Bang or Bling?

Mike Morton runs through the pros and cons of the parts he’s changed and modifications he’s made to some of the airguns in his own collection.

Many shooters are more than happy to buy an airgun, shoot it and enjoy it – often for decades to come –while giving their gun nothing more than good quality pellets and regular maintenance. But there are many more shooters who can’t resist the urge to tinker, tweak or modify what they’ve got, even though it may have been shooting sweetly from the outset.

There are four basic reasons to modify a gun: to make it shoot more consistently or accurately, to make it fit the shooter and therefore handle better, to make it function more efficiently or to change the way it looks. Most people will probably agree with the first three reasons, but may scoff at the idea of making aesthetic changes just for the sake of it.

You may disagree, but I believe the latter category can be just as important as the others. If someone likes the way their gun looks, they are more likely to pick it up and shoot it, so in its own way an aesthetic modification can actually be beneficial from a shooting perspective as well if it means more trigger time.

I’ve bought and sold a lot of guns over the past 40 years or so. Virtually none of them have remained standard. I love tinkering with things in general, and guns in particular, and when a shooting friend suggested I explain the changes I made to a few of my current airguns, I thought it might be useful to show you what I did and why.

I’ve illustrated this feature with three springers from Weihrauch, one PCP from Weihrauch and another PCP from Daystate, but many of the modifications I’ve made are generic and can be carried out on plenty of other makes and models too. Were any of these updates of truly vital importance?

If I’m honest, no, possibly not. Some cost pennies, while most cost pounds (far too many pounds, according to my wife). But they didn’t all happen overnight. These modifications took place over more than a decade. Some certainly do help me shoot better, while others may just offer a placebo effect. But all have given me a lot of pleasure along the way – and I’m continuing to enjoy shooting them to this day.

 

Muzzle Brake

A muzzle brake, which is also known as a recoil compensator, is a device fitted to the muzzle of a rifle to reduce both recoil and muzzle flip. It works by redirecting the air immediately before, during and after the pellet leaves the barrel. A muzzle brake is not the same as an air stripper, the function of which is to remove turbulent air so the pellet can trace a cleaner flightpath. That’s something to look at another time.

Muzzle brakes work very well on centrefire rifles, but are extremely unpopular with anyone positioned either side of the shooter, as they receive an unwelcome dose of noise and blast from the redirected gasses. Luckily, muzzle brakes are far more friendly affairs when used on recoiling air rifles, like the one from V-Mach Custom Rifles fitted to my Weihrauch HW 97 Black Line Stainless.

In addition to its main role, this brake is equipped with a spring-loaded ball bearing detent to secure the underlever – a practical modification – while it’s been given a polished finish to complement the silver of the barrel and underlever. This is very much an aesthetic modification, as the original component was black.

 

Tuning Kit

My 97 was also treated to a V-Glide tuning kit. Nick Stanning and Andy McLachlan have both run through the benefits of fitting a tuning kit previously, so I won’t go on about this one here, other than to say that apart from shooting a springer with opposing pistons or a sledge recoil management system, the firing cycle on this rifle is quite possibly as smooth as it gets.

The V-Glide was added at the same time as the brake, so it’s hard to determine how much effect the brake has had compared with the tuning kit. One lesson I therefore learned the hard way here is that when you’re making a series of modifications,
do it one at a time, shooting extensively in between, so you can gauge the exact effect each one is having on your gun.

 

Stock Screws

These black hex screws were an online purchase. They’re easier to unscrew and refit than a slotted screw if you don’t have a hollow-ground bit

Slotted or hex? Black, brass or silver? It may seem a small thing, but many rifles can be customised with replacement stock screws, and these can offer both a practical and an aesthetic benefit.

Traditional rifles will usually come with slotted screws – and in my opinion they do look better this way, since the screws are in keeping with the overall appearance of the gun. But slotted screws can be difficult to take out and refit for stock removal and general airgun maintenance unless you have a decent hollow-ground screwdriver.

