Synthetically stocked break-barrel rifle/scope combos are very much in vogue, so Nigel Allen takes two of the newest arrivals into the fields – Walther’s Century GT and Crosman’s Phantom MkII…
At £265, the new Walther Century GT/6×42 scope combo is an incredible buy – combining elements of the flagship Competition Ultra LGV break-barrel in a practical, highly attractive synthetic ambi stock. Made in Germany, by Walther, its scope-inclusive price is sure to halt the march of the Eastern gunmakers – especially as the blueing and polishing of its metalwork is probably the best I have ever seen on a production sporter air rifle in over 35 years of being in the testing business.
And while I accept the practical advantages of synthetic stocks on air rifles with a slight reluctance, I’ve got to tip my hat to the design of the Century GT’s. It marries traditional sporter lines that feel very ‘natural’ in the shoulder with a modern look.
Though it features no Monte Carlo profiling, the hollow butt section comes with ambidextrous styling and does sport a raised comb to bring your eye into alignment with the scope. It also has a ventilated recoil pad that appears to have been deliberately fitted so as to not be flush – and though this design of pad is intended to absorb recoil, the truth is that the Century’s firing cycle is so smooth, its role is pretty much redundant.
The stock’s moulding detail is good. It’s two-piece, with the joining seam visible down the middle, but it’s not obtrusive, and there’s good – quite contemporary – stippling detail to the panels on the grip and front of the forestock.
And well done to Walther for positioning these panels where you’re likely to place your hands – though I did feel the rake of the pistol grip was a little acute, making the reach to trigger seem quite a stretch.
As for the Walther’s ‘XM’ trigger unit, it’s a two-stager with a plastic blade – and while I felt it could have been a tad longer, this shortfall didn’t compromise the let-off. Backed up by an auto-safety at the rear of the action, the Century’s trigger breaks very crisply, although you may want to position your index finger right at the very tip.
While the long, stepped forend lends itself to both a good grip and a variety of hold positions, I found myself wanting to shoot from either the prone or kneeling stances due to the Century’s extremely forward-biased balance.
As well as the hollow butt, this is as a result of the longer, oversized cylinder (which features a 30mm diameter piston) – and the muzzle weight only adds to the up-front mass. And it features a screw-off collar to allow a 1/2in UNF female silencer to be fitted!
The Century GT certainly pulls your arms out of its sockets, but that weighty front also absorbs recoil – and I was impressed with the almost zero kick from my .177 test sample – usually the harsher calibre when it comes to recoiling springers.
However, some of that may have been down to the low-power output my test sample returned over the chrono – generally around the 9ft/lb mark with most pellets – though it did manage close to 10ft/lb with Umarex’s 8.6-grain Cobras. Given the gun has an oversize piston with a long stroke, I was slightly surprised at this.
The upside of all this was that, combined with the choked Walther barrel, the Century was incredibly accurate. At 35 yards (in wind-free conditions), I generally landed my pellets inside 10mm which, for a break-barrel, is mightily impressive.
Of course, a large part of that is also attributable to the Century’s breech lock-up. Taken straight off the 2012 LGV, the thumb-actuated plunger incorporates force-fit engineering tolerances. You won’t find a better breech on a break-barrel – and, as I’ve found with the LGV – I don’t think there’s a fixed-barrel springer out there that will outshoot this gun. There may be plenty of good £200 deals available, but the Walther’s breech system alone is worth splashing out the extra £65 on.
And while the breech block and muzzle weight can take Walther’s optional open sights, the Century GT makes the most of all its accuracy potential courtesy of a fixed-mag, Walther 6×42 scope, complete with adjustable objective (AO) that focuses down to 10 metres.
Much more than your usual ‘kit’ telly, the Walther sports a bold, German sniper-style reticle and surprisingly sharp optics, aided to some extent by the extra light-gathering qualities of its oversized and coated objective lens.
It’s zeroed via coin-adjustable turrets protected by screw-off dust caps. The supplied two-piece mounts are excellent quality, but I’d recommend flipping the rear mount’s integral recoil-pin so that it protrudes from the mounts base and locates in one of the three arrestor holes on the Century’s receiver. Even with my lowly-powered, super-smooth sample, the scope still ‘crept’ without the pin commissioned.
Crosman’s MkII Phantom – a revamp of the original Pest Buster, as the Phantom was dubbed – is billed as a ‘total hunting package‘ for good reason. Besides its on-the-limit power and practical, sporter stock, it comes complete with a full-length barrel shroud that incorporates a silencer as well as a 3-9×40 AO optic that’s married to the rifle via a decent one-piece mount. And you get all this for just £199!
Though it’s a very long gun, it comes to the shoulder very easily by virtue of the light weight afforded by its composite stock – and despite the chunky dimensions of its shrouded barrel, its aluminium construction keeps the balance point firmly planted behind your leading hand.
Ergonomically, Crosman has got everything right with the Phantom’s uprated handle. The butt sports a Monte Carlo cheek for right- and left-handed use, with a raised comb to bring your eye into alignment with the scope.
