Air Rifle 101 for Beginners (Part 2)

  • Written By Eric Crouch on May 4, 2020
    Last Updated: January 31, 2021

This is part two of our Air Rifle 101 series.

What Can You Use Your Rifle For?


Air rifles are extremely quiet compared to traditional firearms and can cater well to situations where stealth is paramount. Most .22 caliber rifles have more than enough power to take out small – medium game at mid-range and are quiet enough to hunt in close quarters as well. If your rifle is sighted in well, has great power, and is precise enough to produce tight shot groups you will find hunting both highly achievable and enjoyable.

Many marksmen enjoy using air rifles in hunting situations and what these rifles lack in power they make up for in other ways. The hunter will benefit from a .22 caliber gun when hunting rabbits in the field as their quiet nature tends not to spook game in the surrounding area as much as a shotgun. Air weapons are also extremely simple to operate and maintain, this makes them hugely attractive to the hunter that is out in all types of weather.

Pest Control

If you are looking for a gun that can control a pest problem, then look no further. Air rifles make the perfect pest control weapon due to their pinpoint accuracy and quiet nature, in fact, many pest control companies supply their staff with air rifles to cull pigeon and squirrel. If you are looking for a gun to get on top of a pest problem then an air rifle is your best option and with some practice, you can devastate rat, squirrel, or pigeon populations on your property fast.

Pest control with air weapons doesn’t stop at small pests either. A .22+ caliber rifle with enough power can easily take down raccoon or skunk humanely. Before you take on a pest of this stature just make sure it is legal to do so in your state and province.

Target Practice

Air rifles are attractive to anyone looking for a gun to practice target shooting. Coupled with a good quality pellet the air rifle will produce clear entry holes on paper targets. Ammunition is cheap as well, this is a huge benefit if you plan on shooting many rounds in your target practice sessions. Whether you are shooting targets to get some practice in before a hunt, preparing for a future competition, or simply shooting targets for fun, an air rifle is the perfect option for the target shooter.

Backyard Plinking

Looking for something to knock cans or bottles down in your backyard on the weekend? An air rifle is the answer. Unless you have really relaxed neighbors, I’m sure they wouldn’t appreciate the sound of loud gunfire coming from your yard, and a visit from the police would be on the cards. Air rifle gunfire however, is another story. Most air rifles are quiet enough not to upset your neighbors and they are perfectly legal to use in your backyard so are your only option for a bit of casual backyard plinking.

If you’re shooting in your backyard you want to be considerate of your neighbors and make sure you are not upsetting the whole neighborhood, an air rifle’s silent nature will ensure this. These weapons also have a much less invasive shot and provide less risk of ricochet or bullet-travel. As long as you’re shooting with a reasonably powered rifle and have a sufficient backstop behind your target you will have little chance of a pellet ricocheting into someone’s window. The best air rifle for backyard plinking has to be the multi-pump because you can lower its power output for close-range situations.

Safety Advice and Some Rules to Follow

A good marksman is a safe marksman. Safety should be the main concern to anyone shooting an air rifle or any gun for that matter. Including a few good practices in your shooting will ensure that you keep risks for yourself and surrounding people low. In this section, we will cover everything you need to know regarding the safe operation of your rifle.

When operating dangerous construction machinery there are always safety precautions to take along with operation rules to follow that are designed to keep the user and any bystanders safe. Air rifles are no different when safety is concerned, you should follow a good set of safety rules and take appropriate precautions before and during your shooting.

Make sure to periodically check your rifle over for damage or mechanical failures that could potentially pose a safety risk when operating. If you do find any damage or failures make sure you get your rifle checked over by a professional and fixed as soon as possible. Never fire your air rifle if it’s damaged, this poses a huge risk and can cause even more damage to your rifle.

Ensure you are using the correct ammunition for your rifle, don’t try and use the incorrect size pellet and certainly don’t force anything other than a pellet down your barrel. Finding the best functioning pellet for your gun can also increase accuracy and performance, posing less risk of missing your target and hitting a hazard.

If you have friends around for some casual plinking or target practice in the yard or field, be sure they are standing behind the marksman. You should not be able to see anyone in your peripheral vision when looking down your sights, this makes certain that no one will roam into your line of fire. The same goes for yourself if you are spectating another marksman, make sure you stand far behind the gun and its handler.

