Sadness (Kanashimu)

    Terror (Osoreru)

    Surprise (Odoroku)

“Tranquillity in tranquillity is not true tranquillity; it is tranquillity in action that is the true tranquillity”

Extract from the Fudochi Shinmyoroku (Divine Record Of Immovable Wisdom) by the Zen priest Takuan

We all lead busy lives and these leave us constantly filled with conflicting thoughts and emotions. That’s perfectly normal. However, target shooting gives you the chance to practice consciously clearing away all of these. If you use a pistol capable of accurate shooting but you don’t achieve the accuracy you expect, the problem may lie in your mental approach. For example, does this sound familiar; you’re shooting a string of ten shots. You get to number eight, and you can see that all the previous shots are grouped nicely, right in the centre of the target. If you can just do as well with the next three, you’ll beat your own best previous effort… Except of course that you won’t. Because as soon as your mind is filled with the defilements of excitement and happiness, your shooting gets worse.

When you take up your stance for shooting, you should consciously try to practice ensuring that you don’t feel excitement, concern, stress, worry or anything else. Instead, focus completely on the present shot without thinking about previous or subsequent shots. It’s not easy, but if you can do it, this will almost certainly help you to shoot better. It’s the fact that accurate pistol shooting demands that you clear your mind before and during the activity that has led some people to describe this as a perfect example of Zen standing meditation.

One shot, then die

“When you do something, you should burn yourself completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself.”

Shunryu Suzuki, Sōtō Zen master and teacher

The Japanese phrase “Issha Zetsumei” is sometimes used in Kenjuu Do. The direct translation is something like “one shot and then die”. The concept comes from the idea of a dying soldier on the battlefield who has only a single shot left. This soldier will have no other opportunity to leave his mark upon the world other than through this single shot. Zen teaches that there are no second chances in life and that everything you do should be approached with 100% focus and attention, just like the dying soldier. Each thing you do, no matter how ordinary it may be, should be approached as if it is the single most important thing in your life.

If you are not completely focused on what you are doing, or if you start thinking about what has gone before or what may happen in the future, it distracts from the here and now and your performance suffers. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should literally approach each shot as if it were your last, but rather that you must take each shot separately and individually. Zen teaches that people often spend too much time thinking about the past and planning for the future. If instead you focus completely on the present moment you will achieve more satisfactory results. When you are shooting, don’t be distracted by what has gone before or possible aggregate scores. Don’t get angry if the previous shot was bad or excited if it was good. Instead, remain calm and try to bring all your attention and focus to the present shot. Like achieving an empty mind, this isn’t easy and it takes conscious effort.

Focus on the target

“Right concentration keeps the mind and body working together properly… They will not miss the target, nor will they be deluded or distracted from the Right Path of Life.“

The teachings of Buddha

One of the things that Buddhism teaches is the importance of focus or “right concentration.” To whatever you are doing, you should give absolute concentration and avoid distraction or irrelevancy.

One of my favourite Zen parables concerns a Japanese Zen master archer. While teaching his young pupils, one day he told them that he wanted to demonstrate an important lesson. He had them cover his eyes so that he could not see, then he took aim and shot an arrow towards the target. The pupils were embarrassed to note that he completely missed the target – they had imagined that he would somehow use his Zen skills to shoot accurately even when he could not see the target. He removed the blindfold and explained that he wanted to illustrate that, if you want to succeed, you must always focus on the target.

OK, Duh! If you want to shoot accurately, you need to focus on the target. Who’d have guessed? But actually this idea links closely with the first two ideas. To shoot well, you must be completely focused on the target. If you allow yourself to be distracted by anything else you will shoot less accurately.

Intuitive awareness

“Thousands of repetitions and out of one’s true self perfection emerges.”

