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October 2nd, 2022

Sunday GunDay: Matt’s Screamin’ Yellow .243 Ackley Improved

.243 Win Ackley Improved ST1000 stock varmint rifle 1000-yard benchrest

.243 Ackley Improved for Long-Range Varminting and Benchrest Competition
Whenever Matt Bianchini brings his bright yellow .243 Ackley to the firing line, heads turn. This is one truly handsome rig–as good-looking as it is accurate. Built to smoke varmints at long-range as well as compete in 1000-yard benchrest matches, this rifle is proof that competition improves the breed. Fitted with a Farley action, Jewell trigger, Leupold LRT scope, and Lilja or Krieger barrel, the Yellow Ackley is a “no compromise” match rifle that can run with the big dogs in 1K Benchrest competition. And with the Ackley’s ability to toss 106gr Clinch Rivers at 3350 fps, this is one flat-shooting, hard-hitting varmint rifle.

.243 Win Ackley Improved ST1000 stock varmint rifle 1000-yard benchrest

Ultra-Fast, Ultra-Smooth Farley Action…and One Wicked Paint Job
The heart of Matt’s rifle is a Farley action. Farleys have found favor with Benchrest competitors, because the bolt can be worked so fast. And the Farley is as smooth as it is speedy. The difference is quite noticeable if you compare it to a blue-printed Rem 700, or even a recent Stolle Panda. Farleys were true customs, built one at a time by the Farley family in Oklahoma. Unlike a BAT action which is machined from billet steel, a Farley starts with a stainless investment casting, much like Ruger pistol frames. It uses a cone bolt for smooth, yet solid lock-up.

One of the unique features of the Farley is the ejector–it can be switched on or off, depending on the shooter’s preference. So, if you’re load testing some hot rounds, you can turn the ejector off. In a match you can turn the ejector “on” to function normally. Matt is now a confirmed Farley fanatic. He tells us: “I’ve got quite a few other very nice actions, including Nesikas. But none of them are as slick as that Farley. When you work the bolt it feels like it’s on ball-bearings.”

Matt’s Screamin’ Yellow Ackley–The Need for Speed

.243 Win Ackley Improved ST1000 stock varmint rifle 1000-yard benchrest

.243 Ackley Improved Speed Demon
In a long-range varmint rifle, speed kills. Ultra-high velocities will deliver flatter trajectories and more explosive hits on critters. That’s where the .243 Ackley Improved really shines.

.243 Win Ackley Improved ST1000 stock varmint rifle 1000-yard benchrest

Matt has explored the upper limits of .243 Ackley Improved (AI) performance with his yellow long-range rig, fitted with a 29″ Lilja 3-groove, 1:8″-twist barrel. Using a stout load of Alliant Reloder 25, Matt’s “Screamin’ Yellow Ackley” has topped 3340 fps with Clinch River 106s. That’s serious speed for heavy 6mm bullets. This shows a well-built .243 AI leaves Dashers and 6XCs in the dust when it comes to pure velocity.

.243 Win Ackley Improved ST1000 stock varmint rifle 1000-yard benchrestUltimate Evolution of the .243 Winchester
Matt’s show-stopping rifle is a .243 Ackley Improved (40-degree shoulder, .271″ neck), chambered with a Manson reamer. On top of the stainless Farley “S” action, in Farley 30mm rings, sits a Leupold LRT (1/16 MOA dot) boosted to 18X-40X by Premier Reticles. Matt has SIX barrels for the gun, three Lilja 3-grooves, a couple Kriegers, and a Shilen.

Matt’s gun currently sports an 8-twist 29″ Lilja 3-groove HV taper that Matt says cleans up like a dream. The stock is a Shehane ST-1000 Tracker made in fiberglass by McMillan, with a BAT trigger guard and Shehane polished billet aluminum buttplate. Prior to final finishing, Matt worked over the flats and some of the angles. That’s why the facets are so well-defined on this rifle compared to some ‘glass Trackers you may have seen. The gun was chambered by Dave Bruno of Cheswick, PA.

Matt bedded the stock and applied the stunning Sikken “Viper” yellow paint job himself. That flawless, smooth-as-glass Screamin’ Yellow finish is no ordinary paint-job, but then Matt Bianchini is no ordinary do-it-yourself painter. His family runs an automotive body-shop, so he had access to premium paints and a quarter-million-dollar spray booth with all the latest technology. Still, Matt spent many hours on this stock to get everything right, trying a couple colors before he settled on a Sikken automotive “Viper Race Yellow” formulated for the Dodge Viper sports car. After careful prep work, Matt sprayed two coats of Viper Yellow, and then added three coats of high-grade automotive clear, which was then baked-on in a heat chamber. Matt also painted the Sinclair front rest to match the stock, and even polished the surfaces of the Hoehn windage top. A lot of effort, Matt told us, was required to achieve the results you see here.

3300 fps for 1000 Yards
Though Matt’s Ackley has harvested its share of varmints, the gun was built with 1000-yard benchrest competition in mind. At left is the firing line at Thunder Valley, Ohio. Yep those targets (upper right) are 1000 yards away. Now you know why Matt has a 40-power scope.

.243 Win Ackley Improved AI varmint rifle

.243 Win Ackley Improved AI varmint rifle

The Yellow Ackley weighs just under 17 pounds to meet IBS and NBRSA “Light Gun” weight limits. While Matt says his bullets don’t “go to sleep” for a couple hundred yards, this gun can still shoot 1/4″ groups at 100 yards and hold that accuracy much, much farther. Matt reports, “my best-ever group was five shots in .397″ at 400 yards. Yep, I got lucky with the conditions, but this is a very accurate rifle.”

.243 Ackley Improved–More Velocity, Less Case Stretch

by Bob Blaine, Sinclair International

Parker Ackley reluctantly developed the .243 Ackley Improved (“AI”). Ackley finally gave in to his customers’ requests to develop the .243 AI. He had always felt that the .243 Winchester was already an improved configuration, but he did say that the best thing to be gained by improving the .243 Winchester was to substantially reduce the case-stretching problems. The .243 Winchester parent case has always stretched brass, almost as bad as the Swift. Even though you get more velocity with the improved .243, I’ve also found that the improved version gives a bit more throat life than the parent case does.

The .243 AI delivers more velocity by virtue of enhanced case capacity–roughly five grains more H20 capacity than a standard .243 Winchester. The .243 AI has a water capacity of approximately 57 to 58 grains, compared to 52-53 grains for the standard .243 Winchester.

Loading for Long-Range
For long-range shooting, Matt loads 106gr Clinch Rivers with 47.5gr of Alliant Reloder 25 for his Krieger barrels, a little more powder with the Lilja 3-grooves. The Lilja load runs 3342 fps, with a 3.228″ OAL. Cases are neck-turned Lapua .243 Winchester. He uses Wilson inline seater and Wilson eck-sizer dies (.267″ bushing), and a custom, reamer-cut FL sizing die.

Not Just for BR, This Gun Can Hunt
While Matt has a big stable of varmint rifles, the Yellow Ackley has seen plenty of duty in the ‘Hog fields. Matt is from a farming family and he can shoot practically right out his back door (see top photo at the farm). He has nailed some big ground-hogs at 800 yards and beyond. The .243 AI does kick a bit compared to other varmint cartridges, but even with 105-106gr bullets, it’s not bad. He has considered adding a muzzle brake at some point to one of the barrels, just so he can see impacts better.

Screamin’ Yellow Dasher?

Matt originally thought of building the gun up as a 6BR or a 6BR Improved. He has a Manson reamer similar to a 6mm Dasher, with a 40-degree shoulder and .008″ body taper. He actually chambered a couple barrels with that 6BR Improved reamer, but he hasn’t shot them yet. He was so pleased with how the gun performed in .243 AI, that he saw no reason to change. And it may be a while before he slaps a Dasher-chambered barrel on the rig: “I really like the way it shoots as a .243 AI. I’m so impressed with it that I don’t want to mess with anything. And I don’t think I’ll be running out of Ackley barrels anytime soon.”

Millender’s .243 Ackley Improved Page

matt .243 Ackley Improved yellow rifle

.243 Win Dies and Reloading Gear

Since the .243 Win is such a popular cartridge, all the major die-makers offer reloading dies. It’s hard to go wrong with a Redding Type ‘S’ Full-length bushing die–item 77114 for the standard .243 Win and item 77420 for .243 AI. Whidden Gunworks also makes great .243 Win sizing dies (and custom .243 Win AI dies on request). These will both resize the case (and bump the shoulder) as necessary, and allow you to adjust neck tension with bushings. Alternatively, you can go with a body die, and a separate neck bushing die.

If you load primarily one brand of bullets, another slick set-up is to buy a Forster or Whidden full-length, non-bushing .243 Win sizing die, and then have Forster or Whidden hone the neck for your desired amount of tension. This elegant one-pass sizing solution produces very straight rounds with low run-out.

For bullet seating, both the Redding Competition Seater (item 55114) and the Forster Ultra-Seater (item U00034) work great for the standard .243 Win case. If you shoot a .243 Ackley, Redding’s .243 AI Comp Seater (item 55420) costs quite a bit more than the standard version Forster doesn’t list a .243 AI seater in their catalog. However, you can just run your chambering reamer into the inner sleeve of either seating die to fit the .243 Ackley Improved case.

