26 November 2023

Military Equipment for Hunting? No Way!

 You can't use "military style" equipment to hunt! If that's you then read on but if you know, you know. What is "military style" anyway? It's a term used by gun-control advocates to describe firearms with modernized features and accessories and an aesthetic that resembles equipment that looks like items used by modern militaries. What if I told you that in the U.S. we've been using not just "military style" for hunting but actual, literally military equipment to hunt deer and other game for over a century? How about since the beginning of our nation? How about before that? Would you believe me?

I hope to articulate to you the historical use of military arms and ammunition by hunters and Americans in general for civil use including the AR-15. From the weapons used to fight against U.S. soldiers to government created cartridges for war-fighting  still in use today, let's take a look at not "military style" but actual military equipment. 

First, let's look at today. Today's de-facto "hunting rifle" is the bolt action rifle typically chambered in a big caliber such as the universally capable 30-06. Bolt action files didn't always exist. How did we get to today where they became the default? Military arms. The history of the bolt action system stems from early 1800's development in Europe for a breach loading, military rifle. As improvements were made from paper cartridges for use in systems like the Dreyse needle rifle in the 1820's and transitioned into metallic cartridges, rifles such as the Lebel 1886, European nations and armies were chasing repeating, magazine fed rifles for fighting their wars.

Tactics of the era are important to note as the vollyfire tactic still applied but these newer cartridges with lots of powder and rifles with long barrels give these armies the ability to launch vollies of bullets at their adversary from further and further away. The farther your are and can reach them without them reaching you, the better. Improvements in powder leading to smokeless powder make the distance even further. Changes to higher velocities and bullet designs made additional improvements. By the end of the 1890's, the European arms makers had developed the basis of the rifles used today for hunting and were actively fielding in large numbers, rifles such as the Mauser 1893 or the Norwegian designed Krag-Jorgensen. 

The Mauser 1893 and Krag rifles are special in this discussion because they became the two primary rifles in the Spanish-American War in 1898. The U.S. discovered that the Krag, while a great rifle, the cartridge simply was just not as capable as the Mauser designed 7x57 cartridge. The U.S. found out the hard way; in blood. After winning the fight, the U.S. began development of a new cartridge and a gun to replace the already new Krag and it's 30-40 cartridge. That rifle we know as the 1903 Springfield. Essentially a knockoff Mauser, the development of the 1903 rifle and it's cartridge, eventually the 30-06 after changes were made, replaced three different rifle cartridges in U.S. inventory. If you haven't caught it yet, 30-06 was developed by the U.S. government. The same 30-06 used by your uncle, daddy or grandfather to hunt whitetail deer or elk got it's start as a military rifle cartridge. 

Another question arises. When did hunters start using bolt action rifles though? I don't had a great answer for that yet but from what I have found is that we need to look at surplus military rifles. 

The U.S. had fielded limited numbers of bolt action rifles in the late 1880's as the Remington Lee. Remington may have sold commercially some of those rifles to civilians but based on the manufactured numbers, those numbers would have been small if any. After the end of the Spanish-American War, we can start talking about surplus Mausers and Krags. Bannerman's was a company that purchase huge quantities of surrendered military equipment for cheap and shipped that back to the U.S. The history of Bannerman's is fascinating. I recommend reading up on them. 

Bannerman's would go on to sell huge numbers of these military Mauser 1893 rifles to civilians. Additionally, Krag rifles would be surplussed by the government and sold to civilians. One of those Krag rifles made it to a man named Jack O'Connor via a private sale. Mr. O'Connor proceeded to use that rifle as a young boy, he says he paid a $1.50 for, to hunt a variety of animals in Arizona. I also recommend reading up on Jack O'Connor. Mr. O'Connor would be like many other Americans who acquired a cheap surplus military rifle and used it to hunt. 

Let's take a quick tally. We have noted three rifle cartridges and two surplus military rifles that are being used at this point for civilian applications. The Mauser 1893 and the Krag rifles along with the 7x57 and 30-40 Krag cartridges and the 30-06. You probably don't remember seeing the first two on shelves in Walmart but you'll find 30-06.

By World War I, the European militaries have again made further refinements in military bolt action rifles but WWI was a new beast. A wild mixture of new, old and commercial equipment was fielded by nations during the massive conflict. The number of new weapons made for the conflict is staggering and once the war was over, the number of surplus firearms would have been equally staggering. 

Mausers, Lebels, Gras', Chassepots, Kropatcheks, Lees, Remingtons, Mannlichers, Steyers, Berthiers, Ross', Winchesters, Martinis. Mosin, Brownings, Carcanos, Vetterlis just to name a few. Once the war was over, the number of bolt action rifles surplussed is incredible. This includes the cartridges they shoot such as the .303 British, 8x57 Mauser in addtion to the 7x57, 6.5x55 and 7.62x54R. All have been used to take whitetail at some point in the U.S.

