Introduction to Benchrest Shooting
- Front & Rear
- Custom Full
Length/Bushing Size Die
- The Accuracy
Bullet Seater Die
- Bullet Sasting
- The Benchrest
- Primer Pocket
- Case Trimmer
- Bullet Puller
- Shooter Management
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Competition “Benchrest” rifles are divided into three similar but
distinct classes, differentiated only by weight and caliber
restrictions. The three classes have no restrictions on scope power,
with 45 power competition scopes now being the norm. Triggers, as
well, have no minimum weight as long as they remain safe. It is not
uncommon to see triggers set at 1.5 ounces or less in current state
of the art Benchrest (BR) rifles. Stocks employed today are
manufactured from standard fiberglass to the exotic carbon fiber /
Kevlar composites, and a few redwood hybrids. With their 3” wide
forearms and low center of gravity, they ride the sandbags like an
“Indy” car around the track.
The differences between the three
classes are spelled out below.
The “LIGHT VARMINT” - This rifle must weigh in at 10.5 lbs. or less.
The barrel must be 0.224 caliber or larger. In addition, the 3” or
less stock forearm width rule also applies. The demise of the 22
caliber in benchrest shooting over the past 20 years has pushed the
Light Varmint (LV) rig almost into obscurity.
The “SPORTER” - In all respects, it
is a clone to the 10.5 lb. “Light Varmint” rifle. It is the only
rifle that can be shot across the board in all three classes. The
only restriction placed on the “Sporter” is a caliber restriction.
It must be of a 6mm caliber (0.2430) or larger.
The “HEAVY VARMINT” - In all aspects
is identical to its lighter cousin with the exception that its
weight can be pushed up an additional 3 lbs. This increase in weight
makes the Heavy Varmint (HV) rig much easier to learn to shoot
because its weight in the bag is much more forgiving when the
shooter makes a gun handling error. The Heavy Varmint’s greatest
asset comes into play when the conditions lay down and the matches
turn into a “Trigger Pulling” match. Those individuals who have a
truly fine-tuned HV rig become very, very hard to beat.
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This is the heart of the benchrest rifle and is built to extremely
There are many different variations
and thoughts as to what makes the ideal “Action” for benchrest
competition. The first universally accepted concept is the precise
fit between all mating parts, while keeping them all in alignment
with, or perpendicular to, the axis of the receiver. We will discuss
some of the tips in achieving this concept to a higher degree a bit
later in this section.
The second concept is the material or
combinations of materials from which the actions are manufactured.
These are chosen by manufacturers for either their properties or for
ease of manufacturing.
Inc., who is probably the number one supplier of high quality
benchrest actions to the sport, offers the consumer two types of
receivers. One, an octagonal designed receiver made from 7075 T-6
aircraft quality aluminum with chrome-molly steel inserts at all
wear points where the barrel is threaded into the receiver. The
advantage of this action is its large footprint for a better and
larger bedding surface. It is also thought that the coefficient of
expansion between the action and the scopes being made of the same
material also enhances the overall performance of the BR rig.
Another theory about the aluminum receiver is its dampening
qualities, which aid in minimizing vibrations set up in the process
of firing a BR rig. Kelbly’s Inc., Nesika Bay, Farley, Bat Machine
and Hall Mfg. as well as a handful of others also manufacture a line
of actions machined from billet or cast stainless steel. The types
of stainless normally employed in their manufacture are 15-5 to 17-4
PH. These receivers offer corrosion resistance and greater longevity
of tolerances over the life of the rifle. When polished to a mirror
finish, these actions become a thing of beauty and are “oohed” and
“ahhed” over by all who lay eyes on them.
The last material still used on
occasion is chrome-molly steel. This is the typical material used by
most commercial manufacturers. They are usually distinguished by
their bluish finish, but from time to time one may come across a C-M
receiver finished in black “Teflon” or electroless nickel. There is,
however, some renewed interest being shown by some action makers and
top-level shooters who feel that some of the best BR rigs they ever
owned were made of the old standby chrome-molly steel. This will be
played out on the BR ranges as they emerge onto the scene in the
Benchrest actions today are also made
to accommodate just about every shooters style of shooting. Whether
right or left-handed or whether he or she is a slow deliberate
shooter or a fast “machine gun” style shooter, actions can be
configured with right hand bolt and left hand port in order for the
right-handed shooter to have a good view of the loading port and
easy access to placing that next round directly into the chamber,
without fumbling around blindly with a port opposite the shooter.
Many modern day actions come equipped
with an ejector that just lays the fired cartridge outside of the
loading ports so as to not damage one’s meticulously prepared brass.
Today a competitor can choose an action to eject a fired case in
several manners. One may choose to eject the fired case out of the
same port from when it was loaded into an additional chamber. A
second option is having the fired round exit the action via a mini
port machined into the action opposite the loading port. This
ability of having the round ejected from the action mechanically,
instead of manually, greatly improves the shooter’s concentration
and ability to finish a group in the same set of conditions prior to
a major wind change taking place.
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This is one of the most controversial subjects you will come across
in the world of benchrest shooting. It has been the source of many
heated debates that have led some in the sport to go through barrel
after barrel looking for the ever-elusive “HUMMER” barrel.
