Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Long Range Project - Thoughts on Phase 2

I know the project hasn't been going on for very long but since starting I've learned a little something in regards to the gear.  I definitely have WAY more to learn in general. I'd say that I'm consistently (at least minimally) achieving the goals I had set for Phase 1. I still want to improve my skills and solve my issues (like solve my stringing issue). As a result I've been spending more time thinking about Phase 2.

A good example of the lessons I've learn might be that .308 Winchester in a light weight rifle isn't great for the kind of target shooting I am typically doing. Another might be related to patience; try having some. And that a heavy trigger really sucks. Applying what I'm learning to developing the next rifle will help make sure I build it to exactly, or close to, what I'm looking for in that rifle. From there, the process should repeat itself into the next build. Another example could be as I've shot the Ruger American Rimfire, I'm looking for any issues related the way the gun is set in the rests I use. For example, I've moved the front bag rest from mid-front part of the rifle stock rearward. Instead of the bag being just forward of the receiver I'm trying it where the bag is just in front of the magazine release so the rifles mounting points are totally resting on the bag. My thinking is to help keep any pressure off of the fore-end of the stock and away from the barrel. I don't know if there needs to be any pressure but this should help keep it off. Adding a folded scarf to lift the rifle up has helped with my seating position but the best option would be to replace the stock. Having one custom made will help the most.

Having the right stock seems to be one of the options/solutions that keeps coming up. Issues with weight (too much or too little) appears to be very important when it comes to application and enjoyment of the use of whatever firearm. A light weight rifle (less than 7 lbs.) chambered in .308 Winchester makes for a rifle that is fine for carrying around but the recoil is pretty gnarly. The recoil isn't so bad that shooting said rifle completely sucks to be behind but it's just enough that extended shooting sessions are unpleasant. By adding additional weight to the stock you can absorb some of the recoil without having to make changes to the barrel or receiver (such as adding a muzzle break to the barrel). Yes a good pad will also help but you can add that to the new stock for additional performance and comfort.

Of course, it's possible to add too much weight to a rifle for it's application. Said light weight rifle may not be so pleasant to shoot often like a target rifle but the gun is easier to carry when walking to a preferred hunting location. The felt recoil may be more than desirable but you only have to deal with it on the few shot(s) you take when bagging your game. Its a trade off. Since I seem to be more sensitive to a rifle's recoil, I think the best option for me when I go to build the long range rifle will be to have a heavier rifle to suck up that excess recoil. I'm thinking around 10 to 15 lbs. If I need to reduce the felt recoil any further then I'll see about adding a muzzle break.

All that said, I think, however, I may end up building a different Phase 2 rifle. Originally, I had intended to build a general purpose rifle that would be 90% target rifle and 10% deer hunting rifle. After an experience at the range I'm beginning to lean more toward something in .223 Remington and for-going the hunting asspect. A friend of mine purchased a Savage 10/110 Trophy Hunter XP for use as a target rifle. I had a chance to try it out while at the range. The rifle was a good shooter even using cheap ammo (PMC) at 200 yards. It had a great trigger (the Accu-Trigger) and a nice stock. The recoil was pretty negligible. Based on this experience I'm now leaning toward building a rifle in .223 Remington as a 100% target rifle. Originally, I had intended to build something in .308 Winchester for it's wide range of abilities, availability and to teach myself recoil management for larger cartridges. I will still build a rifle for these reasons but it will end up being an additional Phase 2 rifle. The low recoil of .223 Remington really has me sold.

So, to introduce the new Phase 2 rifle build; Phase 2b.

The new Phase 2 rifle will be purely for use as a mid range (100 to 400 yards) target rifle with low recoil. It COULD be used for hunting small game like ground hogs/other varmints but that would be rare. This may end up being the centerfire rifle that I'll spend the most time with at the range (other than my .22). While it will be chambered in some .223 based cartridge, I haven't decided on whether I want .223 Remington or .223 Wylde or just have a 5.56 NATO spec chamber. I also need to figure out what action I want to use; bolt action or semi-auto. I will choose the chambering based on the action I go with.

