Introduction to Benchrest Shooting
The objective of ‘Benchrest’ is to achieve the ultimate level of accuracy when shooting an air rifle or .22LR rim fire rifle against time and weather constraints.
To do so the shooter, depending on the rules of the competition, will shoot from a purpose-built bench with the rifle supported on a front rest and usually a rear bag. Targets are printed on card to an exact specification and have 25 separate ‘bulls’ with two rows of ‘sighters’ set on either side of the main part of the target. Air rifles maybe shoot indoors, or outdoors over 25 yds; rim fire shooters will also shoot indoors at 25yds and outdoors at 50yds. Normally each target card must be completed within 20 minutes.
The challenge, apart from achieving the highest score on each target card shot, is to be consistent, particularly for postal competitions which stretch over 5 months. For outdoor events the prevailing weather, especially the wind conditions, add to the difficulty of achieving the optimum score. To help judge the direction and strength of the wind, shooters set out down the range wind flags, often of colourful and ingenious designs.
Competitions are held regularly, either on a ‘postal’ competition basis, or at a ‘face to face’ inter- club meeting. There are rules governing each type of competition and events are managed by qualified Range Officers who are responsible for the smooth running and timing of each ‘detail’ and for the safety of competitors and spectators. Once shot, the score cards are marked by an independent scorer. Prizes are usually in the form of medals and cups.
The rules mentioned above lay down conditions about the type and weight of the rifle and in turn eligibility for entry to particular levels of competition. For example for entry of the Light Varmint category, the rifle and scope must not exceed 10.5 pounds in weight.
Whilst it not compulsory to shoot in competitions, most shooters decide, eventually, to have a go. In addition to the postal competitions and home- based face to face meetings, there is strong international interest in benchrest shooting. In 2017 the European and World Championships were held in Slovenia; in 2019 South Africa will host the world championship.
An entire book could be written about benchrest equipment, rifles, scopes and ammunition. With the objective of benchrest shooting in mind there is inevitably a trend towards technical, high specification (and expensive) rifles, scopes and front rests. In the case of rim fire rifles, a Firearms Certificate is mandatory as well as secure storage of rifles and ammunition. However, at the entry level, an accurate .177 calibre PCP air rifle, a scope with level of magnification sufficient to see clearly the bull target at 25yds, compressed air bottle and simple front and rear rest are all that is needed to get started. Air rifles also have to be kept securely and many shooters invest in a gun safe to ensure safe storage.
The purpose of this article was an introduction to the challenging and absorbing sport of benchrest shooting. Subsequent articles will look into equipment, guidance on technique and how to prepare for and shoot a competition.
Bull- a single target on the target card with a small central 10 ring. If the central ring is shot out it is scored as a 10X. In high scoring events the number of X’s count to the overall score. On a 25 target card the maximum score is 250 with potentially, 25X’s. In some competitions two 10 bull targets are shot.
Sighters- shooters use separate non-scoring bull targets to ensure the rifle is shooting accurately and to help judge wind conditions.
Detail- the start time of a single 20 minute competition, the shooters listed to shoot and the particular bench they must shoot from.
Light Varmint- a specific entry level for a competition. Other common levels are Sporter and Heavy Varmint.
PCP- pre charged pneumatic air rifle. Compressed air, delivered from a diver type air bottle, or a pump, is used to propel the pellet.
.177 calibre. Ideally air rifles for benchrest will be this calibre rather than .22 or larger pellet sizes. The .177 calibre has the best combination of trajectory and velocity for target shooting. Just to confuse matters air rifle targets are scored as .22 by plugging with a special gauge.