Richard Saunders’s Eastern promise

Richard Saunders tests four Eastern European rifles to see how they compare with airgun offerings from the old guard

For a long time our sport has been dominated by a relatively few brands hailing, in the main, from Western and Northern Europe with a few interlopers from the other side of the pond. Names such as Weihrauch, Air Arms, Daystate, FX, Brocock and BSA have been our stock in trade.

However in recent years, as interest in airguns grows, the world gets smaller and the internet broadens our knowledge, brands from other parts of the world have appeared to challenge the status quo. They’re not all new kids on the block – just new to many of us.

Eastern Europe has been something of a hothouse for airgun design and manufacture, with rifles emerging from Ukraine, Turkey, Czech Republic and Slovenia to name just a few. And thanks to some enterprising distributors and import agents, we’re all able to enjoy them.

Airgunners can be a conservative bunch at the best of times, so it’s hardly surprising that to begin with many of us turned our noses up at anything that wasn’t stamped with the right name.

Fortunately though, a few more open-minded and adventurous types took the plunge and before long word spread that, you know what, despite all our prejudices it turns out that other parts of the world can produce good, competitively priced air rifles too.

So in this issue we’re taking a look at just a few of the many rifles that have been imported from Eastern Europe. Door-to-door delivery specialist Pellpax has sent us an AGT Uragan Compact; we’ve got our hands on a Priest 2 thanks to City Air Weapons and Range Right has sent us a Kral Pro 500. And rounding out our fantastic four is the Kalibrgun Cricket on loan from Cheshire Gun Room.

RTI Arms Priest 2

£899.95

Superb in its own right

It would be all too easy to look at the Priest 2 from Slovenian company RTI Arms and dismiss it as a wannabe FX Impact. For sure the two ultra-tactical rifles have some aesthetic similarities, but make no mistake, the Priest 2 is an extremely capable rifle in its own right. And at £899.95, it’s half the price of an Impact.

Weighing three kilos unscoped and measuring just 710mm, it is light and compact, and despite the minimalistic but adjustable stock, it is very comfortable in the shoulder.

The magazine, which slots in from either the left or right, takes between 14 and seven pellets depending on whether you opt for .177, .22, .25 or .30 flavours. If you can’t settle on a calibre you can purchase barrel kits to widen your options.

The 320cc aluminium bottle takes a 300 bar fill, which will give a claimed 500 shots in .22 and 350 in .177 at the UK legal limit. However, most air tanks take a 300 bar fill so it won’t be long before you’ll have to get by with charges below the Priest 2’s maximum capacity.

Located on the left, the Priest 2 has a straight-pull bolt. A slot holds the handle in place once pulled back so you can insert the magazine. Cycling the pellets by pushing the bolt backwards and forwards reveals the Priest 2’s quality engineering; everything feels solid and mechanical. 

The trigger is fully adjustable down to a pull weight of just 200 grams. Like other bullpups, it relies on a rod to attach it to the release mechanism. However, the Priest 2 is designed to need just one straight rod. As a result the two stages are very defined, and let-off is crisp and predictable.

On the range the crack from the muzzle is muted by a full-length shroud, although a ½ inch UNF thread means you can add a silencer to make the rifle quieter still.

The trigger, cocking system and magazine, combined with a comfortable hold thanks to the pistol grip, help exploit the capabilities of the regulated action. As a result, using Air Arms Diabolo Field pellets, I was able to punch 5p .177 groups at 30 metres with no flyers.

AGT Uragan Compact

£1,349.99

Petite, but sweet

It’s a cliché I know, but the Uragan Compact truly is ‘small but beautifully formed’. At just 620mm and 2.9kg, this rifle from Czech company AGT fully deserves its ‘Compact’ moniker. And fitting the supplied silencer does nothing to spoil its dimensions.

Despite its proportions, the Uragan Compact is a full-power, well-finished and fully featured air rifle. For example, the fully shrouded cold hammer-forged CZ barrel is 360mm long, but manages to look much shorter because it is set deep into the black synthetic stock.

An adjustable curved rubber shoulder pad sets you up nicely to use a scope which, thanks to a 170mm Picatinny rail, gives you plenty of room to find the perfect head position.

By mounting the rail low to the action, the Uragan Compact avoids the feeling of being slab-sided. The magazine snaps into the butt from the left with no fuss. Two are provided, taking 12 or 15 pellets in .177 and .22 respectively.

The sidelever is situated on the left as well. The biathlon-style handle springs open and requires minimal effort to complete the cocking process. AGT says it can be swapped to the right-hand side without the need for specialist tools.

The thumbhole pistol grip is nicely contoured, and sets you up to use the two-stage trigger, which is adjustable with the stock removed. However, out of the box it was set just right for me with the highly curved blade giving plenty of feel. The post-type safety catch is situated at the front of the trigger guard. 

At 210cc, the carbon bottle is not only one of the smallest I’ve seen, but the best-looking. Behind it and below the easy-to-read pressure gauge is a short accessory rail and the fill port, which is accessed by pulling out a plastic plug.

