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Accessories The basics of shooting: Part 4

The basics of shooting: Part 4

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

This report covers:

  • When the target is close, things change
  • Not about the snake
  • Trajectory — part one
  • What it looks like to you
  • Relationship of the sights to the bore
  • Sight-in at 10-12 feet
  • How I sight in a scope
  • Remember the snake
  • Different ammo
  • Discount store pellets
  • The deal
  • New pellets
  • Fishing sinker larvae
  • How much influence is the pellet?
  • Summary

Before we start let me tell you that I wanted to finish my report on the IZH MP532 rear sights today. The reason I didn’t is because as time passes I learn more and more about them. I want to make certain that I have explored everything I can when I write that report. It will also have at least one video.

For today I thought I would return to this subject that many readers seem to enjoy. Please understand that B.B. Pelletier isn’t the world’s authority on shooting. I do know some things, though, and I enjoy writing about them. If what I know can help anybody, then I have done my job.

When the target is close, things change

Let’s start with a fact that seems to escape people until it’s too late. You sight in your deer rifle for 100 yards, knowing that you will probably encounter a deer anywhere from 50 to 125 yards where you hunt. If it’s greater than 125 yards you probably won’t take the shot.

Then, while you are walking to where the hunt starts, you encounter a copperhead snake on the trail. He is 15 feet away and he must be cold because copperheads are aggressive and they are known to attack, similar to water moccasins, though not quite as aggressive.

All you have is your deer rifle. You can barely see the snake through your 6-power scope. So — where do you aim? You don’t have a backup gun (put that on the list), so it’s either the deer rifle you’re carrying or time to start backing up. The trail you are on is cut into the side of a steep hill and it’s 3 feet wide. Kill the copperhead or go back!

Not about the snake

This is not about the snake. This is about suddenly realizing that all your planning for this hunt while you were sitting in your comfy recliner at home has not prepared you for a shot like this. You are prepared for shooting at 50 to 125 yards. Where will your bullet be at 15 feet from the muzzle?

Now, there is a secret to successfully shooting snakes, and for an extra 10 percent (each) over what you normally pay me, I will divulge it. But it’s not why we’re here. We are talking about the basics of shooting and this brings us to our first teaching point. Bullets and pellets do not travel in a straight line. The instant they emerge from the barrel, gravity starts to act on them and they fall to the ground just as fast as if you dropped them from your hand — assuming the barrel is level and the muzzle and hand are at the same height.

Trajectory — part one

You adjust the open sights or the scope to look DOWN through the trajectory of the falling pellet as it travels downrange. The adjustments are subtle, but I will exaggerate them to illustrate. And, from this point on I will be talking about a scope.

Trajectory 1
This is what happens with your pellet gun and sights. The down angles are exaggerated to fit on this page.

In the drawing above the scope is adjusted to just touch the pellet at one place in its trajectory. The rifle would then be sighted in for that one distance. Notice that the line of sight and the trajectory stay together for some distance. You are actually sighted-in for all those distances. But that might only be 5-10 feet, because as the pellet falls it also gains speed. The downward curve gets steeper.

What it looks like to you

The drawing above is correct, but we don’t see it that way. When we hold the rifle and sight through the scope it looks like this.

Trajectory 2
We hold the rifle level, so the line of sight both appears and actually is level. The trajectory, which we know is always falling down from the muzzle now looks like this.

Drawing number two is the reason why some people think that a bullet or pellet rises after it leaves the muzzle. The truth is — the angle of the scope only makes it look that way.

Relationship of the sights to the bore

The sights are mounted above the axis of the bore. In the case of a scope, they are probably 1.5 inches or more above the center of the bore. If you were to touch a paper target with the muzzle of your rifle and shoot, and if you could look through the scope and see the same target paper, the difference between where you were looking and where the pellet hit the paper would be the same distance that the scope is above the bore.

