Thomas Bristow reports on the WHFTA British Open, focusing on three competitors of varying abilities in a sport that’s accessible to everyone
Without exception, the Hunter Field Target World Championships is one of the greatest events in the HFT scene, but due to travel complications, many overseas competitors were unable to attend the “Worlds”. Consequently, the WHFTA 2021 HFT World Championships was renamed the WHFTA 2021 British Open.
However, the number of shooters able to attend the event wasn’t compromised with the host club, Emley Moor FTC, promising that this year’s event would be as impressive as previous years.
Founded in 1993, Emley Moor FTC has been at the forefront of many of the larger HFT leagues as well as having great success at holding their own competitions – with credit to the existing WHFTA course-setting team. Chosen to host the two-day event, Emley Moor’s team of Trev Ryan, Chris Cundey and Kieran Turner (Team WHFTA Organiser), alongside an avid workforce of club regulars, were committed to delivering an enjoyable shoot for all the participants.
Boasting 30 acres of varying terrain, this inclusive airgun club caters for all. Open to all members throughout the year, the club has a multitude of facilities, including two covered 55-yard zero ranges and multiple permanent FT and HFT practice courses set to UKAHFT specifications.
Emely’s facilities provide the ideal environment for newcomers to get into the sport, and are perfect for shooters to develop their skills.
Members range from plinkers to serious HFT and FT competition shooters, the club having a track record of producing successful shooters in the form of Chris Cundey, John Costello, Michael Walker and Kieran Turner, who have managed to collect a serious amount of silverware between them and who continue to visit the club regularly.
Above all, HFT is about the people. Emley Moor is one of the many airgun clubs dotted around the UK with a sense of community. The membership continually put back into the club, offering time and labour to help develop the facilities for the enjoyment of others. The HFT scene is full of amazing people who are always at hand to offer their help and advice. They want to share their knowledge and it is infectious.
Currently, Emley Moor FTC has a total of 170 members, although its facilities are open to all NEFTA club members. Prior to the event I decided to follow the individual journeys of three competitors as they prepared for this year’s largest HFT event at their own NEFTA-affiliated clubs. Although the experience and skill set differs from shooter to shooter, David Owen, Liam Todd and Theresa Reed all share the same love for the sport.
Despite being new to the sport, David Owen has quickly established himself within the HFT community. After acquiring an Air Arms HFT 500 and fixed-magnification Optisan CP, he jumped straight into the sport by joining a handful of local clubs. Blackbrook country sports has taken on an influential role as part of Dave’s HFT journey, with key figures in the sport like Michelle Parsons and the team at Blackbrook convincing him to take part in competitions.
Almost a year on, David has participated in a broad range of events, the English Open being one of his most commendable, where he achieved a score of 46 out of a possible 60. David continues to sustain scores within the high 40s, constantly improving through the guidance of fellow shooters. Leading up to the WHFTA 2021 British Open, David competed in the Lincoln HFT series to further develop his skills, adopting new techniques and tips along the way.
Next up is Liam Todd. Liam is a “seasoned” shooter who began shooting competitively in 1990, entering his first event with an Original Model 50 at Felixkirk shooting ground. Despite finishing last, Liam has been hooked ever since. After progressing to a Feinwerkbau 124 and 127, Liam collected a respectable amount of silverware until he was 17, before he stepped away from the sport until 2011.
After re-entering the sport, he picked up from where he left – still using the same Feinwerkbau 124 before progressing to an Air Arms EV2 which he coupled with a Mamba Lite scope.
Since then, Liam has competed in several overseas events, world championships and UKAHFT series, gathering a wealth of knowledge about the sport along the way. His most successful shoot was back in 2018 at Furnace Mills HFT grounds where he scored a whopping 59/60! Currently Liam uses a Steyr LG100 to great effect, partnered with an SWFA scope – his most recent equipment change after retiring his Optisan EVX.
Always aiming for the top is Theresa Reed, who began shooting in 2013 after watching an intense shoot-off enfold at the HFT World Championships hosted at the Kelmarsh Game Fair. To date, Theresa has an impressive number of titles to her name. After eight successful years on the circuit she has a reputation as one of the “top shots”, winning the WHFTA Ladies class five times along with placing highly in other reputable shoots.
2019 has been her most successful year to date, after putting in the joint top score at the WHFTA Worlds alongside Dave Ramshead, Elliott Compton and Thom Van Dokkum – who won the shoot-off to be crowned the overall champion. Additionally, Theresa was also the first female shooter to make the England team.
Currently, Theresa uses an Anschutz 8002, heavily modified by “Tench” in his search to create a more efficient target rifle. The rifle already has excellent pedigree after Tench won the HFT World Championships with it in 2016 before passing it on to Theresa for her to use.
Her current scope is the MTC Viper Connect, a rather popular choice amongst HFT shooters, which she has been using since 2014.
Over the course of the two-day event, each competitor is required to shoot two 30-shot UKAHFT-spec HFT courses, with a total of 120 points available.
Upon arrival at the venue, it was clear that the hard work expended to make the shoot a success outweighed any event I had competed in previously. As the competitors filled up the main “hub” of the venue, the atmosphere built. Each shooter received a welcome pack consisting of several goodies supplied by Air Arms, before heading off to the plinking ranges.
