You don't have to break the bank to kit yourself out with a decent air rifle. Mat Manning suggests some reliable options for less than £500
One of the greatest appeals of airgun shooting is its affordability. For a few hundred pounds — and sometimes significantly less — you can pick up an air rifle that should give years of reliable service.
With Christmas looming large on the horizon, it is likely more than a few readers will be thinking about buying an entry-level air rifle — either as a treat for themselves or to introduce a son or daughter to shooting. With that in mind, I’ve pulled together some of what I believe to be the best affordable airguns on the market.
Even with the top spend set at £500, these guns cover quite a wide cost spectrum and the adage “you get what you pay for” certainly rings true here. Nonetheless, I have used all of the airguns listed in this round-up in the field and can vouch for the fact all are capable of delivering decent performance, as long as you tailor your expectations to suit their price tags.
They may not be high-end models boasting pinpoint long-range precision and beautifully sculpted and figured walnut stocks, but these air rifles are capable of much more than simply toppling tins in the backyard. Even the cheaper ones produce muzzle energy approaching the 12ft/lb legal limit, as well as being powerful and accurate enough to despatch cleanly small pests such as rats, grey squirrels, rabbits, pigeons and corvids, as long as they are set up properly and used over sensible ranges.
1.Remington Express RRP £159.95
The Remington Express package may come in at just £159.95, but its looks, feel and performance significantly outperform its modest asking price. The kit even includes a telescopic sight and mounts. A classic break-barrel springer, it is styled to look like a traditional Sporter and housed in an ambidextrous hardwood stock, with chequering on the fore-end and pistol grip, and an effective ventilated rubber recoil pad.
The Express weighs around 7lb 8oz without the scope fitted and is 45in long. The barrel is relatively long at 18in, but the extra leverage makes easy work of the cocking stroke. Engineering is tidy throughout and the breech lock-up mechanism is secure.
Adjustable fibre-optic sights come fitted but most people will want to use the supplied scope to make the most of this airgun’s accuracy potential. Other features include resettable automatic safety catch and two-stage trigger. Sportsmarketing
2.Hatsan Breaker 900X RRP £120
With prices starting at £120, the Turkish-made Hatsan Breaker is an extremely affordable air rifle. Don’t be fooled by its modest asking price, though. It is solidly built and capable of reasonable accuracy out to around 25m.
The finish is tidy, the ambidextrous hardwood stock features some chequering around the pistol grip and a soft rubber recoil pad with a neat white spacer. Tipping the scales at around 6lb 8oz and measuring 44in from muzzle to butt, the Breaker 900X is a fairly compact model and should therefore be manageable for younger shooters.
This Hatsan is spring-powered and works around a traditional break-barrel action. It is relatively smooth to cock and felt recoil is modest. Features include a surprisingly good two-stage trigger, integral sound moderator, adjustable fibre-optic open sights and automatic safety catch.
The cylinder is machined with dovetail rails for scope attachment and there is a recoil arrester to stop the mounts from creeping. Edgar Brothers
3.Weihrauch HW 95K RRP £395
German gunmaker Weihrauch has a reputation for producing accurate and reliable air rifles, and the £395 HW 95K is no exception. Engineering is excellent, as is the finish of the blueing and the ambidextrous beech stock, which features a brown rubber recoil pad. Chequering on the fore-end and pistol grip is both elegant and functional.
The HW 95K has no open sights, but is equipped with dovetail rails for scope attachment and comes supplied with Weihrauch’s effective sound moderator. Even with the moderator fitted, this airgun still measures up at a fairly compact 45in and weighs 7lb 4oz.
The cocking stroke is smooth, the breech lock-up is extremely secure and the firing cycle is crisp with little felt recoil. Features include automatic safety catch and Weihrauch’s legendary two-stage adjustable Rekord trigger unit. Matched with the right pellet, this airgun is accurate to 35m and beyond. Hull Cartridge
4.Walther Rotex RM8 Varmint RRP £399
Pre-charged airguns can be expensive but you don’t have to spend a fortune to buy a decent one. The German-made Walther Rotex RM8 from Umarex has a recommended retail price of just £399, though you do need to add a scope and mounts.
