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Education / Training Starting your own field target club: Target hardware and maintenance

Starting your own field target club: Target hardware and maintenance

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

We looked at target mechanisms and methods of permanent emplacement last time. Today, I’ll focus on the details of target hardware, especially the stuff that can prevent the target from working.

Not so simple
When you first see a field target, you’re impressed by its simplicity. After running several matches, however, you’ll reverse that opinion and wonder how something that appears so simple can also be so complex. On the surface, it seems like you just run a length of string out to the target and reset it every time it goes down. In a perfect world (or a perfect vacuum–I forget which), that would work. In the real world, though, reset strings unravel, or they cut themselves on the sharp edges of targets or they get snagged in the target mechanism, making it impossible to reset the target. So, field target shooters have learned a few fixes that improve the reliability of the targets greatly.

The first tip is to use fishing swivels and leaders with snap fasteners as attachment hardware for both the targets and the reset strings. That way, all you have to do is snap a string swivel to a target swivel and you’re done. And don’t buy cheap ones like I used to. I would buy a large bag of generic swivels at K-Mart and attach them to everything. But one or two matches later, my cheap hardware was itself causing as many problems as the bare string had caused. Other club members bought better-quality swivels that lasted for many seasons. Mine quit after a couple of matches. The cheap, uncoated steel swivel stops swiveling after one exposure to moisture, while the plated or solid brass or stainless swivel almost never freezes up.

Knotty situation
You need a swiveling action because the twine you use to reset the target is made from twisted fiber. In essence, the reset string is a long spring. As you pull and release, it tries to twist based on the alignment of the strands. Swivels cancel this motion, rendering it inconsequential. Without swivels, your strings soon start tying themselves in knots down by the target.

Tangled target strings!
When some targets fall, they pull on the reset strings with considerable force. This can pull the string into contact with the target mechanism, where it will get snarled. Many clubs tie a rubber band to the base of the target and to the reset string, so no matter how hard the target pulls the string when it falls, the rubber band always pulls the reset string free of the target mechanism afterward. When these are fresh, they work like a champ. After several exposures to sunlight, the rubber bands lose their elasticity and start breaking. Rather than use these temporary measured, I like to use targets that don’t exhibit the string-pulling tendency.


The After Hours target has high-quality hardware. Look at the cable to which the reset string is attached. A target made this way will operate reliably for years without the problems mentioned here.


This little quail target was made by Ulysses Payne. It’s too pretty to shoot, so I use it as my demonstration target. Notice that the maker installed a brass swivel on the target face for attaching the reset spring. This target has a bright orange paddle that you cannot actually see because of a shadow. That happens on a field target course all the time.


Air Arms bunny target solves the reset string tangle problem by holding the string attachment point out to the side. They use a circular clip instead of a swivel as the attachment point.

Maintaining reset strings!
When you make a new reset string, make it at least 65 yards long. You can do this quickly by measuring the string with your hands and arms. One span (holding your hands as far apart as you can) is approximately the same as your height, so if you are six feet tall, measure 33 spans of string. As the strings age, they break and the break is usually very close to the target. If the string is long, you can cut some off, attach a swivel and still have the maximum length string for a 55-yard target. You’ll get close to a decade of use from a string this way.

Repainting targets during the match
Not all clubs do this but I always repainted the field targets in the middle of the match. I used the lunch break to do it, and with two people working it took only 10 minutes to paint 30 targets. Each painter carries a can of flat black and a can of international orange spray paint. The paddle is painted orange and the target is painted black. I used a cardboard mask to protect the paddle as I painted the target. It takes about 30 seconds to paint a target, which will dry in 10 minutes.

After a target has taken 25-30 hits, the definition around the kill zone is lost. You can’t tell where the kill zone is because everything is shiny gray. When you see this through a scope under certain light conditions, it’s impossible to see any details. Those who argue against painting during a match say that no one paints game animals for hunters, which is true, but game animals also don’t wear a shiny silver breastplate. Field target is a sport, and I see nothing wrong with maintaining the equipment in the middle of a match, which is, after all, a contrived event. So, when I’m the match director, we repaint.

What about pretty targets?
You may have seen some field targets that are painted more like actual game animals than the flat black targets I mentioned. Some of them are real art. I have a theory about that. A beautifully painted target is a delight to see, but after it gets shot it has to be painstakingly repainted. At an amusement park where I used to work, they painted all the steel targets on the shooting gallery with lead paint that never hardened. It was easy to repaint the targets and backstop once a week because of how everything was painted, and that’s my philosophy for field targets, too. If I have just one, I paint it like a work of art; if I have 30 to maintain, I paint ’em all black. The one exception I made was the club mascot – Long Tom – a life-sized turkey target we placed out at 50 yards. I repainted Long Tom with natural colors for the state match every year. That was the one and only concession I made to artfully painted targets.

