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Special Tuesday Edition: Rumor busting.

The latest internet rumor, apparently from the proprietor of a gun store back east, is that U.S. Customs is holding up containers of imported smokeless powder on the orders of the White House. This, it's claimed, is the reason that powder - for both reloaders and ammunition manufacturers - is in such short supply.

Ed Harris, who many of you will recognize as one of the longstanding voices of sanity in the gun industry, has access to people the rest of us don't. When I call Hodgdon Powder Co., for instance, I get a Customer Service Rep. When Ed calls, he gets Chris Hodgdon - which is exactly what happened a few days ago, and this is what Ed related to me of their conversation:

“[Chris] says that the story [the gun shop] related about US Customs playing games with containers waiting to come into the country is nothing but an Internet rumor. 
He says that since the President was re-elected that demand for powder has exceeded anything they have ever seen.  They are importing more powder than they ever have, and shipping over 100,000 lbs. a month but the market is absorbing it instantly.  Their supply is the greatest it has ever been and it is still not enough. The market has gone crazy since Obama’s re-election.
Hodgdon asks dealers and consumers to be patient. Panic buying is driving the current shortage. It is likely to continue until the administration is required to move onto some other, serious world crisis probably unrelated to gun control…… Then we will have something else to worry about."

There you have it, folks, straight from the horse's mouth. People are simply buying up everything that's being produced, even though it's being produced and shipped in record amounts.

As to the source of the rumor, my general rule of thumb is this: if you hear something from someone behind the counter in a gun store, it's probably false. Just like this rumor.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Ed Harris Friday: Testing .22 Ammunition

Editor's Note: Here's Ed again, with some data and procedures on testing .22 LR ammunition for best results. I've found that .22 LR is the most finicky of all calibers, both in terms of accuracy and function. I've seen numerous cases where a .22 rifle or pistol will shoot horrendous groups with one brand/type of ammo, and turn into a tack driver with a different brand or type - and cost isn't always a good predictor of success! The same is true for functional reliability; some guns simply won't run with some ammunition. Even guns of the same make and model will have drastically different preferences for ammunition; I've seen identical Ruger 10/22 rifles, for instance, that had different results with different ammunition: what worked in one gun failed in the other, and the same was true for accuracy. Ed has some guidelines for testing your .22 to get the best results for the money you spend!

Inexpensive Doesn't Mean Inaccurate: test samples and buy a bunch to get the best .22s for the buck!

By Ed Harris (Rev. 5-24-94)

If you don't live near a well-stocked gunshop, your only source of .22 LR ammunition may be the local hardware or discount store. Old stock in small stores may have been around a long time, but if the bullets are not oxidized, buy it if the price is right. It's probably OK. Chain stores always have "fresh" ammo, but seldom carry anything but "High Velocity" .22's. Standard velocity is generally more accurate, but is difficult to find except at gunshops catering to competitive shooters.

Most .22s sold are fired in semi-automatic rifles and pistols by casual shooters. Mass marketers gear their pitch to the shooter who is not technically sophisticated, but simply wants the most "bang for the buck". "High Velocity" long rifle "solids" outsell all other rimfires combined.

There is little difference in manufacturers' suggested retail price between "High Velocity" and "Standard Velocity" .22's, but considering availability and discount pricing, "High Velocity" ammo is generally cheaper, unless you order standard velocity in case lots from a major distributor.

The average user has no control over ammunition manufacturing variables, except to test batches and to buy the most promising lots. Therefore you should pay attention to "lot numbers." and shoot an entire box of ammunition "for group" in your own rifle before stockpiling a large quantity.

"Lot numbers" are used on almost every manufactured item you purchase. An ammunition "lot" usually indicates a day's production, and indicates to the manufacturer such things as the year and day of manufacture, the shift during which it was produced, and the loading or packing machine used. Lot numbers are used to identify process control data, and can facilitate a recall if a problem is discovered after the product is shipped.

Most .22 rimfire ammunition is far more accurate than we give it credit. Ammunition manufacturers operate heavily automated production lines which can produce huge quantities. This has kept prices low, so .22 rimfire ammunition is still a bargain.

The manufacture of .22 rimfire ammunition involves dozens of machine operations. These include progressive die stamping of the brass cartridge case, stress relief, annealing, then cleaning and priming; swaging bullets from lead wire; and assembling completed rounds, by metering the powder charge, inserting, crimping, knurling and lubricating the bullets. There are also numerous quality checks of weights and dimensions, and firing of functional and ballistic tests prior to packaging.

Given its inherent complexity, even low-priced "promotional" ammunition must still be subjected to the same basic operations and inspections as "regular" ammunition. Bargain ammunition is so only partly from lower-cost packaging, and long production runs which permit economies of scale. Omitting non-essential operations, such as plating of the bullet, reduce cost only very modestly.

The most important factors affecting accuracy of .22 rimfire ammunition are bullet quality and uniformity of the cartridge case. The bullet must be round, as close to permissible maximum diameter as possible, have its base square to its axis, and not be damaged in handling or in the loading machines, particularly the crimper. The web thickness of the brass through the rim section affects the distribution of primer mix, controls primer sensitivity, reliability of ignition, and uniformity of the dimensions governing headspace, all crucial to accuracy.

Bullet weight and powder charge variation, within normal manufacturing tolerances, is of only minor significance, if the above factors are controlled. Standard velocity and sub-sonic ammunition have somewhat less wind deflection, but in terms of pure accuracy, whether the ammunition is "Standard Velocity" or "High Velocity" doesn't matter, if "all other factors are equal".

Industry standards require .22 Long Rifle ammunition average 3" or less extreme spread at 100 yards for 10-shot groups. US ammo producers easily maintain 2" as a product average. The best lots will average 1-1/2" or better at 100 yards from the test barrel, and these are the ones you are seeking! Some US producers test rimfire ammunition at 50 yards rather than 100, but indoor rimfire test groups are usually proportional to the range.

"Average" Standard or High Velocity .22 LR ammunition should average an inch for a series of 10-shot groups at 50 yards. The best .22 ammunition should do 3/4" or better from a SAAMI dimensioned "Match" chamber, in a target rifle with telescopic sight, fired by a skilled shooter from bench-rest, or by a Master competitor prone with a sling.

"Sporting" rather than "Match" chambers (in which the bearing surface of the bullet is engraved as the cartridge is chambered) usually produce groups up to about 1.3 times larger than the test barrel, though some individual rifles will give surprising results. US production .22 Long Rifle ammunition will usually average an inch or better for a series of 10-shot groups at 50 yards from an accurate sporter. Specialty ammunition such as CCI Green Tag will often do better, frequently under 3/4" at 50 yards, from heavy target rifles, or high grade sporters with "match" chambers.

When testing, shoot a full box in five consecutive 10-shot groups, without excluding any data. It is common for even poor ammunition to shoot occasional "good" groups, as normal random variation. Results which appear meaningful to casual observation very often are not. You cannot arbitrarily discount individual bad shots or groups, because these are part of the random dispersion and you must look at the entire body of data as a representative sample.

Age is not critical if the bullets haven't oxidized or the lubricant dried out. I have used 20 year old .22 rimfire match ammo that still produced 1/2" ten-shot groups at 50 yards. The limiting factor is evaporation of the volatiles from "grease" bullet lubricants, and oxidation of the lead bullet itself. Minor oxidation may affect accuracy for serious competition, but it is insignificant for other uses if it doesn't cause leading.

High grade match ammunition with oxidized bullets can be salvaged if carefully re-lubed with EP lithium grease, and the excess wiped off with a patch.

In my experience a freshly-chambered rimfire match barrel doesn't "settle down" into its best grouping for several hundred rounds. Consistency of firing technique is VERY important. Firing several hundred groups from the bench with a .22 rimfire will teach you a great deal about "bag" technique, more cheaply than burning out a Hart barrel on your heavy varmint IBS bench gun!

Some inexpensive ammunition may shoot very well indeed, but high price is no guarantee of accuracy. So, it pays to test lots of any ammunition before purchasing in quantity, to find the most accurate ones!

Ed Harris: America's Greatest, The All-Around .30-'06!

(Editor’s note: Today I’m pleased to bring you another Ed Harris article - this time all about the .30-06 cartridge. As you’ll soon learn, Ed is a HUGE fan of the ’06 and has probably done more experimenting with it than any ten people you’re likely to find. In it are Ed’s recommendations for bullets and loads for an incredibly wide variety of uses. As always, any reloading data is used at your own risk; always start 10% below the listed charges and work your way up, watching carefully for pressure signs.)

America's Greatest, The All-Around .30-'06
By C.E. Harris (Rev. 7-8-94)

The most popular deer camp discussion for generations has been that of the proverbial "All-Around Rifle". What would be YOUR choice if you could have only one rifle? Forget the apocalyptic, "Red Dawn" scenarios and consider only the present, and the realistic future. For me, the answer is plainly obvious. A .30-'06 bolt-action, because there's not much a skilled rifleman and handloader can't do with it.

Some years ago I was invited with a group of gun writers to a "bring your own rifle" hunt in Texas. One of the scribes was intent on doing a survey of what the "experts who could pick anything their heart desired" did, in fact, choose. The fellow doing the survey had built his own wildcat, just for the occasion. Of the dozen or so "experts" in attendance besides our wildcatter, one was a fancier of the .270 Winchester, and the rest of the rifles in camp were all .30-'06 boltguns. Now THAT would have made an interesting article, but the wildcatter, who had embarked with other ideas, never wrote it, a shame to be sure.

My gun rack currently holds six .30-'06 rifles, if you don't count the half-dozen or so extra barrels for my switch-barrel silhouette, target and bench rifles. My first .30-'06 was a DCM M1903A3. My second was an M1 Garand. My third was a custom Winchester Model 70 target rifle with Hart barrel and stock by Roy Dunlap. I'm sure my early exposure to highpower rifle competition, ROTC, handloading, DCM ammo, a particularly fine lot of TW54 Ball, and some even better LC63 National Match ammo had something to do with my love for the .30-'06. But, 30 years later, as I inspect and care for the brass I've hoarded, it still makes sense.

The variety of factory loads in .30-'06 is greater than for any other American cartridge. When handloading options are added, the possibilities are simply staggering. To keep it simple, five classes of .30-'06 loads cover all possible uses for a rifle. These are: small game and gallery loads; light varmint and target loads; service rifle loads; long range loads, and big game loads. There is, understandably, some overlap, as a "service rifle" load with match-type bullet becomes a fine "big game" load, with the substitution of a hunting-type bullet.

I recommend the .30-'06 handloader keep a limited selection of powder and bullet types which have flexibility for multiple purposes. One "reduced load" powder, one "service rifle" powder and one "long range or big game" powder will do it all. Similarly, for bullets, one light cast bullet plinker, a 160-180- gr. gas-checked target bullet, a "general purpose" 150-168-gr. jacketed hunting or match bullet, and a heavier 180-200-gr. target bullet for the serious hunting or long range shooter rounds out the whole menu. This enables you to produce economical, safe, and effective ammunition without accumulating odd lots of components which cause problems for storage or disposal later.

With this goal in mind, I'll describe each load class, and make some recommendations based upon my experience.

SMALL GAME AND GALLERY loads are quiet and low-powered, intended for use at 25 yards or less. I use them for indoor target shooting, and camp meat for the pot. They are also fine for easing the transition of youngsters from a .22 rimfire to a big game rifle. Cast bullets are best for this purpose. Light, jacketed bullets may be used, but require caution, to ensure that the bullet's bore-exit is totally reliable.

Most rifles produce 3/4" groups or less at 25 yards or in proportion to 100 yards. A few shoot ragged holes at 50 yards after load refinement. Light .32 revolver bullets can be used, but more satisfactory are heavier bullets from 130-170-grs. I cast these of soft backstop scrap, and shoot them tumbled in Lee Liquid Alox, without sizing or gascheck. I use the same NEI-52A, Saeco 322, or Lee .312-155-2R bullets I normally use, but without the gascheck. The Lyman #311291 and RCBS 30-150FN also work well for these light loads. Typical charges for plainbased loads are 5-6 grs. of Bullseye, SR-7625, W231, Red Dot, Green Dot or 700-X.

You can safely increase these charges up to 2 grains as needed to get best accuracy, but they will lead above 1300 f.p.s. unless gaschecked. Some individual rifles with smooth barrels shoot quite well up to 7 or 7.5 grs. of these powders, but best accuracy is usually obtained when velocities are kept subsonic.

