Saturday, September 10, 2011

Just An Observation...

When The Bee Gees' "Staying Alive" is playing over the PA system at Home Depot, EVERYONE walks to the beat.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Incremental Update

It's fairly common knowledge at my workplace that I'm a shooter. From time to time I will get questions from coworkers about guns or shooting, and sometimes even about buying firearms. Last week a coworker expressed interest in going to the range. I'm happy to oblige any new shooter, so we're tentatively going to be heading out this weekend. The forecast calls for 104 degrees, so the plan is to head out early to avoid the heat of the day.

In other news, while Michael works on the custom rig I requested for the LCP, I figured that I really ought to get that pesky recall service thing out of the way. I would have done it sooner, but the LCP is my everywhere gun. If I'm going somewhere where I can't carry, I won't strap on the OWB pancake for the Hi-Power - that setup is nigh-impossible to unload discretely in a parking lot. But the LCP can drop in the pocket with an Uncle Mike's pocket holster (or soon-to-come OWB clipper rig) and get secured in the truck in a matter of a couple seconds. Having nothing to stand in for the LCP in this capacity, I've put off the recall service.

Well, along came someone at work selling a NAA Guardian .380 at a good price, so I jumped on it. I had the opportunity to try one out a few years back, and was quite surprised with the accuracy of such a small gun. The NAA was on my list of prospective pocket guns for a long time until I bought the LCP. What I didn't realize was that NAA produced a version to cater to California's ridiculous regulations, and installed an integral "lock" on those guns. My newly-purchased NAA happened to be one of these.

If you know me, then you're probably aware that I'm not a fan of unnecessary potential points of failure in firearms. Fortunately, this turned out to be a tack-on solution, and was easy enough to remove without affecting the functionality of any other systems. I appear to be the only one in the history of the internet who thought it would be a good idea to put up a guide for this procedure, as my search for such information returned nothing. Look for a guide on removing the Integral Locking System from the NAA Guardian here in the near future. I'll also be putting the pistol through reliability testing and should have a review soon with my general observations and photos.

I haven't done a food post in some time, so I'll be putting one together in the near future. A comment on my last post from Jim (flier389) over at Granddad's Corner got me over to his blog, which got me thinking about foods of years past, and those that remind me of my childhood. I thought it would be a fitting subject for an upcoming post.

Anyhow, there's a preview of things to come. See you then.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

New Custom Leather

Shortly after I started carrying, I switched to the Hi-Power mentioned previously in this blog. I wanted something that made the gun easy to conceal over the bowling/work type shirts I tended to wear. The Galco Combat Master fit that bill - a high-riding OWB holster with a significant cant, meaning the gun tucked up underneath my arm and was easy to draw.

Over the past 4 years, the holster has served me well, but over time it has become more relaxed and floppy, not holding the Hi-Power tightly to my side like it used to. I had resolved to get another holster of the same model to replace it. A little over a year ago I went to a party over at Christina's place up in North Texas, where I met Michael from and About this time he'd jumped into the entrepreneureal unkown, starting his new business making holsters. He'd brought samples of his wares, which were passed around the party during gun show & tell.

Fast forward 7 months, and Michael's business had really started to pick up. He'd done some interesting custom holsters, with some particularly cool IDPA/IPSC race holsters. My holster budget had expanded a bit, and I started thinking about what could be improved from the Galco. The most prominent area for improvement was stiffness. Just like my boots and pants, I'm not easy on holsters. I'm a pretty solid and big dude, and the things I wear need to be well-made and durable, or they're garbage in short order. I'd read about horsehide leather, with its wear and moisture resistance, and its exceptional stiffness. The problem is, horsehide is not in common use in the United States, and there's no real source for domestic horse hide. Because of this, mass-produced horsehide holsters simply don't exist.

This is where Michael comes in. I'd seen on his site that he deals in some exotics, most notably stingray. So we got to talking in IRC one night, and I ask about the possibility of getting a horsehide holster made for my Hi-Power. He'd not worked with horse leather before, but seemed eager to check his supplier and get me a quote. A few days later, we figured out pricing for a holster and magazine carrier to my specifications, and I gave him the go-ahead. Since he'd never worked with the material before and I wasn't in a hurry, I asked him to take as much time as he needed. Over the weeks, we corresponded back and forth about his impressions of the material and his efforts putting together test items. Along the way, I added on a request for a flashlight scabbard as well.

