Every airgun show is unique. I’ve said that many times before, but it’s always true — and this one was no different. What I look for when I try to describe an airgun show is how it stood out from all the others. That’s what I’ll do today.
An airgun show is small, in comparison to0 a regular gun show, but there are more airguns on a single table then you’ll see at most big gun shows. And the guns range from inexpensive Daisys and Crosmans to then most exotic airguns imaginable. So go to gun shows for and crowded aisles, but to airgun shows to find airguns.
I didn’t get away from my table for the first half of the first day. When I finally did, the show immediately began to reveal itself. It was jam-packed with big bore air rifles! I mean jammed! Dennis Quackenbush and Eric Henderson are always the mainstays of the show; but this time I met Robert Vogel, whose business is Mr. Hollowpoint. Robert casts each bullet by hand from lead as pure as he can make it. His bullets mushroom on game perfectly and rip huge holes in living flesh, making the most humane kills possible. I bought a bag of 68-grain .308-caliber hollowpoints for the Quackenbush .308 test I’m conducting, and he threw in a second bag of .22 pellets for free. These will have a special debut in a smallbore test in the near future.
Robert Vogel (standing) is Mr. Hollowpoint. He has thousands of different bullets for big bore shooters to try.
But Mr. Hollowpoint wasn’t the only bullet maker at the show. Seth Rowland, the show’s host and promoter, also supplies the big bore airgunning community with cast bullets in numerous sizes and shapes. And their customers can hardly appreciate the untold hours they spend at the lead pot, casting and sizing these silver slugs one by one.
Need bullets? Seth Rowland has them in different sizes, shapes and weights.
Another theme that’s common to all airgun shows is 10-meter target guns. This year’s Arkansas show had plenty of them, both from dealers like Scott Pilkington of Pilkington Competition Equipment in Tennessee, as well as numerous private individuals. I mentioned several weeks ago that Mac was bringing some recently overhauled FWB rifles to this show, and on day one an interested buyer sought him out. This man was serious about buying a target rifle, and he had done his research on the internet. But this was the first time he’d seen, felt and shot these rifles.
Mac took him out to the shooting range to try out an FWB 150 and a 300; and from his testing, he decided the 300 was the gun he wanted. Because it lacks the barrel jacket, it’s lighter than a standard 300S. He was buying the rifle for his wife to shoot in competition. They made a deal, and he went home with the exact target rifle he wanted — an overhauled ex-club rifle at a price that was several hundred dollars below what he would have paid for a gamble on the internet. For this man, driving all the way to Arkansas made good sense.
I’m sure that same scenario was played out numerous times at this show, because that’s what happens at an airgun show that also has a shooting range. You get to try out the guns before you buy — something that’s impossible at a regular gun show.
The odd and wonderful
You never know what you’re going to see at one of these shows, but there are a few people who always seem to have interesting things. Larry Hannusch, the top airgun writer for the past 30 years, is one person who can always surprise you. This year, our tables were together, giving me the opportunity to look at his guns more closely than normal. He had a Crosman 113 bulk-fill CO2 rifle, which isn’t unusual, except the owner of this one had inlet a pellet box into the right side of the stock — much like the patchbox found on certain muzzleloading rifles.
Some owner made this patchbox in the stock of his Crosman 113 bulk-fill rifle.
He built the “patchbox” with a built-in spring. There were pellets inside.
When was the last time you saw one of these? A French ball-flask pistol from the 1700s.
The big find
Often there will be a big find of some certain airgun that shows up at a particular show. I remember one year someone was selling piles of brand-new-in-the-box S&W 78G and 79G pistols. There were at least 50, but as my memory serves there might have been as many as 100 brand-new guns that were at least 20 years old at the time. Another year, it was Scott Pilkington who brought almost 300 club target guns for sale. You could buy an FWB 300 for $150-$200! Of course, it would have been a beater and would have needed to be resealed, but it certainly was the budget way into a 10-meter gun.
Then there was the year that someone had over 20 Johnson Target Guns, the submachinegun-looking plastic catapult BB gun from the late 1940s. They were all new in the box, and the cloth backstop that was in the box to stop the BBs inside the box lid that also served as a backstop had turned to dust. But they were complete. To collectors, they were a wonderful find. I actually saw two of these at this year’s Arkansas show; so even after more than 10 years, they’re still slowly dissolving into the collector population.
Two brand-new Johnson Target Guns in the box with all the literature and accessories.
