Smith and Wesson & T/C
and Wesson announced in the middle of December that it had purchased
Thompson Center Arms for $102 million. S&W essentially borrowed the money
and paid cash in the deal. There was immediately some concern among fans
of the Contender and Encore pistols that the guns might be pushed aside
for some reason or another. Rest assured that the Contender and Encore are
safe and that there no changes envisioned for them.
first I also was a little concerned about the sale as S&W is a handgun
company and knows nothing about long guns. TC on the other hand is for the
most part a long gun company with just a small toe dipping into the
handgun pool. Additionally, S&W’s products are essentially geared toward
the security, police, and self defense markets and only slightly towards
the outdoor world. TC on the other hand with 50% of the black-powder
market, is totally oriented toward the outdoor sports - a realm S&W
doesn’t understand very well. However, I was reassured when I found out
that the president and CEO of TC was being retained by S&W. This is a good
move by S&W to preserve that expertise.
particularly interesting fact that arose out of the sale announcement was
that TC will be bringing out a bolt action rifle to the marketplace
probably in the mid to late summer time frame. Should be interesting.
trying to think of a subject for this column the other day and for some
reason or another the 7 IHMSA cartridge popped into my mind. Unless you’re
an old timer like me, there’s a very good chance that you probably don’t
even know what a 7 IHMSA is. It’s basically a 300 Savage case necked down
to 7mm with a 40 degree shoulder and blown out slightly. BTW, if you don’t
know what a 300 Savage is, you could call it a slightly smaller version of
a 308 Winchester. Thus, the 7 IHMSA is similar to a 7-08 but just around
made the 7 IHMSA unique was that it was one of those hot silhouette
cartridges that became a real milestone in the history of our sport. It
achieved that status because it was the cartridge that largely
transitioned the unlimited class from 14” Thompson Contenders to XP-100’s.
Let’s do a
little historical review. Back in the mid to late 70’s, THE #1 overriding
issue in handgun silhouette was the lack of knockdown power. Nothing is
more frustrating than to hit a ram or even a pig and not have it go down.
Back then, it was a regular occurrence.
part of that problem was the lack of uniformity in the targets and rails.
Almost all of the targets then were home made with whatever steel scrap a
club could lay their hands on. Looking at photos of early silhouette
targets one can’t help be surprised to see that chicken targets shot with
even revolvers often would be deeply cratered, thus indicating that very
soft steel was often being used by many clubs. I’m personally convinced
that soft steel targets have the ability to absorb some portion of the
impact momentum of a bullet striking it. Additionally, target weights
varied, rail materials ran from fresh cut pine logs (used by my old
Florida club) to railroad ties, or railroad rails that were bent and
tilted one way or another. Some clubs even sat the animals down in the
dirt and hoped the ground wouldn’t be muddy that weekend. The mud could
hold the animals down like glue and significantly increased the weight of
the target when they got covered with the sticky stuff.
Thompson Contender was definitely the most popular unlimited gun at the
time. The cost was modest so almost anyone could afford one. It was also
reliable, had interchangeable barrels, could take a good trigger job, and
was backed up with a good warrantee. However it was limited as far as
cartridge selection was concerned.
30X223 was an early attempt to find a reliable ram buster in a Contender.
As the name indicates, it was a 223 with the neck expanded to 30 caliber.
It had a very tiny shoulder to headspace on and was often loaded with a
190 grain Hornady bullet. Velocity was around 1500 fps. RCBS made the dies
and called it the 30 Silhouette. It actually worked fairly well but still
had problems taking the rams from time to time.
30-30 was also somewhat popular in the Contender because heavy 30 caliber
bullets could be used and it was widely available. However, if loaded to
the top with powder, recoil was a big issue. If loading density was
reduced, accuracy suffered significantly.
TCU when introduced, became a favorite almost immediately. Velocities of
1700 -1900 fps with a 140 grain bullet were common. It was also very
accurate, recoil was modest, and the rams were going over some what better
than before when being hit by those relatively fast bullets. However, even
it had reliability problems from time to time on those early targets.
there was the 7 International Rimmed (7R). This was a 30-30 case necked
down to 7mm with a sharp shoulder angle. In fact it was a predecessor and
twin to the later 7X30 Waters. The concept for the case was ideal i.e.
take a commonly available case with lots of volume and neck it down. It
was thought because of the larger case capacity that faster velocities
would result and the rams would never be able to resist the impact. Indeed
the silhouette gun writers of the time were enthusiastically reporting
velocities over 2000 fps with 140’s routinely and occasionally touching
practice was a disaster however. Rather than offer new custom barrels for
sale to the members, the people running IHMSA at the time sold TC factory
fourteen inch 7 TCU barrels that were improperly re-chambered into 7
International Rimmed. Brass life was zero. In the barrel that I had, a
huge bulge in the case just above the rim appeared after only one firing.
The bulge then prevented the case from being reinserted into the camber,
and because of its location, it was impossible to iron out with the sizer
die. Then the people in charge said use 375 brass instead of 30-30 brass.
They said that the 375 stuff was much stronger and wouldn’t bulge. I think
I got 2 firings out of a case before the bulge popped out and the case had
to be discarded. The only way around the situation was to load the case at
or below 7 TCU velocities. But what was the point of that? Why not just
use a 7 TCU to begin with?