I generally look for a velocity of 1080 +/- 30 f.p.s. These loads will usually shoot 2-1/2" to 3" groups at 100 yards using minor visual defect culls, which is OK for practice. The minimum safe load which will always exit the barrel for indoor gallery work is about 4 grs. of the above powders.

More caution is required when assembling subsonic loads with jacketed bullets, because there is some risk of the bullet becoming lodged in the bore at near-subsonic velocities. You should not attempt to use less than 6 grs. of the above pistol or shotgun powders when loading jacketed bullets unless you check the bore after every shot and keep your hammer and ramrod handy!

There are important safety considerations for all reduced loads. I don't recommend heavier charges with pistol powders (even though some manuals list them) unless the particular powder is bulky enough (like Red Dot), that an inadvertent double-charge fills or overflows the case so an error is immediately obvious on visual inspection. Extreme caution must be used with dense powders such as W-W231 in reduced loads, because even a double charge is hard to see with all that airspace, so an error is not apparent. If you use fast pistol or shotgun powders in reduced loads, ensure the charge is light enough that a mistaken double- load will only blow primers, rather than destroying the rifle!

Spitzer bullets generally give poor accuracy below about 1600 f.p.s. due to gyroscopic instability, blunt round- or flat-nosed bullets are best. The 100-110-gr. .32-20, .32 H&R Magnum and .30 M1 Carbine bullets are often suggested for small game loads, but in my experience won't produce 1" groups at 50 yards, my accuracy criteria. Any decent .22 rimfire will shoot 1" groups at 50 yards, and a center-fire small game load should do as well, right?

The most satisfactory jacketed bullet reduced loads are assembled using my standard 200-yard target charges used with gaschecked cast bullets. Accurate boltgun practice loads which will shoot "on" at 200 yards close to your normal 600-yd. sight dope with either 150-175 gr. pulled GI bullets or 150-200 gr. cast, gaschecked bullets are: 12-13 grs. of Red Dot, Green Dot or 700X, 15-16 grs. of #2400, 18-20 grs. of 4227 or 21-23 grs. of 4198.

My favorite jacketed bullets for reduced .30-06 loads are the bulk Remington 150-gr. .30-30 soft points. This is because I keep them around to load .30-30s, but they are highly accurate at minimum velocities and are also suitable for mild '06 deer loads with 35 grs of 3031 or RL-7, which approximates .30-30 ballistics.

The 123-gr., 7.62x39 spitzer FMJ bullets give good plinking accuracy above 1600 f.p.s., using the above listed "200-yd. Target" charges.. Grouping is improved by increasing the charge, not to exceed 27 grs. of #2400 or 30 grs. of 4227 which approximates 7.62x39 ballistics. With 150-gr. .30-30 bullets, do not exceed 25 grs. of #2400, which gives 2100 f.p.s., a nice deer load for youngsters, women, or elderly hunters with pacemakers who can't take the recoil of a full '06.

"SERVICE RIFLE" loads approximate the performance, and accuracy of military "ball" or "match" ammunition for target shooting over the National Match Course. It is important that the powder charge, bullet type, and ballistic parameters not vary significantly from arsenal ammunition, in order to ensure they function as intended in semi-automatic, quasi-military arms.

The ballistics of Ball M2 service ammunition, (2740 +/- 30 f.p.s.) with a 150-gr. spitzer, flatbased bullet are approximated in GI cases with a charge of 47.5 grs. of current Hodgdon or IMR 4895, or 50 grs. of IMR-4064 or Olin's W-W748. Accurate Arms 2015BR and 2495BR are also suitable using the charges recommended by them. In commercial brass these powder charges intended for GI cases may be increased 1 grain. These are fine match loads for offhand and 200 rapid in the M1 using the 150-gr. Sierra MatchKing or the new 155-gr. "Palma" bullets.

Prior to the introduction of the 168-gr. Sierra MatchKing, the 125-gr. spitzer was favored for 200-yd. offhand and sitting rapid-fire stages of the National Match Course. These are highly accurate, and ideal for the reduced scale courses for use by junior shooters, to reduce costs and minimize recoil. The charges for 150-gr. bullets, listed above, function the M1 rifle and are accurate. They also make dandy woodchuck loads.

WITH 168-SIERRA OR PULLED GI MATCH BULLETS a charge of 46 grs. of 4895; or 48 grs. of 4064 or 748 approximates .30-'06 M72 match ammunition (2640 +/- 30 f.p.s). With 168-gr. match bullets, these charges may be increased 1 grain, but if the 180-gr. Sierra MatchKing is used (a GREAT 600-yd. bullet for the M1) they should be REDUCED the same amount. I do not recommend slower powders or heavier bullets for the M1, because heavier charges of slower powders operate the mechanism with more force than service ammunition, and may damage the operating rod or other parts. You are free to use the "long-range" loads below in your Springfield or M1917, and they also work well for hunting loads in bolt- action rifles, using soft point bullets of the same weight.

"LONG RANGE" loads are heavy target loads for bolt-action match rifles, intended for use at the 600-yard stage of the National Match Course, and for longer ranges, such as 1000 yard events. The loads which follow are for use in bolt-action rifles only. (Semi-auto and slide-action rifles should be used with the "service rifle" charges listed above).

I consider it routine for all long-range target loads in boltguns to uniform the flash hole diameters with a No.2 long center drill, and the primer pockets, using the Whitetail Match-Prep tool. In addition, I neck turn all cases to 0.011-0.012" neck wall thickness, and check-weigh all cases to +/-3 grains to ensure uniform powder capacity. I used to check cases to +/- 1 grain, but while this is appropriate for a small case like a .223, in the '06 it is "measuring with micrometers while cutting with axes! Uniforming flash holes, primer pockets and neck wall concentricity gets you the most improvement. Weighing cases is only used to isolate the extremely "heavy" or "light" ones.

These can still be used for load development, or for slow-fire standing stages. Don't pitch them. In boltguns cases should be fire-formed in the particular rifle they will be used in, and then neck-sized only, using a Jones sizer with .330" ring or Lee collet and dead-length seater.

It is entirely unnecessary to weigh every powder charge if you use a good powder measure and consistent technique, but you should always verify the measure setting with a scale when you set up. My favorite powders for long range loads in the .30-'06 are either IMR or Hodgdon 4350. Accurate Arms has their own brand of 4350, which works well using the loads they recommend. With Hodgdon or IMR 4350 powder, using commercial cases with an average weight of 185 grs., and either Winchester WLR or Federal 210M primers, I use 56 grs. with the 180-gr. Sierra MatchKing, 54 grs. with the 185 Lapua, or 53 grs. with the 190s at 600 yards. For windy days at 600 and for 1000 yards I use 52 grs. with a 200-gr. Sierra MatchKing.

Overall cartridge length is 3.40", or adjusted to clear the lands upon chambering by 0.010" to 0.030". You should avoid "jamming" bullets into the rifling, but "jump" should not exceed 1/10 of the bullet diameter. These cartridge exceed magazine length and are intended for single-loading only. If using these charges for hunting loads with softpoint bullets, to be magazine fed, reduce the charges 1-1/2 grains. Powder charges should also be reduced 1/2 grain for each 5 grain difference in average case weight to compensate for heavier military brass.

Some people like slower powders such as 4831 for long-range loads in the .30-'06. While I have found that 58 grs. of H4831 works well with a 200-gr. bullet, it doesn't group as well for me as 4350 with the lighter 180-190-gr. bullets. Always pick the best grouper over whatever the chronograph says. If grouping is equal, for matches pick the bullet which is the better wind bucker. The 200-gr. Sierra Matchking is the best choice in .30- '06 boltguns for 1000 yards or for windy days at 600.

"GAME LOADS" for deer and larger game can be based on the target charges above, with seating depth and powder charge adjustments for magazine feeding of hunting-type bullets. While heavy bullets are preferred for elk, moose or bear, the average hunter after deer will be best served with one load, which he knows well. I want my hunting loads to approximate factory ammunition, so if I run out and must buy a box somewhere, I'll not have to check my zero, and scare all the game away.

With a 150-gr. spitzer soft-point, 52 grs. of IMR-4064 or W-W 748 in commercial cases approximates the factory 2800 f.p;.s. velocity. With a 165-gr. boattail, 56 grs. of 4350 is a dead ringer for Federal's Premium load. With the 180-gr. Nosler Partition, 55 grs. at 3.30" overall cartridge length, in commercial brass, approximates the 180-gr. Federal Premium load. With either load reduce charges a grain if using GI cases. For larger game such as moose, elk, or bear, the "long range" loads above work well with premium big game bullets of the same weight.

In semi-auto or slide-action .30-'06 hunting rifles the "service rifle" charges listed above should be used. These are somewhat less than maximum, and provide very satisfactory game loads with a hunting bullet of the same weight.

Summing up, the .30-'06 is the most versatile American center- fire cartridge, and has not been improved upon. If you have leftover pistol or shotshell powders around, you can load .30-'06 practice loads with it and have alot of fun for not much money. If you keep Red Dot or 700-X around for loading skeet and trap loads for your 12-ga., or if you have #2400 or 4227 around for loading .410 skeet loads or a magnum caliber handgun, you don't need to buy another powder for reduced loads. The same is true if you keep 4198 around for your .222 Rem.

Of all the rifle powders, 4198 is the best reduced load powder for the .30-'06, from 1300-2000 f.p.s. because it bulks up well, and is not position sensitive. If you don't load need to make minimum subsonic small game or gallery loads (4198 doesn't work for these) and you don't already have other suitable powders available, and want to buy the best rifle powder for moderately reduced rifle loads, 4198 is my recommendation.

The "Real .30-'06 powders" for full loads are 4895, 4064 and 4350. IMR-4895 replaced IMR 4676 for military ball ammunition about 1944 and was the standard propellent for military .30-'06 Ball and Match ammunition. It is adaptable to a variety of cartridges. If you want just one rifle powder to use for everything 4895 is "it". Some target shooters feel that "long grain" powders like 4064 and 4350 give better grouping than "short cut" powders like 4895, which are preferred for machine loading. Even though coarser powders don't measure as well, they are highly accurate. If this is your choice, substitute 4064 for the 4895 and you won't be disappointed. For maximum loads in .30-'06 boltguns it's hard to beat 4350. I've tried other powders, but I keep coming back to 4350, because its consistent and always predicable, just like my .30-'06.

That's why I like the .30-'06. It's like an experienced old horse that always knows its way back to camp, so you can just do the job and relax. What else do you want in a rifle?

Ed Harris on Metallurgy

(Editor’s Note: Ed’s back with an incredible article on firearm metallurgy! This originated as a reply to an email from a “DG”. Ed gives some phenomenal information on the metals used at his employer, Sturm Ruger, to build their guns. I think you’ll find it very interesting, if a little complex!)

DG: A toolmaker friend wants to know what types of metal are used in a revolver. Having read your posts, I figured you would probably have the answers. Please feel free to be as technical as necessary...(Editor's Note: remember, folks, he asked for it!)

EH: At Ruger chrome-moly revolver frames are typically 4140LS blended at the mill to specific (and proprietary) chemistry to give the desired structures in the cast parts. Mostly this involves holding the sulphur within very stringent limits which are lower than those used by other manufacturers, and having additional restrictive requirements to eliminate silicates or phosphorous to the extent that they are below the detection limit by x-ray diffraction. There are some other elements which are manipulated to get specific properties related to the casting process which I am not at liberty to discuss, but suffice to say the investment casting process varies depending upon whether you are working with CM (chrome moly) or SS (stainless steel.)

The stainless is vacuum melted and poured under controlled atmosphere, such as in argon or nitrogen, whereas the CM can be poured in ambient air, though oxidation protection is provided by pouring a powdered antioxidant over the open mould sinks after the sprue is full.

All of the steel used at Ruger is ordered in 100-ton heat lots and produced by a continuous casting process which ensures uniformity in the billets produced. The billets are then cropped, and rolled per Ruger's specs.

Cast parts generally incorporate about 50% virgin material, and 50% remelt scrap which results from Ruger's own operations. Scrap is kept separate by machining line and is tagged by heat lot and type of material so heat lot integrity can be maintained as long as they are running that batch. A sample of every lot of material cast in the foundry is sent to the lab for analysis, generally 4 times per shift.

The cast parts are visually inspected, annealed, straightened, then gaged, sorted and either x-ray or ultrasonically tested. Rough machining is done in the annealed state. Finish machining is done after final heat treatment.

