By Clair Rees
The Buck Bench folds like an ironing board into a flat, 4 1/2-inch package for easy carrying or storage.
Whether you’re sighting-in a rifle, testing loads for accuracy or shooting up a prairie dog town, nothing takes the place of a steady shooting bench. Without the rock-solid support a bench provides, long-range accuracy is iffy. Everyone shoots better off a bench.
Permanently installed shooting benches are, of course, standard equipment at commercial rifle ranges, but when you go afield, you’re on your own. I discovered that many years ago when I began my gun-writing career. I typically spent one or two days each week testing guns and loads for accuracy. The nearest commercial range was several miles away, and taking turns at the available benches was too time-consuming.
On the other hand, I had miles and miles of sagebrush desert practically at my doorstep. What I needed was a good portable shooting bench. About that time, some manufacturer sent me a superlight bench that, when quickly dismantled, fit nicely into the bed of my truck - or even in the trunk of my wife’s car. The top was simply a slab of half-inch plywood with threaded fittings for the necessary thumbscrews. It sported three lightweight tubular aluminum legs. Assembled, the whole thing looked incredibly flimsy.
As it turned out, the three legs formed a tripod that gave solid support on any terrain. (I remember my high school geometry teacher saying, “any three points form a plane.”) Once I added sandbags, a cast-iron sandbag rest, rifle, ammo and the weight of my upper body as I leaned into the rifle, that seemingly insubstantial bench delivered surprisingly solid support.
While its manufacturer has faded into history, I still use that little bench, although not nearly as often as I once did. Over the years, I’ve discovered a number of excellent shooting benches that give much better support. The best ones weigh considerably more and take more time and energy to erect or take down. The results are definitely worth the effort.
Whenever I join other shooters for an organized prairie dog hunt, I’m impressed by the huge variety of portable shooting benches I see. Some are distinctly homemade affairs. I was highly impressed by the ingenuity displayed by one pair of riflemen who took several minutes rigging their Suburban with elevated benches. One leg of each steel bench was anchored to towing balls fore and aft. Each bench towered several feet over the prairie, giving shooters a great view of distant dogs. Brightly colored umbrellas blossomed overhead, providing welcome relief from the blistering sun.
Fortunately, an array of commercial shooting benches are available to those of us not so handy with welding equipment. I’ve had the chance to evaluate a number of these benches - some worked extremely well. Others didn’t.
One innovative bench folds up much like an ironing board does. The Buck Bench is basically a padded seat and shooting platform attached to lightweight steel tubing. Folded to a flat 4 1/2-inch thickness, the whole affair slides behind the seat of a pickup truck, or between the front and back seats of a car. Weight is a bare 32 pounds.
The Big Shooter portable bench. weighs 82 pounds and offers excellent support for extreme-range shooting.
The Buck Bench sets up in less than a minute. It includes an adjustable arm with a padded Y-shaped rest for your rifle’s fore-end. Erect, the bench is approximately 3 feet tall and sports a padded, 24-inch-square tabletop. The seat isn’t adjustable for height, but can be moved backward or forward. The bench is rated for shooters weighing from 100 to 350 pounds and 5 feet to 6 feet, 3 inches tall.
The bench rests on a pair of steel runners, which means it works best on relatively flat smooth ground. This seldom presents a problem in prairie dog country. This bench sets up and takes down very quickly, with no tools required.
One of the very best benches I’ve tried - and decided to keep - is the BR Pivot model from Varmint Masters, LLC. I’d earlier encountered this exceptionally sturdy bench while shooting .50 BMG rifles at 1,000 yards with Randy Brooks, owner of Barnes Bullets. With the help of the bench, Randy was able to punch three-shot 5-inch groups at that extreme distance. My performance was less inspiring.
When I got my hands on an identical sample to test, I was impressed by how quickly the 70-pound bench could be assembled and disassembled. Assembly consisted of attaching the three sturdy, steel legs to a heavy, machined-steel base. The legs and pivoting feet were anchored in place via spring-steel retainer clips. A center post of machined aluminum alloy tubing was inserted in the base, and the seat assembly then attached. Next came the tabletop, which was attached to the top of the post.
Both seat and tabletop can pivot smoothly through a full 360 degrees. The whole assembly is incredibly stable. A heavy-duty ballistic nylon carrying and storage bag is available to keep everything together. And yes, the entire outfit fits handily into a car trunk. I’ve never seen a sturdier bench that’s truly portable.
I’ve recently been using another bench very similar to the BR Pivot. At 82 pounds, the Big Shooter Portable Bench is even heavier (a lightweight 60-pound aluminum version is available).
This bench goes together in much the same way - a heavy-duty 6-inch-diameter tubular post fits into the base. Three sturdy legs attached to the base form a flattened tripod that offers no-nonsense support. Each leg is secured to the base by a single 1/2-inch-diameter bolt fitted with a ball knob that’s fastened only finger-tight. Two legs can be adjusted to help level the benchtop on uneven ground.
Next, an angle-iron-reinforced 3/4-inch plywood top is slipped onto the post, then anchored via a four-pronged stud. Like the BR Pivot, both the shooting platform and padded seat can be rotated through 360 degrees. The tabletop bench can be used by both right-handed shooters and southpaws.
The Buck Bench
Outdoor Extreme Sports
9551 E. Lorna Lane Suite G-H,
Prescott Valley, AZ 86314
BR Pivot Bench
Varmint Masters, LLC
P.O. Box 6724
Bend, OR 97708
Big Shooter Portable Bench
8174 Middletown Rd.
Spring Lake Park, MN 55432
Reprinted from the December 2005 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine