Top tactical air rifle picks from Richard Saunders

When they first appeared, many dismissed bullpups as a flash-in-the-pan gimmick. Now, despite being true Marmite guns, they are an established part of our sport. 

Manufacturers are always looking to give us the next thing and though they’ve existed for a while, the last couple of years has seen an increase in the number of tactical rifles.

So named because many of them mimic designs used by the military,
just about every air rifle maker has added a tactical model to their line-up. In a new twist to the genre, many tactical rifles have a modular design, allowing you to swap out standard parts for third party items.

I don’t think it is quite accurate to say the FX Impact started things off, as military-style rifles predated it, but with the Impact, the Swedish company made many of us realise we wanted a tactical rifle.

The Impact is still regarded as the yardstick by which other tactical rifles must be measured, and rightly so in my opinion. But there’s no getting away from the fact that at £1,800 plus, it’s not cheap.

So for our group test this month we’re looking at whether it’s possible to get tactical without laying down quite as much cash. From Slovenia, we have the recently launched RTI Prophet which City Air Weapons sells for £1,300, and from Staffordshire, Brocock has lent us its new sidelever Concept XR, which retails at £1,185.

I also decided to throw my own Brocock Commander XR Magnum into the mix, priced at £1,348, and I also borrowed an FX Dreamline Tactical from a friend, which set him back £926.99.

Brocock Concept XR

Adjustable and compact
Price: £1,185

With Daystate as a sister company, it’s perhaps not surprising Brocock rifles often don’t grab the limelight quite as often. Which is a shame, as the brand has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, and its latest sidelever XR range is up there with the best on the market.

Designed for hunting, the Concept XR is light and compact – a rifle that you can carry all day long. At just 2.9kg, the Concept XR’s standout feature is the ambidextrous sliding AR-15-style stock, which extends the rifle at the push of button from 815mm to a maximum length of 889mm, with four stops in between. As with most extendable stock rifles, there is a little movement, but it’s not enough to put you off or spoil its performance. 

The pistol grip has a shelf for your thumb and contours for the middle and bottom two fingers. In true modular style, it can be replaced with an aftermarket unit. Just forward of the adjustable two-stage trigger is the safety catch, and to the right of it there’s a three-level power adjustment dial. No fewer than three Picatinny accessory rails, two of which can be removed to save weight, reinforce the rifle’s tactical aspirations.

The silky-smooth sidelever can be worked one-fingered and operates a magazine that gives 10 shots in .177, .22 and .25. Thanks to its Huma-Air regulated action, Brocock says you can expect around 130 shots in .22 and 100 in .177 at 12 ft-lb from the 150cc air cylinder. There’s a gauge at the end to indicate the fill pressure and a fill port that is revealed by rotating a collar, although there’s no gauge to indicate regulator pressure.

The Concept XR’s fully shrouded 17” barrel has a ½” UNF thread for a silencer, and to help exploit this Brocock’s performance, a scope can be fitted to the 160mm long raised dovetail rail, although you’ll need a set of mounts that will clear the magazine that stands proud of the action.

The Airgun Shooter verdict

“Light and compact, the Concept XR is ideal for long sessions covering plenty of miles in the field. And when a chance presents, the combination of trigger, barrel, regulated action and shoulder fit will give you every chance of converting it”

RTI Prophet

Well-made and purposeful
Price: £1,300

In the beginning there was the Priest, then there was the Priest Mk 2, and now Slovenian manufacturer RTI Arms has rewarded the faithful with the Prophet.

The Priest, with its straight-pull bolt, has its fair share of fans. However, despite the rifle’s undoubted performance, some were put off by the unconventional cocking action.

Enter the Prophet then, a rifle that has many of the proven design features of the Priest Mk 2, not to mention its hardcore tactical aesthetics, but with a left-mounted biathlon-style sidelever to appeal to more orthodox followers. 

