Posts Tagged ‘advice for beginners’

Robert Buchanan, proprietor of Airguns of Arizona, told me the he was awakened in the wee hours of the morning by a customer who had taken his brandnew air rifle apart and now was having trouble getting it back together. The customer was outraged when Robert told the customer to send the air rifle back and that there would be a fee for putting it back in working order.

This is a superb example of what not to do with an airgun, and I’ve had similar experiences confirmed to me by other airgun dealers. This had lead me to come up with some Airgun Commandments (violate them at your peril):

Be thou not a Jerk: If you are fortunate enough to have a brand new airgun, do not take it apart. You will void the warranty, and it is extremely likely that the vendor who sold it to you will charge you a fee to fix the problem that you created.

Be thou competent or be thou hands-off: Do not attempt repairs or modifications to any airgun unless you are absolutely certain that you know what you are doing. This means if you have any doubts about your ability to complete the task safety, seek qualified help.

Be thou smart or learn to duck: Do not shoot at resilient spherical objects. I was shooting with my brother-in-law one Sunday afternoon. We got a little bored and decided to see what would happen if we shot at a “super ball,” one of those really resilient, super bouncy balls.

With the first shot, nothing happened, except we heard this really weird sound: pah-whaaaaaaaang! We couldn’t figure out what it was, so we tried again. Pah-whaaaaaaaaang-whack! A spent pellet slammed into the deck just above my brother-in-law’s head. The resilient sphere was returning the pellets directly back at us, and with a good deal of velocity. I’ve also heard of field target shooters getting similar results plinking at tennis balls hung from a tree.

Be thou sensible about thy backstop: Do not shoot BBs or non-lead ammo into a metal pellet trap or other similar hard target; richoching BBs or pellets may come flying back at you. The reason that lead pellets work in pellet traps is that, when the lead pellet hits the hard metal of the trap, the lead greatly deforms, absorbing energy and greatly reducing the likelihood of a bounce-back.

Keepest thine fingers from dangerous orifices: Do not put your finger over the muzzle of a PCP, multi-stroke pneumatic, or single-stroke pneumatic and pull the trigger to see if there is any air left in it. If there is residual air left in it, the result may be a trip to the emergency room.

Thou shalt not fire a break barrel springer before the breech is fully closed: Make sure that the barrel on your break barrel springer (or cocking lever on your sidelever springer or underlever springer) has been completely returned to its original position before you put your finger anywhere near the trigger. Triggering a shot before your spring-piston airgun is in firing position can have catastrophic results, the least of which can be a bent barrel and a broken stock, and the worst of which can be crushed or severed fingers. Further, thou shalt not dry fire a springer (fire it without a pellet in the breech), lest thou damage it.

Common Newbie Mistakes

“Why Won’t the Pellets Fit Anymore?” Check to make sure you have the right caliber pellets — .22 pellets will not fit in a .177 airgun.

“Why Is My Gun Suddenly Shooting All Over the Place?”  Again: check to make sure you have the right pellets. I once carped in my back yard about the “loose” .22 pellets I was using (and how inaccurate they were) when I figured out that the pellets I was using were .20 caliber.

“Why Is My Gun Suddenly Shooting All Over the Place?”  Make sure that all of your scope mounting screws and screws holding the action in the stock are properly tightened.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

— Jock Elliott

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