Simon Everett spends a day with some world champions and picks up some tips along the way to help deal with those tricky targets
The nuances of being able to unlock the HFT puzzle can be daunting to newcomers, so Michelle Parsons, a member of the Kingsley HFT Club and the UK National Ladies Champion 2017, put forward the idea of having a training day.
People could come along and use their rangefinding technique to shoot the course, then check their decision against
a card left beside each peg, giving the size of the killzone and the actual range as measured with a tape. The idea was to help beginners and improvers to perfect their rangefinding skill, and consequently increase their scores, by having a better understanding of where to aim, learning from their mistakes.
For anyone new to HFT, like myself, there appears to be so much science behind it. I thought HFT was supposed to be a simple discipline in that you were set in a hunting scenario and presented with a silhouette target of a creature that fell over if you hit the killzone. The rules were designed to level the playing field and give those with simple outfits, who could shoot, a good chance of being competitive. It can still be like that if you just want to have a bit of fun, but if you want to rise through the ranks there is more to it, as I soon discovered.
Killzone sizes, target range and mildots are the order of the day for the top shots. Given the complexity of the permutations, just mapping your reticle for holdover and holdunder is only the start. The top shots use several tricks to help them with their range estimation in order to swing the odds in their favour as often as possible. Being able to increase your score by just one point can be the difference between getting first place or runner-up.
I went round the 30-lane course with Simon Howarth, aka Tench, the 2016 World Champion; Teresa Reed, twice Ladies World Champion; and Michelle Parsons, a former National Champion, to learn from them some of the tricks they employ to help them work out their aim points.
The Kingsley HFT Club is a small club in Staffordshire, but they count the above among their members. They also manage to draw shooters from as far afield as Lancashire, Worcestershire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire. The venue is birch woodland, which gives a variety of options to the main course-setter, Ian Millward, who is also the club secretary. I was also privy to a few of the tricks that are used to disguise the range to try to make the targets a proper test of the shooter’s skill.
Shooters soon got cute when the same, standardised targets were used across events around the country. All HFT targets were the same 110mm from the hinge to the killzone, as they were all built on the same frame. So canny shooters started bracketing both the target size and the killzone, which involved measuring the target against their mildots to help measure the range. A 20mm killzone is 1 mildot at 20 yards, a 30mm at 30 yards and a 40mm at 40 yards. To combat this, not only can course-setters obscure the hinge, but they also use odd-sized killzones, still within the HFTA rules. The object of the exercise is to test the shooter’s skill at judging range, not memory, and then place the shot according to their estimation.
On the day there were 56 shooters who turned up to take advantage of the exercise, and it was very well received. Some of the tricks used to confound the scope-measuring antics are to use differently sized targets and unusual-sized killzones. For instance, Ian has a rat the size of a bucket. When viewed at 35 yards it looks like a normal-sized target at 18 yards! You have to trust your own judgement of estimating the range on the ground, or you will be fooled by targets such as this.
The most commonly used ploy, though, is to distort the perspective from the shooting peg. This can be done in a number of ways, as I learned from the master course-setter. Dead, or hidden, ground can be used to fool the eye into thinking the target is closer than it is. When shooters started to measure the size of the killzone the course-setters started to use odd-sized killzones, so instead of 20mm they may use an 18mm, 19mm or 22mm to make the measurement incorrect.
They also change the position of the kill on the target. The whole essence of HFT is to rangefind with your eyes and brain, not your scope! To make that more difficult, the way the lane is cut can distort perspective. Instead of having converging lines, like a railway track running into the distance, the lanes can be cut wider at the target end than at the peg, especially if it is a mown lane in tall grass. This really confounds the brain!
Other ways to distort the shooter’s perspective are to use optical illusion techniques, such as a small target seen through a tunnel of bushes, or between a pile of logs, to make it look much further than it actually is. From the peg, you can’t see how far behind the obstruction the target is. Likewise, if the target is set on the skyline, there is little to measure it against.
Other tricks the course-setters can use is to set targets in dappled light, where the play of shade and light can be used to hide the true range. A bright target looks bigger than a dark one, so it can look closer at first glance. If set through a tunnel cut in the trees, it is very difficult to discern the range from the target’s appearance alone. Some course-setters even paint targets white to make them look bigger!
Using odd sizes of target really works. For example, a small target set at 20 yards looks like a larger target set at 30 yards, while a large target put out at 45 yards looks like a standard one at 30 yards. On the training day, these perspective distortions were used throughout so those present could compare their own range-estimating efforts with the actual target information of range and killzone size by looking at the card with the information on – having taken a shot at it first, of course.
Champion shots need an in-depth knowledge of their mildot measurements. For example, a 35mm killzone at 45 yards will measure exactly the same as a 30mm killzone at 38 yards. Teresa uses the blurring in her scope to differentiate between the two. If the target is slightly out of focus, she knows it must be the longer range. Tench uses a fixed 10x magnification scope because a fixed mag has fewer lenses than a zoom and so is more accurate for parallax error.
Tench uses parallax error to help him judge the range; the further away the target is, the more parallax error he gets. The combination of focus, parallax error and straightforward eye estimation is how these champion shooters garner those extra points. Of course, they still have to hit the killzone, but they are less likely to choose the wrong aim point.
So now you know how the top shooters go about it – and how the course-setters do their best to fool your eye and brain. Hopefully you can now improve your own range estimation and start to get better scores. One thing I would add is to practise shooting while standing. Most people shooting on the day said they dropped points on standers – Tench, Teresa and Michelle included. Indeed, the old adage of “Train hard, fight easy” very much springs to mind here.