Zen saying

Another precept of Zen Buddhism involves attaining what is called an “intuitive understanding” of any activity. In part, this is achieved through frequent repetition. If you do something often enough, you cease to think about it consciously and instead it becomes understood at a much deeper level. This true of any activity but particularly those which require mental and physical co-ordination. Multiple world champion racing driver Ayrton Senna spoke about how, on a couple of occasions, he was able to set his fastest laps after attaining a state where he was no longer conscious of driving the car and instead seemed to be watching himself from outside. The same things apply to more mundane activities that we all undertake. When you drive to work in the morning, you almost certainly aren’t thinking about gear changes, braking points and steering. You have done these things so often that instead they become fused into a single activity which you do for the most part without conscious thought leaving you free to focus on the whole process of driving safely.

The same things apply to target shooting. If you are consciously thinking about your stance, grip, breathing, sight picture, score or any other specific element, you will not shoot well. If you practice often enough these things will become intuitive and automatic and you will reach a point where you will be able to focus instead on the process of shooting as a whole rather than thinking about its individual elements.

Conclusion

“The shooting practitioner does not look at the target for the result of his or her practice, but inward, for the target is not a target – it is a mirror. And if the heart is right, each shot clears away some more of the obstacles clouding the vision of one’s true nature.”

Zen in the art of pistol shooting website

If you can apply these four techniques to your shooting, you may be on the way to what Zen describes as “shooter, bullet and target as one.” If you achieve this, shooting ceases to be composed of several different activities and becomes instead a single, intuitively understood process where the shooter, the gun and the target are all involved. Zen also suggests that the mental disciplines and techniques developed for target shooting can be applied to everyday life – that’s one of the reasons that both archery and shooting are used as a part of the teaching of Zen philosophy.

This has been a very quick look at Zen as it relates to replica pistol shooting. I hope there is something here you may find useful and that may even help to improve your shooting. In shooting, as in many other activities, mental preparation and training can be just as important as other techniques. Zen thinking is one way of approaching this. And if anyone accuses you of wasting your time playing with toy guns in the future you can explain that you’re actually exploring the precepts of Zen philosophy!

May your aim be true and your shooting free of defilement.

Links

If you’re interested in learning more, here is a website that provides much more detail about both Kenjuu Do and Zen Buddhism:

https://www.bullseyepistol.com/zeninfo.htm

Many of the images used in this article come from a collection of photographs of real Samurai taken in Japan between 1860 and 1880. You can see more of the collection here:

History Collection Samurai photographs

Gun Heaven Webley MkVI Service Revolver

The first batch of Webley revolvers, also known as “Self-Extracting” or “Top-Break” revolvers, arrived in Thailand at the end of last year. Proving to be quite popular, I unfortunately missed out and so had to wait until completion of both the Chinese New Year and Songkran festivities to take possession of my very own Webley MkVI. The wait was definitely worth it!

This is the 6mm smoothbore version is marketed in Asia, under licence, by Gun Heaven of Hong Kong and Taiwan. As far as I am aware, it is identical to the 4.5mm version except for the calibre and the fact that it does not have a safety switch fitted to the right-hand side (I note some models have such a safety fitted just above the trigger; although unobtrusive, I am of the opinion that it is unnecessary: if you are ready to shoot and then change your mind, you simply lower the hammer, remove the “cartridges” and place the pistol safely in a holster or otherwise out of harm’s way).

Real Steel Background

Webley & Son of Great Britain, who would later become known as Webley & Scott following a merger in 1897, started development of their famous “Top-Break” revolvers in the 1870s for both military and civilian markets. All were chambered for the substantial .455 inch calibre cartridge with heavy 265 grain bullets travelling at a little over 600 fps. Black-powder cartridges were used in the MkI which appeared in 1887 and replaced the Enfield revolver as standard issue to the British Army. Black powder continued to be used until the MkV in 1894 when smokeless cordite ammunition was introduced (source: world.guns.ru).

The MkVI was the pinnacle of the Webley Top-Break design featuring a six-inch barrel (previous versions had either four or five inch barrels), squared instead of more rounded “bird’s beak” grips and a removeable front post (although this is cast as part of the barrel on the replica). Whilst the earlier MkIV was known for being used extensively during the Boer War, the MkVI became synonymous with The Great War, entering service with British and Commonwealth troops in 1915. Although production of the MkVI by the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield ceased in 1932 (Webley & Scott had stopped production in 1921), this powerful revolver was still to be relied upon by soldiers in World War Two alongside its replacement, the Enfield No.2 MkI (source: Wikipedia).

