Wednesday, December 24, 2014

What I've Been Up To

I haven't been posting much here as I haven't been buying, trading, or shooting firearms much lately. Instead, I've been spending a lot of time playing with archery, something I first got involved in back in the early 1970s. Back then I shot a 3-piece take-down bow equipped with a sight and a magnetic flipper rest,me hooting Easton GameGetter shafts with plastic fletching. Today it's all longbows, shooting feather fletched cedar arrows, Seen above is my latest acquisition, a Rudderbow Tri-Lam English Longbow. In the quiver are an assortment of arrows I was testing that day, including several (the ones with the red barred feathers) made from ordinary hardware store dowels. 

As long as I'm talking longbows, let me share a pet peeve: To me, a longbow has straight limbs, period. Maybe the limbs have a bit of backset, as many primative bows did. What's termed a "Reflex/Deflex Longbow" is really closer to a recurve than a traditional longbow. Such bows have strongly curved flat limbs, which the traditional longbow has narrow, deep, limbs.

Howard Hill, the greatest of American archers and bowhunters, used a longbow long after recurves had outstripped longbows in popularity. His reasoning was that the longbow design was more forgiving of a less than perfect release, and more consistent and accurate in real field conditions. He wrote that he wasn't a good enough archer to shoot a recurve well. Now Hill could probably outshoot most everyone on the planet with any bow, but he had a very good point. The true longbow is far more tolerant of all sorts of shooting errors, as the limbs are much stiffer in resistance to twisting than are the wide, flat, limbs of a recurve or modern R/D longbow. I prefer the traditional style longbow in part for that reason, and in part because it is traditional. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Is ammunition becoming more available?

I read an article in the business section of a national newspaper ta few weeks ago that said the demand for and sales of guns and ammunition had been slowing down. Coincidentally, I received an email from Sportsman's Guide saying they'd just gotten in a big shipment of Wolf .22 Match ammunition. I thought about it, and decided to buy a few brinks, just to be on the safe side. A week later I saw this in a number of papers:
"Despite overall Black Friday spending down 11-percent nationwide, gun sales increased that weekend and Montana store owners report they just keep rising."
I went back to Sportsman's Guide and saw they were out of the Wolf, along with just about every other .22LR with the exception of some of the more expensive Ely and RWS match ammunition.

Surprisingly, they did have a lot of ammunition in stock that's been difficult to find. They've got a few dozen varieties of .380ACP, and not just the premium stuff- they have PMC (50 rounds/$15.95) GECO, Federal and a few other under-$20 boxes. I counted 36 different varieties of .38 Special in stock, and several other calibers that have been in short supply. The biggest shortages were in rimfire ammunition of all sorts. There was zero .22Mag, .17HMR or .17Mach2.

Over at Midway, things looked a bit better, with several non-match .22LR varies being available- although not my favorite, CCI Standard Velocity. But reloading powder is still in very short supply, with only 17 differ t smokeless powders in stock- and none of my old standbys, Bullseye, Unique, 2400, and Trail Boss.  I have a few bottles of each of these on hand, which should get me through a year or so. There's one bright light:  Midway appears to have plenty of small pistol primers from Winchester, CCI, Federal and Remington, none of which could be found a year ago. Maybe supply is finally starting to catch up with demand.

Monday, November 10, 2014

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

High scope mounts

The usual advice in mounting a scope or sights is to get as close to the barrel as possible. For a scope, that means selecting a mount that just allies the bell of the scope to clear the receiver with maybe enough space to allow a scope cover to slide over. The reason is simple: the farther apart the axes of the scope and the barrel, the greater the error in aiming if the rifle isn't held perfectly level.

But the are some cases in which there's an advantage to a high mount. One is with air rifles, like the Air Arms Pro Sport seen above. Pellets travel a lot slower than bullets, and have a lot more drag. Consequently, their trajectories are not as flat over their useful range as would be a .22 or a small caliber, high velocity rifle bullet. A 12-16 foot-pound gun like this Pro Sport, if zeroed at 22 yards, is going to see a drop of close to two inches between that distance and the maximum useful range of 50 yards. That's a lot of correction to dial into a scope- 16 clicks in a quarter minute of angle adjustable scope.

But if the scope is mounted two inches above the barrel, it's alignment is going to be a lot closer to the downward arc of the pellet than if it was mounted lower. A lot of field target shooters and some airgun hunters mount their scopes high for this reason. A second advantage is that on some stocks it's easier to get a good sight picture with a high mount. 

