Saturday, May 30, 2009

A shotgun in your holster... pistol cartridges for pest control


Reading a recent post regarding a ‘Snake Slayer’ over on my favorite blog (besides my own), my own small supply of pistol type shot cartridges came to mind. It was languishing in the back of the ammunition locker, acquired long ago for reasons long forgotten.

Digging a bit found CCI shot cartridges for .22 long rifle and 9mm Luger, as well as empty shot capsules meant to be filled and loaded into .38 special and .44 Magnum cases. These unused and aging capsules were made by Speer, and are still produced today.

Shot cartridges in rimfire and pistol calibers have long been around. Meant to turn a sidearm into a close range pest remover, they have been bought by homeowners, gardeners, and farmers for ages. In my own youth they were handed to me by my father, with instructions to shoot any rat, flying or not, seen in the barn. I recall trying out the old Winchester crimped brass .22 long rifle shot cartridge on grain stealing pigeons, only to find them mildly amused at all the fuss. Not only did the tiny and sparse #12 shot have no deleterious effect on them, it often bounced off the age hardened wooden beams and peppered me worse than the pests!

As a boy, I turned to more useful tools such as my trusty Sheridan air rifle and the ever present ‘Wrist-Rocket’ slingshot. At least they would drop a rat or a pigeon with authority, although an elevated miss might perforate a roof shingle too. That was never a danger with the .22 shot cartridges, as their pellets didn’t even seem to reach the roof.

Today I decided to put the miniscule shot cartridges to the test, on paper at the range. Gathering suitable instruments of instruction, along with a camera, it was off to the club! With me went a .410 single shot shotgun, a CZ .22 rifle, my old Taurus .38 snubby, and a Ruger P-85 in 9mm. Ammo to be tested included the CCI offerings in .22lr and 9mm, and a few .38 special rounds loaded with the Speer capsules and #8 shot. The .410 was to serve as the baseline, being considered the quintessential garden gun and pest eradicator of all time. Many a farmers’ barn and gardeners shed boasts an H+R Topper in .410 standing sentry near the door, ready for the call of duty when snake, rat, or bunny appears in the wrong place at the wrong time.

On the subject of ‘Snake Guns’, I can see and agree with the need for protection from poisonous snakes in habitats where they live. Although most snakes will run away from a man rather than attack, there are exceptions to that rule. Cottonmouths in particular have been known to give chase to someone crossing their path. In areas where these critters live, I would happily keep a sidearm with me while hiking or working the garden. In other area’s where poisonous snakes are rare, but beneficial ones are present, I avoid killing snakes when I can. They are no threat to man, but rather eat the rodents that are.

Taking a fifty foot pistol bay for today’s testing, I put up targets featuring a pest I’d happily shoot on sight. Rats! I can handle snakes, but a rat or two will have me kicking over boxes with a club in my hand as fast as you can say ‘disease ridden vermin’.

The full choked .410 was fired at 25 feet, well within its range, but about normal for pest control ranges. Using #4 shot, the little shotgun performed with easy and quiet efficiency and fairly obliterated the rat target. Any plans on garden raiding evaporated.

Next up, the .22 long rifle CCI shot cartridges. Loaded with #12 shot, these minuscule shot shells with their little cup of ‘dust shot’ were fired from a CZ 452 bolt action rifle. Tried first at the same 25 feet as the .410, the rat on the target actually seemed to giggle a little at being tickled with sparse shot impacts.

Moving to 10 feet with the .22 caused the rat some concern, but I doubt it was more than discomfort.

Taking it to almost muzzle touching distance, 5 feet, the rat came into range of the .22 LR shot cartridge and perhaps it was an effective range. While there were strikes on the body of the target, it remains to be seen if they would have been effective. Probably they would, but not instantly. Perhaps a pistol would show a better pattern, but I lacked one for testing today.

Moving up to the 9mm pistol, it was fired first at 10 feet, and its 64 grain load of #9 shot spread fairly wide. If the rat was hit, it was by luck and with only a few pellets. Perhaps a full auto H+K MP5 rat destroyer special might have done better.

Closing range to 5 feet, the 9mm seemed to pattern much better, and would likely be fairly effective on pest like objects. If nothing else, the increase in noise over the .22 should act to alert the rat to someone’s dislike. Still, it would not surprise me to see either a rat or a snake not instantly dispatched with the .22 or 9mm at more than a few feet of distance. The 9mm with it's slightly larger shot and better pattern should be substantially more effective.

