Chronograph Day!

The Caldwell Ballistic Precision Chronograph G2 was used for all testing. Moderately priced, and can use a free smart-phone .app to record your results. A good, basic, reliable unit.

The COVID19 virus has put a real crimp in my ballistics testing, and some calibers present issues of noise and penetration in my shop, so I have been reluctant to test them. My wife needed to go see Joanne, a friend of ours on her farm near Chehalis, where they just happen to have their own shooting range set up. I jumped at the opportunity. It’s a good couple hours drive, so sadly it’s not going to become a regular thing.

I had built up a lot of loads to run over the chronograph, and thought I’d take the opportunity to do some recreational shooting with Joanne’s roommate Steve as well. I was testing a wide variety of handgun calibers, so settle in- this is going to be a long one.

The Chronograph was positioned at approximately 10′ from the muzzle. Five-shot strings were tested in each case.

Use this data at your own risk! The author assumes no responsibility for the use or misuse of this data. In most cases it is prudent to start 10% under the given load and work up, but in the case of very low-powered loads this can be problematic.

Always insure that any gun, particularly antiques, are safe to fire and in good condition before shooting.

.32 S&W

I had one .32 S&W load to test, designed to be a low-powered antique-friendly load. Testing was done with my H&R Model 732 Guardian, which is chambered in .32 S&W Long. All .32 caliber tests today were shot with this gun, actually.

4″ barrel, 75gr. LFP, 2.0gr. Unique, Federal Magnum SP primer

547 fps. 50ft./lbs ES: 30fps

This is an ultra-mild load, well-suited to punching holes in paper at moderate ranges. The load is reasonably consistent, with an extreme spread of only 30 fps. It should be suitable for any gun chambered for this caliber that is in good condition.

.32 S&W Long

Two loads to test in this caliber, either of which is suitable for target shooting or small game. Both loads are well below maximum listed loads for this caliber.

4″ barrel, 75gr. LFP, 3.5gr. of Unique, Federal magnum SP Primer

918 fps. 140 ft./lbs ES: 133fps.

4″ barrel, 90gr. LHBWC, 2.5gr. of Unique, Federal magnum SP primer

916 fps. 168 ft./lbs ES: 142

I can’t account for the large extreme spread with these loads. It appears counter-intuitive that the heavier bullet with the lighter powder charge would produce essentially the same velocity as the lighter bullet, but the hollow-base wadcutter is fully telescoped into the case, providing a much more constricted combustion space. It is actually a higher-pressure load as well; wadcutter loads in this caliber are designed primarily to be fired in semi-automatic target pistols that require more pressure to cycle, but it should be safe to fire in any quality revolver.

.38 S&W

Again, I brought one gun to test in this caliber, a S&W .38 Single Action (2nd model) modified with a 1-5/8″ barrel.

I refinished this beater S&W to mimic the style of a friend’s gun that I admired. I stripped the tatty nickel finish, cut and crowned the barrel at 1-5/8″, rust blued the gun, mounted a new bronze front sight and finished it off with stag grips. Despite the short barrel, short sight radius and tiny sights it’s quite accurate and groups well.

This is another load meant to be ‘antique friendly,’ using a light-for-caliber bullet and a small powder charge to produce modest pressures and mitigate damage from recoil. It ought to be fine in any gun of reasonable quality that is safe to be fired, but that’s going to require a judgement call. Regarding antiques, when in doubt don’t.

1-5/8″ barrel, 125gr LSWC 3.0gr. Unique, Federal magnum SP primer

598 fps. 99 ft./lbs ES: 85 fps.

First thing to note is that these 125gr LSWCs are sized to .360, so they are well-suited to the caliber. Accuracy was very pleasing; while I didn’t shoot groups on paper today I had no difficulty hitting empty spray-paint cans at 30 yards; not bad at all. Recoil is mild, but these loads proved to be quite smokey.

9x19mm / 9mm Luger

I have a couple of Beretta M1951s, and these do not do well with high-powered or +P loads, so I have been seeking some good standard-pressure loads for them. Both of these loads were created with that in mind.

These loads use my ‘COVID-Expedient’ re-swaged Xtreme Bullets copper-plated hollow points, made from their 115gr. target rounds.

My re-swaged hollow-point on the left, a standard Xtreme copper-plated hollow-point on the right. The standard bullet is a target load, and is not designed to expand.

The test gun for these loads was the robust Sig-Sauer P6.

My P6 is a West German police trade-in made in 1991, and is in excellent condition.

3-3/4″ barrel 115gr CPHP 5.3gr. Unique Federal magnum SP primer

1044 fps. 278 ft./lbs ES: 73 fps

This load did not cycle reliably in the P6. It’ll pick up a little velocity in the longer barrel of the Beretta M1951 and may cycle it. I’ll try it, but I think it’s too weak.

3-3/4″ barrel 115gr CPHP 4.9gr. Universal Federal magnum SP primer

1142 fps. 334 ft./lbs ES: 14 fps.

I’m very pleased with this load. It’s very consistent, and when tested by firing through four layers of denim into Clear Ballistics gel it showed adequate penetration and consistent expansion. It feeds well in my guns, too, and cycles very reliably. I’m going to call this one a winner.

.41 Special

This is the .41 magnum’s little brother, designed to provide a potent defensive load without the excessive muzzle blast and recoil of the magnum. The test gun for this was a Taurus Model 415 with a 2-3/4″ ported barrel.

The compact and relatively light Taurus 415 in .41 Magnum is my ‘pooping-in-the-woods-OMG-is-that-a-bear?’ gun, and full-power loads are called for in that mission. For everyday target practice or EDC, however, something milder is called for. Thus the .41 Special load.

