January 22, 2020: The Season Begins With A Splash
Every year the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries holds an event they call "Christmas For The Fishes" at Claytor Lake State Park. It's a way to build up fish habitat by putting old Christmas trees on the lake bottom. The trees are tied to concrete blocks and ferried out to specific places, where they're dropped over the side. Each boat can carry 15 to 25 trees at a time. I'm a member of the DGIF's Complementary Work Force, so was asked to help out. There were at least 20 workers: CWF volunteers, members of the Friends of Claytor Lake (FOCL) group, a number of Park Rangers, and Conservation Police Officers. All told, we put about 400 trees into the water.
I don't know where the trees come from, but there were plenty of them piled up along the lake shore at the Park boat ramp. Some were scrawny "Charlie Brown" types, but there were a few that must have come from displays in large area hotels: one had a trunk at least 10 inches in diameter. We dragged them to the dock (above) the boats pulled up and loaded them on board, and then went out to dump them. Things go surprisingly fast: it took not quite 3 hours to get them all in place. The image above shows a few of the trees ready to load up.
This has been going on for some years, and so far as I know the trees are always put in the same locations. Claytor Lake is pretty old (it was built in the late 1930's) and whatever structure was there originally has long since disappeared or has been silted over, so the trees and blocks provide cover for bait-fish species: the baitfish attract larger ones like bass, so the idea is improve the fishing. I have no idea how long a submerged tree lasts, but over the years there have been thousands of them put in place, and the concrete blocks from years past are also still there.
So the season has begun. In a week and a half I'm to go for the annual Super Bowl Sunday Bird Shoot. So far, so good.
February 2, 2020: Groundhog Day Bird Shoot
Today being SUPER BOWL SUNDAY, which is the nearest thing the USA has for a national religious holiday, and also being Groundhog Day, my friend Phil and I (who are SUPER BOWL agnostics) set up a bird shoot at John Holland's Shooting Preserve in Glade Hill. With us came a third shooter, Arnold, a retired physician and a friend of Phil's. He's also a member of the same shooting sports club we are, and an avid shotgunner and bird hunter. So it was a congenial party all around. Three is about optimum for one of these put-and-take shoots. We've done it with more but it gets—ahem—crowded, which is not a good thing when shotguns are being waved around.
Phil likes to shoot quail; I'm more inclined to shoot pheasants because they're big enough that I can hit them now and then; to balance things off we added in a few chukar partridge (right) a bird midway in size between the two others. Incidentally, it's the national bird of Iran; the chukar is a middle-eastern and Asian species imported to the USA as a gamebird. They aren't established here locally but there are naturalized breeding populations in some western states and they're highly prized. We paid for 4 pheasants, 6 chukar, and 21 quail. John puts them out in his fields, we go out with the dog(s) to find them, and all we have to do is shoot them. Ha!
I brought my Stevens Model 311 12-gauge SxS, which gave me a bit of trouble (more on this below); Arnold was toting a lovely Browning Citori in 20 gauge, and Phil had his old reliable corn-shucker, a Browning Auto-5 in 12 gauge. I like 4's for pheasants, and 7-1/2's for the smaller birds. I've always had good luck with 4's on these big birds, and my guns seem to like 7-1/2's better than 8's.
My 311 has some personal history. In the Fall of 1980 I bought a cabin in Orange County, Virginia as a weekend place. My wife and I fixed it up, and I planned to hunt there. Since at the time I was living in Washington DC and the District had absolutely Draconian gun laws, I decided to buy a gun that even the Nazis in what passes for a DC government couldn't really gripe about: a double-barrelled shotgun. The 311 was the last US-made double of its day, and I wanted it to be as useful as possible, so I ordered a 12 gauge. It came into DC to the only store licensed to sell any guns at all, Herman's Sporting Goods on Wisconsin Avenue. They had to bring it in from their Virginia store, and before I could actually pick it up I had to go through DC's rigamarole of fingerprints, photos, what amounted to a security clearance, written police permission, registration, and all the other bullshit that only people who don't commit crimes ever obey. It took about two weeks for me to get permission to exercise my Second Amendment right to have this gun, and even then I was forbidden to have it in any condition except "unloaded and disassembled or bound with a trigger lock, except when in use for legitimate sporting purposes in the District of Columbia," of which there were precisely none; but bureaucracies don't worry about little details like that. I wanted to be able to legally transport it to and from my Virginia cabin and had to jump through the damned hoops to do so. Incidentally, it was also illegal for me to possess any ammunition of any kind except that for my shotgun. A single .22 Long Rifle cartridge in my car would have got me a stretch in the DC jail. So this gun was perhaps the last firearm legally purchased in DC until they were compelled by SCOTUS in the Heller decision to repeal their idiotic laws, which of course never made a single dent in the crime rate.
