1000-Yard Benchrest Guide
Basics of 1K Competition -- Hardware, Gun Handling, Load Development
The Challenge of Distance
1000-yard Benchrest competition is the ultimate challenge for man and gun. When conditions are right, a good shooter can put ten shots into a pattern you can cover with the palm of your hand. But a wind shift can also throw a shot off-target completely. That’s why 1000-yard shooting is as much a mental game as it is a test of equipment. Like golf, the pursuit of perfection is never-ending. Each range, each match, is a new test of a shooter’s abilities, and his gun’s accuracy.
Relentless Pursuit of Accuracy
You don’t need a gun that can shoot .1″ groups at 100 yards to be competitive at 1000 yards. Long VLD bullets often do not shine until 300yds since they may not fully stabilize inside 100 yards. The 300 yard-line is where you can assess whether a gun has what it takes to do well at 1000. If you can group at or under 1″ at 300 yards, you’ll be in the running at 1000 yards. But to reach this level, you need ultra-consistent ammo, proper shooting technique, and a rifle that shoots straight. Very, very straight.
Tools of the Trade
Compared to conventional hunting rifles, 1000-yard guns are streamlined yet massive, with large slab-like front ends and long barrels. No one caliber dominates. 300 mags, 6.5s, and 6mm guns all harvest their share of trophies. Historically, the big 30s have the best track record, but smaller calibers are gaining favor. Now that good 7mm bullets are available we are starting to see .284s and 7mags on 1000-yard firing lines as well. A “top gun” usually sports a custom or trued Rem 700 action, a Leupold or Nightforce scope, and a heavy-contour hand-lapped barrel 28″ or longer. We examine, in much greater detail, the components of a match-winning 1000-yard rifle, in Part II of this article.
Shehane MBR Tracker in “Indian Paint” pattern Obeche, with barrel block and Nightforce scope.
Long-Range Shooting Technique
1000-yard rifles are rarely shot free-recoil, unlike point-blank Benchrest (100-200 yards), where free-recoil technique (touch only the trigger and/or trigger guard, then halt recoil with your shoulder) is the norm. Two basic shooting styles are used by 1000-yard shooters. Some grab the fore-end and apply downward pressure to aid tracking and counter barrel hop during recoil. Others use just the trigger hand and shoulder to support the rifle. I use the second method, as I get excessive vertical spread when I grab the fore-end. I can’t seem to hold the forend and make it work, but many shooters do it very well. With either method, doing exactly the same thing every shot is key. And now that Richard Schatz set a new 6-target 1000-yard record free-recoiling his 11-lb 6mm Dasher, we may see more shooters trying this method in the future. As I said before, the sport is evolving.
Different Organizations, Different Rules
Three major organizations regulate 1000-yard benchrest matches: IBS, NBRSA, and Williamsport. Unlike short range BR, where score and group are separate competitions, 1000-yard BR groups are scored for both group size and target point value. Wiliamsport uses 10-shot groups for all classes, whereas IBS and NBRSA use 5-shot groups for the Light Guns and 10-shot groups for Heavy Guns. And there are a host of other minor variations in the rules among the three Associations.
Light Gun vs. Heavy Gun
Most matches have two classes, Light Gun and Heavy Gun. Under NBRSA rules, max weight for Light Gun is 17 lbs while the “Heavies” are unlimited. Williamsport sets the Light Gun limit at 16.5 lbs (with scope), and also offers an 11-lb entry class. The 11-lb class allows shooters to try their hand at 1K, before investing heavily in a specialized 1000-yard Light Gun or Heavy Gun. Currently the 11-lb class is dominated by 6 Dasher and 6BR shooters. Using aluminum Viper or Panda actions and ultra-light stocks they can make weight even with 28″ or longer heavy-profile barrels. It’s not uncommon for these little 11-lb 6mm rifles to post better groups than their bigger brothers! Just this June in Byers, Colorado, Richard Schatz’s 11-lb Dasher set a new NBRSA World Record 6-Target Light Gun Aggregate of 6.125″.
