With many modern pre-charged pneumatic (PCP) rifles costing well over £1,000, it’s easy to forget it all began with the humble spring-piston-powered airgun. In fact, not a lot has changed in 100 or more years when it comes to springers; a mainspring is cocked, and when released by the trigger, pushes a piston forward to compress the air in front of it and propel a pellet through the barrel. Simplistic it may be, but there’s a certain pleasure to be had from not having to worry about filling up an air bottle, or stressing about where all that air has leaked from – and you don’t have to muck about with regulator settings. You simply cock the action, pop a pellet into the breech and away you go.

There are drawbacks for sure – most springers are single-shot rifles, and you’ll have to tame the recoil generated by that main spring bouncing up and down the chamber. Consequently, they are harder to shoot accurately, but learn the proper technique, put in the practice and you’ll be rewarded with many years of steadfast service.

Spring-powered rifles, especially break-barrels, are generally a lot cheaper than their PCP cousins. In fact, even top-of-the-range Air Arms and Weihrauch under-levers compare favourably to budget PCPs when it comes to price. So, if you’re in the market for a break-barrel that won’t break the bank, we’ve assembled five of the best that cost less than £280.

5 of the best budget break-barrel rifles

BSA MeteorBSA Meteor Evo 
£179.99 bsaguns.co.uk

As a kid in the ‘80s, Uncle Trevor gave me an ASI Paratrooper. Amongst my mates, I enjoyed being a little different, but secretly I coveted the BSA Meteors that they all had. Back then, the Meteor’s power output was best put to use on tin cans and all sorts of other improvised targets, but the modern incarnation, the Meteor Evo, is a different kettle of fish. Like its predecessors, it’s light at 3kgs and looks more compact than its 1,110mm length, thanks to an elegantly proportioned sporter stock, but our test rifle pumped out 10.6 ft.lbs., which means that whilst the Meteor Evo is still peerless when it comes to tin-can bashing, it’s capable of much more.

That beech stock has laser chequering on the pistol grip and fore end and is finished with a rubber shoulder pad. It is marketed as ambidextrous, but a cheekpiece on the butt favours right-handers – that said, lefties should find it perfectly comfortable, too.

The cocking action is smooth and easy enough, thanks partly to a 370mm cold hammer-forged barrel, and the lock up is solid with no play at the breech. The safety catch located within the trigger guard does not set automatically, but an anti-bear trap mechanism will keep your fingers safe when inserting a pellet into the breech should the trigger mechanism let go. 

Over the chrono’ our test rifle showed commendable consistency of 19 feet per second over ten shots, and a level of accuracy over 20 metres that would easily cope with short- to medium-range pest control. Much of that is down to the trigger, which although plastic like the trigger guard, is two-stages with a marked stop in between and a predictable let off.

In fact, the performance is good enough to make the additional investment of a telescopic sight worthwhile – you will need mounts that can accommodate a 13mm dovetail. However, until you’re ready to splash out again, the open sights that come as standard are very good. The rear adjusts for windage and elevation with a couple of green fibres to frame the aiming notch. The front site is a simple red fibre.

Crosman PhantomCrosman Phantom
£165 range-right.co.uk

Like the Meteor, Crosman’s Phantom has been around for a while and that’s usually a pretty good indicator to the quality of a rifle. Unlike the BSA springer, though, the Phantom has a black plastic stock designed to take even the most enthusiastic use in its stride. Plastic it may be, but there’s no flex to the stock, although when given a good shake there is a slight rattle from the innards. At 1,090mm long and tipping the scales at a tad over three kilos, this is a full -size rifle, and at 10.3 ft.lbs. over our 10-shot test string, it will send tin cans spinning, and take care of the occasional problem rat under the garden shed.

The fore end is indented forward of the trigger guard and then bulges out again, with patches of pimples to aid grip. There are more pimples on the steeply raked pistol grip. The combination, along with a sold rubber shoulder pad means the Phantom sits nicely in the shoulder. 

The comb is well proportioned to set you up to use the open sights – a green fibre open blade at the front and an adjustable red fibre rear sight. However, most will attach the 4 x 32 Center Point scope included, along with a set of mounts, and is ideal for plinking.

A 420mm barrel makes breaking and cocking the action easy enough and although there is a slight sensation of rubbing, the lock-up is very solid and I couldn’t detect any movement at the breech. The cocking process won’t engage the manual safety catch – a blade located in front of the trigger – but thanks to an anti-bear trap mechanism, your fingers are protected should the barrel fly up unexpectedly. The flip side is that you cannot de-cock the Phantom.

Unusually, for a rifle at this price point, the trigger blade is metal. Its two stages have a positive stop in between, and although there is adjustment, I found the short first stage and longer second stage nicely weighted and predictable. On the range, I managed ten-shot groups of 36mm at 20 metres and over the chronograph variation was 14 feet 
per second.

WINCHESTER MODEL 45 RSWinchester Model 45 RS
£274.99 justairguns.co.uk

Winchester offers several variations of the models 45 and 55, and the Model 45 RS we have on test comes with a plastic silencer-cum-cocking aid, but no open sights.

At 1,160mm it’s a full-length rifle, but only weighs 2.5 kgs unscoped – part of that is down to the slimline ambidextrous beech stock. Apart from patches of chequering on the pistol grip and fore end, the handle is quite plain, but it’s perfectly proportioned and a couple of flutes either side of the fore end give it a sense of elegance, and the finish to the metal work is excellent.

