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.

Summary

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.