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Education / Training Testing the effect of hold on an accurate spring-piston air rifle

Testing the effect of hold on an accurate spring-piston air rifle

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

Calling the shot and follow-through
Settling into a firing position

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.

KJSB Exactv RS pellet rested on sandbag
Ten JSB Exact RS pellets went onto 0.593 inches at 25 yards when the rifle was rested directly on the sandbag.

Deer hunter
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.

JSB Exact RS pellet rifle held firmly
Ten JSB Exact RS pellets went onto 0.949 inches at 25 yards when the rifle was held firmly like a hunting rifle. The horizontal spread is due to tense muscles.

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.

JSB Exact RS pellet artillery hold under tension
Ten JSB Exact RS pellets went onto 0.728 inches at 25 yards when the rifle was held using the artillery hold but not settling in. The wild shots are caused by tense muscles.

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!

JSB Exact RS pellet artillery hold with a little tension
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.

JSB Exact RS pellet artillery hold good relaxation hand back by trigger guard
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.

JSB Exact RS pellet artillery hold good relaxation hand forward
This is what happens when everything is done right. Ten JSB Exact RS pellets went into 0.405 inches at 25 yards.

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.

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.

39 thoughts on “Testing the effect of hold on an accurate spring-piston air rifle”

  1. This is something I observed during training for FT… I use FT seated position and when trying to be very consistent and shoot lots, I use it with my back against a support… it is quite inteesting how at some point you can feel the hold change, because the recoil starts to change in feel, it gets a slight sideways kick or the rifle twists, and it often is witnessed on the target… you get 2-4 clusters of 3-5shot groups. IOW looks a lot like groups 3 and 4… Good to know what is happening.

  2. I have a .22 WMR rifle with shortened barrel that, believe it or not, must be held in the artillery hold. Do it right and it shoots 1MOA groups on 100 yards – press it tightly against your body and the shots go all over the place.

    • Interesting…and proving that every gun is different.
      Mel…you don’t press the rifle into your shoulder, but how tight is your grip on the stocks wrist?
      I struggled for a year with a Savage WMR heavy barrel using the artillery hold…and had lousy results…2″ at 100m being average.
      A month or so ago, on the advice of a local police sniper I started using what he called a ‘firm handshake’ grip…but not pressing the gun into my shoulder.
      My groups are now around 1″-1.25″ consistently.

    • Mel
      Even the military is aware of this the Marine Sniper M40 has what is called “a floating barrel” the barrel “floats” in the furniture so that the harmonics of the barrel are not affected by the type, strength, or direction of the grip on the weapon. If it affects a gun with that much power it HAS to affect our little .177’s

      LOVE it when BB gets down to basics and disproves that all it takes is more money, more gun, or more technology to get closer groups. This IS operator driven.
      Dr D

  3. G’day BB
    Do you remember some years ago when I first bought my Lead Sled and found my Theoben changed its POI with different parts of my index finger pulling the trigger?
    You could get two separate groups upto 3/4″ apart if you used the fleshy tip (soft) or the first joint (hard) as I remember. It was also repeatable on different occasions.
    Cheers Bob

        • I have thought this too for some time. I have tried scoping my IZH61, and found I was no better. With my Gamo Hunter, 4x is nice. I can take my Talon up to 24x and get good groups, but can’t hit a thing trying the same on my Gamo. I can only guess it is a field of view problem and over focus on the inevitable wiggle in aim you can get with certain rifles of differing balance and weight. I don’t get to shoot as much as I used to, so I can’t back this up with much hard data, just odd musings of a fellow enthusiast. I would still like to see what the op has to say.
          And also I would like to thank you B.B. for recommending the BKL single piece mount, both of mine are as prized as the scopes they hold!

        • Well,BB…I first noticed it when I was shooting a P17 at 10M (approximately).I initially had a red dot on it that had a bit of flare to the dot that bothered the heck out of me despite the more than satisfactory results on target.Not willing to quit while I was ahead I switched to a RWS 2.5x pistol scope.I figured (I was NOT correct) that the added aiming precision would allow me to really wring the last bit of performance out of my sweet shooting cheap pistol.I threw shots all over the place,as far as the 7 ring! Ever since then I have been aware of this with my rifles too.PCPs off a rest get high magnification but anything else I do better with medium at most! My theory is that I obsess less about the wobble and that gives me confidence which shows up on the target.

