Gary Chilling­worth asks if a brand new gun can win straight from the box

Air Gunner - - Contents -

Gary Chilling­worth uses his HFT500 straight from the box

The HFT500 is prob­a­bly the most ex­cit­ing ri­fle to hit the HFT world in the last five years. It’s the lat­est ri­fle from Air Arms and al­though it may look a lit­tle bit like the Ul­ti­mate Sporter, it’s a whole dif­fer­ent an­i­mal. Like its big sis­ter, the FTP900, the HFT is a ded­i­cated, sin­gle-shot, tar­get ri­fle. The man­date for the 500 was to build a ri­fle that was supremely ac­cu­rate, hard­wear­ing, stun­ning to look at and easy to use, and then keep it un­der £1000.

I asked Air Arms for a loan ri­fle be­cause I wanted to test how good it was di­rectly out of the box - all I wanted to do was put a scope on top and use it in com­pe­ti­tion. Many ri­fles can be made great with pol­ish­ing, ad­just­ing and gen­eral gun­smith tech­niques, but for a ri­fle made for shoot­ers from be­gin­ners to World Cham­pi­ons, the abil­ity to shoot it ac­cu­rately di­rectly out of the box is very im­por­tant, and this is what I wanted to test.

On bal­ance

The ri­fle ar­rived, and as I re­moved the pack­ag­ing and drew it to my shoul­der I could im­me­di­ately tell it was de­signed for the tar­get shooter; the bal­ance is slightly for­ward of cen­tre and the fore end of the stun­ning, lam­i­nate, Minelli stock is squared off. For me, this an­gu­lar fore end is very im­por­tant in a ri­fle. To ex­plain; when you are tak­ing a po­si­tional shot up against a tree, you will want a fore end that is easy to grip, so if you have a rounded fore end, it can be easy to let the gun rock from side to side and this move­ment - cant­ing the ri­fle - can make the pel­let hit to the right or left of the tar­get.

I had asked Air Arms to send the 500 with one of their su­perb af­ter­mar­ket palm-shelf kits, known in HFT as a ham­ster, and with this fit­ted, it gave ex­tra depth to the mid­dle part of the ri­fle. The ham­ster is fit­ted to the 500’s rail and can be slid up and down to en­able the shooter to place it in the per­fect po­si­tion. With the ham­ster slid to either the mid­dle or the rear of the rail, there is plenty of room to at­tach either a bi-pod or a lamp to the front of the gun, and for the hunter this can be a real boon. For the com­pe­ti­tion shooter, when you are tak­ing a kneel­ing shot, the ex­tra depth can help you to hun­ker down and get real sta­bil­ity, and the ham­ster acts like a pen­du­lum weight be­low the ri­fle so this will help to keep your ri­fle in an up­right po­si­tion.

If shoot­ers are out in the field, or if they’re com­pet­ing, they spend a lot of time in the prone po­si­tion, so the

“When you look around the HFT world, the HFT500 has be­come the dar­ling of the shoot­ing com­mu­nity”

HFT500 is de­signed to ac­com­mo­date this and comes as stan­dard with an ad­justable butt pad, and also an ad­justable cheek piece. The butt pad can be low­ered and rested on the ground, which gives supreme sta­bil­ity, and the cheek piece can be raised so that when you are look­ing through the scope, you can push your head firmly down onto it and negate any chance of par­al­lax er­ror. Then, with the ham­ster at­tached, the fore end will sit nat­u­rally on your out­stretched hand, and the ri­fle will be in a fairly level po­si­tion.

Keep it sim­ple

The 500 uses a knock- open valve in­stead of a reg­u­la­tor. This sel­f­reg­u­lat­ing valve is a tes­ta­ment to sim­plic­ity and great de­sign. To ex­plain; when the pres­sure in the gun’s reser­voir is high, the valve opens for a short amount of time to let out a set amount of air, and when the pres­sure is lower, the valve opens longer to al­low the same amount of air to be dis­charged; be­cause of this, you will get a con­sis­tent power out­put. This con­sis­tency of power is the Holy Grail of shoot­ing, be­cause it gives you ac­cu­racy along the ver­ti­cal plane. Over the years, Air Arms has made this valve more re­fined and, to be hon­est, I think it is now so good that there is no need for a reg­u­la­tor.

I filled the ri­fle to 180bar and shot it all the way down to 110bar. I used weighed pel­lets and had an av­er­age of a 9 fps spread - this is bet­ter than my £ 2000 reg­u­lated match Steyr. The to­tal amount of shots fired was 85 and this is an av­er­age of .7bar per shot, truly stun­ning for an un­reg­u­lated ri­fle.

