Friday, December 28, 2012

Reloading for the 7.62x38mmR Nagant Revolver, Part 1

I finally got around to ordering a set of Lee 7.62x38R dies for my Nagant Revolver from Graf & Sons, as you can see above. You can get these dies from all the usual sources- Midway has them at a similar price- but Graf had the appropriate bullets and the cases I needed in stock, so that's where I ordered from. This set is unusual for Lee, as it's the only die set they sell that doesn't come with any reloading data. For some reason there's a powder measure scoop included even though there's no data go with it. Even more curiously, the scoop is large- too large for any powder charge I know of for the 7.62x38R.

The set isn't designed for use with the the factory 7.62x38R case. Instead, it's intended to convert .32-20 cases into a sizethat will chamber properly in the Nagant revolver. To that end, only the recapping/resizing die is specifically designed for the Nagant revolver; the expander and seating-crimping die are actually .32-20 dies, as you can see:

I also obtained a hundred plated 98grain double-ended wadcutter bullets that resemble the Russian factory loaded bullets in profile:

The original bullet in the Soviet service round was a steel-cored jacketed bullet. These are impossible to find, and wouldn't be a good choice for someone trying to make an accurate round in any case. There are plenty of jacketed bullets around but using a jacketed bullet pushes the pressure up, not something desirable when developing a load for a gun for which there isn't a lot of data. Soft lead bullets keep the pressure down, and plated bullets are generally self lubricating.

Since I didn't have any .32-20s on hand, I ordered 200 Starline .32-20 unprimed cases. The choice of case is important here; most .32-20 cases are just a few thousandths too thick to work properly in a Nagant revolver, and either the gun or the cases have to be modified. Starline makes the rim on theirs just a bit thinner so that they function in the Nagant and still work in older .32-30 guns.

The .32-20 is a a bottlenecked case that was introduced in 1885 as a small and medium sized game cartridge. To allow it to chamber in the Nagant, all that's required is one pass through the sizing die, as you can see:

For primers I'll be using standard small Winchester primers, as I have plenty on hand. Choice of powder is the final, and perhaps most critical choice. Since the .32-20 based reload doesn't seal the cylinder/barrel gap like the factory load does, it's a good idea to use a fast burning powder to minimize fouling and maximize efficiency. Some reloaders have experimented with small (1.5-2.0) grains of Bullseye, but using very small amounts of powder in a large case can lead to erratic ignition. Luckily there's a powder that burns as fast as Bullseye but is much bulkier: IMR Trail Boss:

A number of reloaders have suggested 3.5 grains of Trail Boss as a good load for the 7.62x38R. Tables for similar cartridges suggest this will generate pressures under 16,000 CUP, and that's very close to the  working pressure of the Soviet military load, according to a few sources. I'll probably start with something like 3.2gr and work my way up to that. I also intend to experiment with other soft lead bullets. A lot of reloaders are using lead round nose bullets designed for the .32 S&W.

Click here for Part 2

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Pedersoli 20ga muzzleloader

I got this gun in a swap with my old friend and mentor Tom, back when we were doing a lot of upland game hunting. My first muzzleloading shotgun was an original gun made in 1814 but I never got quite comfortable shooting a gun that old, and so I sold it and bought this from Tom, who was perfectly happy shooting his original percussion and flintlock shotguns.

This gun has been sitting in a safe or in a case for most of the last decade, which has made me think I really ought to sell it. It does have a few condition issues, like a patch of rust near the muzzle of the right barrel:

a few chips, worn finish where Tom had been working on reshaping the buttock and the usual wear and tear, but overall it's in fine shape. I only shot it a few times, preferring to hunt with my nice Spanish double, a gun I think I'll feature here in the near future.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Hansen Cartridge Company (and Prvi Partizan)

I was cleaning up in the basement and came across a brick of ten boxes of Hansen .22 LR ammunition, purchased back in the 1980s. I don't remember how good this stuff was and so I did a bit of web searching. Turns out that Hansen was a brand that a US importer came up with for ammunition made by Prvi Partizan of Yugoslavia, and Prvi Partizan is a quality maker. [Note: See Alexander’s comment, below. ]They export ammunition to dozens of countries, manufacture Wolf Ammunition's premium Wolf Gold line, and they're the only maker* currently turning out new 7.62x38R ammunition for the Russian Nagant revolver:

... which is why they can get away with charging $25 for a box of 50. And that's why I've ordered a set of LEE reloading dies for the Nagant- but more on that later.

About those 500 Hansen .22s: I'm going to take a few boxes to the range and see how they perform 30 years after I bought them. More on that later, too.

