Thinking outside of the box

Andy McLachlan spells out the benefits of target gun modifications – but reckons many of these jobs are best left to the experts

If you take a cursory look at any competition air rifle course of fire, either indoors or outdoors, it would be a very rare event indeed if you were to see the majority of guns in use remaining in their standard ‘out of the box’ format.

Although the manufacturers do a fine job of providing us, the buying public, with equipment that is fit for purpose, the fact of the matter is that most, if not all, guns can be improved by the owner so they shoot a little better than in standard factory format.

I do not include target-specific guns within this category, however. Usually, something such as a 10-metre target rifle, set up for six foot pounds of energy, will require much in the way of modification, as it will come ready fitted with what is usually a mega adjustable (and expensive) target stock that can be fine-tuned to allow the shooter a perfectly balanced rifle when in the aiming position.

Many of these 10-metre target rifles, usually manufactured in Germany, are modified by outdoor target shooters to allow for the increase in power to our own sub-12 foot pound levels of energy required to perform as an outdoor target rifle for Field Target and Hunter Field Target.

Not that any owner can just tune the gun’s power for themselves. The absolute priority of course when dealing with any equipment capable of firing a projectile is safety. There are many shooters that enjoy stripping and sometimes even successfully reassembling their hardware.

But, particularly when dealing with high pressure air, a lack of experience can lead to catastrophe, both for the owner and the gun itself. Drilling into high pressure air cylinders by accident is something you will only do once! 

The pre-charged pneumatic guns to which I have referred have been set at a certain power level by the factory and allow little, if any, adjustment by the owner.

We can’t just ‘power up’ the guns ourselves, as in the majority of cases the internals of the guns need engineering skill to be able to increase considerations such as regulator chamber volumes, hammer settings and many other internal considerations if we are to end up with a reliable gun that shoots as consistently and accurately as we would wish.

Clearly, it will not be possible for the average person without these particular skills to just mess about with two grand’s worth of quality engineering.

Andy’s own Anschutz 9015 has received internal modifications and a carbon-fibre barrel shroud fitted by expert tuner Simon ‘Tench’ Howarth

For a start, and more important than any other single consideration, is the fact that delving into the guts of a pre-charged pneumatic rifle without knowing what you are doing is a sure-fire way of both invalidating any manufacturer’s warranty and probably damaging the finely balanced settings required to properly set up any individual gun’s firing mechanism.

In other words, if you are a sensible soul who doesn’t want to damage your gun and render it unserviceable, leave the modifications to those who know how it works best.

Obviously, the best people to modify your pride and joy would be the manufacturer. However, they are usually more interested in making lots of guns than they are of modifying yours individually to suit your specific requirements.

Therefore, if you do want to modify your own gun, say from a six foot pound 10-metre target rifle to one producing double the power and capable of achieving good performance in the world of outdoor airgun competition, you’ll need to find somebody who has the necessary skills and experience to carry out any internal engineering surgery.

There are a few acclaimed airgun experts who have the required skill set and engineering equipment to carry out such modifications. These individuals are well known within the serious shooting community, with them all having their own set of dedicated and loyal followings of customers that put their own trust in modifying their own guns to carry out tasks such as increasing the power level to sub-12 foot pounds from the original six, for example.

Many of the modifications require the engineer to use cutting tools to remove metal from the action of an expensive target rifle action. Not something that you or I could successfully achieve with a Dremel!

No, this is a highly skilled procedure that should only be attempted by those who possess the necessary skill set to carry out the work.

Obviously, the methods used by the specialists who carry out this type of modification to a target gun’s action tend to have their own tried and trusted methodologies when it comes to how to successfully achieve the desired outcome. These do tend to differ and explains why some shooters will prefer Modifier A to Modifier B, for example.

When I bought an Anschutz 9015 target rifle a couple of years ago and needed to up the power to our own UK energy levels, I contacted one particular airgun engineer. Simon ‘Tench’ Howarth had carried out the required series of internal modifications to several of my friends’ guns previously.

Simon has been known by me and my own set of shooting friends for many years as providing a high standard of service for those wishing to modify guns, either fitting regulators to unregulated gun actions or, as in this case, carrying out major modifications to a gun’s action.

Like the few other well-known modifiers of guns, Simon was able to carry out modifications to that particular 9015, and it is still shooting as well as ever two years and tens of thousands of pellets later.

Let us not forget, though, just how important a proper stock fit is to the serious shooter. Manufacturers generally do a fair job of providing us with stocks on standard guns that allow some amount of adjustability for length of pull and cheekpiece height.

Some even provide their stocks with riser blocks (hamsters) that allow the shooter to position the gun better for different types of shots, usually in an outdoor competition setting.

Stocks such as this do provide most shooters with a perfectly good ‘handle’ for most of their shooting activities. However, for the committed and serious target shooter, the ultimate stock will be one that has been made to measure and incorporates any idiosyncrasies that the individual shooter may have, such as the positioning of finger grooves for example. 

The ability to use a stock that has been made just for the individual shooter cannot be underestimated. It can and does make the difference between a decent shooter and a champion.

Having a stock that allows the gun to be brought into the aiming position perfectly every time while allowing good balance are key considerations for any serious target shooter.

As with the specialists who can work with a gun’s action to bring about those wished-for modifications, there are quite a few gun stock manufacturers out there who can produce exactly what the shooter needs for their dream stock. I personally have used the skills of Warren Edwards for all my own stock work, as have many other shooters in the UK.

I am also aware of individual shooters who have the required levels of skill and have manufactured their own stocks, with some beautiful examples of craftsmanship.

To summarise, I would strongly suggest that any gun modifications be left to the experts who are experienced enough to ensure that you will be using a gun that won’t let you down and will very often perform better than it did when it left the factory.

If you aren’t one hundred percent sure of what you are doing, don’t do it!

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