More than the AK: 7.62x39

The sporting side of the “.30 Short Russian”

I find the 7.62x39 cartridge intriguing but I never spent time reloading it for two reasons. First, steel-cased, non-reloadable FMJ rounds are so cheap and secondly because the ejection of fired rounds can be quite hard on reloadable brass — bending and distorting necks. The solution, of course, was a bolt-action carbine and I was sorely tempted when my friend Denis purchased a CZ bolt-action 7.62x39.

But I didn’t succumb to the Russian siren song until recently when Ruger came out with the Compact American Ranch Rifle chambered in 7.62x39. It’s fitted with an easy-handling, easy-shooting sand-colored polymer stock and I also stuck a Ruger muzzlebreak on its threaded barrel. Now it’s not so far removed from shooting a .22, and I was surprised how accurate it could be.

Duelling Diameters

One of the “problems” with the cartridge is the bullets aren’t standardized in diameter. Most foreign guns are cut for .311 bullets while the consensus seems to be American guns and ammo are tailored for .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 .310 was the number for the American Ranch Rifle (.311 in their semi-auto Mini-30). Since I had bullets on hand in both diameters, I decided to try both of them.

Up to this point what little reloading I did for the 7.62x39 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 powders, H4198 and H4227/IMR 4227. I’ve always said they were the same and now H4227 is marketed as IMR4227! There’s no difference in the performance of the two.

Winchester and IMI brass cases were used which makes it easy to keep my loads — using the different diameter bullets — separate. My .308 bullets went in the Winchester cases while IMI was the home for .311’s. I used the two different expander balls, but found some — not all — .310/.311 bullets weren’t a tight enough fit.

Oddly, it was those bullets marked .311 that were loose. In the future I’ll only use the expander designed for .308 bullets. With .310/311 flat-based bullets, it helps to bell the case mouth slightly. I do this with a NexPander tool which is also useful in straightening the mouths of cases destined for semi-auto 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 as there is no danger of contaminating primers with this lubricant. All my cases are primed with Winchester Standard Large Rifle primers and velocities were measured using LabRadar.

Thirty-caliber punchers (left to right): 7.62x39, .308 Winchester, .30-06, .300 Win Mag, .300 Weatherby Mag.

Winning Recipes

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

My most accurate loads all came with Hodgdon’s H322 powder. The two most accurate loads, each placing four shots in 7/8" at 100 yards were the Sierra 125-gr. SP (.308) over 28.5 grains of H322 (2,188 fps) and the Speer 130-gr. JHP (.308) over 27.5 grains (2,154 fps). Either would be excellent for whitetail-sized game species.

Two other loads came in with four-shot groups of 1-1/8". These also used H322. The Sierra 125-gr. SP (.311) clocked out at 2,214 fps while the Sierra 110-gr. RN (.308) .30 Carbine bullet (2,200 fps) also showed the same excellent accuracy. The positive performance of the little .30 Carbine bullet really surprised me.

Choose your poison (left to right): Sierra 110-gr. RN, Hornady 123-gr. SP, Sierra 125-gr. Spitzer, Speer 130-gr. HP, Hornady 130-gr. SP, Sierra 150-gr. FN, Hornady 150-gr. RN, Hornady 150-gr. SP.

Going Heavy

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, all of them grouped at 1-3/4 to 1-7/8" — certainly OK for deer at reasonable ranges. The bullets used were the Hornady 150 SP and 150-gr. RN, traveling at 2,009 and 2,040 fps respectively, with the Sierra 150-gr. FN at 2,045 fps. The latter would be my first choice due to the FN configuration.

With the load and bullet combinations used with H4198 and IMR4227, accuracy was not quite as good as with H322. The best loads with these powders were in the 1-1/4 to 1-1/2" range, certainly adequate for most hunting situations. A charge of 24.5 grains of H4198 pushed Hornady’s 123-gr. SP out at 2,168 fps while the Speer 130-gr. JHP was close at 2,146. Both loads grouped at 1-1/2".

With IMR 4227 I used 21.0 grains with two Sierra 125-gr. SPs — one a .311, the other .308. The .311 grouped in 1-1/2" at a muzzle velocity of 2,188 fps while the .308 was right there at 2,180 fps for four shots at 100 yards.

I have to say the Ruger American Ranch Rifle is one of the most pleasant shooting rifles I’ve ever used. It may be noisy with the brake in place but recoil is virtually nil — even through the 4X scope I never lost sight of the targets when I fired. I’m long past the age of being pounded by big rifles. This Ruger shoots as well — often better — in terms of accuracy than some of the pricier rifles shooting cartridges with reputations for tack-driving accuracy.
I hope to be able to use it on deer-sized critters.

Sturm, Ruger & Co.
Ph: (928) 778-6555

Ph: (800) 533-5000

Ph: (800) 379-1732

Ph: (888) 223-3006

Hornady Mfg.
Ph: (308) 382-1390

Winchester Ammunition
Ph: (618) 258-3340

Hodgdon Powder
Ph: (913) 362-9455

Lyman Products
Ph: (800) 225-9626

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