Andy McLachlan celebrates the pleasure of shooting in a relaxed and informal setting
One of the ways in which many regular airgun shooters while away the hours is to use their chosen guns to shoot at a wide variety of inanimate objects. Widely referred to as ‘plinking’, this is probably the type of shooting that a high percentage of airgun owners use, as they have no particular interest in either hunting or competition shooting.
What they are actually doing is enjoying their chosen sport in a way that for many shooters is as far as they wish to proceed, and provides plenty of enjoyment in the process. I think that for many of us who become absorbed in the more serious airgunning pursuits, such as hunting and taking part in competitions, we very often lose sight of the actual enjoyment that can be gained by just turning up at a club or indoor range and firing lots of pellets downrange. It helps if there are some reactive targets to knock over or spin, but shooting at paper targets also provides a good challenge.
Obviously, it also allows us to make sure that we are fully familiar with the trajectory and the zero range of our gun and pellet combinations, and, if we take the opportunity to plink frequently, it also allows us to develop a familiarity with our own equipment that will not come as easily if we restrict ourselves to a few zero-checking shots either pre-hunt or pre-competition.
Another advantage to leisure-type shooting activities is that they can provide lots of enjoyment for the participant. I am sure many readers are aware of this already, but there are a few serious shooters amongst us who are really missing out on a lot of enjoyment.
I shoot airguns for enjoyment. I do not have to score 58 out of 60, or shoot lots of quarry to put food on the table for my family. Therefore, when I shoot, I try to ensure that I am enjoying myself, as I do not have the serious pressures described to consider. A missed shot is just that. It is not the end of the world, and the reduction of your competition average has absolutely no reflection on your ability to continue the enjoyment of your shooting.
As such, I try to spend as much time as possible just shooting. If I could, I reckon I would just shoot every day at the club or alternate indoor range, as I never get bored and seem to get through tins of pellets as if my life depended upon it. The only problem my ageing limbs now have is that following my decision to use spring-powered rifles for the foreseeable future, this can result in the odd aching shoulder due to hundreds of cocking cycles!
What I am trying to say here is that all of us as airgun shooters should make sure that we have a good few hours of plinking fun occasionally. This will help you to take the pressure off your shooting – and if you are anything like me, this will usually result in some informal competition with friends anyway. This might be either spinning long-range empty shotgun cases, firing at .22 blank caps, wondering where the plastic bottle top ended up after you saw it go up – but not come down – or vaporising extra-strong mints.
The bottom line is that this is genuinely good fun that allows time to pass swiftly, usually in good company, and is guaranteed to leave a smile on your face. For me, it also allows escape from the day-to-day pressures of life in the modern world. I have often looked at my watch and been amazed at the period of time that has apparently elapsed during my total absorption in just firing pellets downrange. This is another advantage over the shooting of firearms, as the ammunition for them is a great deal more expensive than it is for a tin of pellets.
There are now many indoor ranges that allow airgunners to just pay a small fee for a day’s shooting. If you are not already a member of a club, this is very often the only method by which a shooter has the opportunity of long periods of undisturbed shooting activity that does not involve the potential concern of neighbours.
My own club, Rivington Riflemen, is open a couple of nights per week, in addition to five hours on a Sunday. This allows you the opportunity of checking zero if you are a target shooter, and spending hours shooting at old pellet tins and paper targets if you prefer.
Recently, I have been spending quite a few Sundays with some friends at our indoor range, and have enjoyed many informal competitions with fellow club members as we chase bottle tops down the range, or attempt to nail a rolling pellet tin launched by an elf-
like club secretary. That really is a challenge we all enjoy, as you attempt to work out the correct amount of lead required as the target disappears over the first level drop and reappears to a hail of pellets from the hardy shooters! It is times like this that have provided me with just as much enjoyment, if not more, than having subjected myself to many hours of competition shooting, which is obviously more serious and reflective.
Another local shooting facility we have here in the north-west is the Leigh indoor range. Part of Bolton Gun Club, this 54-yard facility provides sufficient room for scores of shooters. It’s situated in one of the region’s famous old cotton mills and staffed by volunteers from the Bolton club. I have spent countless hours over the past few years shooting mostly at paper targets with various shooting combinations, as I memorise aim points and pellet trajectory prior to embarking upon another outdoor shooting campaign.
The range hosts many shooters who are well into serious benchrest competition shooting, but also holds more informal events that any shooters present can enter, usually on a Saturday afternoon. My son James and his FT friends also use the range for practising their rangefinding skills, as the club has set aside an area for those who wish to sit down for their shooting, or lay prone for that matter. It is good to see young people being encouraged and supervised by the older generation as they learn to shoot an air rifle in a safe and controlled environment.
Most of the times I attend, though, are spent checking various scope and gun combinations. This is not a chore, of course, and I really enjoy just getting my head down and shooting for hours, undisturbed, and usually accompanied by my friend Dave Pilkington. There is even a pistol shooting range and tea and coffee-making facilities. I would probably live there if I could!
So, for those new shooters enjoying the sport for the first time, I would say join a club. If that isn’t possible, search out any local range facilities such as the one at Leigh. This will allow you allow you to get to know your chosen combination properly while improving your skills. Airgun shooters are a friendly bunch, and if you should have a problem with your combination or just aren’t able to hit as much as you wish, there will always be somebody close who can help. Just get out there and shoot!