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Rifle Rest Test: Bench Master Portable Unit Is Our Pick

Got the shakes? Then steady your shooting iron on a $120 Bench Master rest or the $35 best-buy Ballistic Bench Shooting Bag.

The Desert Mountain Bench Master allowed
the rifle’s buttstock to rest in a rear V-notch
with leather straps attached to either side of
the V.

This time of year, most shooters are making a trip to the local rifle range to sight-in their rifle in anticipation of hunting season. However, when they get to the range, they often have everything they need to shoot except a stable, easy-to-use rest sitting atop a stable bench. Hard-as-concrete sandbags, wooden frame rests, or a rolled-up coat just won’t get the job done if you want to gauge the true performance of your rifle or handgun. With the proper ammunition in hand and a solid rest to assist in sight-in, the only misses will be due to shooter error.

We wanted to find an inexpensive rest that was easy to transport to the range, offered little or no setup difficulties, and would work at a range with solid benches or at a hunting camp over the hood of a truck for last minute sight-ins. The units we settled on included:

• Hornady Delta Rest, $19
• Hughes Products’ Ballistic Bench Shooting Bag, $35
• Varmint Buddy Field Bag, $25
• Bench Buddy, $30
• Protektor’s Standard Front and Rear Bunny Bags, $15.25 and $33, respectively
• Desert Mountain Bench Master, $120.

Naturally, you would expect the most expensive product to win, and that expectation was fulfilled here. The Bench Master unit, a single support made of metal, held guns steady, showed plenty of adjustment, and was nonetheless portable. A best buy is the $35 Ballistic Bench Shooting Bag, which also steadies rifles safely and easily, but which can be deployed more readily in the field.

All rests tested were set-up on a solid concrete bench at a 100-yard rifle range. Using two rifles with different overall weights, lengths, and forearm styles, we evaluated each rest for ease of setup, adjustments, and comfort to the shooter. Comments about how each product fared in these trials follow:

Desert Mountain Bench Master
The $120 Bench Master, made by Desert Mountain of Coram, Montana, was the most popular rifle rest with our shooters. The unit, constructed of square metal tubing, features three stovebolt leg supports, with up to 4-inch vertical adjustments on the two front feet and 1.5 inches on the rear foot. Each adjustment can be locked in place by turning the attached wing nuts. Black felt stuck to the bottom of each foot helped hold the rest on the bench and prevent it from sliding around. But we don’t think this material will last long on rough concrete benches. Replaceable rubber caps would be a better choice.

The center hinge joint had three coarse vertical notches with a 1.5-inch fine adjustment knob that worked on each level. The rifle’s buttstock rested in a rear V-notch with a leather strap attached to either side of the V. This helped the shooter hold the rifle firmly on the rest. The front “sandbag” is flat and is cradled in a T-post made of metal tubing. The rifle sits on top of this bag and can be moved side to side easily. We would like to see a slight U or V-notch in this front bag. Also, since the flat bag came from the factory pre-filled and sealed, it’s not easy to remove any filling to remedy this minor inconvenience.

Ballistic Bench Shooting Bag
Hughes Products of Thomasville, North Carolina, supplied three of the rests in this test. The $35 Ballistic Bench Shooting Bag was the largest of the three, measuring 15 inches in length, 8 inches in width, and 7 inches in height. It came filled with extruded plastic pellets. We thought this was a good filler material for a bench bag because it is lighter than sand but heavy enough to be solid and steady on the bench. Filled with plastic pellets, this bag weighed 19.5 pounds. The manufacturer recommends filling the bag with rice, cat litter, or sawdust in lieu of the plastic pellets; however, whatever material is used must be free of moisture. Filler materials that absorb moisture will cause swelling and add weight to the bag.

The outer shell is made of ballistic cloth. The stock channel is covered in rough-out leather strips, which protect the gunstock and grip the firearm to prevent slippage when firing large-caliber rifles. During our range testing, we found the unit dampened recoil, was very easy to use, and sat at a comfortable height for the shooter.

The bottom of the bag has a full-length nylon zipper, which allows the shooter to remove or add filling quickly and easily. The Ballistic Bench Shooting Bag also comes with a 36-inch-long, 2-inch-wide, nondetachable nylon-web carrying strap.

Varmint Buddy Field Bag
The second Hughes Products item we tested was the $25 Varmint Buddy Field Bag, a smaller version of the Ballistic Bench Shooting Bag. It’s constructed of the same materials as its stablemate; however, it is only 6 inches long, 6 inches wide, and 4.5 inches tall in the main compartment. The two saddlebag compartments measure 6- by 3- by 2 inches each. The unit weighs a total of 7 pounds when filled with plastic pellets. Each compartment has a nylon zipper closure for filling. This unique design allows the shooter to use the bag as a rest on many structures, such as fence posts, truck hoods, and tree limbs. A 24-inch-long, 2-inch wide nondetachable carrying strap is also included.

