Wednesday, April 18, 2012
RAW manufactured precision components for the shooting industry and having forged a reputation for high quality, the company has made the jump to full rifle production with the TM1000.
You’ll notice the TM1000 when it hoves into view at a field target course near you. It’s metalwork is expertly anodised in a matte silver-grey, and there’s likely to be a small crowd around it, at least until the TM1000 becomes a more common fixture on the FT circuit. The metal finish was chosen for its heat-reflective qualities, and seeing that this rifle will be marketed worldwide, that has to be a smart move. Stealth doesn’t matter in the world of competition, but pellet impact points changing due to movement caused by the baking sun certainly do. Reflecting solar radiation is way better than absorbing it, at least it is in the minds of the top shots for whom the RAW TM1000 is designed. Appealing to, and appeasing, the mindset of top level competitors is a major factor in a sport where everything has to be right ‘mentally’ as well as mechanically, and worrying about your rifle shifting when the sun beats down will cost you points sooner or later. Many shooters who haven’t ‘been there’ mock the importance attributed to the psychological side of target shooting, and dismiss it as ‘a load of fuss about nothing’. How wrong they are. Knowing that your hardware has been prepared for every eventuality is a genuine step toward winning. That’s why the best in the business do everything they can to eliminate every possible variable and take control over every possible aspect. If you don’t do that, your opponents will and they’ll have an advantage over you … and you’ll know that. This reduces confidence, allows doubt and hesitancy to creep in, and efficiency to leak out.
So, mental conditioning is vital, and RAW know that. RAW is also fully aware that mechanical efficiency is the real key to belief and confidence, and having the barrel floating free of any influence from the air reservoir is a standard tactic these days. This rifle’s degree of ‘float’ is considerable, and any idea of the tiny changes in the reservoir being passed to the barrel is a non-starter. The barrel itself is a Lothar Walther, seen here in its high-power specification of 23 inches, whereas the 12 ft.lbs. versions will feature a 19 inch version. The ported shroud is stainless steel, although there’s a trick-looking carbon fibre one available as an optional extra.
The major components of the TM1000 are machined from solid aluminium billets, and hardened for strength and durability where required. The reservoir is hydro-tested aluminium, incorporated for lightness and strength, and the exterior fixing bolts are stainless steel. Be in no doubt, this is a serious piece of kit, pointed directly at winning major championships.
Rapid Air Weapons has its own stock manufacturing facility and currently offers two options, both in American walnut. I’ve been using the thumbhole, as have quite a few before me according to the amount of ‘dings’ and scratches on it. Bagsy I didn’t do them, anyway. The thing is, this is a test rifle and that means it’s shot hard and frequently. During my own tests I deliberately over-cranked the sidelever, squeezed the trigger too hard and filled the air reservoir too quickly, because tests are supposed to expose potential failure due to moderate abuse. No such failures were unearthed during the month I had the TM1000, and I winced every time I abused it. Some rifles are built with such precision that chimping-out on them really amounts to a hate-crime. In truth, during normal use, any over-stressing of any part of the TM1000 would have to be done deliberately by not-very-bright shooters, and while I can’t see that ever happening, it’s good to know resistance to it is built in to the rifle.
Back to the stock, which I found gave me exactly the sort of support I’ve been chuntering on about in my ‘full-control sporter’ crusade. With a cheek piece and butt pad that offer vertical and lateral adjustment, I wasn’t surprised at the degree of fit, comfort and control. I particularly liked the finger grooves and palm shelf built into the grip, although the stippling was a little less grippy than I’d prefer. RAW has gone with a tough, all weather varnish because FT is an all weather sport, but I think the varnish has literally taken the edge off the stippling. It’s probably a good sign that I’m criticising the depth of the stock’s stippling; hardly a deal-breaker, is it? Personally, I’d like to see the top edge of the stock have an inward chamfer to produce a smoother meeting of metalwork and timber, and again I’m reduced to petty criticism.
As a more significant suggestion, I’d like to see a laminated stock offered for this rifle, preferably with a choice of colours that would contrast beautifully with the action finish (RAW will love me for this … not), but knowing Martin Rutterford, he’ll have already explored this option and no doubt he’ll get back to me on it. If anything emerges, I’ll let you know.
All in all, this stock does exactly what a target stock should, in terms of control and stability, plus it has an accessory rail fitted to the underside of the fore end, so your add-ons are sorted, too. Finally, if you’d rather have a non-thumbhole design, RAW has one available on the order form.
