My personal opinions of various air rifles
Article Not finished - A work in progress
I'll add more detailed reviews of my air rifles and scopes in the future but below is a quick summary of my personal opinions and views based on my experience and ownership of a variety of rifles. Air rifle choice, and brand loyalty, seems to be a very emotive topic with opposing views causing many arguments on the internet forums and I know anything I say below will be agreed with by some and just as strongly disagreed with by many others.
All my views below are based on United Kingdom (more specifically England and Wales) where, as at 2020, the maximum power of an unlicenced air rifle is 12 foot-lbs. More powerful air rifles can be purchased and used but these require the user to hold a Firearms Certificate (FAC) and is outside the scope of this article. It is important to hold any rifle you are intending to purchase and make sure it balances and feels right to you. This is probably the final deciding factor when choosing between the leading rifles as the differences in quality/accuracy are that small and can be outweighed by the way they balance in your hands and your personal preferences.
PCP (Pre-Charged Pneumatic or Spring (or Gar Ram) powered rifle?
Both types of rifle have their advocates. some evangelical advocates would have you believe that their chosen type of rifle is the only way to go. Personally I appreciate, enjoy and own both types and in some circumstances get more satisfaction from the extra challenge of shooting my spring rifle well than my super accurate, almost totally recoiless, PCP. Sometimes with the PCP, especially when short range garden plinking in less challenging conditions, it can just feel too easy to make that tricky shot every time. I also enjoy the simplicity of the spring rifles. The spring rifle is always ready to go, no extra gear to buy or carry, no danger of running out of air and no real limit on the number of shots I can take in a session and because the spring is a constant, unlike an air cylinder changing pressure as it runs out of air, a well tuned spring gun can even be more consistent shot to shot all day long than some PCP rifles. Having said all that I also appreciate the absolute recoiless accuracy, whisper quietness and speed of reloading of top of the range silenced PCP rifles like my Weihrauch HW100T.
PCP rifles have a small air cylinder attached to them and work by filling them with compressed air at very high pressure either via a scuba type air tank (easy) or with a high pressure stirrup pump (can be quite hard work). A short blast of the compressed air then fires the pellet when the trigger is pulled. Depending on the size of the attached air tank and the power of the rifle you can get anything from about 20 shots to a couple of hundred shots from a single air fill. The majority of PCP air rifles are fitted with magazines containing between 10 and 14 pellets allowing for fast reloading, handy if you need a quick second shot when hunting.
Not having a large moving spring like more traditional air rifles PCP rifles have very little recoil (Kick) when shooting so most people find them easier to shoot accurately. Purists would say they require less skill than a spring rifle and feel less alive (Dead!). PCP rifles can be a little quieter than their spring powered cousins as they don't have a large spring and piston shooting forwards inside them however most of this additional noise tends to be heard/perceived by the shooter who's ear is close to the rifle and not by an observer 20 metres away where the difference is less noticeable.
However, a PCP rifle also requires additional, quite expensive, equipment such as the Scuba tank or high pressure pump in addition to the rifles themselves which tend also to be more expensive than their spring powered equivalents and less convenient if you run out of air in the middle of a field. As the air tank starts to run low on air, even with pressure regulators fitted, the power supplied to the pellet can start to drop altering your aim point so affecting accuracy and efficiency. With PCP rifles you may also need to pay to get your gun air cylinder and scuba tank inspected, pressure tested and certified at certain intervals as, because of the huge pressures they run at (usually something in the region of 200 bar/3,000 p.s.i that is something like 100 times more pressure than a car tyre.), a corroded and exploding tank could be very dangerous.
Spring rifles are the traditional type of air rifle most people envisage when they think of an air rifle. You cock the rifle by using a built in lever, or the rifle barrel itself, to compress a spring inside the rifle. When you release the trigger the spring fires a piston forward compressing a tube full of air and shooting the pellet out of the barrel (Basically the same principle as a bicycle pump). Some rifles use a gas ram instead of a spring - think something like a powerful version of the gas rams that hold the boot lid/tailgate of your car up (can be a bit harsher/snappier than a spring).
