I flew down to Baton Rouge, Louisiana for the first time to participate in the Cajun Spring Classic hosted by the Bayou Airgun Club.  The Cajun Spring Classic is one of the longest running field target events in the country.  This year Pyramyd Air sponsored their first field target style Gunslynger event held on Saturday morning before the start of the field target match.  Pyramyd has put on Gunslynger events at the Pyramyd Air Cup for the past few years, but has now introduced a new version with slightly different rules.

If you haven’t heard of Gunslynger yet, it is a speed silhouette match that pairs two competitors head to head to see who can knock down 16 steel plate targets at varying distances the quickest.  The shooter that proves to be the fastest moves onto the next round until there is only one person left standing.  It is an intense event that isn’t just fun to participate in but is also very entertaining to watch.

silhouettes

Shown with coins to demonstrate relative strike zone sizes

The targets that you are trying to knock over are 1/10 scale NRA steel animal silhouettes elevated slightly off of the ground on top of bricks.  There are four targets at each distance.  Four chicken targets at 10 yards, four pigs at 25 yards, four turkeys at 40 yards, and four rams at 55 yards to give a total of 16 targets.  They have to be knocked off or at least knocked over on its side to count as a hit.

The new field target style Gunslynger event requires that shooters conform to the rules for one of the three standard AAFTA divisions (Hunter, WFTF, or Open).  Shooters compete in two groups based on power plant – PCP or Piston.  I knew I was going to shoot in the PCP class since I no longer own any springers (we were just not meant for each other).

The next decision I had to make was what AAFTA division to shoot under.  The highest power an air rifle can shoot is 20 ft*lbs under the AAFTA rules.  I have been shooting in the hunter division for the past couple years with my .177 Marauder and I am very familiar with it so I decided that it was the best gun I owned for this match.  It was tempting to shoot a WFTF (12 ft*lbs) style gun since I have been dabbling in the division for the past few months but I wanted to go as high power as I was allowed.  With lower power guns there are two disadvantages I see during a speed shoot.  1) Wind creates more of a challenge at the longer ranges.  2) There is a higher chance of spinning the target on the block instead of knocking it over.  I have had this happen to me several times even at 20 ft*lbs.  Last fall, at the Pyramyd Cup, I had two ram targets in a row at 60 yards spin on the block and turn perfectly sideways leaving me only a knife edge of steel to try and hit.  In the heat of a speed match it is easy to get worked up and pull a shot just left or right enough on a heavy ram target to leave you in this predicament.

The next thing I wanted to figure out was what to do to the gun to increase my speed since I wouldn’t be resting the rifle on a bench.  During a regular GunSlynger match, you can rest the gun on the bench which allows you to pull back the bolt and load the gun from either side you wish.  Because the FT style requires you to shoot from an AAFTA compliant position, I chose to shoot off of my normal shooting sticks.  I was afraid that if I tried to rack the bolt with my right hand and load with my left hand while balancing my rifle on a set of sticks that it would be too cumbersome.  Thankfully, the Benjamin Marauder is a very versatile gun!  I decided to swap the bolt over to the left hand side of the gun so that I could pull the bolt back and load the gun with the left hand while keeping my right hand on the rifle ready for the next shot.

While practicing with the new bolt set up in preparation for the Cajuns, I realized I had another problem.  I had nowhere to set my pellets!  Setting the pellets on the ground or fumbling inside a pouch was awkward and slow.  I read over the rules and noticed that there was nothing stating that the pellets couldn’t be stored on the gun.  They just couldn’t be staged (meaning oriented in any manner or loaded in a magazine).  I decided to design and build a pellet tray that could hold my tin of pellets on my rifle near the chamber.

The last improvement was my parallax wheel.  I designed and 3D printed a second wheel that replaced my field target wheel with one that only had the relevant yardages marked on it.  I only marked 10, 25, 40 and 55 yardages in extra-large writing on my wheel tape for quick reference.

My Marauder .177 used during the GunSlynger event

My Marauder .177 used during the GunSlynger event

After a few more rounds of practice at home it was time to stow the rifle in its case and hope that the airlines didn’t toss my case around.  We actually had a problem with that on our trip.  My friend Jeff Paddock had his case dropped at some point and it caused his WFTF gun stock to crack in half at the pistol grip.  We had to spend some time at Home Depot gathering tools and was able to perform a quick repair in the hotel room before the match.

At the start of the GunSlynger, there is a lot of time spent waiting for your turn as they work through the draw.  This is one of the worst parts for me as my adrenaline builds as the first match gets closer.  Once you win one round the pace starts to pick up.  Pyramyd sets up multiple shooting lanes in order to speed up the competition.  There are less and less competitors until soon you end up being called to the line to shoot in every round.  While match personnel walk out on the course to reset the targets you have enough time to refill your rifle but not enough time to slow your heart rate back down.

I shot against several people before the final round for first place.  Each round I learned more and more about tricks to try and improve my technique.  In Gunslynger there is no regulated order you have to shoot the silhouettes.  I constantly debate about whether to shoot the farther targets first or the closer targets first.  It really depends on how nervous I am going into the round.  During the match you try to tune out the outside world and concentrate on your technique and form.  But no matter what you still have a sense for how well your opponent is doing from the sounds of their targets falling over and the crowd’s reactions.  In the semi-finals I decided to shoot the closest targets first.  By the time I got out to the 40 yard turkeys I was already shaking so badly I missed the last turkey three times before hitting it!  A couple lanes down in the other semi-finals match, Harold Rushton was battling my friend Jeff Paddock and finished his round a few targets before I did.  Luckily I was able to clean the rest of my targets to win my round which meant that I had to shoot against Harold for first place.  I knew I had to change things up or I would be a mess at the farther distances.  Harold is a great shot and would leave me no room to make mistakes, especially with the $200 Pyramyd Air gift card prize on the line.  Harold is a world class shooter and was shooting WFTF style.  Any advantage I thought I had by shooting a higher power gun seemed to disappear because Harold never seems to miss!

I decided in the final round to shoot the farthest targets first.  I talked myself into feeling confident and sat down just going over in my head what to do with my Marauder.  When the call was made to start I worked my way through the far targets without missing any.  This got my confidence up for the tricky turkeys.  They are the most challenging of the four animals to take down.  The turkey’s strike zone is about the size of a quarter with little room for error left or right.    I missed once but then cleaned the rest of the course and won the match just a few shots in front of Harold.

Bill Rabbitt (L) and Harold Rushton (R) battling it out for first place in the final round

Bill Rabbitt (L) and Harold Rushton (R) battling it out for first place in the final round

I came out victorious but in my mind I still felt like I was shooting slow.  It’s so easy to get caught up in the rush of shooting against another person in this head to head format.  I practice at home and can be pretty fast, but in an actual event the adrenaline starts pumping and I have a hard time just picking up pellets let alone making a calm clean shot.  It is part of the fun and it is invigorating.

PA will be sponsoring their next GunSlynger event at the Crosman All-American Field Target Championship in July.  Come on out and give it a shot!