For additional information please call the
NRA Rifle Dept. at (703) 267-1475 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Air guns, traditionally regarded as guns for beginners, have now
made the transition to guns for everyone. Some types, such as the
familiar BB gun, are excellent as a "first gun;" other types are
designed and used by seasoned international competitors.
Whether they are used for recreation or sport, for field use or
as an inexpensive training tool, air rifles and air pistols are an
excellent way to enjoy shooting. In recent years, air guns have
undergone dramatic improvements in reliability, durability and
accuracy. Air guns offer flexibility - they can be safely fired by
shooters of all ages and experience levels.
NRA has developed and sponsored a variety of coaches' schools,
training clinics and qualification courses, and offers various
levels of competitive events which include air rifle and air
pistol. They are available to junior, collegiate and adult
This page provides general information for tournament
competition for the following events: air rifle, air pistol, air
silhouette, 10 meter running game target and BB gun. It will also
discuss construction of air gun ranges from the very basic home
range to setting up a portable range for schools, to designing and
constructing a permanent air gun range. Air guns can be found in
nearly every shooting program, and air gun programs have been
adopted by many national organizations, including the National
Wheelchair Athletic Association, National Association of Sports for
Cerebral Palsy, U.S. Jaycees, Boy Scouts of America, Explorer
Scouts, 4-H, and Police Athletic League.
Gun safety is vital for any owner or user of a BB gun or pellet
gun. Young shooters must be supervised by a knowledgeable adult
whenever using the gun. Adults and children should carefully read
and understand all instructions that come with their air gun, and
understand the proper safe use of such guns.
AIR GUNS ARE NOT TOYS! Improper handling due to carelessness or
ignorance can cause injury or even death. Young gun owners can have
years of enjoyment with air guns if they are used properly and
The NRA gun safety rules must be read and understood by all
children and adults who will be using or supervising the use of BB
guns and pellet guns. Although all the NRA safety rules are
important, the most important are the first three rules. If these
three rules are applied in every situation, there would be no more
avoidable injuries involving air guns, or any guns for that
Which Air Gun?
Many brands of air guns are available. There are three major types
of air guns: Spring-piston, Pneumatic and CO2. All three systems
are used in both air rifles and air pistols.
The spring-pistol air gun is powered by the compression of a
mainspring when the gun is manually cocked. The compression spring
is released when the trigger is pulled, driving the piston forward,
thus building up air pressure that pushes the pellet out of the
barrel. Spring-pistol guns are of three types: Break-barrel,
Underlever and Sidelever. BB guns are also in this category.
Pneumatic pump guns are among the most popular and best known
air guns. They are also the most affordable of the three types.
Pneumatic guns use a multiple-pump system, with compressed air
stored in the gun's reservoir. Pneumatic guns are either multipump
or single stroke guns.
CO2 guns operate with carbon dioxide gas (CO2) contained in a
cylinder. This air gun is the easiest to operate; it only needs to
be cocked and the trigger pulled to release a regulated amount of
gas which propels the pellet. Most cylinders have enough gas for
30-60 shots, and the larger cylinders have enough gas for 300-400
Velocity is important to air gun accuracy and pellet velocities
can vary, depending on the type of air gun used. Single-pump
precision match grade air guns deliver the most consistent muzzle
velocity. The muzzle velocity of CO2 guns will vary with the
pressure of the gas on the container. Consistent velocity is
important when aiming at a 10 ring the size of a pin head (1mm),
and precision air rifles and air pistols produce consistent
In shopping for an air gun, you should first decide upon its
intended use, because prices and models vary widely, from
Olympic-grade, precision air guns to lightweight target models,
sporters and plinkers.
There are air guns of all prices and air guns for all ages.
That's what is so great about this event! Everyone can shoot an air
gun and enjoy the sport!
Air Gun Ammunition
There are two basic types of air gun ammunition; pellets and BBs.
