March 2009

First-Ever Airgun Shoot-Off: Gamo, Walther, and Norica

Tested: Walther’s $325 Falcon Hunter, the $319 Gamo Whisper Deluxe, the $220 Norica Dream Rider, the $290 Norica Marvic Gold. Winners? Any of the four might be worth the money.

According to a search of our website, gun-tests.com, we have never tested air rifles. Then again, we’ve never seen the cost of ammunition rise the way it has in the past year. Air rifles are commonly used in competition and as a training device for young shooters, and also for killing small game and pest control where firearms would overpenetrate. So we thought it might be worthwhile to try some air rifles to see if they were an economical vehicle for sharpening our skills. In this test we evaluated four single-shot pump-action air rifles. They were the $319 Gamo Whisper Deluxe No. 611006754, the $325 Walther Falcon Hunter No. 225226, and two Spanish-made rifles by Norica, the $220 Dream Rider and the $290 Marvic Gold.These rifles are new imports available to retailers through Camfour, Incorporated (camfour.com). Both the Walther and the Norica Dream Rider were 22-caliber rifles. Our Norica Marvic Gold fired 25-caliber pellets, and our Gamo rifle shot the popular .177-inch-wide pellet.

Airgun Rifles

All four rifles were accurate when fired from 12 yards. But with scopes mounted, we moved back to the 25-yard line. The 22-caliber $325 Walther Falcon Hunter shown delivered the smallest groups on a consistent basis, whether we used the open sights or peered through the supplied 3-9X44mm illuminated Mil-Dot scope. But it was the most difficult to pump, as you can see. The $319 Gamo Whisper Deluxe was nearly as accurate and just as consistent. It was easier to pump and the 177-caliber pellets cost less than a penny each. The Whisper Deluxe lived up to its name and was quiet enough to be used outdoors without hearing protection. The $220 22-caliber Norica Dream Rider was the budget gun of our quartet. It performed well at closer distances and was easy to pump. But we thought the trigger was unnecessarily heavy. The Walther and maybe even the Gamo rifles could be used for hunting or shooting pests. But as a training rifle, the 25-caliber $290 Norica Marvic Gold offered the best replication of a match-grade rifle. In our view the Marvic Gold mounted like a full-size rifle, and the trigger was precise, offering the sensation of a “real” long gun.

 

With little precedence for test procedure we went about making a list of what we would be looking for and how we would judge each product. Reliability is always our first concern. Even a weapon that fires five shots into one hole and then quits running is going to get a failing grade. Next to reliability was ease of operation. Specifically, would working the pump be so tiring that shooting wouldn’t be fun anymore? We also wanted to know if the sights on these rifles were reliable and easy to adjust. Would mounting a scope be worthwhile, and how secure was scope placement likely to be atop the smallish rails? Would the triggers prove to be precise or fatiguing? Could these guns actually supply us with valuable practice time?

When it came to setting up accuracy tests we had to determine what distance we should shoot them at. Olympic air rifle distance is 10 meters or, about 33 feet. But given the fact that these rifles were shipped with scopes ranging in magnification from 3X to 9X, we concluded that none of our rifles were designed for that distance. We also considered that the lead text for the Whisper Series rifles on the gamousa.com website reads, "This New Models, [sic] will change the way you think about hunting with airguns." In preliminary tests we had fired standing from 36 feet and using only the open sights each of the rifles seemed capable of near perfect accuracy. To determine which rifle or rifles were superior, we would have to fire from a greater distance.

Through research we learned that in England organized competitions for air rifles such as those ruled by the UK Association of Rimfire Benchrest Shooting specify targets set at 25 meters. We decided to collect data by firing from a distance of 25 yards with scopes in place utilizing a setup for rifle we’ve used many times. This meant a Ransom rifle rest beneath the fore end and a Protektor rear bag underneath the stock. In this manner we collected data for our accuracy chart. To satisfy our curiosity about the efficiency of the open sights on each rifle, we removed the scopes and fired a single six-shot group from the bench. From this pattern we calculated an average five shot group size. Would this test prove too severe? Let’s pump up the action and see what we learned.

Gamo Whisper Deluxe

No. 611006754 177 caliber, $319

The Gamo Whisper Deluxe was cleanly finished with modern features. The synthetic grey stock was inlaid with black rubber on the fore end, the pistol grip, and on the stock, creating a Monte Carlo-style rise to the comb and cheek piece, which overlapped to both sides. The butt pad was ventilated and contoured, adding to the 21st century look of this Spanish-made rifle. The application of a 7.5-inch expansion chamber to the tip of its fluted barrel, which Gamo calls "an integrated noise dampener, " added an interesting cosmetic flair.

