August 2010 Cover Page

August 1951
  
The Rifleman's Journal
A Collection of Articles Dealing with Rifle Accuracy Topics


Gil Boa - Kings Prize 1951, Bisley

This Month:

Harry Pope - Pope Rifle Barrels
Hap Rocketto - History of the Palma
Lucian Cary - Secrets of the Old Master
German Salazar - Palma Shooting in the U.S.
Edward Crossman - Browning the Gun Wizard

15 Cents 

History: Browning, the Gun Wizard

Although machine guns are hardly in the world of rifle accuracy, this story about John Browning's machine guns was too good to ignore.  Written by Captain Ned Crossman, one of the top gun writers of the era, it sheds a bit of light onto Browning's obscure existence at the height of his powers.  We recognize his genius today, but at that time, he was little known outside of gun manufacturing circles. This article from Popular Science magazine helped to bring Browning his well deserved recognition by a broader public.

Browning, the Gun Wizard
By Edward C. Crossman, 1918

Old John Browning has produced the finest machine guns for our army ever invented

AMERICA has finer guns in the AA Browning light and heavy type than any nation now at war. While the members of Congressional military committees vapored and fumed that blue print guns never killed an enemy, and that the unknown Browning gun was an experiment and a doubtful experiment, the officers in the Bureau of Ordnance and the great Browning smiled quietly.

We had about thirteen hundred guns when war broke out, which were of a type ordered abandoned in favor of a better one by the powers that be after the tests at Texas City. When war broke out the Germans were known to have fifty thousand machine guns - and the fact is now rather well known that they didn't advertise during 1914 all the war material they had accumulated.

Europe had no light machine gun outside of the French Hotchkiss and Benet, and they were not entirely satisfactory. When there came over the horizon the light Lewis gun, one of many American machine-gun inventions, the British waxed enthusiastic. The gun worked most of the time, weighed but twenty-six pounds, had a very easily-changed magazine holding forty-seven cartridges, and very successfully coped with the need of a light machine gun that troops could carry forward - or back - in times of need. This did not mean that the Lewis was perfect. It has been known to jam and stop and break parts. Those guns bought by the United States and sent down to the border did not prove impeccable. In fact all the machine guns, so far, have their weak points in one respect or another. Each new one is, however, nearer perfection. So came the Browning. But we will speak of the man himself.

The Mysterious John M. Browning
Who is Browning? Millions of Americans must have asked themselves that question when General Crozier, Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance, testified before an investigating committee that he had decided to equip the United States Army with the Browning machine gun. John Browning has been an inventor of firearms all his life. Shotguns, rifles and pistols such as Winchester, Remington, Stevens, and Colt, are all of them John Browning's invention

Who Is Browning?
Let us first trace the record of John Browning, a rare notable without a press agent, an inventor of more successful firearms than any man who ever lived, with his identity buried under the names of the great companies making his arms under royalty agreement with him. He is the inventor of nearly all the Winchester models from the 1873 model to the fine 1906 rifle; the man who gave the world the Remington autoloading shotgun and the Remington autoloading rifle; the master who perfected the Stevens 12-gage repeating shotgun; the creator of the United States Army's Colt automatic machine gun; the designer of all Colt automatic pistols, from the largest to the smallest; the patentee of the great Government .45 automatic pistol, now the hand-gun of our troops, and the man from whom Belgium, long before the war, bought the right to make automatic shotguns, rifles, and pistols of different calibers and models.


In 1914 Browning, the square-jawed, retiring, silent American Yankee, in his plain Yankee store-clothes, was made a Chevalier de 1'Ordre de Leopold and decorated by the King of Belgium on the occasion of the completion of the millionth Browning automatic pistol by the Fabrique Nationale of Liege - a pistol that ran considerably more than a million in one model and caliber without a change.

John Browning made his first patented gun in 1880. That weapon was the Winchester single shot rifle. Six hundred of these rifles were made by Browning and one of his brothers in the then little frontier town of Ogden, Utah, in a little shop, from forgings made for them in the East. Then the patent was bought by the Winchester Co., and the fame of the Winchester has since spread over the world.


The older type of Browning machine gun, better known as the Colt, was adopted by this Government in 1890, and has been in use the world over since. The Colt and the Marlin plants turned out this gun by the thousands for the belligerents after the war broke out. No Browning gun has ever been discontinued in manufacture - and the record runs back for nearly forty years.

This is the man, who, a worried Congressional Committee feared, could not turn out a gun as good as the well known types - merely because it had not been taken over to the torn fields of Europe to prove its worth.


The cartridges arc supplied in flat strips of thirty, which feed_ across the gun horizontally, the clip being moved one cartridge at a time by the gun's mechanism. The rate of fire is high, about six hundred shots a minute, which means that a full clip races across the breech of the gun in three seconds. Note the flanges on the gun. These cool it like the flanges cast on the barrel of a motor-cycle's engine. The crew must swathe the gun barrel with wet sponges set on wooden handles every three rounds or oftener. which makes a pretty cloud of steam and advertises the whereabouts of the piece in the most disapproved manner

A machine gun, as you know, means in these days a rifle firing the cartridge of the infantry rifles of the army using it, and firing such cartridge at a rate of speed of from four hundred to seven hundred shots a minute by virtue of using either the recoil of the breech parts to work the extracting, cocking and reloading mechanism, or else gas taken from a tiny hole up the barrel and working against a piston precisely as gas does in the automobile form of gas engine. It is a gun that works by machinery. The old Gatling was a machine gun, but not an automatic machine gun, because its moving power was a crank in the hands of the firer. All modern machine guns are automatic.


