Let me just start off by stating that this post is an account of the past three months of what has seemed like an epic saga. I'll detail the good points, the bad points and some welcome surprises along the way. This is more a story of my rational and decision making that's meant I have spent the past 3 months without a stable rifle.
It all started back in December 2012 when after long hard decision making and looking at the results others were getting with .177 air rifles I decided to make a U turn and change over from .22 air rifles and make the transition to .177.
Having never owned a .177 in my life and having always shot .22 spring air rifles you can imagine my hesitation. With a little encouragement from a friend I finally bit the pellet and put my trusted .22 HW 95K SFS Stage 1 tuned rifle up for sale to fund my new .177. Now ive never been fortunate to have the funds to own more than one rifle so it hurt having to hand over my little boomstick in search of something I wasn't even sure I would get on with.
With the cash in my pocket I decided to visit my favorite gun shop, Sandwell Field Sports located in the midlands, a 120 mile round trip from my house. I decided that my .177 purchase would be HW and that it would be the 97 complete with a stage 2 tune from Tony Wall. Ever since purchasing the HW95K from him and experiancing the delight of a tune from him and the team I had been a fan. I walked into the ever busy shop and made my way over to the counter where Tony was standing jolly as ever. What amazed me was he remembered my name and greeted me with a good old cup of coffee. There was people everywhere but yet Tony still had time for each person and made you feel important and unique. Not a feeling I have experianced fromany other gun shop I have ever visited and certainy not from the local gunshop 2 miles down the road from me. I spoke in length with Tony about what I wanted the rifle for and he agreed that a HW97K would be the best choice and the choice of calibre pleased him greatly!
Tony being the professional he is even went out into the back of the shop and came back with the very rifle I wanted which was stage 2 tuned and handed it over to me for inspection. This rifle belonged to one of his friends and was currently in the shop for a service. Tony then completely knocked me back with his professionalism and attention to detail and invited me upstairs onto the range to have a few shots with the rifle to show me what sort of rifle I would be getting should I place my order.
The gun felt brilliant and anyone who owns a .177 spring piston rifle will tell you the recoil is slightly more pronounced than on a .22 spring piston rifle. Well not this rifle! Nothing but a little nudge into the shoulder just to remind you that it was a spring powered rifle and not a PCP. The gun felt solid and well built. I instantly made my mind up and placed my order right there and then. The date was December 18th so I asked Tony when he thought my rifle would be ready for collection roughly. Tony gave me a estimation date of 4 weeks which put it towards the end of Jan 2013. Perfect I thought,just in time for my main permission to open its doors to me after the shooting season finished and I could return in search of happiness squirrel bashing!
The wait over christmas and into the new year nearly killed me, I was excited. Then one morning towards the end of the month I rang SFS and spoke to another employee there as Tony was busy with customers. I enquired if my rifle had been done or if it was in the process of being done but unfortunately the news I heard was bad. The shop had been so busy that my rifle still hadnt been started. February was but a under a week away and having not really gone out hunting since October 2012 I was keen to get back out there. I started thinking about another rifle I really admired but had never owned, well the thinking soon turned into obsessing and before I knew it I had the phone in my hand.
The Air Arms Pro Sport
Now then, this is where the saga began. After discussing the Pro Sport with some friends and mulling things over in my head I came to the conclusion that based on looks alone it was one of or the most stunning looking rifles on the market. I had also heard from several people who had owned them, still owned them or had shot them that they were stunningly accurate rifles and sumed up as being a semi tuned rifle straight from the box. It suddenly dawned on me that what I wanted from my new .177 rifle was already on offer straight off the shelf and ready to go.
So with phone in my hand I rang SFS back a few days later and still they confirmed that my rifle had not been started. I kindly asked if it was at all possible to cancel my order as it had not been started and thus meaning somebody else jumped the line and took my space for their tune and instead order a .177 Pro Sport.
Straight away the answer was "yes" "no problem". Outstanding customer service I thought and so was told my Pro Sport would be at the shop in a few days time. A few days passed and I recieved my call from Tony telling me the Pro Sport was in and ready for collection. Ever so excited I rushed up the M5 to collect my trophy. As always Tony treated me like I was the only customer in the shop and went about attaching my scope and mounts and then upstairs on the range to get a feel for the gun and get it zeroed.
I went about shooting a 5 shot group and was startled at how accurate the rifle was! Straight away and straight out the box with the 5 pellets I shot they went through the same ragged one hole. I was that gob smacked I scoured the target end thinking I had pulled the rest of the shots and thought I would find them dotted around but it wasnt the case. The recoil of the rifle was fairly soft for a .177 and hardly any twanging sound could be detected from the spring. The blueing on the action and barrel was outstanding. The walnut stock was dark and patterned just how I like a walnut stock. I fell in love straight away! Tony even told me there and then that the Pro Sport was one of only a few rifles he couldnt improve upon much more than how they come out of the box.
