Choosing a Practical Antique Rifle

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(Continued from Part 1.)

Antiques versus Modern, Cartridge Pressures, and Barrel Length

The long barrel could be awkward to handle when hunting, yet the long barrel produces higher velocities, as much as 300 feet per second (fps) higher in velocity over carbine length barrels.  This is a very important consideration if the rifle might be used for long-range targets. The higher velocity is also beneficial when using standard soft point ammuntion for game at ranges between 100 and 300 yards, and larger big game inside of 200 yards, such as elk. The 29-inch barrel adds approximately 100 fps over the velocities stated in reloading manuals that are typically determined by using a 24 inch test barrel for this cartridge. This means the trajectory will be flatter than modern military rifles that have barrels that are 24 inches in length, and shorter.

Antique rifles, relative to modern rifles, are lower-pressure cartridges.  Yet lower pressure does not mean that a firearm is unsafe, it is merely another standard we have to work to.  Lower pressure also means lower recoil and longer barrels to compensate for the lower pressure cartridge to get the bullet to higher velocities that can better compete with modern rifles.  A longer barrel is not necessarily a bad thing, but shorter barrels are handier than long barrels. Some antique rifles with the longest barrels can use most of the bullets found in modern ammunition, yet if carbine-length rifles should be use for hunting, softer bullets designed to reliably expand at lower velocities should be used, and we should limit the shorter rifles to hunting ranges of no more than about 100 yards to take game decisively. When choosing a carbine-length rifle, we should give ample consideration to bullet construction, its weight, and subsequent velocity for best results.

As an example, Hornady’s reloading manuals lists appropriate bullets for the cartridge, and the range of velocities that are appropriate. Keep in mind that antique rifles will likely produce lower velocities, thus we should be certain that the bullet used will expand adequately at those lower velocities.  Flat point and round nose bullets are superior to spire points in this regard.  Finding a spire point bullet that maximized trajectory and down-range energy can require extra effort during the selection process. This is of particularly problematic and a major concern when loading for carbine length barrels. If the rifle will be used for hunting in the brush or woods, or continuously carried, or for home defense, then a short carbine length barrel is desirable.  However, if we intend to use the rifle for longer-range shots, then the longer barrel is much more desirable as the trajectory will be much flatter, and the target much easier to hit.

Carbines and rifles, regardless of caliber can do better by using round-nosed bullets from companies such as Privi Partisan, and Remingtion, with their line of Cor-lokts.  Hornady offers a soft and rapidly expanding 160 grain round nose for 6.5×55 that is impressively accurate, but a Remingtion Cor-lokt is probably the better performing bullet on larger game.  However, just about any round nose will easily take deer. Round-nosed bullets are underappreciated given all the fancy high-tech bullets that are now being aggressively marketed. Round nose bullets are particularly useful in cartridges with lower velocities.  These bullets expand reliably at these lower velocities and tend to penetrate deeper as they are not as easily deflected by bone. If you have a carbine, then you’ll likely not shoot much passed 200 yards, so embrace the advantages of round-nosed bullets.  The long and heavy-for-caliber round-nosed bullets tend to be more accurate than the lighter versions of any style bullet, as well.

With lower-pressure cartridges, barrel length is a important factor, especially if we would be building a cartridge that is intended for hunting or long-range target shooting where heavier bullets are used.  Relative to modern rifle standards, the now typical length of a rifle barrel could be only 22 inches, lower pressure cartridges means lower velocities, and lower muzzle energies at the muzzles, and at ranges where game is mostly likely to be taken. As we shall see, both of the rifles under consideration would not suffer in a comparison with modern rifles. And we will see that one of these rifles can actually exceed the performance of the typical modern rifle, if we can tolerate it’s long barrel.  We shall hopefully discover a few little-known ‘secrets’ about these rifles.

RELOADING FOR ANTIQUE RIFLES

When developing loads for any rifle, it is wiser to chase accuracy rather than velocity, and better to choose moderation over a slightly flatter trajectory. Bolt actions that are continually exposed to higher pressures than they were designed to operate wit will slowly and steadily become weakened until mechanical failure occurs with little or no warning. Go easy on these actions, especially if they have seen much use, or possible abuse during their many decades of service.  Consult a reloading manual and learn to identify the signs that a cartridge is too high in pressure for that particular rifle.  And certainly, if you experience a heavy bolt lift sensation, this is sure sign to not fire that ammunition in that rifle again.

