Basic Air Gun Safety

by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

Basic Air Gun Safety

Operating and using an Air Gun can be an exhilarating experience. One not matched by many other pieces of equipment. Hunting with an AirRifle can be fun and exciting. That said, one thing that can turn a fun day into a bad experience is an accident, especially one which was avoidable.

Most BB gun injuries are fully preventable by following a few safety steps before and after shooting. In this guide, we are going to cover the steps you can take to keep you and your loved ones safe from preventable injury when operating an Air Gun.

Air Gun Safety

Air Gun Safety

When it comes to Air Guns, safety should take precedence. If you are successful in killing the prey you were hunting, but injured someone in the process, that would be a failure.

In order to make sure every experience with your Air Gun is fun and positive, you should set up a checklist to follow every time you use your equipment.

When you are first pulling the gun out of storage, you should make sure there is no ammunition loaded in the gun. If there is ammunition in the Air Gun, then you need to remove itand store it in a safe container, until you reach your final destination.

You will also want to ensure you have the correct ammunition for the type of gun you are using. You don’t want to bring bb pellets for use in a Glock Air Gun. Utilizing the wrong ammunition could cause the gun to misfire and potentially injure yourself or someone else.

Once you have verified you have the right ammunition and it is not loaded in your Air Gun, the next thing on your list should be securing eye and ear protection. The eye protection needs to be rated higher on the safety spectrum than your typical pair of eyeglasses or sunglasses. Some Air Guns emit gasses, which could damage your eyes, so you must have your glasses on before you start handling your equipment. In addition, some guns will create a loud sound when discharged. In that case, your ears need to be protected. This is extremely important if you are going out with others. You will obviously know when you fire your own gun, but you may be surprised when someone else fires their gun. You should always have both your eye and ear protection on to protect you from any possible incident.

Depending on the weather, you will want to wear the appropriate clothing. Shorts and a t-shirt are not recommended, as the muzzle of the gun is bound to get warm and you do not want it touching your bare skin. You should always wear long pants and a long sleeve jacket to help protect yourself. Depending on the weather, it is recommended that you wear gloves as well. If your clothes are camouflage, you will also need to put on something bright, so other hunters can see you.

You also need to be mindful of your surroundings. If the location you want to hunt on is in between two other groups of people, you will need to find another spot. You also need to carefully examine any area that you plan on shooting into. Plan ahead to minimize any potential for a ricochet shot in case you miss your target. The last thing you want is for your shot to bounce and hit yourself or someone else.

Once your huntcomes to an end, the way you pack determine how safe you are onthe ride home, as well as in your home. First, the safety should always be on when you are not shooting your Air Gun. Then, once you have verified it is on, you should unload all of the ammunition from your Air Gun, and store it in a safe container. Next, you can put your gun in a bag or other carrying case. Once home, it is best to store your airgun in a locked safe or storage cabinet. If you don’t have a secure cabinet, storingyour gun and ammunition apart from one another is the next best thing..

Safe Gun Handling Rules

Before firing you gun, each time, there is a safety routine that you should follow.First, you need to control is where the muzzle is pointing at any given time. If you are walking with a gun, it needs to be held in such a way that it is not pointing at oneself or others. The best way to hold an Air Gun is to point it safely at the ground, typically to the side or behind you (as long as no person is standing in either spot). Accidental shootings make up the majority of injuries concerning Air Guns, so keep the muzzle pointed away from you and others at all times.

Another way to stay safe is for you to behave as if your Air Gun is fully loaded and the safety is off. If you treat your gun as if it is live, at all times, your body will consciously point the gun away from yourself and others. Always treat your Air Gun with respect; this doesn’t matter if you are pulling it out of the back of your truck or out of its case or putting it away in your storage area. If the gun is loaded, you have to keep the muzzle away from yourself and others.

Upon arrival at a live shooting area, first put on your glasses and ear protection, and then load the ammunition. Once the ammunition is in, double check to make sure the safety is still on until you are ready to shoot. Last but not least, your shooting finger should only be on the trigger when it is time to shoot; no other time should your finger be touching the trigger.

A common mistake that some people make is to cock the gun before they are ready to shoot. This will inevitably lead to accidental firings, which is how mishaps take place. You should only cock your gun when you are ready to take your shot, and not before.

Lastly, you should not be running with your gun when loaded. Your hand could slip, and the safety could be loosened, causing the gun to fire by accident. In addition to running, you should never jump, skip or slide. Under no circumstances should you ever throw your gun. These might look like cool tricks in the movies, but out in the real world these kinds of actions can lead to catastrophes.

