As it has been demonstrated in these articles, the main cause of variables from what is claimed or expected is the rifle itself. A barrel that is a few inches shorter than normal for a particular big-game cartridge cannot be expected to produce the same muzzle velocity as one with a normal-length barrel.
Also, as previously pointed out, the loss of velocity may be substantial to the point of adversely affecting expected results.
Yesterday, I was going through a pile of old hunting and shooting mags to determine what should be kept for reference purposes and what should be donated to our range clubhouse or, perhaps, donated to garbage pick up after having served “the cause” of bullet penetration tests. In that process I came across an article wanting to be kept for reference purposes: In it the author did a side-by-side test of the same handloads and factory ammo in two rifles chambered for the same new cartridge — the .375 Ruger. One rifle was custom with a 24″ Pac-Nor barrel while the other was a Ruger Hawkeye Alaskan with a 20″. The article in question appeared at the time of Ruger and Hornady releasing ammo for the new rifle, but actual rifles were limited. The author, the late Chub Eastman, was sent one along with some brass and a few factory rounds in 270gr. The results were interesting to say the least about it.
Keep in mind that identical ammo, both several handloads and one factory load from Hornady, were fired in these rifles on the same date under identical conditions. Let’s just say that there was a very distinct variance in muzzle velocities between the two with the 20″ barrel coming far short of the 24″ by as much as -274 fps in one case to as little as -90 fps in another. And the factory 270gr ammo never came close to proclamations from Hornady in the 20″ tube Ruger Hawkeye: 2684 fps to be exact, but nearly 200 fps improvement from the 24″ Pac-Nor at 2882 fps!
What is the point? Well, it seems like there is a “multitude” of Internet experts who loudly proclaim these days that shortening a barrel from 24″ to 20″ makes little difference in impact results “way out there”. 200 fps loss from a small-bore varmint rifle firing a 55gr/.223-caliber may not amount to much “way out there”, ’tis true…
200 fps loss from a 270gr/.375-caliber means a loss of 100 yards in ballistic effect: At 300 yards, a 270gr Hornady factory load leaving the muzzle at 2885 from a 24″ is down to around 2218fps/2950 ft-lbs/89 TE. That’s still a lot of horsepower! But starting that same bullet at 2685 fps from a 20″, it is chugging along at about 2047fps/2512 ft-lbs/76 TE at 300 — a loss of 438 ft-lbs, which might make a big difference in negative effect on a particularly large game animal! Plus the fact that the same amount of powder is burned with a lot more attendant muzzle blast. Then, I would consider that my 9.3 X 62 will do better than both at 300 making 2847 ft-lbs/91 TE using the 286 Nosler Partition burning 16% less powder! So, for myself, I fail to see any kind of advantage provided by a 20″, 9lb .375 Ruger Hawkeye over my 9.3 X 62 Tikka T3 Lite at 7.5 lbs ready!
All that to illustrate some points: Once again, I’ll emphasize that a chronograph is essential in determining actual muzzle velocities.
Secondly, a HANDLOADER SHOULD TEST SEVERAL APPROPRIATE POWDERS TO ASCERTAIN WHAT POWDER GIVES BEST PERFORMANCE.
When I began to work on loads for an 1895 Marlin in .45-70 for the first time, I pretty much leaned on Speer’s Manual No.11. I got the best results from their 400gr from a full dose of H322. 57 grains gave me an average of 1865 fps/3089 ft-lbs/139 TE. A trophy bear was shot with that load at 100 yards in a remote area of Central Ontario using the services of an outfitter/guide. To date, it has been my best bear. And I learned a great deal from that initial experience using that load in a .45-70. Shortly thereafter a new powder came to market that looked better to me than H322, which in itself was best to that point in time for heavier bullets like 400s and 405s. That powder was AA2015BR that did prove to be superior in several ways to H322. While 1865 fps was max using H322 due to the inability to get more into the case at standard length when crimped into the cannelure provided, psi was far less than the Marlin could safely handle.
