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