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What exactly does “bedding” a rifle mean? And is it necessary?

The term “bedding a rifle” refers to the process where you add a rigid compound inside a stock or chassis to perfectly mirror the barreled action that is installed in it. The key to precision rifle shooting is consistency, and ideally, everything is exactly the same from shot to shot. When you fire a round and the rifle recoils, there is a lot of force on the action, and if it budges even slightly or has pressure applied to it differently than it had the shot before, you’ll likely have a point of impact shift (meaning the next shot won’t go in the same hole as the previous). Bedding ensures the fit and stability of the action is absolutely optimal. It makes the stock or chassis have a custom-fit cradle for your action, which helps prevent the rifle from having slight shifts shot-to-shot or if it is jarred or knocked over.

What does bedding a rifle mean and is it necessary

Before 2010, virtually all precision rifles were bedded, often referred to as “glass bedding” or “pillar bedding.” While the products have changed over time, the goal is still the same. Today, most gunsmiths bed a rifle using epoxy resin or steel putty. For many stocks and chassis, gunsmiths no longer use aluminum pillars, and they refer to the bedding process without pillars as “skim bedding.”

How much a rifle will benefit from bedding can vary depending on the manufacturing tolerances of both the action and the stock/chassis. If the action is very true and square and the bedding block it’s being mounted in is also very true and square – then bedding may provide no additional benefit.

Not bedding a precision rifle certainly flies in the face of conventional wisdom, advice shared over the counter at the local gun store or from your older gunsmiths who don’t primarily build high-end precision rifles. So here is some hard data: In late 2023, I surveyed the top 200 ranked shooters in the Precision Rifle Series (PRS) and asked them if their rifle was bedded or not.

67% of those nationally-ranked precision rifle shooters said their competition rifle was not bedded. These are guys getting first-round hits on targets at 1000+ yards!

Now, all of these guys are using a very high-quality rifle stock or chassis (see the data on exactly what brands they’re using). For context, most of these stocks and chassis are priced at over $1,000. So it’s not a standard factory rifle that most people are using.

If you are using a standard factory rifle, then epoxy bedding your rifle may certainly help your rifle’s precision and long-term repeatability. However, I want to present a balanced and modern view of this.

If you are using an action or stock/chassis that is not perfectly cylindrical or square (like many mass-produced factory products), then it may benefit from bedding. Foundation Stocks is a company that makes high-end custom stocks used by many of the top PRS shooters. The owner, John-Kyle Truitt, told me that based on his experience, most custom actions are held to within +/- 0.002″ of the stated dimensions. That means the actions are very true and square. However, that kind of precision isn’t often found with factory actions.

What kind of improvement can you see if you do bed? It largely depends on how poor the stock-to-action fit was before and how much micro-movement you were getting shot-to-shot. If the gun is shooting 3-inch groups at 100 yards, is bedding it going to make it sub-MOA? Probably not. Realistic expectations might be closer to 0-30% – outside of extreme cases.

So, we say in the chart that most of the top PRS shooters DO NOT bed their rifles, but some still do. What is the thought process of the few that do still bed? I’ve personally held several of them explain their reasoning, and I’d say most of them think of bedding as insurance against extreme circumstances that could happen at a match. They don’t necessarily think their action would budge or not return to the exact same position after recoil during normal use, but what if they bang their barrel really hard as they are getting in/out of a window, or what if their rifle fell over during a match? The shooter would instantly start thinking, “Man, I sure hope I didn’t just lose my zero because of that.” Bedding the rifle might give them a little added peace of mind in those situations. Many might say, “Bedding might not help, but it also probably won’t hurt – and it could help in those extreme cases where the rifle was banged around.”

One last thing to keep in mind is once you have bedded a stock or chassis for an action – you are pretty much locked into that. So if you are someone who wants to swap barreled actions between different stocks and chassis – you can’t do that if they are bedded, unless it’s an identical action (and it probably has to be a custom action to ensure the dimensions don’t vary significantly). You are basically dedicating that stock/chassis to that action for the rest of its life, which can limit flexibility in how you use your investment. So that is another factor to consider when deciding to bed or not to bed.

Here is some sound advice as you research this further: