Alternatives to the Gun Range
By Bob Beers
A consistent gun, consistent cartridges, and a consistent shooter are all absolutely necessary for shooting accurately. Fortunately, consistent guns and consistent cartridges are readily available at reasonable prices, so we can buy two of the three elements of accurate shooting. The most important element of shooting accurately, in my opinion, is a consistent shooter. And, THAT we can't buy!
Practice! Practice! Practice!
To become a consistent shooter, there is absolutely no substitute for practice! For those of us who enjoy shooting this is not a chore, it is fun. Unfortunately, such fun can be expensive, time consuming, and inconvenient. Shooting 100+ rounds a week can cost a lot of money, not just for the cartridges, but also for range fees, and gasoline. The shooting range that I like to use is over an hour drive from my home (on a good day). Many times when I would like to go to the range, the weather is terrible. And, when the weather is good, I may have "real" chores to do, or the range may not be open.
A Quiet, Less Brutal Alternative to the Shooting Range
Several months ago, when my shooting desires resurfaced, I decided that if I am going shoot, then I'm going to be good at it. That sounds great, but that means a lot of practice.
While some shooting aficionados may find my practice regimen humorous, I have found it to be very productive. Much of my practice is at home, with air or gas guns. (Go ahead, get it out of your system, laugh . . . but it works!)
Choosing the Right Alternative Guns
Many high quality precision air and gas guns (that use CO2 or other environmentally friendly compressed gases) are manufactured for hunting and target shooting. While some of the high-end air rifles cost more than most centerfire rifles, many reasonably priced air rifles can be purchased for $200 to $300. Many high quality gas handguns are available for $150 to $250.
The projectiles (pellets) for these guns can be purchased for about a penny each. The gas to propel the projectile costs a very small fraction of a penny. (Let's think, when was the last time I shot 100 rounds of metallic cartridges for a dollar?)
Also, air and gas guns are reasonably quiet. They can be discharged in a garage or an adequate room in the house and not be heard by others. A very strong note of caution: air and gas guns are NOT toys! Air and gas guns CAN and WILL inflict serious bodily harm! Did you get the message? Respect and handle air and gas guns as if they are firearms!
The Air Rifle
For rifle shooting practice with an air rifle, I like to use a Beeman R7, Webley Stingray, or RWS Model 34. The Beeman R7 (about $275) is a light recoil, break barrel, single shot air rifle that propels a .177 caliber, 8 grain pellet at a muzzle velocity of 700 feet per second using a spring piston power plant. It is 39 inches long, weighs 6 pounds, and requires 18 pounds of cocking effort.
The Webley Stingray (about $279) is a medium recoil, break barrel, single shot air rifle that propels a .177 caliber, 8 grain pellet at a muzzle velocity of 920 feet per second with a spring piston power plant. It is 44 inches long, weighs 8.2 pounds, and requires 26 pounds of cocking effort.
The RWS Model 34 (about $209) is a heavy recoil, break barrel, single shot air rifle that propels a .177 caliber, 8 grain pellet at a muzzle velocity of 1000 feet per second with a spring piston power plant. It is 45 inches long, weighs 7.5 pounds, and requires 33 pounds of cocking effort. All of the above models have wood stocks and fore-ends, and two-stage, fully adjustable triggers.
The ruggedness of the scope (if desired) must match (or better) the severity of the recoil of the rifle. A low priced scope such as a Bushnell Sportsman (about $80) should perform well on light recoil air rifles. A little better quality scope, such as a Bushnell Banner (about $115) should perform well on medium recoil air rifles such as the Webley Stingray. For a heavy recoil air rifle a medium quality scope such as a Bushnell Trophy (about $199) is appropriate. Of course, the more rugged scopes may be used on the lighter recoil air rifles as well, and have the additional advantages of better optics, adjustments, etc.
The CO2 Revolver
To practice shooting a revolver, I like to use a Smith and Wesson 686-6 CO2 gas gun, which is manufactured in Germany by Umarex under license from Smith and Wesson. The Smith and Wesson 686-6 CO2 revolver (about $228) is a very light recoil, ten shot, double and single action gas revolver that propels a .177 caliber, 8 grain pellet at a muzzle velocity of 426 feet per second using a 12 gram CO2 cartridge. It is 11.5 inches long, weighs 2.8 pounds, and looks and feels remarkably similar to a real Smith and Wesson .357 revolver. The front sight is a fixed blade and the rear sight is adjustable for elevation and windage.
