Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Sheridan Knockabout

You probably know Sheridan as the maker of the classic Sheridan Blue Streak pump-up air rifle in .20 caliber. Today, Sheridan and Benjamin are both a part of Crosman, and many of their classic designs are available in .177 and .22, like this version of the classic Sheridan CO2 pistol (now sold as a Benjamin). But between 1952 and 1960 they manufactured a very simple and inexpensive single shot .22 LR pistol, the Knockabout. Made largely of stampings, it originally cost $17.95, which is about $150 in 2012 dollars.

It was advertised as a great tackle box gun, or a good gun to carry on the trapline, and sold well enough to keep the gun in production for nearly a decade. What eventually killed it, I suspect, was the flood of cheap guns from Europe. For the price of this crude single-shot gun you could buy a cheap imported auto, and for the price of two, you could buy the new Ruger automatic pistol, a far superior gun.

Personally, I'd still like a Knockabout for my own collection. A Knockabout and a few boxes of Aguila  Colibri shells would make for great low-noise, low-energy plinking fun. But Knockabouts are rare, and what examples I have seen go for close to $300. And for $300, I can buy something more modern and reliable.

Huron Valley Guns, Milford, MI

I was visiting a friend near Milford the other day, and he directed me to a brand-new (they opened Summer 2012) gun shop at the North end of town, right on Milford Road. It's called Huron Valley Guns, and it's an impressive place. Large, attractive, and well laid out, they have a large collection of new and used guns (I found several original Hi-Standard pistols and three Winchester Model 62 rifles!), reloading supplies, a very large selection of books on gun related topics, and an exceptionally friendly and helpful staff. I was favorably impressed.

The MTM 200 Round Small Ammo Box

I shoot a lot of .22, and the MTM 200 Round Small Bore Ammo Box is one of my most useful accessories. It can hold 200 rounds, with 100 in boxes in the central compartment, and another 100 in the loading blocks on either side of the central compartment. The holes are arranged in 5x10 arrays, which provides a handy way to keep track of how many shots you've fired. That's useful in competition as well as casual plinking. It's also much easier to load a gun or magazine from the loading blocks than from out of the box.

Spotting Scopes

I'm often surprised by how few spotting scopes I see at the range. Bullseye shooters all have them, as do other kinds of target competitors, but that's about it. I don't do any regular competition these days, but I find a scope to be invaluable for sighting in, and for improving my shooting. You can't correct your aim if you don't know where the bullets are going.

The one seen above is a 1960s Japanese "Apollo" 20x50 scope that's very simple but has good glass. Images are crisp and clear. Older scopes like this are cheap when they show up at swaps. You can easily spend $600-1100 or more on a new scope from Leitz or Swarovsky,  but you can also buy a serviceable new zoom scope relatively inexpensively. The Celestron 20-60x60 mm Spotting Scope offers a big 60mm objective, and magnification from 20 to 60x for under $90, and for a few dollars more the Celestron Ultima Spotting Scopes offer larger objectives, and even better contrast and brightness.

The Ruger Single Six Convertible

I wanted one of these or a Ruger Bearcat for a long time, though I'm not quite sure why. One reason, I suppose, was that I was looking for a pistol that would digest any and all types of .22 rounds, from BB caps to hot hyper-velocity LRs.  Autos are a lot more ammunition sensitive, and even the Ruger autos won't digest everything. I was thinking about a T/C Contender pistol, with interchangeable barrels, but never could find a used one in .22. I did find a used one with a .45/.410 barrel, but then I'd have to sell the barrel and buy a .22 barrel, and by then I'd probably be well over my budget.

Then I came across this Single Six Convertible in excellent condition at Huron Valley Guns in Milford, MI. It's like new, aside from very light marking on the cylinder, and I decided I needed it. From the serial number, it looks like it was made in 1995, and for a 17 year old gun it doesn't look like it's been fired or handled much. There's no bluing wear, and only faint drag marks on the cylinders. From what I've read, it's a very accurate design. Colonel Charles Askins was a big fan of the Single Six and noted that it pointed very well, much better than the smaller Bearcat which he didn't care for. He wrote in 1958 that "if a man could only have one pistol, he could scarcely do better" than the Single Six.

