Benchrest shooting at long range w/ Andy McLachlan

Andy McLachlan can’t resist a challenge, and has been explaining his love of benchrest shooting at long range and with less support than usual.

Andy reckons his friend Paul Wray will be one to watch as this format of long-range benchrest becomes more serious

Regular readers may remember a recent article I wrote in which I described an inter-club shooting match between my own Rivington Riflemen and Rochdale Air Gun Club. The shoot involves benchrest shooting at long range – the targeting of benchrest cards, but instead of the normal distance of 25 yards, are placed at a full range-length distance, in this case at 56 yards.

At just under 12 foot pounds, legal-limit air rifle shooters will find that the trajectory of the pellet is very much at the outer levels of accurate performance due to the massive amount of drop and velocity at this range.

It is still possible to shoot accurately at this distance, although this remember is from a bench and does not represent the range at which shots should be taken with an air rifle at this power level at live quarry when in the field.

Field Target shooters regularly shoot at this distance, but the target in that case is not a 2mm diameter bullseye, although in fairness they must cater for that unknown variable; the wind.

The equipment we have available to use for the accurate placement of a pellet, even at this long-range distance, means that a good quality scope and rifle combination will be more than adequate to properly place the pellet on the target.

The Rochdale and Rivington long distance teams get together for a photo prior to shooting the 56-yard competition

Looking at the various rifle and scope combinations used, as long as the rifle is performing consistently and the shooter is able to clearly see the target, most shooters will be able to, at least occasionally, drop their shot into the outer scoring ring of the target.

Obviously, the better shooters can place their pellets either upon, or very close to the 10X centre ring of a benchrest card far more frequently than those of us with less-developed levels of skill.

In order to shoot consistently well at this range then, the individual shooter needs to be fully confident that their own equipment will be able to deliver.

The vast majority of pre-charged pneumatic air rifles, particularly those containing a regulated action, will possess the consistent levels of velocity that are required to propel the pellet with minimal feet per second variation that is required at this distance.

Too much variation results in pellets falling completely out of the target on occasion, which is very frustrating, leading to the high percentage of serious long-range shooters using a regulated action. An accurate gun is of absolutely no use, of course, if the shooter has failed to identify the individual pellet which suits their gun’s barrel best.

We are not talking about using a particular brand, but identifying the particular pellet batch from within a brand that works best in your own gun.

Talking of pellets, when shooting at the outer edges of accurate performance, it is of great practical use to make sure that you use only pellets that have been meticulously weighed and sorted into batches which will help to ensure consistent barrel velocities.

Some of the regular shooters I know have also taken to sizing pellets if necessary as they insist that this improves accuracy even further, although I personally remain sceptical of this. It just depends what the barrel of your own gun prefers, which very often will be completely different to anybody else’s.

The biggest problem that the uninitiated long-range shooter faces will be scope choice. Shooters used to competing in HFT or general plinking will possess scopes with a maximum magnification of 12 power.

Accompanied by an objective lens of smaller dimensions, say 40-45mm, this means that though the view of a 50-yard plus target will appear nice and clear once the parallax adjustment has been made, the shooter will find it very difficult, if not impossible, to accurately place the fall of shot onto the target

Well-known FT and HFT shooter Daz Taylor has also become involved with the long-range competition pioneered by Ian Jones

We clearly need to increase the levels of magnification in order to allow us to follow the precise fall of shot, meaning we need to invest in a higher magnification scope. I am often asked which level of magnification suits this style of shooting best.

Well, I would say that the minimum consideration would be up to 24 power, although 30 plus would be better. I personally use a 45 times magnification scope, although if anything, this is too much really.

The problem with high-magnification scopes is that they accentuate the inherent movement we all face when trying to remain as still as possible for the shot.

This is made easier to manage if we are allowed to use the various ‘Forth Bridge’ type of wide front bipod mounts and rear sandbags to steady our rigs prior to the shot, as these appendages are designed to remove human influence on the gun.

However, the rules pioneered by my friend Ian Jones insist upon no rests and rely upon good old shooting skills instead. The problem with this approach is that using high magnification and being able to see the target clearly also allows you to witness the inherent movement of the sight picture as you try to settle down for the shot. It’s not just about getting your breathing right, but about timing the shot in between heartbeats!

As you can see then, shooting at long range with a legal-limit air rifle when not being allowed to use specifically designed benchrest appendages is certainly not easy. All we can use is either a seven-inch-wide and widely available (and cheap) bean bag support or a front bipod of up to 12” wide.

The supporting non-trigger hand then becomes responsible for steering the gun into the aim, rather than dialling wheels on the benchrest assembly. This is achieved by my supporting hand keeping hold of the pistol grip and making sure that the rear part of the gun is not touching the bench, which is also not allowed.

Club members get in a very useful practice session ahead of the long-range competition at Leigh

Ian has come up with this set of rules to allow for the inclusion of those shooters who don’t or cannot afford to use the often expensive specialist benchrest rigs that are often seen used by more serious benchrest shooters.

This approach has certainly gone down well with lots of us from the Rivington and Rochdale clubs, although it didn’t do us much good at the last inter-club competition when the Rochdale club once again trounced Rivington into submission.

Unless your own club has access to a 50-yard plus indoor range, shooting like this will remain localised to my own area of the country. If you have access to a long enough range you should give distance shooting a try if you haven’t done so already. It has provided us with a new and interesting challenge, one that will hopefully become formalised soon.

More on target shooting from Andy McLachlan


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