THE BIG TEST
Can this classic single-shot PCP hold its own against more modern rifles?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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