You can do it. What you need is a bench vise, some clamps, epoxy, wood, a sanding roll, a drill, boiled linseed oil, sandpaper, steel wool. Not necessarily in that order. I clamp my scales in place then use a sanding roll to shape them to match the tang of the blade. Then it’s down to shaping and polishing. There are some amazing blade makers here in the USA. I like Idaho Forge and Alabama Damascus. For grip material, really look into burls but avoid spalted wood. Burls are stupid strong. Spalts are stupid weak. See below for examples of some of the knives I’ve made. I don’t use rivets on my knives. The epoxy that fits the scales to the tang is stronger than the tang or the wood so you pretty much have to destroy the knife to make the handles come off.
We’re doing a set of experiments; including confirmation runs, to analyze the effectiveness and harshness of various copper fouling solvents that are available to the sport shooter. The first test looks at aggressiveness and total dissolved copper capacity per unit volume of the solvent. The results were not entirely surprising.
For the first run we selcted WipeOut, Sweet’s 7.62 and Copper/Lead Destroyer from Modern Spartan Systems. We’ve already experimentally confirmed that Copper/Lead Destroyer will remove copper fouling and that it likes a longer time to do it than competitors, meaning it’s less aggressive. But how capable is it (how much copper can it hold)?
After normalizing the weights of 3 Barnes bullets we dropped them into test tubes with measured amounts of each solvent and let them soak. We didn’t knock off any oxide or other coating that the bullets had on them. We just dropped them in to the solvents. After 15 minutes there was effect enough for color changes in WipeOut and Sweet’s 7.62, though the changes were very slight. After 2 hours no real difference. After 2 days the WipeOut and Sweet’s bullets looked like they’d been hit with sandpaper and were showing rolling over of formerly sharp edges. The C/L-D bullet was seemingly unchanged on the surface other than darkening just a little.
24hr copper dissolution:
Wipe-Out: .2gr per 2tblsp in 24hhrs
Sweet’s: .2gr per 2x tblsp in 24hrs
MSS C/L D: .1gr per 2x tblsp in 24hrs
48hr copper dissolution:
Wipe-Out: .2gr per 2x tblsp in 48hhrs
Sweet’s: .2gr per 2x tblsp in 48hrs
MSS C/L D: .1gr per 2x tblsp in 48hrs
120hr copper dissolution:
Wipe-Out: .3gr per 2x tblsp in 48hhrs
Sweet’s: .4gr per 2x tblsp in 48hrs
MSS C/L D: .1gr per 2x tblsp in 48hrs
So we see that the Sweet’s kept on keeping on after an initial slow down. This is what I’d expect from something that’s really aggressive. Use up most of the reagents quickly and then continue until they’re all gone. I didn’t expect it to have such long legs. That’s what you might call “power and endurance”. WipeOut had the aggressiveness but not the endurance. C/L-D may have had great endurance or not, that didn’t show up. What showed is the carrying capacity it has for copper is pretty low and it’s not nearly as aggressive as the others. It does seem to like that 24hr soak though.
We’re re-running this test with a fresh set of Hornady GMX 180gr bullets in just a few days. We’ll post the results as soon as they’re ready.
The motivation here was to test Modern Spartan Systems line of gun cleaning kit against established known quantities with proven performance. Their promise of no foul smell, lack of toxicity and some of the other claims they made caused me to get curious enough to do a Pepsi challenge for their whole cleaning system. This includes Accuracy Oil; which claims to increase velocity & cut group size & extend barrel life. It also includes their Carbon Destroyer and Copper/Lead Destroyer and their Carbon Destroyer.
I’ve already started long term testing of their Accuracy Oil’s claims at longer barrel life and improvements in velocity, group size and consistency. Those experiments are continuing and I’ve built an impressive data set so far with more coming in every week. In the meantime, the fundamental ability of the fouling removal products to perform like they say it will had not yet been established by any kind of usefully conducted experiment I could find. So, I’m doing it. I’ve already put the Carbon Destroyer up to the Pepsi challenge and it flat works. It’s pleasant enough to use and worked like a charm on everything from revolvers to pistols to high power modern rifles to black powder cartridge rifles. The way it worked on our set of Trapdoor Springfields was terrific. What about the big one though…COPPER!?! Let’s git’er done.
I’ve got enough barrels around with sufficient fouling, including some I’m entirely willing to destroy, to give a good test of effectiveness and side-effects. In the spirit of experimentation I set up the first round of testing with 3 barrels:
- Stock Glock 21 barrel. 1000’s of rounds since being cleaned.
- Savage 10 .308 24″ heavy barrel, >500 rounds since cleaning.
- Black Hole Weapons 26″ .223 barrel > 200 rounds since cleaning.
Cliff’s Notes: In short, MSS’s Copper/Lead Destroyer is very effective. Zero question about that.
More detailed findings and experimental procedure:
C/L-D not as strong as Sweet’s by a mile nor is it as strong as Wipe-Out as a copper remover but it’s a lot more pleasant to use than Sweet’s and less messy than Wipe-Out. This is about removing copper and copper fouling is hard to remove well without damaging the barrel steel. You either get mechanical action which is by definition damaging to the bore or you get chemical action which may be damaging to the bore. Bore damage can be dependent on the length of time of exposure to chemical agents and some of them are really nasty for everyone involved.
To start I took a G21 barrel that had been belled just in front of the chamber by a squib. It had previously had Carbon Destroyer run through it and then was soaked overnight (26 hours) in Copper/Lead Destroyer, hosed out and stored. I ran some Wipe-Out into it and gave it 15 minutes to soak and pushed a patch through. Zero color change on the patch. Then I ran some Sweet’s in it and let that soak for 5 minutes and pushed a patch through. Zero color change on the patch.
Ok, that’s the null result I was expecting. The barrel was clearly clean of copper to begin with but you don’t know the state of fouling before the 26 hour soak. Could have been a lot, could have been a little, could have been none for all you know, right?
Now to find the more interesting results. I took a factory Savage .308 Win barrel that I’d abused and not cleaned in literally years. It had at least a couple hundred rounds put through it before it got yanked and set aside. I started by running patch of Sweet’s through the barrel without running a brush through it, hoping that the carbon that stayed behind would protect some of the copper from the Sweet’s to serve as an indicator later. It came out with gooey gobs of blue on the patch with no soak at all, just applied and patched out. I immediately took the barrel outside and hosed it out for a solid couple minutes to keep the Sweet’s from finishing the job. I plugged the breech with a .45acp case and filled the bore with Copper/Lead Destroyer and gave it 2 hours to soak. After the soak I ran a patch through it a couple times (remember, no color change on the patches, C/L-D doesn’t do that) and then went and hosed it out. Now I needed to see if there was any copper still in there so I took the Wipe-Out and ran that in the barrel and gave it a 20 minute soak. After pushing a patch through what I found were traces of blue streaking on the patch and plenty of black and brown. Not much blue but enough to tell me that the carbon was in fact protecting the copper. There wasn’t enough copper coming out to make a good finish up to the experiment on that barrel so I reset the experiment by virtue of moving on to the .223 barrel.
The .223 barrel started with at least 200 rounds since the last even partial cleaning so it got a thorough carbon removal with Carbon Destroyer. When patches wrapped around a bore brush came out without any black or brown on them, I called that done. I put a fired case in the breech, closed the bolt and then filled the bore with Copper/Lead Destroyer and let it soak for 2 hours. Then I pushed a pair of patches through which came out not much different than they went in. Now to see if the C/L-D worked I ran a patch of sweet’s down the bore, gave it a solid 3 minutes to soak and pushed another patch though looking for color change and got NONE AT ALL. That was a null result I did not honestly expect. I expected to find some copper remaining, I mean Sweet’s is as aggressive as it gets. But no.
What’s that all mean? Leave the Copper/Lead Destroyer to soak a while and it works as thoroughly as Sweet’s or Wipe-Out. I really like using C/L-D way more than Sweet’s. I can’t even stand opening the bottle on that cat piss smelling Sweet’s. I actually really like Wipe-Out too and will continue to use it at the range because it’s super easy to deal with there. At home though, I think I’ve found my new cleaning product suite. All the chemicals I need are now finally not unpleasant.
Modern Spartan Systems – Copper/Lead Destroyer: No bad smell. A detergent-y smell similar to cold bluing solution is what it reminds me of most. The directions say you can leave in barrel safely for many hours, even overnight. I left it in a G21 barrel for 26 hours with no adverse affect noted. MUST use a carbon solvent prior to applying for it to be properly effective. Modern Spartan’s carbon remover works great. Getting C/L-D to stay wet in the barrel was another story. It dried quickly in my low humidity area. I eventually stuffed a fired case in the breech, stood the barrel up and filled the bore on rifles. On pistols it was easier to soak a narrow strip of paper towel in it and thread that down the bore and let it sit that way overnight. Directions say 3-5 minutes of soak. I got best results on heavy fouling after 2 hours. No color change on the patch so it’s a little hard to “know” when you’re done.
Wipe-Out: It’s got a smell but nothing like Sweet’s. Can leave in barrel overnight, no ammonia. It’s a foam that expands so some will end up in your action and it’ll probably drip out of the muzzle so, a little messy to use. Patch’s change color to blue if copper is present. Works on carbon and copper. Usually 15 minutes is more than sufficient as a soak time.
Sweet’s 7.62: Super strong ammonia smell. Do not leave in barrel longer than necessary, clean residue off skin and gun thoroughly immediately after use. Known to be hard on steel. Must use carbon remover prior for full effectiveness.
I have video and all that jazz but it’s not very interesting TV. It’s just me slowly, methodically and painfully boringly working out the surprisingly obvious. On the upside, MSS’s stuff works like a dream so far. I can officially endorse the Copper and Lead Destroyer and the Carbon Destroyer because I have proven beyond any doubt that they work as advertised.
Now about that Accuracy Oil….
We’ve taken over the lead in petroleum product exports from Saudi Arabia. We should now Join OPEC and seek to have our representative take over as Secretary General of OPEC. Despite the fact that they have an egalitarian one-country one-vote thing going, the fact of the matter is that the biggest producer ends up with a lot of influence and sway.
OPEC is an international cartel that routinely has used anti-competitive practices of production manipulation and price fixing in order to prevent any competition in the world of petroleum extraction and distribution. Worse, because of the economic realities, the current members of OPEC routinely run over their quotas which destroys the supply and demand reality of the price. They will often overburdern the market with oil supplies but because the price is determined by the market based on how much each country commits to producing (and no more than that) and not on how much it actually produces day to day there’a lack of parity to how any other market works which is supply vs. demand. That there is pure market manipulation. Consumers therefore are not able to get a fair shake and that has dangerous knock-on effects to the global economy.