For those of you unfamiliar with the
world of benchrest shooting “Urban Legends”, the story goes like
this: Once every so many years, the Gods of Wind who preside over
the ranges where mortal men gather to shoot forge from the furnace
of “Crucible” steel a single bar of stainless steel. This bar is
like no other. The gods of rifling are then called from the far
corners of the country: Texas, Wisconsin, New York, all to impart
the most perfect rifling of their craft into this gleaming piece of
steel. It is done. The “HUMMER” again exists in the universe. The
gods have one final task and that is to cast lots in order to
finalize who will wield such a powerful tool. Those few men who have
been blessed by the BR gods have told many a tale of the almighty
“HUMMER” barrel: one can virtually do no wrong out in the midst of
their competitors. It is also said that he who possesses such a
barrel could sit at the bench and shoot through changing conditions.
The possessor, it is told, can also pull the trigger in a complete
180 degree switch and have the bullet move only slightly, barely
enlarging ones group. In addition, granted to its owner is the power
over all bullets and powder. The “HUMMERS” are known to shoot any
and all powder and bullet combinations virtually through the same
hole. The above story is TRUE. Your writer has on three occasions
been in possession of a “HUMMER”. Some of the names have been
changed though to protect the innocent.
Stepping back into reality, the
choice of a barrel can be made very simply by following the match
equipment reports posted in several publications. Names like Shilen,
Hart, Krieger and Broughton are synonymous with World Record setting
accuracy. Once you have chosen a maker, always select the slowest
rate of twist per the given bullet you have chosen. This allows you
to spin the bullet fast enough to stabilize it, yet not throw a bad
bullet too far out of the group due to over stabilization. Secondly,
choose a barrel length no longer than needed to produce the velocity
you are trying to achieve. This will allow maximum stiffness of the
barrel insuring the greatest accuracy potential.
Today you will see many fluted
barrels making their way onto the scene. The advent of the new,
heavier, higher magnification scopes has caused some rifle owners to
look towards barrel fluting to lose a little weight. Fluting a
barrel has three advantages:
1) Fluting easily reduces weight
without trying to skeletonize and change parts.
2) Fluting increases the surface area
of the barrel, allowing for faster cooling.
3)Fluting just looks cool! If you
can‘t shoot well, at least look good doing it!
Before we get into this too deep, let’s step back for a moment and
review what we know about how we visually perceive that world around
us. Every bit of visual information that is transmitted to our
brains is generated by light reflected off objects in our
surrounding environment. The quality of this reflected light is
often degraded or bent by temperature differences between the
reflected light source and our eyes. This bending of light often
causes us to see an image where there isn’t one.
In the process of firing a group, our
barrels begin to absorb heat from the bore and radiate it from the
surface of the barrel as it cools. Unfortunately for the shooter, as
this process takes place, the reflected light from the target must
pass directly over our heated barrel and into the objective lens of
our scope. Well, no lesson in physics is required here. As we try to
continue our group, we repeatedly return our gun to battery at a
point in space that may or may not be our actual aiming point. We
can say good-bye to any chance of a good group under these types of
conditions I would suspect.
As we return to our original subject
“Barrel Finishes”, there are two basic finishes that are normally
seen and a new to the market, Trade Marked “Spyder-Web” finish that
is now offered by Speedco Shooting Sports. The two basic finishes
commonly seen on benchrest and target rifles are the standard bright
polish and the matte glass beaded finish. The bright polished finish
is attractive to the eye but has the highest retention of heat thus
interfering with the optical sight picture for a longer period as
the barrel cools. The matte glass beaded finish cools the barrel at
a much greater rate because of the thousands of micro-dimples formed
on the surface of the barrel when struck by the glass spheres. This
process, like fluting, also increases the surface area of the
barrel. The micro-dimples diffuse the radiated heat into many
different directions thus minimizing the heats effect on our sight
The “Spyder-Web” finish combines both
esthetic beauty and function making it probably the most desirable
finish of the three. While its application process is guarded, a
picture in this case is worth a thousand words.
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If the “Action” is the heart of the benchrest rifle, the stock then
becomes its foundation. How comfortable a shooter feels while
sitting at the bench, and how well a benchrest rifle tracks as it
returns back to battery after each shot, depends solely on how all
components are assembled into this platform!
The modern benchrest stock is
typically constructed from a lightweight composite material with
enough strength and backbone to support the weight of the other
components yet meets the weight requirements of the finished rifle.
Material selection for stocks varies from maker to maker. Some
choose to use the time proven fiber-glass with polyester resin,
others a blend of fiber-glass and carbon fiber and still others rely
solely on pure carbon-fiber with epoxy resins to bind the matrix for
the utmost in rigidity.
You will find many disagreements
among shooters as to which is the better material. However, to date
they have all proven to be competitive at one time or another.
The most important job of a stock is
to track in the bag! When this criterion is not met, all bets are
off. The task of shooting a good group now becomes a laborious job
of positioning and repositioning the rifle from shot to shot. The
stocks second most important function is to maintain its contact
with the sandbag. This is to say that under recoil we do not want to
see the rifle torqueing or jumping out of the bag as it slides to
its rearmost position. Ideally, as the rifle is fired, the stock
tracks straight back into the shooter’s shoulder. These two
functions are primarily the result of a properly designed stock with
these results in mind. Lastly, a knowledgeable riflesmith with
experience as to how a stock is set up to track correctly is
advantageous. These topics will be discussed in more detail later in
our “Accuracy Tips” tips section of the manual.
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The Accuracy Scope, as used in benchrest competition, has long been
one of the greatest determining factors where sub l/10 minute of
angle groups is concerned. Many claim the optics is still the
weakest link in the chain where extreme precision is concerned.
Regardless, the scope is the shooters
link between themselves and the target. This being the case, the
benchrest target scopes must be capable of achieving several things.
It must have the ability to place the scopes reticle on the target,
exactly in the same place, time after time. This requires the scopes
internal design to be mechanically sound and devoid of any movement
Next, the competitor must have a
scope with magnification great enough to section a bullet hole at
100 yards into four pieces. The current trend of commercial
benchrest scopes, range in power from 36X to 45X, have the ability
to do just that.
Finally, the scope must have
provisions to effortlessly make corrections in parallax. This allows
the shooter to retain the clearest sight picture with no apparent
optical movement of the reticle on the target. This also allows the
shooter to adjust the scope for slight yardage errors from range to
Here as in other parts of the rifle
that have been discussed, the way the scope is mounted to the rifle
has much to do with how well the rifle will function as a whole. As
with the stock, if the rifle is going to be setup correctly to
track, the scope must be setup in a particular manor. This will also
be described in detail in the “Accuracy Tips” section of Xtreme
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In today’s benchrest arena, one trigger dominates the sport, the
Jewell 1.5 ounce BR trigger. As it comes from the manufacturer, it
is almost as good and consistent as any competitor could ever ask.
Three simple adjustment screws, all accessible from the trigger
guard without having to remove the stock or trigger from the action,
make this small stainless steel mechanism a pleasure to own and
shoot. With a few mounting tips, most owners experience very few
difficulties with these triggers.
7. FRONT & REAR SANDBAGS
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Used to support the forearm and aft section of the benchrest stock
sandbags have come quite a long way over the years. From early
cotton bags filled with sand, to present day bags sewn from
“Cordura” and filled with heavy zircon casting sand, these bags have
paved the way to the modern wedge-shaped stocks that accurately
glide across their surfaces.
While all bags available on the
market have the potential to fill the shooters needs, filling the
bags with the correct media greatly effects the way certain stocks
ride within the confines. Too hard of a set up leads to the rifle
bouncing or deflecting off the surface while on the flip side of the
coin, too soft and the bag will allow itself to deform and loose its
shape under the force of the rifles recoil. (See tips for properly
filling and tuning sandbags in the “Accuracy Tips” section.)
There are also other leather bags
available to aid the shooter. One set of such bags is designed to be
placed under the elbow in order to keep the shooter from being
skinned up during recoil. Another similar bag can be placed under
the palm of the hand to help support the hand when shooting free
Two other types of bags that should
be monitored are the so-called “RING” or “STABILIZER” bag. This is a
rectangular bag filled only around it’s edges. It is used to contain
the rear sandbag and keep it from rocking under recoil.
The last is called the “SNAKE”. This
is a cylindrical bag about 24” long and about an l½” in diameter.
Its’ purpose is to confine ejected brass to an area on the bench top
and keep it from rolling off onto the concrete below.
BENCH ACCESSORIES (Back to Top)
While at the bench there are many items you must have at your
disposal to facilitate the process of shooting tiny groups. Although
this will be broken down in detail in the “Bench Management” section
of the manual, this is the time to start gathering all of the
goodies needed for the task at hand.
The items are listed below with a
brief description of their intended use. Please note the word
“intended”. They are not intended to be used as objects with which
to vent ones frustration at the range, especially when you have four
shots in one hole and the fifth one is sitting all alone like a
satellite orbiting the earth. Many good men have picked up their
favorite cartridge box, called it by a name other than that given to
such an accessory, and hurled it down range hoping to appease the
lords of the wind.
This is one of the most important items found on the shooter bench
although it is the duty of the range officer to keep and announce
time for the competitors. In some instances, the range officer
becomes involved with a problem on the range and it is possible for
time to run out for the competitor and a cease-fire called without
any time commands called at all. As a competitor you should always
learn to mange your own time.
Cartridge Box or Block
There are several variations of this item. Most are simple blocks of
Delrin, with holes machined into them to hold 15 to 20 loaded
cartridges. The new “Speed-Block” is one of the most user-friendly
cartridge boxes on the market. The “Speed-Block” places the loaded
round into the block with the bullet down and when picked out of the
block by the shooter it is in exactly the right orientation to be
loaded into the chamber of the rifle. After the round is fired it is
removed from the rifle and placed in the lid of the box to prevent
the spent cartridge from rolling around or off the bench. Another
feature of the “Speed-Block” is that due to the way the cartridges
are placed nose down into the block, the shooter gets one last
visual check insuring that every loaded run has been primed. It is
easy to forget to prime cases in a match situation when time is
short or your buddy distracts you in the middle of loading your
This is one of the cheapest forms of insurance you can purchase for
your benchrest rifles. A syringe of bolt lube should be kept at the
bench and applied properly to the appropriate locations every time
the bolt is re-inserted into the receiver. Failure to do so usually
will result in galling the metal of the locking lugs of the bolt and
their mating surface in the action. Proper bolt lube application can
be found in the “Accuracy Tips” section of the manual.
Bolt Disassembly Tool
While not found on every bench, this tool can become a lifesaver
should you ever blow a primer, causing the bolt to fail to operate.
If on hand, the bolt disassembly tool can quickly be used to take
the fire control mechanism out of the bolt, clean it, then
re-assemble the bolt and get you back into the game in less than a
Small Hand Towel
The towel is often used to cover the bench just below the rifle.
