Andy McLachlan catches up with his team of HFT friends as they attempt to take their skills into Field Target competition
It is now about three months since several of my shooting friends started their attempt at entering the challenging world of Field Target shooting. They have lasted longer than I managed myself, as the sitting position and the task of rangefinding each individual target with a mega-scope did not really interest me.
I still much prefer ranging targets by eye, and shooting the prone HFT format is second nature to me now. Not that I am brilliant at it, but I do manage the odd half-decent score now and again. I suppose that I am now set in my ways, and no longer need or want to seek new challenges and shooting acquaintances.
This is not the case with my former HFT shooting compatriots, though! They have all been thoroughly drawn in by the not inconsiderable challenge of properly setting up their rifle and scope combinations, and learning how to range-find accurately with their torpedo tube-sized optics.
I managed to attend and compete in two full FT shoots, but this happy bunch of Field Target tyros have competed in at least five competitions thus far, with one or two of them occasionally coming close to matching the top scores of regular and experienced FT shots.
If I travel with these shooters now, I will chuck a springer into the boot of the car, which I will use to plink at targets on the FT club’s plinking range, wherever the club might be. Last time I travelled along to the superb Emley Moor club in Yorkshire, I used a recently tuned Weihrauch HW 97 and spent a couple of surprisingly relaxing shooting hours by attempting to improve my group sizes at all ranges out to 55 yards. Not having too many other shooters on the range allowed me to fully concentrate on my technique, and despite the intermittent snow, I did manage to humour myself that I can still shoot a spring-powered rifle to a reasonable standard when I put my mind to it. Really, this should come as no surprise to me as I spent at least 40 of the last 50 years doing just that.
Years of practice
Anyway, back to the findings of the FT group following their initial experiences. It would have to be said that these shooters are good or, in some cases, excellent at shooting in all types of wind, due to decades of outdoor shooting either at living targets, knockdown targets or both. I would say that reading the wind and making allowances for it during the setting up of each individual shot will not be a problem for any of them, as their previous track record as UKAHFT competition champions would confirm.
So, with one of the main challenges of any outdoor airgun shooting sport not proving to be an issue, how are the happy shooters progressing with their rangefinding skills? Not as well as most of them would wish, apparently. The use of a parallax rangefinding scope’s sidewheel requires a lot of experience and a deep understanding of how an individual scope’s optics behave in differing light conditions (and temperatures for that matter), and this is taking longer to learn than they had hoped. They have been advised by some highly experienced FT shots that the exercise where individual ranges are marked on the scope’s sidewheel needs to be carried out in the great outdoors for the ranging to be as accurate as possible.
They had all done this, but the occasional modification to settings carried out indoors have confused their carefully gained original settings. As a result, incorrect settings are being dialled into the scope’s elevation adjustment, resulting in more shots being missed at 50 yards-plus than they would wish. Because of this perceived weakness, many of the shooters have resorted to checking their settings at least a few times outside of competition as they continue to fine-tune their own equipment to best suit themselves. This means adjusting the scope’s sidewheel until a crisp and clear image just comes into focus, then noting down the distance and applying reference markers upon the elevation adjustment knob. It would appear that some scopes are easier to ‘learn’ than others regarding how quickly an image appears crisply into focus, and it is this particular skill which is causing the most problems at present.
Another set of considerations still under development are the precise ways in which each of their guns are best set up to suit their own preferred shooting stance and the ease at which they can get into the same position for similar types of shot. In Field Target, of course, the competitor can adjust their stock configuration to their heart’s content, and shooters certainly make the most of this as they attempt to balance the gun as well as they are able to suit the individual target layout.
Hidden in plain sight
Following my relaxing plinking session at Emley Moor, I elected to wander about the competition course with my camera. This allowed me to watch some of the experienced shots in action and have an interesting discussion with a highly rated FT shooter about why HFT shooters dress in camouflage. He wasn’t interested in my comment that this type of outerwear tends to be well suited to rolling around in the mud and is water and windproof, and how it would be interesting to see anybody wearing a ‘Gimp’-type leather shooting jacket take on some of HFT’s more challenging prone shots and still be smiling at the end of the day!
In my opinion, camouflage is not worn by commando wannabes shooting HFT, but by shooters who appreciate the protection provided by often discounted ex-forces clothing. I can honestly say that I am not aware of any HFT competitors who shoot in clothing designed to make themselves appear as a military sniper, as most competitors these days refrain from wearing camouflage clothing anyway.
Catching up with my friends during the final stages of the shoot once again confirmed how much that they are enjoying the FT experience. If I remember rightly, the top score amongst them for the day was only five off the highest score, with most of them managing to average about 70% overall. They all spent a considerable amount of time post-shoot with the usual debriefing exercise, and discussed anything that they had learned on that particular day.
They are all still highly enthused, and slowly improving as the weeks go by. More important for them is the considerable challenge posed by the new-to-them discipline. Progress might not be quite as swift as I originally envisaged, but they are all capable of recording decent scores, particularly when they have all finally sorted their rangefinding skills!