Archive for July 2010

The HW50S Stainless is handsome and weather resistant.

Some years ago, I got caught in a rain storm with a finely made German air rifle. I dashed back to the car as quickly as I could, swabbed off the water with my bandanna, and stashed the rifle in a gun case. When I opened the case that evening, I could see that a tiny bit of rust was already beginning to form in a couple of places on the metal. Frankly, it annoyed me, and it put me on the lookout for an air rifle that could withstand wet weather.

Fast forward a few years, and I managed to obtain a Beeman R1-AW. This was a special version of the legendary Beeman R1 with electroless nickel plating on the metal parts and a black composite stock. Available only as a .20 caliber carbine, it was a beautiful gun, designed to withstand the elements, but jeez-Louise, it was heavy – fully 9.7 pounds just as it came out of the box. The one I bought had a muzzle break on it, which meant a scope was mandatory, raising the ready-to-go weight even more. Eventually I sold the R1-AW because I didn’t want to tote around all that weight.

In 2007, I tested the Weihrauch HW50S in .22 caliber and found it to be a lovely spring-piston air rifle. So imagine my delight when the good folks at Airguns of Arizona surprised me the other day with an “extra” rifle packed in a shipment. It was a Weihrauch HW50S Stainless.

The “Stainless” looks a whole lot like a scaled down version of the R1-AW. It has a stainless metal finish on the action (I suspect it might be the same nickel finish used on the AW) and a black synthetic finish on the wooden stock. The end result is an air rifle, available in .177 or .22, that ought to withstand inclement conditions pretty darned well.

What makes the HW50S Stainless particularly nice is its very manageable size and weight. It’s only 40.5 inches long (the same size as a Beeman R7) and weighs only 6.8 pounds (less than an HW35E or HW85 and nearly 3 pounds lighter than the R1-AW.)

In terms of looks, the Stainless is a study in functionality. You won’t find checkering or other decoration anywhere. At the extreme aft end, there is a brown rubber butt pad with a black spacer and a slight swell for a cheekpiece on the left-hand side of the stock. The forestock extends over the two-piece cocking linkage and breech block, giving the HW50S a more finished appearance rather like a Beeman R1. The two-piece cocking linkage allows the action to be anchored by a single big screw in a steel seat underneath the forestock.

The trigger guard is black metal and fastens to the stock with two screws. Inside is a silver metal Rekord trigger and a silver adjustment screw. . (With the factory settings on the Rekord trigger, the first stage will come out between one and two pounds, and the second stage will go off between three and four pounds, but the Rekord trigger can be adjusted much lighter than that.) The barrel and receiver look like stainless steel. The barrel is 15.5 inches long, and on top of it at the muzzle end you’ll find a black metal globe sight with interchangeable inserts, just like on the R1. The receiver has three holes for anti-recoil pins, and you’ll find a bright red push-button safety at the rear, which looks really snazzy against the silver and black of the rest of the gun.

To get the Stainless ready for shooting, grab the barrel near the front sight, pull it down and back until it latches (I estimate this requires about 32-34 lbs of effort), slide a pellet into the breech, and return the barrel to its original position. Take aim at your target, click the automatic safety off, and ease the first stage out of the trigger, squeeze a bit more, and the shot goes down range. The shot cycle is pretty smooth, with a bit of vibration, but the vibration is more heard than felt. The HW50S Stainless launches JSB Jumbo Exact .22 pellets (15.9 grain) at around 560 fps, which works out to about 11 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle. I wouldn’t want to take on a charging cape buffalo with this air rifle, but it is plenty potent enough for defending the garden.

To my way of thinking, this is an air rifle that just begs for a peep sight.

For accuracy testing, I mounted a scope on the Stainless and found I could easily shoot ragged one-hole groups at 13 yards with the JSB Jumbo Exact pellets. The HW50S is no slouch when it comes to accuracy. Shooting the non-stainless version couple of years ago, I entered a Hunter Class Field Target Match and placed second. Another approach to a sighting system for this gun would be to keep it as lean, mean, and utilitarian as possible and mount a peep sight instead of a scope. I understand Airguns of Arizona is now carrying the full line of Williams sights and can fit the Stainless with a peep sight that will meet your needs.

The bottom line is that the HW50S does a number of things well, and I think many airgunners will really enjoy this versatile and weather resistant air rifle. I know I did.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

– Jock Elliott

In many ways I have one of the best jobs in the world. I am a fulltime freelance writer. Most of my time is spent working with high technology and medical organizations, but a sizeable fraction of my time is spent testing airguns for this blog and also for some other venues.

