Rich Saunders takes a look at four break-barrel rifles that you can happily take hunting that cost less than £300
I’m lucky enough to have several permissions on which I take my pest controlling responsibilities seriously, even if they are provided for free. As a result, whenever I can I’ve invested in the best kit I can afford.
Getting ready for a night’s rabbit shooting recently, it occurred to me how times have changed. As a kid, I’d jump on my bike with a pocket full of pellets and my HW80 in its bag. Now, as I loaded up my gear including my PCP rifle, ATN X-Sight and thermal spotter, I couldn’t help tot up how much that kit cost.
That evening I shot three rabbits. I had a great time, but it occurred to me that I used to shoot just as many, if not more with my HW80 and its open sights.
That’s a roundabout way of explaining the thinking behind this issue’s group test. Despite all the fancy gear available, we should never forget that with plenty of relatively low-cost spring and gas-ram-powered rifles available, hunting doesn’t have to be expensive.
So I’ve gathered together four of these break-barrels that cost less than £300, significantly less in some cases, to determine whether they are good enough to tackle live quarry humanely.
From BSA we have the Supersport SE (£245) and the Gamo HPA Tactical (£269). John Rothery Wholesale has loaned us an Umarex Syrix (£139.94), whilst Edgar Brothers has put up a Hatsan Striker 1000X (£145).
BSA Supersport SE
Few companies have been making spring rifles longer than BSA. There may have been a change in ownership, but every time I open the box on a new BSA I am somehow reassured to know it is the product of nearly 120 years of airgun making know-how.
There’s a simplistic beauty to the Supersport SE and the slim beech wood stock, especially around the forend, reminds me of the HW99, a rifle we unfortunately could not include in our round-up this time due to a lack of availability.
Stylish chequering gives plenty of grip and the steep rake of the pistol grip complete with a thumb shelf adds to the rifle’s elegant lines. The butt is slightly biased towards right-handed shooters, although lefties will be able to shoulder the Supersport SE without a problem. At the end, like BSA rifles have for decades, there is a ventilated recoil pad.
At 3kg in weight and 950mm in length, the Supersport comes to the shoulder easily, lining you up perfectly to use the excellent open sights. The rear sight has two green dots and is adjustable for windage and elevation, while the foresight has an orange dot. If you prefer, you can fit a scope to the dovetail, just make sure you use a set of mounts that can accommodate a 13mm rail.
Tapping the end of the 470mm cold hammer-forged barrel opens the breech. The cocking action is quite long and there’s an anti-bear trap feature to reduce the potential for an unfortunate accident. Mounted on the right side at the back of the action, the safety catch can be reset, but would benefit from a more definitive on/off feel.
Out of the box, the two-stage trigger had a light first stage – easy to adjust – and the second stage let-off was crisp and predictable. The firing cycle is very smooth with little in the way of clanking or twanging.
On the range, the chrono showed a respectable 10.8 ft-lb and with the open sights zeroed at 25 yards, I hit spinners about every time. I planned to take the rifle hunting, so fitted a BSA 3-9×40 scope which achieved single-hole groups and took a couple squirrels at around 20 yards from a stand of oak trees.
Gamo HPA Tactical
Although they are part of the same family, the HPA Tactical couldn’t be more different from the Supersport SE. While the BSA is designed as a traditional sporting rifle, the Gamo delivers a more modern look.
At 1,115mm long, the HPA Tactical is a full-length rifle. The ambidextrous black synthetic stock keeps weight down to 2.7kg and features a cheekpiece that is height-adjustable.
There are patches of moulded stippling on the forend and pistol grip, and the soft rubber butt pad can be made more squidgy by removing rubber plugs.
Ahead of the two-stage trigger is the resettable safety catch – push it forward to shoot. Although there is a set of open sights, dovetails are cut into the top of the action to accept a scope, although Gamo has also fitted a raised dovetail block to improve eye alignment.
The rifle comes as a package that includes a decent, if basic, Gamo 3-9×40 scope complete with a single-piece mount. You also get a set of bipod legs that attach either side of the forend via a couple of Picatinny rails.
Breaking the rifle’s 510mm barrel, which is clad in Gamo’s full-length Whisper moderator, requires just a light touch. Cocking the gas-ram action requires more than a little effort on the shooter’s part, but it is fitted with an anti-bear trap device. Once cocked, the lock-up is solid and quiet.
Without a mainspring to have to worry about, the firing cycle is pleasantly thuddy, delivering 9.8 ft-lb, and the moderator-cum-shroud does a good job of deadening the muzzle crack.
Zeroing the HPA Tactical on the range at 20 metres, the rifle shot much better when it was rested on a bean bag rather than the bipod. It punched tight groups consistently enough for me to use the Gamo for a spot of close-range feral pigeon clearance – a job that it performed admirably.
At less than £140, including a scope and mounts, it would be easy to dismiss the Umarex Syrix as a budget tin can basher, but there’s enough quality and performance to include close-quarter pest control in the rifle’s CV.
