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IHMSA News Feature Article
Published in The IHMSA News, the Official Publication of The International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association
Published monthly except November/December - January/February
IHMSA on the web at http://www.ihmsa.org
 
Load Testing The Virgin Valley 6 TCU
  By Todd Spotti Load Data & Range Test
 

     Virgin Valley is a small, innovative firm that manufactures custom grade barrels for the Contender and Encore single shot pistols. Theyíre also a full service shop that provides a huge variety of other services and products for Contender and Encore owners as well as those who shoot the XP-100. Besides custom bull barrels, they also can provide fluted barrels, octagon barrels, and for-ends in any shape or length you desire. They can also pillar bed your for-ends, pillar bed your Contender/Encore grips, provide any quality wood you desire from utility to exhibition grade, and fit muzzle brakes (internal or external), etc., etc. They also build some of the finest bolt action rifles you can buy.

     Additionally, because they use primarily Shilen air gauged match barrels, they can guarantee accuracy. Theyíll replace your barrel if it doesnít shoot a 1Ē group at a 100 yards with suitable ammunition - no ifs, ands, or buts. If you want an even higher grade Shilen barrel they can provide it, as well as barrels from all of the other premium makers. Workmanship is also fully guaranteed. If you need any kind of gunsmithing service, they can do it.

     Virgin Valley started turning out barrels in 1998 and so is relatively new. I probably became aware of them just after they were established when I started hearing good things about them from friends who were varmint hunters. Virgin Valley had built them a couple of Encore carbines chambered in things like 17-222 and the 17 Mach IV and others. My friends raved how accurate the little carbines were and how nice the quality of the stock work was. I also tried a couple of their stainless steel Weaver scope bases for the Freedom Arms revolver a couple of years ago and found the quality to be first class. With all this positive information, I decided it was high time that I try one of their custom Contender barrels.

     You know, there is a popular belief that break barrel guns canít shoot as well as bolt action guns  This is true - theoretically. However, in a practical, real world sense, thereís actually no difference. A Contender or Encore in good mechanical condition equipped with a high quality barrel can match the XP in accuracy seven days a week. No, Iím not exaggerating because I see my friends with their break barrel Encore carbines punch out tiny little groups at 100 yards with boring regularity literally every weekend at our local range. Additionally, my 10Ē TC in 22 Long Rifle with factory match barrel regularly breaks the 100 yard one inch barrier with the right ammo. Based on what Iíve seen with my own eyes, no silhouette shooter should ever feel the least bit disadvantaged in the accuracy department when shooting a quality break barrel gun. 

     When considering what cartridge I would have the Virgin Valley barrel chambered in, I decided I wanted something that would be suited for the most stringent requirements in the handgun silhouette game - namely half size unlimited.

     So what are those requirements? Obviously accuracy comes first. Those half size targets are small, and thereís absolutely no room for error. I wanted something that would shoot at least a one inch group at 100 yards, or ideally, half inch groups with the right load. Next, I prefer a flat shooting cartridge for the tiny tykes - one where the number of clicks between animals can be held to an absolute minimum. Third, I donít want a lot of recoil and muzzle blast. If the gun is beating you up, by the time you get to the rams youíll be in no shape to do the best job. Fourth, I want a cartridge thatís easy to make and is low maintenance. Last, but not least, I want a cartridge that isnít going to cost a fortune to reload.

     Based on these requirements, I doubt if thereís a more suitable cartridge available for half size than the 6 TCU. This little number is perhaps one of the most efficient of the recognized wildcats in a 15Ē silhouette pistol, and itís accuracy is unrivaled. Flat shooting? You bet. Itís eerie how well the 6 TCU seems to maximize the chemical energy available in its loads. Moderate amounts of powder seem to produce velocities way beyond what you could reasonably expect. On the other hand, recoil is, to put it mildly, well, mild, since weíre using light weight bullets and moderate amounts of powder. The combination of light weight bullets, inexpensive brass, and smaller amounts of powder also translate into less cost to the reloader. Yes, the 6 TCU is the perfect selection as a half size gun.