For those who never thought they’d own anything but a "real" rifle, we think this gun should be high-tech enough to be shown off with pride. But we wouldn’t be able to say this about the Whisper Deluxe if it didn’t have a list of outstanding mechanical features. The barrel/cocking handle was easy to work and was in fact, the least tiring of our quartet. Pull down on the barrel and you will notice two things. In our view the chamber end of the barrel showed the best finish, and the steel barrel was encased in matte black polymer. The top of the black shiny receiver was grooved for mounting a scope, but Gamo has applied a 3/8-inch precision rail scope mount. The top of the scope mount was grooved to reduce glare and aid the shooter’s vision when used with the open sights. The rear-sight unit was adjustable for windage and elevation and was enhanced with a light-gathering filament. The filament added two dots to the otherwise plain target blade reminiscent of a rear pistol sight. The front sight carried a single light-gathering filament protected by a shroud skeletonized to let in the necessary light.

After pumping the gun once, the shooter had the option of engaging the trigger or the safety. Our Walther and Norica rifles were set to turn on the safety automatically with each pump. The Gamo safety was manually operated. The trigger action weighed 5.5 pounds and the motion was long and somewhat rubbery. But it was not tiring to shoot, and it gave us plenty of time to steer the sights. We did note that if we began a press but changed our mind, backing off the trigger would leave the action in a partially compressed state. So, the next time we took up the trigger, it would swing freely until it caught up with the previous compression. We were pleased to find that the safety could be engaged at any time even if the trigger was stopped just short of its break.

We fired three lead Gamo rounds: Hunter, Master Point, and Match. The pellets, which cost about 1 cent each, were sold in 250 per small round cans, which were flat and resembled a shoe-polish container. Thankfully, these cans featured a twist-off top. We mention this because all the other cans, save the Norica pellets, needed to be taped shut to prevent them from spilling open. This is a notorious pitfall of owning a pellet gun. The receiver was marked with a 1000-fps rating for such ammunition, but the highest single velocity we saw was 924 fps firing the Master Point pellets. All three rounds showed exactly 15 fps in variation from highest to lowest velocity through our Oehler chronograph.

The Gamo rifle arrived with a 1-inch tubed optical scope seated in a one-piece riser mount. The bottom of the riser mount offered a locating pin that seated into a relief in the top of the base that was bolted to the receiver. This prevented the scope from shifting.

The Gamo 3-9X40mm Scope

The Gamo 3-9X40mm scope (rear) arrived connected to a solid base with integral rings. We would have preferred this to the Nikko Stirling mounts (front) that shipped with the Norica 4X scopes. The Nikko mounts offered click-adjustable windage adjustment that if not properly maintained can introduce some wander from the desired setting. Center, the Walther 3-9X44mm Mil-Dot scope with blue colored illumination may sound like overkill, but it worked the best, in our opinion.

With the supplied 3-9X40mm scope in place, the most accurate round proved to be the 7.71-grain Match rounds. With the scope set at 4X, we fired one group into a 0.9-inch pattern and ended up with an average group size of about 1.2 inches. But some of our staff felt more comfortable with the index provided by the open sights. Our best shooter was able to match the smallest single groups we had shot with the Hunter and Master Point rounds (1.2 inches and 2.0 inches respectively). But even with the elevation adjustment of the rear sight turned all the way down, the point of impact was still about 3 inches high. All our rifles, with the exception of the Walther, suffered this same problem to one degree or another.

The Gamo Whisper Deluxe was the least tiring gun to operate and also the most economical in terms of ammunition costs. The groups it delivered were uniform. We would wish for a precision rear sight unit, but the scope mounting system was secure and well matched to the rifle. This rifle looked good, and didn’t make a lot of noise. Nevertheless, we recommend the use of hearing protection when firing any air rifle to guard against cumulative damage, especially when fired indoors.

Walther Falcon Hunter

No. 225226 22 caliber, $325

Weighing in at nearly 8 pounds, our Turkish-made Walther was the biggest and heaviest rifle in our tests. It had a Mossy Oak Breakup camouflage finish over its synthetic stock that we think made it look bigger than it actually was. The left side of the stock bulged with a cheek contour favoring the right-handed shooter, and the comb was raised as well. Atop the receiver was an 11mm scope rail with Picatinny-style slots. A muzzle brake capped the front of the barrel. The buttpad was rubber, and there was a large ventilated area behind the pad. Three spacers could be added for those wishing to expand its length of pull. We fired with LOP as delivered. The area inside the trigger guard measured about 2.3 inches long by about 1.2 inches high. Only the Norica Dream Rider offered more room for the trigger finger. We think the overall impression of the Walther’s size did nothing but add to the sensation of shooting a genuine full-size rifle.

In terms of projectiles 22-caliber pellets may not seem like much, but they were on average about twice the weight of the .177-gauge pellets. Furthermore, our Walther sent the Norica 13.5-grain Match pellets downrange at nearly the same speed as the .177s had flown from the Gamo rifle. To do this required a heavier pump, and frankly it was a lot more work to crank the barrel on this rifle than we would have liked. We could see some shooters being turned off by this, but by about the 50th round, we felt the action break in and become easier to work. Actually, the change in resistance was quite noticeable. Even the trigger became easier to work without loosing its crispness. We should note that this also was a much louder gun than the other rifles.

The safety mechanism resembled the hammer of a lever-action rifle and was actuated automatically each time the gun was pumped. The safety was turned off in a motion replicating the cocking of the hammer. This sounds pretty neat, but we didn’t prefer it because it forced us to disturb our grip before each shot. Sighting down the target using the open sights we felt the front sight was too large and appeared bulbous. The front sight was a light-gathering filament secured by two round loops. We think the loops covered too much of the filament because even in bright light the glow was difficult to see. As a result our aim was actually off the profile of the loops as seen through the notch of the rear sight. The rear sight offered two dots fed by a single piece of filament that looped from one side of the notch to the other. The rear sight was an all-plastic unit adjustable for windage and elevation. In our view the construction of this unit did not give us a lot of confidence. Nevertheless, our best open-sight shooter was able to print 1.2-inch groups to point of aim with this arrangement firing both the Norica and the JSB Predator pellets. One group showed four shots in a 0.55-inch hole before a shot was pulled about 1 inch to the left.

The supplied scope offered 3-9X power through its 44mm lens. There was parallax adjustment up front with markings for distances from 10 yards to 300 yards and infinity. We thought that was a little enthusiastic. Actually, the adjustment wouldn’t rotate any further than the 200-yard marker (still a stretch in our view).

SamYang, Spitz and Beeman

The big pellets to the rear, SamYang, Spitz, and Beeman, are the .25-caliber slugs that moved slower and more quietly than the intermediate-size .22s. The little .177 pellets belong to the three smaller cans marked Gamo. The best group was five shots of .22 caliber Predator in three holes delivered at 25 yards by the scoped Walther Falcon Hunter shown at about 7 o’clock. At the 2 o’clock position is a similar group with one flyer we shot using the Walther’s open sights. The two groups of black holes were shot with the .177 caliber Gamo Whisper Deluxe.

Another nice touch, however, was the blue illumination of the reticle. This could definitely be helpful for shooting at small creatures at dusk or pests inside of a barn, as this rifle may be used for. The fact that the reticle was of Mil-Dot pattern also afforded some holdover options.

Final accuracy numbers put the Walther Falcon Hunter in first place. Sub-1-inch groups were fired with all three pellets. The JSB Predator Polymag pellets were best with groups ranging in size from 0.6 inch to 0.9 inch across. We could have wished for a better set of open sights, but the Walther scope and scope-mounting system was the best we’ve seen on an air rifle.

Norica Dream Rider 22 caliber, $220

Our Spanish-made Dream Rider was fit with a black polymer stock that offered a raised cheek piece on both sides of the stock. In this manner the Dream Rider will accommodate both the right-handed and left-handed shooter. The drop at the pistol grip was quite steep. The grip itself was also very thin in circumference but was treated to a special chain link surface. This same texture was applied to the fore end in an artful pattern. The top of the receiver was cut with a 3.8-inch groove for mounting scope rings or a riser. The grooves were backed with a crosspiece to provide a solid stop against which to mount the rings or an intermediate base. The barrel was thin and shiny, capped with a muzzle break. Atop the muzzle brake was a light-gathering filament sight on a stanchion beneath a cage to protect it from damage. The rear sight was, like each of our air rifles, mounted just above the chamber. It also featured two dots illuminated by filaments braced individually forward of the rear sight face. Mounting the Dream Rider offered a clear view of the sights and a natural index.

