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What kind of airgunner are you?

This report covers:

  • Does that explain it?
  • We’re complex

Several readers asked me to republish this report for all who might have missed it.  I went through and edited it, but there wasn’t much to change. What was true in 2011 is still true today.

One of our blog readers mentioned the excellent book Yours Truly, Harvey Donaldson, and I purchased it. It’s a compendium of articles that Donaldson wrote for Handloader magazine, a few special articles he wrote for American Rifleman back in the 1930s and some correspondence he had with various notable shooting magazine editors. I found the book so interesting that I’ve already given two copies as presents to other shooters.

For those not familiar with the name, Harvey Donaldson is well known as a shooter, writer and developer of many wildcat cartridges — including his best-known .219 Donaldson Wasp. He was able to get 12,000+ rounds from a .220 Swift with each delivering in excess of 4,000 f.p.s. — and the rifle could still group five shots inside a nickel at 100 yards. Today’s handloaders don’t have a clue who he is or they have forgotten the knowledge men like this have given us.

Among the hundreds of treasures in this book, Donaldson makes the casual comment in one of his letters that Dr. F.W. Mann, who authored The Bullet’s Flight From Powder to Target, wasn’t a very good shooter. He also wasn’t a very good reloader. That’s why (according to Donaldson) Mann had to resort to his Shooting Gibraltar concrete pier gun rest that weighed in excess of 3,000 lbs. and was sunk permanently in the ground. Donaldson says any good benchrest shooter could outshoot the groups Mann got using his rest.

That got me thinking. I have always thought of Dr. Mann as the penultimate shooter, and here is Harvey Donaldson, whose shooting credentials are impeccable, saying Mann wasn’t a shooter at all. He was a scientist.

Then it dawned on me. Some people like to shoot to see how well they can do, while others, like me, like to shoot to see how well the gun can do. Mann was obsessed with the quest to discover why all bullets do not fly to the exact same point of impact. He never discovered the reason, but along the way he did discover many things that we now take for granted:

1. Uniformity of the bullet’s base is extremely important to accuracy.

2. A bullet’s nose can be grossly deformed without affecting accuracy one bit.

3. The orientation of the rifle’s action must be consistent from shot to shot for the best accuracy.

4. A bullet can stray from the boreline in any direction on its way to the target and still hit the target exactly in the center.

Mann was an experimenter whose focus was on the gun and ammunition, rather than his own abilities. Not all shooters are like that.

Olympic and world-class target shooters tend to focus on their own abilities, to the point that they seem to assume the rifle or pistol they use is capable of perfect accuracy. Of course, they do test ammunition; but once they find what works, they buy it in quantity and concentrate on their own skills.

On the other hand, I tend to shoot from a bench more often than not. I want to see what the gun can do, and I’m not overly concerned about my own shooting skills.

In fact, I am just an average shot. If you were to plink with me, you’d soon discover that I can’t shoot any better than you and probably not as well as many of you. When I test an airgun for this blog, you don’t care how well I shoot. You want to know how well you can expect that gun to shoot. The benchrest takes as much of me out of the equation as possible and gives you a more objective picture of the gun’s performance. I know that several of you want me to clamp my test guns in a vise and test them that way, but I don’t have Dr. Mann’s resources.

Of course, you have to know how to shoot from a bench, and I have had lots of practice at that. Maybe I might seem like a good shooter to some people, but that’s only when I am as far removed from the shooting as possible. In truth, I am really a lot more like Dr. Mann, in that I’m more interested in the performance of the airgun than in my own ability to shoot.

But there are many shooters who are the opposite. They want to know how well they can shoot, and the rifle is just what they use to measure it. Of course, they’re aware that all guns are not perfectly accurate; and, yes, they do go through the same sort of search to find one that suits them best. Once they find it, all focus shifts back to their own ability to shoot rather than whether or not that rifle can be made to shoot any better.

These shooters are not all shooting offhand, either. Some shoot from the prone position, others from the sitting position and many will take a rest wherever they can find it. Some of them even use crossed sticks as a portable steady rest in the field.

Let’s compare these people to our American 2x Gold Medalist Olympic champion rifle shooter — Gary Anderson. They first want a gun and ammunition they can trust; and after that, it’s all up to them and their skills with the gun.

