My friend, Mark, and I had a discussion the other day about improving the target hit rate with his HW100. Up to now, he’s tended to shoot informally, in a friend’s orchard, but now wants to do a bit of rabbiting. Obviously, Mark isn’t looking for FT-like precision in a hunting scenario, so the basic advice I gave him – reproduced here as it applies to anyone – doesn’t go to the ‘nth’ degree, taking on board things like padded target gloves, butt hooks, 60x mag scopes and pellet weighing scales.
My 10 tips are about squeezing the last drops of accuracy from your shooting without expending much effort or money… and I should add that before Mark took these pointers on board, he was capable of printing a reasonable, if not ‘splattered’, group on paper at 25 yards. After we worked on all these things, he shaved his groups by around 7mm at 25 yards. He’s still some way to go on the standing shots, but that’s very easy progress so far…
How your rifle ‘fits’ you is crucial to getting good accuracy out of it. Mark thinks his Weihrauch’s cheekpiece is a tad low for him, so he may invest in an after-market add-on to raise his eye into better alignment with the scope. That’s essential to avoid parallax error – the apparent shift of the crosshairs in relation to the target due to looking through the scope off-centre.
The trigger, being the mechanism that actually releases the shot, is an equally important area when it comes to gunfi t. You must have a comfortable length of pull – the distance between the butt pad and the trigger blade. The rule of thumb is to place the butt into the crook of your elbow and your trigger finger should fall perfectly on the blade. If the butt’s too long or short, alter it. And though it sounds obvious, it’s the pad of your finger, not its first joint, which should be the contact point with the trigger blade. If the trigger’s pull weight is a little heavy, and can’t safely be adjusted, consider adding a trigger shoe; the wider surface area helps spread the load.
Mark mainly shoots off a bipod – a luxury you’re rarely afforded in the field. So we worked on different stances – kneeling and standing. The trick with standers – the hardest of all – is to stand at 90 degrees to the target, feet apart, left hip towards the target, left elbow towards the hip as much as possible, left hand brought inwards to support the rifle and left forearm as vertical as possible. Your right arm should do little, other than reinforce the position and operate the trigger (it’s vice versa for a southpaw, obviously). The better the gunfit, the easier the tougher stances become.
2: PELLET SELECTION
Pellets and barrels are fickle things; accuracy can be as much about trial and error as it is about science and design. Step into a well-stocked gun shop and you’ll usually find a whole raft of pellets, designed with round heads, pointed heads, fl at heads, hollow heads, heads with ball bearings in them… you name it. They all have their place in the sport, but for fieldwork, your safest bet is the dome-headed pellet.
To find the right pellet for your rifle, and the purpose you intend, buy a selection of quality ammo and test each tin to see what the results are. Give each brand enough shots to settle down in the barrel before committing the results to paper, too – and shoot at a reasonable ranges to reflect your own skill level and the furthest distance you’re most likely to be taking shot. Ammo that groups well at a distance will do so at close range, but not necessarily the other way round – so always undertake comparative testing at the ‘long end’.
Some of the better pellets also come in a range of head sizes – 4.51mm, 4.52mm, for instance – so you may even be able to refine your choice further, once you’ve settled on a shortlist. Yes, that probably means there’s a lot of testing to be done – but accuracy doesn’t get given on a plate. In Mark’s case, his HW100 seemed to like RWS Superdome – a semi-roundhead.
3: AMMO CARE
I once did a test where I took a selection of known-to-be-accurate pellets and gave them a right good shake in their tin. They didn’t look particularly unusual afterwards, but their accuracy was totally ruined; grouping at 25 yards was inches rather than millimetres! So traipsing across the fields with a handful in the pocket of your hunting trousers will slowly reproduce the same effect – and even if they’re not tumbling around a tin, they’ll be picking up all sorts of fl uff and pocket debris. So, look after your pellets; use tins with the bubblewrap and foam liners or decant them into a soft lined pellet pouch – and keep them on a lanyard around your neck to reduce the forces associated with body movement.
