Most of my shooting is with springers. And so far all of my HFT attempts have been with them. I don’t have anything against PCP’s, they are great tools for the job. But I just prefer the feel and challenge of spring power.
There’s something very satisfying about the thud of a smooth running gun and the little kick you get from it. And having the pellet land where you were pointing gives me much greater sense of achievement than a PCP. This is after all my hobby, so I’ll aim for maximum enjoyment.
However they are harder to shoot well. This isn’t an excuse, it’s tried and tested. This means that your technique has to be much more consistent and repeatable to get the best out of the gun.
Notice I didn’t say that springers are less accurate than PCP’s. If the pellet is coming out of the same barrel in the same way, then the potential accuracy is the same regardless of the power source behind it. So in the right hands, there is little difference.
Why are they harder to shoot?
Because physics, that’s why. Let’s have a look at Newtons third law. Every action has an opposite and equal reaction. The ‘action’ in this case is the piston flying around inside the compression tube. The ‘reaction’ is movement of the stock and action. What we perceive as recoil.
Some simple maths tells us that modern springers that you can buy from the shops aren’t super efficient. Some popular ones come in at around 40% efficiency. This means 40% of the energy from the spring is used to propel the pellet out of the barrel. The remaining 60% ends up as noise, friction, heat and piston motion.
When the piston is accelerating forwards, the rear of the spring is pressing back against the trigger block, which in turn presses back against the stock, and then your shoulder. This initial recoil isn’t actually too bad. But when the piston gets to the other end it slows down very very quickly, before changing direction and coming back towards you. This is due to the air pressure building behind the pellet, and in some cases the piston hitting the end of the compression tube.
Again the force of this is transmitted through the action and into the stock. Because the acceleration* is much greater than at the start of the cycle, the force is much higher (F=ma). This results in greater recoil, and it is this one which we mostly feel. However this all happens over a very short period of time (around 10 milli-seconds give or take a bit depending on the gun). So the different modes of recoil kind of get lumped into one kick as far we are concerned. I think it happens far too quickly for the human nerves/brain to tell.
Because of the tiny time scales involved, the numbers for instantaneous acceleration can be huge. I’ve calculated up to 40,000 m/s^2 (or over 4000g!) for the piston in my 11ft lb TX200. Big numbers, but what can we do about them?
Tips for shooting a springer accurately.
There are a few excellent resources on this subject. The best in my opinion is the artillery hold explanation by Tom Gaylord. This is exactly the technique I try to use, and it has helped my shooting no end.
The key to accuracy is consistency. Recoil will make the gun move around. But if it moves in exactly the same way every time, the pellet will tend to come out in the same way every time. Makes sense to me.
This consistency comes from a couple of areas. One is your hand position and how you grip the gun. Or actually I should say, how you DON’T grip the gun. Gripping something with 5lbs of force every time, is much much harder than gripping something with 0lbs. Using less force is easier and more repeatable, so that’s what you should be aiming for. A very light touch, with just enough intervention to keep everything stable and upright.
The following photos show (with a bit of exaggeration) three holds. The first is the ‘death grip’. Gripping with all your might!
Then something a bit lighter. Moving the thumb off prevents gripping too hard.
Then the best. Barely touching the stock at all, just enough to hold it upright and pull the trigger. This is what I aim for.
It is also important that the front of the gun is moving in a repeatable way. If you have it rested on a hard surface, the recoil will make it bounce slightly. This is a movement you can’t control. So avoid it by resting your hand underneath the gun. Your hand is softer and more compliant, so is a much better platform. This is the reason bipods aren’t a great idea on most springers.
Some guns do respond well to resting on a soft beanbag (or rolled up jumper maybe). As long as it is a soft and compliant surface.
The next most important thing is trigger technique. The trigger of a springer is mechanically connected to the piston and is therefore holding back the force of the spring. This generally makes them a bit stiffer than a PCP trigger.
The pull on the trigger should be in-line with the axis of the barrel, i.e directly backwards, without any side to side forces. Any side forces on the trigger will swing the barrel left or right. This is what is known as ‘pulling’ a shot.
To help with this, get used to using the same part of your finger on the trigger every time. Most advice will tell you to use the central part of the tip of your finger. This is the best place to start, but I’ve found that if a stock isn’t a good fit, it might be worth experimenting.
The next photo shows a green rectangle for the ideal trigger position. The red circles should be avoided if possible!
It’s also worth taking time to learn how to adjust the trigger of your gun. This is where proper 2-stage triggers such as the Weihrauch Rekord or Air Arms CD really come into their own. They can be adjusted for weight and length of pull. I personally use a fairly short first stage and have the second stage as short and as light as possible without it becoming unsafe. The air Air Arms trigger shown below has two grub screws in the trigger blade for adjusting first and second stage lengths. A third screw for weight is hidden under the guard.
One problem with this setup is that I tend to start predicting my shots because I know exactly when it is going to fire. I end up holding my breath in anticipation of the shot going off, and that isn’t too helpful. Some people use a first stage trigger only as there are no clues to when it will fire. The thinking is that you concentrate on the target more this way. I’ve yet to try it seriously yet myself yet though.
- Experiment with as many different hand positions as you can think of. Find something that is natural enough to use all day
- Experiment with trigger technique and make sure it is the same motion every single shot
- Learn to adjust your trigger and find what works best for you
- Shoot groups on paper from a bench rest if you can. Eliminate as many factors as you can to focus just on technique
- Practice! There really is no substitute
- Consider using some aids to help with consistent finger placement. The next photo’s show some sticky backed brown pads that I have stuck to some of my guns. One for each finger.
*I’m an engineer by trade. So something slowing down is negative acceleration to me. I will rarely use ‘deceleration’.
N.B Tuning a springer can be a huge benefit to taming recoil. Most modern springers are designed for other countries where they are allowed higher outputs without a license. This means we get guns that are designed for big power, then restricted. Tuning specifically for the UK market can result in softer springs and lighter pistons. Both of which can reduce recoil.
However this post is intended for beginners who probably don’t want to tune their gun straight away.