Safety Precautions and Procedures

When it comes to operating any type of Air Gun, there are plenty of precautions and procedures which can reduce the chance of accidents and injuries. No type of Air Gun should be loaded with ammunition when not in use. You should always wear eye and ear protection. You should check the type of ammunition you are using every time, just to ensure it is the correct kind for the type of Air Gun you are using for each expedition. Lastly, the Safety should always stay on and your finger should not be on the trigger, until you are ready to make your shot.

By putting these precautions and procedures to use, you will drastically reduce the chances for accident or injury to yourself or others.

Mechanical Safety

The safety is used to stop the Air Gun from firing by locking the trigger into place. When the safety is engaged or ‘on’ the Air gun is unable to fire. Ensure that you know whether or not your Air gun has a safety (check the owner's manual), some do not, and ensure that you understand how to operate it.

Many Air Guns will use a red line to designate when the safety is ‘off’ or in the firing position.

Proper utilization of the safety is integral to the safe operation of an air gun. While a safety can be very effective for preventing accidents, it is not perfect. It can wear over time and fail. The safety must never be substituted for the proper practice of Air Gun handling rules.

Safety Enhancers

Safety is always the main concern in the operation of any Air Gun, and such the use of safety-enhancing devices is recommended. Empty Chamber Indicators (ECIs), safety rods, and Open Bolt Indicators (OBIs) are all popular choices for enhancing overall safety, particularly for range users. Each of these devices has its own particular method of use, but what they have in common is that they help to reduce the possibility of accidental or negligent discharges of the Air Gun. It is suggested that you find safety enhancers compatible with your particular Air Gun.

Safety Rod

A safety rod inserted into the Air Gun from the muzzle end will ensure that there is no pellet remaining in the chamber or barrel. These are typically made using wood doweling to avoid damaging the rifling in the barrel of the Air Gun. It is suggested to use a safety rod wherever you are transporting your Air Gun to enhance the safety and reduce the ‘militant’ look.

Air Gun Empty Chamber Indicator (ECI)

While an ECI can be made at home with a long piece of nylon trimmer line being heated and shaped to have an “L” at one end, commercial ECIs are readily available for your Air Gun. An ECI is a long wire that is inserted, and kept within during storage, through the barrel of the Air Gun. An ECI is inserted from chamber to muzzle to show no pellet is in the barrel or chamber.

Removing an Air Gun Rifle or Air Gun Pistol From a Carrying Case

An Air Gun should always be pointed in a safe direction. Many will even put an arrow on their gun case to indicate the direction which the gun inside is pointing (if the case hadn't already made it obvious). This helps to ensure that even while the case is being opened, the Air Guns are pointing in a safe direction. When handling the guns make sure your finger is always off the trigger.

These steps apply to both pistol and rifle Air Guns. Follow these steps to safely remove an Air Gun from a case:

  1. Lay the case on a flat surface, pointing in a safe direction.
  2. Open the case and check that the safety of the gun is on.
  3. Remove any possible sources of ammunition (the magazine).
  4. Check and Safety Devices used in storage. Such as an ECI.
  5. Remove the Air Gun from the case, maintaining safe muzzle control.
  6. Remove Safety Rod or ECI if preparing to fire.

If you are removing multiple Air Guns from the case, then follow the same steps for each AIr Gun.

Individual Carry Safety Precautions

Immediately upon picking up, or being handed, an Air Gun, you must follow the individual safety precautions required for any form of Air Gun. These are near universal rules you can find across the spectrum of firearms.

NOTES On Range Safety

It is the role of the Instructors and shooting coaches on a range to check that all Air Guns are in the safe position before the guns are removed from the firing line.

On a range safety rules are much the same, with a few additions:

RIFLE NOMENCLATURE AND SAFE LOADING AND UNLOADING

Know your rifle

The best way to safely operate your air gun is to get to know each part, what it does and what it shouldn’t do. An airgun might seem complicated, but to be safe all you need to know is three basic parts: the Stock, the Barrel, and the Action.

Know your rifle
Diagram from Pixabay / OpenClipart-Vectors

The Stock

This is the main body of the gun. Usually made of wood but sometimes of metal or synthetic materials, this is what gives the airgun its shape. It’s made up of four parts: the butt, the comb, the grip and the fore-end.

The butt is right at the end of the stock and is designed to rest against your shoulder when firing. The butt helps to increase comfort and accuracy while you’re shooting.

The comb is also known as the ‘cheek piece’, because it’s where you rest your cheek when aiming. It comprises the top part of the stock.

The grip is the part you’re most likely familiar with: this is the part you hold when manipulating the trigger or safety catch.

