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Getting Started in Airgun Shooting

Getting Started in Airgun Shooting

If you’ve not yet started air rifle or pistol shooting, it might seem a little daunting. There are obviously laws regarding airguns and their use but as long as you comply with them all (not just some of them!) you’ll be fine. If you own your own property, or have permission from the owner, with a decentsized back garden, then you’re okay to shoot in it but you must make sure that no pellets leave your boundary and you obviously don’t want to annoy or worry your neighbours. You’ll obviously need something to shoot at but be aware that some steel targets can cause the pellets to ricochet, so you’ll have to be careful what type you use. If you have a garden large enough to safely contain any wayward pellets, lucky you, so you’re free to use a huge range of spinners, ‘knock up-knock down’ targets and other reactive targets without having to worry. However, for most people, some sort of pellet trap is best. Target card holders made from steel with a built-in pellet trap can be positioned at various ranges and these will ensure that all pellets end up where you want them. If you want to shoot at reactive targets, then it’s possible to construct a sort of ‘bunker’ from an angled paving slab at the rear and two more to form the sides; this way you can set up targets within the enclosure and any pellets with stay within it. Safety glasses are obviously a very good idea, as our eyesight is precious and easily damaged!


One of the best ways to ‘have a go’ at airgun shooting is to go to an event where the ATEO are in attendance. The Airgun Training and Education Organisation (ATEO) was originally set up by a small group of dedicated airgun shooters to educate, train and promote all aspects of airgun shooting. It’s now grown to cover the whole country and their team of committed coaches regularly attend country shows, game fairs and shooting shows to introduce youngsters to the sport, in a safe and controlled environment. They also do a great deal of work in schools to educate youngsters on all aspects of airgun law, including BB guns etc.

They state: ‘Our mission is to encourage people of all ages and abilities to enjoy their chosen air gun sport. We believe this can be enhanced by having the appropriate training without harm, or injury to persons or wildlife or any detriment to the environment.’ This education needs to start at an early age to focus youngsters to the dangers of misusing guns of all types and the laws and legislation that can be broken.

The ATEO has set up a schools program to help inform youngsters of the law and how to use this equipment correctly can be a way to control some pest species without risk to other species that other methods can cause and how some of these pest species can be used to provide an organic and healthy food source. The ATEO is actively working with other organisations to raise the profile of airgun sports and the formation of clubs to encourage the safe use of airguns as recreational sport.

All ATEO Coaches and Instructors have to complete full training and they are further instructed in the training and coaching of under 12s, which they specialise in coaching. ATEO Coaches and Instructors are regularly assessed on their coaching skills and are encouraged to continue to update their knowledge and understanding with three yearly assessments. The ATEO has also put together an Airgun Proficiency Course that can be completed at any of the Game Fairs that it attends around the country. This will help show the responsible side of air gunning and show that you are safe and have knowledge of the legislation.

ATEO airgun courses

The qualifications have been written so that anyone interested in controlling a range, training at club level or pushing the boundaries as an ATEO Coach, can meet the standard set in the area and then move forward within the qualification. There are also qualifications for anyone working within the pest control Industry, or wishing to become a professional pest control operative.

The ‘have a go’ ranges are always busy and I love the work Dave and his team do with youngsters and it’s great to see kids having fun on the range in a safe and structured way. I’ve seen youngsters attend year after year and some have become really accomplished shots.

The law

As I mentioned earlier, there are numerous laws regarding airgun shooting and a comprehensive guide can be found on the ATEO website at www.ateo.org.uk.

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The ATEO have teamed up with Adrian Caddy Archery (www.adriancaddyarchery. co.uk) to also introduce archery to juniors and this has been a great partnership. They will be attending the following Living Heritage events this year:
• Burghley Game & Country Show – 28th - 29th May
• Cheshire Game & Country Fair – 26th - 28th August
• Sandringham Game & Country Fair – 9th - 10th September
• Wiltshire Game & Country Fair – 23rd – 24th September
• Essex Game & Country Fair – 7th - 8th October

Range time

If you’ve not got access to a large garden, then the best place to shoot is at a club or airgun range. Here, you’ll have somewhere that has been purpose-built and will have been constructed to either contain all pellets within a building of some sort, or be outside. The benefit of this sort of set up is that the targets will be already set out and there will be other shooters or staff members on hand to offer advice. You might also be able to hire or borrow a rifle. You will probably have to take some sort of training if you’re shooting on an airgun range, so that the owner can be sure that you will be safe and responsible and clubs usually have a training scheme for new members. If you are going down the club/range route and haven’t already got your own gun, it’s worth waiting a while, as there’s nothing worse than buying the wrong gear!

