The Bullshooter

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Professional Kangaroo Shooting Part 1

This is not going to be a discussion about the rights and wrongs of slaughtering "innocent" creatures. Most of the vocal lobbyists for demanding a stop to Government controlled culls have never seen a kangaroo in the wild, and seem to want to draw a parallel with the decimation of the buffalo in America. Nothing could be further from the truth. Improved water distribution to the semi-arid areas in Australia have provided conditions that sustain higher kangaroo populations than existed when Captain Cook landed. The latest population figures I've seen indicate a marked increase since private firearm ownership has been dramatically reduced by legislation. In a good year (plentiful rainfall), kangaroo numbers swell enormously. In the following seasons any droughts lead to widespread death from starvation. Professional shooters are regulated by government bodies in an effort to control the roo population.

I'd like to discuss the rifles and equipment used by the pro shooters I have encountered over the years. My perspective is dated by a few years now, but I doubt much has changed. There must be few places in the world where so much shooting is done by so few. Most centerfire rifle shooters, certainly hunters, never wear out a barrel in their lifetime. In contrast to this, it's not unusual for a pro shooter to rebarrel in less than a year.

I'll start with a brief job description. The work day starts in the late afternoon, not long before dusk. Kangaroos are nocturnal animals, and in any area a few hours' drive from the coast, if you are driving at night, there is a high risk of hitting one on the road (you will notice all the locals have roo bars on their vehicles).

A skilled roo shooter will take note of the weather conditions and the prevailing wind, and make a decision as to the most likely area of high roo concentration. He typically has a territory of many thousands of acres, sometimes incorporating several properties, sometimes just a corner of a giant station. He may use the shearers' quarters, or if he is lucky an unused homestead, but home comforts such as air conditioning are very unlikely. Any electricity is likely to be provided by a generator.

There are generally two periods of activity for kangaroos; from dusk until around midnight, then again from around 2am until dawn. For a shooting wagon most pro shooters favored the Toyota Landcruiser, this being the most rugged and reliable unit for copping a lot of abuse and hard usage. A typical rig is a flat tray on back with a 6' high steel box frame for hanging carcasses. Most shooters work alone, and shoot from the driver's seat. There may be a bar covered with soft rubber fitted to the outside of the driver's door, used as a rifle rest. At least one spotlight is fitted through the roof with a remote handle.

The shooter typically will be sweeping the surrounding area with his left hand, while driving slowly along his track. The spotlight beam needs to have enough brightness to hold the roo while the shooter takes the truck out of gear and slows to a stop, getting the rifle into position as he does so. This is where a lot of skill comes in to play. If there is a load of roo carcasses on board, he cannot afford to wait until the truck stops swaying back and forth, since the roo will only stay frozen in the spotlight for a few seconds. The better shooters can time their shot to release at the moment the truck coasts to a stop, just before the hanging carcasses swing backwards. Since roos normally congregate in a "mob", there is a chance of killing several before moving on.

It is surprising what noise will spook them. The report of smaller calibers such as 222 Remington may not immediately scare off a mob, but strangely enough the metallic click of a truck door will. Most of the time roos are shot within 150 yards. A single shot to the head is the preferred method, and government regulations prevent the use of rimfire calibers. I found that the guys I met took pride in using quality equipment that left as little to chance as possible for a clean and painless kill.

After a full night's hunting a successful shooter may have accounted for between 40 and 70 roos. If he is shooting for pelts he will have to skin them as the night goes on. If the carcasses are left to cool the job becomes extremely difficult. Otherwise, if shooting for pet food, there is less work in the field. Kangaroo meat for human consumption is a fairly recent development, and the cost of getting set up with a rig that conforms to sanitary regulations (virtually all surfaces stainless steel) was so high that very few shooters were interested. This may have changed in the past few years however.

Every roo shot must have a tag attached (bought from the state Parks and Wildlife Service); this is how the cull numbers are controlled. By first light the shooter drives to the nearest town to sell his truck load to a skin buyer or pet food processor. Given the size of these areas, just the trip into town may take hours. If there is a refrigerated box in the town, the shooter may also supplement his income by shooting wild pigs. Some of this wild pork is exported to Germany.

