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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Unique, the Powder That Really Is

This post describes the characteristics, applications, and tips for measurement of Alliant Unique gunpowder.

History of Unique

Good things last a long time in the shooting sports arena. Going back to the beginning of the 20th century, Unique gunpowder is one of those good things.  Smokeless powder development was centralized in the Dupont company after DuPont absorbed Laflin and Rand and Unique came out of that development.  When Hercules Powder Company split from DuPont in 1912, Unique was one of the new company’s premier propellants and it has remained available to the present day.  It is now made and offered by Alliant Powder, a division of the huge company, ATK (Alliant Techsystems), that also controls such well-known names as Bushnell, Weaver, Federal, Speer CCI, RCBS, Savage, and others.

Chemical Facts

The two main components of Unique powder, nitrocellulose and nitroglycerin, were both invented in the 1840s. It was the Swedish chemist, Alfred Nobel, famous for using nitroglycerin to make “Dynamite,” that first investigated a mixture of nitroglycerin and nitrocellulose as a small arms smokeless propellant.  The successful product that resulted in 1888 was called “Ballistite.”  In the present day, smokeless propellants still contain either nitrocellulose alone or nitrocellulose and nitroglycerin, and are known as “single-base” and “double-base” powders, respectively.  Other, minor components are included in modern smokeless powders and this, along with fabrication of powders as flakes, balls, or sticks leads to the myriad of powders available for pistol, rifle, and shotgun today.  Unique is a powder of the “flake” variety, being actually composed of small disks about 0.06″ in diameter.

Applications of Unique

Unique can be used to boost pistol bullets, rifle bullets, or shot charges out the barrel of your chosen boomer. Sound versatile?  Yes, Allliant calls Unique the most versatile of powders, and that is perhaps the ground of its uniqueness.

That is not to say it is a top performer in all of those applications. I believe most shooters consider it to have greatest applicability for handgun reloading, and I agree.  It is my handgun projects that would suffer most if Unique were to disappear.  It is, however, also very good for 1-1/8 and 1-1/4 oz. loads in the twelve gauge shotgun and it may be used with smaller gauges.  With rifles, it must be confined to light charges with cast bullets.  Such loads often give excellent accuracy for plinking and small game applications.

It is the moderate burning rate of Unique that gives it great success with handgun cartridges. You can use it to load the .32 S&W, and you can use it to load the .45 Long Colt, and you can use it to load everything in between those case capacity extremes.  Now that is real versatility.  With 3.5 grains you can push a 95-gr bullet at about 1000 fps from a 4-in .32 S&W Long.  Regular and +P loads to 920 fps are possible in the .38 Special and.44 Special.  Use 10 grains to kick a .45 Colt 255 grainer out at 950 fps, maybe a little more from the strong Ruger Bisley or Super Blackhawk.  Eleven grains will give about 1200 fps of scoot with a 240-grainer in the .44 Magnum.  These are all serious, effective loads for hunting or self defense, achieved with modest charge weights.

Reloading with Unique

The excellence of Unique has long been tempered by two criticisms. It is said to be dirty, too much residue remaining after firing.  Secondly, the flakes do not feed well through a powder measure, thus making it difficult to get uniform charges in your loads.

The firing residue has never bothered me much, although I can see that folks who get in a rage when a bird poops on their car might complain. No matter, Alliant has recently improved the combustion characteristics and it now burns more cleanly.

The measuring characteristics are more difficult to deal with, but, really, all big boys and girls should be able to have success in measuring Unique with a little practice.

I will tell you what I do. I use a Lee Perfect Powder Measure, a plastic and aluminum, rotating drum device that

The Lee Perfect Powder Measure

The Lee Perfect Powder Measure

usually costs less than $25 and generally gives good results with stick and flake powders.  I fill the reservoir about ¾ full with Unique while shaking it back and forth.  Then, with the measure supported on its stand, I play pittypat, pitty-pat, pitty-pat-pat-pat with my fingers on the side of the reservoir for at least a minute.

The powder being well settled I am now ready to adjust for the weight I want using the rather crude micro adjustment of the cavity in the drum. The main thing to remember as you try to zero in on your desired weight is:  do not adjust the measure on the basis of one throw.  It takes more time, but I throw ten charges at a setting and weigh the total.  The average gives me a very accurate idea of what the measure is throwing and what adjustment I need to make to get to my desired weight.  It may take several adjustments, but when I get there, I charge all of the cases I want to load with no further weighing.  Then I visually check the powder levels before seating bullets.


Wanting to load some moderate .38 Specials, I set the Lee measure as close as I could to 3.8 grains. Then I threw five sets of ten charges each and weighed each set of ten.  These weights for the series of five sets were 38.4 gr, 38.6 gr, 39.0 gr, 38.6 gr, and 38.4 gr.  This excellent uniformity shows that the long term stability of weights of Unique thrown by this kind of measure is very good.  The throw-to-throw variation in weight is small enough to always average out in ten throws.

Then I sized and capped 20 pieces of .38 Special brass and charged them with no further weighing of the charges from the adjusted measure. I finished the loads by seating hard-cast, 148-gr, double-ended wadcutters.  At my range, I used a 6″ Smith and Wesson Model 14 to fire the 20 rounds consecutively over my Pro Chrono, with the following velocity results.

Low, 934 fps, High,, 988 fps, Ave 969 fps, Extreme spread 54 fps, Std Deviation 18 fps.

For a second trial, I loaded 20, .32 S&W Long cases with 3.4 grains of Unique using the method described above, and using a cast, 95-gr cast semiwadcutter. At the range with my Smith and Wesson Model 30-1 with 4 in. barrel, the first ten shots averaged 976 fps with a spread of 52 fps and a Std deviation of 18 fps.  The second set of the load was not quite as uniform, same average velocity, but a spread of 71 fps and a Std deviation of 24 fps.

For comparison I fired 10 rounds of .32 Long using 3.3 grains of Hodgdon Universal Clays and the 95-gr bullet.  The average velocity was 978 fps, extreme spread 53 fps, std deviation 18 fps.   Thus, the uniformity of the Unique loads is comparable to that of loads using Universal, a powder that many feel has no special measuring problems.

Note that these are very strong loads for the .32 Long and should only be used in modern revolvers.  No old top-break revolvers allowed for this one!

This level of uniformity for Unique loads in two different calibers is very good and I am quite satisfied with it for general shooting activities.  Note that my charge weights are relatively low.  Even better relative uniformity could be expected for heavier charges in larger calibers.


Shifting gears here to something else on my mind.  I occasionally look at some of the shooting forums, and I sometimes see posts about “making my own black powder.”  It seems to be a survivalist thing arising from the idea that when the apocalypse comes, even though powder might not be available, one could, perhaps, still lay one’s hands on some charcoal, sulfur, and potassium nitrate.  Thus, a means for sustenance and self defense would be at hand.

There are a couple of reasons, at least, that this is not a good idea. First, in spite of the simple formula, it is not easy to make good black powder.  It is easy to fail.  Second, it is a very dangerous activity.  You could kill yourself or members of your family, even when seeming to be very careful.

