About Jock Elliott

Located in upstate New York, I never met a projectile launcher I didn't like. Besides fooling around with airguns, bows, and blowguns, I pick banjo and guitar. I share my life with my wife, son, and a variety of furry creatures.

Posts by Jock Elliott

If you want to get the absolute best out of your airgun, you have to do one thing: you have to find the right pellet. By the right pellet, I mean the pellet that (a) produces the highest accuracy and (b) is suited for the type of shooting you intend to do.

Before we dive into finding the right pellet for your air rifle or air pistol, let’s agree that accuracy is critical. As one airgunner put it: “It doesn’t’ matter how big a pellet you’re shooting, how fast it left the muzzle, or how much energy it retains downrange; if you miss, everything else is immaterial.”

The Pellet

If you look at your air rifle (or air pistol) as a system comprised of a powerplant (spring piston, precharged, multi-stroke pneumatic, etc.), an aiming device (scope and rings, iron sights, or peep sights) and a projectile, the most important part of the system (all other things being equal) is the pellet.

The pellet is the only part of the system that goes downrange toward the target. Once the pellet leaves the muzzle, you have no control over it. If the pellet doesn’t behave itself in its lonely flight toward what you aimed at, you’re going to miss.

Here’s the key: different airguns work better with some pellets than with others. In the years that I have been writing about airguns, and I have had the opportunity to interview some outstanding airgun designers and airgunsmiths, no one has been able to tell me how to predict which rifle will shoot best with which pellet. Oh sure, some of them might say “Well you might want to try this pellet or that pellet,” and certainly some dealers may have a pretty good idea which pellet is likely to work well with a particular gun, but in the end, it all comes down to “try a bunch of different pellets and see which one works best.”

My brother-in-law and I each own identical air rifles, and each of them prefers a different pellet. So, just because another fellow has an air rifle like yours and it shoots well with a particular pellet, that doesn’t mean yours will also shoot well with the same pellet. It might, but then again it might not. I’m not trying to be arbitrary or weird here; I’m just stating the truth: the only way to know for sure if a particular type of pellet is going to work well in your gun is to try it and see.

And because the pellet is the most important part of your shooting system, if you’re serious about airgunning, it’s worth taking the time to experiment with a bunch of different pellets and see which one works best for you in a particular gun. Don’t worry about fashion or what seems to be “in,” just shoot what works well in your gun.

How to Find the Right Pellet

The easiest way to discover which pellet works best in your air rifle is to shoot groups from a rest. You shoot multiple shots at a target at a fixed distance and examine how well the pellet holes cluster – or group – together.

You need a rest on which you can place your air rifle and hold it steady on the target. The rest doesn’t have to be fancy so long as it allows you to point your air rifle securely at the target without wobbling around.  In addition, the rest must allow you to look comfortably through the sights. You don’t have to buy one of those nifty portable varminting benches or professional bench rests to get the job done. My brother-in-law uses a toolbox placed on a picnic table and padded with a jacket. For a lot of my testing, I use a Workmate portable work bench topped with a couple of old foam boat cushions.

In addition to a rest, you’ll need a pellet trap or safe backstop and some paper targets. Put a paper target on the backstop or pellet trap at a measured distance. With new guns, I generally start at 10 or 15 yards, then move to longer distances as needs dictate. With some very powerful, highly accurate airguns, I shoot groups at distances out to 50 yards.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

– Jock Elliott

Routine Maintenance

To be honest, the jury is still out on routine barrel cleaning for airguns. Many top-notch shooters only clean their barrels when they notice a decrease in accuracy. If you simply must clean your barrel regularly, do so at 500-round intervals, using a pull-through and a cleaner-degreaser.

With a springer, tighten the stock screws, wipe down the finish with a gun rag, and regularly apply a drop of lubricant to the cocking link and cocking slider. Most modern springers do NOT require chamber oil. Older guns with leather seals may benefit from a couple of drops of chamber oil every tin of pellets or so.

With a pneumatic, all you need to do is lubricate the bolt surface with synthetic gun oil and use your normal lube on your pellets, unless the manufacturer’s recommendations say differently.

