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Benchrest stability – the importance of the front rest

A good front rest is essential for Benchrest, and Andy McLachlan knows someone who’s made a good rest even better

I mentioned to you all recently that, following the wanton destruction of my right ankle that was accomplished when fishing, I have been lucky enough to be provided with transportation to and from the shooting range by my good friend Dave. It is only when we experience troubled times such as these that you learn to fully appreciate just how important loyal friends are. He has even taken me to my regular visits to the hospital that have allowed the medics to check on my progress.

Anyway, during our last visit to Leigh, I noticed that another friend, Jimmy O’Neil, had once again been up to his usual engineering antics with his greatly modified Caldwell rest. Now let me state that Dave, and those of us who shoot long-range Benchrest to our set of rules, are only allowed to use a bipod or bag for total support – none of us use any type of ‘proper’ benchrest support as provided by the many and varied products available for the serious 25-yard shooter.

What this means is that we are often amazed when we see all of these ‘dentist’s chair’ type supports being pulled out of lockers and set up on the shooting bench. Some, like the famous Seb rests, cost well into four figures, and are beautiful examples of handmade engineering skills that allow the shooter to line up their shots without the need to support any part of the gun physically as occurs when we shoot to our own long-range rules. 

In other words, for the 25-yard Benchrest competition, the gun is pointed at the target using the forward rest. The rear is supported by a high-quality sandbag, with the shooter ‘steering’ the gun into position rather than allowing for shoulder movement to place the gun on aim as with our type of shooting. It is then a case of touching off the shot and hopefully scoring a 10X as the shooter completes the 25 targets that make up the individual card.

Yvonne, a regular member of Leigh, shoots her Air Arms RN10 using solid front and rear gun supports at 25 yards

It would have to be said that even when using all of these considerable aids to outstanding accuracy, shooters equipped with all the latest and most expensive equipment do not always manage to get it right, with a maximum and perfect score of 250 being a rare event for most.

With all of this in mind, I was interested to notice a front rest of a design I have not seen before being used by our friend Jimmy. What he had done was to take a perfectly usable Caldwell front tripod benchrest and highly modify it so that the shooter is able to move the gun into position using a lever, much like that of the Seb rest. 

This has caused a lot of interest from many of the serious Benchrest shooters, particularly those who have yet to invest in an expensive front rest. Jimmy has already turned down provisional orders for at least another four rests, as he only manufactures shooting equipment for himself these days.

Thinking about it, at the Leigh indoor range I am aware of three talented engineers who can assist with the production of many additional components for us keen airgunners, in addition to being skilled at servicing or repairing the guns. This allows many of us to benefit from the lifetimes of genuine engineering experience and knowledge we have at our disposal. It is also not unknown for arguments to occur when the ‘masters’ fail to agree!

Having been impressed with the way that the modified rest looked, I sat down with Jimmy and chatted with him about how he had altered the original rest into what he was now using. Without going into serious detail, this has involved the manufacture of a few individual components from aluminium at home using his engineering equipment, and also the rethreading of some of the standard components. He was already talking about how he could improve further on the design, and is probably working on the Mark II version as we speak!

Fortunately, Jimmy was practising and not shooting any of his competition cards. This allowed us to talk with no danger of me putting him off and him losing the mega concentration required to produce satisfactory performance downrange.

What impressed me the most was that rather than spending a lot of cash on something like a Seb rest, Jimmy has manufactured an item that seems to work well. It allows the shooter to line up the gun with minimal effort, with the ‘joystick’ providing the right amount of feedback to the operator: namely a slight resistance, but no wobble that could pull the shot off target.

For those shooters able to afford shooting aids such as expensive benchrest supports, the purchase of high-quality equipment will help them to achieve the standard that they are all aiming for. However, it is not all about being able to buy yourself into success. 

That still requires an inordinate amount of practice and dedication required to succeed in any sport.

Andy’s friend Jimmy uses the Caldwell front rest that he modified to perform even better than it did before

If you also happen to have the required skill set to engineer your own practical solutions to either genuine or perceived problems, not only will this allow you to express your engineering know-how and imagination, it in my own opinion promotes the abilities of the less well-off shooter to either approach or match the performance of those who think nothing of spending large amounts of cash to achieve results.

I suppose that most of us ‘serious’ shooters could be found guilty of overspending. I know I can anyway! 

We like to buy – and most of us really appreciate – how individual items of equipment like guns and optics will hopefully improve our ability to hit that target every time. Sometimes spending will not necessarily improve performance, and it is down to ammunition choice or lack of practice. Getting to the top is never easy, and requires an inordinate amount of practice with equipment that we are confident will make the best of our abilities.

The gun components that in my opinion make the most difference for those of us wishing to achieve extremely elevated levels of accuracy are the barrel itself, and just as importantly the trigger mechanism. Those shooters who have yet to experience just how good a genuine, not-pseudo match trigger assembly is will be amazed at the fine levels of control it allows you as the shooter. 

Many sporting rifles have half-decent triggers perfectly acceptable for duties such as field work. Some have been fine-tuned to allow for match-like trigger pulls measured in low ounces. However, I would strongly suggest that if you are in any doubt of what a genuine match trigger feels like to operate you seek out a friend who owns something like a German-made genuine target rifle that was originally manufactured for the Olympic sport of 10 Metre target shooting. 

The ability of the skilled shooter to release that second-stage sear perfectly and without movement to the gun is what separates a genuine champion from the rest of us. Having a gun equipped with an excellent trigger assembly, good barrel, properly working regulator and a front rest such as the one described in this article will hopefully allow you to maximise your potential. My problem is that my own potential appears to be so low!