Many of these rifles would come to the U.S. and gone through a process called sporterization. The idea is that many of the rifles not sold as is to U.S. civilians would go through a process to make them lighter and better for hunting. Sometimes it was cutting the stocks to make the lighter and sometimes it was far more intense. Many rifles would be rebarreled to use 30-06. The 1920's would have seen a huge number of surplus rifles for very cheap money. 

World War I for the U.S. would have also meant that manufacturers such as Remington, Westinghouse and Winchester were picking up contracts to make guns for basically everyone. By the end of the war, the manufacturers that survived sold contract rifles no longer needed to the commercial market. Remington sold the Model 30 which were basically spare parts guns built from the M1917 pattern rifle. Winchester had won a contract to manufacture the 1903 Springfield which later sold the Model 54 starting in 1925 which is pretty much a Mauser 98 action. The Model 54 was later replaced by the hugely popular Model 70. Sporterzied 1903 rifles can be found with a simple internet search. 

World War II resulted in pretty much the same situation. The large numbers of surplus M1 Garand and Carbines along with the imported foreign rifles would have been sold to the civilian population. 

From what I can tell, I speculate that the 1920's is about when bolt-action rifles became much more popular and the most popular models sold can trace their origins back to military designs. The models of today have improved and simplified the concept to a point that they can be made pretty inexpensively and well. Inexpensive to produce leads to inexpensive to sell which makes rifles easier to get. 100 years of military bolt action rifles eventually lead to commercialization and adoption of bolt action commercial rifles.  

Let's dive further into the past and look at military rifles in civilian hands. Bolt action rifles replaced single shot, breach loading rifles. In the U.S. the M1873 "trapdoor" and it's .45-70 cartridge became a widespread cartridge starting in 1873. Also known as the .45-70 Government, because it was developed by the U.S. Government, is still available today. While trapdoor rifles aren't common, Marlin sells it's 1895 lever action rifle that uses the cartridge and Henry sells both lever action and single shot rifles. Hunters have been using similar rifles to hunt for I honestly don't know how long. I don't think I could find out even if I tried. In simple terms, .45-70 is just another U.S. military rifle cartridge developed used by hunters and civilians for legitimate reasons today. 

45-70 wasn't the first metallic cartridge for government work but it was one that replaced another that replaced muskets. The Civil War era in the U.S. is honestly no different in the perspective above. After the war, surplussed rifles made their way into hands of the citizens for whatever use. One story I read that you can read here was about a man whos father had acquired a reworked Hawken. In that story a blacksmith in the town the father lived had been in the process of converting a Civil War era rifle into a smoothbore to fire shot. He was converting a military rifle into a shotgun for hunting. In the U.S., the militia system would have resulted in many weapons being used for both hunting and militia duty. 

Let's do another recap.  

In terms of cartridges, we have covered 7x57, 30-40 Krag, 45-70 and 30-06. I have mentioned other cartridges that, were it not for the pandemic related shortages, manufacturers might still be making ammunition in those calibers. The ability to handload for those cartridges is important in today's world to keep those old guns alive and shooting. 

From the rifle perspective we have several rifles that made their way into hands of the People and used for their purposes. A whole family of systems, single shot and bolt action have military intentions at their creation and yet they exist today in the world of civilian use without thought to their origins. 

On an aside, the bolt action rifle world is typically reduced to two action lengths. Long action or "standard" and short action. These standard action / long action rifles where the norm due to cartridges such as 30-06 being so wide spread. 30-06 is also responsible for development of several commercial hunting cartridges like 270 Winchester. Take note of that name for later. 

Let's go forward. Post World War II.

The cartridge that we know today as 308 Winchester has a long history. The development cycle is long but a look at the T65 series of experimental cartridges leads to what we call the 7.62x51 NATO cartridge. Today, 7.62 NATO is pretty much the backbone of support arms for Western militaries for machine guns and sniper rifles and select rifles. Winchester had been paying attention to what was going on and took pre-adoption versions of the cartridge to market. This became the 308 Winchester cartridge. They are nearly identical with differences in pressure being the most important. Rifles such as the M14, FAL and G3 all use the 7.62 NATO but commercial versions use the more powerful version being configured for 308 Winchester. 

308 Winchester is just another rifle cartridge with origins in the military world adopted by the commercial market for civilian use. I would love to see the number of 308 Winchester rifles sold by manufacturers compared to the other cartridges to see which sells the most. 

Where the 7.62 NATO replaced the 30-06 cartridge, the 5.56 NATO cartridge replaced the 7.62 NATO round as the primary infantry cartridge. In the commercial world 5.56 NATO, 223 Remington is the name though both are marketed side by side. The AR-15 replaced the M14 and the M14 replaced the M1 Garand. Today, the M14 can still be found from companies like Fulton Armory or commercial versions like the M1A from Springfield Armory. The M1A can function as a hunting rifle if needed but the M14's legacy is dying off and are mostly used for general use and target shooting. The M1 Garand could easily be used for hunting but CMP Garand rifles are dwindling. Surplus M1 Garand rifles are still for sale but can be pretty expensive depending on grade. 

