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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. 

Heavy hitters

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.

High Efficiency

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.

Pellet Choice

Theoben Crusader
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

Theoben Eliminator
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

Operating

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.

Conclusions

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.

Technical Specifications
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

Gun Mart Shooters Forum - Get Involved in the Discussion!
User Comments
  • Love the review' please give more. I'll looking to get the Eliminator in 25 Caliber soon and need all the information I can get.
    Thanks

    Comment by: Ozell Harrison Jr     Posted on: 27 Apr 2009 at 01:39 AM

  • I'm a big fan of the Eliminator as you have probably guessed, and I'm also one of the few big supporters (in the UK) of .25 calibre. However, it really does depend on what you are going to use the rifle for. Most pest control jobs would be done equally well with the Crusader - which will give easier cocking - and a smaller calibre pellet, that will have a flatter trajectory.

    If you are determined to get the Eliminator in .25, it's important that you choose the most compatible pellet, as the bigger the calibre the more critical it becomes to get the right ammunition. Theoben use H&N FT Trophy pellets for testing the .25 and they are a good place to start.

    Comment by: pat farey     Posted on: 27 Apr 2009 at 11:18 AM

  • Steve from KY historic let me try one w/ Hawke Scope in .20 and it's the most accurate piece I've ever owned. My Crow Magnum is dialed back for accuracy. The truth is, Steve set up the Hawke scope on the Cruser. I set up the scope on the Crow. I'm looking thru the edge of the glass because of the fixed rings. I will eventually figure out the mechanical center of my new Hawke (No. 2) . If anyone ever reads this, go to

    www.kyhistoricsalvage.com

    Ask for Steve and you are in VERY good hands.

    Rikc

    Comment by: Rick     Posted on: 28 Oct 2010 at 03:37 AM

  • Well I'm after help with the accuracy of my Crusader, at 40m its a pack of poo tickets! I'm using JSB exacts, .20 dome headed, in the black plastic container. I was working on a theory that it doesnt like to shoot often so I was waiting 5 or 10 min between shots, the first two were good, but they started to spead out. One thing is for certain, I cant hold a sight picture due to the recoil and this could be a problem, I think if it was held down tightly it may improve but I cant really hold it that hard on every shot.
    Any suggestion?

    Comment by: Ken Moran     Posted on: 13 Nov 2011 at 04:06 AM

  • The last thing you want to do is hold it tighter. Recoiling air rifles are best held firmly enough to keep them on target yet loose enough to go through their recoil cycle. Are you shooting off a benchrest or free-hand?

    Comment by: pat farey     Posted on: 13 Nov 2011 at 10:14 AM

  • A home made rest with piece of foam for a rest, it has a rubber butt piece to rest on. Do you know much about those pellets?
    cheers
    Ken

    Comment by: Ken Moran     Posted on: 13 Nov 2011 at 10:33 PM

  • Rests don't work well with gas-ram or spring/piston air rifles, only pneumatics. When shooting a gas-ram or spring/piston air rifle, always keep the gun off of the rests - front and back. Instead cradle the fore-end in your leading hand, then rest your leading hand or arm on the bag/rest. Tuck the butt into your shoulder (clear of the rear rest) and grip the rifle firmly enough to stay on aim but not too tight - supported but not restricted. Follow through is extremely important in all shooting, but especially so with recoiling air rifles, so stay on aim until the pellet strikes. These techniques allow the rifle to go through the recoil sequence naturally. Let usknow how you get on.

    JSB Exacts are very good pellets in .177 and .22 but I've not used them in .20, although I have no doubt they are equally effective. I have used Crosman Premiers extensively in a .20 cal. Theoben and they were very good indeed.

    Comment by: Pat Farey     Posted on: 14 Nov 2011 at 01:08 PM

  • Thanks very much, this not using a rest at the butt end rings bell!

    Comment by: Ken Moran     Posted on: 15 Nov 2011 at 12:59 AM

  • While were talking about the Crusader, I cant really feel the trigger loading up to fire, it's as if it just goes off when i'v pulled it a bit, theres is no let off point. Mine has an adjusting screw in front of the trigger with an allen key hole, no slot as described in the trigger pamphlet. The part of the trigger that actually holds the ram back appears rounded off with wear, Im not sure if I dressed it with a stone it that would help.

    Any ideas here?

