by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

This report covers:

  • Lots of questions
  • Down to the basics
  • Shape and balance
  • Accuracy
  • What about droop?
  • Reliability
  • Which does BB enjoy the most?
  • Who makes what?
  • BB’s evaluation
  • It takes time

I get a lot of questions on other parts of the blog. Sometimes the people asking them seem frustrated by all the things they don’t know. Last week I received this comment from reader Winterz.

“Yes, I am the person who uses obscure threads to ask you questions like the dual collaborative piston breakbarrel air rifle. I also wrote you about the Forge review.

I don’t know where to ask this, and it might be worthy of a writing topic, but of the springer varieties – breakbarrel – underlever — sidelever…. which style do you most enjoy shooting? Which is the most reliable?

Sidelevers look awkward to me, and seem to add complexity. Underlevers are less attractive…but if they have a durability benefit or if droop is a serious problem in some rifles, then they could be considered.

Clearly most entry level springers are breakbarrel, and the couple i am currently eying are both that — the Forge and the Walther Parrus (might break in with the Forge, and then get a Parrus when I’m sure this is me).

A side question which may be inappropriate for you to answer in this venue…. do you feel the Umarex-Walther rifles are comparable in quality to the Umarex-RWS rifles, or nearly such?

I think I finally understand the Dana/RWS/Umarex lineage and history, but wonder if it has substantially changed the mfg of these arms.
Thanks again,”

Lots of questions

There are a lot of questions here. This is one of the reasons I am writing the report on sharpening a straight razor — because what can you do when you don’t know what you don’t know? I wanted to put myself in the shoes of a person in this predicament.

Down to the basics

I can’t address all of his questions in one report, but I don’t think he wants them all answered. They way I see it, I need to address two things. First, what do I think about the three types of spring-piston airguns — breakbarrel, underlever and sidelever. And second, I need to address the airguns made by Walther and Diana. For simplicity I will only address rifles, because they are all the Winterz is talking about in his comment. Let’s get started.

Spring-piston airguns are all the same, in that the piston is pushed by a spring (it can be steel or compressed gas), and when the gun fires the piston compresses air in front of it as it travels a short distance inside a compression chamber. The three names — breakbarrel, underlever and sidelever — refer to how the gun is cocked. In other words, how the piston is pushed back to compress the spring — again regardless of whether it is a coiled steel spring or a cylinder of compressed gas.

There are several things to consider — the shape and balance of the gun, accuracy and overall convenience. I will explain what I mean as I discuss each thing.

Shape and balance

The shape and balance means how easily can you hold the airgun. Is it fat or slim? Is the rifle heavy or light? Is it muzzle-heavy, neutral or butt-heavy? How easy is it to cock?

The breakbarrel has the potential of being the sleekest, lightest, slimmest air rifle of the three. That’s because it doesn’t have a separate cocking mechanism. The barrel handles that job. However, just because a breakbarrel has that potential doesn’t mean that every breakbarrel is sleek and slim. That is why when I report on an air rifle I try to describe how it holds and feels when hefted. Is the stock thick or thin (this is especially noticeable through the forearm)? It the rifle heavy? Is it muzzle heavy (more of the weight toward the muzzle, giving the rifle a heavy feel in the off hand when held). Muzzle heavy is common. Butt-heavy is not common, but some airguns are decidedly butt heavy, and it affects how they feel when held.

El Gamo 68-XP
The El Gamo 68 XP is one example of a breakbarrel that is butt-heavy.

Walther LGV Olympia
This vintage Walther LGV Olympia target rifle has a heavy barrel sleeve that makes it muzzle heavy.

Underlevers tend to be heavier because of their mechanisms. Beyond that, they can be just as slim as a breakbarrel, though most aren’t. But manufacturers have shortened their barrels so their underlevers don’t weigh that much more than a breakbarrel of similar power. Because the barrels are shorter, underlevers tend not to be muzzle heavy, though there are exceptions like the Diana 460 Magnum and the Diana K98.

Sidelevers are the quirkiest. Like underlevers they tend to be heavier, but also because their lever mechanism is on one side of the rifle (almost always on the right side) they tend to be a little off balance when held. When many sidelevers fire they twist in the direction of the side the lever is on. Some of that is mental, but there is some actual twisting too.

Like underlevers, sidelever tend to have short barrels for weight reduction. And since most of the cocking mechanism is located behind the off hand, sidelevers are almost never muzzle heavy.