Browning's Three Wonderful New Machine' Guns
The first of the recently tested Browning guns, falling in the class of guns to be readily moved about, turned out to be water-cooled and to weigh only twenty five pounds, which is marvelously light for a gun of this type. It must, however, be fired from a tripod which weighs twenty-five pounds more. The second was a little thing weighing fifteen pounds, the lightest machine gun ever built - more properly an automatic rifle as the modern term is coming to be for the light machine gun. Your father and mine thought nothing of shooting a duck gun weighing thirteen pounds. African hunters use double rifles going fifteen to sixteen pounds.

The water-cooled Browning gun, thus far a military secret and unlike any other Browning gun, is a belt fed gun like Browning's old Colt. Unlike the Colt it is recoil-operated, (heretofore the recoil had been used only in the Maxim and Vickers), which means a gun in which the power of the recoiling parts is used to compress the springs and extract the cartridge, etc. The ejection is through the bottom of the receiver -  toward the ground instead of in the face of some soldier happening to be beside the gun. The entire gun can be dismounted in a moment without tools.

This gun fired twenty thousand shots without a hitch due to the gun itself, and with but two stoppages due to imperfect ammunition, one cartridge failing to feed in, the other refusing to fire. Consider that this means twenty thousand terrific shocks to the operating mechanism, twenty thousand vicious drives backward of the mechanism when the powder pressure of fifty thousand pounds per square inch rose in the chamber for each shot. So fast does the mechanism of such a gun work that the eye cannot follow the moving parts. Imagine a single-cylinder automobile engine being asked to work twenty thousand times so quickly that the eye can't follow the piston in and out, and started from inertia to top speed in probably one-fiftieth second.

Compare this with the following official record of the Benet-Mercier at Texas City, in August of 1914, the comparative machine-gun trials between the Benet - the then standard type in our army - and the light Vickers rifle:

"It was found during these tests that it was practically impossible to obtain a continuous fire of 1000 shots from any of the Automatic Machine Rifles, M1909 (The Benet-Mercier). During two of the tests such fire was required, but owing to severe and frequent jams of various kinds, some of which could not be corrected within a reasonable time even by a skilled mechanic on duty with the board, it was necessary to discontinue this particular kind of test in so fur as this type of gun was concerned."

Also, said the board, regarding the belt-feed Vickers - the same type as the Browning in feed details:

"The greater number of cartridges in container, 250, resulted in a more continuous, concentrated fire from. the gun. While the rate of fire of the Vickers gun is slower than that of the service machine rifle - Benet - the actual number of rounds fired when both types of gun were working satisfactorily was in the proportion of 10 to 6 in favor of the Vickers, due to loss of time in inserting the shorter feed strips of the Benet automatic machine rifle."

Against this Benet record of not one thousand rounds continuous fire, the Vickers guns - four of them - were fired more than sixteen thousand times - six thousand rounds from one of them without "a malfunction that could not be easily and quickly corrected by the gun crew."

This resulted in the adoption of the Vickers gun - and now comes the great Browning machine gun of much the same type - belt feed and water cooled - that was fired twenty thousand rounds with but two stoppages, both due to ammunition. The fine Vickers has to take second place.

After the adoption of this splendid new Browning, the Board asked Browning to design one on the same lines but air cooled for airplane use. Air is efficient for an airplane gun because the rapid motion through the air cools the gun surface, where this is not true on the land. This has been done, and the gun adopted for airplane use. Water cooling is not, of course, practical for airplanes.

Browning's Airplane Gun
Browning filled the order with a fifteen pound automatic rifle or machine gun, as it really is, gas-operated like his old Colt, and air-cooled. It is fed by a twenty-shot magazine, and, with its very light weight and small magazine, it is as much a true automatic infantry shoulder rifle as it is a machine gun. It has a wooden stock like an ordinary rifle, and it can be fired from the shoulder, although hardly with automatic fire, because of the unbalancing effect of the series of hard drives of recoil. With the regulating latch set for one-shot fire, the gun fires once for each pull on the trigger, precisely like the well-known so called automatic sporting rifles and shotguns and pistols which reload themselves by the recoil and fire each time the trigger is pulled.


This Is Browning's Colt Automatic Machine Gun
Like all air-cooled machine guns, the Colt has its faults. If you inadvertently leave a cartridge in the barrel after firing a number of rounds, the heat of the gun will cause the cartridge to fire itself in about four seconds, regardless of all the safety devices provided. And yet the Colt is one of the most efficient air-cooled guns made. It is operated by the pressure of the powder gases. The rate of fire is about four hundred shots a minute. The cartridges are fed to the gun by a belt containing two hundred and fifty shots of regulation ammunition.


When the same latch is thrown down to automatic fire, however, the gun fires at a rate of speed higher than that of any known machine gun, and the twenty shots are fired in approximately two seconds! The Benet-Mercier would take this time or longer; the Colt and Vickers three seconds. The magazine is readily replaced by a filled one.

Longer box-magazines - the form in which the cartridges are carried in this arm - can be used, but the twenty-shot is intended for use in the front line, where the firer may have to hug the ground and where a too-long magazine would make the automatic rifle hard to handle.

Consider the automatic rifle section of a platoon, then, each man carrying easily over his shoulder the 15-pound rifle, and loaded with ammunition packed in spare magazines, and with still more in the hands of ammunition carriers. Using one-shot fire, the firing party can easily empty a rifle with aim for each shot in ten seconds. Then, when the rush comes or when it is necessary hurriedly to sweep a trench traverse filled with the enemy, a shifting of the latch and a burst of fire of twenty shots in two seconds! A single burst, and a twitch or two of the muzzle, and a traverse would be cleaned out. Such fire would have to be from the prone position or from the hip. No man can stand up under the repeated recoil of a light machine gun fired from the shoulder.


