Location: Gillette, WY
Last week was a much needed trigger catharsis. I did more shooting with hunting handguns from field rests over a four day period than I can remember for some time. Of course, I was hunting too. Chris Rhodes and I were at Bang’s Paradise Valley Hunt Club (BPVHC), near Ehrhardt, SC. I don’t usually go on guided hunts, so I really didn’t know what to expect. My friendship with Chris is really the reason I made the trip. Chris owns Bayside Custom Gunworks, and he specializes in all things handguns. Chris had been telling me about his experiences at BPVHC and we made plans to hunt together in September after making arrangement with Tom Collins, owner at Bang’s. It was a multi-purpose trip that included hunting and getting to run some really cool handguns and Extremunition ammo. I typically reload for all of my guns, but I have been using Extremunition ammo more and more and shooting very small groups. It is sort nice not having to reload.
I am more of a specialty pistol guy, and Chris hunts more with revolvers and semi-autos, which makes for a nice mix. I brought a couple of XP-100’s and Chris brought two of his “Franken-Ruger’s.” A Franken-Ruger starts off life as a Ruger GP-100 and it ends up being a practical field shooting revolver that has the accuracy potential to embarrass some rifles at 100 yards. The FR has a custom barrel that is free floated and you have an aluminum shroud like a mini-forend that allows you to rest the front of your revolver on a field rest or front rest without changing point of impact.
My most unique XP-100 is a new kid on the block caliber wise (.296), chambered in what Mac’s Gunworks calls the “290 USA” (Necked down 300 Short Action Ultra Magnum), 198 grain Matrix bullet.
The other XP I brought is chambered in 308 Winchester that has a wild paint job. Chuck called it a “NERF” gun, but Tom at Bang’s called it the “Gator Gun.” He is a Florida Gator fan.
We did quite a bit of shooting through the week and I got seriously reconnected with hunting revolvers from both the bench and field shooting rests.
One of the best things I can say about Tom and his crew is that it feels like home. I intentionally asked a number of hunters while we were there how they felt about hunting there. It is pretty obvious when it was their 3rd year, 5th year, or 10th year to hunt. What you see is what you get. They don’t pretend to be anything they are not. The accommodations and the food was great. It rained some every day I was there. On the day I flew out, they had sunshine and heat-go figure! Between Chris and myself we took 3 does. We saw bucks, but they were non-shooters, with the exception of a nice 8-point early one morning when it was still dark, about a ¼ mile from where we set up.
Extremunition ammunition was used in both 357 Magnum Franken-Ruger’s and in the 308 XP. The groups turned in by both the 110 grain Barnes load and the 180 Hornady XTP load were nothing less than phenomenal at 100 yards. Maybe this is wrong, but I have never considered a Ruger revolver to be the epitome of accuracy. To admit that I want a Ruger revolver real bad, just sounds wrong-Ha!
I had never used Frank’s handgun ammo, so I was somewhat unsure what to expect. Before the hunt Chris tested several manufacturers’ ammo (Buffalo Bore, Remington Golden Saber, Cor-Bon, and Double Tap) with the Franken-Ruger. With all of the Extremunition we have used, groups have been half the size of these other brands listed. I’m an accuracy nut, so this was like having your cake and eating it too. Each revolver is a little different. The 10” barrel is a Gen 1, while the 8” is a Gen 2. The production Franken-Ruger will be cleaned up and advanced even more.
We used Burris variable handgun scopes and both did exceptionally well. I am going to be trying a rifle scope for a variety of reasons.
After the initial bench work, all of the rest of our shooting was off of BOG’s CLD-3 and their HD-3, since there was no place to hunt from the prone position. We used them both with the standard USR top (combined with a SSR/Sargent Sniper Rest for the revolver) and the PSR Top. We also used small pillow bags as well some of the time. We used the same gear for our deer hunting with both the revolver and XP and took game at: 101, 164, and 363 yards from the seated position. All were first shot kills. No animal went beyond 30 yards of where it was hit and two were down immediately. The 10” FR and both XP’s have a 100 yard zero, while the 8” FR has a 50 yard zero.
When you can’t shoot prone because of vegetation or terrain you have to think outside of the box to find practical field rests that are solid enough to put the shot where you desire under pressure.
Tom has both a 50 yard and a 100 yard back stop for hunters to sight in. In the near future the shooting/practice opportunities will be significantly better as Tom is expanding PVHC with a new facility and shooting range.
Expect to see both paper and steel targets at distances beyond 100 yards. Tom already has archery targets for the stick and string hunters as well. I zeroed both 357 FR’s at 50 yards on paper and then shot 100 yards on paper to see the drop at 100 yards. POI was almost exactly the same with each handgun though there is a 2” barrel difference. Once the turrets were zeroed we were off to set up steel targets in a clear cut area, where I could stretch the distance a little with all four handguns. Where we set up steel, one could easily hunt out to 700 yards plus if set up correctly. I shot the XP’s out to 500 yards in wind that was very switchy-Grrr.
