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Air Guns How far?

How far?

Laser rangerinder.

This report covers:

  • Trajectory
  • The point?
  • Discussion
  • 10-meter target
  • Airgun silhouette
  • Anal shooters
  • Laser rangefinders
  • Conclusion
  • Huh?|
  • However
  • Summary

Today we discuss the importance of distances to airgunners.


As long as I have been a shooter I’ve been a student of estimating distances. When I was a tanker in the Army distances were extremely important for exactly the same reasons they are to airgunners. They were just different distances. Instead of 10 yards we shot things at one mile and beyond. And, like airgunners, we had to be concerned with trajectory, as well. I remember my last shot on the night tank range at Yakima when I qualified second high in my armored cavalry squadron (out of 45 tanks). Until that final shot I was barely qualifying, but on that last one my tank managed to hit the school bus target at 1800 yards and blew it apart with a round of HEP (high explosive-plasticized that the Brits call HESH). My tank was one of only a few to come close to that target on the night range and the only one to hit it dead center. And the problem was distance.

Before we move on  let me explain that the Army used junk vehicles like trucks, cars and in this case an old school bus to represent enemy combat vehicles. We usually didn’t shoot at school buses on the highway.

My round was expected to hit close enough to the bus to declare the troops inside either wounded or dead. But instead I hit it dead center. The tank range personnel had to drag the bus remains off the range and replace it because it ceased being a target.

An enemy truck is considered a thin-skinned vehicle and not worthy of an anti-tank round. Besides that, an antitank round needs to hit something substantial to detonate positively. Unless it hits something hard like an engine block, truck frame or an enemy tank it might pass through without detonating.

A HEP round, on the other hand, squashes out when it hits. The explosive is detonated at the base of the charge rather than at the the nose. In fact high explosive squash head is where the acronym HESH comes from.

But the HEP round only leaves the muzzle at around 2,400 f.p.s., to the best of my recollection. That may sound fast, but not when you shoot beyond one mile. At that distance a shell that leaves the muzzle at 3,900 f.p.s., like the 105mm high explosive anti-tank (HEAT) round has a flatter trajectory than a lazybones HEP round. You can even watch the tracer on the HEP round drift in the direction of the tank cannon’s rifling twist.

The point?

The point is how important it is to know the distance to your target. The M60A1 tanks I trained on all had coincidence rangefinders to determine target distances. They are very much mechanical devices. A coincidence rangefinder is like the parallax adjustment on your scope. Except on an M60A1 tank the two lenses that you align to determine ranges out to 4,400 meters sit 7 feet (84 inches) apart on opposite sides of the tank turret. Under ideal conditions they can determine the distance to the target to within 10 meters.

M60A1 coincidence rangefinder
M60A1 tank coincidence rangefinder.

The tank commander would range to the target (turn a range adjustment knob until the two images of the target in the rangefinder sight merged) then call out the distance to the gunner. But in ranging the tank commander input the elevation for the cannon directly, as long as the gunner had the correct ammunition cam selected in the ballistic computer.

The ballistic computer was a box filled with cams that sent mechanical adjustments to the hydraulic mounts of the main gun. Each type of ammo had a special cam, and when HEP was indexed the main gun would elevate the highest. The gunner selected the cam after receiving the tank commander’s fire command.

M60A1 ballistic computer
M60A1 ballistic computer.

The point is, distance to the target matters. If you’re shooting high explosives at a target a mile or more away you want to know the distance within meters. If you’re shooting through a one-inch hole in a steel target far away in a field target match you want to know the distance to that target within a half a meter. Either way, distance matters.


You know why I care so much about the shot count of precharged pneumatic (PCP) airguns? I care because, if I’m shooting to 50 yards and I stay within the rifle’s power band, I have a good idea of where my shots will go. Of course that’s if I have tested the airgun and know its performance. But, if I stray outside the power band while shooting a group or while hunting there is only one way the pellet can go and that’s down. As the reservoir pressure drops lower so does the strike of the pellet. At 10 meters it doesn’t matter so much and even at 25 yards it isn’t that important, but at 50 yards it’s a big deal. And, no matter what the target is, you don’t want to guess when you shoot!

