field target
Field-target with kill zone reducers.

This report covers:

  • Greatest shooting sport that nobody does
  • A job worth doing…
  • Get a field target
  • Making your first field target course
  • Expanding
  • The anal shooter
  • The fiddler
  • The gadget guy
  • The alibi
  • Lighting the target|
  • Forced offhand shots
  • What I haven’t talked about

This report is for reader Hoppalong Doc, who is considering doing this. It’s also for the rest of you who might like to try it.

I have written quite a lot about starting a field target club, with the best being a 6-part report titled Starting your own field target club. I don’t want to repeat all of that today. If you really want to know what goes on in a field target match, read all six parts of that report. Today I will write about things I haven’t addressed before

Greatest shooting sport that nobody does

Field target is a great airgun sport that airgunners like to talk about. But when it comes time to do it, people drop out. There are certainly several hundred field target competitors in the U.S. today, and there are tens of thousands of airgunners on the sidelines, watching them and talking about doing it.

A job worth doing…

… is worthy doing poorly. In other words, Hoppy, just do it.

Get a field target

My first field target was a small bunny with a two-inch kill zone. I found him for sale in a gun store, of all places. He was touted as a .22 rimfire target but the sheet metal target face (the silhouette of the bunny) was too thin to take the beating from a 100 foot-pound gun. I set him up at the Roanoke airgun show and Gary Barnes proceeded to shoot at him with his big bore rifles. In those days his guns weren’t that powerful, but they were more powerful than a .22 long rifle and when I discovered what was happening, my bunny was a crumpled mess. Fortunately he was made of low carbon steel and a hammer straightened him out again.

A two-inch kill zone is not a proper field target, but when you don’t have any, it will do. I took that bunny out to my friend’s farm, where we both shot at him at 50 yards with my Career 707. That was so much fun that my friend bought a field target for himself. Now we had two.

Making your first field target course

Here is what my friend and I did. We placed those two field targets in his field (where else?) and ran a long string from each back to a firing position. Then we moved forward about 10 yards and shot them from a firing point that was 20 yards from my friend’s smaller target and 30 yards from my bunny with the two-inch kill zone. We shot two shots at each target, so four shots per position. Shooting from both positions made a total of eight shots in all. If we wanted to shoot more shots we moved back to the first position and repeated everything.

Are you getting it? There were no rules, other than the ones we agreed upon. The “course” had no dimensions, other than the land we used. That was our first field target course.

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The Izaac Walton League of Damascus, Maryland, had a three gun shoot that was sponsored by the Chevy Sportsman’s Challenge. Edith and I were publishing The Airgun Letter at the time and our forum was extremely active.

Through our forum we were asked by the Damascus, Maryland, Izaac Walton League to come and set up a course where people could also shoot adult airguns. We had done this several weeks before for another gun club with disastrous results. Once we got there they announced that our range was “BB gun competition for the kids.” In truth the guns we had on line were heavy for adults and far too large and heavy for kids. One kid threw my R1 down on the cement after the scope hit him in the eye! So we were reluctant to do it again, but the man who contacted us assured us that he and two other guys from the Izaac Walton League would stay with us on the line for the duration of the event. And they stayed true to their word. As I recall, I now owned three field targets so that is what we set up for people to shoot.

Well, after the event was over those three guys asked Edith and I to help them start a field target club at that Izaac Walton League. One of the guys was on the board of directors, and he presented our idea to the board. They approved an unused piece of woods that we could have, and the four of us started planning.

We each could have bought two field targets and started with eight. If we then shot each target from two positions that would give us 16 targets and two shots at each would give a 32-shot match. Do it before lunch and again afterwards and the match has 64 shots. But I had a better idea. I had shot field target with Trooper Walsh in Virginia and he had offered to loan me 20 British field targets to start a club. So that’s what we did.

Those targets were made from very heavy steel and were definitely overbuilt. They worked only after considerable oiling, plus they had to be very level to function properly. They were better than no targets, but what we did was charge $5 per match for every non Izaac Walton member and we used the money to buy new targets. In those days there weren’t many sources for them and $60 was about what one cost. The $30 field targets that abound today were 15 years in the future.