If the USA were to join OPEC we would then be able to act as both a stabilizing force by forcing sanctions upon production cap cheats, implement enforcement and monitoring technologies that add transparency regarding production to the market to restore the supply vs. demand relationship that has been tossed aside and as a force to ultimately destroy OPEC the cartel from the inside whilst leaving OPEC the industry regulator to mature into a real thing.
As soon as they have to actually play by the rules instead of just saying they do, the member nations’ loyalty to OPEC will fracture and their own individual national interests come to dominate. They will soon find that they no longer have any benefit from membership and OPEC will collapse as a cartel and come to be what it should have been from the start, more of an industry regulating body similar to AMA and the bar associations of the states.
What do you think? Should the USA join OPEC?
See below for highlights. Click the link below if you’re in for the full read. You’re not missing anything either way.
So we have initial results. I’d like to thank you all for the views on my video.
We will be testing this die set more over the next year. This is out of my pocket and out of my own curiosity. I have the credit card bills and had the arguments with my wife to show for it. I must caution, because of some things people seem to have in their heads, that this isn’t ever going to make a 1″ gun into a .5″ gun. Anyone suggesting such a thing is either a fool or a liar. What you should be expecting is to reduce variability in your ammo which reduces things like flyers & SD’s. Effects on group size, maybe small ones should be expected as a normal effect of better consistency but because barrel harmonics are involved there so heavily it’s best to keep your hopes in check and out of the land of silliness.
I set up a partially blinded experiment with unfired, 2x fired and >5x fired cases. We (Coach and I) sized up 50rds of each from my Exact die and 50 of each from Coach’s Redding die and tested that in Coach’s rifle. Coach’s rifle has somewhere over 1900rds down the pipe now which is a concern as you’ll see soon. We set the ammo up identically in everything from components to neck tension. We ran 10 shot groups which were composed of 2 non-consecutive 5-shot groups fired at the same aim point. Coach loaded, packed and labelled the ammo boxes (labels are “1” and “2”) and didn’t tell me till after the shooting was done which was which. I pulled the rounds from the boxes, logged data and called the target to engage while coach did the shooting. That way neither of us knew during shooting which ammo was being fired at any given time. That was the best way I could think of for me to pull out experimenter induced bias with a research team of 2.
The result of the first accuracy test was null. That is to say that the numbers difference in average group size was not outside the level of statistical noise. The exception was with brand new brass. It always shot more consistently than reloaded brass and so I removed those results from the full data set due to the noise they introduced. We also weren’t meant to be testing new brass as that would not apply anyway but I wanted that data for another experiment I’ve been running. This is all precisely what was expected. I expected no big result (but certainly hoped for one) in accuracy simply by going to full length resizing and having extremely consistent neck tension and headspace.
Because the result is null though, we’ll re-run the experiment on that rifle just before we replace the barrel, just to verify the results reproduce reliably. We also did some velocity testing as part of that and there was no statistical change in average velocities or SD’s except that in the new brass loads but it was more consistent set to set. Why pull the barrel? The rifle used for that run of the experiment now has ~1900 rounds through it in 6XC with a single load spec (38.5gr H4350, F210M, Norma brass, 115gr HBN coated DTAC). The load is mild; generating only 2800fps, but we know that that barrel is within a few hundred of being pulled on principle; if not actual need, as far as match work goes and it may not be capable of the repeatable accuracy that might show up with the Exact die. So, we’ll try another barrel. A new one. Actually, a new two! So stay tuned, there’s more to come.
In September I purchased 2x new barrels which I got as blanks from the same production run (from Black Hole Weapons). I purchased a new custom reamer in 6XC that produces a chamber that is very tight to the dimensions of the Exact die. Thankfully you can order a reamer with any number of customizations and it’s still the same price as a custom reamer with just 1 custom dimension. Unfortunately it takes weeks for such a reamer to be made. Over the winter I handed the whole works over to a gunsmith friend of mine that also makes ultra-precise gauges as a business. So, he has the equipment and skills to set up barrels that are truly as identical as we could make them and identical enough for a useful experiment to come out of it despite a sample size that’s extremely small.
Anyway, I got both barrels cut, profiled and chambered identically. It was at great cost too. The cost to set each one up was double what I normally pay him to set up a barrel for me for each barrel with over 15 hours of work on each one. These are our new match barrels for the next 2 seasons too. Coach and I will be shooting from the same ammo box so we can share data. Maybe we’ll pick up a few points on same-day wind calls.
We did have a non-null result and from a different direction, which I also predicted. That was that with loads that were sized with my ExactShooting.com die we never had trouble closing the bolt. It was, in fact, always exactly the same effort. On the cases that we sized on the Redding neck die that Coach uses bolt close effort was either not much or a TON. Some post-facto testing later on with coach’s FL die showed the same random bolt close effort. This is obviously due to random headspacing which means that Coach’s FL die probably needs a thou or two buzzed off the bottom. Irrelevant though because we’re testing what’s available out of the box and his FL die out of the box didn’t cut it so I suspect that a lot of FL dies out there may be a little long or short and aren’t sizing things like people think they are.
