Below is a saved Mike Bellm Newsletter sent 6-28-2016 following a jack rabbit and ground squirrel shoot.|
Newsletter: Bigger is better? I think not.
This Newsletter turns out to be a "Me & Joe" story, but not the typical "Me & Joe."
I have to preface this Newsletter acknowledging serious long range varmint shooters. Yep, there is certainly a place for the challenge of zapping critters way past 500 yards, but for general agricultural varmint control, bigger is not better.
I just got back from a few days of defending Nevada hay fields from marauding jack rabbits and ground squirrels with my old standby fun gun, a .22 K-Hornet 20" Contender that I made up back in the mid-80's.
The first guy I met in town was Joe, an ex-Marine sniper and diligent defender of hay fields who promptly took me into the local circle.... make that circles, the round fields with irrigation "pivots".
Of all the barrels that have passed through my hands over the years, the .22 K-Hornet is the one barrel I have kept, simply because it does the job adequately out to about 250 yards, is easy to shoot, inexpensive to feed, and the K-Hornet is gentle on bores. I simply like it, it breaks down to fit nicely into the boxes on my Honda Gold Wing, and that is what I took with me for a good ride through the desert and winding mountain passes.
Even die hard .223 Rem. varmint shooters have realized the need to down size. There has been quite a cadre of .223 Rem. shooters going to light charges of Blue Dot trying to keep barrel heating to a minimum. After dozens of jack rabbits spot lighting them at night, I told my ex-Marine sniper bud, Joe, to feel the barrel which was only mildly warm shooting only 11.5 gr. of powder. That amount of shooting would have had a .223 Rem. barrel shooting twice the amount of powder scorching hot. It raises the question as to why try to "down size" .223 Rem. when something smaller to begin with simply works better?
What is the go-to gun for the local ranchers and those who generously help out on hay munchers? .17 HMR. Gotta admit Joe's military experience combined with many thousands of rounds surgically excising squirrels from hay fields was quite impressive! For serious work, a part of farm "work", the ranchers & not so altruistic helpers like "Me & Joe" go small.
On the other hand there is much to be said for using big game rifles for varmint shooting where the back stop is sufficient. It is one of the best ways to hone one's shooting skills for big game. But for serious varmint work inside of about 250 yards where the most active shooting takes place, the little cartridges are, in my opinion and that of farmers we have to call professionals, the way to go..... still. After many thousands of rounds I've shot over the years on jack rabbits, ground hogs, ground squirrels, and prairie dogs, both with big game rifles and "varmint guns", bigger & badder is not necessarily better.
Wind is always an issue, and yes, faster rounds minimize drift & bullet drop, but the little rounds generally let you spot your shot and hold into the wind for follow up shots doing what I call "garden hosing" shots. Think of the trajectory of a jet of water from a garden hose in the wind trying to cool someone at a distance on a hot summer day.
Learning to work with the wind can be half the fun. As long range handgunner, Don Bower, was known to chant, "The wind is your friend," while trying to condition his shooting students. Learn to work with the wind.
One of the things I explained to Joe, and something for you to "take home" from this is the logic of starting with a barrel chambered for a small/short cartridge, shooting its throat to destruction, then rechambering to a longer round and thus cutting a new throat in the process.
A "shot out barrel" has two very beneficial qualities.
First, it is smoothed up to whatever surface finish shooting produces, but more importantly....
two, it produces a "choked bore."
Barrels wear the most from the breech end forward. As I showed Joe, the rear of my K-Hornet's bore is worn nice and smooth without a trace of tool marks on the tops of the riflings. But at the muzzle end, tool marks are still very visible in this barrel that I had deemed too rough inside to sell to someone else when I first made it. So I kept it for myself..... shooting a reject, in other words.
Everyone thinks nice smooth bore, minimal fouling. OK.
But some of our more notable custom barrel blank makers also have the little trade secret of lapping bores less toward the muzzle, more and more toward the breech end, to create a very slightly choked bore for the accuracy that makes them famous.
What I really want is another tack driving .222 Rem., and given a few more thousand rounds through this K-Hornet barrel, it is destined to be a .222 Rem.
Without tossing a shot out barrel and plunking down money for a new barrel, follow the logic using .17 Mach II as a starting point.
(I only shot ground squirrels in Oregon once and only took a .17 Mach II, which toppled squirrels as well or better than my K-Hornet at a good 250 yards.... as kind of a side note.)
Shoot the Mach II until accuracy falls off or ammo supply falls short.
Rechamber it to .17 HMR & shoot the snot out of it.
Then decide whether to go .17 WSM or .17 Hornet.
Since .17 Hornady Hornet is enough shorter to get a bit of new throat going to .17 Ackley Hornet or .17 Fireball, one would have to decide whether to pay the price of dies for the Ackley version or the common .17 Fireball dies.