Sight-in at 10-12 feet

This is why I begun sighting in my scopes in at 12 feet. I would do it at 10 feet, but the door jamb I use to steady the rifle is 12 feet from my pellet trap. Over such a short distance I don’t expect the pellet to “rise” very much. If the center of the scope is 2.2 inches above the center of the bore I expect the pellet to hit the target about 2.2-inches below the aim point. If it does and if the pellet is pretty close to the centerline left and right, I feel confident to back up to 10 meters (11 yards or about 33 feet).

If the scope is sighted to angle down correctly, I expect the pellet to strike the target about one inch below the aim point when I shoot at 10 meters. If it does, or after I adjust the scope I can get it to that point, I know I can back up to 25 yards and the pellet will be pretty close to right on target. Now let’s see why.

How I sight in a scope

For an air rifle shooting a pellet of any caliber at 825 f.p.s. (which is slightly over 12 foot-pounds for an 8-grain .177-caliber pellet) I sight in for 20 yards. You may have read about the first and second impact points. I will explain them now. First, look at the drawing.

Trajectory 3
In this drawing we have zoomed in for more detail. The line of sight has been adjusted to pass through the trajectory at 20 yards, meaning it is sighted-in at that distance. Then, as the pellet goes farther, it appears to rise just a bit above the line of sight. Then, at around 28 to 30 yards, the trajectory brings it back down to the line of sight again.

Nothing has changed from the first drawing, except that I leveled the line of sight and now we have zoomed in for greater detail. Let me show you what this looks like when shooting a pellet.

Pellet flight
The thin line is the desired impact point. This drawing represents the height of the pellet, relative to the line of sight when an 825 f.p.s. pellet is sighted-in at 20 yards.

As the drawing shows, the pellet is pretty much on target between 20 and 30 yards, give or take. When I shot field target and held over instead of adjusting the elevation for each shot, this is how I zeroed the rifle. If your rifle shoots faster than 825 f.p.s., the pellet remains on target longer — perhaps out to 35 yards.

Remember the snake

Now let’s talk about how close airguns usually are to their targets and the problem it presents. While a snake at 15 feet is a problem for someone with a deer rifle, it’s well within range of some airgunners. For example, a bug buster (I mean a person, not a type of scope) who shoot harmful insects with airguns typically shoot at this sort of distance. Goodie for them, but after the previous discussion I hope you appreciate that if they are off in their range estimation by a few feet they could miss the hornet altogether. A deer hunter can be off his aim point by an inch at 100 yards and nobody is the wiser. But if an airgunner is off by a quarter-inch at 18 feet he may never touch the target!

Maybe you don’t shoot at insects, but this is the same problem field target shooters face with every target. Those 3/8-inch kill zones at 11 yards are far more difficult to hit than the one-inch kill zones at 35 yards!

Yes, the close distances to the targets that airgunners face are a real problem! They are the exact reverse of the problems a varmint hunter goes through. If his range is off on a prairie dog at 279 yards, he can either miss altogether or make a bad shot, which is even worse. An airgunner faces the same thing for different reasons at ranges of less than 20 yards.

Different ammo

The problem of the best (most accurate) ammo is the same one that firearm shooters face. Firearm shooters have the advantage that they can create their own ammunition by reloading, though most of them don’t. Airgunners can’t reload, but through pellet head sorting (by size) and weight sorting they can exercise some control over what they shoot. And the ammo makes all the difference. For some airguns (remember how picky the FX Dreamlite was?) there are only one or two good pellets. It’s not a matter of buying the cheapest pellet; it’s a matter of finding the most accurate one and laying in a supply of them.

Discount store pellets

If you own an airgun that likes one of the pellets they sell at your local discount store, consider yourself blessed! Crosman pellets sometimes turn out well and some Gamo pellets do, too. But the odds are against you that they will be the best. Of course it does depend on what kind of shooting you are doing, too. If you are just plinking at targets of opportunity — like at a family picnic — those can be the best pellets of all. But for toppling squirrels out of the trees at 40 yards, I think not.

