A Winchester Model 54 in .30 WCF

 

The year was 1925 and Calvin Coolidge was the President of the United States.  He was a man of few words; “Silent Cal” they called him, but he made a very famous statement that has been often quoted since his day.  Cal said “The chief business of the American people is business,” and America agreed. Good, growing business is the American way. Thus it was that Walter P. Chrysler established the Chrysler Motor Company in 1925.  Thus it was that Sears Roebuck, long in the mail order business, opened their first retail store in Chicago in that year.

And thus it was that Winchester Repeating Arms introduced their first bolt action rifle for sporting use in 1925.  This rifle, called the Model 54, was among the first factory bolt action rifles whose sole, intended use was the hunting of game animals.  I say among the first because the Model 54 was predated slightly by the Savage Model 1920, a much less well-known rifle of bolt action design, and by the Remington Model 30, essentially a sporterized version of the Enfield Pattern 1917 military rifle.

Bolt action rifles for military use had taken over the European scene in the late 1800s.  The Mauser brothers and their company led the way with a steady succession of improved models, and reached their zenith with the Mauser Model of 1898.  War was a popular activity in the 19th century and many countries decided they needed Mausers, and used them, not only in Europe, but in Asia and South America as well.

The U. S. Army was a bit late to the military bolt action game.  It had adopted the Krag-Jorgensen, a .30-caliber bolt action rifle in 1892, but it proved to be quite good at every rifle application except infantry use, or so the brass thought.  They junked the Krag in favor of the 1903 Springfield, a bolt action rifle based on the 1898 Mauser. The Springfield and its famous .30-06 cartridge was a great success. It was used in both world wars, rather lightly in World War II because it was replaced by the M1 Garand.

Military actions were strong, efficient, and reliable, exactly the bones you also want in a rifle for hunting big game.  The first bolt actions for hunting were therefore military rifles, either originals or sporterized versions. One can still find used examples of sporterized Mausers, Krags, 1903 Springfields and 1917 Enfields in the used gun venues.  With many returning veterans interested in outdoor sports it was sure that the bolt action rifle would attract the attention of sporting arms producers.

My Winchester Model 54

It is not surprising that the first actions of bolt sporting rifles were adaptations of military precursors.  The military rifles were strong, reliable designs that could be produced in high quality. Thus the Winchester Model 54 design is rooted in the design of the Springfield Model of 1903, that, in turn, is rooted in the design of the Mauser Model of 1898.  The Mauser/Springfield action is very strong and its salient feature is the bolt design. There are two opposed locking lugs at the front and a long, non-rotating extractor with a large claw that captured the cartridge as it came up from the magazine. This prevented a jam if the bolt were withdrawn before the cartridge was fully seated.  This became known as “controlled round feeding” and soon was considered a necessity for the safe hunting of dangerous game.

My Winchester Model 54 came to me as the result of a successful internet transaction.  A fairly early iteration of the model, it was made in 1929.

Winchester Model 54 30-30

In the pictures you can see the extractor lying along the side of the bolt, and, overall, the rifle has a slender configuration reminiscent of the slightly earlier Savage Model of 1920.  The stock is straight-grain walnut with nice bordered checkering, a steel butt plate with no logo, and no grip cap. The barrel is 24 inches and is chambered for the .30 WCF.  The Model 54 was offered in a wide variety of chamberings.  the .30-06 Springield is the most common.  The 54 was also the first rifle chambered for the .270 Winchester and that is common.  The .30-30 is a much less common item. The bore of my example is excellent.  The front sight is a bead on a blade that is pinned in a boss on the barrel. The rear sight is a deep “V”, adjustable for elevation, mounted to the receiver. The sturdy, stamped bottom metal has the trigger guard and the box magazine cover in a single unit.  Removing the action shows that the inletting of the stock wood, and therefore the fit of metal to wood, is of very high quality. A large flat area on the bottom of the action has good contact with the wood just behind the recoil lug. This no doubt contributes to the 54’s reputation for high accuracy.

The Mauser style bolt is shown in the next pic.  It is flanked by a bolt from a Remington 788 .30-30 on the left and from a Savage Super Sporter .30-30 on the right.  Three different ways to control the rimmed .30-30 round in a bolt action rifle.  The robust extractor and groove for the ejector is evident in the Model 54 bolt and it is the only one that operates with controlled round feeding.

Three .30-30 bolts: Remington 788, Winchester 54, Savage 40

The action is shown in the following picture. A sturdy recoil lug is at the front and it is held by the front action screw.  Thick rails extend to the rear of the bridge and have openings for the magazine and loading/ejection port. There is a second action screw behind the magazine and a third in the tang.  The trigger seems to be a military type.

Winchester Model 54 action

Note there is a boss in the barrel that held the original blade rear sight.  This boss is held by a screw though the forearm. Thus, with screws through the bottom metal at each end

Model 54 barrel boss

and in the middle behind the magazine box, there are four screws that hold the metal to the stock.  The metal finish on this rifle is in very good condition. The wood has most of its original finish with a few minor marks.

There were several grades of the 54 offered and mine is the standard grade.  It is an earlier model that had a Schnabel tip. This was later changed and the rifle was given a thicker forearm, similar to the Model 70 that followed in 1936.  Something over 50,000 rifles were produced over the 54’s lifetime.

My 54 had a couple other idiosyncracies as it came to me..  The barrel boss had the rear sight removed and replaced with a narrow, dovetail scope base.  This is because the 54 was not drilled and tapped for a scope base in the receiver bridge. Remember, this was the early days of bolt action sporters.  To have two bases, the rear base is attached to the receiver ring using the taps that were supplied with the rifle. This must have been unsatisfactory but was necessary for the bolt to clear the scope on opening.  I have no clue what the previous owner must have used for a scope.  I removed this base as I planned for installation of a receiver sight.

The other anomaly was the tacky-looking leather cover on the end of the forearm.  Removal showed that the tip had a longitudinal crack and the original Schnabel tip had been crudely sanded off.  I repaired the crack with brown epoxy, smoothed the tip, and finished it to match the stock. Best I could do, but not good for the collector value of the piece.  However, there appear to be no other alterations of the rifle, making it a good example of the type. It is an honest gun with pleasing appearance.

Prep for Shooting

Sights are the major concern when anticipating accurate shooting with a rifle such as this. It was not set up for easy scope mounting so I replaced the V-rear with a used Lyman aperture made for the Win 54.

Lyman aperture sight on Model 54

The bedding of the barrel in the stock is also of prime importance, especially when the barrel has a boss that is held to the foreend by a screw.  Accuracy and point of impact can be affected by the fit of the boss and the tension of the screw. Inspection showed that the

Stock interior with lead shims

barrel contacted the stock channel in several places so I decided to shim the action with half inch lead tape just behind the recoil lug and on either side of the barrel boss. This allowed me to raise the action a bit without removing any wood or disturbing the fit of the action in the stock.  That could come later, if needed. Previous experience suggested that the barrel screw should be snug, but not tight,so that is where I set it.

Ready for Shooting

I shot three shot groups from a solid rest at fifty yards using a variety of factory ammo.  I used a ring target, as shown in the pictures below. With a diameter of 5.5 to 6.0 inches the ring is an excellent field for centering a round bead used with a rear aperture.  It is precise and repeatable so precision shooting is possible. Groups measured in the range of 0.4 – 0.9” or 0.8 – 1.8 Minute of angle.  Two groups each for Hornady American Whitetail 150 gr and Winchester Deer Season 150 gr are shown.  The Winchester 54 is thus capable of very accurate shooting and I expected nothing less based on my experience with other bolt action 30-30s, and it is an indication of the general capability of Winchester Model 54 rifles, regardless of caliber.  If you needed a bolt action rifle and bought a Model 54 in the 1920s, you bought a good one. If you find one on the used rack today it will probably be a good one but will likely be a .30-06. They were built to last.

 

 

However, the 54 was marketed for only 12 years because it paved the way for the Winchester Model 70 that appeared in 1937.  The Model 70 could be considered to be an improved Model 54 and it had a longer run, but that is another story.

 

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The Savage Model 1920 Bolt Action Rifle in .300 Savage

This post describes the design, function, and performance of a Savage Model 1920, the first bolt action, sporting rifle offered by a major arms company.

I got me a Savage Nineteen-Twenty

‘Cause old bolt actions I want a-plenty,

I love to see how they work and shoot,

And this one didn’t take much loot,

Collector value was diminished

By a Bubba scope base and wood refinished,

And this one had a further knock,

Some Folk Art Genius CARVED AN ELK IN THE STOCK!

Right side of butt stock

And, it’s really not bad. Unfortunately, the seller, a gunshop in Pennsylvania, could provide no information on the gun, leaving me to imagine a provenance.  I think it is a family gun and the person it passed to said “Wow! Grandpa’s rifle.  I know he hunted elk with it. I’m gonna  FIX ‘ER UP!”  Yes, elk have long been hunted in Pennsylvania and the state still issues 125 tags per year.  Many are filled.  Eventually the elk rifle passed to someone who did not know Grandpa, and then it was traded on a Glock or an AR16.  Lucky for me, and the rifle, because I know and appreciate what it is.  It will be cared for.

The Savage Model 1920

was the first bolt action sporting rifle to be offered to the hunting public by a major arms company. Yup, the first!  The end of World War I had occurred just a couple of years earlier.  WWI was fought by infantrymen armed with bolt action rifles, mainly 1903 Springfields and 1917 Enfields for the allies and 1898 and other Mausers for the opposition.  Following the war, many sportsmen and makers of sporting equipment  felt that demand for bolt action rifles for sporting use would increase.  Thus, a good bolt action could compete with traditional lever action rifles of the Winchester pattern for use in the hunting fields.  They were right.

At the time, surplus military bolt action rifles were already being used for hunting. Indeed, Krag-Jorgensen (.30-40) rifles had been sold to the public and often “sporterized” for hunting since the early 1900s.  Springfield Model 1903 rifles and Mauser 1898 rifles were also available and enterprising gunsmiths could turn them into more appropriate hunting rifles by shortening barrels, decreasing weight, putting on nicer wood, and perhaps rebarreling to another caliber.  Naturally, sporting arms manufacturers saw that it would be profitable to offer a bolt action that could come out of the box and head straight for the woods.  Savage Arms was the first company to accomplish this in 1920.  It was offered for two forward looking Savage cartridges, the .250 Savage (aka .250-3000) and .300 Savage, a new cartridge design that Savage hoped would compete with 150-gr loads in the .30-06 Springfield.

A Photo of the Savage 1920

reveals a very slender rifle. The thin, 24-inch barrel is cradled in a slim forearm that quickly tapers to a Schnabel tip.  The walnut stock is checkered (average) in the usual

Savage Model 1920 Bolt Action Rifle

places and carries a grip cap and butt plate with white line spacers.  The spacers are not original and neither is the butt plate which is a plastic replacement of the steel original.  Also not original is the unfortunate Bubba scope base, a one-piece Weaver type held by two screws in the receiver ring and one in the receiver bridge.

Action open showing bolt head and nonspecific scope base

A closeup of the receiver shows this scope base and also the standard rear sight. This elevated rear notch with the blade front was the only sight system supplied with the 1920 and the receiver was not drilled or tapped for scope bases.  A later improvement (1926) of the model provided an aperture sight at the rear.  Further examination of this pic shows that the bolt handle rests in a notch in the receiver bridge.  Also in evidence is an inexpert attempt by a previous owner to engine turn the bolt, and some grinding on the bolt handle to get scope clearance.  This could have been avoided simply by using high scope rings.  A lot of amateur rifle tinkerers simply don’t know how to avoid the dumb things they end up doing.

So, why am I wasting your time, you ask? Well, things are going to get better when we take a look at the action in the next picture. It shows that the design is grounded in Mauser practice, but not entirely.  The bolt has the dual, opposed front locking lugs and

Savage Model 1920 action

Bolt from Savage Model 1920

nonrotating claw extractor so loved by us Mauser mousies, but things are different at the rear.  The receiver bridge, which is short to begin with, is notched to hold the bolt handle and has a channel to allow the bolt to be drawn back on opening.  The bolt notch is good because it acts as a safety stop.  Unlike late Mausers, the Savage bolt has no safety lug. In the bridge in front of the bolt is a notch to allow for stripper clip loading.  The part of the bridge that actually spans the action is therefore narrow and the action overall, very short.  The receiver ring is short, the bridge is short, the bolt is short, all together, very short.  It’s funny that the very first bolt action sporter is of a length so popular with modern shooters that they even want their magnums to be shorties.  But it makes sense, thinking that prior to 1920 most rifles in the deer woods were Winchester, Marlin, and Savage lever actions, all noted for being light, quick handlers.  Hunters love to compare rifles so a light, quick bolt action rifle would be best able to make inroads in the market.  The common military actions were heavy by comparison.

Note also the little round cutout in the rear of the receiver ring at the edge of the ejection port. This gives a little more room for the ejection of the empty, in this case a .300 Savage hull, already one of the shortest thirty caliber rifle cases.  This action is positively not a hair longer than necessary to handle this short cartridge.

Continuing, we see another difference with the Mauser is the recoil lug that is sandwiched between barrel and action. It is equipped to take the front guard screw to anchor the action to the wood at that point.  The receiver does not ride on rails but is perfectly round.  A sheet metal box holds the steel cartridge follower that is conventionally moved by a W-spring.  The trigger is a two-stage military type and the tang has a thumb operated sliding safety, a good feature.  Under the tang ahead of the safety is a vertical stud that supports the safety spring and guides the bar that blocks the sear and locks the bolt when the safety is on.  It all works well.

The safety guide stud is threaded for an action screw. The action needs to be anchored by a screw at the rear, but the safety mechanism prevents that.  The stud, however, points at a place in the trigger guard where a screw cannot be placed.  What did they do?  The screw goes through stock wood above the guard and holds the stud and action down at the rear of the stock.  A bit unusual but it works.  Two additional screws go through the guard plate, a steel stamping, into escutcheons in the stock.  There is also a wood screw behind the trigger loop and an action screw at the front that connects to the recoil lug.

Let’s see, have I covered all of the screws? NO, by golly, there is another small one through the middle of the forearm that connects to a screw socket dovetailed into the bottom of the barrel.  Somewhat like Winchester Model 54s as far as position goes.  This midbarrel connection is found in a number of old rifles and it always raises a question about its effect on accuracy if changing weather should cause a change in the wood.  And its use precludes floating the barrel.  No matter, I am keeping it because that is the way it was made in 1920.  Well-seasoned wood that has the barrel channel sealed does not change much, anyway, and I never will take it out in the rain.

Shooting the Savage Model 1920

Some folks might question the safety of firing an ancient rifle with modern, factory ammunition and especially with robust handloads. I point out that the rifle was made for smokeless powder and has the Mauser bolt design, always praised for its strength.  All makers of .300 Savage ammo follow SAAMI guidelines that specify 46,000 Copper Units of Pressure (CUP).  Note that SAAMI specifies 52,000 CUP for the .308 Winchester.  At the lower pressure the Remington CorLokt .300 Sav150-gr bullet still gets spit out at 2630 fps advertised velocity.  Of course, you must determine prior to shooting that your old rifle is in a condition that allows firing it safely.

Otherwise, the little beauty is light and easy to carry. It comes up quickly to shoulder and cheek with your eye smack on the sight axis.  The later Savage Model 40 Super Sporter and still later Savage 340 feel awkward in comparison (yes, I have compared them).  The 1920 would be very good for woods carry and snap shooting.

Adding a scope, however, disturbs this happy situation. It adds weight and the stock comb, being good for the open sights, is too low for scope use.  Obviously, in 1920, it was not made to use a scope.  Nevertheless, since Bubba put a scope base on and it seemed pretty solid, I attached a scope and shot from a bench rest so that a good accuracy evaluation could be had.  I used high Weaver rings to hold an old Simmons ProHunter 3-9X that was not doing other work at the time.  For initial evaluation I fired three-shot groups at 50 yards with three different factory 150-gr loads.

Velocity     Average (Ave), Extreme Spread (ES), Standard Deviation (SD),

Remington 150 grain Core Lokt:   Ave 2545 fps;  ES 118 fps;  SD 31 fps

Federal Power Shok 150 grain:   Ave 2575 fps;  ES 45 fps;  SD 14 fps

Hornady Superformance 150 grain SP: Ave 2676 fps;  ES92 fps; SD 26 fps

The velocity results are about as expected considering an advertised velocity of 2630 fps for the standard loads. The Hornady Superformance .300 Savage is unheralded in the shooting press.  I tested this ammo and wrote about it some time ago (http://ataleoftwothirties.com/?s=rebirth+300+savage) and others may also have written something about it but I have never seen anything.  So many more exciting cartridges to write about, no? I am just happy that Hornady offers this load for the caliber, because it delivers on its claim of offering increased velocity, as do the other rounds in Hornady’s Superformance and LeverEvolution lines.  Let’s keep in mind that the Savage does this in a case only 1.87 inches long at a maximum pressure of 46,000 CUP.  No, I am not disappointed in the velocities that Mr. Elk Butt achieves.

Accuracy

I was also not disappointed in the accuracy displayed by this old kicker. In truth, based on my thorough preshooting examination, I expected it to shoot pretty well.  Everything worked, the bedding was fine, and the bore condition very good.  Some groups fired with the factory loads (3 shots at 50 yds) are:

Remington 150-grain: 0.63”, 0.70”, 0.62”

Federal 150-grain: 1.32”, 0.66”

Hornady Superformance 150 gr: 0.48”, 0.55”, 0.49”, 0.41”

The Remington results were very good, but the Hornady Superformance took high honors with four groups, fired consecutively on the same day, that averaged less than 1 MOA. I have to show you the picture.  I had no right to expect these results but there they are.

Four groups using Hornady Superformance .300 Savage 150 grain. Group at top left from fouling shots

Sure, they are only three-shot groups, but twelve shots with no sign of a flier.  I’ll take it, and I will look forward to trying some handloads soon.

Final Thoughts

So, I got me a Savage nineteen-twenty. Too bad it has been molested but the action is original and good enough to illustrate what it was like to handle and shoot the first sporting bolt action.  That is what I am interested in, design, function, and performance.  In those terms it seems that the first bolt action sporting rifle was a nearly perfect carry rifle for medium game.

And, I have grown very fond of Mr. Elk-Butt.

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Deer Ammo for the .30-30 Winchester

Need ammo for your 30-30? If you check Midway USA’s current web page you will find 38 different products listed.  Not bad for a cartridge that is more than 120 years old. And I think you could take a deer with almost every one of them.

So who needs help choosing deer ammo for their double thirty? I am not sure but we will find out because we have entered the age of dedicated marketing.  The box you formerly chose for deer might simply have said “150 grain Round Nose.”   Now, from several makers, the box will tell you plainly that you should use the load for deer.  We will describe the products and give some results of shooting each of them.

The Ammunition

Offerings of this type come from Hornady, Winchester, and Federal. Hornady calls theirs “American Whitetail.”  Winchester’s offering is “Deer Season XP,” and Federal’s is “Non-typical Whitetail.”  Take a look.

Left to right: Winchester. Hornady, and Federal deer ammo

In box design the Hornady is perhaps the winner.  It is certainly the most patriotic with “American” in the name on a background of Old Glory. The Winchester is more conventional with the usual Winchester logo and a fat, 10-point buck in the picture.  The Federal has a surreal flavor with a very nontypical skull rack but Federal also gets the American flag on a corner of the box..  All three are quite eye-catching and attractive.

Left to right: Winchester Deer Season; Hornady American Whitetail; Federal NonTypical

The loading is conventional, all three with 150-gr bullets loaded to the nominal .30-30 velocity of 2390 fps for a 24-in barrel.  The bullet designs make the talking points.  Hornady uses a round nose version of their famous interlock bullet and the resulting ammo “combines generations of ballistic know-how with modern components……”.  The Federal uses a familiar flat point design which they say “uses an optimized soft point bullet with a concentric jacket to provide tag punching accuracy and consistent, lethal wound channels.”  The Winchester bullet seems most notable with a “large diameter polymer tip (that) accelerates expansion resulting in rapid impact trauma.”  It is combined with a tapered jacket and alloyed lead core.  The tip is indeed quite large and round, almost enough to make a circus clown jealous.

I can’t tell you which of these bullets would be the best killer of deer. My prediction is that not much difference will be found, but you will have to try out one or more of them, and when you drop your deer please send me an email to describe your results.

Apparently, Remington has not entered this marketing game. There are no deer-specific boxes for the .30-30 or any other caliber in their online catalog.  Remington fans need not stay home, however, because the staid, old Inter-Lock loads are available in 150- and 170-gr versions.

