Taking away the human variable is why the Ransom rest was invented. I was first introduced to the Ransom Rest when I was hired by a DoD contractor to build 1911 pistols for the government. I personally built over 500, and used the Ransom Rest for each one of them. The Ransom Rest has been around since 1969, and really is the gold standard for gun/ammo testing.
I was building a new Caspian 1911 .45 ACP last month and needed to test it, and obtained a new Ransom Rest and insert for the 1911 from the fine folks at Brownell’s. Getting the most from a Ransom Rest means building a mounting board for it, that way it can be secured to the shooting bench at your local range. Most ranges have shooting pedestals made from cinder block with a concrete top. This is a very sturdy basis for attaching the mounting board with the Ransom Rest attached.
Remember, you’re trying to remove as much movement as possible, in order to make sure the pistol returns to the exact same spot for each shot. If the bench you’re attaching the mounting board is wobbly, you’re just wasting your time.
Building a mounting board is pretty straightforward and anyone who is even mildly handy with power tools can build one in a couple of hours. The Ransom people send pretty good instructions, but if you’re like me, if the instructions say ½” thick plywood, I go with ¾” or 1″. Ransom recommends three C-clamps, so, of course, I used four, one on each corner.
I went to my local range, the Bluegrass Sportsman’s League, and measured the dimensions of the concrete table top and made a paper template with the dimensions written on it. Once I had those dimensions, it’s a simple matter to lay everything out using a single sheet of ¾” or 1″ plywood. I then screwed and glued 1/2×3″ strips to the bottom of the plywood. This is to make sure the plywood is suspended off of the concrete table top. The mounting board should only contact the table on the front and rear. I put additional 1/2×3″ strips on the side to add a little more stiffness to the board. The main point is the board should not make any contact with the table top.
Once the board is roughed out and the supporting strips are installed. I added 4″ square metal plates to the four corners. This will help keep the C-clamps from cracking and splitting the wood.
After measuring the tabletop of the bench at your individual range, layout the plywood
and measure out your cuts, then snap a line and make the first cut with a circular saw.
Remember the rule, measure twice, cut once.
I used a table saw to trim the plywood to the final dimension.
Here I’m snapping a chalk line to make a cut for the final width.
Adding The Rest
The instructions included with the rest spell out specifically how and where to place the rest onto the board for best results, and it’s a good idea to follow those instructions. The left side, or gun side, should be on the centerline of the board, and the rest should be placed 2/3 of the way to the rear of the board. I usually lay the rest on the board, mark the mounting holes so I can go back and drill pilot holes for the mounting screws. Once the pilot holes are drilled, screw the rest onto the board with the #10 wood screws provided.
Ransom makes a windage base which the rest mounts into. If you have this, the windage base gets installed onto the mounting board first, and then the Ransom Rest gets installed onto the windage base. The windage base makes it easier to get the pistol centered up on target a little quicker when at the range.
This cut is trimmed for width.
I’m measuring the risers to attach to the bottom of the plywood to raise it up off of
the tabletop. These risers are 1/2×3″, or can be larger or smaller depending on your
budget and tabletop dimensions.
Drill the pilot holes for the #10 wood screws, and then attach the Ransom Rest to
the plywood tabletop. I used a long screwdriver so I don’t have to disassemble the
Ransom Rest in order to attach it to the plywood.
I’ve attached the rest to the plywood tabletop, and have attached metal plates to the
corners to keep the wood from splitting from repeatedly clamping down on the wood with
Once at the range, attach the board to the concrete shooting table with C-clamps.
I usually put the target downrange first in order to get the board lined up. Don’t
tighten the clamps down too much as you will probably need to jockey the mounting
board around. It takes a little practice to get the process down.
Once the rest is mounted I usually take the pistol, and making sure it’s unloaded, mount it into the Ransom Rest and adjust the trigger actuating lever. With any pistol, prior to testing, I usually need to take a box cutter or knife and cut away areas that will interfere with the proper functioning of the pistol. Things like extended thumb safeties and Ed Brown-type magazine wells need areas in the grip holder to be relieved for proper clamping into the rest and for functioning.
