Caldwell Lead Sled DFT
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
The new Caldwell Lead Sled DFT rifle rest (product number 336647) is a definite improvement over the original Lead Sled. The Lead Sled DFT provides a very steady platform for shooting without nasty recoil. "DFT" stands for "Dual Frame Technology." This new and considerably more expensive version of the Caldwell Lead Sled has two upper frame tubes placed side by side, rather than the single top tube of the original Lead Sled that we have come to know and love. The dual longitudinal front members make the whole rest stiffer and much less flexible than the original Lead Sled. They also allow the action of a falling block or lever gun to be operated without tilting the rifle, as the lever will pass through the approximate 1.25" gap between the DFT's parallel top frame members. The addition of the dual top tubes is the single most important feature and advantage of the new Lead Sled DFT.
The Lead Sled DFT is not a replacement for the original Lead Sled rifle rest (2007 MSRP $149.99), which remains in the line. The improved Lead Sled DFT is considerably more expensive at a 2007 MSRP of $261.37. This gives consumers a choice. For the hunter and shooter who occasionally tests new loads at the range, the original Lead Sled remains a practical alternative. For habitual range rats, like us, who are continually testing new rifles and ammunition, the new Lead Sled DFT is worth the extra cost. If you limit your range time to rifles with less than 15 ft. lbs. of recoil energy, you can probably get by without a Caldwell Lead Sled. For everyone else, one of the Lead Sled rifle rests is definitely the way to go for testing rifles and loads from a shooting bench. It also works great for patterning shotguns, especially when shooting hard kicking magnum shells and slugs.
There is a large sheet metal pan at the front of the Lead Sled DFT that is designed to hold two 25 pound bags of lead shot. If necessary, two more bags of shot, for a total of 100 pounds, can be laid across the top tubes. (We have never found it necessary to use more than two bags--50 pounds--of shot, even when shooting .416 and .458 Magnum rifles.) This massive addition of weight dramatically reduces the recoil of even the hardest kicking guns and makes sighting-in or testing loads a far more pleasant experience.
Here at Guns and Shooting Online we purchased several original Lead Sleds as soon as they became available and have used them ever since. We generally use one bag of shot (25 pounds) when testing rifles that kick less than about 15 ft. lbs. and two bags of shot (50 pounds) for rifles that kick harder than 15 ft. lbs. We followed exactly the same procedure when testing our new Lead Sled DFT. Since the Lead Sled DFT itself weights about 22 pounds, with two bags of shot in place you have a 72 pound rifle rest! Add to that the weight of your rifle (if your rifle weights 8 pounds the total would be 80 pounds), then calculate the recoil of your cartridge and load. You will probably find that you need to go no farther to tame the recoil of any long gun that you own.
When your new Lead Sled DFT arrives in its box, you will find that considerable assembly is required. Read and follow the directions and all will be well. All that is needed for assembly are simple hand tools: a couple of Allan wrenches (one is supplied, but not the other) and a crescent wrench. Both front and rear firearm support bags come with the DFT, a thoughtful inclusion.
Next to its dual frame, the DFT's most important improvement is the handy rear leg height adjustment knob. This is easily turned by the fingers of one hand and raises or lowers the rear of the Lead Sled. We found this new rear leg adjustment to be the easiest and most accurate way to fine tune bullet impact in the vertical plane. It is smoother and more accurate than using the elevation adjustment at the front cradle. This new rear foot system is far superior to the old Lead Sled's rear foot, which could be adjusted only by screwing it in or out of the frame; it was then held in place by a lock nut that had to be tightened with an open end wrench. That was not something that we wanted to do on a regular basis when testing rifles and/or loads at the range.
Another welcome improvement is the "dual frame alignment system." This allows the front cradle of the DFT to be moved fore and aft 22” to fit rifles and shotguns of virtually any size. A new steel, somewhat rocker-shaped, rear foot provides improved contact on all shooting surfaces. Caldwell calls this a "multi-surface rear foot."
The DFT's front elevation adjustment is, unfortunately, no more precise than on the original Lead Sled. We discovered that, although it looks much more massive with its large wheel adjuster, the DFT's front cradle shaft still wobbles while elevation is being adjusted and the point of impact still shifts when it is tightened. A polymer bushing in the lower part of the frame to help keep the elevation shaft centered would be a big improvement. We found it best to adjust the front cradle of the DFT to approximately the correct height and lock it solidly in place. We then used the rear foot height adjustment for fine tuning elevation, a method that is not practical with the original Lead Sled.
We found the new windage adjustment system incorporated into the DFT's front cradle to be counter-productive, as it allows the front platform to tilt forward under heavy recoil. The simplest way for Caldwell to improve the DFT front cradle would be to eliminate the windage adjustment, as it is really not necessary. Alternatively, if the white polymer cylinder that serves as a bearing between the windage adjustment rods were hourglass shaped it would probably eliminate most of the problem by keeping the rods centered.
As a temporary fix, we bound the front cradle's two plates together by running a pair of long zip-ties under the front bag and around the plates. After binding the front cradle plates together, we simply moved the rear of the Lead Sled DFT left or right to adjust for lateral bullet impact, exactly as we have always done with our original Lead Sleds.
A suggestion from Guns and Shooting Online reader McLauren Smith, who also owns a DFT, is to install a washer below the white polymer bushing with enough overhang so that it does not allow the adjustment rods to slip below the bushing under recoil. A solution for those who can live without the windage adjustment feature would be to drill holes through the rear of the front cradle plates and bolt them together.
The biggest advantage of the new Lead Sled DFT compared to the original Lead Sled is its twin top tubes. The original is an excellent recoil reducing rest, but its main tubes are surprisingly flexible and the rifle must be held with exactly the same tension from shot to shot or flyers will result. Consistency is still important, as it always is when shooting from any rest (or for that matter with no rest at all), but the much stiffer Lead Sled DFT not only dramatically reduces recoil, it makes shooting tight groups considerably easier by significantly reducing the amount of flex in the rest. We think that it is well worth its extra cost.
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