May 2010 Cover Page

May 1903  

The Rifleman's Journal
A Collection of Articles Dealing with Rifle Accuracy Topics

This Month
1902 NRA Annual Competitions
Ordering the Custom Match Rifle
and more...

15 Cents  

What We Learn from the Past

What We Learn from the Past
by Hap Rocketto

My two favorite sports are shooting and baseball. Whereas I am pretty good at doing the former I am better at watching the latter. While not always apparent to the naked eye, there are quite a few similarities between America’s two favorite pastimes.

First of all they both use a ball. The official Major League baseball consists of a 13/16th of an inch rubber encapsulated spherical cork center, about the size of a Bing cherry, called the “pill.” Around the pill are four tightly wrapped windings of various sizes of wool and polyester/cotton yarn. The leather covering is made from full-grained white Holstein cowhide, it used to be horsehide but all things change. Perhaps the change was made because cowhide makes the best of leather, it should, it keeps the cow together.
Photo: Hammerin' Hank Aaron

The cover is hand stitched together with 88 inches of waxed red thread. There is an apocryphal story that the number of stitches on a baseball corresponds to the number of beads on a Catholic Rosary. If this were true it would lend credence to the belief that God is a baseball fan because the first words in the first book of the Bible, Genesis, are, “In the big inning.”

Early baseballs were not very uniform but modern manufacturing techniques have created a high standard. Even with that the average life of a ball is only five to seven pitches.

In all competitive rifle shooting we use “ball” ammunition. The ubiquitous smallbore rimfire cartridge may not be longer than 1.1 inches and must be loaded with a lead or alloy bullet which may not exceed .23 inches in diameter or weigh more than 40 grains.

Just like the early baseballs, the 22 caliber ammunition of the first part of the 20th century was not consistent in quality but since then it has made great strides towards uniformity of high quality of manufacture. Unlike a ball, unfortunately, the average cartridge lasts only one shot.

Both sports are best when contested outdoors over natural grass, in sunshine and are often brought indoors in either a shooting gallery or a batting cage. At its worst baseball is played indoors in one of two modern abominations, the enclosed domed stadia housing the Minnesota Twins and the Tampa Bay Rays.

The fields of play have been remarkably consistent for much of each sport’s history. The infield dimensions of the baseball field, what Roger Kahn called The Stonehenge of America, have been set in concrete, 90 feet from base to base, 60 feet six inches from pitcher’s mount to home plate, 127 feet three and 3/8th inches from home to second base, and a minimum distance of 250 feet to the nearest fence. For the smallbore rifleman it is 50 feet indoors, and 50 yards, 50 meters, and 100 yards outdoors.

What really joins the sports is their reverent regard for their histories. In both sports the past informs the present. As important as the anecdotal history might be, peopled as it is with the cast of heroes, villains, and characters that enrich each sport, those mythical deeds are not at the root of this regard. The accomplishments and antics of baseball legends such as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Cy Young, Moe Berg, and Lou Gehrig, are matched in the shooting world by tales of Kellogg Kennon Venable Casey, Morris Fisher, Calvin Lloyd, and Lones Wigger. They are an important part of the rich tapestry of the sport, and it is indeed a poor piece of cloth that can’t be improved upon by a bit of embroidery and that is the problem. Anecdotes are qualitative and, as such, open to embellishment.

For both sports, the heart of the sport’s continuity is the simple fact that each is quantifiable. Simply put, baseball and shooting are numerological narratives. Because the basic dimensions of the baseball field, shooting range, and targets have not changed in living memory the past, present, and future are readily compared.

Yes, to be sure not all the numbers are squeaky clean in either sport. Baseball had the “Dead Ball” era, from time to time the height of the pitcher’s mound has been changed, and the season is now longer. In shooting the rifles have improved, there has been an occasional change in rules, and we can shoot all year around. But overall things have remained amazingly consistent.

As a result we can look at the shooting records from fifty years ago, from five years ago, or from five days ago and easily compare ourselves to the greats and not so greats of the game. In a historical sense we can shoot side by side with a rifleman who died before we were born, if he shot the same course of fire at the same range. For that reason the charm of the historical shooting narrative lies, not in watching a motion picture of a shooter past, but reading his match report and knowing that you have shot on the same range over the same distance, at the same target accomplishing, to a greater or lesser degree, the same feats.

History: Advertising 1905

Advertising - 1905 - 1906

I hope you enjoy seeing some advertising from 1905 and 1906.  It's interesting to see how little we have changed in some respects, I think that most of these ads would be as effective today as they were over 100 years ago - if we were shooting Krags, that is.  There are a few references to Harry Pope in the ads, that always warms my heart.  - GAS -

The next advertisements are from 1906.  Note the testimonial by Harry Pope and, very interesting is his address in Los Angeles.  This was soon after the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco which destroyed his new shop on the day he opened it.  He didn't stay in Los Angeles very long, moving back East shortly thereafter. - GAS -

Now, look at the text in this advertisement for the Stevens Rifle Telescope, the complaint about old eyes not being able to compete with young eyes is as old as rifle shooting itself.  How many of our F-Class shooters would like to try one of these scopes?  Another nice reference to Pope, as Stevens was still marketing "Stevens - Pope" rifles, ostensibly with Pope barrels, but long after he left their employ.  - GAS -

In 1906, we were still five years away from the introduction of the now classic Model 1911 pistol, but Colt was selling John Browning's earlier automatic pistol along with their revolvers.  It looks a bit homely today, but it was truly state of the art in 1906.  - GAS -

Equipment: Follow-Up 40XL

Follow-Up Remington 40XL
by: Germán A. Salazar

Recently I wrote about my project rifle which I dubbed the 40XL (click here for the article).  When I wrote the original article the rifle was just finished and I had shot it very little, although that brief bit of shooting seemed very promising.  Here's an update on how it has been working.

I originally wrote that the 40XL was intended to show what Remington could produce today at about the same cost as their current 40X, but be a bit more in line with the needs of Highpower shooters.  I also wanted to show how it could be done with a long action to properly house my old favorite, the .30-06.  Although I liked the rifle, I didn't have an expectation that it would shoot at a super high level, the low, non-adjustable comb on the stock and the used, rechambered barrel kept my expectations low - I was wrong!

