Posts Tagged ‘Crosman Challenger PCP’
by B.B. Pelletier
Some announcements before we start:
BSOTW winner Silas McCulfor took this great picture of his sister holding his Beeman Sportsman RS2 model 1073 dual-caliber air rifle.
Get free tickets to the NRA show in St. Louis. If you’re not an NRA member (they get in free) or have family members and friends who aren’t members, Pyramyd air has some free passes for you ($10 value). To get yours, click to send an email request. Limit of 2 tickets per person. Limited supply. First come, first served!
Pyramyd Air is awarding double Bullseye Bucks for each purchase you make from March 15-18, 2012. If you don’t have an account, create one. Then, use that same email address when placing any orders (whether you sign in to your account or not when placing an order). If you already have an account, you’ll get double credit for any orders you place March 15-18…as long as you place them using the same email address as your Bullseye Bucks account (even if you don’t sign in when ordering).
On to today’s blog.
Okay, lads and lassies; settle back while uncle B.B. tells you a nice long story! This report will be a big one because there’s so much to tell.
The Crosman MAR 177 upper is a target precharged pneumatic upper that fits on any standard National Match AR lower (I’ll cover that in a moment) and turns the U.S. M16 service rifle or its civilian-legal semiautomatic counterpart AR-15 into a target air rifle. Those airgunners who own AR rifles can buy the MAR177 right now and have a target PCP that’s ready to go. This report will be a thorough test of that rifle.
But I don’t own an AR-type rifle. And none of my shooting friends do, either. So, I was at a disadvantage when I was asked to report on this unique new air gun.
There have been other air rifles before now that have resembled the AR-15/M16. Crosman just introduced their M4-177 multi-pump rifle that I tested for you at the end of last year, and back in the 1990s they made the much simpler A.I.R. 17 — another multi-pump that was crude but did follow the AR styling. So, the story is not that an AR airgun has been made. The story is that this one is a precision target rifle and should rival some 10-meter rifles.
The AR system
Before I continue, everybody needs to be on the same page. The AR system that the Crosman MAR (modular adaptive rifle) belongs to is comprised of two principal subassemblies — the upper receiver and the lower receiver. The upper receiver contains the barrel, gas system, bolt, sights and operational hardware for the rifle. The Crosman MAR177 is an upper. I will talk a lot about the upper throughout the rest of this report, but let’s look at the lower receiver for a moment.
The lower, as it’s called, is a frame that contains the operational parts, pins and springs for the trigger, selector and safety, magazine catch, as well as the buttstock and buffer assembly. It’s considered by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATF&E) to be a firearm. It’s the part that has the serial number. You can buy and sell uppers almost anywhere in the U.S. without paperwork, but each lower is classified as a firearm. The fact that this is a modular system with many different uppers — all on one lower — allows you to own many different rifles, all under one registration.
But I didn’t own an AR — so I didn’t have a lower receiver and the MAR177 isn’t sold as a complete rifle, yet. There are plans to build it that way at some time in the future, but for now all you can buy is the upper. I needed to get a lower.
At first, I looked around for just a complete lower receiver to buy used, and they do exist, but as I searched I found that the people who have them don’t always know exactly what they have. For example, the upper and lower attach via two cross pins, and there have been different sizes of pins over the years. Colt made pins that were larger than those made by other manufacturers, so you might get a Colt lower that doesn’t fit the MAR upper. There are bushings to reduce the sizes of the holes in the lower; but since I was doing this from scratch, I didn’t want to begin with a workaround.
I located a brand new Rock River Arms lower receiver that was stripped of all parts. It was just the receiver shell by itself. But there are parts kits to build up such receivers, so I went online and ordered a National Match lower parts kit and an A2 buttstock assembly from Rock River. I would build the receiver myself; and when finished, I would have a complete Rock River lower — not a bad thing to have. Rock River is a good name; one of many you will find if you look. And there are also a few names to avoid — just as there are with airguns.
When I placed the order, though, I failed to notice the fine print at the bottom of the Rock River webpage that said some of the parts were on indefinite backorder. They didn’t specify which parts those were from the hundreds of choices on the page, but sure enough it turned out to be the entire parts kit I needed for this report. That’s because Rock River is currently experiencing a 60-90-day backorder status on their whole rifles, and they certainly aren’t going to sell their parts faster than they can build entire rifles to sell. It makes perfect sense, but only when you know it. And I only found out when I didn’t get the parts I ordered. So, I had a stripped receiver without the parts to complete it.
