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September 19th, 2021

SunDay Gunday: N50 Nationals and the Modern Precision Airgun

National 50 benchrest league Raton NM Whittington Center Air rifle .22 LR
.22 LR Rimfire Rifles and Air Rifles Shooting Side by Side — Same Match, Same Targets.

National 50 benchrest league Raton NM Whittington Center Air rifle .22 LRAir Rifles and .22 LR Rimfires Compete Together
There’s a new game in town — an innovative 50-yard benchrest discipline where .22 LR shooters and Air Rifle aces compete shoulder to shoulder. This new Rimfire + Airgun sport was created by the National 50 Benchrest League (aka “N50″) which now has 16 registered clubs in ten U.S. States.

The N50 League held its first-ever National Championship at the NRA Whittington Center in Raton, NM earlier this month. This new organization has air rifles and rimfire rifles competing together. Notably, at the first-ever N50 Nationals, a purpose-built .22-caliber slug air rifle won against unlimited benchrest .22 LR rifles. We believe that may well be the first-ever airgun victory in a 50-yard benchrest match over serious rimfire competition.

Top Guns at Inaugural N50 Match

National 50 benchrest league

Lou Fontana took the overall victory in the match with a 2961 score. Lou shot both air rifles and rimfire rifles in the match, proving he’s a master of both types of guns. Ardey Vad finished second with 2957, while gun-builder Mike Niksch (Thomas Rifles) took third with 2952. Mike’s radical, advanced Thomas air rifle with electronic trigger is featured below. CLICK HERE for full N50 Nationals Results.

Lou, who hails from California, enjoyed the match, noting: “I have a good mentor and a better air rifle than me — my Thomas #33″. Lou added: “Thank you all that attended and special thanks for those that helped in any way to make this inaugural event a good time. We had nice weather, good temperatures, tricky wind, and a little rain. States represented were Washington, Colorado, Nevada, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.” Lou also praised Joseph Friedrich, one of the founding fathers of N50. Joe tirelessly scored the targets, with help from Mike Niksch’s wife Matti.

National 50 benchrest league Raton NM Whittington Center Air rifle .22 LR
The NRA Whittington Center has beautiful ranges. More match photos HERE.

National 50 benchrest league Raton NM Whittington Center Air rifle .22 LR

About N50 — The National 50 Benchrest League

Commentary by Joe Friedrich, Open Grove Benchrest
The new National 50 Benchrest League (N50) is a unique shooting experience. We shoot air rifles with pellets and slugs alongside .22 LR Rimfire shooters. We currently have sanctioned clubs throughout the USA offering competition and good fellowship.

N50 has three Classes: Pellet, Sportsman, and PRO. The first Pellet Class is strictly for pellet airguns ranging in calibers from .177-.30 using Diabolo-style pellets from various manufacturers.

The second class is the Sportsman Slug/Rimfire. This combined class allows any factory air rifle shooting commercially-made slugs in calibers from .177-.30 to compete against any factory rimfire that utilizes a factory-barreled action with no attachments to barrel. Pellet air rifles may also compete in this class.

The third class is the PRO Class, and no you do not have to have some magic card that says “Professional” to compete. This class allows purpose-built air rifles, and what we call “unlimited” rimfire rifles to compete. Three types of loads are allowed in PRO Class: .177 slug air-driven, .22 slug air-driven, and any .22 LR ammunition.

Another point — in N50, competitors are allowed to move up in class — you aren’t restricted to a “lower” division. For example, Pellet Class shooters can also move up to shoot in Sportsman and Pro. In addition, Factory rimfires are allowed in Pro Class. This way shooters with the less-expensive rifles can shoot more relays and also see how they compete with the unlimited rigs. It’s all about having fun.

We wanted to make N50 as simple as we could combining air rifles with rimfire so folks who have a factory rimfire can participate and have fun. We also did not want a lot of classes, so combining the two gun types would be simpler. To be honest we were worried that the rimfires will outpace the air rifles, but that was not the case at this year’s Nationals.

National 50 benchrest league
National 50 benchrest league
National 50 benchrest league

National 50 Benchrest League Rules and Course of Fire

The official N50 website, National50.org, lists N50 rules, classes, courses of fire, and membership requirements. There are currently 16 affiliated clubs nationwide, with more coming soon.

General Rules — Here are some of the more notable N50 General Rules that apply to N50 matches:

Target Distance: 50 yards
Match Times: 20 minutes per target
Targets: Official targets produced and distributed by N50
Aggregate Score: Cumulative score of 3 targets shot in sequence on same day
Scoring: No competitor shall score their own target

As far as hardware, N50 is pretty open. For all 3 classes, any scope is allowed and any trigger is allowed. For all 3 classes, stocks are unrestricted, stocks may be bedded, and rifle weight is unlimited. However, the Sportsman Class must retain factory barrel and action. N50 competitors in all classes may use 1-piece rests, 2-piece rests, bags, or bipods — whatever they prefer.

