December 22nd, 2019

Sunday GunDay: Speedy’s Stunning 6 PPC Benchrest Rifle

Speedy thomas gonzalez 6mm PPC 6PPC 6 PPC christmas red rifle stiller viper engraved
“Ultimate PPC” by Speedy with engraved Stiller Viper action. Titanium Rest by John Loh (R.I.P.).

Speedy thomas gonzalez 6mm PPC 6PPC 6 PPC christmas red rifle stiller viper engravedJust in time for Christmas, today we feature a beautiful red rifle built by West Texas gunsmith Thomas “Speedy” Gonzalez many seasons back. With an eye-catching, one-of-a-kind engraved Stiller Viper action, and gorgeous red/black gelcoat finish, we think this rifle is one of the prettiest benchrest rigs ever made — and the color scheme fits the holiday season.

When Speedy set out to build the “ultimate PPC” for his own use, he wanted it to be as handsome as it was accurate. This stunning 6 PPC combines some very trick components with old-world detailing. When was the last time you saw an engraved receiver on a “race gun”? This rig combines modern high-tech components with classic good looks — the best of both worlds.

Speedy thomas gonzalez 6mm PPC 6PPC 6 PPC christmas red rifle stiller viper engraved

This competition benchrest rig features an engraved Stiller Viper action, with integral scope rail, SAKO Extractor and non-fluted bolt. The action sits in a new Millenium BR-X carbon-fiber stock built by Robertson Composites (now closed). The bold red-on-black marbled finish is how the gelcoat came from Ian Robertson’s factory — the stock has not been painted. The slick front rest is a titanium Ultra-Rest machined by the late, great John Loh with design input by Speedy. John built only two of these in titanium, one for himself and one for Speedy. We’re sad to say John recently passed. R.I.P. John. The Leupold Competition scope sits in quad-screw bedded rings from S.G.& Y. Precision Rifles.

Speedy picked a very special barrel for this project–a 1:14 twist, 20.5″, 6-groove barrel, the last original Pat McMillan-crafted barrel in Speedy’s inventory. Speedy runs a .263″ neck. Bushing size depends on the load and the condition of his brass. Speedy’s match load is about 29.2 grains of the IMR 8208 “ThunderBird” powder (he stockpiled this great propellant years ago). Speedy feels that T-Bird may be the most user-friendly BR powder ever made: “Once you have a good load worked up with T-Bird, you can shoot it at most any location in the country, and in almost any conditions. It’s not fussy about temperatures or humidity.”

A Very Unique Viper Action, Two Years in the Making
This is no ordinary Viper action. The full engraving attracts your attention, but there are some slick “performance mods” Jerry Stiller added at Speedy’s request.

Speedy thomas gonzalez 6mm PPC 6PPC 6 PPC christmas red rifle stiller viper engravedFirst, the action features a plain-Jane unfluted bolt, with a slight taper in the middle, a bit of a wasp-waist. Speedy prefers an unfluted design because it has superior wear characteristics. He’s found, when working with an aluminum action such as the Viper, the sharp flutes on the bolt will wear the inside of the action faster. In the interest of reduced wear, Speedy also requested a smaller-sized loading/ejection port. This provides for a larger front and rear receiver ring, which enhances bolt bearing surface. More bearing surface reduces point loading for less internal wear.

We were surprised that Speedy did not order a drop port for his Viper. He explained: “I’m a bag squeezer, so I keep my forearm right where the cases would exit the drop port. I’ve used the drop ports, but given my shooting style, I prefer a conventional port.” Speedy did decide to fit the bolt with a SAKO-style extractor. He believes this is easier to tune and can contribute to accuracy. Speedy told us: “With a conventional sliding plate extractor, like you find on the Stolle actions, there can be a bit of a side push as you chamber the round. I think this can affect the way the bullet enters the chamber. With the SAKO extractor there is no side-push so I can reduce the possibility of bullet misalignment.”

BR-X Stock — American Design, Canadian Craftsmanship
The BR-X carbon fiber stock represents a third-generation design. The original Millenium, built by Lee Six, was a hollow shell. This modern BR-X is carbon fiber over a foam core. In Light Varmint trim, it weighs just 1.5 pounds. Speedy tells us: “this BR-X has a low center of gravity, slight pistol grip, and the angles are really straight and true. It tracks well in the bags, and won’t lift out of the rear bag during recoil. That’s one of the purposes of the wedge-shaped rear section.”

