I am a big believer in practising with an air rifle. The ability to shoot targets on any given day is a great way of improving and keeping your shooting skills with centrefire rifles. There are two challenges to this. Firstly, where will you shoot your air rifle? This is not as big a challenge as it might seem and you do not need a long distance. With a few safety protocols, specific to your situation and circumstances, you are ready to begin practising. This is where the second, and more challenging, necessity arises.
What will you use to stop the pellets? Initially, I bought a commercial pellet trap for that. It was made from thin steel sheeting, with an angled back to deflect the pellets downwards into a layer of sand. Very quickly, several flaws in this arrangement became apparent. The impact of the pellet on the steel made a loud and reverberating clang! The deflected pellets sprayed a significant amount of sand out of the trap and onto the floor. My pellet trap soon began to look rather weary as the impact of many pellets battered it out of shape.
I tried a cardboard box filled with sawdust (sand was too heavy) and, while this was much quieter, the floor soon resembled that of the butcher shops of my childhood – i.e. the floor was covered with a layer of fine sawdust. I next tried a cardboard box packed tightly with layers of old clothes. That was suitably quiet, and there was no leakage of dust to contend with, but the day came where I was surprised to discover that repetitive group shooting had tunnelled right through 400mm of packed fabric. Luckily, the exiting pellet had little energy left, and it did no damage, but that was the end of that experiment.
I sort guidance from the oracle of all things – Google. Within minutes, that font of knowledge had me reading an article on the Pyramyd Air website. Aptly titled “World’s Best Pellet Trap”, the author Rod had been down the same path as me. Even better, he seemed to have conquered the challenge of quietly and safely stopping air gun pellets in a closely settled urban environment. The key was the media he discovered – mulched tyre rubber. Naturally, in the rural area of far northern Australia where I live, nobody stocked this product. After a lot of ringing around, I managed to convince a bulk provider far to my south that they should send me a sample. The freight cost more than the product, but I now had the essential ingredient!
Rod had commented that rubber tyre mulch would stop the most powerful air rifle pellets, and even 22LR projectiles, in about 75mm. The resilient nature of the rubber and the way it packed in bulk meant that the pellets could not tunnel through and exit the far side of the container. First up, like any good scientist, I needed to duplicate the experimental outcomes of Rod.
One difference was that the rubber mulch used in the Pyramyd Air article was quite chunky. The rubber mulch that arrived at my door was a finer, shredded variety. I figured the finer mulch would most likely provide superior stopping power. However, that was just a hunch. I procured a small cardboard box and filled the first layer of rubber mulch to the 50mm level, placed a sheet of paper on top, then repeated that with another 50mm of rubber. I packed the contents tightly, then taped the box to hold it firm.
I selected a few of my standard air rifle pellets and fired six well-spaced shots into the box. The 14.7 grain .22 calibre pellets hit the box at their muzzle velocity of 660 fps. Pleasingly, the impact was quiet; there was no smack of the hit. Eagerly, I unpacked the box and confirmed to my own satisfaction that the pellets penetrated to a depth of only 50mm (2 inches).
That meant that the box I would build did not need to be of great depth. However, for stability reasons and an ample measure of safety, I figured the compartment for the rubber mulch should be at least 300mm deep. The box would be unable to tip over and, with the extra depth of rubber mulch, I would forgo the steel insurance plate I had been considering fitting to the back of the pellet trap box.
I set off to my shed and scratched about in the rafters and dark corners. Finally, I found some remnant pieces of 6mm ply. Running the tape over it indicated that I had just enough to construct the box to the dimensions I wanted. There is nothing special about the dimensions of my pellet trap box. I sized it based on using target sheets of standard A4 size with a nominal 50mm margin all around. The final outside dimensions are 400mm wide, 300mm high. It ended up being 450mm deep. That was simply the width of my remnant piece of ply, and I saw no need to cut it smaller. My craftsmanship would not win any cabinet-making awards, that’s for sure, but it is sturdy and does the job nicely. I slotted the front part of the box so I can slide in a piece of replaceable rubber-backed carpet to hold the rubber mulch in place. The carpet sits about 40mm behind the target which ensures that pellets cut nice neat holes in the target.
So far, this design has proven to be the best pellet trap I have tried. I get a lot of use out of mine and felt that a solid wooden box was what I needed. However, I would suggest that for anyone wanting to try this method, they simply start with a cardboard box full of tyre rubber mulch.
This review was first published in the October 2018 edition of the SSAA Shooter magazine.