Sunday, November 11, 2007

ROLLING YOUR OWN & MEAT IN THE FREEZER

I've been fiddling around with reloading my own ammunition for over fifteen years now, but I just recently started getting SERIOUS about the deal. Sure, I always loaded up my own hunting ammo to the tightest-shooting specs I could find, maybe fifty rounds, and would occassionally load handgun plinking ammo with the odd box of 300-grain .44 Magnum "Bear Medicine" thrown in. My biggest stumbling block was always how much time and effort it took just to prep the fired cartridge cases so that I could even get around to reloading them. This year, however, my wonderful wifie got me some new toys, such as an RCBS case prep center and a case polisher and a Zip trim. This has gone a long, long way towards shortening case prep time and making it more a pleasure than on ordeal. I just had to give the new toys a workout, which led me back into the whole wonderful, interesting, and amusing passtime of reloading.

As I believe Colonel Townsend Whelen once said, "Only accurate rifles are interesting." I was on the verge of losing some interest in my 6.5x55mm Swedish Mauser Model 1894 carbine Scout Rifle, as I found I could only squeeze, at best and off a sandbag, five shots into 3 inches at 100 yards. Might as well be shooting an SKS. So I started playing with my new toys, taking test loads to the range, and firing them for the record.

Eventually, I was able to tweak both a standard hunting load and a varmint load that would go 1.1 inches for 5 shots at 100 yards, which I figure is good enough for a Mauser built in 1901. Now a 140-grain .264 bullet with a muzzle velocity of 2500 feet per second is not considered too awesome by the modern short belted super duper magnum crowd, but is dandy for me, shooting flat out to 300 yards with a 250 yard zero. With modern controlled expansion bullets such as the Sierra GameKing and the Noslers, I may even take it elk hunting. Such a caliber and load is considered small for elk by most folks, but I've met several people in Montana who hunt with it, and those wacky Scandinavians, not knowing all the wisdom of modern gun writers, have been killing moose for over a century with the 6.5x55.

On the other end of the scale, I kind of struck out. No matter the powder/primer/case/seating combination, The Swede just spat out the 85-grain varmint bullets with obvious distatse into 4 inch groups. Fortunately, the Swede showed to have a better appetitie for the 100-grain Sierras, with IMR 3031 powder, velocity of 2800 fps, again putting five shot groups just on the ragged outside edge of an inch. As a varmint gun, set to hit vitals in a 5-inch circle, it's zeroed at 200 yards and one can still hold dead on with the crosshairs out to 240 and still be able to hit the boiler room on a coyote or fox. As I may try it next year as a long-range antelope/deer load in eastern Montana (10-inch "bullseye"), a 270 yard zero keeps you in the vitals of such critters out to 320 yards. Of course, for all this jabber about ranges, I shot my mule deer buck at about 130 yards and my whitetail doe B Tag at less than 50.

For my wife's .30-06 sporter, which began life as a Model 1903A3 U.S. Army Springfield built in 1944 with a two-groove wartime Remington barrel, I still need to "tweak" the long-range load a bit for accuracy. At any rate, a 130-grain bullet leaving the muzzle at 3100 feet per second boasts a 300 yard zero and shoots flat out to 360 yards. My .308 loved this load; the Springfield a little less so. I need to play with the types of powder and charge weights a bit more to close up the groups. It was more than good enough this past weekend, however, when my wife bagged her mule deer at around 225 yards from the kneeling position.

This was the first year I really shot the .300 Winchester Magnum and all I can say is that I need to do a lot more tweaking or that the old girl just isn't gonna go much inside 1-1/2 inches at 100 yards. At present, I only have 40 cases to play with, which is just as well as sometimes it seems you need a #9 coal shovel to scoop the copious amounts of expensive powder down the gullet of those big cases. For instance, to launch a 165-grain bullet at 2800 fps, a .30-06 takes 58.7 grains of H4831 powder; to match that load, the .300 takes 68.6 grains of the same powder. Of course, that "maxes out" the .30-06. The .300 can still take that same bullet up to 3200 feet per second, but it costs you 77.4 grains of powder. I started out with Federal 180-grain factory ammunition, and for the first time Federal let me down, as the .300 just didn't like that stuff, shooting 4-inch groups.

The best I came up with so far is a 165-grain bullet at 3,000 fps, with which I can manage to get groups in the 1.3-1.4 inch range. It lobs a bigger bullet, suitable for elk, the same as the 130-grain out of the .30-06, that is a 300 yard zero and maximum point blank range of 360 yards.

OK, I've been blathering out all these numbers for awhile. What it boils down to is Jeff Cooper's old "Rifleman's Quarter Mile". Basically, a good shooter with a good rifle can "rule" the landscape around him or herself for a quarter mile. Of course, that applied to war, where exact shot placement in the vitals for a humane kill on game gets substituted for "good enough; I hit him", enemy soldiers being much more fragile than a deer or elk.

In the hunting field, 300 yards is probably about as far as you want to go. With some of the loads described above, 350 or even 400 is perfectly do-able by a good, well-practised shooter with no wind and a range-finder. Way out there, though, should be reserved for last-weekend-of-season-and-I-still-haven't-gotten-a-shot. Although I am a big fan of the Scout Rifle concept, with a low-magnification long-eye-relief scope mounted forward of the action, and I once did knock down my antelope at 400 yards with a 2.5X Scout Scope, this is more the area of conventional hunting arms with a large, high-magnification scope. You still need to be able to place the crosshairs accurately on the vitals. The crosshairs on one of my Scout Scopes blot out a 6-inch bullseye at 200 yards.

Another plus for reloading involves those who like accurate hand-gunning as well. Since having to switch to shooting southpaw after an eye injury, some of my handguns were stilll shooting 6-8 inches high at 25 yards with the back sights cranked all the way down as far as they could go. Two solutions were available; having a gunsmith put a taller front sight on the weapon, or playing with the loads. I played with the loads. I can't use 300-grain bullets at 1300 fps in my .44 Magnum anymore, but I'm dead bang on target with 240-grain flat-nose hardcast bullets lobbed out at 1450 feet per second, which ought to handle any bear problems I might ever have.

I almost got a chance to try this out on a whitetail deer in a special weapons restricted hunting zone down in the river bottom this past weekend. The doe stood broadside to me at about 40-45 yards, but I had just seen two mule deer bucks and a mulie doe. It took me too long to make sure it was a whitetail. About the time I figured that out, she took a half turn and bounded over the fence into the river, waving that infamous white flag at me.

Well, the coffe is about gone and my wife is up, so I had better wrap things up for now. Good hunting for those who indulge in the sport reccomended by Thomas Jefferson himself (A Species of Excersize).

1 comment:

Mark said...

Isn't I fun reloading.. :)

I hunted for years with a .243. Shot placement and a good bullet. I took Elk, Antelope, and deer with that rifle. Now being used by a 14yo girl, who for the last two years has filled all 3 tags with the same rifle. One was a head shot on a cow at 100. I can't wait to find out how she did this year.. :)

-Mark