Reloading .22 rimfire cartridges: Part 2
by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier
This report covers:
- Baseline the test rifle
- The rifle
- The test
- Sight picture
- First target
- Sight adjustment
- Fine bead
- Center hold
- Third group with a fine bead
- Two misfires
- Discussion 1
- Casting bullets
- Discussion 2
- Cleaning cartridge cases
Today is the day I show you what’s been happening behind BB’s curtain. There is a lot to this subject and I am so grateful for something that’s new and different.
Baseline the test rifle
When I reload some cartridges I need to test them for both velocity and accuracy, so a baseline rifle whose accuracy is known is the best way to proceed. I also need to generate some empty shells that will fit in the test rifle when I shoot them again. A .22 long rifle case resizing die is available, but to save that expense I simply shot the cartridges I intend reloading in the same rifle I intend to shoot them in after they are reloaded. I could also have hand-tested each case that I picked up off the ground at some range would fit into the test rifle’s chamber, but that would give me different headstamps (cartridges from different manufacturers), and I wanted more control over the test. Besides — it gave me an excuse to shoot my rifle!
The test rifle is a single-shot Remington model 33. It’s a bolt-action rifle that has to be cocked separately by pulling back on the cocking knob after the bolt is closed on the cartridge. It’s called a “boy’s rifle” for the additional safety of having to be cocked separately. This one is a rough old beater I bought for $75 at a gun show and have since found it to be the most accurate sporting .22 that I own. Luck of the draw, I guess.
The test rifle is an old Remington 33 boy’s rifle.
I went to the AirForce Airguns indoor range, where I can shoot 25 yards in still air. The range is soundproofed, so nobody in the plant is disturbed. And the .22 long rifle cartridges I’m shooting only generate around 110 foot-pounds. Compare that to the 800+ foot pounds of the .50-caliber AirForce Texan big bore they normally shoot on this range!
I shot the rifle off a sandbag rest and I used CCI Standard Velocity .22 long rifle cartridges that have proven to be the best in this rifle. The targets were 10-meter air pistol targets that seem to work well when shooting with open sights at 25 yards.
I shot 5 shots at each bull. I’m not going for the kind of precision we see in an accurate air rifle at this range — just what the average shooter would do with his .22.
The Remington 33 rifle is not a target rifle. It’s a standard sporting rifle that might be used in a survival situation, which is one big reason why anyone would want to reload rimfire cartridges, I guess. I believe a rifle like this will give the best picture of how effective a reloaded .22 rimfire cartridge can be. And one additional thing — when we reload the cartridge we will not remove the dent where the firing pin struck the first time. A single shot that loads easily is best to use, since accurate placement of the reloaded cartridge rim is important! I will show you more on that in a little bit.
The rifle has a post and bead front sight. The normal method of sighting with that kind of front sight is to place the bead where the bullet is supposed to go, and also to center the bead in the rear notch. However, aiming that way is sloppy. You can easily be off by an inch or more at 25 yards because the bead covers several inches downrange.
This is a typical post and bead sight.
This is how a bead sight is typically positioned on the target.
I have always felt that a better sight picture is to hold the top of the bead at 6 o’clock on the bull and also level with the top of the rear sight.
This sight picture should give more precision.
The rifle was easy to control in the sandbag rest. That’s perfect for this test!
I shot the first target with a 6 o’clock hold on the bull, just as you see in the drawing above. The bullet hit at the top of the bull, and just outside. Five shots are in a group that measures 0.70-inches between centers at 25 yards. It’s an okay group, but not what we might see from a good precharged pneumatic at that distance. It’s very representative of what a typical .22 rimfire sporting rifle might do.
Five CCI 40-grain long rifle bullets landed in a 0.7-inch group at 25 yards. They are high on the target, despite a 6 o’clock hold.
The group was well-centered but the bullets were hitting high at 25 yards. I played with the rear sight to confirm it was set as low as it would go. Then I shot a second 5-shot group with the same 6 o’clock hold. This one landed in nearly the same place and was just as high. At 25 yards 5 shots made a group that measures 0.794-inches between centers.
Five CCI Standard Speed long rifle bullets landed in 0.794-inches at 25 yards.
It was obvious that the rear sight was adjusted as low as it would go. To lower the groups a little more I drew a fine bead sight picture. Let me illustrate.
This is a fine bead sight picture. It’s not Kentucky windage.
That sight picture did drop the group a little, but it did something else that was remarkable. It seemed to tighten the group! How tight? These five rounds are in 0.767-inches. I could see that this group was smaller than the second one with a 6 o’clock hold.
The group shot with a fine bead looked smaller to me. At 0.767-inches between centers it’s slightly smaller than the second group, but not as small as the first..
I felt it necessary to shoot a group with the bead held in the center of the bull — just like you see in one of the drawings above. I tried my very best and put 5 rounds into a 0.717-inch group. It’s way too high, but it negates what I said earlier about a center hold being less precise. It’s the second-smallest group of the four shown thus far.
When the front sight was held in the center of the black bull, the group climbed about one inch, and grouped very well. Five shots in 0.717-inches at 25 yards.
