Please help me break into the hobby of recreational target shooting.
July 2, 2006 11:49 PM   Subscribe

To the shock of virtually everyone, including my liberal, non-violent self, I learned tonight that I like guns. Please help me learn more about them.

First, I don't know the right question(s) to ask - I'm that new to the hobby. Please be gentle. Long story short, my nephews were shooting their BB guns tonight. Out of curiousity, I participated and discovered I had a natural talent with them. Moreover, I thorougly enjoyed shooting them.

To be clear, I don't want to shoot living things, just targets. Both guns I fired tonight were underlever rifles. One was a single pump and the other was a multiple pump rifle. Power was only an issue in that we couldn't hit targets at 150 yards with any accuracy, but I don't know how often I'll be shooting at that distance or if it is even feasible to expect anything more.

Please help me decide what to buy. I'm completely open to all options, but I'd rather not spend $1,000 considering the fun I had with a $50 rifle. Furthermore, I'd rather not jump right into CO2 guns unless there is a compelling reason for a beginner to have one.

The list of items I am considering inclue: an air rifle, a air pistol, book(s) on technique and safety, pellets/BBs, safety goggles, a scope (variable power optical), cleaning supplies, and targets. I'd also like to find some websites about the hobby that will allow me to learn more and have more fun.

Thanks for any help you can provide.
posted by sequential to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (45 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You should probably buy a .22 long rifle, much more fun (and accurate) than the BB's and the ammunition is very inexpensive. This assumes you have acces to a suitable range at which to fire it, of course. You can then join a local gun club for a great many benefits including gun safety classes, which are a must (or suitable instruction from an experienced relative/friend) for someone inexperienced with weapons. This is where you'll be able to find semi-serious/serious competitions to improve and show off you newfound marksmanship.

Or you can just get a BB gun and pop birds sitting on the power lines, as I did in childhood (Yes, I'm a murderer, whatever. It's just pest control until they create a fogger or something thats species specific)). It's great to take out a blackbird (a menace here) at fifty feet from the hip using a cheap co2 pistol.
posted by IronLizard at 12:03 AM on July 3, 2006

Hmm, these aren't "guns" in the gunpowder sense. I was going to suggest looking for shooting ranges in your area and checking out gun rental and safety programs, which are quite common, but I'm not sure they would cover air rifles...?

At the very least, a traditional shooting range gun safety class would hook you up with a .22 target pistol (Ruger rimfire is probably best) and let you plink away. This gun and its ammo are quite inexpensive, relatively speaking.
posted by frogan at 12:10 AM on July 3, 2006

You could start with a BB gun. Or, you could skip that part and go right to a shotgun. Like a Remington 870.

If you think it's fun to shoot targets with a BB, you should find a place to shoot clay pigeons.
posted by Jesco at 12:24 AM on July 3, 2006

Response by poster:
You should probably buy a .22 long rifle, much more fun (and accurate) than the BB's and the ammunition is very inexpensive.
Is a license required to purchase a .22 long rifle?
This assumes you have access to a suitable range at which to fire it, of course.
What does this mean? I intend to do most of my shooting on several hundred acres of land. Is this not a suitable location for such a rifle?
You can then join a local gun club for a great many benefits including gun safety classes, which are a must (or suitable instruction from an experienced relative/friend) for someone inexperienced with weapons.
That's a great idea. Thanks.
Or you can just get a BB gun and pop birds sitting on the power lines, as I did in childhood
The reason I am choosing to go the air gun route is because it's a hobby I can share with my 14 year old and 12 year old nephews. A .22 may or may not be suitable weapons by their parents standards.
This gun and its ammo are quite inexpensive, relatively speaking.
Thanks for the suggestion!
posted by sequential at 12:28 AM on July 3, 2006

This Wikipedia article is quite informative. If you are interested in developing as a target shooter, a rifled .177 pellet gun is probably your best choice.
posted by paulsc at 12:40 AM on July 3, 2006

I think that air guns are the way to goairguns, there is even an olympic event devoted to it. It's loads cheaper to do then an actual gun, and it uses the same skills. So the skills translate well to other firearms.

That said, I've heard and read really good things about Beeman rifles, I am looking at getting something like this very soon for myself infact.
posted by bigmusic at 12:42 AM on July 3, 2006

I would also recommend that you get a .22 LR rifle. You could buy a few terrific ones used for dirt cheap. Air guns that don't suck get really expensive.