The Benet-Mercier Machine Gun
The Benet-Mercier gun has been used by our army since 1908. It came originally from the French Hotchkiss factory. It weighed about twenty-eight pounds, which means that it can be picked up and carried by one man in changing position. Benet-Mercier machine guns, however, come as light as fifteen pounds. This gun is operated by the powder gas passing through a tiny port in the bottom of the barrel about half way up. The gas strikes the head of a piston within a regular cylinder like that of a one-cylinder gas engine. The backward drive of this piston performs the various operations of compressing the retractor and mainsprings, extracting and ejecting the empty shell, cocking the hammer, etc. Then the compressed springs drive home the bolt, with a fresh cartridge in the chamber.

The only competitor the new Browning gun has is the little French Chauchat "the hellcat," used now in our army, and weighing nineteen pounds. Our experienced officers say even the twenty six pound Lewis is too heavy for the automatic rifle work in the front line - and now every platoon of an infantry regiment has a machine gun or automatic rifle section - the terms being much the same in these days - the men of which carry light machine guns and ammunition, therefore, just as still another section carries only hand grenades. Some of the little fifteen pound terrors are now coming through the Winchester works.

So came about the crowning triumph of the Yankee, John Browning, designer of the Government's automatic pistol, and now the designer of the three most successful machine guns the world has seen, victors in fair trial over all other machine guns - the Browning water-cooled machine gun, twenty-five pounds in weight, the Browning air-cooled machine gun for planes, still lighter weight, and the marvellous Browning automatic rifle or light machine gun, fifteen pounds.

For further reading on machine guns of the World War I era, I highly recommend Julian Hatcher's "Machine Guns" published in 1917.  - GAS -




That Winchester slide-action rifle is, of course, a John Browning design.

Hap's Corner: You Can't Buy Them, They Must be Earned

You Can't Buy Them, They Must Be Earned...
by Hap Rocketto


There are a few of Lee Marvin movies that I very much enjoy, in part because he was an excellent actor and in part because of the story line. The Professionals, Heck in the Pacific, Cat Ballou, and, of course, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance are films which come to mind. The last because it features the line that inspires my writing, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

I recalled a lesser film of Marvin’s after an internet discussion on Shooters Journal (my old website GAS) that meandered its way around shooting equipment and just how did the greats of the old days of smallbore shooting, like Bill Woodring, Bill Schweitzer, or Dave Carlson, manage to win so often and so well with what we consider primitive rifles and mediocre quality ammunition.

The movie is The Emperor of the North Pole in which Marvin plays a Depression era hobo called A#1 who is willing to put his life on the line to become a hobo legend as the first person to make a complete ride aboard the train of the sadistic railway bull, a hobo term for a railroad policeman, Shack, played by Ernest Borginine. Along the way a pesky greenhorn, who titles himself Cigaret, played by Keith Carradine, attached himself to A#1like a remora. The intertwining story lines of A#1 riding the train as Shack attempts to throw him off and the irksome Cigaret’s claiming he is as good as the veteran A#1 culminate in a line which sums up the arguments given on Shooters Journal.

The discussion opened with Jim Morrison wondering what type of custom equipment, what accessories, what type ammunition, and shape bullet Bill Woodring (photo at right) used in winning three consecutive national prone championships, a never repeated feat.

German Salazar chimed in with a little historical perspective, something which is sadly missing in today’s world of technolust and gizmology, to say he had nothing more than a 52B and Winchester Super Match ammunition. All of it was pretty much standard stuff for the day.

Art Jackson remembered that Bill’s only peculiarity was that he favored Vaver sights. As a Winchester employee Bill probably had a pretty good rifle which had been mated to a particular lot of ammunition at the plant. The records of the premier barrel maker of the day, Eric Johnson, show no record of Bill purchasing a barrel. Although it seems that Bill’s wife Kay (photo below), the first woman to earn International Distinguished, had bought two Johnson barrels to install on her Ballard. So much for family loyalty to the employer, although I suspect Kay had plenty of good Winchester Match ammunition at her disposal.

I eventually wrote that it was not the arrow, but the archer that made Woodring successful. My brother Steve opined that at any national prone championship there are about 20 competitors who are serious challengers for the title. Each is equipped with the best rifle, sight, and ammunition combination possible. All their rifles are tack drivers, the ammunition shoots knot holes, and the shooters are supremely confident in both equipment and self. Ken Benyo believes, rightly so, that having top notch equipment allows for mental relaxation because a solid rifle – sights – ammo combination gives confidence allowing one to focus on shot execution. This is the power behind the top shooters; it is the ‘juice’ that drives the engine.

The person who executes 640 nearly perfect record shots is going to step onto the stage to pick up the Critchfield Trophy, but not because of the equipment because all of the top shooters’ equipment is, for all intents and purposes, equal. The victory comes as a result of two things. The first and foremost is being just a fraction more mentally sharper than the competition. The second is having just the tiniest bit of luck to keep from shooting in the pick up or let off that happens right after coming off of the scope and starting to execute the shot.

For a new shooter, on the other hand, it is all about equipment because most begin shooting with inexpensive or well used rifles, jackets, scopes, and find that it is pretty easy to progress to the point where they are shooting better than the starter equipment. Once they invest in top quality gear they will still progress but much slower and then begins gizmology-trying to buy an X with a piece of equipment. In reality a plateau has been reached that can only be overcome by what I might term “heart.”

Simply put heart is that intense investment in the mental game that allows you to squeeze out the last possible X from your gear. It is knowing one’s self so well that if a shot goes astray it is easy to recognize if it was a mental lapse or a failure of equipment, and failures in equipment at that level are rare. This is the point where one realizes that Xs are not bought, but earned.

This brings us back to The Emperor of the North Pole. In the end A#1 wins out over Shack but gets quickly annoyed with the cocky punk Cigaret, who is a mere hanger on, bragging about what “they” accomplished. An exasperated A#1 finally tosses him off of the top of the train into a river running next to the track calling back at him, “You had the juice, kid, but not the heart and they go together.”

