It’s been a long time since I shot a GP, actually it’s been two years since I shot anything at all with my rifle, so I decided to dust it off and shoot the GP at North Oxon’s other venue, Weston Woods. Once I had registered to shoot on the BFTA website, I looked at the weather forecast and a couple of thoughts came to me frequently between registering and turning up at the event - a) What was I thinking and b) I really don’t fancy shooting in the rain. But, ever the optimist, I went to the North Oxon FTC range on Saturday to see if I still remembered how to load the rifle and point it the right way – and to check the zero. It was a lovely afternoon at the range and the rifle seemed to be unaffected by its 2 year stint in stasis.
Showing my AA400 what sunlight feels like at North Oxon’s range
The PM session of the GP was due to start at about 1pm. Before this, the shooters have to ‘check in’, pay the fee and collect a scorecard and raffle ticket. The card is for the scores and your name but also for your BFTA number, your grade, your start lane and also contains information about what rifle you are using, what scope and what pellets. I collected my card, felt nervous, went to the loo and then stood around with the other 77 shooters (3 of whom were women), waiting for the PM session to begin with the safety briefing.
The crowd gathers for the safety briefing
We were called to the raffle draw followed by the safety briefing at about 1.45 then told to get to our starts lanes, so off I trotted in the direction of lane 20, it’s quite exciting being part of a 78 strong ‘herd’ of shooters all making their way to their start lane. I arrived and found I was shooting with another lady (what are the odds!) and a double A grade (that means really really good) chap. We introduced ourselves, decided on the order we wanted to shoot in and the countdown we wanted (each lane has a stopwatch, each shooter is allowed 2 minutes to shoot both targets) needless to say that I had forgotten this and when they asked me my answer was “umm”. I decided on a 1 minute alert and a 10 second alert, just to look like I knew what I was doing in front of these two experienced FT shooters. When the rifles came out of their cases, my two companions had full FT set up, beautiful rifles with bells and whistles and then more bells and whistles – my little AirArms400 might look like a poor relative alongside them, and be a third of their price, but it does have a green stock.
A typical FT lane
The whistle blew to signal the start of the shoot and we were off! Start lane 20 which means targets 39 and 40. I was shooting in C grade, which means that I have to do the forced positional shots (this means that some lanes have to be shot a certain way, you have to stand or kneel to shoot) – something to look forward to! I was keen to keep my GP triggered profanity under control this time, having earned the nickname ‘potty mouth’ at a GP series in 2007 and I am proud to say that I managed this for at least 2 lanes. As I sat down for my first shot, I remembered that breathing was important, that I had a two whole minutes to shoot both targets (which is a long time when one doesn’t have to range find and twiddle with wheels and stuff to find out how far away the target is – I was shooting it ‘Ye Olde SFT’ style, so I look at the target, guess how far away it is and try to knock it over) and not to panic. I always used to worry about taking too long, or loads of people watching me, or being the only lady etc but none of that matters – so in with the Zen…breathe…relax, ignore everything going on around me and remember what I taught myself about range finding. The clock is started as soon as you look through the scope for the first time, and as I was second guessing myself on the 2nd target in the lane, I vaguely heard a voice say “1 minute” as I squeezed the trigger and knocked over the target – yay! Scoring is very different to HFT, in HFT if you miss the kill zone but still hit the plate, you get a point; in FT you get nothing. It’s an ‘X’ for a kill, and a ‘O’ for a miss (I prefer to call them hugs and kisses – it softens the blow a bit because who doesn’t like lots of hugs?).
I calmed down a bit as we moved through the course, everyone is really nice and friendly and there is a bit of banter which helps everyone to relax. The three of us were doing pretty well, but when we made the trek from lane 25 over to lane 1, everything seemed to go a bit wrong. I got 6 ‘0/hugs’ in a row, as did 1 of the others, we didn’t really know why things were going badly (lets blame it on the wind), and it’s hard to tell where the pellet struck on the target plate, so it can be frustrating because you don’t know what is going wrong and therefore how to fix it, so it can be disheartening and confidence crushing if you let it, but after many quips of “Oh well, never mind” and “well at least it isn’t raining” we cheered up a bit, and then saw the next two lanes – a forced stander and then ‘The Tower of Doom’. It’s not really called the tower of doom but it should be! The forced standing lane went very well (one of the shots did) but the tower lane is enough to strike fear into the most seasoned FT warriors.
The Tower of Doom (target is circled in red)
There were quite a few spectators at this lane, trying to get some hints and tips before they shot it, or staring in awe as it was successfully conquered. It’s a hard angle to hold the rifle at too; you’re sitting on the ground, holding a rifle at what feels like 65 degrees, shooting the wings off a fly at the top of a skyscraper in another county. Two lanes use the tower, there are 3 targets attached to it; the lane in the picture has two targets on it and the next lane has 1 on the tower and one in the bushes on the far side of the lake. By some miracle I got two of the tower targets (my Zen had kicked in by then – well it was either that or the medicinal toffee crisp I had before the previous lane) and I got a little cheer from the gathered group who were watching. With my confidence semi restored, we headed on throughout the course. There was a forced stander up a scaffold tower; this one had my Zen evaporating instantly – I am not a big fan of heights and the stairs up to the tower were see through (eeek) and the whole structure felt a bit wobbly – once I got up there, there’s nothing to hold on to or learn against as the forced standing shot has to be unsupported. One target was out in the field and the 2nd was right below me, so another sharp angle, and for me, an uncomfortable lane. Once we had finished on the scaffold tower lane, we were back on terra firma and a nice, bog standard FT lane…where I managed to shoot the wrong target! Ooops! Good shot though, but I don’t get a point for it. As we moved on the weather got kinder and warmer and it was very pleasant, but I started to count down the lanes to go as I was knackered and really wanted a cup of tea. With 4 lanes to go and therefore a cup of tea in 8 shots time, I relaxed a bit more and even made fun of some passing marshalls. When we got to the last lane, we all knocked both targets down, which was great to finish on a high - we added up each other’s scores & signed the cards and that was it, we shook hands and thanked each other for the last 3.5 hours then I headed off to the car to put my gun away for another long sleep. With a lovely little buzz from a very enjoyable shoot, I headed back to the ‘check in desk’ to hand in my completed score card and grab a cup of tea and reflect on a fun day.