Mark Camoccio checks out that hardest of guns to shoot, the air pistol and sees there’s a lot of choice
Air pistol shooting is arguably the hardest discipline of all, given the relatively slow lock time, and the challenge of shooting a pistol in general, especially when unsupported. Yet, the sheer pleasure can be immense. They are highly portable, and relatively light in weight- certainly when compared to a rifle and scope combination; so, in theory, are far more accessible to the average shooter. So, whether informal plinking, or general target duties, it may well be time to inject some fun and serious challenge back into your shooting. And with that in mind, I’ve put together here, a selection of some of the best general purpose models available; and a wonderfully varied collection they are too.
There’re two PCP models, two powered by CO2, two single stroke pneumatics, a pump-up, one springer, and the final entry uses a nitrogen powered gas ram! Just a small cross section of what’s available in today’s vibrant airgun market place. Please note that to be off-licence, energy must not exceed 6 ft/lbs. Enjoy!
AIR ARMS ALFA PRO PCP
Top match grade equipment helps the serious shooter, yet all this technology comes at a price, that for many can be off-putting. Encouraging those newcomers is the aim of the game, and this model from Air Arms, is an ideal tool to do just that. The Alfa Pro represents a joint venture between Air Arms here in Britain, and a company called Alfa Proj spol in the Czech Republic. Billed as an entry level, high performance pistol, the Alfa Pro can boast a full features list; match trigger, all-metal construction, removable barrel weights etc. Aimed at the indoor match target market, it’s certainly extremely accurate; with enlarged ragged holes at 10yds quite possible. Just remember shot count is limited with PCPs, and the cost of charging gear - £150-£200, needs to be factored in.
RRP: £714 guide price
Contact: Air Arms, 01323 845853
For: Very well made intermediate target model
Against: Rather pricey and charging gear extra
Verdict: A good entry level target class pistol
HECKLER & KOCH P30 CO2
The smart little Heckler & Koch P30 is made under licence by Umarex; apparently the first ever company to be legally licensed to make CO2 versions of HK firearms. It’s extremely well made, and is reassuringly weighty in the hand, whilst the faithfully reproduced exterior gives the P30 the look and feel of the real firearm version. The polymer frame and metal slide feels impressive in the hand, but whilst this particular model can take both pellets and steel BBs, I would always favour the former, since the latter have a tendency towards easy ricochets. An 8-shot rotary magazine is contained within the action body, and a standard 12g CO2 capsule sits inside the removable magazine in the grip to provide the power. The option of single trigger action (where the hammer is pre-cocked at the rear) is a huge benefit, allowing for a much lighter and easier let-off, albeit a little creepy, whilst over 100 shots from a single 12g capsule, is well above average. Accuracy on test was also impressive for CO2 powered pistols, with ¾” groups at 10 yards (pellets) easily come by.
RRP: £166 guide price
Contact: John Rothery (Wholesale) trade enquiries; www.bisley-uk.com Available via dealer network
For: Authentic looking yet functional replica
Against: Reliant on CO2 capsules
Verdict: Well made & fun to shoot
WEIHRAUCH HW44 PCP
What makes the HW44 so intriguing is that it’s a pre-charged pneumatic pistol (Weihrauch’s first), utilising the new ballistic polymer breech block arrangement from the company’s latest HW110 rifle. So, if you thought the action looks vaguely familiar, that’ll be why. The ‘110 has made quite an impact since its introduction, and with Weihrauch announcing that the synthetic block represented the future, a scaled down version in the form of the ‘44, is a clever move. There’s a hat full of features too, - a recoilless, regulated action, 2-stage semi match trigger, Weihrauch barrel, superbly comfortable anatomical (ambidextrous) grips, slick side-lever cocking, quick-fill pushprobe charging, Picatinny scope rail, accessory rails, manual safety catch, open sights, integral pressure gauge, two ten shot rotary magazines, silencer option, scope option, and left hand action option. Phew! It’s not cheap, but it is beautifully made and highly accurate.
RRP: £620 guide price, Dedicated moderator £75
Contact: Hull Cartridge Co, 01482 342571
For: Superb performance, grips and handling
Against: Seemingly expensive
Verdict: Worth every penny
WEBLEY SERVICE REVOLVER CO2
If you like replica guns, then this pistol from Webley is a faithful reproduction of the Mk VI .455” revolver adopted by the British army; with the only modern addition being the safety catch on the side of the action. It’s a break-action design, with the frame hinging open to load/unload with automatic ejection. The design incorporates look-a-like cartridges (complete with dummy bullet) the bullet holds a BB round in the nose. These ‘cartridges’ are then loaded as normal into the chambers. Power is derived from a standard 12g CO2 capsule, and this sits inside the pistol grip- easily accessed by snapping out one side of the grip. The lanyard ring at the base of the grip cleverly doubles as the tensioner to pierce the CO2 capsule, and it’s all very well thought out. This Webley can be shot double action or single action and is extremely satisfying to handle. The weight, build quality and slick operation are all highly impressive, but we would recommend using safety glasses when shooting BBs, just in case of any ricochets. The Webley Service Revolver can be specified in 4.5mm or 5mm BB or with a .177 rifled barrel and is available in a variety of finishes too. It even gets supplied with a copy of the original training manual from 1937, which is a really nice touch.