If you want the “Cadillac” of production seater dies for the .243 Win, order the Wilson Stainless Micrometer seater (item 50-1114S) from Sinclair International. Costing only a few dollars more than a Redding Comp seater, this die is a joy to use, providing very positive control over bullet seating depth. When used with a quality arbor press, the Wilson offers unrivaled “feel” for bullet-seating force. This can help you monitor neck tension, one of the most critical factors in maintaining low ES and SD for long-range accuracy.

Permalink - Articles, Competition, Gear Review, Hunting/Varminting No Comments »
September 20th, 2022

Varminters’ Debate — Cranking Elevation or Holding Over/Under

IOR Scope elevation knob one revolution

Leuopold Varmint Hunters' ReticleA varmint shooter’s target is not conveniently placed at a fixed, known distance as it is for a benchrester. The varminter must repeatedly make corrections for bullet drop as he moves from closer targets to more distant targets and back again. Click HERE to read an interesting Varmint Forum discussion regarding the best method to adjust for elevation. Some shooters advocate using the scope’s elevation adjustments. Other varminters prefer to hold-over, perhaps with the assistance of vertical markers on their reticles. Still others combine both methods–holding off to a given yardage, then cranking elevation after that.

Majority View — Click Your Scope
“I zero at 100 yards — I mean really zero as in check the ballistics at 200 and 300 and adjust zero accordingly — and then set the scope zero. For each of my groundhog guns I have a click chart taped into the inside of the lid of the ammo box. Then use the knobs. That’s why they’re there. With a good scope they’re a whole lot more accurate than hold-over, with or without hash marks. This all assumes you have a good range finder and use it properly. If not, and you’re holding over you’re really just spraying and praying. Try twisting them knobs and you’ll most likely find that a 500- or 600- or 700-yard groundhog is a whole lot easier than some people think.” — Gunamonth

Varmint hunter 22 BR elevation scope hold-over

“I have my elevation knob calibrated in 100-yard increments out to 550. Range-find the critter, move elevation knob up…dead critter. The problem with hold-over is that it is so imprecise. It’s not repeatable because you are holding over for elevation and for wind also. Every time you change targets 50 yards, it seems as if you are starting over. As soon as I got completely away from the hold over method (I used to zero for 200), my hit ratios went way up.” — K. Candler

“When I first started p-dog shooting, I attempted to use the hold-over method with a 200-yard zero with my 6mm Rem. Any dog much past 325-350 yards was fairly safe. I started using a comeups table for all three of my p-dog rifles (.223 Rems and 6mm Rem). 450-yard hits with the .223s are fairly routine and a 650-yard dog better beware of the 6mm nowadays. An added benefit (one I didn’t think of beforehand) with the comeups table (elevation only), is that when the wind is blowing, it takes half of the variables out of the equation. I can concentrate on wind, and not have to worry about elevation. It makes things much more simple.” — Mike (Linefinder).

“I dial for elevation and hold for wind. Also use a mil-dot reticle to make the windage holds easier. For windage corrections, I watch for the bullet strike measure the distance it was “off” with the mil-dot reticle, then hold that much more the other way. Very fast once you get used to it.” — PepeLP

Varmint Hunting ScopeMinority View — Hold-Over is Better
“I try to not touch my knobs once I’m zeroed at 200 meters. Most of my varmint scopes have duplex reticles and I use the bottom post to put me on at 300 meters versus turning knobs. The reason I try to leave my knobs alone is that I have gone one complete revolution up or down [too far] many times and have missed the varmint. This has happened more than once and that is why I try not to change my knobs if at all possible.” — Chino69

“I have been using the hold over method and it works for me most of the time but the 450 yards and over shots get kinda hard. I moved to a 300 yard zero this year and it’s working well. I do want to get into the click-up method though; it seems to be more fool-proof.” — 500YardHog

Compromise View — Use Both Methods
“I use both [methods] as well — hold over out to 250, and click up past that.” — Jack (Wolf)

“I use the target knobs and crank-in elevation. I also use a rangefinder and know how far away they are before I crank in the clicks. I have a scope with drop dots from Premier Recticle and like it. No cranking [knobs] out to 600.” –Vmthtr

Permalink Hunting/Varminting, Optics, Shooting Skills 1 Comment »
August 13th, 2022

Saturday at the Movies: Varmint Rifle Video Showcase

tactical hyve training pistol rifle video sights trigger milrad reticle ar15 self defense

Varminting for Fun — With Rimfires and Centerfires

One of the most fun things you can do with a rifle is to shoot varmints such as ground squirrels, prairie dogs, rockchucks, and groundhogs. There’s great satisfaction making a perfect hit on a critter that sends the beastie spinning in the air. Varminting also affords a great excuse to acquire more rifles, because it really does make sense to own and use multiple varmint rifles in various calibers.

Having multiple rifles on a varmint safari lets you preserve barrel life, and shoot lesser-recoiling calibers at the shorter distances. For example, with California ground squirrels, we like a .17 HMR inside 125 yards, then switch to a 20 Practical (20-223 Rem). For prairie dogs, you may want that 20 Practical, plus a nice .22 BR for 250-400 yards, and a .243 Ackley (or 6XC or 6mm CM) for long shots.

Seven Varmint Rifles — Rimfire and Centerfire
With 525,000 subscribers, the Backfire YouTube Channel is highly popular. The capable hosts provide honest, candid reviews. This video covers seven different varmint rigs. First off is the Air Arms TX 200 (00:25). Then the excellent .22 LR CZ 457 is featured (01:33), followed by a .223 Rem AR15-platform rifle (02:30). Next up is the .22 LR Christensen Arms Ranger 22 (03:40), which proved to be “crazy accurate”. Then the video showcases a Bergara Premier in 22-250 (04:20), an “excellent coyote gun that you could use on varmints as well”. Last up is the Ruger American Predator (05:20) in .17 HMR.

Five Varmint and Predator Rifles Reviewed
This video covers three major manufacturer centerfire varmint rifles: Remington Model 700 PCR (01:39), Winchester Model 70 Varmint Rifle (03:36), and Henry Long Ranger in .223 (08:02). The video also covers the Ruger American Rimfire Target rifle (07:04), and the interesting Stoeger RX20TAC Varmint Air Rifle (05:31). Airguns can be effective at close ranges on small varmints such as squirrels. But for an effective kill, we recommend at least a .17 Mach 2 (HM2) beyond 50 yards.

Three Varmint Rifles Reviewed — Savage .17 HMR, Ruger .22 Magnum, Howa .243 Winchester
This video covers two rimfires and a nice .243 Win centerfire. First up is a Ruger 77/22 in .22 WMR (Winchester Magnum Rimfire). This cartridge has a lot more punch than a standard .22 LR round. Next up is the very nice Savage A17 Thumbhole in .17 HMR. This semi-auto rifle offers nice ergonomics, good feed reliability, and very good accuracy at 100 yards (check out that 3-shot target at 100 yards). Last but not least, the video features the nice Howa 1500 Ranchland with Hogue stock, in this case chambered for the .243 Winchester. These Howas have a smooth-cycling action and nice HACT 2-stage trigger.


Ruger howa savage varmint rifles

.17 WSM — The Most Powerful .17 Cal Rimfire
We think that every varmint hunter should own a nice .17 Cal rimfire rig. Out to 200 yards or so the .17 WSM or .17 HMR is very effective on small varmints. It’s nice to be able to shoot affordable ammo out of the box and not have to scrounge for hart-to-find powder and primers. This video features a superb .17 Cal varmint rig, the Primal Rights TS Custom chambered for the impressive .17 WSM cartridge.


.17 17 WSM HMR Winchester short magnum rimfire rifle test

Long Range Rockchuck Adventure with Gunwerks Crew
This Gunwerks video showcases varmint hunting in the Western USA. In this video Aaron Davidson and the Gunwerks crew try out some new rifles on some rockchucks. Most of the the rifles were suppressed but the host said the rockchucks took cover after the first shot, so this required good coordination among shooters and spotters. A 6XC varminter is featured at 2:44 and there’s some nice drone footage starting at 2:00.

.22-250 Nails Ground Squirrels and Rock Hyraxes in South Africa
Here’s an interesting video from South Africa. The video maker starts with shots on ground squirrels. His .22-250 blasts them into little pieces. They he switches to more distant targets, a furry ground-hog size animal called the Rock Hyrax, Cape Hyrax, or Dassie. Mature Rock Hyraxes weigh 4-5 kilograms and have short ears and tail. These Rock Hyraxes are found at higher elevations in habitats with rock crevices, allowing them to escape from predators (but not skilled varmint hunters).


south africa rock hyrax dassie 22-250 kill hunt

Permalink - Videos, Bullets, Brass, Ammo, Gear Review, Hunting/Varminting No Comments »
July 28th, 2022

Varmint Hunting Smarts — Keep the Wind at Your Back

Varmint Hunting varmint safari wind war wagon trailer longmeadow game resort
This impressive war wagon hauls varmint hunters around the Longmeadow Game Resort in Colorado.

When you’re on a varmint expedition in the Western states you can bet, sooner or later, you’ll encounter serious winds. Here’s some advice on how to minimize the effects of cross-winds on your shooting, and easily improve your percentage of hits. In essence, you want to use your ability to change shooting positions and angles to put the wind behind you.

A benchrest or High Power shooter must operate from a designated shooting position. He must stay put and deal with the wind as it moves across the course, from whatever direction it blows.

