by B.B. Pelletier
The FWB 300s is considered the gold standard of vintage target air rifles.
I’ve danced around writing this report for the better part of a year, and some of you have asked me when I was going to get around to it. Well, today is the day we’ll begin looking at Feinwerkbau’s fabulous 300S — considered by many airgunners to be the gold standard of vintage 10-meter target air rifles.
Today’s blog is an important resource for those who are interested in fine vintage 10-meter target rifles, because I’m going to give you the links to all the other reports I’ve done.
There are plenty of vintage 10-meter rifles that I haven’t tested for you yet. The Diana 75, the Anschutz 380, the Walther LGR, the Anschutz 250 and the Gamo 126 all come to mind; but if you want to split hairs, there are numerous similar models like the Walther LG55 and the Diana 65 that also belong to a very long list of classic oldies. But the guns we’ve looked at thus far are a fair representation of the classic era of target air rifles. Today, we’ll look at the rifle many consider to be the pinnacle of achievement during that period.
You probably know the history, but if you don’t — first there was the FWB 110, a sidelever target rifle that recoiled! Yes, it recoiled. What’s more, Feinwertkbau didn’t make too many of them. The 110 is considered to be a very desirable airgun collectible today, and many advanced airgunners, including me, have never even seen one. According to the Blue Book of Airguns, fewer than 200 were made from 1962-1964.
The FWB 150 followed the 110 and introduced Feinwerkbau’s anti-recoil system. I reviewed the FWB 150 for you last June. I found it to be easy to shoot and compellingly accurate, but it wasn’t everything it could be. That honor awaited the 300S that I’m reviewing for you today.
The FWB 150 is the predecessor of the 300S. It shares a more sporterized stock profile with the interim FWB 300.
A footnote deserves to be inserted here, as the first edition of the Beeman catalog, a collectible in its own right, also mentioned an FWB 200 model, existing at the same time as the 300. A short line in the Blue Book says the model 200 was similar to the model 300 but lacked the recoil-compensation system. Until I researched today’s report, the model 200 was unknown to me and I’ve certainly never seen one. Is it as rare as the model 110? Has anyone ever seen one? These are the curious things that pop up as we research this fascinating hobby, and they’re what keeps the collector in me in a permanent state of anticipation.
The model 300 was much like the 150, in that it has a single coiled, steel mainspring and a thinner, more sporterized stock, yet it was definitely labeled a 300, rather than the 150. You don’t see as many straight 300 rifles as you do 150 rifles these days. Perhaps that’s because when the 300S came out it overshadowed the 300 and drove it from the marketplace in fairly short order. The 300S was a very different gun.
If you’re like me, you never paid much attention to the difference between a 300 and the 300S. What’s in a letter designation, after all? A lot of things, as it turns out.
Let’s start with the mainspring. The 300S has two coiled steel springs that are wound in opposite directions. It’s said they cancel the slight amount of torque at firing, though I cannot say that I’ve ever noticed any torque in my 150. The RWS Diana 48 sidelever does have noticeable torque upon firing, and you’ll feel a definite rocking to the right after the trigger is pulled. Since the sidelever already unbalances that rifle, the feeling is magnified; but the 150 doesn’t have the same feeling. At least — my rifle, which was recently tuned by Randy Bimrose, doesn’t.
The 300S stock is shorter than the stock on the 300/150. It also has a more vertical pistol grip to enhance the offhand hold. A slight flare at the bottom might go unnoticed in the catalog photos; but when you hold the rifle, the pistol grip grabs you right back.
So, how does this rifle block the recoil? Well, for starters, it actually doesn’t! All the FWB spring-piston target rifles do recoil; but in the 150 models and the 300-series there’s a special system in the stock that isolates the shooter from the movement. A set of steel rails set into the stock allows the action to move while the stock remains still. The shooter doesn’t feel any recoil and only the slightest vibration in some guns. But you do notice the movement of the action, because of the eyepiece that’s close to your sighting eye. The movement is very short — on the order of a quarter-inch or so — but if you’re close to the rear sight you’ll notice it. A rubber eyecup helps take up the shock and prevent your eye from banging into the rear sight disk, and I find it necessary to use this accessory with this model rifle.
This system is called the sledge system, after the name for a dry-land type of sled whose runners make it easy to drag heavy loads. It’s completely different from the Giss anti-recoil system, in which a counterweighted piston actually has no discernible recoil.
This mechanism is very refined compared to a similar system found on the RWS Diana model 54 Air King. Of course, that magnum spring-piston rifle has to deal with three times the power in a rifle of similar weight, so it’s actually doing quite a good job of canceling the recoil. Still, when the 300S lever is retracted, there’s no “levering” of the action required at the end of the cocking stroke like you have with the Diana 54. The ratcheting anti-beartrap safety that prevents the sliding compression chamber from smashing your thumb during loading does not need a separate button to release the cocking lever after you’ve loaded. The only extra step the 300S does have is a small locking latch on the sidelever that unlocks the lever at the start of the cocking stroke. The 150 and 300 cocking levers both have an end section that pivots outward to unlock the cocking lever and achieve the same thing.
Press down on the cocking lever latch to release the lever for cocking and loading.
The sidelever on a 300S is also much shorter than the one on the 150, yet the cocking effort remains as light. Obviously, some geometry was changed when the model was updated.
