by B.B. Pelletier
This will be a mini-series within the series, because there is too much to cover on field target guns to put in a single post. Today, I’ll address the spring guns, which I can do in one post.
In the 1980s
The No. 1 spring rifle for field target during the 1980s was the HW77 carbine. All the top shooters used it, and its secrets were closely guarded by them. They found ways to improve the Rekord trigger and ways to quiet the spring buzz of the rifle. The barrel was already accurate enough.
Power boosts to 900 f.p.s. with Marksman FTS domes (THE FT pellet of that day) were very popular, and shooters were mounting larger scopes to help with rangefinding.
Other spring guns that competed well came from Air Arms. They were sidelevers that loaded from a tap. Guns such as the Khamsin and Mistral were nice and accurate but not up to competing with the HW77. In fact, the only rifle that gave the 77 any competition at all was the FWB 124 breakbarrel. It was just as accurate and could be tuned to reach the mid-800s (in the 1980s). However, being a breakbarrel, it required a lot more technique to shoot as well as the 77, so the game really belonged to Weihrauch.
Then came the TX200
Around 1989-1991, Air Arms brought out the TX200 and the field suddenly shifted in their favor. The TX has a trigger that’s patterned after the Rekord, but it’s assembled differently and it’s also capable of finer adjustments. The rifle is an underlever, like the HW77; but instead of having the 77′s offset transfer port, it has its transfer port centered in the compression chamber. This helps the airflow a lot and allows the TX to cock easier, yet generate greater power than the HW77. It does have one drawback, however. The barrel, which must be in line with the center of the compression chamber, is mounted lower than the top of the compression chamber, giving the rifle a hunchbacked profile. Shooters may not know why they don’t like it, but it does present a less-pleasing profile. Today this look is minimized through the use of a bull-barrel shroud, so the step-down is less pronounced.
Suddenly, the TX200 was winning most of the important matches, or at least placing in front of the HW77. By this time, PCPs were on the scene and TX200s couldn’t keep up with them. Still, the spring-gun era wasn’t over. The Crosman premier pellet hit the market, and Marksman’s grip was over. For the spring-powered TX200, the 7.9-grain pellet performed best. Throughout the 1990s, the TX200 reigned supreme. The most popular alteration was to fit an adjustable stock to the gun. Tuning was done, but never became very popular because the factory tune is already so nice. The TX200 Mark II came out in the mid-90s and added a safety ratchet to hold open the sliding compression chamber. As a side note, Robert Beeman carried the TX for a brief time when it first came out. Sales must have been sluggish, because he dropped the line before the company was sold in 1994. I cannot find it in any of his catalogs, but it appears as a “blowout sale” on several sales flyers. The price in 1993 was not much cheaper than today.
In the late ’90s, Air Arms added the semi-recoilless TX200SR to the line. It was available only as a 12 foot-pound gun at first, and I’m not certain they were ever sold any other way. I owned one and found that it cocked MUCH harder than the normal 15 foot-pound TX200 and was no more accurate. The trigger had to have a linkage to connect the blade in the stock with the action, which moved during recoil, so it was never as good as a normal TX trigger. I felt the SR was like the emperor’s new clothes, in that anyone who bought one defended it fiercely, but anyone who tried one before buying bought the regular TX instead.
The Pro Sport was also added to the line at this time. It was a copy of Ivan Hancock’s Venom Mach II, but it wasn’t as refined (not surprising, as Hancock’s gun was hand-fitted and cost thousands of dollars). The cocking linkage made cocking much heavier than a standard TX and there was no accuracy advantage. Many shooters liked the sleeker looks better than the TX.
When Weihrauch came out with their HW95 that Beeman lists as the R9, shooters went for it as a less-expensive alternative to the TX200. In that role, it’s about where the FWB 124 was with the HW77 – harder to shoot but very capable for those who can master it. It’s a gun to get into FT but not one for serious competition.
The only real challenger the TX200 has had in more than two decades has been the Whiscombe line of spring rifles. Whiscombes are about as accurate as PCPs, but they cost even more than the top precharged guns. That’s kept them out of the limelight. A Whiscombe is more than a match for a TX, but the cost will never allow it to rise to its true potential.
The final spring gun I will mention is the RWS Diana 54. It’s fully as accurate as a TX200 and easier to shoot accurately. However, it has some drawbacks of its own. It is bigger and fatter than the TX200 (though not any heavier) and it doesn’t feel as good in the hand. It’s somewhat harder to cock – not because the effort is any greater but because being a sidelever, it torques in the hand when the lever is pulled back. And, the flawed Diana scope-mounting solution probably keeps it out of the top position more than anything else. However, I know that 54 owners love their guns and would not part with them.
Spring guns are still viable
The spring gun hasn’t left the scene for FT shooting, nor is it ever likely to. It represents a less expensive way to get into the sport that is very desirable. And, TX 200s and Whiscombes are not the only spring guns in use, despite what I have just said. I was just reporting on the leaders in the field, but any spring gun can get you into the sport. The RWS Diana 48 and 52 are very often seen on the field, and others that crop up often are HW77s and HW97s, old FWB 124s and even Beeman R1s. There’s a separate spring gun class, so shooters aren’t pitted against PCPs, and some spring gun shooters do very well, even in stiff competition.