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Air Time: Five Pellet Guns Reviewed Head to Head
Editor’s Note: Dave is out of the office today, and so I thought we’d post something a little different on the blog. The air rifle reviews below also appear in our latest issue (the December/January double), in the FieldTest section.
Why get an air rifle? Because in a time when places to shoot are growing scarcer, these guns are quieter than .22s, and their pellets travel only one-quarter the distance. Because a box of 50 .22 Long Rifle rounds costs around $2.60, but a tin of 500 .177 pellets goes for $6.30. Because good .22s now cost as much as big-game rifles did a few years ago, but good pellet guns can still be had, with scope, for less than $300. Because you need the practice, and an air rifle can give it to you.
All five guns tested were hunter-plinker models, not target air rifles, which are a different breed altogether. I shot them from a benchrest and offhand at 15 yards. Most air rifles require that you run 500 to 1,000 rounds through them before they really start to shoot, so I’ve omitted anything specific about accuracy. I used a variety of pellets; just like powder-burning rifles, air guns are particular about what they eat. There is no shortage of pellet types, either. RWS alone makes five varieties.
Hammerli Storm .177
($180; $225 with 4X scope)
THE LOWDOWN: This comparatively inexpensive model comes in .22 as well as .17 and has a synthetic stock with an ambidextrous cheekpiece, praise be! It’s a single-stroke break-barrel, with the usual fine fiber-optic sights that one comes to expect from Hammerli. The Storm requires a bit less cocking effort than the other guns tested, and therefore isn’t quite as powerful.
HITS: It’s very, very, accurate. At 15 yards, shooting offhand, I put five shots in a group you could cover with a nickel.
MISSES: It didn’t have the greatest trigger pull of the guns tested, but on the other hand, so what?
CONTACT: Umarex USA (pronounced OOM-a-rex); 479-646-4210; umarexusa.com
Hammerli X2 .17 and .22
($275; $315 with 4X scope)
THE LOWDOWN: Now here is a good idea—a switch-caliber air rifle that lets you swap back and forth between .17 and .22. The X2 is very well made, with a hardwood stock, open sights with fiber-optic inserts, and lots of power. To change caliber, you flip down a locking catch, unscrew the muzzle weight, drop out one barrel sleeve, drop in the other, screw back the weight, and flip up the catch. It takes 45 seconds and it works.
HITS: The X2 has lots of power, a top-flight trigger that’s very reminiscent of the Savage Accu-Trigger, and excellent iron sights.
MISSES: It’s kind of on the hefty side for a kid to use.
CONTACT: Umarex, yes, the same people as above.
RWS Model 34 .17
($250; $295 with 4X scope)
THE LOWDOWN: This single-stroke break-barrel comes in both .17 and .22. It’s a wood-stocked rifle with good iron sights (not as easy for my geezer eyes to use as the ones with fiber-optic inserts). The Model 34 is a solid gun, from a highly respected name.
HITS: It has lots of power, and it’s accurate.
MISSES: To cock it, I had to smack the barrel on something hard; after that it was easy. I’m told that this was one of a batch of stiff-opening rifles, and not normal for a Model 34. It all comes from the German love of screwing guns together tightly.
Sheridan Blue Streak CB9 .20
THE LOWDOWN: I’ve owned a Blue Streak since 1958, which is just about as long as the gun has been made. It’s a multistroke gun, which means that you can pump it for as few as three strokes or as many as eight, depending on how much power you want. It’s a good design that has been continually improved over the years. The weight is 6 pounds, the stock is hardwood, and the sights are open.
HITS: Of these five guns, this is the best bet for a small or young shooter because of its compact dimensions and its ease of cocking. If I haven’t had a problem with my Blue Streak in 49 years, you probably won’t either.
MISSES: It’s not quite as accurate as the other guns, and its iron sights are primitive compared to theirs. You will shoot much better if you get a Williams peep sight, or a scope.
CONTACT: 800-724-7486; crosman.com
Walther Talon Magnum .17
($250 with 3X–9X scope)
THE LOWDOWN: Brand-new from Walther, this is a spring-powered single-stroke model, and the one I shot was the first to make it to the United States. It’s large and very serious, with a muzzle velocity in .177 of 1250 fps (there will be a .22 and a .25 later on). The black synthetic stock has a recoil pad that is adjustable for length of pull. If you’re looking for an air rifle to hunt with, this one is tough to beat.
HITS: The Talon has excellent open sights, with fiber-optic inserts. It comes with a terrific little scope. The accuracy is good, and the overall quality is very high. It feels like a full-size big-game rifle. Did I mention that it’s powerful?
MISSES: Cocking required considerable effort. Where do you think all those feet per second come from? Also, the trigger pull is long and mushy.
A Note On Air Rifles and Safety
Air guns are not considered firearms because they don’t use gunpowder, and therefore are not subject to the regulations that govern firearms. There are, however, all sorts of local ordinances governing who can buy and use them, so it behooves you to check first. All the major dealers that I know will not sell to anyone younger than 18.
Pellets are dangerous out to 500 yards, which is one-quarter the distance that .22 Long Rifle bullets travel. They’re just as deadly as rifle rounds inside that distance. If you shoot someone with an air rifle, they’ll go to the hospital and you’ll go to jail.
These guns are strictly short-range propositions. Olympic air rifle competition is staged at 10 meters, and I found that 15 yards, which is practically the same distance, is about the limit for good accuracy. At 25 yards, you’ll wonder if there’s something wrong with the gun.
And a Note On Scopes
Spring-powered air rifles will wreck a conventional riflescope in short order. That’s because a regular scope is designed to withstand recoil that moves from front to rear. Air rifles of the type tested recoil back and then forward, which is enough to churn the guts of any optical sight that’s not made to withstand it.