With springers, store your gun uncocked and never discharge the gun without a pellet. Springers rely on the back pressure provided by the pellet to prevent the piston from slamming into the end of the cylinder and causing damage. If you absolutely must discharge a springer without a pellet, press the muzzle tightly against a phone book and then pull the trigger. On the other hand, pneumatics should be stored uncocked with air in them.

When is it Time to Send Your Gun to the Service Shop?

With precharged pneumatics, usually the only reason for sending a gun to the shop is a leak – you may have an inlet or exhaust valve or o-ring that is bad. The other cause for concern is deteriorating accuracy that isn’t cured by cleaning the barrel.

With spring-piston rifles, there are several symptoms that may suggest sending the gun to the shop: harsh firing behavior (after the gun is broken in), loss in accuracy, noise or increased effort on cocking, loss in velocity, or problems with consistency in velocity. The first thing you should do, however, is check and tighten the stock screws.

If the springer has been sitting around without being fired for a long time, the seals – particularly older synthetic seals – may deteriorate with age. As a result, if you have an old gun that hasn’t been shot and is behaving strangely, it may need to be resealed.

Supplies You‘ll Need to Maintain Your Airgun

Fortunately, the list of necessary equipment for airgun maintenance is short:

  • A quality toolkit, with gunsmith-style bits.
  • A quality cleaning kit with pull-through or coated rod, dictated by your type of rifle.
  • Some cleaner-degreaser.
  • Lubricant for the cocking linkage for springers.
  • Chamber oil for springers – but only if your gun absolutely requires it.
  • Lubricant for the bolt surface for pneumatics.
  • Pellet lube for pneumatics.

If you don’t already have these supplies, order them when you purchase your gun. Then you’ll be ready for many happy years of shooting.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

-          Jock Elliott

No matter whether your pride-and-joy is a springer or a precharged pneumatic, CO2 powered or a multi-stroke pneumatic, the very first thing you want to do –before you shoot it for the first time – is give the barrel a good cleaning. That’s because there may be greases and oils left in the barrel from the manufacturing process.

The best way is to use a flexible boresnake-style cleaner – a pull-through. Pull a patch with a cleaner-degreaser like Simple Green or AOA Cleaner/Degreaser through from the breech to muzzle, followed by several dry patches until the patches come through looking clean or almost clean. If you’re still getting a lot of dark stuff out of the barrel, run another patch with Simple Green, followed by more clean patches.

If you can’t use a pull-through, then use a synthetic coated rod. Never use an uncoated metal rod or metal brush in your airgun’s barrel – you can damage the rifling. (If you are cleaning the barrel of a springer that has been stored for a long time, you may have to use a nylon bristle brush and Beeman’s MP-5 oil to clear oil and grease that has congealed and dried.) [A special note to firearms shooters new to airguns: most of what you know about cleaning and maintaining firearms will do you no good when it comes to airguns. Sorry, that’s just the way it is.]

If your new air rifle is a springer, then the other thing that absolutely must do is to tighten the stock screws. These screws may have loosened in transport or because the wood of the stock has compressed or shrunk slightly. Whatever the reason, make sure that the stock screws are snug.

You won’t be wasting money if you invest in good tool kit with gunsmith-style bits. They will allow you to get better purchase on the screw heads in your airgun, so you can tighten them well without stripping the fastener heads or slipping and inadvertently causing damage to your rifle’s stock.

Loose stock screws can cause serious accuracy problems with spring-piston air rifles. In addition, there have been cases, involving high-power springers, in which very loose stock screws have been snapped by the gun’s recoil. So snug those screws down! It’s a good idea to check those screws every hundred rounds or so, particularly when your gun is new.

The other thing you’ll want to do with your springer is put a drop of lubricating oil on the pivot point of a break barrel or underlever air rifle. The factory may have done it, but it doesn’t hurt to make sure.

With a precharged pneumatic, once you have cleaned the barrel, it’s wise to cock the gun before your first fill (some guns will allow air to leak out the muzzle if you don’t). When you fill your precharged pneumatic, do so slowly – take about 30 seconds to fill the gun. Compressed air coming into the gun’s reservoir tends to heat the gun. If you simply open the valve full and allow compressed air to rush into the gun, you can heat the valve and may actually melt it.  Slow and easy is best.

With pneumatics, you’ll probably want to shoot pellets that are lubricated with pellet lube http://airgunsofarizona.com/Napier.html, unless the manufacturer says otherwise.

Breaking In

All airguns need to be broken in. Some require more shots than others, but the initial break in with all guns will be about 30-40 shots. During that time, particularly with springers, you may notice somewhat erratic firing behavior and accuracy, but that is to be expected. Complete serious break in will probably take a full tin of pellets to happen.

With springers, after 30-40 shots, clean the barrel again and check the stock screws. As you go through the rest of the tin of pellets, you’ll notice that the cocking will become easier and smoother; the trigger will smooth out; the gun will get quieter, and the vibration will settle down.

With pneumatics, the break in period is not as critical, but, like a springer, the barrel has to get seasoned as small pockets in the barrel are filled with lead. The trigger and hammer will smooth out; cocking will become easier and smoother; valves with operate with more freedom and faster; the regulator (if there is one) and the entire gun will become smoother and more consistent as you complete that first tin of pellets.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

- Jock Elliott

EB-Chris-1

On the face of it, airgun benchrest sounds like it could be, well, kinda boring. After all, how hard could it possibly be? You take a state-of-the-art air rifle, place it on some really good rests, and bang away at a target at a known distance. It’s easy, right?

Wrong!

Airgun benchrest is a tough, exacting, exasperating, occasionally frustrating sport. There are variables galore: slight variation in velocity at the muzzle, even from the best purpose-built air rifles; variations in the pellets, which are machine made to high standards, but still there are differences from pellet to pellet, usually small but sometimes big, and you also have the shooter’s technique and decisions about when, where, and how to shoot. But above all, you have the wind. In airgun benchrest, the wind is not your friend, buddy, pal, or ally. It is, in fact, Evil Incarnate sent by the Dark Lord Sauron to mess with your accuracy, ruin your life, leave dirty socks on your coffee table, and give you a flat tire. (Well, okay, maybe that’s a tiny bit of an overstatement, but not by much.)

Your Humble Correspondent has tried airgun benchrest at 25 yards, and it is by no means a “gimme.” Even with the best gun, best pellet, and superb rests loaned to me by a world champion bench rest shooter, the wind will still humble you, take you to the woodshed, and make you wish you had taken up a less challenging pastime.

And that’s at 25 yards. At 75 yards, well, forget it. That’s 225 feet, more than twice the distance that at which I normally test airguns.

The good folks at Airguns of Arizona have apparently not gotten the word that attempting airgun benchrest at 75 yards is just plain goofy because, for the third consecutive year, they have sponsored the Extreme Benchrest Competition in Phoenix, Arizona. At the heart of the Extreme event is long-range benchrest: 25 shots in 30 minutes at 75 yards. But that is not the only thing going on. There are also two 25 yard benchrest matches, a timed silhouette match, an indoor pistol match, and a field target match. Prize money was on the line in the Pro class and gift certificates and other goodies in the other classes.

The event this year drew 84 competitors from as far away as Sweden, Venezuela, Canada, and Mexico and airgun writers and World Class shooters from the UK. In short, it is an event that is growing in popularity and is attracting international attention.

Here enters Chris Warwick from Mesa, Arizona. He thought that Extreme Benchrest sounded like fun, so he entered the Sportsman’s Class and ended up winning overall with a high score that was five points ahead of anyone else.

Warwick was shooting a .30 caliber FX Boss. In an interview, I asked him why he had selected that air rifle. He said, “I chose the FX because I thought I should use what they guys were winning with last year.” (FX air rifles took nine out of ten prizes this year, even though they only represented about 30 percent of the entries.)

I asked about his background in shooting and how he prepared for the match.