    Comment by: Ken Moran     Posted on: 15 Nov 2011 at 03:56 AM

  • Gas ram and spring piston airgun triggers hold back powerful forces, and unless you are completely knowledgable about them, you shouldn't work on them.
    Contact Theoben (tel. 01353 777861) for details on adjusting the two stage unit or contact Ben Taylor, one of the co-founders of Theoben, who now works independently under the Milbro banner - tel. 01638 711799 or email at info@milbro.co.uk

    Comment by: pat farey     Posted on: 15 Nov 2011 at 01:11 PM

  • I have recently bought a 2nd hand Theoben Eliminator .n .22 cal and fitted with a Nikko Stirling 3.9x40 Mountmaster scope. It’s a fair few years since I was into my Air Rifle shooting and have owned several different manufacturers such as HW Weirauch, BSA, Webley & Scott and Feinwerkbau. And I must admit that my Theoben feels and shoots like a real Fire arm. I shoot it down at my local gun club and have set the scope at various ranges. I find the accuracy and consistency of grouping outstanding. The look and feel of the Theoben is of quality and after a little TLC with the walnut oil, the woodwork looks fantastic and rich (walnut stock).
    The only downside I have is the 2 stage trigger, Its fine for field shooting but it’s a bit to long in the pull when I use it at the target range.
    All in All… I am a very happy Theoben Eliminator owner and it will be staying with me for many years to come.

    Comment by: DAvid Stevens     Posted on: 11 Feb 2012 at 12:58 PM

  • I may have got a lemon, but with a bit of fiddling, and maybe me learning how to shoot it, its going well, MOSTLY. I couldn't sit and rave about is accuracy, and now withj a chrony, I say it varies up to 15 fps with shots that everything else is the same.

    I noticed the Eliminator is not much bigger or heavier that the Crusader, and giving that some thought!

    Who thinks an oringed piston contributes to the accuracy of the big one?

    Comment by: Ken Moran     Posted on: 06 May 2012 at 10:13 AM

  • Hi Ken,

    what pellets are you using with your rifle at the moment? Maybe it just doesn't group well with your pellet of choice, you could maybe try Crosman or H&N. I doubt the piston would make it more or less accurate.

    Did you get the trigger sorted, as what you reported sounded rather dangerous!

    Comment by: Troll Hunter     Posted on: 06 May 2012 at 12:25 PM

  • Hi,
    I decided to only use H&N FTT's for a while, got 5000 of them. IF, on bench resting I take my time and try to get my mind right into the trigger, the thing will shoot straight. I can see when I am thinking of something else, bad target! I try to carefully rip the finger straight through the second stage, and it hits nearly where Im aiming, but sometimes the shot an inch to the L or R . I cant squeeze the trigger and get good results!

    Also, I think I have started to look at the target, not the crosshairs and wait to see where the pellet hits!

    If I try to shoot at leaves in trees ect to see what I can hit, I am quite surprised at what I can do to a leaf!
    I think its comes into it's own for off-hand shooting using the.. 'last thing I looked at' concept, surprising what it will do!

    cheers
    Ken

    Comment by: Ken Moran     Posted on: 07 May 2012 at 09:29 AM

  • I may be giving you information that you already know, but when you 'bench-rest' a spring or gas-ram powered air rifle, you shouldn't actually 'rest' it on anything other than your supporting hand under the forend. Your hand can be resting on a support (sandbag, cushion or the bench itself) but the rifle must only be in contact with your forward hand and the stock gently but firmly pulled into your shoulder. The idea is not to have a rigid support, but rather allow the rifle to 'breathe' and go through it's natural cycle of movement. This only applies to piston powered air rifles, not to pneumatics.

    This may explain why you are accurate 'free-hand' where the rifle is free to move, but not when the rifle is rested.

    Comment by: Pat Farey     Posted on: 08 May 2012 at 11:28 AM

  • Im thinking that, Im been round and round with it, discovered its accurate freehand, and got back to the bench to fine tune, found it all over the place again, tried to fix all sorts of things, and I think that the answer, I actually enjoy shooting leaves up high with it!
    Looking for some nice open sights for it, I think thats all it needs and would reduce any optic related problems.

    thank for your help everyone!

    cheers
    Ken

    Comment by: ken moran     Posted on: 09 May 2012 at 05:41 AM

  • A red dot sight might be worth trying, as it's point and shoot.

    Comment by: Troll Hunter     Posted on: 09 May 2012 at 08:30 AM

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