So airgunners use rangefinders. Hunters use them; target shooters use them; and shooters in competition use them — when they can. In the sport of field target, though, rangefinders are not permitted. That’s why field target shooters use such powerful scopes. They don’t need the scope’s power to see the kill zones on the targets. They need to see fine details around the target such as leaves or blades of grass at their base. If they can see them they can focus on them and then know the distance to the target. Remember, by international rules field target shooters are limited to airguns that shoot less than 12 foot-pounds. In essence they are shooting HEP at school buses over a mile away. And it doesn’t end there.

10-meter target

I have had readers over the years ask me how the 10-meter distance to the target is measured. Is it from the muzzle of the gun or from the tips of the feet of the competitors? And, if it’s from the feet, how does a smaller person compete with a larger person whose muzzle may be 12-inches closer to the target?

In truth this slight difference in distance to the target has no more bearing on the outcome of a 10-meter match than does knowing the exact distance to every field target in a field target match. The distances to all the targets could be given to each competitor and the match scores would remain the same. Or at least that is what I have always maintained. Want me to prove it?

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Airgun silhouette

In the sport of airgun silhouette the distance to all targets is part of the rules of the contest. Chickens are at 20 yards. Pigs are at 30 yards. Turkeys are at 36 yards and rams are at 45 yards.  And, even knowing the distances and seeing all five targets lined up next to each other at each distance, some people always win and others always don’t.

Anal shooters

The sport of field target had to establish a time limit rule per lane years ago because before they did some shooters were taking a long time focusing and refocusing to each target over and over. They wanted to be certain they had dialed in the exact distance to the target! The winners of the match simply ranged once and then shot. The time-wasters invariably did not win. 

Laser rangefinders

These days laser rangefinders are accurate, affordable and convenient. They use the reflection of a laser pulse that returns from the target to measure distance. In decades past coincidence rangefinders were used, but they were costly, large and only the military used them very much. Perhaps a few varmint hunters may have used them, but I’m not sure about that.

naval coincidence rangefinder
This is a small Naval coincidence rangefinder. It’s only 43.5 inches long. It would work great for prairie dogs at 300 yards. But don’t try to put it in your pocket!


So, BB, does it matter if we know the ranges to our targets? Absolutely, and not so much.


Knowing the distance to a target matters sometimes. And rangefinders are a great way to know it — especially laser rangefinders for sportsmen. When I set up a 10-meter range for this blog I check the distance with a rangefinder. When I go out to an unmarked shooting area like the one over at AirForce Airguns I take my laser rangefinder. But if I was setting up a competition event I would use a tape measure. I would measure from the tips of the feet for competition and place a table 10 meters from the target so the shooters can’t get closer. I’m thinking air pistol now. For three-position air rifle I would have to allow kneeling, sitting and or prone firing so the table wouldn’t work. The muzzle of the various guns will be at different distances from the target and it doesn’t matter. So for that kind of competition a firing line works best.

And now I’ll tell you a secret. Where I set my shooting table for a 10-meter test is actually 11 meters from the target and I don’t care. I know that I am AT LEAST 10 meters from the target. More precise than that I’m not going to be.


On the other hand, if I’m in the field and about to take a shot at a game animal with a big bore airgun and I know the shot is a longer one — the distance does matter. It matters a lot! I once dropped a roe deer in Germany at 225 yards from the high seat in which I was seated. I was shooting a .222 Remington that had a very flat trajectory over that distance and I was sighted-in to be 1-1/2-inches high at 100 yards, so I held at the top of the heart-lung kill zone and hit exactly where I aimed. The shot was off to my left and would have been over my left shoulder if I were sitting in the seat looking forward.

I paced off the distance over the ground when I went to pick up the animal. When I got to the deer, I realized that he fell about 20 yards outside the boundary of the hunting lease on which I was shooting. In other words — I was technically poaching! But it was four in the morning (no Daylight Saving Time in Germany) and I quickly dragged the animal back inside the hunting lease boundary.

