How to Shoot Your Best from a Benchrest
August 05, 2014
You're only as good as your weakest link; heed these to tips to make sure your shooting skills don't hinder your rifle's accuracy potential
How will you know if your rifle is capable of shooting 0.75-inch groups if you can't shoot with that level of precision? Proper benchrest shooting is a necessary evil for testing a rifle's accuracy with various loads and for zeroing scopes.
There's one thing to remember when shooting from the bench that transcends each category that we'll discuss: consistency. The rifle must held the same way, in the same wind, with the same recoil impulse for every shot. A few key elements will help us achieve the consistency we desire. Let's explore some techniques and products that will help boost your benchrest shooting skills.
It should go without saying that to perform from the bench, the bench itself must be steady and sturdy. It doesn't matter who you are, you're not going to shoot tight groups from a platform that isn't rock solid: this is the reason we're shooting from the bench in the first place.
I recently built my own shooting bench constructed entirely of steel-reinforced poured concrete. Steady benches can be made of wood as well, but they don't last very long in the heat and humidity of the South. A bench carved from solid granite isn't worth a darn if you're sitting on a wobbly stool. A simple wood or metal stool is fine, so long as it doesn't flex or move as you shift your weight.
Once you have a bench that isn't blowing in the wind, it's time to rest your rifle on something solid. A pile of sandbags will do fine if you're on a budget, but they aren't ideal if you're going to be doing this type of shooting with any regularity. I'm personally not a fan of cradles or rests that hold the entire rifle. They do not allow the rifle to recoil freely, they can also affect point of impact or cause stocks to split. If you're so scared of a rifle that you need a device to hold it when you shoot, you need a different rifle.
A steady and adjustable front rest paired with a rear bag is pretty much-settled law when it comes to the best equipment for this job. The closer we can emulate the equipment used by professional benchrest shooters, the better our results will be.
Brownells sells a variety of quality rests; I use a Wichita rest and a friend shoots tiny groups with the Caldwell Rock. Find something that works for your needs and budget—the heavier the better.
Call the Wind
A full-value 5-mph wind will drift an average centerfire rifle bullet 0.5 inches at 100 yards. If you're not accounting for wind, group size can easily double even if you're doing everything else correctly. Competitors win and lose benchrest matches based on their ability to dope wind effectively.
Shooting early in the morning when winds are usually calm can help mitigate wind, but this isn't always practical. The only way to know what the wind is doing at various distances is to employ some type of visual wind indicator. Wind flags are the best option as they tell the shooter both the speed and direction of the wind. Winds can vary during the bullet's travel downrange so wind flags are often positioned at numerous points on the range.
At a minimum, a foot-long section of orange flagging tape stapled to the bottom of the target gives the shooter a general indicator of wind conditions and is far better than nothing. The best part about this technique is that you can see the tape through the scope. Ensure that the tape is at the same position for each shot, and you're in business. Where appropriate and permitted, smoke can also be used to read the wind at various distances, as practiced in this episode of Guns & Ammo TV, on Sportsman Channel.