Learning to shoot an air rifle is easy. Becoming consistently good with different guns is harder. Becoming an expert takes practice and experience however you can speed up your journey to becoming a sharp-shooter by understanding some fundamental techniques and strategies.
I’ve compiled here some lessons that I’ve learned over the years. Some of them from other shooters in clubs, others from mistakes I’ve made and others just by trial and error.
Use the Right Gun for the Job
Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight! Before you go out, make sure you’re carrying the right gun. If you’re trying to improve your groupings on a target 150 yards away, you’re not going to use your .177 plinker pistol, right?
Easier said than done though I know as you’re always more likely to take your favorite rifle if you’re going somewhere special. I’ve done it a few times myself.
When you have a few rifles you always end up with a favorite and you just default to that. Unfortunately, for me, that was (at the time) a little .177 springer that could manage about 100 feet when I really needed something a bit more meaty.
Use the Right Pellet for the Job
If you’re going outside for 30 minutes to shoot some cans, there’s no point in doing it with some hollowpoints. Get yourself some cheap wadcutters.
Although there’s really no wrong choice as to what pellet you can use for your gun, there is a wrong pellet for the job you want to be done. If you’re shooting at shorter distances, then the wadcutter will suffice.
If you want longer distances then a pointed tip will be more aerodynamic and travel further. This is also a good pellet for small game but if you’re hunting slightly larger mammals then you’ll most likely be looking at the hollowpoint.
Another thing you can do if you’re not familiar with the different types of pellets and how they differ is get yourself a test pack. These packs contain a large variety of different pellets that you can try out in your gun.
Make Sure You Have Everything You Need
I’ve lost track of the number of times we’ve run out of CO2 in one of our semi-automatic rifles, gone to put a new one in and we’ve run out. I blame my son. Not sure why exactly at the moment but it’s probably his fault.
Actually, the truth is we seem to get through them so quickly that before you know it, you’ve run out. It’s that and the fact that they can be quite expensive I become reluctant to buy new ones.
What also can be embarrassing is if you forget to take pellets out with you. I’m neither confirming nor denying that I have done this in the past! So, make you don’t forget:
- CO2 canisters
- Pellets (all the varieties that you need)
- Water and snacks
Ensure the Parallax Is Set Correctly
Not relevant if you’re just outside plinking but if you’re out shooting at longer distances (or hunting) then you need to ensure your parallax is set correctly. Not all scopes have this setting but if your rifle scope does then it needs to be set to the correct distance.
Typically, the parallax will be set to 100 yards but if this isn’t the distance you’re shooting at or if you’ve adjusted it (and especially if you’re using magnification) then you will find that your pellets won’t hit where your scope says they will.
If you’re going out hunting, ensure your parallax is set to your preferred distance before you go out.
Don’t Rest on a Hard Surface
This applies to all Air Rifles but particularly to spring piston powered guns. Your barrel should never be resting on anything hard.
The reason for this is when you fire your gun there will be a little bit of recoil. This recoil and the vibrations caused by the internal mechanism of your springer moving will cause your barrel to move.
The problem is that the barrel moves before the pellet has time to leave it. So, what happens? Well, inconsistent groupings. Basically, your rifle will start shooting not where you’re originally pointing, it’s most frustrating. Until you realize what you’re doing wrong that is.
The answer is simple though, don’t rest your barrel on a hard surface of course! Buy a decent rest. If you’re after one then look no longer than this (click to get the current price) – it’s cheap and has great reviews.
Breath and Hold
Controlling your breathing actually makes a difference. I don’t mean when you’re shooting stuff 30 yards away, that kind of distance it really doesn’t matter. But when you’re shooting at a distant target or hunting it most certainly can.
It’s a ridiculously simple technique to master and after a couple of weeks of doing it, it really will become second nature. Follow the below steps, simple!
- Take a slightly longer breath in than usual and exhale normally.
- Repeat the above but after exhaling this time, hold your breath.
- Squeeze the trigger and once shot, exhale.
You’ll find that doing this will reduce any movement in the barrel caused by your breathing. Simply put, your shots will be more consistent. Anyway, it’s not difficult – here’s a little graphic I put together to show how simple it is:
Don’t skip this bit, the problem apparently impacts over 25% of shooters. I have no idea where that number came from though but it seems to be widely accepted online.
So, what the hell is ‘scope cant’? It’s very simple really, it’s when the gun isn’t horizontal and you’re shooting at a slight angle. You’ll find some scopes come with a little spirit level to alleviate just this problem. Actually, these days even some rifles have a spirit level built into their action.
