Throwback Thursday: How to Get Started in Benchrest Shooting

By Dave Dolbee published on in How To

The sport of benchrest provides the accuracy we all aspire to achieve and almost instantly makes every shooter a great shot. If shooting tight groups sounds fun, this article is for you! However, there are a few additional pieces of equipment you’ll need and a couple of items to consider before jumping into the sport for fun or competition.

MSR shot by youngster from a bench

Introducing a young man or lady to shooting with an MSR may earn you a shooting partner for life.

A new shooter’s first day at the range is always exciting. Perhaps you remember the first time you heard the report of gunfire; maybe it was the wafting smell of gunpowder or gun cleaning solutions that conjure your early recollections. Still, for others, the range was clean and virgin as the neophyte ready to build his or her first shooting memory.

Yes, the first time is an unforgettable experience. However, it does not take long before the simple pop of a primer, and the sound of the report are not enough. The reason is as logical as a child learning to crawl and wanting to walk and then run. The famous U.S. Army officer and author Col. Townsend Whelen once quoted in Sports Afield magazine, “Only accurate rifles are interesting.” Perhaps that sentiment is a bit over stated to the new shooter, but the desire to shoot more accurately and hit the intended target is not.

It is the desire to shoot accurately and squeeze every bit of accuracy from a rifle that spawned the sport of benchrest. The name pretty much says it all. In benchrest, the rifle sits atop a front and rear rest. Depending on the rules, the rest may or may not be connected. In either case, the rest sits atop a sturdy shooting bench or table, which explains the name “benchrest.”

Caldwell Lead Sled green

Caldwell’s Lead Sled would be unlikely on the competition line, but it makes a great starter bench or sight in platform.

What is Benchrest?

Seated at the bench, with the rifle solidly positioned on a rest, makes accuracy all but certain to the novice shooter. The hook is that everyone has the same advantage from the solid platform, making the competition a matter of millimeters. Every trick is employed in benchrest shooting, and no stone is left unturned. The targets are often placed at extreme distances, with many competitions having classes shooting at 1,000 yards or beyond in extreme cases. At these distances, wind, temperature, bullet drop and even the rotation of the earth while the bullet is in flight are all considerations and calculations the shooter must account for before the trigger breaks and a bullet travels downrange.

Who Can Shoot Benchrest?

Small inheritances or fortunes have been wisely invested in a good benchrest rifle and the surrounding accessories. Technology can certainly make the difference, which harkens back Col. Whelen’s early statement. However, that is not to say benchrest as a competition sport has to be expensive or a sport the new shooter should avoid.

There is a whole host of benchrest competitions with ranked classes for novices. This allows the new shooter an introduction to the sport and the chance to compete against individuals with equal experience or skills. Likewise, there are different classes that account for the equipment and caliber. There are even competitions tailored specifically to antique arms such as muzzleloaders or carbines or military rifles from specific conflicts or periods.

Scoring

Benchrest competitions can be scored differently depending on the rules or sponsoring organization. Five or 10 shots at a single target may be scored solely based on the distance between the farthest shots. This is the group size. Other competitions use a more traditional bullseye-type target with scoring rings. The requisite number of rounds is fired and the score tallied to determine a winner. Others still, use both of these metrics—group and score—to determine a winner, but with a twist. Instead of the two combined to determine a winner, the shooters can only win for either the group size or the score. In other words, you shoot once and compete in two different categories at the same time.

Savage Model 12 F-Class Rifle

The Savage Model 12 F Class is chambered in the ultra-accurate 6.5x284mm and 6mm Norma BR, the preferred cartridges of the U.S. F-Class Team and F-Class Champions. Designed for long-range prone shooting with a front rest, The rifle is built on a grey laminated stock with a 3″ wide ventilated forend, and 30″ long extra-heavy barrel. Both single shot models feature triple pillar bedding and a small ejection port. The Savage AccuTrigger found on the F Class is smooth-pulling and micro-adjustable.

