The Bullshooter

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Rise and Fall of the XS40 Sporter Air Rifle

Nothing has shaken up the 3-Position Sporter Air Rifle program here in the US like the arrival of the Daisy Valiant XS40 pre-charged air rifle. When it was introduced 5 years ago there was widespread grumbling to almost outright rebellion amongst junior program coaches who saw it as the beginning of an equipment race that would escalate costs to remain competitive - and the whole concept of Sporter Class was to keep the equipment affordable for the myriad of 4-H, Boy Scout, Jaycees, JROTC, NRA and USAS-based programs.

With the introduction of the XS40, ceiling cost of eligible rifles jumped from $200 to $350. It did not stop there, either. With the fall of the US Dollar against the Euro on top of raised factory prices the ceiling had to be lifted again to $475.

Last year Daisy announced that it was no longer supplying the XS40, and the 3-P Council stated that any rifles after a certain serial number would no longer be eligible for competition. What follows is a blow-by-blow account of the rifle's checkered career, its teething problems, personality and its strengths.

The XS40 was based on the CZ 200 - a mid powered pre-charged air rifle marketed primarily in England and Europe. It was fitted with accessory rail for a single point sling, as well as Gamo target sights. The stock was made adjustable both in cheekpiece height and length of pull, with the use of spacers. Velocity was set to just over 570fps, giving 90 to 110 shots of fairly consistent velocity from a fully charged cylinder.

The fact that it did not have a regulator was the only reason I can see that a pre-charged rifle could be produced so cheaply. The system works okay at 10m velocities. There is a slow spread of velocity, starting at around 570fps when the cylinder is full, at 200 BAR (or just under 3000psi). It slowly increases to about 590fps when half full, and tapers back down to 570 by the time cylinder pressure has dropped to about 120 BAR. This spread of velocity does not make any appreciable difference to the fall of shot at 10m, although to continue to shoot below 120 BAR will result in shots dropping low.

Some shooters tried to increase velocity by winding up the hammer spring to shoot FT and metallic silhouette. This had two unfortunate results; a far wider spread of velocity, and a much reduced number of shots from the cylinder. But in its standard guise it was acceptable as far as accuracy was concerned, if a little more picky about the pellets that worked well when compared to the Walther-barreled Daisy 853, 753 and 888.

With the arrival of the first batch of rifles it became clear that somebody had some funny ideas about the physiology of junior shooters. I'm 6'4", and the length of pull, before any spacers were added, was about right for me. Added to this, when the Gamo rear sight was fitted to the receiver, it was almost impossible to get the head in a position to see through the sight. Even with no spacers fitted, the cheekpiece was too high.

So for the first batch of rifles Daisy had to rush sets of riser blocks from England to make them usable. Riser blocks are normally not allowed in Sporter Class, and an exception was made for the serial range of those rifles in the rule book.

The next batch of rifles had shorter stocks with lower set cheekpieces. Unfortunately the extra spacers that were now going to be needed, were only produced after months of waiting. Many coaches made their own.

All the drama was not yet done with however. With no notice, the original metal trigger shoes were replaced with molded plastic trigger shoes. These shoes were adjustable on a trigger bar to allow for setting up the correct reach for each individual shooter. It was locked in place by a screw pinching the opposing parts of the top of the shoe onto the trigger bar. This worked fine while the shoe was metal, but the slippery plastic shoes (needing more tension to stop them from moving on the bar) would snap like a carrot when the screw was tightened. Larger headed screws, that spread the load more evenly, eventually solved the problem, but not before a bunch of trigger shoes bit the dust.

About the same time, another engineering surprise was the replacement of the rear stock mounting bolt, which changed from a conventional slotted screw head (that anybody could tighten if it became loose) to a slotted hollow nut over a threaded rod, that now required a special two-pronged tool.

But the biggest headache yet was brought about by somebody (allegedly in the CZ factory) taking it on themselves to "improve" the trigger release weight. Of course, this only surfaced when several brand new rifles failed pre-competition inspection at a major shoot when they failed to pick up the minimum 1 1/2 pound weight. The wailing and gnashing of teeth by frustrated coaches could be heard echoing all around the range. Closely followed by similar wailing etc at Daisy, after we discovered the cause of the problem... not one, but two springs had been changed in the trigger unit, and one of them could only be changed back by completely stripping the trigger parts from the receiver. And no small number of this new batch of rifles had already been shipped to junior programs all over the country.

It gets even better. When discovering the trigger was too light, the coach would logically think that he could increase trigger weight by following the instructions in the owners manual (which were at best misleading). By doing so he would logically wind the so-called weight adjusting screw all the way through the receiver body to fall inside, leaving both screw and associated spring floating around the guts of the action. And needing a special tool to remove the butt stock to gain access to it.

More accurate trigger adjustment instructions can be found on Pilkguns' TenP pages.

Somewhere along the line the forend slipped my mind. The first few batches of rifles had the forend attached from underneath, into the front of the receiver, with a disappointingly insubstantial looking hex-headed screw. Remember now, the accessory rail is mounted on the underside of the forend, in which the sling swivel is clamped. You could grab the front of that forend and waggle it from side to side with very little pressure. Of course the air cylinder provided a sort of built-in waggle-limiter. This was not the most conducive to accurate prone shooting however.

Smarter coaches would train their kids to alter their position as they moved from one column of bulls to the next (shooting on a 12-bull card). If they did not do this, if they simply pushed the rifle sideways to get on target, the difference in side pressure to the forend would cause a change in the point of impact.

Eventually the forend design was changed to incorporate a forward clamp that fixed the front of the forend to the barrel. This improved the group shifting a little, but the clamp could not be retro-fitted to an existing forend, a complete new forend assembly had to be purchased.

Apart from these minor problems, everything was plain sailing.

Or was it?

There was the batch of brass fill adapters that had not been properly threaded to accept the air cylinder. And the cylinders that developed slow leaks through the pressure gauge at the front, sometimes pinging off the plastic gauge cover. We believe this was caused by some seals that were past their use-by date, as many of them leaked from new. Then there was the front sight base, that started out metal, but was suddenly changed to a plastic piece. When locking it to the barrel with the set screw it was very easy to crack the whole piece if it was not tightened very carefully.

Through all of this Daisy bent over backwards to keep these rifles in operation. I must stress that Daisy had no part in the manufacture of them, they imported them specifically to supply Sporter Class teams, and they took their responsibilities very seriously in a difficult situation. I am certain that the whole junior program is run at a loss by Daisy, but in the end the losses with this model simply mounted too high. This is why I believe the XS40 was retired.

After looking at just the negatives, it's important that I try to balance the account somewhat, because a lot of teams around the country have benefited greatly from buying and using these rifles.

The obvious advantage of a pre-charge is that the shooter does not have to move out of position between shots while shooting in the prone position to recock and load the next shot. The old Daisy 853 (and its fancier-stocked and sighted 753 brother), being single stroke pneumatic, forced the kids to roll on their side to work the compression lever. In fact some of the smaller kids lacked the strength to close the lever.

The stock adjustments made it easier to fit the rifle to the shooter.

The trigger was vastly superior to the standard trigger in the 853 family.

And despite the sorry list of problems, they occurred over several years and by no means affected all that were imported, which amounted to thousands of units.

Looking to the future for Sporter Class, what does the future hold? I hear Daisy is developing an adjustable stock for the excellent CO2-powered Model 888. And John McCaslin of AirForce is working on a pre-charged air rifle as we speak. I hope to have news of its development very soon.


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