CLICK HERE for More Information and N50 Official Rules »

National 50 benchrest league

CLICK HERE for a free, printable version of the N50 practice target shown above. You can also purchase the Official N50 11″ x 17″ printed Match Targets for $25 per 100 plus shipping.

Thomas PRO Class Air Rifle with Electronic Trigger

Quite Possibly the Most Accurate Air Rifle Design Ever Produced

National 50 benchrest league

National 50 benchrest league

Mike Niksch, owner of Thomas Rifles, won the PRO class with a very strong performance. What is remarkable, and perhaps even historic, is that Mike won with an air rifle, defeating all the high-end unlimited-type .22 LR rimfire rifles in the process. This may be the first time an air rifle out-performed high-end rimfire rigs in head-to-head competition, shooting the same targets in the same match. Overall Match Winner and PRO Class runner-up Lou Fontana observed: “The real significance of this weekend is that Mike Niksch and his brand new Thomas Slug air rifle outshot several unlimited .22 LRs in PRO class. This should be a paradigm shift for most. That may have never been done in competition before. I’ll add it was done at the NRA Whittington Center monitored by a NRA Range Officer.”

National 50 benchrest league

Look carefully at that photo. You’ll note Mike’s right hand is on a black box, NOT a conventional trigger. The wood-stocked air rifle Mike shot at Raton is equipped with a state-of-the-art electronic trigger of Mike’s own design. To fire a shot, Mike simply pushes a button that sends an electric impulse via a wire. This trips a mechanism inside the rifle’s action which releases the pressurized air. The system works very well and actually makes the Thomas air rifles simpler to build. The big advantage is that no movement is imparted to the rifle.

National 50 benchrest leagueThomas Air Rifle with Metal Stock
While Mike Niksch shot a wood-stocked rig at Raton, Mike also crafts a version of his rifle with an alloy stock and conventional trigger. We shot a video of Mike with this gun at the Open Grove Range in California (see above). Mike builds air rifles with the buyers’ choice of stock. He likes both the wood and the metal versions, and both shoot great — check out that 10-shot group Mike drilled at Open Grove.

A brilliant innovator, Mike has created a rifle design that sets new standards for airgun accuracy. At right is a 10-shot group Mike shot at 50 yards at the Open Grove range with the rifle in the video. Few centerfire rifles could match that accuracy. We asked Mike to demonstrate his rifle’s accuracy, and he sure delivered!

National 50 benchrest leagueCustom .22-Caliber Slugs
Like many top N50 airgun competitors, Mike forms his own slugs, starting with strings of lead. The lead is cut in short sections then formed up in special bullet-making dies.

The finished .22-caliber slugs look very similar to rebated boat-tail centerfire match bullets. And boy do they shoot!

Mike has tried a wide variety of commercially-available slug designs in his sophisticated air rifles. But nothing has shot as well as the slugs he forms himself. One reason could be that Mike uses custom .22 LR barrels originally designed for .22 LR rimfire rigs. It may be that commercially-made slugs have not yet been optimized for these smallbore barrels. Whatever the reason, Mike’s home-made slugs shoot better than anything he can buy. He has shown us some 100-yard groups that would make centerfire shooters envious.

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April 26th, 2020

Sunday GunDay: Joe’s Tack-Driving 6mmBR Eliseo Tubegun

Eliseo 6mmbr 6BR R5 Tubegun factory ammo

This story first ran ten years ago. But to mark our long-standing friendships with shooter Joe Friedrich and chassis builder Gary Eliseo, we wanted to reprise the article for a new decade. Joe’s Eliseo-chassis 6BR rifle delivered some of the most stunning factory ammo accuracy we’ve ever seen, in any rifle, in any caliber.

Eliseo 6mmbr R5 TubegunAmazing Accuracy from 6mmBR Tubegun
What kind of accuracy do you think a tubegun can deliver with factory ammo — during barrel break-in? Perhaps 0.6″ at 100 yards, half-MOA if the conditions are perfect? Well you may want to change your preconceptions about tubeguns — and factory ammo. This Eliseo R5 repeater, smithed by John Pierce with a Pierce CM action and Broughton 5C barrel, shot the Lapua 90gr factory ammo into flat ONEs during the break-in session. A day later, in tricky 8-14 mph winds, the gun nailed a witnessed and software-measured 0.174″ 5-shot group using the 105gr factory ammo. That would be impressive for a “full-race” benchgun with precision handloads. For an across-the-course rifle shooting factory ammo, it’s pretty amazing.

