THE BIG TEST
This month, it’s an Air Arms TX200 HC. Quiet enough for hunting? The editor thinks so.
As befits a ‘springer special’ of Air Gunner, this month’s Big Test is about one of the finest spring-piston guns ever made – the superb Air Arms TX200HC MKIII. The sliding breech, under-lever is in its third evolution and is quite fairly described as a modern classic. It was already a big seller for Air Arms, but they decided to make some changes based on feedback from MKII owners who requested a reduced cocking effort, which is what the MKIII offers. While they were making those changes to stroke length and spring rate, some improvements were made to the stock as well. Some other small details were changed, but it’s the cocking effort that most of us notice.
The sliding-breech system requires a slim piston that’s relatively light and when used inside a heavy gun, with lots of weight forward, makes for low recoil, which in turn makes it an easy rifle to shoot accurately. The ratio of piston weight to total rifle weight is very significant. Of course, everything else has to be right as well, and the barrel being permanently fixed perfectly in line with the cylinder is an advantage over break-barrel designs, at least in theory. To see this in action, visit any HFT competition and look at the Springer class, where you’ll find every shooter using fixed-barrel-type rifles.
Another significant factor in top- class accuracy is a fine trigger, and the TX benefits from the truly superb CD unit, that’s honestly match quality, and it can be adjusted and set by an experienced technician to suit almost anybody’s needs and preferences. The release on my test gun was delicate, sweet and supremely consistent, factors that mean a lot to me.
For those not familiar with slidingbreech guns, here’s a simple overview: Inside the main cylinder is a smaller cylinder that moves backwards as you cock the gun. This exposes the breech through a large aperture, allowing us to seat a pellet directly into the barrel. As the cocking lever is closed, the inner cylinder goes forward enclosing the breech with a soft seal. As the rifle is fired the piston flies forward in the inner cylinder making the pressure that drives the pellet. It sounds complicated, but is really quite simple, and whoever designed it was a genius. The first time I saw this system was on the Weihrauch HW77, a rifle I owned and loved for a very long time. The TX is built on that
“low recoil, which in turn makes it an easy rifle to shoot accurately”
principle, adding several engineering advances that brought us to the delicious rifle I have on test.
One of the first things I thought of when I saw this system was safety. If the trigger were to fail, and let the inner cylinder fly forward, it would chop off any fingers or thumbs inside the aperture. Air Arms uses two safeties to eliminate this worry and we have the option to add a third. Firstly, as the rifle is cocked, the automatic trigger safety comes on, and even if you tried to pull the trigger, the rifle won’t fire. Next, we have the very substantial anti-bear trap safety. This is a ratchet-like mechanism that engages the inner cylinder as the rifle is cocked. Three large notches are machined into the side of the inner cylinder, to be engaged by a beefy latch that automatically engages them as they pass. This is a strong and reliable system. To close the mechanism after the pellet is loaded, the anti-bear trap lever must be depressed, freeing the inner cylinder.
The optional safety we can choose to add is the one we should all be using on any spring/piston gun, which is to hold the cocking lever securely as we load a pellet. This isn’t particular to sliding-breech guns; it applies to each and every springer and is a practice we should all use every day. Another benefit of this external anti-bear trap is that the rifle can be de- cocked if necessary, which isn’t the case for many rifles with anti-bear traps.
The conventional automatic safety pops out of the end cap of the action to the left, in a position that’s very natural to disengage with the thumb of the trigger hand. The only downside for me is that is that it makes a loud, metallic click and there’s nothing you can do about it. The reality of airgun hunting is that we need to be close to our quarry before we can shoot effectively, and this noise could well spook a rabbit or pigeon, which would be frustrating.
Whilst we’re on the subject of cocking, I noted that the action was smooth and quiet and didn’t require too much effort over a long shooting session, so it didn’t become tiring. This model has a cocking aid over the lever that adds some extra grip, which could be useful in cold, wet conditions.
To get the rifle ready to shoot, I added a SportsMatch one-piece mount with the recoil pin fitted. Spring/ piston rifles make a unique two-way recoil that can shift the scope along the rails so you lose your zero. A one-piece mount has a long gripping area to really get hold of the rails, and four big bolts to clamp it down. The recoil pin fits directly into one of the drillings in the cylinder, giving a totally immovable lock that guarantees the scope simply cannot shift. You might say that this is a belt and braces approach, and you’d be right, which is exactly what I like. I want to know that the rifle is dead on zero every time I pull the trigger, and this is the best way I know of achieving that.
