In position w/ Andy McLachlan

If you consider positional shots to be an imposition, Andy McLachlan offers a few pointers to help turn things around

Sally has her head correctly positioned because the open sights reduce the need for her to lift her head to find a good sight picture

Much has been written by both myself and many others over the years regarding how best to prepare ourselves for that most dreaded of outdoor airgunning shots, the ‘positional’.

Positional shots require the shooter to forgo the normal HFT prone shot – which offers a stable shooting position for the shooter to concentrate on positioning their crosshairs, and not worry about the gun moving, as it might be minus the support offered by the shooting peg.

This is why some shooters consider the normal supported stance of HFT offered by the peg as ‘outdoor benchrest’. Fair enough, if the day is completely without any wind (unlikely) or the shooter knows exactly how far away each and every target is (also highly unlikely, unless allowed to use a rangefinding device), and the shooter is able to support the gun in such a way that the aim becomes steady.

This changes when it comes to the positional shooting stances that must be resorted to when the shooter arrives at the six to eight pegs that are used to challenge competitors at a shoot using current UKAHFT rules, depending on the course or the application of NEFTA rules. The UKAHFT positions are as follows, with the normal two points per successful target:

• One unsupported standing shot.

• One unsupported kneeling shot

• Two supported kneeling shots

• Two supported standing shots

It is very easy, therefore, to understand just why many shoots are won and lost due to the individual shooter’s ability to nail these targets, which together equate to a total of 12 points.

If the shooter fails to drop only half of these particular targets, it obviously means – providing they have managed to gain points by dropping all the prone shot targets – that they will ‘only’ be able to record a score of 54 points.

Sarah Pantling, one of the top lady shooters, gives a demonstration of great rifle and foot positioning

That is rarely enough to win a round of HFT, with skilled HFT regulars usually managing a score in the high fifties, depending upon the weather conditions on the day and just how nasty the course-setters had been feeling pre-shoot.

As we can see, the ability to drop those positional shots is very much viewed as a high priority by those shooters who are often able to produce a winning score. Failure to gain the points associated with these six targets is what usually prevents average shots like me from appearing in the top five on a regular basis.

So how do regularly successful shooters manage to maximise their ability to drop these more difficult targets on a frequent basis? No surprises if I tell you that obviously they practise them – a lot!

It is one thing for the average shooter to spend 10 minutes or so shooting, say, an unsupported stander now and again. This infrequent and unscientific approach is not intense enough. 

What is required is to carefully consider how best to maximise training time into perfecting the techniques successfully used on a competition course.

Andy takes a stander using a target glove to support the hamster on his rifle

If we look at the unsupported standing position first, arguably the most difficult shot on an HFT course, the problem for me, with my now advancing years, is the ability to shoot accurately for any prolonged period supporting a 12lb-plus scoped-up target rifle.

The total weight of the combination actually is an advantage as it tends to dampen down the inherent movement we all experience when in the aiming position. 

The ability to support it comfortably for prolonged periods, however, can result in lower back pain that does nothing to aid concentration when in the aim. 

The best way, in my opinion, to master the accurate unsupported standing shot is to firstly perfect a comfortable, and more importantly stable, stance for the gun. This can be improved upon by the adjustment of things like having the correct height for the stock’s cheekpiece. 

Ensuring that your aiming eye is perfectly centralised with the scope and that the shooter is not struggling to find a perfectly clear sight picture in the scope is a good place to start. This may even involve slackening scope mounts and moving the scope itself slightly further forward or back to make sure the sight picture is spot on.

This will then result in less time spent moving the head about trying to find that perfect sight picture, as the ideal is clearly for the shooter to drop their head upon the stock’s cheekpiece and be able to have that perfect picture immediately.

This is also why you tend to find that target-specific rifle stocks will possess an adjustable butt pad, and preferably cheekpiece too, as these enable the stock fit to be personalised for maximum comfort and scope alignment by the individual shooter – after all, we all have different body shapes!

Many target rifles, and certainly a very high proportion that can be found being shot in serious HFT competition, will also possess a stock raiser. These items, more often described as a ‘hamster’, allow the shooter to adjust the positioning of their leading hand into a more level position, which is more comfortable than having to raise the arm higher.

Adjustment of the hamster height is also something that should be worked at carefully to allow for the most comfortable and stable positioning of the combination.

Once the positioning of the stock and scope has been finalised, all that remains is to work upon the correct positioning of the feet and body to ensure maximum stability when in the stance.

If you look at the more successful shots, they will always position their leading and trailing feet at right angles to the target, with a wide-legged stance. Don’t forget that the leading foot is usually touching the peg to conform with HFT rules. This can maximise the shooter’s ability to remain steady, allowing for sight picture movement to be minimised.

Don’t presume that the top shooters are any more able to stop movement than the rest of us. They merely know how to maximise their positioning and reduce the chance of a pulled shot. As the crosshairs move around the target, the better shot will be able to time the release of their trigger to coincide with when the gun is actually pointed at the target’s centre. 

This of course relies upon the target being positioned at the gun’s zero range, as if it is closer or further away, it will of course be necessary to allow for this by either positioning the crosshairs below or above the intended point of pellet impact.

The other thing I have noticed, particularly with less experienced shots, is that if they have been unable to find a steady aiming position and they have been holding their breath ready for shot release for too long, the lack of oxygen to the brain will be telling them to just pull the trigger. This usually results in a dropped point, or frequently a completely missed target. 

This older image shows James using a sporter for HFT competition – but he’s still correctly lined up the scope using the cheekpiece

What the shooter should do if they are having difficulty with their shot placement when standing is to relax, drop the gun from the aiming position, and start the process again with fresh purpose and more oxygen feeding the brain! 

This will result in many more successful shots and far less frustration.  

I find that more frequent and focused training of the body to successfully shoot the unsupported stander is far preferable to tiring yourself out and losing the concentration necessary to maximise your chances. Don’t forget the old adage: “Practice makes perfect!”

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