PCP Hunting Airguns on a Budget

Rifles that punch above their price point!

PCP Hunting Airguns on a Budget

The author zeroing-in with the Hatsan Hydra .25 on a prairie dog hunt in South Dakota.

In much of the world, where high-end adult-oriented airguns have a long tradition, shooters have come to expect prices commensurate with the level of craftsmanship and technological sophistication included in a gun. However, in many states, our airgunning tradition has been based on relatively inexpensive models geared toward the youth market or less expensive spring-piston airguns built in China for a less discriminating market. This is changing, and changing rapidly, as general awareness and interest in airgun hunting evolve.

One of the comments I often receive in my mail and social media is, “Why are these guns so expensive?” Or the statement that an airgun costs more than a “real gun,” by which they, of course, mean a powder-burning firearm. The question I respond with before answering theirs is, ‘Why do you expect an airgun to cost less than a firearm?” The best answer I get is that their expectations on pricing have been built around those CO2 replicas, Red Ryder or Benjamin multi-pump guns they had as a kid. But that is not what the modern hunting airgun is.

Modern high-power airguns are built with high-quality materials, are more complex from a mechanical perspective, built to tighter tolerances and don’t have the same economy of scale as firearms in the U.S. market. Simply put, airguns are in many ways more complex to manufacture, and pricing is also driven by the size of the market. In this article, we will look at pre-charged pneumatic airguns (PCP). I’ll save the discussion on spring-piston airguns for another time. And just to narrow the topic down to make it a bit more manageable, we’ll focus on standard caliber (.177, .22, .25) rifles, leaving the mid- and big-bore guns for another time.

For convenience, we can break prices into three segments: budget, mid, and high price points. The rule of thumb I use is budget guns cost less than $500, mid-range models are priced at $500 to $1,000 and the high price point is above $1,000. In the early 2000s, when I started buying and shooting PCPs, most of the guns were being imported from Britain, and a bit later, Sweden. These rifles tended more toward the higher-mid and high price segments. As time went on, more choices started to flow in from Korea and Turkey, which tended to be positioned solidly in the mid-price range. When the U.S.-based manufacturer Crosman stepped into the PCP market, it did so with a couple of models meant to open the U.S. market with products targeting a broader cross-section of shooters, which meant hitting the right pricing model. Its first gun was the Benjamin branded Discovery, a small no-frill inexpensive PCP, and later the Marauder, which added a lot of features and performance while keeping the price relatively low.

As time passed, there have been a few noteworthy occurrences. More manufacturers started building budget-friendly rifles, while high-end feature sets started to migrate to guns at the lower price points. Thus, the market grew, improving the economy of scale. Shooters shifted their expectations on how (and why) these products are priced. While there is a strong and growing market for the high-end guns, the availability of budget-priced models has allowed a larger number of new airgun shooters to dip their toes in the airgunning pond.

Some of the features that have migrated into the budget segment include a more comprehensive selection of calibers, improved triggers, sidelever cocking mechanisms, pressure regulators and integrated shrouds. At this point, there are several options available from Crosman/Benjamin, Hatsan, Seneca, Umarex and Diana that have implemented different strategies to provide a good hunting rig at an affordable price. Several, such as Crosman, have sweetened the offers with an extended warranty, others offer additional magazines and some have large followings that have spawned businesses delivering aftermarket parts and services to modify and further improve performance.

Two of the budget guns I’ve been impressed with and used extensively in the field are the Seneca Avenger and the Hatsan Hydra. They are both priced well under the $500 threshold, about $430 for the Hydra and $300 for the Avenger. Each has taken different approaches to meet customer needs.

The Seneca Avenger has a side-lever cocking action and regulator pressure gauge on the right.
The Seneca Avenger has a side-lever cocking action and regulator pressure gauge on the right.

Seneca Avenger

The Avenger is available in .177-, .22- and .25-caliber versions, and is a powerful and accurate small game gun. Most surprising, the rifle is regulated with its power easily adjustable without requiring any disassembly. This makes it possible to fine-tune the gun for a specific pellet style or weight, like handloading for a powder-burner. It also permits the shooter to decide what is more important for a given application; more or less power, shot count, etc. It is further enhanced with superior shot-to-shot consistency provided by a regulated flow of air. The rifle utilizes a sidelever cocking mechanism, which I prefer above others, finding it smooth and fast to cycle the multi-shot rotary magazine.

So how did they manage to keep the price down? I think the most apparent tradeoff was the use of a well-designed but somewhat plasticky stock. The design quality is, perhaps, a bit unrefined but functionally sound. This is a gun I believe will develop a large following. In the airgun world, this tends to result in the availability of third-party stocks and accessories. While perhaps not the most beautiful rifle on the market, in my experience, there is nothing else offering the features and performance at this price point.

The Hatsan Hydra set up with the arrow barrel kit installed.
The Hatsan Hydra set up with the arrow barrel kit installed.

Hatsan Hydra

The Hydra is positioned toward the upper end of the budget price point. One of the first things you notice about this rifle is that it is attractive, with a Turkish walnut stock and machine checkering on the forend and grip. It is not regulated but utilizes a multi-shot magazine cycled with a substantial bolt action. I believe that this gun’s price has been kept low by leveraging the company’s existing Flash PCP platform and offering a componentized upgrade pathway for the gun. With regard to power, accuracy and consistency, the performance of this rifle is good across the calibers.

Like many of the guns in this price range, it is now offered in .177, .22 and .25 versions. But there’s a twist. The barrels are interchangeable. Once you have the gun and barrel (whichever caliber you select), you can buy other barrels to swap. The takedown and reassembly are completed with one screw that does not require tools. This means that I can take it on a pest shoot and use the .177 to shoot rats or pigeons in the barn, then swap for the .25-caliber barrel to call foxes or raccoons at night. But what really makes this usable for me is that when the barrel is removed, the whole receiver and scope go with it. This means that you don’t have to re-zero the scope when new barrels are mounted.

It is also worth mentioning an arrow barrel with a purpose-designed shroud available for the gun. When set up with a 20-inch aluminum arrow and a mechanical broadhead, this barrel is capable of 275 fps, which means that where legal, the Hydra becomes a viable option for a deer gun here as well.


Final Thoughts

Again, there are many rifles now available at this price point from several manufacturers. I don’t think we will see an erosion of the high-end market because, as with any sport, there are always customers who want an elite product. But guns in this budget range give more new shooters an option to get into the sport, test the waters and see if it is something they want to stay with. Guns at this price point also offer shooters a platform they can customize and experiment with, allowing them to learn their guns inside and out, as well as potentially building something unique for themselves. I keep repeating myself, but this is an excellent time to be an airgunner.


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