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Air Guns Skill versus gadgetry

Skill versus gadgetry

This report covers:

  • Stock car racing
  • Carryover to airguns
  • Free pistol
  • 10-meter air pistol
  • Field target
  • Bottom line?
  • Extreme Benchrest
  • Why care?

As I shot my first 10-meter scores yesterday I reflected on the sport of 10-meter target pistol and on other “sports” I have seen. Is 10-meter pistol an equipment race, or is it a true test of shooting skill?

Stock car racing

To set the tone for today’s report, I ask you to consider stock car racing. In the 1930s when formalized races for stock cars began, the cars were more or less what could be bought. They were “stock” cars. In 1948 when the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) was formed, the cars were supposed to be built from parts the general public could buy. Theoretically, anyone could build a car and race. How true that ever was remains shrouded in history, but I seriously doubt it ever happened quite so purely.

Today a stock car is anything but. They are highly specialized for doing one thing — going around a racetrack in one direction very fast, as safely as possible. Stock car racing has become an equipment race, and a big-money game. However, I must acknowledge that the drivers of stock cars are very skilled at what they do. It takes both humans and technology to win.

Carryover to airguns

As I shot my 10-meter target pistol I wondered just how much of that equipment-race mindset has carried over to the shooting sports, and specifically to the airgun shooting sports. To address that I pondered the sport of free pistol, where the rules are quite minimal by comparison to 10-meter air pistol. Like 10-meter air pistol, free pistol is also a bullseye target sport where a pistol chambered for .22 long rifle cartridges is fired at a target 50 meters distant. The pistol is also held in one hand, so there are similarities. Let’s look at the pistols that shoot in that sport first and then I will contrast it to 10-meter pistol competition.

Free pistol

It’s called a free pistol, so why do they cost over $1,000, and often over $2,000? There’s nothing free about that! The word free refers to the design parameters of the pistol. The pistol must be held in one hand, only, and no other body part may touch it while shooting. The design of the grips is unrestricted, other than they cannot extend back beyond the hand. They can wrap around your hand and hold you so securely that you have to shake hands with the pistol to get into the grip. The sights must be non-optical and lasers are not permitted. Other than that, these guns are fairly free from restrictions.

free pistol
Hammerli 100 free pistol. This is one of the first, though target pistols similar existed from several decades before 1948 when this guy came out.

free pistol grip
This is how the Soviets sold their TOZ-35M free pistol. You are looking at the rear in this photo. The buyer was supposed to carve the grips himself. He could even carve them to wrap completely around his shooting hand.

free pistol grip carved
This is what one owner did with that raw grip. Since this is a free pistol everything seen here is legal in a match.

The barrel length is unrestricted. The barrel on my free pistol is 11-1/8-inches long and is octagonal. They did come in other lengths, but each length has a different weight associated with it and a different balance. The weight of the gun is unrestricted. The trigger pull is unrestricted. This is a pistol designed for just one purpose — shooting the highest score in a 60-shot offhand match at 50 meters in two hours. Compared to a free pistol a 10-meter air pistol has a greater number of restrictions that limit the design.

10-meter air pistol

By comparison a 10-meter target air pistol must fit inside a box that measures 42 by 50 by 5 centimeters (17 by 8 by 2 inches) on the inside. The trigger pull must be no lighter than 500 grams (1 pound 1.6 ounces). The pistol may not weigh more than 1.5 kilograms (3.31 pounds). The shooter may not wear clothing that restricts joint movement. Where a 10-meter target rifle competitor wears a leather jacket and trowsers that fit like a straight-jacket, a 10-meter air pistol shooter shows up in jeans and a tee shirt.

I will say that the majority of world cup and Olympic matches are shot with precharged pneumatic pistols. There are a very few holdouts who shoot single-stroke pneumatics. Nobody competes with a CO2 pistol at the national level or beyond for the reason I told you about yesterday (the CO2 gas running out unexpectedly in the middle of a match).

As far as target pistols go the free pistol matches and air pistol matches are more of a skill match. The world’s finest target air pistol or free pistol can be purchased by a beginning shooter and no amount of match-permitted modification (there isn’t much!) can be done to override shooting skill.

