Family Air Pistol




L to R: Daniel (firing), myself, Makella,

daughter Mary, her husband Scott,

and on the swing are Elijah and Melissa

(Click for larger)

I’ve written before about solo shooting in my backyard air pistol range. It’s good iron sight work and, with next to no recoil, it’s a good way to practice that smooth release.

On the occasion pictured here, however, Daniel and Melissa had brought Elijah for his first visit and my daughter and her family were all present. (My son and his family couldn’t make it.)

After we all got to hold Elijah, someone suggested we go out on the patio since the weather was nice.

As we went through the door and knowing I’m a shooter, Melissa said, “My Dad was a shooter.”

“Would you like to try an air pistol today?” I asked.

In five minutes, the range was ready.

Most of them had never fired a gun or for the few who had, it was a long time ago. So, one at a time, I took each one through the basics of safety, operating the Baikal IZH-46M including cocking, loading, aiming and firing.

I let each of them dry-fire so they could feel the trigger and get accustomed to the noise. From there, we’d move to live fire and I’d stay close to handle the problems that always arise with new shooters.

As each one finished, we would retrieve their target and put up a fresh one.

As you might expect, some were good and some weren’t (A big backstop is a must.)

My granddaughter, Makella, had shot this AP before. The grip is large but she’s grown since her last try and she did good. All her shots were in the paper. (At the regular range several months earlier, she fired my ball gun and immediately displayed the toothy grin that often accompanies that first shot of 45 ACP ball ammo.)

Daniel was handicapped by my right-hand custom grip. As you can see he’s a leftie. Nonetheless, he did pretty good with most shots in the target.

(Note to self: Get an extra set of grips and carve them for ambidextrous use.)

Scott, Makella’s Dad, shot very well. He’s got the upper-body strength that benefits pistol shooters and he’s fired other guns. Even the air pistol’s light trigger benefits from a solid grip.

My daughter, she … well, let’s just say she fired two shots before saying, “Thank you”. (See note herein about a “big” backstop.)

And my wife declined to shoot. Like mother, like daughter, it’s just not for them.

The surprise was the new mother, Melissa. At the regulation 10 meters, she was good! Each time she fired, a new hole would appear in the black. Grinning, she would say, “Let me do another.” Pretty soon she had more than a dozen holes, all in the black.

(Never underestimate a Mother with a handgun!)

An air pistol range needs a space of about 40 by 10 feet with a good backstop and no cross-traffic.

The noise is minimal; we used no ears but the absence of eye protection is a serious oversight on my part. Oops!

Elijah didn’t seem to mind the noise and as long as you keep a good watch of the shooter and what others are doing, it should be safe. (Little kids running around would be a show-stopper.)

Check with your local Police Department to be sure it’s legal in your own backyard.

The Baikal is not inexpensive, but neither is it expensive like today’s better air pistols. I paid $400 a couple of years ago for mine. It is accurate and reliable. I have less expensive air pistols but they don’t shoot as well, have a strange balance, or just feel downright klunky.

The IZH-46M, on the other hand, is what the former Soviet Union air pistol shooters used in the Olympics a decade or so ago. Be sure and tell the family that. Knowing “this is not a toy” will both raise their safety awareness and heighten their intensity since they know it’s a good piece of engineering.

For new shooters, make it a non-competitive game. The rule could be “five shots and even totals have to set the table and odd totals clean up.”

“Shooters to the line!”

6:00 AM AP 600

For the next several months the high will be at or in excess of 110 degrees Fahrenheit here in Phoenix. Consequently, I’ll be shooting a “6:00 AM AP 600″ which, as the title suggests, is an international (Olympic-style) 600 with the air pistol (AP) starting every day at 6:00 AM. At that time of day, it’s often below 90, shady in parts of the yard, and few others are up and about. It’s a good time of day to focus and concentrate.

To that end, I recently moved my 10 meter AP range to a nicer part of the yard that has shade that time of day.





Firing Point

(Click for larger image)

Here you can see the firing point. In the background is the tool box in which my air pistols are secured. I have an IZH-46M (on the table) and a Crosman 2300S (in the tray to the right of the toolbox). I shoot the former, a hand pump air pistol that was used by Olympians up until the last decade or two, whereas the Crosman is CO2 powered and used more by the grand kids with my supervision.