Let me give you a couple variations on this theme to better illustrate what I’m saying. There’s the guy who receives his airgun and plops down in front of a chronograph with a tin of pellets, first thing. For him, life is complete. He’ll sit there shooting thousands of rounds across the skyscreens as he inputs the results into endless spreadsheets of data to discuss on his favorite forum. He’s like Dr. Mann. He’s interested in one aspect of performance to the near-exclusion of all others.

The next guy buys the very same airgun and starts shooting it at targets immediately. He’s the guy who puts 80,000 shots on a gun and can talk about longevity issues that the rest of us will never live long enough to see. Where some of us live in the hopes of a good tuneup on our airguns, this guy has already performed four on his and has the parts on hand for the next two. To him, a tuneup is unavoidable downtime when he would rather be out shooting. He’s like Gary Anderson. He’s a shooter.

Another guy buys the same airgun and never shoots the first shot out of it. He tears it down and modifies it in ways that have either been recommended to him on the internet or that seem like the best way to go. Some of these guys have the rifle shipped to a certain airgun tuner and let him apply his magic before they ever set eyes upon their gun for the first time.

Then, there’s the guy why buys the same gun, sights it in with a good pellet and immediately starts hunting everything within sight. His gun is a tool, like his game caller and his rangefinder. He, too, is a shooter, but he doesn’t collect his shooting experiences as scores on targets, pictures of groups or numbers on a graph. Rather, he has an endless supply of memories of this hunt and that, what went right and what went wrong.

Does that explain it?

Does that, perhaps, explain why one shooter can be delighted with a rifle that shoots five of a certain pellet at 1,050 f.p.s. into a one-inch group at 30 yards and another cannot be satisfied until the same model rifle is tuned down to 850 f.p.s. and can put them all into a dime at 50 yards? Does it explain why a twangy firing cycle is so disturbing to one shooter, yet another can brush it off because the rifle puts them all where he wants them to go?

We’re complex

I am not saying that any of this is all one way and none of the other. But people do exhibit certain tendencies. Lloyd Sykes worked for years on the dynamics of an electronically controlled air valve, and for a short time the world enjoyed the Benjamin Rogue. Lloyd is a definite Dr. Mann. On the other hand, blog reader CowboyStar Dad tells us how many tens of thousands of shots he has on each of his guns. He wears out the mainspring in his IZH 61. He is a Gary Anderson-type shooter.

Knowing that these types of people exist may help us understand where someone is coming from when they ask a “simple” question…

Hi. I’m new to airgunning, and I would like to try out one of these new air rifles I keep reading about. I don’t want to spend too much money until I know that airgunning is for me, so can you make some recommendations of guns that cost under $300?

Yes, I can recommend some guns, but what do you want to do with one?

Person 1. I want to shoot tin cans and other targets around the manure pile. I have been shooting a .22; but there are some houses going in down the road, and I want to throttle back for safety.

Person 2. I’m fascinated by the thought of plain old air pushing a pellet to 1,400 f.p.s. I want to see what’s possible.

Person 3. My yard is infested with tree rats that I want to eradicate. After that, I plan on taking my show on the road and cleaning out the whole woods.

Person 4. I used to shoot target rifle on the ROTC team, and I’d like to get back into it but still be able to shoot at home because I don’t have a rifle range.

Leigh Wilcox, the founder of Airgun Express, used to say that airgun targets had to bleed, break or fall. Maybe they did for him, but I’m not ready to shoot at targets like that just yet. I’m still concerned why there is a twang upon firing and why my velocity is only 761 f.p.s. when others report over 840 f.p.s. from the same gun shooting the same pellet.

How about you?

51 thoughts on “What kind of airgunner are you?”

  1. I’m of the I want to be a good shooter type. I suspect though, to be one, I’ll have to also be the other type—knowing how to tweak the gun to get it to perform its best.

  2. B.B.

    Another great “ruminations” article!
    I like to shoot springers because they are hard to shoot. PCP’s are to easy….

    In the performance car market there is a similar issue. Since the development of dual clutch automated gearboxes it is know and shown that they can shift gears faster than any human can. However, on the used car market, three pedal cars trade at a premium to the dual clutch automatics…
    Go figure?


  3. As Harry Callahan said, “a man has to know his limitations.” So FM is trying to be the airgunner who gets to know his limitations while having fun doing it. An he is. And by the way Yogi, he enjoys working that clutch and gearshift lever; gives you the feeling you’re more in control of the machine than the machine is in control of you. Whether we are talking “sproinger,” PCP, clutch and gearshift, automatic transmission and so on – the best part of all that is to have choices to make. That is where a lot of the enjoyment comes from, at least for FM.

