Airguns 101 – the Basics: What to Do Before You Shoot Part I

Monday, December 23, 2013

Before you enjoy your first shooting session with your new air rifle or air pistol, there are a few things you need to do.

The first is to identify a safe place to shoot. It could be in your basement, your side yard or your back yard, but it needs to be a place where, if your pellets or BBs miss their target, no people, animals, or property will be damaged. This is particularly important for first time shooters who may be more prone to miss.

Second, you need a good, safe backstop on which you can mount your target. It could be a bale of hay, a commercial pellet trap, or a backstop that you make yourself such as a cardboard box filled with old phone books. You can even improvise a pellet trap by stuffing a cardboard box roughly 1 foot x 1 foot x 2 foot and stuffing jam tight full of old clothes.  Shoot down the long axis and put some old shoes at the far end. If you make your own backstop, test it under safe conditions to make sure that it will stop the projectile as intended. Just because you think that a particular material will stop a pellet doesn’t mean that it will. A friend was amazed and chagrined when he found that his air rifle would easily blow through a sheet of plywood.

Third, if you have neighbors – particularly if they may be concerned when they see you shooting an air rifle or air pistol – take the time to talk to them. Explain that you will be shooting an air rifle (or pistol), that it doesn’t make much noise, that you are shooting at a safe backstop, and that you will not take aim at or shoot anything they value. A little bit of pre-shooting conversation with your neighbors can prevent a whole lot of misunderstanding and explanation later. Before you have that conversation with your neighbor, it’s a good idea to check the law to see if it is legal to shoot an airgun at your location.

Remember, too, that a little bit of consideration can go a long way to maintaining good neighbor relations. If you know, for example, that the guy next door works the night shift and sleeps in the mornings, you might want to schedule your shooting so you don’t disrupt his sleep.

Selecting a Scope

If you want to maximize, the fun, enjoyment and accuracy you get out of your air rifle, put a scope on it. Most airgunners I know shoot with a scope.

Why a scope? The short answer is that a scope will help you to see better and aim more precisely. The magnification provided by the scope helps you to view the target more clearly, and the crosshairs will help you pinpoint where you want to put the shot. By contrast, if you are shooting with iron sights, you will quickly discover that, beyond a certain distance, no matter what your target is, the front sight will be bigger than the thing you are aiming at, and that make precise shot placement very difficult.

If you have a precharged pneumatic, CO2, or multi-stroke pneumatic air rifle, you can use just about any telescopic sight that you prefer. But if you are shooting a spring-piston air rifle, often called a “springer,” you have to make certain that your scope is “airgun rated.”

Spring-piston airguns use a lever (sometimes the barrel, sometimes a lever under the barrel) to cock a spring. When you pull the trigger, the spring rockets forward, shoving the piston down the cylinder, compressing the air in front of it. The air rifle recoils backwards. As the piston reaches the far end of the cylinder, it rebounds off the wall of compressed air that it is pushing ahead of it, and the air rifle recoils in the opposite direction. The result is the weird forward-and-reverse double recoil that is characteristic of spring-piston airguns.

This bucking bronco action not only disturbs the point of aim, but also tortures scopes. Many scopes are braced for the typical rearward recoil of firearms but not for the additional forward recoil of a spring-piston airgun. The whipsaw motion can pop the reticle and other optical elements loose in a scope that is not designed to handle them. (I’m not talking “theoretical” here, either. I, personally, trashed a scope in less than 2 dozen shots. The reticle fell over like a drunken sailor.) As a result, the only scopes that should be mounted on spring-piston airguns are those that are high-quality and specifically “airgun rated.”

While you’re looking for a scope, make sure that you get one that has an adjustable objective that focuses down to 10 yards. Most air rifle shooting is done at ranges between 10 and 50 yards, and an adjustable objective that focuses precisely will eliminate something called “parallax error” that can throw your shot off.

With your scope, you’ll need a set of mounting rings that fit the scope tube (usually 1-inch, but sometimes 30 mm) and also fits the mounting rail on your air rifle. Most air rifles have a 3/8 inch (11 mm) mounting rail. If you have a spring-piston air rifle, be sure to get scope rings that have an anti-recoil pin. This pin drops into a hole on the air rifle’s receiver and prevents the recoil from causing scope and rings to “walk” off the back of the rifle.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight

–          Jock Elliott

Merrrrry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all the readers of this blog. May your celebrations be filled with peace, joy, and the good company of the people you love!

One Comment

  1. Bub says:

    Do you have any light weight low magnification scopes with AO that are favorites of yours?

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