Historical Benchrest competitions

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The sport of benchrest shooting, wherein there are no shooting positions but the rifles are firmly supported by some type of media has become quite popular in the past few decades. It truly is wringing out the most in rifle accuracy between 100 and 500 yards. But where did it come from? The modern sport has had various organizations that promoted it, one of the earliest being the Hunter Class competitions originating in 1963 and developing on from that. An organization that took hold from that development was the National Benchrest Shooters Association. The first international benchrest competition took place in France during 1991 and from that the World BenchRest Shooting Federation was formed. There is some historical narrative about competitions sporadically occurring in the early 1900s, but no further back in history.

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2007 Benchrest competition at the NRA Whittington Center in Raton, New Mexico. Most Benchrest shooters don’t go to the extremes with their rifles such as this gentleman on the line with a rifle that is useless at anything other than benchresting. Notice the offset scope. Sometimes shooters will have two scopes on their rifles, one for the sight picture and another focused on the wind. This rifle doesn’t have a stock, but is built on a rail system bolted to the table. This ensures the recoil is straight back. The most this shooter will touch his rifle during firing is a single finger on the trigger. Notice the wind markers in the background. These are used to measure the wind almost down to a science. This was only at 300 yards and in.

Unless we look into a book published in the early 1800s titled “Notes on the Settlement and Indian Wars of the Western Parts of Virginia and Pennsylvania, from 1763-1783” by a certain Joseph Doddridge. It was initially published in 1876 and subsequently 1912, and an even more recent publication in 1997. Written by a historian and clergyman of the time, it covers life on the early American frontier before and during the American Revolutionary War. A fascinating historical source for those interested in early American history, it contains this passage about a shooting sport that the frontiersmen would participate in:

In this text on Page 177 in the chapter on Games and Diversions, or on Page 124 in different publication versions, Doddridge almost describes the concept of Benchrest shooting down to a tee. Using “moss, or some other soft substance” to keep the flintlock muskets steady while placing them on a log to not allow recoil to affect the position of the barrel as it might have when held offhand. He also talks about holding the rifle as “lightly as possible”. He mentions that the men preferred this sport over offhand shooting because it is truly testing the rifle and seeing just how accurate they could get it. As opposed to how well their individual skill was in an off hand position. The ranges he talks about have to do with the maximum effective range of the muskets in use. Which for that time period, were probably no more than 100-200 yards if that.

 



Miles V

Former Infantry Marine, and currently studying at Indiana University. I’ve written for Small Arms Review and Small Arms Defense Journal, and have had a teenie tiny photo that appeared in GQ. Specifically, I’m very interested in small arms history, development, and Military/LE usage within the Middle East, and Central Asia.

If you want to reach out, let me know about an error I’ve made, something I can add to the post, or just talk guns and how much Grunts love naps, hit me up at miles@tfb.tv


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  • Chase Buchanan

    “This mode was not considered as any trial of the value of a gun; nor, indeed, as much of a test of the skill of a marksman.”

    This sentence is confusing to me. It seems to say that it was not, in fact, testing how precise the gun could be, and not testing marksmanship either. Am I misreading it?

    • Cymond

      That’s how I read it, too.

      I guess to put it in more modern words, offhand shooting requires steady hands. Shooting from a rest puts more emphasis on range estimation, windage estimation, holding points, sight alignment, load development, and of course the quality of the rifle itself.

      Basically, all of the skills for precision shooting as would be done by modern snipers working in the field.

  • Russ

    I can only imagine what must go into all that crap. But then I had a neighbor who rebuilt a Corvette and obsessed about whether the seat mounting bolts were properly refinished and had factory-like torque marks on them. I need more money to spend on things.

  • ColaBox

    Is that a prop gun up top?

    • M1138

      No. It’s a left handed(you can see the cut out for the bolt in the left side of the stock, as well as the elbow pad sitting on the left side of the rifle on the bench) BR rifle, likely shot using the “free recoil” method, with it’s bolt removed. The loading port is visible through where the bolt would be, so it’s likely a single shot right feed/right eject, with what appears to be a Weaver T-36 scope mounted to it.

  • Blake

    Thanks for the historical anecdote. Very cool.

  • Find the various editions of the title “The Ultimate in Rifle Precision” to see the state of the art in Benchrest Rifle competition from the late 1940s through the 1950s.

  • Julio

    “The ranges he talks about have to do with the maximum effective range of the muskets in use. Which for that time period, were probably no more than 100-200 yards if that.”
    The text specifically mentions “rifles” three times. Rifles were certainly in widespread use by the second half of the 18th century. Standard ranges were at least 100 yards, but in the context of this article were probably over 200 yards, depending, or course, on the size of the mark aimed at in such competitions. A quick Goggle search gives this: “The Loyalist Bradford brothers, Philadelphia printers, wrote the following story which appeared in the London Chronicle on August 17, 1775: “This province has raised 1,000 riflemen, *the worst of whom* will put a ball into a man’s head at a distance of 150 or 200 yards, “