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Field target

When I started competing in field target in the mid ’90s the equipment race was already on. The race centered on the air rifle, the clothing and rests that were permitted and the scopes.

Field target WAS NOT started as a hunting simulation, despite what you may have heard! I know because I talked with the guys in the UK who started it. The original field targets didn’t have kill zones — their paddles that knocked down the target protruded above the animal silhouette. The kill zone was a later creation, though it did happen pretty soon after the sport began.

When the kill zone came into being the distance to the target became critical, because of the negative-scoring effect of the kill zone (a pellet that hits the edge of the kill zone before passing through can lock the target from falling, robbing you of a “kill”) and, since rangefinders were not permitted, we learned how to determine ranges with our scopes through parallax adjustment. Well, this spun off and some shooters started spending huge money of the finest scopes and mounts — just for greater precision determining ranges, while others just kept shooting and improving their skills.

The clothing that was permitted also evolved over time and special harnesses that held the shooter in position while seated were permitted. Rifle supports were permitted as long as no part of them touched the ground. When the World Field Target Federation (WFTF) rules came about harnesses went away, but were partially replaced by special shooting jackets.

Bottom line?

The bottom line, in BB Pelletier’s personal opinion, is that field target is still a sport that’s based on skill. It does take a certain level of equipment to compete, but after that it’s all skill. I contend that all shooters can be told the distances to the targets and the scores will remain the same.

Extreme Benchrest

Theoretically the “sport” of Extreme Benchrest is shooting at targets at some distance from the firing line. The distance will vary as will the name of the competition, based on who is conducting the match.

This “sport” has grown up around a large infusion of prize money. The “rules” have been kept flexible to favor certain brands of airguns, and they have been changed with little or no notice. So Extreme Benchrest is a definite equipment race and also quite often a brand-favored race, depending on where it is conducted and by whom. Even the title of the competition will change, from place to place.

I put quotes around the word sport because this one has the attributes of a high-level marketing campaign, depending on how it’s run. The competition is real enough, though, and the shooting does take great skill.

The things that have come out of Extreme Benchrest and similar competitions, are more favor for .30-caliber and larger pellet rifles and rotary magazines with greater capacity. Like free pistols, though, the rifles that people desire for this competition have little additional uses.

The .35-caliber FX Impact is an example of a purpose-built air rifle.

Why care?

Why did I write this report? I wrote it because shooters who are new to our hobby can get sidetracked by these activities quite easily. They hear that airguns are accurate and they start researching them online, running into things like 60-power scopes and .35-caliber pellet rifles. They see those things and wonder what the world of airguns is all about, while the readers of this blog know all too well that there are a great many more things that are down to earth and less restrictive.

I think about that guy in Keokuk, Iowa, who saves up to buy one airgun. He reads online reports and I don’t want him wandering off the path into the rough until he knows what’s out there.

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.

45 thoughts on “Skill versus gadgetry”

  1. Tom,

    As long as the gun is controlled by the shooter it is mainly a matter of skill. Once there are external supports allowed for the gun to make it easier for the shooter does it begin to be a race of gadgetry.


    PS Section Free pistol 1st illustration caption: “Hammeri (Hammerli) 100 free pistol. This is one of the first, though target pistols similar existed frokmj (from) severl (several) decades before 1948 when this guy came out.

  2. BB,

    OhioPlinker is on to something there. Start out simple and inexpensive to figure out where you want to go.

    I researched for years before I bought my first air rifle, a Gamo CFX. Over the years I replaced the trigger, had PA modify a scope mount (which I still have) to hold onto the air rifle and bought a UTG scope (which I still have). I had PA put a gas spring in it and had them shortly thereafter remove it.

    I learned a lot over the years with that air rifle before it found a new home.

    P.S. The original stock car drivers were bootleggers. Their cars were indeed stock cars that they modified themselves. Racing gave them boys something legal to do.

  3. I used to shoot (postal matches) which now could be called email matches since you email pictures of your target, with a Crosman 1377.