The fore-end is used to describe the part of the gun that rests under the barrel. This is the safest and most comfortable place to place your non-trigger hand. Be aware that, on some rifles, this part is separate from the rest of the stock.

The Barrel

To the average observer, the barrel is nothing more than a long metal tube that emerges from the stock, but as an airgun owner, you should know it’s a little more complicated than that. Each barrel is carefully designed to guide the projectile towards the target (and nowhere but the target).

When you fire your airgun the projectile leaves the chamber and passes along the hollow inside of the barrel, known as the bore, before exiting through the muzzle. The average airgun has a bore measuring .177 inches or 4.5 millimeters, and is lined with spiral grooves. These grooves help the pellet to spin, which makes it more stable when it flies and therefore more likely to hit the target.

The Action

The action is the business part of the gun. It contains the most moving parts and it’s what makes your airgun work as it should. In basic terms, the action is where you load, shoot, and unload.

Different airguns will load in different ways, so make sure you’re very familiar with your own gun’s action before you start shooting. Check to see if you load your pellets directly into the chamber or onto a loading ramp or platform. However, be aware: opening the action generally prepares the gun for firing, so don’t load any pellets unless you are ready to fire them. Squeezing the trigger releases the firing pin, which comes forward to release the trapped air, propelling your pellet towards down the barrel and towards the target.

Another important part of the action is the safety. This is a mechanical device that prevents you from squeezing the trigger. As it is a mechanical device, the safety can malfunction, so it is very important not to rely on the safety and to always observe proper safety procedures when operating your airgun. That means always pointing your muzzle in a safe direction, even if the safety is on and the gun is not loaded.

Pellets

Pellets are the most common projectile in an airgun. They are usually made of lead and each weighs 0.018 ounces or 0.5 grams. Pellets come in various shapes, but the best for target practice has a flat head, as they create a clean, visible hole in the target, making it easier to see and easier to score. The size of pellets can vary, but most pellets produced for practice are 4.5 millimeters in diameter.

Cocking and Loading

Different guns load in different ways, and it’s important to know exactly how your own airgun operates in order to use it safely. The following instructions come from the National Rifle Association’s guide on airgun safety, if you are uncertain about the cocking and loading process we reccomend you look at their guide (available here) for pictures and more detail.

Daisy 888

  1. Open the bolt.
  2. Place a pellet into the pellet channel with the solid end (head) toward the muzzle.
  3. Close the bolt by pushing the bolt handle forward, locking it into firing position.
  4. The rifle is now loaded, cocked, and ready to fire.

Daisy 853 Series

Due to their design, these rifles (single-stroke pneumatic air rifles) require extra attention when preparing to fire. Operating the pump handle pressurizes the rifle, making it ready to fire. Take notice: if the pump handle is forced open further than 5-8cm, this means the rifle is already pressurized and is ready to fire.

  1. Open the bolt.
  2. With the rifle pointed in a safe direction, fully extend the pump handle, pause for one second, and then close the pump handle in one smooth motion.
  3. Place a pellet into the pellet channel with the solid end (head) toward the muzzle.
  4. Close the bolt by pushing the bolt handle forward, locking it into firing position.
  5. The rifle is now loaded, cocked, and ready to fire.

A Note on the Daisy 853

Like any rifle, when not in use the rifle must be in a safe condition. As mentioned previously, Daisy 853 Series models can be in a number of conditions, and it’s important to know which of these are safe. As always, make sure the safety is engaged and the chamber is empty unless you are in a safe position and aiming at a target.

The first two conditions are for when you are outside of a firing range.

1. When the rifle is in storage in a case, like being moved into or out of a firing range. Make sure:

2. When you are storing the rifle on a gun rack, make sure:

The next three conditions are for when you are in a firing range, preparing to use your rifle.

3. Whenever you are on the firing line, and the gun is not being loaded or fired:

This is the same as condition 2, but with the safety rod removed.

4. When you are checking your aim, or dry firing (firing without a pellet):

5. When you are firing:

Crosman Challenger 2000

This model is different in that it uses CO2 capsules to propel the pellet. Each container can propel about 50 to 60 pellets.

  1. Open the bolt.
  2. Place a pellet into the pellet channel with the solid end (head) toward the muzzle. Note: this series takes .177 cal (4.5 mm) pellets.
  3. Close the bolt by pushing the bolt handle forward, locking it into firing position.
  4. The rifle is now loaded, cocked, and ready to fire.

