TOP THREE AR CARTRIDGES

By

Craig Boddington

The two most popular actions in the U.S. must be John Browning’s Colt 1911 pistol…and Gene Stoner’s Armalite 15, long shortened to AR15 (which does not stand for “Assault Rifle”). Dozens and dozens of large and small firms make (and have made) firearms based on these actions. All self-loading actions have sharp limits on the size of cartridges they can accept. The .45 ACP cartridge was developed for and around the Colt 1911. Browning and his team must have done a good job because, 110 years later, the .45 ACP still rules the 1911 world. Although easily adapted to 9x19mm (and expanded to 10mm), the Colt 1911 frame has spawned few other pistol cartridges.

AR15 Rock River groups: Boddington’s “ranch rifle” is a left-hand Rock River AR in 5.56mm. It has served well from varmints to deer, and both availability and choices in ammo are strong suits of the .223/5.56mm.
AR15 Rock River groups: Boddington’s “ranch rifle” is a left-hand Rock River AR in 5.56mm. It has served well from varmints to deer, and both availability and choices in ammo are strong suits of the .223/5.56mm.

The AR15 action is also not new. Developed in the 1950s, it is fast approaching retirement age. Formal acceptance of the AR15 and its “final” cartridge by the U.S. military came in 1963. That cartridge was “Cartridge 5.56mm Ball M193, already released to the public as the .223 Remington. Then and now, the .223 is a great cartridge. It is not as inherently accurate as the .222 Remington, but the military specs required more velocity. This led to the .222 Remington Magnum…which led to the .223.

Old-timers (including me!) lamented the loss of the M14 and its 7.62x51mm (.308 Winchester), more powerful and offering greater range…at cost in rifle and ammo weight and recoil. Right or wrong, the deal was done, and for decades the AR15 platform and the 5.56mm/.223 Remington were inextricably linked. However, there has been much recent development in “AR-compatible cartridges.

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SHOT AT DEER- BY CRAIG BODDINGTON

Across the country, it’s deer season! For some the best of the season is behind us, but for most American hunters the best part of the season is yet to come. This depends on where you live, depending on the season. Which, in turn, depends on local weather, deer densities, and management goals. Limits are based on the same! My friends in the Deep South tend to have amazingly long and lavish seasons, usually with multiple bucks allowed and lots of doe tags.

Brad McCarty 2019: Brad McCarty took this old, downhill buck from a Texas-style tower blind in Boddington’s largest food plot. At about 175 yards, this was one of the longest shots of 2019’s charmed season. Using a 6.5mm Creedmoor, his buck was down on the spot!
Brad McCarty 2019: Brad McCarty took this old, downhill buck from a Texas-style tower blind in Boddington’s largest food plot. At about 175 yards, this was one of the longest shots of 2019’s charmed season. Using a 6.5mm Creedmoor, his buck was down on the spot!

In the West and Midwest, we’re usually not so blessed. Deer densities are lower and the populations are more fragile. A “one-buck” license is more common. Whether you’re in South Carolina (where, uniquely, some counties still have no limit on bucks). Or, in Kansas, where we are a strict one-buck state, it makes sense to make every buck tag count. But it really doesn’t matter: The odds are with the deer! Whitetail or mule deer, there is no hundred-percent deer hunting in North America!

Dan Guillory 2019: Dan Guillory’s 2019 Kansas buck was the best of the season. Although genuine tracking was not required, this buck probably ran the farthest of any 2019 buck…despite a perfect lung shot with a 7x57.
Dan Guillory 2019: Dan Guillory’s 2019 Kansas buck was the best of the season. Although genuine tracking was not required, this buck probably ran the farthest of any 2019 buck…despite a perfect lung shot with a 7×57.
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PIG POWER by Craig Boddington

Just after sunset we came around a bend in the trail. The pig was standing in deep shadow under an oak, good-sized, solitary, probably a boar. That’s about all we could tell, and that was enough. Donna’s shot looked good, but the pig rolled into a little depression just out of sight. Donna and our rancher friend, Tony Lombardo approached and immediately backed up…fast!

44 hog: This ugly hog was taken in a wild melee with dogs using a Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum. A big, open-sighted revolver is a great choice for hound hunting where shots are sure to be close, but not versatile enough in many situations.
44 hog: This ugly hog was taken in a wild melee with dogs using a Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum. A big, open-sighted revolver is a great choice for hound hunting where shots are sure to be close, but not versatile enough in many situations.

