.35 Whelen project: the conclusion.

After getting the rifle all together (which you can read about here), all that was left to do was develop a load that would work for hunting…at least that’s what I thought. Unfortunately it didn’t work out like that.

It seemed like no matter what I tried I couldn’t get the groups to shrink. I found early success with velocity: using Accurate 2520 I had a Speer 180 grain flat point bullet going almost 3000fps, but the group wasn’t very impressive. Admittedly, I have high standards. Some of the 100 yard groups were edging below two inches, which for deer at under 200 yards is probably adequate. But since I come from a target shooting background where a one inch group is considered a good start, I wasn’t about to settle for adequate. Another reason I pursue small groups in a hunting rifle is that there are already enough things going on in a hunting situation to prevent a perfect shot (like awkward shooting positions, numb fingers, bad light, not to mention “buck fever”) that I’m not going to add questionable accuracy to the pile if I can possible avoid it.

I initially identified two areas that might have been affecting accuracy: rifle bedding, and barrel fouling. Although the stock looked good, the pillar bedding for the rear action screw had some odd cut-outs that left only three small stubs of metal in contact with the action, and they appeared to be getting slightly crushed when the screws were tightened down. I remedied this with my first ever attempt at action bedding. The finished job certainly wasn’t professional, but apart from one medium sized void, I think it came out quite well. The slideshow below shows some images of the process, including shots of the bedding before I tidied it up, and the rear tang area of the stock which I relieved a little bit to reduce contact with the action:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The barrel fouling I addressed with more aggressive cleaning at shorter intervals.

The first bullets I experimented with were 200gr Hornady round nose, and Speer 180gr flat points. I soon added 225gr Sierra Game Kings to that selection which began to show more promise. The first powders I experimented with were Accurate 2520, and 2230C, but after doing some research I added IMR 4064 to that list. After doing more load tests with the 225gr Sierra Game king with IMR 4064, I was finally getting groups I could live with, but the development showed up another wrinkle. Despite starting out with 55.5 grains of powder and working up to 58 grains, the velocity only increased by about 60 fps. The best groups occurred at both ends of the development ladder, so I decided to just go with the lower charge since the extra powder didn’t appear to bring anything extra to the table. The velocity of the final load was just over 2500 fps.

Early on in the rifle build I was concerned about a potential headspace issue that revealed itself through protruding primers. After rechecking the headspace, I narrowed the problem down to the case dimensions, and determined to limit how much the case shoulders got pushed back the next time I resized. But the undersized brass also resulted in consistently flattened primers throughout the load development irrespective of powder charge, probably caused by the case stretching to fit the chamber and reseating the primer as it went. This denied me an important pressure indicator, and left me reluctant to try chasing any more velocity. So I went hunting with what I had, and never fired a shot. So it goes.

After hunting season, and after cleaning the rifle thoroughly, I took it back to the range to use up the few rounds I had left. I first fired a single shot to check the point of impact from a clean barrel, and then I fired three shots from a kneeling position, braced against a shooting bench. The results were very satisfying:

wp-1488497966001.jpg

In hindsight I think the barrel fouling might have slowed down the barrel break in, and it wasn’t until I put plenty of rounds through the barrel, and thoroughly cleaned it a bunch of times as well, before everything came together to my satisfaction.

And that’s where things stand for now, but not where I intend to leave them for long. I have in my cupboard a box of Barnes 200gr TTSX, a solid copper hunting bullet that is popular with other .35 whelen shooters. And a pound of IMR 8208 XBR, which is a relatively new powder that is claimed to be very temperature stable (useful in Minnesota). These two components were used with great success in an article I read recently, so I plan to try it for myself.

 

 

 

Good morning from deer camp.

I have just returned to the cabin after hunting this morning. I was in the stand by 6:45am, and I stayed there until 11am. 

Here is a picture of me just before I called it quits:

I’m squinting because the sun was bright.

