How To Shoot An Air Rifle Accurately (COMPLETE GUIDE)

Every person who has ever owned an Air Rifle has wanted to shoot just that little bit better, and that includes me. Although there are so many variables involved in actually doing this, there are some basics that apply across the board. So, regardless of whether you’re plinking in the backyard or hunting with your .25 in some woodland, there will be something here for you I hope.

So, why are you here?

It may be because you’re a novice and have only had your rifle for a short amount of time. Or, it could be because you’ve had your rifle for some time and have formed bad habits. I found this with golf. I’d been playing for years and years and although I wasn’t terrible I had absolutely no consistency. I wasn’t sure whether my next stroke would end up on the green or in the duck pond. I wasn’t able to improve. I then, for the first time in my life, started having some golf lessons. It was frustrating as hell initially and actually made my play worse as the instructor changed my swing. Something I’d been doing for 40 years needed to be changed. Over time though, it helped and although I’m never going to make an appearance in the Ryder Cup, my consistency is loads better.

So, you may have just developed bad habits over time. That’s okay though. You might discover that there’s a slightly better way to use your rifle. Then it’s down to you as it’s not just a case of knowing, it’s a case of doing. A lot of the time it can be just down to muscle memory. Your brain is thinking one thing but your body is saying, ‘Nope, I’m holding it like this.’. When you pick up your gun you instinctively hold it in the same way you always have and you may need to think about this each time you go to shoot for a little bit. Break the cycle. It’s no big deal though really and you will get used to the new routine and methods.

Choose Your Weapon…

Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight. Remember our goal here is to shoot your rifle accurately. So, we first need to decide whether the rifle that you’re using will actually ever be able to give you the right results for what you’re trying to achieve. So, what rifle should you be using then? Let’s look at the different types of Air Rifle out there and quickly summarise its main uses (and why):

 BREAK BARREL / SIDE LEVERVARIABLE PUMPCO2 POWEREDPCP
Source of PowerSpring-Piston compression of air via barrel or lever3-10 Pumps of lever to generate pressure12g or 88g canisterInternal reservoir
Method of FillingSelf-Contained after cockingSelf-Contained after pumpingCO2 canister inserted into airgunVia scuba tank or hand-pump
ShotsTypically 1-shot per barrel-breakTypically 1-shot per barrel-break~30-60 for 12g canister or ~275 for an 88g canisterVaries dependent on the gun but typically 15-30
Ideal Range (dependent on rifle/caliber/pellet)Up to ~110 ftUp to ~50 ftUo to ~60 ftUp to ~200 ft
VelocityUp to ~1500 fpsUp to ~750 fpsUp to ~800 fpsUp to ~1200 fps
Best UseNear/Far Targets, Plinking, pest control, small game huntingNear Targets, PlinkingNear Targets, PlinkingFar Target shooting, plinking, small and large game hunting
CostLowMed-HighMedHigh
AdvantagesNothing else required, all self contained.Velocity controlled by shooter.Semi-automatic rifles available, consistent.Powerful and accurate
DisadvantagesRequires more skill to become accurateCan be time consuming to pump after every shot.Need to keep buying CO2 canisters. Temperature can cause inconsistencies.Relies on either a scuba tank or a lengthy manual re-fill.

As you can see from the above table, if you’re trying to shoot at a target that’s a 100 feet away with a CO2 powered Air Rifle, you’re going to come up short. 

Choosing The Right Pellet

So, you’ve got the right gun for what you want to do, awesome! Now, this is just as important as picking the right gun. You’ll need to shoot the right thing out of it! There are quite a few varieties of pellets available to you and each one has (typically) a specific task. If you use the wrong one for the job then it won’t give you the results you want. I’ve created the below table so you can first compare the main calibers of pellets initially:

 Ball Bearning (BB).177 Cal.22 Cal.25 Cal
MaterialSteel (copper coated)Lead or lead alloyLead or lead alloyLead or lead alloy
Weight0.33g - 0.35g0.35g - 0.7g~1g1.7g - 2g
Energy4 FPE (Ft lbs energy) ~ 600 FPS (feet per second)17.5 FPE @ 1000 FPS20.5 FPE ~ 800 FPS42 FPE @ 830 FPS
Typical UsePlinkingPlinking, targetsPlinking, targets, pest control, small gamePest control, small and medium game
AdvantagesCheapFast, good for targetsOkay for targets, pest control and small gameLots of mass, good for hunting larger game
DisadvantagesNot many uses and not very accurate.Not good for huntingNot good for larger mammalsLimited uses available

