HFT practice w/ Andy McLachlan

Andy McLachlan visits Fort Airgun Club to shoot an HFT practice course, having made a few changes to his setup in pursuit of a higher score.

Simon Gibson uses his Air Arms FTP 900 to good effect during the practice session at the Fort club near Wrexham

Due to the problems all our lives have faced during the past 18 months or so, it had been a long time since I had accompanied my son James to take part in an HFT shoot at Fort Airgun Club in North Wales. We are not currently members of the club, but may well be joining soon.  

Anybody doubting the stunning beauty provided by much of the countryside within this particular area of Wales need only drive to this club to witness what can only be described as truly spectacular scenery that surrounds the venue, which is situated in a stunning natural wood.

On a day blessed with nice weather, the incredibly old stone walls and general layout of the terrain confirm that man has been living off the land in these parts for many thousands of years. In fact, the earliest known human bone found within the area came from a place not that far away and dated to 230,000 years. For me, I can almost feel the history of the place, strange as it may sound.

Back to present-day reality! Having shot at the Fort club’s outdoor HFT range many times over the years as part of both summer and winter Northwest Gauntlet HFT series, it never ceases to surprise me how lucky some of us are to spend time in beautiful places doing the things we like to do. In our case, shooting at inanimate steel targets that are placed at varying distances within a natural wood, complete with the unseen but ever-present wind fairies. 

Andy dropped this supported stander to clock up a great score which he attributes to the tweaks he made, including fitting a more optimal scope

All this allows us, for a couple of hours at least, to forget the many issues that most of us must concern ourselves with. The ability to just switch off with some friends and participate in some friendly banter is now fully recognised as providing us with the positive energy we need to safely manage and control our levels of stress.

The day James and I turned up coincided with a practice HFT session for the upcoming first round of the Gauntlet summer series. James, once again being fully revved up to compete at HFT rather than FT, used one of his Steyr rifles that sits in a beautiful Ginb stock. He reckons this suits his setup perfectly due to James’s “weight is good” target rifle philosophy.

I had come armed with my favourite (and only) PCP target rifle, the Walther LG400 which I have spoken about to you all previously. I have recently altered the way the gun is set up so it can be pressed into HFT rather than benchrest service.

This involved changing the fixed 45x magnification Leupold FT-type scope for the relatively tiny, but big on features, 2-8×36 TMR reticle scope that was specced by James from Leupold directly a few years ago. This superbly clear, 25-yard set parallax is an ideal HFT optic and sits 2.25” above the centreline of the barrel and provides an ideal set of aim point markers for a .177 JSB pellet travelling through its trajectory curve at about 786 feet per second, via the hash marks of the superb illuminated TMR reticle.

Since the shoot at Fort, Andy has gone on to make further tweaks to his rifle, including the addition of an old Anschutz trigger blade

Having previously tried out one of my favourite scopes, a Vortex Diamondback 6-24×50 upon the Walther a few weeks previously, I had realised that the lack of close-range ability to see the target and the greatly reduced field of view would and did result in some lost points.

The small Leupold certainly got rid of this problem, and I was reminded by just how impressed we all were when we took delivery of the James-specified optic. It really does make an amazing difference, although of course any similar (and cheaper) specced optic will do the job, just not as clearly!

The first time I had taken out the Walther in its new HFT format it had been equipped with a forend hamster that weighed a ton and certainly provided additional ballast for a steady hold when at the peg. Too heavy for me though, so I changed it for an old G-Tech adjustable aluminium one that I had made for my old Anschutz. Along with the reduced weight of the lighter scope, this made the combination far more comfortable and allowed me to shoot to my best on the day.

As it was a practice day and not an official competition, James and I went around the course with our friends and members of the club, Simon Gibson and Dave Benyon, having been given permission to do so by club supremo Bill Jones. 

As the course had not been shot for a considerable amount of time, nature had done her best to reclaim the areas of ground that are usually clear for setting up targets. This then involved trimming back the foliage as and when we approached each individual peg in order for shooters to get a clear line of sight to the target.

It soon became apparent that the modifications I had made to the Walther’s setup had had a positive impact upon my own performance. For example, rather than just aim at a blurred blob as I would have done with the larger Vortex optic, I could actually see the close-range targets clearly, which allowed me to drop them.

Andy had been using his Walther for benchrest, but after his last HFT shoot realised it needed some tweaks to be used as a field rifle

The only errors I made were purely down to my own inability to accurately assess range as I could do in the past. The very slight breeze had to be accounted for, but still allowed me to aim at the right place on the target for most of the 30 shots. As the breeze was only slight, this meant aiming within the kill zone and not fully off the face plate as is sometimes necessary when the wind truly blows.

As the shooting progressed, I was surprised to be only a couple of shots behind James at the conclusion of the shoot. He managed a total of 57 with my 55 being seven more points than I managed with the gun in its previous format.

This goes to show just how important it is to ensure that you use the correct equipment if you intend to shoot HFT seriously. The sport can certainly be enjoyed without any super-expensive target gear, but if you have tried the sport and are serious about it, it really does pay to invest in equipment that fits you, suits your eye and allows you to shoot comfortably at the peg.

James and I are now looking forward to the upcoming Fort Gauntlet shoot. Hopefully, I will be able to retain the concentration required to shoot what will be a challenging course to a reasonable standard once again. We live in hope! 

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