That is only the results from a well used barrel. We will be running this exact same test using the 2 newly set up barrels. One will be on the same gun (Coach’s match rifle) while its twin which now has just under 400 rounds on it is on a different my “Hot Dog Gun” match rifle. I don’t expect any difference but I could wind up being surprised. The new barrel on Hot Dog Gun is extremely accurate so far, better than Coach’s rifle on its first day. We’ve already developed a load for the new barrel that runs things a bit faster (2980fps) so hopefully with more pressure more differences might start to manifest.
One of the cool things about the ES die is you can pull the body/shoulder portion out and still use the neck sizing portion which itself is easily adjustable for neck tension and neck sizing depth. When you start getting hard bolt close you can dial in .0005″ or .001″ or .0015″ or whatever amount of push-back on the shoulder with an easy click adjustment and know it’ll give that to you exactly. We’ll be running a neck tension accuracy test here real soon. We’ll see if .0005″ increments makes real differences on paper. First though, I’m ordering some brand new brass for that test.
Cost is fairly high for these dies but not unprecedented. That’s true but, beside the point. If you have the money then that’s not an issue anyway. Functionality is THE issue. It’s perfectly functional and makes it super easy to dial in neck tension at .0005″ increments for those really finicky loads, to dial neck sizing depth at .020″ increments and to dial how far back you actually push your shoulders in .0005″ increments. They’ll make one to a reamer print too. How precise are the dies? Well I had my machinist do some gauging to see if they were that precise and he was pretty darned impressed.
For benchrest guys and F-class guys, I think this is really packing the potential to up their game a bit but only because those guys tend toward having done everything else already. BR and F-class are the only places I can think of of offhand where neck tension and headspacing are tightly controlled by the shooters both routinely and with an obsession rarely seen.
Is it going to help joe sixpack? Well no, to be honest. Joe doesn’t know enough to get the potential benefit to begin with. Owners of this die will 100% want to keep their brass sorted by number of firings. They’ll know about what spring back is and why it’s important to them and a lot more. They will be the type that can’t deal with unexpected 5’s instead of 0’s or 1’s in the 4th decimal place of a measurement. The right owner for this die is someone very much like me in the respect that they are prone to setting up narrowly defined experiments and to analyze the statistical data that results before forming opinions. They’re nerds.
For Coach and I the benefit is being able to share ammo and ballistics data in a match, not running out of time anymore on match stages due to bolt cycling problems, not overworking or insufficiently sizing the brass and being able to make subtle adjustments with truly minimal effort as precisely as adjusting a tactical rifle scope.
Outdoor Life isn’t known for their shockingly high levels of expertise or their incisive writing. Writing takes time to do right and even more time to do wrong. It’s like carpentry that way. They do have access to industry sources though so if we can wade through all the stuff they got wrong we can find out some cool stuff.
In the article linked below you’ll find TONS of factual errors but, if you look past those you’ll find a few sentences of new information. It appears that no less than the US government and police agencies were responsible for the new lead free primer offering from Federal. Lead styphnate is a pretty dangerous compound to work with but it’s much better as a primer than lead azide or mercury fulminate. Better? Yes. Actually better because it’s a bit less reactive to shock and and friction which means fewer accidents. It’s no worse as all 3 contain extremely toxic heavy metals.
Up till now primers have mostly been focused on simply getting a very hot flame front into a pocket of powder through a small orifice. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. It’s a pretty oversimplified take to be brutally honest. The actual thing that does the lighting off is not a literal flame front. It’s tiny particles that are burning white hot. Those particles collide with gunpowder kernels and well, you can guess what happens next. If you look at the fantastic work done by German Salazar and posted on 6mmbr.com: http://www.6mmbr.com/primerpix.html, you’ll see that Remington primers put out HUGE amounts of white hot particles. Federal 210’s develop a very large very hot flame but not quite so showery in white hot bits. RWS and CCI BR primers show similarly large amounts of white hots compared to say, PMC.
Vigor in the pursuit of improved primers has been super low especially after companies poured piles of money into development of lead free non-toxic primers and ended up with something that was too unreliable for general duty use and which has been relegated to practice ammo. Once bitten equals twice shy so, they never really took the opportunity to improve primers as much as we have bullets and powders and even cartridge case brass alloys. Looking at the pictures from the 6mmbr.com article above, it’s also entirely possible that someone looked and said, “What actually are we improving on?” Looking at the pictures below, I have a hard time thinking it’ll be easy to make them any more functional.
Possible improvements over current lead styphnate primers:
- Make them less susceptible to shock or friction and static electrical discharge.
- Increase the quantity of and mass density of hot particles that are generated.
- Reduce/eliminate powder/primer reactivity issues
- Reduce generated gas volume to reduce pressures
- Increase the time glowing particulate stays hot (increase its specific heat)
- Make them less susceptible to water contamination
- Eliminate dependence on Mexico/Brazil/China (especially China) for ingredients
The New Catalyst Primers
New primers use nitrocellulose as fuel instead of PETN. Nitrocellulose is a deflagrant (it burns and super fast). PETN is a high explosive. Lead has been removed. Aluminum is added and we go from barium to bismuth. Barium I’m not sure of the toxicity of but bismuth is touted as non-toxic though research concerning nanoparticles of bismuth oxide to have serious negative health effects at the cellular level. The oxide in the bismuth oxide becomes more free oxygen for the combustion. The heavy bismuth is heated partially by the burning aluminum which is started off by the nitrocellulose. What you have there is a chain of initiation reactions.
