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Ruger’s EC9s® – Warm Weather Is On The Way Easy concealment and 9mm Luger power

06/01/2020 One of the positive aspects of winters in Maine is the necessity for clothing that could conceal a bazooka. What is a bazooka? If you are old enough to remember movies set in World War II / Korean War era, it was that 55″ long tube shouldered by a kneeling gunner and rear end…

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Ruger’s Mini-Thirty 7.62x39mm Part II Hunting handloads and good performance

Audio Prologue: 05/17/2020 Today is a handload assembly day. So no political news, no Facebook, no conversation. Maybe just a little Gillian Welch playing in the background. I would listen to Muddy Waters, but then I’d start singing along and playing air blues guitar… just too much of a distraction… for everyone. The first real…

Real Guns is a membership supported publication. Membership offers access to: all current and archived articles, handload data, ballistic calculators, and the Real Guns Image Gallery. Membership is available for $29.95 for twelve months.

Please either Sign inorJoin Real Guns.

Ruger’s Mini-Thirty 7.62x39mm Part I Handloading high jinx

Audio Prologue:

05/11/2020 – Sometimes my wife allows me to assist in putting lunch together. Today was one of those days; tuna sandwiches. Diet whole wheat bread, two cans of white albacore chunk packed in water, two large tablespoons of Hellman’s mayonnaise,  chopped celery, chopped green onion, a dash of black ground pepper, topped with sliced vine tomatoes. It my surprise you to know I knew none of this prior to making sandwiches.

My wife is a master trainer. So specific and so thorough in explaining, process and ingredients, yet so subtle in delivery she had me believing I knew what I was doing. As an example I might ask, “How many scallions should I use?”. Answer, “What I do is grab a bunch, wash them under cold running water, chop off the root end and wilted shoots, quarter them, then I run them through the chopper… the small chopper”.  But that’s just me. You know what you’re doing”.

Fifty years ago, I could flip that around and just keep asking her questions until she demonstrated each step, which ended with her making the sandwich that I would eat. In the world of lunches, that was the best three months of my life.

The Ruger Mini Thirty in context

Within the history of Ruger firearms, the 1991 Mini Thirty was the most recent release within a series of firearms that originated with the Mini-14. So let’s hit the reverse button, go to an imaginary lapse dissolve and address the Mini-14. The 1971 prototype Mini-14 began life as a modified M14 design, scaled down proportional to a change in cartridge from the M14’s 308 Winchester to the Mini-14’s 223 Remington. Production began in 1975.

Ruger’s objective with the Mini-14 was to foster military and law enforcement sales. That strategy further played out in the 1986 – 1999 Ruger AC556 submachine gun with its three position selector switch: semiautomatic, three shot burst and full auto. The AC556 was offered in fixed stock, folding stock and short barrel versions, all with a 750 RPM rate of fire.

In 1982, the Ruger Ranch rifle was introduced, a revised Mini-14, available in 222 Remington and 223 Remington,  with features added to accommodate telescopic sights. The top of the rifle’s receiver was cross slotted and side scalloped to accept Ruger proprietary rings. A back up folding peep sight served back up duty.

A buffer system was added to absorb the shock of the slide block, again, to protect a mounted scope. The Ranch Rifle also dropped the spring loaded ejector from the bolt, moving the function to an extended bolt stop. This change resulted in the rifle side ejecting empties away from a mounted scope.

In the mid 1980s, Ruger attempted to proportionally scale up the Mini-14 to accommodate the 308 Winchester cartridge in the form of the Ruger XGI. Unfortunately, solving problems associated with a sharp increase is reciprocating mass and first shot inaccuracy would have  driven the product’s potential retail price well above competing products. Few rifles were produced and it was never a production rifle.

The 1991 Mini – Thirty was created to expand Ruger export sales. While many export destinations were invested in the 223 Rem cartridge, there was another large portion of export potential into areas where the 7.62x39mm was more common.

Fortunately, the U.S. is also cognizant of the 7.62x39mm cartridge and its capabilities and availability of inexpensive ammo. The Min-14 branched into the Mini Thirty and a solid deer hunting combination was created. While the subject configuration does not accommodate a silencer, other Mini Thirty configurations do. Besides the 7.62x39mm’s medium game hunting capabilities, it is also an excellent cartridge for subsonic handloading and suppressed applications.

