.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:

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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:

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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.

 

 

 

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.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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.