Monday, December 31, 2007

Kids, Savages, Getting Started & Getting Restarted

I was thinking I’d better post something before Buckshot wrote something about loading a 300 Weatherby with Bullseye and soggy dog biscuits behind a cast lead bullet and blowing his chronograph over with the muzzle blast at 20 feet. I hope I’m not too late.

I thought about explaining why I haven’t posted in months but every blog I’ve looked at the last few days is starting out “sorry for the light posting…” I ain’t sorry about it. I’d be sorry of I had posted something when I had nothing worth saying.

Here’s how I did my part to get a couple of innocent youngsters initiated into the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy. Well, they are home schooled and say “yes sir” and “yes mam” so maybe I didn’t initiate them. I sure did my best to slick up the slippery slope and push ‘em down as far as they wanted to slide.

While at the in-laws for the obligatory Christmas Dinner, my brother in law (the one from the Light Side of the Force) said that he wanted to go to the Hernando Sportsman's Club so his 2 oldest kids could learn to shoot. He was off work all last week and we were slow at my office so we went on Thursday. Unfortunately, because my dog took a lot longer at the Vet’s than I had anticipated, I made us run an hour late. By the time we gassed up and bought a pile of 22 LR at Wally World we wound up getting to the range at 1:30. They close at 2:00. Fortunately, they shoot in the evenings on Thursdays so we killed some time and came back at 5:00 PM to shoot. It turned out to be a good thing.

We staked out 3 benches, put out our targets and had a serious safety talk. Under close supervision, the kids started with my wife's Marlin Buckaroo. At first they tried to work the bolt gently but it was hard to close fully like that. It cocks on closing and uses a camming action. I showed them the angled edges, explained that it took a little force to get it done and suggested using the palm of the hand instead of fingertips. Once they weren’t concerned about breaking anything, they cut loose and got into working the bolt with authority. Pretty soon, the oldest was almost like a miniature sized right handed version of the left handed sniper guy in Private Ryan. Bang, clack – clack and an empty lands on my bench.

I wanted to sight in my NEF 22 Hornet but kept having trouble because we were shooting at 25 yards for the kid’s sake and it kept putting all the bullets in the same hole. Even with binoculars it was hard to tell what it was doing. The kids went nuts over that and burned through half a box of Hornets before their dad quietly asked them to go back to the 22LR because it is less expensive. (He doesn't know anything about reloading yet. To me they were just "making brass" so it was no big deal).

The day wasn’t all about the kids though. I brought a few works in progress to test drive myself. To make a very long story short, while looking for a Savage Model 99 in 250-3000 Savage, I stumbled on a Savage Model 1899 in .303 Savage at my favorite local gun shop. Its bore was dark and foreboding but showed some signs of lands and grooves in a generally spiral pattern. I must have paid too much attention to it because it followed me home before the 250-3000 was even delivered to my dealer. I wound up with both of them. The .303 Savage actually cleaned up pretty well. Grooves still dark but sharp, shiny lands. .303 Savage is a pretty obscure caliber these days so components and tools took a while to accumulate. Things eventually came together but it was a long time before I got to do anything with it. This was my first real opportunity to do any shooting with it.

There’s a little data on the .303 Savage on the internet and my Lee manual has some that is really 30-30 data reduced 10% (why its reduced is beyond me but that’s what they give you). I used regular data for a 30-30 with 170 grain bullets loaded into .303 Savage cases. Before I even tried any of those I had some 190 grain bullets made by Hawk. The .303 Savage was originally loaded with 190 grain round nose bullets and it just seemed like the thing to do. I couldn’t find any data for 190 grain jacketed bullets so I bought Quickload and let it make some suggestions. Those 30-30 data loads proved to be wimpy. There was no sensation of recoil at all. After just a couple of those I switched to the 190 grain Hawk round tips and things livened up. You could tell you were shooting a center fire rifle. Having been beaten black and blue by a 50 Beowulf moments before (another work in progress), I could feel the Savage’s crescent steel butt plate every time the rifle fired. Not painful but definitely more there than with the 30-30 data loads.

