If you're starting out and buying lots of new airgunning kit, it's vital to know when you should splurge and when to save, says Mat Manning
Airgun shooting is enjoying a huge surge in popularity and newcomers are spoilt for choice when it comes to accurate and reliable air rifle accessories. Unfortunately, though, too many air rifle shooters are failing to get the best from their equipment by overlooking a few basic points. Many of these snags are easy to remedy and a few small tweaks can bring a significant improvement when it comes to accurate shooting and the enjoyment of your sport.
It is easy to be seduced by the marketing patter from gunmakers and retailers. While it might sound nice to own a new gun with all the latest extras, it has to be said that many of the modern kit is unnecessary.
Air rifle accessories – try before you buy
Do you really need a huge array of air rifle accessory rails, a massive shot capacity or a super-stubby bullpup? Probably not, and certainly not if those extras mean that you have to skimp on quality in order to meet your budget.
My key piece of advice to anyone thinking about buying a new airgun is to try a few different ones first. Have a go with friends’ guns or join a club, where you will meet lots of friendly shooters who will be more than happy for you to have a try with their set-ups. You may have your heart set on a particular model then find that something else suits you much better.
Shopping tips when buying air rifle accessories
- Think very carefully about what you want your airgun for; there’s no point in splashing out thousands of pounds on the latest match-winning air rifle if you only intend to topple tins in the garden or thin out feral pigeons on the farm.
- Similarly, your introduction to target shooting will be a disappointing one if you opt for a gun that doesn’t fit you properly and churns out inaccurate shots.
- Go for the best you can afford but don’t break the bank and always put quality ahead of gimmicks. A decent spring-powered airgun is likely to give far better service than a cheap pre-charged model if you’re on a tight budget, and you can always keep saving and upgrade in a few years’ time. The second-hand market can also produce some real gems, which is another good reason to join a club. Serious club shooters tend to change their airguns very frequently, which means there are often some real bargains to be had.
- The same rules apply when choosing a telescopic sight — so go for optical quality over fancy extras. Massive zoom ranges and giant objective lenses are not essential and overly complex reticles can be a real hindrance. A 4-12x scope with an objective lens of around 44mm and a basic mil-dot reticle should cover most airgunning applications.
- Your scope mounts create a vital link between your air rifle and your sighting device, so make sure you choose the right one. Good-quality two-piece mounts are suitable for most pre-charged airguns but you might want a sturdy one-piece mount to combat the recoil of a spring or gas-ram gun.
A reader wrote to me recently saying: “I find my airgun very heavy to hold on aim. Would it be possible to use a set of shooting sticks to support it, or would resting the gun in this way cause the point of impact to shift?”
I replied: “Some airguns can be quite heavy and leaning the gun is one solution to the problem. Beware if you use a spring-powered airgun that the recoil can, indeed, cause erratic shooting if you lean it directly on to a bench, fence or tripod. However, if you place your hand between the fore-end of the gun and whatever you are resting it on, the cushioning should prevent any erratic recoil. A few test shots are the best way to find out. If you shoot a recoil-free pre-charged airgun, you are unlikely to notice any shift in where pellets strike, whatever you use to support it. I like the support provided by a decent tripod, especially when using heavy night vision gear.”
Low to the bore
If you’re buying air rifle accessories online, make sure the mounts match the rails on your gun — dovetail or Weaver/Picatinny — and are the right size to fit the tube of your scope, which will usually be 25mm or 30mm. When it comes to height, I like to keep my scopes as low to the bore as possible. But you might need to go a bit higher if your sight has a very large objective lens or if the mounts need to straddle a magazine that stands proud of the action.
When mounting a scope, begin with the screws only lightly tightened so you can still slide the sight back and forth. With the help of a friend, shoulder the gun with your eyes closed — to stop you from adjusting your hold to suit the incorrect positioning of the scope — then get your helper to slide the sight slowly back and forth. When you see a full sight picture that fills the frame, you have the eye relief — the distance between your eye and the ocular lens — set correctly.
You now need to ensure that the vertical cross-hair is dead upright in alignment with the barrel, something that too many gun shops fail to do.
You can buy levels and set up plumbs to provide a reference. But a simpler way is to place your gun upright in a stand and move your head back slightly from the usual shooting position so you can see the sight picture and the scope mounting rails. Ensuring that the sight picture remains exactly concentric to the scope, rotate the optic until the bottom of the vertical cross-hair is aligned with the centre of the rails.
That should ensure that it is also aligned with the barrel and remains (in windless conditions) aligned with the pellet as it travels downrange.
With eye relief and vertical alignment correctly set, you can fully tighten the mounts. When fastening the screws in the rings, try to keep the gaps equal on both sides of the sections and tighten them very gradually, taking down each screw a little way at a time. Don’t fully tighten one side first as it may twist the scope, and don’t overtighten the screws because you really don’t want to squash the tube.
Matching your air rifle with the right pellet is one of the most important factors of accurate shooting. Many retailers sell airgun combos complete with ammo and while the pellets that come with the air rifle accessories kit may shoot well enough, you will almost certainly be able to find a better match. Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to pairing airguns with pellets and rifles that roll off the same production line can shoot well with very different ammo. The only way to find out the best match for your airgun’s barrel is to set up on the range with a variety of pellets and shoot some five-shot test groups to find out which give best results.
Chat to friends
You don’t want to splash out on lots of full tins of pellets then discard the majority of them, so ask friends if they can lend you a few samples. Again, club shooters will be in a handy position and some manufacturers also offer sample packs to help cut the cost. If you are going to buy a few tins of pellets, my advice is to avoid cheap lines and stick to leading brands such as Air Arms, JSB, Daystate, H&N, RWS, QYS and Bisley — they have a strong following for good reason.
I would also recommend limiting your choice to domed designs. This configuration wins most of the silverware in field target competitions and that consistent accuracy is a prime concern when targeting live quarry. Ignore all the claims of improved penetration or expansion from more elaborate designs.
Precision rules supreme; it is consistent accuracy that wins competitions and any pellet is deadly if you can confidently land it between your quarry’s eye and ear.
This piece has been updated