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Education / Training Sterling HR-81 .177 underlever air rifle: Part 1

Sterling HR-81 .177 underlever air rifle: Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

This report is specifically for blog reader Robert from Arcade, who mentioned last week that he always wanted to own a Sterling air rifle, but didn’t have the money when they were available. Well, I can relate to that! My Sterling just jumped into my lap at the Roanoke airgun show last year. It was at the very end of the show when Jim Grossman came over to my table and offered me the Sterling for a BAM B-40 I had on the table. I took the trade because I was intrigued by the rifle, but also because I’d be able to test the Sterling for you. It’s not a common air rifle by anyone’s definition, and I think it’s always nice to be able to look at something a little different.

At the time we made this deal, I was unaware who I was dealing with. I only found out after I returned home that it was Jim, from whom I purchased the Haenel model 1. Jim is the guy who packs all his guns in custom-fitted foam containers for shipping. He is also the guy who let us look at his Relum Supertornado underlever back in December 2009.

The Sterling HR-81 underlever spring-piston air rifle was designed in the UK and ultimately manufactured in the United States by Benjamin Sheridan.

The Sterling is an unusual spring rifle in many ways. I guess the main way it differs from all other airguns is that it was originally made in the UK by the Sterling Armament Co., the company that is more famous for making the Sterling submachine gun in World War II. Then, the rights to manufacture were purchased by Benjamin, and it was made right here in this country. The Blue Book of Airguns puts a small premium on the guns built in the UK, but I like the idea of owning a U.S.-made rifle. I have no idea which one is scarcer, but I do know that when Crosman bought Benjamin in 1994 they stopped production of the Sterling very quickly.

Lothar Walther barrels
Here’s a bit of trivia. I was present at the Baldwinsville airgun show when Davis Schwesinger of Air Rifle Specialists sold Dennis Quackenbush 1,000+ surplus Lothar Walther barrels that had been destined for Sterlings. Davis obtained them from Crosman after the Sterling was cancelled. I guess in the 1990s, Crosman wasn’t interested in making spring-piston air rifles. The staff has changed since then, and I bet they wouldn’t throw away a whole design like this today! Dennis used those barrels for his projects for many years.

What is the Sterling air rifle?
The Sterling is an underlever spring-piston rifle that has a unique bolt-action loading system. To load the gun, you lift the bolt handle and it jumps to the rear under spring tension. The pellet is then put into the loading trough in front of the bolt; and once the bolt is pushed forward and down, the rifle is loaded. The bolt handle is located at the rear of the action, but the tip of the bolt is located over 8 inches forward. The loading port or trough is closer to the front of the action. The spring that pushes the bolt handle back when you raise the handle must be overcome to close the bolt after loading. In that respect, it feels a lot like working the action of an old SMLE battle rifle. And, because the bolt is spring-loaded, you feel that closing it cocks the rifle, but it doesn’t. Cocking is accomplished by pulling back on the underlever until the sear catches the piston, just like any other underlever.

The bolt handle is located at the rear of the action, but the loading trough (the dished-out area on top of the action) is toward the front.

This is how the rifle is marked with the maker’s name.

The model number and caliber are marked on the right side of the receiver.

Sterlings were made in three calibers: .177, .20 and .22. I don’t know if Benjamin was the reason the .20 caliber was in the lineup, because Benjamin owned Sheridan at the time they bought Sterling, and the Sheridan airguns never existed in any caliber other than .20. Perhaps one of our more savvy readers can tell us if there were ever any .20s made when Sterling was still a UK brand.

A quick check of the internet reveals that Sterling rifles were fraught with quality issues. The triggers were the most-often criticized parts, as they tended to break and fall apart in use. Only the wood stock held some of the trigger pins in place, and sometimes they didn’t even do that. The sights were next, with the rear sight being considered substandard to even the TS-45 Chinese rear sight. Apparently, the 2-piece front sight fell off often, so Benjamin made it a 1-piece part. The screws all over the gun fell out from vibration. In fact, twangy operation was almost a universal criticism of the Sterling design.

The trigger with the manual safety lever. Notice the trigger pin that’s free to fall out through the stock cutout for the safety.

But Jim Grossman has been inside my Sterling, because it doesn’t vibrate too much and the mainspring has a light coat of tar instead of the lithium grease that Benjamin used. My trigger is single-stage and lets go at just 2.5 lbs. The pull is a little creepy, but it’s well within the realm of decent triggers.

I also see a square-section mainspring inside the rifle. Jim told me he got the rifle off the airgun classifieds, and it was very twangy when he got it. It also dieseled badly. When he opened it up, he found a lot of grease forward of the piston seal, which served as fuel for the dieseling. He installed a Merlin spring that he bought from Jim Maccari. He verified that it is, indeed, a square-section wire spring. He lubed it with just a hint of black tar to get rid of most of the twang.

