Muzzleloading: Tips For Tighter Groups

If your muzzleloader isn’t as accurate as you’d like, the problem might be “operator error.”

“Ian, you know all about in-lines. How about helping me sight-in this new Encore?” A friend had just opened a big cardboard box from Thompson/ Center and handed me his shiny new muzzleloader. Because my friend has a 100-yard shooting range in his backyard, we grabbed my muzzleloader supplies and headed for the door.

I placed a box of Hodgdon’s Triple Seven pellets on the shooting bench, as well as a box of Winchester No. 209 shotshell primers, some moistened and dry patches, my trusty range rod and a box of 250-grain T/C Shock­Wave saboted bullets.  I then proceeded to teach him the basics of how to get the most out of a muzzleloader.

Basics For Better Groups

For the best accuracy, you should swab the barrel after each shot when sighting-in at the range. Swabbing can be done with pre-soaked patches from the factory or “spit patches,” whereby you chew on a patch until it soaks with saliva. Swabbing the barrel with a damp patch removes ignition residue and prevents build-up in the bore that results in difficult bullet loading and poor accuracy. I believe the tiny amount of moisture left in the bore after swabbing also makes it easier to seat the bullet.

Swabbing is a simple job, but I regularly see shooters doing it wrong. Don’t push the rod to the bottom of the barrel in one stroke. Doing so piles up residue on the patch, and as this accumulation increases the patch gets tighter in the barrel, to the point the ramrod is almost impossible to pull back out. Instead, push the barely moist-to-the-touch patch down the bore in 4- to 5-inch jabs. These short jabs prevent the ramrod from getting stuck in the barrel.

Always discard the first moistened patch after removing it from the bore. Next, you can swab a second time with a moist patch or simply run a dry patch down the bore. I’ve found that one slightly moistened patch followed by a dry patch results in excellent ease of loading and accuracy.

I prefer commercial patches because they’re cut for the bore-size of your muzzleloader. Many shooters prefer to cut their own, using cheap flannel or similar material. I haven’t found any significant advantages between patch material, size or shape as long as the patch fits snugly in the bore. T/C and Knight offer round patches that work great, and I’ve also used 2-inch-square patches with fine results.

I use T/C pre-lubed patches for the damp patch with one warning: To ensure the patches stay moist, T/C places a surplus amount of solvent in each container, and I suggest you remove five or six patches and squeeze the juice out of them before use. Having the patches just moist to the touch is best. I also make my own moist patches by placing a bunch of them into a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid, then pouring T/C’s Number 13 solvent over the patches and letting them sit for a while so the solvent is fully absorbed.

If you shoot a lot, consider buying a range rod for swabbing the barrel and seating bullets. Heavy-duty one-piece range rods are longer than the rod supplied with your gun, and they have a comfortable handle that makes pushing and pulling easier.

Always exert the same amount of pressure when seating the bullet on the propellant charge. I like to give the rod a smart tap when I get to the bottom of the stroke, regardless of whether I’m using loose powder or pellets. An important reminder if you’re using powder in pellet form: You don’t want to crush the pellets with too much force as this will result in uneven ignition and marginal accuracy.

When my friends and I have a new in-line muzzleloader to sight-in, we like to experiment with a variety of propellants and projectiles. Although pellets are by far the most user-friendly, some in-lines don’t shoot as accurately with pellets as they do with loose powder. I start my accuracy test with Triple Seven pellets and then try Pyrodex Pellets, too. Then, if I’m not happy with the accuracy, I’ll switch to Triple Seven and Pyrodex loose powder.

I always start with two 50-grain pellets (measured by volume) and a 250-grain bullet (measured by weight). Then I’ll try three 50-grain pellets to let the rifle determine the combination it prefers. Shooter’s tip: The best accuracy is usually achieved with bullets and sabots of the same brand as that of your in-line muzzleloader. That means T/C bullets typically shoot best in T/C in-lines, Knight bullets in Knight rifles and the same for CVA and Traditions.

Primers are a non-issue in my opinion. I haven’t found any accuracy improvement with the new primers designed specifically for muzzleloaders, and as a matter of fact I prefer to send as much flame into my propellant as possible—we’re trying to set off a detonation here, not start a progressive burn. When my rifle is cold, maybe sweating or whatever, I prefer as much fire as I can get to ignite the charge. I don’t buy into the claim that too much flame can push the powder charge forward because I’ve seen far too many sub-1-inch groups shot with three pellets and standard primers. But if you believe the new primers work well for you, then go to it.

Some shooters are surprised to learn that many popular saboted muzzleloader projectiles are actually handgun bullets. Velocity loss frequently ranges as high as one-third in the first 100 yards of travel according to my chronographs, and terminal performance isn’t much better. (I once said that most muzzleloader bullets have the ballistic efficiency of flying trash cans.) And even at low impact velocities, these handgun bullet cores and jackets frequently separate.

Thankfully, today’s shooter has aerodynamically shaped bullets specifically designed for muzzleloaders, and they feature relatively sharp tips that retain velocity and energy better. I’ve tested the new T/C ShockWave, Hornady’s SST and the Spit-Fire MZ from Barnes and found that these bullets retain their velocity significantly better than the flying trash cans. This extends long-range killing potential significantly. I particularly like the new Bonded ShockWave from T/C and the Barnes Spit-Fire MZ. These are tough bullets that shoot superbly in my test rifles.

Getting back to my friend and his new Encore: He insisted I shoot first to get the scope zeroed and determine the best load. The scope zeroed with only a couple of shots because we had a large backboard to catch every bullet. Then I fired three shots, each loaded with two Triple Seven pellets and a 250-grain ShockWave. The group measured exactly 1 inch. “There’s your deer hunting load,” I said. “We got lucky and got great accuracy with the first try. But just for fun let’s try three pellets.” After firing a three-shot group using the 150-grain powder charge, we walked to the target. I knew the bullets had hit closely together but was amazed when we measured the group. My three shots measured just under a half-inch!

At the range, you must determine the loading procedure that works best for you. Uniformity is the secret—do every step of your loading process similarly and good accuracy will be the result.

Remember—the more you shoot, the better you’ll shoot, and this holds true for pistols, shotguns, rifles, and muzzleloaders. Unfortunately, after I shot those groups for my friend with his new Encore muzzleloader, he proved this axiom. He sat down and fired three shots at the target and only one bullet hit the paper! Needless to say, he intends to do some practicing with his new in-line before taking it into the field.

If you’re a bad shot, it might be caused by a bad trigger.

Many hunters fail to realize that most factory production rifles have poor-quality triggers that inhibit or prevent accurate shooting. Typically, today’s factory triggers are burdened by 6-9 pounds of pull with 1⁄10-inch of movement before letting off (this is called creep) and significant movement after let-off (called slop or over-travel).