The deal

Sooner or later you face reality. If you are an airgunner and plan to remain one, you will build up a supply of different pellets over time. We all do. You may have started out small and you may have the parsimony of Scrooge, however there is no getting past those half-empty tins of pellets that went out of your favor five years ago, but are still in your cabinet. And don’t forget those five used tins that one of your bowling buddies gave you last year. This stuff accumulates! This is the pile of different pellets you start testing from.

New pellets

Now we come to the real crux of the matter — new pellets. These are the ones you have to buy. I have developed a simple set of rules over the year and maybe it will help you.

1. JSB makes fine pellets. Buy from them without fear. And that includes all the known companies that rebrand JSB pellets — like Air Arms.
2. H&N makes fine pellets. Buy from them and their rebranders like Beeman without fear.
3. Most RWS pellets are fine. A couple of the lower-priced ones are on the fringe of fine.
4. Most Crosman pellets are great quality. They are harder than other pellets, and in faster airguns they do lead the bore. But if the velocity stays below 850 f.p.s., they are great.
5. Buy lead-free pellets with caution. In the past they were all gimmicks. Today there are some superb ones on the market, yet there are still many that are gimmicks.
6. Pellets made in China can surprise you — especially target wadcutters. I used to compete at the national level with Chinese target pellets — not because they were cheap but because they were the most accurate in my airgun.
7. Korean pellets tend to be heavier because they are made for hunting. In Korea an airgun is considered to be a firearm, and the Koreans take their powerful PCPs seriously!
8. If you find a pellet that is unknown to you there is probably a good reason. Proceed with caution.

Fishing sinker larvae

There are pellets that come from all places that have no business calling themselves pellets. Oh, they will have some whomptydoodle name dreamed up by the marketing department and slapped on the tin, but just remember — names don’t do the job. These “pellets” are suitable for breaking in an airgun, bundling with a gun you are selling to sweeten the deal, donating to your Lion’s Club carnival for the balloon bust game or just crimping on to your fishing leader for added weight.

My pellet rules apply mainly to US and Canadian airgunners. In other parts of the world there are no doubt pellet makers that provide fine products I have never heard of.

How much influence is the pellet?

Some guns shoot most anything put into them. Most guns favor a couple pellets over the rest. And some guns are very picky about what they shoot. Your first job is to discover which kind of gun you have — shoots anything, likes certain ones or is quite picky — and only after that should you find out which pellets it likes. Finding that out means discovering how the gun likes to be held, whether or not the barrel is clean, etc. — the stuff we covered in Parts 1 through 3 of this series.


That’s enough for this report. We have really only addressed two major things today, but I have gone intro considerable depth with each of them. Next time I will look at eye dominance and its affect on accuracy and anything else you guys can think of.

29 thoughts on “The basics of shooting: Part 4”

  1. B.B.,

    One thing I can think of when selecting the best pellet is to back up a bit. 25 – 30 yards will usually do the trick. Something great will stack pellets and something poor will give you a 1″+ group,… for example. Ideally,… you want to be at the range that you will see some pellet POI separation, whatever range that is, for whatever it is that you are shooting.

    Good Day to you and to all,……… Chris

  2. BB,

    I thank you for this series. Although you may not know it all, you know much. More importantly, you now how to communicate in such a manner that many find easy to understand.

      • BB: Have to share an amuzing anecdote from my late father’s military service, his second, in the Ohio National Guard during the Korean War period. He was the company commander of the East Liverpool, OH, medium tank company. As is required, the unit (which was largely composed of WW2 vets and some shave tails) had to go to the range and qualify on the arms of the time.

        Folks were qualifying on the M-1 and the Carbine and then the dreaded .45 Colt automatic pistol. Dad carried one over Okinawa as a Liaison Pilot through the battle, but never had occasion, as an artillery spotter pilot to fire it in anger. Anyway…

        The unit moved through the various arms and NO ONE could hit the target with the Colt .45 auto.. The target supports yes, but the target roundel, NO. The universal complaint was a defective pistol. Dad was called over to “demonstrate” competence with the arm. Dad knew he was in trouble because he figured he could throw the Colt at an opponent with a better change of hitting same than to actually fire it. However, rank not only has its privileges but responsibilities.

