Why have HFT guns moved away from hunting rifles and become more like field target? Gary Chillingworth explains his thoughts

credit: Archant

When I am alone at night, sitting in the train sidings waiting for my departure time, I often find myself trawling the Internet and looking on message boards. Unfortunately, due to my company’s wifi restrictions, the only thing I get to look at is shooting websites like Shooting the Breeze – a very good target-shooting website – and a question was raised. ‘Why have HFT guns moved away from hunting rifles and become more like field target?’ The poster was referring to the difference between a full-on target rifle and what we would traditionally call ‘a hunting rifle’, and he was asking why the majority of guns in the HFT world now seem to be of the target variety.

A perfect example of this is the HW100. In its hunting guise, it has a standard thumbhole stock, with a low cheek piece and a shallow fore end. In its laminate spec’, though, it has an adjustable cheek piece, adjustable butt pad and you can deepen the fore end with the addition of a hamster. These are essentially the same rifle, but are designed for specific roles, so, I thought I’d delve into the reasons why the particular traits for each rifle makes them the perfect design for your chosen pastime.

credit: Archant

Main differences

The main differences between a target rifle and a hunting rifle are threefold; target rifles have adjustable cheek pieces, adjustable butt pads and deep fore ends or hamsters. Firstly, let’s have a look at the adjustable cheek piece and why they are important. I have long been a proponent of these and I strongly believe that an adjustable cheek piece should be a feature on all mid- and high-end air rifles. When you are out in the field and taking a shot, there is a good chance that this will be done from a supported standing or kneeling position, or sometimes from a prone position with a bipod. All of these positions make use of a support and as the rifle is not low to the ground, when you go to look through the scope, your neck will be fairly upright and straight. When you are shooting HFT, though, there is a good chance that the butt of the rifle will be rested on the deck, and even if you have an adjustable butt plate, the gun will always be low down to the earth. To be more specific; with a bipod, a HW100’s ocular lens is 280mm from the ground, but when you are just using the butt pad, it’s 310mm. This is a huge difference and unless you are a supermodel who is extremely slim, it’s almost impossible to get your body low enough to the ground get a good cheek weld onto the rifle’s cheek riser.

Without this strong cheek weld your head will be floating around, so you will not be looking through the same part of the ocular lens all the time and this could cause parallax error. To explain PX error quickly – hold your thumb up in front of your right or left eye and close the other one. Now move your head right and left. Your thumb is not moving, but you will see that whatever your thumb was in front of now appears to be moving. Similarly, if you look through a scope at a target and start to move your head, you will see the cross hairs move off the kill zone, and this is why you need a stable head position.

With an adjustable cheek piece, you can raise it and when you place your cheekbone on the riser, you can push in and be certain that you have a consistent head position, leading to increased accuracy and consistency. To give you stability, you lower the butt padd and raise the riser. This can almost double the depth of the butt end of the stock.

credit: Archant

Stable stance

Then, there is the fore end. When you are lying in a prone position at the peg, the target will not always be directly in front of you. It might be elevated, or below you, or you might need to come off the peg to shoot around an obstruction, so there is a chance that the rifle will need to be angled. Shooters often place their fist in front of them as a support, but as you can see with the picture of Brandon, you will still only be able to get the rifle to be at about 90°. You can start to arch your hand, but this can be unstable, so with the attachment of a hamster/palm shelf, you now have much more depth. With this added depth you can still place your hand in front of you welded firmly on the ground, and as the rifle is higher up, it is much simpler to angle the rifle for any shot that you need to take.

The Hamster also has a second advantage. In target shooting, you will be required to shoot targets both standing and kneeling and at least one of each will have to be unsupported. The standing technique used by most shooters is to stand side-on to the target, throw your hip forward, shoulders back, and stick your elbow into your waist just above the hip. This essentially makes a inverted triangle with the rifle acting as the top of it. This is a very stable position, but unless you have very long arms there is a good chance that a standard rifle will not be deep enough in the fore end to give you a stable position – unless you are shooting a target below you.

The same goes for kneeling; target shooters get as low as possible, with their body as compact as can be, with their left or right leg out in front of them, the supporting arm is laid along the top of the thigh with the hand angled up and the rifle resting in the palm. These two positions take away most of the need for muscle strength, so that it become a matter of angles and bone on bone – and this is where your stability comes from.

credit: Archant

Two camps

To be honest, it comes down to this; target shooters come in many guises, but you can separate them into two camps. The first camp is the shooter who loves HFT because it’s a great sport and fun to do. Each week they go out and try to better their score from the week before and have a great time doing it. They are happy to use their kit and the scope they have, and these types of shooters are the mainstay of the club and competition world.

Then there are the others – and I include myself in this. For us, this sport is about winning and being the best we can be. We are the people, who wash, weigh and lubricate pellets, make charts about ballistic co-efficiency, measure kill zones and hinges and try gun after gun and scope after scope until we have the perfect kit. For us, it’s about grabbing every small advantage and if using a hamster or a butt plate can give me an extra point over a season, I’ll take it.

In my mind, there is no doubt that a target rifle is more accurate. It has more adjustment and I can make it fit me and my corpulent body shape, and from what I have been taught, a well-fitting rifle is always a more accurate rifle.