How large a garden do you need to have? And how can you avoid upsetting the neighbours?
Provided you follow some sensible safety rules, garden airgunning is a great way to improve your target skills. Any garden with a range of above 20m will make for interesting shooting and allow enough room to set up an air rifle shooting range.
Garden airgunning safety
Although airguns are low-powered in comparison with other types of guns (which is why they are good for backyard practice) they can still cause a life-changing accident if handled wrongly.
Safety is key.
You must consider your neighbours. Many airgunners, myself included, have a garden separated from neighbours by nothing more than fencing panels. You don’t need to upgrade your fencing for garden airgunning but you do need to make sure that not a single pellets strays beyond your boundary. If it does, you are breaking the law.
Then there is the noise. However if you follow my advice then garden airgunning will be less intrusive than the sound of somebody cutting the grass.
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Stay on good terms with the neighbours.
Start by telling your neighbours that you plan backyard plinking before you start shooting, and reassure them of the precautions you will be taking. Offer to show them the set-up. You could even ask them if they would like to have a go. I once visited a new neighbour to tell her I would be shooting in my garden and ended up spending the rest of the afternoon toppling targets with her and her grandson.
Laying out the range safely
Avoid setting up your range anywhere that features an unlocked downrange access point. Inspect your garden fully to make sure that shots are taken in the safest possible direction.
Before you start shooting, make sure that everyone in your home knows that the garden is a no-go area until you have finished. Children and dogs need to be kept safely out of the way. Most airgun shooters use telescopic sights, which can have a blinkering effect at what is potentially the most dangerous time, so it is vital to eliminate all risk of people or pets straying in front of the gun.
Make a sign like the one above, saying “Shooting in Progress”. Hang it securely on the gate that leads to your garden. This serves as a clear warning to anyone, including unexpected visitors, who may otherwise wander on to the range.
Safe air rifle backstops are key
You must stop pellets from travelling beyond the target. If you don’t, you risk breaking the law. Pellets must never stray outside the limits of your garden.
Wood is NOT a good backdrop. It can cause dangerous ricochets, sending airgun pellets back towards the shooter.
I would recommend a wall of brick, stone or concrete as a backdrop. On meeting with solid resistance, lead pellets are left with scant energy to bounce even a foot or two. This will keep spent pellets within the confines of your boundary, and keep you on the right side of the law.
If you don’t have a solid brick or stone wall then large paving slabs can be used to create the same effect and can be easily moved around – you can obtain them a minimal cost from a DIY store or garden centre.
Another good air rifle backstop is thick steel and there are some excellent combined target holders and pellet catchers on the market. Mind you, you need to consider the clang your pellets make when they hit a metal backstop, as your neighbours could find the noise quite annoying.
One way of solving this nuisance is to take an old phone book, tape it up to prevent it from flapping open, then use paperclips to fasten target cards to it. The paper does a great job of muffling the sound of impacting pellets. A cardboard box stuffed with rags will also work to similar effect. Just remember that you will still need a solid backstop behind, because shots will eventually pass through.
Targets for garden airgunning
Once you’ve created your garden airgun range securely, you’ll need to consider targets.
For zeroing and working out the downrange performance of pellets, card and paper targets are best. They give a clear indication of where pellets are striking and how they are grouping.
If you don’t have to worry about neighbours and noise then try knockdown targets. These are great fun because when you hit them the target falls over, often with a gratifying clang. Most knockdown targets reset by means of a long cord, though you can also get models that automatically pop back up when you land the next shot on their reset disc.
Spinning targets are another option; hit the kill area to send them whirring around before they are automatically reset by gravity.
Reactive targets are available, some of which go off with a bang and a flash of sparks when hit. But they aren’t recommended for use in built-up areas.
Finally, you can try Extra Strong Mints. They shatter with a pleasing puff of white dust (like mini clays) and there’s no bang to disturb the neighbours. As with any target, though, be sure to have a sound backstop in place before taking shots.
Never leave your airgun outside
At no point should the air rifle be left unattended — even if it is unloaded and so considered to be safe.
Group plinking practice
Practice is always more interesting with a friend and it makes the whole experience more competitive. However, safety is still a top priority, particularly as there will be more than one shooter on the range. You need to establish beforehand who will be shooting when. Keep your firing points close together, preferably from the same bench, so communication is as clear as possible.
Take precautions and have rules in place. If one of you needs to walk downrange to check or adjust the targets, make sure it is clear and understood by your companion, and stay put until they have acknowledged you. Before anyone leaves their position, ensure that all guns are unloaded and uncocked, pointing in a safe direction, with magazines removed and safety catches set. Guns should not be reloaded until you are back safely in position and the all-clear has been given.
Youngsters and garden plinking
If you are teaching airgun shooting to young Shots in the garden you should control the gun at all times and give a full safety briefing before starting. Plinking in the backyard is a good way to introduce a youngster to the sport although we’d also recommend encouraging young Shots to join their local air rifle club. Youngsters need close adult supervision to shoot an air rifle.
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