Getting started

Field target (FT) can be a very expensive hobby if one wants to be extremely competitive. However, it can also be lots of fun for not a lot of money.

If you don't know whether you want to invest a lot of money into this hobby, read on! Experienced FT shooters can skip this entire article -- go outside and practice!

Evaluate an existing airgun set up

If you already have an existing airgun, maybe it is already good enough as a starter!

To evaluate an existing airgun, you should have access to a proper shooting range, preferably having up to 55 yards of shooting distance. However, even 10 yards or 25 yards of shooting distance can still be useful.

Having a scope with adjustable objective is a must in FT matches. If your gun does not have one, it is time to shop for one. Check out airgun forums and read about different choices. For starters, the so-called lesser brands are fine. Many of these scopes cost $100 or there about.

You should pay attention to some scope features:

  • Maximum magnification. Hunter division allows up to 12x. Unless there are other reasons, get a scope that has at least 12x magnification.
  • Mil-dot reticle. A mil-dot reticle has many lines/dots/subtensions to help a shooter adjust for hold over and hold under. In hunter division, because the elevation turret cannot be adjusted during a match, this is the only way to compensate for pellet drop. A mil-dot reticle makes drop compensation a little bit easier compared to the more hunter-oriented multi-X (Bushnell terminology) or 30/30 duplex (generic terminology) reticle.
  • Finger adjustable turrets. This is a nice feature to have. Even though in hunter division turrets cannot be adjusted during a match, it is still handy to have finger adjustable turrets when a gun is being sighted in.
  • If you shoot a piston (spring or gas piston) gun, make sure the scope is designed to withstand the double recoil of such a gun.

In order to sell you scopes, manufacturers tout all sorts of features that are not really needed for FT matches. The following are a few:

  • Excessive objective diameter. While this is useful for hunting at dawn/dusk, most FT matches take place where there is plenty of light. A 40mm or 44mm objective diameter is fine.
  • Illuminated reticle. Yes, and all 36 or more colors, too! This is a good feature for hunting at dawn/dusk. However, for FT matches, this feature makes little difference.
  • 30mm tube diameter (as opposed to 1 inch). This feature supposedly let more light through and creates a brighter sight picture. Again, it is not exactly useful in FT matches. The only time this feature is useful is when a scope is mounted on a piston/spring/gas-ram airgun. 30mm scopes are significantly stronger than 1" ones.

For evaluation, there is no need to set up the scope exactly right. We will get to that later. All we are testing right now is consistency.

With a scope set up, it is time to test your gun for accuracy. First, adjust the AO so that the picture through the scope is as clear as possible. This step is important to eliminate parallax. Just make sure your shots lands on a target paper. There is no need to adjust so the the point-of-aim (POA) coincides with the point-of-impact (POI). Aim at the same spot for every shot, and fire 5 to 10 shots as a group.

At 10 yards, a good candidate gun should produce a ragged hole. At 25 yards, all the shots should be covered by a dime. At 50 yards, all the shots should land within a circle with a diameter of one inch (without wind). If you get a few flyers once in a while, it is not a big deal. However, most shots should meet these requirements. Otherwise, FT matches may prove to be quite frustrating, and it may not even be your fault!

Shooting at the gun's capability

When you evaluate an airgun, be sure to do everything possible so you are testing the gun's capability, not the shooters! This means that you don't have to following the FT rules while evaluating an airgun.

You can test the true capability of an airgun by resting it on a stable and yet somewhat flexible platform. For example, resting an airgun on sandbag on a solid shooting bench is a good way to stabilize an airgun.

Note if you are shooting a piston gun, you need to rest the gun the same way shot after shot to test the accuracy of the gun. Most piston guns shoot consistently when rested at its natural center of gravity. You can considering using masking tape to mark the point where the gun is rested.

If you have doubt about a gun because you cannot shoot it accurately, find a friend who is known to be a good shooter. Have an expert to help you evaluate the airgun.

Shopping for an FT airgun

Some guns simply do not shoot accurately. This can be due to many reasons. For example, the muzzle of the gun may not have a good crown (though this problem can be fixed fairly easily). However, some problems cannot be solved easily. For example, if the latch mechanism is loose on a break barrel gun, there is not much that can be done other than replacing the barrel and latch mechanism.

Shopping for an FT airgun is like shopping for a car. There are many options, and different people have different preferences.