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Achieving Benchrest Rifle Precision and Accuracy
Updated November 2021 -- Banacek
First Some Practical Thoughts
This article is primarily about benchrest rifles and their equipment and ammunition and shooting techniques. But much of this information can benefit, and hopefully improve, shooting with sporters or hunting rifles.
I suspect that the rimfire and centerfire rifles you really enjoy shooting are some of your early sporters. And that's just fine for shooting fun.
Just a quick technical point: in both cases assuming a competent shooter, we must remember the difference between achieving precision and achieving accuracy. Shooting very tight groups is precision; placing bullets into the center of a target is accuracy. Hopefully we want to shoot a rifle so well that our groups are both tight and in the very center.
And let's be clear, our shooting club (and hopefully your local club too) does not just have a bunch of zealots blindly dedicated to achieving precision and accuracy at any cost. We enjoy shooting and talking and joking and snacking together. We enjoy shooting all sorts and qualities of rifle.
In all our local clubs we often bring out some regular shooting hardware and have a great time with those too. So never feel inhibited by what you bring out to shoot.
But when attempting to achieve ragged one hole groups at 50 or 100 yards or metres or much further, those sporters are generally not up to the task -- at least not for the level of precision that we hope to achieve on a more frequent basis. So we'll have some suggestions here to help guide your benchrest equipment choices.
Whatever equipment you end up with, learn to shoot with it the very best you can. And then, those accomplishments should make you happy.
And do check back here from time to time. This page will be updated and new material will be added as I learn new stuff either from my own experiences or mainly from the great shooters in our clubs.
Suitable Rimfire Benchrest Rifles
Factory rifles have come a long way in terms of quality and precision. Two currently available at a reasonable cost are the Savage Mark 2 with heavy barrel, and a heavy barrel model from CZ (their Model 452 has been discontinued but was replaced by the 455). These rifles are very precise but suffer from a fairly heavy trigger pull. Replacement triggers or trigger kits are available to improve their performance. Important: Never reduce the pull to the point that they become unsafe and might discharge by accident.
Custom or deluxe rifles will likely match or possibly exceed the performance of those above. Examples might be a collector item like an old Winchester 52, or a brand new custom rifle like from Cooper. Now these rifles have become really expensive, and while they are superior sporting rifles, are rarely likely to beat the next category when used by an equally skilled shooter.
Anschutz rifles vary in price from moderately expensive to can't afford much food this year. [We could call that the Anschutz Weight Loss Diet.] But their performance is top notch. And they already come with a superb trigger that is adjustable for weight.
I experienced some very satisfying results with a Savage Mark 2. The rifle itself was consistently precise enough to let me know when poor results were directly caused by me. And so I learned, and will always continue to learn. But in the final analysis it could not consistently match the results that were more common locally with Anschutzes.
There is an old story of how a fisherman spent $15,000 to buy a $10,000 boat. Each boat in his series was more expensive than the last, but still unsatisfactory, until he finally bought the $10,000 boat. But by then he had spent $15,000 total, as he had lost money on each trade.
An Anschutz is kinda like that $10,000 boat, but fortunately it costs way less.
If you are serious about your benchrest shooting, spend the money up front to buy the class of equipment whose performance will satisfy your ambitions.
One addendum to my experiences reported above, yes an Anschutz MPR provided better groups than the Savage had, but after a good while practicing with the Anschutz, I retested the Savage with its Apachee trigger kit and it too miraculously shot tighter groups than it ever had previously. Obviously the Savage was better than first realized, because it was me that most needed the practice. So while I prefer and have gotten better results on average with an Anschutz, I still have a fond regard for the Savage and shoot it from time to time. [Later note: see my section near the bottom of this page titled "The Shooter's Part in Achieving Accuracy". An Anschutz was capable of much smaller groups when I changed my shooting style.]
Another Savage Mark 2. A lady member wanted to shoot, but being left handed had difficulty using standard length right handed rifles. A left handed Mark 2 stainless heavy barrel with thumbhole stock appeared at the right time. Its stock was too long for her and that was soon rectified. Its Accutrigger's feel was worse than normal for this model of rifle and its 3 pound trigger could not be adjusted significantly for feel quality, or weight of pull, with the factory adjustments. She really disliked that trigger. A solution this time was a Rifle Basix SAV-RAT full replacement trigger that eliminated the Accutrigger blade completely. Her shooting results improved significantly. Great factory rifle, but poor original trigger.