I had guessed that the shot was between 175 and 200 yards before shooting. Personal laser rangefinders didn’t exist in those days, or if they did I sure didn’t know about them. But I would have liked to have had one!


As with many things, sometimes the distance to the target matters a lot and sometimes not as much. You are charged with being a responsible shooter who should know when to use one and when it doesn’t matter.

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 “How far?”

  1. B.B.,
    I have been concerned with learning to estimate range ever since I missed a bow shot at a deer at 30 yards, which I had incorrectly guessed to be 20 yards. I had range markers (bits of ribbon on a stake) on the side where I “expected” the deer to come down the trail. Sadly, the buck came up over the ridge from behind me, and I had to guess…I guessed wrong. My many-years-at-archery friend took one look at where I pointed to where the deer was standing, and said, “Why’d you use the 20-yard pin? That’s a 30-yard shot.” A laser rangefinder confirmed he was correct; at work, at lunchtime, he had me pick “targets” in the parking lot, tell him how far away I thought they were, then he’d confirm the actual distance. I got to be pretty good at range estimating, but not as good as him. That experience helped me some in Field Target.
    But my favorite bit about today’s report is your write up and pic of the M60A1 tank coincidence rangefinder…that thing is just too cool! 🙂
    Blessings to you,

  2. B.B.,

    Your Naval Coincidence Range Finder was used by an NGLO on the beach (on land) to range Over The Horizon for Naval Gunfire when the shipboard Gun Director didn’t have line of sight. The ship used either a grid or ranged on the NGLO’s position and added the two together.
    Hughs had the first commercial LASER Ranging system that I know of back in the mid to late 1960’s. Still needed line of sight or a NGLO (or other forward observer) to go OTH. We really didn’t solve the OTH problem until the early 1980s with “Star Wars” aka, the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) and it would have worked if politics hadn’t gotten involved.

    Great piece!

    Now if we can just get the Doppler Wind systems to be more reliable and less costly.


  3. So, what do you say to a guy that wants to shoot a .22 or .25 cal pcp at a range of 100 yds, but is tired of dealing with regulators? The regulator helps at the tip of the pellet rifles range, theoretically, but, it shoots the first shot faster than the rest, and is a source of trouble (slow fill rates or leaks, or just doesn’t regulate anymore). I was asked this and I wondered what to tell him, that didn’t involve expensive rifles. I considered the Barra 1100z, the (plain?) Airacuda, or even a Marauder? Have I missed one? No hunting involved, just 2-6″ targets, an outdoor range to guess the wind, garden variety plinking. Currently using a Gauntlet Gen 2 in .22 and a Gen 1 in .25. The .22 has speed, not the accuracy at 100, and the .25 does ok, but the trigger…
    Used higher end rifles seem to be the obvious solution, but a good used one is still twice a Marauders cost.

    • MMCM13,

      learn how balanced your valve (powerplant)is needed a CHRONOGRAPH and patience to tune it for the powerband for whatever shooter needs it for.
      Regulators are just as you said. With high fill pressures you see two being used on higher cost airguns to step down the pressure…three would be better to stabilize that first shot and others truth be told.
      A balanced valve WORKS! Shot count will suffer but all the regulator problems go AWAY!


    • MMCM13,

      As shootski says, lose the regulator and learn the airgun.

      Get a chronograph. It does not have to be an expensive one. Mine cost under $90.

      Learn where your shot curve is and how to adjust it. In the process, you will also learn the optimum fill pressure. I had a .177 Talon SS that I only filled to 1900 PSI and had over twenty accurate shots (roughly 900 FPS average) at that fill pressure. That was shooting down to about 1300 PSI. If I filled it to 3000 PSI, the pellet left the muzzle at about 400 FPS. At 1800 PSI, it was shooting at slightly over 1000 FPS. This was shooting H&N Silver Streaks.

    • The first thing I’d say is that a well functioning regulator won’t cause much of an issue anyways – the first shot may be faster (or slower, depending on the level of any creep), but unless the regulator is a poor quality one or needs a rebuild it should not be off by a huge amount. And yes, they are a potential source of trouble, but so are most things that make life better in many areas – do you have air conditioning on your car? That could break too . . .

