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Published in The IHMSA News, the Official Publication of The International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association
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Volume 13, Issue 1 Jan/Feb
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Todd Spotti

The Blount Sporting Equipment Group - (Federal, Speer, CCI, Weaver, Simmons, Redfield, Outers, Ram-Line), which employs 1700 people, has been sold to Alliant Techsystems (ATK), maker of Alliant Reloading powders and a broad array of other munitions related products. ATK is a multi billion dollar company employing 11,400 people that primarily makes ICBM engines, small rocket and missile motors, military small caliber ammunition, powders for large caliber military artillery, etc. etc. The sale was completed for 235 million dollars in ATK stock after review and approval by the government. Blount says it will use the money to retire outstanding debt and will now concentrate on its Outdoor Products Group (chain saws, etc.) and its Industrial Power and Equipment Group (heavy forest harvesting equipment).

     ATK, being primarily a munitions manufacturer, was very interested in Bounty's presence in the lucrative law enforcement ammo market. Acquiring Federal, Speer, and CCI gives ATK a quick and significant entry into that part of the business. Speer and Federal have also been doing important research on developing small arms ammunition that is less lethal and more environmentally friendly - areas the military has shown interest in recently. ATK will be taking full advantage of that research.   

     Personal conversations that Iíve had with friends at Blount headquarters, Speer, and RCBS have indicated that the rank and file were looking forward to the sale. Blount has done considerable business with Alliant in the past and a good working relationship had developed over the years. ďThey know our businessĒ one source confided.   

     In my view, the sale looks like a good fit and should not affect the shooting public in the near future. Whether ATK, an ammo manufacturer, will keep the non-ammo portions of the Blount Sporting Equipment Group like Weaver, Outers, etc., or spin them off in the future remains to be seen.

Barrel Break-In - Well if youíve been good little boys and girls, perhaps Santa brought you a new custom barrel for your TC, XP, or what ever. If so, the subject of barrel break-in is immediately raised. 

     OK, why is barrel break-in even necessary? Aren't those new high dollar barrels already smooth as a babyís bottom? Why bother? Well itís true that a new custom barrel is definitely smoother than a run of the mill barrel, but even so, there are still going to be some small and occasional spots in the bore that aren't perfectly smooth and will just have to be polished out through a disciplined firing and cleaning break -in procedure.   

     The chambering process will also raise tiny burrs and imperfections in the critical throat area as well. Sorry, thereís just no way around it.   

     If you donít properly break in that barrel, those rough spots, as small as they are, will be tearing off jacket material from the bullet as it passes by. After a time that jacket material will build up to the point where it will become a permanent fixture in the bore and accuracy will definitely be affected. Iím not saying the barrel wonít shoot at all, itís just that itíll shoot better if broken in properly.

     There are probably as many break in procedures as there are barrel makers out there and thereís no doubt that they all work to some degree. However, I like to use a variation of the method thatís recommended by Sinclair International - the precision bench rest reloading equipment specialists in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. The method is very thorough, and although it can be tedious, it works to perfection. Here how it goes. First, we have to clean the barrel to remove any packing oils, shop debris, dirt, etc., then patch completely dry.

  • 1  Fire one shot.

  • 2 Now give the barrel a good soaking with a good quality solvent containing copper remover such as Shooters Choice by running 2 sopping wet patches through the bore.

  • 3 Soak a bore brush and run both back and forth ten times.

  • 4 Wait five minutes for the copper remover to work and then run another wet patch through the bore. Iíll bet you see some copper on the patch even though youíve fired only one shot. 

  • 5 Soak the brush again and run through (both back & forth) ten times.

  • 6 Wet a patch and run through again.

  • 7 Dry patch the bore thoroughly.

  • 8 Now fire two shots and repeat procedure (Steps 2-7).

  • 9 Fire three shots and repeat the procedure etc., etc., etc. until you reach the point where a five shot string has been fired.   

     During step 4 of each cycle youíll see some copper on the patch until around the fourth cycle. By the fifth cycle, there shouldnít be any blue copper fouling on the patch at all. This is a good indication that the rough spots have been ironed out. If youíre still seeing copper fouling on the patch, just keep repeating the cycle until the patch comes out perfectly clean. Itís important to wait the five minutes to let the copper remover work. Donít be impatient.  

     One last note. This procedure is for custom quality barrels. Some ďstandardĒ barrels are so rough that they will never smooth out no matter what the break in procedure, and patches will always show copper. The best way to determine if youíve got one of these is to examine the lands with a magnifying glass at the muzzle. If you see cross hatch marks across the tops of the lands, youíve got a barrel that will never be copper free no matter what the break-in procedure. Iíve got several TC barrels that fall into this category. In fact, one is so rough that the interior of the bore looks like a candy cane from all the copper fouling on top of the lands after only five shots. Those TC barrels are ok shooters with the right loads but theyíll never be great shooters no matter what I do.

