Bench Rest Best Practices to Determine Cartridge/Bullet Accuracy

We all want to shoot these tiny groups at the Bench Rest don’t we, especially at your local range where we often can earn bragging rights for such a fine group.  Recently I struck up conversations at the range about “Best Practices” of accuracy basics at the Bench. What I got for feedback was seemingly all over the place! You can have a $5000 dollar rifle/scope combo and still shoot average without good rests and shooting techniques. Of course the cartridge/bullet and load must be tuned as well to your rifle barrels harmonics, another article.



Yea, said the shooter I bought this bag or that bag to place my rifle on at the bench and it works fine. So I query the shooter, so your rifle rests on the bag but how do you hold the stock of your gun still? Well, comes the answer, I put the butt firmly into my shoulder and shoot. My rifle shoots nearly one inch groups comes the further response. So I ask them to show me how they did that. Upon seeing the setup it is clear that the rifle is still moving as the shot is taken. Minor movement of course results in a combination of the shooter skill and the gun together. If you really want to see only what the rifles performance is then you must either take the shooter out of the equation or have a rifle that is already on target and all you have to do is pull the trigger. Shooters that listen to the logic of my recommendations have found greater accuracy inherent in the rifle they are shooting and more work on their part to keep the rifle steady.

Once the rifle is proven itself, If the shooter wants to change to a different shooting style such as prone or kneeling they can do that knowing the rifle is not the problem when accuracy issues arise.

Leather or fabric sand bags can do that when place forward on the stock, never on the barrel and rear under the butt of the rifle. Also the rifle should be high enough above the bench so the shooter can ease into shooting position without undo squirming. I raise the front rest up about 1.5 inches higher with a 2×6 piece of wood (cheap and dirty) or better yet I bought an adjustable front rest from Caldwell. See below. Other manufacturers make them but this Caldwell rock Jr is mine and costs about $35 bucks. I can adjust the rifle vertically just by spinning the black star like nut on the threaded shaft. The rear rest should be a bag type.


Or a shooting bag combo.



Second problem is trigger pull weight. I own a digital scale and know the break point for my rifles. Poor grouping can also come from too heavy a trigger or a trigger that creeps unpredictably (replace or fix the trigger). Many rifles have a trigger pull of 5 plus pounds. This is too heavy, in my estimation. For Hunting it should be between 3 to 4.5 pounds. For target it can be less but needs a skilled shooter to handle a light trigger.

When shooting begins, all the shooter should be doing is squeezing the trigger once the cross hairs are on the bullseye. squeezing trigger evenly without jerking.

A while back I demonstrated a sub-moa rifle shooting a group of 3/4 inch was really a 1/4 minute of angle rifle with the right rests. For a target shooter that can mean the difference of winning a match verses placing in a match. For a long range shooter it can mean the difference of 7.5 inches at 1000 yards with a 3/4 group at 100 yards or  2.5 inches at 1000 with a 1/4 inch group sighted at 100 yards.


The next error comes in where the cheek touches the comb of the stock to align the eye into the sight or scope. Where there are so many scopes we will discuss scope picture.

It is best to raise the cheek so the eye is to be even with the scope. Some buy a device to raise the cheek. I believe it is not needed for normal hunting say out to 200 yards but will have value of LR shots.

At 100 yards a 3 x 9 scope for example should be all the way to 9x and the image of both the crosshairs and the image should be crystal clear. Some rifle scopes have parallax adjustments, please do not use this to focus the reticle or target. There should be another adjustment for target focus and another for crosshair focus for high power scopes. Or built into one adjustment for less magnification scopes. If you move your eye in the rear of the scope and the crosshairs shift around on you then you need to fine tune that movement with the parallax adjustment. Often they are marked like the Vortex brand. My Leupold scope has no parallax adjustment as it is pre-adjusted for say 100 yards. In addition, by keeping your eye centered in the scope where any outer shadow you see is centered then you also have minimized parallax and this is valuable for long range shooting.


If your are out of breath, or your heart is beating fast then wait on the shot till your composure is relaxed as if meditating and relaxing your core self a technique that helped me in Archery over many years. Once I am relaxed then I breath a few deep breaths and exhale half way and hold while I squeeze the shot off. At high magnification you can see your heart beat in the movement of your crosshairs if you are tightly connected to your rifle. Experts say shoot between heartbeats. Snipers teach the BRASS Method:Breath, Relax, Aim, Stop, Squeeze. It makes a lot of Sense…

An expert long range marksman also suggested letting your tongue hang loose in your mouth as you squeeze.

It is what you do at the Bench Rest that makes a difference what happens at a far away target.© 2014





This entry was posted in Cartridge Reloading, Rifle Tests by Ed Hale. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ed Hale

I am an avid hunter with rifle and Bow and have been hunting for more than 50 years. I have taken big game such as whitetail deer, red deer, elk, Moose and African Plains game
such as Kudu, Gemsbok, Springbok, Blesbok, and Impala and wrote an ebook entitled African Safari -Rifle and Bow and Arrow on how to prepare for a first safari. Ed is a serious cartridge reloader and ballistics student. He has earned two degrees in science and has written hundreds of outdoor article on hunting with both bow and rifle.