The Tactical Hunter Project (Part 4: Accuracy and Ammo)

Now that the rifle was completed I needed to find self-defense and hunting ammunition to feed it. For both applications I wanted a round that was accurate out to 100 yards and would expand reliably. Although I might be willing to stock up on cheaper ammunition for SHTF or practice rounds I was also willing to pay a little extra for premium rounds for hunting and self-defense rounds. A quick search showed a bit of a downside for selecting this caliber; there wasn’t a very good selection of hunting ammo.

Hornady had a round listed on their web site but finding it (at the time) proved to be an impossible task. Winchester had the Hog Hunter Special for $24.99 per box of 20. TulAmmo had offerings in 154 grain soft points as well as 122 grain hollow points. Brown Bear (Barnaul) had a 125 grain soft point that seemed to be reasonably priced and fairly easy to find online. So, I bought a couple boxes of each and headed to the range.

Ammo evaluated:

TulAmmo 154 grain soft points

TulAmmo 122 grain hollow points

Brown Bear 125 grain soft points

Winchester Hog Special 123 Grain “Power-Points”

The TulAmmo didn’t make the cut. It was inconsistent and not nearly as accurate as I would want it to be for hunting.

Three shot group to verify my results

The 122 grain hollow point was suspect in terms of its effectiveness as a hunting round and the accuracy left even more to be desired. It was the least accurate ammo tested with a four to five inch spread in even the best groups. Based on this ammo I was really worried that this project would fail.

The TulAmmo 154 grain soft points were my favorites going into the testing. Reasonably priced and fairly easily found I also liked the idea of the heavier soft pointed bullet. The accuracy wasn’t bad but the bullet drop and inconsistency concerned me.

154 grain rounds dropped 8-10 inches

The Winchester Hog Special 123 Grain “Power-Point” were my ace in the hole but at $24.99 for a box of 20 it was a very expensive card. The printed specs claimed 2365 fps at the muzzle. That would calculate out to be around 1527 ft/lbs of energy which was pretty good and I figured American-made ammo would be pretty accurate and consistent.

Even with my shooting, instead of the ringer I brought along to verify my testing, I was able to see 2 inch groups at 100 yards. Any flyers were my fault not a problem with the rifle or the ammunition.

The Brown Bear 125 grain soft points were brought along as a it of a lark. I really didn’t expect anything better than I have seen from the TulAmmo. Both are made in Russia and everyone knows Russian quality control, right? Boy was I wrong. These rounds have a claimed velocity of 2445 fps which translates into around 1659 ft/lbs of muzzle energy according to my calculations. The manufacturer (distributor actually) only claims 1633 ft/lbs. Still the best energy numbers of the bunch. The big question would be the accuracy and consistency. Just to make sure of the results I was seeing, I called in my “ringer” to shoot a three shot group. Because of time restraints we used the same target as we did for the 122 grain TulAmmo.

Three shots, two holes less than a one inch grouping

At 100 yards with three shots he was able to group them within less than an inch and two of the shots went through the same hole. The Brown Bear ammunition had the best numbers, the best accuracy and was very consistent. At a little over $7.00 for a box of 20 there were not exactly a bargain but they were pretty close. The only question, how would they perform against something a bit tougher than paper.

Between time, weather and other factors it took me almost two years to get an answer to that question. I’ll only make you wait a week.

Next week we’ll take a look at the effectiveness of this round for hunting.