Our shooter has now been working all night, and may (if he is lucky) be back to his base by early to mid morning. Now he has to service his vehicle, fix anything that has broken, load ammunition for the coming night, cook and eat something, oh, and if he gets the chance, get some sleep as long as the temperature allows some chance of resting. I haven't mentioned the tendency for punctures if he works in mulga country or chassis damage on the rocky terrains. He should be more than a fair bush mechanic, since RACQ (local version of AAA) isn't likely to bail him out in some 10,000 acre paddock in the middle of nowhere. And it's a long walk home.

The next installment will deal with the rifles, scopes, reloading equipment and practice, as well as other accessories such as spotlights.


It was notable that on the Lapua stand this year there was no signage visible for SK rimfire ammunition. Could this mean SK as a brand will disappear in the near future? Obviously the factory will continue making excellent match ammo, but it may mean all production will be marketed as Lapua in future. Remember, you heard it here first!

The Lapua 22LR ultra-match Midas L and M will be replaced by a single line of Midas. Not sure which bullet diameter (.223 or .224) will survive.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Touch-Up Blueing at Home

What many people do not realize is that the blued finish on your rifle, pistol or shotgun is actually a form of controlled corrosion. Blueing itself is not a protective coating against rust, which is why guns need to be wiped over with gun oil after use. Even the acid in our finger marks can result in rust starting - sometimes within hours (it depends on just how acidic the individual... so keep your mother-in-law well away from your gun safe! Har har! Just kidding, Dear!).

The depth and quality of the blued finish can depend not only on the process used, but also the composition of the metal. Not all gun steel is created equal. The more ferrous the metal, the easier it will take on a deep blue finish (also the easier it will rust). Most rimfire barrels are made from a very low grade of steel, called black steel. This is not a bad thing, since it only has to deal with very low pressures and soft lead bullets. But black steel has a high carbon content, and blues beautifully.

With modern technology some factories have, for reasons best known to themselves, taken some unforgivable liberties in using high alloy content steels that result in ugly old age. The classic example if the Winchester Model 94 lever action. Somewhere in the 60s or 70s the receiver was cast in a new high-alloy metal. I'm sure the decision was economic. These rifles are mostly carried with a hand wrapped around the action, and even with moderate use the blued finish wears off. I'm afraid there is nothing I can do to help this type of rifle... even the methods I'll be giving you for optimizing cold blueing will result in nothing better than a sickly gray smudge.

If you have any form of firearm that is (or could one day be) worth money, don't fool with it. Give it to a professional gunsmith for a proper reblue, or simply leave it in its original finish - most often collectible firearms are best left that way.

If, on the other hand, you have granddad's old single shot, that has mountains of sentimental value, but will never be worth more than a few beans, and you want to tart it up a bit without spending buckets of cash (professional reblues are not cheap) - then you're in the right place.

This can also work for touching up parts that have lost their finish, but be aware that if you intend touching up only part of a larger component like a barrel or receiver, the new finish will likely not match the old.

There's really no fail-safe way of knowing exactly how the steel will react to the blue, but a good way of finding out if you're dealing with high ferrous content is to try a strong magnet against it. If it sticks like crazy, it will probably blue okay. If it shows limited interest in attaching itself, chances are it's high alloy content and the blue won't take very well.

You Will Need

Quantities of steel wool, OOO Grade (the finest), and maybe a couple of slightly coarser grades.
A bench polisher, with wire wheel (ideal but not absolutely necessary).
Safety goggles and protective rubber gloves.
A tube or bottle of touch-up blue. My favorite is G96 paste, as shown, but any reputable brand will do.
A bottle of gun oil.
Scraps of cloth that will NOT be useful for anything later.


Ideally the part(s) you are blueing should be taken back to bare metal. A bench mounted polishing wheel does this admirably. Not as good because it takes a lot of time and effort, is steel wool, which I always use wet with gun oil. Never, ever use sandpaper. Even the finest grade of wet and dry will leave scratch marks that will show through the blue.

When the part is polished, don't leave it for any amount of time "in the white" (bare metal), because even though you may not see it, rust takes a hold immediately.

Before applying the blue, you must first degrease it completely. Acetone works great, although there are some gun degreasers that would probably work okay.

Don't forget the gloves at this stage. You're dealing with some nasty chemicals here. And make sure you have good ventilation so you're not getting too much of a whiff of this stuff.