Gun Heaven Webley MKVI

Packaging and Presentation 4.5 / 5

The gun is held securely in place using bubble-wrap inside an attractive cardboard box. Six “cartridges” are provided along with a detailed user manual that covers operation, field-stripping, a specification comparison between the CO2 replica and the “real steel” … and film and game credits! This last one is a rather novel idea, but hardly surprising seeing as how this pistol has featured in so many films over the years.

Excerpts from the User Manual (2014 – far left) … and Small Arms Training Pamphlet, Vol.I, No.11 (1937)

This movie list is repeated on the back of the box along with a brief history of the original firearm. From “The Lost Patrol” to “A Million Ways to Die in the West” (have not seen that one… yet!) and from “Doctor Who” to “Dad’s Army” (two of my favourite shows as a boy… and ones which I am revisiting in middle age!) the Webley Mk VI Revolver has featured in so many productions (even when it should not have, owing to the fact it did not yet exist!) that it is extremely difficult – nigh impossible! – to know which to illustrate here. However, it would be ridiculous not to give at least a couple of examples; so courtesy of that fountain of knowledge the “IMFDB”…

Col. Durnford (Burt Lancaster) taking aim (both eyes open) in “Zulu Dawn” …

… and she’s got two! Anna Barnes-Leatherwood (Charlize Theron) in “A Million Ways to Die in the West” (… and who said shooting is just for boys!)

… and finally a shot (excuse the pun!) from a film set in this part of the world — Captain Hornsby (Denholm Elliott) traipsing through the jungle in “Too Late the Hero”

Another excellent idea – and one which I have not seen before – is the inclusion of the facsimile Small Arms Training Pamphlet (Vol. I, No.11) dated 1937, specific to the Webley MkVI. However, the only reason I have not given full marks (and I am being very “fussy” here!) is I would love to see an imitation cartridge box provided with replicas of such historically important guns. Admittedly, I have only ever seen this with the Tokyo Marui 1911A1, but it struck me as being another rather enterprising idea.

Visual Accuracy 8.5 / 10

This replica is, at first glance, identical to the original firearm. My first thoughts were, should you be the curator of a museum wishing to save a little money, then you need look no further than the Webley MkVI replica!

However, there are some very minor differences which I will highlight here. I should like to stress that none of these were at all immediately apparent. The photos with the blue background are part of a larger collection of immaculate British revolvers I found at the “TIR et COLLECTION Armes Règlementaires” forum, a link to which is given at the end of this review.

Photo (top) courtesy of tircollection.com

On the left-hand side everything would appear to be exactly the same, except for the hammer which, when at rest on the replica, sits slightly proud of the firing pin. Mine comes in what is known as a “weathered” finish and, in my opinion, adds significantly to the authenticity of the gun. The original usually featured a selection of proofing marks and stamps – for example, on the cylinder cam as given above – which are not on the replica. Furthermore, the rear sight appears to be slightly higher, but that may well be intentional as it shoots using a perfectly balanced sight picture.

Three well-defined stamps/ engravings may be found on the left-hand side of the frame. Both the “Mark VI” stamped above the cylinder and the “Webley” patent stamp, correctly identified as 1915, below the cylinder are exactly as would be found on the cartridge firing original; having the calibre stamped on the barrel is something I have not seen, at least on the images I have found, but in my opinion does not look at all out of place.

After all, it could be to distinguish it from the MkIV, reintroduced in 1942 in .38 inch calibre and which bears more than a passing resemblance to a scaled-down MkVI — if one of those is in the pipeline, perhaps with an alternative grip style featuring either the “Webley” logo or “bird’s beak” grips — than I for one would certainly like to have the pair.

