Air Venturi Seneca Aspen Part 1

Air Venturi Seneca Aspen Part 1

The PCP air rifle that goes it alone

By Dennis Adler

The Air Venturi Seneca Aspen is a pretty large air rifle weighing 8 pounds but capable of 10 shots (in .177 and .22 caliber) at velocities over 900 fps. This self-contained precharged pneumatic is the first of its kind, at least in this century…

Dedicated air rifle hunters and competitive shooters know that PCP stands for Precharged Pneumatic. And that means superior velocity and accuracy for hunting small game or precision target shooting. A PCP is capable of much more than 12 gram CO2-powered air rifles or even those with larger 88 gram CO2 cylinders. A PCP also allows sustained firepower while traditional single shot break barrel spring piston, gas piston, or pump guns only allow one shot. This is a topic I have not spent any time writing about in Airgun Experience because this column is more focused on handguns than rifles, and always on guns that are self contained. Simply, precharged means you must have a source to put air (not CO2) in the rifle or pistol’s reservoir. This is traditionally done with either a compressor or a scuba tank. It can also be done, quite laboriously, with specially designed hand pumps, which is the only way to make a precharged pneumatic air rifle portable enough for use in the field away from any lightweight means of recharging the air supply. The hand pump is actually a very old solution because precharged pneumatic air rifles were developed in the late 18th century!

The Girardoni (also Girandoni) was developed in the late 1780s by Austrian gunmaker Bartolomeo Girardoni and used a removable conical butt-reservoir filled by a separate hand pump. The tubular magazine on the right side held 20 lead balls in .462 caliber (11.79mm). According to airgun historian and manufacturer, Robert D. Beeman, the company produced approximately 1,500 air rifles in Penzing, Austria between 1787 and 1799. They also built multiple shot air pistols. (photo from Blue Book of Airguns Twelfth Edition)

Forging the trail West

During their 1803 to 1806 Corps of Discovery Expedition from St. Louis to the Pacific Coast, Lewis & Clark carried a version of the Austrian Girandoni air rifle, which was manufactured for Meriwether Lewis in the Philadelphia shop of gunsmiths Seneca and Isiah Lukens. The Austrian-built, rifled barrel, .46 caliber Girandoni, upon which the Lukens design was based (and it may have been a Girandoni), were actually carried by the Austrian Army from 1780 until the early 1800s, instead of conventional flintlock muskets. The Girandoni were powerful, effective at long range, easy to fire and capable of multiple shots. Except for the air reservoir inside the shoulder stock and a distinctly different sound when fired and absence of smoke and muzzle flash, they looked very much like a flintlock musket. The hard part was filling the Girandoni’s air reservoir which required some 1,500 strokes with a hand pump to fill it to around 800 psi. This provided the Girandoni with enough of the ethereal puissance to discharge a total of 22 rounds; 21 of which were contained within a tubular, gravity fed magazine, plus one chambered round. The advantages of this gun compared to a musket quickly reveal themselves. And a Girandoni could send its round lead ball downrange at velocities of 750 to 950 fps, still an impressive velocity for a large caliber air rifle over 200 years later. They were, unfortunately, very expensive to manufacture. Other similar air rifles were manufactured in Germany in the early 1800s, Mortimer in London, built a repeating air rifle around 1815 and Stormer in Herzberg, Germany, produced a Girandoni-design air rifle between 1820 and 1830.

The Air Venturi Seneca Aspen is an impressive looking air rifle with a deep frame, shrouded barrel, PCP air chamber and the charging handle. At 8 pounds (8 pounds, 12.5 ounces with the scope) it is pretty hefty. It does have swivels to mount a sling. The bolt handle is large and easy to operate, making follow-up shots as easy as any bolt-action rifle (when using the 10-round magazine).

Throughout most of the 20th century, less complicated single shot pump air rifles, spring piston and gas piston break barrels were preferable, and much easier to manufacture than the ancient Austrian and German guns. Modern air rifles, however, had to suffice with much smaller calibers, .177 or .22 for the most part. Then history began to repeat itself with modern precharged pneumatics in the late 20th century. Again very expensive compared to more conventional air rifles, the precharged pneumatics became the choice of air rifle hunters, target shooters, and Olympic air rifle and air pistol competitors. And unlike the Girandoni, all that is required to fill the air reservoir of a PCP rifle (or pistol) is a compressor (or small scuba tank designed for precharged pneumatics). Of course, if you scroll through the PCP rifles sold by Pyramyd Air you will also see that special hand pumps are made today as well, making some precharged pneumatics suitable for hunting in the field. This is another area I generally do not write about. But the Air Venturi Seneca Aspen gave me a reason to reconsider. While it can be filled with a compressor, it doesn’t need one. And it doesn’t need a hand pump, either. In fact, it doesn’t need anything to refill the air reservoir, other than the person using it. The Aspen has its own built-in pump.