Also to be discussed are details that might allow others to better appreciate the craft of reloading, and how they might also reload for these particular rifles.  It is easy to make it go ‘bang’, but difficult to make it accurate, and deadly enough to reliably take game.  I shall suggest the safest practices as recommended in reloading manuals.

When reloading, follow the procedures and measurements as prescribed in reloading manuals carefully. For those on a tight budget like me, I recommend the simplest tools and equipment from Lee as an economical, and good starting point. In my first attempts to produce precision ammunition, I was able to do so with nothing more than a Lee Handloading kit and a hammer. Shop for the Lee Reloading kit, and a reloading manual that best suits your pocketbook. Freedom is not free, and certainly not cheap anymore, in fact, it will become increasingly difficult to sustain. Put the money into acquiring a good example of the rifle, and ammunition (or loading components), while there is still a window of opportunity open.

In addition to the challenge and satisfaction of reloading, we also attain actual freedom by using a rifle, that in this day and age, is of special status, historically and legally.  To use these rifles, a hand loader has an advantage. Although now expensive, rifle primers and powders are once again available, therefore, for those new to the topic, we can once again consider reloading as a viable tactic for excising our liberties. And as we will also discover, there is plenty of high-quality ammunition that can be purchased for these rifles that we need not reload at all.

AN EXCEPTIONAL ANTIQUE RIFLE FOR HANDLOADERS

In many cases antique rifles that use obsolete cartridges, or high pressure commercial cartridges that are not safe in antique, lower pressure actions, require handloading to safely operate.  Here is one such example, a very fine rifle worth the expense:

Beautiful Scoped Loewe Chilean .243 Winchester Mauser Sporter

To keep the trajectory flatter, and to have the most reloading data and rifle powder options available, I would use 90 grain or lighter bullets. The usual advice, and procedure, is that we would use the starting load listed in a reloading manual and carefully work up checking for pressure signs. Unfortunately, the ‘starting load’ is very close, or already at the maximum pressure for the antique action. Using this minimum charge for rifle designed for 60,000 psi and higher, is not advisable in an antique, or in any action that is rated with a maximum pressure of 46,000 CUP, as we do not know the history of the rifle, and the actual strength of its antique action.  And we do not have room to work up using the ‘ladder method’ incrementally increasing the load weight and pressure to discover one of the accuaracy ‘nodes’. If I had IMR powders, then we could safely deduct no more than 5 percent off the starting charge for this cartridge listed in a reloading manual. I would only reduce the charge by 5 percent if I was using an IMR powder. A much safer way to prove that the action could handle a certain high level and maximum pressure is use my favorite powder for the first attempt at developing a load. For antique rifles, I’d buy this rifle powder, Hodgdon’s H4895. H4895, and other powders, as well as primers, are now back on the market at an affordable price.

Using H4895, the starting load can be as low as the highest pressure load in their manual that is reduced by 40 percent.  See Hodgdon Reloading Center for .243 Winchester for a particular bullet weight as listed to obtain the maximum load listed. To find the lowest possible and safe starting load, multiply 38.0 grains that is the maximum charge weight for 90 grain .243 bullet recommended by Hodgdon when using H4895.  Multiply this maximum charge weight 38.0 grain X .60 (60 percent).  This reduces the charge weight used by 40 percent. 38.0 grains X 0.60 = 22.8 grains of H4895. The product would be 22.8 grains, the lowest safe charge weight.  The starting load using H4895 is 22.8 grains of H4895.  This is a very low pressure load that would be safe in the weakest actions, a very low starting charge that allows us to work up safely until we see excessive pressure signs. And there is plenty of room in which to work up, and find the most accurate loading. Using the ladder method, odds are there can be found 3 or more accuracy nodes between 22.8 and the maximum safe pressure for this rifle, which also happens to be the starting load as listed by the aforementioned online reloading manual from Hodgen. This maximum load would be near 34.0 grains of H4895, which would be near 44,900 CUP with some variation, given the actual bullet used, seating depth, primer used, and other factors. 34.0 grains is good stopping point as the maximum pressure for this rifle would be 46,000 CUP.