Mini Thirty


Model # 5804
Material Stainless Steel
Stock Hardwood
Action Type Fixed Piston / Moving Cylinder – Gas
Caliber 7.62 x 39 M43
Magazine Capacity  2 x 5 Rounds As Supplied
Barrel Length 18.5″
Twist Rate 1:10″
Adjustable Sights Adjustable Ghost Aft – Blade Front
Scope Mounting Integral Mounts – Rings Included
Overall Length 37.5″
Length of Pull 13″
Weight 7 lbs
Trigger Pull 6 lbs 4 oz
MSRP $1069

A little misdirection, followed by a refocus

I decided not to do a takedown detail approach here, as we have done several detailed articles previously. The links below represent a five part series that addresses Mini-Thirty modifications from a trigger job to adjustable gas system and restocking in walnut. If you have an interest in this type of information, I suggest the following reading:

Ruger’s Mighty Mini Thirty… ish Part I
Ruger’s Mighty Mini Thirty… ish Part 1½
Ruger’s Mighty Mini Thirty… ish Part 2

Ruger’s Mighty Mini Thirty… ish Part 3
Ruger’s Mighty Mini Thirty… ish Part 4

Ruger’s Mini Thirty Tactical Rifle Part I
Ruger’s Mini Thirty Tactical Rifle Part II

….and refocus

Setting aside the tactical and defensive applications for the Mini-Thirty, I thought we might look at the Mini-Thirty within the context of hunting hog, deer and similar size game. The Ruger Mini-Thirty is a light, compact and fast handling little carbine that fits into woodland hunting as much as any lever guns. Yes, that does include your 30-30 WCF as power generated is very similar.

The subject and current Ruger Mini-Thirty offers versatility. Ruger scope rings and rail are included with the rifle so virtually any type of optical sight can be installed. Don’t like things hanging off of a hunting rifle when shorter range shooting is the rule? The rear ghost sight and front brush guarded blade make for a good metallic sight set up.

Three shot, 1 1/8″ 100 yard group, shot through the ghost sight set up. Ammunition was inexpensive PPU 123 grain SPRN. I’m thinking the Mini-Thirty has come a long way. It once too a good deal of work to deliver this level of accuracy. Most of the time, working down from 2″ to 3″ groups. Three types of ammunition were utilized: L-R steel case, Berdan primed Herter’s 122 grain hollow point, Herter’s 154 grain soft point, PPU 123 grain RNSP. Chronograph velocity, respectively, was 2,505 fps, 2,189 fps, 2,479 fps. More on accuracy and velocity performance in Part II with handloads.

Primers… Do the British call them pimmers?

I did shoot both steel and brass cased ammo. The Herter’s steel case, Berdan primed ammunition is manufactured in Russia in the same facilities producing TulAmmo & Wolf. Boxer primed, brass cased PPU ammunition is produced in Užice, Serbia. That is pronounced “Užice”. The PPU ammunition complies with the ammunition standard cited in the Ruger manual, the Herter’s ammo does not. From the Ruger manual –

The Mini-14 Ranch and Mini Thirty Rifles are designed to use either standardized U.S. military, or factory loaded sporting cartridges manufactured in accordance with U.S. industry practice. Always be careful to ensure you are using the correct ammunition for your rifle. See “Ammunition Notice” & “Warning – Ammunition,”  USE ONLY FACTORY AMMUNITION LOADED TO U.S. INDUSTRY STANDARDS”.

The problem is not the steel case. We have U.S. steel case ammo production; Winchester U.S.A. Forged as an example. However, Winchester ammo utilized boxer type primers. Hornady Steel Match Ammo is assembled by Hornady, but the cases are Russian made and the ammunition is Berdan primed. Both steel case products are poly coated.

Setting aside the issue of polymer coated steel case fouling chambers, Berdan primers require a more forceful strike for ignition and deeper firing pin penetration. The Mini-Thirty has to straddle the line of firing pin force and penetration so that it can provide reliable ignition without over penetrating and piercing Boxer primers. During range sessions, there were no misfires with Boxer primed ammo. There was one of 40 misfires with Berdan primed, steel case ammo.

For anyone who wants to shoot Berdan primed ammunition as a steady diet – The easiest way to clean up the occasional failure to fire with this lumpy ammo is to change to a higher rate hammer spring. Wolff Springs sells a +20% extra power hammer spring SKU #30351 Mini-14/30 Hammer Spring. Both Wolff and Ruger springs are the same length and outside diameter. However, the spring material is 0.0695″ in diameter, up from the stock spring’s 0.0650″.