As I said, I still thought the fine bead was the right way to go, so the next target was shot with that sight picture. This time the shots all hit the top of the bull in a group that measures 0.467-inches between centers. Now, we are getting somewhere!
Shot with a fine bead, this group measures 0.467-inches between centers. It’s the smallest group of the test.
Third group with a fine bead
The rifle was doing so well and I wanted 30 cartridge cases to reload, so I shot one more group with a fine hold. This time I put 4 shots into 0.405-inches but shot number five dropped an inch below to open the group to 1.155-inches between centers. And there is more to say about that fifth shot, because I could tell that it wasn’t like the other four. In the first place, it did not fire the first time. That’s common with some rimfire ammo, with Remington being the most common in my experience. Secondly, that shot was much louder than all the other 29 shots when it did fire on the second try. In other words — something was noticeably different.
This time the last shot failed to fire on the first attempt and, when it did fire, it was much louder. Five shots in 1.155-inches at 25 yards with four in 0.405-inches.
This cartridge was struck by the firing pin yet it failed to fire the first time.
The second strike fired the cartridge. It was louder and the bullet hit in a different place on target than the other four. Sorry for the blur.
Of the 30 cartridges I fired in this test, two of them failed to fire the first time around. I didn’t mention the first one, because when it did fire (in the first group that was shot with a fine bead) it acted normally. That’s 2 misfires for 30 shots of factory ammunition. It will be interesting to see how that compares to reloaded ammunition.
As a note to myself, the rifle’s firing pin strikes the rim of the cartridge at 12 o’clock when the cartridge is in the chamber.
I believe the Remington model 33 rifle has proven itself to be an accurate rifle. It does seem that a fine bead is the way to sight the rifle.
I’ll use today’s results as a baseline for comparison when I reload the cartridges. Now that I had 30 empty cartridges to load, I needed to cast some lead bullets.
In Part One I showed the bullet mold that came with the reloading kit. It’s all aluminum with integral handles that are far too short to work. By the time the mold gets up to casting temperature, the handles will be 300-400 degrees F. My neighbor, Denny made wooden insulators for the handles that I then wrapped with electrician’s tape. I hoped I could cast about 30 good bullets of each type — the 38-grain round nose and the 25-grain pointed. Remember, for rimfire cartridges we need heeled bullets.
My neighbor, Denny, made these wooden mold handles to insulate the short handles during casting. I wrapped them with electrician’s tape.
Well, by the time the mold had cast 15 bullets of each size and was starting to cast good examples of the smaller bullet, the electrician’s tape had melted and the handles were falling off. I put on a leather glove and toughed it out as long as I could. But the results weren’t as good as I would like. The short pointed bullets did best and I selected 16 of them. The 38-grain round nosed bullets did poorly and I had to lower my minimum selection criteria to get just 5 that I’ll shoot for accuracy. I need to get better handles on this mold so I can cast for a longer time and get a larger selection of bullets to pick through.
I wasn’t very successful casting the lead bullets. The short pointed ones did better than the longer round-nosed ones. The mold needs better handles.
The bullet mold included in the kit is okay, however, unlike the claim the manufacturer makes, it is not the only mold available that casts the heeled bullets .22 rimfire cartridges need. But I bought it and will try to use it for awhile. The mold handles are too short and they are made of the same aluminum as the mold so they get too hot to use.
Online I’ve seen photos of the bullets others have cast with this kit and they are all rejects in my opinion. They have visible wrinkles and rounded edges that are unsatisfactory. Casting bullets is an art and before this is over I intend doing it right. It isn’t fair to test this procedure with substandard bullets. However, in the interest of learning more about how the process works, I will proceed with the small batch of bullets I’ve cast so far, But for the record these bullets are not up to my standards. If I can’t get this mold to work I will seek out a more suitable bullet mold.
Cleaning cartridge cases
The final preparatory step is to clean the rims of the empty cartridge cases. If these were centerfire cartridges we would push out the old primer and replace it with a new one, but since the priming compound is in the rim of the case, that’s what needs to be cleaned. There is a small cleaning tool in the kit, but I found it inadequate for the job. It’s too large and gets stuck inside the cartridge rim. I made a much better tool from a dental pick. Then it’s a matter of scraping out the old burnt priming residue to make room for the new.
This step is a subtle one. You are not mining coal. Most of the old priming compound was either vaporized or expelled in the explosion and only a thin layer of crust remains — or at least that’s what it looks like so far. I won’t know that I’ve done it right until I shoot the reloaded rounds, and we’re still a long way from that.
The case cleaning tool that came in the kit (top) is too large to work well. It gets jammed inside each case. The dental pick on which I bent a short hook gets up into the cartridge rims and cleans well.
That is the residue from 30 cleaned cartridge cases. There isn’t much!
It took about a minute to clean each case. That was once I had the right tools in hand and knew how to use them. So 30 cases took half an hour.
I’m just getting started. We’ll stay with these .22 long rifle rounds until I feel I’ve done my best with them with the commercial priming compound, then we’ll turn our attention to the alternative methods of reloading .22 rimfire cartridges — with homemade priming compounds and gunpowders.
After that I’ll look at reloading the .32 rimfire and .41 rimfire cartridges. I have done some research on these two larger cartridges and there are several surprises in store for you.