Benjamin Trail Nitro-Piston (NP) air rifle
By: Mark Camoccio
Explosive stuff? Mark Camoccio tests the Benjamin Trail Nitro-Piston (NP) air rifle
If one design deserves credit for standing the test of time, it has to be the classic break-barrel configuration. Many shooters ‘cut their teeth’ with this type of rifle, so unsurprisingly these fast-fire sporters are still regarded with much affection.
The British company, Theoben Engineering gave us a new take on the theme, when they introduced their highly innovative gas-ram system, back in the early ‘80’s, but now, as a brand new decade beckons, several other companies are jumping on the bandwagon, incorporating variations on the gas-ram concept into their own products. One such company to adopt the system is Crosman, who have really expanded their range of airguns over the last few years. This major American manufacturer now sports the famous Benjamin brand in its product portfolio, and with their new Trail NP (Nitro-Piston) model catching my eye a while back, I knew it was only a matter of time before I put one through its paces. As it panned out, an extended loan period has allowed for a thorough evaluation, so let’s take a closer look.
It’s a gas
For those unfamiliar with the idea, the gas-ram or gas-strut (something like the shock absorber on a car) as it’s sometimes known, is a power plant which completely replaces a conventional mainspring. Instead of the spring, an internal chamber/cylinder, contains air or gas of some sort, which is compressed when the rifle is cocked. On firing, the compressed air/gas is allowed to expand rapidly, (but not escape) powering the piston, which compresses air ahead of it and propels the pellet, in the usual way. The internal chamber is a self-contained unit, and as such, shouldn’t need topping up.
Looks and build
The Trail NP is a slickly presented rifle. Unusually, it comes supplied as a package, with a ‘Center Point’ 3-9X40 telescopic sight and mounts all included. The scope includes Mil Dots in the spec which all adds to the usability of this combo. My test rifle even came with an attractive Benjamin padded sling, although the packaging claimed this to be a ‘bonus’, so maybe a case of ‘whilst stocks last’.
Crosman’s ingenious Crosblock safety gadget comes fitted to the Trail too, which is a simple plastic device which effectively safely locks the trigger. A small ‘key’ is used to remove it, and Crosman deserve praise here for taking a lead in assuring our sport’s safety record is upheld.
A sleek thumbhole stock, integral sling swivels and fully shrouded barrel, all add to the Trail’s purposeful look, and once handled, it becomes clear that some serious thought has been applied to this rifle’s design.
That thumbhole stock is fashioned from hardwood (probably beech), and whilst rather bland with little graining, the pleasant light shade is most acceptable. Ergonomics wise though, that blissfully sleek fore-end reminded me of my old Airmasters ’77 sporter stock; with the palm of the hand able to cup the tip of the stock perfectly, when in the aim.
Subtle finger grooves and a fairly upright grip also assist control, and the overall handling is impressive. A soul-less black synthetic option is of course available, but my advice would be to plump for this hardwood version every time. With the butt capped off with a supremely soft, ventilated pad, this fully ambidextrous woodwork certainly gets the thumbs up from me, as a general sporting configuration.
Metal finish on this Chinese made Trail model, is not quite up to European standards, being a little lack lustre and patchy in places, yet to be fair, you have to look very closely to really pick up on this.
With the full-length barrel shroud comes an expansion chamber, incorporated into the last few inches at the muzzle. The near seamless construction of the shroud itself adds to the sleek profile, whilst the raised Picatinny scope rail brazed to the cylinder is further evidence of attention to detail. This rail, coupled with the interlocking scope mounts provided, makes scope creep a thing of the past, and adds confidence where it matters.
With ‘NP’ as previously stated, standing for Nitro Piston, this Trail model clearly has some interesting technology onboard, so I was keen to see just how it felt in use. Where Theoben toyed with a contained chamber of Argon gas, and latterly, just plain air, Crosman/Benjamin use Nitrogen in the case of the Trail.