By using Hodgdon’s guidance on reduced powder charges using H4895, we would have reloading data for a 90 grain bullet that has a starting load of 22.8, and a maximum load of 34.0 grain of H4895. This powder and procedure can be used to establish a lower pressure range for many antique rifles using modern bottleneck cartridges they shoot.  Always consult a reloading manual, and verify all of the information provided herein, or elsewhere.  I always consult several manuals, as a matter of habit and good procedure. I constantly fact check reloading information as I human, and am prone to error, and would rather error on the safe side.  Even reloading manuals contain insufficient and incomplete data, and errors. Do not use any of the reloading data provided in this article.  Any data herein is to be considered as only examples, and should not be used in any rifle unless verified by consulting a manual.

Another approach that can only be used safely with H4895 is to simply use the starting load for full power .243 Winchester as the maximum load, and deduct 10 percent to establish a starting charge.  In effect we would be creating our own load data, and a table that might look like this:

Bullet Weight    Powder      minimum     maximum      Velocity        Pressure    Bullet type    Ballistic Coefficent

90 grain bullet, Hodgdon H4895  30.6gr   34.0gr   2,654fps 44,900 CUP  Hornady ELD-X      B.C. .418     Maximum PBR: 317 yd

80 grain bullet, Hodgdon H4895 31.5gr     35.0gr   2,786fps 45,800 CUP  Hornady #2430 FMJ  B.C. .283     Maximum PBR: 295 yd

70 grain bullet  Hodgdon H4895 32.4gr     36.0gr   2,912fps 42,700 CUP  Hornady #2410 SP   B.C. .269     Maximum PBR: 297 yd

The maximum PBR (point blank range) is a measurement that indicates how flat is the trajectory.  Given the bullets available, the 90 grain bullet is IME (In My Estimation) is the best balanced, and a much better long range and hunting bullet, because of a superior ballistic coeffient, and a superior sectional density. The velocity and B.C., and subsequent trajectory make it comparable to a 168 grain 7.62 NATO cartridge. Here is a table that compares a 168 grain 7.62 NATO Match Load with our new .243 Winchester RL (Reduced Load) that uses a 90 grain bullet.

Range        Drop Windage (10mph) Velocity   Energy
.243RL, 90gr bullet @ 2,654fps           500yd       -54.9 13.3        1657.3   548.8     Maximum PBR: 317 yd

7.62 NATO, 168 grain bullet @ 2,650fps   500yd          -52.8 12.0            1730.8 1097.3    Maximum PBR: 320 yd

The drop at 500 yards is calculated assuming a 200 yard zero.  As we can see, the 90 grain bullet in our .243RL (.243 Winchester Reduced Load) is very close the 168 grain bullet used in the 7.62 NATO Match load in trajectory, and in it’s ability to buck the wind. This would also be a good cartridge on smaller deer inside of 200 yards.

Hodgdon H4895: A VERSATILE AND SAFE POWDER FOR ANTIQUE RIFLES

BTW, H4895 would be a useful and good rifle powder that could provide a safe to shoot and accurate cartridge for any of the rifles discussed in this article.  I always have it in stock for that special rifle.  This Scoped Loewe Chilean .243 Winchester Mauser Sporter, and another rifle discussed later, would be one of the those rifles.  Hint, they share the same basic case.  If you have a rifle in mind, look up the reloading data at Hodgdon’s Reloading Center linked above, and see if there is a listing for H4895 for it’s cartridge, and the bullet wieght you’d like to use. If data for H4895 is listed, it would be my first powder choice to use in that rifle.

Having taken a quick look myself, listed are many, but probably not all the cartridges that might be found and used on antique actions that can use H4895.  Again, this powder is almost a universal powder, useful for most bottleneck cartriges. It is a rifle powder that is particularly useful in developing safe and accurate ammunition in many antique rifles. In addition, I listed below the cartridge type, the rifles currently in stock at Elk Creek Company that use these cartridges, that can use H4895 powder. I am happy to have some H4895 on the self at all times. Ya never know when I might pick up another rifle.

Of course H4895 is not the only rifle powder out there, and it might not produce the most accurate cartridge possible, yet it is an excellent first powder to try and prove that the rifle can handle pressures near the maximum listed. If the action proves to be as strong as it was originally designed to be, then we could try some IMR powders at 5 percent lower than the starting load for a particular full-power cartridge. IMR 3031, IMR 4064, IMR 4895 are good medium to slower powders that work well in most rifles from .223 to the .30 calibers. The shorter the barrel, the faster should be the powder.  For carbine lengths, try IMR 4198 and IMR 3031 first, and then IMR 4895, then IMR4064. In no case do we want to have a powder charge that is less than 85 percent of the total case capacity using these powders.

