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Published in The IHMSA News, the Official Publication of The International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association
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Volume 19, Issue 2 - March
  The Ranging Shot Email Todd:
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Todd Spotti
     The explosion was a very loud, low frequency thump that sounded like a giant muzzle loader, and came from somewhere off to my right. I turned, and saw several people swarming around a shooting bench about five down from mine. I then noticed a young man sitting at the bench holding both hands to his head. Blood was gushing out between his fingers splashing a garish abstract pattern on the concrete. An older man, his father, was trying to assist him. Fortunately, the young man was both conscious and coherent. Four police cars, a fire truck, and an ambulance responded to the 911 call put out by the range master, and the young man was taken off to the hospital.
     While we were waiting for the ambulance, I examined the remains of the Winchester Model 70 chambered in 300 Winchester Magnum that the young man had just fired. I have never seen a gun so thoroughly destroyed. The barrel was blown completely off the action and had come to rest about 5-6 feet in front of the shooting bench.
     The receiver had a long strip of metal about an inch and half wide blown off the upper left hand side for the full length of the action. This ribbon of stainless steel was twisted and covered in blood and what looked like small bits of tissue. It reminded me very much of shrapnel from a Viet Nam era 750 lb bomb. This is what undoubtedly hit the shooter in the head. The sides of the remainder of the receiver were bulged outwards and distorted. The magazine was just a small scrap of twisted metal. One of the lugs of the bolt was no longer square but was pushed back at a 45 degree angle. A Bushnell scope was blown off the receiver and was torn in half. A steel scope ring was later found embedded in the overhead along with about a half dozen smaller miscellaneous fragments. The black composite stock was completely shattered into chunks about the size of a charcoal briquette. I have seen a couple of gun blow up’s over the years, but nothing as complete as this. All of the components of the rifle were completely destroyed.
     As we were waiting for the ambulance, I found that the young man’s father had loaded the cartridge that blew up the gun. I asked “What kind of powder was in that cartridge?” The gentleman, who was thoroughly shaken, replied “I don’t understand. The book said you could put 79 grains of powder in, and I only used 75.” I responded “But what kind of powder was it?” “Wolf powder.” Now it was me that was totally befuddled. Wolf powder? Wolf doesn’t sell reloading powders. “Where did you get it?” I asked. He then babbled something about “green cases”. Seeing that I didn’t understand, he bent over and picked up a discarded 223 steel case with a greenish Parkerized coating. Alarm bells and sirens immediately started blaring in my head. “You mean that you pulled apart 223 ammo and used that powder to load your 300 Win Mag? He nodded in the affirmative.
     Just when you think that you’ve seen it all, or at least heard about it all, something comes along and really stuns you like a 2x4 across the forehead. This was definitely one of those occasions. How anyone could put 75 grains of a totally unknown powder into a case and not think anything about it is completely beyond me. I guess he thought powder is powder and that it‘s all the same. Wolf 223 ammo is made in Russia, so who knows what kind of powder is used in its manufacture. Obviously the burning rate of any 223 powder is way, way too fast for use in a 300 Mag. When I explained this to the gentleman he said “Well I guess I learned a lesson today.” That’s one way of putting it, but at what expense was the lesson learned?
     The moral of the story is that if you don’t know exactly what the powder is, don’t load it. So throw away that unmarked can of powder that your Uncle Leo gave you 10 years ago when he was cleaning out his garage. He was pretty sure it was 4895 but maybe it wasn’t. Also make darn sure the powder is suitable for the application. Real men do read reloading manuals - that is if they want to keep their heads attached.

Hodgdon 2008 Reloading Annual Manual

     Speaking of reloading manuals, I recently picked up Hodgdon‘s annual issue. It is really nice. It’s in a magazine format and has articles from some of my favorite writers including Sheriff Jim Wilson, Layne Simpson, and Charles Petty. However, don’t get the idea that this is a lightweight manual. It’s got plenty of beef with 5000 loads for more cartridges than any other manual, and even includes data for the brand new 17 Remington Fireball. (Man, I’d like to have one of those in a XP or an Encore.)
As you know, Hodgdon is the 800 lb gorilla in the reloading marketplace for powder and owns the IMR and Winchester brands. That’s 55 different powders being sold by the same company. The reloader never had it so good. Consequently, data for all those powders are included in the manual as well. There’s also a relative burn rate chart listing 117 different products. As far as I can tell the only thing that isn’t included are ballistic charts and reloading instructions.
     If you’re an experienced relaoder and you already have a regular Hodgdon full sized manual, the Annual is a good way to keep the data up to date at a minimum cost. However, for a new relaoder or an infrequent relaoder, I’d stick with the regular manual because of the availability of the reloading instructions. Hodgdon does have those instructions on its web site however. You should also visit the web site from time to time anyway as it’s a neat place and will have the latest info on powder and loads. The Annual is available just about everywhere and retails for only $8. Many places have it for less.
     I was reloading for my XP 223 not too long ago, and I noticed I was getting low of my favorite silhouette powder - H322. So I decided to try something else in order to save it. While scrounging through the closet in my gun room, I came across some H335 that I used for a project a couple of years ago and then foolishly forgot about. The light bulb came on, and I decided to give it a try in the 223. 25.5 grains went into a Remington case with a Winchester primer and a 50 grain Sierra Blitzking bullet. Redding dies (of course) were used to put everything together. Velocity was a zippy 2802 fps and the group was a very nice .265” at 50 yards. The gun was shooting about as well as I could hold with my Leupold 2.5 x 8 and it doesn’t get better than that.


