The BFTA British Championship and Inter-regionals is a weekend always welcomed by the FT crowd. Having completed the various regional leagues in near isolation over the winter, it’s a chance for everyone to catch up with mates they’ve not seen for a while, to see how well rivals are shooting, and what new tricks and gear they have up their sleeve for the national season. New for this year was the venue for the weekend’s shooting. Tondu FTC in Wales. The weather however was traditionally Welsh. Windy. And probably wet.
Still that prospect didn’t dampen spirits with nearly 100 shooters booked in to have a crack at the title. With the feed on system used for the Champs and Inters, many were up early and ready to go at sign-in, ensuring they could pick and choose when they wanted to shoot during the day to make the best of the predicted conditions. This was important as the course didn’t lend itself to sheltering shooters. Tondu is set in an old quarry, and despite nature taking back large parts of it, with the course set in the upper section, both targets and shooters are exposed to the elements, with many a string not touching anything between the shooter and the target. Given the 20mph winds lying in wait, at least working out direction wasn’t going to be too much hard work.
After a 4th consecutive Central Southern FTA Winter League title, Justin Wood was early onto the course, perhaps hoping to get the best of the weather and put a strong bid in for the title. With just 3 shots missed out of the 40, a 37 was a very strong bid. Simon Higgins from Anston, finding form again was close on his heels with a 36 and Tawd Vale’s Dave Schofield not far behind with a 35. But this was early days, and with another 90 or so shooters to come through, with 3 shots missed, there was still room for someone else to get in between Justin and the title. However, as the day progressed, conditions worsened, and with deluges of rain and hail in the day, many found themselves struggling to make 30, let alone get close to the leaders. Despite a nail biting day waiting Justin could finally lift his first, and undoubtedly not last, BFTA national title.
Day 2 of the weekend and the focus shifted from the individual to the team, as the 9 regions battled it out for the much coveted Inter-regional title. Despite recent years seeing the amount of counting scores in a team changing, this has always come down to being a measure of both strength and depth in a region. With the North East FTA and Midlands FTA both having very strong winter leagues, as far back as records go it’s been one or the other to lift the trophy, with the remainder of the country bickering over 3rd. This year was to be different. With the usual suspects not able to field their strongest teams for one reason or another, there was potential for an upset.
Conditions for the second day were far more lenient than day 1, but this mean the pressure was on not to lose easy targets. Although the course was set in a light wood, many of the targets were exposed to the subtle winds just outside it. Foliage which could have given a clue was dampened by occasional drizzle. The course never really demanded that the crosshairs be placed far outside the killzone, but it did demand you knew where to put them in it. A rushed shot outside not giving enough windage, or a guess that a drift would take you in, could reward you with a shot that either hadn’t moved, or moved right across the kill. As the course progressed, the landscape opened, but with every lane a different angle, and positionals that made good use of the ranges allowed, shooters were constantly tested on every target. Many would drop a long 50+ yard target only to lose a sub 40 yard one in the same lane.
CSFTA put in a strong performance leading the region early on with 39 ex 40 from Justin Wood. Wales were only slightly behind with Dorian Falconer and Jack Harris on 38. With both teams almost neck and neck all day as the rest of their shooters put in strong performances, MFTA and NEFTA were left out of the running. That was until James Osborne hit the course, doing as much as anyone could ask, clearing the course. But even this feat was not enough, and left the MFTA one shot behind CSFTA. At this point CSFTA and WAFTA were equal, but despite a late 38 by CSFTA’s comp sec Cliff Church, Wales’ strength through the region could not be bested, and they took title by 4 points. Quite an achievement for one of the smaller FT regions in the country, and a perfect partnering title alongside Wales’ world title won in Lithuania last year.
With the Champs and Inters behind us, the main event of the year the BFTA Grand Prix Series, started in earnest. Central Southern were the hosts for the first two rounds and Meon Valley, a new ground for FT shooters, took the first honours with the more familiar Bisley holding the second.
With the opportunity to set the standard for the season, Meon’s wooded but varying ground was used to its maximum potential. Discipline shots were a mix of mid-range and long, designed to stretch the grades apart. Every lane was designed to gradually unsettle the shooter, never allowing them to quite rest. If the next lane was in the same position, the angle to the wind had changed. If the angle was the same, the exposure to the wind was altered to target and sometimes shooter. As the course climbed the hill so did the target elevation, and once that was tested it was reversed with the end of the course shooting downhill through ground varied in exposure to a fickle breeze. A long standing lane to finish on was something to reflect upon during the long walk back down to lane one. Although the wind was light for most of the day, the course made sure that the shooter could not relax.