There are several solutions on the internet intended to improve or replace the Savage Mark 2 factory trigger, some free and some around 100 bucks. If you have a Savage Mark 2, yes you do have an inherently very precise rifle but its target performance could be improved.
While the Anschutz MPR (Multi Purpose Rifle) is currently the base model in their range, the various Model 1903 variants cost little more and offer the advantage of a stock better designed for stable bench shooting, as well as being a single shot that is easier to load singly than with a magazine design. And in several local shooters' experience, they routinely shoot better than the MPR.
The regular 1903's are available in right or left hand versions. The 1903 Junior is adjustable for stock length from youth to adult and, while only available with a right bolt, has an ambidextrous stock that works very well for a left handed shooter too. Some shooters (right or left handed) even prefer a bolt on the opposite side as there is less messing around to regain aim after operating the bolt.
And then there are some used older models that can sometimes do even better. Some BSA Martini target models are very competitive, as are some Valmets. And most any Anschutz (old or new) made with a 54 action can be superb. GunNutz in Canada is a useful place online to search for such rimfire gems.
A Few Words About Tuners
So what the heck is a tuner?
One member has used one for years on at least one rimfire rifle. He uses it to shrink group sizes after each change of ammunition.
Basically a tuner is a device attached to the barrel that dampens barrel harmonics (the up and down and left and right oscillation wave of the barrel as the bullet proceeds down the bore) so that the bullet exits the muzzle at a point of least vibration.
Naturally the size and/or weight and/or location of the tuner's mass has to be adjustable in some way in order to affect tuning.
Some expensive tuners out there are marvels of metal engineering and can cost hundreds of dollars.
Then there are the rubber LimbSaver De-resonators (two sizes) that simply slip snugly over the barrel and are moved fore and aft until a minimum group size is obtained. They are about $20 with tax in Canada. The smaller size fits a 1/2" to 7/8" diameter barrel. The bull barrel size fits from 3/4" to 1 1/8". They are flexible enough that they might work with slightly larger barrels.
Also of interest, the LimbSaver product has very good online user reviews, whether on rimfires or sport barrel centerfire rifles.
Some folks have come up with their own homemade versions. One fellow on the web took three hardware store 3/4 inch diameter by 1/8 inch thick O-rings and grouped them together on the barrel -- moving the three together until best results were obtained.
Then there is the fellow in a Ruger 10-22 video that used a couple of rubber grommets to sandwich a heavy metal washer near the muzzle.
So is a tuner really needed???
Handloaders can vary their centerfire bullet's weight and design and velocity and achieve barrel tuning that way for a particular best load. But every time they vary one of those details they have to tweak the new load until hopefully better tuning is achieved. The rifle may never like something about the new components. And this explains why tuners are generally less needed for centerfire rifles -- that can use custom handloads to achieve the desired result.
There is also a prevalent opinion that tuners are less needed on heavy bull barrels, or those barrels with muzzle brakes.
But for rimfire rifles, using mostly quality factory ammunition at standard velocities, we cannot tweak the load. Every bare barrel may or may not like (be in tune with) a particular ammunition. So for rimfire rifles, a tuner can make a tremendous difference in shrinking group size.
This is not going to be an extended treatise on the subject. You can easily and quickly research the subject starting with online articles and videos.
I first became aware of these devices when a friend was adjusting his metal tuner for various rimfire ammunition types. Now he has one of those engineering masterpieces, but still speaks well of the rubber variant.
He reports that he told one fellow his best result had been with the rubber LimbSaver Sharpshooter X-Ring at 4 inches from the muzzle. Apparently that other member's experience with a CZ rifle was pretty much identical, but every rifle may be a bit different as to best location.
Now if these things were actually secret weapons, then maybe we shouldn't tell everyone about them?
No, common courtesy requires us to help everyone improve their individual equipment and shooting skills to the best of our joint knowledge. Together all of us are smarter than any one of us.
In the final analysis, we are always really shooting against ourselves, striving to improve for personal satisfaction -- however well we might do against anyone else on a given day.