If you are shooting in your backyard, make sure to be considerate of your neighbors. Make sure that your rifle isn’t too over-powered for the size of your backyard and if you have variable power options on your rifle ensure the power is set as low as possible while still being functional. You want to avoid dangerous ricochets that could injure or damage your neighbor and their property, just make sure you’re not shooting a target that’s set up in front of anything that the pellet could bounce off.

Whether you are hunting, shooting targets, or plinking in the backyard a sufficient backstop is paramount in air rifle safety. A backstop provides a barrier that stops your pellet traveling unnecessarily. A .22 caliber pellet can travel at least 450 yards when uninterrupted, that is the length of 4.5 football pitches. When you consider this, you can see why ensuring you are shooting with a sufficient backstop behind your target is so important to safe air rifle use. A good backstop should be a main priority to every marksman, a pellet can still pack a punch over 400 yards so always be mindful of this when out shooting.

Here is a useful safety checklist to refer to when out in the field shooting. If you consider and employ these 5 points whenever you pick up your rifle, you’ll be sure to create a safe environment for yourself and any bystander.

  • Check your rifle, is it safe to use?
  • Make sure there is no one down range
  • Check your maps, are you shooting in a safe location?
  • Is there a sufficient backdrop (backstop) behind your target?
  • Is your rifle unloaded and un-cocked when walking in the field?

12 Rules to Follow When Handling Your Air Rifle

This is an essential 12-point list of rules that every good air rifle owner should follow to ensure they keep themselves and others safe.

  1. Never rely on your air rifle’s safety mechanism. Mechanicals can fail so keep leave your gun un-cocked and unloaded whenever possible
  2. Only cock and load the gun when you intend to shoot it. Never keep your air rifle cocked and loaded unnecessarily
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until you have your target in sight and are ready to shoot
  4. When your gun is not in use it should be kept unloaded
  5. Treat every air rifle as if it were loaded. Check and check again to ensure that rifle is not loaded with a pellet
  6. Never leave an Air rifle unattended
  7. When storing your air rifle keep it locked away and out of reach from children
  8. Always transport your air rifle in a suitable case and never carry an uncovered air rifle in public
  9. Never aim at another human being, whether the gun is loaded or unloaded
  10. Always aim your air rifle safely at a target with a sufficient backdrop
  11. Keep your rifle well-maintained in order to ensure it is safe to use when shooting
  12. Never play with your air rifle. Although an airgun isn’t a traditional powder firearm it is still definitely not a toy and should be treated with the same respect as any traditional igniting firearm.

What is the Point of Call When you Get Your First Air Rifle?

Once you purchase your new air rifle it’s not as easy as taking it straight out of the box and over to the field for some shooting. There are certain steps you need to take to prepare your rifle for your first accurate and precise shots. Breaking in your rifle and sighting it in doesn’t have to be complicated but it can be daunting to the beginner, this is why we have devised this part of the guide to assist you with setting up your first air rifle. By the end of this set-up guide you will know exactly what to do when you purchase your first gun and will be out shooting in no time.

Checking Over Your New Air Rifle

The first point of call when you purchase your new air rifle is to check it over and make sure there are no factory defects, missing parts, or damage from delivery. If you do this as soon as you receive your rifle it will make it easier to get a replacement if there are any issues that aren’t a fault of your own. Outlets and online gun shops can be picky with returns if the gun has been clearly used.

If everything looks good with your rifle and there are no missing parts, then now is the time to check over all the screws and bolts and give them a tighten if necessary. Although most air rifle manufacturers have excellent quality control it’s not uncommon to receive an article with a loose screw or two. Check all your stock screws and any mounting screws that you can see and give them a tighten if they need it. This will ensure that when you go to take your first shots you don’t lose any fixings through vibration and recoil.

Breaking-in Your New Air Rifle

In order to break-in your new rifle, you first need to understand what exactly breaking-in is and what it does to your gun. The act of breaking-in an air rifle primes the barrel with graphite or lead dust from the pellets you fire through it. It also helps remove any factory lubricant from the bore. When you get a new rifle, the bore can be covered in oil or lubricant and this can be ignited from the heat that is produced from the pressure of a shot, this reaction is commonly known as dieseling. Dieseling affects the power and accuracy of your gun and this lubricant must be burnt off before the gun can produce consistent shots.

So how can you burn off the lubricant that is naturally in the barrel of your rifle after manufacture? Well, there is only one way to do this and luckily for you, it is a fun and simple one. The act of firing pellets through your rifle will cause it to start dieseling, after many shots are made the lubricant will naturally burn off and you will notice your rifle “level out” and become quieter. You will know when your rifle has completely leveled out because it will stop acting so erratically and start to produce consistent power and precise shot groups.

