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A collection of comments and articles on the many aspects of bullet casting by various cast bullet shooters
Cast Bullets For Beginner And Expert
SECOND EDITION, 2007 - Joe Brennan
Chapter 6.6.1 RELOADING FOR THE SINGLE SHOT RIFLE

Bill McGraw

While conventionally loaded cast bullet cartridges are sometimes used, the single shot rifle is commonly loaded using specialized techniques.

1. Ammunition that is pre-loaded, called fixed ammunition, can be shot in SS rifles.

2. Most SS rifles use breech-seated ammunition. The cast bullets are seated into the breech with various forms of tools so that the bullet is fully seated in the chamber. Chamber throats may be reamed so that the bullet is easily seated.

3. Cartridges are usually reloaded at the range and seated behind the breech seated bullet so that the rifle is ready to fire.

4. Various wads of paper, card, cork, and vegetable can be used over the powder charge (not directly on the powder charge but near it) and another can be used just inside the mouth of the cartridge as a gas-check for the bullet base. Plastics are rarely used. A card wad of thin material (0.01-0.02”) placed over the powder charge has been proven safe to use according to the late Charlie Dell; he also used a thin card wad in the case neck.

5. Variations in load data are no different for SS rifles than other types of rifles. Depth of breech-seating, bullet alloy and hardness, tapering and diameters, lubricant, powders and charges, primers, brass dimensions and match prepping make for many factors in accuracy.

6. SS rifles appear to make the smallest groups and highest scores than any other type of rifles. SS rifles are those that are made without magazines or turn bolts. They chamber only one round of ammunition at a time. The actions are usually a form of falling block with a lever operating the block; there are several types that meet the rules of the matches.

7. Original rifles, modern reproductions, and a few modern actions are available with custom barrels, stocks, and sights. Iron sights with apertures for front and rear sights are used as well as scope sights. Bullet moulds and lubricators are usually custom-made to fit the particular chamber; calibers range from 25 to 38 in most cases and the most popular are 30 to 32 cal. There is also a 22 RF SS rifle match category. The quality of all rifles and custom parts ranges from ordinary to high quality and expense. The difference in accuracy is dependent on the ability of the shooter and experience as is the case in any shooting sport.

8. Most targets are shot at 200 yds. Targets are 25-ring German targets and there are specialized matches with different types of targets.

9. Time limits are relaxed/informal due to the re-loading of ammunition and time consumed to load the rifles. The dress sometimes can be formal dating to the early 1920’s.

10. To find more information on SS rifles and matches, contact the American Single Shot Association (ASSRA) listed on the Internet. The Journal is one of the best sources for load data and equipment.

How To Breech Seat Bullets

     Breech seating is the process of pushing the bullet into the rifling of the barrel. After breech seating, a primed and charged case is placed into the chamber and the gun is fired. Breech seating is done mostly with single shot target rifles.

     The underlying original reason for breech seating was that some of the old cartridges such as 32/40, 32/35 and 38/55 have and had no neck. The chambers are straight tapers-there’s no neck. To hold a bullet in the cartridge case, a neck was formed on the case. The chamber didn’t have a neck and accuracy was less than stellar because in low velocity loads the case did not seal the chamber and gas blew back around the case. Breech seating allowed the case to seal the chamber, eliminating blow-by.

     The other advantages of breech seating are a reduction in labor required in reloading, and almost infinite case life.

     Single shot rifle shooters will tell you that breech seating the bullet about 1/16” in front of the case gives better accuracy.

     Here are the results for shooters who completed all group matches at the 2005/2006 CBA National Matches. PBB = plain based bullet, breech seated. PROduction rifle, HVY = heavy rifle, UNRestricted rifle. At least in these two years the breech seating more than held it's own against the other, fixed ammunition classes.