        Dad said he walked over to the table where the arms were laid out, picked up a .45, moved to the firing line and loaded the clip and cocked the arm. He then stuck out his arm and popped of THREE ten-ring shots in unstopped succession. The scorer in the pit showed the three 10 rings. Dad cleared the weapon and walked rapidly away saying “I see nothing wrong with the pistol!” while his troopers stood there gaping at him.

        Dad owned that he never even LOOKED at the target. It was all pure dumb luck that he got anywhere near the target, let alone firing three rapid 10 ring shots.

        A certain awe precluded having him do it again. That was good because, as dad said, it could not POSSIBLY happen again! He remembered that event for well over sixty years.

          • I am glad you liked it. Dad always laughed at his telling it.

            I remember the range at the ELO airport. I was only 3 or 4 years old and still have snap shot memories of riding in a Sherman Tank (probably highly improper) once in the commander’s hatch hanging onto the .50 Cal handles and on dad’s lap in the bow gunner position as we went down into a ditch and back up again. And….being thrown around by American steel.

            If I saw the snake, BTW, I think I would aim low. I hope that’s the right answer! LO


            • LFranke,
              Great story about your dad shooting the .45. I see no one has responded to your last comment about aiming low at the snake. It is counterintuitive, but if you are shooting an airgun with a scope mounted, you would actually have to aim about 1.5″ high. This was a difficult lesson for me to learn. I had my rifle sighted in for 25 yards but many of my pesting shots were being taken at 12 yards. Because the barrel’s center is 1.5″ to 1.9″ below the scope’s center, if you don’t hold over your POI will be low. And, if you hold under the POI will be very low. I missed a few sparrows at my bird feeders until I figured this out. I still have to think about it occasionally. I’m surprised B.B. didn’t mention this fact in his story about the snake at 15′. I would hold over the snake’s head about 1.5″.

  3. B.B.,

    An excellent explanation of the trajectory of a shot from below the sights/scope on. I confess much of what you explained I did not know. But now I do!

    Two other comments: “You will build up a supply of different pellets over time.” Yes we do, and thank goodness for that. That is what I remind myself every time I buy a new pellet. Like you and everyone else who does this over time, I depend on that supply whenever I find myself with a new (usually new only to me) air gun and am trying to figure out how accurate it is in my hands. It hasn’t yet happened to me, but it must feel awful shooting the very last pellet from an old tin of a discontinued pellet.

    And I love your repeating that this isn’t about the snake. I can’t tell you how many times I use an analogy and the person I’m speaking with focuses not on the subject of the analogy but its object.

    Again, very informative and well executed.


    • Michael,

      If you found some of this information to be new,… you might appreciate checking this site out. I have linked it many times in the past. It not only covers trajectory principles,… but a whole lot more. Lot’s of easy to understand visuals and you can alter some settings in some of the demos and see an instant visual change in real time. “Interactive”, in other words.


      Hope you enjoy,…. Chris

  4. B.B,

    Another blog regarding the *software* around airgunning.

    For me the rundown on pellet manufacturers is particularly useful. When I bought my first airgun from PA I also bought 5 tins of pellets of what I now know as fishing sinker larvae. I was so very frustrated at my inability to find any accuracy with that rifle. (I don’t deal with frustration well.) I would have had better results throwing rocks at the pests. Now about three or four years in and armed (pun) with more information about pellets, hold, trajectory and so on, I may return to the first airgun that I so roundly cursed. When in trade school I was told “A poor mechanic blames his tools.”

    A few weeks ago I was watching a video of someone testing new airgun. He had three rows of eight or nine different tins of pellets lined up on his shooting bench. Pellet choice indeed!

    So thanks for filling in more gaps in my knowledge base. This whole quest for accuracy is so much more than hardware.


  5. B.B.

    Really enjoying this series – I’ve pointed a couple of people to it already and they like it as well!