Once again Justin Wood had put in a strong performance, losing just one shot to a rushed range-find on a long target. But he didn’t have it all his way, and Ian Taylor also joined him on 49 ex 50, losing one to innocuous sub 40 yd target which took more wind than anticipated. Going into a shoot off to decide the trophy honours, Ian left the door open for Justin, but a flash of breeze caught Justin out on the 50yd plus kneeler, and Ian pressed home the advantage on the standers that followed, keen to establish himself as the man to beat this year and someone who was going to defend that position at any given opportunity. It’s impressive to see the motivation still running strong in someone who nothing to prove in terms of titles and very little of them missing from his record.
Jack Harris, continuing on from last year’s form joined the duo on score, but having shot the AM session he had already left to return to his welsh homeland, perhaps ruing the 48 yard target which had seen him also just shy of a clear and clear win.
With Bisley as the next ground it would be interesting to see who could maintain their good starts, and who would fall behind the curve. Making full use of the ground, which wove its way past the Rowan Engineering stand, and the vintage bell target & card shooting stall, the course moved from the open section in front of the clubhouse, over the bridge to the woodland behind zig zagging from side to side.
Once again conditions were light, but Bisley had worked to keep shooters thinking hard. Patience was the key to the day. Snap decisions to come out of the kill could reward the shooter with a miss, seeing a shot going straight even at 50 yards. Likewise, any disregard to the target, playing perhaps the odds, could see you pushed out if you remained in the kill by just the wrong amount. Disciplines were shared between shorter range targets, and longer almost full length shots, with some quite exposed. It meant many hit most of them, but expertise was required to drop all of them, important for those to whom one target could mean all the difference. Notably Dave Robinson had mastered most of the course for most of the day, but lost 5 shots in almost as many lanes at the other end. It was a tough finish, but enough to see him secure top place in A grade as a consolation.
AA grade saw some new names at the top of the scoresheet for this Grand Prix. With Dorian Falconer returning back to Wales early, Andy Calpin had finally got to grips with his new FTP900 and Sightron and went toe to toe with ‘Giddy Kid’ Simon Higgins in a shoot off to settle which of the 48’s would take the 1st place trophy home. After a couple of rounds of tricky targets in the more open section of the course, Andy Calpin sealed the deal.
With just two rounds of the 7 shoots now complete, it’s very hard to see where the winner is going to come from overall as it’s very tight at the top of AA. Ian Taylor leads the field, but only by one shot ahead of Justin Wood. But then there’s also only one shot separating them from Simon Higgins, and seemingly everyone in the top 10 is just one behind or ahead their next rival. Jack Harris and Andy Calpin as well have one 100% which will count meaning they could easily drop their lower scores later in the season to take it right till the last round. Certainly it looks to be all going Air Arm’s way, but will it be the faithful EV2 or the new FTP900 that is held by the winner?
In A grade the top 3 have all hit the same amount of targets, meaning just their percentages separate them. The South West’s John Martin has put an early lead of 3 on B grade, with the North East’s Phil Green 2 ahead in C. Brian Samson has put daylight between him and World Champion Steve Privett in the springers, but with springers, anything can happen so it’s very early days. Steve took last years title after 2 days of battling from behind, so he’s used to digging in for the long game and overtaking his opponents. In the ever growing Open class, a new name to the class, but not to the sport, Barry McGraw is leading, but it will be interesting to see if Tony Fouracres and Ian Challis, both strong shooters in the class, will let him have his way.
In the team competition the leaders seem to be just slowly grinding their opposition down, but it will be interesting to see if Ian’s Nefta team can catch up with Justin’s Air Arms team A over the season. Certainly it’s a strong year across the board for Ian, as he also leads the silhouette league, which only Jack Harris equalling him at the moment. The potential to do the double is well within either’s grasp.
But with less than a 3rd of the season past us, it all could change very quickly, so we’re looking forward to moving on to the North West’s Tawd Vale for round 3 and Wales’ Quarry FTC ground for Grand Prix 4 to see how the title favourites fair, which of course we’ll be covering in the next issue’s roundup.