John Vlieger USPSA wins

Son-in-law John Vlieger, competing against 318 competitors, 79 of them in his USPSA Open division, decisively won the Walther Arms-MGM Targets Area 4 Championship match this year. Area 4 includes Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas. The next closest competitor came in with only 95.77% of his score:

He also won the EGW USPSA Area 8 Championship. Area 8 is on the east coast and includes Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. His margin was only 0.7% but against 493 competitors, 105 in open division, a win by any margin is awesome:

Compare his shooting in the matches above which were in August and September against his shooting in March during Optic Nationals:

At nationals he came in at 11th place, just barely below Rod Leatham, even though he had an equipment failure (broken extractor) on one of the stages. It’s hard for me to say for sure, because the target distance is difficult to judge and I don’t have the exact times for the individual shots, but it seems he is now shooting perceptibly faster and he certainly has fewer misses on the steel targets.

I can see him winning national, and even world titles, soon.

Revolver re-build, Field Carry system, and deer hunt

Deer season is upon us (Joe; no Hunting category?) so I thought this a good time to post it.

Following is a very long, detailed account of customizing a reproduction Colt 1847 Walker percussion revolver and using it in a deer hunt in the 2016 muzzleloader season. It assumes the reader has some understanding of the Colt open top revolver design and its inherent problems, and contains lots of technical photos and jargon. I also introduce a paper cartridge “Field Carry” system which I’ve developed for percussion revolvers, making things simpler and easier for the shooter while in the field on the move. There are bloody butchering (necropsy) photos cataloging the terminal performance of the gun and ammunition. You have been warned– If you read on you may be extremely bored, fascinated, or shocked or disgusted, or all of the above.
Continue reading

USPSA Classifier “Tight Squeeze”

As I’ve mentioned before my USPSA classifiers have not been as good as I would like. Today, at the Lewiston (Idaho) Pistol Club, was a step up:

Draw: 1.27 S
Reload: 2.03 S
Total Time: 8.59 S
Hits: 11 A-Zones, 1 C-Zone
Points: 59
Hit Factor: 6.8685
Stage Win.
USPSA Limited Classifier: ~66.38%

Even though it was a classifier from 1999 (99-48 Tight Squeeze) with the issue of all the top shooters slowly ratcheting up the best scores over the last 18 years I did fairly well on it with an estimated 66.38%. This is better than I have done on a classifier in over seven years! This is solid B class shooting instead of all the C class results I have been turning in the last few years. It was the stage win for all divisions, including Open! I won Limited Division for the match and came in second overall. If I hadn’t overlooked one target on the first stage and racked up all those penalties I would have won the match.

The video shows my transitions between targets is almost painfully slow and I could do much better reloads. And with more practice I think I could do a faster draw as well.

Well, I know what I need to work on this week when I go to the range.

Primer removal failure

This is twice in about 500 rounds that I have seen this happen:


Instead of popping out whole, the primer fractured and only part of it came out of the primer pocket. I thought the first instance was just a very odd fluke. But this is twice in a very small set of used brass and I don’t recall this ever happening before in the over 100K times I have removed primers.

Update: I had this happen with three more cases out of about 150. All with R-P headstamps. I bought this brass used. It would be interesting to know the history of these cases.

Rounds in the last month

In August I loaded 148 rounds of 30.06 for daughter Kim and 2644 rounds of .40 S&W. This used up all my 30.06 brass and before I do any more 30.06 she is going to have to do some shooting. The .40 S&W was 722 rounds of Black Bullets for USPSA matches and 1922 rounds of Montana Gold bullets yielding Major Power Factor for practice at indoor ranges.

This brings my lifetime reloaded ammunition totals to:

223: 2,424 rounds.
30.06: 756 rounds.
300 WIN: 1692 rounds.
40 S&W: 74,709 rounds.
9 mm.log: 21,641 rounds.
Total: 101,222 rounds.

Year to date I have loaded 15,504 rounds. I’m on course to reload about 20,000 rounds this year for a lifetime total of over 105,000 rounds.


Today, in addition to the Dot Torture Target, I shot the F.A.S.T. (Fundamentals, Accuracy, & Speed Test) target:


The individual shot times, in seconds, are:

  1. 1.93
  2. 0.78
  3. 2.81
  4. 0.48
  5. 0.43
  6. 0.40

Total: 6.83 seconds.

That’s just barely in the “Advanced” ranking and a long way from “Expert”.

I shot about four or five practice targets before I got one where everything was working reasonably well. The slide lock reload is really painful. In action shooting I try to always plan my reloads so I never go into slide lock and frequently reload with half full magazines in the gun when I’m on the move between shooting positions just to make sure I avoid the slide lock. The reload time shows my lack of practice. I always hesitated as I started to engage the target again before I racked the slide. I think I can do better on the first shot too. I can see shaving 0.50 off my time without too much effort, but getting to “Expert” may be beyond what I can accomplish.

