Richard Saunders’ is here to take us through his airgun collection, including items from the likes of Daystate, Weihrauch and Webley.
Let me tell you about my guns. Normally I spend a couple of weeks contacting airgun manufacturers, scope-makers and all manner of accessory companies for products to include in our group test.
But amid the lockdown, and with many of those companies temporarily closed, all that has ground to a halt. What to do? Well, this time I thought I’d tell you a little bit more about my own modest collection.
It’s not that my air rifles are any more interesting, exotic or eclectic than the next person’s. But when you meet someone for the first time, get chatting and discover a fellow airgun enthusiast, it doesn’t take long before the conversation turns to ‘what guns have you got?’. So I thought I’d extend the principle here.
Airgun collection: The springers
It seems only right to start at the beginning. Back in the 1980s my first rifle was an ASI Paratrooper borrowed from Uncle Trev. When I’d saved enough, I traded up to a BSA Airsporter S which I sold soon after to buy an HW80 from a friend’s brother.
Back then it had a Tasco 4×40 scope, and together we shot a seemingly endless amount of rabbits, pigeons and squirrels. However, when girls, cars and beer came along in roughly that order, my HW80 became neglected, ultimately suffering the indignity of being thrown into various wardrobes and poked under various beds.
When I came to my senses and rediscovered my love of airgunning, I found my HW80 in Mum and Dad’s garage. It still bore the familiar scars of countless gates and barbed wire fences, and the metalwork was badly rusted.
Test-firing a pellet into the lawn resulted in a belch of smoke and much clanging and twanging. I could have cried. How could I have done this? I decided on the spot to redeem myself and following a bit of internet research I sent my sad HW80 to former Venom tuner and V-Mach expert Lyn Lewington to work his magic on.
Today the metalwork is a deep, inky black and the stock is a lovely dark honey colour thanks to some TLC. The action itself is wonderfully ‘thuddy’. I have no idea where my old Tasco has gone, more’s the pity, but with a more modern scope on top it’s superbly accurate, rivalling any of the newer springers at my club and many of the PCPs too. And the legendary Rekord trigger is as good today as it was nearly 40 years ago.
I rarely take my HW80 hunting now as the lure of my PCPs is just too strong, but it’s just as powerful and consistent as it ever was, launching 16 grain .22 Air Arms Diabolo Field pellets at an average of 575 feet per second (fps) with a muzzle velocity of 11.75 food pounds (ft-lb).
However, despite all the attention that has been lavished upon it, there’s no getting away from the fact that my HW80 is a bit of a lump, weighing around 10 lb with a scope. With its Beeman DNA, the HW80 was always intended to pump out more than 20 foot pounds so it needed the bulk to absorb the spring action and recoil.
Perhaps the HW80’s weight had been an issue when I was younger, because as much as I loved the rifle, I secretly coveted another friend’s Webley Vulcan. It was much lighter, more beautiful and seemed just as powerful.
I had to wait more than 30 years to get one for myself and when I did, I have to admit to being a little disappointed at how it shot. Of course, it wasn’t fair to compare the Vulcan with my super-tuned HW80, and I’d lost my rose-tinted glasses long ago, but I must say that I was still a little underwhelmed.
As a result, only a few days after buying it, the Vulcan was packaged up and sent off to Sandwell Field Sports for a tune-up. It took nearly four months for it to come back – such was the demand for Sandwell’s expertise – but the wait was worth it; all of a sudden, I had the Vulcan I had always dreamed of.
It’s as light and delicate as I remembered, but any illusion that it was as powerful as Webley’s adverts of the time promised, proved unfounded. In reality that doesn’t matter a jot. The rifle is a joy to use on the range and to walk around the woods with. And it has a simplistic beauty that I love.
Airgun collection: The PCPs
My first pre-charged pneumatic (PCP) rifle was an HW100. I read endless reports and watched countless YouTube videos before finally getting the money together and finding an advert for a second-hand .177 Sporter model which also came with a three-litre air bottle.
I live in Berkshire and the seller was in Norfolk. It didn’t look that far on a map, so I set off in the car. Eleven hours later I was back, exhausted, but happy that the HW100 S looked as good in reality as it had in the photos.
Fortunately, everything I’d read and watched about the HW100 turned out to be true. If anything, the rifle performed better than I could have hoped for. I’ve put a Hawke Airmax 30 SF 6-24×50 AMX IR scope on top and together they make a potent combination. The only other change I have made is to fit a Custom Stock CS500 walnut handle.
It’s a personal thing, but I limit myself to 30 metres when hunting with a .22 sub-12 ft-lb rifle. However, I’ll extend that to 40 metres with my HW100 S simply because I know from hours on the range it is capable of stacking the pellets on top of each other.
I also like the fact that with a 30-metre zero I can use the same aim point at 20 metres. All this means that with most shots presenting themselves in the 20- to 40-metre range, I only ever have to adjust by a single mildot.
Despite the HW100 S’s performance, my only other legal-limit PCP is a favourite. I’m a sucker for a good-looking rifle and always had a soft spot for the BSA R-10, so much that I told myself that if I ever saw a decent used one I’d buy it.
And then it happened; a mate was picking up an HW100 from John Knibbs International, so I went along to keep him company. As we walked in, there standing in the rack was a Mk 2 R-10 in .22 calibre. I reasoned then and there that you can’t argue with fate and plonked my credit card down.
I know some early examples of the initial model R-10 had a bit of a bad reputation for unreliability, but I can honestly say that whilst all my other PCPs have had their moody moments, my R-10 has never put a foot wrong.
