Sunday, December 11, 2016

.22 Aguila 60gr. Subsonic Sniper or....a Dry Treatise on Bullet Stabilization

I'll say right at the beginning, I am an unrepentant grouse junkie. Particularly, ruffed grouse. I'm sure some folks in the sporting dog/tweed jacket/ double game gun crowd would think I deserve to go to hell for my approach, but I am an avid eater of ruffed grouse and will shoot them with relish whenever I find one. Up here (and most places they live actually), ruffed grouse are a highly cyclical species, and the years they are'd better take advantage of them because you might not even see one the next year.  I will and have shoot grouse with whatever weapon I have closest at hand. I've taken grouse with shotguns, .22s, centerfire rifles, airguns, archery tackle, a slingshot and one fortunately thrown stick of firewood.

Earlier this week, I finished up working on some writing assignment and went out for a bit of air before the sun set. Of course, the sun was setting at 3:00 in the afternoon this time of year, but no matter. The important thing is, I saw a trio of ruffed grouse happily roosting away in the swaying branches of a balsam poplar just across my rural road. I hastily donned boots, a jacket and grabbed my much loved CZ .22 from the rack and headed out to round up supper.

Being that I try to be a good neighbor, I tend to try to reduce the racket of gunfire around the house. I've shot a number of critters with CB caps, shorts and assorted flavors of "subsonic" ammunition. As a contributing factor, stocks of .22 ammunition are only of late starting to be more available and I'm still unable to replenish my supply of CBs and CCI Green Tag subsonic ammunition. A few weeks ago, the local hook and bullet got in some Aguila ammunition and the proprietor suggested I try the 60gr Sniper Subsonic. And that was what the rifle was loaded with.

I trotted across the road, rifle in hand, and was soon under the bare branches of the poplar looking up at the plump undercarriages of the grouse. A shot into the underside of the grouse does a couple of things, it absolutely kills them and doesn't tear up the edible bits on the breast or legs. At the shot the first grouse simply folded up and fell off the branch. The shot wasn't loud, just a pop a little louder than my suppressed air gun makes. The remaining two didn't even twitch and soon shots two and three had them in hand with the first. Satisfied with grocery shopping, I carried them inside to dress them out.

By this point in my life, I've shot and butchered (literally) hundreds of small game animals with a .22 rifle and at least two dozen varieties of ammunition. I've never seen anything quite like the carcass. The range was pretty short, 40 or 50 feet, but speed alone couldn't account for the mess the round made of all three birds. The hardest hit had a hole in the back large enough for three fingers to fit in. Grouse are lightly built creatures and a .22 most generally bores a caliber sized hole clean through. Even expanding rounds like hollow points generally won't expand much, if any, on the trip through a grouse or ptarmigan. Besides, the Aguila round isn't an expanding design at all.

The Aguila is simply a .22 Short casing with an extra long plain lead bullet stuck on top of it. It's rated for a moderate muzzle velocity of just 950 feet per second. Holding one up to a ruler shows the bullet is just over 1/2" long or so depending on the heel of the bullet in the case- which by .22 Rimfire standards is simply enormous. The Aguila people suggest that they only be used in barrels that are 20" long or more for best accuracy and my CZ is equipped with a 25" barrel. A little research on the Internet had numerous folks suggesting that the bullets are barely stable in flight and tumble on impact causing significant damage.

And that my friends...sounded like a bunch of hooey.

So I did what any self respecting rifle crank and shooting geek would do. I set up a test. It wasn't even much of a test. I simply took the ammo out at 25 yards and shot a common cardboard box. For a control I shot 5 rounds of CCI Stingers, a 32gr bullet at 1640fps. It's both ends of the .22 ammunition spectrum- a long heavy bullet loping along and a short light one smoking along at twice the speed.

This is the result from the Aguila-

And this is the result of the CCI-

As you can clearly see, the CCI punched nice clean round holes through the cardboard. The Aguila punched oblong holes and looks like the bullets were impacting sideways...because that's exactly what they did. No wonder those grouse were so torn up, they had a spinning 60 grain, 0.224"x 0.625" cylinder of lead smashing through them. While the effect was deadly, an unstable bullet gives lousy accuracy. If those grouse had been in a higher tree or simply further away, I might have missed completely despite being within "gimme" range with an accurate .22 rifle. While my test wasn't geared for accuracy- the group size was three times that of the CCI Stinger and that bullet is pretty mediocre in my rifle. (Authors note- the test was simply firing offhand while freezing in the arctic air. No commentary on my shooting, I was simply looking for impact marks.)

My CZ has a barrel that is 25" long, well over the suggested length by Aguila. I attempted to conduct the same test with my Ruger Bearcat revolver and after 5 shots, hadn't managed to even hit the target. Since it was -11F, I assumed the accuracy is so dismal from a handgun that it was pointless to keep shooting until I hit one by luck. My CZ (and most other .22s on the market) have a barrel twist of 1 turn in 16". That's been the standard twist rate on .22s for just about forever and is completely adequate for virtually every variety of .22 ammunition out there...except this one apparently.

