In 1993, two would-be UK benchrest shooters went on a fact-finding expedition to America. Our tour guide was a book – The Ultimate in Rifle Accuracy by Glenn Newick. We knicknamed it ‘the Bible’. Many of you will have read this book but, for those who haven’t, it’s still an excellent read – if a little dated and those requiring more up to date information on the subject of benchrest and rifle accuracy in general should seek out Mike Ratigan’s and Tony Boyer’s more recent books on the subject.
I actually got to meet author Glenn in New Zealand at the World Benchrest Championships in 2001. He’s such a nice guy and was able to confirm that his book had indeed been a life-changer for many accuracy nuts! In the back of Glenn’s book is a useful appendix – listing just about everyone who was anybody in benchrest or rifle accuracy. In my copy, a number of names are underlined. Half way down page 196 is the Bald Eagle Precision Machine Co.
It was one of a dozen addresses on our ‘must visit’ tour list but, we had no idea what to expect. Were we looking for a large industrial shed full of noisy machines? We drove around the small town of Lock Haven, Pennsylvania looking for such a shed. There were no satnavs back then and it was now dusk. We found the local post office and a kind lady gave us directions. We ended up in a quaint residential area of clapper-board houses – not very industrial!
We parked the car and set off on foot, eventually locating Allison Street and, in the large illuminated garage at the side of no. 101, sat a man of not inconsiderable girth talking on the telephone. We could already see we were at the right place. A pile of tripod rest bases were stacked in the corner. Big Bill Gebhardt beckoned us in.
It was a most illuminating visit. Bill couldn’t have been more welcoming or helpful. As well as all the stuff he was making, we had a look at his benchguns and he gave us his latest copy of Precision Shooting magazine. I’d never heard of PS and, although I didn’t realize it at the time, it was another life-changing moment – we’d read the ‘bible’ and it had lead us to the promised land! In my hand I had the New Testament – a magazine devoted in the main to benchrest (those were the days….). I never dreamt for a moment that I would have an article printed in PS before the end of the decade.
I still have Bill’s copy – I later realized what a sacrifice it was to give your latest copy of PS to a complete stranger. I took it to the World Benchrest Championships at Kelbly’s range in 2005, hoping that Bill might be there so I could return it. Unfortunately, Bill didn’t show but I did however meet one of Precision Shooting’s writers – Dick Wright…………it’s a small world eh Dick?
It was well dark by the time we eventually left Bill’s home – armed with one of his rests, a back bag and more benchrest knowledge. I still have the bag but the front rest has had a new windage top fitted and eventually, a heavier base. I retained the speedscrew!
Rests have changed a bit over the last few years – mainly due to the introduction of the ‘joystick’ rest – first by Farley and then SEB. Seb Lambang has really moved the goalposts and, for me, his latest NEO is just about the ultimate in front rests. Former World Benchrest Champion Mike Ratigan worked with Seb to make the NEO the ultimate benchrest and I use one exclusively for 600 and 1000 yard benchrest competition.
Yes, I’ve tried the NEO for 100/200 yard BR but, it just doesn’t suit my shooting style. My home range is situated at the foot of an embankment to a dam and the wind does strange things. It bounces off the dam and switches so quickly that it’s almost impossible to beat it – unless you shoot head-up, watching the flags and pulling the trigger in that milli-second when the ‘condition’ returns. I just can’t shoot that way holding a joystick.
A couple of years ago, one of our shooters turned up with the fabulous JJ Industries rest. It looked fantastic and, when I borrowed it for a shoot, it felt just soooo solid. It felt as though my rifle was set in a lump of concrete! It was beautiful but mega-expensive………….
Then, a couple of months ago another shooter appeared with a Sinclair rest. A copy of the JJ? Maybe not but I’ll guess that it was inspired by the JJ and has many of the JJ features and, it certainly had that ‘oh so solid’ JJ feel. Well, I hadn’t bought a new tripod rest for 20 years and, Sinclair had their rest ‘on offer’…………….. Delivery took about three weeks – which was pretty good considering I ordered it in the run-up to Christmas.
To facilitate carriage, the rest comes as a kit of parts, but if you can load a cartridge, assembly will not present any problems and takes but a few minutes. This is a beautiful piece of kit – well finished in every aspect and feeling like a piece of precision equipment should.
So, where is the improvement over the standard tri-pod type front rest? Firstly, it’s very heavy – around 30lb – thanks to the base-plate, which is cut from a slab of one-inch thick steel plate. Handily, the base-plate has a slot cut in it, which serves as a carry-handle. Lightweight rests like the Bald Eagle ‘catapult’ are fine if you travel by air – otherwise, heavier the better!
The feature I really like is the windage set-up. Rather than the conventional windage top – operated by an adjuster-screw on the top itself – which can be a stretch when behind the scope – the Sinclair rest has a clever arrangement that puts the windage adjuster-screw close to the speed-screw – very convenient. Both these adjusting screws operate with super-smooth precision.
The two knobs that lock the mariner-wheel and the vertical adjustment column can be rigged to suit either a left or right-handed shooter. I’m right-handed and so I’ve got the mariner-wheel lock on the left – for my ‘free’ hand.
The windage top is rigged to take the usual three-inch wide bag, with clamping rails front and back and I’m using a cordura and leather Edgewood bag – in my opinion, the best. If you use a rest-mounted loading block, then there are two threaded holes drilled in the base – on either side – to facilitate mounting. A nice touch.
If I have a criticism, it would be the lack of a rack & pinion height-adjustment facility. Coarse vertical adjustment when setting-up can’t be done from the sitting position – unless you rely on the mariner-wheel. This could be annoying if you are changing benches for match in a competition but, on the range where I do most of my benchrest shooting we only have eight benches so, after a draw for benches, we stick to the same one for the whole of the competition.
Needless to say, the mariner-wheel operates very smoothly thanks to a bearing between the wheel and the centre-column. On the lowest setting, the front bag is about six-inches off the bench top. At the top of its travel – mariner wheel, center column and leveling-screws – takes it up another five inches or so. I’ve not had chance to try the windage travel but Sinclair claim 60 inches a 100 yards – which will be more than ample and would easily allow the rimfire guys to traverse their 25-bull target at 50m.
I can’t wait to shoot it. But, our benchrest season doesn’t start for another three months…………