Photo (top) courtesy of tircollection.com

A few other minor discrepancies are also noticeable on the right-hand side; namely a screw instead of a pin on which the barrel catch pivots and a pin missing to the rear of the cylinder near the top of the grips. The grips on the replica are of black plastic; I assume Bakelite would have been used on the original. Also, as mentioned previously, the front post is cast as part of the barrel whereas it is held in place by a screw on the original.

The serial number is stamped on the frame above and to the rear of the trigger guard. It actually took me some time to find out exactly where they were placed on the original. My search culminated with the Imperial War Museum website and the Webley MkVI used by author J.R.R Tolkien during World War One (a link to the IWM website is given at the end of this review):

Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, London: © IWM (FIR 11492)

As can be seen, the serial number was stamped on the edge of the cylinder (photo above) as well as underneath the gun, forward of the trigger guard (photo below):

Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, London: © IWM (FIR 11492)

N.B.: The screw for the trigger guard is not included on the replica

The shells, whilst marked “Webley .455” are nearly the same size as those of the “.38 inch” WinGun “7-Series” with an outside shell casing diameter of 9.6 +/- 0.05 mm for the Webley as against to 9.4 mm for the WinGun. However, the lead-coloured rubber “bullet” into which the BB is fitted is slightly shorter than that of the 7-Series “.38” (I believe the “7-Series” is what the Dan Wesson replicas are based upon).

Left to right: WinGun .177, WinGun 6mm, Webley 6mm and Nagant M1895 6mm

Please note that some Webley 6mm shells (not shown) have a smaller diameter hole which will reduce muzzle velocity

It certainly looks the part… and performs, too

Operational and Functional Accuracy 15 / 15

Apart from using CO2 as a propellant, operation is exactly the same as that of the original. A CO2 capsule is inserted by removing the right-hand side grip. There is a notch in the base for this purpose. The lanyard swivel, which doubles as a piercing screw, is then gently tightened without piercing the capsule. I then like to replace the grip before tightening the screw further in order to pierce the CO2. Capsules are pierced cleanly and efficiently and it holds its charge well.

BBs are pushed into the front of each “cartridge” and held firmly in place by the rubber “bullet”. Pressing on the barrel catch allows the barrel and cylinder to swivel forward. Cartridges are then loaded – if dropped into place there is a faint metallic “ring” – and the barrel/ cylinder swung back into place with a positive, metallic “click”. You really could be forgiven for forgetting this replica is made of alloy as against steel!

The Webley MkVI, as per the original, may be fired in both single and double action. Once firing has been completed, the cylinder is again swung open and the cartridges raised automatically by the extractor. If the barrel is pushed fully forward, then the extractor will return to its closed position.

A shell being extracted. Although marked “.455” it is in fact more akin to a .38”

Inset: BBs are held firmly in place by the rubber “bullet”

Field-stripping instructions are provided in the user manual. This is much more straightforward than I imagined it would be. With the shells removed, the bottom screw below the cylinder cam assembly is removed and the cam rotated in a clockwise direction. The cylinder then “pops-up” when the barrel is fully opened and can be removed.

Indicating the screw which unlocks the cylinder cam

Shooting 35 / 40

Most of my shooting to date – nearly 600 rounds through six CO2 capsules – has been done in single-action using both a one and two handed grip (the targets shown have all been using two hands). Double-action was a little stiff at first, but is improving with use and practice. The pistol has a real “heft” to it, although with a tendency to fall forward if not held with a firm grip; just like the original, I should imagine. I weighed mine using digital scales and, correcting for spent CO2, this came to 1062 grams (loaded) which equates to 2.34 lbs (an original would be 2.4 lbs, unloaded).

The fixed sights provide a good, clear sight picture; even in low light and without my specs on! As mentioned previously, the rear sight is slightly higher on the replica, but I should imagine this is intentional as it results in a point of aim equaling point of impact.

When target shooting, then the front post should be in focus, not the rear sight.