What’s the greatest thing about testing airguns? The opportunity to experiment with lots of different airguns models from many different manufacturers. When a new gun comes gun, very often I will quickly unpack it, mount a scope (if one is necessary), and go outside and shoot it, just to get a quick first impression of what the gun is all about. These first impressions are often quite useful, but they aren’t always correct. Sometimes I make notes of anything unusual or surprising that I discover.

After the first impression, there is the detailed examination of the gun from buttplate to barrel crown, followed by the gathering of data: chronograph information, trigger pull, weight, length, and so forth. Finally, I shoot the gun for accuracy, sometimes out to distances of 50 yards (which requires going to the range), but sometimes at 13 yards or 35 yards, which are distances I can manage without leaving home.

Over the decade or so that I have been writing about airguns, I’ve developed some rules for testing airguns that might prove useful to you in your own testing:

  1. Ignore the looks of the gun. A gorgeous gun can shoot well, but so can an ugly gun. Of course, it’s doubly nice if you find a great-looking gun that’s a real tack-driver.
  2. Let the gun speak for itself. Don’t pre-judge based on anything. If there is one thing that drives me nuts, it’s people who decide that a particular gun can’t possibly be any good, based on absolutely no first-hand experience. Good manufacturers have occasionally produced less than admirable guns, and manufacturers who have a reputation for producing inexpensive airguns have sometimes fashioned some real winners.
  3. Let the gun chose the ammo. Sometimes you’ll have to try lots of different ammo to get something that works well in a particular gun; sometimes you’ll get it on the first try.
  4. Remember the price/performance curve. All airguns are built to be brought to the market at a particular price. Sometimes you can get really excellent performance for not a lot of money. For more money, you’ll usually get more: superb performance, outstanding fit and finish, and often more or advanced features.
  5. Keep in mind there is no such thing as a “perfect” airgun. Perfection depends on the characteristics that are most important to the shooter and what the intended application is.

What’s the thing I have the most concern about? Accuracy testing. Just because I got a particular accuracy result with a certain gun and pellet combination, that doesn’t necessarily mean that if you buy the same model gun and use the same pellets, you will get the same results. Similarly, I’ve seen guys reporting results that I have been unable to duplicate. It bothers me a little, but I don’t know what to do about it, so I shoot the best I can and report the results.

Finally, what’s the worst thing about testing airguns? Packing and unpacking them. It’s a fussy business, and I swear those Styrofoam peanuts have a mind of their own.

Still, airgun testing is a lot of fun, and I really enjoy hearing from the people who read this blog.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

– Jock Elliott

The Brocock Concept has a whole lot going for it.

Not long ago, on the “Yellow” airgun forum, someone posted a question: “What was the PCP equivalent of the beloved Beeman R7?” The R7 is highly praised by many airgunners because it is relatively light, simple, accurate, and just plain fun.

I think I have found the answer, for me anyway: the Brocock Concept. We’ll get to the particulars in just a moment, but first some background.

Now, if you recall from previous blogs on Brocock, the company was nearly driven out of business by changes in British law. But the folks at Brocock didn’t quit, and they took what could have been a deathblow as an opportunity to get stronger and better. One of the truly smart things they did was to hire the designer from Falcon Pneumatics (now defunct), who promptly designed a new line of precharged pneumatic air rifles and pistols for Brocock. These airguns are all based on a common action and trigger, to which reservoirs, barrels, and so forth are added to produce the desired airgun.

The Brocock Concept is one of those airguns. I tested the .22 version with a walnut stock, and it’s a beauty. It stretches just a yard overall and weighs only 6 pounds without a scope. Starting at the rear of the Concept is a soft rubber butt pad that is adjustable vertically; just loosen a screw and slide it up or down.

The butt pad can be adjusted vertically.

Moving forward, the buttstock is fully ambidextrous, with a raised cheek piece on either side. The pistol grip is checkered with a slight palm swell on either side. At the top of the pistol grip is a depression for resting your thumb while shooting. Forward of the pistol grip is a black metal trigger guard, inside of which is a black metal trigger that can be adjusted for first stage travel and weight. The length of pull from trigger to butt pad is about 14.25 inches.

Just ahead of the trigger guard is a bolt that secures the action in the stock. The forestock is slender and tapered with checkering on either side. At the far end of the forestock is the air reservoir, which has a screw-off cap that protects a male Foster fitting for filling the air rifle. Above that is the barrel, which also has a screw-off fitting that can be removed for fitting a sound moderator where legal.

Just back of the muzzle is a barrel band that secures the barrel to the air reservoir. Moving all the way back along the barrel, you’ll find the receiver, which has dovetails for fitting a scope both fore and aft of the breech. On the right rear side of the receiver is a small lever, and at the very tail end of the receiver you’ll find a small contoured knob that serves as the end of the bolt.