     When ordering a barrel from Virgin Valley I had to be ready to make some decisions. First of all is the length. That was easy. Since 15 inches is the maximum allowed, 15 inches it was. Next was the barrel configuration. I like like the look of fluting and such but I have to admit Iím not convinced it has any real practical effect for silhouette shooting, so it was a standard bull barrel contour. Tight neck or not? Thatís a tough one. I ordered the barrel well before I had the Sinclair case spinner I wrote about last month which allows fast, easy neck turning. Thereís no doubt that neck turning does promote accuracy but Iím getting lazy so I opted for the standard diameter neck. Besides, I already knew that Virgin Valley chambers are already on the tight side of SAAMI specifications so I wouldnít be giving up a lot.

     What about throating, or the potential distance the bullet will jump before it hits the lands? Here you have to decide what weight bullet youíre going to use because thatís going to determine the length of the throat. I really had no plans for using this gun to shoot long 105 grain bullets on the full size animals. I just wanted to go after the half size critters where a 70 or 75 grain bullet would be the most likely used, so I requested a throat appropriate for a 70 grainer.

     Now twist. Thereís a lot of mythology floating around about twist. The bottom line is that itís very difficult to over stabilize a bullet to the point that it becomes erratic. However, it is fairly easy to under stabilize one. Consequently, as a general rule, itís better to go for a faster twist. Based on this, I decided on the 1:8, which was fast enough to stabilize even the 105ís if I ever wanted to use them. Now we had to choose whether to go with chrome moly or stainless steel (chrome) and whether it would be a high polish or a flat dull finish. (high polish).

     Lastly, there was the question of the forend. I opted for a standard target forend which is flat on the bottom for side to side stability when shooting off a rest. It measures 11 inches long to provide a huge footprint on the bags. I also specified that it be 2.5Ē wide for even more stability when doing my bench work. A shorter, more narrow forend would be used for shooting when in the Creedmoor position. The wood would be black walnut - a very pretty piece as it turned out and beautifully finished and fitted. These guys really know their wood.

     Now for the components. Norma, the famous European manufacturer of ammo and reloading components, is getting back into the American market again and so I thought Iíd give their 223 brass a try for the first time. Norma takes special pains to make sure the brass is concentric. I also liked the fact that the case heads are machined and not stamped. Additionally, the flash holes are drilled and not punched which eliminates the inside burr often found on other cases. This burr has to then be trimmed away to avoid distorting the primerís flame pattern and subsequently the ignition pattern of the powder in the case.

     I also used another brand of brass and got good groups with it as well. However after around three firings and neck sizing, the brass developed excessive headspace and the action wouldnít close properly as a result. This then required me to slam the Contender action closed and then quite often, the safety block on the gun wouldnít fall out of the way when the trigger was pulled - resulting in a misfire. The solution to the problem is simple as a full length resizing will push the shoulder back sufficiently to allow easy chambering again. However, I didnít ever experience this situation with the Norma brass, so I basically stuck with it for most of the evaluation.

     For reloading dies, I went with my usual favorite - Redding. I got their three die set which features a tapered expander button on the full length sizer which allows easy expansion of the 223 parent case neck to .243/6mm. These are really nice, first quality dies that always get the job done with no hassle. Cases were chamfered on the inside, then lubed with RCBS case lube. Finally the necks were expanded with the full length sizer die with no cases lost in the process. Use the lube very sparingly to avoid lube dents on the case shoulder. Cases were then fire formed using full bore loads.

     A word on fire forming. Some people prefer to use a small charge of Bullseye powder with a load of cornmeal or Cream of Wheat with a paraffin plug up top to fire form cases. In a little experiment a couple a years ago I filled a polishing tumbler with each of those materials and found they shined up my brass very nicely indeed. In other words theyíre abrasive. Firing abrasives (even organic abrasives in this case) down your barrel to fire form cases didnít seem like the best thing to do so I donít recommend it.

     I also took advantage of this particular fire forming session to zero my Simmons 2.5 X 7 scope which was mounted in Weaverís excellent Four X Four double strap rings. By the way, the rings were mated to Virgin Valleyís six screw Weaver scope base. With six screws holding that base to the barrel, that suckerís not ever going to move. 

     The Virgin Valley barrel and the 6 TCU proved to be a very versatile combination. Powders ranging in burning rate from N120 to H335 were used in this little evaluation. All produced excellent groups. Likewise, bullets ranged in weight from Sierra 60 grainers to Speer 105s. I even tried some specialty bench rest bullets from Spencer and from Bruno. Almost every bullet produced exceptional groups.

