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Airguns & Long Range Shooting

Posted by on September 28, 2012

Because they produce much less power, hunting ranges with airguns tend to be closer than when a firearm is used. A common question I’m asked is “how far can a hunter stretch out with any given airgun”?  The answer depends on the type of airgun being used and what the intended target is. Popping steel plates at 150 yards is a lot of fun, and a miss is not a big deal. I recently participated in a big bore airgun competition where we were shooting out to 300 yards. While my results were only so-so, there were guys consistently nailing the steel rams way out there. As I mentioned in last week’s post, at the upcoming Extreme Benchrest competition in Arizona shooters can use any gun in any caliber to shoot targets at 75 yards, and I am expecting to see some very high scores.

The guys at the LASSO competition reach out to 300 yards with their big bore airguns, shooters must shoot with equipment and techniques used in the field to hunt.

I dropped this springbuck for camp meat on a hunt in South Africa, using my Quackenbush .308 at 120 yards.

 

However, you don’t want to shoot at game when the holdover is measured in feet rather than inches.  My longest shot on big game occurred in South Africa several years ago when I took a springbok at 120 yards, dropping him cleanly with a Quackenbush .308. With small bore guns I’ve gone out to 150 yards on prairie dogs, and have found that a 40 fpe gun still has the energy to anchor smaller varmint with well-placed shots at these extended distances. As I’ve often stated, one of the attractions of airgun hunting is to get in close to the quarry, and that I believe airguns are primarily a close range hunting tool. But there are situations where your best (or only) option is a long shot.

Groundhogs are one species that often only allows long range shots. Brian Beck took this whistle pig with his Haley .308, but I often use a .22 or .25 to take them at 100 yards.

 

This is how I shoot most of my long range prairie dogs, and many of my .22 and .25 guns allow me to reach out to 125 yards off sticks when the winds are down.

 

Long Range Airgun Hunting

My definition of a long shot with an airgun is 50 yards or more with a spring piston gun and over 75 yards for standard caliber precharged pneumatic guns. There are several variables when it comes to big bores and I’ll leave this topic for another time. Let me preface this discussion by saying that the gun and shooter have to prove themselves on the range before heading afield to hunt. Preparing for a prairie dog hunt recently, I took my gun to the range and shot groups at 10 yard increments from 50 to 120 yards, mapping the point of impact as a function of distance. This information was recorded on an index card and taped to the stock of my rifle so it was readily available while hunting.

A Balistics calculator such as Chairgun is useful in sorting out the trajectory you’ll encounter in the field.

I sometimes go out with the intention of employing long range shots; prairie dog, ground squirrel, or woodchuck hunting for example. These animals often live in terrain that doesn’t offer much cover for putting on a stalk, which can make closing the distance impossible. When hunting tree squirrels or cottontails on the other hand, it’s usually possible to get inside of 50 yards, so long range shots aren’t always necessary.

Long Range Hunting Rig

When selecting the small bore gun to use for long range shooting, something that can generate substantial power and shoots well with heavy pellets is preferred. One of my recent favorites for this type of hunting is the FX Royale. This is a high shot count, powerful, accurate rifle that stores a lot of air in the buttstock mounted air bottle. It handles heavy pellets better than just about any .25 caliber rifle I’ve shot.

This rifle can print MOA groups at 100 yards, and I feel very comfortable hunting varmint at extended ranges with it. The two stage trigger is adjustable, crisp with a good tactile response and I have it set for about a 2  lb pull weight. When I shoot this gun off my bipod Gorilla sticks, I am going to hit my target out to 120 yards just about every time (if there’s no wind). I’ve taken this gun out for prairie dog where I could get prone and shoot rested on my daypack, and when locked in to this position felt like I couldn’t miss.

Precharged pneumatics are the guns of choice when the plan is to focus on long shots. With respect to caliber, I don’t use .177 much as these small light pellets tend to shed velocity and energy more rapidly and are more susceptible to wind drift than the .22. In addition the .22 hits harder, makes a bigger hole, while the trajectory is still easily manageable. A .25 caliber can be used for small game at 100 yards, and though it hits like a hammer the trajectory is more of a challenge, yet still manageable. I’ll use the .22 and .25 caliber on coyote as well, but only at close range.

Aother rifle that I used recently to snipe pigeons at long range was the Daystate Airwolf, and was really blown away by its laser like accuracy. This is a heavier rifle, but my-oh-my the trigger is truly superb. It was like I just had to think SHOOT and the gun responded. I have never shot a gun, airgun or powder burner that compares.

I always try a number of pellets to find what performs the best in a given gun, but when setting up for long range hunts stick to heavy or extra heavy, round nosed pellets. The reason for this is multifold; experience has shown me that heavier round nosed pellets have superior ballistics, retain energy down range and are invariably the most accurate pellet at greater distances.

