Wednesday, April 18, 2012
The editor tests the sort of hunting combo most of us could use - and afford.
Here at the magazine we see every new rifle, scope and silencer that comes along and as much as I try to resist, I have to confess that my head gets turned by the rare and exotic guns. The fancy, expensive and simply desirable super-guns will always grab the headlines, but the reality is that they only account for a very small percentage of the airguns sold every year. Whenever I chat to gunshop owners, I always ask what’s selling well for them, and without fail they say break-barrel spring guns under £200. Almost every Saturday they’ll sell a handful to guys who don’t shoot in competitions but just want to get out and enjoy what airgunning is all about; having fun. This is why a simple springer is ideal; it doesn’t need a dive bottle or pump to fill it or CO2 capsules. It just needs you and some pellets to become a complete shooting system, and the time to relax into our great sport.
One thing that seems to add greatly to the appeal of a springer is making it into a complete kit, so that the buyer gets a few nice extras thrown in, such as a scope and a carrying case, which is why Armex took a Hammerli 550 rifle, added a Walther scope, plus one of their extraordinary ‘Backdraft’ silencers, and called the combo the Seeker. All built up, it offers everything you could need, including the gun slip and will go on sale in your local gun shop for under £200! This price-point seems to be the magic number for this type of rifle, and I think Armex has done a great job to include all these features for the price, backed up by the fact that they’re flying out the warehouse door as we speak. In fact one shop has sold ten in the last couple of months, making the Seeker combo their best seller.
The rifle is a full-sized one, looking very much like an expensive German sporter, and its chunky build reinforces that. It’s offered in .22 only, as this is far and away the most popular choice, especially with newcomers to the sport. Most people still believe that .22 is more powerful than .177, and is also the best hunting calibre, so I understand Armex’s choice. It’s also a good-looking gun with a long fore end that encloses the breech block, giving the rifle clean lines. It’s pretty much ambidextrous with the exception that it has a raised cheekpiece on the right, but lefties will find it works just as well for them.
There are no chequering panels at all, but something had to give to achieve the price, and for me their absence is no great loss. The fit of the stock is the most important thing and the Hammerli fitted me well, despite my long arms. At the back, the soft rubber butt pad is of the solid kind, which I like because the ventilated ones are designed to reduce the effect of recoil for powerful firearms, and the Seeker has no such thing. In fact, the firing cycle is impressively smooth and soft, with little spring noise although it does make an unusual ‘ting’ kind of sound which is very quiet, only being noticeable to the shooter. Cocking is also pretty smooth and takes very little effort, making long sessions less tiring than many spring-powered guns. A light tap with your palm is all that’s needed to open the action, and from there the cocking stroke is easy. As the rifle has an articulated linkage, the slot in the fore end has been kept short, which makes the woodwork feel reassuringly stiff. No unwanted flex there then.
The cheekpiece is nice and high, and this combined with low scope mounts gives excellent support to your face, greatly adding consistent mounting. Apart from making the gun more comfortable to shoot, consistent mounting equals better accuracy, which is what we all want.
I think that the huge diameter of the Backdraft silencer spreads the load across your hand, adding to the feeling that very little pressure is needed to cock the action.
As with every test gun, I ran it through my trusty Skan chronograph and was immediately impressed with the shot-to-shot consistency. With every high-quality pellet I tried, the Seeker varied only a few feet per second (FPS), sometimes even making exactly the same velocity for several shots in a row. This was amazing for what is an inexpensive gun and a promising sign of things to come. The smoothness of the firing cycle and quiet report were especially obvious during this indoor test.
Muzzle energy was around 11 to 11.2ft.lbs. with all the pellets tested, which was spot on, safely inside the legal limit and plenty for hunting at all reasonable distances.
