To paraphrase a recent General Motors advertising campaign - "This is not your father's Hammerli, this is a new generation of air pistols". Indeed, Hammerli's offerings of a generation ago (the Single and Master CO2 pistols) were at the forefront of technological advancement and offered excellent accuracy and function, but their latest pistols - the 480 and 480K - push the envelope to new limits.
The first thing that strikes one as they examine the 480, is the overall sense of quality and precision that the gun presents. It is akin to the feeling one gets when handling a Rolex, or sitting astride a BMW motorcycle - it just immediately says "quality". Cosmetically, it's combination of dark french walnut grips, aerospace alloy machined surfaces, and carbon fiber bits create a pleasing palate. This is a gun that will draw attention when you remove it from the box at the first match you attend! But for all of this diverse aesthetic nothing gets your attention as much as the crackle finish on the air reservoir located under the barrel. It is a large tube (over 4 cm in diameter) that is finished in a two-tone black on yellow. The best way I can conjure to describe it is thus - think molten lava. We have all seen footage of a lava flow at some time in our past. Do you remember how the surface cools and becomes black, then cracks and shows the molten red lava through from beneath? This is the same effect only in molten yellow. In actuality, this effect is created by coating the carbon fiber wrapped, aluminum cylinder in a black lacquer that contracts as it dries. This finish effect is obviously varied from cylinder to cylinder, giving each one a unique pattern. The pistols' overall hi-tech look may turn off some firearms purists, but for the rest of us it's Johnny Quest appeal runs quite high. Of all of the air pistols that I have seen and used, it easily wins the "Whoa! What the heck is that!" award hands down.
Hammerli has made an interesting and intelligent choice with the 480 which allows it to use pre-charged air from a SCUBA type tank, or CO2 for a propellant. This may benefit folks who already have the CO2 gear needed to fill the cylinder, or simply those who cannot for some reason find the equipment needed to use pre-charged air themselves. Any dive shop can supply the air, and a small tank for SCUBA costs about the same as a CO2 tank, so setup cost is relative. The advantages of air over CO2 are several and are outlined in the History section of the APHP, so I won't go into too much detail here. Suffice it to say that unless you have no choice, using CO2 as the propellant for this gun would be like burning coal to fuel a Ferrari F50.
The engineers and designers at Hammerli spent approximately 5 years in R&D on the 480 before prototype production, and another year or so before the very first pistol rolled out the doors of the Swiss firearms plant in it's handsome black case in 1994. Right away the 480 proved itself to be a fine choice for the world class shooter, and has since been used to win numerous World Cup and other international level competitions. Let's take a look at the technical specifications.
The overall length of the pistol is approximately 16" (410 mm), with a barrel that measures 9.75" (250 mm). This gives the shooter an excellent sight radius of 13.5" (340 mm) to work with. The grip will have a familiar feel for those lucky enough to own one of this pistols' siblings in the .22 standard or free pistol variety. It is well formed out of a piece of figured, dark french walnut and sports Hammerli's excellent ergonomics and a fine stipple in the lower grip section. The palm shelf is adjustable, and the entire grip angle can be rotated on its axis by about 10 degrees. This allows the shooter to fit the grip of the 480 to a very fine degree to his or her individual preference. The grip and receiver are mated in such a way that the bore is only a few millimeters above the hand, giving one an excellent feeling of balance and stability. When the air cylinder is filled to 200 BAR (2,900 psi) it only adds a scant 28 grams of weight to the empty pistol. Therefore, the balance point of the pistol will change a lot less shot to shot than it would if CO2 were to be used. The well machined frame houses the typical falling block Hammerli style action, with it's cocking lever located to the left side of the gun. To make ready for a shot, one simply rotates this lever back toward themselves to the stop. This cocks the action, pre-stages air into the holding chamber, and opens the loading port allowing easy insertion of the pellet into the breech. Then return the lever to it's forward position and you are ready to fire. Just below the loading port, running perpendicular to the bore, is a small elliptical cross-section button which acts as a dry-fire selector. You push it in, and it blocks the action from tapping into the air reservoir, thereby letting one dry-fire practice for fine tuning of their trigger control and follow through. The trigger itself is also typical of Hammerli's match pistols - read: fantastic. It is adjustable in every conceivable way, and has clean take up and a fine, definite break at the point of release. The pistol I used was set so that I could lift the 500 gram weight of the table with little leeway, so I did not feel the need to adjust it's weight. I did however adjust to trigger stop so that it was halted with no discernable travel after firing. This is just personal preference, others of you may wish for an entirely different feel.