The moral of the lesson is that anyone can buy the juice but you need the heart to earn the Xs.

Equipment: Chambering the First Barrel

The story below is about John Lowther's first "solo" chambering job.  John is a very good friend and has been shooting Highpower for a little over a year.  Unlike most of us, however, he jumped into the very deep end of the pool also and has been learning the fine arts of gunsmithing at Norm's College of Gunsmithing and Coffee Shop Loitering.   John has been learning the craft much in the same manner as you might have read in the Lucian Carey story "The Secret of the Old Master".  After learning all the various steps involved in chambering a rifle over the better part of the last year (fitting it into off hours and weekends) John did his first complete, start to finish chambering job unaided this week.  The victim was a new Bartlein barrel and the Remington action which John recently trued with Norm using the new PTG Gen. 2 tooling.  As much as I would have liked to write a detailed article about John chambering his first barrel, I will leave it to Professor Norm to tell the tale in his own manner. So, let's see just what was happening in Peoria (Arizona, that is) that caused all the commotion. - GAS -

Chambering the First Barrel
by: Norm Darnell


Today was a great day for everyone. John was busy with contracts and phone calls so he got to the shop a little late, but the accomplishments left a smile on everyone's face. John, all by himself, took a barrel blank and made it into a chambered barrel in 6 XC. No blood was let and as you can see on the ninth picture the finger check allowed John to count to 10. That is always a good sign.

#1 This is the barrel John brought with him,centered and ready to start making chips. We didn't even need to get into the big barrel stack.

#2 John doing the threading to the chicken groove. On the first pass the chicken groove was about the width of a human hair. By the last threading pass you could drive a Mark IV Lincoln through the width of the chicken groove.
#3 Cutting the cone in the barrel tenon with a PTG #1 coned cutter.
#4 Checking for amount of metal to be removed using a feeler gauge. This feeler gauge even has all the leaves in it and none have been cut off for spacers on other projects.
#5 Checking for 0.020" clearance on the bolt so the bolt will not fail to close in an Arizona Sand Storm.
#6 Tenon is threaded and looks good.  The barrel is ready for selecting the correct bushing to match the bore size and chambering the barrel
#7 At this important stage in the proceedings, we need to look at something more interesting than John or barrel threads, so off we go to the coffee shop for spiritual nourishment.
#8 John chambering his barrel. Everything looks great and the barrel is now ready for an inch to be cut off the muzzle, crowned, and the front sight tenon cut. However, the front tenon may be redundant since it needs to be shot with a scope to check for the accuracy potential.  (What's this scope thing you speak of, Norm?  - GAS -) 

John's newly blue printed action, coned bolt, and recoil lug went together perfectly. Since this is a match chamber, the new Norma 6XC brass was a little tight and acted as a NO GO gauge. The action closed on a GO and failed to close on a NO GO unlike some of the commercial jobs that have come through the shop...

 #9 Finger check and all were present and accounted for.  Call it a night and resume tomorrow.  If we push too hard, it begins to feel like work.


#10 Today started at Paradise Bakery for coffee and planning between Jack and Norm.  John and Greg joined the BS session advanced seminar.
#11 This is a SAFETY CHECK which is performed many times during the day. The safety checks are mandantory before and after lunch
#12 John decided he need to do a little polish work and made several passes with 1500 grit paper. Shoot better-??? It is guaranteed to relect light into the eyes of the shooter on position 1. (I wonder, who could that be on position #1?  - GAS -)
#13 After many disussions over the crown it was decided to sharpen to lathe cutting tool to the proper form and dimensions.
#4 John crowning the barrel with cuts of 0.005", 0.002", 0.001" and a final two cuts of 0.0005" to leave no burrs which could be picked up on a Q-Tip. That indicates a perfect crown. Should a true flat crown be chosen over a recessed flat crown? The decision was to make a true flat crown since if the muzzle is hit dead center with a ball peen hammer all it takes is a cup of coffee and the crown is restored to its normal configuation. Note the instructor doing what he does best-coffee cup in right hand.

Do we have fun? You betcha.

Norm
Related Article:

Primers: Wolf .223 Primer

Wolf .223 Primer Flash Test
by: Germán A. Salazar

A few friends have asked me if I plan to test the Wolf .223 primer.  Chuck May gave me a box of 100 to try and I hope to give them a thorough test soon.  As an initial test, I did the flash photo of them and they appear quite similar to the PMC (now Wolf) Small Rifle Magnum which are my preferred small rifle primer.  Without further testing (chrono, pressure) I don't want to draw any conclusions, but they look promising.

I noticed that they have an unplated brass cup, not the plated cup of the SRM, but not the same as to copper colored cup of the standard small rifle which blank with most normal loads.  I think, but won't be sure until I test, that this is the magnum cup without the plating.

Here are two pictures of the Wolf .223 primer firing and then an old one of the PMC Small Rifle Magnum for comparison.  The original articles on primers are here:

Small Primer Article

Large Primer Article

Here's the first shot of the Wolf .223 primer.  The lighting is a bit different from the old pictures, I'll have to fine tune my setup again; it's been a while.


Here's the second shot of the Wolf .223 primer.  I fired seven of them and all of the flash photos were very consistent, these are representative of the group.

This is the PMC/Wolf Small Rifle Magnum for comparison.  This has always been the best testing generally available primer (accuracy, SD, SD of pressure) in my tests.

Good Stuff: Giraud Case Trimmer

Giraud Case Trimmer
by: Germán A. Salazar



Doug Giraud has been making his patented case trimmer for the better part of a decade now.  I don't remember the exact date but I do remember getting one of his earliest production models and immediately selling two other power trimmers that I had at the time.  The Giraud trimmer made them as useful as a Model T on a modern Interstate highway.  Many of our more experienced readers are familiar with Doug's trimmer, but we have many newer shooters in our club and every now and then I hear "Why didn't you tell me about this sooner?" from them, so it's worth taking a closer look.

