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Tuesday, May 1, 2012
The editor explores a rifle designed to make a statement.
Lets begin with a bit of justification. Ive had a few and it has been just a few - communications asking me why we feature superguns that are clearly beyond the price range of most airgunners. Well, in the same way that I like to see various Stigs, Clarkesons, Mays and Hammonds chucking Ferraris about on Top Gear, I know that the majority of our readers enjoy seeing what state-of-the-art airguns are all about. I know that, because of the tremendous feedback we get after such guns are featured, and most of those who contact me also realise that some of the advances fitted to the megabucks airguns soon find their way to full production models.
Purely by coincidence, this months test subject is not only a supergun in every sense of the word, it actually exists to show whats possible with modern airguns, and who knows how many of its advanced features will one day trickle down to improve the guns we all use?
Meet the Milbro Metisse, a pre-charged pneumatic, two-shot, sidelever, thats been designed on a no-compromise brief, to prove a point. That point is one of the highest quality, and specifically, Milbros ability to produce it. So, before we even get this test under way, its subject is something different. Just how different, youll see for yourself as this review unfolds. Here goes.
The highest hybrid
Metisse means hybrid, or mongrel if we accept the definition of the dull detractors on the Internet forums. Im going with the definition of the rifles creator and Milbros in-house genius, Ben Taylor, who gave his brainchild that title because he developed it to run on CO2 as well as compressed air. As it stands, the air-powered version is the one that hit production first, and thats what Ive been shooting for this test.
Ben is possibly the most intense airgun boffin Ive known in my 20-odd years in the testing game, and right from the start he knew that he wanted to create a rifle that demonstrated what can be done, rather than what can be sold by the thousand. Thats why the Metisse is a limited edition model. Its there to stake Milbros claim to prestige production, and to take the company forward into high quality in other areas. Those areas will be revealed in good time, but for now lets run a jewellers eyepiece over the Metisse.
Its a substantial-looking sporter, isnt it? The full-on thumbhole stock, that Huggett shrouded barrel, and that fatter-than-average air tube, combine to impart an element of limousine, rather than sports car, and it has to be said that it shoots like a luxury vehicle of accuracy, not a fast handling sporter. If the Metisse was created to show how airguns could be built, I believe it will be owned by those who want one without needing one. As well as it shoots, and it performs to a quite incredible level, this rifle wont be bought by anyone with a job for it to do, save being what it is.
This test marks a first for me, as Ben Taylor literally opens up his work for public scrutiny. As you can see, hes supplied a cutaway example of the Metisses action, showing the air channel, regulator, in-line firing valve and trigger mechanism, and those among you of a mechanical bent will no doubt find fascination in these exposed components. Even I, the epitome of a just want to shoot it airgunner, made impressed noises when Ben explained the inner doings of the Metisse.
That firing valve is nothing short of a revelation in itself, being of the in-line persuasion, with a superbly slick, and this time classified, anti-bounce mechanism. Being in-line means it releases its air directly behind the pellet, with no need of air-transfer channels involving sharp turns round corners. Direct, uncomplicated efficiency is the watchword, here, and its pursued throughout the entire rifle.
Take the trigger for instance, and its startling lack of components. Believe it or not, that unit can produce safe let-offs from 750 grammes of pressure, right down to 100, which is way too low for my needs, especially outside the warm-fingered comfort blanket of an indoor range. But again, that trigger runs at such bonkers levels, not because it needs to, but because it can. Set at my type of operating pressure, this trigger lets me think the shots away without conscious diversion of my attention. The blade can be reversed and repositioned, and the unit tweaked to your preference, without the whole thing looking like a personal bit of a Terminator, with designer Meccano all over the place. Oh, and spot the Pac man among the trigger components. Yes, that bit.
Regulation, regulation, regulation...
The power regulator is the culmination of Ben Taylors development over the years, and controls air-delivery with quiet efficiency. Over the chrono, 50 shots, using JSB pellets straight from the tin, the Metisse recorded no fewer than 28 shots of an identical velocity. Apart from three extreme variations of 9, 12 and 11 f.p.s., the 50 test shots confined themselves to a spread of 8 f.p.s.
From its 40mm diameter, 200cc air reservoir, the Metisse draws at least 200, full-power shots at 11.5 ft.lbs. in .22. from each 250 bar charge. The .177 count will be over 150, and the .25 will top the 200 mark by quite some way, and these figures are expected to be on the conservative side.