For the holster itself, my requirements were simple: a high ride and cant, similar to my Galco holster, with beefed up belt slotting (the Galco slots had stretched out over time, I wanted to avoid that). The mag carrier, on the other hand, had to be a completely custom design in order to hold two magazines and ride at the 7:30 position that I needed. He was able to come up with a design that created a back channel for the belt to ride in, while keeping the carrier high and close to the body.

When Phlegmfest started to roll around, we found that we would both be attending and my order would be finished shortly prior. So, a personal handoff it was. I arrived at the party, and Michael handed me my new holster, mag carrier, and flashlight scabbard. To say that I was pleased with the holster would be an understatement. Every request had been met, and my expectations exceeded by a great margin. This was a serious piece of leather. It rode beautifully on my belt, fit the Hi-Power perfectly, and kept the gun snug to my side. It was the most solid holster I'd ever seen. Likewise, the mag carrier was a VAST improvement over the Safariland carrier I'd been using.

Unfortunately, as I started to wear my holster back home, I found that the glue between the layers of leather was starting to come apart. I corresponded with Michael about this, and he was quite disconcerted about this development. I took some photos for him, and upon review he insisted that the problem be made right. I mailed the holster back to him, and he found that the issue appeared to be with the glue itself not correctly bonding to the leather, and that the holster would have to be remade entirely. Without going into too much detail, some testing was done with a different glue more suited for horsehide, and he constructed a new holster for me in short order.

The new holster arrived a few days ago, and I am quite pleased - both with the quality of Michael's leather work, and his commitment to great customer service. I got the mag carrier and flashlight scabbard (both of which I've been using since Phlegmfest) together with the holster for a photo shoot:

Here's a couple more photos of the holster:

If you're looking for some custom leather, drop Michael a line. I can't recommend him enough. Both his quality of workmanship and his customer service are top notch.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Running Through The Paces, Pt. 2

I got back out to the range on Friday to test out my 3031 rework, as well as to run the new hunting loads through the gun to see if they're performing as expected.

Again, it was terribly windy. Not quite as bad as the last trip, but almost. I did manage to keep the chronograp standing for most of the session. There wasn't much wind this morning, just a small breeze, but by the time I got out to the range around 2pm, it had really picked up.

I'd set out to do a comparison between a few of the .22 rifles - the new Marlin 795, the older full-length Marlin 60, and an even older Romanian 1969 Trainer that I picked up early last year. I wanted to run some side-by-side comparisons of all three guns to see how they compared at 50m. Unfortunately, the venture was a bust, because my bullets were getting blown all over the targets, regardless of the rifle.

I'd only ordered one sling along with the Tech Sights for the 795, but I had what the local surplus shop termed a "Silent Sling" in a 1 1/4" width. Last week, I'd taken the GI sling I'd purchased as a template and managed to reproduce the configuration with a bit of sewing and some standard Uncle Mike's QD sling swivels, and replicated the functionality. I'd found an online guide about how to use a GI web sling around the time I modified the "silent sling", so I figured I'd give it a go. I figured a windy day was a good opportunity to see the difference. Sure enough, I was able to much more easily keep the 795 steady on target using the sling, so at least I got something constructive out of the day with the .22 rifles.

On to testing out the 3031 rework, I'd changed primers from the soft and thin CCI #400 that I'd been using, so I figured I'd redo the load and see if there was any change needed. I did a workup in small increments below, above, and above the 24.8 grain charge I'd landed on last time. This is at the top end of load data for this powder/bullet combo, so I didn't stray too far, and incremented in 0.2 grains, from 24.6 to 25.2 grains. They all shot fine, but I started a small amount of leaks around the edges at the top end loads. I also completely lost one primer in that group - not a great sign. This may be in part due to the fact that I used FC brass for the workup, which I've noticed has looser primer pockets. They're significantly easier to seat than LC brass. I'll remember in the future to reserve FC brass for tamer loads, like the VV135 plinking/accuracy load I tested last post. The velocities and accuracy matched up with the previous #400 load and the primers looked good at 24.8 grains anyway, so it looks like the load is going to stay as is.

Moving on, I switched to the hunting load using TAC and the Speer 70 grain semi-spitzer soft points. I'd already worked these up previously, and results were good at 25.2 grains. I made a small mistake in adjusting my scale, and ended up charging these at 25.1 grains instead. I had a box of 100 loaded up so I could do the same kinds of tests as last session - some at 50m, some at 100m, both on the lead slead and off the bench, unsupported.

