Thursday, May 23, 2013

My .357 H&R Handi-Rifle, Part 2

Continuing from the previous post:

Having mounted my BSA long eye relief 2.5x scope on the rifle, I collected a variety of ammunition I had on hand along with some fresh loads made up for testing, and headed to my club's outdoor range for some serious testing. I started with some low-power "Cowboy" loads consisting of a 120 grain round nosed bullet over 3.8 grains of Trailboss.  I'd actually made up for my Blackhawk revolver, and decided to use them for initial sighting as they're relatively quiet, and I had well over 100 of them.

Initial results were acceptable, and enough to get the rifle shooting pretty much where it was aimed. I then switched to a mild magnum load- 158 grain hard cast SWC over 13.5 grains of 2400. This was one of Elmer Keith's favorite loads for the .38 Special fired in a heavy duty revolver, like a Smith & Wesson N-frame, and one he continued to use when the .357 became commercially available.  Many loaders report that it's easy to shoot and very accurate, but my shots were all over the place. I fired around 40 rounds, trying to get the rifle sighted in at 50 yards, but just when I thought I had a reasonable group the bullets were suddenly landing somewhere else on the paper. I finally called it a day after an hour and a half and packed up.

Cleaning the rifle at home I didn't detect any leading, so that was ruled out as a cause. It's possible (but not terribly likely) that this just wasn't a very good load for this gun. It's also possible that my scope had its reticle knocked loose, or that the scope mount was loose, or the scope was torqued when mounting it, or a dozen other causes. I'm going to check the scope's alignment with the help of a laser boresighter, and remount it, making sure all the screws are snug. I'm also going to bring with me some .38 Special target loads of known accuracy, a variety of hand loads in .357, and a box of  commercial Remington 125gr JSP .357, and see if I can't do a bit better next time.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Attention to detail in reloading, and the best way of killing primers.

Having acquired a new rifle in .357 Magnum (see the previous post) my next step is to develop a selection of accurate loads for it. That meant finding some new or fired brass. .357 brass is almost always in short supply, and given the shortage of any and all reloading components, I found myself paying a ridiculous amount of money for 200 pieces of dirty range brass- more than I last paid for new Starline! But for now, that was the only brass I could find, so I bit the bullet and bought it.

I de-primed the lot and tossed it in my vibrating tumbler filled with corncob media and a few drops of brass polish. A few hours later I had a batch of new-looking shiny brass. I primed 100 pieces and started setting up my press and adjusting the dies. Before I did, though, I looked at the unprimed brass and noticed that about 80% of them had a piece of tumbling media stuck in the flash hole- something I should have expected, and something I would have thought of if I'd been reloading more regularly.

Visual inspection revealed that roughly 70-80% of the primed shells had a piece of media stuck in the flash hole. In the rest, I could clearly see the red color of the foil in the primer. Those I set aside. I put my Lee universal depriming die (a very handy tool to keep on hand) in the press and gently pressed out the primers and media from the remaining pieces.

What to do with the pressed out primers? There's a huge shortage, which is a strong motivation to reuse them, and judging from what I read in forums a lot of guys do this. But I read some comments from an engineer at CCI who maintained that this is a very dangerous practice.  Pressing out the primer may have shifted the anvil so that it's pressing on the primer disk, making the primer more sensitive. It may have cracked the pellet. In short, it's just not worth taking a chance. The best thing to do is deactivate them.

You may have heard or read that WD-40 or oil will kill primers. It won't. I found a a number of shooters who actually soaked primers in WD-40 or oil for a week, loaded them in cases, and attempted to fire them.  Even after several weeks, once the primers were allowed to dry most of them either fizzled or went off with a bang. Some guys dispose of primers by tossing them in the campfire or burning them in a coffee can with kerosene or some other flammable liquid; this is also a huge mistake. There's a lot of energy in primers. When they explode outside of a gun, the two halves will depart one another at extremely high speed, more than enough to penetrate skin, possibly injuring, even blinding someone.

Oil, water, and kerosene will not kill a primer. What will work, according to this paper from Caltech, is a solution of sodium carbonate (Na2CO3), also known as ordinary washing soda, Make a solution of washing soda in hot water, and pour this into a container with the primers to be discarded. Overnight soaking should be sufficient.

You can find sodium carbonate at the grocery store- a common brand is  20 Mule Team Washing Soda. Note that this is NOT the same as Borax! That's sodium borate, a completely different product that won't work in this application. Spic 'n' Span will also work as it's largely sodium carbonate.

There's one other safe way to destroy a primer: Put it in a cartridge case and fire it in a gun. But it's not that simple. You have to use a case with an enlarged flash hole, or the primer will be pushed backwards out of the primer pocket, possibly jamming the gun. How come this doesn't happen when you fire a regular cartridge? The chamber pressure resulting from firing a loaded cartridge pushes the case rearward, keeping the primer in its pocket. It's only when you fire a primer in an empty case that you get this problem. Something to keep in mind if you ever feel like making wax bullet loads.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

My .357 H&R Handi-Rifle, part 1

Last Tuesday I ordered an H&R Handi-Rifle in .357 from Gander Mountain. It shipped the next day, and Friday I received a phone call from my local store telling me it had arrived.  I wasn't able to get there to pick it up until today, and I was worried the place would be crowded on a Sunday, but the store was surprisingly empty.  I inspected the gun, showed my ID,  filled out the Federal for 4473, state paperwork, acknowledgment of receipt of gun lock, and it was mine. They gave me the opportunity to buy a box of ammunition from the stock they save for gun buyers, which was nice, but I have a good stock of reloads at home.

First order of business was to clean the gun. The barrel had a film of grease inside to which was adhering dust and bits of cardboard from the shipping box. The salesperson told me they offer a free cleaning with every purchase, but I assumed that would involve leaving the gun. (Why don't they just clean them when they receive them?)  I decided to do it myself. Scrubbed the barrel and ran a few patches down, and gave the gun a wipe with polarized oil.

Next step was to install the hammer extension- a must for scope use, and handy in any case. One nice touch: The setscrew came with a coating of Loctite on it.

I then installed a leather sling and snap-on swivels I had on hand, using the attachment points installed on the gun.

The last step was installing and aligning a scope or sight. I went back and forth between using a red dot sight and a 2.5x long eye relief scope that were sitting on the shelf here. I decided on the scope, but the Weaver rings I have on hand are too tall for this installation, so I ordered a set of Weaver Quad Lock 1-Inch Medium Detachable Rings (Matte Black) from Amazon; when they arrive I'll do a post on the scope installation. I temporarily installed a small red dot sight on the off chance I visit my club range before then, but I'm probably going to wait until I can do some more reloads before I go there. I plan on testing a number of different loads, including some factory loads, and several cast lead loads, starting with Elmer Keith's favorite: 158 grain semi-wadcutter "Keith" bullet over 13.5 grains of 2400. That's almost of a mild load today; Alliant's manual specifies 14.8 gains. But it's a good all around load for cast 158gr bullets. If it shoots accurately in the Handi-Rifle, I'll have a good load for both it and my Ruger Blackhawk.

So what's it for? Mostly to have an interesting rifle to develop loads for. My club has a maximum 100 yard range, so there's not a lot of reason for me to work on .300 Win Mag loads. .357 is cheap to reload, too, and I already have all the dies and powder I need. And there's the chance it might find use as a hunting rifle. I think it would make a good woods deer rifle for Michigan for shots up to 50 yards with a max load of 2400 and a 158gr or heavier JHP bullet.

Part II: Initial testing at the range