Posts Tagged ‘accuracy’

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

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

Okay, Butch, here’s the practical stuff you can do to extract the most accuracy out of your springer.

  1. Make sure the stock screws are snug. They don’t have to be as tight as humanly possible, but if they are not snug, they can produce very erratic accuracy. Recheck them from time to time.
  2. Make sure that your scope mounts are snug to the dovetail on top of the receiver and around the scope tube. Recheck these also from time to time.
  3. Let your springer choose the ammunition. Test for accuracy off a rest at close range with several different round-nose pellets – 10 to 15 yards to start – and when you find some pellets that group well, move to longer range and test again.
  4. Use a soft rest like a rolled up jacket, towel, or even a pillow. I often use my field target bum bag on top of a couple of old boat cushions. Try to place the rest just in front of the trigger guard. Use the same rest all the time. Springers generally do not like hard rests and can display dramatic changes in point of impact if you change the type of rest that you use. I had a nicely tuned springer that was dialed in perfectly for shooting from a sitting position with the gun resting in the crook of my arms. When I tried shooting the same gun with my elbows resting on a bench, the point of impact jumped up by an inch and a half at just ten yards. In another dramatic example, a fellow beat me by a couple of points with his springer. I asked him if I could try his gun. Sure, he said. I could not drop a large target at ten yards with half a dozen attempts. He thought there was something wrong with the gun. He tried it and dropped the target immediately. Obviously, the way you hold a springer makes a big difference in the point of impact.
  5. Don’t pull the gun hard into your shoulder. Let it rest easy.
  6. Try to make sure that the gun in its rest is naturally pointed at the target. If you have to force the gun to get on target, adjust your rest until, as much as possible, your air rifle is aimed at the target without you having to “muscle” it into position.
  7. Stay focused on the target. If possible, rest the thumb of your trigger hand on the top of the buttstock and pull your trigger finger straight back toward it. The object is to make your trigger pull as straight back as possible and not to either side. Suck in a breath, let half of it out, and pull steadily, keeping the crosshairs exactly where you want them on the target until the shot breaks. Don’t yank the trigger.
  8. If, as you are aiming, you find yourself running out of breath and getting desperate to release the shot, stop, reset yourself, take a couple of breaths, and start over again.
  9. Follow through. Don’t move anything until you see the pellet hit the target. Maintain laser focus of yourself on the target throughout the entire shot cycle.
  10.  Finally, if possible, move closer to the target. Nothing improves accuracy like getting closer! If you can reduce the distance to your pest birds by 15 yards, I think you’ll find it easier to hit the mark. (Butch, this is no reflection on your shooting skill, but a practical observation.)

Well, I hope this helps.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

–          Jock Elliott

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.

The Basics

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.”

Expectations

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