Reloading .22 rimfire cartridges: Part 8

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

fired cartridge rims
Some reloaded cartridges had to be fired a second time.

Part 1 Reloading .22 rimfire cartridges
Part 2 Reloading .22 rimfire cartridges
Part 3 Bore size versus performance
Part 4 Reloading .22 rimfire cartridges
Part 5 Reloading .22 rimfire cartridges
Part 6 Reloading .22 rimfire cartridges
Part 7 Reloading .22 rimfire cartridges

This report covers:

  • Priming went slow
  • Toy caps are sensitive
  • Not loud but hot!
  • Wait
  • Loading
  • The 24 cartridges for the test
  • Pyrodex
  • The test
  • Sharpshooter commercial priming compound
  • Cap priming powder
  • Discussion
  • Summary

This is the 8th report on reloading rimfire cartridges. I learned a lot today and so will you. If this study is of any interest to you, today will be revealing.

Priming went slow

Packing the priming compound into the rims of the cartridges takes a long time. It took me about 30 minutes to pack the Sharpshooter priming compound into the rims of 12 cartridges that I needed for today’s test. It took another four hours to finish the toy cap priming compound. Let me explain why.

Toy caps are sensitive

I had to load 12 cartridges with each type of priming compound for the test. Each cartridge that is primed with toy cap powder gets the powder from 6 ring caps, That’s 72 caps that have to be stripped of their compound that is in the form of a hard cake. I proceeded as carefully as I knew how and I still set off 5 caps, getting the 72 I needed. After the cake of explosive is out of the cap it has to be crushed and ground into powder. Try doing that with cap powder without setting it off!

Suffice to say, the work with the caps went very slowly. My neighbor, Denny, came over to watch and I told him I had already unintentionally exploded 4 caps. He asked me to do one intentionally so he could see. I told him no way, but just wait. Sure enough, in about 5 minutes another one exploded.

Not loud but hot!

When the caps explode they don’t make a loud noise. There is nothing restraining them, so they just flash. And that flash is hot! I learned that last time and now I keep my fingers as far as possible from the cap I’m working on.

After it is turned into a powder the priming powder has to be put into a cartridge, wet with one drop of acetone, wait at least 5 minutes and then pack the sludge into the cartridge rim. It goes the same for the commercial Sharpshooter priming powder, but since that stuff has not exploded on me yet, I move a little faster.

Wait

After the priming powder is inside the rims the cartridges have to sit overnight to dry. So I worked on this report on Friday and also on Saturday.

Loading

I used two gunpowders for this test. I used 0.8-grains of Unique, a smokeless powder recommended by Sharpshooter, the company who sold me the loading tools. And I used Pyrodex — a replica black powder that they also recommend. With that powder I filled the case.

Unique
Not much Unique was used.

Pyrodex
The cartridges were filled with black powder substitute Pyrodex.

The 24 cartridges for the test

I’m testing two different bullets, two different powders and two different priming compounds. That’s eight combinations of cartridges I loaded for this test. I loaded three of each type and here they are.

Sharpshooter priming, 38-grain bullet, Unique smokeless powder
Sharpshooter priming, 25-grain bullet, Unique smokeless powder
Cap priming, 38-grain bullet, Unique smokeless powder
Cap priming, 25-grain bullet, Unique smokeless powder

Sharpshooter priming, 38-grain bullet, Pyrodex replica black powder
Sharpshooter priming, 25-grain bullet, Pyrodex replica black powder
Cap priming, 38-grain bullet, Pyrodex replica black powder
Cap priming, 25-grain bullet, Pyrodex replica black powder

Those are the 24 cartridges I loaded. There were also other problems I encountered while loading the gunpowder and seating the bullets that I will address.

Pyrodex

Black powder should be loaded until the case is full, with no space in the cartridge when the bullet is seated. It took the entire 12 cartridges for me to learn that three of the small scoops of Pyrodex was the perfect amount to use.

I also had some difficulty crimping the cartridges that had Pyrodex in them. I suppose the powder was pushing against the base of the bullet as it should and that was making the bullet stand proud. Toward the end of the reloading I noted that several of the 38-grain bullets loaded very hard into the cartridge case and I had little hope for them. 

The test

I attempted to shoot all the cartridges through the chronograph for velocity. I shot all the cartridges loaded with Unique first because it is smokeless. I thought Pyrodex would fill the room with dirty smoke and might set off my smoke alarm.

Sharpshooter commercial priming compound

I say I attempted to shoot all the cartridges. None of the 12 that were loaded with the Sharpshooter priming powder went off. Yes, the two blanks that I loaded and fired in Part 7 both did fire but I noted at the time that one of them sounded weak. I didn’t say that in the report but the video I filmed shows it. I guess I don’t yet know how to load this commercial priming powder into the rims of cartridges.

Cap priming powder

The cartridges primed with priming powder extracted from toy caps were a different story. Two of those cartridges refused to chamber in the rifle, but the other 10 chambered with differing levels of success. The two that wouldn’t go in were a cartridge with a 25-grain bullet and one with a 38-grain bullet.

Of the 10 cartridges primed with cap powder that did chamber, 6 of them fired. That’s a 60 percent success rate. Here is what happened.

Bullet…….Powder…….Vel.
38 gn..……Unique…….621
25 gn..……Unique…….805 second try
25 gn..……Unique…….630

Bullet…….Powder…….Vel.
38 gn..……Pyrodex…….679
25 gn..……Pyrodex…….739 second try
25 gn..……Pyrodex…….748

The two notes about the second try means that the cartridge failed to fire the first time I attempted to fire it. So I removed the cartridge and rotated it to a fresh location on its rim, Of all the cartridges I tried to fire, each that would chamber got at least two attempts, unless it fired the first time.

Discussion

There isn’t a lot of data, but I do have some solid conclusions. First, cap powder is more reliable for me at present, so I will proceed with it, alone. I will not give up on the Sharpshooter commercial priming powder, but I need to conduct some more tests to learn what I’m doing wrong.

I have an idea of how to modify the priming powder packing tool to push the wet sludge into the cartridge rim more effectively. I will grind the end of the tool to make a flat paddle like a long tiny screwdriver blade.

Next, I need to pay more attention when loading 38-grain bullets and Pyrodex. I think the three small scoops of powder that I learned at the end of today’s loading is the place to begin next  time.

I thought Pyrodex was going to leave clouds of smoke in my office, but that never happened. The smell of the burned powder did linger a long time, but there was no real smoke. The rifle did have to be cleaned afterward because Pyrodex is corrosive, and so are toy caps. So cleaning is a must.

I did note that the two 25-grain bullets that were shot with Pyrodex went out at a consistent velocity. That, I like a lot! I think that Pyrodex is a good powder for this test. Unique I’m not as sure of. The wide variance in velocity between the two 25-grain bullets that fired gives me some concern. It’s probably a difference in crimp pressure that black powder is less sensitive to.

Summary

This test is progressing more slowly than I envisioned at the start. I see no need to rush it, either. I want to get consistent ignition and the method of priming down (i.e. a higher percentage of cartridges firing) before I progress to an accuracy test.


Reloading .22 rimfire cartridges: Part 4

by Tom Gaylord

Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Part 1 Reloading .22 rimfire cartridges
Part 2 Reloading .22 rimfire cartridges
Part 3 Bore size versus performance

This report covers:

  • Mix and apply the priming compound
  • What do you need?
  • Acetone
  • Priming powders
  • Mix the powders
  • Think small
  • Be safe!
  • Prime the cases
  • The purpose of the acetone
  • How many cartridges?
  • What I did
  • Summary

Okay guys — today is THE DAY! This is the day when all the commenting on whether or not reloading rimfire cartridges is worth it, whether it’s possible, whether it is safe and whether I can actually do it ends. No more talk. Time to do! As Jedi Master Yoda taught us, there is no try.

Mix and apply the priming compound

Today I will mix a batch of priming powder and put it into the rims of the .22 long rifle cartridges that I cleaned in Part 2. I added Part 3, Bore size versus performance, because it bears directly on what I’m doing, though it will take me some time to make the case for that.