A 300 bar fill gives a claimed 90 shots in .22 and 130 in .177. Shot counts are usually less in the smaller calibre, but AGT claims this not to be the case with the Uragan because of its regulator setup. 

It would be a crime to plonk a large scope on the Uragan Compact, so I fitted one of the new MTC Optics SWAT scopes which suited the rifle perfectly. The combination made fingernail-sized groups at 30 metres a formality.

KalibrGun Cricket

£1099 – £1,109

Tuned to perfection

KalibrGun’s Cricket has developed something of a cult-following, but is no newcomer, having been introduced to the UK airgun market by distributor The Cheshire Gun Room.

It’s not hard to see why either, as this little Czech bullpup is as accurate as anything else on the market. Much of that is down to the attention of The Cheshire Gun Room, which not only tunes the guns it imports, but upgrades and replaces a number of components too.

At 690mm, the Cricket is as dinky at the Uragan Compact, but thanks to the chunky forend it feels a little more substantial. 

Located at the very back of the action on the right in true bullpup style, the semi-sprung sidelever is smooth to operate. It looks as though it could be moved to the other side of the breech, though that’s probably a task best left to a gunsmith.

Two HW100-style magazines are supplied. Both the .177 and .22 models take 14 pellets and a nifty rack in the butt allows you to store four magazines. Inserting them is a little fiddly as you have to pull the sidelever back, hold up a catch and push in the magazine.

The Cricket defaults to a single shot mode in which you have to rotate the magazine by hand. For the magazine to rotate with the sidelever, you have to move the catch again. 

With that done, the Cricket cycles easily, and with a 200 bar fill the regulated action is good for a claimed 320 shots in .22 and 240 in .177. The fill port is located under the muzzle and is accessed by pulling up a sprung collar, which also houses the pressure gauge.

The pistol grip is comfortable and will suit both left- and right-handers and although the solid rubber shoulder pad is not adjustable, it ensures good eye alignment. A raised 220mm Picatinny rail provides 200mm of useable space that is more than enough to fit a scope for proper eye alignment.

To adjust the two-stage trigger you’ll have to remove the stock. On the range it was noticeable just how quiet the Cricket is, thanks both to the attention of The Cheshire Gun Room and a 270mm silencer which looks more like a barrel shroud. 

Kral Pro 500

£625

Hard-hitting heavyweight

Weighing in at 3.8 kilos, you’d have to say Kral’s Pro 500 is something of a heavyweight bruiser. Don’t think of it as a bloated journeyman, though. With its sculpted, angular stock, it’s far more of an Anthony Joshua. 

At just over a metre, the Pro 500 isn’t excessively long, although you’d likely want to fit a silencer via the ½ inch UNF thread, but everything about it is big and chunky, not least the enormous 500cc bottle.

The stock looks like a hybrid of the handles on Kral’s Puncher Pro and Puncher Jumbo products. As with most of the rifles from this Turkish company, the walnut is sublime and would look even better with a coat or two of oil.

Available only for right-handers, the rifle features a ventilated butt pad as well as stippling on the underside of the forend and a pistol grip that’s grooved for either a thumb around or two different thumb-up grips.

For a mid-priced rifle, the metalwork would shame many more expensive guns. The sidelever is sprung and operates positively to cycle the 12-shot .22 magazine (14-shot .177), two of which are provided. They slot in from the right between a power adjuster dial and the resettable manual safety catch.

Kral’s 150mm long scope mounting system means you can use either Picatinny or dovetail mounts. There’s no facility to adjust the butt, but eye relief was perfect for me.

The Pro 500’s dominant feature is the size of the air bottle – all 500cc of it. The filler port is located in a recess in the underside of the forend next to the very clear pressure gauge. A 250 bar fill provides a claimed 160 shots in .22 and 150 in .177.

Triggers used to be something of an Achilles’ heel for Kral, and importer Range Right has insisted they be improved. Kral has clearly listened, as the match-style trigger on the Pro 500 represents a huge step forward. The two-stage unit can be adjusted by removing the stock and provides a very crisp let-off, enabling me to hit 5p groups at 27 metres.

KEY SPECS

Think again

There was a time when you could be forgiven for sticking to rifles made from the established brands we all grew up with and dismissing guns made in far flung places by companies we’d never heard of.

The world is a much smaller place now and technology helps break down such illogical prejudices. And thank goodness for that, because there are some excellent rifles out there for people prepared to do a bit of research.

I would say ‘and take a risk’ but in truth, there is no more risk in buying a rifle from an Eastern European manufacturer than from one made in the UK or any other part of the world, thanks to responsible importers and distributors.

Like manufacturers everywhere, Eastern European companies offer products that span the financial spectrum from made-to-a-budget rifles through to high-end premium models.

And like any other purchase, the sensible approach is to set aside any lingering badge snobbery and focus on the basics of engineering quality, design and features. 

All the Eastern European rifles we have tested here, and no doubt many others from that part of the world, will place pellets on target time and again and at the full UK legal limit. So what’s stopping you?

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