It’s best to do this in the workshop or garage, rather than getting to the range and realizing the gun won’t clamp correctly into the rest. Usually any time I add an aftermarket part I’m going to make sure the gun can still be clamped into the rest prior to going to the range.
Remember the trigger actuator will have to be adjusted specifically for autopistols and revolvers. Polymer framed guns are a little different and can be a challenge to use with the Ransom Rest. Because of the flexibility of the frame, it cannot be clamped down has hard as a steel framed gun. Polymer-framed guns have to be fired more in the rest before they will “settle” into the inserts.
With a 1911 type auto, usually 5-10 rounds are enough to get the gun to settle into the inserts and begin to create uniform groups. With the Glock or other polymer-framed pistols, I don’t tighten it down as much, and I usually fire around 30 “settling” shots before I can start testing.
Mounting the pistol into the rest takes a little time. The inserts are a tight
fit by design, and do not slide onto the mounting pegs easily.
Once the pistol is mounted into the rest, and tightened down, do not use the pistol to raise
or lower the fixture, use the flange on the rest itself. That’s what it’s made for.
The elevation screw has a lock nut on top. Once the elevation is set, use the locknut to
secure it. Forgetting to tighten this nut is a fairly common reason for the shot groups
to string vertically.
Always make sure to set the trigger actuator so it’s applying pressure to the center
of the trigger. This is the same technique you would use as a shooter, and works for
the Ransom Rest as well.
This is the set-up for accuracy and velocity testing. The Ransom Rest is paired with
an Oehler 35P chronograph. I would like to use a little larger target, but this isn’t
too bad. It just takes a little longer to set up with a smaller target.
One nice feature is I can combine accuracy testing with velocity testing by combining the rest with a good Chronograph. I paired up the Ransom Rest with a Oehler 35P and was able see, in real time, which groups produced the smallest, most uniform groups, with the smallest standard deviation and most uniform velocity. What makes this pairing even better is I have hard copies of the targets, and the printout from the chronograph for comparison later. This lets me find the best gun/load combination and I can “tweak” the handloads to see exactly what the results are. I can also take small batches of slightly different handloads to the range and run them through testing to see what small variations do to the group sizes.
The technique for using an auto-pistol is to clock the slide back, raise the pistol
using the flange on the rest, insert the magazine, let the slide go forward, and push
the pistol down using the flange on to the elevation stop to get ready for firing.
I always fire “settling shots” before firing actual groups. Also, I load six rounds and
leave the round in the chamber when switching magazines. If the weather is hot, don’t
leave a round in the chamber of a hot gun for very long when changing out magazines,
as it can drive up chamber pressure and make velocity go up, causing flyers.
I’m getting ready to launch the first round. Note I’m standing back and off to the
side for safety, with my thumb on the trigger actuating lever. Use the same pressure
on the lever from shot to shot for the best consistency. I usually shoot five shot groups.
This pistol is in full recoil with 230 grain ammo.
The Ransom Rest, paired with Federal Match ammunition, made a great combination and shot very well.
There’s a definite process to mounting the gun into the rest and getting it ready to fire. Starting with the 1911, I’ll remove the stocks and place the pistol into the right insert, then install the left insert. Before I clamp everything down, make sure the grip safety and thumb safeties are both fully depressed. Install the left plate, washers and the star knobs. The three knobs are labeled A, B and C. The drill is to tighten A and B, then snug up C. The key is to make sure the gun cycles, the magazine can be inserted and falls free, and the trigger resets. Do this adjustment by hand, do not use tools to tighten the star knobs. Once that is set, make sure the gap between the two inserts in equal. An uneven gap means the inserts were not tightened correctly.
