The thing about springers is that they can be downright exasperating to shoot. On one hand, they are self contained and require only one cocking stroke per shot. That makes them darned near perfect for a day afield. No tanks, no CO2 cartridges, just you, your rifle and a tin of pellets.
On the other hand, there’s the whole matter of how a springer’s powerplant behaves. When you cock a springer, you drive a spring and piston back until the assembly latches. When you trigger the shot, the spring and piston (sometimes amounting to half a pound of metal) go rocketing forward compressing air in front of the piston. This creates backward recoil. As the spring and piston assembly near the far end of the compression chamber, the piston rebounds in the opposite direction off the mass of compressed air in front of it. This creates recoil in the opposite direction and blasts compressed air through the transfer port, propelling the pellet out of breech and down the barrel.
The real “gotcha” is this: all this movement of the spring and piston and the accompanying recoil and reverse recoil happen before the pellet leaves the barrel. With a consistent loose hold and practice, springers can be shot with superb accuracy. But if you get it wrong, well . . . it can mess up your accuracy to a fare-thee-well. As a result, sometimes I can shoot a springer with sublime precision, but other times the exact same spring-piston airgun simply drives me nuts.
So that’s why I thought the RWS 54 sounded like a really good idea. Available in .177 and .22 cal, it stretches 44 inches from muzzle to buttplate and weighs nine pounds. What sets this air rifle apart from all other spring-piston air rifles that are available new today is that the Model 54 is designed to be recoilless.
Here’s how it works: The entire receiver of the RWS 54 rides on rails within the stock. When you cock the Model 54, you grab the end of the side cocking lever and pull it back until it latches (it takes around 40 pounds of effort). This moves the receiver and barrel assembly forward, locks it there, and slides the breech open for loading.
When you pull the trigger, the entire receiver slides backwards about a half an inch in the stock. This has the effect of “absorbing” all the recoil effects of the springer and turning it from a Wild Thing into a docile pussycat. From the shooter’s perspective, you don’t feel recoil and, you don’t lose the sight picture. Suddenly you can shoot extremely well without a whole lot of effort. As my brother-in-law put it: the RWS 54 is a springer that behaves like a precharged rifle.
I tested both versions of the RWS 54, and I liked them both. I mounted a CenterPoint Optics 3-12 x 44mm compact scope on the .177 version. At 35 yards, the RWS 54 delivered a 5-shot group that measured just .38 inch ctc. At 50 yards, 5 shots fell into a group that measured .95 inch ctc. That’s excellent accuracy in any springer.
The best accuracy came from Crosman Premier Heavies (10.5 grain, nominal) pellets. The RWS 54 launched them downrange at an average of 845 fps, producing 16.6 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle.
I equipped the .22 version of the RWS 54 with an RWS 4-12x50CI scope with the RWS one-piece mount. At 50 yards, with JSB Jumbo Express pellets, the air rifle produced a five-shot group of 1.16 inch ctc. Velocity with those pellets averaged 779 fps, generating 21.4 fp of energy.
James Brinkley, shooting a “Rich from Mich” tuned .22 RWS 54 on a sunny day with no wind, was able to produce a 5-shot group at eighty yards that was scarcely bigger than a quarter. He was shooting RWS Super Dome pellets using a bipod and a rear rest.
Unlike the other, “conventional” springers that are in my gun closet, the RWS 54 seems not to care what position you shoot it from. You can shoot it off a rest, off your knee, or offhand without the point of impact changing with your shooting arrangement. There is one minor complication: the center of balance is significantly forward of the spot – just ahead of the trigger guard – where the RWS 54 produced the best accuracy results for me. As a result, when shooting off the kind of rests that centerfire benchrest shooters use, I had to hold the buttstock down to keep it in place on the rear rest. This was a bit of a nuisance, but I also got excellent results resting the length of the forearm on an old boat cushion. It sounds like Brinkley might be on the right track with his bipod/rear rest combo.
I think there is a whole lot to recommend the RWS 54: it’s self-contained, easy to shoot well, and accurate enough for varminting or long-range plinking.
Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.
– Jock Elliott