Recently I reviewed a budget scope that proved to be a viable option for getting started in HFT. This got me thinking about what airguns might also be an option for the beginner to Hunter Field Target. Or any type of shooting really. First up is the Hatsan Dominator 200W Carbine.
In this series of blog posts I’m going to inspect and test some airguns to try and separate the value for money you should consider, from the toss you should definitely avoid. There are a couple of simple rules to decide which guns will be eligible:
Must be under £250
This had to be high enough to allow a good number of options to be considered, but low enough that I wouldn’t just say ‘buy a TX200 or HW77/97’. £250 seemed like a sensible place to start and should give plenty of choice to the first time buyer.
The price has to be as new
I can already hear everyone saying ‘buy second hand’. And normally I would agree, however there are some potential pitfalls with the second hand market. Firstly the prices will fluctuate. So I might find an absolute bargain, but you might struggle to match it. Also there’s no guarantee of what you are getting and you could end up with a real dog if you aren’t careful. If you buy new you will get support and warranty. So if it is a dud, you can return it!
And that’s it, anything else goes. I will consider break barrels, under-levers, CO2, and even the new breed of budget PCP’s that are starting to slip under £250. So without further ado, here is part 1 of the series. Enjoy.
Hatsan Dominator 200W Carbine
For a shorter read, feel free to skip straight to the bottom for a summary and my top pro’s and con’s. Otherwise, enjoy the whole article. Hopefully there are enough details and pictures for everyone.
I bought this Hatsan last year as a backup in case anything went wrong with my TX200. I liked the fact that it was an under-lever with an adjustable cheek piece. I also liked the fact it was new/old stock (so fairly cheap) and was in .177. The ‘W’ in the name denotes it is the wood stocked version (synthetic is also available). This carbine version is 2 inches shorter than the full length, and doesn’t come with any open sights.
It doesn’t look like too many people are selling this gun in the UK. But I’ve seen a few new examples that are within the budget. Availability might not be great, but I’ve already got the gun and I have to start somewhere.
The packaging I received was damaged from storage, but included all the accessories that come with the gun from new. This includes spacers for the butt pad (excellent addition), a Hatsan branded sling (not bad), and a flimsy plastic bipod (pointless). On picking the gun up, it feels heavy, solid and definitely adult sized. It definitely gives the impression of being well put together, but without the fit and finish of some higher end springers. Although this is the ‘carbine’ version, it’s probably the biggest carbine I’ve used, and is several inches longer than my TX200 HC.
The overall length, from butt pad to muzzle is 42.5 inches.
The complete weight is 4.35kg (approximately 9.6 lbs), split 1173g in the stock, and 3176g in the action.
The balance point is shown with a 3-12x40mm scope, and is approximately 7 inches forward of the trigger blade, 22 inches forward of the butt pad.
This stock was one of the main selling points for me, mainly because it came with some adjustability out of the box. This is actually quite rare for a standard airgun. The Weihrauch HW98 and some of the Walther LGV/LGU range have an adjustable cheek piece, but they are way over the budget for this series.
Unfortunately the cheek piece appears to made from a different piece of wood as the grain does not match, and it doesn’t fit flush into the gap.
With the cheek piece in it’s lowest position, it’s approximately 35mm below the line of the scope rail. This is equivalent to a Weihrauch HW35 (shown) which is designed for open sights.
It can then be raised approximately 20mm, which brings it roughly in line with a standard TX200.
I fond the high position just about perfect for my body shape and a 40mm objective scope on medium mounts. However a larger scope on higher mounts would be an issue. In this respect, the adjustability of the Hatsan’s cheek piece falls short of being a really useful feature. So close Hatsan!
The length of pull is also adjustable. The standard measurement out of the box is 14 1/2 inches. My personal preference is roughly 14 3/4 inches. To put that into perspective I am 5’10” and of average build. There are three additional spacers that can be added to take the length of pull to just over 15 inches. Unfortunately the butt pad can’t be moved up or down so it isn’t fully adjustable.