On another, and worthy, note... the CCI 9mm luger shot ammunition fed and cycled in the Ruger P-85 perfectly. That was not a sure thing, as the light projectile weight and unusual configuration can cause serious feeding hiccups in self loaders.

Advancing to the .38 special snubnose loaded with 100 grains of #8 shot over a moderate charge of fast Bullseye powder, the test target at 10 feet gave a telling tale. While not as effective a pattern as the .410, it was quite good compared to the lighter pistol rounds at the same distance. Shooting at a closer range was unnecessary, as the 10 foot target showed sufficient pattern density to easily dispatch pests. The heavier shot was more impressive as well, judging from the backstop upheaval on impact.

Given the easy carry characteristics of the snub nosed pistol, and the fairly decent results of pattern testing at a reasonable pest shooting range, it seems the .38/.357 revolver might be the way to go for pest control, given a situation where a .22 rifle or a light shotgun are inappropriate. While the single barrel shotgun is far better suited to garden pest elimination, it’s just a little hard to pull weeds with one in hand. As for walking a trail in snake country, a decent revolver on the belt with a shot cartridge up first under the hammer would sure settle a travelers mind as to Mr. Slithers intentions.

Reloading tip: Get friendly with your rifle cases

'Reloading tips'
is going to be a regular series here on Carteach0. Not one to set your calendar by, but every time something worth sharing pops up it will get written up as a tip, along with photos.

Eventually, as enough tips pile up, I'll build a post referencing them all (and updated with each new one) and link it on the sidebar. As a tip is added, I'll note it by date on the sidebar link. Sound like a plan?

In this first tip, an explanation of something unusual I noticed today. While prepping some vintage 8x57mm cases for match loading, I was cleaning
primer pockets. Only this activity allowed me to find a problem in two of the cases.

As I turned the pocket cleaner into the primer pockets, I noticed the tool would not fully enter one of the cases. Looking closely with
a magnifying glass, I found one side of the base of the pocket was bulged backwards about .015". The primer pocket uniforming tool was hanging up on this bump.

In the 110 cases I prepped, I found two with this issue and set them aside. Considering the cases were made in 1944 and I have reloaded them perhaps eight times, I'm am not upset with the loss of 2% of my cases. They owe me nothing at this point, and as long as there are no indications of incipient separation or cr
acks I will continue to load them. The bulge into the primer pocket.... that just became another problem I will watch for, and discard the case when I find it.

Cutting apart one of the cases on a diamond saw, it appears the flash hole has been flame cut from the inside. It may have been a poor hit with a de-capping pin, but the brass is not peened around the hole. It's a clean cut, and has thinned the base of the case at that spot while also making the flash hole oval shaped. The thinness of the base is what allowed it to bulge into the primer pocket.

Lesson learned? Getting up close and friendly with every single high pressure rifle case is a good idea. Hand cleaning primer pockets, closely examining necks and bases, watching for anything out of the ordinary... all are good practice. Had I chosen not to clean the primer pockets this cycle I would have missed the weak base and risked a blow out when I fired the next match.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Used reloading dies: Gun show gold!

Guns shows are not just about guns, ammunition, and beef jerky. If ones looks close, there are other things as well. No, not the black leather purses that scream 'Gun', nor the big table overflowing with worn out green military fatigues. Look past all that... to the boxes dotted here and there, a few to every row, and filled with... Gun Show Gold!

It's the green glow from the RCBS boxes that first attracts attention, and the plastic bags full of finely machined steel that keeps it riveted. Tools and dies from a now passed reloader, hand me down sets, perhaps the spares from calibers no longer owned. Maybe an ancient press, built with more iron and tool steel than any three new fangled offerings put together. Sometimes a tool whose purpose can only be imagined, sold by a company our grandfathers would have recognized.

Its a rare, rare reloading die that wears out. Most are fully capable of lasting several owners lifetimes, if they are maintained in even the most haphazard manner. Even when mishandled or missing pieces they c
an still be a solid value. Most of the major reloading die makers will sell replacement parts for very reasonable prices, and RCBS is noted for just mailing them out on request, without charge.

Here, we find a bagged set of RCBS dies in 8x57Mauser. A full length sizing die, a
neck sizing die, and a seating die. The neck sizing die is the real prize, and the only one in the set I just had to have. My last 8mm neck die was misplaced in a move, and it left a gaping hole in my Grand Old Turk reloading regime. Dickered from $20 down to $15, the neck sizing die alone is worth far more than the price of all three.

