Box2Bench Targets: Right Idea, Right Time
First things first: A lot of old school guys are probably going to ignore this and that’s a shame because it could really make your life easier. My coach hated it, right up until we found my best load was going to be built in a way he would not have leaned toward. He’s old school and does things in a way that, to me, is less than scientific. He’s also been very successful at it. His way is not systematized at all that I can work out, so learning it from him is like learning to land a plane. You get about seven seconds of real learning at a time, then you have turn around and do it again. That sort of thing may have worked out for him but it’s not helpful for transferring knowledge to people like me that have twenty years less experience.
When the Backus’ pinged me to write an article on this new target I was a bit skeptical but still excited to try it. It looked quite clever on the surface. Still, something about it told me that it might not be quite as straightforward as it appeared. To be fair, when I got my copies for testing they were pre-release and didn’t come with instructions, so I deduced a set and then asked B2B. I’m that way. It turned out after I’d contacted the manufacturer that my version of the how-to was pretty close to their version though the two do diverge a bit here and there. Turns out these targets are, in fact, quite straightforward to use. One should note that this is not a how-to, it’s more of a discussion of my experience with Box2Bench Targets so far.
Figure 1. A look at the B2B target at 100yrds through a Vortex Razor Gen2 4.5-27x56
Historically I’d use an NRA 50-yard slow fire pistol target as the backdrop for load development (these are supplied for free at my local range). They always end with groups circled in Sharpie and tons of semi-legible notes scribbled in because a regular ball point pen or pencil punches right through. The aiming points I make from Sharpie or masking tape are not super fine or regularly shaped but they work ok in a pinch. I could use stick on targets and have for years but I don’t really like those either. Why? They tend to curl up either before shooting or after removal and anyway don’t store well and their black surfaces aren’t the best for writing notes so they’re not really great for later analysis.
Wood pulp based paper targets themselves have bigger annoyances for me. Moisture is death to paper targets and I often shoot in a place where a heavy morning mist is a regular attendee. Using masking tape on the recycled paper those NRA targets are made out of to attach it to a target frame pretty much assures that it’ll tear dramatically upon removal. All of that conspires to make sure that a paper target is going directly in the bin when I’m done instead of maybe being useful for later reference.
Figure 2. Setting up to shoot the lands test. The rifle is in the middle of being painted to look like a Dodger Dog. I’m weird that way.
Despite any initial concerns about the B2B target I also saw it as quite possibly the best thing since afternoon nap time for guys like me and really hoped it’d deliver. What do I mean by guys like me? Well I’m not rich, I’m not super organized (most say I’m a bit messy) and I have a busy life. Full custom rifles and bench rest level hand loading practices are a lifetime goal, not something I plan to pick up anytime soon. So, at the moment I’m stuck with whatever comes out of a brand name box for my rifles and I don’t have the time or money to burn very much of either on load development. At the same time, I like to compete (there’s no better place to learn than at a match) and I’d like to do better than last place, so my kit needs to be usefully accurate for the purpose.
My latest project is a Savage 10-FPSR that started as a .308. I do a lot of PRS style and prone forms of long range competition shooting and wanted an option superior to my .308. Particularly, I wanted something with better recoil characteristics. So, I bought a new Columbia River Arms pre-fit barrel in .243 Ackley Improved to replace my factory .308 barrel and got myself into a Vortex Razor Gen2 4.5-27x scope via some figurative horse trading.
Figure 3. Fire forming loads ready for the lands test.
Ugh. That might have been a bad idea. Why? Well I effectively have another brand spanking new rifle and this one is a barrel burner that I don’t see getting beyond 2K rounds of match grade work from. I don’t want to spend oodles of ammo developing a match load only to have seriously spent against my starting barrel life when I’m done. Doing it my normal hunt and peck way would almost certainly lead there. It just so happened that the Backus’ reached out to me about evaluating this nifty new Box2Bench target and writing an article about it before I’d loaded my first shell for the new barrel. What fortuitous timing indeed.
