When .22 was king…

Ian Jones recently bought this latest version of the classic HW 35 Export – it’s beautiful!

Andy McLachlan remembers the glory days of airgun shooting when .22 was king, and sets out to restore the monarchy.

Like many shooters of my generation, I was brought up on rifles with a calibre of .22 (5.5mm.) This was the chosen pellet of choice for all things, from destroying old plastic Airfix models on a hastily arranged garden range to eventually setting out on some early hunting trips in search of rabbits and pigeons.

The guns we had available at the time were mostly products of well-known gun manufacturers such as Webley and BSA, as the German stranglehold on good quality spring-powered rifles was yet to take hold in my early shooting days. Not that the Germans didn’t hang about, mind!

My friends and I would happily plink away for hours until it either went dark or we ran out of pellets. The pellets of choice were usually boxed Marksman or Bulldog, or, if we had managed to earn any additional pocket money, the much-revered Eley Wasp in a blue tin.

We spent countless hours experiencing the simple joy of just shooting an air rifle. Luckily for us, my generation did not suffer from the intrusion of the state anywhere near as much as younger shooters do at present.

Despite shooting tens of thousands of pellets in those days between us, none of us ended up injured or suffering from any type of trouble, apart from the odd broken window in various garden sheds as a result of over-enthusiastic marksmanship.

This type of behaviour would now result in all sorts of problems when a few young shooters get together, as it is now illegal to shoot unsupervised. I suppose this must be a good thing really, as most youngsters will benefit from some experienced guidance when setting out upon their own shooting careers.

Therefore, getting younger shooters into airgun clubs is so important in these trying times, as they will be taught by experienced shots who will also be able to advise them how to shoot accurately, and just as importantly, how to shoot safely. 

Anyway, back to the point of this article.

Those of us who shoot competitions on a regular basis will be well aware of how stressful it can be when all our careful preparation and training once again results in what we consider to be a poor score.

All that effort has resulted only in disappointment, and if you are anything like me, wondering just why you bother. If you wish to proceed to a high standard in anything, unless you are naturally gifted, you will have to practise on a regular basis in conditions that replicate what you are likely to be faced with on competition day.

This is all well and good for the steely eyed and uber-competitive target shooter who takes the game too seriously. It is a bold thing to state, but I often wonder if the top shooters actually enjoy themselves as they strive to achieve a top score, and seemingly lose sight of just how much fun shooting an air rifle can be.

I am conscious that one of the top HFT shooters takes after his Dad (me) in this respect. Believe me when I say that certain individuals not recording a good score on the day definitely do not make good travelling companions!

I do not need to remind readers that shooting an air rifle or pistol is extremely good fun, and provides the shooter with the opportunity to forget about normal day-to-day stresses and just concentrate upon hitting the target.

This does not have to be a knockdown target in an outdoor HFT or FT setting. No, it can be rolling old pellet tins down the range or shooting at other inanimate objects that react when hit by our pellets, along with many other targets that provide amusement for the shooter.

For me, the perfect plinking calibre must be .22. My reasoning is that to accurately use the larger calibre, particularly at long range, represents a far more challenging proposition than our usual and much flatter-flying .177 pellets.

With our current UK legal limit of 12 foot pounds (16 joules), the larger pellets will be travelling around 200 feet per second slower, meaning a much more loopy trajectory. This means that we need the ability to accurately judge range to within a couple of yards if we hope to be successful.

However, what the slower .22 calibre does when it hits the target is impart more energy from its rapid deceleration than its smaller and faster brother.

If, like me, you very much appreciate the childlike joy of watching a used pellet tin being lifted from the ground with a satisfying jump, the larger .22 is the way to go. Very often, the smaller .177 will pass through the target with barely any reaction due to its increased velocity.

Prior to me realising that the .177 pellet is basically easier to shoot more accurately due to these characteristics, I lived, along with many thousands of other airgunners, in blissful ignorance.

As Andy admits, it’s been a long time since he’s seen this size of calibre written on the side of any of his own PCPs

In the seventies and early eighties, my friends and I would take to the fields in search of legal airgun quarry with our .22 hunting rifles. The ranges at which we would take a shot were shorter prior to the advent of guns such as a .177 PCP, which extended our effective killing range.