Put the Wind at Your Back
By contrast, a varmint hunter can move around and choose the spot that provides the most favorable wind direction. In most cases you’ll get the best results by moving your shooting position so the wind is at your back. This will minimize horizontal wind drift. Once you’re in position, use wind flags to direct your fire in line with the prevailing winds. A varminter who calls himself “Catshooter” explains:

The String of Death
I remember the first time I was on a dog town in the Conata Basin, in the Badlands area of southwestern South Dakota. Along with two other guys, I drove out for 21 days of shooting, and I never saw wind like that before. If all four tires of our vehicle were on the ground, the weather man said these were “mild wind conditions”.

After the first four or five days, we got smart. We would park the truck on the up-wind side of the town so the wind was at our back. Then we took a piece of string on a 3-foot stick, and set it in front of the shooters, and let the string point at the mounds that we were going to shoot.

For the rest of the trip, we didn’t have to deal with wind drift at all. We just shot the dogs that the string pointed to. We started calling our simple wind pointer the “String of Death”.

We were hitting dogs at distances that I would not repeat here (with benchrest grade rifles). After the first time out, I always took a wind rig like that.

Benefits of Swivel Benches
In a large varmint field, you’ll want to orient your shooting position to put the wind at your back if possible. If you have a rotating bench such as this, you can further adjust your shooting orientation to work with the wind, not against it. You may also want to position simple flags (posts with colored tape) downrange to alert you to wind changes you may not notice from your shooting positions. If you can’t get a “wind at back” orientation, the next best set-up is with the wind coming straight at you — that also minimizes the wind drift on your shots.

Photos by Chris Long, taken during Chris’s Wyoming Varmint Hunt with Trophy Ridge Outfitters.

Permalink Bullets, Brass, Ammo, Hunting/Varminting, Shooting Skills No Comments »
June 7th, 2022

Factory Centerfire Varmint Ammunition Available Online

17 Fireball varmint rifle

Headed out for a varmint trip this summer, but don’t have the time (or the right tools) to load all your own ammo? Well don’t worry, we’ve found online ammunition vendors that carry a big selection of popular varmint cartridge types, from .17 caliber up to the popular 6mm varmint cartridges. OutdoorLimited.com offers a wide selection of rifle ammo types, including some hard-to-find types such as 22 Nosler and .221 Fireball. In addition, MidwayUSA has good small-caliber ammo available, including .204 Ruger, .223 Rem, and 22-250. MidwayUSA is a good place to start.

Shown below are some of the small-caliber varmint ammo types currently in stock at OutdoorLimited.com. NOTE: If you order any of this factory-loaded ammunition, you can save $10 on an order of $250 or more with CODE “10off250″.

17 Fireball varmint rifle

17 Fireball ammunition varmint rifle

Large Caliber Ammunition Available Also
Outdoor Limited has a big selection of larger-caliber ammunition for hunting rifles as well. You’ll find popular ammo types such as .270 Win and .308 Win, as well as big calibers such as the .338 Lapua Magnum. However, the ammo page is somewhat frustrating, as it shows some ammo varieties that are NOT in stock. You must click the photo for each ammo type to see if it is available.

Permalink Bullets, Brass, Ammo, Hunting/Varminting No Comments »
May 15th, 2022

Sunday Gunday: 20 PPC Pistol — Great for Varmint Adventures

varmint 20 ppc rampro pistol John Seibel
varmint 20 ppc rampro pistol John Seibel

This week’s featured firearm belongs to John “SnakeEye” Seibel, founder of the VarmintsForFun website. In recent years, John has become a “true believer” in the little 20-Caliber cartridges. He says this light-recoiling 20 PPC, Rampro-actioned pistol is perfect for a quick shot on a critter, taken from the front seat of his truck. John tells us: “A long-range pistol is an ideal truck gun in my opinion. It stows in a small area and doesn’t take up the room a rifle does. Just keep ear protection near by at all times! I’ve taken varmints as far as 400+ yards with this 20 PPC pistol, so why would you need a rifle?”

Perspectives on Pistols for the Varmint Hunter

by John Seibel
I decided to try my hand at shooting varmints with a pistol one day when I grew tired of wrestling a rifle around in the truck for a quick shot. Many times when traveling around on the farm you’ll spy a groundhog or fox that usually isn’t more than 200 yards away. A single-shot pistol like the Thompson Contender could fit the bill. With its compact length, around 20 inches, a long-barrel pistol can lay on the truck’s passenger seat for easy access. I usually keep my two leather brick-style sandbags laying beside the console and seat. I have a box made from hard rubber that I lay across the top of the door. I then lay the two bags on top. This makes a nice platform to rest the pistol’s forearm. I like to use a forearm that is at least two inches wide. That lets the gun lay steady—almost like you are shooting from a bench rest. For the shooting hand, I prefer a pistol grip with finger grooves and a slight overhang or flare for the web of your hand.

As for optics, I tried long-eye-relief pistol scopes but they lacked the magnification you need for long-range target shooting or varminting. Those pistol scopes have really long eye-relief because they are designed to work with the pistol held at arm’s length. When shooting at the bench or from a truck that’s not what you want. By the time you find the target and get your eye in the exact location, the varmint has moved on or died of old age! After much fiddling around with pistol-type scopes, I finally decided to use rifle scopes on my long-range pistols. The minimum I use is a 4.5-14×40. Eye relief on a Leupold 4.5-14x40mm is about 3.5 inches at 4.5 power. Field of view is better with rifle scopes too and it’s easier to acquire your target. For this type of shooting a light-recoiling caliber is essential or you will have scope-eye bad! I currently have three long-range pistols and use them to shoot 17M4, 20 PPC, 22 BR, and .223 Rem. The featured gun may be the most accurate of my pistols, and your editor thinks it’s the most handsome of the three.

varmint 20 ppc rampro pistol John Seibel

The Rampro Pistol Project — Working with John Illum
A couple of years ago I called John Illum of Rampro about building the ultimate long-range pistol. It just so happens that John was a big time long-range pistol shooter. I told him that I wanted a gun that didn’t recoil badly and wouldn’t torque when fired. As I am a quadriplegic, with no grip in my hands, the gun had to handle well under recoil so I didn’t drop it. Recoil had to be straight back–no twisting.

Well Illum listened to me and came up with a gun that performs just the way I wanted. Illum suggested a rear grip stock of his own design. It has a 2.25″ wide forearm and a rear grip with a slight palm swell that fits your hand perfectly. Another nice feature is the finger grips. It has an extended overhang or “beavertail” that fits comfortably in the web of your hand. Of course it had to be walnut! I chose Rampro’s STP small action with a PPC bolt. His bolt uses a Sako-type extractor. The action is a single-shot. Being right-handed, I chose a right bolt, left port configuration. This works really well in a pistol. You can load with your left hand and see the round laying in the action–that’s what you want in a pistol without a safety.

Gun Specifications
John Illum’s Rampro actions are chrome-moly steel. Commonly you’d see them blued, but I had him put a brushed nickel finish on the action and rings. From a few feet away it looks like stainless. The trigger is Illum’s own design set at 8 ounces, and there’s no creep that I can detect. The action has Remington barrel threads and will accept Remington type triggers. One neat thing is that the action was milled with an integral recoil lug (much like the current Surgeon Action). And the bolt is milled all in one piece–no soldered-on handles. My only gripe with this bolt handle is that it could be a tad longer, but it still is manageable for a single-shot. You’ll also note how slick and streamlined the scope rings are. Illum made those as well. His rings mount to the action via two screws from the inside of the ring, a very elegant set-up for sure. (I currently have a 6.5-20x40mm Nikon scope on this gun. If I had to do this project over again the only thing I would change would be installing a 30mm scope because I like ‘em!).

The barrel is a PacNor Super-Match heavy taper with flutes milled by John Illum, who did all the gunsmithing on this pistol. Twist rate is 1 in 12 inches, with an 11° crown, polished to a mirror finish. The barrel was bead-blasted on the exterior to cut glare. I had Illum cut a 20 PPC minimum-spec chamber, with a .237″ neck. That way I don’t have to turn necks on the Lapua Brass (220 Russian necked down to .204). This is a varmint gun–there’s no need for turned necks. [Editor’s Note: Rampro is no longer in business. However, John tells us “I haven’t had any problems with the action so far. If I did, most competent gunsmiths could fix them easily.”]

Handgun Handling Tips
If you want to shoot a long-range pistol but have never have shot this kind of gun before, try to find a mentor — someone with a gun like this who can school you a bit in the correct technique. The first thing you notice is that you have no comb or cheek piece to help align your head and neck. And getting used to the optics takes some practice. Most people fit a pistol-type (long eye-relief) scope, but these can be awkward to use, and somewhat frustrating at first — the field of view is very restricted. Move your head very slightly and you can lose the sight picture completely. You can solve that problem by using a standard rifle scope, but that will put your head very close to the eye-piece — just three to four inches. With that arrangement, if you don’t hold the gun correctly … POW instant scope-eye!

Now once you get the hang of shooting a long-range pistol you will find it can be just as accurate as a rifle. But there is a trick to shooting them. Shooting a long-range pistol is a whole new world — you need to hold it just right. If you don’t let the gun roll back a little (i.e. if you grip too hard) you will get vertical stringing. I hold my hand against the back of the grip to guide the gun but let it almost free recoil. Looking at how compact the pistol is, you might think “Hey, this would make an ideal ‘walking-around’ varminter.” Well, that’s not really the case. For real precision shooting a solid benchrest type set-up is a must. You can attach a bipod to a long-range pistol, but you would need a flat surface. A fence-post top would work pretty well without a bipod if you carry a small light bag. Overall though, this type of pistol works best as a sandbag gun. For a walking-around gun, you’d be happier with a rifle I think.

