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Volume 16, Issue 6 April

  The Ranging Shot Email Todd:
  With ( Comments or questions? )
Todd Spotti
     As most silhouette pistol shooters know, testing hand loads from the bench isnít easy. Put on your favorite scope, and every little wiggle and movement is being magnified many times over. It seems like no matter how hard you try, thereís always a tiny bit of movement, especially when you start putting pressure on the trigger. Thatís why having a rock solid rest is extremely important. 
     As handgunners, we don't have very many choices when it comes to rests. One choice is that we can use a commercial rest made especially for handguns. Unfortunately, no one has yet invented a really good commercial handgun rest suitable for silhouette guns. The problem is recoil. 
     Itís no secret that silhouette guns have quite a bit recoil associated with them. So when you couple that with the fact that many of these commercial handgun rests are fairly light in construction, we have a problem. Almost in every case, the rest will jump and move under the recoil of a silhouette pistol, which of  course does nothing good for accuracy. As a result, I never use a commercial handgun rest although I have tried them from time to time.
     Another alternative is sand bags. Sand bags have a number of things going for them. First of all, theyíre cheap. Empty lead shot bags from the local trap and skeet range are usually available for very little. Just fill them with play sand from Home Depot and close them with a nylon tie and theyíll last for years. Another advantage is that theyíre very flexible to use. For instance you can stack them in any configuration you like to best fit the contour of your gun. You can pack the sand in hard, or better, have a bit of sag in the bag so it will wrap a bit around the gun.
     Of course the biggest advantage of a sand bag is itís weight. This means a small pile of them isnít going to move even when using the most hard recoiling gun in your safe. On the other side of the coin, weight is the biggest disadvantage of the the sand bag. Hauling them around (if your range doesnít furnish them) is a major, major hassle. Another problem is the fact that many guns just donít lend themselves to being shot off sand bags. Revolvers are perhaps the worse offenders. For one, they donít have a forend, and they often have a rounded surface on the bottom of their grips. As a result, they tend to rock from side to side in sand bags. (Thank your stars if you own a revolver with a flat bottom on the end of their grips.) Another difficulty is the fact that the revolverís barrel/cylinder gap is also usually placed close to the sand bags when load testing. Consequently, when the gun is fired, the high velocity escaping gases will quickly cut into a bag causing it to leak sand and necessitating repairs with a patch of some kind. I put a piece of leather over my sandbags to protect them when shooting a revolver.
     When it comes to shooting from a rest, the benchresters have got it down to a science. For instance, bench-rest rifles are equipped with 3Ē wide flat fore-ends on their stocks, which completely eliminates any side to side rocking. Consequently, shooting an XP in sand bags is usually a lot easier because their after market stocks, like a bench-rest rifle, has an flat forend. Iíve also acquired a 2.5Ē flat forend that fits my TCís as well. So when ever Iím checking loads with a TC, Iíll just take off the narrow original equipment forend, and slap on the wide body forend. Same with my MOA production gun. A wide flat forend is a standard option and so itís easy to pop on and off when load testing. Additionally, both the TC and the MOA have flat bottoms on their grips and thus provide even more side to side stability. Sinclair International also sells an add on forend stabilizer for Contenders if you donít want to go to the expense of buying a specialized forend.
     However, while bench shooting silhouette pistols with wide flat fore-ends is a vast improvement when using sand bags, itís still not perfect. This is because thereís no lateral support for the fore-ends in the bags, and this brings us to a third, and perhaps somewhat unconventional approach to silhouette pistol load testing from the bench i.e. using a bench-rest styled rifle rest in conjunction with sand bags.
     I was attracted to this option because the rest can be used not only to test pistol silhouette loads, but obviously can also be used with a rifle. My feeling has always been that if you can get double duty out of your equipment, so much the better. So what distinguishes a BR type rest from a regular rest? Well, as you may have guessed, the main thing is that the flag bottomed ďUĒ shaped top is designed to accept flat fore-ends and gives excellent lateral support. The other is that a BR rest is equipped with a number of  wheels and knobs to adjust its height very precisely. It also provides the means for side to side tracking without having to move/disturb the firearm.
     BR rests can be pretty expensive, ranging from around $350 to over $1000. However, Caldwell has recently come out with a rest with a price tag far, far lower than the competition - $150. I admit that when I first saw the Caldwell rest at the Midway USA booth at the Shot Show that I was impressed with its simple good looks. I was even more impressed with its price and was determined to get hold of one in order to check it out.

"The Caldwell rest from Midway can be used for both silhouette pistols as well as rifles."