  4. What kind of airgunner am I? Wow, that’s a good question. If I recall correctly, BB has called me an eclectic collector. Over the years I have managed to acquire a small collection of top quality airguns made since 1900. They all shoot. Most would be considered very low powered compared to the new ones of today, but the accuracy exhibited by some of these is truly stunning. Others are not so good. All of them are fun to shoot.

    When I take my 1906 BSA down from above the fireplace and shoot her for a bit, I come to the realization that we have indeed come far in some respects, but we have forgotten a lot along the way.

  5. Thanks for republishing this article BB! I had to think about this for a bit.

    I’m definitely a “shooter” – only accurate guns are interesting. By “accurate” I mean that it has to shoot consistent groups out to its maximum effective range be that 30 or 300 feet.

    Once I determine the maximum effective range of the weapon (bow, pistol, rifle, slingshot… whatever) the focus changes to how consistent I am and what my maximum effective range is. It’s the hours of practice and thousands of pellets that I enjoy. That and the confidence to know I will hit what I’m shooting at, where I want to hit it.

    Guess that my current interest in tuning is more about getting the airgun to its optimum state (shooting the best groups it can) rather than its ultimate state of, say, shooting sub-MOA at 100 yards.

    Thanks BB, I now know why I find 10 meter target airguns so appealing – if the pellet doesn’t hit where I intended I know I need to do more practicing 🙂


  6. I guess I would call myself a “renaissance” man. By that, I mean I like to do a little bit of everything. I like collecting different mechanical airguns (break barrel, underlever, side lever, tap loader, pcp). I like punching holes in paper, tin cans, plastic milk bottles, spinners and so on. When the tree rat population reaches a point that they’re interested in getting into my home, I will cull the herd. That is, if the local hawk or fox population is too lazy to do it for me (right now, I have a huge Cooper’s Hawk hanging around and no sightings of squirrels or chipmunks in the last several days). If my rifle isn’t accurate, I will try to improve it within my skill set. One rifle I did a Bubba recrown and improved it noticeably (https://www.pyramydair.com/blog/2011/03/recrowning-the-benjamin-nitro-piston-air-rifle/ ). Other rifles, I replaced seals, springs or greased the main spring to tame it somewhat.

    I also love reading this blog.

    Fred formerly of the Peeples Demokratik Republik of NJ now happily in GA

    • Fred-
      I think of myself as a Jack-Of-All-Trades/Master-Of-None shooter. I like the sound of “Renaissance Man” but it lends a competence to the notion that is not altogether true for me.

      I hunt and pest with gear that I have set up to be effective. Those are working guns that need to do a job and I don’t get fussy about- like a skilsaw- as long as they do the job. Those guns for me are- in order of most work done effectively on eastern grey squirrels, norwegian rats, and nutria- the Prod pistol, Mrod .25, 1st gen Benjamin Trail np, QB78, and a Condor SS. My Prod looks about as pretty as my skilsaw but they both have put the work in and earned their scars.

      I seem to perversely enjoy trying to accuratize and learn to shoot problematic guns (cheap springers and overpowered nitro pistons) even though the results are always the same in the end. I usually give those guns away in disgust when I’m done surgically dismembering them and stitching them back together. And then the itch gets me and I find another one…

      I like to plink in the basement and the garage. It is just for fun. My expectations are low and I deliver on them- the P17 pistol, QB78, Daisy 880 are all brilliant for this.

      Different guns, different intentions, diffent kinds of fun.

  7. B.B.,

    Thank you for reposting this great piece of The Godfather of Airgunning’s legacy.
    I have always been a Practical Shooter first and foremost; it has served me well and kept me alive to shoot another day any number of times.
    This week I have had the honor to serve some of the toughest young shooters the USA has! Biathlon is their sport: hard Cross Country Skiing done over many kilometers with a rifle slung on your back interspersed by FAST stops for prone and off hand shots at 5 targets with bolt action 22LR rifle.
    I’m proud of these rare young men and women!


    PS: NO Optics allowed!

