Elliott on Airguns

What to do before you shoot

by Elliott Jock

Before you enjoy your first shooting session with your new air rifle or air pistol, there are a few things you need to do.

The first is to identify a safe place to shoot. It could be in your basement, your side yard or your back yard, but it needs to be a place where, if your pellets or BBs miss their target, no people, animals, or property will be damaged. This is particularly important for first time shooters who may be more prone to miss.

Second, you need a good, safe backstop on which you can mount your target. It could be a bale of hay, a commercial pellet trap, or a backstop that you make yourself such as a cardboard box filled with old phone books. If you make your own backstop, test it under safe conditions to make sure that it will stop the projectile as intended. Just because you think that a particular material will stop a pellet doesn't mean that it will. A friend was amazed and chagrined when he found that his air rifle would easily blow through a sheet of plywood.

Third, if you have neighbors - particularly if they may be concerned when they see you shooting an air rifle or air pistol - take the time to talk to them. Explain that you will be shooting an air rifle (or pistol), that it doesn't make much noise, that you are shooting at a safe backstop, and that you will not take aim at or shoot anything they value. A little bit of pre-shooting conversation with your neighbors can prevent a whole lot of misunderstanding and explanation later.

Remember, too, that a little bit of consideration can go a long way to maintaining good neighbor relations. If you know, for example, that the guy next door works the night shift and sleeps in the mornings, you might want to schedule your shooting so you don't disrupt his sleep.

Finally, whether you have an airgun with iron sights or a scope, you'll want to sight it in. Sighting in is simply the process of making sure that, at a given distance (ten yards, for instance), the sights are pointed at the same spot where pellet or BB hits.

The easiest way is to start at a distance of 10 feet (That's right, 10 feet, not 10 yards. A tip of the hat to Tom Gaylord, former Editor of the Airgun Letter for this suggestion.) Shoot one shot with the sights centered on the bull's-eye.

Look at where the shot hit. Ideally, the point of impact should be no more than 3 inches below the bull's-eye and centered from side to side. If the shot is too high or too low, or to the right or to the left, consult your airgun or scope manual and adjust the sights accordingly.

Take another shot from ten feet and see if your adjustments are getting you closer to where you want to be. Make small changes at first until you get a sense for how changes in the sight settings affect the point of impact. The windage adjustment changes where pellets strike from side to side, and the elevation knob or screw adjusts the height. Continue making shots and changes until your pellets or BBs are striking the target 1-3 inches below the bull's-eye and centered side to side.

Next, move back to ten yards, and shoot again. Your shot should hit the target a little higher and should remain generally centered left to right. All that remains is to fine-tune the windage and to adjust the elevation so your shots hit the center of the bull's-eye. That's it - your air pistol or rifle is now sighted-in for ten yards. If you shoot from a distance other than 10 yards, you'll notice that your pellets or BBs will strike higher or lower, depending upon the range.

A couple of notes: if you back up to 10 yards, and find your shots are going wild, return to 10 feet, check to make sure the fasteners holding your scope or sights haven't worked loose, and try again. If you are shooting a multi-stroke pneumatic air rifle or pistol, be sure to use the same number of pumping strokes each time.

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