Thursday, July 12, 2012
As anyone who read last month’s Airgun World will have worked out, I’m more than slightly excited about Walther’s new LGV spring-piston sporter. Well the news is, after two solid weeks of shooting the LGV, that excitement has risen to a level that only diehard springer shooters can truly appreciate. In short, I’m buzzing.
The LGV isn’t buzzing, though … or twanging, or doing anything that isn’t conducive to efficient shooting. It just gets on with its job; and what a job it does. That’s quite an upbeat introduction, isn’t it? Well, as many have said before me, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
From the start
The Walther LGV programme began with the renowned German company’s intention to design and build ‘the best production spring-piston sporter in the world’. Walther’s head of airgun production, Juergen Kloeckener, accepted this lofty brief, and development began. Juergen had Walther’s massive wealth of world-beating expertise to draw on, plus a dedicated team of shooters alongside him, backed by state-of-the-art, computer-based analysis at every stage, including high-speed filming inside and outside the rifle, plus internal compression and vibration sensors.
As each prototype was produced, every performance component of it was connected to the computer and the feedback was logged. While the hi -tech data-gathering was going on, a more hands-on research facility was in full swing. Walther employs people to manually cock, load and fire its airguns thousands of times, and the gentleman entrusted with carrying out this test on the LGV is named, I kid you not, Igor. Now, Igor went through the manual motions with the LGV no fewer than 50,000 times, pausing every 7000 shots to have the rifle evaluated by the Walther computers. He sounds like my kind of guy, does Igor.
As the mechanical facts emerged, the Walther LGV action was optimised to produce top efficiency in terms of recoil, lock time – the delay between trigger release and the pellet leaving the barrel - piston stroke, muzzle flip, mainspring pre-load, length, weight, balance and everything else required to produce ‘the best production spring-piston sporter in the world’. Eventually, between Walther, Microsoft and Igor, plus input from a selection of consultants, the LGV action emerged. Refinement followed technical tweak, until the subject of this test was on its way to the UK, and into my eager hands. So, that’s how it got here; now let’s see what it looks like and how it performs.
The model on test is the top-of-the-range Competition Ultra with the ambidextrous stock, complete with adjustable cheekpiece feature, and regular readers will know that I’ve been chuntering on for ages about sporters having more shooter-friendly woodwork. The Ultra’s cheekpiece does such a great job of matching eyeline and scope, and while a sliding butt pad would have completed my sporter stock wish list, I was more than happy with this excellent feature.
The stock is pure sporter, with a tapering fore end, sloping grip, ventilated butt pad and full length finger grooves. The rifle’s articulated cocking link means the slot in the underside of the fore end is shorter, and the stock is therefore stronger. The chequering is restricted to the grip only but that’s no bad thing, because the leading hand of a springer shooter should be a rest not a grip, and the LGV is definitely a rifle that shoots best when free to do its own thing after it’s fired.
Protruding from the fore end is a breech-release lever, a quick press of which allows the barrel to drop prior to cocking the rifle. I soon got into the routine of activating this lever, and it’s something you’ll soon learn because you can’t cock the LGV unless you do it. There are two main advantages to having a breech locking system on a break-barrel, with the first being the consistency of barrel alignment, and therefore accuracy, and the second is the ability to depress the lever and return the barrel in silence. Handy for hunters that second one, because the Walther’s barrel lock-up is extremely positive, and comes with a hearty ‘ker-lunk’, unless you activate that lever.
The barrel is, naturally, a Walther, and a carbine 400mm (16 inches) long.
At the end of the barrel is a muzzle weight, which acts as a counterweight and cocking aid. The tip of the unit is threaded for a silencer, although to use it as a mount for a moderator, even a short one, would wreck the whole visuals deal, as well as the handling I suspect. I won’t be trying it, that’s for sure, but others may want to.
I know for sure that plenty of Competition Ultra owners will swap that muzzle weight for a stylish silencer, and, given that this component was designed as a result of all those hi-tech tests, it will be interesting to see how that affects the rifle’s overall handling.
Back, all the way down to the LGV’s adjustable trigger, and here’s where we find a UK-specific difference. The trigger blades on the rifles Walther supply to its UK agents, Armex, will be alloy, rather than synthetic, and this was requested by Armex because it was thought that we Brits would prefer them to ‘plastic’ ones. I can see that, although under the matte black finish, that sportingly-curved blade could well be synthetic, and only my scientific ‘put your tongue on it’ test would have me any the wiser.