When I walked into the second large room in this show and turned the corner, I ran into Randy Mitchell’s booth, where he was selling a pile of recently discovered TS45 sidelever air rifles for $20 each! I blogged this rifle several years ago, and Vince also wrote a guest blog about the same rifle. Until now, there were no new guns you could buy. You had to find one by chance and would always be one somebody had owned and possibly modified. Now, Randy Mitchell, who runs his Adventures in Airguns store, has a huge pile of these rifles to sell. They aren’t very safe and are the very guns that chopped off thumbs when their anti-beartraps failed; but if you cock them safely and load while restraining the sidelever, they’re fun to shoot and are often accurate.
Randy Mitchell found these old/new TS45 sidelevers and brought them to the show. It’s stuff like this that keeps me going to every airgun show I can make!
Of course, there are too many modern guns to name here, but know that at any show you’ll find almost every modern classic airgun for sale. If you’re looking for good TX200s or old R7s, they’re usually available — and they were at this show, too. But what you also see are airguns that are so rare and hard to find that some of them won’t even be seen in airgun books. This yearm Ingvar Alm had both a Winsel CO2 pistol in the box and a Giffard CO2 pistol from the 1870s on his table. Giffard invented the application of CO2 for gun use, and Winsel made only 50 guns in the early 1950s. Neither gun is represented well in any airgun book I know.
The Winsel pistol was a bulk-filled CO2 pistol that required the owner to mail his tank back to the company to be filled. Yeah, that’s going to work! They made 50 and quit. Today, they’re a prized collectible.
Giffard pioneered the use of CO2 in guns in the 1870s. His pistols are many times rarer than his rifles. The empty pop bottle is for contrast — like Cindy Crawford’s mole.
There were more big bores at this show than I see at other shows. Perhaps, that’s because the focus of big bore airgunning seems to center around Texas, where the LASSO match is held. Dennis Quackenbush delivered his guns to eager buyers, but the only rifle he had to show was his own .308, which he doesn’t want to sell. Eric Henderson and Big Bore Bob Dean were both there with some guns to sell, as well as Robert Vogel. But the one maker with a lot of guns on display was Jack Haley, whose table was a rainbow of laminated stocks.
Jack Haley’s table was a colorful display of big bore rifles.
Then there was the big bore that has been a joke in the airgun community for many years. The gun itself is fine. It was made back in the 1980s by Ben Patron, whose name is clearly on the side of the receiver. Somewhere along the line, some person got ahold of it and displayed it at the Springfield, Missouri, gun show as a “U.S. military .50-caliber sniper air rifle.” The label for that display was still inside the guitar box that held the gun, and Dennis Quackenbush remembers seeing it at the Springfield show. After that, it somehow ended up in an Arkansas pawn shop where Big Bore Bob found it and bought it.
Some previous owner had concocted a colorful background story for the Patron big bore of the 1980s.
Many shows have a drawing, but airgun shows are so lightly attended that you actually have a chance of winning! This year, they gave away several very nice prizes at the close of the show, including a scoped TalonP pistol from AirForce! Then came the drawing for the frame-extended silencer for the Talon SS. I knew before the little girl picked my ticket that I would win it. How ironic is that? I’m testing a Talon SS with a bloop tube right now, so of course I’m going to win another one! But the supreme irony came when Randy Mitchell, a big bore hunter, won the .50-caliber Dragon Claw donated by Pyramyd Air.
Randy Mitchell (right) won the Dragon Claw. Show host, Seth Rowland, standing, ran the drawing. The young lady added a lot of sparkle and enthusiasm to the show. I see an airgunner in the making!
On the trip home, Mac and I relived the show many times. That’s another benefit. I can remember snippets from most past shows, and this one will now be filed away in the library.
by B.B. Pelletier
Blog reader Kevin Lentz asked for this report; but as soon as he posted his request, it was seconded by a couple other readers. The first time I did a report with this title was way back in 2007, and that was a four-parter. This time, I’ll hold it to just two parts to save some time, because there are a lot of new models coming out at this time of year. Kevin revised the categories just a little and I went with his suggestions.
Guns under $150: Air rifles
A couple guns that used to be in this category have fallen off the list, in my opinion. They did so due to major changes in product quality. Even at this low level, a gun has to shine to make the list.
Crosman’s 1077 is a wonderful 12-shot CO2 repeater. It’s accurate, reliable and a lot of fun to shoot. This budget rifle is accurate enough to benefit from a scope.
The Crosman M4-177 multi-pump is another wonderful value for the price. It’s accurate, has a tactical look and is very rugged. As a bonus, this is a five-shot repeater!