The missing box is not an issue, as the neck die soon found a home in the same box as my other 8x57mm RCBS dies. The extra full length sizing and seating dies.... they stay lubed and bagged, as trade fodder or a giveaway to a new reloader.

The last spare 8x57mm seating die I had was remade into a cast bullet seater, with a throat opened enough to just pass the cast bullets from my lubrisizer die. It now lives in a special box of it's own, clearly marked as to caliber, use, and dimensions.

When buying used dies, it's worthwhile to fully strip them down to individual components and give them a good scrub. Treated just like a fine firearm, the inside can be cleaned with a brush and swab, while inside and out should be treated with a preservative and lube like Breakfree CLP.

Check for bent sizing mandrels, and cracked, broken, or bent de-capping pins. The sizing mandrel should be clean and smooth, with no heavy scratches or dings. A quick check with a micrometer is in order, just to be sure it hasn't been altered. Replacing the de-capping pin with a new one is only a moments work, and they can be bought by the six pack from any reloading supply dealer.

The lock rings on the die body and the de-capping rod should fit tightly, and have their locking screws in usable condition. If a lock ring is frozen in place, soaking overnight in penetrating oil will usually help free it up. Under no circumstances should high heat be applied, as it will alter the dimensions of the die body.

The best bargain of all, for the hard core reloader, is a sizing die with a case stuck in it. When encountered, they can be bought for a dollar or two. Ten minutes with an RCBS stuck case removing tool and the die is good as new.

To a reloader, those random boxes full of hand me down dies and loading tools are
like a trip through Santa's workshop. There's gold everywhere one looks, there for those with eyes open to it.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Shooting steel

There's nothing new under the sun, I recognize that fact. Still, shooting steel is pretty new to me.

Today I packed up a few pistols, a large portion of ammunition, and headed off to the SLCFSA range. There, the activities in full swing were a trap shooting challenge dominated by old men shooting $4000 shotguns and never missing, a quick draw competition dominated by teenage girls moving just short of light speed, and a new event for our club. Steel.

I shot five stages, switching around pistols to find what I liked, burned up about 150 rounds, and had a ball.

The matches at the club are all 'fun shoot' this season to gauge interest. If it takes off, they'll join the PA steel shooting league and begin next season on the points run.

I know I'll try and make every club match I can, as it's just too much fun to miss.
(A few photos from the shoot, in a slide show....)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

1938 Turkish Mauser: Match rifle?

As has been mentioned here before, I am quite happy to take part in my local club's ‘Military Rifle Shoots’. These are patterned directly on DCM High Power shoots, except each month’s shoot has a ‘theme’ to the rifles used.
These can vary from pre-1900 to Vietnam era, to Battle of the Bulge or bolt action only.

While I have shot the match with a Swiss K-31 and a Mosin 91/30, my preference is to use one of my old Turkish Mausers. The rifle was not bought with the matches in mind, but over the years it has evolved into the rifle I most shoot that special day of the month.

This old beast was found at a gun show, many years ago when every show had tables full of Turk Mausers for surprisingly cheap prices. Many were worn out, but some had serious promise under the ‘Turkmoline’ rust proofing. Mil-Surp collectors have long conjectured about the substance used by the sons of the Turk to store rifles. Cosmoline is typical of the era, and nasty stuff in its own right. The Turks seem to have gone that one better and mixed Cosmoline with camel dung, along with sand and ground up old sheep bladders. In any case, it’s a bear to clean up… and my Grand Old Turk was no different.

I selected this one from a table full, based on the condition of the metal. There were no serious flaws evident, and the bluing was decent. Handing it to the dealer, I told him if he could show me the bore had good rifling then I’d buy the rifle. I suspect he regretted saying yes, as the plug of grease he pushed from the bore must have weighed three pounds and smelled worse than a high school gym locker. Yet, the bore looked pristine, and I plunked down the $95 asking price with a happy smile on my face. A smile made even wider by the faint 'GEW 98' almost polished off the receiver, showing it to be a rebuilt German rifle of outstanding quality.

I stripped the rifle to its smallest piece and soaked the metal overnight in kerosene. The next day the bolt, action, and barrel came clean with only minute’s work. The stock had to be chemically stripped, and scrubbed in a bath of very hot water and detergent. Having a large assortment of dents, dings, gouges, and battle scars… I was not looking for pristine wood. My goal was solid, straight, and as original as possible. Once the wood was cleaned (several times) it got a simple linseed oil finish and an hour’s rub down with a hard plastic dowel. This trick, taught to me by my father, made the wood smooth and shiny without sanding any away.

