The flagship outdoor sport of Field Target has an established ‘international circuit’ – with around 300 competitors at the last world championships in Germany.
Indeed, no fewer than 33 nations are signed up to the World FT Federation, and with the formation of a European governing body in the offing, we can expect to see more flagship events around the globe… and a scramble to host them.
Of course, with its global status comes a new level of competitor – and, as in any sport, shooting at the uppermost level of FT requires a serious amount of commitment, dedication and equipment.
One competitor who epitomises what it takes to be successful at the pinnacle of airgun sport is Conor McFlynn.
Heralding from Northern Ireland, where airgun ownership is complicated by virtue of the stricter laws in the Province, Conor’s a keen enthusiast who’s really hit the big time in the last few years – and, as you’re about to find out, his FT credentials are seriously impressive.
Not just in the UK, but also on the international airgun stage.
AS You always come across as very enthusiastic – so where did your inspiration for shooting come from?
CM My father, Niall. He bought me a .22 Weihrauch HW80K for my 13th Christmas.
Under his strict supervision, we both went hunting with it and had many happy hours plinking targets in our back garden, using the iron sights.
The following year, I got a 4×40 scope under the tree – and it’s probably the best present I could have received!
Like my father, I only ever shot from the standing position. When I was 21, I decided to buy my first PCP rifle – a BSA SuperTen Mk2. It was a .22 set to 30ft/lb as all air rifles, regardless of their power output, are classed as Section 1 firearms and have to go on an FAC in Northern Ireland.
This PCP was a total revelation to both me and my father; being recoil free, it was a devastating hunting rig.
With practice and decent ammo, rabbits and corvids were fair game right out to 80 yards, in the right conditions. After a couple of years, I then acquired a Theoben Rapid 12 Mk2 – again a 30ft/lb .22 – which I currently still have and use for hunting.
AS Given the FAC restrictions, when and how did you discover FT, then?
CM In 2003, a friend of my father’s introduced me to a local air rifle club, where they shot at 40mm metal spinners from 8 yards to 60 on a small piece of bog land close to the shores of Lough Neagh.
There was always a brisk wind there! Most guys there were using high-powered .22 hunting rifles, but there were a few .177s fitted with dedicated FT scopes.
In the early club days, I preferred to shoot standing, as I’d been brought up to do. Actually, to the disbelief of my shooting partner, I shot every one of the 40 targets of my first ever FT course from the standing position, with my Theoben!
In August of 2003, it happened that the World FT Championships were hosted in Northern Ireland, and I took part – not as a shooter, but as a marshal. However, I met some great people at the event, and it’s where I first shot a full-blown FT rifle.
That led to me shooting FT informally, using a Daystate CRX PCP with a Hakko scope, borrowed from a friend at the club. The action sat in a Paul Wilson stock and was incredibly accurate; I really liked it.
Next I borrowed a Ripley AR5S, with a shortened cylinder and barrel and a Dave Welham regulator. It, too, was in a Paul Wilson stock with an Anschutz 4765 butt hook – a very sweet performer.
AS Why were you ‘borrowing’ guns?
CM Well, at that time, I was a highly active sportsman, playing Gaelic football to a reasonably high level – and that took priority.
But a serious knee injury in 2005 finished my Gaelic football career, so I turned to shooting a little more, getting into it very seriously by 2007.
I’d been using a Ripley AR5 in a CS800 stock, but didn’t really get on with the fit. So I opted for my own dedicated FT combo: a Steyr LG110 with Nikko Stirling 10-50×60 Diamond scope with a NATO reticle.
It was so ‘dead’ on firing and easy to shoot that the accuracy I could achieve was phenomenal.
In 2011, I won the World FT Championships in Italy, first prize for which was the new model Steyr LG110, with longer barrel, cylinder and chassis – and that’s now my current FT rifle.
AS You’ve had some mods made to the original gun, though. Talk us through them…
CM Jon Harris machined off part of the front of the chassis, which allows me to fit the shorter air cylinder, which I prefer.
The cylinder has an AJP quick-fill with a black anodised steel end cap for extra weight, as I like a front-heavy gun.
It also has an AJP stainless steel front accessory rail weight, which I can quickly adjust for balance. AJP made the custom muzzle brake, too – and the rear stock has been machined with holes to reduce the rear weight; again to move the weight bias toward the front.