I've owned it since 1981. I had it restocked, because the original stock was a made from a piece of construction-grade scrap 2x4 with a "walnut finish" that flaked off if you looked at it hard. I had a piece of walnut lying around that would serve so I took it to a local gunsmith and had him make a new stock and fore-end. I have short arms so it's been more or less fitted to me, and I had him add sling swivel bases. Every long gun of any kind should have a sling! It has a good recoil pad and a rubber buffer behind the trigger guard because it beats the hell out of my right middle finger in recoil, especially with heavy loads. I also had it fitted with choke tubes. It will accept 3" shells but those are pretty fearsome things to shoot out of it, as are heavy rifled slug loads. I've never taken a deer with it, but I've used it on various species of birds, including barn pigeons, not to mention other small game. It's a sturdy, plain-vanilla workaday utility gun that has served me well. If I were a "one gun man," which thank God I'm not, this one would be a good choice for anything with fur or feathers.
I mentioned dogs. Arnold has a dog, Zeke, the skinniest Labrador Retriever I have ever seen in my life. He takes Zeke with him when he hunts wild pheasants in North Dakota, and to give him his due, Zeke did seem to know what he was supposed to do when he encountered a bird. He's a "pointing Lab," a strain I've heard of but had never encountered before. John Holland's dogs are Brittanies, mainly, and they're very highly trained and experienced. Zeke, though trained, has nowhere near the level of experience, though his enthusiasm is high. He spent the first hour running as fast as he could and covering a lot of ground, but not turning up as many birds as we thought he would. He does point, but unfortunately he's not rock-steady and the scent of birdies in his nose often got the best of him. He would lunge and catch the bird himself rather than flushing it for us to shoot. No doubt this habit can be trained out of him eventually but of the four pheasants we took, I shot two (and both were excellent shooting, if I do say it myself) and Zeke got the other two. He also got some of the quail. Alas, he also has the opinion that every bird he brings back should be the subject of an ownership dispute and/or used as a tug-of-war toy, but Arnold is working on that.
I was pleased with my shooting and I made one spectacular crossing shot on a chukar as well as knocking those two pheasants down handily. By the end of the morning Zeke was exhausted so Arnold put him in the truck and John brought his two dogs, Lexie and Molly, to bat clean-up. In the end we brought home all the pheasants, all of the chukar (I think) and 19 of the quail. Not a bad day.
I did have some trouble with my gun that was a bit disturbing. Firing it at a quail, it actually knocked me down! This had never happened before and I was a bit concerned about it. I had trouble opening it up, but when I did get it open, the left barrel, as well as the right, had an empty shell in it! In other words, it had "doubled," fired both barrels at once. With two pretty heavy loads in it, it's not surprising I was literally knocked off my feet!
When I got home, I took the gun apart. I found that a tiny sliver of wood from the inside of the stock, a piece no bigger than a matchstick, had come off, lodging itself under the sear for the left barrel. When the right barrel went off the recoil must have shifted the piece of wood, tripping the left sear! It also was large enough to get into the space where the safety catch had to go when the gun is "broken" to reload. On the 311 the opening lever automatically puts the safety on. Since the safety catch was blocked from movement I couldn't get the gun open because there was nowhere for the safety to move into.
I removed the piece of wood, lubricated the moving parts, and reassembled everything. There was nothing else I could find, and there wasn't any noticeable grit or dirt in the action which might have caused trouble, so I'm assuming things are back to normal. I haven't fired it again but it seems to work OK now.
So the hunting season—if you can call put-and-take "hunting"—has begun. Squirrels are still open until the end of this month but I probably won't get out again, too many other commitments. The DGIF's "kill permit" system is in abeyance for the moment for a variety of reasons, but when it starts up again I hope to be out in the field writing permits again. We'll see. Things have started off well so far, I have no complaints!
February 3-9, 2019: A Busy Week
After the bird shoot I had some time on my hands. It was a good time to do some reloading to bulk up my ammunition supply in several calibers, so I cranked up my little munitions mill. First thing was to load some 8x57JR: I had a couple of boxes of Norma's wonderful jacketed round nose bullets in the proper 0.318" diameter, and brass, both fired and new. I used once-fired brass by Sellier & Bellot, very good stuff, saving my brand-new Norma brass for later. The 8x57JR is an old round, and S&B are the only company still making it, so I wanted to have enough ammunition on hand for any hunting I cared to do with my drilling. Hence I kitted up to reload for it; but honestly I doubt I'll ever run out of this caliber now: between the reloads and the factory stuff I have enough to last me a long, long time.
I had recently acquired a revolver in .45 Long Colt, which is pretty pricey stuff if you buy it on the open market, but it can be reloaded for a few pennies per shot, so that was the first handgun caliber on the "to do" list. I had on hand a big batch of the bullets Remington uses to load that caliber commercially, so used those.
Then it was time to do some .38 S&W and .38 Special. Somewhere I'd acquired a bunch of cast bullets, 158- and 165-grain ones, and decided to use those. I have no idea where they came from: I know I didn't cast them myself. The 165-grain bullets were OK, but the 158's were very badly cast, with lots of "flash" from an improperly closed mold or loose sprue plate. Flash on the bases sometimes prevented them from entering the 0.358" sizing die properly. I was able to get the heavier bullets sized but in the end I gave up on the 158's, and tossed them into the "scrap lead" bin, to be melted down or perhaps even sold as scrap.
All this fill-em-up and cork-the-hole activity occupied several days because I don't have a progressive press, I do everything on a single-station one; progressive equipment such as the Dillon works best if you have one caliber that you shoot a lot, but I don't shoot that much and for multiple calibers a single-station setup is much more flexible, though much slower.
