Review – The Henry Big Boy in .357 Magnum

DSC_0002 After a darn busy couple of months – so much for having time when you are retired – I’ve had a chance to play with a new rifle and I figured I ought to let you know my thoughts.

The subject of this review – Henry’s Big Boy Lever Rifle in .357 Magnum – represents a bit of a departure for me as my taste in long guns really leans towards the heavy barreled bolt gun that, topped off with good glass, is a half-minute or so paper puncher. In fact the Henry is only the second lever action rifle I’ve ever owned and the only one that currenty is in my possession.

DSC_0003What drew me into the purchase of the Henry was the calibre – I like a rifle that can shoot pistol rounds as it gives me an interchangeability with handguns and pistol cartridges are generally cheaper both to buy and make. While the Big Boy comes in .44 Mag and 45 Colt I figured the .357 was the best bet as it is compatible with my revolvers, is easy to shoot as a plinker ( especially with .38 Special ) and is an effective deer round at the short, woodland, ranges like those found in the trees around my bottom hayfield.

Like many, if not all, people who are true admirers of firearms I am always one to look at the fit and finish of a rifle. In fact I would admit to being quite picky about such things especially as the price tag of the rifle goes up but in this case I was quite simply stunned at how beautiful this rifle from Henry was put together. The folks who make this rifle really have done a fabulous job – the rich, deep bluing of the 20″ octagonal barrel reminds me of the bluing that one used to fine on really nice Smith &Wesson revolvers rises and the brass receiver, barrel and buttstock are highly polished but the wood – well, honestly I didn’t know that one could still even buy a modern gun that didn’t cost multiple thousands of dollars that had furniture so lustrous and well grained. Truly, the folks at Henry take pride in what they make and sell.

DSC_0004My previous, limited, experience with lever guns led me to believe that that they were a bit stiff out of the box and needed to be broken in before they smoothed out but not so with this rifle as it was smooth from the first – again evidence of something that has been well assembled.

DSC_0009The Henry Big Boy is a well balanced rifle but the heavy, octagonal, 20″ barrel is quite heavy which translates into an overall weighty rifle for what is, after all, a carbine. Not uncomfortably heavy but noticeable if you plan on carrying any real distance – and carrying you will as, perhaps oddly, no provision for a sling.

DSC_0006Of course the flip side to a rifle being a bit weighty is that the felt recoil is much diminished. Of course .357 in a carbine isn’t a particularly punchy round but out of the Henry it really does feel like you could shoot all day and running .38 special through the Big Boy will have you checking to make sure that a round fired wasn’t a squib load.

DSC_0005Having a rifle that is beautiful to look at and an easy to shoot is all well and good but, as Col Townsend Whelan once said, only accurate rifles are interesting. Now accuracy standards can’t be the same for all rifles and so I saw no point in trying to sandbag the rifle and shoot nice little 5 shot groups like I would for a scoped bolt gun but rather I decided to see what practical accuracy would be like from unsupported positions.

To aid my middle-aged eyes I have a Skinner Express peepsight installed on this rifle and I strongly recommend this as an upgrade over the stock supplied sights – the Skinner peeps complement the style of this rifle and really do help in aiming.

DSC_0010I figured that if I could hit the vitals of a deer at any ethical distance the calibre could manage that the rifle would pass a practical accuracy test so suitably equipped with the backing cardboard from a frozen medium size pizza ( the sacrifices I make ! ) I headed down to my target board to see how the Big Boy would score.

Shooting factory Remington .357 125g pills the Big Boy had no difficulty whatsoever at the pie plate test at 50 and 70 yards and at about 30 yards I was able to make consistent headshots on a Birchwood Casey BC 27 silhouette target.

During the shooting test I went through two boxes of ammo – it’s real easy to loose track with a gun this nice to shoot – and there were no jams, FTE, or FTF to report. Loading of this rifle is via a tube underneath the barrel and before buying this rifle I’d read about how reloading was difficult and that the tube goes flying everywhere etc etc. I think such comments to be overstated as while reloading the Henry isn’t quite as simple as loading from a port on the side of a receiver or loading a pump action shotgun it really isn’t anywhere near as difficult or time consuming as other reviews would have you believe. The only time I can think that this system of reloading may have very serious repercussions is a reload under the stress of a home defense scenario but if it comes to that – and a magazine tube full of .357 hasn’t solved the problem – then it is time to go for another weapon.

