Historical Benchrest competitions

by Miles

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.

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:

University of Pittsburgh, Digital Research Library

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.


Infantry Marine, based in the Midwest. Specifically interested in small arms history, development, and usage within the MENA region and Central Asia. To that end, I run Silah Report, a website dedicated to analyzing small arms history and news out of MENA and Central Asia.Please feel free to get in touch with me about something I can add to a post, an error I've made, or if you just want to talk guns. I can be reached at miles@tfb.tv

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  • Daniel E. Watters Daniel E. Watters on Oct 22, 2014

    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 Julio on Oct 22, 2014

    "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, "