On the face of it, airgun benchrest sounds like it could be, well, kinda boring. After all, how hard could it possibly be? You take a state-of-the-art air rifle, place it on some really good rests, and bang away at a target at a known distance. It’s easy, right?
Airgun benchrest is a tough, exacting, exasperating, occasionally frustrating sport. There are variables galore: slight variation in velocity at the muzzle, even from the best purpose-built air rifles; variations in the pellets, which are machine made to high standards, but still there are differences from pellet to pellet, usually small but sometimes big, and you also have the shooter’s technique and decisions about when, where, and how to shoot. But above all, you have the wind. In airgun benchrest, the wind is not your friend, buddy, pal, or ally. It is, in fact, Evil Incarnate sent by the Dark Lord Sauron to mess with your accuracy, ruin your life, leave dirty socks on your coffee table, and give you a flat tire. (Well, okay, maybe that’s a tiny bit of an overstatement, but not by much.)
Your Humble Correspondent has tried airgun benchrest at 25 yards, and it is by no means a “gimme.” Even with the best gun, best pellet, and superb rests loaned to me by a world champion bench rest shooter, the wind will still humble you, take you to the woodshed, and make you wish you had taken up a less challenging pastime.
And that’s at 25 yards. At 75 yards, well, forget it. That’s 225 feet, more than twice the distance that at which I normally test airguns.
The good folks at Airguns of Arizona have apparently not gotten the word that attempting airgun benchrest at 75 yards is just plain goofy because, for the third consecutive year, they have sponsored the Extreme Benchrest Competition in Phoenix, Arizona. At the heart of the Extreme event is long-range benchrest: 25 shots in 30 minutes at 75 yards. But that is not the only thing going on. There are also two 25 yard benchrest matches, a timed silhouette match, an indoor pistol match, and a field target match. Prize money was on the line in the Pro class and gift certificates and other goodies in the other classes.
The event this year drew 84 competitors from as far away as Sweden, Venezuela, Canada, and Mexico and airgun writers and World Class shooters from the UK. In short, it is an event that is growing in popularity and is attracting international attention.
Here enters Chris Warwick from Mesa, Arizona. He thought that Extreme Benchrest sounded like fun, so he entered the Sportsman’s Class and ended up winning overall with a high score that was five points ahead of anyone else.
Warwick was shooting a .30 caliber FX Boss. In an interview, I asked him why he had selected that air rifle. He said, “I chose the FX because I thought I should use what they guys were winning with last year.” (FX air rifles took nine out of ten prizes this year, even though they only represented about 30 percent of the entries.)
I asked about his background in shooting and how he prepared for the match.
Warwick said, “Back in the 1980s, I was a high-power silhouette shooter. I did a lot of work from the bench, developing loads. I also did a lot of testing for accuracy for small bore silhouette. It turns out I have far more trigger time from the bench than anything else.”
He adds, “I stopped shooting high power in the mid 90s, and I picked up air rifle shooting for something to do when I am not playing golf. I really enjoy benchrest, and I can practice five days a week in my yard at 25 yards, so that’s how I prepared for the 25-yard matches.”
But then came a surprise. “I had no prep time whatsoever for 75 yards,” Warwick says. “I used the Hawke Chairgun Ballistics program for estimating drops and holdovers, but there are no good data for ballistic coefficients for .30 caliber, so it was sophisticated guessing.”
He adds, “I was very nervous Sunday because that was the first time that I had actually shot at 75 yards. The sighters are at the bottom of the target. If you shoot high, it will fall into the scoring portion of the target, and it will count toward your score. That’s not the way you want to start a match.”
Fortunately, Warwick’s first sighter at 75 yards was 2.5 inches low. He fired a confirming shot, got dialed in, and the match was on. “The neat thing was,” he says, “I was holding so well that I could actually see the pellet at 880 fps as it was streaking toward the target. I could see the pellet get affected by the wind.”
“I made the mistake of keeping track of my score. I was getting a little excited, so I tried breathing, just settling down and watching the wind flags, trying to collect myself.”
He reports that he did experience some unexpected things during the match. “My first shot after refilling was a sighter. It clipped the 10 ring at 9 o’clock, so I held at 3 o’clock to compensate and shot my first 8 of the match.”
In the end, Warwick is ecstatic about the win. “I believe the Extreme Benchrest match is exactly what the name implies: a wonderful event to test your ability as a shooter and wind reader as well as your choice of equipment and familiarity with it. I can’t wait ‘til next November.”
Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.
– Jock Elliott