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Building and Using a Better Pistol Rest: There is a good chance you can vastly improve your pistol shooting accuracy--and you won't need a machine rest to do it. Building a reliable pistol rest, along with a sound shooting technique, is a good place to begin.

This treatise is a spinoff of my American Gunsmith article in the May 2018 issue covering precision scope mounting the Remington XP-100 pistol. In that article I wrote, "In the load and accuracy of various scoped pistols I had designed and built a special pistol rest. Properly used it pretty much eliminates the human error in testing". This generated a response by the American Gunsmith editor and others to see if I had any interest in writing up an article on how to build this pistol rest. Here are my efforts toward that end.

Basic Design Principles

You won't need to be a design engineer or a master machinist to build this pistol rest. Nor is it necessary to follow in precise detail the protocol inherent to my exact plan. In the construction of this pistol rest, now 44 years past, it is evident I used some parts that were readily available to me at the time. As an inventor, I don't throw many things away.

The basic function here involves a rack and pinion-driven post to raise and lower the front rest and a locking mechanism to hold it at desired height.

The vertical post moves up and down within its base, which is bolted squarely to the floor of the unit. Both the main post and the gear rack are solidly attached to a heavy angle iron bracket with the gear rack at the front and main post on the back. The heavy angle iron bracket also serves as the base for the upper platform which also is solidly bolted to it. A special spring bracket is also attached to the angle iron bracket to serve as a counter poise while raising and lowering the assembled sandbag upper platform unit.

The gear rack and pinion used to elevate the sandbag platform are also attached directly to the vertical post and angle iron bracket. The pinion gear is attached to a 1/2" horizontal drive shaft forming an integral part of a perpendicular frame assembly bolted to the base of the shooting rest from below. A lever is attached to the left end of the pinion shaft used to conveniently raise and lower the gear rack, thus elevating or lowering the pistol forend on the sandbag. A lever lock positioned within easy reach of the shooter locks the post solidly in position while shooting.

The main base, or lower floor, is made up of a flat piece of 6X10X1/4-inch cast aluminum. Four 1/2" wing nut bolts are positioned at the four corners used to level the unit on the shooting bench. The top platform of the pistol rest is also made of 1/4" cast aluminum 5X12 with the corners cut off at an angle. This is solidly attached to the heavy angle iron bracket with 3/8" countersunk bolts. Two hinged, laterally opposing, adjustable wings are bolted in place on the top platform 2 1/2" inward from each side. Located at the top sides of each wing are adjustment arms that engage notches at each side of the floor. This enables the shooter to place the pistol forend into a shaped sandbag for return-to-battery position shot-to-shot.

Making The Rear Pistol Rest

The rear pistol rest is a very important part of precision shooting. It, too, must be stable and adjustable for height. During normal shooting from a bench rest to a horizontal target position, the pistol butt is best placed approximately two inches above the bench. Once this height is determined, the front rest can be set at desired height.

In making the rear rest I used a 7X7X3/16-inch steel plate. As a means of controlling the height of the rear bag rest, I drilled and tapped for half-inch course threads and wing nuts as locks located at each corner. Having set the rear rest to a comfortable shooting position, it can remain at that setting.

As rear bag guides, two 1X5-inch parallel, thin-wall angle irons were attached at the sides. These were spaced 3 1/2" apart for the pre-sized rear bag. Angle iron stops made of 1X3 1/2-inch thin wall angle iron were placed at each end to complete the rear bag setup. Two split pieces of half-inch rubber hose were placed at each side as a protective measure for the bottom of the pistol buttstock. The rear bag rest forms a very sturdy platform for the pistol butt, allowing for straight back recoil.

Sand Bag Considerations

Good quality sandbags are an important requirement in precision shooting for pistols or rifles. The bags should be inert and not spongy, but firm. Use fine beach sand or zircon that stays where you put it and doesn't roll like ball bearings. Use a type of leather that won't grab or cling to the pistol forend or butt--a leather with good release or break-away friction. We want the pistol to feel solidly in position while aiming and firing, yet have good contact release upon firing. I once wrecked one of my pretty good leather jackets for the quality of sandbag leather it produced--and never heard the end of it.

