Friedrich’s Record-Setting Rimfires
ARA Rimfire Benchrest Rigs -- The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection
In just three short years of active competition, Joe Friedrich has become one of leading shooters in the American Rimfire Association (ARA). Joe was the ARA Aggregate Champion for 2006. On March 25, 2007 he shot a perfect 2500 score–only the sixth man to have accomplished that feat at the time. In the same match, he recorded an amazing 9850 total 4-target score (2450, 2500, 2450, 2450). By all accounts, this is the best 4-target ARA Agg ever shot, by far. Other top rimfire shooters agree this “will be the benchmark to beat for quite some time”. Joe’s impressive performance was the direct product of hard work and dedication. He practices constantly — often shooting five days a week. And he is always evaluating new gear and new tuning techniques. In a sense, Joe has taken his sport to another level. He has attacked the rimfire game with a level of professionalism few other shooters have matched.
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Friedrich’s Fearsome Threesome–Three Rifles, All Tack-Drivers
Joe has three ultra-competitive rifles in his arsenal now, featured in the above photos. The purple gun is a Suhl 150 he purchased used. It was re-barreled by Bill Calfee. With that rig (factory trigger and all), Joe captured the 2006 ARA Aggregate Championship. Not satisfied with that success, Joe commissioned Bill Myers of Luray, Virginia to built a new gun for the ARA unlimited class. This rifle, in “Sierra Rainbow” colors (center photos), proved to be a winner from the get-go. With his first Myers-built rifle, Joe shot his 2500 perfect ARA score, and a 4-target Aggregate of 9850 points, (2450, 2500, 2450, and 2450 for an Average of 2462.5). This gun features a Turbo Action, Benchmark 2-groove 1:16.5″-twist barrel, Jewell trigger, and Myers-pattern laminated stock cut by Bruce Baer. Joe’s latest ARA rifle (right photos) is another Bill Myers creation, virtually identical to the record gun, but with a red, gray, and khaki color scheme instead of the “Sierra Rainbow” purple, green, blue, orange, and turquoise pattern.
Joe lining up the Record Gun using his Miller ‘Uni-Rest’ with Fudd top. At the rear is a black, elastic ankle weight used for balance.
EDITOR’S COMMENT: When preparing this story, I noted that Joe Friedrich is not the typical “weekend warrior” shooter. When he is not shooting rimfire rifles, Joe helps run a Go-Kart racing team which he sponsors. Joe also is involved in racing radio-controlled model cars. One can see how the racing influences his approach to shooting. He has a back-up rifle, just as a race-team will have a back-up car. He is constantly testing and tuning new equipment, just like race teams do. In the past month alone, Joe has acquired a new $2100 March Scope, and an Ahrens one-piece rest. And as soon as he got his hands on that rest, he began experimenting–adding weights to the base to increase its stability. Just as a race car is never “fast enough”, Joe’s rifles are never “accurate enough”. He is relentless in pursuing a little more accuracy, or a better state of tune.
Elsewhere we note how Joe practices, in all conditions, day in and day out. It’s no wonder his shooting skills have advanced so rapidly. Joe also, like a pro athlete, consciously works to improve his “mental game” and performance under stress. If you study the best race drivers, or tennis players, or golfers, they all have a program to improve the “human software”–the mental and psychological side of their game. Employing strategies from Lanny Basham and other experts, Joe works to keep his “mental game” in tune, just as he works to optimize his equipment.
