I love shooting airguns, particularly great quality spring piston rifles. Like the title states, shooting these guns will increase your skill level. That's because they are notoriously hard to shoot well. They are temperamental about every aspect of your shooting form. They know if you're shooting them with a tight trigger hand, or light. Or an artillery hold with your support hand, or on a rest. Or where on the forearm it is rested. Or how hard into your shoulder you're holding it. And how your follow through is. Airguns know what you're not doing consistently or correctly even before you know it.
Airguns have a very long lock time. Lock time is the time from the release of the sear and the ignition of the cartridge. In the case of an airgun there is no cartridge, but instead, a heavy piston that is released that moves towards the muzzle in a fraction of a second to generate the compression of the air to move the pellet out of the barrel.. In a spring piston airgun, often called a "springer", this time is many times longer than a powder cartridge, and offers tremendous opportunity to move the muzzle off target. A muzzle that is only 1/8" off target will be off 4 full inches at 20 feet!
Airguns also have a long dwell time. That's the time the projectile takes from ignition to the time it exits the barrel. Many pellets have a velocity of well under 1000 FPS (Feet Per Second), whereas the current trend is to use springers with 1200 FPS or more. They require a bit too much energy for me to cock, and you get tired quickly. With a little less effort cocking, you can shoot scores of rounds without shaking or fatigue. Less effort is more fun. I think the newest generation of hot rod springers are best for use on game, and take a bit of a back seat in learning or relearning proper fundamentals and form compared to shooting more comfortable guns.
Barrel harmonics have a great deal to do with shooting a springer consistently. Holding the gun in different ways, or resting it in a way that it wasn't sighted in can easily result in an errant shot. It is hard to shoot them well. The title of this blog implies that once you learn to shoot an airgun well, powder cartridge shooting is much, much easier. It's like jogging with ankle weights and then taking them off for the race.
Airguns don't cost a lot to shoot, either, and only in extreme cases require hearing protection. Eye protection, though, is always necessary when shooting. Pellets don't cost a lot, and finding out which ones your gun shoots the best is the same procedure it is for your regular firearms. It's not always easy or inexpensive to get to a range. Pellets can often be shot in the backyard or basement (check local laws and neighbors), and pellets of all kinds are readily available. Unfortunately, at this time, the awesome (and lowly) .22 long rifle cartridges are hardly to be found. The hardest ammo to get these days is .22LR.
Follow-through is crucial, also, and is one of the requirements to be consistent. Once you learn this on a springer, your groups with your other rifles will shrink noticeably.
The Beeman R1 20th Anniversary .20 caliber Silver edition pictured above has always been one of my favorites. Not the most accurate, but a real West German (tells you how long ago I bought it) manufactured top quality sporting air rifle. It shoots as well as I can hope for a gun of this type, and I have always been a proponent of the 20 caliber. It's kind of like the .40 S&W of the pellet world. Not as small as a 9mm, and not as large as a .45 ACP. Yes, I also shoot the .40. The Crosman Premier pellets I use for target, and I like the Beeman Silver Arrows for game. This gun has had a lifetime of living targets and I have done plenty of extensive testing for real world uses.
In the picture from the upper left you'll see some of the Gamo targets I like to shoot. Under that is a Beeman Pell Size. That's the round black thing with the gold top with the two silver round things under it. It is a spring-loaded die that sizes pellets perfectly. The silver things are additional dies, fractionally larger and smaller than the standard .20 caliber I normally use. You can spend a lifetime using this thing. Directly under the forearm of the gun you'll see two black, golf-pencil-looking things with silver clips. These are Pell Seaters. One is adjustable so you can determine what depth to insert your pellets into the gun's chamber. The round part smoothens the pellet's skirt. You can spend another lifetime testing these. That is assuming, of course, that you have a gun and a talent level good enough to let you know what's working and what's not. And that the pellets are extremely consistent in weight. After scores of different kinds of pellets and sizing dies and seating depths and weights, I have come to the conclusion that it's not worth my effort to bother with these things, and just use good pellets the gun likes and load them with my thumb and not worry over it too much. The difference in accuracy I have realized by using these tools is slight, and for me, it's just less fun than simply shooting the heck out of it.
I just installed this Nikon 3-9×40 EFR on the gun. EFR means "Extended Focus Range." It allows you to use the scope at the official airgun distance of 10 meters (33 feet) at full power and still have a crystal clear picture. This scope is also strong enough to withstand the punishing "dual recoil" of these guns. Spring guns will destroy almost any non-airgun scope in very short order. They are vicious to optics. This scope is plenty strong enough, and I love the unique reticle that subtends (covers) just a little bit less than the ten ring of an official target. Not the Gamo target shown, but the smaller official NRA target under it.
So break out that old airgun of any kind and get back into practice. It's a great way to relearn form and sharpen skills. And don't forget to start the kids to shoot while young, with proper respect for all firearms. Or just ask anyone. Many people haven't fired any kind of gun for years, or never!