Precision Shooting

Here I shall pass along some of the accepted techniques that I have observed and used in more than 60 years of shooting, with particular emphasis on shooting handguns over sandbag rests. Our primary objective here is to markedly reduce or eliminate the human error in our shooting. While we may not eliminate all of it, we can come mighty close.

There exists a direct correlation between pistol hold, trigger control, and recoil. As we strive for best accuracy, the pistol is placed squarely, firmly, and uniformly over the front and rear sandbags. The sight is then aligned precisely on target by micro adjusting the pistol rest or moving the rear rest or pistol butt, or both, as needed. We must always try to attain optimal stability in the process.

At this stage I hold the pistol grip with one or both hands to assure sight alignment and steadiness. I test for sight stability with varying degrees of hold pressure. I do this a few times as necessary. During this maneuver I prefer to place a quite firm, downward pressure of the pistol butt into the rear bags as I use both hands to hold and steady the pistol. The amount is dependent upon the anticipated degree of recoil. I want to be able to maintain reticle stability with absolute zero movement through this process. Of course, we don't perform these exact maneuvers in rifle benchrest shooting where free recoil is often used along with usually very light triggers.

While shooting a pistol, we must know and learn the trigger pull weight and feel of each gun in order to get off a steady shot with good control. Trying a few dry-fire shots to test for sight stability on trigger release can prove helpful. The reticle should remain right on target at the moment of and following dry-fire trigger release or the instant before actually shooting. I'll allude to trigger control in a little more detail a bit later.

Dealing With Pistol Recoil

In the process of fine tuning our benchrest pistol shooting skills, we must obviate certain conditions. Here the recoil issue enters the picture. We can't allow those pistols with significant recoil to just move freely with no human constraints. The pistol muzzle recoils upward because the line of bore thrust is above the mass center of the gun. If no counter measures are taken, the gun could virtually go airborne. In any case, this can be a very uncomfortable experience, particularly for those unaccustomed to it.

Each shooter handles--or more appropriately, tolerates--recoil differently. The tolerance level varies markedly among shooters manifest as a sort of defense mechanism to a neuromuscular response and it can wear one down. In any case, the shooter must maintain control of the pistol as uniformly as possible, from shot-to-shot during the entire duration of the shooting process or groups will suffer. This is where the process essentially becomes mind over mechanics. Just as an example, application of uneven pressure to the pistol grip will cause bullet impact to go opposite to the direction of applied pressure and your grouping with it.

Trigger control is an unavoidably, often-divided issue, with widely differing schools of thought here. The question often arises whether we should anticipate precisely when the trigger/sear will break or release, or be allowed to come as a surprise to us. In my earlier experience as a U.S. Marine I was taught to anticipate precisely when a firearm would discharge. Later, in building or testing many, many hundreds of firearms, and installing all manner of triggers, I still prefer to know when each trigger is going to break, along with the realization there will be various degrees of recoil and muzzle blast. I believe I have learned to be a better marksman as a result under all shooting conditions.

In any event, I have no quarrel with those who prefer to be taken unaware of the precise instant of firearm discharge. In either case, we must remain aware of the insidious possibility of flinching as we fire a shot and just because you've been shooting for years doesn't mean it can't happen. I believe being totally unaware of this can exacerbate the problem. Either way, we must follow through and learn to call each shot for better grouping. This will require devoted concentration but you'll find it well worth the effort.

I have introduced these final thoughts to serve as a means of assisting those who have a real desire in becoming more capable pistol shooters. I am hopeful the use of this pistol rest will help you in this endeavor. Good shooting.

by Norman E. Johnson
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Title Annotation:BENCHWORK
Author:Johnson, Norman E.
Publication:American Gunsmith
Date:Jun 1, 2018
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