Andy McLachlan takes shooting to the Extreme!

Top FT shooter Neil Hague practises his standing shots, prior to the start of the competition

Andy McLachlan and his son James take their shorting to the ‘Extreme’ as they tackle an ultra-hard course at Emley Moor.

It was one of those very rare mornings when I was reminded just how fortunate we are to live in a relatively pleasant climate. A warm sun with a nice breeze was the order for the day as I travelled east with my son James to my favourite shooting ground – Emley Moor, located in West Yorkshire.

We arrived bright and early to shoot a round of the famous Emley HFT Extreme course. This is like normal HFT, but with some ridiculously small targets at very long range to contend with.

If you attend a shooting ground with an HFT course laid out to national standard rules, to many shooters, including myself, this represents challenge enough. However, the courses laid out by the members of the Emley Moor club really do take some beating when it comes to challenging the best shooters.

Following the usual booking in and the allocation of the starting shooting peg, as is normal when shooting a competition outside, all shooters will spend fifteen or twenty minutes checking that their outfits are shooting as well as they would wish, and that any inherent downrange breeze is dialled into the subconscious when it comes to working out firing solutions during the competition itself.

As Emley Moor also caters for enthusiasts of Field Target competition shooting, it was noticeable that many well known current and former national, if not world, champions fancied a go at what would be a challenging course upon which to practise their rangefinding and shooting skills.

James takes on a kneeler in a beautiful bluebell wood, ending up with a creditable score of 51 ex 60

If you consider that an FT target is a damned sight larger than those that have found themselves into HFT over the past few years, it is understandable that some of the best FT shooters in the UK find something like an HFT Extreme course so challenging – particularly, if like some, they choose to shoot it either kneeling or standing as many of them did.

One thing was for sure though, there were many very talented and highly experienced shots from both FT and HFT present on the day.

One of the top FT shooters there was Neil Hague. Neil is a highly accomplished and committed FT shot who is no stranger to winning various leagues and trophies.

I spent some time on the plinking range as he and my son James discussed various target-related issues such as guns going ‘off’ during the course of competition, and of course the usual round of ‘which batch of JSB is best’ that the top shooters tend to get worked up about.

Neil intended to complete the course standing with his Steyr FT rig, and he was practising these prior to the competition.

The conditions presented on the day comprised of a slight breeze that was certainly effective enough to warrant consideration prior to placement of the crosshairs.

It was also pleasantly mild with just a small chance of rain. I like these conditions, as it means I don’t have to wear leggings and rain-proof coats, which tend to weigh my old bones down even more than normal.

As I have said, shooters can be confident that their skills will be challenged on an Emley Extreme course, regardless of their level of skill, or lack of as in my own case. As the competition started, both James and I managed to knock over the first four targets, there being two per lane as I prefer.

We then arrived at a supported standing target which resembled an upwards pointing finger on top of which was placed a 22mm disc. I later found out that this was placed at a range of 37 yards. The ‘Finger of Doom’, as it is widely known, was certainly challenging from this position.

As James mentioned, many of the competitors would probably just shoot for the plate and be happy with the one point.

Personally, I can’t see the point in not having a go, and as I lined the shot up, I actually felt confident of dropping it only to watch my pellet flying just over the target for a big fat zero.

Shirley Kennedy lines one up – the setting was gorgeous, but the course was devilishly difficult

Still, at least I had been very close indeed as I cajoled James into going for the two points as well. He also missed and then spent several minutes berating me for ‘pushing him into it’. Aren’t children great?!

As the course progressed, we continued to discover yet more uber-challenging targets, including a 15mm squirrel at 45 yards, an 8mm (yes, eight millimetres!) rat at 29 yards and the famous ‘bully’ now enlarged 12mm target at 44 yards.

Remember that there was a significant breeze blowing, and that correct placement of the crosshairs took some very careful working out to stand any chance of success. James managed to knock some of these over, but I did not, unsurprisingly.

Talking of the tiny long-range targets, I was extremely impressed when Neil Hague’s shooting partner, using a .22 springer, managed to drop the 15mm 45-yard squirrel. Without doubt the most impressive shot I have seen pulled off for a long time.

Fair enough, as an FT shooter he was able to establish the precise range using his scope, but to plop a .22 pellet into such a small killzone at such long range, in a wind and with only a 10mm allowance for error was very impressive, and I told him so!

As the competition continued, it was clear that my recent lack of regular outdoor practice was having its usual effect upon my own performance as I continued to lose points on a regular basis.

Still, despite James getting clearly upset with himself for not dropping everything, I was enjoying just being outside in a beautiful English wood, surrounded by bluebells and birdsong. Shooting some hard targets was just a bonus really!

One of the many benefits of shooting an HFT course with two shots per peg is that it is not only easier physically for old duffers like me, but that the course appears to be over very swiftly indeed.

In what seemed like no time at all, we had completed the course, with me recording a poor score of 44 ex 60, and James being rather unhappy with what I thought was a fairly good 51.

At any gathering of committed shooters, it is always good to meet and speak with old friends for the usual shoot debrief.

We spent a fair amount of time talking to Paul Gallagher and his son Red, who, as well-known FT shooters, had both shot the course standing. It appears that, like James at present, Red is having a crisis of confidence.

Andy takes a kneeling shot on a day when the conditions were good, but the targets were small

His dad Paul and I concurred that all either James or Red can do to improve their overall performance is to practise as frequently as they have done in the past and to work through any perceived weaknesses in their game.

Both are talented shots, but as with any sport, it is tough at the top, with only the most committed being able to maintain such a high level for any length of time.

Now is the time of year when some of you will be considering entering your first outdoor shooting competition. If you attend with an open mind, don’t get too upset if you don’t score brilliantly, and just try to enjoy yourself.

You will hopefully find yourself entering and doing well in a competition, such as the Emley Extreme in the future. Remember, enjoying yourself is really all that matters! 

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