God bless

 

A few side notes:

Prvi Partizan (PPU) makes a 123 grain round nose soft point in 7.62×39. It is brass-cased and boxer primed so it can be reloaded and can be used on ranges that don’t allow steel-cased ammunition. I tested this round in a separate test session several months after I tested the other ammunition. It performed very well at the time in terms of accuracy and consistency. The claimed specifications looked good (2640 fps and 1659 ft/lbs of muzzle energy). The price was OK at around $11.00 per box of 20 but as I mentioned the cases could be reloaded. During that range session I was basically feeding each round by hand as I had run out of the house without any magazines. I was concerned about how these rounds would feed since they are significantly shorter in overall length that the specs for the caliber call for and the bullets were round nosed instead of pointed. Sure enough, once I started feeding them from a magazine the accuracy went out the window and I experienced jams about every three or four rounds. The jams weren’t in the rifle but in the magazine itself. The rounds were so short that they would move around under recoil and jam up. I also discovered that the long gap and to the feed ranp and rounded nose resulted in the bullets deforming against the ramp and/or chamber mouth. Bullets with big gouges in the nose don’t fly as straight even over relatively short distances. I have recently discovered that they offer a pointed version of this round as well. I may try it in the future.

Reloads – I have yet to find a bullet/powder combination in any reference book that can give me the performance of either the Winchester or Brown Bear loads. I am not sure that the loss of several hundred fps and energy is balanced by the higher quality bullets I can buy and use.  

Recoil magazine performed a pretty comprehensive set of tests using a CZ-527 bolt-action rifle chambered in 7.62×39. Their focus was more geared towards the self defense side of things but the results, although more comprehensive in every way, were similar to what I was seeing with my AR. To see their results click here

What Did You Prep This Week?

Walk With God

My walk with God is not as strong as it was last week but it is still going well. I was able to give back a little by helping a man in need a little north of here. He’s been through some seriously trying times over the last few years that have left his body weak but his faith is still strong. A local company re-roofed his home for free and we helped pull out some of the drywall and insulation that had been damaged by the years of water leaks. Another crew will be in later to replace it all. We also helped clean up his yard. Removing the years of built up leaves and trash that he had not been able to take care of himself. We were also able to catch up on some charitable donations that I had committed to but have fallen behind on.

My daily Bible study and prayer is still going well this week and I am learning a lot from both.

On the down side, I got sidetracked working on something and missed our Wednesday night bible study.

Self Defense/Hunting

I bought myself a Ruger American Predator bolt action rifle in .308 Winchester this week. I have been eyeing that rifle for several months now and when I saw it on sale I broke down and bought it. It has a fairly short (18 inch), threaded barrel should the hearing protection act pass), and an integrated picatinny rail. The calibers and rifles I own and use are fine out to maybe 150 yards. This rifle will allow me extend that and start practicing and hunting out well past 200 yards. I also bought a quality set of rings to mount the scope on it. I can’t wait to get it out to the range to start sighting it in.

To mount the scope I purchased a torque screwdriver set. I have always “winged it” on tightening certain screws to spec, especially on scopes and scope mounts. No more! I can do it up “right and proper now.”

With all the sales on AR parts I picked up a lower parts kit and three lower receivers. I may start another pistol build before long. I also plan to build an AR for each of my grand kids. They are too small for them now but one day they will be big enough and old enough and then they will have one…built by their Papa.

Several weeks ago I ordered a number of collets for the RCBS bullet puller die. After several weeks on back order the .22 caliber collet finally came in. This gives me a collet for each of the calibers I reload.

Supplies

Also on sale was a nice 700 lumen flashlight. I have a couple of these lights and they are awesome.

Finances

We placed an online order for gold. This is the first time I have purchased something like that online so it will be interesting to see how well it works.

Fitness

I have done pretty well exercising this week. I did miss one day but I was still able to increase the number of reps I do each day. I still want to get Wonderful Wife to start exercising as well. But with the number of hours she’s working that still hasn’t happened.

Other

Last week we bought a Ring doorbell to provide a little extra security at the front door. It wasn’t working as we would have expected so after a call with their support staff they sent out a Ring chime to help extend our wireless network and improve performance of the video and audio. I have it installed but haven’e had a chance to test it out.

We also called to set up some time to check out a few pieces of land that look like good spots for hunting, camping and, eventually, retirement. Looking at the weather forecast this will probably have to be postponed.

That’s it for me. That’s what I prepped this week. How about you? What did you Prep this week?