Accuracy

I have found no inherent difference in accuracy between breakbarrels, underlever and sidelevers. My underlever  TX200 Mark III is accurate, but my breakbarrel Whiscombe JW75 (which is also an underlever, by a strange quirk of design) is equally accurate. And so is my breakbarrel Tyrolean Beeman R8. I have a couple vintage 10-meter target rifles that are breakbarrels (see that vintage Walther LGV, above) and they rival my FWB 300S that is a sidelever. On any given day any one of them can beat the others, although to be honest, the FWB 300S usually triumphs at close range, while at distance (50 yards) it’s a tossup between the TX and the Whiscombe.

What about droop?

This is the reason I am answering this question. From his questions I can see that Winterz assumes that all breakbarrels are droopers, while underlevers and sidelevers aren’t. I have spent a lot of time recently talking about the Diana 34 breakbarrel that is the king of droopers, but don’t think for a moment that sidelevers and underlevers don’t also droop. In fact — here is some heresy for you. I have seen AR-15s that drooped so much their owners couldn’t sight them in! Oh, they must have had a bad scope — so they said. That’s what I heard them talking about with their friends at the range.

When I heard that I went to their shooting bench to help and, sure enough, the elevation on the scope was adjusted almost as high as it would go. The owner told me it was a cheap scope and he didn’t have much faith in it, but when I explained about the erector tube floating, he understood right away. I bet his AR was hitting 24 inches low at 100 yards. A droop-compensating scope mount is made specificaly for the AR platform, so the industry has noticed it, too.

Reliability

I thought about this question a long time and I’m not quite sure what it means. All three cocking systems are completely reliable. And once the cocking systems are out of the picture, the spring piston powerplant is so simple it is almost foolproof. Unreliability may creep in if the gun is overstressed, such as those mega-magnums that try to produce 1600 f.p.s. But even they will settle in if the shooter handles them right and takes the time to break them in. Shooting one with ultra-lighweight lead-free pellets all the time would be wrong in my mind, because the piston wouldn’t be stopped before smashing into the end of the compression chamber. But other than that and perhaps one or two hinky trigger designs, I can’t think of how these airguns can be unreliable.

Which does BB enjoy the most?

I like accuracy, so I like the underlever TX200 Mark III. But I also like the Beeman R8 breakbarrel. If I had to pick the best feeling air rifle I ever shot it would have to be the Diana model 27 — a slim and lightweight breakbarrel.

Who makes what?

Winterz said he understands the RWS Diana Umarex lineage, but for the rest of my readers who don’t, here is a little primer. RWS doesn’t make airguns. They are a huge munitions corporation based in Germany. They export airguns made by Diana, another German firm, all over the world. They have been doing this since at least sometime in the 1970s, and people often get confused about who does what.

Umarex is a large conglomerate that owns Walther and Haemmerli, among other companies. Walther makes airguns in Germany. Umarex also buys airguns from other manufacturers and sells them under the Umarex banner. These guns are not made by Walther, but people sometimes confuse Umarex (the large holding company) and Walther (the firearm and airgun manufacturer).

RWS versus real Gewrman-made Walther airguns? A slight tip of the hat goes toward the Walthers because of finish and materials, but the Dianas give up nothing as far as power and accuracy are concerned. And there are higher-end Dianas that give up nothing at all. The Umarex airguns that are sourced in China are not in this evaluation.

BB’s evaluation

Winterz asked a lot of questions, but I will answer the one he didn’t ask. What spring piston air rifles does BB like best, and why? I like the TX200 Mark III for the ultimate in power with accuracy. I like the Diana 34P for the best value in power and accuracy. And I like the Diana 27 as a quiet rifle that’s easy to cock and fun to shoot.

Over the years I have written about many spring piston air rifles that I like. The Walther LGV Challenger (no longer made) was one that combined light weight and good accuracy in a .22 caliber rifle.

It takes time

Looking at catalogs or online websites is just the first step. To really know whether you like an airgun you have to spend some time with it. Going to an airgun show where there is shooting, like the Texas airgun show this Saturday or the Pyramyd Air Cup this Friday, Saturday and Sunday, is the best way to do this for free.

Plan on spending time finding out what it is that you like about airguns and then finding the gun that give it to you. It doesn’t happen overnight, but what else are you doing for the rest of your life?