There are some disadvantages. The earlier mentioned problem of error increasing as the gun is tilted is one. Another is that some scopes don't have enough adjustment range to deal with a high mount; in those case scope rings can be shimmed, or you can purchase an intermount from Barska and other suppliers that has a built-in angle correction. Such mounts are designed to correct for the "barrel droop" seen in some break barrel guns, but they work well in this application, too.

High scope mounting isn't appropriate for all applications, but it might solve a scope problem you have. Don't be afraid to try it just because the experts say you should always mount a scope as low as possible.

Friday, June 20, 2014

A good 125gr load for the Ruger LCRx

A lot of the commercial defensive loads for the .28 Special use 110gr or 125gr JHPs, in part because the lighter projectile  results in lower recoil, compared to the old standard 158gr LRN or SWC.  I have a few boxes of these Speer 125gr JHPs on hand- I found a good deal on them last year- and decided to see if I could find a good load for my LCRx. I decided to start with Bullseye powder, as it's the fastest burning powder I have on hand. A fast powder means more complete combustion in a short barrel, and that means better efficiency. 

The Lee manual suggests 4.5-4.8gr of Bullseye behind this bullet for a +P load. Alliant's own data gives 4.5gr for the standard .38 Special load, and 4.8gr for the +P load. I decided to start at the low end. The Lee .49cc disk delivers a measured 4.5-4.6gr, according to my Hornady digital scale, so I decided to go with that. I used my 4-die Lee set, with the Factory Crimp die adjusted for a medium crimp- it's important to get a secure crimp with lightweight gun that will recoil a lot. I made up 50 loads using an assortment of cases and headed to my club.

My first test was at 20 feet, and everything was on target and centered. I backed up to the 50 foot line, and produced the followed pattern shooting double action:

Not too shabby. There was a bit of flash, but it wasn't too bad. Recoil was snappy- this isn't a gun I'd want to put a few hundred rounds through. But I wasn't working on a plinking load.  reloaded and continued firing:

That's actually 9 shots, by the way. You can see one pair of overlapping holes just above the 9, but the  hole below and to the left is also a double. Looking at this target I decided to stop right there- I think I have my load.  

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Ruger LCRx in .38 Special

The short barreled (or if you prefer, snub nosed) revolver is a classic American design. It was made popular by TV and the movies, the preferred carry of plainclothesmen and off-duty cops for decades, and even in the days of pocket-sized 9mms it continues on. I like .38 special as I reload for it, which means I have a good supply of low-cost ammunition, and I can custom make loads you simply can't buy, and I like the idea of a reasonably powerful pistol that's still small and light enough to carry in a waist pack when in the wilderness. I've owned two snubbies previous to this one, both of which I sold, in large part because a lightweight .38 is just not that comfortable to shoot. 

The first one I owned was a Smith & Wesson 442 Airweight, S&W's budget snubbie. Even with the soft grips it was right on the edge of painful to shoot. Add to that that fact that it's a shrouded hammer design- supposedly better for snag-free drawing, but I like the single-action option.  I sold it for close to what I paid for it, and then a year later I happened on a somewhat collectable revolver- a Miroku Liberty Chief in .38spl, a high quality Japanese made gun (Miroku builds guns for Browning and Charles Daly) that combined elements from both S&W and Colt designs. I sold it in part because it occurred to me that spare parts would be difficult to find if it ever broke- although someone told me later that he carried one in Vietnam for his full tour with no difficulties.

I still liked the idea of having a small-frame .38, and the Ruger LCR intrigued me. It has a lot going for it- It's made by Ruger, the polymer frame is said to be shock absorbing, and it's gotten a lot of very positive reviews. But it had one strike against it- no hammer. Then Ruger announced the LCRx, an LCR with a hammer. I was hooked. I found a local dealer who quoted a very good price and asked him to order me one.  A few days later I had it in hand, and header to my club's indoor range with a box of 100 light 148gr HBWC target reloads (2.7gr of Bullseye) and half a box (10) of Hornady 110gr Critical Defense FTX loads. The Hornadys currently list for about $1.47 each, so they're reserved for carry, but I did want to see how they performed.

