Introduced in the spring of 1940, Daisy’s Red Ryder BB-gun was an instant hit. Combining forces with the star of a western-themed comic strip made Daisy a household name. In less than 10 years, the Plymouth, Michigan-based company was selling one million Red Ryder guns per year. With such success, the company could have very easily coasted through the decades on the popularity of that single creation. Daisy’s company leaders, however, were not content to rest on their laurels. In the early 1960s, Daisy ventured into something that was completely different than anything they had previously made.
In 1961, an odd couple walked into a Parisian shooting gallery. One of the men, a Belgian chemical engineer, uncased a rifle and began shooting. The other man, Case Hough, president of Daisy, looked on as the demonstration proceeded. It didn’t take long for Hough to agree to purchase the new rifle design on the spot from Jules Van Langenhoven, the engineer and inventor of a new shooting technology. Then, after seven years of development to perfect the idea, Daisy unveiled the new rifle, dubbed the “V/L” after its inventor, in 1968. With no firing pin, extractor, or ejector, Van Langenhoven’s design was truly unique, but was indeed a firearm. The ammunition for the rifle is the most intriguing aspect. It had no metallic casing and no primer. The tiny .22 caliber lead projectile had a nitrocellulose-based propellant which was molded, hardened, and affixed to the rear of the bullet. Once the projectile and propellant were mated together, the final product was a type of caseless ammunition not much larger than two pencil erasers stacked on top of each other.
While innovative, this new caseless ammunition did have a problem that highlights why simple metallic cases have ruled the rimfire and centerfire ammo world for so long: the propellant easily flaked off of the projectile.
With traditional .22 ammo, you could dump a box of cartridges into your pocket and head into the woods in search of squirrels or soup cans—something that was not possible with the VL’s ammo. That kind of jostling would separate the nitrocellulose from the lead, rendering the ammunition unusable.
To solve this problem, Daisy patented a specially-designed ammunition package and container in December 1968. The rounds were stacked on top of one another, ten to a plastic tube. The tubes, in turn, were stored ten to a package. One end of the tube was heat sealed and the other was closed with a removable plastic plug. Now safe from the elements, you could place a couple tubes in your pocket and head for the woods.
In order to fire this new ammunition, Daisy turned to something they knew very well: the combination of springs and air compression.
Operation of the V/L was both simple and complex.
To load, a cocking lever was pulled down and rearward, opening the breech. Once a round was inserted, the lever was pushed forward and upward, closing the breech.
Opening the pump lever (like the one on a Daisy BB gun) compressed a strong spring and forced a piston to the rear, which was then engaged by a sear. Closing the lever created an air chamber that was filled through an air intake hole, regulated by a ball check valve.
Pulling the trigger released the spring piston from the sear, allowing it to travel forward with a tremendous amount of force.
Compression heated the air; in this case, to 2,000℉. That exceptionally hot air contacted the nitrocellulose propellant, ignited it, and forced the projectile out of the barrel at 1,150 fps. (Speeds of 3,000 fps were obtained using prototype rifles)
Because the cartridge is caseless, there’s no need to eject anything from the action. You simply pull down on the cockling lever, insert another round, push the lever home, and fire again.
Daisy really felt that they had a home run on their hands. The design had multiple benefits, including less ammo bulk, lower ammo costs, lower overall gun costs, lower recoil, and virtually no issues with jamming or misfires. A test of 50,000 rounds was completed without cleaning the gun at all; no jams were reported.
In the October 1967 issue of Popular Mechanics, Maj. George C. Nonte, Jr. (Ret) wrote a glowing review of the rifle. (With 20 years in the military and thousands of articles written in dozens of magazines over the years, Nonte knew two things: guns and impeccable facial hair.)
Daisy dreamed of a gun that could be used as a child’s first real rifle, or an adult’s choice for a go-to rimfire rifle that was inexpensive to both own and shoot. The VL was fitted with an American walnut stock that Major Ronte deemed to be “man-sized” and “not made for midgets as is so often the case with BB guns and cheaper .22 rimfires.” (Ahh the ‘60s…)
The rifle’s size—37.75” long and weighing less than five pounds—meant that Daisy had created a rifle that could be put into the hands of just about everyone: children, competitors, hunters, and even the military.
When introduced, the rifle sold for $39.95, which is the equivalent of $295 today. Ammo cost $1.40 per 100 rounds, or $10.34 today. Ronte was optimistic that increased production would bring the cost of both “way down” in the near future.
Unfortunately for Daisy, they overlooked one key aspect of their new venture. Since the VL rifle used a combustible propellant to fire the .22 caliber round, the ATF ultimately deemed it to be an actual firearm. Daisy was only licensed to produce air guns—not firearms.
Likely due to cost concerns, Daisy did not seek out the proper licensing to become a full-blown firearms manufacturer. Because of this, production of the VL ceased in 1969, just a year after it began. It is believed that no more than 23,000 units were produced.
Would Daisy have seen their dream of arming sportsmen and soldiers alike come to fruition had they obtained the proper licenses? Who knows; your guess is as good as mine.
Even though Daisy’s rifle drifted into obscurity, they’re not so rare that they cannot be found at a decent price.
Auctions over the past few years have seen examples sell for around $300 and ammo can be had for approximately $90 per 1,000 rounds. Those prices are right in line with inflation when compared to the prices listed in Popular Mechanics just a hair over 50 years ago.
Why no other manufacturers have taken a shot at making a similar rifle or ammo system, is also anyone’s guess.