A New Beginning


Was it me? I don’t think so, not any longer. You see, I spent a weekend at Camp Atterbury shooting my M1 at 100 to 500 yards.

Checking my dope on the 200 yard line at Camp Atterbury

I didn’t set any records. I didn’t even shoot as well as I have in the past. I had not shot my M1 in over 3 years and my glasses and vision have both changed. Once I found a new sight picture though, things improved. The prize was that I always had multiple shots under the spotters at all distances. After nearly 300 rounds in three position field shooting, my marksmanship was fine.

The following weekend I tried yet another set of changes to the Kerr. I wrote about those plans in my last post. Things did not work out as I had planned. In fact, things just didn’t work out. While I have made progress in getting the Kerr to shoot, I should have much better groups by now and a loading-cleaning method that will allow me  to fire 15 shots in 50 minutes, without the problems I have been experiencing. That day I had the same issues as before and more failed solutions.

Afterwards, I worked through the things I had done, and what my remaining options were if I was to be shooting well by this spring. Lengthy and honest discussions with my coach and wife brought about my possible choices:

  • Continue with the Kerr – I have no clear path at this point.
  • Buy a new barrel – A custom barrel is, at best, a six month wait.
  • Build a different rifle – I have the parts, but that would be a six month project, at least. I have not built a rifle in twenty years.
  • Buy a different rifle – My budget does not allow a new Gibbs or any original rifle.
  • Take up Bass fishing – I hate fishing. DNR won’t let you shoot the fish.

My coach, she is one smart cookie, laid it out bluntly and asked why I was not shopping for a rifle. In her view, I either wanted to shoot this sport or I did not. If I wanted to shoot well, I needed a working rifle by Oak Ridge.

I spent the next few nights searching the web for rifles both new and used. In a moment of boredom, I clicked a bookmark to one of my favorite video feeds.  If you have not watched any of the Capandball channel, you may enjoy it, Balázs Németh always has something interesting to show. Last fall, he did a video review of the new Pedersoli Whitworth rifle. I can not post a video in this blog, but the following link will take you to the website, and this link will take you to the video review.

I first saw a Whitworth sometime in the mid seventies at Friendship, and once I held it, I promised myself I would own one someday. The balance and form of a Whitworth rifle just feels right to me, the perfect Enfield. The hexagon bore certainly inspires questions from other shooters and is a great connection to the birth of the long range shooting we enjoy today. Finding one is a problem, since the Parker Hale rifles are no longer made, and when found they command a high price. The Pedersoli Whitworth just might be the solution to a boyhood dream. I did some searching and made some phone calls. The wonderful folks at Navy Arms had Whitworth rifles made for them by Pedersoli and they had them in stock. I could have one in three days.

I pulled the trigger, so to speak.

Upon opening the box three days later, I found the rifle well made and the fit and finish very good. I did not take pictures of the big unboxing. I understand people like those in posts, but no apologies. The only fault I saw with the rifle was the checkering was obviously machine done and not nearly as neatly executed as my 375 Winchester. Overall, I was pleased with the appearance, but what I really wanted to know was if it would shoot. I had some musket caps, plenty of bullets, and wads of all shapes and sizes. Powder was plentiful in three granulations and three brands. I decided to just throw some charges, grab the last bullets and wads I had tried with the Kerr, and see what would happen.

I tested with my cup based 500 something gr bullet over Swiss 3F and my 560 gr dreadnought bullet over Swiss 1.5F. Both bullets were loaded over a 7/16″ lubed felt wad and a charge that I have no idea what the weight was. It was whatever was left set on the measure the last time I threw charges for the Kerr.

After the first shot, I wiped one dampened patch three strokes where I could feel fouling, followed by a single dry patch three strokes, re-loaded and shot again. Ten shots in 45 minutes with no problems was the result. After the ninth shot, the barrel cleaned and loaded as easily as the first. Using the bead front and V rear factory sights, I had a 3″ round group at 100 yards without a sling or a bench rest.

  • No stuck bullet patches.
  • No fouling issues.
  • No misfires.
  • I didn’t try hard.
  • It was easy.
  • It was simple.

By the time I was firing shot six, I realized I was not worried about the loading and cleaning anymore. I was concentrating on the shooting part. That is how it is supposed to be.