The first shot was fine, but the pig didn’t accept that and was almost on top of them before it dropped to a quick second shot. It was not exactly a close call, but several exciting seconds! In fading light, we hadn’t appreciated that this was a really good boar, burly and heavy, with four inches of thick, sharp tusk showing above the gum line.  

AG110923: A good-sized Texas porker, taken with a Winchester Model 71 in .348. Big-bore lever-actions are dramatically effective on hogs and fun to hunt with, but the aperture sight on this rifle limits range and, more importantly, becomes almost when the light goes.
AG110923: A good-sized Texas porker, taken with a Winchester Model 71 in .348. Big-bore lever-actions are dramatically effective on hogs and fun to hunt with, but the aperture sight on this rifle limits range and, more importantly, becomes almost when the light goes.
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THE VERSATILE LEVER-ACTION? By Craig Boddington

The lever-action is part of our heritage, as American as apple pie, motherhood, and John Wayne. In rifle tastes, many of us have gravitated to super-accurate, flat-shooting rifles; others to adaptable, fast-shooting (and also accurate) semiautomatics. I’m okay with these, but as I grow older, I find myself circling back to lever-actions! 

A very good blacktail buck, taken with a Winchester M88 in .308 Winchester. Though not designed for lever-actions, the .308 has been chambered to a number of lever-actions…and there are few things that can’t be done with a .308.
A very good blacktail buck, taken with a Winchester M88 in .308 Winchester. Though not designed for lever-actions, the .308 has been chambered to a number of lever-actions…and there are few things that can’t be done with a .308.

The Winchester 1894 and Marlin 336 alone account for ten million rifles! The majority of these, thus the majority of lever-actions, were chambered to .30-30. Although mild by today’s standards, the .30-30 remains a fine deer cartridge! 

No lever-action is an extreme-range platform. Depending on which action or model, lever guns are hampered by some combination of pressure limitations, action length, two-piece stocks, tubular magazines, and sight restrictions. Over time, many of these problems have been solved, or at least mitigated: All Henry, Marlin, Mossberg, and Savage lever-actions can easily be scoped, as can all Winchester 1894s since 1982, when “Angle Eject” came in. Historically, blunt-nosed bullets with poor aerodynamics had to be used in tubular magazines. Hornady’s Flex-Tip bullet with compressible polymer tip solved this, instantly improving ballistics. 

Boddington used a Winchester M88 in .358 Winchester to take this Shiras moose on a tough-to-draw Wyoming permit. Although definitely not fast, the little .358 is a powerful cartridge that hits hard with little recoil.
Boddington used a Winchester M88 in .358 Winchester to take this Shiras moose on a tough-to-draw Wyoming permit. Although definitely not fast, the little .358 is a powerful cartridge that hits hard with little recoil.
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Why not a .270?

Here’s a riddle: What cartridge is faster, more powerful, and shoots flatter than a 6.5mm Creedmoor…with similar recoil? And, is chambered to more rifles, with a wider selection of factory loads and component bullets? 

270 lineup-light: Left to right: .243 Winchester, .260 Remington, 6.5mm Creedmoor, 7mm-08, .270 Winchester. All of these are great deer cartridges, but the .270 is far and away the fastest, most powerful, and most versatile of the group.

At the moment, it’s not true to say that everybody wants a 6.5mm Creedmoor. Right now, everybody wants whatever is ideal (or marginally suitable) for defending the hearth and home against virus-ridden zombie hordes. But I have to believe both happy and sane times will return, and we’ll spend more time thinking about hunting seasons past and looking forward to seasons ahead. I assume the Creedmoor Craze will continue, and everyone who wants a new hunting rifle will be longing for that amazing phenomenon, the 6.5mm Creedmoor. 