I took my new toy to my club with a collection of ammunition, ranging from wimpy little CCI CB Longs to 1330fps WInchester hollow points. Right away I noticed that the trigger was very crisp, with no creep whatsoever. If I didn't shoot well with this gun, I couldn't blame the trigger. The CCI Standard Velocity .22LR was accurate, and grouped a few inches above point of aim at 25 yards. The Winchesters and CCI Mini-Mags shot right to point of aim. I tried a few CCI Maxi-Mags in the auxiliary cylinder, but I don't see using them much. The .22 Mag is best used in longer barrels where it makes a great 50-200 yard small game or varmint cartridge. In a short barreled sixgun there's too much muzzle blast.

The Single Six has been around since 1953, and the New Model Single Six, with the transfer bar safety used in all Ruger single actions now, since 1973. Besides the .22 and .22/.22 Mag convertible models, you can also get the Single Six in .17 HMR, though reviews I've read suggest it's not terribly accurate in that caliber. Even the .22 Mag is a bit much for a pistol, I think.  Muzzle blast is excessive, and you don't get the full advantage of the .22 Mag in a short barrel.

There's a common story I've seen repeated a lot on line that the convertible model isn't as accurate as the older .22LR only models, as the barrel is bored for the .22 Mag (0.224") rather than the .22 LR (0.223"). Others have said, just as vehemently, that a thousandth of an inch one way or the other doesn't make a white of difference as it's only about a third the thickness of a human hair, and besides, if you mike a sample of .22LR bullets you'll find that they run from 0.222" to 0.225". I have no idea who is correct, but I'll report back after more testing with more different loads.

My Single Six has a 4⅝," barrel, but Ruger also currently offers  5½, 6½, 7½, and 9½ inch models, which should cover just about everyone's taste. Besides the basic convertible model there's the Hunter, with scope rings, the Single Nine (a 9-shooter in .22 Mag), the Single Ten in .22 LR and the .17 HMR six-shot model. Various models are available in blue and stainless finish. (Stainless is more practical for the outdoorsman, but I think most guns look better in blued steel.) All models except the Convertible come with the new style fiber-optic sights, which are much easier and faster to use than the standard partridge sight in a wide variety of lighting and background conditions, but I have to admit that they just don't look right to me on a single action revolver, and the front sight is more fragile- I always worry about the plastic piece popping out or becoming damaged on my Mk-III Hunter.

If you find yourself shopping for a used Single Six, here's a tip: The cylinders will always be marked with the last three digits of the serial number of the gun they're matched to, like this:

If the numbers don't match, the cylinder may not line up properly with the barrel, and it will have to be modified by a gunsmith or sent back to Ruger.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Ann Arbor Arms

We dropped into  Ann Arbor Arms, a new gun shop on 5060 Jackson Road in Ann Arbor Township yesterday while on our way to the Dexter Cider Mill. It's a nice place, clean and well organized, with very friendly staff. I was pleased to see that that carry a wide range of the Maxpedition cases and packs- I'm a huge fan of Maxpedition gear.

Most of what they carry is oriented towards personal protection, but I was pleased to see used three single-action revolvers under the counter that were there on consignment. One was a .357 Ruger Blackhawk, one a Super Blackhawk with some engraving and ivory-looking grips, and the third, which interested me the most, was a replica of a Colt Single Action Army in .38-40. We couldn't find a maker's ID, but I suspect it was an Uberti Cattleman, like this one:

Whatever it was, it was very nicely finished.  .38-40 is an odd caliber that Winchester introduced in 1874 as a black powder loading for rifles. It was created by necking down the popular .44-40 to a diameter of .401", which means it really should be called a .40-40, I suppose. It's been obsolete for decades, but the recent popularity of Cowboy Action Shooting has revived its popularity, and there are now probably half a dozen makers producing SA replicas in .38-40.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Iver Johnson's Arms & Cycle Works Model X

Iver Johnson made very few .22 rifles. I found a beat-up Model X (that's it in the lower right) a while ago. It had a cracked stock someone had screwed together, a fair bit of rust, and very little finish, but I was attracted to the nice stock swell, the old-style "Iver Johnson's Arms & Cycle Works" name engraved on the barrel, and the very low price. It had been sitting on the safe while I worked on other projects, and as it was raining today I decided to ignore my other pressing house projects and work on it for a few hours.