The rifle is stunningly heavy, at 8 lbs., 10 oz. Yet, it delivers the power of the Beeman R7. We’ll see that more closely when I test the velocity. That, more than anything other than the poor build quality, probably doomed the design. An underlever is always heavier than a breakbarrel, simply because of the extra lever, but you don’t expect a rifle this heavy to be so underpowered.

My gun is the HR-81, which is the plain version of the rifle. It has a beech stock that is not checkered, but has a ventilated black rubber recoil pad. The metal is polished fairly well, but it’s not perfect like a TX200 or an FWB 300. It’s much better than most of what is being sold today in the $300 price range. The front sight is fixed to the gun — a decision Benjamin apparently made. Although it’s designed to take interchangeable inserts, the screw-in back that holds the inserts in place has been lost. Without it, the front sight cannot be used unless you glue them in place. The factory rear peep sight did not come with the rifle. From the comments I’ve read, I’m not missing anything important. Fortunately, there ‘s a long 11mm dovetail atop the receiver, so I’ll just install a scope.

There was also a deluxe model called the HR-83. It had a checkered walnut stock with a raised cheekpiece. When Benjamin took over manufacture, the look of the rifle and the shape of the stock, not to mention the selection of the wood they used, all improved noticeably.

Another interesting minor trivia point is that I found my exact rifle for sale on Auction Arms back in 2007. It was referenced on the Vintage Airgun Forum, and I was able to call up the expired sales page and identify my rifle from the various patterns in the wood. It doesn’t mean anything or add any value to the gun, but it’s interesting that it sold back then for about what I traded for it at Roanoke. I don’t think this rifle appreciates much over time.

One final comment. If you read the reviews, you’ll see split opinions about the quality of the Sterling. Some say it’s a high-quality air rifle, while others criticize it soundly. Nobody feels neutral about the rifle. I took the time to analyze these remarks and came to the conclusion that it was people who were unfamiliar with airguns who thought the quality was high. Experienced shooters were able to compare it to other guns and thought the Sterling came out second best. I’m going to reserve my opinion until I see the whole test, because I want to give the rifle every chance to succeed.

author avatar
Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier)
Tom Gaylord, also known as B.B. Pelletier, provides expert insights to airgunners all over the world on behalf of Pyramyd AIR. He has earned the title The Godfather of Airguns™ for his contributions to the industry, spending many years with AirForce Airguns and starting magazines dedicated to the sport such as Airgun Illustrated.

85 thoughts on “Sterling HR-81 .177 underlever air rifle: Part 1”

  1. Morning B.B.,

    You are sounding like your old self again. How are you feeling these days and is he weight coming back?

    Do you remember what this rifle sold for and what rifle(s) was its major competition?


    • Bruce,

      The HR-81 last sold for $250 and the HR-83 last sold for $300. As for its competition, back in those days it was the TX 200, and it was a no-contest match.

      I am feeling much better now, thanks for asking. My voice is almost back to normal and if I didn’t have this hernia I would be exercising to regain muscle I lost in the hospital.

      I still weigh 175 which is close to 100 pounds less than I weighed when this started. And I have some obvious fat to lose, but some muscle to gain, so I’m probably where I need to be weight-wise. I can’t wait to start exercising again, which I’ll do after I get the hernia fixed. Because of the hernia I still can’t lift any weight, nor can I cock spring guns like I used to. That, more than anything, is a major problem for an airgun tester.


          • Darn, I don’t think I’d pass an audition. There’s no way I could pull off a Curly Joe and Shemp has too much hair (wig expenses would eat into my meager finances). After careful examination, the best I could do would be Larry but Mac has that nailed. Perhaps I could be his understudy? Although, I might be able to pull off a Harpo Marx if you ever go that direction as I never was very good at holding up my end of a conversation but I do blow my horn a lot.

  2. Back in 09I serviced an HR83 for a fellow, and was so taken by the rifle that I hunted down one of my own. I ended up with a .22 cal HR81 which doesn’t seem to shoot quite as well. Still, it’s far and away the easiest-to-load fixed-barrel gun I’ve ever sampled, and that bolt action does feel ‘real’. It is a fun gun to shoot.

    Like you suggested, it’s certainly OK for uses where power’s not a real concern.

    Oddly enough, back then there were several that popped up on the classifieds all at around the same time. But I haven’t seen much of them since.

        • Berian,

          The Blue Book says Benjamin purchased the Sterling rights in 1994. And Crosman purchased Benjamin-Sheridan in 1994, also, so it may be that only a small handful of U.S.-made Sterlings were ever produced.

          I do know that Dennis Quackenbush bought over 1,000 Lothar Walther barrels, and some of them had already been processed for Sterlings, while others were just blanks.

          I may have a rare rifle here!


            • BB: Your right about that! They sure dropped the ball on this one. Just imagine if it had a trigger like Marauder , maybe a optional linear magazine, they could have had something. Plus it was a safe to use gun ,absolutely no pinch points. Instead they went with Mendozza break barrels and plastic kids guns. It’s a wonder we still have the 392. In retrospect , maybe we lucked out because all that crap paved(paid) the way for what we are seeing now, so I still holdout some hope for the future, Robert.

