Diana Model 56 is a sidelever-operated spring-powered rifle that minimises felt recoil due to an integrated sled system. Mike Morton discovers whether this Diana really is a goddess.
“The Diana Model 56 TH is a rifle that defies convention and doesn’t just dare to be different, but revels in it. If you’re looking for something truly out of the ordinary, this is it.”
The Diana Model 56 – in depth
When people think of spring-powered air rifles, their thoughts usually turn to the traditional break-barrel or the underlever – but there is a third option. And that’s the sidelever.
Like an underlever, a sidelever rifle has a fixed barrel, which some people feel makes the rifle more accurate than a breakbarrel – but that’s a conversation to be had on another occasion. The main difference between a sidelever and an underlever is the fact that – unsurprisingly – the cocking mechanism is mounted on the side. (Read Bruce Potts’s review of the Diana Model 48).
Sidelevers were very popular years ago, but have somewhat fallen out of fashion. Diana is one of the few major manufacturers to keep sidelever rifles in its modern-day inventory.
There’s a lot more to the Diana Model 56 than just its sidelever, though: it features a type of sled system that turns the rifle into a semi-recoilless design. When the gun is fired, the entire action slides inside the stock, absorbing almost all felt recoil.
German manufacturer Diana takes its name from the Roman goddess of hunting. Diana is usually portrayed as a slim, nymph-like woman, while the Diana Model 56 is anything but. It’s a big, heavy rifle, measuring 113cm long and weighing in at a hefty 5.1kg – and that’s without a scope. But it’s solid and dependable, and is also a beauty – just not necessarily in the conventional sense.
If the Model 56 was a Game of Thrones character, there’s no way it would be Daenerys Targaryen, but it’d be a perfect match for Brienne of Tarth. And which one would you rather have next to you in a fight?
Analogy over, let’s look at the specifics. The Model 56 features an ambidextrous wooden thumbhole stock with a lacquered finish. I love the look of oiled walnut and blued metalwork, but the Model 56 is a no-nonsense rifle that’s been built to perform, and as such the metal has been treated to a practical fingerprint-friendly matt black finish that complements the lacquered wood. The butt pad is adjustable for height and is a little more curved than normal, which does help lock the rifle in place in your shoulder pocket.
Just like an underlever, sidelevers can take a longer scope because the barrel doesn’t hinge up and get in the way as it would with a break-barrel during the cocking stroke. This works well with the stock design, because the Monte Carlo comb lifts your head quite high, promoting the use of a larger optic with this scope-only gun.
The pistol grip has a moderate amount of palm swell, and felt great in my hand, even though my hands are tiny. The grip has two small panels of laser-cut multi-directional chequering on each side, and these feel really grippy. The forend also features two panels each side, but while the chequering looks identical to that on the pistol grip, it didn’t have the same grippy feel for some reason. This is less important than it sounds, however, because of the shape of the stock.
The Diana Model 56 Target Hunter, to give it its full title, is designed for precision hunting and target shooting, and the underside of the forend is completely flat, with a pronounced shelf just forward of the trigger guard that lets you adopt the artillery hold, should you wish, while the flat section forward of the shelf lets you rest the rifle directly on a shooting bag or backpack – something that rarely works well with springers.
The metalwork’s even matt-black finish is set off well by the shiny compression chamber, while the sidelever has been tipped with a rubberised black cap – partly to protect the metal as it lays flat against the side of the action and partly to offer a bit more comfort during the cocking cycle. The barrel has been fitted with a muzzle weight, which makes the gun slightly muzzle-heavy when scoped up. This adds to the overall weight, but does make it more stable when held on target – at least for short periods of time.
A different action
The test rifle came supplied with an Edgar Brothers 5-20×50 scope, which was a good choice for squeezing the utmost accuracy from the Model 56. The 11mm dovetail rail is 15.5cm long, enough to achieve good eye relief.
One big problem I had was running out of elevation as the rifle was shooting very low. I tried two other scopes, a Bushnell Elite 4200 and a Hawke Airmax, and ran out of elevation with these scopes too, so ended up swapping back to the original Edgar Brothers optic. The scope was shimmed for the shooting part of this review, and the problem was eventually solved by fitting adjustable Sportsmatch mounts, which restored the full range of adjustment to the scope.
The scope rail isn’t machined into the action – it’s a separate part – so I’d like to see Diana introduce an optional 20 or even 30 MOA rail, which would avoid the need for shimming or seeking out specialised scope mounts.