Barrels and cylinders are not machined from castings, but are produced from bar stock or forgings, depending upon the gun model. Barrels and cylinders are generally heat treated to Rc35 Min at Ruger, whereas other makes are typically 20-24. Ruger frames are generally Rc 28-35, whereas a lot of S&W frames used in the Model 10 and similar guns won't even register on the C scale, but may be around 80-90 on the B scale.

The stainless material used for revolver frames and cylinders is a 410 series, whereas barrel stock is a modified 415. Lockwork is a 300 series stainless in both blued and stainless versions. Critical parts like barrels and cylinders are 100% Magnafluxed using the wet method with circular continuous magnetization.

After final assembly proofing is done with standard military HPT or SAAMI specification proof cartridges, one per chamber. I might note that some other makers do not proof all six chambers of a revolver, but try to cut corners on the proofing. If all six chambers are not proofed the cylinder is not equally stressed and you may not detect flaws such as secondary piping, or nonmetallic inclusions or laminations which might occur in the melt shop at the steel mill because the fellow cropping the billets was having a "bad hair day".

We set up our steel specs and receiving inspection on barrel and cylinder steel to pretty much eliminate that type of problem by specifying ingot position, and requiring on-line ultrasonic and x-ray testing of the bars, which were also bumper straightened and checked with eddy current for flaws before the mill length bars were loaded onto the trailer.

When we received a shipment we'd take samples, cutting the ends off of a specified number of bars, based on a statistical sampling plan, and run them into the lab to verify the structures and chemistries against the mill cert. We'd send the driver off to a local hotel for a steak and a shower on us while it was going on so he wouldn't be as unhappy if we rejected the batch and told him to take it back (which we did a few times when I was there).

When I was there only two mills, Timken and SKF, were able to consistently produce 4140LS to our specs for cylinder blanks and Mini 14 receivers and bolts. This material is almost identical to Navy-nuclear pressure vessel grade material, and exceeds normal gun-barrel quality. Similarly, the stainless was vacuum melted, argon-oxygen decarburized and ladle refined similar to a Navy-nuclear or aerospace bearing grade of material.

Most of the other makers buy standard AISI grades in gun barrel quality, typically 1137 for shotgun, blackpowder and .22 rimfire barrels and 4140 for centerfire barrels. Most stainless target rifle barrels are made of 415 or 416 series stainless, but both the re-sulphurized CM and the free machining SS (which produce "mirror finish quality") have sulphur or selenium additives to improve machinability. If the distribution of these elements is nonuniform, the clumped inclusions can form stress risers which impair ultimate strength. For this reason they cannot be used in applications such as M14 or M1A barrels which have complex exterior machining which might produce stress risers. Nor can they be used in hammer forging of barrels which will undergo significant reduction and elongation. Generally, steels used for cylinder blanks or for hammer forge barrel applications cannot exceed 0.006% max. S or Se.

We spent a lot of time and money at Ruger developing tooling, coolants and processes which would permit machining to good interior finishes with materials giving the maximum ultimate strength and ductility. We had our own vacuum heat treating facilities in-house for stainless, and gas furnaces for CM.

Some types of stainless, such as used for Mini-14 firing pins and barrels and Redhawk revolver cylinders, would get a nonconventional cryogenic stress relief rather than the usual low temperature (1045-1050 deg F) "bake" to normalize. This, combined with the particular chemistry we used, resulted in firing pins which were file hard but which you could bend into a pretzel shape without any cracks, and barrels you could elevate to cook off temperature with 180 rounds of full auto fire then set up a bullet-in-bore obstruction and fire a proof load in the hot barrel without it bursting. Try THAT with an M16!

We converted entirely to synthetic coolants, such as Trimsol 6-8% concentrate in distilled water while I was there and got all the chlorinated paraffins out of the shop entirely. We ran hourly refractometer readings on the coolant used in the CNC machining centers and had thermocouples at the machining stations to monitor the incoming coolant temperature and the exit coolant entering the scavenger pumps, and fed the used coolant through filtration, centrifuges and heat exchanging equipment before putting it back into the pipeline. We also set up our own water treatment and recycling plant to purify city water to remove the chlorine, because we could not use it to mix machine coolant. This also permitted us to recycle machine coolant water and dispose as hazardous wastes.

Ed Harris Friday: My Observations on the Ruger Mini-14

My Observations on the Ruger Mini-14
by Ed Harris

(Editor’s Note: Today Ed candidly talks about the Ruger Mini-14, a gun with which my wife and I have a love-hate affair. She likes the size, the handling, and the appearance, while I like that it uses a round which I already have in abundance! When we went looking for a rifle for her, we acquired and quickly disposed of several examples as we couldn’t find one that was both accurate and reliable. Now that Ed has identified the cure for its accuracy woes, and Ruger is finally making reliable high-capacity magazines, perhaps it’s time for us to revisit the Mini!)

When I was at Ruger I tested hundreds of Mini 14 rifles of all configurations, conducting audit shoots of normal production, as well as R&D testing of the full-auto AC556, AC556 and the experimental XGI rifle in .308 Win, and assisting in the development of the Mini Thirty in 7.62x39.

To be COMPLETELY honest I was disappointed with its accuracy when compared to the M16A1 and A2 rifles, with which I am very familiar. The Mini 14 gives reasonable performance for an American-made rifle in its price range, and is safe, serviceable and reliable. It just isn't all that accurate. You can find individual rifles which shoot well, but these are statistical aberrations.

We tried to test a large enough sample of rifles to pick "good" ones, then painstakingly took them apart and gaged every part to see if we could tweak tolerances or make design changes which would significantly improve accuracy without increasing production cost. It couldn't be done. We did learn a few things, however.

The long run average group size for standard Mini-14 rifles fired from a test stand is about 4-5" for ten-shot groups with M193 or M855 ammunition of "average" quality, producing an acceptance Mean Radius of 1.6-1.6" at 200 yds from a test barrel. The M16A1 or A2 do this at 200 yards from a machine rest. I believe the biggest factor in Mini-14 accuracy is irregular contact between the gas block and the face of the slideblock, welded to the slide handle (aka operating rod).

If you disassemble the rifle and inspect the face of the slide block and the rear of the gas block assembly, you may find that the face of the slide block strikes one side or the other of the gas block, rather than making a uniform and symmetrical imprint. This asymmetrical contact causes fliers. The fit-up can sometimes be improved by grinding 0.005-.010" off the face of the slide, so that with the slide fully forward, a .001" shim can be inserted between the slide block and gas block and be clear all the way around. This way the forward motion of the slide is stopped by the right locking lug in the cam pocket of the slide handle, rather than by the slide block slamming against the gas block, as is the case with the M1 Garand rifle.

I caution against removing the gas block, because these are installed in a fixture at the factory to insure proper alignment. There is a small bushing in the gas block which locates it on the barrel. You must be careful not to lose this. This is why the gas block screws are staked in place on newer guns.

The condition of the muzzle crown is important as well as the straightness of the barrel. Sometimes the barrels are bent when pressing the front sight on. Usually they catch this at the factory and they correct them if it causes fliers in the range, but since they only shoot indoors at 50 yards, for a 2" group, the accuracy standards are more in keeping for a plinking rifle than for the serious accuracy enthusiast.

The Mini-14 chamber conforms to U.S. dwg. #8448649, which is used for the M16A1 chamber. It has a .225" cylindrical ball seat with a slight freebore. I do not believe the GI chamber causes any inaccuracy in this type of rifle, because I have fired thousands of rounds in heavy test barrels with this chamber which gave fine accuracy.

For an accuracy load I suggest 21-22 grs. of 4198 (either IMR or Hodgdon) with the 52 or 53-gr. Sierra bullets loaded to 2.25" OAL, or 23-23.5 grs. of H322. The 52-gr. Nosler solid base also is quite accurate.

The Mini-14 Ranch Rifle was also made in .222 Remington for the export market to France, Belgium and Italy where civilians are not allowed to own firearms of military caliber. Overruns were sold in the U.S.

Not much to say today.


But take heart: this Friday I'll have another of Ed Harris' great articles for you!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Ed Harris: Building an accurate .22 field rifle!

(Editor's Note: Ed Harris is back! He recently sent me a big archive of his older articles, and there are some real gems in there. I'll be featuring one of these treasures every other Friday! Today Ed talks about rebarreling a .22 rifle to turn it into a budget tackdriver. Some of you may remember that I love playing with .22 rifles, and you can bet I was taking notes as I read this!)

RE-BARREL YOUR 22 BOLT ACTION AND... Make an accurate smallbore silhouette or squirrel rifle!
by C.E. 'Ed' Harris (Rev. 3-1-94)

The idea of an accurate, .22 rimfire rifle weighing 7-1/2 or 8 lbs. with scope, having the same sleek good looks and steady handling as my center-fire varmint rifles was very appealing. We could have used any quality .22 bolt-action for this project, but my Ruger M77/.22 rifle was a natural choice. It was available, and while serviceable, it was an ordinary grouper. Arlington, VA gunsmith Jim Coleman suggested a heavier barrel with SAAMI-dimensioned "Match-type" chamber, and pillar bedding and minor tuning up. The result is very satisfying, and more useful than the original rifle.

My customized Ruger is highly accurate, being capable of 3/4" 10-shot 50-yard groups with good high velocity and approaching 1/2" with the best match ammunition. (See the article "Getting the Most from Your .22 Rimfire" in the 1992 Gun Digest for more details). It weighs 7-1/2 lbs. with a hunting scope, or 8 lbs. with my 10X Unertl, handy enough for field carry when after squirrels or close-range woodchucks. It is now the most-used rifle in my gun rack. I am truly surprised that Ruger still hasn't offered a heavier-barrel M77/.22 with match chamber.

Rebarreling a sporter with a heavier barrel can be done economically if you can find a good used target rifle barrel. Used .22 target rifle barrels with bright, sharp bores, in serviceable condition, can be set back and rechambered successfully. These can often be found at gun shows for $10-40, depending upon local supply and demand, but some luck is involved.

If you know a gunsmith who rebarrels rimfire target rifles, ask him to save you a used Remington 40X, Winchester 52, BSA-Martini or Anschutz barrel. Even if it has been shot a lot, when cleaned up, carefully inspected, set back, rechambered to a SAAMI-dimensioned "match" chamber, and cut to a handy length, a used target rifle barrel will yield a stiff, accurate, 22-24" steady-holding sporter barrel which will group well.

Setting back the typical 26-28" target barrel to 22-24" barrel will remove all of a worn or eroded breech, and leaves plenty enough to cut and recrown the muzzle, giving a handy field gun which is heavy enough for proper balance. However, if you want a flyweight tack driver, this can also be done. My buddy Nick Croyle put a piece of used Hart target barrel on his M77/.22 and had Jim Coleman turn it to the proportions of a buggy whip, and that 5-1/4-lb. rifle with 19" barrel will shoot 1/2" , ten- shot bugholes at 50 yards with Eley Tenex, his squirrel load!

Rebarreling .22 rimfire bolt-actions with threaded barrels such as the Kimber 82, Remington 40X, or Winchester 52 are done much the same as a center-fire rifle, except that excessive tightening of the barrel must be avoided. Otherwise the smaller shank on the softer rimfire barrel (typically 1137 steel of Rockwell B80-90 hardness) may become constricted at the root of the thread where the barrel shoulder stops against the receiver.

For non-threaded barrels, such as Anschutz, the barrel pins must be removed to free the old barrel. The ends of the pins are often polished before bluing cheap rifles, and may be hard to see. They are obvious on Anschutz and other European match rifles.

The Ruger M77/.22 barrel is the easiest to remove, and is accomplished by removing two cap screws which hold the barrel retainer. The Ruger M77/.22 barrel is retained in the receiver by a V-block shaped retainer held by two cap screws. The retainer engages a 45 degree cut in the underside of the barrel. You can copy the old barrel fairly easily. The retainer slot can be rough cut with hacksaw and filed to final dimensions or machined in a milling machine or using the milling attachment in the lathe. The Ruger 10/.22 autoloader barrel is attached similarly, but requires careful attention to the chamber for safety reasons.

The barrel shank at the breech of non-threaded replacement barrels should be turned one half a thousandth of an inch (0.0005") less than the diameter of the barrel hole, so that it is a snug fit, without having to force it home. You should be able to insert the barrel by hand with slight resistance, pick up the action with the barrel in place, and shake it without loosening. A "forced fit" must be avoided because it may cause a constriction near the chamber which will hurt accuracy.