DSC_0007All said, I found the Henry Big Boy to be more than sufficiently accurate in my book for any plinking, Cowboy Action Shooting, short range deer hunting or home defense task that an owner could reasonably ask this rifle to perform. For me I think it also looks perfect over the mantle 🙂

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Why There’s Push for More Gun Control

Good backgrounder on the illogical and nonsensical laws in Canada and how they are abused by unelected officials.

Liberty Cannon Media Group

In Canada we have strict gun controls. We can own handguns, semi-automatic (self-loading) rifles, and even full auto machine guns – provided you have the right licenses. The first gun control imposed on Canadians was in 1934 when a registry for all handguns was established. The real change in firearms laws, however, was started by the Liberal Government when the Firearms Acquisition Certificate (FAC) was introduced in 1979, also known as C-17. This allowed for citizens to own a non-handgun without a license, but required an FAC to purchase a firearm.

Then came Alan Rock, Minster of Justice for the Federal Liberal Government. Rock instigated a massive change to Canadian gun laws, which was prompted by after a mass shooting at the École Polytechnique of the University of Montreal in 1989.

Victims of the Montreal Massacre at École Polytechnique de Montréal at are rushed for medical care

The change in legislation (C-68) did not pass…

View original post 2,039 more words

Using a Tactical Rifle For F-Class

Until quite recently my collection of firearms included a custom F/TR rifle that was built on a Barnard S receiver and chambered in .308. As is so often the case however something else caught my eye and – especially since my main F-Class interest lies not in the F/TR game but in the F/Open category – the Barnard S went off to a good home.

My Old Rifle – Purpose Built For F/TR

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With the F/TR rifle sold all was good, I have many .308 rifles and the sale of the Barnard S freed up funds for other new and shiny things and, normally, there the story would end …… except for one teensy weensy little thing: You see, I am honor bound to take part in an annual ( and wagered !) F/TR challenge with an old friend who is a sometime shooting partner and sometime shooting competitor. The ongoing wager ? Why none other than a framed (and famed) $10 bill that has exchanged hands a few times over the years but currently resides, in its rightful place, in my gun room.

Taking Possession Of What Is Rightfully Mine 🙂

IMG-20121007-00411The ‘self-inflicted injury’ of lacking a F/TR rifle would be no excuse for denying my buddy the opportunity to wrest the prize away from me and even the merest suggestion of anything other than unbridled enthusiasm for the annual match would bring down upon my head allegations of cowardice, lacking of moral fiber and questionable parentage. A plan would have to be formulated…

Many consider the big drawback to using a factory or even custom tactical rifle in F/TR comes down to the issue of barrel length. Most competitors in F/TR will shoot rifles equipped with 29 or 30″ barrels and will say that the 20-26″ tubes found on factory/custom tactical rifles are not long enough to generate the a muzzle velocity sufficient to give the bullet the legs it needs to ride the wind to the land of V Bulls at the thousand yard distances many F Class matches are shot.

Traditionally the wager takes place at an annual tournament we attend near the Canadian city of Kamloops. The match, which brings together some of the best F-Class shooters in Western Canada, is held in honor of a gentleman by the name of George ‘Farky’ Farquarson who was not only from that fair city but is the individual who is recognized as the founder of the sport of F-Class – an event which, from simple beginnings, has grown into the internationally popular shooting sport it is today. Called the Frosty Farky due to the fact that in even in September the weather can get a little chilly, this annual match is only shot out to 500m so the barrel length considerations talked about above ought not to be a concern.

First thing necessary to get this project off the ground was to find amongst my heavy barreled collection of rifles one that is in a suitable caliber (F/TR is limited to .308 or .223 and military equivalents) and that with scope and bipod can still make the F-Class weight limit for F/TR of 8.25 kilos. Last but by no means least I need to pick a rifle that is a consistent half-minute gun as my wagering friend is no slouch behind the trigger and, besides the wager, I would like to finish well in the match overall and possibly even medal.

Out of a possible five rifles that are meet the requirements of chambering and weight, I have decided to focus on two of them and to put both through some final tests to see which will give me the best chance of success. The rifles selected are both in .308 as my only sufficiently accurate .223 is a beast of a rifle due to a 1.2″ no taper barrel and anyway I prefer .308 for distance shooting even though others find no trouble in getting that little .223 to work wonders for them.

Discounted – Too Heavy

001-3_zps7ba0cf24The two rifles I selected are as follows:

PGW ‘Coyote’

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This is a standard offering from Canadian company PGWDTI out of Manitoba and hasn’t been customized in any way. Having said that, all the PGW rifles are pretty much custom guns. I suppose one could say that they are ‘factory custom’ rifles even though that really is an oxymoron. Equipped with a 24″ PGW signature helical fluted Krieger barrel in a 1:10 twist and chambered for the .308 M852 match ammo, I have shot a number of groups in the .3’s and .4’s with this rifle and am very confident behind the trigger. As the base rifle weighs 13.5 lbs I have a decent ceiling to add a quality scope and bipod before I run into a weight problem. I will be making up a load using the Berger 185 Juggernaut and Varget and initial tests will be at 2.220″ which is a 10 thou jump.

Rifle number two is a custom rifle built off a Remington 700 by the Canadian company Alberta Tactical Rifle Supply out of Calgary.

Clone M40A1 By ATRS

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I’ve owned a number of ATRS rifles over the years and they have all been very good shooters and this one is no exception. Looking a bit like a clone of a M40A1 this rifle is equipped with nice Timney trigger, sports a Rock Creek M40 profile barrel in 1:11 twist and housed in a McMillian M40 HTG stock. Coming in lighter than the PGW the M40A1 will allow for the mounting of a heavier scope such as the exceptional S+B PmII which is good but lacking anything other than the usual sling swivels attaching a bipod other than the ubiquitous Harris may be a problem. The load for this rifle will also be the 185 Juggernaut but having a longer throat than the Coyote the starting length to ogive will 2.270″ for the same 10 thou jump.

Ammo Development

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Because load development isn’t about scope performance I will be using scopes of similar quality for this stage of the exercise. The Coyote wears a Sightron Siii 8-32×56 while the M40A1 clone wears a Sightron Siii 10-5-x60. Both these scope have 1/4 min adjustments and my match preference is for a finer adjustment so while I like the Sightron Siii series of scopes – they are very good value and perform as well as scopes that cost over twice as much – if weight permits the match scope will be my S+B Pmii 12-50×56 with P4F reticle and 1/8th clicks

Another Look At The Competitors

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I will be load developing for the next couple of weeks and the rifle that turns in the consistently smaller average five shot group will be selected for the match. Stay tuned to follow this fun little experiment and to see which rifle is chosen and, ultimately, how it performs under match conditions against the custom-built F/TR rigs.

Everyday Carry (EDC) Knives Part I

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At a recent gathering with shooting buddies I was struck by a certain commonality – other than the obvious shared enjoyment of firearms, we all had one other thing in common; we all carried a pocket knife or, to use the modern term, an EDC (for, of course, Every Day Carry ). Realizing that shooters also often were aficionados of the blade I thought there may be an appetite amongst the readers of Rifletalk.org for an article about two of my favorite “going into town” EDC’s:- the Spyderco Paramilitary 2 and the Benchmade 580 Barrage.

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Before getting into the meat of the article I should explain what I mean when I say about these two knives being my “going to town” EDC’s – living on a farm as I do there is often the need for a more robust knife and so my regular daily carry is either a fixed blade Ka-Bar or, if it’s a folder, either of the Spyderco Manix2 XL or the tank-like Zero Tolerance 0200 Military. A trip to the feed store or similar town chore does, however, usually dictate that I carry a blade that isn’t so much of a pocket hog as the Manix or ZT and so therefore the PM2 or 580 gets to take a drive with me.

