Richard Saunders takes a look at four top break-barrel and underlever spring rifles, and gives them the piston seal of approval
Although pneumatics have been around for much longer than many people realise, airgun shooting as we know it today is built on a hundred year-plus heritage of springer rifles.
Despite modern PCPs and their ability to flatter the most average of shots, our love affair with springer rifles endures and just about all the major manufacturers have one or two in their range.
For many, the attraction is that they don’t need to be filled with air from a diver’s tank or pump. For others, price is an attraction; even top-of-the-range springers cost less than middle-of-the-road or even starter level PCPs.
Plus for those of a certain age, nostalgia can certainly play a part. Modern springers are still based on technology developed well over a hundred years ago. The spring is compressed, and when released by the trigger it drives the piston forwards, compressing the air in front of the piston and propelling the pellet down the barrel.
However, the introduction of the PCP has made manufacturers raise their game when it comes to the springers in their line-up. They know there’s a willing market out there, but recognise that the twangy old things we used in the last century won’t cut it in the modern era when shooters who are used to PCPs expect single-hole groups.
While there are plenty of wallet-friendly entry-level springers available, today’s top-end models are engineered to much higher tolerances and made to more exacting quality standards.
In the right hands, they are every bit as accurate as PCPs. To prove the point, we’re taking a look at four of the very best on the market. Side-levers have all but disappeared, and today our choice is limited to break-barrel and underlever action rifles.
When it comes to springer heritage, few companies can compete with Weihrauch, which includes more spring-powered rifles in its catalogue than just about any other company.
So we’ve been shooting the HW 95K Luxus break-barrel and the HW 97KT underlever. Both have been loaned to us by Hull Cartridge, the marque’s UK distributor.
The other rifles we’ll be putting under the microscope come from another German giant. Walther was formed in 1886, but can trace its roots back another hundred years or so.
John Rothery Wholesale lent us a Walther LGV Master Pro break-barrel and a Walther LGU Varmint underlever to put through their paces. So, if the challenge of a springer appeals to you, or if you simply want to recapture your youth, read on…
Weihrauch HW 95K LUXUS
Lightweight and handy in the field
The HW 95K comes from a long line of pedigree HW break-barrels, several of which still have a place in the Weihrauch catalogue today. The rifle’s ambidextrous beech stock is stained a walnut colour and has chequering on both the pistol grip and forend.
As you’d expect, the HW 95K is beautifully finished with deep and even bluing. With Weihrauch’s excellent silencer fitted as standard, the K model measures 107.5cm with a 31cm barrel, and weighs just 3.2kg unscoped.
The barrel breaks easily and locks up solidly when returned. The cocking action itself is very light and smooth. Although the additional leverage of the silencer helps, the underlying quality of the engineering is very evident.
Cocking also activates an automatic safety catch at the back of the action, which can be reset by re-breaking the barrel. The best bit about cocking the HW 95K Luxus is that you then get to pull the Rekord trigger – it’s been said before, but the two-stage unit is a joy to use. The gold finish, however, may be a bit too bling for some, especially hunters.
Though it’s adjustable for both length of pull and weight, it was set perfectly for me straight out of the box. The first stage is smooth, and the let-off is precise and predictable.
The HW 95K’s heritage shows through when you raise it to a shooting position. With a scope fitted to the dovetail rail, the balance point is just slightly biased towards the butt, and the rifle seems to find its own way to your shoulder – where, thanks to the slim forend, it’s easy to hold on target.
Out of the box, the .22 model on test returned an average 576 feet per second at around 11.8ft-lb. Resting my hand on a beanbag I was able to hit groups a little under an inch at 20 metres, and a smidgeon more than that at 30m.
The Airgun Shooter verdict:
“Despite having been around for a few years, the HW 95K Luxus is without doubt one of the best break-barrels on the market, especially at the price. It’s well-made, accurate, powerful and something of a looker. It will serve you on the range as well as in the field, where you’ll particularly appreciate it’s meagre weight.”
A bruiser with a delicate touch
The HW 97KT sits alongside the HW 77 and HW 57 to complete Weihrauch’s holy trinity of underlevers. There are several variants: the traditional stock HW 97K, which is also available in blue laminate; the synthetic stock HW 97 Black Line; and the HW 97 Black Line-sTL, which has silvered metalwork.
Whichever one you choose, you’ll need to make sure you eat a hearty breakfast before going shooting, as they weigh 4.1kg unscoped and measure just over a metre long.
The ambidextrous, walnut-stained beech stock features a thumb-shelf that sets you up well to use the Rekord trigger and operate the safety catch that is set automatically when the rifle is cocked.
There are panels of chequering on either side of the forend and on the pistol grip, and the rubber buttpad can be adjusted for height. The underlever is released by pressing a button on the retaining catch underneath the muzzle – and hunters in particular will be pleased to know that with care, it makes no more noise than a break-barrel, or the bolt on a PCP, to return.
At around 28cm long, the underlever does require a little effort to pull down and engage the safety catch, which can be reset – although for safety, it will not allow you to de-cock the action. The lever also reveals the large loading port into which loading pellets is easy, even with gloved hands.
Though undeniably hefty, the HW 97KT is well balanced. While that weight might be tiring in the field, it has no bearing on the range and is in fact an advantage, helping to negate its already modest recoil.
As a result, I was able to shoot single, ragged-hole groups at both 20 and 30 metres. Putting out a steady 11.6ft-lb, the action was silky smooth, with just enough of a nudge to make shooting the HW 97K all the more engaging.
The Airgun Shooter verdict:
“Striking looks and German precision engineering are backed up by an action that delivers the goods. The HW 97KT would grace any range or HFT/FT course, and won’t let you down in the field either.”