First job was to fix the cracks in the stock. Here, you can see the very obvious holes that were formerly filled by three large round-headed plated screws. Very elegant. I cleaned out the cracks, brushed on a thin layer of slow-setting epoxy, and clamped the stock together with a combination of small toggle clamps, waxed paper, and string.

While that was setting I went over the barrel and receiver with #000 steel wool to remove any remaining rust, and followed that with Brownell's Oxpho-Blue. I wasn't trying to get a like-new finish but to simply keep it looking like an older gun with wear while keeping it from rusting away or cracking any more. A full restoration with require draw-filing the barrel, and a lot of polishing, and it wouldn't really be worth any more. An original 100% Model X, even a very early one like this gun, is worth $250. A 60% gun goes for $140.

You can see the remnants of the original blue here on the receiver. I haven't touched this up yet though I've given it a good steel wool scrubbing. Everything works perfectly, but the trigger engagement is way too light, owing to wear on the trigger sear. I trued to deepen the engagement using a file on the sear, but in the end decided to order a a replacement, as Numrich still has a few left in stock for $8 and change.

The stock still needs a fair amount of work. Besides filling the screw holes and hiding the glue line, there's this area of the stock that was gouged (I've started to file the wood down a bit here) and a small chunk of wood missing at the butt.  I'm hoping I have a scrap of walnut around here I can use to patch that.

Being an older gun (the low four-digit serial number on this gun  suggests that it was made in the early 1930s) it's probably best to stay away from high-speed loads. The modern .22 spec calls for 30,000 psi, but if I shoot this I plan to use  low-powered .22 rounds, like CCI's CB Longs or their new Quiet .22. Both of these rounds fire a bullet at 710 fps. The CB long develops 32 foot-pounds of energy using a 29gr bullet and the Quiet .22 develops 45 foot-pounds firing a 40gr bullet. The Quiet 22 would probably be as loud as a .22 short.

Update: While working on the barrel I discovered something I didn't notice when buying it- a slight bulge about 12" from the breech. It didn't show up until I reblued the barrel, at which point it became obvious. No doubt this occurred when someone fired the gun with something blocking the barrel. This'll teach me to check guns more carefully when buying, and to be a little less likely to do business with the shop I bought this gun from ;-)

Postscript: I received an offer for the bolt (see comments below) and my first impulse was to refuse... but my second was to think, why not? I'll part the gun out. He'll have a working gun, and I'll hopefully break even. The bolt is now gone and the rest of the parts are on eBay, except for the receiver, which is the ATF-regulated bit, the barrel, which is useless as is, and the stock, which is partially restored.

Here's the bolt in its new home:

I still have a few parts for sale, including the trigger guard and complete trigger assembly. Email me if you need these pieces.

Update: All parts have been sold, sorry.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The .221 Askins

Back in 1937, Col. Charles Askins, who was then in the US Border Patrol, was looking for a way to improve his centerfire Bullseye pistol scores. He experimented with a number of wildcats based on shortened .380 cases, various .32s, the .25ACP, and others, trying to create a round that was accurate and as low in recoil as the .22LR. Then one night on patrol he intercepted a smuggler carrying an old 5.5 Velo Dog pistol like one of these:

These were cheap revolvers that originated in France, intended for bicyclists as a defense against against dogs attacks. They fired a curious centerfire cartridge, the 5.5 Velo Dog, that was similar in size to the .22LR, but much longer- and it was a centerfire cartridge:

The Velo Dogs were loaded with a jacketed bullet, as opposed to the heeled lead bullets used in .22 rimfire cartridges. The bullet diameter was the same as the standard .22, but the case diameter was larger than the bore, like most modern cartridges.

Askins managed to buy up or otherwise acquire several thousand rounds of of these obsolete cartridges. He pulled the bullets on several hundred, and shortened them on a lathe to .22LR length. He then found a supplier of lead bullets in the correct size, a set of reloading dies, and had one of his Colt Woodsman pistols modified to take the new cartridge, which he dubbed the .221 Askins. His load was a cast lead semi-wadcutter over about 1.5gr of Bullseye or DuPont #5, depending which version of the story you read, and with it he won the All-Around pistol championship in 1937. Following that match, the NRA amended the "any centerfire" pistol rules to read "any centerfire (.32 caliber and above.)"