Cocking a sidelever is distinctly different from an underlever, and you’ll need to adopt a system that works for you. I tried various methods, and the one that worked best for me was to brace the rifle with the butt pad against my upper right thigh. The sidelever takes quite a lot of effort to cock – but then, it has quite a lot of work to do, as the cocking stroke also sets the automatic safety and shifts the entire action 15mm forwards inside the stock. This is initially quite unnerving, but is part of the Model 56’s recoil management system. As with anything new, it feels a little unnatural at first, but after a few hundred pellets you won’t even notice it’s happening.
Loading the rifle is direct to breech, and the loading area is more generous than usual due to the extended cut-out necessitated by the location of the sidelever. The excellent Hawke scope I fitted was very long, overhanging the loading bay, but seating a pellet was still really easy to do, and the job was even simpler with the shorter Edgar Brothers and Bushnell scopes.
The sidelever is on the right-hand side of the action, and although the rifle is fitted with an anti-bear trap mechanism, it’s always good practice to keep the lever under full control while loading the gun. I found the simplest method was to hold the rifle in my left hand while hooking my right elbow over the top of the lever and loading the pellet with my right hand. When it’s time to close the lever, you need to depress a catch on the left-hand side of the action to let the compression chamber ride over the ratchet as the lever hinges forward.
The safety catch is a shotgun-style affair, comprised of a tab that pops out the rear of the action. When you can see both a white dot and a red dot, the safety catch is engaged. To take a shot, push the catch forwards until only the red dot is visible and the rifle is now ready to fire. Should you wish to cancel the shot and re-apply the safety, just pull the sidelever back until the auto safety engages once again. The two-stage trigger is a delight to use and belies the overall heft of the Model 56. The weight was a respectable 1lb 1oz out of the box, as measured with my Lyman digital gauge. The first stage was long, while the second stage was short and crisp – and that was without making any adjustment at all. Length of pull was a comfortable 36cm.
Weird but wonderful
Firing the rifle is an enlightening experience. I mentioned earlier that this rifle can be shot off bags. This is due to the recoil management mechanism that lets the rifle itself recoil while the stock stays fairly still. The gun is muzzle-heavy, which helps hold the crosshairs over the target, while the trigger is relatively light. It’s a noisy gun, and noise is usually a prelude to large amounts of recoil, but the sled system combined with the rifle’s overall weight means the Model 56 is a spring-powered rifle that thinks it’s a PCP. That opens up a whole world of possibilities for taking rested shots, as well as the regular springer-friendly shooting stances.
The firing cycle was so unusual that I decided to make a slow-motion video using my iPhone. Sure enough, the rifle recoils as normal, while seeing the stock remain still in your shoulder is anything but normal. It’s a weird but wonderful system, and it really does work!
Over the chrono, the .22 Diana 56 on test was superb, delivering an average velocity of 555 feet per second with a variation of just 3 fps over a 10-shot string using weighed pellets. I’ve taken to weighing all my pellets for chrono testing: it means the results are a fairer representation of what the gun is capable of achieving, as they are not skewed by any external factors such as inconsistency in pellet weight. (There will always be some in any tin, no matter how high or low the quality.) This rifle is more than raw data, however, and its accuracy was excellent, easily passing the 5p group test at 30 yards, and outshooting a .22 PCP that was being shot at the same time at the same range into the bargain. (Read our list of the best chronographs for air rifles.)
The Model 56 is subtitled the Target Hunter. Could it be used for hunting? Certainly, although its weight means it would be better suited to static hunting than a roving shoot. But on the range or in outdoor competition are where this rifle excels, where its weight and centre of balance can be used to help rather than hinder, especially in conjunction with that flat-bottomed stock.
Is this rifle the right purchase for the first-time airgun buyer? No. It’s too heavy, expensive and specialised for that. But it’s an excellent choice for the serious airgun enthusiast who’s prepared to put in the time and money to exploit the features this rifle has to offer. It may be a bit of a beast, but it performs beautifully.
Maker: Diana, www.diana-airguns.de UK Distributor: Edgar Brothers, www.edgarbrothers.com Model: 56 TH (Target Hunter) Price: £707 Type: Spring-piston sidelever Calibre: .177 and .22 (on test) Loading: Single-shot, direct to breech Overall Length: 113cm Barrel Length: 44cm Weight: 5.1kg Stock: Thumbhole Length of pull: 36cm Trigger: Two-stage, adjustable Trigger Weight: 1lb 1oz Safety: Automatic, resettable Power: 11.37ft lb
Look & Feel: 8 Stock: 9 Build Quality: 9 Sights: 7 Cocking: 8 Loading: 10 Trigger: 8 Handling: 7 Accuracy: 9 Value: 7