    Had that happen yesterday, it was a chipmunk (not a snake LOL!) that popped up 5 feet from me and it was an easy shot. Easy because I practice shooting at very close range as much as I practice at very long range. It’s amazing how many rabbits and partridge (and deer) will hold tight and not flush until you get very close – most of them get away as well!

    Suggestion: You might want to discuss setting up the rifle for its “point blank range” as opposed to sighting in for an (arbitrary) fixed distance in this series.

    I sight in my 10 meter rifles at exactly 10 meters because that distance means something but all my plinking, pesting and hunting rifles are sighted in for their best point blank range (PBR). I use a 1″ diameter target (the kill-zone size of the small game and pests I hunt) as my reference, and to allow for an aiming tolerance I use 3/4″ as my nominally acceptable group size. The Hawke ChairGun program great to help set up PBR and the attached picture shows an example. With a bit of practice and some small compensation it is usually pretty easy to get the POI within 1/2″ anywhere from 10 to 40 yards with a steady rest.


    • Hank,

      You said a mouthful! I too have plinking/pesting guns that I have sighted for very close distances. At those distances you must use open sights or a red dot, but open sights give you more latitude.

      My Diana 27 is such an airgun.


        • B.B.

          Can see that for FT work where the KZ can be down to 1/4″.

          For pesting 3/4″ is fine enough for me – head shots on grackles and starlings at 30 yards are typical with my .22 HW100 FSB.


      • B.B.,

        Not just Red Dots!

        The major appeal of lower power variable optics is the low-end magnification. Today, there’s a huge assortment of scopes on the market with a low-end in the 1x to 2x range. Dialed down to the lowest possible magnification, these scopes are perfect for engaging close range targets. Hunters, military, law enforcement, and civilians arming for home defense all have to plan for the possibility of targets that could suddenly appear from anywhere. Too much magnification at close range means it’ll take a few seconds to find the target through the scope or not at all. With a low magnification scope, the shooter can simply bring the rifle to eye level and fire. Recently, optics sporting a “true” 1x (no magnification) low end are all the rage. These are optics that cause zero optical distortion on their lowest setting for maximum speed in target acquisition. This is a nice feature to have, but can add a lot of expense to a variable power scope. A scope with 1.25x or even 1.5x low-end magnification is still very usable even on targets just a few yards (maybe even an angry snake 15 feet away) away. For hunters looking for a little more magnification than the typical 1-4x scopes, even a 2-7x scope can provide a better chance at a shot on a moving pest inside 25 yards than the more ubiquitous 3-9x optics.

        YOU CAN’T BUY SKILL! Higher magnification doesn’t make a bad shooter better and usually won’t even help them become better. In reality, bad technique is only made worse when using high magnification. This is why so many experienced shooters advocate for novices to always learn to master iron sights first before trying optics. Personally, I’m not convinced that iron sights should be a mandatory prerequisite for everyone, especially if they want to do HFT, but I do think that most shooters who opt to scope their first rifle will benefit more from a low power scope.

        Learning the fundamentals of marksmanship usually will involve targets at 20 yards or less, and a 1-4x scope is plenty adequate to shoot some decent groups at those ranges.


    • Hank, I had heard of that program, but not tried it yet; thanks for the picture…very informative!

      B.B., this is turning out to be a great series (lots of explanation = good); thank you. =>

      • Dave,

        Chairgun is good. Real good. I do believe that it is no longer supported by Hawke though,… for whatever reason. I did use it recently and had no issues. I am sure that there is similar programs that are free too. Bottom line,… play with programs all you want (I do),… but get out there and do (actual) testing. There WILL be differences,… but something like Chairgun will definitely get you in the “ball park”,.. if not a front row seat!

        🙂 Chris

        • Chris

          You can still get Chairgun from Hawke. It is under “discontinued “.
          You have to download a Java file to make it work.

          My old computer (W7) crapped about 3 weeks ago. Got a new “W10” .


