Advancing airgun accuracy

by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier

Several years ago, a big bore airgun manufacturer was heard to say that his hunting rifles were accurate enough to hit an Oreo cookie at 30 yards. He argued that it would be very hard for a deer to hide behind an Oreo cookie. So, the question is: Were his rifles accurate? He obviously thought they were, but most of the public disagreed. He had to improve the accuracy until his rifles could hit that Oreo at 100 yards. He managed to do that, and the sales were very good from that point on. True story.

Was this an issue of perception, or was the manufacturer right — that no deer can hide behind an Oreo? Well, here’s the deal. If he doesn’t sell any guns, nothing else really matters because he goes out of business, making his opinion as a manufacturer moot! Today, I’d like to talk about what drives practical airgun accuracy.

You might think it’s the World Cup and the Olympics that drive accuracy for airguns, but that would be incorrect. The World Cup matches certainly have had a huge impact on the accuracy and ergonomics of target airguns at close range. They’ve gone from being capable of making very small groups in the late 1950s to almost being able to stack all their pellets on top of each other. But that took place back in the late 1960s and early 1970s timeframe. Since then, there hasn’t been much advancement in accuracy because there wasn’t much room to improve. So, the target airgun designers turned their attentions to improving the sights and the ergonomics of their airguns, and that’s still going on today.

In this same time period, the pellet makers have advanced their art, as well. There’s still room for some improvement of lead-free target ammunition, but things in the lead pellet realm are slowing down. Once again, we’ve gone about as far as it’s possible to go.

But all of this progress has been in the world of close-range target guns. Longer-range airguns had a lot more room for improvement, and that was accomplished by different means.

History of field target and accuracy
When the sport of field target began in the UK in the 1970s, the first targets were just silhouettes of animals. The were hinged at their base so a hit anywhere on the silhouette knocked the animal over. These were simple targets to build, but not that challenging. It was argued that hitting a squirrel in the tail was hardly tantamount to dispatching it. If this sport was going to grow, it had to become more interesting.

Field target was not created to be a hunting simulation; but once it began, the connection to hunting was too obvious to ignore. Something had to be done to make the targets more realistic. The kill zone was the answer.

The kill zone works is a hole in the “face” of the target, which is the silhouette of the animal. The pellet must pass through the hole and hit a trigger (called a paddle) behind the target face. When the paddle moves, depending on how the target is built, the face will either fall over flat or at least fall partway.

Field target frontal view
This field target was made by Ulysses Payne years ago. It has a kill zone that’s backed by a movable paddle. The paddle is sensitive and  falls when hit square or locks when the pellet is split on the edge of the kill zone.

Kill zone side view target up
This side view of the target shows the link that connects the paddle to the face. When the paddle goes back, it pulls the face after it.

Side view target down
This target doesn’t fall completely flat because of the linkage connecting the paddle to the face of the target.

The kill zone changed the sport of field target, though it took some time to realize. What people discovered was that if you hit both the target face at the edge of the kill zone hole and a piece of your pellet splits off and goes through to hit the paddle (called a split in the sport), the face would be pushed backwards so hard that the paddle might not fall. At first, this was a chance discovery; but after a while, target makers started making their targets more sensitive to splits. The goal was that a split would not allow the target to fall, thus preventing a point from being awarded.

After that, the kill zones got smaller and smaller to challenge good shooters even more. By the end of the last century, it was obvious what this had done to the sport. Accuracy had taken on a new meaning. People were no longer satisfied with hitting tin cans. Now, they wanted to bust aspirins. And not at close distances! But that’s not all.

The evolution of scopes
Targets weren’t the only thing to improve because of field target. Scopes changed dramatically. Back in the early 1990s, you really had to search for a scope that would correct for parallax down to 10 yards. Today, that kind of adjustability is even showing up on firearms scopes! The tiny little sport of field target is what has driven this change.

But that’s just the beginning! Know those sidewheel parallax adjustment knobs on scopes? Where do you think they came from? Leupold didn’t wake up one morning and say, “We think the snipers of the world deserve a sidewheel parallax adjustment scope that sells for about $1,400.” No, sirree! The dozens of airgun scope manufacturers decided it for them — 10 years before Leupold got around to building their first one. And field target pushed them.

That little sport pushed the scope manufacturers until they were making scopes that could only have been dreamed of 2 decades earlier. When I got into the sport, the Leupold 6.5-20x Vari-X III was all the rage. Today, it would be considered a second-tier scope. Good…but no longer a championship scope.

