Can you shoot a PCP quickly while maintaining accuracy, and is a magazine really faster than a single-shot loader? Mike Morton seeks some answers.
Speed-shooting with an air rifle isn’t something that’s seen all that often outside of dedicated time-restricted competitions like turning targets or breakable disc, or on the plinking range where a high volume of fire means a high volume of fun.
Nevertheless, shooting a rifle quickly has a definite appeal, especially with a magazine-fed pre-charged pneumatic, and there are some practical benefits beyond the obvious feel-good factor as well.
Historically, the earliest form of speed-shooting with a firearm dates back to the days of the musket, typified by the battles of the Napoleonic wars. Whichever side could produce the largest volume of volley fire at the highest rate would typically emerge the victor, all other factors remaining equal, with the British infantry having the advantage as they formed up in ranks, while the French used columns, giving the British the ability to pour down more fire.
Military muskets were notoriously inaccurate, but when fired en masse into a body of men who were standing up rather than taking cover, the results could be devastating.
Speed-shooting – at least in the context that we’re talking about – mainly stems from the use of either lever- or bolt-action repeating rifles, where the ability to employ rapid fire could be used to subdue an enemy while carrying out a flanking manoeuvre rather than taking carefully aimed shots.
Nevertheless, there were even some early air rifles, like the Girandoni, with its 20-shot magazine that were capable of combining higher rates of fire with accuracy.
But apart from their limited use by the Austrians in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, air rifles have not really found themselves a military role, so even with the rapid-shooting capabilities of a modern PCP, what’s the point of shooting them quickly? After all, the air rifle is designed to be used for taking deliberate, precise shots.
There are quite a few benefits to shooting speedily – the main ones being the development of muscle memory when loading the gun and cycling the action, as well as improving the shooter’s overall familiarity with the rifle.
And another very important one is simply the pure fun factor which comes from shooting under pressure. Compare the look of total concentration on a shooter’s face while taking aim with the look of joy after they’ve made a successful shot.
Speed-shooting isn’t something I do a lot of, especially considering the fact that a regulated PCP really needs a pause between shots for the reg to refill with air at the correct pressure before the next shot is taken. But my friend Terry Parker and I decided to pit ourselves and our electronically regulated Pulsars against a fairly simple course of fire using a standard 10-round magazine while the clock was ticking.
The idea was to take it in turns to clear the course and see who was fastest – and try to work out why. As we both own aftermarket single-shot loaders made by Rowan Engineering, we also decided to shoot the course a second time. We were both pretty certain the magazine would be fastest, we just didn’t know by how much.
Please note that in no way were we advocating or trying to encourage the taking of hurried shots at live quarry – the whole point of the exercise was to find out if speed-shooting would help enhance our mastery of the rifles’ actions, loading techniques, target acquisition and engagement.
Our club has a wide selection of resettable targets, some of which are designed for HFT while others are purely there for plinking pleasure, but in the end we settled on four very different types of target which we thought would make for a good all-round test.
We positioned them at random distances between 15 and 40 yards, although we didn’t measure the exact distance of each from the firing point as part of the challenge would involve some minor range estimation and holding off.
One key aim of the test was to discover whether the extra time taken to load the magazine would be offset by the time saved by staying on aim. We agreed on a few basic rules beforehand. We agreed to use a bench, a bipod and a rear bench bag if desired so we could focus on our loading techniques.
To counter the obvious advantages of the bench, we agreed we’d shoot the course from a leaning or kneeling, rather than a seated position. We also agreed to let the shooter choose whatever magnification setting he desired, although as with HFT it couldn’t be changed once firing had commenced.
To ensure things were fair, we used the same firing position, taking turns to swap between shooting the course with the magazine, then repeating the process with the single-shot loader, with us starting the magazine round with an empty magazine.
One other thing we agreed on which we knew would have a great effect on the results was to take our .177 pellets directly from the tin rather than laying them out beforehand. Plucking an individual pellet from a tin of 500 can be tricky, especially when under duress, but it all added to the experience.
The Magazine Round
I went first, electing to set my scope’s magnification at a modest 6x, and also choosing to go without a rear support as I felt that would help me switch between targets more easily. My Pulsar is fitted with a Javelin bipod from Spartan Precision Equipment.
It’s a clever device because it can be fitted two ways. If you install it one way the bipod is locked facing forwards, which is a better option for taking precision shots at paper targets, but if the bipod is removed and turned 180 degrees the rifle can then be panned left and right. I should have given myself the panning option, but once my phone stopwatch had started there was no going back.
The first order of business was to load the Daystate’s 10-shot magazine, extracting each pellet from the tin one at a time. It’s an unsettling feeling when you’re desperately trying to load the mag as quickly as you can while knowing precious seconds are ticking by without you having fired a single shot. Nevertheless, this was something I was destined to carry out eight times in total in order to clear our little four-target course.
