Rich Saunders takes a look at some top-of-the-range springers and entry-level PCPs, and asks which is the better purchase.
Choosing an air rifle is hard enough. New manufacturers are springing up from all over the world, and established companies are responding by releasing new models and updated versions of their old faithfuls.
It doesn’t help that in addition to new brands and models, technology is moving on apace as well. Daystate tempts us with its Harry Potteresque electronic wizardry, and just when we got used to the idea that a regulator was a good thing, FX told us we now need two of them.
Now I don’t want to add to the problem, but it seems to me there’s one other important factor to ponder – and it’s this: without doubt, there are some great entry-level PCP rifles, but you cannot get away from the fact that “entry-level” is often code for “made to a budget”, and whilst some are better than others, they are still a compromise on the best.
Here’s the conundrum; do you buy a middle-of-the-road PCP, or do you lay down the same money and become the proud owner of one of the best springers you could possibly buy? OK, you will have to forgo the multi-shot magazine system of a PCP, but in return you will have the comfort of knowing your rifle represents the pinnacle of what’s on the market when it comes to piston power.
If it’s performance that worries you, be assured that a decent springer is every bit as accurate over typical airgunning distances as a PCP. They may require more technique, but isn’t that part of the fun?
To explore the question a little further, we’re taking a look at two of the best springers money can buy and putting them up against a couple of PCPs that cost about the same.
We have Air Arms and Hull Cartridge to thank for loaning us a TX200 MkIII and an HW95K, which retail for £599 and £411 respectively. And facing off in the PCP corner is the Zbroia Hortitsia MkII, which goes for £539.99 from Pellpax, and a Reximex Myth from Range Right, which retails for £599.
Zbroia Hortitsia MkII
The original Hortitsia established itself as a rifle that performed better than its affordable price tag would suggest.
The MkII version has been improved with a new, more efficient regulator, as well as changes to the straight-pull cocking action to make it more robust. The filler port at the front of the cylinder has been redesigned to incorporate a collar that rotates to accept the fill probe.
At 910mm and three kilos unscoped, the MkII is light and compact. The grey stain stock option on the earlier rifle has been replaced with a stylish black alternative. In other respects, the Hortitsia is unchanged, which means it is still only configured for right-handers. There’s no stippling on either the forend or pistol grip and the solid, but comfortable, non-adjustable rubber shoulder pad is finished with a red spacer.
The Hortitsia’s brass bolt cocking system has a small handle which releases the locking mechanism, allowing the bolt to be pulled back. Once cocked, pushing the bolt home with your thumb cycles a pellet through the 10-shot .22 or 12-shot .177 rotary magazine, with two supplied.
A 140mm Picatinny rail provides plenty of real estate for a scope and the rollover comb provides good eye alignment. The two-stage adjustable trigger would flatter many more expensive rivals. Inside the trigger guard is a gold-coloured safety catch – push it forward to shoot.
The MkII is available in a range of different barrel length and cylinder options. The test rifle is the smallest configuration – a 330mm barrel and 200cc cylinder – which is slightly larger than the 180cc of the original. Other options are a 450mm or 550mm barrel with a 230cc tube. Unscrewing a muzzle cap reveals a ½ inch UNF thread for a silencer, though I found the full-length shroud more than capable of dampening muzzle report.
Founded in 2015, Reximex is a relative newcomer and its rifles have been scarce in the UK. Now though, Range-Right has signed an exclusive distributor deal with the Turkish company and will market three of its PCP rifles as well as a pistol.
Reximex’s Tormenta model is being sold as the Myth over here. It’s dressed in a high quality black synthetic tactical stock, is non-regulated, has a twin air supply design that certainly looks the part and comes in a plastic hard case.
At 2.8kg, the Myth is light, and at 870mm it’s compact, although removing the fluted muzzle cap to fit a silencer to the ½ inch thread will add a few inches. The sculpted pistol grip is comfortable for both handers and the butt pad, which fits around a 250cc bottle, adjusts to help shoulder fit and eye alignment for a scope attached to the Picatinny rail, which is split to accept the magazine.
The sidelever is well-designed and looks similar to some Kral models – I’m guessing there’s a Turkish parts company doing a roaring trade somewhere – and can only be mounted on the right-hand side.
As well as a Picatinny accessory rail, you get two plastic drum magazines, as well as a single-shot tray. Inserted from the right side of the breech just behind a power adjuster switch, they take 12 shots in .22 and 14 in.177.
The rear air bottle is complemented by a 130cc air cylinder. Range Right recommends filling to 200 bar to get a return of around 150 shots. The filling process is achieved by inserting the supplied probe into a port at the front of the cylinder accessed by removing a cap.
The two-stage trigger on the Myth is adjustable for weight and position. You’ll need to remove the safety catch above the trigger, and the manometer is placed on the right just forward of the breech, rather than under the muzzle.
