Mike Morton puts the Gamo Boxer through its paces to discover whether this budget bullpup can deliver a knockout in the hunting field.
Bullpups have been around for a good many years, and while some airgun shooters initially branded them a fad that would never last, these stubby little rifles are resolutely here to stay.
Most manufacturers have at least one bullpup in their inventory, with the Boxer being the latest model from Gamo to join the pup parade.
While Gamo is a Spanish company, this particular gun is made in England, and uses the same magazine as Gamo’s sister company, BSA, as well as the company’s legendary cold hammer-forged barrels. It’s available in .177 calibre, as seen here, as well as .22.
With a recommended retail price of £569, the Boxer is one of the least pricey pups around, but how does it handle and how does it shoot?
MAKER: Gamo (www.gamoguns.co.uk)
TYPE: Bullpup PCP
CALIBRE: .177 (on test) and .22
MAGAZINE: Multi-shot (10 shots for both .177 and .22)
OVERALL LENGTH: 74cm (29”)
BARREL LENGTH: 38cm (15”)
WEIGHT: 3.4kg (7.5lb)
STOCK: Right-hand thumbhole
SIGHTS: Scope only, dovetail rail
LENGTH OF PULL: 38cm (15in)
TRIGGER: Two-stage, adjustable
TRIGGER-PULL: 1lb 15oz
SAFETY: Manual, resettable
MUZZLE ENERGY: 11.03 ft-lb
The Boxer is equipped with a stained beech stock and separate wooden cheekpiece, both made by Gamo. A fixed ribbed rubber butt pad helps anchor the stock in your shoulder pocket, and grip is enhanced with several panels of stippling on the pistol grip and forend.
The pistol grip itself is raked quite steeply, almost into a drop-down style, which I find more comfortable than the shallower angle offered by a conventional sporter stock as it lets you adopt a more natural hold, putting less strain on the muscles in your wrist.
The stock itself is ambidextrous – more on that later – and there’s a fair amount of palmswell on both sides of the grip to fill your shooting hand. The forend is short, but there’s enough woodwork in front of the metal trigger blade and trigger guard to hold onto with your leading hand.
There’s certainly enough room to rest the forend on a set of shooting sticks, and probably enough to fit a bipod too, although this rifle is best suited for roving hunting and hide work.
Head and eye alignment with a scope is assisted by the previously mentioned non-adjustable wooden cheekpiece, secured with two countersunk hex screws to the left-hand side of the breech block.
The wood rolls over the top of the block, creating a reasonably comfortable cheekweld for right-handed shooters. When I shoulder this rifle, the cheekpiece naturally fills the gap made by the hinge of my lower jawbone and skull, locking the gun into place quite securely.
FEATURES AND FUNCTION
This is a scope-only rifle, and the long 20cm dovetail rail gives you plenty of room to mount pretty much whatever optic you like. But I chose to fit a little Hawke Airmax 30 Compact 3-12×40, which is a good match for the proportions of this pup while offering a useful magnification range for any hunting scenario I’m likely to face with the Boxer.
I was pleased with this choice, as the small 40mm objective lens made for a slightly lower centre of gravity, and gave me good head and eye alignment.
With the scope fitted, the Boxer – in keeping with many other bullpup designs – is butt-heavy, but there are pros and cons to where the balance point lies on any rifle. In this case, that rearward weight makes the rifle feel nice and secure in your shoulder.
And because the Boxer’s centre of gravity is quite low down for a bullpup, it’s stable too. Some pups can be a little top-heavy, giving them a tendency to roll over on their side, but the Boxer is happy to just sit still in the aim waiting for your next command – just like a good gundog.
Cocking and indexing is taken care of by a side bolt which needs to be pulled up out of a gate, then fully back, then forwards and down. Quite a bit of effort was needed to carry out the cocking motion when the rifle was brand new, but after the first 100 or so shots it became considerably easier, although even now the effort required is still more than I’d have liked.
During my test period, I developed a cocking technique that worked well for me, and may help you too. I place my right thumb behind the action block and my forefinger and index finger on the bolt, using the power of my opposable thumb to take up some of the effort carried out by my fingers.
With a little practice, I was able to do this in the aim when taking repeated shots. As with many other rifles of this type, take care not to activate the bolt if you have a pellet already chambered, as you run the risk of double-loading, but if this happens it would be down to user error and is not a flaw of the Boxer.
The cocking handle cannot be changed from right to left, and the wooden cheekpiece cannot be swapped from left to right, so at first glance it looks as if the Boxer is suited for right-handed shooters only.
But this isn’t really true and I deliberately carried out some left-handed shooting to prove the point. Although your left cheek will largely be resting on the metal action block, it’s not uncomfortable to shoulder the rifle this way, and luckily the chunky handle doesn’t jab you in the side of the face when you’re in the aim with the bolt closed.
Moving forward, the barrel is encased within a partial shroud that screws into the forward support for the scope rail – the barrel itself does not come into contact with the support, which may assist its accuracy.