Gary Cane’s done the woodwork, with the pistol grip area customised to accommodate my preferred thumb-up shooting style. It’s been dipped by Hydrographics, using a carbon fibre decal that has a rubberised finish.
The butt plate is the Swiss-made Return model by Grunig & Elmiger, and its trigger is a TEC-HRO Touch. It’s very adjustable which enables me to find the perfect relaxed trigger finger position.
I’ve also had my Steyr fitted with a 450mm barrel from BSA.
AS We’re told your scope gives little change from three grand. Is that true?
CM Yes – my March X 8-80×56. It’s amazing!
Built by Deon in Japan, it’s also got a Jon Harris 100mm sidewheel and pointer and sits in Third Eye 34mm mounts that have an 11mm dovetail.
Its image quality, reliability, consistency of parallax and range readings, irrespective of temperature, are all incredible – so it’s worth every penny as far as I’m concerned.
In fact, I’m still using the same range marks on the sidewheel, in the same position, from the very first day I set it up… way back in 2011!
AS What reticle does it have?
CM Well, I changed reticles in 2012, when Deon released the MTR-FT reticle… after all, I’d specifically designed it for FT!
It has half and full disc (40mm) hash spacing at exactly 50 yards and you can use the reticle to bracket the kill-zone on 20x, 40x and 80x magnification.
The vertical post below the cross hair has marks which are useful for 8, 9 and 10 yard targets, and can be used as reference aim points instead of dialling several revolutions of the turret.
AS Let’s talk results – remind the readers of your haul of ‘majors’…
CM I’d say my highlights are as follows: Scottish GP AA grade winner 2009; NEFTA Classic overall champion 2011 and 2013; NEFTA Classic silhouettes champion 2011, 2012 and 2013; Euskadi (Spain) Open Champion 2011; World FT Champion 2011; European FT champion 2012.
AS That is a seriously impressive list of personal achievements. Do you also shoot for any teams?
CM No, actually. I perhaps only shoot a single Grand Prix in a season – usually the Welsh one, as I like a bit of wind! – so I wouldn’t really be much use to a team. I am a member of Nelson FTC in Wales, though.
AS What’s the practice regime of a shooter of such high calibre as yourself, Conor?
CM I certainly try to practise once a week, usually on a Saturday. Come the summertime, though, I can sometimes get a couple of sessions in per week, especially if there is a forthcoming competition. I usually try and put in 60-100 shots over all three disciplines.
AS Finally, can we ask you to pass on some advice on what you think it takes to make a champion Field Target shooter?
CM Of course, I’d be happy to! For beginners, my advice is that practice makes permanent, not perfect. Basically if you’re practising the wrong things, and doing them incorrectly… then they will become a part of your shooting. That then becomes difficult to resolve.
Don’t be afraid to ask top shooters for their advice – but make sure you also use it! However, if after a while you think that something you’ve learned isn’t working for you, adapt and change; be flexible.
What works for one person won’t always work for another – although there’s a lot of commonality with the top shooters.
Also, when something seems to work for you in a competition, make a mental note of what you did, and then try and mimic it next time you’re out. Don’t continually chop and change your technique, because you’ll never establish any form of consistency.
Remember, too, that you can’t ‘buy success’. Simply forking out on all the best, most expensive and latest kit isn’t a quick solution. Be patient, and learn from your mistakes. Anyone who has never missed, has never shot!
I’d also recommend you get out there and take part in competitions. Shoot as many different courses and events as possible to build up experience and confidence.
Also, don’t shy away from practising in the various different weather conditions that the UK climate throws up. Shooting in wind and rain will be where you’ll hone your trade.
FT is the toughest, most demanding shooting discipline there is, for sure. Yet I’d also say it’s the most enjoyable and self-satisfying. It is also very addictive. What makes it unique for me is that it’s one shot per target, and it’s either a hit… or a miss.
Trajectory and the wind are the big factors in this sport, and while most can get a very good handle on the trajectory using the parallax mechanism of the scope, wind is your constant enemy.
Getting it right takes years of experience, so keep practising – even when there’s a gale blowing.
Standing and kneeling disciplines are also competition deciders, so work at them when you’re practising on the range.
But don’t get disheartened if progress seems slow – after all, airgun shooting is meant to be fun above all else. ●