What is a lead sled. It is a rifle rest designed to remove as much of the human element from the equation of shooting a rifle as is practical. It's purpose is to allow a shooter to identify and correct rifle only on issues.
The quick answer : anyone who is serious about improving the performance of their rifle and their shooting technique should be using a lead sled for zeroing, load development, and equipment / technique verification / improvement.
When developing a rifle system for competition, hunting, or just fun, all of the components of that system (rifle, equipment, human skills) must constantly be separated in order to identify the most important thing to work on.
How does a lead sled work?
They absorb all or most of the recoil generated by any rifle. It does this by capturing the stock at the rear and not allowing rearward motion of the rifle and by allowing sandbags to be placed on the pan underneath the rifle to absorb some of the push while keeping the front end down.
It contacts the rifle stock and fore end which can be strapped or locked into very stable fixtures. Micro adjustments along with the ability to lock down settings ensures a very stable platform with the ability to really fine tune your aim point with consistency.
How does a lead sled help a rim fire shooter?
Because we are rim fire shooters reducing recoil is not really important because our rifles don't generate a lot of recoil, but the ability to do this with large caliber rifles speaks highly for the stabilization obtained by using it. For anyone who is jerking the trigger due to anticipation of recoil, a few shots with a lead sled could cure that.
Not only will you stop anticipating recoil but the sled will make you focus again on what is important. Holding on the target and squeezing the trigger.
This not to say that we are going to drag a sled around with us when hunting or in competition, but knowing what our rifles are capable of, without our errors, is a huge motivation to train better and more often. Not to mention making your training more effective because you have a better idea of what training to focus on.
I always use a sled to zero my rifles. This is the only way to completely remove bad habits. When zeroing, I want to make sure the rifle is at it's best without my bad habits involved. After zeroing is complete, I then go back to working on improving my technique with assurance that a bad shot was caused by me, not the rifle.
How much improvement should you see with a sled?
I have used several different designs and brands of led sled. They all provide very stable platforms from which to shoot. All provide more stable shooting platform than using a bag and bipod, but some are better than others.
One day at the range, I was doing some ammo testing through my Savage 17 hmr. As usual, I was grouping different types of ammo at 50 yards in order to identify which one the gun liked best. I was shooting from the bipod and using a bag in the rear.
I was shooting in the .75 - 1,25 inch 5 shot group range at 50 yards. My best groupings were with the CCI 17 grain jacketed hollow point at about .75 inches. No wind, temperature was in the low 70's.
I am not a beginning shooter. I have been shooting most of my life starting around the age of 5. I was a little disappointed with the groupings I was getting from this new rifle which was known for it's accuracy right out of the box.
The range happened to have an old Caldwell lead sled sitting on the shelf so I grabbed it. It wasn't in the best shape but I really wanted an indication of what was wrong with this rifle so I set it up so all I had to do was make sure the cross hairs were on target and squeeze the trigger.
I used the best grouping ammo for the day which was the CCI stuff mentioned above and shot a 10 shot group at 50 yards. Outside to outside this 10 shot group measured 5/8 of an inch.
I quickly became aware that I had become complacent with some shooting disciplines I had been using all of my life. That was where I needed to focus in order to improve, not bedding or free floating, new triggers etc. Without using the lead sled, I wouldn't have discovered the true cause of my inaccuracy
What else will a lead sled do?
After making the discovery that my shooting focus was not at it's best, I retested the ammo I brought to the range that day . I brought several different brands of ammo in order to find the best one for the new rifle.
After re shooting the groupings with the rifle securely in the sled, I found that one brand that I had eliminated because of a flyer, had no flyers. I shot several other groups again with the sled with no flyers. It was actually the best performing ammo with the flyer I saw earlier eliminated which accomplished by using the sled. It was me that caused the earlier one.
The sled allows you to test anything. From rifle modifications to changes in shooting technique.
When is the best time to use a sled?
Anytime you need to know the truth about what is causing inconsistency with a rifle. It is a tool that allows you to eliminate variables until you discover the true source of almost any problem with your technique, rifle, or ammo.
It does this by eliminating your error, human error, and allowing to get a true comparison of variables.
Which lead sled to buy?
Don't buy a sled unless you have done your home work. Since my experience above I have researched and used several different types of sleds. All offer the benefit of providing a stable platform to shoot from, but all have their quirks and weaknesses except the Caldwell DFT2. I have recently purchased this unit and use it constantly. Check it out here on Amazon.
Why the Caldwell?
1. It easily accommodates AR rifles with high capacity magazines. All others with center posts will not. Shorter magazines are required for those.
2. Fine adjustment controls for both windage and elevation.
3. Lock downs for all adjustments
4. Stabilizing feet for benches that can be locked
5. It accommodates pistol grips on AR style weapons with no interference
6. Tight and durable fore end material
7. Large capacity weight tray to accommodate recoil reduction in even the largest rifle calibers
In addition, Caldwell is a long time name in shooting. Having been around a while these guys spent a lot of time using their own products on the range and in the field. They really know about what we as shooter are looking for than we do. Go with experience.
There are many articles and opinions out there on how the lead sled will be to the detriment of our natural shooting abilities over the coming years.
In my mind the lead sled is just another tool to enhance our ability of making our weapons, ammunition and methods better. I know I surely don't plan to carry a sled with me into the field during competition or on a hunt.
I will use it to better select the best ammunition, discover bad habits I may have picked up, or to allow me to determine the best variable of several I might be testing.
The sled is a great tool that you shouldn't hesitate to use when needed but make sure you continue to do realistic practice from both prone and standing positions so don't become dependent.