Personally, I do not use steel cased ammo in anything. Brass forms and reforms many times without failing and conforms to chamber walls with even modest pressure. Steel work hardens quickly, does not conform well to chamber walls and it gunks up dies with its polymer coating. For me, putting cheap steel ammo in a quality gun is like putting low octane gas in a high performance car; you could, but why?

A note on magazines… the kind that still exist

The subject Mini-Thirty configuration is supplied with two, five round, flush fitting magazines. Steel and poly construction, they are positively latched into position, but insert and release cleanly. Both ten and twenty round magazines are available as after sale accessories at Shop Ruger.

The 7.62×39 has a SAAMI cartridge minimum – maximum cartridge overall length of 2.150″ to 2.200″. The Ruger magazine provides an additional 0.100″ over maximum cartridge specification to assure reliable feed. The magazines are easy to load and feed without a hiccup.

SAAMI specification for the 7.62×39 is 0.3110″ +0.000/-0.0020. The Ruger Mini-Thirty groove diameter is 0.3105″ and bore diameter is 0.3080″. The intention is to work up handloads closer to groove specification, with an emphasis on bullets suitable for hunting. Subsequently, magazine maximum length became of consequence.

The plan was to expand bullet weight range over most handloading manuals, and to try for some optimal supersonic and subsonic loads that will run reliably through the Mini-Thirty. Maybe there will be a gem or two in the data, or maybe not. We’ll see. Bullets listed for the 7.62x39mm are limited in selection and almost always measure 0.310″. 303 British bullets are listed with 0.311″ bullets, which is within diameter spec for the 7.62x39mm. All 303 British bullets below measured 0.3105″.

Below – The caliper was zeroed on opposing flats of the Sinclair Comparator, each bullet was then dropped into the “30” position of the gauge and then a measurement was taken from opposite flat to bullet heel. The result is the length from the bullet’s heel to the onset of the ogive; the span available to locate the case mouth when seating.

How does a .30 caliber gauge work to locate shank to ogive transition on a 0.3105″ bullet? The Sinclair comparator holes are machined to chamber throat diameter, however, .30 caliber throats vary in spec from 0.3085″ to 0.3150″ depending on cartridge and chamber drawing. Checking with pin gauges, the hole diameter measured 0.309″ and entrance chamfer measured 0.310″. So I took the measurement, adjusting the recorded protruding bullet length downward by 0.005″ to add a margin of certainty, and called it done.

Bullet Type Weight
OD” Length “ Shank
COL “ Net
Herter’s – Factory Ammo
SPHP 123 0.3100 0.873 0.356 2.141 30.6
PPU – Factory Ammo
RNSP 123 0.3095 0.707 0.420 1.951 30.1
Hornady Interlock
SPSP 123 0.3100 0.875 0.387 2.190 31.5
Sierra Pro-Hunter
SPSP 125 0.3105 0.902 0.331 2.190 30.6
Speer Hor-Cor
SPSP 150 0.3105 1.006 0.448 2.200 28.9
Sierra Pro-Hunter
SPSP 180 0.3105 1.192 0.621 2.200 25.6


A consideration was, “Will these expand at 7.62×39 velocity”. Both the Hornady 123 grain and Sierra 125 grain are listed for the 7.62x39mm and designed for medium size game… deer, hogs.The 7.62x39mm is included in Sierra’s listing for the 180 grain Pro Hunter, where it is defined as a deep penetrating bullet. I bet. Speer lists the 150 grain Hot-Cor bullet for 303 British reduced loads at 1966 fps, so I will reserve suitability until there is some chronograph data to review.

Part I wrap up…

The Ruger Mini-14 is available in 300 BLK, far left, the Mini-Thirty in 7.62x39mm center. As a supersonic round, the 7.62x39mm has greater potential, approaching the performance level of the 30-30 WCF round (pictured right).

In overview – Yes, I did bounce around while writing. Probably because I started with a review format, decided I’ve done that several times in the past, but wondered if today’s Ruger Mini-Thirty offered enhanced performance over earlier production. I was impressed by its accuracy, its fit and finish and quality of materials. Trigger pull is a tad heavy. Easy enough to fix, but it would be nice to see a factory pull below 5 pounds.

Then I got to thinking about how cheesy the Real Guns 7.62x39mm reloading data page was and thought this would be a good time to update and upgrade while writing an article. Then I got to thinking about dinner, and this is where we will stop.