The morning started out cool, 35F (1.5C), but I was wearing enough clothes to avoid discomfort. There were no deer to be seen, but the sky was clear and the sunrise was beautiful, and apart from a bit of a chilly breeze that kicked up mid morning, I had nothing to complain about.

After a quick lunch I will head back out for the evening to try my luck once more.

A “pressing” need

I don’t quite remember which year I started reloading, somewhere between 2006-2008 probably. I bought a kit from someone at my club in Glasgow, it was made by Lee, and it was a great way to start what has become a big part of my shooting life. 

Since then I have replaced nearly every part of the original kit, including the powder thrower (I now have one by RCBS), and the balance scale (Redding). And each of these purchases has inspired the same internal conversation: 

Me: I think I need a new *reloading gadget*!

Also me: why? You have one and it’s not broken.

Me: yeah, but it’s kind of frustrating to use, and I think this other *reloading gadget* will work better.

Also me: I think it’s a waste of money.

Me: possibly, but I’m a grown ass adult and I can waste money on my hobbies if I want to.

Also me: fine, but what about your pension…

Me: …sod off.

These conversations are useful for restraining my wilder impulses, and that’s no bad thing, but it also makes me slow to upgrade when I actually need to, as I recently became aware.

I have discovered an issue with my press (at least I believe the problem lies there), which is the one part of my kit I never got round to replacing. It is a Lee challenger press (I think), which is an ‘O’ frame single stage press, but compared to many of that type it is pretty diminutive. And while it has worked very well for me up till now, an issue has started to crop up.

The issue actually first appeared (or I first noticed it) when I was resizing a bunch of .223 rem brass. I had installed the die as the instructions suggest-screw it down till it touches the shell holder, then a quarter turn more-but after I had been working for a while I noticed a gap between the die and the shell holder when the ram was at the top, mid resize. When I tried raising the ram without a case the gap vanished and everything appeared as it was when I started. I checked the die, and it had not loosened. In this instance I resolved the issue by screwing the die down a bit further, but despite the simple fix the issue concerned me.

The problem returned the other day when I was resizing some .30-06 brass into .35 Whelen. I had noticed some protruding primers on some of the first .35 Whelen loads I fired, and after confirming that the rifle’s chamber did not have excessive headspace, determined that the case shoulder was getting pushed too far back by the die. In order to correct this I tried using a feeler gauge to position the die with a specific gap to the shell holder, intending to resize a case, test it in the rifle, and adjust the die again until I was pushing the shoulder back just enough to chamber. This would also leave me with a known gap I could accurately reproduce in future.

Unfortunately, when I raised the ram with a case installed, the gap miraculously expanded…and I was frustrated. After adjusting the die down, and down, and down again-testing the cases in the rifle each time until they fit the chamber just right-there was almost no measurable gap at all, and my hopes of a reproducible set up had faded to almost nothing.

My theory is that something in the press is flexing, or compressing (or something), but only when under the pressure of resizing.

This does not make me happy.

There are enough variables in the process of reloading as it is, I don’t need an extra mystery variable showing up at random, especially one that can’t be accurately measured or predicted.

For a good while now I have been receiving catalogues in the mail that include reloading equipment. Among the goodies on offer are reloading presses, but since I knew I didn’t need anything more than a single stage press, and also since I assumed that one “O” frame press is as good as another, the debate with “also me” always went in favour of my pension. Now that I have decided that my assumption was wrong, the final debate ended very differently.

Which brings us to this:

This is an RCBS Rock Chucker Supreme, which I picked up at cabelas last night. I had originally intended to get it on Sunday, but I was so convinced by my own logic (okay, just excited) that I decided not to wait.

It is in an entirely different class to the Lee it is replacing, it is beefier, smoother, and there is less play in the parts. As well as resolving the afore mentioned issue, I am hoping this will help me achieve a touch more consistency in my reloads.

Having decided to get a new press, I had briefly looked into the possibilities of turret presses, and progressives, but none of them really suit what I’m doing. 

