Hunters are not bench rest shooters, and there are no shooting benches in the field. But sometimes hunters need a shooting bench to do things such as sight a rifle in or test ammunition.
If you don’t use proper bench shooting techniques, then you’ll end up wasting ammo, and be more frustrated than satisfied. Here are some tips to help you make the most out of your bench rest sessions.
You shoot from a bench for two reasons, for a solid platform and to eliminate human error. You need a solid bench. Something as simple as a well-constructed picnic table can work, but in most cases a concrete bench is best. Portable benches can suffice, just be sure to select one that won’t wiggle when you breathe. The hood of a pickup truck, a folding card table, or a 55-gallon drum isn’t a shooting bench.
The Front Rest
The front rest used for your rifle is the most important piece of gear. It needs to be heavy, relatively soft and shapeable so you can work the forearm of the rifle into it. But, it shouldn’t be pillow soft. Sand bags and shooting bags filled with polymer pellets work best. To test the softness of your front bag, poke it with your finger. If you don’t leave an indentation, it’s too hard. And, if you lay your rifle across the bag and it doesn’t stay put, it’s too soft.
Some like to use adjustable rifle rests or other mechanical devices when shooting from a bench. These accessories are best used with bench rest rifles, not hunting rifles. Hunting rifles often prove to not shoot very well from rigid rests due to the transfer of vibrations.
The Rear Rest
Shooting without a rear rest for your rifle is like shooting from a seesaw; you simply cannot provide a consistently repeatable launch pad for your shots. A rear rest should be small, about the size of a baseball or softball, and it should be much softer than the front rest. Positioned under the toe of the stock, a malleable rear rest gives you a tool to help you adjust elevation.
Several manufacturers offer rear shooting bags, but I’ve found them to be too stiff. I make my own from an old sock. Just take some polymer pellets like you can find at a big box hardware store, pour them in a plastic bag and then stuff the bag in a sock. Then, tie the sock off tight. Now you have a rear rest you can place under the butt of the rifle and squeeze to apply the necessary elevation needed to put your sights on target.
Images by Richard Mann