Air pistol: A sport for the great indoors

Peter Brookes tries his luck at 10-meter air pistol shooting. Courtesy photo

At the risk of committing hunting-fishing blasphemy in print, I confess that when winter gets a little on the cold and nasty side, I’ll sometimes think about taking good ol’ Brookes Outdoors — indoors.

Inside where it’s warm and dry. Where your coffee stays piping hot. Where there are modern “facilities” when Mother Nature calls. And, you don’t have to get bundled up like Nanook of the North.

You know exactly what I’m talking about.

With this in mind, late this winter, I decided to try my hand at 10 meter air pistol shooting after reading about an indoor league run by the Arlington-Fairfax chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America.

I shot – what else? – an email to Mark Budgeon, who manages the league. I told him that my ego wasn’t ready for match play, but would it be possible to meet up with him for a practice session before embarrassing myself in public?

Mark was enthusiastic. We agreed to meet at the new (Bucky) Sills Air Range (afc-iwla-sillsairrange.org) at Ike Walton’s place in Centreville on a cold March Sunday morning for some one-on-one instruction on Olympic-style air pistol shooting.

Upon entering the range, one couldn’t help but feel a bit intimidated. On the wall near the entrance are pictures of two local teenagers who are U.S. Olympians – and trained in this very building.

That’s right, Virginia Thrasher and Lucas Kozeniesky both represented the United States in the Rio Games last summer in air rifle. Even more incredible, Virginia brought home the Gold – USA! USA! USA!

Good reason to be humble – not exactly my strong suit.

Mark started with a beginner air pistol, actually one made by Daisy – just like the Red Ryder BB Gun with the compass in the stock. No compass on this air gun – being indoors and all – but it did have a pump to compress the air for the pellet, which looks nothing like a BB.

The .177 caliber pellet is almost hour-glass shaped with a blunt, solid face. It doesn’t look at all aerodynamic, I thought, as I started to assemble in my head the required litany of possible excuses for my poor marksmanship: Excuse No.1 – bad bullets.

Then there was the teeny, tiny target.

The blackened target bullseye, which contain the 9- and 10-point rings, is about the size of a quarter. The 10-point ring is a lot smaller than a dime. Of course, at 10 meters (or 33 feet), it looks like the head of a pin. It’s a sport of serious concentration.

Indeed, though ear protection isn’t required, many shooters wear it to prevent any possible noise distraction – even though the pistols only make a breathy Fffffuf sound when fired. Some shooters also wear “blinders” to limit visual distractions.

I’m pretty sure that most of my practice shots ended up in at least the same ZIP code as the range – a relief since the real match was a week away and I’d have to prove my “Brookes Outdoors-ness.”

Yes, it’s a word…

Thankfully, Mark brought a Steyr air pistol for my use on match day. I had a chance to shoot it during practice and it greatly improved my sloppy shooting, being lighter and having a faster muzzle velocity – besides having a cool German name.

This match required the participants to shoot 40 pellets using a single hand at four similar targets at 10 meters in no more than 50 minutes. Getting at least one shot off per minute in a single shot gun is very doable.

Despite on-site “coaching” from my 7-year old son Jack, which made me regret not bringing ear plugs, I did pretty well for a first-timer finishing in the middle of the pack of shooters that morning with a score of 300 out of a possible 400.

The sport definitely has appeal.

The league is open to the public (but for more details about participating, visit the range’s website). The pistols are quiet, lack recoil and since they don’t use gunpowder, there’s no fumes. Kids can do it (with supervision) and you can shoot in the great indoors.

Heck, with an air pistol, a pallet of pellets, a couple of cylinders of compressed air and a stack of targets, Brookes Outdoors could spend the entire winter indoors – except that the wife would never put up with having me underfoot that long.

Come to think of it, now I know why she lets me hunt and fish.

Dr. Peter Brookes is a D.C. policy wonk who escapes to his Fort Valley home and the great outdoors every chance he gets. BrookesOutdoors@gmail.com