Cocking the action requires the shrouded barrel to be snapped down, and initially, just jolting the barrel free from its solid, spring-loaded détente, proved to be quite demanding. That initial stiffness seemed to ease though, and with added technique applied i.e. a swift jolt downwards, the procedure soon became second nature.
It’s at this point that the contrast between this gas-ram and a conventional mainspring set-up becomes clear. The downwards compression stroke, when undertaken in one bold sweeping action, is both incredibly smooth, and fairly easy to complete. With no mainspring involved the Nitro-Piston is primed free from any ‘graunch’ and spring noise. The firing cycle is ultra smooth and slick too, completely free from any extended vibrations, sometimes associated with spring rifles.
Crosman’s marketing spells out the benefits of their ‘Nitro-Piston Technology’ over a conventional spring/piston set-up, with the major claim being that the Nitro-Piston power plant will produce 70% less noise than a conventional ‘springer’. I didn’t have the facility to test if this claim was born out, but what I can confirm is that the firing characteristics of this action are quite exceptional. The action is indeed pretty quiet, and the felt recoil characteristics amount to what’s best described as a quick snap, devoid of vibration.
The Trail NP comes fitted with a two- stage trigger, but here lies my only reservation with this rifle. Having dabbled with the adjustment screw, I just couldn’t significantly reduce the amount of creep felt on the second stage; thus trigger operation remained somewhat disappointing. Taking up the first stage, then carefully pulling through the movement of the sears, is the routine that needs to be adopted, but this rifle deserves a crisper unit in my view.
Whilst shooting this rifle on the range, several other aspects become apparent. Firstly, it is not possible to de-cock the Trail (by holding the barrel against pressure, pulling the trigger, and slowly releasing the barrel upwards). In other words, once the action is cocked, it needs to be fired off at some point. As a technicality, the nature of the gas-ram also has other benefits, such as little or no torque when compared to a conventional mainsprings. That is to say the rotational twist effect when a spring moves forward, is absent from the gas-ram arrangement; in theory at least, aiding handling.
During the course of my testing, I checked for power shifts in different temperatures, and velocity remained stable, In addition, I also left the Trail cocked for several hours and then re-checked velocity readings at the end of the time period, with no distinct difference in power recorded.
The lock-time incidentally, feels phenomenally quick - another expected characteristic of the gas-ram system. [Editor’s Note: Lock-time in airgun terms is the time between operating the trigger and the pellet leaving the muzzle. This is significant considering the relatively low velocities involved in airguns, as the faster the lock-time, the less likely you are to pull off aim – ‘follow through’ is a lot more important than some people think]
Over 30yds, using a variety of pellets, the Trail printed some reasonable groups, with 3/4inch probably more representative. Once I really took the time with the trigger, however, the groups tightened even more, and Crosman Accupell’s just edged the tests, posting some, just better than half inch.
One point to note here regards the seating of pellets. With no chamfer at the breech face, tight fitting pellets can sit proud and run the risk of being damaged as the barrel is locked up. I soon found myself firmly seating pellets as part of the routine, which is good practise in any case.
From the kneeling position in particular, I found the thumbhole stock really came into its own, and some equally tight groups put a smile on the face. Standing however, was less decisive, and I had to work hard for results; but I reckon this would improve with more practise and familiarity.
Long term conclusions
Overall, after several months of evaluation, I’ve grown rather fond of this rifle. Whilst I don’t buy the marketing line that gas-ram equals easier accuracy over a springer, what it does bring is an extremely slick and pleasant shooting rifle. Combine that in the case of the Trail, with sleek woodwork and that all-inclusive package, and I reckon for a general purpose hunting combo or starter package, Crosman have come up trumps.
|Model||Benjamin Trail Nitro-Piston (Wood)|
|Type||Gas-ram (Nitro-Piston) break barrel sporter|
|Barrel Length||15.5inches approx|
|Stock||Hardwood thumbhole sporter|
|Options||Synthetic stocked version|
All Prices Are Guides Due to the Changes in US & European Exchange Rates