If you haven’t got one of these through what you can do is make sure the scope reticle is in-line with the horizon, but that’s assuming you can see the horizon of course, which if you’re in some woodland is rather unlikely. Also, you may be shooting on a slope or perhaps above the horizon.
If your scope doesn’t have one (and you want to keep that scope) then you can buy dovetail mounts (and other types of mount) that have one built-in. If you’d like to check one out then I rather like this one (click to check the current price).
Particularly important if you have a spring-piston air rifle, the artillery hold can genuinely transform your shooting. However, if you’re set in your ways and have been shooting for a long time a certain way then you might find it difficult to adopt (and stick) with this. My advice would be to give it a go though as the benefits far outweigh the negatives.
This isn’t anything new. This hold is actually well over a hundred years old so it’s certainly stood the test of time. But why do we need it? Well, when you fire a spring-piston rifle the pellet only starts its journey once the spring propels the piston and is almost at a stop.
At this point, the vibrations caused by this causes what we know as recoil. This recoil is happening before the pellet has left the barrel and can cause the pellet to go somewhere you didn’t particularly want it to go.
So, what do we do about it? Well, you might think the key is to actually hold the rifle firmer, preventing it from moving. This is the worst thing you can do and will cause the problem to be exacerbated.
What you actually need to do is hold the rifle gently in your hands. Let it float. However, I’m not going to try and describe how to hold your rifle properly hear using the Artillery Hold, just check out this video:
Take Care of Your Ammo
Don’t expect good results from your old pellets. You don’t need to throw them away, just use them for recreational shooting like plinking. However, what I wanted to mention here is that it matters how you store and transport pellets.
Experiments have been carried out (not by me!) where tins of pellets were vigorously shaken before being shot and compared against another un-shaken tin of the same type. The results clearly showed that the pellets from the tin that was shaken were far more inconsistent on average than the un-shaken tin.
So, what can we do about this? Apart from obviously not shaking the tin vigorously of course 🙂 Some people empty the tin into soft pouches or wallets. There are many available out there if you want to check these out. Personally, I’ve never bothered with this. I transport them in the tin and just make sure I look after them.
PCP Users – Find Your Sweet Spot
This one’s only for unregulated PCP guns but it’s a good one so have to include it. You will need a chronograph for this so if you haven’t got one check out my reviews here if you like.
After you’ve filled your PCP air rifle, you’ll notice (if looking at the chronograph data) that your gun will fire at slower lower velocities when you first start shooting. These velocities will climb steadily until it remains consistent and it will at this point delivery the pellet at (pretty much) the same velocity until you’re out.
It’s these shots, that are delivered at this consistent velocity that you’re after and you need to know when you’ll get them. You can do a couple of things at this point:
- If possible, see what pressure level your PCP gun is at during the point where the rifle is shooting at consistent velocities. Keep it topped up at this point.
- Or you can sight your gun when it’s at this consistent output.
Doing the above will surely help you with your accuracy if you have a PCP!
Zeroing Your Rifle
You may be tempted to skip this and indeed feel free. But before you do, just ask yourself when was the last time you sighted your rifle? Typically, you should consider re-sighting every 2 or 3 thousand pellets, roughly. Additionally, if you’re going out on a hunting trip then consider doing it also before then.
If you live in a temperate climate then you should zero seasonally. There’s no point sighting in summer and shooting in winter, expecting the same results. The temperature fluctuation will impact the consistency too much.
One last point, when you do zero your sight, make sure you do it on a calm, windless day! Ideally, you want the conditions to be identical to the conditions where you’ll be doing the vast majority of your shooting.
Know How Far Away Your Target Is
Practice estimating how far your target is away from you. I’m not talking 30 yards away 🙂 The distant targets. If you can afford a laser distance finder, awesome – that will help. Not all of us want to carry something else around with us though, it’s certainly a good skill to acquire.
When you become competent, you’ll be able to quickly asses how far away your target is, adjust your scope accordingly and fire within just a few seconds.
Use a Good Scope
Some people believe that you should always spend double the amount you spent on your rifle, on your scope. So, if you buy a rifle for $1000, you should spend $2000 on a scope. Really? This is rubbish, you don’t need to do it. You certainly don’t want to put anything cheap on top of your latest investment.
I guess it’s like buying a Ferrari and then putting a set of the cheapest tires you could afford on it. You wouldn’t be getting the maximum out of your car. In the same sense, if you stick some cheap scope on your rifle you may as well use the iron sights.
Do your research and get a scope that matches your rifle. If you’re not sure about what to get you can always check out the article I wrote on the subject here, which will really help you to understand your options.
