United Kingdom Benchrest Shooting
Dedicated to Accuracy
From the Bench
This column appears every month in Target Sports magazine
Competitions - The European Benchrest Championships - Umea, Sweden
The World Benchrest Championships are held every two years and, in between, we have the ‘Europeans’. There are twenty-odd countries in Europe but of course, they don’t all shoot benchrest so we usually end up with a dozen or so countries represented.
Unlike the ‘Worlds’, each country may only send one four-man team but individuals may also compete to become Champion of Europe and this year about 50 Scandinavians descended on Umea to make up the numbers to just over 80 shooters.
Umea is on Sweden’s east coast and only a couple of hundred miles below the artic circle, so although it is located in a very pleasant scenic area, it is not so easy to get to from the UK. The choice is to fly or sail/drive. There is no direct flight to Umea so even this is not an easy option and involves driving the final 300 miles from Stockholm. The problem of flying with firearms is even worse for benchrest shooters as we have mountains of reloading equipment and heavy front-rests and back-bags filled with sand. However, we were able to transport quite a bit of heavy stuff by car and this included essential wind-flags which are bulky and awkward to take by air. Powder and primers can’t be taken on aircraft of course so it’s a case of buying them at the shoot if no one drives there.
Team GB - From left, Vince Bottomley, Steve Newman, Kevin Phipps & Martin Miles
Umea is a stylish university town and we were billeted in the Botnia Hotel with several other teams including the French and Spanish. The Botnia is part of the Best Western chain and is on the banks of the large river which bisects the city. Tariff included a free breakfast and evening meal – both ‘help yourself’ options so, as you can imagine, we didn’t go hungry! Alcohol is another matter however and a bottle of beer costs a cool £5.00!
The Brattvall benchrest range was constructed especially for the 2003 World Championships and is equipped with 28 very solid concrete benches, all under cover. Marquees were provided for reloading and cleaning and the lady from the farm, on which the range is situated, kept us well fed throughout the competition.
As always, the Championships open with two days of practise so that shooters may get used to the peculiar winds and fine-tune loads. The range is built in a cleared part of a dense forest and the surrounding trees greatly influence wind conditions so careful wind-flag positioning is crucial, particularly at 200 metres.
Martin gets in some serious practice
The last ‘Europeans’ were held in Spain in 2006 and the UK team came home with the bronze medal so that was our object for this year. As a benchrest nation, the UK is tiny compared to France, Germany, Italy and the Scandinavian countries and our ‘bronze’ was a real achievement. This year, we had a Russian team and they should never be under-estimated even though they have only shot benchrest for a few years.
Although we are all there to compete, the real pleasure of these events is renewing old acquaintances, making new friends, swapping yarns and taking a look at the latest accuracy gizmos sported by other nations. Many of the shooters were at the World Championships in Austria last year and we will no doubt meet up again at the next Europeans, also to be held in Austria in 2010.
Major benchrest competitions are staged over two distances – 100 and 200 metres - using two rifles – Light and Heavy Varmint. The Light Varmint rifles have an all-up weight of 10.5lbs. and the Heavy, 13.5lbs. Thirty years ago, the heavy class rifles would certainly have an advantage but, with the advent of light-weight actions and stocks made from graphite or carbon-fibre, we can still use very heavy barrels on the light rifles. In reality, there is no difference in accuracy and 90% of shooters will use the same gun in both classes. A handful will use another rifle or switch barrel, others may add weight to the butt which makes the rifle ride the bags a little better. The 6PPC cartridge was used by 95% of competitors.
Steve Newman - eigth place in 100m HV
Benchrest is all about group-shooting and a typical match will involve a warm-up group and then five, 5-shot groups to count. A shooter’s groups are then added together and divided by five to give the average – or ‘agg’ as it is known. We then end up with a Light Varmint agg. and a Heavy Varmint agg. for the two distances and a Grand Agg. for the whole shooting match to determine the Champion of Europe. Team scores are calculated by adding up the aggs for each team member. Twenty-five of the 28 benches were used and, over the course of four days, each competitor will move to a different bench for each group to ensure that there is no bias.
You spend most of your time here - in the reloading tent
After two days of practice in idyllic conditions, the competition gets underway with the 100m Light Varmint Match but soon comes to a halt when someone shoots the electric motor which drives the moving backers – not once, but four times! At the shoot dinner on the final evening, a Swedish shooter is presented with a piece of metal from the motor-casing – complete with his four shot-holes! My eighth place is the top GB placing.
On day two, for the 100m HV match, the best GB performance falls to Steve Newman, again with eighth place. The GB team is now lying in fifth place in the overall standings.
The superb Bratvalls Range
On day three, the targets are moved back to 200m. This is where it gets serious. At 100m, quarter-inch groups are the ‘norm’ but at 200m it’s not difficult to shoot a two-inch group – if the wind catches you out! And yes, the wind is tricky - never really wild but prone to sudden switches and this can do more damage than a strong wind in one direction. It’s critical to watch the flags and not pull the trigger at the wrong time. Only seven minutes are allowed to shoot your group and after four or five sighters, half of that will have elapsed. If you are waiting for a ‘condition’ to return and it doesn’t, there is no alternative but to aim-off – a risky strategy which can easily go wrong.
Kevin Phipps is the top Brit with a magnificent seventh place and small-group medal as well – for a tiny 7mm group. Kevin’s group will not be bettered at 200m and equates to one-eighth MOA! We can now get the first of the aggs – for Light Varmint at 100/200m. I’m surprised by my 13th place after a mediocre shoot at 200m. Obviously a lot of others shot much worse.
Kevin Phipps receives his medal for small group at 200m from Herve DuPlessis
We have to be on range for 8.00 am each day so that means getting up at 6.00am and the strain is beginning to tell! It’s the final day and we are 5 millimetres behind the Fins for the team bronze medal – surely too much to catch up. In the final 200m Heavy Varmint Match, some relays are shot in heavy rain – the first we have seen all week and there are some horrendous groups.
Kevin Phipps is again the top GB shooter with 17th place. I can mange no better than 20th but my Heavy Varmint agg. is a respectable 14th and my Grand Agg. for the whole competition gives me a satisfying 12th place. Not bad for the whole of Europe. The other Brits were 25th (Steve Newman), 30th (Kevin Phipps) and 49th (Martin Miles).
The overall winner, and the new European Benchrest Champion is Igor Zhukov of Russia. Unfortunately, Russia didn’t figure in the Team result – one of their team was disqualified on day one for shooting after the ‘cease fire’ command – which is regarded as a safety violation and after a lacklustre shoot he and another team member went home at the end of day-three!
Sweden won the Team Shoot and Great Britain finished fourth - missing out on the bronze medal by just half a millimetre to Finland! The next Europeans will be held at the Holles Range in Austria 2010.
By Vince Bottomley