Warwick said, “Back in the 1980s, I was a high-power silhouette shooter. I did a lot of work from the bench, developing loads. I also did a lot of testing for accuracy for small bore silhouette. It turns out I have far more trigger time from the bench than anything else.”

He adds, “I stopped shooting high power in the mid 90s, and I picked up air rifle shooting for something to do when I am not playing golf. I really enjoy benchrest, and I can practice five days a week in my yard at 25 yards, so that’s how I prepared for the 25-yard matches.”

But then came a surprise. “I had no prep time whatsoever for 75 yards,” Warwick says. “I used the Hawke Chairgun Ballistics program for estimating drops and holdovers, but there are no good data for ballistic coefficients for .30 caliber, so it was sophisticated guessing.”

He adds, “I was very nervous Sunday because that was the first time that I had actually shot at 75 yards. The sighters are at the bottom of the target. If you shoot high, it will fall into the scoring portion of the target, and it will count toward your score. That’s not the way you want to start a match.”

Fortunately, Warwick’s first sighter at 75 yards was 2.5 inches low. He fired a confirming shot, got dialed in, and the match was on. “The neat thing was,” he says, “I was holding so well that I could actually see the pellet at 880 fps as it was streaking toward the target. I could see the pellet get affected by the wind.”

“I made the mistake of keeping track of my score. I was getting a little excited, so I tried breathing, just settling down and watching the wind flags, trying to collect myself.”

He reports that he did experience some unexpected things during the match. “My first shot after refilling was a sighter. It clipped the 10 ring at 9 o’clock, so I held at 3 o’clock to compensate and shot my first 8 of the match.”

In the end, Warwick is ecstatic about the win. “I believe the Extreme Benchrest match is exactly what the name implies: a wonderful event to test your ability as a shooter and wind reader as well as your choice of equipment and familiarity with it. I can’t wait ‘til next November.”

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

-          Jock Elliott

Mounting a Scope

 When you’re mounting a scope on your air rifle, the first thing you need to do is to determine where your eye relief is. To do that, you mount the rings loosely on the gun – firm enough to stay on but not so loose as to fall off. Put the scope on, set it on the highest power (because that’s where eye relief is most critical), and gently position it for your eye relief when you are in correct shooting position.

Here’s how to make sure you have the eye relief set correctly: mount the gun with your eyes closed. Relax your head and neck, then open our eyes. If you move your head forward, the scope needs to come back. If you move your head back, the scope needs to go forward. And, if you don’t move your head at all, the scope is positioned properly. If you’re not sure if you’re moving, ask a friend to observe you.

Once you get the eye relief properly set, tighten down the bolts that hold the scope rings to the scope rail on the rifle. At that point, it’s time to get the crosshairs aligned straight up and down.

Don’t try to do this by pulling the gun to your shoulder. That’s because tight handed shooters will tend to cant the rifle to the left, and lefthanders will tend to cant to the right. Instead, set the gun in a solid rest, make sure the gun is level, and sight on a plumb bob or the corner of a wall to get the crosshairs vertical.

When the crosshairs are squared away, it’s time to tighten the scope in the rings. Tighten all the top strap screws until they are just barely snug, with an even gap on the left and the right side of the scope. Then tighten each screw in an X pattern, one-eighth of a turn at a time. Do four cycles of tightening on the front mount, then four cycles on the rear mount, then repeat as needed. Make sure you are maintaining an even gap from side to side as you complete your tightening cycles. You want to get them as tight as you can on a spring gun.

If you find you don’t have enough vertical adjustment to get the scope sighted in, you can place a shim under the scope on the rear mount to compensate. You can use brass sheeting from a hardware store or plastic cut out of standard water bottles. Better yet, ask your airgun dealer for a scope mount that is adjustable for elevation.

Sighting In

Finally, whether you have an airgun with iron sights or a scope, you’ll want to sight it in. Sighting in is simply the process of making sure that, at a given distance (ten yards, for instance), the sights are pointed at the same spot where pellet or BB hits.

The easiest way is to start at a distance of 10 feet (That’s right, 10 feet, not 10 yards. A tip of the hat to Tom Gaylord, former Editor of the Airgun Letter for this suggestion.) Shoot one shot with the sights centered on the bull’s-eye.

