How to Shoot an Air Rifle Accurately

Airguns are terrible tattletales when it comes to marksmanship. Here's how to keep them quieter.

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posted on January 17, 2024
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Like many readers, I grew up shooting all kinds of firearms. I began with a .22 rifle and (when I was trusted not to go killing songbirds or other animals not on the small-game list), I was permitted to have an air rifle. That air rifle was a Crosman 2200 model and I wore it out. Pellets were cheaper than .22 ammunition and I had a load of fun with that rifle.

As I grew older I moved on to higher powered rifles and shotguns. I consider myself a very proficient shooter and I even instruct shooting principles to new shooters who are part of our youth outdoor club. Then I took on the role of reviewing air guns. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that my shooting was initially not up to par! I was stunned to not be driving pellets in one big hole, and I was even more surprised when changing pellets did not really do much to fix the problem. I took a break and thought about the problem and then realized what was going on.

Air rifles actually demand consistency if you want to shoot with pinpoint accuracy. Some air rifles are simply made for backyard fun plinking, but many of the air rifles on today’s market are precisely made and can deliver very accurate groups in the hands of a good and patient shooter.

Several times over the past few years I have watched military-qualified marksmen, accomplished shooters all, become baffled by poor groups with my airguns. Their disappointment is invariably followed by an accusation of the air rifle being poorly made or some other variable. Then I share what I am about to share with you, the shooters give it another go, and the results improve dramatically.

Consistency in ALL forms

Generally, airguns are sending a pellet slowly enough that any movement prior to the pellet exiting the barrel is going to result in poor groups. These pieces of lead or alloy simply do not move fast enough to beat out our bad form or shooting habits. That makes your form critical.

Shooting form

When we shoot, we want everything to be consistent to include how we hold the air rifle. Don’t switch up how you hold the air rifle, particularly before you really relearn how to shoot consistently and properly. Put your cheek on the rifle in the same spot every time. Hold the forearm in the same spot each time.

Don’t put a death grip on the rifle. Just hold it firmly and in a spot where you are not overreaching and are stable. Make sure the air rifle is in the same spot on your shoulder each time as well. Use the same portion of your trigger finger to press the trigger.

Trigger control

Notice I did not say pull the trigger. Pressing the trigger to send the pellet downrange is done with more finesse and care than a yank. When I press the trigger, I use the end of my finger and I only press on it when the sights are properly aligned. If they drift off, I hold my position on the trigger until the sights are back in position. This works in conjunction with breathing.

Breathing

As with any shooting, take the time to control your breathing. Each person controls their breathing differently. When I am sighting-in a rifle, shooting tiny targets or shooting for groups, I personally like to take in a regular breath, let half out and hold it while pressing the trigger. If I feel I need more oxygen, then I repeat the action again until the trigger is pressed to send the pellet downrange.

Whatever it is that you do, do it consistently and make sure your breathing is not moving the rifle when your pellets are exiting the barrel. Your pellet should be sent downrange when the sight picture is perfect and only then you have pressed the trigger.

Other variables

If you have tried the above to clean up your groups and you are still not 100% satisfied, consider a few more variables. First, you may simply need more trigger time and practice to hone those skills. Second, be SURE your sights are locked down and not moving. If the scope is loose or the sights are loose, then nothing you do will get consistent groups until that is fixed. Check these things before you begin practicing!

Next, be sure you are using the same pellets. Pellets of different weight/mass will not hit in the same spot. Also, just like many other guns, air rifles can have a tendency to shoot a certain weight pellet better than others. So, if you are finding erratic groups from a certain brand or weight pellet, switch to a different one and see if the results change. Sometimes you may have to change two or three times.

Use a good rest. Also, don’t drink a lot of caffeine or eat a lot of sugar before shooting. It is terrible for consistency! Last, if you are running back and forth checking targets, give your body time to settle into a normal heart rate before shooting.

As you get better at shooting air rifles you will find that you will automatically begin forming good habits and shooting better. Shooting air rifles consistently takes some patient, purposeful thinking about what you are doing to get those good habits ingrained. We might get away with some sloppy habits with short range work and higher powered rifles, but an air rifle will tell on your bad habits every time!

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