And coming soon will be the bubble level inside a scope that Leapers is perfecting. Yes, other scopes with bubble levels already exist, but their optics aren’t suited to precision shooting. This one will be.

Ammo
Pellets advanced at the same time. Back when I started in field target, a Diana Magnum was a good domed pellet. Then, Crosman Premiers hit the market and buried virtually all other brands. Next, JSB Exacts replaced Premiers as the best. Today, what would have been a world-class pellet in 1998 is now just considered average.

Diana Magnums Premiers JSB pellets
Pellet precision has evolved greatly in the last 20 years.

In short, this one sport of field target, in which only a handful of shooters actually compete, changed the face of airgunning forever. It defined accuracy for a generation and set the performance bar very high, indeed.

Big bores are staring to improve
The same thing has started to happen in big bore shooting. In the 1998 timeframe, a big bore that grouped inside 3 inches at 50 yards was seen as accurate. Now, that’s down to an inch. But there are even fewer big bore airgun shooters than field target competitors, so the advancements are going to take longer.

The future
Nothing stands still. What we need today is a hunting pellet that’s also very accurate. There are already a couple of contenders like the Beeman Devastator and the Crosman Premier hollowpoint. But the market is far from saturated. There’s lots of room for accurate hunting pellets in all 4 smallbore calibers.

And the world of lead-free pellets is still in its infancy. The lead-free pellets of today are lightyears more advanced than they were even 5 years ago; but compared to target pellets and general purpose domed pellets, they’re still very crude.

Summary
To prove the truth of what I’m saying, look at the groups we celebrate on this blog. The only thing that we don’t yet do is shoot those tight 10-shot groups at 100 yards. But I’m convinced that day is coming.

So, if you compare where we are today with where we were even as recently as 1995, you’ll see how far airgun accuracy has come. The guns are better, the pellets are better and even the scopes are better. The future is bright, and I can hardly wait to see the new inventions that will take us to the next level.

40 thoughts on “Advancing airgun accuracy

  1. B.B.,

    I’m optimistic that leapers will continue to improve scopes with a target of the airgun market.

    You’ve mentioned before the internal anti cant device that leapers has been working on integrating into their scopes. You also mentioned (in the SHOT Show report?) that leapers was getting ready to introduce a finer reticle (etched) on their bugbuster models. Any update on when these will hit the market?

    I would include the predator polymags along with the Beeman Devastator and Crosman Hollowpoints as a good short range hunting pellet.

    http://www.pyramydair.com/s/p/Predator_Polymag_22_Cal_16_0_Grains_Pointed_200ct/343

    kevin


    • Kevin,

      No time estimate on either of those scopes or on the scout scope I also reported. I will ask Leapers again, today.

      I haven’t had much success wity Predator Polymags. Maybe I haven’t tested them enough. I will add them to more tests in the future.

      B.B.


  2. I have always been interested in long range shooting. And I really like what I see with the field target sport.
    I don’t compete. But me and the kids get ( 5 ) 2X4′s that are about 12″ tall and we take a dime and draw one circle on each one of the boards at a different spot. Then we go out and hammer them in the ground at various ranges. The farthest we go out is to about 75 yrds. We shoot from a bench also. Taught them how to use the side wheel parallax that way. Sometimes the boards get knocked down. But the goal is to hit inside the dime sized circle. Pretty fun stuff.

    Its also kind of interesting to see what yardage they come up with compared to what I get. We each right it down for boards 1-5 before we shoot. We don’t try to shoot groups we try to see who hit the closest to the dime circle. It is amazing what you see when you go look at the boards.

    But one of the problems that they have is getting their eye relief on the scope. I thought about making something out of a old scope ring. Attach it to the scope closest to the eye piece and have a adjustable rod with a pad on the end that they could fold down and slide it to their forehead and lock it with a thumb wheel tightener. That way they could get use to finding it better. Then take it off after they got that figured out.
    Maybe they make something already. I don’t know.

    But something I have wondered about is. Has there really been any manufacturer that devoted there self to producing a airgun that is a specific longer range shooter (lets say 150-200 yrds.) in the smaller calibers. Probably most airguns throughout recent times (especially with the arrival of PCP guns) have been shot under 70 yrds. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    Maybe there was no need before in the older days to produce long range airguns with all the firearm ammo that was available before all the craziness with getting ammo that is going on now days.

    Just one more reason that the airgun manufacturers could step it up and make some more sells. I still believe that airguns are only going to get more popular as time goes on.


