Long-range unsupported benchrest shooting with Andy McLachlan

Andy McLachlan reveals a few secrets when it comes to shooting the fledgling discipline of long-range unsupported benchrest.

Lee Meadows takes an unsupported benchrest shot at a 50-metre target at Rochdale’s indoor range

Having spent the past few years concentrating on attaining a reasonable degree of accuracy at long range with a 12 ft-lb air rifle has resulted in me discovering various things to consider regarding performance.

It’s the trivial things that really add up to help us improve and hit our goals – and of course the actual targets at which we aim. In the case of long-range “unsupported” benchrest that members of both Rochdale and Rivington airgun clubs are involved with, the ability to maintain a stable aim is of course of paramount importance. 

Unlike our colleagues that shoot the 25-metre benchrest competitions, we are not allowed to support the rear of the rifle with anything other than our shoulder and non-shooting hand, as the stock of the rifle is not allowed to touch the bench.

For those used to having full rifle support, this often proves to be a considerable challenge as things like our pulse must be timed out if we are to let off an accurate shot. In terms of the front support, some shooters still prefer to shoot with the gun resting on a sandbag as long as it fits in with the “no more than 30cm wide” ruling. Personally, I have been more than happy with the rock-steady support provided by my own Accu-Tac bipod, which has most definitely allowed me to improve my personal scores.

My friend Dave and I spend at least four or five hours a week practising our long-range skills at the Leigh indoor range. Often I am asked by regular benchrest shooters why I do not have a serious attempt at the “normal” 25-metre events that are available both formally and informally. 

In fact, my son James seems to think that this is something I should become involved in rather than concentrating upon an unrecognised benchrest distance. Maybe he has a point, but the genuine challenge of achieving a half-decent score at 50 metres remains a considerable draw for me.

There is absolutely no doubt that the 25-metre shooters who manage to achieve high scores possess standards of skill that are hard-won and require ongoing levels of regular practice to be maintained, just like any other shooting discipline.

Another prominent issue that has emerged over the years is the importance of discovering the right ammunition for your gun and in particular, whether it manages to perform well at longer ranges. Again, no surprise there for those of us who’ve shot any form of competition.

With long-range pellet shooting just under legal-limit levels of power, it is surprising just how differently a certain batch of a well-known pellet brand will perform compared with another. Remember, we are shooting at a 6mm bull, and any shot falling further than 15mm from centre will record a score of zero.

It is well worth maintaining a strict pellet-testing regime as employed by many in the outdoor competition scene. 

Unlike outdoors, where considerations will be given to the individual pellet’s ability to deal with any wind shear for example, our main consideration is the ability of the pellet to maintain level flight. Some pellets appear to have superior flight characteristics, and it is these we choose for long-distance work.

Rather than shooting straight out of the tin as we do for practising, Dave and I always use “weighed and shaved” (sized) pellets for our actual competition cards. The last thing you want at extended range is for the ammunition to drop further than intended. I give the pellets I use for indoor competition more preparation time than I do for outdoor HFT, as I only weigh those.

You might think that this preparation is not worth it, but I can guarantee that it will boost positive vibes when you select a pellet that will not drop out of the scoring zone. 

When we first started shooting at this distance, we would often notice that we would have the odd pellet dropping out of the target for no apparent reason. This happens far less these days, even when using ammo straight from the tin, so presumably our shooting skills have improved as well.

Andy and his fellow long-range benchrest shooters prefer the Benchrest UK card as the blue target outers make the pellet strikes easier to see
Unlike Andy’s preferred discipline, regular benchrest is shot at 25 metres and lets the shooter support the rear of the rifle with an artificial aid

It was while we were shooting at the Rochdale club that we first came across the 50-metre target cards that are used for both the in-house club and inter-club long-range competitions. As these targets are designed primarily for rimfire shooters, the outer ring of the individual target roundel is much deeper than those of the 25-metre cards that we had been using to shooting at  previously. 

This meant that high-quality optics would be required to spot the fall of shot, never mind the ability to steer the pellet.

The card that Rochdale use is an almost ivory colour, with the outer rings of each individual target in bold black. If strict ammunition use and selection is not maintained during the 50-metre competition, it is quite easy for the shooter to shoot a roundel twice due to the original shot having landed within the heavy black outer ring. This has caught many of us out in the past and results in a zero score for the roundel involved.

Many of us now set out the required number of pellets and lay them out in a “five rows of five” pattern so we are instantly aware of which targets have been shot and which have not.

To further aid our ability to view the fall of dropping shots, Dave and I have each purchased a hundred or so high-quality 50-metre target cards from Benchrest UK. These white cards are made of a very rigid material that shows the strike of the pellet extremely well. 

The feature which has impressed us most, however, is the blue colouration of the outer ring which, presuming that the light levels are not too low, allow the shooter to spot any “droppers” more easily, certainly more so than the black-ringed alternatives.

As more local shooters become interested in attending our 50-metre target sessions, we are now faced with situations such as having qualifying scores in order to fit our best shooters into the 10-man teams. 

Our clubs are considering increasing the number of inter-club competitions to two per month, as this will allow all interested parties the opportunity of having a go and contributing to their clubs’ performance.

At the present I appear to be shooting both indoor and outdoor competitions on a regular basis. I appear to draw the most enjoyment from long-range benchrest, although it is good when you record a decent HFT score as well. One thing’s for sure, I haven’t shot as much for years! 

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