November 7, 2012 | Author Brian Samson
You’ve set up and zeroed your scope, practiced your breathing and trigger technique and know the basics of the prone position and range finding, now would be a good time to get some competition experience under your belt.
The best practice for HFT is to actually shoot in a competition. You can’t really get a good appreciation of what the sport’s all about until you actually try it! Many novice shooters don’t know what to expect and are usually worried they’ll put in a bad score.
If it helps to set your mind at ease, although HFT is technically a competition, very few shooters take it too seriously and even the few that do are very friendly and approachable.
The basic premise of HFT is that it’s easy to get into and the scoring system is designed to encourage newcomers to the sport. Course setters very rarely set out a course of extremely difficult targets, the general rule of thumb is to set out a course that has something for everyone, so perhaps 10 easy targets, 10 medium targets and 10 difficult targets to help spread out the top scores of the day.
An HFT course will normally consist of 30 targets. The scoring is 2 points for knocking the target over, 1 point for hitting the faceplate and 0 for a complete miss. Hitting all the faceplates isn’t difficult even with a rifle that hasn’t been set up correctly beforehand and you’re bound to knock over a good percentage of the easy targets and probably some of the more difficult targets too, so a score of around 45 out of 60 should certainly be achievable with not too much effort. It’s actually surprisingly difficult to get an ‘embarrassing’ score in HFT so you really needn’t be worried about making a fool out of yourself.
So where do you start?
There are quite a few HFT competitions and club shoots happening throughout the year all over the country. The UKAHFT runs a series of 9 competitions over the summer months but these normally need to be pre-booked before the series starts as there are limited places available.
For your first competition I’d advise trying one of the regional HFT series’ or an open club shoot. These events tend not to be quite so intense, there aren’t as many shooters and the whole atmosphere is much more relaxed. The NEFTA Hunter series that runs in the North East provides an excellent introduction. There are similar series in the Midlands and the South of England all run to a similar scheme. Check out www.shooting-the-breeze.com for details of a regional competition or club shoot near to you.
How To Enter
Simply turn up at the advertised venue on the day of the event. There is no need to book in advance unless you’re shooting in one of the UKAHFT events. There is a practical limit to how many shooters a competition can accommodate so it’s best to arrive early to avoid disappointment. If you are travelling a long distance to get to the event, you may want to contact the organisers to reserve a place for you. Spectators are also welcome, although sometimes not all of the course will be open to spectators for safety reasons.
What does it cost?
The cost of entry for HFT competitions is usually around £5-£10 for Adults and usually less for juniors.
Who can enter?
Generally HFT events are open to everyone although an adult (21 or over) must accompany shooters under the age of 17. The shooter does not have to be a member of any particular association and normally insurance will be arranged by the organisers and included in the cost of entry, but some club competitions may require competitors to provide their own insurance. (This is rare, but worth checking for smaller club shoots). All shooters and spectators will usually be required to sign in on the day for insurance purposes.
The day of the competition – a run through
There will normally be 2 start times for each competition. The first round of competitors will normally start at around 9am and the second round will start at about 11-30am. But check the number of sessions and their expected start times with the organisers if in any doubt. The start time for the 2nd session will be a rough approximation, since it will depend on how long the 1st session takes to complete and how long it takes to re-spray the targets on the course.
It’s best to arrive at least an hour early to give you time to book in and spend some time on the zero range, but the earlier you arrive the better.
Once you have parked the car the first job is to find the Stats office and book in for the competition. If you have any trouble finding the Stats office just ask someone – they will point you in the right direction. When I say ‘office’ I mean it in the loosest sense, stats tent or stats shed are closer to the truth at most venues.
Once at the stats ‘office’ you will be asked for your name and then you will be allocated a lane number. At most competitions you’ll be allocated a shooting partner so you needn’t worry about not having someone to shoot round with if you come to the competition on your own. If you’ve come along with a friend, you may not be able to shoot on the same lane as them, but if you go to the stats office together and arrive early enough you may be able to shoot on the lane next to them. If you’re with a junior you’ll be required to shoot on the same lane with them but you’ll probably have another independent shooter allocated to your lane as well.
The stats person will give you your scorecard, which will have your starting lane marked on it – just in case you forget. Put the scorecard in a safe place until you are ready to shoot the competition. If this is your first competition, it’s worth mentioning to the stats person so that they can pair you with a more experienced shooter.
What’s the point of the zero range?
You may have spent hours setting your rifle up before the competition (if you haven’t you really should go back and read the earlier articles in this series!). So what’s the point of checking your zero just before a competition?
Warm up and wind doping
You should spend at least 20 minutes warming up on the zero range before you shoot a competition. Concentrate on your trigger technique, breathing control and follow-through. Don’t worry too much about whether your shots are going high or low or even whether you can shoot a nice tight grouping on paper. Be more concerned with the technique and the sort of wind deflection you’re getting between shots. Also pay attention to the direction the wind’s coming from – this will really help to give you an idea about what the wind is likely to be doing around the course.
I’ll cover wind doping in a later article but for the moment it’s enough to know that only a side wind will affect a pellet (not strictly true but close enough to being true for you not to need to worry about it).