Compared to our other 22-caliber air rifle, the Dream Rider was much easier to operate. The Walther actually required us to break the gun open over a sandbag. The Norica could be opened by hand and once past the initial break moved easily to the final set. Cocking the Dream Rider automatically set the safety. This sent the small lever inside the trigger guard back toward the face of the trigger. We found it easy to turn the safety off using our trigger finger without disturbing our aim. Trigger pull weight was 8 pounds, which was about 2 pounds heavier than our other rifles.

Both of our Norica rifles came with a Norica brand 4X-32mm scope and Nikko Stirling elevation-adjustable mount. The Nikko Stirling mount consisted of two pieces, an upper mount that provided a solid two-ring platform and a lower section that bolted directly on to the receiver. In between the upper and lower sections was a knurled wheel that can be rotated to make coarse elevation adjustment by raising or lowering the entire upper assembly. When we received this unit, the top half was not fully secured and allowed some play shifting side to side. From underneath we found two bolts. We tightened each one, and this cured the problem.

At the range our best accuracy was achieved with the JSB Predator Polymag pellets. Group size ranged from 1.6 to 1.9 inches across. Our other pellets delivered groups measured in the 2.0-inch to 2.5-inch range. Using the open sights, group sizes ranged from about 2.2 inches firing the Norica pellets to about 2.8 inches across shooting the JSB rounds. In the end we would have preferred a solid scope mount to limit the possibility of a mechanical shift to our aim.

The Dream Rider was loud, and both our 22-caliber rifles brought quite a bit of recoil and rebound. These factors can be of greater detriment to accuracy in shooting an air rifle than when firing faster-moving centerfire rounds. A faster-moving bullet spends less time in the barrel. Therefore, any shift in hold has less chance to push the shot off line. We think the heavy trigger on the Dream Rider made recoil more difficult to control simply by forcing us to focus more on pressing the trigger. Having recorded much slower velocities from the Dream Rider than the Walther Falcon Hunter (as much as 200 fps), we think any recoil gone uncontrolled by the shooter had a greater opportunity to change the path of the outgoing pellets.

Norica Marvic Gold 25 Caliber, $290

If any of our rifles fit the description of a classic single-pump air rifle, it would be the Norica Marvic Gold. With its fine wood, classic checkering, and Bavarian-profile stock, its looks were both subtle and timeless. Both Noricas are a bargain in our view, but we think the Marvic Gold is a much better choice. The trigger was precise, predictable and smooth. The safety lever, which was activated automatically when charged, was longer and positioned for easy access. All metal edges were beveled. The angle of the pistol grip was not nearly as steep as on the Dream Rider. It was also wider, which allowed our hand to lie naturally in place. The added support also made it easier to isolate the trigger finger. The front sight was better defined, and the sight picture was excellent. The same combination of Norica 3X32mm and Nikko Stirling mount was included with the Marvic Gold as it was with the Dream Rider.

When it came to charging the action, the Marvic Gold was just as easy to pump as our Gamo 177-caliber rifle. Perhaps it was characteristic of the larger 25 caliber, but we also observed that the Marvic Gold was quieter than the other guns. Fired indoors, shots sounded like a large book hitting flat upon a tile floor. Even without a muzzle brake, the gun recoiled less. Then again, velocities were way down compared to the others. Our Beeman Silver Arrow pellets were fastest, traveling only about 475 fps on average.

We think the refinements of the Marvic Gold helped us shoot with greater consistency. Using only the open sights, we landed groups that varied as little as 1.8 inches to 2.1 inches across. With the scope in place our best groups were landed firing the Beeman 24.3-grain Silver Arrow pellets. Variation in group size was only between 1.4 inches and 1.6 inches across. Even when shooting the 43-grain Korean Eun Jin SamYang pellets that seemed absolutely huge in comparison or the H&N 25-grain pellets, there was very little variation in group size. We liked the level of control afforded by the Norica Marvic Gold. In 25 caliber the gun had a very natural, very satisfying feel. Greater accuracy may only be a matter of practice or merely finding the optimum pellet.

Gamo Whisper Deluxe NO. 611006754 177 Caliber

Walther Falcon Hunter No. 225226 22 Caliber

Norica Dream Rider 22 Caliber

Norica Marvic Gold 25 Caliber

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