I took up competitive centrefire benchrest shooting three decades ago and in that time the rifles have hardly changed. In contrast, the way we support our rifles has changed beyond recognition.
A simple tri-pod front rest – with levelling screws but no windage or elevation adjustment was the order of the day. Vertical adjustment was available when setting-up but fine adjustment (up, down, left or right) was taken care of by squeezing the back-bag. This was actually a good, fast way of shooting but required some skill to hold the back-bag absolutely still when taking the shot.
My next rest was a Bald Eagle ‘catapult’ rest (so named because the two front legs of the tripod were curved into a U shape) which incorporated both windage and elevation adjustment. A mariner wheel offered fine elevation adjustment backed up with an appropriately named ‘speedscrew’ – an after-market purchase replacing the rear levelling-screw. The leather, flat bottomed bunny-eared rear-bag completed the set-up. This set-up was a big step forward and, in theory, made group shooting much easier but it was slower than bag squeezing – twiddling windage and speed-screws.
Why is speed important? There are two ways to shoot benchrest – as a picker or a runner. The picker waits for the wind condition to return for each shot (aiming off if it doesn’t). The runner gets all five shots off before the wind changes! Top BR ‘runners’ will get their five shots off in 10 to 15 seconds – that’s single-loading a bolt-action rifle! It’s really not possible to do this if you are twiddling two adjusting screws.
Enter the Farley. The American Farley was the first production co-axial joystick rest. Vertical and horizontal adjustment was via one joystick – it was a revolution. The usual way most benchresters shoot is with a dual port action – feed cartridge from the left with the left hand – eject via the right port – operating the bolt with the right hand.
When the Farley appeared it changed things – some shooters went back to a right-bolt, right eject action, keeping the left hand on the joystick and feeding and operating the bolt with the right hand. A very quick way to shoot – providing you and your action run like a greased pig!
The Farley was the one to have for many years until a certain Indonesian gentleman and benchrest shooter named Seb Lambang decided to shake things up with his own co-axial rest. Apart from being competitively priced and available outside of America, Seb’s rest also had another feature – the whole set-up could swivel, allowing perfect alignment without moving the three-pin triangular base. It was a success – particularly in the UK where very few Farleys had found a home. Unlike the Farley, it was a twin post support for the bag – which looks better even though the Farley functioned perfectly well with its single post.
Although Seb had given the world an affordable, superbly made rest he hadn’t achieved world domination. That was to come with the advent of the Seb NEO. In collaboration with one of the world’s best American benchrest shooters, they produced a rest which was the undisputed king and the NEO became the rest to have for serious benchrest shooters – at short and long range. Seb even produced the NEO MAX a massive version – popular with F Class shooters and long-range BR shooters whose rifles can weigh up to half a hundredweight.
Many shooters may wince at the cost of a NEO but serious shooters know that it is a bargain – less than the price of a new custom barrel – and whereas the barrel may last a couple of seasons you can expect a lifetime of use for your NEO. Personally, I have never heard of an issue with a NEO and mine is as good as the day I unpacked it and it’s used throughout the year in all weathers.
Of course, this world-wide market for top quality rests is bound to attract competition so I must mention the fabulous Italian made Lenzi. I’ve played with a Lenzi but not used it in competition but it has to be a consideration for anyone looking to lash out four figures on a new rest.
If you put the NEO and the Lenzi side by side you could be swayed by the sheer bling of the Lenzi but, Seb has never been a man to stand still and his new NEO X has moved the game on again. Check out our report at https://www.targetshooter.co.uk/?p=3830. I have had the opportunity to use the NEO X in competition so I can vouch for its competition worthiness, offering small but significant advantages over the original NEO – for benchrest and F Class.
So, let’s get to the point of this article – yet another rest from Seb! The AR250 is in fact designed for the air-rifle and rimfire benchresters. At shorter distances the NEO wouldn’t always have enough adjustment to traverse the width of the competition airgun/rimfire target. The little AR250 addresses this issue and there is a chart which I reproduce here from the leaflet supplied with the rest because it is clearly important to competitive shooters.
Although the AR250 is tiny compared to a NEO, it’s very well engineered and if I were still attending overseas shoots by air I might risk taking it for centrefire – at 7.8 lbs it’s a third the weight of the NEO! Footprint-wise, it’s not much different to the aforementioned catapult rest. With a 10 to 13.5 lb rifle, I think it would work but obviously – heavier the better.
Earlier, I mentioned a feature of the very first Seb coaxial rest – the ability for the whole top to swivel – allowing perfect alignment. This feature was on the first Seb rest but is missing on the first NEO (but present on the NEO X). However this feature is incorporated into the AR – very useful, allowing the shooter to set up the rest and make any minor alignment adjustments from the seated position rather than getting up and standing over the rifle to align it correctly. I suspect this feature would be much appreciated by any wheelchair-bound competitors.
Centrefire BR rifles usually have a 3 inch wide fore-end but some categories use a narrower bag so two bags are included with the AR250 – a three-inch one and a 2.25 inch bag. A bubble level is mounted on the bag cradle and there is a bump-stop on the front of the cradle but it is not adjustable for over-hang but probably not critical with low recoil air and rimfire rifles.
Coarse vertical adjustment of the main column is pegged via a plunger with a ring-pull which slots into holes in the column and offers three basic heights. Further fine height adjustment is then made with a mariner-wheel. Two easy to use locking levers clamp everything in place.
Adjustment of the bag sides is via the usual screws and the joystick handle is adjustable for length and is easily fitted/removed by a single thumb screw.
I prefer ‘up for up’ on the joystick but you can reverse it if you like and you can have the single screw to the front or rear – I prefer two screws to the front but your choice. The nanny state has spread to some benchrest ranges who now prevent us from hammering the levelling-screws into the concrete bench-top in the way I was taught. Now, rubber-faced spreader feet must be used and Seb thoughtfully supplies a set of three with the rest but, if your range allows it, you can still use the levelling-screw points!
OK, we’ve had an extensive look at the history of benchrest front supports but we should perhaps mention the other Seb rest – the Mini.
Seb really developed the Mini as a lightweight rest for F Class shooters who must often lug their kit over hilly terrain and long distances. I used a Mini for a time for F Class and it did what it said on the tin. Because it was considerably cheaper than the NEO a few tried it for benchrest competition – with limited success. It has its place but maybe not on the benches. However, like all Seb products it’s well made and if weight is a problem the Mini might suit.
Thanks to Fox Firearms for the loan of the AR250. Fox is the official UK importer for all Seb’s products. The predicted price is about £750. Incidentally, this rest is a project of Seb’s son Christoper – who is clearly following in Dad’s footsteps!
Contact Fox Firearms at email@example.com