Avanti XS40 Valiant

This model does not feature a safety, so it is very important to keep your finger away from the trigger when loading. Also, before loading, check the air pressure meter. Avanti strongly warns against firing with an empty or removed air cylinder, so make sure the pressure is right. This can be done with compressed air canisters or with a hand pump.

  1. Holding the gun with the left hand and, pointed in a safe direction, grasp the bolt handle firmly, rotate it counterclockwise and pull toward the rear of the gun. The bolt will remain open when it reaches the full rearward position.
  2. Place a pellet into the pellet channel with the solid end (head) toward the muzzle. Note: this series takes .177 cal (4.5 mm) pellets.
  3. Push the bolt handle forward and lock into firing position by rotating clockwise.
  4. The rifle is now loaded, cocked, and ready to fire.

The previous rifles have been sporter class air rifles. The following models are all precision air rifles.

Feinwerkbau P70 Series

This model does not feature a safety, so it is very important to keep your finger away from the trigger when loading.

  1. Push the charging lever forward toward the muzzle until it stops (about 4 cm or 1.5 inches). This step opens the breechblock, cocks the gun, and pressurizes the system from the cylinder attached to the gun.
  2. Place the pellet directly into the exposed breech of the barrel.
  3. Close the breechblock.
  4. The rifle is now loaded, cocked, and ready to fire.

Walther Precision Air Rifle

This model does not feature a safety, so it is very important to keep your finger away from the trigger when loading. Also, note that the Walther has a dry-firing switch, where you can choose between live fire (F) and dry fire (T).

  1. Lift the charging handle upward and to the rear until it stops. This step opens the sliding bolt, cocks the gun, and pressurizes the system from the cylinder attached to the gun.
  2. Place the pellet directly into the loading channel.
  3. Close the bolt by pressing the cocking lever forward and down until it locks.
  4. The rifle is now loaded, cocked, and ready to fire.

How to make a Pellet Discharge Containter

A Pellet Discharge Container, or PDC, is something designed to catch any pellets accidentally fired from a loaded gun. A PDC is a useful tool for a range officer to test if a gun is properly loaded in a safe, controlled way.

  1. Fill a small container made of resistant material (e.g. a metal can) with a soft material like rags or paper.
  2. Cover the open end of the container with a lid, made from cardboard, duct tape or other material that a pellet can easily penetrate.
  3. Attach the end of a pole or handle to the side of the container. Make sure the pole is at least 1 meter long.

Using your PDC, stand behind the rifle operator, holding onto the other end of the pole, and place the filled container over the muzzle of the rifle. This way any unintentional discharge will be caught safely in the PDC.

Know your pistol

On the whole, air pistols work in a similar way to air rifles, albeit with a few important differences. Just like rifles, pistols have three main components. In this case: the Frame, the Barrel and the Action.

The Frame
Image credit: Hustvedt [CC BY-SA 3.0]

The Frame

The frame is the backbone of the pistol, connecting all the other parts. It can be made of metal or plastic, and features:

The Barrel

Like with rifles, the barrel is the metal tube that directs the pellet. Its features include:

The Action

The action is still the business part of the gun, where moving parts cock, load, and fire the gun. This includes:

Pellets

The other important part of the air pistol is the projectile. Like with air rifles, the most common pellet is the 0.50-gram lead pellet. The Diabolo shape is best for target practice: a wide, flat top and a wide flare at the tail.

Cocking and Loading Air Pistols

As with air rifles, there are various ways to cock and load air pistols. This section details three in particular: Spring Piston, Single or Multi-Pump, CO2 and Compressed Air. I recommend consulting the NRA guide for more images and more detail (available here).

Spring Piston Break Barrel

  1. Place the saftey on.
  2. Firmly grip the muzzle end and pistol grip.
  3. With the muzzle pointed in a safe direction, “break” open the barrel and bend until spring “clicks” in place.
  4. Place a pellet into the breech area of the barrel, making sure to press the pellet in flush to the edge of the barrel. The flat head of the pellet should be toward the muzzle and the skirt end toward the rear.
  5. Firmly grip the muzzle end and pistol grip and “snap” the barrel back into place.
  6. Turn off the safety, and you’re ready to fire.

Spring Piston: Side Cocking

  1. Place the saftey on.
  2. Firmly grip the pistol, keeping your finger off the trigger.
  3. With your other hand, depress locking button and pull the lever back until it locks back, leaving the breech open. Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.
  4. Place a pellet unto the breech area of the barrel, making sure to press the pellet in flush to the edge of the barrel. The flat head of hte pellet should be toward the muzzle and the skirt end toward the rear.
  5. Fold the lever back and clip it into place.
  6. Turn off the safety, and you’re ready to fire.

Pneumatic Single or Multi-Pump

  1. Place the safety on.
  2. Open the bolt.
  3. With the pistol pointed in a safe direction, extend the cocking lever or handle fully until the air is sucked in, pause for two seconds, then close the handle until it is locked back in place. Multi-pumps will need multiple pumps of the cocking lever to get enough pressure for shooting.
  4. Place a pellet unto the breech area of the barrel, making sure to press the pellet in flush to the edge of the barrel. The flat head of hte pellet should be toward the muzzle and the skirt end toward the rear.
  5. Close the bolt.
  6. Turn off the safety, and you’re ready to fire.

Note: On some pistols, you might need to pull a plunger or similar device to cock.

Pre-charged Pneumatic (PCP) or CO2 pistols

  1. Place the safety on.
  2. Open the bolt, action or loading gate. Some models have a release button.
  3. Place a pellet unto the breech area of the barrel, making sure to press the pellet in flush to the edge of the barrel. The flat head of hte pellet should be toward the muzzle and the skirt end toward the rear.
  4. Close the bolt, action or loading gate.
  5. Turn off the safety, and you’re ready to fire.

Note: On some pistols, you might need to pull a plunger or similar device to cock.

Safety Conditions

Just because pistols are smaller than rifles, doesn’t mean they’re less dangerous. The safety conditions for pistols are just as important. Various types of pistols have different safe and unsafe conditions, and it’s important to know what they are. Across all of these pistol types, Conditions 3 and 4 are considered not safe because in these conditions the pistol is prepared to fire.

Safety Conditions of the Spring Piston Break Barrel

  1. When the pistol is in storage, or being transported into and out of a firing range in its case. Make sure:
    • The safety is engaged
    • The barrel is broken open but the spring has not been compressed
    • Alternatively, the barrel is closed and the spring has not been compressed.
    • The chamber or breech is empty.
    • If the barrel is open, the empty chamber indicator can be put in the barrel.
  2. When the pistol is resting on a table or a bench, or on the firing line when not being loaded or fired. Make sure:
    • The safety is engaged
    • The barrel is broken open but the spring has not been compressed
    • The chamber or breech is empty.
    • If the barrel is open, the empty chamber indicator can be put in the barrel.
  3. When on the firing line handling the pistol, checking aim or dry firing. Make sure:
    • The safety is disengaged.
    • The barrel is closed and in place.
    • The breech or chamber is empty.
  4. When firing. Make sure:
    • The safety is disengaged.
    • The barrel is closed, spring compressed and ready to fire.
    • A pellet is in the chamber.

Safety Conditions of the Spring Piston Side Cocking

  1. When the pistol is in storage, or being transported into and out of a firing range in its case. Make sure:
    1. The safety is engaged
    2. The cocking lever is unlocked and open, but the spring has not been compressed
    3. Alternatively, the cocking lever is closed and the spring has not been compressed.
    4. The chamber or breech is empty.
    5. The empty chamber indicator can be put in the barrel.
  2. When the pistol is resting on a table or a bench, or on the firing line when not being loaded or fired. Make sure:
    1. The safety is engaged
    2. The cocking lever is unlocked and open, but the spring has not been compressed
    3. The chamber or breech is empty.
    4. The empty chamber indicator can be put in the barrel.
  3. When on the firing line handling the pistol, checking aim or dry firing. Make sure:
    1. The safety is disengaged.
    2. The cocking lever is closed and in place.
    3. The breech or chamber is empty.
  4. When firing. Make sure:
    1. The safety is disengaged.
    2. The cocking lever is closed, spring compressed and ready to fire.
    3. A pellet is in the chamber.

Compressed Air & CO2 Safety

Much like air rifles and air pistols, it’s important to know how to handle compressed air and CO2 properly before heading out onto the range. The pressure inside a compressed air tank can be huge, enough to lift a truck off the ground, so improper handling can lead to serious injury. This can happen to new users, but also experienced shooters who get complacent with how they handle compressed air canisters. To make sure this isn’t you, it never hurts to remind yourself of proper handling practices.

Definitions

A few points to clear up before we start. In the sections below, a tank is large source of compressed air, whereas a cylinder is a smaller canister, usually attached to or mounted on your gun. You can usually refill your smaller cylinders with tanks, and then refill your tanks at places that sell compressed air, like dive shops.

For tanks: make sure they are regularly inspected and tested in accordance with industry standards. Never trust untrained people with inspecting and testing compressed air tanks.

