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Headshots Are Key To Airgun Hunting Success

SEPTEMBER 19, 2011 5:20 PM

Airguns are experiencing a renaissance not unlike archery hunters have seen with compound bows or muzzleloaders and their advancements in ignition systems. New technology such as the Crosman Nitro Piston-powered break barrel rifles and Benjamin pre-charged pneumatic (PCP) rifles have made it possible for hunters to take airguns beyond the backyard and pursue game as large as hogs and coyotes. Airgun hunting is not a new concept, however just as with a bow, centerfire or muzzleloader, there are considerations to be made in order to be successful. Because airguns do not produce the velocity of a firearm, it is important to be aware that shorter effective ranges are

to be expected. The ammunition does not have the cutting diameter of a broadhead, making head shots the most effective target. Head shots are not reserved solely for big

game. This technique applies equally to woodchucks, squirrels and pests such as rats. The heart/lung shot is ingrained in shooters at an early age because it is the largest target area and the animal will surely die. With airguns the distance between a chest impact and will surely die could be significant. Coupled with no exit wound, the hunter is faced with a difficult track, and likely a lost animal. Experienced firearm hunters often opt for a neck shot to put an animal down quickly. The buck in the photo above was taken with the Benjamin Rogue .357 with a single head shot at 43 yards. The entry was the size of a dime and there was no exit. No meat was ruined, the trophy was intact and no tracking was necessary. The same result on a 180 pound hog at 50 yards and a prairie dog at 135 yards left no doubt that a properly placed head shot is the most effective method of dispatch with an airgun. Professional airgun hunter and writer Jim Chapman approved of taking a deer with the Rogue and reflecting on his own whitetail deer experiences, wrote, its not a matter of power but exact shot placement, and for that reason my personal guideline is to keep my shots inside of 40-50 yards (Whitetail Hunt at Michigans Deer Tracks Ranch, 2009).

Crosman offers an Airgun Hunting Capabilities Guide to assist consumers in determining what Crosman or Benjamin airgun best fits their needs. The guide was developed with input from several veteran outdoorsmen with experience in multiple hunting disciplines. Suitable hunting airguns, from .177 caliber up to the ground-breaking Benjamin Rogue .357, are included along with suggested pellets and expected velocities and foot-pounds of energy (fpe). The guide lists a variety of popular small, medium and larger game and recommended maximum distances for shooting each species, all with a headshot being the recommended kill zone. There are species such as deer and exotics that, with practice and proper discipline, these guns are perfectly appropriate to use but are not included in the chart. Hunting with an airgun offers the exciting challenge of close pursuit across a wide variety of species if taken with a head shot. Ultimately, success will be determined by ballistics and the accuracy of the shooter, so above all know your distance and know your capabilities. Ready to hunt? We encourage you to check your local regulations then visit us online to find the perfect hunting airgun to fit your needs. See Crosmans Chip Hunnicutt use the Benjamin Rogue .357 on a deer hunt next season on The Outdoor Channels Hunting the World Southern Style. Thanks to Cypress Creek Hunting Lodge for an outstanding experience. For more on hunting with airguns, visit TAGS: hunting, rogue, tv






Mchristopherson September 27, 2011 at 9:05 pm

I agree with the head shot, the only shot you should take. I tried shooting a pesky coon and it took 14 shots to the heart area to kill it, ruined my whole night!


Glenn September 30, 2012 at 9:13 pm

I say take head shot only for grey/fox squirrel if youre using a .177 caliber. My .177 caliber air rifle shoots 670 fps with 7 grain pellet. I shot a grey squirrel at about 10 yards in the heart/lung area. The squirrel lost control of his hind feet and crawled with front feet toward a tree. I shot him again he kept moving. The squirrel finally reached the tree and climbed it out of site! The .177 caliber at 600 fps doesnt produce a large enough wound channel, it takes too long for the squirrel to bleed to death.

Airgun Hunting (April 2012) Hunting with airguns

by Tom Gaylord exclusively for Copyright 2012 All Rights Reserved
Can airguns be used for hunting? The answer is yes, but there are some things to think about, and this short article addresses them.

Are airguns humane?

Yes, and there are two key areas to address. The first is accuracy: if you can't hit the target, nothing else matters. Since airguns are best-suited for small game like squirrels, rabbits and many birds, the area that

must be hit to ensure a humane kill is small. How small varies from animal to animal, but as a general rule it's no larger than an American quarter -- which is just under one inch in diameter.

At what range can you hit this quarter with every shot? That's your maximum effective range for hunting with a smallbore airgun.

The most effective shot is a brain shot. If it's done right, the animal dies instantly. If you miss and hit the animal elsewhere, it can escape to die slowly. So, you must know where to hit each animal you hunt. On larger game such as deer, a heart/lung shot is preferred because the kill zone is about eight inches in diameter. Deer don't always die instantly from this shot; but when they run, you can usually track them. They don't climb trees or burrow into the earth. Small game often stays close to a burrow in the ground or a nest that's high in a tree. When they run, they can get to a spot that is inaccessible to the hunter. The kill must be instantaneous, or you risk losing the animal. Limit your shots to as far as you're assured of hitting a quarter-sized target every time. You must exercise discipline to take a shot only when everything is clear. If the animal's head is half-hidden, then the kill zone isn't the size of a quarter anymore. If that's the case, use your best judgment to decide if you can make the more difficult shot.

How much power?

The second thing to consider about airgun hunting is the power the airgun generates. Velocity without power is meaningless, so airgun hunters speak in terms of muzzle energy -- never velocity. This subject is hotly debated by two groups: those who believe in using all the power that's possible and those who feel it's possible to kill with very little power. The truth is that it's possible to kill game humanely with very little power; but the lower the power, the more important it is to hit exactly the right spot. In the end, this gets to the ridiculous point of almost no power that must be delivered by a million-to-one shot to be effective. Sportsmen do not like taking chances where there's a possibility that an injured animal

will escape, so there are practical lower limits to the power recommended for airgun hunting. These limits are supported by decades of successful hunting experience, both in North America and the United Kingdom. The recommended lower limit for a hunting airgun is one that produces 12 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle. That equates to a .177-caliber pellet gun shooting a lead pellet weighing 7.9 grains at 827 f.p.s. at the muzzle or a .22-caliber air gun shooting a 14.3-grain pellet at 615 f.p.s. at the muzzle. Other pellet weights will obviously produce different amounts of energy at the same velocities, and you can use Pyramyd Air's handy energy calculator to determine the velocity of your airgun. Of course, the pellet doesn't retain its energy after leaving the muzzle. A lower-powered airgun has a more limited range of effectiveness, while a more powerful airgun can reach out farther. You'll be limiting your shots to distances at which you can place all your pellets inside a one-inch target. With a 12 foot-pound gun, the maximum range you should engage targets should probably be 35 yards. A 30 foot-pound gun would be useful out past 50 yards, which is a distance where it will become harder to keep all your pellets inside the one-inch target. The maximum range at which game can be taken humanely is limited both by the power of the airgun as well as its accuracy.

What is small game?

Say "small game" to any hunter, and the two most common animals that come to mind are the cottontail rabbit and the gray squirrel. But those are only two of an incredibly long list of animals suited to hunting by airguns. And even those two are not equivalent. The cottontail rabbit is fairly easy to take with an airgun. They can be taken with a heart shot as well as a head shot. Gray squirrels, on the other hand, are far more difficult to dispatch. They can absorb body hits and still run a long distance to escape.

If you open the topic to all rabbits, there's the wiry jackrabbit -- one of the toughest of all small animals. They are to cottontails as bighorn sheep are to domestic sheep.

Though small, the gray squirrel is a jackrabbit. It takes a very precise shot with sufficient power to anchor him.

Then there are larger critters such as woodchucks, raccoons and opossums. Not only are they many times the body weight of a gray squirrel, they're also tough to take down. What constitutes small game is really a pretty broad category. When you consider hunting small game with airguns, it isn't enough to just lump all the animals together in one bunch and get an airgun for everything. You need to actually know what type of animals you intend hunting and plan for them accordingly. This topic deserves its own article because of the intricacies of the subject matter, so this is all I'll present at this time.

What are pests?

There are two different definitions of a pest. The critter that is bothering you personally can be considered a pest. There's also a much broader category of animals that society and your community consider a pest. Rats are on everyone's pest list, but the red-headed woodpecker who's ruining the shingles on your house is a protected species throughout North America. That didn't stop NASA from obtaining airguns to shoot them when they attacked the insulation of launch vehicles at Cape Canaveral,

but they didn't publicize the program, either. The snowy egret is a large, majestic waterfowl with brilliant white plumage. They're protected everywhere except at the airport in Honolulu, Hawaii, where officials hired airgunners to get rid of the birds from the inside of hangars. Their acidic excrement was blistering the paint on the wings of airliners, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs and grounding costly capital assets. So, the term pest has two important points of view. When you hunt pests, there can only be one viewpoint, and it has to agree with the laws -- local, state and national. Because this is a very popular segment of airgun hunting, there will be a separate article devoted to just this topic.

Can air pistols be used?

Like air rifles, air pistols must satisfy the two essential criteria of power and accuracy. Twelve footpounds is the lower limit recommended for all airguns. That excludes most air pistols because they typically do not produce much more than 6 foot-pounds. Those that can generate more power are always the more expensive models. The TalonP precharged pneumatic air pistol generates over 50 footpounds of muzzle energy, so it's one of the better-suited air pistols for hunting.

Not many air pistols can be used for hunting, but the .25-caliber TalonP air pistol is an exception.

Just as the air rifle is limited to the range at which a one-inch target can be hit reliably, the same holds for an air pistol. Since air pistols are much harder to hold than air rifles, the accuracy requirement is just as limiting as the one for power.

What about calibers?

