Best air rifles – Rich Saunders on budget vs blowout

Rich Saunders takes a look at two of the priciest air rifles on the market, and two less expensive models to see what you get by paying extra

The air rifle market is polarising; on the one hand we’re being tempted with products that push the boundaries in terms of innovative design and performance-enhancing features. 

On the other hand, the influx of entry-level PCPs from all corners of the world is neverending.

Of course, that’s good news for us because it means there are more rifles to suit every budget. But it also throws up a conundrum, and it’s this: just because you can afford a top-end rifle, do you have to splash the cash, or are entry-level rifles more than adequate?

There will always be a market for products at the lower end of the financial spectrum. Those new to airgunning are more likely to proceed cautiously with a view to upgrading their hardware if it turns out they like their newfound sport. And for many of us, budget will always be a major consideration, making elite rifles simply unattainable. 

But the key question is whether rifles costing around £2,000 or more offer anything different or better than cheaper alternatives. For some, the feeling of exclusivity that comes with unveiling the latest and greatest rifle on the range is worth every penny. 

For others, who simply want to keep a few pests under control, you can keep all the bells and whistles, as accuracy and reliability are what it’s all about.

So, we’re looking at two of the most expensive rifles you can buy today and two cheaper models. The gulf between the two is well over £1,000, so we’ll be examining their relative merits and asking what you get for your money to see if the difference is enough to influence your next purchase.

At the expensive end of the street, we have the Daystate Delta Wolf, prices for which start at £2,573, along with an FX Impact M3, which costs £1,845.  Down the other end are the Kral NP-03, yours for £425, and the BSA Ultra CLX, which is priced at £609.

Daystate Delta Wolf

Price: £2,573

If you’re looking for the pinnacle of what’s possible, the Delta Wolf has to be on your shortlist. 

A digital touchpad works in conjunction with an onboard chronograph to monitor shots and adjust internal settings to optimise consistency. 

Each new Delta Wolf is factory set to 11.7 ft-lb and output can be adjusted in five per cent increments both to stay on the right side of the law and fine-tune velocities – displayed on the screen – for maximum performance.

Powered by a battery in the butt, the electronics also operate a shot counter, alter screen backlighting, select a dark screen night mode, set the length of time before the rifle goes into a sleep mode and switch the chrono on or off.

Electronics aside, the Delta Wolf has superb ergonomics and an excellent, fully adjustable two-stage electronic trigger. Available in black or bronze Cerakote, the finish is to a very high standard and a new design fast-flow valve system delivers increased efficiency and shot count.

At 722mm and 3.35kg, the Delta Wolf is compact and light. There’s limited adjustment on the shoulder pad and cheekpiece, and Daystate has partnered with Precision Rifle Systems for a range of aftermarket accessories.

The sidelever can be swapped either side and has a short throw, powering a 13-shot .177 or 11-shot .22 magazine that can be inserted either side of the breech. Two magazines can be loaded back-to-back to double the shot capacity. You can also swap out the barrel and pellet probe.

The scope rail moves forwards and back to ensure good eye relief. The 430mm Accuracy Research Team (ART) barrel has a 210mm carbon shroud threaded for a silencer. Underneath is a 480cc carbon bottle, filled via a quick-fit valve located by the manometer forward of the trigger to 240 bar for more than 400 shots.

Kral Puncher NP-03

Price: £425

Weighing 2.6kg and measuring between 800 and 880mm without a silencer, Kral’s Puncher NP-03 is a humble thing. “Unpretentious” is a better word, because this rifle makes the most of what it’s got to deliver a delightfully balanced and superbly accurate gun with a gem of a two-stage adjustable trigger.

Priced at £425, which includes two magazines and a single-shot tray, the black synthetic stock not only looks great, but will cope well with life in the field.

The NP-03 offers plenty of flexibility with an adjustable cheekpiece and a stock that can be altered to provide a pull length of between 315mm and 395mm at the push of a button, and the moulded pistol grip will suit left- and right-handers. 

The sidelever is located on the right, as is a power adjustment dial and the safety switch, and can’t be swapped.

Rotating a collar at the front of the 180cc air cylinder reveals a fill port. A 200 bar fill delivers around 70 shots in .22 and 55 in .177 from the non-regulated action. 

A gauge under the forend behind a Picatinny accessory rail shows the remaining supply.

The NP-03’s drum magazine takes 12 .22 pellets or 14 in .177 and requires the faceplate to be rotated clockwise. The first pellet holds the sprung inner rotor in place while you fill the other chambers. Inserting the magazine from the right requires a ridge in the magazine to be lined up with a groove in the breech.

