How to get the most accuracy from your rifle when shooting off a bench
It’s important to be able to shoot well from a bench rest. Though some consider it less important than field shooting skills, shooting from a bench rest is where you validate the performance of your rifle, optics, and ammunition. Without the confirmation that these elements are working together as they’re supposed to, you cannot make any definitive conclusions about your field shooting abilities.
Shooting from a bench rest might also seem very simple, and it is simpler than shooting in the field. But it must be done right to matter. Here are few tips to help make your bench shooting better.
The Bench and Seat
For your bench rest shooting to reflect the performance of your gear, you need a solid bench. That’s not a folding card table, a 55-gallon drum, or the hood of your wife’s SUV. It is a sturdy structure, with a flat top, that’s capable of supporting your weight. In a worst-case scenario, a well-built picnic table can work and some of the portable shooting benches are steady enough.
A good seat to shoot from is important too. It should place your body so that the bottom of your breastbone is at bench level. It should also allow for your feet to rest comfortably on the ground.
Bags, and Bags, and Bags
There’s all manner of bench rest devices to help support your rifle. Many are too flimsy and/or their contact points with the rifle are too hard. Sandbags are generally the best option. The idea is to remove as much of the potential for human error as possible. This is best done with sandbags that will support your rifle in two locations: under the forearm and at the butt. Ideally, they will hold your rifle on target without any influence from you.
Rolled up towels and feed sacks full of corn are not suitable sandbags. Bags filled with real sand or plastic pellets are best. (The advantage of the plastic pellets is their resistance to water.) To test the support of a sandbag, while it’s lying on the bench poke it with your finger. When you pull your finger away you should see a dent. If you don’t, the bag is too rigid or soft. This applies to bags used in conjunction with mechanical rests too.
Also, you cannot have too many sandbags. You want to be able to build up a structurally sound support for your rifle that will hold it on target. You don’t want to be shoving ammo boxes or snuff cans under the sandbags to achieve the proper height.
Proper Bench Form
When shooting from a bench rest every shot should be fired in the same manner. Recoil can affect bullet impact and if the rifle is not supported the same for each shot, it will recoil differently for each shot, and your groups will not be as small as they could be.
Take the sling off the rifle to get it out of the way, and then position the rifle's forearm on the front bag so the action is just behind the bag. Now, get square behind the rifle and place your shooting hand on the wrist of the stock, elbows on the bench, and your shoulder comfortably against the butt pad. Don’t pull the rifle into your shoulder; let it rest there. The rear bag goes under the toe of the stock. Hold it between the thumb and fingers of your support hand so that you can squeeze it to fine tune your elevation adjustment.
Don't try to hold the rifle on target by placing your support hand on top of the scope or on the comb of the rifle. And don't squeeze the wrist of the stock with your shooting hand. Your shooting hand should be relaxed with your thumb pointed towards the target along the side of the stock. You want the rifle to recoil straight back without any lateral influence. Keep your head position and cheek weld consistent, relax, control your breathing, and gently press the trigger.
Don’t rush your shots or get in a hurry. Remember, the goal is to test the rifle not the shooter. Pay attention to the wind, and how warm your barrel gets. If you’re seeing a mirage or an out-of-focus target through your riflescope, the barrel has become warm, and the heat waves are distorting the image. This can negatively impact the rifle’s and your ability to shoot with precision. Generally, with high velocity centerfire rifle cartridges, only shoot about five shots before letting the barrel cool.
The data you get from a benchrest session is as important to you and your rifle as a frontend alignment is to your car. Without that good data, you might end up going down the wrong road.