Filling the air cylinder is a relatively simple task. Located at the front of the cylinder is a barrel weight which is removed via the use of a two pin wrench (supplied with the pistol in it's tool kit). Doing this reveals the coupling for the filler attachment which is also supplied. This pistol is very different in the fact that the cylinder is attached to the frame and is not meant to be removed. So you literally screw the gun onto the air tank to fill it. This seems a bit odd at first, but I am sure that once you have performed this act a dozen or so times, it will be just as natural as filling CO2 cylinders from a tank. A manometer is supplied as well, so that you can measure the amount of air in the cylinder, and the dial face supplies you with the BAR reading for pressure, and a convenient shot gauge that approximates the remaining number of shots left before refilling is needed. The face of gauge is also color coded, making it even easier to use. By keeping the needle in the green area of the dial, you can be assured that you are operating in the proper pressure zone. Very smart and user friendly.
The front of the cylinder and the muzzle of the barrel are joined together and held by a carbon fiber shroud. This shroud acts partly as the receiver for the front sight inserts, which are easily exchanged and are graded in widths that are clearly marked on the side of each one. It also houses a disc of machined alloy that is in place just in front of the muzzle. There are eight holes, each at an angle, that face out away from the larger center bore where the pellet exits. This arrangement acts as a diffuser for the small cloud of turbulent air that leaves that muzzle upon firing, and allows the pellet to travel unmolested toward the target. This is a very simple and elegant solution for a very real problem, and I will trust the engineers at Hammerli that it works. Some proof is supplied with each gun in the form of a test group of five shots at 10 meters, all in one hole, that was fired with the gun before it left the factory. This is in a round metal frame, and I suggest you leave it with the gun at all times. This will answer many questions of those interested onlookers at the range without you uttering a single word.
The rear sight on the 480 is of a quality which is in keeping with the rest of the pistol. World class. It seems to me to be a very closely related model to those found on the company's gold standard model 160 free pistol. The simple, smooth finish belies a very precise internal mechanism; one with watch like precision that will move the point of impact 2 mm per click. Rear blades are interchangeable as with the previously mention front sight blades, and together this makes up one of the best sighting packages I have ever seen. You do need a small screwdriver to adjust the sight (again, this tool is supplied), but given the almost absolute consistency in shot velocity, I doubt that you will making too many adjustments. I sighted in the pistol using Nygord World Champion pellets, which are equivalent to the other fine pellets I use, the RWS R10. The pistol and I got along famously right from the onset, and after the adjustments I mentioned earlier I started firing five shot groups on Eidelman U.I.T. targets. At a steady 480 fps, the 480 produces perfect, paper punch quality holes. This makes scoring very easy, and it is a good thing. After only three targets I produced a perfect 50 with all of the shots touching each other. This was followed by several other great groups, but none as tight as that fourth set. But believe me, that wasn't the pistol's fault!
To wrap it up, this pistol is an excellent choice for anyone who wants to compete with the very best. It is not the most expensive gun on the market, with a retail price of around $1300.00 (November, 1997), but it easily one of the finest precision handguns that has ever been produced. I strongly suggest that you get to a retailer, or find a friend who has one if you are lucky enough, and spend some time studying and admiring the 480. This surely is a pistol that others will use as a technological standard for quite some time.