Aluminum instead of lead would be rhetorically great but it’s actually the bismuth that’s supplanting the lead. It gets rid of the lead and the aluminum will lengthen the burn cycle and make sure the flames are white hot as long as possible.
The Old Lead Styphnate
Lead styphnate has more evil in the legend than in the actual use of it in primers. You could eat quite a number of primers without raising your blood lead levels. The real reason I’m betting this went this way was to eliminate the last legitimate civilian reason to possess PETN. Primers don’t contain a lot of it but they do have it and if someone wanted to take a sufficient number of primers and harvest the boom boom butter.
So, let’s chalk up the score. See how Federal did.
|Reduce generated gas volume to reduce pressures||?|
|Make them less susceptible to shock or friction and static electrical discharge.||?|
|Increase the quantity of and mass density of hot particles that are generated.||Yes|
|Reduce/eliminate powder/primer reactivity issues||Yes|
|Increase the time glowing particulate stays hot (increase its specific heat)||Yes|
|Make them less susceptible to water contamination||?|
|Eliminate dependence on Mexico/Brazil/China (especially China) for ingredients||Yes|
I don’t care who you are, that’s a pretty good result for any engineering exercise which seeks to materially improve an existing product.
What we’re seeing in the real world already is handloaders have gone full retard and decided based only on the information that it’s new that they’re not going to use the new primers. We also have others going full retard and predicting that this is some kind of final panacea to fix the marksmanship ailments of lackluster riflemen. Neither is true. If the military is using them then reliability has to be very high. If police are using them then costs have to be pretty low. If Federal Cartridge Company is behind it, I think we can afford to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Finally, not a one of you has much of a choice. Federal is changing all their lines over to this new primer. There will not be 2 lines longer than is necessary to finish converting the 2nd one. Once they make this change you’ve got the existing stock in the market and then you’re going to have to accept that things change. Sure, I have 10,000 primers in my personal back stock too. But I kind of doubt that if you have that many that you shoot little enough to eventually need more.
Get out and shoot!
6XC Load Development – Analysis Time
This little case seems to really like being as full as possible and/or run a little hard and put away a little bit wet if you get my meaning. We broke in the barrel with 15 shots but as you can see from the data below, around shot #6 things stabilized. By round 10 I had warmed up the barrel a bit and was vacillating between baking rounds in the chamber while I wiggled around trying to get a natural point of aim and firing quickly when I was already at a good NPoA.
All discussions of load data and charge weights come with the “don’t copy me and hurt yourself” disclaimer. Don’t just run my loads, work up to them. These are all on Norma brass, F210 primers, 115gn DTAC bullets and COAL at 2.8″.
After grinding out the first 15 rounds to break in the bore and establish a zero; this was a BRAND NEW barrel after all, we took a little break and went to check the target. The new barrel shot to such a different POI than the prior barrel that it took quite a few shots just to get on steel at 100yrds. By round 10 we were on steel at what seemed like pretty close to POI=POA. Enough to move to the BoxToBench Precision 100yrd Load Development Target and dialed the zero in on the cold zero aiming point. 5 rounds at the cold zero put us at 15 shots and we were already seeing each set of 2 bullet holes (because: adjust, fire 2, adjust) either touching or very close to it. We’re pretty excited about the performance we’re seeing so far.
After the first 15 shots and letting the gun cool down I settled in to go for groups for record. Starting off we did the Coach’s match load (CML) which is 38.5gn of H4350. Then the RL-23 was run followed by N550 and IMR-4166. To wrap things up we came back to the H4350 and did the 39.5gn load then finished out our paper punching with 5 at 39 grains. After that I had 5 rounds left and wanted to drop a shot on the 900 yard target so we went up there and I rang the gong for 5 rounds of 38.5gn. There’s a called flyer (obvious) on 4 of the 6 aiming points. I wasn’t in the most stable position and I knew it.
My velocities are a solid 150fps above what Coach gets from his Enfield rifled barrel of the same length with the same load. Ok, to be completely transparent, it’s not EXACTLY the same load. We do actually seat the bullets about .120 deeper forn my new barrel than Coach’s barrel but I can’t see 150fps difference from that. This is the polygonal rifling in full effect. Less friction because you’re not engraving the bullet, you’re swaging then and then twizzlering them, if only ever so slightly.
So now on to the powder results. H4350 you see the curves change shape as you fill the case up. To my eye it almost looks like someone’s grabbed on to the right side and started pulling the string taut. Group sizes went down as powder charges went up but we’re talking about going from a .75″ group to a .71″ group to a .3″ group. The academic in me is crying out to be let loose with a scale and all of my reloading supplies to do a 1/10th grain at a time experiment. But, that’s expensive and I have other matters to attend to. The experienced rifle shooter in me says, “You do realize that any one of those is sufficient for the 1000yrd stuff you’re doing right?” The competitive rifle shooter in me says, “Take the 39.5 and let’s go home and load ammo before you change your mind again.”
