Andy McLachlan reckons there are more than a few rifles capable of delivering match-winning performance that don’t cost the earth
In my previous articles concerning what makes a good target rifle, I described models which are competition-winning designs, with prices that reflect this top-of-the-range technology.
Just because a design costs a lot of money, it does not mean that using it will instantly improve your scores. A good rifle will allow you to make the best of your talent when you realise that the only way to greatly improve your chance of success is with a ridiculous amount of practice.
All of the superb trigger and action assemblies available near the £2,000 mark will only allow you to produce a consistent shot release as long as you practise to perfect your ability to mount the gun so it fits with your head concentric to the lens arrangement in the scope, which will reduce any parallax error when in the aim.
Trigger release will eventually become automatic as your brain activates the muscles as you watch the flight of the pellet as it hits the target, remaining in position for a couple of seconds to maintain the correct follow-through technique.
But there are lots of guns out there that will enable you to generate high levels of performance that do not all cost thousands of pounds. What you are looking for is an action that is dependable, a trigger that allows you to set the release for your own preference and a barrel that allows the pellet the best opportunity of spinning its way accurately to hit your target.
The following guns are models that I have owned over the years and have used for various forms of competition either indoors or out. You will notice that they do not all resemble target rifles, but they are more than capable of high performance due to their good design, high standard of manufacture and all-round reliability.
AGT Vulcan 2
This has remained my favourite all-round airgun. I cannot think of a more dependable workhorse. It doesn’t resemble any target rifle I am aware of, with its bullpup proportions and understated appearance.
What it provides is dependable accuracy. I was amazed that such a gun could deliver such high standards of accuracy until I put it up against the more traditional German and Austrian match guns. At 50-plus yards, the Vulcan nearly matched full-blown target rifles, and at 25 yards was just as accurate.
This is using the gun via its supplied 15-shot magazine. Sometimes a magazine in a target rifle can detract from ultimate accuracy downrange due to inconsistencies within the manufacture of the magazine, meaning pellets don’t line up properly and end up getting shaved as they enter the barrel, leading to obvious inconsistencies.
I have four magazines for my own Vulcan and all work perfectly, with remarkably high standards of accuracy from each.
Looking at the high standard of build and the quality of all the components used to manufacture this gun, it should come as no surprise that it performs as well as it does.
It feels and cycles as a gun should if it is to last a long time. Mine has now got through tens of thousands of pellets and has never missed a beat. It just does it!
This is the gun that I use to shoot my indoor 25-yard benchrest competitions with, and remains my firm favourite due to its regulated action, excellent barrel and its ‘easy’ accuracy potential. If I could only own one air rifle, it would be this one.
Rapid Air Weapons HM1000
Based upon the famous Theoben Rapid design, the RAW rifle features bomb-proof build quality with its simple layout and sidelever action. My current .177 HM is the second model that I have owned, and, like the Vulcan, the solid build and high quality of hand-finishing of both the action and the stock speak volumes about its longevity.
The gun is consistent over the chronograph and can produce tiny groups out to 50 yards plus. It is a conventional gun to shoot, as anybody who has ever used a Rapid will tell you.
The solid feel in the hand and the almost monotonous ability to hit the target is why the Theoben Rapid and Rapid Air Weapons rifles always hold their second-hand prices so well.
The Hunter Model version comes supplied with a large buddy bottle up front that allows hundreds of shots to be fired prior to top-up. The action is also available in the Target Model configuration, seen within the indoor and outdoor competition arena.
The TM uses a smaller air cylinder up front, but the action, regulator and barrel assemblies are the same, apart from the HM coming with a carbon-fibre silencer and shroud as standard.
Genuine match-winning levels of accuracy are possible with this platform, with either HM or TM models fully equipped to provide the goods for those willing to fork out the cash and possibly a wait while one is made for you in the United States.
Air Arms HFT 500
There cannot be that many airgunners who haven’t at some time or another owned at least one Air Arms S400. There is a perfectly good reason for this. The S400 represents almost a standard for pre-charged pneumatic rifles.
It is not a complicated gun, but one that allows many shooters, in particular those new to the sport, to enjoy fine levels of accuracy and dependability from what will often be their first dip into the world of PCPs.
The HFT 500 is basically an S400 that has been set up with outdoor HFT competition in mind, obvious when you look at the model’s name. In addition to a selected match-grade barrel, the gun comes equipped with a longer air cylinder that allows a decent shot count and a multi-adjustable laminated Minelli stock.
This allows the shooter to set up both cheek and butt positions to best suit themselves, and also allows the fitment of an additional forend hamster within the fitted accessory rail for those wishing to purchase one as an extra.
The trigger comes supplied with a button as standard, and although it cannot be described as a proper match-grade unit, once properly set up it is predictable and able to deliver outstanding levels of accuracy.
The gun that I owned was bought from new and was producing match-winning standards of accuracy indoors from day one. Just like with the S400, the gun is without doubt capable of producing the goods without a regulator fitted as standard, although my friend Geoff has perfected the fitment of aftermarket regulators to produce what owners say are genuinely amazing rifles with almost unbelievable levels of consistency.
In my own area of the North West of England, the HFT 500 has a popular following, particularly for those that have been fettled. This is with shooters who are able to afford the highest prices for guns that deliver the goods.
The fact that many of these shooters choose to use the HFT 500 speaks volumes for its popularity amongst those in the know. A worthy contender for a first target rifle without a doubt!
So, there we have it. Hopefully, I have provided some of you with some guidance that will lead you to buying your first (or another!) target rifle.
The most important thing is to visit a retailer or approach fellow club members and try the gun for fit before you part with your cash. There is nothing more important than a gun that fits you properly for relaxed and accurate shooting. I wish you luck.