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RAPID REPLY

PUBLISHED: 10:55 21 August 2012

Archant

Well, I'll consider myself well and truly told off this month. It seems I'm taking my eye off the ball and allowing the advances in airgun technology to steer the direction of this noble magazine. That's the opinion of Ian Valentine, a self-proclaimed 'real-world' reader who wrote the following letter:

Dear Terry,

‘I’m a real-world airgunner who has been passionate about my sport for over 20 years, now. I’m writing to express my concern about the way our sport, and Airgun World, is heading, and I’m sure I’m not alone. I think we’re getting too reliant on technology. We’ve got electronic rifles, laser rangefinders, digital camouflage, computer-controlled production of everything, and now I see you, yourself, raving over a blessed spring gun that comes ready-tuned and tested to within an inch of its life by Walther’s internal cameras, sensors, and yet more computer analysis. All for a spring-piston rifle!

Please, Terry, can you put a stop to this madness and bring us back to earth with a test on a rifle that just does its job without involving Microsoft, NASA and particle physics? I’m looking for just such a rifle, so if there’s a pre-charged pneumatic multi-shot sporter out there that doesn’t weigh 15 pounds, doesn’t run on a plutonium cell, is a tool not a laboratory instrument, and will ‘take a kicking and keep on ticking’, I’d really love to see you test one. I still love the mag’ but it worries me sometimes.’

Well, Ian, the good news is, I think I’ve found a candidate for your consideration, but before I get into testing it, I’m obliged to counter some of your points, which I know were delivered with at least the tip of your tongue firmly in your cheek.

First, our ‘reliance on technology’ isn’t really a ‘reliance’ but a choice available to us, which we can embrace or not. Some of us grab every bit of techno’ we can, others go for bits of technology, such as rangefinders, modern lamps and lasers, and yet more shun anything more hi-tech than a springer and scope.

The mention of a springer brings me neatly, and in a barely contrived way, to your ‘All for a spring-piston rifle’ comment. To me, you’re expressing a view that spring guns are somehow unworthy of such high-level development, and that’s a statement guaranteed to get right up the nose of any diehard springer-fancier – and you’re communicating with just such a chap right now. The fact is, it’s high time someone found the time and resources to improve the spring-piston airgun and take it to the level it deserves. Yes, says me, but I’m not alone in my thoughts, either.

I’m sure we’ll get the views of the readership in the coming months, and I assure you those views are the greatest influence on me, and the direction of this magazine. As far as your views go, Ian, I’ll put my money where my mouth is by getting on with this month’s test, entirely inspired by you. Eyes down, look in, and you may just see the rifle you need unfolding before your eyes.

WYSIWYG

Right, let’s get to it. Ian, and many others I’m sure, would prefer their PCP hunting rifles to be practical, proven and mechanically sorted through time, use and experience. That’s why I’ve opted for a Theoben Rapid Mk1. No other multi-shot pre-charged pneumatic predates the Rapid, and it was this rifle that really kicked off the autoload sporter ‘revolution’, way back in 1990. Can it really be over 22 years since I tested a prototype Rapid? Oh dear. Let’s not dwell on such things, eh?

As I gaze at the .177 calibre test rifle before me, I see the same major features that made this rifle a worldwide best-seller. The full-floating, match grade barrel, tipped with a chunky silencer, above the rifle’s trademark buddy bottle power source. The action block now carries a scoop on its right-hand side which allows the manual loading of pellets, but its profile is reassuringly familiar, and solid, and the scope mounts still bolt directly into it. No mounting system is more secure than the Rapid’s.

The stock on the test model has been shaped by the modern desire for inclusiveness, in that its ambidextrous design soothes the ire of those troublesome southpaws. There’s still no adjustable butt pad, which should be standard on a rifle of this quality, but the cheek piece is of the correct height for scope use, which is not always the case these days. We still get a sportingly raked grip, its contact assisted by plenty of chequering, with a proper thumb scoop to assist precision trigger use.

The trigger mechanism itself has been totally transformed – more of which later – although the trigger guard is more than a bit dull in its design. Does a trigger guard need to be interesting? Definitely not, but it’s nice when they are.

Everything about the Theoben Rapid Mk1 does the job required of it, and to an impressive standard. Let’s now have a close look at how, and why, this rifle does what it does, and is what it is.

Rapid development

Since its launch, the Theoben Rapid has raised its technical profile quite a bit. Obviously not so much that it would offend my new mate Ian and his kind, but progress is, I have to tell you, pretty much unavoidable.

For a start, the feature that makes a Rapid rapid, the autoload pellet magazine, has been upgraded from a 7-shot, to a 12-shot device in .22, and a 17-shot in .177. Yes, it’s still the same internally-sprung, removable, rotary unit, with its clear cover and viewable contents, but there’s extra ammo reserves in it and most welcome they are, too.

Loading these magazines is also the same, simple procedure it’s always been, with a single, anti-clockwise rotation of the clear cover needed to tension the mag’s internal drive spring, after which pellets are dropped in, nose first, until all chambers are filled. With the rifle’s bolt fully drawn and locked back, the magazine is inserted from the left-hand side of the action, and the bolt returned forward and down to load a pellet and seal the breech. Flick off the in-trigger safety catch, and the rifle is ready to fire.