It’s capped off with a really neat, soft rubber insert – a pad not dissimilar in shape to Hatsan’s DynaPad system – which not only locates the gun firmly into the nook of your shoulder without fear of slippage, but also softens any felt recoil.
There’s not too much of that, despite my Skan chrono returning on-the-limit power readings with Crosman’s Premier pellet, although there is a certain amount of spring ‘twang’ during the rifle’s discharge. Luckily, the density of the composite material used in the stock ensures that this doesn’t transfer through to the shooter – although there’s also a fair bit of action noise during the cocking cycle. Contrary to the ‘Nitro Piston’ etching on the breech block, this was down to an under-lubed mainspring!
The Crosman’s rifled barrel is unchoked and, as a consequence, it’s a bit pellet-fussy. While Premier and some H&N-made brands grouped within a 25mm circle at 30 yards – plenty good enough for hunting – I wasted a good few hours discounting many other brands during my field testing.
Surprisingly, for a Far East rifle, the Phantom’s two-stage trigger is remarkably good. There’s some adjustment available, but my test gun’s pull was good enough to leave well alone. It exuded a little creep through the second stage, but this was predictable – and the final let-off weight was both manageable and sensible for field operations.
What I particularly liked was the thumb muscle cut-out designed into the grip (on both sides); it really helped with my trigger finger placement. Sadly, the good was rather spoiled by an in-guard safety catch that, when ‘on’, is so close to the trigger blade, you have to be very careful when disengaging it. At least the safety catch is a manual one – so you don’t have to deploy it.
The Phantom MkII is also fitted with an anti-beartrap device, so the barrel won’t accidentally slam shut during the loading process if you inadvertently touch off the trigger. As good a safety feature as this is, you should always have one hand on a cocked, opened barrel – and there’s a downside in that you can’t decock the rifle; you must fire off the shot.
Shots fired leave the muzzle with very little crack thanks to the MkII’s integral silencer. Although I couldn’t dismantle the test rifle’s, there appears to be a 40mm void ahead of the muzzle proper, with the escaping air also being dissipated back down the shroud, reflex style.
And even though this tended to accentuate the action noise, the firing cycle was nonetheless smooth, with the forestock’s somewhat swollen (and very rounded) shape being particularly conducive to a good hold. Stippled panels assist in the grip, too – this really is one of those stocks that provides maximum control when on aim.
With the right choice of pellets, the shot consistency of the Phantom MkII certainly added to the rifle’s shooter-friendly handling qualities, making it fairly easy to stick in tight groups downrange. The barrel lock-up also played its part, with the sprung plunger keeping things just as tight between the breech jaws. Though hidden by the extended forend, the barrel pivots around a bolt, rather than pin, so wear can be accommodated in time.
Another aid was the CenterPoint 3-9×40 scope – having 9x magnification at your disposal certainly helps on the longer range targets! Considering the package’s price, I was pleasantly surprised at the telly’s spec – it also sports a quick-focus eyepiece, parallax adjustment down to 10 yards, finger-adjustable BDC turrets and a one-piece mount complete with an arrestor pin to locate into the Phantom’s receiver for a belt-and-braces approach to alleviating scope creep.
The CenterPoint’s sight picture was a little milky under super-bright conditions, but it didn’t lack any definition. Additionally, the three mil-dots on each of the thinner, central crosswires were ideal for the trajectory of my .22 rifle – and the omission of a thick post on the upper wire helped keep the view uncluttered.
SIDE BY SIDE
If you’re looking to spend up to around 250 smackers, these two newcomers have to be on your shortlist… and they knock quite a few of the established models at this price point well down the pecking order.
The Walther and Crosman exhibit some of the best synthetic ‘woodwork’ I’ve seen of late, but in terms of metal finish, the Century GT’s stands out a mile, even though the Crosman’s blueing and blacking is still of a high standard. Truthfully, I don’t think any other springer manufacturer has a model that matches, let alone beats, the Century’s exemplary metal finish. Umarex – please give the wood-lovers a walnut-stocked Century!
If you put handling over finish, however, then the Crosman Phantom MkII is the nicer rifle. Its balance is much better than that of the weightier Walther and, by contrast, it feels lighter than its actual scoped-up weight.
Yet while the Crosman would be my choice for general fieldwork, there’s no denying that the Walther is quieter to cock and shoot, and the more accurate. But I say that with a big caveat, given the lowish power of the .177 test sample – it wasn’t really enough for vermin control beyond 20 yards. However, if a 12ft/lb Century GT shoots as sweetly, then it’s probably the best break-barrel you could buy for long-range hunting – unless you spend a lot more on its LGV stablemate, with all its hi-tech internals.
On paper and in terms of their pricing, the Walther Century GT and Crosman Phantom MkII appear pretty similar – and after weeks of testing, I’d be happy if I’d bought either. They’re both fantastic combo deals.