The looser fit of .002" less than the barrel hole, as found on factory Ruger barrels is normally satisfactory, but may influence accuracy if heavy stock fore-end pressure, common as the rifles from the factory) exerts pressure against the barrel. For that reason we prefer free floated barrels.

Nearly all .22 rimfire barrels require clearance cuts for the extractor and cartridge supports. These can be cut by hand with a hacksaw and finished with small files, but it is best if they are done in a milling machine, or using with a milling attachment in a lathe. Extractors and cartridge supports are semi-circular in shape, and factory clearance cuts are radiused, not straight as a file cut would be. These cuts are located by coating the extractor and cartridge support with lipstick or Prussian blue, and gently inserting the bolt and closing it only enough to "mark" the points of contact to show where the cuts are to be made, which then copy the factory barrel.

Best accuracy in bolt actions with a variety of ammunition requires the use of the .22 Long Rifle SAAMI-dimensioned "Match" chamber. Testing indicates that the "Match" chamber gives a truly dramatic improvement in grouping compared to the common "sporting" chamber. To prove to ourselves we took two match-chambered barrels of established accuracy and reamed them to the normal "sporting" chamber, with no other change. The average extreme spread of fifty consecutive 10-shot groups at 50 yards, firing ten groups each with five different ammunitions, actually doubled when a match chamber was enlarged with the sporting reamer!

Semi-auto .22 rifles can also be rebarreled successfully, but it is dangerous to use the tight SAAMI-dimensioned "Match" chamber in an autoloader, because it WILL slam-fire and blow case heads off. However, the typical "Sporting" .22 LR chamber is too large in diameter, and also too long for best accuracy. In an autoloader the "Winchester 52D-Type" chamber (discussed in my article "Building an Accurate .22 Autoloader" in the 1993 Gun Digest) is what you should use. If you plan to do all types of.22 rimfires, boltguns, autoloaders and handguns and only want to buy one reamer, get the "Winchester 52D-Type." JGS Precision, 1141 South Sumner Road, Coos Bay, OR 97420 can provide these.

If the barrel is to be pinned permanently in place, rather than using a Ruger-type retainer, first cement it in place with "service removable" (Blue #241) Loctite prior to function test firing to ensure the extractor slots line up and do not bind on the bolt. This permits brief test firing and removal for adjustments, if needed. Once feeding and extraction are proven reliable, use the existing barrel pin holes in the receiver as guides to drill and ream new holes for somewhat larger straight pins, or tapered pins to secure the barrel.

The Ruger M77/.22 magazine feeds rounds almost straight into the chamber and requires only minimal breaking of sharp edges on the chamber entrance. A crowning ball with 320 grit abrasive works well to just remove the wire edge. On other makes of rifles which tend to shave lead, chamfering of the chamber entrance must not be over-done, lest it cause bulged case heads, which may cause burst cases, risking personal injury!

I have have found that almost all .22 sporters group more consistently when the barrel is free floated. It is also necessary to ensure that the receiver is evenly supported. If the rifle shoots tight, round groups without significant change in point of impact as the barrel heats and after taking the action in and out of the stock several times, the bedding should not be changed. Otherwise, "pillar bed" the action exactly as done for a center-fire rifle.

This is done by machining through the stock screw holes with a 3/8" drill or end mill, and fitting brass or aluminum bushings which are epoxied in place. Using metal bushings avoid the possibility of shrinkage voids which may occur when trying to "pillar" the guard screw holes with bedding compound. Solid pillar bedding positively prevents wood compression when the screws are drawn snug, holds the action in alignment without bending or twisting, and ensures free clearance of the action screws in the stock so they work in tension, as intended, rather than applying a shear force to the receiver.

Scope bases must be firmly attached. We prefer either Ruger rings on the M77/.22, or Unertl Posa-Mount bases with Unertl external adjustment scopes. Scope rings for internal adjustment scopes should be lapped after mounting on the receiver, to correct for any machining irregularities in the scope bases or rifle receiver. This ensures that the scope tube is not bent or misaligned when the mounts are drawn up snug.

Lapping of scope rings is done by turning a bar of round mild steel, brass or aluminum to .998" diameter on centers and about 10" long. The lower halves of the scope rings are firmly attached to the bases in the normal manner, then lapped with 240 grit to obtain at least 2/3 surface contact.

As for choosing the scope itself, years of experience in the Virginia Blue Ridge on squirrels has proven the value of a 6X scope on small game rifle. For a hunting rifle we suggest having the parallax corrected for 50 yards, but smallbore silhouette shooters should have it optimized for the 75m turkey, which is the most difficult target. A higher magnification is OK for a pure silhouette rifle, but is harder than a 6X to hold steadily in a field position when you have been climbing ridges, is less bright on dark days or in heavy foliage, and usually has too small a field of view for tracking a fast-moving bushytail!

For hunting a 2-minute dot at the center of the crosshairs provides a highly visible aiming point, in poor light, but one which does not obscure small game targets at realistic ranges. An additional 1/2 minute dot centered 7" below the crosshairs provides correct 100-yard holdover for standard velocity target, or sub-sonic hollow-point hunting ammunition. Set the second dot at 6" if you favor high speed ammunition. Dick Thomas at Premier reticles can provide this service on most scopes for a reasonable charge, with about 3-6 weeks turnaround time.
(Editor’s Note: Since this article was written, Premier Reticles has stopped offering aftermarket reticle services, having transitioned to manufacturing scopes exclusively a few years ago - see my SHOT show recap for a discussion of their new product line. At this moment the only place I know that can provide an aftermarket reticle such as Ed describes is the T.K. Lee Company in Alabama.)

Many people have wanted the address of Jim Coleman, who built my rifles, I guess because they have seen the copious volumes of accuracy data featured in American Rifleman and the Gun Digest. I am happy to do this, but point out there are plenty of competent gunsmiths who can do this work. I am pleased with what Jim did for me, but I have no financial stake in this whatever.

James C. Coleman can be reached at Coleman's Custom Repair, 4035 North 20th Rd., Arlington, VA 22207, telephone ( 703) 528-4486. It is best to query him by phone first to see what his current work load is, as he is a one-man shop.

Now that you have some ideas on how to make a really serious rimfire, we better warn those bushytails to jump fast and stay hidden!

Ed Harris: The .32ACP in a rifle??

Editor’s note: today I’m pleased to bring you another great article from Ed Harris, experimenter extraordinaire. This time he’s built a couple of rifles for some common .32 caliber pistol rounds, making for handy and quiet woods rifles. Enjoy!

Tiny Handgun Cartridges Are Also Small Game Rifle Rounds!
by Ed Harris
Gerrardstown, WV

After fooling around with a pair of chamber inserts using .32 S&W Long and .32 ACP ammunition in the .30-30, I thought about building a light “walking rifle” which would be handy and quiet. I wanted something more effective than a .22 LR, something which could also approach the ballistics of the .32-20 Winchester. The .32 S&W Long and .32 H&R Magnum cartridges are ideal for such use, but the only factory produced rifle is the Marlin 1894 Cowboy which is neither inexpensive, nor very handy. I wanted something which carried more like a fly rod than a wrecking bar.

Because I frequently carry a .32 revolver or .32 ACP pocket pistol around our country place, I wanted to use those same rounds in a light small game rifle. I would have two barrels made to compare results obtained with the .32 ACP and .32 Smith & Wesson Long. My reasoning was that for very light, quiet “.30 cal. CB cap” loads, that the tiny .32 ACP case would have advantages, whereas the larger .32 S&W Long or H&R Magnum case would had more capacity if I wanted more energy.

My gun safe contained a seldom used H&R .410 single-shot, on the tiny pre-war action, which weighed 4 pounds. John Taylor made two rifle barrels for me, chambered for the .32 ACP and .32 S&W Long (which I later rechambered to H&R Magnum). The .410 barrel remained intact, and the entire package cost less than a new Marlin Cowboy lever-gun. I opted for an 18” barrel chambered in .32 ACP for the most-handy configuration and a 26” barrel in .32 S&W Long for optimum sight radius and minimum noise.

The .32 ACP barrel was fabricated from a pulled-off M1 Garand barrel, cutting off the muzzle behind the gas port and the breech at the chamber neck, turning the OD, fabricating and beam welding on the shotgun underlug and fitting the ejector. The bore is of standard 4-groove .30 cal. Government form with ten inch twist and was chambered with a custom reamer resembling the front half of a .30 M1 Carbine chamber. It headspaces on the case mouth instead of the semi-rim.

The .32 S&W Long barrel is rifled to normal .32 revolver specs with six grooves, right twist, one turn in 16 inches with a bore of .302 and .312 groove diameter.

Firing indoors and comparing both barrels with iron sights, I am satisfied that any handgun ammunition averaging an inch or so over a series of 5-shot groups at 25 yards is adequate for hunting small game. I managed to do so fairly easily with several loads to prove the concept. Winchester .32 S&W Long 98-grain LRN, and .32 ACP Fiocchi and RWS 73-gr. hardball all averaged just under inch groups at 25 yards.

Lead 98-gr. LRN factory loads from the .32 S&W Long 26 inch barrel gave 884 f.p.s. From the 18 inch .32 ACP, Fiocchi 73-grain hardball clocked 943 f.p.s., and RWS hardball was 1214 f.p.s. Fiocchi 60-grain JHPs, which gave 1200 f.p.s. from a 3.5 inch Beretta pistol, screamed out at 1463 f.p.s. in the 18” H&R.

Handloads were next. My goal was not high velocity, but subsonic, quiet small game loads approximating the .32 Long rim fire (from .32 ACP brass) or standard velocity lead .32-20 loads (from .32 S&W Long brass). These objectives were met handily using the Saeco #325 98-grain SWC and the #322 122-gr. flatnose .32-20 bullets.

The RCBS 32-90CM is a good choice for a common production mold suitable for either caliber. Those not casting their own bullets can buy commercial Meister 94-gr. LFN bullets of .312 diameter. These have the same profile as the flat-nosed factory bullet for the .32 Colt New Police and works well as a heavy .32 ACP bullet. Its ogive length enables a .98” overall cartridge length when taper-crimped in the .32 ACP and when so seated its base does not protrude so deeply into the case that it bulges cases.

Velocities of the .32 ACP cast bullet loads with the 94-grain Meister and 1.7 grains of Bullseye fired from my Walther PP, CZ27 and Beretta 1935 pistols approximate the performance expected from a 4” revolver using the same bullet in the .32 S&W Long with 2.5 grains of Bullseye. When fired from the 18” .32 ACP rifle, the minimum 1.7 grain charge which reliably functions my WWII-era Euro auto pistols approaches the velocity expected of standard .32-20 Winchester factory lead bullet loads fired from a four-inch barreled revolver.

Trying to drive a non-expanding cast bullet intended for small game to supersonic velocity in a rifle is a waste of powder. This is not a 100-yard rig, but a woods “walking gun.” Its iron sights have a hard 50 yard zero, coupled with reliable 4 moa grouping (2 inches at 50 yds) and greater striking energy and penetration than a .22 LR. It shoots clear through critters, making reliable kills on raccoon, groundhog, wild turkey or the occasional marauding feral dog. The rig is practical in its simplicity.

The 26 inch long .32 S&W Long barrel is noticeably quieter than the shorter .32 ACP. After initial testing I rechambered it to .32 H&R Magnum and shot it again. My reasoning was that doing do would enable using HRM brass and factory loads, but wouldn't significantly hurt the grouping with my .32 S&W Long revolver ammo. After rechambering, the tiny 4.5 lb. rifle still shoots one-inch groups at 25 yards with .32 S&W Longs using either the 94-gr. Meister .312" LRN or the LBT .312-105FNBB with 2.5 grs. of Bullseye.

The longer chamber permits seating heavier bullets out in S&W Long brasss to increase powder capacity. With the 122-gr. Saeco #322 bullet for the .32-20, seated to 1.32” overall length in .32 S&W Long brass, crimping in the top lube groove using either 2 grains of Bullseye or 6 grs. of #2400, either load will shoot an inch and half at 50 yards with iron sights over a long series. The same loads fired in a relined English rook rifle I built later approach an inch when using an old Unertl 6X Small Game scope.

