How to embrace the pressure of competition shooting

Andy McLachlan often shoots purely for relaxation, but explains how the added pressure of shooting in a competition can be an enjoyable experience.

Young shots are always encouraged to take part in outdoor shooting competitions like HFT and rise to the challenge

For most of us, our leisure time is something to be enjoyed and is not to be confused with the sometimes competitive and cutthroat world of work or study.

Basically, we all feel the pressures of either learning or earning money, and we cannot usually choose who we work or study with, which can lead to stress of one sort or another. Of course, we will hopefully find we are supported in our quest by kindred spirits, but as we all know, that does not always happen.

Our leisure activities allow us not only to choose what we do and when we do it, but also allow us the opportunity of some calm reflection away from day to day concerns. Obviously, if you are reading this, you enjoy the act of shooting your airguns.

I don’t know about you, but I have discovered that time spent at the range allows my mind to detach itself from the usual concerns of normality, with hours going by very swiftly indeed.

My other leisure activity, fishing, also possesses the uncanny ability to lose normal time spans into an almost alternate reality in which you somehow become as one with your surroundings and your worries fall away.

This year’s fishing quest involves me searching out one of our most iconic freshwater fish, the barbel. This is a river species of fish which is beautiful and extremely powerful. It involves identifying suitable areas of river that possess a population of the fish and then of course trying your best to catch them.

This is easier said than done, although the sometimes stunning surroundings and the genuine peace that can be discovered seem to renew the spirit. Up to now I have enjoyed some success, with the odd all-night fishing session adding further to the enjoyment of just being out there with not another person to be seen or heard.

As I am now in my sixth decade, maybe the more relaxed environment is somewhere I prefer to be, as it is the exact opposite of what can be the extremely competitive world of target shooting on a regular basis.

However, this does not mean that competition cannot be enjoyed, just that it is obviously different to doing things at your own pace as you would when leisure shooting or just plinking.

It takes a lot of practice and effort to reach the standards of a national champion as displayed here by Justin Grice and his partner Zoe

Younger members of one of my own clubs who take the competition scene very seriously describe the likes of myself as a ‘casual plinker’. This is fine by me as I now much prefer to shoot in different ways to the more serious shots who live to shoot full-blown competition courses or at least a practice course.

As I have become older, I have realised that enjoyment does not have to revolve around competition. But what competition can provide is the additional edge that some people require to fully make the most of their leisure time. It does not have to be a nationally or regionally organised competition though.

Just spending time with your friends shooting as in our case at long-range indoor targets in a club-only league can provide just as much enjoyment as anybody who wishes to achieve national honours at FT or HFT might experience.

Most of us using air power for our shooting will have shot outdoors. For those shooters possibly new to the sport who have managed to gain reasonable or good levels of accuracy with their chosen shooting combinations within an indoor setting though, the first trip outside, particularly if it happens to be something such as an outdoor HFT competition, can prove to be something of a challenge as shots are carried all over the place by our friend the wind. Some shooters might presume that there is something wrong with their gun or scope as the pellets are not falling as they would wish.

Most of the time, the novice outdoor shot just requires some additional time to become used to marksmanship considerations such as aiming off to allow for wind deflection, for example. It is really quite amazing to watch a highly skilled competition shooter judge how far the wind will push a pellet across the target and aim often outside of the target to achieve a knockdown target success.

This is a skill that takes a long time to learn and is probably the hardest of all to master when shooting outdoors. The problem is that the wind very rarely blows at precisely the same rate or even direction for many seconds at a time.

This means that the shooter must judge each shot individually for the precise moment of releasing the trigger sear. Allowing for the same amount of deflection as was required for the previous shot just isn’t good enough and usually results in pellets falling outside of the target.

Following the lifting of the lockdown, members of my club Rivington Riflemen have been using our outdoor range facility for some much-needed shooting time. Us old duffers have been shooting mostly at either target cards or Polo mints placed at 50 or so yards.

On one day, I watched some serious target shooters practising with the usual knockdown targets at ranges up to 55 yards. It was surprising how often they managed to hit the target.

Learning to shoot from a number of different positions is a skill that is hard won over many years

With the high-power scopes we now use for most of our shooting, it is very easy to spy on how an individual shooter is managing to cope with the usual blustery conditions. It must be said that these ‘serious’ shots tend to make the correct mental calculations more frequently than the rest of us do.

Anybody considering a possible venture outdoors into the world of competitive shooting need not think that they must be at the level of skill required by the top shooters just to enjoy themselves though.

The top shooters practise regularly to maintain the high levels of skill that they possess and have maintained that level of commitment to being as good as they can be for many years, if not decades in many cases.

This should not stop you from taking up the challenge and trying your best though. Everybody has to start somewhere, and if you are a competitive type of person who is willing to put in the practice and spend a lot of time learning from more experienced shots who are usually very willing to help, outdoor airgun shooting competition might be just the thing you need for taking your shooting to the next level. The problem is it can be very addictive – and expensive! 

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