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A Jay Young built unlimited class "railgun" using a 2 inch (51 mm) diameter Lilja Precision barrel.

Benchrest shooting is a sport in which very accurate rifles are shot at paper targets from a rest or bench from a sitting position. Benchrest shooters are notoriously detail-oriented and constantly trying to further the accuracy potential of the rifle through experimentation. Nearly all benchrest rifles are custom made, and many shooters do their own gunsmithing. Nearly all shooters handload their ammunition in order to tune it to their rifle.

Types of Competition

There are two major types of competition. One type is group shooting, in which the object is to place five shots on a target as close together as possible. The second is score shooting, where a traditional scoring ring target is used. Benchrest shooters attempt to achieve the ultimate in rifle accuracy; records for single 1000 yard, 10 shot groups are as small as 5 inches, while 200 yard 10 shot groups are around 0.2 inches, and 100 yard 10 shot groups are around 0.1 inch. Five shot groups are significantly smaller. Groups are measured from center-to-center, thus negating the variations of different calibers. To accomplish this, the group is measured across its overall widest dispersion, then the diameter of the bullet is subtracted for the result. For example, a group measuring .375" is scored .132" (.375"-.243") for a 6mm (.243") bullet. Matches are shot from 50 yards with rimfire rifles, up to 1,000 yards for centerfire rifles. The rifles used in competitive benchrest shooting consist almost entirely of custom barrels, triggers and stocks assembled by custom gunsmiths.


Since benchrest is a sport requiring the highest possible precision, the highest precision equipment is required if a shooter is to be competitive. The rifle is the most obvious cost; top guns are custom built, and can cost thousands of dollars. Handloading equipment is also essential for centerfire shooters (rimfire rounds are generally not handloaded) to allow tuning the ammunition to the rifle. For most rifles, rests are required to provide a stable shooting surface, and most shooters use some method of judging the direction and/or velocity of the wind on the range.


Rifles are usually custom made with extreme accuracy in mind. Shooters might use heavy stainless steel barrels, scopes with unlimited power magnification, and handmade stocks of graphite, fiberglass, or carbon fiber. Triggers are usually set to a pull of only a few ounces.

Benchrest shooting grew from varmint hunting, where the shooters would aim for highly accurate rifles, using mostly .22 caliber cartridges. Initially, competitors could use just about any gun they wished. Eventually, classes of guns were created to enhance the sport's competitiveness. For example, centerfire group shooting encompasses the "Light Varmint" (maximum 10.5 pounds overall), "Heavy Varmint" (13.5 pounds overall), "Sporter" (10.5 pounds, and .243 caliber or greater), and "Unlimited" classes. The Unlimited class comes very close to living up to its name--just about any single-shot rifle qualifies, up to, and including, the unique "rail guns", which are rifles with a built-in machine rest. With rifles such as these, it would seem that there is no skill involved, but that is not the case. The long ranges (1000 and 2000 yards or meters being the most popular) common to benchrest matches involve careful reading of wind conditions to compensate for bullet drift, and the rifles and ammunition must be of the highest possible quality. Many competitors build their own rifles, and nearly all handload their ammunition to tune it to the rifle.

Precision sights are also a requirement. High quality aperture iron sights could be used, but nearly all benchrest events allow telescopic sights. High magnification scopes are generally preferred; magnifications of 24x, 36x, or higher are common when allowed. Generally scopes will have finger adjustments, to allow the scope to be easily adjusted for shooting conditions.


Only the most consistent and efficient cartridges can provide the necessary accuracy for benchrest shooting. The .222 Remington, a popular varmint cartridge of the day, dominated the benchrest world from its inception until around 1975, when the wildcat 6 mm PPC, based on a modified .220 Russian case (which is in turn a boxer-primed derivative of the military 7.62 x 39 mm), took over as the most accurate cartridge. Today, benchrest competition sees a panoply of calibers such as 6 mm PPC, 6 mm BR Remington, 6 mm Dasher, .243 Ackley Improved, 6.5-284, 7 mm WSM, .300 WSM and .300 Winchester Magnum (many of which are for longer range competitions).

Except where competition rules stipulate factory-assembled ammunition, benchrest shooting relies exclusively on handloaded ammunition, which is user-assembled round by round with painstaking precision. Benchrest shooters' primers, powders and bullets must be of the highest quality available if they are to achieve the shot-to-shot consistency necessary for competitive performances. Many use very-low-drag (VLD) competition target bullets.


Unlimited class rail guns are just barreled actions clamped directly to a machine rest, no additional rests are needed; the base of the railgun provides adjustable feet to provide a stable position on the bench, and the rifle is aimed with horizontal and vertical adjustments built into the rest.

All other rifle types have recognizable stocks, and are generally rested on sandbags. To eliminate as much shooter error as possible, the rifle is gripped only with the trigger hand, and the sandbags provide all the additional support. The stocks of benchrest rifles are designed with flat sections to rest on the sandbags, so the rifles will freely recoil backwards when fired. By allowing the rifle to move freely backwards, the shooter hopes that the movement under recoil will be as consistent as possible.

Wind flags

Wind flags are placed on the range between the shooter and the target, and allow a skilled shooter to judge the amount of correction that needs to be made to hit the target. Flags can be home built or purchased. They generally consist of a wind vane to indicate wind direction, and a cloth or plastic streamer to indicate wind speed (the higher the wind, the greater the angle of the streamer). Multiple flags are usually used, and they are placed at intervals along the path of the bullet from rifle to target. Commercial wind flags may also have a propellor to help judge the wind at higher speeds.


Probably the most prestigious benchrest competition is the Supershoot, usually held the week before Memorial Day in northern Ohiomarker. Approximately 360 shooters from around the world will gather to see who can shoot the smallest average of Light Varmint (5 groups each at 100 and 200 yards) and Heavy Varmint (5 groups/100/200).


  1. Official Rule Book, p. 26
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