There are a number of reasons why I love spring-powered breakbarrels so much – and here are two of them.
When Diana’s Model 280 was released back in 2010, I instantly fell in love with it; here was a traditional ‘breaker’ that oozed German-engineered quality and which reminded me of my all-time favourite, the now-defunct Feinwerkbau Sport. The only thing it left me wanting for was a shorter barrel – I felt, at the time, that a ‘K’ model (as German Karbines are dubbed) would suit the Diana’s slim, diminutive dimensions. Not long after the 280’s release, importers RUAG informed me my wish had come true… although it’s taken until now to actually get a 280K in my hands.
I’m testing the Diana alongside a much newer release, this time from the dynamic Spanish gunmaker, Norica. Christened the Black Eagle, it arrives in the UK courtesy of Highland Outdoors – and it’s a break-barrel that combines tradition with fashion. It comes dressed in black – the current fad – but rather than a synthetic stock, the Black Eagle’s is wood. While that will satisfy purists like me, those wanting to be more ‘with it’ will be pleased to see that it also sports fibre-optic sights, trendy chequering and an integral sound moderator.
Price-wise, neither of these rifl es could be considered cheap. Indeed, there are many excellent break-barrel buys that are significantly less expensive than the SRPs of the Norica (£243.60) and the Diana (£255). Generally, these are imports from China or Turkey – but when we’re talking about gunmakers from Spain and Germany, we’re also talking about premium quality. If you want a well-engineered rifle with a bit of added finesse, then it’s not difficult to accept the swing tickets that hang from these Euro models. I’m sure it’s not just me who happy to pay the extra few quid for a gun that I know is a worthy investment – quality costs, and I’m happy to pay for it.
While not quite chalk and cheese, these two rifles are independent beasts. Yes, they’re built around a spring-and-piston powered break-barrel action that’s cradled in wood, but they are classic examples of horses for courses. If you want a compact, fast-handling sporter for use around the farmyard or when hide shooting, then the Diana’s perfect. But for a more substantial gun that isn’t a handful to manage, perhaps to suit a larger-framed shooter, then the Norica fits the bill.
Despite the Black Eagle’s measurements outstripping the Diana’s, even topped off with a Nikko 4-12x scope, the Norica felt much the lighter gun – and with around a foot pound less power at the muzzle, it was also the smoothest shooter in the shoulder. The Diana felt that more ‘snappy’ and even though I had a .22 on test – the more effi cient calibre – its firing cycle felt as though it was ‘oversprung’. The chrono suggested one too many coils, too – its power was bang on the legal limit.
That snappiness made for an ultra-fast action time, though and of the two rifles, it was the more powerful Diana which was easiest to shoot good groups with. Indeed, the best groups I printed at 25 yards were reserved for the 280K (with Webley AccuPell). Not that the Norica was inaccurate – I’d be happy taking both into the field.
Unsurprisingly, the longer-barrelled, lesser-powered Black Eagle was the easier of the two to cock – especially as its mechanical advantage is extended courtesy of the integral sound moderator that adorns the muzzle. There’s a knack to cocking the Diana’s short barrel: once you’ve tapped it open, bring it back in one, swift movement and you’ll soon get ‘into’ it.
Interestingly, the cocking arc of the 280K is only just past 90 degrees, as opposed to the Norica’s, which travels a good 120. As these are sporters, both come fitted with auto safeties, but only the Norica’s – an in-guard ‘second trigger’ type – is resettable; to reset the Diana’s pop-out switch at the end of the cylinder, you effectively have to recock the gun. That may slight annoy hunters, but both rifles de-cock.
Field shooters will also like the fact that the Norica comes ready-fitted with a silencer that mutes the Black Eagle’s muzzle crack… though the downside is that the rifle feels quite ‘long’ because of its addition. Luckily, it’s made of synthetic, so doesn’t unbalance the rifle. The Diana, meanwhile, despite its ultra-short barrel, has surprisingly little bark, with most of its noise coming from the action (which could be dumbed down a little with some grease). I did screw a carbon-fibre silencer to its 1/2in UNF-threaded end, but chose not to use it in the fi eld. The gun’s not loud enough to warrant a can in my opinion, the addition of which ruins its compact dimensions, anyway.
The Norica’s open sights are the latest tech – a screw-blade adjustable notch and bead assembly that incorporate hi-viz fi bre-optic inserts. As I went straight to scope, I never really used them, but it’s nice to know they’re included in the price. The 280K doesn’t incorporate any opens, though the longer-barrelled Model 280 (priced the same) does and, like the Norica, they’re fi bre-optic jobs.