Where it came from
I believe by now I’ve hammered home the message that this is a full-on target rifle. This isn’t in the least surprising because the original brief was to create a match winning benchrest machine. As regular readers of our own Graham Freeman’s benchrest articles will understand, this discipline is ultra-precise and every possible accuracy advantage has to be exploited. Even the potential movement of the rifle in its rests, caused by the pulling of a bolt-action, was undesirable, and a sidelever system had to be developed. Not just any sidelever system, though. This rifle had to have an ultra-smooth, negligible-effort, hyper-ergonomic sidelever system, and judging by the prototype I’ve been shooting, that’s exactly what it got.
Martin Rutterford’s connection with Theoben manifested itself in the main firing valve and the basic trigger componentry, but that’s where Rapid Air Weapons said its farewells to Theoben Rapid technology and went its own way. Even the Rapid components used were ‘re-profiled’ and the trigger mechanism fitted with a different spring setup to create the required upgrade in sensitivity between sporting and match. Again, if this prototype’s trigger is the yardstick, RAW has created something really special. I’m surprised to see a sportingly curved, fixed position blade rather than a go-anywhere, straight-bladed match trigger but that mechanism is a thing of tactile beauty. Combined with the supreme ease of sliding back the sidelever, I found myself dry-firing the TM1000 far more than was actually necessary to judge mechanical performance. These tragic little indulgences will be understood by most out there, so I’m not ashamed to admit to them. Tweak the hands-on mechanics of a TM1000 and you’ll know exactly what I mean.
From bench to field
The morph into a field target rifle was inevitable, and the thumbhole stock was brought in to accommodate the move. The rifle was already weatherproof, so taking it out in the elements wouldn’t be a challenge for the designers.
Those same designers had also built the rifle with plenty of loading room in the breech block, and seating each pellet with a traditional thumb is simplicity itself, even against the clock. At first, I nudged the sidelever a few times, closing the breech before I’d inserted the pellet, but going under the lever soon became automatic and within a dozen ‘loads’ I was doing it without looking.
The same goes for the air-charging system, which is as you’d expect a snap-on design, referred to as a ‘Foster style’ coupling. Each 200-bar charge of the 180cc air reservoir yields around 120 shots in .177 at 11-plus ft.lbs., and the rifle’s regulator restricts the variation over 50 shots to a near-perfect 11 f.p.s. Anyone who tells you that an 11 f.p.s. variation can be seen at the target, even at 55 yards, is being a bit of a fibber. Using my own dwindling supply of washed, weighed and lubricated Crosman Premier, I clocked a 40-shot string with a maximum variation of just 9 f.p.s., and because those pellets are so precious, I used that sequence to go for ultimate benchrest accuracy. The results were impressive and took me back to my FT obsession days, when creating tiny clusters on 55 yard targets was compulsory conditioning before every competition.
As the TM1000 began to form cloverleaf groups from 25 yards to 50, I concentrated hard on the range wind flags, pausing between flutters, and slipping that superb trigger during times of calm. Sadly, I’m not as good as I was when I won a few things on the FT circuit, but I can still ‘feel’ when I’ve got it right, and each time that happened, the TM1000 dropped a pellet right on the mark. It’s a fine feeling, and one that never leaves a sad shooting man like me.
The TM1000 will comfortably shoot three-quarter-inch groups at 55 yards, and almost certainly smaller on a perfect day, but the important news is that this rifle cruises at a level of efficiency its users will never consistently match. I swapped the Light Stream 4.5-14 x 44 for my old FT scope, and under its 35 x magnification, I put in groups that would translate to a win on any field target course, and that’s most of what you can ask from a tournament rifle. The rest of your request must be for that rifle to help you extract a match winning performance, on the day, under competition conditions. The rest is up to you, but if you’ve got a RAW TM1000 in your hands, you’ve got all the help you need to make you a winner.
The field target market is definitely one of the most demanding places in which any manufacturer can compete, but Martin Rutterford’s been around for a long time, as have those who work alongside him at Rapid Air Weapons, so the arena won’t be too daunting for them. This company specialises in precision components, and when everything comes together as well as it has in the TM1000, there’s every chance that precision means prizes. The RAW TM1000 is presented in silver, but it can only be a matter of time before it presents its users with gold.