Category Archives: Handloading

The “Old Four”

The .257, .270, 7mm And .300 Weatherby
Magnums Are Still Top Performers.

Roy Weatherby grew up during the Great Depression on a Kansas farm, in a family poor even for those days. After marrying in 1936, he moved to Southern California and ended up selling insurance, eventually making a yearly income of almost $100,000, adjusted to 2014 dollars. However, Weatherby was also an avid shooter, hunter and amateur gunsmith. Even during the shortages of World War II he developed some very fast big-game cartridges, a leap made possible by a new powder introduced in 1940, DuPont IMR 4350, by far the slowest-burning handloading powder then available.


The 7mm Weatherby (above) provides almost as much oomph as the .300, with considerably less recoil, even off the bench. This Mark V Ultra Lightweight in 7mm Weatherby Magnum (below) only weighs 8 pounds with scope, light enough for packing over elk mountains.


The first Weatherby wildcat was the .270 Weatherby Magnum, designed as an improvement over the popular .270 Winchester, the fastest factory big-game cartridge in America. The .270 Weatherby was made by shortening .300 H&H brass, then fire-forming the cases to increase powder capacity, with a distinctive double-radius shoulder that eventually said “Weatherby Magnum” like a gold ring says Leupold scopes. Within a year or two Weatherby also developed his .257 and 7mm Magnums on the same shortened case, and the .300 and .375 Weatherby Magnums, made by fire-forming the full-length .300 and .375 H&H cases in enlarged double-radius chambers.

The first Weatherby rifles were often rechamberings of factory rifles, one reason there are far fewer pre-’64 Model 70 Winchester .300 H&H’s than originally produced—and why some purchasers of pre’64 .300’s are still surprised when the first cartridge shot in their classic Winchester comes out of the chamber shaped differently. But soon Weatherby started offering custom rifles, sub-contracting the work he couldn’t do in his basement shop.

Many were stocked in what eventually became known as the California-style, often with hardwoods other than walnut, with exaggerated pistol grips and cheekpieces, flamboyant checkering and inlays of contrasting wood or even ivory. Roy Weatherby may not have been a master gunsmith, but he was a great promoter and realized many post-war hunters wanted something different than their father’s and grandfather’s rifles. Within a dozen years his company became successful enough to offer its own action, the Mark V, made by Sauer of Germany to Weatherby’s specifications. (Eventually Mark V’s were made in Japan, and today they’re made in the US.)

Of the five Weatherby Magnum cartridges offered in 1945, only the .375 is no longer chambered in any Weatherby rifle, mostly because it was surpassed in 1953 by the larger .378 Weatherby Magnum. The basic tenet of the company was to offer the highest velocity cartridge in any caliber, and the .378 is a belted variation of the .416 Rigby case, providing enough extra powder room for a 200 fps increase over the .375 Weatherby.

The other four original Weatherby Magnums, however, are all doing quite well. While their belted cases have gone out of style in some circles, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with belted brass as long as handloaders understand fired cases should be resized just enough to chamber easily, preventing case stretching. The Weatherby rounds make this a little easier than conventional belted rounds, because the double radius essentially results in about a 40-degree shoulder angle, also reducing case stretching.

The biggest difference in handloading for the “old four” Weatherby rounds and most other rifle cartridges is the so-called freebore of their chambers, essentially an extra-long throat. Roy Weatherby discovered freebore reduced the steepness of the pressure curve, allowing more powder to be loaded for extra velocity. Essentially it works like using an even slower powder, increasing the “area under the curve.”

As a result, all four rounds can safely produce more velocity than conventional cartridges of the same powder capacity. This is most obvious with the 7mm Weatherby Magnum, a cartridge with almost exactly the same powder capacity as the 7mm Remington Magnum. In the Weatherby round another 100+ fps is possible, without any increase in pressure.

However, in Weatherby rifles the freebore is so long bullets can’t be seated out far enough to touch the rifling and still allow cartridges to fit in the magazine. This runs contrary to the belief that bullets must start close to the lands to shoot accurately, but freebore works fine as long as the extended throat is just slightly above bullet diameter, preventing bullets from tilting before they hit the rifling. In the past decade I’ve handloaded for factory Weatherby rifles in all four chamberings, and all have shot very well.


John used this Weatherby Vanguard in .257 Weatherby Magnum
to take this big Wyoming pronghorn at over 400 yards.


The four original Weatherby Magnums still chambered in
Weatherby rifles are (left to right) the .257, .270, 7mm and .300.


One other minor difference in the .257 and 7mm Weatherby Magnums is slower-than-normal rifling twists. The original .257 Weatherby rifles had 1:12-inch twists, perhaps because Roy Weatherby favored 100-grain bullets in his favorite cartridge. This resulted in the original “heavy” bullet factory load featuring the roundnosed 117-grain Hornady, since 117- to 120-grain spitzers wouldn’t stabilize. The twist was changed to 1:10-inch years ago, but Weatherby still offers 117-grain roundnose factory ammo for older rifles.

Many 7mm Weatherby rifles have 1:10-inch twists today, when the standard for other 7mm rifles has been around 1:9-inch ever since the 7×57 was born in 1892. While a 1:10-inch twist will stabilize any conventional hunting bullet, it won’t stabilize some of today’s ultra-long bullets with very high ballistic coefficients. As any example, the new 7mm Weatherby used in the handload tests, my own Mark V Ultra Lightweight, won’t stabilize the 168-grain Berger Hunting VLD. This is not big deal to me, since I mostly use 160-grain Nosler Partitions, which shoot very accurately.

With freebored Weatherby rounds it’s easiest to start with bullets seated so the cartridges just fit in the magazine. After working up the most accurate load possible, further experimenting can be done by seating the bullets progressively deeper. (In modern rifle cartridges using progressive-burning powders, pressure drops with deeper-seated bullets—or at least it does until bullets are seated extremely deeply.) This also goes against common belief, but many of today’s bullets shoot more accurately when seated deeper, especially “monolithics” without lead cores. In fact this happened with 130-grain Nosler E-Tips in the .270 Weatherby rifle, as shown in the loading data.

While the .300 Weatherby is extremely effective, I eventually grew weary of the recoil (a common affliction among shooters of a certain age) and these days prefer the smaller rounds. The .257 works particularly well on deer-sized game, though it’s also an effective elk round, and I know a sheep-ranching family in Wyoming that prefers it over any other round for coyote control. The .270 and 7mm Weatherbys are both great all-around big-game rounds, with a slight edge going to the 7mm because of the many 160- to 175-grain bullets available.

All of the bullets listed have worked well on various animals. The 7mm 120-grain Nosler Ballistic is mostly jacket, so works almost like a monolithic bullet, and the Hornady InterLocks and Sierra GameKings in heavier weights also work. In Colorado a few years ago my hunting partner took a 5-point bull elk with a single 175-grain Hornady InterLock from his 7mm Weatherby, and it performed perfectly.

While Weatherby still offers traditionally-styled Mark V’s in all four chamberings (here “traditionally” means California-style), both Vanguards and Mark V’s are also available in a vast array of 21st-century variations, including laser-etched walnut and interestingly painted synthetics. But they still fire the same great cartridges Roy Weatherby developed in his basement workshop.

Four of John Barsness’s nine books are on firearms and shooting. His latest, Rifle Trouble-Shooting and Handloading, was published in 2012 by Deep Creek Press, and is available through, P.O. Box 579, Townsend, MT 59644-0579, (406) 521-0273.
By John Barsness

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The .38 Special

Still “Special” After More Than 100 Years.

The .38 Special is the most popular centerfire revolver cartridge ever, and still going strong. Not bad for a round introduced in 1899. Originally designed by Smith & Wesson for the US military after the .38 Long Colt was deemed inadequate, it also served as the standard, American police round until semi-autos took over during the past quarter-century.

It was once the centerfire target handgun round, though today the formal bull’s-eye shooting it dominated isn’t as popular as games more suitable to semi-autos. The .38 Special also works great for hunting smaller game, and while today’s handgun hunters consider it inadequate for big game, quite a few deer have been taken with the old round.

Today, however, the .38 Special is primarily a self-defense cartridge. Hard as might be for many enthusiasts to understand, not everybody who wants a self-defense handgun wants to be an expert. Instead they want a handgun that’s easy to shoot, both in recoil and “fire-control system,” and uses easily available ammunition. A double-action .38 Special revolver is the logical choice.

