Taking up HFT with existing kit

An image from several years ago shows Michelle Pullen using a targetised version of the Air Arms S400

Andy McLachlan persuades airgun shooters to take up HFT using their existing kit – without the need to take out a second mortgage.

I would imagine that the vast majority of airgunners reading this article already possess a gun that would be more than capable of producing the standard of accuracy required to be produced in a ‘target rifle’.

This gun does not need to cost upwards of £1,500, and very often can cost a lot less than that. It is all well and good for addicted target shooters to spend large sums of cash on acquiring a specialised piece of equipment, either scope or rifle, but for a shooter wishing to have a go for their first time in competition, it would be wiser for them to consider the purchase of something that will cost them less than the price of a half-decent used car.

So what type of guns are required for Hunter Field Target? Well, all the major manufacturers produce guns that are up to the job. Rather than name them all here, I will go through the specifications of some that are able to meet the basic requirements and are capable of the standards of accuracy that are needed to be a competitive shot.

First of all, we need to consider the action itself. In the case of the PCP rifle, this will usually be a single-shot loader, and according to the price of the gun, may or may not be regulated. The regulator maximises the use of the gun’s air more effectively.

This equates to usually more shots per individual charge of air, and, more importantly for accuracy considerations, a measured amount of pressure being available for each shot.

If a gun is able to produce velocity fluctuations of less than 10 feet per second (fps), the results downrange will find it incredibly difficult, if indeed actually possible, to note any drop in point of aim.

It therefore needs chrono readings that will vary between 20 and 30 fps to notice a drop, something which usually means that the air cylinder onboard the gun is in need of a recharge.

Many youngsters have been introduced to airgunning, via rifles such as the excellent Air Arms S200, due to its light weight and inherent accuracy

Fortunately, however, most of the non-regulated guns of which I am aware do not record such vast discrepancies in velocity when checked via a chronoscope.

I have seen some non-regulated guns producing velocity spreads of less than five feet per second consistently straight from the factory. Using weighed pellets, this can drop even further in many cases.

The problem, however, is finding the pressure range in which the gun tends to operate at its optimum. This is widely known as the gun’s ‘sweet spot’, and, for example, can appear to be between 120 and 180 bar of air pressure being present within the cylinder on many guns.

This is fine, if the full shot count is worked out and the number of shots that allows the gun to perform at its most accurate best are considered by the shooter.

On many guns, dependent of course upon the size of the air cylinder, this will produce approximately 50 shots of known accuracy, more than enough for a 30-shot round of HFT with a few minutes on the plinking range to check zero pre-competition.

Individual gun barrels are very strange things indeed though. I would like to think that the vast majority of barrels would be more than up to guiding pellets into the nice tiny groups that we all strive for downrange.

This doesn’t always occur, unfortunately, and as a result of this, some guns will be able to produce slightly better groups than one looking exactly the same. This is due, in my opinion, to engineering tolerances when the barrel is manufactured. 

Kathy Thompson shoots another ideal starter HFT rifle, the Daystate Huntsman, many moons ago

I have, however seen the odd example of a brand new gun, whereby the barrel is slightly loose within the action assembly from the factory, with the new owner struggling to identify just why the gun will not be able to produce consistent accuracy. This is very rare indeed, fortunately.

With the gun barrel and action type of the suitable ‘starter’ target rifle considered, we now need to look at the crucial element of individual stock fit.

As you can imagine, an air rifle manufacturer not concentrating upon production of a full-blown target rifle must make many compromises when considering their individual approach to gun stocks.

Understandably, most will adopt the sporter-type stock, which is fine as an all-rounder and will handle particularly well in the field. This is often in the format of a usually non-adjustable cheekpiece, butt pad or hamster. The pistol grip will usually be quite swept back, allowing for swift handling, rather than the more vertical target position that allows for superior trigger control.

For many shooters, this format will suit them just fine. The gun will hopefully shoot just as accurately as it would without the additional features, designed to allow the shooter to maintain good head position when in all sorts of weird and wonderful positions that they are required to adopt when facing a well laid-out HFT course.

Not that the same cannot be said for the hunter on occasion, but they will have to resort to weird shooting positions less frequently when the multi-adjustability of a target stock is more likely to be a hindrance for swift target acquisition.

There is also, of course, the consideration of cost. A nice straightforward sporter stock with little or no adjustment is a damned sight cheaper to manufacture than one with multi-adjustable elements.

If you are the said manufacturer, and wish to introduce high-quality, reliable products to potential customers at the best possible price in a competitive market, any additional adjustability can be dropped with entry-level products.

Entry level does not mean the gun will be any less accurate than its more costly brothers and sisters. It just means that you can purchase a quality gun, retaining the high-quality action, and hopefully barrel, without having to pay the premium for stock adjustability.

I would argue that, for those shooters wishing to attempt any form of airgun shooting competition, they don’t go out and spend a fortune straight away on equipment.

Here’s another targetised Air Arms rifle – the S400 MPR in use by Dave Benyon

They would be much better advised buying a high quality all-round gun of known provenance, rather than chucking a fortune at something, before realising that the sport is not for them and losing a lot of cash when reselling their target equipment later on.

They would be even better advised to try out the equipment of target shooting regulars to find out what suits them best before committing any additional cash.

This is a classic example of the law of diminishing returns. As you spend more money, the minimal (if any) improvements made as a result of often expensive equipment upgrades will start to result in no noticeable improvement regarding the shooter’s overall performance. In other words, just because new equipment costs a lot, it doesn’t mean it will make you a better shot!

I will mention a couple of guns by name that have served as super-accurate and reliable performers for a long time now. There is very little that you cannot do with either an Air Arms S400 or Weihrauch HW 100 precharged pneumatic rifle.

Both have deserved reputations for a good reason, with both guns taking their share of competition trophies over the years, never mind countless thousands of quarry species. If I had to choose only one gun for all my airgun shooting, I would personally choose the Weihrauch though. It just does everything well!

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