    It was set up for beginners like me. Shot at 5 meters, on which look like your 10 meter target, 3 shots on 5 targets. Perfect score 150. With some practice I shot mostly in the 120’s. Then I won a FWB65 at an auction. Tested a few different pellets. Boom I was getting in the high 130’s. Best was 143 4x’s.

    It was very addicting. Reading your blog last few days. Thinking I need to get the FWB65 out again.


    P.S. Thanks for a great Blog

      • Roamin Greco,

        Thank you for the introduction but Speakski and i have already exchanged comments on the Blog. I also believe Speakski is an actual surname if i remember correctly; which is questionable this evening.
        My handle: shootski is a nod to BIATHLON which i and most of my family love to take part in.


  4. B.B.,
    This is a great report! Yes, for sure it would be sad to see someone new to the sport of airgunning get off on a specialized tangent. OhioPlinker has a great point: something like a Crosman M4-177, or a Crosman 362 (or 367) would allow a shooter to get their feet wet in the sport without going off into left field. Then, after a lot of shooting, and a lot of reading on this blog, they could see where they wish to go next with their one [“serious”, as in more pricey] airgun.
    Back when I shot Field Target, it was a ton of fun; I don’t know if I’d care for it today.
    This police officer is in line with some of your concerns here with his point number 5:
    “5. Competition shooting breeds an environment of gizmos, gadgets, and race guns.”
    (full article here: https://www.police1.com/police-products/firearms/training/articles/5-differences-between-competitive-shooting-and-combat-shooting-CNale5K4ooIdTYSk/ )
    The sad point being that an officer could actually be putting their life in danger by learning bad habits that help them win a match, yet could lead them to lose [their life] on the street.
    Personally, I like air rifles like the Dragonfly Mark2 because they cause me to relax and shoot at a slow pace (I’m retired now, so “slow” is fine with me); shooting a rifle like that, or my old Sheridan, or my Crosman 362, reminds me very much of my muzzleloader match days. Those matches were fun and relaxing times; there was NO equipment race!…everyone shot an 1800s-style rifle, offhand, with no scopes, no red-dots, no shooting jackets, and no specialized ammo…everyone had to shoot patched round balls. Man, that was so much fun; it’s sad to see that there are less and less of those matches in my area.
    However, fortunately, I have my airguns; hence, “fun” is available all the time. 🙂
    Blessings to you,

  5. *** The “rules” have been kept flexible to favor certain brands of airguns, and they have been changed with little or no notice. So Extreme Benchrest is a definite equipment race and also quite often a brand-favored race, depending on where it is conducted and by whom. ***


    You’ve said this before, please explain what you mean as I don’t see how the rules favor any brand, caliber or type of airgun.

    From what I read on the web site, you can compete with any pellet gun you want.


    Extreme Benchrest Rules:

    Any pellet gun up to .30 caliber may be used
    No solid slugs or cast bullets allowed (mass production diabolo pellets only)
    No power restrictions
    No weight restrictions
    Target distance will be at 75 yards and 100 yards
    One piece rest are allowed
    Tethered tanks are not allowed
    Total air cylinder volume limited to 700cc
    Fill as many times needed during shooting relay. Note…for safety, rifles may not leave bench during a relay

    The rules from the Rocky Mountain Airgun Challenge also don’t favor any particular brand or type of airgun and according to their website they are sponsored by many airgun manufacturers.


    Agreed, many competitions (of any type) become an equipment race but you can’t buy skill. As opposed to car racing where performance is linked to $$$, anyone who know their airgun well has a good chance of winning the prize.


    • Hank,

      Not all long distance matches are called Extreme Benchrest. Some of them change the rules capriciously to favor one brand of airgun over all others. I won’t name names here, but this has been done repeatedly over the past several years.


      • Tom,

        The two competitions I mentioned are well known in the industry and I expected that they were representative of how things are run by legitimate groups.

        Please name some names. I’m sure everyone would like to know who is running biased events.

        Then again, if someone wanted to run a race for Fords and restricted entries to that company, then that’s their prerogative and GM owners need not be upset.


