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Product Review: Air Arms S400 Range

 

In the wood - banner

In the Wood

I arrived on my permission at around 8:00 am after parking my car some 100 yards from the gate. The outside temperature gauge on the dashboard registered at three degrees Celsius. I reluctantly stepped out of the warm car, making my way to the boot to retrieve my rifle and tuna sandwiches.   

Walking up to the gate of the permission, past the wood, I could feel the chill in the air as the cold breeze kissed my face. I was glad I had ditched the usual camouflage apparel for something warmer, two T-shirts, and a fleece and raincoat combination for my torso, with jogging bottoms I had worn under heavy-duty black work trousers on my legs. I had put on a pair of winter socks and worn a pair of hiking boots I wouldn’t normally wear, coupled with some warm waterproof fishing gloves and a woollen hat to keep my head warm. I was dressed head to toe in black. I would be hard to make out in the low-lit woods where I planned to set up camp for the best part of the day. I wasn’t concerned about what I looked like, it was more important to be comfortable.

As I entered the wood, I began gathering some dry branches that lay on the ground; I knew as the day wore on, I’d be thinking about lighting a fire to keep warm, and I always collected firewood at the beginning of the day when I had the will and strength to do so. I wasn’t afraid of scaring any potential prey away, I had done this routine a hundred times before and as long as I remained quiet and stealthy, I wouldn’t disturb the fur-covered creatures I’d come to hunt.

I stacked up the lumber and began searching for some tinder, dry dead grass and tall dead nettles are great, with a handful of dry pine leaves that I usually find in abundance under the pine trees. I picked up a few pine cones which are rarer this time of year, the grey squirrels usually finish them off, but I welcomed the sight of them; they burn well and are great to get a fire started.

I was making my way back to my resting area, when I heard a disturbance in the branches above me, upon raising my head I saw a white silhouette and the flutter of wings and realised I had disturbed a barn owl that had probably been watching me for a while now. She took off then circled as I watched her find solace in a tree roughly 70 yards from me. I was certain she’d be keeping a close eye on me for the remainder of the day.

I stacked everything I’d gathered in neat piles, then removed my rifle bag from my shoulder. It was cumbersome but I dare not leave my rifle unattended when I'm out -  who knows who or what may be lurking in the wood.

Like any good workman inspecting his tools before use, I checked the rifle for air pressure and ensured the scope was attached correctly, making sure nothing had come loose or had become damaged during transportation.    

It was time to settle in, so I looked around my usual seating spot clearing obstructions and ensuring there weren’t any animal faeces I’d be in danger of stepping in or sitting on. I made sure the ground was dry and comfortable before taking a seat. Occasionally I’d use my gun bag to sit on and I usually perch my back up against the English Willow tree.

It was very quiet in the wood, I had most likely frightened the songbirds away with my earlier firewood collecting activity. I sat there enjoying the silence taking in the peaceful tranquillity, away from the hustle and bustle of modern-day life.  

I began to contemplate on why I did it, why it was so easy for me to tune out the world around me and why was I, along with like-minded people, drawn to the quiet places in the middle of nowhere, with hardly any other human contact for miles around. Was it because this is who I was meant to be? I began thinking of how thousands of years of evolution had led me back to a place in time most had forgotten, a place and time most unfortunate people would never experience. Our time as hunter-gatherers, after all, if you believe in this kind of thing, is what we’ve evolved from. Or maybe it was just being able to get away from it all, and for the moment it was only me and nothing else mattered, no work, no bills and no sitting in traffic.

 

the trigger

 

I put my head back and closed my eyes, continuing to tune out the week-long chore, forgetting the nine to five, and putting all thoughts of modern-day life to the back of my head. For that moment, I was at peace and loving every moment of it.

My ears began absorbing the sound of creaking branches above me, and the call of songbirds in the distance. I’d been sitting there for almost two hours and was starting to feel the cold. It was time to get up and begin the stalk. I loaded the rifle and took aim at a tin can I’d placed thirty-five yards from my seated position and took three shots at the can; the rifle was performing as it should be and the zero hadn’t shifted since the last time I’d used it.

Whilst stalking I quietly moved between the trees, doing my best to avoid the fallen branches below me, stopping every now and then and making a 360-degree rotational movement to get my bearings in the wood and also checking to see if there was any prey about, unfortunately, there wasn’t any.

I had been creeping around for almost an hour, I hadn’t spotted anything of any substance, except a few wood pigeons, and it had just gone 11:00am. So, I decided to go back to camp and get the fire started.  

At the camp, I pulled out my cigarette lighter, I don’t smoke but I do take the lighter with me. It’s usually in with my hunting equipment along with the flint knife as a backup. I can light a fire in the traditional manner and I encourage people to learn to do so, I believe any outdoorsman should equip themselves with this skill but it’s not necessary to be used all the time. I'm no Bear Grylls or Ray Mears, and I’d rather not use a flint or rub two sticks together if I can avoid it, I'm not that much of a survivalist.

