by B.B. Pelletier
Testing by Earl “Mac” McDonald
The R1 Elite Series combo comes with a Bushnell 4-12×40AO scope mounted.
Well, we had to get to the Beeman R1 before long. After all, it’s a Weihrauch rifle and probably the one model that American airgunners are the most familiar with. Back in its heyday, which was the very early 1980s, it was, for a brief time, the most powerful spring-piston air rifle around. It was also the first airgun to be designed by a CAD system.
The engineer who did the computer work for Dr. Beeman meets me every year at the Little Rock Airgun Expo, and he sometimes tells me tidbits of what that development was like. At the time, they didn’t have a large body of test data to design from, so they modeled all sorts of possible performance enhancements until they found the correct blend.
The R1 sprang from the HW35, which was, and still is, a large spring-piston air rifle that doesn’t seem to live up to its size. Tuners back in the 1970s found there was very little they could do to boost the power of the HW35 powerplant much over what the factory puts out. The rifle was a 750 f.p.s. rifle in top trim in .177 caliber at a time when the FWB 124, Diana 45 and BSF 55 rifles were all topping 800 f.p.s.
The solution turned out not to be a more powerful mainspring. In fact, when the R1 was Lazerized by the Beeman company about a year after the gun was first offered, the cocking effort dropped several pounds as the power increased. The solution turned out to be swept volume of the piston. The diameter of the piston could not get much larger than it already was, because the HW35 compression tube was already quite wide. The piston stroke was where most of the increase had to come from. Beeman called the new rifle the R1, short for the first Beeman-specified model air rifle. HW called the gun the HW80, which records the stroke of the piston in millimeters.
The R1 was developed by Beeman in cooperation with Weihrauch, but when the time came for the first rifles to be built, the R1 stocks required a larger piece of wood than the HW80 models, so the HW80 rifles actually hit the market several months before the R1 while they waited for custom-ordered stocks. The HW80 had to be set to the power limits of whichever country it would be sold in. For Germany, that would be 7.5 joules, which is about 6 foot-pounds. That’s such a low power level that you can see there wasn’t much incentive to build a new 9-lb. monster breakbarrel rifle. In the United Kingdom, the power limit was higher, at 12 foot-pounds. Even then, the HW80 was huge for the power it put out.
Only in the United States, where airgun power is unrestricted, did it make sense to build an air rifle this large and heavy. Therefore, the HW80 took an instant back seat to the much more powerful R1 when it finally came out. When it did come out, it was awesome! The reigning power champ of the day was the FWB 124, just barely topping 12 foot-pounds, or in terms more airgunners can understand, a muzzle velocity of about 820 f.p.s. with medium-weight .177 caliber pellets. Suddenly, the new Beeman gun was cranking out 940 f.p.s. Before another year had passed, the 1,000 f.p.s. threshold had been passed for the first time by a spring rifle.
Did I mention that the R1 is large? Compared to it, a Winchester model 70 in .30-06 seems like a scout rifle, weighing several pounds less and extending several inches shorter. When you heft an R1 to your shoulder, you know you’re holding something. Even though I’ve been in airgunning seriously for many years and have held hundreds of different air rifles, every time I shoulder an R1 I’m impressed all over again. Factor that into your desire to own one. It’s not an all-day plinker by anyone’s definition.
The gun Mac is testing is actually the Beeman R1 Elite Series combo that consists of the rifle with a Bushnell 4-12×40AO scope that comes mounted from Pyramyd Air. The one on Mac’s test rifle sits in Sportsmatch rings, and he notes that the scope sits close to the spring tube, as you would expect.
Mac’s test rifle is .22 caliber. We decided to do that because of the power potential of the gun. He reports that the wood has the same checkering as the HW97. The staining could be nicer on his test gun he says, but the red rubber buttpad is fitted very well. There are no open sights on this model, as the scope will be the sighting system.
The metal is deeply blued and highly polished. The muzzlebrake is just over four inches long and provides the ideal handle for cocking the rifle. As a safety precaution, remember to never let go of the barrel when it’s open.
The barrel is nearly 20 inches long, as less than a half-inch of muzzlebrake sticks past the true muzzle. This barrel is a full-diameter steel barrel, rifled in the traditional style. So, you’re getting quality that harkens from three decades ago and isn’t seen that often today. I mention that to help explain the price, which is $600 for the basic rifle with no sights.
What about the price?
This needs to be said. The R1 is not a cheap air rifle. For the price, you get a German-made rifle with the world-famous Rekord trigger, a solid wood stock, a full-diameter steel barrel, one of the largest powerplants on the market today, a world-class telescope mounting platform and a metal finish that puts most other spring rifles to shame. You do get what you pay for, but with all the Chinese competition coming in around $150 less, many shooters are not going to see the value here.
The R1 was expensive when it first hit the streets back in 1980, and it’s always been on the high end of the spring-gun range. If you don’t value the features it offers, it’s not the air rifle for you. If you find the physical size too imposing, it may also not be a good choice. Choose an R1 because you know what it is, and it’s what you want in an air rifle.
This will be an interesting report, because Mac has made a discovery that many of you have also made by following this blog. It worked for him just as I know it’ll work for you. I won’t tell you what he discovered until we get to it, but it makes this report quite interesting.