Field Target is a complex sport. There are a ton of factors that go into either successfully combating a course or submitting to it’s difficulty. The gun, scope, pellets, shooter and the elements are all factors. At the end of the day, there are plenty of guns, scopes and pellets that can be successful in this game. With enough practice, any shooter can become competitive within their club, region, nation or even the world. As a shooter though, there are two things that are out of your control at any match. The first are the elements, the weather. The second is the course itself. Even in beautiful weather, a diligent shooter must take stock of his/her surroundings constantly. The wind is the big one, but things like ambient temperature, exposed sunlight and in some cases, precipitation. All of these things can affect your rifle and/or scope, not to mention they all have an affect on you as the shooter. A good course has the ability to challenge the best of the best, even though it may not have the smallest kill zones. Often times, the little things that are often overlooked are the most important here. Uphill and downhill angles, shots from a dark area into a light area or vise versa, shooting from the woods into an open field….all of these different situations can be used to create challenges without having to decrease the size of the kill zones. Not all courses are on properties where these challenges can be put in front of shooters, but you will often find that the best venues according to the shooters, have most or all of these criteria.
Since the 2014 Nationals, there has been one course that has set the bar for ALL other venues for this shooter. About an hour west of Atlanta sits the small town of Heflin, Alabama. The city of Heflin is home to the Mount Cheaha Airgun Club. With a beautiful sight in range that has two covered sight in areas, and an expansive course layout that features some of the most varied terrain that you’ll find anywhere in the USA, Heflin is the place to be for Field Target. My travel companion, Jeff Paddock, and I drove 11 hours on Thursday, June 23rd to get there. The match was being run in conjunction with the crew from Airgunning Atlanta. I always enjoy spending time with the Atlanta guys, they have a great group of shooters and storied history in the US Field Target world.
Jeff and I arrived safely on Thursday and headed to the range Friday morning for sighting in. We saw plenty of familiar faces and probably spent more time socializing than shooting. Field Target is unique in comparison to other shooting sports. While there is a competition to shoot, it’s a social game and very friendly to newcomers. There are no secrets withheld, if you have a question and ask it, you will get an honest answer. After confirming that my Steyr LG100 was on point and ready to go, I left the range for a shower and a beer! The temps were in the high 90s all day and the outlook for Saturday was over 100 degrees.
When we left the hotel for the range on Saturday, we knew it was going to be a scorcher. The minute we stepped outside, we were met with a wall of heat and humidity that was almost unbearable. It was the kind of heat that makes it a little harder to breathe….did I mention it was only 7 AM! We arrived at the range, and made sure everything was holding steady and shooting where it should. Match Director Ken Hughes called everyone together to explain the layout and procedures for the day. We would be shooting a European style course! This means two targets per lane, but only one shot per target. We normally shoot two shots per target here in the US. This means more lanes, more targets to set up and more walking. Instead of the normal 15 lanes, we would have 25 lanes to deal with. Thankfully, they have plenty of targets and the land in Heflin has more than enough space to support this kind of course. This style and layout is exactly what I experienced at the World Championships in Lithuania last year, and what I will see in Portugal at Worlds this year, so it’s good practice.
I had the pleasure of shooting with the legendary Robert Crocker. Robert won three national championships in four years between 1996 and 1999. He’s a little older now but still enjoys getting the competitive juices flowing. I’ve known Robert for a few years now and really enjoy his company. He has great stories from the earlier days of the game and a ton of knowledge. Robert shot an Air Arms RN10 in Open Class. The heat had us both grimacing from the very beginning of the match. We started on the standing lane, which is always a little nerve racking, but in that heat, I was happy to get it over with. I started strong by cleaning the offhand shots, in fact, I cleaned the first four or five lanes. The more sweat that poured off of me, the more challenging the match became. Thankfully, I was able to keep the mistakes to a minimum and only dropped five shots for a 45 out of 50 on the day. This was good enough for 3rd place in WFTF PCP behind Ken Hughes (46) and Doug Vinson who shot an incredible 48! My good friend and teammate Harold Rushton was just one point back of me with a 44, so I knew we would be shooting together on Sunday.
