The editor tries out the BSA Ultra, and asks,’ Could this be why BSA don’t make a bullpup?’
Is this the reason that BSA doesn’t make a bullpup?
“It’s a full- power, multi- shot, bolt- action, which is about as traditional a build as you could imagine”
It seems that bullpups are the flavour of the moment, and almost every manufacturer is adding them to their catalogue, with one very noticeable exception. BSA Guns’ managing director told me, and I quote, ‘As long as I’m in charge, BSA will never make a bullpup’. I think that clears that one up then! He, like me, doesn’t see the appeal or advantages that others do in the bullpup idea, but we do see the downsides. I find them unnatural and slow to mount, as well as being topheavy and prone to cant - that’s when you tip the rifle to the side, away from the correctly vertical position, causing inaccuracy.
Now, let’s be clear about something else. It’s all too clear that I’m in a very small minority because sales of bullpups are going through the roof, but I’m used to swimming against the tide of fashion, so that’s okay. For those like me, who want a compact and handy hunting rifle, but don’t want the bullpup compromises, what are our choices? The first one that comes to mind is from the BSA catalogue: The Ultra. It’s a fullpower, multi-shot, bolt-action, which is about as traditional a build as you could imagine, but with a very short barrel (11.8”) and air reservoir. Perhaps this is why BSA sees no need to make a bullpup.
At just 29½” long, it’s as short as most bullpups, and yet comes into
the shoulder as naturally as you could wish, and has a familiar feel from the second you take aim. It suffers none of the head position compromises that bullpups inflict, and it’s light and easy to carry. BSA offers a choice of stocks, including a darkstained beech sporter and a semicompetition, high-impact polymer version in black, and my favourite, dark green, which I consider free camouflage. The synthetics are tough, strong and weather resistant, so are right up my street. Also, despite being ambidextrous, the pistol grip offers a palm-filling shape that supports the trigger hand very well. It’s almost vertical, placing the hand in a relaxed, natural position to maximise trigger control. The finish of the stock is just slightly textured, which adds some grip and eliminates reflections, both valuable features for a gun used out in the real world. One unusual feature of the stock is that it has the trigger guard moulded in, eliminating an unnecessary metal part whilst maintaining full safety.
I know this rifle well and that’s one of the reasons I wanted it as the base gun for a project gun I’ve been dreaming up. The harvest is well under way and I have a farmer friend who stores grain that gets hit hard by rats every year, and this time I want to be ready for them. My dream gun would be light, handy, come to the aim like a fine shotgun, and it would be in .22, the calibre I prefer for short-range work on softbodied quarry. Next, it would have a low-magnification scope with an illuminated reticle, mounted as low to the action as possible to make shortrange shots instinctive and fast. On top would be a lamp with a red LED that can be dimmed down to provide just enough light, and no more. Finally, it would shoot a hollow point or wadcutter pellet for the ultimate terminal performance. That’s quite a list!
Looking for just the right scope, I contacted Hawke Sport Optics and asked for a 2-7 x 32 AO with illuminated reticle Vantage IR, which I could mount low over the action to minimise the holdover needed for those close-range rats between 5 and 10 yards. Whilst I was on the phone to them, I also requested a Tracer Ledray F600 gun light system. This comprehensive kit features a lightweight lamp that can deliver white, red, green or blue light with no need to dismantle it, or exchange parts. I also liked its lightweight construction that I felt would suit the project.
As ever, I entrusted the scope
“My dream gun would be light, handy, and come to the aim like a fine shotgun”
mounting duties to Sportsmatch, using their low, 1”, double-bolt rings for optimum scope placement and ultra-reliable strength. I’ve used their products for over 30 years and have complete belief in their quality and engineering. On top of this, they always have just the right mount to suit my needs and with a project gun like this, that means a lot. These superb mounts set the Vantage just 1 3/8” above the bore, the dream set-up for close-range work. At 5 yards I only need a ½” of hold over and the gun shoots almost flat from 7 to 27 yards, so much so, that any correction for range is unnecessary.
One of the many things I love about a new project gun is the chance to dive into my impossibly vast pellet collection, and select the ones I hope will perform well in the new rifle. At close range, I want the massive impact and expansion that a hollow point can deliver. This, I hope, will anchor the rats where they stand, ensuring clean kills from either head or body shots. I know body shots are controversial, but at close range, with the right .22 pellet, I’ve found them secure.