        • I can only think in PMC (PRECISION MARKSMAN CHALLENGE) in wich this year semi auto ( removable magazine) rifles will be allowed to compete in the speed challenge, setting a benchmark for airgun brands involved in this type of events.
          I like to single load when shooting at targets, i guess is matter of taste, and that will keep me away from semi auto rifles and speed competitions.
          The same feeling about being competitive drive me to install a paintball regulator to my (First pcp, pump filled, big 10-40*56 scope, cheap pellet shooter due low
          availability of quality ammo here in México) AF Condor, as i needed increased shot count instead of power, 1 sub MOA 55 FPE instead 90 FPE scattered shots, consistency and repeatibility in a sleek looking gun.
          For me this is the race to “improve”.

            • Quality pellets are overpriced, and limited brand availability, not to mention high shipping costs. (Same for accesories, rifles, scopes, etc.) I shoot straight from the tin, only JSB pellets for all my guns in all calibers, no need of sorting other than the ones that come with bent skirts.
              Maybe the accuracy comes from being very used to the gun and how it shoots. AF rifles are hold sensitive, very prone to canting.

              • Have you ever used the “Rifle” brand from Brazil? If so what do you think of them? I wonder if Mexico would be a favorable place to manufacture pellets…There might be an economic advantage to reduced shipping costs compared to shipping them from Europe or Asia.

                • There are two pellet brands offered in very poor quality .177 and .22. And there is one slug maker with good quality and moulds in polular small and big bore calibers.
                  Maybe is a good starting point to improve national airgun market, but, like BB say is a bug BUT, the Mexican goverment controlls everything related to firearms included ammo.
                  Name Mendoza, which was an armory dated back from 1900, is the only comercial armory licensed to sell firearms and airguns through the only 2 available army managed stores in all 32 states.

                    • By fortune you don’t need a special permit or license. But you need to carry a section of the fire arms and explosives law to explain, in case some one ask you a license, tell them you don’t need one.
                      If you are member of a fire arm shooting range, you can use the range with your air guns. But mostly, is unorganized, informal shooting in the open country or ranch.
                      Note, i’m not considering 10 Meter shooting, that is a discipline mostly for the high income people.

    • On an airgun site, I have often seen a certain Scandinavian manufacturer accused of getting the rules changed to favor their products.
      Of course, most of the people saying this also claim their products are terrible and overpriced. But rarely actually own any….

  6. BB,
    Would pistol competition scores increase if two handed grips were allowed or is the one handed grip actually better once a certain level of skill is acquired? That is something I have always been curious about.

    I do think posting the distance to targets in Field Target would help those with lesser equipment. But, nothing replaces practice, and hours spent learning everything that can be learned with your equipment. It amazes me that guys have charts of common field target faceplates with their dimensions and how many marks wide the target will appear in their scope at every distance. The same is done with concrete blocks that targets are mounted on. The degree to which people will go to do well in a particular sport is beyond my comprehension. I have also seen guys that buy the best equipment and never get more than average scores. Every few months they are upgrading or buying what so-and-so uses but never improve.

    The idea of rules and limitations on equipment is an interesting topic on its own. In racing everyone scours the rule book looking for loopholes which they can exploit that others may not catch on to. Some teams enjoy the game of cheating more than the game itself. I heard the phrase “If you are not cheating, you are not trying” came out of NASCAR. I think some people in the shooting sports have the same mindset. But, I would like to think that in the shooting sports most people follow the Biblical mindset of “avoiding the appearance of evil”.

    For me, I would rather just plink and not keep score.

    David Enoch

    • David,

      I don’t know whether one or two-handed holds would be better. I just have always called it a hand gun and not a hands gun.

      As match director at DIFTA I once did give all the distances to the targets to the shooters. The score remained the same but I did get an argument from one shooter who claimed I have told them the wrong distance because his scope parallax adjustment didn’t agree with the numbers I provided. Of course all I had was a 100-foot tape measure to check the distances — not his scope! 😉


    • “I would like to think that in the shooting sports most people follow the Biblical mindset of ‘avoiding the appearance of evil.’ ”

      David, I am with you on that thought; and I’m down with you 100% on this:
      “For me, I would rather just plink and not keep score.”
      Amen. 🙂

  7. For myself, our sport is less “against” my shooting comrades than doing well with them. We often stop and admire one another’s good groups. For me, shooting is also the fragrance of a calm desert morning, or that of the mountain firs as I head home. It’s also hearing of the exploits of a friend’s grandchildren, and sharing those of my own. My beautiful TX200 shoots well, but my older Sheridan bring to light fond memories. I simply enjoy shooting as well as I’m able for the day. Orv.

