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The "Ranging Shot" Is A Regular Column In The IHMSA News
Published in The IHMSA News, the Official Publication of The International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association
Published monthly except November/December - January/February
IHMSA on the web at http://www.ihmsa.org
Volume 14, Issue 4 May
 
  The Ranging Shot Email Todd:  TSPOTTI@worldnet.att.net
  With ( Comments or questions? )
Todd Spotti
 

     Date - March 3, 2003. Place - Inland Fish and Game rifle range, Redlands, California. Time - 10:30 a.m. Weather Conditions - clear, 68 degrees, calm winds.

     Iíve just witnessed something fantastic i.e. the shooting of the smallest 22 rimfire group Iíve seen anywhere. Even as I sit here in front of the computer with the target right beside me, itís still hard to comprehend how it was done, much less that it actually was done right in front of my eyes. I still donít believe it, and yet there it is.

     No, it wasnít shot with a rimfire benchrest gun with lots of wind flags out front, or from a machine rest for that matter. It was shot outdoors at a public range with a Sako Finfire sporter style rifle with a factory heavy barrel and Lapua Midas M ammunition. An Uncle Budís sand bag rest provided the support and a Bushnell Trophy 6 X 18 X 40 provided the optics. Group size - an incredible .051 inches at 50 yards! Yes, thatís right - a half of a tenth of an inch. I never thought that a group that small could be shot with rimfire ammunition. People talk about shooting one hole groups, but what they usually mean is that the bullet holes are touching each other in a clover leaf type pattern. In this case, five shots went literally into almost the exact, same hole.

"Incredible five shot group courtesy of Lapua Midas M"

     The shooter - my good friend Dr. Aldo Casanova, a very well known and highly regarded American sculpture and retired head of the art department at the prestigious Scripts College in Claremont, California. Heís also a darn good shooter.

     To produce a group that small, everything has to be perfect. The shooter, the conditions, the gun, and particularly the ammunition. While Eley has ruled the roost in the quality ammo marketplace for a long, long time, Lapua is making a very strong challenge to that traditional dominance.

     Midas is Lapuaís top grade ammo and usually sells in the $10 a box range. Expensive? You bet. Does it produce premium results? Obviously. Lapua is very unique in that it offers two different versions of its Midas ammo - M and L. "M" stands for medium bullet diameter. Here the bullet diameter is .221 inches, which is exactly what SAAMI specifies for the 22 Long Rifle. The bullets used for Midas L, are one thousandths of a inch larger or .222". The idea here is that the larger bullet will fit a looser chamber and bore better, resulting in better alignment and accuracy.

     Now, one might be tempted just to just use "Lís" all the time, reasoning that a tighter fit has got to be a good thing no matter what the circumstances. After all, thatís what the bullet casters are always telling us. Unfortunately it doesnít seem to work that way in rimfire shooting. Iíve used both "M" and "Lís" on several of my rimfire match firearms and Iíve yet to detect any kind of pattern. Some of the guns like one, some like the other, and some shoot both just about the same. As I mentioned, all these guns have tight match chambers and most have air gauge quality bores. So youíll just have to try them both to see if thereís a clear difference in groups produced by your silhouette guns.

     Thereís also another interesting little characteristic of Midas ammo that I find intriguing. Namely the fact that itís velocity is definitely slower than other match ammo. As you know, most match ammoís velocity is subsonic i.e. below the speed of sound. The theory is that supersonic bullets are buffeted about when they pass the speed of sound (approximately 1100 fps). Since rimfire bullets are small and light, itís assumed that this buffeting negatively affects their accuracy. Consequently, if you keep velocities below the speed of sound, the accuracy degrading turbulence never occurs. Another advantage is that subsonic bullets are not as sensitive to the wind as supersonic bullets. Subsequently, most manufacturers of match ammo will restrict velocities to below 1100 fps (barely). Iíve found from my chronographing of 22 rimfire ammo over the years, that velocities will often run around 1090 fps or thereabouts. On the other hand, most of Lapuaís 22 ammo, including Midas, will have a velocity of around 1066 fps - a substantial difference. Does this lower velocity have something to do with itís proven accuracy? Iím inclined to believe so, although I canít definitively prove it one way or another.