We had house guests, too: an old friend from college came up from Nashville, and he and I went to the Great American Outdoor Show in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a distance of 350 miles from my home. Harrisburg is also home to a colossal Bass Pro Shops store, so since after the long drive up we'd arrived late in the day we went to Bass Pro on Thursday evening. While my friend wandered the fishing aisles, I went upstairs to the gun department, as a matter of religious obligation. I almost didn't get there: I got stuck in the elevator behind the gigantic fish tank, and it took some time for someone to come and let me out.
Once free I waddled over to the gun racks: and a pretty pedestrian lot of stuff they had, too: the usual AR and Glock derivatives, no used guns at all, and a pitiful collection of in-line muzzle-loaders (FOUR of them), all amazingly overpriced. Who in his right mind would spend $600 on such a muzzle-loader? The used gun racks at L.L. Bean or Kittery Trading Post have a far better selection and much classier merchandise.
Having survived the Bass Pro ordeal, we went to our hotel and the next morning, bright and early, went to the GAOS. This is a massive exposition: this year there were 179,000 attendees over the ten days of its run. I'd been to it twice before, and to be candid, this third time will likely be the last time I go. It tends to be a bit repetitive and the emphasis is on many aspects of hunting in which I have little interest. Last time I was looking at the options for a moose hunt in Canada, but having settled the details of with whom and where I would go when or if I did, there wasn't much else that caught my eye. Pheasants in the midwest and perhaps waterfowl in the northeast, but I'm surfeited with whitetails here, and have taken all the species of African game I want. I can't justify the cost of another trip to Africa, even though I'd love to go, because I can't see killing more plains game just to kill more plains game; and much as I'd like another elephant, that's not in the cards.
My partner, however, is another story. He's a fanatical fisherman, a man to whom fishing is life. He has a strong interest in finding an outfitter who can guide him in the St Lawrence River's 1000 Islands, which apparently have become a hot spot for smallmouth bass. So we spent most of the day talking to fishing guides, though I did occasionally wander over to one of the African hunting booths to say hello and chit-chat with the exhibitors. Several of them knew the people I've hunted with, but that's not too surprising given that the African PH community isn't very large, especially Namibian PH's. We traipsed the aisles for 6 hours, ignoring the boats and the "outdoor lifestyle" and cooking halls. Hunting and fishing were enough for both of us.
One booth I did want to see was that from Taylor's Firearms. The .45 revolver I recently acquired is one of their products and I had some technical questions to ask them. Taylor's specializes in Cowboy Action Shooting stuff. They have some drop-dead-gorgeous replicas of classic guns, stuff Wyatt Earp or John Wayne would have been delighted to have.
It was a fun show but pretty exhausting. I think I've been three times now. A full day at the show, two days in the car and two nights in hotels pretty much took it out of me and I was glad to get back home!
February 13, 2019: Some More Reloading
"Put up" 150 rounds of .38 Long Colt yesterday and today. The .38 LC is dimensionally identical to the .38 Special except for a shorter case, so it can be fired in a .38 Special chamber.
Loading data for this very old round is hard to find, and what you do find is for 158-grain bullets, the standard for the .38 Special. Nothing wrong with those, but I had on hand a goodly supply of hollow-based round nose bullets weighing 165 grains. Since the actual groove diameter on a .36 caliber black powder revolver is somewhat larger than the nominal 0.358" of a ".38 caliber" round, hollow base bullets are preferred, the theory being that their "skirt" will expand and bump up to proper diameter. Whether this happens or not I can't say, but that's the perceived wisdom of the Internet.
I had fifty cases I'd made by shortening some .38 Special, and 100 brand new Starline cases headstamped ".38 Long Colt." The shortened brass got loaded with Trail Boss powder, a type more or less specifically intended to be used in "Cowboy Action" loads. TB is very bulky and light and something of a PITA to work with, but I needed to fill up a box of 50 rounds so I used that.
For the Starline brass, I opted to go to Holy Black: that is, GOEX FFFg, 15 grains of it. This is a moderately compressed load with the 165 grain bullets. One of black powder's virtues is that you really can't overcharge a case with it, it's also quite bulky. Of course it's a mess to clean up, but I can deal with that, I shoot a good bit of black powder in rifles. Soap and water does the trick.
The black powder ammunition will be used in a replica Colt 1851 Navy fitted with a conversion cylinder for fixed ammunition. The Navy Colt is an open-top design and not the strongest revolver ever made; I didn't want to push it too hard and was thinking that using smokeless (even Trail Boss) might do that. Wild Bill Hickock (1837-76) wore a pair of ivory-handled Navies when he was shot dead in Deadwood, SD; you can see them in the picture above right. If he could use black powder, so can I!
March 14, 2019: A Range Day
Went to the club range today to do some shooting. I noted above that I've recently acquired a single-action revolver in .45 Long Colt made by Uberti. I've been doing some reloading for it but between then and now I decided to buy a spare cylinder in .45 ACP caliber. The .45 Long Colt is two or three times the price of .45 ACP; three boxes of the .45 Long Colt cost as much as a spare .45 ACP cylinder, so it seemed a reasonable way to get the "most bang for the buck." At least that's how I rationalized it to myself.