The shroud can be removed, revealing a standard ½” UNF muzzle thread, so you could theoretically shoot the Boxer with no shroud and a separate moderator. In practice there’s no need to do this.
Only a very thin moderator will fit, because there isn’t much clearance between the barrel and the air cylinder underneath. But more importantly, the shroud does a great job of muffling the crack of the shot in any case.
Filling is taken care of via a standard BSA/Gamo fill probe that can be slotted into the filling port from either side. The port is accessed by pulling off a plastic cover that snaps back in place afterwards to keep the port free of dust and dirt.
The Boxer has a maximum fill pressure of 232 bar, but the instruction manual quite rightly points out that this isn’t necessarily the optimum starting point. Because an unregulated PCP will have a power curve, it will rarely hit the start of the flattest part of the curve – the sweet spot – from the maximum pressure the cylinder can be filled to.
It’s important to experiment with every gun to find its sweet spot – and that’s exactly what I did with the Boxer. Your results may vary, but I found the optimum fill pressure to be 220 bar, from which the Boxer delivers 40 good shots.
This may sound quite conservative, but I’d much rather have fewer shots that I know to be accurate and consistent, than try to eke out a few more and find them wayward.
If you ever find your air cylinder empty, you’ll need to cock the rifle before filling it. This shouldn’t happen during normal operation because you’ll still have some air remaining in the cylinder long after the pressure has dropped below a workable level, but it’s a good tip to know.
So should you ever find yourself in this situation, remember that the Boxer will be cocked after you’ve finished the fill process, so it should be decocked immediately for safety reasons.
All you need do is release the safety catch, pull back the bolt, then – while holding onto the bolt – pull the trigger and slowly guide the bolt forward to its resting position. This technique is not the same as making a loaded rifle safe, as in that case it’s necessary to fire a blast of air towards a safe target to both decock the action and to ensure no pellet has been left in the bore.
Gamo and BSA now share the same multi-shot magazine, which is great news as the latest version of the mag is slick and dependable. It holds 10 pellets in both .177 and .22. The internal rotor is numbered accordingly, and is also colour-coded – using blue for .177, and red for .22.
With the rifle cocked, the bolt open and the safety catch applied, you can insert the magazine from the left-hand side. As the magazine is slotted in place, a small magnet located in the action will help snap it all the way home.
You can tell the magazine has been properly secured by looking at the little locator tab on the right-hand side, which will protrude from a hole in the side plate. It’s a solid and reliable system, and the addition of the magnet is an elegant touch.
PERFORMANCE AND PRECISION
One of the challenges faced by any mechanically operated bullpup design is how to link the trigger to the trigger blade, with feedback often being a bit mushy.
The trigger on the Boxer does suffer from this, with a long first stage being followed by a fairly long second stage with plenty of creep. But let-off is fairly predictable, and the trigger broke repeatedly at 1lb 15oz, which is perfect for this gun’s intended use.
Length of pull is very slightly longer than usual at 38cm – which is good news for people like me, as I have the build of a pot-bellied orangutan with stumpy legs and gangly arms.
Talking of build, the Boxer is quite a small rifle, so some larger shooters may find it a bit too dinky for their liking, while others will appreciate the practicality of its Chihuahua-like proportions.
Having put a few hundred pellets through the rifle to let everything bed in and settle down, I shot it over my Shooting Chrony F1 using Webley Mosquito Express pellets. The results were superb, with a spread of just 4.4 feet per second over a 10-shot string.
Stats on paper are all well and good, though pretty meaningless if the rifle can’t group, but the Boxer did not disappoint – and thanks to the cold hammer-forged barrel, was not particularly pellet-fussy either.
While the Mosquito Express seemed to be the favoured pellets of this particular Boxer, it also shot very well with H&N Baracuda FT, JSB Exact Heavy and QYS Streamlined – the subject of our pellet test this issue. All pellets were happy to group underneath a five pence piece at 30 yards, and at 40 yards, they grouped under a £1 coin.
One feature that’s often touched on in a review of a hunting rifle is the noise made by the safety catch when it’s disengaged. It’s certainly preferable to have a safety that’s silent in operation, but is it actually necessary?
The Boxer has a lever-style safety catch located on the right-hand side of the action just below the channel for the bolt, It can be set to ‘fire’ or ‘safe’ whether or not the rifle is cocked, and works by blocking the operation of the trigger.
It makes an audible click both when being applied or disengaged. You can sometimes quieten a safety by guiding it forwards slowly when it’s being disengaged, but this technique doesn’t work with the Boxer.
However, this didn’t seem to make much difference in the field, as the squirrels that I had been targeting during one session remained oblivious of both me and the rifle when the safety was operated.
While the Boxer does have a few niggles, notably the fairly hefty cocking effort and the trigger, these are more than made up for by its reliable magazine, superb shot-to-shot consistency and accuracy.
If you’re in the market for a budget bullpup, this could be the one.