Most of the development in rifle accuracy stems from benchrest competition. In the UK, we shoot benchrest at 100, 300, 600 and 1000 yards. Competitions are based at the extensive Diggle Range complex in the north west of England. Diggle has covered firing points at 100, 300 and 1000 yards and competitions organised by the UKBRA take place throughout the year. The UKBRA website has full details www.ukbra.co.uk The 100 yard rifles are built to two weight limits. 10.5 lb. for the Light Class and 13.5lb. for the Heavy Class - sometimes called Light Varmint and Heavy Varmint. There is very little difference accuracy-wise but certainly, the heavier rifles are easier to shoot. Please note - muzzle brakes are not permitted on these rifles. Benchresters shoot for group rather than score and a competition will typically consist of five, seven-minute matches plus a warm-up match.
The sport gets its name from the solid concrete bench on which the rifle is rested. The fore-end and butt are supported on sand-bags and scope-power is unlimited with most competitors using at least 36 power. The object is to form the smallest 5-shot group in the given match time limit of seven minutes. Yes, it is easy to shoot small groups with a rifle solidly supported but it's the same for all competitors and it's all about reading the wind. Remember the benchrest shooter's adage: Any wind moves any bullet at any range.
It's a great atmosphere at any benchrest shoot.
Benchrest at 600 and 1000 yards is similar but the rifles are completely different. Again a weight limit applies - Light Gun, up to 17lbs and Heavy Gun, for rifles weighing more than 17 lbs. Where 100/200/300 yard benchrest is dominated by the diminutive 6PPC cartridge, there are many cartridges effective at 600/1000 yards. Light Guns tend to use the 6mm, 6.5mm or 7mm cartridges with 6BR, 6.5x55 and 6.5-284 perhaps the most popular. Benches, rests and back-bags are identical to 100 yard equipment and most competitors will use the same kit. Muzzle brakes are allowed in the Light Gun class but not in Heavy Gun.
This shooter is contemplating the ultimate challenge for the accuracy nut - 1000 yard benchrest. You can just make out the targets - two small white squares to the upper left of the shooter's cap. The UK record for a 5-shot group at this distance is 2.67 inches! The world record is a incredible 1.59 inches. At these extreme ranges, even a moderate breeze will blow your bullet several feet and shooters will typically fire their five shots in under twenty seconds in attempt to 'catch' the same wind. Yes, benchrest is all about shooting small-groups but like all shooting sports it's really about beating the guy next to you.
F Class was invented by a Canadian shooter, George Faqharson. George was an aging Target Rifle shooter with failing eyesight and he put a scope on his rifle to replace the aperture-sights and instead of shooting 'off the elbows' he supported the fore-end with a bi-pod. In ten years the sport has spread throughout the world and of late, it has been high-jacked by the accuracy-nuts. Rifles are almost identical to those used in 1000 yard benchrest and the bi-pod has given way to full benchrest pedestals and back-bags. No wonder it has earned the nick-name 'belly-benchrest'.
Nonetheless, it is a great sport and has taken long-range target rifle shooting to a new dimension. There are some restrictions - a weight limit of 22lbs and a calibre limit of 8mm. Any scope power may be used. Muzzle brakes are not permitted. The course of fire is different to benchrest and competitors shoot as Target Rifle, for score rather than group. Targets are Bisley style but usually with a smaller V bull and the V bull scores six points. The 7mm calibres are currently the most popular as national shoots are mainly 800 to 1000 yards. Shoots are won and lost on the V bull count and with a V bull diameter of just 5 inches at 1000 yards, benchrest accuracy is certainly required to be competitive.
We now have an F Class league run by the GB F Class Association. The Association was formed in 2005 and holds a series of shoots around the UK which count towards the League. In 2006, the League was won by a rifle chambered for the 7mm BooBoo and in 2007, a 30-338 was used by the winner. Where next? Check out the website at www.f-class.org.uk
This is a typical F Class rig which will be equally competitive in 1000 yard benchrest. The action is the British RPA Quadlite chambered in 6.5x55 Imp. and bedded in one of Bill Shehane's laminate stocks. Scope is the 8.5-25 Leupold and the front rest is from Varide Cicognani of Italy. Gunsmith - Walker Rifles, W.Yorks.
Although we would never have included tactical rifles in the same category as benchrest rifles a few years ago, now everyone wants an accurate rifle. Having said that if we look back to the origins of tactical shooting - or sniping - these shooters were probably the first real accuracy seekers. They were taking accurate long range shots in WW1 and there are some remarkable exploits on record.
Have a read of Major Hesketh-Pritchard's Sniping In France ISBN 0-85052-426-1 or A Rifleman Went To War by H.W.Mc Bride ISBN 0-93856-01-3. Both books detail the beginnings of sniping. American McBride was a keen long-range civilian rifle shot who defected to Canada so that he could enlist and go to war!
The McQueen Sniper competition was directly based on the training of WW1 snipers and continues to this day at many ranges and of course the NRA's Imperial meeting.
Military tactical rifles are now 'cutting-edge' and there are lots of long-range tactical competitions - particularly in the USA - which require the use of sub. MOA rifles.
This tactical rifle is built by a US outfit who simply call themselves Tactical Rifles. They guarantee half MOA accuracy and I was able to verify that with a stunning 100 yard 5-shot group measuring 0.322 inches. See Target Sports magazine, October 2005. The action is an accurised Remington fitted with a heavy-profile 20 inch Krieger barrel chambered in .308Win. Stock is a McMillan and the scope is a Leupold Mk4.
Here's my own tactical rifle based on the Japanese Howa action. McMillan A5 stock, 24 inch Border barrel and 8-32 Nightforce NSX scope. Chambering is 6mm Swiss Match. Again, half MOA performance. Great for F Class or tactical comps.