The Gamo Lady Recon makes the list for its accuracy, ease of operation and the fact that it comes with open sights. The plain Recon doesn’t have open sights and misses the list for the lack. This is a lot of youth air rifle for the money, but I suppose only girls will like it because of the pink color.
Stoeger’s X5 makes the list for accuracy and build quality. The one drawback with this one is the heavy trigger. But if you get past that, this is a lot of airgun for the money.
Daisy’s Powerline 953 TargetPro is a budget version of that company’s 853 target rifle. Though it lacks the Lothar Walther barrel, the 953 manages to do quite well with its domestic barrel. It’s a great way to get into target shooting without spending a bundle.
Buy the Daisy Avanti Champion 499 only if you like hitting what you shoot at. Billed as the world’s most accurate BB gun and the only gun used in the International BB Gun Championships (because nothing else can compete with it), the 499 is every target shooter’s dream. Sure, it’s a BB gun, but one that will put 10 shots inside Roosevelt’s head on a dime offhand at 5 yards.
And the winner among air rifles in this price range is the Air Venturi Bronco. It is, without question, the most accurate pellet rifle under $150, and it has the best trigger of the category as well.
Guns under $150: Air pistols
For informal target shooting, you can’t do any better than Beeman’s P17 single-stroke pistol. It’s a Chinese-made copy of the German-made Beeman P3 that costs many times more, yet the P17 holds its own on power and accuracy. A few of them have been known to have reliability issues; but if you oil yours with Pellgunoil, I think you’ll get past that. I’ve owned two, and both were perfect.
There used to be several different models of this next gun to choose from, but the last one standing is the Crosman 357W. A pellet revolver for under $50, this CO2-powered gun has inspired shooters for decades. It has the accuracy you want and ease of operation, plus it’s a pellet revolver!
Another super buy is the Crosman 2240 .22-caliber single-shot pistol. This gun is the direct descendant of Crosman pistols dating all the way back to the 1940s. It’s accurate, powerful and a wonderful value.
The Crosman 1377C is a classic multi-pump air pistol selling for half the price of most other pump guns. It has the power and accuracy to hold its own against challengers selling at more than twice the price. Plus, it’s the basis of many hobby airgunners’ projects.
The Makarov BB pistol is the best BB pistol in this or any other price category. It’s accurate, reliable and extremely realistic. If you like to hit what you shoot at and want to shoot BBs, this is the gun to buy!
If you want a fun, realistic BB revolver, they don’t get any better than the Dan Wesson BB revolver. I’ve linked to the 8-inch barreled gun, but all the barrel lengths and finishes cost the same and provide the same great service.
Guns $150-250: Air rifles
Not as many guns in this price category, because I hold them to a higher standard. With guns like the Bronco and the Beeman P17 out there, most higher-priced guns can’t deliver.
Hatsan recently decided to go it alone in the U.S., but I haven’t had a chance to test anything they offer. Back when they were making guns for whatever conglomerate financial organization owned Webley at the time, who knows what craziness they were forced to make? So, they should be given the chance to make and sell good guns on their own. Time will tell, but this year I have no information, so they didn’t make the list.
With all the product-cheapening that’s been going on, it’s been difficult to see that the Diana RWS 34P has progressively morphed into a fine air rifle. The barrel got better, the trigger did the same and the powerplant went from a cheap buzzy nightmare in the 1980s to a dream gun in 2012. Diana avoided the Gamo pitfall of going to more power, and, instead, they concentrated on giving us a great rifle with reasonable power and splendid accuracy. You do need to use the artillery hold to get it, though. This one deserves credit for being a wonderful air rifle. When I list the 34P, I’m actually including all 34 rifles.
Guns $150-250: Air pistols
Same thing goes for air pistols as for rifles. Too much competition from the lower-price category and not enough innovation and quality in this one.
I can’t say enough good things about the Smith & Wesson 586 4-inch CO2 revolver. It’s a “real” gun! Get one if you like fine double- and single-action triggers, smooth revolver actions plus stunning accuracy. The realism cannot be faulted. Same thing goes for the 6-inch barreled gun.
Some of you may remember my story about telling the then-president of Crosman why airgunners would drop $150 on a handgun he sold for $39.95. Well, he left the company, and the new management decided to build these modified guns themselves! The Crosman 2300S is one such gun. It’s based on the 2240 frame, but has a boatload of high-value appointments that are just what most airgunners want. Can’t beat it for the price.
I’m going to include the Daisy Avanti 747 Triumph Match, which is somewhat quirky and more than a little clunky, but it’s the lowest-cost real target pistol available. The Lothar Walther barrel is what makes it rank above the nearly identical 717. And, Daisy, could you please give this gun a couple more names? I can still pronounce it without taking a breath.