      • RidgeRunner,

        12 to 16″ of packed base that got rained on before Christmas turning it into a slab. Since Sunday 10″ fell and now we have been getting 1-3″ of powder every night and on most of the days. The wind (the range is oriented S to N) has been 10-15 mph out of the N to NNE and relatively steady. Temperature have been as low as 3°F but at race times it has been 10°-29°F tomorrow it will be a little warmer but still snowing…should be fast conditions.


  8. B.B.,
    What a great question to ponder! I spent Christmas Eve removing the scope from my (1974) Sheridan, and sighting her back in with the (non-click) receiver sight; at 5 or 6 pumps, she shoots dead-on at 15 yards; that means I am back to my teenage days, when I used 6 pumps (always) for hunting; it’s great to know that the old gal is back to how she was; and once more, I can wrap my hand around her, and run through the woods with her…as I did in days of old. Hence, I guess you could say I am a nostalgic airgunner, who takes extreme joy in getting his first airgun back to how she was in the past…but with better JSB ammo. So, I guess I am also a practical airgunner, since I also noted that, with just 3 pumps, the rifle shoots an inch below POA at 15 yards, meaning I can plink with 3 or hunt and pest with 6 (6 pumps gives 618 fps, for 11.63 fpe with 13.73 g JSBs).
    Like Hank (Vana2), I also like to set up each gun for its effective accurate range; and as he mentioned in this blast-from-the-past
    it’s not so much power you need for hunting as the ability to get close to the game and to set up your shot.
    However, since getting a rescue dog (American bulldog) five months ago, the presence of critters to hunt, or critters that require pesting, has dropped WAY down! 🙂
    But I still like to set up guns to know what they CAN do (that must be a bit of the B.B. within me! =>); so I still love to take the time to set up rifles to hunt or pest certain critters at a particular range…just in case.
    Mostly though, I am a plinkerI love to plink at various targets at different ranges; yet overall, I just like to “have fun with a gun.” Lately, I have been having a blast (literally) with this tiny 1322 carbine; I had lent it to a neighbor to take care of a rat problem, and he gave it back to me just before Christmas. I’d forgotten what a hoot to shoot this little gun is! Unlike my 1322 pistol, into which I dumped lots of cash, this gun I kept basic, just to see what could be done to create a decent sub-$100 plinker. I’ve been having an insane amount of fun with this little (23-3/8″) carbine.
    Soooooo, I guess I’m an eclectic, nostalgic, practical plinker who enjoys an accurate airgun. 🙂
    Happy 5th day of Christmas to all,

      • Thanks, Roamin Greco!
        Just open the photos individually in Paint and shrink the viewing size for each of them to 12.5% (which is as low as you can set it). Then take the pic that you wish to be in the upper left-hand corner and rename it to “collage” or something like that; then stretch the margins to create a lot ow white space to the right and down below to make room for the other pics. At the bottom of each pic, Paint will show you the file size as well as the pixel width and height. So you may have to re-size some of the pics to get them to fit in your collage; When you are ready to copy the other pics in, take them (one at a time) and left click on “Home,” “Select,” and “Select All.” Then you still need to right click within the pic and select “Copy.” Then go to your “collage” pic and select “Home,” “Paste” (the arrow under “Paste”), and “Paste” (“Paste” not “Paste From” since you want to paste what you just copied to the clipboard). The pic you paste in will always be in the upper left-hand corner; but you can grab it and move it wherever you wish; and if you make a mistake, just hit the counter-clockwise arrow at the top (or “Control-Z”) to undo it. When you are done with your collage, it will likely be too big to choose as a file to upload to the blog; so, just look at the overall size (once you have saved it), and then figure out the percentage to which you need to re-size it to get it to be less than one megabyte. You can calculate, or just take a guess. Say you guess 40%, and resize it to that; you will have to hit save to get the file to give you the updated size. Say, for example, it says 1.2 MB; that’s OK; even though you “saved” it, you can still undo that, and be back to your original size; if you pick 36%, your 1.2 MB file should be down to about 950 KB; so hit “save” and it is ready to be selected by choosing that file under the “Choose Files” link (which is below the “SEND A COMMENT” link.
        Sorry for going overboard on the explanation, but someone else may have the same, or similar, question, so I’m trying to cover all possibilities in one response.
        Hoping this is helpful,

          • Here’s an FM “Rube Goldberg” hack when there is a need to resize images for this blog or others; FM uses his iPhone 7S for this. After taking the pic, email it to yourself. My bellsouth.net email (it is really Yahoo email now) asks how large an image is to be sent. Then you select the size you know will fit your particular mission and send the email. Once received, “open” the pic, save it to your go-to image files then you can upload it here or elsewhere. Yes, this is sorta roundabout quickie system for those who don’t have or don’t want to use a photo editor. That’s how FM’s brain works. Sometimes.

