Weihrauch HW 97K
My recent relocation to a rural area presented a number of opportunities. The most obvious need was to control pests, with Myna birds and rabbits in residence. There was also the desire to get in some home-based target practice to hone-up my centre fire shooting prowess.
Enquiries of the local council had shown that they offered no service, or even advice, on the control of rabbits and Myna birds in the area. An obvious solution, given the rural location, was for me to shoot them.
I did consider using the 17HMR with its extremely frangible projectile being a safe and sensible choice. The occasional shot with the 17HMR would not be a problem. It was not uncommon to hear the odd shot from neighbouring properties.
Repeated shooting for target practice however was probably both expensive and perhaps inappropriate. Anyway, my target and pest shooting would be within 40 metres, and may as well be discreet. I had long been harbouring a desire for a quality air rifle and my pest and target shooting requirements were clearly pointing me in that direction.
Thus began a more detailed review of exactly what I needed, as follows.
1. Capable of taking hares and rabbits out to 40 metres
2. Accurate and hard hitting
3. Similar style and handling to my centrefire rifles for practice purposes
4. Simple functionality and reliability
5. Recognised quality manufacturer with good reputation
I was very impressed by some of the pre-charged pneumatic air rifles and was greatly tempted to opt for one. There were some great package deals on offer and they were top of the class in accuracy and velocity.
However, one of the over-riding requirements was that my choice of air rifle must have simple functionality and reliability for immediate availability. That is, when a pest is spotted in the garden, the rifle must be able to be retrieved from the gun safe and be relied on for immediate use.
My requirements were clearly pointing me toward a spring gun. Not only that, but it was also obvious that the rifle would need to be in .22 calibre and be an under or side lever model with a rigid, one-piece barrel for best accuracy.
Further consideration of that led me to the Weihrauch HW 97 K, which appeared to meet all my criteria. I called the distributors, Alcock & Pierce, and had a couple of in-depth chats about the rifle, suitable ammunition, care and cleaning and the like. I also reviewed as many internet references and YouTube videos on the subject as I could find. Everything confirmed my choice and I went ahead with the purchase.
The rifle was everything you would expect of German firearm manufacture, solid, precise, well balanced and nicely finished. One of the selling points of the rifle for me was an adjustable match trigger which allowed me to emulate the triggers on my hunting rifles. I also liked the style of the design and the blued steel and wood stock, which I prefer and opt for on my hunting rifles as well.
The HW 97 K is a full-sized, adult firearm with a substantial 14.2 inch length of pull, longer than any of my centrefire rifles. In fact, at 4.6 kilograms it weighs a smidge more than my Ruger Tropical No 1 in 458 Winchester Magnum and nearly a kilo more that my Ruger RSI No 1 in 7×57.
The HW 97 K air rifle is a particularly accurate, fixed barrel air rifle from the world’s oldest and finest German airgun manufacturers. The 97’s action is a slick piece of precision engineering with its fixed barrel and sliding breech design. The action is milled from a single piece of nicely blued steel, with integral scope grooves milled into the spring cylinder. This provides easy access for loading and total rigidity for accuracy.
The rifle is not fitted with open sights. The accuracy of the HW 97 K deserves scope sighting and the rifle is uncompromisingly designed for that.
Considering the power of the rifle, cocking requires relatively ease of effort with the under-lever design. Again, this is an adult firearm and children would find cocking the rifle difficult. The “Rekord” match grade, adjustable two-stage trigger with a crisp release greatly assists accurate shot placement.
For such a powerful spring rifle, firing produces little vibration and only mild recoil. This reflects the quality of design and build that makes this rifle popular and effective with target shooters.
The rifle is fitted with a full-sized beech wood stock with reasonable timber grain and sharp laser cut checkering on the pistol grip and fore end. A high cheek piece positions the eye nicely in line with a scope sight.
The single shot nature of the Weihrauch was not a problem either. My hunting rifles are all single shots too.
A hay bale was positioned in the garden, a measured 25 metres away from the patio, and a target fixed to it. I fitted my old 10x air rifle scope to the Weihrauch, set up the chronograph and started shooting.
I pressed the lever release and cocked the rifle. The under lever was smooth with good mechanical advantage making that action quite easy. Maintaining my grip of the lever with my left hand, I selected and loaded a 21.1 grain Baracuda domed .22 calibre pellet. The loading port was generously sized and inserting the pellet into the chamber was no problem.
The breech glided smoothly closed and I returned the lever and clipped it closed into its receiver. The auto safety had engaged and the telltale clearly indicated that the rifle was safe.