Eliseo Tubegun Shoots in the Ones
This accurate rifle belongs to our friend (and designated expert trigger-puller) Joe Friedrich. During the initial break-in session, since his reloading dies had not yet arrived, Joe decided to start with some Lapua factory-loaded 6BR ammo he had on hand. After doing a few two-shot-and-clean cycles (with patches and nylon brush), Joe decided to try a 3-round group just to see if the Broughton barrel had some potential. To his astonishment, the Eliseo R5 put three rounds in 0.100″ (photo below left). Joe then cleaned the barrel again, shot a couple foulers and tried a 4-shot group. The results were just as stunning — 4 shots in a mere 0.104″ but three in virtually one hole (photo below right).

Eliseo 6mmbr R5 Tubegun

Eliseo 6mmbr R5 TubegunEliseo 6mmbr R5 Tubegun

Eliseo 6mmbr R5 Tubegun

Joe’s Halloween 6BR Tubegun SPECS
Chassis: Eliseo R5 Repeater, fitted with Eliseo Front Sled and Rear Bag-Rider.
Gunsmithing: Pierce Engineering Ltd..
Chambering: 6mmBR Norma, .272″ No-turn Neck, approx. 0.090″ freebore.
Action: Pierce Engineering, Rem 700 footprint, Chrome-Moly, fluted bolt.
Barrel: Broughton 5C (Canted Land), 27.5″, 1:8″ twist, Medium Palma contour.
Trigger: CG X-Treme Two-Stage.
Optics: March (Kelbly’s) 10-60x52mm.
Ammunition: Lapua 6mmbr 90gr Scenar BT (#4316045, non-moly), 105gr Scenar BT (#4316046, non-moly ).

Eliseo 6mmbr R5 TubegunYou Can’t Believe How This Gun Shoots
Joe called your Editor and said “You can’t believe how this gun shoots with factory ammo!”. So we arranged a photo session for the next afternoon, where I could verify the rifle’s accuracy. Well it turned out the conditions were way more challenging than when Joe broke in the barrel the day before. Winds were running 8-14 mph and were swinging through 180 degrees half-way down the range. Joe fired a few 90s through the Oehler chronograph at my request, then opened a box of Lapua 105gr factory ammo. It took about four rounds for the barrel to settle in after being cleaned the night before. Then Joe got serious, and with your Editor looking over his shoulder, he drilled a 0.174″ five-shot group in switching winds, doping every shot. Joe felt the gun could have shot tighter but he missed one wind call.

Serious Accuracy with a Multi-Purpose Rifle
So there you have it — a tubegun that shoots in the ones with factory ammo. Joe says that, at least with the 90s, the Elesio R5 shoots as well as his 6 PPC. Joe stressed that “steering the tubegun is hard work. You really have to concentrate compared to a purpose-built bench gun like my PPC. With the tubegun, everything has to be perfect on every shot — hand position, cheek position, stock position in the bag. If you’re off just a little bit, it’s easy to steer the gun the wrong way and send a shot out of the group.”

Accuracy Great But Fouling Heavy and ES Could Be Better
Have there been any negatives to Joe’s 6BR tubegun experiment so far? Well, the Broughton 5C barrel, while phenomenally accurate, shows signs of being a bad fouler. Copper built up pretty quickly over the first 25 rounds or so. We saw best accuracy with a recently-cleaned barrel. Hopefully the fouling will lessen as the barrel polishes in with use. And the canted land barrel is slower than average with the factory ammo. Lapua rates its 90gr naked-bullet ammo at 2950 fps with a 26″ tube. In Joe’s 27.5″ barrel we only averaged 2901 fps. With the 105gr factory ammo, which is rated at 2790 fps, we averaged just 2694 fps. That’s quite disappointing. Also the ES on the factory ammo, slightly over 50 fps for both bullet types, wasn’t particularly good. Still, the overall results were stunning. This gun shoots better than many long-range benchrest rifles running carefully-developed handloads — and it does that with factory ammo, right out of the box.

Eliseo 6mmbr R5 Tubegun
Joe Friedrich is a superb benchrest shooter, who has won many matches and set National Records in ARA rimfire benchrest competition. Here is Joe with “Sweet Pea”, his favorite .22 LR rimfire rig. With over 100,000 rounds through the Benchmark barrel, this well-worn rifle set an ARA 4-target Aggregate record! READ about Sweat Pea Record HERE.