I finally got the chance to test the LimbSaver slightly larger bull barrel version on a fatter Anschutz barrel.
For a free-floating barrel, the recommended start position is 3/4" from the muzzle, which I did. Wow, instantly some much tighter groups, and I did not move it.
The problem with a fat little tuner is that it can interfere with the scope sunshade tube and I could not put one on. Consequently the good stuff of the tuner was at least partly negated by the increased mirage by not having the tube on.
So I did some simple amputations. First I took about an inch off the front of a tape-wrapped cardboard sunscreen tube. But I still could not easily get it onto the scope due to the tuner. So I removed a thin slice from the top of the rubber rings on the tuner (there is still plenty of rubber all around the barrel); now the scope tube slides on easily and clears the top of the tuner.
Incidentally, the tuner's rubber composition flexed and was very resistant to cutting attempts with a fine tooth hobby saw, and then with a dovetail saw, and even a new X-ACTO blade. The solution was the same as with hard foam -- a sharp serrated kitchen bread knife -- easy peasy.
Based on my early results, folks really should try an $20 tuner, at least on all their bench rifles, CF or RF. Personally I would test one on any sporting hunting rifle, where accuracy on a live target is exceptionally important. Naturally for this last purpose, the sporting rifle has to have a scope or optical red dot sight, as the tuner would prevent seeing a front iron sight.
Suitable Scopes for Rimfire Benchrest Rifles
For Rimfire Scopes Think Centerfire Scopes. A flimsy scope designed to fit on an old .22 sporter will not cut it in terms of reliability or quality. You want at least a 1 inch tube to ensure light gathering ability. Scope adjustments of 1/8 minute of angle (1/8 inch difference at 100 metres) are convenient but not necessary. But parallax adjustability for the distances you shoot (mainly perhaps 50YD or 100YD) is a must.
Variable Power Scopes? One old variable scope that has seen a lot of success here is a surprisingly inexpensive one -- the Tasco 10-40X. (Recently folks have mostly been replacing their Tascos with more expensive variables in brands with greater clarity.) Somewhere at the higher end of the power range you can really see where you are aiming, but when mirage is strong a variable can be dialed back to a lower power that shows less mirage. Other higher optical quality (and much more expensive -- perhaps $600 to $3000) variables in common use here include some 6-18X or 8-24X or 8-32X scopes. Recently a few variable scopes up to 50 and 60 power have been appearing. The latter very high powers are not necessary for first rate results at 50 yards, but some folks with aging vision just prefer them -- you should ask fellow shooters with various scopes to look through, or perhaps even use, theirs at the range before making up your own mind.
Fixed Power Scopes? The old fashioned (and physically long to achieve higher power) fixed power target scopes were in powers like 6 or 8 or 10. Popular today are fixed scopes of about 36 or even 45 power. The Sightron 36X at about $700 gets very favourable reviews from several members. While a fixed power cannot be dialed back in a mirage situation, those shooters must learn patience and how to wait out or adjust for mirage.
While I was okay using the Sightron 36, I have to admit that using its very fine cross hair can be visually challenging at times depending on the light conditions. A friend tried to look through it and quickly asked: "Where is the reticle?" So it would be wise to look through a scope before purchase.
These new higher power scopes are of superb optical quality. The fact that the shooter can now clearly see the bullet holes might have a negative psychological effect. What human does not have their stress level go up enormously after knowing the first three or four bullets went into one ragged hole? The chances are greatly increased for the next shot to be a nervous-induced flier. On occasion some very tiny groups here at 50YD have been shot by someone using an aperture sight and thus being totally unaware of how well the group was progressing.
Speaking of apertures, recently some shooters have taken to bringing along a second rifle set up with quality aperture sights. Not inexpensive, in fact more expensive than the cheaper target scopes available. And yes, they can shoot some very tight groups.
Mounts For Telescopic Sights
A Savage Mark 2 came with scope bases already mounted (it had no fixed iron sights) and a 6-18X Redfield was installed using steel Millett rings. During initial sight in at only 25YD, it shot very low and it soon became clear that the scope as mounted did not have enough vertical adjustment to get to point of aim. That was not the fault of the rings or the scope, which has considerable range of adjustment; there was simply something a bit off with the rifle. Such is a fairly common problem, perhaps relating to the barrel/receiver orientation during manufacture.
