From Father to Son - The BSA Ultra
Over the past ten years there have been many airguns available to us here in the UK, but for me, none has been more important than the first air rifle I was looking to purchase for my son who had just turned eight years of age. For many years he‘d expressed how much he wanted to come shooting with me. During this time, I’d told him when he was old enough and capable I’d allow him to accompany me to the air gun range. It was now that time.
Picking the Right Rifle
I thought long and hard about what the rifle should be as this decision would shape his future and more importantly shape the future relationship I was going to have with my son. My son wasn’t a strong boy, and being small for his age, wouldn’t be able to manage a spring powered air rifle, hence a springer was off the menu. Personally, I feel youngsters just don’t appreciate the old classes springer. Also, It's time to move on and naturally air rifles have evolved into Pre Charged Pneumatics. Although my son had always shown a keen interest in shooting whilst using Nerf Guns, water pistols and playing the odd game of banks and robbers, he hadn’t yet handled something that was capable of taking a life albeit one of feather or fur variety.
I looked to my own collection for something I could offer him as a loaner, as I wasn’t yet sure he’d take to the sport and spending a large amount of money on either a second hand or new rifle didn’t seem immediately feasible. Unfortunately, all I had was a number of large long-barrelled rifles, which were either too heavy or bulky for a child. My only carbine rifle came in the shape of a BSA S10, and this was just too heavy for a young boys arms. I’d told my son we’d be going shooting on the weekend providing he got home on Friday night, did his homework and completed his chores. Like a spring bunny, he was very excited hopping about and wouldn’t stop asking me about the range and what gun he’d be using, whenever he had the opportunity, and it was only Tuesday. I didn’t know what gun I was getting for him, but I knew it had to be special.
Beginning the Online Search
I began trawling the airgun forums for advice and frantically looking through the sales sections of gun websites when deep into a Google search I stumbled across a site very much in its infancy, it was Gunstar.co.uk. The format and search facility was easy to navigate but not having any idea what air rifle I was looking for I decided to go through the sales section page by page, hoping something would leap out at me. Around ten minutes into my search, I came across a second hand BSA Ultra with an MMC cocking mechanism. Hang on, I thought, this is new! I read through the advert which was clear and precise and then I browsed the attached photos, The seller wasn’t situated too far from me and the rifle appeared to be reasonably priced. I was able to use the search facility on the website to look for air guns of the manufacturer and model. After spending a further ten minutes carrying out some comparisons and bookmarking then the best three I shortlisted for possible purchase.
I opened a new tab on my web browser and decided to carry out some further research of the BSA Ultra MMC, The Google search results came back with many basic reviews and an informative video from Birmingham Small Arms themselves, titled BSA Ultra Single Shot. I watched the video and was intrigued by what I was seeing and hearing, an air rifle with a pellet probe that loads the pellet but doesn’t cock the rifle. A separate bolt that cocks the rifle that can easily be de-cocked without discharging the rifle. A bolt positioned so far forward it would be difficult for a child to engage, yet the BSA representative was making the whole thing look easy for say a supervising adult.
The BSA Ultra appeared to be the best rifle from a health and safety standpoint. My son would struggle to use this rifle unsupervised and that was exactly what I was looking for. The rifle was also available in my favourite calibre .177. The stock looked compact and manageable, there wasn’t a cumbersome and awkward break barrel action that I thought would put my son off shooting. This seemed the logical choice having already invested in some additional PCP charging equipment recently. The rifle appeared to be safe, looked pleasing and had a nice ergonomic look to it. It seemed to be practical and functional for both hunting and target shooting. The idea grew on me, all I had to do was make a call to the seller and see if I could do a deal. I rang my preferred seller using the details left on the Gunstar advert and I was able to arrange a viewing of the rifle for Friday night. It was only Wednesday afternoon so I still had time.
Contemplating the Purchase
Over the next few days, I continued my research and frequently visited the ad on Gunstar.co.uk just to ensure the gun was still available. I also used the time to conduct some more research on the rifle itself. The more I read and the more videos I saw, the more drawn to the idea of purchasing one I became. As my sons big day was quickly approaching I had yet to do a deal on this rifle.
