Fightin’ Iron: Held For Ransom

The Ransom Rest eliminates any shooter-induced movement during the firing process, revealing a handgun’s mechanical accuracy. Inserts (blue) match the specific model of pistol to ensure a proper fit.

In 1985, I ended my law enforcement career with regular service retirement. At this point in my life, several things changed forever, but a lifelong preoccupation with all things that burn gunpowder was not one of them. Since my teenage years, I have had a strong interest in firearms in general, but handguns in particular. I began to play with the idea of possibly becoming one of the guys who wrote monthly articles for the several gun magazines that drew my attention. I read a great deal of firearm-oriented literature. The basic type of magazine article was a plain gun review, where the writer described a particular arm, talked about how it was like similar guns and differed from others—but always discussed how the gun performed. That would seem to be an accurate assessment of the situation, because I have been doing it for 38 years.

Just plain good luck put me in the right place at the right time. I got a gunwriter’s job at a small magazine, moved to a bigger one at a better salary and find myself still hard at it in 2023. Mostly focused on handguns, I’ve had a great time shooting most of the new model introductions. I had always been intrigued by gun articles that had accurate information on a gun’s performance. My concerns with a handgun’s consistent average velocity with either store-bought or hand-loaded ammo was pretty well resolved with an early version of Dr. Ken Oehler’s chronographs. But, although I had some competitive-shooting experience, I needed some means of minimizing the human error in shooting off the bench.

Before I compiled my first article, I purchased and used a device that enabled me to accurately identify the precision of the handgun. A so-called “machine rest,” this equipment is known as the Ransom Rest.

The basic idea came from the fertile imagination of former-USMC armorer Chuck Ransom. Ransom built ultra-accurate 1911s in .45 ACP for competition, and wanted to measure the accuracy of his creations. After several years of development, he came up with a device that measures the accuracy of a handgun and/or ammunition. It is widely used in the firearm industry, but is priced to appeal to individual shooters or clubs.

The Rest is made of two heavy-steel castings, the first of which is a flat-bottomed base that the shooter securely bolts to a sturdy bench at the range. The second is a short arm with a means to fasten a handgun.  At the juncture of these two components, there is a pivoting joint held in place with a powerful coil spring. The basic idea is to fasten a handgun to the arm and fire it from a mobile bench and base. If the gun fires in exactly the same place from shot to shot, the bullets will hit the same point on the target. The various elements of handgun marksmanship are just not part of the equation. To make the use of the Rest effective, the shooter must have a proper set of so-called “inserts” for the gun he or she is using. Inserts are rubber-faced aluminum plates (right and left) with molded-in recesses that match the butt of whatever gun you are shooting. There are more than 700 different handguns listed in the Ransom International catalog. There is an immense amount of experience-developed lore on working with the Rest, but the basics are herein. Properly maintained and manipulated, it is a superb piece of test equipment.

So, what will it do?  After a proper setup and a dozen or so settling shots, you are ready to find out some things you never knew about your gun. If you are getting ready to go to Camp Perry and have three different lots of ammunition, shoot about 20 rounds of each at 25 yards. Also, shoot the same at 50 yards. In half an hour, your question will be resolved, and you will know the best lot. If it is match-grade ammo, the group size may be inconsequentially small. You can get similar results with handloads. When you hit on a real fine load combination, shooting slight changes can sometimes improve it. You will find out some curious things about your semi-automatic pistol when you use the Rest. Approximately 70 to 80 percent of all new semi-autos will shoot the first round somewhere other than the rest of the magazine.

Revolvers are equally interesting. Remember that a sixgun is essentially six guns, in that there are six chamber-and-barrel combinations. It makes a difference. An hour or so with a revolver in the rest can provide interesting information. Shoot a group of five or so with each chamber and find out which one shoots the smallest—and the largest. More to the point, you can use the accuracy of shooting from the rest to identify the most accurate team of five chambers.

Shooters who tune their handloads with Ransom Rest shooting will appreciate my delight at the smallest handloaded group I ever fired with a handgun—.29 inch. Twenty years later, I had reason to assemble the same load and it almost did it again.

If there is anything to be learned from all of this, it is simply that your handguns are far more accurate than you ever imagined. Sure, it is possible to get a high-priced, name-brand gun that shoots unacceptably large groups, as well as an aging import that drives nails. Wouldn’t you really like to know? I believe that any shooter who uses a gun of known mechanical accuracy does it with much greater confidence—even fightin’ iron.

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