* Correction: Fiocchi also makes 7.62x38R ammunition. Midway has it, along with empty unprimed Fiocchi cases for reloaders.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Polishing the Beretta Bobcat Feed Ramp

The Inox model Beretta Bobcats don't seem to feed as reliably as the blued models. That's been my experience, as well as that of a number of shooters who've posted in various forums. Some think it's because the Inox slide and barrel have a much rougher finish than do the blued guns. I've found that CCI Stinger rounds have a 100% reliability, but Mini-Mags generally fail to fully chamber the first round in the magazine. Lower powered rounds have even more FTFs. I decided to try and address one potential problem area by polishing the feed ramp on mine, using my Dremel Tool with a rubber abrasive tool, followed by a felt polishing tool coated with rouge.

As you can see from the photo, I managed to get a real mirror finish, and if I rub the nose of a .22 round along it it feels much slicker than the unpolished surfaces.  I did the surfaces where the slide rides in the receiver, too. And yet, feeding wasn't really improved all that much. Some say the spring in the Bobcat is the culprit- it's just too strong.

I alos noticed while doing this that there's a lot of what looks like pitting above the chamber. I don't know if that is erosion from firing, or a bad finish or casting in the barrel. When I bought my Bobcat at Gander Mountain I also bought an extended warranty that has another none months to run. I may just send the gun back to Beretta and see what they think.

Update: I sent the gun to Beretta (via Gander Mountain) and it came back 20 days later with a brand new barrel and slide. I haven't been to the range to test it yet, but when I do, I'll post the results here.

Update II: The gun fed everything I tried in it- standard velocity, high velocity and hypervelocity- with no FTFs or FTEs.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Watch those garage sales!

I had to pass this story on:

Just like a scene out of "Antiques Roadshow," a woman in Hartford, Conn., turned in an old rifle to her local police station's gun buy-back, only to discover the gun was worth anywhere from $20,000 to $25,000. The woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, inherited the gun from her father who had brought it home with him from Europe as a memento from World War II. 
The two officers conducting the gun buy-back, who are resident gun experts for the Hartford Police Department, informed the owner she was in possession of a Nazi Assault Rifle, the first of its kind, that dates back to 1944. 
The gun is called a Sturmgewehr 44, literally meaning "storm rifle," and is the first "modern assault rifle ever made, eventually replaced by the AK 47 in 1947 by Russia, who copied the German design of the Sturmgewehr 44," Officer Lewis Crabtree, one of the two officers who discovered the gun, told ABC News. 
"It's like finding the Babe Ruth of baseball cards," said Officer John Cavanna. "The rarity, it was made for such a very short period."
Not that I'd want one- I have an aversion to Nazi-related memorabilia- though I wouldn't mind the $25,000. A reminder that when you attend garage sales it never hurts to ask, "Uh... got any old guns?"

Friday, December 7, 2012

Beretta Jetfire and Minx

I was at my favorite little Mom-and-Pop gun store the other day and spotted a Beretta Jetfire in the used cabinet... for $149. Very tempting. Practically speaking it's a pretty useless gun, but my interest is more as a collectable. While it's a much better gun than most of the small .25s out there, like the F.I.E. Titan I bought 30 years ago that spontaneously disassembled after digesting about 100 rounds, it has a few features I'd call fatal in a self-defense gun  (aside from being chambered in .25 ACP.)

First of all, there's no safety. That means it has to be carried uncocked, and cocked with the shooter's thumb before firing. Second, there's no extractor, which means a misfire involves a rather complex drill:
  1. Flip up the barrel via the release lever behind the trigger. (If you're lucky, the round might flip out of the barrel.)
  2. Pluck the misfired cartridge out with a fingernail on your weak hand
  3. Close the barrel with the thumb of that hand
  4. Pull back and release the slide to chamber another round and cock the gun.
Not quite as fast as your modern DA auto. Still, my interest in this gun is as a collectable, not a defensive gun. For that reason, I'd rather have the Minx, the .22 Short version of the gun. .22 shorts are increasingly rare in stores, but they're out there. lists Shorts from Winchester, Remington, and CCI.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Ruger .22 Automatic Pistol

Here's a page from the great Stoeger catalog from not long after the Ruger Standard was introduced in 1949.  Judging from the price, I'm guessing it was right around 1951. That $37.50 Ruger charged back then is about equivalent to $345.60 today, which is pretty close to the list price of the Standard today ($379) despite all the improvements that have been added since then. The target's price is equivalent to about $529 today, whereas the current model lists for $449 and comes with a scope rail as well as iron sights.

I'm a big fan of the Ruger .22 pistols and currently own two, a Mark-III Hunter and a .22/45 Target. There are those who prefer the Browning Buckmark and say it's a better shooter out of the box, but there's an amazing range of accessories and aftermarket parts for the Ruger that allow the home gunsmith to create precisely the customized gun they want. Both of mine are very accurate, and thanks to a Volquartsen trigger and sear work by a friend of mine, both have triggers with the proverbial "breaking a glass rod" feel, and both are far more accurate than I can shoot them.