Saturday, March 26, 2016

Shooting the Uberti 1873 With Black Powder Loads

Today I put 60 rounds of black powder .44-40s through my Uberti 1873 Sporting Rifle.

Fifty were loaded with Swiss 3Fg while the remaining 10 were loaded with Goex 3Fg. Either the bullets I used do not carry enough lube for a 24" barrel, or's lube isn't good enough for BP. (It's advertised as being suitable for BP or smokeless.) I got a bad ring of crud for a few inches back from the muzzle. Accuracy went to hell after about 15 rounds. For the first 15 rounds I could easily hold the black of an SR-1 target offhand at about 25 to 40 yards. After 15 rounds the bullets impacted all over the paper.

Shooting the rounds with Swiss powder and Goex side by side reinforced how much better the Swiss is. It fouled noticeably less, and judging by the recoil and boom, was a more powerful load. Frankly, Goex is crap in comparison with Swiss powder. Goex Olde Eynsford is supposed to be comparable with Swiss but at a lower price. The next time I'm up at Dixon's I'll pick up a pound to try out.

I have an antique Winchester mold and tong-type loading tool on the way, that I bought on eBay. They were made in the late 19th/early 20th Century. We'll see how bullets cast in that mold do using my homebrew lube based on the Gatofeo Number 1 lube.

(Picture from the eBay auction. I'm hoping to get them in hand on Monday.)

If the bullets from the Winchester mold don't shoot well, I'm going to get a more modern design that holds more lubricant.

Either way, it's fun experimenting.

Edit: I forgot to mention that I removed the rifle's sideplate and found very little fouling inside in the action. The little that was there was on the bolt, and no doubt to my cleaning the rifle in the field, and running down. The thin .44-40 brass sealed the chamber very well.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

First Batch of Black Powder .44-40 WCF Handloads

Tonight I loaded up my first batch (hopefully of many) of black powder .44-40 handloads for my Cimarron Uberti 1873 Sporting Rifle.

Here are a bunch of charged cases in the loading block:

Black powder is usually measured by volume, and that's what I did. I used the same volumetric measure I use for my muzzleloaders, set to 35 grains.

A lot of guys who load black powder cartridges use a drop tube to allow the powder to fill the case slowly and take up less room. I don't have a drop tube, but if you look in the picture above, you can see that the funnel I'm using is a couple inches long. It's actually a powder flask filling funnel from Ted Cash. I can pour the powder from my measure from a few inches above the funnel and have it all go down into the case, so it's almost as if I have a short drop tube.

This resulted in a slightly compressed charge, which is what you want with black powder.

And here's 50 loaded rounds, with an unloaded bullet:

My recipe consists of:
  • Virgin Starline brass
  • Federal Number 150 large pistol primer
  • 200 grain .428" RNFP soft cast bullet from Desperado Cowboy Bullets
  • 35 grains by volume of Swiss 3Fg black powder

I got a sample pack of 100 of the bullets to try out. Most commercially cast bullets are hard, with a BHN in the high teens to 20 or more. However, these are around 8 to 9 BHN. At .428" they may be a little undersized for the Uberti's barrel but I'm hoping they'll bump up due to being soft and using black powder. One thing I'm concerned about is if they'll carry enough lube for my rifle's 24.25" barrel. If not, I'll see a fouling buildup towards the muzzle. I have another 50 of these bullets. If it turns out they don't carry enough lube I'll load the remainders on top of some Unique.

Aside from the sample pack of .44-40 projectiles, I also got a 100 count sample pack of .358" 158 grain RNFP bullets to load in my Rossi 92 .357 Magnum. Yup, I plan to load up some black powder .357s, just because.

I have a good stash of Goex 2Fg and 3Fg, and some Swiss 3Fg. The Swiss powder is much cleaner burning and more energetic than Goex (and this is reflected in its price). For shooting Goex loads in my rifle I think I'm going to want either a bullet with a larger grease groove, or use a bit less powder plus a lubed wad under the bullet.

I'm hoping that I'll be able to get out this weekend to make some smoke. I'll follow up with a range report on how these cartridges worked out.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

How a Winchester Toggle Link Lever Action Works

I found this on Imgur, it isn't mine:

This is a Winchester 1866 (note the bronze receiver). However, the basic locking mechanism dates from the Volcanic, and was used in the Henry rifle made famous in the Civil War, then used in the Winchester 1873 and 1876.

Today, the toggle link locking mechanism is considered to be relatively weak, especially when compared with the later Winchester 1886, 1892, and 1894. However, Uberti currently chambers Winchester 1873 replicas in .357 and .44 Magnum. Further, the Maxim machinegun used a toggle link locking mechanism, and was chambered in several full power smokeless rounds like .303 British, 7.92x57 Mauser, .30-06, and 7.62x54R. Metallurgy makes a difference.

