What is a shooting bench?
by B.B. Pelletier
This post is for JR, who asked what a shooting bench is. I suspect that a lot of newer shooters might also wonder what I am talking about, so today I'd like to show you.
Shooting benches date back to the 19th century, and they are exactly what the name implies - benches to shoot from. There is even a sport based on shooting from a bench called benchrest shooting. The purpose of a shooting bench is to stabilize the gun as much as possible so the best possible shooting can be done.
Anytime groups are given in a test report, unless the writer specifically mentions a different shooting position, the assumption is that the gun was shot from a bench. But what does a shooting bench look like? Well, there are many variations, but the basic bench looks the same - a large flat surface with cutouts on either side in the rear to allow either right- or left-handed shooters to get close to their rested rifle. While handguns are also shot from shooting benches, it is rifles that define the size and shape of the bench.
Looking down at the top of a shooting bench, this is the ideal shape.
Permanent shooting benches are constructed of heavy materials to be as stout as possible. Several rifle clubs I have belonged to have made the bases of their benches from either reinforced poured concrete or cinderblocks cemented together. They were cemented to the concrete slab of the firing range. Of course once these benches are built, they cannot be moved, so most ranges build their benches from heavy lumber. They may weigh 30-50 lbs., but at least they can be slid from position to position when necessary. In one club I remember, the bench legs were made from 6 by 6 posts and the table and tops were made from 2-inch dimensional lumber. You would think that construction, alone, would make the benches solid, but it didn't.
At that club we rested our benches on bare ground, and if the ground wasn't perfectly level, the benches would rock. It was always necessary to level the bench before shooting at that club. Naturally the best foundation is a concrete slab, which my current ranges have, but then the worry is that the bench legs are all the same length. By building a bench with only three legs, you can eliminate this problem.
This big bore airgunner is shooting at targets 200 yards away. Shooting like this is easiest from a good shooting bench.
Here's my 7.5mm Swiss M31 on the bench at my rifle range.
There has always been a desire for portable benches that shooters could transport from range to range. Over the years there have been a number of plans for portable benches, but the last ten years have seen a boom in commercial portable shooting benches. However, what's on the market today is not well-suited to spring-piston guns, because it assumes you will rest the forearm on a sandbag or other rest. There are no provisions for a hand-held rifle on the portable benches I have seen. There are a number of plans online for building your own portable shooting benches, and, because the dimensions of the table can be altered, most of these can be adapted to a spring gun.
This portable bench is sold by several outlets.
This is Cabelas' portable shooting bench. Reader Scott will tell us about his in the comments section.
Some of these benches have seats built in but I feel a seat is best kept separate from the bench. The height of the seat is important so the top of the bench is comfortable. Adjustable seats are the best for shooting benches that will be used by a lot of different shooters.
What goes on top?
Once the bench situation is resolved, the shooter has to come up with a means of supporting the rifle on the bench. You don't just sit down and start firing. I use a long shooting bag filled with crushed walnut shells. You see it in the photo of my Swiss 7.5 M31 Schmidt-Rubin rifle, above It weighs about half as much as a sandbag of similar size, yet it has the same resiliency. Many shooters use two bags - one in front and one in the rear. And the adjustable front support, a metal or plastic gizmo with a thin bag in the rest portion, is also very popular.
You don't have to have a fancy shooting bench for accurate work, but the design of the bench has evolved to the point that anything else will feel like a compromise.