Field Target Competition
Field Target (FT) shooting is a popular form of airgun competition worldwide, but many readers may be unfamiliar with this sport. Field Target matches are held outdoors, with multiple targets engaged using a variety of positions: prone, kneeling, sitting, and standing. On a walk-through, multi-stage course, targets are placed at unknown distances from 7.3 meters to 50 meters in the UK or from 10 yards to 55 yards in the USA*. Targets are typically silhouette-style animal shapes, although there is a trend towards simple geometric shapes. Normally, there is a small central “hit zone” on the target; the shot must strike that zone to score — a shot hitting the surrounding faceplate does not count. Targets are shot from open “gates” in a firing line, divided into “lanes” of one to three targets each (usually two in the UK). Many UK events have a two-minute time limit to shoot a lane’s two targets.
Field Target Equipment
The greatest challenge for FT shooters is the wind. Learning how to dope the wind successfully can take many years. Pellets can be blown sideways by even a light breeze. In stronger winds it is not uncommon to aim completely off the faceplate in order to score a hit, and judging the amount of “Kentucky Windage” takes a lot of practice. Head and tail winds can also have an effect on the trajectory of the pellets, causing them to hit high or low.
Field Target vs. Hunter Field Target
Targets simulate small game such as rabbits, rats, crows, and squirrels. As with FT, each target has a circular “kill zone” that, when hit, triggers a mechanism that drops the target. Successfully knocking down a target yields two points while hitting the target plate outside the “kill zone” scores one point. (By contrast, in FT, “plating” a target outside the kill zone scores zero.)
When it comes to marksmanship, the main difference between Field Target and Hunter Field Target is the method of target ranging. In HFT competition, you do NOT use optical focus adjustments to gauge target distance. (In fact, in the UK you cannot manipulate the scopes at all during the HFT match.) Instead you must estimate target range visually or by using a conventional range-finding reticle (such as a mil-dot reticle). Scopes in the 10X to 12X range are favored for HFT competition. By comparison, FT shooters may employ giant optics with 40X or even 50X max magnification.
*In New Zealand max target distance is 60m; in European matches, targets are sometimes placed out to 60m.
This article originally appeared in Target Shooter online magazine, a new UK-based resource for precision shooters. Target Shooter covers a wide variety of disciplines: short-range and long-range benchrest, 300m, Palma, F-Class, Field Target, gallery shooting, rimfire BR, rimfire position, silhouette, airguns, and even tactical. Target Shooter articles are crafted by some of the UK’s most respected shooters.
To read all the articles in the April 2009 debut edition of Target Shooter magazine, visit www.targetshooter.co.uk. Target Shooter is delivered online in a print-style format, with sequential articles on numbered pages. You can even “turn the pages” as with a print magazine. Target Shooter employs advanced web technology to give shooters a uniquely rich, yet familiar reading experience.
Field Target & Hunter Field Target Positions
by Tim Finley, for Target Shooter Magazine
Classic Field Target Sitting Position. Note waterproof foam-filled support bag.
Field Target shooting, or “FT” as it is commonly known, is the oldest outdoor air rifle shooting sport. It has evolved over thirty some years from a sport very much like Hunter Field Target (HFT) when it first started, but is now more refined as it were. FT allows the use of a foam-bead-filled waterproof seat to sit upon and to place under the back foot when taking the forced positional kneeling shots found in FT courses. The now classic FT sitting position is always used on all FT shots other than the forced kneeling and standing shots. It is a very stable and comfortable shooting position which allows the rifle to be rested upon the forward knee while the shooter is operating/adjusting their high magnification scope to range-find the distance to the target, that being out to 55 yards (50m). The basic position is the same for most shooters — the forward hand cups the forward knee, with the rifle resting on the first finger of the forward hand as well as the top of the knee. This takes all the weight of the rifle, unless it is a spring rifle, but more of the peculiarities needed with recoiling rifles later.
Most FT shooters use a target glove on their forward hand. The rear or trigger arm then rests on the thigh of the rear leg. I say rear leg as the trunk of the shooter is not at 90 degrees to the target, but at 45 degrees. This has the rear shoulder in line with the forward knee, in a line pointing directly at the target. A sitting position popular in the early days of FT when spring rifles were king is the over arm position. This is now only used by one or two people out of hundreds of FT shooters. The rifle tends to rest on the pulse of the arm and therefore can bounce up and down on the shooters heartbeat. The vast majority of FT spring shooters today use the more normal “on the knee” position, but with the major difference that the spring rifles fore-stock is never, ever rested directly on the knee, but is cradled by the forward hand. This hand is normally equipped with a padded target glove.