There are two main types of spring powered rifle the traditional "break barrel" where the barrel hinges down and is used to compress the spring and the "underlever" where the barrel is fixed (which can be more accurate as there is no possible movement at the barrel hinge) but there is a separate cocking lever under the barrel the sole purpose of which is to compress the spring and cock the rifle. Because they tend to recoil/kick more than a PCP air rifle, due to the spring and piston leaping forwards inside them when fired, spring rifles generally require more skill to shoot well/accurately than a PCP rifle and this is one of the very reasons why many purists like them as their is more of a challenge and a great deal of satisfaction to be gained in shooting a spring rifle well. A well tuned spring rifle in the hands of a skilled shooter can rival many PCP rifles for accuracy, my home tuned TX200 HC being a case in point.
Quality triggers are always important but on a spring rifle are critical as the trigger mechanism has to hold back the considerable force of the cocked spring but for accuracy also need to release easily and reliably with low trigger pressure otherwise as you squeeze the trigger you pull the rifle off target and miss your intended target spot. It is not easy or cheap to make a high quality adjustable two stage trigger like those fitted to Weihrauch (The famous "Rekord" trigger) or Airm Arms "CD" (Computer Designed") trigger and this is a big differentiator. Unfortunately because of their simplicity there are also many bargain basement spring rifles around with poor quality barrels and trigger mechanisms which make accuracy literally hit or miss and can lead to frustration and disillusionment which may also perpetuate the myth that spring rifles aren't accurate and that the only high end rifles are PCP. To those I say try a nicely sorted Air Arms TX200/TX200 HC or Pro Sport or Weihrauch HW97K underlever spring rifle or even a well tuned high quality break barrel rifle like the Weihrauch 95K or 99S. A typical top end spring rifle outfit will cost less than a mid range PCP outfit and about half the price of a top end PCP rifle outfit especially when the cost of Scuba tanks etc is considered.
You may also hear the statement, often quoted on rifle forums, that "it is not worth putting a silencer on a spring rifle as most of the noise comes from the spring mechanism not the muzzle blast". This is not my experience. Whilst the shooter may hear more of the noise from the rifle mechanism, (especially with a bad/cheap rifle) with their head right up close to the action, for an observer, neighbour or prey (if you are hunting) 20+ metres away there will be a significant reduction in sound with a good silencer fitted to a spring rifle and moreover the tone of the sound is likely to be changed to something less disturbing.
Spring rifles also tend to be cheap and easy to maintain. A new spring will cost from under £20 and a new air seal for the main piston perhaps £10 to £15 or in my case less than £1 for a new "O" ring to go on my own home made piston head, and should rarely be needed. So less than the cost of half a dozen fills of a scuba tank for a PCP rifle and I haven't needed springs or seals in the last 5 years for my current rifles so definitely the cheapest form of shooting and if given some basic maintenance can go on for decades.
PCP - MY Choice Weihrauch HW100 (Possibly now the Bull Pup version)
Weihrauch HW100- Any of the multiple variants available all based on the same mechanics - Excellent engineering. Very accurate. Regulated air pressure as standard. In my opinion the best, most reliable, magazine (14 shot) and side lever loading system on the market. Cocking is fast and smooth and can be completed without removing your eye from the scope. The cocking mechanism ensures you can't accidentally double load it. Mine has never mis-loaded or jammed. 14 shot magazine (Two included as standard). Superb single shot magazine also available as an extra which automatically pops out for loading when cocking. Excellent silencer included as standard. Walnut thumbhole stock included as standard. It is heavy but this aids accuracy and gives it a feel of quality. I have had both .177 and .22, full length and carbine. If you don't need the extra shot count of the full length rifle I'd go for the carbine version for slightly lower weight and shorter overall length. There are now shorter Bull Pup style versions also available, which I have to admit I am very tempted by, but basically with the same mechanics but shorter overall length even with the full rifle size cylinder for higher shotcount.
My Air Arms S410F, 10 shot magazine, is lighter than the HW100 and rivals the HW100 for accuracy, i.e. extremely accurate, but the bolt cocking is not as smooth or as easy to use with your eye at the scope for a quick follow up shot (and can knock my Night Vision camera off the scope eye piece when reloading). If you don't pull the cocking lever right back to the last 1/4" of it's travel then you think you have cocked your rifle but nothing happens when you pull the trigger so you have to cock it again which unfortunately can also mean you have now loaded two pellets into the barrel as there is no anti-double loading mechanism as there is with the HW100. It is also easy to forget whether you have cocked the S410 or not and again double load by accident. If I had to choose only one PCP it would be the HW100. If budget or weight is an issue then the S410 is an excellent rifle. If you are entering HFT competitions where you cannot use a magazine or are happy with single shot loading instead of a magazine then the Air Arms S400 is basically a single shot S410 and shares it's other excellent attributes. Alternatively you could use the S410 but replace the 10 shot magazine with an easily obtainable single shot loading tray. The S510 is basically a more expensive version of the S410 fitted with side lever cocking similar to the HW100 instead of bolt action cocking and a shrouded barrel so that is also an alternative but is more expensive and heavier than the S410 and by the time you have added a silencer and second magazine the price is nearly the same as the HW100.
Underlever Spring Rifles - My Choice TX200 HC (with silencer)
There are three main contenders for the best under lever spring air rifle and all are excellent air rifles each with a fanatical following arguing each is the best. The Weihrauch HW97K, The Air Arms TX200 (full length rifle)/TX200 HC (Shortened Hunter Carbine version) and the Air Arms Prosport. I am lucky enough to own/have owned all three.
All three can be made even better with a little tuning but the Air Arms rifles are probably the best rifles out of the box if you don't want to tune them. All three also benefit from cleaning, deburring/polishing sharp edges and being given a proper re-lube from new. The Air Arms rifles are much simpler/easier to take apart than the Weihrauch for cleaning, lubricating or tuning. The Air Arms rifles already have synthetic bearings and rotating pistons fitted as standard i.e the equivalent to a very well tuned/buttoned/V-Glided Weihrauch. The piston stroke of the Air Arms is a little long for a UK power air rifle but I find this make the recoil relatively gentle/pleasant and it is easily as accurate as standard as the HW97K. I think the blueing on the Air Arms rifles is cosmetically better than the Weihrauch. it looks deeper/richer/shinier.
A relative new comer to the mix is the Walther LGU - I have no personal experience of this yet so will not be considering it here. It does look to have a lot of similarities with the mechanical design of the TX200 coupled with the cosmetic look of the HW97K. From what I have heard it is a very smooth and accurate gun but the trigger does not rival the Weihrauch or Air Arms triggers. I would like to test one of these for myself though to see how good it actually is.
