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Best gas-ram airguns

Richard Saunders puts a selection of the best gas-ram airguns through their paces to find the best alternative to springers and PCPs

Spring-powered rifles have been around for over 100 years and probably account for more units sold each year than any other air rifle category, especially at the affordable end of the market. However, springers aren’t the only alternative to pre-charged pneumatics and the associated inconvenience of having to ensure a ready supply of compressed air. Gas-ram airguns are hardly new on the scene, but are a much more recent innovation.

We have Ben Taylor and David Theobald to thank. Apparently inspired by the air-assisted forks on a Suzuki motorbike, the pair founded Theoben in 1982, bringing us the legendary Sirocco soon after, with plenty more instant classics following.

Instead of a mainspring, cocking a rammer compresses a sealed chamber of gas which, when the trigger is pulled, is allowed to expand, propelling the pellet down the barrel. Fans will point out that you can keep a gas-ram cocked for as long as you like, unlike a springer, while their detractors will tell you the firing cycle is harsh.

Forty-odd years ago, the Sirocco set the standard for all other gas-rams to live up to. Now to see how the young pretenders compare, we’re taking a look at four of the best on sale today.

Arguably the finest gas-ram currently on the market, we’ve got the Weihrauch HW90K (£550). Fellow German company Umarex has sent us the UX Syrix via UK distributor John Rothery Wholesale (RRP £159.95).

From the other side of the pond, thanks to UK distributor Range Right, we have the Crosman Fire (RRP £179.99). And representing Great Britain, we have the BSA GRT Lightning XL SE (£349).

Thinking more about boosting your airgun kit? Click here for our lists on the best pellets or best air rifle slugs, best air rifle cases, best chronographs and even the best air rifle ranges to test out your new purchases!

Best gas-ram airguns – Rich Saunders’ top picks


Umarex UX Syrix

Best gas-ram airguns

Price: £159.95

The Umarex UX Syrix comes with a 4×32 scope as well as mounts and is only available in .177 calibre. At a shade over four kilos and 1,160mm long, this is a rifle that younger shooters will struggle to use without an adult helping to cock it.

The ambidextrous black polymer stock is chunky and feels solid. There are no sharply moulded edges and only the slightest flex at the end of the forend. The pistol grip and forend are ribbed, and the metalwork is high quality with no rattles, finished in a matt black coating. The solid rubber shoulder pad makes for a comfortable fit and ensures good alignment down the rifle.

Cocking the 580mm barrel, which includes a plastic cocking aid, sets a safety catch blade located within the trigger guard. The catch cannot be deactivated until the barrel is returned, preventing you from de-cocking the rifle. The trigger is metal and a single-stage unit with no means of adjustment. That said, it broke cleanly enough with a long pull.

The Syrix is fitted with a set of open sights. There’s a red fibre optic on the exposed blade foresight and a green fibre at the rear, the elevation for which is via a wheel.

Tweaking the windage setting requires a screw to be loosened to allow the sighting notch to move.

Good as the open sights are, many will use the 4×32 scope, which is perfectly suited to back garden plinking. Fitting a better-quality optic will improve the shooting experience and reduce group sizes, but in terms of pest control, at a shade under 9 ft-lb, the Umarex Syrix is limited to plinking, informal target shooting and very close-range ratting.

On the range, with a target set at 20 metres, the Syrix fires with a gentle thud thanks to the lack of a mainspring, and although there is no means to add a silencer, the report was surprisingly quiet, making this a rifle you could use in most gardens without upsetting the neighbours.

Airgun Shooter verdict: “An almost indestructible polymer stock coupled with solid build quality and good balance make the UX Syrix a compelling proposition. And at this price you could afford to buy a decent scope too”


Weihrauch HW90K

Best gas-ram airguns

Price: £550

Best known for its array of top-quality springers, many of which have been around for decades, Weihrauch’s HW90K is the company’s only gas-ram rifle.

At £550, this is a premium rifle, more expensive than most other springers and up there with the best underlevers on the market.

Theoben provided the gas-ram mechanism in the early days, so it’s no surprise the HW90K is considered the successor to the Sirocco.

The beech sporter stock is elegant with panels of laser-cut chequering on the pistol grip and forend, and the solid rubber shoulder pad has a tasteful black spacer. At 1,140mm and around 4kg scoped, it’s on a par with the HW80. However, with the point of balance placed just forward of the trigger, the weight disappears in the shoulder and helps reduce the firing action to a purposeful thud.

The gold-coloured, adjustable Elite trigger unit is a departure from Weihrauch’s fabled Rekord system and is unique to the rifle.

Like its stablemate, the transition between the two stages is well-defined and when it comes, the let-off is crisp and predictable.

In another departure from its spring-powered siblings, the cross-bolt safety catch on the HW90K is located forward of the trigger. Cocking the 310mm barrel – made easier by a very effective silencer fitted to a ½ inch UNF thread – is smooth and sets the safety catch automatically. A second button allows you to reset the safety.