Next time, I’ll talk about scorecards.

author avatar
Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier)
Tom Gaylord, also known as B.B. Pelletier, provides expert insights to airgunners all over the world on behalf of Pyramyd AIR. He has earned the title The Godfather of Airguns™ for his contributions to the industry, spending many years with AirForce Airguns and starting magazines dedicated to the sport such as Airgun Illustrated.

52 thoughts on “Starting your own field target club: Target hardware and maintenance”

  1. BB

    What is the difference between the AirArms S400-SL Xtra Fac and the S410-SL Xtra Fac? Is the only difference the 10shot feature for the 410? Is the 400 as quiet as the 410?


  2. Hi BB/Tom,

    Being MD at your old club, DIFTA, I have made a few changes:

    1. I do paint the targets with more life-like colors, but I do it almost entirely with the spray from multiple cans. It only takes a few minutes more than black — mostly to shake more cans.

    2. I paint eyes and a few minor details with a white metal-marking pen (works better than felt markers). This makes for a great focusing spot and adds a bit of interest to the target. Only needs to be repaired every 4 to 6 matches.

    3. I tried all sorts of ways to make the kill zone visible. The most effective is to put colored tape (Duct or masking works fine) behind the kill zone hole. (Tim MacSwain was my source for this idea.) This does not work for small holes but they don’t usually need the help since they are close — what does help for small holes is a sharp edge on the hole.

    4. Another technique that works pretty well is to paint the back of the front plate with a bright color — this reflects on the trigger paddle. All of these work better if there is more space between the paddle and back of the face plate (pellet splatter will destroy anything on the back of the face plate pretty quickly).



  3. One more comment — a cheap welder is handy for repairing paddles (get shot-through eventually) and kill zones (edges round, etc.) Be warned, welding is more art than one would think, and you will find that practicing on some scrap metal a lot before tackling your targets will help. A good sander will clean up before/after welding.



  4. Jeff,

    I have shot them both, and own a s410 10 shot… they are both very quite, the lowest noise of all my guns by far.. I tell you more about them in my our emails if you want..


    Ashland Air Rifle Range & Rentals

  5. B.B.

    I also found that we had to adjust the paddle back so the pellets didn’t pile up on the paddle and keep it from working. I was testing them from a benchrest with the Condor and piling the pellets on the paddle, it got clogged up. But just adjusting the paddle back a little solved the problem.. The ones from After Hours are strong enough to take the Condor on the 8 setting at 20 yards, at least. I haven’t tried more yet.


    Ashland Air Rifle Range

  6. B.B.

    Is it fair to say that benchresting a spring rifle on your hand is not as stable as putting a PCP or firearm directly on a bag? Last night, I was trying out my Savage rifle in prone with a sling with snap caps and was amazed at how rock steady it was. (This is so much fun I hardly need ammunition.) This steadiness opens up a lot of possibilities for the shooting technique.

    Incidentally, I was watching the Olympic shooting videos from nbcolympics.com and I could see the muzzles of the rifles move as the shooters were setting up their shots. And I saw a few shots almost off the target. So, these guys are not superhuman.

    Wayne, to liven things up, instead of having people compete in shooting, why don’t you have the guns in your vast arsenal compete against each other with you as the control factor. I do it all the time. The big contest is between the B30 and the IZH 61. But I also like to see if the Daisy 747 can keep pace with the rifles or if the Crosman 1077 can hang with the others. I would guess that your number one rifle is the S410. Are there other competitors or combinations that have caught your attention?


  7. BB,

    I keep seeing hints about FT classifications, especially springers and hunter classes. Are these “standard” or does it vary by club? I would be interested in an offhand, open-sighted, “sporter” rifle competition, for example — but am I right to assume that there’s no such thing for most, if any, of FT? My disinterest in FT in general is that it seems to be too much about the equipment (especially scopes and harnesses), but I’m wondering if I’m missing some fanatical niche of it that I might enjoy.

