Which air rifle is best: PCP or springer?

The HFT-500 just point and shoot

The HFT-500 just point and shoot - Credit: Gary Chillingworth

Gary Chillingworth decides to put his trusty Air Arms TX200HC up against an HFT500 to see which one is best - PCP or springer - once and for all!

Knowing that your rifle is consistent is the first step to accuracy

Knowing that your rifle is consistent is the first step to accuracy - Credit: Gary Chillingworth

Those of you who read my illiterate drivel most months will know that my relationship with ‘all things that spring’ is a love affair that has developed over the last few years. I still love my PCPs, but my heart belongs to my TX. Since about 2015, I have studied springers, and even though my knowledge will never be as great as people like Nigel Wood or Tony Leach, I have learned how to make a springer bend to my will and shoot more like a PCP. So, the big question is, how far has the springer come in the last 10 years, and are they now at a point where they can challenge, or even beat a PCP, in the right hands?

The PCP I have chosen to use is the HFT 500 from Air Arms – in my opinion, one of the best target rifles on the market today and to compete against it, will be a huge undertaking.

Elevated shots are easier when you can rest the butt of the rifle on the ground

Elevated shots are easier when you can rest the butt of the rifle on the ground - Credit: Gary Chillingworth

Now, to give my springer a chance, I have decided to use my competition rifle and I will admit, this gun is as good as it gets. It sits inside a Tac-2 stock from LP Gunstocks, and has a lightweight, high-compression, 22mm piston; the trigger has been polished and the rifle has been balanced with lead weights in the stock, and a compensator fitted to reduce flip. It has also been sprinkled with fairy dust and is lubricated with the tears of angels – or Krytox, to be more accurate, which needs replacing every 250 shots. 

As it’s a springer, it has to rest in the crook of my arm, not as stable

As it’s a springer, it has to rest in the crook of my arm, not as stable - Credit: Gary Chillingworth

SADLY MISSED
As it stands, this rifle is worth nearly £1000, which is almost the same as the HFT 500. However, in 2018 when I had my best year and somehow managed to win the both the UKAHFT Nationals and Worlds (Springer class), and also scored a perfect 60 with my TX, it didn’t have any of those things.
Back then, my rifle had a standard stock, with a homemade Kydex cheek riser (£10); a hamster made from an off-cut of 2x1 timber with some M6 bolts (£5), and a 3d printed butt padd (£35) from Brian Samson. There was also some wheel weights from Kwik Fit (free) and a second-hand Weirauch Silencer to reduce flip – this cost me two pints of Stella and a burger. Internally, it had a standard 25mm piston with a V-Mach spring. This rifle was every bit as accurate as my current TX and it cost less than £100 to modify.

Before we go on, I would like to take this opportunity to say what a loss it was to the airgun world when Steve Pope, of V-Mach, passed away. Steve was a lovely chap and always happy to help us shooters out. Just before the Worlds in 2018, my mainspring snapped, so I called Steve and even though he was going through chemo at the time – I didn’t know – he disappeared into his workshop and I had two new springs arrive just a few days later. This is the sort of man he was, and he will be missed by us all.

Not much in it, but the 500 takes the Gold

Not much in it, but the 500 (right hand group) takes the Gold! - Credit: Gary Chillingworth

REAL-WORLD TESTING
So, we now have our two rifles; in the red corner is a TX200HC with all the bells and whistles, and in the blue corner is an HFT 500 that is predominantly standard, but does have a aftermarket hamster and a polished trigger. The big questions are, how, do we pit them against each other? How do we test them?
Well, I think the only fair way to do it is real-world testing, so first, we are going to put them through the chronograph and see what sort of spread in fps they give. I will be using AA Field pellets (8.44grn) that have been weighed and cleaned.

