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GUNS Magazine April 2012 Digital Edition - Page 22
STORY: John Barsness O nce in a while we run into rifles that require extra effort in reloading. A perfect example is the “between the wars” German combination gun my wife Eileen found at the gun show in Wisdom, Mont., a few years ago. If you’ve never heard of Wisdom, you’re not alone. It’s a tiny crossroads town in the big ranch country of the upper Big Hole River, but the gun shows attracts some real rifle enthusiasts, both sellers and searchers. We ventured there during a hot August, because Wisdom is one of the coolest towns in the state, both literally and figuratively, and found tables set up not just in several buildings but out in the streets. One table had several nice German guns, including the drillings I like. Eileen finds drillings a little too heavy, though she’s always liked the idea of owning a versatile hunting gun. The combo gun was nice and light, with a 16-gauge barrel over what the price tag said was a 9.3x72R rifle barrel. Very nice engraving of game scenes covered the receiver, and the buttstock had a cartridge trap for extra rifle rounds. I explained to her that the 9.3x72R was a mild-recoiling woods round, which sealed the deal. Eileen isn’t fond of hard-kicking guns, and loves to sit on a cottonwood riverbottom in autumn, waiting for wild turkeys and whitetails to wander by. The gun even came with a half-fired box of RWS ammo. Back home we ordered a set of RCBS dies and tracked down some Norma brass. The big problem was bullets. The 9.3x72R was originally a black-powder round, and the standard bullet is a cast .366" flatnose of about 200 grains. Some were finally purchased from Huntington’s, one of the great sources for hard-to-find components. First lesson: Don’t get rid of reloading dies—ever. extrA-eFFort reLoAdiNG “guild guns” since the assumption is the various parts were made by several shops in a gunmakers guild, rather than by one “name” shop. In one way the odd bore size of Eileen’s gun was a great help, since it solved the bullet problem. The cast .366" bullets could be used for practice in my several 9.3mm rifles, while any lighter-weight .35-caliber bullets could be used in Eileen’s gun. I had a pile of those on hand, ranging from .38/.357 handgun bullets to rifle bullets designed for the .35 Remington. The only major problem was that the expensive RCBS dies didn’t neck 9.3x72R brass down enough to hold .35-caliber bullets. solution The solution turned out to be pretty simple: We ran the necks of the 9.3x72R brass about 1/2" into my carbide .357 Magnum sizing die. Bingo! After some experimentation with bullets and powders, Eileen found the magic combination to be 43.0 grains of IMR4895 and the 180-grain Speer flatnose. This got about 1,900 fps and grouped into less than 2" at 100 yards, a light-recoiling load that knocks the snot out of deer out to 150 yards. Another problem with a Eurocartridge turned up a couple of years ago. After shooting out the .270 Winchester barrel on a customstocked FN Mauser, I asked Texas gunsmith Charlie Sisk to rebarrel the rifle to 6.5x55. Charlie tried to talk me out of it: “John, the 6.5x55 is a great round, but the ‘standard’ dimensions are all over the place. Why not just do a .270 again?” But I’d foolishly sold a very accurate Ruger 77 Mark II in 6.5x55 a couple years earlier, and insisted. Charlie finally caved. He used a minimum-dimension reamer from Dave Kiff and a mediumweight Lilja barrel. I had high hopes for the rifle’s accuracy when it showed up, and immediately went out to the loading room to whip up some loads. Unfortunately, about a third of my Winchester and Federal 6.5x55 brass wouldn’t fit in the chamber. The rear of the cases was sometimes slightly too large, even after screwing down the Redding full-length die until the The extra effort put into Eileen’s old German combination gun was well worth it. It’s contributed quite a bit to the family freezer. uh-oh When everything came together, I finally did something I should have done much earlier: measure the inside diameter of the rifle barrel. Older German guns can vary somewhat in bore size. It turned out that Eileen’s combo gun didn’t have a 9.3mm (.366") bore. Instead it was a dead-on .35 caliber, with a .350" bore and .358" grooves. This sort of thing also isn’t uncommon in older German guns— especially those without any markings as to the maker. These are often called 22 W W W. G U N S M A G A Z I N E . C O M • A P R I L 2 0 1 2