  8. It’s amazing to think about carving your own handles from a raw block. That would take some woodworking skill too, eh? The examples shown here are fairly impressive, says I.
    I haven’t ever formally competed in a shooting sport, but my dream is to someday make as close to a single hole as possible from benchrest. Say at 18-25yds with a TX-200? Surely that’s achievable with some skill-work, tuning, and break-in?

  9. Sorry for the late entry, but here is my two cents:

    “The things that have come out of Extreme Benchrest and similar competitions, are more favor for .30-caliber and larger pellet rifles and rotary magazines with greater capacity. Like free pistols, though, the rifles that people desire for this competition have little additional uses.”

    I’m thinking that there is a good side to this “arms race.” Perhaps manufacturers learn to build better airguns and that trickles down to us. For example, I recall reading many blogs by B.B. where shots from different holes in a magazine shoot to a different point of impact. Assuming that extreme benchrest guns have solved that problem, perhaps there will be improvements in the manufacturing of less expensive repeaters.

    “Why did I write this report? I wrote it because shooters who are new to our hobby can get sidetracked by these activities quite easily…. I think about that guy in Keokuk, Iowa, who saves up to buy one airgun. He reads online reports and I don’t want him wandering off the path into the rough until he knows what’s out there.”

    The main way I think folks will wander off the path would be if they limit their purchasing decisions to a big box store’s offerings. There, the decision comes down to FPS per dollar or you are buying a Red Ryder or Crosman 760. When I was getting back into airguns, my primary motivation was to buy a kid friendly gun to teach my kids how to shoot and safe gun-handling. I was tempted to buy the uber-magnum springer, but then I thought, there has to be more choices in airguns than these 4 on the shelf. That’s when I found P.A. and their online airgun selector and my eyes were opened to the many options. Then I started reading. I was finally on the path. I bought an Umarex Embark for the kids and I shot the heck out of that little gun, too. As I leaned and read the blog, my next purchase was a Beeman R7 (Weihrauch HW 30S). Can’t go wrong with that!

    My message to the companies that supply the big box stores is to consider the future of the sport and please produce decently accurate guns, so as not to discourage a potential repeat customer who may otherwise get discouraged by a gun that’s too powerful. I would like to see guns with an accuracy guarantee rather than the highest velocity with inaccurate pellets.

    • Hey man,

      Not worth it to ask for an ideal springer; I don’t think we’re listened at all. I believe we’ll see more power, more fiberoptics, and more springer combos with garbage scopes. Next ‘goal:’ 2000 FPS!?

      My RR is gone. I won’t shoot anything that is not lead any longer.

      I passed the Buck Mark. I think I’ll pass the 367 as well.

      Among the brand new products, 30S is the only choice that puts a check to every box – Comparing to Diana 27, that’s the ‘lowest’ acceptable quality. And a weak classic springer, but BB’s latest blogs about the old airgun prices have demoralized me.

      • Look on the bright side, you aren’t in the market for a Supergrade or an ASP20. There are still many deals to be found if one is patient. There are Dianas, Hy Scores, Milbros, Slavias, and others. Why buy new when a vintage gun is nicer? And like you said, the HW 30S is just about perfect, anyway.

        • Because I can sell without losing any $s when I leave town. Also I want the power to be under 400 – 500 fps with light pellets. An oldie can make that happen, I think.

        • At first, I read it as, ‘why buy vintage when a new is nicer.’ Then I realized we’re on the same page. I’ll find a weak vintage springer eventually. Hopefully, at a good price. I remember old days, when Nagants were sold for $75. Should have bought 100 of them back then. 🙂

          • Keep your eye on American Airgunner classified and search “vintage” in the airgun category on eBay. You will eventually find something. I just got a new (to me) Shooting Chrony with the indoor light kit. I will be testing out all my airguns to baseline them. I have several Winchester (Diana) springers. I’ll share the results with everyone here.

