Is there a cheap way of finessing your shooting technique for your full-bore rifle? George Wallace suggests going back to basics with an airgun

“The more I practice, the luckier I get,” is a saying most commonly attributed to golfer Gary Player; but whoever said it first, the principle is just as important for those of us who shoot rifles. Particularly powerful rifles.

We all pay lip service to the need for practice, practice and more practice but very few of us actually do it. This is particularly true when it comes to centre-fire rifles which can make a helluva bang, kick a bit, and use ammo that is eye-wateringly expensive. Target practice may also involve a long drive to an expensive range, which only serves to increase our reluctance to practice regularly.

I am lucky in having several places within a mile or so where I can use anything I’m strong enough – or stupid enough – to want to fire. I also load my own ammunition and cast my own bullets, thereby keeping costs down, particularly for beasts like the .450 and .577.

Few of us are so fortunate but there is an easy alternative which is available to everyone and will go at least some of the way to providing useful practice without all the noise, recoil and expense.

Spring-powered air rifle

Remember the good old spring-powered air rifle? You might wonder at the connection, so perhaps I had better explain. A good deal of violence goes on inside a spring gun when you squeeze the trigger. There’s compressed air rushing about and a bloody great spring slamming to and fro, which all happens while the pellet is still in the barrel. This means that if your rifle handling is anything less than perfect, you will be extremely lucky if consecutive shots land in the same place. It is not the fault of the rifle because a decent spring air rifle is extremely accurate.

While it’s obviously a help if you can find one that’s about the same shape and weight as your full-bore rifle, it’s not the end of the world if your springer is a bit different. It is really the technique we are after, so provided it has a decent trigger the practice will pay dividends when you come to use your ‘real’ rifle.

The cost of centre-fire rifles can be expensive

The cost of centre-fire rifles can be expensive

Back to basics with an airgun

Let us now remind ourselves of the basic principles of accurate rifle shooting in the field. The secret is consistency so that your zero will remain valid regardless of whether you are standing, sitting, kneeling, prone or using sticks, fence posts, trees or whatever for support.

Comfortable shooting position

Whatever your shooting position you must be comfortable so that the rifle lies naturally on the target. If you put the rifle to your shoulder and it is not immediately aligned with the target, shuffle yourself around until it is. Always move yourself; don’t put pressure on the rifle by trying to shove it into line.

Never allow the rifle to rest on or beside any hard surface. Always have a hand, finger, thumb or wrist between the two. Never, never, never grip the fore-end. Let it rest on the open palm of your left hand with your elbow as near vertically underneath as is comfortable.

Pull the butt firmly into the shoulder with the right hand. (If you are left-handed everything is the opposite way round, of course, so read right for left and left for right.) Pulling the butt in firmly achieves two important objects; first, it steadies your hold and you can experiment with different pressures until you find what suits best; then it stops the rifle from kicking, in the same way that if you push your leg against a cow’s hind leg it can’t kick you, it can only shove.

Never grip the fore-end, let it rest on the open palm of your hand

Never grip the fore-end, let it rest on the open palm of your hand

Breathe normally

With the rifle pointing at the target, breathe normally and watch the crosshairs go up and down on the target. Pause your breathing at a point where everything is lined up.

Now we come to the bit that often messes up a shot: the trigger finger. Don’t put your finger on the trigger until you are ready to fire. Then place it carefully, with either the pad of the index finger on the trigger or pushed in a little further to the crease before the first joint. Whatever is most comfortable for you. Then, with the sights aligned and your breathing paused for a few seconds, squeeze the trigger straight back towards your eye. Any snatching or any pulling up, down or sideways will destroy accuracy.

An air rifle with a good trigger

The last point is the reason why I spoke earlier about finding an air rifle with a good trigger. Because practice induces muscle memory, you want a trigger as good as that on your “big” rifle if the practice is to be truly useful.

A spring air rifle can be a superbly accurate tool but they are totally unforgiving of poor technique which makes them perfect for cheap practice.