Speedy thomas gonzalez 6mm PPC 6PPC 6 PPC christmas red rifle stiller viper engraved

Speedy looked at the various benchrest stocks, and, with input from Tony Boyer, he worked out a design that mirrored many of the better features of existing designs with some significant enhancements. The first thing you’ll notice is that the geometry is very uniform. The flats on the side of the fore-arm are perfectly parallel. The underside of the fore-arm is seamless and completely flat. Speedy explained “one problem we’ve seen with stocks that have a mold seam in the middle is that sometimes the two halves of the mold don’t mate perfectly. Sometimes the mold is mismatched so one side is on a different plane. That creates all kinds of handling issues. If the bottom of the stock is convex, even a little bit, you lose a lot of stability.”

Speedy thomas gonzalez 6mm PPC 6PPC 6 PPC christmas red rifle stiller viper engravedMuch thought went into the rear section of the stock. Speedy and Tony found that many stocks would start off tracking well, but by the end of the string they were pulling themselves out of alignment. Speedy noted that with some more conventional designs, they tended to ride up out of the rear bag after two or three shots. The BR-X works differently. It uses a wedge design, rather than a radius, so it tends to drive itself down into the bag on recoil. The BR-X is not the only stock to use a wedge in the rear, but it is different than other wedge designs. According to Speedy: “On most other wedge stocks, the wedge tapers towards the pistol grip, making the ‘V’ wider towards the end of the buttstock. This will change point of aim as the stock moves. The BR-X has a wedge that is a constant ‘V’, with no taper from the end to the pistol grip. This does make the gun track better and stay on target better.”

Competition Benchrest Terminology

Bughole: Very small group.
Mothball: The 10-ring on the standard Benchrest Target.
Tomato Stake: A worn out or otherwise inaccurate rifle barrel.
Screamer: A group measuring less than 0.100″ at 100 yards or less than 0.250” at 200 yards.
Weather Report: A Group “scattered” as a result of poor wind doping.
Wailing Wall: Place where targets that have been scored can be viewed by competitors.
Dope the Wind: Ccompensate for the effects of wind by shifting aiming points on the target.

Barrels–The Hunt for a ‘Hummer’
Top 6 PPC competitors often run through a number of barrels in the quest for a “hummer” that performs optimally. In addition to the Pat McMillen tube on this gun, Speedy uses barrels from Hart, Krieger, and Shilen. He’s tried a few from some other boutique barrel makers and they shot well, but he wasn’t satisfied with the barrel life. Some of them lost their competitive edge after just 500-600 rounds. He won’t name names in print, but you can call and ask. When choosing a barrel, Speedy recommends that you invest the time and call a few well-known smiths who regularly compete in high-level BR matches. Find out what’s working real well currently.

Speedy thomas gonzalez 6mm PPC 6PPC 6 PPC christmas red rifle stiller viper engravedSpeedy says, “you can read the equipment lists from the big shoots, but the printed results can be deceiving. That winning barrel might have been produced a couple of years ago. Barrel-makers do have good runs and not-so-good runs. Do your homework and find out what’s working best right now.” Speedy prefers 6-groove barrels: “I’ve shot em all one time or another. It seems that the 6-groove barrels are easier to get to shoot. It seems at 200 yards bullets from a 4-groove barrel move more than from a 6-groove barrel. Both windage and elevation. I think Tony Boyer feels the same way.” [Editor’s Note: Speedy’s groove observations were made many seasons ago. Today, many top shooters are using 4-groove and 5-groove barrels, and 3-grooves have been successful in score competition.]

We asked about Speedy’s signature “SpiderWeb finish”. While the web design has esthetic appeal, there is a functional side as well: “Tests have shown that a bead-blasted barrel will shed heat faster than a highly polished barrel. With the SpiderWeb, we leave most of the bead-blast finish on the barrel, but the web effect gives the tube some visual appeal.”

Speedy Speaks — How to Succeed in Benchrest Competition

Let me begin by saying that benchrest competition is the most difficult sport I’ve ever tried. For the newcomer, it can be daunting. From the very word “go” you are thrown to the wolves. Most new competitors have about a two and a half or three-year window. After that, if they are not meeting their expectations, they get fed up and leave the sport. Considering the time, effort, and money they may have expended in that time, that’s an unfortunate outcome.

Speedy thomas gonzalez 6mm PPC 6PPC 6 PPC christmas red rifle stiller viper engravedSo, how does one improve as a shooter and get to the point where you are meeting your goals? First you need to break down the shooting process into its parts–gun handling, loading technique, wind awareness, time management, bag set-up, and what I call ‘bench management’. Then you need a mentor. Benchrest is like golf–you can have the best equipment (best action, best stock, best rest) but you won’t get far without a knowledgeable veteran to monitor your progress and observe your technique. Without a mentor, benchrest is a rough game to play and you can reach a frustration point after a couple of years.

