Hunter Field Target (HFT) Tutorial

First of all let us introduce our guest writer, Dave Ramshead. A long time customer here at the shop, respected hotshot at Tawd Vale Club and expert tinkerer of many an FT rifle. Having recently achieved 4th place at the World HFT Championship, Dave has more years of target shooting experience than he cares to admit to, and has kindly agreed to share some of that experience with us here. If you are considering signing up for your local club HFT tournament this summer, or if you have already done the rounds but feel your technique could improve, this article will include something useful for you. Many thanks to Dave for allowing us to reproduce this article here.

HFT – Gun and Scope Set Up

Various club discussions about training and passing techniques on to other / new shooters has prompted me to put into words and share some of the things I do when setting up a gun and scope combination, but bear in mind my way of doing things may not suit you!

Hopefully it may help you solve a few basic set up problems that I had to overcome, so feel free to use or ignore if you think they aren’t worthwhile to you.

I will break this mini article up into sections as I guess I might have to go off on a tangent or two!

Scope Choice

The first way of choosing a scope for HFT would be to say that the scope must be clearly able to see all targets from 8 to 45 yds, it should also have a multiple aimpoint or mildot reticle – to show your trajectory accurately or to enable bracketing method of range finding.

The advantage of this method is you get to see the targets clearly, so if you miss or hit a face plate you may see where the pellet strikes (if the target is not shot up) and learn from your windage / elevation mistakes.

The disadvantages to this method are:

Scope mag usually needs to be limited to 8 or 9x maximum, which I find not enough to shoot the many reducers with confidence on UKAHFT rules courses.

Because of the low magnification, bracketing is really difficult – I cannot do it and I have put a major amount of time & effort trying to, which leaves range finding using your mk1 eyeball – again I am not good enough to do this & need the scope to tell me how far the target is.

The other train of thought governing scope choice (which is the one I use) is to have a scope with a fixed amount of ranges in sharp focus, then targets which are off crisp and other targets which are too blurred to see pellet strikes on the faceplate but enables you to still see the kill.

To give an example of this type of range finding method, I try and get the following sight pictures:

8-10y, similar to 45y sight picture

12y, similar to 40y sight picture

14y, similar to 35y sight picture

17-30y, crystal clear

35y, just off crisp which is useful for knowing if a target is a full 35y reducer

40y, slightly blurred but can still see individual pellet strikes on a face plate

45y, can not see individual pellet strikes on face plate, but can still clearly define the kill.

Many of the scopes I have tried will do this in a very similar way, the difference in price / quality of scope tends to be the magnification you can use to achieve the sight pictures.

Example, to get the above sight pictures using a Hawke Pro Stalk (which I rate very highly) I was able to use 10x, but was able to use 12x on a Hawke SR6. An extra 2x mag may not sound a lot, but in real terms it means the 15mm kills will appear to be 20% bigger.

Scope Mounting Height

When you have found a scope that suits your needs, you may have some scope height choices. To make this very simple, the closer you mount the scope to the barrel it will make the close reducers in HFT easier!

I will explain a bit further – If you chose a high mount that gave a scope to barrel centre of 1.95 inches, an 8yd target would need 23mm of holdover on a 25yd zero. UKAHFT rules allow targets of 20mm at 8yds, so you will need to hold the central cross hair above the target to get a kill, whereas if you chose a low mount measuring 1.45 inches scope to barrel centre, the lowest impact point is 13mm under the cross at 8yds – you can still aim inside the top edge of kill and get the target.

The smallest targets in UKAHFT rules are 15mm and may be placed from 13yds to 25yds, using the 1.45 inches set up, as long as you can identify a 15mm kill, you can aim dead centre of the kill and it will go, because you have zeroed at 25 yds and the pellet impact at 13yds is 5mm below the cross – still within the 15mm kill.

The downside to having a low scope mount set up is that it increases your trajectory and amount of holdover needed at longer distance. Using the 1.45 inches set up with Air Arms pellets at 785fps, the first mildot below the cross would be approx 41yds, whereas the higher mount setup of 1.95 inches would give the first mildot a value of 45yds.

My preference is to have a definite aimpoint for the smallest of targets, using a 25yd zero allows me to do this. If I had chosen a more traditional zero range of 35yds, the aimpoint for the smallest targets would be approximately half way between the cross hair and the first mildot up. In my opinion, approximately is not good enough!

The small targets are close enough for a guaranteed kill (if you are steady enough!), whereas anyone can miss a long target with windage – do not forget targets over 35yds must have a kill of at least 35mm so there is more room for error / guestimation, also remember a standard mildot reticle will bracket a standard 40mm kill at 45yds so you should be able to see how much margin for error you have with your range guestimation.

