Posts Tagged ‘air rifle’

A 10 meter air rifle competitor. Photo courtesy of www.usashooting.org

A 10 meter air rifle competitor.
Photo courtesy of www.usashooting.org

Want to give yourself a serious challenge as an air gunner? I mean a serious, serious challenge? Then let me humbly suggest that you give 10 meter air rifle a try. It is both an international shooting competition and an Olympic event, and in my view, it is one of the hardest things you can attempt with an air rifle.

The competitors shoot at a distance of ten meters – just a bit over 32 feet – at a target the ten ring of which measures just .5 millimeter across. From a standing position, the competitors shoot with .177 caliber air rifles that weigh a maximum of 12.13 pounds. For men the course of fire is 60 shots (plus a ten shot final in international competition) and for women, 40 shots plus a final.

I’ve tried it, and it is tough. It is physically demanding to hold up a target rifle 60 times and try to point it with precision at a target. People – all people – wobble, and that wobble creates inaccuracy. As a result, competitors are allowed to wear specialized clothing, including shooting jacket, pants, special shoes, and even special undergarments to help stabilize the body and reduce the wobble as well as help to prevent back injury caused by the asymmetric spine position that competitors assume while shooting. Years ago, I spoke with a collegiate 10 meter air rifle competitor, and she estimated that the use of the specialized shooting clothing improved her score by as much as 50 points. In other words, if she were to shoot in ordinary street clothing (as the 10 meter air pistol shooters do), she might expect her score to drop by as much as 50 points. (An aside: you probably could have encased me in a concrete block, and I still would not have come near her score!)

The competition air rifles that are used in 10 meter air rifle competition are arguably among the most accurate projectile launchers. I know a man who shot groups from a rest with his FWB300s recoilless air rifle, and he showed me a 10-shot group that was a single hole that was barely egg-shaped! Today’s precharged pneumatic match rifles are even more accurate. It is not uncommon for today’s competitors to test their rifles by clamping them into a vice and shooting shot after shot at ten meters, testing difficult pellets and batches of pellets from the same manufacturer until they find the one that produces the smallest possible group size.

The reason for all the fuss about accuracy is that, unlike 10 meter air pistol in which a perfect score has never been shot, in 10 meter air rifle perfect scores have been shot, and competitors need to be as accurate as they possibly can. Top-end 10 meter match rifles are the Formula One cars of the air rifle world. As they go up in price you get more and more adjustability of the stock, handgrip, and so forth, as well as various anti-recoil technologies, incredible accuracy and amazing consistency in velocity from shot to shot. . The Feinwerkbau target air rifles offered by www.airgunsofarizona.com can be found here .

If you would like to dip your toe in the water of 10 meter shooting at a much more modest cost, the Daisy Avanti line of target rifles offer excellent accuracy for beginners but not the high level of adjustability or the incredible triggers available in the FWB line.

If you want to know more about how to get started in 10 meter air rifle competition, visit http://www.usashooting.org/ . Click on the Resources tab for useful information, and under the Events tab, you will find lots of helpful stuff, including how to locate a club near you and how to find a match that offers 10-meter air rifle competition

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

-          Jock Elliott

A typical field target attached to a tree in the woods.

A typical field target attached to a tree in the woods.

Targets that react when hit by an air rifle pellet are just plain more fun than those that don’t. That’s why I enjoy air rifle field target.

This is what it looks like before the shooter puts his eye to the scope.

This is what it looks like before the shooter puts his eye to the scope.

At first glance, it’s a pretty simple game. It involves shooting metallic silhouettes of birds and small game Each silhouette has a hole – or kill zone – in it, and behind the hole is a paddle. If you put a pellet cleanly through the hole and hit the paddle, the target falls down – with a gratifying clang – and you get a point. If the pellet hits the faceplate of the target or splits on the edge of the hole, the target does not fall down, and you don’t get a point.

As they say in the infomercials, but wait, there’s more: the distance to the target can vary from 10 to 55 yards, and the size of the kill zone, or hole in the target, can vary from 3/8 inch to 1 7/8 inch. Depending on the whim of the match director, you may face any size kill zone at any distance. Trust me: that one-inch kill zone that appears dead easy at 10 yards looks downright microscopic at 50 yards.

Hector Medina shooting a custom tuned RWS 54 springer.

Hector Medina shooting a custom tuned RWS 54 springer.

In addition, air rifles used in field target competition generally shoot at sub-sonic velocities,. As a result, you will need to compensate for the trajectory of the pellet at various ranges. On top of that, the wind will also tend to deflect your pellet as it moves from muzzle to target.

Mix all of these factors together, and you get a sport that requires (1) figuring out the distance to the target, (2) compensating for your gun’s trajectory at that distance, (3) doping the wind, and (4) executing the shot with enough precision to put the pellet cleanly through the hole. What makes it fun, beyond the clang and bang of the targets when they fall, is that field target is never the same twice. Each match is a little different, depending upon the layout of the course and the environmental conditions on any given day.

