Andy McLachlan looks at the challenges inherent in shooting up the peg in HFT, and offers tips to help you achieve a surer shot
It’s fair to say that I am in no way a champion shot. However, I have shot a lot of competitions over the years, and have made as many errors as most other competitors have. It is a fact that we will all look at the target and automatically attempt to position ourselves and our guns in a way that allows us at least a clear shot at the target. Sometimes this is as easy as positioning the gun on the other side of the peg, or raising it, allowing us to clear the flight of our pellet away from any potential risk of deflection from an obstruction that can be either obvious or less so.
One of the advantages of shooting an HFT competition is that most of your shots can be taken from the stable prone position. The advantages of this are obvious. Rather than supporting the weight of your scoped rifle yourself and putting up with the inherent wobbles we all suffer with to one degree or another, the ground itself can be used to support the very tip of the rifle butt, with your leading hand also ideally rested on the ground as well, while gripping the peg.
In HFT competition, you are not allowed to have the bottom of the pistol grip touching the ground as well as the butt. In addition, the forend riser (or hamster) can be no wider than 150mm (centre of barrel to anywhere forward of the pistol grip), as this may also allow the shooter to essentially benchrest the rifle on the deck in a rock-solid mount. This is what you want for benchrest shooting, but outside in an HFT competition, it would give the competitor an unfair advantage.
So, now that we are aware of the rules, what, I hear you ask, has that to do with taking a shot ‘up the peg’? Well, if you are shooting upon a perfectly manicured lawn, it is highly unlikely that you will have to contend with longer lengths of grass, plants, twigs or cunningly placed course-setter traps for knocking your pellet off-course. As most HFT courses are set in woods, it is highly unlikely that you will ever be in a shooting position where you do not have to consider what is on ground level, waiting to deflect your carefully placed pellet. An object needn’t have much mass to be able to send your shot into anywhere but the target area. Like most regular HFT shots, this has happened to me on the odd occasion, and it always leads to a look of bewilderment from the shooter as their carefully considered shot flies past the target.
Even the smallest blade of grass can, and will, deflect that pellet. If the object is larger, such as a twig, you will never get to find out just where your shot landed, as the mass of the object will usually deflect the pellet into a ridiculous direction. The bottom line is that whatever the cause, the deflection will result in a big fat zero on your scorecard.
One of the worst type of scenarios which does occur, is when wind is blowing either long grass or occasionally tree branches across the killzone of the target. This is usually because the course-setter laid out the course on a calmer day when the problem was not obvious. Nevertheless, it can – presuming that the offending material is not removed by a marshall – prove to be a particularly interesting and challenging shot to take as you time the shot to coincide with the projected movement of the branch, for example. That would be easy enough if the wind remained perfectly constant – but, as we all know, that never happens, and we just must do our best to get everything right and time our shot release correctly.
To increase our chances of successfully nailing the target, rather than just position our gun in the normal way upon the ground and grabbing the peg, we need to carefully consider if supporting the weight of the gun ourselves and sliding everything upwards will allow us to steer our pellet through a safer, less restricted flight path. Sometimes, even moving either to the other side of the peg, or lifting the gun even a couple of inches will allow an unobstructed view of the target. Course-setters are aware of this, of course, and will often use this to make things difficult for us.
Moving the rifle up the peg can cause the odd problem. The main issue is the fact that the gun no longer has the perfectly stable platform that it has when it’s resting on the ground. We are now responsible for supporting and steadying the gun as we hold onto the peg. I don’t know about you, but having to deal with both breathing and my pulse can have a significant effect upon gun stability. I am not saying that taking a shot without the gun resting on the ground is always unstable, just that it is more likely to result in the odd error or two.
My own personal favourite up-the-peg error is when my grip on the peg slips and coincides with trigger release. The brain works a lot quicker than you can stop the finger from squeezing off the shot, and you look on as the shot lands well below the killzone.
What do we do to maximise our chances when an ‘on the deck’ shot isn’t on then? Hopefully this shortlist will allow you to ensure that your shot ends up in the intended place more often:
• If you intend to rest the gun on the ground, check, then check again, to make sure that those wayward blades of long grass or small twigs will not get in the way of your pellet. Don’t forget that the wind will have a bearing upon where these obstructions might be positioned at any one time.
• If you are not sure that a grounded shot will allow a clear flight path, move the gun up the peg and take aim from a higher position.
• Is the shot easier from the other side of the peg?
• If you hold onto the peg and move the gun across your arm, will this allow an unobstructed view of the target?
• The wearing of a target glove will allow you to secure a firm grip of the peg when shooting up the peg, and hopefully reduce the chances of your grip slipping by accident.
• Check that you don’t have any obstructions either halfway or near to the target which are hard to spot with the naked eye. Use the scope to look carefully.
It is surprising how often that failure to take these minor considerations into account results in dropped points on a scorecard. I have seen experienced champions being caught out more than once by not taking a few extra seconds to check their pellets’ intended flight path.
You also must be aware of the curved nature of a pellet’s trajectory when calculating the shot, as a twig or any other obstruction for that matter may well catch your pellet mid-flight at the height of its trajectory (zenith) before it drops onto your intended point of aim, usually at longer ranges.