    • When you say long range shooting with smaller calibers, I’m going to assume .177cal – .25cal but you should visit the Yellow Forum online and search their as a few of our members regularly shoot past 150yds with .22 – .25 and two members in particular shoot much further, one of the members uses a .257 Airforce Conder that has posted videos shooting soda cans at 450+yds and the other uses a Jack Haley .257 has videos posted at ranges from 500 to 600yds! I myself spent the money to have my .25 Marauders re barreled with .25 LW barrels and regularly shoot them at 100 – 145 yds with MOA accuracy.


      • I’ve seen those groups as well on the forums and agree that this is where air gun shooting is going . I would also note that they are using BULLETS! cast of lead, by the shooters themselves. Bullets from moulds that are readily available, and have been for years. Also, barrels rifled and bored to take these bullets. If you were to ask me what I want in a pcp air gun I would say, I want to subsitute air for the powder and primer and be able to use the same bullets as firearms shooters do . I want shoot at 100 plus yards ,and I want a gun that can accept and use barrels that I can install readily and tune for that kind of accuracy.


    • GF1,

      Not a lot has been done yet in this range. There are private people shooting this distance and farther, but no manufacturer is building a gun to do it yet. If I had to say who is at the lead in long range airguns I would say FX.

      You have to bear in mind that this is the cutting edge of the technology and there is very little money in it. Allow me to illustrate that with a comparison.

      The AR-15 platform is without question one of the 2 most popular rifle platforms today. But 98 percent of those sold are 2.5 MOA guns. The AR-15s that can shoot 1/2 MOA are few and far between. They are becoming more popular, but they will never sell like the M4-series guns. That’s the same thing that’s happening in airguns.

      B.B.


      • It is curious that the same bullets used in the video on the yellow that Matt D refers to above , are bullets that firearms shooters thought were incapable of accuracy beyond 100 yards in the cartridges they were first used in. In fact ,I’ve used those same, small centerfire cartridges loaded with those bullets to shoot 100 yard groups that equaled 50 yard groups shot by many of the tricked out 10-22′s that are so popular now. Your analogy of the AR platform is like the old argument of lever action model 94 critics that say you cannot expect any real accuracy from one, yet an hour with simple hand tools will shrink 100 yard groups by half for most of them.


      • How far can the stock airguns from FX shoot and is that using a normal barrel or the smooth twist? have you ever tried the smooth twist barrel because it sounds interesting but rifles are more accurate than pistols with their longer barrels but now they are reducing the amount of rifling to what a pistol may have. I feel that could majorly effect accuracy with having not as much rifling. Do you have any experience with it and whats your opinion on it.


        • Cole,

          First, longer barrels are not more accurate than shorter barrels. There is proof to negate that.

          Second, I have no direct experience with the smooth twist n=barrels, but some of our readers have. What I hear is they are more sensitive to velocity ranges and they are vert good, but not the absolute best.

          B.B.


  3. It would really be nice to see an “inexpensive” sproinger that shoots one MOA out to 50 yards or more. I think that is a noble goal for an airgun manufacturer. Some, I think are actually trying to get there. It will likely be a European manufacturer where the power limitations will allow them to concentrate on making up for such with superb accuracy. Then they will attempt to boost the power for the lucrative American market.


    • RR,

      The problem with what you want are the accuracy and the price. They are mutually exclusive. You can have one or the other, but not both.

      If you will back off the accuracy requirement to the extent that a one-inch group at 30 yards is acceptable, then it is probably possible to do. But 50 yards is too far for a springer.

      Now we did get exactly that accuracy with the Benjamin Discovery and the world did not beat a path to Crosman’s door. So it’s no wonder they aren’t trying to do the same thing with a springer, where the challenges are much greater.

      B.B.


      • That is why I said it would likely come out of Europe and I wrote “inexpensive”. They are restricted on power so they try to squeeze the most out of accuracy, such as the new Walther LGV. Quality is not cheap.


  4. B.B.

    I believe that this is a kind of a mathematical progression. The more accuracy one wants from the rifle, the more money and work it requires. And the closer to perfection – the harder and smaller every step is. For example it’s easier to “shrink” groups from 50 mm to 25 mm in a average rifle, but 25 to 13 is much much harder, and 13 to 7 requires a really great skill and luck.
    So this way one should never expect an airgun that is cheap, accurate and powerful – it’s only two of three possible.

    duskwight


    • duskwight,

      You understand the challenge. But you have built your own custom-designed recoilless spring rifle. That makes you unique.