The basics of case trimming should need little explanation here.  Suffice it to say that the Giraud trims, chamfers and deburrs in one operation and with such ease that my average speed is twenty cases per minute and I'm not particularly dexterous.  The consistency of trim length is within 0.001" and the blade cuts without grabbing the brass, something I can't say for many other power trimmers I've examined. 

Changing the setup to another cartridge is accomplished in a matter of about three minutes.  Unscrew the case holder and remove it, unscrew the cutter blade holder (if switching to a different caliber) and remove it as well.  Screw in the new cutter and case holder, adjust the case holder with a case and you're ready to go.  Couldn't be any simpler.

I shoot about 5,000 to 7,500 rounds of centerfire rifle ammunition each year.  Since buying the Giraud, I have made it a practice to trim each piece of brass after every firing.  So far, after seven or eight years of this reasonably heavy use, the trimmer shows no sign of wear or degradation of performance.  I have rotated the three-corner blade on the 30 caliber cutter at some point, but that's about it.

To give some realistic time references, I trimmed a set of 70 6XC cases while timing myself. First, I changed the setup from .30-06 to 6XC, that took a little under 3 minutes. Next I trimmed the 70 6XC cases working at a normal pace, it took 3 minutes and 15 seconds. If you've worn out your arm and your patience cranking on a hand powered trimmer, nothing more needs to be said, other than - call Doug!



The top picture is from Doug's website and shows the current version of the trimmer.  Mine is old and doesn't have a belt guard, but I think that's the only difference.  Here you see the unit along with the case holder and the cutter head.

Screw the cutter head in by hand, then tighten it down with a 5/8" wrench while using the supplied spanner to hold the base.
Screw the case holder in like a reloading die and tighten it with a 1" wrench.  I make a little index mark on the case holder to help me hit the right spot again.  I suppose you could use die lock rings and leave them set, it's the same 7/8 x 14 thread.
Thee and a quarter minutes later, 70 trimmed cases.
Close up of the case mouth.

Equipment: Breaking-In the BAT

Breaking-In the BAT
by: Germán A. Salazar
I'm not getting any younger...
How do I love tubeguns?  Let me count the ways - one, two, three, four.  Four, that's how many years this rifle took from "I want it" to first shot.  In the meantime, I have gone from start to finish on three tubeguns and another conventional rifle and had time to thoroughly enjoy them.  A custom Highpower rifle can take time to get built, but enough already - I can go from "I want it" to shooting a tubegun a couple of months. 

I reviewed the then new BAT 3 lug action for Precision Shooting some years ago; the article which was published in July of 2006 was written early in 2006.  As soon as I finished writing it, I ordered a left-hand version of the action from BAT to build a prone Highpower rifle.  It took about a year to get the action from BAT, in the meantime, I picked up an unchambered 6mm 1:8" twist, fluted heavy Palma Krieger barrel from Jim Murphy.  Once the action arrived at Bruno's, I asked Lester Bruno to chamber the barrel using my 6XC reamer.  Like most good gunsmiths, Lester is backed up and it took a couple of months to get the job done, but once I got it back, it was perfect.  Then began the trials and tribulations of stocking this project.  I'm going to save us all a lot of aggravation by simply saying that two stockmakers and years later, I received the complete rifle in June of this year.

To be perfectly honest, I wasn't that excited with the rifle by the time it was finished.  Sure, it's a great looking rifle, but in the four plus years since I thought it would be a good idea, I have largely switched over to shooting the tubeguns and am very comfortable with them. Nonetheless, here it is, finally done and ready to shoot.  I let it sit for about two months before finally putting the sights on and adjusting the stock; it was hard to look at the rifle without remembering my frustration with the seemingly endless delays on the project.

Sights and Trigger
The trigger is a Jewell HVR set at about 12 oz.  I used to set them lighter, but over the years I find myself more comfortable with a bit more weight of pull, especially in the winter.  Ideally I would have used a CG X-Treme trigger, but when this project began they weren't available yet.  When they came out, I tried the original CG Model 21 on the barelled action (no stock at that point) but it wouldn't work with the BAT trigger hanger as it interfered with the front hanger screw.  The new CG Model 22 should go right on and may become the first change to this rifle.  I used the 6XC snap cap made by Eric Kennard's Harbour Arms for the long cycle of dry-firing needed to adjust the trigger to my liking.  I really recommend these for any extended dry-firing and Eric does a superb job making them, including many target calibers not available elsewhere.

An old RPA 18mm front sight and a Warner No. 1 rear sight with 1/8 moa clicks pirated from my smallbore rifle found their way onto the BAT.  The rear sight base is a custom unit made by Dennis Selfridge (Flatlander on the forums) a very talented gunsmith; it is a perfect complement to the clean lines of the BAT action.

No Barrel Break-In
Most of you have at some time read discussions about barrel break-in and the various methods recommended by barrel makers and shooters to do this.  I examined the barrel and chambering job with a Hawkeye borescope prior to shooting and saw no evidence of any of the flaws that people use to justify complicated break-in procedures.  These typically are described as reamer chatter marks in the throat and general roughness related to the chambering job.  Over the past 25 years or so I've had literally dozens of barrels chambered by Alan Warner, Clark Fay and Lester Bruno, none has ever shown any internal flaws related to chambering and none has ever required a break-in of any sort.  I've never been convinced of the necessity for any sort of break-in, normally with a new barrel I just take it out and shoot a match right away and this one was no different. 