As a general rule, you want to fire at least 50 pellets through your new gun however depending on the make and model this number can be lower or higher. You will get a feel for when your air rifle has fully leveled out and you’ll notice a distinct difference in its performance. You may find it easier to monitor your rifle’s power using a chronograph, you can use this handy bit of equipment to monitor the constancy of your shots, we will discuss this in a bit more detail later.

Make sure you pay attention to how your rifle is performing and if you are still seeing inconsistencies in power then there is no harm in firing a few more pellets through it. Making sure your gun has been fully broken-in will make your life much easier on the next stage. Once you are convinced that your air rifle has fully leveled out, it is time to move on to sighting in your scope or iron sights so you can start taking accurate shots, but before this, you should check your air rifle over one more time.

Breaking in your air rifle may have loosened up a few screws. When an air rifle diesels it creates a lot more vibration and recoil than normal, this can loosen things up. Check your rifle over like you did when you unboxed it and tighten anything up that may have come loose. Once you’re satisfied that everything is tight, move on to the next stage, sighting in your rifle.

Sighting in Your Scope or Iron Sights

The first thing to do when sighting in your new air rifle is to set up a few close-range targets between 10ft and 15ft in the field or your backyard. Once you have done this, ideally you would set your rifle up on a bench or mark a line on the ground so you can be consistent with your shooting position. Once you are set up and ready, it’s time to make your first shot.

When you make you make your first shots aim in to the center of the target. You can see how far your sights or scope are out by how far from the center your pellet hits. Your pellet may hit too high, too low or too far left or right, once you have fired one or two shots at the target you will be able to see exactly how you need to adjust your sighting. Sighting in a scope is slightly different from sighting in an iron sight, however, they both share similarities in how you adjust them.

There are two adjustment turrets or screw heads on both your scope and your iron sight that are used to adjust the accuracy. One adjuster moves the sight up and down and the other moves it from side to side, these movements are used to correct where your pellet lands on the target. If you are aiming at the center of the target and your pellet hits low then adjust your point of aim upwards, if your pellet lands to high then adjust your aim downwards. If your pellet lands to the left then simply turn the horizontal adjustment turret to the right, if it lands right then turn it to the left.

Now you know how to correct your sighting lets move on to how you sight-in your rifle to the most functional distance. You want to start shooting a target at a distance of between 10 and 15ft when you start. When shooting a target at 15ft you want to adjust your iron sights so the pellet hits 1 inch lower than the bullseye mark and 2 inches lower for a scope. Doing this ensures that when you start to move your target further away it is easier to adjust your rifle to hit accurately. Once you are hitting the target accurately on the correct mark for this distance, it is time to start moving your target further away and adjusting your sights for distance.

Move back your target another 10ft to 15ft and start the same process again. Sight in your rifle a little higher this time so you are below the center mark by 0.5 to 1inch. Keep in mind that the longer the distance the more sensitive your adjustments need to be, you should keep the turns of your adjustment turrets or screws small until you find the right spot.

Once you are hitting the mark accurately at this distance it’s time to move your target 70ft to 75ft from your shooting position. Most air rifles work well sighted in at this distance and allow the marksman to make physical adjustments when shooting at shorter or longer range, rather than having to sight-in every time they are shooting at different distances. When shooting a target at 70ft to 75ft you want to hit the bullseye with the pellet when it is in your sight. Make sure you adjust the scope perfectly to the bullseye and fire a few shots to make sure you are sighted in well.

Once your rifle is broken-in and sighted in, it’s time to see how precise the gun is. Have a look online to see what shot groups other people are getting from the rifle and see if you are getting roughly the same. Are your shot groups close enough together? If your rifle isn’t producing consistent shot groups then perhaps it needs breaking-in further, don’t worry though, some air rifles just need a few more rounds put through them to level-out. If your rifle isn’t hitting the spot you are aiming at, then you need to further adjust your sights.

This information should give you a good idea of how to sight-in your rifle correctly, however, if you are struggling or need a visual guide then here is a useful video on how to sight in your air rifle scope.

Taking Your First Accurate Shots

Now your new air rifle is broken-in, sighted, and is ready to use, it’s time to take your first accurate shots. When you set up in your shooting location make sure you first assess the risks in the area and be mindful of safety. Remember to only cock and load your rifle when you are ready to shoot, and ensure you have a sufficient backdrop behind your target.

