Gun test: Air Arms S510R Ultimate Sporter
- Credit: Archant
On the firing line this month: Air Arms S510R Ultimate Sporter
This month’s big test really is something special because I’m the first to be given the chance to review the very latest version of Air Arms’ superb Ultimate Sporter. The new S510R is their first sporter to contain a regulator, breaking with decades of tradition. The modern pre-charged pneumatic air rifle is a wonder of mechanical engineering that delivers performance I could only have dreamed of as a young man. Incredible accuracy delivered by a recoilless action allows precision shot placement with far less effort from me. This means more shots on target out in the real world, and this is what our sport is all about. I’ve used an Air Arms S410 PCP for well over 10 years and have seen a number of derivatives come along in that time, including the lovely little S510 variant that’s a base model for the rifle on test. Like my own gun, the S510 offers incredible accuracy straight from the box in a handy package that works for hunters who actually get their boots on and cover the miles in their search for quarry.
In their never-ending quest to improve their guns, Air Arms decided that the simple sporting S510 stock could be replaced with a more target-oriented and adjustable one, to extract just that bit more performance, and the Ultimate Sporter was born. These guns are so accurate that we become the weakest link in the chain that creates a well-placed shot, so improving our interface with the gun is a logical step toward looking for improvements. The new stock features an adjustable height cheek piece and a vertically adjustable butt pad because these are the most important factors in proper gun fit.
In most respects the action is the same one we’ve known and loved for all these years, but with a few subtle rolling upgrades, in line with the company’s development principle. A full-length barrel shroud supports one of Air Arm’s remarkably effective Q Tec moderators, making for near silent shooting, a feature all hunters love. The trigger unit is a familiar old friend, that’s totally reliable and can be tuned to suit nearly any taste, from heavy sporting to competition-grade lightness with the twist of an Allen key. I set mine up just right for my tastes all those years ago and have never needed to adjust it since.
Testing and development
Where the S510R really differs from any preceding model is that the R stands for ‘regulated’. This change has come about as a response to demand from customers who felt that adding a ‘reg’ was the next step up in performance that this superb rifle needed. In the simplest terms, a regulator is a device that sits between the main air reservoir and the hammer. It receives a very precise charge of air from the reservoir and holds it ready for the shot. The volume and pressure inside the reg’ are strictly controlled, with the intention of reducing any variation from shot to shot. It has a secondary benefit of being more frugal with the air, increasing the number of shots we get from each fill of the reservoir. Clearly these are welcome benefits, but they also have a cost. For a start the rifle becomes more complex and that naturally increases the price. One of the great appeals of the S410/S510 action is that it’s very simple and adding a regulator changes that. However, I know the people at Air Arms well and trust completely that they would never release any product that they had not tested thoroughly and for a very long time. In fact, testing and development resulted in more than 100,000 shots being fired throughout the different phases of the process.
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From the outside you’d never know that a regulator lived inside were it not for two things; the first is the little ‘R’ on the side of the action, and the second is the notification that tells you the maximum fill pressure of this rifle is 250bar. This is a big increase over the usual 190bar fill pressure of the non-regulated rifles. One of the ways that regulated rifles get more shots per fill is to make use of this increase in pressure. Interestingly, the working pressure of the regulator is 130 bar, showing how much the mechanism steps the pressure down. Working in conjunction with the regulator is a new and unique valve-seating configuration that results in improved consistency, performance and usability. This relatively low pressure allows the designers to use a lighter spring and hammer so that movement and vibration are reduced. It also makes the action easier to cock, although it was pretty easy already.
No trajectory change
A key target the development team was a 50% increase in the number of shots per fill compared to the standard gun, which was again driven by customer demand. Because the regulator makes every shot’s velocity the same, the ‘power curve’ that unregulated guns display is eliminated, meaning that your first and last shot will be at the same velocity and therefore any change in trajectory is gone. Now it has to be understood that the old S510 had a very small variation in velocity throughout any shot string, but what we’re looking at with the regulated rifle is the search for that last few percentage points of improvement. This is what the ultra-serious shooter craves, even if the benefit is hard to appreciate out in real-world hunting conditions.
There are some after-market regulators on sale, but Air Arms was concerned after looking at them, and set about designing engineering solutions that eliminated the worries. The air cylinder has been independently tested through 12,000 cycles and over-pressurised well in excess of the required safety factors, so that we know it’s as safe as can be. The configuration of the action means that the pressure gauge still works normally as well, which is very important for us all.
The stock is a complex and interesting blend of sporter and target influences, designed to maximise control and stability whilst remaining practical in the hunting fields. You could argue that a full target stock, as seen on the Air Arms FTP900, is the ultimate when it comes to controlling the rifle, but in real-world hunting conditions they’re too inflexible. Many’s the time I’ve needed to shoot from an awkward position, when I’ve had one foot in a ditch with the other up a bank, using the trunk of a tree to stabilise a steeply elevated shot at a squirrel up high on a branch. A conventional sporter is slender and easily handled in these tricky situations, whereas a true target stock is optimised for just the few positions you find in competitions. The Ultimate Sporter stock is relatively slim and not too heavy, making it adaptable. However, it offers the all-important, adjustable height cheek piece that ensures correct alignment for your eye behind the scope. This guarantees that you’re quickly onto the scope without the need to shift your head around to get the proper sight picture. It’s also a great help toward reducing the dreaded parallax error that’s the cause of so many airgun shot misses.
Standard swing swivels
At the rear we find a vertically adjustable butt pad which helps bring the rifle to the correct height for our individual build. Getting this dimension right stops you using shoulder muscles to get the correct alignment, which is just what you need. When you’re relaxed, you’re more stable and you fatigue less quickly. The butt pad’s contact face is quite concave, as you’d find on a target rifle, but not so exaggerated that it makes mounting the rifle awkward. Being able to bring a hunting rifle smoothly and promptly on aim in one fluid motion can make the difference between a kill and being too late. It’s very important to take the time to get each of these adjustments just right for your individual build if you hope to receive the full benefit of what this rifle has to offer.
At the front of the fore end there’s a metal track that can accept all sorts of accessories such as a laser, a torch or a bipod, but for me, the most important one comes fitted already. It’s a stud that’s matched with its pair in the butt section so that you can clip your favourite sling straight on. All hunting guns need sling swivels and nobody wants to drill a brand new stock, so well done to Air Arms for fitting them as standard.
The pistol grip has some very large, smart stippled panels applied to it and a shallow ‘thumb scoop’ on top for those who, like me, shoot with a thumb-up grip. The reach to the trigger blade is best suited to those with big hands or long fingers. With my medium-sized hand I could reach, but only if I took my thumb all the way to the back of the cocking lever. As with any gun, I recommend handling this rifle before you buy to see if it fits you before parting with your money.
My test gun was a pre-production prototype and the very final settings had yet to be decided upon, so the data I’ve discussed might vary, but they’ll be very close to the final guns you’ll see in the shops. For me, it’s very logical to use target shooting technology to take our hunting guns to the next level of performance and I applaud Air Arms for offering such a gun. Adding a regulator is just a natural progression of that thinking.
The S400 series action has been a wonderful and faithful servant of the shooting world for a very long time, and has evolved again and again to become ever more sophisticated. This regulated version is surely the pinnacle of that journey … for now.
Tel: 01323 845853
Model: S510R Ultimate Sporter
Type: Pre-charged pneumatic
Action: Magazine-fed, side-lever
Length: 39.75” (1010mm)
Weight: 7.1lbs (3.6kg)
Trigger: Two-stage, adjustable
Fill pressure: 250bar