Andy McLachlan finds that adjusting to a new spring-powered rifle proves much tougher than expected
Regular readers may remember my recent purchase of a new spring rifle, and my intention to compete with it in the 2018 competition season. After scoping up my new Weihrauch HW 97 underlever springer, I set about establishing a zero with my Bushnell HFT scope.
I had left the scope attached to the BKL mounts and basically switched the whole assembly onto the rail of the 97, fitting a Sportsmatch arrestor block to try to ensure that the scope didn’t move during the firing cycle. This is of paramount consideration during the shooting of a recoiling rifle: the action moves both backwards and forwards, due to the rapid uncoiling of the mainspring as it releases its energy and slams the piston into the cushion of air used to propel the pellet out of the barrel.
Given the violence of this firing cycle, it is always best to make sure that your scope can withstand the forces described. It is not unknown for a scope, even one that was expensive to purchase, to be destroyed by the rapid movement and vibration inherent in most spring-powered rifles. Fortunately, most of the optics from the likes of Hawke, MTC and Nikko Sterling have been designed with spring gun-type recoil in mind, so if you have a scope manufactured specifically for airguns, you can rest assured that it will not shake itself to pieces.
It is also wise to fit a one-piece scope mount and slot the recoil arrestor stud provided with most Sportsmatch mounts into the correct location at the rear of the action. Weihrauch provide three of these on their rifles; once properly fitted, you can be confident that the recoil will not have your scope rushing to meet your face and you wondering why the eye relief necessary to view a proper image through the scope keeps changing.
Following a session at our indoor range, I managed to set the zero for a range that I prefer for spring-powered rifles. It is obviously far easier to zero in a PCP at longer range due to the lack of movement from the action, and the fact that you can hold the gun anywhere during the process. If you tried to properly zero a full-powered springer without holding the gun in precisely the same way for every shot, you would find it very difficult to establish a proper zero. This is due to the often-described ‘hold sensitivity’ inherent in spring guns as the action moves during its individual firing cycle. For example, if you held the gun with anything other than a careful support of the stock, both at the front supporting hand and where the butt pad touches your shoulder, it would be like holding a pneumatic drill and trying to stop it vibrating.
The only way to correctly hold a recoiling gun is to carefully rest it in your supporting hand and have the butt just touching your shoulder. I have used the analogy of imagining the stock is made of eggshells to describe how lightly you support and aim a springer. Failure to repeat the exact same hold will result in shots flying well off-target, and explains why springers are far harder to shoot accurately. If you decide to hold the gun differently, you will find that your group of carefully placed shots are landing not where you intended them to, namely in the place established by your ‘eggshell’ hold.
This fact needs to be taken into consideration whenever you change your shooting position. It can be difficult, if not impossible, to retain the exact same hand and butt position when either prone or standing or kneeling. If you try to replicate your usual hold in the other shooting positions, at least you are making an attempt at controlling the gun’s recoil, with hopefully positive results on the target.
They might be harder to shoot, but the positive is the recognition that you are able to manage the movement of a mechanical, rather than a recoilless pneumatic, action. This is a skill that is hard-earned and, for shooters who have only ever used PCPs, one that might take some time to master.
As a shooter who has used spring-powered rifles for nearly 50 years, you would think that the necessary skills required to pilot such a mechanical device would come easily to me. They do, but only with my Weihrauch HW 80 that I have owned for 14 years and fired probably hundreds of thousands of shots with. I have really formed a great partnership with the 80: I am fully aware of its hold preferences and seem to be able to easily equate the fall of shot with my 30/30 old-fashioned reticle with its lack of additional aim points.
It’s one thing knowing a spring rifle really well – but change the model and it all becomes very different. Granted, it is still necessary to manage the eggshell hold with any springer, but positioning the supporting hand in a comfortable and repeatable manner does take some learning with any new recoiling gun. I think this helps to explain the disappointment I experienced when using the new 97 in competition for the first time.
The last time out with the old faithful HW 80 occurred at a recent Turton outdoor range HFT course in the summer. As usual, Turton was breezy, providing us all with a challenging course. The top score on the day with a PCP was 56; I managed a 48 with the HW 80, which was reasonable in the conditions for a springer.
The reason I mention this is to allow you to compare for yourself the debacle that was my use of another spring gun, the new 97, in a Gauntlet competition round. My worst-ever score in an HFT round prior to this particular day was a disappointing 44. You can imagine how I felt recording 34 on the day. It really was a shocking experience to watch shots not landing anywhere near the intended point of aim, and of course the more targets I missed, the worse it got.
I only managed to knock over five targets on the day and completely missed the faceplate on another. It is very easy for us all to come up with reasonable excuses when we don’t do as well as we think we should. All I will say in mitigation is that I had not fully familiarised myself with the gun, and that the BKL mounts did not perform as admirably as they do on a PCP gun rail, clamping-wise.
With my own recent advice on how to cope with shooting disappointment in mind, I managed to carry out an objective assessment of my failings when I returned home. Clearly, I had to come up with a plan for shooting the new springer that would prevent recurring disappointment. As usual when I have these cunning plans, the solution usually involves additional expense and modifications to guns, unfortunately. I am determined to get the better of managing this new gun and will be keeping you advised of my progress over the next couple of months. It can only get better!