Top Air Rifle Mistakes Made by Beginners

  • Written By Eric Crouch on June 19, 2020
    Last Updated: January 31, 2021

Everyone makes mistakes when beginning a new hobby. It doesn’t matter whether that hobby is cycling, shooting, fishing, or swimming, it is important to identify where you’re going wrong and correct your mistakes. In this article, we will be looking at the top 5 beginner air rifle mistakes and how you can take steps to prevent and correct them.

If you’re new to the sport of air rifles, check out our Air Rifles 101 series that includes all the information you need to get started, from buying your first rifle, to critical safety tips, accuracy, and maintenance.

Why is it Important to Know Where You Are Going Wrong?

It is important to know where you are going wrong and identify your mistakes as soon as possible in any hobby. When shooting air rifles, a mistake could cause injury to yourself and others around you, so it is vital that you outline your flaws and take steps to rectify them before any problems arise.

Certain mistakes can have a negative impact on your accuracy and overall performance in shooting, while others can negatively impact your gun. You can always improve your skills by identifying flaws and correcting them, but you can’t always repair an air rifle if you damage it through avoidable beginner mistakes. Luckily, this article has been made so you can avoid these mistakes entirely and enter your hobby with an insight into the world or air rifles, giving you a leg up exactly when you need it.

Biggest Beginner Air Rifle Mistakes

Oiling and cleaning

When it comes to oiling and cleaning your air rifle it is common as a beginner to make mistakes. Many beginners over oil their gun which can cause problems, traditional air rifles used to have leather seals which needed oiling frequently to prevent the natural material drying out. While it is important to oil a modern air rifle, they have synthetic seals that don’t need as frequent lubrication. Over-oiling can cause issues with your gun and even damage it in the long-run through a side-affect called dieseling.

Dieseling happens when excess oil in the gun’s barrel ignites causing a small explosion in the internals. Air rifles naturally do this during the break-in period however it is not desirable to have them doing this all the time. When an air rifle diesels you will notice more power through combustion with poor inconsistent accuracy. As well as this, the explosion on the inside of the rifle can cause mechanical failure and permanent damage to the gun.

When you get your first air rifle you will probably be obsessed with keeping it in prime working condition. This is a good thing to be obsessed with however there are a few mistakes you can make. Overcleaning of the guns internals is not recommended. By all means, clean the external parts of your gun regularly and apply a product such as Ballistol to ensure the long rust-free life for your air rifle, cleaning the bore of the barrel is not advised.

During an air rifle’s break-in period, you are working toward removing factory lubricants from the barrel while coating the inside with a layer of powder from the many pellets you fire through it. This powder allows the smooth transition of the pellet through the barrel and is certainly not dirt. Cleaning your barrel should be a last resort when you have ruled out other factors if your rifle is not functioning properly. Although you may think your bore is dirty this powder gets cleaned and replaced every time a pellet is fired, naturally keeping your barrel in tip-top condition.

Overcleaning the barrel of your air rifle will result in poor accuracy and power. After cleaning your barrel, you will need to fire another tin of pellets through it to build up that powder layer again, so why bother? Use barrel brushes and bore cleaners as a last resort if you can’t pinpoint why your rifle is malfunctioning.

Setting Up Your Air Rifle Ready for Use

Many beginners come into issues and make mistakes when it comes to setting up their new air rifle. Every new air rifle needs breaking in and the break-in period for one rifle can differ drastically from another. As a beginner, it is common to under-estimate the length of this break-in period and start hunting or shooting targets when the rifle isn’t ready.

If an air rifle hasn’t been broken in fully it will produce inconsistent accuracy and power. This can frustrate the new marksman and give them the impression that their rifle has a factory error or is malfunctioning, when in reality they haven’t set enough time aside for break-in.

Furthermore, if a beginner feels their rifle is “misbehaving” due to a malfunction or problem with the internals they may try and take the gun apart. This could be done in haste and without a clear plan. Once the rifle is in pieces, the new marksman may cause unnecessary damage to the mechanicals of the gun or fail to properly re-assemble it again. If you do this, you will probably end up with a pile of parts and an air rifle that will only hit a target with an overhand throw in anger.

Another part of setting up a new rifle is mounting the scope (if you have one). There are a few mistakes that beginners make when it comes to mounting a scope on their air rifle with the most common being over tightening of screws. This is a factor that not only beginners, but experienced marksmen make on a regular basis.

So many people are so worried about their optics coming loose that they tighten their scope to the mount with great force. In doing this they may experience one of three things that are a nightmare to deal with – a snapped screw, rounded screw head, or stripped threads. If the screw doesn’t fail upon overtightening the user will find issues down the line once the gun has been fired repeatedly, leaving a damaged scope and/or mount that will need replacing. This problem is true to both mount screws and the scope-ring screws.