Once you are happy that you’re in an appropriate and safe location, assess your wind direction and its speed. The wind is the biggest variable factor in air rifle shooting because the pellets we use are so light. Keep in mind that if you have a side wind and are shooting over 30ft you will have to adjust your aim to suit this by aiming slightly into the direction of the wind.

Remember practice makes perfect when it comes to any hobby, shooting air rifles is no different so the best way to increase your skill and confidence is to get out and shoot as regularly as possible. There are many techniques for breathing, holding your rifle, and taking the shot that are vital to good accuracy and consistent performance. Later in this guide we will fully cover the techniques you need in order to produce accurate, consistent shots from your air rifle, but for now let’s have a look at how to maintain your new gun.

Maintaining Your New Air Rifle

Maintaining your air rifle is an important part of gun ownership. A well-maintained rifle will last for years and hold its performance value. Whenever your rifle looks as though it needs a clean or starts feeling as though it could use some lubrication, it is vital that you do so. Make sure your gun is kept dry, clean, and is stored in a moisture-free environment to prevent any rust from forming. Here a few tips to ensure your air rifle lasts as long as you do.

Systematically check your rifle over and tighten up any screws or bolts that may have loosened up over time. A loose stock can dramatically decrease your rifle’s performance when accuracy is concerned, so it is vital to keep everything in check. It is common for screws to come loose from time to time from general bumps in the field and the vibrations your rifle creates when it is fired. Keep on top of this and your rifle will benefit from it.

If you want to get into hunting, then it is likely that you will encounter some bad weather every now and then. If you do get trapped out in the rain and your rifle gets wet, it’s not the end of the world but when you get home its important that you take the appropriate steps to dry it out. When you get in after being out in the rain naturally you will want to dry off the visible water on your gun’s exterior. This is a great step to take however quite often there will be water sitting where you cannot see it, mainly on the stock seat where your barrel rests.

If you were only out in a small shower then drying your gun’s exterior and leaving it in a well ventilated, warm place will be fine. If you get stuck out in heavier rain and your gun gets considerably wet, you should remove the stock, dry off the barrel and its seat, before assembling your gun again. While your gun is in pieces it is a good idea to treat the barrel and stock with a product such as Ballistol, this will prevent rust from forming and protect everything from water damage.

Oiling the exterior of your rifle is essential to prolonging its life. Using a superior all-round oil like Ballistol can give you ultimate protection from the elements and ensure that your air rifle doesn’t succumb to the effects of rust and wood swelling. Other parts of your air rifle need care too, make sure to lubricate any moving parts as per manufacturer instruction, especially if your rifle is stored for long periods of time, this will prevent any seizing.

Your rifle’s interior aspects need maintenance as well but because they aren’t put under any ignition strain like powder-burning firearms they require much less care on the inside. The most important part of maintaining your rifle’s internals is oiling its seals. A synthetic seal only requires five drops of seal oil once every six months whereas leather seals require five drops once per month. Check your rifles manual to find out what your seals are made of and for some advice on the correct seal oil for your gun.

Cleaning out your rifle’s barrel is something that is needed very rarely and should only be done if absolutely necessary. When a pellet gets fired through an air rifle it systematically cleans your barrel and coats it with powder, this keeps your barrel clean and primed for accurate shooting. As you now know, breaking-in an air rifle can be a lengthy procedure and if you clean out your barrel you will have to do this all over again, costing you time and money for no benefit. There really is no need to clean your barrel unless you are trying to identify an accuracy issue with the gun, but even still this should be a last resort.

8-point checklist for air rifle maintenance

  1. Lubricate your rifle’s moving parts
  2. Keep your rifle moisture free and stored in a dry environment
  3. Oil your piston seals (every 6 months for synthetic & once per month for leather)
  4. Use the correct pellets for your gun (Using appropriate pellets stops any unnecessary wear on the barrel)
  5. Clean and oil the exterior of your gun
  6. Replace mainspring when a loss of power is noticed (spring-powered rifles)
  7. Use the correct oil and lubricants for your rifle
  8. Don’t cut costs when it comes to maintenance and replacement parts (buy for the long haul)

Transporting Your New Air Rifle

When transporting your air rifle, it is important to be safe, legal, and convenient. When driving, it is best to keep your rifle in a slip or case while locked away in the trunk of your car or inside a lockbox in the back of your truck. Never transport your rifle while it is loaded and never keep it exposed in the cab of your car or truck. Avoid leaving your air-arm visible in your vehicle as this can be seen as a threat or on the other hand, an invitation to a criminal looking to steal your weapon.

