Range day

Today I took three milsurps to the range for some fun. The weather was fine, the sun out, and everyone on the range were in high spirits. One fella brought out his young son to shoot his .243. Passing on the shooting culture and the practice of riflery is a fine thing for a man to do. Good on him!

In this post I will cover the Carcano shooting. The Mosin shoot will be discussed as the last installment of the Mosin build series, the latest post in that line can be found here. The Lee Enfield will also be in an upcoming post.

20160312_113145Here they are.

The Carcano is a Mannlicher designed rifle that was adopted by the Italian army in 1891. It fires a 6.5×52 cartridge. Originally the bullet was a 162g round-nose projectile moving along at a modest (but effective) 2500fps. I am particularly fond of this weird little carbine. En bloc clips are very cool. There are reasons why they have fallen out of favor with sportsmen and militaries alike, but they have a real “cool factor”.

To test the chrony and get a baseline I ran six rounds of factory Norma ammo. I was shocked by the results. The six-shot velocity average was 1840 fps! Norma prints on the box that these cartriges are loaded for 2500 fps, give or take.  Between you, me and the fence post, I think something is wrong with Norma’s loads. The chrony gave good readings all day, as such I do not think that the chrony was at fault.

20160312_105447When I ran my handloads through I got very normal velocities. I loaded 140g Berger VLDs with 38.5g of 8208 XBR. The six-shot spread averaged 2416 fps. Felt recoil was up from the Norma loads, but was still very pleasant.

Upon inspection I discovered clear but mild signs of overpressure. The bolt was a tad sticky to open and the primers all had some slight bulging. If I step that load back half a grain, to 38g, I believe the load will run fine.

As for accuracy… what to say. A previous owner of this rifle attempted to windage adjust the fore-sight, with a file! WTF!!!!

The blade has been filed to a point!!! What idiot does that to a rifle???

The effect of such “windage adjustment” is that the point of impact at 50yds is about 12″ right of the point of aim.

Terrible. Just terrible. If I cannot find a replacement, I will try to make this work. That front sight post is driftable. The whole thing is secured by means of a dovetail. No file needed! Sigh…

My next order of business is to fix that front post.



Blown out shoulders and the .303

What a beauty!

Back in the days of yore, good old boys carried the Lee Enfield into our wars. I love my Enfield. It is an accurate rifle, light handling, powerful and pretty. That’s all a man needs in a gun, really.

Being a reloader, I thought I should reload for my Enfield. There are a variety of die kits for the .303, and I bought the Lee Loader kit.

The dipper is quite useless.

Here it is. I like Lee Dies.

If I were to compare it to RCBS dies, I would say that the lock ring with the gasket is as secure as the RCBS dies, just without a small set screw that rounds out as soon as I use it…

The main feature of this set is that it is a neck-sizing die, not a case sizing die. With the .303 this really matters. When Enfield designed this cartridge/rifle combo back at the turn of the last century, (think 1890s-1900) they designed the cartridge to seat on the rim. It is a rimmed cartridge, after all. An example of the modern method of seating the cartridge on the shoulder was adopted by the Americans in  the 1903 Springfield in .30-06.

Because the .303 cartridge is seated on the rim, head spacing isn’t as critical to the performance of the rifle as in shoulder seated types. The Enfield designers thus left headspace tolerances wide open. If a rifle suffered from too much headspace, the armorer could swap different thicker bolt heads in or out as the case needed. In a service rifle, this isn’t a catastrophic design flaw. Its just a workaround that works.

observe the blown out shoulder on the once-fired brass, and the overall case streching

This is what my rifle does to casings. I actually swapped out the original bolt for another one on account of brass that was tearing just above the rim.

The shoulder on the factory load (Winchester Super X) on the right measures 1.784″ from the rim to where the shoulder begins. On the once-fired brass on the left (PPU) the same measurement is 1.843″. Notice the shape of the brass shoulder also changes. In the fired cartridge it takes on a rounder profile.

The Lee loader is a neck-sizing die. This means that the whole case isn’t resized, just the neck down to the top of the shoulder. Because the case stretches significantly, 0.059″ in my rifle, a full-length die would have too much material to push. This would lead to case deformation. The neck is really the only part of the case that requires resizing anyway. Remember, this cartridge seats on the rim, not the shoulder.