      The challenge becomes exponentially greater as the accuracy requirement shrinks.

      B.B.



  5. Thank, BB.

    I think the sport of Field Target is not yet appreciated her in the U.S. At least not as much as in other countries. Thank you for pointing out the merits of this type of sport. :) I wish there was a FT group around where I live. The closest one is about 2 and half hours away. Not likely for me to be able to get there. :)

    Thank you again sir!

    Chris


    • Chris,

      Have you ever though about starting a club of your own? I did that in 1996, with just one buddy. I bought a field target and he bought two of them and we set up a course with 3 targets. We shot 2 shots per target from each of 3 firing points. That gave us an 18-shot course. It was extremely informal, but a year later, when I was asked to put on a field target demonstration for an Isaac Walton League, Edith and I were ready to do it. And at that demo, one of the Ike members shot my TX 200 and got so interested that he asked if we could start a club at the Damascus Isaac Walton League. We got two more volunteers, borrowed some targets and started the DIFTA club that is still very active today.

      B.B.


      • B.B. is right, Chris. There have been two new American FT clubs founded just this year. That’s just off the top of my head (the two in the Carolinas); maybe there are more!

        Field Target is great fun. If you’re 2.5 hours from a club, you’re one of the lucky (-ish) ones! I daresay you should take the plunge and make the drive some weekend. But beware: it can be addicting.

        B.B., THANK YOU for your part in getting DIFTA going! There are a lot of folks like me who have A LOT of fun every few weeks, thanks to the work you and the other DIFTA pioneers did!

        So, who were the Ikes who were involved in that FT demo, and who was the one who suggested starting the club?

        Thanks,
        Jan



          • That is not surprising. Phil is the sparkplug for many good things. What great fellas he and Jim are. Don’t think I’ve met Ed.

            These days, we keep pretty busy with 13 matches per year (including two “fun” shoots and one completely off-the-charts “fantasy” shoot). These are usually 72 shots (sometimes 60) across the 12 lanes you’re probably very familiar with, to say nothing of the 15 new lanes Joe in MD created for the 2010 Nats. You guys built a GOOD foundation!

            -Jan


  6. B.B.,

    Sorry – this is off topic…

    Well, I rolled the dice and got the Beeman P17. Just arrived yesterday so I tried it out just plinking at a pop can. First couple of shots were right on target but after that I noticed I couldn’t hit the can at all. When I looked at the rear sight finally, I noticed it was drifted far left. So I used the windage screw to center the sight but something seems wrong because there is about 1/16″ of play in the in the rear sight “blade” and screw – from side to side. (just a side note -this gun has the fiber optics sights). If I keep the sight pushed to the left it seems to stay well enough to get some accurate shots but it just feels too sloppy. It seems that there should be no play even if the screw is easy to adjust.

    Have you or anyone else experienced this and is there a fix… or do I need to return to factory for repair / replace.

    Thanks,
    Jeff


    • Jeff,

      You might try using some blue thread locker on the rear sight screw. I don’t have a P-17, but I’ve found this stuff keeps things tight on my springers.

      Les


    • Jeff,

      Apparently the sights have changed since I got mine. I would never have recommended fiberoptics. I would call the dealer and get that one returned ASAP. No sense you trying to fix something that should have been right all along.

      B.B.


  7. B.B.
    On the topic of accuracy. I have been shooting an AirForce Tallon SS with 24″ barrel. I have found it to be very accurate out to 80-90 yards. The problem I have is I live in the high desert of the S.W. when I start in the morning it can be in the 70′s and by midday well over 100. The accuracy goes out the window. I’m thinking that the scope is heating up and changing the zero. It being black and out in the sun can get very warm to the touch. I end up adjusting the zero all the time. Any ideas as to possible problem and or fixes. Love the blog read it every day.
    Lou


    • lou…

      Let me take a stab at this so B.B. will have more time to test something…

      The scope will drift with temperature change.
      The different kinds of metal in the gun expand and contract at different rates with temperature change , causing some warping. That will shift P.O.I. .
      Then there is the air tank… The pressure goes up with temperature. That will blow a carefully tuned curve.

      I have started looking at what temperature differences are doing to pressure . This is the only area I can think of that I can do something about. Starting with a lower fill pressure so that the heat does not push the pressure too high and blow the curve is about all I can do.

