Richard Saunders heads outdoors to put four lower-powered rifles under the spotlight that he thinks are perfect for the garden range
I’m willing to bet that for most of us our passion for airguns began in the garden, sending tin cans, bottle tops and all manner of improvised targets flying.
That was certainly the case for me. The very first gun I shot was a friend’s Gat gun, firing darts at a dartboard. Before long I’d somehow convinced my parents I was responsible enough for a proper air rifle and my uncle Trev let me have long-term use of his .22 ASI Paratrooper, which he still has.
Although it was the business as far as I was concerned, you could see the pellets come out of the end with the naked eye and it barely had enough power to topple a tin can. But that didn’t stop me spending hour after hour in the garden shooting it.
Of course for many of us, me included, that love of plinking has never left. In truth I’m as happy popping away in the garden with my old BSA Meteor as I am stalking around the fields hunting rabbits with a PCP.
Several important factors need to be considered when shooting in your back garden. For example, you’re obliged to ensure that any pellets stay within the boundaries of your property, so making sure there is an effective backstop is not only sensible from a safety perspective, but is a legal requirement too.
Noise, in terms of the lack of it, is also important, especially if you want to stay on the right side of your neighbours. Not only should you use a gun that is as quiet as possible, but you should try to minimise the sound from pellets as they strike your targets. I’ve seen some fantastic DIY targets, and there are plenty of commercial options as well, many of which will also capture spent pellets.
Perhaps we’ll take a look at them in a future group test, but for this issue we’re putting four rifles under the spotlight that we think are perfect for a spot of garden plinking.
Our main criteria is a maximum power output of seven foot pounds. However, that brings many budget rifles into play, and while there are some undeniably good budget rifles out there, we also wanted to cater for plinkers who take their pastime seriously and don’t restrict themselves in terms of outlay.
Good quality open sights are also an important consideration as shorter ranges are more usual, although we also wanted rifles that would take a red dot sight or a scope to satisfy those blessed with 20 metres or more to play with.
And while it’s likely the next generation of shooters will be taking their first airgunning steps in the back garden, we didn’t want to limit ourselves to junior rifles. Not only do plenty of adults plink, some may also have a disability, which makes getting into the field or accessing a gun club difficult.
So our candidates for this issue are, from the PCP side of the house: the Webley Eclipse, thanks to Highland Outdoors, and the BSA Ultra JSR. Representing springers, we have the Weihrauch HW 30S, on loan from Hull Cartridge, and the Crosman Inferno from Range Right.
The Weihrauch HW 30S is one of those guns that dad will buy for his child, have a go to ‘show them how it’s done’ and then not give it back until there are tears.
At 990mm long and weighing 2.7kg, there is no doubt Weihrauch has made the HW 30S with smaller shooters in mind. Scaled down it may be, but as soon as you pick it up it’s apparent that this does not in any way mean it has been built to a budget.
Yes, it’s pretty plain – there’s no chequering on the beech stock for example – but every ounce of Weihrauch’s engineering ability and attention to quality is apparent. In terms of finish, this little rifle will stand alongside any of the company’s top-end models.
An example is the Reckord trigger unit. Weihrauch could have used something cheaper, but they haven’t – because it’s one of the best airgun triggers in the world. The HW 30S features the same breech lock engineering found on other HW break-barrels, as well as the cross-bolt automatic safety used on all the company’s springers.
The all-metal open sights are also of the highest quality. The foresight is a hooded post, and the fully adjustable rear sight even incorporates a reversible plate so you can change the size of the notch.
With around seven ft-lb of muzzle energy, the 390mm barrel breaks very easily and locks up securely.
In my garden, and using those open sights, I was able to hit an array of typical plinking targets, including plastic toy soldiers at 20 yards, with just about every shot.
And with a scope attached to the dovetail rail – which includes holes for arrestor studs – I was finding myself able to hit sub one-inch groups with ease.
The Airgun Shooter verdict
“Honey. I shrunk the HW!”. It may well have been designed as a junior training gun, but It’s easy to see why the HW 30S counts numerous adults among its many fans. Weihrauch has applied its decades of experience in making some of the best full-power spring-powered air rifles to create an excellent garden gun. “
If you think garden guns are cheap, clanky old things, and plinking is a frivolous, childish past time, I give you the Webley Eclipse – an air pistol that turns into an achingly cool carbine with the addition of a black, adjustable polymer stock.
As a pistol, there’s no getting away from the fact that it is big and heavy at 710mm long and nearly two kg in weight. I suspect that most people will bolt on the superb polymer stock and leave it on, except when they put it back in the plastic hard case, which isn’t big enough to accommodate the gun in its carbine form.
The sliding stock extends to between 205mm and 285mm, taking it to a maximum length of 640mm and making it ideal for both junior and adult shooters. The comb can also be adjusted, which is handy as there are no open sights, so you’d need to fit some kind of optic to the Picatinny rail. And you’ll probably want to put a silencer on the ½” UNF thread.
You will also need to invest in an air tank or pump. Webley says that filling the 105cc cylinder to 200 bar via the supplied probe will give you around 36 shots in .177 and 48 in .22. Two magazines are supplied and take 14 pellets in .177 calibre or 12 in .22.