I started off with the lead sled at 50m to check out consistency in a group of 10. I had a cotton shop towel set up to deflect brass down onto the bench to more easily recover my empties, since I had so much trouble with the brass catcher last session. I got through 7 shots of the 10, and got a jam that didn't want to clear. The bolt wouldn't seat all the way forward and lock into place. I pulled the rifle apart and played with it a bit and found the problem. A dislodged primer got into the lugging in the barrel adapter, and was getting in the way of the bolt. Dang.

I took a look at some of the brass on the bench, and sure enough - missing primers. I also noticed the numbers on the chronograph were indicating velocities above 2800fps, faster than the 25.2 grain charges I'd worked up previously. Now I was a bit confused. I'm pretty meticulous about weighing each charge individually, particularly with hot loads, so there's very little chance of an overcharge getting through. 25.2 grains is also well within the 5.56 pressure loads from TAC (max listed at 26.2 grains). The chronograph seemed to be getting consistent velocities (I still need to review them more closely), so something else seemed to be wrong.

Once my rifle was clear and everything appeared to be operating properly, I finished out the set of 10. Results were pretty good, and definitely acceptable for hunting purposes:

With the dislodged primer issues I'd had, I should have packed it up then an there or moved on to different loads I'd brought along to play with. But, I didn't. I wanted to have a comparison shooting the 70 grain loads without the lead sled.

On the third round in, the bolt jammed, and stuck hard. There was no getting it free then and there. It was a terrible feeling. Checking the cases, round #2 was missing a primer, so I figured it had jammed up the bolt somewhere in the upper. With my tail between my legs and my heart in my stomach, I packed everything up and headed home.

I got the rifle on the bench and ended up having to pull the buffer tube to get the bolt carrier tapped back in and the upper and lower separated. In the process, I ended up rotating the buttstock tube lock plate into the threads (note to self: use less lok-tite next time) and mangled the rear takedown pin detent spring in the process. I got the upper separated and managed to tap the bolt carrier completely rearward out of the upper (all the time hoping I wasn't ruining the upper). Lo and behold, there it was. A primer lodged in the channel for the bolt cam pin. I thoroughly checked the inside of the receiver and the bolt carrier itself, and didn't find any mangled material, so it appears that everything is still serviceable. It looks like the cam pin was restricted from moving just enough to make things very tight. I got everything assembled (minus the mangled detent spring), and verified that the action operated smoothly and locked up tight.

I've had a couple days to think what happened here, and I think I've got an idea. Sometime around the primer change and making the first full batch of 24.7 grain 70 grain loads, my scale got out of adjustment, reading heavy by a few tenths of a grain. I interpreted this as a loss in velocity due to the new primers with the TAC load, so I worked up a new set of loads, and found a match in performance at 25.2 grains. In reality, I was recalibrating my charges up to 24.7 grains or somewhere thereabout. Between that load workup and my batch of 100 25.1 grain loads, I'd recalibrated my scale, so now I was *actually* loading a hotter load. While this is still within 5.56 NATO load data, there's a reason NATO ammo has crimped primers. This put me over the pressure line where the primers started working loose, causing my problem.

Lessons I've learned from this experience:

  • Even though my rifle can handle 5.56 NATO pressures, there is a point where uncrimped primers/pockets start to let go.
  • I need to recalibrate my scale before every session.
  • If a load is acting funny, stop using it and figure out why.
I've also got 87 rounds of this stuff, and I'm not sure what to do with it. I may use this as an excuse to get one of them fancy bullet puller dies. I'm also considering getting the manual inertial puller out and adjusting OAL (there's plenty of room between 2.165" and max OAL to move the bullet out) to see if that will reduce pressures enough to make the rounds serviceable without having to disassemble them all. I'll have to test those one-by-one, in case they still show leaks or popped primers and avoid this problem from happening again.

Phew. What a learning experience this has been.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Running Through The Paces

I finally got to get back to the range today, as my weekends have been booked solidly for the past month. As I mentioned, I was very happy with the results I got from the VV135 powder/55 grain combo, getting sub-MOA grouping using a charge of 24.7 grains. I loaded up 150 rounds using this charge so I could test it out at the range in quantity and see how it runs at 100m as well.

