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Classic Airgun Hunting

Classic Airgun Hunting

It`s an odd thing but although I shoot all manner of firearms I still really like my hunting with airguns and to be specific the Classics! That`s not to say modern equipment is not interesting or fun to shoot as it is! But I’m of a time when air rifles were yet to really come of age, so we made do with what we had. I believe that they actually made me the shot or sportsman I am today.

It was hard, bloody hard, to hit a rabbit at 30 yards with the kit I owned but it made everyone just that bit better and I remember beaming like a Cheshire cat coming home with a rabbit for my Mum or Uncle. Equipment-wise this meant a spring gun, or sometimes gas ram. Type aside it has to make the hunter really work hard and learn the true worth of the job at close range and to reinstate what made me take up the sport in the first place - fair play and challenge.

LIVING LEGENDS

So what about the guns? That’s easy, as I was influenced by the greats of the industry, John Bowkett who still remains the brains behind many a classic and modern air gun to this day. But really it has to be Ivan Hancock and Dave Pope from Venom Arms, to me these chaps where God, everything they touched shot like a target rifle and dodgy old spring guns soon shot like a smooth sweet thoroughbred.

Ivan and Dave’s Lazaglide system still remains the pivotal moment when people suddenly realised that air rifle’s were not simply plinking kit for the back garden but were true vermin tools in their own rights. Gone were the days of twanging springs and erratic accuracy, as they perfected the art of taming any spring gun to exploit the true potential within and soon people’s eyes opened. I was one of them and hey, you really do have an alternative to a .22 rimfire for accuracy and it’s without licence and ultra cheap to shoot, EUREKA.

Yes these early customisers really made air gun hunting come alive for me. That’s not to say you had to get your air rifle tuned to perform well - although it really helped - but early guns really gave you that sense of serious input on your part and not some dead-feeling recoilless pre-charged nonsense… sorry.

WHICH WAY TO GO?

There are three options here, buy a classic unmodified air rifle, a custom model or have your original rifle modified. That might sound easy but it’s increasingly difficult to source unmolested classic air rifles these days so a real sleeper is a gem, so buy it! Exactly the same could be said for the old custom jobs of yesteryear; just try to buy a Venom custom these days - forget it, sane people are holding on to them.

Thankfully the true art of customising still remains with people such as Steve Pope from V-Mach whose dad Dave co-founded the original Venom Arms. So I really need not say any more, Steve is a great chap who will make any air rifle 1000% better just by looking at it. The same is also true with Tony Wall from Sandwell Field Sports. I like Tony – he’s a throwback to the old Deep Purple and Black Sabbath days, just like me, he can breathe his magic onto any old air rifle and get it shooting straight again.

WHAT’S AVAILABLE?

You do not have to spend too much to enjoy a great evening out with an old classic, just ask the wife! Old classic air rifles are still available but you do have to be careful they are unmolested and not modified by any previous owners. My own wish list has to be the Feinwerkbau Sport, Weihrauch HW35, Original 50, Webley Osprey and Hawk, Anschutz 335, Whaley Crossman Innova, BSA Airsporter or Mercury, BSF 55 and Jackal Parabellum.

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That list may be showing my age and younger readers are thinking what’s that old duffer on about, but many of you will know what I am on about. I remember buying the old air gun mags and there was only really the Feinwerkbau Sport, HW35 and BSA Airsporter as guns to buy. I always wanted a Feinwerkbau Sport but never had the money (£75) new when I was a lad. The Air Sporter was superb but my heart lay with the HW35, German precision, full power and heavy, a real man’s rifle. I slaved my butt off doing odd jobs and earning pocket money until I had enough to buy a second hand example in .22 from John Powell’s in Reigate, Surrey for £50. I kept and coveted it for more than 30 years until I stupidly sold it, but it still remains one of my favourites!

Today for real world old classics I use an old HW35E in .177 bought from a friend and a Tony Wall tuned Air Arms Khamsin, remember those? This side-lever rifle is pure old school but incredibly well made and Tony gave it a Stage One tune some 15 years ago now and it still shoots RWS Hobbies into one hole today.

I also use an old by today’s standards Theoben Olympus thumbhole in .177 which again is so reliable and accurate as to be frightening and the Hyedua stock is gorgeous. But my pride and joy has to be my Venom guns, the best are an HW77 customised in an old Hornet configuration in some sumptuous walnut Ivan obtained from somewhere! Plus a Venom .20 Viper based on a Webley Raider unit and the switch barrelled .22/.20 that Steve Pope made and then altered to a multi calibre rifle for hunting, utterly superb in every way.

Actually those Venom customs hit the spot on all levels, nostalgia, unbelievable quality with power and accuracy to boot, sorry but nothing comes close these days, unless you have a Pope as your surname that is.

WHAT TO EXPECT

First up my Venom HW77 custom in .22 shoots Premier pellets (14.3gr) at 608fps/11.7ft/lbs consistently all day every day with its Lazaglide internal wizardry. This is my favourite and most beautiful air rifle which has real soul to it; it’s a pleasure and real treat to take out rabbiting. Those Venom boys were something else.

My Venom/V-Mach .22/.20 Sidewinder from Steve Pope is just outrageous, it`s one of those air guns you just pick up and it always shoots so you have every confidence with it and its accounted for just as many vermin as my Venom custom centrefire rifles! It loves sized FTT pellets at 674fps/11.7 ft/lbs and is a joy to shoot as it is so smooth to fire and effortless to cock. Also whilst you are waiting for the game to appear, you can admire the superb workmanship of the rifle!

My bog standard HW 35E is a bit under powered but it is as it came from the factory, and as such teaches me to really shoot every time I use it, and every rabbit is a real bonus. Again a bit pellet selective but the JSB Exacts refuse not to touch each other at 30 yards, great accuracy, wish I had it when I was a teenager!

Similarly the tuned Air Arms Khamsin from Tony Wall in .22 calibre has been such great fun to shoot and it will topple jackdaws and pigeons all day long. I love the old styling and now smooth tuned action. It shoots Hobby pellets like they are going out of fashion; other makes go all over the place. The Hobbies are pellet on pellet out to 25 yards at 11.25 ft/lbs, really good for a vintage air rifle that although it has a noisy ratchet side lever and retro styling still keeps Potty Towers free from nesting jackdaws, cheers Tony.

The old Theoben Olympus I guess is another out of the box classic, un-molested and beautiful to behold! In .177 it shoots incredibly well out to 40 yards so that any rabbit is in trouble. It shoots FTT pellets with impunity, 771fps/11.35ft/lbs and that fast lock time common with good quality gas rams really gets the best trajectory.

CONCLUSIONS

Like so many things these days we hark back to yesterday for our inspirations, but sadly some of those old skills are not still available. But you can still buy some great classic air rifles at a reasonable price and shoot them as is. However thankfully people like Steve Pope and Tony Wall are still around to finely tune to what every level you desire and customise up to the hilt if necessary. But sometimes it`s just nice to shoot with an old gun for no money. After all, that’s the test of a real air rifle hunter, isn`t it?

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