"A bad workman always blames his tools." If you're not hitting the target as accurately as you'd wish, it might not be your airgun but your technique.
Let’s face it, most of us could improve our shooting style, which in turn will improve accuracy. Although missing the bullseye more often than you would like could also be down to a poorly set trigger or mismatched pellets. Of course, it could also be all three.
So let’s look at airgun pellets first. What’s on offer here?
Airguns are fussy about pellets
There’s not much point investing heavily in an airgun and then filling it with cheap ammunition and wondering why you’re falling short of the accuracy listed by the manufacturer or in a review you read.
Airguns are fussy about the pellets used and some are more particular than others. It’s a matter of trial and error – you need to test different brands through your airgun to learn which produce the tightest groups.
As far as accuracy goes, the classic domed or roundhead design turns in the best results. Don’t get bamboozled by all the different shapes of modern airgun pellets. You may hear boasts of improved penetration and hollow-points increasing knock-down power but it makes no difference if you miss the target. Experiment with tried and tested performers such as air arms, JSB, H&N, RWS and Daystate. That’s the way to find what really suits your gun.
I’d advise you to forget about cheap pellets, even for practice. Quality ammo costs less than 3p a pop. Downgrade and you won’t find out about the downrange performance of your airgun and here you really do get what you pay for.
How you stand will make all the difference
Think of your body as the platform from which your air rifle is operating. Then think of all the factors that will detract from your steadiness – like your pulse, how you’re breathing and how your muscles will react to holding a heavy gun. Then you’ll realise just how much this influences the downrange accuracy.
All this is why standing shots are always the trickiest. You’re shifting your weight to stand straight (and you could well be buffeted by the wind as well). This is probably why most air rifle hunters only take standing shots at close range. As with most things however, practice will help you to improve. Practise your standing stance and as it improves, it’ll help you put more quarry in the bag. This is particularly true of locations when you’re unable to kneel or sit due to low cover – which often happens when stalking rabbits.
Most experienced airgun shooters probably account for the vast majority of their kills from kneeling shots. Relatively stable and easy to assume, the kneeling stance also provides reasonable clearance of ground obstacles. One key thing to remember when shooting from a kneeling stance is to tuck the elbow of your leading hand over your knee or behind it if placed directly on the flat surface of your knee. The hard, round point of your elbow will roll all over the place, making it very difficult to hold a steady aim.
A sitting stance lends itself well to static shooting, such as ambushing quarry from a hide, but is usually too much hassle to bother with when stalking. As with the kneeling stance, keeping your elbows just behind or in front of your knees will help to keep you on target.
The most stable stance you can achieve – and therefore the most accurate – is when you lie flat on your stomach. In this position you should be able to pick off rabbits out to 40m with a 12ft/lb air rifle in windless conditions. For obvious reasons this is a stance best adopted when the ground is dry and where you can see clearly, without nettles and high vegetation obstructing the view.
A gentle airgun hold
Holding your airgun tight won’t make it more stable. Instead you put your muscles under more pressure and they complain by twitching and making you wobble. What you’re after is a good gunfit that ensures your airgun locks steadily and effortlessly into your shoulder. Once it’s there handle it lightly. A gentle hold is even more important if you shoot a spring-powered or gas-ram airgun. Shockwaves from the moving parts that create the blast of air which drives the pellet are still in effect as the projectile travels down the barrel. There’s nothing you can do to stop this recoil, so you have to manage it. Hold your airgun with a light, consistent grip every time and the movement will follow the same course for every shot, thus ensuring that the pellet always follows the same path.
No risk of unpredictable recoil
Previous generations would envy our choice of modern precharged airguns. Their lack of recoil means you can take leaning shots without the risk of unpredictable recoil sending pellets astray. Don’t think that leaning on a tree, gate or fence is cheating. Not at all. Make the most of them to improve your chances of putting the shot just where you want to. I lean on something whenever I get the opportunity.
If you’re in more open territory where there are few natural rests, then I suggest you take a bipod, tripod or shooting stick as extra support.
I almost always have my bipod fitted when targeting rabbits as it enables me to take rock-steady shots when I hunker down to ambush a busy warren.
Spring-powered airguns don’t shoot as well as PCPs when rested because of the aforementioned kick. Lean them on a hard surface such as a fence rail, and the point of impact bounces away from where it was when the gun was supported by your hand. Nonetheless, you can still lean your arm or shoulder against trees, gates and fences to help steady the shot — just make sure the gun is cradled in the same way as ever so the recoil can follow its usual course.
Trigger should be crisp and predictable
As I said earlier, a poorly set trigger could also have a damaging effect on your accuracy and an airgun’s performance. Many a good shot is spoilt by poor trigger control. A trigger should be crisp and predictable with no hint of creep. It shouldn’t be set dangerously light nor should it be so heavy that you pull the cross-hairs off aim as you heave it towards breaking point.
For maximum feel and control, only the pad of your finger should be in contact with the blade. As the cross-hairs settle, push back through the first stage until you feel the trigger stop. When the shot is good, touch off the second stage to send the pellet on its way. The movement caused by the firing cycle is still in effect and, even if you shoot a PCP, you can yank the shot off aim before the pellet leaves the barrel. Stay on aim and try to keep your sights trained on the target until the pellet hits home. You might think this all sounds a bit longwinded. However get out practising it on the range a few times so that it becomes automatic. As with everything, practice will improve your performance noticeably.