It was exceptionally windy at the range today. I'd guess the wind was around 20mph, with frequent and variable gusts of around 40mph. I'd also meant to test out a rework of my 3031 load with the new primers, but the wind was so stiff, the chronograph couldn't stay standing.

So today, I focused on trying out my finalized VV135 plinking load and trying out the new Marlin 795.

I've got the Marlin all set up with Tech Sights and a sling, so she's ready for Appleseed. I ordered a bunch of magazines, once I found a place that had them in stock. It seems that everyone has the sub-standard 7 round magazines, but no one has the standard 10 rounders. Cabelas doesn't even carry them.

Since this was the inaugural range trip, I started with the Marlin. I strapped it in to the lead sled to get it zeroed at 50m. Because of the gusty wind, grouping was not terribly impressive with the subsonic 40-grainers. Surprisingly enough, the newly-installed Tech Sights were quite close. I'd put out 12" targets, but found that that was not necessary, as the sights weren't too far off. A few clicks down and to the left and I got her zeroed with just a few rounds.

I pulled the rifle off the lead sled and gave it a go without a support. I was getting low on my CCI Standard Velocity rounds, so I switched over to Aguila SuperMaximum Solid Point 30-grainers.


I'm going to go on a small tangent here, while I think about it. Regarding the CCI SV rounds... Cabela's, why don't you carry CCI ammo in usable quantities? Your selection in .22LR is crap. All of the ammo you carry in anything approximating a brick is terrible. Sure, you carry CCI ammo, but only Stinger/MiniMags in tiny little plastic boxes, or some newfangled "AR" ammo that looks like standard High Velocity rounds put in a smaller and more expensive bulk box. I have to go to Dick's Sporting Goods to get CCI Standard Velocity ammo. As much of a drive it is to get to Buda to get to your store, it pains my very soul to have to go to Dicks in The Domain. Seriously, stop forcing me go there. Stock some decent .22LR ammo.

Also, how is it that you sell a rifle that comes stock with a 10-round magazine, but don't carry any of those magazines? No one wants the overpriced piddly little 7 round magazine that you are selling. That's why you have a pile of them still on the shelf, while everyone goes and orders them from elsewhere on the internet. You had 30-something Marlin 795 rifles in stock at the store the day I purchased mine. You should have a little more forethought.

One more thing, Cabelas. Vihtavuori Powder and Speer bullets. Both major players in their respective component groups, but for some reason you don't carry them. Why??


OK, back to shooting the Marlin. One thing I've observed about this rifle is how very light it is. Aside from the barrel and bolt, all parts of this gun are very light. This makes it particularly difficult to keep steady in gusting wind, so the results of my string were less than impressive. I certainly need to start learning sling technique with this gun. As I expected, POI rose, as velocity increased nearly 700fps (1070 vs. 1750 fps). Here are the results:

I ran another few mags through the rifle. It ate it all up and spit out the empties flawlessly throughout, as expected.

Moving on to the AR, in addition to the reloads I brought, there was also a recently-purchased brass catcher. Now, I really had my heart set on a nice catcher from Vector Tactical. Robb got one back in September, and I really wanted to get one for myself once my AR was built. A few weeks after Robb got his, the Vector Tactical site stated that the catches were unavailable for order at that time. Early this month, the domain registration for expired, and has not yet been renewed.

Midway carries 3 AR brass catches, all of them look identical. I ordered the only one they had in stock at the time, the "Mako GMG Brass Catcher AR-15 Nylon Mesh Black". I'm underwhelmed with the performance of this catcher. It's flimsy. While the bag itself should be able to easily hold 100 or more cases, it becomes unusable once 20 is reached. The catcher begins to sag, causing stovepipes. In the 100 rounds I went through today, I had 4 stovepipes, and one double-feed (caused by a stovepiped case). Also, the cheap nylon mesh is not a high-temperature material, so occasionally a case would melt the bag enough to stick.

I think I'm going to have to come up with a catcher net system instead, because those stovepipes are annoying.