Incidentally, I have the trigger of the IZH-46M cranked all the way up to its maximum, a couple of pounds. Although I could shoot it better with a lighter trigger, my primary goal with the AP is to learn to shoot difficult triggers, not to get a high score. With the trigger pressure set to its maximum, I get the practice I want. Scores can come later.

In the background you can see the next relay’s “waiting bench”. Although competitions are rare in our single firing point backyard, during family gatherings we do occasionally have a couple of shooters who compete to see who has to clean the barbecue.





Looking Down Range

In this next view looking downrange, the contents of the shooting table are fairly obvious. From right to left you see my morning cup of coffee — yes, I know the caffeine messes up my hold but, gosh darn it, a man’s just gotta have at least one cup to get going — my record book, the open box of pellets and supply tin, the IZH-46M and then my funny glasses. I say “funny” because the right lens is set for close-up and that eye focuses on the front sight. The left lens is set for distance as when moving around but nonetheless, when shooting, it is covered with a blinder clipped to the NASA baseball cap I wear.

The glasses are from China, from Zenni Optical (http://www.zennioptical.com/) and are the cheapest ones I could get. They cost all of about 15 bucks and, at that rate, I can order all sorts of specialized glasses for this sport. I use my “iron sight funny glasses” for AP, EIC and Service Pistol competitions, a set of traditional bi-focals when shooting red dots, and then I wear a pair of progressives for all other times. I seem to be about ready for a slightly stronger prescription for the right lens in the glasses you see here so all I have to do is go to their website and increase that number for the next pair. No need for an eye doctor visit for that simple a change. I’ve written about Zenni Optical before – see http://conventionalpistol.blogspot.com/2008/05/cheap-glasses.html for complete details.

The target, as you can probably tell from this vantage point, is hanging in front of our storage shed (which needs paint).

And behind that to the right you can see our “Bobbitt” Saguaro cactus, so named when the power company came by with a chain saw and chopped off the central stalk because it was getting too close to the electrical wires.

You might remember John and Lorena Bobbitt from the news a couple of years ago because of a rather infamous incident you’ll find written up at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_and_Lorena_Bobbitt.

Perhaps like a lot of men, I remember that story well. And so years later when the power company tree trimming worker started his chain saw to emasculate my giant Saguaro, well, I nearly passed out. Yes, we’re talking about the possibility of some major psychological trauma for this “bobbing” in my own backyard!

. . .

Uhm, where were we?

Oh yeah, the shooting range.





Target Holder and Backstop

Finally, here’s a close-up of the target holder. Basically it is a 2×2′ piece of 3/4″ plywood fastened to a 1×3 strip of wood with an “L” bracket at the top end. The assembly is stored in the shed and, when I want to shoot, I bring it out and hook it over the peak of the shed. There are no fasteners — it’s just hanging there. That could be a problem on a windy day but since I’m usually shooting in the early morning calm, it hasn’t been an issue.

And although I occasionally have a “flier” outside of the black, the 2×2′ plywood could be regarded as excessive. But for younger shooters, I may find even that to be inadequate. Only time will tell.

But the wife is happy with the size of the 2×2′ backstop. It’s there more for her reassurance than anything else. Besides, if I really do yank one out of the black, off the white and completely outside of the pellet box, that backstop will provide reasonable insurance against my depositing pellets in the Christmas decorations box deep inside the shed.

And for the neighbors, I’m firing away from the one who can look over into my yard the easiest, parallel to and not at the one who is most likely to be out there and wonder at the sounds, and for the one who actually does look over from time to time in a friendly way, his view will be obstructed by the shed as will any shots that miss the backstop.

So, to repeat my previous offer, if you’re in Phoenix — especially around 6:00AM in the morning — stop by and we’ll shoot a few targets. And I’ll make you a cup of coffee if you like.

Keep ‘em in the black!

AP in England

Yes, you can shoot in the England but, if you want to shoot handgun, it’s going to be either air pistol (AP) or black powder.

I was there for a week on business and checked the local clubs. The Marlow (Berkshire) Rifle and Pistol Club’s website listed Monday evening air pistol and, after swapping emails with the club chairman (see the website) to find out if I could shoot and if the club had a pistol I could borrow and getting a “Yes” to both, I went.



Map to Recreation Center

As you can see from the map, the club is just south of the center of Marlow (in Berkshire). The building houses a recreational facility on the banks of the Thames River. It includes tennis courts, weight rooms, swimming pool and so forth. The shooting club has a dedicated space divided into a reception area and the firing range. The facility is west of London, a few miles outside of the M25, the “Motorway” (similar to US Interstate highways) that circles the city. The “car park” at the recreation facility is free after 7:00PM and evening event at the range starts at 8:00PM.

