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BSA Airsporter Mk2 v Webley Mk3

BSA Airsporter Mk2 v Webley Mk3

Every now and then I get a déjà vu moment when playing around with air rifles that takes me back to when I got interested and just for a split second, the atmosphere, smell and feel is captured in the present. It lasts milliseconds and is the nearest thing to a time machine that I can get. We have all experienced this I’m sure, and this month I want to share a specific period with you, particularly, if like me, you did your growing up in the early’60’s.

Picture This

The Year is 1962 and we are 15 years old. Our sole purpose in life is to own an air rifle, and as we could do in those days, roam around the fields, brooks, and canal paths shooting at bottles, cans and of course, rats!

Nobody bothered us much in those days, as long as we observed the rules! We could walk down the street and even get on a bus carrying an unsheathed air rifle without raising an eyebrow, although technically it should have been covered.

I remember my friends and I were out in the woods with my BSA Meteor break-barrel in .22, as no self-respecting lad would have anything else. When an older lad appeared carrying a BSA ‘Airsporter Mk2 of 1962 vintage. One by one we were allowed to handle and fire this, flagship rifle and I will never forget the feeling of squeezing the trigger and almost instantaneously hearing a loud ‘SPLAT’ and seeing a plume of fine mist going skywards as the .22 pellet struck the calm surface of a pond some 50 yards away; we had never seen such a powerful air rifle!

Bone of Contention

We were told it was ‘tuned-up’ and in reality was probably just touching 11 ft/ lbs at best, but that was much more than our Meteors could muster. Most off the shelf air rifles then seldom exceeded 10ft/lbs for a flagship model and 8 to 9 was the norm for most others. Webley also had an equally respected model the Mk3 under-lever! The bone of contention amongst us was which was the best, the Mk 3 or the Airsporter Mk 2? Or in our youthful and inexperienced exuberance, which was the more powerful? Our sole purpose in life was to own one.

Back in 1962, BSA and Webley were the dream manufacturers for lads wishing to own a state of the art air rifle. Yes, there were German models available, but being patriotic, British was best! I am lucky enough to own examples of both models; the Airsporter is 1962, while the Webley is a bit trickier, definitely ‘60’s, both are in .22 cal. Each one has been recently serviced using materials conversant with original materials. Leather washers, new spring etc. So is it a case of rose coloured glasses, or were these famous models that good?

The Black Pearl

The BSA Airsporter was introduced in 1948, a year after I was born and remained more or less unchanged until 1962 when the Mk2 appeared. It featured a two-piece stock that was prone to splitting or snapping as it aged, and a conical piston shaped a bit like Flash Gorden’s space ship! It also had provision for a telescopic sight, which had been a breakthrough 3-years earlier on the ‘Meteor’. The first air rifle to have scope rails fitted. It had an automatic flip open loading tap that activated when the under-lever was pulled back to cock.

Aesthetically, it is very elegant, much more so than later models, probably owing to the fact that BSA had manufactured over a million Lee Enfield .303 rifles some years earlier, its pedigree is obvious. No plastic, all quality steel and wood. The open sights give the best picture that I experienced on any air rifle. The rear is a fold-down V-notch with an adjustable/sliding plate for elevation correction. Windage consisted of drifting the whole sight left or right in its dovetail. Up front, is a ramped blade with silver tip in a protective tunnel. A bit crude I admit, but in the aim they just worked well and pin sharp, even to my old eyes, as that fine bead drops into the rear notch, giving the feeling of absolute precision. The forend tapers down gradually and is rounded off at the ends, allowing the locking latch on the under-lever to neatly protrude. The trigger strap, guard, and rear tube cover are all aluminium. On top of the breach are the scope grooves; consisting of four shallow cuts in the metal. Back in 1962 this would probably have been a 1 or 2.5x20 BSA with a moving reticle. When zeroed the cross could be anywhere in the circle. Top left corner springs to mind if I recall correctly!

There is a finger board on each side of the forend for hold and unusually the butt does not show a separate plate/pad, instead the wood is cross slotted for grip in the shoulder. The single-stage trigger is made from a folded sheet of metal and well shaped, which broke at around 3lbs. The Airsporter continued production well into the mid-80s in various guises but for me the Mk2 is the pearl.

Different Kettle of Fish

The Webley Mk3 is entirely different. This particular one is in walnut and nicely marked but the action is much more on show, with the under-lever visible its entire length.

story continues below...

Webley made the Mk1 version in 1926, which was a break-barrel, followed by the famous Mk2 ‘Service’ in 1929 and then in 1946 came the Mk3 under-lever. Available in .177 or .22 only, this was continued until 1975.

It’s extremely well built, doubtless due to Webley’s firearms manufacturing expertise!

A fraction shorter than the Airsporter, length of pull is a tad longer and the forend is 4.5” shorter and with finger boards. It appears to be a more expensive to manufacture, as the cocking lever and trigger are solid metal, as opposed to BSA’s use of folded/stamped components.