Brass, Lugs and Loads
Seventy pieces of Norma 6XC brass were neck turned and loaded with H4831sc and Berger 108 grain moly-coated bullets.  Other than neck turning, no other work was done to the brass.  Although I normally check wall thickness runout on the NECO gauge, I have found that the Norma 6XC brass is almost perfect.  More importantly, Creighton Audette discovered in his work with case runout, that a three-lug or four-lug action minimizes the negative effect of case wall runout because the case is more evenly supported against the banana-shaped flex induced by uneven case walls.  It is for this reason that I and many other Palma shooters like the RPA four-lug actions, and it is very nice to see these U.S. made BAT actions also following in that direction.  The BAT bolt has a small claw-type extractor and a plunger ejector with an appropriate spring that ejects the brass clear of the port but keeps it nearby.

First Match
Once the sights were mounted and leveled I drove across the valley to the Phoenix Rod & Gun Club at South Mountain for a club match at 500 yards.  We run a five minute sight-in period before every match since the competitors often have made changes to their rifles or have a new rifle.  The sight-in period is an important measure for safety and for the shooters' ability to enjoy the day to make sure they're on paper.  My first shot hit the top left corner of the target, so my calculations for sight settings the previous night weren't too bad!  The next sighter was in the 7 ring high and left, and the third shot went right into the X ring.  One more sighter X for good measure and I was done with the sight-in period.

To once again shorten a long story, the rifle seems to shoot well; the three stage scores were 200-16X, 200-12X and 200-14X.  The aggregate score of 600-42X was my 20th score of 600 in a mid-range prone match.  I'd been hoping to hit that milestone with a .30-06 since my first 600 was with a .30-06, but it just wasn't meant to be.  The '06 has given me about a lot of great scores this year, but no 600, so the 6XC had to carry the load.

The first string was one grain below my normal 6XC load, the second was half a grain lower than normal and the third was the normal load.  Because the loads were untested in this new barrel, I kept a close watch for pressure signs and was prepared to stop anytime something appeared to be hot, but it all worked out well with no pressure signs all day.  The difference in the X count was mostly attributable to changing wind patterns, so I wouldn't say that any of the three load levels was noticeably better than the others.  However, since the lightest load was certainly no worse than the others (in fact it scored highest), that's the one I'll shoot the next time I use this rifle.  By going with the lightest load I maintain a better safety margin as temperature increases and there's really no downside.  Based on chronograph and pressure testing in my other 6XC barrels, I estimate that this load is pushing the 105 - 108 bullets at about 2970 fps, at a pressure level below the CIP maximum allowable pressure for the 6XC.  I'll do actual testing on this barrel sometime soon.

The barrel cleaned right up with about 7 or 8 patches of Shooter's Choice and an overnight soak.  A look through the borescope revealed no copper anywhere along its length.  Was it the moly?  Was it simply that the break-in is over hyped?  Beats me, but that's just one more in a long list of barrels that has shot just fine for me with no break-in process of any sort.

Overall Impressions
The BAT is in the same style of stock used on all my conventional rifles, so there are no surprises here.  It fits perfectly, looks beautiful and everything works just as it should.  The polished metal looks great against the black and blue stock.  I really need to look into changing the trigger; the single-stage Jewell works well but I just prefer the two-stage CG.  The other area of concern, and it's a big one, is the bolt to receiver fit.  This is a tight fit - let me emphasize that - it's tight!  When you slide the bolt back and forth you hear contact all the way, almost like a tiny zipper opening.  That might sound good in theory, but here in the desert, where the wind is always blowing and the dust is always swirling, I'm worried about it.  I have a strong feeling that on a windy day it will cause problems.  I also noticed on http://www.benchrest.com/ that some of the Benchrest shooters had a similar problem and ended up lapping the bolt to a looser fit.  I hate the idea of lapping it, but I know that if the wind is really blowing I probably won't take this rifle out of the case.

The fluted barrel does what it's supposed to do: cuts weight up front and gives the rifle good balance.  The overall weight is 13 lb. 6 oz. (6.06 kg) and it holds very well.  Whether or not I'd repeat that order is an open question because fluting adds quite a bit of cost to the barrel and I don't expect limitless barrel life from any cartridge, much less the 6XC which seems to do its best work in the first 2,500 rounds or so.

It's a Keeper
It's very difficult to describe the frustration I felt during the time the rifle was under construction and the unexplained delays mounted and the excuses piled on; I think most of us have felt that at one time or another.  When it arrived, I didn't even want to look at it and I still can't say that I love it.  Frankly, waiting for this rifle is what made me switch to tubeguns and it's a switch I'm happy about.  Were it not for the special serial number that I requested when ordering the action, it would have been sold as an unfinished project long ago and certainly by the time it arrived.  The serial number is the only thing keeping it here, but since it shoots well, I'll give it some use; besides, it's broken-in now.  However, it has an uphill battle ahead to gain a place in my heart.

Chuck May, Max Lowther, Germán Salazar, John Lowther, Ulo Nigol at the Phoenix Rod & Gun Club.  Photo by Norm Darnell.

600-42X

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Shooting Events: Palma Shooting in the U.S.

The Basics of Palma Shooting in the U.S.
by: Germán A. Salazar


One of the questions that new shooters, especially new long-range shooters, frequently ask is: "What rifle can I shoot in a Palma match?"  That is usually followed by: "Do I have to shoot 155 grain bullets?"  In the ensuing discussion I usually find that they are somewhat confused by the rules for Palma shooting in the U.S. and that this could use some clarification for many.  Hopefully, this article will help lift a bit of the fog that surrounds Palma shooting in the mind of the newer shooter.  A basic distinction to keep in mind is that while Palma shooting is part of long-range shooting generally, when we speak of a long-range match we are typically referring to a single-distance 1000 yard match, not a Palma match.

As much as I love the history of shooting sports, this is not an article about the history of Palma shooting; for that I refer you to Hap Rocketto's excellent work A History of the Palma Match also featured this month.

