Being that we have dubbed 2016 “The Year of the PCP” we thought that it would be best to throw a few of our favorite PCP rifles into the ring and let them duke it out to see who comes out on top. We constantly get questions about what makes one gun more favorable than another and what our choice would be when picking out a PCP. Really there is no simple answer to that question, it all depends on what your end goal is and how you’re going to use your gun.
With that in mind, for today’s match up we are going to be looking at two of our favorite .25 caliber, middle of the market hunting PCPs that are priced right around $700. Both are guns that our test shooters have quite a bit of experience with and we think that will make for a great match up. Without further ado, lets meet the contenders in this .25 Caliber Heavyweight PCP Division title fight:
In the blue corner, hailing for the great state of Texas, weighing in at a svelte 5.9 lbs we have the AirForce Condor SS. With extruded aluminum frames made in the USA and high quality Lothar Walther barrels, AirForce Airguns have ruled the roost when it comes to serious hunting air rifles for some time and it’s clear why they claim the belt in this division. Innovations such as the adjustable power wheel, Spin-Loc tank design and fully shrouded and baffled 18” in barrel make the Condor SS a gun that is tough to top. With so many features tailored to hunters it’s easy to see why it was one of our top picks when the idea for a head to head of the top hunting rifles came about.
In the red corner, from the far off land of Turkey comes one of the most ruggedly built PCPs on the market. Weighing in at a stout 9.7 lbs we have the Hatsan BT65 QE. The BT65 has created a name for itself being one of the best hunting rifles for those who are on a bit of a budget. But just because you pay less doesn’t mean you get less with the BT65. The Hatsan still includes many high end features like a German steel barrel, an adjustable 2 stage trigger, multi shot rotary magazines and Hatsans effective Quiet Energy (or QE for short ) sound suppression system that keeps the .25 caliber rifle quiet. The stout action of the BT65 is the same as that used on Hatsan’s big bore Carnivore so you know it is built like a tank and ready for whatever you can dish out. Let’s get these two in the ring and see who comes out on top, it’s going to be one heck of a fight!
Round One: Out Of The Box Versatility
As stated before the AirForce Condor SS features an all aluminum chassis that is fully anodized to protect the metal against the elements. Being that these guns are made up almost entirely of aircraft grade aluminum the weight savings and strength of the AirForce guns is almost unmatched. When the Condor arrives new you will notice right off the bat the tank will need to be attached. Not a problem, AirForce includes all necessary tools and with the spin loc tank system it makes installing your tank a breeze. The tank can also be easily removed for filling, however we recommend using the Foster style quick detach fill port located on the top of the tank. Doing so means that the Condor SS is compatible with most hand pumps and fill stations right out of the box and you don’t have to worry about removing the tank for fills. The Spin-loc tank also features an on-board air gauge so you know just when it is perfectly topped off.
The Condor feels very Natural in the hand with the only exception being that the cheek weld on the tank can take a bit of getting used to. This can be alleviated by making sure that you choose the right scope mount or rings to make sure your eye lines up just right with the mounted optic. The Condor features an 11mm dovetail optics mounting rail as well as 11mm accessory rails running along both the top and bottom of the barrel shroud. This can be somewhat awkward as most accessories (such as bipods, lights, IR illuminators, etc) attach via picatinny rail but AirForce has remedied this by making picatinny rail adapters available, still it is a little bit of a strike against the Condor SS that after purchasing the rifle you still have to purchase adapters in order to mount your picatinny accessories. There are also no integrated sling mounts on the Condor, though as light as it is carrying it through the woods really should not be an issue. The rubber pistol grip is comfortable in the hand and the M1 style safety in the trigger guard is easy to get a hang of. The safety is automatic and will engage on its own once the bolt is cocked. Really the only downside we see is that it’s a single shot gun. Overall our impressions of the Condor SS are that it is a great lightweight, all purpose hunting rifle that is everything you need and nothing that you don’t. The Condor SS is a simple gun, but there is beauty in its all business appearance.
When it comes to the BT65 PCP, Hatsan really has included all the bells and whistles. The polymer stock is fully adjustable for length of pull and comb height meaning that you can use just about any scope set up. The stock has built in sling swivels and a picatinny under rail so you can mount your bipod directly on the rifle. All these features make for a very comfortable shooting experience and you can really tell that Hatsan had the shooter in mind when they designed the stocks for the BT65. The BT65 also features a removable 255 cc removable air cylinder. Like the tank on the Condor, the cylinders on the BT65 feature on board fill gauges. Unlike the Condor however, the BT65 requires the use of an included air probe to air up your gun. While the air probe system is simple and efficient it can be a bit of a pain requiring you to have a separate fill probe just for your Hatsan (especially in the case that you own multiple guns from different manufactures). Another small shortfall for the BT65 is the actual quality of the materials used when compared to the Condor. The polymer stock on the BT65 has a somewhat uneven finish and is fairly rough. When you look closely at the stock you notice the seams stand out a bit, and a closer look will find a few signs of overmolding. Similarly the finish on the barrel shroud as well as the airtube are a bit rough and don’t perfectly match that of the receiver. We know we may sound a bit nit-picky here but when compared side by side to the AirForce it’s hard not to notice.