The pad has ventilation holes in, but the rubber is a very hard compound so it doesn’t feel like the squishy pad you might be expecting. It’s still softer than wood though, so I’ll assume it is functional.
The wood itself is Turkish walnut. Which sounds great on paper but in reality isn’t very inspiring. There are four panels of pressed chequering which are OK, but I don’t like the name of the gun being etched on the side. Most people generally don’t need reminding what they are shooting.
On top of that I think the finish is a thin sprayed on lacquer which is a shame for walnut. This is probably to be expected at this price point though.
Functionally there were no problems, and it handles like you would expect a big under lever to. Nothing special, but certainly not bad. The pistol grip area is slightly wider at the bottom and tapers in as you get up toward the safety. This suited my technique well. It might not suit yours though. Remember there is no substitute for going to a shop and handling the gun yourself.
The stock is also fully ambidextrous so should be suitable for everyone.
The other included stock accessories are a sling and a bipod. The sling is easy to fit, as the mounts are already on the stock. All you have to do is clip it into place. It’s not a particularly comfortable or adjustable sling, but it is free. The bipod however is really pointless. Please do yourself a favour and don’t try to use a springer with a bipod. It just won’t work and accuracy will suffer.
The barrel is attached using a large nut on the inside of the cylinder (and probably loctite too, but I didn’t check this). This makes it possible to change barrels if you really wanted to. Unlike the Weihrauch under levers which have welded pins holding the barrel in place. To be honest this feature will only be useful to a very few people, so feel free to ignore this particular detail.
The barrel length is 15 3/4 inches from muzzle to crown. This is longer than a lot of full length airguns, but is still 2 inches shorter than the full fat Hatsan Dominator, so technically ‘carbine’ still applies. Don’t expect light weight and nimble handling though. In reality this is a full fat airgun and feels like it.
Pushing several brands of pellet down the barrel showed no obvious tight spots, so I don’t think the barrel is choked. I don’t have an accurate way of measuring the rifling depth, or twist rate so I won’t try. But I can say that the barrel definitely is rifled, with 12 grooves.
The breech end has a nicely cut lead-in. This helps the pellet skirt to seal when fired, and also helps when pushing the pellet into the barrel. The muzzle end has been crowned and looks to have been done well (i.e the crowning is even around the circumference).
The muzzle end has also been screw cut for a 1/2″ UNF silencer. Out of the box it comes with a screw on thread protector to keep the threads in good shape. If you like to shoot in your garden you probably want to consider a silencer because this thing is loud! It fires with a real crack, especially when brand new. It settled down slightly, but remains one of the loudest springers I own.
The under lever lock up is a detent ball variety and locked up reliably throughout my testing. This system will never be quite as good as a push button though. After enough shots, the tips of your fingers will definitely notice the effort of pulling the lever free.
This is an interesting feature. The scope rail has been designed so that it can accept the common 9-11mm dovetail mounts, but also Weaver mounts. Some people prefer Weaver mounts, and this gives you the option if you want it. This gun also comes provided with a scope arrester block. This attaches to the scope rail, and is intended to stop the scope creeping back due to recoil. The recoil is quite pronounced, even in this sub 12 ft-lb version, so this is a nice thought. However it really got in the way of my scope (3-12×40 with medium mounts). I ended up not using it, in favour of the pin in the scope mounts.
Design of Action and Internals
The main cylinder is blued steel as you would expect, but does reflect the price. The bluing is a long way from the deep and clear finish of a premium gun. There are faint machining marks still visible, so clearly some polishing stages were skipped to keep the cost down. However the whole action is covered so the primary job of preventing rust is still being done. The lugs for the trigger block and front stock screw have been welded on, and the bluing has been performed after the welding, which is what we want to see.
The articulated under lever and cocking linkage looks and feels very purposeful. A good indication that this Hatsan was designed for more than the 12 ft-lb we get in the UK. The under lever is 70mm long, 13.5mm diameter steel bar. The linkage to the compression tube is rectangular section bar, 10mm x 8mm, and 60mm long. You won’t bend this out of shape, however forcefully you cock the gun.