You can refill your tanks at dive shops, which usually fill tanks to a pressure of 200 bar (around 2900 psi). Some places may fill your tanks with up to 300 bar (4350 psi) of pressure, which will translate to more shots, but bear in mind that many airguns are not certified for use with pressures above 200 bar. We recommend you use 200 bar tanks, as they’re easier to find and safer to operate, and will work with all air gun models regardless of style.

For cylinders: check new cylinders for manufacturing issues and if you’re reusing them make sure you keep an eye out on any wear and tear from regular use. If you see any damage in either case, discard the cylinders; do not try to fix them yourself!

Also, here are some commonly used terms you might need to know:

For images of the different types of fittings and valves, take a look at the full NRA air gun safety guide.

Safety Guidelines for Using Compressed Air Tanks

To make sure you are filling your compressed air tanks safely, here are some do’s and dont’s to bear in mind:

When storing and transporting tanks

When filling air gun cylinders

Make sure to always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines when filling cylinders and consult experts if you are not sure. Here is an example of a normal filling procedure:

  1. Screw the adaptor onto the tank.
  2. Screw the cylinder onto the adaptor.
  3. Slowly open the air tank valve.
  4. Close the valve after about 30 seconds.
  5. Release the blow-off valve.
  6. Remove the cylinder and attach it to your air gun.

Two-tank or cascading systems

This system is employed by many air gun clubs and teams to get the most air pressure into your cylinders as possible without the need to constantly refill tanks. As with any compressed air system, it’s important to be very careful and abide by all safety standards.

Most clubs operate this system of two-tank filling:

  1. One tank is identified as the fill tank or the first tank. This is usually the lowest pressure tank, used to fill the majority of the cylinder.
  2. A second tank is then designated as the top-off or second tank. This has the highest pressure of the two tanks and is used to increase the pressure in the cylinder right at the end.
  3. When filling an empty cylinder, start with the first tank to fill the majority of the cylinder. At this stage the pressure should still be low, so don’t worry too much about the reading on the gauge.
  4. Disconnect from the first tank and connect to the second tank. Filling up the last bit of the cylinder serves to increase the pressure to 200 bar without using up as much pressured air.
  5. Disconnect from the second tank and attach your cylinder to your air gun.

This allows you can continue filling cylinders until the first tank is empty, at which point it can be refilled and be used as the top-off tank while the second tank becomes the fill tank.

Safety Guidelines for Using Carbon Dioxide (CO2)

CO2 operates slightly differently to compressed air:

With that in mind, here are some do’s and don’ts for CO2.

When storing and transporting tanks

When filling CO2 cylinders

Make sure you always follow the manufacturing guidelines, but these are the normal stages of CO2 gas filling. As always, there are pictures available in the NRA guide.

  1. Attach the cylinder to the fill adaptor. Once attached, turn the pin depressor knob or blow-down valve clockwise to depress the pin that opens the cylinder valve.
  2. Vent the cylinder by opening the vent knob until no more gas comes out, then close the vent knob.
  3. Slowly open the tank valve. The change in temperature should make frost develop on the cylinder.
  4. Wait for the frost to disappear from the cylinder, usually about 10 seconds. Then close the tank valve.
  5. Turn the pin depressor knob on the bottle adapter counterclockwise, closing the pin valve in the cylinder.
  6. Vent any remaining CO2 in the hose lines by opening the vent knob, then disconnect the cylinder.
  7. Weigh the cylinder to make sure it contains the correct amount of liquid and gas. If it’s too heavy, bleed off some CO2 to correct the weight.

Gas chilling: If you can’t chill your cylinders in a freezer before filling, or if you need to fill the cylinders immediately, you can gas chill the cylinder. This means using a little bit of compressed CO2 from a tank, briefly filling the cylinder, before quickly releasing the gas. This method uses more CO2 and involves more gas being released, so it’s important to be extremely careful and make sure to wear appropriate protective clothing.

  1. Attach the cylinder to the fill adaptor. Once attached, turn the pin depressor knob or blow-down valve clockwise to depress the pin that opens the cylinder valve.
  2. Vent the cylinder by opening the vent knob until no more gas comes out, then close the vent knob.
  3. Open the tank valve and allow a few seconds for liquid to transfer.
  4. Close the tank valve and quickly open the pin depressor knob valve, venting the filled CO2.

One cycle is usually sufficient to chill the chamber. This will ensure your filling will be efficient and safe.

Safe Range Construction

To really operate your air rifle in the safest way possible, you need to use it in a safely constructed shooting range. If you want to build your own air gun range, here are some aspects to consider.

Location

When choosing a site for your air gun range, safety should be your primary consideration. Any safe air gun range will have enough space for the number of people expected to use the range and the activities your planning and will be located away from other areas with regular activity.

