Airgun shot release w/ Andy McLachlan

The best rifle, scope and pellet combo won’t shoot where you want without correct shot release, so Andy McLachlan explains how.

It’s a lot easier to take an accurate shot from the bench compared with outdoors thanks to the enhanced levels of support

As long as we are happy with both gun fit and gun set-up, topics which I’ve covered in previous articles, we should be able to swiftly line ourselves up behind the telescopic sight without straining ourselves in any way. This means we are finally at that point in time when our physical input decides just where the shot will land.

All the effort choosing a gun that fits, making sure that the scope is properly aligned and is zeroed correctly count for nothing if the next part in the shooting process is not strictly adhered to. With the gun cocked, loaded and pointing downrange at the target we once again check our pre-shot mental checklist. 

In the case of shooting a springer, our supporting hands will be very loosely steering the gun into the upright position. It’s important not to adopt a tight hold as that will stop the gun from moving when the shot has been released and the laws of physics come into play via the recoiling action of the gun, moving it swiftly rearwards and then forwards in tiny fractions of a second.

It is a fact of life that nobody can keep a gun from moving even when in careful aim due to our pulse throbbing away. Unless you have a heavy gun upon a bipod and don’t need to hold it firmly, allowing for the movement of the pulse is just something that you must learn to deal with.

Our breathing needs to be controlled, with most of the shooters I know taking their shots after exhaling their breath and releasing the shot. This reduces the likelihood of breathing influencing the movement of the crosshairs, which can result in improvements downrange.

I find that timing my shots properly between heartbeats and breathing cycles allows me to become as steady as I can, depending of course on how both the gun and I happen to be supported. 

It’s one thing to be comfortable with a gun rested upon a bench and you as the shooter being comfortably seated, but alter that position to an outdoor HFT competition when you could be either prone, kneeling or standing either supported or unsupported, and things like breathing, stance and rifle hold all become far more difficult to manage.

This is particularly the case with mechanically powered rifles that recoil when fired, as holding the gun in a different way  means the shot will fall sometimes quite a bit away from the intended point of impact due to the infamous “hold- sensitivity”.

Even with a non-recoiling pre-charged pneumatic, there is a world of difference between holding your combination steady when in any of the normal outdoor airgun competition stances and being comfy on the bench. You have to deal with the gun’s balance and position it so that if for example you are taking one of the standing shots, you can fully support the combination’s weight and try to hold the gun in such a way that allows it to balance properly and therefore allow a more stable position.

If we then consider that a full-blown target rifle of the type normally used for outdoor competition usually weighs over 12lb fully scoped, we can see that standing in the aim for any longer than is absolutely necessary is very tiring. From personal experience, if you find yourself struggling to hold aim in the standing position, relax the aim and allow the gun to be rested in your hands while you attempt to compose yourself once again. Remember that a rushed shot is always a missed shot!

Let us presume that you have now positioned yourself correctly so that the gun is as well balanced as it can be according to your position. This will be, in the case of HFT, against the peg in the prone position, free standing or possibly using a tree as a rest on a supported shot. Your breathing is under control and you line up the shot in your scope as you attempt to time the shot with your heartbeat which happens to be bouncing like a drummer due to the long walk between the last two shooting pegs.

What you must not do is to fire off that shot quickly with your trigger finger as soon as all appears to be lined up. Presuming that you have “twitched” the trigger blade as often occurs with newcomers to shooting, this is enough to pull you off aim and therefore to miss the target.

Rather than have a swift movement of the trigger finger that amplifies the general movement of the combination, what we should be aiming for is a careful increase of the pressure applied to the trigger blade at the point in which the internal trigger sears release and the shot is taken.

This is a crucial point within the shot cycle and is responsible for the marksman being able to almost release the shot via thought rather than any inherent physical movement. The ability to trip that trigger so gently really is an important tool in the box of the budding marksman as you walk the road to ultimate accuracy.

Over the past couple of years I have been shooting mostly from the bench with high-powered optics that really focus upon the slightest movement during the shot release process. I have tried to concentrate upon reducing any movement in the critical time that occurs between correctly lining up the shot with the optic and then actually releasing the shot.

Being fully supported on the bench with a nice steady bipod up front allows the shooter to notice the very slight movement that occurs as we tense prior to the shot and try to slowly release the trigger without incurring the dreaded movement that results in a less than perfect score.

This is why serious benchrest shooters invest so heavily in equipment that fully supports the gun and allows as little disturbance as possible once the gun has been properly lined up for the shot.

Jim Edge has made himself a trigger button to replace the blade on his FX Impact, which feels really good to use

It also explains why some of the best benchrest shooters I know have their guns’ trigger release weight set at a couple of ounces. Basically, they will go off if you look at them funny or happen to breathe in their general direction. 

This is great for benchrest shooters, but far less practical for outdoor shots who usually require a few additional ounces of pull. Remember, a good trigger is not necessarily one that breaks if a mouse passes wind. It is a trigger that allows the shooter to take up the first stage of travel, rest on the second stage stop before literally “touching off” the shot without incurring any movement to the gun’s action if possible. 

This is usually achieved by making sure that your trigger finger is extremely comfortable via the use of an adjustable blade that allows the finger to be as relaxed as possible and not straining to reach or pull that second stage.

An additional component of the perfect shot release is attempting to watch the flight of the pellet as it strikes the target before lifting your head out of the aim. This “follow through” process also aids the shooter to improve their levels of accuracy if properly performed.

It is well worth experimenting with different trigger blade profiles to see if one in particular allows a finer degree of control with your specific gun. It can be surprising the difference such a minor modification can make, and one that does not cost a fortune. Remember, squeeze slowly! 

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