How to maintain your target air rifle for consistent accuracy
If you want to maintain accuracy, then you will also need to maintain your target air rifle, as Andy McLachlan explains
In a previous article, I wrote about the considerations that the target shooter must take on board following the fall of some dropping shots. These are the shots that fall well outside of the point of aim and usually end up destroying the good work you have put into the production of a match-winning target card. We have considered how important it is to make sure that your pellets are properly prepared and that your scope allows you to make the most of your combination’s accuracy on the range. If we are confident that all the ancillary equipment we are using is fully serviceable and that we are capable of maintaining proper trigger control, we are now left with the target air rifle itself being of concern if it cannot produce the standards of accuracy it did when new. (Click here to read more on how to improve your airgun marksmanship).
This may also be the case when we have purchased a second-hand target air rifle if it does not perform as well as we think it should. Very often, it is simply a case of finding the correct ammunition for the individual barrel, at which point the gun magically shoots its head off once again. (Read more here about how to make sure your airgun and ammo are compatible). It is always worthwhile asking a previous owner which type, or preferably batch, of pellets they found suited that particular gun as you can then save yourself a lot of time, effort and expense in doing so. (If you’re looking to get the most value for money, consider looking at our top picks for the best air rifles under £500).
Once we have considered ammunition, we need to look at the barrel and make sure that it has been cleaned properly. Unlike shotguns and many firearms, it is not immediately obvious that a target air rifle barrel is dirty, as we will not see the pellet residue blocking up the lands of the rifling and clogging up the choke as the pellet is constricted on its way out of the gun. (Read here for advice on how to clean your PCP airgun barrel).
A quick visible check reveals absolutely nothing for us as airgunners. This means that we must rely upon a system of regular barrel cleaning that is designed to reduce the build-up of unwanted lead residue and the sudden drop in accuracy that appears when a barrel goes “off”, as can sometimes happen for those not wishing to pursue regular maintenance.
There has been much written by myself and others regarding the methodology of barrel cleaning, but to summarise my own cleaning regime, I will use a couple of Birchwood Casey blue barrel cleaning patches that have been moistened with some LT 1 pellet preparation fluid. It’s important not to add too much, as soaking the patches may force excess oil into the regulator or firing mechanism. I usually clean the barrel with the gun upside down for the same reason. (Read our advice on the best gun oils.)
The dampened patches will be followed by however many dry patches it takes to register no remaining residue by appearing nice and clean following their pull through the barrel. Doing this too vigorously through some barrels may result in barrel O-ring seals being popped out of their seats and requiring replacement, so if your gun is of this design, go carefully with the pull-through.
The deep clean
As I shoot my target air rifles frequently, I make sure that this process occurs every 500 rounds without fail. And yes, I can notice the difference in pinpoint accuracy if I fail to maintain this system.
If I were to just carry on shooting until the barrel went off, this would result in a gradual but sometimes dramatic decrease in accuracy, which is precisely the reverse of what you want when considering why the last couple of pellets on a particularly impressive card have fallen well short of the bull. I have also seen a barrel suddenly go off on the firing line of an HFT competition, resulting in much frustration for the shooter.
If you discover that your target air rifle barrel is still not performing as well as it once did and accuracy fails to return, you may need to consider the nuclear option of barrel paste, felts and cleaning rods to really polish the bore, although this should only be resorted to when a dramatic decrease in accuracy becomes apparent. It often takes a thoroughly cleaned and polished barrel a couple of hundred shots to fully bed in, so take this into account as well.
Presuming that you have continued to maintain a barrel cleaning regime as you should have and are starting to notice the odd flyer appearing upon the target that defies explanation, we might have discovered other issues within the gun’s mechanism that might result in wayward shots. If you are using a spring-powered rifle, particularly a new one that is still running in, you might find that simply retightening the stock attachment screws carefully and with a correctly fitting bit will alleviate the issue. This is something I have witnessed many times, particularly with beginners who are not aware of how guns, particularly mechanically powered examples, lose accuracy due to their actions not being tight within the stock.
However, it must be said that most airgun target shooters use a PCP, and the management of the high-pressure air within the gun’s action can and often does result in a reduction in accuracy and the ability to retain a charge within the air cylinder.
This means that a pressure seal has failed and will require replacement before the gun will operate effectively without dumping its air between shots. As with all things mechanical (or more accurately pneumatic) if you are unsure how to go about tackling your own airgun repairs, take it to an expert who will make sure all is well and that the gun is safe when returned.
Keep up the good work
As a teacher of motor vehicle technicians for decades, I always make sure that my students have been fully aware of how important it is to maintain strict regimes of regular and itemised maintenance for the duration of a vehicle’s service life. The same principles apply to gun maintenance, and if I consider how frequently I have shot my beloved Walther LG400 for the past two years of ownership, it would have to be said that certain items within the overall action that should preferably have been serviced – such as the pressure regulator and hammer spring – have not been properly checked.
If I count the average number of shots fired by this gun at approximately 400 every week for two years, this equates to a total of 38,400 shots. Taking into account my weeks of shooting other guns, this high shot count may well drop a bit, but even so you can see that the gun has lived a busy life. The fact that it has not sprung a pressure leak and continues to deliver speaks volumes for the quality of design and manufacture.
What I decided to do was to remove the gun’s hammer spring and hammer for cleaning and inspection, and I also ordered a regulator and some spare seals from the ever-helpful Judith at schiesssport-billhartz.eu.
Following my removal of the hammer and spring from within the action of the Walther, I took the opportunity of fully cleaning out the hammer cavity to remove all the old grease.
As with my Steyr target rifles, I have always preferred to let the hammer run dry in the action as this will lead to more consistency due to any lubricant not influencing the shot-to-shot velocity of the mechanism. Incidentally, the place to go for guidance regarding target rifle maintenance is Sven at Airgun Accuracy.
For those of you interested in all things target air rifle, this really is a superb site and provides a good understanding and practical guidance for those who feel competent enough to attempt some maintenance tasks.
Regular maintenance is vitally important if we wish to maintain the amazing levels of accuracy available from today’s precharged pneumatic target rifles. If you are not able to do it yourself, there are plenty of specialists out there who will maintain a gun for you for a fee. You know it makes sense!