I ensure my fire is always lit on a firm inflammable base, avoiding areas where there is an excessive leaf or branch fall, and particularly avoiding areas under pine trees. A pine tree sheds almost all year round and the brown needles form a thick blanket on the floor. This burns easily when lit and I have known cases when a fire has been lit under a pine tree that has spread over the ground quickly and this can be problematic, particularly in the summer months. I also removed some large flat rocks from one of the boundary walls of the property ensuring the wall doesn’t lose its integrity, that I used as a fire guard if I have to move away from it.

When I’m out, I always carry a small axe, a knife, some rope, a means to start a fire, some kindling just in case I can't find anything dry, a small bottle of rubbing alcohol or hand wash (for cleaning and for disinfecting wounds or cuts I might pick up), a bandage roll and some plasters, a torch, a pair of dry socks, a small bottle of drinking water and my sandwiches. I’m also fortunate to have a freshwater stream running through my permission where I’ve collected water in the past and boiled before consuming or washing with. Fortunately, there’s also a reservoir located on an elevated patch of ground about a mile from my campsite. This is all the equipment I need if I plan to be out for short periods and I hardly camp anywhere overnight. I always have my car nearby, which contains some additional camping equipment, plates, cups, sporks etc., a compact spade, a tent, a travel blanket, water, and long-life food, mostly snacks the kids munch on when they’re with me.

My family always know where I am and I’m fortunate that I get good phone reception on the permission. I always encourage people to share their location with friends or family when out alone in secluded areas, and I insist on informing a responsible adult of my expected return time, just in case something happens - not likely, but I’m a stickler for preparing for the worst.

 

the rabbit - banner

The Rabbit

With the fire going, I soon warmed up and found this also improved my mood and moral. As I sat there consuming my sandwiches, I noticed something hopping about in the grass. I slowly reached for the rifle, that was stood leaning on the tree I was sat against, whilst doing my best not to draw attention to myself. The rabbit was some 50 yards out and appeared to be a big one. The rabbits come into the wood to forage and for shelter from the adjoining farms. When I fancy a game meal, I make the effort to find one or two for the pot. A quick note to our readers, personally I only shoot the things I eat, and everything I shoot gets eaten.

With the rifle in my hand, I began loading and slowly cocking it, all the time thinking about the best position to take the rabbit in, whilst also ensuring there was a reasonable backstop, for the projectile if I missed or if it completely penetrated the rabbit. I got down into the prone position and sighted the rabbit into the scope's crosshairs. Laying there I could only partially make out its head as it had now made its way into the thick grass. I took aim, then whistled, and as the rabbit stood up, I exhaled and took the shot. The rabbit disappeared from view.

I reloaded the rifle considering the possibility of having to make a backup shot, then looking up and in the direction of the rabbit, I lay there patiently for 10 – 15 seconds waiting for the rabbit to re-appear, before getting up to see if I’d successfully dispatched it.

I made my way over to where I had last seen it, and there it was - a huge buck. The .177 projectile had travelled right the way through the animal's skull, killing the rabbit instantly and humanely.  

The rabbit was dispatched within the remits of the law, and the airgun general licence.  I picked the rabbit up, ensuring it hadn’t been affected by myxomatosis, then made my way back to camp and began the cleaning process. I carefully removed the insides, then skinned it removing the bits I didn’t want, preparing it for the pot to avoid having to do the dirty work at home. I put the prepared rabbit into a carrier bag, and popped it into my game bag, then cleaned myself up and finished my sandwiches. I spent the remainder of the daylight hours doing some target shooting, as I wasn’t going to do any more hunting. As the fire began to go out, I poured the remaining water I’d brought with me onto it, to completely extinguish it. Satisfied it was safe and wouldn’t restart in my absence, I gathered my belongings and headed for home.

That evening my partner cooked up the catch, roast rabbit with potatoes and boiled fresh vegetables and some Yorkshire puddings on the side. We thoroughly enjoyed the meal and talked about looking forward to the next rabbit.

 

the rifle - banner

The Rifle

Air Arms launched their S400 and the S400 series of rifles in the year 2000 and these models proceeded the much-loved S300, offering further improvements on an already successful design.

The S400 series of rifles was made available in the traditional sporter or hunter length, with the options of a shorter carbine or longer FAC variants. Additional models included a Tear Down Rifle, known as the TDR and target versions known as the S400 MPR Target rifle. All the variants bar the MPR were also available in a 10-shot magazine multi-shot option either in .22 or .177 calibre and with the option of a walnut or beech stock.

I purchased my second variation of this rifle in 2012 and since its launch in 2000, much of the rifle has remained the same. I opted for the S410 classic sporter, which is the 10 shot multi-shot version, to replace my current S400 carbine model.