.22 LR ammo is so cheap (there's none cheaper) that it's quite possibly less expensive than the CO2 required by uncrappy airguns.
posted by blasdelf at 12:43 AM on July 3, 2006

Response by poster: paulsc, that article was excellent. Thanks. Do you have any recommendations for a single stroke, rifled .177 pellet gun?
posted by sequential at 12:48 AM on July 3, 2006

What does this mean? I intend to do most of my shooting on several hundred acres of land. Is this not a suitable location for such a rifle?

With a suitable hill for a backstop, it's perfect. Just remember that the rounds can travel over a mile in favorable conditions, so you'll want a natural earth barrier. Set up your range carefully and warn everyone who frequents the area. The loud crack of a 22 being fired is not adequate warning :)

The reason I am choosing to go the air gun route is because it's a hobby I can share with my 14 year old and 12 year old nephews. A .22 may or may not be suitable weapons by their parents standards.

This can be tricky, I understand. In my locality (Texas) those ages are even a bit high for beginning training in rural areas. We have snakes, lots of snakes (though a shotgun is preffered here, or a pistol loaded with ratshot/hollowpoint mix for walking around).

Is a license required to purchase a .22 long rifle?

AFAIK No. Thank the second amendment. You may (probably will) be required to undergo a background check, however. This depends on where you purchase the rifle, of course.
posted by IronLizard at 1:13 AM on July 3, 2006

Also: Invest in a set of earplugs if you go this route, I find they make shooting much more comfortable.
posted by IronLizard at 2:11 AM on July 3, 2006

Ok, first of all - there's nothing wrong with liking guns. They're finely crafted, very refined pieces of machinery and operating many of them is extremely pleasureable for anyone capable of appreciating fine machines. On top of that, they make a really cool boom and affect something out of your reach. Those are the reasons I like guns of all types, but everyone has different reasons.

If you want to just go pellet route, OK, you got the link already. I, along with many other posters, would reccomend a .22 rifle. It's very, VERY similar -- safety-wise, rules-wise, and handling-wise to operating a pellet gun. There is literally no difference from the handling point of view, and I personally find that .22 cartridges are SAFER to handle than a pellet gun for the reason that the pellet gun is always under pressure, and therefore always has something that can go wrong with it (i.e. a valve fails and discharges a round, which can happen even with the safety on in some models) whereas a .22 rifle has built-in, tried & tested protection, when kept in good repair and cleaned regularly, from discharging accidentally.

Before you buy any one, or even before you continue playing with a pellet gun, GO TAKE A GUN SAFETY CLASS. There's several basic rules of firearms handling that they will teach you and that you can pass down to the kids you're hangin' with that will make your new hobby a bajillion times safer. You can get this kind of instruction at any range or gun club. Call your local police department if you can't find anywhere in the phone book, THEY will certainly know where to go.
posted by SpecialK at 2:29 AM on July 3, 2006

Oh, and buy something large caliber for the inevitable collapse of law and order as civilization crumbles.
posted by IronLizard at 2:30 AM on July 3, 2006

I just want to thank the poster, SpecialK, and IronLizard for this thread. I too am a little curious about projectile weapons in general and I was meaning to ask something like this.

Also, IronLizard, thank you for making me snort orange juice.
posted by cavalier at 6:33 AM on July 3, 2006

I highly recommend the Ruger 10/22. They're cheap, accurate and there's a million accessories/replacement parts for them. Ammo is dirt cheap as well.
posted by electroboy at 6:48 AM on July 3, 2006

If you want to do basic reading about a gun, wikipedia is a pretty good resource.
posted by electroboy at 6:49 AM on July 3, 2006

The list of items I am considering inclue: ... targets.

IANARifleman, so I really have little to add here. But a friend of mine had a BB gun when we were younger and virtually anything served as a target. I suppose there are paper or cardboard red circle/white circle/red circle targets you could buy, but what's the fun in that? We used to find bottles along the road, then try and shoot them from the perfect distance that the BB would pierce the bottle on one side, but not go through the other.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 7:33 AM on July 3, 2006

Of course, a zillion people immediately jumped in with "buy a firearm", with exactly two comments devoted to non-firearms.

