Gun test: The Cometa USC

Terry Doe shooting the Cometa USC air rifle

Our sport needs affordable excellence - in springers, as well as PCPs. - Credit: Archant

Terry Doe reviews the Cometa USC air rifle - an affordable new break barrel rifle that he believes is good news for our sport

Cometa USC air rifle

You can just see the trigger overtravel adjuster screw, but the let-off adjuster is harder to access. - Credit: Archant

Over the past few years, this magazine has been extremely happy to showcase various rifles that offer high performance for an entirely reasonable outlay. These rifles have been, to the best of my recall, all pre-charged pneumatics, and as welcome as the affordable performance angle is, whatever its form, I’m absolutely delighted to announce a spring-piston example. 

I first saw the Cometa USC – Ultra Short Carbine -  on the A.S.I. stand at this year’s British Shooting Show, and it stopped me in my tracks. Not because it it’s remotely ‘showy’ or because it has radical features, but because it looked ‘right’. I asked the nice people at A.S.I. if I could have a play with it, and within a very few minutes, I knew I was handling something special.

Cometa airguns have always been around, but even I was surprised to discover that the company has been making airguns since 1874. I’m hoping to wangle a visit to Cometa headquarters in the near future, especially after learning that major upgrades have taken place with regard to their key production hardware and processes. This USC is a result of those changes, so again, it’s an important rifle. 

More importantly, at £350, that show rifle demonstrated the kind of special qualities that more airgunners could take advantage of, plus it carries the potential for further enhancement, via tuning and the addition of an accessory or two. All in all, the more I studied that Spanish-made Cometa USC, the more important it became, and I asked if I could test one and see if its performance matched its apparent potential. Let’s find out, shall we?

Cometa USC air rifle

Polymer or not, this is an excellent trigger. - Credit: Archant

As I’ve already said, there’s something inherently ‘right’ about this rifle. The proportions are spot-on, the use of grey laminate for the stock imparts an understated impression of strength and style, and tipping an ultra-carbine barrel with a substantial silencer gives the rifle a bit of the Theoben Fenman look of yesteryear. The adjustable cheek piece combines usefulness with the visual balance of deepening the butt section, and the whole rifle is extremely handy-looking and attractive. 

First impressions really count, and without exception, every time I’ve unveiled this rifle to a new observer, their reaction has been positive. I’m a confessed springer fan, but even my PCP-exclusive mates like the look of this little Cometa, and it’s easy to see why. 

Let’s go from front to back and begin with the Cometa’s chunky silencer, and it most certainly is a silencer, not simply a cocking grip. I’ve tested ultra-carbine springers many times, and although silencers don’t have as dramatic an effect on them, compared with PCPs, once the barrels get this short, the muzzle noise can be ‘extremely noticeable’, and that silencer is a welcome feature. 

As a cocking aid, the silencer works a treat, mind, and the matte finish applied to the majority of its outer tube makes for slip-resistant use. Yes, there’s no doubt about it, that silencer is a quality fixture. 

The Cometa USC has a one-piece cocking arm, which requires a longer stock slot, compared to articulated systems. Whilst this could be a potential weak spot in previous designs, there’s so much laminated timber each side of the slot, that even heavy-handed use will leave the USC unharmed. In fact, the orders from A.S.I. were ‘do your worst, Terry – you won’t bust this one’, and they’re right. I’ll cover cocking effort later, but for now, this break-barrel already looks like it will last for many, many years. 

Cometa USC air rifle

It's stippling - but not as we know it. It works well and it's easy to clean - and that's what matters. - Credit: Archant

Stippled panels at the grip and fore end aid handling security, as they should, in both dry and wet conditions, plus, it’s easy enough to clean dried mud from them. Following A.S.I.’s orders, I used the Cometa with muddy hands, and apart from making me wince – it’s horrible to do this to a good rifle – those grip panels lived up to their name, and a quick flick-out with a soft brush soon removed all signs of grubby neglect. 

Certain noses will be turned up at the Cometa’s polymer trigger guard and blade, but I’d roll my eyes at such petty picking of nits. That trigger blade is broad, comfy and correctly shaped for sporting use, but more to the point, the two-stage mechanism to which it’s connected, is praiseworthy, indeed. 

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Rarely do I beseech the readers to start messing about with trigger adjustment before they’ve explored a rifle and its capabilities, but I’m making an exception for the USC. Please, if you buy one of these rifles, and many will, break out the appropriate flat-blade screwdrivers, consult the instructions, and carefully tweak the rifle’s trigger until it releases every shot in your preferred manner. I’ll cover the trigger-adjustment process in next month’s Follow-Up test, but for now, I can’t advise you too strongly to make the most of what is an excellent trigger, especially on a rifle at this price point. 

Cometa USC air rifle

Loads of elevation and the adjusters are countersunk so as not to irritate southpaws. Nice. - Credit: Archant

This rifle stock initially presents as ambidextrous, but strictly speaking it isn’t. A slight bulge on the left of the butt denotes right-handed design, but in use any southpaw will be perfectly happy with this rifle. I think that’s a deliberate move on Cometa’s behalf, because the comb-adjuster grubscrews are recessed into the face of the butt, so that your own face doesn’t notice them on contact. Also, with over 50mm of elevation available, the Cometa’s comb will prop pretty much any head in the right position for scope use, with this scope-only rifle. 

