My new AR-15: Part 3
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
Before we begin, I have some news about my buddy, Mac. Many of our long time readers know him from the work he’s done on this blog. Mac has been ill for several months and hasn’t been able to go to work for quite a while. He’s getting some medical tests done, but the prognosis doesn’t look real good according to his doctors. Mac and his wife, Elissa, can use your prayers.
Now, on to today’s report.
I was out at the range with my new AR-15 this past Tuesday. For those who aren’t familiar with what I’m doing, this series is about me acquiring a firearm I’m totally unfamiliar with and learning how to use it well. I have to go through the same confusing research on the internet and in magazines as a new airgunner who’s trying to make sense from the conflicting reports he reads about the airguns. Since I’m more familiar with airguns, I thought this unfamiliar firearm would be a way for me to identify with the new airgunner.
Today, the scope of this report expands to include a second rifle — my new Weihrauch HW52 in .22 Hornet. Here’s the situation. This is the fourth .22 Hornet I’ve owned, and my shooting buddy, Otho, has owned about a dozen Hornets in his lifetime. Until now, we’ve been unable to get any of these rifles to shoot. They just will not put even 5 rounds into a group smaller than about 1.5 inches at 100 yards.
Like the AR, I’ve researched the Hornet on the internet and what I found was a lot of people having the same problems we’ve been having. But mixed in with the complaints are a few writers who claim to shoot half-inch groups at the same 100 yards. These guys have given their load data, so it’s been possible (or almost possible — I’ll get to that in a moment) to follow in their footsteps. But in two years, I haven’t been able to get any of my rifles to give me a consistently good group.
You know that my standard for a group is 10 shots — not 5. That’s why I made the remark in yesterday’s report about talking with the guy at the range about group sizes. As I told him, anyone can get lucky and put three bullets close together. Sooner or later it will happen — even with the most inaccurate rifle! I’ve even seen people shoot 10 shots, then circle 3 that are close and call that a group! But to put 10 consecutive shots into a close group is an entirely different matter. A gun that can do that is a gun that can hit where it’s aimed.
So, I was on the range with my HW52 falling block .22 Hornet and a new batch of loads trying, yet again, to put 10 of them into a tight group. This time, however, I made a mistake. I forgot that I’d mounted a new scope on the rifle many weeks ago. After the first fowling shot at a different target, I shot three shots at the 100-yard target and wasn’t able to see the bullet holes. Well, the scope is only 10X, so I can barely see .22 bullet holes at 100 yards anyway. I thought they might have landed on the black lines where they would be impossible to see. But after 3 shots I remembered that the scope was new and I hadn’t boresighted the gun!
This was the day I tested my HW52 in .22 Hornet. I was looking for that elusive sub-inch group at 100 yards.
My spotting scope told the whole story. Not wanting to believe my eyes, I walked downrange to look at the target close up. Sure enough, not one bullet had hit the target.
So, a quick bull was placed at the 50-yard berm, and I boresighted the gun (single-shots are often so easy to boresight!). I proceeded to sight-in with factory ammo. Five shots later, I was close enough to shoot another group of factory ammo at 100 yards. Those five rounds landed in 1.25 inches — a good sign for what was about to happen. I was ready to shoot a real group. But I had only reloaded 10 rounds of the particular load I was interested in, and three had been fired already. So this would have to be a 7-shot group. Oh, well!
Long story short — I had a difficult time believing what happened next. Through the scope that can barely make out the bullet holes, it appeared there were just 2 holes on the target, and one of them was growing slightly larger with every shot. Was I really doing this with a .22 Hornet?
After the final shot I walked downrange again, and this time was rewarded with what I have been seeking since 2009 — a great group with a .22 Hornet. True, it’s only 7 shots instead of 10, but five of those shots have landed in a group measuring 0.296 inches. And all 7 shots made a 0.70-inch group. Compared to all that has gone before — this is real progress!
Want to know what I did that was different? All the research I’ve done has pointed to maximum loads of Lil Gun powder. Everyone says it’s the best for Hornets, but they all specify loads that are compressed. The heaviest load I’ve yet seen was 14 grains of powder — a load I cannot get into a case even when there is no bullet! I’ve tried loads up to 12.5 grains, which is about all the powder I can get into a case and still be able to seat the bullet. Lil Gun generates very low-pressure in a Hornet, making these heavy loads safe; but if you can’t even seat the bullet, it doesn’t make any difference.