Most of your bench accessories will be gathered in this area. The
purpose of the towel is to protect your components from dust on the
bench top as well as cushion the fall should you drop any of your
Wind flags while not really found on the bench, are used from the
bench. This makes a good time to bring them into the picture.
The wind flag becomes the
competitor’s visual reference of the dynamics taking place between
the bench and the target. Of all the skills you will acquire in the
sport of benchrest, the ability to read the wind is the single most
important skill of all. It is also the most difficult to master.
Like many other aspects of this
sport, there is no such thing as a standard wing flag. Most novice
shooters attend several matches and get a sense of what type of flag
appeals to them. Size, shape and color are left to the competitor’s
Once a flag has been selected, it is
common to have at least a set of four flags for the 100 yard stage
and six for the 200 yard stage. How the flags should be set depends
on the shooters ability to see them as he is looking through the
scope at the target. (See “Accuracy Tips” for detailed methods of
setting your wind flags).
The Adjustable Shooting Stool
Most shooters never consider this optional item until they borrow
one from a fellow competitor. It quickly becomes an item of
Ranges across the country are not
held to any standard where bench dimensions are concerned. The
consequence is the active competitor is faced with a wide variety of
bench tops and heights. Bearing in mind, that comfort behind the
rifle is paramount to shooting small groups, the ability to adjust
ones height and position at the bench become very important.
This is where the adjustable shooting
stools ability to situate the shooter in exactly the right position,
makes it one of the most valuable tools at the bench.
Reloading equipment for the sport of
benchrest has evolved into a highly specialized group of tools. The
art of loading some of the most accurate ammunition in the world
hinges on the remarkably close tolerances held on the custom tools
built for the sport. When a new shooter visits a benchrest match for
the first time the reloading equipment he is exposed to, is
reminiscent of watching NASCAR mechanics assembling one of their
high performance engines.
The list of tools featured below will
allow the benchrest competitor to load finished rounds that will
hold tolerances to less than l/10,000th (one ten thousandth) of an
inch when he/she does their part.
CUSTOM FULL LENGTH/BUSHING SIZE DIE
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For those familiar with reloading this particular Full Length (F.L.)
size die is nearly identical to what you have used in the past, with
one exception. The neck portion of the die has been machined away to
allow the introduction of a neck sizing bushing. This allows for
bushing of different diameters to be used to either loosen or
tighten the neck tension on the bullet. The expander ball is also
done away with, since the need to undersize the neck and then pull
the expander through it to allow a bullet to again go into the neck
is done away with.
The old myth that neck sizing
produces the best accuracy, has proven to be just that. Tony Boyer
has 98 Benchrest Hall of Fame points, nearly twice as many as the
gentleman in second place. All of these points were garnered while
using the full length/bushing type size die. Another feature of the
custom FL / Bushing type die is the fact that most are machined
using matching reamers to the chambers in the rifles the dies are
10 . THE ACCURACY TOOLBOX
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Among benchrest shooters, the accuracy toolbox can almost be
compared to the “Arc of the Covenant” or “Fort Knox”. It is used to
house all the tools of the trade, as well as all the “secret stuff”
that will elevate one to the pinnacle of the sport. Toolboxes are
typically tackle boxes or machinist tool chests retrofitted to serve
the purpose of reloading and cleaning while attending a benchrest
Many shooters attach outriggers to
their toolboxes in order to mount their powder measures. Many
frustrated machinists spend hours building chests that resemble
works of art and are actually almost too beautiful to use.
Size is governed by the amount of
goodies you own or how strong a back you have. Just remember that
half the fun of benchrest is the accumulation of all the gadgets
required to fill your box. It is always more fun to be the envy of
the range when you open your box revealing all the sparkling
trinkets hidden within.
11. CUSTOM RELOADING PRESS
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The custom benchrest reloading press was designed with two things in
mind. One was to build a high quality product with as tight a
dimensional tolerance as could be held and still have the parts
The other requirement was for the
press to be compact, light and portable. Once these criteria had
been met, the competitor now has the ability to begin the procedure
of building some of the highest quality ammo in the world.
This press, coupled with the full
length / bushing die, set the shooter at the leading edge of
12 . STRAIGHT-LINE BULLET SEATER
DIE (Back to Top)
A trait most newcomers to the sport of benchrest are surprised to
see is the simplicity of most of the reloading tools used by most of
the benchrest shooters. Most expect to see spring-loaded doodads and
digital gadgets in the hands of men with thick glasses and white lab
coats. Fortunately, this is not the case, as the K.I.S.S. principle
is kept firmly in mind. K.I.S.S., “Keep It Simple Stupid.” This
principle is the root of most benchrest technology. While many of
the parts you will see in this sport outwardly appear to be very
complex and difficult to use, they turn out to be some of the most
basic of machines.
The straight-line bullet seater die
is no exception. The die is chambered with the exact same reamer as
the chamber in your rifle. This ensures the competitor that when the
bullet is seated into a sized, charged and primed case, it will be
in as perfect alignment with the corresponding chamber in his/her
rifle as possible. (For instructions on the proper use of this type
of die, see our “Accuracy Tips” section).
13 . BENCHREST ARBOR PRESS
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The benchrest version of the arbor press is quite small compared to
some of their larger industrial brethren, yet its function in the
chain of loading supremely accurate ammo cannot be played down due
to its relative size.
It is used mainly in the process of
giving the benchrest reloader the needed mechanical advantage when
seating his/her bullets into the case necks. Due to its size, the
arbor allows the reloader to actually feel the bullet as it enters
the case mouth and feel slight variation in looseness or tightness
of the neck on the bullet. This allows the reloader to possibly cull
a bad round out of his block before shooting it at the target to
ruin a winning group.
14 . BULLET SEATING GAGE
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We mention this item because it is one of the most valuable tools a
new shooter can have in their possession. The bullet seating depth
gage is made at the same time a customers new barrel is chambered.
It is made from a piece of the barrel that is discarded when the
barrel is cut to make weight.
The piece of barrel steel is first
machined true and set up in the lathe as if to chamber a barrel. The
reamer is then run into the barrel stub to almost the point where
the body and shoulder meet. Voila! We have our gage.
With this new tool we can now measure
our bullets seating depth, the amount of shoulder set back and other
things we will get into in the “Accuracy Tips” section.
15 . THE BENCHREST POWDER MEASURE
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Benchrest powder measures are the one piece of equipment most
competitors agree should all be made alike. As in all sports, a
jargon is developed among its participants. In addition, when it
comes to talking about certain volumes of powder to be thrown, the
word “clicks” is used. When one competitor asks another how much of
a certain powder he is using, the response usually comes in the
number of “clicks” on the measure, instead of a number of weight of
grains of powder.
All benchrest powder measures are
made up of three primary units: the body, the drum and the
Typically machined from aluminum and stainless steel, some early
models were cast iron. The body houses the other two primary
components as well as a build in mounting bracket and the removable
plexi-glass drop tube.
Precision machined from solid brass, the drum is a graduated
cylinder with a sliding internal sleeve that opens or closes
depending on the volume of powder required to load a cartridge. The
graduated end of the cylinder has an audible detent or click (hence
the term “number of clicks” for a specific volume of powder) when
opened or closed. The sliding internal sleeve has a scale engraved
on it with one 360-degree turn of the knob equaling ten full numbers
on the scale.
The Baffle/Bottle Adapter
Attached to the top of the measures body is the baffle. The baffle
is a turned and threaded piece of aluminum that funnels the powder
to a small opening at the base of the baffle. The baffles design and
function is to maintain a constant column of powder above the drum,
thus insuring that a consistent volume of powder is thrown each time
the measure is used. The baffles upper half is threaded to accept
the threaded mouth of most 1 lb. powder canisters on the market.
This makes it easy for the reloader to switch from one powder to the
next with minimal hassle.
16 . MEASURING TOOLS
The ability to accurately measure your components for fit and size
is an essential factor in the search for extreme accuracy. Several
tools will be required to accomplish these goals. This is also an
area where it is not a good practice to try and purchase
second-rate, inferior tools. High quality measuring tools will last
a lifetime if taken care of properly.
Three tools will be required to
perform 99.999% of the measuring needed for benchrest competition. A
good set of 6’ dial calipers, a l’ micrometer with l/l0th of a
thousandth vernier scale, and a l’ ball or tubing micrometer also
with l/l0th of a thousandth vernier scale.
Several top name brands such as
Browne & Sharp, Starrett, and Mitutoyo are available from most
commercial machine tool supply houses. Once acquired, these
instruments will be used to measure everything from overall
cartridge length to the thickness of the neck walls of your brass.
17 . PRIMER POCKET UNIFORMER
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Consistent ignition is one of the keys to consistent groups. Primers
that are seated into cases whose primer pockets vary in depth will
be prone to have slight variations in ignition and muzzle velocity.
A simple solution to this problem is
achieved by the use of a carbide tipped tool known as a “primer
pocket uniformer”. The uniformer consists of carbide, bottom-cutting
blade ground to a specific depth with a knurled steel handle. It is
designed to be used by hand by placing it into the primer pocket of
a cartridge case and then turning it clockwise until the pre-set
depth is reached. The results will be all cases having identical
depths in their primer pockets.
The same tool can now serve a second
purpose once the uniformed brass has been shot and then again
resized and de-primed. The uniformer can be employed to remove the
carbon buildup in the primer pockets after the round has been fired.
18. CASE TRIMMERS
The case trimmer has several uses in the sport of benchrest. They
are used to trim cases to a specified length and square the case
mouths prior to turning case necks. A new use for the case trimmer
is to reverse the case in the tool and square the base of the case
to the body. Most shooters are usually amazed to see how out of
square the base of most brass is.
Most benchrest case trimmers are very
simple devices. For anyone with any machining experience, you will
soon realize the case trimmer is actually a small hand driven lathe.
It has a small bed with two ways that align the case holder with the
main cutting head. Like a lathe, the rear portion of the trimmer has
a screw similar to the spindle in a lathes tailstock. This is used
to determine how much metal will be removed by the cutter head. Some
of the higher priced case trimmers have actual micrometer heads
built into them, taking all the guesswork out of the operation. The
case trimmer will become an invaluable tool to any benchrest shooter
on the quest of making the perfect loaded round.
19. BULLET PULLER
This is one of those items that most new shooters put off buying
until the very end. They then realize it should have been among the
first items to go into the toolbox.
Bullet pullers are used to remove
bullets from loaded rounds or to move a bullet further out of the
neck when testing for proper bullet seating depth.
The bullet puller itself is machined
with handles like a pair of pliers. The upper half has a series of
holes precision drilled and reamed to accommodate several common
bullets diameters. The upper half is then split allowing the
operator to squeeze the handles and grasp the bullet. A few half
turns of the bullet is usually enough to free it from the case.
