Airguns 101 – Fun at Home – Minisniping

Monday, March 10, 2014
Two of my favorite minisniping air rifles. At top, a Beeman R7 (HW30). Bottom: an FWB150 in an FWB300 stock.

Two of my favorite minisniping air rifles. At top, a Beeman R7 (HW30). Bottom: an FWB150 in an FWB300 stock.

In 1984 Peter Capstick, big game hunter and African Correspondent for Guns & Ammo magazine, published an article that changed the lives of a lot of airgunning enthusiasts. Entitled simply “Minisniping,” it enthusiastically related, stretching over 10 pages in the October issue, how Capstick and his fellow big rifle shooters had been seduced by the delights of shooting at spent 9mm brass at 35 yards, from a rest, with Olympic style match air rifles.

They could have been out in the bush hunting big game. But no, Capstick and his chums found themselves answering the siren call of spending eight hours a week trying to knock over tiny targets barely twice the width of their bullets.

The game, as Capstick and his pals played it, is deceptively simple: get some used 9mm casings, stick them primer end down in some modeling clay on a rock, a brick or a piece of wood. Then back off 35 yards and try to knock the casings down with an low-power “match” air rifle. What’s so great about that?

Well, I’ve tried minisniping, and I’ve discovered its allure.

First, minisniping is accessible. You can do it virtually anywhere you have room and it’s legal – and that’s a lot more places than where discharging a firearm is legal.

Second, minisniping is inexpensive on a per-shot basis.  Once you’ve paid for the air rifle (we’ll get to that in a moment), a “sleeve” of 10 tins each containing 500 rounds of .177 match ammo—that’s 5,000 rounds—costs less than $120.  At those prices, it bothers me not one bit that I typically blow through 75-100 rounds per session.

In addition, the Olympic-grade match air rifles used for minisniping are incredibly accurate, capable of 0.04” c-t-c groups at ten meters.  At 20 meters, a 10-shot group from a bench looks identical to a single .22 caliber hole.

Capstick and his fellow minisnipers shot with match quality air rifles of their day:  the Feinwerkbau 300s, FWB Running Boar, and Anschutz LG match.  These were recoilless spring-powered rifles that are now only available used.  Spring powerplants have gone out of favor with today’s world class match shooters.  A few single-stroke pneumatics are still used, but most of the top guns prefer the precharged pneumatic rifles that run off compressed air and are filled either from a pump or a SCUBA tank.

On the neighbor-friendly side of things, today’s match quality air rifles are generally quiet. The precharged guns make a popping sound that is certainly nowhere near as loud as, say, a .22 rimfire.  And the spring-powered guns make a muted “thwock” sound comparable to whacking a tennis ball with a racket.

Regardless of powerplant, what all of these match level guns share, in addition to superb accuracy, is high reliability.  Once in a while, a gun will go off to have the seals replaced, but other than that, repairs are rare, and you never hear of a barrel wearing out.

What makes match air rifles challenging to shoot for minisniping is that, regardless of price, they generate only 5-6 foot pounds of energy.  Most launch 7.9 grain match pellets downrange at about 560-600 fps (measured at the muzzle).  At 35 yards, the velocity is well below 500 fps, and any bit of wind will push the pellet around with impunity.  Learning to read the wind is at the heart of minisniping.

Minisniping is a game that takes just a few minutes to learn and a lifetime to master—and that’s where the true seduction lies.  Capstick, by the way, calculated that shooting at a ¾” high casing at 35 yards was equivalent to targeting an enemy sniper’s torso at over 1,300 yards. Capstick strongly recommends the use of wind flags for doping the breezes, but I generally don’t use them. Of course, many of my would-be snipees go unscathed much of the time.

Finally, many of these guns are “pellet sensitive.”  When you’re trying for ultimate accuracy, part of the quest will be figuring out which pellets give you the tightest groups at 35 yards on a calm day.

So what do you really need to play the game of minisniping?

An air rifle.  Any of these FWB match rifles will do the job. But if you don’t want to spend that much, let me suggest the humble HW30S It’s spring-powered, so you don’t need all the ancillary gear associated with a PCP rifle. It’s wonderfully accurate and launches pellets around 600 fps. Unlike the match rifles that Capstick and his friends shot, the HW30S is not recoilless, but it is still very easy to learn to shoot well. The key thing is not to use a high-powered air rifle. The velocity needs to be in the 500-650 fps range. Otherwise, minisniping will simply be too easy.

A scope.  Spring-powered airguns require an airgun-rated scope that can withstand their unique whiplash recoil.  You can use virtually any firearm scope on top of the precharged guns.  Ask the good folks at www.airgunsofarizona.com for a recommendation for a scope to go with your rifle

35 yards of space…or longer or shorter as the mood and/or necessity strikes you.

Some high quality pellets.  Airguns of Arizona is a great source of match pellets of almost every conceivable diameter.

A backstop or pellet trap.  This bullet box works well.

Wind flags (if you like, it’s definitely harder without them).  Wind flags are available commercially, or you can make ersatz wind flags with some 3-foot dowels, cellophane tape, and a bit of toilet paper or commercial flagging tape.

What if you don’t have all that stuff? No problem.  If your success rate is continually zero at 35 yards, move closer.  If your hit rate is 100%, move back.  Shoot at cheese puffs, animal crackers, little green army men, .22 brass, match sticks, toothpicks or soda straws.  The point is the fun, the challenge, and the ability to test the limits of your sniping ability in your own back yard.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

–          Jock Elliott

19 Comments

  1. M. Albrecht,MD,Tucson Az. says:

    Excellent article! My favorite spring powered air
    rifles are also a HW 30 S and a FWB 300.They are a pleasure to shoot and their accuracy at 10m.is superb.Fit and finish are second to none and these guns are practically maintenance free.