Practice Makes Perfect
Just as Tiger Woods revolutionized golf with his fitness regime, and countless hours of practice, Joe Friedrich brings an uncompromising commitment to the sport of ARA rimfire benchrest. While he has an easy-going personality, Joe is dead serious when it comes to shooting. Joe practices as hard and as often as any shooter this writer has ever interviewed, and that includes some Olympic shooters and action pistol champions. Last year, Joe was shooting five days a week, and even now, he’s behind the trigger at least three days a week. Joe estimates, over the last 2.5 years, he’s sent 70,000+ rounds downrange. All that practice has given Joe an uncanny ability to judge conditions and read even the smallest changes in the wind. Joe’s hard work has paid off. Starting as a self-declared “casual shooter”, in just three short years he has progressed to become one of the leading rimfire masters in the nation. With this level of preparation, Joe told us he believed “it was just a matter of time before that perfect 2500 came together,” and he was right. During his practice sessions he rarely shoots less than a 2350, and he has shot quite a few 2500s in practice as of the date of this article. Just two weeks ago at a match he delivered another impressive set of four targets: 2450, 2400, 2400, and 2400 for a 9650 total. That kind of consistency is the reward of hard work, but it also requires the best equipment and a willingness to constantly experiment and refine his gear. Click HERE to watch Joe shooting his record gun at his ‘Open Grove’ range.
When asked his advice for new shooters, Joe observed: “Get out to the range and get comfortable with your equipment. Flags are a must for rimfire, if you do not own them, purchase new or used, if you do not have the funds, get creative till you can afford them. Keep notes on your progress, work on being consistent with set-up, seat position, head placement, trigger control etc. Keep it simple, have fun, be patient, and practice, practice, practice in all conditions.”
“The other important thing is to find a mentor. In the beginning, we all need a knowledgeable expert to lead the way. For me, that was Al Hadfield from Westport, MA. If it was not for him advising me from 3000 miles away I would have been lost from the beginning. I owe Al and in fact he will be getting my 2500 target. He stuck by me and was willing to help, and I am so grateful. Even with all I’ve learned, I still consider Al to be my mentor. I know there is much more for me to learn.”
Hardware–The Never-Ending Quest for Better Gear
Next to his Open Grove range, Joe has a large work center the size of a small barn. Inside, Joe’s “Bat Cave” is filled with equipment for shooting and racing. There’s enough shooting gear to outfit a half-dozen trigger-pullers. On one bench is an armada of rear sandbags (all shapes and sizes), plus a variety of premium rests, including one-piece models from Ahrens and Miller, plus pedestals from Bald Eagle, Ken Fulgham, John Loh, and Sinclair. His favorite pedestal rest is the beefy Fulgham unit, featuring belt-driven elevation adjustment. It is one of the smoothest units this writer has ever sampled.
You’ll find a half-dozen tuning devices in the Bat Cave. Joe has been experimenting with mid-barrel tuners including the Sims De-Resonator and the Henrich device. Joe used a Sims unit when he shot his 2500, but he’s currently switched back to a muzzle-mounted rotary tuner only. This reflects Joe’s philsophy–he is constantly testing and evaluating new equipment. He recently acquired an Ahrens one-piece rest and he just added a new March 40X scope to his collection of optics. Joe has the resources to try out all the “latest and greatest” gear, but his motivation isn’t that of a collector. He buys and tests new gear as an on-going effort to obtain that “nth degree” of accuracy. This is one secret of his success–he starts with the best equipment available, then strives to make that gear even better through testing and tuning.
Joe Friedrich and the “Mental Game”
Joe Friedrich, like many successful shooters, employs motivational training as part of his approach to shooting. He has used Lanny Basham’s products, including the popular book, With Winning in Mind. (Motivational expert Basham is a former Olympic gold medallist in rifle shooting. His “Mental Management” system is used by many Olympic teams.) Motivational training help shooters maintain positive focus and eliminate self-defeating stress in competition. Here are some tips from Joe on how to improve your “mental game”:
“Avoid Doubt–Doubt causes more people to fail than anything else, so we must have belief in ourselves and our equipment. Belief will over-ride doubt. If you push doubt out of your consciousness and replace it with self-confidence, good things will happen.
