What do the infantryman, armed response officer and airgun shooter have in common? A dependable gun that works well, argues Pete Brookes.
Despite having worked around firearms for most of my working life, I must come clean. From the time I left school and joined an infantry battalion, later to work as a civilian testing munitions and armament for the Ministry of Defence, and then just under an additional two decades working on a police armed response unit, I must admit that technically I don’t really know how a firearm works.
I am not alone here. Ask the majority of fighting soldiers or armed cops questions on the tactical use of the firearm, the field stripping and cleaning of the weapon in the dark with cold hands, and the effective rates of fire, then you can expect to hear the full manual in response.
But ask questions covering any technical matter about the weapon and sighting system and you’ll get a blank stare in return, with mumbling: ”I don’t really care provided it puts the bad guy down on his backside and stops them firing back!”
The term “marksman” only really relates to a small percentage of firearm users in both military and police roles, and although your average soldier can qualify under the marksman scheme, the true marksman relates to the trained sniper in the military, or because of its aggressive tone, “rifle officers“ in the police service. The vast majority are therefore users and the weapon is only part (albeit a big part) of their job description.
As airgun shooters, whether hunting or target, at the point of pulling the trigger we are probably at the day’s cumulative end of our pastime. After all, is that not why we purchase the nice and shiny air rifle in the first place, in effect just to pull the trigger?
The military or police user on the other hand is heading well and truly into a potential bad day when they pull the trigger. This will be a life-or-death situation; their adrenaline levels will be ballistic (pardon the pun), and they will not care if it is an expensive Italian stock or a match trigger as long as the bullets keep loading in one end and coming out the other at rapid speed.
So when I consider what makes a good hunting air rifle am I really that concerned with the technical stuff? Well yes, of course I am, but I know that from research the numbers do add up when you look at the data that’s supplied from the mainstream airgun manufacturers, and I will be more inclined to purchase a model with a proven track history over one mass-produced in China, shall we say.
I need to know that the pellet will load easily and the trigger will be ok when I apply pressure. And when the pellet wings its way down the barrel at an effective velocity I need to be certain that it is going to hit a vital organ belonging to the chosen quarry, ensuring a quick, clean kill.
What I ultimately want to know – and what would effectively seal the deal for me – are the handling characteristics of the air rifle, the actual ergonomics of any weapon, in fact. As an example, the Heckler and Koch MP5 was the first firearm I used when working on the armed response team. A stubby little contraption really, which although it threw out a hard-hitting 9mm round that you were not really going to get up from, had very poor long-range accuracy.
It was, however, ideal when working from vehicles and within buildings. Its compact size allowed it to rest across your chest whilst seated in a vehicle, but quickly drawn up into the aim. Its short barrel allowed better control of the weapon inside buildings, so you were not muzzle-swiping your mate’s legs in front of you, or embarrassingly clattering the door frame on tactical room entries.
Its suitability, unfortunately in more ways than one, came to an end with the arrival of the suicide bomber threat onto mainland Britain, where a longer-barrelled carbine-type rifle was then required to take out a terrorist threat at further distances.
Horses for courses in a nutshell, and a good hunting air rifle must also be suited to the environment it is to be used in. The gun itself is a static object on its own, and it is only us, as the user, that gives the gun its movement and purpose, so it must fit within the structure and form of its firing platform – the human body.
There are a varying multitude of hunting scenarios, so unless you have the money, space, or inclination to purchase an air rifle for every environment and species, you are more likely to be just purchasing the one (for now anyway) that fits the remit of the task, there or thereabouts.
For me then, I know that whichever air rifle combination I go for, at least within a certain gene pool, it will have the capability I require in relation to accuracy and knockdown power. With that decided, as a sporting shooter I am now able to move on and consider the niceties of looks and shape.
The important contribution that I can individually impact on, and have the real luxury of choosing, are the handling characteristics of the rifle for the type of shooting that I carry out and the satisfaction that hopefully I get by using it successfully for the purpose for which it was intended.
So the best shooting advice that I can give is to only take an air rifle into the field that you know works reliably and gives you the most enjoyment. As for all the technical stuff and internal wizardry – isn’t that what armourers are for? Enjoy your shooting!
More from Pete Brookes
- Why airgun hunters should target grey squirrels
- Airgun hunting on the farmyard
- Wildlife management with FAC air rifles
- Different types of airgun permission