If you caught Part I, you know Batman wrangled free from the Joker and that the RugerHawkeye M77 Compact is an unusual rifle – a very light, well balanced, compact, accurate, short barreled gun. Add in a tough, stabile, weather resistant stock and durable stainless hardware and you’ve got a an excellent hills and woodland hunting rifle. All the fast handling characteristics of a lever action carbine, with none of a lever gun’s limitations. The .308 Winchester cartridge is, of course, a proven standard so the combination really is something special.
I’m not sure how to express my personal sentiments toward the .308 Winchester. I have a short span of attention, I get bored quickly when cartridges aren’t problematic to handload, especially when they respond predictably to changes, and when there is a ton of handload data available from factory sources. The most derogatory .308 Winchester characterization I can make is that it is a well mannered, hard hitting, economic and easy to load, world class accurate cartridge. I apologize for this brutally honest criticism, but it needed to be said.
That said when I finished this project, I returned to more enjoyable projects like handloading the .500 Jeffery for northeastern style frog hunts. I really don’t want to like this gun as much as I do. I just cleaned out several gun safes, but here we go again. OK, it is a perfect little gun and I have two grandsons approaching hunting age…
The .308 is two short …
OK, so I had this stubby rifle and I had this stubby cartridge and I had to go in understanding that 3,600 fps 180 grain bullets were probably not going to happen, nor did I need or even want them to happen as a practical matter. I almost always work out the mechanics of cartridge overall length and case capacity, then I start playing around with what gives me a case full of powder that doesn’t require much compression and burns as much as possible within the bore volume. I try to avoid fast powder that burns to a higher percentage of completion but does not have enough persistence in gas generation to accelerate a bullet all the way down the barrel. Pick incorrectly and I’m Bond, James Bond, hurling fireballs of unburned powder at unsuspecting deer. Pick correctly and I’m the smart old guy with the light rifle who can therefore manage both game and gear when walking out of the woods. So this is what is behind my powder selections.
It’s good to start with a coat of primer…
I try to use standard large rifle primers whenever I can. So if I swap one for the other and velocity is essentially the same – large rifle primers it is and I don’t really care if this is with ball or stick powder as long as it works as intended. I’ve analyzed a lot of start pressure curves that I think support the theory that compressed charges, weak crimps and magnum primers can diminish velocity. Not my theory, but I believe I can see supporting data. The idea is that the magnum primer pressure pushes against a compacted powder charge for some tenths of a millisecond and drive the bullet forward prior to significant powder ignition. This increases powder chamber volume, reducing peak and average pressure. A standard primer and a good case to bullet crimp, like a Lee Precision factory crimp or even a solid roll crimp locked into a bullet’s cannelure, delay bullet movement and raise start pressure, resulting in closer to intended peak and average pressure. The difference isn’t huge, but it is noticeable with a strain gauge or transducer and oscilloscope. A 1,500 PSI rise in start pressure, 3,500 PSI to 5,000 PSI is worth 70 – 80 fps with no increase in powder charge. I think too many people work with neck tension alone and I believe there is a penalty in velocity and shot to shot consistency that is paid.
In search of a 300 grain .308″ bullet…
I know, we are back into a fashionable “heavy for bore” bullets frenzy. Heavy weights have been around for decades but I am sure, for some less experienced shooters, this is a new trend. For many shooters heavy bullets theory is a rehash, of a rehash, of a rehash. Unless deer are growing much thicker these days, there are already lots of bullets that will paper punch a deer so super heavy weight bullets are not required.
Heavy bullets in small capacity cartridges have a very long time in flight, fall to the ground rather quickly and have a long range trajectory that is disturbingly rainbow like in form. So why do hunters scramble for heavy bullets? Mostly they see competitive target shooters using them and assume they must therefore be the best in accuracy. The problem with this correlation is that a competitive target shooter pretty much knows at what distance the target is from the muzzle of his artillery piece, a hunter does not. Hunters benefit most from a combination with an extended point blank range, and that will not happen with a heavy weight bullet. That is my theory, however, I am open to other theories, regardless how lame they may be. So I held my nose and went as high a 240 grains in bullet weight with .308 Winchester handloads, but published only through 200 grains as worthwhile weights. If I want a 2,000 fps load, I’ll break out a .45-70.
Personally, I wouldn’t load a hunting cartridge with more than a 165-168 grain bullet. Yes, I know I must be an idiot. Yes I know you have a favorite 220 grain duck load. For me, shooting very heavy bullets from a .308 Winchester is like matching up a 16 pound blowing ball tossed by a 50 pound bowler. Do you bowl Joe? No I don’t. Then why the bowling analogy? For some reason I was thinking about Akron Ohio and it just came to mind.
I do believe I need to make wider tables…
A very big problem for .308 Winchester is the limited selection of bullets. It took almost five full minutes to dig the sixteen pictured above out of the pile of sixty or so other .308″ bullets they were buried under on my bench.
I loaded from light to relatively heavy bullets. Hey, why not? The only way to develop loads is to try them as sometimes there are good surprised and some mystery to investigate.
240 grain loads were interesting. The Sierra bullet design is too fragile for hunting, the Woodleigh is not, neither did much for me in the way of performance and possible applications.
The same can be said for the 110 grain load. OK to play with, not an exciting BC and probably more properly place with the .30 Carbine.
|.308 Winchester 16.5″ Barrel Ruger Compact|
3 Shot Grp
|Remington PSP||125||0.808||2.560||RS TAC||50.5||3018||2529||1.3|
|Nosler Ballistic Tip||200||1.500||2.810||Win748||40.0||2396||2550||1.2|
|1 – Primers CCI 200.
2 – Lee Factory Crimp Die used on all.
3 – SAAMI Maximum Average Pressure exceeded in some loads,
all less than 62,000 PSI. Suggest 2% less as a starting point.
By the time I got through this part of the project, I realized the 16.5″ .308 Winchester probably makes a lot more sense than my 22″ barrel .25-06 Remington. The .25-06 gives up a lot more to a shorter barrel which sort of defeats the purpose of the cartridge. Why not just go with a .257 Roberts? Again, the .308 Winchester is an easy to shoot cartridge, The Ruger is an easy to shoot rifle and surprisingly accurate…or maybe not so surprisingly. I think we have all sorted out that a longer barrel is not any more intrinsically accurate than a shorter barrel outside of the assistance the longer sight radius that accompanies the longer barrel affords the shooter. Hang a scope on a gun, however, and the scope doesn’t know if it is affixed to a long or short barreled gun so accuracy so there is no edge in either case provided to the shooter.
It makes a lot of sense to handload the .308 Winchester. There are so many bullets and other components available, there are possible combinations to assemble that are not available as loaded ammunition, or loaded ammunition at a reasonable price. Handloading effort is low, brass lasts a long time, powder selection is a lot more critical than I anticipated. I believe, if I were able to stock up on only one powder, it would be BL-C(2). Barnes bullets were accurate and they really hold together while expanding to a large diameter. Doesn’t seem to matter if the catching medium is a bucket of sand or ballistic gel. The 175 grain Berger did exceptionally well also. It churned up some decent velocity and I believe it is the highest practical weight for the cartridge.