Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The Boomers, They Were Shot

And the anvils, they were blown up; and the bowling balls they were flung many many yards.

I am of course speaking of the esteemed institution, long range rifle shoot, general good time, floor wax, and dessert topping that is Boomershoot.

Yes folks, we finally made it this year, after five years of trying; including last year, where we were only 3 hours away and still couldn't go.

Actually, it almost looked like this year was going to be a no-go for us as well. Thursday before last, Mel and I flew home from Phoenix, and got severely ill on the way. We both ended up with a sinus and upper respiratory infection that had us down all week long.

Around mid week, we were still feeling awful, not breathing right, sinuses all clogged up (and believe me, you don't want to shoot a high powered rifle when your sinuses are clogged up). Also, because we were sick, all my final prep work had been delayed, and we weren't even close to ready to go.

Also, due to shipping delays, I didn't get the final pieces of the two rifles until Thursday. I actually stayed up most of the night Thursday doing the final fitting and assembly on them:

In general, I'm very happy with how the rifles turned out.As I noted in a previous post, we brought:

1. The "understudy":

  • Winchester Model 70 in .300wm
  • 26" 1:10 featherweight barrel
  • Timney trigger, set to 1.5lbs (totally crisp. No takeup, no creep)
  • Hogue pillar bed stock
  • CDI Precision AICS magazine system bottom metal
  • EGW 20moa pic rail
  • Millet 35mm high tac rings
  • Millet LRS-1 6-25x56 35mm scope
  • Horus ASLI
  • Harris bipod
  • Weight 11.5 pounds, unloaded, empty mag, without bipod

2. The "development" gun

  • Thompson Center Encore, blue and wood, in .300wm
  • Factory trigger, clean and light at under 2lbs
  • 26" 1:10 full heavy, stainless target barrel from Bulberry, with Bulberry medium length, medium width flat target forend, in AAA fancy walnut
  • EGW 20moa pic rail
  • Weaver 30mm high tac rings
  • Burris BlackDiamond 8-32x50 target scope
  • Horus ASLI
  • Weight 11.5 pounds 

Sorry about the quality of the pics here; they especially don't do the forend of the Encore justice. The wood is really nice; and overall they're both good looking guns.

The platforms went together nicely on Friday; took us about two hours total to cut and screw them together, and they loaded up into the truck exactly as planned.

Mel and I were still too sick to even think about shooting on Friday, so we decided to wait until Saturday morning and see how we were doing. We were originally going to get up around 0730 and try to get to the site around lunchtime; but early in the morning I decided we could both use the sleep time to get better, and we'd leave at the last possible moment so we could set up a bit before the site closed down, and then get on to the banquet; so I shut off our alarms, and we slept in til 11:30.

That turned out to have been a good idea. Even though we missed two entire days of shooting, and all of Gene Econs precision rifle clinic (next year, definitely. You can't get this kind of training at that price anywhere - or anytime - else), the extra sleep had us well enough to set up that evening, and then feel pretty good for the main event on Sunday. I'm pretty sure without it, we wouldn't have been feeling well enough Sunday to shoot all day (by the end of the day, we were both exhausted, and I was really not feeling well).

So at any rate, we dropped the shooting platforms and our benches and table onsite overnight on Saturday, then went to the hotel to check in, and hit the banquet.

Unfortunately, our beloved Nikon D80 was a casualty this year, having had its life tragically cut short in an accident with a tile floor a few weeks before the shoot.So we took a lot more pics than we'll be posting, but most of them didn't come out well enough to share; including unfortunately all from the banquet.

We did take a few videos to share with you however, and there were a couple of pics good enough to share as well.

As always, even though we live here, we never cease to be amazed by the natural beauty of Idaho. Even our hotel (where we also had the banquet dinner) was great; with private balconies overlooking the clearwater river:

The views from the road between the hotel and the site simply cannot be captured with a camera. You have to come see them yourself... though, if you're afraid of heights, you might want to have someone else drive. It's a 1900 foot drop (according to my GPS) from the palouse, down into the grossly misnamed river valley (more like a really long, green, canyon).

The banquet was a great time. We sat with a few other bloggers, and their family and friends; having a great time with old friends and new. The food was actually pretty good (though I dont think there were many kisses exchanged between the spouses there that night, given how much garlic was in the mashies); and the raffle was great fun, raising a couple thousand dollars for Soldiers Angels.

Sunday all opened up with a beautiful fireball:

Towards the end of the video, you can see this shot looking down the line, taken from next to Phil and Daves personal luxury shooting condo:

We were way down near the other end of the line, across the lowlands, not quite into the .50cal ghetto. All in all it worked out to be a good spot, with great neighbors.

As we hadn't had a chance to sight in the rifles before we left for the shoot, and missed the afternoon session on Friday, the first few shots of the morning were sighters; taken at terrain features 50 and 100 yards away.