Checking the barrel I found the distance to be .4488 between the flats and my bullets were .4473 diameter after sizing.

Who doesn’t like the look of a Whitworth bore?

Measuring the bore, at the muzzle.

The bore measures .4488 between the flats.

The bullets measure .4472 24 hours after sizing with the patch on.

The bullets, sizing die, and paper I used for the Kerr barrel were a good fit without modification. I mounted my sights and sling on the rifle and the following weekend my wife and I went to the NMLRA range in Friendship with high hopes, a thermos of coffee, 49 bullets, and a pound of 1.5F Swiss.

A beautiful day on the NMLRA silhouette range in Friendship Indiana

The difference in shooting the Navy Arms Whitworth verses shooting the Kerr was astounding. By the time we were finished, about 2 and 1/2 hours, I had fired 49 bullets without a problem from the rifle. The last bullet slid down the barrel as easily as the first. My cleaning method consisted of one damp patch pumped four times in the bottom six inches of the barrel, followed by one dry patch stroked four times the full barrel length. Load powder, wad, bullet, and shoot again.

First shot!

The conditions were less than stellar for testing. We had winds switching from left to right. The left wind was constant and held the flag to full extension at the 300 yard line. Then the wind would come around and gust from four o`clock hard enough to knock a full thermos over. I still had 15″ groups at 500 yards (holding elevation but drifting right and left) and shots touching at 100 yards. I wanted to try the Mini Creedmore target, but by the time we got to it we realized the rear sight mount had become loose and was swiveling 6 minutes right and left. We poked the last few rounds at the 500 yard rams just for fun, and called it a day.

Retrieving the target backer after shooting, we saw the cylindrical bullets had filled the hexagonal bore well, leaving nice little hex shaped holes. The bullets were stable and flying straight.

Hex shaped holes, from a hex bore. The round bullets were filling the bore as they should.

Anytime you shoot three shot groups at 100 yards looking for a pattern, and have this on the target, it is a good day.

We tried a few different loads during the day with two bullets and two felt wads, we even tried no wad at all. The rifle liked everything we fed it.

The only issue we had were the caps. I had but one tin of RWS musket caps and only CCI brand were available locally the day before we went to the range. While the CCI brand worked well enough, they left a heavy coating of ash over the nipple that required brushing off between shots. If not cleaned, you were rewarded with a misfire. I will buy RWS brand musket caps before Oak Ridge comes around.

The day ended on a high note. I had found a solution of sorts. I was happy to have a properly shooting rifle now, but I was also left with mixed feelings about leaving the Kerr behind. Did I give up too soon? Was I abandoning a project that may have needed only one more range trip to find success?

I will keep the Navy Arms Whitworth and not trade up to a better rifle later, partly because I love the history of it and partly because I just always wanted one. As my skills improve, I will start to build a more accurate rifle. I have a lock from Bob Roller and a fast twist barrel from Les Bauska. Together, they will make a rifle that will outshoot me. For now however, the Navy Arms Whitworth puts me in the game.

The Kerr barrel now sits on my work bench and already I find myself re-reading the descriptions of its rifling. James Kerr was no fool. His rifles won medals and ranked with the rifles of Thomas Turner and Joseph Whitworth. After two years of trying, my Kerr still did not shoot well. What was I missing?

I suspect the Kerr project isn’t over yet.

 

Posted in Equipment, Updates

So many ways to skin the cat.


Rifling, or internal ballistics, is a fascinating subject. I think about that often because in many ways, the long range shooting culture of England created a fertile ground for new ideas to be experimented with; hexagonal rifling, gain twist, progressive depth, and round or square bottomed grooves. Dozens of rifling types were tried. Some proved their value, some did not, but none were found to be poor.

There were many different types of rifling being tried in the mid 19th century. If you only needed to impart spin on a projectile, they found an abundance of ways to do it. Of course, we all know of the Whitworth hexagon bore. But what of Metford, Rigby, and others? Here are few rifling designs to look at.

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Of interest to me, of course, is the Kerr pattern of rifling, because that is the demon I am fighting with. Kerr’s patent rifling was, in many ways, an attempt to combine several good ideas into one great idea. Or so it seems to me.

Captain Heaton describes Kerr’s Patent Rifling like so in his book Notes On Rifle Shooting.

