97 HEADS UP
Shooting upwards with an airgun - the key is understanding
Phill Price gives expert advice on how to shoot upward successfully
When we shoot horizontally we have a good number of factors to feed into our mental calculations; we need to know the distance to the target, how strongly the wind is blowing, and from which direction, and finally, how stable we’re able to be with our hold. If you add in elevated shots, it can become almost mind-blowing. Clearly, it would be useful to know the angle to our target, as well as the distance, so that we can calculate our ‘shooting solution’.
Some hand-held laser rangefinders have an ‘ incline’ function and I’ve used them to educate myself about just where I need to aim to place my pellet precisely. I’ve also used Chairgun software to help with this. Being able to visualise the pellet’s flight path is something I find very useful in the critical moments before I take a shot.
Whilst we’re on the subject, let’s address the hold-under – hold- over question. Some people believe that when you aim upward you need to hold under and when you aim down you hold over. WRONG! It’s always hold-under, and the real question is how much? The distance, angle and velocity are interlinked, so we need all the technical help we can get to place our shots accurately.
Why does it do that?
I’m often asked why elevated shots go high, and the simple answer is that some of the pellet’s energy is used to counter the force of gravity. When a pellet flies horizontally, gravity pulls it down in just the same way as it does if you drop it from your fingers, but because it’s going so fast, it gets a long way before hitting the ground. When we shoot upward toward a bird or a squirrel, some of the energy imparted to the pellet drives against gravity, making it land higher relative to our sight line than a pellet fired horizontally. It’s probably more complicated than that really, but it’s how it was explained to me 30 years ago and I’ve killed thousands of pigeons and squirrels based on that understanding.
The key is to understand just how much to hold under. Faster flying, flatter shooting pellets need less correction, which is why I’ve used .177 for so long. When you start to measure the angles you often hunt at,
“If there’s one on your permission, check that you have a safe backdrop and get shooting”
they’re quite often not as steep as you think. Of course, there are exceptions, but I’ve found that 60° is usually about as high as I go; the majority are lower. The amount of correction needed increases with the angle, so this is an important number. I’ve also noticed that elevated shots are generally at more modest ranges, and often within 20 yards horizontal distance.
To put some numbers on all this theory, let’s take my usual hunting gun that sends the .177 Air Arms Field Diablo at 775fps. To shoot a squirrel 25 yards away, 45° up in a tree, I need to hold 1” low. It’s necessary to know what 1” looks like relative to the size of our quarry to make that correction. At 15 yards the correction would be ½”, at 20 yards ¾” and at 30 yards 1¼”.
At 15° to 20° the correction isn’t worth worrying about, but by the time you get to 30° you need to start thinking. I feel that really steeply angled shots, say at 70° or higher, should be let go. The calculation is incredibly difficult unless your quarry is on a branch just six feet above your head.
Get out and do it
As with everything to do with airgun accuracy, the best thing is to practise and learn just what your own rifle, scope and pellet combination will do. If you are able to get targets up high above you, such as when you’re in a deep quarry, you can learn very quickly the hold-under needed. Also, some gun clubs have targets high up on poles, which offer the same facility. Most of us are going to need a dead tree, and if there’s one on your permission, check that you have a safe back drop and get shooting. Try to shoot off small knobbles on the bark and dead twigs at root level. Start at the bottom and work your way up, getting a feel for the amount of hold- over that each distance and height needs.
Don’t do too much of this at a time because holding your rifle elevated can quickly lead to fatigue, which can lead to snatching at shots, and that will teach you nothing. Pick a few choice targets and try to hit them first shot, and then take a rest to absorb what you’ve just seen. I’d also recommend Chairgun software that can be downloaded free of charge from the Hawke Sport Optics website. You can learn an awful lot about this subject without even getting out of your chair.
You need to know the angle and distance to make your calculation
As you come close to vertical, I believe you should let the shot pass Between 40 and 60, specific information is needed to make your calculation Between 20 and 40, holdunder becomes necessary Up to 20 degrees, no adjustment is needed
This is vital information for a successful shot
Some rangefinders will measure the angle to your target