This leads us to the AR-15. The AR-15 is, in my opinion, the rifle bringing semi-auto rifles into the deer stand in larger quantities than other rifles ever before. While rifles like Remington's semi-auto platforms like the 740 and 7400 were popular, they just aren't as widespread as the AR-15. While the .223 Remington commercial cartridge's bullet weights are much lower than cartridges like 30-06 or 308 Winchester, the velocities are relatively similar. This allows manufacturers to produce bullets such as jacketed soft points or hollow points that expand nicely to more than double the original bullet diameter. A good bullet can easily reach two times the diameter of the 22 caliber bullet making it a suitable bullet for hunting whitetail deer, feral hogs and coyotes. The lighter weight bullets may not have the same usable distances as 30-06 but it turns out that many hunters are taking shots at distances the .223 / 5.56 cartridge covers and does it with much less recoil and noise. It also means that the rifle you have setup for home defense can be configured with good hunting ammunition as serve a dual purpose. 

At this point we have a pretty big list of cartridges and rifles use by the military that have found their way into the hands of We the People who use them for our own legitimate uses. We haven't talked about pistol cartridges by the way and we won't. 

Now let's look to the future. 

The old 270 Winchester is based on the 30-06 cartridge. If you aren't familiar with it, I would recommend fixing that. A rifle setup for 270 WIN can push a 136 grain bullet from a 22 inch barrel at around 2800 feet per second. The bullets used are a .277 inch diameter. Recently, the U.S. military also is testing a .277 diameter based cartridge called 6.8x51mm. The cartridge was developed by SIG Sauer who now markets the cartridge as 277 Fury. While the cartridge isn't widely available at this time, the stated specifications of the 277 Fury have a 135 grain .277 caliber bullet moving around 2750 fps from a 16 inch barrel. I believe that as a few folks who have had access to the 13 inch barrel XM7 are clocking 2600 fps from said 13 inch barrel. It's reasonable that someone with an 18 inch barrel would match the 270 WIN performance but do it with a rifle that is much shorter. The action length needed for 270 is considered a long action while the 277 Fury is a short action cartridge. This results in around a half inch of length reduction in addition to the two inch or so difference. An over-all reduction of 2.5 inches for a hunting rifle can be a very welcome change. Where the change makes the most sense is in modern rifle designs. The XM7 rifle is similar in size to an AR-10 or SCAR in over-all size. What this means for us is a rifle the size slightly larger than an AR-15 now has performance similar to a 270 Winchester. If you live in an area where the longer range performance makes sense or you hunt a spot with longer range shots, a commercially available XM7 (MCX Spear) would make for a capable general purpose rifle. 

In summary, the legacy that military cartridges like 30-06 have on the hunting market is massive. Very old cartridges like 45-70 continue to persist. 5.56 and 223 REM are hear to stay. The rifles they started in may phase out but where those rifles started have paved the way for the future. I don't know what the future holds but it wouldn't surprise me to see some mid-aged guy in a deer stand with a SIG Cross in 277 Fury when I'm old and decrepit. 

I hope this article helps shed some light on the modern and historical legacy of military derived rifles and cartridges in use by hunters in the U.S. and that the idea of "military style" is mearly sensationalism to push an agenda. The history is far more interesting. 

Also we aren't covering surplus clothing like camo and other stuff. 

25 November 2023

Maryland's Handgun Qualification License - Unconstitutional

 Maryland's HQL system has been dealt a serious blow, thankfully, by the U.S. Appeals Court by striking down the licensing system required to purchase a handgun. Reuters has an article about it. As someone who once went through the whole process early on, I can tell you I am glad it was struck down. You can find my article here. In my article, I detail the expensive costs associated and delays the State took just to purchase a pistol in MD. While their fight is not over, it's a good sign. The next step is for the State to appeal the decision which will likely make it's way to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Chalk one up for Freedom and We the People.

21 November 2023

The Marlin 39A - Ruger Brought Back the Classics but Where is the 39A?

 After Ruger purchases Marlin from Remington, Ruger has been working diligently to restore the Marlin brand. A move I appreciate. As of November 2023, Marlin released three models of the popular lever action rifles. They started with the 1895 big bore, .45-70 and several versions. Then in 2023, they released the 336 and 1894 models. By November 2023, Ruger has nine SKUs for sale based on those models. A SKU for the Dark 1894 .357 Mag version hasn't been released but given the late announcement of the .357 Mag version, that SKU is likely been sorted out internally. I would argue that Ruger, by end of 2023, will have 10 total SKUs for lever action rifles in the popular calibers on their website. But they are missing one; the Model 39A.gold

The internet is awash in romanticization of the 39A and how it was the best lever action .22 rifle ever produced. A Google search will show you what I mean. 

