Gun test: Weihrauch HW98
- Credit: Archant
Just how much difference can a stock really make? – the editor asks
It’s a cold hard fact that modern air rifles are much more accurate than the wobbly human who holds them, so it seems logical to me that to extract more of the performance on offer, we need to get our thinking caps on. Perhaps, if the rifle fitted us better and aided more consistent mounting and hold, we might improve our first-shot hit rate. Many people thinking this way have turned to adjustable stocks and I’m a big fan. All my serious rifles have adjustable cheek pieces and I’m convinced that they’ll become standard on all high-performance rifles in time.
Many years ago, when I was a spring-gun hunter, I reshaped the stock of my Weihrauch HW80 to improve the fit and handling, whilst losing a little weight from that hefty rifle. However, I lacked the wood-working/metal-working skills to install an adjustable height cheek piece, so added a fabric/foam accessory one that wrapped around the butt section to give the height I needed. Although my efforts were rudimentary at best, the rifle certainly fitted me better and I believe that I shot better with it for that. What I would really have liked, though, was the stunning HW98. It had the stock of my dreams, finding the optimum balance between a traditional sporter and a full target stock.
As you can see from the pictures, it wears an adjustable height cheek piece, a vertically adjustable butt pad, has a more upright pistol grip and stippling at the contact points. Weihrauch got this right 20 years ago and only now is the world beginning to catch up! To add to the technical superiority, Weihrauch added some styling in the form of fake cooling vents, painted black inside, and these match the black finish on the stippling. Very cool!
A solid base
The HW98 is based in the HW95 action which I, and many others, consider to be one of the best actions Weihrauch has ever offered for the UK market. Let me explain why: Many manufacturers build new rifles with a global market place in mind where more power is always better. Because of this, they need to choke them down to meet our 12 ft.lbs. legal limit and often this is an unhappy compromise. A huge, heavy engine designed to make 20 ft.lbs., strangled down to make 12, can be over-engineered, heavy and out of balance. The HW95 will only make 14 ft.lbs. when pushed to its limit, and runs most happily at 12 ft.lbs., just as we’d like it.
Stable on aim
It’s also not unnecessarily heavy, although in the HW98 guise it’s considerably heavier than the HW95. As with all things in the spring-gun world, that’s a matter of give and take. The heavy barrel shroud makes the rifle steadier on aim and mutes the effects of the spring-piston recoil properties, but it is more heft to carry around the farm for hours and hours. The extra weight positioned well to the muzzle reduces the ‘hold sensitivity’ that makes springers such a challenge to shoot well, and anything that makes me more likely to hit my target is all right with me!
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On the subject of things that help accuracy, I believe that a good trigger makes a huge difference and there are few better triggers than the legendary Rekord unit as fitted here. This highly adjustable, multi-lever unit can be set to suit almost any taste and will deliver first-class shot release every time. Despite the more vertical pistol grip, the reach to the blade is still a little long for my medium-size hand, but a big improvement over most of the Weihrauch spring range. If you find it too long, Rowan Engineering makes a choice of set-back options, which are quick and easy to fit.
Cocking the rifle requires only modest force, which comes about because of the full-length barrel and the smallish spring that this action uses. The movement is very smooth, although you can hear some light spring rubbing along the way. As you close the barrel again, you can feel the superb engineering as polished steel runs on high quality grease and the action shuts with a delightful clunk, like the door of an expensive car. The firing cycle is no more than a gentle nudge, but again, you can hear spring noise and feel a slight vibration. Any tuning company worth its salt would eliminate that easily and cheaply, and this is most definitely a rifle that’s worth developing.
On that subject, anyone experienced in a workshop can service this rifle themselves. The stripping method is simple and because all the parts are well made, they come apart and go back together beautifully. Also, because the action is not too stressed, it will run and run with only minimal servicing to deliver decades of top-quality performance, one of the things we all love about Weihrauchs. I have an elderly friend who has shot the same Weihrauch rifle since the 1970s and it shows no sign of wearing out yet. He protects his beloved vegetable patch from the rabbits that come in from the surrounding farms to raid his crops, and has some nice meat to go with his vegetables at supper time.
