I recently was given the opportunity to test a prototype “Benchmark Premium Rifle”. Benchmark barrels is likely to start building and selling complete rifles “ready to shoot”. Benchmark has been building and smithing rifles for their customers from the beginning, but there was no continuity in these builds and each was as individual as the customers themselves. This is a great service that will continue, but having custom rifles available in several configurations and options that are “range ready” has some serious appeal. I have used Benchmark’s barrels and consider them to be among the best available. I found it ironic (in a good way) that the test rifle was in 308 Winchester since I was considering building one for F-TR competition (a class restricted to 308 win and 223 rem). I’ve owned several 308’s in the past and had gravitated to using cartridges with superior ballistic performance. I always found the accuracy of the 308 to be very good. My 308’s regularly shot ¼ MOA to 300yds and ½ MOA at 500yds (I consider this to be solid accuracy). For an F-TR rifle, I would like to see ¼ MOA capability to 500yds, as this would give an advantage over the majority of other rifles on the line. It’s allot to ask but I’ve got a couple other rifles that’ll do it (one of which has a Benchmark barrel) so why not.
The test rifle was designed to show case many of the options available and was made up of the following components
Benchmark stainless, 3-groove, 1:11 twist , 24″, fluted barrel, M40A1 contour with muzzle brake (5/8″x24tpi) thread protector included, chambered with 308 win. match spec reamer.
Lawton 7000 stainless action with chomolly bolt and Lawton 20 MOA scope base.
The pillar and recoil lug areas are bedded with titanium devcon, and skim bedded with marine tex.
McMillan A5 stock with saddle cheek piece
Jewel trigger adjustable from 3 oz. to 1 lbs. (I found it to be very nicely tuned when testing)
Badger M5 DBM with 5 round mag. (added after my testing)
Guarantee: ½ MOA at 500yds (3 shots) with hand loads.
The rifle came in around 12.5 pounds without scope and bipod.
The tentative price the rifle would be $3,829 (with the above options) which is very competitive with rifles built with similar components. Many I looked at where just over $4000 with similar options. Benchmark’s rifles would also include a guarantee of ½ MOA guarantee (for 3 shots) at 500yds with hand loads (no bench rest match prepping required, just quality components in consistent proportions). It’s not uncommon to have 100yd accuracy guarantee with factory ammo, I think this is a good thing, but most who buy rifles like this aren’t shooting factory ammo anyway. Law enforcement and military are another animal altogether, but the Jewel trigger leads me to believe this rifle is directed more toward the competition (long range tactical and F-class alike) market anyway.
When I first took the rifle I was immediately struck by how solid and quality the Lawton action felt. It compared very favorably to a Phoenix action that I currently own. After looking it over, working the action, and dry firing a few times I had a very good feeling about this rifle. I took it home an mounted my loaner scope, a Bushnell 4200 6-24×50 Tactical (I mounted my Nightforce for pictures). It’s not as nice as my other scopes but it has worked flawlessly since I got it. I wouldn’t be able to blame any “accuracy issues” on the scope. I normally avoid public shooting ranges like the plague but I didn’t have time to get out to one of my own “shooting spots” for barrel break in. I’m not personally sold on the “proper barrel break in procedure” but since I can’t afford to purchase this rife myself. I judiciously, fired and cleaned, fired and cleaned until there was very little fouling. I was provided some surplus ammo (mixed head stamps) for this process. I did shoot some groups for accuracy and separated head stamps as best I could. Some of the groups weren’t incredibly impressive (no doubt there was some human error, but it’s safe to say I could hold tighter than the surplus ammo would shoot). One head stamp though, “FN 70″ shot very well with a best 3 shot group of .271”. Nearly ¼ MOA with this ammo is pretty darn good in my opinion. Another shooter provided me with 3 rounds of 168gr GMM free of charge if I could squeeze them into less than ½ inch outside to outside. The rifle liked this ammo just fine, as the group was .091″ center to center. I took the rifle home for a thorough cleaning and found it cleaned up very easily, something I expected since it’s not my first Benchmark barrel.
The very next weekend I had planned to go with some buddies on a long range shooting trip. I knew this would be my best opportunity to test the rifle at 500yds. Benchmark didn’t give me any demands about my testing, so I selfishly based everything on my goals for an F-TR rifle mentioned previously. I didn’t have as much 308 Lapua brass as I had remembered, and realized it wouldn’t be possible to test many different loads. I tried to bribe some buddies to test my loads at 300yds during the week, so I’d know which to bring for 500yd testing, but I guess I’m not particularly persuasive. I had 3 different loads (45gr, 45.5gr and 46gr of powder) all with the following components:
Lapua unfired brass
CCI BR-2 primers
Hodgdon Varget powder
Sierra 155gr HPBT “palma” bullets
OAL: 2.825″ (average)
I did no bullet separation by o-give, weight, etc. Cases were not trimmed, or measured for capacity, powder charges are as close as I could get them with my RCBS beam scale. It wasn’t exactly fair to expect much since I had done absolutely zero load development. I had used these same components with very favorable results in 308’s I’d owned previously. More importantly though These are the components I’d plan to use in an F-TR rifle (I’d also look into the 155.5gr Berger BT).
The weekend couldn’t have come fast enough. It was very cold in my buddy’s shooting area (in the 20’s), I was glad he brought a trailer for us to sleep in even though it wasn’t heated. The next morning we drove out and set up our targets. A 14″x12″ steel plate, prairie dog silhouette and clay pigeons at 975yds. Those targets seemed to be calling the Benchmark 308 tucked safely away in the case but I simply didn’t have enough ammo and needed results on paper. Later we moved to a spot where we set up clay pigeons at 500 and 650yds. Of course I also put paper targets up at 500yds for testing purposes. By this time it had warmed up a bit, probably into the low-mid 30’s but, I’m pretty sure the ground was still frozen! There was a little wind, mostly into our face (zero value). I started out with the 45gr load, shooting a couple fowlers, and getting dialed close enough to keep the groups on paper. I repeated the process with the 45.5gr and 46gr loads (minus fowlers obviously) . The rifle clearly liked the 45gr load best with a 3 shot group (of 3 total) of 1.644″ center to center. This is just .336″ over the ¼ MOA mark and .319″ under the 3/8 MOA mark. The group strung horizontally with vertical dispersion of just .494″ which is 0.16″ under 1/8 MOA of vertical dispersion for 3 shots. The 46gr load wasn’t too shabby either at under ½ MOA. The testing was all done from the prone position using a bipod, and rear sand sock. I can only hold so tight, but if I had the opportunity to shoot more than one group with the 45gr load I’m fairly confident it could get even better for 3 shots. Most impressive to myself is the fact that there was no load development done with this rifle. Perhaps I lucked out and the 45gr of Varget is optimal, but I’d bet one could tune the seating depth to further enhance accuracy even thought the SMK’s don’tâ€˜ seem to be very jump/jam sensitive.
I gave the rifle back the same day I tested it at 500yds. It did hurt a little, handing the rifle over along with the 500yd target, but I think I hid it very well. I’d found and shot an ideal F-TR class competition rifle. With the vertical dispersion it displayed, I feel confident in assuming this rifle is true ¼ MOA capable at 500yds. All the more so, as the testing was from a bi-pod, in less than user friendly conditions. It is very likely I’ll be talking to Benchmark about building another 308 in the near future.