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Long Distance Milsurp Shooting

Since I’m working on producing an e-book video series on how to make ammunition, once again we have another blog today about shooting. Until I finish the series I’ll post from time to time shooting related subjects that will be covered in the videos, mixing them in on occasion with the regular gunsmith projects here on the website.

Being a bit of a history buff combined with being a gun nerd sometimes yields interesting results — at least for me. World War 1 had been raging since 1914 and the US had managed to stay out of the conflict until 1918. Once America got involved, the American Expeditionary Force was shipped to France to fight alongside the British and French Allies against the Imperial German troops. Having been a former US Marine myself, I like the history of US Marines who fought at Belleau Wood.

After the Germans had defeated the Russians on the Eastern Front, they transferred 50 additional divisions from there to launch an all out assault on the Allies at the Western Front. They reached the north bank of the Marne River in May 1918 and were held up by the US 3rd Division. By June the 1st, they had punched a hole in the French lines to the left of the US Marine’s position. German commanders ordered an advance on the towns of Lucy and Marigny through Belleau Wood as part of their major offensive, which would allow other German troops to cross the Marne and reach Paris only 59 miles away.

Army General James Harbord defied French orders to dig trenches further to the rear and told the Marines to hold where they stand. The Marines used their bayonets to dig shallow fighting positions so they could fire from the prone shooting position. The Germans attacked the Marine position and were cut to pieces before they retreated  back into the woods. By the 6th of June, the Marines decided to attack the Germans and the result was nearly as disastrous. As any Marine knows this story, the fighting was so fierce the Germans gave the Marines the sobriquet of “Devil Dogs”, named for the vicious animals in the legends of the Black Forest. The name has stuck ever since.

Most interesting to me of course is the claim of the Marine Corps marksmanship skills displayed at that time. Several stories are cited, but one in particular is a book titled “The Two World Wars” written by Susanne Everette and Brigadier Peter Young. In this book the writers cited that at the onset of the battle of Belleau Wood, Marines were shooting across the wheat field and killing enemy German troops at 750-800 yards with their open sighted Springfield 1903 rifles.

I don’t happen to have an 03 anymore unfortunately, to put it to this test. But what I do have is a pristine WW2 bolt action Mosin Nagant. It’s a model 91/30 chambered for 7.62 X 54R. The sights are considerably more crude than those on the 03 Springfield, but many stories are told about the accuracy of this rifle as well. During the 1939 Winter War between Russia and Finland, a marksman named Simo Hayah racked up an impressive number of enemy dead using a Mosin Nagant rifle. His version was a model M/28. In less than 100 days he had 505 confirmed kills with his rifle — all while shooting with open sights! During the battle of Stalingrad (10 November to 17 December 1942), many scoped verions of the Mosin were put to good use against the German invaders. These scopes were only effective to about 200 yards by today’s standards, but Russian Sniper Vasily Zaytsev is credited with sniping 225 Germans during that battle. From October 1942 to January 1943, Zaytsev had an estimated 400 kills using that same scoped Mosin rifle…. some as far away as 1,000 yards. Imagine what could have been done with optics like we use today.

Well…. this ain’t Hollywood, and we ain’t filming “Enemy at the Gates”. I’m NOT a sniper…. just an average shooter with a bit of a US Marine Corps background. But I do have a Mosin 91/30, plenty of ammo, and a long range to shoot in. So let’s get started! Besides…. the prices of these guns will go through the roof in the near future since our “Fearless Leader” has seen fit to ban any future imports of surplus arms from Russia. Got to love those Executive Orders, you know. So far this pertains to items from Izhevsk, but I’m sure the gun banners will want to include the venerable old Mosin as well. So let’s enjoy them now while we can.

The target is a standard dart board. I have a bright orange one that’s easy to spot in a sea of green even at the distance of 800 yards. No scope, just an open sight that came on the rifle. Here’s the view towards the target… out by the far tree line. Kind of adds a new twist to the game of darts, doesn’t it ?

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And as seen through maximum magnification of the zoom lens of the spotting scope.

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With my nearly 50 year old eyes and open sights? The shooting was a bit tougher than I figured it would be. The front sight blade is wider than the target and the constant shifting winds in this part of Maine didn’t help much.

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The ammo is standard quality Russian silver tip 149 grain ball. The trigger on the rifle was reworked to make it smoother and a bit more consistent. Still, I was only able to hit the target 7 times out of 15 shots. Oh, I pounded the rock that the target was propped against, but didn’t hit the target as many times as I thought I could. I didn’t continue to blast away because it was a waste of ammo for me to do so. The camera guy stayed behind some other rocks nearby the target. We found out pretty early on that it would fall once it was hit. I fired a round and once he heard the crack of the shot whizzing by as it broke the sound barrier… he’d check to see if it was down. I waited until he walked over to set it up, then went back to safety. Either that — or I’d have done quite a bit of walking to reset it myself!