I roughly got the rifle on target, then shot a series of groups, noting the velocity on each shot. I was pleasantly surprised by the consistency of the velocity between shots. I had expected much more variation. Subsequent chrony readings over many shots confirmed a maximum variation (3 times the standard deviation) of pellet velocity ranged from 15 fps to 30 fps for the different pellets I tried. Interestingly, the pellets with the smallest velocity variation were generally not those with the best groups.
Initially the grouping was not spectacular, but I had expected that the rifle may have a shoot-in period.
While that may have been the case, I could easily attribute some of the initial variation to shooter technique as well. It took a little while to settle into a comfortable routine, and the groups definitely improved as I did that. With the spring powered air rifle there is a slightly longer time between pulling the trigger and when the pellet exits the barrel compared to centrefire rifles. It is important to make a conscious effort to “follow through” with the sight picture on pulling the trigger, in order to counter that.
I started to get some promising groups, which was encouraging. However, I was a bit alarmed at some significant variations in group size and point of impact. I figured that this was perhaps to be expected as part of the shooting-in period and kept on.
The grouping became more erratic however and I realised that something was definitely wrong. After checking all the obvious possibilities it became apparent that the reticule in my old scope had come adrift some time earlier during service on another spring rifle.
Well, I figured a nice new rifle deserved a nice new scope, so I looked into that in some detail. For use on spring powered air rifles a scope must be particularly robust to take the double recoil generated; actually a to and fro jolt due to the spring action. Scopes that will work fine on heavy centrefire rifles will very quickly have their reticules shaken loose by a big spring powered air rifle.
The fact that a scope may be labelled as suitable for air rifles does not necessarily mean it is capable of taking the recoil that a big springer can dish out. Quite a bit of work has been done on this by other writers and it seems that out of all the different makers who offer air rifle scopes there are only a few who have the quality of construction to handle a big spring action air rifle without any problem.
Bushnell, it seems, rated highly in that department, so I narrowed my search to the Bushnell range of air rifle scopes. A scope intended for use on a powerful spring powered air rifle must have the following attributes.
• Robust reticule construction, specifically for springer recoil
• Adjustable Objective
• Focus down to about 10 metres
Given my intention to replicate hunting rifle optics for practice and use the air rifle for small game and pest hunting, my interest quickly settled on the XLT Trophy 4-12×40 AO with multi-X reticule.
Checking the specifications, I was pleased to note it listed one-piece tube with integral saddle and a mechanically fixed reticule, not just glued.
As soon as I received the Bushnell XLT Trophy 4-12×40 it was mounted to the Weihrauch and a chronograph positioned once more. Grouping was much improved, so clearly my diagnosis of a loose reticule on the old scope had been correct.
Advice from different sources on a shooting-in period for the HW 97 K varied from none at all to 500 shots. The main reason for a shooting-in period is that trace amounts of lubricating oil in the piston can “diesel” and cause small erratic variations in the firing pressure until such time as those minor amounts of oil have been consumed.
Having resolved my issues and put a few hundred pellets through the rifle I then tried a selection of the test pack pellets. They all shot reasonably well, but the domed type of pellets definitely had the edge accuracy wise. I found that the most consistently accurate pellet was the H&N Field Target Trophy, a 14.7 grain domed pellet. Interestingly, various UK air gun sites say the same thing about the FTT pellet in the Weihrauch HW 97 K as well.
The domed pellets definitely had an edge on the hollow-point type of pellets in terms of accuracy, particularly at extended ranges. That did not eliminate the hollow-point pellets from my consideration however. Penetration testing showed that the Crow Magnum pellets expanded nicely and could be expected to deliver quite a thump to small game at air gun ranges.
I decided to sight the rifle for the H&N Field Target Trophy pellets for target practice and any longer shots on game. For closer work, within 25 metres, on game I decided to use the H&N Crow Magnum pellets. Conveniently, the point of impact of these had the FTTs a little higher than the Crow Magnums at 25 metres, ideal for my intentions.
With the Weihrauch HW 97 K sighted-in I was keen to cull a few pests. I have to say I was impressed. Even with the solid, domed FTT pellets, Myna birds and rabbits were pole-axed, dropping instantly and emphatically to my shots. At closer range the Crow Magnum pellets were dynamite on rats and Mynas.
I now regularly practice with the Weihrauch on targets and that has certainly kept my centrefire rifle shooting nicely tuned. A powerful, accurate air rifle is an effective choice for discreet and humane pest management and a wonderful method of keeping your eye in for bigger calibre hunting.