Types of Scope Mount

Often overlooked as something merely to stik da scope on wiv, mounts are actually very important and can have a major influence on how well the scope optics work.

Ideally the scopes windage and elevation turrets would be in the middle of their travel when zeroed on your gun.

I always use quality standard mounts as a first choice, but if after mounting the scope the turrets need moving further than half a turn from optical centre to get a good zero then I will remove the standard mounts and replace them with adjustable mounts – which probably deserves a bit more explanation!

To give any scope the highest chance of working at its optical best, it is always worth opting for a mounting system that allows the scope to work with its lenses in the centre of their adjustment, the further away from optical centre a scope is made to work – the worse the sight picture gets.

From a technical point of view, using adjustable mounts to optimise the scopes ability is best practice, adjustable mounts are not without drawbacks such as additional cost and usually a higher mounting height.

A more widely used method to gain scope turret adjustment is to shim the mounts, this involves placing packing material in or under the scope mounts which lifts the scope to point in the direction of where the gun is shooting. I must point out that this method requires extreme care to perform as scope damage can occur quite easily if the mounts are over tightened.

…time for an experiment!

Sit squarely in a chair, looking straight ahead – now do not move your head!

If you move your eyes to the extreme left /right / up/ down this is the adjustment range of your eyes, when you are looking at the extreme of any direction, the picture you see is not as crisp as looking directly ahead. The scope tube is your head, the lenses are your eyes and the turrets control the lens movement.

When you mount a scope onto a gun and zero using the turrets, you are making the lenses look where the gun is firing, so if the scope body is not in good alignment with the barrel, the lenses have to work harder (needing to use more adjustment) to see where the gun is grouping.

To summarise, when you move a scope turret you are NOT moving the POI, you are making the lenses look at where the pellet is landing.

Now hands up, who was sat there doing the action man eagle eyes thing!

Shooting Position

  • Here are a few basic pointers for getting steady & comfortable when shooting HFT positions.
  • If you are using a PCP, use the peg as a steady for the leading hand that is supporting the weight of the gun, the down side to this is an increased risk of picking marks up on your stock – BE CAREFULL!!!
  • When setting the zero for HFT, make sure you zero the gun in the HFT prone position. I found that if I zero the gun in the FT sitting position, then shot prone, the prone group was approx 20mm out to one side at 55yds. I put this down to having a different natural body rhythm sitting compared to supported prone.
  • Scope position on the gun for prone shooting is also further forward than it will be for sitting, I find approx 20 – 30mm difference which is enough to make how the stock fits you awkward
  • Some scopes eye relief reduces and increases as different magnifications are used, so make sure you mount & zero on the magnification that you will use for the competition
  • In the kneeling position, rest your leading leg against the side of the shooting peg rather than touching the peg with your kneecap. Steadying the side of your leg greatly reduces side movement. A legal kneeling position requires your leading hand to be unsupported forward of the wrist – you CAN rest your leading forearm on your thigh as long as your hand remains unsupported. Forearm on thigh is much more stable than elbow on knee! You CAN also rest your gun on the firing peg if it is comfortable to do so.
  • If possible, a supported standing position is likely to be more stable than traditional FT freestanding, especially in the heat of competition.
  • Food, don’t expect to shoot to your best ability if you have just crammed down bacon butties / burgers / cups of coffee before shooting. I try and have at least 1 hour gap between eating and shooting.
  • There is no substitution for constructive practice! Learn your gun & scope, they all behave slightly differently even if you shoot 2 apparently identical set ups.
  • Always go for the easier shot if one is available, for example if a kill is partially obscured when viewed prone and off the peg, ask yourself is it an easier shot at a full kill kneeling or standing. You may also come way off the peg to the side and touch the peg with your knee or foot.

Stock Fit

One of those areas that if you get it right can make shooting your chosen gun very nice with good accuracy that is easy to achieve, or if you get it wrong the gun will feel difficult to shoot with poor accuracy as a result. Personally, I want my guns to be easy to shoot, if it means the stock style is not the prettiest then so be it, I will take the user friendly, easy accuracy thanks very much.

Stock makers tend to have sets of dimensions that are average for their intended market, e.g. a rifle intended for junior shooters will have reduced physical dimensions compared to a rifle intended for adult use, so if you are going to buy a rifle with a non adjustable stock, you must know some basic information otherwise you could be buying the wrong gun. With gun fit in mind, the safest way of making sure your gun will fit you is to buy a gun with an adjustable stock – although a little more expensive as an initial purchase, it could save you much expense in the long term, for example how many Steyr hunters do you see with custom wood compared to the Steyr FT version which a vast majority are in use how Steyr intended.

