Gun test: Brocock Bantam Commander
- Credit: Archant
A military-looking version of a semi-bullpup gets the editor’s attention
Just after the British Shooting Show, one of my colleagues who works for a full-bore title, was telling me that his pal was going nuts about a new airgun. He’d said that it was the best-looking airgun he’d ever seen, and he wanted to know where he could buy one – now! This had me quite intrigued, so I tried to find out which gun it was he lusted after, in the hope that I could answer his questions. The gun in question was the Brocock Bantam Commander you see on test here, and the good news is that they’re in the shops now.
Under the skin, it’s the same Bantam action we’ve come to know, but is a sharp, new set of clothes, designed especially for those who like the military look. The extra-fat barrel shroud and action have been finished with Ceracote, a massively tough, permanent coating used to protect metal parts against corrosion and scratching. It’s not cheap, as a £175 option, but it allows custom colours such as the desert tan you see here. Whilst this was being applied, Brocock thought it would look cool to have an MTC scope coated, too, so that they match each other perfectly.
The CL-Core butt section and pistol grip are bolt-on AR15 parts supplied by FAB Defence from Israel, which are also available in desert tan, and I have to say the colour match is perfect. The pistol grip is the most comfortable of its kind that I’ve tried, and it placed my finger nicely onto the trigger blade. All too often, this type of grip is much too small, but this one felt good. At 15½” fully extended, the butt section should accommodate tall airgunners, and at the touch of a button it can be shortened to 13¼” if you’re wearing body armour as you deploy from your armoured personnel carrier – or perhaps, in a very tight hide. Luckily, there’s a 14½” setting for everybody else.
Completing the military weapon look is a cross-drilled muzzle brake that wouldn’t look out of place on a .338 Lapua magnum sniper rifle. It’s huge and has massive ports. Of course, it has no effect at all on airgun performance, but it looks great. For my needs, I swapped it with a Hugget silencer which, paired with the noise-reducing shroud, made the Commander lovely and quiet.
No military rifle would be seen dead without lots of Weaver/Picatinny rail sections bolted on, and the Commander is no exception. On top of the action is a reach-forward rail as we saw on earlier Bantams, designed to position scopes correctly for its semi-bullpup layout. Behind the magazine is another short section, although I’m not quite sure what it would be used for. The main rail can be swapped for a Tri-Rail option (£39.00 extra) that allows torches and lasers to be fitted alongside the action. It looks very well made and strong, which makes the price seem very reasonable.
The final rail section is bolted to the base of the fore end and extends under the air reservoir, appearing ideal for fitting a bipod. Attached here, you do get a slight see-saw feeling that isn’t present on bipods fitted further forward, but that’s not possible with buddy-bottle guns. You can buy bipod mounts that attach to bottles but no manufacturer I’ve spoken to will endorse them on safety grounds.
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My test gun arrived with almost the very top spec’, including the 480cc carbon-fibre, Hi-Lite buddy bottle that saves significant weight. Its looks divided the opinions of those I showed it to, with some loving the raw carbon-fibre appeal, whilst other felt it looked unfinished. For me, it’s just a practical and strong upgrade for those with deep pockets.
The action, as mentioned, is the Compatto Bantam we all know, with its side-bolt cocking and well-proven, 10-shot magazine. I like these mag’s and have always found them durable, reliable and easy to load. Another thing in their favour is that they’re not overly expensive, which matters to me because I like to carry one in the gun and two full ones in a clean pouch, ready to go any time I’m out hunting.
Inside the action we find the patented Harper Sling Shot hammer system that eliminates hammer bounce and dramatically increases efficiency. It’s well proven, and I’ve used them for years with complete reliability.
To take efficiency further still, Brocock has used its relationship with Huma regulators from Holland and fitted one of their products to the Commander. You can tell this at a glance, because there are two pressure gauges on the right side of the action. The upper one is the grey-faced Huma one, that displays regulator pressure, whilst the brightly coloured lower one tells us reservoir pressure; two very different measurements. It’s a shame that they can’t be adjusted to be the right way up when viewed from the side, but sealing the pressure correctly matters more than looks.