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Both of the PM2 and the 580 are knives produced from well-established, quality knifemakers. Spyderco is based out of Golden Colorado while Benchmade was originally from California it has, since 1990, been homed in Oregon. Both companies have well-deserved reputations and produce a variety of edged products besides folding knives. Naturally both of Spyderco and Benchmade have an online presence and can be found at : https://www.spyderco.com and http://www.benchmade.com

While it is certainly possible to buy quality knives made in countries other than the United States both of the PM2 and the Benchmade 580 are made in the US.

Besides the American-made PM2 and the Manix 2 XL I have a number of other Spyderco knives: I have the excellent and US-made Spyderco Military model which I often carry and I have two knives from their value line which are made in China. Of these Chinese-made knives I have the quite large ‘Persistence’ and the smaller ‘Tenacious’ and I find both of them to be really rather good and usually recommend them as ‘value buys’ to someone who doesn’t want to spend over $100 on a knife. I find all the Spyderco knives to be well packaged, sharp from the factory and irrespective of locking mechanism used to lock up tight with no play or wobble.

The PM2 is visually a beautiful knife but more than that it is a knife that just feel right in the hand. At least for my hands the ergonomics were just perfect.

Marketed as a mid sized EDC I think with an overall length of 4.8″ (a 3.4″ blade) and a weight of just 3.75 oz it to be just about the perfect size for carrying in a pair of jeans and isn’t out of place in chinos or dress slacks.

I am a real picky person when it comes to fit and finish and I’m happy to say that in the case of this PM2 I was totally satisfied – it was perfect out of the box and, yes, it arrived really very sharp.

The PM2 blade is made out of one of the newer super steels – S30V – which is an excellent material that stays sharp, is rust resistant and isn’t too hard to sharpen. Blade shape is the classic Spyderco drop point. A very comfortable choil and thumb jimping makes the knife feel really at home in my hand.

Opening and closing the PM2 is easy and fast – almost as fast as an assisted opening – and the oversized, 14mm, Spyder hole allows for this to be done with gloves on. Locking up is super tight and achieved by way of a compression lock.

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If there is a downside to this knife it isn’t apparent to me – if I really had to think of something to complain about then I’d say that the blade point might be a little thin for some applications but, really, I’d be stretching to say that and what I’d really be saying is that the knife isn’t suitable to be used as a pry bar.

For any cutting, slicing and, yes, defensive or tactical needs you’re likely to throw the way of your EDC the PM2 has to be considered amongst your shortlist of knives There is a lot of hype around this knife and quite often it isn’t in stock anywhere but in the case of this knife I think the hype and popularity to be fully justified. A cautionary note though – please be aware the popularity of this particular Spyderco knife leads to a preponderance of fakes and counterfeits on Ebay and Amazon so do be careful and buy from reputable dealers ( I got ripped off very recently from a company out of Florida that sold me a second PM2 via Amazon and which, when arrived, was revealed to be a pure fake !).

Note – Fake Knives Abound. Fake with cheap liner lock on the right

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The Benchmade Barrage 580 Axis Assist is actually the Fourth one I’ve owned. My original is now retired and sits in the glove box of one of the pickup for emergency use, another other is used by my wife who appreciates the one hand opening and the third is my alternate EDC to the PM2.  Number 4 is a collector that I like to take out and play with now and again.

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Introduced at SHOT in 2009 the first thing that came to my mind when I saw the 580 was ‘classy’ – this is a knife that to my eye at least exudes taste and refinement.

The 580 blade is made out of the very good 154CM steel which, while arguably not as good as the S30V used in the PM2 is nevertheless a very, very good material. Measuring 3.6″ the blade style is a modified drop point. There is no jimping on this model.

The blade handle is made out of a lightweight nylon like substance called Valox which looks nice but, honestly, feels a little bit cheap if I have to be really picky.