The Guns

The rifles used for ammo testing are tried and true sporters that I have used in other projects. I trust them to give me reliable information. The Henry Model H009 steel lever action is an attractive, well-made performer that regularly groups 1.5 MOA, but I have shot many groups smaller than this.  It fills the bill for folks who want to see how a lever action rifle does with these loads.

Henry H009 Lever Action .30-30

My Remington 788 bolt action is my go-to gun when I want to see just how accurate a certain .30-30 load is. I have epoxy bedded the gun and it is a one MOA rifle on any day at the shooting bench.

Remington Model 788 .30-30

At the Range

Velocity

Bullet speeds were measured with a ProChrono chronograph set up 10 feet from the muzzle. The day was sunny at about 80 deg.  The data given are based on strings of at least 10 shots for each entry and are averages for the strings as calculated by the chronograph.

For the Henry Lever Action .30-30 (20-inch barrel)

  •      Hornady American Whitetail:  2322 fps, Standard Deviation (SD) 31 fps
  •      Winchester Deer Season:  2244 fps, SD 21 fps
  •      Federal NonTypical:  2286 fps, SD 10 fps

For the Remington Model 788 .30-30 (22-inch barrel)

  •      Hornady American Whitetail:  2281 fps, SD 19 fps
  •      Winchester Deer Season:  2271 fps,  SD 10 fps
  •       Federal NonTypical:  2370 fps, SD 24 fps

I did not expect any big surprises to show up in the velocities and none did. All met the modest expectations for .30-30 standard loads.  Worth noting is the strong speed shown by the Federal ammo in the Model 788’s 22-inch barrel.  Also eyecatching is the Hornady American Whitetail giving a higher velocity in the 20-inch Henry than in the 22-inch Remington.

All examples will provide deer killing energy at the usual .modest 30-30 ranges.

Accuracy

I used a bench rest to fire three shot groups at 50 yards. I like four shot groups better for accuracy evaluation, but, hey, this is ammo for hunting and it is expensive.  Three shots it is!  I fired a total of 28 groups for the three kinds of ammo in the two rifles.  Here is a table of results.

Hornady American Whitetail

  •       Henry Lever               0.90”     1.8 MOA
  •      Remington 788          0.34”     0.68 MOA

Winchester Deer Season XP

  •      Henry Lever               0.78”      1.56 MOA
  •      Remington 788         0.87”       1.74 MOA

Federal NonTypical Whitetail

  •       Henry Lever              1.06”       2.12 MOA
  •       Remington 788          0.72”     1.44 MOA

Yes, I think we have very good results here for accuracy of factory ammo. The largest groups averaging 2.12 minutes-of-angle were given by the Federal in the Henry, but 2 MOA has always been considered good performance for deer hunting at .30-30 ranges, and the Henry did better than that with the other two loads.

Groups from Winchester Deer Season with the Henry

The Hornady American Whitetail was spectacular in the Remington with three consecutive groups averaging 0.68 MOA (with one group of 0.5 MOA). The picture is convincing, but I still want to verify and add to these results on another trip to the range.  Within these two extremes the other groups fell in the 1.4 – 1.8 range.

Three consecutive groups, Hornady American Whitetail with the Remington 788

The Federal NonTypical gave the second best group average when fired from the Remington 788.

Five groups, Federal NonTypical fired from the Remington 788

So, if you have a favorite ammo company

among the three tested here, you can stick with it. The deer hunting market is large and the makers have to be competitive.  America is a great country.

What about other cartridges in the dedicated deer lineup, say .308 or .30-06? Sorry, no time, no data.  And, the .30-30 is one of my favorites.

P.S. I bet they all are good.

 

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No. 4 Shot in the .410 Shotgun

This post describes a few results of doing something no shotgun expert would recommend for hunting, namely, using No. 4 shot in the .410 shotgun.

Dad with his old .410

The picture shows my father, at advanced age, holding the .410 that he used as a youngster.  It is a “Hercules” from Montgomery Ward.  His comment that day was “Man, I wonder how many miles I carried this thing when I was running my trap lines.”

My father was in the last generation that could make a living on 160 acres, even when sharing half the grain with the landlord, who always got every ear of corn coming to him.  Dad had a formidable aptitude for hard work.  We had plenty to eat, good clothes, and an occasional new car or tractor.  My sister and I went to good colleges.  Smart pig raising contributed to this, but those days are gone forever.

Dad has also been gone a while now but he is not absent from the hearts and minds of folks in my family, most of all, me.  He told me many things and gave me much advice, as a good parent usually does for education of the offspring.  This has been of great value to me.  One of the lighter things he told me was the following:

“If you are going after rabbits or squirrels with a .410 you should use No. 4 shot!”

This, like most of dad’s advice, was based on experience, in this case I believe a lucky shot on a rabbit at range, maybe 30-35 yards when a single No. 4 pellet in the head dropped the luckless bunny.  It may have happened more than once but I’ll bet not many times.

Dad’s lethal .410: Hercules

Dad showed me how to shoot a shotgun with this family .410 single barrel.  As I grew, became more interested in guns and began to read a lot, I found that no shotgun writer would agree with my pop.  To most hunting journalists the .410 was little more than a toy, albeit a dangerous one.  The shot charge was too small and the long shot column in the small bore caused damage to a lot of pellets which then went astray.  The .410’s shot pattern was therefore small, ragged and thin, even at close range.  Shooting skeet with a .410 worked with tiny No. 9 shot, but if one absolutely had to go forth after game in the field with a .410 then shot no larger than No. 7-1/2 should be used.  Only a nincompoop would go forth with a load of No.4s.  This expert advice applied to both of the available .410 loads, the ½-oz and the ¾-oz.  This made sense to me because there are only 67 No. 4 shot in a ½-oz. load.  There are 173 No. 7-1/2 shot in the same weight and of course that would give a pattern of greater density.

But I chose not to argue with dad.  If a guy who can butcher a hog or overhaul a Farmall in his spare time tells you something, it just might be good.  So, we always had a box of No. 4 loads around the farmstead.  I slayed a few skunks, possums, and even ground squirrels with them and I saw dad drop a few fox squirrels out of trees during our regular fall trips to the hardwoods.  Why worry?  Then there was the warm summer night when dad, holding a flashlight under the barrel, took five small racoons out of the mulberry tree.  Close range, yes, but No.4 shot had something to do with it, too.

Now, many years later with me enjoying a flexible schedule, I wanted to return to some .410 shooting.  If anything, the .410 shotgun has regained popularity in recent times and one can find loads with No. 4 shot on many store shelves. The interest in the .410 as an arm for self defense has helped to motivate this.  Among specialty defense arms we have pump shotguns and the Taurus Judge, a chunk of a revolver that digests .45 Colt and .410 shells for defense.  Thus, .410 shells are now readily available with larger shot sizes, even buck shot.

Left: No.4 shot; Right: No. 8 shot

For this project I bought a couple boxes of Remington 2-1/2 inch shells loaded with ½-oz of No. 4 shot and headed for the range with cardboard and paper.  The picture shows the shot charge removed from a ½ oz load of No. 4s compared with the shot from a ½ oz load of No. 8s.  Lots more of the No. 8s, of course, but I am going to test the No. 4s.

 

I really enjoy patterning shotgun shells.  Patterns show you how you might do with bird or bunny.  Recognizing the limits of the .410 I started by blasting a big piece of cardboard at 16 yards.   The circle drawn around the pattern is 10” in diameter and it shows that just about all of the pellets fell within it.  There are 72 hits and that is a few more pellets than there should be in a half oz. of 4s.  I guess the Remington shells have a few more thrown in for good measure.  The pattern centered a bit higher than my hand drawn aiming point but there are still 24 hits in the aiming circle.  This pattern would be deadly on a game animal or bird, say, a pheasant, which would be destroyed. So we can say that 16 yards is too close, even for a light .410 load with large shot.

Pattern of half ounce of No.4 shot at 16 yards

We could also say that a bad guy who caught this load would be severely wounded, at least.  That bears on the use of the .410 for self defense.  This, however, is not a recommendation of the .410 shotgun for self defense.  No expert on self defense, I will leave recommendations to the specialists.

The next picture shows the result of a shot at a squirrel target at 16 yards.  The squirrel in the target is actually a bit smaller than a real squirrel would be and I still did not get the pattern centered on him.  Nevertheless, there are at least 12 shot pellets that would do damage and four of them are in the head.  I don’t think dad would have been happy with this many hits in his stew candidate.

Squirrel catching a half-ounce of No. 4s

However, as one moves back from the target the pattern of No. 4s quickly thins out and develops bare spots.  At 21 yards the 10” circle had only about half the hits that it did at 16 yards and there were several 2 to 3 inch holes, that is, areas with no hits at all.  But again, a squirrel target had seven hits, all in the body.  That squirrel would have been dead.

At 26 yards the load produced something that really did not look like a pattern, being very thin and patchy.  I was, however, again confounded by the fact that a squirrel target in the pattern had five hits at this distance, three of them very solid, that would have done him in.  Twenty-six yards is 78 feet and that would be the top of a tall hardwood here in the Midwest.  With this pattern Dad could drop a squirrel high in a tree, assuming a good part of nutsy’s body was accessible.  That is not always the case.

Of course, possessed of family loyalty, I like to think that dad had a point.  He had his experience and I have my patterns with dead squirrels on paper.  That amounts to some objective evidence.

The experts, however, are not wrong.  The patterns of light .410 loads become thin very quickly.  I think my patterns show that the .410 pattern has a lethal span of about 10 yards.  You can certainly give your chances a boost by using the .410 ¾ oz. load (actually, 11/16 oz. from most makers) with shot in the No. 6 or No. 7-1/2 sizes.  This is especially important for birds as they can cover the 10 yard span of lethality very quickly.

And, get plenty of practice because it is going to be a real challenge regardless of load!

Hercules .410 receiver

 

 

 

 

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A 7.65 Argentine Sporter

This post describes a bolt action, sporting rifle based on the Mauser Model 1891, generally known as the Argentine Mauser.

Summertime

Is accompanied by the ubiquitous flower we know as Queen Anne’s Lace. Anne became Queen of England in 1702 and ruled until her death in 1714.  I suppose she liked lace but my brief studies revealed no details on that topic.  For me the importance of this lovely flower is that its appearance means that springtime is definitely finished and the year is starting to mature.  So, I had better be making some progress toward the year’s goals.  Time to admire the wildflowers of summer, however, and to wonder how that very tiny, black blossom always gets right in the center of the bloom.

The 7.65 Argentine Mauser

This Mauser brothers issue has an action that first appeared in the Mauser Model 1889, a landmark in Mauser development because it was the first “small” caliber Mauser for smokeless powder and it introduced a bolt with dual, opposed locking lugs that became standard practice and is still with us today. The bolt took its cartridges from a single stack, vertical magazine that could be charged from a stripper clip.  A few changes were made when Argentina placed a large order for military rifles.  The gun they got was the Mauser

Model 1891, often called the “7.65 Argentine” because it fired the 7.65 x 53 Mauser cartridge.  What it looks like is shown in the picture.  It is a typical military configuration for the time, a long stock with two bands, a ladder sight, and a straight bolt handle.  The long magazine is an identifying feature.

An Argentine Sporter

Good bolt action sporting rifles were often made by converting surplus military rifles. I have always liked the looks of sporters based on the Model 1891.  They are compact, have good lines, and look handy and effective.  Some folks may not like the long magazine, but I do.  It blends with the trigger guard and is an identifying feature, not to mention that it holds five rounds of powerful 7.65 ammo.  Then, when you see one up close, the level of craftsmanship is really impressive.

Sporter based on Model 1891 Mauser, the Argentine Mauser

The largest number of Argentines did not hit the shores of the USA until the waves of surplus militaries showed up in the 1950s and 1960s.   These waves included other Mauser models, including the Model 1898 German and the Model 1909 Argentine.  These were the most advanced Mausers and the ones considered to be safest and best for conversion to a hunting rifle.

Receiver of 1891 Mauser

Nonetheless, the 1891 was popular for sporterization because it was an easy conversion. No rebarreling was necessary because the 7.65 x 53 cartridge was an excellent hunting cartridge that got the job done.  Surplus military and factory rounds were both available.  The action was not strong enough for conversion to .30-06 or .270.  Just cut and recrown the barrel, install a new front sight, shorten and reshape the stock and you were good to go after deer, bear, elk, whatever.  A talented gun tinkerer could do the job (working patiently and carefully, of course).  Gunsmith services for a scope base and trigger work would up the ante.

But none of this was really necessary in the heyday of surplus Argentines.  Folks like Sears and Roebuck did the work and sold the product at a low price.  I believe other merchandisers, say J. C. Penney and Woolworth’s did also.  The gun in this article had that kind of origin.

My 1891 Argentine Sporter

OK, so you are not yet convinced. Stay with the program a while longer and take another

Front sight ramp

look at the sporter in the pic above.  The barrel, keeping its chambering for the 7.62 x 53, has been shortened to 24 inches.  The rear ladder sight was retained while a new front sight ramp was installed.  The original, military stock has been shortened appropriately and carries the military butt plate.  The bolt has been bent down a bit.  Receiver marking says it was made by Deutsche Waffen und Munitions Fabriken (DWM) in Berlin.  The Argentine crest has been ground off the receiver ring and a tiny inscription “7.65 X 53” has been stamped on the top.

Receiver text. Note handshake icon on receiver ring and Phrygian cap icon on bolt release

The excellent condition makes me wonder whether the rifle was ever issued. Except for a few splotches of corrosion due to storage, the metal finish is very good.  The wood, except for a few handling scratches, seems new.  The handguard finish does not match the stock and is the only component that is not original to the rifle.  A number of icons stamped in the wood, including a serial number, never saw a piece of sandpaper.  The action shows no sign of any wear.  Function is quite smooth.

Serial numbers of all parts, including the stock, are matching. They indicate manufacture in the year 1900.  Earlier examples of the Argentine Mauser were made by Ludwig Loewe of Berlin.  Loewe was merged with an ammo company in 1896 and the combo became known as Deutsch Waffen und Munitions Fabrik.  Argentines made after that time are marked with this ID,   but some examples of the later 1909 Argy were manufactured in Argentina and are so marked.  When your piece says Loewe or DWM, you know you have the German quality.  That applies to all 1891s.

There are several small icons that are stamped in the wood and metal of an Argentine Mauser. One is an image of hands clasped in a handshake.  This is a symbol of unity and represents the unification of the provinces of Argentina.  Another small icon is best described as looking like the hat that the Smurfs wore.  Remember them?  It is called a Phrygian cap and its use goes back to antiquity.  During the French Revolution the wearing of a red Phygian cap was a sign of the quest for liberty. Argentina cherished its freedom as it was sometimes threatened by Chile and Brazil.  I think these icons give the Argentine a sense of national identity.

Points of Interest in Design

The picture of the action removed from the stock illustrates functional simplicity, with some features that will still be found on sporting rifles. One such is a recoil lug made as part of the action frame beneath the receiver ring.  This lug has a threaded collar that engages the front receiver screw after it has passed through the front of the trigger guard.  The receiver ring and bridge are relatively short and the rails are thick, giving an action that is stiff and

strong.  The rear receiver screw passes through the rear of the trigger guard and threads into the tang behind the receiver bridge.  The magazine construction is quite robust.  The magazine can be removed but is not meant to be removed in operation.  Cartridges are pushed through the spring steel lips of the mag from the top.  This works very well.  The receiver bridge has a slot behind the mag to guide a stripper clip for battle use.

The one piece bolt features dual l locking lugs and a short hook extractor. Overall, the bolt resembles some much more modern bolts. The face is recessed for the cartridge rim and there is a slot for ejector travel in the left locking lug.  There is a cutout at the bottom of the face but it is not large enough to admit the case head.  The action therefore operates as a push feed.  At the end there is a bolt shroud with a three-position safety wing.  The main spring of the striker is very strong, but there is a long travel and subsequent long lock time.

Argentine Mauser bolt

If you haven’t thought much of old military rifles you should find a nice Mauser and look inside the tree. Well, you don’t have to do that because I will give you a good look in the next picture.

Inletting of the walnut stock

The inletting of the wood and the fit of action to the wood is superb. Every feature of the action is supported.  Note that there is a small metal wedge in the wood at the front of the recoil lug.  This bears on the action screw socket and keeps the recoil lug snug against the wood at its rear face.  Other features are revealed by comparing the action photo with the inlet photo.  Note that there is metal-to-metal contact between the recoil lug and the front screw guide of the bottom metal when the front screw is drawn tight to secure the metal to the stock .  Note also that there is a metal tube that guides the rear action screw and gives positive spacing between the rear tang and the bottom metal.  The effect of these features is that the Argentine Mauser is pillar bedded as it comes to you.  Seeing this, I know that, despite being an addicted bedding freak, I will not touch the wood to metal arrangement until after I have done a lot of shooting with the piece. It should shoot quite well as is..

Ammo for the 7.65 x 53

Cartridge comparison, L to R: .300 Savage; .308 Winchester; 7.65 Argentine; >30-06 Springfirld

There are four factory loads available. Two are made by Prvi Partizan Uzice (PPU) in Serbia.  They have a full metal jacket, 174-grain load and a 180-grain soft point that would be suitable for hunting. Both are available in the USA and are the least expensive factory loads for the Argentine.  Norma loads a 174-grain soft point and it is expensive.  Most interesting to me is a 150-grain load sold by Graf & Sons and boxed under their name.  The box says that the ammo is made under contract with Hornady.  The brass has a PPU headstamp but I suppose the bullet is a Hornady number.  This is the only 150-grain load available.

7.65 ammo from Graf & Sons (Hornady) and PPU

The 7.65 Argentine Sporter with Factory Ammo

To make the rifle a bit friendlier for my old eyes I enlarged the V-notch of the rear sight with a triangular file. This makes it a little easier to float the front bead in the rear notch and to center the bead in the circular target that I like to use.  It also helped to use an aperture on my glasses to increase depth of field in the axis of sight alignment.  I fired three-shot groups at fifty yards.  Feeding, extraction, and ejection were perfect.

Velocities given by the three factory loads I tried were PPU 174 gr,  2462 fps;  PPU 180 gr,  2413 fps;  Graf/Hornady 150 gr, 2723 fps.  The thing to note here is the zippiness of the Hornady 150-gr load.  I feel that Hornady must be using a Hodgdon Superformance powder to get that kind of velocity at 7.65 Mauser pressure.  No question that this load is in the same league as a .308 and would knock a deer into next week.

Group size was uniform and fell in the range of 1.0 – 1.5 inches. One group of 0.6 in  was obtained with the Graf 150 gr load.  That brought a smile to my face and a motivation to continue working with this gun.  Bench testing worked OK but the steel butt plate gives the shoulder a real thump – painful if the butt is not well placed.

Measurement with a Stony Point headspace gauge showed that firing moved the case shoulder forward a distance of 0.006 inch, so headspace seems OK.

Possibilities for Handloading the 7.65 x 53

Loading dies for the 7.65 x 53 are available from the usual makers of loading equipment. I bought a set from Lyman and the dies have worked fine.  Loading technique is the same as would be used for any other rimless, shouldered cartridge.  No special tricks or tips required, but you must remember that bullets must be 0.312” in diameter.  Since that is what the .303 British takes, there is a good choice of bullets available.

Several of the modern loading handbooks, Hornady’s, for instance, include loads for the 7.65 Argentine. The Model 1891 is not weak, but I think it best to stay with modest to moderate loads.  Such loads are easier on the shoulder and have the best chance of exhibiting fine accuracy.  For hunting, the Argentine is safe with heavier loads, as the results with the aforementioned Graf/Hornady show.

For general shooting pleasure, I think I will seek a load that performs at the .30-30 level. The Hornady Manual says that 36 gr. of IMR 3031 will kick out a 150-gr. Bullet at about 2400 fps.  Thinking ball powder, W748 should work well.

Collecting, Anyone?

I have had my eye on ads for used guns and their prices for many years. The days of low-priced, surplus military rifles of quality are long over.  There are many of these bangers, however, and they do turn over as collectors get interested in something else or go to their reward.  If you stay vigilant and knowledgeable a good buy can come your way.  That said, the cost of historically important military rifles has increased significantly in the last few years.  That would include examples of the Krag/Jorgensen, the 1903 Springfield, the M1 Garand, and of course, the Mauser.

Mausers were never used by the American Military (although the 1903 Springfield is a really good copy of the 1898 Mauser). However the role played by Mausers in the technical development of bolt action, military arms should make them attractive to all arms enthusiasts.  These developments would be well illustrated by perhaps a half dozen rifles from the late 19th century.  And the cost would be way, way less than a similar assemblage of Colt revolvers or Winchester rifles.  Cost, of course, is affected by the condition of the individual arms, pristine examples bringing many times the price of rough examples or rifles that have been modified in some way.

So, “serious” collectors would scoff at my barrel bobbed ’91 Argentine Mauser.   I will only say that it has matching numbers, is in excellent condition, functions as it should, shoots very well, and fully illustrates Mauser design of its time.  It is a part of American sporting history as well as of the history of military arms design.  I enjoy owning it and shooting it, and that is not likely to change.

 

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A Thompson Center G2 Contender in .32 S & W Long

This post describes the design and performance of a Thompson/Center G2 Contender equipped with a .32 S&W Long barrel made by Match Grade Machine of Hurricane, Utah.

But first, I have to present my annual, winter bald eagle picture.  This Mr. Baldy perched in a hardwood by the house at ATOTT Headquarters.  I believe he is thinking about moving because there is no open water left in the frozen bay.  I am no nature photographer but I try.  This was taken with a Fuji FinePix 4500 (14 mega pixels) with lens at about 30X zoom, hand held through the glass of our front door.  The image stabilizer removed most of my shaking so the image is not too bad.

Master of all he surveys

Thompson Center Contender

The T/C Contender is a visible hammer, break-open, single shot pistol that appeared in 1967.  It was invented by Warren Center while he was working for the K. W. Thompson Tool Co. which then manufactured the pistol for sale.  Primarily a hunting arm, the Contender enjoyed some popularity and the Thompson Center line expanded to include a carbine and a stronger action for powerful cartridges that could be had in pistol or rifle configuration.  The original Contender action was replaced by the improved G2 model in 1998.  The company was bought by Smith and Wesson in 2007 and production was moved to Springfield, Massachusetts.  The Contender disappeared from the market for a few years during the gun market craziness that attended certain governmental administrations.  The G2 Contender and other single shot T/C products reappeared in 2015 when one could again buy a Contender pistol or carbine.

The versatility of the Contender owes to the possibility of using interchangeable barrels to shoot different calibers with one action.  Rimfire and centerfire cartridges are both possible because of the Contender’s clever, hammer-mounted firing pin combo.  Thus, you may fire the .17 HMR or the .44 Remington Magnum, and most everything in between, from the same action by using easily interchangeable barrels.  The sights, optical or metallic, remain attached to the barrels so resighting is not necessary when changing to a new caliber.  That has a lot of appeal.

My Thompson/Center Contender

I purchased my G2 Contender pistol with walnut stock and a 12-inch barrel in .22 rimfire.  My supplier was the E. Arthur Brown Company, an outfit that lists a lot of products by T/C, Ruger, and others.  I found EABCo very good to deal with.  Since I wanted to work with the .32 S & W Long I immediately began to look for a company that could supply Contender barrels in custom chamberings.  Cartridges like the 32 Long are simply too obscure for production of factory barrels.  Lucky for me I found my desired barrel could be made and supplied by Match Grade Machine of Hurricane, Utah.  At their web site it is easy to design and order the barrel you want.  This company provides an excellent product and they shipped mine in about four weeks.  Outstanding!  A visit to their web site will show that the company can supply barrels in many chamberings for all models of T/C pistols and carbines.  A picture of the barrel sent to me follows.  Note that this bull barrel has the optional scope base for Weaver rings.  Note also the large hole in the front of the lug that admits the pin used to attach the barrel to the action

Ten-inch barrel, .32 S&W Long, from Match Grade Machine

The EABCo will do an extra-cost action job on your T/C frame if you so specify.  One may well ask why one needs to pay for an action job to get a good trigger on a gun as expensive as a G2 Contender.  My thought is that many parts in today’s manufacturing world are milled on CNC machines.  These machines are so precise that parts produced on them are fully interchangeable and easily assembled into a finished gun.  However, these parts may not mesh quite as well as in the good old days when some hand finishing was used.  Hence, the need for additional tuning to get a fine trigger.  I paid the price and I am happy with the result.  My Contender operates smoothly and the trigger is light and crisp.

In the picture with the hammer cocked you can see the hammer pin set for centerfire operation.  Turning the lever on top of the hammer will set the pin higher for rimfire operation.  It would be difficult to think of a simpler method for allowing both types of operation in the same pistol.

Cocked, showing hammer set for centerfire opertion

The next picture shows the assembled pistol with a Leupold 2X handgun scope installed.  This is the weapon that went to the range with me for testing factory ammo and a few handloads, primarily at 25 yards.

G2 Contender with MGM barrel and Leupold 2 scope

It Is A Long Barrel

At 10 inches the MGM barrel is quite long compared with a barrel on the usual .32 revolver.  Most common on a wheelgun is 4 inches, as on an S & W Model 30/31 or a Colt Police Positive, these revolvers being pocket pistols.  A few 5- and six-inch barrels may be encountered.  Thus, my T/C outfit should show comparatively high velocities in comparison.  Velocity results for ten-shot strings came out like this:

Remington .32 S&W Long 98 gr RN averaged 841 fps Ex Spread 53 fps

Magtech .32 S&W Long 98 gr RN averaged 826 fps Ex Spread 58 fps

Sellier & Bellot .32 S&W Long 100 gr FN averaged 1009 fps Ex Spread 62 fps

Handload 3.3 gr Universal Clays and 85 gr Hornady XTP averaged 930 fps ES 50 fps

Handload 3.3 gr Universal Clays and 90 gr Sierra JHP averaged 977 fps ES 96 fps

Handload 3.7 gr Universal Clays and 100 gr Hornady XTP aved 1068 fps ES 115 fps

Handload 3.3 gr Universal Clays and 95 gr SWC aved 1106 fps ES 50 fps

These velocities might prompt me to sing a couple choruses of “Happy Days Are Here Again!”  They are really quite satisfying.  The Remington and Magtech factory loads give about 100 -150 fps higher velocity than they would from a four inch barrel.  The Sellier and Bellot is astounding from the 10-inch MGM and I will have more to say about that later.

Left to right: Remington 98 gr RN, Sellier & Bellot 100 gr FN, HL Sierra 90 gr JHP, HL Hunter’s Supply 95 gr SWC

But Could I Hit Anything With It?

What a downer it would be to have to report poor accuracy, but I do not need to because the gun shows target grade accuracy.  The barrel, as shown in the pictures, is heavy.  The trigger is crisp and light at about three pounds and the 2X Leupold scope does its job well.  You could fire the pistol offhand with a two-hand hold if it did not take too long to break the shot but I shot over sandbags for my group shooting.

Best accuracy results were obtained with handloads using the lighter jacketed bullets.  The picture shows two groups shot at 25 yards, one using Hornady’s 85 gr XTP and one with Sierra’s 90 gr HP.  I must say that I have not done enough handloading and shooting yet in order to reliably pick winners.  The Sierra and Hornady perform about the same here and both will be capable of consistent 25-yd groups under an inch.  The Hornady 100 gr XTP handload, which sped away at 1068 fps, did not do quite as well as the 85 grainer.

Two groups, Hornady 85 gr XTP left, Sierra 90 gr JHP right (25 yards)

The Remington and Magtech factory loads were so-so with groups being a bit less than 2 inches.

Sellier & Bellot

Sellier & Bellot is a manufacturer of cartridge ammunition located in the Czech Republic.  The company is owned by CBC, a Brazilian company that also makes Magtech ammunition.

Many S&B products are imported into the United States.  Their.32 S&W Long uses a flat-nosed, 100 gr bullet so the cartridge is similar to the old, American made .32 Colt New Police but it can be fired in any revolver chambered for the .32 S&W Long.  This ammo has been available from many ammo sources on the internet.

The S&B 32 Long performs about the same as ammo from other factories, that is, unsuitable for most handgun applications other than plinking due to light loading.  On a hot day it did manage 696 fps (ES 107, SD 31) from the four-inch barrel of my S&W Model 30-1.

I got a surprise from the TC Contender with its 10-inch MGM barrel.  From this barrel the S&B ammo produced 1009 fps (ES 62, SD 16).  This performance was verified on two other occasions.  The velocity increase of the S&B is not matched by Remington (841 fps) or Magtech (826 fps) ammo, although they good gave good velocities.  I conclude that the Sellier & Bellot 32 Long ammo uses powder that is more progressive and is able to take advantage of the longer barrel length.  I have to admire a barrel that puts 32 Long performance in a league with the 32 H&R Magnum.

Accuracyof the S&B ammo was very good with an eight-shot group measuring 1.12 in.  The best seven were in a bunch that measured 0.80 in.

Group from Sellier and Bellot 100 gr lead flat nose, 25 yards

Conclusions

The Thompson Center G2 Contender with 10 in. MGM is a combination of high quality products.  It works extremely well and gives much greater performance than one usually expects from the .32 S&W Long.  That is exactly what I was looking for – the answer to the question “How good is the .32 S&W Long?”  The answer:  In this Contender it is as good as the .32 H&R Magnum used in 4-6 inch barrels. Handloads using medium burning pistol powders like Universal Clays,  A #5, and Unique are outstanding.  It is great that jacketed bullets work really well and can be given velocities that will insure expansion.

This outfit would work really well for small game hunting, taking varmints, and silhouettes.  I have only begun to explore the velocity and accuracy performance of handloads.  That is where I will concentrate my future work with this great, single shot handgun.

T/C G2 Contender frame and custom .32 Long barrel

 

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Bullet Runout and Rifle Accuracy

Assume that a rifle has a well-cut chamber. The chamber is perfectly aligned with the bore of the rifle and provides a good fit for the cartridge case.  A cartridge chambered and waiting for the firing pin constitutes the “initial conditions” of a shot.  Shooters believe that a very accurate load will result when initial conditions are very uniform from shot to shot.  That is, accuracy is related to initial conditions.

Lest you say “Duh! That’s obvious!” consider this. If there are deviations in initial conditions that degrade accuracy, a vestige of the initial conditions must persist when the bullet has emerged from the muzzle and is on the way to the target.  These deviations are not corrected by the bullet passing through, say, 24 inches of precision-rifled bore in a fine target rifle.  Why?  This has always seemed remarkable to me.  I will say more about this later with a possible explanation.

