Thursday, January 30, 2020

Product Review: Beeman Black Cub 1022 Air Rifle

While shopping for Christmas gifts a couple of months ago, I found myself wandering down the sporting goods aisle of a local Walmart. Their selection of ammunition has changed recently and I can find better prices online, so I don't wander that area much any more, but I was looking for a gift. I stopped at the air gun display and took a good look at what they had to offer since I've been looking for something to use for pest removal at work. Due to various safety and other concerns I'm limited to an air rifle and lead pellets for this task, and I had been thinking of getting an inexpensive gun to leave in the office. 

Air guns have a place in a prepper's arsenal. Quieter than a firearm, they can be used for harvesting small game at close range. Their low recoil makes them a good choice for training, and many are made with child-sized stocks for the younger shooters. Ammunition is cheap, and as long as you buy a brand name it is fairly accurate. The lack of propellant makes the shot-to-shot variation smaller, so they can be very accurate weapons.  They are also exempt from a lot of the regulations associated with firearms.
I found the Beeman “Black Cub” air rifle, also marked “Beeman 1022”, for less than $80. This package included the rifle, both .177 and .22 caliber barrels, and a cheap 4x32 scope. It is a “break-barrel” design, which means you grab the front of the barrel and pull it down to compress a spring in the action. This also presents the “chamber” of the barrel for loading a single pellet before you return the barrel to the firing position. It's a simple design, and that's one of the things I was looking for. Single shot works fine for the type of shooting I intend to do with this rifle, and the single-stroke cocking is quicker than a multi-pump pellet gun. I also like the option of switching calibers; the .177 is more common, but in my experience the .22 tends to be more lethal on pest-sized targets.

Once I got the box to the office, it was simple to switch the barrel to the .22 cal. Using the hex key supplied, I loosened a set screw on the bottom of the front of the action just ahead of the pivot and pulled the barrel out of the action. The other barrel slid in easily, and tightening the set screw locked it in place. The instructions did warn that the rifle sights will not hold zero between barrel swaps, so I'll have to sight it in again after each swap.

A few points of interest:
  • There is a threaded cap on the end of the palm grip that opens to a hollow space for storing the hex key and spare parts (they included a spare set screw and O-ring for the barrel seat in small bag).
  • The fixed sights both have light-gathering plastic inserts. The front sight has an orange bar and the rear sight has two green bars. This is not a bad set-up, but does require fairly bright light to work.
  • The front sight is fixed and protected by a metal shroud, which is handy since that's where you need to grasp the barrel to cock the rifle.
  • The rear sight is adjustable for windage and elevation. Use a small flat-head screwdriver to loosen the locking screws and manually adjust the sight, then tighten the screws back down. This is not a very accurate or secure type of rear sight, and the lack of any makings makes adjustments a guessing game.
  • The plastic stock is light, but it seems to be sturdy enough for moderate use. I'm not looking for a battle rifle and I doubt I'll have to butt-stroke a dying rat, so this will work for me.
  • The safety is mounted high on the rear of the action and automatically engages when you cock the rifle. It takes a few times to get used to having to push the button in before each shot.

The first thing I did after installing the .22 barrel was sight in the rifle. This is where things started to go wrong:
  • I set up a target in a flat field of dirt and used an improvised bench to provide a steady shooting position.
  • My choice of pellets was Crossman Premier Hollow-points, a good target/hunting choice. Not the cheapest, closer to mid-range in price, I've used them in the past.
  • At 50 yards, my spotter couldn't even see where my shots were going. Normally you can see dirt being thrown up near the target if you're not hitting it. We moved the target up to 35 yards with similar results.
  • Placing a full 4x8 sheet of thin plywood behind the target didn't help, the shots were nowhere near it.
  • After several attempts at shifting the windage to the left on a guess, we finally got hits on the plywood. I had to use almost the entire space available to adjust the rear sight enough to get hits near the point of aim.
  • Adjusting elevation wasn't as much of an issue, and I was able to place 5 shots into an quarter-sized group at 35 yards. Not great, but acceptable accuracy for my purposes.

After a test run on our resident flock of sky-rats, I found that the light-gathering sights need almost full sunlight to be useful. Indoors, with limited lighting and dirty windows, the sights were just a dark post and notch. The large size of the front sight (due to the plastic insert) made it difficult to get a good target picture on a bird 4 inches wide at 20 yards. Time to try the scope that came in the box.
  • 4x32 is a low-power scope and the quality of glass in this one was pretty low as well. It came with an amber dust cover, but that reduced the available light even more.
  • The scope required as much adjustment as the fixed sights did, so I'm going to assume that the barrel is bent. This is not what I'd expect from any factory-fresh gun on the market today, even from a Chinese copy of a rifle that Beeman has been making for many years.
  • I did get to teach my apprentice a bit about scopes and how to sight them in. My helper is quite young and uneducated but not stupid.
  • The cross-hairs on the scope were much better than the iron sights, but the lack of accuracy limited me to body shots. I may be old, but hitting a one-inch target (head shots) at 20 yards is something I can still do with any of my rimfire rifles.
  • Two dozen dead birds later, I turned the rifle over to the apprentice and let him have some practice. We'll try the .177 barrel at a later date, once it warms up a bit.

For any real use, this rifle would make a better club than a gun. The bent barrel fresh out of the box, poor accuracy with good ammunition, and typical Chinese fit and finish make this something to avoid wasting prepping money on. This one will stay at work, probably even after I retire in several years.

In preparation for writing, I normally try to do a bit of research. I try to find sources for anything I do a review on, and I like to find better photographs than I can get out of my phone. However, this rifle is about as close to being a “ghost gun” as I have ever seen: no mention of it on Beeman's website, nothing on Walmart's site, no product reviews online. Amazon does have a listing that I finally found, but it has no reviews.

The most likely scenario I can come up with is that it is a Chinese copy of the Beeman RS2 and it didn't sell very well or the quality was so poor that they got tired of having them returned., so it has been moved to the “Clearance” rack in the local store. If I get any extra discretionary money in the near future, I may get the RS2 and see how it compares.

Update: After writing this article, I did another quick search for this rifle and actually found a review. Written a few weeks prior to mine, the review was by someone with a lot more experience with air rifles and his conclusions were close to mine. If you're interested, it's here.

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