Airgun springer advice w/ John Hooper

John Hooper lands himself two rather nice springers, but reckons shooters starting out are actually better off buying a bargain basement boinger.

The last couple of months have brought some pretty big changes in my life. I have finally made it to the “promised land” of retirement. I don’t think it has really sunk in, because I pictured myself skipping when I made the final clock out from the plant where I have spent the last 25 years of my working life.

I just knew that I would be able to shoot all day long, except when taking naps, and tinker on designing new reactive targets, my second favourite hobby. Mother Nature has dialled up the thermostat so much that I don’t enjoy more than a few minutes at a time on my backyard range or in my garage working on targets. 

But cooler weather will be here before you know it and maybe then I will realise the satisfaction of “being off the clock”.

John likes to make his own reactive targets from readily available materials – he calls this one Mini Bowling Pins

Another bonus that retirement brought, to my great pleasure, was the insistence from my better half that I purchase a new “nicer” air rifle as my prize for services rendered. Now, what to buy? I have owned or used most every budget-priced rifle out there, but have never taken the next step up. I have always felt that most of even the lower-priced rifles could well outshoot the skills I possess. I also love to tinker, and tearing into a high-end English or German springer did intimidate me.

If you have ever spent much time on any of the airgun forums, then you know the most common post is something about “which one should I choose” or “need help choosing”. I spent so much time surfing the net that I got a sunburn. I did pretty much know the specs on everything available in the mid-priced group of springers. 

I am old school, so I was looking for something with a spring. Maybe someday I will cross over to the Dark Side, but not in the near future. I am a sucker for lighter weight guns, so I ordered a Beeman R7 for plinking (basically a Weihrauch HW30) and an R9 for pest control around my bird feeders (basically a Weihrauch HW95). Hey if it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.

I am not going to bore you with a review on either one of these, because there are dozens of each one all over the media. What I will say is that there is a visible difference in fit and finish, and the ride is smooth right out of the box. The R7 was one of the smoothest rifles I have ever used and very accurate. I have also had $100 rifles that were just as accurate, but took some work to get there. 

The “bowling pins” are made out of lengths of reinforced tubing – a tough material like this will be able to stand up to lots of direct hitsThe pins snap back into place after being shot thanks to the use of some counterweights hanging from a cord – metal washers are perfect for thisJohn recommends using a good quality cord because it will have to withstand a sudden jerk when the pin is struck by a pellet

The R9 was also accurate, but because of the power, needed more concentration on the hold to print the same patterns as the R7. I have had some bargain-price hard-hitters that were as accurate and even easier to hold, but that extra bit of finish and beautiful woodwork is worthy of the double price tag. 

I think the biggest difference comes in the consistency of the higher-end shooters when you start straight out of the box as compared to the more budget-priced models.

There are two schools of thought on the debate between “starter or budget” rifles and “wait until the best” rifles. There are some that say that you will spend less if you save your money until you can purchase a premium rifle, instead of buying two, three, or as in my case 30, trying to find the one that shoots as well as the premium brands. I have two arguments with this train of thought. Putting enough money away to make a serious spend on a hobby is hard. 

Tie a couple of knots in the line before hot-gluing it into the tubing – John also fills the tubing with hot glue to make the target more substantial

There always seems to be some unexpected expense that pops up about two thirds of the way towards your goal and you have to start all over. Some will just give up without ever getting to give it a try. Those that have the persistence to attain their goal, kudos to you. 

To me this just delays the time that you could be at least learning the skills needed to shoot a springer accurately, along with the enjoyment you get by starting to shoot right away.

There is also the issue of some that are not willing to put in the time and effort to learn the art of airgun shooting. 

They buy the highest FPS banger on the shelf at Wallyworld, then rant and rave to everyone they know: “Pellet rifles are junk, you can’t hit the broadside of a barn with one.” Just think how much more they would have griped if they had spent $500 instead of $150. Those that are willing to put in the time to learn the craft with a banger or two, have a chance to determine what they are really after in their dream gun. 

Take for instance the two I just picked up, they are both excellent items and around the same ballpark price, but they are definitely for different uses. The years I spent buying, selling and trading the economy rifles while waiting to get my first new premium were extremely enjoyable and educational and I don’t regret a minute.

Another plus, if you get disciplined enough to shoot a “ruff as a cob” plinker, you will be amazed at yourself when you get a chance to shoot one with some quality engineering. You know what they say “if you can shoot a springer well, you can shoot anything”? Well that gets magnified when you learn on a second-hand B3. And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.

And now for some tips of the trade. If you are like me – and a lot of other shooters – punching paper after a while works better than counting sheep. 

John countersinks a hole in the wood for the “bowling pins” to stand up in, and chamfers the edges so the cord can slide through more easily

I like to see something jump, spin, or blow up when I am plinking. I don’t like running downrange to reset targets every time I hit something, and if you have read any of my other articles then you know I am pretty tight-fisted with the George Washingtons.

So I like to make reactive plinking targets, and most of the stuff you need you’ll probably already have around the house or workplace, and if not they are small change at the hardware or dollar store. The first is Mini Bowling Pins, and is inspired by the sport of Pin Shooting, done with powder-burner pistols. I really enjoy this sport as well, but when I am shooting my air rifles, I need a smaller target and I don’t want to keep setting them back up.

All you need is some kind of stand or table downrange, some string, some small air line or tubing, washers and counterweights. 

Start out by drilling a half dozen or so 3/8” holes in your stand or table and countersink them a little bit, this will help the string travel through the hole better. Tie a double or triple granny knot on one end of a 16” piece of heavy duty cord. Cut some ¾” pieces of the hose/tubing, then feed the unknotted end of the string through the washer, hose and then the hole in the stand. Then tie the counterweight to the end of the string. 

You may have to use a little bit of trial and error to get the weight working just right. You want it heavy enough to pull the target back into place, but not so heavy that the target doesn’t fly away when you hit it. My original set lasted several hundred rounds before the first hose piece finally left the area permanently. I just untie the knot and put on another piece and we’re good to go. 

I recommend using some air line tubing or some other reinforced type for longevity, and make it small enough that you miss sometimes or else you might as well go back to counting sheep.

My second reactive target is called Ring of Fire and works well for both the  tackdriver experts and the newbies who are working on being one. 

Another reactive target is the Ring of Fire – you can either aim to detonate the caps or try not to set them off by shooting through the hole in the middle

Most of you will be familiar with ring caps, the little red rings with either eight or 12 little cups of percussion powder, used in cap guns. When each individual cup gets hit with the cap gun hammer, you get a nice loud bang and flash. You can usually find these around 12 or so to a pack at your local dollar store.

I use clear Scotch tape and mount a half dozen to a piece of white paper. I put the target out on my 25-yard stand,  but it will work at any distance that you want to use. My challenge is to shoot through the 1/2” hole in the centre – without hitting any of the caps. It is quite obvious when I fail, by the flash of flame and the loud pop. 

I often shoot with my young grandsons and we compete, trading shots, me trying not to hit the popper while they are trying to make it go bang. You can get three or four bangs out of a ring before they destruct, or possibly more if you are hitting the tackdriver hole in the middle.

Even at 25 yards it can be quite a challenge to hit six in a row without setting off the dynamite. For an even better show, do this at last light, and you can really see the flames. This is the Saturday Afternoon Shooter signing off till next time. Y’all keep them in the X-ring. 

John’s Beeman R9 is now ready to take on two types of reactive target that are challenging, fun and inexpensive – airguns can cater for any budget

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