Gun test: Hunter 440

Great balance makes for a rifle that comes to the aim very naturally.

Great balance makes for a rifle that comes to the aim very naturally. - Credit: Archant

Phill Price asks why this modest rifle has been number one for 20 years

The elegant lines make for a truly handsome rifle.

The elegant lines make for a truly handsome rifle. - Credit: Archant

Whatever clever technical advances may have come along in the last 20 years in the form of pre-charged pneumatics and multi-shot mechanisms, the good old break-barrel rifle is still the biggest seller around the world, by a huge margin. This is because it does what it always did, which is to deliver loads of shooting fun for very little money. They’re also simple and therefore reliable, and can be serviced by anybody with some modest mechanical knowledge and a small workshop.

Spanish airgun giant, Gamo, has a huge range of springers and if you look through their massive catalogue, they come in all shapes and sizes: there really is something to suit every taste. Being a conventional sort, my eye was drawn to the stylish Hunter 440, which has truly classic styling that reminded me of something, but I couldn’t remember what it was.

The metal rear sight is fully adjustable.

The metal rear sight is fully adjustable. - Credit: Archant

Now I remember!

On opening the box, it came back to me in an instant. As a young man I remember well that one of my friends was the centre of attention in our group because his dad had bought him beautiful BSA Mercury. We were so envious and all dreamed of owning such a lovely rifle at a time when the rest of the gang only had basic air pistols.

The most obvious similarity is the elegant curved end cap that flows into the line of the pistol grip. This, allied to the long slender lines of the stock, screams ‘Mercury’, to my mind, and make the rifle oh so appealing.

At 6.6lbs it’s a comfortable rifle to carry in the field yet weighty enough to manage the recoil that’s a natural part of any rifle of this kind. The firing cycle is noticeable, but easily manageable with correct technique, which is a light, relaxed grip that allows the rifle to move the same way for every shot.

The windows in the foresite hood help brighten the fibre optic element.

The windows in the foresite hood help brighten the fibre optic element. - Credit: Archant

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Having a full length (18”) barrel, means you have plenty of leverage to cock the main spring. Because of this, only modest effort is required, something that can make a big difference during a long plinking session. This really is the kind of rifle that makes you want to fill your garden with targets of many kinds, and then spend a whole afternoon just having fun.

Good trigger

Triggers in this class of rifle can be rather disappointing, being too heavy and hard to predict, but the one fitted to the 440 was much better than that. It’s set to be quite heavy, which is appropriate because these guns are often used by beginners and a light trigger could be dangerous. The second stage is quite long for the same reason, but what matters is that it’s predictable and this one is. Once I’d tuned into it, I found it perfectly usable.

Gamo bolts an aluminium rail to the action to mount the scope.

Gamo bolts an aluminium rail to the action to mount the scope. - Credit: Archant

Although the rifle is supplied with a simple 4 x 32 telescopic sight, it also wears a set of open sights, which is superb. Many people believe that the best way to learn to shoot is with open sights and then to progress on to a scope later, and this combination allows you to do just that. The open sights are fully adjustable for windage and elevation, plus have fibre-optic inserts to brighten the sight picture. A neat way of maximising their performance is that the hood protecting the front sight is machined to create three windows that illuminate the red-fibre element. This makes it stand out boldly against the target, which obviously aids accuracy.

Full power

Despite the rifle’s modest size and weight, it produces plenty of power, making it well suited for short- to medium-range hunting, as well as plinking. My chronograph showed an average velocity of 560 fps with the Air Arms Field Diablo .22, which means a solid 11 ft.lbs. of muzzle energy. This shows the rifle to be easily capable of culling rabbits, rats and pigeons at modest distances, assuming your accuracy is good enough. Remember that you need to be able to hit a 1” target every time, at the distance you want to hunt, to be effective.

The safety sits in front of the trigger blade.

The safety sits in front of the trigger blade. - Credit: Archant

The scope is a 4 x 32 that comes with double-bolt mounts, and features a fine duplex reticle. This follows the keep-it-simple rule, with no unnecessary clutter for the newbie to worry about. Gamo uses an aluminium scope rail that clamps onto the rail machined into the steel cylinder. This has a hole drilled in the top to receive the recoil arrestor peg in the bottom on the rear scope mount, and locks them solidly together, completely eliminating ‘scope creep’ and ensuring that your zero will not be lost.

This rifle has been Gamo’s biggest seller for 20 years and I can well see why. It’s a handsome rifle with classic good looks that does everything you want from a rifle in the category. It’s also very good value for money and has all the performance to back that up. It wouldn’t surprise me if this was Gamo’s biggest seller in another 20 years, too.

Tech Spec

Manufacturer: Gamo

Importer: BSA Guns


Type: Spring-piston

Actions: Break-barrel

Trigger: Two-stage

Length: 112cm (44”)

Weight: 3kg (6.6lbs)