I have been casting curious glances at the Rock Chucker for a while, but since until now I didn’t need a new press, I avoided thinking about it too seriously. However, as soon as I decided to bite the bullet and get a new press, the “Chucker” quickly leaped to the top of my list. 

Various things contributed to my decision: it was already discounted, RCBS are running a rebate scheme that I hope will give me at least $20 back, and for a bonus Cabelas (whose price was the same as on Amazon, impressive!) were offering $25 off my first purchase if I opened an account, so I did (I didn’t know that till I got there, which is why it was a bonus). With all the discounts applied I think the press will have cost me under $100, which makes my elaborate justification even less worthy of close scrutiny.

So all in all I think my conscience is clear, my pension is fine, and my reloading bench looks the business. 

Now if I can just find the time to use it…

.35 Whelen project

Last time I reported on this subject I was waiting for after hunting season to find a bargain rifle that could supply the action for my build. I went to some pawn shops, and did a bunch of looking online, and I was about to settle for a rifle for sale through the Gander Mountain website, when I decided at the last minute to stop into the actual store and see what they actually had on the shelf. And to my surprise there was a Stevens 200 in .30-06 on the shelf for $250, a good bit cheaper than the one online, so I bought it.

The stock was a cheap plastic one that I couldn’t have used if I wanted to because the barrel channel was too small, but I didn’t want to because it was cheap and nasty. When I first saw the rifle I thought it had touches of rust all over it, but when I came back after the now standard wait for the background check to clear, I found out it was just red fuzz stuck to oily spots. It must have lived in a red fuzz lined case in a previous life. When I took it apart at home and gave it a wipe down, it turned out to be in much better condition than I expected.

The next step was to switch out the barrel. The barrel on a Savage 110/Stevens 200 (same gun different name) is attached with a lock nut that allows for simple changes. My new barrel came with a set of headspace gauges and a wrench to deal with the lock nut. The old barrel was a bit tricky to remove, but after a few false starts and rethinks it eventually came off. Here is a picture I took just after the barrel came off.

IMG_20160117_134439

You can see the lock nut still on the barrel, and the action on the stool. The new barrel went on easily after that and it only took a few attempts to get the headspace spot on.

When I installed a sight base I discovered that the recoil lug, which sits between the action and the lock nut, was slightly high and so prevented the sight base from fitting properly. So I trimmed the base down and chamfered the edge and it fit.

IMG_20160118_141258

I stuck it to the action with red Loctite so it will never move again.

I decided to go for a synthetic stock and was about to drop some dough on one made by Hogue, until I did a quick search on Amazon and found a slightly used one for half the price. The colour wasn’t exactly my first choice, but the price was right, so I won’t complain. It came with nice fat recoil pad that will come in useful. Here is a photo of the project so far.

IMG_20160120_204045

The stock is covered in a rubber material which makes it nice and grippy.

George also gave me a supply of really old .30-06 brass that I had to anneal before I could expand the necks to .35. I built a special tool out of an old electric screwdriver that turns the brass in the flame of my burner to get an even heat.

IMG_20160118_141548

I annealed 100 cases and expanded the necks, then loaded up some ammo. I made one with a 170gr .357 pistol bullet and a small charge of fast burning powder for plinking. It’s a really fun load with almost no recoil.

IMG_20160121_234151

I also made a load with 200gr Hornady round nose and a proper charge of a slower burning powder.

IMG_20160126_224232

Then I mounted a scope and took it out to shoot.

The recoil isn’t as bad as I thought it might be, but it looks like it will need some work to find a good load. It grouped about four inches at 100 yards the first time I shot it, and when I shot it at 300 yards on the electronic targets it was only just keeping them on the paper. But the charge was just a starting load, and the round nose bullets are pretty poor ballistically, so there’s plenty of room for improvement.

The rifle is really fun to shoot and with the synthetic stock it’s pretty light too. I think it will make an excellent hunting rifle and I’m looking forward to getting the loads figured out so I can take it hunting in November.

