Having a break from HFT

Andy McLachlan discovers that a rest is as good as a change, as he returns to competition shooting after an extended break

Paul Kelly puts in a good performance with his tuned HW 97

Sadly it’s been a good few months since I last shot an HFT competition. There are many reasons for this, which I won’t go into here, but suffice to say that my mind has been elsewhere for quite a long time now.

It is often said that the mind can take months, sometimes years to get over those things that we all face from time to time. As a result, I have preferred to spend a lot of my free time trying to catch bass from the shores around the UK, as it is a totally new challenge and is enabling me to focus thoughts on developing what is for me, as a freshwater angler, a totally new perspective when faced with the vastness of the sea and truly wild predatory fish.

But enough of that! Noticing that the final round of the premier north-western HFT competition, The Gauntlet, was due to take place, I decided to dust down the Steyr, complete with its new Leupold scope, and have a crack at what would be a challenging course at our own Rivington club’s outdoor ground up at Turton Towers. Mention this ground to some HFT and FT shooters, and you will occasionally notice a shudder as they recall a particularly testing day when the wind appeared to disobey the normal laws of physics by chucking pellets about all over the place.

Daz uses his tuned TX, now fitted with a Warren Edwards custom stock, to great effect

It would be safe to say that Turton is amongst the most challenging grounds to shoot within the UK, as it is very open to the changing wind direction, and possesses features such as ditches, clumps of trees and ground gradients that can and do have a major effect upon careful shot management by the individual shooter. If the shooter is not concentrating 100 per cent all the time when taking the shot, the chances are that they will miss the target and be amazed at just where the pellet has landed.

Having some experienced shots lay out the course on the previous day, in this case my son James, Daz Taylor, Paul and Helen Kelly, and Lee Meadows, it came as no surprise to me that they had indeed managed to place targets so that maximum exposure to air movement would play a major part in the results for the day.

I was partnered with James, who was once again in the reckoning for a series win, so I was surprised when I noticed that James, Daz Taylor and Paul Kelly had all left their PCPs at home and decided to use their tuned springers for this final round. Knowing that James would take the series with a win, I was surprised to see his springer rather than the trusty Steyr. It now appears that James and Darren have ‘seen the light’ and have been very much enjoying shooting their springers in competition.

The thought of these two shooters using spring power only six months ago would have led to James making his usual sort of “I served my time with springers” comment when describing to me just why he wouldn’t be seen dead with one on the competition line, or at the indoor range for that matter. Comments I was making to all our regular top competition shots late last year might have had an impact, as I described to them on a regular basis how using a springer for any prolonged period would improve their performance further (as I discussed in the last issue of Airgun Shooter).

Andy’s well on his way to a half-decent score

Whatever the reason for their sudden conversion to mechanically powered rifles, it appears, as suspected, that they are starting to enjoy their shooting more. This is no surprise to me and is a course of action that I would recommend for anybody that might be getting a bit jaded when using their regular PCP combination.

It is of course far more difficult to manage even a highly tuned springer when compared with any PCP. This is due to the movement of all the mass contained within the piston mechanism flying towards the end of the action at great velocity, and the compressing air forcing the gun both forwards and backwards during this process. Even with specially designed components that will help to reduce these effects, shooting a springer accurately and consistently requires a whole new skill-set for those more used to popping a pellet out of a PCP.

Like me with my new-found passion for bass fishing, James and Darren have become totally absorbed in the new (for them) challenge of using springers in HFT competition. The fact that it isn’t easy and requires the development of new techniques is apparently a major cause of celebration for them both, as they now are faced with the additional and considerable challenges posed by attempting to hold a recoiling rifle on target.

It must be said that both James and Darren have considerable experience of shooting springers. I know for a fact that James used nothing else for the first five or six years of his shooting career, when he and I would be hunting two or three times a week. The fact that for the first few years we used the much harder to manage .22 calibre and its relatively loopy trajectory only helped to make sure that the range was properly assessed prior to the release of the shot. This was in the days prior to the availability of laser rangefinding devices that would have assisted us greatly. When we first used the flatter-flying .177, neither of us could believe how much easier it was to hit the target and we were well and truly converted to the smaller calibre from that point.

James contemplates a few misses

I am also of course very aware of how competitive James is, and watched with surprise as he plated quite a few of the targets early on that I was managing to drop with my PCP. I did mention that he did not appear to be concentrating as much as I have seen him do in the past, which of course went down like the proverbial lead balloon. Things were not looking good for a good score and the series win. Mentioning his choice of gun, I asked if he felt disadvantaged, only to be told that he now realises that enjoying the challenges of acquiring a good score with a mechanical rifle is what now enthuses him. Having won everything there is to win in HFT over the years, James has decided to take up the springer challenge and shoot the whole winter series of HFT competition both in the North West and Midlands area using his tuned TX200. Darren is also up for the challenge, apparently.

As the shoot progressed, James, Darren and Paul started to get their acts together and produce the high standards of shooting of which they are all capable. I kept mentioning that it takes months of shooting springers until everything such as the correct hold and very light touch of the trigger allow an undisturbed aim and successful hit of the target. Understandably, this resulted in plenty of eye-rolling from James. They are, of course, all aware of this, but it is great to see them all enjoying their shooting even more due to the additional challenges they now face,

It appeared that a lay-off from competition shooting had done me the world of good as I ended up recording a good score on the day with a joint third position of 52 ex 60, four shots behind winners Dave Ramshead and 2018 Summer Gauntlet new series winner Bill Jones. More importantly than my score, I really enjoyed getting down and dirty with all the other competitors who once again participated in a cracking day’s shooting among friends in a beautiful setting. Sometimes a lay-off can lead to improved levels of enjoyment on the firing line. It certainly has for me!

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