by B.B. Pelletier
I have places in my heart reserved for certain air rifles. The FWB 124 has a spot, as does the Beeman R1. And there’s another place that’s reserved for the Beeman C1. It’s no longer made. In fact, the company that once made it–Webley–has also disappeared from the world stage. But the C1s that are in the world are wonderful air rifles that deserve a look from us.
My first C1 was a compromise gun–something I know many of you readers can relate to. I really wanted an R1, but at the time we didn’t have the money to stretch that far, so I bought the C1 as the best compromise. The difference was $189 and $249, as close as I can recall. That little bit made the decision for me.
At least this was a Beeman rifle, even if it wasn’t one made by Weihrauch. Little did I know then how much that C1 carbine was going to influence my future as an airgun writer.
The rifle is a tad over 38 inches long, and the barrel accounts for 14 inches of that. The rifle weighs 6.3 lbs.
My C1 was a .177, while the one I’m reviewing for you now is a .22. I can remember being very impressed when I saw the gun for the first time. Beeman really knew how to present an air rifle in their reinforced cardboard boxes. The rated velocity was 830 f.p.s. for a broken-in gun in .177. Beeman also listed a .22 caliber version, but I never heard much about it back when it was still being made, so this test will be very revealing.
My C1 had a manual safety on the right side of the rifle, located at the rear of the spring tube. The .22 rifle I’m testing for you has no safety, so it has to be an earlier rifle. The rifle was made from 1981 to 1996 according to the Blue Book of Airguns. And here’s a curious note–although the Blue Book says importation began after serial number 800,000, the serial number on my rifle is 771,894. And my new rifle is clearly marked with Beeman’s San Rafael address.
When it was new, my first C1 was quite stiff and hard to cock. The trigger was also very stiff. To say I was disappointed by the shooting performance was an understatement! After hearing all the good things about precision adult air rifles and having already owned an FWB 124, this C1 was a boat anchor in comparison. But it was all I had, so I stuck with it.
After about 2,000 rounds had passed through the rifle, I began noticing that the cocking had smoothed out. At first I thought it was my imagination, but then I started noticing that the firing behavior was smoother, as well. After 3,000 rounds the trigger started getting very light and, if not exactly crisp, at least predictable.
About that time I disassembled the rifle to see what I could do to improve it. What I was thinking, I’ll never know, because I hadn’t a clue how to tune a spring gun. The Beeman R1 book was still five years in the future. Black tar hadn’t been discovered by airgunners yet. It existed, but it was not known to the airgun community, so we used Beeman’s Mainspring Dampening Compound instead. It did pretty much the same thing, though it wasn’t as viscous, and you had to use a lot more of it.
Fortunately, I also didn’t own a chronograph yet, either, so I had no idea how fast my rifle was shooting. I trusted the Beeman catalog implicitly.
Use a mainspring compressor!
While either disassembling or assembling my C1 a curious thing happened and I got the first photo to go into the R1 book. The heavy solid steel end cap got away from me, sailed across the room and broke a desk drawer divider in two! Had my arm been there instead, I’m thinking it might have been broken–bruised for certain. I instantly understood the need for a mainspring compressor!
The C1 end cap hit this desk divider to the right of the crack (see the dent in the wood) and busted it in two.
The other curious thing about my C1 was that it taught me how to shoot a spring-piston air rifle. The wisdom of that day said to hold a spring rifle firmly. I was doing that and those beautiful groups my rifle was supposed to be capable of were eluding me. On my 10-meter basement range I could group five good pellets into about one-third inch when everything went well.
The birth of the artillery hold
One day, I decided to see just how inaccurate the rifle would be if I didn’t restrain it at all. So, I laid the forearm across my open palm and caressed the wrist only enough to pull the trigger. The butt simply touched my shoulder without bearing on it. And the next group I shot measured 0.13″! That day was the birth of the artillery hold, though it wasn’t until The Airgun Letter that I gave it a name, because I wanted to be able to discuss it in my articles without having to describe the procedure every time. People had been holding firearms that way for decades, but this was a change for airgunners.
I was so shocked by this revelation that I wrote my first airgun article about this phenomenon and sent it to Robert Beeman to put in his next catalog. When I didn’t hear back from him I was disappointed, but I kept on refining that hold, because my rifle shot so well.
My C1 is sold
Several years later, Edith and I were doing much better and she gave me not one but two air rifles for Christmas–a new R1 and a used HW 77 carbine. Those rifles took over my attention and within a few more years the C1 was gone. At the time I said things like, “Who needs three perfect airguns?” and “I can always buy another one if I really want it.”
The C1 slipped quietly out of production soon after Robert Beeman sold the company in 1994 and was replaced for a short time by the Beeman Bearcub–the last model to carry any genes from the gun that had been the C1. The western stock went away as well, and the Bearcub was 100 f.p.s. faster than the C1 had been.
Why I missed the C1
For several years after selling the C1, I was fine, but then I started missing it. I missed the ease of use and the compact size, but most of all I missed the splendid accuracy that issued forth from that little breakbarrel. I also missed being able to hold it up to show people what a nice airgun was supposed to look like.
And a strange thing happened. As much as I had told myself I could always buy another one, they weren’t showing up at the airgun shows. I see about as many C1s for sale as I see Sheridan Supergrades, and that’s not many. So, when I saw the current one on Dave Franz’s table at Little Rock this year, I was excited. It took a big trade to bring the rifle into my gun room, but it was worth it. Now I have a vintage airgun to test that I have absolutely no experience with–a .22 caliber C1. I’m sure we’ll all have a fine time learning about this one.