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Spring Fever!

PUBLISHED: 13:44 31 August 2012

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In the months leading up to the IWA show in Germany we were receiving regular and increasingly excited communication from Walther, regarding 'something special' that was going to be released at the show. Information was sparse, but I guess that was all part of the tease to build our anticipation. Close to the date of the show we were told that we would be shooting a spring powered rifle which had been in development for a long time. I have to confess that I was disappointed. Walther is best known for making affordable fun-guns and I assumed this new rifle would be the same, but how wrong I was. At the show Walther had a truly huge and impressive stand, inside of which was a shooting range, something very unusual at a gun show. Beside this was a large area dedicated to the LGV lineup, which had every model out to be handled by distributors who come from all over the world to this trade-only show.

My first impression was that this is a typically German rifle, being both long and heavy. In the past I’ve asked German manufacturers why they build guns this way and they told me that German shooters associate weight with performance, and as they’re target guns only there, they have no concerns about carrying them over long distances.

Did you know it’s illegal to hunt anything, even a rat, with an airgun in Germany? This is partly because their off-licence power limit is half of ours, so they consider the guns insufficiently powerful, which is probably true. They also seem to have less of a problem with rabbits and pigeons than we do, and are amazed by the hunting opportunities we have.

Despite the gun’s size, it handled well and pointed naturally. We were asked to book a time to come and fire the LGV beside some well-known competitors (I’m sure you can guess which rifles they chose). Each gun had vibration sensors wired to them which fed the data to a monitor screen, so we could see the hard-data comparison between guns. At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, the LGV was absolutely astounding! It cocked smoothly, with no sense of unwanted friction and fired like an English custom job. The vibration trace was half as high as the other guns and also short in duration, which tallied exactly with what we felt in the shoulder.

Realising that they now had our full attention, the Walther engineers went on to describe the exhaustive development programme, and there’s no doubt that they set themselves a high target, and put the resources and manpower in place to hit it. You might ask what that target was. Well, they set out to build the best production break-barrel spring gun in the world, and do you know what, they might have done just that! I won’t bore you with accelerometers, strain gauges and high-speed cameras, suffice to say that this family of rifles was designed by scientists, alongside world championship standard shooters.

It’s a funny old thing, but I guess most of us think that a spring-piston airgun is pretty simple. A big steel spring launches a heavy piston down the cylinder and compresses air, which drives the pellet. Simple, right? Wrong. Very wrong. Just like a high-performance engine, there are many different forces working in concert, and to get the best results they all need to be performing in harmony. Now, when you remember that the firing cycle happens in a tiny fraction of a second, and the huge forces involved, getting a clear understanding of things is pretty difficult. The English tuning companies rely on decades of experience and experimentation to achieve what many people believe are the best airguns money can buy, but Walther wanted to approach that performance at a price you and I can afford. They looked everywhere at what works well and which ideas were worth developing, distilling them into the rifle you see on test. No detail was too small to be developed and improved, over and over.

The big challenges for anybody wanting to tune a spring gun are reducing recoil and vibration, while giving first-class consistency. All spring-piston guns have a strange form of recoil that initially comes back into the shooter’s shoulder and then reverses direction before the end of the cycle. The forward motion is more correctly called surge, and is caused by the complicated effects of the piston’s forward motion being arrested by the high pressure air in the cylinder. This was an area that Walther took great pains to optimise and many combinations of bore diameter, piston weight and spring specification were tested before settling on the version we see today. The spring, when compressed, holds a large amount of energy, which causes all sorts of vibrations as it unloads, and tuners have invented ways to reduce this and Walther’s version is among the best. In fact, there’s very little spring noise on firing and only a small vibration is felt through your hands. Another consequence of the spring’s violent expansion, is that it produces a rotational element which can have a torque effect on the rifle, creating unwanted movement before the pellet has left the barrel. Walther adopted a system used on some other top-class rifles, which allows the piston to rotate freely, isolating the torque from the gun, a factor that helps the already smooth discharge.

All this clever engineering needs a suitably sensitive control to release it and Walther carefully developed a trigger worthy of this rifle. It’s a multi-sear unit with the adjustability to allow it to be tailored to suit your own tastes, and is right up there with the best in the class. The component parts are large and strong, ensuring long life and extreme reliability. Let me give you an example of the lengths they went to gain maximum performance: The piston rod passes through a metal block as the spring is compressed on its way to engaging the top trigger sear. This engagement is the most highly loaded interface in the trigger and any unwanted deflection could make the release inconsistent and cause premature wear. Walther added a close-fitting, synthetic bearing that guides the rod precisely, ensuring that its alignment with the trigger is perfect every time and that the release is totally consistent. This attention to detail is typical of the gun’s entire design.