Unlike most other levers, that of the Prophet is not sprung. At its forward-most position it pushes into a retaining clip. However, once released it will flop about loosely. The second cocking stage is quite short and requires a firm tug. 

That said, the action is undeniably reliable and operates a self-indexing magazine that inserts into the breech from either the left or right, and takes 14 shots in .177 and 12 in .22. Once the two-stage adjustable trigger is pulled, those pellets fly down a 660mm fully shrouded barrel that has a screw-in ½” UNF adapter to accept a silencer.

The rifle has much more to offer than just a new cocking handle, though. At 755mm long without a silencer and weighing 3.3kg unscoped, the Prophet is short and compact. The plain metal butt plate looks like it should be uncomfortable, but isn’t, and eye alignment with a scope mounted on the 190mm long Picatinny rail is excellent.

The soft rubber pistol grip is slightly contoured, and is well placed to access both the trigger and the push-button safety catch behind it. Just below the trigger guard is a 35mm Picatinny accessory rail. 

As standard, the RTI Prophet comes with a 320cc bottle, although the test rifle was fitted with a larger 500cc carbon option which has a high gloss carbon finish; I suspect RTI sprinkled the bling dust because the bottle also serves as the forestock, and I have to say it does the job admirably. 

The neck of the bottle has a fill gauge and valve, which is not capped, and a regulator set at 125 bar. 

The Airgun Shooter verdict

“Fans of the Priest Mk 2 will also love the Prophet. Uncompromisingly tactical and an excellent performer, the addition of a sidelever will broaden the rifle’s appeal”

FX Dreamline Tactical

Several guns in one
Price: £926.99

When FX set out to design a modular rifle it came up with the Dreamline, a tactical rifle, bullpup, classic sporter and target rifle wrapped into one.

The core of the rifle is a 2.1kg, regulated sidelever action paired with a 220cc air cylinder in .177 and .22, and a 500mm Smooth Twist barrel. Larger .25 and .30 calibres have a 290cc tube and 600mm barrel.

Like other top-end FX rifles, the Dreamline Tactical can be fine-tuned with external adjustments for hammer tension, regulator pressure and valve flow. You can also swap out the calibre, as well as barrels with different twist rates to accommodate slugs.

This is standard on FX rifles. What sets the Dreamline apart is the platform can be set up to satisfy a range of different gun styles and formats. 

When bought new, the Dreamline Tactical doesn’t come with a butt as standard and is advertised as ‘AR-15 ready’. Many retailers will invite you to select from a range of different options. The rifle does come with an AR-15 Hogue pistol grip which can be replaced with an alternative.

The review rifle borrowed from a friend has a FAB Defense sliding butt, which offers an adjustable cheekpiece and shoulder pad, making for perfect eye alignment and shoulder fit. Length can be set between 970mm and 1020mm. His came with a 220cc cylinder, but FX can supply a version with an air bottle, and there’s also a Compact model of the rifle.

FX triggers are some of the best, and the fully adjustable two-stage post and shoe setup on the Dreamline Tactical doesn’t disappoint, nor does the safety catch. I love that because it’s positioned on the right of the trigger I can feel the switch with the side of my trigger finger when it’s in the ‘fire’ position.

The sidelever operates a magazine that takes 22 pellets in .177, 18 in .22, 16 in .25 and 13 in .30 calibre. The Dreamline Tactical is capable of high levels of accuracy and consistency, returning around 150 shots from a 230 bar fill in the .177 test gun.

The Airgun Shooter verdict

“The Dreamline platform really is a jack of all trades, and indeed pretty much a master of them as well. Sure, it will pander to those who like to fiddle and fettle, as well as those who like to play with the aesthetics of their setup. However, fundamentally the Dreamline is a well-engineered, reliable and effective rifle”

Brocock Commander XR Magnum FAC

Reliable and effective
Price: £1,348

Rightly or wrongly, I think of Brocock rifles as affordable and dependable workhorses – the kind of gun ideal for a hunter who wants a tool to rely on that will put up with the harshest of treatment.

