January 04, 2011
A "Unique" and universal load introduces new shooters to Old Iron.
Pierre Langlois waits for another frigid gust to blow through before chronographing a round in his vintage Trapdoor Springfield.
How many men have had their ladies say, 'Not again!' after one shot from a full-power rifle, and how many would like to have their grandchild be able to fire the rifle 'great grandpa carried in the war' without the child leaving bruised and in tears?"
These were the two questions used to get master reloader Pierre Langlois interested in the project: Find a safe, easy-to-remember squib load for the classic rifles of world (and family) history.
Most reloaders have more recipes on file than Betty Crocker and just love to tinker with the last tenths of a grain. Color me not one of them. This shooter just likes to get the results downrange and, in this case, keep them out of a new shooter's shoulder. Could one simple load work across the whole spectrum of heavy hitters, the guns that fought the wars of the 19th and 20th centuries, and put that big buck over the mantle?
The idea was given to me by "Sick Pat" Eddinger some years ago. The Michigan Jarhead had listed slightly varied loads using Unique powder that were all slightly more or less than 10 grains, depending on the military cartridge. Ten grains had worked in a charming little Oviedo 7x57mm carbine. Would it work in other casings?
"But a Mauser is a bank vault, and not everyone has a bolt gun. What about trying it in some weaker actions?" Pierre countered. A veteran commercial reloader (as the owner of On Target Enterprises), Pierre's concern was the dreaded croquette effect: "An underloaded case can pressure-spike worse than an overloaded one," he emphasized. "The charge expands rapidly in an empty space, then hits resistance. It can shatter things." But he was intrigued and suggested a test.
Hitting the bull at 100 yards required setting sights to 400 yards. With the squib load, the legendary harsh recoil of this straight-stocked M1903 is now tamed and ready for the grandkids.
A month later we met in Kingman, Arizona, to shoot at Seven Mile Hill Range on historic Route 66. It was the worst range day possible without rain. Cold, gusting winds tore heavily stapled targets; the Oehler chrono shook, rattled and roared; and for the first time ever, both of us were glad to have some of those red plastic cartridge thingies from Federal.
With factory loads, this cheap, accurate 1895 might be too much for a youngster. Squib groups were close to the same as standard/factory loadings. The higher point of impact for the factory loads was due to increased recoil and associated muzzle rise.
Five rounds of factory and five rounds of squibs (or, as Terry Weiland more elegantly prefers, "gallery loads") were fired at 25 yards using the same sights. At 100 yards it was five factory using the lowest sights and then, for the squibs, use of the buddy-observer, burst-on-target method (known in civilian shooting as, "Hey, Richard, where'd that one go?").
Selected were five cartridges spanning action strengths and cartridge capacities: the .30-30 in a 94, .30-40 in a Krag, 7x57 in a Chilean (Loewe) 1895, .30-06 in a classic '03 and an original Custer's Last Stand-style .45-70 carbine.
No filler was used; however, the wobbly Trapdoor demanded prudence. Pierre used Ox-Yoke dry wads to hold the powder snug against the CCI Large Rifle primers, which were used for all reloads. This eliminated the possible hazards of uneven ignition and erratic burning in the antique action.
One other note: To eliminate confusion, the bullet tip of squibs should be marked in a uniform manner, such as by dipping slightly in light-blue paint.
Using whip, chair and over-stapling to secure the targets, we recorded the results seen in the chart. The factory loads in all the rifles produced enough recoil to send a 10-year-old for momma's arms, and the trapdoor kicked worse than a double of Wild Turkey.
Across the spectrum, the squibs were fabulous, producing reasonable accuracy and the same recoil you would expect from a .357 in a Rossi carbine. The spent squib casings showed no signs of fatigue, high pressure or anything else out of the ordinary.
The wind finally drove us off the range, and no one else was there to give opinions.
On a much nicer day at a club range in Pacoima, California, "Big One" Vet Ed Troutfetter volunteered his grandson as a tester. So 14-year-old David Baumann fired the Krag and said, "It kicked more than a .22 but not bad." David fired the '94 and '03 with gusto before observing that the lighter gun kicked a tad more with the equal load. After the young Tujunga, California, resident pressed several more questions about the loads, I caught a glint in his grandfather's eye and realized we had a nascent reloader budding.
This civilizing 1899 Krag carbine probably has a few stories to tell. Unique powder's odd burning characteristics allow such historical pieces to be shared by the whole family.
It must be remembered that all rifles can have hidden or subtle defects. Before trying an unusual reload, you should always have your "piece of history in the hand" checked by a competent gunsmith.
|STANDARD vs. 10 GRAINS UNIQUE|
|CARTRIDGE||BULLET||VELOCITY (fps) (Standard/10 grs.)|
|*10-grain load used 220-grain RNSP|
**10-grain load used 400-grain JHP
These squib casings probably didn't obdurate as uniformly as they did with the factory loads, and differences in burning were audible, but the one-load result was exactly what was sought--a tin-can accurate plinker that will allow young and petite shooters to enjoy the romance of classic arms.