Bell Target Shooting – A Fun Indoor Airgun Sport!

HAM specialist air pistol tester Doug Wall has built his own bell target and enjoys shooting at it. Here’s his story about these traditional British airgun targets. We’ve tried shooting at it in the HAM offices. It’s remarkably difficult to hit the bell freehand with an air rifle at 6 – 7 yards! This makes it excellent practice for Field Target shooters looking to improve their Standing Lane scores. Take it away Doug….

Imagine yourself in a dimly lit pub in Birmingham, England 100 years ago. Two groups of men with guns are facing off against each other. This isn’t some kind of gang confrontation. The guns are low powered air rifles, and the event is a bell target match between the teams from two clubs (pubs).

The  bell target is a steel plate, often lit by a candle or gas flame, with a 3/8-inch hole in the center, and 1-inch, 2-inch, and 3-inch circles scribed on the front. The target is painted with a non-drying white paint, to show the pellet hits. Shots going through the hole will ring a bell. The distance is six or seven yards.

There were typically a scorer, and a checker down near the target (sometimes behind a barricade) to score the individual shots and paint them over. At stake is a mutton supper, bought by the loosing team, for the winning team.

While this may seem odd to us, it was very common back then. In Birmingham alone, (home of Birmingham Small Arms) there were apparently 1,600 clubs, with 20,000 shooters. Across England, 4,000 clubs were reported. The sport came under fire from legal authorities, and was at one time, back then, banned by a group of magistrates. The public uproar was such that they reversed their decision! (See Reference 1, below).

While the popularity of the sport has dropped off significantly, there are still clubs competing in Great Britain.

Of course I would love to spend an evening in a pub, spending time shooting with other air gunners. But I don’t think that we’ll ever see it in the USA! I guess that I’ll have to try this out on my own as a way to practice offhand shooting on those winter nights.

A search on the Internet turns up several bell target designs, ranging from super simple, to quite complicated.

I decided to go with an “intermediate” design that uses a service bell that gets hit by a paddle behind the hole in the steel plate. The steel plate is probably the hardest part of find/make. If you’re handy with metal working and tools, you can probably make your own.
Buy a ¼-inch or thicker steel plate, drill a hole in the center, and use 1-inch, 2-inch, and 3-inch hole saws to scribe the scoring rings on the front. Depending on the hole saw, you may need to enlarge the center hole to 3/8-inch.

Doug’s Bell Target is shown in the heading photograph, above. Below is a close-up of the face plate.

Bell Target Shooting - A Fun Indoor Airgun Sport

If you don’t have the metal working capabilities, you should be able to call around to local metal working or welding shops, and find someone who can make one up for you. The “paddle” is a lock hasp with a short bolt, washers, and nut to act as the impact point behind the hole, and the striker for the bell. The service bell must be oriented to allow gravity to keep the bell striker away from the bell.

Bell Target Shooting - A Fun Indoor Airgun Sport

Non-drying faceplate paint is made by mixing Titanium Dioxide powder (art store or Ebay) mixed with baby oil to make a paste.

One of the things that we have to pay attention to is confining the lead fragments from the pellets splattered on the steel plate, and the paddle behind the hole. Even at 600 fps, the pellet disintegrates, and fragments bounce around!

While they may not have worried much about this a century ago, it’s something that we should be very aware of. Containing the lead fragments calls for an enclosure surrounding the bell target.

Mine is made of light plywood 12-inches by 14-inches, and should be about 15-inches deep (determined by experimentation). The opening is restricted to about the same size as the target (about 5 ½-inches by 6-inches). The inside of the enclosure is lined with soft material to prevent fragment bouncing.

Bell Target Shooting - A Fun Indoor Airgun Sport

Along those same safety lines, as with all shooting, safety glasses should always be worn.

Then there is the question of which guns to use…

Originally, these were very low power springers with open, iron sights. This has evolved to using 10M match rifles with diopter type sights.

I have a down-tuned QB88 springer shooting at about 600 fps that does reasonably well, but any low powered air rifle could possibly work. The key is to have good accuracy at the 6-7 yard shooting distance.

These guns could range anywhere from quite reasonably priced rifles like the Daisy/Avanti single stroke pneumatics, to a CO2 rifle like the AR2078/79 rifles, to state of the art PCP 10M rifles. With the right pellets, there are many low-powered guns that would fill the bill.

You could even revert back to the original idea of just plain iron sights!

In any case, I would strictly stick with rifles in the 6-7 FPE range (or lower), and avoid higher power rifles due to the higher possibility that some of the splattered pellet might get “vaporized” to very fine dust.

I’ve been having a lot of fun with my bell target! It’s just the thing for those times when you have a few minutes, and feel like doing a little shooting indoors.