  4. I couldn’t help but notice that the difference between resting the rifle directly on a sandbag, and using perfect technique was only .188 inches. And this was after giving the latter technique a second chance. Otherwise the difference was .118 inches. Which brings me to my beleaguered point that most springers with lower recoil shoot just fine and dandy rested directly on a rest.

    The best group I have ever shot with my TX200 (or any other rifle for that matter) was with the rifle’s forearm rested directly on the bag, and with a woolen hat covering the bag. The exquisite finish of the wood forearm, when coupled with the nearly friction free woolen hat combine to form a nearly perfect artillery action, as long as I don’t screw it up with my own interference. The group was not clover leafed. The group was not a ragged one hole group. It was just a one hole group with the hole no larger than a single pellet.

    Full disclosure, this was at 10 yards, not 25.

    • The bags I use are denim, which is slick enough for a FWB 601 to slide with recoil, filled with small plastic pellets which shift readily. I would really like to find a gel type rest to see how it works.

  5. B.B.

    Maybe some day you might feel like showing us some groups shot from strained positions , and taken as quickly as possible . Somewhat like hunters frequently do. Make it as variable as possible for each shot. Maybe you should do it outdoors to protect the new sofa (and the walls, and the ceiling).

    Might make a few people question just how far they should be trying to use a rifle for hunting , no matter how good they can do on paper from a bench.


    • tt,

      Yeah, you can get into some pretty crazy positions in the field… No place to kneel, sit or lay prone, so… Using your forearm as a rest while gripping the trunk of a small tree and standing on your toes because said tree trunk has a big ugly sharp broken off branch at the right height and you don’t want it ripping into your palm from the recoil of your Mosin 91/30. That is one of the positions that made me buy a mono-pod…

      Oh,… I did hit about 4″ to the right of the bullseye at 70 yards….


  6. Nice shooting B.B. This is the perfect answer to an experience when I started. I had been shooting sitting with an airsoft sniper rifle, and I wanted to test its true accuracy potential. So, I went out in the woods and got into a prone position, resting the rifle on a hard bag. The shots went all over the place, and I was in despair. A few experiences like this and without any blog, and I would have quit.

    Wulfraed, yes, I know that technique of lowering the bow from a raised position from Korean archery. It helps a lot, but in my current state, I don’t know if it’s quite enough for my 60lb. bow. I am experimenting with other methods for putting body weight into the pull. My best effort has to do with stepping. It has been my observation from contemporary accounts of English archers that they would step when they fired. A step will certainly get your bodyweight moving as it does in boxing. The question is how to direct it into the bow…

    gunfun1, yes, I remember the bliss of reading comics. As far as I know, nothing happens to Galactus. He is immortal, and he eats planets. A couple variations from his routine were when the Silver Surfer designated earth as a target then changed his mind and rebelled against Galactus. Maybe Galactus felt sort of betrayed. Anyway, it was a hopeless cause. The Silver Surfer went down to defeat and was stripped of his power to fly through space, but his efforts did manage to save the earth. Another time was when Hercules tried to save another planet. Punching Galactus did not work at all. (“Galactus can reduce you to protoplasmic slime!”) Then he tried to get Galactus drunk by giving him a huge portion of a potent alcohol produced by ninja turtle-like creatures who specialized in “partying your moogies off.” But Galactus just laughed at them. But he did take off his towering helmet to get a bit of air. And he said, “You have made Galactus forget his hunger and for that, my thanks, little god. A multitude of planets await the taking. For your efforts, I will spare this one.”

    B.B., I figured you would know about the policies for carrying loaded weapons in the field. It’s no surprise that the army has worked this out in great detail. I was reading one memoir of Marine going in to the beach at Peleliu, and he hears a sergeant say, “Watch that rifle. I don’t want to get my head blown off by some boot with a BAR.” I’m sure it was loaded at that point.


