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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.