In the chronographing article (click here for article) I used the 40XL to search for a mild load for the 300 yard stage of our Mid-Range state championship.  That match is fired at 600, 500 and 300 yards (in that order) and it occurred to me that after firing my usual fairly stout load with 190 gr. bullets at 600 and 500 yards, it might be nice to finish each day with something a bit milder.  While I was going to shoot the match with the Eliseo tubegun in .30-06, the 40XL was used to check out some loads.  The idea was to shoot a 155 gr. bullet with a mild charge of 4895, something around 2800 fps, after all, it was only for 300 yards.

That day, testing loads at the range, I found that the powder charges I selected were probably a bit hotter than I wanted, the mildest was 2830 fps, but it seemed to shoot well and the match was the following week, so I decided to use it.  As things turned out, it was a good choice.  On the first day of the state match, I shot a 150-4X at 300 yards with it under fairly windy conditions and on the second day a 150-10X which was the high score for that stage (both were fired, as always, with iron sights).  Now, with our summer season upon us, I began to think about trying that mild 155 gr. load at 500 yards.  During the summer we only shoot at 500 yards as it is the only distance at which our clubs have covered firing lines and in 110 degree heat, shade is not optional.

I loaded some Lake City 62 Match brass with the selected load and Berger 155.5 gr. Fullbore moly-coated bullets for the first summer match at the Phoenix Rod & Gun Club.  During the first string I felt some creep in the second stage of the trigger and it was bothering me.  I stood up about halfway through the string, adjusted the trigger and got back into position.  Unfortunately, the wind had shifted more than I thought and the first shot after getting back down was an 8.  A score of 197-11X for that string wasn't too bad, all things considered.  During the next string, I still felt a bit of creep, but decided to shoot through it and finished with a 200-14X, that's better than I ever expected from this rifle.  I finished with a 199-9X for the last string as the wind really got brisk, but the total 596-34X was a very promising start and I thought there was a higher score hiding in that rifle.

The following week, I loaded the same brass, primers and powder charge, but substituted the Berger 155 VLD for the 155.5 Fullbore bullet simply because I had a few boxes of them that I hadn't used in years.  Conditions were a bit milder than the previous week and my hopes were high.  The first string went well other than one shot which I called high, and it was, so a 199-12X opened the day.  On the second string the wind was switching direction frequently, X's were harder to come by and I got blown out for a 9, so a 199-10X was the result.  After a long stint in the pits, I came back out to find a stronger, but more consistent wind blowing across the range.  My sighters were a pair of X's, then, just as I broke the first shot, I felt the wind pick up, fortunately a 10 at 3:00 was the result.  I gave the sight a 1 moa correction and fired another 10 in the same place as the wind kept increasing, I added another 1.5 moa now I was at about 3 moa total.  The next 17 shots in a row were in the X ring, the final one dropping to a 10 at 7:00 as I had a bit of a pulse going by then, so a 200-17X to finish the day with a 598-39X.

I have to say, that the 1:13" twist Krieger which previously had about 3,500 rounds fired through it as a .308, is doing just fine!  I still haven't tried the 175 Berger which I still intend to shoot, but we can certainly say that the 155 with 4895 is a good load, although a bit mild for our longer and windier ranges.

The two matches brought out a few areas in need of attention.  As I mentioned previously, the trigger's second stage kept developing a bit of creep (excessive sear engagement).  I took the trigger apart after adjusting it once more and wicked  the tiniest imaginable drop of Loctite onto the second stage sear adjustment screw.  That tiny bit was enough to give the screw some resistance to movement and cured the creep problem.  I have six of these triggers in use right now and this is the only one that I've had to do this with, so I don't think it's a design issue, just a fluke.

The next area that needed attention was the buttplate adjustment rod.  The buttplate extends and is held in place by a set-screw through the side of the stock which bears against the main rod; I had the extension set at 3/4" over fully compressed.  Under the recoil of the .30-06, the buttplate would sometimes slowly push back in, overcoming the resistance of the set-screw.  I first filed a flat onto the rod, thinking that would give the set-screw a bit more area to bite, but that didn't help much.  Next I decided that a fixed spacer would do the trick.  A quick trip to the local hardware store turned up a couple of good candidates: a 3/4" ID x 1" long steel spacer and a 3/4" ID x 9/16" long shaft collar with a set screw to hold it in place.  In the second match (598-39X), I used the 1" long spacer; it cured the compression problem, but I found that it extended the buttplate a bit more than I prefer for ease of loading.  At the next match I'll try the 9/16" long collar.  If that's too short, I'll see if I can get a friend to cut the 1" spacer down to 3/4" on a lathe.

The final item was to try to raise the comb just a bit.  This morning I added a Cheek-Eze pad which is a simple, stick-on pad to raise it a bit.  I actually added a small section of pad material right on the comb and then a larger piece over a broader section of the cheekpiece.  Each piece is 1/16" thick, so the total height increase at the comb is 1/8".  That should be a helpful increase.

That's about it for now, the rifle is working better than I expected and only reinforces my original concept, that Remington could be making something better for Highpower shooters and it wouldn't cost much more, if any more at all, than what they currently sell.  Oh, and don't discount the .30-06, it still shoots!

Physical Training for Older Shooters

The following article by Tom Alves describes a very practical approach to physical training for those of us who are not as young and spry as we once were.  Tom shows us how to give our bodies at least some of the maintenance we give our rifles.  While we all realize that our rifles will outlive us, let's see if we can't narrow the margin a bit with some personal maintenance that just might help the shooting too!  - GAS -

A Suggested Training Approach for Older Shooters
By Tom Alves

Most articles and discussions regarding competitive shooting center around equipment. Now and then one will come across an article about training such as the recent one from the AMTU posted on If you break the articles down they often discuss "core strength" and durability. The purpose of this paper is to elaborate on those points with a bit different perspective. Many of the articles you will read in books about position shooting and the one mentioned before are directed more toward the younger generation of shooters in their 20's. If you look down the line at a typical high power match these days you are likely to see quite a few folks who are in their middle 30's and up. Many people in that age range have had broken bones and wear and tear on their joints so a training program needs to take that into account. For instance, while jogging for an extended period for heart and lung conditioning - often called cardio exercises - may be the recommended approach for younger folks, it may be totally inappropriate for older people. The procedure to repair meniscus tears in knees is one of the most frequently performed operations in this country. Another approach one often sees in training to improve core strength is the use of weight machines which isolate certain muscle groups in their operation. I would like to suggest an alternative approach that not only does not require special equipment but uses the body's muscles in a coordinated fashion in the same way they are used in our natural movements. So, let’s set down some criteria:

1. The approach has to be low impact to conserve joints.

2. One goal is to improve the strength of the core muscles which are the muscles of our trunk that keep us erect and from where all movements initiate.