New buyers aren’t usually aware the .38 Special actually uses bullets 0.357-inch in diameter, and if told why their eyes would glaze over. The original .38 revolver cartridge, the Short Colt, originated back when cap-and-ball revolvers were being modified to shoot newfangled brass cartridges. One of the most-converted was the .36 Navy Colt, which actually fired a round ball of around .38 caliber. The original .38 Short Colt cartridge had a case and bullet diameter of approximately 0.380-inch, the size of the cylinders in the Navy Colt, with the smaller rear end of the bullet held by the case mouth. (This same arrangement is still used in .22 Long Rifle cartridges.)

After revolvers were designed for cartridges, Colt created the .38 Long Colt by lengthening the .38 Short’s case, but bullet diameter was approximately 0.36 so the lubricated portion of the bullet would fit inside the case. During the transition to smokeless powder, bullet diameter was standardized at 0.357- to 0.358-inch in both the Short and Long Colts.


The Rossi proved to be very accurate with the right loads,
though far more finicky than the S&W 66.

The .38 Special is an elongated .38 Long Colt, designed in 1899 by Smith & Wesson. The Long Colt had been the official US Army cartridge since 1892, and had been found lacking in stopping power. It proved inadequate again when the US claimed the Philippines after the Spanish-American War and natives rose in rebellion, so S&W brought out a more powerful round.

According to Smith & Wesson historian Roy Jinks, the .38 Special was initially chambered in the .38 Hand Ejector Model of 1899. The ammunition was loaded with around 21 grains of black powder and a 158-grain bullet. Smokeless loads soon appeared with similar ballistics, but Phil Sharpe, in his massive book Complete Guide to Handloading, notes that charge was used in the original “balloon” style cases, made of thin, folded brass. Sharpe’s loading data for modern cases includes one black powder load, 18.0 grains of FFg, giving the 158-grain bullet 820 fps.

Ammo factories and handloaders continually attempted to hop up the .38 Special, but due to the limitations of the original revolvers the sensible solution was to lengthen the case yet again and offer it in stronger firearms. The result was 1934’s .357 Magnum, a cooperative creation involving Colonel D.B. Wesson, Elmer Keith and Phil Sharpe. Operating at twice the pressure of the .38 Special, the new round became a big success—partly because .38 Special cartridges can be fired in .357’s. (As can .38 Short and Long Colts, if your heart so desires.)

However, the .357 didn’t prevent further fiddling with the .38. Today there are two pressure levels of factory ammunition and handloading data. The SAAMI maximum average pressure (MAP) level for “standard” .38 ammo is 17,000 psi, and the +P MAP is 20,000 psi. This doesn’t sound like much but the extra 3,000 psi results in a noticeable increase in power and recoil, and lighter .38 revolvers tend to loosen with steady diet of +P loads.


The S&W 66 tended to be more accurate with heavier bullets,
not unusual in .357 Magnums shooting .38 Special ammo.

(There was also a +P+ factory load for a while, but SAAMI doesn’t list a +P+ pressure level and the Federal, Remington and Winchester websites don’t list any such loads. Or at least I can’t find them. Life used to be easy when gun stores offered stacks of free catalogs with simple tables, but major ammo makers apparently hate user-friendly websites.)

Most .357-diameter handgun bullets are designed for .357 Magnum velocities, so won’t expand at lower velocities, though Speer offers a special 135-grain Gold Dot Short Barrel bullet. I couldn’t find any for the handload testing but data for the 140-grain bullet used will work.

GUNS publisher and American Handgunner editor Roy Huntington was a cop back when the .38 Special ruled. He likes heavier lead bullets, whether semi-wadcutters or real wadcutters. The “FBI load,” a hollowpoint 158-grain made of very soft lead, is also an option. I have a supply of Speer’s discontinued swaged 158-grain hollowpoints, but decided to hoard them rather than punch holes in paper, substituting bullets cast with my very first mold, the revered Lyman 358156.

The handloads were gleaned from a bunch of sources, and shot in three revolvers. Milder loads were mostly tested in an older stainless Rossi 88 with a 3-inch barrel, originally belonging to my stepfather-in-law. After “Doc” passed away, my wife Eileen and I were visiting her mother, an anti-gunner from New York City. One morning she entered the living room holding the Rossi by the very end of the butt and asked, “Can you get rid of this?”


The three test guns were a 4-inch Smith & Wesson Model 66,
a 3-inch Rossi Model 88 and a 2-inch Smith & Wesson Model 37 Airweight.

I asked, “Is it loaded?”
She laughed. “Of course not!”

As she walked closer I could see bullets inside the chamber mouths, so gently grasping the Rossi around the cylinder and triggerguard, I said, “Yeah, I can get rid of it.”

It turned out to be a good little gun, with a crisp 3-pound single-action pull and smooth double-action pull. It weighs 21 ounces and is just the right size for a front jeans pocket. It’s also the only one of the test guns ever drawn for possible defense, when a loose German shepherd threatened us as we walked our Labrador along a local lakeshore. Eileen got the Lab on a leash and I got the Rossi aimed at the shepherd’s snarling head. Luckily its owner (a young blond in a bikini) finally noticed her dog misbehaving and called him from 150 yards away.

The S&W Airweight is Eileen’s city carry gun (she packs bigger stuff in the Montana mountains), and the +P loads were shot from my S&W Model 66 .357. The Rossi and 66 were shot over a rest at 25 yards, and the Airweight offhand and double-action at 7 yards, the traditional gunfight range. The brass was discontinued Speer +P, mostly because I have a bunch, but it weighs about the same as other +P brass, around 75 grains. (Standard .38 Special brass of several brands averaged 67 to 68 grains.)

Even the Airweight was pleasant to shoot, and the Rossi turned out to be pretty accurate with several loads, though when it didn’t like a load, it really didn’t like it. The shooting was a lot more fun than test-shooting bigger cartridges. Long live the long-lived .38 Special!

Four of John Barsness’s nine books are on firearms and shooting. His latest, Rifle Trouble-Shooting and Handloading, was published in 2012 by Deep Creek Press, and is available through, P.O. Box 579, Townsend, MT 59644, (406) 521-0273.

Accurate Powders
P.O. Box 158
Miles City, MT 59301
(406) 234-0430

Alliant Powder
P.O. Box 6, Radford
VA 24143-0006
(800) 276-9337

Hodgdon Powder Company
6430 Vista Drive
Shawnee, KS 66218
(913) 362-9455

Hornady Mfg. Co.
3625 Old Potash Hwy.
Grand Island, NE 68802-1848
(800) 338-3220

Hunter’s Supply Cast Bullets
(505) 716-4369

Lyman Products Corp.
465 Smith Street
Middletown, CT 06457
(800) 225-9626

Rossi Firearms
16175 NW 49 Ave., Miami, FL 33014
(305) 474-0401

Sierra Bullets
1400 West Henry Street
Sedalia, MO 65301
(660) 827-6300

Smith & Wesson
2100 Roosevelt Avenue
Springfield, MA 01104
(413) 747-8300

Speer Bullets
2299 Snake River Avenue
Lewiston, ID 83501
(208) 746-2351

By John Barsness

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Loading Vintage Savage Rifle Rounds

They May Seem Obsolete, But All Deliver
Pretty Darn Good Performance, Even By
Today’s Standards.

Today the four Savage rounds named the .22 Hi-Power, .250-3000, .300 and .303 are rarely chambered in new rifles, but over the past century they’ve appeared in millions of rifles, both in North America and Europe. It’s probably safe to say, however, most appeared in the famous Savage Model 99 lever-action before production ceased in the late 1990’s.

a collector’s item, but even most collectors prefer to shoot theirs, and there’s a certain status in shooting 99’s chambered for the Savage cartridges. If somebody wants to shoot their .22 Hi-Power or .303, however, handloading is almost a necessity; no North American company manufactures this ammunition anymore.

The .22 Hi-Power is still fairly common in Europe, where it’s called the 5.6x52mmR. The original load was a 70-grain bullet at around 2,800 fps, making the round just about perfect for roe deer and other smaller game, and the rimmed case works well in break-action guns, especially drillings. Norma, Sellier & Bellot and Wolf all make ammo, and Norma makes brass, and all are sometimes imported here. But even if none of those are available, the .22 Hi-Power is basically the .25-35 Winchester necked down, so cases can be made by simply running .25-35 brass into a .22 Hi-Power die. In a pinch, cases can even be made from .30-30 brass, though intermediary dies are necessary due to the significant decrease in neck diameter.

