The Beeman R1 Supermagnum air rifle 18 years later: Part 1
by B.B. Pelletier
Before someone jumps on me for repeating a blog report, I’m aware that there was a three-part blog of a Beeman R1 tested by Mac in 2010. That was a test of a brand-new Beeman R1 Elite Series Combo. Today, I am starting a report on the 18 year-old R1 that pretty much started things for me as an airgun writer.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about heirloom airguns. You know what I mean — the kind of airguns that never get old. They stick around and get remodeled and updated because everyone loves them. And everyone loves them because, at their hearts, they’re built to last.
What could epitomize this more (for me) than the very Beeman R1 air rifle I used to write my book? It all began in 1976, when I bought the first edition of Airgun Digest in the Stars and Stripes bookstore at Ferris Barracks in Erlangen, Germany. That book introduced me to Robert Beeman and he, in turn, showed me the awesome Feinwerkbau 124 pellet rifle. Never mind that I was living in the city where the excellent BSF airguns were then being made (and I didn’t know it). I wanted an FWB 124 so bad it hurt.
By the time I returned to San Jose in November 1977, I wanted a 124 so bad that I drove straight up to San Rafael and bought one at the Beeman store. I was king of the world for several years with that air rifle, until, at the end of 1981, the R1 was announced. Suddenly, I was a man without an airgun, because technology had trumped my 124.
You might expect me to have responded instantly to the change, but I wasn’t exactly what you would call an airgunner in those days. I shot them, for sure, but I still thought of myself as a firearms guy who also had some airguns. And even when it was brand new in the winter of 1981, the R1 sold for almost $300. So it went on the back burner. It wasn’t until 1991, 10 years and a new wife later, that I finally got my R1. It was a Christmas gift from Edith who thought that because I could speak of nothing else when it came to airguns, I must have wanted one. Women — go figure!
That first R1 was in .177 caliber, because I was still under the mesmerizing trance cast by Herr Doktor Beeman a decade before. A thousand feet per second, and then 1100 f.p.s. was a heady aroma for a new airgunner! Well, it didn’t take very long for me to discover what it meant.
The R1 was huge — much larger than most of the firearms I was shooting at the time. And it was hard to cock! I no longer owned my 124, but I remembered its willingness to move to the cocked position with a light touch. Compared to that, cocking the R1 was like bending the bow of Hercules.
When fired, the big rifle recoiled more than a little. And I couldn’t get it to shoot very well. Perhaps three inches at 50 yards was the best I could get it to do. What a disappointment! I had waited 11 years to dance with the prom queen; and when I did, I discovered that she had B.O. and wasn’t very nice!
I need to insert a note at this point. The R1 wasn’t the first air rifle Edith bought me. A couple years earlier, she gave me a Beeman C1 that I wanted mostly because it was just a fraction of the price of the R1 that was, by this time, over $400. I shot and shot that little C1 carbine. I shot it so much that the cocking became very easy and the trigger smoothed out. I even took it apart and gave it a lube tune that actually did improve the firing behavior. This was in the days before affordable chronographs, so I didn’t know how fast the little gun shot. What I mean by that is — I was satisfied.
I even stumbled on the artillery hold with that C1 and was so surprised that I wrote an article about it and sent it to Dr. Beeman for his newsletter. I never heard from him, so I figured the article was a bust. Little did I know what loomed on the horizon! Keep that in mind as I continue my story.
I actually got rid of the first R1 because I had a better rifle. At the same time she gave me the R1, Edith also gave me a used HW77K carbine that someone had tuned to perfection. It was heavier than the R1, but it didn’t recoil and the accuracy was stunning — especially with my new artillery hold. For a couple years, I continued in that direction. Then the airgun magazine I just subscribed to went belly up, and I was suddenly cut off from a hobby I was growing to enjoy.
Edith suggested that I write an airgun newsletter of my own; and when I told her I didn’t know anything about airguns, she asked me to write the titles of the articles I thought I could write. Three legal tablet sheets later, I had enough titles for the first two years of a newsletter — and The Airgun Letter was born.
A year into the newsletter, Edith and I were talking about things I could write and a thought dawned on me. We could buy a Beeman R1 and test it from brand new through the first thousand shots — the same thing any owner would do. Then I could tune it several ways and write even more articles. I could examine the Rekord trigger and mount a scope. In short, I could do all the things any airgunner would do with a new air rifle, only I could also write about it and photograph things as I went. The newsletter would virtually write itself!
This time, I resolved not to make the same mistake as before in buying the wrong caliber. The R1 is best-suited to a .22-caliber pellet because of its power, so that’s what we got — a brand new Beeman R1 in .22 caliber to test and write about. My writing career suddenly became much easier and more fun at the same time.
The rifle arrived, and I tested and recorded it throughout the 1,000-shot break-in. Then, at a thousand shots, I started to disassemble the rifle for a lube-tune when I discovered that one of the stock anchor flanges that the forearm screws attach to was broken off the spring tube. The rifle had to be returned to Beeman!