What do you need?

I showed you both the tools for reloading the cartridge cases and the priming powders in Part 1 of this report. Now I’m going to mix those 4 powders and prime my cases. I’ll also show you some other things that now come into play

Acetone

Once the priming powder is dumped into each case, a drop of either acetone or rubbing alcohol is dropped in on top of it. That softens the mixture and allows you to pack it into the rim of the case manually. I used acetone, because it evaporates faster. In the kit of reloading tools there is a small glass bottle with a glass eye dropper to use with the acetone.  My first job was to fill that bottle.

Acetone
Put the acetone into the glass bottle to use as you prime the cases.

Priming powders

The PrimeAll kit of priming powders comes with four bags of different powders. They are labeled, though you aren’t told what they are. There are the components for approximately 2,000 cartridges in this 20-dollar batch of powders.

four powders
The four powders that make up the priming compound.

Mix the powders

In both the kit of reloading tools and also the PrimaAll powders there is a powder measure with two different scoops. One side is large and marked L for large and the other side is S for small. 

The instructions for mixing the powders say to mix them in a plastic container and to avoid metal. But in the reloading tools kit the instructions say you can also use a glass container to mix the powders. I found a shot glass perfect for the job!

shot glass
There is my shot glass for mixing the powders, plus the white powder scoop at the lower right. The metal rod above the powder scoop is the rim packing tool. You already saw it when I cleaned the case rims in Part 2, but today I’ll use the smaller end to pack priming mixture into the rims.

Think small

The powder measure is wee-teeny, which is the scientific term for itty-bitty. It is SMALL! You scoop one full large scoop of the blackish powder in bag L and two large scoops from bag L2. Then scoop one small scoop from bag s and one scoop from bag S. All the scoops go into the shot glass. When I say fill the scoops I mean level with their tops.

The powder in Bag L2 has clumps in it and you must knead it to get them out before you scoop that powder out. There will still be small clumps after that powder is put into the shot glass, and you’ll deal with them as you mix the powders.

powder in glass
The first large scoop of powder L has been dropped into the shot glass.

Now, pardon me for not showing you each powder as it was dropped into the shot glass. I was concentrating on doing everything right at the time, because these powders become much more sensitive when they are mixed. But I followed the instructions exactly as I described above — one full large scoop of powder L, two full large scoops of powder L2, and one full small scoop each of powders s and S. This is where I noticed the small clumps of powder L2.

Be safe!

I used the powder scoop as the mixing stick. You are mixing powders that explode when crushed. If you watch the short film from SharpShooter about mixing the powders, he takes a very small scoop of mixed powder and whacks it with a hammer to show what happens.

The object of mixing the powder is to get a uniform gray powder. It will have white specs in it. I held the mouth of the shot glass pointed away from my face as I mixed so if the powder should detonate, the blast would be away from my face. My glasses are a special safety glass that I paid extra for, and if yours aren’t, then wear either shop or shooting safety glasses while doing this.

Because the shot glass is clear I could see the powders as I mixed them and carefully crushed the small clumps of L2 powder. Finally, after several minutes of mixing I got a reasonably uniform gray powder mixture.

powder mixed
Here the four powders are almost completely mixed. There are still a couple small clumps, like the one the arrow points to, in the mix, but I will grind them out CAREFULLY as I finish. This is not a job for a mortar and pestle!

Prime the cases

Once the priming powder is ready it’s time to prime the cases. For that you need the small scoop and a tiny white funnel that fits inside a .22 long rifle case.

ready to prime
Now we have all the tools we need to prime the cases. There is the powder funnel, the acetone, the powder packer tool, the powder scoop and of course the cases.

funnel in
The funnel is in the cartridge case and ready for the priming powder to be dumped in.

powder dump
When the small scoop is a third filled with priming powder, it is dumped into the funnel.

The purpose of the acetone

The acetone makes the priming compound easier to spread and pack into the rim. It also activates the hardener in the priming powder mixture. The directions say to wait 5 minutes after priming each case but the film says that’s only for humid places. Where I am in Texas it is dry and the priming powder dried almost instantly, so there was no waiting. It took me about a minute to pour in the powder, drop one drop of acetone and use the packing tool to pack the powder into the rim. We will have to wait until I can shoot them to know whether I did it right.

acetone drop
A drop of acetone liquifies then immediately hardens the priming compound.

hardened priming compound
I scraped these hardened priming compound chunks from the inside wall of the first case. That’s the small powder scoop above, for scale. This is how I know that the acetone dries the priming compound almost immediately. After taking this picture I carefully put this compound back into the first case, where it will be exploded when that cartridge fires.

How many cartridges?

How many cartridges can be primed from one mixture of priming powder? I got 18 cases primed this first time around. I may have used too much priming powder in some of the first cases, but right now I don’t know that for sure.

I wouldn’t mix a second batch of priming powder before the first batch was used up. Remember, this is an explosive that goes off from percussion!

I also wouldn’t try to mix a partial batch. Those scoops are too small to allow for guesstimation beyond what I’ve already discussed.

Is it safe to store the mixed priming powder? I wouldn’t do it. The separate powders are the safest way to store this stuff. Plan your work from that. I have given you the count of cases that the first batch filled for me. If you want more, do the whole thing over again.

What I did

Like I said, I loaded 18 cases with the first batch of priming compound. But that wasn’t enough for my first test, so I mixed a second batch and loaded 10 more. In these I put about twice the priming compound, because I wanted to use it all up in the 30 empty cartridges I had prepared. I got a total of 28 — 18 from the first batch and 10 from the second. I didn’t want to throw any priming compound away!

But I will load the second batch of cases separately and chronograph them separately. I will also watch the reliability rate (cartridges that fire on the first strike, etc.). This will tell me a little more about how this all works. I may even load a couple cartridges with no powder and just a 25-grain bullet, in an attempt to make a CB cap. Ain’t this fun?

Summary

This was an interesting day. Of course I haven’t completely loaded the cartridges. I have to let the priming compound dry before I load the cartridges. Complete loading happens next time. Then we test. I am excited!

There are probably going to a great many tests as I learn this process and refine it. And remember, a .41 rimfire short and a .32 rimfire short cartridge are also coming. Oh, happy days!


Bore size versus performance

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Part 1 Reloading .22 rimfire cartridges
Part 2 Reloading .22 rimfire cartridges

History of airguns

This report covers:

  • All started here
  • Bitten!
  • Problem
  • Solution
  • Bottom line
  • Airguns?
  • By the way
  • Summary

If you are a regular reader of this blog you know that I am exploring the reloading of .22 rimfire cartridges. Researching that endeavor has opened my eyes to a world of reloading that I didn’t know existed. Not only are people reloading .22 rimfire cartridges, they are doing it for most other rimfire calibers. Today will be an airgun-related discussion about bore size that started as research for reloading the .41 rimfire short case.

All started here

It all began when I posted the photo of the Remington double derringer in Part 1 of the reloading series. That image caught my attention and started me on a journey to see where this goes.

reloading Remington derringer
When I first posted this picture I said your grandfather’s .41-rimfire derringer is a good reason to reload rimfire.

As I did my research I discovered two new books that seemed to offer a lot of valuable information. The first is titled The 41 Short Rim-Fire and subtitled Deadliest Round in the West. It’s by Brendan Michael Murphy and was self-published in 2017. My topic today came from this book.

After ordering that book I realized that people were not just reloading .41 rimfire shorts, they had to be shooting them! And, of all the guns that shoot them, none is more universally recognized than the Remington double derringer! Was there a book about that gun, I wondered? Yes, there was. In 2008 Graphic Publishers put out Dr. William H. Elliot’s Remington Double Deringer. This book has four authors — Douglas S. Drummond, Rudolph H. Johnson, MD, Elias J. Williams, Jr. and James W. Barnard. I ordered that one, too.

Incidentally, the spelling of Deringer is correct for the man, Henry Deringer, as well as for the guns he created. The spelling derringer is the colloquial term that has entered the English language for a short pistol. Either spelling is correct.

Bitten!