If you don’t have somebody who can sit and evaluate your loading style, bolt-working, follow-through, and wind-reading etc., you can develop bad habits that are hard to break. If there’s no one to monitor your shooting and see what you’re doing wrong, you’ll keep making the same mistakes. So how does one find a mentor? Well it’s not a bad idea to attend one of the shooting schools. But one-on-one training is best. Look for someone with a strong record in competition, but a person who is also patient. And when you find that person, show some loyalty. With most people who have been involved in the sport a while, if you show them allegiance, they will return that allegiance.

6mm PPC Basics — About the Cartridge

Speedy thomas gonzalez 6mm PPC 6PPC 6 PPC christmas red rifle stiller viper engravedDeveloped by Louis Palmisano and Ferris Pindell (left and right in photo), the 6 PPC is the “King of the Hill” in short-range benchrest competition, the most accurate cartridge ever invented. It still completely dominates 100- and 200-yard Group BR Shooting. If you want to win in that game, you pretty much have to shoot a 6 PPC, or some close variant of the 6 PPC cartridge design.

Easily made from Lapua 220 Russian brass, the 6mm PPC has a small primer and small flash hole. The small flash hole/primer accounts for much of the 6 PPC’s superior accuracy, though nobody really knows precisely how or why. The “short, fat” shape and nearly straight body contribute to efficient, consistent combustion and good “chamber behavior”.

While SAKO has created an official SAAMI 6mm PPC round, called the 6PPC USA, most American 6 PPC shooters run tight match chambers cut with custom reamers. There will be variations from one reamer to another, enough so that custom dies are generally recommended for match guns. Here is a PT&G reamer spec’d by Speedy a while back. He prefers a .263″ neck because that works better than .262″ when he needs to use his tightest bushings to get more neck tension.

Speedy thomas gonzalez 6mm PPC 6PPC 6 PPC christmas red rifle stiller viper engraved

The 6 PPC’s case capacity, case size to bore ratio, and combustion properties seem to be just about ideal for the short 6mm match bullets. A 6BR can come close, but when the goal is shooting “zero” groups at 100 and 200 yards, the 6 PPC is the clear winner. Currently most 6 PPC shooters form their cases from Lapua 220 Russian brass. Norma also makes factory-formed 6 PPC cases, but Norma brass is not commonly used as most shooters believe it is less “tough” than Lapua brass and accordingly won’t last as long with very stout match loads.

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December 22nd, 2019

Tactical Tip: Head and Scope Position for Prone Shooting

Scope head position prone shooting Ryan Cleckner long range shooting handbook

In this video, former Army Ranger sniper team leader Ryan Cleckner explains how proper head and scope position is a critical component to accurate shooting. Ryan finds that some shooters place the scope too far forward or too far rearward. If the scope is too far back you may have issues with eye relief and stock reach to shoulder. If it is too far forward, you may have cheek-weld problems or get neck strain. Cleckner cautions: “When you are in a good prone position, you don’t want any strain in your neck muscles or back.”

In the video, Cleckner offers a simple method to check your scope position:

“To see if your scope is set up properly … close your eyes, lay your head on your gun, get completely comfortable, and only when you are set-up, then open your eyes. If you can’t see clearly through your scope, CHANGE something [such as comb height or scope position]”.

“When you open your eyes, if you see some scope shadow [i.e. the black ring around the edge of the scope picture], figure out which way you need to move your head to get rid of that shadow, and then make adjustments to either your position, the rifle, or the scope.”

Scope head position prone shooting Ryan Cleckner long range shooting handbook

“Very often you’ll open your eyes and realize you need to move further back or further forward. Instead of moving your position [or head], move the scope and get it set up properly.”

Tip on Viewing Your Reticle:
Cleckner: “Sometimes it can be difficult to focus between the target and the reticle, even with the parallax adjusted properly. I recommend you focus only on the reticle. Just like the front sight on a rifle or a handgun, that reticle is what you can control, and it’s what matters. Focus on a crisp, clear reticle, in a stable platform, and all that’s left is trigger control.”

Long Range Shooting Handbook — A Good Resource
Cleckner’s Long Range Shooting Handbook covers a wide range of topics important for precision marksmanship — both shooting skills and technical matters. You can view Sample Chapters from Ryan’s Book on Amazon.com. Cleckner’s book is designed as an intro to key concepts such as MOA vs. Mils, External Ballistics, and Environmental Effects. Included are personal tips and advice based on Cleckner’s years of experience as a sniper instructor and special operations sniper.

