Sunday, November 14, 2010

Rolling My Own...

I've been meaning to get a reloading post up for almost a year now. I just happened to be working up some .223 loads for the AR, so now seemed as good a time as any.

My reloading journey started 11 months ago, when I was given a Lee 50th Anniversary reloading kit by my mother-in-law as a Christmas Gift. I'd been working towards getting into reloading for some time, but had never got around to getting outfitted yet.

I started my foray into reloading with 9mm, as that's the caliber I get the most range time with. I've since developed several loads, using Blue Dot, Power Pistol, and Titegroup.

With .380 so difficult to find and expensive when you did find it last year, I decided that .380 would be a great way to save some serious money reloading. I've found, using recovered brass, that I can put together a box of 50 rounds of .380 for $5.84 in component cost. It's a great thing to not be held hostage to the poor selection and high prices of factory-loaded .380. If I need .380, I can simply load some up and have it ready whenever I need it. Not only that, but I've been able to tune my loads for accuracy, and am able to make groups I never thought possible out of my Ruger LCP.

Today was my first time reloading rifle cartridges. This is a somewhat more involved process than loading handgun rounds. Case lube is required for resizing, powder is manually funneled into each case in the loading tray (there is no expanding die to put the powder through with rifle rounds), and bullet seating is a little more tricky if you're not using boat-tail bullets.

I managed to get two sets of loads worked up, one as a standard 55 grain FMJ-BT plinking round, where I'm going strictly for accuracy. The other is a hog/deer hunting round, built with the Speer 70 grain Semi-Spitzer. I'll have to see how these run through the AR, as it has a 1:9 twist rate. From my reading on the subject, this may or may not be enough to stabilize a 70 grain bullet. The Speer website claims 1:10 or better is sufficient for stabilizing this bullet, so I think I should be good to go. We'll see when I try them out.

If all goes according to plan, I'm going to hit up the range tomorrow with the chrony in tow and see how these loads run. Hopefully, I'll have an update for you tomorrow night with the results.

Monday, November 1, 2010

AR Build - Range Report

After successful completeion, I took the AR out for its inaugural range session yesterday. I went to Best of the West Shooting Sports in Liberty Hill, the same range used for the LaRue Tactical range day event earlier in the month. The short-range rifle spots are 50, 100, and 250 yards. I wanted to zero the rifle for 200 yards, and 50 yards is at about the upward trajectory intersection of zero for a 200 yard zero AR, so I decided to run at that range. Unfortunately, all of the 50y target boards were in use, so I hung around and talked to the Range Officer and some other guys having a conversation until some space cleared out.

Finally, space did clear up, and I stapled up 3 8-inch "Dirty Bird" targets in a vertical row. I loaded up some of the American Eagle "Tactical" AE223 55grn FMJ rounds I picked up on sale at Cabela's into one of the PMAGs, and chambered a round.

To be honest, the first shot was quite anti-climactic for me. I went with the heavy barrel for several reasons, one of which was to keep movement and rise to a minimum for faster followup shots. This was much more effective than I anticipated, and my first impression of recoil was more akin to that of my Marlin 60 than any centerfire rifle I'd ever fired. Nonetheless, it was quite satisfying to shoot a gun that I'd put together with my own hands for the first time.

On to zeroing in the rifle, after several shots I finally figured out that I was hitting the dirt about 18 inches both high and right. I adjusted my windage and elevation, and finally started getting my hits on paper. I went through about 70 rounds getting zero and checking consistency. This was compounded by the fact that I was sighting with a flat black front sight against a black target. I'm considering tipping my front sight with bright white or perhaps a flourescent green to solve this problem. Please feel free to give suggestions or advice in your commentary.

Anyhow, I finally got a 2.5" group in my last string of 20 shots on the zero target, so I moved on to a clean target. I'm a bit disappointed in the size of the grouping, but I'm pretty certain this is related to the black-on-black sighting issue. Excluding the flyer outliers at 12:00, 9:00, and 6:00, this is a 3.5" group. I think that once I remedy the sight issue and get more accustomed to AR iron sights, I can easily cut that into less than half.

As an aside, I'd like to make positive mention for the Best of the West Shooting Sports range. This is a great place with a great staff. During my zeroing, my front sight tool broke off all its prongs, and I was stuck. The Range Officer happily offered up his tools for me to use, and I was able to finish my vertical adjustments and finish zeroing the rifle. What's more, is that I went through 100 rounds of .223, but came back with around 350 cases. Not only does this range encourage you to pick up your own brass, they're quite happy if you pick up brass left by other shooters as well. This is in stark contrast to the policies of most ranges who claim your brass as their own as soon as it touches the ground. I've got the cases in the tumbler right now, and hopefully I can crank out a couple of batches of .223 sometime this week. I need to develop some hog-hunting loads using the Speer 70grn semi-spitzer bullet sometime in the next month.

The gun performed well, though I did hit one hiccup in the middle of zeroing. Over the period of about 40 rounds, the trigger pin walked itself to the right side of the receiver, completely detaching from the left. This became evident when a trigger pull did nothing. I cleared the gun and pulled the upper off, and was able to fix the problem quickly. My best guess is that I pushed the pin past the detent during assembly, so that the spring was not able to retain it in place. The problem did not repeat itself for the next 6o rounds, so I think this was a simple assembly fluke. I'll take a closer look at it sometime this week to be sure.