  7. Howdy Mr. BB/Myagi & the Gang, you guys are scary! Sometimes I think ya got that PMS, ESPN or whatever that mind readin’ thing is. This is EXACTLY where I’m at w/my TX. Outa the box at 10′ .270.
    First group @ 20′ a .670, then discovered I’d ordered a kalidescope. Sent it back & got a replacement. Dialed it in & first real attempt at a group was a .450. Now working on grip, hold & trigger press, this mornings session on the Jr. Sniper Trainin’ Range got a .310. Next trainin’ session I’ll use a different hold, part my hair on the other side, chew a different flavor of gum & wear my lucky Roy Rogers Lil’ Buckaroo skivies. B.t.W. last week while waitin’ for the new & improved scope ta come in was practicin’ W/Mr. Nasty & discovered another result of the attic ventilation(hole shot in the ceiling)/trigger adjustment adventure from a few weeks ago. Bent barrell. Replacement on the way. Kinda wonderin’ if at this point for the safety/sanity of all if I shouldn’t just set the rifles down back away & get a Deelux Super Dooper Starship Trooper Magnum Hog/Alien/Zombie Killer Slingshot & a bag of marbles!?!
    Thanx ya’ll, shoot/ride safe,

  8. BB,
    I agree with Slinging lead — that rifle appears that it might indeed “want to shoot” directly off the rest. I don’t really see any conflict with that and the artillery hold and/or settling in. I do know from experience that with rested rifles (of the powder burning kind) the position of the rest can affect both group size and point of impact. In chunk shooting, the position of the cant block is considered critical, for example. The R8 seems like an ideal test tool to see if you absolutely can’t shoot good groups off a rest with a springer or if you just need to rest it at a particular place every time, etc.. I’ve been meaning to try this kind of experiment with my old 36-2 (which shows signs of not caring about being on a rest), but my lack of enthusiasm for seated and scoped shooting has slowed me down a lot!

  9. B.B.

    Thanks a lot again. I was puzzled by how my air pistol gave good groups in two spots left & right. I settled in and now its spot on, but I suspected the gun first.


  10. our local gun store got in a new savage in the new super 17. the owner bought it for himself, but invited me along with 2 others to try it out. I don’t know if it was the gun or us but it shot best at 100 yards using the artillery hold just like shooting a spring gun. I was the only 1 in the group that shoots spring guns, guess who got best groups. I cant remember savages model but its a light weight gun. after the owner gets better aquainted with it, I can see a 200 yard yote gun in hand. I was impressed at the speed and accuracy. there was a light breeze that day. I must say spring guns have helped me a lot when I go back to powder burners. after I shot my 5 rounds and everybody looked in the spotting scope, I was asked whats your magic ? this time I kept it to myself. next week I might tell trhem. but great point b.b.

  11. I have found that trigger technique is a critical part of the artillery hold because the shooting hand and fingers put asymmetrical forces on the stock. Which fingers touch the stock, finger pressure, and tiny variations of each, shot-to-shot, cause inconsistencies in the way the gun vibrates before the pellet leaves the barrel. Pulling the trigger by flexing the index finger at the knuckle joint instead of curling the whole finger is guaranteed to pull a shot of target. Consistent thumb position is critical.
    For my springers, I attach one of those small, rubber, self-stick bumper feet to the back of the wrist of the grip, right on the centerline of the stock. I call it an ‘accuracy button’. This provides a consistent place to rest the thumb of the shooting hand. The only other finger that I use is the pad of the index finger on the trigger. Gently ‘pinching’ the trigger between index finger and thumb avoids pressures that pull the stock one way or another during the shot cycle. Both fingers are along the centerline of the gun frame!
    You can practice your ‘trigger pinch’ with an uncocked gun by watching to see if your point of aim wanders as you apply pinching pressure.

  12. Dear B.B.,

    Regarding firing positions/holds, other than sandbag testing were you seated or standing for the other holds?
    Your outstanding contribution to shooting sports is a body of work that inspires and informs shooters – and will do so for generations to come.

    Bradley Wolff

    p.s. I too have read reams of garbage about (my) .50AE Desert Eagle… tripe and rubbish all of it.

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