The Long Range Shooting Handbook is divided into three main categories: What It Is/How It Works, Fundamentals, and How to Use It. “What It Is/How It Works” covers equipment, terminology, and basic principles. “Fundamentals” covers the theory of long range shooting. “How to Use It” gives practical advice on implementing what you’ve learned, so you can progress as a skilled, long range shooter.

Ryan Cleckner was a special operations sniper (1/75 RGR) and he served as a U.S. Army sniper instructor. Currently he works as a firearms industry executive and practicing firearms attorney.

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December 22nd, 2019

TSA Tips for Traveling with Firearms — What You Need to Know

Tom McHale flying with firearms guns TSA

If you will be flying with firearms this winter, you should read this article. You need to familiarize yourself with current Federal Regulations on gun transport before you get anywhere near an airport. Thankfully, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has a web page that states the important requirements for airline passengers traveling with firearms and/or ammunition.

You’ll want to visit the TSA Firearms and Ammunition webpage, and read it start to finish. In addition, before your trip, you should check the regulations of the airline(s) with which you will fly. Some airlines have special requirements, such as weight restrictions.

Here are the TSA’s key guidelines for travel with firearms:

1. All firearms* must be declared to the airline during the ticket counter check-in process.
The term firearm includes:

    – Any weapon (including a starter gun) which will, or is designed to, or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive.
    – The frame or receiver of any such weapon.
    – Any firearm muffler or firearm silencer.
    – Any destructive device.

2. The firearm must be unloaded. As defined by 49 CFR 1540.5 – “A loaded firearm means a firearm that has a live round of ammunition, or any component thereof, in the chamber or cylinder or in a magazine inserted in the firearm.”

3. The firearm must be in a hard-sided container that is locked. A locked container is defined as one that completely secures the firearm from being accessed. Locked cases that can be pulled open with little effort cannot be brought aboard the aircraft.

4. If firearms are not properly declared or packaged, TSA will provide the checked bag to law enforcement for resolution with the airline. If the issue is resolved, law enforcement will release the bag to TSA so screening may be completed.

5. TSA must resolve all alarms in checked baggage. If a locked container containing a firearm alarms, TSA will contact the airline, who will make a reasonable attempt to contact the owner and advise the passenger to go to the screening location. If contact is not made, the container will not be placed on the aircraft.

6. If a locked container alarms during screening and is not marked as containing a declared firearm, TSA will cut the lock in order to resolve the alarm.

7. Travelers should remain in the area designated by the aircraft operator or TSA representative to take the key back after the container is cleared for transportation.

8. Travelers must securely pack any ammunition in fiber (such as cardboard), wood or metal boxes or other packaging specifically designed to carry small amounts of ammunition.

9. Firearm magazines and ammunition clips, whether loaded or empty, must be securely boxed or included within a hard-sided case containing an unloaded firearm.

10. Small arms ammunition, including ammunition not exceeding .75 caliber for a rifle or pistol and shotgun shells of any gauge, may be carried in the same hard-sided case as the firearm, as long as it follows the packing guidelines described above.

11. TSA prohibits black powder or percussion caps used with black-powder.

12. Rifle scopes are not prohibited in carry-on bags and do not need to be in the hard-sided, locked checked bag.

NOTE: The 12 guidelines are reprinted directly from the TSA web page here: http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/firearms-and-ammunition.

More Airline Travel Tips from Tom McHale
Tom McHale has written an excellent article for the Beretta Blog, Ten Things You Need to Know about Flying with Guns. We suggest you visit the Beretta Blog to read this informative story. Here are two of Tom McHale’s Travel Tips:

Weigh your gun case and ammunition
Most airlines will allow up to 11 pounds of ammunition. And, like any luggage, you will be charged more for any baggage weighing more than 50 pounds. This sounds like a lot, but when traveling to the Crimson Trace Midnight 3 Gun competition last year, my case with shotgun, rifle, pistol and ammunition tipped the scale past the 50 pound mark.

Pack ammo in the same locking case
This is another area that’s misunderstood and full of internet myth. Your ammo just needs to be stored in some type of safe container and not loose. Technically, you can keep ammunition in magazines, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It meets the letter of the law storage requirement, but too many airline and TSA agents will give you grief. Use a plastic ammo box or original cardboard packaging and you’ll be fine carrying that in the same lockable case as your gun.

Tom McHale flying with firearms guns TSA

*Please see, United States Code, Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 44 for information about firearm definitions.

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