Look at where the shot hit. Ideally, the point of impact should be no more than 3 inches below the bull’s-eye and centered from side to side. If the shot is too high or too low, or to the right or to the left, consult your airgun or scope manual and adjust the sights accordingly.

Take another shot from ten feet and see if your adjustments are getting you closer to where you want to be. Make small changes at first until you get a sense for how changes in the sight settings affect the point of impact. The windage adjustment changes where pellets strike from side to side, and the elevation knob or screw adjusts the height. Continue making shots and changes until your pellets or BBs are striking the target 1-3 inches below the bull’s-eye and centered side to side.

Next, move back to ten yards, and shoot again. Your shot should hit the target a little higher and should remain generally centered left to right. All that remains is to fine-tune the windage and to adjust the elevation so your shots hit the center of the bull’s-eye. That’s it – your air pistol or rifle is now sighted-in for ten yards. If you shoot from a distance other than 10 yards, you’ll notice that your pellets or BBs will strike higher or lower, depending upon the range.

A couple of notes: if you back up to 10 yards, and find your shots are going wild, return to 10 feet, check to make sure the fasteners holding your scope or sights haven’t worked loose, and try again. If you are shooting a multi-stroke pneumatic air rifle or pistol, be sure to use the same number of pumping strokes each time.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

-          Jock Elliott

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!

Go to virtually any fast food restaurant, and you can witness people creating and using airguns. No, I’m not kidding. Wait a little while, and you’ll see a kid tear one end off the paper wrapper on a soda straw, blow air through the straw, and launch the paper wrapper at someone. That’s an airgun, plain and simple. All airguns use the same principle – gas (air or CO2) moving down a tube – to launch a projectile.

There are a variety of powerplants that are used in modern airguns to get the air moving and send a pellet or a BB down range. There really is no such thing as a “perfect” airgun powerplant. All of them have advantages, and all of them have disadvantages. The one that will work best for you depends on which performance characteristics are top priorities for you.

In case you think airguns are a modern development, they’re not. Folks were experimenting with pneumatic airguns in the late 1500s, and by the 1700s, gentry were using them regularly for hunting. Lewis and Clark carried an air rifle with them on their historical journey of exploration of 1804-1806.

So let’s take a look at those powerplants.

Multi-stroke pneumatic

 

The 1377c is a classic multi-stroke pneumatic pistol.

The 1377c is a classic multi-stroke pneumatic pistol.

Multi-stroke pneumatic (also known as MSP or pump-up) airguns require multiple strokes (usually 2-8, but sometimes more) of an on-board lever (very often, the forestock) to store compressed air in the powerplant. The more you pump, the more air is stored and at higher pressure, which means the faster the pellet will be driven down range when the shot is triggered.

Advantages: MSPs are virtually recoilless, which means that they are easy to shoot well; you don’t have to worry about how you hold or rest the gun to get the best possible accuracy out of it. In addition, pump-up airguns are completely self-contained, so all you need for a day afield is the gun and a tin of pellets. In addition, the velocity of the pellet (and consequently the power with which it hits the target) can be varied with the number of strokes. Fewer strokes generally result in a quieter shot.

Disadvantages: The main downside of a multi-stroke pneumatic is that once it has been fired, it must be pumped up all over again. While some shooters find all that pumping very tedious, other liken it to shooting a blackpowder muzzle loader. Another consideration: when pumped up to the max, a multi-stroke pneumatic can be loud.

Single-stroke pneumatic

Single-stroke pneumatic airguns also use a lever to compress air in the powerplant, but – as the name implies – require only a single stroke to fully charge the gun. This is the powerplant that was used on many Olympic 10-meter match guns and is still used on some entry-level match rifles as well as some air pistols.

Advantages: Single stroke pneumatics are fully self-contained, easy to cock, highly consistent and often incredibly accurate.

Disadvantages: There is a limit to how much air you can compress in a single stroke. As a result, the power and speed of these guns is usually low, shooting relatively light match-grade .177 pellets at 500-600 fps.