I’ll deal with trigger performance later, but for now we’ll shift further back to the rifle’s cheek piece adjustment mechanism. This runs off a slightly recessed pair of hex-headed pinch bolts, where you loosen both, set the height you require, then nip them up when you’re happy. Top system, this, and its effect on the rifle’s shooting potential cannot be overstated.
An arms’ length overview of the Walther LGV Competition Ultra reveals an extremely well-made, good-looking rifle, and one that comes packed with practical features. I like its balance of the modern and traditional, plus it’s a fine example of an ambidextrous rifle not looking like an ambidextrous one, which fits perfectly with the ‘no compromise’ development strategy Walther applied to the LGV from the outset.
Once the visuals have been absorbed, the next thing that impresses the first-time LGV Ultra observer is its weight. The test rifle, fitted with a Nikon Prostaff 3-9 x 40 EFR weighs exactly 10lbs 14oz, or 4.6k., or 11lbs 1oz with the Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 4.5-14 x 50 I used for my accuracy tests. The stated rifle-only weight in the Walther handbook is 4.4k, and as this rifle comes with a superb set of adjustable, Tru-Glo open sights, it can be used without a scope. I’ll confess that I did what the vast majority of LGV shooters will do and fitted a scope immediately, although I intend to give those open sights a proper go … one of these days.
As I’ve already stated, the weight of the Walther LGV Competition Ultra is a result of some heavy research and development, and there’s no doubt that it’s supremely stable on aim. However, there’s a significant number of airgunners out there who declare their liking for high-grade, lightweight, break-barrel springers, and they’ll be put off by the LGV’s weight. That’s a shame, because this rifle is truly special, and well worth fitting a sling to if carrying it really is a deal-breaker. It isn’t for me, and I personally wouldn’t sacrifice potential performance for ease of carry, but others are of a different mind and the customer is always right, even when technically he’s not.
On the range
With the Legend clamped into the Walther’s scope mounting grooves, and the recoil-arrestor stud deliberately left inside the mount, rather than slotted into the holes between the grooves (I wanted to see if the LGV needed an arrestor pin - it didn’t), testing began with a few clearing shots over the chrono. Five of those shots produced no smoke from the muzzle, the mildest of recoil, no discernable ‘twang’ and 11.5ft.lbs. of muzzle energy from the .22 calibre Air Arms Diabolo Field pellets. Over 200 shots later, I chrono-tested the Walther again, and it was making 11.4ft.lbs., and 600 shots later I carried out a 50-shot test, where the power remained solid at 11.4., with an average variation of just 8 f.p.s.
High quality springers can be amazingly consistent performers, which, considering everything going on inside a spring-piston airgun, has always fascinated me. But then, I’m a declared spring-gun saddo, so normal folk may not share my wonderment. Anyway, I’m here to tell you that the Walther LGV Competition Ultra has the power and the consistency to do a fine job in the hunting field. Has it got the accuracy? There’s only one way to find out.
During my tests with the Walther the weather was mainly atrocious, and I had to grab my chances with calm air when I could. To avoid missing out on any useable lulls, I took the LGV with me wherever I went. This included a couple of 48-hour hunting/fishing trips, and such is my childish enthusiasm for new rifles, I couldn’t sleep. So I found myself setting up paper targets at 3 a.m., and shooting off my Idleback chair under the light of a gunlamp. With the wind making mischief elsewhere for a while, I found my nocturnal zeroing sessions highly therapeutic and most productive.
My club at Bisley was the next stop, and I put in a concentrated afternoon session there, although the gusting wind was back and this time it had been on steroids. Nonetheless, I used my recent experience of taking advantage of the lulls to bang in some exceptional groups, with the best of these a sub-40mm diameter, six-shot one at 55 yards. My zero distance of 35 yards threw up some tidy groups, too, and a trio of one-inch clusters at 45 yards, yet again during precious lulls in the battering wind, proved that the LGV was capable of an accuracy level that none of us can consistently match under hunting conditions.