1000 Yard Links:
Iowa 1000 Yard Benchrest Association (Pella, Iowa)
Montana Northwest 1000 Yard Benchrest Association (Deep Creek Range, Missoula, MT)
Ohio 1000 Yard Benchrest Association (Thunder Valley)
Original Pennsylvania 1000 Yard Benchrest Club (Williamsport)
Virginia 1000 Yard Benchrest Club (Range 4, Quantico)
Half-moa at 1000 Yards — Been there, Done That…
Check out this 5.358″ ten-shot group. Just shows you what a good Krieger barrel and a fast-cycling Viper action can do. All but one inside the 10-ring! If shot #2 had cut the 10-ring, this group would have set a Williamsport Record. While I’m not as fast as some of the best 1000-yard shooters, I like to shoot my string quickly, when conditions are most favorable. If your gun tracks well you can cycle very quickly and be done with your string in under five minutes. I shot this group in about 50 seconds! Note that it was pretty well centered horizontally, so I guess I picked a good time to “duel with the wind”.
1000 Yard Shooting — Part II
Caliber Selection, Shooting Technique, Reloading and the Mental Game
6mm vs. 6.5mm vs. Big 30s
In 100/200 yard Benchrest shooting, the 6PPC is pretty much king of the hill. However, in the 1000-yard game, many different calibers can win. A 6BR or 6BR Improved can be very competitive at 1000 yards, despite its diminutive size and minimal recoil. A standard 6BR, after all, set the ten-shot 1000-yard world record. For a long time, the 6.5s and 30s have been dueling for top honors, with the 30s usually coming out ahead. This is evolving though, as the longer barrel life and lesser recoil of the 6.5 caliber attracts more top-level shooters.
I have shot two 30-caliber rifles and am now using a 6.5-284. Two years ago, I couldn’t see myself campaigning a 6.5 at 1000 yards, but things change, and I am happy with my new 6.5-284. The 6.5-284 wins its share of matches, and is a true tack-driver when tuned right. But the majority of Aggregates are probably still being won with 30-caliber bullets shot from some kind of magnum case. The big bore shooters believe a heavier bullet flies better in unpredictable wind conditions. Ballistics experts can dispute that theory, but 30s still win the most trophies when it blows. In calm or steady-wind conditions however, a 6BR is completely capable of winning a major 1000-yd match in the hands of a skilled shooter. In fact, at the Montana 1000-yd matches, 6 Dashers regularly post small group for match, and sometimes win outright, against all other calibers, both Light Gun and Heavy. Just this past June, in Colorado, Richard Schatz set a new 6-Target NBRSA LG World Record with an 11-lb Dasher.
Shooting Styles — Runners vs. Pickers
In all Benchrest disciplines, point-blank as well as 1000 yards, there are two basic types of shooters, each using a distinctive technique. They can go by different names in different locales, but we will refer to them as Runners v. Pickers.
Runners get a sighter shot in at the last possible moment, then if the condition holds, they’ll run off 10 record rounds in well under one minute. This is feeding single shot, not from magazine! You need good equipment–a fast, smooth action and a stock that tracks like it’s on rails. With the right rig, five-shot groups can be done in 15-20 seconds by the fastest. On a good day I can get 10 shots downrange in 45 seconds. If you sense a wind-change in the middle of the string, you can either wait, or do what I do and just gauge the holdoff with a quick correction of point-of-aim. It works, but you need experience and not a little bit of luck.
Pickers try to only shoot in their one preferred perfect condition, waiting between shots. Very few people do this well, without getting burned by an unseen condition shift way out at the target. There is A LOT of room for hidden drafts over 6/10ths of a mile. One old-ime picker is Earl Chronister from York, PA. He has been picking for almost 40 years at the Williamsport club. Earl often does well, but I have seen him also get burned by a condition change and end up with a two-foot group. This also happens with runners as well, so neither method is foolproof–if either one was, BR wouldn’t be so much fun!
Both methods can be equally successful. Personally I like running because there is less chance for conditions to change. Pickers have been know to take the full record time, i.e. 10-15 minutes to shoot a ten-shot group.
