Wednesday, August 26, 2009
I'll explain- for decades ammunition was made one way. As cheap as Remchester could crank it out. My good friend (significantly older than I) says that in the days past there was simply no such thing as "premium" ammunition. It was all made on bulk machinery and frankly quality control just wasn't that good. I'm fortunate to still have a supply (dwindling but still some) of late '40s vintage Winchester Silvertips and I'll admit they don't shoot worth "sour owl jowls" in my equally old Marlin 30-30 levergun. The same rifle is much more accurate with modern ammunition.
Only in recent years have we seen "premium" ammunition come on the scene and at least among my hunting friends; interest in handloading is on the decline. My elderly friend recently sold the entirety of his reloading equipment and just bought several cases of .30-06 Federal Premium ammunition loaded with 180gr. Nosler Partitions. "Why bother loading- this stuff is better than anything I can put together anyhow" he reports. I've got to take him seriously as he was a follower of P.O. Ackley's work before it was even cool to do so. If a guy's been loading longer than I've been alive and still has two eyes and ten fingers I figure he knows his business.
So what the devil is all this handloading business about anyway? How did the old school (not calling anyone old, relax) get these incredible gains in accuracy and performance by reloading and moving stuff around? "Consistency" replies my octogenarian friend. "In those days the big companies valued manufacturing speed over precision; everyone thinks old guns are why lots of American ammo is downloaded to weaker pressure levels- baloney! They simply couldn't build 'em (cartridges) fast enough and maintain quality control to keep from popping a few primers along the way." Indeed, if the reader will grab an older reloading manual (I have a Nosler one from the 70's) it often shows chronograph tests of lots of factory ammo and they frequently clock 150-200fps less than the published velocity from the factory. Handloaders had no problems getting those published velocities and often beyond. "Call it engineered liability insurance", quips my friend.
Case in point is Weatherby ammunition; loaded by Norma in Sweden. This ammunition is generally hot as a firecracker and few handloaders can even match Weatherby velocities and darn few ever exceed them. Also look at some of the newer, high performance cartridges; pressures in excess of 60,000 PSI are now pretty common and factory rounds are priced accordingly. The machinery those are made on is relatively new, relatively precise and allows for manufacturing to higher pressures levels and tolerances safely. It's what handloaders have been doing for years "tuning" their handloaded ammunition. Simply being more consistent and putting together a more uniform product.
I'll admit I've handloaded comparitively little rifle ammunition but I do value my friends point of view. I have reloaded a vast amount of pistol ammunition in days gone by but I was certainly more interested in quantity economy than quality for competitive practice (IPSC and IDPA burns a pile of ammo...). Is consistency really the missing element in most factory rifle ammunition? I've got to admit my friend has some compelling arguments and a body of experience to lend credence to what he's saying. I know that my rifle will shoot factory ammo as accurate and as fast as anything I could put together so I personally don't see the point anymore. As a hunter how much more accuracy do I even need or even be able to use? I'm talking about 1 MOA as a baseline. Not too many years ago that was the end all be all goal of the marksman.
Today its a starting point.
What are some of your thoughts on the subject? Keep in mind I wanted to keep variables other than performance out of the discussion. Ie. Logistics (loading for unusual or hard to obtain cartridges) or economy (shooting cheaper) are somewhat removed from the discussion of getting the best quality ammo you can buy or build. I also wanted to leave out recreation- some folks enjoy handloading as much or even more than shooting the ammo they produce- and that's a good enough reason to do it by itself. But is handloading going to give modern shooters ammunition that is more accurate and higher performace than available premium factory loads or is it all a bunch of hooey?
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Monday, August 10, 2009
I've recently finished one of the books on my reading list- Michael Pollan's "In Defense of Food". Do yourselves a favor and pick up a copy somewhere and read it. Fascinating is all I can say and I'm pretty well in tune with natural eating and several themes discussed in the book; as well as being an enthusiastic fan of things like CSAs, locally grown produce, grass fed local livestock, and (of course) wild game. I was simply amazed at some of the information presented in the book and as a bonus Mr. Pollan is an engaging and talented writer.
Just for grins here is a recent project from the kitchen (!)- locally raised bison turned into burger this morning, grilled and served between two warm, whole wheat,homemade buns with the fixin's I like. Go ahead- be jealous. I am and I ate the thing!