If you wish to persist in the face of these difficulties, well, OK, but I will tell you what I would do. I would get an 8-lb canister of Unique, maybe two, and squirrel them away in a cool, dry place.  Then, when it hits the fan, I could load any handgun round I wanted, any shotgun shell of 20 gauge or above, and any thirty caliber rifle with cast bullets with a smokeless powder giving good performance and requiring no special handling or cleaning effort after firing.  Oh, I must not forget to lay in a good supply of primers and bullets, also.  My guess is that I would tire of living in the post-apocalyptic world long before the Unique was used up.

What To Use?

One of my choices would be my Ruger Bisley Blackhawk in .45 Colt. If you want to blast with a real fistful of handgun, then this very strong, well made revolver is for you.  With 7-1/2 inch barrel I have loaded it to 1200 fps with H110 pushing a 250-gr jacketed bullet.  Others have exceeded this.  With Unique, I can exceed 1000 fps with cast or jacketed bullets, and that would take a deer with a good shot at close range.  The Bisley grip frame is one of the best for shooting heavy loads, and my gun was known to shoot 2-inch groups at 50 yards back in the days when I had a Leupold 2X handgun scope attached to it.

Ruger Bisley Blackhawk .45 Colt

Ruger Bisley Blackhawk .45 Colt

Better for hunting and self defense would be a lever action carbine in .45 Colt, to pair  with the Bisley. I do not have one at the present time, but would consider a Winchester Model 92 pattern by Winchester or Cimarron, or possibly a Marlin Model 94.  Holding up to 14 rounds, these arms would give you quite a bit of firepower.  Not enough, but quite a bit.

Sorry for the digression…..

Measure your Unique carefully and use it happily.

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Bedding A Springfield Krag Sporter

Krags with original, military stocks usually shoot well, if the barrel is fairly good. The military wood fits well, the barrel bands securely position the barrel in its channel, and the large, flat bottom surface of the action gives much support in that area.

A modified Krag with a sporter stock could be another story. There are a lot of them around, due to the government’s sale of surplus Krags to the public many years ago.  The .30-40 is a very good game cartridge, so money could be made selling sporter stocks for Krags.  A Krag so fitted, and with no collector value, came my way some years ago.  I recently thought it would be fun to try to epoxy bed the action and get some shooting results with the finished product.

The Springfield Krag-Jorgensen in question is a fairly late model of 1898, the last modification of the Krag design. It came to me with barrel cut to 24 inches and wearing a sporter stock of unknown make.  It had been crudely adorned many, many years ago with patches of gold glitter by a guy named Johnny.  I know because he inscribed his name on the stock.  It wore military sights.  The end of the barrel had been counterbored to a depth of 1.5 inches, probably because the end of the barrel had been damaged by cleaning from the front.  Thus, the piece was a real beater, but the action was good and the barrel scrubbed up to a shiny look with rifling visible throughout the length.  Some pitting was apparent in the grooves, but shooting provided decent groups, about 2 inches with the open sights.

The stock was worthless in present form, and thus it seemed a good candidate for an amateur experimental gun project.

How to Do It???

The picture shows my stock with the action removed and positioned above it. Note that there are two action screws, both going through the trigger guard, one in front and one in back.  Then, in front of the action screw there is a huge flat area (the bottom of the magazine) before the front action ring and barrel channel are reached.  The pic shows a band about ¼” wide around the receiver ring.  This band fastens the front of the S & K scope mount and the stock has to be inletted to make room for it.  Going forward, about half way down the barrel you will see a barrel band tapped for a screw that holds it fast in the barrel channel of the stock.

Krag action and wood ready to go.

Krag action and wood ready to go.

There would be more than one approach to the bedding of this complicated action. The main question is what to do with the large, flat area under the magazine.  My decision was, “nothing.”  Adequate bedding here would require removing a significant layer of wood in order to provide a thickness of bedding material.  Maybe I am lazy, but I did not want to do it.

I decided to take a more conventional approach. I bedded the rear guard screw seat and the tang area, along with the front receiver ring, scope mount band, and a couple inches of the barrel.  By ignoring the three acres of magazine area, the treatment could be similar to that of other sporting bolt actions.

The barrel band raised another question. I think most gun nuts, including me, would probably not want their barrel grabbed in this place or in this fashion, and It would have been easy to remove the band and let the barrel float.  Take another look at the picture, however, and you will see that the action screws, while there are two of them, are pretty close together near the rear of the action.  Additional retention is needed toward the front, so I decided to bed the barrel band and use it.

As shown in the next picture, the middle part of the stock is thin. This results from the size of the Krag action magazine box.  It is the weakest part of the stock.  The pic shows there is a crack that begins just behind the magazine.  This often happens with Krags because they do have substantial recoil that hammers this part of the stock.  I repaired this crack with a steel rod.

Magazine section of Krag stock.

Magazine section of Krag stock.

My point, however, is that the thinness of the stock in this area requires that work be carefully done. In the present instance, it mainly concerns the process of separating the action from the stock following the setting of the epoxy bed.  Sometimes one must use a lot of muscle to do this.  With a Krag, the stock could be broken at this point if care is not used.

That did not happen to me, I am glad to report. I followed recommended procedures with Brownell’s AcraGlas Gel.  One must be careful not to create a mechanical lock of epoxy to action.  The trigger assembly needs to be removed to avoid a lock, but that is not difficult.  While it was difficult to get action and stock separated after hardening, I was able to do it without damage to the stock.  Patience must always be used.  The finished bedding is shown in the next picture.

Job finished

One additional thing to note. As mentioned above, when this rifle came to me the muzzle of the old pooper had been counterbored to a depth of about 1.5.”  Amazingly, the gun shot pretty well, but I got tired of the black hole, so I got out my large Dremel cutting wheel and my files and removed about  2 inches.  This took the front sight with it, so I put a Weaver Kaspa Series 4-16X scope in the S & K mount.  This mount, a no-gunsmithing model specifically for Krags offsets the scope, which is necessary for the bolt to work. What went to the range looked like this.

Bedded Krag ready for shooting.

Bedded Krag ready for shooting.

Some Shooting Results

Over the years I have seen several reports of shooting results with Krags. These are usually obtained with a military length arm in its original wood, using the military sights, and that is fine.  The shooter usually finds a couple of groups of about 2”, or a bit less, then says “Yep, and my eyes certainly ain’t what they used ter be, so these Krags shoot real good!”  What I have never seen is a shooting report for a sporter stocked Krag, or a scoped Krag, and certainly not one for a rifle with a bedded sporter stock and a 16X scope.  Well, you are going to get it all right here, friends.

I fired three-shot groups at 50 yards with two factory loads and two handloads. The initial results indicated that the gun was sensitive to the tension of the front barrel band screw. Real tight was not good.  The tension needed to be enough to seat the barrel in the bedding, and then just a little more.  Then, the best results obtained were as follows.

Winchester Factory 180-gr Power Point (2350 fps)

Average group 0.72” Smallest group 0.44”

Remington Factory 180-gr Core Lokt (2405 fps)

Average group 0.72”   Smallest group 0.47”

These are the only two factory loads currently available for the .30-40 Krag. They both use spire point bullets so down-range power would hold up well, with good performance on big game to more than 200 yds.