              • Robert,

                The Crosman Corporation of today is a completely different company than they were back in the 1990s. Today’s staff is willing and eager to advance the technology, as long as there is something in it for the company.

                I find them to be almost the only airgun manufacturer that will listen to my ideas and then implement the ones they like without making major changes. Others will listen, then use bits and pieces to go off on a destructive tangent.


        • The only reveiw of the HR 83 I ever saw until today was the one in the 3rd edition of the Airgun Digest by Jess Galan. It said right in the article that it was dis-continued in 1994, Robert.

    • Vince: If your rifle is British, does it have the single stage adjustable trigger? Also , in your opinion was the HR 83 you worked on better finished than the HR81 ,and did it have a Williams peep sight? Thanks, Robert.

        • BB: That review in the 3rd Airgun Digest mentions the adjustable trigger on the British model HR81 Sterling. It is also mentioned that the adjustments were problamatic at best. That’s why I asked, wondered if there was any truth to it,Robert

          • I know that there were at least two different trigger designs. The initial single stage non-trigger, a version that was adjustable for pull, both very simple and not wonderful (this was the 1980s). To get round this Sterling produced a much more elaborate two stage affair. However, this was not especially much of an improvement and I think the sear had a problem and kept breaking. So they put back the old trigger which was at least solid. You will find many vairations in the UK guns, foresights that remover, others that dont etc. In many respects the shrot-lived Benjamin version was far more consistent. There was somethng new almost on a weekly basis as they strove to perfect the rifle. So many different sub variants…

  3. BB and other .22 Marauder owners,

    First, I’m so glad that you are feeling better, BB! It sounds like you should be back to full capability in a few more months.

    Well, I spent several hours yesterday exploring the tuning options on the used Greg Davis tuned Marauder I bought, and I am having some difficulty. I was using the A-Team’s procedure, and either I am doing something very wrong with it (I hope), or there is a problem with the gun.

    I decided I want to tune it for a 3000 psi fill, and to shoot down to ~2000 before recharging, so I started working at 2600 psi per the instructions. I set it to low spring tension, long travel, and a wide open transfer port. But as I worked in the Hammer Spring Tension screw (the 1/4″ hex) 1 rev at a time per the instructions, not much happened. As an example, here are the eight shots for the JSB 14.3 grain pellet, starting at 1 turn in and proceeding to 8 turns in whish was the max I could go: 893, 882, 889, 876, 881, (refill) 885, 873, 872. This pattern was the same with other pellets as well (the JSB 18.1 was 824, 831, 827, 824, (fill) 833, 829, 826, 820). I expected the first shots to be slow and for velocity to grow. No conditions that I set the gun in indicated any kind of valve lock which seems wrong (although I never shorted the hammer travel much since I was having so much trouble with the preload), but also no condition lead to the kind of velocities I would have expected (note the 14.3 grain pellet at 2600 psi with 8 turns of preload and max travel with a wide open only yielded 885 fps for 24.7 ft lbs. at probably around 2500psi).

    I did find that the Hammer stroke adjustment and the transfer port adjustment worked as I thought they should, but either I’m doing something wrong with the preload or something is wrong with the gun. This does make me think that I’ll need to crank it up to 3000psi and test to see if I can “induce” valve lock with a short hammer stroke.

    The best “usable” tune that I could get for my work was 4 turns of spring preload, 1 turn shortening the stoke, and 1.25 turns in on the transfer port. This gave me a 20 shot string with JSB 18.1s that started high at 849 (peaked two shots later at 852) and finished at 816 for a spread of 32 fps. Air dropped form 3000 to 2400 psi. Ten more shots drop the speed to 781 fps and left me with 2050 psi. This seems like poor performance to me. I also tuned it pretty flat by choking the transfer port with 2.5 turns in to get 30+ good shots with the 14.3 grain pellets (37 fps spread, all dropping from the start), but the energy was below 20 ft lbs. I don’t think I should have to choke the gun down so low to get 30 shots with this it.

    Any thoughts? If this is too much for the blog, I can take it offline – anyone can e-mail me at amcd1709 “at” comcast.net and I can share more data if it helps.

    • Alan,

      You are now learning a lot about how PCPs work. Stop “expecting” certain things to happen just because you want them to and start playing with the gun more. Maybe the 18-grain JSB pellet isn’t going to give you the performance you want. Then why are you using it? Is it because someone has told you it’s the best pellet for the gun, or are you getting phenomenal 20-shot groups at 40 yards with it? If it’s the latter, stop what you are doing. You are finished. If it’s the former, you need to try another pellet.

      Remember, first you want the best accuracy. Then try for the optimum shot string. But if you are getting the best accuracy from a pellet throughout a given shot string, don’t worry about the velocity.