Onward and upward. We still have loads to analyze. Everyone knows that after my experience with it in .243AI and 6.5x55AU that I’m a big fan of Reloader 23. It’s sloooooooow burning and has been returning impressive velocities with reasonable pressures from very heavy for caliber bullets in relatively long bores from very overbore cases… as you would expect it to do if you are at all familiar with Boyle’s Gas Law. We had no idea how much to start with so we did exactly what Coach did with it for my .243AI. We filled the case up to the body:shoulder junction, dumped it out and weighed it and put that much into 5 cases. It came out at 38 grains with no drop tube, just a funnel and a weighing pan.
Reloader 23 showed me with my .243AI that it likes a full case (I’m sensing a trend here with these slow burning magnum powders) and that it’s pretty hard to put enough into a 6mm case based on a .473 case head to blow the damned thing up if you’re seating to SAAMI/CIP lengths. 38 grains produced pretty nice velocity. A testament to the efficiency of the 6XC case setup. Still with 28fps SD’s, 66fps ES and a .68″ group of 5, it would “do” but I’d want to develop it more if I were to use it. We did find that RL-23 is a great option. Somewhere around 40 grains should give high 2900’s at reasonable pressures even when seating bullets deepish.
Pressing on, we have N550. A double base NG/NC powder known for being a little temperature touchy after 90F and for being pretty darned expensive. 36.5 grains of N550 gave us a nice narrow 11.95fps SD’s on ES’s of only 29fps. Still a little tall but velocities were touching 2900 and pressures were VERY low. It also grouped a .2″ group of 5 shots. Oh man am I tempted to increase my powder budget by 25%. We figure we could fill the case on this stuff somewhere around 39 grains at 3,000fps. But, I don’t want to develop a load; much less an expensive one, if one jumps out at me and that H4350 load at 39.5 grains is hard to beat even with stupid tight groups.
Now we cross into “Coach style load” territory. So far we’ve been on the very slow side of the slow side of the rifle powder spectrum. Now we’re going to cross the street where the Beatles fans turn into Stones fans and start dragging their knuckles. Not really. Just making fun of coach. The defining line between a “Me” style and a “Coach” style of handload is I like my powder to burn all the way down the barrel giving consistent pressure all the way without a huge spike of pressure in the case itself. My way is easier on brass but harder on barrel throats because there’s more grit coming out of the case neck this way. Coach likes his pressure to form in the case, for all the combustion events to happen in that space and then to use the built up pressure. He also tends to jam bullets rather than jump them where I jump them at least a little bit normally.
Making a Coach style recipe means you know you’ll see pressure sooner or later in your experimenting. That being the case and the fact that there was no data for IMR-4166 (which is around Varget/IMR-4895 burn speed) we elected to hot-foot bloody educated guess it. I calculated that 37.5 grains was about the most we’d want to try and so we tried that. It came back hot enough to imprint my ejector hole on the brass so that’s at least 1 full grain too much juice. It did however make 3080fps with a 2fps SD and a 6fps ES for 5 rounds. Drop a grain or two and you’re right up around 2950-3000fps. What a smoker though! Too bad the pressures were simply too high.
Below you can see the velocities as they came out of the gun during testing. You can see it took about 5 rounds to season the bore and then it’s pretty much standard load development wavy gravy until you get to 2 very specific sections whose extreme flatness gives away that something very cool happened there and needed to be paid attention to.
So while N550 turned in the best group and ok SD’s, the extremely tight SD’s and the super tight group out of the 39.5gn load of H4350 has won the day. I might mess with bullet jump a little but really, I’m happy. Best not to waste barrel life.
On the topic of barrel life. Common wisdom is somewhere north of 1500 rounds but under 2000 before it’s smoked. Well that’s about a year and a half or 2 worth of life. That’s from a conventional Enfield rifled gun. I run Columbia River Arms polygonally rifled barrels which have been giving me very long barrel life and I used only HBN coated bullets for the last 1000 rounds (it’s at north of 1300 rounds now).
My .243AI still runs like a laser. I only took it off because seating depth was longer than my magazine, but there’s plenty of bullet still in the case yet. I could take it another 500+ rounds if I was willing to single feed. Pushing 115’s at 3200 can’t have been gentle on it and the expectation was that by 1000 rounds it was going to look like 5 miles of rough road down the bore but it’s not. It’s smooth as glass still and makes tiny 1000 yard groups. So if we take this barrel life thing to mean the point at which the boat tail is up inside the neck of a loaded case when seated equals cooked, my .243AI will have gotten something like 2000 rounds before its death. Thanks to some combination of the HBN coating and the polygonal rifling.
Well then, I expect something like 4,000 rounds of life from my 6XC and something like 6,000 rounds from Coach’s since we’re giving his the Modern Sparts Systems Accuracy Oil treatment for its whole life. If I pull 4,000 rounds out of this barrel I’ll be surprised as hell. 3,000 rounds wouldn’t go amiss though and would be well representative of my real expectations.
How will it all turn out? Stay tuned to find out.
Garmin Foretrex 701 With Applied Ballistics
Overall, I’ll give it 5 stars for quality. 3 stars for usability. 1 star for price. That’s a 3 star average but don’t let that conceal the fact that the quality of product, how reliably it does the job it’s to do, is 5 stars and that’s what you’re buying. A perfectly functioning bit of kit. Any negativity from here on out may as well be just the griping of some dude on the internet. Still there are gripes.
