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Best sporting air rifles – best traditional models on the market

Richard Saunders takes a look at some of the best traditional sporting air rifles that are currently available

It’s hard to believe, I know, but there was a time before the airgun world went mad for bullpups, tactical rifles and all things black polymer. The traditional sporting air rifle is something of a, well, tradition. And whilst other designs and fads come and go, quality endures, and for many a beautifully turned piece of walnut is almost as important as a rifle’s ability to shoot straight and group small.

So in this issue we’re turning our back on all things military and ignoring anything that looks like it came off a sci-fi movie set. Instead, we’ll be taking a closer look at some of the best, and arguably the most attractive, traditional sporting air rifles.

A couple – the Daystate Huntsman Revere and FX Crown MKII, retailing for £1,159 and £1,599.99 respectively – have been around for a while. The other two are more recent entrants to the market. In fact, although the Reximex Pretensis (£499.99) has been out for a little bit, BSA’s R-12 CLX Pro (from £1,215) was only released a few weeks ago.

Looking for more affordable options? Check out our list of the best air rifles for under £500


Best sporting air rifles – best traditional models on the market


Daystate Huntsman Revere Safari Edition

sporting air rifle

Price: £1,159

When it comes the option of sporting air rifle, surely the granddaddy of them all is Daystate’s Huntsman, which can trace its roots back 40-odd years.

The design has evolved over that time, seeing the introduction of a regulator and the adoption of a sidelever instead of the traditional bolt. However the Huntsman has never lost its sporter looks.

Sold alongside the walnut model, the latest incarnation, the Daystate Huntsman Revere Safari Edition, is perhaps the biggest departure in the looks department thanks to a textured, darker wooden handle that provides excellent grip.

If that wasn’t enough, the Safari Edition stock is truly ambidextrous and features an adjustable cheekpiece to facilitate perfect eye alignment. There are some more subtle differences too; for example, the forend is more angular and provides more depth to make fitting a sling swivel stud a little easier.

In all other regards, the Safari Edition is the same as its walnut sibling. At 928mm with a 430mm barrel, and less than 3kg unscoped and without a silencer, the rifle is light and compact. The sidelever has a pleasing mechanical resistance, yet is smooth enough to operate with one finger.

The cocking action probes a pellet through the 11-shot .22 or 13-shot .177 gated magazine that has been designed to enter the breech from the right-hand side. Once you’ve done that and flicked the red safety switch located at the rear of the action, you’re ready for action.

And that means engaging the mechanical, two-stage and fully adjustable trigger. At a time when nearly every rifle seems to favour a match-style post and shoe design, the Huntsman Revere persists with a traditional curved blade which provides excellent feel, enabling you to take up the first stage pressure before breaking clean without fuss or drama.

Click here for our full Daystate Huntsman Revere Safari Edition review


BSA R-12 CLX Pro

sporting air rifle

Price: £1,215 – £1,265

While unmistakably a BSA, the R-12 CLX Pro is a completely new sporting air rifle. In fact, other than the trigger, trigger guard, barrel and shroud, just about every other major component is new compared to the R-10.

That includes a new in-house designed regulator. In addition to the sidelever, other differences include a new magazine, safety catch and a monobloc design that reduces the number of potential leak points. 

Available as a Standard model at 102mm with a 390mm barrel, and Super Carbine, the version we have on test, at 940mm and a 320mm barrel, the walnut-stocked R-12 CLX Pro weighs 3.6 or 3.8kg. A Black Pepper laminate option weighs only a faction more.

A three-way adjustable shoulder pad and height-adjustable soft touch cheekpiece combine to ensure good cheek weld and scope/eye alignment. The rotary safety catch is handily located at the back of the action. In the upright position the rifle is safe. Flicking it to the left exposes a red dot to show you’re live.

The ambidextrous Minelli-designed stock is a thing of beauty with swoops and curves in all the right places. 

