Thursday, March 12, 2009


Airgun shooting is a subject near and dear to my heart. I shoot airguns many evenings in my basement (6 meter range) or out in the garage (full 10 meters), sometimes with my boys.

In fact, I just got done with shooting 120 shots from my air pistol (FWB 103) on the 10 meter range.

Just to give you some idea, I shot a 541 and a 547 (out of 600 possible) for the two 60-shot strings this evening. This isn't too shabby, if I do say so myself, though not as good as the big boys that compete internationally (generally in the 570-590 range). The worst Olympic competitors (from countries like the Bahamas, Bahrain, or the Virgin Islands) regularly shoot about as well as my personal best of 563. The world record is 593.

Most air rifles that regular folk think of as accurate are likely to be fine guns. Most of them are excellent plinkers and good for backyard target shooting, but nowhere near being in the same league as what the big boys (read Olympic and World Cup level) shoot. Most of the rifles people think of as accurate will shoot in the neighborhood of 1 inch to maybe 1/2 inch groups at 10 meters. A few might even hit 1/4 inch groups in the hands of a really skilled shooter. As a comparison, high-end target air rifles have accuracies of about 1 mm groups, or .04 inches. Remember, the "10 ring" of a 10 meter air rifle target is actually a dot smaller than the head of a pin, and an Olympic caliber shooter will hit 58, 59 or 60 shots out of a 60 shot match directly on that dot. Many top level shooters have shot perfect scores: 600 out of 600 possible.

What if you want to get into air rifle target shooting with a budget? There are some entry-level target rifles for as little as $350, such as the Daisy 753, but these have really awful triggers and you'll soon outgrow their inherent inaccuracies. If this is all the money you have, though, they'll get you started.

You're going to have to about double the $350 for anything that you can really compete with, and at $600-$700 it will be an older, used (but not abused), spring gun like the discontinued FWB 300S, that was state-of-the-art in the '80s. A good shooter can still shoot respectable scores with a 300S, though likely not compete in anything higher than the state or regional level. I own one of these guns and compete in local matches against fellows with the latest and greatest rifles. Now, keep in mind, I'm primarily a pistol shooter, and am not as skilled with a rifle, but as long as I do my part, this rifle will shoot tens all day long. Trouble is, I can't shoot that well. A spring gun is just as accurate as the newer styles, but is considerably less forgiving of shooter error. If the shooter screws up in the slightest, the shot will go wide, every time.

If you want to shoot with the big boys, you need an SSP (single-stroke-pneumatic) like the recently discontinued FWB 600 series (expect to spend $800-$1500 depending on condition) or, better yet, a PCP (precharged pneumatic).

PCP guns like this FWB 700 will run you $1500 used up to $2500 new. Plus, you'll need either a high-pressure hand pump (think 2000-3000 psi) or a scuba tank to refill the gun every 200-300 shots or so. Both SSP and PCP guns are much more forgiving of bad shots than are springers. If the shooter throws a bad shot, it likely will go wide, but not always. Even one time in ten of not pulling a bad shot is enough to make a huge difference in match scores.

No top level shooters use spring guns anymore. The SSP guns are every bit as accurate and forgiving as the PCP's, but do require you to pump the gun one time before each shot. If you're shooting kneeling or, worse yet, prone, this is a real pain. Most air rifle events are standing only, though. The PCP rifles, by not needing a pump before every shot, also require less energy from the shooter, and thus you're less tired as the match wears on. All Olympic level shooters use PCP guns now.

You can see I'm an FWB (Feinwerkbau) fan. These are very fine German airguns that compete at the very highest levels. Anschutz makes equally fine rifles. Walther and Steyr also make top-quality rifles, though you won't see many at the Olympic or World Cup level. To be honest, there's not a whole lot of difference between these guns at this high level of quality and accuracy. It mostly comes down to which particular features you find desirable and how the rifle feels when you shoot it. The one that is the most accurate on any given day depends on who is shooting well, not the rifle itself.

If you want information from the experts themselves, get yourself to the TargetTalk forum at The guys, and a few girls, on that forum know all there is to know about target shooting, both air and smallbore (.22LR).

Air target shooting is surprisingly inexpensive, when you think about it. Any ol' Joe and go out and buy the very same equipment that the Olympic medalists shoot for about $5000 dollars ($2500 for the rifle and an equal amount for the clothing, air source, etc.). If you're on a budget, pick up a used FWB 300S from the TargetTalk forum's "For Sale" area for around $700 and begin with that. Even the most high quality pellets cost about $10-$15 per tin of 500 shots so ammunition is very cheap. Once you have the rifle and gear, the ongoing costs are very, very low.

Air pistol shooting, on the other hand, is even cheaper as all the expensive rifle clothing is outlawed by rule. All you need is a pistol and, if necessary, an air source. This will set you back between about $600-$2500 (depending on new/used, springer, SSP or PCP--just like the rifles) and a tin or two of pellets. By rule, you must shoot in street clothes and regular shoes, so no expense there. The absolute cheapest pistol I'd recommend is the Gamo Compact; it runs about $250, and is a SSP style. I have one of those for when visitors or friends want to shoot with me. It can shoot acceptably well and would be a good starter pistol. The trigger is actually pretty nice for that price range.

If you can step up to $350, look at an IZH-46M. It is also a SSP design. It's easily twice the pistol the Gamo is at only $100 more. I started air pistol shooting with this gun.

A fine example of PCP pistols is the FWB P44. It will run you about $1900, though.

Having said all this, be prepared to spend many, many, many hours practicing how to stand absolutely stock still. To my knowledge, shooting is the only Olympic sport that gives a gold medal to the competitor who can move the absolute least.

Any questions, just ask...

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