When combined with a bipod and still air conditions, the effective range of our smaller calibre PCPs increased by an additional 20 yards or so. Very effective indeed for pest control purposes, never mind target shooting activities.

This does not mean, though, that the .22 calibre does not have a place in today’s airgun enthusiast’s armoury. The larger calibre for field use is still, in my opinion, just as effective as it always was. It is in fact far superior for certain scenarios, when the larger pellet’s ballistic characteristics impart much greater shock energy upon its target.

Looking at my own armoury recently, I realised that the only examples of rifles I currently own in .22 calibre are early eighties springers. One is an MK 2 BSA Meteor that I restored from a cardboard box full of parts, and the other is my previously much-used Weihrauch HW 35 Export with its scaffolding tube-like 22-inch barrel. These guns don’t get out as often as they should, to be honest.

The last .22 PCP that I owned was one of the first BSA SuperTENs that was released from the factory sometime in the nineties. It was an excellent gun, and earned its keep harvesting hundreds of Shropshire rabbits before being part-exchanged for a shotgun.

This was in the days before JSB pellets appeared, and I can well remember how well the .22 Crosman Accupells would light up, tracer-like as they spun their way towards the target due to the lamp catching the inside of the shiny pellet skirt.

I am very fortunate in that I possess many high-quality and very accurate air rifles, most of which are full-blown target guns. As you will no doubt be aware, these particular guns do not come cheap, with little change out of two grand or more in most cases. My most recent acquisition, a Daystate Red Wolf, certainly knocked a massive dent in my gun budget.

What I decided that I needed was a relatively affordable .22 calibre PCP multi-shot that was able to double up as both a field gun and a plinker. We shooters are all very fortunate in that the current airgun market is full of guns that will perfectly fit the bill.

Rarely has there been any better time for the prospective purchaser to choose a well-priced gun that is functional as an all-rounder. Many manufacturers can provide examples of such guns at prices up to £500 that represent excellent value for money.

At a recent Rivington Riflemen indoor plinking session, our club secretary, the elf Ian Jones, turned up with a perfect example of such a gun, although in the usual .177 calibre. I was sitting a couple of lanes away as Ian blatted away at some tin cans behind some of the knockdown targets.

What struck us all was the particularly loud crack as the short-barrelled Kral Puncher NP-02 launched its pellets downrange. The fact that the barrel is screw-cut to accept any ½-inch UNF sound moderator, and that Ian has several spare silencers, confirmed once again that his main aim in line life is to annoy as many shooters as possible!

Yet another of the guns I have previously owned was a .177 calibre Puncher. This was fine for close-range ratting, but accuracy at anything over 30 yards was not particularly impressive.

Wishing to check out the potential performance of the new NP-02 model using Ian’s new gun, it swiftly became apparent that the latest version is in a different league.

But Andy also reckons it’s all you need to have some great plinking action – and hunting too, once you’ve learned its trajectory

The accuracy he got from the choked barrel was very good, even with the magazine loading the pellets. 

When Ian told me the price, I admit to being shocked at such great value for money from this Turkish manufacturer. 

As partners in crime, Dave Pilkington and I decided there and then that we were going to purchase yet another gun each, this time a Kral NP-02 in .22.

This is not a gun review, but for £325, (£355 for Dave’s silver version) we purchased a dual air cylinder pre-charged pneumatic rifle capable of 200 shots in .22 calibre. The guns both shoot surprisingly well for the relatively low cost.

The trigger could never be described as match-standard, but is predictable with a good let-off point. In addition, the gun, equipped with a walnut stock, is short in length and doesn’t weigh too much in the hand. 

Mine comes in at 9lb 5oz with a scope and moderator on board. The guns both shoot accurately – certainly an improvement on my first Kral anyway.

Having used the gun at the indoor range for some more tin-killing fun, I can only confirm that the cost of decent quality pre-charged pneumatics has come down to the extent that you do not need to consider re-mortgaging your house anymore for a new gun purchase.

However you decide to enjoy your airgunning, just remember that it really is very enjoyable to just shoot some pellets downrange. I might now argue that using a .22 is even more fun! 

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