The Rifle
The NRA Highpower Rifle Rules set forth the requirements for rifles to be used in a Palma match or the Palma Rifle category of a long-range match.  The pertinent rule, Rule 3.3.1 reads as follows:

3.3.1 U.S. Palma Rifle
(a) a rifle with metallic sights chambered for the unmodified .308/7.62 mm NATO or .223/5.56 mm NATO cartridge case.
(b) any service rifle with metallic sights chambered for the unmodified .308/7.62 mm NATO or .223/5.56 mm NATO cartridge case.

That's it, the entire rifle rule, the whole enchilada.  The rule is notable for what is left unspecified: bullet weight, rifle weight, trigger pull weight.  All of these things are unrestricted.  As long as you're shooting a rifle with metallic sights chambered in .308 or .223, you're in compliance with the rules for a Palma rifle in the United States under NRA rules.  You might think that subsection (b) is redundant since a rifle that meets the specifications of (b) also meets the specifications of (a).  However, if the match is large enough, the National Championship for example, the match sponsor might provide a separate award for category (b).  A service rifle under 3.3.1(b) must, of course, meet all the other requirements for a service rifle set forth in NRA Highpower Rule 3.1.
 
Common Questions
Can you use a Tubegun?  Yes.  Can you shoot 190 grain bullets?  Yes.  Can you shoot 240 grain bullets?  Yes.  Can you shoot 90 grain bullets in a .223? Yes.  Can you use a 4 oz. trigger? Yes.  Can the rifle weigh 15 lb.?  Yes.  Can it weigh 20 lb.?  Yes, Arnold.  Can you have a lens in the sight?  Yes, but only in the front or rear, not both.  Can you use a .30-06? No, the .30-06 was dropped from the Palma Rifle rule in the late 1980's by someone with no sense of history and no common sense.  How are we going to get Garand and Springfield match shooters interested in Palma shooting if we tell them their cartridge isn't allowed?  The single most used cartridge in the history of U.S. competitive shooting, by the way.  These are today's entry-level shooters and we need them!  Are you listening, NRA?
 
"Can I use a scope if I'm shooting in the Palma Rifle category of an Any-Sight match?"  No, once you put a scope on it, it's no longer a Palma Rifle.  You can still shoot in the Any-Sight match, but you're now shooting against all the unrestricted cartridge rifles, bad idea.  Palma = metallic sights.
 
 
The Course of Fire
This is the simple part.  The Palma match consists of 15 shots at each of three distances: 800 yards, 900 yards and 1000 yards.  You'll have unlimited sighting shots at 800 yards and 2 sighters at 900 and 1000 yards. 
 
"Why 15 shots, why not 20?"  Because that's the way it's been since 1874, don't argue.  The Palma is a very historic course of fire, it has a certain rhythm with increasing difficulty as the day progresses and limited chances to make up for a poor shot.  Enjoy it for its own sake and don't try to make comparisons to other matches - the Palma is unique.
 
You'll notice in the picture above that the shooter, Allen Elliott a fine Palma shooter, appears to be praying before the match.  Prayer is always a good idea before a Palma.  The wind, heat, dust, haze, mirage and other unseen forces are all working against the under-powered .308 spitting out whatever bullet we choose to use - and at 1000 yards, those forces are usually winning!  Pray early and often, it helps. 
 
The fundamental appeal of Palma shooting is that all competitors are on a roughly equal level in terms of ballistics.  That reduces the match to a contest of shooting skill and to many of us that makes for a much more interesting match than the ballistic contest that most long-range shooting has become.  Beyond the level playing field aspect, the Palma then throws a curve ball at you by requiring the use of a cartridge that is ballistically very marginal for the distances involved.  You will learn more about wind reading by shooting Palma matches (or a Palma rifle in long-range matches) than you will in any other type of match available in Highpower shooting.
 
Cartridge and Bullet Choices
As mentioned above, you can shoot a .223 or a .308 and you have an unrestricted choice of bullet weights for either cartridge.  A bit of discussion about these choices might be useful. 
 
The .223
First, let me say that shooting a .223 in a Palma match is a good way to ensure that you are not a threat to the leaders.  I've worn out three good barrels in .223 trying to see what could be done with that cartridge at 1000 yards, both with 90 grain and 80 grain bullets.  Once in a while, the stars would align and a good score would be fired.  More often the vertical dispersion was significantly more than a .308 and despite the predictions of ballistic programs, I believe the 90's were more sensitive to wind than comparable bullets in 30 caliber.  Beyond that, it seems to me from what I read on the web these days, that those who are trying to shoot the .223 in Palma matches are loading the cartridge well in excess of SAAMI maximum pressure and that's something I'm not willing to do.  I pressure test with real pressure testing equipment regularly, I don't guess at it and I don't risk my eyes.  I won't shoot a .223 in a Palma match and accordingly, won't have more to say about it in this article. 
 
The .308
The .308 is really the Palma cartridge and there's no reason to think otherwise.  The question then becomes: what bullet?  More fundamentally: is there any good reason to shoot a 155 grain bullet?
 
Yes, there's a good reason to shoot the 155, especially for the new shooter.  Ready?  The reason is that the 155 has a low ballistic coefficient and thus drifts more in any wind than a comparably shaped bullet that's a bit heavier.  I realize that doesn't sound too logical at first blush, but the point of Palma shooting is to challenge yourself and to really learn how wind works and to become comfortable shooting in heavy and fast-changing winds.  Shooting 155 grain bullets from a .308 is the best way I know to reach those goals.

Apart from the flawless logic which dictates that shooting a ballistically challenged bullet at 1000 yards is good for you, there is the additional fact that for every Palma or long-range match you shoot, you'll probably shoot three or four mid-range matches.  Wind at mid-range has a much smaller effect than at Palma distances, so a light bullet will keep you on your toes and working toward your goal of becoming a great wind reader. 