Once I realized my backorder status, I placed a call to Rock River to see what the expected delivery date would be, and that’s when I learned everything I have just shared with you. I then explained my short publishing deadline to them (a special feature article in the July color issue of Shotgun News) and they bent over backwards to fix the problem — but don’t expect them to do the same for everyone. If you want to build a lower receiver, you had best first pin down a source for parts before doing anything else. So, this test is made possible through the good graces of Rock River Arms, who, before last Wednesday, had never heard of Tom Gaylord.
National Match lower
Now that you know what a lower receiver is, what’s so special about a National Match lower? Simply put, it’s a lower that meets the specifications for the U.S. Service Rifle National Matches held at Camp Perry, Ohio, every year. One of the most important aspects of this specification is the trigger. Standard AR rifles come with single-stage triggers that are barely adequate at their best. But the National Match specification allows for a two-stage trigger that breaks cleanly with no less than 4.5 lbs. of force. There’s a host of additional information available for National Match triggers; but for our discussion, this is sufficient.
I was hardly going to test the MAR177 — a target rifle — with anything less than a good trigger. I say “good” advisedly; because to someone used to a nice match airgun trigger or even a Rekord sporting trigger, these AR triggers are fairly crude — even those that are National Match. But in the sport they’ll be used, the National Match triggers are as good as you’re allowed to have. Testing the new air rifle upper with a stock single-stage trigger would be a crime.
You’ll watch the build
That’s enough about the lower for today. When the parts arrive, I’ll photograph their assembly and describe the experience for you. For now, let’s concentrate on the MAR177 upper from Crosman.
The Modular Adaptive Rifle (MAR) is a .177-caliber target upper that operates on compressed air. It’s a 10-shot repeater with Crosman’s (Benjamin’s) familiar rotary magazine. My test rifle also came with the single-shot tray for loading pellets one at a time. The rifle is not semiautomatic like most ARs. It feeds and cocks via the retraction of the charging handle, so for each shot the handle must be pulled back.
I shot a preproduction version of the rifle at this year’s SHOT Show on Media Day. But standing on an outdoor firearm range with hundreds of firearms being discharged is not the best place to evaluate a target air rifle. And I couldn’t even evaluate the trigger of the rifle I tested, because it will differ from the trigger I put into my gun. Are you getting a sense of how this modular thing works?
The target pellets exit the muzzle at up to 600 f.p.s., putting them in exactly the same range as most modern 10-meter target rifles. The barrel is from Lothar Walther, which leads me to expect accuracy will be the same as Crosman’s Challenger PCP target rifle.
Unlike airsoft ARs and the two muti-pumps mentioned above, this upper is full weight and will feel like a firearm when mounted on a lower. Therefore, besides being a match rifle, the MAR is also ideal for owners of ARs who want to train with their rifles in their homes under safer range conditions and at a fraction of the cost of even reloaded centerfire ammunition. They can shoot a couple thousand rounds for less than $50 when they use Pyramyd Air’s “Buy three, get the fourth tin free” promotion. So, even when the initial purchase price of $600 for the MAR and the cost of a hand pump is factored in, a serious shooter will get his money back in less than a year and will be training ten times as much with his service rifle.
The MAR operates at pressures between 1,000 psi and 2,900 psi (69 bar and 200 bar, respectively). Crosman says you’ll get up to 120 shots per fill. As the reservoir appears to be the same as the one on their Challenger PCP, I would expect that estimate to be correct.
The gun comes with service-style sights. The rear has two peep sizes, accessed by flipping the post they’re mounted on. And the rear sight is adjustable for both windage and elevation. It’s built into a conventional carry handle, like the rear sight on many ARs. The front sight is a plain post that’s also adjustable for elevation via the same type of detent locking mechanism found on other ARs. You can also remove both sights, and there’s a Mil-Std 1913 Picatinny rail underneath, for those who want to mount optical sights.