As I moved my Nikon back on the rail a few notches, the AR needed to be zeroed again. This was pretty quick, and I was ready to rock. I ran a test set off the lead sled to get an idea of grouping in larger quantities. Results were not as astounding as with the workup group, but then again it was very windy. Nonetheless, the load performed well:

I moved over to a 100m bench, posted a couple targets, and did a lead sled test there as well. This was my first time running the AR at 100m, as everything I've really done up to this point has been load testing. I switched over to the 1MOA dot, as the 4MOA eclipsed too much of the target for my taste. I put 10 rounds on target and here's what I got:

Not too bad. I figured now that I've established my load is good, I'd get some real shooting in. I put another 10 shots into the second target, seated at the bench, unsupported. The grouping opened up considerably more than I would have liked, but it gives me something to work on:

I was working from a box of 100 rounds, and was down to 30. Since I didn't do a target without the sled at 50m, I figured I could load up a 30 round mag and have at it. I worked on acheiving my shooting zen to steady myself, and got some pretty decent results:

I was actually surprised at how tight the grouping was. It's not much bigger than the run off the lead sled. I guess I am getting better. Next trip, I'll be doing the same kind of thing with my hunting load, since I didn't get around to it today.

I'll also test out my 55 grain/IMR 3031 rework, so I can finalize a high-velocity (somewhere around 3100-3200fps) load for my Appleseed ammo. I've got Friday off, so hopefully I'll be able to do it then and give you an update.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Buy A Gun Day

As you may already know, today is Buy A Gun Day. As I am out of town for my anniversary, I didn't get to buy a gun today. Instead, I picked one up earlier in the week.

I've been wanting to attend an Appleseed for quite a while now. I finally went for the beginnings of a Liberty Training Rifle. Rather than the more common Ruger 10/22, I opted for the Marlin 795. I already have an older Marlin 60 that I'm quite happy with, so I thought I'd give one of the newer (and more petite) box-fed Marlins a try. Here she is:

I haven't had the chance to get her to the range yet, so no range report for you today. I've got some Tech Sights and a sling on order to complete the setup.

While I had the kitchen counter cleared off for gun photography, I thought I'd get a photo of the AR with bayonet affixed. This one's for you, Jay:

Sunday, March 6, 2011

.223 Handloads (Parts 2 & 3)

I've come along in my development efforts, and have had a couple of workup cycles and subsequent range trips.

I picked up some of the new IMR 8208 XBR powder a few weeks ago, and put together a set of loads using both the Winchester 55gr FMJ-BT bullets I've been working with, as well as Sierra 69gr HPBT Matchkings. I'd run out of Speer 70gr Semi-Spitzer bullets for my hunting load, and apparently no one in town carries them.

I was impressed that I got decent sets from each bullet using the 8208 XBR powder. In 55 gr, both 24.7 and 25.3 grains gave me decent grouping. Unfortunately, I loast all of my chronograph data for the day, so I cannot provide numbers. Please note, all targets were shot at a range of 50m.

In the 69gr loads, I got good groups in several of the charges, in both the low and mid ranges of the workup. I got good groups at 21.6, 21.9, 22.5, and 23.1 grains. As you may have noticed, some of the shots on these targets are far off to the right. This is due to a quirk in the operation of the Nikon VSD. I'll have a dedicated post on this topic in the near future.

Fast-forward to this afternoon. I got in on a bulk order with some other folks from Powder Valley a couple of weeks back, and was able to get a bunch of the Speer 70gr Semi-Spitzer bullets, so that I'll be able to finish out my hunting load development, and get a bunch loaded up for sighting and actual hunting. I got a bulk box of 1000 Hornady 55gr FMJ-BT bullets, which will replace the Winchester bullets for my normal range work. Hornady's bullets are nicer anyway, and the box of 1000 makes them cheaper.

I've also switched from using CCI #400 primers to CCI #41. The #400 primers don't seem to be made for .223 and 5.56 pressures. I found that the #400 primers would begin flattening even with moderate loads. The primer cups on the #41 are more stout, and are made specifically for 5.56 loading. Apparently the priming compound charge is different as well. My continuation of the 70gr TAC loads indicated a loss of around 80fps with the new primers.

I started out today's session finishing up the TAC workup, and found that 25.2 grains gave me acceptable results, with a velocity averaging 2740fps. I think I've settled on this as a hunting load. Accuracy is acceptable for hunting purposes at a high enough velocity for terminal effectiveness..

I did another workup using the 70gr using the 8208 XBR powder as well. Accuracy was good, but velocity was a little lower than I'd wanted in a hunting round. I may be able to push the charge a bit to get the velocity I want, I'll have to see. The best groups were at 22.1 and 22.7 grains, with average velocities of 2542 and 2610 fps, respectively.