When using the Ballistic Bench Shooting Bag on a concrete bench, we found it large enough to support the firearm without a rear support. However, the Varmint Buddy Field Bag requires the use of a rear support unless the shooter hand-holds the buttstock. The manufacturer suggests using a second Varmint Buddy Field Bag for the rear support, which would double the price, of course.

Bench Buddy
The third Hughes Products item was the Bench Buddy, which sells for $30. This item was a triangular, red-and-black, injection-molded-plastic rest with 0.75-inch legs covered with rubber caps to prevent slippage on the bench surface. The base frame has a 6-inch by 1.3-inch by 0.8-inch well on either side of the center line for holding loose ammo or range tools. The rear leg is adjustable for elevation by using a spring-loaded turn screw for ease of adjustment. This rest comes with three separate uprights measuring 1.75 inch, 2 inch, and 4.5 inch. With versatility like this, you can use this rest to shoot rifles, shotguns, or handguns.

The 4.5-inch upright, used in the front notch with no rear upright, is for 6-inch-barrel or longer handguns. To support the handgun grip, this unit has a pistol-plate that slides into a centerline groove. This plate worked when it stayed in the groove. However, the groove was only 0.11-inch deep and didn’t hold the plate in place, we found. There was a tendency for the plate to jump out of the groove when making a forward or backward adjustment for sight-in, or from the recoil of big-bore handguns.

For cleaning, maintenance work on a rifle, or scope-mounting chores while at the range, this unit comes with two 6-inch rubber straps that snap to the side of the small and medium uprights. They secure the firearm.

Hornady Delta Rest
The least expensive of the rifle rests we looked at was the Delta Rest. It retails for $19. It offers nine height levels, more than enough adjustment from 4.25 to 8.5 inches. We found it easy to adjust the height of the one-piece, compact unit; the shooter simply turned the rest from one side to another. The red-plastic injection-molded rest weighs 1.5 pounds empty. The unit has a removable end cap, which allows the user to fill the Delta Rest with ballast or other items. We suggest that a ballast material be added to prevent the rest from sliding on the shooting bench.

One problem we noticed is that the notches are not padded in any way. To prevent stock damage, the shooter must cover the notches with a cloth or padding. We solved this problem by covering the notches with strips of Dr. Scholl’s adhesive mole foam.

This rest offers no rear support, so the shooter must support the buttstock or use another rear rest to make the rifle steady.

Protektor Standard Front And Rear Bunny Bags
Protektor, of Galeton, Pennsylvania, offers several models and sizes of tanned-leather sandbags. The bags vary in height, width, and application. These bags come to the shooter empty and must be filled with sand. Sinclair International’s tech-tip suggests fine aquarium sand or sand normally used for sandboxes. A coat of neatsfoot oil or a good saddle-leather oil rubbed into the seams of any leather bag helps seal the seams and minimize leakage. Bald Eagle suggests that the shooter seal the fill spouts with Super Glue Gel after filling the bags.

We ordered the Protektor standard front bag (#BAG07 from Sinclair International, $15.25) and a rear bunny-ear-bag (#BAG18, $33). These bags are compact and easily transferred from car to shooting bench, measuring approximately 6 inches square and about 5 to 6 inches in height, depending on how much sand is used to fill them. We liked the soft leather, which offered padding and a nonslip surface for the gun stock. The bottom of each bag is covered in coarse-grade rough-out leather, which we deemed highly effective in holding the bag in place.

Although the workmanship and quality of these bags are top rate, we were disappointed that we had to use a rolled towel on top of the front bag to get enough elevation to sight in a rifle at 100 yards.

Performance Shooter Recommends
The $120 Bench Master is our first choice in this evaluation. Not only is it lightweight and solid on a bench, but we liked its quick set-up, versatility, and ease of adjustments. The entire gun is supported from front to rear, and materials used to hold the firearm will not mar the gun’s finish.

The $35 Ballistic Bench Shooting Bag is a best buy. The long stock channel in the top of this bag makes this item very steady and reliable. Its one-piece construction and attached carry strap make it easy to transport. The only drawback we found is its lack of adjustment, which is more than offset by its portability.

Protektor’s $15.25 and $33 front and rear shooting sandbags are hard to beat. They are used by benchrest shooters across the U.S.; however, they require more set-up time than the other tested rests because they must be adjusted shot to shot.

In our opinion, the $30 Bench Buddy was too lightweight for use as a solid rest, although its lack of bulk made transporting the unit easy. Also, we found the uprights used to adjust the front elevation were difficult to change. As mentioned above, the centerline groove that the pistol plate rests in is not deep enough to hold a handgun steady while firing or making sight adjustments. We think the units mentioned above are better picks.

Both the $19 Delta Rest and the $25 Varmint Buddy are good rests, but both units require a second rest to steady the buttstock. As such, we would buy the Bench Master, Ballistic Bench Shooting Bag, or Protektor products instead.

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