Load Development and Accuracy
When I built this gun, Hornady had just released the 32gr V-Max (see footnote), a good match for my barrel’s 1:12″ twist. I choose the 20 PPC because of the very good Lapua brass (220 Russian parent case). I figured teaming Lapua brass with the little .204 bullet would offer excellent accuracy combined with very low recoil. My expectations were fulfilled. The brass proved to be excellent and the PacNor loved the little V-Max pills.

I tried quite a few different loads and most powders that I tried worked very well. These included: H322, Benchmark, AA 2460, and Reloader 7. Amazingly, with just 14″ of barrel, all of these powders delivered impressive velocities–ranging from 3914 to 4074 fps. I settled on 48 Harrell’s clicks of Accurate Arms (AA) 2460, which drives the 32gr V-Maxs to 3995 fps.

With AA 2460 the gun will shoot in the low 3s at 100 yards consistently — as long as I steer the gun right, which takes some practice. I think groups in the low 0.3″ range is excellent for a non-benchrest factory bullet. Despite having no buttstock to grab, recoil on my 20 PPC pistol is very minimal — it just rocks back into your hand. The main problem is to keep the scope from smacking you, since I used a rifle scope with short eye-relief. Muzzle flash and noise are tolerable but DO NOT shoot one of these without good ear protection. Your ears are very close to the muzzle.

I also have a 20 PPC rifle built on a BAT action with a Richard’s #008 laminated stock cut down in size. That gun’s 1:9″-twist Lilja barrel lets me shoot the Berger 50gr LTB bullets. In the wind, these perform quite a bit better than the 32s. My two favorite loads for the 50 grainers are: a) 26.0gr VV N135, CCI 450 primers, 3615 fps; and b) 27.3gr Hodgdon Varget, CCI 450s, 3595 fps. The BAT 20 PPC also shoots really well with the 40gr V-Max, pushed by N135 and Fed 205M primers.

Pistol Action Legal Issues
One important thing to remember if you build a pistol is to make sure the receiver came from the factory as a pistol and was titled as a pistol. Rifle actions are illegal to use as a pistol. Yes, that’s a nonsensical law, but it’s still on the books. You can use factory pistol actions such as the XP 100.

If you want a new custom action such as a BAT (my favorite), you can order it as a pistol action and when you get it, register it as a pistol. Note, in some states there may be additional fees, waiting periods, or restrictions for pistol actions (as opposed to rifle actions). Check your local laws before ordering the action.

Future Trends in Varmint Hunting — Plenty of Twenties

I think these sub-caliber rounds, both 20s and the 17s, are the future of recreational varminting, at least out to medium distances. The Twenties offer low recoil, excellent accuracy, and components keep getting better and better. The bullet-makers are finally making high-quality bullets in appropriate weights. Compared to something like a 22-250, I’ve noticed that my 20 PPC rifle has a lot less noise, a plus when you want to be quiet around other people and varmints.

The flat trajectory is another big advantage in the field. With the 20 PPC, zeroed at 100 yards, I can pretty much hold dead center and get hits out to 300 yards or so without touching the scope to add elevation. [Editor: The same is true with the 20 Practical cartridge, basically a .223 Rem necked down to .20 Caliber. It has proven very accurate and easy to tune.]

The 20-Caliber cartridges we have now, in particular the 20 PPC and 20 BR, are very well-refined. You don’t have to do a lot of tuning or tinkering to have a very accurate, effective varmint-slayer. In fact, if I could dream up a signature “20 VFF” (Varmints For Fun) cartridge it would basically be the 20 PPC. In truth, nearly any of the popular 17- or 20-Caliber cartridges will perform well if you start with top-quality brass. The sub-calibers have less recoil and burn less powder, and there are very good components for most varmint and target-shooting applications. To me it seems that these small calibers work so well because of good components, low recoil, and efficient cartridge designs (particularly in the VarTarg and PPC cases).

varmint 20 ppc rampro pistol John Seibel

WARNING: For your own safety, ALWAYS reduce all starting charges by 10% and work up carefully! Ambient temperature changes, powder lot variations, and differences in barrel friction can result in significantly increased pressures.

20 PPC LOAD MAP
Bullet GR Maker Powder Charge Primer Case Velocity
fps
Barrel
Twist
Comments
32 Hornady
V-Max
H322 27.6 Rem 7½ Lapua 4000 Lilja 1:12 WarrenB Form Load
32 Hornady
V-Max
AA 2460 29.5 Rem 7½ Lapua 3995 PacNor 1:12 SnakeEye
Pistol Load
32 Hornady
V-Max
H4198 25.1 CCI BR4 Lapua 4222 PacNor 1:12 A. Boyechko Load
39 Sierra
BlitzKing
H322 26.0 Rem 7½ Lapua 3700 Lilja 1:12 WarrenB Load
39 Sierra
BlitzKing
VV N540 28.8 CCI BR4 SAKO 4064 PacNor 1:12 D.Moore, Low 2s
40 Hornady
V-Max
VV N135 27.8 Fed 205m Lapua 3950 Lilja 1:9 SnakeEye Load
50 Berger
LTB
VV N135 26.0 CCI 450 Lapua 3615 Lilja 1:9 SnakeEye Load
50 Berger
LTB
Varget 27.3 CCI 450 Lapua 3595 Lilja 1:9 SnakeEye Load

Footnote: When first manufactured, the small Hornady 20-Caliber V-Max bullet was actually 33 grains, not 32 grains as sold currently. I still have some of the 33-grainers. I’ve observed no functional difference between the 33s and the current 32-grainers.

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April 24th, 2022

Sunday GunDay: 6PPC Falling Block Ultra-Lightweight 97D

eben arthur brown model 97D falling block single shot 6 PPC rifle

While a 16.5-pound benchrest gun is wonderfully stable on the bench, it’s not what you want in a field rifle. There is much to be said for a slim, light-weight, and easy-handling firearm when it comes to a walking varmint adventure. Eben Brown, who runs E. Arthur Brown Company, has created just such a rifle — the Model 97D Falling Block. When chambered for the 6PPC cartridge it delivered quarter-MOA accuracy in a splendidly portable package that tips the scales at just over six pounds without scope. The Model 97D is fairly unique in its lightweight and compact format — that makes it a great field-carry varmint rig. [Editor’s Note: This is an older article and we use some more recent photos of other model 97D Rifles to better illustrate the design and layout.]

eben arthur brown model 97D falling block single shot 6 PPC rifle
Catalog photo of EABCO Model 97D Falling Block rifle.

Excellent Accuracy Made Easy for Sport Shooters

by Eben Brown, E. Arthur Brown Company
You don’t have to be a benchrest competitor to enjoy shooting one of the most accurate centerfire cartridges in the world, the 6mm PPC. With no complicated brass forming or finicky reloading processes, you can be shooting near half-inch groups right from the start and hone your skills to near quarter-inch groups by your second outing–at least that’s how it worked for me, and I’m NOT a good bench rest shooter! Developed by Louis Palmisano and Ferris Pindell, the 6PPC has won more bench rest accuracy competitions than any other cartridge. Easily made from Lapua .220 Russian brass, the 6mm PPC has a small primer and uniquely small flash hole that is credited for much of its inherent accuracy. The “short, fat” shape and nearly straight body contribute to efficient, consistent powder burning and stable chamber performance (it grips the chamber well during ignition).

Eabco model 97D 6ppcThe Brown Model 97D — A Slim, Accurate 6-Pound Rifle
The 97D was developed from the EABCO “BF” falling block silhouette pistols that have won world championships and set 500-meter distance records. In operation, the 97D falling block slides perpendicularly and closes the breech with absolutely zero camming leverage. This makes it a perfect test-bed to measure the chamber performance needed for hand-loading most other single-shot rifles accurately. At the reloading bench, I worked up a load with the now fully shaped 6mm PPC brass. I full-length sized the brass, trimmed, and primed each case the same as I would with any other cartridge, and began loading. With the resultant load, I easily shot a 5-shot 1/4″ group, a personal best for me. See target photo at right.

Making 6mm PPC Cartridges
Full-length size, prime, charge with powder, and seat a bullet… sounds like what you do with any other cartridge, doesn’t it? In fact, the only difference with 6mm PPC is that it has to be fired once (fire-formed) to expand to its final shape and size. But even fire-forming shots produce exceptional accuracy. I shot several 3/4″ groups while fire-forming at 100 yards, with my best group at nearly half-inch–so the time spent fire-forming was wonderful! In the photo, the parent .220 Russian case is on the left, while the fire-formed 6PPC case is on the right.

The EABCO 6mm PPC Chamber
– 6PPC without Neck-turning!

We dimensioned our 6mm PPC chamber reamer to cut a chamber that fits Lapua 220 Russian brass closely without neck-turning. Naturally we recommend you use the Lapua brass for best results.

[Editor’s Note: We asked Eben if he had tried a 6BR chambering in a model 97D. He explained that, because of the extractor design, the falling block action works better with a smaller rim diameter: “The larger .308 rim width creates some issues. This design works best with cartridges no wider than the 30/30 case, or the 7.62×39 case, from which the 22 Russian case was derived. Cases with .308-sized rims develop more bolt thrust and work best with a different type of extractor than we use in the 97D. I love the 6BR, but I recommend the 6PPC for our 97D.”]

