Don’t get down if your scores drop, says Andy McLachlan. Instead, examine your technique and equipment
It’s been over a decade since I started shooting organised HFT competitions of one form or another. During this period, I have managed to pull off the odd decent score, with my personal best competition score currently standing at what now seems to be an unachievable 58 ex 60.
There are many reasons why we fail to achieve the level of performance we feel is achievable. This is usually down to a lack of practice and sometimes a lack of experience, when we must learn how wind will affect the flight of our pellets at unknown ranges. Apart from a rogue 54 in the depths of winter, my own average score has hovered around the mid-40s for the past few months – 10 points below where I think it should be. This becomes particularly frustrating when you are surrounded by friends and family who regularly win competitions with their high-50s scores, as you apparently struggle to reach a personal target, which is 50 for me at present. It is strange that the harder I try, the worse it appears to get! So how do you get yourself out of the mindset that is now conditioned to expect a lower score than you know you are capable of?
Practice makes perfect
I am particularly fond of shooting at the Leigh indoor range. This really is a great and comfortable venue where you can shoot to your heart’s content at paper and reactive targets out to over 50 yards if you wish. A session like this usually has me feeling more relaxed than before I started as I enjoy it so much, as does my regular companion Dave Pilkington. Unfortunately, apart from the benefit of checking my combination’s zero, there is very little benefit to be had from benchrest shooting for the regular HFT competition shooter. This was pointed out to me by one of our club’s more successful target shooters, Daz Taylor, following our usual shoot debrief at round one of the premier UKAHFT series recently.
As Daz and a few other regular shooters within our group pointed out to me, sitting at a bench at known ranges with the gun totally rested does not form an adequate training regime that would lead to an improvement in my performance on a course. What I need to be doing far more of is getting more practice outdoors, in the wind, at our Rivington club’s outdoor range in Turton. This venue is widely known for both its beauty and the mood swings of a very nasty group of wind fairies, who take great delight in timing their sudden changes of direction at the most inopportune times. We all used to shoot outdoors here far more regularly than we do at present, and pitting your wits against the constantly changed layout of drop-down targets certainly helps with range-finding skills as well.
It is not surprising that many of the shooters who earned their spurs at Turton are so well-equipped to deal with other courses around the country, few of which are able to match the wind conditions of Turton – though the Nomads ground near Worcester is a close second in my opinion.
It would have to be said that when we did shoot outdoors regularly, mid-week, for practice several years ago that I did indeed notice an improvement in my average score which was probably in the low to middle 50s then. I also realise that I am not getting any younger, and as age catches up with me, getting up and down 30 times and walking sometimes a fair distance between pegs does start to wear you down. In saying that, I am not incapable of the physical levels of fitness required to compete regularly, just that in addition to getting tired more quickly, vision also deteriorates, and has affected my ability to range-find as accurately as I once could.
There are hundreds of older HFT shooters around the UK who still regularly achieve my current target score of 50 on national standard courses, so the age excuse is certainly not valid.
I also chatted to my son James on our trip back from the recent UKAHFT shoot about how he has recently been practising pre-season. He advised me that he had been missing some unsupported positional (kneeling and standing) shots he reckons would not have occurred a few years ago. Because of this perceived weakness, he has spent a lot of time practising just this type of shot, which has resulted in him achieving the few points that might have been dropped before his ‘re-training’ regime. It appears that I need to be spending far more time outdoors!
I was also rightly accused of being a serial parallax adjustment knob-twiddler. As my eyesight changes, the standard 25-yard setting does not allow me as clear a picture throughout the 8 to 45-yard course as it once did. As a result, I have been attempting to fine-tune the range to allow as clear a picture as possible. This has so far resulted in spectacular failure: for example, the long-range targets at this year’s first UKAHFT round resembled what you would probably see if you used a milk bottle to view the target. Idiot!
Blaming the tools
There starts to appear a nagging doubt in the unsuccessful shooter’s mind that their equipment is fully or partly responsible for their poor performance. Sometimes the excuse might be ‘it’s a bad batch of pellets’, but that usually falls on deaf ears: 99% of shooters will have spent a lot of time discovering which pellet suits their own barrel well prior to any outdoor competition. My own personal demons have nevertheless crept in, and have persuaded me to try another gun. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the Anschutz 9015 I have been using, sometimes to good effect, for the past 12 months. The gun remains as outstandingly accurate as the day I initially set it up. My Bushnell Japanese target scope, apart from the issue with setting the parallax for my eyesight, also remains as crystal-clear and easy to use as it always has been. The problem is that I need to try something else, as I now have it in my mind that I need a change.
One thing I have tried in order to attempt to drop increasing numbers of very close-range targets was to reduce my scope’s height from 2.2 to 1.6 inches (centre of scope to centre of barrel). This has worked, but the numbers of long-range targets not being successfully struck has increased! I will be getting back to the higher mount arrangement, as there are more long-range targets knocking about these days.
With all of this in mind, I have made the decision to try another gun and go back to the high-mount arrangement with a 30-yard parallax adjustment and a lower 8x magnification from the 10x I have recently been using. I have just spotted a remarkably good conditioned 2014 Steyr LG110 HFT that will fit the bill perfectly.
I understand just the act of changing my gun will probably have little effect upon my overall performance. However, it does provide me with some much-needed enthusiasm as I set up the new gun and contemplate just how I can go about getting some additional outdoor practice.