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Education / Training Why you SHOULDN’T clamp your airgun in a vise!

Why you SHOULDN’T clamp your airgun in a vise!

by B.B. Pelletier

First let me share the inspiration for this blog. Pyramyd AIR received a negative review about an air rifle from a customer. He said the air rifle he received was unable to group closer than three shots in several inches at 35 feet. He also said he was shooting the gun from a shooting vise. He was extremely unhappy with the gun and ended up returning it.

Okay, an angry customer. And also one who just shot himself in the foot and doesn’t even know it. He doesn’t know that he was most likely the cause of the lousy accuracy he got. It probably came from the very technique he used to supposedly make the gun accurate. It was proven a century ago that a vise is no guarantee of accurate shooting and can actually rob accuracy. I refer to the work of Dr. F.W. Mann and his extensive work shooting target guns mounted on his massive “Shooting Gibraltar” concrete pedestal with a massive vise bolted to its top.

Then on Saturday, reader Mike asked a similar question. Isn’t there a way of shooting an air rifle in which the shooter doesn’t have to hold it? He wanted to take himself out of the equation, because he believes his technique isn’t as good as it should be. I told him I would address this topic today.

What about using the artillery hold? The first person who complained about the inaccurate rifle makes no mention of it in his message, so we can assume that he isn’t aware of it and how it tightens airgun groups — especially with spring-piston rifles. He’s like a lead-foot driver on ice, spinning his tires and wondering why his car is sliding sideways instead of going where he wants.

When Feinwerkbau (FWB) tests a target rifle, they don’t put it in a vise. They shoot it from a rested position. Those tight groups that come with each rifle and pistol are from hand-held guns.

Don’t shoot airguns from a vise unless you know what you’re doing. The complaining customer doesn’t give enough information for us to know whether he does or doesn’t know, but since the majority of shooters do not know how to use a vise with an airgun, I’ll assume the customer didn’t know either.

I addressed this topic three years ago in this report: What about shooting from a vise? (Although I misspelled vise throughout the blog.)

But it appears that the topic needs to be discussed some more. Vise shooters are convinced that they’ve removed the last bit of human error, when that isn’t true at all.

The irate customer mentions using a bench gun vise. Well, that would be just about the worst kind of vise to use for many air rifles. A spring rifle would move that kind of vise every time it’s cocked, destroying any hope of repeatability. When Dr. Mann shot from his Shooting Gibraltar, he used a special cylindrical action he had made that allowed him to load the gun without taking it out of the fully machined V-block vise or moving the vise when he reloaded. Each custom barrel made for testing had machined concentric rings to interface with the vise, so it was also made especially for vise shooting. Famous barrel maker Harry Pope made most of the test barrels for Mann.

Since Mann’s vise weighed over 1,000 lbs., was sunk 40 inches into the ground and rose 28 inches above ground, there was no way to move it anyway. The vise was fastened to the concrete pier by 5/8″ bolts that were sunk 14 inches into the cement. And, yet, with all this careful preparation, Dr. Mann found that getting repeatable results from a gun held in a vise was extremely challenging.

In sharp contrast, what kind of flimsy bench did our irate customer shoot from? We’ll never know, but consider any movement as the enemy of repeatability in a vise test.

What kind of powerplant is he shooting? No spring-piston air rifle is suited to bench gun vise use. But let’s hypothecate that he’s using an RWS Diana 48 and clamping just the barrel in the vise. That leaves the sidelever free for cocking. And let’s also assume that he fastidiously ensures by some method (laser mounted on the action and pointed at a registration point on the target?) that the gun didn’t move during cocking. With all that precaution, he’s still spitting into the wind.

The RWS Diana 48 has a barrel jacket surrounding a thin inner barrel. It’s possible for the inner barrel, the real barrel, to move even when the outer barrel remains stationary. Sidelever owners eventually discover this fact when their barrel jackets loosen enough to rattle. What’s the solution? Shoot using the artillery hold so the true barrel and the sights always have the same relationship.

Two gun powerplants that do lend themselves to vise shooting are CO2 and PCP. Both allow the guns to remain stationary, as long as they don’t require a lot of cocking effort and the vise is really stable.