Focus on the Positive–I hear shooters complaining about bad shots. I even hear them talking about misses while they are shooting. When I hear such comments I tell myself to ignore that negativity. If it gets too bad one needs to walk away. When I miss a shot I immediately re-shoot that target in my mind’s eye, visualizing a 100. That is positive visualization. You must have positive thoughts, and use positive reinforcement not just in shooting, but in ones daily life.
Inspiration and Passion–Become inspired, and let your passion take you to new heights. Keep your dreams and imagination alive. There is nothing to stop you, but you yourself. Remember stress and anxiety are creations of our egos. Our egos are mans’ worst enemy.
Achieving Balance–One must have balance in ones life. Your conscious, sub-conscious, and self-image must be balanced and work together in harmony. The sub-conscious is the source of your skills and the power to perform–whether in the shooting sports or other endeavors. All great performances are accomplished subconsciously. Your self-image (what you believe and how you act) and your performance are tied together.” Click HERE for a 3-minute video with Joe giving tips on rimfire competition.
Shooting for 2500–The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection
According to the ARA’s records, there have only been six certified perfect 2500s shot, Joe’s 2500 being the sixth. Two more 2500 targets have been submitted as of the date of this writing, which would bring the total up to eight if those are approved. (Gary Grove shot an impressive “clean” 2500 recently in Indiana using a Calfee-built rifle with Broughton 4-groove barrel. Gary’s target should certainly be certified. Link to PHOTO.) By most accounts, Joe’s 4-target Aggregate stands alone at the top of the heap. There have been detractors suggesting Joe got lucky on his 2500. Well, every shooting sports record involves a bit of luck, but Joe’s outstanding performance was no fluke. This writer has personally witnessed a 2500 shot by Joe in practice, and just two weeks ago Joe logged a 9650 4-target Aggregate, now pending certification.
The ARA employs a different type of scoring compared to most other shooting disciplines. ARA 50 targets have 25 bulls with a center 100-Ring. “Worst Edge” scoring is used, meaning a “100” shot must fall completely within the center ring plus the line separating it from the 50-Ring. See ARA Rules. You can’t just clip the 100-Ring from one side. Click HERE for official ARA target. The Aggregate is the total combined points of the day’s four targets divided by four.
“Worst Edge” scoring makes ARA shooting very challenging, as does the fact that you must shoot 25 targets in sequence, moving your aim point back and forth across the target during the 20-minute alloted time. All that movement means that it is important to have a very smooth and positive rest system, one that is reliable with a fairly heavy rifle. Under ARA rules*, gun weight and rest design are unrestricted. Many of the top competitors use one-piece rests such as the Ahrens or the Miller Uni-Rest. Joe’s rifles each weigh about 17 pounds, which is typical for ARA guns, though both heavier and lighter rifles perform well.
*ARA Rules state: “1. Rifles–Any firearm chambered for the .22 Long Rifle cartridge may be used. There are no weight limits, no classes, and no dimensional restrictions to barrels, stocks, or limits on scope magnification. 2. Rests–Any rest may be used to shoot from the bench. One piece rests, separate front and rear rests, or sandbags may be used, so long as any such device prevents the barreled action from being affixed to the bench in an immovable manner.”
Joe Friedrich has shot his best targets, including the 2500, with a 2-groove, 1:16.5″ twist Benchmark barrel. Benchmark 2-grooves have definitely “raised the bar” of rimfire accuracy over the last couple of years. Bill Myers notes: “Not counting the recent pending targets, there have been three ARA 2500s shot in the last two years, and all have been with 2-groove Benchmarks.” Bill explains the secret to Benchmark’s performance is not just the number of grooves. “First, Benchmark has very good rifling machines, in particular a drilling machine that is better than most. Benchmark delivers a very straight bore with a very accurate twist rate. Second, the Benchmark folks do superb lapping on their barrels.” Thirdly, Bill adds, “Benchmark does a great job putting choke into the barrels. Choke (i.e. bore taper) must be very constant and uniform–a smooth reduction in diameter–you don’t want a sharp transition point. Benchmark 2-grooves are finished with at least .001″ choke, sometimes .0011″. You have to have choke to shoot in the wind, and the 2-grooves shoot better in the wind than anything else.” Bill adds, “I’ll use a 4-groove or 6-groove if the customer insists, but I strongly recommend the 2-grooves, and that’s what most shooters want. Right now I install 50 2-grooves for every 6-groove.”
