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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.