There’s a lot to this new rifle, so we’ll see more of it in the reports that follow. And the MAR isn’t the only AR-15 PCP pellet rifle on the market. Anschütz also sells an entire rifle with similar features for around $1,850. So, the MAR177 is even bigger news, because it offers all this value at a fraction of the cost. Figure around $500 if you build a lower like I’m doing. If you already own an AR, there’s no additional cost. Either way, this gun is a bargain!
by B.B. Pelletier
Well it’s Friday again, and it’s time to have some fun. When I tested the TF 79 competition air rifle, I mentioned that I also shot several vintage 10-meter rifles the same day, just to make sure I was still able to shoot a good group. Well, we heard from a lot of readers who apparently like these oldsters just as much as I do, so I thought I would take today and report on how they all did.
I’ve owned most of the better-known classic 10-meter target air rifles over the years, but I didn’t hold onto them because I was always chasing some other dream. Long-range accuracy or big-bore prowess were always competing with these quiet target rifles, and there’s only a finite amount of money to go around. So, over the years I’ve both shot and given up some real vintage beauties.
A couple years ago, I decided that I had to always have at least one vintage 10-meter target rifle on hand at all times for when those assignments — like testing target pellets — came along. At the Little Rock airgun expo, I searched for an HW55 — a rifle that I knew from experience would be right for the job. Well, there was one in my price range. What I didn’t know at the time was that it was a very rare version of the HW55 that not too many collectors have ever seen. It was the HW55 SF, the only HW55 ever made without the positive barrel latch on the left side of the action. In reality, it’s just an HW50 with a target sight, but Weihrauch had marked the barrel as an HW55, and I was able to find a listing for the model in a vintage catalog from Air Rifle Headquarters. Technically, it’s a 55, even without the barrel latch, because the manufacturer says it is.
I’ve owned most of the better-known classic 10-meter target air rifles over the years
That rifle sparked a renewed interest in vintage 10-meter target rifles; and over the course of the next two years, another four guns have come into my possession. They are, in order of acquisition, a Walther LGV Olympia, an HW55 Custom Match, an FWB 300S and, most recently, an FWB 150. The 150 is off to the airgunsmith getting overhauled right now, but the other three are on hand and are part of today’s testing.
From the comments I received, I knew that I would not only have to report on how these guns shoot, but also on their particular weaknesses, because many of you seem to want to acquire one for yourselves. Today’s report is not meant to be a detailed report on each of the rifles. There is no time for that here. I’ve already reported on the HW55 SF and the Walther LGV Olympia in separate reports that you can read, so there are only the FWB 300, HW55 CM and the FWB 150 yet to get their own three-part evaluations at some time in the future.
I’ll shoot four of the five target rifles for you to compare their accuracy against what you’ve seen from the TF79, not to mention the Crosman Challenger PCP and the AirForce Edge. Be sure to read the reports on the Crosman Challenger PCP and the AirForce Edge, too. And, also, please know that Crosman made another target rifle called the Crosman Challenger 2000 that was a CO2 rifle with a Benjamin 397 barrel. That rifle was never as accurate as the Challenger PCP, but you can easily get confused by the similar-sounding names.
The HW55 SF
As I mentioned, this was the airgun that kicked off my renewed interest in vintage 10-meter target rifles. As you can see in the picture, it’s just a simple breakbarrel that happens to have a target sight. In its day, which was around 1968, Weihrauch was making the finest breakbarrel rifles they ever produced, so there’s a lot to this rifle that you won’t see in an airgun made today.
The HW55 SF was an unexpected find. It was supposed to be a work-a-day test-bed rifle. Instead, it rekindled old interests.
Also, because this is a model 55 in the eyes of the manufacturer, they installed the special target version of the Rekord trigger. While the standard Rekord trigger is something to behold, the target version has a much lighter trigger return spring and can be set to release safely at just ounces of breaking pressure. So there’s not much difference in feel or performance between this trigger and the one found on the FWB 300.
Nearly all HW55 rifles have this locking lever for the barrel on the left side of the gun. It’s the most easily recognized feature of this model.
Only the rare HW55 SF is without a barrel-locking lever. The baseblock is marked “HW55.”
So, the old 55 likes inexpensive RWS Hobby pellets, too. What a plus! Sometimes, that’s exactly how it goes. I also shot RWS R10 Heavy pellets, but they weren’t as accurate as the H&N Finale Match Rifle pellets. The rifle is a bit buzzy when it fires, which I don’t like. But the accuracy is almost too good to do anything to the powerplant except use it as it is.
