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What types of air rifles are available & which is best for me? Gary Chillingworth presents the options, from PCPs to springers
When you walk into an airgun store, you will be greeted with an array of rifles, pistols, scopes, air tanks and a whole plethora of other things that are shiny and bright and that you ‘must have’. You will look up at the racks, eyes drawn to rifles that might be stunning and wonderful to own, but in reality they could be totally wrong for the type of shooting that you want to do. So, this month, I’ll be looking at the different types of rifles on the market and which might be best for what you want. Air Gunner is also launching a new video series, and I will be producing a video on this very subject, so look out for that, unless you own a 4K TV. Trust me, you do not want to see my ugly mug in 4K – it’s bad enough in real life.
OK, So where do we begin? The first thing that you need to do is decide where you’re going to shoot, and at what range. Are you a garden plinker with 10 yards, or are you going to be travelling the world, shooting field target? These are important questions because if you are a plinker who plans to have fun in the garden, then buying a top-of-the-line FTP900 will become boring very quickly. These rifles are designed to shoot out to 55 yards with pin-point accuracy, so at 10 yards, they will hit everything you aim at with ease. Of course, if you are interested in shooting garden bench rest, like my friend, Jason Lockett, then an FTP or HFT500 could be a great choice.
To break it down, there are four main types of propulsion for air rifles; CO2, gas-ram, spring and pre-charged pneumatic – or PCP for short.
CO2 is mainly used in pistols, but there are certain rifles like the Hamerlli CR20 (target rifle) and the 850 AirMagnum that use it to great effect for target shooting. Unlike PCPs, you don’t need to get a diver’s tank full of gas because CO2 comes in 12g capsules that fit into the rifle, and each capsule will give a rifle or pistol a certain number of shots before it needs to be replaced. CO2 rifles have a tendency to be great at shorter ranges – out to 30 yards – and are what you would sometimes call ‘fun’ rifles. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not criticising this medium; the CO2 rifle is very important for the world of shooting, but they can be affected by temperature, and out to 45 yards-plus they are not as efficient as PCP or spring. They do have a tendency to be cheaper than PCPs, though, and don’t need cocking like gas-rams and springers, and even though the cost of shooting them is higher because of the CO2 caplets – 20 for £15 – they are generally fun to shoot and a perfect plinker.
One of my favourites is the Umarex Legends Cowboy lever-action – modelled by my lovely assistant, Dave. This rifle is a modern-day take on the old Winchester lever-action used by the likes of John Wayne, and when you rack the action and the cartridge ejects from the side, it takes you back to watching those old Western movies. Rifles like this are perfect garden plinkers; they are great fun to shoot, will give you enough challenge to keep you interested, and with the iron sights they’re designed to be shot from the shoulder and enjoyed. Would you use one in an HFT competition? Well, you could, and I think I will, for a bit of fun, but that is not what they are really designed for.
Next is the gas-ram, which is essentially a recoiling rifle, like a springer, but instead of using a spring it uses a hydraulic ram to create the pressure to fire a pellet. They are mainly made by Weihrauch and Gamo, and have a reputation for being almost indestructible. The firing cycle can be a little harsh, but they are fairly easy to use and have good accuracy. The only downside is that unlike a springer they can’t really be tuned up, but if you want a rifle that recoils and has almost zero maintenance, then a gas-ram rifle could be for you. If you want to use one in competition, you will be in the spring class and you will need to choose a rifle that can have a scope fitted, something like the Weirauch HW90 or the Gamo HPA Mi. If plinking is your thing, then there are lots of gas-rams from Gamo that come with iron sights and are great for garden fun – rifles like the Norica Phantom or Elegance.
The next category is springers and as I am the captain of the Air Arms springer team, it’s fair to say that I have some bias, but for me, spring is the thing and there is nothing better in this world then a warm TX200. I love the TX because it’s the perfect rifle; it is no more or less accurate then say an HW97, but what makes it so special is ease of ownership. I can strip my rifle down in under five minutes and fully service it. I don’t need to take the scope off, and when I put it back together, it still holds its zero.
A quality spring gun is the perfect all-round rifle. You can shoot one in competition, and they have a degree of difficulty in shooting so that you can sit at home and work on your technique. You can upgrade them and replace springs and compression tubes, and a properly tuned rifle is almost as accurate as a PCP. Basically, go and buy a good springer! Yes, I am biased and I don’t care, sorry.
The pre-charged pneumatic rifle is a wonderful and awesome piece of engineering. It utilises a very high pressure cylinder 200bar-plus – remembering that a car tyre is 2 to 3bar – and will throw a lead pellet 40-odd yards to a degree of accuracy that is truly amazing. An entry-level PCP is capable of shooting a sub-5p-piece size group at 45 yards with ease, and in the hands of a good shooter, groups like this at longer distances can be easily achieved.
I’m not going to bang on about the PCP because there has been article after article written about them, but to be honest, if you want a rifle that is easy to shoot, can be used at home or in competition, and you are aware that you will need to buy an air tank or pump then you can’t go wrong with a rifle like a S400, Goldstar, HW100, but if this is the route you go down and you only have your garden to shoot in, don’t buy a large target. You will be shooting tight groups, so get a pellet catcher that can hold a paper target and like my friend, Jason, work on your bench rest skills.
Personally, I would have a spring gun for competition, a PCP for hunting, and I’m going to order a CO2 lever-action rifle for fun, and channel my inner cowboy. Enjoy your shooting!
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