Why are factory trigger pulls typically on the heavy side? The primary reason is litigation. Today’s “lawyer-proof” triggers are the result of dozens of lawsuits that have hurt firearms manufacturers. The second reason is setting triggers for maximum performance costs money because it is a labor-intensive procedure. Trigger parts operate best when they’re polished smooth and perfectly matched, and that requires handwork that costs money. The name of the game is making a profit, so spending undue time on triggers reduces profit margins.

Good Trigger = Good Shot

For you to shoot a rifle accurately, a trigger’s pull must be no more than 4-5 pounds, although I prefer 21⁄2-3 pounds. The trigger should be as heavy as you can shoot well—not as light as you can get it. Next, the trigger must have minimal movement before and after let-off; it should break crisp and clean. Finally, the trigger should be reliable, regardless of dirt, moisture or extreme temperatures.

When you shoulder a new rifle, you naturally assess balance and fit. (NOTE: Always check a rifle to make sure it’s not loaded, and keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.) You also want to know how the trigger feels. One or two dry-fires will indicate if the trigger is properly set and enjoyable to fire. Thankfully, most triggers are adjustable so their performance can be improved, and most non-adjustable triggers can be replaced with after-market models by a skilled do-it-yourselfer or qualified gunsmith.

I recently spoke with the owners of five major trigger manufacturing companies, and each one really cares about the safety of the shooters who use their products. Bottom line, they want to ensure their products are installed correctly. If you’re a do-it-yourself type, these owners suggested you contact the factory for advice and assistance if needed.

•JEWEL TRIGGERS INC., (512) 353-2999:  Jewel triggers have earned an enviable reputation with the benchrest and precision shooting fraternity, and they’re available for Winchester and Reming­ton-style actions.

“What’s the difference between our triggers and most of the other trigger companies?” asked owner Richard Jewel. “Very simply, we hand-grind and polish surfaces to plus or minus 1⁄10,000-inch. We hand assemble every trigger, fitting every part perfectly. Although our triggers are used on super-accurate benchrest rifles, they’re tough enough for tactical and hunting rifles.”

Jewel ended our conversation with one bit of advice: “Anything is better than a factory trigger.”

•M.H. CANJAR, (303) 295-2638: Mary White, president of M.H. Canjar triggers, told me its single-set trigger design has remained virtually unchanged since its introduction in 1947. “Naturally the tooling has been updated,” she said, “but the basic design is still in use. We have triggers for Savage 110 and 112s, Ruger 77s, Remington 700s and 788s, Winchester Model 70s and the Ruger No. 1 single-shot rifle.”

White mentioned the importance of following the instructions exactly. “Don’t let a ‘basement gunsmith’ do the job,” she said. “You need a properly trained individual to install your trigger. For about $75 we’ll install any Canjar trigger bought from us.”

•RIFLE BASIX, (704) 499-3087: Owner/President Bob Brasfield re-affirmed the importance of customers contacting the factory if they have any concerns when installing triggers. “Our Savage trigger should install in approximately 10-15 minutes.” he said. “Our instructions are simple to follow for every trigger we sell. The newest Savage trigger even comes with a CD-ROM instructional movie. We’re expanding our offerings well beyond the Savage triggers that have been our bread and butter. We have some excellent rimfire replacement triggers, and our new Remington and Winchester Model 70 triggers are also significant improvements.”

•SHILEN RIFLES INC., (972) 875-5318: Wade Hull, president of Shilen Rifles, says his company offers two triggers for the Remington Model 700 action. The Standard Trigger is fully adjustable with pull weights from 11⁄2-3 pounds.

“Be confident you can handle the installation,” Hull said. “If it doesn’t feel right, contact the manufacturer. Or better yet, get a competent gunsmith to do the installation.” Hull also says it’s best to clean your trigger regularly with Ronsonol cigarette lighter fluid. It’s an excellent solvent and leaves a lubricant film with no varnish residue.

•TIMNEY MANUFACTURING INC., (866) 484-6639: Owner John Vehr is justifiably proud of the huge changes in trigger manufacture since Timney began in 1946. Timney, the world’s largest manufacturer of triggers, is also a leader in the field of technology. “We have invested in equipment and people,” he said. “Our EDM and CNC machines are operated by the best programmer-machinists in the business. We heat-treat our steel parts and have a case-hardening process applied for maximum strength. We can polish to 7⁄1,000,000-inch as required!”

Most of the triggers mentioned in this column can be purchased directly from the manufacturers or your local gun shop. Also check the catalogs from Brownells, Sinclair and Midway for a wide selection of makes and models.  Regardless of where you buy a new trigger and what brand you purchase, I’m confident you’ll be amazed at how well you shoot with it.

Super Slug Guns

There’s never been a better time to buy a dependable and accurate slug gun.

I happen to like slug guns, probably because I carried one for many years when I worked as a black bear specialist for Saskatchewan’s game agency. That old Remington Model 870 pump accompanied me on some hair-raising experiences, usually at night, and I can recall a couple of times when that gun saved my skin.

Back in those days, slug guns had short barrels, rifle-like open sights and no choke constriction. My coworkers and I shot whatever slugs we could find, and accuracy was measured in “minute of black bear” at 25-50 yards. Part of my job entailed shooting a significant number of cattle-killing bears annually, and my Model 870 did the job well. It shot Browning Legia brand Brenneke slugs very accurately out to 65 yards, so they became my standard workload.

Nowadays the term “slug gun” is likely to signify a shotgun that’s specifically designed for deer hunting. These guns have rifled barrels, superb open sights and/or cantilever scope mounts and special stocks designed for shooting with a scope. The most preferred slugs are now saboted projectiles that shoot consistent groups out to 150 yards or even slightly farther. In fact, ammunition manufacturers have concentrated their efforts on extending the capabilities of slugs with great success.

An Array Of Choices

Benelli’s top-of-the-line slug gun is the Super Black Eagle II, a 12 gauge semi auto in Advantage Timber HD camo, black synthetic or satin walnut stock. It features a 24-inch rifled barrel and will handle 3-inch shells. The M2 Field 12 gauge semi auto is available in black synthetic or camo and features the standard 3-inch chamber and 24-inch heavy-walled barrel. All of these slug guns have adjustable sights and receivers that are ready for a scope, as well as recoil-reducing ComforTech stocks that absorb almost 50 percent of the kick from magnum loads.

If you prefer a pump, check out Benelli’s Nova. It’s available in 12 or 20 gauge with a rifled barrel and adjustable sights, or as a combo rig complete with a field and slug barrel. The latter features a cantilever, rifled barrel.

Beretta offers its A391 Xtrema2 KO synthetic rifled slug model for deer hunters. This gun has a 24-inch rifled barrel and is available with a cantilever base for scope mounting. The action handles up to 31⁄2-inch shells and recoil is greatly reduced thanks to Beretta’s Kick-Off recoil reducing stock.

