During quarantine, the idea of not going to the range for weeks (let alone months) just didn’t sit right with me. I know that time away from the trigger means that my skills will start to degrade. It’s true, shooting is one of the most perishable skills that a human being can acquire and therefore must be routinely practiced if you care to maintain any level of proficiency at all.
Sure, dry-fire can help but it just doesn’t deliver the satisfaction of hitting a target. This is where practice with airguns really starts to come into its own. With my local ranges closed, I set up an affordable shooting gallery right in my backyard and spent my quarantine getting back to basics and honing my skills by firing a Gamo Gen2 Swarm rifle and a P-430 CO2 pistol. These guns and a few fun targets kept me busy and helped ensure that when the ranges did reopen I was right where I left off.
Before ripping pellets across my suburban backyard I decided to zero both guns in my basement, because it’s safe to do and I can control the elements indoors. My basement is free of temperature changes and wind so I was able to ensure that my shot placement was exactly where it should be. For a backstop, I used Gamo’sPellet Trap, which assembled in just a few minutes and gave me the option of setting it on the ground or hanging it on the wall in the same fashion as a picture. After zeroing the fiber-optic sights on the Swarm, I turned to the P-430 pistol and got an idea of where the point of impact (POI) was at various distances. The targets that I had were very small, so even at 10 feet hitting them was going to be a challenge.
Out behind the house, I picked out a spot where the ground sloped steeply uphill. This acted as a natural backstop and made sure that all pellets stayed in my yard and didn’t hit the neighbors. At the base of the hill stood a thin pine tree to which I attached the first target, the Gamo Screw-in Spinner. We’ve used these targets multiple times in the Squirrel Master’s Classic woods walk, and I consider it to be the most versatile target that Gamo makes. It’s large enough for pistol shooting, yet durable enough for high-velocity air rifles.
The second target that kept me busy was the Gamo Spinner Deluxe. This target consists of eight various shaped silhouettes that rock when hit. The Spinner Deluxe left me the option of topping the unit with a second rotations target assembly or a paper target holder, should I felt the need to confirm zero at any time during the shooting session. Due to the small target size, I considered it to be the most challenging, and reserved it to only my rifle work.
Another fun target that kept both my pistol and rifle shooting skills sharp was the Squirrel Field Target. This target presents a metallic squirrel silhouette that pings audibly when struck anywhere on the scoring surface, and also falls if the central bullseye is struck. The target comes with a reset string so I could reset it without calling a ceasefire. I found the standard configuration challenging, yet attainable with either the Swarm rifle of the P-430 pistol. However, if I wanted to up the ante I utilized the replacement centers that filled in the bullseye to make it harder to snake a pellet through.
The last target that was a hit around our house was the Tic-Tac-Toe set. This target consists of nine plates that spin to either an X or an O when struck. Shooters took turns taking a crack at the plate that would likely lead them to victory. The twist is that the plates spin uncontrollably, so a hit on the intended plate is not necessarily a guarantee that you’ll get the desired outcome! We played the game either by alternating one gun or handicapping the better shooter by giving him or her the pistol.
With a very small investment in both money and space, we were able to make the best out of quarantine and spend some quality time maintaining and maybe even improving on our marksmanship. Training with airguns accomplishes the same goals as dry fire and with reactive targets is a heck of a lot more fun! My local range has been open for a few weeks now, but I still catch myself outside in the early hours cracking open a fresh CO2 cartridge and just enjoying the peaceful serenity that the morning brings while accentuating it with a harmonic ping or two.