On the subject of bearings, there’s almost no metal-to-metal contact with the moving parts, as they run on synthetic bearings. This allows the use of minimal lubrication, something that’s vital for springer performance. Years ago we used to stuff our rifles with grease because it made them feel smooth, and damped vibration. However, it travelled from where it was beneficial to places it wasn’t, and caused horrible inconsistency problems. The modern school of thought is to use high-quality lubricants, in the minimum quantity needed, and no more. The LGV’s high-tech bearings make this possible and a testing over the chronograph showed their efforts have been well rewarded.

Using Air Arms Field .22 pellets, I saw a maximum velocity spread of just 8fps over a 30-shot string, which is excellent. Remember that this is a new gun, and will almost certainly improve when it has fired two or three tins of pellets. The power was set wisely at 11.4ft.lbs., which is plenty for hunting use and safely below the legal limit.

The safety system is European in its styling, being a slide type, something shotgun shooters will immediately feel comfortable with. It’s automatic on cocking and also resettable manually and I’m happy to report silent in use. The safety on too many guns disengages with a sharp, metallic click, a sound that carries a long way in the stillness of the countryside.

I was initially surprised to see that Walther had chosen to develop a break-barrel design rather than a fixed-barrel one, as the latter is potentially more accurate because the key components are fixed solidly in line. Asked why they chose what they did, they explained that around the world break-barrels are far and away the most popular, which is something I’ve heard many times. To overcome this potential accuracy loss that a break-barrel could suffer, they engineered the breach block and pivot jaws like the proverbial bank vault, and then added a manual latch system. This mechanically locks the barrel in line with the cylinder, ensuring accuracy. It’s also designed to compensate for wear, guaranteeing long-term accuracy. To release the latch, you press the metal lever up towards the barrel, before pulling the barrel down in the usual way. This has a secondary benefit in my eyes, which is that you don’t have to bump the barrel with your hand to overcome a spring latch, as you do on most springers. Once you have the knack you can open and close the barrel silently, too. Accuracy was, unsurprisingly, first class when I did my bit, and one-hole groups at 35 yards were far from unusual. The windy, wet weather was a problem throughout the time I had the rifle, but shooting it side-by-side with guns of proven performance reassured me that the LGV’s accuracy was indeed excellent.

Cocking is as smooth as you could wish for and not at all hard, despite the full power output the gun offers. The cocking stroke is quite short, which tells us the piston stroke is short too. This feature is something tuners realised was beneficial some time ago. By making the gun more efficient, a shorter stroke can be used helping to reduce recoil and surge. Also the light cocking effort tells us that only a modest spring is needed, again reflecting efficiency. The less spring force a gun needs, the less violent it will be during its firing cycle and the easier it will be to shoot accurately.

The barrel is short at 16”, an idea developed by tuning houses and well proven over time. The thinking behind this is that the sooner a pellet is out of the rifle, the less time we have to drift off aim and as a spring-piston rifle makes maximum velocity well before 16” there’s no advantage to having a longer barrel. If the gun was hard to cock, extra barrel length would add leverage, but that’s not the case with the LGV.

As mentioned earlier, most German guns are used for target shooting, which goes some way to explaining the open sights. These are all-metal and are manufactured to a very high standard. They’re fitted with fibre optic inserts which brighten the sight picture, but if I’m honest, I can’t see many British shooters using them. To access the huge accuracy potential of this rifle, a telescopic sight is a must and I think most Brits will take the open sights off and put then to one side. The muzzle has a long aluminium sleeve to hold the front sight, which can be removed by undoing a discrete grub screw. Hunters like to use silencers and the barrel comes screw cut ½” UNF, allowing you to fit the moderator of your choice. I fitted a Weihrauch one which is possibly the best you can buy, and was immediately rewarded by a noticeable reduction in muzzle noise. It does, of course, make a long gun longer, but you can’t have everything. I was pleased to see the gun built with socket head screws rather than the more common slot head type. I can’t imagine they cost much more and they give a nicer finish and tend to wear better, without becoming marked.

The stock is a proper slim hunting one and in keeping with today’s fashion, is ambidextrous. A common difficulty I have with German-made guns is that that they have a long reach to the trigger guard, but the reach on the LGV suited me well. It’s quite a simple stock in appearance with clean flowing lines, which is just how I think it should be. The test gun was the top of the range Competition Ultra, which benefits from an adjustable height cheekpiece, a feature I value highly. This allows the individual to get full support and perfect alignment with the scope and mounts combination of your choice. This is a feature I’d like to see on all high-performance rifles, because I believe that it makes a huge difference to fit and therefore accurate shooting.

So, has Walther built the best production spring gun in the world? I don’t know if I’m qualified to answer that, but I can confirm that its design, build and performance are extraordinary, and I expect Walther’s rivals will be taking a long, hard look at this gun when it hits the shops later in the summer.

Springer fans really do have something special to get their hands on this year and judging by the reaction of my clubmates who tried the test rifle for themselves, they think the Walther LGV is a truly remarkable rifle - and then some.

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