6mm PPC Reloading Data for Model 97D

The following loads were worked up in a Model 97D Rifle with 24″ barrel chambered for 6mm PPC with the chamber neck reamed to .275″ to fit Lapua brass without neck-turning. Lapua 220 Russian brass was full-length sized and fire-formed to 6mm PPC using 65gr V-Max bullets, CCI BR4 primers, and 24.5gr of VV N135 powder. Eben cautions: Load at Your Own Risk — Always start 10% low and work up

eben brown 97D Rifle 6ppcThe following optimum loads were worked up with Vihtavuori N135, 58gr and 65gr V-Max bullets, and CCI BR4 primers. Please Note: There really is no “standard” for 6mm PPC. It can be finicky. But once you find what works best for you, the cartridge performs superbly. The accuracy will astound you.

Model 97D Specifications

OAL (with 24″ Barrel): 38″

Approx. Weight without Scope: 6-6.5 lbs.

Barrel: 17-26″ Chromoly or Stainless

Stock: Walnut w/Hardwood Grip Cap

Trigger: Tuned 16-24 ounces

This video shows the Loading Technique for Model 97D Rifle

Powder Selection — Choosing the Right Propellant
I’ve found that my maximum single-shot loads reach the same level of performance as bolt gun loads when I use one level slower burning powder type and proper chamber preparation. For example, when the VihtaVuori loading guide shows a maximum with VV N133, my best single shot load ends up being with the slower burning VV N135. Here’s the simplest way to proceed: Use a starting load from the loading guide and increase the powder charge until you detect some resistance to block movement with your thumb. Next, charge a case with that same amount of powder, tap it to settle, and look to see if the case is full to the base of the neck. If it’s not full, step up to the next slower-rated powder and repeat the load development process. There’s a powder burn rate chart for all brands of powder in the front of the current VihtaVuori Loading Guide. When you have the maximum load that will fill the case and still allow the 97D single-shot to open and eject freely after firing, you’re ready to shoot some groups!

Loading for Best Chamber Performance
In the model 97D rifle you can check chamber performance easily. After firing a shot, see if you can press the block downward with only your thumb on the top of the block. If it moves freely, you’ve got good chamber performance.

I use three pressure indicators when developing loads on the Model 97D. First I check the block with my thumb. Then I check to see if the cartridge sticks at all when ejecting. And finally, I check the primer for the excessive flattening that would indicate too much pressure. Generally, the hottest load that still allows the gun to open and eject freely ends up being my most accurate shooting load.

Chamber Preparation
Best chamber performance happens when a cartridge grips the chamber and does not drive backward significantly. When you want something to grip (rather than slip), you want to make sure there is no lubricant on the gripping surfaces. Case forming lube and gun oil are the two lubricants you want to remove. Clean your 6mm PPC cases after sizing (I wipe mine with a paper towel and Windex). Clean your chamber with a chamber sized jag and patch wetted with acetone. (Note: protect your chamber with a thin coat of Clenzoil when you’re not out shooting.)

Conclusions of a Single-Shot Sport Shooter
I love the 6mm PPC! It was easy to hand-load for the cartridge and it was easy to get excellent results. The group shot on this page was with the 65gr bullet and a rifling twist of 1:10. I usually recommend a 1:12 twist and the 58gr bullet because customers have reported superb accuracy (better groups than I can shoot). But the 5-shot ¼” group I shot with this set-up is my personal best ever–so naturally I’m thrilled!

While it’s hard to beat the 6PPC’s accuracy in a Model 97D rifle, my company currently offers the rifle in a variety of chamberings including 17 Hornet, 219 Donaldson Wasp, and 6mm BRM. The 97D Standard features a blued 24″ chrome-moly barrel, French Gray receiver, anodized buttstock transition, 2-ring scope mount and swivel studs.– Eben Brown

About the production Model 97D Rifles: “The 97D is a small frame single shot rifle that’s suitable for big game as well as small game and varmint hunting. It originally evolved from our World Champion long range silhouette pistol action and incorporates the same accurate gun making processes. The 97D action itself is inherently accurate and simple. Onto this we fit an EABCO Accuracy Barrel, precision turned and threaded between centers. Each chamber is individually reamed on-center and individually head spaced. We feel the crown is so critical to accuracy that we leave it until after the gun is finished. Our 11 degree target crowns are cut last and left bright — our trademark finishing touch.”

Rifle report text and photos Copyright © Eben Brown All Rights Reserved. All other content Copyright © AccurateShooter.com, All Rights Reserved.

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June 27th, 2021

Sunday GunDay: Tennessee Triple — Voldoc’s Varmint Rifles

Varmint rifles 20 BR Stiller Diamondback 6mm Dasher

Shooting Prairie Dogs at extreme long range takes some highly specialized equipment. Forum Member VolDoc and his friends have taken long-range varminting to a whole new level. With his Savage-based, Hart-barreled 20 BR, VolDoc managed a verified 1,032-yard Prairie Dog kill, possibly the longest recorded with a .20-Caliber rifle. But that’s just part of VolDoc’s impressive precision varminting arsenal. Here we showcase three of VolDoc’s accurate rigs: his stunning English Walnut Diamondback 6BR/Dasher, his Nesika-actioned “Orange Crush” Dasher, and the 1K Prairie Dog-slaying 20 BR Savage.

Diamondback Switch-Barrel Rifle Specifications
The action is a Stiller Diamondback, drop-port. The custom stock is similar to a Shehane ST-1000, but crafted from 40-year-old English Walnut. [Editor’s note: the wood on this gun is gorgeous!] There are three barrels for the gun with three different chamberings: 6BR Brux 1:8″-twist HV; 6BRX Krieger 1:8″-twist HV, and 6mm Dasher Krieger 1:8.5″ twist fluted straight contour (no taper). The scope is a Nightforce 12-42x56mm, with 2DD reticle.

Stiller Diamondback 6mm Dasher English Walnut

Comments: This rifle is a good study in comparison of the three different chamberings. On the same rifle platform (same stock and action), each of these barrels had killed prairie dogs over 1,000 yards. So if someone asks which is best, a 6BR, or 6BRX, or 6 Dasher, VolDoc says they are all effective. The improved cartridges will deliver higher velocities, which can be an advantage. On the other hand it is simpler to load 6mmBR brass right out of the box, and it’s easy to find an accurate load for the 6mmBR (see photo).

Stiller Diamondback 6mm Dasher English Walnut

Nesika 6mmBR/Dasher Rifle Specifications
VolDoc’s “Big Orange Crush” rifle has a stainless Nesika ‘J’ action, with 2 oz. Jewell trigger, in a painted fiberglass Shehane ST-1000 stock. Originally a 6BR, the gun is now chambered as a 6mm Dasher with a .271 no-turn neck. The barrel is a 1:12″-twist Krieger fited with Vais muzzle brake. On top is a NightForce NXS 12-42x56mm scope with double-dot reticle. The double-dot gives precise aiming and lower dot can be used as an aming point, when you need a few more MOA of elevation in the field.

Nesika 6BR 6mm Dasher

Comments: Big Orange Crush shoots 87gr V-Maxs into bugholes at 3,400 fps. VolDoc’s load with the 87s is very stout, more than 32 grains of Vihtavuori N-135 with Wolf SRM primers. Cases are full-length sized, with an 0.266″ bushing for the necks.

Nesicka 6BR 6mm Dasher
This 3400 fps load with the 87gr V-Maxs has accounted for hundreds of Prairie Dogs killed from 97 yards to 1,050 yards. The 87gr V-Max at this speed literally picks Prairie Dogs up and throws them 10 feet vertically and laterally. VolDoc reports: “The barrel now has more than 3,000 rounds down the tube and exhibits little throat fire-cracking and no loss of accuracy. I can’t explain why, it just hasn’t deteriorated yet. This rifle is my best-ever ‘go-to’ Prairie Dog rifle.”

Savage 20 BR Rifle Specifications
The action is a Savage Dual Port, with an aftermarket Sharp Shooter Supply (SSS) 4 oz. Evolution trigger. The stock is a modified Savage factory unit that has been pillar-bedded. The factory barrel was replaced with a 28″ Hart stainless, 1:9″ twist barrel fitted with a Rayhill muzzle brake. The gun is chambered in 20 BR with a 0.235″ no-turn neck. Kevin Rayhill did the smithing. To provide enough elevation to shoot at 1,000 yards plus, Ray fitted a +20 MOA Bench Source scope base. This +20 rail is very well-crafted, and made especially for the Savage Model 12.

Savage 20BR

Comments: VolDoc reports: “When I got the Savage back from Kevin Rayhill, it still had my 6 BR factory barrel on it, as I use it to compete in Factory-class regional matches. I put on the new 20 BR Hart barrel Kevin had chambered and quickly put in a full day of load development using the 55gr Bergers (0.381 G1 BC) and the 40gr V-Maxs. Both proved very easy to tune and I soon had my loads. My 55gr Berger load with runs about 3590 fps. Varget was very accurate with the 55s (see load dev. targets below).

Savage 20BR load development targets

The mild recoil of the 20 BR, along with a very good muzzle break (Rayhill’s design) enables me to spot every hit or miss myself. Kevin also re-contoured the underside of the Savage stock so it tracks straight back on recoil, also making seeing hits easier.”

