How to control blinking when shooting airgun springers

Chris Bentley makes a return to shooting springers, but forgets one of the fundamentals, and that’s a problem that needs to be fixed.

I’m doing it again. Despite all my promises and my best intentions I’ve started shooting springers. Now many of you will say that this is a perfectly normal and natural thing to be doing, but this is worse. I’m shooting springers, and I’ve now become absolutely rubbish at shooting springers. What on earth has happened to my decades of hard-earned experience?

As a lad I would shoot anything, but having said that, 50 years ago there wasn’t much of a choice. My early rifles and pistols were noisy, heavy and unruly, but we bent them to our will, often quite literally. 

Shooting apples in an orchard, and realising that my aim was off, it was not unknown to give remedial sight adjustments by “tapping” them with a heavy stone. 

Our shooting supplier was the local bike and hardware shop, and our pellets shared roughly the same calibre, but seldom the same manufacturer. Loading was a bit of a lucky dip, but we still always got the apples!

I decided therefore to consult with trusted shooting colleagues at my local club, where my embarrassing lack of accuracy would be met with support, understanding and discretion. When the laughter finally died down, seven of my closest friends gathered around me on a shooting bench to offer insightful observations of my technique. 

After only three shots I was given a diagnosis: I’m shooting springers and I’m blinking when I take a shot!

In search of help, I got chatting with my local bio-psychologist over a pint, and she explained to me why this might be so. We humans are apex predators, like big cats and sharks, and just like them we are hard-wired to instinctively and automatically protect our most vital asset – our eyes. When a lion sinks its teeth into the backside of a bucking and kicking antelope, it closes its eyes. A great white shark even goes to the trouble of completely turning its eyes backwards on themselves, as it greedily takes your leg off.

She explained further that should anything come within the perimeter of roughly an arm’s length of our head, and make a lively movement or noise (like say a 9lb lump of metal and wood under our chin) then we will most likely close our eyes momentarily as a protective mechanism.

For me, the fundamentals of shooting have always been controlling breathing, ensuring the best gun fit, precise trigger control and of course follow-through. 

Keeping your shooting eye open and observing correct follow-through will pay dividends for all types of shooting, not just springers and gas-rams

I have always believed that follow-through is indispensable when taking careful, measured and accurate shots. Maintaining a total focus on the scope’s reticle in relation to the pellet’s intended point of impact until after the pellet has struck is an essential part of the shooting cycle. So my newly resurfaced blink was going to have to go.

In the United States, CO2 blowback replica pistols are used frequently to practise weapon handling. One of the first things novice shooters do as they bring the trigger back is close their eyes to a slit. 

Once they have taken a couple of shots and lowered the pistol they invariably exhale and smile like a Cheshire cat. This is not necessarily a smile of joy – it is more often a smile of relief, now that the danger perceived by their brains has passed. 

By repeated practice, and use of the pistols, the new shooters are gradually desensitised, so that what was previously a rather nerve-jangling experience becomes familiar and predictable. Their move onto live firearms training goes more smoothly. Their follow-through is greatly improved, without which a pistol cannot be accurately fired.

This process of desensitisation was to be the key to addressing my tic. On a beautiful sunny afternoon, rifle, pellets and targets in hand, I sloped off to the quietest of my permissions. My Air Arms Pro Sport is a weighty field rifle, so I took my backpack/folding seat and my shooting sticks, and settled in to commence my treatment. 

Being used to shooting PCPs, I soon realised that I would need both physical and mental energy to master this little beast. Cocking the Pro Sport takes 39lb of your invested energy on its aluminium underlever. This smoothly opens the silver breech-cover and exposes the barrel to allow direct loading of the pellet. 

I admit to finding this tricky at first, but Air Arms left a port in the bottom of the breech; this allows errant pellets to fall safely free and away from the rifle’s internals.

The cocking action is firm, but very direct and you can feel the insides moving and clicking into place. This massive compressed power is held at bay by the Pro Sport’s double safety system, which allows you to return home with the same number of fingers that you set off with. 

I shot the rifle, cradled gently in the fat vee of the sticks. I felt it, and watched it move. I listened to the muted movement and vibration of the action. Naturally, my first few zeroing shots were wayward and irregular.

Recalling the advice I had been given, I continued to shoot, deliberately holding the rifle less and less, making as little contact with it as I possibly could. 

My thumb-up grip became nothing more than the lightest of touches, and the weight of the rifle was supported by my shoulder and the sticks. I recalled steering a 10-ton holiday narrowboat where the gentlest of touches on the tiller had the best results.

Shooting any springer is a collaborative process and cannot be rushed. You have to allow the rifle’s natural cycle of recoil to take place in full, and fighting this will only end up with your targets remaining untouched.

Eventually, I lost myself in the meditative process of cock, load, safety, shoot. I relaxed into it; you cannot force a springer. 

Having got back into the rhythm of shooting a recoiling rifle, Chris is even happy to take on the trickiest of shots – an unsupported stander

The lazy, drowsy afternoon wore on, and after getting through half a tin of pellets and many decapitated daisies, I returned to my car feeling rather pleased with myself (although somewhat sore of the shoulder). 

I began to ponder whether many of our modern PCPs aren’t just too “oven-ready”. They are more accurate than most of us can shoot. They are magnificent pieces of incremental engineering, improving model by model, year on year. 

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a whiskery old blast from the past who hates the latest “new-fangled Lego rifle”. I own and love an FX after all! I adore rifle tech, revelling in adjustable stocks, adjustable hammer springs and regulators which dispense tiny precise nuggets of compressed air. 

Even so, shooting the Pro Sport was a more involving experience than any rifle I’ve shot for a long time. I came to realise that with my PCP I am disappointed with the rifle if it’s inaccurate; with the Pro Sport, I take pride in myself for my accuracy.

I can now say that I no longer blink when I shoot a springer. I can’t say I’m a great springer shooter, but it’s a skill that I’ve lost touch with. I won’t be making that mistake again, because like all the best things in life, blink and you’ll miss it. 

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