After basic zeroing and a little accuracy testing, I ran the 98 through the chronograph where it displayed no diesling that I could detect, which I found very unusual for a brand-new spring gun. The velocity readings backed this up with shots varying no more than 6fps over 30 shots. Average velocity with the Weihrauch FT-Exact .177 pellet was 793fps for a muzzle output of 11.73ft.lbs, a touch close to the legal limit.
High quality ammo
The FT-Exact is a superbly made pellet and looks very familiar to me. It also delivered in the accuracy department with ½” groups at 30 yards when my technique was perfect off the bench. This required a soft rest under my leading hand to allow the recoil to be almost identical every shot. This is not unique to the HW98. All spring guns need to be held very gently to allow the recoil to happen naturally with minimal interference from us. The fore end is well proportioned and comfortable in the hand, and enhanced by the long stippling panel along its belly. Perhaps this sounds contradictory that I should praise it for its gripping qualities after saying hold it loosely, so I’ll explain. Yes, you must not grip it as it fires, but when hunting you often need to carry your rifle at its balance point as you stalk into your quarry. This is when the stippling allows a safe and secure hold, which many guns lack.
What’s not so good for hunters is the same old noisy safety that Weihrauch has used forever. As you disengage it, it makes a loud metallic click that carries through the quiet of the countryside and can scare your quarry away. There’s no way to quieten it other than to cover the internal mechanism with thick grease, which helps a little. I used to disengage it any time I thought quarry was close and then re-engage it if no shot came my way.
As mentioned, the HW98 sits in the middle ground between a lightweight sporter and target rifle and it’s a well considered design. The extra adjustments at the rear are balanced with the barrel sleeve, although the balance point is more to the front than traditional sporters. This makes the rifle steadier on aim and should reduce muzzle flip just through its sheer mass. Of course, this makes for a much heavier rifle overall and I think you’d have to think twice before carrying an 8½ lbs rifle plus scope, around your hunting permission for hours on end.
Speaking of scopes, I fitted a Hawke Endurance 5-15 x 50, which is not the lightest optic on offer, but the added weight again helps to manage the rifle’s recoil traits. I used a superb SportsMatch one-piece unit that has an arrestor point that locates in the drillings at the rear of the scope rail. That may be a bit over the top, but I like my scopes to stay where I put them, to ensure that my zero is never lost.
Could I improve it?
I asked myself what could be improved about this rifle and the answer is not much. It’s a shame that the factory stamps in so many safety warnings into the cylinder, but they are concerned about litigation in this time of so many unjust law suits, so the warnings will be staying. I’d also prefer to see dedicated right- or left-hand stocks, but it makes economic sense to make one stock that works for everybody. The distributors and shops are happy with that as well, because they need to stock fewer variants of each gun. Lastly, I’d like to see the rifle come fitted with sling swivel studs as standard because I believe that every hunting gun needs a sling. I’d happily swap the adjustable butt pad for swivel studs if it’s a matter of cost. I’m not a fan of adjustable butt pads because if they’re set just right for one position, by necessity they are wrong for all the others, and as a hunter, versatility is king in my world.
This is a sleek and handsome rifle that must be rated as one of the best break-barrel springers ever made. Adding the stock adjustability to it is the icing on the cake, all backed up by Weihrauch’s legendary build quality and durability. These really are guns built to last. Of course, they’re not cheap, but the best things never are, and I see it more as an investment rather than a purchase. I think that if I ever went back to a break-barrel for hunting, this rifle would be my choice.
Importer: Hull Cartridge
Tel: 01482 342756
Length: 43.3” (110cm)
Weight: 8.4lbs (3.8kg)
Trigger: Two-stage adjustable
Calibres: .177, .22 (.20, .25 on special order + £85)
See more gun tests on the Weihrauch range...