The weather's warmer and you want to enjoy some garden airgunning. Here's how to do it safely - and stay on good terms with your neighbours
If you have a moderate sized garden then you probably have enough room to set up a shooting range for an air rifle.
Long warm evenings mean you can enjoy a spot of airgunning after work and improve your markmanship along the way. It’s also a good time to introduce a youngster to the sport.
As with any type of shooting, safety is a top priority, especially given the likelihood of other people being close by when you are in the garden. Airguns are relatively low-powered compared with other guns, which is one of the reasons they lend themselves to backyard practice, but they still have the potential to cause a life-wrecking accident.
However, there is absolutely no reason not to enjoy safe airgun shooting in your garden providing you follow simple safety guidelines and use common sense.
Next door neighbours
Unless you live in the middle of nowhere, you will probably have to consider your neighbours.
No matter whether your garden is in a remote and well-enclosed location or, like mine, behind a row of terraced houses and separated from neighbours by little more than flimsy fencing panels, you will be breaking the law if a single pellet strays beyond your boundary.
You also need to make sure you don’t cause a noise nuisance. Don’t worry, take the right steps, and your garden airgunning should certainly be less disruptive than the noise of someone mowing their lawn.
Explain your intentions
The best way to minimise conflict with neighbours is to tell them what you are doing before you start shooting, and outline 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.
Range layout and safety
Ensure that shots are taken in the safest possible direction and avoid setting up anywhere that features an unlocked downrange access point.
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, saying “Shooting in Progress”, and 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.
Types of target
There are plenty of interesting and challenging targets for a garden airgun range.
For zeroing and working out the downrange performance of pellets, card and paper targets are best as they give a clear indication of where pellets are striking and how they are grouping.
If noise isn’t a major issue knockdown targets are great fun, as a direct hit causes the target to topple 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. They aren’t really suited to built-up areas however.
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.
At no point should the gun be left unattended — even if it is unloaded and deemed to be safe.
Stopping pellets from travelling beyond the intended target is vital, otherwise you could be breaking the law. Don’t ever use wood as a backstop. Its fibrous nature means it can cause dangerous and unpredictable ricochets, often sending pellets back in the direction of the shooter.
The best backstop to halt airgun pellets without risk of ricochet is a wall of brick, stone or concrete. 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 do not have a wall in the right place, 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.
Thick steel also makes for a good backstop, and there are some excellent combined target holders and pellet catchers on the market. The only drawback is that pellets can make quite a clang when they hit a metal backstop, which could irritate your neighbours.
If the sound of pellets striking a backdrop of stone or concrete cause a problem, it is easily remedied. 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.
Airgunning with friends.
Practice is always more interesting with a friend, as an element of competitiveness adds to the enjoyment. However safety still rules. With more than one shooter on the range, it is essential to establish exactly who will be shooting when. Keep your firing points close together, preferably from the same bench, so communication is as clear as possible.
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.
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If you are introducing young people to airgun shooting in the garden you should control the gun at all times and give a full safety briefing before starting.