When it comes to airguns, I’ll openly admit I’m somewhat of a traditionalist.
I like richly-blued actions sitting within luxuriously-figured walnut, all voluptuously shaped in a classic sporter style!
So why on earth have I fallen head-over-heels in love with the latest Stealth derivative from UK gunmaker, GunPower?
It’s about as far removed from my ideal airgun as Dame Edna is from my ‘perfect 10’ – yet I really have been totally smitten by the dinky little Hellcat since the very first moment I saw it in the flesh. Having now shot it for a few weeks, the love affair is getting hotter by the day…
Actually, I’ve always been a fan of GunPower’s Stealth, acknowledging that its launch (back in 1997) was quite a departure from the norm. I salute innovation in the airgun business, and there’s no denying that its simple, futuristic look and ‘takedownability’ attract a wide audience of airgunners. Sales prove that, too – and the Stealth family is now not only available in sub-12ft/lb and FAC versions (up to 60ft/lb with the SSS model), but also in .177, .20, .22 and .25 calibres.
Additionally, GunPower has even used the chassis for their Edge – a 10-metre target rifle with an entry-level price that belies its highly-accurate capability. Indeed, at last year’s Midland Game Fair, the winner of the Walton Lions 10m charity event shot a 48 ex 50 card – not bad at all for a non-target shooter using a range gun that passed through the hands of 400 other fair-goers throughout the weekend!
Part of the appeal of the Stealth lies in GunPower’s approach in making it a ‘composite’ rifle. To the main, tubular chassis can be added a number of components, where each element is tailored to suit the shooter’s requirements. At the heart of all this is the MMS, or Multi-Mount System – three 11mm dovetail rails which allow you to equip the main action with various accessories, like open sights, a telly, red-dot, laser sight, flashlight, sling swivels or a bipod… often in a multi-array.
What’s more, the screw-in buddy bottle air supply even allows for various shoulder fittings – and, in the case of the Hellcat, the buddy itself has been scaled down to make the new model such a desirable carbine. Actually, the combination of ultra-light weight and drop-down pistol grip allows the Hellcat to be fired single-handedly if you want to have a little plinking fun in the garden – and there aren’t many 12ft/lb airguns that you can say that about!
Importantly, though, let me first assure you that there are no laws being broken here. Air ‘pistols’, per se, are limited to 6ft/lb maximum power output by the Firearms Acts – beyond that, they’re classified as a Section 5 prohibited weapon. However, that same legislation also specifies what dimensions constitute a gun being classed as an air pistol. So when you lay a rule over the Hellcat, it is by legal definition an air rifle, measuring up at over 600mm and having a barrel length greater than 300mm.
While I’ll admit to having hours of responsible plinking fun shooting the Hellcat one-handed with open sights on my garden range – and two-handed from the hip using a Hellcat laser sight – that’s just an added bonus this new GunPower model brings. Primarily, it’s one serious performer, and with its ultra-compact dimensions, it should certainly be on any rat- and feral-shooter’s list – or hide-hunter’s, for that matter. Its take-down design makes it easy to transport, and to comply with all the legislation – of which we all know airgunning has plenty! – removal of the buddy-bottle air supply renders the action completely inoperable.
The bottle’s capacity is 210cc which, incredibly, gave 210 usable shots from my .22 test rifle with medium weight ammo when filled to the recommended 200BAR. It’s filled off-gun, via a scuba tank or stirrup pump, using the supplied adapter which has a 1/4BSP fitting. As there’s no regulator fitted to the Hellcat, you can expect a power curve – a gradual rise and fall in pellet velocities as you progress through the charge – and you can see from the stats shown in the above graph, my test rifle was best zeroed-up somewhere in the 20 to 160 shot-band. Refilling is required around the 95BAR mark, though as there’s no on-board manometer on the Hellcat, you have to manage your shots with some degree of self-organisation.
The Hellcat is supplied as ‘action only’, which gets you the main chassis, complete with synthetic drop-down pistol and forend grips, each featuring textured diamonds in an embossed chequering format. Both handles are truly ambidextrous, well-constructed and pleasant to the grip. The buddy bottle screws into the rear of the action to ‘power up’ the rifle – a process that takes just seconds without any need of tools.
Two of the accessories that GunPower offers for the MMS are fibre-optic fore- and rearsights, the latter being fully adjustable for elevation via a sliding ramp system, and windage with the tweaking of lateral grubscrew. While they’re nowhere near as simple to use as those with click-stop thumbwheels, it’s not rocket science to set them up either – and they both look the part when they’re attached to the rifle (simply with a bolt or two), and work extremely effectively. In fact, I tip my hat to GunPower for being one of the few PCP manufacturers to give their patrons the option of going down the open sight route.
If you want to attempt a one-handed hold at arm’s length – and it is possible with the Hellcat – then you can get away with a sight base of around 370mm between front post and rear notch. Such length is very conducive to accuracy, although the caveat here is that regardless of its tiny proportions, the Hellcat is still a handful for a single palm! If you fit the optional shoulder stock, the rearsight will need to shift forward on the intermount rail so that it doesn’t overly blur when you take aim with the rifle in your shoulder.