The rifle went back and Beeman welded the flange back on the tube. That didn’t bother me. But they also gave the rifle a moly tune, since all lubricant had to be removed for the welding. I was crushed! My test control had been destroyed by an act of kindness and generosity! When I talked to Don Walker at Beeman and explained what I was doing, he reluctantly agreed to send another new rifle. So the gun that I am reporting on today is that second .22-caliber Beeman R1.
It was fired and tested for another thousand shots, and I now had two new guns that had gone through the same break-in. That made the report, titled R1 Homebrew, all the more interesting. When the number of newsletter installments grew to nine, I knew I could write a book and that’s where the R1 book came from.
Well, that’s enough of the history of this rifle for now. What kind of air rifle is the Beeman R1? First of all, it got the name Supermagnum from the fact that it was the first spring rifle to break the thousand foot-per-second barrier in .177 caliber. It was initially advertised at 940 f.p.s. in .177 caliber, but within months that climbed to an even 1,000 f.p.s. Then Beeman came out with a special Laser tune that took the rifle up to 1,100 f.p.s. — a seemingly untouchable velocity. It could actually shoot lead pellets faster than the speed of sound!
When it was new, the R1 was considered a massive air rifle. Weighing nearly 9 lbs. and over 45 inches long, it was larger and heavier than most centerfire rifles. Today, we’re overwhelmed with magnum air rifles and these dimensions don’t seem so large — but they still come as a shock to anyone who’s never experienced a magnum spring rifle! In fact, I worry that we lose a lot of new potential airgunners who, upon experiencing one of these monsters for the first time, decide to do something else for recreation.
The R1 is made for Beeman by Weihrauch. The R1 was designed by Robert Beeman, who employed a CAD engineer just for the task of designing the gun. The agreement he made with Weihrauch was that Beeman owned the R1, but Weihrauch was free to market the same action in a European stock under the model name HW80. The 80 in that model name refers to the length of the piston stroke in millimeters. The R1 was a redesign of the HW35, which you now understand has a piston stroke of 35mm. That explains where the tremendous power of the rifle comes from. It’s not the piston diameter, though that is large, and it’s not the mainspring, though it’s also very powerful. It’s the long stroke that generates the awesome power.
Being a Weihrauch gun, the R1 comes with the Rekord trigger that many of you recognize as one of the top sporting airgun triggers. Ivan Hancock based his Mach II trigger on the Rekord. It’s a sporting trigger of even greater adjustability and finesse than the Rekord. And the Air Arms trigger that’s found in the TX200 is also a close cousin to the Rekord.
Cocking effort on a stock R1 begins at over 50 lbs. of effort; but after a thousand-shot break-in, it usually drops to around 46 lbs. In its day, that was a lot of force to cock a rifle. Today, it’s on the low side for magnum rifles. I personally don’t even like to do that much work, so I’ve tuned my R1 down to less effort while still retaining most of the power. That long piston stroke does a lot for you!
Compared to today’s modern air rifles, the R1 seems like a traditional old-school gun. Although the stock is made of beech, not walnut, it’s nicely checkered and well-shaped. The finish is a modern synthetic that takes a shine after being handled awhile. The bluing used to look matte to my eyes when compared to guns like the Webley Mark III, but in today’s market it is a standout deep black with a good polish.
Back in the day, R1 guns came with fine, adjustable Weihrauch open sights and the front globe took inserts. Those days are gone for economic reasons and also because the majority of buyers will scope their rifles immediately. All veteran Weihrauch owners like me have a drawer filled with take-off sights from guns we’ve owned in the past.
I tested two new .22-caliber R1s for my articles, and they both performed similarly, though the second rifle was slightly more powerful. When new, it generated above 19 foot-pounds with RWS Hobby pellets; and after 1,000 shots, it dropped to 18.4 foot-pounds. That’s an average of 838 f.p.s. for the light Hobby pellet. The cocking effort decreased to 46 lbs. at this point, but the gun hadn’t been lubricated yet.
I then stripped the rifle and gave it a standard moly lube job, putting moly on the thrust washers that ride between the base block and the action fork. The cocking effort dropped to 39 lbs., and the power dropped to 16.98 foot-pounds with Hobby pellets.
I’d used Beeman Mainspring Dampening Compound on the mainspring in this tune; and when this compound was removed, the cocking effort remained at 39 lbs. and the power increased to 17.47 foot-pounds. Some vibration crept back in, and the recoil felt a little heavier — but it was still better than the broken-in gun before the tune.
One last thing
My rifle has the Vortek adjustable muzzlebrake for tuning a spring gun. I’d forgotten that I put it on this rifle. Maybe I can do some tuning during accuracy testing?
I’m going to tell you where my R1 is now, with regard to tunes, in the next report. It won’t be the report of a brand-new airgun; but if you want one like it, the model is still being sold. All you have to do is put about 20,000 shots on i,t and you’ll have one that’s as well-used as mine.
I’ll show you the velocity and power of the rifle as it’s now tuned, plus I’ll give you an historical look at several past tunes that have been noteworthy.
Finally, I’ll show you the accuracy you can expect from this rifle. In the time since I last shot it seriously, there have been vast improvements in pellets. We may be in for some surprises.