In cases like these, a hex screw may be a better bet. I changed the stock screws on my 97 because I liked the ease of use of a hex screw – and the black finish was also in keeping with the synthetic stock.

 

Trigger Blade

This is an example of a curved setback trigger blade; straight setbacks are also available, it just depends on your preference

Good gun fit is crucial to successful shooting, and length of pull is one of the key ingredients. Length of pull – the distance from the centre of the trigger blade to the centre of the butt pad – can be adjusted by adding or removing spacers, or in extreme cases by cutting down the stock.

But there’s another way to make some small, but important adjustments,  and that’s by using a setback trigger blade to reduce length of pull.

Rowan Engineering makes two types for the HW 97, curved and straight,  but in both cases the mid-point of the blade is 4.5mm further back than the Rekord original.

This may not sound like much, but that small amount feels quite different when the gun is in your shoulder. So if you find trigger pull is too long, this may be an easy solution.

 

Resettable Safety Catch

This resettable safety catch works exactly as advertised, but will prove of far more use to hunters than target shooters

It’s easy to reset the safety on a PCP with just the flick of a switch or lever, while springers and gas-rams effectively need to be re-cocked to reset the safety if you decide you no longer want to take the shot. Whether you’re shooting an underlever, a sidelever or a break-barrel, a lot of physical movement is involved in resetting the safety.

If you’re hunting, any movement must be minimised to avoid spooking your quarry. In this case, it’s far better to have a resettable safety catch, like the V-Mach unit that I fitted to my HW 97. The catch is pressed from left to right as normal to make the gun live, but can be reset by toggling the little lever. The safety can still be reset the normal way by repeating the cocking motion.

When I first bought this rifle I had visions of using it in the hunting field,  despite its rather distinctive black and silver looks.
While it has been out hunting a few times, it’s mainly been used for target shooting at the club and on the home plinking range, where I have to admit the resettable feature has not been used that often.

 

Trigger Guard 

This Rowan Engineering trigger guard was a purely aesthetic addition, the brass guard being a nice match with the trigger blade and adjustment screw

A trigger guard has a very simple job to do: to prevent the unintentional release of a pellet caused by the trigger blade snagging on clothing, foliage or a misplaced finger. Trigger guards can be made of metal or plastic, and all are more than capable of carrying out their role.

So while all the above additions or modifications I’ve listed so far will affect the way a rifle shoots or functions to a greater or lesser extent, a replacement trigger guard is a purely aesthetic embellishment.

Rowan Engineering makes a number of replacement trigger guards for several different rifles in a variety of finishes, the one seen here on my HW 95K being made of brass. I’m a fairly quiet type of person, and a shiny brass trigger guard is probably as loud and garish as I would ever want to get!

This part is actually heavier than the original, but is beautifully machined and looks great – at least to me, which is the important thing. While it won’t actually enhance my shooting prowess, it does boost the feelgood factor of owning and shooting this gun, and that’s got to be a good thing.

 

Muzzle Thread and Moderator 

Out of the box, the HW 99S isn’t intended to be fitted with a moderator, so the barrel was screw-cut with the industry-standard half-inch UNF thread

As well as shooting at various clubs and in the hunting field, I still enjoy the simple pleasure of plinking in my garden – but want to keep on the right side of my neighbours. While recoiling rifles can’t be moderated as well as PCPs, the addition of a moderator will still deaden the sound to some extent.

I wanted to fit a moderator to my HW 99S, but this involved something of a sacrifice. As it comes, the 99S can be shot with both open sights or a scope. I decided to have my rifle threaded to accept a moderator, but this involved the removal of the front sight. Ideally I would have loved to have retained the ability to shoot this gun with irons, but my desire for neighbour-friendly noise reduction won the day in the end.

The 99S is a long, elegant rifle, and the perfect accompaniment to this gun was a moderator from Weihrauch’s own stable.
My 95K, on the other hand, is a far more pugnacious little gun, so I ‘borrowed’ the HW moderator that came with this rifle and put it on my 99, with the 95 receiving a spare – and stubby – SAK moderator instead.