A clear sight picture with POA (top of post) = POI

I initially shot using .25g (FireFly) BBs. Although obtaining reasonably good results at six yards with a grouping of about 1.5 to 2 inches and mean score of 37 based on sets of five shots at the standard Umarex Boys Club target, which is scaled for use at this distance, I soon discovered that heavier .40g (FireFly) balls resulted in a marked improvement as shown in the following photo:

.40g 6mm BBs at six yards using a two-handed grip.

The grouping on target four is ⅝ inch centre to centre. The inset shows the chrono reading from shot #41

Although muzzle velocity was rather inconsistent for the first few shots, it soon settled to approximately 370 +/- 20 fps using .40g 6mm BBs in a relatively cool (for Thailand!) 27°C. In fact, by about half-way through the capsule of CO2, readings were even more consistent at around 385 +/- 5 fps. At least 90 goods shots may be had from a capsule of CO2. However, it had been a few days prior to this that I first decided to swap to the heavier ammunition… just after I had shot my 10m UBC competition!

All shot at 10m. The targets on the left using .25g, the rest using .40g.

The target in the centre, whilst not being a high score, has groupings of 1 ⅜ inch and ¾ inch (not counting the flier) top and bottom respectively

Whether it is a little less powerful than the 4.5mm version, I am not sure. It is certainly perfectly adequate for my needs, being just right for my “Biscuit Tin” range with shots easily connecting with the single lid which presents an eight inch diameter target at twenty yards. What is also worthy of note is that, thanks to the slightly higher power than is usually associated with 6mm replica guns, on pulling the trigger you immediately hear the impact against the tin lid in the distance, making it much more suitable (and fun!) for plinking in the garden (neighbours permitting).

There is even a puff of “smoke”, noticeable at night, from the  rear of the cylinder and barrel. Whether this might indicate an imperfect seal between the CO2 valve and cartridge, I would not like to say as the pistol is remarkably efficient in its consumption of CO2 and the marriage between the two with the cylinder closed appears to be fine; anyway, it looks kind of cool. The pistol is not particularly loud.

Quality and Reliability 14 / 15

It is really too soon to form a proper opinion, but to date the pistol has operated flawlessly. What has to be remembered is that, although no doubt made of a very good quality and durable alloy, it is still made of alloy and not steel. The only thing I could mention is that there is a very slight lateral movement in the barrel where it pivots with the frame, but this is not worsening with use and disappears when the barrel is snapped shut. Furthermore, I would be very surprised if the original did not have some minor movement at this point, too — these guns were built to operate in the worst conditions possible; reliability as opposed to fine tolerance was the order of the day.

The cylinder comes lightly greased and there are no signs of wear to the pawl teeth.

Right – view through the smooth bore barrel

The wide indexing pawl, cylinder stop and valve gasket.

Right – Please note the steel insert in the hammer where it strikes the “firing pin” (this reinforcing pin is to be found on all the WinGun/ Gun Heaven replicas I own)

Overall Impression 15 / 15

I have decided on full marks for this section since, if anything, this pistol has surpassed my expectations — and they were high. Having been so impressed by this smoothbore version of the Webley MkVI, I must admit that I am more than a little keen to see the .177 pellet version one day. Also, as mentioned above, should the manufacturers decide to modify things somewhat to produce a MkIV to accompany the MkVI, then in my opinion they would definitely make a great pair!

Introduced in 1915, this gun was issued to men who were expected to endure the unimaginable horrors of World War One. Most of these men were not professional soldiers, but ordinary people from all walks of life who when called upon, did their duty, many of them never to return home. Terrible sacrifices were made on both sides; not only must this never be forgotten, we must ensure that it never happens again.

On a less serious note, I feel immense credit is due to Gun Heaven/ Toubo/ WinGun and Webley for deciding to work together in order to revisit the original design and thence develop what can only be described as a thoroughly authentic, fully functioning replica of the Webley MkVI Service Revolver; one which should appeal not only to shooters and collectors of replica firearms like myself, but also to those who may otherwise not be particularly interested in replica pistols such as full-bore and other shooting enthusiasts, military historians, readers of classic late 19th and early 20th Century fiction and, last but not least, avid television and movie fans!