      You might try letting the rifle get nice and hot out there, then start shooting down the pressure while watching your groups. If the groups start to tighten back up, then check the pressure in the tank to see if it is where it belongs. Then take your rifle home and let it cool back off. Check the pressure once it is cooled . Use that as your fill pressure. Ignore P.O.I. when you are shooting the groups. Just look at the groups. You can’t control heat induced drift, but you can control overpressure problems.

      twotalon


    • Lou,

      I have had similar problems with scopes heating. In field target some shooters had 3 range scales on their scopes, depending on the temperature. Temp plays havoc with optics.

      B.B.


  8. BB you mentioned above about some of the manufacturers are making the longer range airguns. And individuals have been changing their guns around to achieve different results.

    I thought it was cool that Crosman/Benjamin made the Rouge with its technology. Maybe they will be the ones to step up to the plate and produce a factory tuned long range pcp airgun.

    Its nice to buy the package complete and scienced out already. Then you get to spend more time out shooting and enjoying the gun if you know what I mean.


    • GF1,

      Some people agree with you and some don’t. Some want to do as much to make their airgun unique as they can. These are the ones who want to get their hands dirty. They populate the forums more than the first kind of guy because they need to exchange information with others.

      The satisfied owner probably shoots his gun and lot more than he talks about it.

      B.B.


  9. It still seems like there is room for some inprovement on the guns. Right now I got my Discovery performing as good as a Marauder. I’m trying to surpass it and trying to get it as close as I can get to my Condor which I hold up as the diamond standard of guns. If there is anything better than my Condor I want to know about it.


  10. B.B.,

    A significant contributor to inaccuracy with airguns are the pellets themselves. If not consistency, then diameter, or weight. Not all pellets are offered in more than one size or weight. Even an accurate airgun will do poorly with with the wrong pellet, even if the pellet is inherently accurate (as seen with other airguns). Fine tuning is good for addressing mechanical issues, but you still have the issue of pellet matching.

    Also, it seems that accuracy at ranges longer than between 25 and 50 yards will require heavier pellets (or bullets), which would imply a whole new category of airgun, and thus Field Target competition. Whatever the case, an alternative to power-burners for ranges at, or beyond, 100 yards would be appreciated. In fact, it might attract a whole new crop of shooters to the airgun market. If done right, it may be a case of “If we build it, they will come”.

    Victor


  11. . It was argued that hitting a squirrel in the tale was hardly tantamount to dispatching it.

    I’m sure when it finished its story it would depart on its own. <G>

    <squirrel>I was telling the neighbors about my experiences with nut that was too big too carry, when I heard a loud pop and something slashed my tail…</squirrel>


    • Wulfraed,

      This is what happens when I proof the blog while watching TV :-)

      Can’t believe no one else said anything before this.

      I corrected it, but I’m going to leave your comment because it’s REALLY funny!

      Thanks for the chuckle,
      Edith


      • I’d had thoughts of trying to fit a raccoon into it but stretching “raccoon tail” into “raconteur” was too difficult to justify.


      • That is funny. Thinking about two squirrels sitting around one night with a beer and one says “There I was with this great big nut I could hardly carry and all of a sudden I hear a noise and there’s a hole in my tail.” The other says ” I thought you were starting a new fad in tail piercing.”


  12. How about:” There I was, just scampering down the branch, minding my own business, carrying these two large walnuts. Suddenly, there was this loud “CRACK!!” and my nuts fell to the ground with a hole thru them.!!”


    • You’ve been looking at too many AirForce Condor adverts…

      99 44/100% sure that squiddle’s been airbrushed…


  13. One measure of the difficulty of a field target shot is the Troyer (named after Brad Troyer). At its simpliest, a Troyer is the distance to the target in yards divided by the kill zone diameter in inches. (Obviously, this can be adjusted to meters/mm by multiplying by 2.32.) Thus, if a target is at 45yds and the kill zone is 2in, the difficulty is 45/2 or 22.5T. In practice, there are additional multipliers for various conditions such as targets over 45 yards, wind, “extremely” dark/light conditions, standing/kneeling positions, and uphill/downhill shots. A typical course would have a difficulty averaging about 25T with a spread of difficulties from as low as 10T to perhaps as high as 60T. A well-designed course can be used for all field target classes although the PCP shooters will typically outscore the piston shooters. When one is practicing for a match, a good approach is to shoot at targets (whether paper or actual field targets) with a difficulty of about 20T to start. As one gets better, the difficulty is increased (either by increasing the distance or reducing the size of the kill zone) — a good rule-of-thumb would be to increase the difficulty by 5T when one can successfully hit the target 90% of the time. Eventually, one should practice at about 45T if they expect to be competitive at local matches and 60T for national matches.


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