So far we have a rifle, and scope + mounting accessories. We spoke about the selection of those items in previous posts. No doubt you are now keen to get to the range. Before you can do that there are a few things to sort out. The following article details the purchase, mounting and use of other necessary kit before you journey out.
Some accessories may be mandatory such as a bag or case to safely store your rifle
Supporting your rifle
The first thing we should think about is how we are going to use the rifle before we get into mounting anything. What positions are you going to be firing from? Are you shooting in a discipline that requires you shoot unsupported? Maybe you are allowed to use a sling, a sandbag/s or a front rest/bipod? Most of you guys are going to be shooting in either prone (laying on your belly) or sitting at a bench. For this article we will go with the majority and suggest we set up for the same.
Bags and Bipods
There are literally thousands of options in terms of supporting your rifle. For bench rest and F open shooters you will see the majority using VERY HEAVY rests which have fine adjustments. These are highly expensive and only really relevant for specific disciplines. I don’t use them myself and therefore I won’t make comment on them.
There are multiple events which allow the use bipods and bags. These are also the most popular forms of support used by casual target shooters, hunters, law enforcement and military.
There are several designs of bipod and all have pros and cons. I use a Harris bipod. Arguably the most popular of all.
The Harris bipods fold up which allows you to use the rifle in pretty much any position without it banging on structures ect. This makes it ideal for practical rifle comps where transitions and unusual shooting positions or environments are the norm. You can raise or lower the legs at the touch of a button. The notched leg versions are spring loaded and will shoot out to the desired position on uneven ground. I would suggest buying a “tilt” type which allows you to cant the rifle without fiddling with leg length. I also suggest buying an aftermarket lever to replace the locking nut which is used to control cant. The nut is very hard to tighten and you will find the rifles suddenly droops to one side if it isn’t locked down hard. There are a few companies making these folding type bipods. I would avoid the cheap clones. A company called Atlas produces superb quality bipods which looked very nice to me and have had great reviews. At present I’m quite happy with what I have so I have yet to field test one properly.
If your discipline allows it you may benefit from a non folding bipod. These offer enhanced stability but are more cumbersome. They cannot be swiftly removed or folded so they are of little use if you need to move with the rifle into different positions. This rules them out for practical/tactical type events. They make an ideal platform for static long range comps when rules allow. There are numerous types available ranging from home made right through to uber expensive. Most have height adjustment either via leg length or angle
A bipod from UK based Third Eye Tactical which uses leg angle as height adjustment
There is little point in recommending specific bipods or brands. I use the two shown above and both have proved superb. I recognise that there are many other excellent options. For folding types I would be looking to spend between £50-£200. I would budget £150-300 for the fixed leg type. Pretty much anything in those budgets will do a good job. The one thing I would always seek to avoid is accessories touching the barrel of the rifle. It is likely to effect the barrel harmonics and therefore accuracy will suffer. The cheaper folding leg models often attach to the barrel.
Modern rifles tend to have mounts of some kind at the forend of the stock which will attach to a bipod. Check which you have and ensure the bipod you select will mate with it. Many bipods come with several fittings to allow a variety of mounting options.
Sandbags are incredibly popular. They are cheap, they do an excellent job, they are highly stable and mould well to your rifle stock. On the down side they are heavy and have no fine adjustment other than being physically squeezed/released. They are great to use for casual bench rest and prone shooting. They are used in some competitions/stages so its worth buying one or two or even making them if your good with a needle.
I bought 2 bags. One a classic and very cheap bag of unknown brand made with a Hessian type material. The other is a Blackhawk! Tri bag which I find really handy. It can be used as a fore or rear bag in a variety of heights and shapes to suit most environments.
The Blackhawk! Sportster
As mentioned above you can also use a sandbag at the rear. You simply place it under the butt of the rifle and adjust position with your front hand (not the trigger hand). The idea of bags under both front or rear is to isolate the rifle from movements transmitted by the shooter (such as pulse, breathing, muscle twitches). Rear bag tend to fall into the smaller “squeeze bags” category and the bigger, much heavier bench rest types. Both have pros and cons.
More often than not I use a bipod and the Blackhawk bag at the rear. Many of the chaps shooting with me use the heavy/solid rear bags and they are incredibly happy with them. I tried one and it made no difference in accuracy for me. It did add to my arm ache when I had to carry my kit back to the vehicle though… It really is personal preference. My suggestion is ask other shooters, have a look at different types. Try a few if you can, then purchase the one that suits you. Expect to pay £20-£80.
One thing is for sure you will need something to store your rifle in. Preferably something protective and secure. If you are likely to be flying anywhere with your rifle the case needs to be airport approved. The Pelican brand of cases certainly fit the bill and if ultimate protection and security is what you require then they are a superb option. The downside is the price.. £250-£400..
If you are just going to and from the range in your car then you might consider a cheaper hard case in the £50-£100 range.
I went for a padded case. It suited my needs and was on offer for £30 at a gun show. After a year it is showing signs of wear. Small tears and the zips are becoming fussy. I will soon invest in a better quality bag. I have pawed at a few and I think I will end up with an Aim field sports drag bag. They are a lot more expensive (£150ish) but the quality was outstanding. It seems a lot for basically a padded bag but consider this. It will protect your rifle and scope (£2000+) from bumps and from rain, snow, grit ect. I think its a sensible investment..
Unless you do all your shooting from a bench then your going to need a ground cover of some kind. It is no fun lying on a wet, muddy floor and it can cause kit to malfunction. Muddy wet mags are less likely to feed for example. I lay on a milsurp poncho most of the time. It cost me a few pounds on eBay. Some ranges are littered with sharp debris/old brass. For rougher ground you might want a padded mat. I have one from Aim field sports which I’m very happy with. Cost around £90. There are loads to choose from and none are awful so just find something that suits.
Ear defenders are mandatory at any sensible range. I always use them. Glasses are mandatory for some disciplines at some ranges. I always have glasses with me. Even if I don’t wear them its good to have them in case the guy next door produces a muzzle braked WinMag. I’ve had it happen and you need glasses for it! I always take a breech flag in case the range requires it. These are just plastic flags which sit in the breech to show others you are unloaded and “safe”. It is also wise to pack a small first aid kit and any relevant protection from the environment (fly spray, sun lotion ect).
This guide is for the new shooter. Hopefully you have a new rifle which SHOULD be reliable. I would advise that the new shooter doesn’t bother taking tools or cleaning kit to the range. If you have a malfunction you should stop shooting, alert the range officer and then inspect the rifle when it has been signed off as safe and clear. It would be Ill advised to begin working on a new rifle to fix broken parts. It should be returned to the place you bought it from and fixed under warranty. At most I would suggest some Allen and star drivers for tightening any lose screws on your accessories.
A lot of people have procedures they run through to ” break in” a new barrel. I do not. I like to base my procedures on science. In my mind you cannot alter a steel barrel at all by scrubbing it with a soft brush and chemical cleaners. The break in process is actually the bullets themselves leaving copper deposits in the bore. The hot copper bullet will also smooth out tiny burrs and imperfections. We know from reviewing data that it takes around 20-50 rounds for a totally clean barrel to get back to its sweet spot. I believe the primary break in procedure requires nothing more that firing rounds at a sensible pace until your group tightens up. I have tried cleaning between rounds and not and neither yielded a benefit over the other in my eyes. You will need some cleaning kit but not for a couple of hundred rounds. Stats also show with the .308 that the sweet spot begins after 30 rounds until about 400 when accuracy begins to decline slowly. Why is this? Because a little build up of copper is beneficial to accuracy. The bullets have a tight, consistent path through the bore. Once the round count grows the deposits grow too and begin to act on bullets inconsistently. Inconsistency = loss in accuracy.
That is all for this article. Hope it helped some people. The next article will detail scope mounting and bore sighting at the range. Take care and always put safety first.