Richard Saunders looks at four rifle options for children (BSA Ultra JSR, Cometa 50, Milbro Accqr8 and Weihrauch HW 30K) and brings in some help to find the best
Remember how as a kid, handling a full-size air rifle, let alone shooting one as accurately as the rickety old open sights would allow, was like trying to run in your dad’s old boots? Apart from the safety side of things, adult supervision was needed to break the barrel and load the pellet, at least until most of us reached our teens.
A child’s fascination with airguns will always be there. This fact has not been missed by airgun manufacturers, and the range of junior-sized rifles is vast. No more struggling with dad’s gun: youngsters today have plenty to choose from. Of course, many are made on a budget – parents know only too well how fickle youngsters’ interests can be – but there are some excellent products out there, and a few have earned the respect of adult shooters for their engineering and the shooting experience they offer.
So, our group test this issue focuses on junior air rifles. There is no strict definition of the age group that this applies to – it depends more on a child’s size and strength – but to my mind, these four guns are most likely to appeal to kids up to 14. It’s also worth noting that the law requires someone aged over 21 to supervise shooters under 14 years of age and be legally responsible for them.
Although I am often accused of behaving like one, my childhood days are long gone. Fortunately, for this test I had some help in the forms of 12-year old Lucy and brothers Jack and Sammy, aged 11 and 10 respectively. The trio are all members of Reading Air Target Shooting (RATS) and, under the watchful eye of their parents, spend most of their weekends grappling with guns that are slightly too big for them. The boys like to use dad Peter’s Air Arms S200 and S410, while Lucy prefers the club’s SMK PCPs. So with their capable help, let’s get started…
BSA Ultra JSR
Given that an Ultra JSR costs £369, the lucky recipient of one is likely to either have air rifle enthusiasts for parents, or be the world’s most diligent paper boy or girl. Though it shares an action with its big brother, the BSA Ultra, the JSR’s stock is scaled down to perfect, miniature proportions, complete with laser chequering on the pistol grip and forend, and a rubber butt pad.
Combined with superbly finished metalwork, the JSR measures just 69cm long, making it the shortest rifle on test. You may want to add a silencer, provision for which comes in the form of a 1/2in UNF thread accessed by unscrewing a muzzle collar. The rifle weighs just 2.3kg unscoped.
The JSR uses BSA’s standard magazine, which takes 10 shots in both .22 and .177. To remove it, you pull back a release clip located at the front of the action and cock the rifle. The magazine is installed from the left and locked by pushing the release clip forward and closing the bolt. The safety catch is ideally located at the back of the action, though given who the gun is made for, I would have liked it to engage automatically when cocked.
With a power level of 6ft-lb, the JSR is great for garden plinking; however, with BSA’s renowned cold hammer-forged barrel and an adjustable two-stage trigger, it is also capable of returning groups that would flatter an adult-sized gun. With those capabilities in mind, BSA has designed the JSR so its stock can be swapped for a full-size Ultra handle as kids grow.
There are no open sights. Instead, there is a rail for a scope. In addition to factoring in the cost of a telescopic sight, you will also need to consider filling equipment, unless mum or dad already have a tank or pump.
Unsurprisingly, the JSR was the rifle my half-pint testers all wanted to try first. Being the little gentlemen they are, Jack and Sammy gave 12-year-old Lucy the first go. She had no trouble loading the magazine or operating the bolt as she sent cans spinning at 20 metres.
“There are no toy airguns, and the BSA JSR is about as serious as a rifle designed for children can get. No corners have been cut in terms of quality and finish.”
Such is the popularity of the HW 30 (opposite) that, in another 20 or 30 years, it may evoke the same misty-eyed reverence we associate today with the BSA Meteor. However, in terms of looks, surely the Cometa 50 is a more suitable candidate as its spiritual successor.
Like the Meteor, the Cometa 50 is simple, cheap and cheerful. With its plain, slimmed-down beech ambidextrous stock, and weighing a featherweight 2.25 kg with its standard open sights, this little Spanish gun measures 92cm long.
As with the HW 30K, the plastic push safety catch located at the back of the cylinder engages automatically on cocking. Whether by design, lack of slick engineering or low power, the barrel would not fly up dangerously if the safety was pushed in and the trigger pulled before the action was closed.
There’s no getting away from the fact that the Cometa 50, engineered on a budget, is a little stiff. On the range, the children needed some help in breaking and returning the barrel, although once the gun has worn in, they would be able to manage the entire process themselves.
At just over 4ft-lb, the Cometa 50 is a competent garden plinker and was popular with the children at short ranges of 10 to 15 metres. However, unlike the fabled BSA Meteor, sending tin cans spinning was about the extent of the gun’s abilities; shooting at targets 20 or so metres out exposed its limitations – a factor that was commented upon by all three of my testers.
Having said that, despite being basic and frill-free, the Cometa 50 is durable and well put together. The bluing on the metalwork in particular is nice and deep. This is a gun that will stand many years of abuse and deliver endless fun until the day it gets consigned to a cupboard to await the next generation of airgun shooters.
“The Cometa 50 is an ideal first gun and will last many years of enthusiastic treatment. Being low-powered it will provide youngsters with hours of fun in even a small garden.”
The Milbro Accqr8 is by far the cheapest of our test rifles with an RRP of just £79.95. The combo package you see here, with an excellent 3-9×32 parallax-adjustable and illuminated reticle scope, plus a tin of pellets, costs £135.84.
With its moulded plastic stock and plastic covered barrel, this gun must have been designed by someone who has kids of their own: it’s made to survive hours of garden plinking before being thrown in a locked cupboard.
That said, I’m sure any child lucky enough to get their hands on the Accqr8 will treat it as a treasured possession. At a smidge over a metre it is the longest rifle here, but only just. And thanks to the use of plastic, it only weighs 2.6kg with scope.
Kids will love the tactical look of the black stock, which is well proportioned and includes chequering on the pistol grip and the forend, as well as a ventilated rubber butt pad. Underneath the forend is a series of parallel ridges which mimic a Weaver rail, but do nothing more than provide additional grip.
At just 4.6ft-lb, all three youngsters were able to break the barrel, cock the action and return the barrel to the shooting position. However, they all noted that some brands of .22 pellets fell out of the breech if the gun was tipped up.
The safety catch does not engage automatically on cocking, which is a shame as I think youngsters should get into the habit of using one every time they take a shot. However, the gun has an anti-bear trap feature and will not fire when the barrel is broken. The location of the safety catch, a blade just forward of the trigger, is not ideal on any gun, let alone one designed for children.
As you might expect with a gun costing so little, there was quite a bit of twang from the action, and Jack in particular noticed how the Accqr8 would jump off target – not that it stopped him and his friends sending pellet after pellet flying down the range.
“The Milbro Accqr8 is great value for money, especially with the scope combo. Like the Cometa 50, it will provide an ideal introduction and help youngsters learn the basics.”
Weihrauch HW 30K
Weihrauch’s spring-powered rifles are legendary. Pick up the HW 30K, and it’s immediately clear that it shares the same DNA as it bigger ancestors. At 94cm and 2.5kg unscoped, its dimensions are perfect for young shooters. That said, it also felt comfortable in my hands and I had a very enjoyable couple of hours plinking in my garden.
The beech stock is fully ambidextrous and devoid of any chequering, though there is a cheekpiece on both sides of the butt, plus a rubber shoulder pad. The finish on the metalwork is first-class, as you’d expect. As with all Weihrauch springers, the button safety catch located at the back of the cylinder engages automatically when the action is cocked. Not only is this a great feature in terms of helping to prevent accidental shots, it also prevents accidents occurring should an over-anxious finger pull the trigger before the barrel is locked back in place.
Our child testers found the HW 30K a little difficult to break and cock, due to the carbine-length barrel – not that this is a bad thing, as it meant their adult supervisors paid close attention.
Even at 8ft-lb, older kids will have no difficulties managing the HW 30K on their own. And that’s a good thing, because once they have the excellent Weihrauch 4×32 scope, a combination option, zeroed in, they won’t want to stop pulling the Rekord trigger unit and knocking over tin cans or drilling pellets through paper targets.
Many experienced shooters will be of the opinion that youngsters should learn their technique on spring-powered air rifles, and for this, the HW 30K is a great choice. Some will also advocate using open sights to get the hang of the principles of aiming and will be relieved to know that the standard rifle comes with excellent fore and rear sights.
In the hands of my trio of youngsters and under the watchful eyes of their parents, the HW 30K was soon zeroed in and tin cans started to fly at ranges of 20 metres or more. Aiming at paper targets showed that although the rifle is less accurate than the BSA PCP, some respectable groups were achieved nonetheless.
“Of all the spring guns, I liked this the best,” said Sammy. “It had less recoil and was much more accurate.”
“Weihrauch’s years of manufacturing expertise clearly show in the HW 30K, which, although intended for younger shooters, wouldn’t be out of place in an adult’s airgun collection.”
WINNER: BSA ULTRA JSR
Good things come in small packages!
Other than safety, the two most important ingredients an air rifle designed for kids must have are the ability to deliver fun and be robust enough to handle, er, ‘enthusiastic’ treatment. To deliver the fun factor, a rifle must be reasonably accurate and well-enough made for kids to handle.
The reality is children will eventually grow out of all our test rifles, even the Ultra JSR with its swappable stock, and want the real thing as soon as they are old enough. The aim, then, is for a rifle to be good enough to maintain their enthusiasm, and tough enough to last the distance. All four of our rifles fulfil these requirements and will give their users (and adults) many hours of fun. The BSA Ultra JSR is simply the best gun here, but comes at a price. The quality of the springers varies and while the HW 30K stands out as a remarkably capable little rifle, it’s obvious that the Cometa 50 and Milbro Accqr8 are made on a budget. But that’s not to say kids won’t love either of them, and they still represent remarkable value for money.
“If you’re an airgunning parent and want your children to share a sport you love, you’ll probably choose the BSA Ultra JSR, as you’ll appreciate its quality and performance in miniature. The cost won’t seem prohibitive and you’re likely to have an old scope you can donate as well as access to compressed air.
“However, if you’d never given airguns a second thought until your son or daughter blindsided you with their request for one, you’ll quite naturally wonder how long this new-found enthusiasm will last. Buying either the Cometa 50 or Milbro Accqr8 is the sensible move; you’ll like the relatively low price and your child will love the gun. But if you really want to treat them, get the HW 30K.”