Shooters were so disgusted with the situation that the cartridge died
immediately which was unfortunate as it had real potential. All it needed
was a good barrel. As mentioned, it eventually came back in another
version as the 7X30 Waters and was promoted as a lever gun cartridge by
one of the big ammo makers.
dissatisfaction with the guns and cartridges for silhouette probably
reached a high point at the 79 Internationals. The rams were particularly
sticky that year, even when hit with Nosler Partition bullets out of the 7 TCU's. Things then got ridiculous as shooters tried to come up with
something/anything that would give near 100% knockdown. There is even a
documented story about one silhouette shooter who being frustrated with
the situation of the time started using a 14” TC barrel chambered in
45-70. He would drill out the nose of 350 grain cast bullets, and then
pack the cavity full of Bullseye powder and glue in a pistol primer on
top. Every hit must have been pretty spectacular and it drove match
directors crazy. Obviously, the Contender and its associated cartridges
weren't making the grade against the home made targets.
was the XP school of thought. At the time, Remington’s XP-100 was chambered by
the factory in only one cartridge - the little 221 fireball. It also had this
little short 10” barrel. Why? No one seems to know. Some silhouette shooters
tried using the XP as it came from the factory by loading up the Fireball to
the max with the heaviest 22 bullets that they could find. Now and then it
might work but obviously most of the time it didn’t. Then the guys with more
money than most would buy a XP Fireball and hang a 15 inch barrel on it
chambered in 308. If you weren't using 200 grain bullets in your 308 XP you
were considered a whimp. The XP 308’s definitely did the job of taking the
rams down and they had the accuracy, but they were comparatively expensive and
recoil was not for the faint of heart or of stature.
The 7 BR then came on the scene in 1980 along with a factory XP chambered
specifically for it. The combo blew up a storm of excitement throughout the
silhouette world. Everyone knew that an XP would shoot and now here was a
cartridge that was neither too small, or too big, and like Goldilocks
porridge, was just right. Reviews of the gun and cartridge were extremely
complimentary. “Shoots like a fury” they said.
However, there was a fly
in the ointment. No, on further thought, it was more like a turkey buzzard in
the ointment. There was no brass available! Why Remington chose to
produce a gun but not the brass is a total mystery. Evidently, at the time,
they also had absolutely no intention of doing so either. What they did do
though was to make available 7 BR “parent brass”. These were “blank” cases
that could be reformed by the reloader into 7 BR cases. To do so, a set of
four custom dies was required which cost $100 - which was big money back then
and it ain’t hay now either. Trimming and reaming of the reformed cases was
also part of the equation. Making just 50 cases took several hours and that
really turned people off - big time. Adding insult to injury, these “parent”
cases were also hard to find.
That brings us
finally to the 7 IHMSA / 7 International X. The basic idea here was to take
the 7 BR XP-100 and re-chamber it into a cartridge that was easy to make and
that would do the job in taking down any home made silhouette target anywhere.
Actually, the 7 IHMSA was part of a family of IHMSA cartridges designed by
Elgin Gates that ran from 25 to I believe 35 caliber. They were all based on
the 300 Savage which was probably the most highly regarded medium capacity 30
caliber case before the advent of the 308 Winchester.
seems that nothing is easy when it comes to execution. The 7 IHMSA as
originally designed had too much body taper to lend itself to being
re-chambered in a 7 BR barrel. Consequently, an almost identical cartridge but
with less body taper was put together for that purpose and called the 7
International X. Unfortunately the “big guns” writing in “The Silhouette”
newspaper would refer to both cartridges as the 7 IHMSA and caused all kinds
of confusion among the shooters.
7 BR, making 7 IHMSA brass is a piece of cake. All you have to do is very
lightly lube the shoulder of the 300 Savage and run it into a small reforming
die which changes the shoulder angle from 30 degrees to 40 degrees. Then you
run it into the full length sizing die and that’s it. People loved it. My XP 7
International X would drive a Hornady 139 at 2100 fps + and still be loafing
along. Getting more velocity was very easy but mostly unnecessary. If a club’s
targets had a reputation for being sticky, you could easily drive 160’s at the
same comfortable velocity. If a Speer 160 (very strong bullet of the time)
didn’t take it, something was very wrong. The XP 7 IHMSA/7 International X
became THE gun & cartridge to have. You saw them everywhere. Headquarters even
made a deal with Federal Cartridge to make a run of special brass with a tiny
ram stamped on the head of the case. (BTW, those cases have become collector
items these days.)
they say, things change. Remington finally wised up by the mid 80’s and
started making 7 BR brass. We also got our act together in IHMSA and mandated
standardized targets and rails. Commercially made T-1 targets slowly became
the norm and the scrap steel junkers faded away. The 7 IHMSA began to be
regarded as being too much gun and the 7 BR as being something that was easier
to shoot and just as accurate. Eventually, even the 7 BR would be regarded as
being too much gun as the trend went to the 6.5s, with muzzle brakes no less.
In early IHMSA days, it was a point of pride to shoot a heavy recoiling gun
well. Today, recoil is recognized for what it is - a distraction to better
7mm IHMSA (L) & 7mm BR (R)
The 7mm IHMSA was designed to take
the toughest targets
IHMSA does still live on after a fashion - in the world of rifle silhouette.
There are those rifle shooters who want a cartridge with less recoil than the
308s and 7-08s that are often used in that sport. The 7 IHMSA fits that bill
nicely. In fact I own a rifle chambered in it as well that I use for general
hunting purposes. In fact it may actually be one of the very first rifles to be
chambered in 7 IHMSA if not the first. I was so impressed when I got my XP 7
IHMSA/International X in the early 80’s I had a custom rifle built on a SAKO
action for it. It has served me well ever since. Deadly accurate, medium recoil,
and just plain fun to shoot. I think that says it all about this historic