     Intrigued, I thought I’d give it a spin in my 6 TCU XP-100. This time I used 26 grains of H335 with a 70 grain Nosler, Remington cases, and Winchester primers. The velocity was 2530 fps and the Nosler went into a beautiful half inch” group at 100 yards. I was liking this better and better. Next came my XP chambered in 7 BR. 30 grains with a Sierra 140 grain boat tail, Remington cases, and Winchester primers produced 2152 fps and a .723 inch group.
     Well I had run out of XPs, so I thought I’d try it in my .204 Cooper rifle. 27 grains was dropped into a Hornady case with a 32 grain Nosler and was ignited by a Winchester primer. Velocity = 4012 fps and produced a group of .365” at 100 yards. Now that’s what I call hauling the mail.
     I have to admit that I’ve gained a new respect for H335, and it’s beyond me why I haven't used more of it. I still like H322 the best, but I also like the smooth way H335 meters. So in those applications when I want to use bullets that are just a little heavier, I’m going be reaching for the H335 instead.
     There are a couple of things that I want to get off my chest. Both of them have to do with money and both are my personal opinions, and not IHMSA’s.
     If you haven't bought any rimfire ammo lately, hold on to your hat. Prices of the overseas stuff have gone crazy. I usually buy by the case to save some bucks and was recently stunned by the new 2008 prices.
     I like shooting Wolf Match Target when I practice, and then Eley black box in matches. They both shoot to the same point of aim in my guns. The Wolf is amazingly accurate for its price range, but out of a box of 50, I’ll usually have 5-10 rounds that will be fliers. One or two will be real doozies, and the rest will be what I call mini fliers. For some reason, no amount of weighing the ammo or head-spacing the rims eliminates this problem. I personally think the fliers are due to bullet or priming defects, and I’m leaning toward the bullets. Anyway, since I’m just using it for practice, who cares? This past year, with careful shopping, a case of Match Target could be had for around $300. Now, the price is more like $360-$370 plus shipping. A case of Eley Match EPS or round nose is now running $900 and up. Mama Mia!
     We’re often given a number of dubious reasons for these huge increases. One of the most popular is that increases in the cost of lead due to the war in the Middle East are driving the cost of rimfire ammunition. Really? A check of the metals markets however showed that the price of lead has been actually declining.
     The other most common reason given is the decline in the dollar against the Euro. This is the more valid of the two. The drop in the dollar makes foreign imports more expensive in the U.S. and the cost of U.S. goods cheaper overseas. This is good for business, but it’s not necessarily good for you and me since the domestic manufacturers have been totally uninterested or unable to produce match quality rimfire ammunition. This in turn makes U.S. rimfire competition shooters completely dependent on foreign producers.
     No matter the cause, the huge cost run-up of rimfire ammo and centerfire components as well, will definitely have an effect on the competition sports and its membership. I believe this is the biggest issue we’re going to have to face this coming year. When the American shooter is already facing economic pressures on several fronts, discretionary spending is going to take a major hit. That’s going to translate into less shooting i.e. cutting back on practicing, participating in fewer matches, and going on shorter and fewer hunts.
     In some rimfire competition sports, the shooters are taking matters into their own hands by organizing “Outlaw Matches”. These are non sanctioned matches in which the cost of the ammo is limited to no more than a certain price - say $3 - $4 dollars a box. The shooters will agree before hand to go by the prices set by a certain seller such as Graff, Midway or who ever. I personally don’t like this idea for a number of reasons, but I totally understand the reasons behind it.
     The other issue that I find particularly disturbing is the deliberately deceitful pricing policy for shipping that is used by some of the big catalog retailers who cater to the shooting sports. What I’m talking about is charging the customer a certain amount of money for shipping, when the actual shipping cost is actually far less than what was charged. To my mind, this is nothing but a hidden price hike.
     Here’s the deal. You order X number of items from a shooting sports internet retailer, and are charged X dollars for shipping. If you look up the carrier’s rate for the size and weight of your package, the shipping charge seems to be accurate. HOWEVER, the internet retailer isn’t charged the standard rate that you and I pay to ship a package, but rather a special commercial rate which is substantially lower. The difference between what the retailer told you what the shipping costs are, and what they really are, is pure profit that goes into their pocket.
     The really disturbing thing is that this profit is based on a deliberate and calculated lie which is told every time someone places an order. This isn’t just a little nickel and dime rip off. When you consider the sales volume of the big guys, it’s millions out our pockets. Frankly, I think this is a disreputable and even disgusting practice.
     So what can you do? Don’t give the rip off retailers your business. Do your shopping with retailers that charge a flat shipping rate or those that crank in the shipping costs into the price charged for the product. Their prices may seem a little higher, but when you consider shipping, they’re not. Become informed. Examine the shipping policy statement on the retailer’s web sites to determine if they have a flat shipping rate or not, or if the shipping is included. Times are hard enough for the average shooter without giving these guys more of our money than they have coming.
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.