 

Thread Protector

It’s important to protect a threaded barrel whenever a moderator is removed for storage, shipping or servicing – this thread protector comes from Rowan

Threads are very easy to damage if a moderator has been removed and the rifle takes a tumble. You can make your own thread protector using several layers of hockey tape, but a purpose-built thread protector is best. While an item like this isn’t really a proper add-on, it’s still a good investment. Weihrauch threads are long, and this 18mm unit is a perfect fit.

 

Floating Barrel Band

This floating band from Rowan Engineering ensures the action of the HW 100 is secured to the stock, while keeping the barrel free-floating

When a bullet is fired from a powder-burner, the pressure wave causes the barrel to change shape and move in multiple directions for a fraction of a second. This phenomenon, which is variously known as barrel harmonics or harmonic notes, can have a huge effect on how accurately and consistently a particular barrel and cartridge will perform.

Subsequent shots will only ever be accurate if the harmonics are repeatable and predictable, and one way to ensure this is to free-float the barrel, so that the barrel movements are not interrupted by any contact between the barrel and the stock.

Understanding barrel harmonics is vitally important when shooting a centrefire, and is still important for a rimfire, but it’s questionable how much an airgun barrel will change shape when firing a pellet at legal-limit velocities – probably not much at all. Nevertheless, some airgun barrels are free-floated by the manufacturer at the outset so any perceived problem becomes a complete non-starter.

My HW 100 has received a new floating band from Rowan Engineering that no longer encases the barrel. Is it really necessary? As a centrefire shooter, this was one of the first parts I fitted to my gun. What I should have done was shoot some groups with the original barrel band in place, then repeat the test with the floating band and compare the results, but I neglected to do this and just fitted the new band anyway.

I suspect this will have had little, if any, effect on accuracy, but at least I’m benefiting from the placebo effect of knowing my barrel is now completely free-floating.

 

Bipod Stud

This bipod stud replaces the front stock screw, both securing the rifle and allowing a bipod to be fitted without having to drill a separate hole

It’s great to be able to stick a bipod on a PCP, and while some guns come pre-fitted with a sling swivel stud, others will need their stocks drilled so a stud can be screwed in place.

I fitted a simple but clever little bipod stud, which is widely available on eBay. This is made of stainless steel and replaces the front stock screw that holds the action in place on the HW 100 with a built-in sling swivel stud. It screws into the barrel band, and the threads are perfectly matched to both the Weihrauch original and the aftermarket Rowan band mentioned above.

If you never intend to fit a bipod or sling then you’re better off with the original Weihrauch part, which sits flush with the stock, but if you do want to fit a bipod, one of these is a must-have.

 

Single-shot adapter 

Weihrauch’s excellent single-shot adapter for the HW 100 features a spring-loaded swing-out gate into which the pellet is loaded

While rifles with a multi-shot magazine are great both in the field and when plinking, it’s sometimes necessary to shoot a multi in single-shot mode, for instance when you’re target shooting or pellet testing.

Aftermarket single-shot adapters are available for the HW 100, but I prefer the original item made by Weihrauch.

This slots in place just like the rotary multi-shot magazines that come with the gun, and features a loading gate that swings out automatically every time the sidelever is drawn back. It’s very well made and works superbly.

 

Trigger Blade

This blade can be positioned at the perfect height and angle so it falls directly under the pad of the shooter’s trigger finger

The style, size, shape, height and angle of a trigger blade can all combine to make a huge difference to the way a trigger performs. Many air rifles come with a specific trigger blade that can’t be altered. This is a bit like shooting a rifle with a non-adjustable stock: it will fit some people perfectly, while for others it may prove to be something of an unwanted compromise.

Changing the blade can make a trigger feel substantially different, but before you go down this route, ask yourself whether
you really need one. Some people may benefit hugely from swapping blades, while others may see only marginal gains.