If overtightening your scope screws doesn’t damage your kit beyond repair it will certainly have an ill effect on your accuracy and precision. Overtightened scope rings or rings that have been tightened while out of alignment will see you readjusting your rifle scope more often than normal because of inconsistent accuracy. This brings us to our next biggest beginner air rifle mistake – sighting-in your scope…

Sighting-in Your Scope

It is common for beginners to sight-in their scope wrong. It can seem complicated to a newbie entering the sport however it is simpler than some people think and often people overcomplicate the procedure. Sighting in a new air rifle scope can become a frustrating series of events to the inexperienced shooter, with the biggest problem being consistency when zeroing-in the scope.

When sighting in any scope, whether mounted on an air weapon or a traditional powder-burning firearm, shooting consistently from the same spot is vital. Many beginners can start zeroing in their scope and during going to check the target they pick up the gun and either take it with them or move it from position. Doing this alters the distance from the target and vertical positioning of the rifle which will in turn affect where the pellet hits – preventing precise adjustments.

Another factor that beginners overlook is mounting the rifle on a firm bench or rest. Not having a firm rest affects shot consistency and will make it more difficult to sight-in the scope accurately. As well as this, having a forearm resting on a firm surface will force the shot to bounce when the air rifle recoils, forcing the pellet to hit high – giving you a useless shot to adjust from.

Sighting in at the wrong distance is another mistake under this category that is common for the beginner to make. If a scope is sighted-in to a target that is either too close or too far away, when it comes to hunting or target practice at different distances it will be extremely hard to adjust to the mark.

Scopes can come out of aim with relative ease and sometimes although a scope may seem sighted in it can knock out of zero quickly. After adjustments, the scope’s optics can sit “in-between clicks” therefore once confident it is zeroed the scope should be tapped lightly and readjusted if it comes out of line. This is a small step many newbies overlook and get frustrated when they start shooting inaccurately after setup.

Controlling the Gun

It is easy for the beginner to make simple mistakes when controlling their new air rifle. Mistakes such as poor finger positioning on the trigger, flinching during recoil, and not following through with the shot can affect accuracy and consistency. These mistakes are small and often overlooked by the beginner however they all make a big difference to the outcome of the shot.

Poor finger positioning on the trigger is a small sometimes unnoticeable factor that affects where your pellet will land on a target. If you are using the very tip of your finger you will see your pellet hitting to the left of your mark, if you sitting the trigger in the first crease (on the joint) of your finger you will notice the pellet hitting right of your mark. Using either the crease or tip of your finger won’t give you even pressure as you follow through with the shot, jolting the gun when the pellet leaves the barrel.

Flinching during recoil can be due to the anticipation of noise from the shot or the recoil itself. Either way, it will affect your accuracy greatly and cause inconsistency in your shooting. When you flinch, you tense up and cause the rifle to dip forward which sometimes goes unnoticed because of the jolt of the recoil. The beginner can become confused as to why their accuracy is inconsistent and poor, they may look for answers by adjusting the scope or cleaning the barrel when in reality flinching is the reason behind it.

Not following through with the shot will affect your accuracy and force the pellet horizontally or vertically off the mark. When you release your trigger finger immediately during recoil, the gun will jerk either sideways or up and down during the most vital moment of your shot – when the pellet leaves the muzzle. Beginners tend to pull the trigger, release their finger immediately, and pull the gun upwards to see where they hit the target. This is a big mistake.

Posture and Breathing Techniques

Much like mistakes with gun control, incorrect posture and breathing techniques affect accuracy and consistency in your shooting. Mistakes with breathing and posture are easy to make for the beginner and correcting them is paramount to improving overall performance in your shooting.

If your posture is poor, you won’t have a good foundation and structure when shooting an air rifle, this will make you unbalanced, causing wobble when the trigger is pulled. An unstable foundation and structure will cause your shots to be inaccurate. Learning to structure your body with a firm base and a solid hold on your rifle will ensure you are shooting in the same position every time without wobble. Not learning to present yourself properly is detrimental to your marksmanship and you will forever struggle to produce accurate results consistently.

Breathing is hugely important when shooting an air rifle. When beginners start out, they will notice how breathing affects the placement of their pellet on the target. This is because when you breathe in and out your body moves, altering the aim of the rifle. A common mistake is holding your breath during the aiming and firing of the rifle, this isn’t the proper way to master your breathing and will be detrimental to your shooting. There is a technique to breathing when shooting that allows you to breathe naturally and shoot precisely, we will go over this in the next section.

Correcting Your Mistakes

Correcting your mistakes is essential to becoming a better marksman and progressing in your shooting career. In this section, we will give a brief overview of how to correct the 5 biggest air rifle mistakes. If you are looking for a more detailed guide full of how to’s and useful tips, check out our three-part guide: Air Rifle 101 For Beginners. This extensive guide is the go-to place for beginners looking to step into the world of air rifles with their best foot forward.

Oiling and cleaning

The oiling and cleaning mistakes are particularly easy to rectify. Now you know why over-oiling and over-cleaning your rifle can be detrimental to its function and wellbeing you should know exactly what not to do. Here are a few pointers to put everything together.