God Bless

The Tactical Hunter Project (Part 3: Why Not An AK?)

In the last installment I outlined my solution to the Tactical Hunter Project; an AR in 7.62×39. Some would ask, why not skip the challenges of an AR in this caliber and go with the tactical rifle designed around this cartridge, the AK?

Good question.

Nyet! AK is fine!
Nyet! AK is fine!

First, one of the primary goals of this project was to be a do everything rifle. I needed to be able to use if for self-defense and hunting. I needed to be able to quickly and easily reconfigure it for each of these roles as well as the variations within each role. For self-defense I would want a red dot optic and a powerful white light. For hunting out of a blind I would need a magnified optic. At night I would need to attach a green light (green doesn’t seem to disturb the hogs nearly as much as a white light). The ability to mount a camera would be cool for hunting but not a requirement. At some point, when I can afford them, I might even want to be able to attach night vision optics. For stalking through thick brush I would need to be able to strip the rifle down to its lightest possible configuration. This doable with the AK but it is a piece of cake with the AR.

Weight, was the second factor in this. following pig trails through heavy brush is tough work of an old guy like me. Keep in mind that most of the brush around here comes with some sort of anti-personnel defenses like thorns, stickers, poisons, ticks…these go unnoticed by thick skinned feral hogs but are tough on thin skinned humans. Even an extra pound or two of weight on the rifle adds up when climbing/walking/crawling over/through/under this mess. This is another advantage for the AR.

The third, and probably the most important area of concern, with the AK platform is accuracy. Yes, there are AKs that are very accurate but let’s be honest most suffer from some degree of sloppy manufacture/assembly.

Can a buy an AK that is more accurate? Sure, but it will add to the cost. Lighter weight AK? Sure, but it will cost. More attachment options? Sure, but again it will cost. I was able to build the AR for this project for somewhere around $500. An AK with the required accuracy and features would run closer to $1,500 at the time. Today the price of the AR would be a bit less than what I paid a couple of years ago. The AK would be a lot less but still up around $900.

I really like AKs. My initial reaction was to start with that as the platform of choice and I could have done it but it would have cost more to accomplish the same thing.

That is why I didn’t go with an AK.

God Bless

The Tactical Hunter Project (Part 2: My Solution)

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Initial configuration of the Tactical Hunter

The 7.62×39 caliber seemed to be the best choice for this project based on the cost, availability of ammunition and the ballistics of the round. It wasn’t a perfect choice by a long shot. For example, I would have like a more powerful cartridge, something actually on par with the venerable .30-30 it would be replacing. It has been explained to me on several occasions engineering isn’t a matter of making perfect choices it is about making the right set of compromises to meet the desired objective. I am no engineer but the basic concept still applies.

At the time I started building this rifle it was almost blasphemy to build an AR in 7.62×39 and every “expert” out there said it would never be a reliable rifle. Nevertheless, I still thought it was worth a shot.

The lower receiver was pretty easy and simple. A Spike’s Tactical lower I had laying around and standard parts kit from somewhere cheap. The handguard came with the lower parts kit. I did have a MagPul stock laying around so that was an immediate upgrade.

The upper is also a run of the mill Aero Precision I picked up on sale. Same for the handguard; it was light and it was on sale. The bolt carrier is also a standard AR component but that’s where things started to get a little more complicated. The barrel was not that tough to find, it just took some patience. However, every 7.62×39 Ar barrel I have ever seen has a pretty heavy profile. Despite the feather light handguard, this would be no lightweight as far as AR’s go.

The bolt itself has to be stronger as does the firing pin and extractor since most of the inexpensive ammunition for 7.62×39 is generally steel-cased and Berdan primed that is made in former Soviet-bloc countries and this ammo can be pretty tough on those parts. I spent quite a while scouring the InterWebz for all the right pieces. I never did find them available at the same time and for reasonable prices until Radical Firearms released their uppers and BCGs in this caliber. As soon as these were available I was standing at their front door waiting for them to open.

