by B. B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2

In this report, I’ll tell you about shooting field target using the holdover method and the scopes that go with that. I held over for the first three seasons I shot field target. The first season consisted of a couple demonstration matches to shake out the bugs in our club. We had to do everything for the first time, and we were using 20 borrowed targets that were somewhat obsolete by the time we got them. There were all sorts of operational issues.

It all started at the beginning
I had reluctantly agreed to be the match director because, of the four men who founded the Damascus Ikes Field Target Association (DIFTA) club, I was the only one who had competed in field target matches before. Truth be told, the matches I had competed in would be called Hunter Class today because nobody sat to shoot. One of that club’s founders had a bad back, and they just ran the thing as a stand-up competition. I tried to sit to shoot just once, but gave up after all the criticism and catcalls. I missed the shot, too!

So, for the first match at DIFTA I was sitting in the American Airgun Field Target Association (AAFTA) approved position for the first time. I had a rulebook in my pocket and dreaded the moment that some lawyer would pop out of the crowd to challenge a ruling I might have to make, but it never happened. I didn’t have to make any rulings for several matches, by which time I had sort of figured things out. Sort of.

And I was a holdeover piggie! That’s really not a field target term–I just made it up in the last report. But it certainly illustrates the level of informality that accompanies those who hold over instead of adjusting the reticle for every shot. I’ve already addressed what it takes to adjust for every shot. Now let me tell you what you have to do to hold over.

What does holdover mean?
If you decide not to adjust the scope for every shot, the other alternative is to aim in different places to compensate for the trajectory of the pellet. A gun that hits the point of aim at 20 yards will not also hit there at 40 yards. You’ll need to aim differently to compensate for where the pellet will strike the target. This is called “holdover,” though sometimes you’re holding under, instead. It all depends on how you sight-in your scope. I’ll explain as I go, so don’t hurt your head if this isn’t clear yet.

My first FT gun was simple
Being match director, I wanted to shoot a gun that was lightweight and easy to use, because I was running all over the course keeping the match going. Targets were fouling and questions needed answering and I didn’t want to also have some technical challenge to deal with when I sat down to shoot. So I put a Bushnell 6-18x Trophy scope on top of an FWB 124 and I was set. I sighted-in the gun for the first point of intersection at 20 yards, which meant that it was more or less on target out to 30 yards and shooting low at all other ranges. With the gun shooting 860 f.p.s., a 20-yard zero gives the largest flat spot that’s possible in the trajectory.

I could have done something radical–like sighting-in for 15 yards. Had I done that, the gun would have shot low some of the time and high some of the time. That would have been a rifle that had to be held UNDER, as well as over. But I didn’t do that, because it’s too confusing.

From 10 yards to 19 yards, my rifle shot low, but got progressively higher as it approached 20 yards. Then, between 20 and 30 yards, it was hitting where the crosshairs were, more or less. The truth was actually a little different than that, but let me address that in a moment.

Beyond 30 yards, the pellet began to hit lower than the aimpoint, again. So for all shots closer than 20 yards or farther than 30 yards, I was hitting low. I had to hold the intersection of crosshairs above the place I wanted the pellet to go. I had to hold over. Holdover!

Yes, but HOW MUCH over?
I sighted-in my rifle on the sight-in range on a quiet day. The distances to targets on that range were already marked off from the firing line. I first marked the actual parallax (focus) ranges on white tape I put around the objective bell of the scope. And then I learned how much I had to hold the crosshairs over those targets at the distances mentioned above. At 10 yards, for instance, the pellet was hitting a full inch below the crosshair intersection, while at 19 yards it was only hitting about one pellet-diameter below the intersection. At 40 yards it was hitting an inch below the crosshairs again, but I discovered a funny thing.

One inch at 10 yards looks a lot different than one inch at 40 yards! Or, put another way, one inch at 40 yards is very small, while one inch at 10 yards is huge–through an 18x scope.

I guess so
Oh-my-gosh! As distance increases, the images in the telescope get smaller, so the aimpoints are not regularly spaced inside the scope! You have to, gulp, GUESS!

