Ready For An Air Shotgun?
It’s Surprisingly Powerful And Versatile
From the July 2007 issue of GUNS Magazine Shotgunner column
By Holt Bodinson
Airgun trap can be great family fun. Look Ma! No hearing
protection! None needed. Eye protection is mandatory, though.
Why do I occasionally wax so eloquent about airguns? They simply offer the best opportunity I know of to keep your shooting proficiency up to hunting and target-shooting standards. And without noise or recoil, the whole family can enjoy the shooting sports along with you. Well, hold on to your hat, GAMO just raised the fun level with the introduction of a fascinating air shotgun.
Air shotguns have been around a long time, but from a shooter’s point-of-view, they’ve been difficult to find, expensive to buy, complicated to operate and weren’t easily repaired.
That’s all changed with the 2007 debut of the Viper Express. Made by the Spanish firm, GAMO, the largest airgun manufacturer in Europe, the Viper Express is readily available and carries a retail price of $229. Based on the simple, spring piston design, the new shotgun is utterly reliable and consistent in performance. Frankly, I was amazed how well it did perform, both with shotshells and .22-caliber pellets. GAMO really deserves our kudos for the superb engineering and esthetic design details crafted into their air shotgun.
The Viper Express has presence. This is no wispy, little wand of an airgun. The Viper looks, mounts and feels like a real single-barrel shotgun. When shouldered, your eye is nicely aligned along a ventilated rib tipped off with a brass bead. The over-molded, gray synthetic stock features comfortable, raised checkering panels on the forearm and grip plus a soft, dual cheekpiece suitable for right- and left-handed shooters. GAMO’s Viper Express even sports a ventilated recoil pad, giving the stock a length-of-pull of 14″. More importantly, the gun has a weight-forward balance I found conducive to a smooth swing on moving targets and a stable sight picture when taking deliberate aim.
The power plant of the Viper Express is the massive, spring piston system used in the GAMO 1000 rifle is a .177 caliber rifle moving pellets along at 1,000-1,200 fps. It’s a lot of power, but the effort necessary to cock the new break-open shotgun is only 30 pounds. While we’re on the subject of airgun power and to indicate the company’s versatility, GAMO just introduced the Hunter Extreme, spring piston, air rifle with a muzzle velocity of 1,600 fps.
From 10′ to 40′, the Viper Express delivered pest-killing patterns. The GAMO Air Shotgun may prove to be a gardener’s best friend, where airgun use is permitted. This 20′ target is to point of aim and would prove devastating to a pest.
The GAMO shotshell is a small, plastic cartridge, 7/8″ long, holding 17-grains of hard No. 9 shot. That equates to an average shot charge of about 20 pellets. The shot charge is retained at the front by a thin, breakaway plastic wad and pushed from the rear by a soft plastic, cupped wad. Over a PACT Professional chronograph, the muzzle velocity of the shot charge averaged 560 fps. Don’t let the thin pellet count or the modest muzzle velocity fool you though. The Viper Express turned out to be a very lethal shotgun at surprising distances.
My first test was to shoot some patterns at 10′, 20′ and 30′, measured from the end of the muzzle to get a feel for the shotgun. To add some realism to the exercise, I selected Champion Target’s VisiShot prairie dog version. The prairie dog stands 12″ high and 5″ in width at the target zone. In size, it could be any number of hairy critters.
At 10′, all 20 pellets grouped in the 2-3/4″ bull’s-eye. At 20′, I had 8 pellets in the kill zone plus an additional 8 body hits and the total pattern spread was 5″. At 30′, I still had 6 pellets in the bull’s-eye, 7 body hits with 2 of those in the brain and a total pattern size of 8″. That little 22-caliber choked barrel was really delivering the goods, and it did it quietly. Noise is not a factor with the Viper Express.
Cocked, the chamber easily accepts the shot cartridge (above).
The Viper Express performed perfectly with shot or pellets.
Out came some aluminum soda cans. The soda cans represented a smaller critter measuring 2-1/2″ wide and 4-3/4″ tall. I placed them at a measured 15′, 25′, and 30′ from the end of the muzzle. At 15′, I rolled the first can with 15 body hits in one side and out the other. At 25′, it was a repeat performance in terms of penetration with 7 hits. At 30′, I counted 8 body hits, all of which totally penetrated the can.
Pushing the envelope a bit, I picked out a Beck’s beer can measuring 6-1/2″ high and grounded it at 40′ from the muzzle. At the shot, the can took a spinning roll with 3 centered, penetrating body hits and one dimple. That shot would have killed a small bird or rat.
Along with the shotgun, GAMO supplies a brass auxiliary chamber, for a .22-caliber pellet. I was thinking it was a neat idea to be able to shoot pellets in a shotgun, but I hardly expected any accuracy out of a smoothbore with only a brass bead hanging out there at the end for a front sight. I was wrong.
GAMO’s 22-caliber shotshells (below, left) pack 20 No. 9 shot.
An auxiliary chamber is needed for the use of regular .22 pellets (below, right).
While GAMO is a major maker of airgun pellets, the only 22-caliber pellets I had on hand were RWS match Meisterkuglen, RWS sporting Superpoint, and Crosman Premier match.
I set up a Champion VisiColor prairie dog target at 30′ and fired two pellets of each type, sighting with the brass bead covering the critter’s red heart. All 6 pellets smacked into an overall composite group of 1-1/2″. Averaged velocities ranged from a high of 660 fps with the Meisterkuglen to a low of 620 fps with the 14.3-grain Crosman Premier. Don’t laugh, the 12.2 ft-lbs of energy seems trivial unless you’re a rat. In short, pick your poison. The Viper Express is really a versatile air shotgun/rifle combo.
Finally, what about flying targets? I had on hand a box of plastic, breakaway Mini-Birds part of an earlier backyard trap game. My wife hand tossed them for me and the GAMO Viper Express proved it was as good on the fly as it was on static targets. Hopefully, GAMO will bring out some reusable plastic clays with a mini-trap to toss them. Air trap is a great game!
GAMO’s Viper Express exceeded all my expectations. It’s a superior air shotgun/rifle combination for pest control and target shooting and just a heck of a lot of fun to shoot.
|Mechanism:||Break-open, spring piston|
|Caliber:||.22 shotshell or pellet|
We couldn’t include all of Holt’s pictures
in GUNS Magazine, so here you go.
The soft cheek piece is designed for right- or left-handed shooters.
Combined with a reliable safety, the trigger is factory set at 3.75 pounds.
GAMO’s 22-caliber shotshells pack 20 pellets of No. 9 shot.
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