Now, let’s look at the types of pellets in a little more detail:

  • Wadcutter – A cheap, general purpose pellet that is great for lower-powered rifles. Is the type of pellet used in professional 10m competition events. Here’s an example of what they look like:
  • Domed – Great for field targets and small game hunting, has better aerodynamics than the Wadcutter so can travel longer distances.
  • Hollowpoint – A pellet with quite simply one use, hunting. It is designed to expand quickly within the target, maximising damage. Only good for around 35-40 yards though.
  • Pointed – The best type of pellet for penetration but generally regarded as not being quite as accurate as domed pellets.

One final (I promise) point about pellets. If they’re old and have possibly started to oxidize then don’t expect good results from them. A lot of people are also very careful about how they transport them. If they’re constantly smashing into each other in a tin then the soft metal on the pellet will deform and who knows what direction they’ll end up going in. If you’re going to be really precious about this then get a little pouch or wallet for your pellets but generally, I have to say I don’t really think this is necessary. As long as you’re not shaking the pellets around then you’ll be fine I’m sure.

If you’re not sure where to get your pellets from, do take a look over here – these guys have good quality products and for better prices than other online stores.

If you’d like a little more information on pellet types, you can check out my article that will tell you everything you’ve ever wanted to know about them here.

Let’s throw all that together…

Now we have all the information we could wish for about the gun and the ammunition we can make a suggestion as to what you should ideally be using for the type of shooting you’re doing.

BB .177 .22 .25 Break-Barrel Variable Pump CO2 PCP
Plinking
Short-Range Target
Long-Range Target
Pest Control
Small Game
Large Game

So, after all that, now we know that the gun and pellet that you’re using (hopefully) matches the activity you’re involved in, great! This is the first challenge out the way. If it doesn’t, then you know what to do!

The Health of Your Gun

Something else that is necessary for me to mention before we push on is related to the health of your gun. With so many types I’d end up boring you going into each one but do think about the following.

  • For CO2 Rifle owners: Particularly for those owners of rifles that accommodate the larger 88 g canister. Is your inaccuracy caused by the fact that you’re running out of gas? As there’s typically no way to tell apart from a noticeable decrease in power output, you may need to replace it. Alternatively, is your gun leaking CO2? If you think it might be, feel free to check out my article on how to fix this here (opens in a new window).
  • For PCP Rifle owners: Similar to the above point for CO2 owners. However, you lucky people may well have a pressure indicator on the gun itself. Just check the pressure. Also, the velocity of the pellet will vary (impacting accuracy) immediately after you’ve re-filled your gun with gas and at the very end. There’s a nice sweet spot in the middle that you will over time discover and use to your advantage.
  • For Rifles With Scopes – See the next section!

All About The Scope

Before I go into any kind of detail, first and foremost – make sure your scope is air-rifle rated. If it’s not, then your scope will most likely end up being damaged and you will have accuracy problems because of this.

I guess you can skip this bit if you don’t have one 🙂 However, if you do and you’re having trouble with accuracy then the problem may not be with you at all. It also might not be with your gun or your pellets. It could all be because of a problem with the scope! So, first – let’s get to know that beloved scope of yours just a little bit better.

Parts Of The Scope

Main Part of the Rifle Scope
  • Ocular lens – this is the lens you actually look through. Light gathered from the objective ends up here. Why they couldn’t just call it ‘eyeball lens’ or something, I don’t know.
  • Objective lens – this bit of glass is the larger of the two ends and its one and only job is to collect as many photons as it can from the thing you’re pointing at and send them to your eye, magnified.
  • Eyepiece – the part of the scope that contains the ocular lens (the bit you look through)
  • Focus Adjustment – not always present, depending on what scope you get but the focal adjustment, simply put will help you get the target into focus. Especially useful if you wear glasses and your eye is a little further away from the eyepiece.
  • Magnification Adjustment – or sometimes referred to as the power adjustment. Not always present but if the scope has one this adjustment controls how much magnification is being applied to the image. For instance, if you use 5X then the image is being magnified five times.
  • Illumination Control – not always present. The illumination (if available) will typically brighten the crosshairs.
  • Parallax Adjustment – not always present. However, a good (read: typically more expensive) scope will be set to be accurate at a fixed distance (usually 100 yards). This adjuster is used with higher magnitudes.
  • Windage – the scope won’t be perfectly aligned with your barrel when you first adjust it. To set it up correctly you can use the windage and elevation controls. The windage will adjust the scope in the horizontal, so if your rifle is shooting to the left or right, it can be adjusted with this.
  • Elevation Adjustment – similar to the windage, the elevation control is used when setting up your rifle and to compensate for when you’re shooting too high or too low. If your groupings are a little too high or low you can use the elevation controls to correct it.

