PUBLISHED: 13:58 31 August 2012
A year and a half ago, I was at the huge IWA show in Germany, where I dropped in to see Tony Belas from Daystate. He quietly took me to one side, and with a quite ridiculous grin, gave me my first look at a prototype rifle to get my views. It was typically Daystate, with a stylish Gary Cane stock and large dimensions, but that wasn't the most interesting part. It was the action that was the star, one that will, in time, become the basis of all Daystate guns. The design team was itching to incorporate new features and upgrade others, as designers are wont to do. The design they'd settled on is machined from 7075 aluminium alloy, which is light yet very strong, something that would become increasingly important as the project developed. This hi-tech, hi-spec metal needed intricate and precise machining, so Daystate outsourced this work to a specialist automotive component company that utilises the latest multi-axis CNC technologies, and offers the very highest standards of manufacture.
This action block is the heart of the rifle, and the chassis that every other component is attached to, so precision and strength are vital. Several innovative ideas were included during the design phase and are, I believe, the vanguard of future airgun design. The first, and possibly the most technically impressive, is the indexing system. Instead of the usual mechanical arm releasing the spring tension in the mag, a vertical pin does the job. This is driven by some of the air used as the rifle fires, which is the key to its unique quality. It means that the mag will only index after the gun fires and at no other time. This totally eliminates the possibility of double-loading the gun and the missed shot that would follow, which I know from experience can be hugely frustrating. The indexing stops working completely when the reservoir pressure falls too low, a system that prevents you shooting with insufficient velocity to maintain zero. Clever.
The second innovation came about through concerns over safety and continuing from there, being clearly seen to be safe. On a bolt action PCP, pulling the bolt open to show a clear breech cocks the action, but on the Wolverine lifting and opening the bolt slightly prevents it from firing, and shows it’s clear. This is excellent and a good step forward for PCP safety. It was felt that the average American rifleman would understand and appreciate this system, which was important, as America is the primary market for the launch version of this gun.
I mentioned earlier that the action block needed to be strong, and this was because the first version of this gun is in .303 calibre, launching a 50.15 grain Emperor lead pellet, at over 950 fps, generating close to 100 ft.lbs. of muzzle energy! Some of the early prototypes actually bent on firing, renforcing the need for the solid 7075 action block. This is a one-piece unit, rather than the traditional two-piece one as used previously, improving both strength and alignment precision. You’ll have noticed that I said pellet, rather than bullet and this was a conscious choice. Daystate employed JSB to develop it, because they have a tremendous reputation for making the very highest quality pellets and also have a long and successful relationship with Daystate.
But why a pellet? Surely a bullet would have superior performance with better sectional density and ballistic coefficient, but they could be a problem too. Think of this. The Emperor retains pretty much 50% of its muzzle energy at 100 yards, which is plenty to dispatch any small quarry, but is losing energy fast beyond this point reducing the danger down-range. This is especially important if you’re hunting tough birds like carrion crows on the branches of a tree. Because an airgun pellet slows down far more quickly than a bullet, carefully considered elevated shots can still be safe. This effectively places the Wolverine in a place between airguns and firearms, which can be very useful.
If you apply to the police for a firearms certificate, they will look at the land you want to shoot over and then consider if the gun you ask for is suitable. Many people with large rabbit problems ask for a rimfire, simply because it’s the best tool there is for culling large numbers of conies, but they can be ‘too much gun’ in certain situations, which is why some applicants are refused a rimfire. Next stop is often a high power airgun, but they represent quite a big step down in performance, so the Wolverine could fill the gap. The conventional lead Emperor pellet will come close to a rimfire bullet in its terminal effects on a rabbit. The rimfire round relies on expansion of its hollow point bullet for stopping power, whereas the .303 will make a big hole anyway.