Bullets aren’t a problem, either, even though the groove diameter of .22 Hi-Powers is a nominal 0.227 to 0.228 inch. Hornady offers a 0.227-inch diameter 70-grain InterLock spire point, though this bullet doesn’t always shoot very accurately in Savage rifles because it’s primarily made for the European market, where many more rifles are presently used. Most European rifles have rifling twists of around 1-turn-in-10 inches, while the original Savage rifles have nominal 1:12-inch twists. I emphasize nominal because older Savage 99’s were rifled on sine-bar machines, and the twist could vary somewhat. Many old Savages won’t totally stabilize the Hornady bullet, though some will.

If not, common 0.224-inch bullets shoot well in Savages with decent bores. Often, however, .22 Hi-Power dies won’t hold 0.224-inch bullets firmly. One solution is to remove the expander ball from the sizing die, leaving case necks tight enough to hold the smaller bullets, though this requires a separate de-capping die. You can also neck-size Savage cases in a .22-250 die.

The .303 was the original Savage cartridge, appearing in the Model 1895 in that year. The case is similar to but not identical with the .30-30, and in the past decade or so several companies made .303 Savage cases—including Bertram, Norma, and Privi Partisan. Winchester produced ammo until a few years ago, and factory loads can sometimes still be found, but the older ammo is starting to become so valuable to collectors it doesn’t make sense to shoot it up.

In a pinch, cases can be made from .220 Swift or .30-40 Krag brass. Swift brass is easier, since it only needs to be necked-up, trimmed and sized, but some 99’s won’t eject the cases reliably, since the rim is about 0.04-inch smaller in diameter. I once made .303 cases from Remington .30-40’s, turning down the rim considerably and the base of the case slightly, trimming to length and outside-turning the neck. They worked fine, but obviously required considerable work.

Other than the case problem, the .303 Savage is easy to load. Despite the name it uses 0.308-inch diameter bullets, and the powder capacity and pressure level are the same as the .30-30 Winchester. In fact, I once measured the water capacity of fired Winchester .303 and .30-30 cases with a 170-grain Speer roundnose seated to the cannelure, and they came out exactly the same to 1/10th of a grain!

Just load typical .30-30 bullets with .30-30 data and you’re good to go. Due to the 99’s rotary magazines you can also use spitzer bullets, though they don’t shoot noticeably flatter than roundnoses at typical iron-sight ranges. (I don’t remember ever seeing a scoped .303, though undoubtedly some exist. Today, most Savage lovers consider it a crime to scope an old 99.)


Most newer .250-3000 Savages have 1:10-inch twist rifling and can
stabilize bullets over 100 grains. Eileen Clarke took this non-typical
Wyoming pronghorn with a custom .250 by Charlie Sisk with a 115-grain
Nosler Partition.

The .250-3000 is so good rifles are still chambered for it on occasion, both by factories and custom gunsmiths. Remington makes ammo, and Remington and Winchester make .250-3000 brass seasonally, but it’s often scarce. Many handloaders, however, neck up .22-250 brass, both because it’s abundant and because the quality is usually better. Ammo companies tend to use case-forming dies for low-demand cartridges even after they start to wear out, but replace dies for popular cartridges more frequently. The shoulder angles of the .22-250 and .250-3000 are slightly different, but not enough to matter. Just run ’em into a .250 die and load ’em up.

The only difficulty with loading the .250 is the varying rifling twist rates. Early 99’s used a 1:14-inch twist, adequate for stabilizing the original 87-grain bullet, and a 1:14-inch will also stabilize shorter 100-grain spitzers such as the Speer Hot-Cor, along with the 117-grain Hornady roundnose. But the slow twist can be marginal with longer 100-grain spitzers—or even the Speer and Hornady. Due to the aforementioned variability of sine-bar rifling, one of my old 99 .250’s actually had a 1:15 twist, and wouldn’t stabilize any spitzer over 87 grains.

Most .250’s made after about 1960 have 1:10-inch twists—but not all. (I once owned a Model 70 Winchester “Lightweight” from the 1980’s, with the traditional 1:14-inch twist.) A 1:10-inch twist will stabilize any 100-grain bullet, even the Barnes Tipped TSX, and most 115- to 120-grain bullets, though I’ve never gotten the fanciest accuracy with heavier bullets. That’s really no big deal, since accuracy’s always been adequate for big game out to normal ranges. In bolt-action rifles, powder charges can be increased a couple of grains. Such loads aren’t dangerous in 99’s, but can cause sticky extraction, and cases will stretch enough to be ruined after a few firings.

The .300 Savage presents the fewest reloading problems of any of the Savage rounds. Federal, Hornady, Remington and Winchester still make ammo so brass is relatively easy to find. The standard 1:10-inch twist stabilizes any bullet suitable for the round, and due to the moderate case capacity dozens of powders work well.


Cases for the .303 Savage are the hardest to find,
but can be made from .30-40 Krag brass.

The only problem sometimes encountered is with handloaders who decide they must turn their .300 Savage into a more powerful cartridge. When the little round was introduced in 1920, its ballistics were meant to approximate the pre-World War I ballistics of the .30-06, but back then it was easy due to rapid advancements in smokeless powders. Today it can’t match the .30-06 or even the .308 Winchester.

However, newer powders can provide slightly more zip for the old round. One of my favorite all-around combinations is Alliant Reloder 15 and a 165-grain bullet for 2,600+ fps. This may not sound like much in the 21st century, but for those hunters who never shoot big game beyond 250 or 300 yards, it will do the job on elk or moose or most other animals around the world.

Four of John Barsness’s nine books are on firearms and shooting. His latest, Rifle Trouble-Shooting and Handloading, was published in 2012 by Deep Creek Press, and is available through, P.O. Box 579, Townsend, MT 59644-0579, (406) 521-0273.
By John Barsness

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Speedy & Efficient

Hornady’s .17 Hornet Delivers Versatile Varmint Performance.

The first modern .17-caliber cartridges were all wildcats, primarily because no major bullet company made anything to fit the tiny bores. Among the first was the .17 Hornet, essentially the .22 K-Hornet necked down.

The K-Hornet got its initial from Lysle Kilbourn, an upstate New York rifle enthusiast credited with being the first to “improve” a cartridge by firing it in a larger chamber. The original .22 Hornet was developed from the old black-powder .22 WCF round, differing only slightly in dimensions, but when a Hornet case was fired in a K-Hornet chamber, the very sloping shoulder was blown forward to a much sharper angle, increasing powder capacity. I had a K-Hornet for a while, a rechambered CZ 527, and it developed around 200 feet-per-second more than the standard Hornet, a considerable increase.

In the early 1950’s, famous gunsmith P.O. Ackley essentially necked down the K-Hornet case to .17 caliber. (He may have increased the shoulder angle slightly to the 40 degrees now known as the mark of “Ackley Improved” cartridges, but various sources quote all sorts of shoulder angles for both the K-Hornet and the .17 Ackley Hornet.) An early advocate of both the .17 bore diameter and high velocity, Ackley claimed muzzle velocities of up to 3,585 fps with 25-grain bullets, using IMR 4198 powder—but Ackley was also well-known for pushing pressure limits, and the data from his Handbook for Shooters and Reloaders doesn’t list barrel length.

Late in 2011 Hornady introduced a factory version of the .17 Hornet, with a 25-degree shoulder, less tapered case and shorter neck. The dimensions are just small enough that the new round should fit in most .17 Ackley Hornet chambers, but due to the shorter neck the little bullet would have to jump considerably to the lands, probably enough to affect accuracy.

Hornady’s factory load is advertised at 3,650 fps with a 20-grain V-Max bullet, just a little faster than Ackley claimed with 25-grain bullets. There isn’t much difference in powder room between the Ackley and Hornady versions, so I’m guessing that once again P.O. was pushing things.

I’m a .17 fan and wanted one, but it took a while to corral a CZ 527 with a medium-heavy 22-inch barrel. The first range session with Hornady ammo produced several 5-shot groups averaging 0.54 inch and chronographed 3,597 fps. Considering the 2-inch difference between my CZ’s barrel and a 24-inch test barrel, the velocity was right on. Between the accuracy, velocity and single-set trigger on the CZ, the cartridge proved deadly on small varmints out to 250 yards.


Most of the loads tried shot very well in the CZ 527 rifle.

Of course, the next question was handloading, including the possibility of reforming .22 Hornet cases. Due to the .17 Hornady Hornet appearing not long before the latest Obama panic, Hornady ammo and brass weren’t abundant, so many shooters wanted to use standard Hornet brass.

There’s also apparently been some confusion over powder. The Hornady ammo is part of their Superformance line, and Hornady’s website says it’s loaded with Superformance powder. However, Superformance powders in Hornady factory ammunition are cartridge-specific blends.