      The gauges on both your fill device and on the gun are approximations, only. Either one of them can be off by as much as 300 psi, and you won’t know it until you try experiments like these.

      Go for it and let’s hear what you learn.


      • Thanks for your input BB. I’ll keep at it.

        Given the weather, I have not been able to shoot at all outdoors. I did do some testing indoors at 20 yards, and the 18.1 grain JSB and Barracuda’s both did 10 shot groups under about a half inch CTC – I expect better once I settle in with the gun too. I was told these pellets were good in it. I need to try more, but wanted to take a shot at rebalancing the power first since the seller told me he had it set up for hunting, and the Chrony showed the velocity dropping fast, and POI was not going to hold much in the mag. I wanted to be able to tune it to have at least 20 shots in a curve, not just a declining from the start as it was doing.

        Is it OK that the preload spring does not seem to do anything in my tests? The only reason that I expected it to make a difference is that the tuning info from the A team and everything else I read said it should.

        Also, David H.’s feedback last week had 15.9’s doing around 950 FPS at the midpoint between 3000 and 2000 psi, but I can’t seem to hit over 900 with anything even “wide open” – together, these facts have me questioning the gun. I do have a few 15.9’s so I’ll try them as well.

        I will keep at it though, and hopefully I ‘ll find that it is me doing something wrong. And I’ll keep learning along the way.

        Thanks again.

        Alan in MI

        • Alan,

          I’m confused. Is David H. talking about the exact same rifle? Or just another Marauder?

          Something I find more often than not is I cannot duplicate the results others claim to get with this or that modification. That’s why I test things so much. And sometimes I learn that they are reporting only part of the results. You later learn that they were doing something fundamentally different than you.

          Once I had a lengthly discussion with someone over the performance of a certain spring rifle. We went back and forth, until he happened to mention that he was shooting at an elevation of 8,400 feet above sea level. That made all the difference in the world, because I was shooting at 600 feet ASL.

          That’s why I test.


          • No – David’s is a different rifle (his). I know each rifle will be different, but I would expect them to at least be in the same ballpark, energy wise . . . . mine does seem lower – I can’t seem to get any of the 14-15 grain pellets I have above 900 fps – but I clearly have more work to do.

            Alan in MI

            • Alan,

              Okay, there is also this. Some PCPs need to be broken in. Falcons used to need several hundred shots to get to their ultimate power range, and I had a Daystate Huntsman that kept increasing in power for several years.

              Maybe your rifle just hasn’t been shot enough.


              • Thanks for the thought, BB, but while it is possible since I don’t know the full history, I think that’s unlikely. I think so because the serial number shows gun is from 7/09 so it is an early one. It was tuned by Greg Davis in August of 2010, according to the paperwork I recieved. I also think I am the third owner, as the name on the report from Greg is not the name of the person I bought it from. I do think Greg worked on it as it does have a custom barrel band replacement collar on it like he makes.

                But it is in pristine condition, with almost no scratches or marks at all. The stock is like new so if it was shot a lot, the shooter was very careful, as I try to be.

                Alan in MI

        • Alan,
          With all due respect, are you sure it’s the gun and not the chrony causing the lower numbers? It seems to me that we have no idea how these “other guys” get their test numbers. How do we know their chronys are any good or at least the same as ours. Do you have a buddy who has a chrony? Take your gun to his house and test it again. It could be a matter of lighting or differing equipment.

          • Chuck,

            I get it 😉

            But absolute numbers aside, it is the lack of any substantive change in velocity when adjusting the hammer spring pretension, as well as the decline in velocity from a “full charge” as shown on both the gun’s and the pump’s gages that has me questioning the gun. Power aside, I don’t think it should behave that way, and gage accuracy issues aside, I am having to use my full 185 pound body weight to get the pump to the 3000 psi level on the last several strokes to fill the gun, which is about the right performance there.

            The “power problem” may well be the Chrony, but I do believe that it is functioning properly at least on a relative basis – with this gun, my 1322, and with my spring gun, the numbers make logical sense in terms of which pellet should make more power as well as more speed. And I am running it with the light set, and no fluorescents anywhere nearby – not a single skyscreen error in this particular set up (everything all lined up on my basement bar for easy work and alignment verification).

            I don’t know of any friends with a Chrony, but it is a good suggestion so I’ll ask around – there may be one out there.

            Alan in MI

            • Alan,

              The more you write about your observations with this rifle, the more I’m thinking that “tune” is behind what you are experiencing. If the hammer spring was exchanged, it may be too light for what you are trying to do.

              Your problem sounds to me like a floating erector tube. You can never get the scope to hold zero because the erector tube keeps bouncing all over the place because the return spring is too light.

              Maybe you want to replace the hammer spring with a factory spring.


                • Alan,

                  I hope my messages didn’t sound like I was angry or bothered, because I wasn’t. What you are doing in this situation is one of the most helpful parts of this whole blog.

