AIR RIFLE REVIEW: HANDLE WITH CARE
Created on 14th May 2009
DAVE FROGGETT reviews the BSA Scorpion, newly modified to suit the Sporter Air Rifle discipline
10m air rifle shooting as covered by ISSF rules is a very specific event. It requires very precise equipment and specialist clothing not to mention a certain kind of "mind set" of the competitor. To me these are part of the attraction but for many entering the discipline for the first time (in particular Juniors) these factors can make it less accessible than we would like.
Enter Sporter Air Rifle. Sporter Air Rifle as an event has been running in America for some time and many junior marksmanship programmes have been created on this base. It basically offers two events, normal (standing only) 10m and 10m, three-position air rifle shooting. The rifles are "standard" (ish) and no specialist clothing (except a glove) is allowed.
Here's the official line: "The Sporter Air Rifle is intended to be a low cost entry level rifle without specialised modifications...must be .177...production type of conventional appearance freely and readily available in GB. Aperture or open sights are permitted."
What does all this amount to? It makes a more diverse 10m discipline and one that is more easily accessible from a cost and availability viewpoint. It also develops skills that would be transferable to other disciplines should the shooter feel the need (e.g. normal 10m air rifle or smallbore 3P).
The American discipline was transferred over here and now other countries have taken up the Sporter rifle concept and in particular South Africa - another nation with a broad shooting heritage and a keen interest in shooting development.
In Britain the discipline has developed to the point where it has Junior National squads, international events and all the trappings of a fully developed shooting sport. It fits very well with uniformed groups (e.g. scouts, cadets) and the NSRA has expanded its coaching scheme to cover the event.
Manufacturers have also been busy. New event? Guess what... we'll make a better mouse trap! The rifles are gradually evolving alongside the discipline and the most recent addition is the BSA Scorpion modified to suit the new Sporter Class event.
It must be said up front that this is not a production gun and it will not be available off the shelf for normal consumers. As the new discipline suits what are generally referred to as "uniformed groups" and BSA has a long history of working with the military, it was developed for and is only available to the Air Cadet Force.
What's the difference?
The standard Scorpion is a full power pre-charged pneumatic. The nearly 12ft/lb of energy it develops is a bit pokey (and altogether unnecessary) to shoot paper at 10m. Add to this the fact that the majority of the wadcutter match pellets available are optimised for shooting at the lower power values, which means less velocity is going to be favoured. The Sporter version of the Scorpion is set at around 6ft/lb to better suit the discipline.
This reduced power output isn't quite as easily achieved as by turning down a valve: it's achieved by fitting the standard Scorpion single-shot action with a different hammer spring and valve assembly to bring about the transformation. This gives the required velocity but also keeps the action crisp and fast. Lower velocity places less demand on the air supply so it allows the cylinder to be made a little shorter and still provide plenty of shots - also saving some weight, as the rifle and sights must come in under 3.375kg.
The Cadet force is taking the view that having compressed air on site at its various units might be difficult to administer, so the rifles are supplied with a stirrup pump to facilitate charging.
The discipline also requires the use of open sights and the standard Scorpion is scope-only format. The muzzle of the fully floating barrel has been fitted with a small adapter, which is dovetailed to accept a foresight - in the case of the test rifle a Gamo version. The Gamo foresight also allows the use of interchangeable elements. The foresight mounting has been modified recently to allow the gun to be sighted in at 6yd (previously this wasn't possible) to give further flexibility in range space and to allow practice at the shorter distance.
The rear dovetail is the same spec as the standard Scorpion but allows the mounting of the now familiar, Gamo dioptre rear sight. Open sights need a good sight radius to be efficient so the barrel fitted is 3" longer than the carbine version, which gives a reasonable spacing between the sights.
The woodwork is the next alteration and takes the form of the Westerner stock, normally sold only in the USA. The stock has the usual raised cheekpiece, chequered pistol grip and forend and is fitted with fixed sling swivels. The rifle retains the factory sling swivels that allow the use of a sling in the kneeling and prone positions - albeit in a fixed position on the woodwork.
