Benchrest Shooting Steps for Deer Hunting Preparation
Summer is coming to a close, which means hunting season isn’t that far off. Schools are starting up again, archery seasons are already open in a few states, and the mornings are starting to be just cool enough to give us the itch to get outside with our rifles. No matter if you bought a new gun or are just sighting in a gun you haven’t shot in years, benchrest shooting is the most accurate and fastest way to get you ready for the field.
But isn’t it still a little early to sight in my rifle? Not necessarily. As fall lingers on, shooting ranges will start to get pretty hectic with people all doing the same thing. This usually produces a situation where it’s not easy to concentrate. When you’re distracted and feel a little hustled, it’s hard to really focus the way you need to with benchrest shooting. As long as your rifle will basically sit in the safe or closet until hunting season actually opens, there’s no harm in taking advantage of the quieter range now. Plus, you can always go out and take a few confirmation shots a couple days before the season starts. Let’s begin.
What is Benchrest Shooting?
Why should we as hunters adopt the strict principles of benchrest shooting for sighting in our guns? Or for that matter, what the heck is it? It’s actually a highly competitive sport where shooters pit their high quality gear, custom ammunition, and focused shooting skills against each other to see who can shoot the most accurately or precisely. Accuracy is the ability to consistently group shots around a chosen point (e.g., the bulleye), while precision is the ability to group your shots very closely together. You can have one or the other, both, or neither.
Benchrest shooting rifles are also a little different than hunting rifles. For example, they’re usually heavier to absorb some more of the recoil force, so that they don’t jump off of the rests. They also usually have a flat-bottomed forend to help with a proper seat on the rest. Speaking of which, they use two different rests, one in front holding the forend in place, and one in the rear grasping the stock. This helps take as much human error as possible out of the equation. The key is in lining up your body as consistently with the rifle and rests as you can. Adopt a few anchor points, like bow hunters usually do, so that you know exactly where to rest your nose, cheekbone, etc. on the gun each time.
Obviously, you also need high quality optics to achieve superior results. It’s necessary to have spotting scopes for long range shooting, so you can check your shots as you do them. And you’ll definitely need a nice scope. Whittaker Guns has several affordable long range rifle scopes you can use. The 4-16x42mm Nikon Prostaff 7 scope is a great option for target shooting and deer hunting alike. It allows you to adjust the magnification out to very far distances and lets in enough light to adequately see in dim light conditions. These gear choices allow the shooter to really dial in their rifle to ridiculously precise shooting. It’s not uncommon for some of the top benchrest shooters to have 10-shot 3-inch groups at 1,000 yards! Will you be shooting deer at 1,000 yards? Almost certainly not. But do you still need a reason you should adopt some of these principles to have more accurate deer shots up close?
How to Use a Shooting Bench
But simply having a benchrest doesn’t mean you’re going to become a top shot. There is no single best shooting rest for rifles. There are right and wrong ways to sight a gun in, and it takes a lot of practice and dedication. Going to the shooting range may be your only option to practice, but they may not be set up well for your specific body build. For example, if you have to lean way forward or stretch up/hunch down to get in the right position, you introduce error. You can’t take consistent shots if your body is in a slightly different position each time or your stretching causes you to start shaking, if only even a little. You need to be able to have a consistent shooting rest to gauge your improvement. For that reason, the best rifle rest for accuracy is a sandbag or gun sighting vise to firmly grasp your gun. The seat also needs to be solid and steady. If there’s any wobble to it, you’re using your muscles and some brainpower focusing on holding still rather than shooting. And you’ll probably not achieve pinpoint accuracy if you can’t hold still.
The other thing to remember is to use consistent rests. Whether you decide on shooting bags or a full rest system, you need to be able to replicate it each time you go out. It also makes a difference if you’re using your hand under the forend or not. It’s better to simply cradle it in the rest and use your hand to stabilize the side or top. Again, doing it that way eliminates as much human error as possible. The best benchrest shooting setup should basically hold the gun in place with some minor tweaking, and you should be able to simply slip your shoulder up to the stock to aim and fire. Now let’s look at how you can use these shooting benches to sight in a new or old gun.