“Diameter of Bore — .451 of an inch, shape circular.

Grooving — Six grooves, Ratchett form, without angles; and as the deep part of the groove is on the side from which the bullet turns, the resistance to the air is reduced to a minimum: the other side of the groove verges into the cylinder bore, thus leaving the lands which are mechanically true.

Spiral — At the breech end the grooves are nearly straight, increasing in twist until, at the middle of the barrel, they attain the full spiral of one turn in 20 inches, which is thenceforward maintained at the same pitch to the muzzle.”

In DeWitt Bailey’s excellent article titled British Small Bore Rifles,  he describes Kerr’s rifling on page 11.

“Kerr’s rifling is a six groove ratchet with the top of each tooth cut off to form a flat land. The part of the system which Kerr registered was not the form of the rifling itself, but that a section of it for several inches at the breech was to be perfectly straight. This was in order to allow the bullet to upset completely into the grooving before beginning to rotate up the barrel, thereby assuring non-stripping and uniform upsetting. Kerr’s was a somewhat undersize .451, nominally, but as with so many others it accepts .457 bullets quite readily in most cases. The twist of the rifling is gaining for a short space ahead of the straight portion, but by the middle of the barrel it stabilizes at 1 in 20. The depth of the rifling is progressive, becoming shallower towards the muzzle, which greatly contributed to its non-fouling tendencies.”

Again, we find DeWitt Bailey, along with J.B. Bell, describing Kerr’s rifling in THE LONDON ARMOURY COMPANY KERR RIFLE.

“Kerr’s rifling, for which he did not claim protection, was certainly not new, but was peculiar to his rifle at the time of its manufacture. Basically it was a ratchet form with six grooves; in depth it was progressive in the same degree as the current .577 Enfield bore, that is, varying from .01 Sin deep at the breech to .00 Sin at the muzzle. The twist of the rifling was also progressive for the first half of the bore, from whence it began its spiral some four inches ahead of the breechplug, but by mid-bore it stabilised at the standard pitch of one turn in twenty inches, the sine qua non established by Whitworth’s experiments for a .451 bore.”

Why am I spending so much time driving this discussion? Because of one thing that keeps coming to the front of old texts when discussing Kerr’s rifling. To quote DeWitt Bailey;

The depth of the rifling is progressive, becoming shallower towards the muzzle, which greatly contributed to its non-fouling tendencies.

Non-fouling tendencies? Not in my experience. I have been fighting fouling issues since the beginning.

Some would say it was all an 1860’s sales pitch. However, Kerr was not the only one who made this claim for progressive depth rifling. Thomas Turner’s barrels were also rifled with a progressive depth. I have spoken at length with a shooter who has an original Turner target rifle. He will attest to its ability to maintain good accuracy without wiping. If that doesn’t convince you, how about the British Army? Tests done at Hythe clearly showed that with the proper cartridge, a P53 Enfield could be shot a hundred times with no substantial loss of accuracy. It too, had progressive depth rifling. The combination of the proper cartridge and progressive depth rifling worked so well, that the Army of the Confederacy switched to the British cartridge design for their P53 and P60 Enfield ammunition.

The question has to be asked, what am I doing wrong? I began researching the form and construction of prepared target cartridges used at the time, and I noticed that prior to the advent of the flat based and hardened bullets of the later dedicated match rifles, nearly all bullets were either a dome base or hollow base. Could it be that I needed a hollow base to get a complete upset of the bullet? Progressive depth rifling creates a lot of what we call, windage. The distance between the bullet and the bore prior to the bullet being swaged up by the pressure of the burning charge. The greater the windage you have, the more likely fouling will become an issue. I do know the best score I have obtained, to date, was fired with Rick’s bullets of a design having a deep hollow base. I managed a score of 94-2X at 200 yards on the second day of Oak Ridge last year. I had been using flat based bullets exclusively until then.

While I pondered the possibilities a discussion popped up on the British Militaria forum concerning clay base plugs in P53 bullets. I spoke about the quest for accurate and historic paper cartridges for the P53 briefly in my last post. In their attempts to re-discover the secrets of accuracy with the P53, many discoveries have been made. Chiefly, that the most common replica of the Enfield, most often manufactured in Italy, did not have progressive depth rifling and shot quite well with reduced loads and flat based bullets. When those same loads were tried in the replicas with progressive depth rifling, such as the Parker Hale rifles, accuracy results were less than great. However, when full military charges were used the Parker Hale rifles accuracy improved. When hollow based bullets were used, accuracy improved even more. Was the progressive depth rifling the key? You can follow the discussion here. The detailed investigation and open minded research is admirable.

