Richard Saunders checks out some of the smallest PCP rifles on the market to find out whether less really is more
Everything is getting bigger – cars, TVs, the national waistline – and yet some airguns are bucking the trend. Over the last few years, a subset of smaller, lighter and more compact rifles has emerged that make regular bullpups look like howitzers.
Somehow manufacturers are managing to squeeze fully featured, legal-limit performance into increasingly diminutive packages. Some even manage to offer FAC-rated outputs.
So, are they curiosities for those who have too many rifles already and want something different? Or are they credible alternatives to more conventionally proportioned rifles?
To find out, we’ve gathered together four of the smallest rifles on sale today to see not only how they shoot, but to gauge their gun fit and balance as well.
It’s a bit of a stretch to say that the Walther Reign (RRP £799.95) started things off, but it certainly made us realise that small can be beautiful. But thanks to UK distributor John Rothery Wholesale, we’ll soon be able to find out for ourselves.
Brocock’s Ranger XR (RRP £1,244) is newer to the market and quickly made a name for itself. The same is true of FX’s Impact M3, except that few people know about the ultra-compact version, distributed in the UK by Sportsman Gun Centre (£1,844.99).
Rounding out our fab four is the BP17 Micro Bullpup from Ataman (RRP £1,099), loaned to us by UK importer and distributor Sure-Shot Airguns, which is so small it really should come with a holster.
So, if you’re looking for something different, or perhaps you’re a shooter with a smaller frame, read on.
There’s no getting away from the fact that the Walther Reign wears a black polymer stock. Some people, mainly those who’ve never used one, dismiss the rifle as “plasticky”.
But they’re missing the point. Yes, the Reign’s stock is unmistakably made of plastic, but it’s unbelievably tough, beautifully designed to be truly ambidextrous, and is extremely light and compact.
In fact, the rifle measures only 665mm (25½ inches) without a silencer and weighs only 2.5kg (5.5lb).
The curved butt pad fits
the shoulder comfortably and eye/scope alignment is helped by a raised 230mm long dovetail rail that doubles, perhaps unintentionally, as a carrying handle.
A large cut-out accesses a pistol grip that has patches of stippling, as does the forend which bulges slightly to both encase the 200cc air bottle and ensure a comfortable grip for your leading hand. Underneath, there’s a Picatinny accessory rail for a bipod.
Whilst the plastic trigger blade will disappoint some, it’s nicely shaped and the two-stage unit is adjustable, albeit you’ll have to take the stock off to make any adjustments, which involves undoing umpteen screws.
Just above the trigger guard is a push button safety catch that has a red band to indicate the rifle is live when pushed.
through to the left. It’s the only non-ambidextrous feature on the rifle.
A clever piece of design means the rectangular magazine, which takes 11 shots in .177 and 10 in .22, can be loaded just forward of the butt from either side. The sidelever operates smoothly and can also be swapped over.
Removing a dust plug exposes the fill port located just above the pressure gauge. A 232 bar fill will serve up 180 shots in .22 and 130 in .177.
On the range, I attached an MTC SWAT 10×30 Atom scope, which is perfectly proportioned for ultra-compact bullpups.
And using Air Arms Diabolo Field .177 pellets, the combination of the trigger and a 50mm Lothar Walther barrel made 10mm five-shot groups easy to achieve.
At 40 metres, the groups opened up fractionally. Walther says that the Reign is regulated, and chronograph data showed a consistent 11.34 ft-lb with a spread of 11fps over 10 shots.
Ataman BP17 Micro Bullpup
Made in Russia by Ataman and imported by Sure-Shot Airguns in Suffolk, the BP17 Micro Bullpup is one of the smallest production, full-power air rifles ever made.
Measuring just 605mm and weighing 2.3kg (5.1lb), the clever design means it has a standard length of pull of 340mm (13.5 inches) and the chunky forend has plenty of room to accommodate your leading hand. You can choose from either a sumptuous piece of walnut or soft touch olive or black stocks, all of which are ambidextrous and have a large thumbhole cut-out, sculpted pistol grip and non-adjustable solid rubber butt pad.
The drop-down-handled sidelever articulates forward to ensure the cocking stroke is not cramped, and can be swapped to either side.
That said, although it works perfectly, it does lack a little of the engineering refinement you’d expect on a rifle costing over a grand.
You get two seven-shot rotary magazines that insert into the breech from the left. There’s room for four to be stored under the Picatinny scope rail, so by investing in a few spares you could have 35 shots to hand.
The 110cc air cylinder is rated to take a 300-bar fill which is achieved by inserting one of the two provided probes into a deeply recessed port just forward of the sidelever. Remaining air is displayed on a gauge underneath the forend. Sure-Shot says you can expect 75 shots from a 250 bar fill in .177, and 90 in .22 calibre, while filling to just 200 bar will give you 50 and 60 shots. Sure-Shot recommends not to let the rifle go below 100 bar.
Few rifles, including more expensive ones, compare to this tiny bullpup when it comes to accuracy, thanks to an excellent two-stage adjustable trigger and internally moderated 370mm Lothar Walter barrel.
Setting a target out at 30 metres, I took half a dozen shots before having to aim off to confirm the pellets were indeed going through the same hole and not missing the target by several feet.
The BP17 is hard to shoot inaccurately, which I put down to the fact that even if you do pull a shot, the short length of the rifle lessens the effect. For the record, the chronograph showed a consistent 11.55 ft-lb and a spread of eight fps over 10 shots.