Nigel Wood is a Guru when it comes to tuning springers

Nigel Wood is a Guru when it comes to tuning springers - Credit: Gary Chillingworth

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Then, accuracy on flat ground at 25 and 40 yards; this will test the rifle’s ability to knock down 15mm targets at their maximum HFT range, and then 40 yards because the 25mm target at 40 yards is the harderst shot in HFT, in my opinion –  and then we’ll go to 55 yards, which is the maximum for FT. I will then repeat this test with an elevated target and see if the recoiling nature of the TX is affected by shooting upwards, and we’ll try some supported targets because shooting a dead PCP leaning against a tree will be different from shooting a rifle that moves around.

My chronograph is a Skan, and has served me well for over 10 years. I shot a string from the HFT 500 with a 180 bar fill and we had a range from 772 to 779; seven of the pellets were between 773 and 777, so this is very good. The TX200HC ranged from 778 to 788 with five pellets between 781 and 786. So, for me, they are almost identical.

Supported standers with a TX is possible, but needs practice

Supported standers with a TX is possible, but needs practice - Credit: Gary Chillingworth

RIGOROUS TESTING
On to the shooting, now, and before I even shoot, I know the answer. I set a 15mm target out at 25 yards, and all the pellets went through for both guns. I had one splitter for the HFT 500, but that was down to me because I got complacent – both guns will drill single-hole groups at this range.
At 40 yards, we had a 15mph cross-wind, and on the 25mm target the ‘500 had two blown out left, and the TX had only one blown out. On paper, the groups were both within a 5p piece. At 55 yards, the ‘500 was better, with a spread of pellets that was 11mm, as opposed to the 14mm of the TX, but this was in very light wind.

Now we go elevated, and this is where the HFT 500 starts to shine. Shooting upwards for the ‘500 is no issue, and even though there is more wind the higher you go, once I had missed the first shot and measured the wind, all the subsequent shots sailed through the kill zone. The TX only managed seven kills, and this is because, unlike the HFT 500, I can’t rest the butt of the TX on the ground, so on elevated shots, it has to rest either in my shoulder, or against my bicep ,and this is nowhere near as stable. My TX will happily shoot rested on the floor when I am shooting on the flat or slightly elevated, but shooting at high targets makes the gun want to recoil into the ground and this just won’t work.

My next test was supported standing, and the HFT 500 with the hamster and nice butt pad was made for this. I can lock into the tree, and the rifle is as steady as a rock, and with slight pressure on the trigger, 8 out of 10 25mm targets dropped at 30 yards. The TX needs to be treated slightly differently. You can’t push up against the tree, so you need to take a stance that is more like a free-stander and just use the tree for added support. I did manage to kill 6 from 10, though, but I wasn’t happy with that, repeated the test in anger and scored seven kills, then nine, then seven again. So, there is work to be done, but the PCP is easier to shoot.

Kydex, Wheel weights and 2x1 and it won me the title. I love my TX

Kydex, Wheel weights and 2x1 and it won me the title. I love my TX - Credit: Gary Chillingworth

POINT AND SHOOT
This brings me to the end of the test and what have I learned? Well, on the flat there is almost no difference between a tuned springer and one of the best HFT guns on the market at HFT distances. They both go through the chrono’ the same, and can both shoot sub-5p size groups at 40 yards. Where the difference comes in is shooting elevated, and standing and kneeling targets. The ‘500 is easy to use – just point and shoot – but the springer needs to be tamed.

As I finish this piece, I was speaking to my wife and she said this – ‘Put the dishwasher on’ – but after I had done that, she said, ‘Gary, don’t forget you have been shooting springers for a while and know how to shoot them, so it’s easier for you. Now put the bins out’. So, this is my conclusion; can a springer be as accurate as a PCP? Well, yes it can, almost, but I think a PCP shooter will need to put in the time to learn how a springer reacts and moves about, where to hold it and how hard, and that, my friends, is the joy of springers! 
 

A heavy stock certainly helps with recoil

A heavy stock certainly helps with recoil - Credit: Gary Chillingworth

An Anomomiter is a real help when learning how to shoot in the wind

An Anomomiter is a real help when learning how to shoot in the wind - Credit: Gary Chillingworth