HW 55SF – Part 3 Shooting behavior and velocity
by B.B. Pelletier
Let’s look at how the HW 55 SF performs, in terms of firing behavior and power. I told you about the rifle in the first two reports, but I didn’t dwell on how it shoots. First, the 55 is delightfully easy to cock. An effort of only 20 lbs. cocks the gun, due in great part to the length of the 18.5″ barrel. Because this is the rare SF model, there’s no barrel latch to contend with, but the flip side of that is, of course, a stronger breech detent holding the barrel shut. Years of fooling with Beeman Crow Magnums and Webley Patriots makes me slap the muzzle of every breakbarrel now to open it, so this is not a problem.
Firing the gun
The feel of firing this rifle is STRANGE! You hear the sound of faint spring buzzing but you don’t really feel it! Though the rifle is only 8 lbs. (very light for a target rifle), the cocking slot in the bottom of the forearm is abbreviated because of the two-piece articulated cocking lever. Robert Law made a big deal of this in his catalog, and I’m finding that it’s really true. He said the more solid forearm attenuated most of the shooting vibrations, resulting in a smoother-feeling rifle, and I have to agree. I have owned or had other HW 55 rifles for testing, but I cannot ever remember this trait. Perhaps it’s due to the last tuneup it had.
You’ve learned in this series that this HW 55 is made on an HW 50 spring tube and should perform like an HW 50. Except that the HW 50 we know today is not the same gun as the HW 50 of the 1960s, when this one was made. The current model is actually based on a different spring tube and is a more powerful airgun. The HW 50 of the 1960s had leather piston and breech seals, a smaller spring tube and was a 700 f.p.s. rifle in .177 caliber.
While good for sporting purposes, 700 f.p.s. is too fast for a target rifle. It doesn’t necessarily make the rifle less accurate; but if you don’t need the speed, why bother with the extra pounds of cocking effort? To make the 55SF, Weihrauch installed a weaker mainspring. This particular rifle has been tuned at least twice since it was built, so the original mainspring is probably no longer in the gun. I was concerned to see just how powerful it is, hoping that the last tuner hadn’t tried to hot-rod it.
I tried RWS Hobbys first and got an average of 631 f.p.s. The range was quite large – from 614 to 652, which leads me to believe RWS Hobbys are not right for this airgun.
I have H&N Match pellets, but only the light ones for pistols. This is one time where it matters. The average of 622 f.p.s. is a little too brisk, though the range was much tighter. Just 19 f.p.s separated the low of 614 f.p.s. from the high of 633. Much better performance, but still on the hot side.
RWS Meisterkugeln pellets dropped the average to a more sedate 543 f.p.s. The spread was from 536 to 554 or just 18 f.p.s. The tightest spread of the three pellets.
The rifle could stand to go a little faster, but 542 with a qualified rifle pellet like the Meisterkugeln isn’t bad. Today’s pneumatics would only be at 575 or so. In the mid-1960s, target airguns were in a bit of a velocity race that ended abruptly in the 1970s. Target rifles were pushing pellets out at 640-650 f.p.s., because the competitors had yet to be heard. When they were, velocities dropped back below 600 f.p.s., where they remain today.
What’s it like to own and shoot a vintage 10-meter rifle like this one? I have owned a few vintage airguns that were not unlike owning a Stanley Steamer. Once they get going, the statistics can be impressive but you wouldn’t want to rely on them all the time. This rifle is not like that. While no one would confuse it with a world-class target rifle, it’s still good enough for informal target shooting and the occasional grudge match. It has no funny quirks or surprising traits, in fact just the opposite. It’s easy to cock, has a trigger too light to measure and a firing behavior that endears itself to every new shooter. It quickly becomes a “go-to” rifle if you give it half a chance.
We have one more report coming on accuracy, unless there’s else something you want to know that I’ve overlooked.