My 300S is a Daisy gun. While many were imported and sold by Beeman, many more came into the U.S. through Daisy when the company was trying to establish itself as a target gun company. The FWB name trumped the Daisy name, however, and a Daisy FWB is exactly the same as one from Beeman or one imported directly from Europe.
This 300S came from Daisy.
No piston seal
Another odd but not unique feature of these rifles is the lack of a conventional piston seal. Instead of a traditional seal, they use a metal ring much like those found on an automobile engine’s piston. These rings will last for millions of cycles, as some club guns have demonstrated, though other parts like the breech seal will eventually have to be replaced. And the coiled steel mainspring set needs occasional replacement, as well.
Many Webley pistols and a couple of the older Webley rifles have the same design, so piston rings are not unique in the airgun world. They are, however, features that are found only on guns of quality.
When the 150/300 was new, American airgunners were not used to light target triggers as a rule. They were accustomed to a 3-lb. pull being considered light. So, when they encountered the FWB trigger that releases at ounces rather than pounds, they were astounded. In fact, if they’d been accustomed to shooting the older target rifles from the 19th century, like Ballards, Maynards and Winchesters, all of which had fine double-set triggers, they would have been less impressed.
The 300S trigger has a nominal pull weight ranging from 3.5 oz. to 17.7 oz. (an optional trigger spring boosts that range from 10.6 oz. to 52.8 oz.). In target rifle terms, even the lighter range is not very light, though I find it just right for me. The trigger on my rifle releases at a satisfying 4.4 oz. It’s a two-stage pull with stage two being very definite. With practice, you can get on target and “think” the trigger off as the sight picture becomes perfect.
The 300S trigger also adjusts for position, cant and first-stage travel — all things that the 150 trigger does not do. Although the 150 trigger is just as light and crisp as the one on the 300S, you can’t reposition it. It’s also curved like a sporting trigger instead of straight like the target trigger found on the 300S.
The trigger of a target air rifle has no lower limit, the way a target air pistol does. In the ISSF rules for air pistols, a match pistol trigger must break at more than 500 grams (17.64 oz.). This is done in the interest of safety, as the muzzle of a pistol is too easy to move while on a firing line. But a rifle like the 300S is more obvious and easier to control, so there’s no lower limit. Some target air rifles today are releasing at less than 50 grams (1.76 oz.) of force.
The stocks of the vintage target air rifles show a fairly broad latitude of design, but they stop short in a few important areas. Tyrolean stocks are not permitted in World Cup and Olympic matches, nor are butt hooks. Today’s rifles are studies in ergonomics applied against these rules. Today, a 300S looks fairly normal to eyes that are accustomed to wild aluminum stocks with numerous adjustments; but when it was new, it seemed to push the envelope of possibility. I suppose it’s equivalent to how the finned cars of the late 1950s appeared when they were new compared to how we see them today.
Another drastic measure was taken at the World Cup level in the realm of target sights. For a brief time, the tube-type rear aperture sight was used, but complaints that it gave an unfair advantage caused a ruling that it was no longer permitted. This is very odd, since tube-type sights have been in use since at least 1776 and were in widespread use in target matches throughout the 19th century. But the ruling was made, and today’s rear sights cannot use tubes to enhance the sharpness of the sight picture.
FWB target rear sights looked as exotic as a Rolex watch when they were new in the 1970s. Today, they seem almost simple, but they still do the job. The click detents are nowhere close to the thousandth-inch measurements of the Vernier scale peep sights I showed you recently; but since you’re shooting 10 meters instead of 1,000 yards, they’re more than adequate for the job.
Unfortunately, these rifles were also sold without sights for a slightly reduced price, and many buyers mounted short scopes on their 11mm sight dovetails. While they may have been pleased with the gun that way, they created a shortage of sights for the future that is difficult to resolve. Until five years ago, you either had to install a hoplessly crude rear sight made either in Spain or China and live with the problems of adjustment backlash, or you had to pony up almost as much money as you paid for the entire rifle just to buy a set of precision sights.
AirForce corrected that lack for you with their adaptive rear target sight that fits most 10-meter guns. For about a third of what a German rear sight costs, you get a unit that’s the equivalent of the vintage FWB rear sight; and as a bonus, it looks at home on any rifle. An additional feature that never seems to get mentioned is this sight can be removed from its base and installed in a standard one-inch scope ring — multiplying the possible applications greatly.
The front sight looks more conventional and is of the globe design with replaceable inserts. On the 300S, it’s part of a larger aluminum barrel sleeve that makes it proprietary. When the globe on an Anschütz or Weihrauch target rifle slides onto a dovetail, this globe actually fits only the 300S barrel.
The front sight on this HW55 attaches to two dovetails of standard width. All Weihrauch rifles that have dovetails can use this sight.
The FWB 300S front sight globe is integral with an aluminum sleeve that fits over the barrel. It’s either this or nothing!
The front sight is pinned to the barrel through the sight base. On some versions of the 300S, like the Universal and the later Match, this pin is at the bottom of the barrel. On my rifle it’s located at the top.
You may have also noticed that the 300S has a blued barrel sleeve that’s slenderer than the one on the 150. Only toward the end of the barrel does it swell a bit. That’s because the 300S barrel is longer than the one on the 150, so there has to be less sleeve material to balance the weight correctly.
But the real test of this airgun comes with shooting. I’ve already shot this rifle several times, so I know what’s in store. You should feel eager expectation for the next two installments, because this rifle wants to shoot!