The 20 Caliber 1000-Yard Prairie Dog Quest

Savage 20BRMaking the 1032-Yard Shot with a 20 BR
by Dr. John S. (aka “VolDoc”)
This article covers my recent successful quest for a 20-caliber varmint kill past 1,000 yards. This may be a first — I couldn’t find anyone else with a confirmed 20-Cal Prairie Dog kill at 1000+. I started a thread on the Varmint section of the AccurateShooter.com Forum about building a 20 BR capable of 1,000-yard Minute of Prairie Dog accuracy and many said 20 Cal bullets just could not do it. Some came to my defense and said those that doubted had never studied the ballistics of the 20BR with the new Berger 55gr bullets now available. Well, folks, I can tell you, hitting a Prairie Dog at 1000 yards isn’t easy — but it IS possible. Here’s how it was done….

Gale-Force Winds and High Temps
After arriving at our Prairie Dog Ranch in Colorado, I soon realized my quest was going to be especially difficult because we had continual 40+ mph winds and 100° heat every day. We had a special place where Birdog and I had made many 1,000-yard+ kills in years past, so I knew the ideal location but needed a small window of opportunity either early morning or late afternoon. Based on past experience, I knew I needed about 21 MOA from my 100-yard zero to get to 1,000 yards. On the first day of the Safari, I shot the 20 BR in the 45 mph brutal winds and heat of 97°. But after about 20 shots, I connected on a dog and lifted him about three feet high. Well, that’s a start.

Savage 20BR

Winds Subside — Here’s Our Chance …
On the second day of our shoot, I had listened to the early weather forecast, so I knew that there was to be a brief period of light winds early in the morning. We were out on the Colorado prairie at daylight and the conditions were perfect. The sunrise was at my back and we had about a 10 mph tailwind. I looked through my Leica Geovid Rangefinder Binos and the Prairie Dogs were out for breakfast. I quickly ranged the targets and found a group at about 1,050 yards. The technique is to find the dogs, range them, click-up according to your ballistic chart and shoot.

Savage 20BR

My first shot was very, very close. I added about four clicks up and a couple of clicks left for windage and let another go. That shot threw dirt all over, but the dog didn’t even flinch. This is another good point to remember about long-range Prairie Dog hunting. To be successful, the dogs can’t be too skittish, because if they have been shot at even a few times, they will go down and stay down. So, you should have an agreement with those in your party as to where each member is going to be shooting and respect this boundary. Drive-by shooting style is OK if that’s your thing, it’s just not mine.

Savage 20BRHitting the Mark — Dead Dog at 1032 Yards
On the fourth shot, I saw the dog go belly up and kick its final throws. My quest for the 20-Caliber 1,000-yard Prairie Dog had become a reality. We confirmed the distance with our lasers at 1,032 yards. Our technique for retrieving a dead dog at that range is worth mentioning. When I killed that dog, I left it in the crosshairs of my Nightforce scope. My shooting buddy kept looking through the scope (of my gun) and guided me to the deceased dog using Motorola walkie-talkies. When I got to the dog I was jubilant. I marked it with my tripod and orange jacket, and we took some pictures. (See view through scope photo below). The 55gr Bergers require a center mass hit as they will not expand, especially at that range. I centered this dog in the head — his BAD LUCK, my GOOD.

After making the 1,032-yard kill, I shot many many other Prairie Dogs with the Savage 20 BR using the 40gr V-Maxs. The dog flights were spectacular — red mist and helicopters, counter-clockwise or clockwise on demand. I killed at least five at over 500 yards. I will not use the 55 Bergers on Prairie Dogs again since the quest is over. I will use the 40gr V-Maxs and 39gr Sierra BlitzKings for next trip’s 20 BR fodder.

Savage 20BR

CLICK HERE for More Info on Voldoc’s 20 BR Savage Varmint rifle »

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April 18th, 2021

Sunday Gunday: 20 Practical 4200+ FPS Varmint Slayer

.20 20 practical varmint cartridge .204 Tikka lilja Warren

Do you have .20-Cal fever? Do you yearn to see what a 4200+ fps projectile can do to an unsuspecting prairie dog? Well you could go out and purchase a 204 Ruger rifle, fork over the money for a new, complete die set, and hope that the brass is in stock. Warren B (aka “Fireball”) has a more cost-effective solution. If you have .223 Rem dies and brass, all you need to shoot the 20 Practical is a new barrel and a .230″ bushing to neck down your .223 cases. Warren’s wildcat is simple, easy, and economical. And the 20 Practical matches the performance of the highly-publicized 20 Tactical with less money invested and no need to buy forming dies or fire-form cases. Warren’s cartridge was aptly named. Practical it is.

20 Practical Tikka Bolt Action for Varminting

by Warren B (aka “Fireball”) and Kevin Weaver

After building my 20 PPC, I wanted to do another .20 caliber, this time a repeater for predator hunting that could also serve as a gopher/prairie dog rifle. I wanted to use a Tikka M595 stainless sporter I had. This rifle is the ultimate repeater with an extremely smooth-feeding cycle from its single-column magazine. Since the Tikka was a .223 Remington from the factory, I first looked at possible case designs that would fit the magazine. The 204 Ruger was a very new round at the time and brass was scarce. I also didn’t care for the overly long case design or the standard throat dimensions of the cartridge. I then looked at the 20 Tactical. It was a nice cartridge but I didn’t like the fact that (at the time) an ordinary two-die Tac 20 set with just a plain full-length die and standard seater were $150. Not only did the costs bother me, but I was accustomed to using a Redding die set featuring a body die, a Type-S bushing neck die, and a Competition seater. To be honest, I also didn’t care for the 20 Tactical’s name–there is absolutely nothing tactical about the cartridge. I didn’t want to adopt a new cartridge based on what I perceived to be a marketing gimmick (that “tactical” title).


Warren B, aka “Fireball”, with his Tikka 595. With its smooth action and phenolic single-column mag, it cycles perfectly in rapid fire.

.20 20 practical varmint cartridge .204 Tikka lilja WarrenSimply Neck Down .223 Rem to Make a 20-223 Wildcat
I decided the best thing to do for my purposes was to simply neck down the .223 Rem case and make a 20-223. I already had the dies, the brass, and a rifle that would feed it perfectly. I decided to call the cartridge the 20 Practical because as you will see in this article, it truly is a very practical cartridge. In addition to the generous and inexpensive availability of brass and dies, the 20 Practical is an easy case to create, requiring no fire forming as a final step. Simply neck your .223 Rem cases down, load and shoot.

[Editor’s Note: Over the years, other shooters have experimented with .223 Remington cases necked down to .20 caliber, some with longer necks, some with different shoulder angles. Warren doesn’t claim to be the first fellow to fit a .20-caliber bullet in the .223 case. He gives credit to others who did pioneering work years ago. But he has come up with a modern 20-223 wildcat that involves no special case-forming, and minimal investment in dies and tooling. He commissioned the original PTG 20 Practical reamer design, and he and Kevin did the field testing to demonstrate the performance of this particular version.]

I chose Kevin Weaver at Weaver Rifles to fit and chamber the barrel to my rifle. Kevin does excellent work and is great to work with. Kevin liked the idea of the 20 Practical so much he agreed to purchase the project reamer. (BTW Kevin didn’t even need to purchase a Go/No-Go gauge, he just used an existing .223 Rem gauge.)

Before Kevin ordered the reamer, I talked over the reamer specs with him. My priorities were tolerances on the tight end of the .223 Rem SAAMI specification, a semi-fitted neck with no need for neck-turning, and a short throat so that we could have plenty of the 32gr V-Max in the case and still touch the lands. I also wanted this short throat in case [anyone] wanted to chamber an AR-15 for the 20 Practical. A loaded 20 Practical round will easily touch the lands on an AR-15 while fitting into the magazine with no problem. With its standard 23-degree shoulder, the 20 Practical case also feeds flawlessly through an AR-15.

As for the barrel, I only use Liljas on my rifles. I have had great luck with them. They have always shot well and they clean up the easiest of any barrels that I have tried. I had previously sent my Tikka barreled action to Dan Lilja so that he could program a custom contour into his equipment and turn out a barrel that would perfectly fit the factory M595 sporter stock. There isn’t much material on an M595 sporter stock so the contour had to match perfectly and it did. Dan Lilja now has this custom contour available to anyone who would like to rebarrel their M595 sporter with one of his barrels.

There Are Plenty of Good .204-Caliber Varmint Bullet Options
20 Practical .204 Ruger .20 caliber bullets

How to Form 20 Practical Cases — Simple and Easy
Forming 20 Practical cases is very easy. No fire-forming is required. Start with any quality .223 Rem brass. Then simply run the case into your bushing die with the appropriate bushing and call it done.

Project Componentry
My 20 Practical rifle started out as a Tikka Model 595 Stainless Sporter in .223 Remington. Though the M595 is no longer imported, if you shop around you can find M595 Sporters for bargain prices. Mine cost under $500. I think the action alone is worth that! The receiver has a milled dovetail for scope rings plus a side bolt release like expensive BR actions. The bolt cycles very smoothly. Ammo is handled with super-reliable 3- or 5-round detachable single-column magazines (FYI, Tikka’s M595 22-250 mags will feed a 6BR case flawlessly.) We kept the standard Tikka trigger but fitted it with a light-weight spring. Now the trigger pull is a crisp 1.8 pounds–about as good as it gets in a factory rifle. We replaced the factory tube with a custom, 24″, 3-groove Lilja 12-twist barrel. Dan Lilja created a special M595 sporter contour to allow a perfect “drop-in” fit with the factory stock. For optics, I’ve fitted a Leupold 4.5-14x40mm zoom in low Talley light-weight aluminum mounts. All up, including optics and sling, my 20 Practical weighs just under 8.5 pounds.