Dot Torture

Last week Say Uncle linked to the Dot Torture target. Paul Koning sent me an email about it too, so I printed out a few and tried it today at five yards:


It’s tough. Those are 2” circles. I can usually do a 1.5” six shot group at 10 yards. But that is a group size, not putting them inside a 1.5” circle. And that is six shots, not 50 shots. Just going from six shots to 50, with the same base accuracy, bumps my group size from 1.5” to 2.57” (Modern Ballistics will tell you this if you speak to it nicely). Then you have to make sure you are centered exactly in the circle.

I adjusted my sights after shooting the #1 dot which helped. I still dropped two.

I think I can clean it at five yards. I’ll try again when I’m not intent on working on shooting faster.

Montana Gold Bullet factory tour

Kalispell, Montana was on the way home from Glacier National Park so Barb and I decided to see if we could get a tour of the Montana Gold Bullet factory. I have reloaded nearly 39,000 (38,684) of their bullets and have another 4,500+ in stock and ready for the Dillon 550.

I called the number on their website and set up a time for yesterday that worked for Norm and us.

We arrived a few minutes early at the unmarked warehouse like building. I took a picture of Barb out front and Norm greeted us a minute or so later.


I asked if we could take pictures and Norm told us, “No pictures allowed.” As we went inside and started the tour Norm told us production goes down during the summer and there wasn’t as much going on as there sometimes is. I asked if the election had also affected sales. He said it had made a big difference not just for Montana Gold Bullets but across the entire industry. He had looked at demand over the years and it has gone through several cycles. The first peak occurred after Bill Clinton’s election and the last peak being just before the defeat of Hillary Clinton.

Before we moved on I asked why they used brass jackets rather than copper like almost all other bullet manufactures. Was there a technical reason or was it the just the appeal of the gold color and the neat name made possible by that color?

Norm explained their company wasn’t the first to use brass. Remington, with their Golden Saber bullets, was the first and marketed them extensively. There are other companies who also use brass in some of their bullets. There are some technical reason why brass is better in certain circumstances but that isn’t the reason why his company uses brass. And it wasn’t the appeal of color and the cool name of “Montana Gold”. Also, he didn’t come up with the name “Montana Gold”!

He said he probably shouldn’t tell the story, then proceeded to tell us how the name came about. I’ll refrain from telling the story here but I’ll drop the hint that it was a San Francisco pathologist who came up with the name “Montana Gold” for the bullets produced by Norm’s company. Norm thought it was a cool name and adopted it.

The reason they use brass is because it was forced upon them, indirectly, by the U.S. government. Many years ago the U.S. Mint began producing small dollar coins that were a copper sandwich. The demands of the U.S. Mint for the particular grade of copper the bullet company was using made it impossible for Norm’s company to get the jacket material they needed. It was either go out of business, shutdown until they could get supplies, or change jacket material. They changed jacket material.

Another story he told was of a commercial reloader who bid on a contract for law enforcement ammo specifying, and supplying samples using, Montana Gold bullets. When he won the contract and started delivering the finished product the end customer noticed the bullets were actually plated bullets which are much cheaper to make and generally considered of lower quality. They complained to Norm, who reported he hadn’t supplied those bullets. Norm now refuses to do business with that reloader and, furthermore, does not allow reloaders to mention “Montana Gold” even if they are using “the real deal” in their product.

We saw the 70 pound lead-antimony ingots they use for bullet core material. As there are no more primary lead smelters in the U.S.they get their lead from Canada. They used to get their lead from mines in Idaho not too many miles away. At one time they even considered moving to Idaho to be close to their lead source as well as some economic incentives.

Barb was particularly impressed with the extruding equipment that squeezes the lead through an orifice like so much toothpaste making a lead wire of the appropriate diameter.

I was surprised by learning that because the metals alloyed with lead (to get the desired hardness) are of a different density the ingots may not be of sufficient uniformity to meet their final bullet weight tolerances. Depending upon how quickly the liquid lead alloy is cooled to a solid after being stirred they may cut off a section of the lead wire as scrap because can cause the bullet to be too light.

The thickness of the jacket material and the consistency of hollow point formation also have an effect upon the final bullet weight. Tolerances stack up. They keep the weight of their bullets to about +/- 0.3 grains and sell bullets that are out of tolerance as “seconds” to people who take delivery at the factory who Norm is confident will be using them directly rather than reselling them.

After being shown a bin of with tens of thousands (or maybe 100’s of thousands) of jackets I told Norm about finding one in a box of completed bullets. This seemed to bother him some. He told us there were at least three different places in the process it should have been been found.