The easiest and usual good solution to any up/down or left/right adjustment problem is to use Burris Signature rings; they can use various Burris inserts to tilt the scope precise amounts. The rings usually come with a matched set of inserts with no adjustment, and the inserts for various plus or minus adjustment values are available separately. Easy to use, and they grip the scope firmly, and do not crush or mark the scope tube as can occur when shimming regular mounts. In this instance Burris inserts of +10 rear and -5 front (for an effective rear scope angle raising of +15) did the trick of bringing bullet impact into the bull with the scope reticle near center of its range.
One little oddity with at least one Savage Mark 2; the factory installed bases looked a bit like Weaver ones, but had a much blunter dovetail edge on each outside surface. They worked with the Millett rings but the Burris rings would not seat and grip properly. The easy solution was to replace the bases with genuine Weaver ones.
In 2017 a new stainless Savage Mark 2 had bases with sharper (more pointed) edges just like Weaver ones; so it looks like they made an improvement here. Nevertheless that Savage also shot very low with normal rings and once again Burris Signature rings and inserts put bullet impact into the bull while the scope adjustments were near center. By coincidence, the insert total scope adjustment was also +15, this time achieved with a +20 rear and +5 front. (It was calculated that it needed about +15 and a different set up of inserts was used this time just because these were the only ones on hand.)
The Burris Signature rings with their inserts of plus or minus 5, 10, and 20 provide a lot of flexibility at achieving near zero without using up the scope's vertical or horizontal adjustments.
And then we had the experience of mounting scopes on two Anschutzes. Happily a Model 64 MPR (Multi Purpose Rifle), with high regular rings attached directly to the rifle's integral 11 mm dovetailed receiver, needed very little scope adjustment for a zero at 50 yards. But another Anschutz model shot 9 inches low at 50 yards with a brand new 8-32X50 scope with 30 mm scope tube diameter.
It turns out that Burris makes Signature rings that attach directly to the Anschutz dovetail but only for one inch scope tubes. One work-around would be to install Weaver bases on top of the Anschutz dovetail (it is drilled and tapped for this) and then use Signature rings that work with Savage bases.
When using a mount attached to the dovetail directly, the rifle needed a high ring set to clear the large scope objective; but it would be guessing to buy a high Burris Signature ring set when the Weaver base adds height and thus only a medium height ring might be needed. This work-around Burris solution, which should perform just fine (it did for another fellow's Anschutz with the same problem), did not appeal. An email to Burris suggested that they should include 30 mm scope Signature rings in their line to attach directly to Anschutzes, because such scopes are increasingly the norm in rimfire benchrest. Hopefully they will someday.
Meanwhile there was another solution, a set of British-made FX No-Limit rings (30 mm in this case, but one inch is available too) that attach directly to the Anschutz dovetail and have a built in continuously variable adjustment to angle the scope up or down to achieve zero, and solidly lock the setting, before using any scope vertical reticle adjustments for fine tuning. And they worked perfectly.
If you go this FX route, bring along a set of machinist thickness gauges or spark plug gap gauges for the initial sight in. Loosen the vertical mount adjustment slightly for both front and rear rings so that they just stay in place if left alone but can be moved with firm finger pressure. In this case, knowing it would be necessary to raise the rear of the scope to raise bullet impact, the front ring was left fully down and the rear was raised to have about a 3/32" gap. Lock both rings. Fire. That raised impact too much so the tilt was reduced and the procedure was repeated until on target. Then both rings were locked very firmly. Then only a few clicks of the scope achieved perfect zero.
If an Anschutz has a problem with excessive left or right correction as well as vertical, there is another ring product that can adjust for both -- the Sports Match fully adjustable ring set for dovetail mounting made in Britain. You might consider the Burris Signature alternative too.
Best Ammunition for Rimfire Benchrest Rifles
First a bit of a cop-out. Without naming a brand, the best ammunition for your rifle is the one that performs the best at the distances you shoot. Such tests should involve a large number of five shot groups (at least 10 groups, but preferably more) with each ammo type.