Marlin 1895 Dark Series The anatomy of a dragon slayer


Audio Prologue:

The Marlin 1895 Dark reminds me of my once favorite heavy hitter, a Mauser bolt action with a hog’s back full stock, a 20.5″ Douglas barrel and chambered for the 375 Ruger. It was a world class ass kicker on both ends that never left me under gunned in any circumstance. Both rifles are stubby. Both are fast handling. Both have a lot of personality. Both have a lot of potential, but the bolt action is long gone and the Marlin still remains. I think I need to thank Paul Simon for that last sentence.

So what can A person do with a Model 1895 Dark 45-70?

You could go to a target range and get a workout with standard pressure ammo, but that brings the term “underutilized” to mind. The Model 1895 Dark, like the Trapper and Guide Gun versions, belong in the hands of a woodland hunter. The same loads with expanding bullets would be terrific for hunting deer, black bear and hogs, even out to a couple of hundred yards. Step up to high pressure ammo, and moose and elk capability can be added. Keep the high pressure and add heavy weight, tough jacketed bullets and big and dangerous game are covered.

Marlin Model 1895 Dark Series

Origin Ilion, NY
Manufacturer Remington
Order# 70455
Type Lever Action
Caliber 45-70 Government
Magazine Capacity 5
Barrel 16.25″ – 11/16″x24 Threads
Rifling 1:20″ Ballard
Nominal Weight 7.65 lbs
Overall Length 34.5″
Stock Black Spiderweb – Hardwood
Hardware Parkerized
Length of Pull 13.25″
Drop at comb 1.25″
Drop at heel 2.00″
Sights Ghost Ring
Optical Sight Mount
XS Rail
Trigger Pull 4 lbs. 12 oz.
Safety Cross Bolt Safety
MSRP $949

In overview, Marlin has given the Model 1895 a bit more utility… maybe more flexibility than the more traditional walnut stock models. Yes, some of the Dark Series differences seem only aesthetic altering but, in the main, they are also material enhancements.

As an example, in place of a walnut stock is a black, painted hardwood stock with raised black  spider webbing. Black is a popular firearm color these days, but the black webbing also makes for an all over terrific non-slip surface.

The XS Lever Rail ghost ring sight system is a good set up. The standard Marlin semi buckhorn rear sight is surrendered, but the rail can accommodate a ghost peep sight, red dot or scope. With quick detach mounts, it takes only seconds to change from one to the other and scope and red dot zero is retained when reinstalled.

The Parkerized metal finish is durable, it holds up well against wear and tear, it holds oil for rust prevention, and it is non-reflective. Perhaps not as pretty as a satin or gloss black oxide finish but, in my mind at least, it has a better look than Cerakote, a finish that is seeing too much use on new, premium model firearms

The hardwood stock looks good and the spiderweb finish makes for a non-slip surface anywhere the stock is grabbed. Very nice for cold and wet weather. It would also be easy to touch up, so post hunting season walnut stock touch up or cleaning up crushed checkering is not necessary.

The Paracord lever wrap and sling included with the Marlin Dark are definitely… black. The sling is actually quite comfortable on the back and shoulder. The wrapped lever is probably more for people who find fancy ways to tie their shoes so life won’t be so boring.

The rifle has a bit of heft for a short barrel carbine. In the case of the 45-70, particularly performance loads, a little extra weight is welcome. In any event, the rifle is neutral balanced, which is saying something for a rifle with such a short barrel. The silencer, like the scope, are really useful accessories while getting in some proficiency shooting, or during handload development where lots of rounds are fired. For dense brush and dense tree growth, I’d be temped to leave both at home and go with the most compact configuration and ghost sight.

The muzzle threads are very welcome; short barrel, big bore, lots of recoil… all just waiting for a good silencer. Maybe it’s just my age showing, but waiting for my hearing to return after a range session, or after taking shots while hunting, just isn’t as much fun as it once was. In this case, a SilencerCo Hybrid 46 ate all of the excess sound and recoil effectively.

The 45-70 as a mild obsession

In retrospect, I seem to have spent an inordinate amount of my life playing with various combinations of rifles and 45-70 cartridges, both smokeless and acrid black powder versions… trapdoor, falling block, bolt action, break action, and lever action… some standard pressure, some modern high pressure and some “Whoa!” pressure levels. How could anyone not enjoy these firearms?