I bought the cylinder from VTI Gun Parts, who specialize in stuff for Cowboy Action Shooters and owners of black powder revolvers. I like .45's and have a goodly number of conversion cylinders for my black powder guns. The conversion cylinders aren't cheap but VTI's product was half the price of the ones I've already got, none of which, of course, could be used in my "new" gun. Unlike the cylinders to convert black powder guns it wasn't a drop-in fit; I had to take it to a gunsmith to be fitted to my revolver. But he told me the timing was perfect and certainly the lockup is good and tight. It was time to shoot it and see how well it worked.
Short answer: it worked perfectly. The rimless .45 ACP headspaces on the mouth of the case. There's a visible "step" in the chamber to correctly position the case at the right depth. Every one of them went BANG! when expected.
And I learned something else. Somehow a live round of .40 S&W got mixed in with my .45 ACP ammunition, and guess what? A .40 S&W will fire in a .45 ACP chamber! I found this out when I tried to eject the fired case and it wouldn't come out despite a sharp push with the ejector rod. Plus, it looked to be too deep in the chamber. I dropped the cylinder and lo, when I pushed the case out, it was the wrong caliber! Like Groucho Marx who famously said, "I shot an elephant in my pajamas, but how he got into my pajamas I'll never know," I still am puzzled how that .40 Short & Wimpy got into the .45 ACP box. I don't own a gun in that caliber at all. Nevertheless I've included a picture to show what happens when you pull a boneheaded stunt like this: the .40 S&W case expanded beyond its limits and split. That's why it got stuck. There wasn't much danger from firing an undersized bullet but the expansion of the case could have been a problem had it become solidly lodged. The firing pin blow was hard enough to drive it into the chamber much deeper than it should have gone because a .40 S&W case is too small to catch the "step" in the chamber. Lesson learned, will never do that again....
The other thing I needed to do was to try to make my Stevens 311 "double" the way it did on the bird shoot a few weeks ago (see above for the February 2nd entry). I reasoned that if I used heavy loads I might be able to duplicate the phenomenon, but I'm glad to say that I did not duplicate it, despite using the heaviest loads I could find.
When I say "heavy" I mean it. I fired several rounds of 3" rifled slugs and six or seven 3" buckshot loads. I never want to do that again. I used to own an elephant rifle in .416 Remington, a caliber that kills at both ends. Well, so do 3" slugs and buckshot in a 12 gauge: the recoil was every bit as bad as that .416 and I have a bruised shoulder from the experience. But despite the pounding I took the gun didn't double, so I'm pretty sure that the sliver of wood that got into the action was the culprit.
As of this writing we are in the midst of
The hysteria and panic have reached proportions better suited to the Second Coming of the Black Death. Mrs Outdoorsman wasn't real happy about my going to the range, but I figure that if I need "social distancing," I can get it with a .45 and a 12 gauge whenever I want to. And I ain't dead yet.
March 23, 2019: Killing Time While Held Hostage
The hysterical over-reaction to the Covid-19 "pandemic" means that I'm confined to barracks for the duration, by order of The Governor and my wife, who is obsessing endlessly about this damned virus and spends every minute of the day watching CNN and CBS, who tell us, over and over, to wash our hands and never step outside the house lest we be slain by the virus (or perhaps the National Guard). So I decided to break out my 1963-vintage Lee Loader and prep some shotshells, just to see if I could remember how.
Mine is not the Lee Load-All press type: it's one of those very primitive hand kits that I bought when I was an early teenager and people didn't go to jail for letting their kids play with guns. I've had it more than 50 years. Factory shells are so cheap and reliable that it's not worth reloading for shotgun shooting unless one is a dedicated trap or skeet shooter. Besides, my kit is good only for paper-hulled ammunition: it predates the introduction of plastic shells on a large scale.
Because I'm a superannuated old mossback and prefer paper hulls to plastic, some years back I'd bought a bunch of pre-primed Cheddite paper hulls in 20 gauge thinking I might some day reload them. Since I shoot a black powder shotgun or two I had a couple of bags of #6 shot and a bunch of wads on hand. Some of the latter were of same vintage as the Lee Loader, but most of them were purchased in the past few years from Ballistic Products. The 20 gauge wads used in shotshells don't work in my "20 gauge" muzzle-loading shotgun, which actually is a 19-gauge, so I was stuck with a bunch of cork and felt and fiber wads I couldn't use in it. But they would work in the paper hulls.
The hulls were new but luckily I had a "crimp starter" die (also from Lee). Based on information gained via All-Knowing Internet I worked out that 18.0 grains of Alliant Unique and an ounce of shot would be suitable for tree rats come the Spring season, so okay, I was ready to go. In the end I managed to load 25 shells in the course of an entire afternoon but it was a pretty frustrating exercise.
The biggest issue was getting a decent crimp. This depends entirely on the height of the wad column. Unlike modern shotshells (read: "plastic") there's no one-piece wad/shotcup. The height of the wad column is infinitely variable. In the end I used a 0.35" over-powder card, a 1/2" fiber wad, and a 1/8" cork wad, which came as close to the "proper" column height as I could get.