What’s this? I put the Beeman P17 on this list for under $150 and I’m also putting the Beeman P3 on the same list? Yep. This one is good, too. Better trigger than the P17 and just as accurate and powerful. Want a better gun? Get a P3.
Well, that’s my list. You might ask me what the criteria were to make the list. Simple. These are the airguns I can recommend and not hear anything bad about them. That doesn’t mean that everyone likes all of them. It means that the guns, themselves, don’t have any bad habits or features that make people mad at me for recommending them. Next time, I’ll do a $250-500 list and an unlimited one. You think I was picky today? Just wait.
A note from Edith: This is a G-rated site
Recently, I’ve noticed some acronyms creeping in that aren’t G-rated. If you have a budding young airgunner that you’ve encouraged to read the blog and the comments, do you want to have to explain to him what those initials mean? Probably not, so it’s best if we don’t use those colorful words/acronyms in our comments.
Also, when symbols have to replace letters in a word because the word is offensive, please don’t use that word…with or without symbols. I appreciate your help in keeping Airgun Academy a G-rated site and a place where airgunners of every age can comfortably ask questions and grow to love the shooting sports.
by B.B. Pelletier
This subject came up as the result of a comment I made about choked and tapered bores. It turns out that gun makers were having this same discussion 140 years ago with pretty much the same results.
The best gun makers of the 1860-1910 timeframe (and Harry Pope for just a little longer) all either taper-bored their barrels or choke-bored them. I will describe each of these conditions in a moment. There really isn’t much difference between choke-boring and taper-boring, but the slight difference that does exist allows us to talk about each of them as a separate issue.
Most gun makers (or barrel-makers, because in many cases — like Pope, a man did not make the entire gun) did taper-bore their barrels. But that wasn’t what they called it, so the fact that they did it got lost because of the subtleties of the language.
What is a tapered bore?
A tapered bore is exactly what the title implies. The diameter of the bore gradually tapers down from breech to muzzle. The amount of the taper is slight — perhaps one-thousandth to as much as two-thousandths of an inch; but at the time this service was performed, the measuring tools needed to accurately measure it weren’t commonly available. So, most of the makers didn’t actually know how much they were tapering their bores — just the fact that they were.
What does this do?
Why taper the bore at all? Because there are advantages — the primary one being an increase in accuracy. The reasons for this increase are less obvious and not entirely understood — or perhaps I should say they’re not entirely agreed upon. We know taper-boring works, but exactly why remains something of a mystery.
One thing that we do know is that when the barrel squeezes the bullet down smaller, it prevents gas blowby, which is damaging to the bullet because it erodes the sides and unbalances it. But in guns that use black powder for the propellant, the hammer blow of the exploding powder actually squashes the base of the bullet outward to make firm contact with the sides of the bore. This is called obturation. A black powder rifle doesn’t need a choked bore to prevent gas blowby, because obturation already addresses it — as long as the bullet is fitted closely enough to the bore to begin with.
So tapering the bore must do something else, because it works for black powder arms just as it works for those guns that use smokeless powder that does not obturate the bullet. The theory that I believe is that a tapered bore grabs the projectile more firmly just before it exits the barrel. It stops any unwanted vibrations and sends the bullet on its way with no instability. It ends any side-to-side play the bullet might have inside the barrel. Just because the base of the bullet has been squashed larger by the force of the exploding gunpowder doesn’t mean that the entire length of the bullet is equally in contact with the bore; but if the bore narrows down enough, there will be no doubt about it.
How they did it
Now that you know what a tapered bore is, let’s find out how the barrel makers managed to do it. Actually, the process is simple. If you read how gun barrels were made back in 1840-1910, you’ll see that they did it as a matter of course. They called it “leading the bore” and by that they did not mean lapping the bore, which is a similar but separate step that some but not all barrel makers did.
When they “leaded the bore,” a bore-cast lead slug that was charged with emory was passed back and forth through the just-rifled bore until it had removed a tiny bit of metal from the inside. To do this, they first inserted a long bore-fitting wooden dowel down the barrel. The front section was turned down much smaller than the bore.
