Testing the effect of hold on an accurate spring-piston air rifle
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
Today’s report is one of those serendipitous events that happen when I think I’m investigating something simple and it turns out to be a treasure trove of shooting information. I thought today’s test was a demonstration of how settling into a firing position and following through would give a better group from an air rifle of proven accuracy. What I got was that and more!
I chose the .177-caliber Beeman R8 air rifle and JSB Exact RS pellet for this test because, in the past, this has proved to be a great combination. I shot 10-shot groups at 25 yards, which should show any differences if they really exist. Initially, I’d thought to shoot the rifle in a deer-hunter hold (meaning that I grasped the stock and pulled it firmly into my shoulder), an artillery hold without the tension being taken out of my hold (in other words, holding the rifle lightly, but held on target by muscle power and not by relaxing and adjusting the hold) and finally by settling in properly with an artillery hold. However, as I started this test, I thought that I’d also shoot the rifle directly off the sandbag to show how that affected the group size.
As I started the test, I realized that one group would have to be shot last, which would be at the time I was getting tired. I didn’t want to bias the results, so I put the neutral hold (the potentially best hold) at the end of the test.
Directly rested on sandbags
The first shot off the bag went through the center of the bull, and shot 2 went through the same hole. At that point, I thought this test was going to prove that I was wrong and that this gun really could be shot directly off a bag. Because of that, I knew that bias could creep in at this point. So, shot 3 was taken with the greatest care; yet, shot 3 went way to the right, and I knew the wisdom of not resting directly on sandbags was holding true.
This hold is one where you grasp the rifle tightly, pulling it into the shoulder the way a hunter might hold a powerful rifle. This was the most difficult hold to execute because the rifle was twitching around from the tight muscles. I didn’t have a death grip on it — just a firm hold; but through the scope, the movement was disconcerting.
Artillery hold without settling-in
This hold just felt wrong with every shot because I knew I hadn’t settled in. Were I to relax before the shot while using this hold, the crosshairs would invariable move to the right. And see what kind of group I got? There’s one large hole surrounded by 4 wild shots. This is the kind of group that will drive a shooter nuts because it looks so good in general but still has those few wild shots. You wonder what’s wrong and want to blame the rifle, the barrel crown and the pellet. But in actuality, it all came down to the hold.
Now comes the big lesson!
Here is where the test turned around and taught me more than I anticipated. By the time I got to this point, I’d already fired 30 good shots without a single called flier. The dispersion you see on the targets above is entirely due to the holds that were used to create them. But taking 30 good shots is very tiring. And it showed on my next attempt to shoot a good 10-shot group.
What happened was I didn’t relax as completely as I should have. There was still a bit of tension in my muscles. Part of that is because my R8 has a Tyrolean stock whose high cupped cheekpiece is horrible for shooting off a bench rest because it forces you to put your cheek against the stock. But knowing that these shots were fired with a bit of tension in this case turned out to be a wonderful thing because I got 2 distinct groups!
Four JSB Exact RS pellets went onto 2 distinct groups at 25 yards when the rifle was held using the artillery hold, but I still didn’t settle in as completely as I should have. The “group” on the left looks like a single shot, but I know for a fact that it contains 2 pellets. The group on the right is very obviously two pellets. The distance between the centers of these 4 shots is 0.574 inches.
Why is this bad target such a good thing? Because it clearly shows a phenomenon that happens to all shooters. A small change in the hold sends the pellets/bullets to 2 distinctly different places. How many times have I seen this on the rifle range and blamed my ammunition or rifle? Here’s the proof that it can be caused by just a small change in the hold.
But the learning wasn’t over! The next target I shot was with a fully relaxed artillery hold, but it’s still larger than I would like. What went wrong? Well, perhaps, where I’d my off-hand was the problem. It was back, touching the triggerguard. Maybe, it needs to be more forward with this rifle.
Ten JSB Exact RS pellets went into 0.475 inches at 25 yards when the right artillery hold was combined with the correct settling in. This is the best of the 5 groups fired thus far, but I felt the rifle had more to give.
I slid my hand forward to almost the end of the stock. Then, I shot the final group, which was the best one of the day. Fifty-four shots had been fired before this group was started; yet, when I settled in correctly and used the artillery hold as I was supposed to, this hold produced the best group of the session — 10 shots into 0.405 inches between centers.
This little test turned out to be one of the most important things I’ve done in months because it demonstrates not just the importance of the right hold and settling in but also what can happen when even one of those things isn’t done exactly as it should be.
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