TEXAS GUNS by Steve LaMascus

Handloading 101

A FEW YEARS AGO I had an old Remington Model 700 ADL .222 Remington rebuilt into a wildcat .222 Remington Magnum Ackley Improved.

The gunsmith who did the work had no experience with wildcat calibers, but I looked over some of his work and decided to let him do the job. When I received the little rifle, it looked perfect, so I loaded some .222 Magnum cases with a proven load and began to fire-form the cases. When I fired the first round and took it out of the rifle to check it for defects, it wore a bright ring around the case just in front of the extractor groove.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this problem, the bright ring in front of the extractor groove, or even farther up the case, can be a symptom of incipient head separation. So I took a paper clip, straightened it out and then bent it to a 90 degree angle at one end.

This left a short crook with which I could feel the inside of the case. Using this, I felt around the bottom of the inside of the case. Sure enough there was a ring-like depression inside to match the bright ring on outside. Had I not noticed the bright ring (I specifically looked for it), the next time I loaded the case it probably would have separated at that point and might have wrecked the rifle.

What this problem meant was that the rifle was improperly headspaced. On a rifle chambered for an Ackley Improved (AI) cartridge, the headspace must be set for a slight crush fit when a factory cartridge or case is chambered.

This gunsmith had never dealt with an AI cartridge, so he set the headspace as he would on a standard factory cartridge, thus leaving excess headspace for the wildcat.

Knowing what the problem was, I loaded several cartridges with the bullets seated out enough to firmly engage the rifling. This forces the base of the case back against the face of the bolt. When the rifle is fired, the headspace of the AI cartridge is correct, and no separation is imminent.

This problem of excess headspace is, also, fairly common in older Winchester lever action rifles and some older military rifles. If you have an older rifle, and the fired cases come out of the rifle showing a bright ring near the base, this indicates a dangerous condition. You should have it fixed by a competent gunsmith. Do not try to reload those fired cases as head separation is probable.

Many years ago, I owned a super-accurate .25-06. I had a bunch of .30-06 brass and to save a bit of money was resizing it to use in the .25-06.

When I loaded and fired the first rounds they showed excess pressure. This was puzzling because the load was a mild one. After some head scratching, I decided this was probably caused by one of two things. Either the brass was too long and was crushed against the end of the chamber, or the case necks were too thick, making the brass hold the bullet too tightly when chambered.

Do not try to reload those fired cases, as head separation is probable.

I checked the cases and found the length to be correct. I then reamed the case necks slightly and reloaded them. Case solved. The rifle had a very tight throat, and the .30-06 cases, when resized to .25 caliber, were too thick in the neck area.

I once bought a new S&W Model 629 in .44 Magnum, one of the first with the little lock on the side. I loaded some light target loads and took it to the range for sighting in. I fired a few rounds with no problem, and the accuracy was fantastic. One of the groups measured just one inch at 25 yards. Then during one string the gun froze up solid, not allowing it to be cocked or the cylinder to be opened. I finally got the cylinder open by pounding it against the wooden table at the 25-yard line. I was upset because I thought the problem was with the newfangled lock.

I loaded and shot several more rounds, then it froze up again. This time, after I got it open, I was smart enough to look at the bullet in the cartridge that was next to fire in the cylinder.

When I looked at it I noticed that the very end of the bullet was badly deformed by opening the cylinder. Looking closer I discovered that the bullet had crept forward during the several rounds I had fired and had caught against the barrel when I tried to cycle the gun.

All I had to do was to increase the crimp on the bullet. When I reset the die to crimp more of the cartridge mouth into the crimp groove of the bullet the problem was solved.

All magnum revolver loads should have a heavy crimp to prevent this problem. Also, a solid crimp is a good idea on magnum rifle cartridges to prevent the bullet from being driven deeper into the case during recoil.

The above shows that reloading is a continual learning experience. Generally it is a fairly simple and safe endeavor, but occasionally, especially when dealing with wildcat cartridges, it can require more esoteric knowledge.

If you run into something that puzzles you, it is almost a certainty that someone has had that problem before you. If you know an old reloader, ask him about it. If you have any such questions, you can contact me at the email address below.


Email Steve LaMascus at ContactUs@fishgame.com


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