After a long absence from HFT, Andy McLachlan takes part in a shoot at a stunning ground – it was a long drive, but was it worth it?
It has been a good few months since I accompanied my son James to an HFT shoot. At my age I have been enjoying the relative relaxation of numerous shooting sessions sitting at a bench and had forgotten just how physically taxing getting up and down from the deck 30-odd times can be upon ageing bones. The mind is well up for it, but the body continues to let me down these days.
The venue for my most recent trip was the quaintly named Throckmorton Shooting Ground in Worcestershire. This is a good two-and-a-half-hour drive for us, and despite my son James attempting to emulate the manoeuvring capability of the “Tic Tac” UFO recently described by a US Navy pilot, the traffic still caused one or two delays, although I am glad to say we at least arrived in one piece.
This shooting ground, along with the excellent Nomads ground, also in Worcestershire, is the furthest that James is willing to travel for a morning’s shoot.
Being a great fan of the Nomads ground due to the layout, with its tricky and challenging wind conditions, plus of course the friendly membership, I could well understand why the Throckmorton ground has been added to James’s “long way, but worth it” list.
The shooting ground alternates between clay and air rifle shooting and is more than large enough to cater for both interests. This genuinely lovely ground provides plenty of space for all sorts of shooting opportunities, with air rifle shooters having the opportunity of shooting at least three different courses.
The club members assist the management team of Alan and Sandy Bewley running the ground with the organisation of UKAHFT-grade competition courses, and an incredibly good job they all do working as a team. Like all good clubs, they also offer a warm atmosphere for the visiting shooter and go out of their way to make sure that everybody is enjoying themselves.
The shooting event we attended was the first round of the Throckmorton Mini Summer Series. This takes place over four events, with details being able to view via the club’s website or Facebook page.
Not having seriously shot a round of HFT with a “proper” PCP target rifle for well over eighteen months, I decided to set up my Walther LG400 with a large wooden hamster courtesy of James (it weighed a ton) and decided, incorrectly it turned out, to use a 6-24×50 Vortex first focal plane Diamondback scope that I have used for benchrest for a period.
Taking care to mount the scope 2.25 inches from the centreline of the barrel to the centreline of the scope via adjustable Sportsmatch mounts, with a muzzle velocity of 780 feet per second, the main zero point of 40 yards means that the first half-dash mark above the crosshairs correspond with the 25 to 30-yard aim points, with the below centre marks obviously corresponding with the closer-range targets.
This is a setup used by my serious HFT shooting friends and is something I am familiar with, meaning my old noggin did not have to do too much thinking. Or so I hoped.
It was a truly lovely day with bright skies and only a snicker of a wind occasionally making its presence known through the wood as we set up at our first peg. I was reasonably confident that my own setup would work, as was James with his usual Steyr Challenge/Leupold scope combination.
I could tell that I was well out of practice as I continued to score the odd single point for plating the target rather than knocking it over, as James did with annoying regularity. The problem I faced was that I had elected to use the Vortex scope which means that I could use the Walther for both bench and outdoor competition.
This failed in as spectacular a manner as I was warned it would, since the scope specifications of the Vortex were not designed to be used at such close quarters without using the adjustable parallax, which is of course not allowed during the competition itself.
This annoyed me no end as I was aware of the scope’s lack of detail definition at ranges up to and including 10 yards, but decided to go with it anyway.
What I should have used is the frontline HFT-specific optic I still have, the Leupold 3-8 x36 mk 3 TMR reticle super scope that was produced for James by Leupold a few years back. This optic, although the relatively low magnification of eight is a touch too low for me now, remains a superb choice for HFT as its uber-clear lenses and optical performance allow it to balance out the lack of ability to adjust parallax during a shoot.
As we progressed around the well thought out course of fire, I was managing to nail quite a few of the targets, especially the longer-range ones in which the superb reticle and general clarity of one of my all-time favourite scopes, the Vortex Diamondback allowed.
One thing I did notice on a frequent basis was how heavy a 14lb rigged-up target rifle is when getting up and down on a frequent basis, with James giving me some strange looks on a regular basis as I struggled to regain my feet using any additional support I could in the process. Having him say “there are lots of older shooters than you that don’t appear to struggle” didn’t help much either as I waddled around the course.
James kept reminding me that a heavy rifle is a good rifle when target shooting as it does indeed help to stabilise the shots sometimes. That is fine if serious consideration is given to allowing older shooters to employ a butler to hand over guns and carry in between pegs. How very civilised that would be!
James had a couple of his friends shooting in the next peg which allowed for a certain amount of the usual friendly banter as the course progressed. Phil Soper and Ian Ree were battling each other for supremacy, with both ending up with a creditable 55 each at the end of the day. James finished with a 57, two behind the winner Jason Cowan with a 59.
Me? Well, I managed a 48 which is a couple below where I would have liked to have been. If I am shooting to my best, I can usually manage to stay within five points of James. However, at least I am aware of what I did wrong and hope to improve for the next shoot.
As soon as I got home off came the three-stone hamster and on went an old aluminium one I used with my Anschutz 9015 and on went the HFT specific Leupold VX3i. The gun now weighs far less and is easier for me to handle. At the Rivington indoor range I managed to reset the zero with the new setup and feel far more confident for the next shoot.
All I can say is that having a long break from shooting HFT has reinvigorated me to outdoor shooting once again and I am genuinely looking forward to the next challenge. Hopefully the “proper” HFT setup will allow me to approach the low 50 scores that used to be my average a few years ago. We will see…