All in all I have the same complaint about putting AB in a GPS as I did about putting it in a Kestrel: Ballistics is a complicated business and user interface matters. You can’t shoe horn external ballistics into an otherwise simple gizmo and have a brilliant user interface. Yes, it works perfectly in every technological sense but it’s a pain to actually operate. I also think this gizmo is about the perfect confluence of form with a pairing of two functions as it pertains to long range hunters. You’ve got 1 gun, 1 load, 1 basic environment and 1 mission. You need a GPS and for it to be compact, durable and light. You should have good ballistics data too. So, good job Garmin and A.B. finding a decent pairing for purpose if not for sales volume.
If you’re my parents age you might actually remember when radios weren’t all that common as standard equipment in cars. If the wildly antique set of encyclopedias I grew up with were correct then it was some time around 1955 that they started to become common. So, you pretty suddenly had a car with a radio inside it. That was a pretty big deal at the time. Now cars are arguably more like radios that you drive around and the thing doing the job of the old school radios are much, much more than a simple radio receiver. For those considerably younger than me it might be easier to pick something temporally closer to home like when telephones suddenly lost their buttons and got big color screens, impressive processing capability and GPS. Telephones are now very sophisticated computers with telephones in them.
What that has to do with anything else here is that cars, radios, computers and phones were things that existed already and had served their purposes very well for a very long time before getting all, “You got your peanut butter in my chocolate.” The new capability mixture was not even on the same planet of use cases that the devices themselves were each originally meant to do so it was not a sure thing to change the landscape and become an absolute standard. The mixes were so far outside the old paradigms that it wasn’t known how things would settle out in the end. Things turned out interesting.
Cars weren’t things you’d expect to provide entertainment when they first came out. Cars were things you’d use to take you to entertainment. Similarly, telephones weren’t things you’d use to play video games. They were for making phone calls to your friends to arrange a trip to the arcade to play video games. Both cars and phones were for a very long time common and viable tools of social interaction. Nowadays, they seem like ways to self-separate from everyone else which is entirely the opposite situation. Both car stereos and smart phones were the initiation events of a whole new set of industries that popped up in direct response to the new consumer demands that would come from listening to anything you want to while driving or having a phone conversation and playing Angry Birds at the same time on the same device.
When someone shoe horns some new capability into a previously more single purpose widget one really does have to reserve judgement on the soundness of the decision for a long time. You can’t really tell how people will adjust to this new model. It might just be the next great thing. I mean, cars and radios go together like formerly living animals and gravy. Video games on phones are a double-edged sword if anything but are almost universally popular with consumers. Cars and Phones now enable you to ignore the world around you in general more effectively than before but they also go farther and experience more if you elect to do so.
When I saw the Garmin Foretrex 701 I wondered which side it would end up on and figured it would end up just another gadget with Applied Ballistics shoe-horned in to an otherwise high quality if pedestrian device which is only related to the topic of ballistics at one side. Applied Ballistics on a Kestrel weather meter made a ton of sense on the surface and sold like hot cakes. I don’t know if a GPS will be that natural of a pairing nor do I predict the kind of market penetration that the A/B equipped Kestrels have. We’ll see. I’ve been wrong before.
For the purposes of this article I used the little gizmo myself around town and at a desk and then my coach and I took it to a proper long range precision rifle competition and my coach actually competed using it instead of his usual notebook full of written DOPE. I tested the ballistics and GPS features against other ballistics apps and GPS’s and found everything works 100% as advertised. That is no surprise. Garmin is a recognized world leader in GPS devices. They don’t mess those up a lot. Applied Ballistics is known to deliver accurate ballistics data when used correctly because, like every ballistics app, it uses known mathematical models which very accurately reflect reality. Those mathematical models have known levels of precision and those levels are very high. That’s why we use them. So, there’s really little room for either the GPS or ballistics calculation feature to fail to work as intended. What it all comes down to then is not the steak but the sizzle.
Form is very much a personal preference sort of thing and while the Garmin Foretrex 701 is in fact quite nifty, I have some distinct complaints and some compliments. I’ll itemize the good, the bad and the ugly bits but they break down to the following areas: Manual, Display, User Interface, Flexibility, Comfort, Speed, Includes, Ruggedness.
Manual: The manual comes with a font size suitable only to teenagers and those few people that have microscopes on their desk. Maybe I’m just old. They could have nearly doubled the size of the manual and the font and still fit it in the box and old eyes like mine wouldn’t gripe (that assumes that your Y chromosome allows the reading of manuals). The manual’s size is a minor gripe.
The content of the manual is not a minor gripe. It is very frequently unhelpful while you try to figure it out because little though important details are left out and pictograms are seemingly avoided where they’d be especially helpful. They’re left out all over the place. Basically, the manual seems to assume a ton of familiarity with the device rather than being an instruction set breaking down exactly how all the little features work. Honestly, if you’ve not been trained how to use it by someone/something else, I think you’ll end up calling tech support at some point. If you’re any part a luddite, get ready for a steep learning curve.
Display: The monochrome LCD displays are not high resolution. In fact, they have a dot pitch which is pretty coarse and the display is pretty small at about 2.5x the size of a postage stamp. This makes it so that old guys like me have to hold it at arm’s length to see some bits and right close to see other bits. What we see on the display isn’t visually appealing or always easy to digest either. I suspect it looked better on the story board. It just doesn’t read quickly in most views. The backlight really helped with up-taking the data for me. Somehow it was vastly easier to sort through and digest the info with the backlight running in the broad daylight for both me and my coach. Your mileage there may vary.