3. Along with core strength we need flexibility and full range of motion.

4. We want to improve our lung and heart function so we can have a good flow of oxygen going to our organs and muscles to reduce the rate at which we become fatigued during a competitive event.

Before I continue I believe it is appropriate for the reader to understand that I am a fellow shooter and this is a program I have designed for myself based on considerable reading and experience over a number of years. I am not a medical doctor, a formally trained exercise professional or any other type of specialist in the field. Consequently, this information is offered with the advice that you consult your medical advisor or similar authority before you embark on this or any similar regimen.

I will start with core strength and flexibility. Pilates exercises are resistance exercises that can incorporate the use of resistance bands, light weights and the weight of your body parts in order to strengthen the muscles in the abdomen, back, hips, chest and shoulders. The exercises can be performed alone but I recommend attending classes put on by a certified instructor who will ensure that you perform a balanced routine meaning you work on the front and back and both sides of your trunk. As to flexibility, yoga complements Pilates exercises and they are often taught together. In practical terms yoga strengthens through resistance using the weight of the body and increases flexibility by stretching the various muscle groups in a coordinated fashion. Some yoga exercises also work on balance which is helpful in position shooting and life in general. Again, I suggest attending formal yoga classes since an instructor can help you address such things as a joint misalignment. As an example, my right leg healed improperly after the femur was broken and my right foot splays out putting undue load on my left knee. There are a number of books available on Pilates and yoga and some of them get pretty involved; I leave that to the reader to explore. I will list some reference material at the end of the article that I have found useful.

Finally, heart and lung improvement. In order to exercise the heart and lungs while not abusing the joints, particularly the knees and hips, one has to resort to something other than jogging. Walking, bicycling, elliptical machines and swimming may be alternative methods you’d like to consider. Based on my reading, in order to get the most benefit it is important to exercise so that the pulse rate becomes elevated for periods of time rather than kept at a constant rate. The process I use, called PACE, is promoted by Al Sears, MD, It is interval training for the non-athlete. In simple terms one exercises, using whatever equipment one desires, to achieve a heart rate in which you are slightly above your ability to bring enough oxygen into your body to sustain the activity for an extended period. This is similar to wind sprints for a sprinter or a football player. After each episode you must rest until you have achieved recovery, meaning you can catch your breath easily. A series of three sets is recommended which covers a total time of about 20 minutes.

As a result of this training program I have experienced increased strength in my legs and trunk, less joint stiffness, lower blood pressure, and lower resting pulse rate. I will be 64 in June of this year. The Pilates/yoga classes are usually attended 2 to 3 times a week and the interval training performed twice a week.

Before I close I would like to touch briefly on two other related subjects: hydration and visual training. When one is exerting oneself, the body produces perspiration to keep the body’s temperature at an acceptable level. As one perspires the blood gets thicker and the ocular fluid in one’s eyes thickens as well. The heart has to work harder to supply oxygen and nutrients to the body so visual and cognitive functions degrade and fatigue sets in rapidly. Essential chemicals called electrolytes are also carried out of the body with the perspiration. As a result, it is necessary to replace moisture and electrolytes to maintain basic health and a competitive level of performance. If one goes on the Internet there is a multitude of articles on hydration. Due to the kindness of my lead Pilates/yoga instructor, Ms. Annette Garrison, I have a pretty comprehensive article on various aspects of hydration that I have included, , for your information.

Last I want to mention visual performance training. The New Position Rifle Shooting, A Comprehensive Guide To Better Target Shooting by Bill Pullum and Frank Hanenkrat mentions sports vision training amongst other aspects of vision in competitive shooting. If one goes on the Internet you will find training programs directed at golfers, baseball and football players. There is one site that has a demo which, if one looks at it for long, it is obviously very similar to a shooting gallery video game. The training involves rapid recognition and hand-eye coordination. Another source of visual training exercises, along with a wealth of other information, is the book Prone And Long Range Rifle Shooting by Nancy Tompkins.

Hopefully, I have provided some information which will be helpful in improving shooting performance and extending the time you can participate at a competitive level. It is important that you proceed at your own pace. I have pushed myself too hard in the interval training and now have to back off a bit. In closing I would like to thank Annette Garrison and German A. Salazar for their help, considerable patience and encouragement.

Additional Reference Material

1. Framework by Nicholas A. DiNubile, MD

This is required reading for anybody who has suffered an injury like a torn meniscus or has muscular skeletal issues. This is the book that led me to Pilates/yoga

2 P. A. C. E., The Twelve Minute Fitness Revolution by Al Sears, MD

The approach I use to interval training. I am sure there are other sources.

3. Physical Conditioning For Highpower Shooting by SGT Walter E. Craig, USAMTU

4. Rifle, Steps To Success by Launi Meili

Equipment: Ordering a Custom Match Rifle Part 1

Ordering a Custom Match Rifle: Part 1 Metal Work
by: Germán A. Salazar

 Ordering a new match rifle from a gunsmith (or several gunsmiths) is and should be an exciting, happy event.  Unfortunately, through inadequate communication, we often fail to clearly convey our desires and expectations to the gunsmith and some of that joy is swept away into disappointment when the blessed day finally arrives and we're holding the completed rifle.  At that point, the options are few: accept it as it is, or endure another agonizingly long wait while it is corrected, usually at our expense.  This series makes no recommendation of one product or gunsmith over another nor do we discuss how to select a gunsmith.  We are simply trying to cover all of the items that you need to consider and specify to the gunsmith in order to avoid an unpleasant surprise at the end of the process.  There are dozens of decisions to be made in creating a custom rifle, someone will make them - will it be you, or will it be the gunsmith?  The more of those decisions you make and communicate effectively, the more likely you are to have a satisfactory experience.

 As we discuss the major and minor aspects of the job and as you'll see there are a great many choices to be made.  Although it is important to discuss all of your choices with your gunsmith, it is essential that you memorialize that conversation with written instructions that you send him (and keep a copy for your reference).  Many of us today rely on email a bit too much and they have a way of getting lost in the clutter of a computer.  I prefer to send a real letter to the gunsmith along with whatever components I'm supplying.  That will be there, at his fingertips when he finally gets to your project and the conversation is a dim memory.