Make sure access to the range should be limited to one controlled point of entry, where possible, and that there are no access points between the firing line and the target line If your range is indoors, make sure any access points between regular activity areas and the firing line, including corridors and doors, are blocked (i.e. not open) and any windows are covered. Entry points should be posted with warning signs indicating danger zones and alternative points of entry or exit. Make sure no one could wander into the range without seeing a warning sign or safety barriers indicating the danger zone.

Distance requirements

Air gun ranges are categorized by the distance between the firing line and the target line, so a ten-meter range requires 10 meters (32’ 9¾”) from the edge of the firing line to the targets. After this distance, there must be additional space behind the firing line to allow for movement around the range and to designate firing points, and behind the target line for a primary (and, if necessary, secondary) backstop.

Backstops

Backstops are designed to hold targets and stop pellets, and therefore have to be durable and steady. The easiest way to achieve appropriate backstops is to buy commercially available pellet traps. These are lightweight and easy to use, and often feature a pellet-capture system that avoids cleanup. Place pellet traps on top of crates or wooden boxes for sturdy bases that can be easily moved and adjusted.

You can also use metal pellet traps as part of a target retrieval system. Multiple targets can be posted next to each other, halving the need to go downrange to change targets. However, these must be fixed to the wall, and therefore reduce the flexibility of simpler pellet traps. For diagrams of how to build your own airgun target frame from plywood, metal, and cardboard, take a look at the NRA safety guide (page 45-47).

Secondary backstops are placed behind these primary backstops to protect areas surrounding the air gun range. These are generally hanging materials such as tarpaulin, canvas, cloth or carpet, placed behind the pellet traps and designed to catch any pellets that miss the target. Make sure the materials hang loose so that they can absorb the movement energy of the pellet; taught material will reflecting this energy, causing the pellet to bounce back towards the firing line.

Pistol ranges

Air pistols normally require a similar range to air rifles, but as air pistol targets are generally smaller than air rifle targets they can use a smaller trap area, especially once a shooter becomes more proficient with their air pistol. Many pistol ranges will use a single bull target carrier system, with the target placed 1.4 meters (55 inches) from the floor. On the firing line, a table is usually provided to hold the shooter’s equipment, usually around 2.5 feet tall and 39.4 inches (one meter) across.

Progressive Position Pistol Program

This program is popular amongst younger and less experienced users, so it’s important to pay special attention to safety procedures. With this in mind, the guidelines for this program are slightly different from those listed above. While standing positions still have a target height of 55 inches, this program also uses seated positions, which should have targets placed 36 inches above the floor. All sighting shots should be taken before the record shot, and each record shot has a time limit of 1.5 minutes.

Throughout the process, great care should be taken that pistol muzzles are pointed in a safe direction. Cocking a spring pistol or pump pistol requires some strength that may be beyond the abilities of a young shooter, which may lead to the shooter pointing the muzzle in an unsafe direction while loading. The range staff should be particularly vigilant in these circumstances by identifying any shooters that may need assistance in loading or by providing alternative pistols (for example, PCP/CO2 pistols) that do not require as much force to cock.

Traffic patterns & walkway

Any efficient range is designed with traffic patterns in mind, allowing for safe and logical movement from entry to exit. This is where the space behind the firing line is essential, to allow free and easy movement away from firing points. For this reason, it is important to designate the firing line with a two- to three-inch wide line of paint, tape or other markers, covering all firing points. Behind this marker is the walkway, which should be wide enough to fit instructors, range personnel and anyone not firing.

Firing points

The amount of space you have in your range will determine how many firing points you have. Each firing point should be large enough to contain the shooter in various shooting positions, as well as their equipment and an instructor or coach. With this in mind, a space four feet wide and six feet long is recommended, although some competitive rulebooks allow 40-inch wide firing points so that more points can fit in a given space.

Ready Line or Ready Area

Between the walkway and the firing points, there should be a ready line or area to accommodate shooters preparing or waiting to shoot. The NRA guide recommends six to eight feet, but the distance is up to you: as long as there is ample room to make sure there is no congestion behind the firing points.

Normally, behind this area, a designated place for spectators who do not intend to shoot can watch shooters. However, if space is a concern, spectators can share the Ready Area with those waiting to shoot.

Diagrams of how these various areas should be organized are available online through the NRA guide.

Firing Points and Targets

To keep risks arising from cross-firing to a minimum, each target should be clearly corresponding to a firing point. Most ranges achieve this by placing large numbered boards with contrasting colors behind the targets and by ensuring even lighting across the target line.