The Hodgdon Superformance powder available to handloaders is the blend used in .30-06 and some other Hornady ammo, not the blend used for the .17 Hornet. That’s why Hodgdon doesn’t list any Superformance powder data for the .17 Hornet on its website, instead listing several of their faster-burning powders, include Li’l Gun, a powder originally developed for .410 and 28-gauge shotgun loads but also favored by many magnum handgun and .22 Hornet users.

Li’l Gun does work great in the .22 Hornet, especially with 40-grain bullets, filling the case nicely and producing high velocities at much lower pressures than many traditional Hornet powders, helping the relatively thin Hornet brass last much longer. But it’s actually just a little on the fast side for the .17 Hornet, due to the higher capacity-to-bore ratio.

Per usual, I did a “literature search” of all available data before handloading for my CZ .17 Hornet. Due to the very small diameter of the neck, plus the cartridge’s frequent use for high-volume varmint shooting, fine-grained powders work best, especially spherical powders. Luckily, there are a bunch of suitable powders available today.

Before trying any loads, however, I guessed that Accurate 1680 might be the most suitable canister powder for 20-grain bullets. This was due to weighing the powder charges in some factory loads and finding they averaged 12.5 grains, about all the case can hold. The Hornady data for 1680 gave a maximum of 12.4 grains of 1680, for 3,750 fps. In my rifle 12.0 grains matched the factory ammo’s velocity, with very similar accuracy.


A chamfered .22 Hornet case necked down easily in a Redding seating die
with the rod pulled out. The case is then trimmed, loaded and fire formed.


The CZ 527’s medium-heavy barrel and single-set trigger contributed
heavily to John’s accuracy results with the .17 Hornet.

The maximum 10.0-grain load Hodgdon lists for Li’l Gun was the fastest with 20-grain bullets in my rifle, but accuracy wasn’t great, and the velocity considerably faster than the 3,629 in Hodgdon’s data. (Some people also report 10.0 grains is too much in their rifles.) The most accurate load used Vihtavuori N120, but the 10.5-grain charge I tried (0.3 grain under Hornady’s listed 10.8 grain maximum) only got around 3,300 fps, so as it turned out, 1680 was the top powder with 20-grain loads.

Berger 25- and 30-grain bullets were also tested, since some hunters prefer them for larger varmints, especially furbearers. Accurate 2200 did very well with 25’s and Hodgdon H322 with 30’s.

I also tried to develop a specialty load, essentially duplicating .17 Mach 2 rimfire ballistics. The Mach 2 is a nifty little round for both short-range varminting and hunting edible game like tree squirrels and rabbits, but ammo is very hard to find right now due to rimfire manufacturers putting most of their time and resources into .22 Long Rifles as a result of panic buying. I used Accurate’s guidelines for working up reduced loads with 5744 powder, and 7.0 grains got right around .17 Mach 2 velocities with good accuracy. I’d stick to plastic-tipped bullets with these loads to assure expansion at the reduced speeds.

It turned out to be easy to reform Winchester .22 Hornet brass by sizing them in a Redding .17 Hornet seating die with the stem removed. The Hornady version of the .17 Hornet, however, is shorter than the .22 Hornet, so the cases needed to be trimmed 0.06 inch. The formed and trimmed .22 Hornet brass weighed about 10 percent less than the Hornady .17 brass. Velocities with the reformed brass were lower, but pressures probably were too, most likely a good thing with the thinner Winchester brass.

In handloading all three commercial .17 cartridges, I’ve noticed they’re far more sensitive to bullet misalignment in the case neck than any larger caliber rounds. As a result, I used a Redding “S” bushing neck die to resize cases very straightly and a Redding Competition seating die. The results speak for themselves: Every group at 100 yards measured under an inch, and most were much smaller.

Four of John Barsness’s nine books are on firearms and shooting. His latest, Rifle Trouble-Shooting and Handloading, was published in 2012 by Deep Creek Press, and is available through, P.O. Box 579, Townsend, MT 59644-0579, (406) 521-0273.
By John Barsness

Accurate Powders
Western Powders, Inc.
P.O. Box 158
Miles City, MT 59301
(406) 234-0430

Berger Bullets
4275 N. Palm St.
Fullerton, CA 92835
(714) 447-5456

P.O. Box 171073
Kansas City, KS 66117-0073
(800) 955-4486

Hodgdon Powder Company
6430 Vista Drive
Shawnee, KS 66218
(913) 362-9455

Hornady Mfg. Co.
3625 Old Potash Hwy.
Grand Island, NE 68802-1848
(800) 338-3220

Nosler, Inc.
P.O. Box 671
Bend, OR 97709
(800) 285-3701

Redding Reloading Equipment
1089 Starr Road
Cortland, NY 13045
(607) 753-3331

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The .308 Winchester

It’s One Of The Most Accurate
Rifle Cartridges Ever.

The .308 Winchester is the civilian version of the 7.62x51mm NATO, a round derived by the US military from the .300 Savage to approximate the World War II ballistics of the .30-06. Introduced commercially in 1952, 3 years before the 7.62×51, the .308 became a standard chambering in rifles around the world.

Any military round has a commercial advantage, especially those adopted by the US, but the .308 and 7.62×51 aren’t exactly the same round. The differences aren’t as large as those between the .223 Remington and 5.56mm NATO, but they can cause problems in a few rifles. The chambers of 7.62×51 rifles are often generous, especially in autoloaders for easier function, and military brass is usually thicker. As result, some commercial .308 ammo may stretch or even separate when fired in some 7.62×51 chambers, and some 7.62×51 ammo may not chamber in some .308 rifles. If you own a 7.62×51 rifle and want to use .308 ammo, it’s sensible to have a gunsmith check the headspace to make sure it matches .308 specifications.

Otherwise, the only real difference between the two rounds occurs in handloading: Maximum .308 loads sometimes develop too-high pressures when fired in heavier military brass. The loads tested for this column in the Ruger American all used .308 data, and were fired in commercial Remington brass averaging 185 grains in weight. They’re a grain or two under the listed maximum, so shouldn’t be too hot with military brass, though velocities will probably be higher than in the Ruger. If using similar-weight commercial brass, they can be safely increased slightly.

There are other reasons for the .308’s popularity. It recoils relatively modestly, and more types of bullets are available in .30 than any other caliber. Also, while some shooters argue “inherently accurate” cartridges don’t exist, if they exist .308 would be on the short list. It’s been used in just about every target discipline, even short-range benchrest shooting, and shoots accurately even in factory hunting rifles.

My first “real” big-game rifle (as opposed to a Mosin-Nagant sporterized with a hacksaw) was a Savage 99 EG in .308. Even in the hands of a 13-year-old it grouped Winchester factory ammo into a little over an inch at 100 yards.

I’ve fooled around with a number of .308’s since, including a couple of other lever-actions, a Remington 7600 pump and a Merkel break-action single shot. All 3-shot groups at 100 yards, whether with factory ammo or handloads, have averaged 1.18 inches, and bolt-actions averaged under an inch.


While the .308 will shoot well with a lot of powders, Hodgdon Varget (above) has become a standard.
The most accurate .308 John’s ever fired is one of the reproductions of Chuck Mawhinney’s M40 sniper
rifles. That is a 5-shot group (below) at 100 yards.


Most Accurate

The most accurate bolt was one of the 50 reproduction M40 rifles commissioned a couple years ago by Chuck Mawhinney, the Marine sniper with the highest number of confirmed kills in Vietnam. They’re faithful to the original M40 in every detail, down to the clip-loading slot on top of the Remington 700 action, useless because of the fixed Redfield mount. The green-anodized Redfield scope is a reproduction provided by Leupold, now the owner of the Redfield name.

Mawhinney personally breaks in every rifle with Black Hills’ 175-grain boattail hollowpoint match load. The rifle I shot, serial number 029, averaged under 0.5 inch with the Black Hills ammo—for five shots at 100 yards—not three. Chuck says some of the rifles shoot even better, though I suspect 029 may have shot better with him behind the trigger.

The three real lightweight .308’s I’ve shot have been my Merkel and a Sako 75, both right at 7 pounds scoped, plus my wife Eileen’s Kilimanjaro custom on a Kimber action, a wispy 6.5 pounds even with a fancy walnut stock and 3.5-10×40 Leupold. Three-shot groups from all three rifles average under 0.75 inch at 100 yards, so yes, even flyweight .308’s can shoot very well—and not damage the shooter in the process.