What goes on between your desire to fire the Rapid and the pellet leaving the muzzle is where the vast majority of the rifle’s development has taken place. Your first point of contact, the trigger blade, puts you, literally, in touch with a major change in the Rapid’s format. This is a trigger mechanism a sporter this good deserves, requires and demands. The first Rapid triggers weren’t like that, and while they were functional, they weren’t precision units. That precision has been designed-in for some years now and today’s Rapids have crisp, safe, predictable, adjustable triggers that can be used without thinking about them, which is how all sporting triggers should be used. This is a genuine two-stage unit, too, rather than a single-stage mechanism with a dummy first stage. The Rapid unit’s first stage acts on the pull pressure, and the second stage completes the release of the shot. Job done … well.

Internally, compared to the original, there’s not much that hasn’t changed in some way or other. The valving, hammer system, air-flow, porting, and everything else that involves introducing high-pressure air to the rear of the pellet has been refined and optimised in the 22 years since the then Rapid 7 hit our gun shops. The result is a smoother, more efficient, more consistent delivery of power than ever before, and of course that’s what happens when evolution comes to engineering.

The Rapid MK1 – the Mk2 is identical but incorporates a power regulator – will produce over 130, full-power (11.2 ft.lbs. on test), shots in .22, and over 110 in .177, from each 200-bar charge of its 280cc buddy bottle. On test, I listed a variation of just 11 f.p.s. over 30 shots, with unsorted pellets. Boring stats, but that will do nicely for any hunting rifle, I assure you. Don’t get hung up on the shots-per-charge deal. Unless you’re going for the high-power, FAC option, there will be enough shots available for any hunting trip no matter which model you go for. If you go for a Rapid Mk1, you’ll have the potential to shoot more rabbits than two men can carry. Don’t worry about shot-supply with this one. Don’t worry about accuracy either, as we’ll see in the next phase of this test.

On the range

First, charge your Rapid. This is a simple, almost foolproof, operation that really shouldn’t cause anyone the slightest hassle, and it should take no more than a minute or so. All you do is clamp the rifle between your knees and give the buddy bottle a couple of clockwise turns, then fire the rifle into the ground a few times until no air is released. By this time the buddy bottle will be under no pressure and will unscrew easily. The buddy bottle can now be recharged and screwed back on to the rifle.

The only real potential for hassle comes if the buddy bottle is unscrewed in one action, without first releasing the ‘captive’ pressure after the first couple of turns. This usually results in a loud ‘pop’ as the buddy bottle disengages, with the possibility of damaging the Nitrile ‘O’ ring that seals the union between buddy bottle and action. Basically, remove the bottle in the manner I’ve just described and you’ll be amazed that anyone ever has the slightest trouble with it.

Accuracy

Here’s a conclusion, right at the start of the performance report; the Rapid Mk1 really is ‘match accurate’. It is. I shoot match rifles on a regular basis and this sporter doesn’t know it’s not one of them, I assure you. I’m talking clinical, bench-rested, shooter input at a minimum, accuracy here, measured by putting pellets on paper targets in still conditions at various ranges.

I recorded a whole series of groups with the .177 test rifle and Daystate Heavy pellets that were worth framing. Yes, some of us really are that sad. In case I’ve undersold the accuracy potential of this rifle, allow me to state that, whoever’s reading this review, you’ll not outshoot its subject at any legitimate hunting range. This very much includes the man writing this, I assure you. You see, I can’t consistently match the Theoben Rapid Mk1’s ability to group shots inside 10mm at 35 yards, in the hunting field or even on the test range. This rifle is better than I’ll ever be.

My absolute best group was shot outdoors, which is a rarity these days, as a thunderstorm gave way to a baking lull. The air felt thick and not a leaf was stirring, as I slotted pellet after pellet into a 40-yard target card. I printed five groups while weather hostilities ceased, the best of them being 10mm diameter, untidy single-hole clusters of five, and the very worst a lone 20mm diameter ‘aberration’ as I became weary through concentration. The most important fact is, I let the rifle down; not vice-versa.

Handling

The Rapid Mk1 is many an airgunner’s dream because it’s light. At 8lbs as tested, the Mk1 is as easy to carry as it is to bring on aim. Personally, I’d add weight to it to increase stability, but most wouldn’t dream of it. If you prefer your hunting guns to be portable, pointable and totally practical, this rifle has to be part of your thinking.

The stock hasn’t a flashy line on it, but you’ll just wrap yourself around it and get into your shooting. The Evolution silencer supplied keeps the Rapid’s report discreet, and that 16mm diameter barrel won’t shift under anything less than deliberate abuse or being run over by a tractor.

Verdict

The Theoben Rapid Mk1 is a proper ‘working’ sporter. It’s superbly made, ultra tough, totally proven and reliable above and beyond any normal call of hunting duty. Handling is fast, easy and precise, and the pellet absolutely will land where your skill dictates. You’ll get more shots than you can use from each charge, and the satisfaction of using the original multi-shot sporter comes as standard. If ever a rifle could be described as ‘simply superior’ – it’s the Theoben Rapid Mk1. n

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