The rod was entered from the breech and positioned with its end flush at the muzzle. The barrel was next heated until it was hot to the touch, then molten lead was poured down the muzzle until it pooled up flush with the muzzle. The lead was stopped from going down the bore by the bore-sized wooden rod that was not turned down, and it attached itself to the smaller diameter portion of the rod near the muzzle. When the barrel cooled down, the rod was pushed out the muzzle and the lead mass that was on the end was removed. It was then trued up at both ends, and the wooden rod was pushed out, leaving about a 1/4-inch hole down the center of the plug. A small groove was cut in the lead cylinder, then the cylinder was screwed onto a tool-steel rod that was called the leading rod. The lead plug was then rolled on a steel plate that had emory powder spread upon it. The leading rod was free to turn in its handle, so the lead plug could follow the pattern of the rifling.
The leading bolt after cleanup looks like this. It’s then screwed onto a tool steel rod that works it inside the bore. Image copied from “The Muzzle-Loading Cap Lock Rifle” by Ned H. Roberts, copyright 1952.
At this point, the inside of the bore received a light coat of fine oil, such as sperm whale oil. The emory-charged rod with its lead slug was then carefully inserted at the breech, making sure to engage the rifling exactly. The rod was then moved back and forth from the breech to within about three inches of the muzzle. By concentrating on the rear of the barrel and only going forward a relatively few times, they controlled the amount of metal that was being removed from each part of the bore.
Occasionally, the rod was partially withdrawn at the breech but never again fully removed. When it was exposed in part at the breech, more emory powder could be applied along with a little more oil. By never completely removing it, the lead slug always remained in the proper engagement with the rifling. When the lead slug wore down, the tool steel rod was screwed into it more, forcing the sides back out and into the bore of the rifle.
The rod was worked back and forth, with more time given to the portion closer to the breech and less as the lead slug approached the final three inches of the barrel. How long this procedure took varied with each maker, and probably with the type of material they were working with — i.e., soft iron, cast steel, compressed steel, etc. Undoubtedly, the exact process was a closely-guarded secret for each maker. But it did work, and what they got was a bore with a gradual taper from breech to a point about three inches from the muzzle. Since they never went past that point, that section of the bore remained a true cylinder and was the tightest point in the barrel. It was the choke point.
Since these are muzzle-loading arms and the muzzle is also the tightest point of the barrel, some of you may be wondering if the bullet wouldn’t squeeze down when it was initially loaded and then lose contact with the bore after passing the choke point. That’s exactly what happened, and it made the rifle much easier to load!
Remember obturation? When the black powder exploded, the bullet was upset by the force and enlarged to grab the bore tightly. TWhen it encountered the choke point, everything happened just as I’ve described above. This gave the bullet remarkable stability that had not been seen previously.
Many riflemen were no longer using patched round balls when this style of rifling came into vogue. They were starting to experiment with conical bullets, first with the sugar-loaf or picket-style, then later with the longer, heavier cylindro-conical shape.
The picket bullet or sugar loaf bullet (left) was an early first replacement for the round ball in rifled guns. It has a very short bearing surface that makes it easier to load, but also makes it susceptible to tipping inside the bore. It more than doubled the accurate range of the rifle but required extreme care when loading. The cylindro-conical bullet on the right has more bearing surface but also needs to be driven much faster to stabilize when fired from a barrel of a given twist.
There’s much more, but not now
Bullet shapes of the late 1800s are a fascinating study. For instance, were you aware that some expert riflemen favored a hollow-based cylindro-conical bullet as the most accurate type? For now, let’s leave the world of firearms and return to airguns because choking has a definite place there, as well.
The choked bore
I haven’t described the difference between a tapered bore and a choked bore, so here we go. A choked bore is really just a tapered bore with a short taper. In other words, the bore is parallel from the breech to the choke, and then in a short distance of less than a half-inch the bore tapers down to a smaller diameter that stays parallel until the muzzle. In firearms, this distance for the choked part of the barrel was about three inches, but in airguns it’s more like two.
Intentional versus random and accidental chokes
The only intentionally choked airgun barrels I know of are made for pneumatic guns. Let’s examine why. The pneumatic is much like the firearm that uses modern gunpowder. Instead of a sudden, violent explosion, smokeless gunpowder burns at a reserved rate of speed. When confined, this rate is extremely fast, but it still cannot be called an explosion. So, modern smokeless gunpowder does not deliver the same hammer blow that obturates bullets. Nor do pneumatic guns blast out pellet skirts into the walls of the bore, which is very similar to obturation in the airgun world.
Pneumatic guns release their air at a restrained rate that, while it sounds sudden to us, is really measured in milliseconds. A lot of air is released when a pneumatic gun fires; and though the pressure in the barrel continues to decline as the pellet moves down the bore, this pressure is still enough to provide continued acceleration all the way to the muzzle.
