One of the reasons many of us hunt with an airgun is the increase challenge and the technical refinement it requires to our hunting approach. We need to get in closer and deliver the shot with pinpoint accuracy to be consistently successful. In todays post I want to share some of my thoughts on what makes an accurate hunting gun.
Practice makes perfect is an adage that applies to most things and it is as true, if not more so, when it comes to shooting an air rifle. and lucky for us, because these guns are relatively quiet with limited energy, we can practice a lot; in the basement, backyard, virtually anywhere a target and a bit of space are available. My Remington 700 Mountain variation 30-06 is one of my favorite hunting firarms, but I probably shoot less than fifty rounds per year out of it. On the other hand I have several air rifles that I put hundreds or thousands of pellets through in the same time period, and unlike my 30-06 in which most of the shots are off the bench, the air rifles are practiced with from just about any conceivable position I will be called to shoot from when in the field.
So with this said, lets get started with a brief discussion of what leads to accuracy in a hunting gun!
Gun Related Ergonomics and Fit is a key factor that is often not given enough consideration, is the shooter able to get a comfortable and consistent hold on the gun, and moreover can they achieve this in all the positions to be encountered in the field? Is the gun a comfortable fit when shooting offhand as well as off sticks, does the cheekpiece provide a good site alignment and are you using the correct scope and mounts for the particular rifle? The ability to achieve a consistent hold is key to obtaining the optimum accuracy in general, but is particularly important when shooting hold sensitive spring piston rifles. I do quite well with many sporter style stocks, and just about every thumbhole stock I’ve used, though it may be necessary to place a spacer at the buttpad to extend pull. The hunter has to experiment a bit to find what works best for them, but when working up a gun review, every now and then I’ll shoulder a gun and it just feels right……. like it was made to fit me.
No matter how intrinsically accurate a rifle is, the shooter will not be able to realize the full potential without an excellent trigger. The trigger must be light and crisp, break cleanly and consistently to provide optimal Trigger Control. The trigger blade should engage the the pad of the finger, and the trigger pull, which is the distance between the butt and the trigger blade which allows the pad of the trigger finger to fall naturally on the trigger when the gun is shoulder
The type of scope married to the rifle: how its mounted, where it’s zeroed, and how its used are also important factors in accuracy. The mounting of the scope should be done using a mount and rings of the appropriate height to allow the shooter to obtain a good line of sight with the cheek glued to the cheekpiece. Care must be taken when mounting the scope to properly adjust the cant. Also, zero the gun appropriately for the caliber and power level being used: for most of my hunting PCPs in standard calibers I zero at 50 yards, then work out the POI for ranges from 25 to 75 yards, but will talk more about this later.
The last point is to make sure whatever gun you are using you practice with it, shooting from the same positions that will be used in the field, and find a consistent hold. As mentioned this is particularly important when shooting a spinger, as slight changes in how the forstock is balanced can cause a dramatic shift in the where your pellets hits.
Pellet Related The style of pellet used also has an impact on accuracy, but regardless of style you need to make sure that you start out with a quality manufactured pellet; with respect to weight, lack of seams or defects, free of dirt or oils and a consistent skirt and head dimensions. Its always worth a look, because even a pellet you’ve used for years can have a bad lot turn up on occasion. Also make sure the pellets are packaged in a container that protects the contents from damage, it doesn’t take much external pressure on a tin to crimp the skirts, which will wreak havoc on accuracy!
The shape of the pellet head impacts accuracy, the degree to which it is a factor in part defined by the distances being shoot from. Flat headed pellet designs can be very accurate at closer range, but with an inherently poor BC, they are not so in the mid to long range. I have not had any gun that shoots pointed (field tip) pellets more accurately than flat head (close range) or round nosed (dome) pellets at most distances. Round nose pellets are the most accurate mid to long range pellet out of almost any of my rifles, and are the style I use in most cases.
Caliber I don’t believe it’s true to say any one caliber is inherently more accurate than another. I used to hear statements to the effect that .177 was the most accurate and that .25 had accuracy issues, which I think if ever it was true, no longer is the case. It may seem that .177 is more accurate because it is flatter shooting, but when the trajectory of your gun is understood, this is less of an issue with the larger calibers. The contribution o caliber to accuracy is a complex issue that is a function of gun, pellet, and other variables. But let me say that I have several powerful guns in .22 and .25 caliber, that are minute of prairie dog at 75-100 yards, which is everything I desire in a hunting airgun. While I am fine using a .177 for small game hunting and find the accuracy very good in many rifles, I find that the smaller, lighter .177 pellets (which may be substantially more accurate at closer ranges) loose any advantage as the range is lengthened.
External Factors As mentioned early in this post, Trajectory of the pellets flight is a factor that every airgunner needs to come to grips with. Regardless of the caliber, the longer a pellet is in flight the more it will drop from the horizontal line of travel. That means a .77 pellets moving at 600 fps ill have a similar trajectory as a .25 pellet moving at the same 600 fps velocity. Its not exactly the same, because the pellets BC and external influences (altitude, wind, etc) will come into play, yet they will be close. So to get the best accuracy from a gun/pellet combination, the shooter needs to know the guns trajectory (or will it will impact the target) at specific distances along its flight path, and will need to know the distance.
Range finding is a critical piece to the accuracy equation; at the simplest you know what the exact distance is when target shooting on a marked range, to the other end of the spectrum when hunting unfamiliar ground for unfamiliar quarry. Every shooter I’ve known considers themselves to be quite accurate at estimating range; but few if any have actually been as good as they think they are. I inclue myself in that statement, and while its fairly easy to tell the difference between a 20-30 yards shoot in the woods where I often hunt squirrel, differentiating a prairie dog at 60 or 75 yards when out of the open plains is much more difficult for me. In these cases I use a range finder along with a trajectory table to improve my field accuracy.
So that’s it for this week. Sorry I’m late posting, but last week we finished packing our household and shipping it to out to our new place up North in Minneapolis. And the day the moving truck left I kissed my wife and daughter goodbye and climbed on a plane for Tokyo, where I sit in a small hotel room (and I do mean small) writing this weeks blog entry. We’re almost to the point where I am situated and we’ll be back on my Friday posting cycle, and ask that you stay with me until then! hope everybody is getting plenty of trigger time, I can’t wait to get home and back in the field myself!