This article addresses only the four smallbore airgun calibers of .177, .20, .22 and .25; and they're all effective for hunting as long as the accuracy and power requirements are met. But there are some subtleties the hunter should be aware of.

The four smallbore calibers are (left to right) .177, .20, .22 and .25. Read further to see how each fits into airgun hunting.

The .177 caliber is the smallest of all pellet calibers, and it has the unfortunate reputation for shooting through game without touching vital areas. This caliber is also the fastest of the four smallbore calibers, so the energy minimums for hunting can be met by many more airguns in this caliber than in the three larger calibers. But the hunter needs to restrict himself a bit more to compensate for the very small diameter of the .177 pellet. Where the general rule for accuracy is hitting a one-inch target, for .177 we'll reduce this to about .75 inches. Instead of being able to hit a U.S. quarter, the shooter who uses a .177-caliber airgun should be able to hit a nickel. The reason for this restriction is because the kill zones in small game are not perfect circles. The brain of a gray squirrel looks more like a large piece of candy corn than a marble. If you're using a .177, you must be able to hit even this smaller target every time, regardless of how much velocity or even energy your air rifle produces.

Because it's so small in cross-section, the .177 caliber should only be used to distances at which you can hit a nickel every time. Calibers .20 and .22 are so much alike that I'll discuss them together. They're the most successful calibers of all for hunting when everything is taken into consideration. They give the hunter a broader impact and punch a larger hole in game, so they're much more effective than .177 caliber. The .25 caliber should be the most effective caliber of all for airgun hunting; but until recently, there haven't been good pellets in this caliber. The guns existed without anything to allow them to realize their full potential. That has changed in the past couple years, and a .25-caliber pellet can now hold its own with a .22. The only drawback the big caliber still has is cost, and that's never going to change. This isn't the caliber for casual shooting, because the pellets cost so much more than pellets in smaller calibers.

Safety above everything

One of the best things about hunting with an airgun is also one of the most challenging things. Hunting is limited to close ranges at which perfect shots can always be made. The small kill zones restrict the distance at which you can shoot, but so do your surroundings. Airguns are often employed in more urban settings where firearms simply cannot be used. But even an airgun pellet will carry beyond the target, so the airgun hunter must be aware of what is downrange -- beyond the intended target. You must also be concerned about where your pellet goes after it hits the game. Does it go through the animal and travel on in a dangerous direction? The most important thing for any hunter is to leave the environment as good as you found it -- if not better. And at the top of the list is protecting the safety of people and property. A hunter must conduct himself in such a way to ensure that he does everything as safely as possible. There's no room for accidents in hunting.

Which airgun to buy. Part 1.

Which airgun should I buy? Part 1

by Tom Gaylord Exclusively for Copyright 2012. All Rights Reserved. I recently read a very informative guide to target shooting that was written more than a century ago. It was written in question/answer format and the author wrote both the questions and the answers. It read well because the right questions were asked, and they were asked in such a way that the reader could understand exactly what the person was asking. I enjoyed the format and also found it very informative. I hope you do, too. New airgunner's question: I'm thinking of getting an airgun -- but the more I read and research on the internet, the more confused I become. Could you please help me decide which airgun will be right for me? Answer: I'd be glad to help. What kind of shooting would you like to do? Q: Well that's the problem. I don't know. I'm also new to shooting and don't know what there is. I've seen people shoot on TV and in the movies, of course; but, frankly, I doubt much of that is real. A: You're right about that! TV and the movies portray a very small section of the shooting sports, and most is shown incorrectly. They like to add effects for dramatic appeal, but the reality is both different and far more attractive than they make it appear. Q: I sensed that, but I don't know anybody who shoots. I'm on my own. If I were buying a car, I could always take it on a test drive, but you can't do that with airguns -- at least not as far as I know. A: You say you could take a car on a test drive, but to do that you would need to have a license to drive. And you could only test-drive cars on the road. Most dealerships won't allow you to go off-road or do anything dangerous with their cars. So, buying cars and buying airguns isn't a direct comparison. Q: Okay, that brings up an important point. I don't need a license to own an airgun, do I? So how do I get the training I need? A: Good question! I'm glad to see you thinking about it that way and not just supposing that because you're an adult living in the United States you're automatically qualified to operate an airgun. I'll tell you what --next time we meet, I'll give you a lesson on the safe operation of airguns. When you understand all that I teach about safe airgun operations, you'll be farther along in your quest to become an airgunner.

Q: Great! I'm up for that. A: Okay, we'll do it. Right now, let's explore a little more about the kind of shooting you'd probably enjoy so you and I can narrow the field. When you're ready to make a purchase, you will be better informed. Let me ask you a basic question: Have you ever played darts? Q: You mean the throwing kind? Yes, I've played a few times. A: Did you like it? Q: I suppose. I didn't get into it as a hobby, if that's what you mean. A: Okay. So what about shooting guns seems attractive to you? Q: Well, you're going to think this is stupid, but when I saw the movie Quigley Down Under I was fascinated by all the long-range shooting. I don't have the time or inclination to buy a Sharps rifle and learn to shoot like Quigley; but I thought that, with an airgun, I could sort of scale that down and even shoot a little in my backyard. A: That's not stupid at all. You don't know how many people saw that movie and felt the same as you. Only you were smart enough to realize that you can reduce the distance to the target and still have the same challenge with an airgun. You just told me something very important about yourself. Q: What's that? A: You're more interested in shooting rifles than handguns. That narrows the field a lot. Q: I've never even thought about that. I guess you're right -- I want to shoot a rifle. A: I know even more about you from what you've said. You want to shoot a rifle, and you want to do so with great precision. Q: Exactly. I wouldn't have said it that way, but that's what I want. So how does that help us? A: It allows us to rule out hunting at this time. The gun you get doesn't have to meet any particular power requirement. As long as it's accurate, that will be the most important thing to you. Q: Hold on a minute! Just because I want to shoot long-range, let's not rule out some hunting. My wife always has a vegetable garden; and we agreed that if I get an airgun, it'll be my responsibility to eliminate the rabbits and other pests. A: No problem. Any airgun we choose will be able to do that. However, knowing that you're interested in pest elimination is another important piece of information. It'll help us decide on the right caliber for you.

Q: Oh boy, does that ever open a can of worms. I've read so much about why you should choose this caliber or that one that I'm twisted up in knots! A: No problem. When the time comes, I'll recommend a caliber that I think is best for what you want to do -- and I'll give you my justification for selecting it. You can cross-examine me and go a different way if you aren't convinced. I think we're off to a good start. Remember, next time I'm going to cover the basics of safe airgun operations, and I have a homework assignment for you. I want you to read this series of blog articles that I wrote for a single mother of two young boys who wanted to start shooting. Mom wanted to be their teacher, but she was a novice. In this series, I walked her through everything she needed to do, step-by-step. If you read this before we meet again, most of the work in the next lesson will be a review. I'll send you to the last report, and the links to the others are at the top of the page. I recommend reading them starting with the first one and going forward because they build on each other. Q: Before you go, I have one last question. You asked if I ever played darts. What was that about? A: If you enjoyed darts more than a little I would have explored formal target shooting with you. Your answers don't seem to lead in that direction, so I dropped the subject; but you should know that airguns are one of the shooting sports in the Olympics. There's also a World Cup championship circuit that airgun target shooters follow. New airgunner: I see. Yeah, I probably would not be interested in shooting just at paper targets all the time. Like I said, Quigley was what got me started thinking about shooting. Well, thanks for your time and I'll see you after I read all those blog reports.

Does the pivot point of a breakbarrel rifle make it potentially less accurate? (February 2010)
Does the pivot point of a breakbarrel rifle make it potentially less accurate?

by Tom Gaylord Copyright 2010. All Rights Reserved. Every now and then, I get asked this question: By repeatedly breaking open a breakbarrel rifle, could that lead to accuracy issues due to possible misalignment of the barrel with the action? There are some customer reviews on this site where shooters have stated that they know their

rifle could never attain great accuracy because it's a breakbarrel. We also get similar comments on the blog. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth! One of the most accurate long-range spring rifles ever made is a Whiscombe, and it's been made as both a breakbarrel and a fixed barrel...with no discernable accuracy advantage for either.

This Whiscombe JW 75 comes with all four smallbore airgun barrels.

Although it's a breakbarrel spring gun, the Whiscombe JW 75 is as accurate as a fine precharged air rifle.

There have been any number of accurate breakbarrel target rifles throughout the years, but the epitome must be the Diana 65. It could hold its own with any target rifle of its time, but RWS decided to change the configuration by transforming the action to a fixed-barrel sidelever when they created the rifle that finally became the model 75. I doubt that any accuracy was gained through this conversion, but that was the way the market was headed, so it was a good business decision.

The Diana 60 and 61 are precision target rifles, yet they're breakbarrels, too. They won't lose accuracy, even after hundreds of thousands shots have been fired.

Breakbarrels have a pivot bearing that serves as the barrel's axle when the rifle is cocked. This bearing is of large diameter to spread out the load. There's also some kind of lock to keep the barrel closed during shooting. This can be a spring-loaded ball bearing, a spring-loaded chisel detent catch or even a mechanical catch that's unlatched by the shooter prior to breaking open the barrel. On a gun with a mechanical lock, there's also a spring-loaded detent, but it's usually smaller and uses less spring force than the detent on a gun that has no lock because the mechanical lock serves to keep the barrel closed. The purpose of all locks, mechanical or springloaded, is to prevent air loss on firing and to return the barrel to the same place every time. It's the reason breakbarrels are just as accurate as fixed barrels.

The barrel latch on this Weihrauch HW55 target rifle locks the barrel in perfect alignment with the rear sight...every time. The HW55 won the 1969 World Championship.