FT allows the shooter to adjust his butt hook position to take up-hill or down-hill targets, whether shooting from the sitting, standing, or kneeling positions. A simple rule to govern which way you move the butt hook is, if the target is higher than horizontal then lift the relative position of the hook on the butt. If the target is lower, then drop the butt hook. The greater the angle up or down to the target, the more you need to adjust the position of the butt hook. Anschutz-type multi-positional buttpads/hooks are extremely popular in FT and all FT rifles based upon indoor target guns have the ability to alter the butt position. There are no real tricks to FT shooting positions other than being able to alter the butt hook, although it surprises me greatly that not all FT shooters actually do it. FT rifle dimensions are fine-tuned to suit the three shooting stances: sitting, kneeling and standing. Length of pull (butt to trigger), fore-end stock depth, and cheek piece height should all be different for each shooting position. However, wooden stocks cannot be altered; and to move the fore-end and pull length for each target can be a hassle — even with modern 10m-style aluminum modular stocks. The only practical option is to move the butt hook/pad position up and down; believe me it does help. The stock dimensions are then a compromise between standing, sitting and kneeling. My Steyr LG-110 FT rifle is set up biased towards standing, but is still usable for sitting and kneeling, although not perfect.
Kneeling Stability Secrets
FT kneeling can be as stable as the sitting position if you take the time to master it. The front rifle supporting hand must be clear knee, the rule being that if you can drop your hand down and it touches the knee, then the hand is not forward enough. The deep FT stock must not be resting upon the forearm either. The back foot must be vertical and the bean bag can be placed under the shin/ankle of the rear foot to transfer the weight of the shooter to the ground. I also alter the position of the butt hook for kneeling, again moving it even more if the targets are not horizontal to the ground at the lane marker.
The most stable standing position is to have the front elbow resting upon the front hip and the front hand drawn back to right in front of the trigger guard. FT shooters do not use the shotgun-type lock-arm stance for standing shots, unless forced to by extreme angled shots high in trees.
Hunter Field Target Techniques and Positions
There are two main shooting techniques used in FT that are completely banned in HFT. One is the sitting position either on the ground, on a bean bag or on a turned foot when kneeling and other is the use of a supporting bean bag under the rear foot/ankle when kneeling. Also, you are NOT allowed to alter any settings/positions of equipment on either your rifle or scope once you start shooting. That means no range-finding using the parallax, no magnification changes, no elevation changes, no eye bell changes on the scope, and no buttpad or stock-depth alterations on the rifle.
In place of sitting, the prone shot is the norm in HFT. Some HFT lanes have posts or pegs driven into the ground to act: 1) as lane markers which must be touched by shooter or his rifle; and, 2) as a convenient solid platform to use as a rifle support. Up to five of the 30 lanes now have a flat, ground marker instead of a peg/post. This must be touched, but it provides no support to the shot. An important rule in HFT is that the trigger must not be forward of (or over) the demarcated firing line.
To start with the peg shot, a lot of shooters use a target shooting glove on their supporting hand, as is done in FT. If the peg is short enough, the index finger can be placed on top of the peg and the thumb held upright to form a channel to rest the rifle fore-end in. The other three fingers wrap around the peg. For a right-handed shooter, the rifle is down the left hand side of the peg. The variations on this [reflect] the length of the peg, its diameter and if you need to shoot down one side or the other of the peg to get a clear shot. Moving to the other side of the peg means you have to grip the peg with the thumb and rest the rifle on the index finger. The newly introduced flat lane marker is something I liked about HFT when I shot it in 2004. Pegs soon took over on every lane, but now in the 2008 season up to 5 “non peg” shots are on each 30-shot course. This type of shot relies upon the shooting skill of the shooter, rather than hanging on to a solid peg. It is for this shooting position that I feel the use of a target glove is essential, as is good trigger control and breathing technique.
Now for a good prone position trick, some course designers place pegs that do not have a clear sight on the target. These force the clever shooter to move off the peg to clear obstructions up or down the firing line. These “off the peg” shots have the HFT shooter adopting a unique shooting position where the foot or knee touches the lane marker and the rifle is supported by the gloved hand on the ground. Look for other competitors using this position as a clue as to the best way of taking on a target. I have even used this position left-handed (I am normally right-handed). The ambidextrous stock on my Steyr Hunter LG-110 allows me to do this. Remember the trigger must be behind the firing line. This makes the normal body-in-line with the flight of the pellet prone shot a very sideways-on position. Practice these odd stances before you get to a national UKAHFT shoot.