 While a great deal of this is applicable to any custom rifle, our focus is principally directed to the Highpower Prone and F-Class shooter building a bolt-action rifle.  Let's begin with the metal work and then move on to stocks.

The action is the heart of the rifle and merits a great deal of your attention.  You may already own or have selected the action, but that is the beginning, not the end of this area of concern.  If your gunsmith stocks certain actions, consider those offerings as it can save a great deal of time, but don't compromise your essential requirements for expediency.

Action Type
Without bogging down in the merits of one action maker over another, you need to decide if you want to begin with a factory action such as a Remington, Savage or Winchester or instead opt for one of the custom actions such as the Borden, BAT, Stolle, Stiller, PierceInch, Barnard,  or RPA.  There are, of course more action makers than those, but they are the most commonly encountered ones.  I would advise avoiding actions not normally seen in competition because it will be difficult to get certain accessories for them such as sight mounts or tapered scope bases, not to mention good triggers and it will be a difficult rifle to resell should the need arise.  Within the range of makers presented above you have choices of two-lug, three-lug and four-lug actions, there are stainless and chrome-moly actions, some come with a trigger, some don't.  F-Class shooters additionally might consider whether they want the bolt handle and loading port on different sides.  Picking your action is the first and most fundamental decision you'll make in getting a rifle built, don't rush through the choice.  Get informed as to what's available and do your best to lay your hands on a sample of the one you choose before you spend the money.

 Action Selection Checklist
  1. Single-shot or repeater,
  2. Two-lug, three-lug, four-lug,
  3. Maker,
  4. Stainless or chrome-moly,
  5. Long or short action,
  6. Standard or magnum bolt face,
  7. Bolt and port location,
  8. Cone bolt or flat face
  9. extractor options
  10. special serial number
Action Work Checklist
Does the action need to be remachined in any way?  Does the gunsmith recommend "blueprinting"?  That's a terrible term, it means absolutely nothing.  Be very specific as to what you want done and what you don't want done; some of the possibilities include:
  1. Recut barrel thread true to the centerline of the receiver, 
  2. True the front of the receiver,
  3. Special recoil lug,
  4. Drill and pin for recoil lug,
  5. Recut locking lugs and seats, 
  6. Lap locking lugs (simpler alternative to recutting),
  7. True the bolt face,
  8. Reduce firing pin diameter and bush firing pin hole,
  9. Bush bolt body for closer fit to receiver,
  10. Replace the bolt handle with an aftermarket unit,
  11. Relocate bolt handle to improve extraction camming,
  12. Replace the bolt with an aftermarket unit (alternate to 7 through 11),
  13. Cut cocking piece to properly time hand-off to your trigger,
  14. Sleeve the action for increased rigidity and bedding surface,
  15. True the exterior of the receiver (useful for glue-in tubegun installation of a Remington),
  16. Drill and tap scope base holes to larger size and correct alignment,
  17. Drill and tap side mount sight base holes,
  18. Custom sight base if required,
  19. Cut slot for stripper clip loading,
  20. Refinish the exterior - blue (matte or polished) , parkerize, hard chrome, polymer coating. other finish.
All of these tasks, and more, can be performed on any action, although many of the custom actions being made today will require far fewer of them than a production action or even some of the older custom actions.  Your conversation with the gunsmith might drift into how he performs the tasks; we're all curious about such things and the internet makes us all feel like experts.  However, bear in mind that he is the gunsmith, not you, and the choice of procedures and tooling needed to accomplish the task is his alone.  You won't be in that shop running the equipment and you won't be paying for his tooling, or for his insurance.  If you don't like what you hear when discussing the topic, pick another gunsmith, but let him do his job - you are paying for results, not to be his long-distance, untrained supervisor. 

The Barrel
Whether the gunsmith supplies the barrel or you do, we again face a long list of decisions.  Both the blank and the work to be done to it require our attention.  There are at least half a dozen good makers today, which do you prefer?  Should it be a cut-rifled or button-rifled barrel?  Krieger, Bartlein, Hart, Broughton, Shilen, Brux, PacNor, Lilja and more, offer barrel blanks to the custom market.  Get to know their offerings through their websites and more important, get recommendations from your gunsmith and from your fellow competitors as to what is working for them in the type of application for which you are building.  For instance, just because the local rimfire champ likes one brand or type of barrel, doesn't mean the same is ideal for your 1000 yard rifle and vice-versa.

 I'll assume that you've already selected the cartridge that you intend to fire, if not, go back to square 1 and get that figured out.  But knowing the cartridge is not the whole problem; the range of bullet weights that you intend to shoot will determine what twist rate (and throating) you will need.  If you are in doubt as how heavy you might want to go with your bullet choices, err on the side of the faster twist; it won't hurt your shooting with the lighter bullets and will preserve the option of the heavier ones.  For instance, with a 6XC, a 1:7.5" twist will handle the Berger 115, whereas a 1:8" twist won't, so if there is any chance you might want to shoot a 115, go with the faster twist.  Don't forget to consider the bore and groove dimensions, most makers offer some deviation from standard if specified.  Make sure you understand what you expect to gain by doing so, those standard dimensions are pretty darn good for almost all applications.

 Barrel contour and length also require a decision.  Although 30" barrels seem to have become the norm over these past 15 years or so, in many cases a slightly shorter barrel will serve as well, or better.  Weight and balance are important considerations for a prone shooter and a long barrel doesn't make either of those better.  If your shooting style involves removing the rifle from your shoulder for each shot, this might not be terribly important, but if you keep the rifle in your shoulder, then less weight and better balance become very important.  If you can't answer that question yet, lighter is probably better than heavier. 

 Barrel contour is similarly a weight and balance decision.  The F-Class competitor is largely guided by the weight limitations imposed by the rules and would do well to weigh all components other than the barrel prior to ordering the barrel so that the heaviest possible barrel can be specified.   Of course that isn't always possible, but manufacturer supplied data will put you in the ballpark for weight.  Prone shooters have generally gravitated to the medium Palma contour for the past 15 years, but others should be considered.  As an example, with a 6BR, the light Palma does a very good job of maintaining accuracy and its light weight makes it a pleasure to hold.  However, with the .30-06, I prefer an MTU profile which is significantly heavier and aids in damping recoil a bit.  Keep the application, your weight requirements and your tolerance for recoil in mind when selecting a contour.