The anti-beartrap mechanism on the right side of the action can be a useful feature for new shooters. This is a simple lever and spring arrangement which notches into the compression cylinder when cocking the gun. If the trigger is accidentally pulled when loading a pellet, this prevents the piston and compression tube from slamming forward and removing the end of your thumb. In reality you should NEVER LET GO of the cocking lever, and always keep your finger OFF THE TRIGGER, making this mechanism redundant. But we are only human and sometimes forget, especially if you haven’t owned an under lever before. The important thing is it disengages easily and doesn’t cause any hold ups during the cocking and loading process.
The front stock screw lug houses what Hatsan is calling their ‘Shock absorber System’ (SaS), which is supposed to dampen the recoil and help the scope stay in place. This is a plastic sleeve through the lug, so there is no metal-to-metal contact between the stock screw and the main action. The felt recoil is very similar to other large springers I have. So if there is an improvement, it’s a small one. Also if this helps the scope stay in place, why do they provide a scope arrester block? Is it a gimmick? Yes, probably. I wouldn’t make a purchase based on this feature.
The trigger block and spring retention is a plastic part. This is another area where the lower cost shows through. More premium airguns will have all metal construction.
The trigger block is assembled to the main cylinder with three large pins. The spring guide is also plastic, but there is no obvious wear and it seems to be solid enough. There are two washers at the base of the spring, one metal and one plastic. At the other end of the spring there is no top hat. Instead there is just a small disc of plastic. This looks like it allows the spring to rotate, but doesn’t act as a guide in any way. This may be the cause of some of the ‘twangyness’ when firing.
It’s also worth noting the spring guide fit quite snugly into one end of the spring, but looser in the other. A small reduction in firing noise was achieved by turning the spring around. Not enough to make it a quiet gun though.
The spring itself is a relatively soft and long one, compared to other UK spec springers. The measurements are:
Outer Diameter = 19.1mm
Wire Diameter = 3.0mm
Free Length = 286mm
Active Coils = 39
Preload = 36mm
Weight = 113g
Both ends are well cut, flattened and finished. The ends are not fully polished, but they have been cleaned up and de-burred. The spring isn’t completely straight though which is a shame. Although in reality, most people (me included) wouldn’t notice this when shooting.
The piston weighs 262g, which is very similar to a Weihrauch HW97. The diameter is slightly larger though, 27mm compared to the HW97’s 26mm, and the TX200’s 25mm. Overall length is 170mm (including seal). The rear of the piston has been hardened (you can see the discolouration in the picture). This covers both the rear ‘bearing’ area and the trigger latch area. The rear of the piston has a diameter of 29.75mm and acts as a bearing. It has been polished after hardening, which is a nice detail and will help with the feel of the cocking stroke. Also at the rear of the piston is a groove which engages with the anti-beartrap lever to keep the piston the right way up. It has been left rough finished and would benefit from being tidied up and polished.
The piston seal measured at 27.05mm diameter. This still feels slightly oversized, and you can feel the resistance when returning the cocking lever to its ‘up’ position. This will keep improving with use. The design of the seal is fairly standard, and looks the same as a Gamo part.
The inside bore of the piston is 21.9mm. Considering the spring outer diameter is 19.1mm, there is room here for the spring to bounce around. Another possible source of the twangyness. Maybe the FAC version has a larger diameter spring? Doesn’t help score points in the UK sub 12 ft-lb market though. A case of economics getting in the way of good design again.
Next is the compression tube. This is a two piece stainless steel assembly. Inner diameter is bang on 27mm to to suit the piston seal. On the sides are two square cutouts. One for the anti-beartrap, and one for the cocking linkage. The cocking linkage engages directly into the compression tube. This saves money (as no cocking shoe is required). However with enough use this could wear and cause sealing problems. If there was a cocking shoe, this would be an easier fix.