Some .32 H&R Mag loads listed in manuals caused ugly looking fired primers in the converted H&R shotgun because of its large shotgun firing pin and un-bushed breech face. I found this a useful indicator of chamber pressure, so I use no load which causes hard opening or smeared primer cups upon opening the rifle when using standard small pistol primers. Firing trials quickly reveal when a load is “too hot,” because hard opening occurs before primer cups noticeably flatten compared to firing the same loads in my revolver. Federal factory .32 H&R loads rub a shiny ring around the firing pin indent, but the action opens with little effort. I therefore presume that a load causing hard opening is over 20,000 psi.

My general purpose load for use in modern .32 S&W Long revolvers and the single-shot H&R uses either the 115-gr. Ideal #3118 or 122-gr. Saeco #322. I cast these of soft scrap, 10BHN, tumble in Lee Liquid Alox, size .314, and load in .32 S&W Long cases with Federal 200 primers and 2 grains of Alliant Bullseye at 1.32" OAL. This gives not quite 850 fps in the rifle and 720 fps in various 4-inch revolvers. It is accurate in both the Ruger Single Six and S&W Model 31. An added benefit is that this load pokes out the front of the cylinder of my old I-frame S&W .32 Hand ejector, which keeps me from putting this warmer-than-factory load in the old gun.

A flat-nosed, solid lead bullet, with large meplat at subsonic velocity is fully adequate in energy and penetration against feral dogs or coyotes. My testing of the Saeco #322 at 850 f.p.s. gave 30 inches of water penetration. If you want a bit flatter trajectory to reach out to 100 yards at the expense of a bit more noise, you can increase the charge to 2.5 grs. of Bullseye in S&W Long brass or 3 grains in H&R Magnum brass. It shoots well at a little over 1000 fps in the rifle and 800-850 fps in the revolver.

I have not fooled much with slower powders, because specialized rifle-only loads defeat the purpose of using the same ammo in both the walking rifle and revolver. I briefly tried #2400 in H&R Magnum loads, up to a nominal “case full” in the .32 Long case. While faster, it was very much louder and less accurate than my mild loads with Bullseye.

The final journey in my search of “Bunny Gun Nirvanna” was in obtaining a real English rook rifle and having it lined to .32 S&W Long. I located an Army & Navy Cooperative Society rook rifle in .255 which had been inexpertly rechambered to .25-20 Winchester. With some botched scope block holes and jackleg barrel restamping, I was able to get it cheap. I sent it to John Taylor to have it relined and rechambered to .32 S&W Long, then upon its return it went to Connecticut for Lucas Geiger to do a full exterior restoration. I now have a plain walking rifle for rough use, and a pretty art piece for yard and range shooting. Both shoot equally well, an inch and a half or less at 50 yards with my chosen loads, with low noise which doesn’t disturb the neighbors. Now to walk the garden!

Wherrrrrre….. arrrrrre…. Yoooooou…. Nooow…Mister. Waaaaaaaaaabbit?

Monday Meanderings: Happy Holidays, looking forward, and the gun goes mainstream.

Welcome back!

I trust everyone had a good weekend, and I hope your Christmas was a joyous and meaningful time with family and friends.


From news stories it was apparent that firearms were a major item this year. Various explanations have been suggested for this, from concern about new purchase restrictions to fear of economically-inspired criminal violence, but I prefer to think of it as a sign that the pendulum has inevitably swung: guns are once again becoming socially acceptable.

Those who remember the 1950s and 1960s will recall that shooting was a big thing amongst the Hollywood crowd, and thus with the general public as well. Actor Robert Stack, for instance, was a champion shotgunner, and many recognizable names participated in 'quick draw' competitions as a hobby. This stands in stark contrast to recent decades when Hollywood has been the source of virulent (and hypocritical) anti-gunners.

I’m not yet convinced that the era of guns-as-common-recreational-objects will be resurrected, but they at least seem to have shed the worst of their manufactured reputation as evil objects to be avoided. The gun seems instead to be assuming the role of the speciality tool: something you own or use to do a specific task. The days of the anthropomorphized, self-propelled mayhem machine appear to be waning, and none too soon. Many people - yours truly included - have been equating the gun with the fire extinguisher or first aid kit, and I'm hopeful that those analogies are helping to fuel this resurgence in gun ownership.


This last week before New Year's Day is a good time for reflection and contemplation. From the standpoint of you and your family's safety and security, I hope you'll give some thought to getting good training in the coming year.

What is "good" training? Training which is congruent with the kinds of situations in which you anticipate using your gun. If you carry a handgun for personal protection, a course that teaches the best response to a surprise criminal attack would be advisable; if you keep a gun for home defense, a class on how to handle the scenarios you're likely to face in your own house might be in order.

There are any number of quality classes and instructors available today, more so than probably any time in history. (
Permit me to toot my own horn in this regard!) Resolve to make 2012 the year that you increase your knowledge and skill level with the guns you own.

(If you're an instructor yourself, there will be opportunities for you to advance your teaching skills and professional standing. Take advantage of them.)


And now, a little tease: the first Friday of the new year will feature a really neat Ed Harris article which I just received. All I'm going to say is wait until you see what he got for Christmas!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Ed Harris: Using the .45ACP - in a rifle!

Tales from the Back Creek Diary - A .45 ACP Rifle?
By Ed Harris

I like having at least one long gun capable of firing each caliber of handgun ammunition I keep around. Rifles chambered for center-fire handgun calibers provide greater kinetic energy than any rim-fire, but also have low noise, usually not needing a suppressor.

The .45 ACP and .38 Special are my favorite cartridges for this, because standard pressure (non +P) loads are quiet when fired in a rifle, their report comparing to firing a .22. They also have sufficient energy to kill deer-sized game at short range and useful self-defense potential, while presenting a less threatening profile than a military-caliber EBR (Evil Black Rifle) so as "not to scare the natives."

The .38 Special and .45 ACP work best for such purposes because they are loaded with fast powders which burn completely in a barrel length of only 5-6 inches. Ordinary 158-gr. lead bullet .38 Special loads gain about 150 f.p.s. when comparing a 4 inch revolver to a 20 inch lever-action.

In .45 ACP the expansion ratio produced by firing from a rifle-length barrel, combined much greater bore contact area, hugely increases bore drag which negates the effects of adiabatic expansion. Result is that little velocity gain is achieved when compared to firing the same ammunition from an M1911 pistol. Muzzle-exit pressure is very low so that the report compares to firing standard velocity .22 LR from a sporting rifle of greater than 20 inches.

The velocity of any common .45 ACP ammo is subsonic when fired from a rifle. I don't try to see how fast I can load for handgun-caliber rifles, because assembling specialized “rifle ammo” which cannot be used in the handgun defeats the purpose. The combination of substantial bullet weight, adequate accuracy and low noise is both pleasant and effective.

About 25 years ago Wayne Schwartz rebored a Marlin 1894 in .44 Magnum to .45 ACP for me and this worked really well. I let Wayne talk me out of the rifle when I left Ruger and regretted it ever since, so I've had another done.

This time I took a .45 Colt Cowboy II and sent it to John Taylor who set the .45 Colt barrel and magazine tube back, rechambered the barrel, fitted a new extractor, and reworked the lifter. It holds twelve rounds in the magazine tube, as finished with 22-1/2" barrel), is 39" overall and weighs 6 lbs.12 ozs.

I use this rifle mostly with Saeco #954 230-gr. lead FN Cowboy slugs and 5 grs. of Bullseye, which gives about 1000 f.p.s. in the rifle, vs. 830 in an M1911 pistol and about 800 f.p.s. in my S&W Model 625 revolver. Given the limited powder capacity and faster powders used in the .45 ACP you only get modest velocity gains in a longer at permissible chamber pressures (20,000 cup max.)

The .45 ACP Marlin is not as accurate as my best loads in the .357 lever, but it meets my original intent as a fun camp gun and plinker. Shooting iron sights, I get 1-1/2" groups at 25 yards which stay in proportion to 100 yards. The front sight covers a 6" gong at 100 yards.

I've zeroed the gun to hit about 3" over the top of the front sight at 50 yards, and under the sight when I blot out the target at 100. Groups to 100 yards are about the same as an accurized M1911 hardball gun, but with the peep sights and longer sight radius it is must easier to ring the gong.

With correct hold-over it rings the 12" gong at 200 yards almost every time. The bullet's time of flight is long enough for the gun report to fade away as you hear the bullet strike "ding!" against the steel like the Scheutzen troll swinging his little ball peen hammer each time.

One of my favorite walking guns is a Beretta Model 412 folding shotgun for which I have .45 ACP, .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, and .410 shotgun barrels. Firing the .45 ACP in the 26 inch rifle is a satisfying “blooper” which you can watch and hear a video of at this link:

The following table is compiled from my firing logs recorded over a period of more than 25 years. The Mk.IV Webley was originally a .455 which was converted to fire .45 ACP using moon clips in the 1960s. S&W 625 is a 1989 custom shop gun. The M1911A1 is a 1967 National Match pistol, the Marlin is the converted 1894 Cowboy. The Beretta is a model M412 folding shotgun with a 26 inch .45 ACP barrel produced by John Taylor.

A .45 ACP rifle will not appeal to those whose concept of a satisfying firearm makes your shoulder hurt and ears ring. If, however, you enjoy being able to actually watch big bullets fly downrange and to be able to comfortably fire occasional rounds outdoors at varmints without ear protection, consider a rifle chambered for any common handgun caliber and firing subsonic cowboy loads. They are out there and they are fun. If you want gunsmith project, then build yours in .45 ACP!

Monday Meanderings: 2012, training, and a couple mysteries.

2012 is shaping up to be a very interesting year. Lots of stuff I can't yet discuss, but suffice it to say that there are intriguing things afoot on several fronts. Stay tuned.


One thing I can talk about: I've had requests for a lever action rifle class, which I plan to work into my offerings this year. I've watched a lot of YouTube videos and read a lot of articles and blogs about handling the lever action, and I'm surprised at how poorly conceived most of them are. The lever action is different from other types of rifles and needs to be handled on its own merits. Trying to make it into an AR-15 is just as silly as doing the opposite, and this new class will teach techniques and procedures tailored specifically to the lever action. I'll have a section for this class added to the training page sometime in January.


Speaking of training, I'm still open to booking classes for 2012! Check out my
training page for the courses I'm offering, and read the page about hosting a class. Remember that no class happens until someone steps up to the plate to hold one -- maybe that someone is you?!


If you like the writing of Ed Harris, and if you like the .45ACP, you won't want to miss this Friday's blog! (Trust me, it's not what you're thinking. No, I'm not giving you any more clues -- you'll just have to wait until Friday!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Ed Harris: Revisiting The Full Charge Wadcutter

Happy Black Friday! Today I am pleased to present another great article from Ed Harris, this time about an old load that he’s finding useful in the modern era. It’s helpful to note that Ed lives in a very rural area, and regularly hunts small game with his handguns. This gives him an enormous amount of experience, the kind that is getting hard to find in these days. Sit back, relax, and enjoy his article on the “full charge wadcutter”!

Revisiting The Full Charge Wadcutter and the “FBI Load”
By C.E. “Ed” Harris; pictures by the author

Several friends and I have been re-thinking our decision several years ago to pack semi-auto .22 target pistols in our survival rucks. We normally carry .38 snubbies as EDC. Having an extra, longer barreled .38 Special revolver in the ruck with extra ammo useable in either gun seemed like a good idea.

We decided to standardize on the .38 Special because it had better anti-personnel and defense animal potential than the .22s. We all owned several fixed sight, “service revolvers” which were reliable, accurate enough, readily available and familiar. A wheelgun is simple anyone to operate and requires less training and practice to maintain proficiency than an auto pistol. We have confirmed to our satisfaction that four inch service revolvers, fed good ammunition are accurate enough to make 20-25 yard head shots on small game. There is no doubt that a .38 is a more sure killer than a .22 on larger varmints such as coyotes and larger small game animals such as raccoons or groundhogs.

I started carrying my four-inch .38 Special Colt Official Police in one ruck and a 4 inch Ruger Police Service Six in the other. Both revolvers are sturdy, reliable, and accurate. The .38 Special is not your first choice as a bear gun, but a more likely threat is an upright, 2-legged human criminal actor or large dog such as a pit bull. This thought process was initiated by an experience in which an acquaintance had difficulty stopping a pit bull attack with a .22 handgun despite multiple hits, several of which were well placed

Animal control officers stated that in their experience that .38 Special +P would have probably likely stopped such an animal attack quickly. Had the first .22 hit been a head shot which penetrated the skull, the outcome would have been different, but little data is available on how well .22s penetrate a large dog skull at oblique angles and frankly, my experience with .22s does not inspire confidence in hot-blooded situations with large toothed animals.

Today I now carry 100 rounds of .38 Special ammo in the ruck in addition to the six rounds in the gun and an A.G. Russell belt pouch with three Bianchi Speed Strips. This "Blackberry" carrier does not look like an ammo pouch, fits flat on the belt, tight against the body, and is low profile, yet holds eighteen .38 Special rounds. Just unzip, grab the center strip first, then the others won’t drag against the zipper in the event that you do need another. See it here Speed Strips are loaded with Federal 147-gr. HydraShok +P+.

Our boxed spare ammo is a full-charge 146-grain double-end wadcutter, Saeco #348, which we cast ourselves from wheel weights. A charge of 3.5 grains of Bullseye gives 850-870 fps from a four-inch revolver, which falls between standard pressure 158-gr. SWC and +P lead HP FBI loads in energy. This load groups as well as target ammo and penetrates 30 inches of water. The bullet does not expand, but its blunt profile gives full-caliber crush and has proven effective.

The choice of a full charge wadcutter sounds strange today, but the load has an interesting history. During the 1970s and into the early 1980s 158-gr. lead RN and SWC standard velocity loads were issued by D.C. MPD, Baltimore PD, NYPD, LAPD and many others. Hollowpoints were deemed unacceptable during that era due to political concerns. I knew well several now-retired officers who were involved in shootings, and who had consciously carried wadcutter ammo, because it was “more effective.”

While this was strictly against regulations, it was not an uncommon practice. The officers involved seemed to get away with the excuse "we had just come from the range and that was the ammo we had." A friend who is a retired Major in the Military Police reported the same, because wadcutter ammo obtained from the MTU pistol team was better than the Army’s M41 Ball. Unlike today, it was common for cops to shoot wadcutters on the range and change to LRN or SWCs for carry, as they were not required to practice with “duty ammo.”

Observations in the ER and on autopsy table from that era confirmed that a wadcutter makes a larger hole than the LRN and SWC and penetrates deeply, without tumbling. Entry and exit holes produced by LRN are smaller, bleed less and show less damage in the wound track. Tumbling improves the performance of RN bullets, but is unpredictable. Fackler and others have stated the performance of solid SWCs is little better than LRN loads.

The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) conducted "energy deposit" studies in 1970s in which rounds were chronographed near the muzzle, and again after the bullet exited a 20cm (7.8") gelatin block. A standard velocity 158-gr. lead round-nose .38 Special bullet fired from a 4-inch revolver at 755fps produces 200 ft-lbs of energy, and exits the gelatin block at about 655 fps with a residual energy of 150 ft-lbs.

Permanent crush cavity volume in gelatin is measurable and in direct proportion to kinetic energy. A round which deposits twice as much energy in the gelatin block produces approximately double the crush volume. A target velocity factory 148-gr. hollow based wadcutter fired from a 6 inch K-38 which strikes the gelatin at 780 f.p.s., produces the same 200 ft-lbs of kinetic energy as the LRN load fired from a 4 inch gun, but it exits the gelatin at 474 fps, having a residual energy of only 74 ft-lbs and depositing 126 ft-lbs! This compares to many common .38 Special JHP +P loads, but with deeper penetration approximating .45 ACP hardball.

To produce a "full-charge" wadcutter load 3.2 grains of Bullseye and a Remington HBWC factory bullet, or 3.5 grains of Bullseye with the Saeco #348 cast double-ender. These approximate the 6 inch revolver velocity of factory target loads, but do so when firing from a 2-inch snub. Velocity from a 4 inch revolver exceeds standard velocity 158 gr SWC and LRN loads by about 50 fps. We have confirmed the effectiveness of the full charge wadcutter on game in 30 years of field use.

In the mid 1970s the FBI started using Winchester's 158-grain all-lead hollow-point load X38SPD. Federal followed with its 38G and Remington the R38S12. Of these, the Winchester and Remington loads performed best. Federal went through several design changes using several different bullet alloys and cavity geometries before they got their load working. To get reliable expansion requires softer alloy which causes +P loads to foul bores and impair accuracy after 18 rounds or so. The Federal 38G load in particular which used a dry lube with no cannelures on the bullet caused severe cylinder binding in revolvers which do not have a cylinder gas shield.

A gas shield or cylinder hub prevents gases carrying vaporous lead residue out the cylinder gap, from being deposited between the crane arbor and the cylinder recess on which it rotates. Remington and Winchester versions of these loads had grooved bullets with a heavy, waxy lube were less cranky in that respect, but you still have to be careful about cleaning and lubrication.

At Ruger, revolvers were assembled with a proprietary lubricant similar to Militec to help prevent the lead from binding. Applying a few drops of Mil-L-63460B (Break Free CLP) in the crane arbor each time you clean also helps. Ruger developed a "hubbed cylinder" version of the Security Six, Speed Six and Service Six revolvers to mitigate the binding problem.

This required milling a small flat across the barrel extension, which protrudes into the frame opening at the 6:00 position, to clear the hub on the cylinder. Machining the flat reduces the cross section though the barrel extension, which caused heat cracking problems when those revolvers were shot extensively with .357 Magnum ammunition. The hubbed cylinder was used only for law enforcement contracts for revolvers to be fitted with .38 Special cylinders when the lead +P ammo was specified.

In designing the GP100 revolvers, the charge hole spacing, and distance from the bore to cylinder axis was increased so that the cylinder gas ring could be incorporated without reducing barrel wall thickness through the exposed forcing cone region.

Today's best .38 Special hollowpoint load by a major US manufacturer is probably the Speer Gold Dot 135gr +P. Richmond PD issues this load to officers who carry .38 snubs off-duty and they have history on a number of officer involved shootings where it performed well.

The lead "FBI load" is still produced by Winchester (X38SPD) and Remington (R38S12), if you can find them, and will perform well and expand even from 2 inch barrels. No argument there. Federal discontinued the 38G, but their 147-gr. JHP +P+ law enforcement load gives similar performance and gives 900 f.p.s. from a 2 inch Ruger SP101, if you can find any.

While jacketed +P loads do not suffer from the cylinder binding problem, getting a jacketed bullet to expand reliably from a barrel shorter than 4 inches requires +P pressures. High volume use of +P and +P+ ammo is proven harder on the guns, particularly blue steel S&W K and J frames having a frame hardness of less than Rc20, (typical values for non-magnum revolvers of 80-90 "B" scale were common of Model 36 and Model 10 production before about 1990).

If money were no object my friends and I would be happy to buy 2000 rounds of Gold Dot to divide among us. To be realistic, however, the cost, about $1 per shot, and spotty availability of proven .38 Special factory defense loads is a real issue.

We would like to practice with the same ammo we carry, but have to satisfy ourselves with a well-established hand load we have experience with, and confidence in, which works well in the field and shoots to the same place from fixed sight revolvers as our +P factory loads. We have decided to carry a limited, (though 24 rounds is probably adequate) supply of +P law enforcement loads for actual personal defense use. Our extra ruck ammo is intended for shooting meat for the pot or for protection against aggressive animals. The non-expanding, but deep penetrating, full-charge wadcutter load has the advantages of less meat damage, but has great crush cavity characteristics and deepest possible penetration. It works. Reliable, predictable, accurate, and economical.

Col. Fackler's observation, and one with which my friend “ER Doc” agrees, is that the hollowpoint .38 Special is not the "magic bullet." When a bullet expands in the classic mushroom fashion, it reduces penetration. The best JHP defense loads such as Speer Gold Dot meet FBI penetration criteria. Not all JHPs do.

We believe that maximum frontal area and tissue crush, combined with deep penetration adequate to defeat reasonable cover (a defensively positioned arm or heavy clothing), which can still penetrate the breastbone and get through ribs into vital organs, is important. Particularly in calibers of "marginal" energy, (200 ft-lbs or less) it is important to have the maximum meplat diameter (frontal area) consistent with reliable feeding. The wadcutter in a revolver makes the most of this.
You also need adequate sectional density to ensure through and through penetration. Our reasoning is that if the FBI considers 14 inches of gelatin penetration adequate, we'd like 20+. Being able to shoot through both shoulders of a deer and exiting is desired.

Yes, the wadcutter is a compromise, but I would rather use a wadcutter handload of proven reliability on groundhogs, feral dogs (or putting down the occasional stock), than a jacketed hollowpoint which may not go through a pit bull's skull. Which begs the question: why don't the manufacturers produce a full charge wadcutter like they used to (before WWII)?

Cast double-ended wadcutter bullets awaiting loading. Note the full-caliber face (meplat.)

The finished product: the full-charge wadcutter ready for shooting!


Monday Meanderings.

This being a holiday week, I'm going to refrain from any major articles. Black Friday, however, will feature an interesting piece by Ed Harris! If you're tired of shopping, be sure to check in for his exploration of a load that most of us know nothing about.


If you live near a Gander Mountain store, listen up! They're building
Gander Mountain Academies into many of their stores, and you need to check them out. They haven't gotten a lot of press yet, but the GMAs are state-of-the-art shooting facilities unlike any others. Combining both live fire and computer simulation ranges, they provide a shooting experience that very few places can. These are major investments, and they show that Gander Mountain is serious about firearms training.

All of their locations can be video conferenced together, which is (to the best of my knowledge) the first time any shooting facility has done so. The great thing is that they can have a senior instructor in one location who can watch people in all other locations, and provide two-way feedback on what they're doing and how to correct errors. This is going to give people across the country far greater access to top-flight instructors than has ever been seen in this field.

The first such class is going to be with Rob Pincus, who will be teaching Dynamic Defensive Handgun on December 17th and 18th. If you've got a Gander Mountain Academy near you, take advantage of this opportunity to be at the leading edge of shooting education!


Have you gotten your copy of the
Gun Digest Book Of The Revolver yet? It's my new book dealing with all aspects of owning and shooting the double action revolver, and it's getting rave reviews. Even my lawyer said that he didn't expect a gun book to be this good! Get a copy now for yourself, and be sure to pick one up for each of your shooting friends. (Remember: orders over $25 at Amazon ship for free! There’s also a Kindle version!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Ed Harris: Casting and reloading the .38/.357

(Editor's Note: for those who don't know him, C.E. 'Ed' Harris is an engineer who's worked for Ruger and the NRA. Ed is one of the great repositories of technical shooting knowledge in the field; his expertise extends to all areas of shooting, and trust me when I tell you that he can't be stumped. I've tried. Ed has forwarded several articles to publish, and I'm going to start with one of particular interest to me. Look for Ed's articles on Fridays, alternating with the Friday Surprise.)

Today's article is about casting and reloading the .38 Special and .357 Magnum cartridges. Ed has a particular interest in bullet casting and reloading, and this is his primer on the equipment and techniques needed to cast and reload bullets for these great cartridges. He’s stuffed a ton of information into this article, so read carefully!

Q: I read your articles on the .38 Special with great interest. My wife and I live out in the country, far from town. We have decided to buy two revolvers for personal defense and a lever-action utility rifle, which uses the same ammo. I reload rifle ammunition with jacketed bullets for hunting, but am new to bullet casting. I want more production capacity than my single-station press. Please recommend a progressive reloading package for the 38/357 which to include casting equipment & mould. I would appreciate suggestions as to cheap sources for components to load in large quantity.

A: If you intend to cast your own bullets, do not use the same casting pot to render your dirty, gleaned scrap lead into ingots. Instead, get a propane fired turkey cooker or plumber’s burner with round-bottomed, cast iron pot which will hold about 50 pounds or more of melted alloy at a time.

Buy no fewer than six ingot molds; ten are better. Use the propane pot outdoors to render your scrap lead alloy into ingots. Wear coveralls with long sleeves, a floppy hat, gloves and full face shield when you do this!

Automobile wheel weights or indoor range backstop scrap work fine for revolver bullet alloy. Range scrap is more troublesome to deal with, but the jacket material you skim off, after you pull out any steel with a “cow magnet,” is worth more than enough to a scrap dealer to pay for the propane it takes to melt it. With luck you may have a little extra to trade for roll-ends of tin bearing solder, wheel weights, type metal etc.

While many experienced casters prefer to use a dipper, most people find a bottom-pour pot easier to learn with. I use an RCBS 20-lb. bottom pour pot with a pair of molds and handles, alternating between them, by setting each one down after it is filled. It will solidify while I open, dump and refill the other. This provides a consistent mold temperature, necessary to get good castings.