     There was a couple of noticeable exceptions. For some reason or another, most 80 and 95 grain bullets didnít seem to work as well as the others. They quite often did ok but overall didnít seem to have the gilt edged accuracy that the others did. (One load with a 80 gr. Nosler worked very well.) Lightweight bullets were excellent performers. Heavy bullets were also excellent performers, but those few right in the middle of the weight range turned in relatively mediocre accuracy compared with their brethren. I canít begin to guess why. All bullets were seated well off the lands to avoid misfires with the Contender.

     For the lighter weight bullets up to 75 grains, my favorite powder was H4198. It produced some really nice groups and the recoil was especially easy. It turned in some absolutely sizzling velocities as well. This is also one of Hodgdonís ďextremeĒ powders which are very resistant to changes in outside temperature. Itís also a very flexible powder. V120 also turned an outstanding group with the 60 grain Sierra. Itís burning rate is faster than 4198 and so produced the fastest velocity. Because of this, it should be used only with the lightest weight bullets.

     H322, V133, and AA2015 did very well with both lighter and medium weight bullets, while WW748, and H335 worked very well with the jumbos. H335 exhibited a lot of boom and flash, but the accuracy could be flashy as well. AA2330 was also a little boomy but not to the same extent as H335 and it also produced good groups. 748 was the real winner though in that it produced the smallest group of all. It was amazing how it kept pushing those big 105 Speers through practically the same hole.

     The bottom line here is that I never did find a ďbadĒ powder. They all worked well. Itís rare to find a cartridge that will shoot so many powders so well. Thatís what I call real versatility The only trick is to match the weight of the bullet to the burning rate of the powder.

     A couple of issues regarding the 6 TCU need to be addressed. The first is knockdown power for the full sized animals. Is there enough? When using heavy .243 hunting bullets like the 105 Speer and the 100 grain Sierra, the 6 TCU should generate enough striking momentum to take down the big rams. You should be able to easily and safely get 2200 fps with the 6mm jumbos  without sticky extraction or cratered primers. That should equate into something just over 1800 fps in impact velocity at 200 meters. In turn, that means that around .85 pound seconds of momentum is being delivered on the target - enough to do the job under most circumstances. The long 6mm bullet will also have a fairly extended ďdwellĒ time on the target when it strikes as well. Does that mean that youíll never ring a ram. No. Iíve rung well hit rams with even a 44 mag. There are no guarantees. However, if your range has good targets, good stands, and a well experienced bunch of target setters you should have no problems with ringers. If you donít, you just might. 

     As far as the half size targets are concerned, no problem. Even Sierraís 60 grain bullets should do the job just fine. To illustrate: when I shot my XP 223 in half size unlimited, I used Remingtonís 50 grain bulk spire point bullets to do the job. They took down the targets with no problem. The 6mm 60 grain Sierras will do the job even better. However, 70 and 75 grain 6mm bullets are probably the ideal weigh for half size as theyíll give you a little more knockdown insurance. Anything over 75 grains for the little critters is probably overkill.

     The other issue is target damage. The 6 TCU is capable of generating much higher than normal handgun velocities. Will it tear up targets? If youíre using full metal jacket type bullets - yes, it probably will. Well, how about regular commercial hollow points and spire point bullets with their thinner jackets? Frankly I didnít know, so I decided to find out. Consequently I did a little evaluation in which I put a number of shots on our clubís T-1 full size chickens at 50 meters to see what would happen. I used a 75 grain Sierra going over 2600 fps. The bullets produced only a very shallow dimple in the steel - not a crater. This leads me to believe that your T-1 targets are perfectly safe. If youíre using soft steel targets, thatís another story.

     In summary, I found the Virgin Valley 6 TCU met all my criteria for a half size gun. Letís review. Accuracy - it not only produced quite a few half inch groups, on one occasion it even produced a quarter inch cluster as well. Flat Shooting - with velocities typically running in the 2600 fps range or better (sometimes a lot better), it doesnít get any flatter than that out of a handgun. Recoil - it varied from very mild to moderate  (a real pleasure to shoot). Easy To Make Cases - one pass through the full length sizer and fire form. No problem. Low Maintenance - with some brands of brass youíll have to full length resize after around 3 firings. With the Norma brass, I haven't needed to do it yet after around 8 firings so far.