What discipline?

Many airgun shooters are happy to use their guns for informal target shooting, or plinking’, and it’s a great way to spend time, without feeling the pressure of competition shooting; however, a lot of people want to try their hand at some sort of competition and see how they compare to others. The Olympic-style Match Rifle and Pistol disciplines are often seen as the ‘Formula 1’ of shooting and the equipment is generally expensive, so it’s best to use club gear to begin with if possible.

Bell Target is an air rifle target discipline, traditionally shot in the back rooms of Northern pubs but it is still popular is certain regions. The target is a hardened round steel plate with a 9.5mm hole in the middle; if the pellet goes through the hole, a bell rings and scores 5 points. If the pellet hits the plate, then the 1-inch scoring rings come into play, for a score of 4, 3 or 2. The plate is painted with non-drying paint to make scoring easy and is over-painted after each shooter. Rifles in .177 calibre are used and can be spring piston or pre-charged pneumatics (PCPs).

Then there is Field Target (FT), where shooters engage steel knock down targets from 7- to 55-yards on a course set out in a wood or field, or a combination of both. When a pellet passes through a 40mm hole in the target face, it triggers a mechanism that causes the target to fall back for a score of 2 points; if the pellet hits the faceplate, a score of zero is scored. There are 2 targets per lane, with 2 minutes to range the target using a high magnification scope and then shoot at the targets. There are usually some targets with reduced diameter ‘kill zones’ (holes) and some shots must be taken kneeling or standing- most shots are from the sitting position however. Rifles and scopes for FT can be very expensive at high level but more modest kit can still be competitive in the right hands. The range to the target can be measured quite accurately using the focus wheel on the side of the scope and the elevation turret can be used to ‘dial in’ the range to allow for the curved trajectory of the pellet.

Hunter Field Target (HFT) is more like ‘old school’ FT, where rifles are generally less target-oriented and scopes are generally much lower magnification, since the scope can’t be altered during the competition and judging ranges is done by eye. As with FT, the ‘kill zones’ can vary in size but shots are generally taken prone, with a few positional shots thrown in. One point is awarded for hitting the faceplate of the target, and two if the target falls over.

The new discipline of Target Sprint is rapidly gaining popularity and combines outdoor target shooting and running, a bit like Biathlon, without the snow! Pest control is obviously a rewarding past time but time must be spent on a range first, before any shots are taken at live quarry.

Gearing up

Any new shooter will obviously need a rifle or pistol; If possible, try before you buy and that’s where shooting at a club or on a range can be useful. If not, some shops have ranges where you can try various guns. Open sights are best to start out with but most people shoot with a scope these days and there are a lot of really good optics out there. Quality mounts are also a must, as are decent pellets. As mentioned before, a pair of shooting glasses is a good idea. A decent gun bag is a must, to protect your pride and joy and keep you legal going to and from the shooting venue.

So, if you’ve not already taken up airgun shooting, good luck when you start and shoot safely!

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    01 Jun 2021 at 10:07 AM
  • Many thanks for informing us about one of the best ways to ‘have a go’ at airgun shooting is to go to an event where the ATEO are in attendance.
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    Stephanie Petersen
    19 Aug 2019 at 09:23 AM
  • the ATEO have comprehensive training programmes for all types of airgun shooting, from target use through 10 metre and into vermin control training. The vermin control courses are certificated and supported by BSA. We are also now working on an FAC airgun specific course. explaining a lot of the issues when going up to high powered air gun, see web site for details or contact me

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    03 May 2018 at 06:16 PM