Field Target shooting

Field Target is an outdoor air gun discipline originating in the United Kingdom, in the early 1980s, but gaining popularity worldwide. It is a discipline of shooting targets outdoors in woodland or open fields, as opposed to the popular indoor 10 and 25 metre disciplines, and hence the reason it became known as “field target”. At Tondu we presently use the 50m range and also utilise the wooded areas of our property, where twice a year we hold rounds of the WAFTA Championship.

The targets are of the metal knock down variety, originally shaped in the silhouette of small animals or now also in basic shapes (e.g. circle, diamond etc). Within the silhouette is a disc, referred to as the “hit zone”. A strike on the hit zone results in the target falling flat and a point is scored. A course normally consists of either 30, 40 or even 50 targets, placed within lanes, normally consisting of two targets to a lane. These targets have to be reset by tugging on a length of cord attached to the faceplate above the hinge.

For field target, three standard diameters of hit zones are used on the targets, 15mm, 25mm, and the other being 40-45mm which is full size.

40 targets are placed between ranges of 8 yards to 55 yards, and can be on the ground or elevated within trees or down steep slopes.

The range of the target is not given to the shooter, and they must estimate this by eye or using the telescopic sights parallax feature. The shooter will then calculate the required amount of scope adjustment or hold over/under, windage, and take the shot. You only get one shot per target before moving on to the next lane.

There are clubs located all over the UK and these clubs organise regional competitions and leagues, so you get the opportunity to shoot at other peoples clubs. Participation in these events is purely down to the individual. Over the summer a number of national events take place, called "grands prix". The top shooters from these go on to a final showdown shoot, and some can go on to represent the UK at European and then World levels.

UK rules

Targets are shot from open “gates” in a firing line, and are divided into “lanes” of two targets each. Many competitions impose a time restriction of 2 minutes to shoot both targets after a competitor first looks through his or her sights.

The majority of shots may be taken in any stance, but the seated position is the most popular due to its stability and often the need to see over logs or long grass that would preclude prone shooting. Most competitors carry a small beanbag or cushion to sit on while shooting. It may also be used under the knee or to support the ankle during kneeling shots, and they are often used as a protective rest for guns while competitors wait their turn to shoot.

In competition, 20% of the lanes will be designated as compulsory standing or kneeling, and there must be as even a split as possible between the two. Most competitions have 40 targets arranged in 20 lanes, so it is usual to have 2 standing lanes and 2 kneeling lanes. Grand Prix events have 25 lanes, so there will be 2 lanes of one position and 3 of the other. Standing or kneeling targets must be no more than 45 yards (41 m) from the firing line.

Points are scored with 1 for a hit (resulting in the faceplate falling), and 0 for a miss (whether it strikes the surrounding faceplate, misses it, or “splits” on the edge of the kill but fails to down the target). The highest score of a competition forms the benchmark for all the other scores – they are calculated as a percentage of this score rather than the total number of targets. This means that competitors attending a shoot on a windy day will not necessarily affect their average score over a season, as the highest score of the day will probably be lower.

Members of the British Field Target Association (BFTA) are graded according to their performance every six months. Your average percentage score over this period determines which of the four grades you are given – (in ascending order of skill) C, B, A and AA. Prizes at shoots are awarded by grade, so less experienced shooters still have a chance of winning a trophy if they perform well.

Equipment and Techniques

Pistols are far less common than rifles in FT, and they are shot in special events designed to accommodate the differences in shooting style.

In the UK, 0.177 inch (4.5 mm) caliber rifles are the most popular, as the higher velocity (relative to a .22” rifle of the same power) of the pellets means they fly with a flatter trajectory over the distances involved. One downside is that .177” pellets are very light and can be affected more by light crosswinds than the heavier pellets of a .22” (5.5 mm) rifle.

Pre-Charged Pneumatic (PCP) rifles are more popular than spring guns as the much lower recoil provides more confidence in aim for most people. There are some FT shooters who compete at a very high level with a spring gun, and a well-engineered gun, shot with some skill will be no less accurate than a PCP. There are some “dedicated” FT designs available, with the main features being a deep stock or adjustable platform ("Hamster") to rest on the knee while shooting seated, a high or adjustable cheek-piece to suit the large telescopic sights, and often an adjustable butt or butt hook. Many experienced shooters have chosen to use made-to-measure custom stocks for their rifles, and there are a small number of stockers in the UK who compete in FT and have a good understanding of the specific requirements of the sport.