Learning through experience that I could actually seat bullets to a COL of from 2.60 to 2.61″ (as previously mentioned) and in using a LEE crimp die, AA2015 helped change all that. I was able to use up to 60 and 61 grains for the Marlin with the concomitant increase in MV to around 2100 fps from the 405gr Remington/3965 ft-lbs/180 TE. That’s a potential increase of 30%! Plus the fact that the 405 Remington was a much tougher bullet with a superior BC of .281 vs .214 BC for the Speer. All in all, that powder and bullet transformed the Marlin from a 200 yard big-game rifle to a 300 yard big-game rifle. Pressure concerns? About the same as a .444 Marlin and far less than the .356 Winchester cartridge chambered in the same rifle. And I have learned a great deal more about loading .45-70s since those early beginnings. Today, I employ two powders only for all loads and bullet weights: Both are Hodgdon powders — H4198 up to 400 grains and H335 for any above that to 500 grains. I’ve learned from experience that nothing more is needed… or wanted.
Once again, Internet blather makes this assertion that “any medium powder works very well in the 9.3 X 62. Take your pick, they all do about the same thing”. And that’s sheer nonsense! As by now published several times over, the difference in my rifle between max loads of RL-15 and RL-17 is 170 fps at the muzzle shooting the 286gr Nosler Partition — in favour of RL-17. That’s clearly NOT an insignificant amount! A 14% increase in muzzle energy puts it squarely in the same class as a .375 H&H!
I’ve not yet tried RL-25 in a .300 magnum, but I seriously doubt that it can make ANY improvement in ballistics for a .300 Winchester Magnum. Why? Because a max load of RL-22 will already give what a .300 Win Mag is capable of from a compressed load! My experience is that the Nosler Reloading Guide 6 is about spot on for results for the .300 WM.
“A compressed load? Horrors and abominations!” And let’s pile on some more abominations; all my handloads are compressed, at least to some degree. But before someone blows a gasket, lets check out some of the manuals that give the actual load densities: The Nosler Manual 6 loads for any of the magnums; the .300 SAUM or .375 Ruger as examples. Barnes Manual is no different; for the big magnums “overloads” (load density of over 100%) are common.
Yet another potential variable for handloaders is choice of primer. Another Internet blather is uttered similar to that of powder usage: “There is little difference between primers, especially magnum and standard as it pertains to performance. They are all about the same.” I’ll flag that too as “nonsense”, or ignorance. In regard to this, I’m thinking primers for big-game rifles, particularly those that normally burn +/-70 grains. Several years ago, I did an in-depth study of primers in reading materials and by personal experiments. Every available primer was given a fair try; I had a 0% reason for favouring any one over any others. One in-depth article demonstrated that the Winchester Large Rifle Magnum primer was the hottest and burned the longest, even more so than the Federal 215. My experience seemed to confirm that. How? By these three facts: 1) I got the best average muzzle velocity, and 2) The best consistency, and 3) The cleanest barrels — meaning there was little to no unburned powder residue. Also, it seemed I was getting a better bargain on them when I bought in bulk.
Having said all that, I realize that others may have had a different experience, or when at times there have been shortages, you may have had to purchase what was available. I’ve not experienced any shortage of large rifle primers here in Ontario… but then, as mentioned, I usually buy in bulk so as to have enough on hand for any shortage, in the foreseeable future at least. But a particular brand and style of large rifle primers may bring the best from a specific rifle and load.
About FREEBORE once again: I said we’d return to this theme. Is it a good idea or a bad one? It all depends on how it is used, or can be used.
To further illustrate why this is important, I’ll cite some numbers from .458 Winchester Magnum factory loads as fired in 3 factory rifles plus 1 custom. This data comes from some tests by the late Finn Aagaard as published in a PETERSEN’S Hunting Specials magazine (1998). The 3 factory rifles were two in M70 Winchesters, one with a 25″ barrel and the other (later edition) with a 22″. The 3rd factory .458 WM was an FN Browning Safari with a 24″ barrel. The fourth rifle was owned by Finn Aagaard, a Westley Richards Mauser with an original .425 Westley Richards barrel that was replaced by a 23″, .458 Win Mag barrel when Finn took possession of that rifle.
The point of this is to illustrate the effect “freebore” had on the performance of 5 factory loads (though I’ll only include three of those loads for reasons of efficiency.): Free travel was based on a 500gr Hor. SP at a COL of 3.340″. The 25″ M70 had 0.71″ freebore; the 22″ M70 had 0.89″ freebore, the FN Browning (24″) had 0.79″ freebore and the Westley Richards (custom barrel 23″) had 0.13″ — that’s 1/8 inch free travel compared to about 3/4″ inch in the other factory rifles!
