Happy New Year

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This is my favourite photo from the few days I spent deer hunting in Wisconsin last November, and although it looks like it could have been edited, it wasn’t. The weather was cold, but not desperately so. There was snow on the ground, but not too much. And it was fairly overcast for much of the week we were there, as you can see.

Although I went to Wisconsin with the plan of hunting from my climbing tree stand, that actually never happened. On the first morning, before Jason arrived from Minnesota, I elected to head out to one of the locations we had scouted a few months earlier. But when I got there, there was obvious evidence of previous hunter activity on the trail and I wasn’t particularly surprised when I was disturbed by hunters making their own way down the path. It was also apparent that these guys perceived this path as just an access route, so that was the end of that plan.

Jason arrived at lunch time, and since it was clear that we didn’t have a clue what to do, we decided to head out, find new areas, and hope for the best.

The area we headed for first was a place we had tried, and failed, to access on our scouting trip. However this time we approached it from a different direction, and hiked in from the main road. One of the interesting things about this area is that there is a small population of Elk (American Elk that is, not European Elk which Americans call Moose) that is part of a repopulation program. Which meant we frequently encountered very large tracks, and impressive piles of droppings that could only come from Elk, but very few tracks and dropping from animals we could legally hunt.

On that first day we decided to spend our time hiking around looking for likely hunting spots. This made a lot of sense, but I was wearing clothing intended to keep me warm while sitting still for hours on end, so after not very long at all I was a hot mess (as you can see below).

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The following day we decided to use Jason’s truck to drive back into the area, but we came in via a track that must have been intended for snowmobiles, because the truck barely fitted through, and we were very glad to have 4 wheel drive more than once. We made it to the spot, parked, and hiked our way in, but what had looked promising on a satellite photo turned out to be very far from that in reality. What we had interpreted as a grassy meadow with a gentle ridge running along one side, was in fact a bog, and the ridge was covered in such dense foliage that I couldn’t find a single spot that offered a view longer than about 20 yards. When I stepped off the ridge into the open bog I was immediately at risk of sinking into an icy sludge, meaning even if I saw a deer in the open and shot it, I would most likely be unable to retrieve it safely. That morning was probably the closest I came to seeing deer that week, because as I was stumbling through the dense brush, I heard a number of them running away.

After wasting a couple of hours on that fruitless exercise, we made our way back to the truck and decided to just drive around, stopping every now and again to explore the area beside the track. It was on one such exploration that I took the picture at the top of the page.

The most memorable moment of the week came as I was making my way slowly through a recently clear cut area. I was carefully stepping through the branches and debris that covered the ground, when I heard a noise and looked up and came face to face with some local wildlife. Crossing my path less than 20 yards away was a family of Bobcats. They didn’t seem to notice me at first, which was odd because I was standing out in the open and wearing bright orange, but when they did they froze, hissed at me, and then ran away. I have never seen a large cat in the wild, nor really expected to, so that was pretty amazing. And despite my otherwise lack of deer success, on the basis of wildlife encounters in general, I count that week a success.

We continued to hunt like that until Wednesday night, the day before thanksgiving, then Jason had to head home. That night the rest of my wife’s family arrived and so I switched from hunting mode to family holiday mode, and with the exception of a rifle propped in the corner of the cabin in case a deer walked past outside, that was the end of my 2016 hunting season.

 

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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.

A stock that is anything but stock…

So a few years back I decided to take up deer hunting, and since a hunter needs a rifle I got myself a rifle.

When I first met the rifle that would become my deer rifle it was in the form of a target rifle.  It belonged to Kelvinside Academy who were looking to reduce the number of full bore rifles they owned. I had a look through their selection and settled on one with an Interarms Mk. X action chambered in .308Win. I made this choice because it had an internal magazine, I could see the stock was good although in need of modification, and the action was in good condition and already drilled and tapped for scope bases.

Below are a series of pictures of the stock as I found it.

Stock as received left view

Stock as received left view

Stock as received end view.

Stock as received end view.

Stock as received bottom view

Stock as received bottom view

Stock as received side view

Stock as received side view

Thanks to Border Barrels, the Schultz and Larson 1:14 barrel was cut down to 23 inches and threaded for a moderator. Charles (The Oracle) helped me mount my scope and bases. David, my friend from Bearsden rifle club, took the stock to work with him and cut off the excess wood that I didn’t need. That process is documented in the pictures below.