 Many professional gunsmiths keep an inventory of barrels on hand.  Ask what he has, it might be just what you're looking for and can save a great deal of time on your project.  Currently, some of the barrel makers are quoting up to a year in delivery time, so a barrel on hand is a real plus.  Some dealers such as Bruno's and Sinclair stock barrels from the big makers, it's worth checking with them also.  If time is tight, ask the dealers about straight contour blanks and ask your gunsmith if he's willing to contour a straight blank.  That will add some real expense to the project, but it might be a solution in some situations.

 Barrel Checklist
  1. Customer supplied or gunsmith supplied,
  2. Cut-rifled or button-rifled,
  3. Maker,
  4. Caliber and twist rate,
  5. Bore and groove dimensions,
  6. Stainless or chrome-moly,
  7. Finish length,
  8. Contour,
  9. Fluted or plain,
  10. Drill and tap for Unertl bases,
  11. Crown: flat, 11 degree, recessed,
  12. Cut muzzle end for sight - 0.750" x 1.75" or special,
  13. Cartridge designation engraved or stamped on barrel, tight neck or other special information,
  14. Finish: high polish, bead blast, special

Chambering the barrels is the gunsmith's essential task in metal work.  Even if he performs every possible modification to your action, that will only happen once, but he may install a dozen or more barrels on that action over the years.  Chambering is also where we see many disappointed customers because they fail to understand the choices involved and to communicate their expectations effectively.  It is not enough to tell the gunsmith what cartridge you would like to shoot (i.e. .30-06).  In the popular target shooting chamberings, an active gunsmith will have more than one reamer for a given cartridge and, of course, a custom reamer can always be ordered to your specifications.

The throat or freebore dimension is the most critical chamber dimension - if it's too long, you'll never get the bullet near the rifling when seated in the case, if it's too short, the bullet will intrude too deeply into the case and limit powder capacity.  Cartridges with short necks like the .308 are especially critical in this area.  So how do you decide?  Start with the range of bullet weights you are most likely to shoot.  A bit of realism helps here, if you think you can shoot a .308 with 125 gr. to 240 gr. bullets in the same barrel, you're in for a rude awakening!  Suppose your range is 175 gr. to 190 gr., now you have something to work with.  Ask your gunsmith for his advice and experience.  If he believes that his reamer will suit your needs as to freebore, you're one step ahead, but not all the way home.  If not, then contact one of the reamer makers, such as Pacific Tool & Gauge, and get their recommendation for your application.  If it's not an odd combination, chances are very good they've seen it before and know what's required.

Neck diameter is another area of attention for the chambering reamer.  In order to really pin this down, you should know what brand of brass you will be using and have at least a modest quantity of it on hand.  If you don't want to turn necks, seat a bullet into at least 10 pieces of the brass and measure the loaded neck diameter.  For a .30 caliber, add at least 0.005" to that dimension for the chamber neck diameter, for smaller calibers you can run it a little closer, but no closer than 0.004" clearance or you might run into trouble if the brass maker's specifications change or you're forced into another type of brass when supplies get tight.  More clearance won't adversely affect accuracy, just brass life.  As an example, there are thousands of .308's being fired every week with 0.345" chamber neck diameter and 0.333" loaded cartridge neck diameter and they shoot just fine, even at 1000 yards.  That's a fairly normal combination used in Palma shooting with Winchester brass.  A closer neck is fine for maximizing brass life, but it requires constant attention on your part to avoid potentially dangerous situations caused by inadequate neck clearance.

 From the neck back to the base, you should avoid making the chamber any smaller than normal.  There is no accuracy advantage to a "tight" chamber but it can sure cause you a lot of grief with hard extraction due to inadequate sizing by the die.  The chamber and the die have to be a good match for everything to work properly and die makers work to a reasonably standard set of specifications.  I have found that chambers cut with PTG reamers are a good match for Redding dies and that's probably no coincidence.

 Chambering Checklist
  1. Cartridge choice,
  2. Freebore/throat length,
  3. Chamber neck diameter,
  4. Additional custom specifications,
  5. Customer supplied reamer or gunsmith supplied,
No, not Roy Rogers' horse, the other trigger.  When you're laying down in the heat, trying to fire the last shot of a great string, you'll be thankful for a great trigger or you'll be cursing one with even the smallest flaw.  Nothing heightens your sense of touch more than the pressure of competition and those few ounces can seem like a ton at times.  A great trigger is the essential connective element between you and the rifle and it's worth spending your time, money and effort to get one.  There are more good triggers available today than at any time in recent decades and they present a good range of choices for us. 

First we need to decide if the trigger should be a single-stage or a two-stage.  There aren't too many two-stage triggers out there today, perhaps only the X-Treme Shooting trigger and the Anschütz.  The X-Treme is available for the Remington mounting system which is widely used on custom actions, the Anschütz must be adapted to the action at a high cost and not many gunsmiths do that type of work.  I should also mention, based on my experience with six Anschütz triggers (three on centerfire rifles) and five X-Treme triggers, that the X-Treme is far more robust and has a cleaner feel.  I think it has made the Anschütz conversion obsolete.  Single stage triggers are more widely available, the Jewell, Kelbly, Shilen and others can be found easily and supply is not a problem.  The considerations deciding which type of trigger to select are safety, quality, adjustability, suitability of weight of pull range, compatibility with the action and ease of maintenance.  All of these factors come into play over time and a good trigger will meet all of them with ease. 

For prone shooting, I prefer a two-stage trigger, principally for safety reasons as it has much more sear angagement than a single-stage trigger, but also because taking up the first stage really has the effect of narrowing my focus (both visual and mental) to the task at hand.  If a trigger in the single-digit ounce range is desired, a single-stage trigger may be more suitable; but careful consideration should be given to the safety aspects of such a light trigger.  In F-Class that presents little problem, but in prone shooting, where we tend to wiggle around a bit, I avoid anything under six ounces in a single-stage trigger and really prefer a two-stage with closer to one pound total weight of pull.