If I go with bolt action, I think a Savage will be on the menu and chambered in just .223 Remington. This would be like that 10/110 I shot but I could also look at something like the Remington 700. If I choose a semi-automatic rifle I have to choose based on what's not on Maryland's hate/ban list. Thankfully, heavy barrel (or H-BAR) AR's are still legal and can be built as of this writing.

If I go down the semi-auto path, the rifle will likely be an AR platform rifle and will be based on either 5.56 NATO or .223 Wylde chamber specs. If you're not familiar with .223 Wylde, .223 Wylde is more of a chamber specification than it is an actual cartridge. .223 Wylde chambers are designed to take advantage of .223 Remington's accuracy potential while maintaining compatibility with 5.56 NATO spec ammo. If you're not familiar, 5.56 NATO and .223 Rem are dimensionally similar (if not the same) cases but 5.56 NATO has a higher pressure rating and slightly different chamber specifications making 5.56 NATO un-usable (or unsafe to use) in rifles chambered in .223 Remington, however, rifles with 5.56 NATO spec chambers can safely fire .223 Remington spec cartridges. Basically, you would be able to use el cheap-o mil-spec/surplus ammo but still have a rifle capable of excellent accuracy when using match grade .223 Remington ammo. I would suggest checking out this PDF from JP Enterprises about their .223 Wylde reamer for details on .223 Wylde. Thankfully, modifying, replacing the barrel or even the upper receiver with a .223 Wylde chamber can be easy so I'm not totally worried about making sure that I have the correct chamber out of the box. Most AR-15 barrels are offered in the 5.56 NATO spec.

As for the options for building an AR, I'm looking at picking up a built upper receiver (possibly this one from Model 1 Sales) then piecing together the rest of the rifle. The complete upper I'm looking at is Model 1 Sale's Varmint upper half. It has a 24 inch heavy bull barrel with a twist rate of either 1-in-8 or 1-in-9 per the customer's specification. I'll probably choose the 1-in-8 so I can run heavier bullets. I can choose various options such as fore-ends/rails, sights, carrying handles and chromed BCGs just to name a few. It comes with the bolt carrier group but I have to supply the lower receiver and parts related to the lower. Some of their other kits have every thing you need, including the trigger pack but you need to provide a striped lower receiver. You can buy the stripped lower from your LGS since that's the serialized part then you use all the included parts to build a complete rifle. It's a really nice idea.

Figuring out what lower receiver should be pretty easy but finding one that's available in the state may be difficult. In any normal state I would be able to hit up any LGS and order one or have any one I want shipped into an LGS for transfer from an online retailer. But since this is Maryland I may end up running into some unknown hurdle requiring me to buy a specific lower other than which ever one I may want. The likelihood is that I will have to buy just a straight-up stripped lower receiver then build it up as an HBAR, which is fine.

Whatever gun I choose it will end up being more expensive than what I had originally intended for this Phase but given the modular nature of the AR-15, purchasing the parts over time will make this process easier on the wallet. I will also be able to configure multiple complete uppers for other uses such as a National Match config.

I think I'm pretty much set on building a AR-15 HBAR for the Phase 2b rifle. I can pretty much guarantee I will build an AR in the future regardless of whether it's part of this project or not, so why not make it part of this project.

Oh and I have access to a Savage Axis XP. I'm not all that interested in it anymore. It's not accurate enough and it's too light weight for my purposes. It probably makes for a better hunting rifle but its definitely not a target rifle.

*** BTW, not that this has come up but just in case anyone is wondering I am not plugging these products for profit or personal gain, or being solicited/paid by/getting kick backs from any of the companies I've listed. If I'm talking about the product, it's because I'm looking at it as part of this project. I will put disclaimers in the article if I do get anything from some company and I talk about it in an article.

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