Most of my shooting is done with jacketed and cast bullet handloads but, over the years, I have accumulated a good amount of factory ammunition, which provides a good baseline when comparing one firearm to another. In this case the test ammo selected was left to right above, top to bottom on table below…

Cartridge Bullet
FPS 24″
Recorded FPS 22″ Barrel
Recorded FPS 18.5″ Barrel
Recorded FPS 16.25″ Barrel
Winchester  Super X JHP 300 1880 1693
Winchester Supreme FNSP 300 1880 1712
HSM A-Frame FNSP 350 2050 2183
Buffalo Bore Magnum FNJ 350 2150 2205
Remington Core-Lokt SP 405 1330 1051
Buffalo Bore Magnum LFN 430 1925 1999
Garrett Hammerhead LFN 540 1550 1547

Other than the Remington 405 grain original load equivalent, which is more than enough for woodland deer hunting and fun for a day at the range, performance certainly did not fall off proportional to a missing 5 3/4″ of barrel. High performance loads were minimally effected.

All of the readings recorded tell the story of what happens when you lop 5 3/4″ off of a barrel, but most people who want to shoot 300+ yards tend to buy a longer barrel version of a firearm. Marlin 1895s are available with 22″ (above top), 18.5″ (above lower) and 16.25″ versions. Living in a place like Maine, at least in my part of Maine, the 16.25″ version surrenders no useful velocity amidst dense brush and tree growth. Locally, long range varmint shooting, outside of a farmer’s field, is about 25 yards. Yes, that is an exaggeration, but I am trying to make a point here and I can’t find my copy of Hacker.

In more objective terms

Three shot groups were shot from a cast iron front rest and a bunny bag aft. I think it is outstanding accuracy for a short barrel lever gun. I will take ownership for all, but especially the Hammerhead loads. They came at the end of a long bench shooting day and I can’t say my concentration and shoulder comfort was all it could be.

Winchester Super X 22″
Near-Zero – yds. 15 Mid Range – yds. 81
Far-Zero – yds. 143 Max Ordinate – in. +3.0
Point Blank – yds. 152
Best Zero : Range 0 – 300 yards
Yards 0 50 100 150 200 250 300
Velocity – fps 1693 1595 1504 1418 1337 1265 1201
Energy – ft.-lbs. 1909 1695 1506 1338 1191 1066 960
Momentum – lbs-sec 73 68 64 61 57 54 51
Path – in. -1.50 2.31 2.70 -0.76 -8.54 -21.19 -39.26
Drift – in. 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Time Of Flight – sec. 0.00 0.09 0.19 0.29 0.40 0.52 0.64
Winchester Super X 16.25
Near-Zero – yds. 14 Mid Range – yds. 73
Far-Zero – yds. 130 Max Ordinate – in. +3.0
Point Blank – yds. 139
Best Zero : Range 0 – 300 yards
Yards 0 50 100 150 200 250 300
Velocity – fps 1533 1445 1363 1288 1221 1162 1111
Energy – ft.-lbs. 1565 1391 1237 1104 993 899 822
Momentum – lbs-sec 66 62 58 55 52 50 48
Path – in. -1.50 2.50 2.35 -2.50 -12.58 -28.49 -50.84
Drift – in. 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Time Of Flight – sec. 0.00 0.10 0.21 0.32 0.44 0.57 0.70

The standard pressure ammunition showed the greatest velocity differential, which is counter intuitive…. but then so is the fact my pretty wife has managed to remain married to me for over 50 years. I live for surprises and data collected from test equipment. Group size 1″ @ 100 yards.

HSM – 22″
Near-Zero – yds. 19 Mid Range – yds. 96
Far-Zero – yds. 165 Max Ordinate – in. +3.0
Point Blank – yds. 175
Best Zero : Range 0 – 300 yards
Yards 0 50 100 150 200 250 300
Velocity – fps 2183 1958 1747 1553 1383 1238 1125
Energy – ft.-lbs. 3703 2978 2371 1875 1485 1191 983
Momentum – lbs-sec 109 98 87 78 69 62 56
Path – in. -1.50 1.87 2.96 1.20 -4.19 -14.14 -29.76
Drift – in. 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Time Of Flight – sec. 0.00 0.07 0.15 0.24 0.35 0.46 0.59
HSM – 16.25″
Near-Zero – yds. 18 Mid Range – yds. 94
Far-Zero – yds. 162 Max Ordinate – in. +3.0
Point Blank – yds. 172
Best Zero : Range 0 – 300 yards
Yards 0 50 100 150 200 250 300
Velocity – fps 2138 1915 1707 1518 1352 1214 1107
Energy – ft.-lbs. 3552 2851 2265 1791 1420 1144 952
Momentum – lbs-sec 107 96 85 76 68 61 55
Path – in. -1.50 1.91 2.95 0.99 -4.75 -15.27 -31.68
Drift – in. 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Time Of Flight – sec. 0.00 0.07 0.16 0.25 0.36 0.47 0.60