2005 CBA Nationals

 

 

 

Summary

PBB

PRO

HVY

UNR

 

Average 5/100

0.631

1.290 0.782 0.769  

Smallest 5/100

0.194

0.236

0.356

0.251

 

Average 5/200

1.750

2.585

1.952

1.960

 

Smallest 5/200

0.742

1.010

0.594

0.786

 

Average 10/100

1.009

1.629

1.162

1.014

 

Smallest 10/100

0.580

0.769

0.614

0.323

 

Average 10/200

2.951

3.214

2.486

2.589

 

Smallest 10/200

1.391

1.633

1.148

1.332

 

2006 CBA Nationals

 

 

 

 

 

Summary

PBB

PRO

HVY

UNR

 

Average 5/100

0.710

1.357

0.847

0.855

 

Smallest 5/100

0.186

0.495

0.151

0.259

   

Average 5/200

1.806

3.093

1.942

1.870

 

Smallest 5/200

0.862

1.075

0.742

0.482

 

Average 10/100

0.975

1.648

1.201

1.028

 

Smallest 10/100

0.662

0.688

0.558

0.420

 

Average 10/200

2.910

3.909

2.947

2.600

 

Smallest 10/200

1.356

1.284

1.474

1.141

 

     Breech seating the old single shots slows me down (a good thing), I don’t have to do any reloading before the shooting session, and it draws interest from the other shooters.

     It is often said that proper breech seating is with the bullet 1/32"-1/16" in front of the case mouth. I breech seat some bullets in some guns where the bullet base is not as far in the chamber as the case mouth; the cartridge case mouth goes AROUND the bullet when seated.

     Here’s my way to measure the correct bullet seating depth for breech seating:

     Put a bullet into the chamber of the rifle. Push the bullet into the rifling with a pencil, push with one finger on the end of the pencil until the bullet won’t go in any further. 

     Hold the muzzle of the rifle up to a light and look into the breech. If you see bits of light coming through the barrel grooves around the bullet, the bullet isn’t in the rifling far enough. Use a plugged case to push the bullet a little further into the rifling, check for light, and keep on until you can’t see any light coming around the bullet. You now have the bullet making a gas tight seal in the bore, which is what you want. (I have generally had better accuracy with breech seated smokeless loads when no light came around the bullet as breech seated, but not always. My Maynard shoots almost as well with light coming around the bullet as without.) Now take your cleaning rod with brass screw (see the Appendix) and put it in the muzzle of the rifle. Gently push the rod in until it touches the nose of the bullet. Put masking tape on the rod and mark it at the muzzle. Knock the bullet out of the barrel, close the breech, and push the cleaning rod in until it touches the breechblock. Put masking tape on the rod and mark it at the muzzle. Take the rod out, and measure the distance between the two marks. This is the distance from the nose of the bullet to the base of the case. Subtract the bullet length from this dimension, and the result is the length of plugged case that will breech seat the bullet to the no-light condition. Do this several times until you are confident that your answer is correct. Make a sketch of the chamber and the bullet with dimensions. WRITE IT DOWN!

     There are several methods of breech seating explained below, in increasing order of the amount of work required. If a breech seating method leaves the base of the bullet below the end of the cartridge case, then see if a cartridge case will go into the chamber around the bullet. If the case goes in around the bullet, make a short plugged case of the appropriate length and you’re in business. This method works well for me in my Maynard.

“Drop It In”

     On rare occasions there is a happy coincidence of bullet, chamber and brass dimensions that allows breech seating with the charged cartridge case. I had a Peterson Ballard and a Remington Hepburn, and Bob Bross has a German schutzen rifle which work this way. My Werndl works this way. Drop a bullet in the chamber, push in the charged case with your thumb, and shoot. The case pushes the bullet into the rifling with little resistance. Try this first, you may be blessed.

“Pencil Seating”

     If you’re not blessed, try pushing the bullet into the rifling with a pencil or a dowel. Sometimes, even with light coming around the bullet, you will get accuracy this way.

