Bench Master Shooting Rest
By John Robbins
Anyone serious about testing the accuracy of rifles, and who doesn't have nerves of steel, needs to use some sort of shooting rest. The same goes for anyone wanting to evaluate the accuracy of factory and hand loaded ammunition. Historically this was done with the ever popular coat-over-the-hood-of-your-pickup technique. Accuracy was hit or miss with this method, pun intended. Sandbags can be used, and they definitely improve accuracy, but it is a hassle to pack sandbags around. Now there are many commercial shooting rests on the market and the Bench Master by Desert Mountain Mfg. (www.benchmasterusa.com) is one such option.
One advantage of many of the shooting rests available today is reduction of felt recoil. The weight of the rest combines with the weight of the rifle, which helps to absorb the energy. The more the gun/rest weighs, the more felt recoil is reduced. It is simple physics. Bags of lead shot can be added to some rests, so even the hardest kicking calibers can be shot without getting a bruise on your shoulder. This also can prevent or mitigate flinching. The loud sound of a center fire rifle contributes to flinch, so always wear hearing protection when shooting to protect your ears.
Like most shooting rests, the Bench Master is mostly for use at the range. However, the Bench Master is light and portable enough, at about 8 lbs., that it could be taken into the field for varmint hunting. Simply set it up on a folding table or use the hood of a vehicle. Not ideal for that purpose, but a possibility that you might want to consider when comparing features.
With a weight of 8 lbs., the Bench Master does reduce felt recoil, but not as much as some of the heavier shooting rests. The Bench Master doesn't have a tray to load for bags of lead shot like a Caldwell Lead Sled, but I have found that you can drape them over the front legs to help reduce recoil. In my experience the Bench Master, without additional weight, tames a .30-06 or a .270 so that you can comfortably shoot a couple boxes of cartridges and not be beat up by the experience. On Desert Mountain's web site, one Bench Master user claims over 200 rounds of various .338 loads without pain or thought of recoil. I'm not sure I would go that far, but it does attenuate recoil.
The Bench Master does require some assembly, but it is as simple as threading some bolts with plastic knobs through the body of the device and the altitude adjustment mechanism. It couldn't be much easier.
As seen in the illustration, the design of the Bench Master is in the shape of a T. There is an elevated part that comes up in the front that a bench bag fits into. This supports the forearm of the stock. On this is a level indicator. At the rear is a "Vee" shaped padded rest with a heavy-duty canvas strap across the back, which the butt of the rifle fits into. In the center is an adjustment knob that allows you to fine tune the elevation of the gun to align the sights with the target. At the end of each part of the T are adjustment feet that allow additional elevation and leveling adjustments. The entire rest hinges in the center for radical elevation adjustment. There are wing nuts on the feet and a knob on the side to lock everything into place.
The quality of the Bench Master is excellent. The welds are very clean, ground smooth, and the metal wears a durable powder coated finish. The rubber feet grip about any surface, and are attached to the adjustment bolts so that they don't fall off. The adjustments all work as advertised and it is easy to get the sights of a gun aligned with the target. It is solidly built and with a little care should last a lifetime.
The Bench Master retails for $139, but can often be found on sale for $119. Desert Mountain Mfg. also offers a model called the Bench Mark that is essentially the same rest, except it doesn't hinge in the center. If you don't think you need the radical elevation adjustment option, you can save about $20 by going with that model. So far I've yet to use this feature, so in retrospect I would have purchased the Bench Mark and been just as satisfied. I have discovered that using a lever action rifle requires you to remove the gun from the rest in order to operate the action, but I suppose that applies to most gun rests.
After you learn how the Bench Master needs to be adjusted for your gun, it is fairly easy to get set up. Going from one gun to another can take some time if the feet adjustments have to be tweaked, but usually the fine adjustment in the center accommodates differences in stock designs. The Bench Master works best on a flat level surface, but with the various adjustments, you can set it up in a less than perfect spot, such as the hood of a vehicle.
Firing a rifle in the Bench Master is very natural. The butt of the rifle fits into the padded V rear rest and the stock rests on the front bench bag. The way the Bench Master is designed, no part of the rest gets in your way like some bulky rests do. Press the gun into the rear V rest and onto the bench bag and then tweak the adjustments until the sights line up on your target. There are no side to side adjustments, so you will have to move the rear foot around on the surface, which surprisingly enough works pretty well. Put your shoulder up firmly against the rear rest/butt of the rifle, and shot as you normally would. Even with very small calibers, the Bench Master will move a little from the recoil, so each time you may have to make some minor adjustments to realign the sights.
Like similar rests, the Bench Master requires that the shooter hold onto the rifle as if he or she were shooting it without a rest. Otherwise the rifle and rest will jump up and create an unsafe situation. Do not lash the rest to the bench or the gun to the rest. If that level of stability is your objective, you need to purchase a rest designed with those features built in.
I do have a few quibbles about the Bench Master. The included front bench bag is rather mushy and not very stable. A little pressure here or there moves the sights around a small amount. Even your heartbeat can be seen jiggling the sights more than would be expected, especially at high magnification. I purchased a sand filled, owl-ear style leather bench bag and with a little ingenuity and some zippy ties mounted that in place of the original front bag. That made a huge difference in the heart beat jiggle effect.
My other quibble is the design of the V shaped rear stock rest. Once the gun is perfectly aligned on the target, it only takes a little pressure to push the butt deeper into the V. Naturally that moves the sights a little higher on the target. I'm working on a mini sandbag to put at the bottom of the V that should take care of that problem as well. (You may not find this to be a problem, because it can work in your favor to perfectly align the sights on the bull's eye.)
Overall the Bench Master is a great gun rest. It is an excellent design and well made. I've been able to bring out the accuracy of my rifles to a point of astonishing myself. I didn't know that some of them could shoot so well until I used the Bench Master. It also reduces felt recoil by about half. I can't imagine sighting-in a rifle or testing the accuracy of various loads without the benefit of this rest or something like it.
Copyright 2007, 2013 by John Robbins. All rights reserved.