Andy McLachlan believes gaining weight can be good for you – at least when it comes to creating a super-accurate target rifle
Today’s society is obsessed with us all working towards a svelte appearance that conforms to whatever shape happens to be in fashion at the time, usually a slim, muscle-bound and fat-free form is the one we should all be striving for.
Our air rifles tend to be designed with a lack of weight, as this can aid the shooter when carrying their guns for prolonged periods. But most hunting rifles lack the ballast necessary to ensure stability when in the aim, as additional weight can be an advantage if you’re attempting to keep the sight picture stable prior to releasing a shot.
If you look at 10 metre target rifles, you will notice that the stocks bristle with various fitments that allow differing weights to be added at various points to enable the shooter to fine-tune the balance for their own personal preference. It’s absolutely no use using anybody else’s gun if it does not feel right to you.
Some shooters prefer a perfectly balanced gun whereby the weight is distributed to allow the positioning of the supporting hand to keep the gun in a steady position. Other shooters much prefer a barrel-heavy weight distribution, which allows the barrel to pull down the point of balance to the front of the gun.
The best way to discover which is best for you to manage the weight of the gun when in the aim is to try different guns which provide examples of both systems. In saying that, it is unusual these days to find many guns that are nose-heavy, with most being balanced at the point of the leading hand.
Holding a heavy gun on aim allows the shooter a much steadier sight picture before releasing the shot. Anybody who has tried to keep a lightweight gun steady when shooting from a standing position outdoors in the wind will know that sometimes weight can be your friend.
Fair enough, it is not easy coping with all that weight sometimes, but you get the chance of a steady shot rather than trying to keep the sight picture still.
Like most things in life, we end up with a compromise from the manufacturer where the weight and balance of a rifle will be considered as suitable for the average shot rather than the serious target shooter.
This often leaves us with a gun whose weight and balance must be suitably altered to provide us with a tool more likely to suit ourselves. I have known shooters who have drilled holes in their stock to allow for additional ballast to be added, thereby bringing the centre of gravity back toward the shooter.
Others sometimes strap weights to their stock and just adhere them with tape.
A trend which I have noticed recently within FT and HFT shooting circles is to fit additional weights to the gun, just like our colleagues who shoot 10 metres.
If you look at any of the top-line 10 metre German target rifles, you will find that they all allow for the individual to finely tune just how they wish their own gun to balance, thereby allowing them gun-handling perfection. All they must do is time that shot release correctly and they are well on their way to a championship-winning score!
Having noticed that my friend Dave Taylor had fitted additional weights to the accessory rail that runs underneath the stock of his FT fully rigged-up Steyr, I asked if it had made any genuinely noticeable difference to his ability to take steady standing shots. He reckoned that it definitely did, although I remained sceptical.
I always think that many of the things we do to modify our guns have more of a Placebo effect in our own minds than they actually do in reality.
But Dave then went on to explain to me how the stability of the gun using additional forward weight in the standing position works by damping down the side-to-side movement that we all experience when holding the gun in position for either a standing or kneeling positional shot on an outdoor course of fire.
In Dave’s case, this amounted to a 150g (nearly five and a half ounces in old money) Tec-Ro Puck that was positioned at the barrel end of his Steyr, plus another, heavier weight.
He swore that since the addition of 10oz weight up front, he has again started to nail most of his standing positional shots. As Dave, who when he shot HFT was well known amongst us, his fellow shooters, as being pretty damned good at standing shots, was concerned that he was losing easy points, the improvement in both his scores and confidence was increased following the fitment of the pucks.
Another shooter who is constantly on the search for any modifications that might further improve his competition performance is my son James. He has recently been experimenting with varying lengths of barrel to see if he can gain any additional advantage over his fellow competitive shooters.
My own thoughts are that most of the top manufacturers’ barrels are of high quality, and perform to a high standard. Each rifle manufacturer will specify different specifications to the manufacturer (such as the twist rate of the rifling) which result in a pellet’s ability to fly accurately to the target or not be influenced by the wind.
Following the fitment of a longer barrel into his competition Steyr, James preferred the additional weight and confirmed that this helped to damp out the movement when standing and kneeling for competition positional shots. However, the accuracy of the barrels he tried during this experimental phase did not match the downrange accuracy of his non-standard barrel.
In order to achieve the best compromise solution, James noticed that the longer barrel weighed about five ounces more, which happens to be the precise weight of a puck, that could be added to his target rail.
With two pucks and an additional 10oz of weight in position, he then proceeded to win the fourth regional HFT round of our Northwest Gauntlet competition the next weekend with a score of 59 after only failing to fully drop the stander.
As I shot with him on the day it was clear that both he and the gun were working well as a team, although the less said about my own performance on that particular day at Fort, the better.
So it appears to me that some additional fettling of gun balance via the use of strategically positioned gun weights appears to make a genuine difference to how a gun feels when in the aim.
Obviously, the additional weight may be too much for many. However, for those willing to try, the additional puck-type weights designed to slide onto a target rifle’s rail may be the way to go if you find yourself struggling with positional shots. The good thing is they only cost about £17 and might be all you need to convert those previous misses into points on your scorecard. Weight is great!