A shroud does little to mute the blast from the 430mm barrel, but removing a muzzle cap reveals a ½ inch UNF thread for a silencer, or you can remove the shroud and attach it to the barrel.

In its range test, the .177 NP-03 averaged a healthy 10.98 ft-lb and was able to deliver a respectable variance of 11 feet per second over 10 shots.

FX Impact M3

Price: £1,845

When FX Airguns launches a new rifle, people take notice. That was certainly the case with the Impact M3, the third iteration of the phenomenally successful bullpup.

The fact the rifle was a well-kept secret until it was launched added to its impact (pardon the pun), but there’s no doubt FX managed to not only pull off delivering that tricky second album, but gave us a third best-seller to boot.

The resemblance is undeniable. Our .177 12 ft-lb test rifle is the Standard model and measures 870mm long, including the provided silencer on the 600mm barrel, and weighs just over 3kg unscoped. 

Owners of earlier models will recognise features like the shoulder pad that can be adjusted up and down, the ambidextrous polymer pistol grip, AR-style safety catch, huge capacity magazine (38 shots in .177 and 28 in .22), drop-down sidelever and adjustable match-style trigger. 

They’ll also appreciate the fact that, with the purchase of appropriate barrel kits, you can swap calibre.

What sets the M3 apart is its dual regulator action and the ability to fine-tune the power output. Such innovations are useful on high-power FAC models, but there are benefits for the 12 ft-lb rifle too.

The job of the first regulator is to accept air from the main air bottle, where it is stored at up to 250 bar, and throttle it down to around 100 bar. A parcel of air, which is enough for a single shot, is then channelled into a plenum where it’s kept around 55 bar by a second regulator. The result is increased efficiency and accuracy.

On the legal-limit rifle there’s no provision to change regulator settings. The 1-16 power wheel, which adjusts the hammer spring, operates the M3’s micro adjuster between position 2.5 on power setting 1 and position 4 on setting 16. That equated to 6.4 to 11.6 ft-lb on the test rifle and allows you to fine-tune your setup.

BSA Ultra CLX

Price: £609

BSA teased us with the promise of a new rifle, but when it came the naysayers were quick to dismiss the Ultra CLX as a tweaked version of the old rifle. How wrong they were.

Of course there are visual similarities, but BSA has done a commendable job of updating and refining a national treasure.

At 820mm and 2.6kg, the Ultra CLX is as compact and handy as ever. The ambidextrous Minelli beech stock retains BSA’s characteristic deep cut-out under the butt and behind the pistol grip, and the high comb ensures superb eye alignment to a scope on the dovetail rail. 

Patches of chequering on the trademark shortened forend and pistol grip, along with a perforated butt pad and pair of sling studs, set the woodwork off nicely. 

The quality of finish on the metal, including a 317mm cold hammer-forged barrel that has a ½ inch UNF for a silencer, and bolt-action, is impressive.

Improvements include an anti-double load magazine system that sits within a new mono block, enabling a scope to be mounted lower to the barrel. Taking 12 shots in .177 and .22, the magazine indicates remaining shots and is held in the breech with a magnet, forgoing the need for the usual retaining catch.

The safety catch is mounted at the back of the action in line with your thumb, with the rotary switch easy to operate, making the adjustable, two-stage, match-style, post and shoe trigger a pleasure to use.

BSA has improved firing cycle efficiency; the test string of 10 shots revealed 11.02 ft-lb with a variance of 13 feet per second. 

Shot count is up around 50% compared with the Ultra SE, with a claimed 60 shots in .177 and 72 in .22 from a 232 bar fill,  achieved by rotating a collar on the front  of the air cylinder. Although located under the muzzle, the pressure gauge is designed with a 275 degree field of view.

Is it worth it?

Ultimately, for most of us, the rifle we buy is largely driven by budget and, it seems reasonable to assume, those for whom money is less of a factor will probably opt for rifles in the upper price bracket.

For the rest of us, the decision is whether to save up and buy a top notch rifle like the Delta Wolf or Impact M3, or settle for a cheaper rifle. The question is how much of a compromise are we making?

Much also depends on your shooting needs. Without doubt, the Kral NP-03 and BSA Ultra CLX will do everything the Daystate and FX can do in terms of putting pellets in the right place at the legal limit, making them more than adequate on the range or for vermin control.

However, the extra money buys you more in the way of pure engineering sophistication, features and function, and as a general rule, the finish on more expensive rifles is of course generally better than cheaper ones, although that’s not to say the BSA and Kral are at all lacking in that department.

The good news is that in terms of performance, lower-cost rifles can keep up with more expensive hardware – as long as you buy the right one. And that surely is what it’s all about.


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