To maintain the Diana’s squat look and feel, I equipped it with a Bushnell 3-9×40 Trophy using two-piece Max Mounts. I expecting these to creep under the harshness of the 280K’s recoil… but they weren’t having any of it, and remained locked solidly to the lengthy raised ramp that sits on top of the Diana’s receiver throughout the duration of my test. This ramp does have holes in it, however, so I could easily have used mounts with an arrestor pin in if necessary.
I didn’t suffer from scope creep on the Norica, either – its standard, 11mm milled dovetails have an arrestor plate at the rear, against which I butted up the rear mount that came with the Nikko Mountmaster scope I trialled. In both rifles’ cases, the clamping area is long enough not to cause any compatibility problems with the type of scope you favour. Many shooters say that it’s the performance of the trigger that makes or breaks a gun for them – and while each of these guns has a very different feel to the blade, there’s a common denominator: they’re both extremely good units.
The Diana has the T06 trigger – a two-stage affair that incorporates adjustment via small grubscrews set deep into its cast blade. The latter has a serrated face, is quite thin and much straighter than you might expect on a sporter model, but it all comes together without much ado. It’s how a trigger blade should be, in my view; once adjusted to your liking, you don’t really worry about it. The first stage comes to a defi nite stop, and the second stage breaks crisply with a very manageable, creep-free pull weight.
By contrast, the Norica’s two-stage trigger sports a blade that’s wide and plastic, and with limited adjustment. I couldn’t entirely eliminate creep from the second-stage, but the break-point was consistent once I’d familiarised myself with it. And, again, it’s the sort of trigger operation that you forget all about once you’re shooting.
Stock-wise, I’m not quite sure if the Black Eagle’s is supposed to be black in accordance with its moniker. Looking closely, the beech hasn’t been stained ‘ebony’ black, more a very dense brown (I guess Dark Brown Eagle doesn’t work as a name.) Aside of that, it’s a well though-tout handle, sporting six ‘windows’ of chequering panels on the grip and forend. Laser etched, these are sharp, practical… and very high contrast given that they’re devoid of any colour stain.
The Norica’s squarish forend has been extended well forward of the action, and offers plenty of hold points to suit a variety of shooting positions, and the Spanish gunmaker has inserted moulded covers to hide the stock screws. A nice touch, as is the ventilated recoil pad at the butt, but I’d have preferred an ambidextrous cheekpiece. The Black Eagle’s is a right-hand only bias, though to be fair can be shot southpaw.
The Diana’s beech stock is a beautiful golden brown, finished in a high gloss lacquer that’s tough enough to withstand the knocks in the field – and it won’t show up the scratches like the Norica’s woodwork will. Its traditional, serrated butt pad is finished with a white line spacer and there’s a cheek on both sides to make the 280K ambidextrous. While it’s not the most beautifully profiled cheekpiece, Diana has raised the comb for scope use.
Where the stock designers have excelled, though, is in the chequering – sweeping ‘tri-sail’ patterns adorn the grip and forend, the latter being beautifully slim and rounded. Like the Norica’s, the 280K’s forend extends to just past the breech block. I’d love to see it in walnut, to be honest – it’s that nice.
Critics of break-barrels will always point their fingers at the breech area, but those of both the Norica and Diana pivot around a bolt, rather than pin – so wear can be catered for by simply nipping up the nut. What’s may not be so impressive in the long run is the breech lock-up. Each rifle uses a ball-bearing closure, and while it was certainly rock-sold during my testing, I couldn’t vouch for it 50,000 shots down the line. (My 30-year-old FWB Sport has the same system, and is struggling a bit these days.) Another factor worth pointing out is that the Diana’s breech face is angled, so it’s particularly important to make sure the pellet is well seated. If any part of the skirt protrudes, it will be shaved off on closing, resulting in a poorer air seal, inconsistent velocities and, ultimately, looser down-range groups. However, as mentioned earlier, the Diana is a supremely accurate springer, so I clearly had no issues related to pellet feed.
Indeed, I don’t really have any ‘issues’ at all with this pairing. If I found myself on a desert island with either, I’d easily survive. But if I had to grab just the one gun from the armoury as the ship was sinking, I’d probably go for the Diana 280K. There’s something about this diminutive little German sporter that really does it for me.