Stupid Soft Uberti Screws

Uberti builds beautiful firearms but they use screws with the same hardness as used chewing gum, and then have some gorilla crank them down. I want to be able to shoot black powder loads in my Uberti 1873 Sporting Rifle so I need to be able to access the inside of the receiver.

After a week and a half soaking in Kroil, and the application of heat with a soldering iron and then with a torch, I still couldn't budge the sideplate screw. The more I tried the more the head got boogered. Yes, I used properly fitting hollow ground screwdrivers.

So, I drilled out both ends with my mill and used a screw extractor held in a tap wrench to remove it. I replaced it with a properly hardened screw and put anti-sieze on the threads.

What a PITA.

I installed a properly hardened replacement from VTI Gun Parts and made sure to put a little SuperLube grease on the threads as an anti-sieze. I actually bought a complete set of replacement screws but I'm haven't replaced the rest of them yet. The factory screws have a nice, deep blue while the replacements are matte. I'll replace them as needed. In the meantime I have applied Kroil to all of them.

Monday, March 14, 2016

More Range Time This Weekend

Aside from shooting my new Cimarron Firearms 1873 yesterday, I also got in some range time Saturday night, and shot my Ruger Gunsite Scout Rifle yesterday.

Saturday night I shot my S&W Model 10-4 .38 Special and my Pietta 1873 Millenium copy of the Colt Single Action Army, in .45 Colt.

The Model 10 has a 4" pencil barrel, Magna stocks, and a Pachmayr grip adapter. With 125 grain CCI Blazer Brass loads it was very pleasant to drill out the center of the target with.

I brought two kinds of ammo for the Pietta, both Black Hills cowboy loads. First was a box of 250 grain .45 Colt LRNFP, and second was a box of .45 S&W Schofield 230 grain RNFP. The Pietta is fairly light and I find that even with the CAS .45 Colts (250 grain bullet at 750 FPS) my middle finger gets whacked by the trigger guards. The .45 Schofields (230 grain bullet at 730 FPS) are more pleasant to shoot in this gun. Full power .45 Colts would be no fun, IMO.

On Sunday after getting in some time with the Uberti '73, we put about 30 rounds through the Ruger Gunsite Scout. Like the previous weekend, they were "The Load," 13 grains of Red Dot, but this time under a 152 grain FMJ M2 projectile. The GSR likes this combination a lot better than the cast bullets I shot last time, giving me a tight group at 25 yards offhand. I have close to 1,000 more of these bullets, more Red Dot, and plenty of empty brass, so I'll need to load up a bunch more and get the rifle zeroed.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Cimarron Firearms Uberti 1873 Sporting Rifle

Meet Claudia -- as in Cardinale -- my new Cimarron Firearms Uberti 1873 Sporting Rifle in .44-40 WCF. (Can you tell I watched a few 1960s vintage westerns last week?) I ordered her from Buffalo Arms in Idaho on March third, and she arrived at my FFL one week later. I picked her up the next day.

She has a 24-1/4" octagonal barrel and the wood is are walnut. Cimarron lists the weight at 8.6 lbs. and it feels about like that. Even when shooting original spec loads -- a 200 grain bullet at about 1200 - 1300 FPS -- recoil is very mild. The modern neutered cowboy action shooting (CAS) loads are milder still.

In person the blueing, color case hardening, and wood finish are even better than in the pictures. The wood to metal fit is generally very good, although where the forearm meets the receiver the wood stands a little proud.

One thing Uberti still needs to work on is their screws. They aren't properly hardened at the factory and they over tighten them. I've experienced this with other Uberti Firearms. I'm trying to get the side plates off the '73 but so far the screw won't budge and even using a correct screwdriver, I boogered the head. VTI Gun Parts sells replacements but this is damn annoying on a rifle that I just dropped $1200 on. In the meantime, I'm hitting the screws with Kroil everyday and I hope that after a week, I can remove the side plates without drilling.

Today I took Claudia up to my friend's place and we put 55 rounds through her -- one 50 round box of Black Hills 200 grain lead CAS loads, and 5 rounds of Winchester 200 grain JSPs that I had left from the Navy Arms Uberti 1873 Carbine I used to own. It was drizzling and eventually began to rain, so we only had the chance to shoot offhand at about 25 yards. IOW, no serious accuracy testing. However, the rifle functioned perfectly and I noticed that the Winchester jacketed loads printed smaller groups than the lead CAS ammunition.

One thing that was evident was how much smoother the 1873 action is than my Rossi 92, Marlin 1894, or Marlin 336. The straight-line feed of the '73 allows the cartridges to slide right into the chamber, compared with the angled feed on the other rifles. I can see why the '73s, and similar 1866 Winchester replicas are the preferred rifles for CAS.