The next big bugaboo for AR pattern rifles in this caliber was magazine selection. As many horror stories as I had heard around firing pins, extractors and bolts there were twice as many around magazines. After a little research I decided to go with ASC magazines. The ten rounders I generally use for hunting and target practice were fairly easy to find and reasonably priced. Thirty rounds magazines for self-defense were a tougher find. I did finally find a 30 round (28 actually) magazine from ASC and then picked up another from D&H Tactical. For the most part all have been reliable. All have issue when fully loaded so I “download” them by one or two rounds.

IMG_4551
Large capacity ASC magazine in the Tactical Hunter

To save weight and allow for close quarters use I chose a lower power optic. In this case a Vortex 2×7 Crossfire II mounted in an Aero Preceision Ultralight mount. The scope was on sale for a good price and I have been extremely impressed with it. It is very clear and does a good job in low light conditions. My son has a similar optic from Nikon that is pretty comparable but mine was literally 1/3 the price.

Other than upgrading to a MagPul grip and nicer MagPul stock (they came off another AR I re-purposed for my wife) the only other thing I added was a (MagPul again) sling. The sling allows for user in either a single point or two point configuration. While stalking through heavy brush the single point configuration is great. The sling carries most of the weight while keeping the gun readily accessible. For longer hikes the two point options makes it easy to carry across my back. I learned the hard way to make use of the quick detach option for hunting in stands or blinds. I mostly hunt feral hogs which means most of my hunting is at night and Old Man Murphy almost guarantees that, in the dark, a sling will get wrapped around or underneath something when you can’t see it. At least one pig got away as I tried to untangle the sling in the dark.

While I did give up some power going from the trusty old .30-30 WCF to the 7.62×39 the Ar platform brought some real advantages over my old Marlin 336. The weight was about the same and the Marlin 336 was not heavy. If I could have found a lighter profile barrel the AR would have had a slight but significant edge. The rails made swapping optics easy and meant I didn’t have to re-zero each time. Truth be told though the 2×7 from Vortex proved versatile enough that I never really needed to. Adding lights, or a camera, or just about any accessory was also a breeze so I could switch within minutes from a nighttime to daytime hunting configuration. With up to 28 rounds of 7.62×39 on tap it was potent self-defense weapon or feral hog eliminator. But how accurate would it be?

That’s the question for Part 3!

God Bless

The Tactical Hunter Project (Part 1: The Challenge)

A little bit of a disclaimer, this project got started several years ago. At that point in time there were few, if any, companies building AR pattern rifles for hunting. A few folks, mostly hog hunters, were doing it but it was definitely the exception rather than the rule. Today, everyone from Ruger to Savage to traditional AR manufacturers like DPMS are building and marketing AR pattern rifles for hunting. From starting off ahead of the curve, I ended up way behind it. Nevertheless I have finally completed this effort and wanted to share my journey.

Like all good projects this one started out around the campfire…

I spend a fair amount of time (although not as much as I should) practicing with my home defense rifle. I spend another good chunk of time (although not as much as I should) practicing with my hunting rifle. My home defense rifle of choice is an AR. I could do an entire post (and probably should) on why I chose this platform but for hunting I have always used a lever-action. The campfire discussion posed the question, wouldn’t if be cool if I could use the same rifle for both hunting and self-defense? By combining them, it would effectively double the amount of practice for hunting and home defense without spending any more time money at the range.

The idea was amazingly simple, a single rifle that could serve as a hunting rifle and home defense gun. That way all the practice at the range for deer and hog hunting would translate directly into more proficiency for home defense. It would mean one caliber for both functions, simplifying ammunition supply. Plus, military-style rifles are built tough and can take being knocked around in the woods and you don’t have to worry about marring the fine wood or pretty finish.