A small lever at the rear of the receiver on the right side releases the bolt.

That’s it: the Concept is about a simple as a PCP rifle can be.

To ready the Concept for shooting, unscrew the end cap on the air reservoir, attach a SCUBA tank or high pressure pump, and charge it to 2900 psi. Depress the small lever on the right side of the receiver, and the bolt springs backward, opening the breech. At this point, you can load a pellet into the breech and push the knob at the end of the bolt to close the breech, but the rifle will not be cocked. (From a practical standpoint for hunters, this means that you can load the Concept without cocking it and walk around all day without worrying that an errant twig might discharge a shot. Then, when you’re ready to shoot, just press the breech lever, pull the bolt all the way back and close the breech, and you’re good to go.)

To cock the action for shooting, from the breech-open position, you have to grab the knob at the end of the bolt and pull it backwards until it clicks. Load a pellet, close the breech by pushing the bolt knob fully forward, and you are ready to launch a pellet. Note well: this rifle has no safety of any kind. When it is loaded, keep your finger out of the trigger guard until you are ready to shoot.

Now, take aim, ease the first stage out of the trigger (this takes only 7 ounces of pressure) and at 1 lb. 3.4 oz, the shot goes down range. The Concept launches JSB .22 Jumbo Express pellets at about 667 fps average, and will deliver about 40 shots per fill (see the chart below). Since this rifle has no gauge for letting you know how much pressure is left in the reservoir, I suggest counting out 40 pellets, putting them in a small container like a pill bottle, and when the container is empty, you know it is time to refill the reservoir.

Fooling around from a very casual rest in my yard, I found that, at 13 yards, I could put shot after shot through the same hole. Not just “sorta” the same hole, I mean the exact same hole. I would be astonished if this rifle can’t shoot dime sized groups at 35 yards and well under an inch groups at 50 yards.

In all, I found the Concept is light, simple, handy, and delightfully accurate. I think a  lot of airgunners will enjoy owning and shooting this air rifle.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

– Jock Elliott

My wife never wanted to turn me into an obsessed maniac, but that was the unintended consequence of a kind act. In late 2001, she came home with a gift for me: a copy of the movie Quigley Down Under.

This is where the trouble began.

In brief, it’s the story of a Wyoming rifleman and cowboy who answers a newspaper ad from an Australian rancher for “The World’s Best Long Distance Marksman.” Quigley shows up down under with a Sharps 45-70 (modified to take a special 110-grain cartridge) with an extra-long barrel, a globe front sight, and a tang vernier rear peep sight. In his first interview with his would-be employer, Quigley hits a bucket repeatedly at a distance of several hundred yards, shooting offhand with open sights.

At the heart of it, that scene embodies what all riflemen wish they could be: thoroughly familiar with their weapon, fully aware of the effect of environmental conditions, and ready to make a few adjustments and pull off an incredibly long shot with precision.

I began to wonder if I might not be able to replicate Matthew Quigley’s spectacular bucket shot — in a scaled-down version — with an airgun. Ted Osborn and I came to the conclusion that the standard of performance for an airgun should be: three shots into a 1.75 inch high bucket target at a distance of 55 yards with non-magnified sights. A few days after our conversation, the mailman showed up with an envelope. In it was a drawing of a bucket, perfectly scaled for 55-yards, with an invitation from Ted to photocopy to my heart’s content and “have at it.”

The bucket target. Feel free to copy and print it. The total height from top to bottom should be 1.75 inches.

After various failed attempts, I finally succeeded with a .22 Career PCP rifle outfitted with a special front sight. That was in 2002. Eight years later, in 2010, there is still something bugging me about this whole Quigley thing; I’d like to be able to hit the bucket with a self-contained air rifle like a multi-stroke pneumatic or a springer.

The Career was the first gun I succeeded with.

Larry Durham (also known as LD), an engineer and airgun enthusiast of deep experience, suggests that perhaps that the only self-contained air rifle that could get the job done would be an RWS 54, a recoilless sidelever springer. I also ask LD if he knows anyone who could mount a globe front sight and a tang vernier rear sight on a Sheridan. He says, “Send me the gun and the sights, and I’ll see what I can do.”

At this point in the Quigley Project, three parallel threads are underway at the same time. 1) I’m experimenting with mounting a globe front sight and peep rear sight on a .177 RWS 54. 2) Larry Durham is mounting a globe front sight and rear tang sight on the Silver Streak Sheridan that I sent him. 3) I obtain a Feinwerkbau 150 match rifle in an FWB 300 stock.