When I tested the AirForce Edge for 10-meter accuracy, I had the gun clamped in a vise, but not for accuracy. I did it so I could load and shoot fast without having to aim. I can hold a group off a rest just as small as a vise can deliver at 10 meters. But I have to aim the rifle each time following loading, while with the vise I don’t. So, a lot of time is saved.

And that’s the point of today’s blog. You don’t need a vise for most accuracy testing. It can help if the powerplant you’re testing lends itself to use with a vise’ but if it doesn’t, you’re courting disaster. And stop thinking that a vise make the gun more accurate. Generally speaking, you’re just as accurate shooting with a good artillery hold off a rest as you will be with a vise; and, with spring guns, that’s the only technique that works.

author avatar
Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier)
Tom Gaylord, also known as B.B. Pelletier, provides expert insights to airgunners all over the world on behalf of Pyramyd AIR. He has earned the title The Godfather of Airguns™ for his contributions to the industry, spending many years with AirForce Airguns and starting magazines dedicated to the sport such as Airgun Illustrated.

66 thoughts on “Why you SHOULDN’T clamp your airgun in a vise!”

  1. can you use the artillary hold prone. also i need recmadation on airgun i want a gun that can group under 1.5 inches at 50 yards. Can springers due it with enough practise and technique or are springer a better bet. i also plan on doing some 60 maybe 70 yard coke can shooting can a springer due that.

    • Jason

      It’s your eyes and hands, not airgun that’s shooting 🙂
      Just things I’ve seen with my own eyes:
      MP-512 with well broken-in trigger can make repeateble sub-1 inch groups @ 60 yards.
      Well-held AA-TX200 can make 0.25 inch groups @ 50 m and when shot from soft rest can reliably hit a spoon @ 100 m.
      Gamo CFX from FT can make 0.25 groups @ 25 m and 0.3 groups @ 50.
      My mod-CFX – able to hit 10 out of 10 empty .22LR cases @ 40 m, and I tested it to break wine bottles @ 100 m.
      However, things I’ve also seen:
      Guy who cannot hit a 1 inch circle @ 25 m from LG-300, or guy making 1.5 inch groups from AA-S410 from soft rest @ 25 m.
      Long story short – it’s a question of the “seal” between the steering wheel and pedals 😉
      Any reasonable quality springer with more than 12J can hit a soda can @ 75 m with a good pellet. Thing is – are YOU a “reasonable quality” as well? 😉


      • duskwight -good morning <:) you are completely right but we are all "reasonable quality"dont you think so !Men we buy a OUR guns then dont buy us so enjoy i know you were kidding 🙂 😉

      • it looks that we have bunch of Olympians and world record holders talking about pellet guns. Hitting spoon at 100m, 1/4″ grouping at 50m. What happened when you woke up. Did you remember how to do it again, or did you just retired. What is your pellet drop at 100m. you make a 1/4″ grouping at 10m you will be in U.S.A. Olympic shouting team. It is nice to dream!

        • Zoki,

          Welcome to the blog.

          This blog is read by a number of parents and their children, and I have promised them to keep the language clean. Your other comment went into the trash for your choice of language. I hope you understand.

          We don’t flame people for what they say here and I doubt you will read as many wild claims about accuracy as you’ll see on some other websites, but people do get carried away from time tio time. Just let them talk and comment on the things that are of interest to you.


  2. i dont know jason but i think that gun you need is Diana/RWS 48 .If there is a springer gun that can do it all -then that gun is 48 🙂 It is side lever gun and it is accurate but then there is major factor of your shooting skills.I think that i will buy 48 also maybe even this week first i must repair my 34,now i have a problems with the trigger /cocking mechanism “deja vu” 🙁 too many parts

  3. Jason – Yes, you can adapt the artillery hold (let the rifle float) to prone, but with a springer, you will be rolling out of position between each shot to cock the rifle. You’ll then need to re-adjust to get your natural point of aim back on target. A can at 60-70yds is well within the capability of many springers, prone or off-hand. However, you first need to test a range of pellets to see which pellets work well in your particular barrel. At 25m, some pellets might make 1-hole groups, where others might be 2-3″. As BB said last week, you don’t need as much power as you can get – 12-14ft/lbs is probably ideal for target/plinking, and far easier to manage as you learn to shoot springers. After years of shooting mainly M16s, I bought my first airgun based on power – a Diana 48. Today, all my rifles are between 6 and 14.5ft/lbs.