I have no plans to install a short-stroke kit it but I need to do something about the sights. They are authentic. I.e., hard to see except against a nice, bright target. I'm looking at replacing the front with a brass or ivory-colored bead, and the rear buckhorn with a flat top open sight. Cap and Ball on Youtube installed a ladder rear sight for a Henry rifle on his Uberti 1873 rifle. That's an interesting option. I'm also interested in maybe installing a tang sight, in which case I'd want a folding leaf rear sight, so it's not in the way.

Uberti and Cimarron list the capacity as 13 rounds in the magazine plus one in the chamber. However, I found that I was able to load 14 in the magazine. Truly, the Winchester '73 was as close as you could get to an assault rifle when it was introduced.

Last night I went out to my shop and found my .44-40 dies and a box of 100 Lyman 200 grain lead RNFP bullets lubed with some kind of moly. I'm going to research smokeless loads to duplicate the original BP ballistics, but I want to start loading ammo with BP for the gun. After I slug the bore I'll order some suitably-sized and lubed bullets for it.

Except for the screw issue I am very happy with the rifle. It's beautiful to look at and fun to shoot.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Got in some range time, plus a new toy on the way

Yesterday I went out to a friend's place and did some shooting with my Ruger Gunsite Scout Rifle .308 and Rossi 92 carbine in .357 Magnum.

First up was the Ruger GSR. I brought along a Ziploc bag of handloads consisting of Laser Cast 165 grain bullets on top of 13 grains of Alliant Red Dot, AKA "The Load" as described by C.E. Harris. The good news is that recoil was very mild, about like shooting an M1 Carbine. I could shoot them all day.

The bad news is that from 50 yards my "group" looked like I blasted the target with a few rounds of buckshot from my Mossberg 500. The group was about 18".  IIRC, these bullets were sized .309 and the Ruger may need .310s when shooting cast bullets. I have to get ahold of a .32 caliber bullet and slug the bore. I have another batch of "The Load," but tipped with 152 grain .30 M2 Ball projectiles. I'm hoping they shoot acceptably.

Before heading out this morning I stopped at Dick's and picked up two boxes of CCI Blazer Brass .38 Special ammo loaded with 125 grain FMJ RNFP bullets. I wanted to see if the Rossi would feed them reliably, for use in training my 11 year old daughter, and general plinking.

It turns out that the Rossi is sensitive to cartridge OAL, which was not unexpected. I've read that some Rossi 92 .357s don't like to feed .38 Specials. (The .357 was developed from the .38 Special by lengthening the case by 1/10 of an inch, and loading to higher pressure. .38s are perfectly safe to shoot in .357s but not vice-versa. Also, the .38 Special's actual bullet diameter is .357, or .358 if shooting cast bullets.)

If we worked the Rossi's lever too briskly, the round on the cartridge elevator would fly out the top of the rifle when the lever hit the bottom of the downstroke. If we worked it a little more gently it functioned OK. In contrast, when shooting .357s the rifle functions fine no matter how fast you run it.

In the 20" barrel of the Rossi, the .38s recoil like and sound like .22 LR highspeed ammo, but with a little deeper tone.

Shooting the .38s in the Rossi was a lot of fun, so I think I'm going to load some similar rounds in .357 cases, for better functioning. I'll probably pick up some cast RNFP bullets and may use this as an opportunity to try powder coated bullets.

I'm hoping to get back out to my friend's next week with the second batch of .308 handloads, and a rifle I should take delivery of next Friday: a Cimarron Firearms 1873 Sporting Rifle in .44-40 WCF. The 1873 was made in Italy by Uberti. I ordered it last week from Buffalo Arms and it's scheduled for delivery to my local FFL this coming Thursday.

This will be my second replica of a Winchester 1873. Back in 1991 I got an Navy Arms/Uberti '73 Carbine in .44-40, but eventually traded it off. Naturally, I came to regret that. I decided it was finally time to replace it but this time I chose a rifle length version with a 24.25" barrel. My old 19" barreled carbine had a capacity of 10 + 1, while the rifle will hold 13 + 1. Not too shabby for a 143 year old design. The Winchester was the Evil Black Rifle of its day.

I still have my .44-40 loading dies from 20 years ago but only 15 rounds of ammo left. So, I also ordered three boxes of Black Hill cowboy action shooting ammo and 500 pieces of Starline brass, which was on sale at MidwayUSA. Incidentally, my old box of Winchester 200 grain JSP .44-40 ammo has a price tag of $21.95. The same load now retails for about $70!!! The Black Hills ammo was about $40/box at MidwayUSA.

I haven't ordered any projectiles for the new rifle yet since I want to slug the bore first. After doing so, I'll order suitable cast lead bullets with black powder-compatible lube, since that's what I want to shoot in it. With 35 grains of Swiss BP I should be able to get abut 1300 FPS with a 200 grain bullet, to duplicate the original .44 WCF load. Goex will probably provide a bit less velocity and more fouling. I may also try Hodgdon Triple 7 BP substitute, which is a bit more energetic than Swiss, and very clean burning in my experience.