Cutting down the stock 1

Cutting down the stock 1

Cutting down the stock 2

Cutting down the stock 2

Cutting down the stock 3

Cutting down the stock 3

Cutting down the stock 4

Cutting down the stock 4

Cutting down the stock 5

Cutting down the stock 5

I then finished the stock with various planes, shaves, and sand paper, and then coated with Birchwood Casey’s Tru-Oil. Below is a picture of the stock during the long process of sanding.

Finishing the stock

Finishing the stock

The tru-Oil gave the stock a beautiful appearance, as can be seen in the photo below, but the one thing that I couldn’t do, and I never tried to do, was checkering. And so the stock remained plain, but no less successful for it.

Rifle and deer

Rifle and deer

I have taken seven deer with this rifle in the UK, and it is clearly capable of very decent accuracy. The group in the following picture was shot at 100 yards on the Border Barrels zero range in the Scottish Borders (apologies for the blur), the coin is a two pence piece that is around an inch across.

Zero group

Zero group

When I moved to the USA this rifle came with me (minus the moderator). The original scope was damaged in transit, and apart from the one trip out to zero the new scope the rifle has languished in my gun cabinet. Until now…

A couple of months ago I was reading a shooting magazine and happened upon a rifle review. I forget which rifle was being reviewed, but the thing that jumped out at me was the mention of laser cut checkering. I didn’t know that could be done until I read that, and as it happens I have access to a laser cutter through my school and a willing tech who enjoys a new challenge.

So I came up with a design, and although I mention the word checkering I very early on decided that that was not going to be the right description of the outcome. A short internet search came up with some simple line drawings of deer antlers and a few hours battling editing software resulted in a pleasing design.

Antler Interlock design

Antler Interlock design

It is based upon the outlines of a Fallow deer antler and a Whitetail deer antler, and I designed it so it would interlock and repeat. At this point my expertise ran out and I passed it along to the aforementioned willing tech, Anthony. Below is a photo of him working his magic.

Anthony converting the file.

Anthony converting the file.

Anthony needed to convert the file from the jpeg that I provided into a vector file that the machine could understand. Once that was done we performed test cuts on one of the offcuts from when the stock was originally converted (sometimes it is good to be a hoarder). Below are photos of the tests. The first was just the outline as per my original design, but it was clear upon handling that this would not provide any significant grip advantage, which is the point of checkering and one of the immediate goals of this project.

Test One

Test One

For the second test it was decided to fill in the outline, and this proved much more effective as a gripping pattern.

Test Two

Test Two

The third test was the same as the second except we decided to cut it a little deeper and this further improved the grip.

Test Three

Test Three

I subsequently used these test cuts to test the finishes that I might apply. The first and third are highlighted with Chinese drawing ink, and the second is filled with graphite. All three were subsequently coated with linseed oil.

Below is a sequence of images of the machine setup and the results.

Ready in the cutter bed.

Ready in the cutter bed.

First look.

First look.

Grip finished.

Grip finished.

Forearm finished.

Forearm finished.

I decided on the Chinese ink to highlight the etching with a final coat of linseed oil.

I am pleased with the outcome. I now not only have a remarkably accurate hunting rifle, I also have a particularly good looking one.

Complete rifle 3

Complete rifle 3

Complete rifle 2

Complete rifle 2

Complete rifle 1

Complete rifle 1

Complete rifle 4

Complete rifle 4

A rifle for 300m (formerly the 6mmBR project) Update

Since last year I have been thinking about a new rifle for use at 300m, and up until now I have been looking primarily at something chambered in 6mmBR. However after discussions with a few people I have decided to consider the possibilities of other calibers. I am still keen on owning a rifle chambered in 6mmBR, but for now, since I am a student and have limited finances, I have decided to consider other calibers that can offer decent performance at a much lower price tag.

One suggestion I have had is .223 Rem in an AR15 platform. I have never thought of a semi-auto rifle as an accurate platform, and in the UK they are not legal for civilian ownership so they didn’t really enter my consciousness when I thought about target shooting. Here in the US however they are ubiquitous and due to their popularity there are many manufacturers building rifles and components that are highly modified from the original military spec.

One such manufacturer is White Oak Armament who produce a “complete upper” that is purpose built for match shooting. It is really ideal for a discipline called “across the course” which is a military style competition that includes timed details that favour a semi-auto. However I am assured  it’s accuracy is such that it is perfectly suitable for regular matches, if you don’t mind picking your brass off the floor at the end of the detail.

The .223 Rem is a much more affordable alternative to 6mmBR, and the components and reloading tools are more widely available. At 300m it is pretty close to 6mmBR in performance, but at 600yds and beyond it compares much less favourably. However, since I will be shooting primarily at 300m and I have a very good .308 rifle that I can use at longer ranges, this is not a particular concern. Having a semi-auto would also open up the possibility of competing in “across the course” in the future if I desired.

