by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1 – How it all began

A modern spring-loaded squirrel field target.

This one falls completely flat.

The targets we shoot at have evolved considerably over the years. When I got started, there were some old British targets still in use. They were made of very heavy steel plate and had stout linkages that rusted if you didn’t maintain them often. They also had to be exercised before a match because they were so stiff and difficult to operate. You could hit one with 12 foot-pounds of energy and only knock it halfway down. Of course if you took the time to adjust all the nuts and bolts and lube all the joints, they worked fine for that match, but they presented quite a problem. If they were put out on the course the night before (which is how most clubs set up their range) the morning dew would rust all the joints and they would quit working again.

Gravity targets
Ron Juneau made some wonderful targets that operated by gravity. They were simple and rugged, and when set the paddle had a sear that held the target upright. No amount of vibration would unseat the target, so even a hit on the head of the animal with a 20 foot-pound gun wouldn’t vibrate the sear loose. However, these targets did have to be emplaced so they were very close to level or they wouldn’t work.

Ron Juneau turkey target.

Back of Juneau target showing the gravity paddle. When hit it swings back and down, hitting the bent bar connected to the target and pulling it down, too.

Here you see the Juneau sear when it has not contacted the target.

Now the sear is in contact with the target. Hitting the paddle removes the sear, allowing the target to move.

My club made concrete target holders and we had the bases of the targets bolted to wooden slabs that fit into the holders perfectly. When they were in the holders, they were designed so pulling the reset string would not pull the base from the holder, yet the target just slipped into the holder when setting up the range. However, during a match, the holders would sometimes settle into a position that was not level – especially when the reset string required a strong pull. Then the target would start acting up during the match. The first shooters would knock it down easily but as the match progressed it became harder and harder to topple. That can be difficult to spot when some shooters are using FWB 124s with .177 7.9-grain Crosman Premiers and others are using a .22-caliber Career 707 shooting 14.3-grain Premiers. The larger caliber Career will slap down most target without a fuss, while the lightweight FWB has maybe half the power and just taps the paddle. After several years of using gravity targets, my club set almost all of them aside for spring-loaded targets. The one we kept was a life-sized turkey target whose long paddle has so much energy when falling that it performs reliably all the time.

Spring-loaded targets
In the late 1990s, field target makers were not prolific, so a club starting up had to wait for months while the targets were made. Rick Stoutenberg was one maker of spring-loaded targets that my club used heavily. I suspect we bought about 25 targets from him over the course of several years. A spring-loaded target stays upright because the paddle linkage has gone past center when the target was reset. A hit on the paddle pushes it back past center and then the spring pulls the target down rapidly. Compared to the gravity-type targets, the spring-loaded targets were faster-acting and more reliable. They could tolerate not being level and still operate because of that spring. You can always spot a Stoutenberg target because of the coiled spring in the back that pulls it down and the rubber bumper to keep it from clanging when it falls.

Ulysses Payne is another maker of spring-loaded targets. He puts the spring in front of the target instead of behind it. Because of the linkage he uses, not all of his targets fall completely flat, and I will discuss what that means in the next post. I have used Payne targets for just as long as Stoutenbergs and they are just as reliable.

This Ulysses Payne target is a spring-type, held up by a linkage that’s over-center.

When this Payne target falls, the linkage prevents it from falling flat.

There is a lot more to show and talk about concerning the targets. While new FT shooters focus on the guns, scopes and pellets, the targets are what make the game run, so it pays to know them well.