Turn up today at any national Field Target event, and it’s difficult not to marvel at the level of sophistication of the high-tech equipment in use. Highly accurate, match- grade rifles topped with mega-mag glassware is clearly the order of the day in FT – and several competitors are using an astonishing 80x magnification.
For the newcomer, this airgun discipline is certainly an eye-popping experience indeed – but then so it should be, bearing in mind that Field Target is the flagship outdoor airgun sport, pushing both rifle and competitor to the limits of performance.
Consequently, many manufacturers showcase their work in this arena. For some years, Air Arms have wasted no time signing up many of the best shots in the country, but one of their rivals, Daystate, has always taken a somewhat more relaxed approach; their hopes are largely placed on the shoulders of just one, lone shot.
Luckily, Stuart Hancox is pretty good – and with back-to-back World FT titles under his belt, he commands total respect from fellow FT-ers… and those sent to interview him.
AS So Stuart, first things first – what pays the bills?
SH I run a business providing animal housing – cages, hutches, aviaries, that sort of thing.
AS And after you clock off?
SH My main interests outside of shooting happen to be mountain biking and birds of prey. I have two Harris Hawks flying free much of the time at home, so I know what’s required to keep such fantastic creatures happy – hence the day job.
AS When did you first get into shooting?
AS Ever tried other disciplines?
SH No. Only air rifles and FT float my boat.
AS What airguns have you owned, and how did you rate them?
SH I was lucky, since my first gun was a Ripley AR4, fitted with a Simmons 20x magnification scope. As I progressed, I switched the scope for one of those early big Leupolds, fitted with a Premier reticle. Next came an AR5-S, and I still think that they are the best out there, as long as Steve at Ripley has put it together! I had a year with a Walther Dominator and that, too, was a cracking rifle. But now I’m in the team, it’s a Daystate – which I’m also impressed with. I had some good results with the now- discontinued Grand Prix, but the new Grey Shadow Special Edition model is mega.
AS Yes we’ve noticed – You’re fairly unique in FT in that you’re using a buddy bottle hunting rifle, aren’t you?
SH I know, but I can honestly say the rifle really is excellent and match-accurate. It’s not a plug for my sponsors, either. The fact is, this gun simply puts pellet on pellet.
SH Not really – other than it has special, fully-adjustable Gary Cane stock. The adjustable hamster replicates my old Grand Prix’s, and with an adjustable cheekpiece, dual thumb shelves, a Huggett-styled moderator/shroud and butt hook, the Grey Shadow has all the usual features expected of a top FT rig.
AS And what about glassware? What scope do you use?
SH I now use a Deben supplied 10-50×50 scope, although I can’t quite remember the exact model because it’s not fully marked-up… and they don’t make them any more! But it just keeps going on and on, in all conditions. It’s a great bit of kit that’s never let me down! I use a bigger P/A sidewheel for range-finding, from which I’ve removed a section to facilitate loading.
AS Any favourite accessories then Stuart?
SH I’d say the fully adjustable Sportsmatch mounts. They’ve allowed me to roughly zero the scope with the reticle optically centred. That means any final tweaking puts the minimum of stress on the scope’s internals.
SH I’m hopeless on dates, but I know at some time or another I’ve won the NEFTA Classic, the BFTA Championship, twice taken the Welsh Open, won the Anglo American, Irish Open and the Essex 50 – also twice. There are others, but I’d have to look them up! My most memorable victories, of course, have to be winning the World Championship in 2001 and 2002. I managed second in 2003, too – but made up for the disappointment of not making it a hat-trick by securing overall victory in the 2003 Grand Prix Series.
AS That’s mightily impressive. Ever considered competing in HFT?
SH I’m not sure really. It started as a cheap way of getting into outdoor target shooting, but now the gear seems to be as expensive and sophisticated as FT. I don’t like the lying-down bit, though – so you won’t see me competing in HFT any time soon.
AS How often do you practise?
SH When I first started shooting, I used to get out three or four times a week. These days I just don’t get out because work and other hobbies stop me. I just turn up on the day… and shoot.
AS Finally, to anyone wishing to emulate your achievements, what would you advise?
SH The key has to be joining a good club. Get one of the top shooters to show you how they do it, and then shoot as often as you can. But buy the best kit you can afford – buying sub-standard kit will get you nowhere in FT.