The barrel locks up solidly, and should you notice any play after a while, it can be dealt with by tightening a couple of large screws. The firing cycle is fast – anyone used to springers will notice the absence of a mainspring clanking up and down.

On the range, our .177 calibre test rifle punched half-inch groups at 30 metres with ease. The chrono showed 11.4 ft-lb with 8.44 grain pellets and a spread of just 12 feet per second over 10 shots.

Airgun Shooter verdict: “Unlike many other air rifle categories, the HW90K makes choosing the best gas-ram a relatively simple task – as long as you are prepared to pay top dollar”


Crosman Fire

Best gas-ram airguns

Price: £179.99

Although it’s been around for some time, this durable rammer is ideally suited for those who don’t want to pay the earth but expect enough quality to reward good technique and send a few tin cans flying.

That’s not to say the Fire isn’t capable of dealing with vermin. At 10.22 ft-lb it’s powerful enough to deal with a problem rat under the shed, and returning groups a little over an inch at 20 yards in our test, it’s accurate as well.

At 1,170mm and a pull of 360mm, the Fire is another full-size rifle. Large cutouts in the black polymer stock help keep the weight down to a very manageable 3.2kg, which also includes a provided 4×32 Centre Point scope and mounts.

There are no open sights due to a chunky shroud, but the rifle is accurate to justify the use of a scope. Having said that, whilst the optic that comes with the rifle is fine for back garden plinking, you’ll soon want to upgrade it to see what the Fire is capable of.

The full-length QuietFire Sound Suppression shroud is effective, and at 525mm long it makes the barrel easy and smooth to cock, although the breech opens with a click.

With a pellet inserted – the Fire is only available in .22 – the breech locks up solidly.

The cocking process does not automatically set the safety catch – which is a blade just forward of the trigger – but an anti-bear trap mechanism will help you to avoid any kind of damage or injury should you accidentally touch the trigger before the barrel is returned. The downside, however, is that you cannot de-cock the rifle.

Somewhat unusually for a rifle at this price point, the trigger blade is metal.

Although the two-stage unit is adjustable, I found it fine straight out of the box with a clearly defined stop after the first stage and a very predictable let-off.

The Airgun Shooter verdict: “Crosman is one of the world’s biggest airgun manufacturers and there’s not much it doesn’t know about mass-producing affordable rifles. With the Fire, the company has done a great job of achieving a level of finish and performance that belies the price”


BSA GRT Lightning XL SE

Best gas-ram airguns

Price: £349

When it comes to break-barrel rifles, few companies have the hardware to challenge Weihrauch. However, BSA, with the benefit of 160 years’ heritage, is one of those few.

Its GRT Lightning XL SE is a great example and competes with the HW90K for the honour of best gas-ram rifle currently on sale. The big difference between the two is price; shop around and you can save more than £200 with the BSA – enough to buy yourself a decent scope.

Unlike the even more reasonably priced GRT Lightning SE model, the XL SE is distinguished by a full-length silencer that also has a ½ inch UNF thread, different chequering and the option of either a beech or black soft-touch stock.

A 370mm barrel keeps the GRT Lightning XL SE down to less than a metre long and at 3kg it’s light as well as compact. However, it still packs a wallop; our .177 test rifle registered a shade under 11 ft-lb with 8.44 grain pellets and returned a variance of just 23 fps over a 10-shot string.

The ambidextrous stock features BSA’s signature butt, finished with a squishy, ventilated shoulder pad.

An indent at the top of the pistol grip encourages a comfortable wrap-around grip and a high comb sets you up to aim down the rifle.

A raised scope mount is designed to absorb recoil and prevent scope creep, and ensures excellent scope/eye alignment. The mount can be removed to access the underlying dovetail rails.

The GRT Lightning XL SE is easy to cock. The stroke is very smooth and the return has a vice-like lock-up. An anti-bear trap mechanism helps prevent any accidents.

The two-stage trigger has an adjustable second stage that lets off crisply, and gives you every chance of exploiting the potential of the cold hammer-forged barrel.

“BSA has carved out a niche for producing break-barrel rifles that sit somewhere between budget offerings and top-money rifles. And yet it still provides a level of quality, finish and performance that many other manufacturers struggle to achieve”


Best gas-ram airguns – conclusion

You can’t get away from the fact that gas-ram rifles, with the benefit of not having to rely on a clanky old spring flying about, can deliver a superb shooting experience. Unlike spring-powered rifles that usually need an aftermarket kit or the expertise of a professional tuner to get rid of any twang from the action, gas-rams have a flat, thuddy report.

Critics will say they can be snappy and difficult to shoot accurately. Of course, that’s true of some rammers, but I’ve come across some harsh springers too, and not all of them have been budget rifles.

Choose wisely and a good gas-ram rifle will more than hold its own against any spring-powered break-barrel rifle. Messrs Taylor and Theobald were on to something all those years ago, and we should thank them for that.