The Browning Gold gas-operated semiauto shotgun is offered in three slug models, the Rifled Deer Hunter (12 and 20 gauge), Rifled Deer Stalker (12 gauge) and Rifled Deer (12 gauge). All models have 3-inch chambers, and rifled slug barrels are 22 inches long with a 1-in-28-inch twist rate. The barrels are thick-walled and have cantilever scope mounts attached, and none of the barrels has open sights.

The Rifled Deer Hunter has a satin-finished walnut stock/blued barrel, the Rifled Deer Stalker a black composite stock/blued barrel and the Rifled Deer has a Mossy Oak camo composite stock/ camo barrel.

Harrington & Richardson offers three single-shot break-open-design slug guns. The top of the line is the Ultra Slug Hunter Deluxe in both 12 and 20 gauge. The heavy 24-inch barrel is fully rifled, and the gun has a checkered, laminated Monte Carlo stock, recoil pad and factory installed scope bases and nylon sling.

The Ultra Slug Hunter is similar to the Deluxe except the stock is made of walnut finished American hardwood. This slug gun is available with a shortened stock for small-framed shooters that drops the length of pull from 141⁄4 inches to 131⁄8 inches.

Mossberg offers a pair of slug guns called the 500 Slugster and 535 ATS Slugster. The 535 ATS is a pump action in Mossy Oak camo or black synthetic stock featuring a 24-inch rifled barrel and adjustable sights. The receiver is drilled and tapped for a scope. The 535 ATS will handle 31⁄2-inch shells, and the 500 is similarly equipped but chambered for 3-inch shells. Mossberg’s pump shotguns are reliable, rugged and feature easily accessible top-mounted safeties and twin action bars.

Remington’s Model 870 pump shotgun is available in three slug models, the Express Deer, Express Synthetic Deer and Express Slug, all with 20-inch rifled barrels. The Express Deer has a Monte Carlo style wooden stock and choice of the standard 12 gauge 20-inch rifled barrel or a 20-inch Improved Cylinder barrel that will handle both slugs and buckshot. The Express Synthetic Deer has a 12 gauge rifled barrel and Monte Carlo style black synthetic stock.

The Express Slug is available in both 12 and 20 gauges, with a heavy contoured rifled barrel that increases the gun weight slightly, thus reducing recoil. The barrel doesn’t have open sights, instead of a cantilever scope mount is factory mounted.

All Remington Model 870 slug guns feature twin-action bars and receivers milled from a solid billet of steel. From experience, I can say with confidence that there are few shotgun designs that are as reliable as the Model 870.

Remington also offers the Model 11-87 gas-operated semi-auto slug gun in two 12 gauge 3-inch magnum models. The Premier Cantilever Deer has a Monte Carlo style satin walnut stock and 21-inch rifled barrel complete with a factory mounted cantilever base. The Sportsman Deer has similar specs but comes with a black synthetic stock.

Savage offers a unique bolt-action slug gun that looks more like a heavy-barreled rifle than a shotgun. The Model 210F Slug Warrior is one of the nicest-handling slug guns on the market and features a 24-inch rifled barrel chambered for 3-inch shells. The composite stock is available in black or Realtree camo. A one-piece scope mount is included with each slug gun because there are no open sights. The 210F is intended for accurate shooting, pushing the envelope for slug gun performance.

Weatherby offers deer hunters the SAS Slug Gun featuring a unique adjustable butt-stock that has a shim system for changing the cast or angle of the stock. The SAS is available in 12 gauge 3-inch with a 22-inch rifled barrel and comes with a cantilever mount installed, as well as sling swivel studs.

Winchester offers its Super X3 Cantilever Deer gun in 12 gauge, 3-inch magnum with a 22-inch rifled barrel. Winchester’s cantilever is unique because it incorporates a Truglo front sight and folding rear sight in its design, which enables a hunter to easily install a scope. The Cantilever base even has a full-length groove that can be used for open-sight aiming if the rear sight is folded down. The Super X3 has weather-proof coatings on the metal and stock. I’ve shot the Super X3 and was impressed with the accuracy I achieved with Winchester’s sabot slug.

Although I’ve listed these gun manufacturers in alphabetical order thus far, I had to break that rule to save the most accurate and best-built slug gun for last. Tar-Hunt Custom Rifles offers two slug guns, a worked-over version of the Remington Model 870, and a bolt-action model that’s essentially a custom rifle that shoots rifled slugs. The 870 modification in 12, 16 and 20 gauge sizes involves installing a threaded sleeve and barrel. This means the barrel is more or less permanently installed rather than having the original take-down design. The permanent installation makes for far superior accuracy.

The Tar Hunt is truly a custom built slug-shooter. It utilizes a proprietary action, McMillan stock, E.R. Shaw 12 gauge rifled barrel and all the tricks used in building custom rifles. This is a minute-of-angle slug gun, right from the first group fired. This is particularly true if you use specially developed Lightfield slugs, which have a unique post wad that wedges forward. This ensures a perfect fit of the slug within the plastic sabot and optimal accuracy.

As I stated earlier, modern shotguns fitted with scopes, rifled barrels and loaded with saboted slugs are deadly on deer at ranges up to 150 yards. Yes, most deer hunters will tote a centerfire rifle where it’s legal to do so, but they shouldn’t feel like they’ve drawn the short end of the stick when regulations mandate the use of a slug gun.

Cleaning A Rifle

There’s an old saying that “more rifles are ruined by cleaning than are by shooting,” and it’s likely true.

Cleaning rod wear, caused by the rod excessively contacting the rifling, is a common cause of barrel damage. This is particularly true when a cheap rod is used to clean from the muzzle. A soft aluminum rod picks up and embeds grit to become, in essence, a file that grinds away at the muzzle crown.

If it’s possible, always clean from the breech and use a rod guide. The best guides not only keep the rod aligned with the bore but also protect the action from dripping solvent and crud. Bore guides also make it much easier to start a patch.

Some rifles, such as semiautos, lever actions or pump actions, must be cleaned from the muzzle It’s important in that situation to use a rod guide to align the rod with the bore and to protect the crown from cleaning rod wear. Also, put a rag in the action to catch the crud you push out of the barrel; you must keep that gunk out of the action.

The Proper Procedure

It’s always best to hold the rifle in a cradle of some sort when cleaning it. For a workbench, it’s hard to beat the Decker Gun Vise. For fieldwork, such as at the range and also for the workbench, Midway offers a range box that serves for a multitude of chores in addition to carrying gear for the range. The box comes with a complete set of cleaning tools as well as a built-in cradle to hold the rifle. Those who have one of the ubiquitous MTM Shooter’s Boxes might consider the MTM Portable Rifle Maintenance Center that will fit on top of the box for field cleaning.