Walter LGV Masters Pro
Getting on for nearly five kilos, with a big scope and at 1.1m long, it’s fair to say the Walther LGV Master Pro is closer to pork pies than salads on the food spectrum… not that I can talk.
However, unlike me, this break-barrel is made from perfectly sculpted muscle. The ambidextrous stock has a high comb, defined cheekpieces and an adjustable rubber butt pad. The chequering on the pistol grip is among the best I’ve ever seen, and the forend, though smooth, has a full-length scallop and fits the hand sublimely.
The finish on the metalwork is of the highest quality and culminates in a 39cm barrel that is capped off with a muzzle weight/cocking aid. The presence of a grub screw suggests it can be removed to fit a silencer – for which the barrel is threaded – but I wasn’t brave enough to give it the yank it needed to come free, let alone tap it with a block of wood and a mallet.
A thumb-catch at the end of the stock releases the barrel from the breech and allows you to return the barrel silently once cocked – something hunters will love.
Cocking the LGV Master Pro automatically sets a safety catch at the back of the breech, within easy reach of the thumb on your trigger hand. It can be reset and you can also de-cock the rifle. Out of the box, the adjustable two-stage trigger had a long first stage, but the let-off was positive.
What really sets this Walther and its LGU underlever stablemate apart are the internals. When it was launched, reviewers waxed lyrically about the LGV being ‘tuned out of the box’. Now I see that they meant.
Certainly, the LGV Master Pro is unlike any springer I have ever shot. It’s smooth, quiet and has an action that I can only describe as ‘thuddy’. In terms of performance, single-hole groups at 20 and 30m were achieved by everyone at my club who had a go, and the chrono showed an average of 564 feet per second, equating to 11.3ft-lb.
The Airgun Shooter verdict:
“This is a rifle that smaller shooters will struggle to handle anywhere but on the range. Certainly, you’d need to be a regular at the gym if you wanted to take one hunting. But the extra pounds help deliver a rifle that is exquisite to shoot and as accurate as any PCP.”
Walther LGU Varmint
A German heavy-hitter
Like its break-barrel cousin, the Walther LGU Varmint is something of a contradiction. Its big, beefy exterior hides an interior that’s full of refined engineering touches. Think of it as a bouncer who likes romantic poetry.
Even with one of the smallest scopes I own on top, the LGU Varmint weighed 4.7kg. Unscoped, the weight is biased to the front, but with a scope attached, the fulcrum is closer to the middle. At 107cm long, it’s also one of the longer rifles on the market.
That’s not to say it isn’t a looker, though. The ambidextrous black synthetic stock, into which the trigger guard is integrated, is pleasant to handle and looks like it would withstand all but the most careless of treatment. There’s not much of a comb on the butt, but you’ll find yourself lined up on the scope perfectly nonetheless.
There are grippy panels on both the pistol grip and forend which swell nicely in the palm of your hand. The automatic, resettable safety catch is well placed at the back of the action.
To cock, the underlever has to be prised from a sprung ball-bearing catch under the muzzle. The downward stroke is easy and smooth. A couple of muted clicks on the way are evidence of a neat safety feature that ensures the handle won’t fly back up if it slips from your hand.
The cocking action reveals the loading port, which is canted to favour loading from the right-hand side. A button just behind the port is another safety feature and prevents the cocking lever returning unless pressed.
Internally, the LGU Varmint shares many of the features with the LGV Master Pro break-barrel, and is just as pleasurable to shoot, with minimal recoil, mechanical sound and vibration.
On the range, the silky-smooth action coupled with an excellent two-stage adjustable trigger combined to give groups that were just as impressive as those of the LGV Master. Over 10 shots, the variance was just seven feet per second, with a muzzle energy of 11.1ft-lb.
The Airgun Shooter verdict
“Like many of us, the LGU Varmint would be even better if it lost a few pounds. That said, the extra weight helps deliver a shooting action that is silky smooth and makes every pellet a delight to shoot. I for one would be glad to make the sacrifice.”
They may have their engineering roots in the old muskets that abound in the classifieds, but there’s no denying the competence of high-end, modern spring-powered air rifles.
Even the most expensive models are cheap compared with most PCPs and yet they are accurate and every bit as rewarding to shoot. Indeed, many would argue – and with good reason – that they are more rewarding.
Much of that is down to the more physical experience of shooting a springer and the fact they demand proper technique in order to master. A consistent hold, proper use of the trigger and correct follow-through are just a few of the skills you will need to acquire.
Such proficiencies are needed to contend with the fact that pulling the trigger sets off a mechanical chain reaction – recoil – that will do its best to throw you off aim. The fact that PCPs are not troubled by such agricultural considerations is why they are much easier to shoot accurately.
It’s also why so many springer owners either send their rifles to professional tuners or have a go at fettling the action themselves. Invest money in a good springer, like any of these four rifles, take the time to learn their foibles and the technique to overcome them, and you’ll have a rifle that will last a lifetime.
|Name||HW 95 LUXUS||HW 97KT||LGV Master Pro||LGU Varmint|
|Uk distributor||Hull Cartridge||Hull Cartridge||John Rothery Wholesale||John Rothery Wholesale|
|Price||RRP £359||RRP £549||RRP £539||RRP £489|
|Trigger||Two-stage adjustable||Two-stage adjustable||Two-stage adjustable||Two-stage adjustable|
|Safety||Automatic resettable||Automatic resettable safety catch||Automatic resettable||Automatic resettable|
|Adjustable stocks||No||Butt pad adjustable for height||Butt pad adjustable for height||No|
|Key features||Light, silencer A.S, Great trigger||Great trigger, adjustable butt pad||Smooth cocking action, barrel lock catch, quiet||Quiet, minimal recoil or vibration, good safety features|
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