Hans Apelles of Team Crosman shooting a precharged pneumatic rifle of bullpup configuration.

Hans Apelles of Team Crosman shooting a precharged pneumatic rifle of bullpup configuration.

A typical match may consist of 2 or 3 targets per lane, two shots per target, and 10 shooting lanes, resulting in a 40-60 shot match. Most shots are taken from a sitting position, although some match directors will mix in some standing and kneeling shots as well. Most field target competitions take place outdoors, although some clubs host offhand-only matches in the winter in which shooters stand in a heated building and shoot at outside targets.

At present, there are dozens of field target clubs spread across the United States and more around the world. At most U.S. matches, you’ll find two classes: PCP and Piston. Some clubs also have classes for Junior shooters, Offhand shooters, WFTF (World Field Target Federation, limited to 12 foot-pounds) shooters, and Hunter Class, which limits scopes to 12X and allows the use of shooting sticks and seats. A typical entry fee for a match is $10 or less.

So what do you need to compete in field target? First, an air rifle. You can enter with almost any .177, .20 or .22 air rifle that generates less than 20 foot pounds at the muzzle, but to be competitive, you’ll want a rifle capable of shooting one-hole groups at 10 yards and holding a half-inch 5-shot group at 30-35 yards.

There are two basic classes of gun used in field target. PCP class guns are “pre-charged” pneumatic air rifles. They are powered by compressed air stored in a cylinder usually located below the barrel of the gun and charged using a SCUBA tank or a high-pressure hand pump. PCP field target guns can run from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars, depending the level of sophistication.

Piston Class rifles rely on a spring or a gas ram that is cocked, usually by a lever under the barrel, to supply the energy to drive the pellet. When the trigger is pulled, the spring or ram is released, driving the piston forward and the pellet down the barrel. Because a lot of machinery is moving inside the gun before the pellet leaves the muzzle, piston air rifles are more difficult to shoot accurately. Highly accurate piston air rifles suitable for field target can be purchased for $500-600.

Second, you’ll need high quality optics. Many field target shooters favor very high power scopes – a minimum of 24X – because they use them to range-find on the targets. They use the adjustable objective to get the target clearly in focus, and then read the distance off the front bell or side wheel of the scope. In Hunter Class, however, shooters are limited to 12X optics.

Third, you’ll need some good ammunition. You’ll have to test to see with which pellet your gun groups the best. Group size can shrink dramatically simply by choosing the right pellet.

The final thing you will need is something to sit on, since the majority of field target shooting lanes are designed for the sitting position. I use a field target “bum bag,” but whatever gets your rump off the dirt and is comfortable ought to work just fine.

You’ll also need a place to shoot, the American Airgun Field Target Association website www.aafta.org. AAFTA has a list of field target clubs in the United States as well as a resource page of suppliers of field target air rifles, scopes, ammunition, etc.

Field target offers fun, great camaraderie, and the challenge of a high-accuracy sport at a reasonable price. I recommend it highly.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

-          Jock Elliott

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

p5rn7vb

One of the great things about airguns is that the can be legally shot in many, many places where the discharging of firearms is strictly forbidden and is, in fact, illegal.

Be sure to check the situation where you live, but in a wide variety of venues across the United States, it’s perfectly legal to shoot airguns on your own property. That opens the door to outdoor fun with kids, or, with proper safety precautions, shooting indoors in, say, the basement.

Before we get into having airgun fun with kids, a couple of very important safety notes. (1) In all shooting situations (but particularly so with kids), you need to have a proper backdrop to your shooting. That means a target with a backstop that will stop the BBs or pellets you are shooting and behind that an area where the projectiles can safely go if any of the shooters miss the target completely. In addition, do not ever shoot BBs or non-lead pellets at a hard backstop. Unlike lead pellets that deform, dissipating energy and greatly reducing the probability of a ricochet when they hit a hard target, BBs and non-lead pellets will ricochet, possibly hitting you and others. With relatively low-power BB guns, nested cardboard boxes or cardboard boxes filled with old clothes will do the job. Make sure that everyone on the firing line has eye protection and be sure to review Airguns 101- Safety:  http://www.airgunsofarizona.com/blog/2013/12/airguns-101-the-basics-safety.html

(2) Review the safety rules with the kids and take particular note of the information about parental control. When my Dad introduced me to shooting with my first BB gun, he made me feel the safety lesson was an honor: “Son, you’re about to use a real gun that can hurt people and animals and damage property. It’s a step into adulthood. Use it properly, and it will give you a lifetime of fun and enjoyment. Use it improperly, and it can get you into a world of trouble, so be smart and shoot safely.”

Now on to the business at hand: having fun with kids and airguns. The keyword here is “fun.” Kids today live in a world of video games, texting and facebook, to say nothing of zillions of channels on TV, so it just makes sense to make the experience enjoyable.

