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
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
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
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!
grains of 4198, 60 grain Sierra, CCI BR
primer, Norma brass.
grains of 4198, 70 Nosler, Rem BR primer,
H4198 with the 75 Sierra, Winchester Primer,
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.