I've never owned a 39A and I would like to. I considered the Chiappa LA-322 but my understanding is the internal parts are just different. If you want the looks, that could be a way to go. I have a Henry H001 that runs just fine but the materials quality and design aren't the same. The Henry uses a alloy internal frame with the outside part basically a painted shell. There are other manufacturers of lever action .22 rifles and I've fired none of them. 

The history of the 39A starts back in 1891 with the model of 1891 followed by a new model, the 1892, improving the loading system. Changes made to the design over the years eventually led to the model 39A released in 1939. When Marlin stopped making the 39A, I don't know. So the question on my mind is, when will Ruger bring back the 39A?

I think that will be a tall order. The current lever action .22 rifle market has several instances and they are inexpensive. Most of the base models appear to be under $400 making them pretty obtainable by most people. 

Most of the options on the market have engineered ways to make the guns cheaper. The Henry uses a shell over the internal frame. The Browning BL-22 is similar. The Rossi Rio Bravo follows suit. Chiappa uses what I call a cassette to make the action work and is very different to the Marlin 39A's action despite looking like a 39A. At one time, I considered a LA-322 from Chiappa to satisfy my desire for a look-a-like until I found out the action is so different. 

The Marlin 39A's action is complicated. Complicated means expensive. 

Speaking of expensive, let's look at the current Ruger lineup. The Marlin 336 used be available from Academy for around $499. Not anymore. Expect to pay at least $1000 for any of the new Marlin rifles. 

The machining and quality are why the new guns are so expensive. They're better made. If Ruger decides to make a 39A the same as the old ones, they won't be cheap. Don't expect a Marlin 39A to be $450 or less. In fact, if the 39A does come back, expect it be at least $1000. That's a lot of money to pay for a 22 rifle. Who's going to buy that? Honestly? Probably quite a few people. 

Let's look else where. The CZ 457 has versions such as the Varmint Trainer with an MSRP of $1315. The MTR version is $1600. Volartson plays in the same ball park with what are basically super high quality 10/22 rifles. That's pretty tame for a high quality .22 LR rifle. Vudoo Gun Works uses their V-22 action to produce a number of rifles. Their Sinister rifle series starts at $2925. Their single shot starts are $2040 and people pay for it. Feel free go to look at Anschutz. They have a model with an MSRP $4495. All of their Olympic style rifles have versions that push into the $6000 range. 

So will you pay $1000 for a high quality level action .22 LR? That's up to you. For me the 39A is a bucket list gun. I don't expect the accuracy to be on part with a NRL rifle but I expect the rifle will out last me. It would be something I can hand down to my kids. 

Man, I hope Ruger brings back the Marlin 39A.

Marlin's 1894 Classic - Finally in 357 Magnum


Marlin 1894 Classic in .357 Magnum from the Marlin website

If you haven't figured out that I'm a big fan of Marlin rifles and the .357 Magnum cartridge you haven't read enough of my stuff. You should fix that right now then come back and finish reading this.

Today, Marlin announced that they have finally released the 1894 chambered in .357 Magnum and its gorgeous. I know the .44 Magnum version had already come out earlier this year. That made sense to get the bigger caliber out for the 2023 deer season given many people like the bigger caliber for whitetail. Well, I feel the .357 Magnum is just right when you have the right load and shouldn't be over looked. My first whitetail for the 2023 was taken with a .357 Mag Marlin 1894 CST.

Generally, .357 Magnum is easier to find on the shelves though I can't say it's easier to get good hunting loads. The Cabela's / Bass Pro offerings are meager and I don't trust any of the loads they have on their website for whitetail at this point.  It pairs so nicely with revolvers that can be sized for concealed carry or with a large frame for outdoors use. Yes you can do that with the .44 mag but the recoil from a revolver is stout. The .357 mag is much more manageable. 

The 18 inch barrel will push that bullet to velocities that make the useable distance a lot longer than people realize. I calculated the Remington 158 grain HTP can still expand reliably around 175 or so yards from a rifle. That was a 16 inch. I don't know how much more you'd get from a 18 inch. 

9 rounds of .357 Magnum in the magazine is on the low side for what we can do today but for most casual reasons you'll find it should suffice. I field my rifle as a General Purpose or Farm Rifle and it suits me nicely.

The price tags on these new Marlins is steep. The base MSRP for all the Classic's is $1,239. They are currently made in limited quantities so the street prices can be much higher than that. I am seeing the .44 Mag versions available from many retails so prices will start coming down. 

I fully recommend a lever action rifle for fun and hunting. If you haven't tried one out, fix that immediately. Full power loads for defense and hunting with light .38 Special for fun and target is a hard combo to beat and one that I maintain is under appreciated. Pair it up with a Smith and Wesson Model 19 Classic and you have a perfect Classic Combo.

