Late February at A Tale of Two Thirties

DSCF2011The ice is getting rotten at this site near ATOTT Headquarters. Some of it has disappeared already and the rest of it won’t last more than a day or two.  A bit early, perhaps, but this bald eagle doesn’t mind at all.  He will have better fishing.  As a sporting month, February doesn’t amount to much, but when it gives me a sunny day with a view like this I have to be in a good mood.  I see more than ice going out.  I see myself soon going back to the range.  I see myself shooting some groups with the revolver shown below.

Smith & Wesson Model 1905, 4th Change

Smith & Wesson Model 1905, 4th Change

A Smith & Wesson Model 1905

This revolver descended from the model of 1899, the first medium-frame (K-frame) hand ejector model in the S & W line. The hand ejectors introduced the side swing method of opening the cylinder for loading and ejecting empties, a design that persists in revolvers right up to the present day.  The Model 1899 introduced the .38 S & W Special, which became the most common and useful chambering of the K-frame revolvers.  Indeed, the K-frame .38 specials are probably the most important revolvers ever made by Smith & Wesson.

The Hand Ejector Open

The Hand Ejector Open

This Model 1905, however, is chambered for the .32 WCF, which we also know by the name .32-20 Winchester. Improved models of the 1905 were known as the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th change.  This one is a 4th change, made from 1915 to 1940.  My serial number of 73XXX would place shipment at about 1916.  A total of over 144,000 were made in .32 WCF, many fewer than were made in .38 Special.  It has a 6” barrel.  It still carries most of its blue finish and the case hardening on the trigger and hammer is very good.  It is fitted with square, wooden grips, checkered and with the button S&W logo.  There is no S&W logo on either side of the frame.  The left side of the barrel is marked “Smith & Wesson.”  The right side of the barrel is marked “.32 W.C.F. Ctg.”  The top of the barrel carries “Smith & Wesson Springfield Mass. USA” and the patent dates. The bore is very good and the action is smooth and tight.  The single action pull is crisp and the double action pull is exceptional.  I would rate the workmanship and function of the revolver to be as good as that of any S&W produced in any age.

The .32 WCF is a real grandpa of a cartridge. It appeared in 1882 as a cartridge for the famous Winchester lever action of 1873, giving hunters a light-caliber option for that arm that had been offered in .38-40 (.38 WCF) and .44-40 (.44 WCF).  Even though a bit light for anything but predators and small game, the 32 proved popular, so Colt also chambered their Single Action Army revolver for the round.  The rifle and revolver made a nice combo.  The cartridge began its life with black powder (20 grains, as indicated in the name) but smokeless powder was used when it became available.  Velocities with cast bullets were in the 800-900 fps range from handguns, with another 100-200 fps added for rifles.  High-speed rifle loads, for guns as strong as the Model 1892 Winchester, were available years ago.  One of these loads put an 80-gr bullet out over 2000 fps, but it disappeared from the market years ago.  There is too much pressure in this load for older rifles or for any handgun of 1920s vintage.

Factory loads are not numerous. Remington and Winchester offer loads with 100-grain bullets.  There are a couple of brands made for Cowboy Action Shooting, where the .32-20 is popular because of its light recoil.  All of these are pricey and would lead you to handloading if you are set up for it.  Dies are available from several companies and Starline makes new brass.

Handloads can use cast bullets in the range 90 – 115 grains and will comfortably produce velocities of 700-900 fps in a handgun and around 1200 fps in a rifle.  Standard 32-20 loads should be held to 16,000 psi, according to SAAMI.  Good load data for the 32-20 appears in several of the popular manuals.  With the S&W 1905, its fairly large frame and its 6-in barrel, 90 to 115-gr cast bullets can be driven safely to a bit over 1000 fps.  (Of course, the revolver must be in very good condition)  Note that the 32-20 chambering will have thicker cylinder walls than the more popular 38 Special in this revolver.  My piece was made before S&W began to heat treat the cylinders of the model.  Presumably that made them stronger, but how much stronger?  I do not know, but I do not worry about the safety of firing my 32 WCF with ammo at the levels described above.

Case capacity for the 32-20 is large for a 32 handgun round, as you can see by comparing it with other 32s,  the 32 S&W Long and the 32 H&R Magnum in the picture. All of the performance you want or need can be supplied by medium rate pistol powders such as Alliant Unique,

Left to Right: .32 S&W Long, .32 H&R Magnum, .32 WCF. The WCF cannot be fired in revolvers made for the other two.

Left to Right: .32 S&W Long, .32 H&R Magnum, .32 WCF. The WCF cannot be fired in revolvers made for the other two.

Hodgdon Universal Clays, and Accurate #5.  Plinking or target rounds will be served by fast burners in the Bullseye range.  I like Hodgdon TiteGroup for its ease of ignition and its insensitivity to the position of the powder in the case.  With small charges, the 32-20 is subject to pressure variation due to powder position.  With Universal and Accurate #5 I needed to handle the pistol so as to set the powder near the primer with each shot in order to get consistent velocities.

A Little Handloading

Using a 115-grain cast bullet (.313”) from Hunter’s Supply I found that 3.2 grains of Universal pushed the flat-nose out at 710 fps.  A little slow.  Upping the charge to 3.7 grains of Universal gave 857 fps.  This should make for a good load.

The same bullet was boosted by 4.5 grains of Accurate #5 to 800 fps.

A 95-grain cast semiwadcutter (.313”) from Cast Performance bullets with 2.9 grains of Hodgdon Titegroup left the barrel at 753 fps.  This would be OK as a plinking load, but I think the charge could be increased a bit.

The uniformity of these loads was OK, not especially bad and not especially good. In further work attention needs to be given to case length and amount of crimp.  The three powders used would take care of all needs for ammo for small game and pests, plinking cans and other unfortunate containers, targets, and overripe mushmelons.  With the two slower powders one could easily and safely get over 900 fps. with either bullet.

I have not fired the 1905 enough for a reliable accuracy evaluation but it looks like it has good potential. Generally, the 32-20 has a reputation for good accuracy in both rifle and revolver.  I hope to write more about handloads and accuracy performance at a later date.

Would You Want A Smith & Wesson 32-20????

Well, first of all, you must be interested in revolvers. Then, you must like the products of Smith & Wesson and think that you would enjoy having a vintage example.  That said, we can point out that you could find a 1905 .32-20 for quite a bit less outlay of pelf than many other 100-year-old Smith models, especially .44 caliber arms.  If in good condition, the 1905 will give you the fabled S&W quality and some opportunity to shoot the piece with moderate loads.  And, it will only increase in value.

A broad collection of historically important S&W revolvers would require a serious financial commitment. However, limiting your interest to a narrower range of models would not diminish your standing as a serious collector.  Note that the Model of 1905 was also made for the .38 Special.  Now you have two guns.  Then, consider that each caliber was made with 4”, 5”, 6”, and 6-1/2” barrels.  See how it grows.  It is up to you to draw the line, but I can say that just one is plenty of fun.




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The Smith & Wesson First Model Hand Ejector

This post discusses the first Smith & Wesson revolver to use the side-swing design for opening the cylinder.  The .32 S&W Long cartridge was introduced by this revolver.

When you want to do a serious shooting project, you need to get your ducks (and geese) lined up. These seven goslings are really focused on what is ahead of them as the family takes a swim on a blustery day last spring, just off the bank at ATOTT headquarters.

Seven goslings with parents, Spring, 2015

Seven goslings with parents, Spring, 2015

I definitely have a soft spot for .32 caliber revolvers, and there is one such that does not get the attention it deserves. That is the S&W First Model Hand Ejector that appeared in 1896.  First Model means just that; it was the first S&W that opened by swinging the cylinder out to the side of its solid frame.  Being the first of a very important family usually guarantees lasting attention.  Not in this case.

The Smith & Wesson First Model Hand Ejector first issued in 1896

The Smith & Wesson First Model Hand Ejector first issued in 1896

Smith & Wesson introduced a larger-frame model for its new .38 S&W Special cartridge just three short years later, in 1899. Then, even larger frame models firing the new .44 S&W Special appeared shortly after the turn of the century.  From that time on, these biggies and their even more powerful and improved descendants have garnered most of the glory.

But, the hand ejector design is still used for S&W revolvers in 2016, and the Model of 1896 is still the first of this long line.  I am going to give it some attention here in the year of its 120th birthday.

The five screws used in early S&W revolvers. Note the crisp S&W logo

The five screws used in early S&W revolvers. Note the crisp S&W logo


An S&W Tip-up Revolver. A Model 1-1/2, Second Issue, .32 Rimfire

An S&W Tip-up Revolver. A Model 1-1/2, Second Issue, .32 Rimfire

The generations of Smith and Wesson revolvers are well-defined. The first generation models appeared circa 1858 and are known as “Tip-ups” because the barrel assembly tipped up to allow removal of the cylinder for loading and emptying.  This occurred by means of a latch on the lower front of the frame and a hinge on the upper front (see the pic).  There was no axis rod extending through the cylinder.  There were three sizes of these Civil War vintage revolvers (Model 1, Model 1-1/2, and Model 2) with different models firing the .22 short, a .32 short and a .32 long, all rimfire rounds.

S&W Top Break Revolver: A Double Action .32, fourth model

S&W Top Break Revolver: A Double Action .32, 4th model illustrates the design

The second generation models are known as “Top breaks.”  They began to take over in the early 1870s.  A latch at the top rear of the frame allowed the cylinder and barrel to be tilted down around a hinge at the lower front (see the next pic).  The cylinder was supported full length in alignment with the barrel and an extractor rod through the center automatically ejected fired cases when the action was opened.  Both the hinge and the latch were much stronger than those of the first generation revolvers.  This allowed larger frames and more powerful rounds of the centerfire type.  Single action models came first, then double action revolvers.  Smith and Wesson introduced the .32 S&W, .38 S&W, and several .44 caliber cartridges for this generation, the most famous of these being the .44 S&W Russian.  Regardless of advances in design, black powder was still the propellant used for these cartridges when they were introduced, but the design was strong enough to hold moderate smokeless loads when the new powder became available.

