Smooth Operator with Andy McLachlan

Andy McLachlan recalls his youth when all he craved was power. He’s a little older and wiser now, and his springer shooting is all the better for it.

Hopefully, most readers will have access to or own a decent quality spring-powered rifle. If, like me, you learned how to shoot using a recoiling gun, you will of course already be aware of the skills required to shoot one accurately.

This includes the ‘caress’ you need to give the rifle – holding the stock’s contact points with the least resistance as possible and thus allowing the gun to do its own thing and move freely, as all of the internal components speed up the action during the firing cycle.

This is quite a violent process and can be the cause of strangely wayward shots downrange until the user becomes accustomed to handling a gun that actually moves when the shot is released. You stay focused on maintaining your aimed position as the pellet speeds its way to the target.

Part of the fun of springer shooting is learning to understand the firing characteristics of a particular gun as you get a feel for its idiosyncrasies. Not all springers react in the same way once that trigger has been pulled. Some will have a particularly harsh recoil and go off with a loud crack, particularly if they have a shorter carbine barrel.

If you’ve been used to a silenced PCP, this can sometimes come as a shock as the noise and gun movement conspire to put you off. This explains the ‘barn door’ scenario whereby the shooter finds it difficult to hit the described object anywhere near the intended point of aim.

The Airguntech 22mm assembly is now complete

Fortunately, the huge majority of spring-powered air rifles available from the top manufacturers these days do not display these violent tendencies. Both break-barrel and underlever spring guns – and for that matter gas-rams – tend to be much more civilised, enabling the shooter the opportunity to put together some half-decent group sizes once the initial shot-management techniques have been mastered.

This is of course very important, as achieving half-decent results with their newly acquired gun is crucial for enabling novice shooters in particular to achieve results that encourage them to persevere with their airgunning hobby.

Shooters such as myself, and thousands of others who enjoy using spring power for at least some of their airgun shooting and are familiar with ‘the way of the springer’, sometimes require a gun whose characteristics are somewhat easier to manage than might be available from an off-the-shelf product.

This is where the various airgun tuners enter the equation. There are many highly experienced shooters who have spent a great deal of time and effort trying to achieve a more managed and civilised release of the stored spring energy from within the actions of their guns.

The objective of modifying a spring gun’s internals usually revolves around the smoothing, polishing and re-lubrication of the working parts, which will have a noticeable effect upon how smoothly a particular gun will release the shot. ‘Smoothly’ is a very subjective thing for individual shooters, however.

If we, as a tuner, were setting up a spring-powered gun for use as a bell target rifle, for example, we wouldn’t necessarily need 11 foot pounds of muzzle energy.

What we would need is an action that is capable of producing probably half that power, but of single-figure velocity fluctuations to maximise shot-to-shot consistency. This ensures that, providing that the gun is properly managed by the shooter, it is more than capable of delivering consistent and repeatable levels of accuracy.

It would also be a joy to shoot, with probably minimal recoil and a very smooth delivery due to the internal components having been re-engineered to produce much less effort when cocking and being generally more manageable. In this particular case it’s highly likely that the tuner would install a mainspring either shorter or softer than the full-length item, as that is not required for this level of power output.

Talking of mainsprings, I can well remember my friends and I fighting to install python-like square-sectioned springs into our hunting rifles way back in the ’70s and early ’80s. Back then it was all about power, so the fact that our once beautifully shooting rifles then resembled a 17th century musket going off didn’t matter, as long as the gun would power a pellet through both sides of an old metal dustbin.

Fighting through the smoke following the inevitable detonation of the gun’s internal lubricant, we would marvel at how much recoil the gun possessed, blissfully unaware that our ability to actually hit anything that we aimed at had been seriously reduced.

Our own failed attempts at ‘improving’ our guns’ performance eventually led us to realise that airguns were not about power, but rather the quiet and repeatable accuracy that leads to increased success in the field.

At about this same time, companies such as Airmasters and Venom Arms were showing the airgunning community just what could be achieved with considered and well-engineered solutions for smooth-shooting, full-powered spring air rifles. They would take classic guns such as the Feinwerkbau Sport and Weihrauch HW 80 and turn them into true works of engineering art.

This enabled the few fortunate owners of these guns to maximise the potential of highly accurate, super smooth-shooting springers in both hunting and competition.

The first time I got to shoot an example of such a rifle, a Venom HW 80, I was shocked at how it performed in comparison with ‘normal’ untuned guns. There was no severe recoil. It was possible to watch the whole flight of the pellet to the target. It was more accurate and also a beauty to behold, with its crafted walnut stock and stunning re-blued metalwork.

Andy’s son James uses his fully tuned and custom-stocked TX200 in competition

This was the period of my life when I had lots of responsibilities such as a young family, mortgage and minimal disposable income, so I couldn’t afford one at the time and had to wait years until I took delivery of my own example of genuine airgunning art. It’s a gun that is still regularly used and treasured by me to this day.

My HW 80 Venom Lazahunter now bears the scars of its time in hard use and is deserving of a back seat as we both enter older age. Not that I don’t continue to give her an outing every month or so – but when thinking about a bespoke outdoor HFT competition rifle, I fancied converting one of my newer springers for the task.

With this in mind, I decided to use my Air Arms TX200 Hunter Carbine as an ideal vehicle for a full and relatively radical tune. My son James and our friend Daz Taylor had extensively researched the many available tuning options currently available.

Like me, they also preferred the TX underlever platform due to the gun’s high build quality and top-class features, including the excellent CD trigger unit and its standard tuned action.

There are many specialist companies and individuals who are able to transform the working parts of a spring-powered rifle so that it feels totally transformed into something that becomes a joy to shoot. This usually involves creating less dramatic feedback from the gun’s action as the trigger is released, enabling more accurate shooting.

The company we all chose to fully tune our TX200 rifles was Airguntech, and its proprietor Tony Leach. Tony is a highly skilled airgun tuner who is one of the few engineers able to totally transform the firing cycle of a spring-powered gun. In the case of our own requirements, this involved fitting a reduced volume compression tube from the original 25mm down to 22mm.

The greatly modified piston assembly bears no resemblance to the original and results in noticeably lighter recoil and the ability to watch the pellet in flight, if correct springer handling techniques are used by the shooter.

This obviously makes an already excellent gun even more enjoyable to shoot, and in competition it’s enabled both Darren and James the opportunity of producing the odd decent score.

They tell me, however, that the Warren Edwards custom stock is probably just as important to the gun’s overall performance, and that the fine-tuning of stock fit to optimise results has taken the most time to master.

Neither Darren nor James have shot their PCP target rifles for a couple of months so far, and it will be interesting to see how they progress over time as they seek to become intimately acquainted with their new guns. Once my own gun receives its new stock, I may even join in with the fun!

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