Theoben Crusader Vs. Theoben Eliminator
Pat Farey Theoben’s biggest hitters in their gas-ram range – the Crusader and the Eliminator
The most amazing display of consistent power output that I’ve ever seen from an air rifle was at the Theoben works over a decade ago, when an Eliminator FAC rifle gave a ‘spread’ of just 1fps over a ten shot string. The fact that this rifle was putting out over 20ft/lbs of muzzle energy was equally impressive. Ever since I’ve had a lot of respect for all Theoben’s gas-ram rifles – in fact I own a couple already, albeit within the 12ft/lbs (unlicensed) legal power limit.
Roll forward a few years and the FAC rated Eliminator has been joined by a slightly less powerful model – the Crusader – but it’s still a heavy hitter, and will require a Firearms Certificate. The idea of the Crusader is that Theoben should have an intermediate version of their gas-ram break barrel rifles to sit neatly between the standard 12ft/lbs Evolution series and the high power Eliminator.
A couple of months back we had the chance to try both the Eliminator and the Crusader. The Eliminator was supplied in a smart laminate sporter stock from Boyd’s, while the Crusader came in an ambidextrous (‘ambi’) walnut sporter stock from Custom Stock of Sheffield.
Taking the Eliminator stock first, the grey laminate looks and feels great. It features a high cheek-piece, chequering panels on the pistol grip and forend, and a schnabel forend. Overall this feels chunkier than the Crusader’s stock, and the pistol grip is almost at a right angle. As mentioned before, the Crusader stock is ambidextrous and features a high cheek-piece with a raised pad on both sides. The angular comb is slightly higher than that featured on the Eliminator, and the pistol grip is raked at a lesser angle. Despite the fact that these rifles are quite lengthy - and the Eliminator is over 8oz heavier than the Crusader - both their stocks help to keep them well balanced and comfortable at the shoulder. The Eliminator can be ordered with an optional walnut right hand (or left hand) sporter, or a walnut ‘ambi’ stock.
Both rifles have break barrel cocking actions and use the world famous Theoben H.E. gas ram system. The action and metal work of both guns is identical from the outside, apart from the fact that the Eliminator comes ready fitted with a ‘fixed’ set of Theoben’s own 1” Dampa scope mounts, whereas the Crusader has regular machined dovetails with a removable version of the one piece Dampa mount for more flexible mounting options. Of course this means you could use any mount you like, but the Dampa Mount is recommended as it has built in ‘suspension’ (damper) to soak up the unique recoil cycle of the gas-ram system.
The heart of all Theoben’s manually cocked rifles is their gas-ram power system. This replaces the old spring and piston of traditional air rifles with a sealed piston unit that contains compressed gas or air – similar to the idea behind the ‘shock-absorbers’ found on car or motorbike suspension systems. The Theoben H.E. (High Efficiency) System is the latest incarnation of the gas-ram, and it’s a highly sophisticated unit with an additional ‘inertia’ piston that follows the main piston and helps to smooth out recoil. The extra power required for the Eliminator and Crusader FAC rifles has been achieved by using a longer stroke piston and a specially developed piston recoil damper valve. The real beauty of the gas-ram system is that it is constant - power is consistent for thousands of rounds, there is no maintenance required and last but not least, the lock-time is faster than any comparable spring piston rifle.
A special feature of the HE power plant on the Crusader is that it uses a piston crown moulded from a heat resistant material that counteracts the high temperatures generated within the rifle. This replaces the standard seals used in the Eliminator, and helps make the firing cycle of the Crusader even smoother.
Both rifles are fitted with the latest Evolution trigger, quite possibly the best unit ever offered by Theoben on a gas ram rifle. The Evolution mechanism is 2-stage is based on a falling block system. The second stage is adjustable for weight and travel, although the company recommend that you don’t adjust 2nd stage pressure and let-off position unless you really know what you are doing. The let-off is factory set for about 1.5-2lbs, which most hunters will be more than happy with. An automatic safety – in the form of a short straight blade - sits inside the front of the trigger guard. Cocking the rifle sets the safety, pushing the blade forward disengages it. Firing condition is indicated by the position of the blade against a tag on the guard marked S – Safe or F – Fire. Even after disengaging, the safety can be re-set manually if required.
The Eliminator was fitted with a choked .22 calibre Anschütz barrel while the Crusader has a choked .20 calibre Walther barrel. Both rifles are fitted with an Evolution moderator, but you can choose a Vortex mod if you prefer, although the latter only makes a really noticeable difference (quieter than the Evolution) on pre-charged pneumatics.
Nothing sorts out the quality of pellets like an FAC rated rifle. Many pellet types are just not suitable for the high energy shock of air delivered by these rifles, and even if a pellet does give high power, it may lose accuracy at long range. It’s worth a bit of pellet experimentation with any air rifle, but with an FAC model, it’s crucial. Theoben have tested their rifles extensively, and have narrowed the field down considerably (see the Pellet Choice box). We’ve also given our own list of pellets suitable for FAC rated rifles.
The test Eliminator’s muzzle energy figures were near identical to Theoben’s at 26.4ft/lbs using the recommended .22 Air Arms Field pellets. Crosman Premier .20 calibre pellets were used in the Crusader as I’ve always had good results from them, and their elongated shape seems to particularly suit FAC rifles for downrange accuracy. Muzzle energy was a healthy 19.96ft/lbs.
