Caldwell "The Rock BR" Front Rest Review
In the process of reviewing rifles, I'm faced with having to shoot my best and then display to readers my shooting abilities. Like many people, sometimes my abilities aren't as good as I would like and sometimes I blame my lack of ability on things other than myself, like environmental conditions (wind) or hardware (ammo, optics, rifle, or rest). I've also found that others including myself tend to lean towards wind, rests and ammo as the key reason for a large group size because we don't want to believe that our own talents or our recent investments (optics & rifle) are not up to par. This has led me to seek out a rest that is rock solid so I can attempt to take one variable out of the equation. After studying the Caldwell website, and getting some feedback from Caldwell, the Caldwell's "The Rock BR" may be Caldwell's best front rest solution for the competition shooter, or in my case product reviewer. Since "The Rock BR" is a front rest only, Caldwell also recommends using the Caldwell Medium High Rear Bag as the rear rest to complete their shooting system. This review is for the The Rock BR front rest. I will show the Medium High Rear Bag during my final evaluation of the system, but the actual Caldwell Medium High Rear Bag review can be found at this link.
Although the Caldwell suggested retail price on this rest is $219.99, today (12/3/10) you can find The Rock BR at Amazon.com for $152.99 (free shipping), so make sure you shop around to get your best deal. When you purchase this product it will come boxed as shown below.
At Caldwell's website (actually Battenfeld Technologies, Inc. because Caldwell is one member of the Battenfeld family of brands), Caldwell lists the following in colored italics as the specifications and features for this rest.
The Rock BR will help you discover the true potential of your rifle and ammunition. This high quality rest is designed for the most accuracy-minded shooters around, bench rest competitors. Now everyone who wants the best from their rifle can benefit from the advanced design, precision machining, and finely engineered features of the Rock BR.
The Rock BR is loaded with the following features:
The following set of photos shows the outside of the box which has additional information of the features and photos of the rest. Throughout this review, you can click on a photo to bring up a higher resolution image so you can see more detail if needed.
As I started removing the components from the box, I always form a first impression of the product. My first impression of The Rock BR rest was that it is sturdy, precise and Caldwell paid attention to detail. As I continued with assembly and review of this product, this first impression proved to be accurate. The photo below shows what is included in the box which is the base assembly, cradle assembly, medium varmint front bag filled, 3-lobe bag unfilled, bag strap and forend stop hardware pack, cradle ear hardware pack, and Instruction Manual.
The foundation of the base assembly is a "Y" shaped cast iron base. As advertised it measured 15" in length and 9" at it's widest point. It is a three leg foundation which makes it 100% stable in all situations. The center of the rest is actually located 8" from the front two feet and 7" from the single back foot. My guess is this offset was to allow more clear room under the rifle for the use of a high capacity magazine.
The underside of the legs is hollow which is most likely to reduce weight. Clearly strength is not an issue with this rest and the cross sections of the legs are more than sufficient to prevent any flexing of this base, especially when you consider this strength compared to your rifle weight. At the center of the base and on one side, a hole is drilled and tapped to allow the course adjustment lock knob. At the center of each foot, a hole is drilled and tapped to receive the adjustment foot screws.
A foot adjustment screw is located on each foot. The screw has a sharp point to prevent the rest from sliding on the bench. What ever you do, don't put this on your kitchen table because you will be in the dog house shortly thereafter because of the sharp point on the screw. These adjustment screws allow you to level the rest on the bench and offers another area for some height adjustment. There is also a knurled nut that allows you to lock (jam) the foot adjustment screws so that you have zero free-play between the adjustment screw and the base foot.
Next you slide the aluminum course adjustment collar into the cast iron base. You can see that the collar has a slot on the outside that must line up with the course adjustment lock knob. There is enough clearance between the collar and base so that it slides in easily. Once you tighten the course adjustment lock knob, all free-play is removed and the collar becomes a solid foundation to install the cradle assembly.
Inside the course adjustment collar is a black polymer key. This key has a Ram Lock screw that can be used to tighten the Ram (Acme Treaded Part for Vertical adjustment). On the face of the course adjustment collar is a ball thrust bearing so that making vertical adjustments with the large wheel handle is smooth and easy.
In the photo below you can see how the keyway on the Ram (7/8-6 Acme Treaded Part) will line up with the polymer key in the course adjustment collar. Also you can see how the wheel will rest on top of the ball thrust bearing. By looking at the photos above and below, I believe it is clear that by adjusting the wheel you can fine tune the vertical adjustment. Also you can remove any free-play in the Ram to Course Adjustment Collar by tightening the polymer key against the Ram.