To me that spoke volumes and I really did feel like I had made the right choice.
I said my fair wells and left SFS with a grin on my face eager to get the rifle down the range to really put it through its paces at 30 yards.
At the range I managed these groups.
Ten shots on target whilst adjusting and fine tuning zero.
The same group covered by a 5p piece.
Five shot group
Five shot group covered by 5p piece.
And then this trophy down the permission a few days later. Standing 25 yard head shot unsupported. Just going to show the balance of the Pro Sport as standing unsupported shots are by far the most challenging shots but with this rifle the balance makes it such there is no wavering around what so ever.
Turn of Events
After having owned the rifle for a few days it all went wrong on the Pro Sport front. When cocking the rifle it suddenly developed a small squeaking sound. I thought maybe it would go away and continued to use the rifle at the range. That small squeak then turned into a rather loud squealing sound which could even be heard above the rifles being fired in the local indoor range from other shooters. I got speaking to a few people there that had owned pro sports and they all said their pro sports never made that noise. I went above investigating where exactly the squeaking was coming from. I discovered that if you follow the cocking lever down to the point where it attaches to an alloy block that was where the squeaking was coming from. I looked closely and could see where the lever straddles each side of the block it was in actual fact rubbing alloy on alloy and shredding little particles of alloy off and causing quite some damage to the block. The squealing wasn't the only thing, as you cocked the rifle it felt graunchy like you could feel the alloy disintegrating through every cock of the lever. I tried lubing the area with some grease and this made very little difference. To say I wasn't happy was an understatement.
I rang SFS and spoke with Tony and he stated it was something he had never heard of before and to pop the rifle down for inspection. I made my way down and presented the rifle to Tony. He straight away set about stripping the action from the stock to investigate and when he saw the damage and heard the noise himself he was totally baffled. Tony recommended sending it back to air arms for repair so the actionwas boxed up there and then. Just before I left the shop Tony being the true gent he is realised I would be without a rifle knowing I am a one gun man. He then did somthing that really surprised me. He went out the back and came back handing me a gun slip containing a HW35 complete with scope, sling and a full tin of pellets so that I could carry on. He also rang Air Arms there and then and spoke with his contact and explained the problem enquiring how long they thought they would have to have the rifle for. Tony told me his contact believed it would be given priority and be fixed the same day it comes back to them and posted straight back to my address. Tony gave me the lady's details at Air Arms so I could ring them and arrange for the rifle to be returned to me on completing the work to fix the rifle.
I waited a week for my rifle to be delivered to them as it had to be sent from SFS to the distributer and then on to AA from there. I rang Air Arms and spoke with my contact I had been given and she confirmed the rifle had arrived that very day and had already been sent into the engineers for repair. The rifle was the fixed the very same day and back in the post to me. I recieved the action the very next day. I was sleeping off of a night shift and came downstairs to a long cardboard box sat in the hallway. Brilliant I thought, lets open the box and fit the action to the stock!
This is where I then realised this wasnt going to be the case!
These images show the box my action came back in and show the top of the action around where the safety switch is sticking out of the box, looks like the couriers decided to play tag rugby with my £500 rifle!
Fuming was an understatement, I was shaking with anger, I just couldnt believe what had happened! I questioned the wife that took the parcel and she confirmed she was leaving the house when the courier delivered the parcel so he placed in damage side down in the hallway for her and quickly sped off. I got straight on the phone and rang AA and spoke with my contact. She couldnt be more apologetic and stated she would take the matter up with the couriers and in the mean time would send a brand new .177 action to SFS so all I would have to do is drive down to SFS and give them my damaged action in replacement for the new one. Unbelievably the action arrived at SFS two days later so I went straight down and swapped the actions over and at the same time gave Tony his HW35 back.
Back in the Game!
Or so I thought! The new rifle proved just as deadly accurate as the last Pro Sport, at the range it was smashing bulls out at 30 yards and on its only hunting trip scored an awesome standing 30 yard headshot on a squirrel. Then, as if I hadnt been plagued by enough misfortune the rifle suddenly developed the exact same squeaking sound the last one did!
I had had enough and this was now beyond a joke. Two brand new rifles both with the exact same problem! Not even an £80 SMK makes such a racket when cocking, this was completely out of order for a £500 rifle that is deemed by many as the flagship of the AA range.
I rang Tony at SFS and explained to him that the same problem persisted with the new rifle and Tony agreed, no arguments, no fobbing out on the phone, he just simply agreed, this was not good enough! Tony asked me if I wanted him to order another Pro Sport in and swap them over but enough was enough for this airgunner, put simply I had fallen out of love with the most superb looking rifle in the airgun world. I asked Tony if I could have a HW97K instead complete with a stage 2 tune and I would pay the difference on collection. Without hesitation Tony couldnt be more helpful and told me it wouldnt be a problem. He also informed me that due to the amount of attention and trade SFS were getting they were actually stacked out for tunes and Tony said he had to stop taking orders due to the amount of rifles he had waiting. I told him I was happy to wait but Tony being the true gent he is wasnt happy with the trouble I had gone through and told me he would try his hardest to have my rifle done within a few weeks.