On other notes- several of you will notice that ads have popped on and off on my site lately. I've been experimenting with the "Monetize" button but I'll call it for what it is at this point- an abject failure. I thought that a few ads of appropriate content might be of use to some of you and it might even net me a few meager shekels in the process. Call it compensation for putting out content at risk for poaching as witnessed by Mr. Rausch's efforts of late.
Well- I was wrong. About all it did was show me the shortcomings of automated content scanning and ad selection (how did they ever link Trojans and the .30-06?- that would make an interesting article...) and goof up my visual layout (no matter how austere it really is).
So reader- here's my public apology.
Sorry. The ads are off for good. I'm sure somebody can make blogging a paying gig but I'm pretty sure its not me. If you're needing Trojans or are simply dying to contribute to the World Wildlife Fund (an equally bizarre association when you think about their mission...) I'm probably not your guy.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Let me know what you think.
Looking back over some older posts and recalling some conversations I’ve had with fellow hunters over the last few years, I’ve come to notice I appear to be a huge fan of the 30-06 and given my record on game with it I really should be. I’ve used the .30-06 in some form or another for about 20 years and I’ve always been perfectly happy with the results as well as recommending it to others.
In truth however, the .30-06 is not really one of my favorite cartridges.
Now that I’ve identified myself as one of the unwashed infidels I’ll explain why. I’ve always been curious as to why the .30-06 has taken on near mythical status in the minds of hunters, particularly in the light of the excellent cartridges the .30-06 has outsold or doomed from the start over the years. It’s been equally recommended as suitable for such diverse species as coyote and brown bears and I just can’t see how that should work out right.
I won’t bother disputing the track record of the .30-06 on game. That would be foolish- it’s been used successfully on all kinds of game to the far reaches of the earth for over 100 years. It’s taken just about one of everything on every continent and that’s including some stuff that you’d think was entirely out of its league. For an account, read Hemmingway’s Green Hills of Africa where he abandons the large double in favor of the Springfield and knocks some pretty big critters spinning. A pile of brown bears have also fallen to the .30 caliber 220gr. RN over the years, including some real monsters.
I’ve also said in print that I don’t think cartridge selection is terribly critical when it comes to hunting most of the deer family and shot placement has much more to do with harvesting game than the cartridge used. I’ve also said in print that I prefer the .308 Winchester over the .30-06 because I tend to like a lighter rifle and a shorter action. I also have a definite preference for a heavier rifle for game bigger than whitetails or caribou. No one really took me to task over any of those statements either.
I also made the comment that I think the .30-06 became as popular as it did based on things other than its technical merit; and that friend brought in some hate mail. I’ll explain further. When the US Army adopted the .30-06 and World War I broke out, thousands of young men from all over the nation went to fight and were equipped with a bolt action rifle in .30-06 Springfield. Until that time, the sporting arm of choice was the lever action rifle and while today only the Marlin remains (since the demise of Winchester’s 1894) in those years there were lots of variations of lever gun floating around. Most were chambered in .30-30, 32 Special, or something of equivalent ballistics. Pressures were low due to the lever action’s weak primary extraction ability and velocities were relatively low (at least by modern standards). I can only imagine the first experience with a Springfield’06 on a 300 yard range to a kid used to a ’94 in .30 WCF.
There were other high velocity cartridges around in those days. The .30 Adolph Express (aka .30 Newton) as well as 7x57 and 8x57 Mausers from Europe and some dandy rounds from Britain like the .303 and .318 Westley Richards. Even the Canadians produced the 280 Ross and it was a legitimate hot number for its day. The .30 Newton died during the Depression and neither the metric nor the British numbers became all that popular over here and God only knows what happened to the Ross. But the folks hunting post World War I latched on the .30-06 Springfield with a passion and began knocking down game from coast to coast. It’s my contention that you could have chambered the Springfield rifle in any number of rounds and we’d be talking about that cartridge today instead of the .30-06.
None of those statements should be construed as criticism of the .30-06. It’s a fine hunting cartridge and a world standard for almost a century. I’ve killed a pile of stuff with the several I’ve owned as have many folks I’ve known. I’ll probably own another one eventually since my taste in rifles seems to be cyclical. I’m just saying that it’s good but not good enough that if it were introduced today we’d be all that excited about it. It’s not that much better than the .270, 280 or 7mm Magnum and for certain (big) things it’s certainly slightly inferior to the .35 Whelen. A lot of guys wax poetic about the .338-06 these days and they should; it’s a great cartridge. The 6.5-06 and .25-06 are both excellent in their respected category.