Okay, that wasn't too helpful. So let's suggest some starting points. Guns & Ammo Magazine in January 2017 did a comparison test of 25 rimfire types at 25 yards using a high-end Anschutz rifle equipped with aperture sights. Some high-end target ammos did a little better than their lower priced kin, but at 25 yards they all shot pretty tight groups -- including some cheap bulk ammo.
But G&A did a little more. They measured the velocity variability of each ammunition. At 25 yards, even brands with larger variability could put their bullet impacts fairly close together. But at longer 50YD or 100YD ranges, that variability would vastly enlarge group size. So better quality ammo is actually a wiser starting point towards achieving benchrest precision results.
So your testing, in your rifle, should start with some reasonable quality of ammunition. We primarily want to test using standard velocity target loads that are extremely consistent in velocity and physical measurements. Do try some of the Eley and Lapua and SK target varieties.
What we used to call Lapua pink (now SK Rifle Match with red text on box) is probably the most common choice locally now, even after testing the other SK variants. The slightly less expensive SK Standard Plus (yellow text on box) is close in most testing and several times a local shooter has won with it. Recently we have been testing some SK "purple" text variants, SK Flatnose Match (magenta text) and SK Flatnose Basic (mauve text) and results have varied, with some rifles liking it and others not so much. And a few folks have found that SK Biathlon Sport (blue text on box) works about as well for them as SK red. But do your own testing. Hopefully your rifle will be happy with one or more of these mid priced ammunition variants.
In 2021 there were shortages of all sorts of shooting supplies including some of the popular ammunition types. SK introduced two new .22LR target varieties, SK Pistol Match (dark green text on box) and SK Pistol Match Special (light green text). We did some online research and found some test results in rifles. Apparently the new "Special" was not very special in these tests and the SK Pistol Match won handily. In another careful test in a target rifle of SK Pistol Match against some other SK varieties, and some very expensive competition, SK Pistol Match won overall. And it was close to the least expensive. (Not that we care in our bolt action target rifle use, but this SK Pistol Match is standard velocity and doesn't operate semi-auto rifles consistently.)
SK also introduced a variety brick (10 fifty round boxes) that contains various SK types, which is a handy way to test their performance in your rifle.
My initial testing of SK Pistol Match in a 54 Anschutz target rifle was favourable, edging out my more expensive SK Rifle Match. I plan on doing a lot more testing of this and other ammunition types and will update this article over time.
What's Next? Practice practice practice. Now you have the best rifle and scope and ammunition for the level of shooting you plan to achieve. But, a big but, now the weakest link in this chain is you, the imperfect human behind the trigger. We'll provide some benchrest shooting tips later, perhaps with input from fellow members.
Centerfire Rifle Choices. Another near cop-out. How big is your wallet? You can certainly start with a commercial heavy barrel rifle from the likes of Savage. They can be spookily accurate while remaining inexpensive. Choose a caliber like .223 Remington or 6 Norma BR or 6.5 Creedmoor or 6.5 X 284 Norma or .308 Winchester and have at it. Some models have a better target trigger.
One very successful local benchrest competitor suggested that the cheapest route to acquiring a competitive centerfire benchrest rifle is to seek a good used one for sale online. Really competitive benchrest shooters will stop using a still excellent rifle after the tiniest drop in precision -- they just have to win. Such a rifle probably has a custom bedded stock and upgraded trigger and tuned action and will likely shoot better, or at least be in the ball park, than other rifles being used locally. After a while, you can always have a new custom barrel fitted and still be many dollars ahead of starting from scratch with a complete rifle custom order.
But if later you get really competitive about centerfire benchrest competition, you will only be happy with a custom rifle -- perhaps a rifle for which you choose the action and trigger and stock and bedding and caliber and barrel. Some of you with manual skills may even assemble portions of it yourselves. The sky and your wallet are the limits. But you just might be surprised and happy by how good relatively inexpensive commercial rifles have become. And they too might be significantly improved by custom triggers and better bedding.
One recent member brought out his brand new M40 U.S. sniper rifle clone that he lovingly assembled from custom parts. It is an ATRS action (Rem 700 improved) in a McMillan A5 stock with a Lilja Barrel and Timney trigger. It is capped with a Nightforce NXS 8-32X56. The ammo was Norma .308 match 168 gr. It produced some very impressive groups in its first 40 shots during a careful break in. I did not ask the price tag for this combination, but it should be well north of $6000, so not for everyone.
