Some shooters are amazed that Britain’s famous South-coast gunmaker, Air Arms, only has a couple of spring-gun offerings – but I’m not in the least bit surprised. The two models it has – the TX200, and this month’s test gun, the Pro-Sport – rank among the finest springers money can buy in my opinion. Both models go back many years, too – and save the odd evolutionary change, it bears testimony to how well engineered their original designs are. Many guns don’t stand the test of time, but Air Arms’ springers do… and the pair can’t ever be considered dated.
I first got my hands on the Pro-Sport when it was released in the summer of 1996 – and the 2013 model on test here has changed very little. Following some issues with the underlever cocking system, the piston’s stroke-length was altered three years into the Pro-Sport’s production run, which effectively made the firing cycle less ‘snappy’. Since then, Air Arms has added a couple of extra stock bolts and the woodwork has evolved into the work of art we see today.
On test here is the stunning deluxe walnut version, with woodwork made in Italy by Minelli. The Pro-Sport’s walnut handle is probably its most eye-catching feature – and what persuades many potential customers into parting with their readies. Though taken straight off the shelf, the grain pattern on my test sample exudes beautiful tiger stripes on both sides, and its matt-lustre oil finish would no doubt improve with a few more coats of hand-rubbed oil, lovingly applied by its lucky owner.
Air Arms pioneered the new-style chequering we now see on the stocks of so many rifles. It’s achieved courtesy of the high-tech laser-etching machinery that can turn out in seconds – and for a fraction of the cost – what it would take a master craftsman hours to produce. In this gun’s case, panels to the grip and forestock are skip-chequered within a fleur-de-lys border. Just to finish things off, the grip – nicely raked for a true sporting hold – is capped in rosewood that sits on thin black- and white-line spacers. Very elegant, indeed.
Visually, the forend’s panel is spot-on, too – but in practice, it could be positioned 20mm or so further forward (or lengthened overall) to cater for the most likely hold-points of your leading hand, but it’s not a major failing. In fact, as good as this stock looks, it’s also been extremely well thought out from a shooter’s perspective; form plays as much a role as function in this piece of timber.
The forestock has been extended well past the root of the barrel – largely to accommodate the under-action cocking lever – where it’s also been scalloped with stylish flutes to blend in perfectly with the conical end of the main action. Besides being aesthetically pleasing, they double-up as good finger grooves when you need to extend your leading arm to suit the shooting angle.
At the opposite end, although the butt sports a softish, ventilated butt pad, there’s little need of it, as the rifle’s recoil characteristics are anything but harsh – though the rubber does provide a good non-slip anchor when in your shoulder. The right-handed cheekpiece is well profiled, offering a rollover comb that’s raised for scope use. Just as well, really – the Pro-Sport is devoid of any open sights.
That’s not unusual on a high-end springer, and Air Arms has milled dovetails measuring no less than 220mm along the receiver, to ensure you have no difficulties fitting a scope – whether it’s in one- or two-piece cradles – and there are three arrestor pin holes, to boot. Unscoped, the rifle’s weight very much bears down on your leading hand, but this is brought back with a scope, and I had no weight issues even with the big Accushot 3-12×44 SWAT I fitted for my tests.
Of course, weight in any springer has benefits and disbenefits. The dampening of the recoil is one advantage that, I think, always outweighs the disadvantages of a weighty piece of hardware. In the Pro-Sport’s case, the firing cycle is extremely gentle – although much of that has to be put down to what Air Arms does to the internals of this rifle. Rather like the Walther LGV, which was released in 2012, the Pro-Sport’s action has been developed in line with that of a retro-tuned springer.
There’s no metal-to-metal contact at the tail of the piston. Instead, it runs on a band of Delrin, altogether much smoother and quieter – and because the mainspring is under very little pre-tension, you don’t feel like you’re shooting a rifle that’s on the very limit of its performance, which in the case of Falcon Accuracy Plus ammo, it was.
Although my test gun was supplied in .177 calibre, which usually requires a more ‘stressed’ action in order to achieve full power, the firing cycle didn’t feel at all harsh. Indeed, FAC versions of the gun are capable of up to 15ft/lb in .177, and 16ft/lb in .22, so the performance of my sub-12ft/lb UK spec model was merely ticking over.
The muzzle of the Pro-Sport’s Walther barrel has a constriction (or choke) for the last 15mm of its 242mm length – and this really showed up downrange. The silky-smooth firing cycle makes this a very easy rifle to shoot accurately – my test gun could stick in sub-20mm groups at 30 yards with relatively little effort on my part, though I settled on the Falcons as this gun’s ‘best’ pellet.
Triggers always play an important role when it comes to grouping, and Air Arms has certainly designed a unit that can rival Weihrauch’s benchmark Rekord – and it’s been made out of polished brass to add a real air of class. A two-stage affair, you can adjust both stages via three adjustment screws – two accessed through the blade itself, and one under the trigger guard – and my only gripe is that the blade itself could be a bit longer. By the time you’ve pulled it right to the end of its travel, the pad of your index finger falls off the end.