There are a ton of options for non-firearms. Spring-driven (hand cocked), spring-driven (battery powered), air pump, or CO2 powered; BBs or plastic pellets or lead pellets or even darts. Rifles or pistols. All of these options are quiet, perfectly fun for target practice, and most importantly, rarely lethal. You can certainly injure yourself with one, even lose an eye, but it's pretty hard to die.

On the other hand any firearm is a lethal weapon. Mothers, I think, instinctively understand the difference. So does the law.

I don't really have recommendations for a particular air gun. Look around, you'll find something that appeals. But be conscious that a firearm is a whole different class. I find it astonishing that gun advocates above are recommending that a novice buy a firearm without ever having taken a safety or even familiarization course.
posted by jellicle at 7:43 AM on July 3, 2006

If you have access to land, as it appears you do, I'd skip the air rifle route if I was the one doing the purchasing.

At my local shops you can buy a Remington 10/22 rifle for $130-$200 (depending on the options you select, such as an upgrade to a stainless steel barrel.)

It is very accurate for the price, it has tons of aftermarket accessories if you want to play with it and its a damn fine rifle if you want to use it stock, right out of the box. You can purchase a box of 500 rounds of .22 ammo for $8-10 at most sporting goods stores... and over distance the .22 gunpowder round will be radically more accurate than a pellet round that is air powered.

By the way, there is nothing wrong with enjoying shooting, riflecraft, and guns in general. Owning a gun is a practical thing... what other object could you own that would allow you to put food on the table, enjoy yourself plinking at the range, and defend your family? Being a gun owner is awesome :)
posted by JFitzpatrick at 7:44 AM on July 3, 2006

RWS Airguns makes excellent airguns.


No commercially available airgun is ever going to shoot accurately out to 150 yards, the rounds are too small and too slow. Think more like 25 yards.

Airguns should always be transported as if they are firearms. (In a case, unloaded in ever sense of the word, in the trunk of the car. States have specific laws regarding this.)

Some states, like the one I live in, regulate air powered handguns in the same way that they regulate firearm handguns.

Something you should be very aware of that is understressed by everyone I have ever met who shoots anything is the danger of toxic metal exposure. If you're going to shoot an air rifle, shoot lead free pellets. If you're going to shoot a firearm, then you should be aware that unless the round specifically states that it is toxic metal free then even if the bullet is not lead, the primer will contain heavy metals like antimony and cadmium that vaporize when you fire the round. There are toxic metal free rounds available for a reasonable price from Winchester, they are the only bullets I shoot.

.22Lr in any form is one of the more toxic rounds that you can shoot, if you must shoot it, do not shoot it indoors.
posted by 517 at 7:45 AM on July 3, 2006

I second, third, and fourth the recommendation that you acquire a .22 rifle, and the recommendations for the Ruger 10/22 are right on; it is an excellent, very affordable and high-quality choice for beginning shooters.

And if by chance you're interested in a target *pistol*, Ruger makes a very fine .22LR model, the Mark III.

Hearing protection is a must. So are good, basic gun safety classes; find yourself a good local shooting range and introduce yourself to the staff. They can hook you up with the training you need.
posted by enrevanche at 8:28 AM on July 3, 2006

A few points:
A. If you want to become educated, there are an enormous amount of books on guns. As a child I would go to the library and take out the Gun Digest Yearly books. They collect articles of the previous year and some from the '60s even have the occasional fiction story, historical study (guns of lewis and clark), etc. They run from the '50s to current.
B. A gun safety course is a good idea, it may only be availble as a hunter safety course in your area. Rather than 10 rules of gun safety, I rather like Jeff Cooper's 4:
1) All firearms are loaded. - There are no exceptions. Don't pretend that this is true. Know that it is and handle all firearms accordingly. Do not believe it when someone says: "It isn't loaded."

2) Never let the muzzle of a firearm point at anything you are not willing to destroy. - If you are not willing to see a bullet hole in it do not allow a firearm's muzzle to point at it. This includes things like your foot, the TV, the refrigerator, the dog, or anything else that would cause general upset if a hole appeared in it.

3) Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target. - Danger abounds if you keep your finger on the trigger when you are not about to shoot. Speed is not gained by prematurely placing your finger on the trigger as bringing a firearm to bear on a target takes more time than it takes to move your finger to the trigger. Negligent discharges would be eliminated if this rule were followed 100% of the time.