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The target does have a few holes.

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And the rock had the snot beat out of it. Those silver tips have a steel core inside the lead core, so they seem to put a hurting on the rocks around here. What did I learn? That I’m not that good of a shot with open sights at 800 yards. I’m not a sniper. And nearly 50 year old eyes don’t want to focus like they used to. However, I’m still of the opinion that a person with marksmanship skills should be able to pick up any rack grade rifle of sufficient caliber and hit a target out to 500 yards with little effort. This is the “rifleman’s quarter mile”. Those same skills will allow you to hit a target the size of a paper plate from the offhand (standing) position at 100 yards very consistently too. Practice, practice, practice. Thanks to the fact that the NRA had only been founded a couple decades before WW1, we had a ready supply of pre trained marksmen in time for that war. Many folks seem to forget that the NRA is not just a political lobby group… they offer gun safety classes as well as sponsoring rifle and pistol competitions all over the country. The US gov’t has a program called the CMP. The Civilian Marksmanship Program was designed to provide the populace with a source of inexpensive military surplus rifles and ammunition to practice with. They teach gun safety and offer classes to give people the chance to learn how to fire service rifles accurately. They also sponsor some of the biggest rifle matches in the country today. Do yourself a favor. Go out and get a nice old surplus rifle and learn to shoot it. Accurately….. any dummy can spray lead all over the area with a semi auto, learn a good marksmanship skill.


Firing / testing black powder revolvers

It’s no secret I like older guns. I don’t know why that is. But the last time I went to a Cowboy Action shoot I noticed one guy with cap and ball revolvers. Everyone on the firing line groaned….. he was placed as the last shooter on the relay. Probably because these guns are notoriously slow to load and a bit messy ?

100_3638 So here are two of the many cap and ball revolvers I own myself. I’ve played with these types of guns since I was a young teenager. In fact, the very first handgun I personally bought was an Italian copy of a Remington – Beals New Army…. also called an 1858 Remington by some folks. I mowed grass all summer long when I was 14 so I could buy my first handgun… a Remington Beals revolver. I still own that particular gun these days. It’s in rougher shape because back then I didn’t understand the importance of keeping it very clean.  At the top of this photo is a Uberti made 1847 Colt Walker. It uses up to 60 grains of powder per chamber!  They were designed to be used during the War with Mexico to kill enemy cavalry horses at 100 yards.  A cavalryman on foot in combat was easy pickings for mounted troops. To give you an idea of the power of this handgun, the old .45-70 military cartridge was so named because it utilized a 70 grain powder charge in it’s case. That’s only 10 grains more powder than one individual chamber of the big Colt. The gun in the lower part of the photo is a newer Remington Beals New Army. I shoot it with 30 grains of powder.

100_3641 BOTH revolvers are loaded with my cast bullets made from soft lead and weighing 200 grains each. The earlier Walker projectiles were round lead balls at about 143 grains weight or so. With this 200 grain conical, I can only squeeze 50 grains of powder in each chamber.


The Colt Walker averaged about 1050 – 1175 feet per second velocity. But how did it do as far as accuracy ?

100_3634 This is typical of the Colt style open topped revolvers. The rear sight is a simple notch in the hammer that’s not even visible until the gun is fully cocked. So the group shot at 25 yards is high and to the side a bit.

You’ll notice the target holder. A local acquaintance of mine here has introduced me to these excellent disposable target holders. Political parties litter the sides of the highway during election cycles with these yard signs. During an election, it’s illegal to deface or remove these signs. After the election is over, the political parties have about 5 business days to remove them. Around here it’s common to see these signs still on the side of the roads months after the fact. What better use for these discarded signs than to repurpose them as target holders ? Not only does it help clean up our streets, but these things are free bullet catchers! I can’t think of a better use for them myself. And it’s sort of a commentary on our political process in the US today.

Firing the Uberti Colt Walker, you’ll notice as I did how the ramming lever dropped down and jammed the cylinder. This happened on the original guns as well. The short term solution back in the day was to tie a leather string on the barrel to hold the rammer in place. The problem was addressed with the 1848 Colt’s Dragoon First Model and subsequent models afterwards. You’ll notice too the stouter recoil despite the massive 4 1/2 pound weight of the gun.