This seemed to be the best all around load, along with the Buffalo Bore 350 grain, but I think the Swift A-Frame holds and edge. The difference in velocity between the 22″ and 16.25″ is so minor is has no significance in practical applications. Group size 3/4″ @100 yards.

Garrett Hammerhead* – 22″
Near-Zero – yds. 14 Mid Range – yds. 73
Far-Zero – yds. 130 Max Ordinate – in. +3.0
Point Blank – yds. 138
Best Zero : Range 0 – 300 yards
Yards 0 50 100 150 200 250 300
Velocity – fps 1547 1443 1347 1262 1187 1124 1071
Energy – ft.-lbs. 2869 2497 2175 1908 1689 1515 1376
Momentum – lbs-sec 119 111 104 97 92 87 83
Path – in. -1.50 2.50 2.32 -2.66 -13.09 -29.69 -53.16
Drift – in. 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Time Of Flight – sec. 0.00 0.10 0.21 0.32 0.45 0.58 0.71
Garrett Hammerhead* – 16.25″
Near-Zero – yds. 13 Mid Range – yds. 70
Far-Zero – yds. 125 Max Ordinate – in. +3.0
Point Blank – yds. 133
Best Zero : Range 0 – 300 yards
Yards 0 50 100 150 200 250 300
Velocity – fps 1483 1384 1294 1215 1147 1091 1044
Energy – ft.-lbs. 2637 2296 2007 1770 1578 1427 1307
Momentum – lbs-sec 114 107 100 94 89 84 81
Path – in. -1.50 2.57 2.10 -3.57 -15.12 -33.28 -58.73
Drift – in. 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Time Of Flight – sec. 0.00 0.10 0.22 0.34 0.46 0.60 0.74

Took a little research to ID the bullet and the BC, 0.289, but it was listed in Lyman Cast Bullet Handbook 4th Edition – See 460 Weatherby bullet Data. Heavy bullet, incredible penetration, point blank with +3″ ordinate to 133 yards and a manageable -15″ out to 200 yards with lots of corresponding retained energy. Group size 1 1/2″ @ 100 yards.

What now, Joe?

We’ll, I don’t know about you, but I am headed for lunch. I’ve run out of Zero Sugar Sparkling Ice, John Prine music and I still have forty minutes of walking to get in before the sun sets. So let’s summarize…

How in the world could anyone not like a little gun with a big bark and this much power? The quality is very good, the performance is very good and it is backed by a serious warranty. It is a hunters rifle. It is a nifty to own rifle. It is a day at the range rifle.

Ruger Model 77/17 17 Hornet Part II A mole hill in search of a mountain...

Firearms reviews are one of my favorite things. Firearm reviews are one of my least favorite things. Being a firearm enthusiast, how could I not enjoy shooting a new model firearm, or working with a new cartridge or revisiting a mature firearm and cartridge combination in search of enhanced performance?

What follows is a what I enjoy about firearms. Once I wrote a piece on making modified cartridge for a Hornady COL gauge on a lathe with a drill and tap. One of the comments posted was, “Why would anyone waste time to make one, when they can buy one for $10?”. This article is not written for anyone who would ask that question. Me? Grumpy? A few more days of coronavirus lock down and I suspect my wife will put both me and a sleeping bag in the garage.

Headspace; good or bad? Discuss…

Headspace measurement is the dimension between a chamber surface that prevents forward movement of a cartridge and a firearm’s breech face when a firearm is in battery. The specification for this dimension, in most cases, is determined by SAAMI and/or CIP. The surface preventing forward movement is typically that which comes in contact with a cartridge shoulder, a cartridge case belt or a cartridge rim. The 17 Hornet, by SAAMI specification, headspaces on its rim. While there are a number of approaches and tools for checking and/or measuring headspace, it is usually done with a series of precision gauges labeled Go, No-Go and Field.