Right time to give you something to measure! One of the more important dimensions I like to get right before any other adjustments are made is the reach to pull length.

This is the measurement from the trigger blade to the inner curve of the butt pad.

An easy way to give you a good start point is to bend your arm 90 degrees like you would have it in a sling, then curve your trigger finger into a comfortable position, like it should be just before you squeeze one off, (a shot of course…..stop sniggering at the back!). The distance to measure is from the joint at the base of your bicep to your pad on your trigger finger.

Due to being smaller than average, my measurement is 13.25 inches, which is not much bigger than a junior sized stock measurement. Many stocks have been increasing in this dimension over the recent years to approx 14.5 inch average, I can still shoot with this stock measurement but I have to stretch my trigger hand to the pistol grip – more stretch equals more effort, more effort wears you out quickly and the group sizes suffer.

Next is cheek piece adjustment, this depends on your scope & mounts choice. In an ideal world your cheek should gently snuggle the stock, not be so hard against the stock that you get gerbil chops or so far away your face hovers above the stock. If you are fortunate enough to have a cant-adjustable cheek piece, this angle should be set so your head is as vertical as possible when in the shooting position.

Fore end (hamster) height, for HFT there is now a general rule that allows custom stocks & fore end raisers as long as the barrel centre to bottom of fore end does not exceed 150mm, also the fore end must not be lower than the bottom edge of the pistol grip.

This is one area in which I feel many people go too far, my ideal fore end height is when you can make a fist on the floor when in the prone position, sit the fore end on your fist and the gun barrel runs parallel to the floor. If the gun points down, then the fore end is not deep enough. Going the other way if the gun points upwards, the fore end is too deep.

A fore end that is too deep or shallow will also make standers and kneelers considerably more difficult, so it is worth spending time & effort to get this right.

For FT stock fit where sitting is the dominant position, this deserves a dedicated section which I will do when I get round to it.

Shooting positions continued (with pics)

HFT prone can be widely varied to allow for different terrain and target positions. Whenever possible I try and adopt the low prone position below as I find it to be the most stable of all possible positions. I find this particular position very stable even on days when I am not feeling the steadiest, you do not have to be shooting at your best to get good results with this one.

The first pic shows the basic gun position, with the rear of the stock touching the floor, the front of the gun can be supported with a cupped hand, clenched fist or even cradled on the peg itself.

the pic below shows the position in use

The only pitfall that needs to be considered with this position is that you must be aware of any obstacles in the path of the pellet, even if the scope picture is clear, the pellet trajectory may be blocked.

A more widely used version is the raised prone position, used when terrain will not allow a low prone position to be used

The rear of the stock is now clear of the floor and raised into the shoulder while the front of the stock can be supported by a cupped hand of held against the post. I try and brace the leading arm against the post to form a triangle which gives a very steady position. The pitfall with this position is you can see more movement in the scope from your natural body rhythm / heart beat.

Kneeling can also be widely adapted to different styles, the pic below shows a widely used style of leading forearm supported by thigh and the hand supporting the front of the gun is being steadied against the shooting peg. When a shooting peg is shorter, I rest against the peg with the side of my leg to get a similar benefit in stability.

If the position allows, a monopod type kneeling position can also be used, see pic below. With this position, the weight of the gun is supported by the firing peg and body movement is dampened by leaning your leg / body against the peg.

I have also just started to use a quite unorthodox kneeling stance where terrain allows which I have found to be more stable (for me!). pics below

The position means you kneel on the wrong knee! The front of the gun is supported against the firing peg, while the rear of the gun sits just behind your knee on your thigh.

I have found this position to be very stable because you are sitting on your heel and the gun is supported by 2 virtually fixed points.

Standing is probably one of the trickiest positions to master, many clear rounds have been prevented by these type of shots, there is no alternative to practice with standers, but if a supported standing can be used then it should reduce body movement and increase your chances of getting the 2

After the 2007 national series finished and looking back on some of my missed shots it became obvious my standing technique (particularly supported) needed some work.

After much experimenting and practice, I found the positions below work quite well (for me!). This position is practical when tree type pegs are used, basically the leading hand grips or leans on the tree and the front of the gun sits on top of your wrist just behind your thumb. Body movement is damped out by leaning your bodyweight into the tree.

and from the other side…..

Another particularly useful position is if I can use a multiple brace point standing position, pic below.

When no support is available, I revert back to a freestanding 10m type stance, pic below

The above positions may or may not suit your style, the key point here is to know when to practice & refine or try something else. 

Photos reproduced by kind permission of RobF

Dave shoots at TAWD VALE FT & ARC