  9. Dave
    Here is a picture of my Prod.

    Don’t know how your cheek weld is with your 1399 stock but I use A/C foam pipe wrap and zip ties to add to the 1399 stock for my cheek weld. Helps with the dot sights and scopes. Your probably ok with your open sight.

    I got 2 1377’s done up with a steel breech and dot sight and 1399 stock with the foam wrap. One has a .22 Maximus barrel and the other 1377 has a .177 Maximus barrel.

    They are so light and easy to handle its not funny and accurate.

    But thought you might be interested in the foam A/C pipe wrap.

    • “They are so light and easy to handle its not funny and accurate.”
      Gunfun1, exactly! I love what you did with yours. It looks like you have a longer under-tube for more power?
      I like your idea of the foam pipe wrap (I use lots of that here on the farm for well pipes!);I wound up getting a good cheek weld in another way…I wish I could say by skill, but there was a lot of luck involved. I was having trouble getting my eye close enough to the aperture, so I cut 2″ out of the upper and lower portion of the stock (and re-bonded it with pins and JB Weld (that stuff gets a lot of use on the farm, too!). That did three things for me: 1) it got me the correct amount of eye-relief for the aperture sight, 2) it got me a nice cheek weld, and 3) it gave me a tiny carbine that is under 2-feet long.
      As I said, I wish I could say “I did some calculations, and it all worked out exactly as planned,” but that would be a load of fertilizer; mostly, I just made a lucky guess.
      The really cool thing is, the 13″ length-of-pull is fine for adults (I’m 6-foot, with long arms), but is also usable by the 12 to 13-year-olds I taught to shoot with it. The kids found this gun to be much easier to shoot (and score hits) than my 1322 pistol.
      Oh yes, the one other important (but free) mod I made was to file the front sight down to a width of 0.063″ since the stock front sight made it too difficult to hit small targets.
      I also had to mess with the trigger spring (squish it down) to lighten the trigger pull, and also added a 3/8″ trigger shoe; that made it more kid-friendly (and dave-friendly, too).
      But I love the looks of your gun. 🙂
      Happy shooting to you,

  10. BB, I’m a recreational airgun enthusiest, I like the science of it, and working on mine is both frustrating and satisfying at times, and dangerous too. I do have some scars and close calls, so respect and awareness comes to the fore, or I would have quit doing it. I wish there was a ‘Godzilla’ rat competition at the local dump, I’d go. Seems a little less stressfull, and disturbingly satisfying at the same time. Besides, I’m too old to run around on skis and shoot at tiny targets now, I’d like a chair, thank you very much.
    It’s the science of it that appeals to my intellect, limited tho it may be.
    Best, Rob

  11. Thank you Sir, I’ll have my inflatable rubber donut and some bandaids in my kit along side some JSB’s probably.
    I dont get the 10% military discount. I think seniors get 5%. I wonder if you can add them together?

  12. “I’m still concerned why there is a twang upon firing and why my velocity is only 761 f.p.s. when others report over 840 f.p.s. from the same gun shooting the same pellet.”

    IMHO this says it all.

    Happy New Year Ya’ll.
    May this New Year be like your next airgun and exceed your expectations.

  13. BB, dear All,

    Happy New Year!

    Thank you for a very good article to think about.
    I found it very interesting to finally recognize how much an engineer I am also in my hobby. It is very hard for me to not touch the equipment and just start to shoot out of the box. Nevertheless, I always try it to see how much I may improve the final performance.
    One thing changed after some time without airgunning – now I really shoot my stuff. I like to always see the best possible accuracy of the gun hiding myself behind a benchrest and some special tools to make the shooter out of error-chain. But once I detect the high-end of accuracy of the equipment there is time for me to see how good the team “tomek+equipment” really is. It was not always like this. Similar to hi-fi: some people will never hear the music because they are all the time changing the loudspeaker position and some component stuff. Perhaps I’m getting old but I really like to hear the music as soon my equipment is a bit optimized. 🙂 Some years ago I would probably tell you my opinion about the airgun after shooting 50times. Now I would rather shoot 5000 times to say a first sentence about it.

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