That thought, or thoughts, led to more reading and expanded research. I still believe a fine powder, fine as in granulation, bears investigation. I now think I should be looking at a hollow base bullet as well. I have several bullets to try; Rick’s bullets left over from Oak Ridge with a deep hollow base, the first bullets cast from my lathe turned mold with a wide and heavily tapered hollow base, and my current bullet cast with a new base of a domed design. Weights range from 460 grains to 540 grains.

From left to right. Rick's bullet, my old mold, my new mold with domed base plug.

From left to right. Rick’s bullet, my old mold, my new mold with domed base plug.

A direct comparison is not possible of course, due to weight differences, but with three different bullets the concept can be tested. I have ten of each bullet patched and sized, thirty charges of 3F Swiss, and the rifle is prepared and ready. Fingers crossed for decent weather this weekend. We just might learn something.

Posted in Equipment, Interesting stuff, Updates | 1 Comment

What would Halford do?


It has been a while since my last post again. We have rebuilt the tractor engine, re-welded the snow plow mount, and now, had reason to use it. Other activities included  a complete emptying of both the workshop and the garage, to separate the wood working tools and the metal working tools. When will I need an acetylene torch and a cabinet saw at the same time? These were all things that had to be done before the snow came.

If you remember, I wrote earlier that an experienced shooter once asked me, “What would Halford do?” I was working through my issues with grouping and I kept coming back to fouling management and velocity. I did read, once again, what I could find from Sir Henry Halford and others like Capt. Henry William Heaton. I have posted information on Halford so here is a link to Capt. Heaton’s excellent book. The book is also available in print from Amazon. Both of these men, one an experimenter and the other a competitor, provide detailed explanations of loading the rifles we are interested in.

I have read and re-read several books and bits of information from sources such as Research Press. I have been most interested in the why of what they did, though the how is always worth reading about. Bullet sizes, weights, alloys, papers, powder, caps are all interesting as well. The lessons they learned from the failures and successes, that is what interests me the most. In my reading, I have tried to draw common threads between different published texts. If an 19th century shooter says, “I use a 540 grain bullet“, it means little to me other than they used a 540 grain bullet. Is that all they could get? Were they copying other shooters? Did they try a 500 grain bullet, ever? However, when a writer describes his testing and states what failed and what succeeded, that is information I can put to use.

In the preceding months, I have tried multiple cleaning regimens. I have tried bullets from 490 grains to 560 grains, wads, different papers, different bullet sizes, and different charge weights, as well. My most recent efforts have been to find a solution to my verticle stringing issue. Through all the experimentation, I have learned a great deal, but I have also made little headway to be completely honest. The Kerr will only deliver a 4 minute of angle group with certainty, and then only to 600 yards.

One thing I have not worked with is powder type and granulation. I know Swiss is preferred and I can say it is an excellent powder from my experience, so far. But is the 1.5F granulation correct for my use? I hear so many other competitors using 1.5F and I think it is too coarse. I don’t know why I think that. I have burned through six pounds so far and I am not getting the velocity others are reporting. Fouling is still always an issue.

I went back to the books and read some more, forums, online files, etc. When English target shooting is discussed the powder is always stated to be Curtis and Harvey’s No 6 (all hail C&H) and when it is not mentioned by name, the powder recommended is always called “fine.” Fine. Just exactly what do they mean by fine? Many will say that fine is a description of the quality, which is why you should wish for the return of C&H (all hail C&H) and if it is not available (it isn’t) you settle for Swiss because it is the best of our lousy modern powders. Really?

First let me say this, I am not disparaging Curtis and Harvey powder. I have never used it, I do not know anyone who has. I do however, cringe at the thought that everything older is better and modern is always a half effort at passable. Take that from a guy who has no smart phone, doesn’t Facebook, Tweet, or Insta-whatever. I have a manual transmission, will not wear contacts, and have no cable tv. Older is not always better. Let’s be honest here, who misses adjusting points on their car or defrosting the freezer?I do not doubt that C&H powders were an excellent product, possibly the best available at the time. I do not believe we unable to make as good a powder today with our better manufacturing capabilities. I think we can, and I think we are.

