January 04, 2011
Sometimes a handloading project throws you some curve balls, even if you are an aerospace engineer.
When the editor suggests that I do a special handloading project for Shooting Times, who am I to argue? Even when it's a cartridge that I don't already handload for. How difficult can it be anyway? Just do what I always do when handloading, right? Formulate a list of needed materials, hunt up some starting load data, order in the correct supplies, and go for it. Such was the case with my latest assignment. But as I found out, things don't always go that smoothly. Sometimes you have to innovate.
Sometimes when you handload you have to innovate. Because .30-40 Krag brass is relatively hard to come by, the author accepted a batch of cases that had no flash holes. His neighbor drilled the flash holes in order to make them useable.
This project started out with an assignment to handload for the .30-40 Krag, which was not one of the 80+ cartridges for which I already loaded. An order placed with RCBS quickly remedied the equipment deficiency. But that wasn't the only deficit.
Because the .30-40 Krag lost its short-lived allure decades ago, Winchester and Remington only currently make one factory load each. In addition, ammo is produced only seasonally, and only Winchester offers brass as a component. I couldn't find any of these locally, and calling the usual PR reps was also a bust.
A dealer friend in Kansas graciously provided two boxes of Remington ammo, and a contact at Remington's Lonoke facility scrounged up a small batch of new brass. The only catch was the primer pockets had not been pierced to form the flash holes. Beggars can't be choosy, so when he offered to send me some anyway, I quickly responded, "I'll take 'em!"
A week later I was at the Spur Ranch near Encampment, Wyoming, shooting prairie dogs, ground squirrels, and rock chucks. I asked the ranch manager, David Sturm, if a local gunshop might have any Winchester-brand .30-40 Krag ammo. I soon discovered that in Wyoming "local" is a relative term. Sturm called Dave's Guns and Groceries in Rawlings — 50 miles away — and, after determining that they had some, I returned home with the sorely needed munitions.
While researching the .30-40 Krag cartridge's military history, I learned that from 1895 until the 1930s, several domestic rifles were chambered for the .30-40 Krag. Among them were the original Winchester 1885 single shot and Winchester 1895 lever action. But more modern sporting guns in the chambering are few and far between. Back in the 1970s, Ruger chambered a few of its single-shot No. 3 carbines (1973-1986) for this near-obsolete round. Luckily, Davidson's is currently offering limited-edition Model 1885s, as well as limited-edition Model 1895s, chambered for the round. This modern single shot is much stronger than the original military bolt-action Krag rifles, and judicious handloading can enhance the .30-40 Krag's ballistic performance.
Pulling Out The Stops
So I had the gun, a sparse amount of factory ammunition, reloading tools, and some unfired brass with no flash holes. But putting it all together was another thing entirely.
The short-barreled carbine was surprisingly accurate. The first five-shot group fired after zeroing with Remington 180-grain Core-Lokt factory loads measured 1.00 inch, with four of the shots touching.
Let me summarize reloading for the .30-40 Krag with one comment: It can be frustrating. I think that's because there's been very little recent interest in loading this cartridge. I reviewed loading manuals dating back to the 1940s and '50s to compare .30-40 Krag recipes with current editions. My Powley computer indicated that 40 grains of 4320 and 4064 for .30-caliber 220- and 165-grain bullets, respectively, would be safe working loads.
Of course, I always check the Powley predictions with the most recent manuals. And when I did so, most of them stated that the load data was developed in vintage Krag rifles with 30-inch barrels, but the recommended recipes were all over the map. I indirectly determined the average charge weight of the factory loads to be approximately 45 grains and concluded that both companies must have used a relatively slow-burn-rate, non-canistered propellant. I then fired half of my limited stash of factory ammo so that I'd have brass to reload.
I chose Speer's No. 14 manual as my referee data source and worked up to 41.0 grains of IMR-4064 with Hornady 165-grain SST bullets. On the other end of the bullet-weight range, I hoped to achieve 2,000 fps in the Trapper's short tube and initially — just to be cautious — stopped at 42.5 grains of H4831SC using Hornady's 220-grain RN. Because cartridge overall length (COL) in a single-shot rifle is only constrained by the throat dimensions, I seated the SST so the bullet ogive was 0.030 inch off the lands (3.200 inches). Hornady's recommended COL (3.080 inches) for the 220-grain handloads was almost right on the mark.
The .30-40 Krag cartridge was known by various names a century ago.
As you can see in the chart, the IMR-4064/165-grain-bullet load velocity exceeded the factory 180-grain bullet results but only slightly. And the suggested max H4831/220-grain load was significantly below my expectations for both velocity and accuracy. Deciding to get a bit more adventurous with the heavy bullet, I switched to a faster powder and bumped up the charge weight. Taking almost the opposite stance with the lighter bullet, I switched to H4831SC and increased the charge weight incrementally. Again, as the chart indicates, the final results of both experiments were very pleasing.
As soon as I had received the flash hole-less cases from Remington, I took them over to my next-door neighbor's shop. Using an RCBS inertia bullet puller mounted in an adjustable fixture to securely hold them, my friend Garlin used a 0.080-inch-diameter bit to drill cases until I had enough brass to handload a couple of boxes.
I worked up several more recipes without mishap, eventually firing nearly 200 rounds. The last group of jacketed-bullet loads measured 0.8 inch, and the single cast-bullet load — which used a gascheck and was sized in a Lee 0.309-inch swaging die — produced groups in the 2-inch range.Like I said at the beginning of this report, sometimes you just have to innovate when you're reloading.
NOTES: * These loads were safe in the new-production 1885 rifle, but they exceed current reloading manual data recommended for the 1892 Krag-Jorgensen bolt-action rifle. Do not use them in 1892 Krag-Jorgensen bolt-action rifles.
NOTES: Accuracy is the average of three, five-shot groups fired from a sandbag benchrest. Velocity is the average of 15 rounds measured 6 feet from the gun's muzzle using an Oehler M35P chronograph.
NOTES: 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 Shooting Times and InterMedia Outdoors has no control over your choice of components, guns, or actual loadings, neither Shooting Times/InterMedia Outdoors nor the various firearms and components manufacturers assume any responsibility for the use of this data.