I cast outdoors on a covered, screened in porch to ensure good ventilation, and use an electric hotplate to preheat the molds. This is important, especially in winter. Placing a layer of plain crushed clay kitty litter over the melt helps maintain heat and reduces the need for frequent fluxing.

A pair of double-cavity RCBS or Saeco molds present the best value. Or buy a pair of LBT or Saeco 4-cavity blocks if you want higher production.

For general use in the .38 / .357 lever-actions and revolvers, the Cowboy style rounded flat-nose designs work well if you get a bullet with meplat not less than 1/2 of bullet diameter for hunting purposes. Suitable designs are the RCBS 38-158CM or Saeco #358.

For hunting use a hollow-point bullet is useful. On the Saeco 4-cavity blocks only the center 2 cavities can be modified for hollow-point, because of the way the sprue plate hinge, handle screws and alignment pins are located. This will produce a pair of solids and a pair of hollow-points with each pour.

With double-cavity Saeco and RCBS blocks both cavities may be modified using the inset bar conversion from

You may like one set of blocks modified for hollow point, and use the other to cast solids. Either way you have hunting and practice bullets, which will feed from the lever-action rifle. SWCs may not.

The best sources I have found for buying powder and primers are either Widener's or Graf & Sons. My shooting buddies and I buy primers by the case of 5000 at a time, and powder in 8-lb. kegs. An 8-lb. keg of Bullseye will load 16,000 rounds of .38 Special at 3.5 grains per pop. An 8-lb. keg of #2400 will load 4000 rounds of .357 Magnum at 14 grains per pop.

Graf will let you combine powder and primers in the same shipment under one hazmat fee for up to a 50-lb. box, which gets you 20,000 small pistol primers, a keg of #2400 for magnum loads and a keg of Bullseye for .38 Specials with nothing left over.

You won't get reliable expansion of cast hollow points from a 2 inch snubby unless bullets are cast soft, 8-10 BHN, such as 1:25 tin/lead alloy, or 50-50 wheelweights and plumber's lead, with no more than 2% tin added in in the form of bar solder - and only if needed to get sharp fill out of the bullets.

You want to cast bullets when the mold blocks are hot enough that bullets fill out sharply. Uniform frosting of well-filled bullets is perfectly OK. This fuzzy surface of dentrite arms look under an SEM (scanning electron microscope) like you’re flying low over a pine forest. The porous surface holds tumble-on lubes better.

You don't need to quench-harden bullets up through .38 Special +P. As-cast wheel weights or common range backstop scrap is about 10-12 BHN, and is fine for standard pressure loads up to about 20,000 psi.
Bullets cast from wheel weights and hot enough to be uniformly frosted, when dropped directly from the mold into water to quench, will precipitation harden to about 24-28BHN and which will stand up to 40,000 psi.

Quench solid-nosed bullets for .357 and .44 magnum loads when necessary to prevent leading, but don’t count on quenched hollow-point bullets expanding at all if you do.

To enhance expansion of properly designed hollow-point bullets from a sturdy, short-barreled revolver, such as the Ruger SP101, you may safely use up to 4.0 grs. of Bullseye with a 158-grain hollow-pointed bullet seated not less than 1.40” overall. This approximates +P velocity, vs. a "standard pressure" charge of 3.5 grains, normally used with cowboy bullets crimped normally, or a double-end wadcutter seated out to 1.20” overall.

For approximating the +P+ in .38 Special brass in the Marlin rifle or revolvers designed for .357 magnum, such as Rugers, L-frame and N-frame S&W, you could use 10 grs. of #2400 with the Saeco or RCBS Cowboy slugs, with WSP or Federal 200 primers, seated and crimped in their normal crimp groove. Do NOT use this load in pre-1974 Colts, Charter Arms, K or J-frame S&Ws unless originally chambered for .357 ammunition, because pressure exceeds industry +P standard by about 15%.

For loading .357 Magnums at supersonic velocities in revolvers or for rifles use an alloy not softer than wheel weights, 12BHN. With plain-based bullets you could load 11-12 grs. of #2400 in .357 brass with a 158-gr. cast bullet, the exact charge to be determined by whether you get unburned powder which may jam revolvers if any gets under the extractor, or leading which impairs accuracy.

Using a plain-based bullet without a gas check, keep revolver velocity subsonic, not over about 1080 f.p.s. The same loads will get from 1200-1400 f.p.s. in the Marlin, versus about 1600-1700 from an 18 inch barel for a "maximum .357 load." Keep charges with plain based cast bullets in the Marlin rifle about 10-15% below maximum to avoid impaired accuracy caused by bore leading.

In my experience 10 grs. of #2400 with WSP or Federal 200 primers is the least you can load in .357 brass and get acceptable ballistic uniformity. At 11-12 grains in .357 brass only, you have a very satisfactory "medium velocity" load, a bit lighter than factory, but still heavier than .38 Special +P+.

I feel that gas checked bullets are an unnecessary expense in revolvers, because the GC diameter is usually insufficient to seal the cylinder throats. They also cost about $30 per thousand and will require that you buy an expensive lubricating and sizing machine to put them on. That money will buy a good supply of primers and powder.

Instead, save your money by using plain based bullets, of moderate hardness, cast from cheap scrap allloy such as wheel weights. Keep velocities under 1100 f.p.s. in revolvers, and below 1400 f.p.s. in the rifles.

If you need a magnum load approximating factory velocity, buy a few hundred 158-gr. jacketed soft point bullets for rifle use and use 14 grs. of #2400, which is about 1/2 grain below maximum as published by Speer No. 13 or later. This will give about 1650 fps in the Marlin. Such loads are apparent by their distinct appearance so there is no guessing whether it is “hot” or not.

If you will use your compact revolver a lot for field shooting, consider a double-end wadcutter such as the Saeco #348 for one of your molds. Then pick a Cowboy style flat-nose for rifle use.

Wadcutters can be used for small game hunting in lever-action rifles as a “two-shooter,” inserting a round directly into the chamber, closing the action, and loading only one round at a time into the magazine tube. Each time you fire a shot and work the lever, you can shove a replacement wadcutter past the loading gate. You cannot fill the magazine tube with .38 Special rounds less than 1.4 inches overall, because two at a time will feed out onto the lifter and jam the gun.

Ideally you want bullets to cast of correct diameter so they do not require sizing. Then you can bulk lube with Lee Liquid Alox and use the money you save by not buying a bullet lubricator and sizer to buy powder and primers.

If you really want a progressive loading tool for loading multiple thousands of rounds, get the Dillon RL550B. However, if your requirements are less than 500 rounds a month, I would use a single-station press. If you have not used a progressive reloading machine before, and do not have an experienced mentor within convenient telephone distance, stay with the single-station press you know well.

For plain based revolver ammo there is no advantage to go any harder than about 13 BHN. Commercially cast bullets such as Meister, Lasercast, etc. are made from a 92Pb-6Sb-2Sn alloy, about 16 BHN, harder than necessary for non-magnum loads. They do so because this common commercial “hardball” or “magnum” alloy is widely available in one-ton heat lots, casts well from the automated Magma Engineering machines, and produces “pretty” bullets for marketing purposes, which are not damaged in shipping.

Hard lube which requires a heated lubricating and sizing machine is used for similar marketing purposes, because it is non-sticky, stays in the grooves, doesn't melt in summer heat and goes through progressive loading machines well. But hard lube is less able coat the bore, and unless bullet fit is perfect, may result in bore leading at standard pressures in the .38 Special. Soft alloys and lubes in moderate loads are more trouble-free for the novice.

Commercial cast bullets often lead more than softer home cast ones because the manufacturers size their product to fit the tightest minimum bore and chamber to prevent function problems. Novices who buy them don't know which size is correct. The old folklore of old Lyman manuals to size bullets to groove diameter is incorrect. Bullets should be sized to fit the ball seat of the rifle chamber or revolver cylinder.

If bullets are too hard, undersized, and inadequately lubricated with a hard lube, they will lead. A very common misconception is that cast bullet loads lead because the alloy is too soft. The opposite is usually the case.

An alloy harder than about 12-13 BHN is not going to expand when cast in a hollow-point bullet. Full .357 loads generating over 1400 fps when fired from a rifle may fragment, but not “mushroom.” My advise is to use straight wheel weights or range backstop scrap. Add 1/2 pound of 50-50 bar solder per 20 lb. potful when needed to get good castings.

Bullets of 12 BHN will not expand in standard pressure .38 Special revolver loads, but will somewhat in +P and do just fine when fired in the rifle or .357 or +P+ ..38 Special revolver loads over 1000 fps.
If you want to get expansion at standard pressures in a revolver cut wheel weight alloy 50-50 with soft plumbers lead, adding the same 1/2 pound of 50-50 solder, only if needed to get good castings. This alloy goes 8-10 BHN, does fine in subsonic rifle loads or up to .38 Special +P with 4 grs. of Bullseye in .38 cases, but you may get some leading after firing a dozen rounds of +P loads. Accuracy is OK for hunting purposes.

Brush the bore when done shooting and leave wet with bore cleaner, then just wipe the bore and chambers with a dry patch before shooting.

If reduced to using (free!) mixed head stamp, range pickup brass, tumble clean it in untreated corncob to remove dirt and grit before sizing. After sizing, do the best you can to sort it into batches of like head stamp sharing the same type face, identifying knurls, etc. Separate plated cases from plain.

Learn to identify and keep separate any cases originating from factory loaded wadcutter match ammo. Treat them as if they were gold! Wadcutter brass is identified by either one, or sometimes two knurls or cannelures at the midpoint of the case's length.

Their purpose is to prevent a wadcutter bullet being dropped into a loose-mouthed, powder charged case, from falling below flush with the case mouth. This maintains proper position until the bulleted, charged case reaches the crimping station.

The loading machines used by the ammunition factories full-length profile the case sidewall to fit gently, but tightly against the shank of the soft-swaged, hollow-based wadcutter bullet. It uniformly but lightly crimps the case mouth to remove any flare, imparting only a slight radius at the case mouth to ease loading into the chambers. Its design intent is to avoid at all cost any damage to the fragile, soft- lead bullet, which would impair accuracy.

This is also the principle of the Lee Factory Crimp Die and is why you should buy the Lee carbide die set to the exclusion of all others. The Lee Factory Crimp die does not depend upon case length to determine strength of crimp. It doesn't care whether case mouths are thin or heavy. Individual rounds are profiled full-length so that none will exceed maximum cartridge dimensions. This prevents tolerance stacking of oversized bullets in thick wall cases, which could cause a bulge that will jam your gun.

Cast bullets may be loaded unsized and simply tumbled in Lee Liquid Alox. If bullet sizing is necessary, this is done by compression inside the die, rather than by shear in an expensive, unnecessary lubricating and sizing machine.

Because wadcutter brass has a thinner case wall, intended to gently handle a soft lead bullet, it is work hardened less in assembly, so it will last longer!

Brass used for +P service loads often has a heavy knurl or cannelure closer to the case mouth, which is used to hold the bullet against the primer blast and maintain heavy bullet pull of a thicker case which provides a tight fits necessary for acceptable ballistic uniformity of slower powders. Such brass has a harder final anneal and is more heavily work hardened in assembly, so it may crack after only a few reloads, especially if it has been nickel plated. When obtained as once-fired brass, use this for your "shoot and let fly" combat practice ammo.

If you intend to buy new brass, get plain, unplated, uncannelured cases, from Starline, Winchester or Remington. Plated brass was once used to reduce corrosion of rounds carried in leather looped cartridge belts. Today it is done mostly for marketing appearance, so that old stock does not take on a patina and "look old."

Plated cases will not last long in repeated reloads as plain brass, but some brands fare better than others. Winchester uncannelured, plated cases last longer than similar Remington. Federal +P and +P+ plated brass also seems OK. Sellier & Bellot seems the worst. Reload only once, use it for shoot & let fly, or save for trade to the scrap dealer.

Monday Meanderings

It's odd, really. This is the time of year that I pine for the long days of summer that are sure to come, and in the heat of that season I wish the early darkenings of winter would get here sooner. I guess I'm just never happy with the here and now!


The whole zombie schtick has long since jumped the shark, and my thoughts on the utility of a .410 shotgun revolver are well known. It shouldn't have come as a surprise that someone would
combine the two, and likewise it won’t be a difficult task to figure out what I think of the thing. (Thanks to Tam for ruining my breakfast with this news.)


