Andy McLachlan reckons it’s time to swallow your pride and seek help from those in the know
Experience shows that a very high percentage of both HFT and FT competitors choose to use recoilless guns. The pre-charged pneumatic air rifle is an inherently accurate beast, and is understandably popular due to its ease of use – and the fact that a novice shot is quickly able to gain reasonable levels of accuracy with some minimal training.
This is a very great boon to the sport in general, as it means we can recruit shooters into the fold without having them spend months or years learning to shoot to standards they would themselves consider to be acceptable. The PCP fits in perfectly with this consideration. PCPs are widely available and can represent excellent value for money for shooters who have discovered an interest in shooting sports.
Costs of perfectly decent PCP rifle and scope combinations, along with the necessary charging gear, have dropped considerably in recent years. This has further increased the scope of potential hobbyists wishing to join our ranks, as they learn just how enjoyable that shooting an air rifle or pistol can be. We all knew that anyway, though!
Some of these shooters will decide that outdoor competition sounds very appealing and will gravitate towards local club-organised outdoor shoots that offer a change from informal shooting indoors at a local club or indoor range. Some of them will swiftly realise that the ability to drop a pellet, one on top of the other, at distance on an indoor range is very different to the skill-set they will need when shooting outdoors at a yet-to-be individually determined range, while a gusting breeze moves their carefully aligned shot inches away from the intended impact point. Still, this is why the sport is so genuinely challenging in my opinion, especially when the variables are so many, and constantly changing throughout a day outside.
Practice makes perfect
The only way to improve your own performance for shooting outside is to practise as frequently as possible, preferably with some wind that’s likely to affect the pellet as it makes its way to the target. This will allow you to develop the crucial skill of wind estimation and how it affects your pellet at different ranges. The problem is, of course, that this will constantly vary according to the velocity of the air movement at the instant you decide to loose the shot.
If your outdoor range is anything like my own Rivington club’s up at Turton Tower, you will sometimes think the wind is blowing one way, only for your pellet to fly precisely in the other direction due to turbulence. This can often be caused by features such as ditches, high or low banks and trees, which cause the prevailing breeze to behave in a most irritating manner when you are trying to carefully place a shot. The true expert shooters are better able to read wind than most and seem to have the uncanny ability to assess just how to position their aim point to cater for air movement that the rest of us will miss most of the time.
They will carefully study how the wind is affecting the reset cord to the target. On some outdoor venues, I have often witnessed reset cords being deflected in two opposite directions at the same time. This makes for some challenging choices when lining up for a shot, and often relies upon the use of ‘the Force’ and the long-standing experience that the better shots tend to have.
I have mentioned in a previous article how important it is to read the target faceplate for clues prior to taking any shot. This will often allow you, as the shooter, the opportunity to use other shooters’ failure to your own benefit, as you can then integrate the visual clues into your own firing solution. This might involve allowing for a tiny amount of additional wind that is not apparent from viewing the reset cord or the grass, and any foliage that might surround the target, and allow us to physically see the effect of any air movement.
You will also notice that the experienced shots will often wait for a lull in the breeze prior to them taking the shot. Bearing in mind that we are not allowed more than a couple of minutes for our shots, two minutes is still quite a long time to wait for that particularly bad gust to subside slightly and to give our pellet a better chance of curling its way to the killzone rather than the faceplate.
If you are new to outdoor competition shooting and wish to learn the basics of wind judgement and rangefinding, you could do far worse than ask one of the better-performing shots for some coaching and expert guidance. Shooters who have ventured into the outdoors for the first time are often shocked by the amount of wind deflection necessary for dropping those targets, particularly at long range. I can recall in the past couple of months courses I have shot myself, which have required up to six inches or so of aiming off to stand any chance of dropping the target. The expert shot will very often succeed in these scenarios, due to both their experience and willingness to shoot way off the target into thin air to allow the pellet to follow a very often mega-curved flightpath to the target. These are the targets that we all love to be successful with, of course!
I know of several top shooters who are only too happy to share their experience with those new to the sport. I also know shooters who might have less patience than is necessary for the task. If you are seeking some expert coaching, it is usually best to attend something like a club practice shoot, as the experts you seek are less likely to be engaged in cut-throat competition, and are more likely to stop, talk and advise you.
Fortunately, all the airgun clubs and shooting grounds that the outdoor shooting community use are full of genuinely friendly and experienced members that enjoy providing newcomers with the ‘knowledge’. In fact, many shooters find themselves becoming involved in HFT purely due to the sound advice and guidance provided by people that they can relate to and, just as importantly, trust.
What I am trying to say is that should you fancy having a crack at some HFT competition, get yourself along to a club that possesses an outdoor range. If you are not confident of approaching the regular shots, you can at least start practising to read the wind and assess range by shooting at some targets. Usually there will be some other shooters present who will respond very favourably to any questions that you might have. This frequently leads to lifelong friendships being made with people who are very much like you, and appreciate the considerable challenges of learning the basics as they seek to improve.
HFT is a genuinely challenging and friendly sport to be involved with. Through a local club, you’ll embark upon a journey that can lead to new friends, travelling long distances and some genuinely enjoyable days that can include all family members able to use a gun responsibly. What are you waiting for?