Gun Sighting Procedures – New Gun/Scope
As far as what gun sighting equipment you need to sight a new rifle in with a new scope, for example, there are a few options you can take. The most accurate way to quickly sight your gun in is to use rifle bore sighting procedures. You can find bore sighting equipment pretty easily these days, and they’re very easy to use. After mounting the scope to your gun, simply insert the laser bore sight into the rifle muzzle and look down range at a target. Align your scope crosshairs with the laser from the bore sight. When they are lined up, you can remove the bore sight and take a shot from your gun rests and vises to see how accurate you are. If you don’t hit where you intended to, simply adjust your scope and try another shot until you do.
If you don’t have a bore sight and are shooting a break or bolt action, you can also do it the old-fashioned way. Simply rest the gun within 25 yards of a target, and try to match up what you see by looking down the bore with what you see in the scope. Take a shot. Note precisely where you aimed vs. where the bullet hit the target, and make adjustments as necessary. You want to be fairly close for the first couple shots so you’re unlikely to miss the target.
Gun Sighting Procedures – Existing Gun/Scope
If you’ve already got a hunting rifle that was sighted in last year, you probably won’t have to do much to sight it in this year. Unless you dropped it, bumped it against a tree, or usually have a bumpy ATV ride in the gun scabbard, most rifles and scopes hold onto their alignment fairly well. But you should always test it out before you go hunting with it, because you just never know.
Start with a paper target that’s set up at a similar distance to what you used last year. Set up the shooting bench with rests so that you can see where it’s shooting without further adjustment. It probably won’t be too far off. Now if you want to really dial it in, it’s time to start using the benchrest shooting techniques discussed above. Get your gun rest for sighting in rifles set up, and find a position that allows you to have as little contact with the rifle as possible so that it is sitting in alignment and on target down-range. Once it’s set up, put on your shooting glasses and hearing protection, and fire a shot. Check where it ended up on the target using binoculars or a spotting scope. You may want to fire another round to check the precision of your rifle. If it’s off-center from where you aimed, make the necessary tweaks to the scope’s windage and elevation, being careful not to move the rifle itself. Use the paper target’s typical 1-inch grid as a guide for how much you need to adjust it. After making the minute of angle adjustments, fire another shot and see where it lands. Repeat this process until you can consistently fire shots into the bullseye.
Other Benchrest Shooting Tips
Finally, there are the rifle shooting accuracy tips that apply to any gun sighting situation. Once you get your hunting rifle truly dialed in to be both accurate and precise, a few gun accessories and reminders will help. Take care with it and keep it in a padded hard case as much as possible to avoid bumping the scope. Also, take note of a few other precision rifle shooting tips that can affect your shooting. What magnification is your scope set to? Will this be appropriate for your hunting pursuit? For example, if you primarily hunt in a thick wooded area where long shots are impossible, it’s really inappropriate to have your scope set to 9x magnification. You’ll spend so much time trying to acquire your target that you could miss the shot opportunity. But if you’ll be hunting in open country with lots of long-range shots, setting the scope at 3x magnification won’t allow you to be as accurate as you could be. Though you can adjust these scopes as needed, it’s best to pre-select an option and stick with it for maximum consistency.
Additionally, ammunition makes a big difference in the accuracy and precision of your shots. If you regularly use 100-grain cartridges during practice, and switch to a 125-grain cartridge of a different type for hunting, don’t expect it to follow the same trajectory. Sight your rifle in with the same ammunition you plan to use in the field on a hunt. Unless you’re really into reloading, there can be some minor differences between cartridges that ultimately show up sooner or later, usually when you just shot at a buck of a lifetime. These slight discrepancies can produce inconsistent shot groupings.
Zeroing In Further
Now that you see how benchrest shooting works, hopefully you can appreciate how it would help you prepare for hunting season this year. By simply using rifle rests for target shooting, you can increase the odds of success when you’re hunting. High accuracy and precision are both necessary for consistent deer hunting success.