The "Green Gas" Semi-Automatic Pistol
For practice shooting a semi-automatic pistol, I like to use a KWA G26C green gas gun, which is manufactured in Taiwan by KSC and upgraded by KWA prior to being imported into the U.S. The KWA G26C gas pistol (about $135) is a light recoil, twenty shot, Glock-type safe action gas pistol that propels a 6 mm, 0.2 gram BB at a muzzle velocity of 320 feet per second with a green gas power plant that is integral with the magazine. It is 6.5 inches long, weighs 2.2 pounds, and looks and feels remarkably similar to a real Glock 26. The metal slide of the KWA G26C blows back like the Glock for more realistic slide and muzzle action. The front sight is a fixed post while the rear sight is adjustable for windage only.
The Targets, Target Boxes, and Backstops
The targets that I use are dot matrix targets printed from an inkjet printer. The rifle target is ten rows of six 3/16" black dots on an 8.5x11" sheet of copy paper. The pistol and revolver targets are three rows of two 1" black dots on an 8.5x 11" sheet of copy paper.
The target box that I use for air and gas guns shooting lead pellets is a corrugated cardboard box that is firmly packed with crumpled newspapers. A 3 foot by 4 foot piece of 3/4" plywood should be used as a protective backstop for a lead pellet target box, just in case.
The target box that I use for air and gas guns shooting plastic BBs is a corrugated cardboard box that is loosely packed with crumpled newspapers. Also, to prevent BBs from bouncing all over the floor, it may be necessary to cut holes in the impact areas of the box as the light BBs may not have sufficient energy to penetrate the cardboard. But, they penetrate the paper target okay. By the way, they will crack glass. So, be careful! A blanket or large towel should be sufficient as a protective backstop for a plastic BB target box.
My Practice Regimen
Practicing with the air rifle and gas pistol is almost a daily ritual for me and usually amounts to about 1000 shots a week. Weekly practice with the gas revolver is normally about 200 shots.
My "rifle range" is set up in the garage so that several times a day (if I so desire), I can take a five or ten-minute break from whatever I'm doing and go shoot at the dots. Sometimes, five or ten minutes stretch into one or two hours.
The range of the target is six yards. So that I have a running record of my accuracy, I shoot one pellet at one dot. While always striving for that perfect center hit, acceptable hits are the pellet touching any part of the dot. In theory, this translates into a hit that is within 3 inches of the target center at 100 yards, and 6 inches from center at 200 yards.
My "pistol range" is set up in my office so that when I want to shoot at the dots, they are right there. During the course of the day, especially if TV is boring, I may shoot upwards of 200 plastic BBs.
The range of the target is three yards. Although, I don't keep a running record of my accuracy, I do mentally monitor the impact point of the BB and continuously strive for a center hit. But, given that I am really practicing close quarter self defense shooting, acceptable hits are within 2 inches of center, shooting at three successive dots (low to middle to high) with a quick recovery time between shots. In theory, this translates into a hit that is 4 inches from center at 6 yards and 6 inches from center at 9 yards.
My "revolver range" is set up in the garage on an "as I want to" basis (usually once or twice a week). The range of the target is five yards. As with the pistol practice, I don't keep a running record of my accuracy, but do mentally monitor the impact point of the pellet, and, of course, strive for that perfect center hit. This practice is for outdoor or campsite defense. (You know, like here comes a bear and my rifle is locked up in the truck, but I do have a .357 Magnum in my holster!)
Acceptable hits are within 1 inch of center with quick recovery times for three consecutive shots. In theory, this translates into a hit that is 4 inches from center at 20 yards and 8 inches from center at 40 yards. (This needs to get better; I don't want to be bear food!)
Does This Really Work?
It may seem intuitive that accuracy diminishes with a "real gun" with more severe recoil. I thought it would, but it didn't. Well, at first, shooting with a "real gun" was less accurate. But, my shooting technique was too weak to control the recoil of the firearm. By strengthening my shooting technique to control the recoil of the firearm, my shooting accuracy improved and now closely resembles that of my air and gas gun practicing. It just takes a little (a lot?) more effort to control the recoil.
So, in my opinion, the simple answer to the question is, "Yes, it really works!" The feel, actions, and movements of many high quality air and gas guns are the remarkably similar to "real" guns.
One Final Thought
It's worth repeating: Practice! Practice! Practice! To become a consistent shooter, there is absolutely no substitute for practice.
Copyright 2006 by Bob Beers. All rights reserved.