IF POSSIBLE leave the part where it will get warm. Heat helps the blue "take". Sitting it in the sun on a hot day for 30 minutes would be perfect.

Liberally apply the cold blue solution to a wad of OOO grade steel wool, and rub it into the metal. It should darken immediately. Do not be too concerned if the finish is not entirely even at this stage. Sit the part down and leave it for about 30 minutes, NO LONGER.

After 30 minutes, take a cloth, apply gun oil to it, and wipe the part over completely. Don't overdo this. When you have wiped all of the blue solution off, and the surface appears to have a thin film of oil, set it down and leave it.

24 hours later you MUST give it another heavy coat of gun oil. The first coat will 90% neutralize the chemical reaction of the metal to the blue. When you come back a day later, chances are the surface will be dry, and may be showing outward signs of corrosion, maybe a brownish powdery tinge. This second coat of oil should stop the blueing (or corrosion) completely.

Of course you should regularly check for any spot that may have missed being neutralized over the next few days.

Most of the cold blue instructions will tell you to wash the part in water immediately after application. This is their safe way of ensuring that chemically-induced corrosion stops there. Unfortunately it also limits the effectiveness of the blue. My technique grew from dissatisfaction with the patchy results I was getting from following their instructions. Your mileage may vary, so I'd recommend starting with minor parts to see if this technique gives you the results you expect.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Rise and Fall of the XS40 Sporter Air Rifle

Nothing has shaken up the 3-Position Sporter Air Rifle program here in the US like the arrival of the Daisy Valiant XS40 pre-charged air rifle. When it was introduced 5 years ago there was widespread grumbling to almost outright rebellion amongst junior program coaches who saw it as the beginning of an equipment race that would escalate costs to remain competitive - and the whole concept of Sporter Class was to keep the equipment affordable for the myriad of 4-H, Boy Scout, Jaycees, JROTC, NRA and USAS-based programs.

With the introduction of the XS40, ceiling cost of eligible rifles jumped from $200 to $350. It did not stop there, either. With the fall of the US Dollar against the Euro on top of raised factory prices the ceiling had to be lifted again to $475.

Last year Daisy announced that it was no longer supplying the XS40, and the 3-P Council stated that any rifles after a certain serial number would no longer be eligible for competition. What follows is a blow-by-blow account of the rifle's checkered career, its teething problems, personality and its strengths.

The XS40 was based on the CZ 200 - a mid powered pre-charged air rifle marketed primarily in England and Europe. It was fitted with accessory rail for a single point sling, as well as Gamo target sights. The stock was made adjustable both in cheekpiece height and length of pull, with the use of spacers. Velocity was set to just over 570fps, giving 90 to 110 shots of fairly consistent velocity from a fully charged cylinder.

The fact that it did not have a regulator was the only reason I can see that a pre-charged rifle could be produced so cheaply. The system works okay at 10m velocities. There is a slow spread of velocity, starting at around 570fps when the cylinder is full, at 200 BAR (or just under 3000psi). It slowly increases to about 590fps when half full, and tapers back down to 570 by the time cylinder pressure has dropped to about 120 BAR. This spread of velocity does not make any appreciable difference to the fall of shot at 10m, although to continue to shoot below 120 BAR will result in shots dropping low.

Some shooters tried to increase velocity by winding up the hammer spring to shoot FT and metallic silhouette. This had two unfortunate results; a far wider spread of velocity, and a much reduced number of shots from the cylinder. But in its standard guise it was acceptable as far as accuracy was concerned, if a little more picky about the pellets that worked well when compared to the Walther-barreled Daisy 853, 753 and 888.

With the arrival of the first batch of rifles it became clear that somebody had some funny ideas about the physiology of junior shooters. I'm 6'4", and the length of pull, before any spacers were added, was about right for me. Added to this, when the Gamo rear sight was fitted to the receiver, it was almost impossible to get the head in a position to see through the sight. Even with no spacers fitted, the cheekpiece was too high.

So for the first batch of rifles Daisy had to rush sets of riser blocks from England to make them usable. Riser blocks are normally not allowed in Sporter Class, and an exception was made for the serial range of those rifles in the rule book.

The next batch of rifles had shorter stocks with lower set cheekpieces. Unfortunately the extra spacers that were now going to be needed, were only produced after months of waiting. Many coaches made their own.