So, finally the end question, will I run out an buy one of these? No. I've said it too many times, Marlin should release a Classic threaded so us (very few) folks who suppress all the things. I still want to replace my Winchester 94 in .30-30. The 336 Classic with it's checkered wood and blued steel a top choice for a dedicated hunting rifle for me. Marlin hasn't done a 336 Classic with 5/8x24 threads yet so I haven't bought one. It will take time as they did release the Dark series again and those do have threads but they have 16 inch barrels. I want the 20 inch. Until then, my .357 Mag Marlin 1894 CST is my favorite rifle I have and I totally recommend which ever version of the Marlin rifles tickles your fancy.

I retract my statement. I want one pretty bad.

357 Magnum - Hand Loads. Some work and some don't

 I've been tinkering with what little powder and primers I have but I have been able to pick up different cast bullets. The only two powders I have are HS-6 and Trail Boss. While neither seem to be especially suited to 38 Special and 357 Magnum, they can be used. The only small primers I have are Remington 5 1/2 "magnum" small pistol primers. They work just fine for what I'm doing with my revolvers and lever action 357 rifle. That said, if I find a good opportunity to buy up some Alliant Unique or similar powder, I will. I'm not sure I'll buy up more primer anytime soon since I just took supply of a new box. On a side note, if you attempt to replicate any of these, you are responsible for your own actions. I am not responsible for your actions since reloading can be risky if you don't know (or do know) what you are doing.

Also, this post will be a rolling update as I find stuff. 

200 Grain

My first 357 Mag / 38 Special hand loads were using Trail Boss with a 200 gr hard cast flat nosed bullet with a gas check from Cast Performance. They're a bit expensive but for fun, heavy weight loads for suppressed shooting, I figured they'd work great. Turns out that maybe Trail Boss was not the best choice since they were very inaccurate and also seemed to be tumbling out of my Marlin 1894 CST but I did find that 5.5 grains of HS-6 using a 38 Special case makes for a GREAT plinking round. See the below video of that rifle getting hits on a 6 inch gong at 50 yards. That charge of HS-6 from my 16 barrel Marlin 1894 is chronographing at 1035 FPS. I believe that is impressive though Buffalo Bore can push a 180 gr bullet at 1800 FPS from the same gun so maybe not. That said, for a thumping good time, that load is fairly quiet and fun to shoot. 

As you can see, the HS-6 load is a pretty capable load for shorter ranges with some hold over at distance. I haven't tried it for dispatching varmint critters such as armadillos yet but give me time. Sadly, I used up the last of my 200 gr cast rounds on that visit. I do have a Lee 2-cavity mold that I can try to make my own but that's for a later date. 

160 Grain

I had ordered a box of 160 grain hollow points that have a very wide cavity from GT Bullets here in Georgia. I tried loading up with varying amounts of HS-6 starting at 6.2 grains and running up to 9.7 grains per the Lyman Cast Bullet book. I forgot to take my chronograph out on the first visit and from my Taurus 66, none seemed to be particularly accurate. I did have to seat them deep and may have damaged the driving bands. I will need to test again. I'm thinking a few test loads for subsonic loading might be a good choice that I need to tinker with since these are MUCH cheaper than those 200 grain pills. 

Update: After tinkering with the 160 grain bullets over various amounts of HS-6, the 9 grain range really gets them moving but are very smoky. I had clocked the 9.7 gr loads from a Taurus 66 with 4 inch barrel pushing into the 1300 fps range. I believe that would put these bullets into territory that will cause good expansion of the hollow point design but I haven't tested that yet. 

I did find that a lighter load of 6 grains will push these bullets from a 16 inch rifle barrel to around 1200 fps and might could be a good choice for hunting. I don't have ballistic gel blocks but I might try the redneck science way of shooting old milk jugs full of water. It's not ideal but it does something. 

Update 2: I tested subsonic versions of the 160 gr cast hollow points from my Marlin 16 inch rifle since the 200 gr cast are expensive. Both the 4.0 grain and 4.5 grain loads of HS-6 were quiet enough. I have not yet run them over a chronograph to see how fast they move. I'll update that later.

Update 3: I ran out of bullets. They were fun. I will need to order more.

Lyman 358439 HP

Here in Spring of 2023, I think it's time for me to start casting my own bullets. I have a single cavity bullet mold for a 155 grain hollow point from Lyman I bought as part of a self-sufficiency project I was working on. It's the 358439 HP mold. Essentially, it's a lighter-weight "Keith" style bullet with big lube grooves and big drive bands. It looks like it will do well in 38 Special cases given the size of the first drive band being thick. What I want from this pursuit is to have a deer load for my Marlin 1894 or a single shot pistol like a T/C Contender that I can make on the homestead without having to buy commercial products. On a side note, the 358439 may end up being 160 grain so we'll see how that plays out.