So what of “fine”? It surprises me that it is just accepted as referring to the quality of the powder. It could simply mean the granulation, could it not? As I thought on the idea, I recalled several past forum discussions where many shooters had been researching the use of paper cartridges in use during the late percussion period. Several experimenters attempting to duplicate service charge loads switched to 3F granulation. When they did, they found the point of impact began to track with the sights of original rifles. That happening with one rifle is just an oddity, twice is coincidence, multiple times? There is a reason.

As I searched for more information of the topic of powder granulation, I read that many of the matches held in England required that the competitors used supplied ammunition. An excellent article can be found at Research Press showing a supplied cartridge, and speaks of the perils of altering it in competition. What was in those cartridges, I wonder? I began searching the internet for more information and I found several pictures of unused cartridges, but little else.

I then created a post on the British Militaria forum, asking the members for any information they might have on the subject. To my complete joy I received a response from a man who, not only had seen the inside of a paper match cartridge, but had opened one as a young boy. “I remember the powder in the loading tube to be quite fine, likely as not fffg.” You can read the full content of the post in the thread 451 Match Cartridges. Information I can use…

powders

3F, 2F, and 1.5F with a 530 grain bullet.

So, after much thought I decided I need to try some 3F powder and I need to start at 70 grains with a 530-540 grain bullet. Same as they used. I know that others are shooting far far better than I am, and I also know the new rifles are using a modern shallow rifling profile. My Kerr has deep progressive depth rifling. I do not think my rifle and a modern shallow rifled barrel are the same animal. I do not think it will be a magical experience and solve all my problems. I do know that 3F will behave quite a bit different than 1.5F, both in burn rate and pressure curve. It could make a difference in fouling, velocity, and bullet obturation, that helps me. It could just make a mess of things, too.

So, now the plan is to test a common load recommended by the better shooters of the day (see footnote below). A 530 grain pure lead bulet, a lubricated wad, 70-80 grains of “fine” powder, and we know what I mean by fine, right?

We will see what happens.

Foot note: It can be said that the scores seen today at long range muzzloading events far exceed those fired in days of old. However, keep in mind that the riflmen of the 1860’s used no sling, no wrist rest, no shooting jacket, and had no chronographs or anemometers to amuse themselves with. Could we do as well if we traveled back in time to join them at Wimbledon with a level playing field?

1863wimbledon_thecountiesmatch_600y-jpgoriginal

These guys were the Mercury Seven of their day, blazing a path for us to follow.

Posted in Interesting stuff | 1 Comment

Update Oct 11 2016 – Success is found!


It’s been a while hasn’t it? I confess to being a bit lax on working with my rifle, but we have been busy doing many home repairs. Once the paint starts flowing, and old floors come up, things tend to cascade for my wife and I. A simple exterior door replacement can turn into a kitchen overhaul, and it did.

I did make headway testing powder charges the past few weeks. If you remember from my last post, I was seeing an extreme spread of over 70 fps, which is very bad for long range performance. My last test showed extreme spread was down to 18 fps, far better! How did I do it?

My first thought was that my ignition was inconsistent. Possible causes could be a variation in cleaning, flash hole burned out, poor caps, or inconsistent hammer strikes. I first looked at cleaning.

While I have made many changes to my cleaning methods, all were done for a good length of time. Three shots does not really tell you much. I wanted to monitor progress over several shooting sessions. I tried many suggestions with varied success. I finally settled on returning to my first cleaning process with an interest in looking at the Rigby Method again. More on that later in the post. My original method involved three patches and a very soapy cleaning fluid, but it worked, and it worked over an extended shooting session.

I then looked at my nipple again. If you remember, I looked at the nipple in my previous post. While it was not badly oversized, it was larger, so I ordered a new one.

nipple

Old platinum nipple on the left, unused stainless nipple on the right.