First test was with the target loads: 10 rounds at 20 feet, double action, holding at the 10 ring:

Not outstanding, but every round landed in the 7 ring or higher. That's effective combat shooting. The gun was a bit painful to shoot, so I tried adjusting my grip.  I discovered that holding the gun a bit lower made a big difference; I think my big hands were catching an unpadded part of backstrap in recoil. There's an extra-soft section on part of the grip over the backstrap, and this is the part you want in the web between thumb and index finger. I also tightened up on the lower part of the grip to keep the gun from rotating as much, and that made a significant difference. This is all basic stuff, but sometimes you have to stop and remind yourself of the basics- even if you've been shooting for over 50 years. Especially if you've been shooting for that long. ;-)

Next: Target loads at 30 feet:

50% farther, but the group isn't 50% bigger. I was tightening up a bit. I also tried two of the Hornadys, which made the smaller holes near the bottom of the group. They were appreciably louder than my target loads, and were accompanied by a lot of flash, which suggests a slower burning powder.

Last, on to 50 feet:

Just five shots here, but note that the group isn't a lot bigger than the 20 foot group. I was getting better at controlling the gun. I wondered if I could do even better shooting single action while sitting down.

That's a four inch group, about half the size of my offhand group at that distance. (Yes, I know there are only four. The fifth doesn't count ;-)

Lastly, for comparison, my Ruger LCP,  also at 50 feet, with 90gr Speer "Lawman" FMJ loads:

I think of the LCP as a harsh recoiling gun, but I was surprised how much more comfortable it was to shoot than the LCRx- and how much more accurate. Neither gun has much in the way of sights, and the LCP's are even cruder than the LCRx's, but the LCP did significantly better than the LCRx.

So the LCP is potentially more accurate than the LCR, as well as being more comfortable to shoot, and significantly smaller, for that matter. Does this mean I'm unhappy with the LCRx? Nope. I still like the simplicity of the revolver design, the ability to fire a significantly more powerful cartridge, the flexibility of the .38 Special cartridge, and the fact that I can produce all the .38 special cartridges I need while .380 is still in short supply everywhere.

If you find the design of the LCRx interesting, but you're looking for a milder-recoiling gun, Ruger has stated that the LCRx will eventually be available on .22LR and .22Mag, too, just like the hammerless LCR. I think an LCRx in .22LR would be a great "kit gun" that the fisherman, hunter, or trapper could carry in a pocket. (And if you like deafening noises and blinding flash, .357 will be an option, too.)

Dardas Cast Bullets

There are a great many small bullet casters in this country that turn out a good product. My favorite supplier for most everything  is Dardick Cast Bullets, right here in Michigan. They're quick to ship, have good customer service, and they're only 100 miles from here. They don't have all the bullet styles I load, but they do offer most of the more popular ones in several weights and, for revolver fans, several sizes. If you're a fan of PPC, or Cowboy Action shooting, you'll probably find anything you need in a hard cast bullet at Dardas, from .32 to .50 caliber- including .44-40 and. 45-70. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Subsonic Cast bullet loads for the Ruger Super Blackhawk Pt. 2

Good weather and time in my schedule finally coincided today. It was an absolutely perfect day to spend some time at my club's outdoor range, with very little wind and temperatures around 71 degrees.  I packed up the Super Blackhawk and the moderate .44 Magnum  loads I'd made up a week ago: 240gr LSWC over 6.8gr of Trail Boss powder (RCBS Little Dandy rotor #25).

Normally I test new loads and new guns starting at 25 yards. For some reason I decided to set up at 50 yards instead, and started out shooting while seated at the bench, supporting my gun in my hands with my elbows on the bench. My first shot missed the paper. For the second I held dead center- and hit a few inches from the bull! My second went wide to the right ( I jerked the trigger) but the third was also close to the bull:

I was so amazed I took this target down and put up a fresh one. I switched to shooting standing at that point, and still managed to get all my shots on the paper in a very reasonable group.  Besides being fairly accurate, this load is also pleasant to shoot. It generates around 500 ft-lbs of energy, which is about 40% the energy of a full 240 JHP load, and about what you'd expect from a modest .357 load. The increased weight of the Super Blackhawk definitely smooths out the recoil. The report is modest, too, compared to a full magnum load.

Thirty years ago I liked to shoot full-bore loads a la Elmer Keith: 22 grains of 2400 under a 240gr JSWC (Elmer used a 250gr "Keith" bullet.) The roar, combined with the tongue of flame from the muzzle, and the recoil that flipped the muzzle skyward was very entertaining to a young shooter. But unless you're actually hunting good-sized game, there's no need for a 1,500 foot-pound load. This load delivers .44 Special energy, which is more than enough for smaller game, varmints, and knocking over metallic silhouettes, and doesn't leave any lead in the barrel.

