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Choosing your kit

This article is intended as an introduction to airguns and scopes and will provide you with some basic information on terminology and equipment.

Types of Airgun
There are several different types of airgun but I am only going to discuss two; springers and Pre-Charged Pneumatics (PCP). Let’s start with springers.

As the name implies, it is powered by a spring. Essentially it is cocked by pulling a lever (either the barrel or an integral lever) which compresses a spring inside a tube (receiver). The receiver also contains a piston which travels with the spring. When the spring is compressed (cocked), it and the piston are held to the rear of the gun by a safety mechanism known as a sear. This engages with the trigger and will only be released when the shooter squeezes the trigger. On squeezing the trigger the spring and piston are allowed to travel forwards (at speed) compressing the air in front of them. The compressed air is allowed out through a small hole (transfer port) at the front end of the receiver and pushes the pellet along and out of the barrel at a rate of knots towards the intended target. Some spring powered airguns are more complicated than others but they all work on this basic principal.

PCPs differ from springers in that they carry their own air supply in a reservoir. They can be charged by either a foot pump or compressed air bottle (scuba diving kit). They are cocked by the mechanical action of operating a bolt which does two things; it sets up the safety mechanism to engage the sear and trigger unit and allows the user to insert a pellet into the breach. Once the bolt is closed the action is primed and waiting for the shooter to squeeze the trigger. Squeezing the trigger allows the action to release a preset amount of compressed air through the transfer port and propel the pellet down and out of the barrel.

Are you with me so far?
So what is the difference to the shooter? Well, all the mechanical action of the springer results in recoil; that is the rifle wanting to travel rearwards to compensate for the spring and piston travelling forwards. This means that springers are generally more difficult to shoot as they test every aspect of your skill and expose any shortcomings in your technique. PCPs do not have bits of metal flying around at high speed so do not have recoil. Also a PCP will release the same amount of air each and every shot which means greater consistency. They still test the shooter but in a different way.

Which type should I get?
It’s personal choice above everything. In my opinion a springer is more fun and a great test of skill. You have to hold the rifle the same way every shot, breath correctly and work hard on all aspects of the sport to achieve consistent results. Many experienced shooters keep a springer in their armoury as it is a great way of sorting out any technique problems that crop up from time-to-time. That said, PCPs are great fun too and you still must have good technique. The one big advantage of a PCP is that you don’t have to exert much effort cocking it for every shot. One fill of the reservoir will give you between 50 and 70 shots. The downside of PCPs is you have to spend more money on the filling kit as well as the rifle so bear this in mind when working out your budget. Both types are suitable for target and hunting so the only way to find out is get down to your local club and try some different rifles out.

What is a basic shopping list?
Airgun (obviously)
Filling kit or pump if you have bought a PCP
Scope (see “So what about the scope then?” for more information)
Carrying case
Cleaning kit (oil, barrel pull-through)

Which make of rifle should I choose?
Again, it really is personal choice. There are many great airguns on the market and there are also some truly bad ones, stick to well known makes and you won’t go far wrong. The advice is to get down to your local club or gun shop and see what’s about. The internet is also a great place to do research but you cannot beat seeing an airgun in the flesh.
Should I buy new or second hand?
There are some great deals to be had second hand but it is always a case of buyer beware unless you really know what you are talking about. Some important things to remember:

• If you are not sure, try and find someone to help you.
• As a rule expect to pay about one third less second hand against the cost of the same airgun new.
• Research the market before buying either new or second hand.
• I would never advise buying a cheap unknown make just to get going in the sport.
• Buy the best that you can afford and do not rush your choice.
• Set a budget and stick to it.
• If you see a deal that seems too good to be true it probably is.

So what about the scope then?
Before we dive in to scopes there are also other types of sight, some examples are:

Open – combines two parts; the v-shaped rear sight mounted on either the rear of the receiver or breech end of the barrel and the post-shaped fore sight mounted on the muzzle end of the barrel. You place the post in the centre of the v and line up with your target. It’s simple, cheap and provides a real challenge however they are not as common as they used to be and most shooters are looking for something a little more technical. Used mainly for plinking, some rifles still come with them fitted, especially the starter rifles such as the BSA Meteor or HW25.

Aperture – Again comprises two parts; this time the rear sight is metal disc with a small hole through which the shooter looks. It is mounted at the rear of the receiver. The fore sight is another disc with a hole through it. To aim, the shooter lines up the holes over the target. Used for serious competition shooting in airgun, small bore and full bore.

Laser – A strong beam of light usually in the form of a red dot that is projected on to the target. Used mainly for hunting they can be expensive but then your wallet can easily run away with itself in this sport anyway.