.270-general purpose: Left to right: .270 Winchester, 7mm-08, 7mm Remington Magnum, .30-06, .300 Winchester Magnum. All of these are acceptable elk cartridges, with the .270 and 7mm-08 good minimal choices, but fully adequate at moderate ranges.
.270-general purpose: Left to right: .270 Winchester, 7mm-08, 7mm Remington Magnum, .30-06, .300 Winchester Magnum. All of these are acceptable elk cartridges, with the .270 and 7mm-08 good minimal choices, but fully adequate at moderate ranges.
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IN PRAISE OF PUMP GUNS! By Craig Boddington

Most upland and waterfowl seasons are over. Spring turkey season is coming up fast, so for many of us this is time to shop for a new turkey gun. Fine, but shotgunning is really about familiarity and fit (probably in that order). Turkey hunting is a bit different than most shotgunning because the birds are (more or less) stationary and you aim, but any time you invest in a new shotgun, it’s wise to also expend time and a bunch of shells in practice. Although they taste terrible, there are no bag limits on clay targets. Clays vary widely in speed, angle, and difficulty, but it really doesn’t matter if you shoot trap, skeet, sporting clays, or hand-thrown targets: Every clay you shoot at (and especially every target you hit!) will make you more effective with that new shotgun.

1979 AZ quail: Warner Glenn and Boddington in 1979 after a great morning on Arizona desert quail. Warner has a very early straight-gripped Model 12; Craig’s is his factory skeet Model 12, made in the 1950s. In ‘79 he’d had the gun for a decade, and it had seen a lot of use.
1979 AZ quail: Warner Glenn and Boddington in 1979 after a great morning on Arizona desert quail. Warner has a very early straight-gripped Model 12; Craig’s is his factory skeet Model 12, made in the 1950s. In ‘79 he’d had the gun for a decade, and it had seen a lot of use.

I am probably best-known as a “rifle guy,” not so much as a shotgunner, and definitely not a turkey hunter. The latter is valid: I hunt turkeys, but I am no turkey expert! Shotgunning in general is a slightly different story. The Kansas I grew up in had few deer and zero turkeys, but we had oceans of bobwhites and lots of pheasants.

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44 Magnum: Not just for handguns!

Nobody said it better than Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry Callahan: “The 44 Magnum is the most powerful handgun in the world.” At that time this was true, but the .44’s reign as the most powerful handgun cartridge has long since ended. Today it is surpassed in power by several factory cartridges, including the 454 Casull, 480 Ruger, and both the .460 and .500 S&W. However, these cartridges also surpass the .44 Magnum in recoil.

44 handguns: The .44 Remington Magnum, designed as a handgun cartridge, has been chambered to numerous pistols and revolvers. Boddington’s T/C Contender with .44 barrel and his S&W Classic Hunter are shown with Garrett’s 310-grain super-hard-cat “Hammerhead” load…which will not cycle in all lever-action carbines.
44 handguns: The .44 Remington Magnum, designed as a handgun cartridge, has been chambered to numerous pistols and revolvers. Boddington’s T/C Contender with .44 barrel and his S&W Classic Hunter are shown with Garrett’s 310-grain super-hard-cat “Hammerhead” load…which will not cycle in all lever-action carbines.

The big .44, properly the .44 Remington Magnum, is a handful in a handgun! Some find it difficult to master, but in a heavy revolver it’s really not that bad. It remains my favorite handgun hunting cartridge, very accurate and plenty powerful enough for anything I desire to hunt with a handgun! For years gunwriter Elmer Keith had been experimenting with heavy handloads for the old .44 Special, using that case because the brass was thicker and stronger than standard cases for the .45 Colt.

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REMINGTON’S BIG SEVEN By Craig Boddington

I’m on the record as stating (more than once!) that the 7mm Remington Magnum isn’t one of my favorites. It’s a popular cartridge so this always brings howls from its many fans. More importantly, at least to me, is that it’s not good journalism—or business—to contradict myself. Since I’ve been writing about this stuff for 40-odd years I think it’s possible (and allowable) for my opinions to change over time. But this opinion has not changed: The 7mm Remington Magnum is not among my all-time favorite cartridges.

7 mag line-up: Left to right: 7mm Remington Short Action Ultra Mag, .280 Remington, 7mm Remington Magnum, 7mm Weatherby Magnum, 7mm Shooting Times Westerner, 7mm Remington Ultra Mag. The 7mm Remington Magnum is hardly the only “fast 7mm,” and certainly not the speediest—but it is by far the most popular and most available, a world-standard hunting cartridge.

My reasons are simple: There are lots of excellent cartridges, and it’s impossible to love them all equally. I love the .270 Winchester because it shoots just as flat as the 7mm Remington Magnum…but burns less powder, has less recoil, does fine in a 22-inch barrel, and can be built into a lighter rifle. If I feel I might need (or just want!) more power I’ve generally stepped up to a fast .30-caliber, which can offer more bullet weight and frontal area with similar velocity…albeit with more recoil.