From a hunting perspective, the rifle would need to be able to quickly and easily to transition between a brush gun and scoped rifle for 100-150 yard shots. It needed to be relatively light weight. It would need to have enough “stopping power” for humane kills on deer-sized game and the ammo needed to be readily available.

For a home defense perspective, it would still need to be light weight. It should be able to hold a reasonable amount of ammunition. While “stopping power” was still a requirement, I live in a suburban area and over-penetration is a major concern. Ammunition availability was still a concern as was cost. If I were to be able to stock a reasonable number of rounds on hand it would need to be relatively inexpensive.

As much as I love my leverguns, an AR pattern rifle seemed like the best choice for this project.

I like the ergonomics. It’s a breeze to add accessories like lights (pretty much a necessity when hunting hogs at night) and optics can be customized and swapped as easily as can be. The only concern was the caliber.

Yes, I know many people hunt both hogs and deer with 5.56/.223. And yes, it is legal to hunt with around here (although it isn’t in many states). Plus the whitetails in this part of Texas are rather small compared with some other parts of the country. However, I am a bit of a stickler when it comes to a clean humane kill and I don’t feel comfortable with a borderline round. Not a problem, the AR can come in many different calibers including the (dun, dun, duh!) 300 Blackout.

It seems like every gun rag and website has been busy selling this round as the ammo equivalent of Marilyn Monroe. It’s generally pitched as a semi-auto .30-30 and an excellent hunting round, within certain distance limits. Based on my research, I have a few issues with this round. It’s not a distance thing. If you’re taking a shot of more than 150 or 200 yards in the pine forests around where I live you’re probably doing something wrong.

Here’s the deal, numbers don’t lie. While the .30-30 and the 300 blackout are both .30 caliber rounds that’s about where the comparison ends. The 300 blackout delivers significantly less energy at shorter distances than the .30-30 (1377 vs. 1902). It is also expensive and hard to find (this was especially true two years ago when I started this project). Before the 300 Blackout fanboys get all worked up and send me hate mail I think it is a very good round for what it was designed for. It just didn’t match up to the criteria I had.

Other popular rounds for the AR had similar chanllenges (for my needs). The 6.5 Grendel is equally scarce around here. The 6.8 SPC seems to be relatively easy to find and not too expensive but it still isn’t a round I could stock in quantity and use for both defense and hunting.

The AR-10 would be fantastic for hunting but not so much for home-defense. Both the price and weight penalties are pretty high as well.

Then I hit me like a bad shot of vodka…how about the 7.62×39?

Ballistics-wise the 7.62×39 slots in between the .300 Blackout and the 6.8 rounds, not quite as potent as I would like but within the ranges I would be shooting, not bad. Ammo is dirt cheap and plentiful although quality hunting ammo isn’t quite that cheap nor easy to find. From a self-defense perspective, over penetration could be an issue but with hollow point ammo that would be less of an issue than with many full blown rifle rounds.

With that decision made I set about building a 7.62×39 AR.

I’ll share more on that in (Part 2).

God bless

Perishable Skills

I know I have probably mentioned this before on this blog but shooting is a perishable skill. You have to practice, regularly, if you want to have those skills when your life depends on them…or, the lives of your loved ones.

As many times as I have read this…

As many times as I have said this…

As many times as I have written this…

I still fall into the trap of neglecting these skills too. The Tuesday after Christmas Moose (my son in law) and I made it out to the range. Assuming I could pick up right where I left off on the rifle range (about a year ago) I was loaded down with three different rifles and several different loads for each to test out. Instead of groupings I was getting something that was more like the pattern from a shotgun. I wish I could claim that this performance was some awe inspiring distance…nope. All were within 100 yards.