  1. Avoid cleaning your rifle’s bore (barrel internals) unless absolutely necessary
  2. Avoid over-oiling by only oiling your seals with 2 or 3 drops every 6 months (or every 1000 shots)
  3. Use a synthetic oil for your synthetic seals, never petroleum-based (this will break down the seal)
  4. Clean the exterior of your gun as much as you please and use Ballistol to treat wood stocks and exterior steel

Setting Up Your Air Rifle Ready for Use

Setting up is the first point of call when you receive your new air rifle. When you break-in an air rifle it is always best to shoot more pellets through it than you think it needs, this way you will be sure it has fully settled before you take it out to shoot accurately. Additionally, chronographs such as the Acetech AC5000 can be picked up for under $60. These can be used to monitor the velocity of your gun, making it easier to notice when your gun has settled during the break-in period. You can learn exactly how to break-in your new air rifle properly in Air Rifle 101 Part 2.

The overtightening of your scope screws can be avoided easily. You can tighten screws affectively and have confidence that they will hold your scope in the rings and on the mount firmly by using a torque wrench. A torque wrench such as the Wheeler Accurizing Toque Wrench will tell you the exact pressure you are tightening too, this makes snapped screws and cross-threading easily avoidable. If you are planning on keeping a scope attached to your rifle long-term, use some Loctite to secure the screws further.

Sighting-in Your Scope

Sighting in your scope doesn’t have to be difficult. Under this section we have provided a small checklist to read over to get an idea of the process of sighting in your scope, however, we highly recommend reading through the scope setup section in Air Rifle 101 Part 2. As well as reading through the scope section in Air Rifle 101 we recommend viewing the informational video within the section. Both the instructions and the video will see you zeroing-in your scope with pinpoint accuracy.

  1. Set up you air rifle on a bench or from a firm standpoint, don’t change this location through your sight-in
  2. Set up a close-range target between 10ft and 15ft from your gun
  3. Adjust the scope so the pellets are hitting the paper
  4. Aim for the center of the target and adjust the scope so the pellet hits 2inches lower than the mark
  5. Move back the target another 10ft – 15ft and repeat, aim for center and hit 1inch lower than the mark
  6. Move your target 70ft – 75ft away from your shooting position, aim and adjust pellet impact directly on the bullseye

Controlling the Gun

Poor finger placement on the trigger can be corrected easily, you just need to know exactly where the trigger should sit on the finger. As well as trigger placement, we mentioned following through with the shot as a common beginner mistake, we will cover this at the same time in this section.

The trigger should sit between the tip and the first crease on your trigger finger (the first finger after the thumb). Having the trigger placed here will give you smooth and even pressure when you pull, prevent gun tilt. When you pull the trigger be sure to follow through. Make the shot and hold the trigger in for 4 seconds after the shot has been made, then while maintaining a good sight picture, let off the trigger slowly allowing it to reset.

Flinching during recoil can be overcome relatively easily. You simply need to be aware of it and relax during your shot. You shouldn’t fear your air rifle therefore you do not need to flinch or react when the trigger is pulled. A good stance and breathing technique will give you a firm base and help keep you relaxed for the shot, this leads us to our next mistake remedy – posture and breathing technique.

Posture and Breathing Techniques

Controlling your breathing and learning a good technique is vital to accurate shooting. On top of this, it is essential to learn how to shoot with a stable and consistent stance, this is where posture techniques come in. Below we have given a short list extract of both breathing technique and standing posture technique. These lists will give you an insight into how to improve, however, if you are looking for something more in-depth, check out Air Rifle 101 For Beginners Part 3 for a full detailed guide.

Breathing correctly

  1. Prepare: Get into a comfortable shooting position, sight your target on an out-breath, and ready yourself to fire.
  2. Take a deep, smooth breath: Notice your aim rise above your desired target point, it’s important not to readjust your aim at this point.
  3. Breathe out: As you breathe out your sight will move back down to your desired target when you reach the natural pause at the end of your out-breath.
  4. Take your shot: Once you reach the natural pause at the end of your out-breath and your target is back at the center of your scope or sight, take the shot.

Correct Standing Posture

  1. Keep your feet parallel: Keep your feet parallel without any ankle twist and imagine a line going through the balls of your feet leading to the target.
  2. Keep your body aligned with the shot: Keep your back straight but slighted leaned back to incorporate your rifle into your body’s center of gravity.
  3. Stabilize your rifle: Keep your butt plate firmly pressed into your shoulder with both arms locked while staying relaxed and not straining your muscles.
  4. Align your head and look down the sight: Keep your head in line with your rifle and look directly down the scope at your target.
  5. Fire: Make sure you’re employing the previous 4 steps and fire on your out-breath-pause.


To conclude, it is important that you are aware of your mistakes and assess them in order to correct them. Always look at personal mistakes before looking at hardware issues because 9 times out of 10 the marksman is to blame for poor accuracy and performance. Look after your air rifle but don’t over-clean or over-oil and always make sure your new rifle is broken in fully. This guide should have given you an insight into the top 5 beginner air rifle mistakes and how to correct them but always be open to learn and improve your skillset when it comes to shooting air rifles. Happy shooting!

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