I have not made up my mind, and I have a way to go before I can afford anything, so I will continue to consider my options until I do.

Shoot a lot, learn a little.

Warning: the loads described in this post are safe in my rifle, but may not be in yours. In the words of many a loading manual: start low and work up while watching for signs of pressure.

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In a previous post (here) I described the beginning of my search for a more appropriate load for 300m competition that won’t leave me black and blue in the process.

I based my first test load on my hunting load that uses 40gr VV N140 behind a 150gr soft point and named it the 300m Special. This load was a pleasure to shoot, but I never felt I was getting the best results with it. I decided to try to compare the 300m Special against my original long range load and a variation of the 300m special with the bullet seated out to 15 thou off the lands.

My first attempt to test was in less than ideal conditions (described here) on a 100yd range, and I was unable to get anything approaching a decent group. I decided to try again on the 300m range, shooting from the heated shooting house. The 300m range is not ideal for load testing as the wind becomes a factor and I am far from an expert at judging wind (I am working on that), but I wanted to test the loads and the way this winter has gone I doubted it would ever be warm enough to do anything else.

I tested three loads of my own, (and was given two 175gr loads by another shooter).

My loads were as follows:

(All loads were in a Lapua case with CCI BR2 primers, VV N140 powder, and a 155gr Sierra Match King (palma) bullet)

Load One: 300m Special – 40gr powder – 2.850 OAL.

Load Two: 300m Special (long) –  40gr powder – seated 15 thou off the lands (I bought a seating depth gauge recently)

Load Three: Original long range load – 46gr powder – 2.850 OAL

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My process was to fire a group then photograph the plot screen as well as the data screens that record group size and location.

I recorded the wind as gusting from 10 o-clock. I didn’t record the temperature but it was cold (certainly way below 0C/32F).

(Results include two groups that were shot with ammunition lent to me by another shooter, these rounds were loaded with 175gr bullets.)

See below for the results.

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300m Special (6 groups)

Group One (plot)

Group One (plot)

Group One (Data)

Group One (Data)

Group Two (Plot)

Group Two (Plot)

Group Two (Data)

Group Two (Data)

Group Two (More Data)

Group Two (More Data)

Group Three (Plot)

Group Three (Plot)

Group Three (Data)

Group Three (Data)

Group Three (More data)

Group Three (More data)

Group Four (Plot)

Group Four (Plot)

Group Four (Data)

Group Four (Data)

Group Four (More data)

Group Four (More data)

Group Five (Plot)

Group Five (Plot)

Group Five (Data)

Group Five (Data)

Group Five (More data)

Group Five (More data)

Group Six (Plot)

Group Six (Plot)

Group Six (Data)

Group Six (Data)

Group Six (More data)

Group Six (More data)

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300m Special long – seated 15 thou off the lands (3 groups)

Group Seven (Plot)

Group Seven (Plot)

Group Seven (Data)

Group Seven (Data)

Group Seven (More data)

Group Seven (More data)

Group Eight (Plot)

Group Eight (Plot)

Group Eight (Data)

Group Eight (Data)

Group Eight (More data)

Group Eight (More data)

Group Nine (Plot)

Group Nine (Plot)

Group Nine (Data)

Group Nine (Data)

Group Nine (More data)

Group Nine (More data)

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175gr experiment (given by another shooter to see how it would shoot)

Group Ten (Plot)

Group Ten (Plot)

175gr Long Range Mk 316

175gr Long Range Mk 316

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175gr experiment 2

Group Eleven (Plot)

Group Eleven (Plot)

175gr Long Range M118

175gr Long Range M118

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Original long range load (One group)

Group Twelve (Plot)

Group Twelve (Plot)

Group Twelve (Data)

Group Twelve (Data)

Group Twelve (More data)

Group Twelve (More data)

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To be honest I don’t know that I learned much from this test.

The 300m Special groups seem to display a distinct vertical spread.

The 300m Special (long) groups didn’t appear to be significantly tighter than the 300m Special, but they were less vertical.

The best group was number 12, shot with my original long range load (but it was only one group of three shots so it may not be representative).

All I discovered from shooting the loads with 175gr bullets was that my rifle will shoot them (good to know) and that I am not very good at reading the wind (which I knew already).

Conclusion: Assuming that the best group (#12) was not just a case of me trying harder, then the only difference between the 300m Special and my original long range load is the powder charge. The faster bullet is less affected by the wind. Therefore, I have determined to experiment with souping up my load a little and see if I can find a balance between speed and comfort.