A good 1000-yard stock will feature a flat fore-end, 3″ or so wide. Longitudinal flats on the side work well with a box type front pad. A flat forend really tracks so much better than any other design that you can’t be competitive without it. The bottom of the buttstock should have a 1/2″-3/4″ flat for stability, and not much drop from grip to toe. Two of the most popular designs are the Shehane Tracker and the Tooley MBR style. McMillan, Lone Wolf and Robertson Composites all make excellent fiberglass 1000-yard BR stocks, Randy Dierks makes a great carbon fiber stock (photo above), and you can purchase excellent wood laminates from Bruce Baer, Bill Shehane, MasterClass, Richard’s Customs and others. The choice of glass vs. wood is up to you. Some shooters believe wood dampens vibration better, but plenty of matches have been won with glass stocks, and the current 1000-yard world record was set with a glass Lone Wolf stock. Photo of carbon fiber Dierks stock courtesy of Action Gun Works.
Most top shooters use 20x to 50x scopes, both zooms and fixed-power target models. However, on the range, you’d be surprised to see how little scope power is truly needed to do well at 1000 yards. 16x is doable, with 20-25x being both popular and effective. That said, many top shooters opt for more power. Duane Capehart in Montana, who regularly shoots in the sixes and even fives, uses his Nightforce zoom at a full 42x even when the mirage is thick. I recently had Premier Reticles boost my 8-25x Leupold LRT to 20-50x. I normally shoot at 40x or more, and I wouldn’t want to go back to a lower magnification scope. I’ve not found the need to crank down the power, though I haven’t encountered any really bad mirage since getting the boost. My philosophy is the better you can see the targets the closer you can put your shots, but I have witnessed some very good groups shot with lower-powered scopes, so don’t think you need 40x or 50x power to win. Nightforce scope photos courtesy Bill Shehane, D & B Supply.
Actions — Factory vs. Custom
Custom actions are nice to have, but they are definitely not necessary to be competitive! I had two Remingtons and now shoot a Stiller Viper, but not because I felt I needed the custom. There have been some very fine groups shot with blue-printed Remington actions. Most Rem actions will need to be trued by a competent gunsmith to keep things concentric. Keep in mind that by the time you’ve paid the smith for the action-truing, you will have $600 or more invested in the Rem action. For $900 you can get a Stiller Viper action and that price includes bottom metal and scope rings. A good custom action will cycle more smoothly, and tolerances will be sufficiently uniform that you can normally just screw on a barrel and drop the action into the stock. While most 100/200 BR shooters glue their actions into their stocks, nearly all 1000-yard guns have bolt-in actions, using pillars and glass bedding. The Heavy Guns often employ barrel blocks. As for other components, two-ounce match triggers like the Jewell are very nice to have, but you can easily get away with a tuned 700 trigger if that is what you have.
Making Superb Ammunition — The Key to Accuracy
To be successful in this game you need near-perfect ammo. You must achieve consistency in every single variable: bullets, brass, powder, primers, seating depth, neck tension. You want your rounds to be as uniform as possible in every respect.
There’s a wide choice of fine bullets. Off-the-shelf Sierras, Bergers and Hornadys, as well as pricey custom bullets, can all shoot well. But any brand of bullet, whether factory-made or custom, will benefit from batching and sorting by bearing surface length and by weight. While custom bullets tend to be more concentric and uniform in weight, they can still benefit from judicial sorting.
You need to pay as much attention to your brass as you do to your bullets. I neck-turn my cases to get the most uniform neck wall thickness. Outside neck-turning is usually beneficial, but is not required if you start with very good brass like Lapua. To make the most concentric ammo you need a premium bullet-seater. I find a Wilson-type inline seater consistently yields the lowest bullet/case runout, and therefore the straightest rounds. With a die that’s threaded into a press, things have more chance of getting out of line.
All case preparation needs to be done with the goal of making every part of the bullet-delivery system concentric relative to everything else: receiver, barrel, bolt, barrel, casing, bullet, bore. The idea is to get everything to line up on the same axis down the center of the bore. The closer you get to this, the smaller your groups will be.