The third generation of Smith and Wesson revolvers was initiated by the First Model Hand Ejector of 1896.  The new design was accompanied by a new cartridge, the .32 S&W Long, which was simply a lengthened version of the .32 S&W used by the top break guns.  Hence, the Hand Ejector could also fire the earlier .32 S&W.  The term “hand ejector” came to denote all revolvers in which the action opened by swinging to the left side of the frame.  Empties were ejected by pushing

What makes the First Model famous, the cylinder swung out to side for ejection and loading

What makes the First Model famous, the cylinder swung out to side for ejection and loading

back the cylinder/extractor rod, hence the common name for this design.  The frame of the hand ejector was stronger than previous designs because the frame was solid, that is, not weakened by the presence of a latch and a hinge.  This was needed in order to safely fire the more powerful cartridges made possible by smokeless powder around the turn of the

All identifying notes for the First Model are inscribed on the cylinder. Note the wedge above the firing pin, needed for function of the cylinder lock in the top strap

All identifying notes for the First Model are inscribed on the cylinder. Note the wedge above the firing pin, needed for function of the cylinder lock in the top strap. The rear sight is located above the cylinder stop lever pin

century.  The yoke that carried the 6-shot cylinder fit in the front of the frame and a pin at the rear center of the cylinder locked it into the recoil shield.  Thus, the cylinder was supported at both ends, but there was no latch under the barrel for the end of the cylinder rod.  An odd feature of the First Model is that S&W chose to use a cylinder stop located in the top of the frame.  Odd because this stop design, entirely actuated by the hammer, was used in the first-generation, tip up models of S&W revolvers introduced almost forty years previously.  The stop was relocated to the bottom of the frame in all subsequent models of hand ejectors and remained there throughout the twentieth century and into the present day.

A competitor for the HE was offered by Colt in various pocket models.  Colt called their 32 cartridge the .32 Colt New Police, which was identical to the .32 S&W Long but allowed Colt to avoid using the name of its competitor in describing their product.  I must qualify that by saying that cartridges sold as “.32  Colt New Police” were different in that they had a flat nose as opposed to the round nose of the .32 S&W Long.

Neither the Colt nor the S&W version of the 32 Long had much success as a police revolver. Thirty-twos were adopted by a few police departments in the eastern U.S., and it is interesting that the New York P. D. adopted the .32 Colt New Police at the direction of Theodore Roosevelt.  Police use was short-lived, and when the more powerful .38 S&W Special appeared the .32 quickly disappeared from law enforcement circles.

The slim, trim First Model Hand Ejector, bottom view

The slim, trim First Model Hand Ejector, bottom view

The historical significance of the First Model Hand Ejector revolver has always attracted me but I never had one until recently. They are scarce on the market because only 19,712 copies were made before an improved model was introduced in 1903.   Mine came to me with a six-inch barrel in good condition but it is not of collector grade.  You can see in the first pic above that it has been refinished over some shallow pitting.  It appears the rust was well-removed in advance of the refinishing.  The S&W logo on the right side plate is strong.  Unlike other S & W products, the First Model HE had no marking on the barrel sides or top. The S & W name, address, and patent dates are on the cylinder and are strong and crisp.  Removing the grips revealed a number that did not match the serial number of the frame.  Being the first example of what was to become known as the “I” frame, the gun is light and very slim, almost dainty.

The best thing is, I wanted to do some shooting with it and it looked to be up to that. The bore of the 6-in. barrel was good and the action was smooth, with good timing and a tight lockup.  The cylinder is opened to the left by pulling forward on the extractor rod.  The chamber mouths measured 0.314” and the bore, 0.311”.  The half-moon front sight is pinned at the end of the ribbed barrel.  The rear sight is a notch located on the bolt stop lever near the front of the cylinder.  The trigger break is fairly light with just a bit of creep.

Now you will get something that you can’t find in the excellent historical reference works on Smith and Wesson revolvers, namely, some info on shooting performance and what it is like to fire the piece under discussion.

Winter weather dictated firing the First Model on a 7-yard range indoors. I fired several brands of factory ammo, including some with round nosed bullets and some with wadcutters, and a couple of handloads.  Function was very good.  The action was quite smooth and positive.  The throwback cylinder stop in the top strap worked very well.  Though inferior to later designs, the top stop is actually a very clever way to do the needed job.  If you run into a gun that uses it, take a good look at how it works.  The long, straight grip filled my hand well and was comfortable.  Recoil and report were light but enough to let you know you were firing a revolver.  You could shoot it all day and, even though this was the first of the hand ejectors, I think you would not mistake it for anything but a Smith and Wesson revolver.

Chronograph Results .32 S&W Long Factory Loads :

Winchester 98 gr. RN, 692 fps

Remington Target 98 gr. RN, 679 fps

Magtech 98 gr. RN, 660 fps

Fiocchi 98 gr. Wadcutter, 598 fps

LaPua 98 gr. Wadcutter, 705 fps

Federal 98 gr. Wadcutter, 706 fps.

Remington Target .32 S&W (short) 88 gr., 660 fps

Magtech .32 S&W (short) 85 gr.,  699 fps


Bullseye 2.0 gr and MagTech 98-gr WC, 706 fps (SD 11 fps)

Bullseye 2.0 gr and Berry’s 83-gr plated WC, 781 fps (SD 23 fps).

These velocities seem a tad slow for a 6-in. barrel and that may be due to a large cylinder gap. The cylinder has very little end play, but the gap is wide. This caused no problem as long as all body parts were behind the cylinder upon ignition.  That is safe practice and should be observed when firing any revolver.  In general, factory round-nosed ammo is mediocre stuff, loaded very light, as everyone knows, so pressures are erratic with large spreads and standard deviations.  The wadcutter loads give the most uniform performance.  The Smith & Wesson First Model is strong enough to safely fire ammo with a bit higher pressure, but there were many low-priced brands, inferior revolvers, even some top breaks, chambered for the Long.  That is why the SAAMI specs for pressure and velocity are kept quite low for the cartridge.

Accuracy was good. I fired over a sand bag and used a Merit optical disc on my glasses.  The round nose loads gave five-shot groups of 0.6 – 1.0” at 7 yards.  For the factory wadcutters, the best 4 in each of 6 five-shot groups average 0.64.”  (See the first pic below) That figure extrapolates to 2.3” at 25 yards.  The weighting factor is applied because I can be counted on to heel or jerk at least one flier in a five shot group.  I hope you will let me get by with that.  Hey!  Four of the Fiocchis in a one-quarter-inch clover leaf?  How nice is that?

Four 5-shot groups fired with .32 S&W Long factory ammo

Four 5-shot groups fired with .32 S&W Long factory ammo

A surprise was how well the gun fired standard, short .32 S&W rounds. Note that the point of impact is not very different from that of the long loads. The best 4 of 5 in these five-shot groups averaged 0.73.” (See second pic). This value extrapolates to about 2.6” at 25 yards and it makes me want to investigate how well my other 32s shoot the short round.

Two 5-shot groups fired with .32 S&W (short)factory ammo

Two 5-shot groups fired with .32 S&W (short)factory ammo

Testing this revolver was just plain fun and the accuracy results were very encouraging. It should be capable of some precision shooting at 15 – 25 yards so I would like to do more shooting with it but not sure how much in view of the nearly 120-year age.  Still, it seems to be very solid and should be able to withstand quite a bit of work with light to moderate (for .32 Long) handloads.  That would be about 650-700 fps with 90-100-grain cast bullets.  Offhand plinking and target work are about the best activities for .32 revolvers, and knowing that you are popping the coffee can with the very first S&W Hand Ejector is a great feeling.

The I-Frame First model Hand Ejector above the Larger, K-Frame Modle of 1905, Fourth Change

The I-Frame First Model Hand Ejector above the Larger, K-Frame Model of 1905, Fourth Change


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A Remington Model 700 VLS With Factory Match Ammo

When summer fades wildflowers courageously persist, witness these goldenrods near ATOTT Headquarters in early September. When summer has abundant rain, these blazing beauties flourish, and amateur ditch botanists like me are thrilled, for a short while.  Now, the picture brightens a gray January day.

Goldenrod in September sun.

Goldenrod in September sun.

Down to business: Yes! I recently got a copy of the 2016 Gun Digest (Christmas, you know) so my gun information level is rising again.  As usual, I can recommend this publication as long as you do not have to pay list price.  I always look to see whether there are any articles for fans of plain, thirty-caliber rifles of any era.  Not many, but I did like the article on plain (inexpensive) rifles made by Mossberg, Remington, Ruger, and Savage.  Good descriptions of the rifles were given, and they were said to be very good shooters, but not one word on any groups obtained, even though the title page showed the author at the bench.  Oh, well……

I always check the catalog section for models and current prices of favorite brands. Under bolt action rifles there are about 24 versions of the Remington Model 700.  Some of them have been in the line a long time, to wit, the spiffy Models BDL and CDL.  It caught my eye that the Model 700 VLS, that first appeared in 1995, is still available.  I am gratified.  The Model 700 VLS was one of the first modern rifles with which I pursued accuracy through handloading and bedding work.  VLS = “Varmint, Laminated Stock,” and it is indeed a varmint weight rifle with a very sturdy, laminated stock.  Indifferent at first, I have come to regard the laminated stock, with its light and dark brown tones, as being quite attractive.  There is no question that it is also extremely strong and stable, very good for the maintenance of target accuracy.  The MSRP is above $1,000, but getting a VLS in today’s market will cost a bit less.  You will find a reasonable  price for the performance delivered.

The Remington Model 700 VLS

is built around the rigid, tubular action that first appeared in the Remington Models 721 and 722 introduced in the late 1940s. The 700 dates from 1962 and so it has been thoroughly described in many places, including this site.  In the VLS it carries a 26-inch

The Remington Model 700 VLS

The Remington Model 700 VLS

barrel of varmint weight, a pipe with a muzzle diameter of 0.82 inches and a concave, 11-degree muzzle crown.  With the heavy stock and steel bottom metal the gun tops 9 pounds and then will eclipse 10 pounds with a good varmint scope attached.  This is just fine for shooting accurately from a rest.  The action, including the adjustable  trigger, is the same as that of all other Model 700s.

Muzzle crown of the 700 VLS.

Muzzle crown of the 700 VLS.

The VLS getting consideration here was obtained in caliber .308 Winchester. Not exactly a varmint round in my thought, but I wanted  to do some accurate shooting with a thirty, and the .308 is the choice for that.  Considering that sporter-weight Model 700s are generally very accurate, the question is, what could I get with the heavy barrel and very rigid wood?  Smaller groups and more consistency in successive groups, perhaps?

It is generally accepted in the shooting world that smaller calibers shoot smaller groups, given equal attention to accuracy requirements in rifle construction, handloading, and shooting technique. Thus, it has always been easier to get groups of less than ½” with a .22 or .24 than it has with a .30.  Back in the day, Remington’s 40-X rifles in .308 Win were expected, and certified by Remington, to give groups of 0.75″ or better. Having said that, I note that Remington’s current guarantee assures groups of ½” or less for all 40-X rifles including those of thirty caliber.  These rifles are now only available through Remington’s Custom Shop

I installed a Bausch and Lomb Elite 4000 6X24 variable scope to help me find out what my VLS could do. Absorbed into the Bushnell scope line some years ago, the B & L Elite was an example of the cream of scopedom in its time.