4)Be sure of your target and what is behind it. - Never shoot at sounds or a target you cannot positively identify. Know what is in line with the target and what is behind it (bullets are designed to go through things). Be aware of your surroundings whether on a range, in the woods, or in a potentially lethal conflict.

C. In your case there are 2 other safety considerations. BBs are very hard and will ricochet. You can find instructions online for making a bullet trap (a cardboard box full of sand or newspaper). A similar trap for .22s is a good idea to keep lead out of the soil.
Wear earplugs for anything with gun powder.
D. As suggested above, a ruger 10/22 is a great starter gun. But since you are not interested in hunting but in fun, you can also try some more interesting guns that may be fun even when you are not shooting them. Like a replica of a japanese matchlock from the 1500's, or a gun chambered for a wildcat (non-comercial) cartridge that you have to form ammo for.
E. There are some non-intuitive aspects to shooting, and even a lot experienced shooters don't know the tricks, so get a book like "How to Shoot" before you develop bad habits.
posted by 445supermag at 9:03 AM on July 3, 2006

As a kid, I owned both a match-grade RWS/Diana air rifle and a variety of cheapo Crossman or Daisy BB guns. Frankly the BB guns were much more fun. The air rifles MUST shoot soft lead pellets that just can't be dumped into a hopper; each must be individually breach-loaded into mechanism that must be kept meticulously clean. This really puts a damper on things compared to the pump and pop BB guns.

"If you're going to shoot an air rifle, shoot lead free pellets." Not in a match-grade rifle. Mine explicitly warned to shoot only lead since steel (the core of BBs) would destroy the rifling. RWS still sells nothing but lead.

Also, BB guns and air rifles are definately guns; they're just not firearms.

Separately, consider trying skeet shooting (shotguns). Much more dynamic and fun -- a really good time.
posted by NortonDC at 9:38 AM on July 3, 2006

Just to echo something someone else said: There is nothing wrong with liking guns. There's something wrong with liking senseless violence, but guns are just THINGS, incapable of acting on their own.

FWIW, I'm a lefty liberal vegetarian. I buy organic food, I drive a sensible vehicle, I own guns. It's okay to be both - party lines and 'official policies' are shortcuts to not thinking for yourself.

So bravo! Welcome aboard! Guns for everyone!
posted by ImJustRick at 10:07 AM on July 3, 2006

I learned to shoot with a .22 rifle as a teenager at Scout camp. They're a lot of fun. The ammo was very cheap. It was something like a penny a shot in the 1980s... probably a little more now. Easily affordable by a kid.

I've fired larger guns in later life (pistols), and I didn't enjoy them nearly as much. The larger calibers sound and feel like death in your hands... they're a little frightening on some fundamental level.

But .22s aren't like that. They're just pure fun. Earplugs, as suggested upthread, are a good idea.

If you have a laser printer, you can make targets yourself. Buy one set designed for the range you're shooting, and then either scan them or copy them with a drawing program, and print them out.

If you have an inkjet, the ink is so expensive that unless you're just doing black and white line targets, the cost will probably exceed that of buying them.
posted by Malor at 10:07 AM on July 3, 2006

Reactive targets tend to be more fun than paper punching, soda cans for free or spinning and pendulum targets that never have to be reset (not far hard BBs).
posted by 445supermag at 10:13 AM on July 3, 2006

Of course, you're gonna need some of this stuff.
posted by cptnrandy at 10:19 AM on July 3, 2006 has lists of gun laws by state, so you can find out about waiting lists, registration, concealed carry laws, or background checks in your area.

As far as targets, reactive targets are a lot more fun than paper. Shoot bottles, melons, cans, or even run to the local Academy or Cabelas and get a little steel target you can plink with a .22. The "Ting!" is fun to hear, and the target swings around and resets itself. Hours of cheap entertainment.

Have fun. It's a progressive illness, gun fever.
posted by Addlepated at 10:40 AM on July 3, 2006

"... Not in a match-grade rifle. Mine explicitly warned to shoot only lead since steel (the core of BBs) would destroy the rifling. "

I wasn't thinking of BBs. These won't hurt your rifling.

"...RWS still sells nothing but lead..."

RWS lead free pellets.