FX Impact M3 Compact (FAC)
FX’s Impact needs no introduction and is one of the best-selling air rifles of all time. However, favoured as it is by FAC shooters and long-distance target shooters, the Compact version is less well-known.
A friend had just bought a .22 calibre FAC model and it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss, so I borrowed it for this test.The rifle shown includes a number of aftermarket trinkets.
The Impact is already a relatively small rifle, but with its 500mm Smooth Twist X barrel, the M3 Compact measures just 640mm and tips the scales at 2.8kg (6.1lb).
In every other respect, bar a smaller 300cc carbon-wrapped air bottle, it is the same as its bigger brothers. A twin regulator setup throttles air pressure down from the main bottle through to the plenum, 72cc on FAC versions but smaller on sub-12 ft-lb rifles.
Unlike high-power versions, you cannot adjust the regulators on UK legal-limit rifles. There are plenty of fine-tuning features such as a 16-step Macro power wheel and a Micro fine adjustment bar that alters the hammer strength in tiny increments.
Available in .177 and .22 at 12 ft-lb, the huge capacity magazine – 38 and 28 shots – is inserted at the rear from the right and operated by a super-slick sidelever that has a large drop-down handle.
Beneath it, the AR-style safety catch can be operated from either side.
The quality of the M3’s trigger is sometimes overshadowed – a shame as the fully adjustable, two-stage, post and shoe match-style unit is one of the best.
A curved height-adjustable butt pad and a cheekpiece (our picture shows aftermarket replacements) give you good alignment for a scope mounted on a Picatinny rail that includes 20 MOA built in to free up more elevation adjustment on your scope. Additional rails either side and underneath the forend provide plenty of space for accessories.
Removing a cap from the underside provides direct access to the fill port. A 250-bar charge will give you hundreds of shots thanks to that dual-regulated system. There are three gauges; the largest of which on the right indicates remaining air and the other two on the left and underside monitor the regulator pressures.
Brocock Ranger XR
For a while Brocock was overshadowed by its illustrious sibling, Daystate, but the last few years have seen some new rifles introduced.
Based on the Concept XR, the Ranger XR addresses a very specific need. Developed with input from red squirrel conservationist Jerry Moss, the rifle is designed for hunters who need to carry their rifle long distances and shoot from confined environments like vehicles and hides.
A folding, telescopic stock means the Ranger XR measures between 610mm and 690mm without a silencer and stows away to just 390mm for storage in a backpack where, at just 2.5kg (5.5lb) you’ll barely notice it.
Despite its proportions, the Ranger XR is packed with all the features you’d expect from a marque like Brocock, including a Huma-Air regulator. Pressing a pivot lever extends the stock through six locked positions. And although there is movement, it is negligible when in the shoulder. To fold the stock you push it upwards against a short spring.
This system ensures perfect eye alignment to a scope mounted to a two-part Picatinny rail, and this can be removed to access a conventional dovetail rail. Thanks to Brocock’s modular design philosophy, the pistol grip can be swapped out for an AR-15-style alternative.
The two-stage post and shoe match-style trigger is fully adjustable and shares the trigger guard with a switch-type safety catch. To the right is a three-stage power adjuster.
The super-slick sidelever has a perforated drop-down handle and can be operated with one finger. Its action is pleasurably mechanical and operates the 13-shot .177 or 11-shot .22 magazine effortlessly.
Filling to 250 bar is achieved via a fill port at the end of the cylinder behind the pressure gauge. Thanks to the regulated action and floating hammer system, I was able to wring 40 shots from the .22 test gun.
At just over 10 inches (250mm), it would be easy to think the Ranger XR’s barrel, which is shrouded and includes a ½ inch UNF silencer thread, would compromise the rifle’s accuracy. Nothing could be further from the truth.
My 30- and 40-metre tests showed one-hole groups that were perfectly acceptable at 11.4 ft-lb and a variance of six fps over 10 shots.
Small arms redefined
How often have you heard it said that “a good big ‘un will beat a good little ‘un”? Well that might be true in the world of rugby or boxing, at least most of the time. But when it comes to air rifles, it’s simply not true.
There are plenty of shooting scenarios in which small, compact rifles are preferable to more traditional sporter stock alternatives, such as shooting from a hide, around farm buildings in the dark or from a vehicle.
As our test rifles have shown, clever design means that short rifles do not have to be a compromise on ergonomic fit, performance and even shot count in some cases. They also have the benefit of being easier to store and transport.
|NAME||BROCOCK RANGER XR||WALTHER REIGN||ATAMAN BP17||FX IMPACT M3 COMPACT|
|WEIGHT||2.5kg (5.5lb)||2.5kg (5.5lb)||2.3kg (5.1lb)||3.1kg (6.8lb)|
|SHOTS .177 / .22||35/40||150/180||75/90||300+|
|MAGAZINE .177 / .22||11/13||11/10||7/7||38/28|
|FILL PRESSURE||250 bar||232 bar||300 bar||250 bar|
|SAFETY||Manual resettable||Manual resettable||Manual resettable||Manual resettable|
|TRIGGER||Adjustable two-stage match-style||Two stage adjustable||Two stage adjustable||Adjustable two-stage match-style|
|STOCK||Folding, telescopic synthetic||Synthetic||Walnut or black/green soft touch||Black or bronze|