THE BIG TEST
When is a bullpup not a bullpup? – the editor asks
Phill Price gets to grips with the Compatto Bantam - a semi- bullpup from Brocock
With the huge popularity of bullpup rifles today it seems that almost every manufacturer is adding them to their line up, so I found it refreshing to see that Brocock was going its own innovative way. Bullpups, like any technical device, have advantages and disadvantages when compared to a conventional, fulllength sporting rifle. The Brocock design team sat back and had a long think about a third option that might deliver the best of the two older designs with fewer of the drawbacks, and the semi-bullpup was born.
They called it the Compatto, an Italian word meaning ‘compact’. Brocock is owned by an Italian investment group and they enjoyed the verbal connection. The first version utilised a slender, conventional reservoir, making it very neat and light, but it wasn’t blessed with a very large capacity. For most UK hunters this didn’t matter at all, but in many parts of the world, hunters aren’t faced with the power restriction that we suffer here. Unsurprisingly, they prefer to use much more powerful set-ups than we do, and these eat up the air in the reservoir very quickly.
Lots of bottle
With this market in mind, Brocock developed the Compatto Bantam you see here on test. This employs an aluminium or carbon-fibre buddy bottle for its reservoir, delivering a huge increase in the volume of high-pressure air storage. The standard aluminium model is 400cc whilst the carbonfibre unit is 480 and the high-power export aluminium one is 500cc.
To make the best use of the air, the Bantam uses the patented Harper Slingshot hammer system that’s famously efficient. When a conventional hammer strikes the valve stem, it forces it open from a fraction of a second, allowing the air to flow through the action and into the barrel, where it accelerates the pellet. However, the hammer
can bounce and strike the valve again, partially opening it and wasting precious air. The Slingshot system eliminates this bouncing problem, keeping more air in the reservoir for when we need it. Like many of the best ideas, it’s mechanically simple, making it reliable and easy to service, which appeals to me no end.
Please look at the sequence of drawings that Brocock supplied to explain the Slingshot system. They show how it works better than words ever could.
On the right side of the action you find a tiny wheel that’s the power adjuster. This allows you to drop from the usual 11.5ft. lbs to around 6, which sounds odd, but at times this can be very useful. If you’re asked to clear feral pigeons from inside a shed or to shoot rats inside a small chicken coop, then 12 ft.lbs can be way too much wallop. Drilling holes through a roof, or punching holes in shed walls will not make you popular with the farmer, but 6ft.lbs will drop vermin cleanly at those close ranges with no trouble and a greatly reduced chance of secondary damage.
On the left side of the action we find a pressure gauge, and I have to say that I much prefer reading one here than on the front of the reservoir. I don’t like pointing rifles at my face, as I’m sure you can understand.
Below this, the trigger unit has a clean and predictable feel that, for me, is very important. This is an area in which the semi-bullpup has a clear advantage over a conventional one. When your layout moves the trigger a long way from the action, you’ll need to find some kind of linkage to reconnect the two. These can be wobbly and soft, greatly reducing the feel of the trigger’s action, but the Bantam’s trigger is bolted rigidly to the action, so there’s no flex at all. Some people don’t care about trigger performance, but it’s a vital part of any rifle that wants to be taken seriously.
In the front of the trigger guard is a small lever that’s the safety. I like this position because I’m able to disengage the safety whilst on aim, so that it’s on right until the last second for maximum security. The stock is ambidextrous and the safety is the same, but the bolt that cocks the hammer spring and indexes the magazine is most definitely right-handed. It protrudes at an angle from the action block and has a ridged end to ensure a good grip, even with cold hands. Its action is short and quick, minimising the movement you need to make to get another pellet ready to fire.
The stock is available in beech, and in a black, soft-touch finish, giving that tactical look that’s all the rage. The soft-touch is grippy and also gives the wood superb weatherproofing, albeit at a slightly higher cost. As mentioned, it’s ambidextrous and very funky in its styling. The pistol grip is slender and offers a short reach to the trigger blade, which may well suit those with smaller hands than tall men with big paws.
The semi-bullpup is also superior to most bullpups because the action sits slightly further forward and it doesn’t dictate the height and position of the cheek piece. Many bullpup cheek pieces are much too high, forcing you to add high mounts so that you can see through the scope. This sets the centre line of the scope hugely high about the bore, and that creates all sorts of challenges when you need to adjust your aim to compensate for trajectory. On the Compatto the scope is only around ¼” higher than the standard 1¾” you find on a traditional sporter, and is therefore not a problem at all. The other thing about this layout is that the cheek piece is the normal width, so it’s easy to get correct head position. Many bullpups force you to roll your head to see through the scope, which causes tension and fatigue in your neck muscles and affects your balance negatively, as well.
