|A Great Spring(er) Day!|
|When it comes to hunting, Iím a pretty committed PCP fan these days; to the point that some of my shooting buddies think I've given up on springers. It seems that when traveling out to hunt lately, it's with some hot new pcp just received for testing and if I like it, write about. Truth be told this is probably where my preference lies for most of the hunting I do, certainly for larger quarry or where thereíll be a lot of shooting. However, I still enjoy shooting and hunting with springers, they bring me back to my air gunning roots. Over the last few decades Iíve spent a lot of time becoming a proficient marksman with spring piston airguns, and it is a skill I don't want to loose. Many of my buddies can match or outshoot me with pcps, but put springers in our hands and the results start to lean my way. The reason isn't necessarily that I'm a better shot, just that I've spent more time working through the nuance (hold, follow through, and simply getting the feel) of springer shooting.
I returned home last weekend from a trip to NYC with my wife and daughter, where we'd had a great time doing all the things the city has to offer. But what I hadn't done was shoot, and I was jonsing for some trigger time. I checked the four carbon fiber tanks in my gun room, all of which were low on air, then checked to see if any of my high volume guns were filled (nope), and finally started to grab a hand pump, then the thought bubbled up that "lack of air is an omen to use my springers". So I grabbed four of the break barrel spring piston guns I'd been using the most this year; the RWS 350 Magnum Pro .22, the Benjamin NP Trail .25, the Gamo Hunter Extreme .22, and my all-time favorite spring piston hunting gun the Beeman C1 .177. These four guns had been used to take starling, squirrels, pigeons, crows, groundhogs, raccoons, and in the case of the C1 more jackrabbits and ground squirrels than I could ever keep track of. They also represented a cross section of springers ranging from a lower powered .177 (the C1) to a powerhouse in .25 (the NP Trail)
| A selection of .177, .22, and .25 caliber pellets went into my gear bag and I was off! I drove to a large field behind an unused industrial building just out of town where I have permission to shoot. Setting up the target at 35 yards I shot a variety of pellets to see where they were printing. For the most part itís great having a lot of guns to shoot, but the downside is that as I move between several guns, swapping scopes and using different pellets, I never know exactly where the gun will be hitting. Once I narrowed down the pellets that were working the best, I produced a 10 shot group off a portable bench rest with each to get a handle on where the guns were hitting. Attached are representative groups from each of the four guns. Iíll freely admit that while these are not the tight groups committed paper punchers strive for, but all of these guns were used in ďout of the boxĒ trim, and my only real criticism is that the triggers on a couple of them would benefit from a trigger job
The next thing I did was to set up a number of spinners with a target zone of ĹĒ to 2Ē at distances ranging from 20 Ė 50 yards. As these are field guns used for hunting I shot using sticks or offhand; standing, kneeling, or sitting. I donít like shooting springers prone, only because they are a hassle to cock whilst lying on your belly.
I had a great time, and jotted down a couple notes on each of these guns, which Iíll share with a quick disclaimer up front. The disclaimer is that a lot of what I am saying is subjective and some of it based on anecdotal experience. Still, I think itís a reasonable and fair assessment as to how these guns shoot.
The Beeman C1 is a .177 caliber gun that is generating about 12 fpe. This gun shoots well off a rest or sticks, because of the low recoil. Offhand the straight wrist of the stock and lack of a cheekpiece allow the gun to be brought to the shoulder very quickly. It mounts solidly and due to the light weight is easy to hold on target for extended periods (often necessary in a field gun). The trigger is nice and breaks crisply, with only a little creep. At 35 yards this was my most accurate gun (for me) to shoot offhand. This gun in this caliber is great for pest control and small game out to 35 yards. I have shot jackrabbits with it at much longer ranges, but if I was going to primarily shoot longer distances, would opt for a heavier and more powerful gun. Even though the barrel is relatively short, the gun has a low cocking effort and is easy to manage.