In using the 190 grain data from Quickload and had loaded up a few in 1/2 grain steps (3 cartridges per step with the charge weight and powder type written in magic marker on each case) starting at 10% below what it said should be maximum right on up to the max. It was either that or fire 3 rounds and drive an hour and a half back home, load 3 more rounds and drive back to see how they shot. I have bullet pullers so taking the unused ones apart is no big deal.

By the time we got them set up and going, there wasn't enough light for my chronograph to work. I also had it set up way too close. Sometimes it read my muzzle blast or the flash from the AR10 next to us but never the bullet. When they turned on the fluorescent lights over the benches it read them. Whatever. I haven’t chronographed anything in 10+ years so a few more days won’t hurt (much).

I never did get near the maximum because the primers started to get flatter than I wanted for a low pressure round like the 303Sav. I switched to the 250-3000. I had loaded 75 grain and 90 grain Barnes X bullets (the old kind, not the TSX) with data out of the Barnes manual. I considered it a little suspect because my (new Winchester) cases wouldn't even hold the book's maximum charge when filled to the case mouth. The most they would hold with a 75 grain bullet seated was 2 grains below the book's maximum load. I loaded several rounds in increments of ½ a grain from the starting load up to 2 grains below their max. (since that’s as close as would fit in the case with a bullet seated). Again, I stopped shooting well short of the hottest load due to pressure signs. I reckon that’s why they say to start low and work up.

On Saturday, I dug out the empties to compare pressure signs. I know that you can’t tell anything with any degree of accuracy from flattened primers or case head expansion but if your starting load isn’t flattened or the case head overly expanded with one load and one with 2 more grains of powder is, you CAN tell a couple of things. You can tell that the second load is hotter than the first one and you can tell that you shouldn’t be shooting the hotter load. You can’t tell how hot it is but you can tell that its too hot.

Again, the 250-3000 ammo was loaded with data right out of Barnes’ manual. Just for fun, I plugged their max load with H 414 and the 75 grain X bullet into Quickload. One of the things it does is predict pressure. It predicted over 65,500 psi. Is that number accurate? Who knows? I don’t have any way of measuring pressure (yet). It does tend to agree with the primers and the case heads on the hotter of the loads that I fired so if its not accurate to the last pound psi, its still accurate as far as telling me not to put that much H 414 in a 250-3000 Savage case again. That kind of pressure might be OK in a 25 WSSM or a 257 Weatherby but not in a 50 year old Savage Model 99.

I also wanted to swap scopes because the one on the 250-3000 was canted and I just didn’t like it all that much. The guy that I bought the rifle from claimed to have hunted with the gun often but I no longer believe that. I think he stuck a crummy, used old scope on it when he sold it. I put a nice, new Leupold 4x scope on it the day after we went to the range. The rifle has a Buehler mount on it. Its similar to a Redfield in that it has the two opposing screws at the rear of the base that can be used as windage adjustments. The rear screws were not even tight. Sure. I always leave the back end of my scope wagging around the receiver when I go to hunt. Gives the deer a better chance to escape. Rather sporting of me, don’t you think?

So I don't have any chronograph readings to report (yet) but the rifles told me everything else I expected of them. I've never been able to approach a max book load with the X bullets in my 25-06 and the 250-3000 behaved the same way. Nothing earth shaking there. My main concern with the 250-3000 was bullet stabilization in my rifle’s slow twist barrel. All the bullet holes in the target were nice and round so we did confirm that we don't have to worry about that. I wasn't trying to shoot a decent group with either rifle. I was just trying to get the bullets over the chronograph and was using the target as a general aiming point. No grouping info either but who cares? I didn’t shoot the chronograph, I found out what I needed to know and we all had a blast. While I wasn’t looking, the kids and their dad went through more than 350 rounds of .22 LR. What could be wrong with that?

More on the various Savage rifles later.