Monday, May 24, 2010

Benjamin Marauder Pre-Charged Pneumatic Air Rifle

My Marauder (without barrel band, which I'll explain), Hill Pump, and a selection on pellets it likes.
I think I should start with the box the rifle comes in.  The box is glossy, and pretty classy, with pictures and a list of the rifle’s features.  They stapled the damn thing closed, which I could have lived without, and this lead to me ripping the box trying to get at the rifle.  I don’t have plans on selling mine though.
The rifle was held in the box with open cell foam blocks.  There was an instruction manual, degassing too and instructions, magazine and instructions in the box also, but I have them stashed in another location.  Sorry!
 Bottom of the box shows the rifle's features, and Crosman accessories for their PCP airguns.

The Marauder weighs about 8 pounds, and felt a bit light to me, at least until I put the heavy 10-40x scope on top.  Walking the field target course, it starts to feel pretty heavy.  It does hang pretty steady on the target though.  Still not as bad as the B21 springer (Chinese RWS side-lever clone), that weighed about 9 and a half pounds without a scope. 

The Stock
I could live without the cheekrest on the right side of the stock, but otherwise, I don’t think the stock is as bad as some have opined.  It’s got a matte finish, which I can see offending those who like their stocks mirror polished, but I don’t mind it at all.  I found a few small. . . lumps, in the finish, and a dent in the top rear of the cheekpiece that’s about a quarter inch in diameter and about an eighth inch deep.

The stock fits me (6 foot, 2 inches), pretty well.  It’s a half inch, maybe an inch, too short, but not short enough to be uncomfortable.  The rifle is meant to be scoped so the cheekrest is appropriately high, though somehow sort of uncomfortable.  The cheekrest feels like it’s too far to the left, for this right-handed shooter.

The ventilated buttpad is at about the right height   I’ve heard complaints about the grip being too large, but it places the pad of my index finger on trigger, where I feel that it should be, so I’m not complaining.  Although I’d prefer an adjustable buttstock and cheekrest, and a vertical grip or AR-15 pistol grip, I find the rifle to be much more ergonomic that I had expected.  They seem to have put some effort into getting the ergonomics right, at least for a tallish American.

I was hoping that it wouldn’t be like the Crosman 2289 Backpacker (discontinued; basically a 2250, but a pumper rather than CO2 powered).  The buttpad of the 2289 was several inches too high, and what would be the cheekpiece was more than an inch too low for use with a scope.

The stock comes with sling swivel studs.  The studs only cost a couple dollars each, retail price, but are usually not included with factory rifles or aftermarket stocks.  So the end user ends up paying a gunsmith $20 or so to get them installed, or pays about $30 to purchase a kit for installing swivel studs.  No worries with the Marauder though.

The Magazine
The Marauder is a repeater.  I didn’t think I really needed a magazine-fed air rifle, but when I started shooting in the basement, I remembered that it’s rather difficult to load a rifle when I’m sitting on the stairs.  I could put the pellet tin to my left, on the next higher step, but I’m right-handed, so that really doesn’t work well.  With the magazine, I can just rack the bolt, and keep shooting.

The magazine is pretty simple, but surprisingly difficult to load without first reading the instructions.  With a little practice, it’s not hard to do though, and after you get the first pellet loaded, you no longer have to fight the magazine spring, which is nice.

To load the magazine, involves three steps.
  1. With the clear cover facing you, rotate the cover about 15 degrees short of a full turn clockwise.  This preloads the magazine spring.
  2. While still holding the cover in position, insert a pellet into the 1st position through the slot in the cover, while holding a finger over the hole in the back, or perhaps I should say front end of the magazine.  Once the first pellet is in place, you can release your hold on the clear cover.  The spring tension of the rotor will hold the 1st pellet in place against the body of the magazine.
  3. You can now rotate the clear magazine cover counterclockwise and place pellets in positions 10 through 2 in the rotor through the slot in the cover, and then snap the cover back into position.
It’s fairly simple, but fairly unconventional for someone used to loading box magazines for a firearm from the top.  I had to follow the instructions a two or three time before I caught on.

The magazine will stop you from closing the bolt when there are no more pellets left.  This is to keep you from dry firing when you really want to put a hole in something.

I’m told the Marauder magazine is very similar to the Theoben magazines.  The price of spare Benjamin magazines runs from $9.95-$20 depending on the source.  You can also get a single-shot tray that fits in place of the magazine, and the price is about the same as what the magazines go for.

The Trigger
Out of the box, my Marauder had a first stage of about 1 pound, and a second stage of about a pound and a half.  The first stage was fairly long.  The second stage had a little creep, although the sear engagement appeared to be pretty small.

The trigger reach is somewhat adjustable, by turning the screw at the rear of the trigger housing.  Adjusting the trigger reach with the adjustment screw, you can change the sear engagement, so be careful.  As I said while discussing the stock, I found the trigger reach pretty good right out of the box.

The screw at the front on the trigger housing adjusts the trigger return spring.  Inside the trigger housing, is another spring that serves the same purpose, and it’s not adjustable.  If you leave that internal spring in place, you really don’t need the screw and spring at the front of the trigger housing.  You cannot really use the rifle without either of these trigger return springs though, because the trigger will remain to the rear, and not reset, and the rifle won’t cock again without pushing the trigger forward manually.  I found this out accidentally, having tried the trigger as is, making an adjustment, and then removing the non-adjustable “lawyer spring.”  Without some tension on the front trigger return spring, and no internal return spring, the trigger pull was really too light to be even remotely predictable anyway.