As my frustration with my performance grew, the number of mistakes I made increased as well. Squeezing the trigger morphed into jerking the trigger as soon as the crosshairs intersected the bulls eye. Shots were rushed and breathing was ragged. At one point I had my .30-30 hitting dead on only to find my shots scattered across the paper after reloading because someone (guess who) had forgotten to properly tighten the screws holding the mount to the rail…

It was a great day with Moose and I was at a nice range with nice weather so the day wasn’t a total loss. Plus, I identified my skill deficiency on paper targets rather than live animals. (We have a hunting trip planned for February)

As is often the case, after finding my skills lacking, I looked to fix the problem with hardware. I was immediately shopping for a new rifle, with a different action in a different caliber. I almost convinced myself that a bolt gun in .308 would fix my problems and I would be right back on target. Fortunately, God was looking out for me and all the examples of the rifles that I had decided would fix my problems were out of stock locally after the Christmas rush.

To be honest I did spend some money on the problem. The trigger on the AR lower

ALG Advanced Combat Trigger
ALG Advanced Combat Trigger

I use for hunting is a cheap parts kit special and there was some creep and grittiness.  For $69 the ALG Advanced Combat Trigger (ACT) is a great solution. The creep is gone and so is the grittiness. It is a standard (sort of) mil-spec trigger and hammer but everything has been polished and treated with a slippery coating. The kit comes with two springs. One a little lighter and results in a lighter than mil-spec trigger pull, probably around 4 pounds. The second spring is a bit heavier and results in a 5.5 pound trigger pull (on the light side but within the military specification of 5.5-9.5 pounds. The lighter spring works fine on the hunting ammo I use but does result in a light primer strike and FTF on about 1 in 5 rounds using cheap steel-cased Wolf ammo. This is a worthwhile trade off that I can live with for now.

WWG Happy Trigger
WWG Happy Trigger

I also ordered a Happy Trigger from Wild West Guns for my Marlin 336. This trigger eliminates the “floppy trigger syndrome” that affects later model Marlin lever guns. It also reduces the trigger pull to a consistent 4 pounds. Down significantly from the current 8 pounds (or so) that seems to vary with the rifle’s mood.

So, I did invest in some hardware upgrades to help me with my accuracy but these were upgrades I had been considering for some time and probably would have done, at some point, regardless of the issues I had on the range last week.

The more important investment I made was time (and money) on the range. I spent a few hours yesterday testing the new trigger and three different loads in my AR. Once I got a feel for the loads and how they performed (six to twelve rounds of each) I spend the rest of the time with my primary hunting load focusing on the basics; sight picture, follow through, trigger squeeze, and breathing. I also spent a little time dry firing to help with those things and to help avoid developing any sort of flinch. A couple of hours, $20 in range fees/targets and another $30 in ammo paid off.

Final Target
Final Target

The round in the bottom left was my first shot  of the string and I obviously pulled it down and to the right. The four in the upper right were next with the crosshairs centered on the bullseye. The shot in the lower left of the bullseye was me (over)correcting the point of aim. That’s four shots within a two inch circle at 100 yards and all six within four inches. I still have some work to do but considering how bad my previous outing had been I am pretty happy with it. I am hoping to make it back out to the range again next weekend and at least two more times before our hunting trip.

I need to be able to pull this off each and every time without thought or drama. I need to be able to do this when the adrenaline is pumping and I have a big boar or an eating sized hog in the crosshairs. I need to be able to do this when I am cold, hungry and tired. This needs to be second nature. In short I need to practice and maintain this perishable skill.

God bless.

Random Shots

Random links to various news stories and blog posts that caught my attention this week:

Military and Law Enforcement Are the Worst Firearm Instructors – It’s a very interesting point of view and worth a read.

Federal Fusion Promotion – If you like Federal Fusion ammunition or would like to give it a try now would be a good time.

65 Pieces of Survival Wisdom From the Great Depression – The How To Provide for Your Family blog posted some really interesting observations and information about hour Americans coped with the Great Depression. Unfortunately, I don’t think modern day Americans posses the drive, determination or pride that carried a generation through some of the hardest times this country has ever faced. Should we ever face such a crisis again, and I pray we don’t, far fewer will make it through…

God bless and have a great weekend!