HFT v HUNTER
Jim Tyler says, HFT can help hunters to improve their skills, and tells us why he thinks that’s true.
My local HFT club, Nomads, was privileged to host the final round of the 2016/7 Daystate Midland Hunter series of HFT shoots. We seem to be gaining something of a reputation for setting, shall we say, ‘challenging’ courses – aided, I hasten to add, by the unique topography of Nomad’s ground – and this event did nothing to dispel that reputation.
The course-setting begins three to four weeks before the event, at which point we have no idea of the wind conditions on the day of the shoot, and have to set some targets in the expectation of there being little or no wind in order to make the most of whatever wind there is. That’s what we did for the Daystate event, but on the day of the competition, the wind was strong, gusting and changing direction, seemingly by the second, and the scores were low, with some first-class competitors who routinely expect their score to be in the 50s finding themselves in the unfamiliar territory of the mid-40s.
After the shoot, we were asked if the course could be left unchanged for the following two weeks, so that people could have a second crack, and the course setters jumped at the chance of a fortnight off.
The following Sunday, some people wondered if their aim points – the dots on the scope reticle that line up with certain distances – had changed, especially the longer-range aim points, such as a shot at a 40-yard target landing nearer the scope’s 45-yard aim point. The wind was not quite as strong as the previous week, but it was still far stronger than I would consider remotely suitable for hunting. So what was going on?
In a nutshell, the wind was causing pellets to land high or low at longer ranges, and it was due to a combination of the strength and direction of the wind, and the topography. The Nomads’ ground is on the exposed, east-facing side of Berrow Hill, overlooking the vast Severn valley, and slopes away in both directions from a ridge that runs east to west down the side of the hill. This means that many shots are angled up or down, which can cause a pellet usually to fly higher, but depending on wind direction, sometimes lower than it would with the same wind and the target level with the rifle.
The amount of vertical shift due to wind does not have to be huge to cause problems, because if it pushes the point of impact (POI) close to the top or bottom of the kill zone where it is narrowest, then even a slight horizontal shift can take the pellet out of the kill zone. Not all shots were into the wind, of course, and the horizontal drift of strong side wind was a major factor in the low scores at the two shoots and, just to complicate matters further, not only head wind, but also cross
“it is at near and far ranges that the pellet climbs and falls most for each yard of flight”
wind can move the POI up or down.
The lesson for hunters is that the wind can cause the best HFT shooters to miss a 35mm or 40mm target at any sort of range, made worse if the shot is inclined, so hunters in the same wind would most certainly not attain the necessary accuracy for humane kills.
Many people respond to an apparent shift in an aim point by adjusting their sights; not during the shoot itself (UKAHFT rules forbid altering any scope settings during a shoot), but on the zero range afterwards, and that is a monumental mistake for two reasons. First, they’re fixing something that’s not broken, and second, they are attempting to zero in a strong and capricious wind, which will put their zero a mile out in calmer conditions!
The second, and potentially more costly mistake that people make is to suspect a fault with their rifle, scope or pellet; a recent change of pellet die number that necessitated re-zeroing, a change of scope, parallax focus or zero, as well as any recent alterations to the rifle usually automatically get the blame.
The only sensible solution I can think of for shooting long-range tin chickens in the wind is to watch anything in the vicinity of the target that responds to the wind, which could be foliage, blades of grass, or the reset cord hanging down in front of the target, and try to take the shot when it is least animated. The UKAHFT rules allow two minutes for each target, and that’s usually plenty of time to wait for a lull in the wind.
The lesson for hunters is not to be too quick to blame your gear for a POI shift, but to test in near still air first, to see whether or not the problem could have been air movement.
The course setters will be aware that most people zero at 25 or 30 yards, will use this information to try to place targets at ranges that don’t line up with reticle aim points, and try to place the target so that it appears nearer or further than is the case, so that the shooter is more likely to hit high or low in the kill zone; in other words, the narrowest parts, so that even minor deviation in the horizontal plane can hit outside the kill zone.
One of the Nomads’ course setters inadvertently managed to catch himself out in this way at all three Daystate course shoots by setting a 16mm kill zone target at 17 yards, which looks as though it’s a little more than 17 yards, thanks to the 16mm kill zone, and with a 25-yard zero, could be taken comfortably with the cross hairs centre of kill when, in fact, aiming dead on, places the pellet just inside the bottom of the kill zone. The slightest pellet POI deviation left, right or down resulted in a ‘plate’, and the loss of a potential point. For anyone with a 30yard zero, though, aiming dead-on would knock that target over all day long.