Common Scope Related Problems

Elevation Control – this is a common cause for inaccuracy. This problem can occur when the vertical adjustment is set too high. On some scopes, the spring opposite the vertical adjustment knob can relax which will cause a tiny bit of movement. This tiny bit of movement will screw up your groupings nicely! Fix this by playing with the elevation control a bit. Yes, you’ll have to zero the sight again but this only takes a couple of minutes. If you didn’t understand this bit then don’t worry, just re-sight your scope.

Temperature – not as likely as other problems but if you set your scope in the summer months when the temperature is nice and warm and then try to shoot on a Winter’s day then you might encounter a problem. It’s possible that the internal scope mounts have moved slightly due to contraction. Just re-sight and get on with it 

Magnification – if you have a variable power scope then changing this can change the point of impact. If you have an older scope then this is more likely to be a problem that with a more modern one.

Tilting – this is otherwise known as ‘canting’ but I have no idea why. It’s basically when your rifle is tilted to one side slightly from the original position that it was in when the scope was zeroed. There are scope levels you can get that will help you with this.

Wind – I don’t mean when you’ve eaten too many beans. A side-wind can do strange things to your pellet and just because you’re not feeling much wind from where you’re shooting doesn’t mean the conditions are the same down-range. 

The Mount – Does your scope move around, even a tiny amount? If so, then look no further until you’ve tightened everything up and re-sighted it.

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.

Sight Zeroing – Follow These 9 Simple Steps!

There are (quite literally) hundreds of videos on how to do this online. It’s really simple though and doesn’t take long (even less when you’ve done it a few times). Anyway, you can just follow these very simple 9 steps:

  1. Most importantly, make sure you have a firm base to shoot from. Ideally, you’ll be using a rifle rest. I can recommend the Caldwell Deadshot (click to get the current price, which opens in a new window). It’s cheap, has been around for ages and everyone loves it.
  2. You’ll need a target with a pellet trap (ideally) and a safe location to shoot without fear of your pellet going somewhere it shouldn’t. You should set this target up 10 yards (30 feet) away from the rifle. It should be a windless day (or as best as you can get).
  3. If you have an AO (Adjustable Objective) then it should be set for 10 yards. This is to cater for parallax errors.
  4. If your scope has a zoom, then set it to maximum magnification.
  5. Focus the eyepiece until the target is crystal clear.
  6. Load a pellet, aim for the centre and fire. Note where the pellet hits the target (if it hits directly in the centre, there’s obviously no need to continue).
  7. Re-point the gun and again, aim at the centre of the target. You should now adjust the elevation and windage until the crosshairs of your reticle are directly over the hole you just made with the last pellet. The tricky bit here is to make sure the gun doesn’t move at all whilst you’re adjusting the scope!
  8. Once complete, aim the gun at the centre of the target again and fire again. 
  9. If you’re still a bit out (it won’t be as much as last time), repeat the process from step 7.

The above process will take you less than a couple of minutes after a couple of attempts I promise! It’s almost worth doing this every time you go out.

Holding Your Rifle

There are a few different ways to hold your gun steady. This is actually very important if you have a spring-piston type of rifle. The vibrations of the spring and piston inside the rifle can cause the barrel of the rifle to actually move before the pellet has left it! You can imagine what happens then. If you do have a Springer, then the worst thing you can do is try and hold on too tight to it. This isn’t the way to keep the rifle steady. You need to just allow it to balance on your hands.

Before we start looking at the different positions available to you. Always try to keep your centre of gravity as low as you can. You want to give yourself every natural advantage possible and the lower you can get the less the wind will impact the pellet.

Also, you may already have done this but try all of these shooting positions out. You’ll be better at one than others. I’m not great with the whole standing situation. I still do it but I certainly wouldn’t be winning any competitions.