Many reloaders take great pains to achieve uniform initial conditions and the best accuracy with their reloaded ammo. Bench rest competitors are probably the main practitioners of this “precision reloading” process.  Most of us don’t want to be as persnickety as the bench rest clan is. However, there are a couple of things which the average, noncompetitive reloader/shooter can do to get the best accuracy for her rifle.  These are:  1) Insure cartridge case uniformity, and 2)  Minimize bullet runout.

Cartridge cases are uniform when the brass in each is the same thickness all way around, that is, the mass of brass is concentric about the long axis of the case. Commercial brass is quite uniform but there will be some variability.  A crude idea can be gained by weighing your empty cases.  Variations in weight may indicate variations in concentricity.  This is most important with small cases like the .22 Hornet, for which I once found a variation of 8% in the weight of one batch of new cases.  For precision work I sort my cases by weight.

Another indication arises from measurement of neck wall thickness. If that value varies it can indicate a lack of concentricity for the entire length of the case.  This can be measured and a good case will not exceed 0.001” variation in neck wall thickness around the complete neck cylinder.

Bullet runout is perhaps more deserving of attention. It exists when the long axis of a seated bullet is not coincident with the long axis of the cartridge case. That is, the bullet in the loaded round is cocked in the cartridge case and it will not be perfectly aligned with the rifle’s bore.  It then gets off to a bad start when ignition occurs. Bullet runout may be caused by an issue with the sizing die or the seating die, or both (!)  Bullet runout is also easily measured but I have not seen a statistically reliable analysis that quantitatively relates the degree of runout to some measure of accuracy.  However, I think precision shooters feel that a runout of 0.005” is too much for best accuracy, and a runout of 0.01″ is really bad news.  On the other hand it is possible to keep runout down around 0.001” with good reloading tools and technique.

Speaking of good reloading technique the tools needed for insuring the uniformity of initial conditions are readily available to reloaders.

Some tools you may already have are:

An accurate digital scale.

A dial or digital caliper.

A case gauge for your cartridge.

A neck sizing die for your cartridge.

Then, some tools you may like to get are:

A case neck thickness gauge.

A case neck and bullet runout measurement tool.

A match grade bullet seater for your cartridge.

Left: Lee Collet sizing die. Right: Forster Ultra Micrometer seating die

Loading some .30-30 Winchester rounds is a good way for me to illustrate the techniques. I have a very accurate bolt action rifle for testing the accuracy of finished rounds.  The .30-30 is economical of reloading components and comfortable to shoot at the range.  Most importantly, it responds as well as any cartridge to precision reloading techniques.

Measuring neck wall thickness with Sinclair tool

I started by sorting cases by weight. I had 36 once-fired Winchester cases that had been used in the rifle I wanted to use for accuracy testing.  I arbitrarily separated the lightest 6 and the heaviest 5, leaving 25 cases to proceed.  I measured the neck wall thickness of the 25 using the Sinclair tool.  All 25 showed a variation of no more than .001” around the circumference midpoint of the neck  A couple of the weight culls showed 0.002.”

 

Next, I used a Lee collet die to neck size the chosen cases. I have had good results with this Lee product.  It resizes by squeezing the case neck to a mandrel rod rather than by running

Wilson Case Gage with .30-30 inserted

the neck into a cylinder section of the die.  This eliminates the need for an expander button on the decapping rod, a feature that often causes neck runout problems.  The Lee collet die does not set back the shoulder of the case.  If I measure the case with a Wilson .30-30 Case Gage before sizing the rim is a bit higher than the face of the gauge.  After sizing with the Lee collet it measures exactly the same.  Just a bit long but the case chambers easily and has a very good fit with the chamber.

Then, I loaded the powder charge, 31.5 grains of Winchester 748. I weighed the charges because this is an accuracy test, but since 748 measures so well that might not have been necessary.

Loaded .30-30 with Sierra 170-grain flat nose bullets

 

Sierra 170-grain flat nose bullets were seated using the Forster Ultra Micrometer seater die shown in the picture. This is a great seater die, supporting case and bullet in excellent alignment and allowing micrometer adjustment of seating depth.

Measuring case runout with the RCBS Casemaster

 

 

Concentricity of completed rounds was evaluated using an RCBS Case Master. This tool allows a dial indicator button to bear on a spot of your choice, either on the case neck or the bullet.  For .30-30 I usually choose a spot on the bullet just before the ogive begins and none of my 25 rounds showed more than 0.001” of bullet runout.  I had done my best to insure their uniformity.

I hasten to say that I am no more than average in handiness, but I have a lot of loading experience and I work slowly and methodically for this kind of project. You could get the same results.

 

So let us go to the range

I used my Remington Model 788 for the accuracy firing. The 788, a bolt action rifle now long discontinued, had a good reputation for accuracy in all of its chamberings, which included the .30-30.  Mine has always been superbly accurate, especially after I epoxy bedded the action and floated the barrel.  It simply will not throw a flyer and has been my main rifle for evaluating all kinds of factory and handloaded .30-30 ammo.  It is equipped with a Leupold VX-3 14X scope.

Remington Model 788, Calliber .30 WCF

Firing was done with targets set at fifty yards. I used the 25 rounds for one fouling shot followed by 6 consecutive 4-shot groups.  Four shot groups are usually good for determining grouping ability and tendency toward flyers.  I fired slowly so as to avoid effects of barrel heat.

Two four-shot groups

Two groups from the set are shown in the picture. The left one measures 0.44,”  the right one 0.16.”  That benchrest quality group, remember, has four shots in it.  These are two of the best, the largest of the six being 0.98″ and the smallest 0.16.”  The average of the six groups was found to be 0.57.”  Omitting the largest group gave an average for the best five groups of 0.49″ or 0.98 MOA.

I must say that these are extremely good results considering that:

1) They were obtained using an economy model sporting rifle, well bedded but having no trigger work or action truing.

2) They were obtained using a typical, mass-produced .30-30 hunting bullet, not a target bullet.

3) They were obtained using a cartridge not generally accepted as having superior accuracy.

What shall we conclude about bullet runout?

Can we say that the fine results came from keeping bullet runout very low? Can we say that the results are much better with the measured 0.001″ runout than they would have been with 0.004 or 0.005″ of bullet runout?

I don’t think so.

What we can say is that the loading techniques that I used allowed my good rifle to shoot its best. Low bullet runout made a contribution but there is not enough data here to show a performance difference attributable only to low runout.  Along this line we may also point out that one may have a rifle that does not shoot well enough to show a difference in grouping ability with varying bullet runout.  And it is likely that some other loading variable, say, overall cartridge length (distance of bullet from lands) may overshadow any variation due to runout.  Yes, ammo evaluation should only be attempted with a rifle of proven ability whose response to various cartridge characteristics and loading techniques is very well known.

Personally, I feel that my Model 788 is good enough and that the low bullet runout of my ammo played a good part in this test. Since the layout of time and money is relatively low, it is definitely worth my while to follow the procedures outlined above.

Now tell me, Oh tell me why

variation due to a bit of bullet runout is not corrected by travel through, say, 24 inches of a great barrel in a fine rifle but rather, persists in some way to produce variation at the target.

I suggest that a cocked bullet is damaged by being blown violently forward into the lands when the cartridge is ignited. More specifically, the side of the cocked bullet closer to the bore is abraded so the bullet is then slightly out of balance.  Of course, this condition persists after the bullet has left the barrel and it affects the bullet’s flight to the target, ultimately causing larger groups.

This idea may not be original with me but I have not seen it expressed elsewhere.  Could have missed it, of course

To test this idea I loaded some additional low runout ammo and abraded the ogive of each cartridge with a file. This amounted to a flat strip about 1/16 inch wide on the ogive.

Six-shot group with abraded bullet ogive

There are a number of reports in the shooting literature of experiments made shootingcartridges with intentionally damaged bullet points. They have often showed little difference in accuracy when compared with undamaged rounds.  Firing my abraded rounds also proved inconclusive, that is, too few shots and too little difference in the group.  As the picture shows, a six shot group of abraded rounds measured 0.91.”  This is smaller than one of the groups in the main series, so, no proof at all that the abrasion made a difference.

Unfortunately, winter has ended my shooting projects for the year and I do not know when I will get back to this question. If you want to abrade some rounds and try them out, let me know the results.  In the meantime, I will always use my Lee Collet Sizer and my Forster Ultra Seater for loading my 30-30 rounds.

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Golden Age, Golden Gun

This post reviews the Henrry Golden Boy, a high grade, lever action .22 rifle. But first, let’s make a stop at….

The Bullet Stop Gun Shop

My favorite gun shop

The Bullet Stop Gun Shop, located on Missouri 136 nine miles east of Unionville, is owned and operated by Jim and Doreen Madison. It is a continuation of a family business that was started by Jim’s dad in Rockford, Illinois. The Missouri branch opened when Jim and Doreen liked the country around the little town of Hartford, MO and obtained some land there.  Over a period of several years they have built a thriving business with new and used rifles, shotguns, and handguns.  You might find a great, new deer rifle, carry pistol, or quail gun, or, you might pick up a good wall hanger for a low price.  Speaking of prices, they are reasonable because the Madison’s like to sell a lot of guns.  And they will consider offers and trades.  A specialty of the Bullet Stop is the growing line of Henry rifles.  Mr. Anthony Imperato, owner and president of Henry Repeating Arms, has visited several times and he keeps the Madison’s supplied with beautiful examples of his company’s arms.  Sometimes they are on sale, so a visit to the Bullet Stop is definitely worth your while.  You would enjoy coming during “Hartford Days,” sponsored by Jim and Doreen annually in early June.

The Henry Golden Boy

Henry Golden Boy on a snazzy T-shirt

Lever action, 22 rimfire rifles have been around a long time. Exhibition shooter Annie Oakley used one in her shows in the late 1800s.  Annie’s was made by Marlin.  An assistant would stand at thirty paces and launch a dime into the air and Annie would knock it into the next county.  At the same distance she could cut a playing card on edge and put several shots in the piece while it was falling.

Henry Repeating Arms of Bayonne, New Jersey has been making lever action rifles since 1996. In the 20 years since that date the Henry line has greatly expanded to include rimfire and centerfire arms in a great variety of models and types of finish.  The quality of Henry arms and the fact that they are made in America has made them very popular and new models keep appearing every year.

