THE BIG TEST

When is a bullpup not a bullpup? – the ed­i­tor asks

Air Gunner - - Contents -

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.

Best place

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.

Op­tions

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.

Key di­men­sion

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.

Mov­ing on

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.

Go slow

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

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