Andy McLachlan discusses the ever-present attraction of new and more expensive kit – and why this is sometimes the best route to improvement
Generally I advise shooters that in order to improve their overall performance with any shooting combination, they need to practise as much as possible in the type of conditions they’re likely to face. This usually means outside in wind, and at targets of unknown range, such as those faced upon an outdoor HFT course.
It’s a well-known fact that the more we practise anything, the better we’re likely to become. This applies for anything from reciting your nine-times-table when you were a child, to dropping a 45-yard target in a stiff breeze – although the problem with the long-range shot is that wind is very rarely the same from shot to shot, which is why it’s so difficult to drop the target every time.
Another major issue, of course, is that of mindset. As shooters, we all look around and try to grade ourselves according to our own perceived level of potential. This is perfectly normal and applies in any other sport. There will always be those who appear to be able to maintain a high level of performance no matter what, and there will also be those of us who struggle to maintain anything approaching top levels of achievement.
So it’s very frustrating when no matter how hard you try, you continue – in your own eyes – to produce results you feel are below what you should be achieving, given the amount of effort you put in. The bottom line is that there will usually be somebody better or more consistent than you are. It’s a fact of life, and doesn’t matter a jot if you are not competitive in nature.
If you are a competitive person, however, this can lead to serious amounts of frustration creeping in to whatever sport you are involved with. In our case, the ability to shoot to a high standard of accuracy is actually not that difficult with today’s technologies. Modern PCP rifles – not just converted 10-metre match rifles – are all more than capable of landing pellets one on top of the other all day long, provided there’s a minimum amount of training given. Even a novice shooter who is taught proper trigger control and follow-through techniques can do this.
As I have said many times, though, it’s not just the skill to shoot straight that the competitor needs when contemplating their first outdoor shooting competition. The ability to accurately judge range and assess how much to allow for pellet wind deflection are what really decides the winners and losers. Top outdoor airgun shooters have a sometimes uncanny ability to judge how air movement will affect a pellet’s flight to an infinitesimal amount; this enables their pellets to drop that 15mm target despite the apparent gale-force wind, as yours lands well to one side (well, as mine usually do these days).
But the other thing that the successful shot will need in order to maintain their high levels of performance is high-quality equipment. All the major airgun manufacturers now produce rifles that have been designed purely for the purpose of match-accurate shooting, a role which these rifles fulfil every week for thousands of happy owners.
However, if you decide to become a ‘serious’ outdoor airgun target shooter, it is very easy to be drawn into the airgun ‘arms race’ and decide that you absolutely need to spend thousands on the very best equipment. This is all well and good for those of us who have the experience to understand how particular equipment might help us to achieve our goals, but the expensive gear we crave will not necessarily produce the improvements we want to see.
We also must consider pride of ownership, I suppose. It’s very nice to own the latest proven competition rifle, preferably with a high-quality optic on board. Many of us justify the not inconsiderable expense of these purchases by telling ourselves that we need them to compete. We look at what the top shooters are using and decide that we need to be using what they have if we’re to have any chance of emulating their continued success.
I faced a similar choice myself recently. Having bought and regularly used an expensive Anschutz 9015 target rifle, and having it modified to shoot at our own legal power levels for HFT shooting last year, my own recorded score averages had started to drop far lower than
I would like. I know for a fact that the rifle is as blisteringly accurate as it was the first time I used it, and that the Bushnell scope that sat on top was up to the job. However, for whatever reason I was just finding it hard to put regular decent scores together.
As regular readers of Airgun Shooter will remember, I then spent four months shooting nothing but spring-powered rifles to try to improve my overall technique, in the hope that this would lead to an increase in score averages once I finally returned to using a PCP target rifle.
To a certain extent this was successful, and I enjoyed some half-decent scores as a result. However, my mind had started to become negatively affected by this, and I couldn’t help but think that changing my equipment might help to resolve it.
Most if not all the top HFT shooters use rifles that their manufacturers originally designed for 10-metre target shooting as seen at the Olympic Games. Some of these manufacturers have taken these superb rifles and further modified them by upping their power levels to
11 ft-lb, meaning they’re suitable for outdoor competition use. World-renowned companies such as Walther, Feinwerkbau, Anschutz and Steyr Sport now produce rifles that either produce sufficient levels of power, or which can be converted to do so.
Over the past 10 years I have personally owned three Steyr LG110 PCP target rifles. This model is well known as a winner, and is one of the most successful guns ever produced for those wishing to seek HFT glory. It could be argued that the 110 represents almost a ‘standard issue’ rifle for those competing at the top of the sport, as there are so many top shooters currently using them. I’m sure by now you will have sussed out where I’m going with this…!
Realising that I wouldn’t be able to afford the £2,000-plus cost of a brand new Steyr in its current Challenge format, I started to check out various known sources of used target rifle equipment online. I was very lucky in tracking down a mint-condition 2014 Steyr LG110 HFT model that had never been used outside and which is genuinely in truly excellent condition, having only fired a few tins of pellets in its life to date. Maybe it’s the fact that the gun represents something different to use, but buying it has certainly increased my levels of enthusiasm to try to improve my current average score.
Following a couple of days reacquainting myself with the act of shooting the Steyr and zeroing in the Bushnell scope, I arrived at a local northwest Gauntlet competition at the Oldham ground and ended up recording my best score for many a year now: 58.
This was the third highest score on the day and certainly allowed me to vindicate my own decision to try something different. I obviously don’t know if I would have achieved a similar result with my trusty old Anschutz, but it certainly gives me confidence for the Steyr in future!
Since buying the used gun, I have invested some additional funds in purchasing a superb new Warren Edwards grip-set, in my preferred walnut with a gloss lacquer finish. This helps to mount the gun more consistently into the correct position, and will help to reduce our enemy, parallax error, as much as possible. I have also purchased a new Leupold scope to my son James’s specifications courtesy of the Leupold Custom Shop, but that is such an interesting story I’ll write about it in another article. Suffice it to say that the scope performs as well, if not even better, than anticipated.
I am now armed with yet another high-quality outfit that has already helped me to improve my own performance on a couple of occasions thus far. Is a change as good as a rest? Well in this case, it just might be.