The trigger is pretty much what you’d expect from a gun in this class, being rather long in the second stage, but it was pleasantly light. I expect a clever gunsmith could adjust and tune it for improved performance, and the quality of the gun would make this a worthy investment at some later date. The manual safety sits directly in front of the trigger blade, so that once set, you know it’s on the second your finger reaches for the blade. This is a great design and works well for right and left-handed shooters equally. It’s also silent in use, which is a specific advantage for hunters, as it can be left on until the very last second before being disengaged. A loud metallic click carries a long way in the quiet of the countryside and is easily enough to make an alert rabbit bolt before you can take your shot, so the Seeker’s stealthy action is ideal.
The Backdraft silencer is exclusive to Armex and is also their own design. It came about after one of their staff showed the boss his fullbore moderator, which was one of the most popular ever made and gave the idea to make a similar one for airgun use. It’s what’s known as a ‘reflex’ design meaning that part of the ‘can’ overlaps the barrel keeping the overall length of the rifle down, while maximising the internal volume, which makes for best noise reduction. There’s no getting away from the fact that this is a big silencer and also weighs a bit too, but several people who shot the rifle commented on how stable it felt on aim, and I suspect this was due to the added mass at the muzzle. It clearly does a good job of cutting down noise and for those who like such things, gives the gun a fullbore, stalking rifle appeal.
When it came to choosing a scope to match with the rifle, Armex has a long and happy relationship with German giants Walther, so they naturally looked at their range of optics for the ideal glass. The 3-9 x 40 spec’ has been the airgunner’s favourite for decades, as it’s useful for so many shooting situations. For example at 3x, it’s great for back garden plinking or ratting around buildings, while at the top-end 9x, long-range target shooting is well catered for. It’s built on an ultra-modern 30mm tube with matching Walther brand rings, that are very attractive. The upper ring section wraps around the tube lower than the mid line, so that the bolts screw into the base at a shallow angle, making the whole assembly clean and neat. They are double-bolt clamps, too, for additional security, something to be welcomed on a recoiling gun.
With everything built up and tightened down, I set off to the test range with a selection of pellets to perform my usual accuracy test, but to my great frustration I was met by some of the windiest weather we’ve had in months, and with deadlines approaching and our imminent departure for the IWA show in Germany, I had no choice but to shoot. To minimise the wind’s negative effects, I ran the test at 15 yards with all the pellets fired in similar conditions. After the smooth, light cocking, the next thing I noticed was that the bore seemed quite ‘tight’ and that it took some thumb pressure to seat the pellets fully, regardless of the make. The first few shots I took with the classic Air Arms Field pellet weren’t very impressive, and I wondered if I’d failed to seat them deeply enough, thereby bending the skirt as the breech closed. So I loaded another, closed the breech, and then opened it again to look for damage. There was none, which then left me wondering why the accuracy wasn’t great especially as the Field is one of the best pellets ever made. Slowly I worked my way through, H&N Field Target Trophy, Crosman Premier, and plenty of others until I came to RWS Superdome. These were a revelation, shooting pretty little clusters of holes in the target card, all touching each other. This was the accuracy I’d been looking for, and I’m confident that on a less windy day, good accuracy would have been achieved at far greater range.
To get these groups, I shot the rifle from sandbags on a bench, and used my best spring-gun technique, which is to hold the rifle as gently as possible and squeeze the trigger with a smooth, consistent movement. It’s also important on a scope without parallax adjustment to be aware of the cross hair’s position in the body, to make it as near to visually centered as you can. This helps reduce parallax error, and judging by the Superdome group sizes, worked very well indeed.
As mentioned earlier, there’s a proper gun slip included in the price, which is a green ballistic nylon type, with a soft padded interior to protect the gun from the odd knock. It has a shoulder strap and carrying handles, which is just how it should be. Some slips only have one or the other, which is no good in my eyes. It also has a pocket that holds the toe of the stock to prevent it from coming out, if you accidentally forget to do the zip up fully, however I always recommend a muzzle down carry for added security and peace of mind.
All in all I think Armex has done a great job in selecting the elements of this Seeker combination. They work well together, making a gun that does just what it should. It has all the ‘Saturday morning visit it the gun shop’ appeal you could ever want, and the fact that it’s already selling by the truckload proves they’ve got it right. If you’re a seeker of the right gun, this Seeker could be just what you’re looking for. n