Mixed Bag

Steve Reiter (2008)

Here are some scattered notes and comments from today.

I didn’t shoot very well in today’s 2700. All my scores were down at the low-end of where I’ve been shooting. The bad news is this was an Authorized match and the scores count so I’ll be in Outdoor Sharpshooter land for a while. The good news is that’s where I *should* be competing, that’s where I *need* to be working, and doing the things I did today (shooting, not quitting, re-focusing on basics) is what will *eventually* let me learn what I need to know to advance. Patience!

Clarence, to my immediately left, had a squib but caught it immediately. Other than the round stuck in the barrel, there was no damage to his 1911. (I think he was shooting the gun later in the match but I didn’t confirm that.) He shot well in spite of that incident (and whipped me by 100 points — way to go, Clarence!).

Steve Reiter, Senior US Champion many times over, was scoring my 45 targets. I let that get to me on the first two Slow Fire targets and butchered them both, scoring only in the low 70s with not one hole in the black on the second of the two. Ugh!

But then I re-focused all my attention back into my shot plan by meticulously following each step and, I’m pleased to say, resurrected myself on the first SF of the NMC with all shots in the black. TF and RF thereafter weren’t great but they were tolerable, mostly in the mid-90s.

I fired some carefully reloaded Aguilla brass in Slow Fire after making them specially for today and making doubly certain to fully seat all the primers. Even so, I had nine high primers in the 60 rounds in Slow Fire over CF and 45. For TF and RF, I switched to reloads in Starline using the same batch of primers but had no problems — no high primers. So, something is decidedly wrong with Aguilla brass.

But I still have mixed feelings about discarding it.

On the down side, the high primers cannot all be detected by vision or touch. I’ve had several shooters try and we all failed to spot several high primers. So the bottom line is if I shoot the Aguilla brass, some “thunks” will happen.

But on the plus side, if I restrict its use to Slow Fire only, shooting it is a great “ball and dummy” drill; and brother does it show me I have a problem when I think there’s a live round in the chamber.


Dry firing alone just isn’t solving my “jerk” problem so, for the time being at least, I think I will continue reloading and shooting the Aguilla “Surprise” ammo, but only in Slow Fire of course. And quite frankly if the high primers continue long enough for me to learn the lesson of how *not* to jerk, that would be fabulous.

So, looking forward, we shoot a “Camp Perry Warm-up” next Sunday starting at 7:30AM.

I’ll be the jerk with the high primers in Slow Fire … but not for too much longer if this works.

See you on the line.

Hot Stuff!

In the chronographing of various ammunitions and guns a few days ago I recorded the following five-shot string:

1 830.7
2 917.1
3 932.0
4 954.6
5 905.5

Notice anything interesting?

Well yes, the velocities are relatively low. The ammunition was RWS Subsonic and the gun was a Smith & Wesson Model 41 with the seven (7) inch barrel, but that’s not what caught my eye.

Let me add that, before the fifth and final shot, there was a delay of almost a minute. And it was relatively chilly that morning with temperature in the mid-50s, rainy at times, misty when not, and with a gusty wind that quickly drew away body heat.

What you may notice is what I did, that as the string progressed, the velocities went up and up. Then, on the last shot where I delayed before firing, the velocity dropped back down again.

I think these changes are due to the temperature of the ammunition, starting with a cold gun and chamber but with each successive shot warmed in the chamber from the heat left from the previous shot. And when I delayed before the last shot, the gun quickly cooled in the misty, breezy conditions to account for the reduced velocity of the last shot.

When shooting in competition, many have commented that their ammunition seems to be rather temperature sensitive. This comes to my mind when my Smith & Wesson 41 doesn’t cycle the next round properly. Be it a failure to extract, a stove pipe or the next round getting stuck halfway into the chamber, it seems that when the ammunition is cold these types of failures seem to be more common.

So on cold days I load the magazines for the next target and tuck them under my jacket and arm while scoring the previous target. That way, when I’m ready to shoot the next target, the ammo and magazine are nice and warm.

And I’ve often wondered, just how much difference is this making?

And from that, just how sensitive is my 41 to changes in velocity?

Since the above data suggested I was seeing this very effect that day, I devised a small experiment on the spot to try and quantify it.

Here’s the plan I created. It consists of two parts.

I would fire two groups of ten shots each, the first with a cold gun, ammunition and magazine for each shot, and the second where each was warm.

For the cold group, I would lay the pistol — the 41 — on the table along with the magazine and, spread out nearby, the ten rounds with lots of space inbetween. I would then wait a full minute to let everything cool.

I would then load one round into the magazine, ready the gun and fire, remove the magazine and lay them both back on the table. I would then note the velocity on the chrony’s display, look at the clock and finally wait sixty (60) seconds before repeating this “load and fire one shot” process.

Next, I would fire the warm group.

For the warm group, I would prepare and then hold a single magazine with ten (10) rounds along with another magazine with five (5) rounds under my arm for ten minutes (while shooting the cold string). The five round string would, hopefully, warm the gun for the following ten round string where I would record the “warm” velocities.

Following that plan, here are the “cold” and “warm” results I recorded:

Cold Warm
1 888.5 900.9
2 898.9 943.3
3 881.7 913.4
4 889.2 951.8
5 931.4 942.9
6 900.9 922.4
7 859.1 927.1
8 884.2 937.8
9 886.6 n.a.
10 n.a. n.a.
Minimum 859.1 900.9
Average 891.2 930.0
Maximum 931.4 951.8
Spread 72.3 50.9
Std.Dev. 19.3 17.2

(The “n.a.” values occurred in the middle of the strings when a particularly dark cloud blocked the sun and the chrony displayed “Err 2” meaning the second sensor had not recorded the passage of the bullet.)