    1. Jock Elliott says:

      M.Albrecht,

      Thanks for the kind words. I agree wholeheartedly. Minisniping is great fun, whether with friends or alone.

  2. Gabe says:

    … ahhh… minisniping, I now have a minisniping dedicated rig… a FWB 300s tuned. And it still just as challenging as before. i started when i read that article a couple of years back, and still shoot it, at least twice a week. The first rifle was a daisy powerline 953 topped with a 3-9×32 scope… amazing what kind of accuracy you get out of that 90 dollar gun. it is that cheap to start. I have even cheapened it out to see if it was possible and used a powerline 880 scoped on something like 6 pumps… with a scope it will knock 3 out of 5 9mm casings at 35 yards, but only after going through the gun first to make sure every thing is tight and the barrel is secured and solid. And it has helped me at work (pest control) as the practice works great on chipmunks and such. Still believe that it does not get the credit that is due… or the glory that FT gets…

    1. Jock Elliott says:

      Gabe,

      I see you have grasped the true spirit of minisniping!

  3. RidgeRunner says:

    I had forgotten about Minisniping this past year as I have been distracted by rebuilding and shooting my 1906 BSA. Now that you have reminded me, I guess I will have to scope my Edge.

    Gabe, we do not want Minisniping to get the glory that FT gets. When that happens, all the fun goes out of it because the “professionals” take over.

  4. Matt says:

    Jock,
    I was 12 years old when G&A published Capstick’s article. I read it at the barbershop and was absolutely smitten. My Dad bought me a used Diana springer in .177 and I got a bag of plastic army men at the toy store. I fondly remember spending countless hours out in the back yard “sniping” away. It’s one of my favorite memories of childhood. Capstick’s well written article started a lifelong love of airguns. I still “minisnipe” using plastic army men from the dollar store. Instead of 35 yards though, my FX Verminator allows me to stretch it out to 50 yards. Thanks for sharing this article with a lot of folks who may never have heard of minisniping, I firmly believe it’s one of the most enjoyable things anyone can do with an airgun.

    1. Jock Elliott says:

      Matt,
      Capstick is one of my favorite writers. If you have never read his book on “Maneaters,” it’s a treat, even if you never intend to go anywhere near dangerous game.

  5. Bob Todrick says:

    As always, an excellent article.
    My favorite minisniping guns are my Avanti 853c (with a Gehmann diopter) and a Slavia 630 with a Hawke Airmax scope.
    Because they are ‘Canadian’ (meaning 500fps) I’ve backed off the range to 25m.
    Wonderful fun…if there’s any breeze at all, ones shooting skills are put to the test.

    1. Jock Elliott says:

      Bob,

      500 fps?! Even at 25 meters, that’s a serious challenge in the wind.

      1. Bob Todrick says:

        You got that right 😉
        On a windless day they will both group just under 2″,
        Add a 5mph wind and that can grow to 4-5″

  6. John in ND says:

    Ah, memories. I used to snipe plastic army men in my Folks’ back yard with a Daisy Red Rider equipped with a DIY peep sight made from a soda straw. Certainly never at 35 yards, but still great fun.

    BTW, Capstick’s article is still available online at minisniping dot org, along with an overview of the game written by a familiar author.

    1. Jock Elliott says:

      John,

      My brother-in-law and I have spent many a happy hour minisniping in his back yard. We knocked over our fair share of plastic army men as well.

  7. gabe says:

    …canadian? what kinda excuse is that?lol . It is meant to be shot with 10 M target guns or anything with similar power… which barely touches 500 fps… move those targets out!!! Nah… i am just joking. Just glad we are all sharing in this fun…

  8. Rob Trewett says:

    Sounds fun! When I was a kid I used to shoot grasshoppers and I must confess as an adult it is still a blast and can be an aid to accuracy ,range estimation, and stalking skills. I use a crosman 2100 with crosman premier wadcutters and out to twenty yards or so it is quite efficient. Just be sure of what’s behind your target! So when those hoppers start hoppin get out there for some fast shooting action. We used to award points based on size of hopper , shot placement , shot distance, and color/ wing color and make a game of it. Enjoy and shoot safe!

    1. Jock Elliott says:

      Rob,

      That sounds like great fun. Thanks for your comments.

  9. Gerod says:

    I would like to see more equivalents. I have a .22 whisper. I have dropped pigeons et al. over 90 yards with Barracuda 21.14gr. I would like to know what the equivalent that would be to something else I know like 5.56.

    It felt like a 500 or 600 yard shot on an 8 inch steel plate if I were to guess.

    What is the calculation that he used to find the equivalents?

    1. Jock Elliott says:

      Gerod,

      I’m not exactly sure what calculation Capstick used but I’m guessing it related the height of a man’s torso to the height of 9mm brass.

  10. Stuart Carter says:

    I still have that article in G&A. Sometimes shoot old .22″ cases at 20 yards for fun. When I had a Gamo cfx Royale could rely on hitting 9 out of 10 using .177″ RWS Superdome just with rested elbows and a 4 x 40 `scope Not so good now (anno domini). Can still do it off rest with HW77 or with a pneumatic and it`s still good fun. Makes a change from more serious target competition.
    Also, do a mini Billy Dixon shoot with scaled down figure of rider on pony at 20 yards. At first, used aperture backsight with fine bead foresight and this worked ok even though the figure only looked like a dot. Now use a `scope but no better result !

    1. Jock Elliott says:

      Stuart,

      Sounds like great fun!

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