Air Power on the Cheap?

The Hatsan Airtact QE .22. It’s cheap… but is it good?

My son Tony has been making noises about getting an air rifle, and I’ve been thinking about it myself for some time. We were hunting with my bro Joe, and deer weren’t a happenin’ thing. Joe’d brought his air gun though, and wanted to go for some squirrels and rabbits. We left him to it and headed over to the Big Five in Gig Harbor for air rifles. We looked over the options and from what was available we selected the Hatsan Airtact QE. Tony got one in .177 and I selected a .22. Price was about $130, about what they would have cost from Pyramid Air if you included shipping.

We bought pellets and returned to the hunting property, then mounted the included scopes and sighted the guns in. We spent a very pleasant but fruitless afternoon in the woods on a beautiful autumn day. Despite not getting any critters it was time well spent.

I’m impressed with Tony; he’d only ever fired a rifle once about a decade ago, but he followed Joe’s instructions and was shooting like a pro immediately.

So, About This Air Rifle…

Hatsan USA is a well regarded company, and manufactures air guns across the entire spectrum of power levels. From inexpensive small-game/target guns like the Airtact to a .50-caliber PCP gun with .44-Magnum power, they pretty much do it all, they do it well and at a decent price.

The Airtact is available in .177, .22 and .25 caliber. It’s 45″ long overall and weighs 5lbs. 8 oz. It comes with standard fiber-optic adjustable sights mounted on the 14.5″ barrel. The power-plant is a compression chamber with a spring-piston behind the barrel, which is cocked by breaking the barrel downwards like a single shot shotgun and pulling it fully to the rear to cock the piston. Then a pellet is placed in the bore and the barrel is closed. Pulling the trigger releases the piston, which compresses air to drive the pellet.

The gun has a steel barrel covered with a plastic sleeve, The expanded tip of this shroud contains a ‘sound moderator’ and a muzzle break. This reduces the muzzle-report, making firing the gun quiet enough for backyard shooting even in suburban areas. It also provides support to the steel barrel, which is good as you use it for a cocking-lever. Each time the weapon is cocked it sets the safety, which is located at the rear of the receiver on top of the weapon.

The automatic safety is activated every tome the weapon is cocked. Pressing it forward removes the safety and exposes a red dot to indicate that the gun is ready to fire.

The synthetic stock is a thumb-hole type which the manufacturer calls ‘Monte Carlo’ style. It’s comfortable and feels very solid. Textured panels on the stock are comfortable and fairly grippy without being at al abrasive. Length-of-pull is 14.25″.

The gun comes with a 4×32 Optima scope and look-through mounts. There is an 11mm top-rail molded into the power-plant cover that the scope-mounts attach to. The trigger is adjustable for weight and travel via screws accessed through holes in the trigger-guard. I have not attempted to do so; out of the box the trigger has a lot of take-up, but breaks cleanly. As it sits it’s OK; I may play around with these later to see if I can improve it.

First Impressions

The weapon feels pretty nice in the hands and is comfortable to shoulder. With my large hands the finger-grooves on the grip are not space properly, but frankly I never really noticed when firing the weapon. When using the sights I have a good cheek-weld on the stock. When the scope is mounted it’s high enough that it is not easy or comfortable to get a good cheek-weld, which has made consistency a bit difficult.

Let’s talk about those sights. The fiber-optic ‘iron’ sights are nice and easy to use. Getting them zeroed was a doddle. Basically they are quite nice and work great. The scope… *sigh.*

OK, it’s axiomatic that when getting a new air rifle step one is discarding the provided scope; they’re never particularly worthwhile, especially on a low-end gun. In this case the scope is really not too bad; you’ll want to replace it with something better eventually. It’s the mounts that are awful in this case. Technically they are sight-through. You can see the sights through them, but you can’t see a bloody thing else. Things like, for example, what you are aiming at. This limits their utility to, um, not useful.

They also hold the scope high enough to prevent me from getting a good cheek-weld, which makes everything harder. But their truly damning fault is that the mounting screws on mine just will not stay tight. They loosen noticeably in only 8-10 shots no matter how much I tighten them. I don’t know if Tony has had this problem on his gun; I’ll have to remember to ask.

I mentioned that safety. It’s a good idea and a good location if you don’t have a thumb-hole stock. As it is the top arm of the stock is in the way. You have to completely break your grip or use your off-hand to deactivate it, which kinda’ sucks. On the other hand it is fully ambidextrous, so it’s equally annoying for use with either hand. It’s a bit of a quibble, but it’s annoying and was not well thought-out.

It’s Physics

Spring-piston rifles recoil. When the spring pushes the piston forward it also pushes the stock back. Of course the piston weighs a tiny fraction of the weight of the gun so the effect is negligible, but you do notice. In cheap spring-piston guns the mainspring can chatter against the inside of the piston walls, producing vibration. Again, it’s not uncomfortable, but until you get used to it it’s weird.