Detailed examination better revealed a problem I had noted at the dealers table. The safety would not engage correctly because the bolt shroud had too much wear. I knew it was like this when I bought it, but had no fears. The scrounge box had several shrouds and it was simply a matter of finding the best fit. A little light file work and polishing, and the safety worked exactly as designed.

The bolt had other issues, but minor ones. The main spring was replaced with a 24 pound modern replacement, and the striker was slightly modified for more consistent ignition. This brought the firing pin protrusion into specs.

Assembled again, the rifle was test fired on the range and immediately showed excellent promise. The first groups with surplus ammunition gave surprisingly good groups. Good enough to cause some thoughts.

With an ‘ugly duckling’ match rifle in mind, I set out to make some changes to the rifle. Nothing major was done and certainly nothing visible except to a discerning eye. My goal was to make it a ‘sleeper’ of a rifle; One that would not get a second glance in the rack, but still allow me to compete with the folks shooting expensive rifles. Nobody expects a 1938 Turkish Mauser to be a match rifle, and the Grand Old Turk is no exception to that. That said… after a few years shooting it in the match, it gets respect now and has nothing left to prove. As for me, I get pleasure competing against $1000 Garands and Springfields while shooting a lowly $100 Turkish Mauser. My 400/500 score is every bit as good as theirs, but mine is $900 cheaper.

To make it a match shooting rifle, some areas needed attention. Specifically, the sights were simply not up to the job, nor was the trigger. Turn of the century battle sights did not serve well on the target line, and the rough old military trigger made for a fight trying to control it at let off.

The rear sight was replaced with another from the scrounge box. The original sight was greased, bagged, and tagged to the rifle. Not that this old beast could be called a collectors item, but it did have matching numbers and I preferred to modify other parts than what it came with. For the most part, I can return the rifle to the way I bought it with only a few minutes notice. That may not matter to some people, but I try to keep most of my old military rifles as original and unaltered as possible.

The original Mauser rear sights of this era have a minuscule ‘V’notch mounted with a sliding sight adjuster. It moves up a marked ramp for elevation, fitting detents along the way. I found this problematic, as the ‘V’ notch did not allow me to align the sights on the target as closely as I wished. To fix this, the sight I installed had the ‘V’ notch filed into a square shaped notch, with straight sides and a square top.

The front sight was an inverted ‘V’, and built so low that the rifle shot 12” high with its closest sight setting. I replaced the original front sight insert with one from a Czech VZ-24 Mauser rifle, it being much taller than the Turk front sight. While the VZ-24 was also an inverted ‘V’, it was tall enough that I could dress its top flat with a file, giving me a flat top front sight to align with the square notch rear sight.

An added advantage of the taller front sight is what it did to my rear sight. I had to raise the rear sight to its 600 meter graduation to hit point of aim at 100 yards. This brought the rear sight up out its stock channel and well into my field of vision. The higher rear sight also allowed me to take a better position when firing off hand, keeping my head more upright.

Tweaking the trigger presented me with several options, but I chose one that served me well in the past. I could have gone with a Huber trigger, or simply invested a few hours into a standard Mauser trigger and installed a stop, along with honing it. Instead I installed a Timney Sportsman trigger. I chose the Sportsman over the target trigger solely due to price, with the target trigger costing several times the sportsman.

Yes, I had to cut away some wood inside the ancient grease riddled Turkish stock, but since the overall condition could best be described as ‘incredibly well used’ I didn’t lose any sleep over it. The after market trigger is almost impossible to notice without a very close inspection. Adjusted to a crisp two pounds, with a clean let off and all over travel dialed out, it serves this match rifle well.

The bedding was left as is, saving a tiny bit of carving around the recoil lug to free up its sides and bottom. The stock is a mile long, but so well made that it’s all but free floated in its full military trim.

The muzzle was addressed with an almost unnoticeable touch up to the crown; just enough to clean up any dings and give the bullet a clean exit point.

Lastly, a slip on (leather) butt pad was installed, and fitted with adhesive abrasive tape where it meets my shoulder. This prevents the rifle from sliding around my shoulder as I desperately strive to control my breathing and get off clean shots. Perhaps such a pad is not truly kosher on a match rifle, but no one begrudges an old man a bit of comfort, especially as I ‘handicap’ myself with this ugly old Turkish Mauser.

I don’t shoot with a sling, aperture sights, a shooting jacket, trick sunshade glasses, or even a mat on days when I forget it. All those high power accoutrement's left behind, it’s just me, the rifle, and the ammunition I custom load for it. That’s the way I like it… challenging and fun!