Thursday, May 31, 2018

Day at the Range

I've been off all week and despite the crappy weather forecasts, made it to the range yesterday and today. This post has pics from today.

Today I shot my Cimarron Firearms 1873 Sporting Rifle in .44-40 WCF with two types of handloads. The first target was shot with loads containing a 200 grain soft cast bullet from Desperado Cowboy Bullets on top of 8.5 grains of Alliant Unique powder, sparked by a Federal large pistol primer, in Starline brass.

The second group was loaded with home cast 219 grain bullets from an Accurate Molds 43-215C mold. I used a 1:20 tin:lead alloy, so they are pretty soft. Powder charge was 35 grains of Swiss 3Fg black powder, with the same brass and primers.

I managed to capture the smoke cloud from one of the black powder rounds. It was hot, humid, and with little to no wind, so the smoke just hung around.

After cleaning the 1873, I also spent some time banging the 25 yard plate rack with my CZ P09 Duty and my 9mm reloads (mixed brass, 115 grain Berry's plated bullets, 4.5 grains of Hodgdon Universal Clays powder, and CCI small pistol primers). No pics of that, however.

It sure beats working.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Turning Components Into Ammo

Over the past few weekends I have been busy turning components into ammunition. I dipped into my stash of empty .38 Special brass and loaded up several different varieties:

  • 50 rounds of 178 Keith semiwadcutters (SWC) on top of 3.8 grains of Unique.
  • 50 rounds of 178 Keith SWCs on top of 5.0 of Unique.
  • 100 rounds of 195 grain lead round nose bullets (LRNs) on top of a 5.0 grains of Unique.
  • 100 rounds of 148 grain Lee tumble lube wadcutters on top of a 2.7 grains of Bullseye.
  • 100 rounds of 148 grain Hornady hollow base wadcutters (HBWC) on top of 2.7 grains of Bullseye.
  • 100 rounds of Speer 158 grain lead SWC hollow points on top of a 4.5 grains of Universal Clays.


The Keith SWCs, 195 grain LRNs, and Lee TL WCs came from Matt's Bullets. I ordered 100 count sample packs of each and was impressed with the projectiles. They are sized to .359 and loaded with Carnauba Red lube, except for the 148 TL WCs, which appear to be lubed with Lee Liquid Alox.

I was quite pleased with the service from Matt's Bullets, BTW. My order shipped in about a day and a half and was sent in a USPS flat-rate box. I received 2 days after I got the shipping notice. The bullets all looked good.

The Hornady 148 grain HBWCs have been laying around since I bought 1250 of them at the end of 2016. I've had the 500 count box of the Speer LSWCHPs for years.

So what prompted this binge reloading? First, the weather has been nice and it has been neither too hot nor too cold to work out in my backyard shop. Second, my gun interests go in phases and  something rekindled my interest in revolvers. It's been too long since I shot one of my K-Frames, S&W Model 28, or 50th Anniversary Ruger Blackhawk.

And frankly, the state of the political left in this country is really starting to worry me. As far as I'm concerned, they've been acting completely batshit crazy since Trump's election. I want to get in some more practice in case the left decides to take their attempt at a soft coup hot.

I was pleasantly surprised that the .38s loaded with the Keith SWCs feed well in my Rossi 92 .357 carbine. I'd figured the SWCs might hang up during feeding, but they seem to be held at just the right angle to slip right into the chamber. (Testing was done with 3 dummy rounds, not live ammo.)

I got the 195 grain bullets because I thought it would be neat to try and duplicate the old .38 Special Super Police load, which had a 200 grain LRN at mild velocity. I wound up loading them over enough Unique, though, that they will only be shot in my .357s. If nothing else, they should make steel plates jump around nicely.

The Speer 158 LSWCHP loads should run about 850 FPS from a 4" barrel, very similar to the old FBI load. I can bump the powder charge up a little to get over 900 FPS but at +P pressures. These would be good for defense from any of my K-Frames, and should also work well in my J-Frame S&W Model 640.