I managed to get the Encore on target down to about 1/2" at 50 yards in 5 shots (using a clump of daffodils, not a paper target), and the Winchester in 3; and we were able to spend the rest of the day out at long range.

I should mention, Sunday was Mels first day ever shooting past 300 yards; and she did exceptionally well. By the end of the day, she was hitting with some consistency all the way out to 650 yards; and she was dead on at 375.

In this video, Mel caught my last sighting shot with the Encore (the first report you hear), and the view downrange:

The treeline on the center right is 375 yards. The base of the hill to the center left is 525 yards, and the crest of the hill is 700 yards.

Note: the targets are too small to see at this range, with this camera; but they are all about 1moa for the range (4" for 400 yard, 8" for 700 yard etc...).

Mel also caught me setting up for the next shot, my first shot of the day on a live boomer; a 525 yard shot on the lowest line of boomers out on the hill.

Unfortunately, although we were making lots of good clean hits, we weren't getting any boomers blowing. In fact, I only managed to blow one boomer all day; because I sensibly started at shorter range and worked my way up to longer range. The short range boomers weren't blowing up (more on that in a second) and by the time I got out to 600 yards and up, all the boomers were either exploded, powdered, or just weren't going to go.

The one big disappointment of the day, really was the boomers themselves. This year,  Joe switched the shorter range targets, from foldup cardboard boxes, to thin plastic clamshell salad/side dish takeout boxes.

The way the explosive mix used works, it needs impact and pressure to detonate; and the container the mix is in holds the charge together tightly enough, long enough, so that the shockwave can propagate through the mix and detonate.

Unfortunately, it seems that these new containers work fine with relatively low powered rifles; and Joe sensibly assumed that if it worked with a low powered rifle, it would also work for a higher powered rifle. What Joe didn't account for, was higher powered rifles shattering the small plastic containers or zipping right through them, without detonating the mix.

So, unfortunately, most of the plastic containered boomers (which was all of the boomers at less than 650 yards) didn't detonate. Maybe one out of ten would detonate on even a solid hit.

I know that Joe is absolutely mortified at this. He does his damndest to make sure everyone has a great time, and the boomers work as advertised, and I know he's upset they didn't this year (and of course he apologized to everyone profusely)... but we all had a great time anyway.

This is approximately what a boomer detonates like when it's actually working (minus the fridge of course):

Overall, the performance of the rifles was great. To the extent that the wind co-operated, we were able to make clean hits at any range with both rifles.

In the rare times when the wind wasn't coming from three directions at once (that's not a joke by the way. There were times when every flag on the field was blowing at a different speed and direction), I was able to shoot some strings on either the remainder of exploded targets, or on targets that wouldn't explode.

I managed to put 4 rounds into about 2" at 375 yards, from the Encore. With the Model 70, my best strings were 10 into or just at the edge of an 8" target at 700 (a boomer that failed to detonate) with two flyers (wind probably); or  3 into about 4" at 375.

Frankly, I'm thrilled with the Bulberry barrel on the Encore; not so much with the featherweight barrel on the Model 70. Theres a huge jump from even the longest bullet I can load in the rifle, to the lands of the rifling; and as it heated up (pretty fast. 20 rounds in 40 minutes had the barrel VERY hot), the consistency went way down. I think I'm going to send it off to Krieger when time and budget allow.

Also, I'm not happy with the Hogue stock for the Model 70. I bought the pillar bed stock, and the CDi bottom metal which is designed to work with a pillar bed; but the pillars in the stock are EXTREMELY long. I guess to allow for a lot of variation in the drop in actions, but in my case they were so long, that the magazine couldn't ride high enough in the action to allow the bolt to engage the cartridge rim and mag feed.

It's only about 1/16th inch too low, and the stock, bottom metal, and action all bed together quite rigidly; so I could just mill out the pillars 1/8th (and cut new clearance in the plastic of the stock for the action, which is messy and irritating), but I think I'm just going to wait for budget to allow, and get a better stock, with pillars sized appropriately (this one was only $80 anyway).

I was very satisfied with both scopes. Even at maximum magnification (25x and 32x respectively, both very high magnification. Most people never use more than 12x or 16x), both scopes were clear, relatively bright, and relatively sharp. At the same exit pupil size (the Millett is a 56mm and the Burris is a 50mm, so that was at two different magnifications), the Burris is definitely brighter and clearer; about the same as a NightForce (yes, seriously). 

The Millet definitely isn't as sharp, clear, or bright. You especially lose sharpness and brightness above 16x in comparison. There is also a lot of color washout, chromatic aberration, and fringing, at high magnification.  That's the difference between higher end coatings, and the coatings on a low end scope like the Millett.