  8. Matt61,

    Yes, I do that now, It is neck and neck between the Condor and the S410 on accuracy at 25yds to 55yds.. The S410 has no equal indoors, because the Condor is too loud in the pool room on air and I haven't got into CO2 yet… Things really echo in there.. And I know you want the IZH61 to go head up against the S410, at the 60'.. I'll see if Josh will bring it in for a contest.. he is a better shot than me, or he was last month, I get way more practice than him, so I might have caught up.. I'd love to beat him for once.. even if I need I 10 times more expensive gun to do it.. I know the real test is to then switch guns, but I can't do that, for some odd reason… if he beats me with the IZH61, I'll be impressed and buy a dozen… I'm doing 1/4" 5 shot groups, with the s410, off my knee in the recliner, in the 60' pool room range, almost every time..

    The accuracy of the S410 seems to get better with time, but I'm really bummed out about the magazine feeding issue. The little thin piece of metal that advances the mag broke on two of the three, I've bought.. PA is great as usual, about taking them back.. I kept the first walnut stock one, and just take the mag out each shot and advance it by hand, while Chris at PA is sending a replacement part.. I hope that Air Arms has made the replacement part of better quality, so I can have that part of a great line of products back…



  9. B.B.

    Wayne’s great experiences with PCPs are getting me to review my knowledge of those guns. The “sweet spot” fill pressure is the one at which you get the most shots per fill, right? Less than that and you get fewer shots. More and you get no more and the possibility of valve lock. Is that right?


  10. Wayne,

    Why don’t you get the bloop tube for the Condor that B.B. blogged. It’s so quiet that all you hear is the action working which would make it quieter than the S410 I’m guessing.

    Wow, going head-to-head against a Condor or S410 is setting the bar high, but that’s what it’s all about! Bring on Josh and let’s hear the results. Do you have any 10m target rifles to compare? I thought that those are supposed to be the most accurate indoors. I expect that the Air Force Edge, when it comes out, and the Air Arms S200 would be very formidable.

    Too bad about the magazine issue, especially since the multi-shot capability is one of the big draws of the S410 as far as I’m concerned. That sounds like a B30 moment which is bad enough but would really make me mad with a $1000 gun. Hopefully, PA will set you up as I hope Stacey will with my rifle which just arrived.


  11. Matt61,

    Yes, I just offered to buy the one Jeff didn’t make work on a Talon SS..

    And if I beat Josh with the IZH61, then he could try me and the S410 against the HW55T, someday, if he treats me right (there is a surprise coming for you all, B.B. will tell in time).. With my eyes needing a scope, I can’t do justice with the 55, but Josh could I’m sure, he likes open sights more than a scope at short distance.. He is very good with his Benjamin 392.., that is the gun that got me looking for an air rifle last winter.. just look what happened..one turned into more than 50.. watch out new comers…you could get a very expense bug playing around here..

    A friend of mine didn’t like the S200 he bought, it isn’t made at the same factory, I don’t think.. The single shot S400 is probably the best bet at this time with Air Arms, besides the TX200 of course..

    Now that would be a great test the TX200 against the S410, I do almost as well with the TX, but the PCP is just a little easier to shoot the 1/4″ groups over and over with.. Josh hasn’t shot the TX200 yet, I don’t let him have the best ones until I get as good as I can first with them… I need a very large head start…

  12. Wayne,

    Also, I wouldn’t leave the hearing protection up to the gun but wear your own. In addition to the cardboard box I shoot into, I wear Beretta range muffs and $150 sport goggles with polycarbonate lenses (the same material as F-16 cockpits!). No cutting corners here. If you’re shooting for hours every day, you better be careful of cumulative hearing damage.

    Interesting about the S200. I thought it was Czech and all their stuff was top-notch. I understand that the S400 target rifle is Olympic quality minus all of the ergonomics.


  13. Matt61,

    My ears ring all the time, from all the molder setup and running I did in the 80s.. A wood products reman plant is a very loud place, ear plugs or not.. and in the past mostly not, and thus the ringing ears.. not fun, take care people.. good advise Matt..

    I wonder how much more accurate an air gun can be, than the S410 or S400.. Billy Lo, the 2005 National champ, is who I got the HW55T from.. he has offered to sell me the USFT he won at that contest, talk about ergonomics. Check out B.B.s past blog on it… If I make a deal with him, that would be a real test for the S410, now wouldn't it…


  14. Ooops.

    Digging around in the basement, I found some camouflage that my wife had hidden on me. She’s at work, so I ran upstairs, tried it all on, grabbed the Gamo CFX (which I had been working on a few days prior), and modeled in front of the full length mirror in my wife’s dressing room. Doing the whole Paul Capello shouldered-gun swing around motion, looking down the sights and aiming at the muzzle’s reflection, my finger’s instinct took over. I flicked off the safety and pulled back the trigger.