The idea is that you need to have just enough space at the top to have the crimp fold properly. If there's too much space, you get a big hole in the front end, and the shot rolls out. If there isn't enough space the crimp won't fold, it opens, and the shot rolls out. If things are just so, the crimp will look like a factory shell (almost) and I did manage that once or twice, but it was an iffy thing to do. In the end I decided to seal the front end of each shell with a droplet of candle wax. This would prevent shot leakage and/or help keep the crimp tight. I'd like to try a roll crimp, but I'd need to buy one of those crank gadgets to do it with. The ones I've seen for sale on E-Bay are pretty cheap, so I might do that. Most of the ones advertised there are brand new, and made in Russia, of all places.
I've also found to my frustration that the volumetric measurements on which Lee's tools depend are highly unreliable. The little shot scoop above is marked "1" or "1-1/2" etc., but if you get even close to the amount of shot you think you're measuring you're lucky. A volumetric powder measure (let alone the scoop Lee provided) is just as bad. In the end I decided to use weight, not volume; I have two digital scales and used one for powder and one for the shot. At least that much was consistent.
But I did it. I hope I never have to do it again, but given the way things are going I might. Various Fascist Pigs in some states have banned sales of firearms and ammunition (Gosh, I wonder why? Are they worried or something?) and given the tendencies of our beloved Governor here in Virginia, I expect the same to be done here as soon as he figures a way to "justify" it. So being able to reload anything is an advantage. At the moment I have enough factory shells of all gauges to keep me in hunting ammunition for the foreseeable future, but if, God forbid, I run out somehow, I can manage.
I'll take these reloads out in the woods in the Spring squirrel season, but beyond that I'll stick to factory ammunition. If I did a lot of shooting I'd think about a real reloading press, but I've had a couple of them and ultimately gave them away because they sat in my cabinet and never got used. factory ammunition with lead shot is cheap enough to not bother reloading, and though my nostalgia gene protests, I have to admit that modern plastic shells are superior in every way to the old paper ones.
March 24, 2020: More Quarantine Reloading
Since Our Beloved And Exalted Governor (He Who Must be Obeyed, Or Else) hasn't seen fit to lift his so-called "order" to stay home, wash your hands, and stop touching your face (or else), I am still under house arrest. In order to stave off total boredom I decided to continue with my project of clearing out the reloading closet.
Somewhere in my checkered past I acquired a box of paper-hulled 12 gauge shells, of dubious lineage and past history. Still, the mice haven't been at them, and while they had clearly been around the block at least once, they perhaps could be reloaded. Not that I need any 12-gauge shells: I'm surfeited with them in factory loads and don't use many in a year, but what the hell, why not?
God alone knows how old they are. Most of them were Federal "Champions" and some were simply marked "Field Load," but one or two were marked "Western Field," an old trademark of Montgomery Ward. Now, M-W hasn't sold guns or ammunition for well over 40 years, and I believe those particular hulls were much older than that. Sixty years wouldn't surprise me a bit. On almost all these cases the mouths were pretty ragged, but they originally had star crimps, so I figured I could re-do them for at least one more go-round before casting them into the trash pile.
I had #209 primers left over from the days when I, in a misguided moment, bought an in-line muzzle-loader that used them; I had a suitable powder (Red Dot) and I had not one, but two 12-gauge Lee Loader kits. Both of these were newer than my 1963-vintage 20-gauge kit but other than that they were the same thing. At least one of them included a charge table that suggested 22 grains of Red Dot and an ounce of shot would be the bee's knees.
The issue I encountered was wads. I had a box of 12 gauge fiber wads from around the same time as the 20-gauge Lee Loader but no card wads and no "fillers" to make up the proper height of wad column. But, I also had a bag full of Federal one-piece plastic wad/shot cup combinations, that asserted they were good for 7/8 and 1-ounce loads.
The 12 gauge Lee Loader was new enough that it included a statement that "When using plastic wads, reduce loads by 10%," which neatly worked out to 20 grains of Red Dot. I found that if I used this load (which, yes, I know, isn't exactly 10% lower than 22 grains, I can do some math, though not much) the plastic one-piece jobbies would sit at exactly the right height to give me a good crimp.
In addition to the #6 birdshot I had a bunch of 7/8 ounce "Foster" type slugs. So an Executive Decision was made: 20 grains of Red Dot, a one-piece wad, and either a 7/8 ounce slug or 7/8 ounce of shot. So be it. So was it. I wanted to try using buckshot (I have some #1 buck that I use in a .31 caliber black powder revolver) but I could only get 6 of those in: not worth the effort.
I'm pleased to say that even though the mouths of those cases were pretty beaten up, nearly all of them gave me a good crimp, and some of them really did look like factory loads, at least factory loads that had been left in a cabinet in a garage for the 33 years I've lived in this house.
These loads—both shot and slugs—will be dedicated for use in my elderly Stevens Model 58 bolt-action shotgun. I bought this old corn-shucker in 1971 and killed my first two deer with it. I've used it exactly once in Virginia, shortly after moving here in 1987; it's turn in the barrel (ha, ha) has come around again. I'll use it in the early June Squirrel season, assuming of course that our Saintly, All-Wise, All-Knowing, All-Seeing Governor-Who-Looks-Like-Mr-Rogers-And-Acts-Like-Benito-Mussolini has lifted his illegal edict and I can go outside again without being shot by the Jackbooted Thugs of the Virginia National Guard. Watch this space for a field report, or perhaps a death notice. You never know which it will be.
