Have spring guns reached the pinnacle of their design?

Simon Everett muses on the development of spring-powered airguns and wonders whether the best is yet to come.

Many’s the time that I’ve heard conversations on the subject of spring airgun development, and how little progress has been made over the last 40 years or so.

Many airgun shooters, me included, wonder why this is. It could be argued that Theoben, with the use of the gas-ram, was the last development of note, together with the SLR self-indexing magazine gas-ram rifle.

What is it that either prevents or puts manufacturers off from really developing the spring system? Perhaps now that PCP development has been well and truly furthered, we’ll see the focus shift back to springers?

I realise that market pressure dictates where manufacturers invest their efforts and capital, but the number of simple spring airguns in use must far outstrip the more expensive pneumatic ones. Once purchased, a spring-powered gun needs no further input, and this makes them very attractive compared with a pressurised pneumatic which requires further investment in filling equipment.

The other aspect of spring airguns is their sheer charm, and anyone who shoots one will understand this fully. The utter satisfaction which shooting a well-tuned spring rifle gives, plus the fact that top HFT springer scores are on a par with PCP ones, are good enough reasons to use one – but it seems the main manufacturers have concentrated their efforts elsewhere and spring guns have not really progressed, even if new models have been launched.

Let’s wind the clock back a bit to a time when spring guns were really being developed, and see what progress has been made since the mid-1970s. The PCP hadn’t really become mainstream, even though as a system it is older than the spring. The spring and piston had been the accepted way to make an airgun, and the designers of the era really put on their thinking caps to come up with truly ingenious ways of taming the recoil on these rifles.

A mechanical rifle has significant reciprocating mass that needs to be controlled. The greater the power, the greater the recoil has to be, due to the inertia created by the piston. Artillery guns have similar problems to overcome, and their recoil-absorbing mechanisms were looked at as a way to reduce the perceived recoil from spring guns.

Feinwerkbau used a sledge system, as did Diana, whereby the entire barrel ran on a lightly spring-loaded track. When the rifle is fired the barrel slides back, just like an artillery piece. These rifles are still competitive against more modern pneumatic models when correctly set up.

Air Arms made the TX200 in an SR version, which again used the sledge system to reduce recoil, but they are few and far between. The Diana or Original (same company) Model 75 is a 10m target rifle where precision is a prerequisite. The model 75 utilises the GISS system to absorb all felt recoil and it produces a rifle that shoots absolutely ‘dead’.

The GISS system uses a reactionary piston travelling in the opposite direction to the compression piston, thus cancelling out the forces that create recoil. It is a complicated and delicately balanced set-up, but one that gives an awe-inspiring result.

So did spring piston development reach its zenith with these recoil management systems, or is there more to come that we don’t yet know about? Will mass-produced airguns ever reach the smoothness and light cocking effort of current tuned guns? Or will the economics of manufacture preclude such finesse?

I would love to see some truly innovative spring airguns appear on the scene, with the quality of build that those early match rifles had.

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