The Remington is a bit more miserly with it’s powder requirements. 30 grains of 3FG powder gave about 775 – 800 plus feet per second through the chronometer, using the same projectile.

100_3637 What the Remington lacks in power compared to the massive Colt Walker, it makes up for in accuracy. The Remington has a top strap over the cylinder, and much better sights. After firing the Walker, I was overcompensating with the Remington by aiming a bit too low. Once I saw how the shots were striking the target, I adjusted my aim a bit and fired it more like a modern revolver. The last 3 shots in the cylinder were pretty much spot on.

Firing the Remington Beals was more like a modern handgun we use today.

The Remington will give me similar ballistic performance as a modern .45 ACP cartridge… or pretty close to it. The Walker was the most powerful handgun in production until the .357 Magnum came along in the 1930’s. So — which one of these two revolvers will I take on a hunting trip this season? Heck… why not BOTH? After all…. I’m hunting from a tree stand in Maine. My furthest shot will be about 35 yards from a stand about 20 feet in the air. I couldn’t imagine how tired I’d be lugging about 7 or so pounds of shooting iron on my hips all day, but I’ll only be walking to and from my stand. The loading supplies will be in a possibles bag slung over my shoulder. Volumes were written in the 1930’s about the killing power of the then new .357 Magnum killing everything from elk to bears and deer. Today most folks don’t consider the .357 anything more than a self defense round. But I’m convinced with more practice to ensure good shot placement, I can bag a critter with my chosen firearms this season. The soft lead 200 grain projectiles should to the trick if placed in the boiler room of Bambi. And it’s not like I wouldn’t have 11 more to follow up with if the first one doesn’t take immediate effect. For the distances I’ll be hunting I see no reason why this wouldn’t be an effective and challenging hunting season this year. Would I risk a longer shot past 50 yards ? Probably not. It wouldn’t result in a humane and clean kill in my opinion. But hunting with these revolvers adds a bit of sport to the hunt, and will take considerable pre season practice. Who knows? I may not even get a chance to shoot at all.

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Reparing a small cannon firing mechanism.

Sometimes I get odd jobs coming into the shop. Recently the oddest project was a request to repair the firing mechanism for a signal cannon mounted on a yacht. Why not ? It’s a type of “gun” after all. The corrosion from the saltwater exposure and the lack of basic maintenance had rusted the firing pin in place. The owner appears to have tried to pound the firing pin loose with a hammer. This made things a little worse. So I decided to drill and ream the entire block and firing pin out. I used an end mill chucked into the tailstock to do this.

Next, it’s off to the milling machine to align the tap with the tool that I use to keep tension on the head of the tap and to keep everything in alignment.


Then I make a firing pin bushing.


The bushing gets a slot cut into the face for easier installation using a jig specifically for centering screw slots.


Oh yes, the firing pin itself. Now I thought about this for a bit. What better material for something that gets fired pretty often and takes a serious pounding ? Well how about a modified pin punch ? A trip to the local hardware store and I picked up a pin punch for a relatively inexpensive price. This is some metal that gets beat on a lot by hammers, so why not modify one into a heavy bodied firing pin ?


Here’s the newer heavier duty firing pin. Along side it are the new bushing coated in zinc for corrosion resistance, and the heavier duty firing pin return spring.


The newly made parts fit pretty well. So let’s get a few rounds ready to test fire.


The cascabel is threaded into the breech and contains the firing pin in this particular gun. The cascabel is screwed out of the breech and a 10 gauge blank slides in.

The cascabel is threaded back into the breech to enclose the shell. The hammer is pretty simple. Pulling the lanyard hard enough to throw the hammer up into contact with the firing pin sets off the shot. In the test firing video below, I filmed the second of two shots while my friend Sam pulls the lanyard. Not having been used to cannons, he didn’t pull the lanyard hard enough to overcome the weight of the firing hammer. PULL HARDER SAM!!! But the gun fires great now.


“Long Distance” 30-30 ?

Having read Elmer Keith’s books in the past concerning his helping develop the .44 magnum, I was a bit skeptical of claims of making kill shots at incredible distances with cast bullets in a handgun. Since the man lived and died long before I came around, I’ll admit I was intrigued. So I decided to do a little bit of “testing” with cast lead bullets myself.

