Friday, 10 April 2009

Airgun Magazines - Questioning Their Accuracy

Precharged pneumatics (PCPs) are extremely popular these days - you've only got to look at my poll opposite to see that they get the big vote from airgunners. In particular, multi-shot PCPs are the hot-sellers in gun shops. But are the benefits of an auto-feed magazine coming at the cost of the rifle's full accuracy potential?

I beg the question following a number of discussions I've had of late with hunting friends. It seems it's not only me who has an inkling that single-shot air rifles are slightly more accurate than their multi-shot stablemates.

That said, none of us have said that our multi-shot rifles are inaccurate; and we've all hunted very successfully with them without ever questioning their ability against live quarry. But in side-by-side tests, the single-shot usually just shades it in terms of accuracy.

My two favourite hunting rifles - the Daystate Air Wolf (.177) and Theoben Elan (.22) - are very accurate when running off their auto-load mags. I have every confidence in their multi-shot set-ups. Indeed, I've run the Elan in both calibres very successfully with 7-, 12- and 17-shot magazines over the past 11 years.

Both my rifles also offer the facility to run in single-shot mode. The Wolf takes Daystate's easy-fit pellet tray and the Elan has had its breech scalloped like the S-Type so that I can feed my pellets directly into the breech by hand.

So given how much 'shooting time' I've spent with these rifles, I can confidently vouch for the fact that each of my rifles shoots tighter groups in the single-shot configuration. It's not a great difference... but there is a difference.

For instance, I know the Elan will typically group inside 25mm at 30 metres with the mag, but it's nearer 20mm when loading ammo directly into the rifling. Both results are more than good enough for hunting, of course - but it does mean that I can push the gun's effective range by five metres or so when the mag's not deployed.

And I've also noticed that mags can sometimes make the rifle far more 'pellet fussy'. A good example of this was highlighted when I was recently testing the RWS Super-H-Point ammo in my Elan. Because the SHP's got quite an 'angular' head, it obviously suffered in the transfer from the magazine's chamber to the barrel. My 30-metre groups were a good 10mm 'looser' with the magazine than when I loaded the barrel directly. In fact, I may even have discounted the SHP as a suitable round for the Elan had I only tested it with the magazine; as it was, it proved a superb diet for the Theoben when fed into the rifling directly.

Conversely, the Daystate RangeMaster - which has a much more rounded head - must 'feed' into the barrel much better as it's hard to tell the direct-loaded and auto-loaded groupings apart.

Certainly food for thought...

Vintage Webley - Suitable for Hunting?

During my 15 years as editor of Air Gunner magazine, I frequently heard from many 'older' airgunners reminiscing about the airguns of yesteryear; nearly all would say that air rifles of the past were 'far more powerful' than today's hardware. Indeed, these people would tell me of the super-long ranges they were able to despatch vermin, and of the colossal bags they made.

Being a mere whippersnapper (!), I've only ever hunted with contemporary airguns, but having recently acquired a circa 1968 Webley Mk. III underlever from my good friend, Jack Stanton, I've decided to put such claims to the test.

To many airgunners of the 1950s and 60s, the tap-loading Mk. III is held up as the 'ultimate' of all sporters - moreso than its BSA underlever rival, the Airsporter.

Mine - serial no. A625 - is a .22 and is certainly extremely accurate over my 15-yard garden range. Considering its age, the tap has a fantastic air seal and the trigger is very sweet; 19mm groups are quite achievable with the open sights - although there's also a scope rail should I need a telly to maximise accuracy over longer ranges.

I haven't chrono'd the rifle yet - but it 'feels' to be doing in the region of 9 or 10 ft. lbs.. I'll let you know of the outcome if I ultimately decide to take it into the hunting field. (Which I do expect to being doing. After all, the Mk. IIIs that Webley produced between 1947 and 1975 must have accounted for a huge head of UK vermin. Even if the ratio was one kill to one gun, it would be in the tens of thousands!)

Watch this space...

Early Season Lamping with my Cluson

Managed to get a few hours' lamping in last night. It might be early in the season for hunting rabbits by lamp-light, but this was on a big acreage of land that my mate shoots over - and he was under clear instructions from the landowner to hit the young crop of rabbits hard before the spring barley begins to break through.

Unfortunately for me, this is land that I haven't shot over in the daylight, so being 'introduced' to it in the dark was never going to be easy... and it wasn't. We only had a single rabbit to show for our few hours and (what seemed like) 10 miles of trekking around freshly turned fields.

The night was destined to return a low score. My mate, Tony Ross-Booker, remembered his lamp... but not the battery that remained charging on the kitchen sideboard!

I chose to take my Theoben Elan over the Daystate Air Wolf for a couple of reasons: (1) it's so much lighter than the Air Wolf and, I felt, would be easier for traipsing around the big area; and (2) the Wolf's MTC scope interferes with the loading port and doesn't allow a magazine to fit in... and I don't like lamping with single-shot rifles. It's too fiddly.