This time, I tried going the other way. I used a load that is so light there was room in the case to seat the bullet without compressing the powder. I used 11.5 grains of Lil Gun powder that probably sent the 40-grain bullet downrange at 2,500 f.p.s. or so. But no problem because all the bullets seemed to go to the same place.
Finally, a decent group with a Hornet at 100 yards. There are only 7 bullets in this group, and 5 are in 0.296 inches. All 7 make a 0.70-inch group.
I’m not finished, because I need to return to the range with 10 more loaded rounds and shoot a complete group. But things do look promising. If I were a person who likes 5-shot groups, I’d be finished now, and guess which 5 holes I would pick? Do you think they’re representative of the accuracy of this load in this rifle? I don’t. This is a very good load, but those other two holes show a truer picture of what it can do.
I swear what I’m about to tell you is true. The only reason I even tried such a low load in this rifle is because of another experience I once had with a .177 Beeman C1 carbine. I couldn’t get it to group, so I held the gun as loosely as I could — just to see how bad it would get. That was the day I discovered the artillery hold. And now I will add this .22 Hornet experience to the pile. Heck, by the time I’m 90, I might actually know something!
The title of this report says it’s about my new AR-15, and it is. After finishing with the Hornet, I pulled out the black rifle and shot two groups of a promising load. Do you remember that tight group that I shot in the pouring rain last time?
This 10-shot group was fired during a pouring rainstorm. It measures 0.835 inches between centers.
I had 20 more .223 rounds loaded with the exact same load, so I fired 2 more groups this day. The wind was virtually still, so it was ideal for shooting. The groups are both good, but not quite as good as the one shot weeks ago.
Ten shots are in 1.340 inches, but 7 of them are in 0.380 inches. Read on to see what I think is happening.
Here is the second 100-yard group from the AR. The load is identical to the one that shot the first group. This time, the whole group measures 1.081 inches between centers, and 5 of those shots are in a group measuring 0.336 inches.
So, why are these two groups that were shot on a dead-calm dry day so much larger than the group that was shot in a downpour? I have some thoughts about that.
Thoughts about why my groups aren’t better
When I loaded these cartridges, I noticed that several of the primer pockets were very loose. So loose, in fact, that the primers fell out of two of them. But I continued to load them anyway. Want to know how to make a primer expand to fit an enlarged pocket? Just put more pressure on it. It will expand in diameter as you squash it down farther than it wants to go. Think that might have some affect on the group size? It sure will since the priming compound will be crushed and will ignite at a different rate.
And why were my primer pockets so loose? Didn’t I tell you that my reloads created lower pressure than standard factory ammunition? If you look back, you’ll see that I did tell you that. But I don’t know how many times these cases have been reloaded. You see, all my brass thus far has been stuff I picked up at the range! No way to know how many times it’s been reloaded — if any at all.
But the salient fact in that last paragraph is that I’m using range brass. None of the headstamps on my cartridges are the same — or if they are, it’s only by coincidence! It’s as if I were to build a race car with a junkyard motor and then expect to run it in NASCAR. Or, dump a tin of pellets in a sandbox and pick them back out to use in a 10-meter match! In other words, there are a whole raft of things I’m doing wrong with my reloads, and yet they still give me great results. What would happen if I did everything right?
Does this rifle shoot factory ammo?
At least one reader asked me if my AR could shoot factory ammo in the semiautomatic mode because I’ve been loading these cartridges to a length that prevents their cycling through the magazine. I could care less if the gun does or doesn’t cycle, but the question piqued my curiosity enough to put 10 rounds through the rifle just to see. All 10 cycled through the magazine and action perfectly in the semiauto mode, and they all landed in a 3-inch group at 100 yards. Garbage in, garbage out.
This is a very long report, but I wrote it for the new airgunner who feels confounded by all the technology, buzzwords and other stuff that doesn’t make any sense the first time around. If you read all the parts of this report, you’ll see that’s exactly how I felt when I got into ARs. And I hope that by watching me struggle around with this rifle, new airgunners will be encouraged that they’re not alone and that things can be worked out in time.
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