Eventually, over 500 shots into my test, I took shelter inside my technical range facility, or disused chicken shed as the farmer calls it, and I repeated my earlier accuracy feats, this time without the stress of getting the groups done between blasts of wind. I have to say that I have rarely enjoyed such an intensive shooting stint as much as I have this one. For me, the sense of achievement is always higher with a springer, but this time there was something extra-special. I think it’s down to the fact that, at last, a major company has committed itself to the production of a brand-new, top quality spring-piston sporter, and that it has taken the time and effort to do the job well.
I’ve already covered the weight of the LGV, so I’ll move right on into its ergonomics, balance and ‘manners’ when fired, starting with cocking effort. Everyone who tried the Walther found it fairly easy to cock, and they’re right, it is. Despite the carbine barrel offering reduced leverage, I saw an 11 year-old manage the cocking cycle with no visible strain. That cocking cycle is virtually silent, too, and there really is a tuned feel to the whole process, as a smooth spring compression concludes in a reassuring ‘clack’ when the main sear engages the piston. Further assurance comes with the closing of the barrel, after which it’s time consider the trigger.
Before you do that, you’ll push forward the automatic safety-catch, at which point you’ll discover that there isn’t much room for your thumb between the catch and the scope’s eyepiece. This isn’t a problem when disengaging the safety, but it makes things slightly awkward when re-applying it, should you change your mind about taking the shot. It’s a small point, but this is a top grade rifle, with a pricetag to match, so these details matter.
Recoil is mild, and on par with expertly tuned, full-power springers. The absence of reverberation was maintained throughout the test, and if anything the LGV became sweeter to shoot - and it was incredibly civilised from the very first shot, believe me.
The LGV’s trigger mechanism produces crisp, clean, predictable let-offs, that can be adjusted to finger pressures well below what’s practical in the field. By all means try out this adjustability for yourself – it’s all covered in the comprehensive handbook supplied – but please don’t set this, or any, trigger unfeasibly light, just because you can. I set the test rifle’s trigger to give a long first stage, followed by a safe but predictable let-off, and that setting remained exactly as I wanted it throughout the test.
I’d actually returned the test rifle’s trigger to the factory setting, because I went hunting with it in some nasty weather, where my fingers would be wet, cold and even more clumsy than they usually are. I even belted the LGV’s butt pad with a rubber mallet to test how well the rifle would respond to a bump, and it remain safe. A crude test, but effective, with a pleasing outcome. All in all, this is an excellent trigger, and befitting of a rifle of this quality.
The balance point of this rifle is 4.5 inches in front of the trigger guard, and while that will vary according to the position of the scope, it’s still more ‘in front’ than normal. As with everything else on the LGV, that balance point is a deliberate feature produced from intensive testing, and again I have to say the Walther boffins have it absolutely right. Standing and kneeling shots are more stable, and this full-on, full-size, full-specification spring-piston sporter really is easier to shoot accurately.
Things I don’t like
There’s nothing on the Walther LGV Competition Ultra that actually grates on me, but there are a few things that, in an ideal world, could be improved. First, the depth of the adjustable cheekpiece is low enough to allow you to feel the edges of the gap against your face. Having a deeper cheekpiece, effectively starting the cut lower, would make this excellent feature perfect.
I really would like to see a sliding butt pad on this rifle. I think it deserves one, and the potential performance of the gun is so high, I hate to see even a fraction of that compromised.
I’d like to see a shallow thumb groove above the grip, more as a location device than anything else, because shooting a springer to its full potential is all about consistency, and putting your hand in the same place for each shot is a major part of that.
That’s it, really, and none of those gripes stopped me shooting this rifle to an extremely high standard, including taking 18 rabbits with it in three ‘moochabout’ trips. No gun is perfect, but this one has the potential to get there, no doubt about it.
The introduction of the Walther LGV Competition Ultra is a major event in this sport of ours. It has been developed using the full range of technical expertise available to one of the most forward-thinking companies in the world, and everything about it reflects its level of quality, including its price.
I consider this rifle to be a quite superb sporting airgun, I find myself shooting it at every opportunity, and I will definitely be adding one to my collection. Whoever it was at Walther who came up with the intention to produce the finest production spring in the world – I salute you.
I think we can actually allow ourselves to believe that the good weather's here to stay for a while, and that we really can start to plan some extensive shooting days in the field, without needing to wear full weather-protection gear...
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