Here is a video of my first shot with the rifle. I was shooting the reduced load so that’s why there’s very little recoil. I was slightly nervous because I’ve never built a rifle myself before, but it all went well as you can see.

One thing that turned up after shooting the rifle is that the fired cases have slightly protruding primers. After I double checked that the headspace was still good and asked around, it was determined that the resizing die might be pushing the case shoulder back too much. I will adjust the position of the die next time I use it to see if I can resolve the issue.

300 meter match

Today I competed in the 300 meter Robert Sandager Minnesota State Championship, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t win.

I was put in the first relay, due to start at 9am, and I was there on time, but to achieve that I had to leave the house at 7:30am, and get up at 6:30, on a Saturday. That is all beside the point though.

I have been having some problems with my rifle not ejecting cases all the way. I had trimmed my ejector spring to limit how far away my cases were thrown, but I cut off too much and sometimes it failed to eject. So I replaced that spring with another which I trimmed a little less in the hope that I would get the balance right, but it doesn’t look like I did. I even cleaned out the gas tube (which bleeds gas from the barrel to cycle the action) in the mistaken hope that it was getting clogged and that was why I was having trouble, but no. Today I had a number of cases fail to leave the rifle, which I then had to fiddle out, interrupting to my string. I think I will now get a new spring, not trim it, install it in my rifle, and accept that my cases will sometimes be found in orbit. But at least they won’t be jamming my rifle.

The weather today was cool but bright, and the winds appeared light. I think the winds were pretty light, but they were also completely baffling. The flags seemed to be indicating a light wind from about 6 o’clock, drifting a little right and left, but my rifle needed 1.25 minutes of left windage to center my group. Of course that could just be a zero issue. The guy next to me was getting the occasional 7 too though, and he was using a bleiker rifle in a 6mm caliber, so maybe I wasn’t imagining it completely.

Enough excuses and complaining though, on to my scores. There were three strings of 20 rounds with unlimited sighters and I got a 184-0, 185-3, and 188-4, for a total score of 557-7. The third string felt better than the score reflects, so I think I was finally settling in, but I’m still unhappy with my performance.

My wind reading skills still need to improve, and that’s only going to happen if I shoot more. So that is the plan.

 

Hi-power update

I have been participating in a “winter league” since the end of last year, but despite the name it is not a competition. I have attended most of the dates and I feel like I am making steady progress. Because of the typical Minnesota temperatures at this time of year we shoot at electronic targets from the heated 300m shooting house.

I have mostly been practicing 3 position (it’s not called that, but I forget its actual name), which involves shooting offhand (standing slow fire), sitting (crossed legs, rapid fire), and prone (both rapid and slow fire).

The standing is pretty new to me, but I think I am getting the hang of it slowly. This last weekend more of my shots were inside the 8 ring than outside, and only one missed the scoring area entirely. I even hit the 10 ring a couple of times.

Sitting is in some ways more of a struggle for me. The position is basically sitting with crossed legs and elbows on the knees. In order to get the right support I have to tuck my feet right back under my thighs which puts a lot of pressure on my ankles. I then need to hunch down over the rifle in order to be able to see through the sights. I can’t wear my shooting glasses in this position as there isn’t room for them between my face and the rear sight. In that position I have to shoot ten rounds with one magazine change within the specified time limit, which I can’t remember right now but is something like 60 or 70 seconds.

I am not very flexible and find it hard to curl up into the required position. On the days where I find the position and can hold it long enough to shoot the string, I usually hit toward the center of the target, although more often than not my shots drop down to 4 o’clock. It may have something to do with the cant I sometimes get on the rifle, but I’m not really sure. This weekend I shot one string that hit at 4 o’clock. I decided to shoot a second string and my shots were mostly in the ten ring until I had a malfunction which I couldn’t clear before the time ran out. I trimmed down my rifle’s ejector spring a while ago to keep my spent brass from leaving the state, but I trimmed it too much and occasionally a case doesn’t eject all the way and masses things up. I have a replacement spring to put in, but I keep forgetting to sit down and do it.

