Airguns 101 – Competition – Field target

Monday, March 17, 2014
A typical field target attached to a tree in the woods.

A typical field target attached to a tree in the woods.

Targets that react when hit by an air rifle pellet are just plain more fun than those that don’t. That’s why I enjoy air rifle field target.

This is what it looks like before the shooter puts his eye to the scope.

This is what it looks like before the shooter puts his eye to the scope.

At first glance, it’s a pretty simple game. It involves shooting metallic silhouettes of birds and small game Each silhouette has a hole – or kill zone – in it, and behind the hole is a paddle. If you put a pellet cleanly through the hole and hit the paddle, the target falls down – with a gratifying clang – and you get a point. If the pellet hits the faceplate of the target or splits on the edge of the hole, the target does not fall down, and you don’t get a point.

As they say in the infomercials, but wait, there’s more: the distance to the target can vary from 10 to 55 yards, and the size of the kill zone, or hole in the target, can vary from 3/8 inch to 1 7/8 inch. Depending on the whim of the match director, you may face any size kill zone at any distance. Trust me: that one-inch kill zone that appears dead easy at 10 yards looks downright microscopic at 50 yards.

Hector Medina shooting a custom tuned RWS 54 springer.

Hector Medina shooting a custom tuned RWS 54 springer.

In addition, air rifles used in field target competition generally shoot at sub-sonic velocities,. As a result, you will need to compensate for the trajectory of the pellet at various ranges. On top of that, the wind will also tend to deflect your pellet as it moves from muzzle to target.

Mix all of these factors together, and you get a sport that requires (1) figuring out the distance to the target, (2) compensating for your gun’s trajectory at that distance, (3) doping the wind, and (4) executing the shot with enough precision to put the pellet cleanly through the hole. What makes it fun, beyond the clang and bang of the targets when they fall, is that field target is never the same twice. Each match is a little different, depending upon the layout of the course and the environmental conditions on any given day.

Hans Apelles of Team Crosman shooting a precharged pneumatic rifle of bullpup configuration.

Hans Apelles of Team Crosman shooting a precharged pneumatic rifle of bullpup configuration.

A typical match may consist of 2 or 3 targets per lane, two shots per target, and 10 shooting lanes, resulting in a 40-60 shot match. Most shots are taken from a sitting position, although some match directors will mix in some standing and kneeling shots as well. Most field target competitions take place outdoors, although some clubs host offhand-only matches in the winter in which shooters stand in a heated building and shoot at outside targets.

At present, there are dozens of field target clubs spread across the United States and more around the world. At most U.S. matches, you’ll find two classes: PCP and Piston. Some clubs also have classes for Junior shooters, Offhand shooters, WFTF (World Field Target Federation, limited to 12 foot-pounds) shooters, and Hunter Class, which limits scopes to 12X and allows the use of shooting sticks and seats. A typical entry fee for a match is $10 or less.

So what do you need to compete in field target? First, an air rifle. You can enter with almost any .177, .20 or .22 air rifle that generates less than 20 foot pounds at the muzzle, but to be competitive, you’ll want a rifle capable of shooting one-hole groups at 10 yards and holding a half-inch 5-shot group at 30-35 yards.

There are two basic classes of gun used in field target. PCP class guns are “pre-charged” pneumatic air rifles. They are powered by compressed air stored in a cylinder usually located below the barrel of the gun and charged using a SCUBA tank or a high-pressure hand pump. PCP field target guns can run from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars, depending the level of sophistication.

Piston Class rifles rely on a spring or a gas ram that is cocked, usually by a lever under the barrel, to supply the energy to drive the pellet. When the trigger is pulled, the spring or ram is released, driving the piston forward and the pellet down the barrel. Because a lot of machinery is moving inside the gun before the pellet leaves the muzzle, piston air rifles are more difficult to shoot accurately. Highly accurate piston air rifles suitable for field target can be purchased for $500-600.

Second, you’ll need high quality optics. Many field target shooters favor very high power scopes – a minimum of 24X – because they use them to range-find on the targets. They use the adjustable objective to get the target clearly in focus, and then read the distance off the front bell or side wheel of the scope. In Hunter Class, however, shooters are limited to 12X optics.

Third, you’ll need some good ammunition. You’ll have to test to see with which pellet your gun groups the best. Group size can shrink dramatically simply by choosing the right pellet.

The final thing you will need is something to sit on, since the majority of field target shooting lanes are designed for the sitting position. I use a field target “bum bag,” but whatever gets your rump off the dirt and is comfortable ought to work just fine.

You’ll also need a place to shoot, the American Airgun Field Target Association website www.aafta.org. AAFTA has a list of field target clubs in the United States as well as a resource page of suppliers of field target air rifles, scopes, ammunition, etc.

Field target offers fun, great camaraderie, and the challenge of a high-accuracy sport at a reasonable price. I recommend it highly.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

–          Jock Elliott

7 Comments

  1. RidgeRunner says:

    FT was almost killed off a while back because of those who became obsessed with it. It got to the point that if you did not spend thousands of dollars on gear and practice hundreds of hours, you were not going to stand a chance. That is why they broke it into hunter class and such so those who wanted to have fun would come back to it.

    1. Vance says:

      Question about hunter class…Is 12x max power the only rule ?

      1. Jock Elliott says:

        Vance,

        Also, no harnesses. You can check all the rules for field target here: http://www.aafta.org/Assets/handbook/2013/AAFTA_Handbook_2013.pdf

    2. Jock Elliott says:

      RidgeRunner,

      I agree that Hunter Class is a heck of a lot of fun and very accessible. I believe it is also the most popular form of FT in England.

  2. Cecil says:

    I would like to get involved in FT but am having a hard time finding other airguners in the lake Havasu area.

    1. Jock Elliott says:

      Cecil,

      Try contacting http://www.aafta.org/ Perhaps they can help. They certainly have a list of active FT clubs.

  3. Cecil says:

    Thanks Jock I will try that also. I have already emailed the president of the Arizona FT assn. but no reply yet. I will just attempt working my way down the list, there has been no updates on their site since last year so they may have disbanded? I am currently shooting 25m US postal trying to get practice to hopefully make the Extreme Benchrest this year. Would be nice to find some others to shoot once a month and post some scoreline targets also.

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