Start cleaning the bore with a general bore solvent, making several passes through with a wet patch. Use each patch for only one pass before replacing it with a new solvent-soaked patch. You might want to let the gun soak a few minutes between patches to allow the solvent to work.

Leaving the barrel wet with solvent, use a properly fitted brush soaked with solvent to make several passes. Bronze is the best; nylon doesn’t have the scrubbing ability, and stainless steel can gall and ruin the barrel very quickly. Keep the brush wet with solvent, reapplying after every couple of passes. Follow with one wet and several dry patches to remove all traces of solvent. After using the brush, always clean the solvent from it with a spray such as Outers Crud Cutter. This is to prevent abrasive debris from accumulating and also because some solvents will eat the bronze bristles.

Now scrub the bore with a patch soaked with a good copper solvent. Be sure to read the instructions on the label because these are harsh chemicals. Let the bore soak for a few minutes, then follow with another patch wet with copper solvent. When you have patches coming out white with no trace of green or blue (it might take a while if the fouling is extensive), dry the bore with several clean patches.

Scrub the bore again with the general solvent, again using patches and brushes. Then dry and repeat the copper solvent treatment. Sometimes metal fouling can be trapped under layers of baked-on powder fouling that you must remove to allow the copper solvent to get at the metal fouling. Keep repeating this process until you have no sign of blue or green on any patches.

Cleaning the bore is made easier by the Foul Out Electronic cleaner from Outers. This device uses an electric current to activate a reverse-plating process that removes the fouling from the bore and deposits it on a metal rod, speeding up the process a great deal. The system is not terribly expensive, and anybody with several guns and interest in the shooting should have one. Use it where you would use the copper solvent.

Finally, dry the bore with several clean patches and apply a rust protector such as Outers Metal Seal. Before shooting again, run a dry patch through the barrel to remove any residual rust preventive. Often the first shot might be off from the group—usually high—so a fouling shot is not a bad idea before hunting.

 

Reduced-Recoil Ammo And Recoil-Friendly Rifles

During a visit to a local gun shop, I overheard a fellow ask about the availability of a light-kicking rifle such as a .243 Win. or .257 Roberts. “My daughter’s only 12 years old,” he said, “but she really enjoys deer hunting and shooting.” The girl was standing beside her dad, and I could see she was disappointed when the clerk said he didn’t have any small-caliber deer rifles, either new or used.

Since I happened to know the father, I suggested a couple of other gun shops that carry such rifles. I also told him to check out Federal and Remington’s new reduced-recoil hunting ammo. Available in several popular cartridges, this ammo is intended for recoil-sensitive shooters of all ages and sizes, as well as anyone of slighter stature, such as young hunters and women.

I had the opportunity to shoot Remington’s reduced-recoil ammo at the last SHOT Show in Las Vegas. I was particularly impressed with the company’s Managed Recoil shotgun slug and buckshot loads. The Remington representative loaded a short-barreled Model 870 pump with alternating Managed Recoil and standard loads.

We shot offhand at 30-yard targets and the recoil reduction was significant-I knew immediately that this stuff really works! And as a bonus, I shot more accurately when I wasn’t getting punched on the shoulder by the lightweight shotgun.

WHEN LESS IS MORE

I recently obtained a supply of Federal Low Recoil and Remington Managed Recoil ammo so I could learn more about its performance. Essentially, the two companies have reduced recoil in two different ways. Federal, which offers its Low Recoil ammo in .308 Win. or .30-06, has maintained bullet weight and reduced the powder charge.
The 170-grain .30 caliber soft-point bullet in these offerings is also used in its standard .30-30 Win. load, and the resulting velocities in the Low Recoil ammo are very similar to those of the .30-30 Win.

Remington, on the other hand, chose to keep velocities higher in its Managed Recoil ammo so it reduced the weight of the bullet. This makes for less recoil while still keeping flat trajectories and excellent terminal ballistics. Remington offers three calibers in its Managed Recoil line: The .270 Win. uses a 115-grain Core-Lokt Pointed Soft Point, the 7mm Rem. Mag. uses similar 140-grain bullets and the .30-06 load has 125-grain bullets. All this ammo is designed for deer-killing performance, and I’m very impressed with the accuracy I obtained in a variety of rifles.

Besides accuracy and velocity, I was intrigued with the challenge of determining just how much recoil reduction actually occurred. I happen to have some buddies who enjoy my various shooting “projects,” so we sat down and bounced ideas around as to how to compare recoil in a shooting experiment. I wanted to determine three things: accuracy, velocity and recoil reduction.

The first two are easy-shoot through an Oehler chronograph and get a printout of velocities and also measure group size on the target. Recoil reduction, however, was another challenge. We considered rigging a recoil scale or measuring the depth of gun stock impact into a block of clay, but decided we needed something simpler. Finally we came up with the idea of dragging a constant weight attached to a gun during each shot, then measuring how far the weight moved after firing various types of ammo. It sounded good, so we headed to the range.

Our technique evolved into a very effective test after a few practice shots. We tethered a 5-pound lead weight to a gun’s trigger guard, then dragged the rifle with the attached weight several inches along the bench top to put a constant “load” on the nylon cord that attached the weight to the rifle. The rifle was supported upright by a Harris bipod and the bottom tip of the recoil pad. The toe of the butt was placed on a line drawn on the tabletop, and we fired the rifle with a gentle pull of a string.

At each shot, the rifle moved straight back in a remarkably smooth movement. We fired five shots in a test string, measuring and recording the gun movement distances. We shot three different types of ammo in our .308 Win. and .30-06 rifles. Then we set up the Oehler 35P chronograph and shot several groups to record velocity and accuracy data.

Let me emphasize that these are not laboratory findings. I simply wanted to show a difference in how a rifle shot using reduced-recoil ammo vs. standard ammo. As the test results show, each rifle moved significantly less when shot with the reduced-recoil ammo.

This test had a special significance for Wayne, one of my hunting partners, because several weeks prior he’d had eye surgery. He’d been under strict orders not to fire a rifle for fear of damaging the results of the delicate surgery, but his doctor had just given him clearance to shoot again. Wayne decided to take it easy by shooting the reduced-recoil ammo initially. He proved he hadn’t lost his touch by firing five Federal Low Recoil 170-grain .308 Win. rounds into a 0.482-inch group at 100 yards! We also shot this ammo in two Remington M-700 rifles with consistent sub-minute results.

The .30-06 Federal Low Recoil ammo also shot very well, with groups averaging 1-1 1/4 inches. We all agreed that with this ammo, the Remington M-700 was the most pleasant shooting .30-06 we’d ever fired.
Bullet drop at 200 yards was only 3 inches, and we kept all our bullets in a 4-inch-diameter circle. This compares to almost 6 inches of drop at 200 yards with the Federal 170-grain reduced-recoil ammo in the .308 Win..

