Equipment Update – April 2017

Things are going well. The new rifle is working and I am shooting much better. It was time to take another look at my kit.

I had made a change to the loading tripod I had been using in 2015. I upgraded to a heavier tripod and copied Mike’s setup of having the tray under the tripod head instead of on the tripod head. That gave me a bigger tray and easier access. I had also been noting what things I use during a match and removing all else. This reduced clutter and kept what I needed in easy reach. It worked very well.

Oak Ridge. Everything on the tripod. Small, light, simple.

The tripod now holds what I need close at hand, and also supports my spotting scope for checking the markers on the target. No need to wait at the firing point for targets to come back up to look through a ground scope, I can mark my scores using the scope at the loading tray.

Oak Ridge. My kit, everything I need and nothing I will not use.

On the tray, I have two containers for patches, both wet and dry, bullets, powder, and caps. The tray holds only what I need to wipe and load the rifle. No tools, gadgets, or other assorted things to roll around. If I need a different cleaning jag or tool, they are in the range bag under the tripod and easily accessible.

While the tray worked and did what I wanted, I saw some room for improvement. At Oak Ridge I found myself fumbling with dirty patches and having to be careful of how the rifle was set into the tripod. My score board seemed like an attention starved house cat, always in the way. While the rifle never fell, and never looked like it would fall, it was constantly on my mind. It was time for some changes.

I spent a few days in the workshop setting up my equipment and trying different arrangements until I thought I had a better solution. I added a cradle for the rifle so that it would be kept from sliding across the tray.  My scoreboard now has a lip added to it so that I can simply hang it on the side of the tray after marking my shots.

Cincinnati. Updated tripod, version 2?

I added a 2 inch hole drilled through the bottom and a paint ball loader sits in the hole. The paint ball loader has a spring loaded lid, sits low in the tray, and cannot blow around like a plastic bag or used coffee container. I cannot take credit for that bit of ingenuity, my youngest son and my wife both suggested that addition.

Cincinnati. New tray has rifle cradle and a container for used patches.

They were right, it was a good addition. At Cincinnati  a few weeks later, I tested the updated tripod and it all worked splendidly. I never fumbled a dirty patch and the patches never blew away. After each relay, I simply closed the lid and threw the container into my range bag. Clean and neat. My rifle stayed safe and secure in the cradle with no fears of it falling over.

After Oak Ridge, I also reviewed my home-made shooting jacket and decided that after using it for several matches I knew what I wanted, or needed, in a shooting jacket. The padded elbows were a nice addition, and the no-slip shoulder pad almost mandatory with the polished brass buttplates of the Kerr and Whitworth rifles. What I did not like was the collar and the loose fit. It seemed I was spending a lot of time and effort just arranging the jacket to get a good position for shooting. I don’t think I was as consistent in my position as I should have been. You can read more about my thoughts on a shooting jacket in a previous post.

I have been paying close attention to what other shooters were wearing and what was available on the market. I wanted something with few frills, but the features I wanted needed to be proper and well positioned. After a few weeks of online shopping and reading far too many forum posts, I settled on the NRA jacket from Champions Choice.

Champions Choice Jacket. Only the features I needed.

The jacket is a simple entry-level high power jacket, but it has all the features I was looking for. The jacket has a well designed shoulder pad, just enough elbow padding to work, an easily accessible and large pocket, and no collar. The sleeves and shoulders fit me well, without excess material. It also has an abundance of straps that I will never use.

I practiced wearing the jacket shooting my 22 rimfire, and then with my Whitworth. I was very happy with it. While it does not improve an already good position, it certainly does make finding a good position much easier. When you have only 50 minutes to fire ten shots for sighters and record, time saved finding your position is time you have available for other things.

I used the new jacket at the Cincinnati match and it fit perfectly, and worked as I wanted. My choice of size and brand was either dumb luck for a first time buyer, or I don’t yet know what a terrible mistake I’ve made. Time will tell.

I am happy with my equipment at this point. I am certain I will make changes as I shoot more often, but they will be small and deliberate changes.