                  You keep right on asking those questions and talking about this until you are satisfied. We may not be able to fix your rifle, but I do want you to feel that everything possible has been done. Because that is one of the biggest reasons this blog exists.


                • Alan in MI

                  I just wanted to be sure what I told you last week was correct so I went through my old “bench standard” targets that I keep for each of my guns. I usually make these within a month after I get a gun so I will know in the future if the performance changes. The one I made for the Marauder is dated 7/21/09. 30 shot group at 25 yards with max. c-t-c of 13/16″ using JSB Diabolo Exact Jumbo’s (15.8 gr). Starting pressure 2900, ending pressure 2050 (approx.). Avg. velocity approx. 910 fps. Min. velocity 875 fps. Max velocity 940 fps. This target was made within a month of receiving my gun NEW from PA. I did make some detailed shot strings velocities when I was initially setting it up but I didn’t keep any of them. I do remember that when I was testing accuracy with other heavier pellets like the Baracuda & JSB Monster that the max. velocity was still in the 2500 psi region.

                  The chrony I have is a ProChrono Jr., and I have had it about 15 years. I honestly don’t know how accurite it is, although when I was using it for paintball I compared it with some of the F1 chrony’s at the paintball field and it was always within 2-3 fps of them at 280 – 300 fps. But, that was over 10 years ago. I will say that I very rarely get an “error” reading when using it so it seems to have no problem picking up the projectile. Also, I only use it outdoors as I don’t have a light kit for it.

                  As to why your rifle will not get the velocities mine does, there could be many reasons. And, for all I know MY rifle isn’t getting the velocities I think it is. However, I am very pleased with it’s performance reguardless. It has the accuracy, power and ease of use in the field I was looking for in a .22 PCP hunter, without going into $800-1200 range of some of the other comparable baffled barreled PCP’s at the time.

                  David Holmes

            • Alan,
              I know that you know what you’re doing. I was just concerned about you pulling a groin muscle with all that pumping just to ferret out an extra 50fps. Here’s your comment I was addressing. I should have included it in my original reply:

              “Also, David H.’s feedback last week had 15.9’s doing around 950 FPS at the midpoint between 3000 and 2000 psi, but I can’t seem to hit over 900 with anything even “wide open” – together, these facts have me questioning the gun.”

              I guess what I really wanted to say is before you beat yourself and a very fine gun to death trying to resolve the 50fps you should get D. H. ‘s crony and compare. But that’s probably not going to happen.


              • Alan,

                I pulled out my notebook and reviewed the specs I recorded when I wrote the blog on tuning my Marauder. When I had the adjustment screws – the hammer spring and hammer travel adjustment screws all the way “out” – the shortest stroke and lightest pre-load, my 20 shot string started at 816 fps, went to a high of 833 fps and then stayed within 13 fps till shot 39. Now, when I turned the hammer spring pre-load screw one turn in, my initial velocity started at 877 fps and stayed above that until shot 31. What it means is that you should definitely see a change in velocity when increasing the spring pre-load on the hammer.

                I think BB has put his finger on what the reason you aren’t seeing any change – I bet the hammer spring was changed from stock and is significantly stiffer than the stock so reducing pre-load won’t make a difference on how hard the hammer hits the release valve.

                Hope this bit of info helps.

                Fred PRoNJ

            • BB, David, Chuck and Fred,

              Thanks for all the great input. I just spent that last 2 hours or so playing around some more, and I agree that the spring must be part of the issue – no amount of change to the preload makes a difference until near the max setting. I’ll order a new one, put it in, and play some more!

              But the good news is that I opened up the transfer port again (in only 3/4 turn from max open) and started playing with the hammer stroke, and that is where I hit pay dirt. It took a ton of shortening of the stroke (8 full turns in) to start to get to see a difference, but now I have a real shot curve going. I charged it to 3000 psi, and shot a 40 shot string in which peak velocity did not occur until shot 23. This I can work with! At the current settings, I can even discard the first 10 shots and charge to 2700psi , giving me 30 shots with a max spread of 30 fps with Barracuda’s. Although a little slow for them (max V was 773), this is in the energy range I wanted to get at least 30 shots with, so I’ll be happy once I find a good shooting pellet in the lighter weight ranges.

              So now I can move on to find the most accurate pellet and do the final tuning – at least until that spring comes in! Then I can stock up on that one best pellet for it and leave it alone (well, maybe not).

              Thanks again for the good advice and encouragement.

              Alan in MI

    • Yes… what Chuck said. Baseline that Chrony (by comparison with others or by calibration) before you make yourself crazy with other owners or tuners velocities and findings. Lighting alone can make a difference. No fluorescents or LED lights etc, just good o’l incandescent, white light. Use a rifle or pistol that you know shoots at XXX fps with XX g pellets, then go back to the M-Rod detective work.

      It’s a 2 yr old gun with (now) 3 owners, sorry, but one would have to ask why has it changed so many hands?