The current S400 series of rifles are marked with the "F" suffix on the action block, which follows the S4XX model number. This new method of labelling came in around serial no 100000, and can be distinguished from earlier guns by the following features:

  • All six action block bolts are fitted from the bottom of the gun, as opposed to 4 from the top / 2 from the bottom on earlier anti-tamper guns, and 6 from the top before that. Pressed in caps are still used over two of the bolt heads from the underside to discourage disassembly, however, these are in different locations to those on the earlier gun.

  • The trigger block is black anodised aluminium, with a matching cover plate fixed by countersink screws. The block and plate extend down into the trigger guard, which has been modified accordingly.

  • The trigger assembly cover plate has raised bosses machined into it around the sear pivot pins, replacing the O-rings on earlier models as a means of limiting the side-float in the sears.

  • The sear spring adjuster screw is located in the trigger housing as opposed to the guard.

  • The trigger blade is sprung by a compression spring at its rear to prevent it from moving about when the gun is un-cocked.

  • The forward travel of the blade is limited by a grub screw at the front of the trigger housing, as opposed to the cross-pin in the trigger guard on earlier models.

  • The muzzle end trim is larger in diameter and longer, with swirly flutes along its length.

  • The filler cap also has swirly flutes.

  • The barrel support has a scallop cut around its perimeter.

  • The bolt handle has a series of flutes running along its length from its base.

  • The action block has a flute running along its length on both sides near its base.

  • The front of the action block has a tapered, scalloped boss/support where the barrel enters the block, as opposed to the flat face on older models.

  • The writing on the action block is filled or graduated white, as opposed to the unfilled white lettering on earlier models, or the uncoloured, recessed script on rifles before them.

  • The Superlite range was introduced at the same time as the switch to the "F" models. Also, the beech and walnut sporter stocks got a slimmed down fore-end at the same time of the switch too; although as with many production mods to these rifles there's bound to be some blurring of the lines due to the using up of existing parts. I have personally come across some in-between models. [*]

 

The S410 comprises of the traditional air rifle design, a barrel over air reservoir configuration, with both connected firmly into the action block. The action block also has an attached side magazine indexing mechanism; hence the magazines aren’t self-indexing or spring driven; we’ll get into this later.

The Minelli beech stock option has some lovely laser etched engraving on the fore-end and around the grip. There is also a rather tasteful rosewood cap with the Air Arms emblem laser etched into it fitted to the bottom of the pistol grip. The fore-end of the stock is long and has been slimmed down, however, is long enough to accommodate different locations for hand placement and still feels comfortable, but I do prefer the older S400 meatier stock. The cheek piece is large and high with a blade like rolled over the top, unfortunately, the stock isn’t ambidextrous, however, ambidextrous stocks are available as well as designated left-hand options.

 

Air arms s410 from behind

 

The rubber butt pad at the rear of the stock is vented, and although permanently fixed allowing the user no options for adjustment, its large size offers various hold positions and is comfortable when shouldering the rifle.

The rifle is fitted with a deep factory blued 19.5-inch long match grade Lothar Walther barrel and measures 43.8 inches in length when an optional slip-on Air Arms Q-Tec Silencer is fitted. The end of the barrel comes complete with a detachable muzzle break which when removed reveals the machined down end that is designed to receive the designated Air Arms slip-on silencer. The barrel isn’t free-floating and is fixed to the reservoir via a figure eight clamp. The barrel is 10mm in diameter and appears to be very thin and sensitive, my particular s410 is fitted with an aftermarket shroud and silencer to protect the barrel. When I’m out with the rifle, I cautiously move the rifle concisely trying to avoiding knocking the barrel into anything, and this is very distracting when out in some thick brambles or woods but the aftermarket shroud eliminates this.

The air reservoir underneath sits 2 inches short of the end of the barrel and has a fill valve on the business end of the rifle, this is revealed when screwing off the fluted end cap. The fill valve is also designed to house a unique designed particle filter to prevent debris from entering the rifle when filling from a dive bottle or hand pump. The blued finish on the air reservoir tube is contrastingly lighter in colour than the barrel, and has the fill pressure instruction laser etched onto it. Air Arms recommend a fill pressure no greater than 190 BAR. The rifle comes with a female fill plug, this slides over the top of the fill valve allowing the user to rotate the fill plug into position locking it into place before commencing to fill the rifle.