Of course, I've recently converted the Elan back to its original .22 calibre barrel and I must confess that I'm not 100 per cent au fait with the trajectory. Given that range-estimation is pretty difficult by lamplight, the odds were pretty much against me.

My trick was to set the Hawke 3-12 x 44 AirMax to its maximum magnification and the front P/A ring to 25m (the zero distance). That way, if the target didn't look sharp, I'd know it would either be nearer or further... and hopefully I was good enough to tell which.

For the record, at 12x mag, the cross-hairs of the SR6 'Christmas Tree' reticle work out at 30, 35 and 40 metres when the central cross-hair is set for 25m with Daystate FT ammo. (15.9 grains; power 11.1 ft. lbs.)
Also to make life easier, I'd brought along my age-old Cluson SL2/PKG Shootalite lamp... although I had to splash out £13 for a new lead-acid battery as the old one had inexplicably died over the winter. Oh well, I'd had good use out of it for the past 10 years and it's been out in all weathers without a single problem. It's still on its original bulb! Incidentally, the SL2 remains a current model - see it here.

Cluson claim the SL2 Shootalite has a 1,000-metre beam. While I can't vouch for it being 'effective' over this distance, it's certainly very powerful and can pick out rabbit eyes on the far edges of 10-acre fields no problem.

I've got a red filter fitted which you can quickly use or remove. It tends to reduce the intensity too much for me, but Tony's eyesight is better and he got on with it just fine. These rabbits, however, didn't seem to mind the white light (they haven't been lamped much).

The Clulite is a neat set-up because it comes with a separate battery pack - quite weighty - which you sling over your shoulder and connect to the lamp proper via a coiled lead. Over the years, I've always wished this was 20 or 30 cm. longer, but it's not really that much of a problem.

The kit comes with attachments to allow it to be easily mounted to your scope or to a hand-held grip (which also locates into the battery pack if needs be) - and the change-over can be easily made in the dark courtesy of the quick-turn finger nuts.

I'm not used to shooting with a 'lamp man' and didn't feel comfortable picking off the rabbits in 'someone else's' beam, but Tony took to shooting quite easily. (Maybe I'm a better lamp man than him!)

We took it in turns to walk the fields with the gun, but while Tony preferred shooting with me lamping the ground, I preferred my time with the lamp on-gun.

Though it was probably too bright a night for productive lamping, there was enough of a breeze to mask our approaches, and we managed to stalk to within range of three or four bunnies - but the final shot let us down. These rabbits didn't seem to stay put in the beam (like they do on my patch), so our shots tended to arrive where the rabbits had been a second before!

Unfortunately, as well as the deer, the Clulite also picked out an active vixen whose calls shadowed us all night long. This was her patch and she clearly didn't want us on it.

A very enjoyable night, all the same - 2 a.m. came upon us before we even knew it...

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Hollowpoint Ammo - a big hit?

Hollowpoint airgun ammo - is there any, er..., 'point' to it? Well, that's the question I begged in a recent test session I undertook on behalf of Air Gunner magazine - and my answer's now a resounding 'yes'!

Specifically, I was testing out the .22 calibre version of RWS's Super-H-Point. It's a 14.4 grain hollow-nose version of their Superpoint pellet (only with its nose sliced off and a hole bored into it).

I've assumed hollowpoints are a bit limited in range due to their un-aerodynamic shape - but my test proved quite the contrary. Broadly speaking, they moved only a tad more in the wind by comparison with my usual roundhead brand - but that was probably because the SHP's are much longer (and over a grain lighter).

They had identical trajectories and grouped very well - in a moderate wind - right out to 40 metres. What's more, at this distance they retained over 50 per cent of their muzzle energy.

Impact tests proved their hollow-nosed design did make them 'mushroom' on impact - so with excellent accuracy and good energy retention, the Super-H-Points are certainly a fine all-round field pellet that needn't be confined to close-range ratting work and the like.
Read my much more detailed review in June's Air Gunner magazine, on sale from the first Thursday of May.

Field Kit - a big load!

Hectic work schedules have meant it's been difficult to find time to get out with the airgun - and when I've had a spare day, there's plenty of testing and evaluation to do! Just look at the kit I had to load up only today - five guns, tonnes of accessories, photo kit... and my lunch!

Much of the morning was spent finishing off my evaluation of Range Right's Fast Fire 10 - one of the quickest rifles on the planet (if not the quickest). You'll be able to catch my full review of this amazing take-down, made by London's Phoenix Airguns, in the June issue of Air Gunner (on sale the first Thursday of May). Besides a case, it also comes with a special silencer that incorporates a 'reverse thrust' baffle system to reduce muzzle flip.

Managed to get in a late afternoon session against the magpies. But the two that flighted in - a pair of aggressive males - didn't give me any chance of a shot... even with the Fast Fire 10 in my hands!

A brace of woodies saved the day, however - and I've just breasted them. The wife and I will be having them with a bottle of Chateau Neuf in about an hour's time. Nice...