Gamo Varmint Hunter with 4×32 Scope, Laser & Light
Well, I know that I said we’d have a part 2 for the Gamo Big Cat, but that is not going to happen. I returned the test rifle to the vendor that loaned it to me so they could take it to a show and they up and sold it! Seems that when folks saw the first article and had a chance to take one home, they did not hesitate. Actually I’m pretty happy, as this particular vendor is a close friend of mine. But it did leave me wanting more from Gamo so I asked the folks at PyramydAir.com if they would let me review a Gamo Varmint Hunter and that is exactly what we will be looking at today.
The first thing that I noticed about the Gamo Varmint Hunter is just how similar it is to many of their other rifles. I may have said this before, but I’ve come to the conclusion that Gamo is one smart company. Instead of reinventing the wheel, they seem to use the same basic power plant on almost all their 1000 FPS rifles. And why not? It is a reliable, efficient power plant that delivers. How they get 1000 FPS out of something that is so easy to cock is beyond me. I’m no engineer, but they’ve got a good thing going and if I were them, I’d stick with it.
Gamo Varmint Hunter Left Side
Gamo Varmint Hunter Left Side
When I took the Varmint Hunter out of the box, it struck me that it was virtually identical to the Big Cat: Composite stock, 4×32 scope, polymer encased barrel, etc. There were only a few cosmetic differences that I found. One was the riser for the scope and the other was a different “end cap” for the back of the compression chamber. It may be that Gamo has changed some cosmetics on their newer rifles, as the photo’s I’ve seen show the same end cap on their new Whisper rifle.
Gamo Varmint Hunter Left Side of the Stock
Gamo Varmint Hunter Right Side of the Stock.. notice the ambidextrous raised cheek piece.
The stock is great and the fit and finish of the rifle is just wonderful. I’m not sure about the “fluted” barrel however. I like more steal and less “polymer” but I bet it would add a good bit of weight. One of the nice things about the Big Cat, and, also, the Varmint Hunter is that they are very light and easy to tote around all day. The barrel seems ridged enough so it is most likely just my own aversion. It certainly delivers in the accuracy department and frankly that is all that matters!
Gamo Varmint Hunter Fluted Polymer Rifled Steal Barrel
The Varmint Hunter comes with a 4×32 scope that has a few “attachments.” These attachments are what set the Varmint Hunter apart from many other rifles. Gamo added a flash light and laser to the front of the scope. Now, while many may think this it just silly and has no purpose, they’d be mistaken. Both work REALLY well! The first thing I did, once I got the rifle basically on target, is to take some video of me shooting an orange out of a tree at night. The light and the laser made it really simple to sight and shoot accurately at night. I was really surprised at just how well they worked. The light is very bright and the laser, which is fully adjustable, can be seen over 200 yards away in the dark.
Gamo Varmint Hunter Left Side of the 4×32 Scope with Laser and Light Accessories.
So, who may find the light and laser useful? Well, the reason that I decided to review the Varmint Hunter stems from a request that I received from someone living out in the Texas Desert. Being familiar with the terrain out there, my dad has a ranch out in the middle of the Texas desert, I knew there were opportunities both day AND night to take game. The Gamo Varmint Hunter represents a great balance of power, accuracy, and features for that environment.
Gamo Varmint Hunter Right Side of the 4×32 Scope with Laser and Light Accessories.
I want to make just a few more comments about the included scope. First of all, it comes with a set of mounts that include a stop pin so it mounts securely to the scope riser that Gamo mounted on this rifle. Being that it is an airgun scope, Gamo has set the focus down to about 15 yards. Anything closer than that and the crosshairs get progressively fuzzy. There are a couple of things that I’d like to see changed with this scope. With a rifle like the Varmint Hunter that has a potential range out to 40 and 50 yards, the scope needs to have mil-dot, range estimating crosshairs. You should also be able to adjust the focus. These features are becoming the standard and Gamo should adjust their product line to keep up. This is why. The retail cost of the Varmint Hunter is about $199 from PyramydAir.com. With other products like the Ruger Air Hawk Elite coming in at $179, sporting a whole lot nicer optics, Gamo needs to update their included accessories. I actually like the 4×32 fixed scope for quick target acquisition and I’d be satisfied if they just updated the reticule to incorporate some sort of mil-dot range estimation. I’ll talk more about this when we look at the shooting tests.
Close up of the Laser and Light Combo. This is transferable to other scopes if you choose to upgrade.
I would hate to be a squirrel looking facing down this light and laser!
The rest of the features are 100% Gamo. The trigger, need we even talk about it….? It is just awful. I don’t want to go on a tangent here, but it reminds me of Apple Computer. When the whole world was using a right mouse button, they still produced computers with only one mouse button. In fact I think their laptops still only have one button. The point is, how many people have complained and commented about how awful the Gamo trigger is to use? It seems to me that a company that actually cared about what their customers wanted would have changed that long ago… but nope. The Varmint Hunter has the potential to be an excellent shooter, but it will take a trigger replacement to get it there. My test rifle’s trigger was terribly hard to pull and took forever to actually fire. A couple of times I almost passed out while holding my breath and pulling the trigger. OK, so that is a little exaggeration, but I did find myself having to take a second breath at times and then resume the trigger pull. When I did manage to keep everything steady, the Gamo Varmint Hunter was VERY accurate.
