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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
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Volume 18, Issue 2 Mar/Apr
  The Ranging Shot Email Todd:
  With ( Comments or questions? )
Todd Spotti
Smith and Wesson & T/C
     Smith and Wesson announced in the middle of December that it had purchased Thompson Center Arms for $102 million. S&W essentially borrowed the money and paid cash in the deal. There was immediately some concern among fans of the Contender and Encore pistols that the guns might be pushed aside for some reason or another. Rest assured that the Contender and Encore are safe and that there no changes envisioned for them.
     At first I also was a little concerned about the sale as S&W is a handgun company and knows nothing about long guns. TC on the other hand is for the most part a long gun company with just a small toe dipping into the handgun pool. Additionally, S&W’s products are essentially geared toward the security, police, and self defense markets and only slightly towards the outdoor world. TC on the other hand with 50% of the black-powder market, is totally oriented toward the outdoor sports - a realm S&W doesn’t understand very well. However, I was reassured when I found out that the president and CEO of TC was being retained by S&W. This is a good move by S&W to preserve that expertise.
     One particularly interesting fact that arose out of the sale announcement was that TC will be bringing out a bolt action rifle to the marketplace probably in the mid to late summer time frame. Should be interesting.
     Was trying to think of a subject for this column the other day and for some reason or another the 7 IHMSA cartridge popped into my mind. Unless you’re an old timer like me, there’s a very good chance that you probably don’t even know what a 7 IHMSA is. It’s basically a 300 Savage case necked down to 7mm with a 40 degree shoulder and blown out slightly. BTW, if you don’t know what a 300 Savage is, you could call it a slightly smaller version of a 308 Winchester. Thus, the 7 IHMSA is similar to a 7-08 but just around 12-15% smaller.
     What made the 7 IHMSA unique was that it was one of those hot silhouette cartridges that became a real milestone in the history of our sport. It achieved that status because it was the cartridge that largely transitioned the unlimited class from 14” Thompson Contenders to XP-100’s.
     Let’s do a little historical review. Back in the mid to late 70’s, THE #1 overriding issue in handgun silhouette was the lack of knockdown power. Nothing is more frustrating than to hit a ram or even a pig and not have it go down. Back then, it was a regular occurrence.
     A big part of that problem was the lack of uniformity in the targets and rails. Almost all of the targets then were home made with whatever steel scrap a club could lay their hands on. Looking at photos of early silhouette targets one can’t help be surprised to see that chicken targets shot with even revolvers often would be deeply cratered, thus indicating that very soft steel was often being used by many clubs. I’m personally convinced that soft steel targets have the ability to absorb some portion of the impact momentum of a bullet striking it. Additionally, target weights varied, rail materials ran from fresh cut pine logs (used by my old Florida club) to railroad ties, or railroad rails that were bent and tilted one way or another. Some clubs even sat the animals down in the dirt and hoped the ground wouldn’t be muddy that weekend. The mud could hold the animals down like glue and significantly increased the weight of the target when they got covered with the sticky stuff.
     The 14” Thompson Contender was definitely the most popular unlimited gun at the time. The cost was modest so almost anyone could afford one. It was also reliable, had interchangeable barrels, could take a good trigger job, and was backed up with a good warrantee. However it was limited as far as cartridge selection was concerned.
     The 30X223 was an early attempt to find a reliable ram buster in a Contender. As the name indicates, it was a 223 with the neck expanded to 30 caliber. It had a very tiny shoulder to headspace on and was often loaded with a 190 grain Hornady bullet. Velocity was around 1500 fps. RCBS made the dies and called it the 30 Silhouette. It actually worked fairly well but still had problems taking the rams from time to time.
     The 30-30 was also somewhat popular in the Contender because heavy 30 caliber bullets could be used and it was widely available. However, if loaded to the top with powder, recoil was a big issue. If loading density was reduced, accuracy suffered significantly.
     The 7 TCU when introduced, became a favorite almost immediately. Velocities of 1700 -1900 fps with a 140 grain bullet were common. It was also very accurate, recoil was modest, and the rams were going over some what better than before when being hit by those relatively fast bullets. However, even it had reliability problems from time to time on those early targets.
     Then there was the 7 International Rimmed (7R). This was a 30-30 case necked down to 7mm with a sharp shoulder angle. In fact it was a predecessor and twin to the later 7X30 Waters. The concept for the case was ideal i.e. take a commonly available case with lots of volume and neck it down. It was thought because of the larger case capacity that faster velocities would result and the rams would never be able to resist the impact. Indeed the silhouette gun writers of the time were enthusiastically reporting velocities over 2000 fps with 140’s routinely and occasionally touching 2100 fps.
     Execution into practice was a disaster however. Rather than offer new custom barrels for sale to the members, the people running IHMSA at the time sold TC factory fourteen inch 7 TCU barrels that were improperly re-chambered into 7 International Rimmed. Brass life was zero. In the barrel that I had, a huge bulge in the case just above the rim appeared after only one firing. The bulge then prevented the case from being reinserted into the camber, and because of its location, it was impossible to iron out with the sizer die. Then the people in charge said use 375 brass instead of 30-30 brass. They said that the 375 stuff was much stronger and wouldn’t bulge. I think I got 2 firings out of a case before the bulge popped out and the case had to be discarded. The only way around the situation was to load the case at or below 7 TCU velocities. But what was the point of that? Why not just use a 7 TCU to begin with?
     Shooters were so disgusted with the situation that the cartridge died immediately which was unfortunate as it had real potential. All it needed was a good barrel. As mentioned, it eventually came back in another version as the 7X30 Waters and was promoted as a lever gun cartridge by one of the big ammo makers.
     The dissatisfaction with the guns and cartridges for silhouette probably reached a high point at the 79 Internationals. The rams were particularly sticky that year, even when hit with Nosler Partition bullets out of the 7 TCU's. Things then got ridiculous as shooters tried to come up with something/anything that would give near 100% knockdown. There is even a documented story about one silhouette shooter who being frustrated with the situation of the time started using a 14” TC barrel chambered in 45-70. He would drill out the nose of 350 grain cast bullets, and then pack the cavity full of Bullseye powder and glue in a pistol primer on top. Every hit must have been pretty spectacular and it drove match directors crazy. Obviously, the Contender and its associated cartridges weren't making the grade against the home made targets.
     Then there was the XP school of thought. At the time, Remington’s XP-100 was chambered by the factory in only one cartridge - the little 221 fireball. It also had this little short 10” barrel. Why? No one seems to know. Some silhouette shooters tried using the XP as it came from the factory by loading up the Fireball to the max with the heaviest 22 bullets that they could find. Now and then it might work but obviously most of the time it didn’t. Then the guys with more money than most would buy a XP Fireball and hang a 15 inch barrel on it chambered in 308. If you weren't using 200 grain bullets in your 308 XP you were considered a whimp. The XP 308’s definitely did the job of taking the rams down and they had the accuracy, but they were comparatively expensive and recoil was not for the faint of heart or of stature.