I was bitten! Not only did I want to know what it was like to shoot a .41 rimfire short — I wanted to know what it was like to shoot one in a Remington double derringer! But before I took the plunge, I read both books and gained a lot of knowledge about the firearm and about the cartridge. Therein lies my introduction to today’s report.

The first book was written by an author who just wanted to set the record straight. I can identify with that. For years writers have written that the .41 rimfire short is a weak and inaccurate round. It propels a 135-grain lead bullet out the spout at 375 to 450 f.p.s. — hardly a good defense weapon. Or so the writers said. But author Murphy wanted to know more. He wanted to know why the round was so weak, when his research told him it should have been far more powerful.

In his collection of Remington derringers Murphy discovered that the earliest ones (their entire production was from about 1867-1935 and the early ones were made 1868-1888) were obviously made for black powder because that was all that was around. Remington continued making the gun more or less in the same way for those black powder cartridges, right up to the end of the 19th century (1898, or so). By that time semi-smokeless gunpowder had been invented and by the start of the 20th century smokeless powder was on the market. Black powder cartridges were still on the market and would be for several more decades but smokeless powder was the wave of the future.

Problem

That caused a problem for Remington. Smokeless powder creates more pressure than black powder when both are loaded correctly. Yes, black powder can blow up a gun, but that’s when it is not loaded properly. Remington wanted to continue making their double derringer, but they knew that cartridge makers would soon be loading them with smokeless powder. How do you keep from blowing up the older guns that have been around for almost 40 years when smokeless cartridges are used?

Solution

Brendan Murphy discovered that Remington did it by making the bore of the newer derringers smaller — 0.399-inches as compared to 0.405 to 0.407-inches for the older pistols. He slugged the bores of examples of Remington double derringers in his own collection to prove that. He also measured the bullets in both old black powder cartridges and in newer smokeless rounds. Sure enough, they followed suit. Shoot a smokeless round in an older derringer and there is so much space around the smaller bullet that the pressure never builds. Shoot a black powder round in a newer derringer and — well, the pure lead bullet gets mangled on the sides but the pressure doesn’t rise above where it normally should. Either way the shooter is protected.

And that is why writers have said all that they did about this old cartridge. So Brendan started experimenting. He pulled a bullet from a recent rimfire cartridge and it measured 0.401-inches in diameter. That will hardly work in a bore of 0.405 to 0.407-inches! But it’s perfect for a more modern 0.399-inch bore.

Bottom line

I’ll cut to the chase to get us to where we need to be. Using the more modern undersized bullets in an older (circa 1868 to 1888) derringer, Murphy got velocities of 365 to 453 f.p.s. — about what the gun writers have claimed. At an average velocity of 421 f.p.s. the 130-grain bullet produces 51.18 foot-pounds of energy (less weight for the bullet comes from the smaller diameter). That’s less energy than a .22 short!

However, when he reloaded a couple cases with a modern compressed load of 13 grains of a mixture of FFFG and FFFFG black powder and a bullet that measured 0.406-inches in diameter, the velocity was 586 to 611 f.p.s — for the same cartridge in the same pistol! At an average 601 f.p.s. for the 135-grain bullet (heavier because of a larger diameter) 108 foot-pounds were produced. That’s about equivalent to a standard speed .22 long rifle cartridge.

Airguns?

What has any of this to do with airguns? A couple things, actually, and you need to know your airguns to understand. First of all — airguns are still shooting black powder. What I mean by that is airguns still use air. We breathe the same air that Jesus, Charlemagne and Abraham Lincoln breathed. And, since our guns run on that air, nothing has changed in the power department. More air means more velocity for a given projectile — just as it does for black powder. A longer barrel means more velocity for pneumatic airguns (multi-pump and precharged) just as it does for black powder firearms.

And bullet size matters. Only we don’t shoot bullets, except for big bores and those smallbore guns that shoot solid slugs. We shoot diabolo pellets. What’s different about them is their flared skirt that conforms to the bore of an airgun when the shot is fired. It does so at pressures that are far below those of black powder cartridges — even little ones like the .41-caliber short. A precharged pneumatic might present air pressure of just 800-1,000 psi to the base of a pellet, while a .41 rimfire short might present 8,000-10,000 psi to the base of its bullet. I know I’m just guessing at those black powder numbers, but I do know that black powder pressure peaks around 12,000 and 15,000 psi in rifles with very long barrels. At that pressure level it would really be stated as copper units of pressure or CUP, due to the test device used to obtain them.

The point is, the base of a pellet has to flare easily, where the base of a lead bullet has more pressure to squash it out to fill the bore. And this is why, as black powder shooters, we know the importance of softer lead bullets. But I digress.

As airgunners, we understand the importance of pellet skirts, but what about pellet heads? Remember those gun writers who said the .41 rimfire short was underpowered? They also said it was inaccurate — for the same reason — because the bullet didn’t fit the bore. Not that any of them bothered to check — or even to understand!

But the readers of this blog do understand and they understand quite well. We even have a reader, Jerry Cupples, who makes the PelletGage that allows us to accurately measure the size of our pellet heads. And I have a very special PelletGage that Jerry once made. It goes to the thousandth of a millimeter instead of the hundredth. I don’t care whether the holes are exactly the sizes that are marked. All I want is pellets with heads of a certain diameter that I can relate to a general size range like, “Larger than 4.51 mm.”

PelletGage
This is the PelletGage I used.

I sorted .177-caliber JSB Exact Heavy pellets for a test in Cloud9’s new RAW field target rifle. I wanted them all to be the same size and according to the PelletGage they have heads larger than 4.510 mm and smaller than 4.515 mm.

Out of 36 pellets gaged, 20 were of a uniform size of 4.515mm and 16 had heads of a different size. Of those 16, 14 were smaller than the 20 I accepted and 2 were larger. This tells us that JSB pellets are very uniform in size and after we shoot them we will know how they relate to the RAW rifle, in the accuracy department.

accepted JSB pellets
Twenty of 36 JSB pellets were uniformly the same size.

rejected JSB pellets
Sixteen of the 36 pellets gaged were a different size. Fourteen were smaller and two were larger.

By the way

Oh, and by the way, I did get a Remington double derringer to use in the fuiture of the rimfire reloading report. It was originally shipped from Remington in November of 1923, so it had to have been made earlier than that — but not much. From the two books I mentioned earlier I know it has a 0.399- to 0.401-inch bore, and I can concentrate on getting a mold for a bullet that size, once I slug the barrels to confirm it.

Remington double derringer
My new/old Remington double derringer.

My new/old Remington derringer was re-blued at some point, so a lot of collector value was taken away. But it’s solid, it locks up well and it hasn’t got any of the fatal flaws of this firearm, such as cracked barrel hinges.

Remington derringer bores
This pistol was either not shot very much or it was well taken care of. Finding crisp bores like this is not common.

Summary

Some people pay no attention to what’s going on. That’s why Remington had to downsize the bores on their derringers — to keep people safe when the ammunition changed. With the information gathered in the two books mentioned above I’m going to leapfrog ahead of the pack in my quest to reload for the .41 rimfire cartridge.


Reloading .22 rimfire cartridges: Part 1

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

This report covers:

  • Why this blog?
  • Quick history
  • Today
  • The kit
  • Bullet mold
  • .22 rimfire pressure
  • The instructions
  • The priming compound
  • That’s all
  • Why you need this
  • What about the dent left by the firing pin?
  • Sizing the empty cartridge case
  • How to test?
  • Summary

I hope you have seen at least the first movie in the 3-part Karate Kid video series, because in this report you are going to be challenged by me. As I try to strike you with various karate blows, you will defend yourself from muscle memory gained while sanding the deck, waxing the cars and painting the fence! Hajime!

Why this blog?

Several months ago in a comment to a cartridge reloading report, reader Yogi asked what about reloading rimfire cartridges. As I have done for the 26 years I’ve been writing about airguns, I puffed up my chest and was about to bellow, “Rimfire cartridges cannot be reloaded.” However, in an uncharacteristic move, I went online, just to be sure. Lo and behold, not only can rimfire cartridges be reloaded, people have been doing so almost from the inception of the first .22-caliber rimfire cartridge by Smith & Wesson in 1856.