With time running out I rang the seller of the rifle on Friday morning, to ensure the rifle hadn’t been sold and to confirm I would be driving up to see him after work. The seller lived 50 miles from our home, the rifle was reasonably priced offering a third of a saving from a new one, and was fitted with a decent BSA 3-9x40 scope. It also came with a padded BSA gun slip and half a tin of .177 Superdome pellets - happy days. During our earlier telephone conversation, the seller had assured me the Ultra was in good condition and in perfect working order. I informed him, the rifle would be the first one for my son and I wanted his first shooting experience to be perfect. The seller again reassured me I wouldn’t be disappointed with the Ultra as he himself had also purchased the rifle for one of his sons.
Throughout the day I was somewhat apprehensive about making the purchase, call it last minute jitters if you will, and this was because I’d read many bad reviews about the MMC BSA Hornet and this rifle appeared to be a scaled down version of just that. I also found the BSA Scorpion wasn’t all that dissimilar, but actually had some promising reviews. On the plus side, this was a rifle being manufactured by one of the best airgun manufacturers in the UK, BSA who make ‘Made In Birmingham UK’ mean something, and I’d already previously owned some BSA guns and had never been disappointed with their quality and function.
Making the Journey
I finished work early on the Friday afternoon and set out on my own before rush hour traffic up the M6 to Windermere, the Lake District to purchase the BSA Ultra. I thought the worst thing to happen to me now, would be me returning without the rifle but instead with a couple of handfuls of Kendal Mint Cake instead. For anyone who’s not had any Kendal Mint Cake, it's not all that, unless you like Kendal mint cake of course! I mean it isn’t exactly a cake, is it?
An hour and a half after leaving the office, I’d arrived at the sellers home and was presented with the BSA Ultra in the flesh. My first impression of the rifle having been shooting an HW100 full-length sporter for a long period of time was the noticeable size difference of the Ultra; it looked small, it felt small, it weighed small. I consciously questioned the rifles ability to shoot close to 12 ft/lbs. The rifle was made up of the same action block found on the basic early Scorpion and Hornet, with what appeared to be a similar setup action body and air tube. The barrel was very short and looked to be about 10 inches long. The Weihrauch silencer it was fitted with, I was already familiar with, and the BSA 3-9x40 scope appeared to be well made and fixed with sturdy scope mounts. I shouldered the rifle and contrary to its size the rifle fit me quite well; I was able to position myself to align with the scope easily. The textured grips on the rifle are deep and detailed both on the grip and the fore end. The butt pad is nicely chequered with vents, made from one piece rubber but yet flexible and soft in the shoulder, this isn’t adjustable. A couple of nice touches I noticed were the engraved trigger guard marked baldly BSA, and the piled arms logo on the bottle of the pistol grip and folded into the rear of the but pad. I recall thinking BSA had not skimped on quality here.
Giving the Ultra a Try
The seller asked if I’d like to shoot the rifle in his back garden and he told me it would be safe to do so. He had set up a target out to 15 yards from his back door, with a concrete panelled fence as a backstop. I made sure I wasn’t going to shoot in the direction of someone's house and ensured any shooting I was about to do was safe. The seller instructed me on how to load the rifle even though I had seen the process on a BSA instructional video having to do this myself would take some getting used to.
There’s a small lever to the rear of the action which is spring loaded, and when this is slid or pressed downwards, towards the stock the rear pellet probe snaps back and opens, revealing a groove set into the top of the action block for a pellet to be placed prior to loading. Upon placing the pellet into the groove the probe is then manually pushed forwards, this action pushes the pellet into the breach. The pellet is loaded directly into the rear of the barrel. Upon inspection of the barrel breach, I found a small rubber O-ring set into the breach of the barrel which is used to create a tight seal around the pellet probe. I’ve recently been looking at an exploded diagram of the rifle and have determined that, when the rifle is shot, air is pushed up into the breach via an air transfer port located under the barrel, the compressed air when released forces the pellet down the barrel. Simply put, the hammer strikes a pin that opens a valve allowing air to travel up from the air cylinder tube into the transfer port and then into the barrel, just behind a correctly seated pellet. The rifle isn’t regulated so the amount of air being released into the barrel is determined by the pressure exerted onto the release valve via the hammer spring, having consistent tension on the hammer spring determines the consistency and power of the rifle. The power will also fluctuate as the pressure changes in the air tube. This is all technical and boring I know, let's get back to some shooting.