The Weihrauch HW97K (I have the .177 as I contemplated competing in HFT with it)
The HW97K is the first underlever I was drawn to buy. It is the nicest of the three to cock, has the best, biggest, loading port of the three which makes it easier to load a pellet (and from either side so better for left handed shooters) and I just like the style of it. If you can live with the rudimentary built in silencer/moderator (which adds to the looks) then it makes a relatively short, handy, package. There are quite a few different stock options including some very nice laminate finishes. I have both the beech sporter stock and the synthetic thumbhole stock for mine. The thumbhole stock is similar to the pattern of my HW100 and I find fits very nicely - it had some sharp plastic moulding sprue on it from new whicjh made it feel uncomfortable on the supporting hand but 10 minutes with a sharp scalpel blade and some fine wet and dry paper soon sorted this out. It has arguably the best trigger of the three but the Air Arms CD trigger is close enough when set up correctly. Probably the loudest of the three as standard and not as easy to add additional silencing without losing those nice carbine looks which drew me to it in the first place. I have tried multiple various different baffles in the standard built in moderator but with very little difference as there is simply not enough volume in it to make it as effective as a full size silencer and the standard spring surrounding by wadding as supplied by Weihrauch is probably as good as any of the after market baffle kits (I tried several) as without the volume to play with they just take up more room so actually reducing expansion space. I also tried adding an additional Konceptus silencer to the end, which makes it 11cm longer (still a little shorter than the TX200 HC with Air Arms silencer added) but although it does quieten it a little more probably not worth the effort unless you are in a very noise sensitive area. Weihrauch do actually make a proper screw on silencer especially for the HW97K which is of a much larger volume and would probably be the optimum solution but once again makes the rifle even longer and spoils that carbine look. This was pretty good out of the box but the out of the box Air Arms Pro sport had the edge on it for accuracy, a more pleasant recoil and quietness. I wanted more out of the HW97K so... I initially upgraded this with a V-Mach kit then went the whole hog and got a full Steve Pope V-Glide tune (practically all the internals changed for a custom piston compression tube with Delrin bearings, V-mach spring and seal, etc which resulted in this being my most expensive spring rifle. It is now very accurate and has a very fast lock time/snappy action (which I do not find particularly pleasant to use but it is effective and very accurate as proven by the many HFT trophies taken by V-Glide equipped HW97K rifles). I am not sure if the V-Glide is still being produced now so if not this may become an increasing asset as a collectors item! However, if I had known what I know now when I purchased it I would probably have saved myself a lot of money and just gone straight for one of the Air Arms rifles instead.
I am fInding it very difficult to part with this one now though, especially as I have invested so much in it, even though this and my Pro Sport in .177 both fill the same role so I really only need one of the the two. As a solution I have contemplated selling both this and the .177 Pro Sport and replacing it with a Walnut stocked .177 TX200 HC to be fitted with my own tuning kit as per my TX200 HC .22. However I may persevere with the HW97K now and try adding one of my own Oilon "O" ring piston heads to the V-Glide piston to see if that has any additional effect and either bite the bullet and get the proper Weihrauch silencer or I have even contemplated trying to make and fit some sort of baffled barrel shroud to quieten it with out adding significantly to the length. This would though change the distinctive look of the HW97 which I like.
So in summary the HW97K is a good rifle out of the box, nice and short, lovely to handle, benefits from the usual clean, deburr/polish and re-lube from new. Most people would probably be very happy with it the way it is but if you want to make it a great rifle you need to put quite a lot of time, effort and probably money into it. If you can live with it as it is from new (and it is good) then it is probably the cheapest quality choice. If you want more but don't want the effort of tuning it then my advice is to just get one of the Air Arms options instead.
The Air Arms TX200 MKIII and TX200 HC (I have the TX200 HC in .22 which I have tuned myself with new Top Hat, Spring Guide and short stroke "O" ring piston - see my other article for details)
In full length or the shorter HC Hunter carbine versions. Beautiful fish scale laser engraving on the stocks. More effective anti-bear trap, than the HW97K, with a ratchet fitted to save your fingers in the event of a mechanical failure while loading. Some people claim the ratchet is noisy when hunting, this is a non-issue. You can easily defeat this simply by pressing the button in when cocking the gun like pressing the button on a car handbrake ratchet - just remember to let the button go to silently re-engage the bear trap ratchet BEFORE putting your fingers in the breech to load it. Also you have to press the button in to close the cocking arm which some claim is inconvenient. Again I don't find it an issue at all and appreciate the extra level of safety. Once muscle memory has set in I don't even consciously remember pressing the button in as I cock the rifle as it has become so automatic. The TX200 has synthetic bearings as standard (basically the majority of what you pay for in an expensive V-Glide kit for the HW97K). The Transfer port in the TX200 and Pro Sport is set centrally in the compression chamber rather than offset as in the HW97K so theoretically the air flow will always be more efficient in the Air Arms rifles. I shoot in a noise sensitive area and find the Hunter Carbine version fitted with an additional silencer quieter (The barrel end is threaded ready for it as standard) than the HW97K without making it ridiculously long. Accurate out of the box and with a fairly soft recoil. I have the .22 version so the recoil is going to be milder than the .177 anyway. My .22 was accurate as standard. If you look at my article on tuning the TX200HC you will see the relatively simple modifications that I made which have made this an absolutely incredible gun. It can easily rival my PCP rifles for accuracy, repeatedly producing single pellet size 5 shot groups on my 10 yard home test target indistinguishable from a single pellet hole, and has the mildest recoil of any of my springers. It has also successfully repeatedly downed HFT targets at 60 yards. If I could only keep one rifle it would be a tough call between this and my Weihrauch HW100T PCP. No contest with any of my other springers, I just enjoy using this one. For those who like tinkering the TX200 must also be one of the quickest and easiest rifles to take apart, much easier than the HW97K.