Filling the reservoir to the 230 bar maximum pressure is done though a male Foster fitting in the belly of the stock. There’s no need to remove the buddy bottle for filling, which for me is a positive thing. Keeping any pre-charged pneumatic rifle’s internals clean is a matter of life and death for the delicate internal ‘O’ rings, so minimising exposure to dirt has to be a good plan. The Foster fitting has a neat cover that’s held on with magnets, which I liked a lot. Being inset, it won’t get bumped and dislodged, yet it’s accessible for your fingers to remove ready for filling. The aperture that the connector sits inside is oval to make space for your fingers to grip the female connector’s locking collar during removal, which is important. To make this easier still, the female connector is elongated so that the knurled section you grip stands well proud of the stock.
The combined talents of the Harper Sling Shot system and the Huma regulator give some almost unbelievable shots-per-fill numbers. A .22 will deliver over 520 full-power shots from one 230bar fill, which is a whole tin of pellets. I still find that hard to grasp. You could go to your local gun shop, fill the rifle from their compressor and buy a tin of pellets, only needing to visit again when the tin was empty! That’s quite mind-blowing. I cannot imagine anybody ever needing more shots per fill.
I’m a great champion of high-quality triggers and the one fitted to my test gun was without question the best Brocock trigger I’ve ever used. It broke cleanly at 1½ lbs and was as predictable and consistent as you could wish for from a sporting rifle. I have no doubt that it was a significant factor in the accuracy I achieved during the test. Just in front of the trigger blade is a small paddle that controls the safety mechanism. This is a controversial position for a safety control, the worry being that you might accidentally fire the rifle as you disengage the safety, but I have no such concern. I like the position because you can leave the safety engaged until the very last moment when you’re ready to fire, and then flick it off whilST the rifle is pointed in a safe direction. It’s just as easily reengaged if the chance of a shot passes.
Checking the muzzle velocity of guns in this class is almost pointless, but it’s my job and my SKAN chrono’ read an average of 780 fps with the Air Arms Diablo Field .177 which calculates to 11.4 ft.lbs. just as I’d expect. Interestingly, over 200 shots it varied just 8fps and I wasn’t prepared to stand there any longer than that! That’s world-class consistency just as you’d hope from a regulated rifle.
There’s a certain quality to rifles that I’ve never satisfactorily understood when it comes to getting good groups. There are plenty of high-quality PCP rifles that are capable of fine accuracy, and then there are accurate guns that are easy to shoot well. These are not necessarily the same thing. The Commander falls into the latter group and despite the inevitable windy conditions, I found placing shots very easy indeed. Perhaps it’s the internal mechanism producing little vibration, or an efficient power plant using only the smallest amount of air needed to get full power. Whatever it is, the Commander is an easy gun to use and to from which to extract the full potential. Even in the wind, I was able to get ¾” groups at 35 yards from the bench, all day long. Unsurprisingly, the best accuracy came from my standard test pellet, the Air Arms Diablo Field 8.44 grain .177. It also shot very well with the lighter 7.9 grain variant, but the heavier version pipped it for ultimate accuracy.
It’s no surprise that this stock configuration feels completely different to the sporter layout, but I noticed that the ‘straight pull’ style stock seemed very well suited to prone shooting. Having minimal drop to heel is the classic prone design, and the Commander felt comfortable and stable shot this way. I was intrigued by the shape of the butt pad, which is rounded at the toe, until I realised its role. When the rifle is mounted quickly, it will sit high in your shoulder/chest area because of its straight-pull layout. This means that it’s the toe, more than the whole butt pad that touches you, and the rounded section makes this more comfortable. Strangely, I found that extending the stock ½” made it feel more natural as well.
There’s no doubt that the Commander configuration has transformed the Bantam into a completely different-feeling rifle and added an interesting option for those who like the military look. It feels well integrated, rather than an accumulation of bolt-on bits as I’d feared it might. The price takes it into the world of top-end PCPs, so it needed the performance to back up the looks, and I’m happy to say that it did. Brave new times indeed, for one of England’s famous old brands.
Tel: 08448 009905
Model: Bantam Commander
Type: Pre-charged pneumatic
Action: Magazine-fed, bolt-action
Trigger: Two-stage adjustable
Length: 38” (96cm) max
Fill pressure: 230bar
Shots per fill: 500 in .177, 520 in .22
Spare magazine: £38.00
Hugget silencer: £50.00
Tri rail: £39.00
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