     If you follow the above break-in procedure, youíll be rewarded with a barrel that will give you the absolute best accuracy itís capable of providing for a long, long time. 

G3 Rim Fire Gauges - I have to admit it. Iím a gizmo junkie. I love all the little gadgets, thingamajigs, and doohickeys that people invent to make shooting and reloading easier and more interesting. For me, few things are as much fun as going over all the new catalogs from the reloading manufacturers at the beginning of the year looking at the new widgets and doodads theyíve dreamed up to tempt our respective pocketbooks. However, some of these items can be outrageously expensive and at the same time, be of very dubious value. Consequently, I have only three criteria when separating the mechanical wheat from the chaff i.e. these things have to serve a useful purpose, they must be simple to use, and they have to work without fail. The G3 rim fire gauges meet those three criteria.

     These gauges are used to measure the thickness of the rims on 22 Long Rifle and 22 Mag ammunition. As you know, these cartridges headspace on their rims. On some brands of ammo, the rim thickness, and therefore the headspace, can vary all over the place and so consequently does the accuracy. Even with quality ammo, a box may contain cartridges that were made on two or more different machines each producing slightly differing headspace. 

     Itís been pretty well established that rimfire ammo with identical headspace shoots better than ammo that has variable headspace. This is true, of course, for center fire ammo as well. The people who shoot 22 rim fire bench rest matches religiously check the headspace with a gauge on even the most expensive ammunition to ensure no anomalous shots spoil their groups. 

     Headspace gauges fall into two basic categories. Those that use dial indicators to measure the rim and those that donít (which have already been reviewed in this column). The dial gauge typeís main advantage is the precision of their measurements. The main disadvantage is their cost i.e. often 50% to 100% more than the non dial type.   

     The G3 tool exploits a niche right in the middle of these two standard types and provides the shooter with both the precision of the dial type and the cost advantage of the non dial type. However thereís one condition, and that is you have to already own a dial caliper.

     However, thatís not much of a disadvantage these days as a dial caliper is a pretty common tool found around the reloading benches of most serious competition shooters. Fifteen years ago good quality calipers were often very expensive, however today, a quality stainless steel dial caliper can be had for $25 or sometimes, even less. 

     The G3 is a very nicely machined and polished aluminum fixture that is simply clamped onto the movable jaw of your caliper with a thumb screw. This takes about 10 seconds - tops. Now re-zero the dial gauge and youíre ready to go. All you have to do is just drop a 22 cartridge into the slot in the fixture so that the head of case will rest against the fixed jaw of the caliper when they are brought together. Take the reading, and separate the cartridges into groups depending on the rim thicknesses.

     Use only the ammo from the single, most common group for a match, and use the rest for your practice sessions.   

     Youíll also notice that G3 gauge comes equipped with a neck lanyard which at first struck me as being kind of odd. I subsequently found out that some time ago, a gun writer felt that when the gauge/caliper combination had a cartridge enclosed, it became a potential safety hazard. He speculated that if the assembly was accidentally dropped a certain way, it might hit the floor with enough force to fire the cartridge. Consequently, the neck lanyard was added to prevent it from falling to the floor - a nice, simple and inexpensive solution.

     The G3 is a nice tool at a reasonable cost ($25) that does the job quickly with no fuss. You can buy the 22 Long Rifle version through Sinclair International. If you want the 22 Mag version ($30 shipping included, no credit cards), you can order it direct from G3 at 4 Spring St., New Milford Ct., 06776. Iíll be including additional G3 data in future stories. Give it a try.

RCBS Custom Reloading Dies Discontinued - Heard a rumor which was subsequently confirmed by friends at RCBS that they have dropped their custom die business. Just so weíre clear about this, custom dies are defined as dies that are specially made from dimensions taken from either fired cases, chamber casts, or special drawings or blueprints. In other words, you want to get dies for your dream cartridge - the 6.5 Thunder Thumper (a 45-90 case necked down to 6.5 mm). You had Clymer make you a custom reamer and had Virgin Valley make you a custom TC barrel. In the past, you could have sent a chamber cast or some fired brass to RCBS and they would have made you some very nice reloading dies based on measurements taken from the casting or the cases. No longer.

     RCBS will continue to make the ďspecial orderĒ dies that are listed in their catalog however. These are dies that aren't in regular production because there isnít that much of a demand for them, but which already meet SAAMI or CIP specifications. RCBS will not modify special order dies.

     All is not lost however. You can still realize your dream of building the 6.5 Thunder Thumper. Redding, Hornady, and Lee are still in the custom die business, and reliable sources tell me that thereís a very good chance that Clymer will be offering that service as well in the near future. Of course it would make perfect sense for Clymer to do so since they already make reamers to manufacture reloading dies already.

     Itís sad to see someone who has tremendous expertise in this area leave the market, but on the other hand itís good to see someone else with first class qualifications step in to take up the baton.