Somebody once joked the .308 would probably shoot well when loaded with double-based horse manure, but even though a lot of powders work, an awful lot of shooters use Hodgdon Varget, one of Hodgdon’s Extremes. Varget not only produces good velocities with 150- to 180-grain bullets, but also produces the same velocities in a wide range of temperatures.

As a result it’s easy for .308 handloaders to get stuck in a Varget rut, but several other powders of about the same burning rate are also very temperature-resistant, including Alliant Reloder 15 and AR-Comp, and Ramshot TAC. All are worth trying, and may outperform Varget in some rifles. (However, while loading ammo for this column I realized I’d only tried Varget with 150- to 165-grain bullets, so stuck some under 180-grain Nosler Ballistic Tips. The result? The best accuracy of the test.)

Data for another new powder, Hodgdon CFE 223, shows high velocities for heavier bullets in the .308, so was tried with 200-grain bullets. The big theoretical advantage of CFE 223 is reduced copper fouling, due to a de-coppering agent in the powder. This isn’t exactly new technology, however, since de-coppering has been a feature of military ammunition for many years.

The de-coppering agents most frequently used are bismuth, lead and tin. On firing they form a brittle amalgam with the copper in the bore, and the next shot blows out most of the copper. Artillery ammo often features foil or wire on top of the powder charge, but that isn’t practical for small-arms ammo. Instead, the agent is incorporated into the granules in several older ball powders, plus the newer Ramshot TAC, a Belgian powder originally designed for use in the 5.56 and 7.62×51 NATO rounds.
An almost-new Ruger American rifle was used to test newer powders. Such an “affordable” rifle might seem an odd choice, but Ruger makes some of the smoothest factory barrels on US rifles these days.

The only previous shooting I’d done with the American was at the FTW Ranch in Texas during a shooting school and axis deer hunt. At the end of the shoot around 150 rounds had gone down the new barrel without cleaning. The rifle was still hitting gongs out to 1,000 yards, and when finally cleaned there was relatively little copper in the bore. While checking the scope’s zero before testing the handloads, I used the same Black Hills 175-grain match ammo favored by Chuck Mawhinney, and the first 3-shot group on paper at 100 yards measured 0.34 inch.

I’d happily carry a .308 for 98 percent of the world’s big-game hunting, and it’s commonly used as a medium-range sniping round in many countries, not just the United States. It just plain works, and will continue to work until there’s some unforeseeable revolution in rifles and ammunition.
By John Barsness

Four of John Barsness’s nine books are on firearms and shooting. His latest, Rifle Trouble-Shooting and Handloading, was published in 2012 by Deep Creek Press, and is available through, P.O. Box 579, Townsend, MT 59644, (406) 521-0273.

Alliant Powder
PO Box 6
Radford, VA 24143
(800) 276-9337

Barnes Bullets
38 N. Frontage Rd.
Mona, UT 84645
(435) 856-1000

Berger Bullets
4275 N. Palm St.
Fullerton, CA 92835
(714) 447-5456

Hodgdon Powder Company
6430 Vista Drive
Shawnee, KS 66218
(913) 362-9455

Hornady Mfg. Co.
3625 Old Potash Hwy.
Grand Island, NE 68802-1848
(800) 338-3220

Chuck Mawhinney
2350 Carter Street
Baker City, OR 97814

Cutting Edge Bullets, LLC
75 Basin Run Road, Drifting, PA 16834
(814) 345-6690

Norma USA

Nosler, Inc.
P.O. Box 671, Bend, OR 97709
(800) 285-3701

Sierra Bullets
1400 West Henry Street, Sedalia, MO 65301
(660) 827-6300

Sturm, Ruger & Co.
411 Sunapee Street, Newport, NH 03773
(603) 865-2442

Western Powders, Inc. (Ramshot)
P.O. Box 158, Miles City, MT 59301
(406) 234-0422

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Bullets In Motion

High-Speed Photographs Are A New Tool
In Understanding Bullet Performance.

One of the early mysteries of bullets was how they acted in motion, because even when only propelled to black powder velocities, they usually couldn’t be seen by the human eye. Their path could be tracked to certain degree by what they hit (the reason for paper targets), and their terminal effects on various targets could be examined.

However, all this was static evidence, not the actual flight of bullets, either in flight or as they struck something. This led to some interesting conjectures. One early theory of trajectory suggested bullets flew absolutely flat for a certain distance, then dropped rapidly.

Even the invention of high-speed photography didn’t solve all the mysteries. For decades it was “common knowledge” that the lead tips of softnose spitzers melted off during flight due to heat developed by air friction, because early photographs of bullets in flight showed a much blunter nose. But this was caused by technical problems with the photography, and was disproven both by trajectory data and better photography, especially movie film. Yet we still hear this “fact” repeated today, proving once again it’s harder to dispel a myth than start one. (As Charlie Hasbrouck, the newspaper reporter in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, so cynically noted: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”)

The standard speed of 35mm motion picture film used in theaters is 24 frames-per-second, but that’s an economical compromise between the frame speed required to impart smooth motion to the human eye and the cost of film. Specialized film cameras eventually increased the rate to thousands of frames per second, but the cameras and the vast amounts of film required increased expenses enormously.

Digital photography changed the game, allowing tens of thousands of frames per second at much less expense. While the equipment is still expensive, the cost of film and development is eliminated. Along with transparent bullet-test media, digital photography literally opened our eyes to what was actually going on. One of the first long-time theories to be disproven was the guess that plastic-tipped bullets opened up due to the tip acting like a log-splitting wedge. This notion first appeared with the metal-tipped bullets like the Remington Bronze point, but high-speed digital photography showed the plastic tip normally drifted away from the bullet after impact. The quick expansion was caused not by the tip, but by the relatively large cavity under the tip.

One of the specialists in super-speed digital imaging is Nathan Boor of Aimed Research in northeast Ohio. The website claims, “Our 500 nano-second photography, equivalent to 1/2,000,000th of a second exposure, using DSLR cameras provides greater resolution and depth of field over any high-speed professional video camera. Aimed Research can acquire multiple camera angles at the exact same moment for time-slicing or bullet time perspectives. Strobe-lit photographs can be acquired showing a projectile at two points along its trajectory in the same picture for yaw and rotation measurements.” Not to mention expansion and other characteristics.

Among the interesting images is one of the new Cutting Edge Raptor hunting bullets as it expands in clear ballistic gel. The Raptor is a monolithic bullet made of copper or brass with no lead core, but the “petals” are designed to break off, unlike those in many other hunting monolithic bullets. This isn’t a totally new idea—both the South African GS Custom HV and Norma Kalahari are also designed to lose their petals—but to my knowledge the Raptor’s the only one made in America, and also the only company that makes a handgun version.

My wife Eileen and I used Raptors this past hunting season after shooting some into a couple of kinds of media. They tend to shoot very accurately and work very well on game, but the high-speed sequence images taken by Aimed Research clearly show the exact and consistent way they work. You can take a look on Cutting Edge’s website. Thanks to advances in photography, handloaders no longer have to speculate on how bullets work either in the air or when they stop.
By John Barsness

Cutting Edge Bullets Safari Raptor

This particular bullet is a Cutting Edge Safari Raptor in .375 caliber, weighing 275 grains.
Note as it enters the gel the petals at the front of the nose break off and become
secondary missiles. The back of the bullet then drives on like a solid.






Nathan Boor
Aimed Research, Youngstown, Ohio
(724) 877-5472

Cutting Edge Bullets, LLC
75 Basin Run Road,
Drifting, PA 16834
(814) 345-6690

>> Click Here << To View Bullets In Motion

Four of John Barsness’s nine books are on firearms and shooting. His latest, Rifle Trouble-Shooting and Handloading, was published in 2012 by Deep Creek Press, and is available through, or by calling (406) 521-0273.

For web access go to Don’t forget to bookmark this page! The Product Index will help you find links to our Shooting Industry as well as links to past and present reviews of products seen in these pages and our sister magazines.

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Keep Cool

During Extended Shooting, Your Rifle Barrel Needs
A Little Help Coming Back To Room Temperature.

Most of us don’t have our own private range, and in an increasingly urban society, probably have to travel at least a few miles to test our rifle handloads. Consequently we don’t get to a range as often as we’d like, and try to get in a lot of shooting when we do. This means the barrels of our rifles get warm, if not downright hot.

A little heat doesn’t make much difference, and there’s no way to keep barrels absolutely chilled except by not shooting the gun. (Even if the outside feels cool, be assured the bore warms up.) And contrary to popular belief, firing more than three shots quickly doesn’t cause good barrels to warp or groups to open up. A barrel that’s been properly heat-treated will keep plunking bullets into the same place even when hot enough to burn fingertips. Instead, groups open up after three shots because of odds: Even with the most accurate barrels made, shot by really good benchrest shooters, 5-shot groups average larger than 3-shot groups. One statistician even figured out a 7-shot group is the least number of shots required to truly measure the potential accuracy of a rifle.