So why this series for airgunners? Because, you guys have learned so much from shooting airguns that you will see and understand this material better than most firearm shooters. Plus you’re going to see some parallels to airgunning as the series unfolds.

Quick history

I learned in my research that the Inuit hunters were avid .22 rimfire cartridge reloaders.  When I was a boy in the early 1950s, the Inuit hunters used a lot of .22 long cartridges. In fact my buddy Mac told me that the .22 long cartridge was partially kept alive to supply subsistence hunters like the Inuit. And they do reload their .22 cartridges. Of course they own centerfire rifles today, but the .22 rimfire always goes along on a trip. Countless polar bears have been taken with a shot behind the ear, not to mention seals, caribou and other wildlife.

During the Great Depression, rimfire reloading was quite popular. If you wanted to shoot, you reloaded. The airguns of the day weren’t as capable as they are today, which made the rimfire king of the field.

In a future report I will discuss how people reload rimfire cartridges without any of what you are about to see today, but I wanted you to know that this is a practice that’s more than a century old and it’s still flourishing today.

Today

Today I’m going to show you a .22 rimfire reloading kit that has all the tools and instructions for reloading rimfire cartridges. Most importantly, it has a bullet mold for two different weights of heeled .22 rimfire bullets. Heeled bullets are best for shooting in rimfire cartridges.

This tool set also comes in .22 Magnum. It’s different because the .22 Magnum cartridge uses a .224-inch bullet, while the .22 short, long and long rifle cartridges use a .223-inch bullet. As airgunners you understand better than most how important that thousandth of an inch can be!

I will also show you a 4-part powder set that gives you enough priming powder for about 2,000 cartridges. It costs $20, so you are buying four 500-round bricks of .22 ammo for less than the cost of one brick! Of course there is the bullet, which we will cast, so it’s free. There is also about one grain of gunpowder. So you get 7,000 cartridges from a one-pound can of gunpowder that costs another $25. That adds four-tenths of a cent to the cost of each cartridge.

Based on these numbers a brick of 500 reloaded .22 cartridges will cost you about $5.25. Do away with the priming powder and the cost for a brick is 25 cents. Do away with the gunpowder and the cartridges are free!

Of course the problem these days is — you can’t find bricks of .22 rimfire or any gunpowder in the United States because of the hoarders, but in this report we are talking about the way around the .22 rimfire cartridge problem through reloading. I won’t get into the manufacture of gunpowder, but understand that it is possible.

The kit

reloading tools blister pack
The kit of tools for reloading rimfire cartridges is very complete. Everything on the list on the right of the card in this set is in this blister pack.

reloading tools out
Here are the tools out of the blister pack.

Bullet mold

Sharpshooter, the company that sells the kit of tools, says their mold is the only one on the market for a heeled .22-caliber bullet. A heeled bullet has a smaller diameter at the base of the bullet, to fit inside the cartridge case. The part of the bullet outside the case is the diameter of the bore. A .22 rimfire chamber is cut so the bullet enters the rifling immediately upon leaving the cartridge case. There is no “jump” into the rifling the way there is in a revolver and even in many centerfire rifles. This design cooperates with the smaller heel at the bullet’s base, to allow the base to obturate and seal the bore. See what your airgunning knowledge has taught you? I guarantee you, not many firearms shooters other than reloaders and black powder shooters understand the importance of obturation.

.22 rimfire pressure

SAAMI specifies that the pressure of a .22 rimfire cartridge never goes above 25,000 psi, but they probably never come close to that. I say probably because there is no reloading data for the cartridge, since very few people ever do it. The cartridge manufacturers certainly aren’t talking!

Given the softness of the bullet I estimate a .22 long rifle cartridge reaches a pressure of around 12,000 psi, which is .38 Special territory. That’s enough to obturate the base of a soft lead heeled bullet.

The bullet mold that comes in the kit has two different size bullets. The larger one is a 38-grain round-nose solid for your powerful cartridges and the smaller one is a 25-grain pointed solid for your weaker rounds and your CB caps (cartridges made with priming compound alone).

reloading bullet mold
The 38-grain solid bullet is on the right. The 25-grain bullet is in the center and on the left is the crimping die that crimps the end of the case around the bullet. This design is quite clever and both bullets are heeled. 

I will have more to say more about the mold after I cast some bullets with it. I know that a .22-caliber bullet mold is hard to get up to casting temperature, so I’ll be looking at that. And the sprue plate on this mold has no positive stop, so aligning it with the mold cavities is an eyeball exercise. Also those metal handles look like they will get hot!

The instructions

The instructions that come with this kit are the most important part. Not only do they tell you how to use all the parts of the kit, they also tell you how to make priming compound out of commonly available items like toy caps and strike-anywhere matches. Additionally they tell you how to make your own gunpowder from things like matches that don’t strike anywhere.

reloading instructions
This instruction sheet unfolds again to be twice this size, with information and pictures on the back.

The priming compound

The same company that sells the tools also sells priming compound in 4 powders that you mix together. It should be obvious to everyone why there are four separate powders instead of just one. According to the instructions, one lot of powders makes enough priming compound for 2,000 cartridges.

reloading priming powders
You can purchase this bag of 4 powders that, when mixed together in the right proportions, makes priming compound. At the bottom of the bag is the powder scoop that’s used to measure the powders and many other things.

The powders are mixed in different proportions, using a small plastic powder measure that comes with both the kit of tools and with this batch of priming powders. It has a small measure on one end and a large measure on the other.

reloading priming powders
These four powders are mixed in differing proportions to make rimfire priming compound.

reloading powder instructions
The directions for mixing the powders and priming the shells.

That’s all

That’s all I’m going to say at this time about the kit of tools and the priming powders. I’ll have more for you in upcoming reports.

Why you need this

Okay, like BB you have squirreled away plenty of bricks of .22. Why is this report of interest to you? Well, what about making cartridges for that .41-caliber rimfire Remington derringer your grandfather left you? He left you a box with 32 cartridges inside and over the years you have fired ten of them. For reasons unbeknownst to you at the time you kept those empty cartridges, and now you have a way of reloading them again. A sealed box of 50 cartridges starts at $300 on Gun Broker, which provides a great incentive to learn!

reloading Remington derringer
Your grandfather’s .41-rimfire derringer is a good reason to reload rimfire.

Or you have a 9mm Flobert rifle that you want to shoot? It came with a box of 50 cartridges, but when they are gone, what will you do? Now you have an answer.

What about the dent left by the firing pin?

When a rimfire fires, the firing pin leaves a dent in the cartridge rim. What is to be done about that? Well, you can try to knock it out with a punch or even make a special tool to knock it out, but you risk weakening the case at that place if you do. It’s better to leave the dent in the cartridge and, when you load it, position it so the firing pin won’t strike in that place. That means reloaded rimfire cartridges are best used in bolt-action rifles or most any single-shot rifle. By no coincidence, the shooters who reload rimfire cartridges are the same sort who own single-shot rifles. But there is one more concern.

Sizing the empty cartridge case

When a cartridge is fired, it expands to fit the chamber precisely. It may be too large to fit into another rifle. There is a .22 rimfire cartridge case resizing die available, but why go to that expense and bother? Just use the same rifle and you’ll never need to worry.

What if you don’t have any .22 cartridges to shoot, so you can’t generate any empty cases? Well, all you have to do is use your rifle’s chamber to select or reject all the cases you pick up on the ground at the range.

How to test?

My plan so far is to cast some bullets then reload some cartridges and show you how all of that is done. Then I will shoot them. I plan to use my Remington model 33 single shot bolt action rifle for this. Before I do that, though, I will shoot some 25-yard groups in that same rifle with a cartridge I know to be accurate. That gives me a baseline for comparison, plus those will be the cases I reload.

I have some thoughts for tests after that, such as how accurate can I make a reloaded .22 long rifle cartridge, and so on. But I need to get this far first.