Winner: When it comes down to it this isn’t a beauty contest. Yes the Condor SS features a level of construction quality that outpaces that of the competition, but when it comes down to shear creature comforts and ease of use the Hatsan takes the cake. We recognize that it would not take much to accessorize your AirForce to easily match the versatility of the Hatsan but since this is an out of box test we are giving this one to the Hatsan. Plus the BT65 includes a 9 round multi-shot magazine. A huge plus in our books.
Round 2: Trigger Pull
The Condor SS trigger is good. Like really really good. The 2 stage trigger comes set from the factory at just about 3 lbs and pulls very consistent. With the included factory trigger shoe the pull actually feels even lighter. The first stage on the Condor trigger is very short and has a very definitive “wall” before breaking into the second stage, this makes staging the trigger for a perfect pull super easy. The second stage break is smooth with consistent resistance as it disengages the sear. After the break there is very little overtravel making follow through after the shot easy to maintain. AirForce uses CAD designing and computer controlled milling machines to make their trigger components, this means that the consistency of the trigger feel on all AirForce rifles is pretty much spot on, you know that you are going to get a good trigger right out of the box without having to make adjustments.
It’s known that in the past I have always given the Hatsan Quattro Trigger System high praises, and the same is true here. Our BT65 pulled right about 4 lbs out of the box considering that you can easily adjust that down you should have no problem customizing the trigger pull weight to your liking. The first stage is light but quite a bit longer than that of the Condor. The second stage engagement was just as good and staging the trigger was just as easy. The break for the second stage was good, but a bit on the spongy side and felt a bit gritty. Perhaps this could be remedied with some fairly minor gunsmithing but over all it was not enough to disqualify the Quattro Trigger as a very good trigger.
Winner: Though the margins on this one are slim, the Condor SS barely edges out the Hatsan to take the round. AirForces precision machining really paid off here.
Round 3: Sound Suppression
The Condor SS registered a low reading on our sound meter of just 60 dB, making it one of the quietest guns that we have ever tested. The Condor SS is spooky quiet making it great for hunting small game in areas where using firearms may cause a noise complaint. Because of the large baffle size of the Condor SS the tone is very low making it sound even quieter than it is. If you’re looking for a hunting air rifle that is so quiet that game won’t even know what hit them, the Condor SS is a good option. The Hatsans QE sound suppressor was no slouch either, with a low sound reading of just 64 dB it was only just barely edged out by the Condor for this round. It should also be noted that the BT65’s tone was much higher than that of the Condor and that may attribute to some of the higher dB readings. Nonetheless, the BT65 is perfectly capable of hunting in areas where keeping quiet is key.
Winner: Once again the Condor SS edges out the BT65 and takes the round, but with a baffle stack near the size of the state it was made in, who would be surprised by this one?
Round 4: Power
The Condor SS has the unique feature of being adjustable to best suit the ammo that you are shooting using a power wheel. For this series of tests we set the power wheel on its highest setting and fired a 9 shot string across our chronograph using 3 different pellets, 33.95 grain JSB Exact King Heavies, 28.40 grain H&N Baracuda Hunter Extremes, and 27.8 grain Benjamin Premier Domed pellets. We topped the gun off to 3000 psi before each string was fired. The Condor made some very impressive power numbers as shown in the graph below.
Winner: What we didn’t expect was for the Hatsan to put up numbers like it did. Not that Hatsan guns have ever put up low numbers but for the power that we were making with the BT65, we were very happy! Using the same process and the same pellets the BT65 just outranked the Condor which let’s the BT65 take this round. Of course that slight edge in power comes at a cost of extra weight and length…
Round 5: Accuracy
Accuracy is really what it all comes down to. If you can’t put rounds on target then what does it matter? Well luckily both the BT65 and the Condor SS are known for being tack drivers. For our testing we fired both guns on our indoor 35 yard range from a seated position using a rest for the best accuracy possible. We used the same 3 pellets from our chronograph tests to see how different pellets affected accuracy. Both guns were topped with a Hawke Sidewinder 4.5-14×42 scope mounted in an RWS one piece mount. We were very impressed by the groups both of these rifles printed.
Winner: This was a close one, both guns did a great job with all the pellets tested (especially the JSB’s), but the Condor really shined with near hole on hole accuracy and for that it wins this round. Realistically though, both these guns are more than capable of being effective hunting rifles.
Well, after a few close rounds it seems that the Condor SS comes out on top for this bout, and is still our .25 caliber hunter of choice… but only just barely. Both the AirForce Condor and the Hatsan BT65 are formidable hunting PCP’s, really what it comes down to is a matter of personal choice. In our opinion the Condor SS is a lightweight, well made, super accurate all purpose rifle. It goes anywhere, is light enough to pack around easily and is so simple in design and operation that pretty much anyone can get the hang of it right off the bat. The BT65 is a built to last and really focuses on the shooter and making sure that everything fits just right to make every shot count, couple that with hard hitting power and the nine round magazine for easy follow-up shots; you have a recipe for a serious small and medium game rifle.