Henry’s Golden Boy follows from their original blue and wood model H001. It is a lever action rifle chambered to fire the .22 short, long and long rifle cartridges.  It has a full-length magazine and barrel of blued steel, a walnut stock and forend, a polished brass (strong alloy) receiver and brass furniture, all combined in a very attractive rifle that is adult in size.  This combination of features evokes visions of the past in western America, and it will appeal to folks with a nostalgic bent.

The history that the Golden Boy honors began with the Winchester Model of 1866, the first lever action rifle to bear the Winchester name. This rifle’s brass frame invited the name

The first Winchester, the Model 1866 or “Yellow Boy”

“Yellow Boy” and so it has been known ever since.  It was a popular rifle in its day and was produced until 1899, years after newer models, such as the 1873 Winchester, appeared with stronger steel frames.  Modern replicas of the 66 are available, but if you want a rimfire rifle, you need the Henry Golden Boy.

Comparing pictures you will see that the Golden Boy and the old 66 have a very similar configuration with lever, tubular magazine, octagon barrel, exposed hammer, walnut stock, brass forend keeper and curved brass butt plate. The receiver shape of the Henry is a strong echo of the Yellow Boy.  A big difference is that the Golden Boy loads at a port in the magazine tube while the .44 caliber Model 66 has a loading gate on the side of the receiver.  I am not sure where the pleasure of using something with a strong historical reference comes from, but the Golden Boy delivers a bunch of it.

Using the Golden Boy

The pictures in the following section show the main features of the Golden Boy. The stock is straight-grain black walnut with a smooth, satin finish.  The action open picture shows

American black walnut stock

lever travel with the bolt cocking the hammer in typical lever action style.  The two large screws have opposite numbers on the other side of the receiver.  Remove these screws and you can remove the action brass that is simply a cover for the actual alloy action underneath.

Golden Boy action open

 

 

A great feature, this allows the brass to be easily sent out for engraving, as much as you would like.

The rear sight is a semi-buckhorn type with an adjustable blade insert with diamond indicator.  The front sight is a brass bead on a post.  Note that the end of the muzzle is polished, giving an indication of the care used in finishing this rifle.  It is a beautiful job.

Rear sight

Front sight. Note polished end of muzzle

I test fired the GB using a few kinds of 22 long rifle ammo, regular and high velocity, solid point and hollow point.   Function was superb and the lever operation was very smooth.  The open sights are very good but they present some difficulty for folks like me with very “mature” eyes that do not accommodate to distance like they did in the past.  Still, I was able to shoot groups of less than one inch at 25 yards by using a target with a black ring rather than a black bull.  Please note:  This is my own shooting with the open sights.  The Henry will do better than this.

Three 6-shot groups with open sights at 25 yards

You might ask…..

Is this a rifle for young people or a rifle for adults? The answer is “BOTH!”  Older folks might appreciate the historical reference more, but youngsters will also like the gun’s looks and its lever action function.  It would be a bit heavy for small beginners.

A couple of my grandsons tried the Golden Boy out with results shown in the target picture. Firing a ten-shot group, a twelve-year old did the crow and a fifteen-year-old the squirrel.

Ten-shot groups by boys at 25 yards

They had no trouble with loading or firing and they thought that hitting the target consistently was easy. The grandson shooting gave us a chance to try out the Golden Boy with a scope. Henry has a neat way of attaching the scope base on the barrel flat just in front of the receiver.  Thus, no holes need be drilled and tapped in the brass and the taps in the barrel are covered by the iron sight base when it is in place.  The resulting cantilever arrangement is solid with a scope of rimfire size.  We put a 4X Simmons 22 Mag on for scope shooting and it worked fine.  With the scope attached I was able to shoot groups of less than an inch at 50 yards.

Golden Boy with Henry scope mount and Simmons 22 Mag 4X

Final Thoughts

I think I live in a Golden Age when I can buy a product like the Golden Boy at a store like the Bullet Stop Gun Shop. Let’s keep it that way in America.

The Henry Golden Boy is an American-made rifle with great quality and performance. I have to wait for warmer weather to fully investigate its accuracy with a variety of ammo but indications are that it will continue to be outstanding.  This gun would be really good for all of the usual 22 applications including small-game hunting, varmint control, plinking and, especially, showing it to your buddies.   If you use it regularly for these activities you will want a good, soft case to protect the finish of the wood and metal.

Everyone enjoys examining and shooting the Golden Boy. I like it, my grandsons like it, and I am sure that Annie Oakley would have liked it a lot.  Remember one thing.  If you use the Golden Boy in a shooting session with a youngster, be sure to tell him/her about the Winchester Model 66 and its place in history.

 

 

 

 

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The Savage Super Sporter .30-30

Somehow I just can’t seem to stifle

My love for an old, plain rifle.

Found this Savage Super Sporter,

Thought “Buy it? Well, I think I ort’ ter.”

Not since a kid have I had such fun,

Read on because, who knows?

You just might like this plain, old gun!

 

The eve of the Great Depression was not a good time to bring out new products, but that is when Savage introduced the clip-fed, bolt action rifle known as the Super Sporter.  It appeared in 1928 and was produced until about 1940.  It was not reintroduced after WW II.  That explains why total production was only a bit more than 20,000 units.

There is a bit of confusion about the nomenclature of this rifle. There were two models, designated the Model 40 and Model 45.  I believe that all units have the “Super Sporter” marking, but they are not marked “40” or “45.”  Both models had the same action but the Model 45 was spiffier with a checkered stock and an aperture sight.  There may have been other minor differences.  The Model 40 was produced in the greater number.  They were both offered in .250 Savage (250-3000), .30-30 Winchester, .300 Savage, and .30-06 Springfield.

This discussion takes us back to the beginning of the factory production of bolt action rifles for sporting use. The Super Sporter replaced Savage’s earlier bolt actions, the Model 1920 and its successor, the Model 1920/1926. The Model 1920 was an interesting and capable rifle but it had a complicated, Mauser-based action that was difficult to manufacture and the action was not long enough to handle the .30-06 Springfield.  The action of the Model 40/45 solved both of those problems, so the small production of the 1920/1926 passed into history, and collector editions are difficult to find.  Actually,Winchester beat Savage in the bolt game by a few years when they introduced their famous sporting rifle, the Model 54, in 1925.  This Winchester forerunner of the Model 70 faced the same depression-era sales problems as the Savage rifles.

The Savage Super Sporter .30-30

The Super Sporter bolt action .30-30 that I describe here is composed of steel and walnut with a 22-inch barrel, a box magazine, and simple, open sights. It has a grooved steel butt plate.  Simplicity extends to the whole design;  there is not much that is innovative in the action except for one feature to be discussed later, and some of the features are not well designed.  A plain rifle it is, for sure.

Savage Model 40 .30-30

Savage Model 40 .30-30

Nevertheless, plain rifles are the American Way. They are my meat and I can always find something to love about them.  On this item, the metal is in good condition and the wood has a nice color.  Thank goodness, none of the previous owners tried to mount a scope, so the receiver has not been violated with ugly screw holes.  Some jaunty gent did scratch his initials, looks like “EJO,” under the .30-30 mark on the barrel, but this is not very noticeable.

Pick a thirty, any thirty.  The .300 Savage cartridge had appeared in 1920.  It was a short cartridge with a lot of punch for its size and was quite appropriate for Savage’s famous Model 1899 lever action.  Although the cartridge eclipsed the performance of the .30-30 Winchester, the .30-30 had been so successful in earlier, lever action rifles that Savage must have felt the Super Sporter’s appeal would be enhanced by including this older chambering in the lineup.  Of course they wanted to sell as many units as possible, and since the .300 Savage and .30-06 Springfield were also offered, all the thirty bases were covered!  I know not how many .30-30s were made, but probably not as many as the other thirties.

The simplicity of the action shows in the next pic. Two screws at the ends of the trigger/magazine plate hold the action in the wood.  Note that the front screw fastens in the bottom of a recoil lug that is sandwiched between the barrel and receiver.  The receiver

Super Sporter action removed from stock

Super Sporter action removed from stock

is tubular, long, and of heavy construction.  The trigger design is simple with the sear serving as the bolt stop, so the bolt may be removed while pulling back on the trigger.  The bottom metal is stamped out of rather heavy steel and has rounded edges.  The effect of all of this is that the construction of the rifle seems very sturdy.  Looks like you could not hurt it short of running over it with a gravel truck.

Magazine with bottom metal

Magazine with bottom metal

The safety deserves special mention perhaps because it is not one of the better features of the design. It is a tab on the right side just behind the bolt handle.  The tab is part of a circular band that passes under the action and rides in a channel in the wood.  Pull the tab up and the trigger is blocked and the bolt is locked down.  Push it down and it is ready to fire.  A spring loaded plunger in a hole in the wood acts as a detent for the “safe” and “fire” positions.  The affair works but I do not like the idea of stock wood being part of the mechanism.

SVG for Savage

SVG for Savage

In addition to these basics, there are some very neat features in

Front sight and ramp

Front sight and ramp

the Super Sporter.  The Savage logo, an “SVG” in a circle, is on the butt plate.  The height of the front sight can be changed because it is dovetailed in a ramp forged at the end of the barrel. The box magazine, which holds three cartridges, is heavily constructed of stamped steel.  The release lever is located on the right side of the magazine, rather than in front or in back of it, and it works quite well.

A key feature is that the bolt locking lugs are not at the front of the bolt but just ahead of the bolt handle on the bolt sleeve.  There are opposed extractor hooks at the front of the bolt and a cocking piece at the rear.  This rear locking feature departs from Mauser practice and is often unappreciated by experts who generally state, without proof, that the rear lockup allows the bolt to flex.  This lockup is, however, plenty strong.

Note position of locking lugs on bolt

Note position of locking lugs on bolt

Here is what I love about this action.  That tubular steel receiver is just about the largest, heaviest steel tube to be found on any rifle, and it has minimal cutouts for the magazine and ejection port.  Looking at the next picture you can see that the receiver is solid and thick from the rib down to the mag cutout and from stem to stern.  Every one praises the stiffness, and resultant accuracy benefits, of the tubular steel receiver in Remington 700 actions.  This Savage has that in spades.  Whoa, Nelly!  With a good barrel this puppy could be highly accurate.  We will find out later.