The main modification is the fitting of an adjustable butt plate which facilitates length adjustment by adding spacers but, equally importantly, can be moved up and down to suit the standing, kneeling and prone positions. Further to this the stock is modified by drilling out to keep weight down - to get under the 3.375kg weight restriction.
Overall this rifle suited the basic demands of Sporter shooting but also enabled the Cadets to use drills that fit in with those arranged for the standard No 4 rifle. What if... All the changes provided a very capable Sporter rifle but then the "what if..." starts. Like for instance: "What if we can make the stock fit better?" It's been said many times that the barrel shoots the pellet but the stock hits the target and this is very true. Dave Simpson of the Air Cadets started to address the problem and came up with a stock that can be made to fit far more readily.
The new stock design (which is still a prototype) has a similar forend profile but is fitted with an Anschutz forend rail - a simple addition but one which allows variable sling positions to suit the shooter and the fitting of a single point attachment which can act as a hand stop. The stock length can be adjusted more easily thanks to the addition of the nicely curved Wegu type butt plate, which can be moved up and down between the positions and allows additional spacers to be fitted. The biggest plus from my point of view is the addition of the adjustable cheekpiece. The simple adjustment allows the cheekpiece to be moved up and down, left and right to align the head to the sights. In all, it's everything you need to make a stock fit.
Hydrographics carried out these modifications and the cheekpiece uses the now familiar Steyr components to effect the changes. The stock has then been finished in a satin black coating, which complements the overall quality finish of the rifle. There have been "issues" with the alterations, mind you. One was keeping the gun within the weight limit of 3.375kg (7.5lb). However, judicious "making of holes" has conquered this. The rifle and stock have already been used to good effect by members of the Air Cadets at several of their competitions.
The trigger appears to be the standard Scorpion offering: a fixed, curved blade with three main adjustments. The screw in the front of trigger group adjusts the weight of the second stage (anticlockwise reduces the weight). The weight range fell easily within the rules, which require minimum 1½lb weight. As supplied both of the versions I had broke at around 550g with a little creep. A locknut is provided to adjust the engagement screw (clockwise reduces engagement), which can be used to make the trigger a little crisper if you wish.
In front of trigger blade is a factory set first stage - adjustment is not recommended as it can make the trigger cease to function.
I selected a suitable foresight element and after a little swearing at the Gamo dioptre (whose adjustments are opposite to all my other airguns) I soon had the rifle sighted in.
The trigger was comfortable to use and fairly easy to adjust. The release was helped further by the near-vertical pistol grip of the Westerner stock. Stock adjustments on the adapted Westerner stock were easy. First check the length and then put the plate in the ideal vertical position. Then lift the cheekpiece until you can see naturally through the sights and we were good to go for standing. Set up for the sling positions was similarly easy with the addition of putting the hand stop/sling fitting up to the hand and then fitting the sling to support the weight of the rifle.
The unregulated action was quite consistent - best results were obtained using H & N Finale match pellets turning in a group size of 8.5mm from the machine rest. A full charge of 200bar delivered over 100 consistent shots.
An excellent new discipline and some good hardware to complement it. I think the new stock design is brilliant and the other modifications make a very capable rifle for the discipline.
Many people look on Sporter as a ‘feeder' for other more established events. This may be true to a degree but Sporter is much more than that. While some may be sustained in the sport by moving to 3P or Olympic style 10m airgun I believe Sporter should be considered an event in its own right. It has the structure, events and coaches in place to progress it and not least of all, some pretty cool hardware as well.
Although this is a rifle specifically developed by and for the cadet force and not available to retail trade it still illustrates what can be done. More info on Sporter shooting can be obtained from the official website www.sporter.org. Thanks to Eric Dougliss of the NSRA for loaning the test rifles.
Model: Scorpion Sporter
Power Source: Pre-charged
Loading: Bolt Action
Price: Not generally available
Distributor: BSA Guns Ltd
T: 0121 772 8543
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