    • Hank,
      I use Chairgun the same exact way as you. My killzone is also 1″ and my zero distance is 32 yards. This gives me a PBR of 11-39 yards with a JSB 18.13g pellet in my Gamo Urban .22 cal.
      One thing I noted on your graph is that your scope height is only 1.38″, mine is 1.90″. I think this measurement must be accurate in order for the Chairgun results to be accurate. I asked B.B. a while back about the best way to measure the scope height and he said that it wasn’t very important to know the exact measurement. I know that when I am pesting sparrows or starlings from my feeders, I hold 1.5 mil-dots high at 10X, which is pretty much where I leave the mag set.
      P.S. Had two nice bucks in the backyard a few days ago 😉

      • Geo,

        1.38 is correct for that .22 HW100S FSB rifle and 4-12×44 Hawke scope – I like my scopes as low as I can get them. This is my favorite rifle, do a lot of pesting and plinking with it.

        Just came in from working outside. Rifle season for deer opens up tomorrow and I can hear the guys checking their rifles… so can the deer – had 8 hanging around watching me work. They know that my property is a safe-zone for them and over the next two weeks a lot of deer will bed down close to the house.

        Nice to see them.


  6. B.B.,

    What snake? Lol!!!

    “Not about the snake
    This is not about the snake. This is about suddenly realizing that all your planning for this hunt while you were sitting in your comfy recliner at home has not prepared you for a shot like this. You are prepared for shooting at 50 to 125 yards. Where will your bullet be at 15 feet from the muzzle?”
    No it certainly isn’t about the snake! It is, however, all about “…sitting in your comfy recliner at home has not prepared you for a shot like this.” Truth is Recliner Hunting is what happens these days way to much, especially with all the edited hunting videos on TV! Ever see a snake attack a hunter on one of those shows? So the idea of a hand gun with snake shot when in snake country (not in Ireland) and perhaps snake proof tall boots/leggings is a good idea. If you don’t have a pistol then a flare pistol with the new ultra short low recoil shot loads. Also, when the Recliner Planed Hunt goes really badly awry you can always load a signal flare in the flare pistol to call in some competent help! One final thought; you could back away (reverse stalk?) from the snake and shoot it from your sight in distance….

    My abject Apologies to all the actual Nimrods in the readership!

    Great blog today B.B. I am enjoying this series.


    • It seems that the lesson here would be to know beforehand about the need for “holdover” at such short ranges, especially with a scoped airgun. If you were able to focus the scope well enough at that distance to see the snake’s head, and placed the crosshairs on it, you would miss for sure, shooting too low.

      • Geo,

        You asked B.B. about scope height and I agree with his comments on the topic except in the small distance from the muzzle to slightly beyond the first line of sight bore axis crossing. He says it isn’t important because of the distances he normally shoots at. That’s why I said, Tounge-in-Cheek, about stalking back to your sight in distance to shoot the snake. If your scope is 1.9″ and sight in is 32 yards I can see the problem with hitting B.B.’s snake in the head at at 15′; but why do we need to hit the snake in the head? The snake is out of action if we hit it anywhere in the first third of its length. So any shot that lines up the vertical stadia on at least the first third of the snake should finish it off at 5 feet to 32 yards without any vertical hold consideration.


  7. On,… “The basics of shooting” topic,… it was not so long ago that I got a TX200 in .22. That said,… I had never had any “real” training in shooting and it had been many years since I had shot an air gun.

    So? How about 1″+ (+?) groups at 41′ with a TX200? Huh???? It was all me. After awhile,.. and with a LOT of good advice from here,… I was “stacking” pellets and things got boring. I got it in the Winter, in Ohio,… so indoors was it!

    After that initial learning curve,… it became absolute necessary that I move outside and move the target out further. From there and with continued practice,… 25 yards was a good range to discern which pellets would be best and which ones would not be.

    Most any pellet will shoot good at short distance. Given human error,… results can be “fuzzy” to clearly tell a definitive tale at a shorter distance.

    At any rate,… that is my shortened version of my learning curve and the end result of needing to push things out further. As your skills increase,…. push out the range. Eventually,… (your) limitations will stop you (OR) the guns limitation’s will stop you. Then of course,.. there is always the combination of the two! 😉


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