      That said, I agree with the other comments about having a non-regulated gun. All but one of my rifles are regulated as life is just better with them that way, and almost all of my shooting is under 70 yards anyways – I just always know how those guns will perform in usage, and a quick glance at the pressure gauge tells me if the reg is still working correctly.

      But I keep my Air Ranger unregulated because it is so rock solid in shot-to-shot speed variability. I can take 30 shots with it in the same ES than all but one of the regulated guns do, but the variation in the middle of the sting is ridiculously tight – under 10 fps on a 940 fps tune. So if I ever want long range carry gun, that is the one I’d use.

      The one regulated gun that beats it? It is a purpose built bottle fed Marauder bench gun – it has a Ninja externally adjustable regulator that feeds an internal Huma regulator, and with a WAR valve installed it has an ES of only 6 fps over all its shots, and the first shot is no different than the any other, even after sitting in the safe for weeks.

      • AlanMcD,

        No argument with your tke on regulators they have vastly improved in the past decade. Running them in tandem when fill pressures exceed 3,625PSI certainly helps with avoiding creep, inconsistency, and slow fills dramatically as you obviously know given your Marauder Bench gun set up.
        For a hunter who walks and stalks any distance from camp or where the vehicle is parked the most frustrating shot is always the first and unfortunately perhaps the only shot of the day. I recommend forgetting ultimate consistency of spread and higher shot count and going for a consistent and powerful “cold” bore first shot every time. So far that only gets delivered by a purpose balanced valve.
        I’m open to change and suspect it will work up from the smaller calibers up to the Big Bores eventually.


      • Alan,

        Agree with your comments. I have a number of good quality PCPs, all regulated. Been shooting them (extensively) for the past decade without a single problem.

        Here the focus is on springers, Co2, multi-pump and a few Price Point PCPs with little or no attention to the better quality, modern PCPs.

        Opinions seem to be based on 10 year old technology and low end airguns. Technology has moved on. Back then, 30 fpe in .22 caliber was considered to be great, now I’m shooting 65 fpe with a stock PCP (factory tune) and with a heavier hammer up over 90 fpe is possible.

        Regulators have improved as well. I’m seeing less than a 5 fps spread over an entire fill (250 down to 130 bar) and frequently see less than 3 fps spread from an 18 shot (1 mag) string. Not too long ago, stats like that were only seen in custom and finely tuned PCPs – not straight out of the box.

        I was considering writing a guest blog on the recently released FX Panthera thinking that people might want to hear about the current technology but I’ve come to the conclusion that it would not be well received. Airguns are judged by their cost, not their performance and the Panthera (in spite of Sub-MOA capability at 100 yards) it is not a PPPCP and won’t be of interest. For some reason I don’t understand, FX seems to have an unusually high number of haters in spite of their contributions to the airgun industry.


        • Hank,

          Any guest blog you would write would be received here well.

          As for FX, I wouldn’t say that there are haters as much as folks don’t like them buying the competitions they win. If they would compete without the opportunity of changing the rules at the last minute and slanting in their favor, things would be fine.

          As for the most recent FX PCP I reviewed. The Dreamlite, I was all set to buy it when it blew up in my face (I mean it failed to perform in many ways). Since I had an Air Arms S510FX to compare to I decided I didn’t need a thousand-dollar project gun. Now with the Avenger and JTS out the gulf has grown even wider.


        • Hank, I second B.B.’s response. I am not a darksider, but I voraciously read everything airgun related. I would be interested in your thoughts. Who knows, you may enable me. I may never buy a Sheridan Supergrade (not at the Ebay price at least), but it would be fun reading and learning about them.

  4. Tom,

    It is nice mental gymnastics mixing metric and Imperial measurements in an article. Not so nice when the guys set up the range for airgun silhouette match and set the targets up in meters instead of yards. We only found out about the discrepancy after the match. Sure enough the following year the scores of the competitors went up.


  5. I learned to estimate ranges as a kid. I did not have any “formal” training at it, I just did it. We would measure out ranges when we zeroed a rifle, but quite often it was paces. Rarely was it a “truly measured” range until we joined a gun club. They had measured targets. It was there that I learned I was indeed pretty good at estimating ranges.