The Airtact scores in this department; it’s remarkably vibration-free. That’s nice, so kudos to Hatsan for managing this. But it’s not just nice; these vibrations are a death-knell for optics, and if a scope is not specifically made for an air-rifle the vibration will quickly wreck it. This doesn’t mean you can simply throw any scope on the gun; it still needs one made for an air-rifle, but the cheap optic that comes with the gun will certainly last longer than it might on some other guns.

Test Firing

We did a quick-and-dirty zero for both rifles in the field. Joe got Tony’s dialed-in quickly. Mine took a bit longer; by chance it was way further off-zero out of the box, and took a lot of adjusting. Part of that was my fault; I simply couldn’t believe how many clicks it took to produce results. Once I adjusted and resorted to turns of the adjustment screw instead of clicks it went fast enough.

For more serious testing in my backyard I put ‘minute of tweety-bird’ sized patches of blue tape on a target, mounted it on 3/4″ plywood and placed it out at 25 yards. Firing from the bench (a stout plastic folding table) I selected the piece of tape at the top-left and fired three shots.

The scope had of course lost it’s zero over the course of loosening up and being re-tightened, but the tape is 1-1/2″ wide to give you an idea of scale. A 1″ group at 25 yards from a casual rest is not bad for a cheap air-rifle; it would certainly suffice for pest control at backyard distances. At least it would if you invested in decent scope-mounts. I’m pretty sure that with more trigger-time on this gun I could beat this pretty easily. We’ll see.

I fired a few more groups and they were similar, but the whimsical and wandering scope-mounts were making life annoying, so I removed the scope to give it a go with the open sights. I moved the target in to ten yards and fired standing with ‘field support;’ IOW with the weapon braced as one might against a tree or some such in the woods.

Five shots in about an inch. Again, with more trigger-time I’m betting this will improve, but even so this is more than adequate for plinking tin-cans or pest control.

I’m pretty satisfied with the accuracy and shootability of the rifle. I am seriously not a fan of the stock blocking the safety, but hey, I can work around that.

Let’s Talk About Power

To test the weapon’s power I used a block of Clear Ballistics 10% ordinance gel. For my initial test I mounted a piece of 8oz. vegetable-tanned leather. This is overkill; it’s far tougher than the pelt of a squirrel or rabbit, but I figured if it got through that it would work well enough on more realistic targets. I used Gamo 14.3gr. Rocket pellets; these are a traditional-shape pellet with a copper-washed steel BB embedded in the tip. This is supposed to give additional penetration through bone.

I set up the Caldwell chronograph at 10 feet, which placed the gel at 13-14 feet. Temperature was 46 degrees Fahrenheit. I fired a couple of shots and checked the results.

Both pellets punched right through the heavy leather and penetrated 1-1/2″ and 2″. Even if your local squirrels wear leather armor this ought to do it.

Next I removed the leather and fired into the bare gel. Yeah, that’ll probably go better of I don’t shoot one of the pellets I’d already fired into the block… oops.

OK, let’s try that again.

Penetration was 3 to 3-1/2″. Of course I just had to hit another pellet… One pellet tumbled, but the others all went straight in. None of the pellets expanded or were particularly distorted, except the ones that that hit other pellets.


Disclaimer time; chronographs vary and environmental factors like temperature, humidity and air pressure can affect velocity. Also temperature can affect spring-air guns as well. So what have we got?

14.3gr Gamo Rocket Average of 5 shots: 566.6 10 ft./lbs ES: 37 fps.

That’s a pretty far cry from 1000 fps. and 21 ft.lbs of energy. I know, I know, the factory specs are with an unspecified pellet under ideal conditions, but I am wildly unimpressed with this combination of rifle and pellet.

On the other hand it’s adequate for it’s intended purpose, which is plinking and small game. I have a variety of pellets coming soon, and we’ll see what sort of results we get with those.


I have issues with the combination of stock and safety location, and the scope mounts did not work for me at all. That being said this is a very pleasant gun to shoot. Cocking force is not high, vibration is minimal and accuracy is at least adequate for what the gun is designed to do. For backyard plinking, pest control and small-game hunting I think this will do just fine and represents a pretty good value for the money. The weapon is solidly made, comfortable to use and does the job it’s made for. It would be better with a traditional stock that allowed proper use of the ambidextrous safety and with lower, better scope mounts but for the price? Worth it.

I’m looking forward to getting a LOT more practice with this rifle, but I’m going to stick to the open sights. At the ranges I’ll be shooting at the scope is a luxury, and I’d really like to get to know this weapon better and have a sense of it’s durability before I invest in a proper optic and mounts. If it proves out I might see if I can get the wooden stock from the upscale version too; if Big Five had it I would definitely have bought that over the synthetic one.

Stay safe and take care.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 7 November 2021

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1 thought on “Air Power on the Cheap?

  1. Pingback: Air Power: Pellet Shoot-Off! | Tinker Talks Guns

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