With forecasters promising a dry first day, the lack of waterproofs worn by competitors showed their faith in the forecast. Like many, David felt nervous, as large shoots can often feel daunting, however this was soon overcome by the excitement of pre-shoot announcements.
Hanging overhead, a decorated pathway of international flags led the way to both courses – Alpha and Bravo. With two whistles marking the beginning of day one’s shooting session Liam had high hopes for the competitors, knowing the courses ahead would test their skills to the fullest.
From dense woodland to vertical edged gullies, Alpha course’s varied footprint incorporated a mix of complex and angled shots which scrutinised the rangefinding skills of all. Peg 1 – 5 inherited the fitting nickname of the “sniper nest” over the weekend as it presented a handful of shots which were as brilliant as they were intimidating, one in particular being a 35mm prone shot at the near maximum distance, impressively attached to a branch parallel to the deepest part of the gully below.
As one of the most testing parts of the course, competitors who shot Alpha on the first day rumoured about its challenges to the rest of the field, creating a catalyst for nerves on the second day.
Hidden amongst the woodland, running alongside the old railway line, stood several discipline lanes, presenting shooters with the difficulties of rangefinding in low light while kneeling or standing to take the shot. Despite a tree for support, Liam and the rest of the course-setting team had defeated the hopes of many shooters aiming to clear the course with those targets.
The various catering facilities proved to be a welcomed sight at the end of a long day’s shooting, the paella being a favourite among competitors. On the first day David scored 44, which was extremely good given the challenge of the course. Liam finished on a 52 and Theresa shot 56.
With well over £14,000 in raffle prizes on the table generously given to the event by sponsors, competitors anticipated the draw with high hopes.
Airgun manufacturers and distributors like Air Arms, RAW, Optics Warehouse, Optisan, Solware and Weirauch, along with pellet manufacturers in the form of QYS and JSB all had a fair share of prizes to be won.
On the final day there was a slightly different atmosphere on site. Some shooters were considerably more comfortable on the second day. David, being one, believed that “his nerves had settled” and prior to the second day’s shoot he was more excited than ever, while other shooters who led the pack on the first day were feeling the pressure.
Bravo course was set around an “open” section of the grounds, shooting across a shallow gully, deep into thickly wooded areas opposite. Unbeknown to some the gully acted as a “hot spot” for wind throughout the day – the banked side opposite only magnified its effect around the targets.
The target placement for this section of the course was well thought out. By positioning targets below the gaps in the trees, direct sunlight created the illusion of “silver kill zones”. This, coupled with the already splattered faceplates, stumped a handful of shooters who struggled to locate the whereabouts of the kill zones.
On the opposite end of the course, a consistent wind proved to be a challenge for some of the longer shots. Going from one extreme to the other, a variation of close-range targets messed with the rangefinding skills of some shooters.
After an intense shoot-off for first place, Daniel McMahon scored a whopping 116 over the weekend, only dropping a mere 4 points to take home the British Champion title – and he was closely followed by Harry and Elliot Compton.
Michelle Parsons won the Ladies class with a score of 106, Geoff Ryder took home the Veterans trophy with a 110, Andy Day scored 106 in the Recoiling class, Pete Muir put in a 101 to take the .22 class title and I won the Junior trophy with a 111.
Theresa scored a creditable 114 and after what I can only describe as the most intense shoot-off I’ve ever seen. The end result of a four-round shoot-off gifted her with fifth place overall.
Her goal at the WHFTA British Open was to overcome the nerves she faced over the weekend. Through her experiences, she believes your own mentality is the main challenge to overcome, and she’s pleased that the shoot-off arose to test these skills.
Having helped to course-set the previous world championships, Liam was one of the team who helped to make the WHFTA British Open a success.
Alongside looking forward to seeing the competitors’ reactions to the event, Liam’s main ambition was to “have fun and keep smiling”. After scoring a 109 over the weekend, sure enough, he most certainly left with a huge grin, as did many of his fellow competitors.
At the end of the weekend, David Owen also went home with a smile on his face after scoring a total of 91.
David had been hoping to gain the experience of participating in a world class competition with the aim of shooting close to his personal best on one of the days.
He was really looking forward to the event and enjoyed talking to some of the “top shots” as well as seeing how his nerves fared when he was in competition.
After taking part in the WHFTA British Open, David hopes to continue enjoying his shooting and participate in some of the UKAHFT double headers the following year.
Within our sport, shooting often comes second to friendships. Each club has its own little community which feeds into the wider shooting scene.
For those who would like to dip their toes into the deep pond of HFT, David’s top advice is to “just go for it”. He’s really enjoying HFT at the moment, explaining: “The people I’ve met have been brilliant, everyone is always willing to help and give advice where they can.”
In spite of Covid trying its hardest to prevent this event from happening, the combined skill force of the WHFTA team at Emley Moor and the events marshals went above and beyond to create essentially a world class event in a fraction of the time that they’d usually have – and with great success.
I believe we can all begin to understand how much time has been invested over the last few months to ensure the event was a success in the limited time available.
Given that the entire team balances their contributions while working a full-time job during the week, and balancing the challenging demands of everyday life, I’d like to show my appreciation for their efforts this year. It really goes to show how invested we are in a sport we love so much.
Huge thanks to all those who contributed to making the WHFTA British Open a resounding success.