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The Many Types of Airguns

Types of Airguns

While there are seemingly countless different types of airguns on the market, most can be divided up by intended application into one of four categories: Match, Field Target, Hunting and Sport.

Match Guns

Match guns, also known as 10M guns, are what you see being fired by serious-looking compeitors at the Olympics. They’re generally recoiless, use peep sights and are capable of placing one pellet after another though the same hole at a distance of 10 meters (about 11 yards) if the shooter is up to it.All match rifles today are of recoiless design. While various recoiless spring designs dominated in the past, increasingly most guns are of the precharged pneumatic design. CO2 guns were very popular for a time, but CO2 is a bit more difficult to regulate accurate than compressed air. Single-stroke pneumatics were also popular for a long time, owing to their accuracy and lack of recoil, but like spring guns, cocking the guns created muscle strain that interfered with shooting.

10M guns all use calibrated peep sights; no optics or any sort are allowed. There is an Olympic shooting sport in which telescopic sights are allowed. It’s called Running Boar, and involves shooting at a rapidly moving target. The guns are similar to 10M guns, but use longer, weighted barrels (to allow a smooth swing) with telescopic sights.
An inexpensive match gun, the Daisy 853


Field Target Guns

Field Target is a sport that originated in England In involves shooting at small metal targets shaped like animals which are arranged in lanes at unknown distances, usually in a woods-like setting. The targets have a hole in them generally of between 1/4″ and 2″, behind which is a metal disk. To score, you must put the pellet through the hole, striking the disk which triggers a mechanism that knocks over the target. This is much more difficult than it sounds. Because of a mechanical link between the target disk and the body of the target, if even a portion of the pellet touches the face of the target, it will lock up and not fall.Field Target is traditionally a very relaxed and friendly competition, even at the international level, probably because there’s absolutely no money in it.

Field Target guns come in a great variety of shapes and styles, but for purposes of competition are generally divided into two categories:

  • Spring Piston. This covers the most common type of recoiling airgun. Spring piston classes are often divided into standard and modified categories. Standard guns must appear unmodified from their factory versions, but can have just aout any internal tuning modification. Modified guns can have any sort of modified or custom stock.
  • Recoiless. This generally means precharged, but can also include recoiless spring guns. Sometimes recoiless spring guns are given their own category.

Field Target guns have to have more power than match guns to knock over metal targets. At the same time, they’re limited to a maximum of 12 foot/pounds (Great Britain) or 18-20 foot pounts (US competitions) to prevent competitions from becoming a power race, and to prevent targets from getting too much punishment! Airguns in Great Britain are limited to a power of 12 ft/lbs unless one has a Firearms Certificate, so the limit there is practical as well.

While higher power guns have a flatter trajectory and should be easier to shoot an unknown distances, they’re usually not quite as accurate as the lower-power guns. Most of the best spring gun shooters seem to use guns putting out around 10.5 ft/lbs.

Everyone uses telescopic sights in field target- at least, if they want some chance of scoring. Scopes are used not only for sighting, but for range finding. Scopes with adjustable-focus objectives can be used to determine the distance to a target, and this distance can then be used to either compute holdover or under, or to dial in correction into the scope turret.

Hunting guns

This category covers a wide range of guns, but generally means guns with simple stocks, good accuracy and at least 10 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. Hunting guns generally use telescopic sights, since a low power projectile like a pellet needs very accurate placement to assure a quick, humane kill. The most common quarry hunted with airguns are rabbits, squirrels, and vermin like rats and crows.

Sporting Guns

This covers everything else. Take the Beeman R7, my first gun. It’s small, light and accurate, easy to shoot and easy to cock. At about 7 ft/lbs of muzzle energy it’s really too light to hunt anything but the smallest animals (chipmonks?) at very short ranges. While very accurate, it’s not suitible for 10M match competition, and it’s far too underpowered for Field Target. What it is exceptional for is plinking at paper targets or small frrangible targets like Necco Wafers. With iron sights it’s a great gun for basement or even living room shooting. It’s easy enough to cock that anyone can do so. It’s just fun.