Trying to catch up with emails, snail mails, parts orders, and everything else around the shop isn't being helped lately. You may remember that my wife decided I needed someone to keep my company during work hours, so she brought in Shop Kat. Turns out that SK is a girl, which we learned when she finally grew up enough to go into heat. When that happened I decided to take her in for a little surgical modification, but as it happens that can't be done until she's out of heat. I thought that if I kept a close eye on her during her infrequent and short outings during that time things would be under control, as I'd seen no stray cats in the neighborhood. You can guess what happened next.

I now have a pile (seven, to be precise) balls of fur who are about six weeks old. They're constantly underfoot, seem to think everything exists for their own amusement, and are generally making the shop difficult to work in. I wear an apron while I work and they seem particularly amused by the parts of it that they can reach. Anyone want a free kitten (or two?)


I've got a couple of interesting articles by Ed Harris which I'm going to run on coming Fridays in place of the Friday Surprise. Ed's got some great stuff and addresses areas of the shooting world that aren't in my normal purview. I think you'll find them interesting.


In the next month I'll be working on my teaching schedule for 2012. If you'd like to book a class now's the time to start the process!

Of course I'll be teaching my flagship Revolver Doctrine course; if you liked my book, you'll love this class! I take you through the revolver, showing you how to shoot it, reload it, manipulate it with one hand, and more. It's a one-day class that can be held on nearly any range, and doesn't require drawing from a holster. It's a great introduction for anyone who is new to the revolver, regardless of their past shooting experience.

I'm also available to teach
Combat Focus Shooting classes, both one- and two-day. CFS teaches you the most efficient ways to defeat a threat, ways that work with what your body does naturally. CFS classes are open to revolvers and autoloaders (much as I hate to admit it, I do know how to run an auto. Let's just keep that between the two of us, OK?)

A great combination is what I call the Defensive Revolver Weekend, which combines Revolver Doctrine on the first day and Combat Focus Shooting on the second. RD teaches you how to
operate the revolver, while CFS teaches you how to use it to protect you or those you love. This is a great way to take these classes, as there is some overlap which is eliminated when they're back-to-back. The result is that we get in more material than we would if the classes were separated. (This combined version of Revolver Doctrine does require drawing from a holster.)

I’m available for classes all over the western U.S. How do you go about booking a class? It's easier than you might think, and you can train for free just by hosting at your local range! Email me for the details.


Looking even further ahead, I'm considering teaching a master class on Colt revolver gunsmithing. This wouldn't happen until at least 2013, but I'd like to throw out some feelers now to see if anyone might be interested. If so, drop me a note; if I have enough interest, I'll develop the course tailored to your interests.


Well, I think that's enough for one Monday. I'm going to return some emails then go do battle with some very intimidating kittens!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Multi-caliber revolvers.

Every so often I get an email asking about the feasibility of building a multi-caliber revolver along the lines of a Phillips & Rogers Medusa. There have been several attempts to build and market such a revolver over the years, and none of them succeeded. The Medusa was probably the most successful of the efforts, and even it wasn't.

Aside from the general silliness of the concept (you can't get .38 Special during the Zombie Apocalypse, but you can get 9mm Largo?!?), I've always been leery of a chamber that would handle such a wide range of dimensions and pressures. Ed Harris, of course, has first-hand experience and was able to she a lot of light on the question. During his tenure as an engineer at Ruger they were working on just such a project:

"At that time the company was also building 9mm revolvers for the French police, and .380/200 British revolvers for India, as well with experimenting with a hybrid chamber for a government customer who wanted the ability to use 9mm Parabellum, 9mm Largo or .38 Super, with clips, or .38 Special +P without the clips.

This pipe dream did not work out, because when using fast-burning powders with soft bullets, including most JHP designs for 9mm, the bullet base may upset to conform to the .379" diameter chamber mouth [editorial note: the space just prior to the chamber throat, which is exposed with shooting the shorter cartridges], resulting in a steep pressure rise of over 10,000 psi as the upset bullet base had to squeeze down again as it transitioned into the smaller diameter ball seat in the front end of the cylinder. While the result was not dangerous when firing lower powered ammunition such as .38 S&W or .380/200 British, it was more interesting with 9mm Parabellum, 9mm Federal, and .38 Super.

Worst offender was US Treasury Olin Q4070 +P+ load which has 110-gr. JHP hollowbased bullet, same as current Winchester 110-gr. component bullet and most JHP +P+ 9mm. FMJ bullets usually OK. Problems with case splits [when] firing .38 Special +P and +P+ when chamber enlarged enough in back to accept 9x19mm. With good brass cases just came out looking 3 months pregnant."

So, there you have it. The multi-caliber revolver concept is just a Bad Idea.

Speaking of unsafe, Ed passed along information about their unauthorized experiments with the then-new 9mm Federal round, which was a 9mm rimmed cartridge made to fit the a version of the Charter Arms Pit Bull revolver. (You’d think Federal would be smarter than that, but...) Anyhow, Ed tells of their fun with a "non-approved" use, and finally we have part of the answer as to why the 9mm Federal disappeared as quickly as it arrived:

"Had some India Ordnance Factory revolvers in .380/200, copies of No. 2 Enfield which were provided as government furnished material on India contract. When 9mm Federal ammo arrived Roy Melcher was curious as to whether rounds would enter .38 S&W chamber and we didn't have any US made guns, so tried in the ROF No.2. Thanks to good range safety procedure they put it in proof box. Blew cylinder apart on first shot. Told Federal. They were NOT happy. They went on to take apart a bunch more .38 S&Ws of various makes and killed the project shortly afterward."

Ed really needs to write a book about his time at Ruger. He's got a lot more good material where this came from.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: The day the internet died.

Yesterday was a monumental day in the history of the 'net: Duke University, the birthplace of Usenet,
shut down its Usenet server some thirty years after it first came to life.

Citing diminishing use and rising costs as the reason for the shutdown, this comes as sad news for those of us who cut their teeth on newsgroups. While there are other servers still hosting Usenet traffic, the closure of the Duke server is a sign that the end is near.

I spent far too much free time on Usenet in the '80s and '90s. Before the World Wide Web, Usenet was THE source of information and interaction on the 'net. If you know what DoD stands for, you spent a lot of time on; if you know who the KoTL is, you spent
too much time there!

There are people I "met" on Usenet with whom I still correspond. I first encountered Ed Harris, whose name should not be unknown to readers of this blog, on rec.guns. That was more years ago than either of us care to recount, and despite never having been face-to-face we've exchanged ideas, shared projects and even collaborated a bit on a training manual for emergency communications. There are others whose names would mean nothing to you, but mean a great deal to me.

With so many ISPs dropping Usenet access, people for whom the WWW is the whole 'net don't see the loss. For those of us who remember FidoNet gateways and
bang paths it's like losing an old friend.

Virtually, of course.

-=[ Grant ]=-

A worthy cause!

On Monday I mentioned that my bore cleaner of choice is Ed's Red, the popular homebrew formula. I've used it for many years, and have been satisfied with its performance over a wide range of firearms.

If you don't regularly read the comments section, you may have missed a note from Ed himself. He's always coming up with something that's new to me, and this time he revealed that Brownell's carries Ed's Red in convenient bottles, all mixed up and ready to use!

I had no idea, but that's not the end of the story. Turns out that a portion of the sales of Ed's Red goes to support the Junior's programs of the Virginia Shooting Sports Association. That's reason enough to buy Ed's Red over any competing product. Well, that, and the fact that Ed's Red works!

If you're a Brownell's customer, put
a bottle of Ed's Red on your next order. If you're not a Brownell's customer, you should be!

-=[ Grant ]=-

On bore cleaners.

A recent email asked my opinion on bore cleaners, and to my surprise I found that I'd not written anything on the topic. It is, after all, unlike me to have no opinion - and it may be a bit of a surprise to learn that, on this topic, I don't have a strong opinion.

When it comes to bore cleaners, it's been my experience that everything works. Shooter's Choice, Hoppe's, Butch's, Break Free, it really doesn't matter - with one caveat.

I break cleaners into two basic types: general bore cleaners, and copper removers. Copper removers, such as Hoppe's Benchrest and Sweet's 7.62, usually contain ammonia to dissolve copper jacket residue. Ammonia compounds, if not thoroughly flushed, can pit steel. Pitted bores are not generally conducive to good accuracy! Those compounds are also hard on bronze bore brushes, which is why their makers often recommend nylon brushes wound on stainless steel cores. Regular use of a copper removing bore cleaner isn't recommended, and I only use them in rifles where accuracy reductions are likely to be noticed, and only when the jacket fouling gets to a point that those reductions show up. Other than that, I use a regular bore cleaner.

The bore cleaner I use most is the popular homebrew
Ed's Red formula. Originated by C.E. "Ed" Harris, noted engineer and certified firearms genius, Ed's Red is both economical and effective. I've found it to be as good as anything else in cleaning rifled bores, and a bit better than most when cleaning shotgun barrels. (The acetone in the formula makes it an ideal solvent for removing plastic wad fouling.) Since I use a lot of bore cleaner, being able to mix a gallon at a time saves me both money and effort.

If you're not the DIY type, anything will work. Many people like the smell of Hoppe's #9 (the distinctive odor comes, I believe, from amyl acetate), and I must admit a certain fondness myself. My first cleaning kit, for a Winchester Model 67 rifle, was from Hoppes. The smell takes me back to my childhood and summer afternoons sitting under a walnut tree, cleaning my rifle from a hard day of plinking.

Frankly, given the generally good performance of all of the bore cleaners I've ever used, that's as good a rationale for a choice as any!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Everything has a purpose.

Even the .32ACP.

Many of you are familiar with Ed Harris, firearms engineer and ballistic experimenter. One of Ed's passions is the hunting of small game - squirrels, rabbits, etc. - and the guns that facilitate that activity.

(Before we go any further, it seems that a lot of folks today don't have any experience with serious small game hunting. There are an awful lot of people who consider it somehow inferior to the taking of large game, but they are sorely mistaken. In virtually every respect, hunting wily little creatures is just as demanding of one's hunting skills as taking a trophy elk. Fieldcraft and marksmanship are just as difficult, but since you get more than one chance per trip you can hone your skills over a larger number of animals. Because of the increased experience, a good small game hunter is almost invariably a good big game hunter, but the reverse - at least in my experience - is rarely true.)

Ed has made up a number of dedicated long guns for the task, but has recently been experimenting with purpose-built handguns to go along with them. What he and John Taylor have come up with is a modified Beretta Model 70 in .32ACP, which Ed calls "the Third Level of Bunny Gun Nirvana".

Now I've never thought much of the .32ACP cartridge except for use as a deep concealment backup gun, but Ed had other ideas. He started by fitting his Beretta with 7- and 13-inch barrels, then developed a subsonic heavy bullet loading:

The barrels are supplied with a very interesting scope mount:

Ed talks about the performance of the combination:

Using 94-gr. Meiser LFN .312 cast bullet and 1.7 grs. of Bullseye velocity just shy of 900 f.p.s. Very low noise, from 13 inch barrel slightly louder than H-D military with can (suppressor), no muzzle flash, the 7 inch barrel sounds like .22 match pistol with standard velocity. Indoor range groups were shot at 25 yards. Not the best range light and targets oscillate a bit, so like it's trying to head-shoot the pirate from pitching deck of a destroyer, but shows potential.

It looks to be a formidable little game-getter!

-=[ Grant ]=-

A short note about a shortened cartridge.

Busier than a one-armed paperhanger today, so I'm just going to give you a link and some commentary.

On Monday I mentioned my attraction to wildcat cartridges. There is one that still intrigues me, because a) it's an easy wildcat to make, and b) it's a cartridge that SHOULD have been factory made from the start:
the .41 Special.

I've always wanted to play with it, but have never owned the necessary .41 Magnum gun in which to shoot it. Since I'm not all that much a fan of the .41 Magnum to begin with I doubt I ever will, which automatically leaves me out of the .41 Special fraternity. Unless, of course, I decide to do a conversion on an existing gun! Here we go again...

(Oh, BTW - check out Ed Harris' comments on
Monday's post, particularly the video. I've been jealous of his rook rifle since he told me about it some time back; someday I'll one-up him by building a double rifle in .32 Colt New Police, aka .32 S&W Long.)

-=[ Grant ]=-