I arrived a few minutes early hoping to meet other shooters. As it happened, however, I was the only handgun shooter. The three others were all shooting air rifles.

The gentleman running the event offered me my choice of the club’s two air pistols, both pump action. After trying both triggers, I reluctantly chose the Gamo and prepared to shoot a few 10 round targets.



10M Range

But I must confess I was disappointed to be the only handgun shooter and, more so, saddened by the apparent demise of pistol shooting in England.

As you may know, handguns were banned in England and some other parts of the UK in 1999 except for black powder and air. Owners of all other types of handguns were forced to sacrifice their weapons. I’m told that many owners either sold their guns to people living on the continent where such ownership was still legal, or that they joined clubs on the mainland where they could visit a couple of times per year to shoot, clean and then lock their handguns away into storage until their next visit.

Disheartened, I shot three targets but was quickly losing interest and the desire to hit the 10 ring. And when I began the fourth but placed my first two shots outside the black, I decided to stop and take a break, and then to decide about continuing or just leaving.

I stepped out to the reception area, sat down and closed my eyes.

And it was then that I overheard a voice in the room saying, “And then after you’ve balanced your weight in your NPA, raise your arm slightly above your aiming area and then let it settle back down. The muscle along the top of your shoulder is much smoother when extending and you’ll get less wobble if you come down into the aiming area, not up.”

“I know this language,” I said to myself.

The voice went on, “In the nine week program, we’ll go through these basics, we will develop a shot plan — a couple of them most likely — and, toward the end, I’ll help you figure out a time sequence for shot release that will work for you.”

What’s this, I wondered?

I’ve seen a couple of different programs and workbooks in the US but nothing called the “Nine week plan.”

I opened my eyes to see who was speaking. The gentleman had his back to me. He was bareheaded, wore what appeared to be a sleeveless shooting jacket over a long-sleeve shirt, and wore khaki pants.

He was speaking to the fellow that had taken my evening’s registration and five pounds whom, I gathered, was interested in learning to shoot pistols from this expert.

Well, heck, so am I!

I waited for a pause in the conversation before asking if this was a program he had personally developed?

No, he said. It had been developed by the senior trainers throughout the country (the UK) and that he was merely the senior trainer for Berkshire. His job, he said, was to work with those air pistol shooters who had already excelled in preliminary training administered by designated (and trained) trainers at each of the local clubs and, as each of his trainees then completed their nine week programs, he might recommend a few of them on to the national program and its trainers.

I asked several more questions and he showed me quite a bit more of the program but, when I asked if a copy of the program were available in the United States he smiled and said that, no, at this point the program is only being used in the UK to encourage air pistol shooting in preparation for the 2012 summer olympics in Lonon.

With that, I was even more impressed, and interested.

We went on to discuss some of my immediate issues including trigger control, finger position, balance and head position, and the problems of eye versus hand dominance and the good and bad positions for cross-eyed shooting.

He generously offered a solution to one of my issues.

Specifically, although I am left-eye dominant, I shoot righty-righty because the only way I knew to shoot cross-eyed made my neck hurt. When I told him I was cross-doninant and demonstrated the position I had tried, before I could say why I quit using that position he said, “Don’t do that — it’ll make your neck hurt!”

And went on, “Stand this way instead and then learn how to deal with the recoil. It will be awkward at first but many have mastered it. You probably can too.”

But as much as I wanted it, the “Nine week program” wasn’t going to fall into my hands, nor would it be possible for me to complete the program. That impossibility was not because of my home address (outside of the UK). Rather, although the program could take longer than nine weeks to complete, it still required regular practice. But with my work and travel, that just is not in the cards I’ve been dealt for this period in my career.

So, I took the gentleman’s offered email address and said I’d drop him a note. I’m still very interested in the contents of the program and, although I’m unable to do all of it, some of the elements would still be of very practical use. My intention, and he was agreeable, would be for me to pick and choose the parts I could adopt, and that he would work with me by email to integrate them into my shooting.

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

Looks like it’s time.

Clubs and Ranges

My work has me on the road a lot and, when possible, I try to get in some range time. Here are the clubs and ranges I’ve visited, both here in Phoenix and while traveling.