Supported and Unsupported Standing Shots
There are two supported and one unsupported standing/kneeling shots on a 30-shot course. These supported shots have a tree or a post as the means of support. The key to using a support is if the target placement and lane marker allow the shooter to get into a tripod stance. Both feet should be spread apart, parallel to the target’s faceplate, with the third leg of the tripod being the rifle rested with a target glove on the tree/post. Cushioning the rifle against the solid object with your target glove is essential — for a good hold as well as protecting your rifle a bit.
If you stand in the normal, unsupported standing position with feet in line with the flight of the pellet the lighthouse effect happens. That is where the rifle constantly swings left and right, across the target, making an aimed shot almost impossible. Cruel course designers sometimes place the lane marker at the base of the support, forcing the shooter to adopt this unstable lighthouse position, i.e. the support is not the lane marker. When this happens I opt for an unsupported standing position, touching the lane marker with my forward foot.
Special Rules for Kneeling
Kneeling in HFT does not allow any form of artificial support under the back foot/ankle. The rear foot cannot be turned and sat upon, but some shooters can place the top of the foot flat on the ground without turning the foot, which is allowed in the rules. For those not supple enough to do this the bean bag can only be used under the knee to keep it clean or protected from stones/tree roots. Again the supporting hand must be clear of the knee as in FT. The UKAHFT shoot rules state that if the forward supporting rifle hand is dropped and it touches the knee then the hand is not forward enough. Your targets will be marked as misses and you could be thrown off a course for repeatedly breaking this rule. Often trees are placed near the lane markers for kneeling shots and it is good to take advantage of these stable platforms as long as it does not compromise your shooting position too much. Weigh the benefits of using or not using any support. Often a clearer, unrestricted view of the target can be taken by not using the support. And the use of such supports often induces sideways movement into the aim, and the lighthouse effect can happen in kneeling shots too if you are not careful. Angled shots high in trees in HFT happen in all three shooting positions. With prone you need to move as far up the peg as you can, if there is a peg.
In standing, the rifle can be resting on the fingertips or [you can] even adopt a shotgun-style locked-arm position, where the lead arm’s elbow is not touching the body as normal. Kneeling has the forward hand moving back towards the trigger. Do not try to fight the swing too much, just time the trigger let-off with the crosshairs of the reticle passing the point you want to hit. These are just a few of the major tricks of the trade when it comes to HFT. The HFT shooter needs much more of a technical thought-process in judging the best shooting position than in FT. The body too needs to be more supple for some of the weird and wonderful shooting positions HFT shooters get into. I shoot both disciplines and enjoy both immensely. FT has helped my HFT shooting of that there is no doubt. The unsupported standing and kneeling position in FT is a bread and butter shot. However, for many HFT shooters, the unsupported positions strike fear into their hearts even before they get to the lane. My advice is to practice the shots you fear and the fear will disappear, or do as I do and shoot both sports!
About the Author, Tim Finley
I started airgun shooting at age 13, winning my first outdoor shooting competition in 1981. I have been Field Target shooting for over 20 years, winning the European Championship, the British National title several times, and the Showdown six times. Moving on to Hunter Field Target (HFT) I was the first person to win the ‘Gathering’ twice and now enjoy some success at mini rifle, LBP and tactical full-bore shooting too.
In between all that shooting I work as a full-time railway engineer, a shooting journalist, and consultant for airgun, firearms, and scope manufacturers part time. At home, I have young twins (a boy and a girl) and an understanding (up to a point) wife.
Photos and text copyright 2009 Target Shooter magazine and Tim Finley, All Rights Reserved. Used by permission, license granted to AccurateShooter.com | 6mmBR.com.
1. Shoot your air rifle a lot. It can take as many as 1500 shots or more to get it broken in properly.
2. Practice your positions: sitting field target position (most popular), off-knee sitting position, or standing position, while holding your air rifle every night on the living room floor until it becomes natural and comfortable.
3. For practicing shooting off-hand, put a piece of tape on the wall at the furthest distance you can in your house and practice holding on that mark. Start with something pretty big and work your way down till you can hold on something the size of a quarter. Use as much bone on bone contact as you can to reduce fatigue.
4. Find the right pellet. Shoot many domed head pellet varieties until you find the one that groups the tightest.
5. If you’re shaky when you shoot, have physical problems, or just need more stability, try a shooting harness. It will make it more comfortable for you and keep you steady.
7. Start with a good airgun-rated scope that gathers good light and is reliable in holding zero, and a get a solid mount that won’t creep or slide on the receiver.
8. Don’t rely on the yardage marks on the scope, they may be inaccurate. Record your own true yardages, and mark these on white tape placed on the side-focus parallax wheel or adjustable front objective.
9. For elevation adjustment, you can use mil-dots with a hold-over chart, or place tape on your scope elevation knob and mark your true yardages on it. You can also make a drop chart and note the amount of elevation clicks from a 10-yard zero.