How many days at the range? I really do not know, but after many, many shots from the bench using loads assembled with IMR 3031, Winchester  748, Hodgdon Varget, and the like pushing Sierra and Hornady 168-grain match bullets I can say my VLS is a reliable 0.8″ (MOA) rifle that will do somewhat better on a good day.  Groups of 0.5″ have appeared often enough to keep me interested over the long term.

This performance was attained with the action epoxy bedded and the barrel floated. Accuracy procedures were used for the handloads.  Cases were sorted by weight.  Flashholes were reamed and cases were neck-sized only and trimmed to consistent length.  Bullets were seated with a Redding micrometer match bullet seater.

The following target with five consecutive, five-shot groups at 100 yards shows the results of a better-than-average day.  The handload of 39.1 grains of IMR 3031 boosting a Sierra 168-g. Match king gave an average of 0.65 in. for the five groups.

Five, 5-shot groups fired on a good day.

Five, 5-shot groups fired on a good day.

The Remington 700 VLS .308 with Factory Target Ammo

Having given it a long rest while working on other projects, I felt the VLS needed some exercise. With ammo availability easing somewhat, I thought that investigating the accuracy of factory match ammo in .308 would be a good project.  Almost all of my previous accuracy work had used my own handloads.  I therefore acquired seven different brands of match ammo.  A bullet weight of 168 grains is the most common bullet heft in these rounds, and four of them used the Sierra Match King 168-gr. Bullet.  I think that tells us something about Sierra’s match reputation.

Federal Gold Medal Match 168 gr.

Hornady Match 168 gr.A-Max

Nosler Match 168 gr. Nosler Match

Norma Match 168 gr. Sierra Match King

PPU Match 168 gr.

Remington Match 168 gr. Sierra Match King

Winchester Match 168 gr. Sierra Match King

I took these seven worthies and the VLS to the range and shot groups of four shots at fifty yards. Groups of four shots give a better idea of a load’s accuracy than groups of three, without increasing the project cost very much.  The tendency to throw a flyer is more easily determined in a four-group, and this is more economical than fives.  A box of twenty will thus allow 4 groups of four, plus a few extra for sighting in and for barrel fouling after cleaning.

I obtained an overall average for 24 groups (included all ammo brands) of 0.64 In. (1.28 Minutes of Angle). The smallest groups were 0.29 in. (Norma Match) and 0.34 in. (Remington Match).

The two smallest, 4-shot groups.

The two smallest, 4-shot groups.

So, I found that my VLS would not, on average, break an inch with this assortment of factory ammo. How about shooter skill and technique? I would not claim to be at the top of the target game, but, if a rifle is able to shoot an inch I will usually get that result.  The heavy VLS rested very solidly in a target front rest and bunny-ear rear bag.  I strived for the same hold and trigger pressure for each shot.  The trigger action was very good.

Relevant Info:  My 700 VLS, like some other Remington rifles I have had, has a long chamber throat.  Sierra recommends an overall length of 2.800″ when the 168-gr MK is used in the .308.  The good handload groups shown in the pic above were obtained with cartridges using an OAL of 2.98,” nearly 0.20″ longer than the recommended value.  Accuracy is improved when the bullet is closer to the lands.  My advice, based on experience, is to check your chamber length when trying to get your Remington to shoot its best.

Back to the factory loads, could I present a subset of data so that the performance looks its best? Shooting writers have to know the tricks of the trade here.  Since there was a slight tendency toward a flyer or two with almost every brand of ammo, let me figure the average on the basis of the best 18 (75%) of the 24 groups.  That average is 0.55 in. (1.10 MOA).  Note that this decision for weighting did not change the mean value very much.  That is an indication that group sizes were uniform and that flyers were not very serious.   And this is the result of uniformity of the factory ammo, which is a very good thing.

More importantly, perhaps, we should want to know which ammo brands did the best. The Remington Match (using the Sierra MK bullet) threw four groups that averaged 0.46 in. (0.92 MOA).  The next best performance was given by the Norma Match (also using the Sierra MK bullet) with five groups averaging .50 in. (1.00 MOA).

Top: two groups fired with Remington Match ammo; Bottom: Two groups with Winchester Match ammo.

Top: two groups fired with Remington Match ammo; Bottom: Two groups with Winchester Match ammo.


Winchester Match gave 0.65 in. (1.30 MOA) for four groups.

Federal Gold Medal Match gave 0.66 in. (1.32 MOA) for two groups

Hornady Match (regular, not Superformance) gave 0.70 in. (1.40 MOA) for four groups

PPU Match gave 0.79 in. (1.58 MOA) for three groups.

The largest groups were given by the Nosler Match. Two groups averaged 0.86 in.  I attribute this larger result to a higher than average velocity, about 2750 fps for the 168 gr. Nosler Bullet.  All of the other brands fell right around 2550 fps.  Previous experience has shown that this Remington VLS rifle does its best with loads giving around 2500 fps, and in other projects, Nosler match bullets have always been great, and  I should pop a few more groups before making firm conclusions about this brand of ammo.

Summarising:  The Remington Model 700 VLS gives consistent accuracy performance with a variety of factory ammo.  One can find factory brands that give groups better than 1.0 MOA.  However, I believe that carefully-prepared handloads will still give better performance than factory ammo.  The heavy barrel and stock, with the smooth 700 action, is a pleasure to shoot at the bench.

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Do You Need a Henry Lever Action .30-30?

Would you like to be able to buy a brand new Ford Model A? I sure would. I would like a black coupe with a rumble seat. It would be great if it had some modern design in the engine and drive train. That could be done in a vehicle that still looked exactly like the original model.

If the auto business were like the gun business, I suppose that might be possible. The number of ancient guns now offered in replica form, using modern materials and manufacturing techniques, is staggering, and modern versions of classical rifles are common.

A case in point for the latter category is the lever action .30-30 rifle now being made by Henry Repeating Arms of Bayonne, New Jersey. They call it the Model H009 and it updates the various lever actions made by Winchester and Marlin throughout the 20th Century using today’s materials and manufacturing techniques. Being chambered for the .30-30 Winchester, this Henry follows from the Winchester 1894, but its design owes more to the later Marlin Model 336, which it strongly resembles. See the picture at the end of this post.

The Henry Lever Action .30-30 (Model H009)

The Henry Lever Action .30-30 (Model H009)

Note there is no connection of this model or of the company with the famous Henry lever action of Civil War days, the forerunner of the Winchester 1866. Rather, the modern Henry Company, led by owner/president Anthony Imperato, began production of lever action rifles around 1996. Starting with .22 rimfire rifles, they have expanded to now offer many models in many calibers, light to heavy. They have also produced these classic guns in decorated and commemorative editions (see their website), and, they are in fact now producing a replica of the original 1860 Henry. Thus, the Henry story is a real success story, supported by sturdy and well-finished rifles. Their motto, “Made in America, or Not Made at All,” shows the pride they take in making a quality product in this country.

The Henry .30-30 Lever Action

This rifle, except for one interesting component that I will discuss later, is all steel and wood, well-finished and well-assembled. This in itself projects an image of vintage quality. The action most closely resembles that of the Marlin 336 in that it has a tube magazine, an external hammer, and a round bolt with a side ejection port. Dropping the lever moves the bolt back, ejecting a spent cartridge and cocking the hammer. Closing the lever raises the carrier and closes the bolt to chamber the next cartridge, as in all lever actions.

The Henry with action open

The Henry with action open

With its 20-inch barrel, the gun is carbine length. The receiver has a dark blue, satin finish but the lever, barrel, forearm cap and magazine tube have a bit higher polish. The stock has a straight grip with stock and forearm of American Black Walnut of excellent

Butt Stock of the Henry. Walnut with good figure.

Butt Stock of the Henry. Walnut with good figure.

quality for an over-the-counter gun. The picture of the butt shows the figure in the wood and the substantial recoil pad. The grip and forearm have attractive machine checkering. The end of the forearm is held to the barrel by a steel cap.

The XS Ghost Ring Sight

The XS Ghost Ring Sight

The sights supplied with the rifle include an XS Ghost Ring at the rear and a square blade at the front. Ghost ring means that it is a peep with a whompin’ big hole that makes it easy to pick up game at range. It is adjustable for windage and elevation. If that is not your style, the receiver is drilled and tapped for scope bases and bases that are made for a Marlin 336 will fit. One piece and two piece bases are available from Weaver, Leupold, and others. This makes scope mounting easy, all due to the side ejection of empties. Pick a scope you like but be aware that the drop in the butt is too great to give you a tight cheek when aiming the scope. A cheek rest could be added.

Loading port in magazine tube

Loading port in maga zine tube

The rifle has a couple of features that are atypical when compared to a gram’pa lever action. The first is the loading port. It is a cartridge-sized opening in the magazine tube. To load, turn the follower and lift it up to expose the port, then drop in five cartridges, just as you would do with that old tube-magazine .22 that you loved when you were a kid. Yup, take a look at the pictures again and you will see there is no loading gate on the side of the receiver. Some lovers of the old levers may not be able to take this. To admit a 30-30, the tube port must of course be much larger than that of the 22s you are used to seeing, and when open it looks like you could put an ice cream cone in it. Be that as it may, it works well and I like it. I don’t enjoy inserting cartridges in the gate of a Win 94 – it always seems harder for me than it is supposed to be. It is true that reloading the Henry will be marginally slower than reloading a 94 or 336, but with five in the mag and one in the chamber you will have six shots with which to bring down your quarry. Should be enough.

Muzzle showing barrel band polymer fitment with unitized front sight

Muzzle showing barrel band polymer fitment with unitized front sight

Second, we note that early models of the Henry .30-30 had a conventional, dovetailedfront sight, but this edition has a front band which holds barrel and tube together and has the front blade sight built in, all in one piece of plastic (oops, polymer!). There is a screw through the base of the blade that keeps the piece in position and a screw through the bottom flanges that serves to clamp barrel and tube securely. In my opinion, this is not a great feature of the gun. It works well enough, but it looks odd and limits front sight choice to the supplied blade that is of a piece with the base held by the band.

Shooting the Henry .30-30 Lever Action

I tried out the Henry .30-30 using 10 different factory loads, firing each of them over a chronograph and placing them at target range in three- to five-shot groups. Velocities were as expected for a 20-inch carbine and were very uniform with standard deviations in the range of 6 – 20 fps. The 150-grain loads ran about 2300 fps while the 170-grain loads ran about 2100 fps.