Test Report–How’s It Shoot?
I sent the barrel and barreled action to Kevin and in a very short time it was returned. Kevin did a perfect job on the rifle. I had asked him to try to match the bead blasted finish of the Tikka when he finished the new barrel. It came out perfect and the only way one can tell it is a custom is the extra two inches of length and the “20 Practical” cartridge designation.

So, no doubt you’re asking “how does she shoot?” Is my “prototype”, first-ever 20 Practical an accurate rig? In a word, yes. Even with the standard factory stock, and light contour barrel, it can shoot 3/8″ groups. Take a look at the typical target from this rifle. This is from an 8.5-pound sporter with a very skinny fore-end and a factory trigger.

Gunsmith’s Report from Kevin Weaver
The 20 Practical: Origins and Development

Editor’s NOTE: We can’t say for sure who first necked down the .223 Rem to .20 caliber and chambered a rifle for that wildcat (as opposed to the .20 Tactical). But here is an account from way back in 2006 when the Warren B first came up with the idea of a .20 Practical cartridge, complete with reamer specs.

A year ago I received a call from Warren with a great idea. Warren asked “Why couldn’t we simply neck down the .223 Remington case to 20 caliber and get basically the same performance as the 20 Tactical? This way you can forgo the expensive forming dies that are needed for the 20 Tactical.” The idea made perfect sense to me, and I saw no major technical issues, so we got started on the project. I ordered a reamer from Dave Kiff at Pacific Tool & Gauge (PTG) with a .233″ neck. The .233″ neck should allow for a simple necking-down of the 223 Remington case to produce the 20 Practical in just one step. No fire-forming necessary! Furthermore, the PTG 20 Practical reamer Dave created should work with any available .223 Rem brass, commercial or military.

The first 20 Practical round was launched down range (through Warren’s Tikka) just a few months later. The brass formed as easily as expected. All one needs is a Redding type “S” bushing die with a .230 bushing and with just one step I had a .20 caliber case ready to shoot. Warren is brilliant. [Editor’s Note: We concur. For more details on Warren’s case-forming methods and his tips for adapting .223 Rem dies, read the technical sections further down the page.]

It would be almost six months later until I got around to building a dedicated test rifle chambered for the 20 Practical. I used a Remington 722 action, Remington synthetic semi-varmint stock, and a 24″ Douglas stainless steel XX 12-twist barrel. I formed and loaded about 30 cases using Remington brass in about 20 minutes. I used a .223 Rem seating die to seat the 20 Practical bullets. The .223 seating stem seated the small 20-Cal bullets just fine. The first loads sent the 40gr Hornady V-Max bullets down range at a modest 3500 FPS. I did not shoot for groups. I just wanted to use this load to sight in the rifle and break in the barrel. Load development was painless–I used reduced .223 Rem loads for 40gr bullets and worked up from there. In the table below are some of my preferred loads as well as Warren’s favorite recipes for his 20 Practical.

Bullet Wt. Powder Charge Wt. Velocity FPS Comments
32GR H4198 24.1 4025 Warren’s lighter gopher load
32GR AA2460 27.8 4154 Warren’s coyote/prairie dog load
32GR N133 26.0 4183 Coyote/PD load, clean burn
33GR H4198 26.0 4322 Hot Load. Use with Caution!
33GR N133 27.0 4255 Kevin: 0.388” 5 shot group
40GR H335 25.0 3583 Kevin’s barrel break-in load
40GR H4198 24.0 3907 Hodgdon “Extreme” Powder
40GR IMR4895 26.0 3883 Kevin: 0.288″ 5-shot group
40GR N133 25.0 3959 Kevin: 0.227″ 5-shot group
Warren’s Load Notes: My pet loads are all with IMI cases, 32gr Hornady V-Maxs, and Fed 205 primers (not match). These are the most accurate loads in my rifle so far. I haven’t even bothered with the 40s as I have the 20 PPC and 20 BR for those heavier bullets. I prefer the lighter bullets in the 20 Practical because I wanted to keep speed up and recoil down in this sporter-weight predator rifle. Also, the 32gr V-Max is exceptionally accurate and explosive. I like N133 the best as it burns so clean. IMI cases are tough and well-made.
Kevin’s Load Notes: I used Remington 223 cases, Hornady V-Max bullets, and Remington 6 1/2 primers to develop the above loads. CAUTION: all loads, both Warren’s and mine, should be reduced 20% when starting load development in your rifle. All load data should be used with caution. Always start with reduced loads first and make sure they are safe in each of your guns before proceeding to the high test loads listed. Since Weaver Rifles has no control over your choice of components, guns, or actual loadings, neither Weaver Rifles nor the various firearms and components manufacturers assume any responsibility for the use of this data.

Comparing the 20 Practical and 20 Tactical
Kevin tells us: “The 20 Practical and the 20 Tactical are almost identical cartridges. There are only slight differences in case Outside Diameter, shoulder angle, and case body length. The neck length on the 20 Tactical is a bit longer, but there is still plenty of neck on the 20 Practical to grip the popular bullets, such as the 32gr V-Max. Here are some specs:

Cartridge Bolt face to shoulder Shoulder O.D. Shoulder Angle Total length
20 Tactical 1.5232″ .360 30° 1.755″
20 Practical 1.5778″ .3553 23° 1.760″

Both the 20 Tactical and the 20 Practical are fine .20 caliber cartridges. At present, the 20 Tactical is the more popular of the two because it has had more publicity. However, my favorite would be the 20 Practical. Warren’s 20 Practical gives the SAME performance as the 20 Tactical without fire-forming, or having to buy expensive forming dies. So with the 20 Practical you do less work, you shell out a lot less money, yet you give up nothing in performance. What’s not to like? To create 20 Practical cases, just buy a .223 Rem Redding Type “S” Bushing Die set with a .230 or .228 bushing and have fun with this great little cartridge.”

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June 23rd, 2018

Lastest Load Data for .224 Valkyrie from Sierra

224 .224 Valkyrie Sierra Bullets load data reloading .223 Remington F-TR High Power cartridge Federal

Shorter, Fatter, Faster, Flatter. The new .224 Valkyrie is the hot new cartridge for the AR15 platform. With a shorter, fatter cartridge based on the 6.8 SPC case, the .224 Valkyrie delivers high muzzle velocities for a flatter trajectory at long range. With the latest high-BC projectiles, the .224 Valkyrie can stay supersonic to 1300 yards and beyond.

Sierra Bullets recently provided new load data and twist info for the .224 Valkyrie: “Sierra recommends a 1:6.5″-twist barrel for the #9290 22 cal 90 gr HPBT bullet. However, for cartridges like the Valkyrie, that can push them over 2650 fps muzzle velocity, a 1:7″-twist barrel will stabilize the bullet correctly.”

Shown below is Sierra’s load data for bullet weights from 77 grains to 90 grains. Values in green indicate MAXIMUM loads — use CAUTION. NOTE: This is only a partial sample, less than a third of the data Sierra has published. Download Sierra’s Full 4-page PDF to view all the data, including load information for Sierra’s new 95gr .224-caliber MatchKing with claimed 0.600 G1 BC.


Sierra Bullets Load Data for .224 Valkyrie (Partial Sample) »

224 .224 Valkyrie Sierra Bullets load data reloading .223 Remington F-TR High Power cartridge Federal

224 .224 Valkyrie Sierra Bullets load data reloading .223 Remington F-TR High Power cartridge Federal

224 .224 Valkyrie barrel cut-down test velocity 90gr Sierra MatchKing Fusion SP TMK

About the .224 Valkyrie Cartridge
Basically a 6.8 SPC necked down to .22, the Valkyrie has a shorter case than the .223 Remington (and 5.56×45 NATO). This allows you to load the longest, heaviest .224-caliber bullets and still feed reliably from an AR15-type magazine. With Sierra’s remarkable new 95-grain MatchKing, this gives the little Valkyrie long-range performance that can rival some much larger cartridge types. Sierra Bullets states: “The [Valkyrie] case length is shorter than the 223 Remington affording the use of heavier match-grade bullets with very long ogives and high ballistic coefficients. This offers … super-sonic velocities at ranges greater than the .223 Remington and the 6.5 Grendel can achieve at magazine length”.

Permalink Bullets, Brass, Ammo, Reloading 6 Comments »
September 8th, 2017

Hunt Report: Squirrel-Busting with Varminter.com’s 17 Hornet

Felding Ground Squirrel Varminter.com 25gr HP Hornady 17 Hornet varmint cartridge ammo ammunition

When considering .17-caliber Varminting, most guys think rimfire — shooting the 17 HMR or the newer 17 WSM. But there is a good, affordable centerfire option — the 17 Hornet — with quality factory ammunition available. Hornady produces factory 17 Hornet Ammo with three bullet options: 15.5gr NTX, 20gr V-Max, and the new 25gr HP Varmint. Our friends at Varminter.com recently conducted a test of Hornady’s new 25gr HP “Custom” ammunition, reasonably affordable at around $29/box of 50 rounds. Varminter.com tested the ammo in a CZ 527 rifle chambered for the 17 Hornet on a ground squirrel hunt in Northern Nevada.