  4. My 34 .22 is still giving me fits. I thought I was on to something great, the JSB 14.3 pellets really grouped well at 10 yards so I tried them at 20 this weekend. On Saturday, I had a few minutes so I broke out the rifle and shot some groups. I got a 1/2″ group at 20 yards! I was very pleased and thought I had finally settled the issue – gun accurate, me satisfactory. Well yesterday I had some more time so I tried again. I quit after a 3″ group at 20 yards! Things were getting worse and worse. I went back in and shot some at 10 yards to see and they were all over the place as well – 2″ at 10 yards. What could possibly have changed so much overnight!?!? Just to make sure it wasn’t me, I broke out the 94 and tested – it proved to be accurate. I’m afraid there is something wrong with my 34, what could it be?

    • Fused,

      It sounds like a loose scope. Wiggle the scope and feel for clicking.

      The barrel may also need to be cleaned. You need to get the lead out and GooGone isn’t going to do it.

      I don’t think that it’s a dirty barrel, though. I think it’s the scope mount.


    • Fused,

      You cannot tell whether a barrel is clean by looking through it. Unless it is really filthy, it will sparkle. Instead, take a powerful light and shine it into the muzzle or breech, then look at the rifling from the outside (you are looking at the same side that the light is shining into). You will probably see gray streaks, which is lead.


      • I was thinking along the same lines, not the scope mount because I just got the UTG base and rings and it is rock solid. I was thinking of the scope itelf. This morning I traded scopes between the 34 an 94 since I knew the other scope was good. The 94 was accurate as ever, the 34 did better but still not great – 5/8″ at 10 yards. I wondered if it is a breech or piston seal issue, so I just took out the breech seal and it already has 2 metal shims in it and it doesn’t feel soft when closed. Maybe I’ll take it apart and look at the piston seal…

        • Fused do you have any experience with taking apart RWS -later you may need to reassemble trigger and this is hard part ,piston seal is not the problem trust me mine is right beside me 🙂 and if your spring is not broken then….dont know -my 34 was ROTTEN with scope

  5. BTW, before the good group on Saturday, I cleaned the barrel with first Goo-Gone and then denatured alcohol. A lot of black oily stuff came out when cleaned. After the poor accuracy, I checked to see if the barrel was still clean and it was.

    • Fused –try without scope and see how it groups….i dont think that it is something serious but it can be the scope ….tell me about power does it suffer??? My mainspring broke and i could still shoot but i noticed that something is wrong with a power on 34

      • C-S, I’m going to take it apart to look at the piston seal so I’ll see the spring then. I really don’t think the spring is broken though. I’m going to use heavy tar on the spring, moly on the piston and chamber – let’s see what that does for it. I don’t have to worry about the warranty because I bought a refurb from Umarex – Should have bought a new one from PA. Lesson learned. I’ll report back in a couple of hours to let you know what I found.

  6. John is a good friend of mine and was a Colorado State Patrolman in the 1970’s-80’s. His territory included Estes Park which is a small town in the foothills of the Colorado Rocky Mountains and only accessible by narrow winding roads. Beautiful drive to Estes Park. Popular day trip.

    In the mid 1970’s Kawasaki introduced the Z1000. Touted as the most powerful production motorcycle. John tells stories about the summer in Estes Park when the Z1000 hit the road with the proud owners of this very powerful bike. 5 or 7 fatalities and in each case the motorcycle had less than 200 miles on the odometer. The owners thought they had the skills but didn’t.

    It’s important for many to own the most powerful (fill in blank here) but it almost always requires more skill to learn how to use this than a less powerful version.

    With firearms and certainly airguns this is commonly called MAGNUMITIS.