Scopes. Everything written above about scopes for rimfires applies here too. Because of the greater recoil, the choice for a centerfire scope might prudently require you to examine the experiences of others (at the club, or online where owners post reviews), and check the warranty. Higher quality brands have lifetime no-questions-asked free repairs or replacements.
Ammunition. Seriously competitive centerfire benchrest shooters reload their own ammunition. Every part of the ammunition assembly is tailored to what works best in a particular rifle. Two possible future club courses would be: reloading for beginners; and advanced reloading for maximum precision. (In the meantime, there are some real reloading experts in any club who will be happy to suggest how you can get started; talk with them.)
Range Distance. Some might wonder why the local F&G ranges are all designated in yards as opposed to metres. Yes this is still Canada, where metrification has blossomed everywhere except in tire pressures because even metric nerds neither understand nor have a tire gauge in kilopascals.
These particular ranges were started long before metric measurements became fashionable and there is a very practical reason to have say a 200YD range instead of a 200M range. Our government's physical restrictions are a bit less stringent for a range under 200M. As for shooting, there is no practical difference in sight settings between a range in yards versus metres until even longer distances are involved.
Hopefully some of our members will also provide some written articles for the Member Ramblings section of this website -- with their personal likes and tips.
Ancillary Benchrest Equipment
I've noticed a great variety of support mechanisms being used for formal benchrest shooting, or even to sight in a hunting sporter, ranging from simple sandbags to elaborate mechanical rests. Difficult to describe them all, along with a practical examination of their various advantages or weaknesses.
So I suggest you out to a local range and see for yourself. Members will be happy to demonstrate their setups, and let you try them out. Always good to try before you buy, or make in some cases. (This is one area where folks with a bit of imagination and some basic craft skills can save money.)
Here are just a few observations I have made while trying various rests and watching my fellow shooters.
Some folks want a rest that snugly cradles both sides of the forend. This makes it easier for the rifle to remain upright if their shooting method involves minimal body contact with the rifle; and some folks even eliminate all body contact except to touch and squeeze the trigger.
Other folks want the forend slightly loose in the rest to recoil freely, and some even go so far as to use baby powder or frictionless tape on the fore rest so the rifle can easily slide back under recoil. These folks tend to make sure during preparation to fire that the butt does not contact their shoulder.
Another option to keep the rifle vertical and to aid smooth sliding backwards is to attach a flat smooth plate (say 3 inches wide by 6 inches long and perhaps 3/8 inch thick) made out of slippery plastic, or smooth wood, or aluminium, to the underside of the forend. The attachment can be made using the factory forend swivel holes, or a rail (such as on Anschutzes), or even double-sided tape. Naturally such a flat plate needs a forend rest with top surface that is also fairly flat.
Firm sandbags are one rest general design on which the forend can lie with minimal side grip by the rest.
Another variant has different commercial designs of fabric bags filled with any of several materials, from soft to fairly firm. They work pretty well and are not expensive. I have witnessed one shooter achieve phenominally small groups using such an inexpensive commercial bag instead of an elaborate mechanical rest. Some shooters make their own from old denim jeans. Just note that some of the bags can firmly grip the sides of the forend and that can lead to some shooting variability.
Had a recent discussion with other shooters about this variability, when we shoot a tight group and switch to another target (even on the same paper) and the next tight group has moved with respect to the point of aim. Just a theory, but here goes. When we switch to a new target (and point of aim), say to the left of the last target ... typically we move the rear rest to the right and do nothing to the front rest. Alternatively when the front rest top has a screw for horizontal movement, we could move it to the left. But if that front rest was firmly gripping the forend, our change is now putting different side pressure on the forend or even the rear bag -- likely enough to move the group with respect to our point of aim. So this wrinkle probably favours using a front rest that does not grip the forend so firmly. (Or we could always adjust the position of both the front and rear rest to both point directly at the new target.) Naturally your experience may differ, but it is just one more thing to consider in this vexing hobby where the slightest change in what we do can have a big effect on where the next bullet goes.