     So, does the Virgin Valley 6 TCU pass? You bet it does - with an A+. I love shooting this gun!

*Favorite loads?
1.  24.2 grains of 4198, 60 grain Sierra, CCI BR primer, Norma brass.
2.  24 grains of 4198, 70 Nosler, Rem BR primer, Norma Brass.
3.  22.5 H4198 with the 75 Sierra, Winchester Primer, Norma brass.
4.  26.4 grains of WW748, 80 grain Nosler, Rem BR primer, Norma brass.
5.  25 grains of WW748, 105 Speer, Remington BR primer, Win brass.
 
All of these loads are very easy on the recoil and deadly accurate. You wonít be disappointed.
 
     Good luck and good shooting, Todd Top of Page
 

All Testing & Groups At 100 Yards

*Favorite Loads From Above List are In Red Below

 
 POWDER BULLET PRIMER BRASS VELOCITY SD GROUP

25.2 gr. 2015

60 gr. Sierra CCI BR Norma 2720 fps 20 1.0Ē

24.2 gr. 4198

60 gr. Sierra CCI BR Norma 2878 fps 0.5"

23.5 gr. V120

60 gr. Sierra CCI BR Norma 3027 fps 24 0.33"

23.3 gr. 4198

70 gr. Nosler Rem BR Norma 2557 fps 14 0.75"

22.5 gr. N133

70 gr. Nosler Rem BR Norma 2400 fps 19 0.75"

24.0 gr. 4198

70 gr. Nosler Rem BR Norma 2795 fps 12  0.5"

28.6 gr. H335

70 gr. Speer Rem BR Norma 2838 fps 14 0.77"

24.0 gr. 4198

70 gr. Speer Rem BR Norma 2782 fps 21  0.75"

26.4 gr. H322

75 gr. Sierra Rem BR Norma 2754 fps 16 0.5"

22.5 gr. 4198

75 gr. Sierra Win Norma 2602 fps 22 0.5"

26.0 gr. 2330

75 gr. Sierra Win Norma 2613 fps 28 0.5"

22.5 gr. N133

75 gr. Sierra Rem BR Win 2413 fps 40 0.5"

22.5 gr. 4198

75 gr. Speer Win Norma 2636 fps 33 0.75"

26.2 gr. H335

75 gr. Speer Rem BR Win 2621 fps 10 0.5"

27.0 gr. H335

75 gr. Speer Rem BR Win 2678 fps 19 1.0"

28.0 gr. H335

75 gr. Speer Rem BR Win 2771 fps 13 0.75"

24.2 gr. V133

75 gr. Speer CCI BR Norma 2541 fps 17 0.75"

22.5 gr. 4198

75 gr. Speer Rem BR Norma 2605 fps 24 0.75"

22.9 gr. 2330

80 gr. Speer Win Norma 2283 fps 20 0.75"

26.4 gr. H322

80 gr. Speer Rem BR Norma 2709 fps 22 1.0"

26.4 gr. 748

80 gr. Nosler Rem BR Norma 2424 fps 14 0.75"

24.3 gr. 748

100 gr. Sierra Rem Norma 2208 fps 32 0.5"

23.8 gr. 2320

100 gr. Sierra Rem Norma 2320 fps 10 0.5"

25.0 gr. 748

100 gr. Sierra Rem Norma 2303 fps 24   .75"

24.5 gr. 748

105 gr. Speer Rem Win 2107 fps 15 0.75"

25.0 gr. 748

105 gr. Speer Rem Win 2158 fps 14 0.25" !!

23.0 gr. H322

105 gr. Speer Rem Norma 2251 fps 13 0.5"

23.5 gr. H322

105 gr. Speer Rem Norma 2301 fps 16 0.75"

23.4 gr. 4198

66 gr. Spencr CCI Norma 2757 fps 7 0.3"

23.4 gr. 4198

64 gr. Bruno CCI Norma 2786 fps 26 1.0"
 

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Warning: All technical data mentioned, especially handloading, reflect the limited experience of individuals using specific tools, products, equipment and components under specific conditions and circumstances not necessarily reported in the article or on this web site and over which IHMSA, The Los Angeles Silhouette Club (LASC), this web site or the author has no control. The above has no control over the condition of your firearms or your methods, components, tools, techniques or circumstances and disclaims all and any responsibility for any person using any data mentioned. Always consult recognized reloading manuals.