Then it was time for the real challenge. Shooting the revolvers sitting on the ground with no back support. I used the BOG-GEAR with the PSR. I wasn’t using my small leather pillow bag at this time, as this was my first time to use this set-up with a revolver. We set up steel (11x7 inches 1/3 IPSC, 8” circle, 4” dueling tree, deer vitals (13x9”), at 50, 75, 100, 125, and 150 yards. While in the clear cut I only used the 10” 357 FR. I never missed with this set-up out to 100 yards. The 2-7 Burris LER did not have a target turret or a Ballistic Plex reticle, so I was using a holdover system. Felt sort of weird, since I had done this for a long time. At 125 yards and 150 yards I missed a few times, but we were trying to get the drops at those distances. Once I got the holdover correct, the hits became joyfully boring.
Last pic was at 150 yards. During this shooting I was wishing for back support so I could be steadier, but we were still being successful, which was good to know as you do not always have back support when shooting seated in the field.
The purpose behind the Franken Ruger is the capability to field shoot and hunt by being able to have a resting point forward of the receiver itself because of an aluminum shroud & the barrel is free-floated. To me, this is the genius of the FR system. The shroud that I used as a forend did not change point of impact even when changing from a cotton bag to a rubber surface, to a leather bag filled with sand. This one reason I have not hunted with revolvers much. It is hard to get rock steady and not have a contact point forward of the receiver without POI issues. This is a functional hunting revolver.
With this concept one needs to be careful to not out shoot the capability of the performance of the cartridge/bullet. I don’t think there are many 1 MOA revolvers out there, little alone sub MOA at 100 yards. This is possible with the Franken-Ruger.
When we got back to the lodge we decided to take the 8” FR out and do more shooting trying the Extremunition 110 grain Barnes bullet. This shooting would be done off the BOG-GEAR using a chair/back support. I also thought I would try my little leather pillow bag filled with heavy sand that I use on my XP’s. It turned out to be a great combination beyond my expectations. It was zeroed at 50 yards and I was curious where it would hit on the 8” steel plate. I knew the first shot was a hit but didn’t really see it. Assumed it was low and raised my aiming point. Saw and heard the hit, and shot three more times. Looking through the scope, I just couldn’t bring myself to fire the last round. It was just too good. It just doesn’t seem right that a revolver would shoot that good, and I was shooting off of the lighter weight CLD-3.
A day later Frank Glover came down to see me and Chris. He lives about an hour and a half away. Frank shot both of my XP’s (3-shot groups) off of the bench and the 10” 357 Magnum Franken Ruger and did really good given the fact he had never shot any of these rigs before. After his first cylinder full with the FR, we walked down and painted the 8” steel plate. The next 6 shots made his day. Frank Glover posted this elsewhere after shooting the 10” FR: “Opened my eyes. I watched Ernie shoot a half inch group at 100 yards. I shot three shots in less than an inch and shifted my finger position on the left group. Chris Rhodes has done super with this concept. I want one... Made me a believer.”
We had some different bullet weights of the Extremunition on hand that we simply never got to because of time. Chris has since used it past 200 yards on steel and is pleased. I have used his ammo in 223 Remington, 260 Remington, and 308 Winchester before out to 940 yards on 10” steel with very good accuracy.
In the hunting department, our first night we could hear the pigs behind us in tight cover but they never came out in the daylight. We didn’t see much during the mornings, but others did and filled tags. I took two doe whitetail with my 290 USA from a seated position using a pop-up blind. The 198 grain Matrix bullet performed great. At 363 yards I had a front quartering shot and impact was through the front facing shoulder and angled taking out both lungs as well. The second deer was almost completely broadside and I took out both shoulders a 164 yards and she jumped straight up and then fell down in a heap. McGowen and Broughton both make .296 barrels. Mine is a McGowen and is a keeper. Chris and I separated on the last evening, and he blooded his 10 inch Franken-Ruger (180 grain XTP) at 101 yards from a seated position in a blind using the CLD-3 and the Sargent Sniper Rest. Great shot and the small deer went about 3 yards before it went down.
Tom and our guide John is what made all of this shooting/testing/hunting possible all in one place, and I am very thankful to get to know him and his family. Paradise Valley Hunt Club also is set up to handle hunters with physical limitations. There was one such hunter there that was handicapped and he had both a crossbow and a rifle to hunt with. They went above and beyond to make sure that Brad had everything he needed to be successful in the field. To see the joy on his face when he took a doe the last night I was there (He killed two whitetail in all) was priceless. This was a thumbs up experience for sure! The last pic is of John (his wife Ariel did all the cooking), our guide. There is also a couple YouTube vids that sort of sum things up. Pics and vids (Video Links is below the last picture) are far from professional, but hey, we had a great time
"If you think you are perfect, just try walking on water."