I was a bit concerned about cost, as Trail Boss is much bulkier than other powders and comes in 9 ounce jars rather than the 1 pound jars of most powders. It's also a bit pricier, costing about 50% more per ounce than Unique and almost 60&% more than Bullseye. But when I compare per-round costs, it turns out that a 6.8gr charge of Trail Boss is less than a penny more per round. I'd planned on making up some more subsonic loads with Unique and perhaps some other powders, but really, I think I've found my ideal subsonic load.

(Part I of this post is here.)

Monday, May 12, 2014

Subsonic Cast bullet loads for the Ruger Super Blackhawk Pt. 1

While I do have a box of factory Remington .44 magnum loads that have been sitting in the safe for over 20 years, I thought I'd start out with some milder loads for the new/old Super Blackhawk I picked up this past February. Subsonic lead loads are quieter, more fun to shoot, and more economical, too; unless you're actually hunting there's not a lot of need for full power loads.

Cases are still in short supply (I have some on back order at Midway) so I bit the bullet (pun intended) and and paid $40 to a scalper on Amazon for 100 new Starline cases. I also I ordered a few hundred 0.431" lead SWC bullets from Dardas, primer from Midway, and as I have a good supply of suitable powders on hand I was set to go.

For my first loads I decided to go with that classic, hard-to-screw-up powder, IMR Trail Boss. I've talked about it before. It's a very fast burning powder, on a par with Bullseye, but it's around four times as bulky as Bullseye. It was designed for Cowboy Action Shooting but has applications for a wide range of low-veocity loads for handguns and rifles. Basically, you find the volume of a case with a seated bullet, fill 70% of that with Trail Boss, and you have a safe load.

I decided to go with IMR's published loads for the .44 mag, which range from 6.0-7.3 grains for a cast bullet. Even at the max load, IMR's testing says you're only at 21,600 psi. As the SAAMI spec for the .44 mag calls for a maximum of 36,000 psi, that's a very comfortable margin. I ordered a #25 rotor for my RCBS Little Dandy powder dispenser, which actually delivered a consistent 6.8gr of powder, according to my Hornady electronic scale. If anything, that will give me an even wider safety margin.

As you can see, that 6.8gr fills the case about 3/4 of the way. That's good. A double charge would over-fill it, which I'd immediately recognize. Anything that increases the margin of safety is worthwhile.

Often when I'm reloading low volumes I use a simple press rather than my turret press. It takes a bit longer, but this way I can easily inspect each load before I slip a bullet in. I have the powder measure mounted next to the press, so it's dump powder, inspect, insert bullet...

... and press...

Result: A safe load. I'd intended to go to my club to test these today, but it's been raining pretty continuously, so perhaps tomorrow. In the meantime perhaps I'll make up some wadcutter loads in 7.62x25R I've been meaning to try in my Nagant revolver.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The .22 Short

The .22 Short is the oldest of the .22 rounds being made today. In fact, it's the oldest American metallic cartridge. It was invented in 1857 by Smith & Wesson for their #1 revolver:

S&W developed the #1 revolver and the .22 Short for personal defense, which might surprise the modern reader, as the original short used a 30 grain bullet and just 4 grains of black powder. Muzzle energy of the original #1 was probably in the range of 40 foot-pounds. Not much of a self-defense caliber from the point of view of today's shooters, but as it is often said, no one wants to be shot, even with a .22 short. And as an ER doctor told me, every gunshot is potentially fatal, even one from a .22 short.

There was a time when the .22 short made sense. Guns were chambered for it, and it was popular with those looking to pot small game at short distances or plink at targets as it's a relatively quiet round when fired from a rifle, especially in standard  velocity versions. (A fellow once told me how he used to bag pigeons on the roof of his college dorm in the 1960s with a .22 short rifle!) Olympic .22 pistols used in rapid fire competition were chambered for it, since it was the lowest recoiling cartridge made.

Today there's only one .22 I know of that's chambered for the short- the tiny North American Arms revolver in .22 Short- and that's more of a novelty than a practical gun. Everything else in .22 is chambered for the .22 LR, and while you can shoot a .22 short from a gun chambered for .22 LR, accuracy suffers from the bullet having to make the long jump through the chamber before it hits the rifled section of the barrel. If you want a quiet, subsonic, load in .22 there are plenty of low-powered .22LR rounds that duplicate the ballistics of the Short.

