Benchrest Shooting: More on Groups | Field & Stream

The Gun Nuts

Ranting and Ravings from Phil Bourjaily and David E. Petzal

Benchrest Shooting: More on Groups

Due to a sickly convergence of the planets (I believe Uranus is in alignment with Urethra, with the moon in the House of Blue Lights) I have two questions on more or less the same thing. One reader says that he is able to get good groups (whatever they may be) but that he can't break the magic minute of angle barrier, even with his rifle locked in a lead sled, while another asks for tips on my own benchrest technique. So be it. We shall start with a few Immutable Truths about Accuracy, Attainment of.

Truth Number One
Not all rifles can shoot MoA. This includes cheap rifles and expensive rifles and custom rifles. A great many can, but it's not universal, no matter what you do with them or to them.

Truth Number Two
MoA is a very high degree of accuracy, and in most rifles, probably the overwhelming majority, you're not going to get it unless you handload. A skilled handloader can always get the most there is to get out of a rifle. The shooter who is limited to factory ammo may get lucky, but most likely not.

The Smaller the Cartridge, the Smaller the Groups
If you go to a typical 600-yard (medium-range) match, the typical cartridge will be something like a .260 Remington, 6.5/284, or 6.5 Creedmoor--140-grain bullets at 2,700 fps to 2,900 fps. Pretty puny, huh? But serious marksmen have known for years that burning lots of powder and getting gobs of feet per second makes it harder to get 'em all in the X-ring, not easier. If you sell your .300 Thunderf***er and get a .308, you'll immediately shoot much better.

People Everywhere Just Gotta be Free, and Rifles Just Gotta Recoil
It may not seem logical, but strapping a rifle down in a lead sled so it can't move rearward will wreck whatever accuracy it has. Unlimited-class benchrest rifles, which are shooting machines with scopes, allow for recoil. So when people tell me that they've tied the old smoke pole in the old lead sled and it won't shoot worth a pinch of dried owl dung, my response is "I'm surprised it shot that well."

Now to technique: Everyone has their own way of doing things, but here are some protocols that have served me well:

Shoot the first thing in the morning, as soon as the range opens. You'll get the least wind and the least mirage; also, the fewest hunyaks to distract you.

Don't shoot on a very hot day or a very windy one unless you have ammo to waste.

Learn to work fast. Benchrest shooters wait for the wind to die down and then put five rounds through their single-shot bolt-actions faster than you can say "Diane Feinstein." If you dawdle, conditions will change and your groups will bloat.

Rifles are ACUTELY sensitive to the kind of rest they are shot over. A hard rest will raise hell with most guns. Firm, with a little give, is better. You will probably have to do some experimenting. And never, ever, put your barrel on the rest.

When your rifle barrel is hot enough so that you can't put your hand on it and hold it there, it's too hot. Let it cool all the way down.

Always shoot with your fore-end at the same place on the front sandbag; halfway up seems to work well for me.

As a rule, the looser your grip on a rifle, the better it will shoot. Gripping hard creates muscle tremors which in turn create aiming error. On the other hand, you have to hang on to hard-kicking rifles or get cracked in the skull.

If there's something wrong with your scope, or your mounts are loose, you probably won't get groups, period. Also, if your rifle is grouping but you can't get the groups to go where you want, there's something wrong with your scope. Take it off the rifle and head for the nearest dumpster. Then get a better scope.

The more powerful the scope, the more precisely you can hold, and the better your groups will be. On the other hand, the more it magnifies, the more mirage will drive you nuts.

Small aiming points on targets, on which you have to hold very precisely, make for small spreads.

And finally: Shotguns pattern; rifles group.

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