THE BOTTOM LINE

Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to hunt with this new ammo, but I’m confident both brands will kill deer cleanly out to 200 yards. The manufacturers say recoil reduction is 35-50 percent (depending on what ammo you normally shoot), and I have no reason to doubt those claims after my test. The reduction is significant, period. Shotgun shooters will particularly appreciate the recoil reduction as you can actually see the difference in recoil movement (barrel jump) between reduced-recoil and standard shotshells.

Low Recoil, Managed Recoil or reduced recoil-whatever words you use-I believe this ammo is a great idea. Recoil-sensitive shooters can shoot standard-weight hunting rifles more comfortably, and with the recent focus on super-lightweight rifles, this ammo won’t punish the shooter. And the biggest benefit is more new shooters will enjoy our sport and hopefully become successful hunters.

REDUCED-RECOIL AMMO TEST

Test #1: .308 Win., custom Remington M-700 rifle Standard ammo: Remington Express Core-Lokt 150-grain Soft Point Average velocity: 2,881 fps Average five-shot group at 100 yards: 1.22 inches Rifle recoil distance: 3.5 inches

Standard ammo: Winchester Supreme 168-grain Ballistic Silvertip Average velocity: 2,667 fps Average five-shot group at 100 yards: .89 inches Rifle recoil distance: 3.12 inches

Reduced-recoil ammo: Federal Low Recoil 170-grain Soft Point Average velocity: 1,997 fps Average five-shot group at 100 yards: .77 inches Rifle recoil distance: 2.25 inches

Test #2: .30-06 Remington M-700 BDL factory rifle

Standard ammo: Black Hills Gold 150-grain Ballistic Tip Average velocity: 2,850 fps Average five-shot group at 100 yards: .88 inches Rifle recoil distance: 2.66 inches

Standard ammo: Black Hills Gold 165-grain Ballistic Tip Average velocity: 2,627 fps Average five-shot group at 100 yards: 1.10 inches Rifle recoil distance: 2.85 inches

Reduced-recoil ammo: Remington Managed Recoil 125-grain Soft Point Average Velocity: 1,526 fps Average five-shot group at 100 yards: 1.57 inches Rifle recoil distance: 1.10 inches

 

My Five Favorite Rifles

Ask a dozen hunters what their five favorite rifles are and you’ll get a wide range of answers. Understandably, their decisions probably relate more to personal preferences and experiences than to technical considerations.

Simply put, the average hunter hasn’t owned a wide enough variety of makes and models to know the pros and cons of all the rifles available today, let alone past designs. I’m fortunate to shoot a lot of different rifles, more than most guys I know, but I cannot claim to have a very comprehensive base from which to work because there are so many good rifles-past and present.

When I sat down to outline this column, I made a short list of rifles and thought the job was done. Unfortun­ately, the more I considered all the rifles I’ve shot over the years, the more I realized this wasn’t a simple task. For instance, I’ve probably put more rounds through the lowly .303 Lee Enfield than any other rifle, but that gun wasn’t on my list. The same goes for the Ruger 10/22 and Remington 760 pump. More recently, I’ve shot Thompson/Center Encores in every persuasion from rimfire .22s to the mighty .416 Rigby.

Truth be told, I’ve never owned or even shot a Mauser M98, or any other original Mauser model, and these are landmark guns deserving a place on any “best of” list. As I considered the top rifles of all time, I realized this was my list only- no one else’s. You’ll no doubt disagree with some of my picks- as well as my pros and cons of each design- but everyone’s entitled to their own opinions.

THE FABULOUS FIVE

Winchester Model 70

A Winchester Model 70, in any of its versions, must be included. Granted, the pre-64s are the cream of the crop, but I also enjoy owning some of the more recent models. My first big game rifle was a brand new pre-64 Feather­weight that was my pride and joy for decades.

Pros
– Reliable, particularly the controlled-round feed versions including the pre-64 rifles.
– Excellent trigger when properly adjusted; simple, stays set.
– Flat-bottom receiver; very rigid.
– Three-position safety is very reliable; locks movement of the firing pin.
– Easy to load and unload.

Cons
– Quality-control issues; poor stock design, low-cost accessories, sights.
– Creep adjustment on trigger requires removal of metal (must be done by a gunsmith).
– Noise issues with safety if not properly adjusted and operated.
– Too many hole patterns for mounting scope bases (varying hole spacing and size of bases).

Remington Model 700

The Remington Model 700, which a good friend calls the “Chevy Small-Block” of rifle actions, is one of the most popular guns in history. I prefer the models with a floor-plate; I’m not a fan of the ADL models because I’m never comfortable cranking ammo through the chamber to unload a rifle. I own more Remington Model 700s than any other rifle, and I enjoy shooting and hunting with all of them.

Pros
– Cylindrical action is simple, strong and easy to bed.
– Excellent trigger when properly adjusted, but don’t try to set it yourself if you aren’t experienced.
– Fast lock time.

Cons
– Quality-control issues; detachable magazines often fail on some models.
– Original trigger didn?t disconnect or lock the firing pin.
– Problems with extractors, bolt stops and bolt handles that break off.
– Loading short-action Model 700s can be difficult.
– Cartridge can slip into bolt lug rail on inside of receiver.

Weatherby

Alot of famous hunters used these rifles on some of the most amazing adventures I read about as a kid. Roy Weatherby’s advertisements did a fine job on this prairie boy because I dreamed and lusted about owning a Weatherby for a long time. When I finally got one I wasn’t disappointed. My first Weatherby (fact is, until recently I owned only two) was chambered in .300 Wthby. Mag., and it was a death-ray out to fairly long distances.

– Cylindrical action is simple, strong and easy to bed.
– Excellent trigger properly adjusted from the factory.
– Unique stock design and profile.
– Reliable, accurate rifles that offer great choice of calibers.

Cons
– Action is big and somewhat heavy.
– I always wonder if the rifle?s nine small locking lugs really make contact with lug recesses.
– Short-stroking long-actions can cause a jam, and the shooter must train himself to pull the bolt completely to the rear after each shot.
– Expensive ammunition.

Ruger M77

Ruger M77s are my “meat and potatoes” guns because they’re reliable, fairly accurate and available in models to take on a safari or to a prairie dog patch. I’ve owned M77s that shot incredible groups and killed like lightning. One of my favorites was a .338 Win. Mag. that I still regret selling.

Pros
– Very reliable action; simple and consistently trouble-free.
– Good safety; excellent placement.
– Simple trigger usually adjusted a bit
heavy, but useable.
– Excellent bolt stop.

Cons
– Angled stock bolt makes bedding
more difficult.
– Barrel accuracy issues.
– Limited choice of scope mounts.

The Thompson/Center Icon is a new-comer with a great design, and I was fortunate to be involved in its development. T/C looked at virtually every sporting, target and tactical rifle action available today to learn what works well and, equally importantly, what doesn’t. I’ve shot enough Icons to gain a thorough respect for their accuracy and reliability. After using the Icon on two trips in Africa and several hunts in North America, I believe this rifle will be around for a long time.