The Hornady American Whitetail 150-grain gave a healthy 2338 fps. The Remington Core-Lokt 170-grain gave 2140 fps with a standard deviation of only 14 fps, while the Federal Power-Shok 170-grain gave 2136 fps with a standard deviation of 20 fps. The Hornady LeverEvolution pushed its 160-grain bullet out at 2323 fps, again living up to its advertising claims. The faster performers of these factory loads are thus seen to give very good velocities for the 20-inch carbine barrel.

Ghostly Groups

I was very interested in seeing how I would do with the ghost ring sight. The answer is, “Good.” Even though the aperture is wide at 0.19” the amazing human eye (even my old one) is still good at centering the front sight in it. Shooting three-shot groups at fifty yards, I had seven groups that averaged 1.10.” Around 2 MOA, and that has always been considered good for a carbine with open sights. The 150-gr. loads did not do quite as well. Groups fell in the range of 1.1 to 1.9.” The adjustments of the ghost ring allow for accurate zeroing. Following that, you would definitely be ready to hit the woods for shots at 100 yards, maybe out to 150 yards.

How About A Scope?

Henry with Simmons 44 Mag 4-12X Scope

Henry with Simmons 44 Mag 4-12X Scope

For scope shooting I mounted a Simmons 44 Mag 4-12X scope using a Leupold one-piece base. Unlike earlier 44 Mags, this one is made in China. It worked OK and gave me tighter groups, as expected. From a total of 26 groups, the best twenty, three-shot groups using the various 150- and 170-grain factory loads showed an average center-to-center measurement of 0.94” (1.88 MOA).

Accuracy potential is definitely shown by the fact that the best ten of the twenty groups gave an average measurement of 0.60” (1.2 MOA).

The most outstanding groups were:

Hornady American Whitetail 150-gr  –  0.24” (Another of this load was over an inch)

Winchester CXP 170-gr –  0.38”

Federal PowerShok 170-gr  –  0.60”

Remington Core-Lokt 150-gr – 0.65”

Winchester PowerMax 150-gr  –  0.75”

Two five-shot groups fired using Hornady’s LeverEvolution 160-gr load measured 1.18 and 1.19 inches.

Seven-shot group, shots one minute apart

Seven-shot group, shots one minute apart

Barrel heating during repeat firing is not a problem with the Henry .30-30. To show that, I fired 7 consecutive shots into one group at an interval of one minute between each shot. The range was in bright sun at a temperature of about 85 deg. Check out the picture. The first five fell in a group of about an inch. The sixth looked like it was beginning to walk up, but the seventh fell back in the family. Barrel heating is not so much a concern for hunters, but I like this performance because it means I can fire four- or five-shot groups for accuracy without worrying about barrel heat.

One often encounters some inconsistency while shooting for accuracy. In this case, it amounted to an occasional three-inch group that would pop up during an otherwise lovely string of shooting. Just often enough to cause a bit of anxiety. However, this usually occurred just after a change in ammo or an adjustment of the scope. Often it would require several shots after an ammo change for the gun to settle down to a consistent point of impact. This is not uncommon, and the hunter will avoid it by choosing a favorite load and carefully sighting in the gun for that load before taking to the woods.

Another Way to Go

Williams receiver peep sight

Williams receiver peep sight

for sights would be to use a rear aperture smaller than a ghost ring. Williams makes models for Marlins that attach with screws at the rear scope base position. This works with the Henry, also. The picture shows a Williams 5D mounted on a Marlin 1894 Cowboy model. Several aperture sizes are available for the Williams to give you a choice appropriate for your work, target shooting to game hunting.


The Henry Model H009 is well-made with a nice finish and great wood. You would enjoy showing it to your friends.

The action worked well and became smoother during the ammo testing. The trigger became considerably better and had no detectable creep at the end of the test sequence.

The rifle gave nominal velocities with the factory loads that have been effective for bringing down deer at 30-30 ranges.

The ghost ring sight indicated it should serve quite well for ranges to 100 yards and a bit more.

The rifle was capable of excellent accuracy, in fact, it is probably the most accurate lever action rifle ever mass produced.  There was little difference in the accuracy shown by the three bullet weights in factory ammo.

Whatever your choice of bullet weight, you will have a good chance to find a factory load that will give you groups of about 1.5” at 100 yards. This will require some expense and range time. (Tip: I would try the Federal Power-Shok 170 first)

Unless you need seven shots to bring your deer down, loading the gun through the magazine port will not cause you any problems.

So, now,

Do you need a Henry Lever action .30-30? Only you can answer that. Deer season is getting close.

Henry at Top, Marlin Model 336 at Bottom

Henry at Top, Marlin Model 336 at Bottom



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A Umarex Colt .45 SAA in a Western Combo

A rifle and revolver taking the same cartridge was entirely a practical matter for our American ancestors. Survival on the frontier was complicated enough without having to worry about keeping track of different cartridges for long gun and short gun. Why take a chance on getting ammo mixed up in a critical situation? Thus, it is that the rifle/pistol combo in one caliber was popular way back then.

Winchester Model 1873 above Colt Single Action Army

Winchester Model 1873 above Colt Single Action Army

Check out the pic for a popular duo, the Winchester Model 1873 paired with the Colt Single Action Army, which also appeared in 1873. The Winchester could be had in the calibers .44 WCF, .38 WCF, and .32 WCF, also known as the .44-40, .38- 40, and .32-20. Colt also chambered the SAA in the same calibers, so you could have your choice in the late 1800s. The .44-40, being the most powerful, was probably the most popular in combo form and it is what I would have chosen. Truth be told, the longer barrel of the rifle did not add a huge velocity increase over the revolver, but it did offer some, and that, coupled with the greater ease of accurate shooting with the rifle, made the combo an idea that worked. All three calibers could be effective for self defense, and the two larger ones could take deer and even larger game in the hands of someone who knew how to get close to game.

Take a closer look at the photo and you will see that, while the 1873 Winchester is authentic, the Colt looks a little too spiffy to be in the pair. On the left side of the barrel is inscribed “Colt Single Action Army .45.” Read the fine print on the right side of the frame, however, and you will see that it is not caliber .45, but 4.5 mm (.177). Yup, it is a BB gun, a modern replica of the Colt SAA and that is what this post is about.

Well, Winchester never offered the Model 1873 in .45 Colt so that caliber could not be part of historical combo, anyway, but this replica is worth some consideration. It is made by Umarex USA of Fort Smith, Arkansas and is part of their extensive line of quality air rifles and pistols. They are able to use the Colt logo on the gun, which adds to its appeal.

The Umarex Colt .45 Single Action Army

It is a handsome gun with a bright blue finish on the steel frame and ivory-like plastic grips. The model is also available with a nickel finish. The barrel length of 5.5” is the same as the “Artillery Model” of the original SAA family. Other dimensions appear to be close to those of the originals, so the gun points well and has considerable heft. Operating in single action only, the piece is an excellent replica of an original Colt. One point of departure, however, as shown in the bottom view picture, the gun has a safety located in front of the trigger guard. When the Safety is on the gun cannot be cocked.

Bottom View of SAA.  Not Red Dot on Safety in Front of Trigger Guard

Bottom View of SAA. Not Red Dot on Safety in Front of Trigger Guard

Power for the weapon is provided by a 12-gram carbon dioxide cylinder which fits in the grip frame (see picture). The left grip has a built-in hexagonal wrench to use for tightly seating the cylinder. The grip frame is just a bit longer on this replica in order that it can contain the gas cylinder. I really like the feel of the grip.

Left grip Removed to Reveal the Gas Cartridge

Left grip Removed to Reveal the Gas Cartridge

An appealing feature of the Eumarex is that the BBs are held in brass “cartridges” which are loaded through a loading gate on the right side, exactly as they would be in an original Colt. Each cartridge is approximately the size of a .357 Magnum cartridge. For loading, take the six cartridges, push a BB into the red plastic fitting of each, and load them in the

BB Cartridges with .357 Magnum for Comparison

BB Cartridges with .357 Magnum for Comparison

Umarex Colt SAA with Loading Gate Open

Umarex Colt SAA with Loading Gate Open

six chambers. With the hammer in the half-cock position, the cylinder may be manually turned to accomplish this. Close the loading gate and bring the hammer to full cock. This aligns a brass cartridge with the barrel for firing. Fire six times and then you may use the functional extractor rod to remove the empty brass, but this is unnecessary because the cartridges will just fall out. Nevertheless the function is there, just as on the original Colt SAAs. In fact, the appearance and function of this piece are about as close to an original as one could ever get in a BB gun.

Using the Umarex .45 Colt Single Action Army

For a BB gun, this SAA clone is both powerful and accurate. Originally I thought “This is a toy for Grampas” because of its historical connections. The size of the grip, the weight, and the tedious loading procedure made me suspect that kids would not go for it. Putting the gun in the hands of four grandsons, ages 10 to 15, proved me entirely wrong. They got the concept, had no trouble loading and firing the gun accurately, and asked to shoot it again when the next morning came. The ten-year-old became quite proficient and could regularly puncture pop cans at twenty feet or so. I guess we will have to say that it appeals to all ages.


We must emphasize that use of this gun must be supervised by knowledgeable adults because it is capable of inflicting serious injury.

Velocity – Ten shots over my chronograph gave a high velocity of 429 fps, a low of 403 fps, and an average of 415 fps. The standard deviation was a low 8 fps. The average velocity puts this gun about 40 fps faster than the latest Daisy Red Ryder Carbines. Lining up Pepsi cans, I found penetration of three of the cans and one side of the fourth. Fired at pine, BBs would usual bury themselves to their full depth. This is certainly powerful enough to penetrate flesh and would be seriously destructive to eyes and ears.

Accuracy was very good and repeatable through the first 35 shots, or so, of a CO2 cartridge. Of most importance is that the gun created confidence among youngsters shooting at pop cans and even smaller targets, like Ritz crackers.

Groups that I shot were good with no flyers that I could attribute to the gun. Generally, a five-shot group measured an inch or less when fired at 20 feet or so. The picture shows two groups that I shot offhand at a distance of 18 feet using a two hand hold. Careful shooting from a good rest would result in smaller groups.

Two Six-Shot Groups

Two Six-Shot Groups

Here I should say that, for a gun in this category, the trigger is quite good. It is fairly light, and it breaks cleanly. Trigger function and accuracy are such that the gun will reward you with an errant hit if you jerk the trigger or heel the grip, just as you would get with a real powder-powered gun. Therefore, it should be useful in training and practice for folks who want to shoot real Colts or Colt clones.