What I’m going to post here today might leave some visitors to this website a bit skeptical themselves, but facts are facts. I started off my experiment with hard cast bullets of 170 grains weight made from hardened wheel weight alloys and a gas check on the base. I loaded these with a healthy dose of IMR – 3031 powder from a load data book. Fired through my chronometer they averaged 2,000 feet per second. It’s important to note here that any reloader should ALWAYS follow listed safe loads published for their rifle and bullet weight in the caliber of their choice — NEVER ! NEVER stray from that if you value your firearm and enjoy using your eyes ! Stoking the loads a bit hotter than listed in the book can have dire consequences. You can imagine how much it would suck to have a firing pin or part of a rifle bolt stuck in your eye socket…


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My chosen platform for this test is a standard Winchester 94 Legacy model in .30-30. The only modifications I’ve made are a nicer trigger job, and the rifle is topped off with a fixed 4 power magnification scout scope mounted over the barrel and forward of the receiver. (A nod to the late Jeff Cooper)

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The firing position is as shown in the photo… forward elbow propped on a large granite rock.
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To give you an idea of the firing range, here’s the vantage point from the firing line. Where I live in Maine we not only have some very dense underbrush with very limited shooting distances, we also have the barrens. Literally hundreds of square miles of very open spaces where the majority of America’s blueberry crops are grown. Measured distance was slightly over 400 yards. 423 yards to be exact. The “target” is a large rock to the left and slightly behind the large tree in the background.

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Now before I get chastised for shooting at big rocks and the potential for a dangerous ricochet, keep in mind that we’re miles from anyone else around. Many miles from highways and houses. Also, shooting at a big rock allows my spotter, Wayde Batchelder, to see the impact of my bullets through his 60 power spotting scope. The first 6 shots were low, and I walked the shots upwards until I was able to calculate how much to hold my horizontal cross hair above the target. And even hard cast lead projectiles do “splatter” on impact with the rock making them easier to see.

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After Wayde had confirmed I had hit the rock several times, I then proceeded to “paint” the rock with lead…. 40 more shots in a row. The wind had no value on the shot strings as it was blowing from our 6 o’clock position from behind us. The rock had plenty of lead splattered all over the front. Some a bit high, but the majority was pretty close in together.

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At the end of a rather lengthy shooting session, I’m standing in front of the rock with my dog to give you an idea of the size of the target at the 400 yard distance. I took my time and made the shots slowly and very deliberately. The Winchester 94 is a hunting rifle, not a target rifle. They’re NOT designed for minute of angle shooting, but “minute of deer”. The faster you shoot these guns, the quicker the barrel heats up, and a Winchester of this nature has a wandering zero as the barrel gets hot. In my opinion (and we know how opinions can be) if I’m shooting any faster than one shot every three to four minutes, I’m not shooting slowly enough. This rate of fire doesn’t allow the barrel time to cool enough to keep a decent zero.

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This is the view from the target back to the firing point, 400 yards away. The cluster of pine trees to the center right just behind the firing point rocks.

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And the same view through the spotting scope. Firing point is the rock on the right side of this photo that I leaned against. According to my ballistics computer / calculator, the temperature was 59 F. The chronograph was set up 10 feet from the muzzle with an average velocity of 2,000 feet per second. Height of scope above line of bore was 1.5 inches. The ballistic coefficient of the cast bullet is listed as .202 using the G1 drag model. Atmospheric pressure was measured at 29.92 Hg. The vital zone radius was set for 8″. At this setting, maximum effective range would be 180 yards. I’d be much more comfortable hunting less distance than this at about 150 yards. At 150 yards, the projectile is only traveling at 1489 feet per second. At 400 yards, the projectile is only moving at a pedestrian speed of 994 feet per second, producing only 373 foot pounds of energy. It dropped 100 inches from the muzzle height at that distance and took 0.90 or just under a full second to get there. Wow, 24 full minutes of angle drop !

Let me very quickly point out that I would NEVER consider this to be an acceptable hunting rifle at such a distance. I’m sure Elmer Keith did in fact hit targets at longer distances with his revolver, and had witnesses see him kill game animals at ridiculous ranges. I’m sure he was a better shot than I am, as all I’ve ever had for training is old fashioned Marine Corps marksmanship skills pounded into my head as a young Devil Dog. My goal here was to see if I could get a cast bullet to actually hit anything at this range. I was mildly and pleasantly surprised at the way the gun handled the distance. While certainly NOT a precision firearm by any means…. it appears the old “Appalachian Assault Rifle” laughed at and scorned by modern shooters may still have a few “tricks up it’s sleeve”. But at best all you could ever hope for trying to kill a game animal that far away, is to poke a few holes in it and watch in frustration as it ran off to bleed out somewhere else and you’d lose your dinner on the hoof. 994 Feet per second is not enough in my opinion to have the projectile expand sufficiently to ensure a clean kill. Anything else would be unethical.