Call it estimation if you want to sound learned, or interpolation if you think you’re a scientist, it’s still a SWAG [Scientific Wildly Assumed Guess]. Before your first 60 shots are downrange, you’ve learned that holding over is an imprecise practice at the very best. Some shooters do better with it than others. I was eventually able to get up to the 2/3 level, where I remained with a lot of other holdover piggies. Two-thirds means that in a 60-shot match, I’ll shoot a 40. On a great day–it’ll be a 44; on a lousy day–a 35, but that’s where I’ll stay.

When I was holding over, you could have told me the exact range to each target in millimeters and stopped all wind for every shot–it wouldn’t have made any difference. But I had lots of fun and met some nice people.

In my scope, there’s a duplex reticle. Four fat lines become skinny in the center of the scope. By using the places where they go from fat to skinny as aimpoints, I picked up four more aimpoints. If I had a scope with a mil dot reticle I could have used those dots and even the spaces in between them as additional aim points. But you know what–it doesn’t make much difference. Because one inch at 47 yards looks different than one inch at 13 yards. And your pellet will drop about an inch between 47 and 51 yards (max distance is now 55 yards, remember?).

The duplex reticle has 5 aimpoints–the center intersection and the 4 places where the reticle wire thins.

But that’s not all. The freakin’ pellet also doesn’t stay on the vertical crosshair as it goes away from the gun! From 10 yards to 20, it’s on the right side of vertical; from 30 yards to 55, it’s on the left. I need to aim to one side or the other, depending on the range. Oh, it isn’t that much, but you don’t have to be off by much to hit the side of a 3/8″ kill zone at 12 yards. And you remember what touching the side of the kill zone can do.

So, I did what every other holdover piggie does. Somewhere on the butt of their rifle will be a white card with lots of numbers. Or they will have the card in their pocket. Or it’s on a chain around their neck. (That’s how you spot them at a match.) It has notes like this:

40 yards – one inch over and half a reticle-width to the left.
45 yards – 1.5 inches over and one reticle-width to the left.
50 yards – 2.5 inches over and two reticle lines to the left.

The language may differ on the notes. They may talk in terms of dots instead of inches or lines, but it all means the same thing. This guy isn’t going to win the match.

Want to know why? Where on those notes above do you see 47 yards? It isn’t there. Why?

Because a 6-18x scope stops working for rangefinding at about 30 yards. So somebody using a scope like that as a rangefinder can’t tell how far the target is anyway, so what use does he have for precise aiming references?

It’s all a SWAG, and it doesn’t take 30 shots before it sinks in.

“Why, B.B., it almost sounds like you’re saying that holding over isn’t a good way to shoot a field target match.”

Oh, it does, does it? Well, let me make it clear.

HOLDING OVER ISN’T A GOOD WAY TO SHOOT A FIELD TARGET MATCH–unless you don’t care about winning.

It was a GREAT way for me to shoot matches for over two years, because I didn’t go to win. I went to shoot. To experience the fun of the course. And my job was to make sure the matches were fun and fair for everybody else.

In year three, I started shooting a PCP, and I mounted a 8-40×56 scope that was optically centered and ranged for every yard from beginning to end. My scores jumped up to 46-49, with 51 being a really good day. A lousy day would be a 44.

Did I have more fun? No. But I did have different experiences.

So, how do I move from 48 to 60 points? I drop 100 lbs., learn to gauge wind, sort all match pellets (though I was doing that at the end), buy a sitting harness and learn to use it and pay more than $300 for a scope. Oh, and PRACTICE!

What I DON’T have to do is buy a more expensive rifle, buy a carbon fiber air tank or spend $500 for a custom scope mount (yes, I really saw that). Money doesn’t win field target matches, despite what the losers say. What wins is determination. You have to really want it.

Holding over is a good way to get into field target on a budget. And whenever someone asks me this question, I know that’s what he’s going to do: “B.B., what scope costing under $150 do you recommend for field target?” I will make a recommendation to that guy. And he will be able to shoot field target–by holding over.

Just as long as you all understand that this guy is just like me–out for a good time and no hopes of winning. Or maybe a hope–just not much of a chance. He might as well ask, “What American pickup truck can I buy for under $20,000 that I can also use as a dragster?”

Holding over will get you in the game, but adjusting for every shot is what it takes to win.