User Interface (UI): First off, the UI for all AB integrated products I’ve ever held has been simply horrid. That’s a personal opinion and should be salted by the fact that I’m a geek in my day job and have to deal with UI’s of varying usability all the time so I’m kind of hard on them. The LCD UI is simply about the least intuitive and most tedious I’ve encountered in any device since that all-in-one copy machine was put into my office that nobody has so far figured out how to use. The user interface is as un-intuitive as all get out. It took me nearly an hour to get all of my inputs in and there are several annoying little idiosyncrasies about how the UI works that drove me up the wall. One big annoyance: If you hold down on an arrow button adjusting a value it’ll start slow, then picks up a little then after a seemingly very long time it suddenly goes to warp speed. There’s no reason to have to hold down the button for so long for fast scroll to start working or for it to be quite that fast. 2-3 seconds is plenty. Warp speed is so fast that adjustment overruns were constant. What it amounted to in the end was a lot of time wasted adjusting up after adjusting down went too far too fast. Thankfully once set, it’s set and you won’t mess with it again.
Flexibility: Not bad really if you constrain that assessment to flexibility for very small changes. The tedious first-time setup still takes entirely too long, though slightly modifying a couple inputs isn’t too bad. I originally set it up for my PRS match load to verify that it would give exactly the same data as the calculators that I publish (BallisticXLR/BallisticPRS/BallisticDLR). That initial setup took entirely too long but altering the 2 inputs that changed for my coach’s gun/load combo though was reasonably fast and easy taking about one minute. If the differences in the loads had been more substantial (the loads are 200fps different and he uses MOA while I use MIL) this assessment would change because the UI is so slow to use for large change sets or large changes in a single variable.
Comfort: The non-elastic wrist strap that it comes with was apparently sized in Lilliput. I have small wrists, like really small, and the velcro strap was less than an inch from being insufficiently long to work on me. My coach has hefty wrists for a sub-6-footer and was barely able to get it on his wrist. It had to be pretty tight; tighter than one would wear a watch. Thankfully there’s an extension with elastic stretch to it in the box.
There is also simply no way that you can put this gizmo on your non-firing wrist and use it from a properly set up supported prone position. Once you reach for the toe support bag the Garmin is out of view. Putting it above your bicep is an option but not a great one as the viewing angle is then hard to read. You can’t set it so it sits on the side of the wrist stably either. The normal wrist card location simply doesn’t work well because the thing has a flat bottom. On the upside, the strap didn’t make wrists excessively sweaty or itchy which was appreciated. All in all, it’s actually quite comfortable to wear which I think back country hunters will appreciate. It’s just not easy to use while in a firing position.
Speed: Speed of use is not really there. It has a range card which requires you to scroll to get more than a handful of data rows. The scroll function isn’t super slick visually either. Using the GPS features on that screen was to me, infuriating. I think I do better with a large field of view, detailed views, terrain data and such that come with a much more advanced screen or a plain old paper map. If you were to want to use the ballistics functionality to calculate for a specific long range shot then I hope your target is dead already. If not, your target is going to get bored and wander away. Yes, the data presented will be accurate but it takes entirely too long to get there for really long shooting, especially if you’re wanting to adjust for non-standard conditions.
Includes: This one irked me. For a $600 gizmo, it doesn’t come with batteries. It only takes AAA’s so it’s not like they’re a big investment. Garmin could easily drop in a couple lithium ion AAA’s in the box and still make margin. Or if they’re feeling cheap, just a couple knock-off brand alkaline AAA’s. But none at all? Who thought that was a good idea. My wireless mouse came with batteries. The mini-flashlight you buy from the impulse purchase bucket at a gas station comes with batteries. My wireless security camera came with CR123 batteries. A $600 Garmin GPS with Applied Ballistics doesn’t? Ok, moving on… It is reportedly compatible with night vision goggles though which is pretty slick and suggests military use is already happening. Speaking of which:
Ruggedness: As I gather, it’s got a MIL-Spec rating for thermal, water & shock resistance so I think we can just stipulate to the ruggedness. Coach and I had that thing out in the sun all day bashing it against barricades and burying it in the finest of powder fine dirt and grit. It was subjected to recoil and a not gentle ride to the range in my gear box. I don’t know about the little twist lock for the battery compartment. I don’t know how that’s going to hold up long term but it very reliably keeps that battery door closed right now. The buttons appear to be meant to be water resistant however in the interests of not destroying something I was loaned to review, I didn’t dunk it in water to find out. I will bet a crispy dollar bill that’ll work in any machine that it’ll survive a long dunk and should have exactly zero problem with torrential levels of rain.
All in all, the thing is ferociously expensive and it works perfectly. That said, I’ve not hunted in a long time and even then, it was mostly under at rock throwing distance and almost all under 100yrds. For almost everyone else into long range hunting/shooting, this is probably a better idea than the Kestrel with Applied Ballistics by a long way. The average hunter isn’t going to change elevations on the order of several thousand feet but they will change position and distance from target. As much as this doesn’t get my juices going or excite me it does seem to make a ton of sense for hunters who even MIGHT take a long range shot on game. I think I would be superficially pretty excited if a model with a UI that was enormously better was available but the costs to that in reality in terms of battery life, durability and reliability would make me probably hate owing it. Rock, meet hard place.