Still, heat can make a difference in other ways. A hot barrel on a calm day sends heat-waves rising in front of a rifle’s scope, making aiming less than precise—and I can assure more southerly shooters it occurs even on January days in Montana. In fact it’s often worse on cold days, because just a little heat rising off the barrel roils up cold, dense air more than warm air. But that problem’s easily solved by the benchrester’s trick of sticking a paper tube on the front end of the scope. A rolled-up target and some masking tape will do the trick.


Two techniques for helping barrels cool are to rotate several rifles,
standing them in the shade with the actions open to allow cooler
air to rise through the bores.

Nope, the major problem in barrel heat isn’t warped barrels or aiming, but heat erosion. If we want an accurate barrel to remain accurate, we shouldn’t fire it much when it’s really hot, an ideal directly contradictory to shooting as much as possible when we do manage to get to the range.

The first step in the right direction, of course, is to bring more than one rifle so they can be rotated during the session, allowing hot barrels to cool. They’ll cool down quicker when the action’s open (as it must be on most ranges anyway) with the rifle standing upright in the shade. The hot air inside the barrel rises due to convection, sucking cooler air from the chamber through the bore.

However, this method only cools barrels reasonably quickly up to about 60 degrees. Above that and barrels stay hot a long time. Below the Mason-Dixon Line, temperatures often rise above 60 even in January, and even in Montana, a typical late July morning often hits 60 pretty darn early.

All sorts of solutions have been used to cool barrels quicker on hot days. One is a small rubber tube connected to a fairly large cylinder of compressed air or carbon dioxide, or a battery-powered air compressor. Stick the tube in the rifle’s chamber, then open the valve or turn on the compressor. This does cool a barrel down quicker than just letting the rifle sit (and CO2 cools quicker than plain air), but has always seemed a little complicated to me, especially when there’s more than one barrel to cool.

On moderately warm days, draping a damp towel over a hot barrel speeds up cooling appreciably, and several towels aren’t as much hassle to carry around as several air cylinders or compressors. If rifles must be left upright in a rack, a requirement on many ranges, the towel can be spirally wrapped around the barrel.


During hot weather we can wear cooler clothes, but our
rifle barrels often need some cooling help as well.


Dripping cold water on hot barrels doesn’t do
them any harm, and cools them very quickly.

On really hot days I prefer the direct approach, bringing along at least a couple of gallons of cold water to pour over barrels. This works quickest on free-floated barrels, but does cool even tightly-bedded barrels. I’ve never found it to have an effect on accuracy, whether in the short or long term, and it sure speeds things up when a lot of shooting must be done. The most effective method, I’ve found, is to tilt the muzzle downward at a steep enough angle that the water runs along the barrel for a ways.

The only real problem I’ve run into is water trapped between blued barrels and wood stocks. This can cause rust if the barrel isn’t oiled or treated with a longer-lasting preventative such as Gun Shield. The barrel channel can also soak up some water, but all of mine have either been coated in modern spar varnish (a combination or urethane and organic oil) or have a thin layer of epoxy bedding compound. If the steel and stock on your rifle isn’t protected, the barreled action should be removed from the stock when you return home and wipe everything down.

But on a typical modern rifle with a stainless-steel barrel free-floated in a synthetic stock, there’s no problem. Well, except for injection-molded stocks with the typical “bulkheads” inside the hollow fore-end. I’ve found it advisable to hold these rifles muzzle-down and jiggle ’em afterward, to allow as much water to run out of the fore-end as possible. Otherwise the next shot results in almost as much flying water as a wet Labrador, though a cool spray is sometimes welcome on a hot day.

Even the coating on the outside of the barrel can help. There are a bunch of metal coatings on the market, but the popular Cerakote was originally developed as a heat-transfer coating for radiators, engines and any other metal machines that get hot during use. It also allows rifle barrels to cool more quickly.

All of these techniques result in more shooting during the limited range sessions many of us have these days, allowing us to test more of our handloads.
John Barsness

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The .30-40 Krag

This Modest Cartridge Still Offers Fine Performance.

The development of practical smokeless powders in the 1880s led to rapid changes. As usually happens with firearms, the fastest changes occurred with military rifles, and the United States was a little slow on the uptake. By 1892, when the US Army approved a smokeless cartridge and rifle to replace the .45-70 “trapdoor” Springfield, they were already behind many other countries. The result was a bolt-action rifle designed by Norwegians Ole Krag and Erik Jorgensen, and a rimmed cartridge strongly resembling Britain’s .303 Enfield.

Variously called the .30 US, .30 Army and .30 Government, the cartridge eventually became known as the .30-40 Krag, listing the caliber and powder charge. The rifle didn’t feature clip loading, like either the British Lee-Enfield or the 1892 Mauser, and when a higher-velocity load was introduced in 1899, the single-locking lug often cracked, leading to the Krag’s replacement with the 1903 Springfield. However, there was never anything fundamentally wrong with the cartridge itself; as evidence, Britain’s almost identical .303 defended the Empire through two world wars.

The .30-40 Krag was the first smokeless cartridge to appear in any Winchester rifle, first in the 1885 single-shot and later in the 1895 lever-action rifles, and also appeared in the Remington Rolling Block single-shot and Remington-Lee bolt action. Due to its moderate velocity, the .30-40 quickly acquired a fine reputation for hunting big game even with the cup-and-core bullets of the day, with the 220-grain roundnose favored for animals larger than deer.

After 1903, half a million Krag-Jorgensen military rifles and carbines started making their way into the civilian market. Far more recently, the .30-40 has been nostalgically chambered in a few rifles, including the Ruger No. 3 single-shot and reproductions of the Winchester 1885. It remains popular enough that both Remington and Winchester offer factory ammo and, occasionally, empty cartridge cases.

My first .30-40 was a reproduction Winchester 1885 “High Wall” made by the C. Sharps Arms in Big Timber, Mont., and I still don’t know why I sold it, since with an Axtell tang sight it was capable of 1-1/2-inch groups at 100 yards. After that I owned both an original Krag-Jorgenson rifle and a “sporterized” carbine with an old Redfield aperture sight, and today have a Ruger No. 3 and an over-under double rifle built by an unknown gunsmith on a Ruger Red Label 20-gauge shotgun frame. (The double was purchased years ago at a gun show by my friend Tim Crawford. The seller had no idea who made it, and Tim couldn’t tell me anything more when I acquired it from him.)

The .30-40 case has slightly more powder capacity than the .308 Winchester, so it could theoretically match .308 velocities, but in Krag-Jorgensens, Remington Rolling Blocks and any other relatively weak action, pressures should be kept mild, which is the reason the limited amount of today’s published .30-40 Krag handloading data maxes out at around 40,000 psi.


This mule deer doe was taken with a 180-grain Winchester Power Point
from a reproduction Winchester High Wall from C. Sharps.

Some .30-40s, however, can take more pressure. Evidently quite a few have been made on Siamese Mausers, since they were originally chambered for the a rimmed 8mm round and have a slanting magazine box allowing rimmed cases to feed. A Winchester High Wall made of modern steels or the Ruger No. 3 are very strong actions, and even my Ruger Red Label is probably stronger than an original Krag-Jorgensen. But there’s no sense in trying to “magnumize” the .30-40 Krag. Its virtues arise from moderate velocity, and if you want more zip the world is already full of .308 Winchesters, 30-06s and .300 magnums.

There’s a definite consensus in most published .30-40 powder charges. Muzzle velocities, however, are all over the place, due to wide variations in barrel length, and probably condition as well, even in the 21st century when most test barrels have been standardized at 24 inches. In fact, old Krag-Jorgensens are still often used to test-shoot data. The rifles had 30-inch barrels and the carbines had 22-inch barrels, but many had their barrels shortened because of worn muzzle crowns or when “sporterizing” for hunting. The Speer manual lists a 21-inch barreled Krag as their test rifle, while both Hornady and Nosler used 30-inch barreled rifles.

All the sources I found list 46 grains of one of the 4350s as maximum for 180-grain bullets, and that load has shot well in every one of my rifles—except the double, where bullets from the top barrel landed 6 inches above bullets from the bottom barrel at 100 yards. The standard procedure when a double’s barrels shoot apart is to add powder, and at 48 grains the two barrels shot together, averaging a little over an inch apart. This load also shot very well in the C. Sharps High Wall, and is extremely accurate in the Ruger No. 3, very handy since I can use one load in both my present .30-40s. (Not so coincidentally, 48 H4350 and a 174- to 180-grain bullet is also the load I’ve found most consistent in the .303 British, where it gets the same 2,400 to 2,500 fps.)


