BSA’s latest variant of their best-selling R10 Mk2 PCP – the Super Carbine – may have been cut down in size, but does it leave you short-changed? Not according to Nigel Allen, who’s put a fair few tins of ammo through the VC ‘Black Pepper’ version…
It was back in the November 2013 edition that I reported on BSA’s R10 ‘VC’ model, the suffix referring to the addition of their variable choke silencer. Specifically, my R10 test sample was the Woodland variant, dressed in a stock sporting BSA’s Next-G1 camouflage pattern and I recall at the time finding it a real wrench to send it back to the manufacturer. Well, it’s all been a bit déjà vu lately, because I’ve got just as attached to the latest R10 Mk2 test rifle!
This one’s also a VC, but with a barrel reduced in length by 109mm, it’s dubbed the Super Carbine; it measures up around half a silencer shorter in the overall butt-to-muzzle department. It’s also the £799 Black Pepper version, which sports grey laminate woodwork rather than the black or camo variants that come in a few quid cheaper, at £780. For the extra £19, it’s a deal not to be sneezed at, though – because to my eyes, it totally transforms the look of what is already a stunning bolt-action multi-shot.
Actually, the extra mass that the laminate brings is pretty much offset against the loss of up-front weight from having the shorter barrel. The Super Carbine Black Pepper is only 60 grams weightier than the standard VC, yet the new model’s feel is totally transformed. With the balance point now more toward your shoulder, Beeza’s flagship handles even better than before in my opinion – especially if you ‘balance’ the gun’s look with a sensibly proportioned scope. Mind you, if you did want to go for something bigger than the BSA Optics 3-9×40 Essencial I fitted to my test rifle, the 184mm of uninterrupted dovetail atop the breech takes away any restrictive mounting options.
While the stock’s material may have changed, the shape of the R10’s woodwork remains unaltered. It’s one of the most beautifully sculpted pieces of furniture to adorn any air rifle, although BSA has made this one ambidextrous, with a high-rise, well profiled cheekpiece on either side of the butt. The red palisander wood caps on the pistol grip and forend complement the shadow-grey look of the Black Pepper laminate, and the distinct, black and white line spacers add a further air of quality.
At the butt, the rubber pad is height-adjustable to enable you to get a tailored fit, and eyelet studs are fitted on the butt’s undercut belly and at the forend to make sling and/or bipod fitting easy. The pistol grip is gently raked for an ‘easy’ trigger hand, and while there’s a thumb-up scallop to rest your thumb in, the grip itself is also thin enough to comfortably obtain the traditional thumb-round hold with your trigger hand.
With its semi-swell forward of the trigger, flowing contours and an almost Schnabel-like shape to the forend tip, the Black Pepper’s forestock looks as sexy as it feels; the R10 Mk2 is one of the few buddy-bottle PCPs my leading hand has no problems in finding a good hold, regardless of my shooting stance.
I would say it was perfection, other than for two minor criticisms. One is that there’s no chequering – though I appreciate that laminates are hard to chequer with any degree of neatness by virtue of the layered material being cut. All the same, even a stippled panel on the pistol grip would improve things in more slippery scenarios.
Secondly, as beautiful as the high-gloss finish plays off the Black Pepper laminates, the R10 Mk2 is such a capable performer in the hunting field that it’s just a little too reflective for my liking. If you were on the competition or club target ranges – and this rifle is accurate enough to compete with the best target-orientated models out there – it’s not a problem. But out in the woods and fields, the mirror-glass polish of the woodwork flashes warnings to the quarry with reflections here, there and everywhere. I’d prefer to have seen a matt (or semi-matt) finish on what is, after all, a sporting rifle.
Although I didn’t have the standard R10 Mk2 VC with me for a direct comparison, I was certainly able to appreciate the advantages of the Super Carbine’s shorter barrel and different balance point. At 305mm, the barrel is certainly in need of muting – my sound meter tests (see panel below) proved what a bark it had when the muzzle was naked!
But as well as the difference a silencer makes to such a short barrel, you can also see how effective the variable choke concept is.
In the case of BSA’s VC Silencer, the ‘choke’ – or exit hole constriction – come in the form of a reducing baffle placed at the end of the can. My test rifle, being a .177, runs a tighter choke to improve the efficiency of the sound suppression. For the record, I proved this by removing the choke: the noise gain was actually 5dB-A, even though the silencer’s exit hole diameter was increased by no more than a millimetre!
Of course, as most airgunners will be aware, carbine PCPs tend to be less efficient than their longer-barrelled counterparts in terms of shot-count – and given my Super Carbine was supplied in .177, a calibre that also gives away some shots to .22, I was keen to see what impact this had on the number of shots I could eke out of this R10 model between fill-ups.
BSA’s website claims up to 165 shots per charge for the .177 Super Carbine – the same, incidentally, as the standard and VC models. The VC I last tested was in .22, and returned around 200 shots, a few short of the specified 225 shot-count from a 232BAR fill-up of the 200cc buddy bottle.