Ammunition

Custom handloaded ammunition is most often employed in benchrest competition allowing the shooter to squeeze the most performance and accuracy from a rifle, but also adding a very technical element that acts as a barrier to the new shooter. The additional cost of reloading equipment, powders, dies and time spent at the range to develop a custom load is simply nirvana for the serious benchrest shooter. However, thanks to a growing interest in both rimfire and airgun benchrest competitions you have plenty of low cost, non-technical options. The added advantage of these competitions is the shorter range to the target, which makes building a home range or finding a suitable practice range easier as well.

Getting Started

Finding a Competition

Finding a benchrest competition is as easy as finding a local shooting club. In fact, that is the best way to find a competition just to spectate or to try your own hand. Most competitors are happy to share a few tips or let you take a shot or two. This will give you idea of what it is all about and what equipment you may already have or need to pick up.

To start today, all you’ll need is head to your favorite shooting range with a rifle, ammunition, targets and a rest. A spotting scope on a tripod is highly recommended and allows the shooter to gain instant feedback after each shot. This is critical when building new shooting skills. Your brain will remember and seek to duplicate a series of actions that result in a positive outcome. In other words, the brain receives positive endorphins with each good shot and seeks to repeat the action.

Whether you have a mentor, loved one with all of the bells and whistles of a competitive benchrest setup, or you simply want to improve your shooting technique, head to the rifle range. You’ll quickly gain a new level of confidence and discover your limits as well as those of your equipment. At a minimum, a day at the range is never a day wasted. Take a shooting partner, loved one or new shooter. Practice your shooting and spotting for your shooting partner. Multiple shooters or introducing a new shooter to the shooting sports is by far the best day anyone can spend at the range.

Do you shoot benchrest? Share your experiences or tips in the comment section.

SLRule

Growing up in Pennsylvania’s game-rich Allegany region, Dave Dolbee was introduced to whitetail hunting at a young age. At age 19 he bought his first bow while serving in the U.S. Navy, and began bowhunting after returning from Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Dave was a sponsored Pro Staff Shooter for several top archery companies during the 1990s and an Olympic hopeful holding up to 16 archery records at one point. During Dave’s writing career, he has written for several smaller publications as well as many major content providers such as Guns & Ammo, Shooting Times, Outdoor Life, Petersen’s Hunting, Rifle Shooter, Petersen’s Bowhunting, Bowhunter, Game & Fish magazines, Handguns, F.O.P Fraternal Order of Police, Archery Business, SHOT Business, OutdoorRoadmap.com, TheGearExpert.com and others. Dave is currently a staff writer for Cheaper Than Dirt!

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Comments (9)

  • Hide Behind

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    Air rifle bench rest is probably the least expensive to dive right into, maintain a home range and affordable not over populated events are becoming more and more readily accessable without long travel miles.
    If anyone has looked at cost of 22 competition grade ammo I suggest taking a look at cost of competition pellets.
    The accuracy of benchrest air rifles is crazy and finding means to measure 1hole diameters of 10 rounds is hair pulling time.
    My friend has surplus Boeing powered measurement machine down to
    .O0010, too big to pack to events but for home targets.
    In point of fact the new pneumatic hunting and target 177 and 22 cal air rifles exceed even Olympic competition 22 call in accuracy whole packing same kill power ( ft/lb energy) of 22long rifle.
    Air rifles of sub 1/4″ fire pellets that cost $5-$7 per 250.
    THERE ARE MULTI ROUND CAPABLE AIR PNEUMATICS( A HAND BIKE PUMP FILLS RESEVOIR)) AND A SPECIAL RELEASE KEY RELIEVES PRESSURE) OF 5 ROUND ROTARY MAGS)
    The number of rounds capability is determined by an adjustable air valve. Of up to 80+ according to arying velocity via air valve adjustment.
    As hunters pneumatic in 177 or 22 more than rival 22 call and in bench rest no 22 can equal their accuracy.
    A bare bones top quality bench rest Olympic quality air gun not cheap but the cost of pellets for a 10,000 round a year picky picky pkinker soon brings it dow to fun level.