Factory triggers aren't usually a good choice for competitive shooting.  The Remington is not really worth the effort to rework, although some of the older 40X triggers are an exception to that rule if there is no great cost of acquisition.  The Winchester Model 70 trigger can be made quite crisp and is probably the best factory trigger design out there although the skills needed to work on them properly are no longer as common as they once were.  I would avoid going below two pounds with either a Remington or Winchester trigger.  The Savage Accu-Trigger is quite acceptable for our use and in any event, I don't think there is any aftermarket replacement for it (though I may be wrong about that).

Although triggers are relatively easy to replace, the inletting on your stock may have to be redone for clearance if you replace a standard trigger with one of the common aftermarket units.  The X-Treme and the Kelbly, for instance, need a bit more inletting than the Jewell.  It's best to know at the beginning what trigger you will use.

Trigger Checklist
  1. Single-Stage or Two-Stage,
  2.  Maker,
  3. Weight of pull range,
  4. Customer or gunsmith supplied,
  5. Action timed to trigger

That concludes Part 1 of this short series.  In Part 2 we will cover the stock and related items.  You should have enough to think about for a while with the metal work.

Reloading: Case Head Separations

Case Head Separations
by: Germán A. Salazar

If you've been reloading for a while, you've probably experienced some case head separations.  If you haven't yet, you probably will sooner or later.  At a recent match, I had fired four shots when I had a case head separation.  When the case head separated, the forward portion of the case remained stuck in the chamber.  A quick inspection of the remaining ammunition in the box showed that I would have more separations if I continued shooting it, so there was no sense in trying to remove the forward portion of the case at the range.  When I got home, I put a .30 brush on a cleaning rod, ran it into the chamber and as soon as I felt it enter the case mouth, I pulled it back and the front half of the case came with it.

That's a situation we can all avoid, it's no fun, it can be dangerous and it is easy to avoid.  While I felt pretty foolish for missing the signs of incipient separation when loading that set of cases, I think that it's all good information to pass along.  In this article we'll look at the causes of case head separations, how to anticipate them, how to take care of the problem and how to minimize the occurrence of separations. 

First, we need to understand the basic mechanism that will eventually cause a separation.  When you fire a cartridge, the case expands radially to fit the chamber; 55,000 psi has a way of causing a ductile vessel, like a cartridge case, to conform to the more rigid material surrounding it!  In short, the case will expand to match the chamber under pressure.  As the pressure decreases, the case will spring back from the chamber walls to a certain extent.  That springiness is one of the principal reasons that we use brass to make cartridge cases.  A material with less springiness (such as steel) can be used for case making, but it is inferior; it often causes hard extraction and it is almost impossible to resize for reloading purposes.  You'll note that most steel-cased cartridge cases have a lacquer coating, that is to aid extraction, a feature not required with brass cases since they spring back to create clearance.

Once the brass case has been fired, although it isn't as large as the chamber (due to spring-back) it remains larger than before it was fired.  That's why we resize the case, of course.  Now, as we resize it, we're reducing the diameter of the case along its entire length, but the molecules aren't going back into the original tight lattice, they can't.  Instead, the excess material is forced upward along the taper of the case.  You'll notice that longer and more tapered cases grow more with each resizing than shorter, less tapered cases.  For instance, a 6BR might only need trimming every ten firings, whereas a .30-06 will need trimming every second firing.

As the case grows lengthwise in the sizing process, it begins to thin and weaken just above the solid head.  The first picture shows exactly where it thins, since that's where it split.  Now let's think about the rate of case stretching and thinning.  Part of what we do in full-length resizing is to push the shoulder back to create some longitudinal clearance in the chamber.  While it isn't technically correct, we often refer to this as headspace and we'll stick to that usage of the term for simplicity here.  I prefer to set the shoulder back 0.001" to 0.002", creating minimal but sufficient headspace (click here for August 2009 headspace article).  That doesn't sound like a lot, but it's plenty and will ensure easy bolt operation.  That headspace, however, also gives the case a place to stretch longitudinally on firing, that's why we keep it to a minimum as every thousandth of an inch of additional headspace will accelerate the thinning of the web of the case and bring case head separation along that much sooner.

You might wonder if it might make more sense to simply neck-size the brass and thus avoid all of this stretching, thinning and separating.  In my opinion, no.  Full length sizing keeps the bolt operating smoothly both on closing and on opening and that's important to me in a match as I don't want to be struggling to close or open the bolt while in position.  A second consideration is that hard bolt closing will wipe the grease right off of the bolt's locking lugs and they will begin to gall against their seat.  In short order you will have a bolt that's almost impossible to operate and an expensive repair bill from your gunsmith.  Full-length resizing makes sense to me from a competitive standpoint as well as from a rifle care standpoint.

Our next picture (above) shows a partial separation.  This case split at the web where it thinned from the stretching process, but the split didn't cover 360 degrees, so it held together and extracted normally.  The fact that it extracted doesn't mean it wasn't a dangerous situation, however.  Gas leaking through the split is still very hot and very high pressure.  I'm glad that I was shooting an Eliseo Tubegun which kept all of the gas contained well below my face and eyes. 

A frequently expressed misconception about case head separations is that they result from excessive pressure.  That is not correct.  Pressure, of course, overcomes the strength of the brass case and causes the separation, but that will not happen unless and until the case has thinned excessively through the mechanism described above.  Repeated cycles of case sizing with the resultant growth and thinning create the condition which allows normal pressure levels to separate the case at the thin spot.  A new case would only separate in a rifle with grossly excessive headspace and one is not likely to encounter a professionally gunsmithed match rifle with that condition.

The third picture shows a sectioned case so that you can see how the case becomes thinner at the web.  I've scribed a little arrow into the soot inside the case pointing to the thinned area.  I'm not too artistic and the picture shows the thinning better than I expected, so you can ignore the attempted arrow.  This case hadn't split yet, but it most likely would have with one more firing.  If I had a mill this case section would have looked really artistic, but since all I have to do it with is a hacksaw...

The fourth picture shows where the splits will occur on the outside of the case.  The pointer is showing the shiny line that develops on the outside of the case where it is thinning.  Look carefully and you'll see some similar looking lines further up the case, these are irrelevant, they're simply rub marks from the ammo box that I use to carry the brass.  Down at the web is where you need to pay attention to the case.  You should be looking for this kind of bright line every time you reload the set of brass.  Most of the reason I felt foolish when I had the separation was that I obviously missed seeing this.  I loaded the ammo in a bit of a hurry the night before the match, always a bad idea, and just missed or wasn't looking for case thinning.  In part, I suspect it was because the cases had only been fired seven times and I usually get 12 firings from Winchester .30-06 brass before I see incipient splits developing.  That's no excuse, however, it was there to be seen and it is a significant safety issue.  Whether a case is on its first, fifth, tenth or whatever reloading, you really need to keep an eye out for case stretching marks.