For those sighted in at 30 yards, things are a bit trickier for the course setters, because with the most commonly used pellet, in theory they can aim dead-on at ranges between in the region of 15 yards and just over 30 yards, but at the nearer range, if you can give the impression that the range is a little further, and encourage people to aim near centre rather than top of the kill zone, their pellets could again be hitting just within the bottom of the kill zone, and slight horizontal shift can, again, result in a plate.
The lesson here for hunters is that you need to be very accurate when assessing the range of close shots, every bit as much as you do for long-range shots, because it is at near and far ranges that the pellet climbs and falls most for each yard of flight.
HUNTING TARGET PRACTICE
In HFT, the 15mm kill zone targets can be placed between 13 and 25 yards, and is pretty close to what I’d consider the kind of accuracy you’d need for much airgun hunting, bearing in mind that the 15mm is edge to edge, which equates to 10.5mm centre to centre, and which means that the inner edge of the pellet is no more than 3mm from the centre. That’s hunting accuracy.
The targets used in HFT typically retail at around £15, should last indefinitely, and are possibly the best practice targets for hunters. To use them you’ll need paint – road-marking paint is popular, but any paint will do – so that you can touch up stray pellet strike marks, and especially marks on the edge of kill, when the target may have fallen, but only because enough of the pellet missed the face plate, in which case you will have a witness mark on the plate to tell you whether the shot was up to hunting requirements or not.
Although competitions run to
“aiming off is OK for tin chickens, but not for anything that has a pulse”
UKAHFT rules, the 15mm target cannot be set at more than 25 yards; during informal target practice at Nomads we put them out at anything up to 45 yards, on the basis that if a competitor can knock down a 15mm target at a range, then larger kill zones at that range will pose no problem. It’s a huge boost to a shooter’s confidence to knock down a 15mm target at long range. In hunting, though, the kill zone does not grow as range increases, and so the 15mm KZ can be used at up to your own maximum range.
The experiences of competitors at Nomads has reinforced my preference to set zero for my .177” rifles at 30 yards for my bit of rabbit control, which means that between 15 yards and a little over 30 yards, I can aim dead-on in the knowledge that the pellet will be within about 5mm above or below the sight line.
Perhaps the most important lesson that hunters can draw from HFT is that accuracy WILL take a nose dive in strong wind, and especially in strong changeable wind. If the wind takes a pellet out of a 15mm kill zone, I would say it is too windy to consider hunting; aiming off is OK for tin chickens, but not for anything that has a pulse.
We have had visitors to Nomads shooting spring airguns from the major manufacturers, and worked on by just about every known tuner, some with custom stocks, and what is emerging is that it does not matter who made or tuned a spring airgun; nor whether the stock is factory or custom; what’s important is who is shooting it, and whether or not they are on form.
Some of the most consistent HFT Recoiling-class shooters have tried the tunes, tried the fancy stocks, and gone back to basics with near-factory specification rifles and factory stocks. The Recoiling class of the Daystate final round was won by Nomad’s Stew Searle, shooting a very mildly modified TX200 Mk.3 with the full 96mm piston stroke and in the factory stock, and the overall winner of the Recoiling class for the series was Steve Whiting, shooting a mildly modified HW97 in what looked to be a standard stock. That’s not to say that highly modified rifles in heavy target stocks don’t win at HFT; they do, because the most capable shooters often turn to modifications in the hope that it might give them a slight edge.
So, if your accuracy with a spring airgun wanes, get it checked for faults by all means, but if you’re tempted to throw lots of money into it, remember that you can’t buy talent, and first try getting more practice instead. I
Above: The banter and friendship in HFT is as enjoyable as the shooting.
Above: Daystate Recoil class, series winner, Steve Whiting, uses a near standard HW97.
Above: After I’d written about Stew Searle winning the final round of the Daystate with a factory stock, he treated himself to this!
Above: Even in the relative shelter of the trees, the wind was catching people out.
Above: The pellet strikes on this 15mm KZ target prove just how tricky the Nomads’ wind can be.
Above: I refuse to identify the course setter who caught himself out with a target he set.
The zero range is usually busy before and after a shoot.
Above: Competitions can be won or lost at the unsupported standing shot.
Above: In HFT it is the talent of the shooter that matters more than the rifle or scope.
Above: Nomads has a strong springer section.