Looking over the Lyman Cast Bullet book, we're looking at around 9 to 10 grains of HS-6 for magnum loads but I started doing research for rifle specific data. That's led me to Hodgdon's H110. I knew that Alliant's 2400 powder has been used successfully for 357 for decades and that many people have also used Unique. I'd also seen where people have loaded other cartridges with those powders like .300 Blackout making me think that having a bottle or two of either would be a good universal powder. Continuing down that research hole, I found that people have also used H110 for powerful 357 loads but are also successful in using it for .300 Blackout. You can also make cast bullets for .300 Blackout and might be useful for something like my bolt-action Remington 700 in 300 Blackout. I don't expect it would be optimal but it might be worth having around. 

Given that I can order H110 from the same LGS I got the HS-6 from, I think I should put in an order some time this year and start the casting crusade. 

125 Grain

Berry's Bullets makes a flat nose jacketed bullet that are somewhat inexpensive at around 22 cents per round after shipping, which is steep. That said, Hodgdon has load data for a cast 125 bullet for Trail Boss starting at 3.5 grains moving up to 5.3 grains and staying subsonic. That information is likely for a revolver but somewhere in there could be a good subsonic rifle load to use up some of the Trail Boss I have. What I've read is that the high levels of powder should use the 357 Mag cases. I found around 4.5 grains in 38 Special cases puts the powder into compression or near compression. I stopped loading at 4.7 grains for the 38 Special cases but then did a 5.6 gr load for 357 Mag cases. 

After getting out to shoot, it looks like the 3.5 grains in 38 Special cases is just fine and don't seem to tumble. At around 4.3 grains, they got a little louder than what I want and the 4.7 grains seemed to be supersonic from the 16 inch barrel. I realized that I don't need the maximum charge possible. All I need is an inexpensive load I can whip up for when I want to take someone new to the range with while being quiet. I still need to run them over a chronograph and shoot groups but I think the 3.5 to 4.0 grain load with Trail Boss is a real winner for shortrange subsonic plinking. 

When I took those 3.5 and 4.0 grain Trail Boss loads out, I was able to run both over my chronograph. The 3.5 gr load was pushing around 641 FPS with an extreme spread of 66 FPS and the 4.0 grain load around 801 FPS with an ES of 38 FPS. I didn't find much difference in the auditory experience between the two so I think I'll stick with the 3.5 grain version with the 125 grain Berry's Bullet for when I take someone to the range. Trail Boss is fairly inexpensive at around $30 for a 9 oz bottle and the bullets at $0.22 per bullet. If you use your own brass and you get the powder local like from Bass Pro but have primers shipped in like I did, these will cost around $0.35 per round. That's pretty good for these days but I think I can do this cheaper. Maybe around $0.25 per round. 

I do have a possible recipe for HS-6 and the Berry's Bullets 125 gr JFN that could make for fun revolver loads but I'm looking for cheap, subsonic plinking loads for now. 

105 Cast Subsonic Plinking Loads

Update November 2023: I found a company called Slippery Bullets that makes a 105 gr cast and powder coated truncated flat point for cowboy action shooting. I still have some Trail Boss Powder so I figured I'd load up a few. The bullets were 9¢ per round with shipping. Not too bad. They aren't meant for anything serious, just cheap plinking with the suppressed lever action and my revolvers. 

The suggested loads I've found are starting at 3 grains of TB with a 38 Special case for Cowboy Action and similar. I started loading at 3 grains and ended at 4.0 grains of Trail Boss by Hodgdon. The velocities I got are below using my Caldwell chronograph. It was 70 degrees out. Georgia is weird. It should be cold in November. I made 11 rounds of each except for the 4.0 grains load. For whatever reason, I had a total of 54 primers left in the 100 count box of Remington 5 1/2 Small Pistol Magnum.

3.0 Grains - 844 FPS Average

3.3 Grains - 905 FPS Average

3.5 Grains - 949 FPS Average 

3.7 Grains - 997 FPS Average

4.0 Grains - 1057 FPS Average

After running the loads over the chronograph, I attempted groups at 25 yards to see if any were better. The 3.3 grain loads grouped the best but the 4.0 grain loads started to look good. I didn't have enough after chronographing as I used 8 rounds of the 10. 

Running them through the suppressed Marlin 1894 is fun. The hit steel nicely and make a good noise. The point of impact isn't majorly different at short range so these fit nicely into the Ambassador roll the ArgentVaquero project was built for. A 9 oz bottle of Trail Boss will produce around 1,100 rounds of those 3.3 grain loads. That said, the 4.0 grain loads looked like they may have grouped pretty nicely had I not ran out. I may make a few more of the 4.0 grain loads to check accuracy. That said, at 4 grains, a bottle only makes around 980 loads. Reducing that to 3.9 grains should get to around 1,000 rounds. I need to see how these loads do in my revolvers. Currently, this load works out to 19 cents per reload with the CCI primers I now have plus the TB and these cast bullets. I think this is the cheapest subsonic range load I have for any of my centerfire guns. 