Because it’s a recoilless PCP, you’ll probably surprise yourself just how capable you are with opens – I was able to topple tin cans out to 35 yards with the shoulder stock set up to my liking. It fits (with just five bolts) around the bottle, allowing you to alter your desired pull-length according to where you place the holding collar. The straight-plate butt pad – which has an anti-slip rubber face – has three, off-set holes to offer a number of shouldering options. Both the collar and plate can be angled, too, so you’re even able to tweak the set-up to suit your preferred cant angle.
GunPower kindly supplied me with their new, custom-fit Hellcat Laser, complete with remote pressure switch. This is a sighting system in its own right once zeroed-in – a fiddly, time-consuming affair involving a couple of the world’s smallest grubscrews, it has to be said! – and I certainly had hours of fun plinking away with it.
But as I stated earlier, the Hellcat is a serious performer, so it’s far better to fit a scope if you want to harness the pinpoint precision that the 305mm match-grade Lothar Walther barrel offers up. A shorty like the Simmons 1.5-5×20 WTC I fitted via a BKL tri-rail riser and single-strap mounts makes for a perfect marriage. The laser could then be used, if you wanted, as a range-finder – setting it up to bisect the crosshair at the zero distance, and falling above/below the lines when you’re nearer or further. It’s particularly effective if you mount the scope ‘high’, as I did.
With its full power, accuracy and general all-round good handling, the Hellcat certainly has space in the hunter’s gun cabinet – though as with any short-barrelled PCP that’s nudging the 12ft/lb legal limit, the Hellcat makes quite a bark. You’d certainly need to supress the FAC-rated version (which gives up to 50ft/lb), and for most of my testing, I screwed on GunPower’s optional Hellcat sound moderator.
Finished in matt black to match the rest of the rifle, it only measures 158mm and doesn’t ruin the Hellcat’s proportions, and its 45mm diameter case contains a very simple, but highly effective inner sound-absorption chamber. It has an unnervingly short 1/2in UNF male thread that screws into the Hellcat’s muzzle once the end cap has been removed, but the chassis gives up enough of a shoulder to ensure perfect bore alignment.
Once the report is dumbed down, the Hellcat’s firing sequence becomes a little more noticeable in the shoulder. With the rifle being so light, you certainly feel the hammer striking the valve, and while there’s little rocket effect to be felt at the muzzle, it’s not the deadest of PCPs I’ve ever fired by virtue of the fact the hammer is travelling toward you upon the trigger release. A bit like a springer, there’s always going to be a trade-off between overall mass and ‘felt’ movement. That said, the in-line butt system, where the buddy doubles as the cheekpiece/butt, helps in keeping you in full control of any ‘kick’ – and I certainly didn’t have cause to complain of fliers because of it. It’s a very manageable gun when shot from the shoulder.
The trigger – again quite a simple affair – is a perfect complement for the Hellcat. Though it’s non-adjustable, it isn’t heavy and has a short first stage that’s followed up by a crisp let-off – an operation that’s assisted by the wide, slightly curved blade in the form of a serrated shoe. If I’ve any complaint, it’s that its position is such that your trigger finger is a little cramped up.
The Hellcat’s cocking follows that of the Stealth, namely via a dense foam-covered knob that lies inside the intermount. After slightly lifting up to angle it in the vertical position, this is then pushed forward to cock the hammer and expose the breech – a process which also automatically sets the safety catch.
This is a new design of GunPower’s, and a rather nice one at that, being constructed of a plate that slides through the front of the trigger guard. Illustrated with clearly labelled laser etchings on the side of the frame, you push this forward with your trigger finger to disengage it, but it can be reset by simply pushing back ‘into’ the guard.
With the breech exposed, loading is direct-to-breech – the absolute best system, in my opinion, as you can ‘feel’ the pellet all the way into the rifling. To close the breech, the knob is pulled back and locked down by angling it either to the left, or to the right.
Although the bar-and-plate shoulder stock is never going to be as ergonomic as a sculpted piece of stockwood, the Hellcat comes to, and stays in, the shoulder far more comfortably than you might imagine. Indeed, while its sparse, synthetic grips, angular design and buddy cheek may give the Hellcat a utilitarian look, ‘gunfit’ is anything but awkward; it’s a rifle that, surprisingly, feels very natural in use. Whatever stance I adopted, the rifle simply felt ‘right’ – and despite the lack of polished, blued steel and hand-oiled walnut, its performance (in the hand and shoulder) alone was more than enough to very quickly win me over.
Actually, the new mini GunPower excelled in every task I asked of it. And given those tasks were as diverse as plinking with it as a pistol, through ratting around the farm sheds and controlling vermin in the woods with it as a rifle – along with some long-range knockdown silhouette target practise thrown in for good measure – I’d say the Hellcat ticks every box purr-fectly. It is, indeed, one helluva carbine!
The Hellcat is deemed legal by virtue of its overall length (of 608mm). But because it utilises a shorter bottle than is used on its Stealth stablemate, the Hellcat features an extended action to comply with the legislation.
While it is possible to fit the longer, 500cc Stealth bottle onto the Hellcat, screwing the Hellcat’s 210cc bottle onto a Stealth – which has a shorter action – would redefine that model’s legal specification from ‘rifle’ to ‘pistol’.
In this event, a short-bottled Stealth would be deemed a Section 5 prohibited firearm, carrying a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 10 years for anyone caught in possession of it.