    Of course the glass shop won’t have the replacement mirror ready for a day or two.

    98% of the time I’ll press against the breech knob and see if it will rotate before I place a finger near the trigger, so I know if it’s cocked or not. But not this time.

    So, the CFX has been cocked for about 2 days. What has that done to the mainspring?

  15. Oh, cool! I thought leaving it cocked for extended periods resulted in a weaker spring.

    Now, for part two… how do I explain to my wife that I shot put a hole in her mirror?

  16. Matt61 and BB,

    Wait, isn’t the “sweet spot” of the fill the pressure range that gives you the most consistent velocities–not necessarilly the greatest number of shots? That would likely be from a higher pressure.

  17. Matt

    Wow, safety first. Good job.
    In an open soybean field we use to rest the .22 Hornet on the shoulder of the non-shooter for a steady hold. The only protection was a single digit in the ear of the human shooting stick. This maybe where they came up with the idea for all the fancy shooting sticks they have now. Please no one try this!!!!!!
    Seat belts were fairly new to cars, hard liquor was still sold on TV, we played with lawn darts, and no one had invented the bike helmet. Clearly, natural selection was still going strong. Being a product of that era, I still believe squinting will protect my eyes, and loud noises are Gods plan to help us deal with a wife, kids and grandkids as we age.


    Since you admitted to it, I will to. My hesitancy on the HW55T was mostly due to the open sights. I have a few peep sight and open sight rifles and just don’t do as well with them anymore. I think putting a scope on such a rifle is like adding one to a Win model 94. It just isn’t right.


  18. Volvo,

    I just get more incredulous all the time at how cowboys and hunters put up with gun blasts or how soldiers do it especially the urban fighters and tunnel rats. I guess they suck up a lot.

    Mirror shooter, that story is hysterical. Just so you don’t feel isolated, I was toying with the idea of a deserted stretch of California beach to get filmed wading ashore with my M1 and bandoleers or perhaps the shower with the bandoleers empty and the M1 held out of the water…. Don’t think I will though. If you told your wife the truth, would she laugh it off?


  19. Volvo,

    Why do you always bring up such good memories — lawn darts are the best! We still have drive-thru liquor stores here, at least in the counties that aren’t completely dry (that includes most of the places where they make bourbon, by the way).


    Thanks, I will look into hunter class FT. I’ve been enjoying your FT club series even though I doubt I’d ever shoot in a regular match.

  20. Volvo,

    No pride here, at least in shooting, I’ll take every aid that will help to get a group.. and sell any guns that won’t with ease… Hence the CFX… You didn’t say what songs your singing to the person who takes it off your hands… how about “I did it my way”? oh sorry that’s not Dean, that was Frank….

    Your not the mirror guy too are you?


  21. Mirror Guy,

    Did you know you can get complete sets of new ones at any home center… Tell your wife that you took one down to get the size right and the dumb min. wage kid at the home center broke it.. you wanted to get a head start on valentines day and have it engraved with ” I love cookie” for the new air gun you got me for Xmas…


  22. Wayne,

    I wish I could have done that. The problem is that the mirror is part of a 6 foot tall rotating jewlery case/drawer piece of furniture. One side has drawers and doors, and the back side is the mirror. It spins around lazy-susan like. So it’s not exactly an in-stock sized mirror.

    And, as far as the engraving idea, with my luck, she’d be standing in front of a mirror that reads “I love cookies”, because I didn’t proofread it beforehand.

    I complimented her as soon as she got in the door. “What did you do?” was her response. Just explained myself, told her the replacement was on it’s way, and she laughed. Guess I’ll keep her.

    Although she wouldn’t laugh with the ideas Matt61 is giving me. Maybe I’ll grab the video camera, and film myself crawling through her flower garden, Tom Beckett style, setting up a shot from the lilac tree with my three-year-old as the spotter.

  23. BG Farmer,

    When I lived in Texas in the mid ‘80s drinking and driving was still legal. I can remember cruising along LBJ with a bottle between my knees.


    Sadly, people would pay me more not to sing then to sing. I found a good home for the CFX – I am using it as trade for a tune. She leaves on Friday.


    After ground hog hunting in the morning we would break for lunch, and after a few sandwiches throw clay pigeons by hand. A 12 gauge makes the Hornet sound like popgun, even if the Hornet was resting on your shoulder. If they even made ear protection, no one had bothered to tell us yet.

    The upside is I could go to a Disco that same night and not be bothered by the loud music. Always look for an upside.


