Charlie Portlock gets an angle on those high shots, and there’s a sting in the tale
Charlie Portlock ‘looks up’ some useful information
No matter how often we practise, elevated shots are extremely hard to train for. On flat ground, the variables of range, wind, hardware, body and mind are challenging enough to overcome – particularly if you shoot a springer – but add elevation to that mix and putting the pellet in a two-pence killzone becomes more difficult because of the way that gravity affects pellet trajectory at different angles. Over flat ground, gravity acts upon your pellet’s flight in a uniform fashion, but the steeper you aim up into a tree, the more that relationship changes and the more likely we are to miss unless we compensate correctly. However, understanding the forces at work in this kind of shooting can be a bit daunting and although there’s a general rule of thumb – always aim low – things aren’t quite that simple. At shallower angles of less than 45° you need to hold under much less than at more acutely angled shots from the base of a tree. To the uninitiated, it can all seem like bit of a mystery and I was keen to discover exactly why some pellets sail over my target’s head. How low is low? At which angles do we need to hold under, and by how much?
The majority of ranges are unable to cater for this kind of shooting, even though it’s not unusual for the airgunner working in woodland to have days when all shots are taken at very steep angles. Some shooters will head for the trees and take potshots at dead branches in order to determine the relationship between their POA (Point of Aim) and the POI (Point of Impact). This seems like a sensible compromise under field conditions, and with experience can yield effective results. However, shooting upwards without a clear backstop is best avoided where possible, and there’s something distasteful about pumping lead into pine cones or branches, however puny they might seem; dead wood is still a valuable part of the woodland ecosystem. So perhaps there’s a better way.
A quick trip to the local recycling centre provided me with a good-sized piece of 16mm ply and with my tree already selected, I started work. I cut the ply into 16” strips, drilled out some hanging holes and anchoring points, and then spray-painted the panels white. After scrounging all the para- cord I could find, I made some stakes and a shooting stick out of some coppiced hazel and took a short walk to an almost ideal spot.
Target Air have been kind enough to send me a box of their excellent spinners and paper targets to test, so I set up the two boards with an
“For the purposes of my first attempt at this kind of range work, I was more curious than clinical”
abundance of options, and then hoisted one of them aloft. This was fairly challenging to do alone, but was made more so by the fact that I sat in a wasp’s nests that had just been disturbed by recent ploughing. I was feeling pretty smug. The door was in the tree, so to speak, and I was ready for some shooting; things were going well, so I took no notice of the buzzing until it reached swarming pitch, at which point something stung my arm and I knew that I was probably in the wrong place. Six or seven stings later and I knew that I was!
Discarding gloves, T-shirt, boots, trousers and pants is not easy when trying to run away and hold on to a piece of cord anchored to some plywood five metres up an ash tree, so I dropped the lot and fled like a coward, slapping myself all over as I did so. The distant ploughmen probably thought that I was having a good time. Half an hour later, I was dressed head to toe in thick clothing – it was 24°C – hermetically sealed with duct tape, and ready for revenge. Clutching some potent fly spray, I launched a fairly tame counteroffensive to recover the anchor cord and my clothing and from a safe and wary distance, re-hoisted the ply board and returned to the business of shooting.
Testing the theory
For the purposes of my first attempt at this kind of range work, I was more curious than clinical, and actually just enjoyed being able to shoot upwards to see where my shots were landing, but I wanted to check for certain that the sub 45° rule held true. When shooting at any elevation under 45°, the rule is to maintain your POA as if you were shooting on level ground. So if your target is on the branch of a tree and the base of that tree is at your zero range – 20 yards for me in this case – then you maintain your POA for the distance to the base of the tree, not to the target, even though it’s further away. This rule of thumb seemed to work in practice, but I was only shooting at a fairly shallow elevation of around 17°, so I experimented with other angles. The difficulty lay in the fact that it was very hard to raise the door high enough into the tree for me to shoot steeply at anything like my zero range, and so I shot groups at 10 yards, five yards and even straight up by lying on the ground. This was not comfortable or particularly effective because the range was so close that my shots landed low.
This problem could be overcome by
“When shooting at any elevation under 45° the rule is to maintain your POA as if you were shooting on level ground”
Above inset: Steeper than this and things become a bit more complicated Above: Bodyweight was crucial
Below left: ChairGun is a useful piece of software everyone can benefit from
Above right: Lying down didn’t help much
Below right: I shot quite well but became tired quickly
Above left: I loaded it with a variety of targets