Getting back into target shooting

After 20 years away, I'm back!

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I first got into shooting with my Dad. He used to take me to a field owned by a family friend. We'd line up tin cans and try to knock them over (known as "plinking"). It was simple fun, but it was so much more. It was a great way to bond and provide an alternative education. I still remember the satisfying "ping" as the tin cans toppled over in the field under my Dad's watchful eye.

An air rifle laying on a gun bag

Over the past 20 years, I hadn’t given it much further thought; it was a valued memory. But, looking back, this time I had was important; it taught me resilience - sometimes you miss it, but you learn, adapt, and keep trying. Additionally, my Dad taught me how to use, handle and respect guns. As an 11/12-year-old, this was a big deal. I felt trusted and competent. Guns were never glamourised or normalised. They were tools you could enjoy using, but in the wrong hands, if disrespected or misused, they could be dangerous.

So why did I stop? Well, it was a lack of time and effort on my part. My focus was on my career, buying a house, starting a family, and all those things that allowed me to become a fully qualified adult. There was little time for hobbies and interests outside of that.

But after moving away from the place I grew up, COVID, and remotely working for 4+ years, I decided it might be good for me to do something that involved leaving the house, exploring the new area I now lived in and maybe meeting some people along the way.

After seeing a copy of Airgun World magazine during a shopping trip, it all came flooding back—I forgot quite how much I enjoyed it. If my son and stepson are interested, maybe it’s also time to pass on the skills I learnt to them.

You might be thinking, “Shooting in the UK, that’s illegal, is it?!“. Well, if you do, you’re not alone. Since getting back into the sport, I’ve had to do my research. I hope to share some of the things I’ve found.

Shooting in the UK

The UK is fortunate to have some of the lowest gun crime rates in the world. But why? Well, it’s straightforward - gun use and ownership are heavily regulated and controlled. We have some of the strictest and most restrictive laws. I’m not here to say if it’s too far one way or the other, but the critical point is gun ownership is a privilege, not a right. As such, shooting is the only sport governed by criminal law. Yes, criminal law.

Gun ownership is a privilege, not a right

All that said, it means it’s a sport that quite often slides under the radar. Sadly, some people usually shy away from talking about their involvement for fear of being labelled or stereotyped as a “gun-waving nutter”. It’s hardly surprising; you’ve likely only ever heard negative news concerning guns. The closest positive news would be if we won a medal at the Olympics, which only comes around every four years.

An entry to the sport

In England, if you’re 18 years old and are not prohibited from owning a firearm (if you’ve been in prison, for example), you are legally allowed to purchase and own an air rifle or air pistol. While air pistols and rifles are classified as weapons and firearms, providing they are under legal muzzle energy limits, 12ft-lb for rifles and 6ft-lb for pistols, you do not need any license or certificate to own them (this is different in Scotland). There are also no limits on the amount of air guns or ammunition you can own.

What are air guns?

Air guns fire small metal/plastic pellets or BBs (tiny metal balls). As the name suggests, “air” guns use air to propel the projectile through the gun. This type of projectile or ammunition is “non-live”; it does not contain combustible fuel, and the gun provides the energy required to fire it. Unless you decide to eat it, the ammunition is safe; however, as most pellets are lead-based, washing your hands is a must after handling. Depending on the type of gun, the air required comes either from releasing a spring under tension or some highly compressed air from a CO2 capsule or precharged air tank (PCP).

A pile of air rifle pellets
Pellets for use in an air gun - Source

While this post is about air guns, it is worth noting that there are other guns you can legally own and use that do use live ammunition, such as shotguns, rifles and long-barrelled pistols. It may come as a surprise to most in the UK as people often believe all guns are banned - it is simply not the case.

As you can see, the rules are stringent, but they help keep something potentially dangerous out of potentially dangerous hands. After all, this is why we have driving licenses, speed limits on roads or restrictions on how many Paracetamol pills you can buy. These restrictions are tight enough to help prevent or reduce misuse but not too tight that responsible people are penalised.

If you want to shoot in the UK, air guns provide a reasonably accessible gateway. A spring-based starter rifle with scope and ammunition costs about £300.

My involvement

I only use my air guns for target shooting. I have no interest or need to use them for pest control. One of my cats has a personal vendetta against the local mice population, so if anything, the pests need my help!

A tabby cat sitting in the grass, yawning
The Cat

My air guns are set up for plinking or bench rest shooting - shooting at stationary targets around 20-100 yards away, usually seated, using a “rest” such as a bag or bi-pod to help stabilise the rifle. For plinking, the aim is to hit the target, which is a bit of light fun. Bench rest is more about how you hit the target. You could liken it to other sports like archery, where points are awarded or deducted depending on your accuracy.

There are other air shooting disciplines like HFT (Hunter Field Target) or FT (Field Target), which involve shooting targets outdoors, at different elevations, distances, standing, sitting or prone (lying down). There are also rules on whether you can adjust your scope during a session. This means the shooter needs to understand how their gun performs, different pellet trajectories, and other external factors like wind or drop. HTF and FT don’t appeal to me yet, but maybe one day!

I recently joined a shooting club and online forum, and it’s been a lot of fun. It’s not just about honing my skills; it’s about the stories shared and the advice exchanged—I’ve met some other great members who’ve offered tips and in-depth technical knowledge. This community has welcomed me, showing that shooting is as much about camaraderie as it is about accuracy.

It’s hard to explain why I enjoy it so much, but when lining up a shot, everything falls away. It’s just you, the rifle, and the target. Shooting becomes an unlikely form of mindfulness in that moment of focused breath and steadiness, forcing the mind into the present.

Reflecting on my return to shooting, I’ve realised it’s not just about hitting targets; it’s about reconnecting with a pastime that demands patience, focus, and respect for safety. These lessons, first taught by my Dad, have influenced more than just my shooting—they’ve shaped my approach to life’s challenges.

Are you curious about air rifle shooting? Don’t stop at this post. I encourage you to explore further—visit local clubs and talk to seasoned shooters. Many clubs and ranges offer open days and experience/taster sessions where you can hire rifles and be fully guided by someone with extensive experience in a safe environment.

All you need to bring is an open mind!

Next: See my latest purchase, the BRK Pathfinder XR