Searching for an affordable new Hunter Field Target rifle, Andy McLachlan weighs up the pros and cons of choosing a springer over a PCP
The first air rifle I ever shot was a BSA Light Pattern underlever rifle, manufactured in the early 20th century. My brother and I sacrificed many old Airfix models to the old gun, and managed to shoot many hundreds of the original Eley Wasp orange-tinned .177 pellets. The problem was that this shooting fun occurred hundreds of miles away on our family holidays: back home, all we could do was look forward to the next year.
Maybe this time was partly responsible for my lifelong addiction to airguns, in particular to those powered by a spring. I have owned a lot of guns over the years, including firearms and shotguns. I find airguns are the most fun to shoot, and provide the tyro shooter with a relatively simple way of getting into shooting.
The engineering quality of the finest airguns can surpass that of firearms. Many classic spring-powered guns – such as the Feinwerkbau 300S target rifle from the 1970s and early 1980s, which won so many Olympic medals in its time – had been engineered so that they operated like a Swiss watch, with repeatable performance every time. When you are at the top of your sport competing for medals, you need to be confident in your equipment.
This fine country of ours has a deserved reputation of producing many fine airguns. Household names such as BSA and Webley produced famous and beautiful guns that many of us have loved and cherished over the years. We now have companies such as BSA and Daystate continuing to manufacture airguns of the highest quality that are appreciated by fellow enthusiasts worldwide.
Competition hardware is a different story. It would have to be said that most of the top target and match air rifles have usually been produced in Germany. Names such as Feinwerkbau, Anschutz and Walther, along with Steyr Sport in nearby Austria, continue to produce guns that stretch the performance horizon for those shooters gifted enough to make the most of the equipment on offer, with some of the guns costing many thousands of pounds. This is the case for the PCP match shooter who is prepared to pay whatever it costs to be competitive and is perfectly understandable for those who are able to afford it.
The same can be said about those of us shooting HFT and FT, with many shooters spending large amounts of cash on top of the range rifle and scope combinations in the hope that they will allow whatever shooting talent we have to be maximised.
The problem is that unless a considerable amount of time and effort is accorded to serious practice, even the most expensive combination will not make up for any lack of ability. All top-of-the-range equipment does is give a shooter the opportunity of maximising their own performance if they are prepared to put in the effort. It does not guarantee success!
This is the financial price for those of us able to afford the not inconsiderable sums required to buy themselves a high-quality PCP target rifle and scope combination. If buying the rifle and scope new, this would usually equate to about three grand at today’s prices. It is possible to buy equipment lower down the scale or used top-line gear for less if you want a PCP.
There is, of course, a cheaper option. Like many shooters, I have been seduced by the easy accuracy available from mid-priced PCP rifles. The journey usually starts with an excellent mid-priced gun such as the Air Arms S400, which is more than accurate for events such as HFT competition, and progresses via a series of part-exchange deals to something like a Steyr as the shooter gains confidence and experience. This is probably the journey many of us make as we seek to improve our own performance, convinced the better gear will make all the difference to our results. If we are honest with ourselves, though, we would be better off practising more with the equipment we already have.
Part of the reason for upgrading is that most of us like to use equipment that we and our peers consider high-quality. Again, this is perfectly natural, and I am as guilty of this as anybody when purchasing equipment. Let’s face it, it is nice to use high-quality gear in any sport, and shooting is no exception!
An alternative to the PCP route for competition shooting is the option of using a rifle powered by a spring. This is something I have been considering myself for a few months, as my main PCP Anschutz target rifle had been rushed into FT rather than HFT service very recently. As I cannot afford to buy another top-end PCP target rifle, I decided to part with significantly less cash and buy another springer. I currently possess several classic springers, all of which give me great pleasure to shoot. The only problem with these is that I really need a fixed-barrel configuration, and apart from my old .22 Weihrauch HW 77, I haven’t got one that fits the bill. In saying that, I have used my Venom HW 80 break-barrel to reasonable effect on the HFT course in the past.
On the fixed-barrel springer front, I have owned both Air Arms TX200s and Pro Sports over the years, with the most accurate for me up until now being a full-length TX200 Mk III. That gun falls into the ‘Why did I sell that?’ category perfectly. I also owned an early HW 97, but that was also in .22 and before target shooting took a hold of me.
With this in mind, I recently purchased a new .177 Weihrauch HW 97K in the standard wooden stock. My last underlever-actioned springer was a Walther LGU, which was supremely accurate. I was originally just going to buy another LGU, but started considering the heart of any accurate gun: the trigger assembly. Not that either the Walther or Air Arms triggers aren’t more than capable – it’s just that despite the design being over 50 years old, I believe the Weihrauch Rekord trigger assembly is the finest available on a spring-powered rifle, particularly when it’s been fettled properly.
I will use the new springer as it came out of the box while the internal components bed together. I have already been looking at tuning kits and replacement trigger blades, but these will have to wait while I acclimatise myself to the new gun. I am looking forward to using one of Weihrauch’s finest, and I will let you know how I do during this season’s competitive shooting. I can’t wait!