One major problem in handloading is testing rifle loads. Many experts claim the only way to truly test handloads for accuracy is off a very solid benchrest. The ideal is a concrete bench, but a really heavy wooden bench (like the one at the private range I share with a friend) constructed with 6 x 6 legs and weighing 150 pounds or so also works well - especially if it's mounted on buried cinder blocks. However, many handloaders sometimes prefer a portable bench. We might be shooting prairie dogs, for instance, at extreme ranges, or perhaps we want to test handloads at ranges beyond the standard distances available at public ranges. For instance, I belong to the Broadwater County Rod & Gun Club, which has a fine rifle range (complete with concrete benches) with target butts from 100 to 1,000 yards. According to the range rules, however, any target past 200 yards can only be used when a range officer is present. This is for safety reasons. Somebody might start shooting at 100 yards, unaware that somebody else is switching targets way out there. The only time a range officer is present is either on sighting-in days in the fall or when a match is being held. Neither is the right time to test a bunch of handloads at 300+ yards, so I generally head for some other open land. Here the obvious problem is a solid shooting bench. I've tried a bunch of supposed solutions, including shooting off the tailgate of a Ford F150 pickup. The tailgate actually worked better than any of the portable benches tried, but an average Montana breeze tends to rock a pickup some.
All that changed when I tried Stukey's Sturdy Shooting Bench.
Royal is a Montana cowboy who, like me, was disenchanted with other portable benches so built his own. They've been mentioned before in Wolfe magazines, and as a matter of fact Editor Dave Scovill helped Royal on a couple of minor points. But Scovill is notorious for shooting iron-sighted black-powder rifles. These, of course, can be astonishingly accurate, but most rifle shooters these days are into scopes, smokeless and little-bitty groups. The question at hand: Just how sturdy is the Stukey? To answer this I set it up next to the aforementioned 150-pound wooden bench. I've shot five-shot groups off the honker that averaged around .2 inch, using carefully constructed handloads in a super-accurate varmint rifle, so it's very steady. The test would be a series of groups with the same rifle, a heavy-barreled Remington 700 .223 Remington. The plan was to shoot 100-yard groups alternately off each bench, then average them. Shooting alternately during the same basic weather conditions with the same ammunition would give a good idea of how the 65-pound Stukey compared to a permanent bench. This setup was easy, unlike those of some "fold-up" portable benches. The Stukey consists of a varnished plywood top, reinforced underneath by a three-corner steel frame with a heavy bolt welded at each corner. The three legs (a tripod is the steadiest leg arrangement) are heavy steel pipes that screw onto each bolt. It took less than five minutes to set the table up the very first time. I'd just used the same rifle on a prairie dog shoot and forgotten that it had ended up sighted in for 400 yards. I had a partial 50-round box of the excellent Black Hills Ammunition (www.black-hills.com) used in the shoot and planned to shoot three, five-shot groups from each bench. By the time the rifle was sighted in again at 100 yards, however, I only had enough left to shoot three, three-shot groups from each bench. These aren't nearly as statistically reliable as five-shot groups.
This seemed to be reflected in the results. The Stukey bench beat the heck out of the permanent bench, with an average group of .38 inch versus .63 inch off the permanent bench.
The Stukey average was helped considerably by one .18 cloverleaf. (If these groups don't sound too impressive, consider that they were shot on a breezy afternoon with a rifle that hadn't been cleaned for over 400 rounds. My other agenda was to once again prove that, with a good barrel and good ammunition, we rifle loonies clean our rifles far more often than necessary.) So I went home and loaded the Black Hills cases (Winchester) with the rifle's favorite varmint load, which I suspect is very similar to the Black Hills load: 26.0 grains of Ramshot TAC, a CCI BR4 benchrest primer and the 50-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip. The next afternoon was also breezy, and I still hadn't cleaned the rifle. The three, five-shot groups from the permanent bench averaged .79 inch, while the three, five-shot groups from the Stukey bench averaged .73 inch. The dang thing beat the permanent bench again! I still cannot claim that the Stukey bench is sturdier than a permanent bench twice as heavy, but it has proven plenty close enough for me - especially after using it to fire several groups in the 2-inch range at 300 yards with several favorite big game rifles. You can order Stukey's Sturdy Shooting Bench with a handy accessory, the Contico Shooter's Box/Seat. This tough plastic box holds anything you need for a day of shooting, while doubling as a shooting stool. And the cardboard carton the Stukey bench gets shipped in also works darn well as a portable target frame! For more information, contact Stukey's Sturdy Shooting Benches or go online at www.shootingbenches.com
Handloader Magazine: December 2004 by John Barsness