Recently, I heard from blog reader Butch who said:
“I am new to adult air guns and have a few questions. At my work we use air guns to rid birds off equipment. I am having trouble with accuracy off a bench rest. I have been trying to site in off a bench. I have tried several pellets and can’t seem to get better than a 3 inch group at 50 yards. I might get 3 shots less than a inch and always flyers that stretch the group out. Could you give a little insight into shooting a spring gun. I am aware of the artillery hold. Maybe suggest a good gun rest. Thanks.”
Well, Butch, you raise a really good question, and it’s one that I face frequently since many times a year I test spring-piston air rifles (springers), and I always want to wring the best accuracy out of them.
At the risk of telling you stuff you already know, Butch, let’s start at the beginning. Springers are based on a unique airgun powerplant. All airgun powerplants use compressed gas – usually air, but sometimes CO2 or another gas – to drive the pellet down the barrel. Springers are, however, the only airgun powerplant that generates the compressed gas at the moment you pull the trigger. If you want to check out the other airgun powerplants have a look at this: http://www.airgunsofarizona.com/Review%20-%20Airgun%20Powerplants%20-%20Jock%20Elliott.html
Here’s how it works: when you cock a springer using the barrel or side lever or under lever, you are pushing a spring and piston backward inside the receiver until it latches. It sits there, inside the air rifle, bunched up like sprinter ready to launch when the gun goes off. When you pull the trigger, you release the spring and piston. They rocket forward inside the receiver, causing (remember Newton?) recoil toward the rear of the air rifle. As the spring and piston drive forward, they compress air in front of them. As the spring and piston rear the end of their stroke, two things happen. First, the piston bounces off the wad of compressed air in front of it and begins to move backwards. This causes recoil in the opposite direction. Second, a small amount of air squirts through the transfer port, driving the pellet down the barrel.
But notice the key thing here: the unique springer powerplant causes both forward and reverse recoil before the pellet leaves the muzzle of the gun. This whiplash recoil – which can involve several ounces thrashing around inside the receiver – can raise havoc with accuracy.
The other airgun powerplants – precharged pneumatic, CO2, multi-stroke pneumatic, single-stroke pneumatic – don’t have the problem of the whiplash recoil. The thing about springers that makes them so seductive is that they are so convenient – one cocking stroke and they are good to go, and no auxiliary equipment is required, like a pump or SCUBA tank or CO2 cartridges. Lee Wilcox, who used to run Airgun Express, once told me: “Shooters go through three stages with springers: first they love ‘em, then they hate ‘em because they’re hard to shoot well, then they love ‘em again.”
Before we get to the nuts and bolts of extracting the most accuracy out of a springer (in Part II next week), we probably ought to talk just a bit about what you might reasonably expect from a springer at 50 yards. And it is a mixed bag. I have seen a five-shot 50-yard group that you could cover with a dime shot from a sitting position by a field target shooter. No kidding. But that’s not typical. Further, I have shot close to 1-inch groups at 50 yards with springers, but that required a lot of work and a lot of care that might not be feasible when you’re trying to clean birds off of equipment.
Robert Beeman, who founded Beeman Airguns, reported in the Beeman Airgun Guide/Catalog Edition 18, “Approximate Potential Accuracy at Field Distances” ranging from 1.3 inches to 2.5 inches center to center at 40 yards, with springers. At 50 yards, those groups are going to spread out even more. A 1.5 inch group at 40 yards might become 2.3 inches at 50 yards. Bottom line: groups of 2-3 inches at 50 yards might well be typical with average springers and average shooters. (By contrast, it is rare for me to test a precharged pneumatic air rifle that will not deliver groups of 1 inch or less – sometimes much less – at 50 yards.)
Remain patient, Butch, next time I’ll offer some practical suggestions for improving your shooting.
Til then, aim true and shoot straight.
– Jock Elliott