Committed outdoor competitor Andy McLachlan finds himself heading indoors to look at the super-precise sport of benchrest shooting.
I’ve written many times about visiting Bolton Gun Club’s Leigh 50-yard-plus indoor airgun range. This is an establishment that caters for the requirements of many local shooters, and allows members and non-members alike the opportunity of spending many hours happily plinking away at paper and various knockdown targets.
It’s an ideal venue for testing the capability of different pellets and also provides the shooter with the opportunity of spending some time with friends and talking all things airgun, along with, of course, plenty of shooting fun. However, the Leigh indoor range also caters for those wishing to enter the serious world of benchrest shooting competition.
I have not personally been involved with this due to my ongoing addiction to outdoor HFT airgun competition; it does fascinate me, though.
The ‘serious’ benchrest shooters are part of an inter-club league, and like all committed competitive shooters, they are very serious indeed about their sport, and of course their own individual performances.
The apparently standard equipment of the Leigh benchrest shooters appears to be a Rapid Air Weapons TM1000 air rifle, although other manufacturers such as Steyr, Anschutz, Daystate and Air Arms also feature – on top of which can be found high-end 30-40x magnification scopes capable of producing a clear sight picture from manufacturers such as Vortex and Leupold. Some shooters elect to use the excellent Japanese-manufactured ‘Big Nikko’ Nikko Stirling FT scope.
Taking a look recently through a high-end Vortex owned by serious Leigh benchrest shooter Jim O’Neil, I was honestly shocked at just how clear and massive the tiny dot of the target appeared to be. This reminded me why the shooters require their specifically designed rests or bean bags in order to maintain a wobble-free hold.
I was invited to have a shot with both Jim and fellow Leigh member Tommy Frith’s RAW TM1000 rifles, and despite their scopes not being set up for my own eyes, I managed to drop pellets on top of each other at the 25-yard target cards being used for pre-competition practice.
Having reviewed the TM1000 for outdoor target shooting last year, and been witness to my son James enjoying great success with one of the first imported into the UK many years ago, I was not at all surprised with the inherent quality and straight-shooting credentials of these beautiful hand-built rifles that are capable of such accuracy.
At a recent visit, I noticed that Tommy and Jim were obviously concentrating on the job in hand as they both shot some practice competition cards. Not wishing to disturb their concentration, I waited until they had finished shooting to ask them how the scoring system worked.
The card itself, an official United Kingdom Association of Rimfire and Air Rifle Benchrest Shooting item, is placed at exactly 25 yards from the shooter’s position. Upon the card are 25 individual targets, also containing a series of sighting targets. I don’t have an actual target card to hand as I write this, but take it from me that the bull 10-ring is very tiny indeed.
The shooter is then allowed 20 minutes to do their best to obliterate all of the bulls on the card. Easier said than done, of course! On the day of my visit, Tommy managed to produce the results you see in the attached image – pretty impressive to say the least. Jim, who checked out Tommy’s practice card results, reckoning on a total of 247/8 ex 250, so excellent shooting!
In addition to an overall score, the shooter is also awarded the categorisation of an ‘X’ for any individual bull that has been completely obliterated by the pellet strike upon the card. Considering that the bull is approximately 2mm in diameter and a .177 pellet is 4.5mm, this takes some doing, but Tommy managed to achieve 16/17 on this particular card.
This standard of shooting is far from rare with serious benchrest shooters, although it has to be said that scores as good as this are the exception rather than the rule for most of us with non-specialised benchrest equipment, in my experience.
What I had witnessed which was just a practice session, but once the official individual benchrest shooting has taken place, all the official competition cards are forwarded by post to the official marker, whose confirmed results then appear upon the appropriate league table.
It isn’t all about the serious card-shooting though. I was also shown some other, non-official cards that are used by all the regular Leigh shots for both practice and internal club competition. These enable those shooters who don’t want to enter the official competitions to try to match the scoring of the regular benchrest competition shooters.
My friend Dave Pilkington and I have occasionally shot these informal competitions with our regular HFT set-ups, but have rarely managed to achieve the score necessary for a win. Dave once managed a second place, and I recently managing a third place in a Christmas shoot in which the cards were reversed – which made for some interesting estimation regarding just where the target may lie when placing the shot!
There are many off-the-shelf rifles capable of producing the accuracy required for serious benchrest shooting that don’t cost in the region of two grand. Although not regulated, guns such as the Air arms HFT 500, 400 or any other quality single-shot will still be capable of the standard of accuracy required to at least be competitive.
Having said that, most of the serious shooters, such as those of us who shoot competitively outside, prefer the reassurance of a regulated rifle to deliver the precisely managed air delivery of such a gun.
As always with air rifles, the careful selection of the most accurate pellet for any individual gun is crucially important to enable the shooter to get the best from their hardware.
In a sport that relies upon dropping the pellet onto such a tiny target, careful selection, weighing and preparation of pellets is even more important than it is for those of us shooting outside. Not surprisingly, all the serious benchrest shooters I am aware of use ammunition manufactured by JSB.
Competitive air rifle shooting does not always have to occur outside, with either FT or HFT. Benchrest shooting enables those who prefer to shoot indoors, or sometimes outdoors for that matter, the opportunity of competitive shooting to exceptionally high standards.
It’s very popular throughout the world for these reasons, and represents an opportunity for many airgunners to improve their own performance while entering the spirit of competition.
If you’re a shooter who just doesn’t fancy shooting outside in a competition but wants to see just how good you are, benchrest competition – indoors and with air rifles – offers you the opportunity of getting involved with what would be an absorbing and very enjoyable alternative.
As for me, I’m also tempted to join in the fun with my fellow members of the genuinely excellent Bolton Gun Club’s Leigh indoor range.
I’m already considering just what to do with my Anschutz 9015 target rifle, and benchrest competition will give me the opportunity to bring the gun out of semi-retirement. I still want a RAW TM1000 though, although the new FX Crown is also worthy of consideration. What was it I was saying a few issues ago about more expense? Sigh…