Fast forward a few months, and here’s the situation. 1) I have mounted the sights on the RWS 54, and I think it will work. 2) Larry Durham has mounted the sights, done what he can to accurize the Sheridan I sent, and has offered the opinion that he doesn’t think this particular rifle is a particularly accurate Sheridan. He thinks maybe it will hold 1.5 inches at 55 yards. 3) I’ve been fooling around with the FWB 150 and find that it shoots pretty darn well out to about 35 yards with domed pellets and the factory match sights.

Finally, in early May, 2010, Dick Johnson (a centerfire benchrest competitor) and I load up the gear and trundle out to the Brunswick Sportsman’s Club to see what we can do. Dick’s job is to act as my spotter; with the non-magnifying sights I am using, I have no idea where my shots are landing. Today, I am shooting off a rest because my goal is to see if the rifles have the necessary accuracy to hit the target.

This the the view from my shooting station at 55 yards. That white square in the distance is comprised of 9 bucket targets.

The first rifle I try is the Quigley Sheridan (QS) that Larry Durham assembled for me. It truly is a wonder: LD had epoxied a globe front sight with level onto the Sheridan’s original blade sight. At the rear, he had routered the stock to create slot where the tang vernier sight could be mounted. I flip the rear sight into position, and the sight picture is perfect. As I look through the pinhole in the disk of the rear sight, I can see the front globe perfectly framed. Inside that, there is an aperture sight disk like the Olympic shooters use.

The Quigley Sheridan is one of a kind.

It takes a few shots to get the Quigley Sheridan zeroed at 55 yards, and the process is made more difficult by the slight bend that was imparted to the rear sight during shipping. I give the QS six pumps, feed a .20 cal JSB domed pellet into the breech, and cut loose. The trigger is simply the best I’ve ever shot in a pump gun – a single stage trigger that goes off reliably at about 1.25 lbs. With the first four shots (after zeroing) I tag the bucket twice. With the next three shots at another target, I hit the bucket once. I try again, but find I can’t hit the bucket three times in succession.

The rear sight was slightly bent in transit, but still works. I was later able to straighten it.

The big problem with this shot, I find, is the optical challenge that vexed me from the start: at 55 yards, a 1.75 inch bucket is just plain hard to see. It looks like a spec floating in front aperture. By comparison, the black part of the international 50-meter smallbore target is roughly 3.5 inches in diameter, and the standing target that Olympic biathletes shoot at 50 meters is 4.5 inches in diameter.

Further, I have a personal problem: the 8 years that have elapsed since I first shot the bucket with the Career air rifle have not been kind to my eyes. The eye doctor tells me that where I once had vision in my right eye that corrects to 20/15, it now is a shaky 20/20. Nevertheless, I am determined to see what I can accomplish.

Up next is the FWB 150. It is a transitional model with the action mounted in an FWB 300 stock. It has a globe front sight in which I mount a Matthew Quigley style post-and-bead insert and a peep rear sight. The FWB 150 is a recoilless spring piston match air rifle from the early days of 10-meter air rifle competition.

The FWB 150 acquitted itself well for an old match rifle.

After cranking up the rear sight so that the pellet will hit the target at 55 yards, on two different targets I find that I can hit the bucket with a .177 JSB pellet once out of every five shots. The optical problem has struck again: at this distance, the tiny bead on top of the post in the front sight is larger than the bucket. I have to approximate center the bead on the bucket by raising the sight up from below or by sliding it over the bucket from the side.

Finally, the recoilless RWS 54 gets its turn at bat. I have fitted the front globe sight with a very slender Lee Shaver black powder silhouette post and bead insert and a Gamo match rear sight that has been drilled to fit an anti-recoil pin. Unfortunately, I am not able to hit the bucket at all with this setup. I got close – really close – but then suddenly the shots would wander off. This air rifle is wickedly accurate at 50 yards with a scope mounted, so I think the recoil of this powerful air rifle is causing the rear sight to work loose.

The mightly RWS 54 was apparently rattling the rear sight, but this same gun has demonstrated all the necessary accuracy with a scope mounted.

In the end, I succeeded a little bit – I was able to hit the bucket a few times with self-contained air rifles, but not three times in a row.

What did I learn from this adventure? That attempting the Quigley bucket shot is a lot of fun, that the 1.75 inch bucket looks really tiny at 55 yards, and that trying to do the Hard Thing is enjoyable even if you don’t completely succeed. But maybe I can teach myself to shoot lefthanded so I can use my better eye; maybe I can do something to improve the contrast and visibility of the bucket; maybe I can improve the rear sight on the RWS 54, or maybe a 1X scope would work . . .  Once I am convinced that I have a gun and sighting system that works, I’ll take it to the next level: trying it standing, like Quigley does in the movie.

The Spirit of Quigley lives on, and you’re invited to join in the fun. Feel free to copy the bucket target poster here and try it yourself!