Jamie Garrison has been a marine for 26 years and has taught at the Weapons Training Battalion at Camp Pendleton as well as both rifle and pistol teams. When I found out that he has taught marksmanship, I asked him how airgunners can improve their shooting.
“One of the biggest mistakes that brand new airgunners make is not truly discovering what they or their guns are capable of,” Garrison says. “The best way to improve yourself is to set your own expectations and then measure yourself against them. It’s not good enough to say ‘I can hit a soda can at X yards,’ because that is not precise enough.”
“To do that, you have to shoot on paper, preferably from a rest,” he says. “Get some targets with scoring rings, shoot ten shots at the target, and score yourself. Try different kinds of pellets, find which pellets the gun likes, then work on your technique to improve. Record those scores to measure your improvement”
He adds, “When I’m shooting from a rest with a PCP rifle, I put no pressure on the gun; I let the rifle do whatever it will. Don’t pressure the gun into position. If you have to ‘horse’ the crosshairs into the position you want, that will result in erratic groups. Adjust it on the rest so that it will just sit there, with the crosshairs exactly over the bull’s-eye with no effort from you.”
Garrison then squeezes the trigger between his forefinger and his thumb, which he rests on the back of the trigger guard. “The idea is to disturb the gun as little as possible and put no side pressure on the trigger.”
With springers, he uses a different technique. “I shoot springers off a bench the way I do hunting. More ‘deliberately’. I grip the pistol grip with just enough pressure to settle the gun into my shoulder, make sure I put no side pressure on the trigger, and just rest the forearm in my hand, with no grip or pressure applied. ”
“Bear in mind,” he adds, “that you may have to re-zero a springer if you have been shooting it off rests and then plan to shoot it offhand in the field. Due to the recoil generated, I’ve seen a springer’s point of impact shift several inches between shooting off a rest and shooting offhand, but PCPs will generally shoot the same point of impact whether you’re shooting from a rest or offhand. If you do your part of course.”
Garrison believes that two key skills shooters should practice are breath control and trigger control. “Over the years, I’ve learned that any breath in your lungs creates muscle tension that can disturb the shot,” he says. “So I recommend taking a deep breath – maybe even hyperventilating a little bit, although slowly and deeply – and then let it all out, but not forcing it out, until you come to your natural breath pause. That’s when you want to shoot. If you find you’re running out of air (some shooters will notice their vision starts to dim), lower the gun, breath some more, and start over again. No more than 10 seconds to break the shot.”
“When it comes to trigger control, it’s really a personal preference. So long as the trigger breaks, and the sights do not move, it works,” he says. “I do not truly squeeze the trigger unless I am bench shooting, but I don’t ‘pull’ the trigger either. I acquire the target and ‘mash’ the trigger – like I am compressing a ball of putty – straight back to the rear. One steady motion.”
Garrison says, “Like many instructors, I believe that shooting is 10 percent physical and 90 percent mental. Everyone has a natural wobble area. If you are shooting offhand, you have to allow the sights to settle into your natural wobble area and then begin the trigger squeeze. Your brain will subconsciously break the shot in the center of the wobble area.”
He concludes: “No matter what I am shooting, I always shoot at a particular spot on that target, whether it is the X ring on a piece of paper or a particular hair on a squirrel’s head. Too many shooters err by shooting at an area on a target and not a specific spot.”
Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.
– Jock Elliott