    I lied earlier, I actually laughed so hard at the mental picture of a tactical 94 that diet pop came out of my nose.


  24. Volvo,

    That’s a great deal, you learned something and came out in TUNE after all, and you say you can’t sing…

    you might have created a famous CFX, as it moves from your infamous first tune on through to it’s destiny…


  25. ok, back on topic:

    The adage, you only have one chance to make a first impression –well Rich from Mich has exceeded all my expectations at this point and made a superb one.

    My FWB 124 is done as of today and ships tomorrow. One week turn around! (Efficiency) He responds to e-mails almost immediately. (Communication) He also replaced the muzzle brake. (Something for nothing, we all love that)

    If his work is at the same standards, I would suggest sending him every gun you own before he is buried deep in new orders.


  26. Mirror Shooter,

    I just have to chime in with my two bits. I was testing a Tech Force 99 indoors and I have a 21-yard range that runs from the master bedroom through the living room and into the garage. The way the house is built, it’s the longest indoor run I can get.

    So I was too lazy to move our new couch. The rifle was already sighted-in and the trajectory was four inches above the back of the couch, which I felt was ample clearance – but I did mention I was shooting a Tech Force 99!

    We’ve now had that pellet hole in the back of the couch cushion for four years. My wife just smiled when I told her. I offered to replace the couch and matching loveseat, but she said we’ll just throw a swag over it (I think that’s what they are called – a small blanket) and that’s what we have done.

    So, for all those guys who wear ridiculous ties or leisure suits and joke about it – I really DID shoot the couch!


  27. B.B.,

    Assume you didn’t gut her couch after you killed it?

    Several posts above “mirror shooter” admitted that his CFX has a main spring not a gas ram. Even though he left the gun cocked for 2 days this will not reduce power?


  28. B.B.

    True confessions it is then….

    I did the same thing with the avenger 1100 last January… sighting in the scope, I couldn’t see where the hell I was hitting.. I kept saying to myself this thing doesn’t have barrel droop.. I can’t be that far off.. where am I hitting.. then after 20 minutes of this. I figured out that I had put 15 pellets into the top of the back of the chair 4 feet in front of me.. Lucky for me it was an old one and my wife doesn’t even know.. I just keep a towel hanging over the top of it… stuffed in the corner.. I get into enough trouble about pellets in the pool..


  29. Kevin,

    I saw that, too. Well, that does change my comment about the gas spring, but two days of being cocked doesn’t weaken a mainspring. Read my Mainspring Failure Test pulled from the R1 book:



  30. B.B.,

    Thanks. I think that’s the only blog of yours I’ve missed. So a mainspring typically doesn’t start loosing power until it’s cocked for 100 hours straight. Nonetheless, you don’t even recommend leaving a gun cocked when you’re in the field hunting.

    Why in the world won’t someone do a second printing of your Beeman R1 book. The demand exists!


  31. B.B.,

    Please forgive me for being so needy.

    Based on your glowing praise in your very detailed report on the diana 27 I purchased one. Couldn’t be happier. Very easy to shoot, easy cocking and extremely accurate gun even with the peppercorn open sites. Not powerful but I could shoot this gun all day long (been shooting paintballs off golf tees at 60 feet with this gun). This humble looking gun masks its pedigree until you shoot it.

    After reading many of your glowing reports on the FWB 124 I’ve been looking hard for one in good condition. I know you’ve said that the parachute seal was a weakness in the FWB 124. I can live with the potential of having to replace the seal in the older gun I’ll probably end up buying.

    The link you gave for “How long does a mainspring last” was very interesting. It also mentions that another “weakness” in the FWB 124 is that the mainspring is under a tremendous amount of pre-load which affects the life of the mainspring (bends the mainspring). Is there an aftermarket spring or fix that can address this in an FWB 124 or should I accept the fact the mainspring will have a short life and shoot it till it dies?


  32. Kevin,

    The early 124 seal is a weak element because FWB used the wrong synthetic in it. Walther did the same thing at the same time. The mainspring is always a problem because they fail even during storage.

    So some later seals last, while the earlier ones do not. Jim Maccari is the best source for 124 seals and spring replacements:


    Never tune a gun before testing it. Maybe the person before you took care of things and you don’t need to.


  33. Kevin,

    I should have explained. The Maccari mainspring has much less preload, so it lasts longer. To get a long spring to fit in a rifle, the wire diameter has to be smaller. Smaller wire fails sooner, and the longer spring is under so much preload that it exacerbates the failure rate.

    The Maccari spring is the fix.


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