After everyone ate lunch, we set up the Pyramyd Gunslynger. Many of the shooters got to try the Gunslynger at the Cajun match earlier this year, but the heat kept a bunch of shooters away. With the long day on the course, and the high temps, many chose to skip the Gunslynger in favor of the climate controlled hotel rooms. I can’t say I blame them, but we had a good time anyway. There were a bunch of tough matchups. One of my favorites was on the springer side where Rob Seiden and Gabe Sallusti went head to head. Rob was shooting open style, on the ground with straps but using a 6 FPE Beeman R7. Gabe shot hunter style with his HW77. They went back and forth until they got to the rams at 55 yards. Both shooters were dog tired from having to cock their guns so many times, and it seemed that they would each miss a few shots and then one would hit a ram followed right by the other. It was neck and neck, with Rob finally pulling it out just as Gabe hit his second to last ram. The spectators were into it, the shooters had fun, and that’s what it’s all about!
On Sunday morning, we arrived at the range and there was a much more serious tone in the air. Sunday’s match was shot in traditional US Field Target fashion with two targets per lane, and two shots per target. There were 15 lanes, so a total of 60 shots on the day. Harold and I made the long trek to our starting lane and things went well early. I was able to clear the first three or four lanes which included the standing lane. Harold had dropped one on a longer target but was right on my heels. He was one shot back of me after the first day, so I would have to tie him at the worst to avoid a shoot off or losing my position. Then I had a momentary lapse in judgement, and let two shots slip away on one lane! A snake target with a ¾” kill zone at 30 yards that I hit the first time, but didn’t judge the wind correctly on the second shot and split it. On this lane, we were sitting in the sun but shooting into the shade of the forest. This can make range finding a bit more difficult as your scope is heating up and the target is surrounded by darkness. I made a ranging error and ranged the target a bit short, I called the wind correctly, but because I didn’t dial in enough elevation I struck the outside edge of the kill zone directly at 6 o’clock! There’s nothing that annoys me more than calling with wind correctly, but having something else go wrong to miss the shot. Harold missed again a few lanes later on a target that we both thought he should have hit. Maybe it was a little bit of invisible wind, definitely a head-scratcher. I missed another on a shot that was in one of the open clearings between the woods. I held a little too much for wind and watched my pellet land right on the edge of the faceplate, exactly where my crosshairs were. I also missed a stupid kneeling shot that I just couldn’t get my body under control for. Thankfully, the heat was not as bad but it was still humid and we even saw a little spat of rain while we were out there. After my miss on the kneeling lane, I buckled down and managed to clean the rest of the course. Harold dropped another along the way, which put him on a 57/60. With my 56/60, we were tied overall and would have to decide things in a shoot off, it was just a matter of for what place(s). As we walked back to the sight in range for food, we ran into Doug and Ken who were finishing up their last lane. Ken stayed rock solid and shot an impressive 57, I expected nothing less from the defending national champion. We watched Doug drop a shot on his last lane, he did not have as good of a day as Saturday. With a 52/60, he dropped one shot back of Harold and I.
After lunch, Ken called for Harold and I to have our shoot off. We had two targets, that needed to be hit and then the other would shoot. We started in the seated position and Harold took both targets out in short order. As I pulled up on the first target at 25 yards, I saw Harold’s pellet mark directly in the center of the paddle! Talk about intimidating! I fought through my increased heart rate and dropped the close target. I ranged the second target at 47 yards, there was a little right to left wind so I held just a bit to the right and dropped the target. Since both of us hit the targets sitting, we moved to kneeling. Harold went first again and dropped the close target with no issue. I was watching closely when he shot the far target. About two or three seconds before he took the shot, his wind flag switched directions. I don’t think Harold saw it, because when he broke the shot, he didn’t hit metal. This meant that if I hit both the close and far targets, I would win the shoot off to claim second place. Now, everyone that was there told me I looked cool, calm and collected; but they weren’t looking through my scope LOL! The first shot went down without an issue. When I went to the long target, I was getting the same right to left wind I had on the seated shot. Again, I held just outside of the kill zone on the right side, timed my wobble and squeezed off the shot. Through the scope, it seemed to take forever to watch that target fall, but when it dropped I definitely breathed a sigh of relief. I will link a few videos Paul Plauche took from the shoot off below.
The 2016 Southern Open was a fantastic match. Heflin has a little bit of everything to really challenge your entire game. If you have a weakness, this course will expose it! I was very pleased with my results and couldn’t have asked for better company to be in on the scoreboard. I want to say a big thank you to Paul Oswalt and Ken Hughes who made this match happen and the entire Airgunning Atlanta crew for creating a great course. Y’all did a great job! My next match will be at the Crosman All American Field Target Championship and then off to the World Championships in Portugal with the US Team.
Until next time, shoot safe and see you on the lanes.