To measure the powder charges I used both my Redding Model 3 measure and my RCBS Little Dandy. I don't like how Unique meters in the Redding, although it seems to meter a little more smoothly in the Little Dandy. In contrast, Universal Clays seems to meter very nicely in the Little Dandy -- smooth and extremely consistent. I haven't tried it yet in the Redding but I expect it to behave similarly.

Of course, the proof will be in the shooting of this ammo. I'm hoping to get to the range in the next week or two to dirty up some wheelguns.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

New Personal MacBook Pro

Last weekend I broke down and finally did my income taxes. I used Turbo Tax on my old mid-2009 MacBook Pro. When I installed the software, it warned that unless I upgrade to macOS High Sierra, I won't be able to use it again next year. That Mac is too old to be upgraded beyond Sierra. I've been thinking of getting a new personal laptop and this pushed me to finally do so.

Therefore, on the way home from work last night I stopped in the Apple Store in King of Prussia and bought a 2017-model 15" MBP (MacBookPro14,3). The specs are impressive:

  • CPU: 2.9 GHz Intel Core i7 with 4 cores
  • RAM: 16 GB
  • SSD: 512 GB (I was running low on space on the old machine's 256 GB SSD.)
  • Graphics: Onboard Intel HD Graphics 630 1536 MB AND a 4G AMD Radeon Pro 560 GPU.

It has the Touch Bar (yawn) and 4 Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C 3.1 ports and a headphone jack.

I got it in silver to clearly differentiate it from the work-provided Space Grey 15" MBP.

Since I use Google Drive and Dropbox for documents, migrating them over was as simple as installing the clients and letting them sync. To move over my videos, pictures, and music, I went old school and sneaker-netted them using a 64 GB SanDisk USB stick with both USB-A and USB-C connectors.

This machine is very similar to my company-provided work laptop so I knew what I was getting. To partially reiterate from my post last Spring after I got that one:

  • Replacing the MagSafe 2 power connector with USB-C sucks.
  • On the other hand, with the right cable I should be able to charge the battery from something like a cell phone power bank or my Harbor Freight jump pack/12V power source.
  • I am underwhelmed with the Touch Bar. At work I rarely use it because 90% of the time the lid is closed while the machine is connected to an external keyboard, mouse, and dual displays. Since I use the machine at home as a laptop, I expect the Touch Bar will see more use.
  • It's fast as hell.
  • The screen is great.
  • Battery life is good.
  • The keyboard is OK.
  • For me, macOS 10.13 High Sierra has been very stable. I expect the new machine to be even more so, because it won't have corporate IT management crap like the Eracent agent installed.

Since last night I've installed the following software:

  • MS Office 2016.
  • TextWrangler (in which I'm writing this.)
  • Truecrypt 7.1a, which requires some tweaking to install.
  • ZOC 7 for telnet and SSH. I don't use it much at home but at work for managing Linux servers or network devices, it's awesome.
  • LibreOffice for some old OpenOffice files I have. Even on this machine, LibreOffice is a bloated, slow POS. Amazing.
  • 1Password.
  • Mozilla Thunderbird.
  • Google Chrome.

I still need to install a few ham radio apps, including Fldigi, CHIRP, and WSJT. Using them with my radios will require a Thunderbolt 3 to USB-A adapter, and maybe an external sound card.

One thing I need to pick up is a 1 TB Thunderbolt 3-compatible hard disk, to use for Time Machine backups. MicroCenter appears to have several suitable models in stock.

My employer has a purchase plan negotiated with Apple which saved me a couple hundred bucks on the laptop and AppleCare. It still came out to about $3,100 after tax. That's a ton of money but it's worth it to me to have a top-quality machine that I fully expect to be able to use for nearly a decade.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Levergun Weekend

Saturday afternoon I loaded up 150 rounds of .38-40 with a 180 bullet on top of about 8.5 grains of Unique. After dinner, I loaded 100 rounds of .44-40 with a 200 grain bullet on top of the same powder charge. Bullets for both calibers were soft cast from Desperado Cowboy bullets. I mostly shoot black powder in .44-40 but still had a bunch of the DCB 200 grainers, which don't carry enough lube for BP in a rifle, so smokeless it was.

