Friday, March 29, 2013

Homemade Scope Level

My pal Ric and I made up a number of these when we were competing in Airgun Field Target back in  1997 and 1998. The idea was to have a quick reference to check if you're canting the gun, something that can make a huge difference when you're trying to get a pellet through a 3/4" hole 50 yards away.

You can buy a commercial scope level, but they're extremely easy to make. All you need is an inexpensive level bubble, a cheap scope ring, and some epoxy. The bubbles came from string levels we bought at Home Depot, the rings were the cheapest aluminum .22 rings we could find, and the epoxy was generally J-B Weld. Saw off the clamp from a ring, add a dab of JB, press the bubble on, and let it set. It helps to put the ring in a vise to hold it while the epoxy sets.

In addition to serving as a shooting aid, a level like this is also very useful in installing a scope. Put the level on the unmounted scope, in a place where it won't conflict with the rings you'll be using to mount the scope. Find a horizontal or vertical reference- I like to use a piece of string and a weight. Align the crosshairs with your reference, adjust the level to center the bubble, and snug it up.

Now you've got an external reference that is perfectly aligned with the crosshairs. Mount the scope on your rifle, put a level on the rifle, and when you've leveled both the rifle and the scope, snug up the scope rings on the rifle.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The H&R Handi-Rifle

Many shooters assume the most accurate rifle design is the belt action. While it's true that bolt actions are generally the most accurate repeaters, when it comes to single shot designs, there are many other designs that can be as, or more, accurate. Falling block designs can be exceptionally accurate; most the Olympic Free Pistols are falling block designs, as were most target rifles of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Even something as simple as a break-barrel rifle can be exceptionally accurate.

I've been looking at the H&R Handi-Rifle lately. These guns are of a very simple break-barrel design usually seen in shotguns; my first shotgun was a Sears break-barrel 20 gauge.  But the break-barrel design offers a lot of features that make it useful for rifles, too. It locks up very solidly, and it can be made with a very short and fast hammer throw and firing pin. I've read a lot of glowing reviews of Handi-Rifles in various calibers.

Speaking of calibers, you can get a Handi-Rifle in over a dozen calibers ranging from .17 HMR to .500 S&W, including .22LR, .22Mag, .357, .44mag, .22 Hornet .222, .223, .243,.30-30, .30-06, .308, .444, .45-70 and several more, including .410, 28ga, 20ga, 16ga and 12ga smoothbores. You can even send your existing action back to H&R and have new barrels fitted to it. Each barrel has its own sights or scope rail, so changing calibers doesn't involve re-zeroing. Swapping barrels takes only a few seconds.

There was an article in a recent issue of  The Backwoodsman written by a fellow who bought a Handi-Rifle and then saved up to send his gun back and have it fitted with 12 more barrels. That's a bit excessive, perhaps, but I can understand his motivation. I'd like to have a rifle with .22 Hornet, .30-30,  and 12 gauge barrels. The rifle calibers that can be loaded with lead bullets, which makes for inexpensive reloading, and between these three barrels the gun could handle any game in Michigan. I saw a .30-30 in the used rack at Gander Mountain that was tempting; might pay a visit there again.

Update: I saw several at Gander today in .243, .30-06, .44 Magnum, .45-70, and .444 Magnum. All had cheap scopes mounted on them, and they were asking something like $379 for the package, which I thought was excessive as the list price is $299 w/o the scope, and I'd want to replace the scope.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Where have all the .32s gone?

A few months ago I was looking at an old Colt Police Positive in .32, like the one shown above. There used to be a lot of these guns made, in what was called S&W .32 Long or .32 Colt New Police, depending on who you were talking to. The cartridge goes back to 1896, when S&W introduced it as a black powder cartridge for its first Hand Ejector revolver, and was a popular police round until the  .38 Special slowly displaced it. Today, it would not be considered an adequate defensive round, having a modest muzzle energy in the range of 100-130 foot-pounds in the few factory loadings that are still around. But defense not the only use, or even the preferred use for the .32. It's a very accurate target round and a very useful small game cartridge, too, when loaded appropriately.

Writer George Nonte was a great fan of the .32 S&W, and one of his favorite loads was a 98gr cast bullet over 4.5 grains of Unique, producing 235 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. That's better that the hottest .22s while being a lot quieter (owing to much lower chamber pressures) and a lot more accurate. The heavier bullet will produce less meat damage as well. Elmer Keith, best known for his work with the .44 special, was also a great fan of the .32 S&W. He loaded a cast bullet over 4gr of Unique and deemed it an excellent small game round. Skeeter Skelton was a fan of the .32, too.