Because the air pressure is restrained in a pneumatic, the pellet skirt is not enlarged and pushed into the wall of the bore. But in a spring gun, it is. A springer releases just a tiny bit of highly compressed air in an instant. This rapid burst of pressure is enough to swell the skirts of some pellets, making them have better contact with the bore.
So, to better stabilize pellets in pneumatics and remove any variations they might have, a choked bore is ideal. Therefore, all of the finer precharged, single-stroke and multi-pump airguns have choked bores. You can feel this if you push a pellet from the breech to the muzzle with a cleaning rod. The pellet will encounter resistance about two inches from the muzzle.
But spring guns don’t need a choke, since the act of firing swells the pellet skirts. However, some spring guns do have the same resistance near the muzzle that is felt in better pneumatics. This is an accident of swaging-in the dovetails for the front sight attachment. Weihrauch guns that have front dovetails all have this and we have called it a choked bore. It’s really just an accident of the manufacturing process and is as random as can be. But it’s there and some shooters feel it helps accuracy. Even though the choke doesn’t wrap all the way around the bore, they feel that it still provides the same stability that an intentionally-choked bore does.
Here is the lesson
The point is, if a barrel is choked, is it more accurate? The evidence suggests that it is. If that is true, can a choke be added after barrel manufacture? The answer is yes! In fact this may prove to be the most cost-effective aftermarket adjustment that can be made to an airgun.
A choke can be added by rolling the barrel between three precision hardened-steel rollers, one of which is adjustable. By gradually increasing the pressure on the adjustable roller as the barrel is rotated between the three rollers, some compression of the steel is possible. This will affect the inside of the bore, reducing it in size. The worker would have to proceed slowly and watch the progress of the choke, because we are faced with the same problem that the 19th century barrel makers had — namely barrels made from different materials.
This device allows the controlled swaging of a round barrel. The adjustable roller located at 4 o’clock is gradually adjusted inward as the rifled barrel turns.
What we have learned today is that airguns and firearms are very much alike in how their barrels can be made to increase accuracy. I haven’t addressed modern firearms shooting jacketed bullets because they do not respond the same as lead bullets. So in this respect, airguns and black powder arms are the most similar.
by B.B. Pelletier
Is this Custom Match the best HW 55 ever made? Read the report to find out.
Today, we’ll begin a look at a variant of the HW 55 that was not produced in great numbers. It was supposed to be the high-water mark of the HW 55, and it came into being just after the end of the era when recoilling spring-piston target rifles had dominated the world stage. Shooters were moving en mass to the newer recoilless designs like the Diana 60-series, the FWB sidelevers and even the single-stroke Walther LGR.
An HW 55 won the gold medal at the European Championship in 1969. When the Custom Match hit the market in the 1970s, it came just after the summit of success. Little did they know at that time that there would be no more major championships for recoiling air rifles of any make. It was similar to the last gasp of the Offenhauser front-engine Indy cars when Ford got into Indy racing in 1963.
Like the proverbial tale of the last buggy-whip maker that made the finest buggy whips ever created, the HW 55 CM was the finest spring-piston 10-meter target air rifle Weihrauch ever produced. In this report, I hope to show you a few of the innovations they built into the gun to make it all that it was.
What about the Tyrolean?
Before we continue, you might be wondering what ever became of the HW 55 Tyrolean model and why I don’t refer to it as the finest target rifle Weihrauch ever made. The Tyrolean is, without question, the most beautiful air rifle ever made by Weihrauch, and it’s so perfect for offhand shooting that a different style would scarcely be needed, but a change in the rules outlawed the Tyrolean stock for international competition. Not only Weihrauch, but also Feinwerkbau, Walther and perhaps others already had Tyrolean models in production when the rules changed. Weihrauch continued making the model because of demand from private shooters everywhere. But its days of competitive shooting were over. I reported on the Tyrolean extensively back in 2008, and you can read that report here.
Today’s report is about the gun that was supposed to restore the HW name to competition — the Custom Match. Collector Mike Driskill has written that the CM was first offered in 1974. My own information on the subject is very sketchy, but the earliest date I can prove that it was available was in 1979. I trust Mike to have the data to back up his date, so let’s accept that as the starting point for this model. As far as the end date, it’s anyone’s guess. The HW 55 line simply petered out in the 1990s, mostly because worldwide sales had dropped off so much.
This much I do know — the CM model wasn’t made in great numbers. It was the most expensive of all the 55-series guns when it was being sold, selling for about $50 more than the Tyrolean, which was already $110 higher than the beech-stocked SM. Air Rifle Headquarters (the original one) sold the Tyrolean for $389.50 and the CM for $438.50 in 1979. At that price, the model was quite exclusive, though the Anschutz and Walther target models were hundreds of dollars more. But this was an outdated recoiling spring-piston rifle and the others were all the more desirable recoilless models.