Permalink - Articles, Gear Review, Gunsmithing 2 Comments »
December 25th, 2016

Benchrest Bling — The Pappas Front Rest for Rimfire BR

Pappas Air gun front rest

Our friend and product tester Joe Friedrich is the proud owner of a spectacular Pappas front rest. Built by James Pappas, this rest is used for both air rifle and rimfire benchrest matches. The fancy Pappas front rest is a shortened, front-support-only version of the Pappas one-piece rest, which is popular with rimfire benchresters. Pappas engineered this rest to comply with air rifle benchrest rules which do not allow use of integrated (one-piece) front and rear rests. The end result was a 30.8-lb masterpiece of machining. Sadly, James Pappas passed away in 2014. This beautifully-crafted rest, built in 2011, is one of the finest examples of his work — a fitting legacy.

Pappas Air gun front rest

The workmanship on this Pappas front rest is astounding. Accurately described as a “work of art” by Joe Friedrich, this rest, crafted of aircraft-grade aluminum, sets new standards for “Benchrest BLING”. It looks like it should be on display in an art museum. Nearly all components of this rest, including the adjustment controls, have been polished to a mirror finish.

Pappas Air gun front rest

Convenient Rear Windage and Elevation Controls
The Pappas front rest features separate fine-tuning controls for windage and elevation, plus a central gross-elevation control. Normally, once the rest is centered-up on the target, you can make all needed elevation and windage adjustments with the rear (fine-adjustment) controls. In the video below, Joe explains how the controls work as he practices with his modified Theoben Rapid MFR air rifle. (Note: In the last minute of the video, the back-lighting was so intensely bright that we lost detail in the foreground. We apologize for that flaw, but you can still hear the audio.)

Price for this Masterpiece? Don’t Ask…
If you are interested in getting a similar rest, visit PappasRimfireProducts.com, or call (325) 754-5771. Be forewarned — “If you need to ask about the price, you probably can’t afford it.” This is truly the “Rolls-Royce” of front rests, and it will be priced accordingly.

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May 13th, 2015

Using Barrel With 100,000+ Rounds, Joe Sets New ARA Record

.22 LR Eley Rimfire benchrest joe friedrich ARA target
Click to zoom image.

Some folks think you need a new (or nearly-new) barrel to win a benchrest match. That may be true in the centerfire game, but in the world of rimfire benchrest, things are different. Good barrels can remain accurate for a long, long time. That was demonstrated by our friend Joe Friedrich who recently set a new ARA 4-target Aggregate record. Joe was shooting his trusty old “Sweet Pea” rifle with a very well-worn barrel. In fact, Joe’s record-setting Benchmark barrel has logged well over 100,000 rounds. That’s right, a barrel with over 100K rounds shot the best 4-target ARA Agg ever. Will wonders never cease…

.22 LR Eley Rimfire benchrest joe friedrich ARA target

In this video, Joe talks about his rifle, the amazing longevity of his Benchmark barrel, and the ELEY ammo he used to shoot two 2500s on the same day (with a 2475 average for four targets):

(more…)

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December 11th, 2012

Pappas Airgun/Rimfire Front Rest — Artistry in Aluminum

Our friend and product tester Joe Friedrich is the proud owner of a spectacular front rest from James Pappas. This rest is used for both air rifle and rimfire benchrest matches. The fancy Pappas front rest is a shortened, front-support-only version of the Pappas one-piece rest, which is popular with rimfire benchresters. Pappas engineered this rest to comply with air rifle benchrest rules which do not allow use of integrated (one-piece) front and rear rests. The end result was a 30.8-lb masterpiece of machining.

Pappas Air gun front rest

Pappas Air gun front rest

The workmanship on this Pappas front rest is astounding. Accurately described as a “work of art” by Joe Friedrich, this rest, crafted of aircraft-grade aluminum, sets new standards for “Benchrest BLING”. It looks like it should be on display in an art museum. Nearly all components of this rest, including the adjustment controls, have been polished to a mirror finish.

Pappas Air gun front rest

Convenient Rear Windage and Elevation Controls
The Pappas front rest features separate fine-tuning controls for windage and elevation, plus a central gross-elevation control. Normally, once the rest is centered-up on the target, you can make all needed elevation and windage adjustments with the rear (fine-adjustment) controls. In the video below, Joe explains how the controls work as he practices with his modified Theoben Rapid MFR air rifle. Joe hopes to use this new Pappas rest in the upcoming Air Rifle Benchrest Worlds to be held in South Carolina this summer. (Note: In the last minute of the video, the back-lighting was so intensely bright that we lost detail in the foreground. We apologize for that flaw, but you can still hear the audio.)

YouTube Preview Image

Price for this Masterpiece? Don’t Ask…
If you are interested in getting a similar rest, visit PappasRimfireProducts.com, or call James Pappas directly at (817) 735-9883. Be forewarned — James said “If you need to ask about the price, you probably can’t afford it.” This is truly the “Rolls-Royce” of front rests, and it will be priced accordingly.

Permalink - Videos, Competition, New Product No Comments »