Long-range benchrest airgun shooting – the benefits with Andy McLachlan

Andy McLachlan is switching up his modus operandi to see if a new approach will net him some better results

Andy and his friends have now abandoned the use of a rear support in order to stick to Ian Jones’s new rules

Those readers who have followed my airgun journey will be aware that for the past few years I mainly shoot informal competition from the bench. Rather than the “normal” 25-yard distance that is shot by most airgunners indoors, and outside for that matter, a few friends and I within my own Rivington club have adopted a set of rules produced by our club secretary, Ian Jones.

Ian is also a member of Rochdale Airgun Club, who have also taken on board the specialist set of rules that are to be followed when we shoot our 55-yard (50-metre) competition at the Rochdale indoor range. You may well remember details of previous visits that I have penned for inclusion within these pages, both before and following the various lockdown events.

Up until this point, the team of Rivington shooters had been trounced on four occasions, with many of us, including myself in this summary, shooting well below the standards of which we know we are capable. 

As a result, we have all retreated from the Rochdale club on the allotted Tuesday nights over the years with smarting bottoms following yet another trouncing.

As a reminder to readers, unlike serious 25-yard bench shooters, we are not allowed any support at the rear of the gun, with the muzzle end only being able to be supported by either a bag or bipod not exceeding 30cm in width and no more than 10cm in depth. 

Devices like this hi-tech front support will help achieve perfect shot placement, but are beyond the financial reach for many

The reason for this was that Ian recognised the gradual appearance of the various front rifle support mechanisms and reckoned that it would be a good idea to try to reduce the need to buy such items for shooters who either could not afford, or did not want to use Forth Bridge-type devices or other beautifully engineered items that are festooned with adjustment levers and resemble a dentist’s chair. 

Not that there is anything at all wrong with those shooters who prefer to receive the ultimate in adjustable support for their guns when benchrest shooting. Let’s face it, it’s popular all over the world and rightly so.

However, for those of us who prefer to use a combination of our hands and either a “normal” bipod or sandbag to support our equipment, it must be said that we often consider how well shooters used to the full support method would fare, particularly at long range.

My good friend Dave Pilkington and I have spent countless hours at the Leigh indoor range over the past few years. Rather than succumb to the standard full support setup adopted by the other benchrest shooters, we have, following a brief dalliance with front and rear specialist support equipment, adopted the Jones methodology of front support only.

As a result of this, we have noticed that an optimum position for shooting long range (and in the case of the Leigh indoor range that’s 53 yards) is as low as possible, supporting the pistol grip with either fingers in my case or using the fist as in Dave’s. 

This has reduced the amount of instability to a minimum when in the aim, as the arms are also used to stabilise the gun while ensuring that its back end does not touch the bench. 

In addition, we have also found that the support provided by the butt pad contributes to back-end support, with the gun appearing to hang from the shoulder when in position for a shot.

In terms of equipment, I continue to use and enjoy my Walther LG400 that is once again adorned with the classic fixed 45x magnification Leupold competition scope following a recent spell on holiday in its HFT guise with a smaller scope fitted for HFT. If anything, the Walther continues to improve as it gets used at least twice per week at long range, at which we normally shoot about 400 pellets per session.

By my reckoning, the LG400 has now consumed upwards of 12,000 rounds and apart from a barrel clean after the consumption of every tin, it’s shooting better than ever. 

Not all bipods are created equal, as Tommy Frith proves with his mega-supportive front rest at the Leigh indoor range

Definitely a case of a gun improving with age, especially considering it was so good out of the box. German target rifles are not cheap, but if accuracy is your main priority, they take some beating, though I know of some shooters who prefer guns manufactured in the USA or here in Blighty!

Whichever gun you choose to use, if you intend to pursue the often challenging but rewarding sport of long-range air rifle target shooting, what you will most definitely need is a high-quality bipod that provides a rocksteady position from which to place your gun’s forend. Some local shooters are still using the readily available and cheap-to-purchase shooting bags filled with sand, or more usually polystyrene balls.

Amongst the best, if not the absolute best front support bipod mechanisms I have so far seen are those produced by our friend, and the Leigh club’s benchrest shooting guru, Jim O’Neil. 

The problem is that Jim only makes them for friends occasionally, but believe me, they are the ultimate in benchrest stability. I have chosen to use the Accu-Tac BR4 that I reviewed recently. It’s not cheap, but it must be the best over-the-counter bipod for security and solid construction, and it has certainly allowed me to further improve my recent long-range benchrest scores.

Talking of scores, following as I have previously described a prolonged period of familiarisation with the techniques required to score a rare 10 at long range, both Dave and I have now managed to get into the 200s on a regular basis. This doesn’t sound like a lot for those 25-yard shooters who manage to score a maximum 250 on a regular basis, but anything over 200 is a good score at present, with our own personal bests getting close to 230. 

Andy did well at the Rochdale range with his Walther and Accu-Tac benchrest combo, generating the highest score of the day

Getting more than that appears to be almost unattainable at present, and while I recently managed a 229 at 55 yards, this remains my personal best to date.

Regarding our inter-club competition, I can finally report that Rivington Riflemen eventually managed to beat Rochdale Airgun Club at our last meeting. 

It would have to be said that being only seven points ahead hardly represents a trouncing, but at least it gets us rolling with a win and puts us into a 4-1 deficit as we look forward to additional competitions in the future.

Many of us with air rifles will at one time or another assess ourselves to check out just how accurate we and our shooting combination can be at ranges far longer than most of us shoot at regularly. 

The FT maximum range is 55 yards, and HFT is 45 yards at present. That distance becomes more challenging when faced with a 6mm bull. Fair enough, it remains a serious challenge to knock over long-range outdoor targets in competition with the efforts of the wind causing further error, but even indoors with no wind, that tiny bull seems an awfully long way away when we release our trigger and watch the pellet strike centre. 

If you have not yet tried it, then give long-range shooting a go. We all love it, and I bet you will too!

It was victory at last for the Rivington team, who managed to put in the winning score at the 55-yard long-range Rochdale inter-club competition

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