The rifle is unregulated and operates in the traditional fashion. The hammer striking the air release valve allows a small volume of pressurised air to travel up into the transfer port and then down the barrel. The power can fluctuate slightly as the pressure in the air reservoir changes. In order to test the rifles efficiency, I filled the rifle to 190 Bar and shot a string of 40 shots over the chronograph, using JSB Exact .177 (Weight: 0.547g / 8.44 grains, Head Size 4.52mm) pellets, the shot by shot results are recorded in the graph below. Note the slight power curve.

velocity data graph

The rifle is fitted with a two-stage adjustable trigger, which also incorporates a safety button, this slides from side to side when pressed making the trigger inoperable when the safety is engaged. I chose to leave the trigger as it’s set at the factory for my tests and it’s remained this way for the many years since I've had the rifle in my possession. The trigger offers a nice first stage travel and a clean second stage break.

The rifle is also fitted with a manometer (pressure Gauge) tucked away in the bottom of the stock slightly forward of the trigger mechanism. This is my personal preferred location for a monometer, checking the pressure means you don’t have to look down the barrel of the rifle as is now common with some air rifles.

The magazine is made up of black plastic external housing, and an amber transparent cover, with an aluminium, machined rotary internal drum wheel capable of holding 10 pellets in either .177 and .22 variants. The pellets are loaded individually through the single pellet hole and the internal drum is manually rotated whilst repeating the loading process.

The magazine doesn’t self-index and isn’t spring loaded, it relies instead on the combined operation of the cocking bolt and the magazine actuator lever and pin. When the bolt is drawn back the bolt pulls on the magazine actuator rod sitting on the side of the action (concealed within its housing) the actuator rod, in turn, pulls down on the actuator pin, which then pulls down on the magazine drum, rotating the drum to line up the next pellet. The pellet is then driven into the breach of the barrel when the bolt is pushed home. My S410 does require a sharp and heavy pull back on the bolt and then a soft push home, however, when pushing the bolt forward, I can feel the pellet being pushed into the breach. Although not a common feature on many rifles the loading and magazine indexing process works flawlessly.

The action block is made up of three black anodised pieces.

1. the bolt assembly and scope rail.

2. the mechanism and valving assembly housing underneath.

3. the trigger mechanism and assembly is then attached from underneath sandwiching all three components together.

 

the verdict banner

The Verdict

The S400 series of rifles were designed to offer a simple but effective entry-level Pre-Charged Pneumatic solution to hunting, at the same time offering vast improvements on its predecessor the S300 (which is no longer in production). The ongoing flexibility, reliability and accuracy of the rifle lends itself to all kinds of shooting disciplines.

When I originally purchased this rifle, I was thinking of taking up target shooting as my main pass time, and I was also able to pick up a single shot adaptor a prerequisite for many target shooting disciplines. In their hay day, the S400 series of rifles were regarded as some of the best competition winning equipment available, and still hold their own on many FT and HFT and bench-rest circuits, out shooting some of the top end designated field target and bench target rifles.

I have no doubt in my mind, that the S400 or its counterparts will, with the right pellet and the right shooter, continue to prove the rifles capability time and time again. The S400 series of rifles refer back to an era before fancy adjustable stocks, butt pads, cheek pieces or palm rests. This classic will continue to hold its own and stand the test of time.

The Pros

  • Many variations available, classic sporter, carbine, TDR, FAC and MPR.

  • Match grade Lothar Walther barrel, offering great accuracy.

  • Consistent straight out of the box.

  • Adjustable trigger.

  • Integrated manual safety button.

  • High shot count.

  • Lightweight.

The Cons

  • Delicate 10mm barrel.

  • The barrel can only accommodate an air arms Q-TEC silencer. However, some third-party aftermarket adapters are available allowing the user the option to use a ½ inch UNF screw on silencer.

  • Lack of adjustments on the stock, no adjustable cheek piece or hamster. However, alternative rifle stocks are available from air arms that can house the S400 / S410 action.

  • Non-adjustable butt pad.

  • Non-regulated. (aftermarket third-party regulators are available).

  • Walnut stock option at a premium.

  • Multi-shot option at a premium.

 

specification table - the air arms s410

 

Specifications

Style: Classic Sporter / Rifle.

Power Plant: PCP.

Overall Weight: Beech: 3.2kg (7lbs), Walnut: 2.9kg (6.4lbs), Poplar: 2.9kg (6.4lbs).

Overall Length: 1020mm (40.25inches).

Barrel Length: 493mm (19.5inches).

Calibre: .177 or .22 (multi-shot version comes with 1 x 10 shot magazine).

Muzzle Energy: 12ft/lbs (16joules) or FAC.

Approximate Shots Per Fill: 80 in .177 and 100 in .22 (12ft/lbs versions only).

Operating Max Fill Pressure: 190BAR (2756psi).


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[*] The above-compiled list has been provided by user DROBSON67 from the Airgunforum.co.uk online forum and worldwide airgun community. Gunstar.co.uk or the writer of this article is not affiliated with the forum, the views or opinions expressed on the forum are not the views or opinions of Gunstar.co.uk its members or its affiliates. The author of this article is simply using the compiled list above and crediting the author.