The HW 55 CM appears to be a large air rifle of approximately the same size as the FWB 300S, but that appearance is deceiving. Inside the deep forearm of the stock is a large hollow chamber for lead weights, and that void lowers the weight of the rifle to one ounce under nine pounds. That’s considerably lighter than the similarly sized FWB 300S that weighs 10 lbs., 12 oz. For shooters of average strength, the CM is a wonderful offhand shooter that happens to have a nice target stock.
An optional barrel weight in the form of a steel jacket was also available to add even more weight to the rifle. So, although it’s basically light, the CM can quickly gain several pounds when called upon.
A large cavity in the forearm is for adding lead weights.
The HW 55 CM (bottom) looks as large as the FWB 300S. It’s almost two pounds lighter, though, due to a hollow forearm.
The stock is made of straight-grained walnut, and the well-shaped almost-vertical pistol grip is deeply stippled for a good handhold. As far as I know, the CM does not have the same reputation for breaking at the pistol grip as the FWB 150/300 and the Anschutz 250, which are all very prone to breakage. There’s an accessory rail inlet into the bottom of the forearm, to the delight of serious target shooters.
The HW 55 CM is a breakbarrel like all the 55-series guns. And, all of them except the extremely rare SF model have a positive barrel lock located on the left side of the action at the breech. The barrel will not open until this latch is rotated forward, but when the barrel is closed there’s enough residual force in the tiny spring-loaded detent to hold the barrel shut without latching it. Not that you would want to do that, of course.
When the barrel locking lever is back like this, the barrel is positively locked closed.
Rotate the barrel locking lever forward to unlock the breech. This is how far the barrel will open before encountering spring tension.
The trigger deserves special mention. Not only is it a Rekord trigger, but it’s a target version of that famous trigger. Several years ago, I asked Hans Weihrauch, Jr. why other Rekords were not as sensitive as this one. He told me they put a special light trigger return spring in this model, plus you can see in the photo that the pull adjustment screw that’s a plain aluminum screw on other Rekords is actually a thumbscrew on this rifle. Inside the thumbscrew, there’s a locking screw that must be loosened before the trigger can be adjusted. After that, you adjust the pull with the thumbscrew; and when you get it where you like it, tighten the locking screw to lock it in place.
The trigger-pull adjustment is a thumbscrew located behind the trigger blade. The locking screw is visible inside. This adjustment is found on the special target version of the Rekord trigger.
I don’t have a trigger-pull gauge light enough to measure this trigger, but I would estimate that it releases with around 4 oz. of pressure. While that is considerably heavier than the triggers on my FWB 150 and 300S, it’s in line with the trigger on my Walther LGV Olympia — another recoiling spring-piston target rifle from approximately the same timeframe. As an offhand trigger, it’s fine because you don’t want something so light that you set it off before you’re ready. It also stops at the point of release, and that could be because of the trigger blade hitting the adjustment thumbscrew; but my HW 55 SF, which has the identical target trigger, has greater clearance between the trigger blade and the adjustment thumbscrew and stops before contacting the screw. There doesn’t seem to be a way to adjust this overtravel; or if there is, I haven’t found it yet.
All HW 55 rifles came with target aperture rear sights and globe front sights that had a set of inserts. My gun came to me with one front aperture insert. The rear peep is very small, and I might exchange it with the one I used on my FWB 150 for the accuracy test. Weihrauch peep sights changed many times over the approximately 40 years they were in production, and the one on my rifle appears to be one of the last versions made.
The front sight is a standard Weihrauch globe with replaceable inserts.
The rear sight on the Custom Match is one of the later HW 55 aperture sight designs.
To be perfectly honest, the firing behavior of my CM is harsh and not at all in keeping with the rest of the rifle. I will test the rifle for velocity in the next report, but I think I’ll also lubricate the mainspring or perhaps replace it if necessary to smooth out the firing cycle.
Any HW 55 is a desirable air rifle, but the Custom Match is special even within the category of HW 55s. I hope to show you as much of this rifle as you wish to see; and even if you never see one in person, you’ll know they’re out there and what they look like.
by B.B. Pelletier
Blog reader Vince has been disassembling and repairing so many guns lately that I believe no gun will ever leave his house without some part of it being removed, replaced, repaired or refined. He’s a master at fixing just about any gun that crosses his path. Sit back and read as Vince shows you the ins and outs of fixing a Daisy 717 pistol.
