The .177 Solution

Want To Shoot Better? High Volume Practice Is The Key

For about $100, the Ruger/Umarex Explorer spring-piston air rifle will provide virtually
unlimited shooting at a modest cost in time and money.

Most of us have had the experience of driving in city traffic with family or friends while conversing about politics or sports or where to go for lunch. While the conscious mind is occupied with talking and listening, the subconscious is carrying out a wide range of complex skills while navigating the vehicle safely through traffic.

The point is, we’ve learned a great many skills more difficult and complex than shooting a rifle. The way we learned is through repetition. In Rudyard Kipling’s novel Kim, the protagonist asks his mentor, “But how is it done?” The response? “By doing it many times over until it is done perfectly for it is worth doing.”

The fact both Dave’s new Ruger Explorer and the old Liberty are relatively low velocity is a blessing —
easy-cocking, less noise, recoil and backstop concerns.

Hard Realities

Most GUNS readers likely enjoy shooting and would shoot more if they could. But several things prevent this. One is cost. Centerfire rifle ammunition is expensive. Cost can be reduced by reloading, which brings us to the next issue: Time. Just getting to a range can take a couple of hours of driving. And reloading — though it can be enjoyable in its own right — eats up the clock as well.

Even with unlimited ammo and time, the recoil of centerfire rifles can take the fun out of lengthy shooting sessions. Recoil fatigue can reach the point where the shooter starts to flinch. And “practicing” a flinch is a lot worse than not practicing at all.

I love shooting .22 rifles. I can hardly imagine a rifle enthusiast not owning one. And yet … sometimes I’m a bit out of touch with the reality of modern life. Half a century ago by the age of 12 or 13, two or three of my pals and I could walk 10 minutes out of town, carrying our .22 rifles (and they were ours), find a safe place to plink or shoot gophers, walk home again and never draw a comment or sidelong glance. The past is indeed another country.

The Explorer’s rear sight has two green fiber optic inserts (the front sight has one red insert)
and is click adjustable for windage and elevation.

Less Is More

So what’s the solution? It’s on the rack at your gun store, and it doesn’t need to cost more than $100 or so. It’s a spring-piston air rifle (airgun enthusiasts call them springers), most likely caliber .177, though you might come across a .20 or .22.

A while back I wrote about avoiding the siren call of “faster, bigger, more powerful!” Check out the springers and you soon find terms like “magnum power!” “Smashes the 1,000 fps barrier!” Yes, these powerful models have their place in hunting and pest control, but avoid them for now.

Much more useful for training purposes are springers in the 400-600 fps range, certainly no more than 700 fps. Such rifles are light, easy to cock, accurate, virtually recoilless. They are less sensitive to minor variations in hold than the more powerful models. Lower velocity makes it simpler to make a safe backstop. And don’t think these things are toys. I’ve found even 400 fps is perfectly adequate for dealing with sparrows trying to muscle in on my purple martin nests.

When I was 10 or 11 my parents gave me just such an air rifle for Christmas, a model called “Liberty” made in Czechoslovakia. What impressed me most was the astonishing accuracy compared to my old smoothbore BB gun. I considered a week wasted if I didn’t get through at least one 500-count tin of pellets. Nearly 60 years later I still shoot it regularly, and it still works as well as ever. Heck, it outlasted Czechoslovakia. It’ll undoubtedly outlast me.

I’ve been looking for a similar rifle for parents with kids ready to move past the BB gun stage. I found the one shown here at Cabelas. It’s the Ruger Explorer, distributed by Umarex. It’s size is ideal for a youth training rifle: 37.5″ overall, 12″ length of pull, 4.5 lbs. in weight with a cocking effort of just 16.5 lbs. Depending on the pellets I use, I get velocities in the range of 450 to 475 fps.

If you’re embarrassed to be seen shooting a youth model airgun, do so in the privacy of your own basement. No one needs to know, although after a few months your friends will be speculating on why you shoot so much better than they do.

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