100 years from now people will shake their heads and wonder what we were thinking when we handed our kids a box of dust covered lead pellets.
posted by 517 at 10:46 AM on July 3, 2006

Thanks for the link, 517, but I'm not convinced that's an RWS product. RWS lists nothing but lead pellets on their own pellet ammunition page:
posted by NortonDC at 10:57 AM on July 3, 2006

Hold up -- I see another link that clearly shows RWS does make lead free pellets:
posted by NortonDC at 11:02 AM on July 3, 2006

I am throwing in with everyone suggesting a gun safety class. When I was 26 I was pretty weirded out by guns and the college I went to offered a gun safety / marksmanship course and I decided to get over my fear of guns and take the class.

I learned a lot, enjoyed the class, turned out to be the top marksman in class. We were able to work with a large variety of guns as well, and my favorite was the Sig Sauer.

The main thing I learned, though, was safety. Safety, safety, safety. And how to clean and oil the gun. It was a great experience and my fear was completely overcome.
posted by smallerdemon at 11:22 AM on July 3, 2006

I shoot both, but air pistols are really convenient and you can use them in your backyard or even your garage with the right equipment. One of the coolest air rifles out there is the air force talon ss. Air rifles are generally cheaper to shoot, frightening accurate within certain ranges, and easier on the ears. That's not to say that shooting abandoned appliances with a shotgun isn't totally fun.
posted by craniac at 2:43 PM on July 3, 2006

In the above post, I meant that air rifles/pistols are cheaper to shoot than powder.
large bore custom air rifles by Dennis Quackenbush< --these are just cool, not necessarily starter> -----------------------------------------------------------------
Apparently Napoleon used airgunners on occasion and their rapid ability to reload and fire terrified enemy troops.

Also, Pyramid air lets you search by various categories and prices, which gives you a feel for what is out there. Germany has a well-established tradition of high-quality airguns because that was all they were allowed to make for a while.
posted by craniac at 2:50 PM on July 3, 2006

FWIW, I'm a lefty liberal vegetarian. I buy organic food, I drive a sensible vehicle, I own guns. It's okay to be both - party lines and 'official policies' are shortcuts to not thinking for yourself.

Other than the vegetarian part, that is me.

As for guns, good airguns will get to the cost of a .22lr, quickly. If it's okay with the kids' parents, I'd get a .22lr and a .22 Ruger target pistol. Ammo is really cheap, and they are very easy to learn on.

Check your local gunshops for a safety class, they may offer regular safe gunhandling courses, hunter safety, or concealed carry classes that cover safety indepth.

And the four rules listed above are needed with airguns (they can hurt and injure a person) as well as regular firearms.

There are all sorts of reactive targets out there, and they are really nice to use at longer distances so you can see how you're shooting without having to clear the line and walk out to see the target everytime.

Also, even with an airgun, I'd invest in safety glasses, just in case of richochet. If you go with a .22, hearing protection is in order, as well. .22 aren't really loud but, it's better to protect your hearing at all points, than regret not doing it down the road.
posted by SuzySmith at 3:57 PM on July 3, 2006

I just bought a CZ-452 that I plan on shooting with my daughter (who is nine). She got a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas last year so that she could learn gun safety while using a less lethal device than a gunpowder gun. That worked out quite well. She is a natural shot, and has shown reverence for the rules outlined above.

The CZ is a little on the heavy side, and as such it has VERY little kick. I recommend bolt-action guns for beginners. I think using a semi-auto rifle decreases the odds that the new shooter will take the time to use good marksmanship practices for each shot. The CZ is very accurate over the iron sights it comes with. You should be warned that a good scope can cost more than a good .22 rifle.

I am recommending that you buy a .22 because it sounds like you enjoy the marksmanship part of shooting. A .22 is much more rewarding to use for marksmanship than a BB gun. Shooting clay pigeons is also an incredible amount of fun, as others have stated.

For cleaning my rifle, I use a bore snake. You can get them at a sporting goods store.

You need to be extremely careful when buying hearing protection. If you just grab the first thing you see at WalMart/Academy, you could be doing yourself a disservice. You'd be amazed at how little protection some of the cheapo earphones offer. Also, the cheap ones don't fit well, make you have sweaty ears, or hurt to wear for long periods, all things that make you more likely to take them off. All rental ear protection at gun ranges will be of this crappy variety. Many of my friends even go to the extreme of doubling up, using foam inserts with headphone-style ear protection over them. Remember, even if your dinky little .22 rifle is whisper quiet at the range, there could be someone next to you firing a cannon.