Another fallacy regarding breakbarrels is that the continuous action of cocking the rifle will eventually bend the barrel. In truth, barrels can be cocked hundreds of thousands of times with zero deflection. However, by letting the barrel slam shut just once, you can easily bend it. Airgun barrels are made from dead-soft steel and can be bent by hand if you know what you're fact, that's how they're straightened! The final fear about breakbarrels is that the scope is mounted on the receiver and the barrel moves independently. Can the barrel come back into alignment with the scope time after time? Yes! It can and it does. Many target-class breakbarrel air rifles have shot 10-meter groups measuring less than one-tenth of an inch between centers of the widest shots. They don't have a scope, but their aperture rear sights are also mounted on the receiver and should, therefore, have the same alignment problems. Yet, they don't. The simple truth about breakbarrel spring-piston rifles and pistol is that their designs are both robust and potentially accurate. The "problems" we've looked at here are not really problems at all.

It's only a pellet! Why airguns are so different from firearms (October 2009)
It's only a pellet! Why airguns are so different from firearms

by Tom Gaylord Copyright 2009. All Rights Reserved. This article originally appeard in Airgun Revue #1, published in 1997. How can a pellet gun out-shoot a refined firearm that has had thousands of dollars worth of customization lavished upon it? The answer lies with the projectile--the thing that differentiates an air rifle from its larger, louder siblings.

The diabolo pellet is designed for stable flight. Take a long look at an airgun pellet. It's not at all similar to the bullet from a firearm, or even the ball from a blackpowder arm. An airgun pellet looks, for all the world, like a badminton birdie made of lead. It's long and hollow, with all the weight concentrated forward in the nose. Like a birdie, the forward weight of the pellet gives it directional stability, even without the stabilizing spin imparted by rifling. If you haven't played badminton in a while, think of the game of darts. The dart is weighted in its nose to the extent that if you throw it tail-first, it will turn 180 degrees in flight and strike the target point-first.

Another pellet/birdie similarity is that both projectiles have a flared tail. The birdie tapers straight back from its head, while the pellet is shaped more like an hourglass. But the flared skirt serves the same purpose for both projectiles. It causes an immense amount of aerodynamic drag, which keeps the nose pointed straight forward to the line of flight. This is a second stabilizing feature, but it also serves to slow the projectile rapidly, as well. It allows the game of badminton to be played in a small area, even though the birdie may start out at well over 100 mph with a powerful serve. This same drag is what makes a pellet gun many times safer than a firearm of any kind. Like the birdie, a pellet is extremely light for its size. This light weight, combined with the high aerodynamic drag, renders the pellet extremely safe at a very short distance from the muzzle. A powerful pellet rifle today may be capable of launching its pellet at 1,100 f.p.s., a speed that a few years ago was thought to be impossible to attain. Even so, the pellet rapidly decelerates, just like the birdie; no matter how fast the initial velocity, it will soon be harmless. The most powerful pellet rifles commonly available today can only shoot a maximum of about 500 yards, as a result of this. And, they can only do that when they're elevated to a 30-degree angle to the horizon for maximum range! When shot relatively level, their pellets fall safely to earth in less than 150 yards. A .22 long rifle bullet will travel a mile and a half and come back to earth with sufficient energy to maim and even kill. Ricochets, which have long been the bane of the firearm, are much less likely to endanger others; as the already-inefficient pellet is rendered even more so by deformation after striking the surface from which it rebounds. This is not to say that airgun shooters should disregard safety practices simply because their guns are so limited. Airguns can cause painful injuries at close range when they're handled without care. They can even be used to eliminate small pests, such as rats and poisonous snakes at close range. It's because of their aerodynamic properties that pellet guns are best for safe training. Even disregarding their cheaper operating expense, low noise, and lack of harmful recoil, airguns are the ideal tools for initial gun training for all situations. Military departments all over the world have been using them for training since the turn of the century. And today, they've taken over the role of the world's most accurate arms of all types out to ranges of 50 yards.

A .177 Crosman Premier is dwarfed by a .443 lead ball for the Farco air shotgun. The pellet weighs 7.9 grains, the ball 120 grains! There are some air rifle projectiles in existence that do not have the poor aerodynamics mentioned above. Some air rifles even fire round lead balls with the same force as blackpowder rifles. These guns were initially designed in the early 1600s for European nobility. One model was actually used by the Austrian Army against Napoleon in the 1790s. Replicas of those guns are being made in ones and twos throughout the world today, but they hardly represent a threat to anyone. The logistics of shooting a powerful air rifle like these is so great that a flintlock looks like an assault rifle by comparison.

Some low-powered, smoothbore airguns are suitable for these darts. At close range, they're surprisingly accurate. Don't use them in rifled barrels! Other types of airgun projectiles, such as BBs and darts, have their own unique safety requirements. A BB, for example, is quite prone to ricochet because of its round shape and hard steel composition. This is where "Youll shoot your eye out" originated. Until the 1920s, when steel shot was introduced to the market, BB guns all shot lead balls, which are far less likely to bounce back. Of course, the shooter must still practice safe shooting at all times.

The airgun dart is tipped with a sharp point that sticks well in a special target surface like a dart board. They're to be used in low-powered guns at short distances. The nature of the sharp dart makes it very dangerous, even at low velocity, when used in an unsafe manner. Parents should exercise close adult supervision at all times when children are shooting airguns with darts. Even adults have been known to turn with loaded pistols in their hands, which sets up a potential accident in an instant. Airguns are what they are by virtue of their extremely specialized projectiles. Although capable of world-class accuracy at close range, they are the safest guns in existence.

How to hold an air pistol for greatest accuracy (September 2009)

How to hold an air pistol for greatest accuracy

by Tom Gaylord Copyright 2009. All Rights Reserved. You can grab a pistol any old way if all you want to do is hold it while you pull the trigger, but if you want the BANG to mean something, then read this short article, watch the video and follow along. And, who am I to tell anyone how to hold a pistol properly? I'm not a former Olympian, I hold no titles in pistol shooting. What gives me the right to write about this subject? Well, I'll tell you, and you decide if you want to listen. When I was in the Army in the 1970s, I ran a lot of ranges. That's one of the extra duties that officers are assigned, and to tell you the truth, I didn't mind it that much. One day I was running a .45 pistol range at Fort Lewis, Washington, and my squadron commander, LTC Bonsall, showed up. He wanted to shoot with us, and as a first lieutenant under his command I was not about to argue. We had all the 1911A1s from our B-Troop arms room at this range, so I asked Colonel Bonsall to select a pistol from those lying on the table and join the line in the next rotation. He did, and that was the last I thought about it because I had 20 shooters on the line at a time. I watched the 10 non-commissioned officers who each had two shooters to watch. I was responsible for announcing all the commands on the range, and my NCOs watched each of their shooters to make sure they complied. My troop training NCO was walking the entire line, watching for things that escaped the eyes of the line NCOs. In other words, there was a whole lot of watching of the shooters. Let me tell you why. On a pistol range, bad things happen quickly. If a shooter has a malfunction and fails to follow

the procedures we told him to follow, which is to remain in place with the muzzle of the pistol pointed downrange and raise his non-firing arm for assistance, he can turn his body in an instant. The muzzle of the pistol will go with him and will probably by pointed at the shooter next to him, the nearest NCO or, heaven forbid, me! I've seen shooters do things like that on occasion. More frequently, I've seen the dust kick up six feet in front of a shooter once the command "commence firing" has been given. It's scary, because we don't put the targets anywhere near that spot. So, everybody who isn't shooting is watching everybody who is. Therefore, when my training sergeant walked over and mentioned that the Colonel was doing very well, I was surprised. Like everyone else, I was only watching to see where all the muzzles were. When I stepped to where I could see his target, a silhouette at 25 yards, I was shocked to see a tiny hole in the area of the heart. He put 50 rounds through that hole. The other shooters were lucky to get 25 of their 50 rounds anywhere on the sillhouette. Col. Bonsall hadn't been in the squadron that long, so nobody knew much about him, but after this day we all started learning real fast. He wore a gold medal on the breast pocket of his dress uniform that signified he was a Distinguished Pistol Shot. Because I was interested in shooting, I asked him about that, and he told me about the program and the fact that he had reached the level where he could have tried out for the U.S. Olympic team. He never did, but when I told him how surprised I was at the shooting performance he demonstrated on our range with non-accurized guns, he volunteered to teach me how to do it.

Distinguished Pistol Shot badge At the next pistol range, he showed up and I gave him my personal 1911A1 that I had gunsmithed to my tastes. He was surprised by the 1.5-lb. trigger-pull, because he was used to a 4-lb. competition pull. He liked the stippling I did on the front strap and the mainspring housing, because the gun gripped him back aggressively. And, he liked the target sights and the tight bushing that aligned the barrel on every shot. He managed to shoot an incredibly tight group with that pistol, then he showed me how to do it. It was all in the grip.

He told me to grasp the grip with my middle finger only, pulling the pistol straight back into the web of my hand. Let the other fingers and the thumb just wrap around the grip lightly and put no pressure on it. When bringing the pistol up to fire, roll the shooting arm as far to the right (for right-handers) as possible, to lock the elbow. Finally he told me that the real secret of good pistol shooting was to not care what happened when the gun went off. "Let it surprise you," he said. I had read that before, of course, but hearing it from a man I had watched put 50 rounds from an arms-room pistol through a two-inch hole at 25 yards had greater impact. Col. Bonsall started me on the path to good shooting offhand in the same way that Elmer Keith had taught me how to shoot a rested handgun. So, no, I'm not a pistol champion. But, I learned from one. And, I have enough experience to know that his way was right, even if I can't take it as far as I would like. Col. Bonsall taught me a valuable lesson back in 1972, and I'm passing it along in his honor.