Main operating features are all closely arranged, the bolt handle is large and easy to operate and the SAFE and FIRE switch has a large copper selector that is easily operated by the thumb or trigger finger. Also note the charging handle lock, which is flush with the frame in this image, indicating that it is unlocked.

Simplified PCP  

This is not the same as pumping air into a pneumatic pump gun, which generally uses one pump (some are multi-pump) to achieve sufficient air pressure for a single shot, this is pumping enough air into the reservoir for multiple shots like the ancient Girandoni. The Aspen also has the advantage of either firing a single shot, using a removable pellet tray, which perfectly aligns the pellet at the breech as the bolt closes, or a 10-round rotary magazine that fits into the same slot and is rotated by each cycle of the bolt action. This design is similar to the Diana Chaser 4.5mm (.177) or 5.5mm (.22 caliber) CO2 Pistol/Rifle sets I wrote about in Airgun Experience last August, and that is what drew me to reviewing the Aspen. For someone who looks at air rifles from the perspective of simplicity of use, i.e., insert CO2, load and shoot, or even more simplistically, ready the gun for a single shot with a side lever, under lever or break barrel action, the Aspen offers a perfect compromise between traditional air rifles and precharged pneumatics.

In the field it is easy enough to pump the handle in this fashion for eight to ten strokes or so to bring pressure back up after firing a few rounds. For a lengthy fill I recommend sitting down and laying the gun bottom up in your lap and working the handle. At one point I had to do 90 pumps to get the gun up to 2800 psi.

Multiple shots   

The 10-shot (.177 and .22 caliber) magazine design for the Aspen resembles the Benjamin Marauder rifle magazines, as well as the Umarex Gauntlet, and Kral magazines, but with these PCP models you have to fill the air reservoir with a compressor (or a hand pump). The big advantage to the Aspen is that this precharged pneumatic can go into the woods with you and requires nothing else in tow to keep shooting, but pellets.

How it works

The Aspen can be filled with a compressor like any other PCP and there is a large pressure gauge that reads in both psi and bar on the right side of the receiver. There is a connector under the receiver that allows attaching a compressor to fill the 3600 psi air reservoir. But the Aspen also has a large lever under the receiver that looks like a modernized lever action rifle, only this lever is not used for chambering a round, but rather manually charging the air reservoir. This is the only PCP air rifle with this unusual feature. The lever is securely locked in place by a large crossbolt safety. When locked, the lever provides an easy means for carrying the Aspen, which is no lightweight, and the extra width of the lever also provide a flat rest for the support hand when shooting.

The pressure gauge is well placed for easy viewing. It is almost upside down from the side…

…but from the shooter’s point of view, tilting the rifle inward has you looking down, the gauge is oriented correctly. When shooting multiple rounds you need to check the air pressure. Here, after multiple shots pressure has dropped from 2800 psi to 2000 psi.

Airing up

Maximum recommended psi for the Aspen is 3600 (actually 3626 psi but the pressure gauge redlines at 3600). What you will ultimately discover is that there is very little reason to pump it up to 3600 psi. At somewhere between 2500 and 3000 psi you will find the combination that will deliver the best consistent performance with most .22 caliber pellets. It took me 90 strokes to get the pressure up to 2800 psi. I know, that’s a lot of pumps in a row, but the Aspen’s pump handle is not that hard to work; it takes a bit of effort but a slow, steady motion to open and close each time is more tedious than laborious. Once you have psi up to where you want to start, and begin shooting, you can watch the gauge, which is oriented to be easily read by leaning the rifle inward. (Looking at it from the side the gauge is almost upside down, but it makes sense when the rifle is in your hands). After firing a few rounds, you can stop and pump it back up to the desired pressure with only four or five strokes. As for running it out, that’s not necessary for short term use, and for long term storage the gun has a depressurizing screw and a separate wrench to loosen the screw and allow remaining pressurized air in the reservoir to escape. (Make sure there is no pellet chambered as depressurizing could send it downrange). Afterward, tighten the screw and the gauge should read zero.

The Aspen offers two ways to load rounds, using the single shot pellet tray inserted behind the barrel (as shown), or lifting it and out and replacing it with the 10-shot rotary magazine (sitting next to gun). The rotary magazine is very similar to the design used for the Diana Chaser CO2 pistol/rifle combination and Diana Stormrider PCP rifle.

