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A typical UK competition target painted in contrasting colours, with a 40 mm "kill" zone and orange reset cord.Field Target is an outdoor air gun discipline originating in the United Kingdom, on the late 1980s, but gaining popularity worldwide.
In UK (United Kingdom) rules, competitors aim to shoot the small “kill” zone that forms part of a larger metal faceplate. These face plates are often shaped to resemble small game animals, although there is currently a move towards simple geometric shapes. On most competition targets, the hit zone forms the end of a short lever that tips the faceplate backwards when successfully hit. These targets have to be reset by tugging on a length of cord attached to the faceplate above the hinge.
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.
Targets may be placed at any distance between 8 yards (7.3 m) and 55 yards (50.3 m) from the firing line. Targets are often placed at about the same height as the shooter, but it is not uncommon for them to appear high up banks or in trees, or down steep slopes.
The hit or “kill” zone of a target is always circular, and nominally 40-45 mm in diameter, although “reducer” targets as small as 25 mm diameter may be employed for seated shots up to 35 yards (32 m). The targets are painted with the kill a contrasting color to aid visibility, although the paint is quickly removed by hits during competitions, making it harder to distinguish.
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.
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.
Physics and technique
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 40yds 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.
Rules in other countries
In the United States, the American Airgun Field Target Association (AAFTA) rules set a maximum rifle power of 20 ft·lbf (27 J) primarily to limit damage to targets — there are no rules for airgun power in the United States. Individual competition rules may impose limits on power and/or other criteria at the discretion of the local match director. The increased velocity of the pellets from these higher power rifles primarily reduces the effects of distance (pellet drop) and windage (time of flight determines wind effects) but the game is, otherwise, quite similar to that of Britain and other countries. There are no rules in the US as to the minimum or maximum kill zone diameter and targets as small as 0.250 inches (6.35 mm) are occasionally found in matches. The maximum kill zone diameter is typically 2 inches (5.08 cm) but may be considerably larger in rare instances. The ranges of the targets must be between 10 yards (9.1 m) and 55 yards (50.3 m), and they are arranged in lanes of 1 to 3 targets. Kneeling and standing shots are also the norm at every match but not as large a percentage of the match as in the UK. Hunter class has also started with a very strong following. Precision shooting at such small targets lends itself to dialing in elevation adjustments and for the most part when shooting at high power 20 ft·lbf (27 J) Kentucky windage a bit less of a factor than with 12 ft·lbf (16 J) although time-of-flight is the primary factor for windage and, while the power of guns used may be lower, lighter pellets are also used in such guns and the speed of a pellet at the muzzle is only a bit slower (7.2 grains at 825 ft/s (251 m/s) versus 10.2 grains (0.66 g) 890 ft/s (270 m/s), for example). Hence, windage is a similar problem for those shooting at either power in most instances.
In Spain the maximum rifle power is the legal limit of 24.2 joules. This power allow the use of .22 caliber without problems. The range of the targets must be between 10 meters and 50 meters. "Kentucky windage" and scope adjustment are used.
In New Zealand there is no legal maximum power limit for ordinary Air gun use. Consequently with no legal restraints, the sporting use of Air Rifle for Field Target has followed a similar path until recently. The general guideline is that the power of an Air Rifle used in a Field Target match must not damage the targets. Now, all Field Target competition is "open class", and 12 ft·lbf (16 J) competitors voluntarily participate in open class. Maximum/minimum distances are 10 m to 60 m, with reducers being introduced into "National Series" competition in 2008.
World Field Target Federation
The World Field Target Federation (WFTF) ruled on 22nd February 2007 on adding to the "core rules" an official limit of 12 ft·lbf (16 joules) for all competitions under her organization and ruling. The WFTF 2007 World Match, held in the USA by the American Field Target Association, was the last match held without a common energy value for all international competitions. The WFTF has more than 20 member countries spread across all 5 continents.
Field Target is loosely related to Hunter Field Target, and many UK clubs cater for both disciplines. There is some rivalry between the two disciplines, as the differences in equipment and rules tend to polarize allegiances amongst the participants.