THE BIG TEST

Can this clas­sic sin­gle-shot PCP hold its own against more mod­ern ri­fles?

Air Gunner - - CONTENTS -

This month, the ed­i­tor tests a clas­sic, sin­gle- shot PCP – the S200 from Air Arms

While vis­it­ing my gun club re­cently, a fel­low mem­ber was telling me with huge ex­cite­ment about his lat­est gun. Well, not quite his – you see, he’d bought an Air Arms S200 for his grand­daugh­ter. He’d taken it to the range to zero it and to run it in a lit­tle and had been blown away by its per­for­mance. On the 55- yard range, he was con­sis­tently hit­ting racks of knock- up/down tar­gets just as well as he’d been do­ing re­cently with far more ex­pen­sive, full- size ri­fles. This made me re­mem­ber that I’d never tried this sim­ple, lightweight ri­fle in a full test, so I felt that it was about time I did.

The ri­fle’s his­tory is in­ter­est­ing be­cause it came about through a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Air Arms in Eng­land and Ceska Zbro­jovka, or CZ to you and me, in the Czech Repub­lic. They im­ported a small quan­tity to see if the pub­lic would be in­ter­ested and they sold three times as many as they’d ex­pected, so it soon be­came a firm fix­ture in the Air Arms cat­a­logue. The early ver­sions were a lit­tle less so­phis­ti­cated than the one you see here, with an odd, two- piece stock, and you needed to re­move the air cylin­der each time to fill it, which was com­mon with Eu­ro­pean tar­get ri­fles of the time. To­day, Air Arms fits its pro­pri­etary fill­ing con­nec­tor with its T- shaped lock and in­built par­ti­cle fil­ter, so that there’s no longer a need to re­move the cylin­der.

STRICT TESTS

The whole ri­fle is man­u­fac­tured by CZ, in­clud­ing the ham­mer-forged bar­rel and beech stock, be­fore be­ing shipped to East Sus­sex for a fi­nal qual­ity and per­for­mance check. Air Arms has a very strict set of tests that ev­ery ri­fle must pass be­fore it can leave the fac­tory doors, and the S200 goes though it just the same

as the English- made guns. The CZ bar­rels are so good that Air Arms used to fit them to their top- end com­pe­ti­tion ri­fles be­fore switch­ing to match- grade Lothar Walther bar­rels as used to­day.

When speak­ing to the Air Arms team at their fac­tory in Hail­sham, I was struck by how of­ten the word ‘reli­able’ was used when de­scrib­ing the S200. It seems that any kind of fail­ure is ex­tremely rare, even in very heav­ily used ex­am­ples, show­ing that it’s a well- de­signed and en­gi­neered model.

STUN­NINGLY CON­SIS­TENT

The S200 is of­ten de­scribed as be­ing well- suited to ju­nior shoot­ers, ladies and lightly built men, and I some­times won­der if peo­ple as­sume that its per­for­mance has been in some way down- sized, too. This is most def­i­nitely not the case, as I found out in my tests. Filled to 190bar, my test ri­fle de­liv­ered a stun­ningly con­sis­tent 776fps, with just 6fps shot- to- shot vari­a­tion over 25 shots. As ever, I used the Air Arms Di­ablo Field, in .177 in this case, which weighs 8.44 grains, to de­liver 11.3 ft.lbs. at the muz­zle. These num­bers de­scribe full- sized per­for­mance in ev­ery way that mat­ters.

Al­though the ac­tion is quite light, I feel it’s the stock that re­ally makes the S200 stand out as a lightweight and com­pact de­sign. Air Arms de­scribes it as a ‘semi- match’ de­sign, which makes sense with its nearly ver­ti­cal pis­tol grip and high comb. It isn’t too deep to be used as a sport­ing stock, which makes it very ver­sa­tile in my eyes. It’s quite slim too, so it’s well suited to smaller hands, and the pull length is a full inch shorter than the in­dus­try stan­dard 14½”. This en­sures that those with a smaller frame will reach the pis­tol grip com­fort­ably, which is vi­tal to pre­cise trig­ger con­trol.

PRO­LONGED LIFE

In­side the tiny metal trig­ger guard is a blade like no other. It’s a plas­tic mould­ing, al­most tri­an­gu­lar in shape, with a nut and bolt through it at the top. Re­leas­ing this al­lows it to be slid back­wards and for­wards to change the reach from the pis­tol grip – excellent for those with small hands, and if the ri­fle was bought for a young­ster, it could be ad­justed for­ward as he or she grows, pro­long­ing its use­ful life.

Straight from the box the trig­ger was set as a sin­gle- stage unit with a rather long move­ment, which wasn’t re­ally my cup of tea. How­ever, it’s fully ad­justable and can be set as a two- stage job, but I’d get a pro­fes­sional gun­smith do that kind of work to be cer­tain that it’s fully safe.

As men­tioned, the pis­tol grip is close to ver­ti­cal, be­hind which the stock is cut away deeply. This al­lows for my pre­ferred thumb- up hold, or a more con­ven­tional grip equally well. The stock is also am­bidex­trous with

“speak­ing to the Air Arms team at their fac­tory in Hail­sham, I was struck by how of­ten the word ‘reli­able’ was used”

no cheek pieces or palm swells to make it handed in any way, which might make it eas­ier to sell if you choose to up­grade later in your shoot­ing ca­reer.

