Big Test: BSA Ultra Se

My finished project is handsome and practical

My finished project is handsome and practical - Credit: Archant

Is this the reason BSA doesn’t make a bullpup? Phill Price finds out

Despite its lightweight, the Ultra is stable on aim

Despite its lightweight, the Ultra is stable on aim - Credit: Archant

It seems bullpups are the flavour of the moment, and almost every manufacturer is adding them to their catalogue, with one noticeable exception. The managing director at BSA Guns told me, ‘As long as I’m in charge, BSA will never make a bullpup’. That seems clear!

Sharing my opinion, he doesn’t see the appeal or advantages others do in the bullpup, but we do see the downsides. I find them unnatural, slow to mount, top-heavy and prone to cant (when you tip the rifle to the side, away from the correctly vertical position, causing inaccuracy). Now, I’m in a small minority – sales of bullpups are going through the roof – but that’s okay as I’m used to swimming against the tide of fashion.

So for those, like me, who want a compact and handy hunting rifle without the bullpup compromises, what are our choices?

Look how low I was able to mount the Vantage. This matters a lot for ratting

Look how low I was able to mount the Vantage. This matters a lot for ratting - Credit: Archant

From the BSA catalogue is the Ultra, a full-power, multi-shot, bolt-action, It is about as traditional a build as you could imagine, but with a very short barrel (11.8”) and air reservoir. Perhaps this is why BSA sees no need to make a bullpup.

At just 29 1/2” long, it’s as short as most bullpups and yet comes into the shoulder as naturally as you could wish, and has a familiar feel from the second you take aim. It suffers none of the head position compromises bullpups inflict, and it’s light and easy to carry.

I added a Hugget Belita to save some more length and weight

I added a Hugget Belita to save some more length and weight - Credit: Archant

BSA offers a choice of stocks, including a dark-stained beech sporter and a semi-competition, high-impact polymer version in black, and my favourite, dark green, which I consider free camouflage.

The synthetics are tough, strong and weather resistant. Despite being ambidextrous, the pistol grip offers a palm-filling shape that supports the trigger hand well. It’s almost vertical, placing the hand in a relaxed, natural position to maximise trigger control. The finish of the stock is just slightly textured, adding grip and getting rid of reflections, both valuable features for a gun used out in the real world.

One unusual feature of the stock is that it has the trigger guard moulded in, eliminating an unnecessary metal part whilst maintaining full safety.

The safety works well but is still on the wrong side for most of us

The safety works well but is still on the wrong side for most of us - Credit: Archant

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I know this rifle well – that’s a reason I wanted it as the base gun for a project gun I’ve been dreaming up. I have a farmer friend whose grain stores get hit hard by rats every year, and this time I want to be ready for them. My dream gun would be light, handy, come to the aim like a fine shotgun and would be in .22, the calibre I prefer for short-range work on soft-bodied quarry.

It would have a low-magnification scope with an illuminated reticle, mounted as low to the action as possible to make short-range shots instinctive and fast. On top would be a lamp with a red LED that can be dimmed down to provide just enough light, and no more. Finally, it would shoot a hollow point or wadcutter pellet for the ultimate terminal performance. That’s quite a list!

The rounded heel of the pad reduces snags against your clothing

The rounded heel of the pad reduces snags against your clothing - Credit: Archant

Looking for just the right scope, I contacted Hawke Sport Optics and asked for a 2-7 x 32 AO with illuminated reticle Vantage IR, which I could mount low over the action to minimise the holdover needed for those close-range rats between 5 and 10 yards. I also requested a Tracer Ledray F600 gun light system. This comprehensive kit features a lightweight lamp that can deliver white, red, green or blue light with no need to dismantle it, or exchange parts. Its lightweight construction would suit the project.

As ever, I entrusted the scope mounting duties to Sportsmatch, using their low, 1”, double-bolt rings for optimum scope placement and ultra-reliable strength. I’ve used their products for over 30 years and have complete belief in their quality and engineering.

On top of this, they always have just the right mount to suit my needs and with a project gun like this, that means a lot. These superb mounts set the Vantage just 1 3/8” above the bore, the dream set-up for close-range work. At 5 yards I only need a 1/2” of hold over and the gun shoots almost flat from 7 to 27 yards, so much so, that any correction for range is unnecessary.