The list included the BSA Interceptor, H& N Hollowpoint, Baracuda Hunter and Hunter Extreme, RWS Super H-Point, Bisley Pest Control and some non-hollow points in the form of the JSB Predator, and one of my old and most trusted favourites, the RWS Hobby wadcutter. Weights vary hugely in this selection and I have to confess a preference for lightweight pellets for their additional velocity. I also have a theory that a light pellet decelerates most quickly on contact with the rat, and deposits maximum energy to the vital organs. The received wisdom is that heavy pellets are best, but I believe that it’s based on the ‘ bigger is better’ theory rather than on real-world testing. My field experience tells me that light pellets are better killers and my practical experiments back that up, so the good old Hobby was looking like a top choice.
What matters more than any other ballistic factor is accuracy, so my first job was to shoot all these pellets on paper targets to see which made the neatest group at 25 yards. I shot from a fully-supported position to eliminate as much human error as possible and let the rifle do the talking. BSA’s world-famous, hammer-forged barrels are not known for being pellet fussy, so I expect good groups from many of the pellets on offer. I consider a 20mm group to be the minimum I will accept from a hunting gun, so I would soon see what the Ultra was made of.
The worst group at 25 yards was just over an inch, but many of the of the pellets printed neat one-hole groups allowing me to select the ballistics I liked best. As I’d hoped, the excellent BSA barrel was happy to shoot many of the test pellets well. The rifle has a clean, smooth firing
“At close range I wanted the massive impact and expansion that a hollow point can deliver”
“My 15- yard rats should be honoured to die at the hands of such a machine!”
cycle with no appreciable movement at all. There’s a tiny bit of hammer spring resonance through the stock, but nothing I cared about.
Trigger performance was good straight from the box, making precise release natural and instinctive. I value a good trigger very highly. I’m not one who says this doesn’t matter. For me, it’s a big deal and something that makes a real difference to the rifle’s performance that can be both measured and felt.
Over the chronograph with my standard test pellet, the Air Arms Diablo Field, the Ultra was stunningly consistent. I honestly fail to see how anybody could wish for a better power plant. Over 30 shots, the Ultra varied no more than 3fps at the rifle’s sweet spot, which is match-accurate consistency. My 15-yard rats should be honoured to die at the hands of such a machine! The average velocity was 563fps with the 16 grain pellet, which means 11.25 ft.lbs. so is just about perfect for my needs. The velocity variation from one pellet brand to the next will be catered for at this setting, so I know I’ll be safely on the right side of the law.
A big part of my thinking when developing this project was that the Ultra is an optimised traditional rifle, not a new-fangled compromise. The performance was rock solid and I never felt as though I was fighting the rifle. The conventional, yet excellent stock design, made for instinctive and unhindered mounting, taking my eye straight to the target without the need to shuffle and struggle to get comfortable before releasing the shot. Also, having the scope just 1 3/8” above the centre line of the bore made close-range shots quick and natural, vital factors against such nervous and twitchy quarry as rats. Fractions of a second count when trying to cull these damaging pests.
I’m very happy with this setup, and am practising with the combination to hone my skills ready for when ratty returns from the field to the farmyard to dine on my friend’s grain. The harvest has been very poor this year, with low yields per acre hurting the farm’s income, so ratty stuffing his belly with expensive wheat would add insult to injury. I’ll be waiting and if he shows his whiskery face - my superb project Ultra and I will stop him in his tracks.
Main: My finished project is handsome and practical
Left: I added a Hugget Belita to save some more length and weight
Below: Despite its light weight, the Ultra is stable on aim Below inset: The rounded heel of the pad reduces snags against your clothing
Above: With grain to eat and hay to live in, this is a 5- star rat hotel!
Below: A hand- filling palm swell and nearvertical grip make for a superb stock Right: The safety works well but is still on the wrong side for most of us Far right: Look how low I was able to mount the Vantage. This matters a lot for ratting
Above: This is a gun able to take the knocks of the rat- shooter’s life Above inset: Last year the rats were in the grain 24 hours a day
Below: All hunting guns should have sling swivels as standard. Well done BSA!