Shooting Your Groups
First, make certain that your airgun is at least roughly sighted-in and “on the paper.” Now, carefully maintaining the same point of aim, fire five shots at the target. Don’t worry whether you are hitting the bull’s eye; just make dead certain that you are keeping the sights pointed at the same spot on the target.
As you shoot, pay attention to the little details of how you are shooting: how hard you pull the rifle into your shoulder, how you squeeze the trigger, how you position your fingers, even how you breath (Most of the really good shooters I know draw in a full breath, let out half, then squeeeeeeze off the shot.). Try to repeat the same shooting technique each time, then make small changes to see if your groups improve. Last year, I was shooting some groups but the shots kept jumping to the right. By keeping my thumb on the right side of the stock (rather than wrapping it around the pistol grip), I was able to cure this problem. Paying close attention to your technique will produce handsome dividends in improved accuracy.
Be mindful of how your gun is behaving as well. Some air rifles, particularly springers, are notorious for being “hold sensitive.” When this is the case, changing the place where the stock of the gun presses against the rest can also change where the pellets hit the target. If your gun is hold sensitive, you may have to apply a piece of masking tape marked in half-inch increments to the stock, then shoot groups from different positions on the stock to discover “the sweet spot” that allows your gun to shoot best.
A note: some airgunners shoot only three-shot groups, but I normally shoot at least five pellets to a group, and frequently I shoot ten. With just three shots, it’s not uncommon to produce a really small group as the result of sheer luck. With five shots, a lucky group can still happen, but it almost never happens with ten-shot groups.
In real life, the difference between five-shot and ten-shot groups can reveal itself in funny ways. I remember well the day when the first four shots from a particular air rifle went virtually in the same hole. Boy, this is really an accurate rifle, I remember thinking. The next shot, the fifth, punched a hole half an inch away. A flyer, I thought. But of the next five shots, three more were at a distance from the main group. The ten shots revealed that this combination of gun and ammo was not very accurate after all.
Evaluating the Results
As you shoot groups with different pellets and compare targets, you’ll quickly see that your airgun is much more accurate – producing smaller groups – with some pellets than others. If you find that there are two or three pellets that produce very similar results, try shooting groups with those pellets at longer ranges. As you stretch out the yardage, you’ll see that there is one clear winner among your pellet choices.
When checking the size of groups, measure from the outside edge to the outside edge of the two most widely separated shots. This is called an edge-to-edge measurement, and if you’re just getting started, it will meet your needs just fine. Once you start shooting little tiny single-hole groups, you’ll want to measure from edge to edge, but then subtract the diameter of the pellet. This is called a center-to-center group, and it is the best way to measure groups when you are shooting with one-hole accuracy.
Whichever measurement method you use, write the result down on the target, along with the name of the pellets that you shot at this target, the distance, the gun and the date. Next, put a fresh target on your backstop or pellet trap and repeat the process at the same distance with each different type of pellet that you want to test.
Now, I can guess what you’re thinking: Aren’t pellets really pretty much the same? Will any of them really make that big a difference? Trust me on this: finding the right pellet is critical, and the results can be absolutely spectacular.
Recently, I was testing a very powerful spring-piston air rifle. At 50 yards, some of the pellets produced groups that were huge – 3.5 to 5 inches! But with the right pellet, the same air rifle was transformed, putting five shots into a group that measured only 1.25 inches, edge-to-edge. In another case, an airgunning buddy called, heartbroken because his new gun was producing very large groups. We changed pellets and shrunk the group size by two-thirds.
The bottom line: accuracy is everything. It’s worth the trouble to find the pellet that delivers the best accuracy in your airgun, and it will add immeasurably to your enjoyment of shooting it.
Finally, after you have become proficient groups from a rest, you may also want to see how well you do shooting groups from your favorite field position – for example, from a sitting, standing, or kneeling position.
Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.
— Jock Elliott