Handload 39.0 gr IMR 4064, Winchester 180-gr Power Point (2169 fps)

Average group 0.81” Smallest group 0.52”

Handload 44.8 gr IMR 4350, Sierra 180-gr Flat-Base SP (2111 fps)

Average group 0.54” (4 groups)  Smallest groups 0.34 and 0.38”  !!!!!

Handloads giving around 2100 fps with 180-gr bullets have always worked well for me with the Krag in the past. In further work, I would bump this to about 2250 to see what happens.

Four groups: IMR 4350 and Sierra 180-gr FBSP

Four groups: IMR 4350 and Sierra 180-gr FBSP

Overall, the bedded Krag seemed to want to shoot about 1.5 MOA with some indication that it wanted to get down around 1.0 MOA. The most amazing results came from the loads using IMR 4350.  I think amazing is the right word, and maybe a little weak considering the age of the piece and the condition of the bore.  I guess no one, including me, would have predicted it, but I swear on a stack of Gun Digests that it happened just as reported.  I am going to follow up with more work with 4350 handloads to further establish this performance.

I also have an idea for a further bit of bedding work on this rifle, but I realize I may be at the point where the accuracy-limiting factor is the condition of the bore and not the bedding. This probably won’t stop me so you may be hearing about it.  Later.


Is it Worth It?

Probably not, but how am I going to stay away from real work if I don’t do stuff like this. Seriously, working with your hands is way better than watching TV.  Working with your hands stimulates your brain.

I know that this is a specialist’s project and that it does not have wide appeal in the shooting fraternity. You have to love old iron, especially Krags, to be interested in it.  I know you are out there, so I hope you enjoyed it.

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A Weaver KASPA Series Rifle Scope

This post describes the design and use of a Weaver Kaspa Series 4-16X Rifle Scope, a scope made in China.

But first, how about a nice, fall bouquet?  The flowers are free.  You can find them along most country roadsides this time of year.  We have some cattails, goldenrod, Queen Anne’sBoquet enhanced Lace, butterfly weed, and a couple of others.  They last well in a vase.  Goldenrod blooms will continue to open, but, alas, the butterfly weed will not.  The message is: Fall is breathing down our necks.


The BIG Question

I must get zeroed in now on the reason for this post.  The big question is “Can I live with a scope MADE IN CHINA?”  There are more and more of them, you know, and they are taking over the lower cost end of the optical spectrum.  In time, if not already, they will dominate that segment of the market.  It seemed that my best chance to check out a Chinese scope was with a company that has a number of successful, long term scope models and a reputation to protect.

What About Weaver?

The Weaver company began operations in 1930.  One man, Bill Weaver, had a vison and some ability, and he built a great little company.  He made all his own tooling and carried out all manufacturing operations, even to the point of grinding his own lenses.  In 1964 he was making half of all scopes made in America and he built a new factory for 600 employees.  Not much later things began to go downhill.  About the time Japanese autos started to make a real dent in the American market, small companies also felt the pressure of foreign competition. Weaver sold his scope company to Olin Industries in 1968. He passed away in 1975.  The company then got on an ownership merry-go-round, as has happened with many companies in the shooting sports.  The details need not be covered.  Suffice to say, Weaver is currently owned by ATK (Alliant TechSystems).  This, my friends, is a sad story.

In the picture, the scope at the top is Weaver-made, a 2.5-7X variable with a steel tube.  The tube is blued, which I like.  The windage and elevation knobs are finger-adjustable.  Fine crosshairs comprise the reticle.  The lower scope is much later.  It is a Model V10, 2-10X variable scope made for Weaver in Japan.  The tube is aluminum with a black anodized finish.  The windage and elevation adjustments have coin slots, and the reticle is a duplex design.  The scope is light in weight, strong, and has good optical performance.

Two Weavers

The V10 is a member of Weaver’s Classic V-Series of scopes, a series that has been offered for many years.  I have also used a V24, a 6-24X variable in this series, and it has done very well on a Ruger #1 .22-250.

Other, long lasting Weaver lines are the K-series of fixed power scopes and the T-series of target scopes.  The Grand Slam series is a newer series of variable scopes with quality features offered at higher cost.  I have not seen a Grand Slam or the newer Super Slam, but I expect that they offer good value.

The Kaspa Series

This relatively new Weaver series of Chinese manufacture is covered by the company’s Limited Lifetime guarantee, same as other Weaver lines.   Weaver claims the line “provides ballistic precision at bargain prices.”  The prices are not exactly rock bottom, however.  The 4-16X model I chose has a MSRP of $228.95.  The street price, however, is closer to $150.  This allows for one-piece tubes and fully multi-coated lenses.  This all registered well on my frugal meter.  You really wouldn’t want to pay less than this for a variable power scope, regardless of country of manufacture.

Check it out in the picture.  The 4-16X has a 44 mm objective lens, a one-piece aluminum tube with center focus and a matte black finish.  Fairly compact, it has a length of 13” and a weight of 15 ounces.  It has fully multi-coated lenses and is nitrogen purged, features found in all quality rifle scopes.  The general fit and finish seems good.

Kaspa w Box

I tried hard, but could find no information on the origin of the “Kaspa” series name.  Not even on Weaver’s web site.  During my search, however, I did find the following definition given by the Urban Dictionary.

“1. Kaspa.  A kaspa is a very sexy, good-looking man with amazing kissing skills and turns  on a lot of women.”

That will do for now.  If you have any info on the origin of “Kaspa,” drop me an email.

Using the Kaspa 4-16X Scope

The scope was mounted on a Model 1898 Krag-Jorgensen rifle that I had just epoxy bedded and wanted to test for accuracy.  The mounting is accomplished using an S & K mount specifically made for the Krag-Jorgensen.

Controls of the KASPA scope

Controls of the KASPA scope

Operation of the adjustments is smooth.  The windage and elevation adjustments, ¼” per click, have clicks you can feel, but they are not crisp.  The center focus works well.  This replaces an adjustable objective lens ring for focus and parallax minimization.  This is the first scope I have had with this feature; it is convenient and I like it.  The magnification ring operates smoothly and has about the right tension for easy adjustability and resistance to change while shooting.  There is a quick diopter adjustment on the eyepiece and it works fine.

The image is bright and clear with a bit of fall off in sharpness at the edges.  The scope has an exceptional amount of eye relief that is maintained throughout its zoom range.  At higher magnifications, it is touchy about eye position, which slows acquisition of the sight picture and makes it a bit harder to maintain. This gets tedious as time goes on in a lengthy range session.

S & K holds the KASPA on the Krag

S & K holds the KASPA on the Krag

I used the scope while sending about 50 rounds downrange from the Krag.  It had plenty of windage and elevation adjustment for zeroing, and the shooting results were very consistent.  There were no problems with my target results that indicated any problem with the scope. I was able to shoot several three-shot groups of 0.5” or less at fifty yards. My smallest group measured 0.34” (Which by the way is very good accuracy performance for an ancient military rifle.  I am preparing a separate post on the bedding process and the shooting results.)

So Far So Good

This level of precision is plenty good for the evaluation of accuracy in rifles and handloads. Evaluating a scope, however, is a long term process. A good scope has got to last and I can’t comment on that at this point.  Indications are, however, that the KASPA should be fine for general game and varmint hunting.  Does that mean that it fills a niche at the economical end of the optical spectrum?  I think so.

However, since most of my shooting is precision group shooting to evaluate handloads and accuracy work, I will continue to use scopes of higher quality.


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Rifles With Long Chambers

This post describes shooting experiences with rifles that have (too) long chambers.  Can poor performance be expected?

Nature News

Spring was very late in coming to ATOTT headquarters after a brutal winter, but this little Dutchman’s Breeches proves that it finally came.  This shy little guy springs up every year at the base of a tree next to our steps, and when it arrives, I know spring has sprung.

Dutch Britch adjst

Down to Business

If you are a rifle enthusiast and work with a variety of rifles over a period of time, chances are good that you will at some time encounter a rifle with a long chamber.  Many shooters think that the condition results in poor shooting performance, which makes them want to sing the blues*.

Considering the various parts of a cartridge and its fit in a chamber, the term “long chamber” is open to misinterpretation.  I will be careful to say that what I am talking about is the “throat,” or, length of the bore in front of the case neck before the rifling engages the bullet.  That region is properly called the “leade,” and if it is longer than necessary the chamber has “free bore.”  The practical result is that the fired bullet must travel a distance before it engages the rifling.

Savvy shooters think that a well-seated bullet should be close to the rifling (lands) when a cartridge is correctly chambered.  A distance of 0.02 – 0.03” might be suggested, and some talented target shooters even want their bullets to touch the lands at firing.  This practice has a long and distinguished history in target shooting, going back to black powder match days.

However, owing to manufacturing process, whether intentional or not, a finished chamber may place the bullet in the range of 0.25 – 0.50” from the lands.  Then you have a long chamber.  I have a suspicion that some rifle makers add free bore to certain models in certain chamberings as a safety factor, and that the practice is more common than we might think.

[It is well-known that Weatherby rifles for the Weatherby cartridges are made with long chambers by design in order to handle the huge powder charges with a bit more safety.  The chambers have about 3/8″ of freebore.  Some folks have felt that the condition contributes to a lack of gilt-edged accuracy for Weatherby cartridges but, read on]

The Blues

Two unwelcome results are often attributed to long chambers:

Lower than expected bullet velocity.  Upon firing, pressure builds at a slower rate and to a lower ultimate maximum when the bullet is initially unimpeded by the rifling.  Lower pressure means lower velocity.

Accuracy less than desired.  When travelling across the free bore, the bullet does not have adequate support.  A degree of wobble may be introduced, the effect being a loss of accuracy.

A Good Example

Recently, I glass bedded a Remington Model 788 action in a Ramline plastic stock.  I test fired the result for velocity and accuracy with a variety of ammunition, and I posted the results, which were pretty good.  This rifle, however, has a long chamber.  How do I know?  I measured it using a Stony Point overall length gauge.  This handy product is now sold by Hornady.  Using a Hornady 165-gr flat base spire point bullet the gauge showed that the OAL was 3.02.”   Hornady recommends a COL of 2.75” for this bullet in .308, a difference of more than one quarter of an inch.  The length shown by the Stony Point Gauge would not work in the box magazine of the 788.  Now that is a long chamber.

Long .308:  Chamber cast, top.  OAL Gauge, bottom.

Long .308: Chamber cast, top. OAL Gauge, bottom.

My rather crude chamber cast gave visual proof of the condition.  Measuring the cast showed that the case neck length is about .02” longer than the nominal length of 0.304” taken from the diagram in Hornady’s reloading manual.  This margin provides good safety, but is not excessive.  Note also that it takes about a quarter of an inch for the lands to reach full depth from where they begin.  The lower image is the Stony Point Case Gauge with the Hornady 165-gr bullet, showing where the bullet needs to be seated in order to touch the lands in this long chamber.  Not much of the bullet base is actually in the case neck

Shooting Results

Velocity results with this rifle depend to some extent on bullet weight.  Loads using 150 or 165-grain bullets with IMR 3031 or Hodgdon Varget have given velocities about 100 fps lower than predicted by loading manuals.  On the other hand, Winchester and Federal factory loads using 180-grain bullets have given velocities consistent with listed values.

This does not allow me to generalize about velocities from long chambers, other than to say that a long chamber will probably show sub-standard velocity with some bullets.  I am tempted to say that velocity falloff is greater with the lighter bullets because the chamber length overage is less with the heavier (therefore longer) bullets.  More data is needed.

Accuracy results were also mixed.  Remington, Winchester, and Federal factory ammo was fairly uniform in giving groups in the 1 -2″ range, with some tendency toward one flier in a three- or four-shot group.  This performance would be acceptable for hunting, although not as good as I would expect for a good .308 sporter.

Carefully assembled handloads, however, gave much better performance.  I offer in evidence a target showing six, consecutive three-shot groups at fifty yards that measured an average 0.39″  (0.78 MOA).  The load used 42.6 grains of Varget to push a Hornady 165-gr SP.  Yes, they are only three-shot groups, but when you find this level of uniformity, with little tendency toward fliers, you can be sure that rifle and load are working very well.  Handloads using Varget or IMR 3031 with 165-gr bullets generally performed better than factory ammo.

Target adjusted

So, again, I probably should not generalize, but I would say that a long chamber will not always give you an accuracy penalty.

Other Examples

This 788 is not the only long-chamber animal I have worked with in my shooting life.  Another good example is a Savage Model 340, a bolt-action .30-30.  Its chamber measured 2.846″ with the Stony Point Gauge (Sierra 170-gr Bullet), almost a quarter of an inch longer than the nominal length of .30-30 ammo.  I will compare this rifle’s performance to that of a Remington Model 788 in .30-30 Winchester.  Its measured chamber length is 2.546.”  Some years ago I did and extensive test of factory ammo and both guns were included.  With seven different factory 150-grain loads the 340 averaged 90 fps lower velocity than the 788 (both 22-inch barrels).  With six different 170-grain loads the average velocity difference was 60 fps lower for the 340.

Moving along to an accuracy comparison, the average 4-shot group for the 340 with 150-gr loads was 1.80 MOA, only 0.20 MOA larger than the 788’s average group.  The difference was a bit greater, about 0.40 MOA, for 170-gr loads.  We must not, however, pin this accuracy difference entirely on the 340’s long chamber.  There are many other factors affecting accuracy.  In general, we would expect a Remington 788 to be more accurate than the economical Savage 340, regardless of chamber length.  We think about the quality of the barrel, chamber machining, and action bedding, for example.

Finishing my thoughts on the 340, I can say that it has often given very good accuracy with handloads.

Other examples that I could give include a Remington Model 700 .222 Remington and a Ruger No. 3 .30-40.The Model 700’s chamber was so long that a 52-grain match bullet set to touch the lands would not be in the case mouth at all.  Loading manual powder charges gave lower velocities, but groups as small as 0.60 MOA were common with this riflle.  Regarding the .30-40, I don’t know about the Ruger No. 3, but older Krags were throated for the 220-gr military bullet, so such chambers will be long for 180-gr and lighter bullets.


The picture shows a dummy cartridge (right) with bullet seated to be within 0.02″ of the lands in my 788.  This I wll not be doing.  The round is way too long for the magazine.

Cartridges adjusted

Rifles with long chambers are individuals, as are most rifles.  You may have one that shoots so well that you would never suspect that there was anything odd about it.  Ignorance may be bliss.

Typically, you will find somewhat lower velocities.  You will not necessarily find accuracy problems traceable to the chamber length, and accuracy may be exceptionally good in spite of the condition.




*My speeds are slowing,

My groups are growing,

The more I shoot, more tears are flowing,

The clouds are dark, there’s no good news,

I got the old, long-chamber blues.

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The Smith and Wesson Model 30-1 .32 S&W Long

This post describes the design and performance of a fine Smith & Wesson .32 revolver.

I have been a .32 fan since dad showed me Great Grandma’s old Harrington and Richardson.  She carried it in her apron pocket during the Great Depression when hobos would stop for a handout at her house.  The Smith & Wesson Model 30-1 considered here never saw such menial duty.  The blue box is worn and the gun has a light cylinder ring but was unfired when purchased.  It came from the collection of a fellow who bought and squirreled away some guns in the mid-twentieth century.  When he passed recenty, his family found and consigned them for sale.  Lucky for me I connected with this beautifully finished little revolver before someone else did.

Smith and Wesson Model 30-1

Smith and Wesson Model 30-1

The Smith & Wesson Model 30-1

The gun is an example of the tried-and-true hand ejector design that appeared in 1896.

Model 30-1 with cylinder open

Model 30-1 with cylinder open

Being late in the series of improved versions that have appeared since, this one has the J frame, ramp front sight on a 4-in. barrel, flat thumb piece, diamond in the grip, and serial no. 725XXX that means production in 1963.  I like the looks of the long, serrated front sight and the round grips.  This syle of grip seems appropriate on a gun of this size.  Although it is small for my average male hand, it is still comfortable.  The great workmanship and appearance of the gun shows why I like Smith & Wessons.  They are among the finest of affordable mechanical devices.

This gun has been patiently awaiting its destiny in its box for fifty years.  Turns out its destiny is to be shot by me and I am going to shoot the heck out of it.  Its strength and quality will surely mean it can take it.

Shooting the Model 30-1

There are four bullet designs in the factory ammo that I had on hand for this test:  Several different brands have the standard round nose, one has a half-jacketed hollow point, one has a flat nose that is like an old version called the .32 Colt New Police, and a couple of others have target wadcutter bullets.  The picture shows, left to right, an Aguila 98 gr RN, a MagTech 98 gr half-jacket hollow point, a Sellier and Bellot 100 gr flat nose, and a Fiocchi 100 gr wadcutter.

Ammo for .32 S&W Long

Ammo for .32 S&W Long

Here are the velocity results for these loads (Ave = average velocity, 10 rounds, ES = extreme spread,and SD = the standard deviation):

Winchester 98 gr Round Nose            Ave 665 fps     ES 108 fps       SD 34 fps

MAGTECH 98 gr Round Nose            Ave 620 fps     ES 79 fps         SD 30 fps

PRVI Partizan 98 gr Round Nose       Ave 542 fps     ES 112 fps       SD 37 fps

Sellier and Bellot 100 gr Flat Nose     Ave 696 fps     ES 107 fps       SD 31 fps

Aguila 98 gr Round Nose                      Ave 624 fps     ES 52 fps         SD 14 fps

MAGTECH 98 gr Jacketed HP            Ave 483 fps      ES 154 fps       SD 43 fps

Fiocchi 100 gr Wadcutter                     Ave 616 fps       ES 101 fps       SD 30 fps

Federal 98 gr Wadcutter                      Ave 734 fps       ES 74 FPS       SD 28 fps

I found that fired cases came out very dirty, because the cases obturate (seal) poorly at these low pressures.  Extreme spreads were large, exceeding 100 fps for more than half the brands;  Standard deviations were correspondingly large, 30 fps or more for three fourths of the brands.  Considering an SD of 30, and knowing this means that 95% of shots will fall within a range of plus or minus two standard deviations, I see that it takes a range of 120 fps to catch 95% of my shots.  That is a wide range when the average velocity is only in the 600s.

The Federal wadcutter load won the velocity race, and it would be the best factory choice

Load at this end!

Load at this end!

for small game or self defense.  It is also the most expensive load.  I liked the Sellier and Bellot a lot.  It gave good velocity and the flat-nosed bullet would be more effective on small game than the round noses.  The Aguila had the best uniformity.  The MagTech jacketed round was worthless.

Overall accuracy of the loads was good to very good.  I used an NRA 25-ft slow fire target and a sandbag rest when putting 10 rounds of each brand over my chronograph.  Ten-shot groups ranged from 1-1/4” to 2-1/8”.  The Sellier and Bellot, the Fiocchi wadcutter and the Federal wadcutter all managed groups of 1-1/4”.  The Aguila was close at 1-5/16”.  My eyesight is a limiting factor in group shooting, so I think these could be tightened up a bit.

I found that there were a couple things I could do to get better zing from some factory loads.  When I noticed that the Winchester round nose loads did not have much, if any, crimp, I got my 32 seating die out and set the bullet in several of them 0.06” lower and then roll-crimped them over the shoulder.  Average velocity jumped to 730 fps (from 665 fps), with an ES of 35 fps and an SD of 12 fps.  This was a considerable improvement in velocity and uniformity.  These data were taken on a different day than the first Winchester numbers, but, no reason to doubt the chronograph on either day.

The second thing I found is that temperature really matters.  The Sellier and Bellot ammo, after sitting in a cardboard box in the sun on the range bench, and feeling decidedly warm to the touch, gave an average velocity of 743 fps (from 696 fps) with an ES of 46 fps and an SD of 13 fps.  I am not recommending this practice.  The results are reported for your information.

It is a joy to use a gun as finely wrought as this little, mid-20th-century Smith and Wesson.  Function was perfect and smooth, and I am quite satisfied with the accuracy.

I will need to make some handloads to get the best out of this Model 30-1 and that is where I am headed next.  Handloading the .32 Long for good performance is easy for an experienced loader.  The small case capacity makes it possible to get 2000 good loads from a pound of powder and cast bullets work very well.



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The Harrington and Richardson Model 732 Guardsman

This post describes the design and shooting characteristics of a Harrington & Richardson Model 732, .32 S&W Long revolver.

I formed an early relationship with the Harrington and Richardson company.  In my boyhood, H & R was an old firm most active in the production of  economical, utilitarian firearms.  Since my farmer father was a very economical, utilitarian guy, H&R was always a good candidate whenever we needed a gun.  My first .22 was a bolt action H&R and it was a great day when I carried it out of the hardware store in our small Illinois town.

After putting on a little more growth I felt I needed a revolver, and an H&R Model 999 Sportsman came my way.  This top break arm with six-inch barrel was well made and accurate, and I practiced for anticipated bullseye matches using NRA targets pinned to a bale of hay behind the barn.  I got so I could occasionally shoot a “90,” but match entry never came about because education and other life necessities got in the way.

After using the 999 for a while I thought it would be good to try a centerfire revolver, maybe one that fired the .32 S&W cartridge.  The best were made by Smith and Wesson, but I knew I couldn’t afford one of those.  My old friends Harrington and Richardson had been in the .32 business for years, and their best offering at the time was the low-priced Model 732, also called the “Guardsman.”  It was kind of clunky looking but appeared to be robust, and I felt that if it were as good as my Model 999, it would do quite well.

Alas, other life necessities got in the way and a 732 never came my way.  Years passed, and, as family economics eased, I got other revolvers from time to time, including several by Smith and Wesson, but the image of the little 732 never completely left my mind.

Fast forward to fall, 2013.  What should appear in a case at my favorite gun shop but an H&R Model 732 Guardsman?  Its finish was freckled with light rust, the result of poor storage, but it seemed to have had little use, had a good bore, and functioned perfectly.  It had to go home with me and that was not painful, because economical, utilitarian arms like this H&R have never attained much in the way of collector status.

Two 20th Century H&Rs:  Top, Model 999, .22 rimfire, circa 1953;  Bottom, Model 732, .32 Centerfire, circa 1963

Two 20th Century H&Rs: Top, Model 999, .22 rimfire, circa 1953; Bottom, Model 732, .32 Centerfire, circa 1963

Design of the Model 732

Earlier .32s, by H&R, S&W, and others, were of the top-break variety.  Smith and Wesson developed the side-swing action, which they called a “hand ejector”, in the 1890s.  Having

H&R Model 732, cylinder open, showing safety rim around cylinder face

H&R Model 732, cylinder open, showing safety rim around cylinder face

a solid frame, the Hand Ejectors were much stronger than the top breaks.  Smith and Wesson soon abandoned the top breaks and they have never looked back.  H & R, on the other hand, stayed in the top break game until well into the twentieth century.  Eventually, however, they realized that progress required them to adopt the stronger, solid-frame design for centerfire guns.

The H&R Model 732 revolver is a double-action weapon with a capacity of six cartridges.  It has a solid frame with a swing-out cylinder and a 4-inch barrel.  The cylinder is unlocked by pulling forward on the cylinder rod, which functions as the ejector rod when the cylinder is open.  The entire face of the cylinder is counter bored, a feature meant to protect the shooter from injury in the event of a case failure.  The front sight is a large blade.  The rear sight is a blade with a generous notch and it is adjustable for windage.  The gun has a square butt and comes with black plastic grips.  The barrel, frame and cylinder are fairly heavy, so, DSCF0970even though small, the gun has a substantial feel and conveys an impression of strength.

Mr. Wesson’s Thirty-twos

Attention is often not given to the fact that Smith and Wesson, in addition to making great progress in revolver design, also introduced a whole bunch of centerfire cartridges to fuel their revolver inventions.  Colonel Wesson played an important part in the development of these rounds.  They include the .32 S&W, .32 S&W Long, .38  S&W, .38 S&W Special,  .44 S&W Russian, and the .44 S&W Special, all in the Nineteenth Century.  Amazingly, new factory cartridges in all of these calibers can still be purchased today, when you are lucky to find them on a dealer shelf.

The .32 Smith and Wesson was introduced in 1878 to accompany the new Model 1-1/2 single action revolver.  The .32 Smith and Wesson Long was introduced to accompany the .32 Hand Ejector, S & W’s first side-swing (a double action) revolver, that appeared in 1896 and that was updated  periodically for many years following.  Yes, the Long is simply a lengthened version of the earlier .32 S&W, which may also be fired in any revolver chambered for the Long.

.32 S&W Longs, L to R:   Remington round nose, 98-grain;  MagTech jacketed hollow point, Sellier & Bellot 100-gr flat nose;  Handload with flush seated 98 grain wadcutter

.32 S&W Longs, L to R: Remington round nose, 98-grain; MagTech jacketed hollow point, Sellier & Bellot 100-gr flat nose; Handload with flush seated 98 grain wadcutter

The two original .32 cartridges appeared near the end of the black powder era, but today’s factory .32s use smokeless, of course.   Factory ballistic performance is in accord with SAAMI pressure specifications for the cartridges.  Factory data says that the .32 S&W fires an 88-grain bullet  from a 3-inch barrel at a muzzle velocity of 680 feet per second (Energy 90 foot-pounds).  The .32 S&W Long spits out a 98-grain bullet from a 4-inch barrel at 705 fps (Energy 115 foot-pounds).  These velocities and energies are far below the performance potential of either the short or long round.  The industry maintains the low pressure loadings to insure safety in view of all of the old and weak revolvers that still exist and are capable for firing a round.   While a lead bullet carrying 115 ft-lbs of kinetic energy is easily capable of inflicting a mortal wound, most gun experts consider the factory .32s practically useless for self-defense or hunting.

Shooting the Model 732 Guardsman

I testfired the revolver by shooting on an indoor range at a distance of 7 yards.  Firing outdoors was prevented by serious winter weather.  That will come later this year.  Even indoors, however, I was able to measure velocities and get a good indication of potential accuracy.

I fired four different factory loads in the Guardsman:  First, some Remington .32 S&W Long 98-gr “Target” ammo that has been recently marketed by Remington;  Second, some Wichester 98-gr round noses;  Third, some Sellier & Bellot 100-gr flat noses, similar to the old load called the .32 Colt New Police;  Last, some Fiocchi 100-gr hollow base wadcutters, a target load.  For comparison, I tried the Remington ammo in an old H&R Second Model double-action, top break revolver from the early 1900s, with 3.5-inch barrel.  I also tried one handoad using 1.7 grains of Bullseye and a Mag Tech 98-grain hollow-base wadcutter bullet in a Winchester Long case.


1) Model 732 with Remington Target 98-grain round nose:

Ave, 632 fps;  Spread, 61 fps;  Std deviation, 20 fps

2) Model 732 with Winchester 98-gr round nose:

Ave, 640 fps;  Spread, 65 fps;  SD, 18 fps

3) Model 732 with Sellier & Bellot 100-gr flat nose:

Ave, 702 fps;  Spread, 96 fps;  SD, 33 fps

4) Model 732 with Fiocchi 100-gr hollow base wadcutters:

Ave,  587;  Spread, 164 fps;  SD 49 fps

5) H&R DA Top Break with Remington Target 98-grain round nose:

Ave, 563 fps;  Spread, 89 fps;  Std deviation, 27 fps

6) Model 732 with handload, 1.7 gr Bullseye and Mag Tech 98-gr HBWC:

Ave, 697 fps;  Spread, 47 fps;  Std deviation 14 fps

As noted earlier for .32 factory ammo, I found these factory loads to be low in pressure with mediocre velocity performance.  As such, the new Remington ammo is about on a par with other factory brands.  The Winchester was the most consistent (smallest standard deviation), but the Remington was not far behind.  The Fiocchi, with a spread of 164 fps, was very poor in this regard.  This was caused by a couple of squibs in the 10-shot string.  The tenth shot sounded like a cap gun and registered 485 fps.

Note that I equaled factory ballistics with a handload using only 1.7 grains of Bullseye.  This load is still extremely mild.  For strong revolvers, safe loads approaching 1000 fps can be assembled with appropriate powder charges in the .32 S&W Long case.


Results of firing 18, five-shot groups at the seven-yard distance showed that the H&R Model 732 is capable of good, perhaps very good, accuracy.  The smallest group I fired with the Remington Target ammo was only 0.76,” but, fact is, most groups with this ammo were at least 1.5” and larger.  The group performance was not very consistent.  The old H&R top break was not quite as good, but not far off.

The Winchester gave me a smallest group of 0.72.”  The Sellier and Bellot gave two groups that averaged 1.04.”  The Fiocchi, in spite of its poor consistency, fired two groups that averaged 0.92.”  This seems to me to be very good accuracy, certainly better than is given by most small semi-autos that are used for self defense.  It seems entirely possible that a good handload for short range small game hunting could be found for the H&R.

Five-Shot Groups:  Left, Remington 98-grain .32 Long Target;  Right Handload, 1.7 grains Bullseye with Mag Tech 98-grain hollow-base wadcutter

Five-Shot Groups: Left, Remington 98-grain .32 Long Target; Right Handload, 1.7 grains Bullseye with Mag Tech 98-grain hollow-base wadcutter

The hand loaded cartridges with the 98-grain wadcutter bullet were much more consistent.  The group shown in the picture is typical.  The smallest group with this ammo measured 0.66.”  Measurements of the smallest groups translate to a bit over 2” at 25 yards, and that is good enough to keep me quite interested in further work with target bullets in this capable little wheel gun.

Bottom Line:  I am as happy as a pig in a mud hole.  Finally got my 732 and it is fun to shoot and shows promise.  Further shooting will investigate more handloads.  Factory ammo is just too pricey these days for frequent fun plinking, shooting at cans and targets.  Besides, the search for a good, accurate load is the challenge.  You will hear more about this as time goes on.

A very capable thirty-two

A very capable thirty-two

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The 1964 Gun Digest

This post looks at firearms history by examining an old copy of the Gun Digest.

The Gun Digest has always been a favorite source for articles covering all aspects of guns and shooting activities and I have always looked forward to the annual appearance of a new edition.  I have a copy of the 18th Anniversary “DeLuxe” 1964 edition, now 50 years old.  Having a look at it may give us some perspective and an idea of how far we have, or have not, come in 50 years.  The Gun Digests of the nineteen sixties have a lot of content and the1964 edition is one of the best volumes of that publication ever to appear.  Looking at something like this is as good as having a time machine.  Note the price of $3.95.


Return with Us Now To Those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear….

“The Lone Ranger Rides Again!”  Well, not really.  The Lone Ranger and other stars of the western TV craze were gone by 1964.  Gunsmoke and Bonanza, however, were still alive and healthy and enjoyed by millions.  If one wished to emulate Marshal Dillon with a Colt Single Action Army .45 with a 7.5-inch barrel like his, the 1964 GD shows that Colt could satisfy that need for a mere $125.00.

Maybe, however, you were a Smith and Wesson fancier in ’64.  The matchless Model 27, .357 Magnum, had been around for quite a while, but the monster Model 29, .44 Magnum, had existed for less than ten years.  The 1964 Gun Digest lists both as available, the .357 for $120.00 and the .44 Mag for $140.00.  Dirty Harry (of movie fame) had not yet come along to boost the demand, and the price, for the Model 29.

Smith and Wessons:  Foreground, Model 27;  Background, Model 29

Smith and Wessons: Foreground, Model 27; Background, Model 29

Hunters and other centerfire rifle enthusiasts did not have anything close to the number of choices we have today, but arms of high quality were available.  A Winchester Model 70, just coming to the end of its pre-64 classical phase, could be had for $139.  A Remington Model 700 BDL required about the same outlay of cash.  Those a bit less flush could choose a Savage 110-E for $99.50, or even, gasp!, a Savage Model 340 for $63.95.  Lever action admirers would have to put up only $83.95 for a Winchester Model 94 carbine.

Bird hunters would be pleased with their Browning A-5 Auto for $139.75, or their Winchester Model 12 pump at $109.15.  No, you didn’t get a ventilated rib for that dough.  That was extra.

For Those That Like to Read about Guns

This edition of the GD had 55 useful articles spanning 353 pages.  As usual, there were historical articles, hunting articles, gun tests, and technical articles covering guns and ammo.  The lead article dealt with one of gun history’s miserable failures, the Marlin Model 62 lever action in .256 Winchester Magnum.  Not a bad little cartridge, a .357 Magnum case necked down to .25 caliber, but sales never got off the ground and it was soon gone.

There were two articles covering shooting and hunting with one of gun history’s greatest successes, the Remington’s Model 700 7 mm Magnum, that had been around just a short while in 1964.  One author described taking eland, greater kudu, wildebeest, and impala in Africa.  We all should be so lucky.  The 7 Mil Mag killed the small and medium plains game like lightning.

An article on the Guns of Lewis and Clark describes the armament of the famous expedition, their main shoulder arm for hunting being the Harper’s Ferry .54 caliber flintlock rifle.  They used it to kill the largest game of the west for meat on the trail.  Yes, they also faced the previously unknown grizzly with these flintlocks until they decided it was better to stay out of the mammoth bear’s way.  Other historical articles dealt with the Snider rifle, the Remington 7 mm rolling block, the 9.3 x 72R, and the Peabody sporting rifle, a real potpourri of old iron.

The “Testfire” section, a regular feature of GD editions, tested eight rifles and shotguns, among them a lowly Savage Model 340c .30-30.  Test shooter Ken Waters was freaked out because the rifle repeatedly fired five-shot groups of less than 1.5” at 100 yards!  With only a Weaver K3 scope installed!  As mentioned earlier, the catalog section listed the 340c for $63.95.  You may have read of the Model 340’s admirable qualities in other posts on this site.

My favorite article was “Half-Minute Rifle” by Warren Page.  Page, a very successful gun editor, hunter, and firearms experimenter, was also a champion benchrest shooter.  He wrote many articles in his career and I read a lot of them at the time they appeared.  I liked his breezy, matter-of-fact style.  He wrote with authority, because what he wrote was always based on his personal experience.  One finds a number of articles by Page in the Gun Digest issues of the 1960s and 1970s, and, like many of the good gun writers I read when I was young, he is long deceased.

In this article Page discusses what needs to be done to get a rifle that shoots half-inch groups, or better, at 100 yards.  In his opinion, it has to be a bolt action with a cylindrical steel receiver, because that shape has greatest stiffness.  Then, you have to have a really good barrel, probably a custom, and a very light, crisp trigger and fast lock time.  You could put custom parts together, but if you just wanted to buy a rifle that had a chance at half-inch groups, the Remington Model 40X might do it.  I can’t do justice to this, or any, article in one paragraph, but maybe you get the flavor of it.


Nothing creates nostalgia for a gun nut like looking at what guns cost in the good ol’ days.  All of those lovely Smith & Wessons, Brownings, and Winchesters, I should have bought one of every model, but, of course, I did not.  Like many folks now looking back, I was afflicted with youthful poverty when this stuff, and everything else I would like to have purchased, was available at now seemingly attractive prices.

However, what did catch my eye, and what I did purchase, was a sleek little single-barrel shotgun.  It was a Hawthorne Model 110 single barrel, break-action shotgun with a .410 bore.  The Hawthorne name adorned some guns sold by the Montgomery Ward chain, often known in my neck of the woods as Monkey Ward’s, a direct retail and mail order firm that was actually older than Sears, Roebuck and Co.

A Hawthorne Model 110, .410 Bore, sold by Montgomery Ward in the 1960s

A Hawthorne Model 110, .410 Bore, sold by Montgomery Ward in the 1960s

I really liked the streamlined looks of this little scattergun, a rather modern design for the time.  Its main feature was that it was hammerless, quite unusual for a single barrel shotgun in that or any other time.  References state that the Hawthornes were made by Savage Arms Co., and Savage sold an identical Model SB100 with the Savage name on it.  Over the years the same gun was sold by other outlets under the Jefferson and Western Field names.  The Hawthorne sold for a bit more than $30.00 in 1964.

This one has never drawn blood, but there was a time when it drew a lot of clay target dust.  I think it might be time this tube had another workout.

Fifty Years of Progress

Some things, like the Marlin Model 62, are long gone.  Other things, like .410 shotguns and the 7 mm magnums, are still with us, and probably will be for a long time to come.  Nothing we like better has come along. Many good things do seem to last in the shooting sports.

One final observation:  The 1964 Gun Digest has not one article on the AR military style of semi-auto rifle and no such are listed in the catalog section.  Likewise, there are no articles on small, plastic semi-auto pistols or on concealed carry techniques, things you will find so thoroughly covered in more recent publications.

This does not bother me.  Doting on vintage guns as I do, I could live quite comfortably in the shooting world of 1964.  In fact, I do!

Old editions of Gun Digest may sometimes be found at gun shows or listed on eBay.



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Hornady’s American Whitetail Ammo for the .30-30 Winchester

This post describes Hornady’s American Whitetail ammo for the .30-30 Winchester and compares it to other cartridge lines.

We know that the deer population in America has never been higher.  We also know that there are more than ten million deer hunters in the country.  Predictable result:  Selling ammo to deer hunters is a money-making proposition.

Hornady’s American Whitetail (AW) line of ammo is aimed (oops! pun) at this market.  The line includes nine cartridges that include the usual suspects from .243 Winchester to .300 Winchester Magnum.  These loads use the Hornady Interlock bullets in weights appropriate for whitetail deer hunting.  That, in Hornady’s view, means 150 grains for all four of the thirty-caliber entries in the line.  They enthusiastically announce that the AW ammo “….combines generations of ballistic know-how with modern components and the technology you need to take the buck of a lifetime!” (from Hornady’s website)

Just looking at the box this ammo line comes in might cause a deer to give up and fall over dead.  With a clever AW logo nestled in a rack of antlers and bold white lettering on an American flag background, it is just about the spiffiest factory ammo box I have ever seen.

Packaging beauty

Packaging beauty

Interesting to me is the fact that the AW line includes a 150-gr loading for the .30-30 Winchester.  Well, you could hardly have such a line without including the grandpa of all deer cartridges, now, could you?  Nope.  The ballistic performance, which you can actually find printed on the beautiful box, is identical to “standard” specs, namely, a muzzle velocity of 2390 fps for the blunt, 150-grain bullet.  Same as such loads have given for years, regardless of make.

Four deer cartridges loads, L to R: Federal 150, Remington 150, American Whitetail 150, and LEVERevolution 160

Four deer cartridges, L to R: Federal 150, Remington 150, American Whitetail 150, and LEVERevolution 160

Pulling a bullet from an AW round reveals 36.0 grains of a dark gray, ball powder with flattened grains.  Of course, we can’t hazard a guess as to the identity of this powder. The bullet has a round nose and a flat base.

American Whitetail Load Disassembled

American Whitetail Load Disassembled

We will want to compare this load with the .30-30 LEVERevolution 160-gr load introduced by Hornady a few years ago and touted to be the last word in a safe and effective cartridge for lever action rifles.  The LE gives 2400 fps at the snout with its slightly heavier bullet.  That is not hugely greater, but the big news is what happens down range, as has been now reported many times in many places.  The LE bullet, with a ballistic coefficient of 0.330, arrives at 200 yards still making 1916 fps and 1304 fp of kinetic energy.  The pokey AW, like other standard loads, will arrive at that distance making only 1581 fps and 832 fp of kinetic energy because of its lower ballistic coefficient of 0.186. .  It is certain, therefore, that LEVERevolution powder is not being used in the AW shells. They are totally conventional, and that is not a bad thing.

Déjà vu

Famous before the appearance of the latest cartridge lines, Hornady’s Custom ammo series was the former home of the standard 150- and 170-grain loads for .30-30.  The Custom line still exists and is quite extensive, including nearly 50 loads in various calibers.  It uses Interlock and SST bullets and still seems to be the “standard” centerfire line but it will probably be superseded by the Superformance line that is using more modern powder tech and offers improved ballistics, albeit for a bit more money.

The Custom line still includes a 170-grain load for the .30-30 at the standard velocity of 2200 fps.  The 150-grain load, however, is no longer in the Custom list.  It seems to be in the American Whitetail list, only.  Could we assume that this 150-gr load is the former Custom load in a purty box?  Well, yes, durn it.  Or real close, anyway. That is exactly what I would do if I were making whitetail medicine.

The LEVERevolution ammo is undeniably superior in ballistics but the standard .30-30 loads have successfully taken deer for years at reasonable ranges.  We do not need to plow that ground again.  Hornady is keeping all bases covered with its .30-30 American Whitetail load.  The quality has always been there, regardless of the name of the line.

Will It Perform?

Now that is a silly question, really.  It is too cold and snowy to go to the range right now, but, over the years, I have tested a lot of Hornady Custom ammo at the bench.  In a test of .30-30 factory ammo conducted some time ago, the Hornady Custom  150-gr load averaged a muzzle velocity of 2346 fps in five different rifles.  My 22-inch Remington Model 788 gave 2326 fps and a 24-inch Win Model 94 gave 2369 fps.

For accuracy the Hornady Custom 150-gr load averaged 2.02 Minutes-of-Angle for the five rifles.  This was the best performance of six different 150-gr loads from various makers.  In the Remington Model 788, the average was an outstanding 1.19 MOA, in the Model 94, 2.85 MOA.

If I were to take some American Whitetail .30-30 to the range today, this is exactly the performance I would expect to find.

Two four-shot groups, Hornady Custom 150-gr load, Remington M788

Two four-shot groups, Hornady Custom 150-gr load, Remington M788

Anything Else?

I will say that I have no connection with the Hornady Co. except as a customer who always pays retail for their products.  It has been fun to keep an eye on what they are doing and to test as many of their products as I have resources to acquire and guns to use them in.  I really have no other expensive vices.  Really.

As a group, the factory cartridges offered for the .30-30 are uniformly excellent.  If you want to use a standard load, I would especially recommend the Federal Fusion line.  Its 150-gr .30-30 load gave 2364 fps and 2450 fps in my Remington Model 788 and Win Model 94, respectively.  Accuracy was outstanding, averaging 1.10 MOA in the 788.

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