I thought it would be fun to try some point shooting, something that I have previously done very little of. It could be practical, also, because in a tight situation you will not be

Fifteen Point and Shoot Shots at Silhouette

Fifteen Point and Shoot Shots at Silhouette

aiming your Colt. You will be pointing it. I used an NRA human silhouette target at fifteen feet. With gun at my side, I would then raise it with extended arm, get the muzzle on the target, and fire quickly. The results are shown in the picture. For fifteen shots, 12 landed in the inner, gray outline, and three in the outer black. I need some work, but, hey!, I got the equipment for it.


This is a fine product, great as a replica and as a firing BB gun. Granted that it is not low-priced, but I think the quality of materials and construction is a cut above the average of guns in this category. I think the model will be around a good while.

If your kid wants a real BB combo, though, his best bet is to pair the Colt SAA with a Daisy Red Ryder Carbine.

Daisy Red Ryder Carbine Above Umarex Colt .45 SAA

Daisy Red Ryder Carbine Above Umarex Colt .45 SAA


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The Remington Model 700: Not Really a Custom Rifle

There I was, standing before the used gun rack in one of my favorite shops, my attention riveted by a lovely rifle resting there.  It was a Remington Model 700 BDL.  The serial number indicated manufacture in 1980, but it had been in a good atmosphere for its 34 years.  There wasn’t a mark on it, perfect finish all around, and seeming to be in unfired condition. For all of us folks who can’t afford a custom rifle, Remington brought us the Model 700 in the mid-twentieth century.  Admirers of other brands will surely think I am too exuberant, and that’s OK.  There is a lot of excellence out in rifle land, at least there was in the mid-twentieth century, so I will cheer for your favorite brand, too.  Nevertheless, the Remington Model 700 was certainly one of the finest factory rifles to appear in that period. The BDL version in front of me that day was the dressiest of the 700s for most of the model’s life.  The caliber, .30-06 Springfield, a vintage thirty, sealed the deal for me.  Being a resident of Missouri meant that I could walk out of the shop with the rifle in about half an hour, leaving behind less than 10% of what a real custom rifle would cost.

Remington Model 700 BDL

Remington Model 700 BDL

A Little Snippet of History

The Model 700 is a Baby Boomer, so to speak.  The action was born in 1948 when the Model 721/722 duo was first offered.  This long action/short action pair was designed with an eye toward economical manufacture and correspondingly attractive retail prices.  The strength and accurate performance of this plain rifle made it very successful, and the introduction of the great .222 Remington cartridge for the Model 722 gave it another big boost.  By 1962 America was far enough into the prosperous post-war period that folks who wanted a spiffier rifle could afford to buy one, so Remington put the 721/722 actions in fancy duds and gave the world the Model 700.  The 721/722 actions and the successor M0del 700 were developed by a Remington design team headed by Merle “Mike” Walker, who became a legend, both as a Remington engineer and as a champion benchrest shooter using the .222 Remington round that he developed for the Model 722.  Mr. Walker passed away in 2013 at the age of 101.

With the Model 700, Remington also gave us the sensational 7 mm Remington Magnum cartridge, one of the most successful hunting cartridges ever produced. In the 50+ years that have since transpired, the ownership of Remington Arms has changed hands several times.  The company has had other successes and some notable failures, but the Model 700 has remained in production thoughout.  The 700 ADL and 700 BDL have been the common iterations, but special editions have been created to meet every demand, whether real or generated by fickle fads.  Check the Remington section of a recent Gun Digest and you may find around 25 different versions with stocks of wood, laminates, or plastic;  metal of blue or stainless;  barrels heavy, medium, or light;   tactical features or not, etc., etc., etc.  More than I need, but Remington is covering all bases.  To date it appears that more than 5 million Model 700s have been made.

A Closer Look

at the BDL I found shows the model’s usual dress:  good wood, with competent checkering, and a buttplate, grip cap, and forend tip of black, engineering plastic, all separated by white spacers.  The checkering is a well-executed, skip-line type that looks better than the impressed, fleur-de-lis checkering that appeared on the first Model 700s.  This, along with the white spacers that are thinner than those found on the early 700s, contributes to a more classic, tasteful appearance of the wood, maybe, hmmmm?, more like a real custom rifle.  The metal finish is also very good, a medium polish in dark Remington blue.  The bolt has a checkered bolt knob and damascened bolt body, decorative touches found only on fine rifles.  The wood and metal have a very good fit.

Note checkered bolt handle and turned bolt body

Note checkered bolt handle and turned bolt body

The picture will show that the butt stock wood has quite a bit of figure.  In the good ol’ days a custom rifle was mainly a wood project, and I remember looking at the custom rifle pages of the Gun Digest where the work of Len Brownell, Tom Shelhamer, Leonard Mews, and others was displayed.  The wood would be gorgeous, mostly walnut with spectacular figure and color and a wonderful oil finish.  The 700 is not up to that, but the stock finish, not quite as glossy as some Remingtons, is smooth and hard and does not have even one little scratch in it.

Walnut stock with butt plate, grip cap, and spacers

Walnut stock with butt plate, grip cap, and spacers

Remington 700 bolt

Remington 700 bolt

The bolt is one of the characteristic design coups of the 700.  Two locking lugs, like most sporting rifle actions following Mauser practice, but an extractor that is held in a circular groove on the inside rim of the recessed bolt face.  This circular, spring steel case gripper is a work of genius, but not appreciated by all rifle nuts because it violates the Mauser,-Springfield- Winchester Model 70 practice of having a huge claw extractor which grips the case for controlled-round feeding.  All I can say is that the push-feed, circle-clip extraction of the 700 works, and it allows the rim of the recessed bolt face to be uncut through 360 degrees.  This rim then fits in a recess in the end of the barrel, which is in turn surrounded by the receiver ring.  This gives the “three rings of steel,” a cliché by this date, that account for the great strength of the 700 action.

Give some attention now to the dissembled metal parts shown in the next picture.  Note the recoil lug between barrel and action, the tubular steel receiver, and the machined bottom metal with hinged floorplate.  Over the years, a receiver of heavy, tubular steel has proven to be a rigid platform for an accurate rifle, and this feature contributes to the 700’s

Model 700 action, with trigger and bottom metal

Model 700 action, with trigger and bottom metal

reputation for accuracy. The trigger mechanism lives in its own box, with a front-to-rear safety lever.  The trigger has three adjustments, sear engagement, spring tension, and overtravel.  These could be used to get a very fine trigger pull, but I believe that doing so voided the Model 700’s warranty.  When the 700 appeared, some pundits opined that the 700’s trigger was “target grade.”  Yes, the trigger on my BDL is very good, breaking at about 3.5 pounds, very crisply with no overtravel.  It is a bit heavier than I like for bench testing, but I am not going to attempt adjustment for a while.

At the Range with the Remington Model 700

Taking a new-to-me rifle to the range is always a very special experience, fraught with

Not many shooters would use the adjustable rear sight

Not many shooters would use the adjustable rear sight

expectation and hope.  It’s like being a kid again.  Would it possibly shoot like a custom rifle?  Maybe too much to expect.  What if it were a real dog?  But that has never really happened to me.  Best for me is that the rifle would show some promise and could be expected to respond to some accuracy tuning.  Time would tell. The bedding of the barrel was typically Remington.  There was contact with the stock for about 2 inches in front of the action, and then some pressure on the barrel beginning about 2 inches from the end of the stock.  The rifle carried the inexpensive scope it came with, a Bushnell Scopechief 3-9X variable mounted on a see-through mount.  Not what I would choose for lots of bench testing, but good enough for an initial evaluation.

Model 700 with Bushnell scope and see-thru mount

Test firing involved shooting groups (3 shots each) at 50 yards over a solid bench and with a bench-type front rest and bunny ear rear bag.  Generally good results were obtained with three different bullet weights.  A frequent feature of the groups showed two shots very close together with an estranged third shot.  I think this is a characteristic of a new rifle, not shot much, and the barrel and action are not yet completely comfortable in the wood.  This usually improves with more shooting.

More specifically, Winchester 150-gr Power Point Factory:  Six groups averaged 0.80 “ (1.6 Minutes of Angle).  The smallest group measured 0.45” and the largest, 1.12”.  Four of the groups in this set are shown in the picture.

Federal Fusion 165-gr Factory:  Four groups averaged 0.81” (1.62 MOA).  The smallest group measured 0.52” and the largest, 1.05”.

Remington 180-gr CoreLokt SP:  Four groups averaged 0.92” (1.84 MOA).  The smallest group measured 0.58” and the largest, 1.29” (Big flyer!)

Four groups, Winchester 150-gr Power Point.  Note 2 + 1 tendency

Four groups, Winchester 150-gr Power Point. Note 2 + 1 tendency

OK, so this is the performance of not-really-a-custom-rifle.  But I am encouraged by the potential it showed.  Each of the three bullet weights produced at least one group of less than 0.60” (1.2 MOA).  I could head for the fields of deer and elk tomorrow, with complete confidence in my rifle. But alas, that is not my game.  My game is to do some accuracy work on Mr. 700, retest him, and report back to you at some future date.  I will bet you that I can improve the accuracy performance.  Maybe to the level of a custom rifle?

Afterword:  Custom Rifles Today

If you would like to have a custom rifle built with the Model 700 action, Then Remington’s own “Custom Shop” would be a good place to look.  They offer a variety of rifles for hunting, target shooting, and tactical applications with blueprinted actions, custom barrels, and perfect action bedding.  According to Remington, a lot of hand work goes into the construction of these rifles.

Another modern approach to custom rifles is typified by the McMillan Firearms Co.  McMillan offers a line of rifles with emphasis on the tactical types.  Apparently that is what it takes to make money these days.  The material and workmanship of the McMillan rifles is first rate and worthy of the custom designation.  They also illustrate a trend that is followed by a number of modern companies.  Most of their rifles are offered with polymer composite stocks fitted with full length aluminum bedding blocks.  This totally eliminates the tedious handwork of bedding a choice wooden stock.  This, along with CNC machining of metal parts, makes it easy to assemble custom rifles for off-the-rack purchase.  Don’t bother with special desires, just buy what they have to offer and it will perform really well.

A “traditionalist” may be a person who wants to live in the past and follow the old ways.  Out of date, perhaps, and over the hill.  I am a traditionalist and I am totally content to be one. The word “tactical” is overused in the firearms market, and I won’t use it.  As good as plastic stocks are, and I have had some experience with that, I’ll take the beauty of good wood any day of the week.  I can also live with wood laminate if it is a color I like.  It is very stable and strong and often has pleasing grain and color.  Also, barrels of the better rifles made in the twentieth century are capable of very fine accuracy.  Many vintage rifles will tune up to custom accuracy performance.

