by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

This report covers:

• Tom is on the air this Sunday
• The gold is in there
• The question
• Best casting method
• What’s in it for me?
• Ballard breaks my heart
• Breech-seating
• Bottom line

Tom is on the air this Sunday
This Sunday from 12 to 1 p.m., Mountain Standard Time, I’ll be interviewed on America Armed and Free, a talk radio program on Liberty Watch Radio (AM 1030 Tuscon) out of Tuscon, Arizona. I’ve been doing this program several times a year for the past few years, and this Sunday the host, Charles Heller, asked me to talk about my two favorite blogs. They are about my favorite airgun (the Diana 27) and my The Invisible Airgunner blog report.

If you’re not in the broadcast area, stream it live on the internet. The show also accepts calls: 520-790-2040. Okay — on with today’s blog.

I’m going in a different direction today. For many of you, this will be the first time you’ve seen me do this, but old-timers like Kevin Lentz and Robert of Arcade have seen it many times before. I’m going to talk about the value of good books.

The gold is in there
In the past, we’ve had discussions about the great gun authors of the past. Men like Elmer Keith, Phil Sharpe, Julian Hatcher, Harvey Donaldson, John Dutcher, Bud Waite and Ned Roberts have written wonderful books about the shooting sports that every serious shooter should read. I already had a good library when this blog began; but through the recommendations of blog readers such as Kevin and Robert, I have added many important books to my library. In one of these, I recently found the answer to a question I’ve been asking for almost a decade.

The question
Can a lead bullet be breech-seated with an air gap ahead of a black powder cartridge? We know that one way to blow up a black powder gun is to leave an air gap between the powder and the bullet. Indeed, in another good book on the subject — The Complete Black Powder Handbook by Sam Fadala — the author experiments with air gaps between the powder and bullet and ruins several test barrels.

I certainly didn’t want to test this breech-seating approach with my beautiful 1886 Ballard rifle, so I asked many people if breech-seating was possible with black powder, but no one knew the answer.

Breech-seating is a way of overcoming the tight chamber and overly-large bore the Ballard has. But, because I didn’t know if this method would damage anything, I never breech-seated bullets in the Ballard when I was using black powder. I’ll return to this topic in a moment, but now I’m changing the subject.

The veteran readers remember when I got my 1886 Marlin Ballard. It’s a beautiful original black powder single-shot rifle that’s in 95+ percent condition.

Best casting method
A week ago, while reading Cast Bullets for the Black Powder Cartridge Rifle, which I recently bought, by Paul A. Matthews, I came across a section dealing with the rate at which bullets are cast. I was faced with casting some .25-caliber bullets to shoot in the Hatsan BT-65 QE that I’m testing, and I’ve never had much success with that particular bullet mold. The bullets are small and never seemed able to get the mold up to casting temperature until over 100 had been wasted. I won’t bore you with the details, but a couple paragraphs in this book told me what I was doing wrong and, by making changes, I was then able to cast perfect bullets.

After reading a book on the subject of casting bullets, I was able to change my method and produce good .25-caliber bullets for the first time.

Part of the problem was the heat of the melted lead, and part was the pace at which I was casting. Changing those 2 things got me perfect bullets after only about 6 wasted bullets had been cast to heat up the mold, and the bullets I got are the best ones ever from this mold.

What’s in it for me?
I know you’re not interested in casting bullets. So, what am I rambling on about today? Not bullet casting — that’s for sure.

Maybe you’re a guy who’s never been able to get his breakbarrel rifle to group until you read about and tried my artillery hold. Suddenly, your world of airgunning turned around. Your rifle is accurate, after all. All it took was a few instructions about how best to hold the rifle — instructions that seemed counter-intuitive when you read them, but which you discovered actually do work.

Or, maybe you own a Diana 52 sidelever that shoots well when you use the open sights; but when it’s scoped, it shoots all over the place. Then, you read where I say the Diana 52 is a notorious barrel drooper. Its barrel points down — away from the scope’s line of sight — forcing you to crank in almost all of the elevation adjustment the scope has. You reason this cannot be true because the 52’s barrel is fixed in the action. Surely, only breakbarrels can be droopers. Right?

But I come right out and say that the 52 IS a drooper. Despite having a fixed barrel, this sidelever rifle’s barrel often does point downward. Because of that, the scope will have to be adjusted very high in elevation to bring the point of impact back up to the point of aim at 20 yards. You look at your scope and, sure enough, the elevation is cranked up to 7/8 of its travel. Could it be that I knew what I was talking about when I said your rifle’s a drooper?