In 100/200 yard Benchrest you will find most competitors load their ammo throughout the day. In 1000-yard BR you rarely see this. Believe it or not your gun will tell you whether it likes ammo loaded right before it is shot, or several days in advance. I load at least 48 hours before a match. One time I tried loading at the range right before a shoot-off. No dice. I went from an 8″ group to an ugly group with 12″ of vertical. Just by not loading ahead of time, I went from more than respectable to out of the running. I’m really not sure what the problem was, but now I always get my ammo ready well in advance.
Wind Drift, Vertical Velocity Dispersion, and Accuracy
Shooting at 1000 yards is a LOT different than drilling bugholes with a 6PPC at 100 yards. Horizontal wind deflection increases with the square of the distance, so a 5 mph crosswind shift can put you completely off paper at 1000 yards. Those who win, place or show in 1000-yard Benchrest know how to gauge the wind and deal with rapidly-changing conditions and mirage. But even the best wind wizard won’t prevail without an exceptionally accurate gun–one able to put five shots into .25″ or less at 100 yards. To shoot small groups at 1K, your reloads must be near-perfect as well. Even very small variations in velocity give you big vertical spreads at 1000 yards. There’s absolutely no way you can shrink the verticals if your ammo isn’t up to snuff. When crafting 1K ammo, you must keep Extreme velocity Spread (ES) low. If your load shows less than 20fps ES when run through a chronograph, then it’s competitive. However, the top shooters are probably using ammo with an ES of 10fps or less. If you think you have a good load, simply switching primers may reduce your ES dramatically. Neck tension also plays a huge role in ES. Like golf though, the smallest number you can get is the best. With high Extreme Spread, it is simply impossible to shoot single-digit groups at 1000, because bullet speed variances will produce large vertical dispersion, even if your aim is perfect and there is no cross-wind.
Practice–Even at 300 Yards–Makes Perfect
How does one practice for 1k shooting? Most folks don’t have a 1000-yard range within close proximity. I find that 300 yards is enough distance to get a meaningful sense of your rig’s accuracy. It’s also long enough to test your wind-doping skills. As noted in Part I, when practicing at 300 yards, your goal should be to shoot groups NO bigger than 1″. This is the bottom line to be competitive at 1000 yards. If you can’t get to a 300-yard range, you can still benefit from load testing and practice at 200 yards.
As noted before, your ammo needs to have a narrow extreme spread to shoot competitively at 1000 yards. This is easier when you have a chronograph. The triple-sensor Oehler Chrono is the best, but a $120 Chrony Beta Master (photo left) will do the job. If you don’t own a chrono, you will need to practice well beyond 300yds to see if you are getting vertical dispersion. The larger your extreme velocity spread (ES), the more vertical you will see. A 10fps ES will produce 1/2″ or less vertical at 300 yards. It doesn’t matter if you are the best shooter in the world–you can’t shoot a small group at 1k without minimal velocity spread!
The Price of Entry — What it Costs to Play at 1K
With a Shehane Tracker stock ($295), a trued Rem 700 action ($600), Shilen Match Select Barrel from The Barrelman ($240), and a Weaver or Sightron 36x scope ($380), you can be in business for about $1700, including smithing ($200-$400) by a competent rifle-builder. Add another $250 if you want fancy rings, premium trigger guard and a Jewell trigger. There are cheaper ways to go, but you don’t want to skimp on the barrel or the stock. We’d pay the extra $50 or so for a Hart, Krieger or Broughton barrel. If you have a donor Rem action, you only need to have it trued, saving you $400 or so.
OK, now you’ve got the gun. You still need front pedestal rest, a rear bag, and dies. A set of Redding Comp dies runs $100 or so, and the better front rests start at about $250, running all the way up to $750 for a Farley Co-Axial. So now you’re at $2100 for a competitive rig, and you haven’t loaded a single round yet. With the costs of bullets, powder, and brass, you will probably have $2500 tied up when you’re finally set to shoot your first match. Hey, who ever said accuracy was cheap?
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