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Which Way to Carnegie Hall?
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by Jock Elliott a.k.a. Jock Elliott     Last updated: 2009-04-20 15:40:01

When I read Gary Smith’s excellent article “Field Shooting Positions That Work,” I couldn’t help but think of an old joke: a young man is walking down the street in New York City with a violin case under his arm. He asks an older gentleman, “Which way to Carnegie Hall?” Comes the answer: “Practice, son, practice!”

For anyone who wants to use the field positions that Smith recommends or who simply wants to be a more accurate handgun hunter, that’s good advice: “Practice, son, practice!”

If you want to get good, you gotta practice. You have to put yourself in those field positions, pull the trigger, and assess the results. Over time, you’ll figure out what works and what doesn’t, and you’ll improve. In my experience, practice is essential in any endeavor in which you hope to achieve excellence, whether it’s picking a bluegrass banjo or trying to hit small targets at long range.

But here’s the problem: many of us live where discharging a firearm is strictly forbidden or would be extremely unwise, so practice requires a trip to the range. Anytime practice becomes less convenient, you’re less likely to do it. In addition, if you’ve checked the cost of shooting supplies lately, you know that the outlay for putting 50 or 100 rounds downrange while checking out various shooting positions is, to put it diplomatically, “non trivial.”

If you would like to practice in a way that is both convenient and inexpensive, I’d like to make a modest suggestion: practice your field position, sight picture, and trigger control with air pistols.

Before I get on my soapbox about the advantages of air pistols, here’s a little bit about me. I’m a fulltime freelance writer, working mainly with high tech and medical organizations, but I am also a beady-eyed airgun freak. I’ve written a book Elliott on Airguns and I write a weekly blog for Airguns of Arizona.

The Advantages of Air Pistols

So here’s what air pistols can do for you. With air pistols, you can shoot in a huge number of venues where you can’t shoot firearms. For example, I live just half a mile from a major technical university, and in between writing projects, I frequently treat myself to a “20 minute vacation” by putting a few pellets downrange with an air pistol. By all means, check with your local authorities, but don’t be surprised if you can shoot an airgun in your backyard, basement or garage without running afoul of the law.

Once you purchase your air pistol, it will be superbly kind to your wallet. Depending upon which pellet your airgun “likes,” you’ll find typical shooting costs on the order of 1-3 cents per shot for ammunition. A sleeve (10 500-pellet tins) of high quality pellets will typically run around $120 plus shipping

In addition, high-end air pistols are among the most accurate projectile launchers on the planet. For example, Olympic match air pistols can literally put pellet after pellet through the same hole at 10 meters.

Most air pistols have a neighbor-friendly report. That’s because virtually all airguns are quieter than firearms (with the possible exception of some big-bore hunting airguns). In addition, it is rare for airguns to launch pellets faster than the sound barrier. Some airguns are inherently very quiet, and there are models that are virtually silent.

You can spend as little or as much as you want on an air pistol, depending upon your tastes and your wallet. You can pick up a utilitarian air pistol capable of bouncing soda cans around the back yard for under $50. Or you can spend 1-2 kilobucks on the most sophisticated match air pistols made today.

Those are the basics, but you also need to understand there are several different powerplants used in air pistols to send the pellet downrange. Here’s the run down.

Multi-stroke pneumatic (MSP or pump-up) airguns require 2-8 strokes of an on-board lever (usually the forestock) to store compressed air in the powerplant. This is the powerplant of classic Benjamin and Sheridan air rifles and pistols. They are virtually recoilless and completely self-contained, so all you need for a day afield is the gun and a tin of pellets. The power can be adjusted by the number of strokes, but once the gun has been fired, it must be pumped up all over again. Another consideration: when pumped up to the max, a multi-stroke pneumatic can be loud. Multi-stroke pneumatic air pistol can be powerful enough for shooting small game.

Single-stroke pneumatic (SSP) pistols also use a lever to compress air in the powerplant, but – as the name implies – require only a single stroke to fully charge the gun. This is the powerplant that was used on many older Olympic 10-meter match pistols.

SSPs are fully self-contained, easy to cock, highly consistent and often incredibly accurate. The power and speed of these guns is usually low, shooting relatively light match-grade .177 pellets at 350-450 fps.

Spring-piston pistols – also called “springers” – use a lever (normally the barrel or a side- or under-lever) to cock a spring and piston. When the trigger is pulled, the spring is released, pushing the piston forward and compressing a powerful blast of air that sends the pellet down the barrel. Springers are self-contained, often relatively quiet and can be very accurate, but the movement of the spring and piston within the gun before the pellet leaves the muzzle makes them the most difficult airgun type to shoot with high accuracy. Nevertheless, many pistoleers can and do master shooting springer air pistols. Springer air pistols can be powerful enough for hunting small game at relatively close range.

