Andy McLachlan offers some advice to shooters wanting to raise their game with a PCP: shoot a springer instead… at least for a while
How do you go about improving your overall shooting ability with targetised pre-charged pneumatic rifles? It’s simple really: just buy yourself a good spring-powered rifle or dust down the one that’s been hiding unloved in your gun cabinet.
Having written previous articles about my own use of a springer, I have been very interested recently to note that a couple of my fellow target shooters at Rivington have taken up the gauntlet and decided to do precisely that. The two shooters in question will be well-known to regular target shooters, and have both enjoyed considerable success within the HFT scene for several years now.
The first shooter to take up the challenge is Darren ‘Daz’ Taylor. Daz is an accomplished HFT shooter and was a member of this year’s Team England, who recorded another win at the World Championships at a wet and muddy Kelmarsh. My son James has also decided that reacquainting himself with a springer might also improve his overall performance, although I hate to admit that his performance is usually pretty good anyway – with quite a few wins to his name, including a world championship title, over
the past decade or so.
So why have a couple of successful PCP tournament shooters suddenly decided to start shooting springers once again? It’s all down to being able to correctly manage the infinitesimally small amount of time that it takes the pellet to travel down the barrel of a gun. In a recoilless PCP, it doesn’t really matter how you happen to be holding the gun as long as you use the correct techniques of maintaining a proper hold and following through correctly. This involves maintaining an unmoving hold upon the gun as you try to catch sight of the pellet as it travels towards the target, which hopefully then falls over. Only then can you move from your position. The whole cycle is usually over in a couple of seconds, but they are critically important seconds nonetheless!
The follow-through is important for any type of shooting, and any type of gun, for that matter. However, for shooters using a gun with a coiled mainspring living within the action, any disturbance of the hold, any slight flinching of the trigger finger or any tiny movement of the supporting fingers can and will have disastrous consequences for anybody wishing to drop, say, a long-range target at unknown distance in a wind.
Shooters who regularly use springers in competition are of course aware of this and sometimes manage to equal the score of a top PCP shooter. This doesn’t happen very often as it is just so damned hard to do, even for the top springer shots!
If, as a shooter, you can properly manage the recoiling cycle of a spring-powered rifle, you will then find that shooting a PCP – particularly one designed for target shooting – becomes relatively easy to manage without conscious thought. All shooters flinch occasionally upon the release of the shot, regardless of their experience and previous success. This is a habit that is occasionally hard to break for some shooters.
The problem we face when releasing the trigger of a spring-powered recoiling rifle is caused by the rapid release of mechanical energy of the uncoiling spring and piston as they travel up the action of the gun at great speed. As we will all remember from our science lessons, every action has an equal and opposite reaction, meaning we experience recoil and a movement at the shoulder. However, once the piston has finished compressing the air in the cylinder and reaches the correct pressure to fold the skirt of the pellet and send it spinning on its way towards the target, we also get an additional movement, widely known as ‘surge’. This also moves the gun forwards, resulting in the double recoil of a springer, and that’s why it is crucial to have a recoil arrestor stud located from the scope mount into the action of the gun to stop the scope from moving.
This is precisely why the shooting of a springer is so much more challenging than a PCP. It’s not that most of us do not enjoy shooting a mechanically powered gun, but rather that it is much harder to achieve match-standard accuracy when doing so. However, it could also be argued that it is also more enjoyable attempting to manage the recoil and general movement of the springer. Most of us are capable of recording pellet-sized groupings at ranges up to 40 yards with a recoilless gun. This is the standard of accuracy needed if we wish to compete with the top shots in competition. Doing this with a springer is of course a far harder challenge, although with lots of practice and high-quality equipment, it is possible to approach this standard of accuracy.
With all the above in mind, I asked Daz and James what particular rifles they had in mind for their latest challenge. Shooters wishing to purchase a gun capable of producing competition-winning results usually choose either the Weihrauch HW 77/97, Air Arms TX200 or the Walther LGU. All these rifles are of underlever construction and possess a fair amount of weight that will help control the recoil cycle.
Both shooters, having recently used examples of all the available target-orientated springers, decided upon the full-length Air Arms TX200. This did not surprise me. I currently own an version of all three of the guns, with the TX being my personal favourite by far. The gun shoots superbly well straight out of the box, and is finished to a higher standard than its competitors as well.
My own TX is capable of match-standard accuracy, although I have replaced the original mainspring and re-lubed with a Welsh Willy kit for even smoother and consistent performance. It is a shocking thing to say, but I also prefer the Air Arms CD trigger to that of the Weihrauch Rekord assembly, which describes just how good the TX unit really is when it’s set up correctly.
Daz and James will not be leaving their newly purchased guns in standard format, that’s for sure. I asked them what they intend to do to try to improve their guns’ suitability for full-on target use. This includes the following mods: fitment of a highly modified 22mm piston assembly and matching mainspring; fine-tuning of the trigger assemblies with, in Daz’s case, a Rowan trigger blade unit; and both of them also commissioning Warren Edwards to build stocks to their own preference and personal specifications.
At the time of writing, both Darren and James have yet to enter the springer category of a competition. Apparently, it is their intention to compete with springers during the winter campaign; they’re both aware that this will further improve their ability to maintain a near perfect hold and follow-through when they next use their Steyr PCPs in anger for next year’s national series.
I suspect that despite the skill level of both shooters, it might be a while until they fully acquaint themselves with shooting their highly modified TX200s to a standard they find acceptable. Having taught James to shoot with a springer, and accompanying him on hundreds of successful hunting trips a couple of decades ago, I am well aware of his capabilities. Darren is also a naturally talented shooter, who, like James, will not settle for second best. It will be very interesting to see how they both progress, and it’s my intention to keep you all informed of anything that they learn along the way.