  • Phoenix Rod and Gun Club, Phoenix AZ. My “home” range. Except in the hottest summer months, there is an authorized or registered 2700 each month, a practice 2700 each month, and the Tuesday night (6:30PM) Nighthawks where we alternate Bullseye and International targets at 25 yards, and on rare occasions, shoot a Police L-Match.
  • Usery Mountain Range, Mesa (Metropolitan Phoenix) AZ. Good outdoor range in the so-called “east valley” area. [01/07/2008]
  • Scottsdale Gun Club, Scottsdale (Metropolitan Phoenix) AZ. For a while, my office was within a couple of miles of this very nice, upscale, indoor club so I was a member and practiced regularly at this range. Later, when my office moved and it became too far, I dropped the membership. Regardless, it’s a nice place to go shoot especially in the desert summer.
  • Ben Avery Shooting Facility, Phoenix AZ (north thereof). Very nice facility with several sport-specific ranges as well as a public range. But note that public ranges can be scarey. My recommendation is to watch the shooters to your left and right and pay particular attention when they have a gun jam. Invariably, the barrel seems to end up pointed in my direction. And almost always, the gun will eventually fire as the owner struggles with it! My rule is to watch them like a hawk and get ready to yell REAL LOUD. I’ve had to do exactly that more than once at a public range. (I’ll take a bunch of Bullseye shooters over novices any day, thank you.)
  • Arizona Tactical / Arizona Shooter’s World, Phoenix AZ. An indoor range. I visited once but found it depressing and in a less-than-pretty neighborhood. (I was glad I had my guns.) [03/01/2005]
  • My backyard, Phoenix AZ. 10 M air pistol range.
  • Old Colony Sportsmen’s Association, East Pembroke (S. of Boston) MA. Fired a borrowed 22 (thanks, Ron Hawkins) at their indoor range during a business trip. Met Bill Dutton who came down from NH as well as several other Bullseye shooters. [06/15/2006]
  • Arvada Rifle and Gun Club, Denver CO. Shot two NMCs at this indoor range. Received good coaching from Steve “Slocat” Locatelli. [09/21/2006]
  • Square Circle Sportsmen, Gibbsboro NJ (east of Philadelphia PA). Shot an indoor 900 with a borrowed S&W 41 from John Gemmil, Sr. [01/21/2007]
  • Illinois State Rifle Association (ISRA), at their range near Kankakee (Metropolitan Chicago) IL. Fired an NMC using Jeff Battaglia’s Hammerli 208s.
  • Sunnyvale Rod & Gun Club, Sunnyvale (Silicon Valley, S. of San Francisco, NW of San Jose) CA. Very nice outdoor Bullseye range. On my first visit, I shot a Hammerli 280 loaned by Liz David and also an Ed Masaki 1911 loaned by Norman Wong (after getting a fabulous, very detailed, and customized-for-Bullseye shooter’s eye exam and prescriptions from Dr. Wong the day before). [05/16/2007] And then on a second visit, I brought my own weapons and, again, shot an 1800 at their 1st and 3rd Wednesday of the month evening competitions. [04/16/2008]
  • Canton-McKinley Rifle and Pistol Club, near Canton OH. Site of the annual “Perry Warm-Up” competition, but that wasn’t when I was there. Shot two NMCs with my own S&W 41. [08/23/2007]
  • Port Malabar Rifle & Pistol Club, Port Malabar (SE of Orlando) FL. Outdoor range. Shot a Saturday AM 900 with my own guns. Met Tom Morissey who came down from Orlando to check out the club and to meet me. (Thanks for the novel, Tom. Really enjoyed it!) [02/09/2008]
  • Haltom City Rifle & Pistol Club, Haltom City (Metropolitan Dallas/Ft.Worth) TX. Brought my air pistols for an evening silhouette event. Slaughtered 4 chickens, 5 pigs, 4 turkeys and 6 rams and had a great time. [Warning: Those Texas boys are serious about their shooting!] [02/18/2008]
  • San Bernardino Gun Club, San Bernardino (far east LA basin), CA. Shot an 1800 with guns loaned by Pat Clarkson. [03/02/2008]
  • River Bend Gun Club, Dawsonville (N of Atlanta) GA. Stayed through after a business trip to shoot a 2700 with my own guns. (Hint: Get good driving directions or take a GPS for navigation.) Very nice club. Wish I could’ve stayed longer. [06/22/2008]
  • Newport Rifle Club, Newport RI. Borrowed one of the club’s 22s and shot the “rapid fire” (non-standard Bullseye) and the “fun” (traditional NMC) events on Monday and Wednesday evenings, respectively. [07/14/2008 and 07/16/2008]
  • Marlow (Berkshire, UK) Rifle and Pistol Club. Shot the club’s Gamo air pistol in open practice but was the sole pistol shooter for most of the evening. I did, however, meet the county AP coach who gave me several personal tips which should be of considerable value. [08/11/2008]

Backyard 600

First things first.

