Jim Chapman tells us why this hunter wants to shoot a comp’

Air Gunner - - CONTENTS -

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

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