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What it takes to win

Though I don’t compete anymore, my FWB P44 is fully capable of Olympic gold.

This report covers:

  • Why not 10-meter pistol?
  • Parents
  • The guns
  • Ammo
  • Serendipity
  • NRA national competition
  • So what?
  • What the beatnik said
  • The lesson

Today I will talk about competing and what it takes to win.

Back in the 1990s when I lived in Maryland I was a member of the Damascus chapter of the Izaac Walton League of America. I mentioned this recently when I talked about starting a field target club. Well, this chapter had formerly had a youth shooting program that was resurrected while I was there in the late 1990s. The chapter had several Daisy model 853 target rifles that, at the time, were the only game in town. All youth marksmen competed with them, though things were changing on that front. Daisy pretty much built the youth marksmanship program, in concert with the NRA. Daisy did most of the work and the NRA looked over their shoulder to make sure they were going in the right direction.

There already was an international 10-meter air rifle and 10-meter air pistol competition that had rules, targets, established scoring and so on, so rather than reinvent the wheel, Daisy adapted that for the youth. It was a three position event, where shooters shot offhand (standing), kneeling and prone. That’s as opposed to ISSF which is all offhand.

Why not 10-meter pistol?

Many people ask why Daisy didn’t also establish a 10-meter pistol event for the youth, as well. There are several good reasons for that. First, one of the principle goals of this program was teaching the kids how to shoot, with all the safety aspects thrown in. It is far easier to teach someone those things with a long gun than with a handgun. The sight radius is longer and they hold the gun with both hands. Get them to stand correctly and they almost can’t miss the target.

Next, even though there are lightweight 10-meter target pistols, the lightest of them is still too heavy for the majority of young people. In fact, when I teach full-grown men how to shoot target air pistols they quickly discover that their arms are not up to the task. After just a few shots they start wavering and have to stop, or they will possible throw their shots out of the target trap. This is where the hours of dry-firing come into play. The kids can’t do that unless they have a gun to train with all the time, and the club guns don’t leave the club — at least not until the shooter has proven himself or herself.

Finally, safety is the most important reason for using long guns with kids. I remember in the Army when I was range officer. I saw men shoot their 1911 .45 pistol and kick up dust 6 feet in front of them, when the target was at eye level 25 feet away. A handgun can be turned to point in the wrong direction too easily and too quickly for a new shooter to be safe. A long gun is more visible and has a longer barrel that the safety officer can grab when the shooter turns in the wrong direction.

For all these reasons, pistols were never considered for junior marksmen. They probably never will be.


I’m skipping past the training and covering things that seldom get spoken of. Let’s talk about parents. They range from fanatically interested to using the program as a babysitting service. What worked best was somewhere in-between. The kids needed parents who supported them (drove them to the training sessions and matches, etc.) but stopped short of pushing them where they didn’t want to go. Kids don’t know what they don’t know, so raising them is a special skill that includes psychology, motivational skills and a shunt for their feelings when things go south. Probably even more than that, but who said I was a good parent?

The guns

Our airguns were old and tired — just like our coaches. But they learned how to make the triggers better within the rules and how to get little 49-pound Janie to the point of pumping an 853 (it’s a single-stroke pneumatic that takes up to 20 pounds to pump — almost half her weight).

Old and tired they may have been, but those 853s could still shoot. As the kids warmed up to them we saw some surprising shots. And, as the training progressed, the kids started putting themselves into ranks. Before the first season was over we knew who the good shooters were. We also knew which guns were the most accurate and the coaches began reassigning the better ones to the better shooters. 


Crosman and Daisy both donated free pellets to the team. They were fine for learning to shoot, but the coaches knew that as the shooters got better some additional points could be had with different pellets. The parents and coaches tried a wide variety of pellets from different sources, including Pyramyd AIR.

Build a Custom Airgun


Oddly enough, at the same time that the junior marksmanship program was progressing, we started a Monday evening 10-meter pistol team to shoot between ourselves (the adult members of the chapter). At its height we had as many as 10 shooters. We progressed together over the months, and we tried different pellets, too.