True to his word 3 weeks later I am now the proud owner of a HW97KT with a stage 2 tune. I have only had the rifle for a couple of days and been out once with it on a freezing, bloody windy day down the farm and so I will post my findings of the rifle and its craftmanship as I put her through her paces over the next few weeks or months. She certainly on the face of things feels strong, well engineered and reliable. Ive fired 50 shots through her roughly and was hitting little red circles slightly larger than a 5p piece out to 50 yards in strong winds at the farm. I carried out two 5 shot strings over the chrono and on both occasions the average fps spread was 4fps. Thats from a rifle thats had roughly 50 pellets through her. I think this could be somthing rather special indeed! Time will tell.
The rifles had less than 50 pellets through her and is no where near bedded in yet, Ive taken her out once on the coldest windiest day we have had for ages around here and took eight to ten standing shots at this target set out at 30 yards in strong gusts of wind. One wobble or caught by the wind but all in all a happy bunny. I'll just have to try and find a windless nice day to properly calibrate the scope and get it bang on.
This whole experiance has taught me alot. The reason for this post was to fill in a few blanks recently due to lots of pm's asking me what was wrong with the Pro Sport. The two main things I think important to conclude to my tale is the Pro Sport itself and the customer service I recieved.
Should you buy a AA Pro Sport? YES! without a shadow of a doubt! Would I buy another Pro Sport? NO! Definately not.
The rifle is the most superb looking rifle out there and I still think thats the case. Everything about the rifle stands out but unfortunately so does that fault with the lever. When speaking with my contact she didnt sound surprised with my explanation of what was wrong with the rifle. The turn around was quick, very quick and I would have loved to have known if that first rifle that was fixed would have worked or if the problem would have crept back. I never got to find out due to the courier smashing the top of the action. Ive never known any company to get a product back, fix it the same day and then send it back for the next day. Incredible customer service and one I couldnt fault. Whats more, as a gesture of goodwill AA then sent me in the post two tins of AA Fields in 4.52 which was a most welcome surprise.
So, many people own these awesome accurate superb rifles and dont have any problems, maybe they are older models when the engineering was better. All I know is for two brand new rifles to do exactly the same thing after 200 pellets or so sounds to me like there is quality control problems at the factory. Maybe different parts are being sourced which is cheaper for AA but maybe these parts are not up to the job.
Simply put, I will never be able to purchase another one in fear of the same thing happening again, every time I would cock the rifle I would be worried that the dreaded squeak would come back. I think for such a deadly accurate rifle and superb looking rifle AA really dropped the ball on the lever craftmanship. Interestingly enough though I have not heard of the same problem with older Pro Sports, so maybe if you have a working one keep hold of her and look after her because my experiance of the new ones has left me dissapointed.
Then there is Sandwell Field Sports. From the very start I have had nothing but good dealings with Tony and the team and I really cant urge anyone fairly local popping in to see for yourselves just how friendly the team are there. Nothing was to much effort for Tony everytime I had a problem throughout this saga. He lent me one of his rifles for as long as I needed and trusted me to look after it. Every problem I had was swiftly looked into and rectified. There are plenty of gun shops between my house and SFS but I wont go anywhere else for a rifle purchase, tin of pellets or anything else shooting related. Every visit I felt welcome and looked after. If you find a gun shop you get all of that then look after them and put your business their way because when their gone they really are gone. Tony and the team really do have a faithful following of people who travel god knows how many miles to put business his way but do so because he really is one of the best out there. I didnt really want to focus on the tuning side of things for this post but more on SFS customer service and quality.
How much fuel have I spent going back and forth to SFS over the past 2 months? Probably in the region of 100 quid, how satisfied am I with the level of service from them? 101% satisfaction!
Would I change anything? Yeah, I should have kept my original order in and not cancelled it for a Pro Sport, but then if I hadnt of done that I would always be wondering what they are like. The rifle as stated is superb and just about the best you can get off the shelf for accuracy and looks but that cocking lever just disturbs me! Its built from flimsey parts in my experiance and not engineered correctly. Maybe I was unlucky but to have two different rifles both do the same thing in the first 200 pellets makes me think there is something a miss in the factory.
The conclusion is I have now sampled Bevarian Steak and cant see me going back to British hamburger any time soon.
I will write a solid review of the stage 2 tuned 97KT at a later date if there is demand for it. At the moment its bringing me smiles from ear to ear and THAT can only be a goood thing, plus it a real pleasure to cock it and not have to dread the high pitched squeaking.