The Remington Model 700 BDL is close enough to a custom rifle to suit me.

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Brothers in Brass: The .30-30 and the .300 H&H

Unlikely!  How could these two possibly be related?  The first, born in America at the very beginning of the smokeless powder era, a hunting cartridge considered only “adequate” for whitetail deer.  The second, born in Britain in 1925, has twice the powder capacity of the .30-30 and so is “adequate” for larger species of American game and a lot of African game.   Besides, the .30-30 has a rimmed case and has always lived, well, 95% of the time anyway, in an American lever action rifle.  The .300 H&H uses a belted case and has usually been furnished in elegant European bolt actions.

I will admit that they do not sound much like brothers. But wait just a sec, they both fire .308” bullets, so what we have here is

A Tale of Two Thirties.

There is a strong family resemblance in case shape.  Both cartridges have tapered case bodies, sloping shoulders, and long necks.  Modernists will simply say that this shows their age.  In today’s shooting world, straight case bodies, sharp shoulders, and short necks are the rage. The brother thirties are opposite on all counts, but very like each other.

Little brother .30-30 Winchester and big brother .300 H&H Magnum

Little brother .30-30 Winchester and big brother .300 H&H Magnum

A more important similarity is more subtle.  The rim of the .30-30 and the belt of the .300 H&H are two kinds of flanges that position the cartridges for reliable ignition of the primers, making contact of the case shoulder with the chamber shoulder unnecessary. The .30-30 and the .300 H&H are functionally identical in this respect.

Belted .300 H&H (Left) and rimmed .30-30

Belted .300 H&H (Left) and rimmed .30-30


Headspace is a property of a rifle’s chamber.  A simple definition is that headspace is the space that the rifle provides for the cartridge and the fit of the cartridge in that space must be very good.  Headspace is a distance that is described in terms of certain measurements of the chamber and the chamber’s relation to the bolt face of the rifle.

For the brothers described here, headspace is the distance from the closed bolt face to the front surface of the flange seat, be it for rim or belt.  Either cartridge is thus immobilized when the rim or belt comes against the surface cut for it in the rifle’s chamber, as it is forced forward by the bolt face.

Unlike rimless cartridges, consistent ignition does not require the shoulder of a rimmed or belted cartridge to contact the shoulder of the chamber.  If a .30-30 or .300 H&H rifle has correct headspace, it will produce reliable, consistent ignition regardless of the position of the shoulder of the cartridges being fired.  This is necessary considering the sloping shoulders of the two cartridges.  Rims and belts are identical in the headspacing function, but belts allow cartridges to feed more reliably in repeating rifles.

Another advantage is that the brothers combine this headspacing property with a long cartridge neck, and the resulting bullet friction promotes consistent powder combustion.  Reliable, consistent ignition and powder burning are the first requirements of fine accuracy, and the case properties of the .30-30 and the .300 H&H put them ahead of the game in the accuracy search.

Firing Factory Cartridges

Top:  Ruger No. 1S .300 H&H with Burris 6X target scope.  Bottom: Browning 1885 Traditional Hunter in .30-30 with Weaver KT-15X target scope

Top: Ruger No. 1S .300 H&H with Burris 6X target scope. Bottom: Browning 1885 Traditional Hunter in .30-30 with Weaver KT-15X target scope

The single-shot rifles shown in the pic above are excellent arms for evaluating the accuracy of factory cartridges.  Headspacing on a rim or belt makes the chambered shoulder position of these cartridges less critical than that of a rimless cartridge.  If the case body, base to shoulder, is a bit short, firing will simply blow the shoulder forward to fit the chamber.  If headspace is correct, there will be no significant lengthening of the case ahead of the rim or belt, and therefore little danger of a case separation.  A case can stand quite a bit of this forward expansion without cracking or separating.  For proof, just look at what happens when a factory cartridge is fired in an Ackley Improved chamber.  This is accepted practice for safely forming AI cases.

Nevertheless, today’s rimmed and belted cartridges seem to be held to exacting tolerances in regard to body length.  This can be determined by using a headspace gauge to measure shoulder position before and after firing a factory round.  I did this for some .300 H&H cartridges that I fired in a Ruger No. 1S rifle.  I used a Hornady Lock’N’Load Headspace

Hornady Lock'N'Load Headspace gauge held in digital caliper with .300 H&H being measured

Hornady Lock’N’Load Headspace gauge held in digital caliper with .300 H&H being measured

Gauge for this measurement.  This tool provides several drilled shoulder bushings that fit on a caliper.  The distance from the base of the case to a point on its shoulder can thus be measured, using the appropriate bushing, as shown in the picture.  For a rimmed or belted cartridge, note that it is not the actual headspace that is being measured, but the practice does give a reliable measurement for comparing the shoulder position of unfired and fired cases.

Using a 0.400” bushing I obtained the following average values for some .300 H&H loads.

Unfired ammo:                   Fired cases:

Federal Premium Trophy 180 gr                  2.281 in.                          2.283 in.

Handload: New Norma Cases 180 gr.        2.271in.                           2.280 in.

The Federal factory load pushed the shoulder only .002 in. indicating an extremely good match of cartridge and chamber dimensions.  The handload lengthening of 0.009 in. is certainly quite modest.


Case resizing is the most important operation in the handloading of the brother cartridges.  Firing a case causes the brass to flow forward to a certain degree.  Conventional wisdom says that tapered case bodies and sloping shoulders promote this forward flow and will lead to the need for frequent case trimming and shorter reloading life. Full-length resizing will overwork the brass with repeated shortening and lengthening, and that can lead to case separation, a dangerous result.

There is truth in the conventional wisdom, but a certain practice can lead to safe reloading and reasonable case life.  My advice here will apply to both the .30-30 and the .300 H&H, as well as to other rimless and belted cartridges.

Avoid full length resizing.

For either cartridge, after first firing the shoulder will have blown forward and the case will fit the chamber well.  The case is thus fire-formed in the chamber, and good reloading results can now be obtained with neck sizing, only.  I have generally found this to be true when using a Lee Collet Neck Sizing die.  This die sizes the neck for good grab without setting the case shoulder back.  Brass ahead of the rim or belt is not worked so case life is improved, with case separations becoming less likely.  I have had no difficulty in chambering reloaded rounds so sized, although I have had much more experience with the .30-30 than with the .300 H&H.  I expect to get much more work done with the magnum this summer.

It is also possible to adjust a full-length resizing die for neck sizing only.  This is a trial-and-error process of adjusting the height of the die relative to the shellholder, then running a case, and then taking a measurement.  It is OK if the shoulder is set back a thousandth or two.  Most loading manuals give detailed instructions for this process.

You can use the Hornady LNL Headspace Gauge for the measurement, but the Wilson Co. also has a nice item for this operation.  The picture shows the Wilson Adjustable Case

Wilson Adjustable Case Gage for .300 H&H

Wilson Adjustable Case Gage for .300 H&H

Gage* for the .300 H&H.  It has a shoulder-neck insert that is adjustable and can be locked with allen screws.  The insert is set using a once-fired factory case.  The insert is locked at the position in which the case head is even with the surface of the groove on the end of the gage, as in the picture.  The resizing die is then set so that the shoulder is pushed back to the extent that the case rim falls between the upper and lower surfaces of

Wilson Gage with fired cartridge inserted

Wilson Gage with fired cartridge inserted

the gage groove.  This indicates a shoulder push of 0.001 – 0.002,” and gives correct case shoulder position for your rifle with a minimum of strain on the brass.

Note:  These methods of sizing require that the reload be fired in the same rifle that produced the fired case.  If you wish to produce loads that can be fired in any rifle of the caliber, then you must use full-length resizing.



Let’s recap.  The rim or belt insures excellent ignition, the long neck promotes efficient powder combustion, and neck sizing gives reloads with a custom chamber fit.  Without doing anything special you are on your way to accurate shooting.  Get a little more particular with case preparation and it only gets better.  Articles on both cartridges have long indicated that they are not finicky when fired in a good rifle, and it is usually not difficult to find a good powder-bullet combination for fine accuracy.  This has certainly been my experience with the .30-30, especially in bolt action rifles or single shots.  I think the same will occur with the .300 H&H as my experience with it grows.  If my bones can take the punishment, I want to find out just how good the Ruger No. 1S/.300 H&H combo can shoot.

Parting Thought

I will leave you with the appealing idea that the brothers in brass also have a little sister.  She is the .22 Hornet and she has been around a long time, also.  Tapered case body, sloping shoulder, long neck?  You bet, so everything expressed above applies.

Little Sister, the .22 Hornet, in the center

Little Sister, the .22 Hornet, in the center



*The tool is a “gauge,” but Wilson uses “gage,” so I am using their spelling.

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The Gemini-20: A Digital Scale for Light Powder Charges

The Gemini-20 by AWS is a precise digital scale with accuracy that works well for the lighter powder charges of pistol loads. This post describes the Gemini-20 scale.

But first, it is time for the annual winter waterfowl picture from ATOTT Headquarters. This year there are a few swans mixed in with the Canada honkers, a little variety for nature lovers. These are Trumpeter Swans, a species that became nearly extinct in the 1930s due to loss of habitat and overhunting. Their numbers now seem to be increasing, although it is said there are still only about 5,000 trumpeters in the Midwest. We see a number of them annually, but they do not nest in our area, preferring areas further north for that. The Trumpeter Swan is the largest of waterfowl, with a wingspan of nearly eight feet, and the big boys get along just fine with geese, to which they are closely related. The picture provides a nice comparison of sizes for the Trumpeter Swan and Canada Goose.

Trumpeter swans with Canada geese

Trumpeter swans with Canada geese

Using a Digital Scale for Weighing Powder Charges

I have had good results using digital scales for a long time, as have many scientists and technologists. Chemists and pharmacists have used them for a couple of generations and the digital will be the only type of weighing device used in today’s chemistry laboratories in industry or education.

Among reloaders, there are some who are reluctant to give up the older beam balances that they are accustomed to using and that they know give them reliable results. They are suspicious of the quality and accuracy of digital scales that cost less than their favorite beam balance.

Speed and convenience of use swings the scale, so to speak, in the direction of digitals for me, and there is little reason to be anxious about their operation because accuracy is easily checked with a standard weight set.  Good standard weight sets are sold by RCBS and AWS, among others.  The first picture shows two digital scales that have given me good service, the DS-750 sold by Frankford Arsenal, and the Gemini-20 by AWS which is available at a number of outlets.

