Mat Manning is a full-time field sports journalist, author and broadcaster with more than 30 years’ hunting experience under his belt.A regular contributor to national and international print and digital titles, Mat is recognised as one of the world’s leading authorities on hunting with air rifles. A fieldcraft specialist who shoots mostly for the pot and pest control purposes, Mat relishes hunting opportunities that enable him to get up close and personal with his quarry.
Mat Manning explains how airgun shooters can keep shots on target by mastering hold-over and hold-under.
Most airgun shooters realise the importance of buying a decent rifle and quality optics if they want to achieve consistent accuracy. Pellet selection also plays a large part, and it certainly pays to opt for a brand with proven pedigree and experiment with different head sizes to get optimum performance from your combo.
Get the basic setup right, and churning out tight groups at 30m should be very straightforward. However, it never fails to amaze me how many shooters fail to consider the pellet’s flightline before and after the point of their set zero – and neglecting this vital element of your airgun’s performance will put you at a massive disadvantage in the field.
The effect of gravity means a pellet’s path through the air is far from flat. In fact, because of its relatively low velocity, airgun ammo has a distinctly curved trajectory – especially at sub-12ft/lb power levels and when using heavier pellets.
The exact relationship between the pellet and the vertical crosshair of the scope is influenced by variables including the already mentioned velocity and weight of ammunition, and also by the height of your scope mounts and the angle you are shooting at. As a general rule of thumb, when taking level shots with a sub-12ft/lb air rifle that’s zeroed at 30m, the pellet emerges from the muzzle below the line of sight (because your sights are mounted above the barrel). The pellet then briefly corresponds with the crosshairs as it passes through the line of sight at between 12 and 15m. It continues to rise out to around 25m before dropping back down to correspond with the zero that’s dialled in at 30m. Beyond that range, the pellet drops down beneath the crosshairs until gravity pulls it to the ground.
Because of the variation between different setups, the best way to understand the downrange performance of your combo is to space out paper targets at 5m intervals from 10m out to 40m. Set up comfortably on a bench and shoot five-shot groups at each target, aiming dead at the bullseye each time, and you’ll see exactly how high or low the pellet is striking at each range. Quality airgun optics such as the Hawke Vantage range feature reticles with different aiming points along the four basic elements of the crosshairs – typically a simple Mil-Dot arrangement or a variant of it. Once you know how high or low the pellet is hitting at each range, you can then use these aim points to apply hold-over or hold-under to compensate for the curved trajectory – thus steering the group back to the bullseye. Once you’ve got it mastered, you can even start to experiment with different angles of elevation.Understanding this downrange performance and how to compensate for it will make you deadly in the field
Understanding this downrange performance and how to compensate for it will make you deadly in the field – enabling you to ensure that shot placement is perfect however close or far away your quarry happens to present itself. Of course, you need to know the distance to your target, so you can apply the correct amount of hold-over or hold-under, and the most precise way to do that is with a laser rangefinder. I use the Hawke LRF Hunter 400; small enough to stow in a jacket pocket it’s always at hand, and it gives fast and accurate range readings in either metres or yards at the press of a button.
Get out on the range and give it a try. Witnessing the rise and fall pellets fired from an air rifle can be quite a revelation, and modern optics make easy work of compensating for it.
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Hawke Vantage 3-9x40 Mil Dot
11 layer fully multi-coated optics for maximum clarity. Adjustable objective for parallax correction. 1⁄4 MOA low profile no-snag fingertip turrets. Fast focus eyebell and high torque zoom ring. Threaded objective/ocular for optional accessoriesFind Out More
Hawke Laser Range Finder : Hunter 400
Fully multi-coated optical system - BK-7 prisms. 6x magnification and an adjustable diopter. Standard/Rain/Hunt mode - accurate to +/- 1m. Auto shut off battery save featureFind Out More