Just to find out, you try my fix, which is to place a thin shim under the back of the scope — between it and the rear ring. Lo and behold — your Diana 52 becomes the tackdriver everyone said it should be. Maybe that information was worth it? Maybe you will now buy a UTG anti-droop scope base (for rifles with T05 triggers, only) and maybe now your 52 will become your favorite airgun.

Perhaps, you’re the guy who buys pellets like cattle ranchers buy animal feed. Nothing but the cheapest for you! Then, you read where I tested bargain pellets — the very kind you buy — against premium pellets in the same airguns. Son of a gun if those more expensive pellets don’t do better!

If saving money is your primary goal, cut a slot in the top of your head and become a piggybank. If you want to shoot — do it right!

Ballard breaks my heart
That’s enough self-promotion. I make the same mistakes all of you do, which is where today’s blog topic comes from. For the past 5 years, my 1886 Ballard 38-55 single-shot rifle has been breaking my heart. It looks like a million dollars and shoots like — well, you be the judge. This rifle looks like something Annie Oakley might have owned, but it’s been frustrating me at every turn.

Five shots at 100 yards. Every group I have shot from my Ballard has been disappointing like this. Four shots are well under one inch (below the dime, and one shot opens the group. I’ve shot dozens of targets that look like this — both 5-shot and 10-shot  groups — and there’s always one bullet that fails to stay with the main group.

I finally discovered that the Ballard’s rifling twist rate is 1:20″, while most 38-55s are 1:18″ — so most bullets made for this caliber are too long to stabilize unless they’re driven very fast. That leaves me with two solutions. Either I load the cartridge with as much black powder as it will hold, or I shoot shorter bullets. And that brings us to the part about breech-seating.

Breech-seating means shoving a bullet into the rifling ahead of the end of the cartridge. There’s usually a 1/16-inch gap between the cartridge and the base of the breech-seated bullet. Because of that, the cartridge case can be filled to the brim with black powder. A 38-55 cartridge normally holds only about 50 grains of black powder — depending on how deep the bullet’s seated in the case. But when you seat the bullet in the breech, you can get 55 grains and more into a case! That will drive the 250-grain bullet as fast as black powder will push it from this rifle, and that may stabilize the longer bullets I currently use.

I recently acquired a Schuetzen rifle in 32-40 caliber, and it came with a bullet-seater. I haven’t been to the range with it yet; but if it does as good as I expect it to, which means 10 bullets in less than 1 inch at 100 yards and 2-1/4 inches at 200 yards, then I’m going to try breech-seating bullets in the Ballard. I won’t alter the Ballard by installing a breech-seating pin (to hold the seating tool) on the receiver, but I think I’ve figured out a way to breech-seat without altering the rifle.

breech seater
This breech-seating tool came with a Schuetzen rifle I recently acquired. It’s a lever to push a lead bullet into the bore.

Schuetzen with breech seater
The breech seater pushes the bullet into the rifling so the lead isn’t damaged. It’s anchored by a pin that sticks out of the left side of the breech.

If I do breech-seat bullets in the Ballard, perhaps I can use the several molds I already have instead of needing to buy another one for shorter bullets. But — will I blow up the gun?

The answer came in a 64-year-old book written by Ned Roberts of 257 Roberts fame. It’s called The Schuetzen Rifle and was first published in 1951, 3 years after Roberts’ death. It’s really just a compilation of Roberts’ magazine articles and not a very good book on the title subject because it has very little to do with Schuetzen rifles. It’s mostly Roberts’ memories of various black powder rifles he owned over the span of his life. But in one place, he answered my question.

He states that he did breech-seat lead bullets in a 38-50 Remington Rolling Block. He got 55 grains of black powder into the case and seated the bullet 1/16″ ahead of the case, so there definitely was a gap between the cartridge and the bullet. This is the first time I’ve seen breech-seating used with black powder in writing, and it puts my mind at ease about doing it.

Bottom line
The point of today’s report is that books are often the best place to find those arcane, yet vital pieces of information you need to enjoy your sport to the maximum. Because of that, I’ve made a decision.

I have been working on a general book about airguns for almost 20 years, but it has been on the back burner for much of that time. The problem is that the topic is too large to tackle in a single book. But these small books I mentioned today, the one about cast bullets for black powder cartridges and the Roberts’ book about Schuetzens, have inspired me to break the large subject into smaller topics that are more manageble. I’m working on the first one now.

I realize that a small book that gets right to the point and only deals with one topic will be very valuable to someone who needs the specific information — someone new to airgunning, for example. Instead of a lexicon of knowledge, I can package each topic into smaller books that are more concise. I’ve already finished the first chapter, so I know it can be done.

I get questions every week that require a lot of my research in the blogs to find all the answers. It would be so nice to be able to point to a  book that covers everything.