Pros
– State-of-the-art bolt-action design and topnotch manufacturing.
– Simplest bedding I?ve ever seen in a rifle; it works.
– Very reliable feeding, extraction and ejection of cartridges.
– Extremely easy bolt disassembly. 

Cons
– Needs to shed a few ounces.
– Ugly butter-knife-style bolt handle that fortunately can be replaced with a  choice of ball-style handles.
– Stock bolts could be heavier.

There are many great rifles not mentioned that I would enjoy becoming more familiar with, including Savages, CZs, Sakos, Tikkas, Kimbers, Coopers and the Browning A- and X-Bolts. So many rifles, so little time …

First BB Gun and Other Kid-Friendly Firearms

My heart ached as I stared at the little single-shot rifle sitting in a rack in the back of our local hardware store. Only a day before Christmas, and “my” rifle was still on the shelf. I wanted that rifle so badly, but I didn’t have any money to buy it. My only hope was my folks might purchase it as a Christmas present, but sadly, the chances didn’t look good.

mpiI was 12 years old and had grown through a succession of Daisy air rifles—wear them out is more correct. I remember the day I saw the beautiful little Anschutz single-shot .22; I went to the back of the store almost every day and ogled it. The gun stood out from all the other single-shots because the stock was figured walnut and the bluing was deep and shiny. The rifle was also several dollars more than any other single-shot in that store.

My brother and I rushed to the tree bright and early Christmas morning. There were lots of wrapped packages, but nothing long and rifle-like. After opening a gift or two, we had breakfast before returning to the Christmas tree. To my amazement, a long package had found its way under the tree—and I wasn’t disappointed. I still have that little rifle; it’s sitting in the back of a big gun safe. The .22’s extractor is worn and not completely reliable, but I don’t care. It’s a special rifle and always will be. Every so often I take it out, crank open the bolt, look through the open sights and memories flood my mind—this little rifle was my best buddy for a long time. It still is.

Those were simple days: Kids could walk through town with an air rifle or .22 rimfire and not incur the wrath of a SWAT team. Farmers appreciated the elimination of gophers and crows, and guns were not bad, nor were they indicators of evil intents or actions.

Firearms are still wonderful Christ­mas gifts. To make the right choice for a son or daughter, parents should consider the age and maturity of the child, type of firearm, weight, barrel length, length-of-pull and, of course, recoil. I would also include the necessity of high-quality sighting equipment. Very simply, anyone learning to shoot a rifle is more accurate with a scope.

Making A List, Checking It Twice
I think the ultimate first gun for a responsible youngster is a BB gun or air rifle. Thanks to the excellent BB/pellet traps and target designs available today, safe firearm handling and marksmanship basics can even be taught in the comfort of a good-sized room in your home with these air guns.

When most hunters think of BB guns they think Daisy, and rightly so. Intro­duced in 1939, the Daisy Red Ryder has sold more than 9 million units, easily making it the most famous BB gun ever built. Daisy Outdoor Products still makes the Red Ryder, as well as many other excellent air guns. In addition to Daisy BB guns, parents can also check out the air guns and accessories from companies such as Gamo USA, Beeman and Crossman.

After spending a year or two with an air gun, your child will be ready to step up to a rimfire rifle. In no particular order, here are some models that have recently caught my eye:

HENRY MINI BOLT YOUTH: Not long ago I added a Henry .22 rifle to my gun safe. This tiny bolt-action gun is perfect for introducing my grandkids to the sport I love so much. Our 41⁄2-year-old proved deadly on large red balloons at eight paces during her first shooting experience! Henry builds a wonderful group of bolt-action and lever-action rimfire rifles.

CHIPMUNK RIFLE: Like the Henry Mini Bolt Youth, the single-shot Chip­munk is another good-quality bolt-action rimfire designed for young shooters. Available in several stock materials and colors, these eye-catching little rifles would make any child’s Christmas special.

REMINGTON MODEL FIVE: Reming­ton makes several outstanding youth-scaled firearms, but the Model Five is my favorite. This bolt-action, clip-fed repeater is a fine first rifle.

MARLIN 915Y: This single-shot is available in either wood or composite, blued or stainless for small-sized shooters. The Marlin 915Y is a simple, safe and accurate shooter.

RUGER 10/22: As one of the best-selling .22s of all time, the standard-sized 10/22 semiauto is already a small enough gun for many young shooters. However, if you need an even smaller version, check out the 10/22 Compact Rifle. It features a short, 123⁄4-inch length-of-pull and 161⁄8-inch barrel.

SAVAGE CUB MINI YOUTH: In addition to this single-shot bolt-action .22, Sav­age also offers youth-model centerfires.

BROWNING MICRO HUNTER: Available in smaller calibers, this would be a dream rifle for many young hunters. In fact, this is by far the sweetest little centerfire I’ve ever handled. Browning’s lever-action BL-22 and wonderful semiauto rimfires are also fine guns.

MOSSBERG HALF-PINT PLINKSTER AND PLINKSTER: The Half-Pint Plinkster is a neat little bolt-action single-shot; the standard Plinkster is a semiauto. As a young­ster becomes more experienced with the Half-Pint, the removable magazine plug can be replaced with an optional 10-round magazine, easily converting the Half-Pint into a repeater. For upland birds or waterfowl, Mossberg’s youth shotgun is called the 500 Bantam and is available in a couple different designs.

ROSSI TRIFECTA: One of the most prac­tical and compact gun packages is the Rossi Trifecta. This youth-stocked rifle comes with three barrels—20 gauge shotgun, .243 Win. centerfire and .22 rimfire —which makes it a do-anything rig. With a simple break-open design and a button safety, this is a handy starter package.

In addition to guns as Christmas gifts, parents can also consider youth-sized camouflage clothing, binoculars, decoys, game calls, safety harnesses, bow-and-arrow packages and even memberships in the local fish and game associations. A post-Christmas hunting trip in one of the states with later seasons would be welcomed as well.

From past experience, both during my youth and during my adult life, I do know that putting a hunting-related gift under the Christmas tree provides the opportunity for you to spend special time with your family outdoors. And my motto has always been, “The family that hunts together, stays together.”

 

Where Did All The Ammo Go? What Can You Do?

I was at Cabela’s the other day … just looking around mostly. One of the things I looked at was the ammo shelves. I say shelves because that was about all there was to look at. The view is the same at the local gun shops around home. All the ammo is gone!

Why? It’s simple, really: We’ve bought it all. Oh, if you want shotshells for shooting clay birds you’ll find some. If you want ammo for your—not the most popular—deer rifle, you might find some, but even that isn’t a given. I’ve been trying to find .250 Savage ammo for months. It’s just not available.

