Nothing’s perfect in this world, but when it comes to airguns, how close can you get and how much can you forgive? Chris Bentley investigates
When it was launched back in 1996, the Air Arms Pro Sport was unashamedly designed to be beautiful to behold and technically outstanding. Its sibling, the TX200, had been unveiled in November 1991, and already had a huge following, along with much silverware on the competition circuit. Although the Pro Sport shared the mechanical heart of the TX200, it had to look different – sleeker and more purposeful – to claim its crown as the pinnacle of the Air Arms spring rifle range.
By designing the aluminium cocking arm to sit inside the stock of the rifle, and heavily shrouding the 377mm barrel, Air Arms were able to produce an air rifle which had the look and presence of a fullbore. Even after 27 years, the Pro Sport is described by many as one of the finest-looking air rifles ever produced.
Before you start planning a trip to your local gun emporium or surfing the web, there is a teeny, weeny snag: a walnut-stocked Pro Sport has a current RRP of £829, or in beech it’s a snip at £759. Yikes! For this monumental sum, you get a rifle which looks and feels as if it has been crafted and assembled from the finest materials available and which has been built to an ideal, and not to a price.
Your Pro Sport will be 1,050mm long and have a heavily shrouded, moderated Walther Lothar match-grade barrel. It will feature its trademark brushed aluminium underlever, and the solid steel piston will run on Delrin thermoplastic bearings so that metal never touches metal.
The rifle’s super-low-friction parts mean low wear, minimum energy loss and a silky, non-dramatic delivery of the air charge. The metalwork is exquisite and has a deep blue/black lustre reminiscent of a highly polished mussel shell.
Intricate skip chequering with fleur-de-lys borders adorn the Minelli stock, which has a rosewood cap to its grip. Using the adjustable gold-plated trigger will be effortless, and result in a gentle nudge into the shoulder and a muted thud from the barrel.
So that’s all fine then. But wait, there’s that underlever. Yes, it’s hidden when it magically disappears into the stock, but I’ve heard it described in use by wiser shooters than me as “Ikea-esque” with its brushed finish. Compared with the detail and quality of the rest of the rifle, the underlever seems as if it’s an afterthought. Forgive me, but it looks unfinished, raw and out of place.
It’s very heavy to cock and the arc of the lever means that it is at an angle of almost 50 degrees to the stock at the end of the long and arduous cocking cycle. You need plenty of space around you and strong arms to reload this rifle.
I have tried to cock it and reload it in the prone position many times, but without rolling onto my side or my back I cannot manage it and maintain my dignity. Is this a fatal flaw in this devastatingly iconic rifle?
In life, there are some things that can be easy on the eyes, but also incredibly hard to work with. On the other hand, a creature of less than perfect beauty can still arouse incredible energy and passion.
My home town of Boston in Lincolnshire was visited by such a beast very recently; an extraordinary phenomenon that highlighted the power of nostalgia.
Everyday people stopped and stared, enthralled, as the Flying Scotsman, in full steam, thundered down the tracks through the centre of town.
It clanged and it clattered and it belched foul smoke, which left my clothes smelling as they do after bonfire night. Some small children were terrified as it roared by, having never seen anything quite like it.
Despite all this, people smiled and cheered and waved. Local Facebook groups were bombarded with photos, videos and drone footage. Amongst all the angst of shortages, pestilence and disease it brought a universal smile to the face of the town.
Flawed and old as the Flying Scotsman is, it creates an emotional reaction which is impossible to ignore. By contrast, the modern diesel electric trains, which whizz sleekly and effortlessly on the town tracks, go unnoticed and unloved.
Is it possible for me to look further than the rifle’s glamourous skin and see more to it than its faults? Can I live with the Pro Sport’s Achilles’ heel? Well. the answer to that will have to be a resounding “Yes!” because I bought one.
I bought it because of its reputation, its heritage and its pedigree; I bought it as soon as I had shot it. Of all my rifles, this is the one I shoot purely for pleasure.
All springers test your technique beyond anything else, but this one simply asks to be shot again and again, cajoling you into refining your skills with every single arm-straining reload.
What you are actually purchasing here is a Legacy rifle – a rifle to pass on; a rifle which, with a little TLC, will shoot as well in the future as it did when it was fresh out of the box. This is a 20th Century piece of engineering which, unlike a supermodel, will never wither or fade with age.
This is an air rifle which will be unmoved by current trends or fashion – it will just carry on performing its single, bloody-minded function, to move a little lump of lead to your desired destination.
In 30 years’ time, when lead and compressed air have been outlawed as irresponsible public health hazards, these spring-powered marvels of a forgotten age will still be shot in hermetically sealed shooting domes by licensed and approved non-binary shootists.
Mind you, I’d bet they will still be debating which type of ceramic pellet gives the best grouping and arguing over which calibre is best for hunting in the holo-forests.