Starting with airguns: the ideal tool for starting in fieldsports
An airgun is the ideal tool for new recruits to shooting of all ages and can often be a gateway to shotguns and rifles, advises Mat Manning
Whenever I talk with shooting friends about how we were introduced to the wonderful world of fieldsports, it never takes long for the conversation to turn to fondly recalled memories of our first airguns. Affordability, simplicity and comparatively low power output make the air rifle the ideal tool for new recruits, and I have no doubt that most Shooting Times readers will been launched on their fieldsports careers through starting with airguns.
In the late 1980s, just before I hit my teens, many of my friends had cheap airguns. Things were different back then — they certainly were where I grew up in rural Somerset — and we whiled away long summer evenings roaming the fields unsupervised while attempting to bag rabbits for the pot.
I was fortunate to have an uncle who took the time to nurture my growing passion for shooting sports. To my great joy, he was happy for me to tag along on his shotgun and airgun forays, and my training in safe gun handling and good shooting technique soon became significantly more rigorous than it had been on those after-school excursions with my mates.
Starting with airguns
Around the time of my 13th birthday, my uncle gave me his old Webley Vulcan airgun — I can still recall the glow of pride I felt when he handed it to me. I cherished that little break-barrel and, although it wasn’t very accurate, it taught me some vital lessons in shooting. Because my Vulcan was neither very powerful nor accurate, I quickly learnt that 20 yards was my absolute limit for targeting live quarry.
Being young and optimistic, I didn’t see that as a serious problem — it simply meant that I had to learn ways of getting myself within striking distance. I didn’t realise it at the time, but the limitations of that old airgun gave me a terrific grounding in fieldcraft skills. I worked out all sorts of ruses to get in close enough for the shot, and those tricks still serve me well more than three decades later — not only when I’m out with an airgun, but also when using shotguns and powder-burning rifles.
For anyone planning to buy an airgun to introduce a young person to shooting, the choice is seemingly endless. My advice is to avoid very expensive high-end models and go for something more affordable. A simple break-barrel can be picked up new for less than £200, and that will often include a telescopic sight and mounts. (Read best air rifles under £500.)
Pre-charged airguns tend to cost significantly more, and then there is the additional outlay of charging gear — either a bottle or pump — to keep them topped up with air. Although these recoil-less airguns make accurate shooting very easy — which is an important consideration for humane pest control or competitive target shooting — I don’t think they provide the same learning experience as a spring-powered or gas-ram airgun. (Read more on pre-charged airguns here.)
Airguns with a power source based around a piston that is driven either by spring or a gas strut can have quite a harsh kick. That can be a good thing, as it teaches newcomers to develop good technique in order to manage recoil. A bit of movement in the firing cycle also makes recoiling airguns more fun to shoot — my own children quickly became bored with the monotony of ragging bullseyes with recoilless pre-charged airguns, but still relish the challenge of toppling targets with a springer.
If you decide on a simple break-barrel, you then have the choice of the previously mentioned spring or gas-ram action. There really is very little to choose between them. Some gas-ram airguns can have a firing cycle that feels faster and a little harsher than their spring-powered equivalent, but the difference is usually negligible and often completely unnoticeable.
What is important is the cocking effort, especially if the gun is to be used by a youngster. An airgun that requires a great deal of effort to cock will soon frustrate a previously enthusiastic newcomer, so try to choose one with a smooth and relatively easy cocking stroke. The extra leverage provided by a longer barrel can significantly reduce the strain, as can a gun with a lower power output.
Too many people want to get as close to the 12ft/lb legal limit as they possibly can, but a junior model producing lower muzzle energy could be a much better choice. Apart from being easier to cock, it is also likely to be smoother to shoot because its moving parts will be under less strain. (More on what are the most powerful air rifles that don’t need a firearms licence .)
Make sure the airgun you opt for is a good fit for the person who will be using it. Buying a gun that is too big in the hope that the young Shot will grow into it is never a good idea. Sour somebody’s first taste of shooting sports by making them struggle with a big, heavy gun that doesn’t fit them and it is unlikely that they will be hungry for more. Better to give them a positive experience hitting targets with a gun they can comfortably handle, then move on to something else when they outgrow it. (More on gun fit here.)
Most break-barrel airguns come fitted with open sights, even the ones that come supplied with a scope, and my advice is to start with them before moving on to glass optics. Newcomers have enough to think about without having to get their head around eye relief and the confidence-sapping view of those magnified wobbles, so kick off with opens and move on to a scope as and when you think they are ready.
Because of their comparatively low power and quiet operation, airguns can be used in a moderately sized garden, which makes it easy to fit in regular practice sessions. And, with ammo costing around 2p a pop, it doesn’t take long to become a crack Shot. Do remember to have a suitable backstop in place to prevent pellets from straying beyond your boundary. A purpose-made pellet catcher with a large concrete patio slab propped behind is perfect. (Read our advice on garden airgunning here.)
As I said at the outset, airguns are brilliant training tools for people who are new to shooting — not only youngsters but adults too. Many people who tackle their first targets with an air rifle are likely to move on to shotguns and powder-burning rifles. But given the remarkable potential of modern air rifles when it comes to discreet and humane pest control, plenty will find them to be all the gun they ever need.
Airguns were my first choice when I started out, and they remain my first choice for the vast majority of shooting I do some 35 years on.
Three starter airguns to consider
Aselkon RX1250 Price RRP £120 Raytrade
Aselkon is a relatively new name in airgunning but is already establishing a loyal following, thanks to competitive prices, innovative design and solid build quality.
The RX1250 is a great option for shooters who want affordability with reliable performance. Its synthetic thumbhole stock is sculpted for comfort and is robust enough to stand up to unforgiving field use.
Available in .177, .22 and .25 calibres and equipped with open sights and a scope mounting rail, the RX1250 is 110cm long and weighs 3.2kg.
Webley VMX 2.0 Quantum Price RRP £172.99 Highland Outdoors
This distinctive break-barrel comes with a robust ambidextrous synthetic stock in black, green and mossy oak camouflage options.
Supplied with Webley’s hi-vis open sights, it is also machined with dovetail rails for mounting a telescopic sight. Other features include integral over-sleeved barrel/sound moderator, precision-rifled barrel, two-stage trigger and Powr-Lok mainspring. Available in legal limit (11.5ft/lb) and FAC power.
Norica Marvic 2.0 Luxe Price RRP £299 Edgar Brothers
This handsome spring-powered break-barrel features fibre-optic open sights, automatic safety catch and adjustable trigger, and is even equipped with a height-adjustable cheekpiece. It is available in .177 and .22 calibres and has the accuracy to justify purchasing a telescopic sight to attach to its 11mm rail.
The Marvic’s beech stock features some neat chequering, and the 48cm barrel makes for a comfortable cocking stroke. At 118cm long and 3.3kg in weight, it is an adult-sized airgun.