Airgun accuracy: It's not a given! Part 1-The barrel (September 2009)
Airgun accuracy: It's not a given! Part 1 - The barrel

by Tom Gaylord Copyright 2009. All Rights Reserved. This article originally appeared in Airgun Revue #2, published in 1998. Related articles: Accuracy--it's not a given! Part 2: The projectile Accuracy--it's not a given! Part 3: The sights "I want to tune my airgun so that it shoots at least 1,000 f.p.s. How much more accuracy can I expect?" "If I can get someone to tune my gun so it shoots smoothly, will that make it more accurate?" "I bought a recoilless airgun for the extra accuracy they are known to have. Why is my friend's recoiling gun able to shoot tighter groups than mine?" Sound like something you might have said? All of us have said these things at one time or another. What is accuracy, and how do we get it?

Accuracy is several things, all of which must be present for results to pay off. For starters, accuracy is consistency--the repeated striking of a shot in the same place. New shooters are sometimes surprised when a veteran is more pleased with a tight group of shots anywhere on the paper than with a random shot through the center of the bullseye. I can always move a tight group by adjusting the sights, but nothing I do can guarantee the repeat of a lucky shot. Some guns are "twitchy." They can be made to shoot quite well, but the shooter must stay on top of several factors, such as hold and the ambient weather conditions, to make them perform. Other guns have been remarkably stable--shooting well in all conditions. They would even suffer abuse and continue to group well. These are the "natural" shooters, and I advise you to keep every one of them you come in contact with, because they aren't that common. Accuracy is a function of the shooter, as well. The old warning to beware of the man who owns just one gun because he probably knows how to use it--is true. I'm convinced that most of the accuracy in any gun resides in the barrel. The barrel guides the bullet the whole time it's under the shooter's control, and it's where the bullet gets its physical programming for the rest of its ballistic flight. Good barrel=good accuracy, as long as the right things are done. In a rifled gun, which is all this article will examine, the rifling affects many of the bullet's physical characteristics (and vice-versa). Among these are rate of twist, bore friction and bullet deformation on both the base and sides. All these things are important, but we'll look just at twist rate. The rate of twist is a measure of how many inches of barrel a bullet must traverse to rotate one time. For example, a barrel that rotates a bullet one complete turn in 10 inches of travel is said to have a one-in-ten-inch twist rate. Any ballistic projectile can be stabilized by rotating it. A gyroscope provides the proof for this, even though most gyroscopes we are familiar with are not ballistic projectiles. But bullets are! They rotate on their long axis like American footballs thrown in a forward pass. And, like footballs, they travel farther and straighter if they're thrown with a spiral twist. A spear also travels straighter if it's spiraled when thrown. So does an arrow. If the twist is fast enough, the bullet will be stabilized well and travel very straight. If the twist is slower, the stability will not be as good, and the bullet may begin to go in an erratic direction. In Vietnam, the early US M16 rifles were said to be more deadly than the larger-caliber rifles they replaced because their smaller-caliber bullets naturally tumbled when they hit flesh. Actually, the early M16s had an incorrect twist rate for the bullets they fired, and the striking of flesh simply made this more apparent. Left alone, they destabilized in flight and became erratic at long distances. If they were so great as flesh destroyers, why did the Army bother to change the twist rate in later rifles? The answer is accuracy. Unfortunately, the twist can also be made too fast. That will put undue stress on both the bullet and the barrel. In firearms, barrels with a fast twist tend to erode more quickly. In airguns, they don't erode, but they may begin to strip lead from the pellet, which can build up in the bore of the

gun. Since most airgunners don't clean their bores, this could cause a problem. I'm not aware of anything that has been published on twist rates for airguns. There has been a lot of work done on firearm twist rates, especially in the blackpowder field, but nothing on airguns. I'm quite sure such work has been done by the individual manufacturers (probably several times, since no one publishes it) but that's of no help to airgunners. Before this discussion proceeds, I must mention that I'm NOT going to tell you what the "right" twist rate is for an airgun, because I don't know. What I DO know is that once a bullet or pellet leaves the muzzle of the gun, twist rate ceases, because the bullet is no longer under its direct influence. Instead, the twist of the barrel has imparted a spin to the bullet that's now expressed in rotations per second (r.p.s.). Like any mechanical force, r.p.s. will eventually cease; but the flight of a bullet is so brief, in comparison to the length of time it takes to stop rotating, that it's irrelevant. The thing to remember about r.p.s. is that it increases as velocity increases. It's a direct relationship. So, a pellet that's unstable at slow speeds may stabilize when it goes faster. Think of a pellet shot from a one-in-ten-inch-twist barrel. If it exits the bore at 1,000 f.p.s., it will also be spinning (rotating on its axis) at a rate of 1,200 r.p.s., because there are 12,000 inches in 1,000 feet, and the pellet is rotating once every 10 inches of travel while it's inside the barrel. It won't change much from that rotational speed after it leaves the barrel, because there's very little besides air friction to slow it down. On the other hand, the VELOCITY of the pellet begins to drop immediately after it leaves the muzzle--and with some guns and states of tune, even before. So, the pellet remains at 1,200 r.p.s. for essentially its entire flight. In reality, it does slow just a bit, but the amount is so small it doesn't affect anything we're looking at here. The same pellet shot from a gun at 800 f.p.s. would be rotating 960 r.p.s. (800 x 12 = 9600 by 10 = 960). At 600 f.p.s., the r.p.s. would be 720. Remembering that lighter pellets require a slower spin to be stabilized than heavier pellets, they can be expected to do better at slow muzzle velocities. Downrange velocity doesn't mean very much for this computation. Longer pellets need more spin to stabilize them than do shorter ones. So, for any rifled barrel, there will be pellets that perform better because the twist is fast enough for them and for pellets that are unstable because of their size. The compromise is this: if a barrel can stabilize a heavier pellet, it will also over-stabilize a lighter pellet. Over-stabilization isn't bad--it's just an expression that means there's a greater spin than required to stabilize the pellet in question. It will still be accurate, unless it begins to strip in the bore, as described earlier. The twist rate of the Korean-made Career 707 rifle is extremely fast, at one turn in eight inches. Although it's no longer imported to the U.S., it had a reputation as one of the most accurate air rifles on the market. It shoots an extra-heavy, extra-long 29.6-grain domed pellet that can group five shots in 0.30" at 50 yards. That's only the beginning, though, as this air rifle is as accurate as many .22 rimfire rifles clear out to an amazing 100 yards. Most of this is due to the barrel, and

most of that is due to the twist rate. Uniformity is another factor in barrels. The width of the bore (the distance between the opposing walls of the bore) should be as uniform as possible, so the pellet is guided through without undue influence. You might think that this uniformity is a given, but it isn't. It represents one of the most challenging control factors barrel manufacturers have been dealing with for more than a century. Airgun manufacturers sometimes compromise the best work of the barrel makers when they press-fit their barrels into a base block of steel to form the barrel assembly. This operation can swage constrictions into the finest barrels, ruining their near-perfect uniformity. Another uniformity factor is the height of the rifling lands. If they're not uniform, they'll either impart uneven friction on the pellet, or else they'll fail to grab it at all--allowing it to traverse the bore without guidance. Either condition promotes inaccuracy. Airgun barrel makers must keep the height of the rifling to the minimum possible, because it robs the pellet of velocity through friction. A lack of uniformity is quickly compounded. This is one of the major problems the Chinese airgun manufacturers face today. They haven't yet gotten a handle on making uniform barrels in the quantities needed to keep pace with the rest of their production. Their fine Olympic models are proof that they can make good barrels when they must, but the average Chinese airgun barrel has most of the uniformity faults mentioned here. Still another barrel factor is the straightness of the bore. Boring a straight hole is a problem that barrel makers have never solved. There have been great strides in dealing with this problem, though. That's why accurate barrels can be made. But don't assume that any barrel is straight on the inside--no matter how it measures on the outside. Top barrel makers sometimes bore their barrels in the vertical plane to eliminate the influence of gravity pulling on the boring bit. Another trick is to bore the hole undersized, then ream it to the final dimension. Even if a hole runs straight, there's no guarantee that it's parallel to the outside of the barrel. I've seen many, even most, firearm barrels off-center this way when they were cut off behind the muzzle. Finishing at the muzzle hides this from the consumer, but it's there just the same. While the barrel can be turned on a lathe after the bore has been drilled and reamed, this operation can also put stresses in the steel that leads to things like uneven movement when the barrel heats during shooting. So, there are no easy answers to the straight-hole/parallel-hole dilemma. Smoothness inside the bore also affects accuracy. The walls can be uniform and parallel but tiny ridges in the rifling itself can wreak havoc with accuracy. Fortunately, something can be done about this condition. The barrel can be lapped. Lapping is a process that reduces the high spots in metal surfaces to a uniform level. It is done with abrasives and requires skill, or the barrel can be ruined beyond hope of redemption. There are several different methods of lapping a barrel, but they all seek the same result--a smooth, uniform bore. Don't automatically assume that all barrels NEED to be lapped, though. While all of them have the ridges mentioned, many shoot quite accurately and would only suffer if they were lapped