    Takes lots of practice to master these powerful guns at distance. Learning where and how to hold the gun, developing a consistent cheek weld, learning the break point of your trigger, discovering the right ammo for your gun, etc., etc. Even after this dedication there are days I take a gun out that I know can shoot and I can’t hit anything with it.

    Bad news, I need more quality time with my gun. Good news, I have no interest in owning a powerful motorcycle so I have time.


    • Estes Park…been there many times. I lived in Boulder for a number of years while working at the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics (JILA) at the Univ. of Colorado (pre-Tom life :-)). For those who don’t know this, Estes Park is where they filmed Jack Nicholson in the Shining at the Stanley Hotel. I assume it’s still there. My favorite haunt in Estes Park was Dick’s Rock Shop.


      • Mrs. Gaylord,

        Aha! A glimpse at the roots of the brains in the outfit.

        Stanley Hotel is still there and “shining” bright as ever. Think it was about 6-7 years ago it went through a major renovation. The old girl looks great.

        When I was in my teens I caught diamondback rattlesnakes near I-25 & Happy Canyon Road and sold them to Reptile World in Estes Park. One of their tourist attractions was milking rattlesnakes 3 times a day. Got paid $2.00 for snakes under 2 feet long and $3.00 for the bigger ones. We caught a 7 footer that was as big around as my arm and sold it for $10.00. Thought we won the lottery!


        • Yes, the Stanley is still there, still busy and beautiful. They’ve got a Stanley Steamer in the lobby, and there’s now a Steamer museum in town, that I haven’t visited. But will next trip [my son is a physics prof at Colorado].

          And just what did you do at JILA?


          • Pete,

            I was at JILA from 1974 to 1976. JILA is a joint federal & Univ. of Colorado effort, and I worked on the university side of things. I administered some of the science contracts and supervised some of the clerical staff.

            On the nights that “Star Trek” reruns were shown on TV, several of the staff would go to a local bar to watch and drink.

            Carl Sagan was treated like a demigod by many of the scientists.

            The scientists were odd. One person came to work one day with his shirt on inside out. It was a shirt you buttoned up the front. When we brought it to his attention, he simply shrugged and went about his business. If it wasn’t science, it didn’t matter 🙂

            We had a visiting scientist from Russia. He bought one of the behemoth 1950s cars to drive around and then shipped it back to Russia after his visiting fellowship ended. Apparently, he was accorded star status upon his return to the motherland because of that car.

            JILA was an unusual place to work. Boulder was a strange place to live. It was before the “Mork & Mindy” TV show aired, and Boulder was a sleepy little college town. You could see marathon runner Frank Shorter running through the streets. In the mid-70s, the drug culture was making its way back from California toward the East Coast. Drug-addled hippies were everywhere. If you watch the opening credits of the Mork & Mindy TV show, they show multi-story buildings across from the football field. One of them was JILA.


    • kevin

      Yes, you’re right about magnumitis. Good word 🙂
      I wrote before, I’ve seen a guy who bought D-350, a small, skinny office-type guy. He couldn’t make 20 shots ’cause he was all sweat and hands shaking from trying to cock his “mammoth” rifle. He told – this gun was best, because it has POWER!

      Well, I think (fill in the name of the thing) makers are a part of this, else they’ll have their sales coming down. It’s an easy (and cheap) way to beat more money from our pockets. Just to mention that stupid “gold”-plated Gamo speed hysteria or “magnum” springer race 🙂 As for myself – I would prefer twice slower rate of new models appearing and speeds below 250 m/s at the cost of real improvement – nicer trigger works, better shock absorption, better ergonomics etc.


  7. B.B.,

    Working on an airgun velocity test for varying elevations taking into account displacement and barometric conditions. This is a snapshot that’s probably interesting to me and no one else.

    I’m using a watts tuned R8 as a testbed.