All the drama was not yet done with however. With no notice, the original metal trigger shoes were replaced with molded plastic trigger shoes. These shoes were adjustable on a trigger bar to allow for setting up the correct reach for each individual shooter. It was locked in place by a screw pinching the opposing parts of the top of the shoe onto the trigger bar. This worked fine while the shoe was metal, but the slippery plastic shoes (needing more tension to stop them from moving on the bar) would snap like a carrot when the screw was tightened. Larger headed screws, that spread the load more evenly, eventually solved the problem, but not before a bunch of trigger shoes bit the dust.

About the same time, another engineering surprise was the replacement of the rear stock mounting bolt, which changed from a conventional slotted screw head (that anybody could tighten if it became loose) to a slotted hollow nut over a threaded rod, that now required a special two-pronged tool.

But the biggest headache yet was brought about by somebody (allegedly in the CZ factory) taking it on themselves to "improve" the trigger release weight. Of course, this only surfaced when several brand new rifles failed pre-competition inspection at a major shoot when they failed to pick up the minimum 1 1/2 pound weight. The wailing and gnashing of teeth by frustrated coaches could be heard echoing all around the range. Closely followed by similar wailing etc at Daisy, after we discovered the cause of the problem... not one, but two springs had been changed in the trigger unit, and one of them could only be changed back by completely stripping the trigger parts from the receiver. And no small number of this new batch of rifles had already been shipped to junior programs all over the country.

It gets even better. When discovering the trigger was too light, the coach would logically think that he could increase trigger weight by following the instructions in the owners manual (which were at best misleading). By doing so he would logically wind the so-called weight adjusting screw all the way through the receiver body to fall inside, leaving both screw and associated spring floating around the guts of the action. And needing a special tool to remove the butt stock to gain access to it.

More accurate trigger adjustment instructions can be found on Pilkguns' TenP pages.

Somewhere along the line the forend slipped my mind. The first few batches of rifles had the forend attached from underneath, into the front of the receiver, with a disappointingly insubstantial looking hex-headed screw. Remember now, the accessory rail is mounted on the underside of the forend, in which the sling swivel is clamped. You could grab the front of that forend and waggle it from side to side with very little pressure. Of course the air cylinder provided a sort of built-in waggle-limiter. This was not the most conducive to accurate prone shooting however.

Smarter coaches would train their kids to alter their position as they moved from one column of bulls to the next (shooting on a 12-bull card). If they did not do this, if they simply pushed the rifle sideways to get on target, the difference in side pressure to the forend would cause a change in the point of impact.

Eventually the forend design was changed to incorporate a forward clamp that fixed the front of the forend to the barrel. This improved the group shifting a little, but the clamp could not be retro-fitted to an existing forend, a complete new forend assembly had to be purchased.

Apart from these minor problems, everything was plain sailing.

Or was it?

There was the batch of brass fill adapters that had not been properly threaded to accept the air cylinder. And the cylinders that developed slow leaks through the pressure gauge at the front, sometimes pinging off the plastic gauge cover. We believe this was caused by some seals that were past their use-by date, as many of them leaked from new. Then there was the front sight base, that started out metal, but was suddenly changed to a plastic piece. When locking it to the barrel with the set screw it was very easy to crack the whole piece if it was not tightened very carefully.

Through all of this Daisy bent over backwards to keep these rifles in operation. I must stress that Daisy had no part in the manufacture of them, they imported them specifically to supply Sporter Class teams, and they took their responsibilities very seriously in a difficult situation. I am certain that the whole junior program is run at a loss by Daisy, but in the end the losses with this model simply mounted too high. This is why I believe the XS40 was retired.

After looking at just the negatives, it's important that I try to balance the account somewhat, because a lot of teams around the country have benefited greatly from buying and using these rifles.

The obvious advantage of a pre-charge is that the shooter does not have to move out of position between shots while shooting in the prone position to recock and load the next shot. The old Daisy 853 (and its fancier-stocked and sighted 753 brother), being single stroke pneumatic, forced the kids to roll on their side to work the compression lever. In fact some of the smaller kids lacked the strength to close the lever.

The stock adjustments made it easier to fit the rifle to the shooter.

The trigger was vastly superior to the standard trigger in the 853 family.

And despite the sorry list of problems, they occurred over several years and by no means affected all that were imported, which amounted to thousands of units.