I’m not looking for gold dollar groups from this rifle — just some groups to compare my tailor-mades to store-boughten ammo.

Summary

We are looking at something pretty special today. This reloading kit is something not too many shooters know about. When we finish this series we should all know a lot more about our sport. Thanks, Yogi!


Reloading firearm cartridges: Part 5

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

This report covers:

  • Reloading rimfire cartridges
  • Top speed for lead bullets
  • Strip out?
  • Case preparation
  • CUP?
  • Transducers
  • So what?
  • Brass flow
  • 5.56 mm brass
  • Trimming cases
  • Summary

There is a lot of interest in this series. I’m stretching it out over time because it deals with firearms, but it’s useful for all of us to understand in order to better understand airguns.

Reloading rimfire cartridges

Reader Yogi asked about reloading rimfire cartridges. And he was justified in doing so, for the first firearm cartridges in any caliber were either rimfire or needlefire — a type of ignition I don’t want to get into in this series. Centerfire cartridges — the kind we reload today — came a little later in the world of self-contained cartridges.

Actually, Yogi, you not only can reload rimfire cartridges — there are actual kits to help you do it! Since I had no idea any of this was possible, I’m not going to pretend I know what I’m talking about. Here is an excellent article on reloading rimfire cartridges. And here is the place where the supplies and tools are sold.

That said, would you WANT to reload rimfires? It takes a LOT of time to do everything that has to be done to reload a rimfire cartridge. Unless you are huddled in the ruins of a post-apocalyptic shelter and fending for your life I’m going to guess most of you have better things to do. Read the article and you decide.

Top speed for lead bullets

Reader 1st Blue asked me what the top speed for a lead bullet might be. Now a copper gas check can be put on the base of a lead bullet and it changes everything, so what I’m talking about here is an all-lead bullet.

bullet gas check
A copper gas check has been swaged onto the base of the .308 bullet on the left. The .308 bullet on the right is just lead.

I have shot soft lead rifle bullets up over 1,300 f.p.s. with some success. I don’t like going that fast, though, because staying around 1,200 f.p.s. or less is almost always more accurate. But he asked and that is my experience.

Some reloaders believe that bullets have to be cast very hard to go their top velocity. They speak of Brinell hardnesses of 28-30 for their bullets and some go higher than that. My cast bullets are soft — in the Brinell 8-12 range. I do know that the harder the bullet the more lead it will deposit in the barrel. Soft bullets shoot much cleaner — but their top velocity is probably in the 1,300s, where some hard bullet shooters are claiming up to 2,000 f.p.s. Put a gas check on the base and the top speed goes up over 2,300 f.p.s.

Strip out?

Many shooters including 1st Blue are concerned that lead bullets will “strip out” of the rifling at high speed. I have never seen that or even heard of it happening. As long as the bullet is one-thousandth of an inch over groove diameter, it should do well at any speed up to its max. I said bore diameter in an earlier report and somebody brought my attention to it. I’m talking about measuring the diameter of the bore across the rifling grooves.

I have heard that glass-hard bullets (Brinells of over 30) will sometimes shatter from the force of the gunpowder exploding behind them. I have never seen that but again, I don’t harden bullets that hard. I do know that soft lead bullets don’t do that.

Case preparation

Some cartridges are low maintenance and require little beyond cleaning and possibly resizing before reloading. Straight-wall cases are among those that are easy. You can just reload a .38 Special case or a .45 ACP case for a long time before they begin to fail. So the shape of the case is one big part of whether it will last a long time or not.

Pressure is the other big reason for case failure, and it is even more influential than the shape of the case. Load a .38 Special up to +P+ pressures (over 22,500 copper units of pressure — CUP) and the necks will start cracking after a few reloads. Discard the case when you notice that. If you load the .38 Special at or below 15,000 CUP you may get 20 reloads from it. I have a .32-40 rifle case that’s been reloaded about one hundred times and is still going strong, but I doubt my loads for that cartridge ever went above 10,000 CUP. In fact they are so low that the lead unit of pressure or LUP would be used to express them.

CUP?

When we get into the pressure ranges of firearm cartridges we generally don’t refer to pressure as pounds per square inch — even though it still is. We refer to copper units of pressure — which is the pressure that crushes a copper crusher gauge that is held in a test fixture when the cartridge is fired. It isn’t incorrect to express pressure as psi, but CUP and LUP are the more common means of expression when talking about internal ballistics. When the pressure is below 15,000 psi, the LUP is used.

Transducers

Today electronic transducers are used instead of copper or lead crusher gauges. They are faster and cheaper to use and cause fewer mistakes because careful measurement of the crusher gauge is no longer required.

So what?

Here is so what. Shoot that .44 Magnum with loads that develop about 20,000 CUP and get 10-12 reloads per case. Bump the pressure up to 36,000 CUP and the case longevity drops to 3-4 reloads. Drop it back to 15,000 CUP and get 25-30 reloads from each case.

Okay, all of that discussion was about straight-walled cases — except for the .32-40. What about bottleneck cartridges? Let’s start with a common one — the .223 Remington that is shot in the AR-15. It typically generates around 55,000 CUP/psi if you load it with standard hunting loads. You can go a little higher, but not too much.

Brass flow

At this pressure level the brass the case is made from will move forward under pressure. It’s called flow because that is what happens. At the high pressure the brass will flatten against the walls of the chamber and actually flow (move) forward. The length of the case will grow the more times the cartridge is fired. To offset that growth, we must trim the case back to a standard length before reloading it again. So we measure the length of each fired case and then trim all cases to one standard length before reloading begins. In my experience, the .223 Remington case needs trimming after every three reloads. Trim it two times and then throw it away, because the place it flowed from is getting too thin.

5.56 mm brass

The military version  of the .223 Remington cartridge is called the 5.56 mm cartridge. It is the same size on the outside, but it’s made of thicker brass. It can be loaded into and fired from many rifles that are chambered for the .223 Rem. BUT — the 5.56 mm generates higher pressure than the .223 Rem. It generates 58,000 CUP which doesn’t sound like a lot more — BUT the 5.56 mm cartridge chamber is 0.125-inches longer than a .223 Rem. chamber. Shoot a 5.56 mm cartridge in a .223 Rem. chamber and it generates 65,000 CUP, which is closing in on the proof pressure for the .223 Rem.! Case length and chamber length matters!

Can you reload 5.56mm cartridges and shoot them in a rifle chambered for the .223 Rem.? Yes — as long as you keep in mind that the thicker brass of the 5.56 case will hold LESS powder than the .223 Remington case when the bullet is seated to the same depth. That’s not a bad thing because that thicker 5.56 mm case will generate more pressure with less powder. My advice if you want to hit what you shoot at is do not mix .223 Remington and 5.56 mm cases together, and NEVER load them with the same amount of gunpowder!

I keep my cases separated (the headstamp tells you what’s what) and I develop loads for each type of case, keeping a sharp eye out for any signs of excessive pressure. They would be:

  • flattened primers
  • primers that flow back into the firing pin hole
  • primer pockets that become loose (evidenced by soot around them after firing)
  • cases that are bulged at their base (also a sign of excessive headspace)
  • cases that are split at their base
  • cases that are difficult to extract
  • cases whose heads are deformed (often they flow into the extractor cutout)

If you see ANY of these signs, stop shooting immediately and do not fire the remainder of those reloads.

Some cases REALLY stretch!

Of all the centerfire cartridge cases I have reloaded, the 6.5X55 Swedish Mauser case stretches the most. I had to trim them back after every firing and they started splitting at the base after as few as three reloads. To prolong case life I reduced my loads until they generated around 20,000 CUP. You have to read the reloading manuals and interpolate to figure out things like that. When they were loaded to that level I could get 5 or 6 reloadings before the danger signs appeared, and they stopped needing trimming after each firing.

The 6.5 Swede was such a chore to monitor that I stopped shooting them altogether. Someone asked whether this stretching was due to excessive headspace, but it happened on all 6 Swedes that I owned at one time or another. It was just too much to keep up with.

