Power Pellets 2
… John Milewski evaluates the .22 BSA Sporting Model from 1909
John Milewski compares a .25 BSA with an almost identical .22
Last month, we took a rare .25 calibre BSA Improved Model D from 1908 to the range and the sheer kinetic energy of this ‘big bore’ BSA was demonstrated on a water-filled tin can. At a tad under 11 ft.lbs., the tin was launched into the air with quite spectacular force.
So we can see that the .25 works. We also saw the rifle was accurate, but did require a fair bit of aiming off at varying ranges to get the best out of it. This month, we’ll compare the results with the .25 against a .22 from 1909 with the same length cylinder. The rifle on test is almost identical to the .25, other than the calibre and stock profile.
After starting off with H&N FTT pellets, I experienced tighter groups and less recoil with Marksman and set the sights for 6 yards with these pre-war designed pellets. I commenced testing by taking opportunist shots at a number of targets placed between 6 and 25 yards away. These targets consisted of 40 mm discs, ½-inch bells and a few pellet tin lids on strings. It soon became apparent that virtually no aiming off was required because the trajectory of the .22 is flat, out to roughly 25 yards before the pellets start to drop a little. Straight away, we can see why BSA dropped the .25 from their range in favour of the flatter shooting .22. Both produce roughly the same power, but the .22 shoots a lot flatter. The .25 begins to descend substantially after 30 yards or more, whereas the .22 will still group at 55 yards, albeit an aperture sight and knowing the exact range helps at this extreme range.
“pistol hand profiles are preferred by target shooters due to their shape”
A CHOICE OF STOCK PROFILE
As to overall handling, the .25 on test was fitted with a straight hand stock, whilst the .22 had a pistol hand stock. BSA made a point of stating the .22 was only available with a pistol hand stock, whereas other BSAs had the option of a straight hand stock, too. As stocks were interchangeable, straight hand stocks also fitted the .22 action, but are rarely seen fitted to these long-cylindered rifles today. Some shooters have a preference for one over the other, but I don’t. I like both because either one can be used successfully. Generally speaking, straight hand stocks might suit shooters with smaller hands, or those requiring shotgun-like, fast target acquisition, whilst pistol hand profiles are preferred by target shooters due to their shape offering better
control of the trigger. The long-cylindered .25 and .22 BSAs on test both felt muzzle heavy because both exceed 45 inches in overall length with much of the weight towards the muzzle. This differs to more modern designs and many shooters prefer the sensation of extra weight up front because it helps to keep the rifle steady. Match shooters today have the option of adding weight to both pistols and rifles, so the idea is not old hat.
Both rifles were fitted with identical BSA No 10 backsights and bead foresights. I found both required their backsights to be set at their lowest setting and my prominent cheek bone tended to result in a little too much pressure against the stock in order to view the sights comfortably. BSA addressed this slight shortcoming by offering different sized foresights as the Improved Model D developed, and on later models a taller foresight took some of that cheek pressure away by providing more adjustment.
THE RISE OF THE .22
The long-cylindered .22 Sporting Model replaced the .25 in 1909 and the latter was .22 was probably the right one as the latter is a better all-round option. With a higher muzzle velocity and retaining far more kinetic energy than shorter cylindered .177 BSAs, the .22 remained popular with shooters requiring a powerful sporting rifle. The .22 was popular with long-range target shooters too, as cased sets consisting of aperture-sighted rifles and their accessories attest to.
I am sure this was not the most technical of tests ever undertaken with the two calibres, but it was certainly one of the most enjoyable. I found the .22 more versatile and accurate, just as BSA did over a century ago. The .25 was a little pellet fussy, but certainly capable of producing good groups with the right pellet. The punch it packs is worthy of the larger calibre’s mythical reputation and if you are fortunate enough to acquire one, please treasure it because the .25 is a valuable collectors’ item as well as a rifle that can be successfully used on the range.
Factory-cased sets consisting of target-sighted .22 BSA air rifles such as this example were popular with long-range airgunners of yesteryear.
Original mainsprings were stamped with the BSA trademark as an indication of quality. A cut-down Airsporter spring is a suitable replacement.
The ‘2’ below the serial number is short for No 2 and denotes calibre on this early BSA .22.
The .22 is capable of achieving satisfying groups at 6 yards from the standing position.
At 45¾ inches long, both the .25 BSA and this .22 are long rifles, but with most of the weight towards the front, they are easy to keep on aim.
As the .22 BSA developed, a range of foresight heights became available, each being marked with a number for identification. Image courtesy of Eddie Marrian.
This original packet of BSA Adder pellets is probably worth almost as much as the rifle!
The BSA No 10 backsight was graduated up to 50 yards, but rarely do the factory inscriptions match the rifle’s performance with modern pellets.