Posted in Equipment

Oak Ridge March 24, 25 2017

I did not win any medals, but it was a banner two days for me.

I went with a load that shot well at 200 yards, cleaned easily, loaded easily, and followed the sights. So, without any sight settings but 200 yards, I started the match and planned to adjust sights as the ranges increased.

The 200 yard relay went extraordinarily well. My first shot was in a scoring ring and a small sight adjustment for wind brought me into the 10 ring. My next shots were; X, 9, 10, 10, 10, 10, 10, X. I don’t know which shot I mis-recorded, as my final score was a 98 2X and not a 99 2X. I don’t care, everything was working.

First shot at 200 yards

When we got to 300 yards that afternoon I was feeling confident. The wind picked up a bit and I had some issues with my jacket collar getting under the rifle butt, but overall I was happy. My estimated sight settings were very close and the wind was steady enough, I simply shaded my sights when it picked up. My final score was 80 1X with a miss on shot 6.

We ended the day with a great dinner, good scores, and a rifle that gave me no problems.

Saturday morning, no wind. It would not last for long.

Saturday was bright and clear with an unusual lack of wind. Lack of wind as in, no wind at all. Nature made up for the lack of wind by providing a very clear spring sun right into our eyes.

I started the 600 yard relay with a sight setting of +61 minutes, or 44 minutes over my ending 300 yard sight setting. This is where the wheels started to come off the truck. My shots were low and I kept adding elevation 5 minutes at a time. My scorer, Al, asked what I was shooting and I told him I had a 490 grain bullet and 85 grains of 1.5 F Swiss. He and Joe both thought I was too light on powder, even with the very light bullet. Al graciously offered up some vials of 2F Swiss weighing 85 grains. The first shot using Al’s powder was noticeably faster. I began removing elevation and then found paper. I finished the 300 yard relay with a score of 52, including several misses. I had removed 20 minutes of elevation from my claculated sight setting at that point. I was feeling better about my chances at 1000 yards.

First shot at 600 yards. Sun in your eyes and targets in the shade.

1000 yards. One Thousand Yards. It still amazes me. Seeing it in the pictures does not do it justice and can in no way prepare you for seeing it for real, in front of your rifle. By the afternoon relay the wind had gotten squirrely, blowing from multiple directions at once.

Soon the wind came, and it came from all directions at once.

I started out with an elevation setting of 162 minutes indicated on the sight staff and I was very high using Al’s powder charges. I started bringing the sight down 5 minutes at a time and finally caught paper. My next three shots, with an indicated sight setting of 149.5 minutes, were an 8, a 7, and another 8. The wind hit a lull as the temperature rose, and then the wind changed its behavior. I never hit paper again.

The report from the target pits was that my elevation was fine, but one shot would miss right and the next would miss left. I tried following several different flags for the next seven shots. I watched the flags and listened closely to what the shooters on each side of me were scoring, trying to judge what the wind was doing between me and the target. What I learned, was that other shooters were as perplexed as I was. My ending score was a 21 at 1000 yards.

My Oak Ridge Scores

2015 2016 2017
200 yds 67 94 2X 98 2X
300 yds 79 73 ( 1 shot not fired) 80 1X
600 yds 53 42 (4 shots not fired) 52
1000 yds 6 13 21
AGG 205 222 251

So you might ask, Dave, how can that be a banner two days? Easy, my rifle ran without the problems I experienced previously. I had no issues with fouling, and cleaning and loading were consistent. My bullets answered the sights exactly as I expected at all distances. My problem at 1000 yards was wind, not elevation. My vertical stringing problems were gone! I attribute that to a consistent and repeatable bore condition, shot to shot.

I still do not know why the Kerr barrel behaved the way it did, but I do know that the Whitworth barrel exhibits none of the issues I experienced the past two years. I need to work on finding the best load combination, so I will change to my 540 grain bullet and increase the powder charge. That should solve my issues with the wind and elevation.

Yes, it was a banner two days. I can’t wait for the next match.

A finer group of sportsmen you will never meet.


Posted in Competition

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