My scope preference on a long range gun calls for a medium or large aperture with magnification up to 12x or 16x. High magnification is only advantageous when the rifle is solidly rested, but once that criterion is met it becomes invaluable for hitting small kill zones.  I also prefer a mildot reticle configuration that makes adjusting for holdover much easier than a standard crosshair. Lately I’ve been using the Hawke scopes with the MAP reticle, combined with the companies Chairgun ballistic calculator program to pinpoint the trajectory. This allows the shooter to precisely calibrate the reticle as a function of range.

One of the most useful items in the long range shooter’s kit is a range finder.  If you’ve taken the time to check your POI at 10 yard increments, a range finder used in conjunction with your scopes mildots will allow you to adjust holdover rapidly, circumventing the need for multiple ranging shots. When shooting squirrels inside of 50 yards I don’t always use my range finder, because the drop between 30-50 yards is far less than between 100 – 120 yards. But I get out for prairie dogs, I use it constantly.

A range finder and some quality glass will go a long way towards improving your long range results.

Long Range shooting techniques

Unlike spot and stalk hunting in the woods where quick offhand shots are the norm, long range shooting almost always takes place in situations that allows the hunter time to set up in a comfortable position and use a rest of some sort. My preference is to shoot off either a bipod from the prone position or shooting sticks from the sitting position. I find this provides both a solid rest, but also allows movement and readjustment when required. In last week’s blog post I discussed the different types of shooting sticks I use, and what works best for me.

It can be helpful to shoot with a buddy to call your shots, especially if there is anything more than a gentle breeze blowing. Even a powerful airrifle is operating at fairly low velocities, which leaves the pellet hanging out there for the wind to mess with. PCPs are virtually recoilless however, and it is usually possible to call

The decision to use an airgun to hunt at 75 to 150 yards should be predicated on having a range proven gun/pellet combination and taking the time to work out where the pellet will impact at these greater distances. Using the right adjunct gear such as a high magnification scope with mildots, a range finder, and a solid rest will go a long way towards improving your results. But most importantly, you need to put in the range time and be confident that you are able to hold up your end behind the trigger. Do that and there is no reason you can’t be an effective long range airgun hunter!

15 Responses to Airguns & Long Range Shooting

  1. Jake

    Hello,
    I’m not sure how familiar you are with specific air rifles, but i have recently purchased a benjamin trail nitro piston .22 caliber air rifle. If you do happen to be informed about this model, how far do you think it will allow me to shoot, and still be accurate? Also do you have any suggestions of pellets that i could use for long range shooting? thank you for your time.
    ,Jake

    • Jim Chapman

      Hi Jake;
      I’ve used the Nitro Piston a lot as a matter of fact, and really like the .22 for squirrel hunting. I find that I’m pretty accurate with the gun out to 35 yards, but the real answer is that it depends on how far out you can shoot accurately. If you can consistantly put 3 pellets into an inch at 25 yards but not at 30, your range is 25 yards. The power will not be the limiting factor, and a pellet from this gun would carry enough energy to do the job at 50 yards but it is very hard to be consistantly accurate this far out with a springer. Even though the Nitro piston power plant is easier to shoot than a mechanical spring gun and can be rested, it still does not provide the accuarcy of a recoil-free PCP. I use Crosman Premiers and JSB exacts in my guns, and they do fine. BTW: sorry it took me a while to respond, I’ve been on the road for the last couple months.
      Regards,
      Jim

  2. Vlad

    Hi Jim,

    I enjoy your well-written airgun stories, thank you for the time and effort.
    I am a big fan of .177 caliber although I do prefer .22 and .25 for hunting. For the defence of .177 I must say that over the years I have dispatched hundreds of pests with this under-rated pill. Anything from a rat to a rabbit size game stood no chance at all. My go-to .177 rifle is HW100T that is set at 19 FPE with 10.6 gr. Kodiak. At 50 yards it still delivers 11 FPE which is, as you know, more than enough for hunting. Besides, due to flat trajectories, holdover adjustments are much easier to deal with, of course, within the practical range of .177. Anyway, I just wish more .177 rifles were used in your hunting endeavors.

    Thank you,

    Vlad.

    • Jim Chapman

      Hi Vlad;

      Nothing wrong with a .177, early on I did almost all of my airgun hunting with this caliber. As a matter of fact, I still use .177 a lot in mid power springers. I reckon it’s all about delivering the pellet to the right place at the right range. I’ll get more hunts with .177 on the blog …. thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

      Regards,

      Jim

  3. Alex

    Jake and Jim too, I also have picked up the Benjamin nitro piston in .22 I would have loved to pick up a PCP however cost was and will be an issue. Although I would desperately love a PCP the Benjamin nitro piston will give me pretty good groups within 2″ at 50 yards however beyond that it’s kind of like shooting blindly even though you have your vision. I can still hit my target and even pick off the pellet tins at 65 yards but all consistency and pattering is almost non-existant. I’ve been experimenting with quite a few different pellets and have found that the heavier RWS and Beeman’s hold their trajectory a little better even though they tend to have significantly more drop than some of the lighter shots. I recently shot it at 100 yards. I could keep most shots somewhere in 5″…….best I could do. No rhyme or reason just saving up for the PCP.

