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