I live in Texas, and there was no need for a license. I passed a federal instant background check and left the store with my rifle (two weeks ago).

I am also a liberal who enjoys marksmanship as a hobby. I have several liberal friends who are also into it. If you find yourself getting into guns, you will run into more and more people for whom the gun is the center of their political life, and they will have some opinions and beliefs that you do not share. This has not dimmed my enjoyment of the "sport" at all, and you shouldn't let them make you feel unwelcome.
posted by popechunk at 7:06 PM on July 3, 2006

I am recommending that you buy a .22 because it sounds like you enjoy the marksmanship part of shooting. A .22 is much more rewarding to use for marksmanship than a BB gun.

I have nothing against a good 22, but I wouldn't go to Rush Limbaugh for advice on pain medication, and I wouldn't turn to powder shooters for good advice on air rifles. An air pistol is cheap enough that you could get both, and practice more frequently than you could with just a .22.
posted by craniac at 7:26 PM on July 3, 2006

I learned to shoot a .22 rifle in scouts with a bolt action weapon. This is a fairly safe option as guns go becuase it's really easy to keep track of how many rounds are loaded/chambered. As firearms go, there very easy to work with.

I shot a Ruger .22 target pistol a decade later and found it even easier to work with than the rifle. Absolutely no kick and very easy to aim. I really didn't like having so many rounds in the gun.

I've shot a .45 pistol and found it a lot harder to manage. It took more skill to keep it from pulling and it kicked hard.

I've shot a pump shotgun and I just didn't see the point.

I'm going to offer one other suggestion: consider a flintlock or a wheelock. There. I said it. An old-fashioned, single-shot weapon that takes skill and knowledge to use and maintain. You can buy a reproduction long rifle for under $1000.
posted by plinth at 7:27 PM on July 3, 2006

I'm going to offer one other suggestion: consider a flintlock or a wheelock. There. I said it. An old-fashioned, single-shot weapon that takes skill and knowledge to use and maintain. You can buy a reproduction long rifle for under $1000

Check out Dixie Gun Works, you may find one for a lot less. You have expressed an interest in air guns, mexico and other countries south of the border have laws that restrict gun ownership from most citizens, this has spawned a lot of air gun innovation (even hunting air shotguns and air powered arrow shooting deer rifles).
Someone mentioned getting a scope for an air rifle, I've heard that air rifles need special scopes designed for them. Even though they have no recoil, they tend to cause scopes designed for firearms to fall apart.
posted by 445supermag at 8:02 PM on July 3, 2006

I'd like to suggest looking up a local gun range to see if the NRA does any classes there.

Regardless of how you feel about the NRA, they actually offer a decent range of classes. They also have the "Women on Target" series of classes as well. (I dunno if you're male or female tho)

That might be a great way to get a few of the basics out of the way.

Target shooting can be fun. My girlfriend has slowly warmed up to the idea of doing target shooting. A few months ago, she finally asked me to let her shoot the .22 rifle. I let her plink a few rounds into a dead hard drive. She had a great time and now goes to the range with me and is a fairly good shot, too!

NRA classes in your area. :-)
posted by drstein at 8:40 PM on July 3, 2006


Air rifles that don't use CO2 (and have a pump or spring) are hard on scopes for a variety of reasons:
  • You're generally manhandling the fuck out of the thing while charging it – lots of odd, stressful vibrations when you finally get the lever cocked. This process can be pretty dangerous.
  • Spring-based airguns actually have reverse recoil – they jump forward a bit. This is stressful on scopes, as they are heavily designed for the opposite.

posted by blasdelf at 12:16 AM on July 4, 2006

Hi, Sequential-

You've seen plenty of responses here, but maybe I've got a thing or two to add:

I own two air guns (one rifle, one pistol), and three .22 rifles.

I really enjoy target shooting with all of them, and I've never killed anything with any of them.

The air guns are really handy. I've taken my Gamo semi-auto CO2 pistol on short trips and plinked in friends' back yards with it. It makes a satisfying "pop" when I fire it, and it will spit 12 rounds as fast as I pull the trigger. But most of the time, I give someone a marksmanship challenge and I take my time. I usually win, too.