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When I left Scotland I had to leave behind all the ammunition and components that I had collected and loaded over the years and months before leaving, and being a student I haven’t been able to replace it all. I only have 200 Lapua match cases in .308, and I have been concerned about wearing them out shooting at 300m where their quality probably isn’t making a huge difference.

So I put the word out that I was interested in getting some decent but affordable cases to use at 300m, and I was not long after given an ammo box containing 500 once fired Lake City match brass (see picture below). I am very grateful.

500 once fired LC Match brass

500 once fired LC Match brass

I am going to try my new 300m load in these cases. Having weighed them I have discovered that they are slightly heavier than my Lapua brass so after discussions with George (the club secretary and source of the cases) I am going to try 42.5gr VV N140 behind a 155gr SMK seated to 2.850 inches. There is a shoot this weekend (and I have been reading about the wind), so we shall see what we shall see.

Till next time.

“Forbidden” Fruit (aka Glock 17)

In a previous post (here) I talked about a basic handgun course I attended, and expressed an interest in buying a handgun.

I took another step recently by applying for a Permit to Purchase, which is required to buy a handgun in Minnesota. I applied by filling in a couple of forms with lots of information about myself, then submitted them at a building down town with a cheque for some not very significant amount. I presume this is in order that a criminal records check can be performed. The permit arrived in the post a week or so later.

A few weeks after that I decided to make it happen, and so I left school early one afternoon and drove to Bills Gun Shop and Range with a plan.

Step one: I enter the shop and mooch about until someone offers me assistance, which I accept.

Step two: Walk around for half an hour picking up lots of hand guns, pointing them at the floor, and asking questions.

Step three: Identify two handguns that feel “right” based upon the advice I am receiving (Glock 17 & Ruger SR9c).

Step four: Retire downstairs to the range where I hire said handguns and shoot a box of 50 rounds through them.

Step five: Feel undecided, so purchase another box of 50 rounds and shoot them as well.

Step six: Leave the range, still undecided, and mooch about the shop thinking until I make a decision.

Step seven: Make a decision (Glock 17) just in time to prevent another customer from buying the same gun (last one in the shop).

Step eight: Start the paperwork (Oh the paperwork!)

(Going back a bit) I had decided upon a 9mm after a lot of thinking. Initially I wanted to pick up a .45 Auto such as the colt 1911, but it occurred to me that the ammunition is more expensive and the recoil harsher, and since I am new to this “gun that fits in one hand” thing I should probably get something else for my first handgun. I then considered .40S&W, as a compromise between 9mm and .45 Auto, but after more thinking I decided that I didn’t really want a .40S&W in and of itself, but rather as a next best thing to a .45. With this in mind I decided upon a 9mm as a cost effective option that would allow me to get a lot more practice for my money and be less likely to teach me bad habits from the recoil.

(Back in the shop) I stood at the counter with one of the staff (random aside: most of the staff were carrying firearms) and filled in a form, then I filled it in again because I made a mistake, and then again because I made a different mistake. This is the form that gets sent to the “Federal Government” and any mistakes will result in the application being denied (I think). A mistake can include putting something in the wrong box and crossing it out. This took a while.

Next, the person helping me had to fill in another part of my successful form, gun serial numbers, permit numbers, etc., and make a phone call to someone in the “Federal Government” (I don’t know who he was calling, possibly the ATF) to whom he read out most of the details on the form. Then we waited. While we waited he told me that the people he was calling had three options, they could approve, deny, or defer. He thought that since I am foreign and not a citizen that they would probably defer, eventually they did exactly that.

I was then informed that the department of the government that he had just called (“Federal Government”) had four days (might have been three, I get hazy on the details) to either approve or deny the application. If they hadn’t responded (by phone, to the shop) within the four (or three) days then I would be free to pick up the gun from the shop. So I left the shop empty handed with the instructions to return four days later unless I was called by them first.

The next morning I was called by the shop to be told that I was approved (why wouldn’t I be?) and I could pick up the gun any time I cared to.

I cared to that same afternoon.

(Back in the shop) I am back at the counter with another member of staff, and there is more paperwork. More forms are filled in and double checked, then double checked again by another member of staff ( I get the impression this is taken very seriously by someone). After about 30 minutes everything is done, I have bought extra things like a phosphor bronze brush and a spray can that turns out not to do what I thought it did (should have read the label properly), and I am the proud owner of a brand new Glock 17 9mm.

Glock 17

Glock 17

This is pretty exciting for me, and it would be a shame (and quite frustrating) to take a brand new Glock 17 9mm home unfired, and so I go back to the range for the second time in two days and fire another 50 rounds into the backstop.

