Black with a vengeance
PUBLISHED: 11:00 12 January 2012
So, it’s here, then; the FX Airguns Verminator MKII that was unveiled over a year ago. There’s only one question, really – has it been worth the wait? Well, there’s only one way to find out, and that’s to shoot a couple of thousand pellets through it, then compare it to the MKI Verminator I’ve been using for years. Here we go, then.
Model: Verminator MKII
Manufacturer: FX Airguns
Country of origin: Sweden
Type: Pre-charged, buddy bottle, takedown sporter
Loading: Via removable, 12- or16-shot magazine. .22 mag’ is 12-shot
Trigger: 2-stage adjustable
Stock type: Synthetic, two-piece, ambidextrous
Weight: 2.7kg (5.9lbs) unscoped
Length: 774mm (30.5ins)
Barrel: 317mm (12ins)
Fill pressure: 200 bar
Shots per charge: 200-plus in .22
Variation over 100 shots: 13 fps for .22 on test
Average energy: 11.5 ft.lbs.
Best group at 35 yards: 11mm diameter
Average group at 35 yards: 13mm
Favoured pellet of test rifle: Daystate Rangemaster Li
Other notable pellets on test: Air Arms Diabolo Field, H&N FT Trophy, RWS Superdome and Super H-Point, Defiant, Bisley Magnum, all JSB derivatives.
Options: 500cc air bottle, FAC (24 ft.lbs.) version
Contact: A.S.I. on 01728 688555
Let’s begin with the similarities. Like its best-selling predecessor, the Verminator MK2 is a takedown rifle built around a removable buddy-bottle butt section, which screws onto a multi-shot, sidelever-activated, pre-charged pneumatic action, and it runs a precision, two-stage adjustable trigger. The stock is formed from hi-impact, matte-black synthetic in an ambidextrous design, and the rifle’s butt section can be adjusted for length and pad height. That’s it, the resemblance between MKs I and II ends there and the rest is new.
The major change brought about during the development of the Verminator MKII was the use of the company’s top-of-the-range Royale action as the mainframe. So, in place of the standard, 8-shot alloy magazine system, now sits the 12- or 16-shot ‘cassette’, with its ‘load the first pellet backwards’ requirement and its raised profile that dictates the need for higher mounts.
Then there’s the fully-shrouded barrel, that comes with a threaded end-section to enable the fitting of an extra air-expansion chamber, which will be supplied as standard and makes an already-quiet rifle, quieter still. The test rifle was such a last-minute deal, that the rigid, foam lined carrying case is still on its way from the FX factory in Sweden, but I’ve been assured that they’re of the quality I’d expect from Frederick Axellson and his top-notch airgun team.
Finally, the Verminator MKII carries an on-board air pressure gauge and the latest FX power adjuster, the latter of which is a knurled wheel on the side of the action, marked with one, two and three ‘dots’ to denote its triple-choice settings. On the test rifle, the settings translated to 11.5 ft.lbs. at full power, 10.1 on two dots and 6.3 on the lowest, one dot setting. As with the previous model, I can see the middle setting being used for close range quarry such as feral pigeons and rats, and the lowest setting for plinking in the garden, or practising those close-in standing shots.
I’ll see how ‘repeatable’ those power settings are when I get the MKII over the chrono, but having tested this device during a visit to FX earlier in the year, I’d expect it to work as well in production as it did at the factory test range.
The new Verminator represents a landmark in airgun production in that it’s the first model to be fitted with a SmoothTwist barrel as standard. In far too basic terms, a SmoothTwist barrel is a smoothbore until the final few inches before the muzzle, where external pressure from spiral dies on the barrel blank impart a form of rifling to the bore, only without the grooves and lands associated with the standard rifling process.
Ben Taylor is the man behind the SmoothTwist concept, and I’ve seen the development of his brainchild from concept to production in .22. The .177 SmoothTwist has yet to be finalised, but when it is, Airgun World readers will see it first, but in the meantime, I was interested to see if the 12-inch, .22 calibre model on the test rifle would be as ‘pellet non-fussy’ as previous SmoothTwist barrels I’ve tried. The SmoothTwist system has the potential to be a genuine game-changer, due mainly to its ability to shoot extremely well with a wide variety of pellets. The SmoothTwist barrel has also shown a marked resistance to ‘leading-up’, due it must be supposed, to the lack of conventional rifling grooves. This barrel has also done some remarkable things, accuracy-wise, when used with high power, FAC-rated rifles, and includes .22 live as well as air-powered guns. Interesting times, no doubt about it.
Facts and figures
The FX Verminator MKII is charged via a push-in connector which locates a port in the truncated front air reservoir. From each 200-bar fill of its 400cc bottle, the Verminator MKII returns over 200 shots at full power in .22, with the distinct possibility of far more. I say ‘distinct possibility’ because I shot 200 pellets and the test rifle was still going, but I was freezing and getting decidedly fed-up, so I recharged the rifle and went off for a warming mooch around my shoot.
That mooch revealed much, as these handling sessions invariably do, about how the Verminator behaves from shot to shot. As far as consistency of output goes, this rifle keeps its pellets flying within 14 f.p.s. of each other over the 100 shots I recorded in my notebook and the power adjuster didn’t disturb that consistency in any notable way, but being a long term Verminator user I knew that already.
I also knew that the accuracy figures I’d recorded were right on par with my previous Verminator results, as pellet after pellet snicked its way through the ragged, sub-inch holes in the target at 45 yards. At 35 yards, the SmoothTwist barrel assisted me in producing group after group of around half an inch, just as my MK1 Verminator does with reassuring regularity.
Now here’s the big deal about the SmoothTwist barrel; where my MK1 Verminator performs admirably with three or four brands of pellet, the MKII does the business with twice as many. While the best will still be the best, the SmoothTwist system definitely seems to bring the best out of more brands.
On test, it was the Daystate Rangemaster Li and Air Arms Diabolo Field that topped the absolute accuracy charts, so no surprises there, but the list of runners-up was impressively long. Using the test rifle, I would happily hunt with RWS Superdome, H&N FT Trophy, Bisley Magnum, Defiant, Accupell, Premier and all of the JSB derivatives I’ve ever tried, including the FX own brand pellet. Drop the maximum hunting range to 25 yards and another shortlist of pellet options comes into play, including my favourite close-quarters pellet, the RWS Super H-Point, which was good news for me, for reasons I’ll soon explain.
For now, I was pleased to confirm the inherent accuracy, consistency, and pellet-friendly nature of the Verminator MKII, its Royale powerplant and that SmoothTwist barrel. The real test results were, for me, about to be gathered as I took a walk in the woods.
Hunting with the MKII
You’ll have noticed that I’ve fitted the Verminator with an MTC 3-12 x 32 Viper X Connect scope and a Fenix TK15 lamping kit, via the ingenious Sportsmatch scope mount and almost-as-ingenious Weaver base lamp mount. This is hardware with a defined purpose and that purpose is shooting rats for the final part of the Total Airgun Hunting II series.
To shoot rats efficiently, you need to be versatile, at least as far as your positional work goes. Shots could come at all sorts of angles, ranges and awkward stances, and you need to be confident of shooting quickly, smoothly and accurately. The Connect scope gives me a magnification range between 3x and 12x, with an illuminated centre cross and a multi-aimpoint vertical cross-hair. Just as importantly, with the rubber eye cup fitted, I’ve also got a reference point for my head position, as my eyebrow touches the cup in the same place for each shot. With the centre of the bore 45mm below the scope’s sight line and the target angles changing all over the place, I think it’s vital that my head alignment is perfect every time and that ‘touch reference’ really helps. That Fenix TK15 lamp will help, too, thanks to its four-stage brightness adjustment, small size, and astounding 337 lumens output, should I require that much.
Back to my walk in the woods, and an extremely important requirement of Verminator use. You must, repeat must, make every effort to set up this rifle to suit your exact requirements. Try every permutation of setup with the adjustable butt section, until the Verminator comes to the shoulder, and the eye, with comfortable consistency. Every minute spent getting this rifle to suit you will translate to better accuracy where, and when, it counts most.
With that job done, you can get the full potential from this unique rifle, exploiting its excellent trigger and on-aim stability to the full. That stability comes from having the balance point closer to the shoulder – with the test setup the balance point ran through the trigger – which is due, you’d think, to the amount of metalwork in the rear half of the rifle. Anyway, this little rifle welds itself into your stance, and that drop-down grip has enough of a shelf at its base to let you ‘hang’ your trigger hand off it, rather than hanging onto it, and this reduces tension while increasing flexibility in the wrist, which you need for those angled shots.
The fluted topline of the fore end, plus the moulded ridges in the contact areas, promote a variety of forward hand holds, and the overall handling report on the Verminator MKII is highly positive. Make no mistake, this is an extremely stable rifle, which inspires total confidence in your ability to hit the target.
Things I may moan about
There’s just a single feature on the MKII that I don’t regard as an upgrade, and that’s the height of the magazine. This sits a full 18mm proud of the breech cut-out and requires the use of higher mounts. Cranking the scope higher over the barrel is rarely ideal, especially for close range work, because it increases the disparity between the sightline of the scope and the flight line of the pellet, which demands holdover to compensate.
At a push, I could moan about how fiddly it is to adjust the butt pad, and I might even whinge that the sidelever has some too-sharp corners on it, but overall, I’m seriously struggling to find legitimate gripes about this rifle.
Things I really like
The sheer overall shootability of the Verminator MKII is, for me, its finest feature. The Royale action is better than the MKI’s, and the SmoothTwist barrel adds more usable pellet options. The rifle’s stability on aim is nothing short of remarkable, and combined with the handling, boosts confidence to refreshing levels. There’s a ton of shots available, plus the rifle can be taken down and transported in the most convenient carrying case possible. That said, it’s always been a tribute to the Verminator that its ability as a rifle is always placed well ahead of its takedown aspect. Make no mistake about it, this is a genuine, full-on hunting gun that will do the best possible job of putting any and all airgun quarry in the bag.
The FX Airguns Verminator II is something truly special, and I’m confident that this one will serve me every bit as well as the previous version – plus that vital bit more.