COMPS US STYLE
Jim Chapman tells us why this hunter wants to shoot a comp’
Jim Chapman takes a rare break from hunting to enter a Speed Silhouette competition
I’ve been shooting air rifles for a long time now, and these days spend most of my field time using them to hunt. Sure, I enjoy getting out with a shotgun for pheasant and other game birds every now and again. I’ll also pull one of my centrefire rifles out of the safe to add venison to the larder, but for the most part it’s all about airgun hunting, for me.
Competition is an aspect of airgunning that I haven’t dived deeply into, only dabbled with field target and a few benchrest events. I view the serious benchrest shooters, with their specialised guns and gear, with admiration, and while I appreciate the skill and practice required to excel, have never been motivated to put in the work myself.
While these competitors are gauging the wind in discreet steps and precisely timing their shots to wring every last bit of accuracy from every pellet, my far less successful approach is to walk to the bench, throw my daypack on the table, lay my rifle across it, and send off sequential shots as rapidly as I can acquire the target. My conditioning is to squeeze the trigger before my quarry moves, or the conditions change, and although these shots would result in 20 dead prairie dogs in the field, they tend to lead to unimpressive scorecards.
When attending my first Extreme Bench Rest competition a few years back, I was trying to decide which events to shoot. There were 25- and 75- metre benchrest, field target, and indoor pistol competitions, but the one that really caught my attention was the Speed Silhouette event. The objective of the Speed Silhouette is straightforward; there are four sets of silhouettes of varying size – four chickens, four pigs, four turkeys, four rams – positioned at 25, 35, 45, and 55 yards, respectively.
Competitors shoot from the bench using a bipod or a rest, but only the front rest may contact the bench. Each competitor is assigned a lane,
and the silhouettes are set on tiles at incremental distances. When the starting buzzer sounds, the shooters try to clear their targets as fast as possible – a hit is when the target is knocked over or off the tile. Once the shooter has cleared their targets, they are required to hit a stop button, mounted on the bench, that records the time for the line judges.
In my view, the most challenging and impacting factor is that the shooters must start with their guns and magazines empty, and all pellets must be in the original tin or box. No staging of pellets is permitted, and the tin must be shaken before the event starts. The competitor can opt for either a single- shot or a magazine-fed rifle, and there are pros and cons to both. For the shooter using a magazine-fed rifle, it can be disheartening when the competitor on the bench next to you starts knocking over their first silhouette while you’re still loading a magazine. On the other hand, once the magazine guns are loaded they start knocking down targets as fast as the gun can be cycled, leading the single- shot adherents to wonder if they made the right choice. The primary downside for magazine users is that with 16 silhouettes, these rifles need two or three reloads to clear the steel menagerie. For the single- loaders, fumbling a couple pellets whilst loading under increasing pressure and fatigue, can knock you out of the running. There is a discussion underway for EBR to increase the number of silhouettes from four to five at each distance, which could force additional magazine loads.
There are nuances to the rules because non- affiliated organisations are hosting these events, and there are currently no mandated standards. For the Airguns of Arizona EBR event, the equipment rules allow some degree of flexibility; air rifles or pistols may be used in calibres up to, but not exceeding .25 calibre, and there are no practical power restrictions. No semi- or full- auto air rifles are permitted; all rifles used in competition must be cycled through a cocking device for each shot. In previous years, competitors modified their magazines to make loading faster and easier, but a new rule has been instituted that permits only factory magazines to be used. There are no restrictions on optics or sighting systems, and competitors may use any device they prefer.
Another major promoter of this sport is Pyramyd Airguns, with an event called the ‘Gunslynger Competition’ (sic), which for the most part follows the same rules with a couple of differences. The targets for this competition are; chicken at 10 yards, pigs at 25, turkeys at 40 and rams at 55. Competitors can shoot off the bench or any position they prefer. In regard to equipment, there are two main departures from the rules observed at EBR; the first is that calibres are restricted to .22 and below, and the muzzle energy is capped at 45 ft.lbs. At this event, once targets are cleared the shooter raises their hand, shouts ‘finished’, and a line judge will verify time and that all targets are down. The final two competitors go head to head, which makes for some exciting shooting!
“the most challenging and impacting factor is that the shooters must start with their guns and magazines empty”
To wrap up this article, I spoke with one of my mates, Shane Keller, who is on staff at AOA, and consistently places near or at the top of the Pro Class standings. I asked Shane what he finds the most challenging aspect of Speed Silhouette, and he told me that it’s trying to keep his nerves under control. He noted that as you look down the line, you’ll see guys shaking and trying to control their breathing, which I know is true because I’m one of those guys hyperventilating with my knees knocking together! Loading your rifle whilst trying to suppress a case of the jitters is a monumental task, which in turn makes you more nervous, resulting in a loop of angst.
Shane’s guns are regulated, flatshooting .22 or .25 calibres – he’s been using the Brocock Bantam Sniper .25 and the Daystate Red Wolf .22 lately. These rifles are intrinsically accurate and have precise actions that are smooth and fast to cycle. He tops his rifle with an Aztec 5.5 – 25x scope, sighted in at 30 yards, but generally leaves it at 12x for the competition. Although these are both magazine-fed rifles, Shane shoots this competition with a single- shot loading tray in place, feeling that he moves at a faster, smoother, and more consistent pace in single- shot mode.
The strategy he employs is to take out the back row of silhouettes first, which are more difficult because wind has a greater impact on the longer shots and these are the only targets requiring holdover. For the middle targets he places the crosshair dead centre, then holds on the base of the chicken silhouette at 25 yards. A very interesting bit of information shared in our discussion was that with three heats for the event – the fastest time counts – Shane will sacrifice his first heat just to see exactly where his pellet is impacting the target. So, when he shoots the next two heats for time, he knows exactly what his rifle is doing on the day.
Speed silhouette has become a very popular event and is a draw for spectators because it is fast, fun, and exciting to watch. As mentioned, the two big annual events in the States are the Airguns of Arizona, Extreme Benchrest, and the Pyramyd Cup, Gunslynger, but more regional competitions are starting to incorporate speed silhouette into their line- up, which is a good thing for airgunning in general because it appeals to shooters and it’s a crowd pleaser. As a confirmed noncompetitive shooter, this is the event that has pulled me in and won’t let go! Of all the competitions, I think this is the one that will help my hunting the most because it requires me to refine technique under pressure. If you get the opportunity, give it a try. I’ll give odds that you’ll be hooked!
“a very popular event and is a draw for spectators because it is fast, fun, and exciting to watch”
ABOVE: A look downrange from the shooter’s perspective
BELOW: The silhouettes are pretty beaten up by the end of the shoot
ABOVE: The rules permit shooters to use any position they prefer, as well as shooting from the bench
BELOW: Shooters gathered around waiting to start. Note the clock at the midpoint
BELOW: The big speed silhouette event in the Midwest is the Pyramyd Cup
ABOVE: When the shooter clears the last target, they tap out to log their time automatically