Looking to the future for Sporter Class, what does the future hold? I hear Daisy is developing an adjustable stock for the excellent CO2-powered Model 888. And John McCaslin of AirForce is working on a pre-charged air rifle as we speak. I hope to have news of its development very soon.

Friday, March 17, 2006

IWA 2006

Held in Nuremburg, Germany every year, the IWA Show is where all of the European manufacturers announce new products. This year's IWA ended a few days ago, and I had my spies on hand.

Ragnar Skanaker, probably the most famous pistol shooter in world, was there, with an absolutely brilliant design for shooting glasses for both rifle and pistol shooters. Look to see these available from American dealers such as Pilkguns sometime in early May.

Gehmann was showing a new adjustable iris triangle front sight for rifle shooters.
Also announced was the marketing collaboration between Gehmann and Matchguns. It is hoped that the Gehmann interface and perhaps influence will minimize the technical problems that have plagued Cesare's many forward-thinking designs over the years at various companies. Another rumor going around the show was that Matchguns production was being moved to Spain from Italy. Time will tell if this be the case.

AHG Anschutz has a very fine looking bolt cover for use when transporting smallbore rifles with the bolt removed from the action.

AHG also announced a new deodorizer for shooting jackets and boots, which is very effective at removing the body odors present from hot sweaty shooting clothes not allowed to air properly during a busy travel schedule. The story is this product was developed for the funeral industry in particular for the transport of bodies prior to their being embalmed.

Walther had big announcements of its Hammerli acquisitions, and was showing all the current Hammerli line inside their booth. The new Walther SSP sport pistol was also heavily promoted there. Unfortunately this pistol has not yet made it to American dealers' shelves.

Feinwerkbau seems finally to have realized that many shooters are sick of the aluminum or laminated construction that modern stocks are made of and would like to have a modern gun with a traditional look. It is now offering its top air rifles in a very dark, walnut-looking natural wood. However, the wood is a stained beech to minimize costs.

Steyr was offering a new air rifle, the LG20. Based somewhat on the earlier and popular LG10 action, it is offered as a less expensive alternative to the top of the line LG110 action. The LG20 is available in wood stock configuration only, mostly in blue and gray laminate, but walnut will be available as well. The new LG20 will share the same cylinder design as the LG110, as developed in the LG100.

Norbert Ussfeller, in conjunction with AHG and Gruenig & Elmiger, is the is in his third year of production with his F27 rifle. It is believed by many to be absolutely the finest target rifle in the world. Each action is hand tuned and each barrel is carefully selected before being mated to the action. Top American shooters Jason Parker and Matt Emmons have recently purchased F27s for themselves.

Anschutz was celebrating its 150th year anniversary, with a new logo reminiscent of old Chevrolet hood ornaments. Anschutz was also celebrating numerous successes at the recently concluded 2006 Winter Olympics where nearly all biathlon medals were won using the Anschutz biathlon action. One of the hits of the Anschutz display was a music video someone had put together with a popular song “Push the Button” along with a sexy model and some Anschutz air rifles

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Parallax in Rifle Scopes

Telescopic sights have always been something of a compromise. Depending on age, quality of optics and how much adjustability it has built in, will decide just how much of a compromise.

I want to talk today about just one aspect of scopes, that being parallax.

Obviously this will not directly relate to any scope with adjustable objective, or other range focus function. Well, maybe just a little...

Your average run-of-the-mill telescopic sight has been focused at a set distance. Sights designed for rimfires rifles generally are set to somewhere around 70 yards, those for center fire rifles somewhere over 100 yards. This means that at that distance, for that particular scope, there will be no parallax error. At any other distance, there will be some parallax error.

Parallax error is something that can be seen when shooting from a fixed point, like sand bags on a bench rest. Set up a target at a known distance, then align the rifle so that the cross hair is pointed at the center of the target. Without moving the rifle, then move your head from side to side, checking to see if there is any movement of the cross hair on the image of the target. When there is no parallax error, the cross hair will remain unmoving on the target until the image disappears. But if the cross hair moves as you move your head, your potential group size has just been magnified by the amount of movement you now see - and it all depends on how you position your head in relation to the scope from shot to shot.