The breech seal is recessed into the end piece and uses an O-ring seal. Its worth noting that the transfer port and barrel are in line with the axis of the piston. This is known to be more efficient than an ‘off centre’ transfer port.
The transfer port is 3.5mm diameter and 11mm long.
The measured piston stroke is 105mm. From the measurements made, the following figures can be calculated. These will be useful for some people, and pointless for others. So feel free skip past them. I will comment on the swept volume though. The airguns which shoot well straight from the box, at sub 12 ft-lb, tend to be closer to 40cc swept volume. 60cc swept volume indicates this was designed for much higher muzzle energy.
Swept Volume = 60.12cc
Static Volume = 0.106cc
Approximate Compression Ratio = 568:1
When I first opened the Hatsan up, the spring and guides were covered in a thick red grease. It was thicker than most factory grease I have seen, and some of it had gotten into the trigger. For the benefit of people who don’t feel comfortable opening their new airgun up, I don’t think this grease would cause any problems. But if you enjoy a tinker, it can definitely be improved.
Overall the quality of the internals was acceptable. Some machined edges were unfinished and rough, and the trigger block would be better made of metal. But the piston and compression tube are well made and the central transfer port design is good to see.
Ease of Use
The cocking effort was measured from the very end of the cocking lever. It was measured at a steady 20kg, rising to 22kg when the trigger latched. For comparison, my TX200 measured 16kg, rising to 18kg on trigger latch.
Apart from the weight, the feel of the cocking cycle is fairly smooth. There was no noticeable grinding or rough feeling through the lever. The cocking aid is well attached with a pair of grub screws, and does a good job of improving grip on the lever. Definitely plus points for any airgun, particularly one in this price range.
The firing cycle of the Hatsan 200W is very similar to a Diana 48/52. Not particularly unpleasant, but there is a fair kick and a solid thump from that big piston and long stroke. It has the feel of an airgun with much more power potential, which is being restrained. And essentially that’s exactly what is happening. Compared to other under levers I have used, the recoil feels high.
A useful measurement here is the efficiency of the power plant. A more efficient airgun will need less input energy to make the required power. Therefore there is less energy in the spring, which results in less recoil. I’ve calculated the efficiency (after bedding in the seal) at approximately 33%. For reference my TX200 is approximately 40%. This is due to the larger diameter piston, which is more suited to FAC power levels.
This particular gun also has a bad twang which resonates through the stock and the action for a couple of seconds after firing. Almost like a tuning fork. It doesn’t affect where the pellet lands, but it became very annoying during long shooting sessions.
I like to think that a great trigger can go almost unnoticed because it does its job so well. Whereas a bad trigger will be constantly on your mind. The trigger on this Hatsan was definitely in the great trigger category, and was a joy to use. Probably my favourite part of the gun. It’s called the ‘Quattro’ trigger and is found on the higher end Hatsans and Webleys.
The basic design of the Quattro trigger is the same as the Weihrauch Rekord, the Air Arms CD and the Walther XM. 4 levers, 3 sears, and a proper two stage trigger blade. They are all slightly different in the details, but they work in the same way. If I was going to design a trigger, this is where I would start.
I tested the trigger in a two stage setup, and with a bit of adjustment I got it feeling quite close to my HW80 with the brilliant Rekord unit. I couldn’t dial out as much of the first stage length, and the second stage didn’t break as cleanly, but it really isn’t bad.
In the single stage setup, I adjusted the trigger weight safely down to 410g (14.5oz). For reference I have my TX set at just over 500g (1lb 1.6oz), which some people still find too light to use. Having looked at the leverage ratios of these different triggers, on paper the Quattro requires a longer pull, and you can feel this in use. The blade itself is a setback style and made of metal. It feels quite wide on the finger, and was very positive to use.
A feature I will point out is that the trigger guard has holes to give access to 1st and 2nd stage adjustment, plus the trigger weight. This is the main frustration when setting up a TX200, where the weight adjustment is hidden under the guard. This means setting up the trigger is relatively quick if you know what you are doing.
