Historically, airguns imported from the Far East were seen as ‘cheap ‘n’ cheerful’. Then the Chinese suppliers got their act together and started delivering some rather impressive stuff, still at bargain basement prices. Then, with China’s economy growing so fast, their impressive stuff started commanding higher price tags; airguns from the Orient had come of age, and are now generally seen on an equal par with those originating from the American and European factories. Of course, once the Chinese gunmakers were able to produce quality items, the bigger players in the airgun industry started sub-contracting work to them – which is why we often see similar-looking models bearing different marques. Airgun historians will know it’s not a new concept – it’s been happening since the turn of the Twentieth Century, in fact.
Eagle-eyed readers familiar with the SMK SYNSG should instantly recognise the rifle here – except that this China-originated rifle arrives into Europe via airgun’s world power, Umarex, whose product base is officially distributed throughout the UK by Armex. It’s badged under the worldfamous Hammerli logo – specifically the Model 800 that’s prefixed with an additional moniker: Black Force. And as if you’re not confused already, Armex has pulled together a combo package that includes a top-marque 6×40 scope and Force One gunbag.
It wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that with all these ‘middle men’, the rifle’s going to carry a sky-high price ticket – but, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. You see, big names like Umarex, Hammerli and Armex can all exert extraordinary buying clout on the manufacturer – with the result that this field-ready combo arrives in gun shops with an extremely attractive retail price. For extremely attractive, read just £179.99 – and that’s inclusive of the scope and a deluxe gunbag.
Armex’s Hammerli Black Force 800 package is going to appeal to hunters after a high performance, but not too bothered about luxury woodwork. The 800’s stock is moulded synthetic – extremely durable and very practical, in that it’ll handle as much rough treatment in the field as you can give it. It’s also hollow at the butt, which keeps weight down and shifts the rifle’s balance point well forward of the trigger (around 165mm when scoped up). While this makes the rifle feel butt-light, it also helps ‘pointability’; this gun anchors on target with relative ease.
Of course, synthetic isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and there are certainly a few moulding marks to be grimaced at when you run the magnifying glass over this gun. But you can’t deny that, in terms of shape, it’s an extremely well thought out handle. There’s no cheekpiece, but the comb is high enough for use with the supplied scope (it’s relatively low-mounted) and it can be shot from either shoulder thanks to the generous thumb muscle cutaway on both sides of the grip area. The moulded-in chequered panels are very ‘grippy’ and the textured finish elsewhere isn’t so smooth as to be impractical under field conditions, with an extended forend also adding to what is a very ergonomic stock indeed.
Hammerli has fitted the rifle itself with fibre-optic open sights, featuring green-dot inserts on the fully-adjustable rear and a red bead foresight that’s mounted on a ventilated ramp at the muzzle. The latter isn’t protected by any form of hood, potentially making it vulnerable to knocks – but not to worry. Owners of the Black Force will be using the 6×40 scope that Armex is including in the asking price.
Sporting a Duplex-type thick-to-thin crosshair, this mounts on the Hammerli’s 11mm dovetails, with the rear mount butting up against the arrestor plate to ensure it doesn’t ‘creep’ under recoil – thus maintaining zero once the windage and elevation turrets have been set.
Over the speed meter, the Black Force lives up to its name, with power output nudging the UK’s legal limit of 12ft/lb. Recoil – this being a springer – is perfectly manageable for such a powerhouse, although first impressions were that the mainspring could do with a dab more grease; the gun exuded that firing-cycle ‘cough’ that’s associated with guns that are running a little ‘dry’. Application is easily done (with the action removed from the stock), which would probably bring the added benefit of improving the Hammerli’s shot-to-shot consistency, too.
Considering the 800’s power output, cocking effort is comfortable. The barrel swings through a long arc of 135 degrees for improved mechanical advantage, and it pivots around a bolt, which can be kept tight as the breech jaws loosen up with wear. Breech lock-up is also solid, the barrel requiring a sharp tap with the palm of your hand to initially ‘break’ it open. The breech is deeply chamfered to allow the pellet skirt to be thumbed-in all the way – an important requirement, as the face of the breech block is angled.
For the money, the Hammerli Black Force 800 package will without doubt be seen as one of the deals of 2013 – a powerful and accurate combo which is field-ready straight out of the box… although in this instance, it comes straight out of a rather posh gunslip.