The instructions that the guys B2B provide basically tell the user to qualify their scope and do the load development work as separate operations. I’ll refer you to their site for their easy to follow instructions. They’re simple enough but I personally did a box test and tall target test from a firmly fixed rest against the target without shooting first to make sure my click values were consistent and the indicated change in the reticle was the same as the indicated turret inputs before doing a shooting test. Everything worked fine there for me in the end. One should definitely note that the MRAD increments on the tall target lines are 1.5mil not 1mil. I don’t see a problem with that at all. It’s actually better to test more clicks at a time than fewer. You get a better test using more clicks because click value error/slop will tend to stack up the further you adjust at a time and become more apparent. MOA and IPHY increments are 5MOA/IPHY.
Because I’m using a .243AI chamber and all new components I need to fire form the 250 rounds of brass I bought for it. I also plan on trying to compete with my fire forming loads so I don’t have to burn 250 rounds of barrel life for basically nothing. My fire forming load really needs to be match quality if I can pull it off. My coach and I selected 39.3 grains of RL23 as my first charge. Why? Well it fills the case to the body shoulder junction, was plenty snappy for fire forming and should (and did) generate around 2750fps so it’s mellow on the bore. Perfect for a break-in and fire forming load.
Figure 4. Hot off the target frame. Notice no tearing despite heavy use of masking tape. The big hole under my hand was where the bullet below penetrated through. I had it looped over the top of the target frame. Oops!
I shot 35 rounds before shooting at the target to break in the barrel and get some basic velocity data. My initial SD’s were wild as heck, 60FPS+ but the loads were making 1 - 1.5-inch groups at 200m with the bullets just touching the lands. They wouldn’t do for anything much beyond 500m though. Velocity spreads like that are bad for proper long-range work.
One really great thing for me about using this B2B target was that all of the hemming and hawing about charge weight and seating depth was basically washed away (I wish I’d had the time to do the powder charge work up but life happened and cut my time short). I didn’t have to select a seating depth to start at or increments to try. I normally start at touching but where to go next is the question that gets me riled up and it was there already written down to help me make up my mind. The suggested seating depth intervals are chunky enough to get useful differences from but not so chunky as to make refinement a proposition for eternity. The powder charge I started with I lucked out on as well but I still wish I’d had time to do the full charge weight workup before penning this. I’ll still do it. I’m curious to see the results.
Had I done it the way things are meant to be done by the B2B target I’d have run 2 different powders (or 2 different bullets) at 4 different charge weights each, with each charge weight separated by something like three tenths to half a grain and shot those against the 8x powder aim points. Then I’d have picked the 3 best and run those against each other in the 3x spots provided for that, though you could also use those last 3 spots to tweak your powder charge on a single selectee. Then I’d have done the seating depth tests against the single best remaining contender, and finally tuned my final seating depth using the last 3 lands aim points. I did not go the full nine yards mostly because of time (this summer is extremely busy for me) and how the luck of the draw came down with my fire forming load.
Figure 5. First test of different bullet jumps to the lands. Promising!
I took 4 sets of 3x rounds from the fire form loads I’d put together (which would have won the grouping challenge probably anyway) and adjusted seating depth on them according to the numbers on the B2B target. I also kept 3 of my lands-touching loads aside and set off to the range. Once I was set up, I ran my touching loads for velocity to verify my velocities at 65F ammo and air temperature, as they were 95F for barrel break-in and I wanted to see what my temperature induced MV variation was. Everything perfect and no velocity deviation (What a surprise!). They grouped just over half an inch at 100yrds.
Box2Bench Targets: Right Idea, Right Time
Pro-Tip: Break in your new barrel before going into load development. Also, set aside a couple rounds to make sure your zero is on and verified (against a different target ideally) before shooting the B2B target. Does little good to poke holes where they don’t go. While there is in fact bit of spare room to shoot misses, you’ll have a better time if you get your initial POI/POA known for sure and then offset your POI about an inch one way or the other to keep your aim point intact. You’ll notice my -.010 group is nowhere near the aim point. That was because I neglected my zero check after removing and reinstalling the scope the day before the range trip.