That’s not to say Brococks are a basic, no-frills option. The Commander XR is full of features, all to improve the performance of the rifle and that of the shooter.

The Commander is fitted with a Huma-Air regulator to optimise consistency and shot count as well as a four-position power adjuster above the trigger on the right-hand side. The value of such a feature on 12 ft-lb guns is marginal in my opinion, but on the 46 ft-lb .25 calibre FAC test rifle it makes much more sense.

Marketed as the Commander XR Magnum, it has a 590mm barrel compared with a 430mm tube on the 12 ft-lb variant and is a little heavier at 2.9kg. The sliding AR-15-style stock locks into one of six positions at the push of a button, giving an overall length of between 965mm and 1050mm. And although there is a tiny bit of play, I’ve found it in no way diminishes the Commander XR Magnum’s performance.

The move from a bolt-action to a sidelever to operate the 10-shot magazine is a huge improvement, not only for the Commander, but all the current XR range of Brococks.

Whereas the bolt could be a little stiff, especially on high-powered FAC versions, the sidelever is silky smooth, even on the Magnum model. And although it can be operated with a single finger, there is still a pleasant feeling of mechanical interaction.

There’s no adjustment for the cheekpiece, but the Picatinny scope rail can be removed to reveal a dovetail rail underneath to give you some range to set up your scope for perfect alignment. There’s also a short Picatinny accessory rail underneath the stock between the 480cc carbon bottle and fill valve, which is protected by a magnetic snap-on cover. With a 240 bar fill, my .25 calibre FAC Commander XR Magnum returns 60 shots. UK legal-limit versions are capable of 420 shots in .22 and 380 in .177.

The Airgun Shooter verdict

“Brocock rifles are something of a dark horse. Over the last couple of years they have been quietly redesigned, refined and improved. Today they are right up with the best on the market . The Commander XR in particular has a lot to offer”

NameBrocock Concept XRFX DrealineTacticalRTI
Brocock Commander XR Magnum
WEIGHT2.9kg2.1kg not including stock3.3kg2.9kg
LENGTH815mm – 889mm700mm – 800mm without stock755mm965mm – 1050mm
AIR CAPACITY150cc220cc (cylinder version)320cc480cc
CLAIMED SHOTS @ 12 FT-LB130 in .22, 100 in .177160 in .22400+ in .22380 in .177, 420 in .22
MAGAZINE CAPACITY10 shots all calibres22 in .177, 18 in .2214 in .177, 12 in .2210 shots all calibres
AVAILABLE CALIBRES.177, .22, .25.177, .22, .25, .30.177, .22, .25, .30.177, .22, .25
SAFETYManual resettableManual resettableManual  resettableManual resettable
TRIGGERTwo-stage adjustableTwo-stage adjustableTwo-stage adjustableTwo-stage adjustable
KEY FEATURESAdjustable stock, slick sidelever, modular designModular design, highly adjustable, interchangeable calibresCustomisable, new sidelever design, interchangeable calibresAdjustable stock, modular design, smooth sidelever

Tactical advantage

For many of today’s airgun enthusiasts, the aesthetics of a rifle are as important as its performance. Like any other niche style, tactical rifles will have their fans and their detractors, many of whom deride tactical guns as toys for wannabe soldiers.

But there’s a reason why the tactical design came from the military world. Tactical rifles offer flexibility and adaptability, enabling the user to achieve a setup that suits him or her perfectly in terms of shoulder fit and eye alignment. On the whole, they are generally lighter and more compact than traditional sporting-style rifles as well.

The rifles we have on test here though are much more than eye candy. They shoot and handle well, and are packed with the latest features and components, making sure they back up their Hollywood action movie looks with solid performance.

If you’re looking for a rifle you can modify and personalise, then a tactical rifle could be just what you need.

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