CO2 pistols use 12-gram cartridges or CO2 transferred from a bulk tank to launch the pellet. CO2 airguns are recoilless, convenient, and (in target models, increasingly replaced by PCP target models) extremely accurate. Noise levels vary from model to model. Cocking effort is usually very low, making these guns a favorite for family shooting. CO2 airguns require periodic refilling and performance can vary with temperature. Velocity will drop in wintry conditions, and rise in very warm conditions.

Precharged pneumatic pistols (PCPs) are charged with air from a SCUBA tank or high-pressure pump. This is powerplant of choice for high-energy hunting pistols, Olympic 10-meter pistols. PCPs are virtually recoil-free, very consistent, and often superbly accurate. But they are not self-contained – you need a SCUBA tank or high-pressure hand pump available to recharge them, and they can be noisy.

Next, let’s take a look at some air pistols I have shot and think would be useful for handgun hunters who want to practice or hunt with air pistols.

Some Airguns You Might Like

The top picture shows three pistols from Crosman Corporation.

At top, a Crosman 1377 multi-stroke pneumatic pistol with intermounts and an inexpensive red dot mounted on the barrel. This .177 cal pistol can be pumped up to 10 times and is capable of killing small game. It weighs 32 oz naked and stretches 13.6 inches end to end.

The middle pistol is a Benjamin HB22. A .22 caliber, it is also a multistroke pneumatic that can be pumped up to 8 times for dispatching small game. Intermounts are available for mounting red dots, etc. It weighs 40 oz and is 12.25 inches long.

The bottom pistol is the Crosman 3576 revolver with a Centerpoint Red Dot mounted. CO2 powered, it is a double/single action ten-shot repeater. It weighs 2 pounds and is just under 11.5 inches long. Top velocities are only a little over 420 fps, making this pistol more suitable for practice only rather than hunting. Mounting the red dot on the 3576 requires changing the scope rings on the red dot.

I own all three of these pistols, and each has its charms. The 1377 can launch pellets up to 600 fps, making it the speed demon of the bunch. The HB22 is slower, but delivers a wallop and is extremely solidly built. The 3576 is just what the doctor ordered for rapid-fire target practice.

The next picture shows three air pistols from UmarexUSA.

The top pistol is the Diana LP8 Magnum. This is a big break-barrel spring-piston pistol capable of launching pellets at around 580 fps. It stretches 17.5 inches from muzzle to the end of the receiver, weighs 3.2 pounds, and has an integrated top rail for mounting a scope or red dot. This .177 cal pistol certainly has enough power for dispatching small game at 20-30 yards.

The Smith & Wesson 586 with six inch barrel is a CO2 repeater that can launch pellets at up to 425 fps. This Smith can shoot single-action or double-action and has the same look, feel, and weight as its firearms counterpart (11.5 inches long, and 2.8 lbs) thanks to virtually all-metal construction. Pellets are loaded into a flip-out rotary 10-shot magazine that can be changed rapidly. Mounting a red dot or scope requires an optional screw-on adapter.

The bottom pistol is the Beretta Px4 Storm, Recon Version, which comes tricked out with a detachable compensator, tactical rail accessory mount, green Shot Dot point sight, and Walther Tactical Flashlight (not shown). This CO2 powered air pistol can shoot either BBs or .177 pellets and features a full blowback slide, but velocities are below 380 fps. The innovative clip features an eight-shot rotary magazine at each end. Shoot eight shots as fast as you can pull the trigger, drop the clip, flip it, and stuff it back in for eight more shots.

Again, there are reasons to like each of these air pistols. The Diana is big, solid, and suitable for hunting in its own right. The Smith & Wesson 586 is as close as you can get to the real deal without a pistol permit, and it’s satisfyingly accurate too. Get a bag full of wiffle golf balls, and let the Px4 Storm Recon help you discover how fast you can rapidly acquire targets and bounce them out of the way.

A note: this is not an exhaustive list of air pistols that might be useful for practice by the readers of Handgun Hunter, but covers some of the more interesting ones I’ve seen lately. In the future, I hope to provide updates to Handgun Hunter.

