It Was A Daisy When It Did!
By Holt Bodinson
The world of rimfire has been the scene of some very interesting designs over the years, both in firearms and ammunition. Several examples stand out in my mind, but the most significant and unique rimfire rifle I have ever handled would have to be the Daisy VL firing caseless .22-caliber ammunition.
The story begins in Paris in 1961 at a Parisian shooting gallery where a Belgian chemical engineer, Jules Van Langenhoven, demonstrated his caseless ammunition invention to Case Hough, President of the Daisy Heddon Division of the Victor Comptometer Corp. After firing Van Langenhoven’s remarkable caseless ammunition, it is said Hough whipped out his check book and sealed the deal right then and there. For the next 7 years, the Daisy engineers in Rogers, Ar., labored to refine the design of the rifle and ammunition in order to make them commercially viable in a very competitive rimfire marketplace.
When you think of it, caseless ammunition has been around a long time. The muzzleloading and early breechloading eras are good examples with their self-consuming paper and linen cartridges. The Hunt, Jennings, Smith & Wesson and Volcanic pre-Civil War era “rocket-ball-type” ammunition and even the 1960s Gyrojet ammunition in which the powder charge is contained entirely within the body of the projectile might qualify. But I’m going to hand the golden crown to Daisy for having produced and commercially introduced the first, modern American sporting rifle firing truly caseless .22-caliber ammunition in the 1968-69 time frame.
Light and lean, the little single-shot Daisy VL was a groundbreaking arm. Sadly, it didn’t survive. Had it, and
had ammo development continued, who knows what we’d be shooting today?
While the VL system was revolutionary, it never caught fire with the shooting public.
The VL Arrives
Named the “Daisy VL” in honor of Jules Van Langenhoven, the VL was a weird airgun/firearm hybrid. From a design point of view, the VL looked and functioned exactly like an under-cocking, .22 pellet rifle. However, rather than accepting a pellet, it chambered a 29-grain, .22-caliber bullet with a short cylinder of exposed, nitrocellulose propellant affixed to its base. There was no primer. In fact, examining the VL rifle more closely, there was no hammer, no firing pin, no extractor, no ejector. Was this the firearm/cartridge combination of the future? Yes!
Daisy’s VL was revolutionary. It was quite beyond mainstream rimfire America. Militaries throughout the world had dreamed about and experimented with caseless designs with little success. From a military perspective, the advantages of caseless ammunition were enormous. Caseless eliminated the need for brass and possibly primers, thus saving critical resources and weight. More ammunition could be packed in smaller containers and transported more efficiently. Individual soldiers could carry more ammunition and probably the firearms they carried would be holding more ammunition. With fewer required operating parts, firearms could be made more cheaply, more quickly, lighter, more reliable and requiring less maintenance. Daisy went ahead and proved it could be done at the sporting level.
The VL system was ingenious in operation. The under-lever was used to cock a spring-loaded piston and engage the side safety, exactly like an air rifle. A VL round was seated in the chamber of the barrel, and the cocking lever and breech closed. When the trigger was pulled, the piston slammed forward compressing the air inside the chamber. The air was further compressed by being forced through an obturator, reaching a temperature of 2,000 degrees F in a fraction of a second. A ball check valve released the super-heated air to come in contact with and ignite the nitrocellulose propellant attached to the base of the 29-grain lead bullet. At the moment of ignition, backpressure reseated the ball check valve thus sealing off the breech.
The VL ammunition was factory rated at 1,150 fps. The caseless rounds were packaged in patented plastic tubes holding 10 rounds each. Ten plastic tubes—100 rounds—came in a box retailing for $1.40, or slightly more than the cost of 100 rimfire shorts at the time. Ten boxes—1,000 rounds—were sold as bricks. Placing 10 rounds in a rigid plastic tube sealed with a reusable stopper was pretty extravagant packaging, but necessary protection.
VL caseless rounds were fragile and protectively packed in sturdy, 10-round tubes.
Holt found a weight variance of up to 2 grains between rounds that may have compromised their accuracy (left).
Voere caseless ammunition (right) and firearms appeared in the 1990’s, but they too, failed to capture the market.
Fragile And Inconsistent
The caseless VL rounds were fragile by normal rimfire standards. You didn’t dump a handful of them in your pocket like .22 Shorts and go shooting nor could you let them be exposed to moisture.
The VL system never gained a reputation for outstanding accuracy, and being curious, I measured and weighed 10 rounds. The 29-grain, lead bullets featured a narrow driving band measuring precisely 0.224-inch in diameter. The nose of the bullet then stepped down to a wider band measuring 0.217-inch in diameter. A funnel shaped cup at the base of the bullet anchored and retained the propellant that was applied wet and allowed to set-up.
The bullets seemed consistent although I didn’t separate them from their propellant charges and weigh them individually since they were on loan. Weighing 10 complete rounds, the weights ran from 30.1 grains to 31.1 grains with only two rounds weighing the same (31.0 grains). If the 29-grain bullets were consistent, that could mean a variance of 1.1 to 2.1 grains of propellant. That’s quite a variance in a small round and may have been the answer to the VL accuracy issue.
Daisy’s VL rifle was in production for 8 months between 1968 and 1969 with approximately 24,000 being made. Approximately 19,000 were the plastic-stocked rifle pictured here that Jim Sharrah of Tucson’s Frontier Gunshop loaned me.
As a single-shot rimfire, it was priced competitively at $39.95. Another 5,000 were fitted with wooden stocks and offered in two versions: a “Presentation” grade with a simple brass plaque applied to the buttstock and a “Collector’s” grade, ordered only directly from Daisy, which featured a gold-plated plaque on the stock, inscribed with the owner’s name and serial number of the rifle, plus a hard case, wall mounts and 300 rounds of ammunition.
Daisy marketed and sold the VL as an air gun. The ATF studied it for a while and concluded it was a firearm. Daisy was not licensed to produce firearms so the VL rifle along with its unique caseless ammunition were quietly withdrawn from production.
Why did Daisy simply fold their tent and walk away rather than applying for a firearms manufacturing license? Speculation is sales of the revolutionary VL rifle were terrible, while VL ammunition was more expensive, less practical and less accurate than conventional rimfire. Based on sound business practices, the company simply decided to end the program.
Caseless is a hard sell to the shooting public. On a personal note, in the July, 1995 issue of GUNS, I reported on a successful deer hunt shooting a stunningly accurate, Voere JägerSport pistol, firing electronically ignited, .223 and 6mm caseless ammunition, but the Austrian Voere, too, just never caught on with the hunting community.
While Daisy’s VL products are only a memory, the memory lives on at auction sites like GunBroker.com, where tens of thousands of VL rounds and all three VL rifle models are readily available for purchase, so if you own a VL, stock up on those caseless rounds. They’re a vanishing breed of historic, caseless, rimfire relics.
DAISY VL RIFLE
MAKER: Daisy Heddon
Div. of the Victor Comptometer
Corp., Rogers, AR.
LENDER: Frontier Gun Shop,
3156 E. Grant Rd., Tucson, AZ 85716,
ACTION TYPE: Under-cocking pneumatic
CALIBER: .22 VL caseless
BARREL LENGTH: 17.5 inches
OVERALL LENGTH: 37.75 inches
WEIGHT: 5.25 pounds w/plastic stock
SIGHTS: Front post, rear leaf, (not grooved for scope mounts)
STOCKING: Plastic or wood
Original retail: $39.93