They have several machines which are dedicated to certain bullet caliber and style and a few they reconfigure as needed. We saw large multistage presses which put the lead core into the brass cup then form the cup around the lead and size it to make a completed bullet. I was surprised that the machine only produced about one finished bullet per second. That one machine takes about 40 minutes to produce one case of bullets the postman delivers to my door (actually–the sidewalk near the street, then he rings the doorbell).

I told Norm I had used their .401 diameter, 180 grain, complete metal jacket bullet until fellow shooter Don W. reported he got better accuracy with the jacketed hollow point bullets. As the price was only a fraction of penny more I tried those bullets and found Don was correct. I too got slightly better accuracy compared to the CMJs.

Norm said the decreased accuracy with the CMJs probably was because my crimping die was just a little to tight. If crimped too much it will end up as an undersized bullet. Because of the construction of the base on a FMJ, and even a JHP, as a slightly undersized bullet is fired it will expand back out and be just fine. But the base of a CMJ with the brass (or copper) disk doesn’t expand like the FMJ and JHP and “rattles” as it traverses the barrel resulting in a decrease in accuracy. By backing off the crimping die a little bit you should get the same accuracy.

Near the end of the tour Norm pointed at two work stations with women flicking bullets, one by one, off a conveyor belt. “That”, he said, “Is the most difficult job here. It takes a special kind of person to do that and when we find someone who can do it we take special care of them.” These women do the visual inspection of every bullet. They don’t work full days and yet Norm told us you can see from their faces they are drained and tired at the end of their shifts. They considered going to some sort of sensors and computer sorting but the visual computer in the human brain can’t be beat yet.

Barb and I spent nearly an hour with Norm and the stories and discussion continued until both Barb and I were in pain from standing. We had hiked over 33 miles in the previous four days and felt we could hike some more but not stand. My knees were “talking to me” in an angry tone so we thanked Norm and left with new appreciation and attachment to Montana Gold bullets.

Clean your bore

I was at the range the other day with a .22 LR pistol. Things were going well for a while then, fairly rapidly, deteriorated. I checked the sights and the screws that hold the barrel in place and every other mechanical thing I could think of. Everything looked good.

I put up a fresh target at 10 yards and using two different types of ammo put some carefully aimed rounds downrange. The two targets on the right in the picture below are the result.


The result was very discouraging. I then put some rounds downrange with my .40 at the target on the top left above. Okay, so it’s not just me.

I checked the target carefully and could see some of the bullets were impacting the target sideways. But this is the same ammo that I have shot thousands of rounds with excellent accuracy and even greater range!

I took the gun home and cleaned it. I frequently just clean the slide and other moving parts and don’t clean the bore of the barrel. How many rounds had it been since I clean the bore? I just don’t know. Probably at least a couple thousand.

I went back to the range and tried the same two types of ammo.

This is the first set:


That’s better. But still not what it should be.

So I tried the second type:



And back to the first set:


That’s what I expected.

The bore needed to be cleaned, then it needed a little bit of fouling.

Good to know.

100K rounds

Barb and I mostly stayed home this weekend because of the heat and extraordinarily smoky air from the forest fires. Otherwise we probably would have gone on a hike. So… I reloaded ammo and puttered around my “library” (includes computers, guns, ammo, reloading bench, reloading components, and gun cleaning bench). I reloaded 600 rounds of 40 S&W yesterday and 600 rounds today using up almost all of the Fiocchi primers.

Combined with the stuff I had reloaded in the previous few days this month I topped the lifetime total rounds reloaded mark of 100,000 rounds. My logs show I have reloaded 100,027 rounds. 73,514 of those are .40 S&W.

Rounds in the last month

In July I loaded 65 rounds of 30.06 for daughter Kim and 2048 rounds of .40 S&W. Nearly all of the .40 S&W was Montana Gold JHP for practice at the local indoor range. There were also a few other bullet types when I was testing the Fiocchi primers.

This brings my lifetime reloaded ammunition totals to:

223: 2,424 rounds.
30.06: 608 rounds.
300 WIN: 1692 rounds.
40 S&W: 72,065 rounds.
9 mm.log: 21,641 rounds.
Total: 98,430 rounds.

Year to date I have loaded 12,712 rounds.

August is going to be a very busy month with things other than reloading keeping me occupied. I also plan to make a bunch more 30.06 rounds, which are much slower than pistol ammo, or I would make the prediction that I would break 100,000 lifetime total rounds loaded sometime in August. Instead, I expect to reach that milestone in September.

Fiocchi Small Pistol, No Lead, primers

I do a lot of indoor shooting and the possibility of lead poisoning is something that concerns me. I get a blood test for lead every year and it stays within the “normal” range but when I wasn’t doing much shooting for a couple years it went to almost undetectable levels. Hence, I know I have a lead source in my environment and it’s probably either the indoor range and/or the reloading.