            I will help you find your dream airgun.

            • I often check out pawnshops, fairs, and yard sales. There are lots of them around here. I’ll come across something eventually. Not so sure about buying used stuff online.

              • Fish, I just saw something that you may find interesting.
                I just did a guest blog not too long ago on a very similar gun. I will test velocity of mine first. I’m guessing high 400s, low 500s. Here’s the deal. I think the quoted shipping cost is high, but I have family near where the seller is located so it would not be too far out of my way to pick it up = no inflated shipping charges. I could buy it and ship it to you at cost. Then all you would need to do is buy a Weihrauch front sight with the inserts from P.A. or add a scope, and finish the re-staining of the stock.

                I also thought perhaps you would be interested in a Daisy 853 type single pump pneumatic. Moderate FPS and a real tackdriver!

                Let me know what you think.

                • RG, you’re so kind. I’ll pass that one though. The damage on the stock bothered me. I’ll still keep an eye on the item. I wonder how much people will bid on it. 853 is also a good one. I saw plenty on ebay.

                  • If you pass, I may just make an offer for it, especially if others feel as you do and stay away. I see that stock as the owner’s deliberate attempt to raise the comb for the installation of a scope. If I end up with it, and you change your mind, let me know.

  10. Good article. I shoot 10M rifle & pistol plus field target. Modern PCP 10M rifles and pistols are better besides all the adjustments you may or may not use (or even what they are for). They are easier to cock & load which makes a difference over a 60 shot match. For example I have a FWB 601 and a Pardini GPR1. The FWB 601 is a great rifle. It comfortable, extremely accurate, great trigger, and so on. I can shoot that rifle as well as I can my much higher end Pardini. The difference is the Pardini I can cock and load in one easy simple motion and keep most of my shooting position in place. That adds up in a 60 shot match (plus 15 minutes of sighters before the match even starts). With the FWB 601 I am wore out before I get to shot 60.

    Field target is a big equipment race. Everyone is out to get the latest gadget with dreams of getting a better score. Heck I was one of them. I have all sorts of FT crap that didn’t pan out. I was a FT match director for 7 years. What I found was guys that were the best were just really good and better than everyone else. For example each year I had a spring rifle only match. Those guys who were good would drag out their old spring rifle they hadn’t shot since the previous spring rifle match I had the year before and beat everybody. I can’t say why as I wasn’t able to follow them around for a year to know how much they practiced, etc. One thing a started doing as a match director was to follow the example from the Europeans. In Europe they paint their faceplates yellow and the paddles black so there is very good contrast. Though I did not paint all face plates yellow I painted them light colors with black paddles/kill zones. I started doing this my second year of being a match director. I did it because I had guys with a $60 Leapers 3-9x scope shooting against guys with $3500 80x March scopes. It didn’t seem fair to me that a guy with a cheap scope should be penalized by not being able to clearly see the kill zone.

  11. .B.B.,

    What is a Skill?
    I know it to be a saw for sure. Some “saws” begin with: If I Were you…. Most shooters don’t have many “Saws” in my experience.
    What is Gadgetry?
    I used to watch the cartoon Inspector Gadget with my kids. Some episodes were funny.

    I think most folks might hunt with a .357 FX Impact M3 because quite a few states seem (falsely IMO) to think that should be the minimum caliber for ethical hunting of Whitetail Deer.
    I would much rather have 210+FPS out of my DAQ LA .308 1:10 with a hollowpoint 130-150 grain bullet (Boolit/slug) do the deed.


  12. As the late Steve Jobs said, “the journey is the destination.” For FM in the World of Airguns, the journey is in the process of acquiring reasonably decent skills to shoot an airgun of decent quality and accuracy. The journey to search for aforesaid airgun is also a destination. The ultimate goal is to experience the fun and joy of the sport. As for competition, FM is happy enough to compete against himself, in the process attempting to build up the skills to beat himself time and time again. He will keep at it until there is no more joy in it. Which will probably be around the time he can no longer break the barrel of his weakest springer.

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