Total 92 / 100

Review by Adrian. Adrian is also a moderator for the Umarex Boys Club Forums.                   

Related posts

Nagant M1895 Revolver review

Umarex Colt Single Action Army revolver review

Links

http://www.tircollection.com/t7678-revolvers-british

http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30034679

How to make your BB shooting replica more accurate

I like BB shooting replicas.  The use of BBs makes it possible to replicate the function of semi-auto firearms more accurately than is possible in replicas that shoot pellets.  However, I find it frustrating that so few BB replicas shoot well.  One of the first replicas I owned was a Tanfoglio Witness, and I loved its heavy weight and the way it felt just like a cartridge firing 1911.  But I found it irritating that, even at six yards, it scattered BBs over a 5” circle.  Given that current replicas are generally well made, surely they can be made to shoot with a little more accuracy than that?

The main problem here is consistency.  Pellet shooting replicas are good at sending pellets on a very similar trajectory every shot, leading to satisfactorily small groups.  BB shooters are affected by tiny imperfections in BBs and the barrel which leads variation in the trajectory of the BBs and larger groups.  But there are things you can do to make your BB shooting replica produce smaller groups.

How does it all work?

The first thing to consider is what happens when a pellet or BB travels down the barrel of an air or airsoft gun.  A .177” pellet (or a .177” lead ball) fits tightly into the barrel of an air gun and is squeezed against the rifling on the inner surface of the barrel.  When you fire the gun, gas pressure builds up behind the pellet until this is sufficient to overcome the friction holding the pellet against the sides of the barrel.  When the pellet starts to move forward, the rifling also causes it to spin.  When the pellet leaves the end of the barrel, it continues to spin, improving stability.  The friction caused by the pellet being squeezed against the sides of the barrel is the reason that pellets always leave the barrel with less speed than BBs.  The accuracy (or otherwise) of your pellet shooting airgun is largely dependent on how accurately the barrel was made in the first place and how much the rifling has eroded over time.  A build-up of deposits on the rifling can cause some minor degree of inconsistency in the flight of the pellet (though some lead build-up can actually improve accuracy), but generally the most important factor is how straight the barrel is in the first place.

Shooting a pellet in a rifled barrel

Now let’s look at what happens when you shoot a BB through a smoothbore barrel (I’ll talk about shooting BBs in rifled barrels in a moment).  And it doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about a 4.5mm steel BB or a 6 or 8mm plastic BB, the mechanics are the same.  The BB does not fit tightly inside the barrel.  A typical 6mm airsoft BB for example, is actually around 5.95mm external diameter while the barrel on most modern airsoft guns is anywhere from 6.04 – 6.08mm internal diameter.  So when the gas is pushing the BB down the barrel, some leaks past the BB and forms a thin layer of gas between the BB and the inside of the barrel.  Because of this, the BB doesn’t actually touch the sides of the barrel at all and this thin layer of gas actually helps to stabilize the BB and keep it travelling straight.

Shooting a BB in a smoothbore barrel

There are couple of things to think about here.  First, barrel length.  It takes time for the BB to stabilize on the layer of gas.  When it first enters the barrel, the BB tends to bounce off the inner sides of the barrel, especially if it hits a hop-up rubber on the way.  After it has travelled some distance, this bouncing is dampened down and the BB stabilizes in the centre of the barrel.  There is some argument about how long a barrel must be in order for the BB to stabilize fully, but most people seem to agree that anything less than around 70mm (a little under three inches) is unlikely to allow the BB to stabilize completely.  In general terms, the longer the barrel, the better stabilized the BB will be when it leaves the muzzle.