(Some thoughts) The process was in some ways a lot simpler than buying a gun in the UK, but in other ways a lot more complicated. In the UK I would have to fill in a few forms, jump through a few hoops, and wait a good few weeks to apply for a Firearms Certificate. But once I had it in hand I could go to a shop, buy a gun, and be out in 15 minutes with the gun. The only paperwork I would have to do would be an advisory letter to the licensing department alerting them to the fact that I had bought a gun and giving them the details for their records (there are more facets to the system but they are not relevant to my point). This system places the weight at the start of the transaction (gun ownership) so the actual act of buying a gun is quite simple. The US (or specifically the Minnesota) system eschews licensing and so what legalities there are must be processed at the time of purchase. I don’t want to get into a debate of the systems, I just highlight an interesting contrast of experience. I personally found the Minnesota experience to be very interesting and only vaguely onerous (I dislike paperwork).

Another thought concerns the gun itself. I have never owned an iconic firearm. I own many guns that share features with iconic firearms, but none a random passer by would be able to ascribe a make and model to. This handgun, the Glock 17, is famous in popular culture, and in professional circles where people actually need (or are required) to carry firearms. Also the gun I own is identical in every way to these guns, it was given no limits or handicaps in order to be made available to the general public. I may not have explained myself very well, for which I apologise, but I find this very interesting and so felt the need to express it.

As my skills progress with this handgun I will probably decide to take more lessons.

I will keep you updated.

 

Small-bore Amore

I first shot a small-bore rifle with the Air Cadets when I was 13. It was a No. 8 rifle, designed to simulate a Lee Enfield. Not long after that I joined my first target shooting club, Henley Trinity Hall Rifle Club. It was while I was a member of that club that I bought my first firearm, an Anschutz 1907, which I have used ever since.

Since then I have become involved in several other shooting disciplines but small-bore has always formed the core of my shooting activities, and so it has been especially frustrating that this was the discipline I have had the most trouble getting back into since arriving in the USA.

I moved to the USA in May last year (2012). My guns were shipped from Glasgow at the end of April in 2012, and so I estimate that the last time I fired my Anschutz was about 1 year and 7 months ago.

This interregnum was finally brought to an end last weekend in the form of a 50m English Match.

In the end I almost didn’t go. My rifle needed some work to get it back into action, the butt-plate was folded down after shipment and my sights were set up for 25yds. However George Minerich promised me time before my detail to set the sights, and the night before I fiddled the butt-plate into an approximation of its proper position, and so I felt I could give it a go.

The range is an enclosed building with shutters that open during shooting, much like the 300m shooting house I have mentioned previously. The building has a heating system and in winter only very small doors need be opened to poke the barrel through and limit heat loss. The shooters lie on raised platforms that can be moved around for position or pulled out the way for standing shooting.

I had to borrow a shooting mat as the only one I own is designed for full-bore shooting on grass and so lack any real padding.

September 2013 English Match (firing point)

September 2013 English Match (firing point)

September 2013 English Match (shooting house from down range)

September 2013 English Match (shooting house from down range)

My detail was due to start at 1pm, however when I arrived at 12:15pm I discovered a prone detail already in progress and was informed that due to a higher than expected number of entrants an early detail was started after the morning 3p match. The detail progressed quickly however so I didn’t have to wait long for my turn.

I was particularly impressed with the high number of juniors present. This event was held as a test to gauge its potential for possible future fixtures and I think it proved a success.

September 2013 English Match (target frame)

September 2013 English Match (target frame)

The weather when I arrived was blowy with fairly heavy rain, however by the time my detail started the rain had stopped and the wind had calmed significantly. As you can see from the photos my targets are barely wet, whereas the targets of those shooting before me were soaking when they brought them back.

I think the easing of the weather for my detail was a contributory factor to my final result, which was better than I had initially hoped for, although it was lower than I would have hoped to perform in ideal conditions.

Below are photos of my targets.

September 2013 English Match (target 1/3)

September 2013 English Match (target 1/3)

September 2013 English Match (target 2/3)

September 2013 English Match (target 2/3)

September 2013 English Match (target 3/3)

September 2013 English Match (target 3/3)

I was slightly confused when I saw the results. The highest scorer is called “Match Winner” with the next placed referred to as “First Place”, which is where I came. So in my mind I came second, although first does sound better.

September 2013 English Match (scoreboard)

September 2013 English Match (scoreboard)

Click this link to read the match report: September 28th 2013 Match Report

I had a great day and it felt good to have my Anschutz back in action.