Inserted from the left, the rotary magazine, two of which are provided, takes 12 pellets in .177 and .22 and features a counter so you know how many shots you have left. In another departure from the R-10, there is no separate retaining catch. Simply pull back on the butter-smooth sidelever and insert the magazine. 

Underneath a pressure gauge indicates remaining air pressure. Removing a plastic surround exposes the fill port. The R-12 CLX Pro is supplied with a removable 288cc aluminium bottle (a 400cc option will be available) that delivers 190/260 .177 or .22 shots in the Super Carbine and 250/280 in the Standard.

Click here for the full BSA Ultra CLX review


Reximex Pretensis

sporting air rifle

Price: £499.99

Reximex is one of the more recent Turkish entrants to the traditional sporting game and has thrilled us with a raft of affordable sporting air rifles, and the use of Turkish walnut on many of its rifles is challenging the establishment.

Take the Pretensis for example which, at 109cm and 3.35kg, epitomises the sporter style. The walnut stock has a large grippy patch on the pistol grip that extends to the edge of the cheekpiece. 

Slackening a couple of screws that are tastefully recessed in a couple of brass rimmed holes means you can adjust the height of the cheekpiece to achieve perfect alignment for a scope mounted on the rail. 

The trigger guard is part of the wood stock and there are scoops forward of it and further down the forend which make for a comfortable leading hand grip. Another brass rimmed hole will accept an accessory rail that is provided, and you get a couple of sling swivel studs as standard.

Located on the right of the action next to a power adjuster switch and a cross-bolt safety catch, the sidelever is lightly sprung on the first stage and pulls back smoothly. Pushing it forward again probes a pellet through the magazine, two of which are provided along with a single-shot tray. The magazine inserts into the breech from the right with a shot counter visible on the left – 14 shots in .177 and 10 in .22.

A 200 bar fill – which is achieved by attaching a snap-on quick-fit style adapter directly to a valve located under a pull-off cap at the front of the 260cc air cylinder – will deliver around 150 shots. A manometer on the right clearly indicates how much air is left.

The 580mm barrel is not shrouded, and while the air stripper looks great, you’ll likely want to replace it and screw a silencer onto the ½ inch UNF thread, especially if you intend hunting or shooting in the garden.



sporting air rifle

Price: £1,599.99

Is it sacrilege to call the venerable FX Crown MKII simple? It’s not a criticism and certainly not a comment on the features and performance of this sporting air rifle. It’s just that the Crown has a straightforward, no fuss air about it. Perhaps it’s that Swedish design thing.

Somehow unobtrusively, it is crammed full of sophisticated functions. The stock, which is available in a range of laminate options as well as walnut, has three-way adjustment in the shoulder pad which, with a cheekpiece that will raise and lower, will adapt to provide perfect fit and eye/scope alignment. The large thumbhole provides access to a pistol grip which, like the forend, has just enough stippling to provide the grip you need. 

Underneath and either side of the filler valve are a couple of gauges. The front one shows how much air you have remaining while the rear gauge indicates regulator pressure. At 12 ft-lb the reg is set at a barely visible 60 bar, leaving plenty of room to be turned up on high power models. On the right of the action, the safety catch is perfectly located to flip on and off, and the sidelever operates the drum magazine. 

Filling it with 18 pellets in .22 calibre, or 22 in .177, first requires the removal of a clear plastic faceplate to give access to the inner rotor, which you’ll have to rotate anti-clockwise before inserting your pellets. Forward of the breech is a low/medium/high power wheel; 12 ft-lb shooters will likely tweak it to the max and leave it there. Of more use is a micro adjustment wheel at the rear of the action. Combined, the two enable you to fine-tune your setup to suit your ammunition.

The large magazine and the shrouded Smooth Twist X (STX) barrel mean you’ll need to choose the right set of mounts to achieve proper clearance. And if you intend testing the rifle’s long-range capabilities, you’ll appreciate the 20 MOA that’s built into the split Picatinny rail.

Click here for the full FX Impact MKII review and here for the FX Impact MKII Compact review