The Air Arms Pro Sport (I have the .177 as I contemplated competing in HFT with it)
The Air Arms Pro Sport has the nicest stock and with it's shrouded, baffled barrel acting as a silencer is the quietest of the three rifles as standard and has a unique look among springers with it's hidden underlever. I have added a custom slip on Delrin silencer over the already shrouded and baffled barrel of my Pro Sport and it is now the quietest spring powered rifle of the lot even with the addition of the silencer to my TX200HC making a sort of low "phoomph" sound rather than a crack. I know some people will say the silencer makes the Prosport too long or odd looking but I think it looks good and I do need the quietest rifle I can get for the sake of the neighbours. Overall length with the slip over silencer is about 118cm which is only about an inch longer then the HW95K. The added weight of the silencer may also help reduce barrel flip/hold sensitivity and therefore aid accuracy. As yet, apart from a strip down and relube (lots of goopy lube as new from the factory in mine) plus a quick rub over of any burrs/ sharp eges with fine wet and dry sand paper and the addition of the silencer mine is basically a standard out of the box rifle with no additional tuning. It was the most accurate of the three out of the box and easily rivals my expensively tuned, fully V-Glided, HW97K. It has a softer recoil than my V-Glided HW97K and I find it more pleasant to fire (Both are in .177) but for some reason it does seem more hold sensitive. If I keep it I will probably at some stage try the same tuning and short stroking that I have done on my TX200 HC to see if it can be made even better but it is already so good I have little incentive to do it. I believe the Pro Sport has one more synthetic bearing than the TX200 although this may just be because it needs this due to the forces imposed by the different geometry of the hidden cocking lever.
The hidden underlever is both the thing that makes the Pro Sport aesthetically most attractive and my biggest negative with the rifle. There is no button to press or ratchet noise with the automatic bear trap mechanism on the Pro Sport and it holds itself back in closed position without any sort of click so nice and quite to use. However, I find the aluminium cocking lever, with it's sharp edged square shape, a little uncomfortable to use and because of it's geometry it is easy to mis-cock the rifle. Judging by the number of posts on the various bulleting boards I am not alone in thinking that I had bought a faulty rifle the first time I tried to fire it! Unless you pull the lever back that very last 1/4" until it clicks you think it has fully cocked but in fact it hasn't so will refuse to fire unless you re-cock it fully. Being experienced with the gun this rarely happens to me now although almost everyone I let use it mis-cocks it the first time they try. I have no such problems with the TX200 with the more conventional underlever. If on the other hand you can get on with the underlever and like the looks then just go for the Pro Sport - It is a superb rifle and, as often stated, probably the best spring rifle underlever rifle currently available. I have also heard that some people have had problems with the cocking lever retaining bolt working loose and causing damage. When I cleaned etc my new rifle, and there were some sharp edges from new that needed deburring/polishing, I made sure the bolt was properly secure and added a little thread lock on assembly. It may be something worth checking from time to time though as a preventative measure. My head says this is probably the .177 underlever I should keep, my heart still keeps straying back to the HW97K (perhaps with yet more work done on it) - Despite only needing one of them I may have to keep both!
