First reloading adventure - .303 British

Several years ago the lure of reloading started to become a desire for a new hobby. Finding cartridges for some of the less common calibers was clearly not as easy as scoring 7.62x39 in 2007 (at least two gun/ammo panics ago as this is written in May of 2013). Sure, I still have some "yellow box" Russian target ammo for the Nagant revolver in 7.62x38 Nagant but now I am down to two and the Fiocchi was about as anemic so clearly another source was necessary. 8x56R for the M95 Mannlicher isn't on the shelf in every gun store and while I have an ample supply today, it would also run out. A third candidate caliber for reloading was the .303 British, and while it is more accessible it simply costs more. Clearly, reloading could be at least a partial answer to continued use of these obsolete calibers.

For Christmas of 2012, my wife surprised me with a starter kit for reloading; that's clearance for action right from the source! My wife had asked what else I'd need from a friend who also shoots a lot and stuffed my Christmas stockings with die sets for .45 ACP and 7.62x39. A wonderful surprise, yet it came with a huge problem as I quickly found out that in December of 2012 and into the beginning of 2013 not only ammo was getting snatched up by everyone but that reloading components had been Hoover'd by everyone. I went to the first gun show possible expecting to find powder, primers and bullets and none were available. I came away with only two components: 100 rounds of already primed Winchester 7.62x39 and 100 Hornady 123 grain .310 caliber bullets. No powder. No primers besides what was in the brass I had found. Excitement turned to disappointment since the crucial component of powder was missing.

Once I returned home, I turned to the Internet for powder. Yes, it would cost more in shipping, but the big retailers surely had powder. The Internet didn't fail me, as I was able to order AA1680 for the 7.62x39 and since I had to pay the hazmat charge and shipping anyway, I took some time to read the reloading book that came with my set and found that the same 123 grain .310 diameter bullet existed in a recipe for .303 British which required IMR 3031, so I ordered a pound of AA1680 and a pound of IMR 3031. Now, all I had to do was sit back and wait for the BBTH (Big Brown Truck of Happiness) to pull up in a few days and I could start reloading! In the meantime, I ordered dies for .303 British (I had saved a bunch of Boxer primed .303 British brass over the years, so I was ready with brass). The BBTH will be here soon, heck I order firearms with my C&R license and it's usually just a couple of days, surely powder delivery would be in the same ballpark.

Wrong.

Two weeks go by and nothing, not even a ship notice. I finally break down and call the retailer, and when the very polite woman takes my call, she calmly explains that not only is there a huge run on ammo and reloading components but they can only ship so many pounds of powder a day due to some law. She also tells me that I'm about four more weeks away from my powder shipping and they would be sure to send me a tracking number just as soon as it ships. So I wait. But hey, in the meantime the die set for the .303 British arrive so I busy myself with popping out the used primers and sizing the brass which lasts 30 minutes and then I have to wait for the BBTH again. Four weeks later, the BBTH finally does arrive.

But I still have no primers for the .303 British.

I now have everything for the 7.62x39, but not the .303 British. It is now possible to build ammo for my 7.62x39, but honestly it scares me more than the .303 British. The rifles I'm reloading 7.62x39 for are all SKS and AK variants, so they are all semi-auto. What if I get too little (or worse, too much) powder and it doesn't cycle the SKS? That would waste a lot of effort, and manually working an SKS bolt gets boring pretty quick so I really want to reload for the .303 British first.

Thankfully, a business trip comes up and I don't have time to think about all of this for a week. After the trip, the clouds finally part and the angels sing a local gun shop who took my name and number when I was scrounging for components gives me a call and says that they have CCI large rifle primers. As quick as I can I get to the shop and buy 1000 primers. I finally have everything I need to build both calibers, and it's only April 2013.

In the meantime I've also built a portable work area for reloading, so finally all the stars have aligned and it's time to get busy. Since this is my first attempt, I figure I'll start at the bottom of the range for the recipe and see how things work. My recipe for .303 British calls for 37.2 grains of IMR 3031 to send the 123 grain, .310 diameter bullets downrange. The brass is sized, and with the location of primers the brass is primed. Out comes the scale, and while it takes some adjustments on the powder measure to get it right, I have 37.2 grains of powder dropping every time after a bit of fiddling (yes, I weighed each drop for this batch). Seating the bullet takes a few attempts to get right, but I get the bullet seated to the cannelure by adjusting the die. My plan was to just make ten, and see how they work, but the empty brass just called out to me and I ended up assembling 20 rounds. The 7.62x39 brass also called out to me, but I was able to keep control and only produce 10 rounds. With 30 assembled rounds, I'm finally ready to go to the range, almost 5 months after starting the adventure.

