Choosing A Target Rifle

If You need match-winning performance, Andy McLachlan reckons you’ll need a rifle that’s been kitted out with match-winning components

An FT rifle needs to be multi-adjustable to enable the shooter to position the gun properly for each individual shot

Many of us involved with any sporting activity that requires specialist equipment will have at one time or another purchased something that either lives up to expectations or totally fails to impress.

If the item, in our case a gun, fails to justify itself, it might well be because you are not using it in the way the designers envisioned it would be. Take, for example, the hunting rifle that is quick and easy to handle in the field when hunting, but does not offer a perfect head position every time if used for target shooting.

Manufacturers of most high-end rifles, and even those lower down the price scale, are now offering features such as adjustable cheekpieces and sliding butt pads to maximise the chance of the individual shooter’s face fitting the gun properly.

If the truth be known, getting a gun that fits the shooter properly is probably the main requirement for regular accuracy, providing that basic good shooting techniques such as proper trigger control and timing of the shot release are performed correctly.

It’s all well and good having the best gear that can be bought, but if your basic technique isn’t up to the mark you may as well be using equipment that is far cheaper but will still be up to the job of accurately delivering the shot.

All that expensive equipment will let you do is to tailor the fit of the gun to match your bodily dimensions perfectly, thus making your personal gun fit easier to attain than would be possible with the less than optimal levels of adjustment as found on many cheaper guns.

If you look at the price of 10 Metre target rifles as used by Olympic-standard shooters, you will notice that these particular specialist models appear at the very top of the manufacturers’ price range. The reason for this is that the stocks will feature numerous, and usually expensive, devices to allow the perfect fitment of the gun to the individual.

Movement of, for example, a cheekpiece upwards by a few millimetres might mean the difference between a totally relaxed and winning score or a close second due to slightly imperfect head positioning. It really does make that much difference to those at the top.

Looking at top German and Austrian airgun target rifle manufacturers such as Anschutz, Walther, Feinwerkbau, Steyr Sport and a few others, much advertising space is given to the stocks being adjustable to the shooter’s personal requirements.

Much less emphasis is given to how the manufacturer’s rifle action specifications might be better than anybody else’s. Really, they are all so good that they are all more than capable of delivering super-high performance to the shooter who wants the best and is willing to pay for it.

Here’s the match trigger from a Steyr LG 110 – note the red Loctite on the sear adjustment screw that makes a permanent bond

All the actions of top-end rifles will be regulated to ensure that each individual shot leaves the gun at pretty much the same velocity, give or take a few feet per second. These components are individually set up during the manufacturing process to ensure the action meets the standards expected by both purchaser and manufacturer.

No manufacturer wants to lose money due to an ongoing surge of warranty claims due to poor manufacturing quality processes that allow rogue products to slip through the net and ultimately seriously disappoint those shooters who have paid good used car money for a target rifle.

The barrels of target-grade guns, both rifle and pistol, will also be of an extremely high grade as well. Often described as ‘match grade’, these tubes will have had the full repertoire of barrel-making techniques thrown at them to make sure that the rifling grooves and lands (the raised part in between the grooves) are as perfect as possible.

They should have a perfectly cut crown, which will let the pellet leave the barrel without having any unwanted directional shift as it makes its way to the target.

Nevertheless, just because a barrel looks fantastic from the outside on your new and gleaming target rifle doesn’t mean it will be as accurate as the old BSA one that your mate has fitted to his latest competition-winning rifle.

Barrels like this of known provenance just continue to perform despite their age, an often irregular cleaning regime and the fact that they look like a piece of a century-old scrap bicycle. Strange things gun barrels!

Some serious target shooters even arrange for an engineer to remanufacture the external surfaces of a barrel to allow its fitment into another gun from a different maker. As I have said, it is a fact that some individual barrels perform better than others, even those that might have been manufactured in the same place and at the same time.

Obviously, minor variances in the manufacturing process between each individual unit clearly have a major effect on how well each will perform, particularly when we consider how a gun’s preference for certain types of ammunition confirms this.

Only when the shooter has found the best-performing ammo for their own barrel can they be confident that the gun is performing at its absolute best. Target-grade rifles will all have top quality barrels fitted which will usually (he says carefully) perform at a level that the owner will be happy with.

These will often be manufactured by the likes of Lothar Walther, which will be able to produce a design that the manufacturer has specified regarding external barrel diameter, any choke (a very slight constriction of the barrel at the muzzle end) that might be stipulated, length and the number of grooves (rifling) and the individual twist rate (usually something like one full rotation of the pellet every 16 inches).

It isn’t just a case of grabbing a ‘standard’ barrel and then simply fitting it to a target rifle – the designers will have requested particular specifications which will then have been used by a team of product testers prior to any definitive decision regarding the final specification of the barrel being chosen.

Some hunting rifles are more than capable of target accuracy, but may not let the shooter adopt the optimum position behind the gun

One of the most important additional considerations when purchasing an expensive target rifle is just how good the trigger happens to be. However, when we get to the realms of genuine target-grade equipment, we will find that each and every one from all the manufacturers will have equipped their flagship products with a trigger unit worthy of an Olympic champion.

Those shooters who have yet to try a genuine top-grade trigger unit would be shocked at just how good they are and how much better they can allow the shooter to perform when properly set up to suit individual preferences. There is never any uncertainty about when the second stage trigger sear will release.

The trigger will allow total control over shot release, and in my opinion, with proper gun fit, is the feature that sets the genuine target rifle apart from other guns that might be good, but not as good as one equipped with full-blown serious target-grade componentry that allows the shooter to make the most of any talent that they might have.

I will next be looking at a few of the top-end target rifles that might be of interest to any budding competitors, so make sure you hide your credit cards now! 

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