Saturday, March 22, 2014

The .30-06 Project....Eating Ballistic Celery, Pt. 3

The Heavyweight...180 grains.
In the early part of the 20th Century, when the '06 was first getting it's legs under it, bullets looked much the same as they do today on the exterior- except they were far different internally. The jackets tended towards thin and the bonding process common today in which the bullet jacket and core are molecularly bonded together was still several decades off. Those early bullets when pushed to previously unheard of velocities by smokeless powder quite frequently just came apart on impact. Ballistic engineers back then handled that in a couple of ways. The first was to simply make the bullet "full patch" or as we know it- "full metal jacket" in which the bullet is designed for zero expansion by virtue of a continuous gilding metal jacket. Such ammunition was frequently used in sporting applications back then but serious wounding and slow, sloppy kills were the result. In modern times this type of ammunition is frequently prohibited by law for hunting and common decency prevents us from using it in the few places where it is legal outside of very special applications in which it is appropriate.

The other way they helped that bullet survive the impact velocity is of more interest to us. They simply made it heavier. Where the 150gr could hit 2950 fps and often ruptured on close shots, engineers made the bullet 180grs which slowed it down to 2650 or 2700 fps or so. The result is one of the most splendidly boring ballistic combinations ever devised by man. The bullet would survive an almost point blank hit and if it did rupture the fragments were large enough to be effective on their own. Penetration was greatly increased and hunters soon learned that two holes are better than one when it comes to letting hot blood out and cold air in. In fact, for a guy switching over from the .30WCF or even one of the big black powder rounds the amount of penetration was staggering from the these heavy for caliber bullets at moderate speeds. This result was not only great on big bodied deer but on elk, moose, name it. The 180gr@2700fps was THE cartridge that made the '06's reputation as a game cartridge. When combined with a rifle scope the American hunter was deadly to previously unheard of distances on larger game than ever before and the cartridge became a worldwide success and today counts for an enormous number of game animals.

In my own experience I've used it and it works. In my test rifle the 180gr. Corelokt produced groups of 2" with regularity- good, but not stellar, although one would have to come up with a pretty bizarre scenario where that wouldn't suffice as a hunting rifle to typical ranges. Performance on game was perfected decades ago and most .30 caliber 180gr projectiles are made to function at '06 speeds to perfection and most deliver the goods. As far as gun writing goes this whole bit makes me want to yawn in the worst way. Effective, cheap and plentiful is how I'd describe the 180gr '06 cartridge.

I do find it interesting that people insist on using the newer, tougher projectiles in the 180gr '06. Really tough bullets like the TSX, Bear Claw and Etip- those bullets are made for magnum speeds not the plodding velocity the '06 generates. Plain Jane cup and core bullets for the '06 have been around for a century and were perfected a generation or two ago. There is simply no replacing the sheer amount of R&D and real world experience that has went into .30-06 ammo...regardless of what the marketing message might tell you.

And speaking of marketing...

The Middleweight ...165 grains.
A fairly new product, the .30-06 (and .308) 165 gr bullet was touted as being the ultimate compromise in velocity and bullet weight. Let's be honest here- there isn't enough trajectory and velocity difference to make any of these more appealing than the other. The difference between the 150, 160, and 180gr over 300 yards isn't more than a couple of inches and no one can typically hold that in the field anyway. Bullet performance is likewise uniform since we figured out how to taper and bond bullet jackets long before the 165gr load saw the light of day. It is there though and has gained acceptance in the marketplace although I think the 165gr weight is best served in the .308 Winchester since it's short on case capacity to shoot the 180gr to really useful velocities. There is no reason to overlook it in the '06 if you have a rifle that likes it though, but it really doesn't serve much of a technical purpose. It shoots almost as fast as the 150, it kicks a little less than the 180... but the only real difference is on the ballistic table and you can't kill anything with one of those.

My rifle shot it pretty much the same as the 150 and 180gr. and while there is nothing really wrong with it; you sure don't gain much range over a 180 and you sure don't get much more bullet than the 150gr. It may be my old age showing, but I just can't think of a real advantage for it. It is, for all practical purposes, the answer to a question no one asked.