Precharged Pneumatic

The Cricket is a pre-charged pneumatic rifle in a bullpup configuration.

The Cricket is a pre-charged pneumatic rifle in a bullpup configuration.

Precharged pneumatic airguns are similar to similar to single and multi-stroke pneumatics in that the shot is driven by compressed air stored in a reservoir on the rifle or pistol. But precharged pneumatics (also known as PCP guns) are charged not from an on-board pump, but with air from a SCUBA tank or high-pressure pump. This is powerplant of choice for high-energy hunting guns, Olympic 10-meter rifles and pistols, and top-echelon field target rifles.

Advantages: Pre-charged pneumatics are virtually recoil-free, very consistent, and typically superbly accurate. They can also been extremely powerful. (This powerplant has been used to create big bore air rifles used for hunting large game.) In addition, some manufacturers have broken the “high-price barrier” with the introduction of PCP rifles that cost roughly as much as a magnum spring-piston rifle.

Disadvantages: Until recently, precharged airguns have been generally expensive. In addition, they are not self-contained – you need a SCUBA tank or high-pressure hand pump available to recharge the gun – as a result, they are sometimes viewed somewhat complicated to operate.

Spring-Piston/Gas Ram

The Weihrauch HW80 is a fine example of a breakbarrel spring-piston air rifle.

The Weihrauch HW80 is a fine example of a breakbarrel spring-piston air rifle.

Spring-piston airguns – also called “springers” – use a lever (normally the barrel or a lever under or to the side of the barrel) to cock a spring and piston (or a gas cylinder “gas spring” in the case of a gas-ram powerplant). When the trigger is pulled, the spring (or ram) is released, pushing the piston forward (and the gun backward) and compressing a powerful blast of air behind the pellet. As the piston nears the end of its stroke, it slams into the wall of air at the end of the compression cylinder and recoils in the opposite direction. All this happens before the pellet leaves the barrel. (In effect, the springer creates a short blast of compressed air on demand.) The recoil effect is the same for a gas ram.

Advantages: Springers are a favorite of many airgunners because they are self-contained, often relatively quiet and can be very accurate.

Disadvantages: The Dark Side of springers is that, because their unique whiplash recoil, these guns often require considerable practice to shoot them at their highest accuracy. In addition, the unique recoil of springers demands airgun-rated scopes that can withstand the forward-and-back recoil.

CO2

The Walther Lever Action is a CO2 powered repeater rifle.

The Walther Lever Action is a CO2 powered repeater rifle.

CO2 airguns are powered by 12-gram cartridges, 88-gram AirSource cartridges, paintball tanks, or CO2 transferred from a bulk tank into the gun’s on-board reservoir. These cartridges and tanks actually contain CO2 liquid some of which vaporizes in the tank at very low temperatures, producing a high-pressure gas which is then used to propel pellets or BBs down the barrel. The gas pressure produced when the liquid vaporizes depends on the ambient temperature: the lower the temperature, the lower the gas pressure, and therefore the lower the velocity of the pellets.

Advantages: CO2 airguns are recoilless, and (in high quality models) extremely accurate. They are also very convenient; it’s easy to carry a handful of 12-gram cartridges in a jacket pocket. The convenience of the cartridges has also made CO2 a popular propellant for air pistols. Noise levels vary from model to model. Cocking effort is usually very low, making these guns a favorite for family shooting.

Disadvantages: CO2 airguns require periodic refilling and performance will vary with temperature. Velocity will drop considerably in wintry conditions, and CO2 airguns will shoot faster than normal in very warm conditions. In addition, CO2 airguns should not be stored in temperatures above 120 degrees F.

What’s the Best Choice?

So which airgun powerplant is right for you? If you want a gun that is self-contained, choose a spring gun, multi-stroke pneumatic, or single-stroke pneumatic. If you want a neighbor-friendly report, a spring powerplant is most likely to deliver it, and there are quiet pre-charged, multi-stroke, and CO2 models. If you demand the highest accuracy, a single-stroke pneumatic match rifle or a precharged gun is the way to go. Usually the shortest range airguns will be the single-stroke pneumatics, while some of the precharged rifles are suitable for varminting at rimfire distances.