    R8 shot near Leadville (9,970 feet elevation) on Saturday, July 10, 2010, 10:55AM, 69 degrees, wind 10-15mph gusting to 20-25mph

    Velocities for String 2 (JSB RS, 7.33gr, unweighed, unsorted)
    1 646
    2 645
    3 644
    4 646
    5 647
    6 648
    7 646
    8 645
    9 647
    10 648
    11 647
    12 648
    13 642
    14 647
    15 645
    16 646
    17 648
    18 648
    19 648
    20 645

    Statistics for String 2
    Low Velocity 642
    High Velocity 648
    AVE Velocity 646
    Extreme Spread 6
    STD Deviation 1
    NO Shots 20

    R8 shot in Wheat Ridge (5,300 feet elevation) on Sunday, July 11, 2010, 11:15AM, 84 degrees, no wind

    Velocities for String 2 (JSB RS, 7.33 gr, unweighed, unsorted)
    1 653
    2 647
    3 654
    4 651
    5 646
    6 649
    7 656
    8 650
    9 649
    10 651
    11 651
    12 652
    13 648
    14 650
    15 652
    16 646
    17 651
    18 648
    19 650
    20 652

    Statistics for String 2
    Low Velocity 646
    High Velocity 656
    AVE Velocity 650
    Extreme Spread 10
    STD Deviation 2
    NO Shots 20

    Average velocity difference between shooting at 9,970 feet elevation and 5,300 feet elevation is only 4fps but look at the extreme spread. This held true for another 100 shots. Heavier pellets produced very interesting results as well.


    • Kevin,

      I published a test of various elevations and their effects on airgun velocity years ago in The Airgun Letter. There should have been a significant difference between those two elevations.

      I am very interested in what you find.

      BTW, pneumatics and CO2 guns go faster at higher elevations. That came from the same test.


      • B.B.,

        You also published your findings on the blog. I remember reading the article a long time ago. You were in a motorhome traveling through higher elevations and reported your findings. My higher powered and untuned springers had very different velocities. The RWS 54 had the widest margin.

        You are correct. My pcp’s are slightly faster in the thinner air/higher elevation. Never chronied the co2 guns since our cold weather makes them a challenge.


      • I would expect that. A springer compresses a fixed volume of air, but at high altitude, there isn’t as much to compress. The PCP and CO2 guns deliver a fixed amount of gas at a fixed pressure, so the accelerating force is the same at sea level and altitude. But the drag force can be significantly lower at altitude.


  8. Nice strings Kevin….

    My bike sits close to 100 hp….it’s all I need. I stopped there for my own safety.

    BTW it’s definately not the HP all the time…I’ve out ran cops in a chevette with a whopping 76 HP. OF course…I could make the car do just anything I wanted.

    • AJ

      I didn’t know you were an outlaw! You are now officially my idol. You must teach me how to evade the fuzz with a mere Chevette. I wish that was on YouTube.

      My dream bike is a Triumph Bonneville. It isn’t the most powerful bike out there, but it looks damn good ( retro ) and has all the power I would ever really want.

      My fiance sees things differently. Motorcycles are for organ donors.

  9. Wow, did I get an update on pellet selection this weekend.
    I went to the range Saturday to start my ‘Quigley/Sniper Experiment’ with my Slavia 630.
    Up till now most of my shooting has been at 10-15 yards. In this gun only I was using the RWS Superpoints (for absolutely no good reason).
    At 10 yards they were cutting one ragged hole and I had the idea in my head that if I ever did want to do longer distance shooting that they would have less wind resistance than the wadcutters I normally use in my other guns (probably true).
    Well at 30 yards they I was getting 5″ groups on a perfectly windless day.
    My first thought was that this was as good as I was going to get with open sights or that maybe this was just too much for 500fps and all those reports of longer distances with this gun were just wishful thinking.
    But I had purchased a tin of RWS Superdome, just cause I keep reading that domed pellets are great for accuracy.
    I would have tried them sooner but I am nothing if not stubborn 😉
    So I loaded them up and low and behold the first 5 shot group shrunk to about 1.5 inches..
    The second was a little tighters.
    I ordered my scope this morning!!, as I now have hope that the gun is capable of really accurate shooting, and once I have a scope I will start moving out in 10 yard increments.
    But I gotta admit I was really surprised how the same pellet in the gun was dead accurate at 10 yards…and fell apart at 30.