There are more options.  Check older Lee manuals that offer reduced charges using lead bullets. IMR4198, IMR4227, and IMR SR4759(discontinued), and other powders are among some of the better candidates.  Often these manuals can be found on line in a free download.  Trailboss is now discontinued, but if you find it, grab it.  It excellent for producing very low-pressure loads that are safe.  It is my top choice for subsonic loads.  Subsonic loads out of 24 to 29 inch barrel are surprisingly quiet, and make a good ‘critter getter’ load for pests and such.  Use bullets that have a ballistic coefficient no higher than about .340. Otherwise, they can be unstable and inaccurate.

.243 Winchester, all bullet weights.

Beautiful Scoped Loewe Chilean .243 Winchester Mauser Sporter

8mm Mauser(8×57), all bullet wieghts
No Rifle currently in stock (1893 Turkish Mausers)

7.65×53, 150 and 170 grain bullet weights

Scarce Argentine M1891 Mauser Cavalry Carbine – Refinished

7mm Mauser (7×57) all bullet weights

Scarce Spanish M1893 Mauser Dated 1897 (Span-Am War) — All Original

Rare Chilean Contract Loewe Mauser M1893 Cavalry Carbine

6.5 Swedish Mauser (6.5×55), all bullet weights
No Rifle currently in stock

7.5×55 Swiss, all bullet weights
No Rifle Currently in Stock

.30-30 Winchester, all bullet weights

Winchester M1894 .30-30 Saddle Ring Carbine — Reblued, Made in 1898

.30-40 Krag, all bullet weights
No Rifle Currently in Stock

.300 Savage, all bullet weights

Loewe Spanish Contract M1893 Mauser Sporter in .300 Savage

7.62x54R, all bullet weights
No Rifle Currently in Stock

.308 Winchester Service Rifle (7.62×55 NATO), all bullet weights

7.62mm NATO-Converted Ludwig Loewe Chilean Mauser

.308 Winchester, all bullet weights
No Rifle Currently in Stock (Some Kimber.308 Winchester rifles used Swedish Mauser actions)

.303 British, all bullet weights
No Rifle Currently in Stock

.32 Winchester Special, all bullet weights
No Rifle Currently in Stock

.40-65 Winchester, all bullet wieghts
No Rifle Currently in Stock

.45-70 Government (Trapdoor)

Rare Model 1876 Trapdoor Saddle Ring Cavalry Carbine .45-70

Mark Ployhar Custom Remington #1 Rolling Block .45-70 Rifle

U.S. Springfield Armory 1884 Trapdoor Rifle

No Handloading Needed, The Loewe Spanish Contract M1893 Mauser Sporter in .300 Savage

Loewe Spanish Contract M1893 Mauser Sporter in .300 Savage

“A classic post-war sporter, circa 1946. This is a Loewe Mauser Model 1893 rifle that was barreled to the desirable .300 Savage by Alamo Gun Company and is dated 3/21/1946 on the barrel. Serial# L899X. Includes a vintage “Texan” Norman-Ford & Company 2.5X post reticle scope that has a nice low-profile mount. The tapered barrel measures 22 inches and has an excellent bore. Stock appears to be walnut. Low-swing safety.  There are no numbers on the sporterized bolt. Includes a period leather sling.  See the detailed photos, showing some over-buffing on the rollmarks and some minor wear on the rifle, since it was sporterized and reblued. This is a well-executed sporter in a desirable chambering that would make a great hunting rifle.  (UAIH-300)”

Of course, I would love to have them all, but my personal favorite is the Loewe Spanish Contract M1893 Mauser Sporter in .300 Savage. However, it is not necessarily the most practical of the two rifles, unless of course you are a reloader, and a sucker for an understated utilitarian sort of elegance.  I appreciate the history and craftsmanship in this rifle, yet there are other important considerations, so I’ll try to let the reader be more sensible than myself, and choose wisely.