None of them beat the .30-06 to the punch though.
To get to the crux of this post I’ll confess- I really wanted figure out what makes a cartridge popular and a commercial success and what dooms one to obscurity. I wish I could determine that, because I could make a pile of dough working for Winchester or Remington. We compare everything to the .30-06 because, well, it got there first. Take for instance the .280 Remington- a fine all around cartridge in all respects and a lot of knowledgeable gun cranks pick this one over the Springfield cartridge every day. Commercially though, it’s a disaster. It’s been through two name changes (the brief 7mm-06 and the 7mm Remington Express) and its just sort of sitting there today relatively unnoticed.
The .270 Winchester made a serious dent in ’06 sales largely due to Jack O’Connor using a tanker of ink extolling its virtue from various magazines on a monthly basis. Interestingly, since O’Connor’s passing the .270 has been steadily slipping in sales. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe it will ever fade away but for the only cartridge that ever gave the ’06 a serious run for its money it’s starting to wane a bit. As good as the .270 is; it would appear that its sales depended on a guru to some degree. I can’t figure that one out either.
If we look at cartridges that appear stillborn you can find some interesting numbers. We’ve already discussed the 280 Remington/7mm Express thing but the greatest cartridge flop of the 70’s is without a doubt the 8mm Remington Magnum. Even its parent company has given up on it and makes a single load (plus one seasonal) and only chambers a rifle through the custom shop. An 8mm bullet perched on a voluminous case that really never took advantage of the cartridge’s powder capacity was something the market ignored profoundly. The dimensionally much smaller .325 WSM will match its ballistics without breaking a sweat. It also suffered from bad bullets- made for 8x57 Mauser velocities not 8mm Remington Magnum ones and component bullets suffered as well. Today we have such good 8mm bullets but it’s too late- the toe tag is already on the 8mm Remington Magnum. It’s a pity; we could have had an American version of the European 8x68S. Most folks that used one said it killed game like a freight train; there just weren’t many of them apparently.
We have with us now a plethora of “short magnum”, “super short magnums” and a host of boutique cartridges that seem to have little commercial merit other than a rifle maker’s name on a head stamp. That’s not generally a bad thing mind you although a lot of traditionalists will cry out that each is inferior to something created prior to World War II. There only partially right but still somewhat right nonetheless. I’ve played a bit with the .300 WSM and the .375 Ruger- two cartridges I like very much indeed although I’ve given up on the Ruger as too much trouble in my location. I’m still working with the .300 WSM and although it’s a hot number it follows the tradition of not delivering quite up to the hype it’s sold under. Whether a cartridge fires a 180grain at 3010 or a more realistic 2900 feet per second matters little to the caribou whose lung you’ve just blown out. But I guess it makes us feel better thinking we own a real .300 and not just a hot- rodded 30-06 (which is pretty much what a .300 magnum is…).
I view most of these creations as stillborn and give the .300WSM and .270 WSM some chance of commercial survival based on sheer numbers out there. The .375 Ruger is selling beyond their expectations and the case is spawning equally boutique offspring of its own but the lack of genuine need for a .375 in North America will (unfortunately) eventually doom this one to failure. Let’s face it- we like the ’06 so much because it’s so completely adequate for most everything we hunt on this continent and most stuff other places as well.
A couple of unfortunate casualties of this decade long hoopla of ballistic creation are some genuinely good cartridges. The .338 Federal comes to mind and seems like an updated .338x57 that O’Connor bantered about some 50 years ago. Mild recoil, good velocities and good bullet weight on a short action case make this one a real winner and loved by most who’ve tried it. Commercially I don’t think this one will make it and that’s sad. Another is the .370 Sako Magnum as marketed in this country by Federal. In Europe it’s the 9.3x66 Sako Magnum but whatever you call it- it’s good. The ’06 case blown out to take 9.3mm bullets, loaded to the gills with miracle powder and the ballistics are off the chart for a standard length and case diameter. You get full magazine capacity (4 or 5 in most rifles) and a standard action rifle. Unfortunately the public couldn’t seem to care less and it’s just kind of lost in the shuffle. That’s a real pity because this one really has some potential if it were to become successful.
All this talk about various cartridges is making my head hurt. Maybe I should just take a .30-06 and go hunting instead. It may not have been the best of its era or even our present age but at least it was good enough not to fade away on us.