You will also need charging gear, either in the shape of a manual pump or a more expensive diving bottle. Many gun shops will do a deal if you buy charging kit with a new gun, and once you have got it you can use the same setup for any other pre-charged airguns you go on to own.
The RM8 Varmint’s stock is an ambidextrous thumbhole design, moulded from a tough polymer that can stand up well to any knocks and bumps in the field. It incorporates a fore-end accessory rail for sling and bipod attachment, stippled fore-end and pistol grip and ventilated butt pad. It is solidly built and weight comes in at just under 8lb, though it measures up at a very pointable 41in
Walther’s airgun runs an eight-shot rotary magazine, and accuracy potential is greatly enhanced by its recoil-less firing cycle — expect half-inch groups at 40m with the right pellet. The magazine is indexed by a very positive side-bolt mechanism, which also cocks the gun and probes the pellet into the breech.
Features include pressure gauge, two-stage trigger and a 400cc bottle that delivers around 180 shots per fill. Bisley
5.Zbroia Hortitsia RRP £449.99
I would be lying if I said my expectations were particularly high when I first heard that I was going to be testing an airgun made in the Ukraine. But the Zbroia Hortitsia turned out to be a huge surprise and I even have one of my own, which has given great service over the past year.
Easier to shoot than it is to pronounce, this impressive recoil-less pre-charged pneumatic is capable of landing pellet on pellet out to 30m, and still groups tightly at 40m. It retails at £449.99 but, as with the RM8, you have to factor in the additional cost of a telescopic sight, mounts and charging gear.
This carbine rifle measures a stubby 35in and weighs 6lb 8oz without a scope fitted. I’m 6ft 2in and find it comfortable to shoot, and my 10-year-old daughter can also manage it when shooting from a rest. Being such a small gun, it is great for younger shooters and handles very well in the confines of a hide or inside farm buildings.
Engineering and finish are very tidy and, though its design is somewhat stylised, the hardwood stock makes for a comfortable and balanced hold.
The cocking and loading sequence is smooth and fast, thanks to the straight-pull rear bolt action, which drives a very reliable 12-shot magazine. The set-up makes for fast-fire fun on the plinking range and quick follow-up shots in the field.
Features include two-stage trigger, manual safety catch, pressure gauge and shrouded barrel. Pellpax
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6.Gamo Phox Pack RRP £499
A few years ago I would have said it was almost impossible to pick up a reliable new pre-charged pneumatic air rifle, complete with scope, mounts and charging gear, for under £500. However, the Gamo Phox Pack does exactly that.
Just scraping into the budget limit for this feature, it offers outstanding value for its £499 recommended retail price. Apart from a very accurate multi-shot pre-charged airgun, the kit also includes a pretty good 3-9×40 zoom scope with mounts, sound moderator, gun bag and a manual stirrup pump for air filling — just add pellets and it is ready to go.
The solidly constructed Phox is 38in long and weighs a little over 8lb. It runs a slick 10-shot rotary magazine, which is driven by a smooth and positive rear bolt action. Based on Gamo’s successful Coyote airgun, it is cradled in a tough synthetic ambidextrous thumbhole stock that features a steep pistol grip and high cheekpiece and is adorned with grippy stippled panels. As well as looking good, the Phox is very accurate, thanks to its recoil-less firing cycle and high-quality cold hammer-forged barrel.
The chunky Whisper moderator really boosts stealth by hushing down muzzle report to a quiet “pap”. Air capacity is sufficient for more than 65 consistent full-power shots from a single fill before it is time for another workout with the stirrup pump. Other features include pressure gauge, manual safety catch and a very crisp two-stage CAT trigger. Gamo