Rifles are emotive things, they’re expensive and some have a certain status associated with them but in competitions, it’s only the score they achieve that really matters (although you do get a lot of bling-orientated chatter in the car park!). If you’ve not purchased a rifle hold off for a little while longer and try a few before you part with cash as it’s far easier to buy badly than well. Online reviews are often misleading and it’s not uncommon to see an experienced shooter singing the praises of a new rifle but then selling it 6 months later at a loss because it’s proven to be unreliable or they just can’t get on with it once the initial enthusiasm wanes. PCP’s in particular can be very sensitive to temperature and pellet batches and some regulators are very high maintenance so what appeared to be a great rifle can soon become mediocre if you can’t find a pellet that works or a seasonal temperature change makes it erratic.
At our club you will generally find two types of rifle, spring operated and pre-charged (PCP), both work well in good hands. PCP’s have virtually no recoil but require filling with air using a pump or divers bottle so the rifle and bottle tend to make them quite a bit more expensive. Most of us have both springers and PCP’s, PCP is much easier to shoot but springers are really enjoyable although they do take some time to master. The big benefit of a springer is you don’t need a source of compressed air and generally the rifle is much cheaper than a PCP. This can make it a much lower cost entry point into shooting but don’t underestimate the amount of practice it takes to reach a moderately good level of ability. Good technique is critical with springers and this can become disheartening after a short while if you don’t have the determination to improve over a much longer period than you would with a PCP.
Rifles come in all shapes and styles but two main styles are the sporting and FT styles
The biggest advantage of a full FT air rifle in competition use over a sporting type rifle is how it fits you. Most sporting air rifles come with a one size fits all stock designed to be a reasonable fit for the majority of people. In reality, they fit most people fairly poorly and it will compromise your ability to shoot consistently although the inherent accuracy of a sporting rifle may be exceptional. Dedicated FT air rifles generally have fully adjustable stocks allowing you to get an exact fit to your body which significantly improves your ability to shoot accurately, they don’t make the rifle inherently more accurate but they help you to ensure the barrel is pointing exactly where you want it to for every shot. Assuming you have a well-maintained rifle from a reputable manufacturer, a good stock will often make the biggest single improvement to your shooting. The other big advantages are a ‘match trigger’ which can be adjusted almost infinitely for reach, pull, and weight on both stages making them crisper and more predictable than a typical sporting trigger unit and a regulator which improves the rifles shot to shot consistency, but this can make them much more delicate requiring more frequent maintenance.
There is no clear best air rifle, in the competition you see a variety of old and new rifles all performing very well. The weight, balance point, and general characteristics can make the difference between a rifle that feels natural or not and this varies between different people. The best advice is to try out a variety and decide which you like most.
The only other thing to be aware of is the choice of calibre. Everyone in competitive FT uses .177 calibre because of the much flatter trajectory and although the rules allow you to use .22 you’ll be at a real disadvantage. There’s plenty of debate about the best caliber for air rifles but for target shooting, it’s 0.177 and that is a fact! If you look at FT and HFT results from the past 20 years of global competition you’ll only find a handful of top 20 .22 shooters amongst the many thousands of results. Benchrest is probably the only exception where .22 is used extensively.
You should also be aware that in both HFT and FT you may not have a magazine fitted between lanes, this also applies to general shooting at the club and you must be able to remove the magazine before you leave the firing line even if it’s empty.
In general, we don’t recommend magazine-fed rifles for use at the club unless it has a single-shot adaptor that can be fitted.
All rifles need servicing on a regular basis, PCP’s have a few critical o rings that over 2 or 3 years will harden and start leaking and there is a level of wear and tear on valves and other bits. You’ll need to spend £150-£250 on a service every 2 years to keep everything in good condition and this isn’t something you can do yourself unless you have a high level of knowledge and some specialist tools. Bodging a service can be really dangerous, PCP’s hold 2800psi of pressure, so only use authorised service agents.