I called the City of Phoenix Police Department and asked if it was OK to shoot air pistols within the city limits.

“As long as you do so safely, yes it is,” they said.

So I scouted out the backyard and found a good ISSF dimensioned air pistol range (basically a 35′ long area) with a safe backstop (the 7′ concrete block wall across the back of our property) and measured things out with dimensions from the web and a calculator:

Metric* US
Target face to firing line 10 meters 32′ 9.7″
Ground to target center 1.4 meters 4′ 7.1″



* See sections 6.3.8 and 6.3.9 at http://www.issf-shooting.org/rules/english/2006/23_technical_2005_2nd.html
with some additional pistol rules available at
http://www.issf-shooting.org/rules/english/2006/25_pistol_2005_2nd.pdf

I placed a small outdoor table with its rear edge along the firing line after making a permanent mark down low on the house’s foundation so I can easily find the firing line again if the table is moved.

For the target holder, I use the Gehman Pistol Target Trap (see http://www.pilkguns.com/buildrange.shtml where you will find additional notes on range options). A while back, I also ordered 1000 Edelmann 10m Air Pistol targets (see http://www.pilkguns.com/masprlist.htm#edelmann) which is keeping me in good supply.

Double-check to be sure you get the pistol target holder and the pistol targets. Air rifle targets and their holder are a completely different size.

When the target trap arrived, I measured the box center to hanging screw hole and screwed a snugly fitting wood screw into the gap between two concrete blocks at the appropriate height. Hanging the target trap, I found the target center to be about a half inch low — perfectly tolerable for a backyard range (in my opinion).

Also, since the target trap is about 2″ deep, my firing line was now 2″ too close. Okay, so I scooted the table back 2″. Gee, that was easy to fix.

Then, to lessen the noise for my neighbors, I went to Home Depot and bought one package of “electrical putty” for less than a buck. This is basically a very sticky black clay which I smushed flat and stuck to the backplate inside the target box. It very effectively captures all the pellets and, more importantly, it significantly reduces the impact noise.

My range is along the north side of my home shooting eastward to the target hanging on the wall at the back of the property. My back is to the evening sun. The range is mostly shaded in the early evening by the roof overhang, two large queen palms (that occasionally drop dates into my AP box) and Moon Mountain that rises up a half mile to the west. Although it is hot in Phoenix in the summer, staying out of the direct sun often makes it tolerable. Such is the case for my backyard range.

I start shortly after dinner, no later than 7:00PM. I shoot six (6) 10 round targets for a normal men’s AP competition and finish about 8:00PM which is just when the failing light would force me to stop anyway. (Adding two lights, one on the target and the other on the firing line, will be a later project.)

At the moment, I have the trigger on my IZH-46M cranked up to several pounds as I work toward a reasonable degree of trigger control. Yes, I’m intentionally choosing to shoot a difficult trigger. I have it set such that I can release shots cleanly, but only by doing everything right. Any flaws in grip, wrist, elbow or trigger finger pressure/movement direction or the dreaded “spasmo” jerk results in an obviously thrown shot. But when everything is right, the shot goes where it should.

“There, that’s just like me. I can do this,” I tell myself when everything works.

My normal shooting companions include a gecko that lives inside the block wall and eats crickets and black widow spiders, a Cactus Wren whose nest and chicks are in a hole near the top of the Saguaro cactus three feet to the left of the target trap but 25′ up, a noisy black bird that sits high up in a tree and makes heckling-like squawks all through my practice which I’ve learned to accept as a test of my concentration, and the occasional neighborhood “mouser” (cat) that patrols my yard hunting for field mice. All these creatures are safe for various reasons although that bird does try my patience but seems to be smart enough to avoid standing in front of a safe backstop.

If you’re in the neighborhood, give me a call. Bring your AP and target trap and I’ll put another screw in the wall creating a firing point to the left of the Saguaro and then we’ll shoot a 600 side-by-side.

You’re welcome to come early for dinner, too.

See you in the backyard!