There are a few things to consider when reloading the .303. First, no used brass can be guaranteed to work in any rifle other than the one it was first fired in. Enfields have some pretty random interior dimensions. Second, beware of case-head separation. That brass stretches quite a bit. If there is excessive head space it will rip the casing, and could damage your rifle or lead to extraction problems. In this case, get a new bolt or bolt head. Third, be careful how much powder you load in the used casing. Once fired casings have more capacity than the factory brass. Overfilling can happen, and if it does you then have a safety issue. Blowing up old guns is not my idea of a good time.

On the importance of crimping a straight case.

Reloading is one of the things that makes the shooting sports more like an art, and accents the aspect of craftsmanship in our fun. Safe reloading can provide premium ammo for the enthusiast at a discount. It also gives a fellow something to do on a cold winter day. If you have the money to get into it, I heartily recommend reloading.

When I got into it there was lots I did not know. There was even more that I did not know I did not know, which is worse. Now I think of myself as being a fellow who knows some, knows that he doesn’t know lots, and knows some of that which I am ignorant.

One of the things I have learned on the way is that a straight-wall case needs crimping. 20160223_165652[1]

When I bought my Norinco 1911 I also bought dies and components. After I shot all my factory ammo I started reloading.

The first batch was maddingly bad. I have a chronometer, with which you measure bullet velocity. The ten shot average was in the 830fps range, which is ok for .45 auto. One bullet came out at 510fps. I could actually see the 230g ball pass through the arms of the chrony. Because the velocity was so low, the bullet dropped considerably more than I had anticipated. My brand-new chrony narrowly escaped destruction.

I had a dud. How humiliating.

Buy one of these
Worse yet, I had a failure to feed on every single mag. After flawlessly chewing through the factory stuff I was really bummed out. Was my gun no good? Or was it my reloading?

A micrometer, as shown in the picture, is the tool for the job. Unless you use it, you won’t be.

When I went back to the bench I re-read the instructions that came with my .45 auto dies. The bullet seater die contains a crimping function milled right into the die body. (These are RCBS dies) After achieving proper bullet depth, back the bullet seater out, turn the die body down, and re-press the cartridge. Adjust the die up or down to attain the correct crimp for your cartridge/handgun combo. Then reset the seater, and go to town. You have consistent crimp all day.

Because the straight-wall .45 auto seats on the case mouth, crimp is essential for consistent feeding. Bottle-neck cartridges seat on the shoulder, for comparison.

I omitted to explain the importance of casing length. We will go over that another time.

I have found that my best crimp for my gun is .005″ narrower than the measurement at the base, just forward of the rim. Every load I have crimped to this spec has functioned without fail. No failure to feed for me.

To sum, reloading is a rewarding process, but make sure you follow the directions! Humiliation at the range is not the worst thing that can happen if something is not done properly! Guns do blow apart in some cases. Be careful.

Safe reloading my friends. And remember, “ball stops ’em all”.20160223_165233[1]

The die isn’t cast, its’ machined.

In a previous post here we discussed pulling bullets.

The other day I sat down to load some .30-06 and do a wee write-up. But then all hades sprang forth, and a monster ate the house-guests at Hrothgar. That’s a classic English Lit reference for ya’ll.

20160223_172302[1]Boom. WD-40 is amazing. But it is no replacement for case lube… Long story short, I couldn’t find my case lube. Dummy that I am, I thought I could just replace the lube with WD. Its a great lubricant, after all.

The case lodged in the decapping die and could not be removed. Do not use WD-40 to lube your cases prior to decapping!

At this point you have to resign yourself to destroying the casing. 20160223_180454[1]First I drilled a 1/4″ hole through the primer pocket and tapped it, but that didn’t work, so I stepped up to a 5/16″ hole and a 3/8″ coarse bolt thread tap. Be careful when cutting threads. Turn the tap 1/8-1/4 turns and then back the tap up by that amount to clear the shavings. Do not force the tap! Breaking a tap is no joke, and no fun.