2-3/4″ barrel 210gr. Keith bullet 6.0gr. Unique, Federal LP primer

865 fps. 349 ft./lbs ES: 23 fps.

A good, accurate load with plenty of power, but manageable recoil. I think there is room to spice it up a bit, maybe another 50 fps. without notably changing it’s usability.

Currently I am looking into some 200gr. LHPs to load to 900-950 fps. with this gun, but until then this one will do.

.44 Magnum

Looking for a load for Black-Tail deer. They aren’t awfully big so a very powerful load is not needed. The gun for this test was my U.S. Arms Abilene with a 7-1/2″ ported barrel- the same gun I will be hunting with.

The Abilene was intended as a ‘premium’ revolver for hunting and silhouette shooting in the 1980s-90s. It’s an excellent gun and undervalued today, often selling for $375-$400.

7-1/2″ barrel 260gr. Keith bullet 9.2gr. Unique, Federal LP primer.

1038 fps. 622 ft./lbs ES: 56 fps

Recoil is quite mild (for a .44 magnum) and accuracy is excellent. This load would certainly be adequate for Black-Tails, but in the interest of a clean kill I think I’d prefer to err on the side of caution and add a couple of hundred feet per second to this.

.45 Colt

I used two test guns for the first of these loads, a ‘bulldogged’ 1858 with a 2.5″ barrel and a custom Armi San Marco with a 3-1/2″ barrel. The second load was only fired from the 3.5″ gun.

This custom Pietta snubby still needs to be refinished, but aside from that it’s done. You’ll be seeing more about this gun soon.
I customized this ASM 1873 last year, cutting and crowning the barrel at 3-1/2″, a new bronze front sight, custom steel birdshead grip frame, shortened and lowered hammer spur and a re-engineered ejector that gives a full-length stroke despite the gun’s short barrel.

The goal was to produce mild loads for target shooting. the first load uses Xtreme Bullets CPHPs; these are target bullets and aren’t designed to expand. The second uses a lead semi-wadcutter.

2.5″ barrel 200gr CPHP 7.6gr. Red Dot Federal LP primer

660 fps. 193 ft./lbs ES: 34 fps.

3.5″ barrel 200gr CPHP 7.6gr. Red Dot Federal LP primer

714 fps. 226 ft./lbs ES: 36 FPS

This load produces the mild recoil and consistency I was looking for. Ought to be good for target shooting at ranges out to 25 yards. I think I’ll up the charge to 7.8gr. and see what that gets me.

3.5″ barrel 200gr. LSWC 8.0gr. Universal Federal LP primer

476 fps. 101 ft./lbs ES: 136 fps.

This load is a straight-up failure. Too little power, very poor consistency. I’ll be pulling the bullets from the remaining cartridges and reloading them.

.45 ACP

The gun used in this test is an upgraded 1911A1. The goal was to produce a target load with LSWCs and a defensive load with Speer 200gr HPs.

A dear friend assembled this 1911a1 ‘Frankengun’ many years ago, and when his interests moved on he gave it to me. I changed it to a flat mainspring housing. modified the Pachmayr grips slightly and improved the sights. Can’t say I’m a fan of the green Teflon coating, but it’s a great shooter and has been very reliable.

5″ barrel 200gr LSWC 5.6gr Unique Federal LP primer

849 fps. 320 Ft./lbs ES: 64 fps

This seems a fine load for casual practice or plinking. Mild recoil, and economical in terms of both bullets and powder charge.

5″ barrel 200gr JHP 8.0gr. Universal Federal LP primer

881 fps. 345 ft./lbs ES: 128

Not a success; this hollowpoint really needs 900fps+ to expand reliably, and the extreme spread is pretty bad. While upping the charge might produce an acceptable load I’m not going to pursue this one; the load listed below is much more what I am after, and is more economical.

5″ barrel 200gr JHP 6.5gr. Unique Federal LP primer

920 fps. 376 ft./lbs ES: 45 fps.

This is much more the thing. I’ll test it on denim/Clear Ballistics gel and see what’s what, but it looks good so far.

Other Stuff

Steve had his Savage SA .22, and I’d brought a couple of .22 rifles as well.

My home-made rolling-block .22 based on a Ruger 10-22 barrel. Brass receiver, spring-steel working parts and quilted-maple stocks with a 16″ barrel
My Winchester Model 1906, which will feed .22 Short, Long or Long-rifle loads. It holds 10 .22 LRs or 15 .22 Shorts

We fooled about with the rifles quite a bit, shooting up empty spray-paint cans out to thirty yards or so. I’d mounted a set of Ruger 10-22 sights on the rolling-block and had them roughly sighted in using .22 Colibri gallery loads at close range, and I expected them to need further adjustment but nope, it shot just fine. Needed a good cleaning; empties sometimes stuck harder than I could pry out with a fingernail and I had to resort to the pruning blade on my pocket knife, which did the job easily enough.

The Winchester is just a delight. Accurate and fun to shoot. I tried some CCI low-noise subsonic .22 Shorts in it, and it ate ’em up just fine, and they were dead quiet from the long barrel.

Shooting at stuff outdoors is just so much more satisfying than shooting paper on the range with these rifles, and as quiet as the low noise rounds are I can do it without going far from home- a great discovery!

I probably shot the Abilene .44 magnum more today than I have in total previously, and I love it more than ever. The H&R 732 also got a good workout during the fun phase of our shooting, and I put a good few rounds downrange from the little S&W single-action.

Altogether a great day; good company, lots of fun, a lot of shooting and I cleaned up most of my backlog of load-testing.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 12 September 2020

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