Airgunning from home: How to make the best of lockdown

With ranges closed and travel restricted, Airgun Shooter’s editor, Mat Manning suggests ways for airgun shooters to pass the time and raise their game during lockdown.

From testing new pellets to tidying your kitbag, there is plenty to keep an airgunner occupied during lockdown

Well, that escalated quickly. It doesn’t seem like yesterday that we were all rubbing shoulders at the British Shooting Show and, as I write, we’re not allowed to leave the house unless it is for essential work, food shopping or a quick bit of exercise.

The impact of coronavirus has been huge; gun shops and ranges have closed and events like IWA, the Northern Shooting Show and many, many others have been cancelled or postponed. Current advice is that we shouldn’t even venture out to help farmers with vital pest control unless the situation is critical.

Preventing shooters from going out on their own to protect crops seems a bit harsh when people are allowed to mingle (all be it at a distance) on their allotments but we all have to do our bit in order for things to get back to something close to normality so I urge all shooters to keep up to date with current advice and stick to it.

It isn’t all bad news, though, and when it comes to being locked down, many airgunners are in a far more privileged position than most shooters. If you’re an airgun shooter, or are in touch with airgun shooting friends or customers, here are a few things you can crack on with at home without breaking any rules during the lockdown. Best of all, they should make you even more effective in the field and on the range when we’re allowed back out there.

Backyard plinking

The great thing about airguns is that, with a bit of common sense, they can be used safely and legally in a moderately-sized garden. The key thing is to ensure that a safe backstop is in place.

A concrete or brick wall will take the momentum out of a lead pellet, as will a large paving slab, but don’t be tempted to use wooden backstops; pellets can eventually rip all the way through and wood’s fibrous nature can cause dangerous ricochets. Purpose-made and very effective pellet catchers can be bought and, at the time of writing, some online retailers are still operating.

Apart from keeping you and your property safe, a good backstop will also eliminate any risk of breaking the law by allowing a pellet to stray beyond your boundary. Remember also to be considerate as your neighbours will probably want to enjoy their own garden.

It is fortunate that a silenced airgun has a very quiet muzzle report but the sound of pellets slapping against a steel or concrete backstop can become irritating. The problem can easily be alleviated by placing a box stuffed with rags or newspaper in front of your backstop and fastening a target to that.

Of course, safety is paramount, and if you have children it is very likely that they will be at home. Make sure that they, and any pets, are safely out of the way when you are shooting.

If you do decide to use the opportunity to introduce a young son or daughter to the sport, start off with a clear safety briefing and always ensure that the gun is unloaded and pointing in a safe direction if anyone goes downrange to check or change a target.

Pellet testing

Most airgun shooters know that different rifles shoot well with different pellets, and even the best hardware in the world will perform very poorly if fed the wrong ammo. Pellet testing to find the best match for your barrel is not particularly exciting but it is a very useful way to make the most of extra time on the garden range.

It is important to try a wide variety, but quality domed pellets from the likes of Air Arms, JSB, Daystate, QYS, H&N and RWS are a good starting point. Again, online retailers should be able to supply a good selection of airgun pellets, and I would suggest that now is a very good time for them to think about offering sample packs containing different brands.

Grouping is the most important consideration when choosing the pellet that best suits your barrel but downrange rise and fall should also be considered. Once you have found a brand that your gun likes, you may want to get really nerdy and start experimenting with different head sizes – it’s surprising what a difference it can make.

Airgun maintenance

My advice to most airgun shooters is not to get too ambitious with airgun maintenance, especially if you shoot a modern PCP as tinkering can often do more harm than good.

My own maintenance regime is limited to a wipe-down with light oil, and trigger tweaking and barrel cleaning when necessary. That said, springer shooters who are confident enough and suitably equipped to install a tuning kit might want to crack on with it now they have time on their hands.

One bit of maintenance that most airguns would probably benefit from is a barrel clean. It’s a job that I often try to dodge, and carry out once a year at best, but there is no denying that a heavily-leaded barrel is usually the reason for loss of accuracy.

Check the YouTube tutorials and you will find guidance on using felt pellets, pull-throughs, patches and associated lubricants. Once you’ve decided which approach will suit you best and what kit you need to carry it out, you should be able to get hold of everything you need from an online retailer.

Don’t panic if your airgun shows a sudden loss of accuracy when you shoot your first groups through a spotless barrel. Pellets need a bit of lead in the barrel to perform to their optimum so expect to put several magazines through your gun before the groups really tighten up.

Kit overhaul

If you’re a busy hunter like me (when we’re allowed to be) then your airgun probably isn’t the only piece of kit that doesn’t always get the love it deserves. My clothing and equipment usually get stuffed into a shed or cupboard, or left in the boot, at the end of a session and remains there until needed again.

I don’t tend to wash my hunting clothing if I can get away with it, because I would rather have it smell of crushed grass and leaf mould than fragranced detergents, but I will concede that the earthy aroma does sometimes exceed a “natural” level.

If your shooting clobber is starting to stink and you are looking for a way to while away a bit of time, then put it in the washing machine but don’t add any powder or liquid if you want to keep it natural.

Other jobs worth carrying out include touching up the paint on decoys, cleaning the lenses of scopes and binoculars, and picking stray clumps of bramble and other weeds from hide nets, which may also benefit from having any large holes patched up – I use 20lb fishing line for this job.

Who knows, if I get really bored, I might even tip all the long-forgotten contents from my backpack and put them back in some sort of meaningful order.

Swat up

When I’m not out shooting I like to spend my time reading about it. There are loads of great books covering the many disciplines of airgun shooting and I would also recommend taking out a subscription to Airgun Shooter Magazine to ensure that you can get a copy even if the shops aren’t open – well I would, wouldn’t I?

We are also spoilt for choice when it comes to free videos on YouTube, which offer a wealth of information and entertainment. And who knows, maybe even the trolls will be a bit less of a hindrance now that so many of them have swapped their expertise from armchair airgunning to advanced virology.

I am still busy at my desk, on the garden range and in my home studio ensuring that The Airgun Show has plenty of exciting content for our 200,000 subscribers. 

Thankfully, myself and the team managed to get out and film a few hunting packages before the lockdown kicked in, so we’ve got a few episodes worth of exciting in-the-field content to share over the coming weeks. Stay tuned and stay safe! 

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