Roughly two years ago, I got back into air rifles and set up a 10-yard range in my garage. The driving force was training our one seven-year-old and two nine-year-old grand-daughters on safe shooting techniques with a Crosman M4-177 BB/pellet rifle. To begin this journey, I first talked to them about keeping the muzzle always pointed down range. For part two, I covered eye safety when shooting, on any range (and even when cutting grass). Then when they began to actually shoot, safety glasses were worn by all in the area.I stressed that a BB or pellet could possibly bounce back, especially on an indoor range. For their first training rifle, I chose an AR-style air rifle,since the stock can be made longer or shorter, depending on the shooter's height and arm length. On it I mounted a Gamo 4x scope, since a cross hair sight would be an easier concept to master for a beginner; later, we worked on open sights. Due to my granddaughters' enthusiasm for shooting, I purchased a Ruger Explorer Youth Break Barrel .177 pellet rifle and to it mounted a Hammers 3-9X32 scope. (The reason for this scope was that it could be focused down to 10 yards, which made a 10-yard target and crosshair both within focus).
1. An Air Rifle Warning
Never pull the trigger on a breakbarrel (or any other type) since doing so could result in injury to yourself or damage to your air rifle. Whatever you purchase, first read that manual!
2. How They Work
The Crosman I used is a 10-pump max pneumatic; I found that nine pumps will give a Crosman Copperhead BB a MV of 560 fps. The Ruger is a break-barrel air rifle. To work it, first cock the barrel (which takes around 17 pounds of pressure), load, close the barrel on the action firmly, then move the automatic safety to the off position and fire. With these working well, a few months later I obtained for myself a Gamo Whisper Fusion Mach 1. This high-velocity adult rifle was quite powerful and extremely accurate—it could be used to hunt small game where permitted. Its cocking effort is 41 pounds, which is a little too much for some new shooters. Yet, the (now) 10-year olds love to shoot this one at soda cans put in front of the back stop. Both of these springer air rifles are cocked as per their break-barrel system. This is a common and a good system but here is where you can possibly start to get into trouble, which leads us to Tip #3.
3. Scopes & Mounts
When fired, the spring movement creates recoil backwards and forward. Air guns recoil twice, which is why a regular scope, for say a rimfire rifle, will usually not hold up on this type of pellet rifle. Therefore, purchase only scopes rated for use on such air rifles. Most recently I obtained a Stoeger F40 Underlever cocker, also in .177, so to experiment with a different action type. Although the fiber-optic sights are very effective on most pellet rifles, I elected to use scopes so to make it easier for us to hit ¾-inch targets at 10 yards and later at farther distances. When mounting a scope, I also preferred a one-piece mount which was attached to the rifle as per instructions. As an example, where this procedure is different from other rifles, on these, there is a small hole in the mount containing a recoil pin which needs to be screwed down into the rifle's receiver's small “pinhole.” This prevents the rings from slipping due to that double recoil I mentioned. Another suggestion is that when I tighten down a scope into rings, I use a Wheeler Torque Wrench since the recommended torque for steel rings is 15-20 pounds. Also, when purchasing a scope for such rifles, read reviews as on web sites as PyramydAir and others whose business is air rifles. See what customers prefer and why, then purchase quality.
4. Accuracy Testing
Variety is the key to obtaining accuracy since pellet rifles are both fussy and unpredictable! When it comes to pellet selection, there are many options, such as: Pointed, Wadcutter, Hollow Point and a variety of others from various manufacturers. To see what pellet works best in your particular rifle, experts (such as my old friend Lawrence Taylor from Gamo) also recommend that you purchase a variety and then fire 10-20 at say 10-20 yards, then do the same with all varieties purchased and see what works best. Also, what may work best in one rifle of the same manufacture may not work well in another. As an example, from the bench, the Crosman Premier Wadcutter, 7.4 grain groups exceptionally well in the Ruger Explorer. With the powerful Gamo Fusion Mach 1 rifle, the Gamo Red Fire 7.8 and Gamo Silent Cat 10.5-grain pellets easily group five shots into ¾-inch at 10 yards.
5. What I Do First
With any new air gun, I swab out the bore with a cleaner such as Ballistol which removes a lot of what was left in at the factory. Then I use a felt or nylon brush (never wire brushes), let it sit 10 minutes, and swab it out again. Now I am ready to shoot! I use Ballistol as this cleaner will not harm the rubber seals found in air rifles. Then, before sighting-in, I fire at least 20 shots and then shoot for a group. According to many air-rifle shooters, it can take around 100+ shots before the gun settles in and your groups tighten-up.
6. Why I Prefer Such Air Rifles to Train Kids
When I introduce someone to firearms, I try this approach since there is little recoil or noise. My five-year-old grandson loves these and hits the mark frequently since he follows instructions...as do the girls. These are also inexpensive to shoot, and it's relatively easy to set up a safe range with a proper backstop in a basement or garage. Also, I found that using a good rest that secures the stock and fore-end helps to assure that the rifle is consistently pointing at the target, which helps with safety and the new shooter's confidence. Here's a hint that I've found boosts the kids' attention to safety: I made the five-year-old grandson the range safety officer (under supervision from Grandpa, of course). On his watch, anyone who comes into the garage must have on safety glasses and stand back of the shooter to watch or wait their turn. He enforces that rule with a smile.