There is no single powerplant type that will satisfy every requirement. This accounts for why so many airgun enthusiasts acquire several airguns and enjoy the unique advantages of each one.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

-          Jock Elliott

To the readers of this blog: this marks the beginning of a new series that focuses on the basic stuff that every new shooter wants to know about or should know about. The site administrator at www.airgunsofarizona.com tells me that they will find a way to make this stuff readily available at the top of the blog so it will be readily available for new shooters and old hands who want a refresher. Now, to this week’s posting!

This is the most important thing you will read in this blog – read it carefully!

Make no mistake about it: you can, indeed, shoot your eye out with an airgun. You can also maim and kill people and animals and destroy property. So get this straight, once and for all: Airguns are not toys. Airguns are real air rifles and air pistols and can bring tragedy to your door if not handled with respect. Fortunately, virtually all airgun accidents can be prevented if you follow the Number One Rule of airgun safety.

And here it is: the Number One Rule of Airgun Safety is never, ever point your airgun at anything you don’t want to see a hole in. It’s really that easy. If you always observe Rule One – and always keep the airgun pointed in a safe direction – you should never have cause for regret. After all, with the exception of a ricochet, an airgun can only shoot where it is pointed.

This is the muzzle end of an air pistol. The muzzle of an air pistol or air rifle or BB gun should never be pointed in an unsafe direction.

This is the muzzle end of an air pistol. The muzzle of an air pistol or air rifle or BB gun should never be pointed in an unsafe direction.

Here are some other key things you need to know about handling an airgun (or any gun for that matter) safely:

  • Always treat any airgun as though it is loaded and with the same respect you would a firearm. Never point any airgun in an unsafe direction. Even if you are totally, completely, absolutely, positively certain that the airgun is unloaded, still never point it in an unsafe direction.
  • Read and follow all instructions in the owner’s manual and know how your airgun works before using it.
  • Keep the airgun pointed in a safe direction until you are ready to shoot.
  • Keep your finger off the trigger and out of the trigger guard until you’re ready to shoot. Keep your finger out of the trigger guard while loading the airgun.
  • Wear shooting glasses to protect your eyes and make sure others with you are wearing eye protection. (If your reading or prescription glasses are not safety glasses, wear shooting glasses over your regular glasses.)
  • Use only the correct BBs or pellets specified for your airgun. Never reuse ammunition.
  • Do not shoot at hard surfaces or the surface of water. BBs and pellets can bounce or ricochet.
  • Use a pellet trap or other backstop. Place it in a location that will be safe if the pellet or BB goes through. Do not use a hard backstop with BBs.
  • Look beyond your target. What happens if you miss? Where will your pellet or BB go? Be sure of the answer.
  • Check your backstop for wear before and after each use. Replace your backstop if the surface is worn or damaged or if a ricochet occurs.
  • Maintain control of the airgun when it is not being used, including at the beginning and end of each shooting session. Don’t load it and leave it unattended. Store your airgun, unloaded, where it cannot be used by curious youngsters or unauthorized persons. Store the ammunition separately.

A Word about Parental Control

Special Note to Parents: if you have any doubt at all that your children will observe the Number One Rule of Airgun Safety, you need to supervise your children while they are shooting. You know your children and their level of responsibility and maturity. If you are not positive that they will always handle the airgun safely, supervise them, no matter how old they are.

Supervision means being close enough to control or redirect the airgun if it is pointed in an unsafe direction. It only takes a moment for a child to turn while squeezing the trigger. Be close enough to prevent that from happening – no more than an arm’s length away.

Now, that may seem like a lot of stuff to remember, but it really boils down to this: keep the gun pointed in a safe direction; know where your shot is going, even if you miss; protect your eyes; and supervise the kids.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

-          Jock Elliott

Some years ago the idea crept into my fevered brain that I was a really talented rifle shooter, and I set out to prove it by getting involved in some 10-meter air rifle competition. Both 10-meter air rifle is an Olympic sport.

