Sunday, June 30, 2013

The RCBS Little Dandy Powder Measure

The RCBS Little Dandy Pistol Powder Measure is the simplest measure on the market. There's just one moving part, a steel rotor that transfers a fixed volume of powder from the hopper to the feed tube below. It's also the most consistent and reliable powder measure on my reloading bench, and perhaps surprisingly, one of the cheapest.

That seems like an impossible combination, and the reader is probably thinking that there must be a catch. There is, and that is while the measure itself is only $35, a different rotor is needed for each charge, and rotors cost anywhere from $12-17 each. There are 28 different rotors available, which means that a complete set will run you $336-476. Not exactly cheap.

Of course, you don't really need a complete set. This is not a measure for developing loads for a wide variety of rounds. Rather, it's for delivering a few set loads repeatedly and accurately. I have four rotors for mine, each corresponding to a particular well-established load. For instance, the #2 rotor delivers exactly 2.7 grains of Bullseye, which happens to be one of the all-time favorite .38 Special wadcutter loads, and one I load several hundred of at a time. I still measure and dump a half-dozen charges, minimum, when I start loading, and I still weigh charges before dumping the first one into a case, but I've never had a charge vary more than a tenth of a grain using this measure.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

My .357 H&R Handi-Rifle, Part 3

In my last post, I discussed my first trip to the range with this rifle. I tested a mild "cowboy" load and a medium hot load, neither of which gave very good results. Today, I returned, after remounting the scope, bringing it into rough alignment with my new laser boresighter, and making up some new loads- a 158gr lead SWC over 6 grains of Unique. At around 22,000psi his would be too hot for a .38 Special load (maximum 17,000psi), but for .357 it's on the mild side, as the maximum pressure for .357 Magnum is 35,000psi.

I started at the 50 yard range, on the left in this photo:

Neither the new Unique loads nor the old Cowboy loads (120gr LRN over 3.5gr Trail Boss) produced acceptable results, with shots being scattered all over the target. I switched to the box of Remington factory loads I'd brought with me as a check:

Immediately things looked much better:

That's 5 shots inside 1.5", or 3 MOA. Not super match accuracy, but considering I was using a 2.5x scope, not bad at all. The Remingtons are very comfortable to shoot, too, thanks to the lightweight bullet.  I moved to 100 yards and got similar results:

Four shots inside 3.25", or 3.25 MOA, again with a 2.5x scope. Definitely good enough for woods deer hunting. At that distance I suspect aiming errors dominated. So why did my handloads perform so poorly? A look at the cases yields one piece of evidence:

The first case is from the light Trail Boss "cowboy" loads, and you can probably see that it's pretty dirty. There was a lot of soot on the cases when I extracted them from the gun, and a fair amount on the barrel face as well, suggesting the pressure was just too low to fully seal the case in the chamber. While it's not clear from the photo, the middle case (6gr Unique) showed some soot, too. Only the Remington factory loads (110gr JSP) showed no signs of blowby.

Most shooters rerport their best results in this gun from jacketed 155gr bullets over a wide range of loads. I've also read that heavier cast lead bullets perform well. Bullet shortages are still with us, but I found a few boxes of 125gr JHP Sierras I can use to try to approximate the Remington factory load. I also found a box of 500 cast 190gr lead bullets at Midway that I'm going to use to come up with a subsonic load that should be good in the H&R and the Blackhawk.

Handloader Jack Davis has been experimenting with seating jacketed 140gr and 180gr Hornady bullets far out enough to almost engage the rifling. His loads have an overall length equal to that of the .357 Maximum, and some of his loads equal .357 Maximum loads- something you can certainly get away with in this gun, though I wouldn't try it in any other .357 Mag. You can read about his experiments here.