“Plugged Case/Pusher”

     Use a plugged case and your thumb or a pusher to seat the bullet. A pusher for pushing the plugged case into the rifle is just a length of (1/2”-3/4” diameter) dowel with a round wooden furniture drawer handle on the end.

Here's a breech seater or pusher made from a piece of quarter inch steel rod and a furniture handle. The business end of the rod is filed round to fit the primer pocket in a plugged case. The furniture handle is drilled a quarter inch about half way through. The bend was made by sticking the rod between the planks on the bench rest and bending to fit the gun-a Martini. About $3 and a half hour's work.

     Sometimes the bullet will breech seat easily. If the bullet goes all the way in and the breech will close on the plugged case, you’re in business. If the bullet goes part way in and the gun shoots accurately, you’re still in business.

“Breech Block Seating”

     If your rifle has an action which will push your plugged case into the rifle, such as a Ballard, Stevens 44 or 44 1/2, Maynard, Aydt or New England Firearms Handi-Rifle, then put a bullet in the chamber, push in a plugged case, and close the action. If you can do this without undue strain on the rifle then you may be in business.

“Old Time Breech Seater”

     The traditional breech-seating tool is a rod with a handle on one end and a cartridge case on the other. The end of the rod is threaded, the cartridge case is a loose fit on the rod, and there is a flat-ended nut on the rod inside the cartridge case. A bullet is put into the cartridge case, the breech seater is put into the chamber, and the rod is pushed to seat the bullet.

 “Mechanical Breech Seaters”

     The most powerful bullet breech seater is a lever apparatus hinged to a rear sight base or to the action mortice, which pushes a plugged case and the bullet into the rifling.

     Accuracy can result with a properly designed bullet; breech seated using one of the simpler techniques. I have often wondered if the more powerful breech seating techniques don’t deform the bullet.

     "Some years ago I wanted to breech seat CBs in my bolt action rifles. I knew that a plugged case worked in SS rifles and decided that this was the way to go. I used wood dowels, some with an inverted gas check crimped on the dowels. Others were lead filled cases. Each was adjusted for OAL for the different bullets in 30 caliber rifles, my 03 Sporter in 30/06 and 30/30s in a Rem 788 and a lever action Marlin 336. The 03 was the main target rifle I used in BR matches. After using the fixed OAL

 breech seaters, a friend, Phil May, made adjustable breech seaters from cartridge cases using a discarded exhaust valve stem as the plug. The base of the cartridge was drilled and tapped for the threaded stem, the stem being drilled and tapped internally for two Allen screws, one to act as a lock screw and the other used to disassemble the seater. The top of the stem was fitted to the base of the neck of the case and had a flat head screw fitted to the stem as the adjustable part of the seater in the case neck. There was also a lock Allen screw below the seater screw. To adjust the seater, the seater screw was adjusted up or down and once the seating OAL was settled, the stop Allen screw was adjusted to stop the seater screw from going out of adjustment. Both the 03 and 788 would not seat my bullets fully into the throat and the base of all CBs would extend into the charged case necks the same as for the fixed breech seater cases. Once the OALs were found for each bullet so that there was a good gas seal, (no light could be seen around the seated bullet), the load data could be easily adjusted for an accurate load.

     The 03 became a 1 MOA rifle in a short time. Even with a good gas seal I used a variety of wads in the charged case to improve accuracy and reduce bore fouling.

     Many years ago these seaters were featured in TFS with an article and photos. Phil May and I had decided we needed to make another design so that we could have indents and adjustment from the rear of the seater rather than from the front as the Allen stop screw was difficult to set properly. We found that rather difficult and used the ones we made.