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Blade deployment of the 580 is where this knife really shines – wickedly fast and snaps into place with a quite audible ‘click’. The lock up turns this knife into basically a fixed blade so strong is the Axis mechanism. While blade deployment is impressive ( or scary if you are afraid of such things ) closing it takes some practice – it isn’t difficult but needs practice to make one-handed closure perfectly smooth. For a while I almost exclusively carried the 580 model and found it to be at equally at home in the pocket of a pair of jeans, 5.11 Tactical pants and the trousers of a suit ( yes, a suit – one of those things usually associated with ties and well polished shoes ). To prevent any ‘accidental discharge’ there is a safety on top of the spacer that can be employed by those concerned about such things

Which do I prefer ? It’s a real tough question as both of these knives are excellent but they are quite different. The PM2 is classic Spyderco and is thought by many to be the ultimate all-round EDC whereas the 580 while a bit longer and heavier seems a bit more delicate but we have put our 580’s to the test here on the farm and they are pretty capable at everything we have asked them to do. Cutting, slicing and stabbing tasks have all been carried out without a hitch.

Deployment of the 580 is unbeatable but it isn’t really discrete and it does take up a wee bit more pocket space than the PM2 though the smooth nylon handle is likely easier on material than the grippier G10 of the Spyderco. Both would make short work of any everyday task though maybe the PM2 would be better as a weapon if you had to use either as a defensive tool. At the end of the piece if I absolutely had to choose I think when it comes to a ‘going out’ EDC that the PM2 gets the nod by a hairs breadth. Thankfully I own both so I can pick according to my mood !

Next time I’ll take a look at the two folders most carried when I’m here at home – the Spyderco Manix 2 XL and the Zero Tolerance 0200

Handloading For Competition – Case Prep

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In the previous series of articles – Care, Feeding and Maintenance of Precision Rifles – we focused our reloading discussion on exactly that; reloading, which I consider to be the practice of properly resizing a piece of fired brass, charging it with powder and capping it with a bullet. The finished cartridge will both easily fit and can be safely fired in any rifle of the same calibre and – as I proved in Part IV of the series – such reloads can certainly equal factory match-grade ammunition if used by a competent shooter who is equipped with a rifle and scope of sufficient mechanical accuracy.

For perhaps the large majority of shooters the reloading practices I described in the previous series are more than sufficient for their needs but the fact is that shooting is one of those things – perhaps like golf – where the drive for perfection, in this case ever smaller groupings, demands an even greater level of attention and detail than we have previously discussed.

In this article we are going to examine the art of Handloading which I define as a procedure more detailed and taxing than Reloading and which, when properly attended to, will both tailor ammunition to a particular rifle and be capable of delivering sub half minute accuracy out to a thousand yards and beyond.

In this article I’ll follow the same style and format that proved so popular in the earlier series so without further ado……

While our new reloader has been very pleased with the results from the reloading that has been completed so far, there is the desire for even more precision and a yearning to make ammunition that is as consistent as possible. Having followed my advice from the previous articles the new reloader decided to buy some new Lapua brass, made up some loads which were fired off and is now sitting with a nice pile of once-fired brass.

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Some people insist that it is necessary to weigh and separate brass but I have found with Lapua ( and, for that matter, Norma ) that this is an unnecessary step. Likewise, there are some who advocate weighing bullets but I use Berger or Lapua for my match ammo and they are sufficiently uniform so as to not need weighing and separating. Other brands – like the otherwise very nice Hornady 178g BT’s for example – do vary quite a bit in weight and so a competition shooter may wish to consider weighing each projectile.

*Tip – Buy more than one set of calipers.  You will be measuring a number of things and more than one set is really handy

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Our new reloader should really make an effort to grasp a concept that can be confusing for many people – headspace which, for our purposes let us keep this simple and say that Headspace is the chamber clearance that allows your cartridge to move or expand forward or rearward.

Many real accuracy buffs say they want this Headspace measurement to be at the absolute minimum and will want to do this to ensure a cartridge is as perfectly aligned to the center of the bore as possible. Their position is that if a round is sitting ‘loosely’ in the chamber the bullet will tend to point a hair towards the bottom of the bore which may affect accuracy. Other people disagree and say that a round should fit loosely.  I say that for tactical matches or for ammo that may be used in more than one rifle then, yes, ammo should fit loose and should chamber and eject easily but for F-Class and BR I am of the view that it is best to tailor ammo.