Sunday morning was my club's lever action rifle match. Even though it was Easter Sunday, we had 9 shooters. We had a couple Rossi 92s, a Cimarron 1873, a Henry Big Boy, a Marlin 1894 CB, and even a Winchester 1894 in .44 Magnum loaded with .44 Specials. I shot my Cimarron 1860 Henry with .44 Henry-equivalent black powder loads, and got some ribbing from the other guys about second hand smoke.

We started out at 10 - 12 yards, then moved back to 50. The targets were ~8" square steel plates.

I shot well, coming in 4th. I missed only one target but of course I was slower than the guys shooting mouse-fart level .38s. Also, the Henry has more drop in the stock than my 1873, which slowed me down compared to last month.

I put 55 rounds through the 1860 Henry. The .44 rimfire-level loads foul noticeably less than full-power .44 WCFs. It took only about a half dozen patches wet with moose milk to clean the bore.

The rifle's developing a nice patina on the brass receiver now.

We were done pretty early so in the afternoon I decided to replenish my supply of bullets suitable for shooting on top of black powder. So, I topped off my Lyman lead pot with some 1:20 alloy that I got from Roto Metals, and ran off a few hundred bullets in my Accurate Molds 43-215C. Hopefully, I'll be able to lube and size them this week after work.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Shooting the 1860 Henry Rifle

Yesterday I went out to a friend's place and we put 100 rounds through the Cimarron Firearms 1860 Henry. The ammunition was 50 rounds each of two different loads:

First, .44 Henry Flat rimfire-equivalent loads:

  • Starline brass
  • CCI large pistol primers
  • 28 grains Goex 3Fg black powder
  • 0.5cc of cornmeal, to take up airspace
  • 219 grain bullet cast from an Accurate Molds 43-215C mold

The second 50 rounds were as above, but with a full charge of 35 grains of 3Fg Goex and no cornmeal filler.

My first ten shots, fired offhand from about 40 - 45 yards:

My point of aim was at 6:00 on the bullseye. Can't complain about that.

We spent most of my rounds shooting at an 8-inch steel gong from the same distance. A short video:

In the video I was shooting the full-power .44 WCF loads with 35 grains of powder.

The rifle hangs really nicely for offhand shooting although at about 9 lbs. it's heavy. Recoil is very mild. Functioning was excellent and the action is slicking up, being noticeably smoother now than when it was fresh out of the box.

After shooting, we dropped the spent cases into a jar of soapy water to clean off most of the black powder fouling.

This took care of most of the fouling but I'm going to run them through my case tumbler for about 30 - 60 minutes.

This was the most black powder loads I've put through a rifle in one outing. The action got no fouling in it. The bore took only about 10 - 12 patches wet with moose milk (Ballistol/water mix) to get clean. 

I'm going to load up some more of the .44 Henry-equivalent loads and use them at my club's next lever action shoot. I'll also run some mild smokeless loads with Unique through it, and I've recently read some pieces that indicate Herco is a good smokeless powder for use in .44 WCF, so if I see any at the next gun show I'll pick up a pound. It's a little slower and I think bulkier than Unique, and may meter better, which would be a plus. 

Incidentally, we also shot my circa-1895 Winchester 1892 .38 WCF at the gong, with smokeless loads of a 180 grain cast bullet on top of 9.0 grains of Unique. These were noticeably more powerful than the Ultramax .38-40 cowboy ammo I'd shot in the rifle previously. However, even the .44 Henry-equivalent loads in the 1860 smacked the gong around a lot more.

Cimarron Firearms 1860 Henry Civil War Model

A couple of weeks ago I ordered a Cimarron Firearms 1860 Henry Civil War model rifle from Buffalo Arms, the same place I got my Cimarron 1873 Sporting Rifle from two years ago. The Henry arrived at my FFL last week and I did the transfer on Thursday. Like the 1873, the Henry is chambered for .44-40 / .44 WCF. I shot it for the first time yesterday.

As shown in the above picture, a sling swivel is mounted on the stock. I got a sling from Dell's Leather Works, which came from NY to PA in about 3 days.