From one of the .17 Hornets, one could go to the old .17 Rem. However, it is much more prone to fouling and faster throat erosion.... the reasons for its decline in popularity in favor of the smaller cartridges.
The same logic and process of rechambering to successively longer cartridges applies to the .22 cals. Shoot 'em to destruction, then rechamber to get a new throat & not only essentially a new barrel, but a better barrel with the smoothed up, choke bore effect for top accuracy.... amazing accuracy is more like it, more like you would expect from a high dollar benchrest grade barrel.
In the .22 cal. category, rechambering a .22 LR to .22 Mag really amps up a rimfire .22 barrel, though ammo supply has declined in recent years.
My vote goes for plain Jane, vanilla .22 Hornet, and rechambering a .22 LR to .22 Hornet is one of the best ways to get an excellent .22 Hornet..... on the assumption it is given a proper throat, ie, better than factory SAAMI spec.
.22 Mag. to .22 Hornet is excellent also.
If going to .221 Fireball, bear in mind that the TC factory .22 LR barrels have a 1-15 twist rate which is perfect for 40 to 45 gr. bullets, but it may only stabilize bullets no longer than 50 gr. flat base bullets.
.22 Mag. factory barrels have a 1-12 twist.
.22 K-Hornet has the advantage of the sharp shoulder and capacity for powders that will produce upwards of 3,000 fps. However, over the years my loads for my K-Hornet have shot best in approximately the 2,700 fps range or less where moderate is "more better."
.222 Rem. v. .223 Rem.?
In spite of the .223's popularity, call me old school or just not with it, but I still lean toward .222. The .223 handles 55 gr. and heavier bullets better (faster) than .222, but in agricultural areas the heavier bullets are also more prone to ricochets. Open country, fine. Shoot the heavier bullets for long, long shots. But for general use, stick with bullets under 50 gr. My K-Hornet loves the old Sierra 40 gr. flat base hollow point.... which was also Blaine Eddy's standby for coyotes in the .222 Rem. barrel I made for him in the mid-80s until he stepped up to 5.6x50-R Bellm about 10 serious predator hunting years later.
TC .22 cal. factory .22 Magnum barrels & up have a 1-12 twist, so for bullets 50 to 55 gr. start with either a .22 Magnum barrel or a more common factory .22 Hornet barrel for an excellent .222 Rem. or .223 Rem. if you prefer the latter.
Note: Skip .221 Fireball rechambered from a factory .22 Hornet. Reason.... factory Hornet chambers have a cone shaped throat, and the Fireball case is the same length so rechambering does not cut out the factory throat. If it shoots great as a Hornet, then maybe take the gamble it will shoot at least equally well when rechambered to .221 Fireball.
Got a not so interesting .223 Rem.?
Rechambering to the longer .222 Rem. Mag. case puts a new throat in the barrel & more zip. Go to .222 Rem. Mag. Improved for the most speed practical from a Contender.
.204 Ruger cases can be necked up to .22 for .222 Rem. Mag.
The longer Mag chamber is a good fix for both Contender and Encore .223 barrels with misaligned throats!
.224 Weatherby has kinda gone by the wayside, but with its stout case and belt to headspace on, .224 Weatherby is still an excellent round for the Encore and a top "fix" for a bad factory chamber throat. I am not a fan of .22-250 in a break open gun. Bolt gun or rigid single shot like a Ruger No.1, fine, but its thin brass and highly tapered case is just not the best choice for break open guns.
When .225 Win. brass was available, many of us had a love affair going with both .225 Win. and .225 Win. Improved. If you stumble onto or have a stash of this super tough brass, consider .225 Win. or Imp. The .225 Win. Imp. and .224 Weatherby are neck and neck with .22-250 but are much more suited to the Encore than .22-250 is from a functional standpoint.
Going for a new custom barrel takes out most all of the gamble compared to buying a factory barrel, but on the other hand, reworking a factory barrel properly can be both more economical and as good or better than a new custom made barrel.
www.matchgrademachine.com uses really good quality blanks. But on the other hand, as I explained above, well worn barrels are even better due to being smoothed up ("broken in")if they have been shot a lot, but more importantly, the more worn they are inside, the more choked-bore effect you get.
Properly rechamber a well worn barrel, cut a minimum diameter throat aligned with the bore, and put a precision crown on it for amazing accuracy!
But don't go any bigger/badder/faster than shooting conditions require.
Bigger is not necessarily better.
For lots of shooting inside of about 250 yards, my vote goes for the little rounds.
(I am waiting patiently to see how well .22 TCM ammo & dies will be supported, and Kurt will likely have a report on .22 TCM as soon as I get his chambers cut.)