The last point to consider is that the 155 grain bullets from Sierra, Berger, Nosler and Lapua tend to be exceptionally accurate.  My highest mid-range score ever, a 600-52X was fired with Berger 155 VLD's and I've shot a few 448 Palma scores with the Berger 155.5 grain bullet.  Last month when I was testing a new Palma barrel, even though it is a 1:11" twist barrel throated for heavier bullets, I used the 155 Sierra (#2155) to check its basic accuracy.  The two test string scores of 199-16X and 200-14X at 500 yards with my standard load for 155's showed me all I needed to know about the barrel.

Heavy Bullets
By now some of you are questioning my sanity and a few others are questioning my motives since it's reasonably well known that I don't shoot 155 grain bullets very often.  Well, I don't shoot them much anymore, but they still have a purpose as I outlined above.

The reason I usually shoot heavier bullets is simply that I don't like shooting close to 3000 fps with a .308 and that's what the 155's require (2970 fps is fairly normal for a 155 grain Palma load).  At those velocities, the chance of a bullet blowing up in mid flight is increased and when that happens, you just lost 10 points.  I view any chance of a bullet blow-up as an unacceptable risk to my chances at a major tournament; by shooting a heavier bullet at a lower velocity, I reduce that risk considerably.  My wind reading skills are fairly well developed so the 155 holds little appeal for me.

My two main loads for Palma shooting are the 175 Berger at 2830 fps and the 190 Sierra at 2640 fps.  If you run the numbers on these combinations on a good ballistics program like JBM Ballistics, you'll see that they are very comparable to the newer 155 grain bullets at 2970 fps to 3000 fps.  I've tried plenty of other bullets for Palma shooting, but these two are a good balance of BC, reliable performance and ease of use. 

In order to use the 200 grain and 210 grain bullets effectively, the chamber needs a very long throat.  I've done that with a couple of 1:10" twist barrels, but the results haven't been earth shattering and the ability to use shorter bullets is severely compromised because they will have to jump quite a way to the rifling which is detrimental to accuracy.  Since I prefer to have some flexibility in bullet choice, that's a serious negative.  More importantly, I find it more difficult to develop a load that holds very good elevation as the bullets get heavier - that's another good reason for the beginning shooter to stick to the 155 grain bullets.  The 175 to 190 grain range seems to be well suited to the .308 cartridge, just well balanced.  My reamer has a 0.114" freebore and that is a good compromise for these bullets while still allowing the use of the 155 when desired.

Things That Won't Work
I noted above that the .308 at 1000 yards is a marginal setup and that's very true - your responsibility to your fellow competitors and to your target puller is to make sure you are on the right side of that margin.  The first thing to consider is remaining velocity at 1000 yards.  Use a chronograph to get reliable MV numbers for your load and then use a good program like JBM Ballistics to see if the bullet will still be at least moving at 1300 fps at 1000 yards; if not, the load is likely to cause you grief.  As bullets dip below 1300 fps or so, their stability can be affected and they may not reliably hit the target.  The Sierra 168 is a great bullet for mid-range shooting, but after about 800 yards it becomes unstable regardless of velocity and will not reliably reach the target.  Don't even consider using it for Palma shooting.  If your barrel is shorter than 28", don't use the 155 grain bullets, you won't be able to keep them at 1300 fps with safe pressure levels and will be better off with a heavier bullet.  If you want to use 190 grain bullets, you should use a 1:11" twist or 1:10" twist barrel.  Sometimes a 1:12" twist will work with 190's, but not always; however it will work well with 180 grain and 185 grain bullets.  A 1:13" twist barrel will handle 155 grain and 175 grain bullets easily.

A Few Random Load Notes
Below is a short list of some of my personal "do's and don'ts" in reloading .308 for Palma shooting.

Do...
  • I use Winchester or old WCC brass for my Palma loads because it is light (about 154 gr.), has thin necks and holds the powder charge without having to resort to vibrating or long drop tubes. 
  • I weigh all powder charges. 
  • I use Russian primers because they consistently give the lowest SD and lowest pressure of all primers tested. 
  • I uniform primer pockets with a K&M tool. 
  • I moly-coat all my bullets so that when I get to the 1000 yard line at the end of the match, the barrel has as little copper fouling as possible. 
  • I use H4895 or IMR4320 for 155 and 175 grain bullets.
  • I use IMR 4064 for 190 grain bullets.
  •  I turn necks for uniform neck tension.
  • I full length size all brass. 
Don't...
  • I don't weigh brass or bullets.
  • I don't measure bullets.
  • I don't trim meplats.
  • I don't deburr flash holes.
  • I don't re-anneal brass.

See You On the Range!
That's about it, I hope this introduction to the basics of Palma shooting with a few equipment and loading tips sparks your interest in trying what I think is the most interesting and challenging type of rifle match.  As I was writing this piece I gave some thought to my most memorable Palma match; it wasn't the 449, it wasn't Camp Perry or Connaught.  My most memorable Palma match was a club match here in Phoenix a year or two ago in late April when the spring winds really blow and the ability of the frames to hold the targets without snapping was in question.  We had a good turnout, probably 40 or so shooters, mostly High Masters; the wind was kicking dust into our faces, the flags were straight out and giving limited information and the wind fishtailed left, right, left all day.  I gave the windage knob a real workout and spent many moments waiting for a reasonably known condition in which to shoot.  When it was over, I won that match with a rip-roaring score of 419.  The most notable thing about that score was that I was the only shooter that day without a miss!  I still smile when I think about that match because it made me work harder than any other Palma match I can remember; every skill in the old noggin had to be put to work.  That's the real joy of Palma shooting!


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.308 Palma Preparation and Loading
Loading the .308 for Palma Matches
Western Shooters' Pet Loads For Long Range
Palma Bullets and Barrels
IMR 4320

 

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