Now let’s get on to scopes, or to use the correct term, telescopic sights. The variety of scopes is more bewildering than airguns however they all work on the same principal and share common components and terminology. The basic components and terminology are:

Body – the tube that houses the lens and reticule and to which all other components are fitted. The length varies depending upon the magnification available and the diameter is typically either 25mm (1/2”) or 30mm. The 30mm diameter scopes are stronger and allow more light to the lens thus improving visibility and clarity. They are also more expensive.

Eye relief – The distance between the shooters eye and the ocular lens. This should be around 3 ½ inches but does vary from scope to scope and person to person. It is critical to get this correct especially on a recoiling weapon.

Lens coating – Most good quality scopes have coated lens. Coatings stop stray light, fogging and help to improve the clarity of the image.

Magnification – Scopes have the ability to magnify an image, that’s the whole point of them. Some scopes have fixed magnification, for example 4 x 30. These numbers tell us that the image can be magnified 4 times and the Objective lens is 30mm in diameter. Other scopes have variable magnification, for example 6-24 x 50. These numbers tell us that the image can be magnified up to 6 times, the magnification can be increased by up to a factor of 24 and that the Objective lens is 50mm in diameter.

Mounts – There are a number of different types of mounts and which one you need depends upon the scope, the airgun and you. Mounts are either one piece or two piece and come in different heights (low, medium and high) and a good general rule is the larger the objective lens the higher the mount needs to be. I have a 3-9 x 40 scope fitted to my BSA Meteor with medium mounts and a 6-24 x 50 fitted to my HW97K with high mounts. Remember that the closer the body of the scope is to the rifle the more accurate the rig will be. If you are fitting a scope to a springer you will need mounts with a recoil pin. Remember the rearwards movement of the rifle? Well it loosens sights a treat. Many rifles have a blind hole drilled in the back of the receiver to accept a recoil pin (grub screw) to stop the scope moving backwards. You might even need one piece mounts which provide more grip along the scope rail as there is more metal-to-metal contact. Good quality mounts have padding fitted to the surfaces that come into contact with the body of the scope.

Ocular lens – This is the lens at the rear of the scope.

Objective lens – This is the lens at the front of the scope. Its primary function is to gather light. Some objective lens are adjustable for parallax error, usually know as Adjustment Objective or AO.

Parallax error - Distortion of the image or target when the shooter moves head, it occurs when the image is not exactly focussed on the reticule plain and leads to a shot being missed.

Reticule – More commonly known as the cross hairs. There are a number of different reticules, 30/30, Mil Dot, Multiple Aim Point (MAP) and Specialised. They all provide a reference point for the shooter to place on the target where (hopefully) the pellet will land when the trigger is squeezed. The advantage of newer types of reticule such as Mil Dot over the 30/30 is that you have a number of different aim points to cater for different distances and side winds. It is a whole subject on its own and I suggest looking through a few scopes and talking to people before buying. Some reticules are illuminated which is useful for shooting in poor light.

Side Wheel Focus – Another Turret mounted on the left of the body which allows the shooter to adjust the parallax. This is becoming a common “whistle” on scopes as it saves the shooter having to reach forward and adjust the objective lens.

Turrets – Typically there are two turrets; one for windage (left/right) adjustment and one for elevation (up/down) adjustment. The windage is always on the right of the body and the elevation is always on the top. Common forms are Finger Adjustable and Target Turret. Both can be adjusted without tools and on some you can reset the scale to zero once the scope is zeroed. The turrets are found in the middle of the body and are connected to it by a saddle.

So, which scope should I buy?
I’m afraid it’s down to personal choice again, that and the size of your wallet. You can get a good quality scope for about £60, add about £15 for mounts and you are sorted. Remember to research properly before parting with cash. Do not be tempted to buy a cheap scope with all the bells and whistles as the quality of the lens will be poor; they have to make a profit somewhere. To start with, go for a good quality 3-9 x 40 Mil Dot, there are a number of different makers to choose from that will suit either hunting or target shooting without making life too complicated.
Once you have chosen your rig the only thing that will make you the perfect shot is practice, there are no short cuts. Above all else have fun!

I’m more confused now than when I started reading this……

I genuinely hope this is not the case, if so please let me know and I can rewrite or bin this article. In summary, it’s down to personal choice and the size of your wallet. Join a club, speak to people, research using the web or magazines and try as many different things as you can before you part with cash.

One final point, the more you spend does not make you a better shot. Admittedly you will have a better chance of hitting the target than with a fairground special however you will also look more stupid when you keep missing the barn door because you don’t breathe properly, snatch at the trigger and look up before the pellet has left the barrel.

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Dr. Radut Consulting