Is a springer or gas-ram air rifle best for HFT?

Always hold the lever or barrel whilst loading

Always hold the lever or barrel whilst loading - Credit: Archant

Gary Chillingworth offers a wealth of information on getting into HFT on a bit of a budget, and on the merits of springers and gas-rams

This is good accuracy from a recoiling rifle

This is good accuracy from a recoiling rifle - Credit: Archant

In the week, I had an email from a reader: Hello Gary, I own a great Gamo Phox PCP which I love. I want to get into HFT, but I can’t afford a high-end rifle, so I was thinking of shooting in the Recoiling class. I currently own an Air Arms TX200, which is great, but I really want a break-barrel, so what should I buy? Should I get a springer, or a gas-ram? Are break-barrels less accurate then under-levers? Are gas-rams better than spring guns? Could I compete with a Phox? Can you please help?

Now, this is a great question, and it has been asked quite a lot over the years, so before we get into it, let’s look at a few things first.

The Gamp Phox is actually a great package, and for under £500 you get a gun, a bag, a basic scope and a pump, so this will certainly get you started in HFT, but, I won’t lie to you and say that you could take a Phox and compete against a £2,500 Steyr, BSA Goldstar or an Air Arms HFT500 on the national circuit. Yes, a top shooter with a Phox will probably outshoot a beginner with a high-end rifle, but things like match-grade barrels, and match triggers help; adjustable butt pads, hamsters and cheek pieces are important, and if you want to compete at the highest level, you do need a quality rifle and scope. You don’t need to spend a fortune, though. Rifles like the BSA Goldstar, the Air Arms HFT500 or the Weirauch HW100 are all great rifles for under £1000, and when it comes to scopes, you don’t need a £2000 March. Scopes like the Optisan CP 10 x 32 are world class, and cost just a few hundred pounds.

There is also a vibrant second-hand market, and shops like the AirGun Centre in Rayleigh have a great selection, and rifles like the Air Arms MPR or Daystate Griffin make great second-hand purchases and will easily compete against the best the Austrians have to offer.

The Phox is a great value rifle and a must for beginners

The Phox is a great value rifle and a must for beginners - Credit: Archant

However, if you want to shoot competitively on a budget, spring guns are certainly a way to go. This is because a high-end springer is similar in cost to a budget PCP, so for this test I will look at a few of my favourite rifles.

The HW98 is a well balanced ans supremely accurate rifle

The HW98 is a well balanced ans supremely accurate rifle - Credit: Archant

SPRINGERS

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First, we have a break-barrel springer and for me, it has to be the HW98 from Weihrauch; secondly, a gas-ram, and that will be a Theoben Evolution in .22. I chose these guns because the HW98 is a rifle that I own and love, and the Theoben belongs to a friend and it was accessible. The Theoben comes with a great reputation and pedigree and it’s a rifle that I would like to own. There are certainly many other great break-barrel rifles out there, and guns like the Walther LGV are every bit as good as the HW98, and Gamo are making some great gas-rams like the Whisper Swarm, but for this test, I am sticking to rifles that I know and have shot in the past. This way, I can give you an honest opinion and the information will be based on ownership and practice.

Okay, let’s start with the HW98:The ‘98 is one of my favourite rifles and it’s not just because of the look of the thing. It has a bull barrel and a sleek design, and unlike many other springers in its class, it has an adjustable cheek piece and butt pad as standard – a must for HFT, in my opinion. When you hold the HW98 in your hands, you will notice that it’s very front heavy, and when you are shooting a standing target, this can help you get great stability, but if you prefer a neutral gun, it is very easy to add some weight at the back of the rifle – in between the stock and the adjustable cheek piece – to balance it. The HW98 also has one of the best ‘out of the box’ triggers on the market. It can be adjusted to give a very positive first and second stage and with a bit of tweaking, you can get it to be quite light, as well.

The Evolution and the HW98 are two of the most beautiful rifles ever made

The Evolution and the HW98 are two of the most beautiful rifles ever made - Credit: Archant

GREAT RIFLE

The in trigger safety is a wonderful addition to the Theoben

The in trigger safety is a wonderful addition to the Theoben - Credit: Archant

My HW98 is a great rifle and for a break-barrel it’s very accurate. At 45 yards I can get a 10-shot group around the size of a 20p piece. However, this is larger than my TX200HC, which is sub-5p size at 45 yards, so this might answer the ‘break-barrel v under-lever’ question. This level of accuracy is down to the trigger and the weight of the barrel. Most spring guns want to flip upward and this is why under-levers like the HW97 and TX200 do so well. Under-lever rifles have a large cocking lever hanging below the barrel, which is essentially a weight and helps to prevent the rifle from flipping. Luckily, unlike other break-barrel springers, the HW98 has a heavy barrel, and this works in almost the same way, as a lever to help prevent flip. The HW98 also has great internals that can be tuned very easily, and a quality stock and finishing. Add this to Weihrauch’s legendary reliability and quality and it should certainly be on anyone’s list. I would also look at the HW97 because this is also a great Weihrauch under-lever rifle.

Stippling not checkering is a great aid to grip and aesthetics

Stippling not checkering is a great aid to grip and aesthetics - Credit: Archant

GAS-RAMS

For those of you who don’t know what a gas-ram is, it’s essentially a sealed unit that is filled with nitrogen gas. When you cock the rifle, this inert gas is put under pressure and when the gun is fired, the pressure is released and that pushes a piston forward to force air down the barrel, which expels the pellet. A great demonstration of this principle is to take a bicycle pump, place your thumb over the air outlet, push the pump down placing the air under pressure and when you let go, the pumps handle will fly up – that’s essentially a gas-ram.

An adjustable cheep piece on a Springer is a must have

An adjustable cheep piece on a Springer is a must have - Credit: Archant

This system was developed by Dave Theobold and Ben Taylor, and between them they started the legendary company Theoben (Theo – Ben). One of the best gas-rams ever to hit the market was the Evolution, and this superb rifle has developed a reputation for being reliable, accurate and easy to shoot – it’s such a shame that it is no longer built. I have borrowed this Evo from Simon Vant, and with a bit of practice I was hitting 20p-size groups at 45 yards with ease from a prone position.

So, why buy a gas-ram over a springer? Well, they are super-reliable, accurate, can be lighter than a springer, and have a fast firing cycle (more like a PCP) and this can be a huge advantage. The downsides are; some can be harder to cock, they can be harsh because the firing cycle is so fast, and this takes time to learn. Also if they break, they will stop working completely until the ram is replaced. There is no doubt that gas-rams have their place, but for me, springers are easier to work on.

For springers there is a vast array of aftermarket parts available, from springs to pistons, to different lubes and piston seals, and for a tournament shooter, this ability to fettle with your gun is not only fun, but it has also become the way of the springer shooter.

Gas-rams are great fun and the Evolution is worth having in the cabinet, but for me, I prefer a well-tuned springer, and if it can’t be a TX200HC it will always be an HW98 because they are a stunning rifle.

The Evolution is well balanced and makes standers a dream

The Evolution is well balanced and makes standers a dream - Credit: Archant

The Evolution is well balanced and makes standers a dream

The Evolution is well balanced and makes standers a dream - Credit: Archant

The Bull barrel on the 98 helps reduce flip

The Bull barrel on the 98 helps reduce flip - Credit: Archant

My two ladies, the 98 and my beloved TX200HC

My two ladies, the 98 and my beloved TX200HC - Credit: Archant