Bullet Runout and Rifle Accuracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some tools you may already have are:

An accurate digital scale.

A dial or digital caliper.

A case gauge for your cartridge.

A neck sizing die for your cartridge.

Then, some tools you may like to get are:

A case neck thickness gauge.

A case neck and bullet runout measurement tool.

A match grade bullet seater for your cartridge.

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

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

Measuring neck wall thickness with Sinclair tool

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


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

Wilson Case Gage with .30-30 inserted

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

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

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


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

Measuring case runout with the RCBS Casemaster



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

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


So let us go to the range

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

Remington Model 788, Calliber .30 WCF

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

Two four-shot groups

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

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

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

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

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

What shall we conclude about bullet runout?

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

I don’t think so.

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

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

Now tell me, Oh tell me why

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

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

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

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

Six-shot group with abraded bullet ogive

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

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

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Golden Age, Golden Gun

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

The Bullet Stop Gun Shop

My favorite gun shop

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

The Henry Golden Boy

Henry Golden Boy on a snazzy T-shirt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Using the Golden Boy

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

American black walnut stock

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

Golden Boy action open



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

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

Rear sight

Front sight. Note polished end of muzzle

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

Three 6-shot groups with open sights at 25 yards

You might ask…..

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

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

Ten-shot groups by boys at 25 yards

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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





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The Savage Super Sporter .30-30

Somehow I just can’t seem to stifle

My love for an old, plain rifle.

Found this Savage Super Sporter,

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

Not since a kid have I had such fun,

Read on because, who knows?

You just might like this plain, old gun!


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

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

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

The Savage Super Sporter .30-30

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

Savage Model 40 .30-30

Savage Model 40 .30-30

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

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

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

Super Sporter action removed from stock

Super Sporter action removed from stock

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

Magazine with bottom metal

Magazine with bottom metal

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

SVG for Savage

SVG for Savage

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

Front sight and ramp

Front sight and ramp

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

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

Note position of locking lugs on bolt

Note position of locking lugs on bolt

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

The big tube. Tab is the safety fire indicator

The big tube. Tab is the safety fire indicator

Lugs guided by action channels

Lugs guided by action channels

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

Action closed

Action closed


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

Cartridge ready to go in

Cartridge ready to go in

Yes, I love all of this, and…

Yes, we will shoot it.

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

Action channel in stock. Note magazine lock.

Action channel in stock. Note magazine lock.

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

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

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

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

Four, 3-shot groups. Various factory ammo.

Four, 3-shot groups. Various factory ammo.

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

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

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Pillar Bedding A Remington Model 700 BDL

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

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


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

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

That said…..

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

What Is Needed

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

Adjustable bedding pillars with piloted Forstner bit

Adjustable bedding pillars with piloted Forstner bit

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

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

Pillar holes drilled fith Forstner bit

Pillar holes drilled with Forstner bit

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

Base of pillars in bottom metal inlet

Base of pillars in bottom metal inlet

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

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

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

Recoil lug area after bedding

Recoil lug area after bedding

How Does It Shoot ??

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

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

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

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

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

Two groups using Sierra 168-gr match bullets

Two groups using Sierra 168-gr match bullets

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

Four groups using Nosler 168-gr match bullets

Four groups using Nosler 168-gr match bullets

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

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




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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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