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Competition - Airgun Target Shooting

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Author Bill Clarke


The following is an article that appeared in Airgun Shooting

Airgun target shooting Indoor airgun target shooting has a big following, in fact Bell Target shooting founded in the Midlands at the turn of the 19th century, is the UK’s oldest indoor target sport.

The oldest airgun shooting competition in Britain, first shot in 1906, was the brainchild of Robert Baden Powel – of the Boy Scouts fame – and Lord Edmund, which makes it over 100 years old.

Bell Target is shot over 6, or sometimes 7 yards from the standing position with 6ft.lb air rifles, originally with open sighted BSA and Webley airguns, now more normally with indoor match rifles with diopter sights. The metal plate used as the as the target has a 1/3in (8.5mm) diameter hole in the middle, behind which sits a bell, and all the shooter has to do is put a pellet through the hole to ring the bell!

The major world-wide air-powered indoor target sports, however, are 10- metre rifle and 10-metre pistol shooting, both of which are Olympic disciplines. Shooting first appeared in the Olympics in 1896 and has gone through a few changes since then – the last one in 1996 when the men’s events were segregated from the women’s.

The Olympic disciplines use paper targets, the 10m air rifle bullseye target being 45.5mm in diameter with the maximum score 10-ring actually a dot of 0.5mm – yes, that’s right, half a millimetre in diameter, while the air pistol target is 155.5mm in diameter with an 11.5mm 10-ring. Both targets are tough, and with Men’s 10m Pistol and 10m Rifle matches over 60 shots in 105 minutes and women’s being 40 shots in 75 minutes, for both competitions, there’s no time, or place, for nerves.

The governing body for indoor shooting in the UK is the NSRA (National Small Bore Rifle Association) based at the home of shooting, Bisley in Surrey. The international body, the ISSF (International Shooting Sports Federation), sit on the International Olympic Committee and run the shooting sports sections of the Olympic Games every four years.

There are 14 leagues running in the UK, with 5-man teams competing, and many of the air rifle 10m shooters also shoot small-bore (.22 rimfire) rifle, using the air-powered part of the small-bore season’s winter months to keep up their training regime. Other airgun indoor match competitions include 6 and 7-yard paper target, 7-yard Bell for rifle and 6 and 20-yard pistol. Many clubs shoot multiple disciplines, with regular postal leagues running too, so there’s always lots to do.

The rifles used are 6ft.lb pre-charged pneumatics – which have taken over, initially from spring-powered and then CO2-powered match rifles – mostly from top German and Austrian stables, like Steyr, Feinwerkbau, Anschutz and Walther and all have to conform to a host of strict regulations. Being 6ft.lb they give 200 plus shots per charge of compressed air, which is why the Europeans’ favour removable air cylinders. Field Target 12ft.lb rifles need filling more frequently, so quick fills and fixed cylinders are preferred.

Sights are always diopter type, meaning they use an open non-optical system in which the shooter lines up the rifle with twin front and rear sights, the sight elements being rings. These rings correspond to the rings on the paper target, so the shooter aligns the sight ring with the target rings to ensure the aim is dead centre. Rifle costs vary. Starting at around £370.00 for the target version of an Air Arms S200T they finish at around £1500 for the top spec 10m Feinwerkbau, but unfortunately for serious the indoor match shooter, that’s not the end of the outlay.

To compete on level terms, especially at the highest level, the rifle shooter must wear stiff custom-fitted jackets and trousers, specialised boots and, of course, a target glove. The whole outfit weighs a bit, but it does provide the support needed to stand and shoot for hours at a time. A shooting jacket can cost from £150 to £500 and more, in either thick canvas or made-tomeasure leather while trousers are normally custom fitted for the same sort of money. Wide, flat-soled shooting boots will set you back from £100 to £120 and those essential target gloves £30 to £50.

Not finished yet. There’s the clothing worn underneath. Top shooters wear the same thin layered clothes beneath their suits and even these can be specially made with seams removed to aid comfort when worn under the tight match clothing.

Other bits and bobs needed include specialised shooting glasses, peaked caps with ‘side-curtains’, a stand to rest the gun on between shots – which normally has a little tray to hold the shooter’s pellets too – barrel cleaning systems, spare diopter sights and various tools.

Match air pistol shooting

Match air pistol shooting need a lot less kit – no jackets, trousers, and so on, but the pistols can be just as expensive as rifles.

For top shooters, eye enhancement for the sight picture is a must – as it is in rifle shooting – with the non-shooting eye normally blanked off with a screen. This allows the shooter’s dominant eye to focus on the sight picture without having to consciously shut the other eye. Sights themselves are the more normal open rear notch and front post, rather than the diopter style of rifle shooting.

Getting the right technique for pistol shooting takes time and practice, and the top shots are just amazing to watch. But you either love or hate the discipline, because of the increased difficulty factors compared to rifle shooting though it is more convenient than rifle shooting since the kit needs less space to store and is lighter and easier to carry around.

Top Match pistols, from Steyr, Morini, Feinwerkbau and Benelli, cost up to £1100 and all are now pre-charged pneumatics. Gone are the days of single-stroke pneumatic or CO2-powered match pistols because air is far more consistent and controllable. I own a Steyr LP-50 match pistol and use it for FT pistol shooting, so I know the accuracy of these precision pistols is well up to rifle standards.

Match shooting pellets

Flat headed 177 (4.5mm) pellets are exclusively used for indoor match shooting, mainly due to the clean precision of the holes they punch in the paper targets. This is why they can also be called ‘wadcutter’ pellets, and of course the clean holes make scoring easier.

Match pellets are usually lighter too, weighing around 7 to 8 grains, and the majority have traditionally been from German manufacturers like H&N, RWS and Vogel, costing from £6.00 upwards for a tin of 500.

At top competition level, pellets are individually weighed and inspected under high magnification to check and discard any with the slightest flaw. Packed in trays, each pellet cosseted from its neighbour in an individual foamrubber cell, these are the pellets which bring Gold Medals…

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