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Thursday, July 12, 2012
I know I’ve written this before, but it’s good for me to remember the realities sometimes and as much as I love to shoot ultra high-tech, pre-charged pneumatic (PCP) guns, the vast majority of UK airgunners shoot springers. They also mostly choose break-barrel guns and almost always in .22 calibre. On top of this they mostly fit a 3-9x40 scope and out front they want a silencer. I don’t know the actual numbers, but I wouldn’t mind betting that the combination described, accounts for half of all airguns sold at the average local gun shop on any given Saturday. Quite simply, it’s what most airgunners want and need, plus the rifles are affordable and reliable to boot. Highland Outdoors is the UK distributor for the classic Webley brand and they know what people want, and have plenty of break-barrel springers in their catalogue. One that I particularly fancy is the Stingray II XS. This model is close to the top of their range and has been adapted to suit the British taste, with a few well thought out tweaks making a good gun even better.
The Stingray has been around for a good while now and is well proven. You can see right from first contact that it a solidly built gun with no flimsy or plastic parts to let you down. Of course, all that steel adds heft, but not unpleasantly so and I prefer guns with some weight as they tend to be more stable on aim. Spring guns also benefit from some mass as it helps to control the inevitable recoil as the main spring drives the steel piston down the chamber at around 200mph. Spring guns recoil even if you grip it tightly and try to stop it, so the real trick is not to try. Let the gun rest lightly in your hands and the recoil pattern will be the same every time, which is the secret to shooting a springer well.
Taking a look at the rifle from the front to the back, we start with one of Webley’s own QGS silencers that’s made from aluminium and therefore not too heavy at 180grams but has a good solid build quality. It works by using baffles that deflect the high pressure air toward a sound-absorbing material, which kills muzzle noise, and very effective it is too. This is screwed onto the radically shortened barrel with a ½” UNF thread. It is a good choice as it’s the most common thread size so you’ll easily be able to fit other silencers if you choose.
The barrel is only 10” long which might seem a bit shocking, but there are some very good reasons for this. The first is that with a silencer fitted to a full-length barrel the gun becomes so unwieldy that it becomes annoying when used in the hunting fields. Next, you need to understand how spring/piston guns produce their power. The energy arrives in a short spike that accelerates the pellet to full velocity in a short distance, whereas a PCP accelerates the pellet all the way up the bore and so benefits from a long barrel. Ten inches is easily enough for anybody’s needs. A further benefit comes from a reduced action time. What this means is the length of time from when the trigger breaks and the pellet leaves the muzzle, and the shorter this is the better. The shorter the barrel, the quicker the pellet exits and the less time you have to wander off aim, so the more likely the shot is to land where you were looking.
You can tell that the breech block has been built for the carbine length barrel because is hasn’t been drilled and tapped to receive open sights as it would be on other models. I like this because empty, open bolt holes look wrong to my eyes and putting unused bolts in looks worse.
Below this we find the solid cocking link which is a one-piece unit rather than an articulated one, and is a big chunk of steel. There’s no danger that this will bend or fail. The breech block is locked very securely by a conventional spring and plunger system which compensates for wear as the gun ages. Secure lock-up is vital to accuracy, so full marks there.
The main air chamber is medium in size and no bigger than necessary to make full power, keeping the weight under control. Into its top we find regular 11mm dovetails to accept the necessary scope. I was surprised to note that there was no provision for a recoil arrestor stud, but Webley advises me that they have no problems or complaints in this area. This probably says a lot about the recoil cycle of the gun, in that it’s well balanced and suffers no undue shocks. Behind this we find a push/pull automatic safety that reminds me strongly of the one I had on my beloved Webley Omega, all those years ago. It’s a neat and simple design and like the stock is ambidextrous. It can also be manually reset if the shot you thought you were about to take is lost. As with most safeties of this kind, back is safe and forward is fire. In the latter position, a red dot can be seen either side of the action to serve as a warning.
The Stingray also features an anti bear-trap which is a system that means when the barrel is broken, the mechanism cannot fire. The trigger is blocked and the piston locked back. It does mean, however, that the rifle cannot be de-cocked, but on balance the additional security offered by this, is well worth the hassle.
One of the best features of this rifle is the Quattro trigger system which is a fully adjustable, a real four-lever unit, and one that Webley is rightly proud of. The blade is swept back as it should be on a sporting gun and gold in colour. From the factory the test gun’s trigger was set slightly heavy but broke cleanly with no creep, which is just the job for this type of gun.