A 2 lbs bottle at 3.3 grains produces around 4,200 rounds. I have enough for a while but given that a 2 lbs. bottle is $90 I think I'll keep my eye out for a resupply. That would bring the cost per round down to 18 cents. That said, if it continues that I can't get Trail Boss like it has for a while now, HS-6 can be substituted according to Hodgdon's website. A charge of 6.2 to 6.6 grains can push to under 950 fps. That's from a 7.7 inch barrel. I will experiment with tll.

Current Winner

The 2023 Cheap Plinking Load is the 105 cast bullets from Slippery Bullets. A 500 count box for $35 but are $9.50 to ship. This puts us at 9 cents per round. The 4000 count box is the same in shipping for some reason which puts us at a nice 7 cents per round. If I can find a good source of 2 pounds of Trail Boss and primers for the price I got recently around $7 for 100, we're looking at somewhere around 17 cents per round. That's the cheapest load I can currently make up that does what I want for a subsonic round for suppressor use. 

 .22 LR is still cheaper.

Other Bullet Options 

I also remembered that there's a company called Oregon Trail with their Laser-Cast bullets. I use their 200 gr lead for my 45 Colt rounds. They have a cast 125 gr that's $38 for a box of 500 but it's $20 for shipping so make sure you get a bunch. It is WAY cheaper than the Berry's. I'll be looking at buying a box of those real soon since I'm just about out of the Berry's. I think I can get this down to closer to $0.22 per round if I play my cards right.

Bayou Bullets seems to also have cheap options for cast, powder coated bullets. They have a 95 grain round nose that's $78 for a 1000. 3 grains of Trail Boss could make them potentially subsonic. That's also a tiny amount of powder making that load a very cheap option.  

Powder and Primer Considerations

Getting powder is tricky business these days. To ship both, there is an automatic $25 HAZMAT fee on top of the normal shipping and handling. It's best to find a local shop that can get powders and primers delivered to them and you go pick it up. The cost of both plus the extra fees is what is driving up the cost of reloading. 

In an update, I was able to pick up from HS-6 from an LGS without HAZMAT fee which is great! 

I'll keep updating this post as I tinker around with loads but so far, I'm becoming more and more happy with the original load of 5.5 grains of HS-6 under the 200 grain gas checked cast bullet for generic range use. I caved and ordered 200 more bullets for the 200 gr loads and I want to load up a few more to confirm accuracy and point of impact shift compared to my Remington HTP 158 gr 357 Mag factory loads.


The below links have provided huge amounts of information but are not the only things I've used. I read old articles writen by folks such as Elmer Keith and Skeeter Skelton themselves to peice information together. 


13 November 2023

Practical Velocity - What Velocity Do You Actually Need and How Does Barrel Length Apply?

 I don't know if the phrase Practical Velocity exists in the world of firearms but it should. I've heard of practical accuracy but I've never heard practical velocity but I think it's a concept that we should talk about. The idea is pretty straight forward. I would like to start with a question. Do I need the absolute ragged edge of velocity I can get? No. I need to push my bullet to a velocity that works for what I am doing. 

In combination with barrel length, what velocity does your cartridge push the bullet when it exits your gun's barrel and what is the furthest that bullet is effective? I like to quantify effective as the bullet expands reliably as hollow points and soft points will lose enough velocity at some distance and won't expand. Past that point, they are about as useful as an FMJ. So from the hunting perspective, what is the distance I could hunt a deer and get reliable expansion on my JSP? From the self defense perspective, what is the distance your HP bullet will expand. If you land a hit on a mass shooter, will that bullet still be effective?  Let's dive in.

Distance is relative in this discussion as bullets are dependent on velocity to expand. Different bullets and different calibers need different velocities. A 9mm Speer Gold Dot hollow point bullet might only work correctly from 1050 fps to 1450 fps at the muzzle. A Remington 158 gr SJHP might work from between 1100 fps to 1800 fps at the muzzle. Depending on the velocity you get from your firearm, you can look at the bullet's velocity window and see about how far your bullet will likely still be effective. Your 9mm carry pistol pops that bullet at 1200 fps from the muzzle. That velocity might only be good for 45 yards with the bullet moving at 1050 fps at that point but if you switched to a longer barrel, now you get 50 yards. If you switched to a 16 inch barrel rifle and get 1450 fps, you might get 100 yards by the time the bullet drops to 1050 fps. Does it matter? Are you carrying that rifle everywhere you go? Are you taking defensive shots at 100 yards? Sometimes, maximum velocity isn't needed or practical. I've heard the FBI say most engagements happen at 7 yards. I don't know if that's true but your little carry gun covers that nicely. No need for the PCC with a 16 inch barrel on your day to day. Then again, the world is a little more scary these days. Maybe take a packable 5.56 rifle with you. 

If you need more velocity, switch to a longer barrel. If you don't need the extra velocity you could reduce barrel length to make the gun more handy or your powder charge and reduce recoil. Maybe even move to a smaller cartridge. 

Let me give you an example.