Left:  DS-750 scale;  Right:  Gemini--20 Scale

Left: DS-750 scale; Right: Gemini–20 Scale

The DS-750 has a maximum capacity of about 750 grains (50 grams), enough for all sport shooting needs. It professes an accuracy of 0.1 grain and the digital readout shows weight to one decimal in grain mode. The DS-750 in the pic has a 2-gram weight on the pan and it shows a weight of 30.9 grains.

Grains of what, you say? Well, actually, grains of grain. An old definition of a weight of one pound was that it was equal to the weight of 7,000 grains of wheat. That is still the stated equivalence of a pound and the unit we call a grain. Standard weight sets are usually metric, so we need a conversion. One pound is equal to 453.6 grams. Dividing 7,000 grains by 453.6 grams we find that one gram is equal to 15.43 grains. Two grains would then be 30.86 grains, or, 30.9 grains rounded to one decimal, which is what the DS-750 shows. It is right on the money. If I remove the weight, the reading will quickly go to 00.0. If I then replace the weight it will quickly go back to 30.9 grains. In other words, the performance is repeatable, which is what one wants. It is also very stable, that is, the zero value or a weight value does not drift to some other value over time. Not all digital scales have good repeatability or stability, but the DS-750 has always been outstanding in this regard.
The DS-750 has served me well for powder charges weighing in the 20 – 70 grain range, the normal range for most rifle cartridge reloading. It responds well enough that it is possible to use a trickler to bring a light charge up to desired weight. Its sensitivity deteriorates below about 3 grains, however, and its accuracy of 0.1 grain is less than desired for light pistol charges.

The Gemini-20 Digital Scale

I recently found and purchased a Gemini-20 scale,  offered by American Weigh Scales (AWS) located in Norcross, Georgia. This company obviously gets along well with Chinese manufacturers because AWS offers about a million different models of digital scales covering all imaginable weighing needs.

The 20 in Gemini-20 comes from its recommended maximum weight measurement of 20 grams. Remembering our conversion factor, that max amount is equal to 309 grains. That will handle common reloading needs, unless you need to weigh cast bullets for the .45-70 or some other big-bore boomer. You will get a scale with higher capacity for that.

I was interested in using the Gemini-20 at the lower end of its weighing ability. Here, the big news is that the scale is accurate to 0.001 gram! Most inexpensive digitals claim accuracy to 0.01 grams, so we gain one decimal place when we use the Gemini-20. Talking grains, the 0.001 gram precision translates to 0.015 grains. Using the usual rounding rule, the Gemini-20 is then expected to weigh accurately to 0.02 grains, a considerable increase in precision over the inexpensive 0.01 gram scales. If the scale actually delivers this level of accuracy, then we can expect a weighed powder charge to be no more than 0.02 grains more or less than its actual weight.

The Gemini-20 with set of standard gram weights from E.H. Sargent Co.

The Gemini-20 with set of standard gram weights from E.H. Sargent Co. Maximum 20-gram weight on pan

I found that the Gemini-20 does indeed deliver this kind of accuracy. After calibration, which is accomplished with a 10-gram weight followed by a 20-gram weight, I weighed ten standard weights from my E. H. Sargent scientific set varying from 10 mg (.01 gram) to 20 grams. In grain mode, the Gemini-20 returned weights for this range with an average deviation of less than 0.02 grains. Several weights were within 0.01 grains of actual, as with the 1-gram weight shown on the Gemini in the first picture, and a couple were right on the money. One standard differed by 0.04 grams from actual. Weight readings and the zero position reading were always stable and repeatable.

The sensitivity of an inexpensive digital balance decreases as weights get smaller. For example, a 0.01 gram scale like the DS-750 will not give a reading if just a 0.01 gram (10 milligrams) standard is placed on the pan. It is not sensitive enough to know that anything has been added. The Gemini-20, however, returns a weight of 0.14 grains when a 10-mg standard is placed on the pan. This is within o.01 grains of actual weight and is a truly remarkable performance.

My Application

Obviously, the Gemini-20 performs with precision greater than needed for weighing rifle charges in the 30-60-grain range. However, when I load a small case like the .32 S&W for use in an old top-break revolver I want good performance in the 1.5 – 2.0-grain range to maintain safety. The Gemini-20 does a great job in meeting this need. Needless to say, it will work very well for all pistol charges in the 1.5 – 10-grain range.

A shortcoming of the Gemini-20 is the small size of the pan it comes with. It is a little hard to get a hold on it, but its capacity is large enough for pistol charges. The picture shows that it will hold more than 25 grains of Accurate No. 9, one of my favorite magnum

Gemini-20 with charge of Accurate No. 9 in pan

Gemini-20 with charge of Accurate No. 9 in pan

handgun powders. Twenty-five grains of A9 equates to about 15 grains of Unique, 11 grains of Red Dot, and 7.6 grains of Trail Boss. Thus, the pan will suffice for handgun loads with various powders up through the .44 Magnum and .45 Colt. For larger charges, a washer fitting the circular pan base of the scale could be attached to a larger plastic weighing boat, or some such, but I have not tried that because I don’t need it. I will continue to use the DS-750 for larger charges.

The accurate Gemini-20 is a great little scale.  The lower maximum weight range and the two-stage calibration process contribute to its fine performance.  What does all this precision cost, you ask? The AWS web site quotes a price of $64.95 but a check of today showed one, eligible for Amazon Prime shipping, for the princely sum of $22.85. What a bargain !!

The Gemini-20 scae with its attractive box

The Gemini-20 scae with its attractive box

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A Savage Model 99EG

This post discusses the design of a classic, lever action rifle, the Savage Model 99, in .300 Savage.  A more complete, detailed discussion of the rifle’s history and design is found in the article “The Incomparable Savage Model 99” that appears in the Articles list.

The Savage Model 1899 was produced in a wide variety of models identifiable by serial number and alphabetical designations.  The model variety results from differences in barrel length and configuration, wood design, and whether the rifle uses a rotary magazine or the removable box magazine that was introduced at a later date.   Early on the rifle simply became known as the “Model 99” so you might find one to be a 99A, 99B, or 99C, and etc. through a host of others designated by single and double letters..

The Model 99EG that I will describe is one of the most common of the 99s and is usually found chambered for the .300 Savage.  It has a serial number in the 600 thousands and the “C” in the lever boss code indicates manufacture in 1951, so it is now ready for its 64th birthday in 2015.  Common it may be, but it has all the features of a classic Model 99 and was bought for less money than some older, less common ones would have demanded.  Yes, the Model 99 has collector interest because its production ended some time ago.

A Savage Model 99EG circa 1951

A Savage Model 99EG circa 1951

This rifle has a 24” barrel of medium taper with a ramp front sight.  The rear buckhorn sight has been replaced with a filler wedge in the dovetail and a nice, old Redfield aperture sight  is mounted on the tang.  The receiver is not drilled and tapped for scope bases.  Savage did not do that until the late 1950s.The rather wide receiver has the rounded bottom of the rotary magazine models and it has the little window on the left side that shows the number of shells remaining in the magazine.  A little cylindrical peg that

Lever down, action open

Lever down, action open

protrudes when the bolt is in battery and ready to fire is located between the bolt and the rear sight.  The square bolt is in the white and it locks at the rear in a notch in the frame when the lever is closed.  The bolt is thus completely supported by the frame of the action. The substantial lever is case hardened and has a small channel for a sliding safety that also locks the lever closed when engaged.  The lever uses a curved blade of very strong appearance, also case hardened, which connects the lever to the innards and allows it to actuate the bolt.

The wood is straight-grain walnut with a bit of curvy figure in the butt.  The front wood, which is rather long, has the schnifty little Schnabel tip that Savage put on so many of its rifles.  The forend and wrist carry rather coarse checkering of no particular distinction.  The pistol grip carries a metal grip cap and the butt has a grooved metal plate.  No name on the plate.  Workmanship and fit of parts is very good.

Action open.  Top view

Action open. Top view

The present state of the finish is about as expected for a rifle from the middle of the 20th century, one that has been cared for.  There is no rust and blue on the barrel is complete.  The receiver has a faded patina.  The wood has the look of 60-year-old walnut with an original oil finish.  It is a look that I like -a vintage appearance –showing that the rifle has been around the block several times, but is still in very good shape.

The .300 Savage Cartridge

Savage wanted to offer a cartridge with more poop for hunting than the .303 Savage, the rimmed, original cartridge for the Model 1899.  A thirty is always easier to pump up than any smaller caliber.  The big dog in the thirty camp at the time was the military .30-06 Springfield, which was (and is) a stellar performer on game with appropriate bullets.  This round, however, has a case length of 2.49” and a loaded length of 3.34”, much too long to work in the Model 99’s action.  The answer turned out to be the .300 Savage, a cartridge apparently designed by rifle designer Arthur Savage, himself, with an overall loaded length of 2.60” when using a spitzer bullet.  The target velocity of 2700 fps would have compared well with the .30-06 150-gr load of the time, but the standard load was more comfortable for the rifle when reduced to 2630 fps.  That has been the standard level for umpty years.  A 180-gr bullet has also been a long-term, factory offering with a velocity of 2350 fps.

Reloading dies for the .300 Savage are available from all major reloading companies.  The case will hold up to 45 grains or so of dense rifle powder of medium burning speed.  Loads quoted by various reloading manuals show very good performance.  For example, Hornady’s Handbook of Cartridge Reloading, 8th Edn. Shows that 44.0 grains of IMR 4064 will push a 150-grain bullet at 2800 fps (!!).  An interesting bullet choice in The Hornady manual is their #30396 FTX, a 160-grain boattail meant for the .308 Marlin Express.  This one, and all of their 165-gr bullets can be booted up to 2600 fps with charges in the 42-43 grain range.  With a 180-grain bullet the max is about 2400 fps.

Shooting the Model 99EG .300 Savage

My trips to the range with the 99EG went without a glitch and were very enjoyable.  I followed my usual practice of firing 3- or 4-shot groups at 50 yards, using three factory loads.

Velocities of Factory Loads

Factory Winchester 150-grain Power Point:

Average:  2632 fps;  Extreme Spread:  92 fps;  Standard Deviation:  27 fps

Factory Remington 150-grain Core Lokt:

Average:  2623 fps;  Extreme Spread:  94 fps;  Standard Deviation:  32 fps

Factory Hornady Superformance 150-grain SST:

Average:  2739 fps;  Extreme Spread:  28 fps;  Standard Deviation:  13 fps

The velocity results show that Winchester and Remington factory loads are quite similar, both delivering the advertised, nominal velocity for the cartridge through a 24-inch barrel.  The Hornady Superformance load makes good on its claim of at least 100 fps higher velocity and it shows very good uniformity.  I must also report that extraction was just a bit sticky with this load.  Not difficult, just a bit sticky.  This is a common occurrence with lever action rifles as pressure increases.