     These seaters allowed a bolt action rifle to find it's most accurate loads by loading one case, (only de-prime, prime, load the powder charge and add a wad in the neck), at the bench with a variety of factors of bullet alloy, diameter, OAL and the usual powders, charges and primers. It reduced the time involved in loading fixed ammo in the shop and subsequently finding a load that was not accurate. It was readily apparent within 3 shots if a load was promising or not. Once a target load was found, we could either breech seat at the bench for a match or load fixed ammo for the same load data, although the OAL might be somewhat shorter. The plastic vinyl, (PVC), wad was still used with the fixed ammo and I believed it solved much of the small amount of gas cutting that occurs with even the best of match ammo." Bill McGraw

How To Make A Plugged Case

Here are the cases from the side, showing the different lengths.

     A plugged case is a cartridge case that is filled with some material and that is used for breech seating. The length of the plugged case determines how far the bullet is seated into the rifling. It is often recommended that the bullet be breech-seated ~1/16" in front of the case mouth. In some rifle/bullet situations it may not be possible to seat the bullet this far forward, and the case may fit around the breech seated bullet.

Here are three plugged cases. Left is a case with a piece of twig in it, cut to fit. Center is a case filled with lead and filed to length. Right is a case filled with epoxy and filed to length.

     One way to make a plugged case is to fill an empty cartridge case with lead alloy, and file to length.

     Another way is to put masking tape around the mouth of a cartridge case and then fill the case with epoxy. The masking tape makes the process neater and allows the epoxy to extend beyond the mouth of the case a little bit, 1/16th of an inch or so. After curing the epoxy is trimmed to length.

     A third way is to cut a wood dowel to length and put it in the case. If the dowel is too loose, melt some bullet lube in the case to hold the dowel.

Breech Muzzle Loading

Picture courtesy of Michigan State Archives Courtesy of The Brady Sharpshooters site

First Sergeant Charles L. Rice

Born Detroit, MI. Enlisted in First company Sharpshooters, attached to Sixteenth Infantry, as Sergeant, Sept. 16, 1861, at Detroit, for 3 years, age 22. Mustered Sept. 16, 1861.

Joined regiment at Hall's Hill, Va., Feb. 14, 1862. First Sergeant. Commissioned Second Lieutenant Nov. 1, 1862.

Mustered Nov. 1, 1862. Commissioned First Lieutenant Jan. 15, 1863. Mustered Jan. 15, 1863.

Discharged on Surgeon's certificate of disability Aug. 14, 1863.

     Notes on the rifle in the photo of Sgt. Rice:
The rifle Sgt. Rice is holding is not an issue rifle such as the Springfield or Enfield but a custom built target rifle, possibly a Schuetzen rifle. The feature that identifies this rifle is the false muzzle, clearly visible at the top of the rifle. This makes it extremely unlikely that the rifle was a photographers prop, as was common in period photographs.

The false muzzle is a piece of rifle barrel about an inch and a half long that mounts on the muzzle of the barrel and is held in alignment with pins. In the picture the end of the rifle barrel is on the left and the false muzzle is on the right. The round doodad sticking up from the false muzzle is intended to block the sights, to keep the shooter from firing the rifle with the false muzzle attached.

     The false muzzle was invented by the famous American telescope maker, Mr. Alvin Clark, while he was experimenting with early telescopic sight designs. It was licensed to gun maker Edwin Wesson. This false muzzle covers the muzzle, and contains a deeply chamfered crown and tapered bore to start the ball easily and perfectly. Once loaded, the false muzzle is removed to allow the ball to be fired from a perfectly square sharp muzzle, with no crown. A sharp muzzle is proven to give best accuracy, but is impossible to load, and easily damaged by careless handling. False muzzles have a protruding handle, called a sight block, which alerts the shooter if he has failed to remove the false muzzle before firing. The false muzzle must be made from the barrel blank, and cut rifled as part of the barrel. A lost false muzzle cannot be replaced. This is an expensive feature, not found on lesser target rifles. It dates from the 1840 period. It provides a great advantage in accuracy over the conventional crowned muzzle. It is unfortunate the rest of the rifle cannot be seen clearly, particularly the rear sight (most likely a globe sight) and the stock.