March 25, 2019: The Non-Emergency "Emergency" Continues
Well, as I am still confined to quarters by order of El Jefe, Generalissimo Northam, a/k/a Governor Mussolini, I decided to continue my preparations for the inevitable day when hordes of crazed people come screaming down Interstate 81 in search of toilet paper. That is to say, I did some more reloading.
Some years ago I owned a replica Richards-Mason Conversion revolver in .44 Colt. The .44 Colt is a pretty obscure round dating from 1871. The Colt company was well aware that Rollin White's patent on cylinders bored through from the rear to use fixed ammunition would expire in 1872, and at that time Smith & Wesson would no longer have a monopoly on this technology.
The R-M Conversion was basically a percussion Model 1860 Army altered to use the new fixed ammunition. Not incidentally it was a good way for Colt to use up spare 1860 Army parts until they brought out the solid-frame "Peacemaker" in 1873. So the open-topped R-M Conversion (above) was only made for a short time. The .44 Colt languished in obscurity until its commercial viability was revived by the Cowboy Action Shooting game and the beautiful replica guns made by Uberti.
I no longer have that revolver but with it I received a good deal of ammunition, and I kept that. Why? Because except for case length the dimensions of the .44 Colt are the same as those of the .44 Special and .44 Magnum. The ammunition I received was loaded into .44 Magnum cases shortened to the proper length. While I don't have a .44 Magnum I do own a Charter Arms revolver in .44 Special, so I could shoot that .44 Colt ammo in it. I've mentioned this little Charter Arms before (see the Log for 2018-2019); since ditching the R-M Conversion, I'd burned up a lot of the ammunition that came with it in my Bulldog. Thus I had quite a few fired cases on hand and it was time to fill them up.
I had a bunch of bullets suitable for the caliber: Hornady's swaged lead semi-wadcutters, weighing 240 grains. These bullets have a very long bearing surface but no lubricating grooves. I dusted them with powdered mica to (I hope) reduce leading in the barrel and went to work.
The final load was the Hornady bullet over 6.0 grains of Alliant Unique, touched off by a Winchester-Western large pistol primer. I haven't had a chance to shoot these yet because El Jefe's edict barring free movement of honest citizens is still in force, but they look mighty good, mighty good. Whenever (if ever) sanity is restored, I'll take them to the range and see how they shoot.
March 27, 2019: The Siege Continues
Governor Mussolini has not seen fit to lift his edict, so I'm still at home and potting my escape. The ravening hordes of toilet paper pirates have not yet arrived, so I continue my preparations.
Two days ago I made .44 reloads: yesterday and today were spent making bullets in .38 and .32 caliber. Over the years I've accumulated a staggering number of empty cases in both calibers that needed to be filled up; but—unlike the .44 caliber size—I had no bullets. Luckily I have casting gear and can roll my own.
My Lee casting furnace hasn't been used in quite a long time and I had some issues with free flow of the molten lead out the bottom spout. Over the years it's been used it's acquired quite a bit of "slag" (the junk that gets burned off the wheelweights, range scrap, odds and ends of lead, etc.) most of which floats to the top but not all of it. In the end I had to dismantle the pot and remove the long rod that closes off the spigot, burnish it with a wire wheel, and clean out the interior part of the spigot proper to restore flow. But in the end it was done and all was well.
I still remember how to cast and have plenty of molds. I used two (so far) one for the .38 and one for .32 caliber bullets. The "generic" .38 caliber bullet is a round nose weighing about 158 grains, suitable for .38 Special and .38 Super (it works beautifully in the latter, especially). I have a very old Lyman single-cavity mold for that one. For the .32 I use another round nosed bullet weighing in at about 100 grains. That's cast in a 2-cavity Lee mold.
Lyman molds are cast iron; Lee's are aluminum. On the whole I prefer aluminum molds. They're lighter and less fatiguing to use, as well as being much cheaper. Lee makes decent ones, and if they don't last as long as the cast iron Lyman ones might, they're so inexpensive that when (if) I wear one out—something that isn't likely to happen in my lifetime—I can buy a new one for half the price of a cast iron mold.
Cast bullets have a lot of advantages, including the fact that they cost almost nothing if you make them yourself. I'm old and lazy so I have over the years bought a lot of "tailor made" cast bullets, but when I have time on my hands it's one way to fill up the empty hours. Actually, Mrs Outdoorsman says that she's surprised at how quickly these days of "voluntary quarantine" and "social distancing" go by; she's right. Three or four hours of the day pass astonishingly quickly once the rhythm of a casting session is established. Moreover it's simply amazing how many bullets accumulate in a session. It's almost impossible to keep count while doing it but at the end of today I realized I've made enough .32 bullets to fill up all the cases I have (I think). Still have some .38's to go: I had far more brass than I thought I did.
Sometimes bullets come out of the mold slightly oversized. Once they've been cast they have to be sized and lubricated, which is done on a special machine that fills the grease grooves with lubricant as well as making all of them a uniform diameter. In the next couple of days the weather is supposed to be good so I'll get some more .38's made. If I really get ambitious I can break out the molds for shotgun slugs (both 12 and 20) and make some of those.