Again, this test gun’s shot-count came up short, returning more like 130 shots within a 0.5ft/lb spread with pellets picked straight from the tin. In the graph above, I’ve overlaid both R10s’ results because it might help those caught in two minds between calibres! Personally, I’m more than happy with 130 shots from a single charge – especially as BSA’s plug-in probe makes it such an easy procedure (and well done them for also including spare O-ring seals in the box) – but if you want to go further, you’ve kinda got no choice but to opt for the bigger bore!
Technically minded airgunners might notice that there’s more of a gradual rise in the .177 Super Carbine’s regulated output, though it’s by no means anything like the usual power ‘curve’ you get with most unregulated PCPs. By comparison with the .22 VC, it’s a noticeable characteristic, but I have to say it didn’t manifest itself in any negative way downrange – none of my pellet groups strung in the vertical plane and I was more than happy with the results regardless of where in the rifle’s charge I was shooting.
There are a couple of other things that the graph also shows and which highlight why every PCP should be considered on its own merits, rather than simply following the manufacturer’s stats. In my test rifle’s case, it’s clear that the optimum fill – or starting – pressure is more like 225BAR. And even though the well-presented gauge face indicates a 75BAR point at which you should replenish the tank, my shot trace shows that you’ll have been shooting low for a good while by then! With Webley PowaPell, I’d say my test rifle’s shooting sweet spot was therefore between 225 and 90BAR.
Ironically, PowaPell was one of the few pellets I tried that didn’t group super-tightly at extreme ranges. In fact – as I’ve noticed many times in the past with BSA’s cold hammer-forged barrels – this R10 Super Carbine spat most brands of pellets through the same hole at ranges under 30 yards, including some brands that I’d otherwise call ‘budget’ or ‘leisure’.
Out at 50 yards, JSB-made ammo and Webley AccuPell were outstanding, though – and considering this is a multi-shot rifle where pellets have to be fed from the magazine’s inner cassette into the rifling via the bolt’s push-probe, I can only applaud the Birmingham gunmaker’s engineering prowess.
And their barrel-making expertise. We testers often make a big deal about guns fitted with Lothar Walther barrels – but, truth be told, the German firm are being somewhat flattered by our repetitive prose. I know a few airgunners in specialist circles are already aware of how good BSA’s barrels are, but I now think it’s high time the British gunmaker’s own tubes become far more widely revered. Let’s start now – if you’ve got a BSA cold hammer-forged barrel attached to your rifle, take it that accuracy is a given!
Unlike my last R10 test, this latest model was sporting Beeza’s new magazine set-up, the loading of which is easy (see panel below). Coloured blue to signify .177 calibre (.22 is red; .25 black), the inner cassette is now made from a special, high-impact polymer which BSA introduced with their Gold Star SE model. To call it ‘plastic’ would do the hi-tech material an injustice – and, as I say, the accuracy of the R10 cannot be called into question.
LOADING THE R10’s NEW MAG
Loading up the R10 is simple with BSA’s very latest 10-shot rotary magazine.
Pull back the bolt to full cock  and slide forward the release catch at the front of the breech  to extract the mag from the breech . Then insert a pellet into each chamber , rotating the inner cassette anti-clockwise and holding each new chamber in line with the loading aperture as you go.
Serrations on the cassette help in this respect, and once a fully laden magazine has been re-inserted and locked in place, numbers on the cassette give a visible indication of how many shots remain (10 to 1). A new addition to the BSA mag is a small window which shows a white dot when you’re on your last shot .
That’s aided by other things, naturally – the R10’s recoilless firing cycle (which doesn’t seem any harsher despite the shorter barrel) and its multi-adjustable trigger being two big factors. There’s no detectable increase of effort required to cock the short-throw bolt and, if anything, the action noise of this R10 is much quieter now, with no hammer ‘ding’ that I detected on the previous incarnation.
As for the trigger, the R10 Mk2’s is about as match-like as you can get on a sporter without it appearing alien. With a position-adjustable blade – fore, aft, angle and rotation – and full adjustability for first and second stage let-off, it offers the kind of release that makes it hard to snatch any shot off target. For field or range work, I really can’t fault it… nor yearn for anything better.
The trigger can be secured by a clearly marked rocker-type safety catch at the rear left of the breech. Manually operated, it’s resettable – though because there’s no anti-double-load facility on the R10, shot management is important so you don’t ever stick two up the spout if you’re not shooting in quick succession.
With similar weight, better balance and a more compact frame – not to mention an even more attractive look – I’d rank the Super Carbine VC Black Pepper as the best R10 Mk2 yet. When so many other high-end PCPs from the likes of Air Arms, Daystate, FX and Weihrauch command prices upwards of £800, this latest buddy-bottled BSA is formidable competition – and if the stock had been stippled and less glossy, I’d probably end up buying the test rifle myself. Then again, that’s not too difficult a job to do in the home workshop…