Cometa USC air rifle

Who remembers the FWB Sport? This safety catch brings it back. - Credit: Archant

I wouldn’t normally devote an entire paragraph to a rifle’s safety catch, but this one reminds me of a favourite rifle from the past, the Feinwerkbau Sport, so it’s worth a mention. There’s that same ‘winged plate’ that the FWB had, and it’s nudged forward by the thumb before shooting, in exactly the same way. Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Cometa. 

I wish the scope mounting grooves were a few inches longer, and that the two, trigger adjustment screws were a bit more accessible. The overtravel adjuster is easy to access through the hole in the trigger guard, but the smaller screw, just behind the trigger blade, is a bit of a git to adjust, unless you remove the guard. Finally, I’d have preferred that Cometa supplied this rifle without the cut-outs in the stock’s fore end tips, which are there to give clearance for the rear sight that isn’t fitted on this model. So far, of the 20-odd people who have seen the USC, I’m the only one who has noticed that last point, but it’s a niggle, so I’ve noted it. 

Cometa USC air rifle

The cocking arm slot would have been shorter if an articulated linkage was used. - Credit: Archant

One of the factory upgrades applied to this rifle is a ‘more refined powerplant’, and I’d go along with that. First, despite its ultra-short barrel and full-power output, the .177 calibre test rifle cocks smoothly and without undue effort. One of those who tried the Cometa is a 12 year-old lad of fairly slight build, and he coped with the required cocking effort, no problem. A swift, controlled, downward sweep seems to be the cocking style of choice, and everything clinks and clicks into place without graunching or spring noise. 

After taking care to fully seat the pellet, barrel lock-up is positive, thanks to a sturdily sprung detent. The breech jaw pivot pin is threaded and locked in place by a ‘keeper’ screw. It’s all most reassuring around that breech area, that’s for sure. 

When this rifle shoots, there’s no detectable spring noise of any kind. No ‘twang’ or reverberation, and not a trace of torque, where the rifle sometimes twists as the piston flies forward. No, there’s none of that  at all, just the tiniest rise of the muzzle as 
the pellet exits, so whatever the factory upgrade Cometa has installed, here, it’s definitely working.

Around 150 pellets into this test, the Cometa’s action had settled noticeably, whether that was through the ejection/burning of excess lubrication, or simply the ‘running in’ of the internal components, I don’t know, but it happened and I can feel the difference. As I write, over 800 pellets into my relationship with this rifle, I believe I could pass it off as being a stage-1 tuned gun. No doubt a tuning master could still transform it, but as you’ll see in the next section, this is already one impressive little sporter. 

Cometa USC air rifle

Solid, reliable lock-up, but those fore end tip cut-outs aren't needed. - Credit: Archant

I discovered so much from my first session with the Cometa USC, that it’s hard to know where to start. First, it really appreciates quality pellets, and whilst that’s hardly a shocking revelation – all airguns perform better with good pellets – the test rifle showed a marked preference for JSB derivatives and my precious stash of H&N FT Trophies. I’m talking about printing half-inch groups at 30 yards with Air Arms Diabolo Field, a fraction larger groups with the H&Ns, and getting on two inches with a whole selection of also-rans. This may be an affordable sporter, but it has refined taste when it comes to pellets, so do those ammo tests and only feed it the good ones.  

For the record, my best groups at 35 yards were between 16 and 18 mm diameter, and with a muzzle energy averaging 11.1 ft.lbs., and a shot-to-shot consistency of 13 f.p.s. over 30 shots, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this Cometa for hunting, provided you learn to get the best from it, and here’s how. 

Cometa USC air rifle

Top feature. Does the silencer thing really well, and provides the perfect cocking grip. - Credit: Archant

Along with being pellet-fussy, the Cometa USC really appreciates ‘soft’ handling. Again, no surprises there, because all recoiling air rifles give their best when guided by soft hands applying consistent support, rather than grip. Grip tension will change over the course of a session, so if you apply the lowest amount you can from the start, it will be easier to maintain it. 

Now add proper follow-through, where you stay in your final aiming position until the pellet strikes, and you’re well on your way to USC success. Next month, I’ll do a step-by-step guide to shooting this rifle, and I promise that if you follow it, you’ll amaze yourself, just as I did. 

Cometa USC air rifle

PLACE NEAR END OF FEATURE Soft hands, minimal grip, proper follow-through - and repeat for every shot.

I thought the Cometa USC was going to be an important rifle, and it is, for the reasons I gave at the start of this test. Cometa may well have been making guns since 1874, but I’m going to bet that they haven’t made a better springer than the USC! 

Model: USC
Manufacturer: Cometa
Country of origin: Spain
Price: £350 
Type: Spring-piston, break-barrel sporter  
Calibre: .22, .177 
Cocking/loading: Break-barrel, direct to breech 
Trigger: 2-stage, adjustable, with manual, resettable safety  
Stock type: Ambidextrous almost!), laminate, adjustable 
Weight: 3.2kg (7.25lbs) rifle only 
Length: 1040mm (41”)
Barrel: 304mm (12ins) 
Average energy: 11.1 ft.lbs. 
Contact: All good gun shops