Benchrest target shooting insights w/ Andy McLachlan

Benchrest target shooting demands superb levels of accuracy, but for some people the range just isn’t far enough, as Andy McLachlan reveals.

Dave Pilkington shoots his Red Wolf at an impressive 53 yards

As many indoor shooters will be aware, shooting targets at the maximum range physically possible at their chosen indoor venue can be challenging, and if you are anything like me, particularly enjoyable.

The serious benchrest target shooters I know mostly shoot at the standard 25-yard range when indoors. The targets in question will be the official benchrest card comprising of 25 targets complete with the 2mm bull required to score the perfect 10X score if the bull is taken out completely by the strike of the pellet. This is of course easier said than done, with the top shots managing to nail most of the X shots.

My friend Jimmy O’Neil recently managed to improve his own personal best to 250 with 23 Xs. This means that he was two shots off from a perfect 250/25X score. Great shooting by anybody’s standard!

Many of the top benchrest shooters manage to score top results like this regularly, and if current league tables are considered, a few shooters achieve top results like this on an almost weekly basis. Impressive stuff.

In order to make sure that all competitors shoot within the full set of rules concerning witnesses and equipment, some clubs have decided that individual rounds of benchrest competition can only be shot when a previously agreed number of shooters are present at the range.

I am advised of one club that insists upon each competitor’s rifle being weighed and checked for power prior to the commencement of shooting the competition cards. This then leaves no doubt as to the total transparency of the recorded scores and is something I personally feel can only be of benefit to all competitors in the long run.

Personally, I have shot the Leigh indoor range internal benchrest 25-yard competition. The two categories I entered are for guns with a maximum scope magnification of 14 (Sporter Class) and the Springer Class. It would have to be said that my own performance has hardly set the world alight.

In saying that, I tend to spend most of my time at the range shooting at 50-odd yards rather than practising with the 25-yard cards. In fact the only time I shoot the actual official cards is when I complete the four cards required for the monthly competition.

Like all hobbies, there will be those individuals who will fully focus on achieving maximum performance, sometimes at the loss of general enjoyment in their sport.

Unlike the majority of the serious benchrest shooters who use expensive rifle supports both front and rear for their competition shooting, I simply use a good old sandbag and support the rear of the gun with my hand.

I also use scopes with a maximum magnification of 12x, unlike the serious shooters who will use up to 30x magnification on their own benchrest specialist rigs.

This does not mean that I personally frown upon shooters who are seriously into their benchrest, just that I do not take it as seriously as the ‘proper’ shooters. I am perfectly happy plinking away at long range targets such as scraps of chalk in my usual childish way.

The thought of spending hours at a time shooting at target cards does not inspire me with excitement, as I have been shooting for so long that I now require the occasional reactive target to keep my interest up. Let’s face it, the only reason we shoot is to grab some time away from reality and hopefully enjoy ourselves in the process.

Get the ammo right, and with practice groups this size are certainly achievable at longer ranges

Competition-wise, in addition to being able to accurately place a shot to point of aim, I feel that the skills required to do so in the outdoor arena require further skills that can really only be won following years of experience at accurately assessing unknown ranges and wind conditions.

The equipment I have used for my benchrest shooting has been a Daystate Red Wolf combined with a Bushnell 12-mag scope for the PCP Sporter category and my old favourite Venom HW 80 Lazahunter with its 14-year-old 30/30 reticle Simmons Whitetail Classic 9x scope for the Springer category.

In saying that, I started using my Vulcan 2 bullpup for the Sporter category as I just like shooting the gun that much! Performance with the springer has very much been a case of inconsistency as I have managed to score reasonably well some months, but terribly in others.

As you can see, then, my own benchrest shooting is very much in the ‘amateur’ category. What has interested me more with my benchrest is shooting at the maximum distance possible within the confines of the indoor range.

In the Leigh indoor range’s case this happens to be 53 yards. My friends Dave Pilkington, Jim Edge and I can usually be found shooting at Birchwood Casey Shoot-N-C stickers placed upon cards that have been attached to the rear wall stop.

We will then attempt to record as small a group size as possible prior to the murder of any inanimate objects that happen to be lying around on the floor at maximum range.

All three of us find that recording a small group size at long range to be challenging enough with our relatively low-powered optics. Using either the rifle-mounted bipod or the previously mentioned sandbag, we spend ages focused, literally, on the 50-yard range and rarely shoot anything closer than this. Jim likes to keep his long-range hunting skills up to speed as he uses then on a weekly basis at his shooting permission.

The preferred gun for our 50-yard shooting is the Daystate Red Wolf, although we all have other PCP rifles that are more than capable of recording impressively small group sizes at long range. 

The electronic action of the Daystate ensures that the pellet is away swiftly with its very minimal lock time in the barrel. The shooting could almost be described as occurring via the thought process rather than any cognitive act to squeeze the trigger blade. This is a good gun choice for long-range shooting!

Some members of both Rivington and Bolton air rifle clubs have also been attending a weekly 50-metre shooting league at Rochdale Gun Club. This is unfortunately a long way for some of us to travel just to shoot a few cards, but has proven popular with participants.

Following hundreds of attempts, this is Andy’s best group so far using AA Express and a Red Wolf at 53 yards

As in all competitive scenarios, some shooters have spent large sums of cash on expensive benchrest supports in order to increase their own perceived levels of performance at this distance.

If this falls within the rules this is fine as far as I am concerned, although those not being able to match the equipment levels of some shooters may feel a bit intimidated.

Rivington club secretary Ian Jones has devised a ‘sandbag only’ 50-metre competition for some invited shooters that is due to occur soon. Those of us who have been invited to participate are already looking forward to this as it will hopefully lead to 50-yard indoor benchrest shooting with an air rifle becoming more widespread in the near future.

It is certainly a challenging prospect and I will hope to keep you all informed of its progress as long-range shooting develops further.

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