The .300 Savage is an ideal cartridge for antique rifles that are limited to a pressure of no more than 46,000 CUP, as is the 300 Savage cartridge itself is also limited to very similar pressure maximums. And this rifle is expertly well put together. By the lack of damage to the stock, it was gently and sparingly used, and the barrel is likely only slightly worn.

No one does a better job at describing a cartridge than Chuck Hawks: The 300 Savage, By Chuck Hawks

Fortunately, we can still purchase a lifetime supply of ammunition of the less expensive factory ammunition. At the time of writing, I found a price close to less than half that of individual boxes of 20 currently on the market that are priced at $3.50/rd. The price for a bulk purchase of 500 rounds range from $1.14/rd to $1.30/rd.  Here is a good selection of factory ammunition at reasonable prices.   500 rounds would be a minimum for myself.  At present, we have a very fine rifle in 300 Savage, and a good selection of ammunition needed at a competitive price level relative to that of the least expensive and common cartridges.

Given the ammunition offered here, I would choose the highest priced option, an additional expense of only 0.16 cents per round over the lowest cost option, because I believe it would provide the best balance of top velocity and accuracy that extends the effective hunting range. At an advertised 2,740 feet per second (fps) from the standard length 300 Savage barrel that is 22 inches, this round duplicates 7.62 NATO M80 ball ammunition trajectories. The higher 0.415 ballistic coefficient of the bullet, bucks the wind a tad better than the military round. This is a significant improvement in performance over the traditional loads that used lower tech bullets and powder, and typically produced velocities between 2,600 to 2,700 fps with good accuracy. The Superformance powder used is a proprietary blend specifically formulated for this cartridge and delivers top velocities at safe chamber pressures. This loading might be considered a light magnum load, yet without the excessive pressures. The Superformance rifle powder offered to reloaders is not the same, and I do not necessarily recommend that powder to reloaders. My top ammo pick for this rifle is therefore:

Hornady Superformance .300 Savage 150 Grain Super Shock Tip.

Reloading for .300 Savage

If the owner of the rifle had wisely purchased a set of reloading dies for 300 Savage, yet had none of the components, in extremis, a very knowledgeable hand loader could make use of components from other cartridges to make a cartridge for another rifle. For example, if I had to reload for .300 Savage, yet lacked any or all of the components, it would be for myself, relatively easy to disassemble common cartridges such as .308 Winchester, 7.62 NATO, and 30-06, or any cartridge that uses a .308 in diameter bullets, and has a case length greater than 300 Savage, and shares the same case head diameter. This could be done without fire forming, or neck turning, but would require a fair amount of trimming.  I could reuse the components, including the unfired primer in the case, brass, powder and bullet, to reassemble a good shooting cartridge in .300 Savage. This is not rocket science, yet I would not share, at this time, how I would go about this, as it would be a distraction from the article.

If the owner of a rifle in 300 Savage has saved his spent cases for reloading, the process would be less expensive in terms of time and materials. And they would be more likely able to reload this cartridge themselves.  Rifle primers and powders are back on the market, but it is not necessary to reload for this rifle if one purchases plenty of commercially produced ammunition.  At the very least however, it is essential to buy the dies, if you buy the rifle.

In discussing each rifle, a short list of both the advantages on one hand, the disadvantages of each rifle in the other hand, might be helpful in the decision process.

The advantages of this cartridge in this rifle are:

-Expertly constructed custom-built rifle that is likely pleasingly accurate.
-Ideal for most hunting in the lower 48 states.
-Scope is adequate for hunting ranges, authentically dates the rifle, and is likely zeroed for a 150 grain bullet.
-Mild recoil.
-Moderate and appropriate barrel length for the cartridge designed for hunting.
-Can be reloaded to specifications found in most reloading manuals, and with their bullet recommendations.
-Can use most light for caliber .308 diameter bullets, and the heaviest, a 180 grain round nose such as Remington Core-lokt, and including, 150 or 170 grain flat point, or modern Hornady GTX bullets designed for the .30-30.
-Can use commonly found medium burn rate powders. Load data is easily found.
-Brass from .308 Winchester, and military brass from 7.62×51, and .30-06, and others, can be reformed to make 300 Savage brass.

The disadvantages are:

-Commercial ammunition is difficult to find, yet may return to the market in time.
-Unloaded used, or new brass is difficult to find for sale.
-Reloading dies could be difficult to locate, post-collapse. (Buy them now!)

(To be continued tomorrow, in Part 3.)



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