The Ruger No. 3 is one of several relatively recent rifles chambered for the .30-40 Krag.

The double rifle has 21-inch barrels and the Ruger No. 3 a 22-inch, but modern powders provide about as much zip from short, new barrels as originally possible from the 30-inch military rifle. I assure you that a typical cup-and-core 180-grain spitzer at 2,400 to 2,500 fps will slay deer nicely at any range a hunter might use such a load.

If somebody wants to use a 220-grain roundnose today, however, the Nosler Partition might be the best choice, not because a “premium” bullet is needed but because today’s cup-and-core 220s have pretty hard cores, since they’ll most likely be used in a .30-06 or a .300 magnum. The front core of the Partition is a softer lead alloy, so will be far likelier to expand at typical Krag velocities. Some sample loads with lighter bullets have been included as well, and would probably be the best choices for shooting beyond “woods” ranges.

Original Krag-Jorgensen military rifles and carbines bring a pretty good price among collectors these days, which is the reason I no longer own my original rifle. My altered carbine wasn’t worth nearly as much, but eventually an old friend who had one in his youth talked me out of it. Both shot very well, and if you find an original or sporter Krag-Jorgensen they well worth playing with, as is any other .30-40 Krag I’ve ever fired. The old cartridge may not be anywhere near the 21st-century ideal of a big-game cartridge, but it will still do the job for those who like to wander around the woods with rifles chambered for historical cartridges.
John Barsness

C. Sharps Arms, Inc.
P.O. Box 885
Big Timber, MT 59011
(406) 932-4353

6430 Vista Dr.
Shawnee, KS 66218
(913) 362-9455

3625 West Old Potash Hwy.
Grand Island, NE 68803
(800) 338-3220

Remington Arms
870 Remington Dr.
P.O. Box 700
Madison, NC 27025
(800) 243-9700

Sierra Bullets
1400 West Henry St.
Sedalia, MO 65301
(888) 223-8799

Sturm, Ruger & Co.
411 Sunapee St.
Newport, NH 03773
(603) 865-2442

Winchester Ammunition
600 Powder Mill Rd.
East Alton, IL 62024
(618) 258-2000

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Tame, Yet Powerful

The 9.3×62 Mauser Shoots Softly And Hits Hard.

The cartridge known as the 9.3×62 Mauser is sometimes called “the metric .35 Whelen,” implying the Germans got their inspiration from Townsend Whelen necking up the .30-06 to .35 in 1922. The 9.3×62, however, appeared 17 years earlier, so it would be more appropriate to call the .35 Whelen “the American 9.3×62.”

Until recently most Americans had never heard of the 9.3×62, mostly because for much of the 20th century German rifles and cartridges weren’t very popular in the US, due to a couple of world wars. Yeah, some rifle loonies liked Mauser actions and the 8×57 and (especially) the 7×57, but until memories of the two wars faded we preferred 1903 Springfields and Model 70 Winchesters (both derivatives of the 98 Mauser) and the .270 Winchester and .30-06 Springfield, (essentially American versions of the 7×57 and 8×57). Consequently, until early in the 21st century very few Americans had even heard of the 9.3×62, but now some dare to suggest it might be better than the .35 Whelen.

Otto Bock, a Berlin gunmaker, designed the cartridge to provide settlers in Germany’s African colonies a cheap all-around cartridge. The cheap part meant it had to work through unaltered 98 Mauser actions, so the case was based on the 8×57 necked up to take a 0.366-inch diameter bullet of 18.5 grams (285.5 grains), with the shoulder moved forward to provide as much powder capacity as possible. The 9.3mm diameter dated back to black-powder days, and resulted in just enough case shoulder for sure headspacing.

The long bullet required a 1:14-inch rifling twist. In contrast, the .35 Whelen used a 1:16 twist, just enough to stabilize 250-grain, lead-cored spitzers. Apparently this twist was used partly because many Americans (including Townsend Whelen) liked to use cast bullets for smaller game and practice in their big game rifles. Tighter twists supposedly gave poor accuracy with lead bullets.

The difference between a 1:16- and a 1:14-inch twist may not seem like much, but a larger bore requires less twist to stabilize bullets of a certain length. (Contrary to a common misconception, bullet length is the primary factor in stabilization, not weight.) The 1:14 twist proved not only adequate for lead-cored spitzers up to 320 grains, but today’s very long, all-copper 286-grain Barnes Triple Shock X-Bullet. In contrast, the heaviest .35-caliber TSX weighs 225 grains, because an all-copper 250-grain spitzer won’t stabilize in a 1:16-inch twist.

Recoil is noticeably less than the .338 Winchester and .375 H&H Magnums.

The velocity of the original 18.5-gram factory load of the 9.3×62 was around 2,150 fps, and bullets were available in both softnose and “solid,” due to its intended use in Africa. The cartridge did exactly what it was designed to do, providing wild game for the pot while ruining very little meat, yet proving capable of eliminating larger “varmints,” whether cattle-killing lions or crop-raiding Cape buffalo and elephants. It also became popular in Europe for driven wild boar, and in Scandinavia for the animal North Americans call moose.

After World War I, improved powders increased velocity somewhat, and a lighter load for smaller game also appeared, with a 15-gram (232-grain) bullet at around 2,600 fps. Eventually the 18.5 gram load’s velocity stabilized at 2,360 fps, but even today the 9.3×62’s maximum factory pressure is well under the .30-06’s 60,000 psi. As a result some careful handloading with newer powders can increase velocity another 100 fps or so in modern rifles.
I purchased my 9.3×62 in early 2002 after I wandered into Capital Sports & Western Wear in Helena, Montana, one day and found a new CZ 550 rifle in 9.3×62. The owner of the store says it’s still the fastest rifle sale he’s ever made. My Texas gunsmith friend Charlie Sisk is of German descent and had already made himself a 9.3×62, so when I worked up loads I asked Charlie to test them on the Pressure Trace strain-gauge setup in his indoor range. None of the loads listed here tested over 60,000 psi, the SAAMI limit for the .30-06.

The 9.3×62 is indeed a great all-around big-game round. I’ve taken everything from deer-sized animals to some weighing over 1,000 pounds, and it doesn’t shoot up much meat yet puts animals down with authority—including larger, tougher animals. In 2011 I took the CZ to Tanzania as my “light” rifle, using 286-grain Nosler Partitions at 2,475 fps. My hunting partner used what’s perhaps the typical American “plains game” cartridge, the .300 Winchester Magnum, loaded with 180-grain Nosler AccuBonds at over 3,000 fps. He was so impressed at how well the 9.3 put down hard-to-kill animals like blue wildebeest and zebra that he bought his own CZ 9.3×62 soon afterward.

With 232- and 250-grain bullets the 9.3×62 has a trajectory very much like 180-grain .30-06, 250-grain .338 Winchester Magnum or 270-grain .375 H&H loads, and the new 210-grain Cutting Edge Raptor shoots even flatter, so the old round can be handily used at ranges far beyond those any German colonial farmer imagined. The 250-grain loads listed have been used beyond 300 yards with no problem. (By the way, the 9.3×62 is known for shooting very well. The accuracy listed for the 250-grain AccuBond load with Reloder 15 is the average for eight groups, not just one or two. The largest group I’ve fired with the load measured exactly 1 inch.)

Both the British Columbia moose (above) and Tanzanian wildebeest were put down
quickly with a single 286-grain Nosler Partition. Between the hunts,
Kilimanjaro Rifles restocked the CZ.

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At the other extreme, the 320-grain Woodleigh Protected Point shoots right at the intersection of the crosshairs at 50 and 100 yards, making it an outstanding load for thick cover hunting, where a hunter might have to thread the bullet through a small opening. If an animal shows up across an opening, it’s only 2 inches down at 150 and 5 inches at 200.

A few years ago I ordered some 9.3mm 200-grain cast bullets from Huntington, intending to use them in my wife Eileen’s 9.3x72R/16 combination gun. The 9.3x72R is an old round with ballistics much like the .38-55, but upon measuring the bore of Eileen’s gun I found it to take .35-caliber bullets. As a result the cast bullets rested on my bullet shelves until this project, when I decided to use “The Load” C.E. Harris described in the Handloader’s Digest 10th Edition.

Through a lot of experimentation, Harris found 13.0 grains of Red Dot worked with cast bullets in any case the size of the .300 Savage or .35 Remington on up. I’ve since used it myself in cartridges up to the .416 Remington Magnum, and it worked again in the 9.3×62, providing a mild load that shot to the point of aim at 25 yards with the rifle sighted-in 2.5 inches high at 100 with 250-grain big-game loads. Huntington doesn’t have any on hand right now, or (like any anybody else during Obama Panic II) many bullets at all. But for anybody who wants a .35-Whelen-style cast bullet load, here it is.

Over the past decade my .338 Winchester Magnum and .375 H&H have basically gathered dust, since the lighter-recoiling 9.3×62 has replaced them for the same purposes. Oh, and the CZ holds two more rounds in the magazine. So far they’ve never been needed, but they’re there just the same.
By John Barsness

Barnes Bullets
38 N. Frontage Rd., Mona, UT 84645
(435) 856-1000

Cutting Edge Bullets, LLC
75 Basin Run Rd., Drifting, PA 16834
(814) 345-6690

Norma USA

Nosler, Inc.
P.O. Box 671, Bend, OR 97709
(800) 285-3701

Woodleigh Bullets
Huntington Die Specialties
601 Oro Dam Blvd. East, Oroville, CA 95965
(530) 534-1210

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GUNS Jan 2014

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The .22-250

Newer Powders And Bullets Expand The
Versatility Of This Long Time Varmint Cartridge.

Doubtless some version of the .22-250 appeared shortly after the .250-3000 Savage was introduced around 1912, but whoever first came up with the obvious idea probably didn’t publicize his creation. The cartridge really got going in the 1930s, when a bunch of enthusiasts started promoting the round to Winchester as a hotter varmint cartridge than the .22 Hornet they’d just brought out. Among those involved were Grosvenor Wotkyns (inventor of the .22 K-Hornet), gunsmith Jerry Gebby (who copyrighted the name “.22 Varminter” for the .22-250), and J. Bushnell Smith, a handloader and occasional writer.

The test rifle was a new Savage Axis with a sporter weight 22-inch barrel.

Winchester tested the .22-250 but eventually decided on basing their .220 Swift on the 6mm Lee Navy case, supposedly because they couldn’t quite get 4,000 feet per second with the .22-250 with bullets weighing around 50 grains. J. Bushnell Smith published a scathing American Rifleman article (or perhaps it was fiction) about his supposed difficulties in handloading the new Swift, apparently because Winchester didn’t choose “his” .22-250, but Smith was not the brightest handloader. He died in 1948 during a fire in his shop, apparently caused when he accidentally set off a large keg of smokeless powder.

Even after the introduction of the Swift, the .22-250 remained so popular that in 1963 Browning chambered it in their High-Power bolt rifle, 6 years before Remington started making factory ammo. The .22-250 “Remington” immediately became one of the two most popular commercial varmint rounds ever introduced. (The other, of course, is the .223 Remington, but it had the advantage of being a commercial version of a military cartridge.)

With today’s bullets and powders the .22-250 is an even finer round. Aside from its traditional role in varmint hunting, many hunters use the .22-250 on big game. Supposedly this is possible due to a bunch of .224 bullets designed for deep penetration, rather than varmint bullets meant to expand violently. No doubt such bullets as the Barnes Triple-Shock X-Bullet and Nosler Partition made the .22-250 more popular among deer hunters, but standard bullets also work.

The .22-250 is probably the most popular coyote cartridge ever.
John took this one in Texas a dozen years ago with a Browning A-Bolt
and a 50-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip.

The .22-250 works quite well on lighter big game. Larry Tahler
took several springbok in South Africa with professional hunter
Rob Klemp’s suppressed Sako and 55-grain Winchester Pointed
Softpoint factory loads.

Big Game

In 2007, I took part in a month-long cull hunt in South Africa. One of the professional hunters involved, Rob Klemp, eventually invited me and my hunting partner Larry Tahler to use his Sako .22-250, then on its fourth barrel after taking around 12,000 springbok, a very tasty antelope about the size of pronghorn. (In Africa game meat is legally sold in restaurants and supermarkets, so meat culling is common.) We both used Rob’s rifle to take several springbok, including one I dropped at just about 500 yards—and not with headshots, as many would suppose. The bullet used was the 55-grain Winchester Pointed Softpoint, Rob Klemp’s favorite springbok bullet, normally regarded as a coyote bullet in North America. The one bullet we recovered, from a buck Larry shot at around 350 yards, was as perfectly mushroomed as any Barnes X or Nosler Partition I’ve found in bigger game.

The .22-250 is perhaps the most popular coyote cartridge of all time, and also works superbly on woodchucks and similar-sized varmints, but its popularity for prairie dog shooting started to drop after Nosler introduced the Ballistic Tip in the 1980s. Before then the .22-250 was popular for longer-range prairie dog shooting, because the varmint bullets of the day didn’t have particularly high ballistic coefficients. Bullets from smaller 0.224-inch class such as the .222 and .223 Remingtons hit a ballistic wall at around 250 or 300 yards, so many shooters took along a .22-250 for shots past 300.

However, the .22-250 is also a lot harder on barrels than a .223. In fact during July on a big town it’s possible to shoot out a barrel in one day. On one 100-plus-degree day in western Kansas, one of my hunting partners even started the fore-end of his walnut-stocked .22-250 on fire, and we had to dunk the front half of the rifle in a cooler of half-melted ice.

On the same shoot I also came to the conclusion that the .22-250 kicks a little too much for sustained prairie dog shooting. We were using medium-weight rifles made by a well-known American company, and about halfway through the morning of the second day I started flinching a little. I’m not particularly recoil sensitive, but discovered my limit is around 600 rounds in 24 hours from a 9-pound .22-250.

Jim Carmichel, long the shooting columnist for Outdoor Life, used to shoot prairie dogs with a .22-250 made by Kenny Jarrett with a very long and heavy barrel. I tried the rifle a few times on a Wyoming hunt, and it had to weigh at least 15 pounds, reducing recoil considerably. But the advent of plastic-tipped bullets added at least 100 yards to the effective range of the .223 Remington, so most prairie dog shooters quit bringing along a “big” rifle.

Another reason the .22-250 started fading as a longer-range prairie dog round was the standard rifling twist of one turn in 14 inches. This was settled on back in the days when bullets weren’t so well balanced as they are now, and a slower twist helped maintain accuracy. Today’s bullets, however, are so well balanced that rifling twists are tightening up.

The rifle used for the accompanying handloads was a Savage Axis my wife Eileen recently acquired, a sporter-weight rifle with a 22-inch barrel and a 1:12-inch twist she plans to use on coyotes, pronghorns and deer. The slightly faster twist helps with some of the newer bullets intended for big game, but doesn’t hurt accuracy with traditional-weight varmint bullets. A few factory .22-250s have even tighter twists. Nosler’s Trophy Grade .22-250, for instance, has a 1:9-inch twist, capable of stabilizing high-BC bullets of 70 grains or even a little more, one reason the new Nosler Reloading Guide 7 has a special fast-twist .22-250 section. Some other data sources also include bullets over 65 grains, and I’ve included a few samples for fast-twist barrels. Also included are a few loads with lead-free bullets, for shooters who hunt where lead-core bullets are illegal.

Most factory .22-250s have 24- or 26-inch barrels. These should add 50 to 100 fps to the velocities the Axis got in my tests, though some of the loads matched the listed speeds from loading data shot in 24-inch barrels.

For many years I pretty much stuck to good old IMR4895 when handloading the .22-250. It’s still a decent choice, but was developed in the 1930s, back when the .22-250 almost became a Winchester round. These days a bunch of new powders work even better, especially with the wider range of bullets suitable for everything from small varmints to big game.
By John Barsness

Alliant Powder
PO Box 6, Radford, VA 24143
(800) 276-9337

Barnes Bullets

38 N. Frontage Rd., Mona, UT 84645
(435) 856-1000

Cutting Edge Bullets, LLC
75 Basin Run Rd., Drifting, PA 16834
(814) 345-6690

Hodgdon Powder Co.
6430 Vista Dr., Shawnee, KS 66218
(913) 362-9455

3625 Old Potash Hwy., Grand Island, NE 68802
(800) 338-3220

Ramshot Reloading Powders
Western Powders
P.O. Box 158, Miles City, MT 59301
(800) 497-1007

Savage Arms
100 Springdale Rd., Westfield, MA 01085
(413) 568-7001

Speer Bullets
2299 Snake River Ave., Lewiston, ID 83501
(208) 746-2351

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