The first shot drifted 1 inch to the right and 1 inch lower than where I was aiming at the target. I decided rather than change the zero point by manually adjusting the mil-dot reticle, I’d continue to shoot the rifle a number of times maintaining my aim point. The second and third shot landed on the target touching the hole I’d previously made, I remember being very pleased with myself, although when I look back it now it wasn’t all that of an achievement, having taken the shots whilst resting the rifle on a wheelie bin. I made sure the air rifle was safe by discharging it into the ground, and the seller accompanied me to the target for a closer inspection. I was happy to see three shots had created a cloverleaf pattern on the target. I took a dozen or more shots and in the process re-zeroed the scope reticle to my liking. I also checked the power of the rifle with my trusty pocket sized Combro Chronograph I’d taken with me. I was happy the rifle consistently put out a muzzle energy of 11.4 to 11.6 foot pounds muzzle energy and was legal below the 12-foot-pounds limit. I was unable to check the pressure of the rifle, the BSA Ultra MMC didn’t have a pressure gauge. Over many years of shooting this rifle, I can confirm the rifle will return 35 good consistent shots from a fill of 232 BAR. I must admit when first handling the rifle I did question its ability to shoot as well as or as close to the top end air rifles on the market today - but boy was I amazed by this little pocket rocket.
We returned into the seller's house and between us spent nearly 30 minutes exchanging shooting related pleasantries before I realised it was close to 7 pm and I still had a 1 hour and 30-minute drive ahead of me. The rifle was as it had been described by the seller both on Gunstar and as per our previous telephone conversations, as the seller had said, in near mint condition and in perfect working order. So I handed over the money, packed up the rifle, grabbed the pellets and the filling probe and set off with a smile on my face. Just before I left the door the seller handed me the original stumpy silencer the rifle came with. The seller also explained that although the stumpy silencer (which is 100mm long) does very little to silence the rifle it does remove that deafening crack you get from the muzzle if you fire the rifle without any kind of silencer. I thanked him, wished him all my best and went on my way.
When I got back home, I had a bite to eat and took the rifle into the garage for a basic strip down and clean. The stock was easily removed by undoing a single alan hex screw underneath. The action lifted out revealing the linkages and springs that guide the Micro Movement Cocking mechanism. There were some noticeable scratches on the underside of the air tube and action as a result of the MMC bolt sliding back and forth during the cocking process; fortunately, these can’t be seen when the stock is attached. I’ve since discovered these scratches are a common sight on MMC rifles and unavoidable unless the air tube and underside of the action is covered to protect it in some way. I’ve seen and read other owners of some BSA MMC rifles cover the air cylinders in a stick-on carbon effect vinyl wrap, effective but not to everyone's taste.
I oiled up the rifle using Ballistol Oil and put the stock and action back together. I noted the nice deep chemical bluing on the barrel and air tube. The action appeared to be powder coated as did the BSA stumpy silencer, overall the metal work was finished and polished well and I felt I’d purchased a quality rifle.
Before reattaching the nicely figured beach stock I noticed the cocking linkages can be adjusted to reduce the travel of the cocking bolt. I played with the linkages testing the cocking strengths when extended and when reduced. I found by reducing the cocking length more finger pressure was required to cock the rifle, and I was conscious my son would struggle to do this unaided as and when he would grow into the rifle so I opted to leave it in a long push configuration.
A few years after purchasing the rifle, I read about an anti-bounce bar and blast tamer that could be fitted to the very early BSA Ultra MMC rifles, this anti-bounce bar was designed to help save air and also make the rifle more consistent in power, by reducing the hammer bounce and reducing the amount of air which would escape from the exhaust valve when the hammer would repeatedly bounce over it; unfortunately this rifle didn’t have one and I never got round to sourcing or fitting one.
The Day of the Shoot
I got up early Saturday morning as did my son, we had breakfast together and we set off for the range. I’d loaded the shooting gear, whilst he was still finishing his breakfast and putting on his coat and shoes. He met me in the car and didn’t say much. I thought he must be nervous, apprehensive and excited all at the same time, not knowing what to expect. I also thought the whole situation was quite surreal for him, he knew I hadn’t been accompanied by anyone on my shooting trips since he was born because his mother stopped shooting soon after she became pregnant with him. My only goal on the day was to make his first experience as memorable as possible.
We turned up to the indoor range, registered and made ourselves comfortable on the shooting bench. I talked my son through some important range safety points and some additional general airgun safety and unwritten rules before I took out the BSA Ultra he would be using. I particularly explained how .177 was better than .22 - and .25 well that's another story. I talked him through how the air rifle worked and told him what to expect when the rifle is shot. I spoke to him about shooting safely and told him I wouldn’t leave him alone with the rifle. He wasn’t quite big enough to shoulder the rifle comfortably but managed to push his head forward enough to gain the correct eye relief to shoot. If I’d brought a set of hex keys with me I would’ve repositioned the scope but luckily he managed all the same.