The scope I chose was a Hawke 4 – 12 x40 AO Panorama which suits me as a hunting optic. The rifle is heavy enough without fitting a huge scope, so I felt this medium-sized optic gave me everything I needed without
“Three large notches are machined into the side of the inner cylinder, to be engaged by a beefy latch”
excessive bulk. It also sat comfortably in a medium-height mount, offering better contact between my face and the stock for more consistent mounting.
Which brings me nicely to the stock, and that deserves high praise. Firstly, it’s a proper righthanded affair, so the fit is infinitely better than the current crop of ambidextrous ones. The comb is set at the right height for scope usage, delivering good support for the head. This is often, overlooked but is very significant. It helps with consistent mounting and reduces the dreaded parallax error that accounts for so many missed shots in airgun shooting.
Next, we come to the pistol grip. This is sculpted and shaped to support the trigger hand whilst delivering the trigger finger perfectly to the blade. For me, it’s a work of art and one that deserves all the praise it gets. The key to shooting springers well is consistency, and stock fit like this is invaluable in that quest. The fore end is long and rounded as befits a sporting rifle, and it fitted my leading hand very well. Lasers have revolutionised chequering on stocks, and the TX features intricate fishscale patterns that you’ll either love or hate. They do deliver a solid grip when stalking, which I welcome, but during the firing cycle I hold the rifle as loosely as possible anyway.
The question of this rifle’s accuracy goes without saying because it has won national and world championships in the hands of the Air Arms competition team. This left me to discover if I was good enough to extract all that performance. As a self- confessed, pre- charged pneumatic kind of chap, it takes me a while to get back into the swing of shooting springers properly. However, the TX is one of the easiest springers to shoot well, so even my rusty skills should do well.
A quick run over the chronograph showed that my .177 test gun was delivering a consistent 11.4ft.lbs with Air Arms’ own 8.44 grain Diablo Field round-head pellet. Now to see what I could bring to the test; the trigger was set well for my needs and broke very cleanly indeed. This is a huge help on any gun, but on a springer it’s worth its weight in gold.
The firing cycle is a nice, dull thud and despite not having the optional silencer fitted, I felt that the rifle was easily quiet enough for hunting. I also noted the complete absence of spring noise or vibration, which is something you only used to get for professionally tuned rifles, but this one gives that straight from the box. As accurate as can be I was shooting from the bench, off some soft support bags, and soon had the gun zeroed. This job is so much quicker with an accurate and consistent gun, because the tracking of the scope’s adjusters work in precision harmony with the rifle’s
“The firing cycle is a nice, dull thud and despite not having the optional silencer fitted, I felt that the rifle was easily quiet enough for hunting”
aim point, and just a few turns of the dials had me spot on.
The most important thing about any gun, for me, is accuracy, and to cut to the chase, this thing is superb. At 30 yards I often got two or three pellets through the same hole before it became significantly enlarged. In other words, it’s pretty much impossible to be more accurate. Any longer distance shots become affected by the wind no matter how still the day might seem. I also found this accuracy accessible to my ‘ less than perfect’ springer technique, showing just what a forgiving gun this is to shoot.
Calling this a ‘ modern classic’ is totally justified in my eyes, and it is, without question, the most accurate production springer I’ve ever shot. Only massively weighted and hyper-tuned one- offs could top it, and they’re not what most people would ever want. This is a truly superb rifle, offering accuracy that can compete with any PCP, in a self- contained package. If springers are your thing, then you owe it to yourself to shoot one of these – they really are that good!
“without question, the most accurate production springer I’ve ever shot”
Below: The sleek, sporting lines are right up my street
Right: The anti- bear trap is substantially built which is reassuring Far right: Laser- cut chequering can offer almost any design you can imagine
Below inset: Pellets are loaded directly into the barrel for ultimate accuracy Main: The walnut used on the test gun was very pretty Bottom inset: The automatic safety is perfectly placed for the trigger hand thumb
Main: This is a proper hunter that can take the knocks in the field
Above: Note that the cheek piece is set at the right height for scope use. Thank you Air Arms Top left: A cocking arm grip is standard on this rifle Top right: By lowering the side of the loading aperture, thumbing a pellet into the breech is easy