Bench Basics


Learn to shoot from a rest to qualify the quality of your gun, scope and ammunition.

Developing practical rifle skill requires practice in shooting offhand, sitting, prone, off a bipod or shooting sticks, using improvised rests. You can get too dependent on shooting from a benchrest.

bench basics

The light-kicking rifle sits squarely on front and rear bags, and is supported
and aimed solely with the bags, not by shooter pressure on the rifle itself.
Protektor leather bags are beautifully made, allow the rifle to slide smoothly
in recoil, and are built for a lifetime of shooting.

Bench Basics

If you don’t want or need a front rest, a bipod such as this Harris is very
effective, though Dave still wants a rear sandbag. An advantage of bipods
is they can remain on the rifle at all times and are quick to deploy in field shooting.

Unfortunately, the message some shooters get is there is no need to ever shoot from the bench. Bench shooting skill helps in testing rifles, optics, and ammunition, and in developing trigger control. Don’t be dependent on bench shooting, but know how to do it.

Shooting rests don’t have to be expensive. Even after I could afford a proper rest, I resented allocating any of my “gun budget” to non-essentials. For years, I used an old canvas bag filled with beach sand. It must have weighed 50 or 60 pounds. Legs cut from old jeans, filled with sand and tied with twine served as rear bags.

A “store bought” rest won’t necessarily achieve better results but certainly is more convenient. “Middle of the road” suits me best. I tried some small, light rests and found they would sometimes tilt during recoil or if the gun was shifted slightly. But I can’t justify the cost of a serious competition benchrest-quality bags.

The Sinclair light rest shown here is moderately priced ($160) considering its quality. If it is a compromise it is a darn good one, light enough to pack easily, but stable, easily leveled, and precise. The Protektor leather bags allow the rifle to slide smoothly in recoil. Maybe a luxury but dang it, I made do for decades and in my senior years I deserve a bit of luxury. At least those are arguments I made with the Secretary of the Treasury.

The bench technique illustrated here is for a light-recoiling rifle, another reason a .223 is such a great learning tool. Try this with a rifle with any significant recoil and you’ll likely get a scope cut, a bruised shoulder, maybe even a rifle on the ground.
Next time, we’ll discuss techniques for handling hard-kickers. For now lets work on basic technique. The rifle sits squarely on the rests, and is aimed by moving the rests. Benchrest competitors generally aim with fine adjustments on the front rest. With a conventional rest, stick to old school methods and aim with the rear sandbag.
The shooter should be sitting comfortably, relaxed, arms resting on the shooting table. With our light-kicking .223 we can get away with a fairly low rest, with the body leaning forward. With hard-recoiling rifles we can’t be so nonchalant about position.
We’ll get to that in due course.

It is key to have minimal contact with the rifle, and vitally important never to aim the rifle using body contact, i.e. hands, cheek, or shoulder. If we try to “steer” the rifle, with shooting hand or shoulder, we are inevitably going to be inconsistent.

Some shooters with light rifles won’t have the butt touch the shoulder at all, leaving 1/2″ or so of space. Personally I like to have at least some contact between rifle butt and shoulder. It’s probably a fault, but not a grievous one provided contact is consistent from shot to shot.

Sitting on the bags with no shooter contact, the sight reticle should be slightly above our aiming point. Now get into shooting position, which for me means with the rifle lightly contacting the shoulder. The face, if it touches the stock at all, should touch as lightly as possible. I like to keep my head well back which reduces field of view but also reduces the chances of a scope cut with a hard kicking rifle.

So far the shooting hand (for me, the right) hasn’t touched the rifle at all. With the left hand, squeeze the rear shooting bag, which elevates the stock and brings the reticle on target. Remember all aiming is done solely with the left hand.

Once satisfied with the sight picture and comfortable, relaxed, and stable, bring the shooting hand to the rifle, keeping a light touch, and taking pains not to steer the rifle. Actually the sight picture will likely move a bit, but don’t despair. Get the shooting hand placed comfortably, with the pad of the trigger finger squarely across the trigger face. Maintain the hold so as not to influence the rifle further, and refine the aim with the left hand on the rear bag.

Focus on the sight picture and let the trigger finger smoothly increase pressure until the rifle fires. The focus should be intense enough for the mind to retain a clear, sharp mental picture of the sight picture as the shot broke.

The objective is absolute consistency from shot to shot. For me the key to accurate bench shooting is to avoid aiming the rifle with the shooting hand, or by cheek or shoulder pressure.
By Dave Anderson

Bench Rest 2

A high quality benchrest doesn’t have to weigh 20 pounds and cost a fortune.
This Sinclair light rest weighs just 6 pounds, is both precise and stable, and
a great value at $160. The rifle is a Ruger 77 Hawkeye in .223, scope a
Leupold Mark 4 3.5-10X.

Bench Rest 6

Shot from the setup pictured, five shots at 100 yards. Group is just over
1/2″ edge to edge, about 1/3″ center-to-center. This almost completely
stock (Dave changed the trigger return spring) Ruger 77 Hawkeye .223,
Leupold Mark 4 3.5-10X, Black Hills “blue box” ammunition with 77-grain
match bullets. Dave started shooting in the ’60s and finds the over-the-counter
accuracy available today is incredible.

Bench Rest 3

The rifle is aimed with pressure on the rear bag (above), not by shooter
contact with the rifle itself. Get the bags positioned so the sight reticle is
slightly above the aiming point when sitting freely on the bags, then make
final adjustments by squeezing the rear bag. The shooting hand grips the
rifle lightly (below), no harder than necessary to keep the trigger finger
properly positioned. It is key not to try and “steer” the rifle with the
shooting hand, or with the shooter’s face or shoulder.

Bench Rest 7

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3 thoughts on “Bench Basics

  1. Juan Valdez

    Hey Dave,
    Great article! Thanks.
    You said, “Next time, we’ll discuss techniques for handling hard-kickers. Have I missed it? Tell us where to look.

    1. Dave Anderson

      Thanks for the kind words. Re shooting hard-kicking rifles, I’m planning to get it in the August issue. There were requests for a column on handgun ammunition so I thought to address that topic first. Kind of a big topic and I made it too long. It had to run as a two-parter, in April and June issues.

      There are a number of tips for shooting hard-kickers, a basic one is to arrange the front rest/sandbags, and/or the shooter’s chair or bench, so the shooter is sitting up straight rather than leaned into the gun. That way the body can flex with recoil.

      Thanks again and good shooting!


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