Shooting the ISP Spartan Classic air rifle with Andy McLachlan

While Andy McLachlan usually loves throwing plenty of lead downrange, he slows down the pace so he can savour a rather special rifle

Fellow Bolton Gun Club member Dave enjoys a taste of airgun history at the Leigh indoor range

Regular readers may remember my visit to Shaun Hill’s ISP rifle manufacturing workshop. A friend who is fortunate to own examples of both target rifles and the Spartan model visited Shaun in order to leave one of the match rifles for a service.

Shaun insists upon carrying out this work himself as each rifle requires individual treatment, unlike the majority of factory-produced hardware that most of us own, manufactured via machine-turned components and CNC equipment which works away on its own.

The ISP owner experience is very much one of purchasing a hand-finished airgun, and in the case of the beautiful Spartan Classic, what must be one the most well engineered working examples of what can be achieved by a specialist who has set out to produce something genuinely unique.

The Spartan Classic is a handbuilt gun that is like a blank canvas on which the potential owner could design their own brand of perfection, much like the owner of a handbuilt English shotgun could specify certain metal engraving and particular stock grades and finish.

One example that I recently had the pleasure of shooting for a brief period is owned by fellow Bolton Gun Club member Phil Dewhurst. 

This particular Spartan Classic was apparently manufactured in 2008 and is adorned with some absolutely superb scroll work on both the gun’s action and bolt from the late, great and legendary gun engraver Don Blocksidge. 

Don was an ex-Webley employee and was responsible for the Venom Arms logo being engraved upon my own custom Weihrauch HW80 Venom Lazaglide action when that gun was put together following the extensive re-engineering conducted by the late Steve Pope when he was still working for Venom at the Webley factory. 

It is a great shame that these icons of the English custom airgun trade have now left us, but at least we are still able to admire and use the efforts of their very considerable skills to this day and well into the future for current airgunners as well as those yet to be born.

So with another of the extremely rare examples of a Spartan custom air rifle in my hands, it was time to get in some serious shooting on the indoor range, although the gun is far more suited to a nice jaunt through a field one beautiful summer evening in search of a rabbit for the pot.

Here’s the ISP Spartan Classic in all its glory – this handbuilt single-shot PCP dates back to around 2008

The gun boasts a PCP action, with the air cylinder residing within the front of the stock. Just like PCP actions of old, the gun is a single shot, with the action cocked following the movement of the bolt from its resting position and back into its slot. 

The entire process is managed smoothly and is a credit to ISP for the ability to build in such superbly close tolerances that allow this to take place the way it does. If you are like me, I suspect that you would appreciate the slickness of the action as it is cycled.

This is not a gun built for rapid fire; it is designed to be shot leisurely and enjoyed for what it is as an example of what can be achieved if we desire something unique. 

The vast majority of “special edition” airguns that we can buy today are usually just restocked mainstream models with a different finish, not actual custom guns that have been handbuilt to order. 

The problem for those of us residing in the normal world is the inability to afford such beautiful items without flogging the car or re-mortgaging the house. In most cases this would then have to be agreed to by She Who Must Be Obeyed and is, I suspect, unlikely to occur.

Anyway, back to the rifle. The gun in question has been fitted with an old Tasco scope chosen for its gloss looks and ability to highlight the overall beauty of the gun rather than for performance alone. 

In saying that, I was able to place all my shots within a pleasingly small group at the 30-yard zero range of the combination as prescribed by owner Phil.

The trigger could hardly be classed as match-standard, but it was also very predictable, and allowed the best to be drawn out of the gun. 

Rather than the inherent accuracy of the combination though, it was a real pleasure just to cycle the action and release some relaxed shots at targets at all ranges and watch as they all fell over nicely.

The stock of the Spartan is of course as beautiful as the action and is completely produced in-house by the Spartan team out of a remarkably high grade of walnut. 

This is then oiled to within inches of its life and provides the owner with an example of unique art that is comparable with any top money shotgun. Even the butt pad looks well in its orange colouration, with the whole ensemble fitting together beautifully with the rest of the gun.

This Spartan displays some classic engraving that was carried out by the late Don Blocksidge, a true blend of function and form
Owner Phil Dewhurst hands over his beloved gun so other shooters can see what this exemplary air rifle has to offer

Having spent many sessions at the bench recently, shooting hundreds of pellets at a time, it was a pleasing experience to just take my time and enjoy every shot rather than quickly reloading as I searched for another 53-yard 10X score. 

The Spartan allowed me to fully enjoy each and every shot as I concentrated on flicking out the bolt, cocking the action, returning the bolt after loading a pellet into the loading tray and taking my time with a careful trigger pull and follow through. 

I was genuinely impressed with the standard of accuracy as the gun had not been set up for myself, but still allowed the pellets to land at the intended point of aim.

My limited time with this beautiful example of English airgun engineering was soon over, unfortunately. I believe spending time with guns of such quality allows the individual shooter to reflect upon each individual shot rather than to pour fire downrange as can often happen when we become fully absorbed in long shooting and practice sessions. 

These tend to be more about automatic responses when faced with a particular sight picture rather than proper contemplation and the ability to fully relax prior to a carefully considered shot release.

Spending some time with a classic gun normally ensures that we are thinking about individual shots rather than just entering the autopilot zone that is familiar to many when we spend time at the range. 

Using such a beautiful object such as the ISP Spartan Classic certainly reminded me why shooting can be such a relaxing and rewarding hobby. Most of us will never have the opportunity of owning anything as exotic as a Spartan, but there are many examples of classic guns from earlier eras such as the seventies and eighties that might just fit the bill. Get searching! 

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Posted in Features, Target Shooting

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