Andy McLachlan and his son James take on the first two shoots of the Gauntlet series – their guns are set up perfectly, so they should do well.
Having previously mentioned to you all about the ongoing modifications to my Walther LG400 target rifle via weight reductions, all that was now left for me to do was to use the gun in its more manageable form and try to maximise my performance in genuine competition.
It’s one thing practising for something, but you really need to enter a genuine, properly organised competition to see if your preparations have actually made any difference to how you will perform following any modifications to either your equipment or your mental or physical self.
Still a bit odd mentally, as normal, and as fat as ever, it would be down to my equipment to see if I could manage to reach a score within the low 50s (ex-60) on the HFT course that is my norm when I am firing on all my ageing cylinders.
It is a strange thing that when we practise something we like to do and then expect to repeat it “for real”, very often we fail to live up to the performance that we know we are capable of when everything goes right.
This was certainly the case for me when my son James and I attended the first round of the Northwest Gauntlet Summer series of shoots at the lovely Fort Airgun Club ground in North Wales. The Fort ground is secreted in and around a beautiful wood and is just a nice place to be, although it is hard to notice this when you are attempting to put on your serious and concentrating competition head for a couple of hours of HFT action.
I accompanied James as we made our way to the starting peg and was grateful that our friend Simon had not let us start on either the unsupported stander or kneeler, which is always a baptism of fire for your first shot!
I mention this as it is not unknown for James and me to be positioned on such a peg on occasion, but Simon thought better of it this time, fortunately.
As the shoot progressed, it was clear that I wasn’t managing to perform as well as I had during my last visit to Fort. James was doing as well as he normally does, and wasn’t short of coming forward with lots of cutting comments regarding my inability to read range or wind as I continued to score one instead of two points on some of what I considered to be straightforward targets.
It is certainly frustrating when all your efforts come to such a disappointing conclusion, although I did at least manage to record a score of 50, nine behind James who won the day to score a 100% which boded well for the rest of the series.
I will be honest and admit that I wasn’t happy with myself. I know I shouldn’t take it too seriously, but when your son makes it all look so easy and you are struggling, it makes for a quiet trip back home in the car.
One thing was for sure, I couldn’t blame my equipment for my relative failure. The Walther was shooting well, just that I wasn’t pointing it in the right place every time!
Still, I intended to practise with my lightened rig quite a few times prior to the next round of the summer Gauntlet series that was scheduled for our Rivington Riflemen home ground, Turton.
I don’t know if you remember how hot it became during July of this year, but James and a few other brave souls managed to set up the outdoor course on a day that reached 30-degree temperatures with little or no wind. They did a fine job however, with a couple of the course-setters making a good impression with their first attempts at a national standard course.
Despite most of them appearing to be badly sunburned the following day, we at least discovered a nice breeze was blowing, although with it being Turton, you could never be sure from one minute to the next which direction it would be arriving from.
Once again partnered with James, we both made a poor start and it quickly became apparent that James would not be having one of his better days. As the course progressed, we eventually found ourselves shooting in the slightly higher area of the course that would expose us more to the breeze due to the relatively open ground.
I started the area badly with one point scored due to poor range estimation, with James dropping it with his shot. The target was placed at 13 yards to the firing position which I totally misjudged and according to James placed the pellet well above the kill zone. Yet another stupid miss to include within my competition portfolio for this season as I contemplated the next shot, which was far trickier and clearly at maximum range through some bushes in a now developing breeze.
Getting into position and making my aiming assessments, I slowly squeezed the trigger, and was delighted when the Mickey Mouse-shaped target suddenly fell over dead.
I don’t know if it was the shock of seeing me drop such a challenging target, but from this point onwards James started haemorrhaging points. I couldn’t miss, and James watched with amazement as I continued to score on the supported stander and unsupported kneeling shots.
I never liked shooting from the kneeling position, but my rebalanced gun does feel more pleasant to hold in position, although James was swift to point out that more weight is required for stable shooting.
For me, it’s all about the balance and not the ballast of the gun/scope combination. It was strange indeed for me to see James fail to drop so many targets on the run, although the fact that he was talking to a friend during this run probably didn’t help his concentration.
Upon arrival at the last target and having taken a quick look at our score cards, I was genuinely shocked to discover that all I needed to beat James on the day was to simply drop the last target, which was a supported stander.
Now I usually manage to get these, but unfortunately, and I am sure that you can see where I am going with this, I missed and he dropped it. Damn.
I was feeling the exact opposite of my previous experience at Fort. This was due to me having had such a good run on what were tricky targets in the last third of the course and had nothing whatsoever to do with matching James’s score of 52 on the day, honestly.
I think that it will be a very, very long time, if ever, that I am likely to get the chance of really approaching, or even actually beating, James’s score.
Still, although it has never happened in all the years that we have shot together (I used to deliberately put him off in competition when he was younger), it was nice, just for once, for James to finally feel what other, normal shooters do when not everything falls over during a competition.
I only hope that I manage to remain at the top of the Veteran category for the duration of the series as my own trophy cabinet is really rather sparse if truth be known!