20. MISCELLANEOUS LOADING
ACCESSORIES (Back to Top)
Along with the major tools mentioned, there is a subset of support
tools required to load match cartridges. These include the
Loading Block – Typically a small
machined piece of plexi-glass, wood or Delrin. Its purpose is to
hold 20 to 25 cartridges in place as the loading process takes
Case Neck Brush – The case neck brush
is designed to remove carbon build up inside the neck. The brushes
are usually made from hard nylon or bronze. Some argue the nylon is
best for the job because the bronze brushes tend to shed their
bristles as they become worn. Iosso has just introduced a new heavy
bristle nylon brush to the market that may prove to be the best of
Primer Flipper – This is a very handy
tool. It has the ability to orient all of your primers in one
direction at one time. This will greatly improve your speed by
eliminating the need to orient each primer by hand as they are
seated into the case.
Primer Seater – Manufactured by
several companies, the basic tool designs are nearly identical. The
purpose of the benchrest primer seater is to hold the case squarely
against the shell holder and seat a primer to a uniform depth below
the head of the case. It accomplishes this task through its use of a
two piece sleeved ram. As the handle is squeezed, the spring loaded
outer sleeve comes into contact with the head of the case and pushes
it square with the inside lip of the shell holder. As the operator
continues to squeeze the handle, the inner ram pushes the primer
into the case head until it is seated correctly.
Neck Sizing Bushing – These are
graduated rings of case-hardened steel or carbide used to resize the
necks of fired cartridges. They are used in conjunction with the
“custom full length / bushing size die” to allow the shooter to fine
tune the grip case neck on the bullet of the loaded round. The
standard formula for determining the correct bushing diameter is as
follows: (bullet diameter) + neck wall thickness per side x 2) –
(0.0030 std. minimal neck size reduction) = standard nominal neck
bushing size or:
Bullet Diameter 0.2430
Wall Thickness x 2 + 0.0200
0.0030 Std. minimal neck size
reduction - 0.0030
Standard nominal neck bushing size =
Loading Table – While many ranges
offer facilities from which to load and clean, it is sometimes
better to carry your own loading table. This enables the shooter to
begin a program that promotes a consistent methodology of
procedures. Once the shooter begins to setup his equipment in a
consistent manner, it will soon become second nature and much more
of the focus can be channeled to the task of shooting tiny groups.
Most loading tables are made by the competitors themselves. Legs can
be purchased from any local hardware store as well as the plywood
top. A common table dimension is 2 ft. x 4 ft. x ¾ to 1 inch thick.
21 . PRECISION AMMUNITION
(Back to Top)
The pinnacle of modern ammunition is the loaded benchrest cartridge.
No other shooting sports fraternity on Earth employs the attention
to detail and the painstaking assembly procedures as those who
compete in the world of benchrest.
The benchrest round when broken down
is comprised of four basic components: the case, the bullet, the
primer and the powder. What makes these four components so different
from normal ammunition are the tolerances to which they are held.
The Case – When the competitor pulls
the trigger and the firing pin slams into the primer, initiating the
chain of events that will propel the projectile on its path to the
target, the only reusable component remaining is the case. Because
of its resilience, the brass (in benchrest terminology “The Brass”
is the nomenclature used to describe the case) and its ability to be
reloaded repeatedly, is pampered and treated with kid gloves. It is
actually possible to completely wear a barrel out (approximate match
barrel life is 1500 rounds) with 20 pieces of brass loaded over and
over again. This translates to each case being reloaded 75 times
In benchrest shooting, the reigning
king of cases is the 6PPC. The PPC is based on the Lapua 220 Russian
case, co-developed by Ferris Pindell and Dr. Lou Palmisano. Since
its inception in the mid 1970’s, the PPC has yet to be rivaled in
the field of pure accuracy potential. Its short fat design, coupled
with an almost perfect case capacity to bore diameter ratio, make it
one of the most efficient cases seen in the last 30 years. The
30-degree sharp-shouldered piece of brass provides a nearly perfect
100% powder loading density.
The H.P. White Testing Laboratories
accredited the features of the PPC to be the determining factors for
the most uniform ignition, burn rate and pressure curves ever
demonstrated in their facilities. Look for brass preparation
techniques in the “Accuracy Tips” section.
The Bullet – No other component in
the sport of benchrest has been as scrutinized as the bullet. For it
is the bullet’s job to translate onto the target the shooters
ability to perform his craft well.
There is no commercial bullet to date
that is capable of delivering the consistent accuracy needed to be
competitive in the sport of benchrest. All benchrest bullets are
made by hand, on a custom basis, with very limited production
quantities. One of two bullet forms are currently seen on the firing
line of today’s benchrest shooting events. The first, and probably
most common, is known as a “Rorschach” shape. This is a bullet with
a straight cylindrical body and a segment of a circle forming the
point or “OGIVE”. This bullet form is relatively easy to tune but
can become very wind sensitive.
The second bullet form is what Speedy
Gonzalez coined the “DOUBLE-RADIUS” bullet. This type of bullet has
no straight cylindrical section to the body whatsoever. The 2R
bullet form is actually two arcs from large radius circles becoming
tangent to one another creating the bullet’s shape. When measured
from the base, these bullets have a constant taper and the tangent
point where body and ogive meet is virtually impossible to measure
without the use of a CMM (coordinate measuring machine). Higher
velocities and better wind bucking capabilities are attributed to
this type of bullet form. The benchrest reloader is urged to try
both types of bullet forms in every new barrel.
