Caldwell "Fire Control" Full Length Rest Review
By Don Bigelow
©Copyright, The Varmint Hunters Association, Inc.
Whether you are a bench rest competitor or a hunter, as I am, the goal is universal: to obtain the highest level of accuracy possible while shooting from the bench.
I think it is a given that your bench or table needs to be rock solid to achieve maximum accuracy results. So, aside from individual shooting technique, I believe that a robust rest is the most important part of getting the most out of your rifle and chosen ammunition. I have tried many different types of rests over the years that range from homemade sandbags and couch cushions, to commercially available front rests and bag sets. For a long time I never wanted to spend a lot of money and figured I could come up with a rest system on my own that would give me the same results as the more expensive sets. Until recently, my favorite setup has been the Caldwell Tack Driver fore-end bag with a homemade rear bag for stability and adjustment.
A couple of months ago I was presented with an opportunity to try out the new “Fire Control” full-length rest from Caldwell. I was excited, to say the least. I thought this would be the first time I would have the chance to compare my relatively low budget setup with some high quality, cutting edge shooting technology.
The following paragraphs contain a breakdown of my full review. It is divided into categories I think are important for product success. I have graded each relative to my personal feeling as to whether it is Excellent, Good, or Sufficient. I am a strong believer in the theory behind continuous improvement, so I have also added what I think could be possible improvements for each of the categories.
I. Packaging/Presentation — Excellent
Review: As received, the box itself was worth a study before reaching for my pocket knife to open it. There are very good full color photos that show the rest fully assembled from different perspectives and diagrams that illustrate how the adjustment mechanisms work. I opened the box to find that the rear portion of the rest was already assembled … I assume for proper alignment of the tubes. The front base and adjustment mechanism also were assembled. All other parts were contained in a sealed bag. The assembly and use instructions are well laid out with illustrations and individual part descriptions. They are very easy to read and understand. And, even though there is very minimal assembly required, the instructions are very well detailed, right down to suggested maintenance and lubrication points. Caldwell even included the required allen wrenches in the parts bag, so no tools were needed at all unless you want the fore-end stop more than finger tight. Then you would need either an adjustable wrench or half-inch wrench. It took longer to read through the instructions than it did to assemble the rest and have it ready to take to the range. All total, I had just under half an hour into assembly.
Possible improvements: Because of the apparent ease of assembly once the rest is unpacked, one may have a tendency to skip reading the instructions and go right to assembly. However, unless the directions are read through thoroughly, the user may not know that there are friction adjustments that can be made to both the coarse elevation and the control arm. I would suggest a tag or sticker be placed close to each area that flags the user’s attention to let him know there are adjustments that can be made.
II. Overall Design — Good
Review: All of the components seem to be well-built from sturdy materials like steel and/or heavy aluminum. Plastic has been incorporated where it makes sense (in my opinion) for knobs, adjusters, etc. This is a very solid feeling rest with some good weight to it for stability on the bench. There are three separate stainless steel adjustment feet that are spiked on the bottom with knurled locking nuts for quick and easy leveling adjustment. This type of adjustment foot allows for quick adjustments and a solid feel on any type of surface (concrete, wood, carpet, etc.). I have used the rest mounted on bare wood, as well as a carpeted surface, with very consistent results. The fore-end rest has screw-in clamps on the outside of the bag so you can adjust the width of the bag to fit a particular stock snugly. The rear rest is shaped into a deep V to accept the rear of the stock and hold it firmly. Even with a featherweight rifle, the cross hairs don’t jump at all when I dry fire. The fore-end stop allows you to return the rifle to the same position relative to the rest before each shot. Though I have used the rest only with rifles that have narrow to medium fore-ends, the extra three-lobe bag gives you the option to set up correctly for target guns with wide fore-ends. The bags are high quality and are made from durable materials. I have several Caldwell bags that have held up well over the years. The tolerances are tight and adjustment mechanisms work very smoothly. The fine tune adjustment stops and holds dead on where you leave it, provided that you have the friction adjustment set correctly. The internals are well protected with seals and a rubber boot.
Possible improvements: Even with the fore-end clamped firmly in the front rest, I noticed that slight movements on my part resulted in lateral movement of the cross hairs on the target prior to pulling the trigger. To remedy this, I cut a piece of rawhide and placed it in between the rear rest and the rifle stock. This helped grip the rear stock better than the plastic insert and significantly reduced the amount of lateral movement that I was seeing. I would suggest a rear rest that incorporates either a soft liner or an inner “bag” to help grip the rear of the stock a little better than the current design. I also noticed that once my rest was fully assembled, the front adjustment mechanism was not quite square with the base and rear rest. A quick adjustment revealed to me that once the retaining bolt was loosened, the mechanism was free to rotate about the base. This makes squaring up the mechanism difficult while tightening the bolt. I would suggest a machined keyway in the base with a lug on the adjustment rack to mechanically lock the adjustment mechanism at the correct angle relative to the base. One last drawback, though minor, is that the control arm itself is able to rotate freely about its own axis. I did not disassemble the internals to investigate a solution, but I wonder if there couldn’t be some sort of lock rib or key that could be incorporated to prevent the rotation of the control arm without hindering the movement of the adjustment mechanism.