The 7mm IHMSA (L) & 7mm BR (R)

The 7mm IHMSA was designed to take the toughest targets

     The 7 BR then came on the scene in 1980 along with a factory XP chambered specifically for it. The combo blew up a storm of excitement throughout the silhouette world. Everyone knew that an XP would shoot and now here was a cartridge that was neither too small, or too big, and like Goldilocks porridge, was just right. Reviews of the gun and cartridge were extremely complimentary. “Shoots like a fury” they said.
     However, there was a fly in the ointment. No, on further thought, it was more like a turkey buzzard in the ointment. There was no brass available! Why Remington chose to produce a gun but not the brass is a total mystery. Evidently, at the time, they also had absolutely no intention of doing so either. What they did do though was to make available 7 BR “parent brass”. These were “blank” cases that could be reformed by the reloader into 7 BR cases. To do so, a set of four custom dies was required which cost $100 - which was big money back then and it ain’t hay now either. Trimming and reaming of the reformed cases was also part of the equation. Making just 50 cases took several hours and that really turned people off - big time. Adding insult to injury, these “parent” cases were also hard to find.
     That brings us finally to the 7 IHMSA / 7 International X. The basic idea here was to take the 7 BR XP-100 and re-chamber it into a cartridge that was easy to make and that would do the job in taking down any home made silhouette target anywhere. Actually, the 7 IHMSA was part of a family of IHMSA cartridges designed by Elgin Gates that ran from 25 to I believe 35 caliber. They were all based on the 300 Savage which was probably the most highly regarded medium capacity 30 caliber case before the advent of the 308 Winchester.
     However, it seems that nothing is easy when it comes to execution. The 7 IHMSA as originally designed had too much body taper to lend itself to being re-chambered in a 7 BR barrel. Consequently, an almost identical cartridge but with less body taper was put together for that purpose and called the 7 International X. Unfortunately the “big guns” writing in “The Silhouette” newspaper would refer to both cartridges as the 7 IHMSA and caused all kinds of confusion among the shooters.
     Unlike the 7 BR, making 7 IHMSA brass is a piece of cake. All you have to do is very lightly lube the shoulder of the 300 Savage and run it into a small reforming die which changes the shoulder angle from 30 degrees to 40 degrees. Then you run it into the full length sizing die and that’s it. People loved it. My XP 7 International X would drive a Hornady 139 at 2100 fps + and still be loafing along. Getting more velocity was very easy but mostly unnecessary. If a club’s targets had a reputation for being sticky, you could easily drive 160’s at the same comfortable velocity. If a Speer 160 (very strong bullet of the time) didn’t take it, something was very wrong. The XP 7 IHMSA/7 International X became THE gun & cartridge to have. You saw them everywhere. Headquarters even made a deal with Federal Cartridge to make a run of special brass with a tiny ram stamped on the head of the case. (BTW, those cases have become collector items these days.)
     However, as they say, things change. Remington finally wised up by the mid 80’s and started making 7 BR brass. We also got our act together in IHMSA and mandated standardized targets and rails. Commercially made T-1 targets slowly became the norm and the scrap steel junkers faded away. The 7 IHMSA began to be regarded as being too much gun and the 7 BR as being something that was easier to shoot and just as accurate. Eventually, even the 7 BR would be regarded as being too much gun as the trend went to the 6.5s, with muzzle brakes no less. In early IHMSA days, it was a point of pride to shoot a heavy recoiling gun well. Today, recoil is recognized for what it is - a distraction to better shooting.

     The 7 IHMSA does still live on after a fashion - in the world of rifle silhouette. There are those rifle shooters who want a cartridge with less recoil than the 308s and 7-08s that are often used in that sport. The 7 IHMSA fits that bill nicely. In fact I own a rifle chambered in it as well that I use for general hunting purposes. In fact it may actually be one of the very first rifles to be chambered in 7 IHMSA if not the first. I was so impressed when I got my XP 7 IHMSA/International X in the early 80’s I had a custom rifle built on a SAKO action for it. It has served me well ever since. Deadly accurate, medium recoil, and just plain fun to shoot. I think that says it all about this historic cartridge.

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.