Trimming cases

I trim cartridges to length with an L.E. Wilson case trimmer. This tool dates back at least 80 years and still does wonderful work. Lee Precision also makes a much less expensive case trimmer that I use for a couple calibers. Where the Wilson relies on a bushing into which the case fits, the Lee has a central rod that limits the depth the cutting head can travel. The Wilson is universally adjustable for length, the Lee only trims to one standard length.

case trimmer
The Wilson case trimmer adjusts to a wide range of cartridge case lengths. Once adjusted, each case that’s inserted into the bushing will be trimmed to the same length.

Summary

That’s about as far as I want to go with reloading, unless there are specific things some of you want to discuss. Reloading starts out simple and gradually becomes quite complex as you learn more and more. As I said in the beginning, those who reload can be shooting while others lament the lack of commercial ammunition. Plus, it’s fun!


Reloading firearm cartridges: Part 4

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

This report covers:

  • Design an Airgun
  • Godfather’s Gold Gun giveaway
  • Reload a cartridge
  • Types of cartridges
  • Rimmed and rimless cartridges
  • Resize and deprime
  • Bell the case mouth
  • Prime each case
  • Put powder in the case
  • Powder measure
  • Insert the bullet
  • Summary

Design an Airgun

Just a reminder — the Design an Airgun contest ends on this Friday, October 16. The winner will be the niftiest design that most people can build. The winner will receive the American Zimmerstutzen as a prize. I have to limit the contest to residents of the United States because of international shipping laws but readers from other countries are welcome to show us their designs.

American Zimmerstutzen
The winner of the Design an Airgun contest will win the American Zimmerstutzen.

Godfather’s Gold Gun giveaway

Don’t forget that some lucky U.S. reader this month will also be drawn to receive the Godfather’s Gold Gun — an Ataman AP16 pistol designed by B.B. Pelletier. So, there is a lot going on this month!

Ataman AP16 Standard
The Godfather’s Gold Gun will belong to one lucky blog reader after October is over.

Reload a cartridge

Today we are continuing our tutorial on reloading a cartridge. We will actually put a cartridge together in this report.

Types of cartridges

There are several different types of cartridges. Some have bases that are rimmed. Those rims are what the reloading equipment holds onto while the case is run through all the reloading steps. Revolver cartridges like the .38 Special and rifle cartridges like the 30-30 are rimmed. 

Cartridges that work in semiautomatic actions have cases that are rimless. Those would be like the 9 X 19 mm Luger pistol cartridge and the 5.56 mm rifle cartridge. 

Rimmed and rimless cartridges

Each type of cartridge, rimmed and rimless, is held by the reloading press at its base. This requires some kind of shellholder for most reloading presses, though the Forester press has an automatic shellholder that opens to grab any cartridge base.

rimmed rimless cases
Rimmed .30-30 and .38 Special cases on the left — rimless 5.56 mm and 9X19 mm on the right.

Resize and deprime

The first step is to resize the cartridge case and remove the primer from its pocket. Resizing makes the case a standard size to fit the chambers of all guns. Today I will take it one step further and show you what can be done with a sizing die. Sometimes, one caliber case can be turned into another!

I was aware that the .38-55 Winchester (or Ballard, as it was called when it was first introduced in 1884) is the case that the .30-30 Winchester is based on. To turn one into the other all you have to do is resize the .38-55 case in a .30-30 sizing die! I no longer have a .38-55 rifle, but I do have a .30-30, so I took the few .38-55 cases I had laying around and turned them into .30-30 cases.

.38-55 case
A .38-55 case sits in the press, ready to go into the sizing die.

.38-55 case resized
After running it into the .30-30 sizing die and back out, this .38-55 case has been turned into a .30-30 case. Only the headstamp gives away what it used to be.

After this is done, the primer pocket must be cleaned, so the new primer can be inserted.

dirty primer pocket
This .38-55 has been resized into a .30-30 case, but its primer pocket still needs to be cleaned.

Once all the cases are sized and de-primed, I dump them into the tumbler that I showed in Part 1 and tumble them for about 12 hours. I do it overnight, so no time is wasted.

clean primer pocket
This is how they come out of the tumbler. Yes, this is a different case, because I already loaded the other one.

Bell the case mouth

At this time the mouth of the case is expanded or “belled” so it doesn’t shave off part of the bullet when it’s inserted and pushed home.  This is especially important when loading lead bullets, as I usually do. These days it’s hard to find jacketed bullets to buy, so my bullet casting has kept me and three other reloaders shooting. There is usually a special loading die to expand the case mouth, but when there isn’t, I use a .50-caliber bullet from a .50 BMG round to do it.

.50 caliber bullet
My .30-30 die set doesn’t have a die to bell the case mouth, so I use this .50-caliber bullet.

Prime each case

Now it’s time to put a fresh primer in each case. This can be done either with the reloading press or with a separate priming tool, like I showed in Part 2. Make sure the primer is flush with the bottom of the case or slightly below.

new primer
A fresh primer has been inserted. As long as the primer pocket is clean the primer will fit correctly. The notch on the rim of this case was for aligning each cast bullet  (that had been loaded into the case) in the same orientation, to help with accuracy. That was for the Ballard.

Put powder in the case

There are many different kinds of smokeless gunpowder. Some burn very fast and others burn very slow. Fast-burning powders are usually for short-barreled firearms like handguns. Slower-burning powders are for rifles and some magnum loads in handgun cartridges.  The reloading manual tells you what the safe loads are for each powder and bullet weight/type (lead or jacketed). I follow those recipes scrupulously. Safety is always the first concern for a reloader!

Powder measure

To measure the powder you put into the case a powder measure can be used. Since different powders come in different-sized granules and coarseness, you use different measures for different powders. It’s not one measure per type of powder. More like one measure for flake and ball powders and another one for granulated (like small grains of rice) powders. However, a few, like the RCBS Uniflow, work well with all powders.

RCBS powder measure
The RCBS Uniflow powder measure I use works well with all powders.

Once they are adjusted, powder measures will throw charges that are within 0.2 grains of each other — at least the ones I use will with the types of powders I use. That’s close enough for general shooting and hunting ammo. But for shooting small groups, it’s best to weigh each powder charge by hand. You set your measure to throw a charge that’s a few tenths light and then use a trickle charger to increase it to exactly the rght amount. Naturally every charge is weighed on a powder scale.

Lee also makes a set of special dippers that measure a load of powder reasonsbly well. With some practice and care you can usually stay within 0.3 grains of the desired charge.

Insert the bullet

The last step is to insert the bullet and ram it home with the press. As the press’s ram gets to the end of its stroke, the die is set to crimp the case mouth into the bullet. At least that is what I have my dies set to do. This step does not take force, but rather a feel for things. It’s easy to use too much pressure on the press handle. Everyone who reloads has a pile of cartridges where something went wrong. You try to disassemble as many of your mistakes as you can to save the components, but some cannot be saved.

empty and loaded cartridges
It took longer for you to read this report than it took me to do everything needed to turn the empty cartridge case on the left into a fresh new loaded round. Since I made the bullet, this .30-30 cartridge cost me a little more than a nickel!

Summary

Reloading is a good way to save a little money, and a great way to make better ammunition. And, when supplies are short, such as they are these days, it is the only way to continue shooting.

I went through all the steps today pretty fast. Let me know what you need to have explained better.


The 788 project: Part 1

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

This report covers:

  • The Godfather’s Gold Gun giveaway
  • The rules
  • Design an airgun contest
  • The 788 project
  • Remington’s 788
  • First trip to the range
  • Free-floated barrel
  • Relieving the barrel channel
  • Ten-shot 50-yard group
  • Timney trigger
  • Glass-bedded action
  • So what?
  • Summary

The Godfather’s Gold Gun giveaway

Before we dive into today’s report I must tell you about a new feature on the Pyramyd Air website. It’s called Build Your Own Airgun. It’s an interactive set of pages that allows you to configure certain airguns the way you want them. Think of it as a custom shop where you are the builder. You put all the parts, features and finishes together for a certain airgun and then give your creation a name. Pyramyd Air will put your choices together and construct the airgun you have purchased. From that point on, every gun of that model with those same specifications will carry the name you have selected.