Gamo Varmint Hunter Trigger Assembly
Loading and firing the Varmint Hunter is just like any other break barrel rifle. The rifle cocks with about 28 lbs force and takes a .177 pellet. The safety is manual and can be engaged and disengaged at your discretion, which is a plus in my book.
After a thorough inspection and a good barrel cleaning, I went to the bench to see what the Varmint Hunter could do. Performance was nearly identical to that of the Big Cat with a few exceptions. The Varmint Hunter posted velocities very close to 1000 FPS using RWS hobby pellets. The Beeman Laser pellets at 6.5 grns actually shot over 1000 FPS but you can forget about accuracy and the Gamo Raptor PBA ammo shot at about 1150 and were equally inaccurate. Other pellets I tried were the various flavors of Crosman Premier pellets, RWS “super” pellets, JSB, and, also, various Beeman pellets. The best pellet I found was the Beeman Kodiak extra heavy pellet with the Crosman Premier Heavy pellet shooting nearly identical groups. For the sake of my wallet, I chose to shoot the Crosman Premier Heavies as the accuracy difference was negligible and I’ve got boxes of them around (Thanks Crosman!).
I want to take just a moment to address an issue that I keep seeing pop up everywhere. Just because you can shoot at 1000, 1200, 1500, and even 1600 (yeah right) FPS, does not mean that you should. The best pellets in the Varmint Hunter were extra heavy pellets. The velocities averaged 736 FPS, but they held their groups out to 25 yards in the wind when the lighter pellets were shooting 2, 3, and 4 inch groups. Rather than velocity, convert the velocity and pellet weight to Foot Pounds of force. Using the Crosman Premier Heavy 10.6 grn pellet, the Varmint Hunter produced 12.75 FT-Lbs at the barrel and 10.38 FT-Lbs at the target 25 yards away. (I got brave and put my chronograph right at the target to measure velocity at impact.) Given that you need 6 FT-Lbs to humanely dispatch a squirrel, you still have plenty of power to do so at 25 yards and further, even though you’re not shooting 1000 FPS out of the muzzle. This is important to keep in mind when choosing a rifle.
When it came to shooting the Varmint Hunter for accuracy, I really had to work at it. First of all, the rifle is very light and therefore greatly effected by recoil. The point of impact between different weight pellets was incredible. Some pellets hit a full 4 inches away from the center, with the rifle zeroed with Crosman Premier Heavies. Finding the right hold was another problem. My old favorite Predator Shooting Rest was not an option. I took a cue from Tom Gaylord and tried setting the rifle on the back of my left hand and that did the trick. The bigger issue was learning how to deal with the horrible Gamo Trigger. If you are considering the Gamo Varmint Hunter, make sure you plan on installing a GRT III drop in replacement trigger. I happen to have one and I plan on installing it down the road along with an upgrade for the scope. Should make for an interesting Part 2!
Once I settled on a hold that worked for me and came to grips with the trigger issues, I was able to shoot some really nice groups. Now while I’ve got a really nice shot group to show you, what I’m not able to show you is how I tested the practical shooting aspect of the Varmint Hunter. What I mean by this, is how did it work in a simulated “real” hunting situation. For this I mounted one of my Gamo squirrel knock down field targets up in a pine tree to see if I could reliably hit the kill zone. To my disappointment I found this difficult outside of 30 yards. Anything within 25 yards was 95%, but once I got past 30 yards I had some real problems. This is not to say that it won’t hit beyond that, it is just going to take a lot of practice. The bigger issue that I ran into during this “practical” shooting exercise goes back to the scope. I happened to be testing another rifle costing about half what the Varmint Hunter goes for. I was able to hit the kill zone more reliably at different ranges because the scope was equipped with a mil-dot reticule. To compensate I had to manually adjust the Varmint Hunter every time I significantly changed my distance, something that will be an absolute given in the field. Once I had adjusted the scope for the appropriate distance and did not have to use the old “hold over and hope” method, the rifle really performed. Now if I can just get those squirrels to hold still while I zero in on their position, things would be perfect!
|Crosman Premier 10.6 Grn Pellets at the barrel:
High – 745
Low – 727
Average – 736 (12.75 FT-Lbs)
Difference – 18 FPS
|Crosman Premier 10.6 Grn Pellets at, 25 yards:
High – 678
Low – 655
Average – 664 (10.38 FT-Lbs)
Difference – 23
Gamo Varmint Hunter Shot Card at 25 yards. I know the numbers are upside down, but that is the way I hung it on the trap… oops! That dime will actually cover that group. Not bad for 25 yards.
So what is my bottom line with the Gamo Varmint Hunter? I think it is a great rifle. I know that I was hard on it from certain perspectives, but that is my job. I really like it even with all the shortcomings. The laser and light should easily transfer to just about any scope that you would like to use. So if you want to upgrade the scope, or maybe you have one already, you can pretty much bet that you’ll be able to take advantage of them. If the laser and flashlight options aren’t important, then look at the Gamo Big Cat and save yourself some money, as they are just about identical from what I can see. It is really hard to go wrong choosing to buy a Gamo rifle as long as you know ahead of time some of the issues you may run into.
I recently got a 4×32 AO MD scope that I plan to install along with the GRT III trigger upgrade. I have to believe this will make the Varmint Hunter into a completely different rifle. I’ll be sure to post an update once I’ve made the adjustments and have spent some time behind the trigger.