The Turkish walnut stock is of the slim sporting variety with four chequering panels. These subtly carry the Webley ‘W’ repeated through each panel. As with many modern guns, the Stingray is ambidextrous, displaying cheekpieces on both sides of the butt section. The soft, rubber butt pad is ventilated and set off with a white line spacer for good looks. The rubber material is an unusual red/brown colour and the pad itself has a slight bevel on its upper edge to reduce the chance of it catching on your shooting jacket as you mount it.
So much for the looks and technical stuff; what we really want to know is how it shoots. First stop, my Skan chronograph. I selected the Webley Accupel at 14.3 grains, as this is a well-proven performer and should suit this gun well. Velocity ranged from 582 to 598 for an average of 588fps over 10 shots for a muzzle energy of 10.98ft.lbs, which is perfect. It’s likely that the power will rise when the rifle has eaten two or three tins of pellets to around 11.2 to 11.4ftlbs. This is easily enough for hunting even the biggest rabbit, yet safely within the law.
Part of the reason for this performance is Webley’s Powr-Lok spring which is made from high-grade Swedish steel. This costs extra, but is money well spent because with wire of this quality, long life and reliability are assured.
Next, I moved to the range to test for accuracy. My guess as to which pellet would perform well was proven right as I was soon able to get sub ½”, three-shot groups at 25 yards which is good accuracy for this type of gun. The combination of power, consistency and accuracy make this an honest 30-yard rabbit gun in the hands of a skilled shooter. As with all springers, the key to success is in letting the gun recoil freely which is best achieved by holding it as lightly as you possibly can. Let the fore end just rest its weight on the palm of your leading hand and hold the pistol grip as lightly as you can, while still controlling the trigger properly. Don’t give it the ‘white knuckle’ treatment or pull it into your shoulder. Less really is more with this type of gun.
The scope provided with the rifle is an AGS 3-9x40 with a mil-dot reticle. This comes with double bolt mounts and flip-up lens covers and if you order it with the rifle you only pay an additional £29.99, which is a good saving over buying the separate parts. It sits well on the Stingray and looks the part. One small note is that you must remember to take the side plates off the lower mount halves and flip them upside-down. This is an adjustment that allows the mount to fit various widths of rail and the upside-down position is correct for the Stingray. As mentioned earlier, I’d expected the gun to have a recoil arrestor stud hole, but Webley said it didn’t need one and they were right. At no time during my test did the scope move at all.
This is all due to the smooth yet quick firing cycle. The gun ‘snaps’ as the shot is released and you feel no vibration. It’s more a dull thud than the usual twang that some springers suffer. There’s a tiny high frequency ring if you listen carefully, not that it matters. Dieseling was also minimal, as noted by the lack of smoke and consistent velocity and this will only improve as the gun runs in. You really do need to see several tins of pellets fired through any springer to see its best performance.
I was desperate to hunt with this handy combo and when a friend told me that some feral pigeons were making a nuisance of themselves in his barn, I offered to help. Luckily, I know it well, and dropped in as soon as I could to have a look. It was quite refreshing to use a springer compared to my usual PCPs as I needed no dive bottle or magazines, just me, the rifle and a tin of pellets. As I approached the barn, I loaded the Stingray but left the safety on. It’s so well positioned that it can be nudged off at the very last second before a shot is taken and is silent in use. I peeped around a doorway and was presented with the perfect view of a feral on an exposed beam with its back to me. I simply held the crosshair between its shoulder blades, slipped the safety and released the trigger. A bonus of this shot angle is that the pigeons drop without all the flapping you get from a head shot. Quietly, I stepped back so I could reload unseen, and then looked around the door again. Just as I’d hoped, other pigeons were still on the beam, alert but stationary. I soon spotted another facing away and repeated step one, with the same result. Two for two with a brand new gun! Not bad. The birds let me take one more shot before deciding it was getting a bit too exciting in the barn and beat a retreat. I sat down between some old brick piles to see if they’d return and sure enough, ten minutes later one showed up. It sat warily on a telegraph post, scanning the area for trouble, but didn’t scan well enough. A .22 Accupel to the head ended his barn pooping days and with a bag of four birds, I went to see my friend. “I’ve only ever seen six in there, so you’ve accounted for most of them,” he said.
The Stingray is a simple gun, well designed and well specified for what most airgunners need and I think my little hunting trip showed that it does everything we need.