In August I tested the Ataman AP16 Standard PCP air pistol for you. In Part one I made this remark at the end: One last thing — I have one last thing to tell you readers, but not in this report. If you remember West Side Story — Something’s coming! Something BIG!

Well, today is the day you learn what that something is. I got to design the pistol I tested for the Ataman AP16 review through the new Build Your Own Airgun software and Pyramyd Air gave me that AP16 pistol. I designed it and and called it the Godfather’s Gold Gun. They also gave me a second one to give away to one lucky reader. So, all you who poor-mouthed the gun because of its cost — you now have a chance to own one, free and clear. I quote a conversation from that first report, 

Acadian

“Let me understand. We have a 15-18 fpe, 22 cal pistol which is a repeater and very loud, working in the 300 bar zone, for 1.000$. How can I justify the +600$ difference between this and the Marauder pistol, which has the same features plus shroud, ok without open sights? Looking back at BB’s review it gave 32 shots with almost 30fps deviations. That’s for the regulator missing…” Bill

“Bill,

Yes, you are right.  Also, there is the TalonP.  You need to remember though that this is for those who make more than I.  It also gives me something to dream about.  In addition we can compare the results of the top tier to what is more reasonably priced and make a decision from there.” RidgeRunner

Okay, Acadian and RidgeRunner, if you feel the Godfather’s Gold Gun isn’t right for either of you because of the price, you are free to withdraw your names from the giveaway and I will honor your wishes — Ha!

If you live in the United States and are a registered reader of this blog, you have a chance to win the Godfather’s Gold Gun. The prize gun will be the same gun that I tested for this blog.

The rules

The rules are simple. To enter this contest you have to be a registered reader of this blog. And you must live in the United States. I can’t account for all the airgun legislation around the world, so I’m limiting this contest to the US, where the gun is universally legal. Oh if the state you live in has anti-airgun legislation that prohibits owning such an airgun, then I guess that leaves you out, too. Please know your state laws if you want to be in the drawing.

I will select one day in October, and all eligible readers who submit comments to the blog on that day will be entered into the drawing. Your names will go into a random drawing, one entry per reader, regardless of how many comments you make on that day. The name drawn will win the gun, as long as they are registered and I have their email address. There is no way to stuff the ballot box in this drawing, but you also don’t have to do much to be eligible. Good luck to all!

Design an airgun contest

I have had just one official entry in the “Design an airgun” contest so far. Yes, that is also an official contest and so far the only entry is winning! I have read comments from lots of readers who have designed airguns while daydreaming on their couches but the prize will go to the “the niftiest design that the most people could build.” People can’t build things that only exist in your mind. The contest runs until the end of September.

I haven’t announced the prize for this contest, but it has been selected. It will be something that will surprise all of you. I think it’s a very fitting prize for a contest like this.

Okay, enough chatter. Let’s get to it.

The 788 project

Don’t you hate it when some gun writer tells you all about some vintage gun that he just loves, and it’s something that’s been out of production for decades—perhaps even longer than you’ve been alive? But he has one, and, by golly, he writes such enticing things about it that you just have to get one for yourself. Well, sit back, dear reader, because that’s exactly what I’m about to do.

I’m going to tell you all about the Remington 788—a rifle shrouded in mystery and urban legend. A regular Area 51 escapee, with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal rifles. 

Remington’s 788

This article is the beginning of what I call the 788 Project, in reference to the Remington 788 rifle that many of us tried and found wanting back in the 1960s and ’70s (1967 – 1983) . The 788 was a budget bolt-action rifle for those who wouldn’t spend the extra to buy a Remingtom 700. We found the 788 wanting because most of us who bought them were young and stupid and we naturally bought the mostest-powerfulest 788 they made, which was the one chambered for .308 Winchester. Furthermore, if you were cheap like me, you didn’t even buy ammunition to go in it. You got a belt of 7.62 mm machine gun ammo (don’t ask) and carefully removed the metal links. Setting aside the orange-tipped tracer rounds, you then filed two crossed notches deep into the tip of each bullet, making what you hoped would be a Dum Dum round that would expand in game like a soft nose, more or less.

It turned out to be less, as fate would have it, but that didn’t matter. The 788 is a light rifle, and the kick from your liberated machine gun ammo loosened your fillings. You probably didn’t fire a total of 100 rounds out of that cannon before you allowed some other fool to pry it out of your hands at the next gun show. But you shot it enough to know you couldn’t hit anything with it. So the Remington 788 was an inaccurate rifle that also kicked like a mule.

Let’s see—you bought a 6.5-pound rifle in a caliber better suited to 8 pounds or more. You then fed it military “spray and pray” ammunition that you first deformed with a file. And, let me make a stretch here and guess that you scoped it with the cheapest Japanese variable you could find, held fast in a premium set of K-Mart scope mounts. Golly! You went to all that trouble and the rifle still wouldn’t shoot for you? What gives?

All sorts of urban legends sprang up about the 788. Everyone had an opinion of what it was and why it was like that. Things like—because the bolt’s locking lugs are in the rear the action is somehow “springy,” and unsuited to powerful cartridges. Or, the 788 proved so accurate that it eclipsed Remington’s more expensive models and therefore was discontinued to stop the harmful competition from within the company.

There was even a Wikipedia entry for the gun that is as fictional as all of the urban legends put together. It states things like “…the 788 retains a cult following for its accuracy, despite several serious design flaws.” Flaws”, I must point out, that the Wiki entry didn’t address. I can’t locate that entry now, so apparently somebody updated it.

Now that I am older, and still stupid, thanks for asking, my thoughts turned once more to the 788 I had abandoned back in 1973. I was led there not because I nurtured a secret love for the 788, but because I held a much older fascination for the .30-30 Winchester cartridge.

My handloading experience had suggested way back in the 1960s that the rimmed and long-necked 30-30 might be one of the most accurate cartridges ever created, though no evidence to that effect had ever surfaced. In the world of super-short magnums and continual incarnations of the AR 15 in another as-yet undefined 6mm, the only press given to the 30-30 is its dubious distinction of being one of the first cartridges designed for smokeless powder and the unprovable contention that it has harvested more deer than all other cartridges, combined.

I wanted to explore the remote possibility that the 30-30 might also be the best-kept secret in all of firearm-dom. However, there seemed to be a shortage of 30-30 target rifles with which to test my theory. Why is that, do you suppose?

Finding myself without the means to explore my theory, I started looking for rifles that might substitute for the target rifles that were missing. You know what I mean. You can’t locate a single-shot Stevens 44-1/2 in the caliber you are interested in, so you turn to the Remington 40X as a substitute. But there didn’t seem to be a spare 40X rifle in 30-30, either. Likewise the Winchester model 70 Target or a good heavy barrel Sharps seemed not to have been made in the “Thutty-Thutty”. In fact, as I expanded my search it appeared as though there was a plot to keep the 30-30 out of accurate rifle actions altogether.

788
My 788 in 30-30 at the range, preparing for a baseline test.

Then I stumbled across a vague reference to the Remington 788 that said of all the chamberings, it seemed ideally suited to two—the .44 Remington Magnum and the 30-30 Winchester. It seems that the 788 has a special two-piece bolt for just these two calibers that allows the rear body to rotate while the front remains still. This makes it well-suited to feeding a rimmed case from a box magazine.

That discovery prompted me to revisit the rifle I had abandoned four decades earlier, only this time with some important differences. The 30-30 cartridge is certainly lower in power than the .308 Winchester, so I knew the recoil would be significantly less. In fact, it might turn out that the 788 is more or less right for a cartridge of this power.

It might also be that the 788 was in fact never entirely suited to the .308 cartridge in the same way that the model 19 S&W revolver isn’t entirely suited to full-house .357 Magnum cartridges. It’s true that both of these firearms are safe with the recommended cartridges, but it’s equally true that there are warnings and cautionary tales of undue wear that results from the strain of firing many full-house rounds through them. So, in fact what you have with both the Remington 788 in .308 and the Smith model 19 in .357 Magnum is a gun that’s chambered for a certain cartridge, but for gosh sakes don’t shoot them very much!

