Do you want to shoot safely in your garden without spending too much? Jonathan Young gives his top tips on how to get started in your own back yard…
Getting hit accidentally by a ricochet from a pellet or BB is avoidable, but people do get carried away by the thought of a plinking session – so the percentage of risk increases even before the first shot is fired. I love all airguns, but I am particularly drawn to newer CO2 types, and most of these fire steel BBs. Even before I started shooting with these, I knew that steel BBs can be dangerous: they can bounce, unlike most lead pellets, although even soft lead pellets can ricochet off a steel target box if they strike it at a certain angle. Steel BBs are the worst culprits, though – just pick one up and drop it onto a hard surface to see how high it bounces.
Ricochets can still inflict injury, even though some of the energy will have been absorbed by the initial strike on the target. I remember when I was with a mate in his farmyard during a plinking session using steel BBs. Just as we stopped and started to chat, a BB flew past and hit the bush behind us. It had hit the target then bounced into the air and stayed there for what seemed like ages before falling back to earth.
The first good lesson is to always wear safety glasses when you shoot; the second is to have a decent target to shoot at, such as an angled pellet catcher or one that absorbs the energy from your incoming ammo. If you insist on shooting at hard things with hard ammo like steel BBs, you should at least place them inside some form of outer box or enclosure to help minimise ricochets – and for added safety, that goes for lead pellets too.
One day people will also catch on to the idea that spreading toxic refined lead or a myriad of steel BBs into their garden or permission is simply not good. I don’t like the idea of growing my veg in ground that’s filled with lead. Unless I’m hunting, I always use some form of pellet-catcher, even if I’m out on my permission. At one site I have a large waterproof tub with a lid that I cut an aperture into. This is placed out of harm’s way under some brambles, ready for each visit. All I need to do is bring along some target cards and tape, and in less than a minute I’m ready for some prolonged running-in or pellet testing.
For long sessions, especially those with steel BBs, a softer target that will absorb and retain spent ammo is what I go for. Wandering around the supermarket, I saw some bricks of compressed woodchips being sold as pet bedding. They’re available in different sizes, from micro-hamster to mega-pony. I bought one brick and wrapped it in brown parcel tape with a crude handle, made from more tape doubled into a loop. This made a portable, waterproof and ammo-absorbing target that can be hung up or sat on the ground, with a stick used to prop it up.
To prevent any chance of through-and-through shots, I found an old kitchen chopping board made from high-density, but flexible plastic. This was strapped to the rear of the brick with more brown tape. To tidy up the box I taped some corrugated plastic around it, which also provides a more solid surface to stick a target card onto. I now have a target with its own separate reinforced backstop, which can stand or be hung and retains everything that’s fired into it. This has lasted me for ages. I patch up the entry holes when needed with a dab of parcel tape.
Recently, I started to use a see-through A4 file pocket stuck around its three sealed sides. This saves fiddling with cards and sticky tape when shooting outside. Pop in a target card and fire away, then replace the card as needed and then eventually the A4 pocket itself. When everything gets too dog-eared or too heavy with spent ammo, I can retire the whole target and recycle the lead. After checking the backstop board for any damage, it can be fitted to a new woodchip brick.
Whatever you use, whether you make it or buy it, the onus is on you to shoot safely – for your own sake and for others’ too. For reasons of safety, the law is very strict. You must never allow your ammo to stray onto somebody else’s property. Nobody wants to get into trouble, possibly losing their right to shoot an airgun due to an avoidable accident.
Some airgun shooters will only shoot into their target set-up against a much larger portable backstop. I find a large pallet is ideal in my garden; while I don’t feel it is wholly necessary with the care I have put into my target boxes, it gives me an added sense of security.