As far as accuracy goes, well, there isnt a straighter-shooting .22 in the world, but that was always going to be the case, wasnt it? Ben personally fits each Metisse with one of his SmoothTwist barrels, and he tests each rifle for accuracy on Milbros underground range. Thus, there was no way the test rifle was ever going to be anything other than a star as far as pure accuracy goes. Cloverleaf groups at 35 yards are standard fare, wind permitting, and sub-inch groups at 45 yards really wont cause you too much strain, provided you take care to select the perfect pellet. Bens best results have been centre-to-centre groups of 12mm at 45 yards, which is as near perfect as makes no difference.
Sorting the best pellet for a Metisse would be a pleasure, never a chore, and I really enjoyed sifting through my pellet box for possible ideal candidates. Ben Taylor ruined that for me by trotting out the top three brands hed already defined, but Metisse owners can enjoy the process unhindered by obsessive boffins. For the test rifle, H & N Field Target Trophy, Air Arms Field and various other JSB derivatives were the top performers, but such is the nature of a SmoothTwist barrel, the list of usable pellets is an impressively long one.
I told Ben I didnt like his manual, two-shot pellet shuttle gizmo, and that Id much prefer a 10-shot magazine, to which he replied, Let me explain something to you, and he sighed, in the manner of a clever person being patient with a moron. He then went off on a complete description of the rifles componentry, starting with that two-shot magazine.
The barrel of the magazine and the sidelever are made of solid titanium, coated with Diamotlith, a diamond-hard compound. Ben explained the coating process to me, which apparently involves plasma enhanced chemical vapour deposition, and he pointed at the sidelevers gold-tinted surround, the safety button and action end plug, explaining that these were also crafted from titanium, only this time its titanium nitride coated, this time via electron beam evaporation, obviously. Seeing my glazed expression, Ben went with simplicity. Those components will never show even a sign of wear, no matter how long you own that rifle, or how much you shoot it, he said Ben. I nodded and tried to think of something bright to say.
So, those goldy bits arent brass, then? Ben just scowled and sighed again, before demonstrating how trick his two-shot magazine really is.
It seals without O rings, using air-pressure and perfect engineering, and theres no pellet probe, said Ben, before demonstrating how well his magazine sealed by moving it half-way across the breech, so no pellet chamber was presented to the valve, and firing the rifle. The magazine was locked in place by the efficiency of the seal, and there it remained for fully five minutes until Ben could shift it sideways and vent the breech. Yes, even I could see how impressive that is.
In fact, the entire rifle is seriously impressive. From the smoothness of its sidelever, through the perfect function of its trigger, firing mechanism and even that two-shot magazine Im still trying not to like, all the way to the incredible consistency, accuracy and sound-suppression of that Huggettised SmoothTwist barrel, the Metisse will have you silently shaking your head in admiration.
Andrew Huggett needs to take a substantial bow at this point, because it is his work were looking at, here. Ben Taylor supplies the developmental engineering and prototypes, after which Andrew gets to work on styling, refining and perfecting each component, and the rifle as a whole. Ben Taylor doesnt hand out compliments lightly, and he refers to Andrew Huggett as an absolute engineering genius. The Huggett/Milbro partnership is about to become consolidated, as Andrew moves his engineering company into Milbros brand-new headquarters, so with Ben Taylor and Andrew Hugget under the Milbro roof, those high quality developments are waiting to roll.
The right-hand, thumbhole walnut stock is solid, user-friendly and functional, and in line with the need to proclaim Milbros high quality capability, theres a window displaying the company name on each side of the fore end. The butt pad is adjustable, as all should be at this level, and there are some nice touches, including skip chequering, a rosewood heel cap with maple spacer, and the thumb-up option at the grip.
At just over 8lbs, the Metisse has pretty much the right balance of heft and portability, and so sits on aim with the sort of stability required to make the most of its tremendous accuracy potential. This rifle just gets on with its job, really, and it does so with pure class and efficiency. Loading the two-shot shuttle becomes second nature, as does thumbing across the magazine for each shot. Id still prefer a 10-shot system, but I can see why Ben Taylor put this one in place; it was to show off at an engineering level.
With the Metisse, youre shooting not just a rifle, but a statement of intent. Its a demonstration unit, produced purely to stake a claim for the higher ground of airgun production. Youll be paying adjacent to 1600 for the privilege, and privilege it is. This is a rifle for those who want to own something unique, which marks a shift to prestige airgun status. Those who want one will have it for their own reasons, and thats all the justification anyone needs. The Metisse is quite simply superb because thats what it was always meant to be. n