Jamie Chandler shows us that you don’t need lots of money to own a great sporting rifle
It’s easy for those of us fully immersed in airguns and shooting to forget that when we talk of a bargain PCP at £ 500, or a fantastic springer at £ 300, it still requires the person reading to have that to fork out in the first place. For myriad reasons, often just when you think you have enough in the piggy bank, you don’t. The boiler/car/kids and anything else can come along and loosen your grip on your hard- saved shekels, leaving that quality dream rifle out of reach.
That said, what if I told you that if you don’t sign up to a £ 35 per month gym membership this year and just start jogging, forego a couple of takeaways and cut back on one family cinema trip and go climb trees in the woods instead, you could take that around £100 saved in just one month and end up with an excellent, hunting ready air rifle and scope. Too good to be true? No, it’s not – and I can prove it because I’ve just done it.
I was offered a 14- year- old BSA Lightning XL by a guy in my village for £ 50. He had bought it new, shot some rats in his chicken coop then left it under a wardrobe in his house, forgotten about it and now had no use for it. The Lightning was dusty with a few pinhead blobs of surface rust, and a couple of dings and scratches. This started me thinking that perhaps it was possible to put together a reasonable hunting combo for around £100, so I sacrificed a Chinese and bottle of wine and bought it.
I’m in no way technically gifted and for my own peace of mind, I wanted to ensure that the Lightning was up to par, so sent it away to Air Gunner
reader and highly knowledgeable airgun tuner and restorer, Richard Nash at DVS Chesterfield. Richard gave it a once- over for me and very kindly wrote the following, explaining what he did to check the Lightning XL was ready and capable of joining me in the field:
‘I’m a big fan of the BSA Lightning as a potentially excellent choice of a lightweight hunting tool, which is also relatively simple to work on. When receiving a rifle, like Jamie’s Lightning, I always start in the same way, first checking that it’s not loaded. This obvious first check is a great chance for a visual inspection, which can tell me a lot about the rifle’s life. For example, is there damage to the stock, stock screws, breech or serious rust issues along the action? This can be a great indicator of how well a rifle has been cared for and any potential bodged ‘improvements’ to be prepared for internally. No tell- tale signs of interference or anything more than cosmetic scratches were visible on this example, so it looked like a straightforward service was in order.
I tested the rifle over a chrony to confirm it was legal, how consistently the rifle was firing and how it felt and sounded –a ny graunching or twangs from the spring on cocking or firing. Whilst testing the rifle, I also checked the breech and breech seal and that the barrel was straight and true. I then removed the stock and did another visual inspection of the externals underneath, looking for dust, debris, rust or obvious signs of damage. The rifle was then stripped down and parts cleaned for a more thorough check for wear and tear, damage and to assess which parts, if any, needed replacing. It is vital that the spring is straight and has no cracks, breaks or sharp edges and the piston seal is clean with no flat spots or damage.
I have to say that although neglected, Jamie’s bargain Lightning XL was not in bad shape. It was underpowered for a hunter and could do with a clean, but certainly nothing that couldn’t be fixed at minimum cost. I wasn’t trying to tune the
“although neglected, Jamie’s bargain Lightning XL was not in bad shape”
Lightning; adding a bespoke top hat, spring, spring guide, trigger tune etc., often requested by many of my clients with springers because this would have added sizable extra cost to the project. I was just ensuring for Jamie that it was up to the minimum spec’ I would expect for a hunting springer. With a bit of confidence, some simple tools and instruction, this basic strip down, check, polish and relube can be done at home.
Before reassembly I lightly greased the piston body spring and spring guide using molybdenum grease to ensure smooth movement. Once all parts were reassembled, the action went back in the stock and the power was tested again over the chrony. I am fastidious about this, so I weigh the pellets to ensure that they are the same weight. I usually fire 20- 40 shots to power check, recording each shot to gauge the upper and lower limits, which gives you an accurate average reading. Whilst the legal limit is 12 ft.lbs., I have found a spring rifle shooting consistently between 10.5 and 11.3 ft.lbs. is far smoother through the firing cycle, and more
than enough to ensure the clean dispatch of quarry – 10.5 - 11.3 ft.lbs. also ensures no worries in the future of any spring creep risking going over the legal limit as it beds in.
Jamie’s Lightning was now averaging 10.5 ft.lbs. with a 6 feet per second spread over a 20- shot string, which I was very happy with and so I sent it back down south’.
On getting the rifle back, I was chuffed with the difference Richard’s handiwork had made. It’s fair to say, it was better than many new rifles I’ve fired at five times the price. Clearly, whilst a 14- year- old airgun can be brought up to date, I wanted to ensure that the optics were as good as I could get within my budget, so scoured the Internet and found a Hawke 2-7 x 32 AO mil- dot scope, new for £ 59.99 in a sale. A bargain price for quality, recoil proof optics and X 7 is all the magnification I use when hunting. The ‘bang up to date’ glass gave me exceptional clarity even in dark woodland 45 minutes after sundown. After only needing five clicks left to zero and 200 practice shots nailing 5p size groups out to 35 yards, I was ready to take my first foray into the field with my bargain bang stick, on a squirrel hunt.
Time spent in the woods is never wasted time, but frustratingly, due to a combination of me arriving later than planned, a group of militant ramblers trespassing, and finally, a lady desperate to find her missing dog, all in a private 10- acre woodland, my first trip out with the Lightning XL ended in a blank. I saw two fluffy- tailed invaders, but couldn’t get a shot off. That said, to prove this rifle is as good as I say, I’ll be using it as my main hunter over the next few months and you can see for yourselves how I get on.
My bargain was a bit of ‘right place, right time’, but with gun auctions up and down the country in February and March, and their catalogues advertising top- end springers and scopes with estimates around the same as my set- up, if you are suffering from the no rifle blues, now could be the time to start to turn that ‘no bang frown’ on its head!
“I’ll be using it as my main hunter over the next few months and you can see for yourselves how I get on”
ABOVE: The Hawke 2 7 x 32 AO scope was a perfect partner
BELOW RIGHT: Richard tests the Lightning XL over his chronograph
BELOW LEFT: The start of a strip down can prove very revealing
ABOVE: The Lightning XL was covered in dust, with dinks and surface rust, but could it be revived?
RIGHT: The group below the 5p showed the full potential of this bargain combo
ABOVE: Stealth was not on my side!
BELOW: Some high-end springer combos in an auction catalogue with estimates less than £ 150