Figure 6. Final lands test. There's 5 shots in the final group. SD's are still over 20FPS.
Anyway, I banged away 4 groups of 3 rounds and discovered very plainly that my habit of jamming bullets wouldn’t help in this case. It turned out that Hornady ELD-M 73gn bullets in my chamber wanted a bit of jump which I’d have probably taken a while to get to figuring out because I’m a habitual jammer.
Jumping them also eliminated the pressure signs (slight primer flattening) on the fire forming load which was good. The best group turned in at ~.38” extreme spread center to center. My best vertical spread was .17”. Best horizontal spread was ~.2”. The worst vertical spread was ~.6”. The worst horizontal spread was 1.1”. In the groups I’ve shot so far for record it’s averaging under ¾ MOA.You can see most of those groups in the pictures above and below.
One big surprise for me was what happened to my velocity SD’s. The SD’s from the 2 groups from the initial lands test dropped more than in half, one down to 10FPS. That was pretty promising and suggested some more testing was urgently needed.
I put together another 20 rounds using the -.080 jumps and 39.3 grain charge weight. After being much more attentive to my powder charge weights for this set and I had just installed a micrometer seater stem into my Redding seating die and gotten it set. With fresh ammo in the box so I went to do some optics tests. Sigh. Murphy is a jerk!
Figure 7. More perforations from a quick turret tracking test. This target has been taped to stands, shot and pulled down 3 times. A bit dirty but still solid.
I started by confirming my 100yrd aim point. My rifle’s zero is at 200yrds and I didn’t want to change it so I used an alternate aim point in my reticle. Easy and precise. Anyway, as soon as I finished a 3mil vertical click value test and reset my elevation to zero I went to start the box drill. I rolled up 1mil and left 1mil and fired only to find I’d not gotten any left POI shift. I then wasted a bunch of time and some ammo finding out that my windage turret had come loose and then fixing that. Once it was fixed I re-zeroed and came up 1 and left 1. Bingo. Up one more. Bingo. Up one and a half more. Bingo. Right 2. Bingo. Right one, down one and a half. Bingo. Down one. Bingo. Left one. Bingo. Left one, down one back to zero. Bingo. My final shot was within half an inch of my first one. Calling that ok given the average group size.
I was using a Magnetospeed and tracking my velocities the whole time. The last 20 rounds were sporting SD’s of just over 20FPS. Well, poop. Perhaps bumping the charge weight a bit and filling some of that empty space will tighten those up. To finish it all up I ran 5 rounds at a final lands test aiming point and ended up with a .6” group. I’m really liking this gun!
All in, you end up shooting from 72 rounds on up to a bit over 100 (based on 3-5 shots per group) to do the whole target by the book. Once you’re done with that you have a complete record of your development process on one page that won’t tear apart from handling. You don’t have to stick to the instructions though (I highly recommend you do for the optics tests). If you have a system you like already you’re free to use it, and the layout of the target will almost certainly help.
Figure 8. The very first fire formed case to come out of the gun and a loaded round before fire forming.
What I really like about this target is that it not only lets me focus on the important stuff, but it actually helps me do that. It also offers to eliminate the variability in the way that I might otherwise do my load development. It’s no longer me and my coach battling our own better or worse judgement and each other. I don’t even have to have a folder full of gobs of curled up stickers or torn targets for each load or some janky notebook full of scribbles that don’t tell you much except what the recipe was.
Using the B2B target I can directly compare multiple loads and because there’s enough room to do so, and a pen won’t just punch through, I can write my notes directly on it at least legibly, and know I can refer to them later.