     The prime requirement for a good rest is weight. This is needed to provide stability during recoil whether itís from a rifle or a silhouette pistol. The Caldwell BR base weighs a hefty 16 pounds which provides plenty of mass to prevent things from jumping around. The material used to provide this mass is cast iron with a very good quality powder coat finish over the surface. Additionally, the three legged base uses the now popular ďYĒ or ďslingshotĒ design which allows it to be placed closer to the edge of a bench than a conventional design which has the legs at a right angle to the center post. Having the rest closer to the edge of the bench puts the shooter in a more comfortable position. The base also provides a nice15Ē footprint which also contributes to its stability.
     At the end of each of the three legs is a threaded stainless steel peg or ďfootĒ. By screwing the pegs in and out, the legs can be adjusted up or down and so the rest can be made perfectly level on the inevitably uneven surface found on all shooting benches. The adjusting feet on the Caldwell are approximately 2.5Ē long versus the 3.5Ē feet found on most other BR type rests, thus limiting itís adjustment range somewhat. Whether this is a consideration for you depends on how uneven the top your shooting bench may be. However, having a level rest helps to keep your crosshairs aligned on your target. A lock ring on each peg sets it in place once everything is squared up. Most benchrester's will carry around a small carpenterís bubble level with them to do this job. However, this isnít necessary with the Caldwell as it has a very nice round bubble level already built into the top - a good idea. As a bonus, youíll find at the end of the pegs, is a sharpened point. With a 16 pound rest pressing down on them, those points have a tendency to dig into what ever surface they may be resting on. Consequently, recoil is even more unlikely to move the rest.
     The top of the rest is of course where our gun sits. As mentioned before this is a flat bottomed channel shaped fixture containing a similarly shaped sand bag made of Cordura fabric - also with a flat bottom and flat sides. The bag is firmly fixed in place with a couple of removable metal straps. Other styles of bags are also available from Caldwell and are easily installed. Approximately two inches in front of the bag is a rubber covered post or forend stop which is adjustable for height. One of the nicer things about these rests is the fact that the sides of the channel are adjustable so you can move them in and out to precisely fit the width of your forend so eliminate any slop in this location. By using this adjustment you can get very good lateral support on the forend of your gun, and that diminishes side to side movement down to just about zero.
     Besides just holding our gun, the top mechanism of the rest has several functions which are controlled by three knobs and what looks like a horizontal steering wheel. Ok, for coarse adjustments in elevation, just loosen up the correct knob and physically lift the top to the estimated proper height. Have the unloaded gun + scope in the rest while doing so and get the crosshairs as close to the correct elevation as you can. 
     Then lock down the knob. Now unlock the knob on the fine adjustment. Turn the wheel in either direction to precisely place the crosshairs at the exact elevation you want and then lock down again. Since the Caldwell BR rest has a ďwindage topĒ there is a third knob which causes the whole top to swivel in a lateral direction either right or left. 
     I found all three of the elevation controls to work well. Fine elevation adjustments were also smooth and easily controllable. This was due no doubt to the fact that the adjusting wheel rested on a small plate containing several ball bearings - a Caldwell exclusive. The side to side adjustment knob felt somewhat on the weak side and not super positive in its travel, but, never the less, it functioned just fine with no problems. However, I would have preferred stronger springs in its mechanism to provide a better ďfeelĒ.
     Ok, so how are you supposed to use the Caldwell rest for handgun shooting? Simple - just drape a couple of sandbags over the rear leg of the rest. The flat forend of our gun goes on the rest and if the forend is long enough, push it forward against the forend stop. This will ensure that the gun is in exactly the same position from shot to shot. The butt of the gun rests on the sand bags. Youíll find that shooting groups will become much more consistent with this kind of set up.
     Overall, I liked the Caldwell. Itís loaded with all the design features usually found on far more expensive BR rests and actually adds a couple more into the pot for good measure. Additionally, it only costs around around 40% of what others charge for a similar product. If youíve been thinking of getting a rest with all the bells and whistles but donít want to pay big bucks for one, give a serious look at the Caldwell which is sold at (   
Gerberís Freeman Folder
     Every once in a while, we come across a product that really grabs you by the shirt front and demands your attention. The Freeman folding knife by Gerber is definitely one of those products.

"The Gerber Freeman folding knife is both exceptionally good looking and very strong."