Scope mounts differ too! Pre 60’s guns had a dumbbell-shaped rail, which was riveted to the chamber. Then a run of Mk3’s without any rail at all, then a substantial looking block as fitted to mine, but only spot-welded to the chamber. Sights consist of an elevation-adjustable rear V-notch via a small integral thumbwheel. Up front is a rather course blade in a tubular protector. Both units are set in dovetails, so can be drifted for windage correction.

The Mk3’s loading tap is not automatic and is fitted on the right hand side. Again the butt plate is plain wood and also not grooved. It does have a classy ‘Webley’ motif in the form of a circular white disc sunk into the left side though. Looking at my two examples, it’s obvious that the Airsporter has had the harder life. Its two-piece beech stock has been repaired and the bluing has given way to a brown patina. The Webley’s tiger stripe effect stock is lovely and the bluing is good all over. There is just something about these vintage air rifles that cries out ENGINEERING!

Shattered Dreams!

The Chronograph brings us back to reality as far as power is concerned, but the pleasant surprise is the consistency! I used four pellet types that I happen to have in the drawer and shooting 5-shot strings over the chrony, neither rifle had a spread of more than 9 fps. Pellets were Eley Wasp, Superdome, Air Arms Field, and Super H-point. Depending on the rifle, the best were the Air Arms and the Superdome.

The Airsporter liked the Air Arms pellets and although consistent with the others, power was nearly 1ft/lb down.

It achieved a best of 8.25ft/lbs with AAs and a string showing 473,479,481,482, 482 fps. The Webley preferred the Superdomes for velocity and consistency. It achieved figures of 523, 521, 521, 523, 519 fps. A spread of only 5 fps for a muzzle energy of, wait for it! 9.9ft/lb! It feels smoother than the Airsporter with cocking requiring more effort. However, the BSA’s self-opening breech tap makes loading faster.

Our boyhood dreams are shattered and exaggerated in the mist of time! We didn’t give a fig about consistency back then, hadn’t even heard the word. It was power that we wanted and in our young imaginative minds, these rifles gave us that! These memories would stick with us into manhood and older age, carrying the tales of power as it appeared to us as boys.

Accuracy went to the Webley but I suspect that my Airsporter is not at its best with a re-crown on the agenda. Both are capable of hitting tin cans out to 30+ yards, which is what we did back then. No ‘grouping’ on paper or anything sissy like that. No! It had to be reactive! Something that twitched or flew up in the air when hit.

Now there’s an idea. Maybe if I make an animal shaped target that falls over when hit in the middle; hey I might be onto something!

  • BSA Airsporter Mk2 v Webley Mk3 - image {image:count}

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  • BSA Airsporter Mk2 v Webley Mk3 - image {image:count}

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  • BSA Airsporter Mk2 v Webley Mk3 - image {image:count}

    click on image to enlarge

  • BSA Airsporter Mk2 v Webley Mk3 - image {image:count}

    click on image to enlarge

  • BSA Airsporter Mk2 v Webley Mk3 - image {image:count}

    click on image to enlarge

  • BSA Airsporter Mk2 v Webley Mk3 - image {image:count}

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  • BSA Airsporter Mk2 v Webley Mk3 - image {image:count}

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  • I had both a 1964 Airsporter and A Webley M3   The Airsporter was very powerful and would often penetrate the first layer of a 45 Gallon oil drum   From very close,    The M3 the same,    The M3 was beautifully made   The stock was beautiful,  I was accidentally shot in the leg by the Airsporter from a range of 60 feet and I had to go to hospital to see if the pellet was Beneath my skin.  It wasn’t   But did it sting   It hurt for days and caused a bruise,    I preferred my Airsporter only because it had a couple of moder - for the time -  nice little touches,  Hidden under leaver and The all important automatic pop up Loading lever,  it had a little shape that allowed the placing of the pellet a bit simpler ...  We used to go ratting and the guys who run the allotments were always glad to see us.  And they used to hang dead rats on their fences,  They were the days.  Lots of fun. Over the Becton Dumps Or the ‘ Vernon’s nearby,  ( an ex prison of war camp area )    Nearby was bretts pig farm.  As many rats as you had pellets for   One after the other,  But you sometimes had to hang around once you had shot a few,  Then they would start peeping out again after twenty minutes.  I’m not proud of shooting them   Sad really,  Ray. Canning Town

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    Raymond hill
    09 May 2021 at 07:38 PM
  • Dear Peter Crampton, the mk1 Aisporter did not have any grooves to enable a telescopic sight to be fitted so yours is not a mk1. If the loading tap opens automatically when cocking the rifle it will be a mk2 which were grooved for a telescopic sight. Only very late examples of mk2 Aisporters will have standard sized grooves and the prefix letter will be GE and GF which is for .22 calibre. The early versions had two pairs of grooves raised from the cylinder and are much wider than the standsard 11 millimeter used most (but not all) modern rifles. You will find the serial number in front of the trigger guard if your rifle is a mk2.

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    Darren Cady
    17 Feb 2021 at 08:00 PM
  • Hello John, Your story could have been written by myself. We are the same age, and I did exactly the same things with my air rifle. THrowing a bottle in the cut and lobbing a pellet at it. My first air rifle was a Tell .177 which I loved until I bought a MK1 airsporter for 5 bob with a broken stock. I still have it along with another, plus 2 MK2’s and a much later model - not sure what it is MK5 or MK6?
    God, you’ve brought back some memories, plus the smell.
    Regards, John

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    John Price
    28 Jan 2021 at 09:06 PM
  • Dear John Day,The mk2 Airsporter is fitted with conical piston with a leather washer which is held in place by a nylon fitment that needs to be placed into hot water to soften. It is hammered over the cone part of the piston using an appropriate sized socket.
    The mk1 Airsporter piston has to be   disassembled using a special tool to unscrew the piston from the inside. I hope this helps.

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    Darren Cady.
    15 Jan 2021 at 09:07 PM
  • I used to shoot rats up to 42 paces with a BSA Meteor circa 1964 manufacture at the local tip, when I was young in the 60’s early 70’s. So these rifles must have been powerful enough to kill them, because the rats didn’t run off much, only a few yards at most. Now have a Airsporter Mk1 which I don’t use because of my poor eye sight. TR Robb did or maybe still does’ a strip down guide for the Airsporter MK2.

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    Clive Sargeantson
    02 Dec 2020 at 09:48 PM
  • I had a new Airsporter in 1975. Couldn’t get on with it, but loved the MK2 that I stupidly sold about 10 years ago.
    Also had a very nice Webley MK3.

    I’m looking to buy another Airsporter MK 2 or possibly a MK1 and also a Webley MK3, if anyone is selling ?

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    08 Nov 2020 at 06:19 AM
  • I have BSA Airsporter mk2 & Webley mk3
    Both are awesome

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    06 Jul 2020 at 07:13 AM
  • I have just inherited what I believe to be a Mk1 BSA "Airsporter".  I cannot find a serial number on it anywhere.  So, I don’t know the vintage, etc.
    The rear sight is broken off…what to do about parts?  It does have a 4X20 BSA ‘scope mounted.

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    Peter Crampton
    15 Mar 2020 at 02:08 PM
  • Hi, I think maybe you could offer me some advice. I am presently renovating a BSA Airsporter MK2 which has reportedly been left in a cupboard for many years. Apart from the aesthetic improvements,which have been very successful, I purchased a new spring and leather piston washer. I cannot see how to dismantle the piston assembly to remove the old washer. Some info I obtained seems to suggest that the central rod screws into the piston top but my example looks different to this. It actually looks to be brazed into the piston head and will not unscrew with the amount of force I am prepared to use on it.  I would greatly appreciate any advice any one can offer, also, what type of oil should be used on the leather washer. Many thanks….John

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    John Day
    17 Jun 2019 at 05:22 PM
  • I bought a walnut one in 1975. The only compatible gun was the 22 Relum Typhoon. Put a great sight on and double concentric springs on. I am in Spain now and have 26 ft pound Kral, a Coyote and a Black 1000. From pallet deformation, I can assure you that the NSA was more powerful. Cost me £120 in the day. What memories.

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    Adrian Spencer Cox
    18 Mar 2019 at 06:20 PM
  • Hello, interesting article.  I too own a Webley Mk 3 and an Airsporter Mk 2.  Both these rifles perform much better with 5.6mm pellets as they are genune 0.22" (5.56mm).  In theory the Airsporter should be the more powerful of the two as the piston travel is longer 3.5" as opposed to 2.5".  Both, however, are very nice rifles and a joy to own.

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    Richard Dawson
    15 Jul 2018 at 11:14 AM
  • Hi, whilst I am nine years younger you triggered (no pun intended) something in me. I too can relate I remember getting my BSA Meteor Super at the age of 15. I had scrimped and saved for it. It was 1971. That air rifle was my pride and joy and both me and my friends obeyed by the rules and we played with impunity. I remember well shouting close to the railway ground, spare ground and the canals in Glasgow. I used to tie my air rifle to the frame of my bicycle (no bag or sleeve as I couldn’t afford it) and cycle to the grounds where I would meet my pals. I sold my BSA to buy another BSA this time a 250cc C15, motorcycle.

    In 2014 I bought the Wembley mk 3 that I’ve always wanted and a Mk 6 airsporter. I also bought a rare BSA Airsporter Stutzen all in .22 and an even more rare .177 BSA Airsporter Stutzen 1 of 1000 limited edition.

    All to recapture those carefree days of plinking with my BSA Meteor..

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    Terry Shields
    05 Feb 2018 at 10:26 AM
  • Hello, I’ve just read your article on BSA and Webley mk3 air rifles, it could have been written by me,same feelings etc,l’ve just bought a mk3 webley in very good condition can you tell me how you moved the rear sight block to adjust .

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    Stuart brown
    13 Nov 2017 at 12:08 PM