Finally, I decided to try out Vhitavuori N135 with the 55gr bullets, at the suggestion of TxGunGeek. I ordered this powder along with the afore-mentioned bulk buy. I did a wide range for my workup, since I've never worked with the powder before. TxGunGeek uses a charge of 25.6 grains for his accuracy load, though our rifles are certainly different in configuration. I ran the whole gamut and came across a beautiful gem of a grouping at 24.7 grains of 7/16"! I'm quite impressed with the results using this powder so far.

I didn't get a reading from the chronographfor this string because it was getting dim out and I stopped getting readings about this time. Judging from the readings around this group, I'd say it was moving around 2950 fps. Not too bad for a plinking load. Next session, I'm going to run some of these at 100y and see how they do.

Monday, January 31, 2011

.223 handload workups

It was a nice day at the range today. A bit windy as usual there, but otherwise it was nice shooting weather.

As mentioned a couple posts ago, I'd worked up loads with a few different powders and a couple of different bullets. I got the chance to take them out to the range today to see how they ran. I got a bunch of 5-target sheets from Midway with my last order. These utilize five 3 15/16" bullseyes on cheap newsprint-quality paper. They're very inexpensive, so are great for testing load workups.

I had two powders I did workups with for the Winchester 55 grain FMJ-BT bullet: IMR 3031 and Hodgdon Benchmark. I was surprised to actually find useful and accurate loads in both powders.

I'd not had a lot of faith in IMR 3031, as the key benefit of the powder when it was sold to me is that it burns clean. That is a nice characteristic, but certainly not the primary factor for me when choosing a powder. Using the Lee manual as a guide, I made a workup from 23.0 to 24.8 grains, in increments of 0.3 grains. The top end of this is a compressed load. I don't understand the dynamics of compressed loads very well, other than the fact that some powders don't work well with compression, while others do. OAL for this set was 2.230".

I had the chronograph out and had my spotting scope handy to see the results of my work. I made my way through the 3031 group, not seeing anything particularly notable as far as grouping size was concerned. I did see that my shots were grouping a little low and left, so made some adjustments just before the last group of the batch. I ended up over-adjusting and pulled the second shot, which hit a little too high and ricocheted off the bottom edge of the top post above my target. This caused all sorts of nasty tearing on the target, and I figured it didn't matter much, considering the performance of the powder up to this point. I finished up the string and moved on.

I brought all my targets home for review, going through the data for each one. I saw that the last string of the IMR 3031 showed a much tighter spread and Standard Deviation than the rest. Average velocity was 3089.05 with a spread of only 53.33 and a SD of 20.17. I went and looked at the target, and in the mess of the ricochet, found the rest of the shots in a 1/2" grouping!

I think I may do a little tuning work with this powder and explore the top end to see what I find. This was definitely a surprise!

The Benchmark workup performed well. I did a workup from 24.0 to 25.5 grains, in increments of 0.3 grains. Data was based on the Hodgdon load, with OAL adjusted to 2.235" from the 2.220 that was listed for a soft point. It looks like the accuracy sweet spot is somewhere around 24.9 grains at an average velocity of 2982.89. Consistency here was good as well, with a spread of only 37.53 and a standard deviation of only 14.59. Grouping was around 1".

Moving on to the hunting load workups, I created workups for both powders mentioned above, as well as with Ramshot TAC, which I've heard good things about in conjunction with the Speer 70 grain Semi-Spitzer.

I started out with the IMR 3031 loads first. This workup was based on the loads from the Hodgon website, and ranged from 19.0 to 21.1 grains with OAL set to 2.150". Grouping was OK, but nothing below 1.5". The best group also had very tight velocities, with an average of 2430.11 fps, a spread of only 9.77 fps and a standard deviation of only 4.35. Looking at the data overall, the powder stayed very consistent throughout the workup. I may work on this powder a bit and see if an adjustment to OAL makes any difference in grouping. They definitely need to be stoked hotter to hit acceptable velocities for hunting - the highest velocity I got out of this workup was 2503 fps.

Next was the Hodgdon Benchmark. This workup went from 20.8 to 22.6 grains, with an OAL of 2.150". I actually got a nice 3/4" group with my starting string, but grouping seemed to progressively open up the higher the velocities got until the last group, where they tightened down a little. The high end of this workup only got up to around 2650 fps. Velocity consistency was actually very similar to the 3031, with extreme spreads generally staying around 25, more or less.