Weeks can go by without me using it, yet when I do, the zero is exactly where I left it. The bolt action is an utter pleasure to use with just enough of a ‘snickity’ sound to remind me that I’m operating something mechanical.
The only change I have made is to swap the sumptuous walnut stock for a black tactical handle; I shoot an awful lot of rats with the R-10 around farmyards and machinery, and the thought of taking a chunk out of that lovely walnut handle made me shudder.
As a ratting rifle, I’ve zeroed the R-10 at 20 metres and have paired it with a Hawke Vantage which I find works well with my NiteSite NV gear. I also use the rifle for shooting squirrels, as most of my feeders and hides also seem to end up being 20 metres apart.
Airgun collection: FAC rifles
I’m fortunate to have plenty of permissions and although shooting is a sport-cum-hobby, I take my pest control responsibilities very seriously, fully recognising the trust my landowners place in me.
It got to the point that on some of my permissions, getting within sub-12 ft-lb range of rabbits was increasingly difficult. Although I still hunt rabbits with these guns, it soon became apparent that on some permissions I needed a little more firepower. In applying for a Firearm Certificate, I could have gone down the .22 LR or .17 HMR rimfire route. But my real interest is in airguns, so an FAC-rated air rifle it had to be.
My initial application was for a .22 and several months later I had my certificate in my hand. I’d not been idle during those months, spending more time reading reviews and watching YouTube clips.
In the end I’d narrowed down my choices to either a Daystate Wolverine R or an FX Impact. Needing more air than a legal-limit rifle, I reasoned that either of these bottle guns would still return a decent shot count.
In the end, my weakness for a walnut stock won and I bought the Wolverine R. At 30 ft-lb it delivers a 16 grain AA Diabolo Field at just over 900 fps, which is enough to make the trajectory pretty much flat between 20 and 40 metres.
In fact, on the range, its trajectory is about the same as my .177 legal-limit HW100 S, with both rifles requiring the same amount of holdover. The difference, of course, is that the Wolverine R hits a lot harder and goes further.
All that power went to my head and it wasn’t long before I applied for a .25 variation on my ticket. Once again, I was tempted by the FX Impact and, once again, I gave in to the temptation of a more traditional rifle, this time a Red Wolf.
As an electronic rifle, the shooting experience is different. The sidelever, for example, simply seats a pellet from the 10-shot magazine into the breech and tells the electronic brain to get ready. There are no sears to engage or springs to compress.
The trigger is adjustable and a pleasure to use, but the sensation is more of a mouse click than the release of anything mechanical. But most importantly, it performs. At 50 ft-lb I’ve found only the 33.95 grain JSB King Heavy Mk II pellets will do, and the Red Wolf will turn them into one lump of lead fused together at 50 metres or more.
In truth, the trajectory is still loopy. Even 50 ft-lb is pretty feeble for a firearm. However, the weight of the pellets makes them more consistent and predictable, and of course they hit really hard. I practise for hours and know the aim points with all my rifles intimately. As my proficiency has improved, I’ve extended my self-imposed maximum range.
I know that from a stable, rested position I can hit a one-inch target at distances out to 60 metres and that’s good enough to take on such shots when hunting. Although I can hit similar-sized targets even further out, I can’t do so with the same level of consistency, so 60 metres is my max.
That may all sound a bit holier than thou, especially when I go on to tell you that the last rifle I bought is a .30 calibre FX Impact MkII, the 700mm barrel Sniper model. Yes, having once again applied for a variation to my FAC, I got my hands on Sweden’s finest.
As if the standard 75 ft-lb isn’t enough, I put my rifle into specialist tuners Airfective in Newport Pagnell. Not only did they do a great job of making everything work a little bit smoother and more efficiently by tweaking this and replacing that, they turned the power up to an eye-watering 90 ft-lb, which is enough to fire a 44.75 grain pellet at 950 fps.
In truth, my abilities as a shooter, and more significantly my Mr Magoo eyesight (younger readers may need to look that up) mean the extra 40 ft-lb of power doesn’t give me much more of an advantage in terms of distance or accuracy over the Red Wolf or even my Wolverine R.
At my 60-metre limit the FX Impact is enormously accurate and those huge pellets hit like a sledgehammer. One of my permissions is a large fruit farm and my responsibilities as a pest controller are even more important there as the rabbits not only eat the fruit, but nibble through the vital irrigation pipes.
Driving around in my truck and shooting through the open window is by far the most effective way of controlling the rabbits as they’ve become used to tractors, trucks and cars all moving around the farm.
The other reason for shooting from the truck is that even on an average night I can average a dozen rabbits – try carrying those around with you on foot. This mobile approach does of course mean that I have to stick to the network of lanes, so shots at rabbits in the fields and the many polytunnels can be 50 metres or more.
With an ATN X-Sight 4K Pro and ABL laser rangefinder on top so I can shoot in the dark, and the Impact has proved ideal. Compared with my Red Wolf and Wolverine R it is short and compact, making using it from a vehicle a lot easier and safer.
At 90 ft-lb I don’t get many shots to a 250-bar fill, around 35, but that’s more than enough. My next project will be to have the new power plenum fitted so I can turn the regulator pressure down and squeeze out a few more shots per bottle of air.
So then, these are my guns and what I use them for. Now, if ever we should meet in person, we can talk about something else. Your guns perhaps?
More from Richard Saunders
- Richard Saunders on bipods
- Richard Saunders on CO2 rifles
- Richard Saunders on the role of dot sights
- Richard Saunders’ guide to chronographs
- 4 of the best tripod shooting rests