It is common for a center fire rifle to shoot poorly at a 50 yard target for this reason. There may be an inch or two of parallax error, making the unfortunate shooter crazy since it's only logical to expect groups twice the size at 100 yards.

Of course I have a solution to this problem, at least when shooting from a bench, that does not involve buying an expensive new scope with bells and whistles. Feel free to send contributions to the author's beer fund when you see how well it works...

Set up to shoot from your rest as normal. Now, move your head backwards, away from the eyepiece of the scope. You will see that the circular image becomes smaller than the ocular lens. Centralize this image in the ocular lens, making the black band a perfect circle. If you sight each shot like this you will ensure your eye is in exactly the same place, eliminating the parallax error.

If this is a hard kicking center fire rifle, make sure your recoil pad maintains good contact with your shoulder, or it could be a painful experience.

Many target scopes have adjustable objective, that will focus the scope to a particular range. These have yardage settings on the adjusting ring. It is still advisable to use the side-to-side head method to test for parallax error, because in my experience the settings are not often very accurate. For shooting metallic silhouette you may need to make your own graduation marks for each distance. It just takes another variable out of the equation.

If your rifle has adjustable windage scope mounts, it may be advisable to adjust as close to zero as possible using the mount adjustments before moving the scope adjustments. Modern "image moving" scopes bend the image to be viewed in the center, even when the adjustments are at their extremes. You can set the adjustments at or very near their optimum position by winding each adjustment (windage and elevation) the full extent of its movement, counting clicks as you go. Then, bringing them back half that number will give you center. Lower quality variable scopes in particular can move their point of impact when the magnification is adjusted, and this is exaggerated if the scope adjustments are well out of center.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

An Embarrassing Bulge

Before I get started on this, I'd like to make it clear that I love the SIG-Hammerli P240. To those not familiar with this model of target pistol, it was made in the 1970s in 22LR, 32 S&W Long Wadcutter and 38 Special Wadcutter. It's a semi auto made with all the Swiss precision you'd expect, and was very popular as a UIT Center Fire gun. The 22LR version was pretty rare, I only ever saw some conversions kicking around in that caliber. But as far as balance, trigger and feel were concerned, this was a peach.

By far the most common caliber for this pistol was the 32. I had seen a few 38s on the line around Australian clubs, but they had this reputation that they were not suited to your average Joe shooter, they needed the guiding hand of an experienced shooter. Then there was the other thing about the 38 - the first thing a dealer would do when checking it out would be to look down the barrel for a bulge.

This never really stuck in my mind too much, until a couple of years back I chanced on a letter sent to all owners of the 38 P240s by SIG. Dated August 1979, it announced the cessation of the production of P240s in that caliber. The full text content follows:

Important Communication

On purchasing the SIG-Hammerli P240 pistol you have received a perfect firearm with regard to technical characteristics and quality, for which we guarantee as such.
Unfortunately it has been pointed out to us for some time already that the ammunition .38 Special Wadcutter, as well as hand-loaded ammunition, which is available for this firearm, can lead to damage of the pistol in rare cases. We are in no way responsible for these disadvantages which are in the form of retained shots (approx 1 case per 100 000 shots) or even of causing cracks in the barrel (approx 1 case in 1 000 000 shots) and thus cannot accept any liability for them.
Numerous tests and expertises which we had carried out immediately, clearly indicated that the firearm operates perfectly with regard to its design, material and manufacture and that the damages mentioned were only due to the use of faulty ammunition.
We have seen to it that the firm, Dynamit Nobel Ltd (Geco), assumes the responsibility for such ammunition produced and that this company also accepts the full liability. Our attempts in this direction with other ammunition producers have been unsuccessful up to the present.
Although we are convinced of the quality of the P240 pistol, we cannot however have an influence on the ammunition used by the marksman. It is with great regret that we have thus decided to discontinue the manufacture of this excellent and very popular pistol.
We hope to have made the situation clear with this communication. We would like to emphasize and draw your attention to the fact that, should you have sold or lent your pistol to anyone in the meantime, it is your responsibility to inform the present owner of this communication, since you are fully liable for any damage which may be incurred. It need hardly be said that we deeply regret such a development, especially as we have no influence on it. We feel obliged, however, to provide you with this information.
This communication only applies to .38 calibre Special Wadcutter and not to the .32 calibre Smith & Wesson Long and .22 calibre long rifle.

