There are several ways to test fire a handgun, whether for function, for accuracy, or for any kind of instrumented testing, like chronograph load development or strain-gage pressure measurement. In ascending order, these are: by hand, from an improvised rest such as a sandbag, or from a machine rest.
The best commercially available machine rest is the Ransom Rest and it has been for a long time. It is, as you might expect, premium priced, and it also takes quite a bit of installing and setting up.
Steve Sieberts has an excellent article on setting up a Ransom Rest, one we wish we’d had the first time we monkeyed with one back in 1980 or so, in the American Handgunner online.
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.
Note his mention of “insert for the 1911.” The Ransom Rest grips handguns in a sort of vise, and for that it must have custom jaws to fit the particular gun, in Ransom terms “inserts.” (Current ones are blue). This can be a considerable expense of its own, with the inserts costing $60-70 each now; but the bigger problem is that they are only available for the most popular sidearms. Especially for the ones popular when the Ransom Rest was introduced, like the 1911 and the S&W K-Frame!
(And no, this is not just sniveling because they don’t make an insert for the CZ-75 — they do. Like all the non-1911 non-Smith inserts, it’s a month or two special order, so you need to plan your Ransom Resting well in advance).
As for the price of the unit itself, well, that’s why they call it Ransom. The Ransom Rest, Windage Base and one set of inserts will hit you about $750 at Brownells, today. (You can save about $100 off that at Champions Choice, but we’ve ever dealt with them. They also seem to offer a different selection of inserts than Brownells). But it takes the major source of inconsistency — us humans, or as Small Dog Mk II thinks of us, Trained Feeder Monkeys — out of test firing.
The sine qua non of good results with the Rest is the setup. It has always come with good instructions, which now have a visual supplement in Siebert’s article.
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.
We don’t know how old Sieberts’s article is; for all we know, it’s as old as the Ransom itself, but really, it’s timeless.
For most target shooters, the stock inserts will cover you. For the rest of us, the insert problem actually looks like a perfect place for 3D printing and possibly, small-shop injection molding.
The biggest beef we have with the Ransom is that we’re not sure where ours is. Would be a drag to replace it (although that would guarantee finding the old one). The next biggest? That there isn’t a rifle version. We haven’t found anything nearly as good for long guns.