Reloading the 7.62x39mm

It’s not just for AK’s anymore!

These 100-yard targets were fired with the 7.62 x 39 chambered Ruger American Ranch Rifle.

I have found the 7.62x39mm cartridge quite intriguing over the years, however, I never spent time with much serious reloading for two reasons: First, steel-cased, non-reloadable FMJ rounds are so cheap, and secondly, the ejection of fired rounds can be quite hard on reloadable brass, bending and distorting the necks.

The Answer

The solution, of course, was a bolt-action carbine. I was sorely tempted when my friend Denis purchased a CZ bolt action 7.62 x 39, however, I didn’t succumb until recently when Ruger came out with the American Ranch Rifle chambered in 7.62x39 and fitted with a sand-colored polymer stock. It is very easy handling and I added to this feature by fitting its threaded barrel with a Ruger Muzzle Brake. The result is a rifle so easy to shoot, with so little recoil, it’s not far removed from shooting a .22. I was also pleasantly surprised how accurate it could be.

One of the “problems” with the Russian 7.62x39mm cartridge is the fact bullets are not standardized in diameter. Most foreign guns are cut for 0.311" bullets while the consensus seems to be American guns and ammunition are tailored for 0.308" bullets. Reloading die sets come with two expander balls for these two sizes of bullets. I called Ruger to ask them what size barrels they used in their rifles and they told me it was 0.310" on the American Ranch Rifle and 0.311" on the Mini-30. Since I had bullets on hand in both diameters, I decided to try both of them.

John’s powder of choice for loading the 7.62 x 39 is Hodgdon’s H322.

Reloading The Russian

Up to this point what little reloading I did for the 7.62×39 was accomplished with one of my favorite powders, H322. My records showed I used 28.5 grains with 123-gr. bullets. I saw this is an excellent place to start, and I also added two other Hodgdon’s powders, H4198 and H4227/IMR 4227. There is a lot of confusion concerning the latter, I have always said they were the same, and now H4227 is marketed as IMR4227. No difference in the performance of the two.

Winchester and IMI brass cases are used, making it easy to keep loads with different diameter bullets separate; .308 bullets went in the Winchester cases while IMI was the home for .311 bullets. I used the two different expander balls and found some, but not all, .310-.311 bullets were not a tight enough fit. Oddly, the bullets marked .311 were loose. In the future I will use only the expander designed to be used with 0.308″ bullets.

With .310-311 flat-based bullets it helps to bell the case mouth slightly. I do this using a NexPander Tool which is also used to straighten the case mouths on those brass cases going through semi-automatic actions. RCBS dies are used for loading with cases first placed on their sides in an aluminum tray and sprayed with Hornady’s wax-based One Shot Case Lube. With this lube there is no danger of contaminating primers. All my cases are primed with Winchester Standard Large Rifle primers and velocities are measured using the LabRadar.

Hornady, Sierra and Speer provide plenty of different bullets for loading the 7.62 x 39.

Load Out

For a test control load, I went with Winchester White Box 123 FMJ. These clock out at 2,230 fps and grouped four shots in 1-3/4″ at 100 yards. Many of my reloads proved to be more accurate than these, with some cutting the groups in half. With this particular test segment, I loaded seven different combinations using .310-.311 bullets and 12 using the smaller .308 bullets. Generally speaking, the latter bullets shot more accurately with the powder combinations chosen, however some of the .310-.311 loads were very close to the smaller bullets in accuracy.

My most accurate loads all came using Hodgdon’s H322 powder. The two most accurate loads, each placing four shots in 7/8″ at 100 yards, are the Sierra 125 SP (0.308″) over 28.5 grains of H322 for 2,188 fps and the Speer 130 JHP (0.308″) over 27.5 grains clocking out at 2,154 fps. Either one of these would be excellent for hunting smaller game. Two other loads came in with four-shot groups of 1-1/8″. These were also using H322. The Sierra 125 SP (0.311″) clocked out at 2,214 fps while the Sierra 110 RN .308 .30 Carbine bullet at just over 2,200 fps also showed the same exceptional accuracy. These two bullets would also be excellent choices for hunting. The positive performance of the little .30 Carbine bullet really surprised me.

Bullets for the 7.62 x 39 included Sierra 110 RN, Hornady 123 SP, Sierra 125 Spitzer,
Speer 130 HP, Hornady 130 SP, Sierra 150 FN, Hornady 150 RN and Hornady 150 SP.

.308 Loads

I did try three different loads using 150-gr. .308 bullets, all over 26.5 grains of H322. While not quite as accurate as the lighter bullets, with all of them grouping around 1-3/4"–1-7/8", they would certainly do for hunting of smaller deer at reasonable ranges. The bullets used were the Hornady 150 SP and 150 RN, traveling at 2,009 fps and 2,040 fps respectively, and the Sierra 150 FN at 2,045 fps. The latter would be my first choice due to the flat nose configuration.

With the load and bullet combinations used with H4198 and IMR4227, accuracy was not quite as good as with H322, however more than adequate for 100-yard hunting situations. The best loads with these powders were in the 1-1/4"–1-1/2" range, which again is certainly adequate for short-range hunting. Using 24.5 grains of H4198 saw Hornady’s 123 SP clock out at 2,168 fps while the Speer 130 JHP was just right below it at 2,146 fps with both loads grouping in 1-1/2". With IMR4227 I used 21.0 grains with two Sierra 125 SP bullets, one with the diameter of 0.311" and the other 0.308". The former grouped in 1-1/2" at a muzzle velocity of 2,188 fps while the latter was right there with it at 2,180 fps and 1-1/4" for four shots at 100 yards.

John likes the new Lyman Stadium Block for reloading chores and the NexPander to
straighten case mouths as well as rendering a slight belling when necessary.

Pure Enjoyment

I have to say this — the Ruger American Ranch Rifle is one of the most pleasant shooting rifles I have ever experienced. It is definitely noisy with the muzzle brake in place but recoil is virtually nil. With the 4X scope I never lost sight of the targets when the gun was fired. I’m long past the age of enjoying being pounded by big rifles and this rifle gives me a big feel when shooting, but a very small feel on my shoulder. In accuracy it does as well, often better than some of the more sophisticated rifles shooting cartridges with a reputation for accuracy. I hope before I’m finished to be able to use it to hunt smaller deer-sized critters.

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