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Long-range benchrest – what kit do you need?

Andy McLachlan explains some of the kit that’s required for long-range benchrest in pursuit of the elusive perfect score

Benchrest brings out some wonderful examples of rifles and optics as shooters seek the elusive perfect score, like this Feinwerkbau

Regular readers will be aware that I now spend most, if not all, of my shooting time parked at an indoor range shooting at relatively long-range targets – certainly for a sub-12 ft-lb air rifle, anyway.

The vast majority of benchrest competition surrounds the 25-yard placement of the specifically designed cards, and the shooter’s attempt to achieve the perfect 250/25 X score. This is where the shooter manages to completely obliterate the 2mm bull on each target, which is easier said than done, believe me. 

I know of very few shooters who have managed this level of performance when shooting an actual competition card, as it is even harder to do when the pressures of competition are added into the mix.

Most of my 25-yard shooting friends are up in the twenties regarding the ‘X’ achievement, and the Holy Grail of a full card keeps most of them challenged as they continue to dig deep for that perfect score. 

Speaking of which, in order to mark the completed competition cards as accurately as possible, one of the regular shooters, Graeme Spencer, uses a specially devised device that includes lenses to make sure that everybody is given full credit for their achievements, even though this means that cards are sometimes marked down from what shooters might wish!


The march of progress

As time and the years have progressed with my own and other friends’ journeys into the long-range indoor target shooting scene, we witnessed the continuous development of equipment and tactics as we all continue to improve our own performance to a level that results in scores at around the 230 mark. 

My own personal best has remained at 236 ex 250 for some months now, although having been off the scene for a couple of months due to injury hasn’t helped. My personal best wasn’t scored in competition, so does not count in my opinion. My competing best has been a couple of 229s from my Walther LG400/Leupold fixed 45x magnification scope combination.

Up until recently, the highest anybody had managed to score in a competition at the Rochdale indoor 56-yard range had been 236. This has stood for over a year at least, as scores that high performed at that distance in a genuine competition still remain a rare event. Most of us shooting anything around 220 will be happy with our performance on the night, when the results of the usual 10 shooters per side’s scores are added up and a team winner is declared.

However, the new Rivington Riflemen club secretary Tony Thomas, despite having driven a few hundred miles on business that particular day, arrived at the range and proceeded to paste all and sundry with an amazing score of 241. This particular card was produced in a genuine competition and represents the highest-scoring card any of us who compete regularly have ever seen. 

My friend Dave Pilkington, who happened to have drawn the peg next to Tony, had as usual finished his card quickly. He then proceeded to watch Tony and his Walther LG400 shoot line after line of near-perfect scores as the card developed.


High achievers

For those shooters who specialise in achieving scores approaching 250 on a regular basis at 25 yards, a 241 may not sound too impressive. At the full Rochdale indoor distance of 56 yards though, that means Tony made very few mistakes as he tried his best to concentrate upon perfect trigger release techniques, supporting his gun as lightly as possible and not being distracted by any other shooter.

Considering that we have a few genuinely good long-range shooters who have yet to achieve anything near Tony, this makes it even more impressive. As you can imagine, for those of us who spend a lot of time attempting to get comparable results, this particular competition card now features within a frame, and sits upon the wall at our Rivington club’s indoor range as a reminder of what we are all aiming to achieve.

Most of us will never achieve a competition score as high as 241. It is fine achieving this in practice, but to record a high score in an actual match is far more difficult. If anything, Tony scoring so highly has inspired those shooters who regularly feature near the top in these events to try even harder to achieve the magic 240 score. This has resulted in even more equipment being purchased, as individuals upgrade their gear to try to give them an edge downrange. This will be familiar to anybody who has been involved with either indoor or outdoor target shooting, and is all part of the fun and overall journey as we all seek to improve our own performance.

This is the equipment Graeme uses to mark 25-yard competition cards, ensuring the scores are fair and accurate, with no ambiguity

High-end kit deserves to be treated carefully, and Graeme Spencer commissioned this rifle case – a true one-off

Recent additions to the shooting line have included rifles from the likes of Anschutz, ISP and Air Arms, in particular the FTP900 due to its ballast. 

Personally, I have used all three of my current target rifles, including my favourite Walther LG400, Daystate Red Wolf and Steyr Challenge. All of the guns are more than capable of producing the goods at long range, although the Walther does have an advantage due to it being armed with a ‘proper’ Leupold fixed high-magnification scope that gives the overall combination far more ability to place the shot accurately than the lower magnification other scopes fitted to the Daystate and Steyr. If money were no object, I would have superior optics living upon all my target rifles, but unless I win lots of cash via the lottery then this is not likely to happen.

In my opinion, most kinds of pre-charged pneumatic rifles, particularly those that are equipped with a regulator, are more than capable of achieving the kind of shot-to-shot consistency that will be required when shooting air pellets accurately at such long distances. And with our particular shooting challenge, just as high an emphasis, if not more so, must be placed upon the acquisition of a scope that has magnification that allows you to clearly see the target at long range. 

This particular journey can be longer to travel than finding the right rifle, and the only way to be sure of acquiring something that’s both within budget and capable of remaining clear for your own eyes is to look through as many scopes as you can until you find one with a set of lenses and reticle that suit you personally.

It doesn’t matter what scope everybody else is using – be sure to use something that feels comfortable for you. This could – and of course does – apply to any optic that we might need for various shooting applications in the real world. Hopefully, you will be a member of a club that will ensure you have access to other members’ equipment, including scopes of course. 

This will allow you the opportunity to use and assess items of equipment of fellow understanding members – in our case, long-range specialist gear that continues to develop as we all continue on the journey towards that unachievable 250!