Once the threads are cut, get a bolt, large nut, and a washer with a nut for the bolt. I didn’t have this second nut, so I used a fly nut.

20160229_175543[1]Insert the die upside down in the press. Screw it in but leave the case rim below the top of the press by a few threads. Put the nut over the top of the press. Make sure it is big enough for the casing to slide through it. Then the washer, fly nut and bolt go on as is the picture. Use pliars to hold the die. (Grip the knurled part, not the threads on the shank body.) Then use an adjustable wrench to turn the bolt down. The pulling power of a screw is substantial.

This time, it was not substantial enough. Even after an application of magnificent force, nothing would budge. So I did what any man in my situation would do. I broke down and wept.

Just kidding. That’s not very manly.

I left it for a couple of days and thought about it. The great thing about doing odd mechanical work for the last decade or so is that you get to see all the wrong ways to do things. You even get good at those techniques. I have often used heat to get rusty bolts undone. After some reflection, I thought that was a bad idea. When you apply heat to two dissimilar metals, they expand at different rates.

And then it hit me. What is sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose. Dissimilar metals also contract in cold at different rates… Duh. I want the brass (a softer, less dense material) to come out of the steel. It needs to shrink. So I threw the die in a ziplock bag and tossed it in the deepfreeze over night.

20160229_175505[1]Tah dah! It came out in about 3 turns when I put it back on the press. Brilliant. I am smrt. Very much, thank you, very much.

A little bit of plier work later, and the expander ball was out again. I re-assembled the die, straightened the decapping pin, (it bent slightly during the process) and ran some cases through.

I also found my lube. Sweet mother…



A Case for the Carcano

In a previous post I mentioned that I have a Carcano rifle. Military rifles are interesting, and oddball ones from secondary theaters of major wars even more so. 20160221_173718

For reference, this is my 5-year-old holding the rifle. This is a cavalry version built in Brescia in 1934. It features a Mannlicher type action complete with the enbloc clip loading system. I plan to review this rifle and its history in a later post. For now I want to talk about the cartridge.20160221_150905

The original round-nose ball cartridge is shown on the right. I got a couple of boxes from Norma. On the left is one of my handloads. The cartridge designation is 6.5×52 Carcano. The COAL (Cartridge Over All Length) usually comes in around 2.90″. Norma factory loads clock in at about 2430fps. As soon as I have a chance I will clock my loads for comparison.

The Italians first adopted this round in 1891, and then never updated it to a spitzer bullet. The 1890’s were a time when every major power, along with every second-rate wannabe, was racing to get the best battle rifles for their armies. The Germans had the K-98, the British the Enfield. America had the 1903, the Russians the Mosin. France got the Lebel, Austria a Mannlicher, Japan the Arisaka and Italy the Carcano. Every one of those Nations switched to spitzer bullets as soon as they realized the improvement that a conical bullet gave over round ball.

Everyone that is, except the Italians. They continued to use round-nose ball until 1945. Its a shame they didn’t go pointy. This fine little cartridge has got itself a bad rap that it surely doesn’t deserve. Let me lay out some of the advantages that this little guy possessed over its bigger rivals.

The small size of the case means that more ammo can be carried by a soldier at a time. Small size also means less recoil than a Lebel or Springfield, for example. Shorter cartridges also make for shorter actions in rifles. This can mean quicker cycling and less time between shots fired. The long bullet cross-section makes for very stable flight characteristics. This same long cross-section also means that when soft tissue is hit, the bullet is liable to yaw or tumble. Carcano wounds tend to be nasty. 20160221_150703

Other nations, particularly the Swedes, with their 6.5x55mm, used these smaller cartridges too. For a size comparison I have put the 5.56 NATO on the left and the .30-06 on the right.

It would be interesting to know why military small arms development went with the 5.56 instead of something 6.5 or .25 caliber.

The 5.56 cartridge has a muzzle velocity that ranges between 2900fps and 3100fps. In this respect it is quite a bit faster than the old 6.5mm. However, the energy in the bullet is more from a Carcano. At the muzzle, a 62g 5.56 going 3100fps has approximately 1300 ft/ibs of force. By comparison, the 156g Carcano at a velocity of 2430fps has approximately 2040 ft/ibs of force.