Perhaps that’s enough about .303 ballistics for now. I was happy to learn that sub 12 ft.lbs. models are in development and should be in the shops in the early part of 2013, when all the existing orders for the .303 have been fulfilled. These guns should have a huge shots-per-fill count, because the reservoir of the Wolverine is huge. The engineers came up with an elegant solution to the old dilemma of choosing between the high capacity of a buddy bottle, and the good looks and handling benefits of a conventional cylinder. They just increased the diameter of the cylinder. Those of you who know their maths, will understand that even a small increase in this dimension gives a huge increase in the internal volume of the tube. Air-hungry guns like the .303 need all the air they can get, but for the rest of us, this improvement means lots and lots of shots from each fill. They’ll be fitted with the super-efficient Harper Slingshot firing mechanism, that’s particularly frugal with its use of air. Although the reservoir is fatter, it doesn’t notice much, and importantly, for people like me who care about handling, still fits nicely inside the stock’s fore end. Standard fill pressure is 250 bar, meaning that you’ll need a 300 bar bottle to operate this gun. From this we can expect 12 to 15 shots in .303, which is roughly three magazines worth. The mag’ is a standard Daystate unit with the machined five-shot aluminium cylinder fitted
Stepping away from ballistic performance, let’s take a look at the beast. The rifle is big, weighing in at 9.5 lbs and measuring some 43”. The stock is also quite thick in most dimensions, but is well thought out and the rifle doesn’t feel clumsy when in your shoulder. In fact it hides its weight and bulk well, and because of this, is remarkably steady on aim. A major improvement over many older Daystates is the reach to the trigger blade, which fits my average-sized hand very well. Because the rifle is ambidextrous, there’s a pair of thumb grooves encouraging the thumb-up hold that so many of us prefer these days. The trigger blade is slender and well shaped as befits a proper sporting gun, with a nicely weighted action that was spot-on for me straight from the case.
I was pleased to see that the comb has been set higher on this model giving better support to the shooters cheek, and therefore more consistent gun mounting. As usual, Daystate hired Gary Cain to design the stock and the slightly more simple and understated lines appeal to my eyes more than some earlier stocks. They’re manufactured by Minelli in Italy to a very high standard, with the test gun having some nicely figured walnut. There are stippled panels on the pistol grip as well as some which appear to be decorative on the stock’s sides, beside the action. A very smart adjustable butt pad adds the option of a customised fit as well. One challenge I can see is how to fit a front sling swivel stud, because the stock is thin where you’d normally drill it, but I’m sure some clever person will find a solution.
I mentioned earlier that the Wolverine cannot fire with the bolt open as a safety feature, and the gun has a conventional manual safety as well. This is ideally placed, centrally on the back of the action, and I was impressed that it can be disengaged silently, as it should be on a hunting gun. Noise on firing, however, is one thing that Wolverine excels at. The 23”, custom-made Walther barrel is covered by a sound-absorbing shroud, but the reduction in noise is nominal, partly because the shroud extends just a couple of inches past the muzzle. Let’s be honest, this is loud, probably the loudest airgun I’ve ever heard. A little bird tells me that a proper moderator is in the works, but I know no more than that so far. For use in the USA market, this is unimportant, as they’re not allowed to use one, but for UK usage, they’re vital. All the test work I did was at a firearms range, so noise wasn’t an issue. The muzzle is factory screw-cut, so the gun is ready when the mod’ becomes available.
Because of the noise, it would be easy to think that the gun is hard to shoot, but nothing could be further from the truth. Yes it does recoil, but only the smallest amount, with its weight damping movement to the merest nudge, allowing proper follow-through, a vital ingredient of accuracy.
Because this is such a revolutionary rifle, a few friends asked to come along to see just how good it was when I was going to test it. Of course, the editor joined me, along with gunsmithing legend Dave Welham and Malc from Country Pursuits TV, who filmed the test, as well as shooting the rifle.
We checked the zero was on at 50 yards, then moved the target to 75 and finally, the iconic 100 yards. This was what we were all there to see. Lots of power and big pellets would only be interesting if the gun was accurate. The wind on the day was inconsistent, ranging from the gentlest breeze up to some stronger gusts, a factor that will affect any subsonic projectile at this distance, but soon we started to get groups we liked. The hope was that we could produce the benchmark five-shot, one-inch group, but the wind wouldn’t allow it.
Regularly, we shot four that were close and then the wind would spoil things. Terry and Dave have won silverware at the very top level, so we were confident that we were getting the very best from the gun, although we would have liked to shoot from a proper bench where we might have squeezed just a little more from it. The best group of the day went to Terry with five shots in 30.01mm.
There was great debate about the right technique, because the rifle does recoil, so we tried shooting it like a springer and letting it do its own thing but Dave and I felt that holding the fore end helped control. Only more range-time will prove which technique is best.
So there you have it. One of the most powerful airguns around and vitally, the most accurate gun I’ve ever shot at 100 yards.
The trigger is first class, it’s packed with innovations and feels great in the shoulder. But perhaps the best news for me is that it’s the basis for all future Daystates, whatever the power or calibre.