It still survives and is made in a limited number of loadings by CCI, Aquila, Remington,  and probably some more European manufacturers I'm not aware of, so those with older guns can still shoot and enjoy them.

Ruger Super Blackhawk .44 Magnum, Part I

Back in the 1980s I had a pair of Dan Wesson revolvers in .357 and .44 Magnum. Both were superbly accurate, superbly well made revolvers and I wish I'd hung on to them. .357 and .44 are fun calibers to reload, with a wide range of powders and bullet combinations possible. I started out loading hot loads using 2400 that generated a three foot tongue of flame, but the novelty wore off pretty quickly and I started loading rounds that were more like what people were shooting in the late 19th and early 20thC, typically modest loads of Unique- a powder that was available back then, as it turns out.

A few years ago I got back into centerfire shooting and reloading again and bought a Ruger Blackhawk in .357. I've always liked single actions, and especially Ruger single actions. The Blackhawk led to the purchase of a Single Six, and now, a .44 Super Blackhawk to fill out the collection. 

According to the serial number, it's 1974 production, making it an even 40 years old this year. Condition is a touch rough, cosmetically, with some scratches, holster wear, and a tiny bit of rust on the backstrap.  The bores and cylinder were pretty dirty, too. The last owner of this gun was someone who didn't really take very good care of it- it looks like it was fired, shoved in the holster, and left there for a long time. (Tip: NEVER store a gun in a leather holster. It'll rust.) At first I thought I saw signs of heavy leading (which I used to help negotiate price) but turned out it was just big chunks of powder residue. But it locked up solid, and was in generally VG condition, with well over 90% of the blue, so I bought it. When I got home I stripped it, gave it a very thorough clean and lube, and a coat of polarized oil for rust protection. I also worked on the scratched areas and where the bluing had been rubbed off with a bottle of Oxpho-Blue and 0000 steel wool, which made an improvement. Next, I may work on those grips- or buy new ones, as these have a chip missing.

I have in my safe one box of brand-new Federal JHP loads in .44 Mag, purchased in the late 1980s, with a price tag on them that reads "$8.95." How much more could they be now? A lot more, as it turns out. The shop where I bought this revolver had one box of 50 American Eagle for $54.95! Even Midway gets $49.49 for the AE. The cheapest they carry is Prvi Partisan at $36.99. Some of the custom loads from outfits like Buffalo Bore go for $35/20, which works out to $87.50/50. (Correction: Buffalo Bore has .44 mag rounds with solid brass 300gr bullets that sell for about $80/20 rounds. That's $4/each!)

No matter. I'd planned to reload for this gun. I've got a few cans of powder appropriate to the .44, including Unique, 2400, and Trail Boss. But of course I also need large pistol primers ($32-40/1000, plus HAZMAT shipping), cases (found some Starlines for $39/100, shipped) and bullets ($15/150 plus postage from Dardas for 240gr hard cast) and last, but hardly least, a set of dies. I went with Lee as they're compatible with everything else I use. With postage, the dies ran $47.

So that's my birthday present to myself this year, although I may yet sell a few under-used toys from the safe to balance the hobby spending accounts. More after everything arrives and I start loading.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Reloading Bench, continued

Cabinets are up, tabletop installed. This is 1/2" BC Pine plywood; there'll be another layer on top of that. I'll lay a sheet of 1/4" Masonite on top for a "sacrificial" surface that can be easily and inexpensively replaced if necessary.

Moving on:

It's now expanded its intended uses to include  gun cleaning, gunsmithing, arrow making, and other related crafts. I applied several coats of Thompson's Water Seal to the tempered Masonite top, which should make it more impervious to liquids that might leak on to it and prevent spilled powder from working its way into crevices.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Reloading Bench Project

Like a lot of shooting hobbyists, my regular reloading space is shared with several other hobbies. Some days it's an electronics repair bench and some days it's an arrow fletching bench. This is not a good way to work.  I decided I needed a dedicated space for reloading and cleaning, and better organized storage.

There was an unused wall in my basement that serves to support the floor beams that were cut when the location of the basement stair was moved, and I'd been meaning to finish it some way. It occurred to me that it would make an ideal back wall for the new bench.

I built a pair of stub walls, just 3' long, and covered them and the back with pegboard. Next a pair of cabinets left over from a kitchen remodel went up.

I took off the cabinet doors to make installation easier- something I learned from a carpenter friend when we did my kitchen a few years back. Next week I'll put in the workbench surface and trim out everything. Might even put in drawers under the bench top.