Air Arms TX200 MKIII
When it comes to top-of-the range springers, Air Arms’s dynamic duo of the Pro Sport and TX200 are hard to beat, and have for many years sparred with Weihrauch’s HW97 K and HW77 for underlever supremacy.
Priced below the Pro Sport, the Arms TX200 MkIII has the classic “over and under” design and has, according to Air Arms, claimed more FT and HFT gold medals than any other rifle in its class.
The rifle is 1055mm long with a 395mm Lothar Walther match-grade barrel, whereas the Hunter Carbine HC model measures 995mm thanks to a shorter 319mm barrel.
Both weigh around the four kilo mark and are available in sumptuous walnut or beech stocks designed for right- or left-handers, although lefties have to pay a premium.
Ornate panels of fish scale chequering adorn the pistol grip and forend. And whilst not adjustable, the butt pad, cheekpiece and high comb ensure excellent head position and eye alignment for a scope mounted on the dovetail rail.
The TX200’s underlever releases from a catch under the muzzle and takes minimal effort to sweep back.
Although there is some ratchet noise at the end of the stroke, the process is still quiet enough for hunting.
Cocking the action reveals a generous loading port, into which pellets are fed nose-first, and sets the cross-bolt safety at the rear of the action.
The underlever will not fly up and the loading port will stay open if you pull the trigger by accident. Even with the safety catch pushed in and the trigger activated, the lever moves a fraction thanks to a secondary anti-bear trap. The lever will return by pressing a switch on the right side of the forend.
The two-stage trigger is adjustable with a defined stop before the second stage. The TX200 is smooth and quiet straight out of the box, thanks to synthetic bearings and an integrated moderator.
Weihrauch HW95K Luxus
For years, Weihrauch has dominated the spring-powered air rifle market. We have Air Arms to thank for challenging the German company’s dominance.
When it comes to break-barrels, Weihrauch pretty much has things sewn up. Some of its models have been in production for 50 years or more, such is their enduring quality and popularity.
Compared with the HW35 and HW80, the HW95K is a relative newcomer, and many would argue it is the best break-barrel available. It’s certainly a handsome beast, and weighing a little over seven pounds, or 3.3kg, it is one of the lightest full-powered Weihrauch springers.
The Luxus model has chequering on the forend and steeply angled pistol grip. The rubber recoil pad is finished with a black spacer. The slim handle helps hide that the HW95K is 1,115mm long with a 310mm barrel. The silencer helps balance the rifle and makes it easier to cock.
Tapping the end of the barrel to break the action and then sweeping it back requires minimal effort, and this tells you all you need to know about the level of engineering that has gone into the HW95K.
And with a pellet inserted into the breech, the barrel locks up again with a solidity.
Weihrauch springer users will be familiar with the cross-bolt safety catch that is automatically set at the rear of the action. Remembering to take it off before each shot is an irritation to some, but is a discipline soon learned.
All the superlatives have been worn out to describe the two-stage, fully adjustable Rekord unit. Let’s just say it’s been setting the standard for the last 50-odd years.
Shouldering the HW95K makes you appreciate how good a rifle can feel. Although a decent tune-up is money well spent, the rifle is capable of upsetting the most expensive PCPs regarding accuracy.
Springer vs PCP air rifles – difficult decisions
In truth, there are very few poor air rifles on sale today. For sure, some are better than others, and price isn’t always an indicator, but most will do a good job of putting pellets within a 10p piece at sensible distances.
And surely that is all that matters at the end of the day.
Except it isn’t.
We also want rifles that look good, are pleasant to operate and simply feel right. Therein lies the problem. Take the cold efficiency of acceptable accuracy out of the equation and everything else is subjective. I like something you hate, and vice versa.
When it comes to choosing between springers and similarly priced PCPs, top-end rifles like the TX200 and HW95K have an X-Factor quality that simply doesn’t exist on the PCPs.
That’s not to say the Myth and Hortitsia are poor quality. Not at all, as they represent a lot of rifle for the money. But for some shooters, knowing they are a compromise on the ultimate in PCP technology can nag. On the other hand, those who spend the same, or less, on a springer know their rifle represents pretty much the pinnacle of what’s possible.
So if you’re on a budget, it comes down to whether you are happy to sacrifice a little springer X-Factor in exchange for the multi-shot, magazine convenience of a middle-of-the-road PCP.
The choice is yours.
|Name||Reximex Myth||Zbroia Hortitsia MkII||Air Arms TX200 MkIII||Weihrauch HW95K|
|Action||PCP sidelever||PCP straight-pull||Spring underlever||Spring break-barrel|
|Magazine||12 shots in .22, 14 shots in .177||10 shots in .22, 12 shots in .177||Single-shot||Single-shot|
|Test shot count||200||140||n/a||n/a|
|Test fill pressure||200 bar||200 bar||n/a||n/a|
|Trigger||Two-stage adjustable||Two-stage adjustable||Two-stage adjustable||Two-stage adjustable|
|Safety||Manual, resettable||Manual, resettable||Automatic, resettable||Automatic, resettable|