Last week I spoke about avian pest control with springers, this week I will talk a bit more about how you can improve your results when hunting with a springer. As mentioned, I took time while shooting in Arizona recently to leave the PCP’s behind and take a number of springers out to hunt. Many of us have shifted over to hunt more with PCP’s these days, and there are a lot of compelling reasons to do so. However, there are also compelling reasons why springer still remain with us, and will do so for a long time to come. Chief amongst these reasons are that springers are fully self contained, requiring no additional air source or filling equipment. These guns are relatively inexpensive, with a PCP you are going to spend several hundred dollars between guns/tanks/pumps to get started, where a springer is going to cost a couple hundred bucks to get skin in the game (of course this climbs if you want a high quality Euro-gun). Those of us that are well and truly “hooked” have become acclimated to laying out the big bucks for or gear, but new shooters and younger shooters especially (speaking as a father that had to bankroll all these new hobbies) don’t want to invest so much to get started. The other thing that a lot of shooters don’t fully appreciate, is that these guns will make you a better shooter, because they are not forgiving of bad habits in marksmanship.
Walking through the dairy farm using an inexpensive Ruger Air Hawk, I was dropping Eurasian doves out to 40 yards consistently, shooting both offhand and rested. My buddies Scott and Rossi, who like me are primarily PCP shooters, were also doing well with the springers. But some others (cameramen…. I won’t mention by name to protect the innocent) weren’t doing so well. These guys didn’t have airgunning experience but had grown up shooting powder burners, so why was this? I think it boiled down to three things: 1) they were not used to dealing with the marked trajectory of an airgun, 2) they were not used to dealing with the shooting characteristics of springers with regards to hold sensitivity, and 3) they were not used to shooting at steep angles. My proof point on these assumptions is that as we worked through each one, their shooting improved.
The trajectory of a spring piston airgun can require the shooter to hold the gun high at 10 yards low at 20 yards, dead on at 35 yards, and high at 40 yards, with variations all along the path of flight. What does this mean? Simply, that you need to know where your gun is impacting the target along its path so that you can aim appropriately. This is one reason airgunners generally want a scope with some reference system of aimpoints on their scopes reticles. Mildots or a MAP system will provide the shooter with a frame of reference when shooting at different ranges. My preference is to set up targets from 10 – 40 yards, shoot a three shot group at each distance, and graph the shift in point of impact (POI) on a small card that can be taped to the stock, slipped into the scope cover (so you can see it when the cover is flipped open), or at least kept in my shirt pocket for fast reference. Another thing that can be a great help, and I always have with me, is a range finder. Using this piece of gear along with the trajectory chart can make a huge difference in your success rate.
The next item on springers is the shooting technique itself. Shooters, especially when using a magnum springer that jump on discharge, often compensate by holding onto the gun with a death grip! They pull it in tight to the shoulder, grasp the forestock until their knuckles turn white, and flinch when the trigger is pulled, then immediately lift their head to see if they hit the target. One of my friends and colleagues from American Airgunner by the name of Tom Gaylord, has been preaching the use of the “artillery hold” for springer shooting for many years. The gun is held firmly (but not rigidly) to shoulder, the forestock is laid on the open hand then very lightly grasped, and the gun is allowed to cycle without forcibly being locked in place. In addition you need to make sure you hold the gun in exactly the same way every time you mount it. The other common mistake I see is that the shooter pulls their head up to look art the result of the shot. Keep your cheek welded to the stock and try to watch the impact through the scope. This may be hard to see on a jumping springer when compared with a PCP to be sure, but the mainpoint is that you keep your position consistent until the pellet is down range.
You may hear that you can’t shoot a springer rested because of the bi-directional recoil. There is some truth to this, but the answer is more involved. You can’t shoot it rested the same way you do a firearm is a more accurate statement. This is for all the reasons stated above; when you rest a springer lay your front hand on the rest with open palm up, lay the rifles forestock on the palm of your hand and grasp very lightly, then you will get good results. The same provisos apply, be consistent in your hold and stay on target until the pellets hits.
The last point is to remember that as counter intuitive as it seems, when your shooting upwards at a steep angle, you typically need to hold under your target. If there is a tree 20 yards away and there is a bird sitting 60 feet (20 yards) up in the branches, that bird is effectively 20 yards away from you not 40. The distance that matters is the horizontal distance, though your brain is telling you it is further. Now as you start shooting at greater distances and steepers angles the variables you need to factor in are not quite as simple, but a good rule of thumb is to hold lower than you’d expect. When I’m shooting up at a dove or pigeon at a distance that I haven’t ranged, I’ll hold on the chest figuring if I am shooting high it will result in a headshot, but if the trajectory component kicks in I’ll hit where I am aiming on the chest.
I believe, and have proven this out on many occasions, working on the points discussed here can result in marked and immediate improvements in field shooting. While everything discussed is valid for both springers and PCP’s, springers are less forgiving when you ignore the rules. This is also why shooting a springer makes you a better marksman overall. I had so much fun with springers on this trip, that I’ve been shooting them all week down in my basement range after work!