The castle nut on the back acts as a recoil stop for semi-automatic pistols in case they go full auto, and needs to be removed for large calibers. I’ve tested several 1911’s that would double in a Ransom rest but shot fine when hand-held. Always keep the castle nut stop in place for semi-autos. I always stand to the side when testing autopistols just for that reason. It’s a little eye-opening when you expect to fire a single shot and see three go downrange while the pistol is climbing! That third shot is almost straight up in the air.
This setup works very well for testing any type of handgun/ammo combination
using the Ransom Rest, with the Oehler 35P Chronograph.
Here I’m ready to test some .45 ACP 200 gr SWC handloads. The Ransom Rest takes out
he human element and is a great way to comparison-test handloads vs. factory loads.
Mounting a revolver into the rest is a similar process to an auto-pistol. Seat the gun
into the right side while pressing the left hand inserts up against the pistol, then
install the plate, then the washers, then the star knobs. Tighten in sequence A then B,
and finally snug up C. Practice and experiment with different techniques to see what works best.
The operator needs to actuate the trigger several times with both auto-pistols and
revolvers to make sure the trigger actuator functions correctly. Make sure both
auto-pistol and revolver triggers fully return.
Installing revolvers is a similar process to the auto, but adjusting the trigger actuator is a little trickier since the travel of the trigger is so much longer than the autopistol’s. Again, make sure the gap between the inserts is uniform, and fire 10 to 15 settling shots prior to testing. Remember it’s normal for the initial “settling” groups to string vertically while the handgun settles in, regardless of whether it’s an auto or revolver.
One other technique to remember with the rest is to never return the handgun to the lowered position by grabbing the pistol itself. Always use the shelf on the rest to lower the pistol. Anytime you touch the pistol other than for loading and unloading, you run the risk of shifting the pistol in the rest, destroying that group until the pistol “settles” in again. Repeatability is the key to shooting, and the Ransom Rest does this automatically. You also have to use the same technique when mounting the gun into the inserts, loading the pistol or revolver and actuating the trigger. Varying the pressure on the trigger actuator can influence shot groups. Consistency and repeatability are keys to good results.
I use a similar technique when testing with the Ransom Rest using a revolver as
I do when using an auto-pistol. The difference is it’s not as critical to stand
back and away from the gun. With a revolver there’s no chance of it doubling.
Close up of the castle nut on the back of the Ransom Rest acting as a recoil stop
for semi-auto pistols. The nut should be removed for heavy recoiling revolvers and
single shot pistols.
Always make sure the trigger actuator is centered in revolvers as well as
auto-pistols. This helps ensure consistent results.
Another best practice for using a Ransom rest is to always make sure the part of the trigger actuator actually touching the trigger is placed in the center of the trigger so it’s pulling straight back. The trigger actuator has two adjustments for this and they are easy to use. I always take a small set of tools with me to the range to make sure I’m able to make any adjustments needed.
Another adjustment is the elevation stop and this stop has a stop nut which needs to be tight when testing. Always remember the Ransom Rest has two friction plates and a spring, so the entire mechanism acts like a disc brake when firing. Never make any adjustments to the spring.
The Ransom Rest can give shooters confidence their gun/load combo is performing at a peak level. The Ransom Rest is a niche product not intended for the casual shooter, but the for serious hobbyist or professional, whether they are a gunsmith or avid reloader.
Using a Ransom Rest for testing gun/ammo combinations will pay off big time not only time savings, but also in general knowledge about what works best for your specific guns and loads. The Ransom Rest is the gold standard for ammunition and gun testing and can be mastered by anyone, with a bit of attention and practice.
The Ransom inserts are relieved in critical areas for most 1911 accessories, but always
make sure the aftermarket parts you install fit correctly into the inserts and don’t bind.
The Hornady 230 grain JHP XTP round shot the best in my .45 ACP Bullseye pistol. My custom
Caspian 1911 was not ready to be accuracy tested yet so my old Bullseye pinch-hit for it.
I replaced the target recoil spring for a stouter one since I would be testing full power
defense loads. I also ran some Federal target loads through the gun and they shot well and
functioned very well.
By Steve Sieberts