by B.B. Pelletier
With most airguns, the velocity test goes fast and easy. Sometimes a gun will be special and need some extra testing, such as a high-velocity claim that needs to be verified, but usually most airguns are straightforward and quick. Not so the Crosman Challenger 2009, though. This is a rifle that poses questions not normally seen.
How high to fill?
Before I read the manual, I guessed that the fill would go to 3,000 psi. That turned out to be wrong, but I thought so because a target rifle needs a very long string of shots to be really useful. This rifle is made to compete in the NRA Sporter class. The course of fire is 10 shots in the prone, standing and kneeling positions, in that order. That makes 30 shots for record. Before the record fire begins, competitors have five minutes for sighting shots. The number needed there varies with each shooter, but let’s figure another 10-15 to be safe. So a competitor should arrive at the line with a minimum of 40-45 good, stable shots in the gun.
In the ISSF men’s air rifle match, the number of shots in a match is 60, plus sighters. A competitor needs about 70-75 good shots in the gun when they get to the line. The Challenger 2009 isn’t made for ISSF competition, and we must keep that in mind. It’s a Sporter-class gun, and perhaps the most competitive Sporter-class rifle on the market at this moment. Our testing will reveal if it has what it takes to get through a match.
This one is different
Now, for the big surprise. Crosman has intentionally made this rifle to be filled to not more than 2,000 psi! That makes it EASY to fill with a hand pump! Of course, the Benjamin Discovery was also designed to be filled to 2,000 psi, which is one of its most attractive features, but the Disco is a sporter whose total number of shots isn’t crucial. The Challenger is a target rifle that HAS to shoot to the same place on every shot for a minimum number of shots. Granted, the rifle shoots slower than the Disco, and therefore each shot uses less air, but Crosman is very bold for using this lower fill pressure when a minimum number of similar shots is required.
What we have, therefore, is the first Sporter-class target rifle that’ll be easy to fill from a hand pump. Coaches can forego the trouble of lugging scuba tanks to fill this rifle, which will be a big benefit for them. Yes, many of the younger kids that are competing will not be able to pump their rifles to 2,000 psi, but coaches and assistants and parents who chaperone the team will have no problem keeping up with the task. That’s a major benefit.
How many shots?
Of course, the gun has to give the minimum number of shots at a relatively consistent velocity. That’ll be something I’ll test. However, the maximum acceptable velocity spread at 10 meters is higher than you might imagine. We’ve become jaded by the performance of $3,000 Feinwerkbaus that shoot long strings of shots with a maximum spread of less than 10 f.p.s. That’s fine and even admirable, but it isn’t really necessary. Back in the 1970s and even before, 10-meter target rifles were varying by as much as 25 f.p.s., and yet they still managed to shoot near-perfect groups at such a close distance.
The first thing I’ll do is test the number of shots the test rifle gives at a reasonable velocity. I used my carbon fiber tank to fill the rifle so I could watch the gauge closely during the fill. Since my tank gauge has not yet been correlated to the rifle gauge, it may require a couple fills before I discover the exact stopping pressure on the tank gauge, which is the only gauge I’ll be able to see when filling. Once I know what that number is, I’ll always fill to the same pressure.
Well, well! Shooting Gamo Match 7.5-grain pellets, I got 72 shots within a power band ranging from a low of 550 f.p.s. to a high of 568. That’s a total spread across all those shots of 18 f.p.s.; well within the parameters of what it takes to win. Lighter pellets would go a little faster and heavier pellets a little slower, but they will all have the same number of shots. To be on the safe side, chop that number back to 65 and you get a full Sporter-class match plus 35 sighters. Or an ISSF match with five sighters. The average for the 72-shot string was 558 f.p.s.
You might ask how I knew I was off the power band. Simple! When the next shot registered 526 f.p.s., I knew the string was finished. That was the first drop below 550 in the string. The velocity did climb back over 550 f.p.s. a couple more times, but once a very slow shot is fired I consider the string to be over.
What about fill pressure?
To check the validity of the gauge on my carbon fiber tank, I next filled the gun to 2,200 psi, expecting to see a drop in initial velocity. That would be due to a partial valve lock, if my gauge is reading right and the Crosman manual is correct.
Guess what? The first 30 shots with Gamo Match were under 550 f.p.s. They hovered in the 530s for 15 shots before advancing to the 540s. Shot 31 went to 555 f.p.s., and they were never below 550 after that. So, YES, 2,000 psi on the gauge on MY carbon fiber tank is EXACTLY where to stop.
After verifying the fill pressure, I tested velocity with 10 shots with each of two good target pellets. That didn’t require a re-test of the full fill pressure, because once that’s been identified, all pellets should perform the same, though each at their own unique velocity.
RWS R10 8.2-grain pellets averaged 548 f.p.s., with a spread from 542 to 553. We know from several past tests that R10s will be in contention as the best pellet for this rifle.
H&N Finale Match 7.6-grain pellets averaged 556 f.p.s., with a spread from 551 to 563. Of the target pellets on hand that are still available in the market, this the closest competitor for the R10s.
Bottom line so far
This Challenger 2009 is one heck of a target rifle. The discharge sound would rate a 2 on the Pyramyd Air noise scale, because of how little air is used for each shot. The trigger is sweet, the sights seem good and it gets a reasonable number of shots per fill. But the fun isn’t over.
A deeper personality
The Challenger has a knob on the back of the receiver. It begs to be turned. The manual says turning it will change the tension on the hammer spring, resulting in a change in hammer energy. They call it a way to change the “tune” of your rifle, but they stop short of saying it will change the velocity. Well, next time we’ll see if it does! We’ll also see how nice that trigger can become with some adjustment. Till then….