Bill is one of the “founding fathers” of the modern 2-groove rimfire barrel. Bill worked with Bison Barrels in Wyoming on their first two-groove rimfire barrels. Bill actually bought the original tooling for the Bison 2-grooves, and experimented with twist rate and bore dimensions to optimize that design. Bill notes: “We spent 1.5 years getting that barrel perfected. Bison has now closed, but Benchmark is carrying on with the specifications and tooling we developed.”
Right now, only a handful of gunsmiths are consistently turning out winning rimfire benchrest rifles. Their work is in great demand, and the waiting lists are long. Bill Myers is in that elite group. He built the rifle with which Joe shot his 2500 score, and record 4-target aggregate. Bill also just delivered a new rifle to Joe–a near clone of the record gun, with Turbo action and Benchmark 2-groove barrel. Based on early tests, Joe’s new Myers-built gun appears to be even more accurate than the record gun–if that is possible.
Bill Myers took the time to discuss gunsmithing and rimfire accuracy with us, covering a broad range of topics, from ammo selection to bedding. This section summarizes our discussions with Bill. Read carefully, we guarantee you’ll learn something new. Talking to Bill Myers about rimfire accuracy is like discussing NASCAR with Richard Petty–Bill’s wealth of knowledge is remarkable.
When Bill Myers builds a rimfire Benchrest rifle he is looking for one-hole accuracy: “If a rifle can shoot three or four 5-shot groups in a row in the .130″ to .140″ range, it will be competitive. The best rifles are shooting in the ones. Joe’s guns shoot .120s pretty reliably.” Bill added that the latest batch of Eley Tenex EPS has shown outstanding promise: “I tried the new Eley from the #5 Machine and it hammered, giving me back to back zero groups–something that I’ve never seen before.”
How important is ammo sorting? Joe has a Nielson concentricity checker. He’s used it, but the results were not definitive–probably because the ammo Joe uses is so good. In the past Joe encountered some rounds that impacted low, presumably because they were undercharged. Joe weight-sorted that batch and eliminated most of the errant rounds. With his current batch of Eley, he shoots it right out of the box, unsorted.
Ammo Testing and Selection
Myer’s third preferred ammo type is Lapua Master M. In some guns this will shoot a little better than the Eley and Bill noted that recent lots have been very, very uniform.
Chambering–Matching Chamber to Ammo
Freebore and Land Contact
Bill Myers builds his rifles differently. He sets his throats so the nose of the bullet is barely engraved by the rifling. “I don’t want to go 20 or 30 thousandths into the rifling”, Bill advised. “There is a happy medium on the chamber depth. Rimfires tend to load up the throat with bullet lube, carbon, lead, and primer residues. If you jam the bullets too far into the rifling, with heavy engraving, you’ll get that build-up of lube, lead and carbon in the throat much more quickly. And that results in flyers.”
Barrel “Ringing” and Indexing
Myers does believe barrel indexing is worthwhile, and he will index a barrel on the client’s request. With this process, the barrel is fitted and rotated in 90-degree increments during a course of test-firing. Bill tells us, “when barrels are indexed, you’ll always find one of the four positions is dominant–it will shoot the tightest groups.” One reason Bill prefers to finish barrels with a cone breach is that this simplifies barrel indexing. If the barrel has a conventional breech with extractor cuts, the cuts dictate how it must be oriented in the action.
