by B.B. Pelletier
Several readers have asked for a series on Daystate air rifles, so I’ll begin today. Although Pyramyd Air doesn’t sell Daystates, they are still very fine PCPs and their story is worth telling. Much of the history of the company’s foundation comes from an article written by Pete Wadeson in the May 2003 issue of Airgun Illustrated magazine.
Daystate was founded in 1978 by Don Lowndes, Jim Phillips, Ken Gibbon and Mike Seddon. Their first product was the AirRanger, a tranquilizer rifle designed to capture dangerous game. It may still be made today as the AirRanger MkII.
As Daystate’s reputation quickly grew, they were approached by Rentokil (Rent-to-Kill, a large British pest elimination company with offices here in the U.S.) to make a smallbore air rifle for extermination. The first modern smallbore precharged air rifle was created for Rentokil by Daystate in 1980. They called it the Huntsman, and it developed 40 foot-pounds in .22 caliber.
The 10th Daystate Huntsman to roll off the line. Still working today.
The Huntsman was also offered to the general public in a de-tuned version that made 12 foot-pounds, and it had a long production run. I purchased a used one in 1995. The Huntsman is the rifle from which other modern precharged smallbore rifles are descended.
Right from the start, shooters noticed that precharged guns were much easier to shoot than spring guns. And, with PCPs, there was no need to do any work to charge the rifle. Simply screw the air hose from a scuba tank to the threaded fitting at the front of the reservoir and slowly open the tank’s valve. The advice of the day was to take at least a full minute to fill a gun, even though the scuba tank could fill it in seconds. Once filled, there were many shots available.
The sport of field target started about the same time as modern PCP guns, so it was inevitable that the two would get together. By the late 1980s, you had to shoot a precharged rifle to win a major match. Daystate’s competitors were Titan, Sportsmatch and Air Arms. All made PCP rifles to their own specifications. In that crowd, Daystate and Titan were the affordable rifles, Air Arms made both sporters and some race-ready field target competition rifles, and Sportsmatch made the “Rolls Royce.”
All the PCPs of this era were heavy, but the Daystate Huntsman earned a reputation as a lead sled. At more than 9 lbs., my vintage 1990s Huntsman was almost two full pounds heavier than my 1980s Air Arms Shamal, which produced equivalent power. That weight was found in the steel receiver and the steel reservoir.
And here is a bit of airgunning trivia for you. When BAM decided to copy a PCP rifle, they copied the Huntsman, so the BAM B50 and B51 are modern relics of the most successful PCP of the mid-1990s. The most distinctive feature these rifles had was a “swan’s neck” cocking piece made of brass.
The BAM B51 is a direct copy of the Daystate Huntsman Mk II.
I’ll never forget my first Huntsman. It was a used 12-foot-pound Huntsman Mark II that got about 40 shots when filled to 2,500 psi. Back in those early days, 3,000 psi fill pressures were not as common as they are today, and 12 foot-pounds was more common in the U.S. The simple trigger on my gun was set to break at 8 oz.; and, at 35 yards, five Crosman Premier 7.9-grain pellets went into a cluster of about 0.30″ c-t-c spread. This early rifle was not regulated and still kept all its shots within just 20 f.p.s. I scoped it with a Bushnell Trophy 6-18×40 that is still in use today.
When I got my rifle in 1995, the Huntsman was already becoming obsolete. Daystate was in the middle of releasing several newer models, eventually spelling the end for the old Huntsman. The newer guns were lighter and had more graceful stocks. One of them, the CR94, was a field target competition gun slated to go head-to-head with the Air Arms NJR 100. The CR94 started winning big matches and the NJRs had their hands full fending them off.
The new line of Daystate sporters was markedly different than the heavy Huntsman. I’ll never forget the first time I picked up a Daystate QC (for quick-connect – the wave of the future in PCPs). I could hardly believe it. It was 3 lbs. lighter than my rifle, yet it had the same performance!
After testing and getting used to the Huntsman, I had U.S. importer Rodney Boyce modify it with a match trigger and a Wellham regulator. The fill pressure went up to 3,000 psi, and the power went from 12 foot-pounds to 17 with the heaviest pellets. With 7.9-grain Crosman Premiers that were still the most accurate, the gun delivered over 15 foot-pounds. I competed with this rifle in several field target matches, but the handwriting was on the wall. I had been shooting with a club that shot the match entirely offhand, and I wanted to try out the AAFTA seated position. The weight of the Huntsman made itself abundantly clear when held offhand for an entire match. My gun was too heavy and bulky at a time when scopes were getting bigger and heavier and ergonomics were starting to rule the day.
When we return, I’ll pick up the story right here.