     If Midas is too rich for your blood, believe it or not Standard Club, Lapuaís bottom of the line ammunition is a great performer. I recently ordered 500 rounds and when it came I was surprised to find that it wasnít packaged in a standard "brick" of ten boxes, but rather in a can of loose cartridges. Whenever I see ammo packaged in bulk like that, a four letter word comes to mind - junk. However, I had to take back my original impression after I found that it would regularly shoot sub one inch groups on the ram at 100 yards. Standard Club sells in the $2.50 - $2.75 range. This ammo is a fantastic bargain.

"My favorite Lapua ammo runs the scale in price but all provide impressive performance"

     So if you haven't tried any Lapua ammo, give it a try. My personal favorites are Midas, Signum, with its vertical lube grooves in addition to the standard horizontal grooves (which I covered in a previous column), Pistol King (an excellent performer), and of course Standard Club. If you canít get Lapua in your area, go to (http://www.brunoshooters.com) on the internet. They cater to benchresters but theyíve got lots of stuff silhouette shooters can use.

Surplus Reloading Powders - Itís no secret that shooting silhouettes is expensive. The average silhouetter typically goes through thousands of rounds of reloaded ammo every year while the average hunter will go through around just 25 in the same time period i.e. a box of 20 to re-zero the scope in the Fall and a couple of rounds on the hunt itself. Think about this. That conservatively means a thousand silhouette shooters who shoot 2000 rounds of ammo in a year will go through the same amount of ammunition as 80,000 hunters. Thatís a lot any way you cut it.

     Powder used to be a very minor expense in the reloading equation, but with sky high haz mat and shipping fees, thatís changed. Haz mat and shipping these days, can easily add another 20-25% on to the cost of a jug of powder. Of course the basic cost of the powder itself hasnít stayed still either and will typically cost well over $100.

     One way to alleviate this cost is to use a surplus powder. The use of surplus powders probably got its biggest start just after World War II when Bruce Hodgdon bought a small amount of surplus 4895 from the government and started selling it to his friends and neighbors in brown paper bags. (He couldnít buy any other kind of container at the time as the country was still transitioning from a war time economy.) Before long, he was buying 4895 by the box car load. The rest is a great success story.

     While no one has matched Hodgdonís success, there are a small number of surplus powder resellers today who fill this small, but interesting niche.

     When I first started shooting silhouettes, I used surplus IMR 4759 quite a lot. You could get 8 pounds worth for only $40. Instead of being packed in a standard container, it came in what Iím sure was recycled one gallon plastic milk jugs. I knew it was powder from disassembled cartridge cases of some kind, as Iíd occasionally find these while plastic "ballistic tips" mixed in the contents. It didnít matter though because it shot like blazes in my 7 IHMSA XP-100. I shot that stuff for years and really cried when the supply finally ran out.

     These days, the main source of surplus powders is still the government, that is the U.S. government and several overseas governments as well. There are several reasons why governments sell these powders. One is that from time to time they just overestimate the amount of powder they need for a particular run of ammunition. In another case, if someone wants to make say a million rounds of ammo and the supplier of the bullets only delivers 900,000 for whatever reason, powder that would have gone into 100,000 cases is now surplus. In other cases, powder kept in storage has a finite self life. If the powder has reached the end of its shelf life, itís performance can be reduced from what it was when it was new. Itís still perfectly usable, but it doesnít meet its original specifications any longer, so they put it on the market. Powder that has not been previously loaded is often referred to by resellers as "virgin", although it may or may not be newly manufactured.