It was worth trying and it led to an important discovery. When installing the new nipple and testing caps, I found that the hammer was not making full contact with the nipple. In fact, it was about .030 short of hitting the nipple. It was amazing that caps had been firing at all! My only thought is that the caps sat high enough that the hammer face struck them and they had been detonating when they flew down to the nipple face. The culprit turned out to be a small edge of wood in the lock mortise that was arresting the mainspring. When that sliver of wood was removed, the hammer traveled farther, but not far enough. I also found that the new tumbler I made was not clearing the rear lock screw (side nail for those of you who invented this sport). A few seconds with a stone and the tumbler made full travel, a few more seconds with a very sharp and narrow chisel and the mainspring stopped striking wood. Now the hammer made contact with the nipple at full speed, every time.

A reduction of 52 fps in extreme spread was my reward for better fouling management (cleaning) and a hammer that fully struck the top of a nipple with a smaller flash hole. I think that while fouling management has certainly been haunting me, inconsistent ignition has been a leading cause of my velocity issues.

I was overjoyed. I had a problem, I identified it, I solved it.

I would love to tell you next that I went to the Joe Hepsworth Memorial Match and made hit after hit beyond 1000 yards, but it was not to be. I received an email from Cindy titled “Atterbury Match” on Sunday when I had the kitchen floor down to underlayment. The match had been rescheduled, and I was not aware.

Possibly it was for the best, as I was invited to attend a small match held monthly at the Miami Rifle and Pistol Club in Batavia, Ohio, the following weekend. Looking at the work still to be done, my wife (and coach) made the command decision that three weekends in a row of all work was enough. We had a four-day weekend, Friday and Saturday were productive. What was left to be done could wait until Monday. We went shooting Sunday.

beautiful-range

The 300 yard line at Miami Rifle and Pistol Club. A beautiful range.

Kenn had advised that while it was a match, score keeping was optional. Many shooters used the matches to test, practice, or just meet and swap information. My wife and I loaded up the car Saturday night and headed to Ohio early Sunday morning. I went intending to test the results of my progress and to play with different wads. After some Q&A with other shooters, it was decided I would try the wonder wads first over 95 grains of Swiss 1.5 F powder.

Once shooting commenced, I was able to get my sight settings with the new load, but experienced problems with flash channel fouling that sometimes required two or even three caps to get ignition. I had used the Rigby Method of loading at the Spring NMLRA Nationals in June, with some success, and Kenn advised trying that again. John made the suggestion that when he used the Rigby Method, he always fired a cap immediately after his last shot to ensure the flash channel was clear.

The Rigby Method is very simple and fast. You load powder first, then your wad, then you clean and dry the bore, loading your bullet last. This process keeps your cleaning patch from pushing any fouling into your flash channel and removes any chance your cleaning fluid may collect on the breech face and foul your powder. So, the process I used went like this:

  1. Fire the shot.
  2. Pop a new cap.
  3. Move to loading table and charge powder.
  4. Seat wad.
  5. Four strokes with cleaning patch.
  6. Four strokes with dry patch.
  7. Seat bullet.

Popping the extra cap was the key for me. Once I began loading with that process, everything improved. I fired six shots by my notes and all marked within the same place on the target. Confident that I had a repeatable shot series, I adjusted my sights and was rewarded with a 9, 10, and X at 300 yards before the relay ended. The order of shots I did not write down, shameful.

We moved to the 600 yard line next and I was excited to see if my performance improved at distance. I have been having good success at the shorter ranges, but vertical stringing has been a problem beyond 300 yards. I ended the relay with an additional 50+ minutes over my 300 yard sight settings and good results from my new cleaning and loading process. While accuracy was improved, I still have some work to do. The use of the wrist rest is still a mystery to me. Is it sling shooting? Is it rest shooting? I don’t know. I do know that loosening my sling when shooting with the wrist rest helped reduce my vertical stringing a good bit, but I cannot help but think it is a part of my problem. Only bench testing at distance will remove all doubt. I need to  practice more with that infernal wrist rest. I also have several wad combinations yet to test.  I only used the WonderWads this past weekend.

wads

A wide selection of wads. The ballistol lubed wads have been soaked in Ballistol and allowed to dry. The lubed card and felt have been soaked in a melted beeswax and tallow mix.

Overall, the day was well worth the two hour drive and I hope to attend many more matches there. Next time,  I will have a brand new plan for solving my vertical stringing issue.

It’s all coming together.

Posted in Interesting stuff, Updates