Heavier bullets hit harder. They also deflect less in bush, and penetrate obstructions easier. Smaller bullets are easier to shoot accurately in auto. A smaller guy can handle the recoil just fine. More ammo can be carried with greater ease. Manufacture is cheaper, as less material is required for each cartridge.

In all things, trade-offs must be considered. The .30-06 is a big round. It goes through lots of things, including soft tissue. The recoil in difficult to manage in an automatic weapon. Imagine taking your .30-06, full auto, and then try to imagine hitting anything. WW II BAR operators have my respect. A smaller bullet like the 5.56 may not take an enemy down. There are certainly many anecdotes from the Iraq and Afghan wars that seem to indicate there may be reason to reconsider the 5.56.

I think a case for the Carcano being a superior choice could have been made when NATO settled on the 5.56, and I certainly think that such a round should perhaps be considered by Canada in the future.




Pulling bullets is like pulling hamstrings…

Last week I began my series on reloading by loading the wrong powder in my .45 ACP. Auspicious… This weekend I pulled those cartridges apart, and a few others I had made before, but had not had time to pull. Lets get down to brass tacks, as they say, and begin.

20160221_154832This is my Lyman bullet puller. Its a hammer. I love modern technology. Basically all you have to do is insert the casing into the correct collet correctly, and then screw the endcap on. Whack the thing on a hard surface until the bullet drops out. Be careful not to hit yourself, skin your knuckles, or smack anything your wife might notice a dent in. Long story there.

There is a non-trivial chance the casing might explode in the puller. Pullers are designed to contain an explosion if it occurs. That said, be careful.

Here is the casing in the collet with the cap off.20160221_154738 Notice the hockey tape over the top of the cap. I have found that the vigorous beating crimped cases require to pull will often cause powder to fly all over. I hate wasting powder, or inhaling it in a spasm of enraged hammering. Very not cool. Whack it till the bullet comes out. Repeat. Its very simple.

The fun thing about pulling bullets is that you get a safe mulligan. I have a Carcano, in 6.5×52. The parts for that round are hard to come by, but I found some ammo and some 6.5mm Berger VLD 140g bullets. 20160221_150905 Having shot some of the loaded Norma stuff, I thought to reload with spitzers. Here are is factory round-nose cartridge next to my reload.

When I loaded the spitzers I put 39g of IMR 8208XBR in the casing. There is literally no data for that powder in this casing, and what little data I could find on other powders didn’t convince me to buy those powders. Therefore I made up a load.

On range day I discovered that the load was slightly over pressure. If you see bulging in the primer around the firing-pin indent, you have too much pressure. Mind you, it wasn’t too terrible. The Carcano action is plenty strong and can handle it. I am a bit leery of putting that kind of stress on an expensive and rare casing, and so I decided to pull the bullets and step the load down .5g.

Safe mulligans mean that a reloader can improve his techniques and recipes without jeopardizing his safety. If you reload, a puller of some sort must be in your toolbox.



A little reloading mishap…

12662493_966439410104544_5170198928883898097_nToday I loaded some .45 ACP. All went well, until I sat down to write this post…

I opened my browser, uploaded a picture, and then it hit me.

The powder I just loaded in my batch wasn’t Red Dot, it was IMR 8208XBR!!!! For those who don’t know the difference, I just put rifle powder in my handgun cases. This is a big no-no.

There are two takeaway lessons to be found here.

First, pay attention to what you are doing! When I measured out my powder something felt wrong. It seemed smaller than normal. 8208 XBR is an extruded ball powder. It looks like little grey tubes. Red Dot is a flake power and has an appearance similar to red and black snowflakes. 5.2 grains of these two powders occupy a significantly different space. I should have double-checked. What an idiot.

The second take-away is this: buy a bullet puller. I guarantee that you will make mistakes reloading ammo. With the proper tool, you can always recover most of the components for future use. I have such a puller…

In the next reloading post, we will take a look at how to safely take a bullet apart.

Gee I’m an idiot…