One reason that factory loads for the .32 S&W are so anemic is that there are a lot of older guns around that are strong enough to handle black powder loads, but not strong enough to handle even 2.7gr of Bullseye (which would be a very mild target load in the .38 Special.)  So in 1984 H&R (who were still making revolvers) got together with the Federal Cartridge company and did what Smith & Wesson and Winchester had done with the .38 Special back in 1934: They stretched .32 S&W Long cartridge 0.155", just enough to keep the new cartridge from being chambered in .32 S&W cylinders, and called it the .32 H&R Magnum. Max pressure was increased from 15,000 psi to 21,000 psi, and muzzle energies went up to over 300 foot-pounds.

The .32 H&R Magnum never had a huge following, and in 2007 Federal got together with Sturm, Ruger, who make some of the strongest revolver actions available, stretched the case again, and this time set the working pressure at 45,000 psi- that's 10,000 psi higher than the .357 magnum. The result was a .32 caliber round with more energy than a .357 magnum. This time, the shooting press went wild. Magnum power in a .32 caliber! Fantastic! And, if you ask me, useless in a handgun.

We already have the .357 Magnum, a cartridge that produces so much muzzle flash and noise that it's very impractical in short barreled revolvers. In longer barrels it's an acceptable cartridge to medium sized game, but the .45 Magnum and .45 Colt are much better. It's really a better rifle cartridge than a handgun cartridge, as a long rifle barrel can make much better use of the high volume of gas and high pressures developed in the .357 case. Handguns work better with lower pressures and heavier bullets. Less flash, less noise, and better accuracy. Which would you rather shoot- a .357 with a 4" barrel, or a .45ACP 1911?

So we still have .32 revolvers, but now the only ammunition out there is magnum and super-magnum stuff that produces a great ball of flame and an earsplitting crack that will turn a rabbit into pulp but is useless for hunting anything larger. Chuck Hawks has written that the .327 would be great in an 18" barrel carbine as it would pretty much duplicate the performance of the old .32-20- a cartridge from 1882! Of course the current loads available for the .32-20 suffer from the same problem as modern .32 S&W loads in that they're very mild, on account of all the old guns chambered for the .32-20 that couldn't hold up to the kids of pressures the .32-20 can be loaded for.

The dedicated handloader can still make his or her own .32 S&W loads and fire them in a .32 Magnum or .327 Magnum revolver, but as .357 Magnum owners all know that leads to a buildup of carbon in the front of the cylinder. And the new magnum guns are designed for high pressures, so the cylinders are thick and bulky, and the frames are similarly massive to handle the high pressure. Ruger's sole .327 Magnum gun is a GP100 that weighs 40 ounces- two and a half pounds. What I'd like is a gun bored for .32 S&W that was the size and weight of an old Colt, or a Ruger Bearcat- a pound and a half. With a four to six-inch barrel it would be just the thing for small game hunting- quieter than a high-velocity .22 with just as much energy, firing a very accurate subsonic lead wadcutter.

Back in the days before Ruger offered a .44 Special Blackhawk, a number of serious ..44 Spl fans would buy a Blackhawk and have a gunsmith fabricate and install a .44 Spl cylinder and barrel. I'm picturing something like my 5" Ruger Single Six with a six-shot .32 S&W barrel. It would probably cost well over a grand, but it would be a completely unique piece. Barring hitting it big in the lottery I think I'll keep and eye open for a nice old Colt or S&W in .32 with adjustible sights.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

An AR for the Steampunk Traditionalist

I'm a fan of older guns,  from the days when blued or browned or case hardened steel and finely checkered walnut were part and parcel of a fine gun. I'l be the first to admit that synthetic stocks are far superior to wood when it comes to dimensional stability and accuracy. but they just don't have the same old-school feel. Synthetic stocks are popped out of a mold. Walnut stocks might start out being turned on a duplicating lathe, but they have to be hand-fitted and, for the finest guns, hand checkered.

Same goes for cast aluminum receivers. Light, precise, efficient, and totally without charm. Yes, the modern AR-15 platform is simply the modern evolution of the traditional firearm, and I suppose my grousing is not unlike that of the old-time who bemoaned the passing of the muzzle-loader for those new-fangled breechloaders, but that's the way I feel. There's just no way a modern black rifle could equal the warmth and workmanship of a  19th century design.

Or is there?

Above is the Turnbull TAR-10, Doug Turnbull's  version of the AR-10 in .308 using traditional materials. That's a genuine case-cardened steel upper and lower, along with DPMS and Bushmaster internals and barrel and a hand-tooled walnut stock. Sort of what we'd have been shooting had Eugene Stoner been a contemporary of John Browning.

This kind of luxury doesn't come cheap, but then the best custom rifles never did. This rifle, complete with hardshell case and two magazines, will set you back $4,995, and I suspect there's probably a bit of a wait while they build yours. If that's too much, the TAR-15 in .223 can be yours for only $2,495.  More information at Turnbull's website, here and here.