We shot a couple matches that year, maybe three. What that did was teach us what it’s like to run a match. And that was how the Damascus Ikes Field Target Association (DIFTA) began.

We learned how different shooters act in matches which is far more instructive than learning how to set up a lane for a match. Here are some “for examples.”

The anal shooter

The anal shooter will sit on a lane and complain that his rangefinder (he uses the coincidence property of his scope’s adjustable objective to determine range) has shown that the near target on lane one is only 9-1/2 meters away — not 10. The match director tells him to just shoot it and he complains that he has set up his scope for 10 to 50 meters. He’s not set up to shoot closer than 10 meters.

Well, excuse me! This is a shooting contest — not a rangefinding contest. You may set your scope and rifle up for certain distances, but you should also know what it does outside those distances, because people make mistakes. Besides — who made your scope the official range measuring tool for this competition? BB Pelletier contends that you can hand each shooter a card with the exact distance to every target in the course and the final scores will be the same.

The fiddler

The fiddler sits on his lane for as long as you allow him, fiddling with the stuff on his rifle. He is the guy who caused the maximum time limit per lane rule to be created.

The gadget guy

The gadget guy shows up to one match with a harness that holds him in place like the ground mount on a heavy machine gun. Next time he has a monopod that connects his rifle to his ankle (because it’s not allowed to touch the ground) and the time after that his scope has a level that beeps when it’s not level. 

I have seen a two-piece scope mount with each ring base made of five individual machined blocks. Those rings were five inches high and the shooter had to put the cheekpiece of the stock under his chin to see. It reportedly cost the shooter $500. I have seen sidewheels that were 8 inches in diameter so there could be more distance on the rim for target distances to be written.

Gadget guys show up with gadgets that they hope will make them better shooters. Winners have the same airgun, match after match, and they know exactly where it is shooting.

The alibi

When a target doesn’t fall in a match like it is supposed to, the shooter may get an alibi, where the loss of a score is not counted against him. The match director has to rule over this. Sometimes just one shooter has a problem, and, if so, it is almost always caused by a “split.” A split is when the pellet has nicked the edge of the kill zone hole and only part of the pellet got through to hit the paddle. Since the pellet pushed the target face back when it nicked the edge, the target was locked upright.The paddle was partly overcome by the piece of pellet that hit it, so it went back, but the target didn’t fall.

I do two things when this happens. First, when I set up the targets I shoot each one with a 3 foot-pound pellet pistol after it is set up. If three foot-pounds will drop it, anything the competitors shoot should knock it down.

Second, when this happens to just one shooter, I usually rule against him. I may ask him to shoot at the target again. If it falls I rule against his point from during the match. If it doesn’t fall I may ask him to continue shooting until he hits the paddle. If he misses five times in a row I rule against him, unless other shooters had the same problem. If several did, I will probably exclude that target from the match.

If the target is bad, I will exchange it when we break for lunch. I also repaint the targets during the lunch break. That’s why my field targets are all black and their paddles are international orange. I’m sorry when all the paint goes off the paddle and you can’t see it to aim. Get a better scope.

Lighting the target

In the woods, it can be very difficult to see the target through a scope. To exacerbate this match directors have been known to put targets inside garbage cans to make the light really bad. This is where 50-power scopes go bonkers.

The light also changes during a match as the sun travels through the sky. Lanes become bad and good, depending on the time of day, which is why I try to randomize the lanes where each squad starts.

Forced offhand shots

Many matches have lanes where you are forced to shoot offhand. The sign on the lane tells you to. Instead of that I like it where the terrain forces you to stand. That’s more problematic, depending on the height of the shooters, but I prefer doing it that way, rather than just forcing shooters to stand. A really cool one is where they have to shoot through an opening in branches and the tall guys have to hunch over to see the target.

What I haven’t talked about

I haven’t talked about setting up lanes, target placement and other things related to running a match. Those other reports I referred you to should have most of that. But Hoppalong Doc, I would like to hear from you on what I haven’t addressed.