Clearly, this shows that the warm ammunition in a warm magazine that is fired from a warmed chamber is not only faster by about 5%, but that is also is slightly more consistent in velocity (standard deviation of 17.2 versus the cold’s 19.3).

I am presuming, of course, that higher velocity means the recoil force will be larger and that, at least in my case, that difference accounts for the more reliable cycling with the warmer ammo.

Also “of course”, how this translates into accuracy on the target is a different matter. But in my quest to find ammunition and gun combinations that are both reliable and accurate, the former is a lot easier to determine.

And here we can see that temperature is significant.

Here, we can see a 5% change in muzzle velocity solely due to that one factor.

And in my quest for “reliable and accurate”, what this really does is widen, not narrow, my search.

Now that I know that ammunition that doesn’t have enough oomph to cycle the slide when cold may, if treated to some body heat, “warm” to the occasion, I also know that more brands of ammunition may work in my 41.

A little warmth and care can work wonders.

Hug a bullet today!

22 Ammo Chrono Tests

I chrono’d some 22 ammunition in two guns today. Specifically, I wanted to understand why one gun likes CCI Standard Velocity but jams on Federal Gold Medal Match 711B, and the second gun does the opposite.

Here are the raw results:

Velocity (ft/sec)
S&W 41 S&W 41 Ruger III Ruger III
CCI SV Fed 711B CCI SV Fed 711B
1 944.7 993.9 915.1 935.1
2 949.1 1001.0 858.3 927.1
3 970.4 1004.0 889.2 955.7
4 989.0 1018.0 911.2 904.0
5 949.2 1021.0 898.6 900.7
6 949.0 971.8 920.5 929.3
7 963.9 1017.0 921.5 904.7
8 965.9 1009.0 n.a. 975.5
9 947.1 1022.0 n.a. 966.0
10 n.a. 1044.0 n.a. 964.2
Min. 944.7 971.8 858.3 900.7
Avg. 958.7 1010.2 902.1 936.2
Max. 989.0 1044.0 921.5 975.5
Var. 44.3 72.2 63.2 74.8
S.D. 14.8 19.4 22.6 27.9

First, the Smith & Wesson Model 41 likes CCI Standard Velocity as many owners know. This is the ammunition recommended by Smith & Wesson. And as you can see from the above data, when the Federal Gold Medal Match 711B ammunition is fired through that gun, the muzzle velocity averages about 50 ft/sec faster (958.7 CCI SV versus 1010.2 for Federal 711B).

And conversely, my Ruger Mk III prefers the Federal ammunition but jams on the CCI. Again, comparing the muzzle velocities in that gun, the CCI is about 35 ft/sec slower (902.1 versus 936.2). Ruger suggests using standard to higher velocity ammunition in this gun and my observed reliability versus the muzzle velocities seem to bear this out.

Note the final “S.D.” (Standard Deviation) row. It is generally thought that a lower Standard Deviation will result in less variation from shot to shot in terms of reliability of function.

This data suggests that, in each gun, the CCI Standard Velocity ammunition has less variation in muzzle velocity from shot to shot. But in the Ruger, that lower variability is obviated by the lesser reliability.

Another interesting effect is barrel length. The S&W has a seven inch (7″) barrel whereas the Ruger’s is five and a half inches (5.5″) long. That extra inch and a half appears to impart an additional 50 ft/sec to the CCI bullet, and even more with the Federal, another 75 ft/sec. (Ammunition manufacturers measure muzzle velocities in a 21″ rifle barrel hence their even greater published velocities.)

But does that extra 5% muzzle velocity help? Does the bullet fly straighter? Is it deflected less by the wind? Does the spinning bullet maintain its stable flight longer because of it?

This data also suggests that the pressure curve of the CCI ammunition is possibly sharper and an increase in barrel length imparts less additional velocity than the possibly slower powder — producing a broader pressure curve, perhaps — of the Federal ammunition where a longer barrel is able to use that extended pressure buildup.

Imagining an even longer barrel, we might even surmise that the burn rate and pressure curve in a short barrel might result in muzzle velocities that are challenging to infer from manufacturer’s measured velocities from 21″ barrels. Longer barrels do result in high muzzle velocities, this is true, but the data gathered here suggests that the Federal would continue to lengthen its lead in velocity over the CCI. And that in turn suggests that if there is a magic “feet per inch” velocity for a given gun, then the only way to find it is to try brands of ammunition that suggest they might fall in the appropriate range.

Ultimately of course, the real question is which ammunition is both reliable and accurate in each respective gun.

I have reliable ammunition for each gun and, from the measured differences in muzzle velocity and the effect that has on recoil and, therefore, the strength of the recoil spring in each of these two guns, I think I understand what’s happening.

And it’s probably true that the S&W Model 41 would shoot with similar reliability with just about any brand of ammunition with similar characteristics to CCI Standard Velocity. And for the Ruger, the extra oomph in the Federal Gold Medal Match 711B sets the mark when shopping for ammunition for that gun.

That’ll have to wait for another day.


Oh, one additional note.

I also tested some of the paper boxed CCI Standard Velocity and, lo and behold, it resulted in significantly different muzzle velocities from the plastic boxed CCI Standard Velocity (whose results appear above). In a nutshell, the paper boxed ammunition was an average of 60 ft/sec faster than that in the plastic box, and was therefore even “hotter” in the S&W 41 than the Federal Gold Medal Match 711B.

Although not tested, this suggests that the paper boxed CCI Standard Velocity ammunition might be a viable candidate for testing in the Ruger which prefers these higher velocities whereas the S&W 41 prefers the plastic boxed ammo.

So the next time the grocery clerk asks if you prefer paper or plastic, the answer just might be, “Ruger or Smith?”