Posts Tagged ‘advice for newbies’

If you want to provoke a “spirited discussion” among airgunners, just raise the question: “Which caliber is best?” Pretty quick you’ll find yourself surrounded by enthusiasts, each passionately pleading the case of their favorite.

Right off, I’m going to defuse all that by saying there is no “best” caliber; there is only the caliber that works best for your intended purpose at the time. Right now, the fourmain calibers in airguns are .177, .20, .22 and .25, with .30 being introduced to the consumer market in the past couple of years ago and growing in popularity. There are even larger calibers available, but these fall pretty much into the category of specialty items.

Having said that, here are some of the things you might want to think about regarding caliber.

Accuracy — Accuracy is everything as far as I’m concerned; it’s one of the main reasons I shoot airguns. As one airgunner put it: “If you miss, it doesn’t matter if you missed faster or with more power, you still missed!”

Now, here’s a trick question: what increases the odds of achieving high accuracy? Stumped? Here’s a hint – every airgun will have a particular pellet that it “likes” and will produce the best accuracy. As a result, having a wide spectrum of pellets from which to choose increases the odds of finding at least one pellet that will work well in your airgun.

So, if accuracy is your sole criterion, .177 would be the best caliber, because it offers the greatest variety of pellets.  Twenty-two caliber would be close behind with the next best selection of pellets from which to choose.

Another thing to remember when considering accuracy is the range at which you plan to shoot. If you are competing in 10-meter air rifle or air pistol, the behavior of the pellet beyond 10 meters isn’t really a concern. But if you are trying to knock down field targets at 55 yards or clobber varmints at 90 yards, accuracy at long range is a clearly a factor.

Weight and weight within caliber – The lightest pellets (between 4 and 5 grains) available are .177, but it is rare to find a .177 pellet heavier than about 16 grains. By contrast, .25 caliber pellets are available as heavy as 34.9 grains and usually not lighter than 17.7 grains. To understand why this makes a difference, see the next item.

Speed and trajectory – Shot from the same airgun powerplant, a light pellet will generally fly faster than a heavy pellet. But at any given velocity, a heavier pellet will carry more energy down range and will usually retain it longer than a light pellet that was launched at the same initial speed. Because of these considerations, for a really fast, flat trajectory out to, say, 50 yards or so, you might want to select .177. But beyond that, you might want to go for a bigger caliber with heavier pellets. I have noticed, for example, that airgunners who are engaged in high-accuracy long-range shooting at 100 yards usually select .25 caliber or even bigger.

Power and impact – Launched at equal velocities, a heavy pellet will typically deliver more foot-pounds of energy to the target than a light pellet. If you want hitting power and if velocity and accuracy are equal, chose the heaviest pellet and largest caliber.

Wound ballistics – Bigger pellets produce bigger holes, but smaller diameter pellets may penetrate deeper.

Availability – In local retail establishments, you’re likely to find .177 pellets are more readily available than any other caliber, with .22 coming in a close second. .20 pellets are rarely available in ordinary retail outlets, and I’ve never seen .25 caliber pellets available anywhere except for in an online airgun store. Airguns of Arizona tells me that the bulk of their pellet sales are split roughly equally between .177 and .22. They add that sales of .20 appear to be waning, while demand for .25 pellets and .30 pellets is rising.

As a rule of thumb, airgunners typically select .177 for target shooting and the larger calibers for hunting, but all have been used successfully for either activity. Personally, I shoot .177 most of the time, because I am primarily a target shooter, but I use .20 or .22 for pest control.

I spoke to Shane at www.airgunsofarizona.com, and he said that, at the time of this writing (January, 2014), among airgunners who shoot pre-charged pneumatic rifles, .25 caliber is rapidly gaining popularity. The reasons are pretty clear: in a PCP rifle, .25 caliber delivers nearly twice the power of .22 caliber while offering a much higher shot count per fill than, say, a .30 caliber precharged rifle. “Right now,” he said, “when we receive a shipment of pellets from JSB, the first caliber to go out of stock is .25.”

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

— Jock Elliott

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