Did You Ever Wonder - How the people who publish reloading manuals come up with the maximum recommended loads for wildcat cartridges?

     I had just started to gather information for a cartridge that I hadnít worked with before by doing a review of all the reloading manuals from the major publishers. As I got into it, I immediately noticed that one of the manualís max loads seemed to be very conservative with a top speed for a certain weight bullet around 2400 fps, while another manualís top speed was 300 to 500 fps faster with the exact same bullet - a huge difference. To make the situation even more puzzling, both companies were using identical pistols to derive the information - a 14Ē TC Contender. The top loads in the other manuals I examined fell in between these two particular manuals.

     After pondering the question a bit, I decided that it was likely that these two companies must be using two completely different methods to develop their reloading info. To find out if that was the case, I called each of their ballistics labs. Hereís what I found out.

     For standard SAAMI cartridges like the 223, 30-30, 308, 357 mag etc., thereís no problem. SAAMI specifies the max pressure for a particular cartridge as determined in a reference pressure test barrel where twist, dimensions of the lands, chamber, etc. are spelled out exactly. Even the ammunition used in the test is referenced as well. The reference ammo is even furnished by SAAMI to ensure the pressure test equipment is calibrated correctly. However, for wildcats, there are no standards, SAAMI or otherwise, and so things get a little, uh, wild.

     Both Nosler and Hornady use the Oehler transducer method of determining wildcat pressures. (Oehler is of course the company that makes what are probably the best chronographs you can buy.)  In this case, a strain gauge (the transducer) is epoxied to the barrel over the chamber. When the shot is fired, the barrel will actually swell slightly from the pressure. The stain gauge will measure the amount of the swelling. The Oehler system will take that information and when combined with other info like the outside dimensions of the barrel, interior chamber volume, etc., will then calculate the pressure generated by the load. Itís a pretty accurate system and it works well.

     Speer, Sierra, and Hodgdon take a more traditional, less technical approach. They measure case head swelling as an indicator of max pressure.   

     First letís define terms. The case head is not the area where youíll see a pressure ring formed near the bottom of the case after the cartridge has been fired. The case head is the solid part of the case between the extractor grove or case rim and the pressure ring. In other words, itís the floor of the case through which the primer hole is punched or bored.   

     OK. Now we know where to measure. Now we have to take in consideration the pressure-resilience ability of the wildcatís parent case.  Say weíre dealing with a 7 TCU. The parent case is, of course, the 223. The SAAMI specified working pressure of the 223 is around 52,000 psi.  When a reference 223 cartridge is fired in a SAAMI referenced test barrel, the case head will expand around 3/10000 of an inch (average). Obviously, a reloading manual publisher wonít want to include loads where the case head expansion exceeds 3/10000.   

     So far so good. Because the wildcat is a non-standard cartridge, that means that it is very likely that the reloading manual publisher doesnít have a test pressure barrel for it. These test barrels are very expensive and to buy a test barrel for every wildcat in the manual would be prohibitive. That means that instead of a test barrel, theyíll use a commercial firearm for the testing - and thatís the rub. As we all know, chamber dimensions on commercial firearms vary all over the place. There are a lot of reasons for this, but itís just one of those facts of life. So in the case of the two 14Ē TCís that kicked off this inquiry, we could have had a case where one chamber was cut at the maximum allowed diameter with a ton of free bore, while the other was cut at the minimum allowed diameter with very little free bore.  The second chamber would reach max pressure with much lighter loads than the first chamber. (I actually had a TC 357 mag barrel with an extremely tight chamber that would pop primers with below minimum starting loads. TC replaced the barrel with no problem.) 

     Is there a lesson in all of this? You bet. There are two lessons. First, when getting load info out of the reloading manuals published in the United States for standard cartridges, you can be assured that the info will be consistent and reliable no matter what manual it came out of because they meet SAMMI standards.   

     For wildcats, thereís more variables involved. Consequently, donít start at the max load in the book on the assumption that the companyís info is overly conservative. Start at the starting load. This is especially important if youíre developing a load for a tight chambered custom, or custom type barrel. Even when doing so - be careful. Iíve been surprised every now and then with sticky extraction, cratered primers, etc. when trying middle range loads straight out of the reloading manual for a wildcat. With these non standard cases you just canít tell for sure. Itís just the nature of the beast. So take it slow. Take it easy, and be safe.

Good luck and good shooting. Todd

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Warning: All technical data mentioned, especially handloading and bullet casting, reflect the limited experience of individuals using specific tools, products, equipment and components under specific conditions and circumstances not necessarily reported in the article or on this web site and over which IHMSA, The Los Angeles Silhouette Club (LASC), this web site or the author has no control. The above has no control over the condition of your firearms or your methods, components, tools, techniques or circumstances and disclaims all and any responsibility for any person using any data mentioned. Always consult recognized reloading manuals.