Accuracy Powders – Present day
smokeless propellants are classified into two groups, single base
and double base. They are both primarily formulated from
nitro-cellulose with the addition of nitro-glycerin to the double
base for a higher energy yield.
These powders are then divided into
two groups according to their physical shape, either spherical or
extruded cylinder. The spherical or ball powders are said to be
easier on the barrel because of their cooler burning rates. They
also meter through a powder measure like water making them easy to
use when reloading.
The extruded powders are known for
their ease of ignition. This is especially true in cold weather. As
a competitor, it is to your advantage to be aware of these
characteristics thus providing yourself with a better-rounded
loading program. The ability to have an adaptive loading program is
one of the secrets of the top-level shooters in this country.
The Primer – Once considered
insignificant in the equation of accuracy, the primer has now fallen
under the microscope. No longer are these components, which costs
less then $0.03 each, taken for granted. Benchrest shooters are now
taking the time to check different lot numbers of the same brand as
well as different manufacturers in an effort to wring the last bit
of group shrinking magic out of their components. Primer selection
and testing will be discussed in the “Accuracy Tips” section of the
Bench Management 101
As a competitor, you have been
placed in charge of your own destiny. The final outcome of your
efforts over the course of a one-day shoot, or a six-day National
Championship match, depends on your “management” of several key
elements and yourself.
So as not to complicate things, let
us assume that you have arrived at a benchrest match with a
well-tuned rifle and a winning attitude. You have paid your entry
fees and drawn a bench assignment.
From this point forward, your only
task is to focus your attention and afford yourself every
opportunity to win. How you accomplish this is very easy. By
developing a goal oriented system of managing every aspect of your
Let us begin with the basic 5-point
1. The Range
2. The Bench
3. The Target
4. The Time
5. The Shooter
22 . RANGE MANAGEMENT
(Back to Top)
From the moment you step from your vehicle the range begins to exert
its force on you. As you remove your equipment from your car or
truck, begin to be mindful of the wind currents that govern the
range. Begin to build a database in your mind or on a note pad, of
where on a given range the predominant winds manifest themselves
from, and for how long. This gathered information might provide you
with the possible rhythm or overall feel of the range. It will be
employed a bit later in our management program, when the time comes
to read the wind and position your wind flags on the range between
your bench and the target.
23. BENCH MANAGEMENT
(Back to Top)
The bench becomes the competitor’s base of operations. It must be
laid out in such a manner that the shooter has easy access to all
the mechanical, physical and visual aspects involved with shooting a
benchrest rifle. Comfort is essential and herein lies the key to
The easiest method to managing your
bench once the comfort factor is known is the “Blind Man” method.
Here is how it works.
Step One - Carry all the necessary
shooting equipment to the bench and the optional adjustable stool we
discussed earlier, as well.
Step Two - Lay out all of the
equipment on the bench top within easy reach.
Step Three - Close your eyes as if
you could not see. Then, situate yourself on the stool where you
feel most comfortable at the bench. Now with eyes remaining closed,
reach out and start bringing your rear sandbag and front rifle rest
and anything else you may manipulate on the bench closer or farther
away from you, until they are all easily accessible without having
to look at them. We are attempting to setup the bench in a manner
that is within your personal and natural range of movement.
Step Four - Open your eyes and take a
mental snapshot of this arrangement. From now on every time you set
up at the bench, you will attempt to duplicate this same set up and
then perform the “Blind Man” check to make certain it is correct.
Step Five - Once we have setup our
bench in a manner conducive to shooting comfortably, we next set our
rifle in the bags and have a friend begin to set our wind flags out
for us. Looking through the scope and starting from the targets
back, we begin a setup that allows unrestricted vision of however
many flags we decide to employ. The plan here is for the shooter to
be able to multi-task with minimal movements, from observing the
wind to making fine adjustments on his equipment prior to each shot.
24 . TARGET MANAGEMENT
(Back to Top)
Most competitors give no consideration whatsoever to managing their
target, in order to benefit from the targets layout. Looking at the
two types of targets commonly found at benchrest matches, we find
the “Two-Bull” target used for group shooting and the “Six-Bull”
target used for shooting for score.
The 100-yard “Two-Bull” benchrest
target is a rectangular sheet, comprised of a record target and a
sighter target stacked vertically. The lower sighter has three ½”
ten rings printed on it, one main ring in the center and one in each
of the lower corners, while the upper record target has only one in
its center. The 200-yard target is identical in all respects with
the exception that it is twice the size. Managing a target is a very
easy concept to understand once it is explained to the shooter. As
in life, we all pray for the best and plan for the worst. This
becomes the premise for how we will learn to manage the precious few
square inches of paper we are allotted on each target. Let us play
out two shooting scenarios to help clear the murky waters.
Benchrest shooter #1 goes to the line
with 20 rounds of loaded ammo. The command to “commence fire” is
given by the range officer and our shooter fires his first couple of
fouling shots (fouling shots are used to remove any residual
cleaning solvents from the bore of the rifle barrel, prior to
shooting a record group) into the lower left sighter bull.
The shooter then moves over to the
lower right sighter bull and tests the right to left wind with 2 or
Liking what he sees, he attempts a 3
shot test group on the central sighter bull. Not bad, he thinks!