The realization that the 788 might be a fine rifle for the 30-30 round caused me to realize that my earlier horrible experience could have been prevented by rational thought. Don’t expect a snubnosed revolver chambered for .500 S&W Magnum to be a good plinker, and don’t think that a Remington 788 in .308 will be anything other than a jaw-slapping headache machine. Suddenly the world came into sharp focus. I understood why everyone was selling their almost-new Marlin .45-70 Camp Rifle with most of the first box of ammo remaining.

But a 788 chambered for the right cartridge might be all the wonderful things ever said about the rifle. And I needed a good accurate 30-30. So I set about obtaining a 788 in 30-30 for what I labeled the 788 Project. That was when I discovered, about 40 years too late, that many other shooters had come to the same conclusion long before I did. Remington 788s in .308 were being given away with a half a pound of cheese. They were being bundled with .22 autoloaders and included in their sales, as in, “Buy this fine Ruger Mark II for $250 and we’ll throw in a like-new Remington 788 in .308. Or you can buy just the pistol, alone, for $300.” That’s how the 788 in .308 fares today. I’m kidding, of course, but not that much.

The same rifle in other more suitable calibers commands some value. Of these, the .44 Magnum is at the top, with horrendous asking prices of $1,000 and more. The 30-30 comes next, with some of them asking up to $750. However, like anything else, if you shop around just a little you can usually do much better. I was able to snag a nice 788 in 30-30 on the internet for just $500, plus shipping and registration. So I have about $575 in the rifle, landed in my gun room.

First trip to the range

It wasn’t long before I made the first trip to the range to sight in-the rifle. Since things were just getting started I used factory ammo and was able to put five rounds in about an inch between centers at 50 yards. During this first session I noted that the recoil was quite mild with the 150-grain factory rounds. It certainly wasn’t causing headaches the way the .308 had.

factory 30-30 group
This 0.973-inch five-shot group was fired by the Remington 788 with Winchester Super-X  30-30 factory ammo at 50 yards.
That’s not the cartridge shown.

The Remington factory trigger was heavy, breaking at 4.5 lbs. And it is single-stage—a feature I detest in a rifle I’m shooting for accuracy. Still, the release was very crisp and the blade stopped moving upon firing, which adds crispness to how it feels—at least in my perception.

Remington unfortunately made the 788 trigger non-adjustable, and at the price point they commanded I can understand why. If the 788 trigger could be adjusted to a superior light glass-rod performance, why would anyone have to spend the extra money for a 700?

The trigger of my rifle did not hinder accuracy, so it was left as it came from the factory for the time being. But the wood rifle stock was another matter. Using a dollar bill it was easy to determine that the barrel channel was putting uneven upward pressure on the barrel. The 788 has a thinner barrel that heats up quickly, and nothing brings it out like shooting strings from the bench. So relieving the barrel channel was the next step in the quest for accuracy.

Free-floated barrel

Most shooters agree that a free-floated barrel is more stable than one that contacts the stock — especially in a firearm where the barrel heats up. As the barrel heats it expands, putting variable pressure on the barrel channel, which pushes back in uneven ways. If this happens while you are shooting a group, it will cause the group to open noticeably, which was happening to me during that first trip to the range. The solution is to remove enough wood from the barrel channel that the barrel cannot contact the wood even when it heats up.

Of course a hot barrel isn’t something to strive for, because it will wear much faster than one that is cool. So you still have to wait a reasonable amount of time between shots to keep from overheating the barrel, but there is a special tool made expressly for opening the barrel channel. I used it.

Once the barrel was free-floated I returned to the range with handloaded ammo to see how well the rifle shot. There were four different charges of the same powder, each differing by a half grain weight and every charge hand-weighed. One stood out from all the rest.

The load was a relatively light one of 22.5 grains of H4198 behind a Remington 125-grain pointed soft point bullet. A standard Remington 9-1/2 large rifle primer lit the fuse. This wasn’t an attempt at finding the ultimate load for the rifle, because there were still things to be done to improve how it shot. All I wanted was a good baseline load I could use for comparisons.

This new load gave a 10-shot group measuring 0.824-inches from a rest at 50 yards. That’s hardly earth-shattering, but it is good enough to be a control load as the gunsmithing progresses. I shoot ten-shot groups rather than five-shot groups to save time and confusion. Five-shot groups are rather random when real accuracy is concerned. Ten-shot groups are about 40 percent larger, on average, so there is no need to shoot excessive numbers of them.

Ten-shot 50-yard group

Since I didn’t test the rifle with this ammo before floating the barrel I can’t comment on whether the accuracy improved, but the stability certainly did! On this particular day I shot a total of 50 rounds from the bench to find the best load, and while I did allow the barrel to cool between shots, the rifle exhibited no tendency to open up as more shots were fired. I attribute that result to free-floating.

custom load 30-30 group
The best ten-shot 50-yard group with 22.5-grains of H4198 powder and a 125-grain Remington pointed soft point bullet measures 0.824-inches between centers.

Timney trigger

With this baseline established I decided to upgrade the trigger. Timney makes a fine drop-in trigger for the 788. It’s modular, adjustable though still single-stage. The ad says that the travel stop can be adjusted, but I haven’t found that feature yet. But after a relatively easy 45-minute installation I now had a trigger that broke at 1 lb. 7 ozs. with certainty.

The safety on the Timney didn’t have adequate clearance and could not be applied when the action was in the stock. The installation instructions warn of this, so it came as no surprise. Once I examined the area of stock that needed to be relieved, a quick touch or two of a Dremel tool with a rasp bit opened things up and got the safety working again.

Glass-bedded action

Was the next step was to glass-bed the action? A friend who had owned a 788 told me that free-floating the barrel was good ju-ju, and glass-bedding put the frosting on the cake. He stressed that the recoil lug was the most important part to be bedded—that the rear of the action wasn’t nearly as critical. He also warned me about the possibility of a recoil lug that wasn’t set at an exact 90-degree angle to the line of the stock. If you glass-bed one like that, it will serve to anchor the action in the hardened bedding compound.

A word about the stock is needed at this point. While a great many 788s have a light-colored hardwood stock without any figure, the earliest ones were made of walnut. Mine is one of those. Fortunately for me, walnut is the softest of the hard woods and perhaps one of the easiest to work. That comes in handy when you have to remove a lot of it for the bedding work.

So what?

Why am I telling you all of this in what is supposed to be an airgun blog? Good question and I have a couple answers that I hope are good. First, we have been talking about reloading firearm cartridges and this is a first look at what can be done with a little work. There is more to be done and this 30-30 is an ideal way to proceed.

We are also looking at the AirForce Texan — a big bore rifle that also comes in .308 caliber. Until now I have restricted my remarks to the .458 Texan, but Ton Jones told me he killed a Nilgai antelope on a Texas exotic game ranch with a .308 Texan. It was a one-shot instant kill that dropped the 600+ lb. animal in its tracks. He wasn’t hunting Nilgai that day but one wandered out in front of him while he was looking for several hundred pounds of wild game meat for a large barbecue. His guide argued against the shot, but Ton knew he could put the bullet into the heart-lung area where it would be a humane kill. When he told the guide he would pay the trophy fee if the animal went more than 50 yards the guide said to take the shot and when he did the antelope dropped straight down.

nilgai
The Nilgai is a large antelope from India that can weigh up to 680 lbs.

I would never recommend going for a 600+ lb. animal with a .308 big bore air rifle, but if that’s all you have it can be done. I have contacted Mr. Hollowpoint to acquire several different bullets for my .458, but he is away on a hunting trip. So I thought I would also test the .308 and .357 Texans, since I have bullet molds for both calibers. This 30-30 test came up as I was researching for that and I thought why not continue to test it, as well? I was going to submit the article to Firearms News, but I am no longer writing for them and this is too good a project to abandon. So you guys get it!

Summary

We have covered a lot of territory today. There are two contests for you, plus I have started telling you about my Remington 788 project. I hope you get something from this report.