The two weaknesses an old HW55 can have are a bent mainspring and worn seals. The early seals were leather and can be handmade by the owner, but later guns used the synthetic HW50 seals that seem to last a long time. If the breech seal is synthetic, there’s a good chance the piston seal will be, too.
Walther LGV Olympia
The next rifle I tested was the Walther LGV Olympia. This old classic was one I bought from collector Tom Strayhorn, at what I thought was a super price. Tom sold it so low because of some finish loss on the forearm, but color me purple if that matters one iota! I’m a shooter. While I like a good-looking air rifle, if it shoots well it can look like a dog. Besides, I don’t think this one looks that bad! Finally, there’s a real advantage to my low standards!
Isn’t the Walther LGV Olympia a gorgeous air rifle?
The LGV has a beautiful firing behavior. It’s smooth and free from vibration. I like the way the heavy rifle cocks, as well. It’s so smooth that it’s like watching a bank vault door operate. The trigger is the equal of the HW55 target trigger.
The Walther LGV series guns have two flaws. First, they tend to crack their stocks at the pistol grip where the wood grain is aligned wrong for strength. Second, all of them were made with seals that crumble in time, but the replacement seals of today seem to last forever. So, check on the grip and seals before buying. Most airgunsmiths can work on an LGV because it isn’t too intricate.
HW55 Custom Match
This is a rifle that deserves a complete three-part report of its own. Although I’ve owned it for several months, I haven’t shot it that much. I know I got some good groups from it in the past, but to tell the truth, it was the ugly stepsister in this test. The firing behavior is harsh and jarring — not at all what I expect from an HW55. It feels like the rifle was tuned by someone who only wanted power. I think I need to open it up and calm it down.
The HW55 CM represents the finest technological advance of the entire series of rifles.
I have so much to say about the HW55 CM because it represents Weihrauch’s high-water mark with the 55-series rifles. Even rarer than the Tyroleans that everyone covets, the CM was around for only a very few years at the end of the half-century-long production run of the HW55. It was the finest “buggy whip” they ever made, though my rifle needed some fixin’ to get to that point.
An embarrassing target! These H&N Finale Match Rifle pellets should have grouped in less than half this space. I really need to tune this rifle to reduce the harsh firing cycle. I also shot the gun with the R10 pellets but won’t show it because it’s even worse than this one.
Compared to the other rifles, the 55 CM feels thin and spindly. It has the thinnest barrel of all; in this crowd of heavyweights, it’s a definite pipsqueak. The lower-grade 55 SF feels so much more substantial. Of course, that’s not how it’s supposed to be, and I think the harsh firing behavior is causing me to project bad feelings on the rifle. I really need to calm it down. When I do a separate report, I’ll tune the rifle and hopefully get it shooting like it should. If I can’t, this one will have to hit the road.
The 55 CM has the same flaws as the other 55 rifles. Mine has a leather breech seal, so I assume the piston seal is also leather.
The last vintage rifle is the one all the others are always compared to — the venerable FWB 300S sidelever target rifle. It features a sledge anti-recoil system in which the powerplant slides a fraction of an inch on steel rails in the stock when the gun fires. The shooter senses only the slight rearward movement of the rear sight, but absolutely no recoil.
Feinwerkbau’s 300S is the standard against which all vintage target rifles are compared.
This is another rifle that will get a separate three-part report sometime in the future. I got it from Mac at the Roanoke airgun show last fall. Bought it for cash right off the table after looking at it for one whole day.
This rifle shoots good groups in spite of the person on the trigger. You almost can’t make it do otherwise. Together with the LGV Olympia, it’s the easiest 10-meter spring rifle to cock. I can’t wait to see what the FWB 150 feels like because this one has prepared me for a winner!
The FWB 300S is real prone to break at the wrist. And the seals will wear out. In this case, the No. 1 repair station in the U.S. is Randy Bimrose. I wouldn’t use anyone else.
The bottom line
I had a wonderful time shooting these four veteran target rifles. Each has its own personality and feel, but they all were at one time the best air rifles in the world.
It’s very relaxing shooting these old guns, because I don’t have to work hard to get good results. The lower velocity comes with reduced recoil and lower noise that makes the whole experience one worth repeating many times.
If I were to pick winners at this point, the FWB 300S would be the overall leader, followed by the LGV Olympia as the best breakbarrel.