I should just mention the type of rest that mechanically holds the gun with no human contact except for the trigger squeeze. Some of these rests are heavily weighted to absorb the recoil of large/huge centerfire cartridges. If you wander the internet you will find examples where heavily recoiling rifles have been damaged, usually with wood stock splitting, when the rifle butt slams back into what is effectively an immoveable object. Hence the common practice when shooting African class big bores to do so standing (perhaps with light vertical support of a shooting stick) so that the rifle and shooter's body can both recoil backwards together, and thus reduce the impact trauma to both.
The Shooter's Part in Achieving Precision and Accuracy
We've discussed some equipment issues that may help with the precision achieved. But if you talk with our better shooters, you will soon realize that when things do not go well, it is not normally the equipment that they blame. The shooter's skills often contribute heavily to the success, or lack of it.
Somewhere above we mentioned that one method of benchrest shooting involves carefully aligning the sights and target using say a rear bag and front rest. At that point, without touching the rifle anywhere else, the shooter gently presses the trigger (which is usually set to a very light pull). I tried this one and it did not work well for me.
Other variations on this theme involve applying a gentle or light or firm hold on the grip, not touching or lightly touching or firmly touching the stock with your cheek, and hugging the butt to your shoulder or not at all.
And believe me, having tried all of these combinations, results are hard to compare when range conditions are also changing -- wind, sun, mirage, distractions, etc. And perhaps you are also changing how often you clean the rifle and changing the cleaning products or procedures. Or you are trying different ammunition. Yikes.
Words of wisdom on this particular bugaboo, of problems while experimenting, came from a friend, Ray M. Whatever method you want to try now, do so exactly the same for a good period of time -- perhaps several weeks each. Then you are removing more of your own shooting variability and you will be better able to judge why a flier occurs and what you need to do to be more consistent.
After trying all sorts of shooting methods over a year long period, I was beginning to think maybe it was a poor Anschutz. So one day I decided to throw out the gentle method, now hold the rifle grip firmly and not press the stock solidly to my cheek, and shot several tight groups at 50 yards including consecutive groups of 0.298" and 0.176" -- so this particular Anschutz is just fine. Me, I'm still working on that.
In 2018 the local Benchrest Club adopted a new design of 50YD target for weekly competitions. This one has two sighter bulls and five scoring bulls with ring values from 7 to 10, with a small X in the center of the 10 ring. 5 shots at each scoring bull make for a possible maximum total score of 250-25X.
At first winning scores were in the low 240's but slowly scores have been improving to the point that most weeks high 240's or a 250 are needed for a top score. Often the matter of a tied points score is settled by who has the most X's. Recently on better weather days there have been quite a few 250's recorded, one with 21 X's, but with 25 possible X's a perfect score is still elusive. But folks are trying hard.
In 2019 they again changed the standard rimfire target to one with 5 sighter bulls (unlimited shots), and 25 scoring bulls for one shot each. The maximum score is still 250-25X. This target is easier to score as the one shot per scoring bull makes for just one hole that is easy to judge. But the moving between 25 scoring bulls introduces some potential variability as the rifle is repositioned. Consequently scores went down a bit but have improved with practice. This style of target with one shot per scoring bull is more common in benchrest events elsewhere; so practicing with it is essential if you ever want to compete with other clubs.
Now Ray M. has long maintained that group size is a fine way to measure a rifle-shooter-combination's precision, but shooting for score is an easy number measurement to see if and how our shooting accuracy is improving over time. (Yes I know there are days when the wind is gusting or other conditions make for a lower score than last time, but over a long period scores will improve on average if the shooters are doing their part.)
So recently I have been shooting practice targets for score as well as group. And I have been further experimenting with rifle hold. Targets are carefully annotated with methods used and are kept for reference.
My best scores (including a 250 on the 5 bull scoring target) were with a firm press of shoulder to rifle butt, thus pushing the forend firmly against the stop on the rest, no contact of the cheek to stock, and with only the thumb touching the back of the grip while squeezing the trigger with forefinger. But that may not work best for you. Experiment with variations of hold and practice-practice-practice, and then do it some more. Just make sure you give each method a fair chance before abandoning it and trying something else. But in late 2019 I went back to a firm hand grip on the stock and got even tighter groups. I think I'll be experimenting forever.
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