The big tube. Tab is the safety fire indicator

The big tube. Tab is the safety fire indicator

Lugs guided by action channels

Lugs guided by action channels

Now look at the side view of the action with the bolt closed.  Note the length of the receiver bridge from the rear of the ejection port to the bolt handle.  Then, note the length of the bridge behind the bolt, with channels to guide the bolt handle and the opposed locking lugs in front of the bolt.  There is no way this bolt will bind.

Action closed

Action closed

 

Next, note the picture showing the bolt open and a cartridge in the magazine. With no front locking lugs, and therefore no lug mortises to negotiate, the round has nowhere to go but smack into the breech.  Cartridge feeding is extremely good and bolt operation is about as slick as the fabled Krag-Jorgensen.

Cartridge ready to go in

Cartridge ready to go in

Yes, I love all of this, and…

Yes, we will shoot it.

The picture of the stock channel with the action removed gives an indication of the action bedding. Note the shiny appearance of the tang area around the rear action screw.  Very smooth and long association of wood and metal here.  There appears to be similar but less complete contact of the receiver just behind the recoil lug.  Thus, support of the cylindrical action seems good, but this does not extend to the barrel because it contacts the barrel channel in several places.  Nothing will be done with this, however, until after I have done some shooting with the fusil.

Action channel in stock. Note magazine lock.

Action channel in stock. Note magazine lock.

The sights consist of a simple rear notch on an elevator and a bead dovetailed into a ramp forged at the end of the barrel. Not a promising situation for presbyopic me.  I filed the notch a bit wider and deeper.  This usually helps old eyes get a better sight picture.  I also used an open ring target of diameter such that the bead could be centered, effectively giving an aperture in the target plane.  The receiver is tapped for a peep sight and it is the Lyman 40S that works, hard to find and expensive when you do.  Something else might be made to fit without drilling more holes and I might look into that at a later date.

As you can see in the action picture, the trigger is very simple. It has a very short takeup and a bit of creep but is fairly light.  I will not complain about the trigger because the human finger-brain connection can become accustomed to a lot of trigger woes.  With the Savage SS 30-30 the sequence takeup-creep-bang!  was consistent so I was able to get some decent shooting accomplished.

Over my solid bench rest I fired a dozen three-shot groups at 50 yards using several factory loads. It was a bit tough getting a repeatable sight picture but the gun functioned very well.  Group size ran from 0.79” to 1.45” but were clustered around 1.00”.  Five groups using Hornady American Whitetail 150-grain loads averaged 1.06 inches.  The smallest of these measured 0.80”.  An additional five groups using Remington CorLokt, Federal Fusion and Hornady Leverevolution loads resulted in an overall average of 1.08”.

The four groups shown in the picture are typical of the rifle’s accuracy performance. They show a strong tendency to give a 2 + 1 result, with the 2 often touching each other, and the 1 only an inch or so away.  This is common with old, plain sporters and I love to see it because it is pointing the way.  Note that the flyer is always below the close pair.  This

Four, 3-shot groups. Various factory ammo.

Four, 3-shot groups. Various factory ammo.

often has to do with barrel bedding and floating the barrel is the prescription.  That will be the first thing I try.  More serious bedding work could also be done but cost-benefit has to be considered.  How much time should one spend on a near 100-year old rifle when other interesting projects await?  For me, enough time to show that the Super Sporter was an admirable arm with very good performance.

Bench shooting stout loads in .308 and .30-06 (and certainly .300 Win Mag) can make you tense. It takes fewer rounds than you think to affect your concentration on hold, sight picture, and trigger control.  Not so much with the .30-30, even using a 7-lb. rifle with a steel butt plate.  It is very pleasant, and that is valuable when looking for accuracy.

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Pillar Bedding A Remington Model 700 BDL

This post describes the process of pillar bedding a Remington Model 700 rifle in .30-06, and presents shooting results that demonstrate accuracy improvement.

Spring brings many uplifting sights, like this old apple tree near ATOTT Headquarters.  Every year it puts on a show like this and I never tire of it.  I  enjoy being reminded that rebirth is a part of nature’s process.Apple tree

 

The single most effective thing you can do to improve your rifle’s performance is to improve the bedding of the action.  A good action fit means metal and wood join together to provide a solid platform for bullet launching. A good craftsman can insure a very close wood to metal fit by working with tools made for the job.  A duffer needs to use chemicals.  That would be me, the chemicals being epoxy bedding gel, which hardens to provide the close stock-metal fit after it conforms to the action bottom.

I have bedded about a dozen rifles with epoxy material and in so doing have encountered most of the difficulties and how to avoid or overcome them.  I have started mainly with common, vintage rifles, with something less than fine workmanship, but in good condition.  In nearly every case the bedding process resulted in accuracy improvement.  Rifles made throughout the 20th century have very good accuracy potential and it can be developed by a craftsman of average ability, if there is a strong desire to see successive shots go in holes close together.  Don’t bother if your main interest is hunting big game.  Your time will be better spent developing a good handload and finding better ways to find that game.

That said…..

The rifle that most recently tweaked my bedding addiction was a Remington Model 700 BDL, the .30-06 that I described in a post about a year ago.  The Remington Model 700: Not Really a Custom Rifle | A Tale of Two Thirties .  As purchased, the rifle shot just fine, about 1.6 minute-of-angle with factory ammo.  I knew some work would make it better and that became my quest.  I decided for pillar bedding.  In addition to the close fit of epoxy plastic to metal, pillar bedding provides for extremely solid action support by using metal tubes for the action screws.  The additional improvement of pillars over just epoxy is hard to determine, but accuracy freaks want it.  That means I want it.

What Is Needed

I chose the screw adjustable pillars made for Remington bolt actions and sold by Brownell’s.  The picture shows a set of these fixin’s and you can see the screw adjustment allows the length to be perfect to support the round action bottom when the action screws

Adjustable bedding pillars with piloted Forstner bit

Adjustable bedding pillars with piloted Forstner bit

draw the bottom metal tight.  The longer unit is for the rear screw and the shorter one for the front screw.  These are a bit pricey, but if I were to use the cheaper, plain tubes, they would need to be cut to fit, and that is more difficult.

The pillars must be fit before the main epoxy job is done.  I make sure that the action rests levelly with contact mainly at the tang and behind the recoil lug.  I may need to scrape a little wood to get this. Then, I use a 7/16-inch Forstner bit with a pilot (also sold by Brownell’s and shown in the first pic) for drilling the holes and this job is done in a drill press.  The next picture shows the stock with the holes drilled.

Pillar holes drilled fith Forstner bit

Pillar holes drilled with Forstner bit

Now I adjust the pillars to fit so that the concave upper part is even with the wood where it meets the action and the bottom part is flush with the bottom of the bottom metal inlet.  I epoxy the threads and adjust the pillar before the epoxy sets. Then I push it out of its hole and let the epoxy set.  Next, I epoxy the pillars in their holes in the wood at the correct level.  The concave pillar tops must fit the action perfectly.  The next picture shows a bottom view of pillars bonded in place.

Base of pillars in bottom metal inlet

Base of pillars in bottom metal inlet

The last preparatory chapter is to rasp out forend wood to float the barrel when the action is supported by the pillars. Then I remove about a 1/16-in depth of wood around the pillars and I Dremel a couple of shallow grooves in the surface.  This gives better thickness and adhesion to the epoxy coating.

I use Brownell’s Acra Glas Gel for the epoxy job.  There are some artisanal concoctions which the elite workers (pros) may tell you they love, but Acra Glas has always worked fine for me.  Keep calm.  It takes the epoxy a long time to set up after mixing the two components.  Follow the excellent instructions and make sure you use plenty of release agent with all openings in the metal that may fill with goo plugged with modeling clay.

The next picture shows the front end of my finished job.  The epoxy support in front of the recoil lug is a bit longer than some would use.  The fit of the recoil lug in its slot is very snug because I did not tape the sides and back of the lug before bonding.  I hate taping so I am living with it this way.

Recoil lug area after bedding

Recoil lug area after bedding

How Does It Shoot ??

For accuracy work I mounted a Weaver Classic V-Series 4-16X variable scope.  At about 17 ounces it is not the lightest strong variable, but that makes no difference for my bench rest purposes.  In fact, anything that lowers the punch of the .30-06 during bench shooting is fine with me.  The V-Series has been in the Weaver line for a long time and the optics are

Remington 700 BDL with Weaver Classic 4-16X variable scope

Remington 700 BDL with Weaver Classic 4-16X variable scope

still made in Japan.  The optics and the turret and parallax adjustments are very good. Weaver has done a good job of maintaining the quality of its optical products and you may occasionally find the model you want on sale at the major distributors.  That was the case with my 4-16X which was discounted about $100 below its usual street price.  You can pay a lot more for not much more image quality.

Two trips to the range were used to check the results of the bedding process.  I followed my usual practice of firing groups at 50 yards using a solid bench rest.  Best results were obtained with handloads that used Winchester 760 spherical powder to push 168-grain target bullets at about 2600 fps.  W760 has always worked great for me in the .30-06.  As have the two match bullets, the Sierra 168 grain Match King HPBT and the Nosler 168 grain Match bullet known as the J4, also a hollow-point boat tail.

Two groups using Sierra 168-gr match bullets

Two groups using Sierra 168-gr match bullets

The best results are shown in the two group pictures.  The smallest group, obtained with the Nosler bullet, measured 0.23 in. or, 0.46 Minutes of Angle.  The mean value of the six groups was 0.35 in. and that is an average of 0.70 MOA.  Could I say that pillar bedding turned my Remington into a ¾ minute rifle?  I would like to say it.  The collection of groups fired with the pillar-bedded 700 also showed great size consistency and little tendency toward flyers.  This is a desirable result regardless of actual group size.

Four groups using Nosler 168-gr match bullets

Four groups using Nosler 168-gr match bullets

Not every one of my bedding projects has made me want to run home and ice down the champagne.   But then, not every one has started with a Remington 700 in practically new condition.  I can understand that many readers might not want to mess with a fine rifle – there is always some danger of bad things happening.  But consider this:  There are beaucoup Remington 700s on the used rifle racks and you can often find attractive prices.  I would rather go this route than buy one of the new plastic stock economy models (nothing wrong with them) because after bedding I am like to have an accurate rifle with good metal and good wood.

My work is never done.  Yes, I know the 700 BDL is a hunting rifle and no one is going to hunt with match bullets.  But they have demonstrated the potential so now I could check out, say, some 165- and 180-grain soft points.  Probably some time this summer.

 

 

 

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