The safety is automatically engaged when the gun is cocked. Once disengaged, it can also be re-engaged if you need. There isn’t much else to say about it. It works as it should and is easy to reach.
You’ll notice I’ve said POTENTIAL accuracy, and there’s a very good reason for that. A new springer can’t be mastered overnight, or even during the length of a single review. Getting the best out of it needs experimentation and lots of practice. You really need to invest some quality time into learning a springer, which unfortunately I can’t do with every one I try. I haven’t mastered my current HFT gun yet and I’ve been shooting that for a year!
What I can do is limit the range, select a few good quality pellets and look for any obvious problems. This could be inconsistent barrel lock-up, poor barrel lead in and crowning, pellet clipping or wildly varying muzzle velocity.
The amount of time required to bed in the piston seal is different for every gun. The first 10 shots averaged out at about 10.5 ft-lb. After a few hundred this had risen to 11.3 ft-lb with 8.44 grain JSB Exacts. So I would recommend using half a tin of pellets before worrying about accuracy.
Every barrel likes different pellets, so I picked out some that are popular for HFT. Then I spent a few days shooting groups and getting used to the gun.
I mostly shot holding up the peg in the classic HFT prone position.
The three pellets that did best were JSB Exacts, Air Arms Express and H&N FTT. Just a reminder I wasn’t setting out to find the best pellet for this barrel, just trying to get a feel for what accuracy might be available.
However having said that, there were some promising results. Each of the following targets show groups of 10 shots.
H&N FTT were a very tight fit in the barrel, and produced some vertical stringing. Power tests also showed them to be almost 1ft-lb down on the other pellets I tried. This group could be tightened up, but I would probably sway towards JSB’s for this gun.
Centre to centre at 20 yards prone = 12.5mm
Air Arms Express were really promising, but I got a bad flyer. This is hard to ignore because I get the same thing from my TX200, approximately 1 in 15 shots. Washing, weighing and lubricating may be able to fix it. Definitely worth further testing.
Centre to centre at 20 yards prone (ignoring the flyer) = 6.5mm
JSB Exact are my go-to pellet for HFT so I was hoping they would do well here. This target is two groups shot one after the other. No flyers, but I did pull a shot to the left on the second target.
Centre to centre at 20 yards prone = 6.5mm (left), 8mm (right)
So does it have potential? Yes 100%. Remember that the smallest target in current HFT rules is 15mm (from 13-25 yards). The Dominator in my wobbly hands managed groups of 6.5mm, prone at 20 yards. With more practice and proper pellet testing, I’m confident this could happily drop pellets right on top of each other. Round an HFT course, this could definitely knock targets over.
The Hatsan Dominator 200W is definitely worth consideration. Recoil is high, but that is partially offset by the well designed and easy to adjust trigger. With correct technique and the right pellets, it has the potential accuracy to easily drop pellets into HFT sized targets. The adjustable stock is a nice thought, but hasn’t quite been executed to its full potential. The weight should also be considered for shooters with a smaller frame. Although the mass can help with unsupported standing and kneeling shots.
On close inspection, cost saving features can be found in various places. However this cost is being passed on to the customer, and doesn’t come as a great surprise. Unfortunately it does impact the enjoyment of the gun. The heavy cocking and twangyness meant my shooting sessions were cut slightly shorter than usual, and I inevitably put the Hatsan down in favour of a TX200.
Due to the mostly solid construction, impressive trigger, and surprisingly good accuracy, this could well represent good value for money for a first time buyer. I won’t rush to recommend it just yet though, as there may be something else out there that does a better job for the same money. This is only my first review after all.
Top 3 Pro’s
Potentially good enough accuracy to shoot HFT
Very good trigger
Solid construction should be reliable
Top 3 Con’s
Some plastic parts used
Twangy and unrefined firing cycle
And that is the end of my first ever airgun review. I know it was quite long, so if you got this far, thank you for sticking with it. I am always interested in feedback, so if you have any thoughts on how the review could be improved please let me know. Also if you have any ideas on which airgun I should test next please say so and I will do my best to find one.