I must confess. At this point, I'm not even sure what this ammunition is good for. I suppose a person could have a .22 LR barrel fabricated with a faster twist, perhaps to use this ammunition with a suppressor, but you'd have a spendy, purpose built gun to use with a single variety of ammunition.  Some rifles may in fact stabilize this ammunition, but I would certainly suggest you try it first before you lay in a large supply. It looks neat, and for close range work it did suffice with tremendous result, but nothing you could rely on at any reasonable distance.

It's an interesting concept, but at this point I'm inclined to regard it as a novelty.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Practical Hunting Battery- Revisited

It's cold outside, time to get back to blogging a bit. I've had a very busy fall season.

Back in the way back when, circa 2009, I wrote a piece about the minimum practical hunting battery. It's been one of the most viewed articles I've posted. That was eight years ago and my hunting has changed a little since then as well as some new things on the market and other market forces are at work.

The Big Game Rifle- The centerfire hunting rifle is the centerpiece of most folks hunting battery over much of the west as well as the rest of the country. While folks continue to attempt to press the AR platform into the big game rifle role, what we're really talking about here is a scoped bolt action. New rifles are lighter and more accurate than ever. Something on the order of a .30-06 or .300WM is probably about right. I've experimented with quite a few cartridges since I wrote that first piece and came away unimpressed with several. I've shot game with the 7-08, .270, .338WM and two flavors of .375. For an "all around" rifle in Alaska, the .300 or '06 makes a sensible choice. My current favorite rifle, a Nosler 48 in .300WSM has performed splendidly on a number of animals up to, and including, moose. A rifle in the finished weight of 7.5-8.5 pounds is about right for the balance between portable and shootable. In deer country, the 7-08 would be better than fine and it's my preference over the .270 Winchester. With modern bullets, the .338 and .375s are just much more than you need for the bulk of N.American hunting.  A good bolt action with a decent scope in '06 or .300 is all you really need.

I've largely abandoned cartridges larger than that. My frequent hunting partner has made some great shots with his .338 as well as his .375 H&H. It worked, but there is only one degree of dead. I'm impressed with modern bullets and powders more and more and think that until game gets very large, the .30 cal is more than capable. I tipped over a bull moose this year with my .300WSM at a lasered 360 yards. Not sure more gun would have really helped much. I've done a lot of hunting with the .308, the .30-06 and the .300 and never really regretted it. In the Lower 48, a hunter could easily get by with the .270 or 7-08 and never come up under gunned.

The Rimfire - Market forces, being what they are, have largely seen the availability of .22LR vanish for much of the previous 7 years in a lot of the country and in my location- I went 4 or 5 years without seeing a single box on the shelf. I was a huge fan of the .22LR. Not so much now. What the intervening years did was turn me into much more of a shotgunner. I still have a pretty nice .22 rifle, but I seldom shoot it for anything other than the off grouse or marauding squirrel. The bulk of my small game hunting is now done with a shotgun. I've also taken up water fowling since the original article was written. I think the rimfire still has a place in most folks' hunting arsenal but non-exisant and more spendy ammunition took the luster off of it for me. My current .22 is a CZ 452 Trainer with a nice set of iron sights.

I'm not sure that the .22LR market will ever truly recover to a state I recognize, but if I were picking a rimfire today to go forth and shoot small game and get in some low cost practice- I'd go to the .17HMR and never look back.

The Shotgun- I took up shotgunning a few years ago when I picked up a Benelli M2. I kinda messed around with it some but the utter lack of .22 ammunition really got me going. I really think if a hunter is going to have one shotgun to do it all- a self loading 12 gauge with a 3" chamber has much to recommend to it. It's overkill for the majority of grouse hunting, except spooky sharp tails in open country, but it's perfect for ducks and geese. You could try to get by on waterfowl with a 20 gauge, but that's mostly a waste of time in the era of steel shot. I even picked up an 18" barrel for it to keep in camp.

Once you start exploring some of the offering with shotgun ammunition- things get interesting. I've even taken mine predator calling- loaded with Heavy-Shot "Dead Coyote" ammunition. I've enjoyed using the shotgun more and could easily see my way to a whole rack of them- but if I had to pick one, a 12 ga. 3" auto is it.

On that note. The construction of that self loading shotgun matters too. After messing with some gas operated guns- the kick a fair bit less but they weigh a lot more and seem pretty fussy. The Benelli Inertia system is now being copied by several makers and it flat out works well and isn't overly heavy or complicated. If I were shopping for a new shotgun- Inertia drive would be where I started.

The Extra-
I've tried a bit of this and that over the last few years. An air gun was pretty neat and I've done some good hunting with it. I've also gotten into archery, great fun but I haven't pursued big game with it yet. I've used some antique shotguns as something of an aesthetic pursuit. Though, at the end of the day- those three guns are what i reach for when I head out and I'm pretty confident I could use those three pieces for 99% of any hunting I'd do.