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A diamond in the rough, that’s what I thought when I looked at the beat-up Daisy 717 in a hole-in-the-wall gun shop not far from my parents’ house just about 2 years ago. Sure, it was a bit ugly, but (as the proprietor demonstrated) it pumped up and went pfffft when you pulled the trigger. So, I let him talk me out of $10 for it.
Turns out that going pfffft was about the only thing it did well. Putting pellets on paper in the same spot certainly wasn’t in its repertoire! I fiddled with it on and off for some time. I oiled it and cleaned the barrel, and it got a little better — but not great. It really struggled to do under 1″ at 10 meters for 5 shots, which is about twice the group size I can get from my Marksman 2004 (now known as the Beeman P17).
Barrel, anyone? Fair chance that’s the ticket. For all I know, some ding-dong used to shoot BBs through this thing. Like I probably would have done as a kid. But there’s a complication. I’m aware that Daisy still makes the 717, but they also make the 747 with a superior Lothar Walther barrel — a gun that appears to be identical in every other respect.
I got the parts diagrams and price lists for both pistols, and lo! Barrel aside, everything is indeed the same between the two. Well, except for the metal shells that are stamped 747 instead of 717. But certainly everything else.
Now I had to decide — $18 for the Daisy barrel, or $793 for the Lothar Walther? Ha! Only kidding! The LW barrel is only $50, still a bit steep for me, especially when I’m worse at pistol than I am at rifle. Is it worth the extra bucks? Will Wobbles the Pistol Pointer really be able to tell the difference?
I went to the expert: Mr. B.B. himself, who told me, “Absolutely go for the better barrel. It ain’t MY money!” Well, he didn’t phrase it quite like that, but he certainly did recommend the Lothar Walther. After kicking it around for about 18 months, I finally got off my keister and ordered it. For good measure, I also ordered a new valve assembly for $3. TWO DAYS LATER, I got them. I’m serious — I ordered Thursday, they showed up Saturday.
It wasn’t until I took the above picture that I noticed something. Seems that the new barrel assembly comes WITH all new valve guts, making that extra $3 superfluous. Not even worth sending back. Oh well, live and learn.
Anyway, down to business. The 717 comes apart rather easily, beginning with the three screws you can get to after lifting the pump handle.
From here, you can either lift the barrel and grip assembly away from the right-hand cover, or you can pull the grip off (rearward and downward) first. It’s not particularly difficult either way.
Now, you’re ready to put everything back together. Oil the o-ring on the new barrel assembly and put it all back together in reverse order. When you put the grip back in place, make sure you put the trigger fork over the valve stem as I pointed out in the above photos.
Everything is now all back together, and I’m itching to start punching one-holers. But, there’s a problem. I pumped the gun and heard a very light sssssssss from somewhere. It doesn’t take long to figure out that it’s coming from the muzzle, which means that my brand new valve is leaking. Grrrrrrrr.
Again, I take it apart and pop out the valve.
Hmmmm. No lint, no dirt, nothing apparently wrong. Aha! Maybe I just need to use that other valve assembly I bought after all! So I grabbed it, reassembled, pumped, and…sssssssssssss.
Right. Back apart, again. Looking at the guts of the valve, it’s obvious that the fault lies either in the valve plunger or the seat. Since I changed the plunger, that leaves the seat. It shows no obvious flaws, but I know that there’s got to be something wrong with it. So, I dug up a rounded Dremel-type stone that will fit the seat.
Gently, by hand, I reface the soft pot metal valve seat. I’m emphasizing gently and pot metal because someone might be tempted to go a little too nuts. The leak was obviously rather small, so the flaw in the seat must be pretty nominal.
Clean it out, back together again — with the original valve guts — cock it, give ‘er a pump, and…
No sssssssssssssss! I left it for a few hours and it held just fine. Now I can go back to finding out if my B.B.-induced extravagance on a $10 pistol worked out.
In a word, yes. Suffice to say that my group sizes are cut in half, meaning that it’s shooting at least as good as my Marksman 2004. Which, believe it or not, is saying something, considering how poorly I shoot pistol. One thing that makes it tougher than it has to be is the trigger. It seems awful heavy, and a check with my fishing scale shows it’s breaking at about 6 lbs.
Six pounds? We can do better than that. And I did. I opened ‘er up, again, fiddled with springs and such and cut the trigge-pull weight in half. It’s not quite as straightforward as just putting in a lighter trigger return-spring, because the same spring moves the hammer and opens the valve.
I was able to get around that problem pretty simply. How? That’ll have to wait for another day.