Prone is understandably my best position, and I usually do well. This weekend I had my best scores for a while with a 98-4x in the rapid and 198-9x in the slow fire. Pictures below. I forgot to print more scorecards, so the slow fire detail is recorded on a rapid fire card.

IMG_20160201_145747

Prone rapid fire-January 30th 2016

IMG_20160201_145740

Prone slow fire-January 30th 2016

I was quite pleased with the slow fire detail as I was using a relatively new load (24.5gr AA2520 with a Nosler 80gr HPBT). I had tried it with 24.3gr of powder, but had inconsistent results so I bumped it up a touch and it looks like it worked.

My goals for the future are to improve my offhand and sitting by practicing the positions at home in order to develop my muscle memory. I also just need to shoot more. I could also use to lose a little weight (or move it elsewhere on my body), because my jacket is getting a little tight around the middle and I don’t even want to thin about replacing that. Replacing a few beers every month with G&Ts would probably make all the difference.

My latest 3D printed butt stock is working out well with just a couple of small changes that need to be made. More details of that will come in a separate post. I have also designed and made a 3D printed hand stop with the hope of replacing the one I was using, which is on loan from a friend. I used it this weekend without issue, so things are looking good on that front.

More to come…

Another Hi-power practice.

I was out at Minneapolis Rifle Club again this week for a Hi-power practice, but instead of the usual routine we had a mini match.

*I had planned to get to the range early to shoot some small bore before the practice started, but the traffic a 3pm was as bad as the traffic at 4 that I usually drive through so I arrived later than planned. When I got to the range I realised I hadn’t brought any 50m targets with me, but then I found some old targets with clean diagrams which I put up. I continued to set up hoping to get in 20 minutes before I moved to the hi-power range, but then discovered I had left my sights at home. Thats what happens when you don’t do it regularly.*

Ordinarily we will shoot at either 200 or 300yds and shoot the full course of fire for that distance, this time however we reduced each detail to 10 shots from 20, and shot at both 200 & 300yds.

I started in the pits and pulled for the 200yd rapid sitting and offhand (standing) slow fire. Then we changed over and I shot the sitting and offhand then moved back to 300yds and shot the prone rapid and slow fire, before going back to the pits so the first group could shoot 300yds. Then we cooked some sausages.

My offhand was better than expected, I have been steadily improving. I mostly got 10s & 9s with only a few flyers (see below). The X came after I had been holding in the aim for a bit longer than I should have and decided to come out of position and start again (positive reinforcement experience there). The 7 (shot 8) was frustrating but I was pleased that I called the shot accurately.

200yds Offhand scorecard

200yds Offhand scorecard

 

My sitting rapid was less successful. My scope stand is good for prone shooting but is too short to allow me to use it to see my sighters when sitting. I adjusted my sights based upon what I could make out with the naked eye, but I ended up dropping my shots to the right. Although I have managed to develop a stable sitting position, in order to get my eye behind the sights I am canting the rifle to the right, which is probably the explanation for the position of my group (see below).

200yd sitting score card

200yd sitting score card

 

At 300yds we started with the rapid fire and again I didn’t do as I had hoped. The targets were in shade during the sighters and I had opened up my rear aperture a bit, but the sun came out again during the string and I think that may have contributed to my error (I know, excuses excuses!).

300yd rapid fire score card

300yd rapid fire score card

 

The day ended well with the 300yd slow fire. My sighters were in the 10 ring and it only got better from there. 100-6 was my final score on that detail. The guy marking my target complimented me on my shooting, then asked where the other four Xs went. To be honest I can’t explain why I pulled those shots to the right, but I will think about it.

300yd Slow fire score card

300yd Slow fire score card

 

It was a beautiful evening to spend at the range.

Evening light in the pits

Evening light in the pits