Examples of headspace Go gauges for L-R: 17 Hornet rim, 30-06 Springfield shoulder, 7mm Remington Magnum belted. Because of the reference points used to measure headspace, the 17 Hornet and 22 Hornet utilize the same gauge. The 30-06 Springfield gauge can be used for the 25-06 Rem, 270 Win, 280 Rem, and 35 Whelen. The 7mm Rem Mag gauge can be used for any belted magnum based on the 375 H&H parent case.

A firearm should go to battery, action in closed firing position, with a Go gauge in its chamber, which represents minimal headspace as established by SAAMI. A firearm should not be able to go to battery with a No-Go gauge in place. A No-Go gauge is not a SAAMI or CIP maximum headspace specification gauge, but rather a best practices reference for excessive headspace when cutting a chamber in a new barrel. A No-Go gauge is longer than SAAMI/CIP minimum, but shorter than SAAMI/CIP maximum headspace. Field gauges are also not SAAMI spec gauges and are slightly shorter than SAAMI/CIP maximum headspace specification. When a firearm goes to battery over a Field gauge, the indication is that further checking is required and there is a good chance that corrective action is needed.

The SAAMI minimum – maximum headspace specification for the 17 Hornet is 0.065″ – 0.720″. This is the space between the face of a barrel tenon and a breech face. The Go gauge pictured has a 0.065″ rim, coincidentally the same as the Hornady factory ammunition rims used for testing.

Ruger tends to run minimum size chambers, which is a good thing. Minimum chambers typically result in the best accuracy because they promote the least dimensional change to cartridge brass on discharge, they provide the greatest chamber pressure seal and they provide the most case head support.

Excessive headspace, in addition to not affording the benefits of minimum headspace, cause excessive brass stretching under pressure, which shortens brass life and may cause brass to fracture at the top of the case head above the web. Brass is no more than a gasket that seals a firearm’s chamber and breech face and it requires the backing of the surrounding steel to maintain its integrity. Only 10,000 – 12,000 PSI of chamber pressure is required to make brass conform to chamber walls and breech face. Without steel backing, not  much more pressure would be required to rupture brass casings.

There are several ways to get to Chicago and several ways to leave

Before investing time and effort in setting minimum headspace, it is probably worth a quick check to see if potential for improvement exists. Personally, I have not found a Ruger 77/17 out of min or max headspace, but I have found some at 0.068″ – 0.070″ that could be reduced to 0.065″ for minimum headspace.

As pictured above, the breech block on all Ruger 77/XX rifle will move back and forth in relation to the bolt handle while out of the rifle, but that is not of consequence. What is important is how large of a gap exists with a rifle in battery and a Go gauge inserted in its chamber.The picture below was taken with the bolt removed for the sake of illustration, but the actual reading is taken with the bolt installed in the rifle.

With magazine removed and chamber checked for empty, and a Go gauge in place, the bolt is pushed forward just short of full stroke. An oiled feeler gauge is inserted between the bolt handle and breech block and an attempt is made to close the bolt with the feeler gauge in place. The starting gauge thickness is 0.002″ because anything smaller would offer no opportunity for improvement. The breech block guide rails, and pressure against the bolt face, keep the bolt handle and breech block on the same longitudinal centerline and prevent cocking from pressure against the feeler gauge. With a gap larger than 0.002″, reduction of headspace is useful.

Narrowing the gap

A popular accuracy refinement for all Ruger 77/XX rifles is shimming the bolt between bolt handle and breech block to establish minimum headspace. Shims can be made with shim stock, shears and shim stock punches or with a Pepe Tools disc cutter with centering tools. TriggerShims offers a less costly and less labor intensive solution.

I started using steel shims as part of trigger jobs on revolvers. Improvements resulting from careful shaping, stoning and polishing engagement surfaces were compromised by the influence of excessive hammer and trigger side play. TriggerShims offers a wide variety of inexpensive precision shim stock washers that center hammers and triggers and limit lateral movement and they also makes washers to reduce headspace on Ruger 77/XX rifles.

In abbreviated form, detailed instructions come with the shims: rotate bolt sleeve and cocking piece clockwise out of detent. This will allow the breech block to over rotate and release the captive retaining pin. The breech block can be separated from the bolt body. A shim is installed and, starting with 0.002″ thickness, the bolt is reassembled. With the headspace gauge in place, the bolt is inserted into the rifle and an attempt is made to rotate the bolt into battery. If battery is achieved, the bolt is removed and additional combinations of shims are tried until the bolt goes into battery with a snug fit.