RRP: £210-£250 guide price dependent upon finish
UK Distributor:Highland Outdoors www.highlandoutdoors.co.uk
For: An authentic replica of a classic military pistol that shoots
Against: Dummy cartridges have to be loaded individually with pellets
Verdict: Another modern classic
WEIHRAUCH HW75 SINGLE STROKE PNEUMATIC
Weihrauch’s HW75 has to be one of my all-time favourites. It’s a single stroke pneumatic version of the HW45, offering super slick recoilless performance and anatomical walnut grips. Single stroke pneumatics are highly efficient, with the barrel assembly itself being used as the cocking arm. To cock the HW75, the barrel is pulled up and back in an identical fashion to the HW45, yet in one deliberate sweeping motion. Towards the end of the outwards stroke, a small hiss can be heard as air is sucked in via the inlet hole, visible on the top of the piston compression tube. The return stroke requires somewhat more effort, as this actually compresses the quantity of air taken onboard. A recoilless action means that an even lighter trigger is possible and the result is a highly accurate pistol, (single hole groups over 10yds possible) with a super-fast, super consistent power plant.
RRP: £320 guide price
Contact: Hull Cartridge Co, 1482 342571
For: Highly efficient power plant
Against: Operation can get tiring
Verdict: Pricey but worth every penny
GAMO COMPACT SINGLE STROKE PNEUMATIC
Spanish brand, Gamo, produce this model, another single stroke pneumatic, and it has been a good seller. Recoilless performance and rather snazzy ‘anatomical’ wooden grips, give this smart pistol a good start in life, and being a target-orientated model, yet modestly priced, means it appeals to the novice shot, who doesn’t want to over-invest at the early stages. Supplied in a dedicated plastic padded hard case, complete with pellets, the Compact has a refined air about it overall; despite a slightly vague and creepy trigger. One word of caution concerns the cocking stroke, and this admittedly applies to all pistols with this layout. Stick to a deliberate routine, and avoid catching any part of the hand between the two halves of the action as they snap back together at the end of the stroke. As usual, it’s more a case of technique, than overall effort required.
RRP: £189 guide price:
Contact: BSA Guns; www.bsaguns.co.uk
For: Well finished, and presented
Against: An average trigger
Verdict: Good value beginners target model
CROSMAN 1377 AMERICAN CLASSIC PUMP-UP PNEUMATIC
The famous old Crosman brand has been producing this type of multi-pump airgun for decades, and their Model 1377 American Classic is a time honoured design, which underwent a recent revamp. The new synthetic, two-part grips add a touch of style, but the power plant remains largely the same, which is no bad thing. To prime the action, the front/ forend stock section is pulled down and forwards, which sucks air into the compression chamber. Pulling the forend back and up, then compresses the air contained in the chamber; so, consistent strokes are important. The manufacturers state that between four and ten pumps can be used, but in my experience, four is perfectly sufficient, and relatively easy to achieve. A recoilless action, coupled with a rifled barrel and unusually long sight line, combine to good effect, and you can expect a good level of accuracy- (half inch groups over 10yards) once you do your bit.
RRP: £99 guide price
Contact: Anglo Spanish Imports (ASI), 01728 688555
For: Basic construction, yet very accurate
Against: Cheap feeling stock parts and no provision for a scope
Verdict: Still good value after all these years
BENJAMIN TRAIL NP2 GAS-RAM
Benjamin’s Trail NP (denoting Nitro Piston) utilises their own take on the gas-ram power plant, and for the uninitiated, the concept sees a sealed chamber of gas (nitrogen) or in the case of the NP (or air) powers the piston, which in turn, powers the pellet with progressively compressed air in the usual way. No spring means, in theory at least, less noise and resonance, and the super slick, ultra-fast action here, devoid of ‘twang’ and with minimal vibration, really does impress. There is still plenty of movement going on, but if you’ve ever used a decent gas-ram powered airgun before, you’ll appreciate the civilised snap of the firing cycle. The Benjamin Trail NP feels satisfying in the hand, with a solid feel and a pleasing level of workmanship on show, whilst the push-fit cocking aid gives the pistol an extended beefy profile, with hints of the famous BSA Scorpion. Fibre optic open sights also come as standard. On test 1.25” groups over 10 yds
RRP: £129 guide price
Contact: Anglo Spanish Imports (ASI), 01728 688555
For: General purpose model with slick feeling action
Against: Plenty of movement on firing
Verdict: A worthy addition to the Crosman/ Benjamin catalogue
COMETA INDIAN SPRING-PISTON
Available in either black, or Nickelplated and supplied with a hard plastic case, the Indian is a springpiston powered design, which generates a healthy 4ft/lbs of energy. The mainspring is compressed via a rather unique ‘up and over’ cocking arm, that loosely follows the classic Webley layout of old, save for the barrel on the Indian being fixed, and a separate cocking lever utilised. Cocking the lever sees it arc through 315⁰, until the trigger engages. The lever is then returned all the way back and allowed to drop down into its main rest position. The pop out breech tray will automatically be exposed at the rear of the action, and a pellet can be gently nudged into place in the loading groove. Recoil is minimal, and performance overall, slick and satisfying, with ½” groups over 10 yds fairly easy to come by. Indeed, the Indian is something of a dark horse, and with the RRP still below the £200 mark, it remains in my view, a real bargain.
RRP: £179 guide price
Contact: UK Distributor is currently being decided by manufacturer
For: Robust and well balanced performer
Against: Grip configuration may be restrictive to some
Verdict: Quirky, but a steal at the price
Thanks go to Range & Country Shooting Supplies, based in Sleaford, Lincs, for their assistance in the compilation of this article.