Preda­tor bullpup

Airgun World - - Contents -

It was 1984 when I spot­ted an ad­vert in the air­gun press for a com­pany called ‘Kestock Con­ver­sions’ and the pic­ture of a com­pact, Weihrauch HW80 ‘bullpup’ jumped out at me. In ad­di­tion to this ri­fle, the com­pany sold new Weihrauch and Sharp ri­fles, of­fered cus­tomis­ing ser­vices on them, and re­tailed the HR Uni­ver­sal one-piece mount. The com­pany was lo­cated near Rother­ham, South York­shire, 35 miles from my home, so within easy strik­ing dis­tance.

I made the tele­phone call to ar­range col­lec­tion of the mount, and to view this bullpup ri­fle, ‘The Preda­tor’. Steve Thorn­ley, the pro­pri­etor, rec­om­mended that rather than driv­ing to his home, from where he ran the busi­ness, it would be eas­ier to find his lo­cal pub, meet there and then we could go on to his home. I ar­rived at The Rock­ing­ham Arms in Went­worth to be met by a tall, slen­der fel­low. The friend­li­ness and warm-hearted na­ture of this man was im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent; a con­ta­gious laugh and gen­uine, from the heart, smile. A peo­ple’s per­son, of that there was no doubt. We had a drink and then I fol­lowed him to his house - a beau­ti­fully quaint and rus­tic game­keeper’s cot­tage in idyl­lic sur­round­ings.


Steve made me a cuppa and we went through to his lounge and that’s where I first cast eyes on the Preda­tor. Com­pact and pur­pose­ful, and bear­ing the hall­marks of a true work­ing gun, this wasn’t con­ceived as a ‘What can I in­vent to make me some money?’ get-rich scheme. Rather, as a game­keeper, Steve wanted to use the sturdy and proven HW80 plat­form, but to im­prove its han­dling and porta­bil­ity, mainly with stand­ing shots in mind whilst con­trol­ling squir­rels and corvids. Its shorter di­men­sions and more rear-bi­ased weight dis­tri­bu­tion made for a quick-han­dling gun, es­pe­cially use­ful for walk­ing the woods, with the solid heft of the ‘80 also pro­vid­ing sta­bil­ity on aim. Re­mem­ber, this was back in the days be­fore the rise of the mod­ern PCP, and the ‘80 was re­garded – maybe in­cor­rectly – as one of the few guns that could re­li­ably and con­sis­tently pro­vide ‘full power’.


The ri­fle I saw that day was the pro­to­type and dif­fers to the one that I own, pic­tured. The stock was darker and wasn’t quite as cur­va­ceous in its lines, but I was in­stantly smit­ten. Steve had re­ceived healthy in­ter­est in the ri­fle, with many of­fers of de­posits, even from over­seas shoot­ers, and he re­fused to take money from in­ter­ested peo­ple un­less he knew he could de­liver the fin­ished prod­uct, but he didn’t have the re­sources to get the Preda­tor project up and run­ning, and the ri­fle of­fered for sale. I got to know Steve very well and a strong, long-last­ing friend­ship was forged. We shared many a night drink­ing in his lo­cal pub, the high­lights be­ing Thurs­day nights, when the pub hosted many ex­cel­lent, live blues bands, and in the early, for­ma­tive days of FT shoot­ing, when springers were the main weapons of choice, we gave the gun a few out­ings at lo­cal events.


Over the next few years, Steve found it frus­trat­ingly more dif­fi­cult to get the project funded. Money was tight for him. I helped to find him a job in the re­tail mo­tor trade to get some reg­u­lar in­come, but it seemed that the Preda­tor would never break cover. Then, fi­nally, a gun shop lo­cal to Steve said that they would help to fund the project. These funds al­lowed Steve to com­mis­sion Cus­tom Stocks of Sh­effield to make five wal­nut stocks and for a lo­cal pre­ci­sion en­gi­neer­ing com­pany to make five sets of link­ages/joints to lo­cate the trig­ger for­wards. This re­lo­ca­tion of the trig­ger blade fur­ther re­quired the adop­tion of a hinged cock­ing lever. The ac­cu­racy and tol­er­ances in­volved with the link­ages were cru­cial to the trig­ger re­tain­ing the orig­i­nal, crisp feel of the stan­dard Rekord unit. I can­not re­call what then went wrong with this joint-fund­ing project, but a dis­agree­ment en­sued, end­ing the ven­ture. So Steve had five stocks and link­age kits but was still not in a po­si­tion to be able to launch the gun.


Fast for­ward a year or two and, one evening, I re­ceived a call from Steve. “Do you want a Preda­tor?” Of course I wanted one, but I could not af­ford one. Back in 1984, Steve had re­ceived of­fers of pre-or­ders at around the £600 mark, which I sim­ply couldn’t stretch to. I had to de­cline, but he said that, as a close friend, he wanted me to have one. He needed some money; he knew I loved the ri­fle and asked me to make him an of­fer. I ex­plained that I didn’t wish to of­fend, so would rather not in­sult him with an of­fer. The re­sult was that I ended up buy­ing the gun you see here at a price which was much lower than its worth, but with the pro­viso that if I were ever to sell it, Steve would get first re­fusal. The gun would be a keeper un­less Steve wanted it back.