The second thing to consider is hop-up.  Most airsoft guns and some steel BB shooting guns have hop-up.  This is a rubber nub inside the barrel and close to the breech.  The nub is located on the top of the barrel and projects inside.  As a BB travels down the barrel, it strikes the rubber nub which causes it to spin backwards.  This backspin helps to overcome the force of gravity and allows the BB to maintain a flatter trajectory after it leaves the muzzle.  On many guns, the amount which the nub projects into the barrel (and therefore the amount of backspin) can be adjusted.  Most people will tell you that the effects of hop-up are not evident at ranges below 10m, but I haven’t found this to be entirely true.  Even when shooting at 6m, I have found that adjusting hop-up can affect the vertical point of impact of BBs by an inch or so.  However, hop-up initially de-stabilises the path of the BB through the barrel.  So, on a gun with hop-up, it may take more distance for the BB to stabilize.

Hop-up nub inside the barrel of 4.5mm ASG CZ75

OK, now let’s talk briefly about shooting steel 4.5mm BBs through a rifled barrel.  Some pellet shooting guns can also fire steel BBs.  Many manufacturers and some suppliers talk about .177” and 4.5mm as if they’re the same calibre.  They are not – a 4.5mm steel BB is notably smaller than a .177” pellet.  If you shoot a steel BB through a .177” rifled barrel, it is not large enough to engage with the rifling.  Instead, just as in a smoothbore barrel, it floats on a layer of gas in the centre of the barrel.  However, the flow of this layer of gas is much less stable than on a smoothbore barrel because of the rifling which causes it to swirl and tumble.  Also, as it initially enters the barrel and bounces off the sides, the hard steel BB can cause erosion and damage to rifling over time.  A BB will always leave the barrel travelling faster than a pellet because of the lack of friction, but in my experience, I have not come across any replica air pistol which shoots BBs accurately though a rifled barrel.  The higher speed at which BBs travel is unimportant and because of the lack of accuracy and the possibility of damaging rifling, I’d suggest that you shoot steel BBs only in guns which have smoothbore barrels and only shoot pellets or .177” lead balls in those which have rifled barrels.

Left, shooting eight .177” pellets from a replica with a rifled barrel (in this case, an Umarex H&K P30) at 25 feet, aim point is the centre of the black circle. Right, same replica, same range, same aim point but this time using eight steel 4.5mm BBs. As you can see, the steel BBs give notably less accuracy.

How to improve things

Right, so, now we know how it all works, how can we make our BB shooting guns more accurate?  If we’re talking about airsoft guns, the first thing many people think about is a tightbore barrel.  As the name suggests, these are aftermarket barrels which have a smaller internal diameter than the original.  That sounds good in theory, but I’m not totally convinced.  The critical thing that determines how straight your BB will travel is how well the BB stabilizes inside the barrel. Part of what determines this is the size of the layer of gas between the outside of the BB and the inside of the barrel.  Too big a layer is bad and can cause the BB to be unstable.  But, too small a gap is also bad and can prevent the BB from stabilizing fully.  If you do fit a tightbore barrel, you can expect to see your replica shooting with more power – less gas is lost round the BB and so more is available to propel it down the barrel.  However, I suspect that most accuracy gains which users report after fitting these parts come as much from improved tolerances in the manufacturing process used when making these aftermarket barrels compared to the processes used in creating the original barrel as from the tightness of their bore.  An expensive aftermarket barrel may be straighter than a more cheaply made original part (though there is no guarantee of this) but if the bore is too tight, it can actually make consistency worse.

If you don’t want to buy new bits, what else can you do?  Well, there are two things that affect the way the BB travels down the barrel. The first is the quality of the BB itself.  The layer of gas between the BB and the barrel is very thin – around 0.05mm.  That’s equivalent to about the width of two human hairs.  So, any tiny imperfection in the BB which is spinning after hitting the hop-up rubber can cause instability in the flow of gas and may cause the BB to move erratically in the barrel.  The closer to being perfectly spherical that your BBs are, the more consistently they will shoot.  If you can see seams or other moulding marks on your BBs, they are obviously not going to perform well. 

This is a pair of cheap and very nasty Chinese 6mm plastic BBs with clearly visible seams and moulding marks.  Very few 6mm BBs are this obviously crap, but no matter how good your replica, it’s never going to shoot consistently with poor quality BBs.