Pellets weigh much less than firearm projectiles, which makes the
striking energy much less. They are molded from soft lead and most
are hour-glass shaped which gives them increased stability in
flight. They are designed for every air gun and come in a variety
of head shapes. Pellets may be fired in either smoothbore or rifled
barrels, unlike BBs which should be fired only through smoothbore
Pellet quality is second in importance only to the overall
quality of the air gun itself. In competition, the .177 caliber is
considered standard. This is true in all types of competition, from
the BB gun through the Olympic-grade air rifles and pistols.
There are four basic types of pellets: wadcutter, used for paper
target competition; pointed, designed for field use, producing more
kinetic energy for penetration; hollow point, used for silhouette
competition and field use; and round nose, considered for any use
needing knock down power. The spherical BB is the most familiar air
gun ammunition and is made from either steel or lead.
Other Equipment and Accessories
The type of air gun competition a shooter is interested in will
determine how much equipment is necessary. According to NRA rules,
a BB gun shooter only needs a BB gun and BBs. A sweatshirt is
In 10-meter air rifle and air pistol competition, accessories
can be a major part of the shooter's equipment list, and could
include a cloth or leather shooting jacket, kneeling roll, padded
glove, sling, shooting mat, shooting shoes, shooting glasses, and
the list goes on. All these things aren't completely necessary to
be a competitive shooter, but they can help as the shooter
Air Gun Targets
The NRA has licensed a number of companies to print official NRA
targets. Air gun targets may be purchased from these companies for
use in competition and qualification. Click here to
view the "NRA Target Manufacturer's List"
Of the many different targets available, the most commonly used
in competition are the air rifle, 10 meter (AR-5) target; air
pistol, 10 meter (B40) target; BB gun, 5 meter (AR-4) target and;
running target, 10 meter (AR-6) target. The AR-5 and B 40 targets
replace the old air rifle (AR-1) and air pistol (B-32) targets. The
RB-10 running target will remain in print and will be used for
national competition events and novelty shooting activities. Many
qualification targets are available for distances of 15 feet, 5
meters, 25 feet, 10 meters - both for air rifles and air pistols,
including BB rifles and BB pistols.
Another exciting target is the ever-popular metal silhouette
sized for air guns and fired at reduced distances. Air silhouette
has brought many "big bore" shooters to practice and even compete
on these small targets.
Building a Home Air Gun Range
Possibly the best reason for air gun shooting is the ease of
setting up a range. Air gun ranges can be constructed for easy
set-up and take-down, or they can be built as a permanent
structure. Most air gun classes are conducted in school rooms or at
club houses and use cardboard boxes stuffed with paper as
backstops. No matter how limited the budget, anyone with a fair
amount of open space can set up an air gun range right at home or
A simple and inexpensive pellet trap can be constructed from a
cardboard box stuffed with newspapers or old phone books. The
simplest and fastest way to set up an air gun range is to use
inexpensive, portable metal pellet traps. These are safe and will
stop pellets and collect them in the trap.
A more expensive way to build a range is to use target carriers.
These can be mounted for permanent use or as a temporary range set
up, and can be easily taken down and stored until the next class or
practice. Any range, regardless of location and construction, is
only as safe as the manner in which it is used. Range safety must
always be stressed, regardless of whether the range is to be used
for air guns or firearms. Eye protection should always be used by
anyone in the vicinity of a shooting range. Ear protection may be
worn but is not a safety requisite for air gun shooting.
How to Start Shooting in Air Gun
An individual interested in any level of air gun competition, from
intraclub matches through the Olympics, should find a tournament
near home and watch. This will allow the chance to see how a
tournament is operated and see the equipment of each shooter. Most
tournaments are conducted on the "local level", meaning NRA
affiliated clubs are the sponsors and conduct the match
After the match may be the best time to ask questions to the
shooters and the match sponsors about air gun competition and
possibly even joining the club. Most clubs are pleased to see
newcomers in the sport and will help get them started in the right
The NRA can send you a list of tournaments fired around the
country. These are available to all competitors upon request. There
are so many types of matches that there should be no trouble
getting started. NRA sanctions all tournaments from the local club
level to state championships, sectional and regional championships
and National Championships.