When I saw Powder Valley had no lead, small pistol, primers available I ordered some to test. I didn’t know they were even available to the reloading community. These primers would probably reduce the lead exposure at both the range and when handling the reused brass during reloading.

They are a bit more expensive than the Winchester primers (WSP) I normally use. Before shipping the Winchester WSP primers are $28/1000 (2.8 cents each). The Fiocchi no lead primers are $57/1500 (3.8 cents each). A penny per round difference… hmm. Okay, I would pay that if it significantly reduced the lead I’m getting into my system.

Due to a mixup by Powder Valley I ended up (after a couple of weeks) getting 1500 Fiocchi standard primers as well as 1500 of the no lead primers. They came in a brick of 10 trays of 150 primers per tray:


They are, ironically, a lead grey color:



I made up my indoor loads and ran them over my chronograph:

PF SDev ES Min Max
Montana Gold JHP, CFE Pistol, WSP
180.22 5.4 921.50 165.87 11.5 38.0 905 943
Montana Gold JHP, CFE Pistol, Fiocchi No Lead
180.22 5.4 916.67 165.00 16.6 56.0 897 953
Montana Gold JHP, CFE Pistol, Fiocchi standard
180.22 5.4 879.00 158.22 44.3 139.0 803 942

Hmmm.. The standard deviation and especially the extreme spread are worse with the no lead primers. And the Fiocchi standard primers are terrible! The velocity is lower and the standard deviation and extreme spread is through the roof. I loaded up some more rounds and tested them and got essentially the same results.

With the polymer coated bullets I use outdoors and CFE Pistol powder the results were even worse. The standard deviation went from about 10 fps with WSP to about 18 fps with the Fiocchi no lead primers (I haven’t tested the Fiocchi standard primers with these bullets).

I really don’t want to keep two types of primers around. I want to minimize the number of components types rather than expand them. And if I increase the standard deviation on the match ammo I would need to increase the mean velocity to insure I continue reliably making major PF. Increasing the velocity also means increasing the reloading cost above that of the increased primer cost, and increasing the recoil to solve a “problem” I don’t really have.

I think I’m going to continue using the WSP primers.

** Yes, I know these aren’t reliably making Major Power Factor, I’m increasing the powder charge some based upon this data. This load is just for practice anyway. I have never used them at a match. For USPSA matches I have been using Black Bullets, WSP primers, and ETR7 which has been repeatedly tested to give me a PF of a little over 170 with a SDev of about 9 fps.

Rounds in the last month

In June I reloaded 1947 rounds of 180 grain Black Bullets and 1753 rounds of 180 grain JHP Montana Gold bullets in .40 S&W. This, 3700 rounds, is most I have reloaded in a single month with the exception of when I first started reloading and loaded 10,944 rounds of 9mm in the month of October 1996.

This brings my lifetime reloaded ammunition totals to:

223: 2,424 rounds.
30.06: 543 rounds.
300 WIN: 1692 rounds.
40 S&W: 70,017 rounds.
9 mm.log: 21,641 rounds.
Total: 96,317 rounds.

So far this year I have reloaded 10,599 rounds. By this time last year I had reloaded 9,094 and ended up the year with a total of 18,265. I only need to reload another 3,683 rounds to reach my goal for this year of 100,000 rounds. I might even reach this goal this month.

So you think you’re a rifleman?

A friend is putting on an Independence Day rifle match at his place in Latah County, Idaho;

Five shots from each of four positions (standing, kneeling, sitting, and prone), 4 black bull’s eyes (one for each position) each being 4 M.O.A. in angular size at 25 meters. That’s a target size of about 1.1″. You have a total of ten minutes to get into your various positions and make your 20 shots.

“Four M.O.A.”, you think, “I can hit that all day”, right? We hit one M.O.A. targets at Boomershoot, at distances such that the shifting wind is a major factor, so 4 M.O.A. is a piece of cake, right?

Uh uh. Using a light, but quality AR carbine in 5.56 mm, the best I’ve done so far in practice is 8 hits out of 20 shots. I’m not using a shooting sling, as that’s something I’ve never worked out. Other than your body and possibly a sling, there is no support allowed.

Any rifle in any caliber, centerfire or rimfire.

I noticed right away that the sight heights on my ARs (I use optics) are such that I needed to re-zero for 25 meters (about 27.5 yards).

Try it and report back.

I would love to see a match like this done in the form of a mountain woods walk, so you have the added issues of the portability of your equipment, your physical condition, your ability to shoot under some degree of physical stress (such as aiming while winded) and using improvised shooting positions due to terrain and flora. Too often we tend to want a “shooting range” set up all nice and ideal and level and comfortable, and in that case we are sometimes missing the point. Anyone who’s hunted for more than a few seasons will understand, and in fact hunting includes all of the above (plus the unpredictable nature of the target(s), doesn’t it?