A Holiday encounter of the airgunning kind

Monday, January 21, 2013

At a holiday gathering toward the end of 2012, I ran into one of my nephews who I hadn’t seen in a while. In the course of the usual catching-up small talk, I mentioned that I write a weekly blog about airguns.

“Really?” he said. “I just bought an airgun.”

He explained that it was his second air rifle, and he likes to hunt squirrels with them. They are both .177 caliber and both break barrel springers. The first one shoots slowly but is very accurate. He bought the second one – which advertises 1,200 feet per second – because he wanted “more knock-down power.”

The problem was, he said, that the more powerful one didn’t seem to be very accurate. Was there anything he could do to improve the accuracy?

He and I chatted for quite some time, and I suggested a number of things that might help.

The first thing was to make sure that the scope mounts and rings were tight. I explained about the weird whiplash recoil that springers generate and that if the scope was loose in the rings or the scope mounts were not securely fastened to the receiver, the recoil was going to make the scope move with every shot, and he wasn’t going to get accuracy that way.

Then he mentioned that he knew the gun was shooting fast, because he could hear the supersonic crack when it fired. Immediately I suggested that he get some heavier pellets to slow the gun down. When varminters use firearms to shoot prairie dogs at 600 yards, I said, they shoot so fast – sometimes in excess of 4,000 fps – that the shot stays supersonic the entire distance to the target. But, I explained, there aren’t any airgun powerplants that will do that. So when you launch a pellet at supersonic speed, it quickly loses velocity and drops through a transonic region where the pellet gets buffeted by turbulence, and the result is poor accuracy. “If you slow the gun down to around 900 fps at the muzzle,” I suggested, “you’ll probably get much better accuracy.”

I also suggested that needed to try a variety of pellets, shooting them for groups off a rest, to see which one delivers that best accuracy. He told me that he usually buys wadcutter pellets because they worked the best in his slower air rifle and they make a bigger wound channel.

“The Olympic shooters use wadcutters,” I said, “but they are shooting their match rifles at around 600 fps. I’m pretty sure those wadcutters will go nuts at the speed that your more powerful air rifle shoots. Your best bet is to stick with round-nose pellets for the greatest accuracy.”

Further I suggested that when he shoots groups, he should steady his rifle on a soft rest like an old cushion or perhaps a folded up jacket. Springers, because of the way they recoil, usually don’t produce best accuracy when rested on a hard surface, I told him.

Finally, I advised him to squeeeeeze the trigger when shooting groups. “If you jerk the trigger, you may well yank the shot to one side or the other. But if you squeeze slowly while maintaining the alignment of the crosshairs on the target, you’ll get better results.”

He thanked me for the suggestions and said he would give them a try. I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

–          Jock Elliott


  1. FREDDY KING says:

    I enjoyed reading your conversation with your nephew and the different advice to improve accuracy with his air rifles.
    All of them seemed good points in “SPRINGERS”
    Could you give some info on “NITRO PISTON MECHANISM”how does this system work?
    Does it use nitrogen gas? and if so how is it loaded into the rifle.
    I’ve been a member of the US Army in the sixties but have no idea of the late technology
    on air rifles and pistols.
    Thank you have a great day!

    1. Jock Elliott says:


      I am working on a blog that should answer some of your questions.

  2. Mike Colburn says:


    Thanks for a very well written discussion about getting the best accuracy out of a springer airgun based on proper pellet weight selection being critical as per the velocity of the gun. As a new shooter of airguns I found this very helpful.

    1. Jock Elliott says:


      Thanks for the kind words. I’m glad you found it helpful.

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