All hunting guns should have sling swivels as standard. Well done BSA

All hunting guns should have sling swivels as standard. Well done BSA - Credit: Archant

A new project gun gives me the chance to dive into my impossibly vast pellet collection. At close range, I want the massive impact and expansion of a hollow point. This, I hope, will anchor the rats where they stand, ensuring clean kills from either head or body shots. I know body shots are controversial, but at close range, with the right .22 pellet, I’ve found them secure.

The list included the BSA Interceptor, H&N Hollowpoint, Baracuda Hunter and Hunter Extreme, RWS Super H-Point, Bisley Pest Control and some non-hollow points in the form of the JSB Predator, and one of my old and most trusted favourites, the RWS Hobby wadcutter. Weights vary hugely – I prefer lightweight pellets for their additional velocity.

Rats should be honoured to die at the hands of such a machine!

Rats should be honoured to die at the hands of such a machine! - Credit: Archant

I have a theory that a light pellet decelerates most quickly on contact with the rat, and deposits maximum energy to the vital organs. The received wisdom is heavy pellets are best, but I believe it’s based on the ‘bigger is better’ theory rather than on real-world testing. My field experience tells me light pellets are better killers. So the good old Hobby was looking like a top choice.

What matters more than any other ballistic factor is accuracy, so my first job was to shoot all these pellets on paper targets to see which made the neatest group at 25 yards. I shot from a fully-supported position to eliminate as much human error as possible and let the rifle do the talking.

BSA’s world-famous, hammer-forged barrels are not known for being pellet fussy, so I expect good groups from many of the pellets on offer. I consider a 20mm group to be the minimum I will accept from a hunting gun, so I would soon see what the Ultra was made of.

A hand filling palm swell and near vertical grip make for a superb stock

A hand filling palm swell and near vertical grip make for a superb stock - Credit: Archant

The worst group at 25 yards was just over an inch, but many of the of the pellets printed neat one-hole groups allowing me to select the ballistics I liked best. As I’d hoped, the excellent BSA barrel was happy to shoot many of the test pellets well. The rifle has a clean, smooth firing cycle with no appreciable movement at all. There’s a tiny bit of hammer spring resonance through the stock, but nothing I cared about.

Trigger performance was good straight from the box, making precise release natural and instinctive. I value a good trigger highly. It makes a real difference to the rifle’s performance that can be both measured and felt.

This is a gun able to take the knocks of the rat shooter's life

This is a gun able to take the knocks of the rat shooter's life - Credit: Archant

Over the chronograph with my standard test pellet, the Air Arms Diablo Field, the Ultra was stunningly consistent. I honestly fail to see how anybody could wish for a better power plant.

Over 30 shots, the Ultra varied no more than 3fps at the rifle’s sweet spot, which is match-accurate consistency. My 15-yard rats should be honoured to die at the hands of such a machine!

The average velocity was 563fps with the 16 grain pellet, which means 11.25 ft.lbs. so is just about perfect for my needs. The velocity variation from one pellet brand to the next will be catered for at this setting, so I know I’ll be safely on the right side of the law.

The Ultra is an optimised traditional rifle, not a new-fangled compromise. The performance was rock solid and I never felt as though I was fighting the rifle. The conventional, yet excellent stock design, made for instinctive and unhindered mounting, taking my eye straight to the target without the need to shuffle and struggle to get comfortable before releasing the shot.

Having the scope just 1 3/8” above the centre line of the bore made close-range shots quick and natural, vital factors against such nervous and twitchy quarry as rats. Fractions of a second count when trying to cull these damaging pests.

I’m very happy with this set-up, and am practising with the combination to hone my skills ready for when ratty returns from the field to the farmyard to dine on my friend’s grain. If he shows his whiskery face, my superb project Ultra will stop him in his tracks.

SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer: BSA Guns

Model: Ultra

Type: Pre-charged pneumatic

Action: Bolt-action, multi-shot magazine

Length: 32” (82cm)

Weight: 5.7lbs (2.6kg)

Fill pressure: 232bar

Shots per fill: .177, 20. .22, 50

Silencer: £46.00

Spare Magazine: £46.00

RRP: £519.00

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