Then he notices a reverse in conditions from left to right and
shoots a couple more at the central sighter bull just to get a feel
for what the full switch might be worth.
The range officer gives the “two
minute” warning command, and our shooter goes up to the record
His original right to left condition
has returned, and he begins his group. After his fourth shot, the
group appears to be little more than a 30-caliber bullet hole (this
is referred to as a “DOT” in benchrest lingo). With one minute left
to go the wind dies off, he waits a few seconds for its return, but
no luck. He decides to check where his rifle is printing the calm,
by attempting a quick sighter shot.
The range officer calls 30 seconds
remaining. The shooter fires his sighter round at the central
sighter bull and hits one of the previous holes used for testing.
With time running out, he believes he knows which bullet hole it
went into and holds his last record shot accordingly. “Cease fire”,
calls the range officer. The shooter looks through his scope with
great hope, only to find disappointment seeing how the last shot is
sitting completely out of the group.
When the target is later posted on
the Wailing Wall, the shooter sees that his last sighter had gone
into an entirely different hole all together causing him to hold for
his last shot in the wrong spot.
Benchrest shooter #2 takes his 20
rounds of ammo to the bench, and the “commence fire” command is
given. He, like shooter #1, also takes a couple of fouling shots at
the target. The difference being, shooter #2 wishes to keep his
sighter target as free from extra shots as possible. Rather than
using up any of the 3-sighter bulls, he elects to foul the barrel in
the open space between the two lower bulls on the sighter. Shooter
#2 has now fouled his barrel and still has 3 remaining bulls on
which to shoot. Step one of the management process has begun.
If you recall from earlier in our
management program, we took a mental inventory of the predominant
conditions on the range as well as the approximate duration of these
conditions. Rather than testing every condition on the range let us
select the most prominent condition with the greatest duration
period for Shooter #2.
We choose the same right to left
condition as shooter #1. Then moving the scope to one of the bottom
sighter bulls, we take one more look at the conditions, making sure
it was the one we selected and take the shot. A bullet hole appears
at 9 o’clockon the bull. Rather than continuing to shoot, we take a
moment to evaluate the shot. Shooter #2 decides the shot is in an
acceptable location for the given condition and decides like #1 to
stick with it.
Shooter #2, unlike #1 does not fire a
3 shot test group using up valuable time and target space. Instead,
#2 opts to fire a confirmation shot at the same bottom sighter bull
as his previous shot. A confirmation shot is a confidence booster.
The shooter takes in all the information provided to him, by sight,
sound and feel. The shooter calculates in his mind when all is the
same and pulls the trigger at just the right time. When the shot
impacts the target in the expected location, the shooter begins to
build confidence in his wind doping ability.
With two-sighter bulls still left
void of any sighter shots, the #2 shooter moves up to the record
target. He looks over the range, waits for his condition to come
back and begins his group just after the two-minute warning is
given. After his third shot the wind on the range drops to a dead
calm. You have one minute to complete your firing, calls the range
officer. Realizing time is short, shooter #2 returns to his clean
center sighter bulls, and shoots one last sighter. He sees the
bullet impact has now moved directly under the intersection of his
crosshairs. He moves quickly back to the record target, holds his
last two shots directly over his first three shots and waits out the
last few seconds of the match admiring the little dot he has just
As you can see, shooter #2’s last two
rounds were shot with a bit more confidence than shooter #1, since
there was no question of where his last sighter shot impacted the
target. Through better management of his target, shooter #2 turned a
possible disastrous end into a possible win.
25 . TIME MANAGEMENT
(Back to Top)
In benchrest, all matches with the exception of the unlimited class
are 7 minutes long. Although the range officer is tasked with
commencing and ending the matches and calling time to the shooters,
it is the shooters responsibility to manage his time during the
intervals in which time is called by the range officer.
he countdown timer becomes the
shooters best aid in this instance. The timer, when set on the
bench, keeps a constant vigil over the remaining time and with a
glance, the shooter knows exactly how much time remains to complete
his task. It has been observed at many matches: a shooter with no
timer on his bench, goes into panic mode when the 2-minute warning
is given. They have no idea of the pace the clock is counting down,
and make decisions based on their feeling that time is running out.
When in all actuality they wind up shooting a terrible group with a
minute and a half left to go in the match and end up sitting at the
bench staring angrily through their scope at the group that just
cost them the match.
26 . SHOOTER MANAGEMENT
(Back to Top)
Here is the toughest one of all to manage. Once a shooter has placed
himself in the position to win a match, he must then learn how to
win a match. More competitors loose a match with their last group or
shot simply because the anxiety of possibly winning becomes a
barrier that becomes impossible to cross other than by shear luck.
The most common group you will see
when a shooter snatches defeat from the hand of victory, is the
dropped shot. This occurs when all your buddies and other
competitors start the victory party a little ahead of your actually
shooting that last world beating group.
Your emotions takeover, as the
pressure builds and your mind begins to scream “YOU HAVE TO SHOOT A
DOT HERE TO WIN”. The sad ending to this story is on Joe Shooters
first chance to be a big winner, the fat lady decided to sing, hell
froze over and pigs started to fly, and Joe’s last shot was sitting
directly one inch under his group. Rather than sticking to the plan
he had used all day and managed (there’s that word again) to put him
within arms reach of the brass ring, he rushed the last shot and
jerked up on the trigger, sending that last shot down on the target.
(Back to Top)
© 2004 Speedco Shooting Sports, Inc. All rights reserved.