Always try to remember this though, it is the bones that allow support to be given to the rifle, never muscular strength!

Standing

For whatever reason, sometimes you might just need to shoot from a standing position. It’s the least stable of the positions as you need to utilise the most muscles when you apply it. There are a few different methods you can use but I’ve always been of the opinion that you should keep things as simple as possible, always. So, let’s just look at a couple of methods here, assuming you don’t anything to support your rifle on:

  • Fighting-Stance– the best way to describe this position is to say that you step into it. Your left foot (assuming you’re right-handed) is out in front by a stride and slightly to the left of your right foot (i.e. your right foot isn’t directly behind your left foot). Lean into your leading foot a little. Your feet should be no more than shoulder-width together and don’t lock your knees! Allow your elbows to point out at a slight angle. Don’t hang around, the key to consistent, accurate shooting from a standing position is to get into that position quickly and fire.
  • First Target Position – with this popular stance, your feet will be side-on to the target (so you’re facing 90 degrees away from it) with your hip leaning slightly towards it. This will cause your skeleton to take most of the load, rather than your muscles. Your left arm is doing all the work here really but that still shouldn’t be much as it’s just taking the weight of your rifle. The rifle should ideally be resting on your left hand, which is flat. Your right hand is only used for pulling the trigger.

Sitting

  • Classic Sitting Position – sit, if possible, with your backside raised a little. Either on a smooth rock or a bag. You don’t have to but I find it does make it a little easier to shoot if you do this. Use your feet to stabilise yourself, weight on your heels, knees bent, making a nice 45-degree angle from the floor.
  • Half-Kneeling – another very popular position is when your right knee is kneeling but your left foot is planted in the ground ahead of you. Your left elbow rests on your left leg and your backside is sitting on the heel of your right foot. This can be a bit uncomfortable for some so you may want to consider putting a jumper between your backside and your heel to make things a bit comfier for you. 

Lying Down

Lying down whilst shooting has become more popular with me as I’ve aged. I wonder if there’s a correlation? Or maybe it’s just when you’re in a family you never seem to stop so if I can find an excuse to lie down for a bit, I take it!

Anyway, I find this the easiest method to master. Lie down but not facing the target. You want to lie at a slight angle with your weight on your left elbow, this will be doing all the work, your right hand is purely for stability and to pull that trigger.

Spring-Piston Shooters Are Special

I like Springers. They’re more challenging than other types of guns, harder to become competent. Why is this? Well, spring-pistons have a lot of stuff going on inside it when you pull that trigger. The coiled spring expands, pushing the piston forward at a high velocity. This piston compressed the air in front of it which eventually overcomes the resistance of the pellet in the breech and out it shoots. All this internal movement creates vibrations. These vibrations move your gun before the pellet has left the barrel. This pellet does not then go where you wanted it to go! Many people, to try and combat this try and grip the rifle harder, in a vain attempt to suppress the movement. This actually makes matters worse and is not what you should do.

Anyway, what you want to do (if standing) is use the Artillery Hold. It works. It’s all about letting the gun rest softly on your hand, without gripping it. Let me hand you over to Stephen Archer who has a much better video than anything I could put together. It may a bit old now but it still holds true and quite frankly for spring-piston air rifles, it always will:

Summary

If you’re a beginner and you can take on board the things I’ve covered in this article it’ll improve your shooting, without a doubt. This isn’t me giving myself a little pat on the back – I didn’t invent any of these techniques but not all of us are aware of the little things that we can do to improve our performance in this sport. I’m certainly not the best, most consistent shooter on the planet. But when I miss, I understand it’s something I’m doing wrong or have forgotten to do. 

The best tip I can give you to improve though? I’ve saved that for the end. Just get out there and start shooting some tins and targets. It’s fine to read up on how you should be holding the rifle or what type of pellet you should be shooting. But, none of this matters whilst you’re sitting inside, right? Have fun and stay safe, shooters. Talking of staying safe, to get the most out of this sport you need to make sure everyone around you is safe, as well as you. Please take a look at this article that’ll tell you all you need to know.

One last thing, if you’re interested in air rifles for pest control, there’s a great article here that’ll tell you all you need to know.

Interested In Buying Something New?

If you’re in the market for a new gun, be it a BB, Air Rifle or Pistol, check out my totally unbiased reviews on what’s best out there right now. These have all been tried and tested so you don’t have to worry about buying something that isn’t up to the job: