After an extended absence from the shooting game (life happens), I missed the sweet smell of burnt powder. As a competitive shooter, my preferred choice of firearm had always been handguns – sliders and revolvers, double action and single action. Most of my rifles were pistol calibre (.44 mag, .45 Colt) for cowboy action shooting. I recently reprioritized a few things in my life and decided to take up some time behind a rifle for a change.
I still have .45-70 loading dies collecting dust my reloading bench from my black powder shooting days with a Pedersoli ’74 Sharps. With a preference to lever guns my whole life, that decision seemed pre-ordained for me. My reloading experience was limited to 10s of thousands of straight walled pistol cartridge reloads. My go-to powder was WW231. It was a tried & true powder for my shooting needs. I decided I did not want to deal with the wonderful fouling qualities of black powder smoke rings, in a lever gun, this time around. (I know…I know… but there is no requirement for the anti-smokeless society to start a new petition…just consider me lazy…) .
After 30 years of shooting , I pretty much have the basics of aim & fire down (most days). I grasp the physics of reloading and I’m on good terms with my reloading presses. Now, I just lack the rifle and extended knowledge of the smokeless reloading characteristics of a .45-70 round. I knew this would be the beginning of a new journey for me. Before dropping hard earned cash, I like to make informed decisions. So…off to gun shows, local retail counters and the internet.
After many conversations, a few new reloading manuals to add to the old collection and countless hours searching all the facts, opinions and outright lies I could find on the internet, the BEST source of comprehensive knowledge I discovered was Marlin Owners site . I tend to have my BS filter on the highest setting when I reference internet opinions and by far, the contributors to this site have been the most helpful and reliable for me from any others I have found. Thank you for the great reference, honest guidance and entertainment you guys have provided to me over the past many months. Keep up the great work.
My first preference for a lever gun was a Marlin. I read the countless documented horror stories of the Remlin odyssey and yet, for me, there is something about a Marlin lever. When I was 15 years old, I got a used Marlin 39A (.22) as a Christmas gift. It was my first real gun - my trusty Red Ryder BB gun notwithstanding. My dad paid $50 for it at the time. That was back in the day when you could get a gallon of gas for 35 cents.
So, with careful consideration for all that I heard to be wrong about Marlin, I was off to the local gun retail store ‘‘just to have a look‘‘. Two hours later I was driving home with a new 1895GBL – with the dreaded MR serial number. (I know, I know…but there is no requirement for the anti-Remlin society to start a new petition…just consider me stubborn…)
Now I had everything but the reload. I began the next leg of my journey to find that sweet load. With a multitude of cross references from the many, seemingly reliable sources, from the Marlin Owners site, various gun magazine authors, along with other popular hunting, shooting and ballistics sites, always with my Lyman & Hornady reloading tables close at hand, I started narrowing down my reloading probabilities. I settled on IMR 4198 as my first powder to experiment with. I still have a quantity of just shy of a thousand .458 lead cast bullets left over from my Sharps shooting days. Unfortunately, M1895 is not fond of those 500 grainers while still being within safe OAL specs. I learned that little fact on this site as well, but I just had to experiment with some dummy rounds of my own just to see what might happen. Did I mention I was stubborn? I did listen to the advice of others and avoided the complete tear down of the rifle to unjam a cartridge in the action. Whew!
Honoring the golden rule of reloading, I started low on the reloading tables and worked up a few trial loads under .420 gr lead bullet- the only cast bullet available locally. Using tips & tricks acquired from you guys, my digital gauges and powder scales confirmed I was still within safe reloading parameters. With an array of reload recipes, using standard & magnum primers, utilizing crimped and uncrimped cases and several range sessions later and I now have a shooting log full of results of the good, the bad and the ugly for shot accuracy results and recoil bragging rights. The large blotchy bruising patterns on my shoulder were quite impressive; the visible rewards of tenacity, if not self-induced foolishness. I’ve often wondered if the paper target could tell the difference in bullet speed or foot-pounds energy of my various rounds. It did confirm for me that straying near maximum reloading specs was not a goal I was interested in achieving. (I know, I know…but there is no requirement for the pro-Recoil society to start a new petition…just consider me sensitive …)
The journey of reloading for 100 yard accuracy with a .458 lead bullet has added Trail Boss and IMR 3031 to my inventory of experimental powders. I have since reduced the trigger pull of 8.5 pounds that Marlin provided me with to 3.5 pounds that the installation of a Wild West trigger gave to me. In an attempt to wring out tighter groups than the stock iron sights, I mounted a Nikon 2-7power scope. That helped my eyes to tighten my IMR 4198 4 inch groups to a fairly consistent 2 inch group. Not yet satisfied with 2 inch groups, I became intrigued with the many advocates of using a pistol powder in a big case rifle cartridge. Being a long time pistol shooter, I was dubious of the potential but , admittedly, I was intrigued with contrary nature of the approach. After much investigation and referencing old reloading manuals, I added Unique to my inventory of experimental powders. I was now in search the ideal plinking load along with my quest for 100 yard accuracy. After working up a few test batches of Unique under a .405 gr cast lead of a .458 diameter I have narrowed my load down to one. The results are looking promising. I think I may be getting close to the sweet spot for my plinking load.
So far I am pleased. With the help of some strangers and friends, I now have a reliable gun with a couple of reliable reload recipes that’s a helluva lot of fun to shoot. I thank you all.
Now....what to do with all those 500 gr cast bullets?? This journey ain’t over yet...