There was a Chinese target pellet that Airgun Express sold for about $6 for a tin of 500. They were really good and in some of our pistols including mine they were the best. We loaned some to the youth team and they found them to be good, too.

Then we were contacted by an adult air pistol team in Virginia who wanted to compete with us. And they had a junior marksmanship team as well. We all got better and it was this Virginia team who registered many of us with the NRA, which is how I got my national ranking.

What I’m telling you is that, once started, both the junior marksmanship team and the adult pistol team grew on the strength of competition. Our kids were very good, and some even excelled, but there were no national-class shooters in the time I was associated. The adult Virginia pistol team had one shooter whose average was around 545 and above, and he was the guy to beat. No one ever did, but my own score in a 600-point match rose from 519 to 535 over about 6 months.

NRA national competition

One year I attended the NRA national air rifle competition and watched over 100 junior marksmanship kids from grade school up to high school seniors from all over the nation compete in 10-meter air rifle. College scholarships were awarded for winning scores. There were two classes — Precision for the older kids and Sporter for the ones who shot 853s.

Those Precision-class kids had the best equipment money could buy. They wore leather shooting jackets and pants that were custom-tailored and cost over a thousand dollars. They couldn’t gain more than five pounds or the apparel wouldn’t fit. Their airguns were the same as would be seen at the Olympics, and the top winners were invited to try out for the US Olympic team.

The Sporter class shot Daisy 853s exclusively, only they shot them like the Precision class. Remember — these were the top junior marksmen in the United States. And their guns were closely inspected by the judges. One ounce of trigger pull under the minimum and they were disqualified, and the inspection was done at the end of all shooting. As I recall, there was one case in which the trigger-pull was just at the minimum and the judges went over that rifle with a fine-toothed comb. I don’t remember if there was an upset over that incident, but the pucker-factor ran high among the sdhooters for about a half hour. Then the scores and awards were posted for all to see.

So what?

Is it an equipment race? The fact is — equipment doesn’t win. People win. If there is a master violinist, someone with money gets him an instrument worthy of his talent. But for the rest of us fiddle players, almost any old thing with strings will do. The neat thing about airguns is that for only about $3,000 a person can own a target rifle capable of winning the Olympics. And, if you’re on a budget, $600 or so will get you an FWB 300S that is almost as good and nearly as accurate. You can’t do that in most other sports, and you certainly can’t do it with violins! Owning a Stradivarius doesn’t make you Yahudi Menuhin.

What the beatnik said

There’s a joke from the 1960s about a violin player carrying his violin case and walking on the sidewalks of New York City. He’s lost, so he walks up to a beatnik and asks, “Can you please tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?”

The beatnik looks the guy over before responding, “Practice, man. Practice.”

As silly as that sounds, it’s the best advice for improving you shooting. Guns, ammo, shooting jackets and the like won’t do a thing if you don’t put in the time.

Just before I stopped competing I was at the point when I knew whether I had just shot a 9 or a 10 without looking at the target. And I still occasionally threw an 8 from a tremor in my shooting hand. Ouch!

But in my last match, my CO2 gun ran out of gas during the match and I shot a 6 that should have been a 10. The pellet strick the target in line with the center of the bull but 1-1/2-inches low. I could tell by the report that the gas was gone, so I refilled the gun and finished the match. My score was a 532, as I remember, but it took the heart out of me to lose those 4 points. On the way home the transmission in my Chrysler Town and Country minivan went out on the freeway, and that just compounded the situation. Thank the Lord that cell phones were available and I had one!

There was no way I had the money at that time for even a used pneumatic target pistol, let alone a new one. So I just quit shooting. Had I continued I was about to move up to Expert class in the national ratings. It would have happened in a month or two. That is what the beatnik was talking about. This is the only time in my life that I have ever been so close to improving in a recognizeable way, and it is a lesson I never forgot.