This shows the German silver front sight blade and the sling attachment loop on the barrel.

The rear sight is a folding ladder. When folded, it's set for 100 yards. It's then graduated out to a very optimistic 800 yards. It also has a notch on the very top which may be for 900 yards.

Most Henry replicas come with a trapdoor in the buttplate which covers a cavity in the stock that accepts a four piece cleaning rod. My rifle doesn't have that, however. I plan to pull the buttplate off and see if the stock is drilled for a cleaning rod. If so, I may swap out the buttplate.

Overall, the rifle is extremely well finished. Wood-to-metal fit is excellent and the action works smoothly (and it's getting smoother as it gets worked).

Aside from the high quality, the other initial impression is that the rifle is heavy. It weighs in around 9 pounds, partially due to the weight of the brass receiver and partially due to how the magazine tube is machine from the same piece of steel as the barrel.

In my next post I'll talk about shooting it, but I wanted to leave off with this, a facsimile of an 1860s Henry Rifle advertisement.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Lever Action Rifle Shoot

Yesterday I attended for the first time one of my gun club's lever action rifle matches. I shot my Cimarron 1873 Sporting Rifle with my .44-40 handloads of bullets cast in the Accurate 43-215C mold on top of 35 grains of Goex 3Fg black powder in Starline brass.

Normally, the lever action matches involve shooting steel plates at 25 yards and 50 yards, but due to recent weather the range was a bit swampy. So, we shot at 25 yards only. Each of the first 9 relays was 5 shots on ~8" steel plates, against the clock. The final relay was 5 shots on one plate, against the clock, and if you didn't miss any, 5 seconds would be deducted from your total time.

Cimarron 1873s were the most common rifle choice, but mine was the only one with a 24" barrel. The rest were 20" short rifles in either .45 Colt or .357.

One guy was shooting an Uberti 1866 Carbine in .44-40. He and I were the only guys shooting .44 WCF.

We had a couple rifles from Henry and one Marlin 1894 Cowboy with 24" barrel. Finally, we had one guy shooting a Rossi 92 in .454 Casull but loaded with .45 Colts.

I was the only one shooting cartridges loaded with black powder. Everyone else used smokeless and mostly were light cowboy action shooting loads.

I saw a few feeding issues at least one of which was due to short-stroking, and the 1866 went down at one point due to a squib load. I am pleased to say that my rifle ran flawlessly.

Cleanup of my rifle afterwards was a snap. The thin .44-40 brass really seals the rifle's chamber so no fouling got back into the action. The bore needed about a dozen patches wet with moose milk (Ballistol/water mix) to get clean. Then, a couple dry patches and then two more with straight Ballistol.

The match was an absolute blast. Today I got an email with the scores and was happy to see that I came in third. Considering that the two guys who placed ahead of me were shooting mouse fart-level smokeless powder loads, I have absolutely no complaints.

I think I'll being doing it again.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Self Sufficiency, Part Two

It was unusually warm today for February, so I took advantage of that after getting home from work, and pan lubed and sized between 150 and 200 of the bullets I cast last weekend. These were cast from my Accurate 43-15C mold and will be shot in my Cimarron 1873 Sporting Rifle over black powder.

I use a hot plate that I got from Amazon for $14.95 or so to melt my roughly 50/50 mix of beeswax and mutton tallow. I recently picked up a .44 caliber Lee lube cutter off eBay, which made separating the bullets from the lube simpler than my previous solution. That was a .44-40 case with the mouth expanded a bit larger than normal and the flash hole drilled out so I can still a pin punch through it to poke out the bullets.

After separating them from the lube, I ran them through my Lee .429 sizer.

I still have about another 100 bullets to lube and size, which I'll try to get to tomorrow night.

The weather is supposed to be crappy this weekend, so I'm going to try to get some reloading in. I want to load at least one 50 round box of .44-40s using 2.2cc of Goex, to see how well this bullet works with it. I know it works well with Swiss black powder but I have a good supply of Goex on hand. The bullet was designed to carry enough lube to use with Goex in 24" barrels.