Tuesday, 21 November 2006
Pete Wadeson gets to grips with liquid gas as he tests the world's first mass-produced full-power CO2-powered hunting rifle — the German Umarex 850 AirMagnum
It's been known for a long time that when CO2 is used as a propellant it is easily capable of producing power in an air rifle up to and beyond the 12ft/lb legal limit.
In the past we've seen specialist companies which specifically made rifles that use this power source and were of a power suitable for hunting. However, now German CO2 power supremos and experts Umarex have created a mass-produced and highly affordable 12ft/lb CO2-powered rifle.
The 850 AirMagnum sits in a black synthetic stock, has an ambidextrous cheekpiece and a ventilated thick rubber butt-pad. Both the slim pistol grip and more substantial fore-end have a generous amount of what can best be described as raised oval-shaped dots to aid grip. Though the rifle is called an AirMagnum, it's important to remember that the gun is powered by a removable and renewable 88-gram tank of CO2 (liquid gas) — or as it's best known, an 88g CO2 AirSource canister — housed and secreted from view by the fore-end.
To access the inlet valve coupling to power- up, the front third section of the fore-end has to be removed. This is achieved by using the release catch found underneath the stock at the point where the jointed fore-end meets. The slotted push-in catch allows a firm thumb hold as you press inwards and push forward, whereupon the section easily releases to come away and be removed from the rifle. Don't be under the misconception that this could be a weak spot, as the stock at this position is thick- walled and, like the rest of the stock, is of very high quality ABS construction.
When the end cap is removed, it reveals a cavity into which the AirSource tank screws. This is half-covered to the human eye, and when the front section is pushed back into its original position, where it is held securely by a clip-type catch, you wouldn't even know it was there if you hadn't fitted it in the first place. Incidentally, once you've screwed the canister into position, you should dry-fire the rifle in a safe direction, as you would with a low-power CO2 pistol, to ensure the canister is fully pierced and the CO2 is feeding through the inlet valve and all rifle internals correctly.
Action and performance
An ingenious and cleverly designed feature of this rifle is the action. Initially pushing forward the cocking bolt, after first cocking and loading, takes the magazine retaining catch forward to secure the manual removable eight-shot rotary magazine, probes a pellet into the breech and is extremely smooth in operation.
To load, the "blacked" steel-cocking bolt is a generous, chunky size and needs to be lifted
up from its original forward position and pulled fully rearward. This then locks in position and allows you to operate the magazine retainer, which is the lengthy, slim catch found directly behind the magazine on the right of the action. Once slid back, you can then easily pull the eight-shot rotary magazine from the left of the action. Incidentally, as soon as the cocking bolt is pulled fully rearward, you've also set the automatic safety, which is sensibly sited at the rear of the action block.
To load the magazine, once removed, you load all eight empty chambers with the alloy centre boss facing you. Ensure all pellets are fully seated before refitting. Once loaded with pellets, which are held in place by a rubber "O" ring, replace the magazine back into the left of the action block, push the bolt forward and turn back down clockwise to its original position. This has now taken a pellet from the magazine, probed it into the breech and, due to the cleverly designed action, it also takes the magazine retaining catch forward so that everything is safe, solid and secure.
Taking a shot
At this stage, the T-bar-style automatic safety catch will still be protruding out from the rear of the action block, indicating the rifle is safe. The automatic trigger safety is sensibly sited at the rear of the action block (ideally positioned for operating with the thumb of the shooting hand). To disengage, you need to push down the primary safety, then you can push in the main safety catch to put the rifle into fire mode. This exposes a red dot on top of the action base-plate, indicating the rifle is now ready to fire. If you require, it can be manually re-set by pulling back with your thumb and forefinger.
Once you take a shot and want another pellet in the tube, you simply lift and pull back the cocking bolt (the rifle is now cocked, the and automatic safety is back on), and simply cycle the action back — whereupon pellet number two is taken from the magazine, pushed into the breech and once again you're good to go. When you've shot the magazine empty, to remove it you pull back the cocking bolt, slide back the magazine retaining catch to remove the magazine and repeat the loading procedure.
In your sights
Though the rifle has a good pair of fibre optic open sights, which are easily capable of kill-zone accuracy from 12 to 15yards, the rifle has a scope rail for fitting a pair of optics and this is when the gun really begins to shine. For example, with a Walther 3 – 9 X 44AO IR Night Pro in high mounts, I'd zeroed at 25 yards and was soon making ragged ¼in
groups at the set zero, shooting bench-rested.
In skilled hands, the rifle is easily capable of kill-zone accuracy out to 35 yards and beyond — stunning performance for what is in effect such a leap forward in the design, function and availability of a CO2-powered air rifle for hunting. Even the single-trigger, though adjustable for length of travel, is crisp and cleanly sends the lead on its way with no discernable creep.
CO2 has certainly come of age and is now an extremely viable alternative for hunters looking for a rifle that has the benefits of a recoil-less PCP without the need to buy a diver's tank or go for re-fills. Considering you get approximately 140-plus full-power shots per 88g AirSource tank, it makes the gun very economical to run. Also, should you prefer, there is even an adaptor available that will let you run it from two 12g CO2 capsules. However, obviously, the larger-fill 88g tank is far more economical (only costing approximately £5 each), and I feel helps with the rifle's highly credible handling and balance.
The 850 AirMagnum can also be fitted with a muzzle compensator, as used in this test, which keeps report to an acceptable level. However, such is the AirMagnum's popularity that custom houses, such as Sandwell Field Sports, are already creating special sound moderators to make this deadly accurate rifle equally deathly silent.
To sum up, the Umarex 850 AirMagnum is mighty impressive, the accuracy is on a par with most conventional PCPs and it handles wonderfully. It's lightweight and is extremely cost effective. In fact, I'm already getting reports that pest controllers are using it for feral control, which is certainly a use I'll be putting the gun to before it has to go back.
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