In reality, outside of my traditionalistic prejudices, the '06 shooter will be well served shooting either 150, 165 or 180 grain bullets of good quality for almost anything that walks in N.America and most other places. If I had moose or elk on the menu (or hunted in serious bear country) I'd lean toward the 180 and if I primarily hunted eastern White-tailed deer or antelope I'd lean to the 150 but there really are no wrong answers if the hunter is a good shot and gets to practical range. Shot placement and bullet construction trumps everything else and the '06 has a lot of offer there.

Monday, March 10, 2014

26 Nosler, Something New…or Not So Much

As many of you are aware, a new cartridge was introduced by the Nosler company this year- the 26 Nosler and the first cartridge to bear the company name on a headstamp. And while I don't have one (and am unlikely to acquire one) a couple of readers asked my thoughts since I'm an unapologetic fan of Nosler bullets and rifles.

What it is-
A very large cased 6.5mm cartridge intended for open country shooting. It's 129 Long Range Accubond bullet is rated at 3400 fps at the muzzle and the company claims it shoots flat to 415 yards.

What it isn't-
Magic or, particularly, new.

While few cartridges shoot as flat as this- there are many when zeroed at 300 yards will shoot within a few inches of what this one does and a couple even shoot flatter. I'm not against a company throwing a better mousetrap out there and I do think this would make an excellent sheep, deer and antelope cartridge when paired up with an accurate rifle of moderate weight. Nosler's M48 fits the bill on that one. But it's not that much different from a lot of existing cartridges in it's class. Immediately the .264 Winchester Magnum and the 7mm Remington Magnum come to mind and well as some of the excellent Lazzeroni and Weatherby magnums. When one crosses the pond the 6.5 has some great numbers like the 6.5x68.

I've got a couple of concerns just reading the press release:
1. Barrel life- it's gotta be short. That much overbore is going to be darn hard on barrels and while I'm a hunter first and 700-800 rounds might present a lifetime of hunting… there is no denying that a lot of rounds downrange will take it's toll. That's something of a trifling detail since barrels are better than ever but the next point is more concerning to me.

2. Bullet performance- the LR Accubond is somewhat softer than the company's excellent Accubond that I've used to great effect the last several years. It has to be to expand reliably at long range (it's raison d'ĂȘtre). at the muzzle though I'm very concerned that soft bullet when coupled with high speed impact will result in bullet fragmentation. I'm also concerned that up close the meat damage will be fearsome much like my partners 300 RUM shooting the 150gr Scirocco.

3. That 6.5 bore- there is no denying that in the US the 6.5 (.264) bore is about as popular as the clap. The wonderful 6.5 Swede has next to no following here. The .264 Win Mag is for all intents and purposes deader than fried chicken expect for it's cult following and the equally good .260 Remington is in much the same boat. The 6.5 Remington Magnum is part of cartridge history. The 6.5 Creedmore and the 6.5x284 have some following among the F Class crowd but outside of the enthusiast's circle they have little following. While the 26 Nosler is likely a technically fine cartridge, Americans have shown little interest in the bore size going back a century.

I'll admit I do have something of an interest in the cartridge as a specialist's weapon for mountain hunting but I'm also more pragmatic and have little interest in owning a bunch of specialized weapons for different hunting scenarios and absolutely no interest in long range shooting at all. In fact, one can browse what I've written and see my interest largely lies in more general purpose pieces and a decided hatred of long range shooting.

While the gun press has broke blood vessels yelling the new cartridge's praise…the word on many of the shooting and hunting forums and among the gun buying public is greeting this offering with either a decided yawn or outright derision. It will be interesting to see what becomes of this one in the next few years.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Getting Old…or Confronting Your Prejudices.

Getting old is hard. Among all the physical things that happen like the aches and pains that accompany parts of your anatomy that your twenty year old self never knew you had- there is the tendency among those who live long enough and still pay attention that you will eventually have to confront your own prejudices.

As a guy whose been a lifelong rifle nut, I've had a long standing hatred for "budget" rifles. Back in the day even good grade rifles were plagued with problems and even custom jobs were a dicey proposition when it came to accuracy. I heard all the claims back then and got burned pretty hard a couple of times on rifles that were supposed to be inexpensive performers that turned out to be anything but. I've been burned on good grade stuff that was dropped at the gunsmith shortly after picking it up from the dealer.