Sizer die adjustment

Another way for handloaders to reduce free space between a cartridge case head and a breech face is to adjust a full length sizer die to allow the shoulders of a fired case to locate farther forward, which moves the casehead rearward toward the breech face. In the case of the Ruger 77/17, the measurement taken from the gap between bolt handle and breech block can be transferred to the sizer die adjustment.

Where typical adjustment of the sizer dies would be done by raising the ram and screwing the dies down until it is against the shell holder, in this case a feeler gauge of bolt gap thickness is place between the shell holder and the nose of the die before running the die down toward the shell plate. Because this extends more of the case head aft of the chamber, headspace is minimized but there is less case head support from the chamber and the cartridge will now headspace on the shoulder rather than the rim. Adjustments of this type should not exceed SAAMI maximum headspace dimensions.

In the absence of a greater than minimum headspace measurement to carry over, minimal headspace can be set by trial and error by beginning with a 0.002″ thickness feeler gauge placed between the sizer die and shell holder and sizing a once fired case. If the rifle’s bolt closes easily with a Go gauge in place, increase feeler gauge thickness in increments of 0.001″ and continuing the sequence until the bolt will not close. Then back up 0.001″ so the bolt will close and lock the sizer die adjustment.

In the case of the subject Ruger 77/17, headspace was tight as received. So a shim washer was die cut from 0.001″ shim stock and honed flat on a wet stone and inserted between the bolt’s bolt handle and breech block for 0.066″ of headspace. Using baseline handloads, the difference in five shot group size was not substantial enough nor consistent enough to claim a benefit. On a different example of the Ruger 77/17, with a headspace of 0.070″ from barrel tenon face to bolt face, group sizes were reduced consistently by 0.2″ when headspace was reduced to 0.065″.

What did make a difference in the subject Ruger 77/17

The fasteners that secure the stock to the action were torqued different levels with no appreciable effect. The barrel channel was shimmed to make contact with the barrel at different points and for varying spans which only increased 100 yard, 5 shot group sizes. So everything was restored to factory configurations and handloads were addressed.

Warning: Bullet selections are specific, and loads are not valid with substitutions of different bullets of the same weight. Variations in bullet length will alter net case capacity,  pressure and velocity. Primer selection is specific and primer types are not interchangeable. These are maximum loads in my firearms and may be excessive in others. All loads should be reduced by 5% as a starting point for development where cartridges have greater than 40 grains in capacity and 10% for cartridges with less than 40 grain capacity following safe handloading practices as represented in established mainstream reloading manuals. Presentation of these loads does not constitute a solicitation for their use, nor a recommendation.

17 Hornet – SAAMI MAP 50KPSI
Firearm Ruger 77/17
Barrel Length 18.50″
Max Case Length 1.350″ +0.000″/-0.020″
Min – Max COL 1.595″ – 1.720″
Primer CCIBR4 (SRBR)
Bullet Diameter 0.1725″ +0.000″/-0.0030″
Reloading Dies Hornady F/L

Bullet Type Bullet

Net H2O
COL” Powder Type Powder



100 Yd
5 Shot
Hornady V-Max 20 12.3 1.710 CFE BLK 13.0 3757 627 0.8
Hornady V-Max 20
Hornady V-Max 20 12.3 1.710 Lil’ Gun 10.0 3776 633 0.9
Hornady V-Max 20 12.3 1.710 H110 10.5 3696 607 1.0
Hornady HP 25 12.1 1.710 CFE BLK 11.6 3184 563 0.7
Hornady HP 25
Hornady HP 25 12.1 1.710 H322 12.8 3176 560 0.7
Hornady HP 25 12.1 1.710 Lil’ Gun 8.9 3336 618 0.9
Nosler Varmageddon 20 12.2 1.710 CFE BLK 13.0 3630 585 0.8
Nosler Varmageddon 20 12.2 1.710 Lil’ Gun 10.0 3815 647 1.0
Nosler Varmageddon 20 12.2 1.710 H110 10.5 3598 513  1.0
Groups indicated in green were consistent for indicated loads and best of all variations tried


The Ruger 77/XX products are unique in design and in performance, whether chambered for a .17 caliber varmint cartridge or a woodland deer hunting 357 mag or 44 mag. They are compact, relatively light and accurate. They do respond to tweaking, which makes them even more enjoyable for the handloader. At a time when many rifles are an exercise in corporate cost reduction and jellybean production, I’m glad they are around.

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