Every­thing about the 500 oozes qual­ity. As you take the ri­fle on to the range and cock it for the first time, there is a very sat­is­fy­ing click from the silky-smooth side lever, and when you look along the fully floated, 15mm, Lothar Walther match- grade bar­rel, you see an air-strip­per sit­ting at the end; this strip­per re­moves the tur­bu­lent, su­per­sonic air that Be­low: Sam Robin­son won an HFT500! leaves the bar­rel and can desta­bilise a pel­let. All of th­ese things; the ham­ster, butt pad, cheek piece, strip­per, trig­ger and bar­rel, may not be much in them­selves, but when you put them to­gether they be­come more than the sum of their parts.

I took the ri­fle on to the range and within 20 shots I was shoot­ing 10-shot groups at 45 yards that were less than the width of a 5p piece. For a brand new ri­fle, this is al­most un­heard of and it is some­thing that I have rarely ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore.

In com­pe­ti­tion

I only had an hour to set up the ri­fle and then it was time to test it in the cru­cible of com­pe­ti­tion. Many peo­ple can make wild claims about their ri­fles, but if you truly want to see how good a gun is, look at how it does in com­pe­ti­tion. Luck­ily, there was a per­fect event to use the 500, at the 50-shot Air Arms shoot at Northall Farm.

This is the yearly shoot where most of the top shoot­ers in the coun­try turn up with some of the best kit on the mar­ket and test their me­tal against each other - there is a full re­port on the shoot in my monthly HFT roundup on page 16. This was a per­fect op­por­tu­nity to test the ri­fle in its out- of-the-box state and it couldn’t have gone any bet­ter. Af­ter 50 shots, I was joint top score in the Air Arms shoot­ers cat­e­gory, and also joint top score over­all. In the shoot- off for first place, I took vic­tory from England team shooter, Dave Ramshead, in the Air Arms cat­e­gory, and got pipped for the over­all win by Andy Simp­son.

Now, a sin­gle shoot does not prove a point, so I took the ri­fle to Swal­lows for round 9 of the Sus­sex In­ter­club, shot a 58 ex 60 and took joint 2nd place, and then for my fi­nal shoot, I went to Kib­worth on a windy day and again shot very well. The top score was a 57, and an­noy­ingly, on my fi­nal peg I ac­ci­den­tally clipped a tree branch with my pel­let and scored a zero for my fi­nal shot. If I hadn’t been so stupid, I would have had a 57 and joint top score.

So, in three com­pe­ti­tions I had shot bet­ter than I had done all year. This HFT500 shoots like a dream; it’s con­sis­tent, ac­cu­rate, and easy to use; it costs less than half the price of my Steyr and, to be hon­est, I think it’s a bet­ter gun for HFT. Also, un­like ri­fles like Steyrs, it is de­signed for out­doors, so you don’t need to keep strip­ping and clean­ing it ev­ery time it gets wet.

When you look around the HFT world, the HFT500 has be­come the dar­ling of the shoot­ing com­mu­nity. At round 8 of the UKAHFT at Cam­bridge there were 16 HFT500s out of 161 shoot­ers, that’s 1 in 10 and I have no doubt this num­ber will con­tinue to grow. If, you are go­ing to buy one, then I would strongly rec­om­mend that you get the ham­ster as well - this is an af­ter­mar­ket item, but it makes a real dif­fer­ence to the ri­fle for com­pe­ti­tion use. I am se­ri­ously con­sid­er­ing ditch­ing my Steyr for an HFT500 and the de­ci­sion would have al­ready been made, but when I broached the sub­ject with my wife, she gave me that look, so I may have to leave it for a while.

The HFT500 is a stun­ning ri­fle from a great Bri­tish com­pany. Air Arms put so much back into the sport and they have now pro­duced a ri­fle that is every­thing a shooter could ever want. So, if you are in the mar­ket for a sin­gle-shot tar­get ri­fle for hunt­ing, HFT, or plink­ing, then the HFT500 could be the gun for you. It’s cer­tainly the gun for me! I just now have to find a way to con­vince the wife.

“I asked Air Arms for a loan ri­fle be­cause I wanted to test how good it was di­rectly out of the box”

Top: You don’t have to have a beard, but it helps

Left: Andy Simp­son won the Open class

Main: The RSN10 repro­bates

Left: Yes I had eaten too much cake!

Above: Head of the UKAHFT, Pete Sparks is shoot­ing well with his HFT500

Be­low right: Ian, Sparky and me. Looks like trou­ble

Right: Andy Simp­son and his ISP have proven to be a po­tent com­bi­na­tion

Be­low: The club of­fers a won­der­ful shoot­ing en­vi­ron­ment

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