The target is durable enough to be repeatedly pulled from a range bag, taped to a target frame, removed and packed up again. It’s waterproof and quite near impossible to tear by hand so you won’t destroy it pulling it down and folding it up or otherwise just handling it. It’s not going to fall apart on you, unlike any kind of pulp based paper, because it’s not made of paper. It’s made from a well selected (polymer from what I can tell) paper substitute.
I’ve got a couple of these targets; I’m using them for load development and optics validation and it’s helping me so far. No more rectally deriving what my next test is going to be. I can look at my results all side by side on one page and know what direction I need to go, or if things are well enough to be left alone. We’re all trying to do as well as we can, but half of the things we’re told to do go from pure lore, to old wives’ tales, to things that are not easily practicable by John Doe the rifleman. It’s important to note that this B2B target is not just for beginners or just for advanced users. It’s useful for anyone with a rifle that they’d like to develop or select a load for.
Figure 9. Top to bottom, touching lands, -.010, -.040, -.080, -.120.
I’m an exceedingly average guy. My day job being what it is though means a lot of things are easier for me than they might otherwise be. I’m used to dealing with tediousness and eye bleeding boredom that come from carefully documenting nit-picky things. That’s not to say I like it. I actively dislike it but it’s work. Many folks really aren’t made for tolerating tedium. I personally don’t like to guess. Guessing produces an anxiety that erodes my confidence as well as my determination in the most horrible way. The me that has other stuff to do wants something like a little box on a little form that I can mark off and move on from as unemotionally encumbered as a Vogon destroying an inhabited planet. The B2B target takes all of my second guessing of myself and lack of organization and gently nudges them aside. Organization is enforced like a check-box list if you need it. If you don’t need it, you already have it.
For someone that spends a lot of time debating with yourself, this is just the ticket. It allows you to get out of your own head and to get focused properly on the matter at hand. Also, if you don’t get a great load out of it you’re free to exculpate yourself of any fault. Just change a component and try again and blame the target or the gun if you want to. They won’t get offended.
Figure 10. Barrel break-in day, scoping out the 900yrd target. It’s no fun to shoot stuff you can see with the naked eye.
If you’re the kind of guy that wants to go to Walmart and grab yourself a rifle, a scope and a few boxes of ammo and be quickly ready for a hunt, you’re also exactly who needs to try this thing out. If you’re an F-Class or PRS shooter or any kind of long range shooter or hunter then this is the new must have.
Even if you use it only as a normal shooting target it’s got 30 aiming points and it’s durable enough to be set up multiple times so you can track your own progress over multiple sessions. It’s kind of expensive for that trivial a use but not if you’ve got the bucks.
If you shoot for groups for your own pleasure or particularly for internet bragging rights then what’s better than 1 target with 30 aiming points that doesn’t tear? It’s perfect for taking pics for posting on all of your social media. More time at the bench, more time bragging and less time spent putting up little sticky dots or applying scotch tape to torn paper. I assure you I was just joking about the social media thing.
For 6 bucks (the single sheet current sale price) I’m asserting that it’s worth a bunch more in saved frustration and inconsistency when used for the intended purpose. If you’re anything like me you’ll get a new drive to do some more load development for your other rifles. It’s totally reinvigorated me to get back into load development which had lost some of the fun factor over the past couple years.
For my money, I want 2 of these for each of my rifles at all times and a handful more on hand just to have them in case I get a new rifle or someone in my circle needs a load developed. I know that I’ll be bringing some with anytime someone wants me to help set up their rifle. They’re great for teaching humility too.
For more information or to purchase targets visit - www.boxtobenchprecision.com
Meccastreisand is a long time competitive and recreational shooter, wildcatter, computer geek, exterior ballistics geek, inventor, outdoorsman, writer, husband and father. With over 20 years of experience in local and regional airgun, handgun, rifle and shotgun competitions of all sorts he competes currently in high power and smallbore metallic silhouette in the western states and long range precision and tactical matches throughout northern and central California. In his free time he wishes that he had enough free time to do anything other than wish for more free time.