The record on scopes back then was as equally dismal- good grade glass from a name brand maker cost a lot of money and everything else basically sucked for half the price. Fogging, imprecise adjustments, crosshairs that disintegrated before your eyes and more commonly- just dim, crappy images were the norm. I knew more than one hunter who basically just shot a aperture sight- at least as good as the middle of the road scope back then and far more reliable.

So friends, it's no wonder that my prejudices pushed me toward the front of the catalog- where all the good stuff was. It cost more, it generally performed better, as was usually more reliable (or last if it wasn't, it had a warranty). I left the low grade stuff for the neophyte, the casual duffer who wanted something to hunt with from time to time but really wasn't an enthusiast to be taken seriously.

And there I stayed.

I've sneered at most of the economy stuff and if I was being polite I'd just ignore it. But something I didn't expect happened. While I was spending hard earned dollars on top shelf equipment and having a thoroughly good time hunting and shooting with it- the low end stuff got better.

A lot better.

As CNC machining and manufacturing spread and became the new norm for industry- all those cheap, crappy guns and cheap crappy scopes suddenly got something of an upgrade. With CNC, it's no harder to get .001" than .005" tolerances since it's all basically done in the workstation- the day of the master craftsmen watching the dial extra close for some extra pay is long over- with the tolerances sorted out digitally the materials themselves got the upgrade. In the competitive industries (especially optics) each manufacturer spends a certain amount of money researching and developing new materials and processes to give themselves an edge over the competition and those technologies have a tendency to migrate down the line as the years roll by…after all - they spent the money to develop it, why not leverage it in the lower end line when something else has come along to be  the "New Thing"?

Even those manufacturers who aren't at the leading edge of industry do a little "R&D" of their own- "replicate and duplicate"- by taking last year's "Big New Thing" from a competitor, copying it,  and making it their "New Big (Cheaper than Theirs) Thing". And such is the pace of industry. Who can win when they do this?

You do.

I've had the extreme pleasure of helping several people over the last year assemble "budget" rifles and then helping them learn to shoot and as a result I've gotten to spend some time at the range with guns I'd have simply overlooked a few years ago as "low grade" and never given them a second thought. In the process I've eaten some crow and plenty of humble pie. Some rifles from Tikka, Savage, Ruger and Thompson. Rifles that all cost 1/4 to 1/3 what a new Winchester or Kimber will set you back and without exception each of those guns was equipped with a "low end" scope from Nikon, Burris, or Leupold.  Not anything from those makers' premium lines- but the $150-200 line- common stuff like a VX-1, Fullfield II, or Prostaff.

And the results were far from merely acceptable. Most were spectacular when you consider the meager cash outlay.

The Tikka/Leupold was likely the most expensive combo of the bunch ($800) and would shoot right with my much loved Nosler/Zeiss….for 1/4 the price. A genuine 3/4 MOA rifle with 3 factory loads of hunting bullet. I'd have thought it a fluke, but another friend bought one like it and it shoots as good as the first. Perhaps the worst of the gang was a Thompson Center with a "mediocre" performance of 1.25 MOA and it still outshoots my Kimber on most days.

So while my advice for many years was "Buy the best you can manage", it's no longer appropriate as the gulf between "entry level" and "best" is nowhere near the chasm it formally was. These days the extra cost commanded by the top shelf makers for their premium line is mostly for baubles and bits- gadgets and features on rifles that most hunters neither need nor want or optical glass so good the difference is imperceptible to the human eye. For the hunter and shooter- we are truly living in the salad days.

These days my advice is- "Buy as good as you need and that'll be less than you think."

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Hodgeman now posting content on Facebook.

As promised… I'm now posting some content on Facebook.

I'll continue to post long form content here but I've taken on a project with the incomparable Mrs. Hodgeman where we discuss our DIY Paleo lifestyle… plenty of hunting and fishing content as well as  more recipes, more Paleo diet information as well as Mrs. Hodgeman's excellent photography. Most of the gun crank stuff will stay here.

At any rate- for those of you who use Facebook you can find us at:
Primal Ramblings