4: CONSISTENT LOADING
Consistency is the watchword when it comes to accuracy – consistent hold, trigger technique, velocity… and, also, loading. Some multi-shot PCPs are less accurate than their single-shot counterparts – and many manufacturers now offer single-shot loaders to replace the magazine. In theory, there shouldn’t be any difference – but many shooters find their guns a smidgeon more accurate in single-shot mode.
Consistent loading applies to springer, too. On a break-barrel rifle, check that you’ve correctly seated the pellet skirt – and do it the same every time. Enter the round squarely, rather than shove the head in at an angle forcing it to twist as it goes in; the contact area around the pellet’s head is vital for accuracy. A consistent thumb on the breech may be all that’s required, though you may want to consider a seating tool, especially if the pellet’s a little tight.
5: SWEET SPOT
This only applies to PCPs (and unregulated ones at that), but if you have access to a chrono, it’s worth filling your rifle to its recommended fill pressure and plotting every shot of the charge. That way, you can find the ‘sweet spot’ in its power curve. Traditionally, the power is a little lower at the start; then it climbs to a peak before falling off again. At the peak, you may get a band of about 30 or so shots with very similar velocities – and it’s this consistency that you need to note. Either zero up (and try to shoot) when the gun’s in its sweet spot or, better still, if you can work out what pressure is in the rifl e at that point (Mark’s HW100 had an integral manometer which made that easy), keep it topped up to that level. Then you’ll know your rifle’s always shooting in its sweet spot.
Canting is simply tilting the rifle so that the scope no longer sits directly above the bore. This causes the pellets to land either side of the aiming point – and while it’s worth investing in a spirit level ‘bubble’ or AccuCover scope cap, it’s also essential that you mount your scope correctly in the first place. Gunfit comes in to play here; you want to mount the rifle into your shoulder perfectly in line, and in a manner that can be repeated each time.
7: COLLARS AND RINGS
If your scope is parallax-adjustable (P/A), check its collar (or sidewheel) is set for the distance you’re shooting over – if it’s not, you could be shooting with parallax error. And if you have a zoom magnifi cation facility on your scope, be aware of which focal plane the crosshair is in. Most are in the second focal plane, and they remain the same size regardless of the magnification setting; it’s only the target size that changes. That means that the holdover reference point on the crosshair you’d use on, say, 5x magnification, will be different if you’re shooting at 10x. It can all get a bit complicated – so pick a magnification setting that you’re comfortable with… and keep it there. Scopes with fi rst focal plane crosshairs don’t have this problem – although these optics tend to be much more expensive.
Don’t – like Mark did – have an ‘it’s roughly zeroed at…’ zero range. Decide on one and stick with it. While ballistics software like Hawke’s ChairGun Pro let you ‘virtually’ find the optimal zero for your combo right down to the half-yard, most shooters set their sights at either 25, 30 or 35 yards – the extremes being for .22 and .177 respectively. This keeps the pellet’s deviation from the centre-point minimal over the usual airgunning distances, making it easier to assess holdover and holdunder.
Choose a windless day to zero your rifle at the chosen distance and then place targets at fi ve-yard intervals and shoot groups with the crosshairs placed dead centre each time. That way you can chart the holdover and holdunder allowances needed for each range. Obviously, if you have a mil-dot reticule like Mark, you’ll have some easy reference points. Remember, though, if your scope’s reticle is in the second focal plane, each chart is only good for the particular magnification you undertook the tests with.
10: RANGE ESTIMATION
Finally, while you may have plotted the aiming point for each graduation of range, it’s no good unless you actually know the range you’re shooting at. Mark’s familiar with his orchard range – but the rabbits he’ll be hunting won’t be holding a sign above their heads saying ‘24 yards’, as estimating distance in the field can be a challenge – and not everyone can afford a laser rangefinder – you need to practise the art.
Practice makes perfect – and practice is easy. In your everyday life, or when you’re out with the gun, ‘have a go’ at estimating distances to objects that are within airgun ranges. Then count your paces to them. It’s trial and error… but once you get into this routine, you’ll surprise yourself just how close you can ‘guesstimate’ distances. Then, armed with the knowledge that your well-fitting rifle is shooting in its sweet spot, with the best pellets, along a trajectory that you’re totally familiar with – making contact with that target you’re aiming at will suddenly become a far more frequent experience. And that’s what accuracy is all about