When firing a pellet at FAC power levels, you are pushing it to the limit – probably putting far more stress on it than the designers ever envisaged. It is therefore even more important to check each pellet for deformities before loading, because at high power levels even the slightest abnormality could cause a flier.
Calibre tested .25 .22 .20 .177
Pellet Type (all calibres) H&N Field Target Trophy Pellets
Pellet Weight 20.1 grain 14.4 grain 11.4 grain 8.4 grains
Average Energy 21.5 ft/lbs 20 ft/lbs 19 ft/lbs 18 ft/lbs
Note; with .177 & .20 cals best accuracy may not be with H&N FT Trophy pellets
Calibre tested .25 .22 .20
Pellet Type H & N Trophy Air Arms Field Crosman Premier
Pellet Weight 20.1 grain 16 grain 14.3 grain
Average Energy 30 ft/lbs 26.8 ft/lbs 24.6 ft/lbs
Note; recommended pellets for both power and accuracy
GunMart FAC pellet recommendations;
.177, .22 and .20 where available; Air Arms Field, Bisley Long Range Gold, Bisley Magnums, Crosman Premier, Crosman Accupell, Daystate FT, Daystate High Impact, Daystate Varminter HP, Eley Magnum, H&N Barracuda, H&N Field Target Trophy, Weihrauch Magnum
.25 calibre; Bisley Magnums, Bisley Superfield, BSA Pylarm, H&N Barracuda, H&N FT Trophy
Obviously cocking these rifles requires a bit more effort than cocking a 12ft/lbs legal limit rifle – as would be expected - but combined length of breech block, barrel and sound moderator is quite substantial at about 21”, giving significant leverage, so they are quite manageable for an average adult. Nevertheless, the 20ft/lbs Crusader required considerably less muscle power than the 26.8ft/lbs Eliminator.
To get the best accuracy from these gas-ram rifles you have to follow a fixed routine. The first thing is to make sure that you don’t strangle the rifle. Hold it firmly but gently to allow the firing cycle to operate unhindered. Don’t rest the rifle directly onto a hard surface for support when aiming, as this will wreck any attempt at accuracy. You can rest your hand on a supporting surface then put the rifle onto your hand if necessary. Finally, although the gas-ram system gives a super fast lock time, it is vital to follow-through on the shot. Following this regime proved these two rifles to be extremely accurate with very little felt recoil.
From a rested shooting position at 35 yards, the best five shot group that I managed with the Eliminator was 0.5” and a slightly tighter group with the Crusader. At 50 yards these opened up to just under an inch with the Eliminator, but a very satisfying 0.65” with the Crusader. I have no doubt whatsoever that both these rifles would exhibit similar accuracy at 60 or even 70 yards, however, I don’t believe that extended range is what an FAC rifle is all about.
Why an FAC air rifle?
There are many reasons for owning an FAC air rifle, but in my opinion the main two are that they are more efficient, delivering considerably more lethal energy to the target than a legal limit rifle, and they will give a much flatter trajectory – therefore they are more forgiving and require less holdover. They also give far fewer problems with over penetration or over travel than a rimfire might at close range, so should be easier to get ‘on ticket’, especially when intended to be used on a small piece of land or one that is fairly near to a populated area.
I don’t believe that FAC air rifles should be used to shoot larger quarry than those traditionally shot with an air rifle, nor greatly extend the range at which you shoot them. Your maximum range with a standard air rifle should always be the distance that you can put five out of five pellets into a one inch circle, and that applies equally to FAC rated air rifles.
These two test rifles both have there merits, but despite the higher power and superb stock of the Eliminator, I think it would be the Crusader that would get the vote of most air rifle users.
They are both accurate and abundantly powerful; at 50yds both rifles will deliver around 12ft/lbs of energy at the target – that’s the equivalent of putting the muzzle to the quarry’s head. However, the Crusader is certainly less strenuous to cock and it’s ‘no frills’ ambidextrous stock is well suited to its pest control role. Last but not least, it’s considerably cheaper than the Eliminator.
On the other hand, if you have the muscle, and you want the most powerful and accurate ‘mechanical’ air rifle available, then the Eliminator might be your choice – especially if you like that superb laminate stock.
|Model||Crusader / Eliminator|
|Manufacturer||Theoben – both rifles|
|Calibre||.20 on test / .22 on test
(.177, .20, .22 and .25 calibres available)
|Stock||Ambidextrous walnut sporter / Laminate sporter|
|Scope mount||Dovetails with Dampa Mount (removable) / Fixed Dampa Mount|
|Weight (unscoped)||8lbs 3oz / 8.9 lbs|
|Overall Length||48” (with Evolution Silencer) – both rifles|
|Barrel length||16” choked barrel (not including silencer) – both rifles|
|Barrel length||21” with Evolution sound moderator – both rifles|
|Action||Break barrel cocking, HE gas-ram syatem, FAC rated - both rifles|
|Trigger||Evolution two stage adjustable unit and auto safety – both rifles|
|Prices||£523 (with Evolution silencer as test rifle) £662
£508 (with optional Vortex silencer) £678
All Prices Are Guides Due to the Changes in US & European Exchange Rates