Finally, I tried out the revamped Ramshot TAC loads. While Ramshot only publishes .223 loads (which seem overstated in velocity), they have data for 5.56 NATO spec as well. I found someone who'd put this information up on their site after corresponding with Ramshot, so I gave it a try. The listed range (for 68 grains) starts at 23.5 grains up to a max load of 26.2 grains. I picked up just above where I left off, and started at 24.0 grains, with 0.3 grain increments. I'd run low on these bullets, so only had enough for 20 rounds. Since this were NATO-spec charges, I used Lake City brass instead of the the Prvi Partizan or Federal .223 brass I have been using for most of my loads. Grouping tightened up at the top end of my workup, and I got about 1" at 24.9 grains. OAL was set to 2.155" The 24.9 grain group gave good results for velocity, with an average of 2814.45 fps with a spread of 20.15 fps with a standard deviation of 9.53. Once I get some more bullets ordered, I'm going to do another workup with this powder and increment by 0.2 grains and get a little higher that I did with this set.

It looks like TAC is in good shape for becoming my hunting load powder, so I'll keep you posted here.

I also promised a re-evaluation of the S&B 5.56 ammo that I picked up at Cabela's. I had some extra time at the end of my workup tests, so I figured I'd put 10 more rounds through the rifle to see how it measured up this time around. Results were significantly better, with about 1 1/2" grouping, excluding 1 flyer.

That's all I've got for you now. I'll keep you posted on new development efforts.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Nikon Monarch VSD initial impressions

For Christmas, my wife got me the Nikon Monarch VSD that I'd been eying since I started the build process for the AR. Unfortunately, Nikon regards the VSD as a special order item, so the sight did not arrive until the weekend before last.

I installed and zeroed it to correlate with the c0-witnessed iron sights. I used a 1/2" Yankee Hill Machine riser, which put the dot just above the front sight. I took it to the range and was quite pleased with the results.

The sight is a relatively standard 1x red dot, with the additional feature of a variable-size dot. Sizes include 1, 4, 6, 8, and 10 MOA. There are 11 brightness settings, suitable for a range from low light to bright sunshine conditions.

A bit of commentary here about the dot sizes: I would have preferred an intermediate dot size between 1 and 4 MOA. I would have preferred dot sizes in 1, 2, 4, 8, and 10 or 1,2,4,6, and 10 MOA, as granularity in the smaller dot sizes is far more useful than with the larger sizes. While the 1MOA dot is suitable in most conditions, it gets difficult to see in very bright sunlight. The 4MOA is just a little big for precision, so a 2MOA would have probably filled the gap there.

Other than the missing 2MOA dot size, I don't have any complaints about the sight. I've put a couple hundred rounds through the gun since mounting it, and it appears to be holding zero nicely. It comes with 2 lens caps bungeed together to protect the optics when not in use. I'm going to see if I can find a set of flip-up caps that will fit it, as they seem more practical.

I'm going to try and get some shots of the reticle next time I'm at the range, so I'll see if I can get something posted soon to give you a good visual of the sight in use.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

.223 Range Tests

In previous posts, I've mentioned that I'd worked up some loads using Hodgdon Varget for the AR. From personal experience and from searching around on the internets, I've come to learn that Varget isn't really the ideal powder for this caliber. Results were OK, but both my 55 grain FMJ-BT and 70 grain Semi-Spitzer Soft Point loads have fallen short of what I'd hoped they would yield. I've read that Varget works relatively well for heavier bullets. The 70 grain loads I developed did perform better than the 55-grainers, but still not nearly as good as I wanted.

So I went and got a few powders to try out. I'd gone to the local gun shop in a rush after work to pick up some Hodgdon Benchmark and Ramshot TAC. Unfortunately, they were out of the former and didn't even carry the latter. At the suggestion of the clerk, I picked up some IMR 3031. He claimed it is good stuff for an AR, and it's "real clean". I grabbed a pound of it and made my way down to the register just before they closed the store.

Availability of load data for 3031 is a little thin, but there are loads in the IMR/Hodgdon/Winchester load data for the powder with both of my bullets, so I had a starting place. Still wanting to get the other two powders, I ran down to Cabela's and picked up a pound of the Benchmark and TAC. Benchmark seems to be made for .223 and similar rounds, and there's plentiful data out there for it. TAC is a little less common, and not all of my books have data for it. I'm primarily interested in TAC for a hunting load paired with the 70 grain Speer bullet, and I've read of others getting very good results with this pairing.

I worked up 55 grain loads for both Benchmark and 3031, and 70 grain loads for all three powders. TAC is supposed to be better for heavier bullets in .223, so I didn't bother with the 55-grainers using that powder.

So, I got everything ready to go to the range on Monday, got out there, and realized I'd left all of my workup loads at home with the exception of the TAC. Dammit.

To assist in my reload testing, I'd gotten a Caldwell Lead Sled Solo. I have also put a Nikon Monarch VSD on my rifle, of which I'll give my initial impressions in a post soon. I also used my Shooting Chrony Gamma Master to check the velocity and consistency of the loads. Once I got used to the lead sled rig, I ran through my TAC workup using 3" black bullseyes at 50y. My test workup used 5 rounds for each charge weight, and grouping was quite good. All groups were within 1.5", with some coming in well under an inch. This is using a 1x red dot, and I think these loads would have given even better grouping had I used magnified optics. I did the workup on the conservative side, and the lower end came in at 2369fps, not the ideal velocity for a hunting round. Ramshot's numbers should indicate that load at more like 2700fps out of a 24" barrel, which is a bit too much loss going out of a 16" barrel to think that barrel length is the only factor. I have a feeling they're taking the Hornady approach and over-stating their loads to keep people from loading too hot. I'm going to redo this workup, shifting to the higher end of their recommended loads to see what that produces, possibly this weekend along with the rest of the workups I forgot at home.

Since I had lots of time and no workups to test, I decided to test some of the factory loads I had on hand.

First up: UltraMax .223 62 grain FMJ. This stuff has been showing up in the gun shops at a very affordable price. It is commercially reloaded ammo using Lake City and WCC 5.56 brass. I took this stuff out to the range last trip as well, and was disappointed at the performance using iron sights and no support. I thought I'd test it out on the lead sled using the red dot to see what I could get out of it. Results were still disappointing. Pictured below is what I got on an 8" Dirty Bird target at 50y. I ran this through the chronograph as well, and quickly found that this was some seriously inconsistent stuff. Extreme Spread was nearly 300fps! At the price, this is good stuff for plinking around at steel in relatively close courses, but definitely not something you want to use if accuracy or consistency is important.

Next up, I tried my Winchester 55 grain FMJ-BT handloads using Varget (since I still have a bunch of them) to see what they gave me. Grouping was OK at around 1.75", but like I said - not good enough for what I want.

My last trip to Cabela's, I noticed they had some S&B 5.56 55 grain "M193" ammo on sale for $8.99. I picked up a few boxes to see how they'd run. While not nearly as spread out, grouping was not much better than the UltraMax mentioned above. Velocity variation and clustering was much better though, so this may have been in part my fault. Right around this time I realized my riser picatinny rail had worked itself loose (DOH! All my fault, really - my home allen bit kit apparently lacks a 7/64" size, so I'd gingerly tightened the bolts on with pliers at home), so that likely had to do something with it. I got vertical grouping of around 3", but horizontal grouping was only around 1.5". I borrowed an allen wrench from someone else and got my rail all tightened up. I'll have to give the ammo another whirl on the lead sled and see what it does.

Next came the surprise of the day, PMC Bronze. This is another 55 grain load in .223 that was on sale at Cabela's for $8.99. I grabbed a few boxes to test out, and figured I'd put them through rifle just to see how they did. Being cheap ammo to start with (it's only $9.99 when not on sale), I didn't expect spectacular results. I was quite surprised to see the target when I peered with the spotting scope. There's one flyer there, but got a 1.25" grouping otherwise. Big surprise! I may be stocking up on this stuff for my non-reload plinking ammo in the future. I'll be interested to see how well the brass works for reloading.

And finally, there's the WWB Q3131A1 mentioned in an earlier post. As expected, this ammo performed quite well. Aside from one flyer, I got sub 1" grouping with these rounds. Excellent stuff, and this affirms my earlier comments that this is one very nice commercial plinking round. The shelves were bare of the stuff (and marked as a "Best Seller!") during my trip to Cabela's, so I'm apparently not the only one that thinks highly of the stuff.

Anyhow, that's all I've got for you right now. Expect an update in the near future with my initial impressions regarding the Nikon Monarch VSD.