      • Yes, and I will add to that, what is this “tuneup” that somebody is doing to a Marauder? No Marauder I ever saw needed anything but to be shot. They all worked perfectly, after the owner headspace was adjusted.

        The barrel band thing is funny because Mac experienced the same thing in the test of the .25 caliber Marauder. All he did was adjust the band himself, which should be all that anyone has to do.


  4. BB: Thank-you so much for the reveiw of your Sterling! This blog lets me experience the history of the industry and how it has evolved to where we are now. As I said, back in the day when the HR 81/83 were available I couldn’t have afforded one . In fact my only good adult air rifle at the time was a Blue Streak which I still have. I was very much into firearms at the time, which ate up a lot of my money. I used to stop at Great Lakes Airgun sometimes, he had a little shop in his basement, and look at the Air Arms stuff he had on display. It was there that I saw my first PCP air rifle. Who would have thought then that we know now. Take care ,Robert.

    • Robert,

      Your comment about the Sterling last week is what I am using to guide me in this report. Like you, I saw the gun back then and was interested, but I wasn’t into airguns as much as I am now.

      So I look at this rifle critically, as I imagine you would. I have considered gluing in a front sight insert so I can try the gun with a peep sight. My Beeman/Williams would be a good one to use.

      Besides the Sterling, I was also fascinated by the Park recoilless rifle. It used a chain to drag the pistons into position. It used dual opposed pistons like the Whiscombe, so of course it was called the “poor man’s Whiscombe.” But I was even poorer than the poverty level when the Park was in its heyday, and today they are scarce, like the Sterlings.


      • B.B.

        A word on poor man’s Whiscombe.
        I know a guy, who experimented with basically the same system, built on a base of Izh-60. Instead of motorcycle chain he used a steel cable. Front piston compresses nothing, just compensating rear piston impulse.
        Looks like that:
        http://i2.guns.ru/forums/icons/forum_pictures/001010/1010917.jpg with trigger uninstalled.
        http://talks.guns.ru/forums/icons/forum_pictures/001010/1010925.jpg overall look.
        He planned to move on to chain, but found that cable was more than adequate for this task. Overall work cost him less than 200$ and he says the most difficult part of it was fine tuning of the cable’s tension. He managet to get record 193-195 m\s on 25×57 mm compressible volume and, of course, no recoil.


        • duskwight,

          Every now and then you humble me, my friend. Some of the guys over there are doing wonders with the most limited resources. If you had not shown me pictures I would have though you were joking.

          An IZH 60 turned into a poor man’s Whiscombe!

          Nothing is impossible.


          • B.B.

            There’s a saying here like “one’s desire is worse than a whip” 🙂 He spent some time experimenting, that beauty is his second try on this theme, so I think he felt for the easiest and most effective way. The deficiency of this system is that it works only on relatively low-powered springers, as cable is a bit too tender for the amount of shock load from heavy and magnum springers.
            I wish I’ll see my “stubborn man’s Whiscombe” this year.


  5. I like the Sterling name just because I took the opportunity to shoot a British Sterling sub-machine gun, along with a few other types, at Knob Creek. I really enjoyed shooting it. Here’s the funny part – it is a right hand only gun. For you “righties”, you have to hold onto the magazine, which sticks straight out the left side, with your left hand. So, in order for me, as a leftie, to shoot it left-handed I had to cross my right hand over the top to hold onto the magazine. Very odd arrangement, indeed. Needless to say, I ended up shooting it right-handed. But it is the sweetest shooting machine gun, ever. I think being a 9mm has a lot to do with it.

    • Chuck:
      A little bit of Trivia for you.
      In the film Star Wars,the Imperial Stormtroopers are equipped with Sterling Submachine guns.
      With the stocks folded and minus the banana mag they looked pretty space age.

    • Mr B,
      I shot the Thompson once with the drum and once with the straight magazine just to say I did both. I shot a 10/22 on full auto (what a hoot), an M16, an AK-47 and an AK-74. To shoot a 74 you just turn the 47 around and point the stock at the target. No! No! Just kidding! Seriously though, it felt like I did that. I did not like the AK-74 at all. It hurt more than any of the others. I did not shoot the Grease Gun, however. Now I have a reason to return!


  6. I know all about screws falling out of rifles from my B30. Highly frustrating.

    Victor, what was the secret you learned with the Crosman Quest that was so effective?


    • Matt61,

      I don’t know if it’s a secret, but it is different than what I had been doing with springers. If you recall, I read a review in which someone essentially advised how one should hold the Quest. Again, what they described didn’t work for me, but it did give me something to consider. This person suggested a hand placement higher than I would have considered. What I found worked for me was to apply my fingers similar to how one might for a pistol, namely, relax the bottom two fingers as much as possible. Just as you should be conscious about relaxing your hand when placing a rifle on it while using the “artillery hold”, be conscious about making sure that the bottom two fingers are not influencing the execution of your trigger squeeze. Also, make sure that your trigger squeeze is such that your trigger finger comes straight back, orthogonal to the trigger blade. In other words, don’t bring the whole hand back (which can happen a tiny bit, if you use the whole hand – all fingers), causing you to drag the trigger back at an off-angle with respect to the blade. Ultimately, the secret is in the trigger squeeze.

