There really has never been a better time to get involved in HFT. The clubs are getting better organised, the competitions more imaginative and sponsors are being even more generous with their prizes.
Obviously this brings with it a higher standard of competition, but deep down that’s what we really want isn’t it. There is no better example of this than the UKAHFT Series Round held at Maldon & District Airgun Club or M.A.D. for short.
Although the club has been in existence for some time, the HFT side is relatively new. However, it is not only the fastest growing HFT club in the country, it also boasts the UKs strongest team, winning the Team Championship in 2009 and was again leading the standings when this article was written.
To keep up with the ever increasing standards, the UK’s top shots look to the manufacturers to constantly improve their products to try and give them the edge over the competition.
Although household names such as Air Arms, Daystate, Walther and Steyr are taking the top honours at the moment, there is another iconic airgun brand that is set to make a spectacular re-emergence onto the competition stage.
Ripley rifles dominated the FT scene for a number of years with the AR5. Its solid engineering and legendary reliability made it the rifle of choice for many top shots, including Ian Taylor who won the World title with his in 2005 along with a host of other titles.
In an exciting joint venture between airgun engineering legends Steve Wilkins and Jim Hogan, industry innovators Highland Outdoors have brought together all of the features that made the AR5 the leading rifle of its time in an affordable package that appears to be perfect for HFT.
Seeing its potential for this discipline, and knowing that I have recently taken up HFT, Highland Outdoors MD John Bright gave me a call to see how he could get the rifle into the hands of HFT shooters.
A brief chat with UKAHFT supremo Pete Sparkes identified a sponsorship opportunity for the MAD round of the UKAHFT Series and John decided to jump in with both feet.
He generously offererd not just a Ripley Elite as the top prize, but also a brand new Nikko Stirling 4-16×44 Target Master Scope, a Hogan Firearms DecimEater Air Rifle moderator and a Ridgeline clothing pack providing a prize package worth over £1100.00!
Not only that, but every competitor went away with a goody bag containing a Nikko Stirling cap so everyone’s a winner!
As you can imagine, I was quite excited when the package containing all of these cool goodies arrived. As soon as I unpacked the Elite it was clear to see why this rifle is generating so much interest.
The build quality is outstanding. There are classic design elements showing both its Ripley and Logun heritage such as the cocking bolt and trigger mechanism.
There are also new and innovative features like the “loading groove” which is cut directly into the match grade Lothar Walther barrel and means the pellet avoids unnecessary damage as it is seated by the probe.
Although a little short for my generous proportions (a 10mm spacer would sort this out) the stock is well proportioned and balanced, and would probably work perfectly for the average frame.
The Elite came fitted with the new Nikko Stirling 4-16×44 Target Master. The mounts were a little high for my liking and affected my ability to get a consistent position behind the eyepiece while standing, but worked perfectly for the prone position, which is ideal for HFT. The whole set up felt solid and comfortable.
The scope itself provided an outstandingly clear sight picture as you would expect from the leading Japanese optics manufacturer. The locking target turrets provided positive clicks with 1/8” adjustments at 100 yards. Parallax and illumination are adjustable via the sidewheel on the left.
Although not “true mildot” the Nikko’s mildot reticule is in the 2nd focal plane and at 10x mag each dot equates to 1.5 “true mildots”. This made converting my bracketing charts dead simple.
Interestingly the rifle is not regulated, but still provides around 80 full power shots in .177, more than enough for a 30 shot HFT course, with a little plinking beforehand. The reservoir is filled via a port at the muzzle end protected by a slick rotary cover that keeps everything tidy.
Above this is the beautifully engineered moderator adapter. It’s design elements like this that give the Elite its classy feel. With the Hogan Firearms DecimEater moderator fitted the Elite is not only incredibly quiet, but it’s almost perfectly still when fired. Not sure how or why, but it is.
So on to the range. John Bright suggests that the Elite’s action was primarily designed to be a target rifle, and I am lead to believe that an FT specific design is also in the pipeline. After this claim the Elite really needed to be tested alongside the current benchmark.
My Air Arms EV2 Mk3 is currently set up for FT with a Leupold Competition 40×45. There’s not much more benchmark than that. In order to check my aim points I fired 3 shot groups at various distances from 8 to 45 yards with both rifles on a reasonably windy day.
The results were unsurprisingly close, with almost no variance up to 25 yards and even then only a little up to 45 yards, which I put down to the 10 mag scope setting and windy conditions rather than the Elite’s consistency. Either way the long range accuracy was more than enough to cope with even the toughest HFT course.
The aim points for each distance were almost identical to those I use with my Lightstream 4-14×44 with medium mounts. Indeed when using a 35 yard zero these are pretty standard with a total trajectory variance of 44mm from 8 to 45 yards.
The high point was 12mm above centre at 20/25 yards down to 32mm below centre at 45 yards. This compared very favourably indeed to my full FT set up EV2 which gave a 39mm variance (10mm high/29mm low) over the same distance.
So, on to Maldon. Unfortunately I didn’t get chance to shoot the Elite in the competition, but I did manage to get it into the hands of several leading HFT shots. Anston FTCs Dave Martin couldn’t believe the consistency and Darren Lindsey was definitely considering his options!
As an all round HFT/hunting rifle the Elite hits the balance perfectly. It’s rugged, solid, well engineered and beautifully finished. Like its legendary predecessor it won’t let you down in the field.
As a dedicated target rifle it will need a more specialist stock with a greater degree of adjustability. Watch this space for the imminent arrival of the FT version.
The Elite is supplied in both .177 and .22 calibres, wearing either a standard sporter for £649.00 or thumbhole stock £719.00, both in nicely selected walnut.
However, the price will be of little significance to top HFT young shot Ben Russell who was lucky enough to win the Elite in the prize draw at Maldon!