Interested In A Scope Yourself?
If you are, then feel free to check out my latest reviews on both budget and regular Air Rifle Scopes.
Use a Bipod or Tripod If Possible
Not always possible but if you can give yourself an advantage, take it. I mentioned above that you shouldn’t rest your barrel on anything firm so it will need to have some flexibility.
There are many ways to ruin a good shot opportunity but not keeping the barrel in a steady position is number one by a long way, minimize it any way you can.
Trigger Finger Position
Next time you shoot, take a look at your trigger finger. When you squeezed it should draw straight back. If your finger applies pressure any other way than straight back you will be applying a lateral force (albeit small) to the gun itself. This will cause your pellet to shoot slightly to the left or right.
It’s perfecting this kind of technique that could mean the difference between winning a competition and losing.
Maintain Your Rifle
Don’t be like me. Actually, I say that – it’s never really done me much harm but I wouldn’t recommend it. You see, I’m pretty poor when it comes to maintaining my weapons. There’s always something I’d rather do instead (like shooting the things).
People’s views differ though and some swear by cleaning the barrel after every tin of pellets. You can do this, if you like, by using cleaning pellets. Some people think these are great and some people think they do nothing.
You see, every time you shoot a pellet through your barrel it leaves trace amounts of oil and metal. However, the next time you shoot a pellet through it, it will extract all of that debris and expel it, leaving its own stuff behind it. And so on.
So, it’s actually a self-cleaning system. I’ve got a springer air rifle that I haven’t cleaned or maintained in any way, it’s not missed a shot yet!
Follow Your Shots
When my son is playing Fortnite on the PS4, he often uses a sniper rifle. When he shoots he never checks to see where the bullet goes and it drives me crazy (I don’t tell him – he’s a hundred times better at the game than me!).
If you miss your target, why wouldn’t you want to know where it landed? Where are you going to put your next shot? If you shoot and it hits a bit to the right then you know what to do next time.
Of course, it also asks the question as to why your rifle isn’t shooting straight. That could be a number of things but when you’re in the field you just need to know what you need to do to correct the problem so you can hit your target.
Don’t Dry-Fire a Spring-Piston
When I was a kid my Dad used to tell me off for dry-firing our old spring-piston. I didn’t know why, I didn’t ask why – I just obeyed. It was only several years later that I tried to understand why you shouldn’t dry-fire a gun.
If you don’t know what dry-firing actually is by the way, it’s just when you fire an airgun that doesn’t have a pellet in it.
The problem with dry-firing a spring-piston airgun is this. When you squeeze the trigger you release the spring. The spring forces the piston forward at speed, compressing the air in front of it. With a pellet in the breech, the piston is cushioned by the air until the pressure of the air overcomes the friction keeping the pellet in the breech. The pellet is then pushed through the barrel towards the target.
Without the pellet, the air goes straight out of the barrel. The piston has nothing to prevent it from smashing into the internal components, possibly causing damage. The most damage seems to be to the seals though.
There are some rifles available these days (I’m thinking of Gamo) that allow you to dry fire them, although they still don’t recommend it. If you’d like to know more about spring-piston air rifles, you could do a lot worse than checking this article out.
Are You Dressed Properly?
I feel like I’m lecturing my son here so apologies if this sounds a bit condescending but make sure you’re properly dressed for the conditions! There’s no easier way to spoil your enjoyment of this sport than to be cold and wet.
The key to keeping warm is layers so when you get too hot you can just whip one-off. The key to staying dry is to not go out when it’s raining 🙂 Stay in and play computer games instead until the weather cheers up.
Keep Your Neighbours Happy
For you to improve as a shooter, you need to practice. If you don’t have a range close-by, you’re going to be practicing at home. Well, outside your home preferably 🙂 Not all of us are lucky enough to be without neighbors, most of us will have some close-by and some of us will have one to the left, one to the right and one at the back!
You need to keep them happy. Follow the below simple rules:
- Don’t try and hide your hobby from them, it will look suspicious when they eventually find out.
- Talk to them about it enthusiastically and try and get them interested. Invite them round for a shoot if you can!
- Keep the noise down by ensuring your pellet backstop has a soft covering to it. Get a silencer for your rifle or even consider a CO2 powered variety, many are quiet as they come out of the box.
Position Your Cheek Correctly
Cheek-weld, that’s what it’s called. This is the position where your cheek rests against the stock as you’re looking through the stock. You need to be in a comfortable position and if it does not then consider getting a cheek guard.
You can either make one yourself or get one online, I’m rather fond of this one.