    • Jim Chapman

      Hi Alex;
      PCPs are great, but there is nothing at all wrong with a springer. I’ve got several in my collection and still get out to use them throughout the year to hunt with them. One thing I really believe, when you can shoot a springer well you can shoot anything well. I also love the fact that they’re fully self contained, grab a tin of pellets and you are good to go! 5″ at 100 yards is very respectable shooting, you’ll be a bullseye machine when you get your PCP.

  4. Murat

    Jim, Hi,

    I have read your book on airgun hunting and I must say it is excellent. Airgun hunting has become very popular in the last 10 years from what I see.
    I currently own a Hatsan 135 in .22 caliber with the vortex gas piston. If I buy the Hawke Airmax 30 3-12x for my air rifle would that be considered as overkill? I plan to move to PCP soon so I thought of this as a long term investment. I am waiting for my rifle to come from the shop to try out the gas-piston and chrony it. I am surprised how accurate these things can be at a 100 yards. Can’t wait to try out the PCPs.

    Best wishes,

    Marko

    • Jim Chapman

      Hi Marko;
      Glad you enjoyed the book and found it useful. I think the Hawke scope would be a good investment, I like the Airmax line. I wouldn’t worry about it being overkill, just because you have high magnification doesn’t mean you have to use it on your springer now, and it will be useful when you get you PCP…… Of course, just because you have the pcp doesn’t mean you’ll want to get rid of the Hatsan so you may still need another scope :)

  5. Adam

    I will have to look for your book. I recently have jumped head first into air rifles. It started with a pest problem that a GAMO Fusion .177, and a mounted flashlight solved quickly. I liked shooting the thing so I managed to find a Field Target club here in Dallas and about 1.5 years after I now have the GAMO. .25 and .177 Marauder, a 1322 moded to a rifle (first project gun and still my favorite to shoot), and a 2240 (next project gun). With squirrel season approaching in East Texas, I now can’t decide which one I want to take. They all have their pros and cons and they are all a pleasure to shoot. Any suggestions? Or, maybe I should just take one for each day I hunt and figure out what I like best for that job. But boy that’s a lot to pack.

    • Jim Chapman

      It’s great that Texas is allowing squirrel hunting, one of the best airgun hunts you can do. I’ll be going out to east Texas to hunt them with my buddy Terry Tate sometime in the next couple months. I have a lot of places around me to hunt with good fox and gray squirrels, and use a different gun each time so that I can exercise them! Hope you have a good hunt. Go to my website americanairgunhunter.com to download my book free of charge.
      Have fun chasing those squirrels!

  6. Jose

    Hi! I have a Hatsan Striker Voltex cal.22 and now i would like another rifle cal. .177 My principal use for plinking and small game hunting. Wich one do you will recomend me?

    Thanks

    Jose

    • Jim Chapman

      Hello Jose;
      There are so many to choose from….. I quite like the Walther LGV, it is an ergonomic and very accurate break barrel doing about 1000 fpe in .177. Most of my springers are in .22, but I took this gun in .177 to shoot pest birds one one outing and jackrabbits on another, and it did a fine job. It also comes in configuration in the high $290.00 to over $600.00 range depneding on how you want to dress it.
      Jim

  7. Murat

    Dear Jim,

    Thank you for all the great advice. I have one more question that is bugging me. My Hatsan mod 135 Vortex model shoots JSB Exact Jumbo Heavy pellets at around 850 fps which is about the same as the spring version. The gas ram is set to 150 BAR which is around 2175 psi. Hatsan’s gas rams differ from traditional ones since the user can manipulate their pressure. I had some accuracy issues with my model but that was probably because my scope’s erector tube was misaligned. I sent it to a gunsmith to determine the cause of inaccuracy. Do you think 150 BAR is too much for such as gas ram? This is the maximum tested pressure Hatsan says it should be set at. On the other hand, the people at Hatsan USA told me, that the optimum pressure for both accuracy as well as power is 125 BAR. That is quite a big difference in power but there is no point in having a strong powerplant if it is inaccurate, correct? Should I reduce the pressure and go with lighter pellets? What is your opinion on this subject?

    Thanks

    • Jim Chapman

      I haven’t adjusted the rifle so can’t give you advice based on first hand experience there. But I would always go for accuracy over power quite honestly a few FPE doesn’t make a huge difference on game, but putting the shot exactly where you want it makes all the difference in the world!
      Jim

  8. Murat

    Jim,

    thanks for all the great advice. Thumbs up for your great book too. I happened to found a clip of your Hatsan bt65 PCP air rifle review on youtube the other day. Since I had to sell my mod 135 I will probably buy this one next. Do you have any advice regarding this rifle? Which caliber is the most reasonable for purchase? I understand the .22 caliber is a good compromise between flat trajectory and power, but considering that the bt65 is a 50+ fpe air rifle it would probably be better if I go with the .25 caliber, correct? I think the bt65 would be a great combo with my Hawke airmax 30 scope ;)

    What about air regulators? What is your opinion regarding these tweaks?

    Have a good one,

    Marko

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