The low-down on the take-down! Richard Saunders indulges his secret agent fantasy as he tests four take-down rifles: Phoenix Fast Fire 10, FX Verminator MK II, Air Arms S510 TDR and the Gunpower Storm MK III
Airgun shooters have an insatiable thirst for new things – and, of course, airgun manufacturers are only too pleased to come up with new products that satisfy our need. Nothing exemplifies that better than the bullpup explosion. Just about every manufacturer has thrown its hat into the ring, BSA being the most recent with the Defiant.
Designed to be taken apart and put back together easily, take-down rifles have been around a while, but haven’t quite ignited airgunners’ interest to the same extent as bullpups. While most bullpup owners I know bought their guns because of how they look as much as how they perform, many TDR owners have a more practical reason for owning one, be it their lightness and portability, or the need to be unobtrusive.
Take, for example, a professional pest controller friend of mine, who has a contract to deal with feral pigeons at a stately home that’s open to the public. Although he shoots when everyone has gone home, he has to move around the site during opening hours. A rifle bag would attract unwanted attention, so instead he takes his TDR. To the casual onlooker, he’s just a maintenance worker carrying a drill in its black plastic case.
Like many other developments in the airgunning world, the TDRs we’re familiar with are inspired by much older guns. In fact, Browning, Remington, Winchester and Savage were making them in the late 1800s, when the desire for concealment was no doubt more sinister than needing to pop off a few ferals.
Of course, a host of fictional spies and secret agents have also fuelled our desire for TDRs. I’m willing to bet some owners hum the James Bond theme every time they assemble their gun.
Having said that, a fair few TDR shooters I spoke to admit to not breaking down their rifles, citing convenience and the loss of air that can occur with some models when the air reservoir is removed – more on that to come.
As with other airguns, TDRs span the fiscal range, with something to suit most budgets. For this test we’ve selected four that are representative of what’s on offer. At the upper end we’ve the fabled FX Verminator Mk II, for which you can expect to pay around £1,060. Emmett & Stone Country Sports loaned us an Air Arms S510 TDR, which it sells for £870.
Close behind, with an RRP of £825, is the innovative Fast Fire 10 from Phoenix Air Guns. Bringing up the rear on the fiscal scale is the Gunpower Storm Mk III, which retails at £550 for the rifle, or £655 if you want the moderator and fill adapter as well.
AIR ARMS S510 TDR
Air Arms may not have invented the TDR concept, but its S410 and S510 TDR models have become synonymous with the category. Based on actions that have been perfected in the rifle and carbine derivatives, the S510 TDR you see here uses a sidelever, whereas the S410 TDR has a bolt-action mechanism. Emmett & Stone Country Sports, the company that loaned us the test rifle, sells both these models for £870 and £749 respectively.
Unlike the other guns on test, Air Arms TDRs use an air cylinder, so the detachable butt is a metal rod with a rubber-finish cheek rest and an adjustable butt pad. The S510 TDR is a full-size rifle, measuring 106cm long and weighing just 2.8kg unscoped with the Q-Tec moderator, which is supplied as standard. No buddy bottle means fewer shots compared with its test competitors and Air Arms quotes only 40 from a full charge.
However, Air Arms is under-selling itself because I was able to manage 80 shots with .22 AA Diabolo Field pellets with no loss of accuracy. The S510 TDR is easy to break down and packs into a black plastic case that’s slightly longer than that of the other guns due to its full rifle-size proportions. It’s filled with high-density foam that has cut-outs for a scope, a tin of pellets, a couple of 10-shot magazines, the fill adapter and muzzle thread collar as well as a gun lock. On the range, the S510 TDR put all 80 shots through single-hole groups at 30 metres.
As you’d expect, the sidelever action is a delight to use – firm, but not stiff, and positive too. The fully adjustable trigger is smooth, and the let-off crisp and predictable. As with other Air Arms guns, the safety catch is a button on the trigger – not my favourite set-up, but it’s handily placed.
“It’s a brave person who wants a TDR and doesn’t check out the S410 TDR or the S510 TDR. If you end up buying something else, you’ll forever wonder how they would compare”
FX VERMINATOR MK II
When it comes to choosing a take-down rifle, FX and Air Arms are names that are usually on the shortlist. However, the two companies have completely different views on what a TDR should be. FX’s Verminator Mk II looks purposeful with its black synthetic stock and compact lines, especially if you forgo a moderator and rely purely on the fully shrouded barrel.
With a plastic-sleeved 400cc charge bottle serving as a stock, FX claims a shot count upwards of 350 in .22 and a little less in .177, at just under 12ft-lb with a 220-bar fill. A power adjuster, which is intended more for firearm-certificated versions, will turn the juice down and give you a few more shots. Like the other guns on test, the Verminator Mk II comes in a good quality, foam-lined black plastic box, which has room for a scope attached to the action.
Like the Phoenix Fast Fire 10 (page 90), the Verminator Mk II can be filled with the bottle in place – which is a good thing as, according to the manual, it should only be removed when the charge runs below 100 bar – not much good if you are in the field and have to break down the gun to go home. The standard of engineering in this TDR is apparent from the moment that you fit the component parts together: everything slots together and screws in place with reassuring precision and solidity.