I found out a couple of things: (1) I am not a really talented rifle shooter and (2) the folks who are shooting high scores in ten meter air rifle wear special shoes, pants, jackets, gloves and even special underwear (no kidding!). I was shooting scores that were so low that it seemed doubtful whether spending hundreds of dollars on all the associated shooting apparel would be a worthwhile investment, so I didn’t bother.

At the same I wondered if there was any Olympic shooting sport that one could get involved in without having to drag around a whole lot of ancillary gear. And there is – 10 meter air pistol. With air pistol all you need is an accurate air pistol, some pellets, and the ability to align the sights, squeeze the trigger, and put some pellets in the 10 ring.

If you want to get started with 10-meter air pistol, the cheapest possible route that I know of is to start with the Daisy Triumph 747 pistol. It’s single-stroke pneumatic pistol that delivers a boatload of accuracy for under two hundred bucks. What you don’t get with the Triumph is a lot of adjustability to meet the needs of your shooting style. In fact, if memory serves, the only thing that is adjustable on the Daisy Triumph is the trigger. For 10-meter air pistol competition, the minimum trigger weight is 500 grams (17.6 oz.).

At the other end of the 10-meter pistol spectrum, you can easily spend two thousand dollars or more for a full-race 10-meter competition air pistol such as a Feinwerkbau. These pistols offer lots of adjustments to meet the ergonomic needs of the shooters.

Hammerli AP20 001_DxO

The Hammerli AP20 falls pretty much in the middle. For under a thousand dollars, it delivers superb accuracy, a crisp trigger, and a number of adjustments to meet the shooter’s needs or preferences.

Hammerli AP20 007

Before we get to what those adjustments are, let’s take a quick tour of the AP20. The main pistol grip is made of molded polymer that is stippled for improved grip. Attached to the grip are a hand rest and a palm rest. Forward of that is a curved, flat-blade metal trigger.

Above the trigger is the main receiver, which is finished is a matte silver finish and to which the cocking lever is attached. Attached to the front end of the receiver is the pressure reducer. As it comes from the factory, the pressure reducer is configured so that the air reservoir (also finished in matte silver) hangs down in front of the trigger assembly.

Hammerli AP20 003

Hammerli AP20 004_DxO

Forward of that is the barrel, which has a lightweight plastic shroud and a ported aluminum compensator at the end that serves as a mount for the front sight. Moving back along the barrel, on top of the receiver is the breech and behind that a microadjustable notch-type rear sight. That’s all there is to the AP20, and the fit and finish are entirely appropriate for a competition air pistol.

Now, let’s take a look at the adjustments that the AP20 offers. Both the palm rest and the hand rest can be adjusted for position to suit the shooter’s hand, and they can be swapped around to configure the pistol for left-hand shooters. The cocking lever can be changed from right- to left-hand configuration. The front sight can be adjusted to one of three different widths, and the rear sight can be adjusted for elevation, windage, and the width of the rear sight opening.

The trigger can be adjusted for weight, travel and stop, and perhaps most surprisingly, the pressure reducer can be configured so that the compressed air reservoir lies parallel to the barrel.

The last adjustment is purely decorative. When I first opened the plastic case for the AP20, I was confronted by five plastic tubes: blue, gray, fluorescent orange, fluorescent pink, and fluorescent green. Frankly, I didn’t know what to make of them. I thought maybe they were 10-meter competition drinking straws. They are, in fact, replacement barrel sleeves. The AP20 comes equipped with a black plastic barrel sleeve, but if you want to distinguish your pistol from others at the range, or if you simply want a different look, it’s easy to change from one barrel sleeve to another.

In the end, the AP20 delivers a lot for a reasonable price in the rarified air of competition air pistols. It launches light hobby pellets at around 510 fps, will put pellet after pellet through nearly the same hole at 10 meters (with the right pellet), delivers around 120 shots per fill, and will put a huge smile on the face of any wannabe 10-meter air pistol shooter.

Now, listen Santa: I’ve been really, really good this year . . .

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

-          Jock Elliott