The other end of the Ram interfaces with the cradle assembly by inserting into a hole that includes an integral key. The end of the Ram is internally threaded and a screw passes through the center of the cradle assembly to secure the ram to the cradle assembly. Out of the box, I found no free-play at this connection, but I found this can work loose with transportation and use and should be checked for tightness periodically.
This rest includes a fine adjustment for windage. In the photo below you can see the Lead Screw that passes through the black Ram interface block. On the right side in the photo you can see the Lead Screw Lock Nut. By adjusting the torque of the lock nut, you can remove backlash from the system. Basic instructions are included in the Instruction Manual.
The Ram interface block has dovetail (tapered) sides and rests inside the Cradle Plate. By adjusting the tightness of the two screws on the left side shown in the photo below (actually you can only see one screw in the photo), you can remove all of the free-play in this connection. When properly adjusted, there is not free-play in everything supporting the cradle plate. Honestly, I am impressed at the engineering and thought that went into this rest.
Next I installed the forend stop. You can rotate the stop down out of the way if not in use by loosening the black knob, rotating it down, and retightening the knob to prevent any rattle.
Finally I installed the Cradle Assembly on the Base Assembly as shown below.
The Ears install with one screw on each side. These ears are used to fine tune the side support that you are able to give the forearm of your rifle.
I filled my 3-Lobe bag with sand. Since you fill the bag from one side of the center lobe and have to work the sand into the other lobes, this is tricky to get the other lobes full. I found that by blowing into the bag to expand it after you put some sand in seemed to work well. You will end up with some sand in your mouth, but that's life.
The 3-Lobe Bag is held into place with the two black metal bag straps and is also sealed by the strap on one side. You can adjust the position of the side lobes by adjusting the ears in and out and also by tightening the thumb screw on the ears to press the lobes against the forearm of your rifle.
The Rock BR also comes with a Medium Varmint Front Bag Filled as shown below. The next several photos shows more views of the total assembly for you to study.
With the Medium Varmint Front Bag installed, the rest has a minimum height of 6.5" and a maximum height of 12.5". When you setup to shoot, I recommend keeping the height more to the minimum for your shooting situation. This is true for any rest. The longer you are from your support points, the greater the chance you can have for some type of harmonic (deflection) to occur when you shoot.
The cradle assembly weighed in at 4.26 pounds and the base assembly weighed in at 8.24 pounds. The 3-Lobe bag weighed in at 0.57 pounds and the filled bag at 0.83 pounds. Depending on which bag you choose, the rest will be 13.07 and 13.33 pounds. This is about 2 pounds lighter than the advertised weight, not that it really matters.
To get a feel for the height of the rest with Medium High Rear Bag, I placed the rest and the bag together on a level table. The front rest is adjusted to it's minimum height and the rear bag is pushed forward until the rifle barrel was level. As you push the rear bag further back on the stock, you will have to start using the vertical adjustment on the front rest.
So far I had liked what I had seen, but the real test of any rest is out at the range. The photo below shows my son using The Rock BR front rest with a Ruger SR-22 Rifle which I recently reviewed. While range testing this rifle using The Rock BR, I decided that the medium high rear bag rest did not work well with a collapsible AR style buttstock. It seems I couldn't find a sweet spot for the bag. One thing I did notice is that you need to check the rest for free-play before you shoot. Just like anything else, transportation and use will cause things to loosen up. After range testing the SR-22 and getting back home, I noticed that I needed to tighten the top screw that attaches the Cradle Pate to the Ram.
Everything I saw during the assembly of this rest leads me to believe that my first impressions (sturdy, precision, and attention to detail) were correct. When adjusted properly (which is not hard), this rest has the correct name, "The Rock", because it is rock solid with no free-play or rattle. Caldwell paid a lot of attention to detail. During my range testing, I found this rest easy to adjust. One thing I noticed is that if you are using the wheel to fine adjust vertically and if you have the polymer lock key tight, the cradle may stick and not drop down with movement of the wheel. I feel this is not a problem with the rest. It is more of an awareness that the shooter must have when using the rest. If you have not already noticed, this rest does not have the felt recoil reducing capability as other rests systems on the market. I don't consider this a big deal for me because I would rather have precision than comfort. I still plan to do more range testing, but with what I have seen so far, I would easily recommend this rest to anyone who may be wanting a competition front rest.