The lesson

So, practice trumps the gun, the pellet and the equipment. I had a peek at what real champions know so well. Ironically, the good shooter from Virginia did move ahead from a 545 average to a 560 average. One more advance to 575 and he would be a national-class competitor. He knew it and, as far as I know, he made it.

57 thoughts on “What it takes to win”

      • BB,

        Then 753 is even better… It is not listed on PA anymore, because the IT got rid of the single pump section and 753 was not categorized as pump action earlier. Now, it only comes up if you search for it in the search box. It is not discontinued either, as it shows up as pre-order. The IT should at least list it as pump action. At the moment, if you look at air rifles on PA site, it is not listed at all unless specifically typed in the search box.

        • Fish
          That’s easy for you to say since you probably never had a 60 or 1377.

          Can’t say that I can belive that unless I had all them guns to know.

          Let me know what you think after you had them to say the truth about what you exsperiance.

          • No, I didn’t shoot them, but I still have an opinion on the matter.

            Here is the things that I don’t have to touch them to know. 753 is superior to 1377 in my opinion because, you don’t have to pump it five six times at every single shot. And more ergonomical them the add on 1377 carbine.

            753 is superior to 60, because good luck finding a 60 these days, and 60 is spring action. 753 is technically must be more accurate to shoot.

            But I agree with you, one should buy them all and shoot them for years – and then talk.

            But I enjoy talking about air guns, whether I am right or wrong.

          • If I had a basement range and a 753, what would stop me from buying a 1377; I would have them both. The problem is I don’t have a basement. The best thing I can have is a 5 meter in home set up at the moment, but with three dogs who never listen, I don’t want to shoot steel BBs around with a 499 or something indoors. I enjoy my other hobies these days.

        • Fish
          That always bothers me when someone comments about a gun and they never owned one. And yes I mean owned one. There is a difference between owning one and shooting one that someone else owns.

          Hopefully sooner than later you can get you some air guns and start seeing what I mean.

          And read all the reports and reviews about a gun you want. It’s still not the same as owning one.

          • I guess I’ll bother you a lot then. 😉
            I’ve been a one air rifle man. I’ve owned 3 air rifles, but all 27s. I’ve shot a couple of others, Hatsan 95 and 499 that I can remember. I am not too worried about trying and owning all that I can, and this still won’t stop me from sharing an opinion or two from time to time; as I said, I enjoy talking about air guns, whether I am right or wrong.

        • Fish
          No worry at all.

          You won’t bother me.

          But it does bother me when somebody comments about a gun they never owned. Especially comparing it to another.

          Hopefully you will understand what I mean soon. People spend money to get a product and exsperiance it. Arm chair shooters are only dreaming. I like the truth. I don’t like when people guess. I could do that all day long. I wouldn’t feel right at the end of the day. No guessing please.

          • Armchair sailor / shooter is what I am right now. 🙂

            I play various musical instruments and don’t get bothered when armchair musicians do the same thing. Pick ups change, wood quality change, and seasoned musicians will know what will work and what will not. You look at the specs and have a general idea, which my comments are merely those general ideas / opinions about airguns. At the end of the day, it comes to this; even you own and shoot a particular airgun, it doesn’t mean every same airgun will perform exactly the same as that particular one.

            I few years ago, I came across a cheap classic guitar for $100, played it a little and bought it right away. I don’t know what part of the wood it had on it, but sounds way better than my $1000 Yamaha. What I am trying to say is, I’ve owned and shot the heck out of 3 27s and they were not the same at all. You may get lucky and a great barrel; that doesn’t mean that every other of that same gun will have a great barrel like yours. So even owning and shooting is not enough, still gives you better merits, but still not enough merits.

          • Here is what I’m trying to say. Yes, you know more than I do about 753, because you own one and shot the heck out of it. And your armchair friend here respects that. But if I happened to buy one, it might not be as good as yours. I might end up getting a lemon barrel, who knows. It may group well, but worse than yours.

            HW30S is a great example. BB bought one, and his is awesome, but I read many nightmare stories about the galling issues shared by quite a few owners. The one that I will buy might gall like crazy.