Then let the hordes come, I'll be ready!
March 28, 2019: America Still Held Hostage
Governor Mussolini still insists I stay home and has activated his Storm Troopers of the Virginia National Guard to enforce things. So be it. Today I sized and lubricated those .32 bullets I made yesterday and the day before. What a job...I didn't count them but there are well over 300. Then I needed to size and deprime and flare the .32 S&W Long cases to load them in. It took me more or less all afternoon to do this, and I still have another 100 cases to go, but that's tomorrow's project.
The Lubrisizer gadget (right) is pretty handy for this work, though there are options. After running all those bullets through the machine they came out sized 0.312" and weighing 101 grains. Tomorrow I hope to stuff them into the cases, once I work out a proper weight of powder charge.
March 29, 2019: More Preparation For The Apocalypse
When she isn't reading prophecies of Doom on her phone Mrs Outdoorsman has been doing jigsaw puzzles to pass the time. She's done at least three so far and today decided to risk her life by driving to Barnes & Noble to get a new one. I spent the morning "putting by" 250+ rounds of .32 S&W Long using those bullets I made and all the brass I've accumulated over the years.
In truth what I've been doing is basically catching up with all the reloading I've been putting off for years thanks to work, travel, Honey-Do projects, and other things. Quite a bit of it, in fact. Now the next stage is the .38's. I have roughly forty gazillion cases and nowhere near enough bullets. Time to get started: this will be a week-long effort, I suspect. Well, when the excrement hits the ventilator I'll be right there to catch it and shoot it down.
Now we have a President who is quacking about imposing a "quarantine" on several northeastern states to prevent people from crossing state lines. I imagine that even if he doesn't understand that he has no authority to issue such an order his advisors do, so it likely will degenerate into an "advisory" statement. Even Andrew (The Bambino) Cuomo, who is about as odious a slug as has ever defiled the New York Governor's Mansion, knows that an interstate "quarantine" is not only unenforceable, it's wholly illegal. It isn't often I find myself in agreement with a man I wouldn't use for fertilizer, but extraordinary times make for strange bed-fellows.
March 30, 2019: Still Fighting The Good Fight
Governor Mussolini has issued an "order" to all Virginians to stay home, or else. We are graciously permitted to shop for "essentials," which he deems to be such things as food and perhaps toilet paper; and to go outside for "exercise," so long as we don't enjoy ourselves. Anyone caught enjoying himself will be shot by the goon squads.
At least the President has backed off from his ludicrous proposal to impose some form of federal order, for which there is neither precedent nor any sort of legal authority. Nevertheless I stayed indoors like a good Virginian and distanced myself socially by loading 265 rounds of .38 Super Auto. Took me all day, more or less. A single-station press is slow, but sure. Still have a lot of brass left, and LOTS of .45 ACP to do.
April 3, 2020: The Idiocy Continues
We are still under "orders" to stay home (as if anyone has the authority to order such a thing) and the latest rumor is that Governor Blackface will "order" everyone to wear a mask in public. NO ONE has ever proven that mask-wearing has the slightest advantage in "flattening the curve" (pardon the jargon, but it's all you hear these days) but that wouldn't stop someone from issuing such a stupid edict. The hysterical reaction to the virus isn't based on science, it's based on superstition. Wearing a mask will have exactly the same effect as wearing an orange sock on your left foot at night, but just you wait, such an "order" no doubt will be issued by some believe in magic somewhere, soon.
So I'm still catching up on the reloading I haven't done for years. The past couple of days have been dedicated to .45 ACP. I finished up 135 rounds today and have hundreds more cases to fill. Somewhere in my dim past I acquired a third of a box of Hornady 230-grain lead round nose bullets and used those. But now I've used those, I've got to cast some of my own. I'm running out of storage space, but what the hell, there's nothing else to do. The stuff I've prepared will be used in the Uberti single-action revolver now that a) I have a spare cylinder in .45 ACP; and b) if and when I can ever get to the range again.
And needless to say, the enemies of gun owners never let a crisis go to waste: all over the country left-wing jurisdictions (like those in the Peoples' Republics of New York and Connecticut, to name just two) have been ordering gun shops closed; this as they're simultaneously releasing inmates from jails to "help flatten the curve." This is what passes for logic among the Left: increase the level of danger to the public from violent offenders, while depriving that same public of the tools for self defense. Well, at least I'm ready.
April 5, 2019: Onward, Coronavirus Soldiers!
We are still "quarantined," at least by the definition used by the Harry Hairsprays on the Clintonista "News" Network (who are obviously salivating at the prospect that this "pandemic" and the wreckage of the economy will cost Trump his job in November...but I digress..) so I'm back at the casting table.
I used up all those .45 bullets I had on hand and had to make some more, so today's project was to cast some Lyman #452374 round nose bullets for the .45 ACP. I managed to get 129 good ones before switching over to making 12 gauge shotgun slugs. I have a nice Pedersoli 12 gauge muzzle-loading shotgun that I've used on small game, and wanted to see how it will shoot slugs. One nice thing about a double is that you can have different loads in each barrel, of course. I've killed deer with shotgun slugs and they work like a bolt of lightning if you put one anywhere forward of the diaphragm, so if one barrel shoots them well (each barrel is a law unto itself) I'll put one in it and load #6's in the other for small stuff. I could use them in shotshells but I have plenty of "tailor made" slug ammuntion already.
My mold is by Lee, and the slugs it makes have an odd feature. You can see it in the image: each slug has a sort of reinforcement across the cavity. A slot in the mold core pin forms this reinforcement, which Lee calls a "key." I call it a pain in the ass. A lot of the slugs came out of the mold with the "key" damaged. I figured out why: when lead is still hot but not completely cooled, it's fairly fragile. If I tried to dump the slug before the "key" set up, a piece would come out of it, and so back into the pot it went.
I weighed most of these 12 gauge slugs and was astonished at how uniform they were: every one I weighed was exactly 1.00 ounces, as the box said they would be.
April 6, 2019: Twenty-Gauge Follies
After my success with casting 12 gauge slugs I thought I'd try my hand at some 20 gauge ones. For these I have a Lyman mold, which is somewhat different from the Lee product. For one thing, it's made of cast iron, not aluminum; and for another the "core pin," the part that sticks into the mold cavity and forms the hollow part of the slug, is a separate piece. In the Lee mold, it's permanently attached to the bottom of the mold.
This Lyman design seems like a good one at first glance, but it gave me quite a bit of trouble. Mainly because until the mold is up to proper casting temperature, the pin sticks and won't come out of the mold easily. This was exacerbated because Lyman, in its infinite wisdom, chose to anchor the wooden handle to the core pin with a teeny brad, not—as any mechanical engineer would have done—with a solid cross pin or at least a setscrew of some kind.
The core pin being stuck, I naively tried to turn it forcefully, but the "anchor" brad simply didn't hold because it was a nail, not any kind of a screw; and it didn't go into the base of the core pin, it simply rested on it. Using too much turning force, I ended up with the wooden knob in my hand and the core pin firmly sticking in the just-cast slug.
I had to employ a couple of pairs of Vice-Grips to get the slug free, being careful NOT to score the core pin where it was to insert into the mold cavity. I locked one pair of the Vice-Grips onto the lower part of the core pin to replace the wooden knob. By the way, the knob looks scorched for good reason: it fell into the molten lead in the pot! I was able to get it out (again using Vise-Grips) before it caught fire. I think lead melts at a bit over 600° and that's well above the ignition temperature of whatever wood was used to make the knob. I have at least half a dozen pairs of Vice Grips in different sizes and types: they the most versatile tool there is and I couldn't live without them!
After I'd been using the mold for a while the core pin got up to proper temperature and became cooperative; I was able to remove it from the mold body easily. The trick, I found, was to remove the pin first, before knocking the sprue plate. The sprue holds the just-molded slug in place against the turning force of the core pin. If I knocked off the sprue first I could see the slug rotating as I turned the core pin.
The slugs I ended up with looked pretty good. Their weight was very consistent at 0.855 ounces, which isn't 7/8, I found out: it's 171/200 of an ounce!
I didn't want to have to use Vice-Grips every time I used this mold, so I put the core pin in a padded vise and drilled a 1/16" hole right through it. It seems to be pretty soft iron and I used the little dimple left by the original brad as a starting point. Once I was through I put the knob back in place, with a new brad all the way through the pin. It should be okay now, though I doubt I'll be using this mold much in the future.
Back in my Salad Days in New York State, I had to hunt deer with shotgun slugs because rifles weren't permitted in Dutchess County. I killed a couple of them with 12 gauge slugs but I've never shot anything with a 20 gauge slug. So why am I bothering to make these? One reason is simply that it's something to do while we wait out the so-called "quarantine" period; another is that I want to be independent of commercial ammunition supplies if I have to be. There is no question that the anti-gun and anti-hunting Forces Of Darkness are using this "emergency" as a tool to advance their agenda. Having had minimal success in banning guns, they're after ammunition (in whatever twisted logic system they use, they think this is somehow an end run around the Heller decision) and most especially lead projectiles of any kind. Twenty-five years ago they forced a ban on lead shot for waterfowl hunting; in some states lead shot for upland game is forbidden. The time is coming when the sale of any sort of lead bullet or slug ammunition will be banned: this has already happened in the People's Republic of California. Being able to "roll your own" is a valuable skill to have.
I'll add that the last few days of casting have confirmed my opinion that aluminum molds are superior to cast iron ones for the home bullet maker. They are much lighter, they heat up much more quickly, and turn out bullets every bit as good as anything a cast iron mold will throw.
April 7, 2020: The Boredom Increases
Still confined to quarters, so today I decided to try a new reloading "experiment" using those 20 gauge slugs I cast yesterday. The slugs weighed less than an ounce, so I decided it would be safe to use the same 18.0 grains of Alliant Unique that I put under an ounce of #6's. I adjusted the height of the wad column so that I could roll crimp the shells. I have one of those little roll crimper widgets that fits on the end of an electric drill; using a padded set of small Vice Grips I'd hold the base of the shell and neatly turn over the top to make the crimp. It takes a bit of practice, but doing it this way I don't have to buy a drill press! These cartridges will probably be used in my little 20-gauge single-shot Stevens 94, whenever I am granted parole.