Break Barrel Spring Rifle - My Choice Weihrauch HW95K inc. Silencer
A popular, good quality, not too expensive, back to basics break barrel spring rifle, reliable, fairly light (popular with hunters for carrying around the field), easy to load (probably quicker and easier than the underlevers), and pretty accurate out of the box but lots of information available on the internet to tune these to optimise performance and minimise recoil so increasing accuracy. The latest carbine models have a shorter barrel than the original carbine models and this may encourage more barrel flip on firing than previously so they may benefit from adding some weight to the front of the barrel or silencer. Until I can sort out something prettier I curently just have a piece of lead taped to the end of my barrel . I have contemplated fitting a barrel shroud similar to the HW98. .The 22 is smoother than the .177. For target work in a break barrel get the HW98 which is basically a target shooting customised HW95K although I have heard that, although it has a shrouded barrel acting as a moderator, that it is louder than the HW95K with silencer. I will probably give this one the DIY tuning treatment to see just how good it can be.
The Weihrauch HW99S may be an alternative to the HW95K and fire even more sweetly. They usually run at about 10.5ftlbs as they have a smaller lighter piston (not intended to be tuned above 12ftlb levels) but there appear to be continual niggles with the HW99S due to repeated reported issues regarding the cocking lever mechanism "galling" (basically graunching the metal and damaging the cylinder) despite the manufacturer making modifications to try to prevent it. There are various "solutions" quoted on the internet so if you are happy to take the risk and try these out the HW99S makes a light, accurate and low recoil rifle. Cheaper than the HW95K but less so if you factor in buying the factory slip on silencer which is not included. Very tempted to get one of these just to see how well it would shoot modified with my DIY Oilon guides and "O" ring piston seal. It could be the ultimate sub 12ftlb break barrel spring rifle. If you would rather play safe just go for the well proven and reliable HW95K instead.
My ideal complete outfit - If I could afford it!
My ideal outfit would probably be 4 rifles.
I carry out short range vermin control for which I prefer a .22 calibre PCP for increased energy transfer and stopping power, reduced over penetration with fast reload time and as quiet as possible
PCP target shooting at both short and long ranges for which I prefer .177
I also like the satisfaction of shooting Spring rifles so by choice I would use a sweeter firing .22 for a springer for relaxation and plinking but for springer competition work I would also need a .177
Weihrauch HW100BP .177 Full length Bull Pup PCP giving me the full length rifle barrel and higher shot count cylinder of my current full length HW100T but in a shorter package for general and competition target work (and possibly longer range hunting) replacing my HW100T
Weihrauch HW100BPK .22 carbine Bull Pup PCP for short range vermin control for maximum stopping power and minimum over penetration in as quiet and short a package as possible plus use with my DIY night vision kit so side lever cocking more convenient. This would replace my Air Arms S410F .22 which is great except for the bolt action cocking catching on my night vision kit.
Air Arms TX200 HC .22 underlever springer - My current TX200 HC with my DIY tuning - just the sweetest shooting most accurate springer I have ever shot - For relaxation plinking, general target work, short range vermin control and my own satisfaction. If, and only if, I could guarantee a new one would shoot as well then I would replace my current.22 TX200 HC with a new one with Walnut stock (only because my current one bought secondhand, is a little tatty and with beech stock)
Air Arms TX200 HC .177 walnut stock underlever springer - With my DIY tuning - for competition springer target work replacing my Pro Sport and HW97K. If not entering competitions probably I won't need this as my .22 is more pleasant for plinking. - This is more of a want rather than need thing though, my current Pro Sport and V-Glided HW97K are both up to fulfilling this role. As ultimate quietness isn't necessary for competitions and now that my HW97K has been so extensively/expensively tuned, I am talking myself into keeping my HW97K for this role. Many competition users favour the full length TX200 over the Hunter Carbine version as this is more front heavy and the slightly longer barrel is more air efficient so theoretically will need slightly less spring for the same power so may reduce recoil fractionally. I found the barrel heavy feel of the full length TX200 not to my liking but maybe I would need to re-visit before making a final decision.