One of the reasons that the British airgun industry leads the world is that its makeup includes many dedicated enthusiasts who drive technological advances and contribute to an active and friendly club scene. And Paul West is one such hard-core airgunner who exemplifies this point. He’s the inventor and namesake of the Westy tray – a stepped pellet-loading device that’s become heralded as one of the most successful accessories of recent years. Indeed, it’s used by the editor of this magazine and resident hunting contributor, Mat Manning.
However, Paul West isn’t a one-idea man. Far from it. Since the Westy tray took off in such a big way, he’s launched plenty more innovations under his new company’s banner, Smooth Shooting. And so successful has the venture been, that Smooth Shooting is now servicing orders from all across the UK. Once this magazine’s read by the many international airgunners who subscribe to Airgun Shooter’s digital editions, my bet is that Paul West will be supplying his innovative products across the airgun world, too!
Having been introduced to Smooth Shooting’s airgun ‘stuff’ for myself, I decided I had to head north and pay Paul a visit to find out a little more of what goes on behind the scenes of this blossoming new airgun venture…
“My shooting career began when I was a child,” Paul recollected. “My father bought me a Diana 16, and I could only shoot lead pellets when supervised. I could fire the gun on my own, but I was only allowed to use hawthorn- or elderberries as ammo! Dad and I also joined the Emley Moor Field Target Club – and I’ve been a member ever since.”
Through the club, Paul got involved with shooting Hunter Field Target at a national level. “While doing HFT, I bought an air stripper device for my rifle’s muzzle. By deflecting all the dirty air from around the pellet as it left the barrel, I thought it might help make my rifle more accurate and get my scores up,” he told me.
Being a qualified engineer, however, Paul did more than just fit his new air stripper. “When I saw what the air stripper consisted of, I decided it would be very easy to make one myself,” he jokes, “and that was my introduction to airgun accessory-making. Ever since then, I was always looking for little projects to work on!”
There was also another reason to marry his engineering skills and a natural propensity for DIY. Some years previous, a motorcycle accident had left Paul with nerve damage to his right shoulder, diminishing the strength in his arm, and the feeling in his hand. Thus, anything that could be adapted to make his shooting life easier was welcome.
“I was shooting a Daystate X2 at the time,” he told me. “But I found it increasingly difficult to load its breech with so little feeling in my fingers. To be honest, I couldn’t even tell if I was holding a pellet or not – and even though it wasn’t a particularly heavy PCP, the gun was becoming too much of a handful for me with my shoulder problems.
“So I bought a Daystate MK3. It was so much lighter and its electronic trigger a godsend. But I still rather struggled with the supplied loading tray. I was rolling pellets right over the groove and out the other side! That’s what got me into thinking about a stepped loading tray, with a side portion to ‘catch’ the pellet as I placed it in position.”
Paul made a prototype with a ramp down to the groove, and a step next to the groove so the pellet would naturally fall into the pellet-loading channel. “I made it for myself first and foremost – but when other airgunners saw that the rifle virtually loaded itself, they all wanted one!” laughed Paul. “As a result, I started to make them commercially.”
Smooth Shooting now makes Westy trays for the entire Daystate range of PCPs, and also for the Air Arms S200 model and Falcon’s old pneumatic range. Paul’s company has earned a reputation for quality and accuracy of engineering – thanks initially to the Westy tray, but also based on the ideas that
“After seeing that I was a bit handy as an engineer, punters began requesting other accessories to customise their rifles,” Paul explained. “For example, we now make bolt handles in both left- and right-handed versions. We also make end caps to cover a rifle’s charging valve, with a tighter fit than standard end caps, to help prevent air loss.”
Indeed, all of Smooth Shooting’s innovations are based on demand. As a lifelong airgun enthusiast, Paul knows what makes his fellow shooters tick – which allows him to cater to their wishes, whether that’s increased accuracy, or an aesthetically pleasing customisation.
And though much of Paul’s work was initially based around PCPs, spring-gun users are certainly not forgotten. “Plenty of springer shooters want a bit of customised bling,” Paul told me, “so we make a polished brass safety catch for Weihrauchs, and Air Arms’ TX200 and Pro-Sport.”
Another useful accessory in Smooth Shooting’s catalogue is the conversion system for the early Weihrauch HW35, which until the mid-eighties was supplied with a leather piston washer. Smooth Shooting’s system allows a modern synthetic piston seal to be fitted, as is now standard on the HW97 (and other HW models).
But while Smooth Shooting was initially conceived as a cottage industry, its immediate success has made Paul rethink his business strategy. “The demand for my work reached such a level that I could no longer keep pace making everything by hand,” he said. So Paul had to invest in more automated machinery.
“I computerised the milling machine that I already had,” Paul explained to me. “It was converted into a CNC-controlled tool by adding a computer, motors and ball screws – and this is what I now make the loading trays on.”
Paul has also written a CNC program to allow his converted lathe to produce a highly accurate safety button. To complement the brass safety catch, there’s a brass cocking aid for the underlever rifles, with knurled patterns that increase your grip and make the whole cocking experience a little more user-friendly. They also come with a bonus: “These grips also add a little weight to the muzzle end and reduce muzzle flip,” added Paul. “To balance the look of the cocking aid, we also now have a silencer adaptor that will fit any unthreaded barrel, and which uses two grub screws to secure it. This ensures true alignment and prevents the pellet clipping the inner edges, as can happen on an incorrectly
But despite the automation and high tolerances, Paul – like all the best engineers – still likes to finish every piece by hand. It’s a time consuming process – and Paul spends several hours in his workshop after work every evening, just to keep pace with the orders. But this approach emphasises his level of professionalism.
“Mass production for profit can never match the quality of an item made by hand through a passion for perfection,” Paul told me as I concluded my peek behind the scenes. That, I’m sure, is why Smooth Shooting has seen such an impressive rate of business growth based more on reputation and word of mouth than your typical, commercial marketing strategies.