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.204 RUGER: THE BEST VARMINT CARTRIDGE? BY CRAIG BODDINGTON

It was a perfect setup for prairie dogs; we had a big shade tree to our left, three of us in line on portable benches, with a big colony stretching away before us. Stephen Shen was on the left, Gordon Marsh in the middle, me on the right. Interestingly, all three of us were shooting the .204 Ruger cartridge: Stephen a Savage 116, while both Gordon and I were shooting Ruger No. Ones, his in blue/walnut and mine stainless/laminate.

Left to right: .17 Remington, .17 Remington Fireball, .17 Hornet,
The .17s run from very fast to “medium” and all are useful but, in common, the light .17-caliber bullets hold up poorly in wind. Left to right: .17 Remington, .17 Remington Fireball, .17 Hornet,

It wasn’t universal; Bill Green was off the right, popping away and having a ball with a semi-auto .17 HMR . This was Gordon and Bill’s annual prairie dog shoot out of Cheyenne, hunting with Craig Oceanak and Nick of Timberline Outfitters. It was my second shoot with them; for Stephen, CEO of Vector Optics, his first ever. We had other rifles, .223s and .22-250s. However, except for Bill, who clung to his .17 HMR and walked in some amazing shots, the .204s did the majority of the work.  There are many excellent varmint cartridges, so it struck me as unusual that three among our foursome were shooting .204s…but I think we made good choices.

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Reloading .32 S&W Top-Break Revolvers

Part of the fun of reloading is bringing hundred-year-old guns back to life, like 32 S&W top-break revolver. These revolvers can be very inexpensive—running around $200 or less for one in excellent condition—and ammunition and reloading supplies are also inexpensive. Loading and shooting this round offer some challenges, though, so below I offer my personal experience loading and shooting this round.

Buying Reloading Brass

A few companies do sell loaded ammunition for the .32 S&W top-break revolver; likewise, Starline and Magtech both offer unprimed brass at a low price. You should cast pure lead bullets and not worry about sizing them. Lee offers an inexpensive (around $19) 98 grain bullet mold that can cast an 88 grain bullet that’s .311” in diameter.

Choosing the Right Die

Now comes the difficult part. No one currently makes dedicated .32 S&W dies, but you have a few options that will work. Dies made for 32 S&W Long, 32 H&R Mag and .327 Federal magnum will all work to some degree. Even dies for 32 ACP will work.

The sizing die is the same for these options, but the expanding die and seating/crimp die can cause problems. The 32 ACP dies will size and expand the neck just fine and the seating die will seat the bullet well, but the 32 ACP uses a tapered crimp, which means you won’t have a nice factory roll crimp. Depending on the powder you use, this may not be a problem. Personally, I prefer a modest roll crimp to get a better powder burn and to burn the powder fast enough so the case expands to the chamber and creates a good seal. A faster burn also lessens the stress on the gun itself and prevents the chamber from getting dirty.

I use the Lee .32 S&W Long Die set because it comes with the correct shell holder at no extra cost. You can disassemble the Lee expanding die and insert a filler plug to make the expander plug extend down enough to properly expand the neck.

Now we have to address the seating die and crimp. One option is to simply screw the seating plug down enough to seat the bullet and the die will close the flared case, but that isn’t ideal. Fortunately, I have a small lathe in my workshop that enables me to chuck the factory die, shorten it by 3/16”, and recut the internal bevel so it accepts a flared case. This worked like a charm—I have a perfect roll crimp and I can still use the dies in the original calibers they were designed for.

Picking Your Powder

When it comes to loading, nobody can tell you exactly what’s safe for your antique revolver. However, I can tell you what works best for my 32. My 32 S&W is an H&R top-break made between 1895 and 1905 that is in excellent condition. I tried a few powders like Red Dot, Win 231 and Unique before finding that 1.6 grains of Tin Star was perfect. It filled the case to the base of the bullet, just as it was designed to do with old Black Powder cartridges. Tin Star burns very clean, though it does require at least a modest roll crimp. Using Tin Star, I can record a velocity of about 600 FPS. To my surprise, the soft lead cast bullet easily penetrated a pressure-treated 2×4.

 

At Wholesale Hunter, we can help you find the right supplies so you can load your favorite antique top-break revolver. Contact us with questions–we’d love to hear from you.