Here's a simple tool that every good reloader keeps in his kit - a bent paper clip.  This simple little tool will let you check the inside of cases before you reload them.  The thin spot will be immediately apparent as you run the clip up the inside of the case.  If you're seeing a shiny line on the outside and the clip is really hitting a thin spot inside, it's time to retire the case.  If you do this every time you reload, on at least 15% of your cases, you'll develop a good feel for what the thin spot feels like and how it gets worse as the case is reloaded more times.  And if you're loading the night before a match and feel pressured for time - don't skip this step!


Thie following note came from a friend who read the article.


A good reminder of a loading fundamental often overlooked. If you have
not "lost your head" once or twice, you have not reloaded much.
Your article inspired the following poor words, with abject apologies to
Sir Walter Scott.

Breathes there shooter, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
I've shot this once too many times?
Whose barrel hath captur'd part the brass,
That stretching split and allow'd the gas,
To 'scape its prison and spark these rhymes?


Basics: Prepping Military Brass for Highpower Matches

Prepping Military Brass for Highpower Matches
by: Germán A. Salazar

When I began shooting Highpower, most competitors used military brass for their ammo.  If you were lucky, you scrounged enough Lake City Match brass to keep you going; if you were less fortunate you used surplus brass from regular ball ammo.  Although commercial brass was the norm for bolt-action rifles, it saw very little use in M1 and M14 service rifles ("Who on earth would shoot an M16?" we thought...).  Today, I don't see too much use of military brass outside of the AR15 shooters who still scrounge Lake City brass (and it is good brass).  A lot of it has to do with all the oddball calibers we see on the firing line these days; but some of it, I think, is that we're pushed into commercial brass by what we read.  The popular shooting magazines have advertisers' expectations to satisfy and military brass isn't on their inventory list.  As a result, a lot of newer shooters don't have a good appreciation for the real quality and engineering built into every piece of U.S. made military brass and how to properly prepare it for match use.

In this article, we'll go through all of my procedures for preparing surplus military .30-06 for Highpower match use, from start to finish.  I'll describe what I do, how I do it and some alternatives when applicable.  I hope this guide shows a practical, low-cost approach to creating match brass because the price of new commercial brass isn't getting any lower!  The brass we'll use is Lake City 67 picked up at a CMP M1 Garand match.  This is plain old ball brass, fired once through several Garands with their military barrels which have fairly generous chambers.  Let's get started!

At left you see a picture of a bag of brass, just as it was collected at the range.  It is dirty, dinged up and generally looking unloved.  Don't be fooled, Lake City (and before that Frankford Arsenal) is the home of the some of the finest ammunition engineers in the world.  That brass has the best metallurgy, dimensional uniformity, hardness, annealing sequences and head machining you'll find anywhere.  It just needs a little tender loving care after going through a rack grade Garand.

I don't really use a tumbler/vibratory cleaner much in my normal reloading procedures.  Brass fired in a bolt action rifle doesn't get very dirty and I don't let it roll around on the firing line.  As a result, I normally just clean the necks with a Krazy Kloth, lube with Imperial Sizing Die Wax and wipe off with a wet towel.  However, this brass is very dirty and it's got to be cleaned before it goes into the sizing die because all the grit on it will score the dies if left alone.  I tossed the brass into the old Thumbler's Tumbler for a couple of hours.  A couple of teaspoons of water added in slowly as the brass was beginning to move seems to help a bit.  Don't overdo the water or the corn cob media will just clump up and get stuck in the cases.

I keep an old Rockchucker press set up with a universal decapping die and it's very handy for this kind of thing.  Military brass has crimped-in primers (except Lake City Match) and sometimes they can be tough to remove and may bend a standard decapping pin.  This is less of a problem with military .223 on which the primer crimp is generally quite light by comparison to .308 and .30-06 military brass.  The RCBS decapping die is pretty heavy duty and has never given me any trouble.  We'll cover primer pocket crimp removal a little further along.  As a side note, if you happen across some once-fired Lake City Match brass, apart from having no primer crimp, it was usually made at a slightly slower pace and may be a bit more uniform in neck thickness, but not much, if at all.  The biggest advantage of the Match brass is that you can generally count on it having been fired in a rifle with a good chamber, not  in a machine gun or a rack-grade rifle with large chamber.  That means you might get a couple of extra loadings from the match stuff compared to machine gun fired ball, but if the ball brass came from a rifle with a good chamber, there won't be any difference.

Once the brass has been decapped, it's time to resize it.  As I mentioned earlier, this brass was fired in Garands, many of them.  Although when it left the Lake City production line sometime in 1967 it was all identical, it isn't all the same anymore after being fired in different rifles.  Before resizing, I checked the headspace on about ten cases to get a sense of how long they might be.  They were all within normal specs, nothing unusual and they went into the case gauge without any trouble.  A few had to be pushed in a little, but that's because the necks were dinged up, the base dimension was fine on all of them.  If I'd run across any with a swollen base that wouldn't go into the gauge, I would have stopped the process and checked them all.  Because my sample showed no problems, I continued on to the sizing step, bearing in mind that any fat cases would be obvious as they went into the sizing die anyway.

Resizing once-fired brass that was fired in a rifle other than the one in which you're going to fire it next requires attention to a couple of important details.  The first is to make sure that your die sizes the base enough to ensure easy chambering and extraction.  I used the Hornady New Dimension FL die for this because it has a fairly tight base and produces good, concentric brass.  I don't use it for my normal loading because it sizes the base a bit more than I prefer for routine work, but for this type of sizing (and for Garands generally) it's a great choice.  The second item to watch is the headspace; make sure that you're pushing the shoulder back enough to easily chamber in the rifle in which you'll use the brass.  If your rifle has +0.003" headspace, for instance, and the brass is at +0.005" headspace, then just size it to +0.001", there's no need to go to zero in that case.  In terms of headspace, you can treat it like you would your regular brass, just make sure you set the shoulder back enough but don't overwork it.