The sprung sidelever is superb; located on the left, it’s easy to use in pistol configuration, but a little trickier as a carbine. The adjustable trigger is also pretty good. Out of the box, the first stage was short and the second stage long, but the let-off was crisp and predictable enough.
The sum of all these parts is a package that I used in the garden for longer than I had to for the purpose of this review. With a scope fitted, it comes to the shoulder superbly, thanks to the adjustable butt and AR-15-style pistol grip which, although right-hand dedicated, could also be used by lefties without too much of a problem.
The Airgun Shooter verdict:
“If you take your garden plinking seriously and a full-powered PCP is too much gun, take a look at the Webley Eclipse. As a pistol it’s good fun, but with a scope and the stock fitted it’s even more so.”
While some rifles are scaled-down to suit juniors but can be used by adults at a squeeze, many full-size rifles are either too expensive for those starting out or just too heavy for kids to use.
At just over a metre long, but weighing less than two kilos, the Crosman Inferno strikes a happy balance. Its black synthetic stock will withstand just about everything you and your back garden plinking range can throw at it.
Though clearly built on a budget and available in .177 only, the Inferno is more than adequate as a garden plinker thanks to its 7 ft-lb output and fibre-optic open sights that are fully adjustable for both windage and elevation. The green dot on the foresight is flanked by two rear sight red dots.
It’s well put together too, and it passed the all-important ‘shake test’ with flying colours. The skeleton stock sets you up nicely for the open sights, and there’s a dovetail for a scope or red dot sight, though frankly I wouldn’t bother – anyone intent on using the Inferno will be all about just enjoying its simplicity.
The 426mm barrel has a tactile synthetic coating which flares into a muzzle weight, and is easy to break and lock up. Cocking the Inferno automatically sets the safety catch at the back of the action – a feature I like on all rifles, especially those used by youngsters.
With the catch thumbed forward, you’re ready to shoot. There’s no obvious means of adjusting the metal trigger. Out of the box, the first stage comes to a definite stop and the second stage is quite long, but it will teach beginners to squeeze, not snatch.
Plinking is uncomplicated – and you need an uncomplicated gun to fully enjoy a session in the garden. The Inferno is cheap and cheerful, but is also well-proportioned for kids and adults. It’s light, quiet, easy to use and the trigger is more than acceptable. All in all, it’s exactly what plinking starter guns are all about.
The Airgun Shooter Verdict:
“The Inferno is nowhere near as refined as the HW 30S, our other springer on test, but it’s accurate enough, well-made and will last a lifetime of back garden abuse.“
Most of us were introduced to the sport as kids by a spot of plinking, and it really didn’t matter how poor the rifle or pistol we used. Imagine then if you’d had a 10-shot PCP repeater to blast away at tin cans with?
BSA’s Ultra JSR – Junior Stock Rifle – is the same as the adult Ultra in every respect apart from the scaled-down stock. Although BSA also sells a legal-limit variant, the six ft-lb version is perfect for the garden, and as your child grows, you can swap out the stock for a full-size handle.
At 690mm long and 2.3kg unscoped, there’s no scrimping in terms of quality, and smaller adults will find the JSR perfectly usable too. The ambidextrous beech stock is chequered on the pistol grip and forend, and there’s a rubber butt pad. The finish on the metalwork is superb, and the 300mm cold hammer-forged barrel is screw cut to accept a silencer – something to keep the neighbours happy.
The JSR uses BSA’s standard cartridge magazine, and with a 232-bar fill, will deliver a claimed 120 shots in both .177 and .22. Like other BSA PCPs, you have to slide a clip at the front of the action to release the magazine which, once reloaded, is installed from the left, then locked in place by pushing the clip rearward and closing the bolt.
There are no open sights, so you’ll need to factor in the cost of a scope and an air bottle or pump. Once you have everything in place, this little gun will out-perform just about any other adult-sized rifle at this power level.
I used a BSA 3-9×40 scope and invited the neighbours’ kids around to give the JSR a try-out. Watched by mum and dad, tin cans were spinning and ice cubes were smashing after I explained how to use the safety catch and squeeze the two-stage trigger.
The Airgun Shooter verdict:
“At six ft-lb, the Ultra JSR makes no pretence of being anything other than a means by which to introduce youngsters to the sport. And more often than not, that means plinking. That’s not to say adults can’t use the rifle too, and on the range it will achieve groups at 20 metres that would flatter any rifle.”
Some shooters I know who like to think of themselves as ‘serious airgunners’ dismiss plinking as a childish pastime. But they’re missing the point. To my mind, airgunning is 99% fun, and what can be more fun than a couple of hours tin can bashing in the back garden?
Dismissing plinking as a trivial pursuit also displays a lack of understanding of the art. Tin cans will always be up there when it comes to favourite targets, but today’s plinker wants to be challenged every bit as much as a hunter stalking live quarry or an HFT shooter looking for the perfect score.
As a result, targets have become smaller and more rewarding to hit, and the challenges plinkers set themselves and each other are increasingly innovative.
It stands to reason that for many back-garden warriors for whom plinking is as far as they want to take their sport, only the best rifles within the confines of practicality will do.
Accuracy, reliability and consistency are every bit as important as they are for other shooters. And because the fun factor is usually dialled up a notch or two, guns that add an element of novelty will really hit the mark.