Avv604's Trigger Lightening Post on Meandering Blog - Details on removing the "Lawyer Spring."

The trigger housing, by the way, is not sealed, and I was able to remove the cover without any prying.  There are no tamper-resistant screws involved.  All the adjustment screws have Allen sockets, as do the screws that hold the trigger group onto the rifle action, and the screws that hold the trigger group together.

The trigger group is a tight unit with machined steel parts.  There is very little "slop" in the fit of any of the parts.

I did a little tuning, without the lawyer spring, and I think I got the trigger down to a safe 2nd stage weight of less than 10 ounces, with very little creep.  I have a trigger gage, but I’m not going to bother measuring it until I’m finished tuning.  I think I can get it a little bit lighter, and reduce the creep a little bit more.

I wish that I could get something similar to the Marauder trigger for an AR-15 target rifle.

Cleaning the Barrel
At first, I thought the flyers I was getting with the heavy Premier pellets was from less than stellar shooting (ahem), or a sitting position on the basement stairs that wasn’t so stable.  Those might have been part of it, but I figured that I should try cleaning the bore.  Reading some of the forums, I was finding reports of dirty barrels on Marauders that just came out of the box.  Sure enough, I put about 20 patches through the bore before I got a patch to come out clean.  The first few patches had smudges that were nearly black.  I had only fired about 180 rounds at that point, probably less, and the bore should not have been that dirty.

But here is where the story gets a bit. . . interesting.  To clean the bore, you sort of have to take the rifle apart.  To get a pull-through rod into the bore I had to remove the bolt.  There’s an Allen-head screw that holds the bolt in the breech.  That’s pretty easy to remove; there’s a slot in the side of the breech where you can access this screw when the bolt’s closed.  I had been warned (those forums again) that you can damage the bolt it you don’t back out the screw that’s on the top rear of the breech.  That screw controls the spring pressure on the ball detent that holds the bolt closed.  To get at that screw, I had to remove the scope, and move the B-Square Weaver adapter forward.

Bore was probably quite dirty before I even shot anything.
But wait, there’s more.  If you try to push or pull a patch through the bore without removing the shroud or the baffles, the patches will get hung up on the baffles.  So I removed the whole shroud, just to see what was going on in there.  You could also unscrew the muzzle end cap and pull out the baffles, just make sure to take note of the order of the baffles and the o-ring.  You could also try putting a drinking straw through the baffles from the muzzle end of the shroud.

Having to do all that, just to clean the bore, sucked.  It’s almost like having to remove all the suspension from a car to unbolt wheels from the backside, if you need to change or rotate tires.  Cleaning the barrel should be a pretty regular maintenance task, and it shouldn’t be so complicated. 

The Barrel Shroud
The shroud is surprisingly effective.  The report from the muzzle end is pretty much non-existent.  Pretty much all you hear when shooting is the PING of the hammer hitting the valve, and maybe the smack of the pellet hitting the target.

The shroud on my Marauder was touching the bottom of the barrel band, which probably isn’t really good, although it still shot pretty well.  Tim McMurray at Mac1Airguns has reported on one of the airgun forums that Crosman is now shipping all Marauders with the slightly larger band that they were putting on the .25cal models.  I learned that the barrel probably does touch the inside of the shroud from taking the shroud off to clean the barrel, which means that as the pressure changes in the air chamber as I shoot, it may have some impact on where the muzzle is pointing in relation to the scope.  There is a pretty simple solution to the problem, which is just to remove the barrel band altogether.

Overall Impression

I am really impressed with this pre-charged adult airgun that you can get for about $413 shipped at the moment, maybe less if you can catch them in stock at Midway, and find a coupon at RetailMeNot.  The Benjamin PCP rifles are competing with European models that cost nearly twice as much, and in some cases are matching the performance of rifles that cost more than double.

The trigger, without the lawyer spring, is NIIIIICE, after a little adjustment of the 2nd stage screw.  The stock is much better engineered than I had expected, and the sling swivel studs are a nice touch.

If you are used to Crosman's cheaper air rifles, this rifle is really nothing like that.  Except for the magazine, the baffles in the shroud, and the polymer bushings in the trigger group, there's really no plastic to be found.  For the most part, everything fits together very well.

The shroud touching the barrel band is a bit of a disappointment, although I might be able to talk Crosman into sending me one of the ones they were using on the .25cal models.  Having to take the scope off, remove a screw and bushing, and loosen another screw to clean the barrel will continue to make cleaning the bore rather tedious.

I’ll write some more about the Marauder at a later date after I get to spend some more time with it.  I’ve still got 3 different types of JSB pellets, and the Beeman field target pellets to test yet.  Eventually, I’ll get my Pact timer returned, and have it working with the sky screens as a chronograph, and I’ll be able to say how fast it shoots with various pellets, and how many useful shots it will get from a charge, and I might try adjusting fill pressure and velocity.

Airguns of Arizona - Looks like they have Marauders in stock for $399.00.
Crosman Airguns Official Website - .177 Marauder Page
Greg Davis Forum - Probably the #1 tuner of Marauder air rifles right now.  Check link for information on tuning, along with some things you can do yourself.
- Some good information in the forum.

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