The .22's are a whole different story. I can't fire them just anywhere, and so they get fired a whole lot less. Also, they require fairly frequent cleaning. You can tell if you're not cleaning them enough by whether they jam (in my case).

That said, they are far more accurate than the air guns. And they're a lot more fun. I don't know why.

It's true that .22 ammo is dirt cheap, and I am pretty sure that .22 rounds and CO2 cartridges come out about even on a per-shot basis. I generally spend ~$8.00 on a box of 550 .22 rounds at WalMart.

A bolt-action rifle is a good idea for a beginner, because it makes you slow down and enjoy all of the stuff that comes before and after pulling the trigger. But semi-autos are really a good time, and if you can trust yourself to pay attention to basics, then why not?

It was a good point above that you might really dig classic firearms. I've handled, loaded and fired muzzle-loaders many times, and they are a special joy to use. There's an artistry and zen to them that you don't get with a bullet, powder, and primer wrapped in brass.

While .50 cal is a hell of a big round, you'll find that muzzle loaders aren't as intimidating as you might think, are reasonably economical (you can find a decent rifle for $250 or less), and they generally won't kick you much if you're sensitive, as you can choose to load less powder and control the firearm's output.

Still, as many others here have already said, I'm guessing your sweet spot is a nice, mid-range .22 long rifle. I'm kinda fond of Marlins, but you'll find a lot of people don't like them.

Maybe the best advice is to go to your local gun shop and plead your case. The folks that run places like this are well accustomed to newbies wandering in and asking what to plink with.

Let them show you a couple of .22 rifles, and do look at some of the nicer air guns they have in stock. Buy on the low to mid end with .22s, and buy on the mid to high end with air guns, as the lower-end models are marketed to kids and machined accordingly.

Bonus Tip:

I find that if I buy a case of the local grocery chain's store brand of sprite, I can take them out, shake them up, and set them up on the range so that I'm looking at the butt end of the can. If you hit a bull's eye with a .22, the can explodes. If you hit one of the sides, it squirts. My wife loves this game.
posted by SlyBevel at 12:46 AM on July 5, 2006

but I wouldn't go to Rush Limbaugh for advice on pain medication

My esteemed colleague points out that I may have oversold the case for the .22, and perhaps undersold how much fun it is to shoot a nice air rifle. Let me clarify by stating that I unreservedly encourage the poster to buy a BB gun, of any quality, and get to plinking.

But I must also remind my colleague that, if Mr. Limbaugh tells you that OxyContin will eff you up, what grounds have you to argue? He knows of what he speaks. And to take the metaphor even further, I strongly encourage you to consider me the bloated, bloviating pill-fiend of small arms.
posted by popechunk at 10:32 AM on July 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all of your replies.

Before reading many of the replies here, I picked up a $50 Crosman kit at a local Walmart. It was the gun I had first shot with, but with a 4 x 15 scope, safety glasses, targets, and some ammo. I shot with it for a few hours before deciding that it was not the gun for me. Though I could hit a target with great regularity from 20 yards, 30 yards and longer became increasingly less accurate. I found that I shot better with slugs and with greater power, so I sought another gun.

I ended up purchasing a Remington Summit at a local sporting goods store. The difference in the two guns is immense. Gone are the care free moments of reloading BBs quickly. Then again, gone are the days of 400 fps! The difference in weight is several pounds, but I'm adjusting. My only real complaint is the lack of lead-free pellets locally.

I set up a small shooting range on the farm, with bails of hay and a back stop. I haven't found spinning targets locally, so I've been puncturing bottles, cans, and paper targets. I'm thinking a pair of binoculars might reduce the number of trips I make walking 30 yards between shots.

I've signed up for an NRA First Steps Riffle class over the summer. After the class, judging by the comments here, I'll probably end up with a .22 and try skeet shooting. I'll probably also join a local gun club if only to explore my local resources and further my education.

Sadly, now my mother thinks I'm some sort of gun nut.
posted by sequential at 8:36 PM on July 5, 2006

sequential, I'm glad you're having fun. I just wanted to clarify that shooting skeet requires a semi-auto shotgun, not a rifle. I've not been to a skeet range that rents shotguns (most indoor gun ranges will rent a pistol to you, though), so maybe you should call around. If you join the gun club, someone may be willing to let you tag along w/ them and use their gun.
posted by popechunk at 9:10 AM on July 6, 2006

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