The Tawnado

Mike Tawn, with his fine Lincoln air rifle… and the state-of-the-art RAW TM1000

Mike Tawn, with his fine Lincoln air rifle… and the state-of-the-art RAW TM1000

As one of the most venerable airgun retailers on the UK scene, Cambridgeshire’s Michael Tawn Airgun Supplies is a name familiar to many airgunners.

Its founder and namesake, Mike Tawn, has enjoyed a varied career in the industry, from his early days on the competition circuit to acting as the world’s largest supplier of air cartridges, and becoming sole UK distributor for the high-tech US brand Rapid Air Weapons. He also has a longstanding association with Theoben products, for which he still stocks a range of exclusive accessories and spares – which are particularly welcome for many PCP shooters now that Theoben is no longer trading in the UK.

Mike’s nickname – and a tag forever associated with MTAS – is ‘Tawnado’, which came about when he commissioned a special air cartridge pistol from Brocock with ‘Tawnado’ engraved down the side. “It really stuck – and sometimes my business is even referred to, incorrectly, as Tawnado!” he jokes.

Like everyone who’s enjoyed success in the industry, Mike’s fascination with air rifles began as a small child. “I got my first air rifle from my father when I was seven years old – a Lincoln Jeffries Model B from the early 1900s,” he recalls. “I still have it, too. I used to shoot sparrows for the local farmers and growers, because in those days they were plagued by the little finches, which were also legal quarry. I had to buy my own Marksman pellets, which I afforded through being paid one penny – in old money! – per sparrow.”

When slightly older, Mike’s uncle took him to Whittlesey Rifle Club, where he shot a Feinwerkbau Sport break-barrel. “That first visit got me hooked on competition shooting, and I soon began entering postal competitions run by the National Air Rifle and Pistol Association.

“You had to write your name, together with the rifle and pellet used on the target and send it off,” he remembers. “At one point, I got a letter from Feinwerkbau, with a gold pin, telling me my score was going in their record book!”

Mike’s target-shooting interest grew and he soon became captain of the Cambridgeshire Air Rifle and Pistol team. Then he discovered that the governing body – now the National Smallbore Rifle Association – didn’t run a summer league, so decided to set one up with Cambridgeshire as the hub.

The Uberti replica handgun – formerly a top-seller for MTAS

The Uberti replica handgun – formerly a top-seller for MTAS

“I was trying to get local shooters involved, and advertised in a magazine. A chap phoned me up to say he and a few friends got together to shoot cut-out animal targets outside and asked if I’d like to go along.”

This group of shooters quickly outgrew their venue, and so Mike, together with a few others, formed the Hereward Field Target Club, which is still going strong. Eventually Mike became Secretary of the organisation that became the British Field Target Association, on whose committee he still sits.

Mike started his field target career with an Air Arms Shamal, the classic PCP rifle featured in August’s issue of Airgun Shooter, and he told me: “Then I moved on to an Air Arms S100 with a custom stock made by John Welham, the brother of David who now runs Airmasters 88 and who’s also just been appointed UK service agent for Rapid Air Weapons.”

Through his involvement in the FT scene, Mike was instrumental in setting up the European FT Championships at Weston Park’s Midland Game Fair, which helped popularise FT and continues to attract competitors from all over Europe.

While his role in the competition scene was growing, Mike also had a longstanding involvement with the ‘Old West’ re-enactment scene, supplying high quality Uberti replica pistols. “Uberti handguns were real works of art, accurate in every detail to the original,” he says.

“Uberti had bought the tools from Colt to make the replicas – which were so authentic that even film studios used them in their Western productions. As a result, they became very collectable.”

Uberti also made these pistols in the air cartridge format – complete with mother-of-pearl grips and an engraved barrel and action – and Michael Tawn Airgun Supplies became the world’s biggest dealer for them, even launching a line of guns that chambered Mike’s own special version of the air cartridge, using a steel, rather than brass, nose cone. Air cartridge guns provided great success for MTAS, but were effectively ‘banned’ back in 2003 (under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act).

“That means I can no longer sell them,” he says with great sadness. “Nor even give them away.” Instead, they now sit as part of his (licensed) collection, though Mike is still able to sell all the accessories (like cartridges and seal kits) for those guns which remain in circulation on a Section One FAC.

Though losing the air cartridge guns was a blow to MTAS, the business has other aspects that have kept it going. “I’ve been a Sportsmatch dealer since my competition days – and I also have some exclusive airgun parts, such as the Theoben Rapid bottle valves and quick-fill attachments,” he explains.

Mike’s smart coupling set is a godsend for those with more  than one PCP from differing brands

Mike’s smart coupling set is a godsend for those with more than one PCP from differing brands

“These are all made from stainless steel, as are the connectors and filling probes that I stock for other rifles, from the likes of Weihrauch and BSA. I also have a bottle blind for buddy bottles and the filler line for Theoben gas-rams.”

Another of Mike’s clever innovations is his smart coupling set that attaches to the filler line on a dive cylinder and allows an easy change for different filler couplings. For those who have more than one make of rifle, this makes it very convenient to change the filler attachment for each.

More recently, Mike has been appointed sole UK distributor for Rapid Air Weapons, which came about through his lifelong friendship with Martin Rutterford, owner of RAW and former director of Theoben.

“RAW’s stunning rifles are taking the competition scene by storm,” boasts Mike, “and the TM1000 has already featured in nine of the top 10 places of the South African national benchrest competition, with the remaining place filled by another RAW airgun – the MFR! It’s hardly surprising that their rifles have been well received over here, too.”

The rise of RAW in the UK bodes well for the next era of MTAS, and there’s no doubt Mike will continue to offer top service to target shooters all around the UK from his retail premises in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire.

Simon Everett

TEL: 01945 420770
SHOP: The Barn, Hannath Road, Tydd Gote, Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, PE13 5ND
OPENING HOURS: Mon-Sat, 9am-4pm

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Posted in Behind the Scenes, Features

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