.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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


Prone rapid fire-January 30th 2016


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…

1000yds on Stickledown

A friend posted a link to this video on Facebook and I enjoyed it enough that I thought I should share it here.

I did a little of this kind of team shooting before I left Scotland, once even on Stickledown with the Scottish rifle team (only for practice though).

It is a very pure shooting experience, almost like indoor smallbore where you just forget about the world and focus on the job of releasing shots exactly the same way each time. No distractiopns from the wind flags, just you, the rifle, and the target (and the hand that slides past your face to adjust your sights, and the voice telling you when you can shoot). There is a great satisfaction in the process of firing a shot then reloading and getting on target as quickly as possible so you are able to fire as soon as the coach gives you the word. The faster you can shoot after getting the go ahead the less time the wind has to change, and I got to a point during some shoots that I was releasing the shot within seconds of hearing “go on”.

I really enjoyed it and this video brought it back for me.

New Powder.

Since I started loading for .223 I have been using my supply of Vihtavouri N-140 to push the bullets down the barrel. This is all well and good for the 300yd & 300m slow fire details with 80gr bullets, but when I am shooting rapid fire strings it seems unnecessary to use such an expensive powder.

Accurate 2520 8lb jug

Accurate 2520 8lb jug

I have now acquired an 8lb jug of Accurate 2520, a much more economical powder (made in the USA rather than Finland) which has turned out to have other advantages.

The most significant difference between N-140 and A2520 is its shape. N-140 is an extruded powder whereas A2520 is ball.

Ball powder

Ball powder

The down-side to this is that it burns slightly dirtier than N-140, but the up-side is it meters much more consistently. In fact it meters so consistently through my new powder measure that I have stopped weighing every charge; which speeds up the reloading process wonderfully.

Once I got my powder measure dialed in, it consistently metered within a 20th of a grain either side of my target weight. Which is close enough for rapid fire and offhand (standing), and probably slow fire prone as well.

Powder scale

Powder scale

Loads made with A2520 appear to have a similar point of impact to my previous loads made with N-140 and they cycle through my rifle without any issue. There are no signs of pressure issues so far, in fact the primer was barely flattened so I could probably bump up the charge a little if I felt like it.

Anyway, so far I’m pretty pleased with it. I will be trying it with 80gr bullets for slow fire soon, then I will be able to better see how it compares to the N-140.

The light at the end of the tunnel, and a new(ish) project…

I am pleased to announce that I have almost finished my MFA. My thesis exhibition is installed, and I have successfully defended it from my committee. I just need to edit my thesis defense paper and I will be unemployed with the letters MFA after my name. Life is good:)

A few months ago I was trying to put the finishing touches to my AR by adding an adjustable butt stock to the lower. I emailed a company who made the one I wanted, but they were all out and so I waited. After a few months I was contacted with the news that they had made some more, unfortunately the money I had set aside for it was gone.

Wandering despondently around school I happened into a room known as the XYZ Lab. It is in there that I laser etched the stock on my hunting rifle among other projects. As it happened on this day the guru of the lab, Anthony, was fiddling with a new toy. A Makergear M2 3D printer. Now, a few years ago before I departed the UK I had had 3D printers on my mind, and had considered the possibilities of printing butt plates for my Anschutz target rifle. I was very attracted by the possibilities, but deterred by the cost of the equipment.

Now here I am a few years later, bemoaning my lack of a butt stock, but here was the equipment. And it turns out the technology is easier to get your head round than you might realise.

So I have been doing some designing, and learning, and more designing, and problem solving, and I have now printed 2 complete adjustable butt stocks for my AR15. I call them the Mk2 & Mk3.

Mk1 never made it off the drawing board. Mk2 broke as I was handling it the first time. But hopefully Mk3 will make it to the range, but then it will probably break (and that will be okay).

Here are some photos.

3D printed stock, the beginning.

3D printed stock, the beginning.

This is the first part of the Mk2 being printed.

3D printed stock project, part assembled

3D printed stock project, part assembled

The Mk2 used four vertically aligned bolts to clamp the “spine” in place. This part didn’t break, but it isn’t very elegant. The five nuts you can see on the right side are press fit into the spine and allow vertical adjustment of the butt plate.

3D printed stock project, first fit.

3D printed stock project, first fit.

Here it is on the rifle.

Mk2 Broken

Mk2 Broken

Here it is broken. The rotational forces applied to the butt stock were all being restrained by this piece, but not for long. It separated along a printed layer.

Mk3 Parts

Mk3 Parts

These are the parts of the Mk3. It is a bit more complicated. I have reduced the size of the serrations on the spine and made them an even 1/4 inch long to enable specific adjustments. The clamp is now operated by two bolts and a wedge which has more mechanical force and seems to work very well, but the placement of the bolts makes it awkward to adjust. The butt plate is now curved and more ergonomically shaped.

Mk3 assembled on rifle

Mk3 assembled on rifle

I have beefed up the part that broke in the Mk2, and I plan to apply something to the top surface of the spine to give it more resistance to sliding round the buffer tube. The buttplate can still be adjusted vertically, there are three nuts in the spine (two more are inside the lower bar) and the butt plate has five points of attachment that can be used with them.

It is still not very elegant, but it is a definite improvement on Mk2. The mechanism is good, but still needs work. Once I have done some live testing I plan to reproduce it in black plastic as I have decided that the red makes it look like a toy, and no-one will take it, or me, seriously.

I am mentally designing Mk4, but also I am considering the possibilities of casting parts in metal as that will become a possibility in the near future, but will probably require some adjustments to the design.

I am still intending to purchase a professionally made butt stock as I wouldn’t want one of these to break on me mid competition.

One day I hope to have the confidence that they wont.

Rapid Fire Success

Last summer and a bit into Autumn I was attending NRA High Power practice shoots at MRC. If you recall on my first attempt at shooting rapid fire (10 shots in 70 seconds at 300yds prone) I got all my shots into the 10 ring. The second string was not quite so good. During one of the last practices I managed to do it again, but this time in both strings.

Second rapid fire string - Autumn 2014 practice

Second rapid fire string – Autumn 2014 practice – 300yd prone.

This picture is of my second string. Needless to say I was pretty pleased.

Now if I can just get the hang of the 200yd sitting and standing shooting I might be able to get somewhere in this discipline.