Outdoor shooting practice with Andy McLachlan

Andy McLachlan and a few like-minded friends become Polo players for the afternoon as they take on a new type of shooting challenge

Rivington club secretary Ian Jones sets out the mints a staggering 47 yards away from the firing line

I must admit that finding potential targets that are a little different from our regular ones has started to become quite challenging in these difficult times.

For those of us lucky enough to have access to a club that offers outdoor facilities at which we can socially distance, combine all of the regular hand-washing regimes and conform to the requirements of keeping the virus at bay, it does offer us the opportunity of coming up with some novel approaches for our non-serious target shooting days.

Talking of which, the presence of, as some of the more serious shooters in my own club have described us as the ‘Plinking Brigade’, has led to some minor disagreement from shooters who have been used to having a totally free hand in the setting out of courses and basically running things the best way to suit themselves.

This is perfectly understandable as I have myself been formerly a member of the ‘serious’ shooters whose only desire is to shoot at knockover targets in a formal competition.

However, the current situation that we’ve all found ourselves in means that we all must reassess how we go about carrying out relatively simple tasks such as turning up for a day’s outdoor shooting at the club.

No longer are we just having to cater for the requirements of those in the serious target shooting fraternity, but we have to also take into account the requirements of shooters who much prefer to aim at long-range target cards, even when they might be placed upon shooting posts that have offered the ‘supported’ positional shots in HFT competition for example.

Andy takes a very uncomfortable shot after remembering his bench, but forgetting his proper supports

The fact that any potential damage to said items will be rectified via the replacement of the posts will hopefully alleviate any further falling out between members, who are all there just to enjoy some shooting time in the company of friends doing something they all like to do within a safe and monitored environment.

With a bit of sensible and cooperative compromise, everybody should get the chance to get their shooting fix without upsetting anybody else. The ‘Them and Us’ attitude is something that we could all do without, particularly at the present time as we all learn to work together and get through this in one piece.

At our last day’s shooting up at the Turton outdoor range, Rivington club secretary Ian Jones and I turned up before anybody else and decided to set up a novel shooting challenge.

At a distance of 47 yards from the firing line, we used the previously described posts to tie a length of string, incorporating a length of elastic to maintain tension, and then tied on a series of loops to which we attached some Polo mints.

When you consider that a Polo mint looks remarkably small at 47 yards, and that the Turton wind was doing its usual swirling best to make a mockery of any careful sighting, I reckoned that we would struggle to hit many of the swinging targets over the course of the day.

Couple this with the fact that on the day we could only use .22 calibre with its far less forgiving trajectory curve, and I think we can safely say that the shooting would prove to be challenging to say the least.

I had turned up with my old favourite .22 Weihrauch Export and didn’t hold out much hope of getting anywhere near the tiny targets through the 9x magnification scope that resides upon the gun’s action. As our friends arrived with their own guns, it soon became apparent that the choice of a Kral Puncher in .22 appeared to be the popular option for the day.

As my own Kral in .22 is set up with a night scope for winter ratting and I didn’t fancy recalibrating the zero for double the range that it is currently set at, I elected to use my springer.

My friend Paul Ray also decided to use one of his many springers and I was pleased to see his silver-actioned .22 Weihrauch HW97 being withdrawn from his gun bag as we set up on the firing line.

The mint-hunters managed to maintain correct social distancing while on their unusual afternoon shoot

Obviously, when a shooter is faced with a target that far exceeds normal distances, it is a requirement to re-zero the optics to the precise range. This is far more necessary with the larger .22 calibre as the pellet flies in a much more curved trajectory due to gravity having a longer period of time to work upon the slower-moving projectile. Basically, lighter and faster .177 pellets fly flatter and are a little bit easier to drop on target because of this.

As you can see then, the long-distance Polo mints that were swaying nicely in the wind provided us with what we thought would be a considerable challenge. Following a short period of time recalibrating optics, it did not take Blackburn Elf Mr Jones long to vaporise the first of the line of mints. I looked on in disbelief as Ian managed to nail the first three mints with his first magazine of pellets.

I don’t think he quite believed it himself, but it goes to show how even a relatively affordable gun like the Kral Puncher in .22 calibre is still capable of producing the goods even with a man of low talent shooting it!

Using my old Workmate bench, I had not remembered to bring any of my shooting bags for support and ended up in about the most uncomfortable position possible for shooting my springer at the rapidly reducing line of dangling white mints. Nevertheless, I still managed a couple eventually, and ended up with a big smile when the tiny white target just disappeared in a cloud of dust.

Friends Paul, Dave and Phil were all managing the occasional hit and it wasn’t long before we had to replace the dangling targets with another set from Ian’s rapidly reducing supply of Polos.

Once we had fixed them in position, we had another half hour or so of mint-killing action before a particularly black and ominous cloud decided to send us to the cover of the club hut before the rain descended and soaked my rifle, which I had carelessly not put away in its cover.

Mulling over our sandwiches as the rain lashed down, we agreed that this new format had certainly provided us all with a superb afternoon’s entertainment.

As we recommenced the shooting, it didn’t take that long to completely use up Ian’s two packets of mints, with the normal target cards looking far less appealing than usual. I even had thoughts of using the fruit-flavoured variety of Polo as a game of snooker, with the different coloured sweets being shot at in sequence. 

While .22 variants of the Kral Puncher and various springers were popular rifle choices, Phil Sharples used his HFT 500 instead

In these difficult times and without our usual form of shooting competition, it would be quite easy to just sit back and wait for everything to get back to normal before shooting once again.

I am coming to terms with the fact that things will probably never return to what was considered normal even a few months ago. If you have the opportunity of setting up something similar to what we did it may also provide you with the childlike joy of shooting some challenging targets with some equally enthusiastic friends.

We all left with a big smile on our faces, safe in the knowledge that no Polo mint will be viewed the same in the future, particularly when it’s dangling from a piece of string! 

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