Spring-powered rifles are harder to shoot than PCPs and yet maintain what is almost a religious following. Nick Stanning examines their enduring appeal…
When you tell someone you prefer to shoot spring-powered air rifles, you will often be met with a look of baffled confusion. Why would you be mucking around with that old stuff when PCPs have been invented?
It’s not commonly known, but springers are the new technology of the airgun world, because the PCP has been with us since the 17th century! In fact, being caught with one by the French during the Napoleonic wars was met with execution on the spot, such was its lethality on the battlefield in the hands of a skilled sniper.
So with such effective and proven technology, why would someone want to mix things up and add a spring and piston into the equation?
Simplicity! Shooting a springer is a simple process – there’s no pump or bottle to carry around. There’s no shot count or power curve to worry about: just pick up your gun, grab some pellets and you’re off. This alone is enough for some.
Shooting targets in the garden or at the club is very enjoyable with a simple spring rifle, not to mention cheaper. And if you’ve ever arrived at the farm ready for a session against this season’s pest only to find your rifle has lost all its air, you will know the meaning of frustration!
So why do people still shoot PCPs?
Their accuracy is fantastically accessible. With fewer moving parts, negligible recoil and relatively fast lock times, a shooter can get away with a less-than-perfect technique to a large degree; and for hunters, the ability to use a bipod and have fast back-up shots is invaluable.
Oh dear – looks like we’re back at “Why a springer?” again!
Here’s the thing – it’s just more challenging! Mastering a springer is an immensely satisfying pastime. To get the perfect group you need to get your breathing right, your hold consistent, and your trigger release and follow-through perfect every single time! It can be likened to fly fishing. The easiest way to catch a trout is to put a worm on a hook and dangle it in the water, but the satisfaction you get from achieving the same result the hard way is reason enough to do it.
If hunting is your thing, a springer is still a formidable tool for the job, but you need better fieldcraft and to be a skilled shot. For me, a rabbit taken at 30 yards with a .22 break-barrel after a 40-yard crawl through cover is more satisfying than a longer-range one with a PCP off a bipod.
Why is it harder?
There are a few basics to understand before you can get the best from your springer. For a start, what is going on inside the rifle during the firing cycle?
When you fire your rifle, the sequence of events follows this approximate path. The piston is released by the trigger. Pushed forward by the spring, the rifle starts to recoil after being moved backward by the same force that brings the piston forward. The piston quickly builds pressure within the compression tube, and at a certain point the pellet is forced into movement. The pellet weight, piston weight and spring rate all combine to determine the next phase of the shot cycle. The piston literally ‘bounces’ back up the compression tube, causing the rifle to surge forward. As the spring pressure builds once again and the compression pressure drops, the piston heads back down the tube. This is a second recoil phase; depending on your set-up this cycle could happen more than once before it’s all over.
So your rifle is kicking and bucking like a donkey after a four-pack of energy drinks, but it all happens in an extremely short timeframe. In fact, the pellet is still in the barrel during this whole process. This is why technique is so important with a spring-powered rifle.
The rifle itself will act virtually identically every time, so to be consistently accurate, you need to maintain consistent technique. If a rifle is held lightly with the leading hand just ahead of the trigger, a good grouping should be achievable. But if you then move your leading hand or change the pressure of your grip, the rifle will react differently and will be in a different position as the pellet leaves the barrel. The group will move, but if the change you made is maintained it will still be good – until you forget and change it again! This is known as hold sensitivity, and is the hardest skill to master in the quest for perfect springer technique.
How do I get better with springers?
The biggest single factor for improving your accuracy with a springer is practice – followed by more practice and then even more practice! Spending hundreds of pounds improving an already expensive rifle will accomplish nothing without practice. There is no substitute for sending lead downrange! Then when you have mastered the gun but still want to improve, it may be time to look inside.
How can I improve my rifle?
Most springer shooters I know are always looking for ways to improve their guns. It’s part of the fun in my opinion, and at my company TbT we are constantly looking for new ideas to improve the springer experience. Small changes like cleaning and degreasing inside the rifle along with a piston polish and light relube will pay dividends for little or no cost. Using guides that fit the spring properly will reduce noise, vibration and recoil, making for a quieter rifle that’s more pleasant to shoot.
Another aim for many is to reduce the lock time: the time between pulling the trigger and the pellet leaving the muzzle. The simplest and most effective ways of achieving this are by increasing efficiency and reducing the piston weight or travel. There are many options available to help with this, from off-the-shelf kits to the many fantastically talented tuners who can do the work for you.
The main thing to consider is budget. Around £50 or less spent wisely can improve a rifle dramatically; spend an extra £150 on an in-house tune and the step up in performance may not be as obvious, but there will be small, unseen changes inside the gun.
If you’re on a budget or simply enjoy taking things apart, home tuning is fun and accessible to virtually everyone. There are many great resources available nowadays, with plenty of information and advice for the budding home tuner to take advantage of. But use them wisely! Do not believe everything you see on the internet.