Safe Range Operation

Now that you have a safe range in which to fire, it is important that you operate safely within it. There are various safety measures you can take to make sure that you avoid any unnecessary risks.

Going downrange

One may need to go downrange to change or retrieve targets, fix pellet catchers or for other reasons. This is obviously a potentially dangerous area, so it is important to ensure all shooting has ceased and rifles are in a safe condition. Before anyone goes downrange towards the target line, ensure that all rifles are in Condition 2 listed above (unloaded, with the action open) and laid down on the floor or shooting bench. The range officer (described below) will decide when it is appropriate to go downrange and will designate the time allowed to stay in the downrange position. It is also important that all shooters get equal time to inspect and change their targets, especially in a competition setting.

Loading

When an air gun is loaded it must remain pointed downrange or towards the ceiling. Whenever the rifle is being loaded, it must be pointed in a safe direction, i.e. downrange or into a pellet catcher. No loading must commence until the range officer gives the range command.

Range officer

Every range must have a range officer, who is in charge of firing. This person gives commands and instructions to the shooters on when to fire, load, or stop firing, and it is imperative that these commands are obeyed by all shooters. Range officers must also check all rifles entering the range to ensure that they are unloaded with the actions open before shooters approach the firing points and after shooting ceases and before rifles are taken out of the range.

The range officer is different from the coach, and these two roles should be filled by two different people. This is because the coach focusses on one shooter at a time, and therefore is not in a position to keep track of safety across the whole range. The range officer is responsible for the safety of the whole range, though line officers can assist the range officer on long ranges by monitoring a maximum of ten targets. As the range officer should not engage in any shooting or other activities, the role often works on a shift system, swapped between responsible persons.

Range commands

Any activity taking place on a range is dictated by commands, given by the range officer. Whether you are the range officer or a shooter, make sure you are clear on what the commands for your range are and what they specifically mean. Most ranges use a common set of commands which have been developed over the long history of shooting practice and are designed to be simple and straightforward; “Load”, “Commence firing” or “Cease firing”.

No shooter may perform a certain action until after the range officer gives the appropriate command. For example, no shooter may load their weapon until the “Load” command is given, no shooting may begin until the “Start” or “Commence firing” command is given, and once the “Stop” or “Cease firing” command is given the rifle must be put down immediately and no further shots may be fired. This is the case even if the weapon is loaded, in which case the shooter should immediately notify the range officer who will determine how best to unload or discharge the air gun.

Here is a list of common commands and what they mean. Make sure to check with your specific range staff that these are in use, as commands may vary.

Command

Meaning

Relay No. _, Match No. _, on the firing line. (Match name might also be named)

Shooters are to move to the firing points. Rifles must not be handled at this stage.

Is the line ready?

Are there any issues with the firing points the shooters have noticed. If any shooters notice an issue, they should raise their hand and respond “Not ready on target No. _”, at which point the range officer will call “The line is not ready” and investigate the issue.

Load

Shooters are allowed to load their air rifles and prepare for shooting.

Commence firing; or; Start

Announced after “Load”, this informs shooters that shooting may commence. This is sometimes signaled with a whistle or a horn, or visually by moving targets into view.

Cease firing; or; Stop

This command can be announced by anyone who observes unsafe conditions.

Announced when time expires, or whenever shooting must cease. The shooters must stop firing immediately, remain in position and await further instruction. Following commands may include unloading the rifle, opening the action and placing the rifle on the ground or a bench.

As above, this may be signaled with a whistle or horn, or by moving targets out of view.

Unload; or; Make the line safe

Announced after firing has ceased, instructing shooters to unload their rifles and putting them into a safe condition. This is then confirmed by a range or line officer.

Is the line clear on the right/left?

Called to confirm the range or line officers have checked the firing points and confirmed they are safe, as per the above command.

Once confirmed, the range officer may announce “The line is clear”.

Go forward and change/retrieve targets

Shooters must go downrange to change or retrieve their targets. This is only called after the range officer has ensured all safety procedures listed in the above section Downrange.

Range is clear, you may handle your rifles

Announced once all shooters have returned from downrange.

Move out of position and remove your equipment from the firing line.

Announced when the Relay of shooting has ceased, and the shooters must remove their equipment.

Police your firing point

Check that the firing point is clean and clear of discarded or unused items. There are standard practices for clearing firing points that should be known and maintained by range officers.

Ready on the right/left/firing line

When a range is particularly large it may be checked in sections. These commands should be announced with a few seconds in between to allow shooters to respond with “Ready” or “Not ready” where appropriate.

As you were; or; Carry on

Disregard the previous command. The shooter may proceed with their actions before the last command