The Caldwell Lead Sled
By Chuck Hawks
The Caldwell Lead Sled is a shooting rest intended for use at the range. It is particularly useful when sighting-in a hard kicking rifle or slug gun. The Lead Sled's special feature is that the rifle recoils into the Lead Sled and weight, in the form of up to four 25 pound bags of lead shot, can be added to reduce the effective recoil.
As soon as I heard about it I felt compelled to order one for evaluation. What could be better than a steady rest that also reduces recoil?
After UPS delivered my Lead Sled, securely packaged in a medium size cardboard box, I set about the required final assembly. I am pleased to report that even someone as mechanically impaired as I managed to put the thing together in less than 1/2 hour merely by following the instructions. It's really pretty easy. The only tools required are an Allen wrench (supplied), a medium size Phillips screwdriver, and a 1/2" open end or adjustable Crescent wrench. The Phillips screwdriver is required only for one screw, which could just as well have been supplied with an Allen head like all the other screws. Replacing that single Phillips head screw is a change that Caldwell should make.
The only accessory required for a Lead Sled is an appropriate front rest bag, and Caldwell offers a wide selection from which to choose. Most have a "U" configuration tailored to different forearm widths, but I chose to order a flat pad that, while slightly less steady, can be used with any forearm shape. The total price for the Lead Sled and a front rest bag came to about $150 in 2004.
The body of the Lead Sled is welded from thick-wall steel tubing and the recoil brace, cradle plate, and shot tray are formed from heavy gauge sheet steel. It is protected by a dark green crackle finish. Velcro strips secure the recoil brace slipcover (rear pad) and front rest bag, in case they someday require replacement. Altogether, the Lead Sled is a well-designed and solidly built product. It comes with a one year warrantee, but should last practically forever. It weighs 16 pounds.
At the range, like other rifle and pistol rests that I have used, the Lead Sled is a bit time consuming to get adjusted and precisely aligned. The primary elevation adjustment is the height of the front rest platform, which is adjusted by a large elevation wheel and locked in place by a "T" handle lock screw. The rear foot is also adjustable for elevation, but only about +/- 1 inch. And the butt of the rifle can be moved up and down a little for final elevation adjustment.
In use you place the Lead Sled on a shooting bench, oriented directly toward the target. You can augment the weight of the Lead Sled by adding one to four 25 pound bags of lead shot to the shot tray. The first two shot bags are placed crosswise under the frame bar. The second pair, if required, are placed crosswise over the frame bar. (I rarely use more than one bag of shot.)
The butt of the rifle is then placed against the padded rear rest and the forearm over the front rest bag. Slide the Lead Sled laterally as required to adjust for windage. Adjust the height of the front rest (and rear foot if required) for elevation, then tighten the center post lock.
When you are ready to shoot, press your firing shoulder firmly against the outside of the Lead Sled's rear rest and grasp the gun's forearm with the opposite hand, pressing the butt firmly against the inside of the rear rest. Your shooting hand should grasp the neck of the stock naturally, correctly positioning your finger on the trigger. When the sights are properly aligned, squeeze off the shot. As the instruction manual states, the resulting lack of felt recoil is amazing.
Note that the Lead Sled is not a machine rest and is designed for use only when the shooter's shoulder is pressed firmly against the rear rest. It must not be fastened to the shooting bench, and never attempt to fire a gun "remotely" from the Lead Sled.
Does the Lead Sled really reduce felt recoil? Absolutely. How much does the Lead Sled reduce recoil? To answer that question I computed the free recoil energy for three sample rifles shooting specific loads.
First was a 7.5 pound .243 rifle shooting an 87 grain bullet in front of 37.1 grains of powder at a MV (muzzle velocity) of 3100 fps. The free recoil energy of this combination is 7.39 ft. lbs. Shoot that rifle and load from a bare Lead Sled weighing 16 pounds (total weight of gun and Sled is 23.5 pounds), and the free recoil energy drops to only 2.36 ft. lbs. Add one 25 pound bag of shot to the Lead Sled and the free recoil energy falls to 1.34 ft. lbs., about like that of a .22 Hornet. Add a second 25 pound bag of shot to the Sled (total weight now 73.5 pounds) and the remaining recoil energy is a miniscule 0.75 ft. lbs.
My second recoil comparison was based on an 8 pound .30-06 rifle shooting a 180 grain bullet in front of 54.5 grains of powder at a MV of 2700 fps. The free recoil energy of this combination is 19.63 ft. lbs. Shoot that rifle and load from a Lead Sled (total weight of gun and sled is 24 pounds) and the free recoil energy drops to 6.54 ft. lbs., less that the bare .243 rifle above. Add one 25 pound bag of shot to the Lead Sled and the free recoil energy falls to 3.21 ft. lbs., similar to that of a .223 rifle. Add a second 25 pound bag of shot to the Sled (total weight now 74 pounds) and the remaining recoil energy is only 2.12 ft. lbs.
The last recoil comparison was based on a 10 pound .45-70 rifle shooting a 500 grain bullet in front of 50.1 grains of powder at a MV of 1750 fps. The free recoil energy generated by this combination is a decidedly uncomfortable 36.65 ft. lbs. Fired from a bare Lead Sled (total weight of gun and Sled is 26 pounds), the free recoil energy drops to 14.1 ft. lbs. Add one 25 pound bag of shot to the Lead Sled and the free recoil energy falls to 7.19 ft. lbs., similar to that of the bare .243. Add a second 25 pound bag of shot to the Sled (total weight now 76 pounds) and the remaining recoil energy is only 4.42 ft. lbs., about like that of a standard .22-250 rifle.
The Caldwell Lead Sled really does reduce recoil to a startling degree and also serves as a steady range rest. It is adjustable, versatile and well made. I'd say that it's a good investment.
Copyright 2004, 2013 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.