If the wind is coming directly from the side – (I.e a 90 degree wind) then the amount of wind deflection will be at its maximum. If the wind is coming from 45 degrees the deflection will be half of what it would if the wind was at 90 degrees.
So if your warming up on the zero range in a 45 degree wind and you notice that most shots are landing half a mildot to the left or right then you can expect that your pellets will land 1 full mildot left or right if the wind was at 90 degrees to your position.
After the zero range
You should have some spare time before the start of the event, it’s best to refill your rifle with air (avoid over filling it, you’ll only need to take 30 shots). Collect together everything you’ll need for the competition – gun, pellets, glove, bean bag or mat, scorecard, pen and anything else you’re taking with you. Now you’ll have some time to relax and chat to the other shooters. Some people like to grab a cup of tea from the burger van too. Just remember that sugary food and drinks will increase your pulse rate and may have a negative effect on your shooting during the competition.
Most competitions are normally started with a mandatory safety speech followed by everyone being directed to their respective starting pegs, so when you’re asked to gather for the safety speech take all if your shooting gear with you so you can take a leisurely stroll to your starting peg after the speech.
Once the briefing has ended everyone will be asked to make their way to their lanes. This is the lane that was allocated to you at the Stats office when you booked in and should be written on your scorecard. Follow the crowd of people onto the course and find the correct lane to start on – they will be clearly marked but don’t be afraid to ask if you feel lost. There are usually two or three people assigned to each lane. Introduce yourself and agree what order you will shoot in. If this is your first competition make it known and the other people will give you pointers along the way to help you settle in.
The first shot
The competition will start once all competitors have reached their lanes and the marshals give the all clear signal. Each competitor in your group will take 1 shot at the target in your lane. While one competitor shoots another will mark his scorecard and the other will just try to be of help to the current shooter (pulling up targets or passing the gun to a prone shooter if required etc.) Once you have all shot the target it is time to move onto the next one. If you started part way round the course then you will return back to target 1 when target 30 has been shot. Once you have shot all 30 targets you have finished.
They think it’s all over
At this point your group should check all the scorecards and add up the totals. Once they have been agreed and written in the correct box the cards must be signed by one of the shooters in your group (you cannot sign your own card) and returned back to the stats office.
What if there is a problem during the competition?
There will be marshals dotted around the course and these will be able to help with any problems that arise while you are shooting the competition. If you have any concerns or problems just ask for a marshal.
It’s actually fairly rare for a target to malfunction, a very large number of targets that are called as ‘faulty’ are usually the result of the pellet not striking the kill zone cleanly and hitting the edge of the kill zone first (known as a ‘splitter’). It’s easy to convince yourself that you made a clean hit when in fact you split the target so avoid calling a target unless you have absolutely no doubt in your mind that the target is faulty. Sometimes splitters go down and sometimes they don’t – you wouldn’t complain when they fall over, so don’t complain when they don’t.
Everyone makes them but there are things you can do to avoid them. One of the most frustrating is shooting the wrong target (especially when it’s a harder target than the one you should have shot and you make the shot). Forgetting to load a pellet or discharging the gun accidentally is another common mistake.
These mistakes can be avoided by having a set routine you always follow for every lane no matter what. You’ll need to come up with you’re own routine but an example routine might involve standing at a peg first and making a Mk1 eyeball assessment of range while noting any potential obstructions to your shooting line. Approach the peg and pull the target string tight. This will ensure you have the correct target, it’s pulled up and not locked and you can also look along the length of the string to see which direction the wind is coming from and gauge it’s strength.
Next kneel in front of the shooting peg and while being careful to keep your barrel pointing downrange, cock and load your gun. If you have a safety catch, it’s a good idea to engage it now and keep your finger well away from the trigger. The vast majority of premature discharges happen when getting down to the peg.
Once you’ve found a comfortable position, and made your final range and wind estimations you’re ready to disengage your safety catch and take your shot.
Your routine doesn’t finish when you’ve taken your shot, you should also incorporate pulling the target back up when you knock it down and how to get up from your shot while keeping your rifle pointed downrange at all times without exception.
It will take lots of practice to establish a routine, but you should start with your first competition and stick with it no matter what. The time you deviate from your shooting routine is the time you’ll make a silly mistake.
What’s hit is history, what’s missed is mystery
Every shot you take is a learning opportunity, if you miss a target and you have no idea why, that’s a completely wasted shot. You should always be asking yourself why you missed and what you can learn from it.
Don’t be too quick to jump to the wrong conclusions however. The most common reasons for missing (apart from silly mistakes) are an incorrectly set up rifle, poor technique (trigger, breathing and follow through), misjudging the wind, parallax error and fairly low down on the list is range finding errors.
Improving your score in the next competition is a matter of identifying your most common reason for missing and working to eliminate (or at least improve on) that reason.
Hopefully, if you’ve followed this series of articles through from the start, you’ll already have a correctly set up and zeroed rifle and you’ll have spent countless hours perfecting your technique. So with any luck you should be well on your way to scores in the 50’s.