One thing that I was very happy with, was the repeatability of adjustments on both scopes. I had detailed ballistic charts for all the loads in both rifles (unfortunately not chrono'd, didn't have time, but based on data from Walt Berger, and from Sierra) which proved to be very close to dead on. More so, we were dialing up and down from 375 yards, to 700 yards all day long; and we were as close to dead on as we could get within the range of wind, rifle accuracy, and human error. 

Given the performance today, shooting about 100 rounds of very close to max pressure 180gr and 208gr .300wm; I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the Millet LRS-1 to anyone wanting a long range scope for under $500.

I was also quite happy with the EGW rails, and the Millet rings which came with the scope. They all did the job as advertised; though if I had a choice, I would have preferred the rings be a bit lower. Between the rails and the rings, the scope is a little high.

Unfortunately, the Weaver four bolt rings I used to mount the Burris on the Encore, both didn't hold the scope securely under recoil, and didn't hold tight to the rail, even with loc-tite. They were simply unacceptable.

I did clean the rings before mounting, and tightened them to the recommended torque spec, but they loosened up under the recoil of about 20 rounds of .300wm. I tightened them all down (unfortunately I didn't bring loc-tite with me) again,  but they loosened up twice more during the day (probably 100 rounds total). Over the day, the scope slid back in the rings about 1/2" twice, and the front ring loosened on the rail enough to wiggle.

I think the problem is the finish Weaver is using. It's theoretically matte, but it's actually quite slick, and slightly shiny. Combined with a slight imprecision in the mating surfaces, and you've got a combination guaranteed to loosen up.

Honestly... I could try to fix the rings as they are, but I'm just going to return them and go for some six bolt rings, with a less slick finish.

One thing that surprised me, was that I actually had to move both scopes to the rear anyway.  Although in my testing in my workshop the eye relief seemed fine; as I originally mounted the scopes, once on the bench, and especially in the lead sled; it was difficult to get a proper cheek weld, parallax free, and with proper eye relief.

I ended up moving both scopes back 1/2" or so during the lunch break; and Mel and I were both able to get much more confortable cheek welds, without coming anywhere near hitting the ocular in recoil.

One thing I was very UNhappy about, was the rail mount for the Horus ASLI.

The scope ring mount for the ASLI on the Encore worked fine, and didn't loosen up or shift at all through 100 rounds. The rail mount I bought for the Win70 though (they don't make a 35mm scope ring mount, so I couldn't put it on the scope) didn't work at all. The loc-tited screw holding the ASLI into the mount loosened up after just five rounds, and in full recoil, the ASLI flew off the gun. I tightened it down twice more, but it kept loosening up. The third time the ASLI came off the gun, it apparently stripped the threads out of the locking screw, since it came out of the mount with the threads still on it.

I'll be calling Horus about that in the next day or so.

The Caldwell Lead Sled could only have worked better if I'd had more weight on it. I tried to find lead shot bags, but shot is out of stock everywhere locally (and I'm certainly not going to pay to ship it); and olympic free weights not only wouldn't be as much weight, but they cost about a buck a pound these days. I was stuck using a 50lb sandbag, and it draped down over the frame, part of the weight resting on either side of the bench around the sled, such that I don't know how much weight was actually bearing on the sled (but it couldn't have been much more than half, if that).

If I got the hold perfect, the sled would take up the full shock, and I could spot my own impacts. If I didn't get the hold exactly right, the whole sled would jump a couple inches, and it would take me a minute or so to get reset and back on target.

The elevation adjustment screw though; absolutely invaluable. I could just set the rifle up, solid and socketed in; come off the scope, and then when I went back down I was still on target. So much so that I actually took both eyes off the scope and spotted my 50 yard targets when I was sighting the rifles in (and yes, it actually moved that little. I tested it several times before I actually took a shot. The reticle never moved more than a hair before I shot); which was a huge help in getting on target quickly.

Finally, the handloads worked out great. I had a feeling that the 208 Hornadys (they don't publish the BC for some reason) would have ballistically identical results to the 210 Bergers, and I was right. I ran the calculations for the Bergers and used that table, and it matched out solid.

I love Berger, and I'll always do business with them (that kind of company is worth supporting); but it's good to know the Hornadys are available, and perform similarly, at a much lower price.

We had some more entertainment at lunch time, launching anvils with black powder:

And launching bowling balls downrange with mortars:

I'll tell you... It never seems like you're shooting for 6 hours, but all of a sudden it's 1630 and it's time to pack up. Also, it's amazing just how exhausting sitting at a bench for 7 hours (6 hours plus lunch) can be. Long range shooting requires concentration, and even though you're not "doing anything" by the end of a shooting day, you are totally wiped.

By the end of the day, we were definitely ready to pack it in; and enjoy the 3 and a bit hour ride home through some of the prettiest parts of Idaho.

Speaking thereof, this is the view from the climb out of the Clearwater river valley, where the Clearwater meets the Snake river at Lewiston (click to embiggen):

A good time was had by all, some good shooting was done, and we got to visit with friends old and new... who could ask for more.