The cheek piece is height adjustable – a feature that I adore in a rifle. This allows me to get the perfect height set for my own dimensions and, in turn, gives me consistent mounting and instant alignment with the scope’s axis. I’m glad to report that I see this feature becoming more and more available within the shooting industry, which has to be a good thing. The concave rubber butt pad is also vertically adjustable and although I’m not normally a fan of such things, on the Compatto it was helpful.
One of the key dimensions of stock fit is found by drawing a line through the scope’s axis, back until you’re above the butt pad. Then measure the distance from the top of the pad to your line. This is the ‘drop to heel’ measurement which on conventional rifles that work well is around 3¾”, but with the very straight layout of the Compatto we find the measurement of just 3”. It was
“On the Compatto, the scope is only around ¼ ” higher than the standard 1 ¾ ” you find on a traditional sporter”
a simple task to take an Allen key, loosen the central bolt and slide the pad down ¾” to regain proper fit. Set up this way, the handling was much more natural and instinctive for me than any bullpup I’ve ever handled. I really think Brocock is on to something here.
The rifle is small at just three feet long, and the balance is further back than with a conventional design, but it points instinctively, very important to me as a hunter. I like a rifle that comes onto the aim without conscious thought and needs only the minimum of adjustment once there. It should be a natural extension of your gaze, not something you need to accommodate. Look, point, shoot, is how it should be.
To move the scope forward, Brocock employed a simple, bolt-on rail extension which has a good, long interface, with the action’s dovetail for proper security. The extension’s dovetail is 5” long which is enough to mount pretty much anything you might choose. The test gun arrived with a suitably modest 3-9 x 40 MTC Genesis scope fitted and that’s absolutely the kind of scope I’d choose for a compact, lightweight rifle like this.
Below this, the Lothar Walther barrel hides in a full-length shroud. Apart from adding good looks, it also offers a little bit of noise suppression, but I chose to fit the carbon-fibre silencer supplied. This is a reflex design that fits partly over the barrel, giving top-notch noise suppression for the minimum increase in length. I have lots of experience with this silencer and know it to be strong, reliable and efficient.
A new rifle deserves a new magazine and this one is all metal with a robust and durable air about it. It also has all the indexing parts inside, so the rifle’s action is kept as simple as can be. It has a deep cut- out where you insert the pellets, which makes this otherwise tricky and frustrating job a joy. When I came to fill the reservoir, I was very pleased to see a custom-made steel Forster fitting that’s strong and reliable. Over this was a very cool cover attached with three tiny magnets – nice little touches like this make guns more special in my eyes.
Unsurprisingly, bigger reservoirs take longer to fill, so I was careful to trickle the air in very slowly. If you rush filling, the friction caused turns compressed air energy into wasted heat, which helps nobody at all. Of course, the pay off for the bigger bottle is that at our power levels we can expect spectacular shots-per-fill numbers. Consider this: The least efficient calibre is .177, supplied with energy from the smallest bottle, the 400cc, it will shoot over 230 pellets. That’s half a tinful! You might even forget where your filling bottle is, and if you choose .22 and/or the bigger bottles, the shot-per-fill count just goes up and up. This is an efficient machine!
When I got down to the serious part of the testing, I was unsurprised to see the chronograph telling me that the muzzle velocity with the .177 8.64 grain Kaiser pellet supplied was, on average, 772 fps for a muzzle energy of 11.43 ft.lbs. Shot-to-shot variation was just 8fps over shots, which is again, top- class.
This translated into superb accuracy, delivering ¾” groups at 35 yards from the bench, with little effort. Time didn’t allow me the chance to get out and hunt with the Bantam, but I’d happily have done so. Everything about this clever little rifle feels just right to me, and the light weight and superb handling are very important items on my wish list. So if, like me, you’d like something more compact than a full-length sporter, but are unsure about bullpups, then take a good look at this semi-bullpup. It could be just what you’re looking for.
“the 400cc one, will shoot over 230 pellets. That’s half a tinful!” phill. price@ archant. co. uk
Instinctive, natural handling is one of the rifle’s greatest assets
To move the scope forward this bolt- on rail is used
An adjustable- height cheek piece is a very fine addition to this excellent rifle
I fitted the carbon reflex silencer and it worked well
I like the pessure gauge mounted here for easy viewing
Finally the weight strikes the valve stem with no spring pressure upon its back and no bounce
Here we see the hammer (purple) cocked
Next we see the hammer fully forward but the weight still back