Andy McLachlan on benchrests

Andy McLachlan’s been taking a fairly simple approach when it comes to supporting his rifles for benchrest – but all this looks set to change

Andy takes a more minimalistic approach, using a bean bag at the front end only – at least for now

I have just shot four benchrest cards at my club’s indoor range, two of which using my Daystate Red Wolf PCP, and two using my old favourite Weihrauch/Venom HW 80.

Despite concentrating as best as I could for all four cards, I have to say that I was disappointed with the results using the springer. It is, as many of us will know, far harder to use a recoiling rifle when attempting to produce your best accuracy.

The problem with a springer, even with one sporting a tuned trigger as mine has, is the split second of time following your tripping of the second stage.

All sorts of violent occurrences are taking place within the gun, leading to recoil and general gun movement. As an airgun pellet takes a fair amount of time to exit the barrel, any tiny movement of the gun will have negative consequences for the fall of shot, as can be seen by the image of my springer along with the two completed cards. Easy it is not!

In order to ease the burden of accurately shooting a spring-powered rifle, many shooters will either attempt to tune the gun’s action themselves, or preferably, commission a professional tuner to smooth out the individual action’s foibles.

This often, but not always, I might add, results in a gun that is much smoother to shoot. The bottom line though is that a springer, even when tuned, is still a damned sight harder to shoot accurately than a PCP. It is just so difficult to keep them on aim without doing anything that can influence the gun’s movement.

Any slight change of hold will affect the way the gun moves during the recoil cycle. If ever there was a need to have a personal regime whereby your shooting sequence does not alter in between individual shots, it is when shooting a springer.

Using the ‘easy’ Daystate PCP, I managed to record a couple of half-decent scores, although I won’t know precisely what I achieved until they have been officially marked by one of the competition organisers. It really is so much easier to produce good standards of accuracy with a recoilless gun – it’s obvious really! 

In saying that, and also using a gun with the outstanding accuracy capability of my own Red Wolf, it is still possible to pull the shot away from that 2mm bull at the 25-yard distance. 

As always, in my opinion, it is all about trigger control. The microsecond of second stage trigger release is where all competitions, both indoor and outdoor for that matter, can be won or lost.

It is just so very important to slowly pull through that second stage without flinching in any way. It is just as important to keep the target under view well after the shot has landed, to encourage the well-known good shooting habit of proper follow-through, which is even more important when using a recoiling mechanical gun.

Andy used a springer to shoot two of his four cards, but the scores were not as good as he had been hoping for

It has been apparent, when shooting benchrest competition, that individual shooters have their individual preferences when it comes to supporting their guns for use during competition.

All competitors will of course have studied the BR22 rule book to ensure that their own chosen method and equipment fully meet the rules. These are comprehensive, and describe how the gun might be supported both front and rear, even providing the shooter with ‘legal’ dimensions to ensure that competition guns do not fall foul of rules designed to make the sport fair for all.

I personally fall into the ‘simple is best’ category, as always. Rather than position my benchrest rifle in a set of specially designed mounts that allow adjustment of aim, I plonk my gun’s forend upon a nice straightforward bean bag, and I don’t even bother with a rear support, preferring to use my hand instead.

I am in the minority with this simple approach, as is obvious based on the different types of benchrest support mechanisms that can be seen anywhere that this discipline is being shot seriously.

Talking to benchresters far more experienced and successful than myself, ‘serious’ shooters will have employed the use of both front and rear supporting mechanisms that allow the gun to be properly supported, allowing the human error element to be minimised.

This means individual shots can be properly lined up via adjustment of the supporting rests, some of which resemble engineering works of art and cost a lot of money.

With the assistance of my benchrest shooting mentor, Jimmy O’Neil, I intend to take a much closer look at some of the benchrest equipment currently used by serious shooters to try to improve their individual scores.

What is benchrest?

Benchrest shooting involves a precision rifle being shot at a paper target, with the shooter sitting at a table or bench, and the rifle being rested in some form of support, hence the term ‘benchrest’. This is in contrast to most other shooting disciplines, where the shooter will either hold and aim the rifle wihout the benefit of any tyoe of rest, or else they will use a bipod.

Benchrest shooting originally involved the use of centrefire and rimfire rifles, but airguns are gaining in popularity, with some competitions allowing a mix of rimfires and airguns being shot together, while other contests are airgun-only. Competitions may be scored on group size, measuring precision, or proximity to the 10 ring on the target, measuring accuracy.

The World Benchrest Shooting Federation, the World Rimfire and Air Rifle Benchrest Federation and International Benchrest Shooters are three international governing bodies for benchrest shooting.

The current world record for centrefire benchrest is held by New Zealand shooter Ian Owen, who in 2009 shot a five-shot group at 300 meters measuring at just 1.191cm centre-to-centre.

The United Kingdom Association of Rimfire & Air Rifle Benchrest Shooting offers two benchrest disciplines: 50m target and 25-yard Benchrest. Both disciplines will use different targets. The 25-yard target has a 2mm 10 ring (that is tiny!), and can be shot either indoors in 20 minutes, or outdoors in 30 minutes.

On the day that I shot the cards illustrated in the attached image, I noticed quite a few different methods of supporting a benchrest target rifle. Some appeared relatively simple, but others resembled something found attached to the bottom end of an alien spaceship or in an operating theatre.

For a simple soul like me, I would find it very hard to justify spending what can apparently be considerable amounts of cash just to make sure your gun is steady when on aim. 

Although my current method of sandbag/hand is simple, if I continue to time the release of my shots properly, I am not sure if my average score would increase to that of any of the experienced benchrest shots.

If you think about it, any target rifle that is fully supported by a mechanism designed to maximise gun support must assist the shooter to gain the maximum accuracy from their gun, the scope and of course the carefully selected ammunition.

There is only one way to find out of course! This will undoubtedly mean yet more expense when I discover a benchrest support mechanism that can actually improve my score, as I am not really sure if many experienced shots would score just as highly using a bean bag!

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