» READ FULL 17 Hornet TEST & HUNT REPORT on Varminter.com

Hornady 17 Hornet 25 Grain HP CUSTOM™ Ammo (#83006) Specifications:

25 grain HP Varmint bullet
3375 fps rated (Varminter.com averaged 3383 fps in CZ Model 527 with 24″ barrel)
632 FPE (Foot Pounds of Energy)
0.187 G1 Ballistic Coefficient

Hornady 17 Hornet varmint cartridge ammo ammunition

Ammo Testing and Hunt Report

By Varminter.com’s Editor
With the new 25gr Hornady 17 Hornet ammo, our accuracy results ranged from 0.528″ to 0.85″, with an average of 0.678″ over ten, 5-shot groups at 100 yards. After shooting the groups, we settled on a 200-yard zero, which put the rifle at 1.1″ high @ 100 yards and 5.3″ low @300 yards.

“I went 14 shots in a row without a miss, and that was from 80 yards out to 220 yards. On these small varmints here, the 25-grain HP does a good job [and] the ammunition is accurate.”

Ground Squirrel Gauntlet in Northern Nevada
It was a few months after the initial range work when I was able to really put this ammo to work on some varmints. The grass here in Southern Idaho had grown quite tall, so we decided to head over to a spot on a private ranch down in Northern Nevada. We were promised some good shooting, but until we actually sit down at the bench and start pulling the trigger, we try not to get our hopes up. Needless to say, we were not disappointed in the amount of varmints and shooting we experienced!

Felding Ground Squirrel Varminter.com 25gr HP Hornady 17 Hornet varmint cartridge ammo ammunition

The set-up was simple. I set-up with my bench pointed down a private dirt road on the edge of a large alfalfa field. I was going to be shooting something I call “The Gauntlet”. What this means, is that the majority of the ground squirrels were making their home outside of the alfalfa fields. This is a perfect spot for ground squirrels, because they are forced to cross an open area (the dirt road), in order to get to the lush, green, alfalfa. Within this gauntlet, the ground squirrels would consistently stop on the edge to make sure it was safe to run across to the alfalfa side. This gives you a few seconds [time window] to find the squirrel in your scope and make the shot. The range of shoots were from 80 yards out to 220 yards down the road. CLICK HERE to read full 17 Hornet Hunt Report.

Speed Kills — 3650 FPS with a 20-Grainer

Based on the 22 Hornet cartridge case, the 17 Hornet can drive a 20-grain V-MAX bullet at 3,650 fps. At this velocity, the 17 Hornet can match the trajectory of a 55-grain .223 Remington load, but with much less noise and recoil. Look at the chart below. You can see that the 17 Hornet’s trajectory (blue-gray line) is almost an identical match for the larger .223 Rem (red line) all the way out to 400 yards or so.

17 Hornet ballistics Varminter.com

Permalink - Videos, Hunting/Varminting 4 Comments »
September 3rd, 2017

Seibel’s Slick, 6-6.5×47 Varminter Delivers Speed and Accuracy

VarmintsForFun.com 6-6.5x47

A while back, John Seibel, creator of the Varmints for Fun website, put together a 6-6.5×47 Varminter with a Lilja 10-twist barrel and BAT RBRP three-lug action. Richard Franklin smithed the gun using a Model 10 Varminter stock, one of Richard’s own stock designs.

Varmintsforfun.com 6-6.5x47 LapuaVarmint Loads with 75gr and 87gr V-Maxs
Our Forum readers have asked for recommended 6-6.5×47 Lapua loads for the lighter bullets. Well, John has some useful load data that should provide excellent starting points for 75gr and 87gr projectiles. John writes: “The 75s and 87s will be my main groundpig/varmint rounds. I have worked up loads for all of them but I need to work on the 95s to fine tune them for the egg shoot. I used CCI 450 primers for all loads. They have shown to reduce ES greatly. This case has a small primer pocket and I reasoned with the slower burning powders I wanted to get my velocity as high as possible. I had plenty of H414 and N550 … so that’s what I tried. Velocities and case fullness seemed to be pretty dang good.”

John favored Vihtavuori N550 for the 75 V-Max, while H414 was his powder of choice for the 87gr V-Max. John found these two powders offered near 100% fill density. There are other good powder choices for these bullets. For pure accuracy, you may want to try the 80gr Berger Varmint bullet — it has shot superbly in our 6BRs.

Varmintsforfun.com 6-6.5x47 Lapua

Permalink Hunting/Varminting, Reloading 5 Comments »
July 26th, 2017

New Lake City .223 Rem Brass on Sale at Midsouth

Midsouth Lake City .223 Brass sale bulk
Great deal on NEW Lake City .223 Rem Brass at Midsouth Shooters Supply. This is new production, unfired brass in bulk packaging.

Need a large supply of .223 Rem brass for your next varmint safari or 3-Gun match? Midsouth has a great deal right now on bulk-pack, NEW (unfired) Lake City .223 Rem (5.56x45mm) cartridge brass. The 500-count bag works out to a mere 15.6 cents per case, a fourth what some premium .223 brass costs. That’s great value.

Midsouth Lake City .223 Brass sale bulk

.223 Rem Still Shines for Varmint and Target Work
Even with all the “new and improved” cartridges (such as the .204 Ruger and 22 Nosler, the plain jane .223 Remington remains an excellent varmint cartridge, and the mainstay of service rifle competition. Here’s an example of how well the .223 Rem can perform in a good factory gun. The Tikka T3 offers excellent performance in this chambering. Tikka guarantees 1 MOA (or better) at 100 meters.

Permalink Bullets, Brass, Ammo, Hot Deals No Comments »
June 10th, 2017

Dakota Dogs — Prairie Dog Hunt with Dan Eigen in South Dakota

South Dakota Varmint Hunting Safari

South Dakota Varmint Hunting SafariNever had a chance to hunt prairie dogs in the American west? Then check out this video. Dan Eigen (aka “Walleye Dan”), host of the We Love It Outdoors Television series, head to South Dakota for some varmint hunting. Dan teams up with Varmint Hunter Association President Jeff Rheborg to patrol some South Dakota Dogtowns where things get serious. In the video, you’ll see p-dog hits at distances from 70 yards to roughly 450 yards. The hunters were shooting from portable, wood-topped swivel rests, using AR-platform rifles on X-type sandbag rest. (Rifle zeroing session is shown at the 5:30+ mark.)

Multiple cameras were employed so you can see both the shooter’s POV and close-ups of the prairie dogs downrange. Watch the shooters having fun with a prairie dog cut-out and some Tannerite at the 9:00-minute mark. This guys are having a grand old time sending critters to Prairie Dog Heaven — we think you’ll enjoy the video.

Prairie Dog Hunting Starts at 2:00 Time-Mark in Video:

South Dakota Varmint Hunting Safari

South Dakota Varmint Hunting Safari

NOTE: This video actually covers three sequences: 1) Three-gun training; 2) Prairie Dog Hunting; and 3) Coyote Hunting. We’ve embedded the video so it plays back the Prairie Dog segment from 2:00 to 15:15. If you wish, you can slide the controls forward or back to watch the other segments.

Video found by EdLongrange. We welcome reader submissions.
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September 25th, 2016

Shilen Actions, Barreled Actions, and Complete Rifles

Shilen Actions Complete rifles barrel nut Savage Remage

Did you know that Shilen Rifles Inc. offers barreled actions and complete rifles? And that Shilen offers a Savage-style, barrel-nut system for its Rem-clone actions? After several years of development, Shilen now offers custom actions ($950.00), barreled custom actions with triggers ($1500.00), and complete rifles ($3200.00 and up).

Shilen Actions Complete rifles

The new Shilen custom actions are CNC-milled from high-grade stainless steel. Two types are offered — the multi-shot DGR (Repeater) or the single-shot DGV (Varminter) action. Both actions will be offered in most common bolt faces and both right-hand and left-hand actions are immediately available. The DGR and DGV actions have a 1.350″ diameter with 8-40 scope base mounting screw holes, and an 0.300″ pinned recoil lug. The spiral-fluted bolts feature a floating bolt head with an interchangeable bolt handle knob. These actions feature a footprint similar to the Remington Model 700. Both DGR and DGV actions will accept many aftermarket components crafted for Rem-700 style actions, including triggers and bottom metal.

Barreled Actions with Barrel-Nut System for Easy Barrel Exchanges
Along with the stand-alone DGR and DGV actions, Shilen is offering barreled action assemblies, chambered and ready to drop into Rem 700-inletted stocks. The actions are fitted with Shilen match-grade barrels and Shilen triggers. The barrels feature a 1-1/16″x20 barrel thread and are attached to the action by a barrel nut. This Savage-style barrel nut system simplifies headspacing, allowing easy swapping from one barrel to another. With the simple barrel-exchange procedure, you can shoot multiple chamberings with a single action/rifle. For example, shooters can change from a .223 Remington to a .204 Ruger or a .22-250 to a 6mm BR in a matter of minutes.

Complete Rifles with McMillan Stocks
With Shilen’s complete rifles, buyers can choose their chambering, and select barrel and stock configuration. Shooters can choose between a sporter weight wood stock or a variety of McMillan fiberglass stocks. With all complete rifles, the entire package is delivered in a quality gun case and Shilen even includes table mat, cleaning rod, bore guide, jag, bore brush, and cleaning patches. For more info, call (972) 875-5318 or email comments@shilen.com.

Shilen Actions Complete rifles

Permalink Gunsmithing, Hunting/Varminting 3 Comments »