Finally the day comes when Max and I can go to the mountains and try out these rounds. We take a 1943 Long Branch build Enfield in .303 British, a U-Fix-Em Romanian SKS from 1959 that I've restored to working order and Max's Cricket rifle in .22LR. Ammo included the 20 rounds of .303 British, 10 rounds of 7.62x36 and 50 rounds of .22 Short for Max's Cricket. Off to the hill we go in the newly acquired 2013 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited (yes, less than 1K miles on the odometer and we're going 4-wheeling to a good safe shooting location but that story is better written about in the automobile section).

When we arrive, we set up with an ugly mutant zombie rat target for Max (he loves the zombie targets) at about 30 feet, then I take another 100 steps to set up my targets. Maybe this was 100 yards, but for today it was close enough. A little snow was beginning to fall and the wind was picking up a bit which made the targets sway a bit in the wind. Today, if it's on paper and everything actually functions properly then I'm a happy camper.

Max wants to shoot first, so we do all the while practicing holding the little rifle and aiming. With the .22 shorts, the noise isn't bad and there is no recoil to worry a 6 year old. It's fun, even if it is snowing a little bit.

When Max wants a break, it's now time for the '43 Long Branch to go to work. I tell Max to get behind a tree well behind me, as it occurs to me that if I really did screw this up and it goes ka-boom in my face there is no way he's driving back down the mountain all alone. Maybe not my finest moment as a parent, but there is another group of shooters nearby, so even though we are out of cell phone range, Max won't be all alone if my head gets blown off. Deep breath, let half out, aim, think that the 300 meter peep sights are pretty awesome in the simplicity of the whole design, hold, slowly squeeze... bang. It just went bang, do a check quick: Head? Nothing is bloody, huh, must have worked. Pull the bolt out, and peek through the barrel and I see light. Wow, the bullet made it out of the barrel. Hey Max, it all worked; let's go take a look at our targets!

Max comes up and is interested, after all he did watch me assemble the ammo, he takes my hand and we walk downrange (the other nearby group has taken a break for lunch at this point). His mutant zombie rat would be dead, several shots in the head and neck (it is a zombie after all, so it has to be headshots, and Max finds this fact hilarious even though he has never actually watched a zombie movie or TV show). Max wants to see what Dads' target looks like, and so do I, so we hike down and look. There is a .30 caliber hole in the paper. It worked, it all really worked.

We hike back, both pretty pleased with ourselves. Max doesn't want to stay much longer, the wind is picking up a little and snow is falling a little more at this point. He tells me to shoot, he just wants to watch. I wish we could stay all day, but I use the remaining 19 rounds and we pack up with the SKS getting a pass this week. Going downrange again, we collect our targets and stands. I count the holes in my target, 20 holes for 20 rounds. While I'm sure it wouldn't win any awards, given the weather conditions, open sights and my eyes, I'll take it.

target

We load everything back into the Jeep and once Max is encased back into his booster seat and a blanket wrapped around him, it's time to head back down the trail. He's a non-stop chatter box once he gets warmed back up, but it also signals that he's about to crash and true to form about 10 minutes after we get back to pavement, Max is gone into dreamland.

The quiet ride home let's be think about the whole experience to this point. I made a few errors, for two of the bullets where a little loose and not snugly seated. A couple of the brass had a wrinkle in the brass at the shoulder, but it wasn't enough to stop the bolt from closing easy so maybe there is an adjustment I could make. But overall, things worked perfectly and all shots were on target.

While I need practice and there is still much to learn with reloading, everything worked like it should. The chance to shoot ammo you assembled yourself out of a 70 year old rifle was great. Driving a nearly new Jeep into the hills for some mild 4-wheeling to shoot ammo you made yourself out of an old gun was more than great; but the best part might had been having an excuse to take Max high into the mountains on a Saturday.