Footnote: Askins was not the first to produce a wildcat based on the .22 Velo Dog. According to J.J. Donnelly's 1987 The Handloader's Manual of Cartridge Conversions (Revised Edition), there was a .14 Velo Dog produced by necking down the Velo Dog. I don't think there's ever been a commercial .14 caliber cartridge, but the caliber is popular with some wildcatters.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

An IMR Trail Boss load for my .357 Blackhawk

I like my single action Ruger Blackhawk, but I don't particularly enjoy shooting full-bore .357 loads. They're loud, and for paper punching they're excessive. I could use the the mild .38 Special target loads I make up for my S&W 14-3 in the Blackhawk, but if you shoot .38 Special loads in a .357, you'll get a buildup of carbon in the front of the cylinder, as the .38 Special is 0.135" shorter than the .357 magnum  chamber and leaves a gap. The answer is to use .357 brass, of course.

I could have just made up .357 loads that were similar, or identical to my .38 target loads, but I wanted to try something different. My friend Ric had given me a half-full container of Trail Boss, a relatively new powder from IMR designed for low velocity loads and lead bullets. It has a very low density- around half that of Bullseye, for a given charge by weight- and measures and flows well. (It's often described as resembling "tiny donuts"- note the photo below.) That low density also makes it much harder to double-charge a case. In fact, it's just about  impossible to blow up a modern gun with a load of Trail Boss. It's also a very fast burning powder, like Bullseye, which makes it suitable for low-power loads. All these characteristics make it a favorite of Cowboy Action Shooters, who like low-powered loads that are accurate and a bit smokey.

After consulting several loading data books and the IMR web site I decided on a starting load of 3.8gr of Trail Boss under a 125gr round nose lead bullet. IMR gives a starting load of 3.5 grains and an absolute max of 5.3 grains. Normally I'd start with the recommended starting load, but even the "Do not exceed" load is only 14,900 psi, and the .357 maximum pressure is 35,000 ps- and the Blackhawk is probably even stronger than that. I use a Lee Auto-Disc loader, and the .88cc disc gave exactly 3.8gr as verified by my electronic scale. I had 100 new cases, so I loaded 100 rounds.

I'd recently replaced the 2x scope on my Blackhawk with the original open sights, and thought I'd sight it in with these new loads. I took the gun to my club, and set up at the 25 yard line. First shot was almost dead center in the bullseye- about a half-inch to the left. Pure dumb luck.  I fired the  rest of the six-shot group two-handed off the bench and got a pretty tight cluster. I did a few more groups offhand, got similar results,  and decided not to change the sights. Gee, maybe I should buy a Stetson, and a holster, and a kerchief, and check out this CAS stuff after all.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

My Favorite .22 Ammunition

Like all .22 shooters, I have an assortment of .22 ammunition in my basement locker. All the major manufacturers are represented, and a lot of the minor ones. I have RWS CB Caps from the 1960s, a brick of 500 Remington Target from the 1970s and Thunderbolt from the 90s, Winchester Hi-Speed, Aguila SSS and Colibri, CCI Mini-Mags, Blazers, Longs, Shorts, and more I can't remember.

But my favorite round is the CCI Standard Velocity. Yes, boring old Standard Velocity. No hypersonic velocities, hollow points, or other modern improvements. This is the modern version of a cartridge first loaded by Stevens in 1887: A 40gr solid lead bullet in the case from the old .22 long, loaded with smokeless powder to around 1070 fps.

It's not particular fast, or particularly powerful as .22 LR rounds go, and it usually runs around $7.75/100, or about twice as much as the bulk .22LRs from Remington or Winchester or CCI's own Blazer. What it has going for it is accuracy. This is the one of the most accurate and reliable .22 round you'll find in its price range. You'll never get a misfire in a properly functioning gun, and you'll seldom get a flyer.

Now it's not the ideal round for every gun. Most shooters don't know this, but there are actually several different standards for chamber dimensions for .22 caliber guns.  First,  the SAAMI  (Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturer's Institute) Standard  or  Sporting .22 chamber:

Length: 0.7751"
Diameter: 0.2307"
Throat: 0.2270"

That's the spec used in most guns. It's designed to make insertion and extraction easy, particularly in semiautomatic guns. Another is the Match chamber:

Length: 0.6876:
Diameter: 0.2267"
Throat: 0.2255"

That's 40 thousandths of an inch tighter, and 875 hundredths of an inch shorter. The throat is 25 thous tighter, too. This is a spec for match guns with positive extraction- typically bolt actions. The smaller chamber spec means that the maker has a lot less leeway in machining the chamber, too, so you'll only see this spec used in expensive guns. There's also a spec for semiauto match pistols, and Winchester's own spec for the 52D rifle, which was close to the match spec, but with an even shorter chamber to insure that he bullet was seated right into the lands of the barrel rifling.

Different .22 rounds are loaded to different specs, too. Match ammunition is designed for the tighter chamber. Sporting ammunition is usually designed to work well in guns with a sporting chamber. What works well in a match gun might not work well in your Ruger 10/22, and vice versa.

The second part of accuracy in .22 ammunition is consistency. The best .22 rounds are matched very tightly from one round to the next in dimensions- particularly rim thickness - and bullet and charge weight.

The last  part of accuracy is lubrication. The cheapest ammunition just uses paraffin wax. Better ammunition use mixes of various waxes, rosins and other compounds. Some careful ammunition testers have noticed that cheaper brands shoot more accurately after a few dozen higher-priced rounds have been fired, leaving some lube in the barrel, and that had led many to experiment with their own lubes. Some benchrest shooters will clean the factory lube off bullets and dip them in mixes of paraffin, beeswax, graphite, and Alox.

What does this all mean? If you'e into the high-precision .22 games, a lot. If you're not planning on spending $10-20 for a box of 50 or mixing your own lube, it's still good to know the factors that affect accuracy, as they'll help you in finding the right ammo for your gun. My pair of Ruger Mk-III pistols have SAAMI Standard chambers, and perform best with ammunition designed for those chambers. So far, CCI Standard looks to be the best combination of accuracy, reliability and price for them. My Savage-Anschutz has a tighter match chamber and only does so-so with the CCI. I may have to experiment with the better stuff to get that shooting the way it ought to.

n.b.: Here's a pretty comprehensive test of .22 ammunition using a custom rifle with a match chamber. Note that he was able to achieve sub-MOA groups at 100 yards with the CCI Standard Velocity ammo- and less than 1/2 MOA with Eley match. At 25 yards the CCI shot 0.312", which is to say that all the shots touched. And yet this tester got very different results. The moral: You really have to test to see what works in your gun.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Savage-Anschutz Model 10

Between the late 1960s and the early 1980s, Savage and Anschutz had a deal going in which Savage imported a number of Anschutz .22 target rifles and sold them here labeled as Savage-Anschutz guns. (I'm told that Anschutz also imported Savage rifles into Germany, where they were sold as Anschutz-Savage guns, though I have yet to come across one.) There were several different Anschutz guns sold here, including several single-shot target rifles: The 10, 10A, 10B,  10C, 10D, and 12. The better ones, like the Model 10 shown above, used the Anschutz 64 action, which was just a step down from the then-top of the line Model 54 bolt action.

A good Model 10, with the receiver sights, will sell for $350-400 or more, depending on condition, sights, and version. An excellent 10D or 12 with good sights might command as much as $500. Maybe. I found this one, sans sights, for $295. The store owner initially wanted quite a bit more as he'd been pricing it as if it had the sights, but after it sat on his rack for a few months he was willing to haggle. Since I bought mine prices have been climbing a bit, as precision long-range shooting with .22s has become increasingly popular.

This particular gun s a model 10A, and I was able to identify it as a model 64 action based on the position of the bolt with respect to the trigger. I bought it as a long-range plinker, with the thought that I might use it for some .22 BR competition one day.

The Model 64 action has the potential for exceptional accuracy. I haven't gotten there quite yet, as I'm still sorting out scope, trigger and ammunition issues. I had the trigger adjusted just where I liked it, but when I took it to the range it fired on bolt closed. Mm. Not good. I backed that off a bit. Most of my testing has been with CCI Standard Velocity .22, which I use in my two Ruger target .22 pistols, as it's relatively inexpensive, reliable, and extremely consistent. I'm told that CCI's Green Tag Target ammunition is just  ammunition from Standard Velocity runs that's selected for consistent weight. Very possible. I've read that the main difference between the two is that you don't get as many flyers from the Green Tag.

At any rate, this rifle a lot of fun to shoot. It encourages slow, careful shooting- I typically fire about one round per minute when I bring it to the range. Groups have been running around 1"-2" at 50 yards (excluding flyers) and I'm sure I can cut that in half with practice and careful ammunition selection. I've been contemplating adding a bipod, which I could screw to the front accessory rail with no modifications to the gun, and possibly refinishing it as well over the winter. We'll see.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Daisy Avanti 717 Target Pistol

The first quality air pistol I owned, back in the 1980s, was a Daisy 717. I paid around $40 for it back then, which wasn't much, although it did strain my grad student budget. It was astoundingly accurate for a budget gun, and was actually used by many in serious competition. Bullseye pistol legend Don Nygord published a guide to improving the two areas of the pistol that were less than optimal- the trigger and the sights. His trigger mod involved adding a sear engagement adjustment and a trigger travel limit screw, and his site mod involved a spacer that could be used to adapt a good sight meant for a .45. His advice was to think of the pistol as disposable. If it ever broke, just buy a new one, and transfer the modified parts over. Nygord actually won the California state pistol championship with his modified 717. (There are good descriptions and photos showing the insides of the 717 and how to do Nygord's mod here and at here.)

The 717 was followed by the 747, which had a Lothar Walther barrel and an improved trigger, and the 777, which added a metal micrometer rear sight and a carved wood grip. The 777 is no longer made, but the 717 and 747 still survive, and can be purchased from discounters for $150 and $200, respectively.

I'd been thinking of buying one, but $150 was a bit more than I wanted to spend. Used ones came up now and then for around $100, so when I spotted this one on Guns America for $60 I jumped on it. It's an older model, possibly from the 80s, judging from the paperwork in the box. The manual lists only the 717 and 722, a .22 caliber version that was only offered for a short time. There's also a reference to the Kidde corporation, and I think Daisy severed their connection with Kidde in the 1980s.

The trigger may not be Olympic quality, but it's a lot better than I remember.  The pump and valve seals appear to be in perfect shape. There's a bit of creep, not much, and the break is reasonably crisp. I'll probably leave it as is. I wanted to install a red dot sight to accommodate my aging eyes, and to that end installed a Sun Optics USA Airgun Scope Izh 46 Barrel Mount which just happens to be a perfect fit for the 717 and 747, too. On that went a BARSKA Red Dot 25mm Riflescope as you can see below:

The combination looks pretty front heavy, and it is. Much too overbalanced for me, at least. I swapped this sight for the Sightmark that was mounted on my Ruger 22/45. The Daisy balances better now, as the Sightmark is a bit lighter, and can be set farther back. Ideal would be a mini-sight that mounts in place of the rear sight, but there's only so much I'm willing to spend on a $60 pistol ;-)

Barska 1x25mm Red Dot Sight

I found a great deal on a used Daisy 717 not long ago, and that meant I'd need a new red dot sight for it. I didn't want to spend much on a sight, given that the Daisy was only $60, and after looking around at deals I found this BARSKA Red Dot 25mm for for under $34 at Amazon. The product description said it came with 3/8" (.22) rings, but the comments said it really came with Weaver rings- which was just what I wanted. One reviewer complained that the dot was "more like a cluster" but there's a lot of variation in the inexpensive sights, so I decided to chance it.

As you can see, it's pretty much a dead ringer for the Ultradot, or the Millet, or any other 25mm tube sight. It has a solid feel, and came with a battery installed, and a spare ones as well. So far so good.  When I turned it on, the dot looked good... until I turned it up to a comfortable level for the lighting conditions. At that point I saw a smaller and fainter ghost of the dot just below the main dot. Not good. On the other hand, it's not terrible, and this sight cost less than a quarter of what my Ultradot cost. For the moment, then, I think I'll keep it, mount it on my new Daisy (which should be arriving today) and see how well it works before I make any final decision about keeping it or sending it back.