Rifle shines with custom reloads

Posted: November 9, 2017 at 2:35 a.m.

I intended to develop one good deer load for a new rifle, but I ended up with three.

My favorite deer rifle has long been a Ruger M77 in 6.5x55 Swedish, but in recent years I've grown fond of the 25-06.

With speed to burn, the 25-06 is an outstanding deer cartridge using bullets ranging from 100-120 grains. With virtually no recoil, I can follow through to impact without my eyes ever leaving the scope.

I also have an inexhaustible supply of brass from a friend that shoots large quantities of 25-06.

I've had a long line of 25-06 rifles, including a Winchester Model 70, Ruger M77 and a Tikka, but I couldn't get those three to shoot as accurately as I wanted.

A few years back I got a Browning A-Bolt Medallion from an online retailer that marked it way down when Browning phased out the A-Bolt II for the newer X-Bolt. It's a looker with high-gloss bluing and really pretty wood, but it's also a shooter.

My pet loads for the Medallion feature 117-gr. Hornady Boat Tail Soft Points powered by 50.1-54.1 grains of Reloder 22 powder and Winchester Large Rifle (WLR) primers. The 50.1-gr. loads cut one ragged hole in paper at 150 yards. The 54.1-gr. loads string about 1-inch horizontally.

I've killed several deer with it, but it has one major problem. Its 26-inch barrel is unwieldy in a box stand.

Last November, I rattled up a 6-point buck. As I watched it approach through the trees, I swung the gun into position. The barrel smacked the frame with a resounding clang. The buck stopped and peered around for a long time before continuing to its demise, but I knew I wouldn't use that rifle in a confined place again.

Last winter, I obtained a well-used A-Bolt Stalker in 25-06 with a BOSS, or Ballistic Optimizing Shooting System. It's a proprietary device that Browning and Winchester put on their rifles for several years. It's an adjustable weight that synchronizes a barrel's vibrations with a bullet traveling down the tube. It helps ensure that a bullet always exits the muzzle at the same point in the oscillation. It also has a muzzle brake that reduces the 25-06's already negligible recoil by an additional 30 percent.

It works, but it takes a lot of work to tune to individual loads.

The 25-06 achieves maximum velocity with 24- to 26-inch barrels. This A-Bolt has only a 20.5-inch barrel with the BOSS removed. I'll probably lose 150-200 feet per second in velocity, but that won't matter in the Grant County pines. What matters is that it is nimble in the confines of a box stand.

I loaded 20 cartridges with 100-gr. Sierra GameKing bullets and 52 grains of Reloder 19 with CCI large rifle primers. I fired 10, but my best group of three was only 1.63 inches at 131 laser-verified yards.

I reloaded those 10 cartridges with the same bullet and powder, but I neck-sized the brass instead of full-length resizing. I used WLR primers instead of CCI, and I applied a light crimp.

I also scrubbed the bore, including multiple applications of copper solvent. From the number of filthy patches, I doubt it had ever been cleaned properly. The previous owner probably sold the rifle because he thought he'd shot out the barrel.

According to Browning, the BOSS sweet spot for 100-gr. bullets is 3.5. My groups at 3.5 were sufficient to kill deer, but they opened up considerably as I moved the BOSS up the scale in one-tenth increments.

Finally, I adjusted the BOSS downward to 3.4. I put the first and third shot through the same hole, 2 inches high. I flew the second shot when I jerked the trigger.

After letting the barrel cool and running a Bore Snake through the tube, I opened a box of cartridges I loaded many years ago. It contains all kinds of loads, but I noticed two rows of cartridges with 100-gr. Barnes tipped Triple Shock bullets. They were loaded with 51 and 54.1 grains of RL22 and Remington 9 1/2 primers.

Leaving the BOSS at 3.4, I fired two of the 51-gr. loads. The holes touched and printed .56-inch high and .54-inch to the right.

Well, bless my pecan pie eatin' soul!

I fired two hotter rounds that measured .356. They printed .29 inch high and 1.58 inches right.

As much as I like Sierra bullets, I like the all-copper Barnes bullets better. The lighter Barnes load should be the ticket Saturday for the opening of modern gun deer season.

Sports on 11/09/2017