      The perfect shot is one in which you are able to execute a trigger squeeze that does not disrupt your sight alignment.

      This is an important lesson that is independent of your wobble area. Many shooters don’t know, and may never know, what their wobble area is because they are too busy trying to anticipate, or compensate for whatever motion it is that they are battling with. Perfect shot execution first, meaning perfect your trigger squeeze, then learn what your wobble area really is. Then you can move onto other refinements.

      Thee most important fundamental skill to master is trigger squeeze. An important element of trigger squeeze is follow through. Dry firing allows you to see mistakes that are masked by recoil, including inadequate follow through. The problem solved by follow through is anticipation.


  7. wow! Another classic being reviewed. Sterling’s entry into the airgun market was unexpected but they came in with style with this magnificent and very finely made underlever. An ugly duckling to be sure, very British, the tirumph of enginnering over aesthetics, rather like Westley Richard’s Highest Possible air pistol, or the Webley over lever pistols. The Benjamin Sheridan version did a lot to improve its looks. Heres something that may be of interest:

    Just been reading The Sterling Years by James Edmiston, the guy who owned the company in the 70s-80s. Here is his acocunt of the development of the HR81. Before they got to the HR81 they apparently considered aircartridges and German style recoiless actions. Anyway for enthusiasts:

    ‘Another approach to Sterling was from John Whiscombe, a computer expert with an interest in airguns and a clear understanding of trends in airgun developments. He had cleverly adapted the German GISS system — a spring recoilless system — for an airgun, although he was adrift on the cost of manufacture. But it was felt that this was too sophisticated for Sterling to make as a first-off airgun, and it would be too expensive for the market that we were aiming at. We devoted more time to consideration of a design put forward by two personable engineers, David Theobald and Ben Taylor, who had formed the Theoben Company in Huntingdon. However, their idea involved a barrel-cocking airgun and when we consulted the gun trade we found them unanimously of the opinion that barrel-cocking airguns were on the way out. I have since learned to pay less heed to what the gun trade says. Too many people can list their likes and dislikes, particularly the latter; but, when it comes to buying a product that they themselves have encouraged, they rarely put their money where their mouth is.

    But we finally found what we were looking for. Roy Hutchinson, an airgun enthusiast and designer who had his own engineering facility, had designed a powerful underlever cocking spring gun. The main feature of his design was the power of the gun, and the fact that a small bolt was used to push the pellet into the barrel. This ensured that the skirt of the pellet was in no way deformed, so that there was a perfect seal in the rifling and hence no loss of power. Sterling had the machining capacity and the tooling was made in-house. Responsibility for the whole project was given to a young engineer called Peter Moon, whose production background had been in the frantic world of domestic appliances and progress was rapid. There was a bit of a rub when Roy took his time over producing drawings, so Peter designed his own solution to the problem. The result was the HR-81 rifle. It was downright ugly, on account of the engineer’s cosmetics and the very cheap Italian stock. More important, though, it was particularly well made, powerful and effective, and it has already become a classic, much sought after.

    The trade told me confidently that the new rifle would never sell; it used an underlever, and underlevers were things of the past. For a while, the trade seemed to be right. The rifle did not sell at first, and I became quite worried. Suddenly, however, it caught on and we were in the happy position of being able to sell all that we could make. Furthermore, it spawned a fashion in airguns, so that the underlever came back with a vengeance; it is now more popular than the sidelever.

    As the HR-81 was something entirely new, we offered a no- quibble guarantee that we would replace any gun returned for any reason at all. A handful came back with scratched or damaged stocks, and were instantly replaced, although the damage must have occurred after the guns were despatched from Sterling. Others came back to us in pieces, because some know-all had been going to tune his gun to produce yet more power. Since the rifle was assembled with the mainspring held under considerable pressure, in a special press, these amateur would-be tuners did not stand a chance of getting the pieces back together again. Still, for the sake of improving the name and keeping the customers happy, we reassembled the guns for free. This service was even extended to those who claimed that they had barely removed the weapon from Its original packing and certainly never even fired it — but we would find burred screw heads and scratches, the tell-tale signs that a ‘tinker’ had been at work. Without comment, we would reassemble or replace the particular weapon. The trade, without saying too much themselves, appreciated these gestures, and the business began to snowball.’

  8. More… Benajmin wnated a spring airgun to complete their line. At that time Sterling had been taken over and wanted quit of the HR81/83 so they could concentrate on the Sterling SMG, the AR18 and a revolver that they also manufactured. Sadly, some years after, the comlpany went bust. Typical story of a small arms company competing with the big boys like Royal Enfield and pronblems of fireamr manufacutre generally in the unfriendly official environment of the UK. Webley had of course got out of the firearms market some years earlier but still went bust in 2005.