Next time I take a Hail Mary shot at longer range with a firearm like this — I’m bringing a video camera !


Another hydrographics pattern

I recently added a new service to the shop. Hydrographic transfer printing of patterns on firearms and other related items. Today’s project is a Kimber .45 pistol that had a rough finish. The bluing had quite a bit of holster wear from being carried so much, the customer decided to try something a bit different.

This pattern is a red cobra snakeskin pattern. The small parts such as the safety, hammer, magazine release, and slide stop were done with a black Duracoat finish to accent the snake skin.

In the future, I’ll be adding literally dozens of camo leaf patterns, more skulls, American flag patterns for the patriotic minded gun owners, as well as numerous snakeskin patterns. Hydrographic patterns can be applied to any metals or hardened surfaces. These patterns are not limited to just pistols either. Shotguns and rifles can be done as well. Check the website from time to time to see the new patterns as they come into the shop.



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Progress on the e-book (Swaging)

Quite some time ago I had decided to publish an e-book on how to cast your own projectiles and load ammunition at home. Other projects got in the way unfortunately. Recently I picked up once again on completing the e-book project, but it has grown considerably larger than before. Now to be included will be sections on how to swage your own copper jacket projectiles for hunting. This will also include sections on how to turn case necks, how to use a case master gauge to measure concentricity as well as bullet run out. These additional chapters will show the average person how to make high performance long distance target or hunting loads that will ring the maximum out of your chosen firearms. So keeping this in mind, I’m posting a bit of a “sneak peek” of some of the upcoming projects over the next few months of filming. Yes — instead of a printed format e-book — I decided it would be better for folks to learn by seeing and not having to read about the steps in the entire process.


I start off with standard .22 long rifle ammo. Fun to plink with and shoot at old tin cans or paper targets. Perfect for teaching new shooters about firearms safety. But what to do with the expended cases ? Not really usable or reloadable, but I save the empties anyway and repurpose them for another use.


The empty .22lr cases are cleaned inside from all the old priming compounds, then annealed to make them softer. Then I run them through a drawing die to swage away the rim and draw them to length as an open ended tube that remains closed on the bottom.


The next step is to extrude a cast lead core then swage this into the drawn .22lr case. The old case now forms a jacket for a centerfire projectile.

The resulting cylinder is then passed through a point forming die to be completed into an open tip projectile. If the core is slightly oversized in length on purpose, you can form a lead tip projectile for hunting. The addition of a small nylon ball can be used to form a ballistic tip in the next step, using a lead tip die. So by a slight variation of how you use your swaging dies, you can make hollowpoints, lead tips, or ballistic tip ammunition. You can also control bullet weight or length as well. I swage the .22lr cases into jackets for projectiles of any weight I need from 40 grain all the way up to 77 grain weights for any .22 centerfire cartridges I shoot.


From left to right in the above picture is a factory produced 55 grain lead tip projectile. Then a 55 grain open tip or hollowpoint, a 55 grain lead tip projectile, and finally a 77 grain soft point for varmint shooting in a bolt action for longer ranges.


Shown in this picture is a factory loaded .223 Remington rifle cartridge compared to a home made swaged projectile cartridge also loaded in a.223 Remington case. The dies swage the new projectiles to the proper .224″ diameter. Using a different die set for swaging, I can also make .30 caliber projectiles using copper tubing available at the local hardware store. There are also companies that sell pre drawn tubes of gilding metal to make the exact same projectiles that the major manufacturers do. WHY ? Why go to all of this trouble to make your own jacketed projectiles ? A few simple reasons — first, if you recall the recent gun ban scare and subsequent shortage of components for ammo reloading. And secondly, you can exercise quality control through every step of your projectile manufacturing. This means you can make your projectiles consistently the exact same and weigh the exact same down to the last grain of weight. This translates to more accuracy from shot to shot on down range performance.

So how do the home made brass jackets work in the centerfire cartridges ? Since the cases are fairly thin, these projectiles are good to about 3,000 – 3,200 feet per second muzzle velocity. Any faster than this and centrifugal forces will tear the bullet apart before it can reach the target. For higher velocity projectiles such as the .22-250 or the .220 Swift and others, you’ll need a stronger, thicker jacket material. Accuracy is pretty good and matches anything the average factory produces. Being thinner and more frangible these home made projectiles react violently on small varmints… putting them down easily in a more humane manner. Once completed, the e-book series will cover everything from casting round musket balls and forming paper cartridges all the way to swaging jacketed projectiles. Step by step instructions on how to swage copper tubing into jackets will also be shown.

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