At 1,160mm long and 3.6kg unscoped, the Syrix is a full-sized rifle that juniors could struggle to use, especially as breaking the barrel to cock the gas-ram action takes a fair bit of effort. Once returned though, the barrel locks up with a solid ‘thunk’.
The black ambidextrous synthetic stock is well finished and will withstand plenty of rough treatment, as will the matt finish on the metalwork. The butt is finished with a recoil pad, and the comb, whilst not particularly high, gives good alignment to the 4×32 scope.
If you’d rather use them, the open sights are excellent – being adjustable for windage and elevation at the back with a green fibre optic, whilst the foresight is a red dot blade.
The pistol grip accommodates big hands and, like the forend, is finished with a series of grooves that make the Syrix easy to hold in the wet or when wearing gloves. As you might expect with a budget rifle, the trigger is a little basic, with just a single stage and a little creep. However, it breaks cleanly and predictably, and with a little practice I found it more than acceptable.
The anti-bear trap mechanism operates via the resettable safety catch, which is a blade located within the trigger guard. It engages automatically upon cocking and cannot be switched off until the barrel is returned.
The Syrix is only available in .177 calibre and with the scope I was able to hit groups of around an inch at 20 metres, with several pellets going through the same hole. The chronograph showed an average output of 9.5 ft-lb.
Although that was more than capable of taking care of a couple of rats that had taken up residence underneath our shed, I wouldn’t recommend using the Syrix against bigger quarry like rabbits further than 15 to 20 yards away.
Of course it’s a bit of a generalisation, but Turkish air rifles are some of the finest-looking around. However, it’s also true to say that some flatter to deceive, and are a bit of a disappointment when you pull the trigger. It’s also true to say that Hatsan’s Striker 1000X is not one of them.
This is a fine looking sporter. The ambidextrous stock is made from beech and is beautifully proportioned. Generous patches of well-finished chequering either side of the forend, as well as the pistol grip, would flatter rifles costing much more, as would touches including the ventilated recoil pad that is set off with black and white spacers.
At 1,115mm long and less than 3kg, the Striker 1000X is full size, but not at all bulky. The barrel breaks easily with a slight tap and the cocking action is surprisingly light.
With a pellet inserted, the 450mm barrel returns smoothly and locks up with no movement. The process automatically sets a safety catch at the rear of the action. Even with it pushed in, an anti-bear trap helps mitigate any potential accidents.
The Striker 1000X has decent open sights – a red fibre optic housed in a hood at the front forms part of a moulded plastic cocking aid, while the rear sight has a couple of green filaments either side of an adjustable notch. A set of 9-11mm dovetail grooves, complete with a couple of holes to accommodate an arrester pin, will accept a scope.
Zeroing on the range, I found the Hatsan’s trigger to be heavy and the second-stage travel long. There is provision to adjust the weight by accessing a screw via a hole in the plastic trigger guard.
I thought the firing action was a bit harsh and twangy. However, having been spoilt by shooting too many PCPs, I gave myself a talking to and realised that actually there’s nothing wrong with it. In fact, the Hatsan became smoother the longer I used it.
The chrono showed consistent 10.4 ft-lb and the one-hole groups I produced from a rested position at 20 and 25 metres opened up only slightly at 30 metres. That was enough for me to feel happy to take the Hastan feral pigeon shooting, and although I only got a couple of chances, the rifle delivered clean kills both times.
In an age when PCP rifles are getting more sophisticated, not to mention expensive, nothing has really changed when it comes to springers; the fundamental mechanics work as well today as they did 100 years ago. And although they came later, gas-rams are built on a similar principle of an internal, manually charged powerplant.
Whilst a decent springer or gas-ram can be as accurate as a PCP, the difference is that most people, even relative newcomers, can shoot a PCP accurately whereas break-barrels require technique and practice. And for many, that’s enough of a reason to own one.
There are other reasons of course. Although there are budget PCPs, and some of them are excellent, you can buy a top of the range break-barrel for the same money. And, of course, with a springer and gas-ram you don’t have the hassle of using a stirrup pump or having to ensure your charging cylinder is full.
It’s easy to read the pages of Airgun Shooter or watch endless videos on the internet and think that unless you have the latest, fanciest PCP air rifle you’re wasting your time in the field.
But as long as your fieldcraft is sound, nothing could be further from the truth. A good break-barrel that doesn’t cost the earth can be just as effective. All it needs is some practice. And a decent scope.
|Name||BSA SUPERSPORT SE||GAMO HPA TACTICAL||UMAREX SYRIX||HATSAN STRIKER 1000X|
|ACTION||Spring piston||Gas-ram||Gas-ram||Spring piston|
|ANTI-BEAR TRAP||Yes||Yes||On safety catch||Yes|
|SAFETY CATCH||Manual resettable||Manual resettable||Automatic resettable||Automatic resettable|
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