Head-to-head: Gamo Junior Hunter v Norica Thor GRS

Mark Camoccio

Two new 'first guns' are put to the test: the Thor GRS and the Junior Hunter (shouldered)

Two new ‘first guns’ are put to the test: the Thor GRS and the Junior Hunter (shouldered)

As enthusiasts, we want shooting sports across the board to be safeguarded for future generations. New blood needs encouraging at every turn and it’s down to all of us to do our bit where possible. Key to that, however, is that the manufacturers develop airguns with juniors in mind.

Full size kit just puts off youngsters from the get-go; if they can barely lift the gun, let alone cock the action, they’re unlikely to stay interested. So this month, the editor’s brief has been to assess two ‘first guns’ that should do their bit to attract youngsters into the fold. They’re both new models, both from Spain, and both billed as junior-specific (and scored with that in mind). So, away from their designers’ drawing boards, let’s see just how kid-friendly they really are…

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Though this pairing share a break-barrel design, they offer two distinctly different specifications. The Thor GRS from Norica combines an in-vogue gas-ram power plant with a bright blue synthetic stock. You may consider it a little garish, but let’s not forget the intended market here.

It squares up against a real pint size starter model from Gamo – the Junior Hunter, the scaled-down action of which sits with a smart, correctly proportioned beech stock. Additionally, the Gamo comes complete with pellets, gunbag, fun targets and a metal plinking frame.

Side by side, the Gamo looks especially compact – potentially an advantage – but the features and finish of the Norica are equally as eye-catching.

Gamo Junior Hunter  8/10

Norica Thor GRS  8/10

TAKING STOCK

H2H-Juniors-2

The Norica has larger grips, but the shaping makes it very comfortable

Juniors will probably lap up the jazzy colour of the Thor, though the curious odour of washing up liquid that my test sample exuded may have the target market running a mile! As for overall feel though, the ambidextrous configuration is pleasingly supportive, with a well-defined cheekpiece and super soft rubber butt pad. Though close on full size, its scalloped grip is very comfortable – though I was a little disappointed at the ragged edges on the inside of the forend.

H2H-Gamo-JH-v-Norica-T-GRS-1

The Junior Hunter sports a beautiful beech chequered pistol grip that’s chiselled out for small hands

In contrast, Gamo’s Junior Hunter offers smart, perfectly scaled-down sporter woodwork in beech, with a chequered pistol grip chiselled out for small hands. It’s clear that the designers have very young shots in mind here. There’s no pad and the butt is a little smooth, but the ultra-short length of pull will assist young frames.

Gamo Junior Hunter  9/10

Norica Thor GRS  8/10

SIGHTS AND SCOPING UP

Junior-open-sights-2Junior-open-sights

They both boast very impressive, fibre-optic open sights. In a clever move to assist handling during the cocking cycle, the Thor features a foresight/muzzle assembly with finger grooves as part of the plastic moulding. As for its rearsight, the spring leaf design presents a good sight picture. Yes, you’ll need a screwdriver to adjust the settings – but a fiddle-free sight is arguably the ideal offering where curious teenagers are concerned. The Junior Hunter also comes with a neat foresight assembly, but its fully adjustable rearsight has the usual spring-loaded finger wheels.

Gamo-rearsight

Gamo’s rearsight is easy to adjust via the finger wheels…

Norica-rearsight

…but you need a screwdriver to adjust the sights on the Norica

Should junior want to progress to a scope, choice will be limited as their shorter cylinders mean any glassware needs also to be compact to avoid fouling the breech opening. With fibre-optics this good though, beginners can just relax and enjoy the fun.

Gamo Junior Hunter  9/10

Norica Thor GRS  8/10

COCKING CYCLE

 

Norica-cockingGamo-cockingNorica has designed the Thor GRS to produce medium power – around 9ft/lb on my test sample – while Gamo goes lower still in its bid to keep cocking effort to a bare minimum. Cocking the gas-ram powered Thor reveals a short stroke, requiring a bit more effort than its rival.

The Gamo’s silky smooth action and snappy breech lock-up are just ideal for those prospective novice shots. When youngsters are just getting into shooting, manageability and accuracy (they have to ‘hit’ stuff!) is all-important, and I can’t help thinking Gamo has got it pretty much spot on.

Gamo Junior Hunter  9/10

Norica Thor GRS  7/10

TRIGGER AND SAFETY

A reasonable trigger is a huge help when learning the art of marksmanship, but with both these models inevitably pitched at the lower end of the market, price-wise, one mustn’t be too critical.

Norica offers much the same simple two-stage trigger across its range. It creeps a little, and isn’t exactly super-light (a good thing on a junior model), but it shouldn’t instil bad habits into a trainee. The Thor’s trigger is backed by an automatic safety catch – a silky smooth tab just forward of the trigger blade.

There are two schools of thought on safeties – and the Gamo is in the manual camp. Trigger-wise, the Junior Hunter’s is slightly better, being that bit crisper and offering a cleaner break.

But regardless of safety catch type, both guns sport anti-beartrap systems – an undisputed safety feature for any break-barrel levelled at youngsters. This will ensure the barrel can’t snap shut on vulnerable fingers during the cocking sequence should the trigger be inadvertently tripped.

Gamo Junior Hunter  7/10

Norica Thor GRS  6/10

BUILD QUALITY

These rifles have just about a good enough level of machining work, barrel lock-up and finish to engender pride of ownership – another important consideration when it comes to a youngster getting their first gun. Rubbing an oily rag over the blued surfaces of your first air rifle is an intrinsic part of airgun sport – even when you’re an adult!

The Norica’s synthetic stock sports well-executed moulding, is maintenance-free and ‘kid-proof’ as far as knocks and scuffs go. My only real gripe is its overly narrow, pressed trigger blade.