    Reply

    • Spencer

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      You’re a bit mistaken about bicycle pumps being use to fill a reservoir. There’s no way a bicycle pump would come close to even 1/10 the pressure of 3 stage pumps used on Pre Charged Pneumatic air rifles.
      I pump up my air rifle to 225 Bar which is equal to over 3263 PSI. That’s 1263 psi more than what’s use in most scuba diving tanks.
      They also do not match the foot pounds of energy of a 22 long rifle.
      I shoot 22 caliber pellets that weigh 14.3 grains which is approximately 1/3 the weight of a long rifle bullet, hence the ft/lbs of energy would be 1/3 of a 22 long rifle bullet shot at the same velocity. Slightly heavier pellets in 22 cal are available but 3200 psi will propel them at a slower speed.
      By the way, the air pump I recently bought cost $260.
      Even at maximum pressure, the 22 caliber pellet shoot at a speed of a little less than 1100 fps at 3200.

      Reply

  • Willard Walker

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    My system is very much like the gyro system but without the gyro. Ut is articulated and can be set to any position. If i had the money I wouild patent the thing and sell them with both a table and the rifle rest. It will even fold after it is removed from the pindle. that is clamped with a 3 inch wingnut.
    Best of luck and
    I hope everything works out for you,
    Willard Walker

    Reply

  • Mikial

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    I admire and appreciate benchrest and straight non-timed competition shooters. I had a (now) ex-son-in-law who was an accomplished Gold Cup shooter, and he gave me some good tips on target shooting. I always see a few at the rifle range taking their time and making gorgeous shots at long ranges. Very cool stuff.

    I’m just a different breed of animal who prefers USPSA meets and shoot houses, and that’s fine. No denigration of benchrest shooters. I have learned a lot form them and am deeply appreciative. I was never a designated marksman or sniper on any of my PSD teams while working in Iraq. Even though I always scored Expert in the Army, I am more of a close up and personal kinda guy.

    Reply

  • Calvin Grimalkin

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    This is definitely a sport that you can compete at many levels, both skill wise and equipment wise.

    Just like fishing. You can get a cane pole, some line, and a can of worms and be good to go. Or, you can spend $50,000 on a boat, equipped with all manner of electronic gizmos, and a $50,000 truck to pull it all, along with thousands of dollars of rods, reels, lures, etc.

    Rimfire bench rest is probably the least expensive way to get started in the sport. Find a club that has matches, and they will usually have a “Sporter” class, where competitors are limited to your basic off the shelf .22 long rifle. Usually the only restrictions on them will be they must have the stock action, barrel, and stock. Sometimes there is a limit on scope power. If you are handy with wood working or metal working, you can usually make your own adjustable rest that will pretty much work as well as store bought equipment that costs hundreds of dollars.

    I have made a rest out of oak lumber and scraps that is capable of very fine horizontal and vertical adjustments.

    Again, this is a sport that you can compete in with a modest investment in equipment, or you can bust your budget.

    Reply

  • JIm McDonald

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    Bench Rest is a lot of fun. BUT, my favortie was Steel Chicken, or Silhouette shooting.
    The immediate gratification of watching things fall over when you hit them cannot be compared. Except for the immediate dissatisfaction you get when you KNOW you hit it and it didn’t move. Or worse, moves but comes back and settles down and you have to move on.

    Reply

  • Secundius

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    I’m looking for a “Articulated” One that can be mounted on a Wheelchair. Any Suggestions? From Any One, Moderator??

    Reply

    • Willard walker

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      I had to build my own wheelchair Mount as they are not commercially available. most ranges will have a bench that you can pull your wheelchair up to and still shoot from. If you need help with a custom wheelchair mount let me know as I have experience on about five different chairs now contact me at
      Bonzaipilot@gmail.com

      Reply

    • Secundius

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      @ Willard walker.

      I want to thank you for you offer, but I found a Company that may have what I’m looking for. RAW (Rapid Air Weapons, LLC.) which has a Platform called “Knee Riser” a Billeted 7075-T651 Articulated Support Arm, for $250.00 USD. Which can also be Modified with a Clamping Mechanism for Clamping to my Wheelchair. If it Doesn’t Work, there’s a Camera Company, which makes a “Affordable” Gyro-Stabilized Articulated Swing Arm. Which also can be used. Again thank you for your offer…

      Reply

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