I had a few Venom-tuned guns, two of which were HW80s. I had read many pos­i­tive re­ports about the Laza­glide conversion so, once funds al­lowed, The Preda­tor was dropped in at Venom Arms’ Gun Bar­rel In­dus­trial Es­tate premises for the Laza­glide treat­ment. This in­volved sleev­ing the cylin­der to 25mm in­side di­am­e­ter, al­low­ing the use of a lighter pis­ton, speed­ing up the fir­ing cy­cle and greatly re­duc­ing the re­coil. Swept vol­ume was, of course, re­duced with this conversion. The 80’s huge cre­den­tials in this area were more suited

to mar­kets with­out power lim­its; in­deed, a cer­tain Mr Bee­man from the US, con­trib­uted hugely to­wards the de­vel­op­ment of the R1/ HW80. The in­ter­nals also ran on syn­thetic bear­ings - no metal to metal con­tact and smoother, qui­eter oper­a­tion. When I col­lected the ri­fle from Venom, I was truly amazed by the ease of cock­ing, the smooth­ness and the ut­terly be­nign fir­ing cy­cle of this heav­ily re­vised pow­er­plant.


So, the ri­fle you see here is one of five ‘pro­duc­tion Preda­tors’. I don’t know the where­abouts of the other four, nor of the orig­i­nal pro­to­type, other than hear­ing two un­con­firmed ru­mours that three live in Scan­di­navia and that (the same?) three were once owned by a spring-gun tuner from York­shire who has since ceased trad­ing. Sadly, Steve passed away in 2009, but this en­dears the gun to me even more and it now holds sen­ti­men­tal as well as rar­ity value.


The gun, as pic­tured, weighs in at 10lbs and 12 ounces. A not in­con­sid­er­able mass, but the heft seem­ingly evap­o­rates once on aim. To­tal length of the ri­fle is 38½ inches (98cm), in­clud­ing the Slimtech si­lencer. Pull length is 16½ inches (42cm), a full two inches longer than the gen­er­ally ac­cepted ideal of 14½ inches. The trig­ger is lo­cated 7½ inches (19cm) for­ward of the orig­i­nal po­si­tion of the stan­dard HW80. That long pull length is of­ten ques­tioned when peo­ple first han­dle the ri­fle, but then most peo­ple seem to gel quickly with it and then de­clare it a non-is­sue.


Mount­ing op­tics could have been an is­sue, due to the rear­ward shuf­fle of the ac­tion, but I found that, with the com­pact 4x42 scope that it pre­vi­ously wore, dou­bling up two Sports­match two-piece mounts be­hind the tur­ret sad­dle worked re­mark­ably well. The scope was well an­chored and no zero shift was ex­pe­ri­enced af­ter many years of use.

These days, it sports the com­pact Sim­mons scope pic­tured, and I am ex­tremely grate­ful to Neil180 of the Air­gunbbs for this ad­di­tion, which I feel en­hances the lines of the ‘pup.


I have not hunted for many years now and just en­joy shoot­ing for the sake of it; its ther­a­peu­tic ben­e­fits, the ap­pre­ci­a­tion of fine en­gi­neer­ing and en­joy­ing my cho­sen sport with like­minded peo­ple. The Preda­tor of­ten ac­com­pa­nies me to the Boinger Bash events hosted by Mr Fur­niss of the Air­gunbbs fo­rum. Many springer en­thu­si­asts there have had a go with it and most seem to re­ally like its com­pact di­men­sions, its easy pointabil­ity, the sta­bil­ity, the smooth, easy cock­ing ac­tion and its su­per-smooth fir­ing cy­cle. Although it has al­ways per­formed fault­lessly, in re­cent times I thought it would be pru­dent to have it ser­viced. Af­ter all, it is now 17 years since it first re­ceived the Laza­glide treat­ment. Although I work on many of my own guns, I wanted to pre­serve the Venom prove­nance, so the gun was duly booked in with Steve Pope of V-Mach for a ser­vice/re­fresh.


I col­lected it in late March this year, just be­fore the first of this year’s Bash events, and the gun al­ways goes down well with the peo­ple there. One of the com­ments re­ceived was, “Wow, it’s al­most like a PCP. It’s so easy. You take aim, squeeze the trig­ger and the tar­get just goes down”. The ‘easy’ com­ment not re­fer­ring to any dead, clin­i­cal feel­ing, but its abil­ity to take down tar­gets at var­i­ous ranges ef­fort­lessly. One shooter, in par­tic­u­lar, an ex­tremely good and knowl­edge­able shot, was very im­pressed with its ease for un­sup­ported, stand­ing shots.

Shoot­ing the ri­fle, with these su­per-re­fined in­ter­nals, re­mains a di­vine ex­pe­ri­ence. Dis­charge move­ment is smooth, soft, and barely per­cep­ti­ble; the trig­ger crisp and pre­cise. Fol­low-through is easy and nat­u­ral, fa­cil­i­tat­ing re­peat­able ac­cu­racy.


I have been in con­tact with Robert, Steve’s son, a hand­ful of times. He is the one per­son to whom I would will­ingly give this ri­fle. Robert is more than happy for me to pa­rade the Preda­tor at our Boinger Bash events and give as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble the op­por­tu­nity to see and try his dad’s unique cre­ation, and I ex­tend this of­fer to all the read­ers. So, if any­one would like to ex­pe­ri­ence the ri­fle for them­selves, come and find me at a Bash or any other event that I might at­tend and you are more than wel­come.

Steve, your dream lives on in The Preda­tor. It is, and will re­main, in good, safe, lov­ing hands.

Rest in peace, my friend.

It’s a gen­uine plea­sure to shoot, and per­forms ex­tremely well.

This ri­fle means far more to me than steel and wal­nut.

Silky-smooth cock­ing, thanks to the ge­nius of V-Mach.

The bal­ance and han­dling is right up there with mod­ern ri­fles.

A lit­tle bit of air­gun his­tory in my hands.

The com­pact Sim­mons was the per­fect scope.

The mark of top tun­ing.

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