NOISE ELIM­I­NA­TION

As much as the S200 looks like the ideal HFT ri­fle, it makes an equally good hunt­ing gun and with that in mind I asked Air Arms to in­clude one of their excellent Q-Tec si­lencers and a mag­a­zine sys­tem. These are easy to fit, adding 10- shot ca­pac­ity to the sin­gle- shot ac­tion. The Q-Tec adds some steady­ing weight to the muz­zle, at the same time as cut­ting the noise dra­mat­i­cally to just a quiet cough. I like the fact that the Q-Tec is cal­i­bre spe­cific and de­signed to the very limit of what’s pos­si­ble in sound re­duc­tion. With the noise elim­i­nated, I con­cen­trated on the fir­ing cy­cle, which dis­plays only the most sub­tle move­ment de­spite the ri­fle’s lack of mass. There’s a slight metal­lic noise from the ac­tion and a high- pitched ring, that I imag­ine comes from the ham­mer spring, but it’s an en­joy­ably quiet gun.

NO EF­FORT

A hunt­ing gun needs a good scope, so I fit­ted a Hawke Panorama 4-12 x 40 AO that was in the of­fice, in Sport­match medium mounts, onto the S200’s un­usual rails. At the rear there are two sec­tions of 11mm rail ma­chined into the breech block; 30mm in front of this is a third sec­tion of rail ma­chined into a block that bolts onto the bar­rel. This has two grub screws that match up with de­tents ma­chined into the top of the bar­rel, en­sur­ing that it sits ver­ti­cally and in line with the breech block. I noted that there is an­other de­tent 10mm fur­ther for­ward, again to al­low you to move the block for­ward to suit longer bod­ied scopes. As it hap­pened, my scope dropped on with no more ef­fort than it would have with any more con­ven­tional scope rail de­sign, so I set about ze­ro­ing.

SE­RI­OUSLY AC­CU­RATE

I zero at least one gun a week, so I have an in­stinct about any new gun within min­utes of start­ing to set them up. If they zero in just a few shots, they al­most al­ways turn out to be ac­cu­rate. If it takes too

long, they’re ei­ther faulty or dif­fi­cult to shoot and I know I’m not go­ing to en­joy us­ing them. The S200 ze­roed in min­utes, and as ex­pected, de­liv­ered su­perb ac­cu­racy, even out on out 55- yard range once I’d un­der­stood the holdover needed. Even at this ex­treme range, I was able to hit spin­ners and knock- downs at will, when the wind al­lowed. As my friend had al­ready seen, this is a se­ri­ously ac­cu­rate ri­fle. Of course, it didn’t fit my bulky build, but when you shoot from a bench that doesn’t mat­ter so much. Be­ing so light, it didn’t set­tle on aim as well as heav­ier guns, yet I was still hit­ting the tar­gets reg­u­larly and I’m sure that hav­ing the si­lencer fit­ted was a help in steady­ing the aim.

SWEET-SHOOT­ING PCP

When I heard that there was a retrofittable, multi- shot sys­tem avail­able, I’ll con­fess I wasn’t ex­pect­ing too much. I’ve seen oth­ers in the past and to be blunt, they were pretty poor. How­ever, I’m de­lighted to say this one works a treat. It lit­er­ally took me two min­utes to fit and it worked im­me­di­ately, with no need for any ad­just­ments at all. I’d as­sumed that I’d need to turn the 10- shot mag­a­zine man­u­ally, but I was wrong. It in­dexes as the bolt cy­cles just like its more ex­pen­sive sta­ble­mates, the S410 and S510. This takes the S200 into a dif­fer­ent league as a hunt­ing gun and makes it a lot more fun to plink with as well. The only down­side for me is that it forces you to use high scope mounts to clear the top of the mech­a­nism.

As you’ll have un­der­stood by now I was very im­pressed with this ri­fle and if you are of smaller build, it must be near the top of your wish list, but there are some things to con­sider. Firstly, it does not have a pres­sure gauge and as we’re told to ex­pect just 45 con­sis­tent shots from the .177, it’s im­por­tant to count your shots. I found it eas­i­est to count 45 pel­lets into a pouch and then to re­fill the reser­voir when I’d used them up. Sec­ondly, there is no safety mech­a­nism. I fully agree that we should never trust a safety and that cor­rect gun han­dling should make them un­nec­es­sary, but I still use them all the time when I hunt. I feel they of­fer some back up if I should ever make a mis­take. If size and weight aren’t is­sues for you, then I’d rec­om­mend the leg­endary S400 model over the S200. Its fit and fin­ish are bet­ter, it has a gauge, a safety, de­liv­ers more shots per fill and has a rep­u­ta­tion for de­liv­er­ing match- grade ac­cu­racy all day long, but if you want a small, light ri­fle, then this sweet­shoot­ing PCP is the gun for you.

“As much as the S200 looks like the ideal HFT ri­fle, it makes an equally good hunt­ing gun”

BELOW: Ac­cu­racy and per­for­mance all in a neat and handy pack­age

RIGHT: It looks like a tar­get gun but it makes a su­perb hunter too

ABOVE: You can shift the trig­ger fore and aft to suit your hand’s reach

RIGHT: As stan­dard the ri­fle uses a sin­gle- shot tray

ABOVE RIGHT: I was pleased to see the Air Arms filler sys­tem used

BELOW LEFT: The multi-shot sys­tem takes just min­utes to fit and works per­fectly

ABOVE LEFT: The mag­a­zine is pleas­ingly sim­ple

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