With the 12-shot .22 or 16-shot .177 cartridge magazine ready to use, that feeling of quality is reinforced by a slick sidelever, a positive safety catch and a match-grade, adjustable trigger. With a scope fitted to the 11mm dovetail rail, the Verminator Mk II’s bottle butt gives good alignment and helps deliver the sort of tight, consistent groups you’d expect from a premium air rifle like this, thanks to its Smooth Twist barrel technology. That said, there’s no regulator, and although one can be fitted retrospectively, for the price I’d expect one as standard.
“The Verminator Mk II has to be on everyone’s shortlist. Coming in at the upper end of what you’d expect to pay for a TDR, it’s well-made and delivers staggering performance”
GUNPOWER STORM MK III
Gunpower UK has been around for some time; to the casual observer, many of its guns look the same now as when they first hit the scene. That’s a little unfair, though: although rifles such as the Storm Mk III have remained true to their original look, they have evolved and been refined over time. There’s an updated moderator, for example, and a new resettable automatic safety catch.
Unlike the other guns, the Storm Mk III is a single-shot rifle. Pulling back a large foam-covered catch cocks the action, reveals the loading port and engages the safety catch. The port is plenty big enough to allow pellets to be loaded, even in the dark, and is closed by moving the catch forward again. The Storm Mk III comes with a 490cc bottle/butt. Gunpower claims a 200-bar fill will provide you with 550 shots in .22 and 450 in .177, although you’ll have to keep count yourself as there’s no manometer.
The standard bottle can only be filled when removed, and you’ll need a fill adapter, which has to be purchased separately with some editions of the rifle. It’s easy to detach, and with no loss of air you can stay true to the take-down principle. However, if you prefer to keep your rifle assembled, Gunpower offers a Spin-Loc bottle option for £50 that incorporates a manometer and a quick-fill Foster fitting.
The presence of an 18-inch Lothar Walther barrel and a two-stage trigger, which is adjustable for both position and travel, mean that with a scope fitted to the raised 11mm dovetail rail, the Gunpower Storm Mk III will give you tight groups on the range and precise kills in the field. As with many other take-down rifle designs, the Gunpower Storm Mk III’s looks will divide opinion. However, there’s no denying it truly exemplifies the take-down concept and is an impressive performer.
“Detractors who dismiss the Storm Mk III as simplistic and old-fashioned are missing the point. The single-shot facility will be an issue for some, but a plus point for others”
PHOENIX FAST FIRE 10
Available in .177 and .22, the Fast Fire 10 offers 400cc and 190cc bottle options. With the bigger tank provided for our test model, you can expect to enjoy 200 shots in .22 and 160 in .177. The rifle’s moniker hints at the rifle’s party piece, as it is cocked by moving the pistol grip forward and back. Doing so cycles the 10-shot magazine smoothly, enabling you to achieve almost instant follow-up shots without coming off aim.
You’ll need plenty of pellets as the ability to fire through an entire magazine in seconds is addictive. This is more than a fast-firing plinker, though. Its BSA-derived barrel means it is accurate at normal airgun ranges, and there’s legal-limit power too. While it would have no problem knocking over rabbits and pigeons, the compact Fast Fire 10 would really be in its element shooting rats in and around farm buildings.
There’s some creep on the trigger and a minute movement in the pistol grip, and I’d like the safety catch, which is located just above the pistol grip, to be more positive. Presented in a shock-proof plastic case, the component parts – the action, silencer and bottle, which serves as the butt – are neatly contained in foam slots. There’s room for the action to be packed away with a scope attached.
The bottle can be removed and filled separately or filled while attached to the gun. Adapters are provided for both scenarios. The Fast Fire 10 also comes with a manual, which is worth reading to avoid any damage. For example, you are advised to use a probe, which is provided, to ensure pellets are seated below the magazine’s O-ring. Failure to do so could result in a jam. Double cocking is to be avoided as well, and there’s a procedure to follow if you wish to remove the charge bottle without blowing the seals.
“The Fast Fire 10’s pistol grip cocking mechanism is no gimmick. It’s efficient and smooth, and makes the most of what is a highly effective, quiet and compact full-powered rifle”
AIR ARMS S510 TDR TAKES THE REST APART
The compact size of the Fast Fire 10 makes it a good alternative to a bullpup, and it’s accurate and powerful too. I’m sorely tempted to buy one as a gun for ratting – and you’ve got to love that pistol grip cocking mechanism. At £825, it’s not cheap, though; if the trigger was a little better, I’d be halfway to the gun shop.
The Storm Mk III is distinctive in so many ways that it almost seems out of place in this test. In its standard form it’s a true take-down rifle, though you will have to sacrifice a manometer and the ability to fill the bottle in situ. That leaves the Verminator Mk II and the S510 TDR.
These guns come from opposite ends of the take-down spectrum, and you wouldn’t be disappointed if you bought either one. It comes down to whether you like the black tactical look and high shot count of the Verminator, or the still-radical looks but more conventional proportions of the Air Arms.
Cost is also a factor: you can’t get away from the fact that the S510 TDR is nearly £200 less than the Verminator. That sways the argument for me, along with the fact that you will lose air when you break down the FX Verminator. So I’d go for the S510 TDR and accept that 70-80 shots is more than enough – but I’d be saving up for a Verminator as well.
“Most of us will want a TDR because we like the way they look: they offer no advantage in terms of accuracy. For some they will have practical benefits, such as being easier to transport and store, or more discreet.
“Some models have a weight advantage over rifles and even carbines, and some are a real alternative to bullpups in terms of size and handiness in confined areas. One thing is for sure: if you have to consider factors like these when buying your next gun, a TDR will not mean having to compromise”