     Jeff Freeman is a Gerber engineer who along with Brad Parish, designed the Freeman Hunter fixed blade knife. This particular knife is a thing of very practical beauty, and is so impressive that it won a ďField & Stream Best of the BestĒ  award for 2003. It was only natural then, that Gerber should then bring out a folding version of the same knife. 
     I have to admit that Iíve always been partial to folding knives - primarily because of their more compact dimensions. A high quality folder can handle just about any job you may give it, and when the job is done, you can just unlock the blade, swing it back into the handle, and slip the knife into your pants pocket until the next job comes along. A fixed blade knife on the other hand is always open and has to be carried in a sheath. This is no problem in the field, but while going through our everyday routine at home or work, carrying a sheath knife around isnít very practical for a lot of different reasons. While itís true that a fixed blade is stronger than a folder, 99.99999% of the time, that strength is never used, nor needed. Besides, Gerber folders have all the strength that even the most demanding user will ever need.
     The first thing that youíll note about this knife is its looks. It kind of reminds me of the Nissan 280 ZX sports car. Some knives and sports cars are very long and slender (almost feminine looking) while others are like the Gerber i.e. not as long and skinny but never the less, give the impression of masculine, blue collar good looks. Two things make the Freeman Folder visually stand out i.e. the nicely figured pear wood panels on the finger grooved handle, and the light gray, bead blasted satin finished drop point blade. 
     Letís talk about the blade first since thatís where all of the work is taking place. Itís a plain edge, 3 1/4Ē long, approximately 1 3/8th inches wide at the handle, and .135Ē thick. Translation - this is a strong, heavy duty blade. 
     Itís also made from 440A stainless steel with a Rockwell hardness of 57 on the scale. Having once been a steel worker myself and coming from a family of steel workers, I can tell you that 440A is a great steel for a knife. Why? Because itís a high carbon stainless which means that because of its hardness, it can take AND keep a very fine, super sharp edge. In fact, 440A is known for its wear resistance. As far as the Gerberís sharpness is concerned, in a little experiment, I used it to shave a little patch of hair off of my arm. Sharp enough! Additionally, 440A, unlike some other high carbon steels which can be somewhat brittle, itís very strong and has good corrosion resistance besides. A ambidextrous thumb stud on the blade makes one handed opening a snap.
     Blade shape is often a matter of personal preference, but itís a widely accepted fact that the tip of the blade is the weakest part. For a tough working knife, you want plenty of metal around the tip, and the drop point is considered one of the best designs from that standpoint. This is because the tip is located well above the longitudinal center of the blade and so thereís plenty of steel underneath to support it. This is opposed to a clip blade design (found on Bowie knives) where the tip is much more slender and located further down from the top of the blade with very little steel underneath. That long, thin tip may look sexy, but itís definitely not as strong.
     The stainless handle with wood panels itself has a couple of noteworthy features. One is the width. Itís nearly 3/4ís of an inch wide which means youíve got enough meat there to hold on to as opposed to the skinny knives. Itís also an open liner lock design. On almost all folders, the top of the knife handle is solid while the bottom is open when the blade has been rotated out. When dressing game, blood, tissue, dirt, etc. will get into the interior of the handle and will gum things up really fast. Thoroughly cleaning all that junk out of a standard folder is obviously difficult. The Gerber design is open not only on the bottom, but also the top. This makes cleaning the interior much, much easier. After dressing out game, just swirl the knife around in any available water to swoosh all the gunk out. Everythingís stainless so donít worry about rust. If you want, you can give the interior a shot of Shooterís Choice Rust Prevent for extra insurance once you get home. 
     Another distinctive feature of the Freeman Folder is the ribbed surface underneath the length of the handle and at strategic locations on top of the handle. The tops of the individual ridges are rounded and smooth giving a comfortable, yet very positive textured grip. One thing I particularly liked was that there are a series of ridges approximately 5/8 of an inch long on the flat top of the blade, right where it joins the handle. When gripping the finger grooved handle, itís natural to place your thumb in this exact location. The additional ridges on the top of the blade not only improves the grip, but more importantly, the controllability of the knife even more. This is an area that designers often over look. Needless to say I was very impressed with the ergonomics of this knife. Lastly, there is a nice, wide slot in the base of the handle to attach a lanyard if you so choose. A model with a built in gut hook is also available.
     At a hefty 6.4 ounces, some may find the Freeman Folder to be a little beefy to carry in their pocket. Personally, I prefer a pocket carry myself, however the knife comes with a very nice semi hard sided ballistic nylon pouch which can be carried on a belt in either a vertical or horizontal position.  
     In summary, this is one extremely good looking, tough, feature loaded, very practical knife that can be used for everything from dressing out a buck to cutting the string off the morning newspaper. Itís widely available and sells for around $40 on the internet. You need this.
Good luck and good shooting. Todd

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Warning: All technical data mentioned, especially handloading and bullet casting, reflect the limited experience of individuals using specific tools, products, equipment and components under specific conditions and circumstances not necessarily reported in the article or on this web site and over which IHMSA, The Los Angeles Silhouette Club (LASC), this web site or the author has no control. The above has no control over the condition of your firearms or your methods, components, tools, techniques or circumstances and disclaims all and any responsibility for any person using any data mentioned. Always consult recognized reloading manuals.