Air Arms S500 Carbine - test & review
PUBLISHED: 11:05 14 November 2020
Editor Terry Doe investigates our appreciation of single shot air rifles with this test & review of the Air Arms S500 Carbine...
Of the many changes wrought by this pandemic, greater appreciation of our beloved hobby has definitely been one of them. I have genuinely lost count of the ‘it’s keeping me sane’-themed emails, letters, calls and conversations I’ve had since March, and my own experience endorses entirely this view. The opportunity to escape the various stresses, strains and demands of dealing with this crisis simply cannot be overstated in terms of a necessary diversion. Our sport is uniquely suited to the ‘therapy’ side of things, due to the fact that a silenced airgun can be used pretty much anywhere it’s safe to shoot, and the need to focus on a target pushes aside our enforced concentration on the problems of everyday life. This happy situation has always existed, of course, but its healing effect has never been more beneficial, or important, than it is right now.
A NEW TYPE OF SHOOTER
From my frequent conversations with the trade and suppliers, it’s obvious that more and more airgunners are shooting in their gardens, and we’re not just talking about grabbing a long-forgotten plinker and blatting away at tin cans. There’s a new type of garden-gunner evolving, and this one wants to take things further; to push the performance envelope of themselves and their hardware. Overall, at the newly-emerging end of things, these garden sessions are becoming more like lessons in precision marksmanship, where calm control is king, and accuracy the ultimate reward.
NO MAGS? ARE WE SURE?
Furthermore, it seems that these ‘new’ shooters want rifles specifically geared to their preferred pace of delivery, and for many that means single-shot, rather than magazine-fed guns. Yes, I furrowed a disbelieving brow at that one, too, but further research eventually smoothed those furrows and made me say ‘blimey’, but before any revelations could be made known unto me, to explore fully the new approach, I needed a rifle. Then, during a conversation with the irrepressible Claire West, MD of Air Arms, it emerged that her company’s order books had recently seen a significant bulge, due in part to an upsurge in demand for single-shot PCPs.
That was my cue to ask Claire to send me one of the company’s finest sporters, sans mag’, and within a day or two, I was disinfecting the outside of a box containing an Air Arms S500 Carbine, single-shot sidelever. Truth to tell, even after fitting a scope and charging the rifle, there was still a furrow or two on the editorial brow, so I cleared my mind as best I could, staked a paper target out at 40 yards, and settled my sceptical self at a shooting bench.
BACK IN THE ZONE
Instinctively, and just for a split second, I looked for the familiar Air Arms magazine, before simply opening the tin of .177s, drawing back the S500’s easy-action sidelever, and rolling a pellet into the breech channel, just like we always used to before we subcontracted that task to autoload magazines. I shot my way into the session, sinking lower and lower to the surface of the bench to stabilise the rifle further, until I fully entered ‘the zone’, where time and deadlines become irrelevant, outside demands fade, and all that immediately matters can be seen through the scope.
THE PLEASURE OF REDISCOVERY
This is the priceless zen state that has sustained, recharged and repaired me, since I discovered it, entirely by good fortune, over 40 years ago. Then, I was exclusively a hunter, but I trained hard and I was truly obsessed with becoming a better one. With no formal training or mentor to take me to the next level, I had to find my own path to enlightenment, so I just spent hours shooting; too many hours, really, until what worked best for me made itself known through smaller groups on the bits of card I’d pegged out at random ranges.
I used to do shift work back then, and one day, after a run of night shifts, instead of going to bed as I should have, I headed for the fields with my rifle. I was using a fallen tree as a backrest, and I was so tired that I shot until I was almost falling asleep. My relaxation was total, muscle tension minimal, movements ultra-slow or non-existent - and my accuracy was better than ever. I’d discovered the formula, and from then, until now, I’ve striven to perfect and apply it.
PART OF THE PROCESS
Loading a rifle manually is part of the process I use to establish the ‘rhythm’ required to deliver pellets with consistent accuracy. Also, rolling each pellet into the breech channel and ‘feeling’ it into the bore with a gentle push from the sidelever is the next best thing to using my thumb to seat pellets. There’s no major reason why the feel should be reduced through a magazine, apart from a bit more friction on the loading probe, but loading manually just feels more controlled, to me at least.
I think I’ve set the stage sufficiently, so let’s explore the hardware, then the process of getting the most from it, and see how it all plays out, as it happens, on the range. I learned something worthwhile from this examination; I hope you do too.
THE AIR ARMS S500 CARBINE
This rifle is nothing short of a classic among sporters. The combination of proven, pre-charged pneumatic action, sidelever cocking/loading, and an equally tried and tested, two-stage, adjustable trigger system, has carried the S500 platform to best-seller status throughout the world, and in its various forms it still sells faster than Air Arms can make it. By pure coincidence, elsewhere in this issue you’ll find Pete Evans examining a fully-regulated, multi-shot, takedown version of the S500, and with dedicated HFT and 10-shot options available, plus a choice of stock configurations, Air Arms have a wide variety of bases covered, and those order books confirm that this coverage works.
The Air Arms S500 Carbine is just about the ideal rifle for the job of extending most people’s downrange marksmanship capability, without taking on the cost and complication of a full-on target rig. From a bench, or any stable platform, the test rifle’s fully-shrouded, .177, Lothar Walther barrel and consistent power-delivery can group compatible pellets inside 20mm out to 50 yards, wind and talent allowing. The rifle’s two-stage, adjustable trigger is not a dedicated, go-anywhere match unit, but it’s a precision device that, when set correctly, promotes total control and confidence in its user. The rifle’s barrel assembly comes ready threaded to take an optional silencer, so everything it offers in terms of performance comes with the least possible disturbance.
I asked Air Arms to send me a rifle in a non-adjustable, ambidextrous stock, so I could let others have a go with it, but had I opted for the most popular incarnation of the S500 platform – the Ultimate Sporter – then the gun fit I constantly drone on about would be there for me. The thing is, whilst proper gun fit is always desirable, it’s not as critical when shooting off a bench, as most of this ‘new generation’ seem to be doing, because the bench offers full support, whilst we handle aiming and shot-release duties.
OUTPUT AND INPUT
Another part of this new deal, is the combination of ease of use and lack of hassle, with the all-important pleasing results as the ultimate product. In short, the ideal rifle will provide maximum satisfaction, for minimum fuss. Modern airgun magazines are mostly simple to use and learning their various requirements takes no time at all. That said, it’s still much more straightforward to have your rifle propped on a bench, where you load each pellet manually. Not a big deal, or major difference in hassle, but the rhythm of cocking the action, loading the pellet, then closing the breech, is a pleasing routine in itself.
The fact that each 200-bar charge of the Carbine test rifle passes through a super-fine particle filter and yields around 70, full-power shots in .177 and close to 90 in .22, means that the internals are protected from dirt and grit, and by the time it’s ready for a refill, I’m ready for a break, a stretch of the limbs, and a stroll downrange to see how I’ve done on my targets. All in all, there’s a fine balance of input to output going on, here.
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The single-hole group is the prize we’re shooting for, and it’s our version of a golfer’s hole-in-one. These days, a calm day, high-quality, compatible pellets, and a relaxed delivery, will make single-holers more achievable out to 30 yards than ever before. Many of the rifles out there can do this, and when everything is in alignment, some can push that range to 40 yards, and beyond. The Air Arms S500 is one of those rifles, and my very first ‘discovery’ session with it produced two, single-hole, 5-shot groups at 30 and 35 yards, and I wasn’t even going for that level at the time.
Once the first three pellet holes overlapped each other, though, it was game on, because it always is when that happens. Usually, the next pellet, or more often the fifth, will leave a tiny paper bridge between the hole it makes and true satisfaction, but sometimes there’s no visible reaction to the final pellet strike, and just a ‘tik!’ sound as the pellet passes through the hole made by the previous four.
THE WHOLE ONE-HOLE THING
No matter how long you’ve been at this sport, or how many times you’ve done it, shooting a single-hole group is an incredibly satisfying thing to do, because it means you were perfect. Just for that short time, everything worked exactly as you wanted it to; the pellets, the rifle, the scope, and most importantly, you. That one-hole group confirms, in a cut-out-and-keep way, that you can really get it right, and it’s there to refer to when things aren’t going quite so well. I know several shooters who carry a one-holer in their kit, just in case a confidence boost is needed. You think I’m seeing too much in all this? Not a bit of it. This world tells us all, too hard and too often, when we screw up. I’m taking every bit of positive affirmation I can get – and so should you.
SO, WHAT’S THIS NEW THING ALL ABOUT?
First, I don’t believe there’s anything ‘new’ going on at all. I think what’s happening is simply an extension of one of the fundamentals of our sport, the pleasure of marksmanship. The current pressures have needed to be eased, and this type of relaxed, deliberate, easy-access, rewarding shooting, is the perfect antidote to stress and frustration.
All of the desired elements are there, too. There’s the pleasure of using high-quality hardware, and the pride of ownership that comes with it. Now add the attraction of achievable excellence, with just the right mix of demand and reward to make it satisfying, without need of a match-winning mentality and the obsession it so often involves. This type of shooting takes place entirely on the shooter’s terms, and we set our own challenges. It can be done alone, in company, at the club, or in the garden. It’s a perfect shooting pastime, and the Air Arms S500 Carbine really is the perfect rifle to make the most of it.
RIFLE TECHNICAL SPECIFICATION
Manufacturer: Air Arms
Country of origin: UK and Italy
Type: Pre-charged, single-shot, sporter
Calibre: .22, .177
Trigger: 2-stage, adjustable, with manual, in-trigger, resettable safety
Stock type: Ambidextrous, poplar sporter
Weight: 2.8 kg (6.2 lbs) Rifle only
Length: 970 mm (38.25 ins), excluding optional silencer
Barrel: 395 mm (15.5 ins)
Fill pressure: 200 bar
Shots per charge: 90 in .22 - 70 .177 at sub-12 ft.lbs.
Average energy: 11.5 ft.lbs.
Tel: 01323 845 853