By Jock Elliott
After all, if you want high power and high accuracy, there are lots – and I mean LOTS – of excellent choices in the field of firearms. Starting with the world’s most popular cartridge, the .22 long rifle and working your way right up to .50 caliber, there are buckets of different firearms that will deliver simply amazing results in the right hands.
But here’s the rub: there are also many, many places where either the law forbids the discharging of firearms or simple prudence dictates that it would be idiotic to pop one off even if it isn’t actually unlawful. So if you want to satisfy your craving for some high-accuracy fun, airguns are the answer.
In my case, for example, I live in a suburban neighborhood about a half mile from a major technical university. Neighbors live within a couple of hundred feet on either side. And that brings us to the second airgun quality that is high on my list: a neighbor-friendly report. There is nothing like an airgun that makes scarcely any noise when it goes off to keep things smooth with the folks who live nearby. (It’s also very helpful to assure them, ahead of time, that you shoot into a pellet trap and that you are as concerned about safety as they are.)
The third quality that I prize in an airgun is consistency. Is it easy to shoot well, time after time? Never mind that it might be my problem . . . does the gun make it easy to do my best?
When it comes to the BSA Hornet, I can safely say that it delivers all three of my most wanted airgun qualities in a very attractive package. Airguns of Arizona loaned me a BSA Hornet in .22 caliber. It was fitted with a Swift 6.5-20 x 44 scope and the optional factory non-removable sound moderator.
The Hornet stretches 43.5 inches from the muzzle to the rubber butt pad. The right-hand hardwood stock has a pronounced cheekpiece and a nearly vertical checkered pistol grip. The trigger guard is metal and has a hole in it to allow access to a screw for adjusting trigger weight. The trigger is curved metal with a flat bearing surface. Forward of the trigger guard, the forestock is checkered, and there is a single allen screw that secures the action in the stock.
Beyond the end of the forestock is a curious knob that sticks out. We’ll get back to that in just a moment. Above the knob is the air storage cylinder with a screw off cap over the charging port. Above the air cylinder is the barrel, which is free-floated. The receiver is grooved for scope mounts forward and aft of the breech. Toward the rear of the receiver on the right side, you’ll find a rectangular button that releases the bolt and a lever with a knurled knob that activates the safety. At the extreme rear of the receiver is the aft end of the bolt.
To get the Hornet ready for shooting, unscrew the cap over the filler port, insert the filler probe and charge it up to 232 bar. Since my tank only goes to 200 bar, that’s what I charged it to.
To load the Hornet, press down on the small rectangular button on the right rear of the receiver. The bolt will pop open, driven by a spring. There is no bolt handle. Load a pellet in the breech, and close the bolt by pushing the bolt forward with your thumb. The bolt will click into place. This loads the gun but does not cock the action. Put the gun on SAFE by pulling the safety lever back toward you.
At this point, a sharp-eyed reader might ask: what’s the advantage of this? The short answer is it does two things. First, it gives the shooter an additional level of safety. You can load the Hornet and walk around with it uncocked, knowing that even if the safety is accidentally switched off, even if the trigger snags on something, the Hornet can’t discharge. (Of course, any airgunner will still be certain never to point the muzzle in an unsafe direction.) Second, I find that the Hornet’s cocking knob is mechanically just plain easier to activate than many (but not all) precharged air rifles in which the bolt is also used to cock the action. I found that reaching out and pulling the cocking knob was much easier than working a stiff bolt to cock the action, and it could readily be done when the Hornet was on a rest.
Shooting the Hornet is a distinct pleasure. The second stage of the two-stage trigger is crisp enough for accurate shooting and releases at about 2 pounds. The Hornet sends .22 JSB Exacts zipping downrange at about 860 feet per second, generating about 30 foot pounds of energy. At 30 yards, I easily shot several 5-shot groups that measured .5 inches edge to edge, and one three-shot group measured only .25 inches edge to edge. This is obviously a precharged air rifle with plenty of power and accuracy for small game hunting.
Finally, the Hornet is easy to shoot well. When the shot discharges, the gun is inert – you never lose sight picture. I never found myself struggling to control the Hornet or to maintain position. It was almost effortless to point the Hornet at the target, squeeze the trigger, and watch a hole appear just where you thought it would.
I thought the Swift scope mounted on the Hornet worked very well. It offered crisp, clear views, was easy to focus (with no apparent backlash), and never gave me a moment’s concern. Like the Hornet, it made it easy to shoot accurately.
It’s hard to find anything negative to say about the Hornet, but there is one area in which it could be improved: there is no on-board air pressure gauge. As a result, for consistency’s sake, most shooters will want to count shots between fills. I found I got 25 very accurate shots from a fill to 3,000 lbs.
The bottom line: the Hornet delivers excellent accuracy, commendable quiet, and shooter friendliness in an air rifle that should put a grin on any shooter’s face.