I recommend starting with balloons. They are highly reactive targets – when you hit ‘em, they go Bang! and disappear. I’ve had good luck with blowing up five balloons pretty big and sticking them to an archery target with masking tape. Start at short distance – perhaps 15 feet – and pop the balloons. If that’s too easy, move back and/or reduce the size of the balloons. If that is still too easy, challenge your young shooters to place their shots as close as they can without popping the balloons.

Additional fun targets are animal crackers, cracker of all sizes, and other snacks like cheese puffs. You can stick them to the top of a cardboard carton using a bit of canned frosting – that way the debris from your shooting is biodegradable and edible by the animals that visit your yard.

As an adult, I enjoy shooting at a bag full of plastic dinosaurs from the dollar store. With youngsters, you can hype it up a bit: “Look out! That tyrannosaurus is about to charge! Get him!”

There is virtually no end to the wide variety of targets that you might shoot at with kids: tin cans, pine cones, marshmallows, and so forth. The whole point is to have a safe, enjoyable time together.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

-          Jock Elliott

Some years ago, two teenage boys were fooling around with a Daisy pump-up air rifle. At some point in their interaction, they pumped the gun, shot it, and nothing came out. They did this a few more times, with the same result: nothing came out. Then one of the boys decided that he would pump the gun, point it at his friend’s head, and pull the trigger to poof his friend’s hair. This time, something did come out, and the victim suffered brain damage.

A lawsuit ensued, and in 2001 the case made its way to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, propelled by the idea that the design of the gun was somehow defective. A settlement was proposed, and comments were solicited from the general public.

While doing some research on the Internet, I accidentally stumbled upon the comments I submitted to CPSC. It struck me that they are as applicable today as they were over a decade ago.

Below are my comments in their entirety.

“CPSC settlement comment

As a fulltime writer who has tested and written extensively about airguns over the past several years, I find the CPSC/Daisy settlement (indeed, the entire action) an affront to human reason and a travesty of what the CPSC is supposed to do. This settlement flies in the face of common sense, personal responsibility and the fundamental issues of product safety.

1.      Common sense. No one would argue for even a moment that it is a tragedy that a young man has been disabled for life. But the root cause for the injury was not that the airgun malfunctioned. The airgun did exactly what it is supposed to do: launch a projectile. The root cause of this misfortune is that the other individual involved violated the first law of gun safety: never point a gun (airgun or otherwise) at anything that you don’t want perforated, broken or destroyed. (The second law of gun safety is that all guns are loaded. The third: even unloaded guns are loaded.) This individual not only pointed the gun in an unsafe direction (at his friend), but further chose to pull the trigger when doing so. His intent – to make a joke by “poofing” his friend’s hair – is irrelevant. He performed a wantonly unsafe act. He should not be surprised by the results.

To assert that “. . . Children will be children. They grow up pointing toy guns at each other. To expect them not to point BB guns at each other when they believe they are empty of BB’s is to expect too much” raises four key issues. First, airguns are, emphatically, not toys. They are guns and should be treated with all the respect due any firearm. Children who do not understand the difference should not be allowed to use them. That brings us to the second point, responsible parents, guardians or caretakers will assess their children’s ability to understand and deal with the responsibility of properly handling airguns. Very often adult supervision is necessary to make sure that a child understands and observes proper gun safety. Daisy is specific in its age recommendations for its products. Third, (see above) the rules of gun safety dictate that all guns are to be treated as if they are loaded, even when everyone “knows” that a gun is unloaded. There are no exceptions. If a child or teenager doesn’t understand this, it would be inappropriate to allow them to use an airgun. Fourth, let’s apply this same line of reasoning to another type of product. Have you ever watched teenaged boys playing automobile-related video games? Spectacular crashes and reckless driving are common. Is it too much to expect them to do otherwise when they get their driver’s licenses? I think not.

2.      Personal responsibility. The proper use of products is the responsibility of the individual using them. People who wish to drive automobiles are expected to learn how – through various means such as parents, driving schools, or driver’s education. If you choose to run over your spouse, as a woman in New York did, it is scarcely the fault of the automobile manufacturer. It is a blatant misuse of the product. Pointing a gun at someone whom you do not intend to injure is likewise a blatant misuse of the product.

3.      The fundamental issues of product safety. According to its website, “The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of serious injury or death from more than 15,000 types of consumer products under the agency’s jurisdiction.” The key word is unreasonable. An airgun is a projectile launcher. If you point it at someone and pull the trigger, you should expect that a projectile will be launched at that person. Serious injury or death may result. It is completely unreasonable to expect that anything else will happen. Protecting against this sort of incident – in which the product functioned properly but was unconscionably misused – is not within the purview of the CPSC. Further, it is a waste of the Commission’s scarce resources and the taxpayer’s money.

Respectfully submitted,

Jock (John) Elliott”

As airgunners, let’s strive always to handle our air rifles and air pistols with utmost safety to teach our children, friends, and relatives to always do the same.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

– Jock Elliott

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

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