I guess the next question you might ask is, “Why did we buy all the ammo?” That answer is a bit complicated, but for the most part, it’s because shooters are worried legislation might infringe on their ability to obtain ammo. This has resulted in a rush to purchase just about every kind of ammunition, particularly the types associated with high-volume shooting and personal protection.

The list of really-hard-to-find ammo for rifles includes .223 Rem., .308 Win., .30-06 and yes, even .22 LR. For handguns, just about everything is in short supply except maybe the large-caliber hunting cartridges. Interestingly enough, while at Cabela’s, the only defensive handgun ammo they had was about 500 rounds of .327 Fed. Mag. This is a very useful and potent defensive handgun cartridge, and I will bet a lot of folks are wishing they had one of these revolvers because of a .327 Fed. Mag. can fire five different cartridges.

When will this lack-of-ammunition situation end? That’s difficult to answer because it appears that, as long as our political leaders are struggling with the question of how to best infringe on our Second Amendment rights, shooters will continue to stock up on ammo that they feel will be hard or impossible to get later on.

Many want to blame the manufacturers for not meeting demand. That’s absurd. If you were in the business of making ammunition, wouldn’t you be making all you could right now? Sure you would. Like grandpa used to say, “Better make hay while the sun is shining.” Ammo companies are making ammo as fast as they can … they’re just not making it as fast as we’re buying it.

Another reason ammo is disappearing off shelves so quickly is that shooters who used to purchase one or two boxes at a time are now buying a case at a time. We have become so ammo greedy that some gun stores are now only selling ammunition to customers who actually purchase a firearm. “That’s not fair!” you say. Well, it might not seem fair, but imagine buying a new firearm and not being able to buy any ammo to shoot feed it. There’s one way to sum that up: It would suck!

There’s another dynamic at work in this ammo-availability dilemma: Ammo manufacturers build ammo on a schedule. For example, they might load the very popular cartridges such as .223 Rem. and 9mm Luger year round, but during this time of year they often load the less-popular stuff such as .250 Savage, .35 Whelen, .32 H&R Mag., etc. If they don’t load these cartridges, then the distributors who ordered them last spring will be mad when they don’t get any. They have to meet their orders, so they can’t just shut down and only load what folks are buying; if they did, they’d just be continually chasing their tails.

I have some friends in the business of making ammunition—some at big companies such as Remington and some at smaller companies such as Buffalo Bore. All tell me that, like many handloaders who make their own ammo, they’re loading ammo as fast as they can. But handloaders are having problems getting components such as primers, brass and even bullets. Guess what? The ammo manufacturers are, too.

Companies that make their own primers have to choose between selling them as components or using them to load ammunition. Same goes for bullets and brass. Gunpowder is about the only thing there’s no shortage of, but problems exist there as well because companies are struggling to get the powder into containers, which they can’t seem to get enough of.

Just imagine if you made your living building high-quality bloodwood vampire stakes in your garage. You build and sell about 2,000 per year—about five per day. Suddenly, the vampire community decides they no longer want to live in the shadows and they start a feeding frenzy. Overnight, your orders increase 100-fold. You can’t make stakes fast enough and you can’t even get enough bloodwood to build them with. That’s exactly what’s happening with ammo right now.

A healthy supply of ammo isn’t always easy to come by.

What Can You Do During An Ammo Shortage?

  • Start looking at the smaller ammo companies such as Buffalo Bore and DoubleTap. Their ammo might be a bit more expensive, but they just might actually have it in stock.
  • Shop on the Internet at websites such as GunsAmerica.com and Gunbroker.com. Sometimes you’ll find ammo for the not-so-popular cartridges there at auction.
  • If a backorder option is available when ordering ammo online or even from a local dealer, take it. It might be awhile, but eventually you’ll get your ammo.
  • Start saving your brass when you shoot. You might not be able to get primers, bullets and powder right now, but eventually it will be available, and then you’ll wish you had brass to reload.
  • Consider investing in a reloading setup so that you can be better prepared for a situation like this when it comes around again. You know it will. Primers, powder and bullets will last a long, long time if stored properly.

In the meantime, beg and borrow from friends. Maybe even steal from your in-laws. (Hey, they’d take your ammo if you weren’t looking, right?) Or, you can just wait it out. The supply will eventually catch up and prices will go back to normal. How long will that take? It’s anyone’s guess, but hopefully by deer season we will all be able to buy at least one box of .30-30 Win. ammo.

Setting Up The JetStream One Sandblasting System

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Jet Stream OneWe choose the SCM Jetstream One sandblasting system for its compact size, versatility, and SCM’s support.  We toyed with the idea of buying the basic components from Harbor Freight; however, once we priced out the equivalent items plus sources for spare parts we found that it would have cost more to source everything separately.  Additionally, with the Jetstream One system, we are able to easily break it down into a box to transport it to shows and field events.  Additionally, the package included the photo masking system that we use for much of our stock carving.

Unpacking Our New Jetstream One

IMG_1351 As soon as the shipment arrived, everyone stopped work and crowded around the loading dock.  To our amazement, everything arrived in two boxes.  The air compressor had arrived a few days earlier in a separate shipment.  We knew the system was much more compact than other systems we reviewed; however, we were amazed at how easy it was broken down into its basic components.  This immediately started everyone talking about how we could take it to shows and field events without taking up much room in the RV.  Before unpacking everything we took the whole shipment outback to the RV and found that it fit nicely into the lower rear storage compartment with the air compressor included.  We immediately knew that we had made the right decision to purchase this system as it fit into our plans perfectly.  Space in our shop is very limited so anything new has to be able to slide in without disrupting our current equipment.  Eventually we will be forced into moving to a bigger shop, but for now this is what we have.  The Jetstream One system will also fit into our show booth without having to do too much re-arranging.

IMG_1349As we unpacked and inventoried each item we became more anxious to try it out.    The setup instructions are fairly intuitive; however, you do have to do a little head scratching and figuring things out occasionally.  The one thing you have to remember is that some items shipped with the system have been improved, but the instruction sheets have not been fully updated.  Just take your time while putting everything together and enjoy the anticipation of your new system.

 

Connecting The Air Lines

Pressure PotWhen connecting the air-line from the compressor to the pressure pot we opted to add a 1/4″ NPT M-F ball valve to cut-off the air from the compressor when we’re not sandblasting.  We found this valve at Harbor Freight.  It can also be found at most hardware stores such as ACE hardware also.  Make sure you use Teflon tape on all of the screw-on fittings in your airline.  The tape will ensure a tight and no-leak connection.

 

 

Regulated Air LineConnecting the blue airline from the regulator to the pressure port was quite easy.  Just slide the line into the fitting until you feel a small snap.  Tug on it slightly to ensure that it is fitting snugly.  If you need to remove the airline just press inward on the black ring with one hand while gently pulling the airline out with the other hand.