Telescopic sights are favored for obvious reasons – it is often difficult to see the kill zone of the furthest targets clearly with the naked eye. Another advantage of high-magnification scopes is their ability to act as a simple range-finding tool. At very high magnifications, most scopes have a very shallow depth of field, and one can accurately focus on a series of targets at known distances and mark the scope for future reference. In competition you simply focus on the target and deduce the distance from the marks you made on the scope’s focus control. Some scopes use a side-wheel parallax adjustment to control focus (rather than a camera-like focus ring on the objective bell of the scope), and this allows the use of large diameter wheels to increase the distance between range markings and effectively improve ranging resolution.

Pellets from a .177 inch rifle running near the UK legal limit of 16.27 joules (12 ft.lbf) will drop around 11 cm over 55 yards (50 m) – more than enough to miss the kill of a target completely – so it becomes necessary to compensate for range by adjusting the elevation of the barrel. Two common methods used are: moving the crosshairs above the center of the target by a lesser or greater degree (hold-over), often using markings on the reticle of the scope for reference, or adjusting a knob (turret) on the scope to drop the crosshairs onto the point of impact for a given range such that the pellet appears to go exactly where you point the gun (windage excepted). Competitors will often carry a small printed table of different ranges with their appropriate drop compensation or calibrate their elevation knob (often using an enlarged knob) – combined with the range-finding ability of the scopes, this allows for very accurate vertical placement of the pellets.

Wind presents probably the largest challenge for an FT shooter – while it is not too difficult to hit even the furthest targets on a perfectly still day with a little practice, mastering shooting in wind can take many years. Pellets can be blown sideways by even a light breeze. At longer distances this can start to cause misses, as the pellet will often be blown onto the faceplate if you aim centrally. In stronger winds it is not uncommon to have to aim completely off the faceplate in order to score a hit, and judging the amount of compensation to apply takes a lot of practice and experience. Head and tail winds can also have an effect on the trajectory of the pellets, causing them to hit high or low. It is common to fit a “windicator” to the barrel of the rifle – a piece of light cord with a feather on the end will provide a good indicator of general direction in light winds when it may not be entirely obvious, but it does not tell you what the wind will be doing on the way to the target. Competitors may choose to lift the reset cord of a target off the ground to get a feel for this wind – it will arc gently in a steady crosswind, and may even reveal changes in wind direction caused by nearby trees and foliage. Although many scopes have mechanical adjustment for horizontal offset, it is primarily used to ensure the rifle is shooting straight ahead in still conditions. The variable nature of the wind means it is often easier to aim off target (sometimes called “Kentucky windage” in the US) than to try to adjust the calibration of the crosshairs.

One measure of the difficulty of a field target shot is the Troyer (named after Brad Troyer). At its simpliest, a Troyer is the distance to the target in yards divided by the kill zone diameter in inches. (Obviously, this can be adjusted to meters/mm by multiplying by 2.32.) Thus, if a target is at 45yds and the kill zone is 2in, the difficulty is 45/2 or 22.5T. In practice, there are additional multipliers for various conditions such as targets over 45 yards, wind, "extremely" dark/light conditions, standing/kneeling positions, and uphill/downhill shots. A typical course would have a difficulty averaging about 25T with a spread of difficulties from as low as 10T to perhaps as high as 60T. A well-designed course can be used for all field target classes although the PCP shooters will typically outscore the piston shooters. When one is practicing for a match, a good approach is to shoot at targets (whether paper or actual field targets) with a difficulty of about 20T to start. As one gets better, the difficulty is increased (either by increasing the distance or reducing the size of the kill zone) -- a good rule-of-thumb would be to increase the difficulty by 5T when one can successfully hit the target 90% of the time. Eventually, one should practice at about 45T if they expect to be competitive at local matches and 60T for national matches.