As soon as you start to dip your toes into the waters of Nerf gun modification, you start obsessively thinking about ways to get better performance out of your blaster. At least I did. But while there seemed to be plenty of ways to augment your power (and therefore your range), I wasn’t finding anything about improving accuracy. As it turns out, the accuracy equation has much less to do with the blasters themselves, and everything to do with the ammo they use.
Nerf has released a number of foam darts over the last couple decades. I remember, one of the first Nerf guns I ever had was the original Sharpshooter, which used long darts with foam fins. There have been a few varieties of suction-tipped darts, and many varieties of simple rubber-tipped ones – the most recent and universal of which are the standard Elites. The ones we mainly use in our Nerf wars. And while these are perfectly suitable (and inexpensive) for our needs, their design puts a fairly low ceiling on just how dead-on you can get with any Nerf blaster regardless of its quality.
Hardcore Nerfers came up with a novel, and in my opinion, ridiculous, solution to this problem – making their own darts, called Stefans. These are created from scratch using foam from the hardware store, hot glue, usually some kind of weight in the tip, and are much shorter than store-bought darts. Theoretically, the shorter length and heavier tips of home-made darts make for much higher accuracy, but strictly as a matter of taste, I find it not worth the effort of creating and using them in Nerf wars.* It also skews a little heavily into “too serious” territory.
* For the record, I did once attempt to make Stefans out of curiosity. Although I followed the instructions to the letter, they didn’t work properly in any one of my blasters. Even if they had, I doubt I would have made it a practice.
So assuming we’re sticking with the regular old store-bought Elite darts, what to do about the accuracy problem? After the first Nerf War, we attempted to gather up as many of the darts as we could and divide them up roughly according to how many each of us brought with us. We lost TONS in the warehouse, and I went home with about half my initial volume, a random hodgepodge of new, old, blue, green, warped and unused darts.
As I was sorting through them afterwards, I noticed there seemed to be a noticeable difference in the firmness of the foam from dart to dart. I assumed this was simply due to age and, for lack of a better term, mileage. Stuffing the same darts over and over into clips, firing them, stepping on them, etc. was bound to soften them up. But then I noticed this:
It’s a little hard to see, but every Nerf dart has a letter embossed onto the rubber tip. The most common were J’s and K’s, but I also saw A’s, W’s, and one or two B’s. I remembered reading online somewhere speculation that these letters corresponded to different manufacturing origins, and possibly to different formulas of foam. Could this account for the differences in firmness? And more to the point, does a firmer dart fly straighter?
I quickly conducted an informal experiment: I gathered 6 of each “code” dart I could find – A,J,K, and W, and loaded them into separate clips. I also gathered 6 of the green Zombiestrike darts (all coded J), and 6 suction darts (coded W).*
* The purchase of a pack of suction darts was also a curiosity thing. There are rumors these darts tend to be more accurate, and my initial impression was that this may in fact be true, hence their inclusion in this test.
I then took these clips individually into my backyard and loaded them into my modified Retaliator for range testing. Firing at a crude target from a range of roughly 30 feet, I simply counted how many darts out of 6 from each group veered off course noticeably, as opposed to flying more or less straight and true.
The results, I’m sorry to say, were anticlimactic. Granted, a sample size of 6 is hardly going to give statistically significant results, but in each and every case, I found that one to two darts out of six veered to one direction or another, including the suction darts.
Again, the experiment could have been improved in a number of ways. While there didn’t seem to be any wind, the outdoor environment was uncontrolled. I only used a single blaster in my tests. I didn’t attempt to find a correlation between the various dart codes and the firmness of the foam (firmness varied noticeably within each group). My sample size was tiny. And of course, there was no way for me to determine how “used” any of these darts were.
Regardless, I still hold the suspicion that foam darts like this can only be so consistent. There are simply too many variables to account for. But there was one more experiment to be done: Weighting. As the theory goes, the rubber tips on almost all Nerf darts are intentionally too light, in order to achieve greater distance when fired from low-powered blasters. But a heavier tipped dart, fired from a blaster modified for more power ought to fly much straighter.
Just to put this thing to bed, I quickly and crudely mutilated one of my Elite darts. I used a soldering iron to melt a small hole in the center of the rubber tip, dropped in a standard BB, and melted more rubber to secure it inside.
It isn’t pretty, but does it work? Well, in a word, yes. Using my modded Retaliator, I fired this same modded dart all the way down my long hallway 6 – 8 times. Never once did it veer to either side, or even do that wobbly spiral thing I sometimes see. Every shot was straight and true.
Predictably, range was somewhat diminished due to the added weight. I fired this dart from a couple of stock pistols, and noticed an even greater loss of range. But still, each shot was dead on.
Will I now start adding BBs into the tips of all my Nerf darts, knowing the effectiveness of this method? No. It’s still more trouble than it’s worth, and the last thing I want to do is start raising the bar for hardcore-ness in our stupid Nerf wars. We’re not Nerf Haven. But I think I’ll keep that special dart stashed in the handle of my Retaliator for just such an emergency…