However, even if they look glossy and smooth, not all BBs are equal.  In general, you should avoid brightly coloured or transparent BBs (especially those which have visible bubbles of air inside them), any small packs of BBs which are supplied with an airsoft gun and any BBs which are not identified by weight.  Most BBs which are made in Japan are good as are the majority from Taiwan.  In my experience, Chinese BBs can be of comparatively poor quality and should generally be avoided.  Just because it says “Precision” or “High Quality” on the packaging is no guarantee that BBs are good.  Be prepared to try different brands and pay a little more for quality plastic BBs and when you can, choose those from manufacturers you recognize (Guarder and KWA, for example, produce very high quality 6mm BBs).

Hopefully, it’s also obvious that re-using plastic BBs isn’t a good idea. The plastic used to manufacture 6 and 8 mm BBS is fairly soft, so they tend to develop flat spots when they hit a target. This of course makes them unstable if you re-use them. While we’re talking about plastic BBs, it’s also worth thinking about weight. In general, the heavier the BB, the more stable it will be and so the smaller groupings you’ll see. You may have to experiment with different weights of BB to find one that works best for you, but the table below gives a general guide to the most appropriate weight BBs to use in your replica. The fps figures are based on the speed when shooting with standard 0.2g BBs.

Under 300 fps: 0.12g

300 – 350 fps: 0.2g

350-400fps: 0.25g

400-450fps: 0.28g

450 – 500fps: 0.36g

Over 500fps: 0.43g

I haven’t found the same variation in quality with 4.5mm BBs.  Most steel BBs from the big producers seem to be of very high and consistent quality with few blemishes or imperfections whether they say Blaster, Umarex, Crosman or ASG on the pack.  I tend to avoid steel BBs from unknown manufacturers – there are Chinese steel BBs around and though I haven’t tried them, I’d probably like to keep it that way.  I don’t use copper coated BBs because I find that they leave deposits on the inside of the barrel, though I know that many other shooters use them without problems.  I also don’t use lead balls in guns with smoothbore barrels intended for steel BBs either.  These lead balls are slightly larger than the 4.5mm steel BBs and they are often not perfectly spherical (or even if they start out that way, the soft lead can deform as they move through the feed system).  They also tend to leave deposits on the inside of the barrel. Lead balls are fine in rifled barrels, but generally not good in guns with smoothbore barrels.

The second thing that affects the way in which a BB travels down the barrel is the cleanliness of that barrel.  On a smoothbore barrel, any tiny speck of dust or other contamination on the inside surface can cause disruption to gas flow which will affect BB stability.  I have found that cleaning the inner barrel is the best way to quickly improve groupings and to reduce the number of flyers on any BB shooting gun.  Even a new replica will likely have traces of packing grease inside the barrel.

Cleaning the inner barrel is very simple.  Remove the barrel if possible, or at least dismantle the replica so that you can easily access both ends of the inner barrel.  If your replica has adjustable hop-up, turn it completely off (i.e. so that the rubber nub protrudes as little as possible into the barrel).  Make a simple pull-through using a piece of cord or string and a piece of clean, absorbent cloth. Do be careful what you use for a pull-through – many inner barrels are made of very light alloy and it’s frighteningly easy to cut the end of the barrel if you use a hard cord or wire pull-through. Soak the cloth in warm water which has a little washing-up liquid in it and pull through several times.  Finish off by doing the same again with a clean, dry piece of cloth.  That’s it!  Re-adjust the hop-up, re-fit the barrel and you will now have an inner barrel which is free of particles or deposits which are likely to affect the stability of the BB.

Cleaning the barrel from an ASG CZ75

Use top quality BBs and try shooting your replica after cleaning the barrel (and after re-adjusting the hop-up if fitted) and I think you’ll notice a marked improvement.  Groups should be noticeably smaller. Gas flow is critical on any BB shooter and gas flow through the barrel and around the BB is the single place where you can generate the most marked improvement.  Go on, give it a try.  And let me know if it works for you.

Related Posts

Are all steel BBs the same?