As for the Junior Hunter, a refined feel prevails courtesy of finely grained, attractively lacquered woodwork and those well-proportioned components. Its cylinder’s plastic end cap looks naff, but that’s about it.

Gamo Junior Hunter  7/10

Norica Thor GRS  7/10

HANDLING

In fairness, I think these two new junior models cater for slightly different age groups by virtue of their overall dimensions, and the cocking and shooting effort needed. As a rough guide, I’d say the Norica Thor GRS will best suit 11- to 15-year-olds; the Gamo will be more comfortable to smaller 8- to 11-year-olds.

Pick up the Gamo Junior Hunter and break its barrel… and the lack of effort and level of compactness becomes immediately apparent. The Norica on the other hand, despite an especially short cylinder, is heavier and has a slightly stiffer action due to that increased power output. A youngster will certainly ‘feel’ the firing cycle – though while it’s a little more demanding than its rival, it’s still smooth enough to handle.

Gamo Junior Hunter  9/10

Norica Thor GRS  8/10

Both the Thor GRS (shouldered) and the Junior Hunter preform with great consistency

Both the Thor GRS (shouldered) and the Junior Hunter preform with great consistency

RECOIL AND RESONANCE

Generally, gas-rams have a fast, snappy action that can often recoil more than a comparable spring-powered set-up. That said, the GRS system of this mid-powered Norica Thor is smooth and manageable – though its plastic stock means there’s certainly more firing cycle resonance than with the Gamo.

Gamo’s low-powered approach helps present an ultra-civilised action to youngsters, who may struggle with standard kit, and with less recoil than the Thor, it may just have the edge for all but the ‘biggest’ youngsters.

Gamo Junior Hunter  9/10

Norica Thor GRS  8/10

ACCURACY AND CONSISTENCY

At this price point, one can’t expect incredible consistency and performance – yet neither rifle lets itself down here. Velocity and consistency figures are fairly academic where junior specifications are concerned – but for the record, the Norica managed 10-shot strings within 14fps, and the Gamo within 8fps. Very consistent.

Accuracy-wise, the Norica was a little pellet-fussy, with Gamo Match and JSBs slightly loose in the barrel; SMK’s Black Dome was ideal, however. They spat out with around 9ft/lb of power and grouped within 12mm at 10 yards and 20mm at 20 yards with open sights.

Despite a ‘super-safe’ power level of just 3.4ft/lb, the Gamo could match those accuracy figures with Gamo Match ammo – and when I shoe-horned a compact scope into place to see what these guns could do at 30 yards, I was amazed that the Junior Hunter could land all its pellets inside a 12mm circle!

By comparison, the Norica struggled to keep things inside 25mm at that distance with a scope on board.

Gamo Junior Hunter  9/10

Norica Thor GRS  7/10

VALUE FOR MONEY

Rifles aimed specifically at juniors are a vitally important part of the market, and both these guns deserve credit for what they offer.

On the face of it, Norica’s Thor GRS is great value for money. However, Gamo’s aggressive marketing means they just edge this section. A gunbag, pellets, fun targets and a metal plinking frame all for under £100 makes a very emphatic point!

Gamo Junior Hunter  9/10

Norica Thor GRS  8/10

FINAL VERDICT

Gamo Junior Hunter  85/100

Norica Thor GRS  75/100

The Gamo comes complete with gun bag, pellets, fun targets and metal plinking frame

The Gamo comes complete with gun bag, pellets, fun targets and metal plinking frame

Norica’s Thor GRS is a pleasant break-barrel to shoot and, for many youngsters, should prove a winner – it certainly has plenty of attractive features.

As for the Gamo, its biggest negative aspect has to be its rather inappropriate name, given the listed energy figures – this rifle is most certainly not suited to hunting! But for what it’s designed to do – attract kids into the sport – I really cannot rate it highly enough. Yes, it’s very low-powered – but that’s the point! Super-smooth to shoot, easy to cock, accurate, loads of extras and a package deal to put a smile on any youngster’s face. For me, it rates as one of the very best junior spec sporters ever to come to market.

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Posted in Air Rifles, Gas-Ram, Springer, Tests
3 comments on “Head-to-head: Gamo Junior Hunter v Norica Thor GRS
  1. Janeth says:

    YES! You can put a real 1911 firearm grip on this baby, and it is going to fit 100% beuasce I saw people did it already, no need to mod the grip too. For red dot and stuff, I personally won’t beuasce it will require you to do drillings of the body and stuff to get the IPSC style mount on and it is not worth it. Just enjoy the gun with the 1911 vibe unless you want to turn it into a race gun. This babe is quite sharp shooting though, I won’t say no if you want to do a race gun mod!

  2. Gordon. says:

    Hunter Junior, very re-assuring write-up.

  3. John says:

    I have just purchased a Norica Thor green wood stock in .177.
    My first impression is what a great little rifle, I’m a retired gamekeeper and was looking for a lightweight air rifle mostly for plinking but also capable of a bit of short range pest control.
    I think the Norica will be ideal,it feels more comfortable than my rimfires and will cost a lot less in ammo.
    Cocking the rifle is easy for me but some younger shooters may find it a bit stiff.The first shot through the chronograph read 779 fps but being brand new other shots varied down to 655, I hope it will become more consistent with use, accuracy was fine and I had no trouble hitting the end of spent​ 12gauge shells at 15 yds offhand with open sights.The pellets went right through plastic milk bottles full of water.
    The pellets I bought were Norica Apache, which are excellent, Napier Post Hunter, which require seating and some very very old Marksman like I used as a kid, my dealer is selling old 100 pellet boxes for 50p, they work fine too. I would recommend this rifle.

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