        • Fish,

          You don’t need 5 pumps to get a 1377 to speed. 3 pumps will do. And if you only have 5 meters to work with I’m in the same boat. I use a smaller target as an aimpoint. A properly mounted pellet trap 4 feet above the floor shouldn’t be a problem for you or the dogs. Use an old fuse box, fill with duct seal and shoot. Close the cover when not in use. The 1377 has the advantage that you can take it outside when you have a chance and let it stretch its legs at 10 pumps. Whether you shoot it with a stock attached or as a pistol is up to you.


      • BB-

        Great blog today. Thank you.

        The sights also differ between the 753 and 853 models.
        753- has the #5996 rear sight and barrel weight with detachable front sight
        853- has the #5889 rear sight and barrel weight with non removable front sight

        Errata- first section, second paragraph- …chapter had several 883 (853)…


  1. BB,

    So practice makes perfect and nothing like a little competition to give you a push forward. The fortitude to have the mental attitude to discipline oneself to keep doing it for incremental improvement. Something you hardly see in kids these days with their short attention span.


  2. BB

    Good un! Thanks for sharing.

    You may still have your competition shooting glasses. Do you ever find them helpful now when used with open sights or peep sights?


  3. “Those Precision-class kids had the best equipment money could buy. They wore leather shooting jackets and pants that were custom-tailored and cost over a thousand dollars.”

    I’ve looked at those shooting accessories, IMHO I feel that they detract from the sport – like someone is buying a skill they don’t have. A $$$$ advantage over the competitors? What is the limit? A steel armor suit that encases the shooter like a Mech Warrior? Anyway, each to their own.

    That being said, I feel that a high-end match quality 10 meter air pistol or rifle is a worthwhile investment. A quantity tool to work with. Yes, they are not cheap but they are no more extravagant than a decent set of golf clubs, a good camera or the equipment for many other hobbies. (Heck, my fishing tackle box is worth more than the FWB P44 shown at the top of the blog – but don’t tell my wife! LOL!)

    As kids, at our shooting competitions the “uniform” was sneakers, jeans and a t-shirt. The only “accessory” was a baseball cap. In a “serious” competition (to level the playing field) we all shot the same rifle with pellets from the same box. No equipment advantage – the best shooters were really the best. Guess that our competitions were more like a Field Target match: bottle caps at unmarked ranges. We used “binary scoring” – you hit or you didn’t 🙂

    I can see the advantage of formal target shooting – scoring targets, keeping notes and diligent practice to improve. I have always been on the casual side of paper punching, plan on going “formal” in the upcoming (winter) 10 meter season. Just to see if I have what it takes to win. 🙂


    • Hank,

      I myself never could get into all that gear stuff. At one time or another I have owned various 10 meter air rifles of days gone by. I still have my Izzy 46M. Good luck with competing. Put that Impact away and start practicing now.

  4. I have never officially competed ever. Every time I shoot though, I compete with myself.

    Sometimes when I look through those sights and start shooting, I instantly know I did not show up for the match. At those times I just pack it all in and find something else to do.

    Most of the time though, I do show up for the match. Mrs. RR cannot fathom how I can shoot for several hours. Many do not understand that “in the zone” there is no time.

    My first air rifle was a Gamo CFX. By the time it found a new home, I could cover a ten shot group at twenty-five yards with a dime. Gamo can build air rifles. You just have to put in the time.

  5. I’ve competed locally with a Gamo Compact (now called an Air Venturi) and did not do too bad. I always considered it the Diasy 853 of the 10m air pistol crowd.
    Funny story (in my mind) as to why I took up pistol instead of 10m air rifle.
    Twenty or so years ago I attended, as a spectator an ISSF competition that was within driving range.
    The air rifle was first. Guys were showing up with rolling cases of gear and clothing that rivaled what I used to wear when I road raced sports cars.
    The pistol shooters showed up in t-shirts, runners and a range bag. Seemed that other than the pistols the most expensive thing they had was there shooting glasses.
    I was sold on pistol events 🙂

  6. BB
    You know that’s a bummer to let what outfit you wear to determine the type of shooting competition you choose.

    A light bulb should of went off by somebody. There should of been a rifle competition that got created where you didn’t have to wear that extra gear.