Always keep your rifle in a suitable case or slip when walking on foot to your shooting site, this avoids any unwanted attention or worry from bystanders. A good case will protect your air rifle from damage while walking and when it is being transported in your vehicle. When you purchase your first air rifle, we recommend buying a good quality slip or case alongside it so you can transport your rifle safely and out of sight from prying eyes.

Air rifle cases come in both hard-shell and soft-shell variants. A hard-shell case gives you ultimate protection when transporting your rifle in your vehicle however they are far too heavy to be useful when walking with your rifle. Soft-shell cases are both good for vehicle transportation and walking with your rifle, they provide good damage protection and usually offer extra storage with enough space for tools, pellets, and targets, but do tend to be quite bulky.

If you are looking for something to put your rifle in when going for longer walks to your shooting area, then a slip is the best option for you. They are light, offer good padding for damage protection, and can easily be slung over your shoulder. They provide the marksman with a compact piece of gun luggage that is both discrete and durable. Slips often have one or two pockets big enough for a couple of tins of pellets and enough space to store some paper targets.

When transporting your rifle ask yourself these three questions:

Our top picks for transportation

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Storing Your New Air Rifle

Make sure you always leave your air rifle un-cocked and unloaded when stowing it away, you should do this for both safety and your rifle’s health. It is especially important to leave your rifle un-cocked in storage if you own a spring-powered rifle, in order to prevent spring fatigue. If you own a Co2 air weapon, make sure you remove the cartridge from the weapon and any loaded magazine that it may hold. When storing PCP rifles leave some air in its tank, this will ensure the valve seals stay fully closed, preventing dirt getting into the vales and stopping the seals drying out.

It’s not essential to leave your air weapon in a gun cabinet or safe, however, this is the safest and most secure place to keep your rifle. Gun cabinets such as the SK Interiors Buffalo 1325 can be purchased for as little as $200 and are a great investment if you’re looking to progress your new hobby with more shooting equipment. Another option for storing your air rifle is a gun rack. Although gun racks aren’t as safe as a cabinet or safe, they do offer a great way to display your rifles while keeping them elevated and safe from damage. Gun racks are a cheap option if your looking for a storage solution for your rifle. A nicely crafted rack like the Rush Creek Real Tree Rack can be purchased for as little as $40, or if your good with tools you can knock one up in an afternoons work.

Cabinets and racks aside, one of the most important things to consider are the conditions in which your rifle is stored. As mentioned in the maintenance section it is of paramount importance that your rifle is stored in a dry, well-ventilated place. Never keep your rifle in a slip or case when storing it long-term, if your rifle is left in its slip or case with moisture on it then it will sweat, potentially causing rust and mold to grow.

Making Sure Your Air Rifle is Performing Well

Ensuring that your air rifle is performing correctly and to the best of its abilities is essential when monitoring your rifle for power loss, accuracy, or preciseness issues. Once you have owned your air rifle for a while and shot many rounds through it, you will get a good feel of how it performs normally. If you want to monitor your air rifles power outputs and performance more closely, then a chronograph is the best way to do this.

A chronograph is a piece of equipment used to monitor the power and velocity of the pellet as it exits your rifle’s barrel. These can be purchased for as little as $80 and can be a great tool for monitoring your rifle’s performance during break-in and throughout the extent of its life. They are a huge benefit to the marksman as if you have power issues you can use it to monitor outputs during trial and error problem-solving. They are also useful to the marksman that wants to know the exact power they are shooting at so they can ensure humane kills and predict pellet trajectory over long distances.

If you want to be sure your rifle is performing the best it can there are many ways to do this. As well as monitoring your power outputs, you also want to ensure that your rifle is sighted-in correctly, your trigger is crisp, and everything is tightened up enough. Good maintenance is key to keeping your rifle’s performance high and routinely sighting in your scope will ensure you are shooting accurately. Over time, your sights and scope can fall slightly out of aim, so when you notice your shots start to creep off the mark simply make some adjustments to your scope to bring your accuracy back in-line.

Air Rifle 101 for Beginners (Part 1)

Air Rifle 101 for Beginners (Part 3)

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