The winners of the inaugural Great British Shooting Awards will be announced in less than a month. With just a few days of voting remaining, Mat Manning takes a look at the airguns that made the final cut
When I heard I was set to review a sub-£500 air rifle that was made in the Ukraine, my expectations were not particularly high, but this little gun blasted my preconceptions out of the water from the very first shot. In short, it’s a quality piece of kit that can outperform airguns costing twice its price and more – even if the grey version of its hardwood stock is something of an acquired taste. Lightweight and compact, it actually comes in two size options giving a choice of overall length and shot capacity. I was most impressed with the carbine – a compact airgun weighing around 3kg and measuring less than 90cm, it’s a comfortable airgun for smaller shooters to use yet still manages to fit six-footers like me very well. The Hortitzia features a 12-shot magazine that indexes very smoothly and is very pellet-friendly – a feature that boosts accuracy more than a lot of shooters and manufacturers realise. The cocking and loading mechanism is driven by a slick straight-pull action which makes for very fast reloading. Other standout features include a great two-stage trigger and (other airgun makers please take note) a dedicated right-hand stock.’
To say the pressure was on when it came to meeting expectations for Daystate’s latest electronic mega-gun is nothing short of a gigantic understatement. This air rifle not only follows in the footsteps of the ground-breaking Pulsar but also the super-successful Mk3 and Mk4 – all extremely tough acts to follow. Fortunately for Daystate, the Red Wolf more than delivered. Launched in the eye-popping Serie Rosso guise with red laminate livery, this airgun certainly proved to be a head-turner, and quickly showed that it could cut in in the performance stakes even before the elegant walnut variant rolled into the shops. The Red Wolf really does take Daystate’s electronic wizardry to another level and beyond, not only to deliver a super-crisp and predictable trigger mechanism but also to produce phenomenal shot to shot consistency coupled with massive shot capacity and huge power potential. Cradled in an ambidextrous stock which boasts lots of adjustment, the Red Wolf has already proven itself on America’s high-profile Extreme Bench Rest competition circuit. It’s not a cheap airgun but its performance lives up to its asking price, and plenty of hunters have seen its in-the-field potential and voted with their wallets.
The Weihrauch HW110 series needs no introduction – it’s one of the most reliable modern multi-shot pre-charged air rifles on the market. The 110 was introduced as a more affordable variant, while still boasting the performance, precision and German build quality of the original model. Unsurprisingly, the HW110 has been a big hit, and 2018 saw the introduction of the scaled-down STK variant. This air rifle is less than 88cm long when fitted with Weihrauch’s extremely effective moderator (which comes supplied) and weighs just 2.6kg unscoped. Other tweaks include a neat black finish to external components including the sidelever, safety catch and Picatinny scope rail, and it’s equipped with a fore-end accessory rail. It might be small but you still get a heck of a lot of gun for your money, including an excellent two-stage trigger unit and a cocking and loading system that does not miss a beat. This diminutive PCP also punches above its weight in the shot capacity stakes, delivering around 70 full-power shots per fill in .177 calibre, and with a variation of less than five feet per second over a 10-shot string.
Another one for the Brits, and something a little unusual for BSA. The Birmingham gunmaker was slow to arrive at the bullpup party but it would appear that they were simply sitting back and learning from others’ mistakes to ensure that they got it dead right with the Defiant. Measuring just 78cm from muzzle to butt, the Defiant is indeed a very compact airgun, and its proportions are well-suited to shooting in a hide or inside farm buildings. It feels like a very robust airgun, though, and its 4kg unscoped weight is evidence of BSA’s famously robust build quality – this is a proper airgun for proper use and it certainly doesn’t need to be wrapped in cotton wool. Despite its dinky dimensions, the .22 calibre model is capable of churning out more than 100 extremely consistent full-power shots from a 230bar fill, and its two-stage trigger far exceeds my usual expectations for a bullpup. This gun also sees an excellent new sidelever cocking and loading mechanism driving BSA’s tried and tested ten-shot magazine, and the stubby silencer, designed to match this little gun, does a great job of hushing muzzle report.
Although listed as the XS, which is the high-power version producing muzzle energy to beyond 40ft/lb, the sub-12ft/lb model is the Ultimate Sporter R, and I think it’s fair to assume that both fall under the same banner. The big difference between this incarnation of the Ultimate Sporter and the original model is the addition of a high-quality regulator which improves the performance of an already excellent firing cycle and delivers remarkable shot to shot consistency. But there is much more to this airgun than just a swanky new regulator – it looks absolutely stunning and boasts the usual attention to detail and top-notch build quality that airgun shooters have grown to expect from this leading British gunmaker. It also comes in a variety of stock options including walnut, laminate and black-soft-touch, and the ambidextrous handle boasts a huge amount of adjustment to ensure good fit. Combine that with an excellent match-level two-stage trigger, a ten-shot magazine system driven by a super-slick side lever action and the very efficient Q-Tec silencer and it’s no surprise that this airgun has quickly established itself as a favourite with hunters.