    I myself don’t like to have to get all dressed up to shoot a gun good. I just like to learn how to shoot it good without the extra wear. And that’s what I do. Thank you. 🙂

    • Gunfun1,

      That’s what I liked about Metallic Silhouette. No fancy shooting duds needed or required (at least when I competed in the ’80’s). Just you and your rifle or pistol. Although I did frown on them ruling that my aperture sight would compete in the scoped division.


    • GF1,

      The only way that is going to happen is when someone steps up and whips the tar out of them without putting on the leather girdles. The problem is all that leather straps and stuff does help. They can hardly move in that stuff. It holds them in position.

      The major problem with it is the Olympics. It is an international showcase with gee gobs of money at stake. All the fun is gone out of it.

      That is what happened to Field Target. It started out as a bunch of airgun hunters getting together off season and having fun. Then some rich kid showed up with a very expensive custom air rifle, a four foot scope costing more than the air rifle and a strap yourself down tight shooting suit.. Before long, if you did not mortgage your home to buy your kit, you did not stand a chance. The folks with the “cheap” air rifles and scopes stopped showing up. Field Target almost died.

      Then somebody had an epiphany. Let’s take Field Target back to it’s roots. They created a Hunter Class. They then took it a step further and split it up into PCP and Sproinger. The hunters came back. They were not competing with the Unlimited gang. It was fun again.

      Is there any hope for 10 meter air rifle competition? I am afraid it is too late. Like I said, there is too much money involved.

  7. B.B.,

    Totally agree!

    “In fact, when I teach full-grown men how to shoot target air pistols they quickly discover that their arms are not up to the task. After just a few shots they start wavering and have to stop, or they will possible throw their shots out of the target trap. This is where the hours of dry-firing come into play.”

    I was just talking with my Personal Trainer two days ago about any new exercises to improve conditioning for single hand pistol shooting. He said other than general Functional Fitness workouts the full Dry Fire process with perhaps a small temporary increase in weight of the pistol is okay as long as it doesn’t change the NPA (Natural Point Aim.) The hold on target is Isometric and that can be held on repetitions until muscle failure but he said the dynamic movement from table to NPA is the greatest demand on muscle conditioning and greatest return on time invested in increased shooter fitness.

    I certainly believe his informed position on the concept of the importance of shooter fitness.


  8. Fish
    Your still not getting it.

    I don’t care how many guns I have had. But don’t say you know something about one you haven’t owned.

    You can speculate all day long and so can I. To get my attention about what a gun is like is you need to own it first. Otherwise what?

    • You’ve never owned an electric Mustang SUV, and yet, you have a concrete opinion about that car. All I did was stating my abstract opinion about an air gun, and I will continue doing that whenever I’d like.

      • Fish but your saying one is better than another.

        Yes I do have a strong opinion about the electric Mustang. But I never compared it to anything else.

        How could I. I never drove the electric Mustang.

        What I’m talking about is your saying things about a gun you never owned. And saying one is good as another or another is better.

        Nope that ain’t the same as a opinion.

        • I know you didn’t drive one. You have a strong opinion about a car you’ve never driven, and you’re sharing that – which I respect. It’s unacceptable to me, but I still respect your opinion. And I compare two airguns just by skimming through their specs. I compare Mercedes and BMW all the time, just by looking at their features and specs; yet, I’d never buy one. Still, I compare them, because I can. because it is fun. because it sparks conversations that I enjoy.

  9. B.B.

    I don’t think most people realize how hard it is to shoot a pistol well.
    I would say, 10 X harder, easily…

    Surprised that you gave the best guns to the best shooters. When I was going up, I was told the better shooters should get the poorer guns because they would still be able to shoot them than the poorer shooters.
    Turned me off 50 ft. small bore.


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