Custom rifles bring new accuracy for target shooters

CorrespondentJune 26, 2013 

— Members of Buccaneer Club put in several workdays each year, keeping various ranges and target supports in top shape. It was Saturday, June 15, the day before Father’s Day and after the moaning of lawnmowers and pounding of hammers ceased, several shooters headed for a new shelter to share its cool shade.

The shingled roof covered a row of concrete benches fixed to a concrete floor. Michael Pridgen was testing his rifle, preparing for the upcoming competition. The concrete benches were a necessity for holding his rifle rests rock-solid steady for a match that demands the utmost in accuracy from gun and shooter. For a year and a half, he has been shooting in the club’s rimfire rifle bench rest matches.

“I’m shooting a practice target, checking the wind and scope settings,” said Pridgen, 52, who works at Jeff Fountain Tire in Wilmington. “The most important thing for shooting a good score is trigger control, next is wind, then ammo quality.”

Jeff Fountain, 59, owner of Jeff Fountain Tire, founded the monthly match. At first, he held the matches on holidays. However, as the number of shooters grew, so did the need for a more formal venue. Now he schedules the matches for 10 a.m. the third Saturday of each month, which happened to coincide with Father’s Day weekend. It’s a time when lots of fathers and sons shoot rimfire rifles together. However, these rifles were not your typical father’s .22s.

Fountain began shooting bench rest matches with an out-of-the box Savage Mark II with a thumbhole stock and scope that cost $300. He quickly tired of “fliers” – bullets that stray too far from the 0.050-inch dot that serves as the X-ring.

“We shoot three classes – production, semi-auto and custom,” Fountain said. “It takes a perfect 250 to win, but that is usually a tie. We break ties by the number of X hits. I won a match with a score of 250 with 20 Xs. The second-place shooter also had 250, but only 16 Xs.”

Each score sheet has four sighting targets above 25 scoring targets. A shooter can fire all the sighters he likes, but only one shot per scoring target. The sighters help the shooter judge wind and check his scope adjustments. The shooting distance is 50 yards. To gauge the wind’s direction and velocity, shooters set up weather-vane-like devices with flags and propellers.

The competitors were using IBS rimfire targets. However, Fountain said scores were becoming so good he was going to switch to smaller target.

“We will be switching soon to the USRA-IR50/50 target,” he said. “The scoring rings are half the size, with the X-dot only 0.0250-inch. The IBS targets we use now have no sanctioning body, but when we switch targets we can host matches sanctioned by USRA-IR50/50, a national organization. Then we will can compete with the organization’s other shooters.”

Before the match began, Pridgen fired several sighters plus one shot each into 25 scoring targets on his practice sheet. The last two bullets missed the 10-ring, so he fired another shot at each of them to check his scope.

“This is a production rifle, not a custom rifle like Jeff’s,” he said. “It’s a 1946 Walther Sport Model I found it over the Internet for $600. The Truglo scope cost $100 and a set of used Caldwell rests cost $125. My best match score with this rifle was a 249 with 14 Xs.”

Fountain said his custom rifle was a lot more expensive, but could shoot 250 every time if the he did his part.

“My rifle was made by Baitey’s Custom Gun Works in North Wilkesboro,” he said. “It cost $2,500, the scope was $400, and the rests were $975. A box of .22 target ammo is more expensive than over-the-counter ammo at around $13 per box of 50.”

Fountain’s rifle also had finely tuned trigger pull measured in ounces and a counterweighted with a dial he called a “barrel tuner” at the muzzle. He could twist a knob and record the best setting for dampening the harmonics of the barrel to increase accuracy, which he said was akin to putting your finger against a vibrating guitar string.

“Each rifle shoots best with a specific ammunition, so we trade boxes of ammo for everybody can see what works,” Pridgen said. “I tried five different types before finding out my Walther shoots Lapua SK ammo best, but that’s only above 48 degrees. It shoots another type better when it’s colder.”

All of Buccaneer Gun Club’s matches, including the rimfire rifle bench rest match, are open to the public. To find out more, visit the club’s website at www.buccaneergunclub.org.

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