Now, notice the distinct advantage of the SHORT “freebore” in the Westley Richards 23″ barrel compared to the others in shooting the following 3 factory loads in each:
500gr Trophy Bonded (Federal)
M70 (25″) = 2123 fps/5036 ft-lbs
M70 (22″) = 2081 fps/4807 ft-lbs
FN (24″) = 2138 fps/5074 ft-lbs
WR (23″) = 2188 fps/5314 ft-lbs (1/8″ freebore)
465gr Dead Tough (A-Square)
M70 (25″) = 2205 fps/5020 ft-lbs
M70 (22″) = 2141 fps/4732 ft-lbs
FN (24″) = 2185 fps/4929 ft-lbs
WR (23″) = 2249 fps/5222 ft-lbs (1/8″ freebore)
Remington 510gr SP
M70 (25″) = 1979 fps/4435 ft-lbs
M70 (22″) = 1921 fps/4179 ft-lbs
FN (24″) = 1970 fps/4394 ft-lbs
WR (23″) = 2021 fps/4625 ft-lbs
** For comparison purposes only:
My CZ550 (25″)/500gr Hornady handload = 2283 fps/5786 ft-lbs/COL = 3.55″
My CZ550 (25″)/500gr Hornady handload = 2202 fps/5383 ft-lbs/COL = 3.34″ (SAAMI)
There are several numbers of import there, without analysing matters to death: First: There is no question in my mind that the short “freebore” of the Westley Richards made the factory ammo come close to or exceed expectations. Secondly: There is not much more that could be done to improve the grossly under-loaded Remington brand, but the WR with its 1/8″ freebore still managed to make it look half-way decent. Lastly: While I didn’t show two of the loads, one of them at least did perform well in the Westley Richards, which just goes to prove the point: There are “no flies” on the .458 Winchester Magnum when FREEBORE is customized to fit the magazine. Even underloaded factory ammo does much better. But there’s really little wonder why some hunters who chose the .458 WM using a factory rifle and ammo were often disillusioned by results. It was a very “fixable” problem that was never dealt with by rifle and ammo makers. For experienced handloaders of the .458, they should know how to compensate for the “professionals” errors.
If I were to do it again, I’d make my own, or have it made to my specifications: A 22 – 23″ barrel with a freebore of about 3/16″ for the RN 500gr Hornady or Woodleigh, etc, screwed into a standard-length action (or single-shot), fiberglass-synthetic stock with an overall length of 42″ (or less in a single-shot) and 9 lbs ready for action. That would be, for me, a non-plus-ultra! By hey, my Ruger No.1 in .45-70 IMP comes so very, very close to those specs that it would hardly be worth the expense and effort to make such an exchange.
And lastly: THE RIFLE’S BORE and MUZZLE:
I’ll be much more efficient on this one: But it is a potential variant from expectations. I’ve had tight ones and loose ones. The tight ones generate more pressure and higher velocity. The other kind may never come close to what “The Book” says.
Protect the muzzle and bore from wet and wear from abuse! But that doesn’t mean scrubbing the bore with wire until it shines like a mirror. Many overdo it both ways: Neglect or Neatness! Both are important factors in controlling accuracy.
So, in essence there are too many potential variables to know actual performance for certain until everything is put through a barrage of tests, including: barrel length, freebore, condition and tightness of bore, erosion effects, muzzle condition, powders, primers, etc, while not forgetting to always use a chronograph and a target for all loads and rifles. And ALL OF IT should be documented and dated. Otherwise it has been a huge waste of time and effort, but we could still enjoy the company of the Internet Blatherers!
Did you “get” it all?
Yeah, I know…
It’s unfortunate, but I have to include the following:
DISCLAIMER: Since what handloaders decide to do, or not do, and I have no control over their thoughts and actions, any handloading data provided in any/all of my blogs are not recommended or solicited for application. They were safe in my rifles but may not be in others. It is recommended that safe handloading procedures be strictly followed, and that any and all loads be worked up in a safe and careful manner, giving heed to ANY signs of excessive pressure.
Till the next…