The Steady Aim Harness

Finally, for handgun hunters who want to get rock-solid steady out in the field, here’s a piece of gear that you ought to know about. Called the Steady Aim Harness, the patent-pending device consists of a comfortable shoulder harness with a wide padded back support and a pair of padded non-slip knee straps. The hunter wears the harness over his clothes, and whenever he needs to make a high-precision shot, he simply sits down, slips the knee straps into place, and leans back. The Steady Aim Harness uses the body’s own weight in tension against the legs to create an amazingly stable and comfortable shooting platform that deploys in just seconds in the field.

Tom Price, inventor of the harness, says, “The military has known for a long time that the sitting position is one of the most stable for precision shooting, but it isn’t always consistently comfortable or stable. The Steady Aim Harness is as comfortable to wear as a fanny pack and nearly as stable to shoot from as a benchrest.”

The Steady Aim Harness is assembled from ballistic nylon straps and engineering grade plastic adjusters and quick release buckles that are fully adjustable to fit a wide range of sizes. An optional waterproof seat cushion, which is part of the Steady Aim Harness system, is available to increase comfort for extended sitting. The Steady Aim Harness and small cushion together weigh just two pounds.

So, which way to Carnegie Hall? Practice of course. With air pistols, you’ll be able to practice with a substantial advantage in savings and convenience, and the Steady Aim Harness will help you become a better Handgun Hunter.

All of the products mentioned in this article (with the exception of the Diana LP8, which has not yet reached retailers) are available from Airguns of Arizona and other fine dealers on the internet.

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Recent Comments:

Poster: 358429    Date: 2012-11-29    Top

My initiation into handgun hunting was with Crosman pistols. My favorite was a very old Crosman mod 106, a pneumatic gun in .22 cal. That gun went out of "print" in 1953. I think that there is a real niche for air pistols here, there is a lot of "urban" hunting that one can do with a good air pistol, to keep the "eye" sharp. Good article and thanks..
Poster: dh360300    Date: 2012-08-01   Top

Pumpmaster classic @600 fps. is a fine pistol dropped plenty of grey squirrels and chipmunks w/it. :)
Poster: dh360300    Date: 2011-06-05    Top

----------Crosman 1377------------- I Enjoy this pistol very very much, and your article was very much a joy to read. Many chipmunks have fallen due to a well placed shot from my crossman.
Poster: Al in OK    Date: 2011-02-03   Top

I had one of the old Crosman American classics back in the early 80's. It was a very good air pistol with plenty of power for small game, until I finally just wore it plumb out. ;)
Poster: jamesfromjersey    Date: 2009-04-30    Top

An absolutly excellent article....
Poster: Jock Elliott    Date: 2009-04-29   Top

SChunter, Thanks for the kind comments. I have used Raptor Ballistic Alloy pellets. In fact, I used them in a Beeman P1 pistol to terminate a squirrel that needed it. The Raptor pellets are very light. In my experience, they can produce a 100 fps velocity increase in relatively low-speed pistols and rifles. But -- and this is a big "but" -- because they are so light, they also lose velocity very quickly (the ballistic coefficient is low). The result is that accuracy suffers at longer range. So my recommendation on the Raptors is that they work well at no more than 15 yards. They offer greater penetration that traditional lead pellets. In my casual tests with "tin" cans, non-lead pellets generally penetrate through twice as many layers of metal as non-lead pellets, when shot from the same airgun. Raptors aren't the only non-lead pellets available. RWS makes some non-lead high speed pellets, and Cliff Tharpe, producer of the video "Air Rifle Hunting the California Ground Squirrel" has reported great success shooting Dynamic non-lead pellets through his .22 Discovery rifle. Both the video and the Dynamic pellets are available from Airguns of Arizona. One BIG caveat: do not shoot ANY non-lead pellets through the Benjamin or Sheridan pump-up pistols or rifles. They have bronze barrels that are softer than the pellets. Shooting non-lead pellets can turn your soft-barreled airgun into a smoothbore! Well, SChunter, you asked a simple question and got a long answer. I hope this helps.
Poster: SChunter    Date: 2009-04-28    Top

Jock, Very nicely done - thank you for the article! I used to small game hunt with a RWS rifle with great success, but have not done so in some time. Question for you - Have you used any of the Raptor ballistic alloy pellets in your pistols? Results?
Poster: Jock Elliott    Date: 2009-04-22   Top

KRAL, Thanks for the kind words. Airguns of Arizona -- www.airgunsofarizona.com -- carries the Steady Aim Harness. I use one all the time in field target competition.
Poster: KRal    Date: 2009-04-22    Top

Great article! The Steady Aim Harness is very interesting. Where could one acquire one?




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