Initially I wasn’t that happy with the factory setting – it was a little heavy; I detected a small amount of creep through the second stage; and I also didn’t like the length of the first stage. I needed to take off the trigger guard to access the pull-weight screw. Then I tweaked the front screw within the trigger blade to set the length of the first stage, finally adjusting the blade’s rear-most screw to get the cleanest break-point.
It only took the tiniest of alterations to the grub screws to get a better setting, but the difference in trigger operation was very noticeable. Adjustments to any rifle’s trigger should be made with maximum precaution, and there are a couple of important points to be aware of in the Pro-Sport’s case. Firstly, all three screws are interdependent – so making an adjustment to one will have a bearing on the others. The trick is to turn the screws by very small degrees – a sixteenth of a turn is more than enough. Secondly, if you’ve removed the trigger guard to access the pull-weight screw, you must fully tighten the rear-most screw first, and then not over-tighten the front screw when you come to refit it.
Hunters will probably view the Pro-Sport’s ex-factory spec with mixed opinion. Firstly, that 242mm Walther barrel is shrouded in a 19mm diameter steel casing that provides more than 100mm of ‘over-hang’ in front of the muzzle – effectively acting as an integral silencer by virtue of the noise-suppressing baffles that it’s been fi tted with. Given the high-end price of this rifle, that’s something that anyone seriously considering this rifl e for the fi eld would expect. Also pleasing is the inclusion of a safety – and it’s automatic, too; it pops out of the end of the receiver on fully cocking the underlever. However, it can’t be reset, unless you recock the underlever. That might be a pain for some hunters to live with – especially those who don’t like to keep a springer cocked unnecessarily.
Unlike its TX200 sister gun – also a sliding-breech model – the Pro-Sport’s underlever cocks noiselessly, with no ratchet to clickety-click your presence to nearby quarry. The downside is that the rifle can’t be de-cocked due to the anti-beartrap system that’s so necessary on sliding-breech guns. (Actually, there is a way to over-ride the anti-beartrap, but as it’s too dangerous for your fingers, I’m not going to recommend, nor divulge, it here.) Then there’s the underlever, designed under the action rather than the barrel to improve weight distribution. It’s so beautifully inlet into the Pro-Sport’s elegant forend that you’d hardly know it was there… aside of the fact that Air Arms has finished it in bright silver.
Brushed aluminium might be beautiful on a rifle destined for the target ranges, but on a sporter it couldn’t look more out of place – nor be more impractical. Being aluminium (to save weight), it could – and should – have been black-anodised in my opinion. Sure, it probably wouldn’t match the superb blueing of the action – which really is nothing short of outstanding – but black would still be better than bright silver in the hunting field for me.
On the subject of cocking, my .177 Pro-Sport’s action was very manageable – the stroke only really needing a bit of muscle once the lever had swung to around 90 of its 120-degree arc. There’s a nice ‘hook’, under which you get your finger to release the lever from the forend, but for extended shooting sessions, I found the square edges of the lever’s side dug into the back of my hand unless I gripped it with my thumb ‘arched’ (easy enough to do). As the inner compression cylinder moves back during the cocking cycle, it feels incredibly smooth compared with other air rifles of a similar design. That’s because Air Arms has designed it to also slide on Delrin studs – and it gives the impression that you’re handling a custom-tuned rifle, rather than a mass-produced one.
Once cocked, there’s ample space for you to access the breech, though I’m surprised that one of the evolutionary tweaks down the years hasn’t involved opening out the loading bay across the full width of the action, rather like Weihrauch did with the HW77. The cutaway currently favours right-handed loading – but some right-handers (like me) prefer to stick in their pellets cack-handed. It’s especially annoying if you have a long scope fitted that protrudes to the loading bay area – the cutaway is effectively on your ‘blind side’. Be that as it may, though, it didn’t hinder me much in enjoying this rifle to its full potential – of which the Pro-Sport has an abundance. For the spring-gun classes of outdoor competitions, it’s got what it takes to knock down metal silhouettes right out to extreme ranges – 50 yards and beyond.
In the hunting field, the rifle’s capable of delivering each and every shot inside a 35mm circle, at whatever range you’re steady enough to do that at. And I think it is the field to which this rifle is best suited. It’s one of the finest-handling sporting springers I’ve ever had in my shoulder, and the only thing it really leaves any hunter wanting for is a field full of vermin… and a tin of black spray paint for that ‘now you see me’ underlever.
MAKER: Air Arms 01323 845 853 www.air-arms.co.uk
ACTION: Underlever, spring and piston
CALIBRE: .177 (tested) and .22
OVERALL LENGTH: 1,030mm
BARREL LENGTH: 242mm (within shroud)
WEIGHT (EXCL. SCOPE): 4.1kg
TRIGGER: Two-stage, fully-adjustable
SAFETY: Automatic. Anti-beartrap cocking system
STOCK: Deluxe right-hand walnut (tested); beech available
LENGTH OF PULL: 362mm
POWER: 11.4ft/lb (according to pellets used)
PRICE: £527 walnut (as tested); £467 – beech. (FAC add £11)