The way a handloader can achieve minimal headspace is by adjusting the shoulder of fired cases when resizing. There are a number of ways to do this: there is the old trial and error method which basically works like this – keep adjusting the resizing die down when resizing a piece of brass until chambering is just barely possible without resistance. This method works pretty well – but please make sure to keep the case lubed while doing this or you will get a shell stuck in the die. A better – more exact – way of achieving a minimal headspace is to measure the case that has been fired and then bump the shoulder back two thousandths of an inch.

For measuring the fired cases I like to use the Hornady Headspace gauge. This is an inexpensive tool and is easy to use and once you have your measurement the best way to set back the shoulder the 2 thou or whatever you need to is to use some equipment like Redding’s Competition Shellholder Kit.

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The kit is composed of five thicker than normal shellholders which are packaged together in a neat little plastic case. A normal shellholder is .125″ thick. The five competition shellholders are thicker in increments of two thousandths of an inch i.e. +.002″, +004″, +.006″, +.008″, and +.010″. Each shellholder is stamped with its increase in thickness size, and they are Black Oxide coated so they can’t be confused with a regular .125″ shellholder.

Using these shellholders is very easy. Start with the +.010″ shellholder. Install on the press’s ram and raise to the top position. Screw down the sizing die to the point that it’s making firm contact with the shellholder. When all set up take a lubed up case run it into the die and measure again. If the shoulder hasn’t moved back far enough then repeat with the +.008 shellholder. When you are satisfied with the measurement try chambering it into your gun to make sure it fits. All good then onto the next step.

In previous articles we talked about resizing, case trimming, chamfering and the removal of burrs but we didn’t speak about neck turning. Few steps in case preparation are as controversial as neck turning and some people say that if you don’t turn the case necks you are not serious about accuracy. Before I risk being called heretic let me say that I have neck turned brass and I like to use the inexpensive Hornady Neck Turning tool with the appropriate mandrel – a slow process but remember this isn’t about churning out thousands of rounds for a steel match.

Neck Turning Tool – Hand Powered

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Where do I stand on neck turning today? Well, I am going to disagree with a lot of experts and say that unless you have custom chamber that requires it or have brass that is of differing neck thicknesses this is a step which is a time consuming and laborious step. Maybe it may edge you a wee bit closer to the goal of perfection but, honestly, for most shooters it isn’t going to make a great deal of difference.  Having said that, do check necks for consistency – if you find that they are of differing thicknesses you may decide that, even though it is a slow process, neck turning is necessary for you.

Measuring Your Cases – Data You Can Use

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Charging the cases for competition isn’t something that should be left to your trusty powder throw. For match consistency every charge should be weighed. When a single 4 can put you out of contention in a match you can’t risk a velocity change due to a thrown charge being off by a half grain or so.

Thrown Charges – Unwise For Competition Ammo

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When we were looking at reloading in general we made our ammo ( .308 ) to SAAMI spec of 2.800″ but a competition shooter may well wish to be at a specific jump to the lands, kissing the lands or even jammed. To measure the chamber I’ve used a Sinclair tool and a Hornady OAL gauge – of the two I prefer the Hornady. I have also made up my own tool for this purpose using a resized case and a Dremel tool – a cheap but accurate little gizmo.

Hornady Tool and Home-Made Tool in Background

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More Home-Made Tools

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Anyway, whichever tool you use you will need a comparator to take an accurate measurement from the ogive of the bullet as this is more consistent than OAL measuring due to the manufacturing differences in the points of bullets.

OAL Gauge and Modified Case

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Two Types of Comparators : Hornady and Sinclair

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Many shooters like to jump a few thou to the lands while some like to jam. Much will depend upon the bullet – some are quite sensitive to seating depth. A cautionary note though – if you jam and have to unload you may cause a case and bullet separation which will spill powder all around the inside of your chamber and down into the trigger. This will spoil your day.

Following these extra steps will allow for rounds to be truly custom made for your rifle and will likely see a measurable improvement over regular match grade ammo. The rounds likely won’t work well ( probably won’t even chamber ) in other rifles of the same calibre as they are unique to the particular firearm they are made for but they will allow every last bit of accuracy to be eked out and may get you into the winners circle !

A Personal Best Five Shot Group Produced With The Extra Steps Outlined Above