Basic marksmanship can be boiled down to one easy to remember concept. Take the time to get comfortable with your gun. As you shoot more, you become more acquainted with your new airgun. As you become more acquainted, you begin to relax and your shooting starts to improve. Relax and get to know your new pistol and get comfortable with it, which means go out and shoot it a lot. When you take the time to become comfortable with your airgun, you can really get down to mastering the accepted basics of marksmanship which are shooting position, trigger control, sight picture and hold or grip. All of this information becomes distilled into a few basic ideas and things to watch for when you being shooting a new rifle or pistol.
Breaking It In
Until your airgun breaks in, you cannot overshoot it. Most shooters think that because they have shot half a tin of pellets through a new rifle that it’s broken in. Nothing could be further from the truth. Ten times that number of pellets would be more like it. Normal break-in takes aproximately 2,500 rounds. The break-in period serves to do two important things. First, the trigger mechanism starts to wear and smooth out. That initial wear is good for a trigger. The parts start to mate together, small imperfections on the sear and trigger face begin to fade and the entire trigger pull is improved. Really concentrate on the pull. Where does it let off? Is it longer in the first stage or the second stage? Does it break cleanly or does it creep? As you begin to recognize the individual aspects of the trigger on your new airgun, you will also learn to recognize how it changes during the break-in period. The correct amount and type of lubrication will improve this, but only after the break-in period is achieved. Second, the cylinder, spring and piston parts begin to mate together, the entire firing sequence begins to smooth out and vibration is greatly reduced. That vibration can be felt in your cheek as it rests on the stock. Learn to recognize this as well. It is important. Vibration is evident in every new spring piston airgun made. As the parts begin to mate, vibration begins to diminish. This is a good indication that your new airgun is starting to “break-in.” Also, the gun will become noticeably easier to cock. This is because the mainspring is no longer dragging against the wall of the air chamber. All of this break-in period must be augmented with proper cleaning and lubrication. Refer to your owner’s manual for this information and be sure to pay attention to any unusual sounds coming from your airgun like squeaks or high pitched squeals. These sounds usually mean that a good cleaning and re-lubrication are in order.
The NRA claims that there are four basic shooting positions: prone, sitting, kneeling and standing or offhand, as it is called. Most people would rather stand and fire than sit and relax. Most “action” events are shot from the standing position. Most ranges do not have facilities for bench shooting. Informal shooting is only considered “informal” if it is done in the standing position. For almost all people, the offhand position is by far the most difficult to master. The offhand position is the very last one that is taught and scored because it is the hardest. That is why, for beginning shooters, shooting at a bench, off a rest, or lacking a bench, practice exclusively in the prone position. When you are shooting at a bench or prone, you can relax enough to concentrate on breathing properly, trigger pull, sight picture and follow through without having to worry about having to properly support the airgun which is where all the skill comes in. Regardless of your shooting experience or ability, if you are aiming for accuracy and proficiency, start your shooting on a rest at a bench. In fact, conduct your entire 2,500 round break-in from a bench. As you start to learn your airgun’s individual characteristics like take up, trigger let off, overtravel, sight picture, spring/piston vibration and recoil, you can deal with one by one and really learn how your airgun works. How it feels. How you react to how it feels and what it does. You can take the time you need to become comfortable with your airgun and that is where the key to achieving consistent accuracy really starts.
Grip and Recoil
Every airgun needs to be gripped differently because they all recoil differently. The proper method to grip each gun can only be arrived at by experimentation. If you are shooting a new airgun and the accuracy is not what you think it should be, before you change pellets, try lightening up on the forend just a bit. In fact, simply support the forend with your fingertips and with a very light hold at the pistol grip. An air rifle is very susceptible to even a small change in the forend pressure. If you have the rifle in a death grip, shoved tightly into your shoulder and a firm grasp on the forend and pistol grip, then you are exerting a tremendous amount of pressure and creating an artificial “pressure point” that cannot be duplicated from shot to shot. Most shooters do this because of recoil or more accurately, fear of recoil. If you find yourself with a death grip, and you will know it because your groups are starting to open up in an evenly-spaced circular pattern, then let go of the rifle and learn to deal with the recoil by working with it instead of against it. Try a limp hold, breathe slowly, deeply and relax. Squeeze through the trigger pull and forget about the recoil. The recoil won’t harm or hurt you.
Sight picture is simply aligning the front and rear sight with your intended target. Some people like a six o’clock hold that places the target on top of the front blade. Some folks like a straight on hold that places the top of the front blade in the center of the target. Both can be effective. If you apply this to shooting an air rifle, remember whatever sight picture works for you is the correct one, but you have to make sure it is consistent. A consistent sight picture is most dependent on your spot weld or where you place your cheek on the cheekpiece of the rifle. Learn to judge this and try to concentrate on placing it in the same spot every time. A good quality scope is a lot easier to learn to shoot with effectively than open sights. Looking through a scope places the crosshairs or reticle on the same focal plane as the target, so you are not having to line up rear sight, front sight and the target. Much easier and potentially more accurate.