I guess this only goes to prove that nobody's perfect.

When you build a precision target pistol with an undersize bore and not much room for anything but a very thin walled barrel (the 32 had thicker walls because of the smaller hole), you're asking for trouble. Throw into the mix some home reloads; heck, even throw in factory loads in the heat of an Australian summer, and you have the makings of a problem child.

The letter proves that there were "issues" - enough of them to halt production. One "retained shot" (a.k.a. stuck skirt) in 100,000 may be the case under perfect conditions, but those perfect conditions just don't exist in the real world. I'm very surprised that even one ammunition company would admit to any sort of liability, when they have no way of knowing that Young Norman of Birdsville, Queensland wouldn't plink at tin cans somewhere on the outskirts of the Simpson Desert in mid summer. I do applaud the imagination of whoever came up with the concept of blaming everything on poor quality control of the ammo factories. A master stroke.

Enough of the Swiss-bashing, that was never my intention. The P240, even in 38, is a marvelous machine, a pleasure to shoot. Nothing I have outlined here is any excuse not to own or shoot one with full confidence. However, a little common sense must be used.

If reloading using hollow based wadcutters, you should stick with a mild load, and a very light crimp. Remember, a heavy crimp will build pressure. Use a brand of bullet that does not have a reputation for having easily detached skirts - and I mention no names here, but ask around and you will make a safe decision.

Keep your ammo cool, or at least out of the sun.

Never, ever, shoot when there is oil in the barrel.

Final Note

The P240 in 38 was also a joy to shoot because it plonked its empties right at your feet. It was civilized in every way, not making the shooter poke about like a barnyard hen looking for cases. It's also interesting to note that its magazines were interchangeable with the S&W Model 52.

Bulged Barrels

Experienced hands may not have anything to learn here, but it surprises me how many shooters are unaware of the pitfalls that can cause damage to their firearm.

A bulge, or pressure ring, is generally caused by an obstruction in the barrel. The bullet, as it encounters this obstruction, has immense pressure buildup behind it until something gives. In most cases this is the inside surface of the barrel (the bore). Of course in more extreme cases the barrel will burst or the action will fly apart.

Typically a bulge, when looking through the barrel, looks like a dark concentric ring. It may be a few millimeters long, and its depth depends on several of the circumstances; the severity of the blockage, the wall thickness and the quality of the barrel metal. Some will show external evidence in the form of a raised bulge (obviously a shotgun is prone to this with its thin walls).

So, what can cause this to happen?

What Constitutes a Blockage

1. Oil. The coating of rust-prevention you may apply to the inside of the bore after cleaning. This should always be removed by pushing through a dry patch, before shooting. Most oils will not compress, and as the tight-fitting bullet accelerates down the barrel it pushes the oil in front of it... there is no way it can pass. Lower power firearms such as 22LR may seldom build up enough pressure to cause a bulge (or as I like to call it, a "passing bay"), but it's better to be safe than sorry. Certainly I have seen a lot of center fire rifles that have been ringed from this very thing.

2. The skirt from a hollow based lead projectile. In most cases this will happen to a handloader, but not always. If there is too much pressure for a hollow based bullet, the skirt can separate from the main body of the projectile, and lodge somewhere in the barrel. The next shot, when fired, will clear the obstruction, but most likely will also leave a bulge.

Hollow based target wadcutters are the most common culprits here, shot widely in both target revolvers and semi autos. It would be easy to say that the loads that cause separation are too hot, and in many cases this is the end of the story. But some loads, that are safely worked up in mild temperatures, can become too "hot" when the temperature climbs. The fast burning powders typically used for target loads have a very steep pressure curve, which is why they use such a piddly charge. By their very nature, pressures don't gradually increase, they go up in a rush. If the ammunition gets hot (for example from sitting in the trunk of your car on a summer's day), a load that was mild and sedate can become punchy and downright dangerous. You may be lucky and see some evidence of skirt separation before any damage is done. I once witnessed a 5-shot target with 10 bullet holes. Needless to say the shooter in question put his gear away and headed home to spend some quality time with his kinetic bullet puller.

Even factory wadcutter ammo should be treated with respect, and we may discuss this further in an upcoming installment.