      • C-S, I sorta agree with you. The Slavia is such a nice short range plinker just the way it is.
        But my background (from way back) is .22 competetion shooting…in the 80’s I had a tryout with the Canadian National team, and now my main love is 10m shooting.
        So I’m used to basically putting 10 shots into one ragged hole, and when I use open iron sights (on the Slavia at 30yds), even a 1.5″ group (which is, I think not bad offhand) makes me wince.
        Truthfully I’m fascinated by those 2500 yd sniper kills that show up in the news every once and a while.
        Oddly enough I have no desire whatsoever to kill anything. Last year when I shot a squirrel, just to see if I could do it with a .177/500fps combo I felt like crap for days after…I kept having visions of these little squirrel kids waiting for mama/papa to come home 😉
        Call me a wuss!!!
        But I’m on a personal quest to get the absolute best out of what I do shoot.

  10. I seem to have a lot of trouble getting any accuracy out of my 34 as well. I will doublecheck the scope and mount, but was wondering if there’s an easy way to check for a broken spring – do you have to disassemble the gun?

    • JW,

      Another indication is to compare the velocity the gun was shooting previously to what it’s shooting now. Check your chrony strings. The breech seal is another check point. Make sure all your stock screws and trigger guard screws are snug. If you’re shooting with a scope, put marks on the gun, mount, rings and scope to determine if anything is moving. Tight screws don’t necessarily mean things aren’t moving.

      If all that doesn’t identify the problem, try different pellets then try holding the gun differently. Lighter. Tighter. Move your support hand/place where you support the gun. The RWS 34 jumps. In my experience you should let it jump. Yours may be different.


  11. OK everyone, thanks for being interested in my 34 problems. Here is what I found when I opened it up: Spring is not broken. Everything is covered in the same greasy stuff – trigger assembly (but not inside), spring, piston. Piston seal is a little rough around the edges and there is a paper thin tear on the side. It looks as if it goes up to the leading edge though. If the piston is supposed to be perfectly smooth, this ain’t. In comparison to the RS-2 that I re-assembled (thanks Vince B. by the way) the seal is a lot rougher. The RS-2 seal was perfectly smooth even though, or maybe because, it looked like it had been shot many, many times. I cleane and lubed everything appropriately and put back together. What a difference. The twang is completely gone, I love the shot cycle now. Accuracy is better, but I’m still getting fliers. In a 10 yard 10 shot group, I’ll get 7 or 8 in a tight 3/8″ group – but always 2 or 3 fliers opening the group up to 3/4″. I have to say that I’m testing with cheap pellets so as not to blow through the good ones while problem solving so maybe that’s it. I’ll test again with the JSB’s later and let you know, but what do you think of that piston seal?

    • Fused,

      I’m glad to learn that the spring is not broken. However I would consider replacing that seal. They aren’t that expensive and I’d feel better knowing the seal had no problems.

      As for using cheap pellets — I was completely fooled by your former tight groups. Were those also cheapies? I hope so, because if they were good pellets, we have been chasing our collective tail!

      How many total shots would you guess are on your rifle?


      • Does PA sell the seals for a 34? Maybe I can order a jar of JB and the seal at the same time.

        No, the previous groups I reported were with the good pellets, I wouldn’t do that to you. I was only using the cheapies to roughly test after re-assembly. I just finished testing with the JSB’s and got the same results, 7-8 tight – 2-3 fliers.

        I would guess there are now about 650 shots on this rifle.

        • Fused,

          PA doesn’t list the piston seals on their website, but I would call them if I were you. They may have some that just haven’t made it into the website yet.

          Your 7-8 tight and 2-3 fliers sounds like a problem that might be resolved by pellet sorting.


          • The next order is taking shape: seal, JB Paste, scale, chrony… Now I need money and for my wife to buy another pair of shoes so I have an excuse:) Per the other days comments, we can work it in reverse too ya know, it’s a waiting game really.

  12. Does anyone know how the Beeman guns were held to get the C-T-C group, they would advertise in their catalogs?

    On a different note. Anyone ever do any trigger work on a Hammerli Storm Elite. I’ve only shot it about 500 times, but it is still way to heavy.


  13. A few days ago I was in a store and saw a new Beeman RS1. The box had a photo of a black bear on it.

    Was looking for a warning: Not Recommended Game.


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