There’s not much in the way of a cheek comb. That said, with a scope mounted to the raised scope rail, eye alignment shouldn’t be a problem. If you do find yourself struggling, the raised rail can be removed to gain access to the dovetail underneath. 

Located to the right of the action at the rear, well away from the trigger, is the manual safety lever. Push it back to make the Model 45 RS safe and when you’re ready to shoot it’s ideally positioned to push forward with your thumb.

The trigger blade is plastic, but very solid with no sense of flex. Out of the box, the adjustable unit had a fairly long but light first stage that transitioned to the second stage with an obvious stop. The let off is very clean with no obvious creep. 

Thanks to the plastic silencer/cocking aid the 320mm barrel is extended by another 190mm. It makes cocking the Model 45 RS very easy and manageable for younger shooters. The safety catch does not engage on cocking, but there’s an anti-bear trap. With a pellet inserted into the breech, the lock up is very solid with no movement, and when fired, the rifle has a pleasing lack of any twanging or clanking from the mechanism. At 20 metres, I was able to place ten .177 shots within 15mm. The chronograph showed a variation of 7fps and an average power output of 10.5 ft.lbs.

£120 edgarbrothers.com

Norica markets its Titan springer, which is available in .177 and .22 calibres, as ideal for younger shooters entering the sport for the first time, and it’s easy to see why. At 1.050mm and 2.5kgs, it’s compact and light, and putting out 5.2 ft.lbs., it doesn’t take much effort to break and cock.

Indeed, if you’re in the market for a cheap, open sight, back garden plinker that will reward proper shooting technique, then the Titan could be for you. In keeping with its target market, the ambidextrous black plastic stock is as tough as old boots. That’s not to say it’s ugly, though – far from it. There’s a ventilated rubber shoulder pad, moulded cheekpieces both sides and a raised comb.

The pistol grip has a thumb rest and there’s plenty of grip thanks to a series of grooves and some pimples. There’s more of the same on the fore end, which is also finished with a slight Schnabel at the very end. 

The folded metal trigger blade is nicely curved and comfortable on the finger. There’s no obvious means of adjusting the two stages, and out of the box, the first stage was quite long, but with a defined transition to the second stage, which was a little notchy.

There is a dovetail to accept a telescopic sight, but given the limited power and cost of the Titan, it’s probably a rifle you’d want to shoot with open sights. Fortunately, although plastic, the rear sight is very good, with clear and precise adjustment for both windage and elevation. The sighting notch itself is framed with a couple of green fibres, and there’s a red fibre inside the hooded front sight.

Breaking the action requires only a light tap and cocking is easy, thanks to the modest power output and 454mm barrel. Impressively, given the price point, the barrel, once returned, locks up very solidly. The process automatically sets a safety catch forward of the trigger blade.

Given its target market, I limited the range test to 15 metres for a more realistic back garden test, and the Titan was capable of 10-shot groups of around 38mm using the open sights. The chronograph confirmed output at 5.2 ft.lbs., with a variation of only 5fps.

WEBLEY VMX 2.0 QUANTUMWebley VMX 2.0 Quantum
£172.99 highlandoutdoors.co.uk

Back in the day, Webley’s springers vied with their Midlands rival, BSA, to be recognised as Britain’s top air rifle manufacturer. As a kid, arguments about which was better – the Airsporter S or Webley Vulcan – filled many a lunchtime break. Nowadays, Webley’s Britishness has been somewhat diluted, but the brand continues to deliver plenty of affordable rifles, and the VMX range is certainly comprehensive if a little difficult to fathom, thanks to many variants with plenty of stock options.

Our rifle is the VMX 2.0 OS, a springer with a purposeful, almost brutish look to it thanks to hard angular lines around the ambidextrous black polymer stock. The butt has a ventilated shoulder pad and an angular cut-out underneath, which breaks up the outline, and will suit a rifle bag on the range.

The folded metal trigger has two-stages. Whilst there is no obvious indication that it can be adjusted, at least externally, it does a more than adequate job with a short first stage, defined stop and longer second stage. 

There are no open sights, so you’ll have to budget for a scope and a set of mounts for the dovetail rail that is fitted with an arrestor plate that can be moved to help with eye relief. 

Including the full-length Quantum over-sleeve shroud-cum-silencer, the barrel measures 430mm, making it easy enough to cock once you have broken the action with a tap on the muzzle. Although the cap on the end unscrews, don’t be fooled into thinking it will allow you to attach an additional silencer.

The breech is a nice solid piece of metal, which locks the action. There was no discernible play on our test rifle, but over time if you were to notice some, removing the stock gives access to a chunky bolt you can nip up again. Cocking the VMX Quantum engages a resettable safety catch at the rear of the action that you’ll need to push forward for each shot - and there's an anti-bear trap for added safety.

On the 20-metre test, the VMX Quantum punched out a consistent 11.7 ft.lbs., with a variation over 10 shots of 12fps. In terms of accuracy, the rifle returned groups of around 28mm. Those levels of accuracy and output make the rifle ideal for short- to medium-range pest control, and perfect for sending tin cans flying.

Why buy a budget springer?

Surrounded as we are today by dizzyingly advanced PCP rifles with a seemingly unending list of technological abilities, it’s good to be reminded once in a while that shooting is all about pulling the trigger and hitting what we aim at.

Thanks to those fancy PCPs, our expectations today may be a little higher than they were when break-barrels ruled the world, but nothing beats a cheap springer when it comes to reconnecting with what we love about the sport.

Buy well and an affordable rifle will last for years and teach newcomers to the sport what it’s all about. Experienced shooters might even learn a thing or two, as well.