My Marlin 1894 with a 16 inch barrel chronographed around 1800 fps. I suspect that the bullet is still good to expand as low as 1100 fps. With a ballistic coefficient of 0.145 per Remington, the factory ammunition should still be effective to around 190 yards from my rifle. That ballistic calculator says the drop with a 100 yard zero is around 14.6 inches but hits the 3 inch mark around 130 yards. If you tinker with zeroing, I would argue that 1800 fps is more than enough to make the .357 Magnum Marlin a 150 yard rifle with the perfect zero. If I only ever hunt with distances of 100 yards and less, then why have enough velocity for 190 yards or fuss with setting up the rifle for 150 yards with a weird zero. Well, there are a few reasons to keep what I have and a few reasons we could make changes. I could shorten the barrel from 16 inches to say 14 inches making the rifle a little more handy and maneuverable. I could keep the barrel length I have and enjoy the flatter trajectory.

If I have a reduced velocity of 1600 fps from a shorter barrel, the velocity still covers my needs for a 100 yard hunting rifle. The ballistic calculator says that a 100 yard zero at that velocity gets me out to 125 yards with no problems. I'm happy to take that shorter barrel. 

Sticking with the .357 Magnum theme, I calculated that if all I ever hunted was under 75 yards from a deer stand, I found that my 4 inch barrel revolver could almost cover that at around 1240 fps. If I have a 6 inch barrel, the bump in velocity should just be enough to get me past the 75 yards. Why carry an 8 pound rifle which I can carry a much lighter revolver? A Thompson Center Contender could play that same game nicely. 

The AR-15 could be another great example. Let's take a look at that platform.

Many people who hunt deer with an AR-15 have used longer barrels in the 20 and 24 inch length for around 3200 fps with a 55 gr JSP. If your deer stand or blind only gives you a sub 150 yards and if the 24 inch barrel can easily get you to 250 yards, then trim that barrel down to say 18 inches or 16 inches and save some weight and length. If you changed ammo to something that doesn't require higher velocity, such as a solid copper hollow point, then we could trim that down even more. A 16 inch or 14.5 inch would make for a good woods rifle if the ammunition can work in your situation. Know where you're hunting and what you're hunting with.

I've been looking over the Barnes VOR-TX 62 grain factory load for a while. Some people have had success out to 200 yards with those TSX bullets. I have a 14.5 inch barrel pin-and-weld rifle as my Primary Rifle and while I don't think I have the velocity for 200 yards, the numbers I recorded with my chronograph might put me easily to 150 yards and still expand nicely. It might actually go further. More data is needed. Simply, why have the longer and heavier rifle if I don't need it?

What if I do need the higher velocity? What if I'm out West hunting elk at ranges such as 500 yards? Well, then you will likely need that longer barrel and a bigger powder charge. There is a reason that cartridges such as 7mm Remington Magnum exist. Higher velocity can also give you a longer distance MPBR or maximum point blank range which helps with unknown distance hunting. Package out your rifle and ammunition to get that bullet to the target. 

In the above examples, the rifles have differing ammunition choices and barrel lengths. The velocities are wildly different and the bullet construction is different. By understanding the ammunition, we can package out rifles and pistols that are tailored to our needs. Do you need the 24 inch barrel in .270 Winchester? Can we run a 20 inch barrel instead? If you've been hunting with a .300 Winchester Magnum with a 26 inch barrel, can you change calibers and choose a shorter barrel to something like a 18 inch barrel .308 Win?  Can you reduce your powder charge and save a few grains if you handload?Your shoulder and pocket book might thank you later.

I don't know if I have articulated my idea of Practical Velocity to you. If not, hit up the comments section below. 

11 November 2023

Chiappa's Big Badger - I Unexpectedly Want One

 While I was researching for my article Categories of Commercial Sporting Rifles Destroyed by the NFA, I had been perusing Chiappa's website at the Little Badger TDX. I was thinking that I would like to have a Steven's Pocket Rifle of my own which the Little Badger would be a good stand in. I knew they had the TDX and the Deluxe. I knew they had the Double Badger but I just found out that they make the Big Badger. What a great name.

They offer two models currently. One is a shotgun in .410 with the other being the rifle cartridge, of all things, .350 Legend. Both rifles have a wire stock with a cheek riser. Both have an handguard with M-LOK slots on the 3- and 9-o'clock sides with picatinny on top and bottom. Both have 20 inch barrels. 

Externally, the only differences are that the .410 shotgun version has a front sight while the .350 Legend version has no sights but does have a threaded barrel. No mention of the thread pitch. I reached out to Chiappa to confirm. I still have some Winchester 180 grain .350 Legend from the WWSD Hunter 350 project and I still think 350 Legend would make for a great cast bullet, reloader's cartridge. Maybe this could be a good way to get into that with street prices being under $300. That recoil will likely be pretty stout at 5.5 lbs. 

I wonder if they would do a Deluxe version with a wood stock like the Little Badger Deluxe.

350 Legend Model (Image from Chiappa's Website)