Bore Cleaning and Accuracy
Bedding–The Key to Vibration Control and Accuracy
Myers is an expert on adhesives. He once worked in Fairchild Aircraft’s composite bonding facility. He believes “half the epoxies used for bedding are junk–they have a very short shelf life and can become soft.” He uses Loctite Steel liquid for his first bedding layer. This has a 20-year shelf life–many times longer than products such as Devcon or MarineTex.
Myers believes proper bedding is absolutely critical to achieving best accuracy. “Rimfire is a vibration game”, Bill explains, “the bedding must transmit the vibrations to the stock. If the bedding is not correct, the gun will go out of tune.”
Bill uses a two-stage bedding procedure on the action (normally, no part of the barrel will be bedded). Stage one consists of Loctite Steel Liquid and some fiberglass flock. When this has hardened, Bill will assemble the gun, tighten the action screws, and test it. Then comes the second stage of the bedding job. After removing the barreled action, Bill waxes the action and screws (to allow the barreled action to be removed in the future). Then he applies a thin coat of “Myers’ Mystery Adhesive” and re-installs the action. The end result, according to Bill, is a pillar-bedded “semi glue-in” connection that mates the action perfectly to the stock. This also provides a tight seal that solvents and oils can’t penetrate. When asked to reveal his “Mystery Adhesive”, Bill chuckled and said “Now I can’t give away all my secrets you know.”
Two-Grove Barrel Design and Internal Taper (Choke)
In Memorium — Bill Myers
|Open Grove 50-Yard Rimfire Range–Joe’s Home Court|
Home, Home on the Range
Those of us who shoot rimfire in Southern California envy Joe because he has what every shooter dreams of–a certified range in his own back yard. Joe’s family owns many acres of agricultural land, and Joe constructed a 50-yard range in a lemon grove right in the middle of his property. It’s a beautiful setting, and a fabulous place to shoot. Joe actually designed the range himself, and outfitted it with all the extras–including lights for night shooting. Right next door he constructed a race track for radio-controlled cars. Racing RC cars is another one of his hobbies. (With both sports Joe gets to exercise his natural fascination with tuning and tinkering.)
At the rear of the stock is a heavy, padded, elastic ankle weight used to counter-balance extra lead wheel-weights added to the muzzle-mounted tuner. Joe can slide the ankle weight fore and aft to fine-tune the gun’s balance and center of gravity.
Though there are sheltering trees on three sides, ‘Open Grove’ range is far from a perfect, windless “tunnel”. The conditions can actually be quite changeable and switchy. One must watch the flags all the time to ensure you stay on top of the conditions. And it’s not unusual for half the flags to point left while the others point right. But Joe has put in so many hundreds (thousands?) of hours of practice time that he knows exactly how to hold in any possible condition.
Yes, Joe enjoys some “home court advantage” when shooting at his ‘Open Grove’ range, but that doesn’t mean his records were shot in “easy” conditions by any means. This writer has shot there, and typical afternoon winds are quite swirley with a definite vertical component. You really have to be patient or you’ll get burned.
Since Joe’s range doesn’t have a conventional looking berm at the end, some folks have wondered about the actual distance to the targets. Joe had the range surveyed, and it’s been certified at 150.11 feet in overall length. Click Here to view the survey report. In addition to the high-tech 50-yard range, Joe has a “rustic” range on the side of his property where he can shoot to 300 yards. A concrete bench is positioned at the 100-yard line. 100-yard testing is the best way to see how ammo really performs in the wind. With a 90° crosswind, a 22LR bullet will be pushed nearly four times farther (laterally) at 100 yards than it will be at 50 yards.
Joe with his New Myers-built 22LR and new Roger von Ahrens one-piece rest. Same winning formula–Benchmark 2-groove 1:16.5″ barrel with a Turbo action. Competitors watch out–both Bill and Joe think this new gun may shoot even better than Joe’s record-setting Myers gun. Joe is still working on the tuning, but it seems to shoot even tighter than the other rifle.
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