3. A bullet. Most often from a reload, but even factory loads have been known to have no powder. The firing pin hits the primer, and the blast from the primer may or may not have enough oomph to clear the bullet from the barrel. If not, the next shot can cause a bulge.

It appears luck has a lot to do with outcome here. I've witnessed one instance, and have been guilty of another, when a bullet has been shunted out with no visible sign of damage. My lucky escape came in a 4-second string of Service Match (using a revolver of course) - and for me to get six shots away in 4 seconds means I'm squeezing as fast as I can - the third shot was, I thought , a click. But I had 6 empty cases, and 6 holes in the target (only 10 yards away). My "click" was obviously a primer shot that lodged the bullet just inside the barrel, and the next shot cleared it out. If it had have been further down the barrel I'm certain the shunter would have gained much more speed and done damage to the barrel when connecting with the shuntee.

4. The famous "Clean the Lead Out with a Jacketed Round". I have no proof that this has ever bulged as much as one barrel in the past. But I figure it should have. I'd advise going the traditional route of actually cleaning the barrel first. I know it's painfully slow, even with modern solvents, but there's something about the alternative that smacks of swinging a sledgehammer to kill a fly.


What will happen to the accuracy if you have a bulge in the barrel of your target pistol? Does it mean you immediately have to rebarrel?

The most important part of any barrel as regards to accuracy is the last inch or so. If the bulge is before that area, chances are the accuracy will still be acceptable. There may be a tendency to lead a little more quickly.

If you bulge a center fire rifle barrel, I would certainly seek advice from a gunsmith. The higher pressures that rifles are subject to make it nothing to be trifled with. In theory, pressures would be lessened by the bypass of gas at the point of the pressure ring, but there is also more chance that it has created a weakness in the metal.

Friday, March 03, 2006

SHOT Show 2006

Once again the SHOT Show, premier trade show for the Firearms and Outdoor Industries, was held in Las Vegas a few weeks back.

For coaches and participants in Junior Sporter Air Rifle were the prototypes of a new compressed air / PCP rifle at the Air Force airguns booth. John McCaslin, the owner and manager of Air Force has been producing a highly regarded American made hunting air rifle for some years, and is now ready to tackle the Sporter air rifle market. While there are still issues being addressed, it is expected that this gun will be available by late spring or early summer. The next challenge is sourcing a sight system that will be as reliable as the old Gamo sights, yet be affordable enough to keep the entire gun legal according to the 3 Position Air Rifle Council's cost limitations.

USA Shooting had a booth overflowing with clothing items and trinkets bearing their logo, and the crowds responded with a vigor. By the second day, most of the tables were bare, with nearly all sizes except the extremes being sold out. USA Shooting's cooperation with Ruger and Talo distributing with a special edition of 2008 of their popular 10/22 in a red white and blue stock of racy proportions is reportedly completely sold out.

Steyr was there with their new 10m match air rifle, the LG110, of which the first production copies were received in late December. In conjunction with the new rifle, Steyr importer for the US Scott Pilkington created a new inspirational poster, featuring Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin holding the new air rifle on the surface of the moon. Scott says the highlight of the show for him was when the owner of Umarex and Walther, Wulf-Hienz Plfaumer stopped, looked at the new poster, and said, "Perfect, that is the perfect advertisement".

Daisy were celebrating their 120th year in the business and had lots of neat goodies for showgoers.

The biggest news for pistol shooters was that the famous Swiss target pistol producer Hammerli will be no more. German rival Walther has bought out Hammerli lock, stock and barrel, so to speak, and will shortly be moving everything to Germany. Nothing seems quite clear as to Walther's intent at this moment, as conflicting stories abound, but it seems quite sad for such a famous name to be bought by a lesser rival. However the writing has been on the wall for Hammerli for nearly a decade now.

Stay tuned for more information on new products and developments from the IWA Show in Germany later this month.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Shooters to the Line

This blog is for anybody who enjoys the fine art of target shooting. From airguns to magnums, handguns to longarms, I’ve had my fair share of punching paper, busting clays and flipping steel. Even plinking at tin cans and other assorted items as an excuse to burn some powder.
I started competitive shooting in 1975, and have worked in the gun trade since 1988. I’ll be tackling topics that are controversial, obscure, general and downright specialized – with a bias toward precision pistol shooting, since that is my great love. My contacts in the trade will provide up-to-the-minute news on new products and industry developments.