- Credit: Archant
An improved version of an already great rifle gives the editor a good day’s hunting
When people look through the Daystate catalogue their attention is usually drawn to the top end models such as the 100 ft.lbs .303 calibre Wolverine or the technically impressive Mk4 iS, but for me the real gem in the range is the humble Huntsman. It’s compact, sensibly weighted and in my opinion, a better ‘real-world’ hunter than any of the other models. Sure it doesn’t make the attention grabbing headlines but in the hands of the average airgunner, I believe that this is one of the best guns Daystate has ever made. Many Daystates tread a fine line between competition gun and hunting rifle, which is great for those shooters who do both, but I’m a hunter, pure and simple and I want a hunting rifle.
Rifles with deep competition stocks that weigh over 10lbs are all well and good when all you need to do is walk from your car as far as the range and then put the gun down, but real hunters know that sometimes you need to cover the miles, such as when lamping on a summer night for rabbits. If you’re successful, a rucksack full of rabbits is quite heavy enough, thank you, without the weight of a target rifle dragging you down.
I also find target stocks work well in target-shooting positions, whereas a true sporting stock must be able to adapt to any shot, at any angle, just as our quarry presents itself. Five seconds is all a well-aimed shot should take, and that doesn’t allow for twiddling dials and adjusting accessory gadgets. No, a proper sporter should slip into your shoulder pocket and come naturally to aim with no conscious effort from the shooter at all. If you look around the world at the stocks of full-bore hunting rifles from the very best manufacturers, you’ll notice an uncanny likeness to the Huntsman and than not one looks like a competition airgun. I don’t think that this is a coincidence. Smooth, clean handling is what makes a good rifle truly great and the Huntsman behaves that way. Stock design is a black art, and this rifle hits the mark.
Anybody who knows Daystate knows that they never sit on their laurels and are constantly looking to improve the breed, so you won’t be surprised to find that the Huntsman has an evolution called the Huntsman Regal. I was very happy to see that the dimensions and proportions are largely similar to the outgoing model and that the changes are mostly a response to feedback from Huntsman owners. The first and most obvious change is that the stock has had a face lift which came about when the Italian manufacturer, Minelli invested in an even more clever laser chequering machine. This allowed the fore end panels to wrap around completely which not only looks great, but grips your hand with ease. I also note that unlike many guns, this chequering is positioned where you hold the rifle and feels strongly positive with little pressure.
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The pistol grip area has also been subtly improved with a large ‘R’ in the chequering panels denoting that this Huntsman has royal blood. The subtle curves and generous palm swell lift the fit of this stock well above the vast majority of airgun stocks, feeling more like a big money centre-fire rifle, placing as it does your index finger precisely on the trigger blade for maximum control. If there’s a better fitting pistol grip on an airgun stock, I’d like to see it.
You’ll also have noted from the pictures that the stock is slim with no unnecessary wood being left behind by the computer-controlled cutting machines. This, in part, explains the weight of the rifle being 6.3 lbs, give or take an ounce depending on the piece of wood the stock was machined from. To cut a long story short, if I were designing a stock it would look a lot like this.
However, the external improvements are only part of the upgrade. It’s no secret that a small air reservoir offers fewer shots than a big one. However, bigger reservoirs add weight and bulk, most especially if you use a buddy bottle. These are hugely practical but to many people’s eyes ugly and detrimental to handling, things Daystate wanted to avoid. This was why they went for the subtle approach of lengthening the existing reservoir and then compensating for the increased weight by lightening the action a similar amount. Now it’s true that this reduced weight is in the middle of the rifle where you can’t feel it and added weight towards the muzzle where you can, but for me this is a good thing. Guns which are too light never settle on the aim and the mid-weight nature of the Huntsman Regal could fall into this trap, so a little extra weight up front is completely welcome in my books. It steadies the rifle on aim which aids accuracy, and accuracy is the reason rifles exist.
The absolute details of the internal upgrades are currently secret but the fact that they started life as the remarkable, patented Harper Sling-Shot system is a great foundation. This mechanical system compensates for the inevitable losses that almost all pre-charged pneumatic rifles suffer from when the hammer strikes the valve multiple times as the spring and air pressures clash during the firing sequence. Steve Harper designed a hammer that strikes once and then has no further impact (literally) on the firing cycle. The Regal takes this further still by engineering the valve stem from high-grade titanium which reduces its inertia, making it more efficient still. When this is added to the increased length air reservoir the increase in shot count is seriously impressive. If you buy this rifle you can expect to get over 20% more shots per fill than the Huntsman Classic which already had more than enough for any serious hunting trip. Another part of the reason that Daystate rifles offer so many shots per fill is that they’re engineered to operate at up to 230 BAR whereas most PCPs operate at 200.
Lots of Shots
We can expect 80 shots in .177 and 95 in .22 which is excellent for such a slim and handy sporter. If you fire more shots than this in any one hunting trip you’re either a lousy shot or have access to the best hunting grounds imaginable. Of course, power is nothing without control, as the Pirelli advert said, and control comes from the trigger. Being a fully mechanical gun, the Huntsman Regal has a mechanical trigger which remains unchanged and this is no bad thing.