    Fast forward to “old geezer” hood and airguns. I find I am still very good at estimating ranges. Of course, that is assuming I have my “old geezer” glasses on. I am still able to give a pretty good range estimate. It is just blurry without them and using any sights is out of the question.

    • I guess your shooters do not look at the hits of the misses to readjust their dope on the fly?
      If my first 20 yard shot hits and inch low, my next 4 shoots at 20 yards get adjusted up 5 MOA.
      Do you paint the targets before each match?


  6. B.B.

    With practice, I believe that you can get good a guesstimate distances. I often take a walk with my rangefinder and practice check the distances to trees, branches, racks etc. I believe with practice that you can get to within 5-10% of the actual distance. Like all things, practice, practice, practice.

    FWIW-It is the distance from the scopes front lens to the target that matters.


  7. In case anybody is real curious (as I usually am), the Naval coincidence rangefinder that BB shared the photo of is on EBay. It is kind of strange that the same rangefinder is for sale by two different people at two different prices. I suspect that one is the actual owner and the other is trying to rip someone off.

    In either case, it is beyond my affordability range, which is a shame as I would really like to have one.

  8. Sigh, another skill RG should learn. My basement range is a measured 10 yards across the front of the target table to the front of my shooting table. Our family’s “shooting range” where deer rifles are sighted in is a paced-off 100 yards. Shots are limited by visibility to 200 yards, and all my deer were taken much closer than that. My deer rifle is a “flat-shooting” .25-06, so I never had to give distance much thought. I should set up some silhouettes at various distances in the back yard this summer….And make a slingshot.

  9. Ranging is a skill that can be learned with practice, but range finders remove the incentive to get good at it. I played a lot of golf as a teen and young adult, including some competitive golf. I paced off everything and learned to judge distances with pretty good accuracy out of necessity – if you were not near a sprinkler head with the distance on it, you had to guess. So I was always guessing and then checking my guess by pacing after the shots. I improved my estimating over time.

    But my kids grew up playing golf in the age of laser range finders – they can’t estimate yardage worth a darn, and are lost on a golf course without a range finder. And they have no incentive to practice, as they always have the range finder – using it is just part of the game for them . . .

    • Basil,

      I was taught that most tanks were 12 feet wide and 20 feet long, so we used our mill reticles to estimate range. That wasn’t as fun as this!


      • B.B.,

        You know what sets the maximum width of Main Battle Tanks?
        They need to fit inside the biggest air transport the opponents can fly them in without some disassembly.
        Of course the width of German Village streets and outraged villagers has some bearing also ;^)


  10. FawltyManual,
    Love the Moral in the lower left corner!
    “The correct estimate brings quite often not also the hit, that one hopes.”

    That is a great reminder to compute not just the absolute range but also the ballistic range to the relative elevation of the POI (Point Of Impact) on the target plane.

    Is there a clearer copy available? The Gothic (gotish) typeface is difficult enough to read when sharp. I’d like to read the entire verbiage.


    • shootski, I agree that some text is rather challenging to read. For example in the top right of the picture, posted by FawltyManuel, I think it says, „Elvira wird erschossen” which translates as ‘Elvira gets shot’. 🙂

      Can you guess what it says in the picture below? 🙂

      The following example of a link lets you read, not just page 72, but, the whole official Tiger Crew Manual (link to the pictured page 73 below, but all pages are viewable and downloadable):


      • hihihi,

        Don’t need to guess. The Gist is basically since you never know the range exactly and usually +/- 25 go longer to your middle estimate and you will hit center mass; Elvira’s Navel!

        Really interesting Programed Texts were never like this during Naval Schools Command Ground School!
        It was DRY and HUMOURLESS!


      • hihihi,

        If you mean the “Hülsensack trifft immer!”. Hülsensack (Brass[Shell]casingbag) seems to be someones nickname.
        So it can be translated two ways: first, Brassbag hits always! Second, Brassbag always scores!

        You get to pick which they probably meant ;^)


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