     Additionally, military organizations will upgrade its weapons from time to time and get rid of the old ammo that they used. The ammo will then be sold to companies that will tear down the cartridges and salvage the components. The cases and bullets will most often become scrap metal, but the powder will be sold off as surplus. This powder is often referred to as being "pulled down".

     Mainstream powder sellers will from time to time add surplus powders to their catalogs. I believe that originally Hodgdonís 414 was a surplus powder. More recently, Accurateís 2200 came from surplus ammo stocks in Eastern Europe. The main advantage of buying a surplus powder from a well known company is that they will usually buy enough so that a multi year supply will be available to reloader's. One hates to become attached to a particular powder and then find that itís no longer available a just short time later.

     A name brand company will also have the facilities to thoroughly test the powder and publish load data for it. When you buy from a small reseller, reloading data is very seldom available. Quite often theyíll say something in their literature like "similar to 4895" or "use Accurate #9 reloading data". However, there is no real data to back up these statements.

     I know of one case where Hodgdon has publicly stated that its reloading data should definitely not be used for a particular surplus powder that was being sold by a small reseller. Hodgdon went on to say the surplus product was not their powder, they had no knowledge of it, and no data for it. So when you see these statements from small resellers, you have to take them with a grain or two of salt and proceed very cautiously in your reloading. Additionally, small resellers will often caution that there can be significant lot to lot variations in a given powder. The consequence is that the reloading data that you developed for one jug of powder may not work for the next jug that you buy. If you were using max loads and that new jug of surplus powder has a faster burn rate than the one you were using before, safety becomes a very big issue.

     The bottom line is that when buying surplus powders from a well known company, youíre assured that theyíve got a good supply on hand and that reloading data is available. Youíll also get a good price break as well. For instance, I recently bought 8 pounds of AA 2200 for under $70. When you buy a surplus powder from a small reseller, youíll get the best prices of all, but youíll also get a lot of unknowns as part of the bargain. If you like to experiment without spending a lot of money, go ahead and try the unknown brands. It can be interesting. Just be careful.

"The advantage of buying surplus powder from well known powder companies is that they have the facilities to develop and provide reliable reloading data"

     To check out surplus powders you can try these web sites. Since Iíve never used them myself, these aren't recommendations. Theyíre just places you can go to see whatís available. (patsreloading.com, and gibrass.com).  The site is evidently undergoing some construction but you can order one of their catalogs.

How Much is a Click - Write down this number - (39.37). Itís the number of inches in a meter. Itís extremely handy for converting all kinds of things from the English system to the metric system. One of the most handy things you can use it for is to figure out how much one click of your rear sight will move your shots at any distance.

     To determine this, youíll first have to measure how much one click will move your rear sight blade up in thousandths of inches. There are various ways of measuring this such such as using a good caliper or better yet a dial gauge. I usually just use my calipers because itís faster.

     When taking this measurement, donít be surprised if one click moves your sight up more, or perhaps even less, than the previous click. Clicks are very seldom exactly the same value all the way around, even with the very best iron sights. In other words, one click may move the rear blade up .002 of an inch, and the next click might move it .004 of an inch. Consequently, you may just have to come up with an mean value for your click movements. To do so, just measure the values for every click in a full revolution of the elevation screw and calculate the average.

"Good calipers and a calculator will
determine how much one click will move your shots at any distance"

     Once youíve determined this average value, hereís how to proceed. Letsí say one click equates to .005 inches on your sight. All you have to do is multiply that value times the distance to the target (Letís call it 50 meters.) and then multiply that result by our magic number of 39.37. Lastly, divide that

 resulting number by the length of the sight radius. Letís pretend weíre shooting a production gun with a sight radium of 10.75". So for example we would have .005 of an inch X 50 meters X 39.37, divided by 10.75 inches. Our answer is .915 inches. So for all practical purposes, one click on our rear sight is going to move our shot just about an inch, all other things being equal.

     This little formula is extremely handy when trying to figure out how many clicks we want to come down from the center of the full size ram to the center of a shoot-off target. Try it out.

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.