The next gun up was the Gamo Hunter Extreme; this gun is difficult to shoot off a rest though is manageable with sticks, because of the substantial recoil. Offhand the ergonomics of stock, with a well shaped pistol grip and cheekpiece, allows the gun to mount solidly but due to the heavy weight I started to wobble when trying to hold on target for longer periods. The trigger is a bit rough on this gun, though I have seen that the newer versions of many of the Gamo guns have much improved triggers. There is also an aftermarket trigger called the GTX that I will eventually upgrade this gun to. At 50 yards this was an accurate gun, consistently slamming the spinners when shooting off my knee. This rifle in this caliber is great for pest control at longer range (if you get used to the recoil) and larger (raccoon sized) game. Even though the barrel is relatively long, the gun has a heavy cocking effort and would be difficult to manage for smaller shooters.
| This was followed by Crosmanís Benjamin NP Trail in .25 caliber; this gun is one of the easiest magnum springers to shoot off a rest or sticks, because the recoil is mostly unidirectional and generally tame. Offhand the ergonomics of thumbhole stock, with a pistol grip that fits my hand well, allows the gun to mount comfortably and is pretty easy to hold on target for a longer period when compared to the other magnum springers. The trigger is a bit rough on this gun, though I have noticed that over time itís been smoothing out a bit, but is another candidate for the GTX upgrade. At 35 yards the accuracy was acceptable but not great, though to be fair the .25 caliber pellet out of a springer is often less accurate than the .22. As a matter of fact I have this gun in both .22 and .25 and the .22 is much more accurate. This is a gun I use for shooting raccoons, where I like to keep the shots inside of 30 yards, and the accuracy I achieved with this gun would be absolutely fine for this application. The long barrel and moderate cocking effort of the gas spring would make this gun relatively easy to cock for most shooters.
The last gun in my arsenal this day was the RWS 350 Magnum Pro in .22 caliber. I like this gun a lot, the simple and plain stock might leave you unimpressed at first look, but it is very sleek and ergonomic design. The gun just feels right in my hands; there is no extra bulk where itís not needed yet the gun feels substantial at the same time. It is my favorite stock on an out of the box magnum springer for hunting. The trigger is also outstanding and contributed to the very good accuracy I was getting Ö. especially offhand. I was hammering the spinners at all ranges, especially sitting with the gun on my knee. This guns recoil is more noticeable than that of the Trail, but less than the Hunter Extreme, which I believe is a combination of multiple factors such as a lower power than the Hunter Extreme, and the very heavy muzzle break used. As a matter of fact, I have mixed view on this muzzle break; there is no doubt it tames the recoil and provides a very good cocking handle (which makes this short barreled rifle moderately easy to cock), but interferes the outstanding carrying characteristics of the gun if you are going for a long hike.
Overall, I had a great time out shooting these four springers! The idea that you can get the performance required to hunt small game in a self contained package will always appeal to me. I also look back over the literally hundreds of PCP and spring piston airguns Iíve shot over the years, and can only recall one or two failures with the springers. If only that was the case with PCPs! While it is true that had I been shooting most of my PCPs at these same distances, my expectation would be that the 10 shot groups at 35 yards could be covered with the quarter in the targets I showed rather than surrounding the quarter. But having said this, I have no compunction using any of these springers for hunting and think they are effective, efficient, and ethical hunting tools. The only problem? After 300 Ė 400 pellets in this session even the lighter cocking effort is noticeable Ö. But thatís more a statement on me getting older.
|I set up my portable shooting bench, some targets, and a number of steel spinners for a day of shooting. The guns I took along included the Beeman C1, the Benjamin NP Trail, the RWS 350 Pro, and the Gamo Hunter Extreme, which represented a cross section of the hunting springers I use.|
|My C1 is a breeze to cock, and my alltime favcorite offhand hunting springers.|
|The RWS 350 Magnum Pro is a sleek magnum design in .22 that sent the spinners swinging one hit after another.|
|The Crosman Benjamin NP Trail|
|The RWS 350 Magnum Pro .22|
|The Gamo Hunter Extreme .22|
|No matter what new gear comes along, in my mind there will always be a place for the traditional Break Barrel Spring Piston Rifle in the airgun hunters gun rack! I loaded up a few of my guns and gear for an informal range/plinking session.|