Changing Loads Means Research

Wade Hampton bore-sights his 95 Mauser before load testing.
Wade Hampton bore-sights his 95 Mauser before load testing.

Being a rifle crank and generally obsessive-compulsive in my relationship to all things gun, as usual this year I decided to change loads for my 6mm Remington deer rifle. This had the added entertainment factor of getting the attention of Wade, my eldest son and business partner, since he owns a neat little 6mm I built for him many years ago on a 95 Mauser action. Of course since I was going to try something new he wanted to be included.

My 6mm is a Remington 788 (that I may have mentioned in my Gun Digest writing before) to which I have done a little work, changing the stock somewhat, bedding, painting, all the usual suspects and it shoots wonderfully with 100-grain bullets. Why, one might ask, would a normally sane fellow such as myself dare to interfere with such perfection? First of all, Wade has not finished the re-barrel job on my low-wall .357 Magnum that I was planning to carry during this year’s firearm deer season and second, if you have to ask, then you are not in the same class of gun nut that I am.

Years ago, about 1984, I built the 95 as the “ultimate” whitetail gun for our Buck Mountain deer, a Shaw-barreled little darling with a hand-carved black walnut stock (carved completely by hand from a blank given to me by David Terry of Cedar Springs, Virginia) that was to be Wade’s deer rifle when he grew up. At that time I experimented with 87-grain Hornady boat-tail hollowpoints in Winchester brass and found that the short, stiff 20-inch barrel loved them.

While I was going over my load diaries the other evening I found the write-up I had done on the load along with a few photographs of the deer the rifle took. I decided it was what the doctor ordered, something a bit flatter and a bit faster than the 100-grain slugs I am shooting now. It has been 25 years since I loaded 87s for the caliber so it was back to the drawing board, not only for Wade’s gun but of course for the Remington.

The great pleasure, to me, of handloading is the experimentation, the attacking of a new problem to achieve an accuracy goal.

I pulled together and sorted the brass on hand (Remington and Frontier/Hornady), selected the primers (Federal magnum large rifle) and settled on the powder (IMR 4831), based on the notes from the original loads. Since the 95 is a long-throat chamber and the Remington is limited by the length of the magazine, we would be looking at two final seating depths and of course separation of the finished ammo so there would be no mixing.

I started with the Mauser. Using The Remington brass I weighed out and charged five cases in each of three powder weights, working up toward the powder weight of the old accuracy load, giving us five at 45 grains, five at 46 grains and five at 47 grains, which was one-half grain below what I had previously found to be maximum for this bullet in this gun. I then turned to the 788 and loaded 15 more rounds with the same prescription, varying only the seating depth of the bullet, bringing the shoulder of the slug to within .007 inches of contacting the rifling. Then, with much anticipation, and with Wade and our Pact chronograph in tow, we headed to Buck Mountain and our shooting bench.

I don’t think you could have prescribed a better day to range test loads, temperature in the low 60s, bright sunshine and no wind. Wade began our testing with the Mauser, shooting from a clean barrel, letting it cool two minutes between shots. All loads were fired through the screens and velocities averaged for each charge weight. On the target board we closely measured the group size, photographed the groups and made notes for future reference.

The Mauser was true to form; with 47 grains of IMR 4831 and the Hornady bullet, in the Remington cases with Federal magnum primers we started to see slightly flattened primers and our five-shot group averaged 3288 fps and center-to-center measured .312 inches. That, my friends, is “close enough”.

The 788 proved a bit more finicky. The starting load was unacceptable at 1.12 inches considering what I have seen this rifle do with 100-grain bullets (.460) but as we approached the 47-grain mark things tightened up. With no pressure signs whatsoever those five rounds averaged 3294 fps and clustered up center-to-center in .505 inches. Now, being of a curious nature I wondered if going to the listed maximum of 47.5 grains in this rifle would gain anything.

I did load five rounds with the maximum listed load and ran them through the screens, and got a bit more velocity but the group was now about the size of a dime (.775) so I backed off and settled on 47 grains IMR 4831/87gr Hornady BTHP as the new 788 load.

The first deer I shot with Wade’s 95 Mauser with the original load for the 87-grain Hornady was in 1984. I hunted all day on the Mountain in a more-or-less steady rain, finally taking a rest at 4 p.m. on an open ridge before the long walk out to the truck. Suddenly I saw a small buck running below me across the open meadow on an angle that would take him about 230 yards from me at the closest point before he hit the timber.

I swung the little rifle through him and fired when the crosshair reached the end of his nose. When I found him in the scope again after reloading all I could see was the white of his belly sticking up in the tall grass, flat on his back and kicking his last, hit squarely through the center of both shoulders.

Maybe this year we’ll see a repeat performance.

This article appeared in the November 23, 2009 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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