incorrectly. In the 1960s, there was a barrel-lapping fury that swept the firearms industry and ruined many fine bores. In the '90s, the fad came back, with "fire-lapping" being hotly debated in the magazines. It's probably best to shoot a gun before determining that it needs to be lapped. Only lap the poor performers--leave the good ones alone. And, if you don't have the experience to do the job, hire someone who does. Barrel vibration is still another factor that greatly affects accuracy. Until recently, vibration was either ignored by manufacturers and shooters, alike, or else it was treated in such a manner as to be rendered neutral. The neutralizing of vibration became embedded into the fabric of good marksmanship, where it resides today in the form of consistency of hold. Top shooters practice it; average ones do not. It's often one of the deciding factors in a match. For the airgunner, barrel (and even whole gun) vibration is a key to accurate shooting to a much greater extent than for firearms shooters. That's because the pellet is so much slower that it's influenced by the gun to a much greater extent than a bullet. Some airgunners have taken to shortening their barrels in an attempt to get the pellet out before there can be much influence from vibration; but all that does is reduce velocity--and, in spring guns, increase the harshness of the firing cycle. A better approach to vibration is to cancel it from the shooting equation. I do this by holding my airguns the same way every time. The payoff in spring guns is enormous and dramatic. With gas guns it's much less, but I do it just the same to remain consistent. I rest the forearm of a spring rifle on the flat of my open palm and grasp the pistol grip very lightly with my shooting hand. I don't pull the rifle into my shoulder. This sets the gun up to recoil and vibrate to the maximum extent it can. That's what I'm after. I let it buck and vibrate all it wants with every shot. That way, when the pellet exits the muzzle, the gun will always be in the same position. That has the effect of always launching the pellet from the same point. If it is properly stabilized, it will fly as true as possible, and I'll be rewarded with the tightest group that gun can make with that pellet. I figured this out after becoming frustrated with a Beeman C1 carbine a few years back. I was following Beeman's recommendation (in their catalog) to hold the rifle firmly when I shot it. No matter what I did, that C1 just would not group. Finally, in frustration, I laid the rifle on a comforter to see just how poorly it would perform. Lo and behold, I shot a 0.10" five-shot group at 10 meters that way. This was followed by lots of experimentation with many airguns and observations of others who are known for their prowess. Also, I reflected on my military training with artillery pieces and mortars. They recoil severely when shot, yet they're also highly accurate at many miles distance. The one common denominator seemed to be that they were allowing the barrel group to move as much as it wanted, but ensuring by design that it always started out from the same place. As a result of both my experimentation and observation, I named the hold described above the "artillery hold." I didn't invent the thing--only gave a name to what the good shooters were

already doing. If you agree that my reasoning about the barrel makes sense, why not incorporate it into your quest for accuracy with airguns? There are many other subjects to be dealt with, but the barrel is where it all begins. Finally, a few years ago, the Browning corporation introduced their BOSS muzzlebrake as a solution to barrel vibration. The BOSS has a movable weight that lets shooters adjust the vibration patterns of the barrel to suit a specific load. This concept is so demonstrable and works so well that Browning held annual competitions for BOSS owners. Airgun makers are just starting to take barrel vibration into account. John Whiscombe was the first manufacturer to install devices on the barrels of guns he makes, but there are now several other designs in the works, and airgunners are starting to experiment with firearms add-on muzzlebrakes with adjustments. It's only a question of time until you'll be able to buy many airguns with vibration adjustments built in.

Airgun accuracy: It's not a given! Part 2-The projectile (September 2009)
Airgun accuracy: It's not a given! Part 2 - The projectile

by Tom Gaylord Copyright 2009. All Rights Reserved. This article originally appeared in Airgun Revue #2, published in 1998. Related articles: Accuracy--it's not a given! Part 1: The barrel Accuracy--it's not a given! Part 3: The sights We have already looked at the barrel in our quest for airgun accuracy; now, let's look at what comes out. Today's adult airguns shoot pellets almost exclusively, but that hasn't always been the case. Darts, slugs and round balls have all been used with good results over the centuries. The first accurate airgun projectile was the dart. The lower-powered airguns of the 16th and 17th centuries used them because they were often the only projectiles those guns could launch at any velocity. According to authors like W.H.B. Smith, the early target airguns were accurate to about 50 feet, and shot placement was controlled by the removal of the hairs in the tail of the dart--one at a time. One dark strand of hair was put into the tail to serve as an alignment reference point.

Early darts were considerably longer than the ones sold today. They were fletched with animal hairs that measured an inch or longer, so they acted much like the feathers on an arrow, both guiding and slowing the projectile as it flew to the target. They were supposed to have been remarkably accurate at the proper range. Darts have continued to this very day, but the design has changed. Today, they're much shorter and have a metal head with point for sticking into the target. The fletching appears to be a synthetic fiber instead of a natural one, and it's much shorter. Darts should be relegated to smoothbore guns, as the metal in the head can damage steel rifling, to say nothing of what it will do to brass! Also, the points are so penetrative that they should only be shot in lower-powered airguns, or the extraction effort will quickly ruin them. And, they're dangerous, if safety precautions are not taken. That sharp point can do great harm, even at very low velocities. In 1876, the Quackenbush air rifle made quality adult airguns available to the American buyer for the first time (the German Bugelspanner had done the same thing for Europeans decades earlier). It was by no means an accurate gun, but it could shoot as well as gallery guns of that time at a fraction of the price. At best, a Quackenbush or Bugelspanner was an informal gun for fun and recreation. I consider the first serious target airgun for general consumption to be the BSA underlever, which was first produced in 1906. Here, for the first time, was an affordable airgun with a precision rifled barrel and ammunition that was at least reasonable. Stories abound of one-inch groups being shot with BSAs at 20 yards and beyond. And at least a part of this was due to the pellet they used. It was a new type, described in R.B. Townshend's book, The Complete AirGunner, as two truncated cones with the bases away from each other. Today, we call it the diabolo design and acknowledge that it's done more for airgunning than any other single invention. Even in 1907, Townshend could see the remarkable improvement that the nowfamiliar wasp-waisted pellet has upon accuracy. From that time forward, advances were by degrees, rather than quantum leaps. The early air rifle was quickly assigned a military training role in both the United Kingdom and throughout Europe. Many of these early air rifle designs showed strong military origins, but none more than the BSA Military Trainer. It was actively marketed as a direct training tool for the Short Magazine Lee Enfield rifle, and government contracts were pursued. By the start of World War II, airgun design had evolved to a very mature stage; but the pellets were, by that time, lagging behind. There was very little advance made in diabolo pellets from 1915 to the end of WWII. As a consequence, many of the period airguns that used those pellets got a new lease on life when better pellets became available some time in the 1970s. Suddenly, a Crosman pneumatic rifle from 1940 went from being an average shooter to a fly killer at long ranges. And this is all because the ammunition being fed into it was so superior that it tapped the latent accuracy the manufacturer had put in but which had never before been realized. Owing to the better pellets of today, the airguns of yesteryear are much more accurate than when they were new! Just to give an example, the Crosman Corporation marketed a cylindrical pellet, called the Super

Pell, during the '60s and '70s. It was actually a highly modified diabolo shape, but the head and skirt were so predominant compared to the slightly constricted waist that the overall appearance was that of a metal garbage can. These were made from pure lead and were as soft as pellets ever become--often to the detriment of performance in the repeating guns that Crosman made. Today, any Super Pells you encounter will probably be white with oxidation, so a weight comparison for the purpose of determining uniformity is useless. Suffice to say that they were okay for their time, but no one would advocate using them now. In the early half of the 1990s, Crosman brought another pellet to market--one that immediately earned it an enduring place in the airgun hall of fame. I refer, of course, to the world-famous Premier. In all calibers, these are the most uniform pellets the airgun community has ever experienced. Often, the bulk-packed Premiers will eclipse even the hand-selected Olympic pellets from other companies, as far as uniformity is concerned. Of course, since they're not wadcutters, they cannot be used for bullseye matches. Field target shooters, however, seldom win a match with anything else. In fact, the Premier is such an important pellet that some are just waiting for it to come out in .25 caliber before they embrace those guns. If it ever does, experienced airgunners expect to see an overnight change in that caliber. The maturation of the diabolo pellet has had a tremendous impact on adult airgunning. Today's airguns have all but pushed .22 rimfire target rifles from the scene at distances out to 50 yards. Not that a shooter should convert from firearms to airguns. It's just that, nowadays, an airgun shooter can shoot many times more often because of the reduced cost and less stringent range limitations. And nothing is given away. A lever-action Career 707 is just as fast to shoot and more accurate than a Winchester 9422, at a fraction of the cost. And, when you consider that the gun is capable of dropping woodchucks at 75 yards and rabbits at 100 yards, what have you lost? [This article was originally written 11 years ago, and the Career 707 is no longer imported to the U.S. However, many accurate repeaters and single-shots have come along that are as good as the 707...and some have surpassed its accuracy.] One third of the modern Olympic shooting events are for airguns. Curiously, the rules they use are a close adaptation of those used in the latter part of the 19th century for the zimmerstutzen, where all shooting was offhand at 15 meters with iron sights. Even the number of shots fired remains at 60. Only back then it was firearms, and today it's airguns. So, accurate ammunition is inexpensive and available for the new airgunner, if he or she knows what to ask for and where to look. A few things should be kept in mind, though: 1. Pellets made in China are generally sub-standard. They are often sold at gun shows and flea markets or bundled with Chinese airguns. They are best left unfired. 2. Crosman pellets are among the finest in the world, but the user should know a few things before using them. Some Crosman pellets are smaller than other brands. They are made for repeating mechanisms and are made of a harder lead alloy so they feed more reliably. Use them in gas guns (CO2 and pneumatics) and repeaters, but don't use the small ones in powerful spring guns. They don't seal the bore well enough to cushion the piston from slamming into the front of

the compression chamber. This advice does not extend to Crosman Premiers, which are the world standard for all accurate airguns except those used for paper punching (because they aren't wadcutters). 3. There are many private-branded pellets on the market. Try to learn who really makes the pellets you like, because often the reseller has little or no control over the specifications--they can change at any time! 4. The Spanish-made pellets sold under the Daisy label are about as good as German pellets. They cost less because of Daisy's marketing volume, but they're definitely worth a look. 5. Every airgun responds a little differently to every pellet. While some generalizations often work (like the one we've made about Crosman Premiers), they are not ALWAYS true. Test for yourself. I shoot 25,000 to 35,000 pellets and BBs per year. Much of that can be credited to my work testing and writing about airguns, but about 5,000 shots or more are for my own recreation. I contrast that with the less than 2,000 shots of firearms ammunition that I've fired within the past 12 months. Airguns definitely have me shooting more often than I would otherwise. I believe I'm a better shot because of it.

Airgun accuracy: It's not a given! Part 3-The sights (September 2009)
Airgun accuracy: It's not a given! Part 3 - The sights

by Tom Gaylord Copyright 2009. All Rights Reserved. This article originally appeared in Airgun Revue #2, published in 1998. Related articles: Accuracy--it's not a given! Part 1: The barrel Accuracy--it's not a given! Part 2: The projectile Sights are an important component of an airgun's accuracy, and there has been a revolution in sighting over the last 20-30 years. Before the 1970s, optical sights on an airgun were rare, just as they were for firearms 10 years earlier. People just didn't trust optics back then, in much the same way new airgunners feel there must be some inherent inaccuracy in breakbarrel rifles today (there isn't). So, let's look at iron sights first and finish with optics.

Iron sights evolved like the other parts of a gun's mechanism--when they were needed. In the 17th century, there wasn't much call for precise sighting devices because the guns of that period were only capable of mediocre accuracy. Hitting a man at 100 yards was presumed to be luck with military long guns, and only a few highly crafted sporting weapons were any better. Crossbows were better for light hunting, and there were even special-purpose crossbows that shot round stones at birds and small game, such as rabbits. Rifling did not come into general use until the 1700s, and even then it took some time to be widely accepted. So, it's only natural that airguns followed firearms in the types of sights they used, because they were generally as inaccurate and range-limited. You only have to look at the Girandoni windbuchse of 1780--a repeating rifle capable of hitting and killing a man at 100 yards--to see that sights were not keeping pace with the capabilities of the time. Even the sporting version of this rifle, made by Joseph Schembor, had only a front sight. But rifled barrels did eventually prevail, so sights had to evolve to extract the extra accuracy available. The first sights were crude by today's standards, but they worked well and can still work well if a shooter takes the time to learn them. A blade on the front of the barrel was centered in a rear leaf that had a shallow "V" notch. Elevation was determined by how much of the front blade could be seen above the rear notch. A coarse sight was one in which the front sight stood high above the rear; a fine sight was one where it only barely showed. As the shooter became familiar with the gun, he would be able to discriminate slight variations in between.

By holding the front blade to the right or left of the center of the rear "V," variations left or right-or windage, as it has come to be known--could be applied. I've owned certain rifles that were so repeatable that I gained a sense of where to aim to hit the target. If a person shoots just one rifle

all the time, this sense develops fully, allowing some very accurate shooting that could almost be termed instinctive. The phrase, "Beware of the man with one gun," came from such an association. Of course, all this talk about instinctive sighting requires a faithful dedication to just one single load. That means one bullet from one mold; one load of powder; the same powder all the time; and even the same percussion caps, when they came into the picture. Change any part, and the whole thing has to be recomputed and relearned. The next innovation in sighting--aperture sights--came at a time I haven't been able to establish very accurately. And they didn't come all at once, either. The rear aperture, which I believe is the most important part of the discovery, evolved separately from the front, which actually took longer and is still changing today. Aperture sights existed before the US Civil War (1861 to 1865). German muzzleloading schutzens had them many years earlier. According to the literature I have examined, they were in use as early as 1840 on muzzleloading Schutzens. Those sights were already well developed, though, so there must have been an even earlier gestation period. I believe this is one of those things that probably bumped along for many years before coming into general use. The aperture sight is the easiest to use of all iron sights (a term that means sights without optical assists, such as lenses). That's because the shooter has only to look at the front sight and the target--one less element than the simpler-looking open sights, described above. And, this feature is the very thing that keeps most people from using them, because they don't understand how these sights work. (There ARE aperture sights with magnifying lenses and even prescriptionground corrective lenses, but they will not be addressed in this article.) Aperture sights are also commonly called peep sights in the US, because the shooter must peep through the small aperture in the rear to see the front sight. Like a camera lens, the human eye becomes much more capable of precise focus over a broad range of distance (depth of field) when the light admitted is restricted by a small hole. To use aperture sights to their fullest, the target should be well-lit and the shooter should be in relative darkness. Aperture shades and eye patches for the other eye help create this situation. Sporting apertures also exist, but they're much larger than target apertures for rapid target acquisition. The M1 Garand even went into battle with a peep sight, and many thousands of servicemen learned just how good these sights can be. Of course, we should not forget that their grandfathers once learned the same lesson with the famous Buffington rear sight of the Trapdoor Springfield.

The Buffington sight brought the aperture from target shooting to combat. It dates to 1884. A special variant of the aperture sight is the tube sight, which looks like a telescopic sight on the outside. Inside the long tube, though, there are no lenses--just a front and rear element. The tube helps align the elements and, of course, reduces light for a sharper picture. The most common sights in use on airguns today are the telescopic sights. There was a dramatic revolution and change of opinion concerning scopes in the 1960s. Before that time, they were regarded as somewhat less than sporting and even prone to failure at the most inappropriate times in the field. This was partly due, no doubt, to the fact that no rifles were made for easy scope mounting. Receivers had to be spot-annealed, after which holes for the mounts had to be drilled and tapped--hopefully level with the top of the receiver. Scope manufacturers battled this prejudice for years before tipping the balance their way; but, in the end, they won almost completely. Gunmakers now customarily prepare their rifles, and even some pistols, to take scope mounts with little fuss. Companies like B-Square have made a business out of supplying no-gunsmithing mounts for the others. Today, it's the rare shooter who goes afield with iron sights. Even the muzzleloading crowd is starting to put scopes on their guns, and shotgunners are more than halfway converted--at least among the slug gunners. The telescopic sight presents a single sighting plane to the shooter--the easiest of all the sight pictures to work with. Also, the additional factor of magnification is a treat, allowing farther shots with greater precision. Noted blackpowder writer Sam Fadala estimates that putting a scope on a gun increases the average shooter's realized accuracy by a factor of two. Of course, with scopes comes the special problems of mounting, parallax, alignment with the barrel, and, at least with recoiling airguns, breakage. Most people are now aware that an airgun is

harder on a scope than a firearm, by virtue of its two-way recoil pattern. Scopes have long been braced against recoil to the rear, but few were ready for the strong forward thrust of an air rifle. Some companies now make special airgun scopes that are correctly braced, while others like Leupold, simply brace all their scopes against all jarring movements and make no special distinctions about application. Parallax, or adjustment for the range at which the scope is used, is another airgun quirk. On scopes designed for centerfire guns, the parallax may be fixed at some distance that averages out to the probable range at which the gun will be fired--say 100 to 150 yards for centerfires and 50 yards for rimfires. At greater or lesser ranges, the parallax is off--but the effect is so small that no one really cares. Better scopes have parallax adjustments, but they usually adjust only as close as 50 yards. For an airgunner, 50 yards is generally the far limit at which shots will be taken, or very close to it. So, their scopes must be adjustable down to a much closer range. Ten yards, and even 7-1/2 yards, is common among the airgun-specific scopes having a parallax adjustment.

The telescopic sight is responsible for more interest and confusion among new airgunners than any other single item of equipment. It is very disconcerting to watch a group open up to one inch in front of your eyes. The fact that you're shooting at a target 40 yards away, where an inch may

be the best you can expect, is seldom taken into account. The small holes left by a .177 pellet give the visual impression that you're shooting all over the place. It's similar to watching a 22/250 print a 2-1/2" group at 100 yards--not a pretty sight! Compounding this problem, the airgunner is typically watching his group take shape through an 18-40x magnification that renders the image of the target as large as a barn door! This is the frustration, I believe, that often leads some people to pursue a fanatical assault on ultimate accuracy in which thousands of dollars will be spent on all possible improvements to a gun. Another help a scope gives airgunners is rangefinding through parallax correction. Similar to the coincidence rangefinder of a camera, in which two images converge into one at a certain predetermined range, on some powerful scopes, the parallax adjustment is precise enough to determine the range to the target to within one meter. The shooter simply adjusts the parallax while watching the target through the optics. When it comes into sharp focus, the scope is corrected for that range, which may then be read off the range scale on the adjustment knob or ring. It takes about 24x or more to make very precise estimates, although 18x will usually get you within five yards of the true range. Knowing the range helps, because the air rifle pellet has a very pronounced trajectory at close range. When you're trying to shoot through a hole one inch in diameter, having a two-inch variation in trajectory makes the shot a crap shoot. To use a scope successfully, an airgunner has to take the time to learn a bit about the technology before charging out into the woods to win field target matches. For instance, a popular misconception among new airgunners is that airguns having fixed barrels are more accurate than breakbarrel guns, and that those fixed barrels will (or should) be pointed in the same direction as the scope rails. That isn't true for firearms, so why should it be different for airguns? Firearm shooters who use scopes have known for decades that very few rifles leave the factory with their barrels pointed in the same direction as bases for their scope mounts. Shimming has long been an accepted cure for this. While it's true that modern manufacturing methods, such as investment casting, have improved this situation greatly, we still don't expect to just slap on a scope and hit the bricks. Yet, that's exactly what some airgunners expect. They want the manufacturer to press that barrel into that bushing, and then the bushing into the receiver tube (which can have no variance in wall thickness, by the way) with zero deviation in relation to the machined grooves on the scope rail. And, of course the scope mount maker attended the same meeting and agreed to the precise final dimensions of the rails and the receiver tube diameter--along with every airgun maker on the planet! And, don't forget the barrel maker--a different company in almost all instances. They have somehow learned how to drill a straight hole through the exact center of a steel bar. If you think about all the variables, it's a wonder that a scope ever works! So, there's a lot to learn if you're going to use a scope on an airgun. But scoping your gun is still the way to wring out the most potential accuracy, so the time spent in study is well worth the investment. Open sights, apertures, and scopes--there's a lot to learn about airgun sighting equipment. And,

we haven't even touched on the exotic stuff, like dot sights and lasers. Just remember that your sights are what help you align your barrel with the intended target. Choose wisely!

Airgun accuracy (June 2004)

Airgun accuracy What should you expect from today's airguns?

By Tom Gaylord exclusively for Copyright 2004 All Rights Reserved

Russia's IZH 46 is a 10-meter target pistol capable of world-class accuracy. Here, not one but five pellets have sailed through the 10-ring. Such a pistol groups top-quality target pellets in five one-hundredths of an inch or less at 10 meters. Accuracy is always subjective. One person shoots at a tin can 20 feet away and another wants to hit an aspirin at 50 yards. Both consider their guns to be accurate if they can hit their target. Still other shooters want to see what an air rifle will do at 100 yards, while hunters usually just want a clean killing shot on their quarry. In this article, we will discover what you can expect from several types and even some specific models of airguns.

Every product has specifications that limit performance. The barrel, powerplant and pellet are at the heart of every airgun's accuracy. Other factors such as how controllable the trigger is and how well the stock fits the shooter are also important, but the barrel and pellet comprise about 90 percent of the accuracy potential for an airgun. The powerplant adds a small amount of additional potential, but that may become increasingly important with some kinds of powerplants if the shooter does not practice proper shooting techniques. Some powerplants, like those using compressed air, are very forgiving while others, namely spring guns, are not. A scope sight will make it easier to shoot any airgun more accurately, but it will not make the gun more accurate. Use a scope if it helps you shoot the gun the way you want to shoot, such as for long-range precision shooting and hunting, but also consider if other kinds of sights might even work better for what you are trying to do. For example, a red dot sight allows much faster target acquisition than a scope, but it isn't as precise. If you don't need that last half-inch of accuracy, it could be a good choice. How to measure a shot group If we're going to talk about accuracy, we have to use some easily understood means of comparing relative shot placement. Shot-group size is by far the most popular way to do this. Incidentally, the term "group" is correct; it is not a pattern. A pattern is the spread of shot from a shotgun; a group is the arrangement of shots from a gun that shoots just one projectile with each shot. Measuring a shot group is not hard, but there are some things you need to know. The most common way of stating the size of a shot group is the distance between the centers of the two shots farthest apart. This is often shortened to the expression "center-to-center," or "c-t-c." Measure a group by measuring the distance from the far edges of the two widest shots, and then subtract one bullet diameter to get the distance between the centers. If the two widest shots of a group of .22-caliber shots measures 1.220" across their widest distance, the c-t-c distance is 1.0". The math is simple, and it works the same for all groups and all calibers. When you measure the group spread, don't forget that most bullets except wadcutters will tear raggedly through paper instead of cutting a clean hole. You need to find the true edge of the two widest holes. In the beginning it helps to stick a pellet in the holes to visualize where the edges are. With some experience, it becomes easier to estimate where the edges are and you won't have to use a pellet.

Dial calipers make it easy to rapidly measure group size. Don't be fooled by the precision of the It's easy to measure groups with a plain old ruler. reading, though. You'll be fortunate to measure Simply bracket the outsides of the two widest correctly to within a hundredth of an inch. This shots. Here, a Condor from AirForce puts five .22- group of five .50-caliber airgun bullets was fired at caliber Korean pellets into a group that measures a 25 yards from a Dragon big-bore air rifle. It hair larger than 1-1/2" at 50 yards. Subtract the measures just 0.816", center-to-center. 0.22 diameter of one pellet and you get a group size of just over 1.28". Not bad for a breezy day in Texas! Don't expect your .22 rimfire rifle to shoot this well unless it has a great pedigree. The Condor will shoot groups half this size on calm days. The edges of the pellet holes are difficult to see in this photo but are more obvious when you have the target in hand.

You can measure the distance across the group with a common ruler marked in sixteenths of an inch or you can use a dial caliper that indicates thousandths of an inch. Whatever you choose, don't kid yourself that a more precise measuring tool will make your measurements more accurate. This is a common mistake. Simply because you are measuring in thousandths doesn't mean you are doing it accurately. It just makes the results sound more impressive, such as a 0.125" group, compared to a 1/8" group. What accuracy is possible with an airgun? Obviously, groups shot closer will be smaller than those shot farther away, given the same circumstances. With an Olympic-grade 10-meter rifle like the Walther Alutek or a target air pistol like the Aeron B98, five-shot groups measuring only a few HUNDREDTHS of an inch in width are possible. That's at 10 meters, which is about 33 feet. With a sporting rifle such as the Webley Longbow, a group size of one-tenth of an inch is possible, if the shooter uses the correct technique. Use a sloppy technique and you can easily see a half-inch group from the same gun at the same distance. Some of the top

sporting rifles like the BSA Super 10 MK II will give even smaller groups at this distance, rivaling the target guns.

At 40 yards, a Falcon FN-19 rifle put five Beeman Kodiak pellets (also known as H&N Baracuda) in a group of just 0.327". All pellets would have hit Roosevelt's head on a dime!

At the same 10-meter distance, a nice sporter air pistol like the Webley Tempest or Weihrauch HW 75M will group five shots in one-tenth of an inch. A high-quality CO2 pistol like a Smith & Wesson 586 might group five shots in three-quarters of an inch and a low-cost CO2 gun like a Gamo P23 might shoot a 11/2" to 2" group. A lower-cost rifle like a Crosman 1077 might shoot a quarter-inch group at this distance, while a Benjamin Sheridan single-shot pneumatic might group in one-eighth of an inch. As the range increases, so does the group size for all airguns. At 50 yards, a 10-meter target rifle will be shooting a group of three-quarters of an inch to one inch, while a top-quality sporting rifle like the AirForce Talon SS can shoot a half-inch group. Air pistols are pretty much out of the picture beyond 30 yards or so, but they can be fun to shoot at the longer distances if you like a real shooting challenge. You may read discussions about half-inch groups at 50 yards and they may sound easy, but they're not. A half-inch five-shot group at 50 yards with an air rifle is the shooting equivalent of a par hole in golf or a bowling score of greater than 240. Everyone loves to talk about such things, but they are not as common as you might believe.

At 35 yards, a Talon SS from AirForce shot this five-shot group of .22-caliber pellets. And, some folks say .22 caliber isn't accurate! My wedding ring is size 12. If 50-yard five-shot groups of one-half inch are possible, it stands to reason that there will be even better groups from time to time. Indeed, quarter-inch groups at 50 yards are not unknown. They happen with the same frequency as holes-in-one in golf or 300 scores in bowling. When the distance is stretched to 100 yards, the bragging group size is one inch. And, such groups have been shot, but they are even more rare than half-inch groups at 50 yards. The longer a pellet takes to fly to its target the more wind will influence it. I would rate a one-inch 100-yard group as four times more difficult to shoot than a half-inch 50-yard group. The number of shots in a group affects the size There's a secret to shooting small groups. Simply shoot fewer shots. A three-shot group looks pretty convincing, and it is 60 percent easier to shoot than a five-shot group of the same size. A two-shot group is even easier and some shooters are so eager for bragging rights that they will settle for two close shots. Nobody has tried to put a one-shot group up for scrutiny yet, but it wouldn't surprise me if someone did. On the other hand, a 10-shot group will be about 40 percent larger than a five-shot group from the same gun. Whenever the accuracy of a gun is being measured, 10-shot groups are considered the standard measurement tool, though few shooters, including yours truly, ever invest the time and effort to shoot them. When the only person you have to please is yourself, shoot whatever number of shots you want, but a test report with groups of less than five shots is suspect, to say the least. I have recently shot some 10shot groups at 50 yards with a Ruger 10/22 rifle I'm testing. Eight of the 10 shots went into a group

measuring 1-1/2", but shots nine and 10 opened up that group to 8-1/2"! That's an extreme example of what I'm illustrating, but I never got a 10-shot group of less than 2-1/2" with that ammunition in that rifle, so what does that say about the 1-1/2" eight-shot group? Settling down to shoot

You have to settle down to shoot good groups. The hyperactive shooter has no chance of shooting as accurately as the shooter with proper technique. Not only does your breathing and heart rate come into play; your mental frame of mind is essential to accuracy. I like to use a line from the movie "Patriot." When Mel Gibson was telling his sons how to hit their mark, he said, "Aim small, miss small." Whoever made up that expression knew what it takes to shoot accurately. On Army pistol ranges, I have seen soldiers deliberately aim at a target 50 feet away and hit the ground 15 feet in front of where they were standing. All because of improper trigger control. I have also seen a national champion shooter, my squadron commander, take the same tired Army .45 and shoot a 2" 10shot group at the same distance. You have to settle down and use the proper technique, or you'll never get all the accuracy your gun has to offer. The group sizes mentioned and shown in this article are very achievable with a good airgun, good pellets and a good shooter. One good reason to shoot airguns is that they give you the best shooting training money can buy. When you move back to the more forgiving firearms, your time spent with an airgun will have sharpened your skills.

Airgun Calibers (June 2003)

Airgun calibers. The lowdown on the four most popular airgun calibers, plus a quick look at BBs

By Tom Gaylord Exclusively for Copyright 2003. All Rights Reserved There are four popular airgun calibers today--.177, .20 (also called 5mm), .22 and .25. In this article, we'll look at each of those four calibers and see what it does best. We'll also see how BBs differ from the four pellet calibers.

The four popular smallbore pellet calibers are, from left to right, .177, .20, .22 and .25.

.177/4.5mm The .177 caliber was probably created shortly after the start of the 20th century. It seems to have surfaced first in England, which was a hotbed of airgun development both then and now. The advantage of .177 is a smaller pellet that uses less material--usually lead. It is widely used for general shooting and is the only caliber that can be used for bullseye target shooting anywhere in the world. The rules of all official shooting organizations mandate a .177 caliber gun for both pistol and rifle competition. Because of this, the popular misconception is that the .177 is somehow more accurate than the other three calibers. This is not strictly true, but since all target guns are made in this caliber only, a lot of .177 guns ARE, in fact, more accurate than guns in other calibers. There have been .22 caliber target airguns made in the past in England, Germany, America and perhaps other countries, but today the only target guns made are .177. The sport of field target is one competitive shooting sport in which a .177 places the shooter at a distinct advantage. The shooter must shoot a pellet through a small hole in a steel target to hit a paddle, knocking down the target and registering a hit. If the pellet touches the side of the hole, there's a good chance the target won't fall and no point will be awarded. The kill-zone holes range from 1/4" to 2" in diameter, but the smaller holes are by far more common in a match. So, the smaller size of the .177 pellet makes it the statistically superior choice in this sport. A problem .177 pellets have is that their light weight allows them to go faster than the larger sizes. Once the speed of the pellet approaches the speed of sound (a variable speed of approximately 1,100 f.p.s. at sea level), the accuracy suffers. For powerful air rifles, shooters must select the heaviest pellets in .177 to keep the velocity down. Sometimes, guns come in both .177 and .22 calibers. Which should you get? Well, consider this. Any given gun will shoot faster in .177 than in .22, if all things are equal. That same gun will hit about 20 percent harder (have more energy) in .22. The .177 pellets tend to be less expensive than .22 pellets, plus there are often more of them in a box. The .22 pellet is larger and some people find it easier to load than the smaller .177. One final thought. The .177 caliber is by far the most popular today and will be the easiest pellet to find in a store. .20/5mm Did you notice at the start of this article that the .20 caliber is the only one also designated by its metric size? While all pellets are marked with both their English and metric sizes today, the .20 caliber was actually created that way from the start.

Sheridan introduced the .20 caliber pellet to the world in 1947. Even then they also referred to it as a 5mm. In 1947, Ed Wackerhagen designed a multi-pump pneumatic air rifle that he called the Sheridan. He found commercial airgun ammunition of the time too inaccurate to work well in his rifle, so he created a proprietary caliber--the .20. Of course, this also meant that his company had to supply all ammunition. While that sounds like a good way to make more money, it can also backfire and destroy the entire marketing plan. If shooters feel they may not be able to purchase an odd-sized caliber in the future (consider the Remington 5mm rimfire that can now cost a dollar a round), they might not buy the gun. The .20 caliber/5mm got off to a somewhat tenuous start, but Sheridan remained in production and by the mid-1970s, nobody gave it much thought. However, no other airguns were made in that caliber until Robert Beeman requested Feinwerkbau to make up five special model 124 rifles for his company. That project never went anywhere, but within a few more years Weihrauch, the German maker of all the Beeman R-series guns, began making 5mm guns. The market blossomed from there. America has been the leader in .20 caliber/5mm airguns, but Europe is producing more of them all the time. The pellet makers are also making more designs of pellets in this caliber. There are still fewer choices in .20 caliber than in .177 and .22, but the gap is narrowing. Many shooters consider .20 caliber to be a good compromise between .177 and .22. Robert Beeman promoted it that way in his catalogs for many years. Actually, .20 is a little closer to .22 than it is to .177 in terms of the cost of the pellets and pellet weight. While some British ads promote the .20 as a long-range pellet that's superior to the .22, they're looking only at the very specific instance of Crosman Premier pellets in that ad. The .22 has a great number of pellets that are better for long-range shooting than any .20 caliber pellet, though there's nothing wrong with shooting a .20 at a great distance. Get a .20 caliber gun for general shooting and for hunting or pest elimination. The pellets cost about as much as .22 pellets, but there are fewer styles to choose from. .22--the hunter's choice

The .22 caliber pellet grew out of the .22 rimfire, which, at the start of the 20th century was the choice for most small shooting jobs such as pest elimination. But, a .22 caliber pellet is no longer the same diameter as a .22 rimfire bullet, nor will a rimfire barrel work well for pellets. The rimfire barrel is sized 0.222" to 0.223" across the grooves, while the airgun barrel is sized 0.217" to 0.218". Twenty-two caliber was the most popular airgun caliber in America until the late 1960s. That's why more airguns of that caliber exist among the vintage and antique guns made in this country. The .22 caliber pellet is definitely the choice of the hunter and pest eliminator. It hits harder and also transmits more of its energy to the target than the smaller .177. A .177 pellet traveling at high-velocity is small enough to pass completely through the body of a small animal, leaving no visible signs of trauma if a vital organ or bone is not hit. Even a chipmunk can be "acupunctured" in this way. Of course, the animal is in extreme pain, but since animals don't act the same as humans, it appears to simply run off. Usually, it will die several days to weeks later, after suffering increasingly greater pain. The same thing CAN happen with a .22 pellet, but, because of the larger size, it's much less likely. Speaking of high velocity and hunting with pellet guns, let's clear up a misconception. In firearms, a high velocity bullet does so much damage to its target that much smaller calibers can be used to hunt big game. This began with the introduction of the .220 Swift in 1935 and grew very popular through the promotion of Roy Weatherby. But, pellets are not centerfire bullets. They don't travel 3,000 f.p.s. and faster. Even at a top speed of 1,200 f.p.s., a pellet is going WAY too slow to have a similar hydraulic shock effect on game. So a "fast" pellet is of no advantage to a hunter unless it also carries a large amount of energy that it can successfully transfer to the animal. That's why the .22 is the king of the hunting calibers. As far as general shooting goes, the .22 caliber is just fine. The pellets do cost more than .177s and the velocities of the guns are usually slower, but a good shot will have no problem with a .22. It's the second most popular airgun caliber. The big .25 To many shooters, "Bigger is better." So the .25 caliber has to be the best - right? Perhaps, but learn all the facts before making up your mind. The quarter-inch bore is somewhat older than the .177. It existed in smoothbore airguns at the end of the 19th century, and BSA made it popular in 1906 with the first rifled smallbore air rifle to use .25 caliber. In those days, and on up until around the 1980s, all .25 caliber air rifles were low-powered and slow. Velocities were in the 300 to 400 f.p.s. range. It wasn't until the 1990s that the emergence of powerful rifles made this caliber truly viable and brought it fully back to life. The funny thing is, some guns that OUGHT to be great in .25 caliber don't fulfill their promise, and others that SHOULD be too puny to do well are surprisingly good! The RWS 48/52 is one of the most popular spring guns ever made. In .22 it is very powerful for a spring rifle, yet in .25 the power drops off a bit. On the other hand, the lightweight

BSA Supersport Magnum, which is a delight in .177 and .22 and ought to be a dog in .25, seems to defy logic by also handling the big caliber well. In the precharged rifles, .25 caliber doesn't deliver much of an advantage. That's because the new solid .22 pellets are already so heavy that there is no clear advantage for a .25. Yes, there are solid .25 pellets that are even heavier than the heaviest .22s, but they take away some velocity, which makes long-range shooting that much more difficult.

The Beeman P1 is considered a very powerful air pistol. Even so, at just six foot-pounds, it's not powerful enough for small game hunting. Air pistols All we've talked about so far is air rifles. Where do the pistols fit in? For starters, air pistols are MUCH less powerful than air rifles, as a rule. The magnum spring pistols top out at about 6 foot-pounds, while the rifles get up to the low 30s. In the precharged guns, air pistols in the four smallbore calibers we're looking at get up to 12 or even 14 footpounds, but the rifles get up as high at 80 foot-pounds! There are a few specialty pistols made in the Orient that get 30 to 50 foot-pounds, but these airguns are as large and heavy as small carbines. This difference in power between pistols and rifles makes .177 caliber almost the universal choice for an air pistol. When people ask about hunting with a pistol, we tell them that unless they have a 12 foot-pound pistol, they really shouldn't hunt. Yes, it's possible to kill certain pests like rats and mice with an air pistol, but it's almost never a sporting choice for a hunter. As long as you keep the power level in mind, there is absolutely nothing wrong with owning and shooting a .20-, a .22- and even a .25-caliber air pistol. Just knowing about the big power difference between air pistols and air rifles will help you decide what to get. BBs: Are they the same as .177? No! The BB is smaller than .177. In fact, it's a completely different caliber. When it was first created in 1886, a BB was a type of shotgun shot sized 0.180" in diameter. Through the years, the size became smaller, until todays steel BB is 0.172" to 0.173'. Some airguns can shoot either BBs or pellets. What's the deal there? The deal is that they're

designed with some kind of compromise bore that will not be damaged by steel BBs, yet a lead pellet can also be shot. These guns are seldom as accurate with either ammunition as regular pellet-only guns, though some of them do a pretty remarkable job at short ranges. NEVER shoot steel BBs in a gun designed to shoot only pellets! Pellet gun barrels are softer, and the undersized steel BB will damage the rifling (if there is any) as it rattles down the bore. If the gun is smoothbore, there's no rifling to ruin, but a .177 bore is still oversized and will give poor performance. A good way to shoot round balls in a pellet gun is to use a round lead ball. These are sized the same as lead pellets and won't harm your barrel. A few manufacturers make round balls in .177. .22 and .25 and a few other calibers. Summary The four main airgun calibers give you a lot of choice. You have to think about what you want to do with your airgun, then pick an appropriate pellet and try it out. Like anything else in life, the final answer to what's the best caliber or best pellet lies with you. Hopefully, this article has helped you understand the most important fundamentals.