With the loaded magazine inserted into the Pulsar, the first target to be engaged was a Texas Star, a structure that offers nine discs that can be shot in any order that flip back on themselves when hit. The Star is motionless until firing actually begins, but once one of the discs has been struck it will start to rotate.
The choice here is whether to move the rifle to track the slowly spinning discs or whether to keep it still, waiting for one of the discs to appear underneath the crosshairs. I tried both methods and found the ‘wait and shoot’ method to be quicker and more reliable.
Next up was a resettable rabbit, with our mini-contest requiring one hit to the killzone on the head followed by a second shot to the reset plate, with my first magazine refill having to take place in between.
In some ways we’d made the contest too easy, as the relatively large killzones on the stationary rabbit presented no problem for either of us when using the aids of bipod and bench.
But when switching from one target to the next I found myself having to gently bounce the rifle from side to side, and while this worked, the previously mentioned panning method with the Javelin would have been faster.
Third on the list was a quad spinner with four different sizes of target. It was very interesting to note that due to the fairly generous size of most of the other targets, the smallest paddle on this spinner was the only one that required any holdover, all the others falling within our rifles’ point-blank range.
Our final target was the Slug of War, which consists of a multi-headed paddle which rotates around a threaded bar. This device is meant to be engaged by two shooters simultaneously, the paddle starting off in the central position and the idea being to hit either the top or bottom of the paddle to make it move left or right until it reaches the opponent’s end.
As we were shooting one at a time, we began with the paddle all the way to the left and kept shooting until it ended up all the way right. This took many more shots than anticipated, and involved multiple magazine reloads.
It took my friend Terry nine minutes and 35 seconds to clear the course, while I came in at eight minutes and 28 seconds, both of us having shot around 80 pellets. That works out at roughly seven seconds per shot, including the time taken to load and reload the magazine.
Neither of us missed very often – more thanks to the bench and bipod setup than our shooting skills, it has to be said – and we both agreed that while the object of the exercise was about speed, it was much better to take a fraction longer and make a telling shot rather than rush it and miss and then have to repeat the process.
The Single-Shot Loader Round
It was now onto the second round, this time using the single-shot loader. This device fits into the magazine well in the action and features a loading gate that flips out to accept a pellet.
It’s relatively easy to use as the pellet just needs to be thumbed into place nose-first rather than carefully positioned into the more usual single-shot tray. Nevertheless, it still means taking your eye off the target while reaching for the next pellet and inserting it into the loader.
It was a psychological boost to be able to begin shooting immediately after the timer started rather than having to wait until the magazine was filled, but the penalty for me was constantly having to move my head away from the scope to insert the next pellet.
I also got frustrated when taking on the Slug of War as the paddle seemed to be making painfully slow progress towards the ‘Win’ portion of the target that would mark the end of the round, despite me delivering numerous good smacks.
Nevertheless, I thought I’d got into a decent rhythm and ended up with a time of 11 minutes and 41 seconds, giving me an average time of nine seconds per shot. Terry, meanwhile, really got into the flow and cleared the course in a fantastic time of six minutes and 38 seconds – an average of only five seconds per shot.
What Do We Take From This?
While neither of us would shoot like this when hunting or taking part in a non-timed competition, our mini speed-shooting contest was not only enjoyable, but raised a few interesting points, the main one being that using a magazine is not necessarily faster than using a single-shot loader, provided of course that the next pellet is within easy reach.
It was also a good training tool for developing a process with both the loading and firing of the rifle, and its operation. There’s a saying “beware the man with one gun” and people who own more than one rifle will probably not shoot them all to the same level of proficiency unless they put in some consistent practice with each, so speed-shooting could be a great and quick way of reintroducing them to one of their slightly neglected guns.
Magnification was something of an eye-opener too. I typically do most of my shooting at 10x or 12x mag, and I found that turning it down, at least in the decent lighting conditions we had that day, actually helped rather than hindered.
It might be interesting for you to try this too. The way Terry and I ran this course and our choice of targets is almost irrelevant, as you can adjust and adapt this to suit your own set of rules and available targets – whatever works best for you. You might learn a lot about your rifle, scope and pellet combo. And you’ll definitely enjoy yourself.
As far as Hollywood film directors, newspaper crime reporters and detective novel writers are concerned, the term ‘point-blank range’ just means ‘close’, but it has a very different meaning for the shooter.
Point-blank range is any distance over which a particular gun can hit a target of a specific size without the need to compensate for the drop of the pellet.
If you are able to place a pellet within a 1” group at all ranges from 15 to 40 yards, for example, all the while maintaining exactly the same point of aim, your point-blank range is therefore 15-40 yards for a 1” target.
Do note that your point-blank range will vary with the size of the target you intend to hit, the range being reduced for smaller targets and greater for larger ones. If you need to use holdover or holdunder to hit your target, you know you are now outside of your point-blank range.
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