    Interestingly Roy Hutchinson produced several other designs, including the Park RH91 recoiless air rifle, another innovative though very British design. Those who own them swear by them as a joy to shoot, though they are heavy and the use of what looks like a bike chain as part of the cocking mechanism (though its hidden in th emechanism) always struck me as odd.

    • Z

      The best weatherproofing technique is not letting the elements touch your rifle. So, basically keeping it out of harm’s way and wiping with Ballistol is quite enough, just like B.B. said.
      Other ways depend on the way your stock is made. Polished or laquered, treated with carnauba wax or with tunga, or with linseed oil, or with wax/colophony and so on and so forth. I guess the best is to ask someone on hunters’ forums, ’cause guys must know it firsthand.

      _This is only for newly-made stocks_: I myself prefer 3-5 coats hot tung oil on thoroughly polished and warmed wood and after that some hand felt polishing. Watch the smell 😉
      It is mostly enough for hunting and range shooting, but if you want to go farther best way is boiling your stock in pure linseed oil for 2-3 hours, then drying for a week in a dry warm place and then tung+polishing.
      Again, nothing turns wood into plastic. So your care and common sence are the best preservers.


  9. Nice to see the Sterling on the blog. I was actually quite fond of this particular gun after the spring change. I never chronied it, but I know there’s some more potential in it if you space up the spring a little. JM recommended the Merlin with spacing for the Sterlings.

    I look forward to your accuracy tests, as I found this one very capable at short range. I didn’t keep it long enough to get a chance for any distance shooting, but it would make tiny cloverleafs all day long at 7M in the basement.

    I’m a little confused about your comments on overall quality. Having been inside it, I found the machining tolerances and overall metal finish to be above the current offerings from both HW and Diana.

    The gun is VERY robust, and that was my chief complaint. It has match-rifle weight in a sporter format. I did like the fact that the powerplant can be separated from the barrel. There are two very beefy setscrews that hold the compression chamber to the block at the end of the barrel, and the endcap on the compression tube is threaded. There’s a long stock mounting screw that goes through the threaded end of the compression tube, up into the rear of the barrel/loading tube. There are other details that set this rifle apart, such as the front stock mounting screws, which are socket-head capscrews, and the holes in the front of the stock have full metal sleeves which are swaged inside and out, making for a very secure action-to-stock attachment WITHOUT the possibility of compressing the wood fibers.

    I would have this rifle still, if not for the need to help finance the Roanoke trip, and the relentless need to try new and different stuff. I only hope you will be able to realize the same accuracy I was. It does have a wonderful barrel.

  10. Hi BB,

    I’m sorry for being off-topic, but I’ve noticed you are very patient with those comments so I’ll try you some more.

    I’m trying to decide between an HFC M190 and a Tokyo Marui Hi-Capa 5.1. It appears from the old blog that you like them both and the HFC is cheaper. I want a pistol for practicing practical shooting in my basement. The problem is that I’m nervous about the accuracy and reliability of the HFC compared to an established quality brand like TM.

    Thank you for your time!

  11. Well, I’m still hanging around, fighting the good fight healthwise.
    Found a quote that I felt describes this blog/forum:

    “All men by nature desire knowledge.”

    We are all searching for some type of knowledge here from what I read.

    rikib 🙂

  12. BB, your going to have to stop writing about unique, interesting airguns. Jim is a very bad influence on you (and me). My wallet is empty. Now I want a Sterling. I was wondering if Crosman still owns the patents to the Sterling and if you might be able to talk to them about updating it with the gas ram and reintroducing it. Wouldn’t that be cool?

    You know I am kidding. This type of post is my very favorite. I love learning about guns like this.

    David Enoch

  13. BB,
    This is my new favorite underlever, I think, although the Relum was really sweet also. Pending your results, I might be tempted to “collect” one, but then so will every one else :).

      • Hi BB
        I wasnt sure if i would get a reply, didnt know if the webpage was that old you would come back to it?
        Yes also i had not seen, part two, thank you ! Anyway i assume you can get my email from the form? I dont wish to put it up publically, but if you drop me a line with your email i will send you scans of the original Benjamin marketing brochure, sent out before the guns were ever ready for sale, with i think proposed prices, and a few personal notes.

  14. My father-in-law left a HR 81 .177cal.; Mfg. By Benjamin-Sheridan, Racine, WI. USA. Sure was glad to read this entire blog. Knowing My father in law, this gun probably didn’t have a 100-shots fired through it, if that many. I have been shooting gar with the aid of electric underwater lights at our boathouse. I shot this rifle in at 30-feet, and it accurate enough to hit the gar. The bigger ones didn’t nose dive to the bottom like the smaller ones did when shot. Thank to this blog, I will start shooting more. I shot at 52-gar last Wednesday night, they did all leave and hadn’t returned, shucks., but they are still thousands more in the old ox bow lake near Oakwood, TX.

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