Mat Manning suggests some simple steps to enhance the precision of your set-up
Most shooters want to be able to shoot more accurately and there are lots of things you can do to improve the precision of the average airgun. Serious geeks take it to the absolute extreme. While “dark arts” such as tuning a gun’s internals and washing and weighing pellets can make a difference, there are far simpler ways to boost the accuracy of your air rifle.
The right fit
You won’t shoot accurately unless you are looking straight down your scope, and to achieve that you need a gun that fits you properly. Don’t base your choice of gun on the ones that are currently in fashion — try a few and go for the one that fits you best.
Wrestling with a gun that’s too big and heavy for you will only result in inaccurate shooting; small guns that make you feel hunched up and cramped are just as bad. Don’t be afraid of heavier guns if you can manage one, though. A bit of heft helps to absorb the kick from recoiling airguns and weightier guns are less likely to drift off aim as you touch off the trigger.
Many air rifles feature adjustable stocks, which are great for tweaking fit. When making adjustments, mount the gun with your eyes closed and nestle yourself in so it feels comfortable. Open your eyes and you should see what changes need to be made to achieve correct alignment. Do it with your eyes open from the start and it is likely that you will subconsciously adjust your hold rather than adopt the most comfortable shooting position.
Mount your scope
- Correct scope mounting ties in with good gun fit and can make or break accuracy.
- Start with a set of good-quality mounts — I have always got on well with Sportsmatch. Make sure they have the right diameter rings to fit the tube of your scope and are the correct height for comfortable eye/scope alignment.
- It is vital to get eye relief — the gap between the rear lens and your eye — correct. Attach the scope but only tighten the screws loosely, then mount the gun with your eyes closed. This will stop you adjusting your head position to suit. Open your eyes and you will see whether the scope needs to be moved backward or forward to achieve a good sight picture.
- Before you tighten up the screws, make sure that the vertical cross-hair is dead upright. This is vital to ensure that the pellet’s flightpath remains in correlation with the reticle; it never fails to amaze me how many people get it wrong.
Put in the practice
- The adage that practice makes perfect rings true with airgun shooting. Spending hours on end punching holes in paper targets can hardly be described as exciting — but it really does make a huge difference.
- You won’t shoot to your optimum if you are not familiar with your kit and practising on the club or garden range is the best way to build that familiarity.
- Paper and card targets enable you to see exactly where pellets are striking. Set them out at varying ranges and you can see exactly how high or low shots strike as they travel downrange. This information will enable you to work out correct aim-off to ensure that the pellet still hits the mark either side of your set zero range.
- Don’t fall into the trap of only practising from an easy stance. It is pleasant, and worthwhile, shooting strings of tight groups when you shoot rested from a bench, but you rarely get that sort of luxury in the field. Try to practise from standing, kneeling, sitting and prone stances, too — it will come in handy when targeting live quarry.
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Get some support
You may not be able to shoot from the support of a bench when you are out in the field, but there are other ways of eliminating unwanted wobbles. Sticks and bipods offer a portable and effective means of supporting your airgun and the difference they make to downrange accuracy is amazing, especially if you shoot a recoil-less precharged airgun.
You can’t beat getting down on your belly and supporting your gun on a bipod when it comes to long-range precision. The best bipods have height-adjustable legs and a lockable swivel top that allows the gun to roll to the right or left. The latter feature eliminates problems caused by cant on uneven ground and enables you to keep that vertical cross-hair absolutely upright.
It is not always practical to shoot from the prone position, and sticks offer a versatile means of support for standing, sitting and kneeling shots.
Of course, you don’t have to buy fancy kit to take advantage of supported shots. I often rest my gun on a backpack or rolled-up jacket when I’m shooting prone and don’t have a bipod to hand. Trees, gates and fences all make for useful supports when you need a stable rest for your gun.
It is a little different if you use a recoiling spring or gas-ram airgun because they tend to kick unpredictably when rested on solid surfaces. However, you can still use solid structures to support your hand, arm or shoulder, as long as you keep the gun clear and adopt your usual hold to ensure that the recoil is allowed to travel in the same way as usual.
Pick your pellet
- Modern precharged air rifles are capable of putting pellet on pellet at 25m but they won’t do it with any old ammunition. Cheap pellets are a false economy, especially when you consider that quality brands cost less than £15 for a tin of 500.
- Ignore elaborate designs; conventional domed pellets are the choice of successful target shooters and they perform well on live quarry. Tried and tested lines from Air Arms, JSB, Daystate, H&N and RWS are a good place to start, but you will need to try a few to see which your gun prefers.
- Airguns are notoriously pellet-fussy and what works well in one doesn’t always work well in another.
- Some manufacturers produce sample packs that enable you to test a variety of pellets without having to splash out on several full tins. You can tighten up your groups even more by experimenting with head sizes.
- Once you have found a pellet that gives good results, stick with it. Some shooters use cheap ammo to practise and save their premium rounds for hunting. This is a waste of time because your aim points are almost certain to shift when you switch between brands.