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.