I spent the next hour loading and cocking the air rifle for him - time and time again he’d hit the spinner out at 15 yards. As the morning went on I suggested he try pushing out to 20 yards then to 25 yards and then to 30 yards, before he started missing. I took the rifle from him for a short period to consistently shoot spinners at 45 yards, before handing the rifle back to him. The rifles capability wasn’t the reason he missed, he hadn’t been taught the fundamentals of range finding and as the scope was zeroed to 15 yards and not 30, naturally he was going to miss. I explained he was doing well and it wasn’t his fault he wasn’t hitting much at 30 yards or beyond, I told him there was more to shooting than just putting the crosshairs over a target and pulling the trigger and if he’d shoot regularly I’d teach him all I know.
Whilst at the range we filled the rifle 4 times and he must have shot at least 150 pellets through it. My fingers and thumbs had begun to hurt due to the repetitive cocking action of the rifle. I was beginning to feel a slight sharp pain in my thumb particularly in the area I was using to push down the probe release. My index and middle finger also began to hurt as they were constantly being used to cock the rifle, actually, it was more of an irritation than a pain. We took a short break from the shooting and went into the clubhouse for some tea and snacks. I asked if he was enjoying himself and he told me it was fun shooting with a sniper. I smiled back at him, holding back my own emotions trying not to well up as I realised I’d succeeded in bringing my son into the fold. I knew from that moment on my son would be my best buddy and more importantly my shooting buddy. All I had to do now was tell him I love him - but I wasn’t going to do that at the range!
The Ultra’s Lasting Legacy
It’s been 7 years since our first trip to the range and during this time my son has been the proud owner of many different variants of the BSA Ultra, yet he’s always kept his first air rifle; the BSA Ultra MMC neatly tucked away in the back of our gun safe. He regularly shoots between a standard BSA Ultra SE Multishot (fitted with a Weihrauch Silencer and BSA single shot adaptor) or his standard BSA R10, his chosen calibre has always been .177. He maintains the BSA Ultra is a great rifle, not just for beginners but for anyone at any stage of shooting. He regularly takes one of his Ultra variants out on shoots with him and has proven time and time again that BSA produced one of their best products in this little affordable PCP.
Unfortunately, his opinion of his father has changed though, apparently, my shooting is terrible compared to his...
BSA Ultra - The Verdict
BSA Ultra Specification:
Weight: 2.54kg (5.6lbs) scopeless.
Length: 34 inches (890mm) with standard supplied stumpy moderator.
Calibre: .177, .22. (newer variants can be obtained in .25 and FAC).
Actions: Pneumatic Micro Movement Cocking.
Power: Sub 12 Ft/lbs (can be bought in a FAC version).
The BSA Ultra was designed by the legendary John Bowkett.
The rifle has a spring assisted loading pellet probe.
Fitted with BSA notorious hammer forged match grade barrel.
The stock is available in beach or walnut and comes nicely chequered.
The rifle is designed to be a lightweight alternative to modern stalking rifles and is easily manoeuvred in cramped areas.
The rifle is very point-able and has been used effectively from an open car/shooting wagon, window or hide.
Perfect for small vermin such as rats, pigeons and rabbits.
The rifle was available in a FAC version in the UK.
It has a manual safety catch and the rifle can be loaded without cocking.
The cocking mechanism can be engaged whilst aiming the rifle.
The rifle is available in both .177 and .22.
The rifle is available in both single and multi-shot.
Well defined cheek rest.
Particularly suited to smaller shooters.
The Micro-Movement Cocking system takes some getting used to and can be difficult to operate by users with arthritis or weak fingers.
The rifle has an unregulated power supply via an attached air cylinder, pellet speed will vary according to fill pressure.
The rifle returns 40 shots in .22 and 35 shots in .177 with a full fill.
There is no pressure indicator, the user must count the shots or wait until the rifle point of impact drops to determine filling frequency.
The standard moderator is not effective as a silencer, however, can and will reduce the late crack of the muzzle.
Cheek rest not adjustable.
Butt pad not adjustable.
The pellet probe mechanism position means the rifle must be removed from a shouldered shooting position to load a follow-up shot.
I hope to someday follow up this article with a comparison of the old BSA Ultra MMC to the new BSA Ultra SE and if time permits and the media becomes available I’ll ask my son to partake in a video review. But I’ll leave this in the hands of the readers, let me know what you think in the comments section below.