For all intents, the Aspen looks and feels like a tactical rifle in the hands, and tactical is not a bad description, either. It is a fairly large gun with an overall length of 43.3 inches, and a carry weight of 8 pounds. The stock has front and rear sling swivels; the contours of the rifle are trim and shaped for a solid grip and cheek weld. The gun has a very deep stock and a large, 3-inch circumference barrel shroud. The top of the handsomely machined, black anodized receiver is drilled and tapped and the integral 11mm rail will accept a variety of scope rings for optics. The Aspen has no sights but you don’t need to decide on a scope right away as it comes with its own 4x32AO rifle scope and rings. And the MSRP for all this is an impressive $399, about $100 less than a Benjamin Marauder model and equal to the Umarex Gauntlet (with scope), but neither of those have the capability to recharge their own air supply; that puts the Aspen in a class of its own and the number one reason to take this gun on a hunting trip. It is also almost silent, except for a brief, sharp metallic ping. Compared to a .22 Long Rifle with a noise suppressor the Aspen is still quieter, yet it can send a lightweight .22 caliber pellet downrange at over 900 fps.

The gun can be carried with a loaded chamber and the safety set. It takes one quick move of the either the thumb or trigger finger to press the safety forward to FIRE.

In Part 2 we start working up psi and pellet combinations.

7 thoughts on “Air Venturi Seneca Aspen Part 1

  1. Now that Pyramyd seems to offer FX models I think we should also mention here the Indy Bullpup and the Independence. The Bullpup in .30 cal was on wish list for years but high price and comments on the pump reliability kept me from buying it. In any case when it comes to evaluate such a big and heavy self reliant hunting airgun, see also Hatsan Carnivore, I find it very difficult to disregard a light pcp and a hand pump attached on the backpack. After all how many shots do you all take, before having time to refill, on a hunting session? I have to admit though that the price of the Aspen makes it an almost unbeatable solution.

    • True Bill and I think I hinted at that when I said you’re not going to run it up and down like I did, but for the initial establishing of psi and pellet combinations, at least once or twice. On a day’s hunt you probably wouldn’t pump very much and it will hold pressure all day or even overnight.. As for what the Aspen offers for the price, it is hard to beat.

  2. Color me surprised to see you with this rifle. Never was a fan of pcp due to the need for a compressor, this seems like a game changer. Will be interesting to see how many full power shots before repumping is needed. I would have put a 2×7 scope on it with the power it has. Next up should be adapting a smaller platform to an airbow version

    • I was taken by the allure of being self-contained even though a precharged pneumatic. It is a very interesting air rifle. I can see the practicality of the design for occasional small game use where a good single shot break barrel would do but you would rather have a multi-shot gun. With higher quality optics and in .22 caliber (or .25), this would be a great field rifle that is practically silent and needs nothing other than a good supply of pellets.

  3. On the Aspen, what is your estimate for the number of pounds of effort to pump it? I would expect that the pumping effort becomes increasingly more difficult as the pressure increases. Does it?

    On another topic, the Beretta M9A3 pistol arrived today. For those of you fearing it is packaged in a plastic clamshell, rest easy. It’s not a plastic clamshell. The M9A3 is packaged in an attractive, sturdy cardboard box as shown below.

  4. You’re going to like the Beretta. I didn’t mention the packaging in the article but I had expected it to be a nice box like the 92A1. Too bad every blowback action air pistol can’t come in a nice box.

    As for the Aspen, I had no way to measure the effort but I was able to pump it in the field for four or five pumps when raising air pressure back after firing a few shots with not too much effort while standing (as shown in the photo in Saturday’s Part 2) but if I had to estimate, around 30 pounds of effort. For a long series of pumps, I laid it down in my lap. I think the resistance as it fills increase slightly but it is pretty even for the most part. Up around 2800 psi, if I recall, the last six inches of the closing stroke got a little harder but not much, and you get tired toward the end especially after you have pumped it 90 plus times. In the field, going out with a pumped up gun, you would never have to do that on a day’s hunt. Target shooting, obviously you’d have to pump it up more often. I think I did 90 pumps about 5 times in two days. You definitely feel it the next day!

  5. For people who like a self contained rifle, this gives a pretty complete package, a pretty powerful bug out rifle that could be a useful protection piece st close range. Not forbig game, but could take pests and even a coyote with a well placed shot. Once pumped to operate at 2500 plus psi, I would expect even after 10 shots would be inthe800 plus fps with with a 12-14 gr pellet.With a few pumps could be back to full power.Don’t fixate on pellet weight a pointed pellet will penetrate enough to get the job done. The thing that drives me nuts is why they don’t offer better scopes on a rifle like this. It deserves a better adjustable scope . Leaving off the scope or charging a little more and offering a UTG variable power scope would be the way to go on a rifle this versatile. Should be an interesting range session

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