One point that I need to emphasize is that every time you pick up a piece of brass to perform any operation on it, look at it carefully!  That warning applies to all brass, not just military brass, but given the uncertain history of once-fired military brass, paying attention is doubly important.  What are you looking for?  Look near the base to see if there are any signs of incipient case head separation.  While that is unlikely on once-fired brass, if the rifle in which it was fired had really excessive headspace, it can happen.  What else?  Neck splits, chewed up case mouths, splits anywhere along the body, different caliber brass mixed in (like a .270 in a pile of .30-06).  Before you decap the brass, take a look at the primer, if it isn't a brass-colored military primer with the sealer on it, that's not once-fired brass, it's been reloaded already and you really don't know anything about that - throw that one out.  Look at the base, is the rim in good condition, or is it deformed by the extractor?  Set aside any with deformed rims, they just aren't worth the trouble.  Is the primer blanked, pieced or leaking on any? Pass on those, who knows what happened, but it didn't do the primer pocket any good.  All of these defects, and more, occur in military and commercial brass - although rarely on the first firing.  Still, it pays to be alert when the brass didn't begin its life in your rifle.

Now we have a bucket of brass; it's decapped and sized and ready for the next step.  That step is trimming, chamfering and deburring the case mouth.  I used to really dread this phase of reloading work, but about 7 years ago I bought a Giraud trimmer and frankly it has never been a concern since then.  It takes me about ten minutes to trim, chamfer and debur 75 cases on the Giraud tool and they all come out perfect.  You'll notice that military brass used for ball ammo still has some crimp marks near the mouth.  Match brass won't have those because it isn't crimped onto the bullet.  If the trimming doesn't get rid of the crimp marks, don't worry, they won't hurt anything and by the second trim after a few firings, they'll be gone.

Good, even trimming is always important, but even more so now, because we will be turning the necks on this brass and even length necks are a requirement of good neck turning as it is the neck length which determines how far into the shoulder the cutter goes.  While neck turning isn't an essential part of military brass prep, it's part of my normal routine and I don't see any reason to skip it on this set of brass.  Neck thickness variance on this particular lot of brass was within the normal range for most .30-06 brass: under 0.002" average variance.  While that isn't perfect, it's not too bad and you could certainly shoot good scores with brass like that.  I checked the trim length with a Forster case gauge (the same one I used for the headspace checks).  This tool is always on my bench and it really gets a workout; I can check all safety related dimensional aspects of brass in seconds with it.  You still have to look for flaws as noted above, but the gauge is a very quick check for neck length, headspace, base diameter and shoulder diameter. 

Our next step is removing the primer crimp.  This is the step that keeps a lot of people from even trying to use military brass, and the truth of the matter is that there's no reason to let that happen to you.  Primer crimp removal is a simple and straightforward operation requiring simple tools and attention to detail, just like any other aspect of reloading.  There are many tools on the market for this job; I can only comment on the RCBS primer pocket swage tool, because I've been using it from an awfully long time and have had no desire to try anything else.  The picture at left shows the tool which consists of a swaging spud (large and small sizes), a die body, a support rod (large and small sizes) and the case stripper (the cup-shaped item with a hole in the middle). 

RCBS provides good instructions on its use, but basically, the case is raised into the die body where the support rod makes contact with the web area and as the press stroke is completed, the spud is driven into the primer pocket and reams the crimp out.  The ram is then lowered and as it hits bottom, the case stripper, which stops it's downward travel a bit before the ram, bumps the case off the spud.  What you're looking for from the swager is for it to slightly round over the sharp corner left by the crimp because that edge will impede primer seating and any attempt at seating primers with that sharp corner still in place will result in crushed primers.  If you try seating a primer and notice it requires excessive force to seat, the primer looks cupped in the middle and the edge radius is more of a sharp corner, the crimp has not been removed sufficiently.  If you go too far, then the primer pocket becomes loose and the case won't last through many reloadings. 

Once I have the swage adjusted to just break the edge of that crimp corner, I very lightly clean it up with a regular case mouth deburring tool.  I emphasize that this is a very light pass with the tool, we're not trying to remove more metal, we're just cleaning up the roughness left from the swaging process.  I hope that my written explanation is entirely clear, but it's a simple process and once you have it set up it's about the same level of effort as seating a bullet. 

This picture shows cases at each step of the process.  1. Fired, crimped-in primer still in place.  2. Decapped, primer out, edge of pocket still deformed from the crimp.  3.  Primer pocket swaged with RCBS tool.  4.  Edge of pocket very lightly deburred.  5.  New primer in place, note good edge radius, no flattening from excessive seating force.  Pay particular attention to the difference between case 2 and case 3; notice in Case 2 the small edge below the surface of the case head that still shows some red sealer on it - that's the crimp corner we need to get rid of.  See that in Case 3 it's no longer a sharp edge and then in Case 4 the deburring tool smoothed the transition a bit. If your cases look like the primer pocket has a large funnel, you're swaging too much.  Examine the swaged pockets carefully, use a magnifier if you have one just to make sure you're getting a nice transition.  Seat a couple of primers before you swage the whole set, make sure they go in normally.  Once you have a few that feel right, then continue with the whole set.  The feel of the primer going in is as important, or more, as the visual break of the crimp corner.  Click this picture to enlarge it to full size for a clearer view of these details.

Older RCBS dies have the year of manufacture stamped on the top, that was always a nice reminder of when you got something and a useful way to differentiate a couple of similar dies.  I don't know why or when they quit marking them but the newer ones I've seen don't have that.

At this point, the cases should be ready to load and fire.  As I mentioned before, I'll neck turn them first for my use, but that's not necessary for every situation.  Seat a bullet and measure the loaded neck diameter, if there is at least 0.004" clearance to your chamber neck diameter you won't have to turn necks if that's your preference.

Update December, 2010:
I have switched to the Wilson Primer Pocket Reamer to remove the primer crimp.  Click here for the article describing the Wilson reamer.
So there we have it, good match-ready brass for a lot less money than today's high-priced commercial brass.  It should last through as many or more reloadings as the commercial stuff and it didn't cost anything more than bending over to pick them up at the range and a bit of extra effort before the first reloading.  Enjoy the savings and the quality - Uncle Sam put many millions of dollars into the design and manufacture of that cartridge case and he got a good return on his investment, it's a high quality component.

All done!


All contents Copyright 2012 The Rifleman's Journal