     The cap lock or percussion muzzle loading target rifles frequently were equipped with a false muzzle to eliminate or minimize damage to the bullet as it was loaded into the barrel.

Here's a modern day cap lock Schuetzen rifle belonging to Bruce Peglow. The barrel was made by Jim Goodoien of Blaine, MN. Stock wood was provided by Dunlap Woodcrafts of Virginia. Color case-hardening by Turnbull restorations, New York. The rifle was stocked and finished by Bruce about four years back.

     This photo shows the rifle barrel with the false muzzle and the short starter in place. The short starter plug is machined to the shape of the bullet nose.

     The false muzzle is tapered to ease entry of the bullet into the rifling of the barrel.

     In use, the powder charge is poured into the barrel; the false muzzle is placed on the end of the barrel, the bullet is started into the false muzzle, the short starter is placed over the false muzzle and the bullet is started into the rifling by pushing the short starter into the false muzzle and barrel. Then a ramrod is used to push the bullet down onto the powder charge.

This photo shows the rifle barrel with the false muzzle and the short starter in place. The short starter plug is machined to the shape of the bullet nose. The false muzzle is tapered to ease entry of the bullet into the rifling of the barrel.

 

     The object of the exercise is to allow the shooter to load the bullet into the rifle barrel without deforming the bullet in any way.

     Percussion rifles using false muzzles and short starters were used from the time of the invention of the false muzzle by Alvin Clark ca. 1840 to today, when the ultimate in accuracy of cap lock target rifles is sought.

     After the introduction of breech-loading rifles, some barrel makers made target rifles with false muzzles. These barrel makers included George Schoyen, Harry Pope and Axel Peterson.

     The method of loading a breech-loading rifle with a false muzzle is called breech-muzzle loading.   

     Loading procedure:

     An empty cartridge case is placed in the rifle chamber.

     The rifle is stood up, the false muzzle placed on the end of the muzzle, a bullet is placed in the false muzzle, and the short starter is used to push the bullet into the barrel.

     The short starter and false muzzle are removed and a ramrod-precisely marked- is used to push the bullet into the barrel and down to a specific distance from the muzzle.

   

Here are pictures of a breech muzzle loading Schoyen Ballard Schuetzen rifle, the false muzzle  and the tools that go with the rifle. Tools include a bullet mold, re-de capper, lube pump and on the bottom, the short starter. Photos courtesy of Val Miller.

     The theory was that loading the bullet into the muzzle of the rifle and pushing it down to near the front of the cartridge case would clean the bore of any black powder fouling and would eliminate the dreaded accuracy-destroying fins. (Before I found the piece on First Sergeant Charles L. Rice, above, I had never heard the contention that a flat, square, not-crowned barrel gave best accuracy.)

     The breech-muzzle loading technique has never caught on with the present day breech loading Schuetzen rifle crowd, for a number of reasons.

     With smokeless powder there isn't a need to scrape the bore between shots. I don't know what happened to those fins, they don't seem to be a problem today.

     When the throat end of the bore wore a bit, the bullet would end up falling into the cartridge case, screwing up the loading process.

     The act of mashing the bullet through the false muzzle into the bore, and then pushing it down to the cartridge case-with a loaded and primed cartridge case in the chamber, is a terrifying prospect. With no cartridge case in the rifle, the debris would get into the secret recesses of the action. Thus, an empty cartridge case was used to catch the scraped-out fouling, then was removed and cleaned out, and replaced with a loaded and primed cartridge case.

     Shooting the false muzzle downrange was entertaining for the onlookers; less so for the shooter. And finally, breech-muzzle loading is a busy and time consuming business, requiring the shooter to stand up, move around, move the rifle around, fiddle with empty and charged cases, the bullet, short starter and ramrod. In the end I suspect that it was just too much of a pain in the neck, although it does impress the bystanders.

 

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Warning: All technical data mentioned, especially handloading and bullet casting, 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 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.

 

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