It’s up to you to decide whether or not you’re happy with your existing trigger blade or whether you feel your trigger control could be enhanced by fitting a more versatile blade.

The blade on my Weihrauch HW 100 was very good out of the box, but as an eternal tinkerer I wondered whether I could eke out even some marginal gains by swapping it for the aftermarket blade produced by Rowan. I’m glad I fitted the new unit.

I was already shooting the rifle well with the standard trigger blade, and while the new blade hasn’t really made my shooting any more accurate, it’s a pleasure to use and feels better underneath my trigger finger.

 

Biathlon Lever

The Biathlon Lever Cube adds minimal weight to the rifle and makes the already slick cocking action of the HW sidelever even faster

Sidelevers offer a speedy method of cocking and cycling the action on a PCP, but it can sometimes be hard to locate the lever when the action’s fast and furious.

If you don’t shoot a particular rifle very often, or if you frequently swap between guns which have sidelvers of slightly different lengths, shapes or sizes, you can sometimes waste a precious couple of seconds fumbling around for the end of the lever.

A biathlon lever takes its name from the winter sport that combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting, where time is precious. It extends downwards from the tip of the sidelever, making it easy to locate the main lever and cycle the action quickly, sometimes using just one or two fingers as an alternative to the standard pinch grip.

Weihrauch’s up-and-coming new HW 100 bullpups have a biathlon lever already fitted, while my older KT Synthetic has a regular lever. A reader’s request for information about aftermarket biathlon levers prompted me to buy my own – the example seen here being something called the Biathlon Lever Cube.

This is available with either a brass, nickel or black metal lever and a cube-shaped housing made of nylon. This slips over the end of the HW lever – the fit is very tight – and is secured in place with a grub screw. I’ve only been using this for a short time, but find it extremely useful. While it’s a non-essential add-on, I like it so much that this will not be coming off.

 

Custom Stock

A custom stock can enable you to tailor your gun for specific shooting scenarios; this Ginb stock is heavy, but is perfect for shooting prone

A non-adjustable stock will usually fit most shooters using most scopes, most of the time, but a custom stock can vastly improve gun fit. I bought my Daystate MK3 12 years ago, and ended up deciding it would be used solely as a prone rifle for ambushing rabbits.

I’d previously put a lot of work into the original thumbhole stock, stripping it of its lacquer finish, stippling the pistol grip by hand and refinishing the wood with numerous coats of oil over several weeks.

But by this time I’d decided the rifle would serve me best in its new role, so bought the Ginb stock seen here, which was tailored to my own specifications, and I promptly sold the original stock. While the new stock is a delight to use and more than fit for purpose, I wish I had kept the original stock as well, because the gun in its current configuration is really too heavy for anything other than prone or benchrest.

 

Final Thoughts 

A custom stock can enable you to tailor your gun for specific shooting scenarios; this Ginb stock is heavy, but is perfect for shooting prone

The best way to determine whether or not you should upgrade or modify a gun is to identify a need, then fill that need. I have to admit that this wasn’t always the case here. I didn’t need a trigger guard, for example, I simply wanted one – and perhaps that’s reason enough.

However, with two exceptions – the muzzle of my HW 99S being threaded, and the fact that I no longer own my original MK3 stock – everything I’ve done here is reversible. It’s really important to keep hold of any original components that you remove. You may want to return your gun to its original configuration one day. Or even if you don’t, a prospective buyer may well prefer the standard look.

Aftermarket replacements and add-ons are an extremely personal decision. They’re a bit like aftermarket car parts: some people will think them fantastic, while others will be less enthusiastic, so do hang onto your original parts and don’t assume you’ll automatically be adding value to your rifle if you ever decide to sell it.

Modifications can help you to shoot your gun better. And they can certainly put a smile on your face too, even if those new parts just add to the looks. But it’s your gun, after all. Bang or bling? The option is there to have either – but sometimes it’s nice to have both.

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