Hydrotech’s Matt King and Toni Day explain the benefits of purpose-made airgun charging kit and explain their quest to educate airgunners about how to fill their PCP.
It’s often the most important working parts of a product that you notice the least. Many car owners spend hours polishing their vehicles to perfection while ignoring the workings under the bonnet; in the shooting world, the choice of rifle and scope is long agonised over, but scope mounts – which are just as key to shot precision – are treated as an afterthought.
When it comes to airguns, it’s PCP charging kit that gets the unappreciative treatment. No one knows that more than Matt King and Toni Day of Hydrotech, which supplies purpose-made airgun charging equipment to the trade, but they’ve come to accept it in a way. “At the end of the day it’s a very simple thing – you put air into it, you go away and shoot,” says Matt. “We appreciate that airgunners just want it to work and don’t particularly care about the technical details. But we want to be proud of it and do the best we can.
“Our aim is to make something that looks good, works perfectly and isn’t going to break. It might not make people go ‘wow’ – but that’s what happens when you make something that works well. They don’t even notice it, as it doesn’t get in the way of them going out and having a good day’s shooting.”
Based at the UK’s largest inland dive centre, Stoney Cove, Hydrotech is unashamed about its diving-based history – but Matt and Toni are at pains to emphasise that their stock is specifically designed and made for the airgun market, rather than just being imported from the diving trade. “Of the cylinders we sell there isn’t any part that you could exchange back to the dive market again. Everything has been adapted to purpose, even if it looks the same.”
But there are advantages to this diving heritage: “We’ve been able to use so many of our contacts from the dive side, to get more products into the airgun side. In the airgun market, a hose was a hose for a very long time. They were made of rubber, they kinked, they broke. We have a company on the dive side called Miflex who make some of the best hoses you can get, made from braided nylon. They made us something that would suit the airgun market – as a result we have a hose you can tie in a complete knot without kinking. You show people and they’re astounded by it.”
“It was five or six years ago when we first noticed the airgun market,” says Toni, “but actually we’d been supplying it for some time before that – we just didn’t realise!” Matt explains: “We noticed that our dealers were buying an unusually high number of 300BAR cylinders. We did some research and realised they were being used on PCP airguns – but they were being cobbled together from a conglomeration of adaptors and fittings. What was happening was, one guy was showing his friend his new PCP air rifle, and this friend was saying, ‘Hang on a minute, I’ve got a dive cylinder that’ll fill that,’ but it was just a mismatch of parts.
“The airgun market now is where the dive industry was some years ago – still finding out how it all works. We realised we could use our more ‘advanced’ knowledge to help people. We went back to our Italian supplier and made a considerable investment in parts for the PCP market.”
That resulted in cylinders that were not only safer to use but also brought bonuses for users and dealers. “One main difference is that, since airgun-specific cylinders are for surface use only, they only need to be tested every five years as opposed to every two and a half,” says Matt. “So by buying made-for-purpose gear you’re instantly saving yourself maybe £35 in two and a half years.
“On top of that you don’t have to buy any other adaptors or gauges – ours already have that built in.
“They also have a removable airflow restrictor. It’s a bit of a Marmite product – some dealers told us they wouldn’t stock any products that didn’t have a restrictor while others said they’d never stock one that did! So we put one in the hose so it can be removed – it was really the first time it’d been done.”
Safety is a major issue when it comes to compressed air – and Matt admits this can lead to a general reluctance among airgunners to really get to grips with the product and learn how to use it properly. “I think people do have a lot to learn. They’re nervous, which is understandable. There can be a lot of misinformation out there. But they are willing to ask – they’ll ring us directly and say, ‘What do I do?’ Which is much better than just trying it.
“Still, there are a few misunderstandings you do need to try and quell. For example, the removable airflow restrictor – it slows the air down so you can’t damage the seals in the rifle. What it doesn’t do is automatically cut it off at the pressure you need to work at – some people think you can just open it and let it flow. I’ve seen people argue that it does this; it’s not how it works! But all our kit comes with instructions to it so people can understand what it does. There’s no witchcraft in our products – it’s all physics, it’s all simple and we’re happy to explain it to people.”
Hydrotech carries out this education directly, by talking to end users and making appearances at game fairs. It puts the same level of effort into trade support, too. “There is more to us than just the supply of cylinders and charging kits,” says Toni. “Our product range also includes pellets, gunbags, and a wide range of connectors and adaptors. We are always looking for new products to complement our range and have some exciting products in the pipeline.
“Plus, we have a guy out on the road. He’s a rep but he also carries product, so customers can be supplied straight away. The cylinders that come off the van are already filled – it’s a big bonus and it means that pellets can be hand-delivered, avoiding any concerns over damage that can often occur in the post.
“In general, I think we go the extra step for our dealers. Customers are so important to us – they’re our business – so we’ll do anything for them, and I think we’re well known for that.”
Matt concludes: “The other day I took one of our cylinders directly to an end user, who was just down the road from us, on behalf of one of our customers. We could have posted it – but the guy needed to go shooting, and that’s what we wanted him to be able to do.”