Buying your first airgun – Andy McLachlan on the first steps

Andy McLachlan coaches the newcomer through the first steps of airgun ownership, with the promise that good techniques will be rewarded.

Air rifles can be works of art, like this HW95 Special Edition belonging to Andy’s friend Ian Jones, but they are designed to perform well too

I am often asked the best way of learning to shoot to a reasonable standard without having to worry about making those silly mistakes that we all are guilty of when we take on board a new interest.

The problem is that it is because of errors that we learn to progress via experience and careful contemplation. I would like to think that most new airgunners will not be learning the basics themselves, but will be benefiting from the advice provided by more experienced shots at either a club or a shooting range. It is particularly important that the new shot has the benefit of being assisted by an experienced shooter who can help to eradicate those basic errors before they become bad habits and are harder to get rid of.

Safety is something that always must be the highest priority for anybody first handling a gun. It is a fact that the things most of us take for granted, such as barrel awareness and general safe gun handling techniques, do not arrive in the box with the new gun, even if they are in the manual, as these have to be learned, adopted and developed.

The beginner will have to be watched and coached carefully until they can be trusted to be aware of which direction their barrel is pointing. For anyone who’s not sure, it should ALWAYS be pointed downrange.

Another favourite issue with the novice spring gun owner is the classic not keeping hold of the barrel when cocking. This is a mandatory act when using a mechanically powered gun that can do serious damage to both the owner and their new pride and joy if not strictly adhered to.

Note the three holes on the rear of the action – these are designed to accept an arrestor pin to stop the scope from creeping back under recoil

So, presuming we are a new shooter who has invested in something such as a Weihrauch HW95, a classic German break-barrel spring rifle of known provenance and capable of superb accuracy with the right ammunition, how do we go about maximising the accuracy of which the gun is capable? 

Well, the first thing we need to do is make sure the telescopic sight is mounted correctly. I have seen them mounted backwards and upside down in the past, honestly! There have been many articles regarding this process over the years, with many highly informative videos now freely available for the novice to benefit from.

With our new springer, known for its  recoil, we would be advised to fit an arrestor stud into a corresponding hole on the top of the action, into which the scope mount pin can be knocked into position carefully. Be careful not to be too aggressive with this as I have seen rear mountings that will not clamp to the rail due to the pin protruding too far and not allowing the mount to sit properly on the gun’s action.

If you have decided to purchase a springer, you would really be better advised to use a one-piece mount which provides additional clamping surface along the length of the scope rails and helps to ensure that the scope stays put and doesn’t start migrating along the rail, which can be common without the fitment of the arrestor stud due to recoil.

If you have decided to go straight into a pre-charged pneumatic rifle, scopes will not be attempting to travel along the rail due to lack of recoil movement, but they will most certainly need to be lined up properly and have the fixation screws, usually hex type, tightened correctly and not be subjected to thread-stripping, as some people seem to be incapable of providing sufficient clamping power without overdoing it. 

Talking about fixing bolts and screws, if you have bought yourself a new spring-powered rifle, make sure that you check the bolts which fix the gun’s action to the stock. In a springer it is not unusual to discover that they will have worked themselves loose, particularly in a brand new gun, as everything beds itself in. 

Here are two non-standard Weihrauch HW95s from the Jones collection – both have been modified to suit Ian’s specific needs

If these screw fixings come loose, you will be forever chasing around a zero and wondering what is wrong with both you and your equipment. This really is a common problem.

What I do is shoot a tin of pellets to get the action working more smoothly, then remove each screw separately, apply some blue Loctite and allow it to dry. This will help to lock the threads into their correct position and will provide the shooter with the reassurance that their action is solidly attached to its stock and won’t be going anywhere. 

With a near-recoilless PCP this is not necessary, so there’s absolutely no need to use Loctite on their screws! Once this has been completed, it is always wise to recheck the gun’s zero as any movement of the stock-fixing screws can shift the point of aim.

Now we have our scope fitted correctly and the action attached to the stock, our next port of call is deciding upon the correct ammunition choice for our gun. 

You would think that all the barrels leaving a factory should be of the exact dimensions of their siblings and that they will all prefer the same type of ammunition. Most of them will. However, some of them will not respond positively to the “normal” choice of pellet and for whatever reason will only shoot another brand of pellet. 

The pellet might be lighter, heavier or have a different shape. But if we are serious in our intention to get the absolute best out of our gun, we need to find the ammunition that our own individual gun prefers.

It doesn’t matter if our friend’s similar model of gun loves shooting Brand X, as if ours doesn’t group well with that pellet then we need to discover the one it does like. Beginners can find this concept a bit hard to follow as surely one small piece of lead fashioned into the diabolo shape should be just as effective as another? 

That’s not true. Even the same pellets with slightly different weights can completely transform the gun’s performance downrange. It has to be seen to be believed sometimes.

I have, along with my sons, owned many examples of the excellent Weihrauch HW95 which we used at the time as primary hunting rifles. I am therefore only too aware of how these guns should be set up to perform at their best. 

There are very few relatively lightweight full-powered spring rifles that are as well built and inherently accurate as the 95. That is why I have chosen to use this model as being an ideal candidate for the tyro marksman. It will be my intention to maintain this theme as I try to explain how the novice shot can get themselves into the habit of spending more time carefully considering each individual shot as they try to get that group size smaller. It’s just that “P” word appearing again – practice really does make things perfect! 

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