Velocity results for several handloads are included in the full article cited above.


I believe the Savage Model 99 has always been considered to be among the most accurate of lever action rifles, and its design would lead you to believe that that could be true.

To me, that means that the rifle would be capable of groups of 2 minutes-of-angle, perhaps better.  In general, that is what I found with the factory loads.

Group shooting was accomplished using the Redfield aperture sight with an aperture of 0.090.”  I will say that, with my mature eyes, I need very good light, bright sun, especially on the target, for best results with this kind of sight.  I did not always have it.  Groups would shrink a bit with the use of a good scope.

The factory loads, Winchester, Remington, and Hornady Superformance, were consistent in returning 50-yard groups of about 1.0” (2 MOA).  The Winchester may have been best because it generally kept four-shot groups in that range or a smidge less.  The point of impact of the faster Hornady’s was about 2 inches above that of the Wins and Rems.  All of these loads would be accurate enough for hunting at appropriate .300 Savage ranges.

The better results that were obtained with handloads are reported in the full article cited above.


Here is a rifle about 64 years old, bought from the used rack. I have no idea of the previous life that it lived, except that it was not abused.  It was found to function perfectly and to show very good performance with factory ammo and even more potential for accuracy using handloads with modern components.

Then, here is a cartridge, the .300 Savage, that looks very modern in spite of its birth date in 1921.  No, it is not among the most powerful thirties.  It is shaded in velocity and energy by the .308 and the .30-06 that it originally wished to emulate, and by all of the thirty magnums.  Nevertheless, 2600-2700 fps with 150 and 160-grain bullets is nothing to sneeze at, and the Savage gets this job done in a case only 1.87” long, and not exceeding the SAAMI maximum pressure of 46,000 copper units.

The .300 Savage in the Savage Model 99EG is a combo that is fun to shoot and to reload for.  I like it a whole bunch!

Bolt locked and even with receiver at rear.  Note cocking indicator peg in front of sight

Bolt locked and even with receiver at rear. Note cocking indicator peg in front of sight

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Power for the 30-30: Ackley Improved and Hornady LEVERevolution

If I want to know how people feel about any topic the WWW allows me to assemble hundreds of comments in a few seconds.  I did this recently with the topic “Hunting with the 30-30,” and the comments were impressive in number and quality.

Lots of people are still killing deer with the 30-30.  Many feel it kills well in their hunting conditions and they like to use the Winchester 94 or Marlin 336 carbines.  There is also some feeling that folks enjoy hunting the way Grandpa did it.  And, it is a telling fact that ammo companies keep introducing new and “improved” loads for the ancient one.

King of the Karbines: Winchester Model 94

King of the Karbines: Winchester Model 94

There is another school of thought that goes like this:  “Forget this useless antique.  It is near the bottom rung of thirty caliber power, and lever actions are just not accurate.  Every thirty that has appeared since is better and can be obtained in affordable hunting rifles.  Cut the traces, get a .308.  Get a .300 Winchester Short Magnum!”

It is difficult to refute this argument, based on performance rather than nostalgic personal taste.  But it is a little like someone saying to me “Roy, you don’t play piano as well as Emile Pandolfi.  In fact, you don’t even play piano as well as the old lady who plays for our church service on Sunday!  Give it up and find something else to play or do.”  Granted, I am far from proficient, but back off!  Trying to play piano as well as I can is part of the life I want to live.

So, regardless of how good the 30-30 is these days, making good ammo and working to make my 30-30 rifles shoot as well as they can is part of the life I want to live.  I don’t care how old it is, because not living the life one wants to live is a terrible thing.

There is no denying the popularity of the 20-inch carbines, but one of the ways to boost your double thirty is to simply use an arm with a longer barrel.  Marlin and Winchester lever actions can both be obtained with 24-inch barrels, and you can expect to get around 100 – 120 fps more velocity over a 20-inch barrel, maybe a little more.  Such rifles are still slim and light.  You will notice a bit of difference in the handling, but the increase is worth it.  The picture shows my 24-inch Model 94 Angle Eject version made in the 1980s.

Winchester Model 94AE, 24-inch barrel

Winchester Model 94AE, 24-inch barrel

With 170-grain factory loads, this AE gives velocities of 2152 fps, 2190 fps, and 2223 fps for Winchester Silvertip, Federal Classic, and Hornady Custom ammo, respectively.  A 20-inch carbine would likely give 2100 fps or less with this ammo.

There are some other ways to squeeze more zonk out of the old zombie.  One of the oldest was invented by gunsmith P. O. Ackley, who enlarged the 30-30 case by straightening its walls and making the neck shorter.  This method depends entirely on case configuration and a rifle’s chamber has to be reamed to accept the new shape.  Conventional 30-30 powders and bullets are used, and the additional case capacity gives higher velocities.  The new shape was called the 30-30 Winchester Ackley Improved.

A much more recent improvement occurred when Hornady Mfg. developed the LEVERevolution line of cartridges.  Hornady used the original case design but used improved bullet design and powder with better, progressive performance to get improved down-range ballistics for increased killing power.

The 30-30 Ackley Improved

Parker O. Ackley, educated at Syracuse University, established a gun shop in Trinidad, Colorado in 1945 and was a tireless firearms experimenter, gun builder, and writer in the mid-twentieth century.  He is perhaps best known for his development of “wildcat” cartridges in which his main method was to increase the powder capacity of existing rounds.  A whole series of “Ackley Improved” cartridges in various calibers resulted from his work.

The 30-30 Ackley Improved is a typical example of this approach.  The standard case is

Left:  Standad 30-30;  Right:  30-30 Ackley Improved

Left: Standard 30-30; Right: 30-30 Ackley Improved

modified by giving it straighter sidewalls, a longer case body, and a sharp shoulder.  This gives a case with a shorter neck and greater powder volume for increased power.  It looks great!  More modern shape, and still a nice rim for headspacing.

This is not a “How to” discussion, nor a recommendation.  It is just a description of the AI method.  The rifle chamber must be reamed to accept the shape of the new cartridge.  This is not a major operation, but it is best done by a gunsmith.  It could be done with any 30-30 rifle.  Factory cartridges will fire in the new chamber and the cases will expand to the new dimensions.  Alternatively, moderate handloads can be made up with new or once fired standard cases and fired in the new chamber to give AI formed cases.  From then on it is a handloading proposition.  Loading dies for AI cartridges are available from the major makers of reloading equipment.  Popular 30-30 powders, like IMR 3031 and W748 may be used with the usual 150- and 170-grain bullets.

What to expect??  Ackley reported getting about 300 feet per second over the factory velocity of 2390 fps with 150-grain bullets.  Impressive, but not all workers have been able to get all of that.  It depends on barrel length.  Longer barrels will get more velocity out of the increased charges that the AI allows.  From reports that I have seen, a shooter trying 30-30 AI could expect to get an increase in the range of 100-200 fps while maintaining safe pressures with either of the popular bullet weights.  The lower end is likely for 20-in. carbines, the higher for barrels of 24 in. or longer.

Suppose we use an arm with a 24″ barrel and we can get an increase of 200 fps with a 170-gr bullet.  Comparing ballistics we will find the following:

                                            Velocity          Muzzle Energy          200 Yard Energy

Standard 30-30                  2200 fps        1827 foot-lbs                    989 fp

30-30 AI                              2400 fps         2174 fp                            1176 fp

So we have an increase of 347 ft-lbs (19%) at the muzzle, but only 187 ft-lbs remains at 200 yards.  Still, that is significant.  This involves an increase in pressure, but a 94 or 336 will handle it.  Both have been chambered for rounds that generate more pressure than the 30-30.

Just below aperture, in the white, strong breech block locked on oth sides

Just below aperture, in the white, strong breech block locked in channels on both sides of receiver

An additional advantage is that the straighter AI cases undergo less stretching and therefore last longer and require less frequent trimming.

The Hornady 30-30 LEVERevolution

Hornady’s LEVERevolution (LE) line of cartridges for lever action rifles appeared in about 2005, and it was truly an innovation.  Hornady developed a flexible plastic tip for a spitzer (pointed) bullet that would not cause detonation of cartridges held in line in a tubular magazine.  The more streamlined bullet retained velocity better at range, and along with this, an improved powder from Hodgdon was used to gain some velocity.

Right: A Hornady 160-gr LEVERevolutin round with two conventional flat-nosed rounds

Right: A Hornady 160-gr LEVERevolution round with two conventional flat-nosed rounds

The 30-30 LE uses a 160-grain (Hornady calls it the FTX) bullet, different from the usual 150- or 170-grainers, so comparison is a little difficult, but the ballistic figures tell the story.  For a 24″ barrel:

Hornady 30-30 LE            2400 fps/2046 ft-lbs (muzzle)   1916 fps/1304 ft-lbs (200 yds)

We want to compare data for the Ackley-Improved above to that of the Hornady LE.  At the muzzle, the AI wins by 128 ft-lbs.  No deer are shot at the muzzle.  Check the 200-yard figures, however, and the situation is reversed.  The LE has 118 more ft-lbs of smack, a more efficient bullet doing a better job of retaining velocity.

Better yet,compare the LE to the standard 170-gr load.  How about 315 additional ft-lbs of goose at 200 yards, even though the bullet is 10 grains lighter?

Clearly, the Hornady LE beats the Ackley Improved at range with no modifications to the gun or any necessity for handloading.  Over the years, an informal rule of thumb has been that you need 1000 foot-whacks of energy to take a big game animal.  Note that the LE has more than that at 200 yards.

The claims made for the cartridge are real.  My 24″ Model 94 gave 2375 fps over a chronograph at 15 feet.  In five different rifles, 2 lever actions, 2 bolt actions, and a single shot, of various barrel lengths, the LE averaged an increased average velocity of 136 fps over a range of factory 170-grain loads.

The Bottom Line

If you use a 20-inch carbine to shoot your deer at 75 yards, you probably won’t notice much difference in the killing power of any of the 30-30 loads.  However, if you want to take a deer at 200, you will do better with a 24-inch barrel spitting out the 160-gr LE, or with the AI, but with the LE all you have to do is buy the ammo.  It is not hugely expensive, but good luck finding it in a store.

Does this make me want to forget the Ackley Improved?  Noooooooo!  I love to putz around, and I would love to putz around with the 30-30 AI in a good, strong bolt action rifle.  Got to find a way to do that so I can report on it in the future.

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