The trigger blade is a slim, swept-back design which falls naturally under the pad of my index finger without any stress caused by overreaching. Straight from the box the test gun had a short light first stage and a second stage that broke with no perceptible movement at all. It’s a first class unit as befits a rifle of this kind and one I felt totally confident with. Some people say triggers don’t matter and that they can shoot a gun no matter how good or bad the trigger is, but I’m not one of them. I love great triggers. They allow me to release the shot at the very split second I want to and I believe that that makes a big difference to my personal accuracy. It’s hard enough to keep a rifle still without struggling against a long unpredictable trigger release as you try to place a precise shot. Stylish Blade I also feel that this is exactly the kind of trigger blade that a sporting rifle deserves. Thick chunky jobs or bolt-together Meccano blades might work well but look ugly whereas the Huntsman Regal’s one is slim and stylish, and to be honest right up my street. I’ll confess that I love the looks of a well-crafted deer-stalking rifle and the Regal has more than a hint of that kind of gun about it.
But don’t think that it’s old-fashioned. The action is CNC (computer numerically controlled) machined from an aircraft grade aluminium alloy to precise tolerances in front of which you’ll find a steel barrel made in Germany by the world famous brand of Lothar Walther. These are made to Daystate’s precise tolerances and are famous for producing pinpoint accuracy with the right pellet, which is something I’ll come back to later in the article. Around the barrel you’ll find a full length shroud that adds that handsome bull-barrel appeal plus sound suppression while adding little weight. The way this works is that at the muzzle there’s a machined assembly that allows some of the high-pressure air that exits behind the pellet to divert back between the barrel and the shroud. In this void it can slow down which then reduces the muzzle crack. If you prefer an even quieter rifle, you can add Daystate’s carbon-fibre Airstream reflex silencer. This fits over the barrel shroud which gives the noise reduction you might want without adding unnecessary length to the rifle. I’ll confess that I was torn when it came to fitting one. The balance and looks of the naked rifle have huge appeal to me but all hunters know that stealth is our friend, so logically, fitting one makes sense. However, this time I let my heart rule my head and left the silencer off. Did it reduce my bag? Perhaps, I’ll never know, but in my opinion a rifle this handsome should be enjoyed just as it is. But this isn’t a rifle for looking at; it belongs in the hunting fields where it can show its real value.
Time to Hunt
As ever, time to go hunting was short, so I asked a farmer friend if I could have a mooch around his 200 hundred-acre Surrey estate just to see if I could find something for the pot. With the midsummer days being so long, I hoped that a few fat rabbits might be found out grazing on his young crops, something that I know drives him crazy, so even taking just a few would cheer him up. The long, hard nights of lamping aren’t too far away but time didn’t allow that kind of sport just yet, and anyway, I wanted to move slowly and drink in the Regal’s fine handling as each shot presented itself. After enjoying my buddy’s admiring glances at the rifle and offering him a few shots, I set off into the breeze, revelling in the rifle’s modest weight, while heading for a long hedge line that often holds more than a few rabbits. The thin tree line in it usually holds a few pigeons and squirrels, but at this time of year, seeing them before they see me is nearly impossible. Some lightweight cotton camouflage clothing, a hat, gloves and a face veil would swing the odds back in my favour, but the advantage was still in the favour of the tree dwellers. Things would be different with the rabbits though because the tussocky grass offered me some cover as I approached and with the steady breeze in my face I felt I really had a chance of success.
I’d carefully zeroed the rifle with Daystate’s new Sovereign pellet in my preferred .177 calibre. This is high-quality ammo, as befits a high-quality rifle. Daystate went to JSB in the Czech Republic to have these made because they have the reputation of making the very best pellets you can buy, and judging by the accuracy I was getting from the combination of Regal, MTC Mamba Lite 3-12 x 44 scope and the new pellet, the homework had been well worth the time. Knowing that your kit is spot-on and performing to the highest level is a huge boost to confidence, as I’m sure you know. Ghosting silently into the wind I moved one short, careful step at a time as I closed in on an area where I’ve frequently seen rabbits in the past. The grass had grown unevenly over an area the size of a tennis court, so I stood still, scanning for movement. After some 20 minutes a plump, threequarters-grown rabbit slowly grazed away from cover some 30 yards to my right. Very slowly, I sank into my favoured kneeling position and took aim. It was just what I was looking for. At this age their meat is tender and they’re easy to skin, so I settled the cross hair level with its eye, below the ear, thumbed off the safety and slipped the shot away. Just as I’d hoped, the shot severed the brain stem and the rabbit slowly rolled onto its side with no sudden movement. Confident that it was a clean kill I cycled the bolt, and the rotary magazine lined up a fresh pellet which fed silently into the barrel. A few minutes later I saw movement in the long grass as another rabbit moved. I was uncertain about the range but it looked long, so I held-over a bit but my shot missed. However, the rabbit ran at the sound of the shot to stand in the open. It was then that I understood my mistake. It was in fact quite a small rabbit so I aimed dead on and dropped it where it stood. As I collected it I saw that I’d pierced its ear, yet it hadn’t bled and the rabbit had continued to feed, apparently unconcerned about its new look. As the afternoon wore on I was rewarded with another young rabbit and a bonus pigeon that dropped onto a branch high in a silver birch above my head. This was where the Regal really showed its worth, because it was a difficult shot at an awkward angle but as the lifeless bird dropped to my feet I mentally congratulated Daystate for making a proper hunting gun for folks like me. So has Daystate made its best gun better? I say yes, and thank you.