 

 

IMG_1927Since space is quite limited we needed a longer air line from the regulator to the pressure pot in order to mount the assembly on the wall instead of using the table stand that is provided.  We removed the air line connectors provided with the system and substituted 1/4″ NTP air line connectors and added a longer 1/4″ I.D. pressure rated hose.   This change only took 5 minutes to complete and gave us greater flexibility in placing the equipment in its permanent location.

Sandblasting CabinetSetting up the sandblasting cabinet was quite easy.  There are only 3 major pieces tot he cabinet: base, main shell, and lid (top).  When connecting the main shell to the base we found the screw holes didn’t line up accurately.  However, since the screws are self tapping screwing them down into the base was easily accomplished with a screwdriver.

 

Weather Stripping SealAdding the weather stripping seal into the top of the cabinet is easy; however, there is a little trick that will make it easier to keep in straight and allow you to position it in the bottom of the trough.  Use your thumb and forefinger to pinch the sides of the weather stripping tape together with the sticky side down.  Then, use your forefinger of the other hand to press the tape down into the bottom of the trough.  Make sure that the tape is evenly distributed around the cabinet top so that it will form a tight seal while you are using the sandblaster.  This is also a good time to attach the protective gloves to the lid using the large hose clamps provided in the kit.

IMG_1368Place the lid on the main shell and insert the hinge bolts.  Pressing the hinge bolts into the holes while lining up the holes of the shell and lid may require a few extra hands.  We used a small wood clamp to hold the pieces together while pressing the bolts into place.  We eventually change the slip bolts for carriage bolts to make it easier to disassemble the cabinet when we go to shows and field events.

 

Sandblasting hosePush the sandblasting hose through the back of the cabinet and place the sealing grommet in place.

 

 

 

Light cordPush the light cord through the back of the cabinet and place the sealing grommet in place.

 

 

 

 

Vacuum ConnectionWe connected our shop-vac to the 2-1/2″ port provided on the back of the cabinet to draw off the extra dust created during sandblasting.  We initially tried sandblasting without the vacuum, but after a few minutes, the visibility within the cabinet was reduced greatly.  Also, when the cabinet was opened after sandblasting a lot of sand dust escaped the cabinet.  For the typical use of the cabinet, a basic shop-vac from your local hardware store is more than adequate for the task.  Just remember to clean the shop-vac regularly.

IMG_1372All that is left to do is to remove the protective sheet on the window.  The total setup time took less than an hour including the various additions that we added to the airlines.

 

 

 

IMG_1926The cabinet is just right for sandblasting parts.  Sandblasting long barrels requires being a bit creative by removing the grid and placing the barrel into the media well.

 

 

Restoring An Old 12 Gauge Shotgun

Over the years, as a gunsmith, I’ve acquired and inherited numerous old guns and have just placed them in the back of the gun safe thinking that someday I’ll get around to cleaning them up or restoring them.  Being a gunsmith is like any other profession where the customer’s job comes first and those old guns just accumulated over the years.

I’m an old school gunsmith.  I grew up working on guns with my uncle who loved the Colonial and Revolutionary period.  As a result, I learned the art & craft of the gunsmith over the modern day production line gunsmith.  I love to watch the YouTube videos of gunsmiths that really get down and dirty, right into the heart of a gun to fix those really tough problems.  These folks are not the big box store variety gunsmith.  They are the true craftsmen of the profession.

A few months ago when I discovered that I didn’t have any more room for more old guns I decided to clean out the old gun safe and get rid of those guns that I really didn’t need.  Of course, my wife was really happy at the prospect of reclaiming some storage space.  However, as with any gunsmith, looking at those old guns recalls history and a story that just shouldn’t be destroyed.

BeforeStartingWork-2At that point, I decided to start on a new campaign of cleaning and restoring them in what little spare time I have.

I chose an H&R 1901 Baystate single barrel 12 gauge shotgun as my first restoration project.  This shotgun came to me 10 years ago with the passing of a family member.  The condition of the shotgun was quite pitiful to say the lease.

The receiver pivot pin is missing, all of the metal parts are severely rusted and corroded from long use without cleaning, the bore of the barrel is pitted and rusted, the firing pin is cracked, and the stock is split in so many places a metal band had been fabricated to hold it together at the grip.

BeforeStartingWork-2When disassembling an old weapon of any type great care must be taken so as not to break any of the parts.  In many cases, parts for older weapons are brittle and not easy to find.  Many gunsmiths will spend a lot of time researching the Internet for old part sources.  Parts for newer mode weapons are easy to find by simply calling the manufacturer.  In the case of this Harrington & Richardson Baystate circa 1900 single barrel shotgun, the original H & R company is no longer in existence.  Therefore, you must be creative to find a reliable parts source.

Sometimes, parts from a more recent model weapon are interchangeable with little or no modification.  In this case, I was able to find the Frame Pivot pin from a newer model 148 and grind the head down to make it fit flush with the Receiver.

IMG_0631-2Once all of the parts were disassembled they were first washed in a degreaser then flushed with warm water and dried thoroughly.

A close inspection showed extensive rust underling the bluing; especially around the edges of the forestock.  A fine metal file had to be used to remove the rust around the forestock.  Emery cloth in grits of 80, 120, and 240 was progressively used to remove the bluing and rust pitting. It was followed with a 500 grit to bring the metal up to a fine polish.  Typically, a fine polish is not needed before re-bluing, but I wanted to ensure that all of the very small and very deep rust pits were completely removed.  As you can see in the picture to the right, a lot of long hours in sanding and polishing resulted uncovering a magnificent old shotgun.

Gunsmith WorkshopBefore I go into the details of this restoration we should take a look at the workshop so that you’ll see that it takes a good work area and good tools to work on firearms properly.

In addition to the workbench, the shop needs compressed air with various regulators for different tools that require different pressure levels, air scrubber to capture dust and various types of airborne particles, shop vacuum, bench vise, drill press, a hefty assortment of tools, and a shop sink.

Additionally, safety first is the rule in any workshop.  You’ll need a breathing mask, safety glasses, disposable gloves, and an emergency power cutoff.  Also, the shop sink can be used in case you get sawdust, dirt, or chemicals on your skin plus it can be used as an eye-wash station should you accidentally get anything in your eyes.  Remember to keep a phone nearby in case you need to call for emergency services should you have an accident and need a paramedic.

Keep in mind that you need to keep your workplace clean and orderly, therefore, you should clean up your mess as you go.  Otherwise, you’ll find that some of the smallest parts that you’ve set aside for cleaning and reassembly have disappeared in the rubble.

Lastly, a workshop is no place for small children.  It is full of hazards, therefore, children should be kept at a distance and under constant supervision until they are of an age where they can be taught the proper safety measures and proper usage of its tools.  My uncle first introduced me to his gunsmith shop when I was 7 years old and I spent many hours and years learning the craft at his side.