III. Aesthetics/Ergonomics — Sufficient
Review: I have to say that this is a very modern looking piece of shooting equipment. It has very nice lines with some high tech gadgetry. The finish appears to be a durable powder coat in the typical Caldwell colors. It is a treat for the eyes after seeing some other rests on the market that bear a striking resemblance to some of the contraptions that I have built in my garage with a wire welder, sawzall, and hand grinder. However, just because something looks good doesn’t automatically make it work well. I am used to using bags that are relatively low to the bench. It was a little bit of an adjustment to get used to the higher stance of this rest. Even with the adjustment feet screwed all the way in, it was still a little too high for me. After making some slight adjustments in my seating position and pulling the rifle back on the rest, I did manage to get the rear of the stock to pocket into my shoulder correctly. Although not terribly important, with a shorter rifle this left the end of the fore-end well away from the stop stud. Once I had myself adjusted properly, I was able to get settled with a good hold on the rifle, head up, and was able to squeeze the trigger comfortably. Now that I have developed a comfortable stance with the rest, all of my rifles seem to catch the front bag right on the swivel stud. I like to have my front bag back farther than that. There are three reasons that I do this: 1. I like to get the bag back farther to rest on a little thicker portion of the stock; 2. I think the farther back the bag is on the stock (within reason), the better weight balance and stability there is; 3. I like to keep the swivel stud away from the front bag so I don’t tear up the bag during recoil.
Possible improvements: To me, the height issue is probably more a result of years of bad habits and leaning over the rifle in bags, while this rest is set up to make your shooting stance more ergonomically correct. However, I am 6' 2" tall and I am sitting right straight up to get the stock shouldered in the center with the screw foot screwed all of the way in (lowest setting). I think that shorter shooters may have even more trouble adjusting than I did and may find themselves reaching to get correct position instead of being able to comfortably sit and get a correct stance. There seems to be plenty of adjustment in the rear screw foot to raise it for taller shooters, if need be. If not, a longer screw adjuster could be placed on it. To remedy the issue with front bag placement, I removed 2" from the length of the tubes on my rest, resulting in an overall reduction in length of the rest. This gets the front bag positioned farther back on the stock, helping to stabilize the gun, as well as getting the swivel stud out of the bag. This rendered the stop stud unusable so I removed it and rely on my sight picture to find the same shooting position. This works much better for my particular stance and the benches that I have access to.
IV. Function — Excellent
Review: I really like the idea of a full length rest. I think it makes setups more consistent and more repeatable. Transport is made simple because all that you need is this one device that carries together. No more bags of bags, or bags tethered together, etc. It is relatively heavy in itself, so no need to carry along bags of shot or other methods for stabilizing the rest. All the adjustments are simple and quick to make and well within reach of the shooter while seated at the bench. And, although there are more adjustments to make compared with bags, once the adjustments are made you can lift off the gun and the rest stays where you put it! The fine tune adjustment method incorporated into this rest is most ingenious. Having the control arm rod right there for my left hand to grab and adjust is very convenient. It was a little awkward at first getting used to moving the control arm to adjust the front of the gun instead of using a bag to make adjustments in the rear. But once I got the hang of it, I quickly realized that this is “the way it ought to be.” My compliments go out to Caldwell on this because, from a consistency standpoint, this is the correct way to make adjustments. Keeping your shoulder anchor point the same keeps your head on the gun the same and keeps your eyes in the same place; hence, more consistent and more accurate.
Possible improvements: I like the idea of simple, compact, and portable. Simply for storage, I would like to see a way of breaking this rest down into two pieces without sacrificing the stability when set up. I believe that instead of three “permanent” screws holding the front and rear halves together, a clamp system could be designed using the existing base clamp and screw holes incorporating thumb tightening screws on the top of the rest. This would make it easy to disassemble, yet still solid when set up.
Overall, I am very pleased and I have enjoyed using this rest. It is a vast improvement over some of the methods that I have used and this technology looks to be the future of shooting rests to come. I have not necessarily seen a measurable difference in the size of the groups that I can shoot with a given rifle, but I have found a higher level of consistency from group to group and day to day. A lot of what I used to blame on weather, optics, heat, etc., seem to be reduced when using this rest. It’ll be a few years before I can comment on the durability of this unit, but just by the couple of months that I have used it, I believe that if well cared for I will have it for many years. As far as price goes, I have learned. We spend a lot of money on our guns, optics, and the trips we take them on, so investing in a good rest only makes sense.